Fantasy author Terry Pratchett is famous for his Discworld series, comprised of over forty books taking place on a round, flat world perched on the back of four giant elephants who stand on the shell of a enormous space-faring sea turtle.
But before fantasy-trope-skewering Discworld, Pratchett wrote Strata, a science fiction book that explored the idea of how a flat, round world would actually work. Many of the ideas in Strata appear in the Discworld books.
One of my favorite moments in any science fiction book or movie is when someone in a spaceship stands up, points at the viewscreen, and says, “What the hell is that?!”
I’m an absolute sucker for stories where hapless humans stumble across mysterious alien megastructures cruising their way through space.
Nominated for a Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards in 1975, The Mote in God’s Eye has not aged particularly well. There are some clever twists and exciting sequences in this far-future first-contact tale, and the alien Motes are, in some ways, truly alien.
Interacting with aliens is always tricky, but when you’ve got a whole new world to worry about, things get much more complicated, whether you’re colonizing, invading, or just visiting.
In Pushing Ice, one of Saturn’s moons suddenly departs from its orbit and shoots off into deep space. The only nearby ship chases the errant moon and watches as huge chunks of ice fall off its surface to reveal a gigantic machine underneath.
Not everyone on the ship wants to keep chasing this object. The object seems to have some ideas about that, too.
Pushing Ice is a great book, and I lost some sleep because I couldn’t put it down. Even though we follow the same characters throughout the book, so much happens that it has the feel of a big, sprawling, multi-generational epic.
The science is hard, the humans flawed, and the surprises keep coming.
Recommendation: Get it at the library unless you’re building a shelf of all of Alastair Reynolds’ books. Which may be a pretty good idea, actually. Hmm.
As a lapsed marine zoologist, I couldn’t help but love A Darkling Sea. It has aliens, intrigue, desperate missions, and it all happens underwater.
On a moon orbiting a gas giant, a human science station sits in pitch-black water. They’re studying a semi-primitive alien species, but when a dumb-ass scientist gets himself killed by the curious aliens, another alien species visits the science station and tries to take over. Chaos ensues.
Recommendation: Get it at the library. It’s an excellent read, but not mandatory for a bookshelf.
I did that with Echopraxia and missed so much that I had to read it again. This book is as dense as those borderline-illegal molten chocolate desserts that are as big as a teacup but somehow weigh ten pounds.
Don’t skip a word. The writing is that tight.
Echopraxia is a sequel to Blindsight, and again author Watts explores the craziness of space, aliens, vampires (he makes them work, even more believably than he did in Blindsight), and how malleable human brains are. His central idea that human consciousness is like a flea riding a dog, thinking it’s in charge of everything, when really the dog, i.e., the rest of our brain, makes all of the decisions. (This is something that a lot of studies are actually agreeing with.)
In addition to all that, it’s a smart, fantastic read, and his best book since Starfish, one of my absolute favorites.
Recommendation: Buy it. It’s excellent on the first, second, and further readings.