Connie Willis is one of the few authors capable of humor, humanity, and what must be an ungodly amount of research, and she brings all these skills together in the masterful Doomsday Book.
In near-future Oxford, where time travel for purposes of historical research is relatively common, an eager young historian travels to medieval times. Unfortunately, things immediately go very wrong for her. Then a devastating pandemic hits the present day, and no one is able to help her, or even know she’s in trouble.
Recommendation: Read it. The characters range from deeply human to hilariously Dickensian, and the descriptions of the horrors of daily life in medieval times are some of the best I’ve ever read. Oh, and it’s a great story that won both the Hugo and Nebula awards.
Axiom’s End is one of those books I went back to every chance I could, and I finished it in two days, even when I had plenty of other work to do. It’s a fast-paced, multi-layered First Contact adventure that accomplishes something too rare in science fiction: not only do the aliens really feel like aliens, the humans really feel like humans.
Cora, a flawed, funny protagonist with a famous but horrible father learns that not only are aliens on Earth, they’ve been here for decades, and the government has covered it up. A new alien arrives, and communication between it and Cora is both strange and touching. The story touches on morality, the role of family, the quest for fame, and more, while still staying a great science fiction adventure.
Recommendation: Read it. I’m about to start on the sequel.
The Sky is Yours is a genre-bending book that takes place in a wild, post-apocalyptic world with both dragons and sci-fi elements. Its fun, imaginative, and completely horrifying settings seethe with colorful, well-developed, and deeply flawed characters. It’s hard to believe a tour de force like this is from a debut author.
On a dystopian island (not dissimilar to a surreal Manhattan), the lives of three very different young people (a rich, spoiled brat, star of his own reality show; his sheltered but whip-smart fiancée who hasn’t met him yet; and a feral beauty raised on an island of garbage), collide as they learn about the truths and lies of the burning world around them.
Recommendation: Read it. It’s strange, but fantastic.
Oryx and Crake is an excellent book, interesting and strange, that grabs your attention and doesn’t let go. It manages to be more about character than plot but still moves quickly.
A giant spaceship lands in the waters offshore of Lagos, the most populous city in Nigeria, and things get out of control immediately. Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor is more about the writhing, hustling world of Nigeria, and the arrival of aliens is a great way to see that in action. It’s very well-written, fast-paced, fascinating, and intense. It does not, however, make me want to visit Lagos.
The least human character in All Systems Red is also the most human. A half-robotic creature (or maybe more than half) privately calls itself Murderbot, and it’s got a good reason to. All the humans around it consider it just another security android, which is fine by Murderbot; it’d rather watch bad TV than have to interact with humans.
This YA novel is surprisingly inventive with a great, trouble-causing, mouthy protagonist, the kind you can’t wait to see what she does next.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is a fun, breezy book that feels like an eccentric Star Trek episode. The characters are bright and quirky, so if you’re in the mood for a story about goofy people getting along in a sci-fi setting, you should pick this up. Continue reading
As a straight white middle-aged male, I’ve often felt like science fiction’s target demographic. Most SF feels like it’s aimed right at me.
Midnight Robber is definitely not aimed at me. Which, honestly, made it a lot more interesting. Being extremely well written helped a lot, too.
Six Wakes is a good old-fashioned murder mystery in space that starts with everyone on the ship being murdered. Everyone’s backup clones then wake up to the bloody massacre and have to figure out who killed everybody and why. Any one of them could be the killer, and not even know it. As the clones appear to work together to piece together clues, secrets and ulterior motives slowly come to light.