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.
I’m a big fan of humorous, character-driven books about alien languages (we all have our kinks) and Drunk on All Your Strange New Words checks all the boxes. It’s even an intriguing murder mystery, which gives it extra points.
A young woman is specially trained to communicate telepathically with an alien species that has been on Earth long enough to have their own embassy. The trick to this communication is that it makes the human involved essentially drunk, and after a while, they can’t focus on anything because they’re too busy singing or spinning in their chairs or something.
The protagonist is pretty good at her job, not especially concerned with the rules, and when a dead body hits the floor, is in completely over her head while being thrown into the stew of interstellar politics.
Oddly, I recently reviewed another book with a spunky female protagonist who’s in a unique situation that allows her to privately listen to aliens: Axiom’s End. That’s more of a First Contact adventure (and recommended).
Recommendation: Read it. It’s engaging and fun.
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.
I recently injured my right forearm (fighting robot tigers while rescuing a cute and fluffy alien civilization), which I decided was the perfect time to start reading an 800-page book that I couldn’t put down. So thanks a lot for delaying my recovery, author Chuck Wendig. I blame you and your Wanderers for everything.
A teenage girl leaves her home and starts walking. She does not sleep. She does not eat or drink. She does not communicate in any way. She also does not stop, for anything. Soon, she is joined by others equally silent and equally unstoppable. A disgraced scientist is among those who try to understand what’s going on, as well as those with much darker intentions.
Recommendation: Read it! I’m eagerly awaiting 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.
This frenzied page-turner takes some delightfully unhinged ideas (invasion by alien punctuation, rave-themed VR dungeons, and a plane of existence where all ideas physically exist), creates a believable spell-casting system, and inserts a bad-ass heroine as odd as her world.
It’s a fast-paced, genre-bending, bonkers ride, and I loved every bit of it.
Recommendation: Read it. Absolutely.
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 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
Why, yes, women will kick ass in the future, too.