We like mystery because life is mysterious, and storytelling exists to help us figure out how to live. Mysteries help us figure out how to deal with the unending avalanche of unknowns in our own lives (probably not directly, unless you deal with dead bodies a lot).
Some say that mysteries are popular because people like puzzles. Well, I like a certain kind of mystery, but I’ve never been a puzzle person.
I like Raymond Chandler mysteries, the hard-boiled detective who fights to stay alive while prowling dark alleys and darker minds. Often, I don’t care that much about the final reveal of who the real criminal is. It’s the journey, the tortuous path that I like.
In fantasy especially, the who-dunnit can easily become a what-dunnit.
In planetary romance, the bulk of the action consists of adventures on one or more exotic alien planets, which usually have distinctive physical and cultural backgrounds. Many planetary romance stories are a little goofy and pulpy, but some take their characters a little more seriously. Note that the “romance” part of the term doesn’t refer to romantic love, but to the old-timey definition of romances as a kind of adventure tale (science fiction itself used to be called “scientific romance”).
If you have a non-human point of view, you’ve got xenofiction. Stories can be from the perspective of aliens, AI, robots, sufficiently transformed humans, or even animals, and they’re all in this list.
Sandman, © Vertigo Comics
There’s still a stigma to reading graphic novels. As a grown man, I wouldn’t do it in public. However, at home, I love them and I encourage my kid to read every one he gets his hands on.
At their best, graphic novels combine deep, thoughtful storytelling with real works of art. I’m glad to see that great comics are still being written and drawn (and inked and colored).
Ben Bova wrote over 120 science fiction and fact books and won the Hugo six (!) times. Unfortunately, he recently passed away at the age of 88 due to Covid-19-related pneumonia and a stroke. This list is a tribute to his vast body of work, which focused on hard science.
However, his writing style may come across as dated to modern readers, as does an occasional reliance on clichés and stock characters.
Retrofuturism is defined as “the future as imagined by the past,” but that can mean almost anything (aren’t all science fiction books “the future as imagined by the past?”). In practice, it’s a broad category that touches on many of the punks: steampunk, dieselpunk, decopunk, etc.
These books are all excellent and I believe they will pass the test of time. The general rule for being a modern science fiction classic is that it was written in the 21st century, or just so good I felt like including it anyway. Continue reading
Rebellious women made a strong showing in fantasy in 2020, as well as those who simply refused to take “Burn her!” for an answer. Continue reading
When I was a kid, teachers told us that we couldn’t use calculators on tests because when we were older, we obviously wouldn’t be carrying calculators around with us everywhere.
I wonder what we’ll be carrying around with us in another forty years or so. Continue reading
The best thing I can say about 2020 is that it’s going to end at some point.
Fortunately, there are many truly excellent science fiction books published this year to both distract and illuminate us. It’s a nice variety of stories, including deep weirdness, space-opera goodness, diverse authors, and a few laughs.
Dive in. Continue reading