The future had a good year in 2016. Great writing, amazing stories, and tons of genre-bending. Fantasy, romance, zombies, data-vampires and more make it into some of the best books of the year. It’s an exciting, wild mix, just like a party with friends, family, bikers, drag queens, drag queen bikers, people from the future, flirty robots, and sentient dogs (not sentient cats—they just eat all the appetizers without talking to anyone).
Lou: “You know what? You’ve got spunk.”
Mary: “Well, ye—”
Lou: “I hate spunk!”
— First episode of The The Mary Tyler Moore Show, 1970
Transhumanism is the idea of using technology to (hopefully) improve the human condition. This can run the gamut from contact lenses to grafting brain implants into fetuses. Think cyborgs.
Books often delve into the question of where the line of human and non-human is, and what is means to be human. Since we don’t really know what it means to be human now (if indeed it means anything), that question gets complicated quickly. Throw in a few rogue AIs and a couple of competing species of runaway nanotechnology, and you’ve got yourself a story.
Literary science fiction is simply science fiction that’s better-written, has more realistic characters, and is more ambitious in exploring deep ideas than other books. Instead of just exploding spaceships and smart-mouthed robots, they can contain wrenching emotions that look at what it actually means to be human.
Its polar opposite would be something pulpy like Amish Vampires in Space.
Fortunately, there’s room for both brilliant, tortured writers and Amish Dracula in science fiction.
Since the present time is just the wildly unlikely result of several trillion coincidences, it makes sense that humans would occasionally wonder what would happen if one or two events concluded differently.
Most alternate history stories are some variation of “What if Hitler had won the Civil War, and was a dinosaur?” but there are some great, well, alternatives, in the list below.
Sometimes you just want something fun to read while you slowly roast yourself on a beach, gentle waves constantly committing suicide in front of you.
Some of the books below are light, some are dark, but they’re all engaging stories.
We’re all waiting for this moment, the instant we know for sure that we’re not alone in this big, cold universe.
Regardless of how our first contact actually happens, a good story has to have drama. No one wants to read We Met the Aliens and Gosh, They Were Nice.
It takes a steady hand to write a science fiction story that’s exciting, interesting, and funny as hell.
Or maybe it’s just that people are funny, and no matter what you do with them, like putting them in tin cans going the speed of light or beyond, they’re going to do something ridiculous.
Even though Venus is the most Earth-like planet (despite it being hot enough to melt lead), Mars feels like a better neighbor. Venus is completely shrouded with khaki clouds, pale and unapproachable. In comparison, Mars is positively flirty, with its lusty red color and come-hither promise of terraforming.
It’s easier to imagine life on Mars than anywhere else, and many of the books below do exactly that.
Soft science fiction tends to focus more on people and relationships than on technical details; more on humanity than technology (even though there’s usually some cool technology).
Science fiction author Poul Anderson, in Ideas for SF Writers, described H. G. Wells as the model for soft science fiction: “He concentrated on the characters, their emotions and interactions” rather than any of the science or technology behind, for example, invisible men or time machines.