Super Sad True Love Story is an engaging, literary love story that takes place in a near-future dystopian society where things like books and reading are so unfashionable as to be considered gross. But its characters, for all their flaws (or maybe because of them) feel very real, and are caught in a situation out of their control.
Lenny, the son of Russian immigrants, is a man on the cusp of middle age in a society pathologically obsessed with youth. He falls in love with a younger Korean woman who puts him through the emotional wringer on a daily basis. They’re both doing their best to be together, despite their wildly different worldviews.
And what a world: everyone’s lives are completely driven by social media and embarrassingly public rankings of appearance. It’s a future society so shallow and stupid that you can’t help but feel it’s more realistic that you want it to be.
Recommendation: Read it. If you’re in the mood for a satirical take on the direction society is going and how one mismatched couple tries to navigate it, definitely check this one out.
Shards of Earth hits everything I love about space opera. Great characters, a grand scale, interesting technology, aliens that are actually alien, Big Mysterious Things, and general fast-paced awesomeness.
The Architects are moon-sized aliens that, inexplicably and unstoppably, tear inhabited planets apart and turn them into flower-like structures, killing everything on the planet. This has already happened to Earth. However, a ragtag group of scavengers stumbles upon a floating, wrecked spaceship that may have an answer to stopping the Architects. If they can survive long enough to attempt to stop them, that is.
Recommendation: Read it, if space opera is your thing. Author Adrian Tchaikovsky is fantastic.
The Brief History of the Dead is a fascinating, odd (in the best sense of the word), and deeply inventive book. Some parts are heartbreaking, some hilarious, some disturbing as hell. I loved every part of it.
The City is populated by people who have died but are still remembered by the living. People stay in this Earthlike afterlife until they are completely forgotten. The City usually grows to accommodate its increasing population, but some strange things are happening.
In the living world, a young woman is stuck in an Antarctic research station and cannot get help from the outside world.
Recommendation: Read it. It’s excellent. The part with the young woman takes place in the near future, but that’s as science fiction-y as it gets. No spaceships.
The Kaiju Preservation Society is ridiculously fun. It’s easy to imagine author John Scalzi grinning like a maniac as he was writing this. It’s short, breezy, interesting, and hilarious.
A miserable young man is stuck schlepping around New York City, working for food delivery apps, so when he’s given the opportunity to work for an “animal rights organization” he jumps at the chance, despite the number of strange hoops he must jump through.
There are kaiju (godzilla-sized monsters), and of course, things end up going very wrong.
Recommendation: Read it! Read it now! There’s a lot of heavy stuff out there, and it’s nice to have a relaxing palate cleanser like this book.
I’m a fan of Stephen King, and 11/22/63 is one of his best. There’s more humor than horror, and a fantastic, convoluted run-up to one of the most infamous moments in American history.
An English teacher is shown a hole in time that leads to a bright, sunny day in 1958. The teacher decides the best thing to do is travel back in time and prevent the Kennedy assassination, five years hence.
However, spending five years in the past isn’t easy, and there are complications he never could have predicted.
Recommendation: Read it. It’s a massive tome (850 pages), but King knows how to spin a story, and he’s in top form here.
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.
Written in 1959, A Canticle for Leibowitz is one of the first real literary science fiction books, and an enduring, if not exceptionally well-known, classic.
The story takes places several hundred years after a nuclear apocalypse, and civilization barely exists. It’s a leisurely read that thoughtfully deals with the aftermath of a post-apocalyptic world through the lens of the denizens of a monastery in the Utah desert.
In this monastery are bits of scientific knowledge that the monks do not understand, and keep to themselves amid their trials and squabbling.
As the story occasionally skips forward in time hundreds of years, you don’t get to really settle in a consistent group of characters, but you do experience their civilization advancing.
Interestingly, during World War II, author Miller was a tail gunner in a bomber crew that participated in the destruction of the 6th-century Christian monastery at Monte Cassino, Italy, founded by St. Benedict, and recognized as the oldest surviving Christian church in the Western world. It’s generally assumed that this experience heavily influenced his writing this story.
Recommendation: Read it, if you’re in an old-school cruising mode. If you’re after something modern or space-opera-y, keep looking.
Upgrade is a fun, fast-paced near-future adventure by Blake Crouch, whose past two books I really enjoyed. In Upgrade, a man gets a highly experimental and unasked-for upgrade to his genetic code, giving him near-superhero intelligence and strength. Immediately, the government and some shadow organization are intensely interested in him, and he must escape all manner of grasping clutches to protect himself and his family.
This is a highly entertaining read, one that kept me up much later than I intended at night. However, its premise isn’t wildly original, and I didn’t think he took it far enough. Given the abilities of some of the characters, I expected to be more blown away by their exploits.
Recommendation: Read it if you’re in the mood for some light, entertaining fare.
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.