Author Connie Willis outdoes herself with humor and heart in The Road to Roswell, where a stealthy, desperate first contact happens right outside a particularly large and conspiracy-laden UFO festival.
I don’t want to spoil the fun by revealing any more about the plot, but this is excellent, light-hearted fare.
Recommendation: Read it!
More Than Human is widely lauded as the first literary science fiction book, and it won the first Hugo back in 1953. Seventy years later, it holds up.
While the premise sounds a little like X-Men—young outcasts with superhuman powers—this is in no way a superhero book. These are damaged people with inexplicable abilities who are trying to make their way in the world without revealing what they can do. The focus on character and the skill of the writing hasn’t aged at all, making this story an absolute classic.
Recommendation: Read it.
The Gone World is brilliant: part noir murder mystery, part alternate history, part here-comes-the-apocalypse, and part thriller. It’s unique, mind-bending fun.
A time-traveling investigator jumps to the future to find out who committed an especially brutal murder, but she finds far more questions than answers. The longer she stays, the more complicated things become.
Also, the end of the world is coming, and it’s coming sooner all the time.
Recommendation: Read it. This is good, hearty, occasionally brutal stuff.
Dr. No reads like the author does not care whether anyone reads this book or not; he had fun writing it, and that’s all that needed to happen. It’s good, absurdist fun with entertaining characters and clever social satire (but didn’t get preachy).
A mathematician who studies the concept of nothing to the point of becoming a world expert on the subject is approached by a billionaire determined to become a Bond villain. The billionaire needs help with nothing, and our mathematician needs the money. Inventive madness ensues.
Recommendation: Read it if you’re in the mood for something a little more literary, inventive, and don’t need aliens or spaceships. I’m definitely planning to read more by this author.
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.
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.
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.