My kid is learning to play the piano, and part of that is using dynamics: playing some parts of the song quiet, and some parts loud. Dynamics add contrast and make a song more interesting. Unfortunately, Jonathan Lethem’s book Girl in Landscape, while being extremely well-written, lacks dynamics. It’s heavy, and stays heavy throughout.
Fantasy author Terry Pratchett is famous for his Discworld series, comprised of over forty books taking place on a round, flat world perched on the back of four giant elephants who stand on the shell of a enormous space-faring sea turtle.
But before fantasy-trope-skewering Discworld, Pratchett wrote Strata, a science fiction book that explored the idea of how a flat, round world would actually work. Many of the ideas in Strata appear in the Discworld books.
Dieselpunk is science fiction that occurs between the two world wars, or takes place in a world where the 1940s never really ended. It’s often written deliberately pulpy and noirish, leaving character development in the dust of a wildly galloping plot. And fantasy elements are always welcome. For example, a gas-powered android could team up with a junkie psychic and a depressed vampire to solve the mystery of who’s sending all those severed limbs to the local police station.
Like steampunk, dieselpunk is often fan fiction for a specific era. It also tends to focuses on white Europeans and North Americans. Fortunately, there are small but growing movements called steamfunk and dieselfunk, which, in addition to having cool names, focus on non-whites actually having a place in the future and alternate histories.
For the world’s most thoughtful look at dieselpunk, check out Aja Romano’s Dieselpunk for Beginners.
Apparently, one of the biggest problems a lunar colony will have to face (in addition to air and food and water and temperature and cosmic radiation and not enough personal space and getting there and getting back home) is lunar dust, which is so fine that it gets everywhere, is really clingy, and can muck up equipment. Lunar dust feels like soft snow, but at the same time abrasive. It also smells like spent gunpowder.
And as far as moons go, ours is huge. It’s bigger than Pluto, which means that we’re actually orbited by a dwarf planet. But it’s a greedy satellite, sucking up our rotational energy, so that in about 45 billion years, the Earth and the Moon will be tidally locked (the moon will be in the same spot in the sky always) and the Earth day will be about 45 hours long.
Creating robots that are stronger, faster, and can think millions of times faster than us seems to be a guaranteed way to manufacture our future overlords. But my time as a computer programmer makes me less worried: software, no matter how well written, always seemed to break at some point. The reality of the world is just too messy. So while the robot uprising might happen, there’s a chance they’ll end up tripping over their own feet and give us grungy humans a shot at regaining the world.
One of the biggest draws of science fiction is the exploration of space, and discovery of all the unpredictable craziness out there, whether it’s wondrous, deadly, or both.
While all of the books in this list feature a galactic empire, the empire itself doesn’t always play a major part in the story.
The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman is a wild, inventive ride. It takes place in a seriously alternate version of our world in the late 1800s, where technology and mind-altering demons go hand in hand. Fortunately, this crazy land is peopled with deep, well-developed characters, a rare occurrence amidst so much intricate world-building.
In 2018, a lot of science fiction writers got weird. They gave us happiness machines, time-traveling detectives, dragons, deadly intergalactic singing contests, a superhero whose power is math, and disappearing shadows. Good stuff.