Science fiction summer: dipping your toes in a pool of hypermercury while basking in the golden daytime aurora, and watching two ringed planets collide into each other like a pair of cymbals.
Here are some books to read on days like this.
Leaving a dilapidated Earth behind, Quakers across the globe pool funds and resources as they select colonists to send to a newly discovered planet to start life anew.
“[M]iraculous fusion of …science fiction with unsparing realism and keen psychology”
— Ursula K. Le Guin
Mildred is dying of Alzheimer’s Disease. As her memories fade, she requires the aid of a full-time android to assist her in her everyday life. The android’s duty: to tend to Mildred as Alzheimer’s steals her away one memory at a time, and to pretend to be her absent family.
Soon, Mildred passes away, and the android Carey must find a new purpose in the world—and in its new family: Paul Owens, the overworked businessman; Susan Owens, the dedicated teacher; and Millie, a curious little girl who will grow up alongside her android best friend. As the humans around it age and change, Carey struggles to understand life’s challenges and to make its own path. Carey must learn to live. To grow. To care.
“A dazzling ride through the near future. I enjoyed it thoroughly. I’ve never seen anything remotely like it.”
— author Jack McDevitt
Wherever Hel looks, New York City is both reassuringly familiar and terribly wrong. As one of the thousands who fled the outbreak of nuclear war into a United States of an alternate timeline, she finds herself living as a refugee in our own not-so-parallel New York. The slang and technology are foreign to her, the politics and art unrecognizable. While others, like her partner Vikram, attempt to assimilate, Hel refuses to reclaim her former career or create a new life. Instead, she obsessively rereads Vikram’s copy of The Pyronauts―a science fiction masterwork in her world that now only exists as a single flimsy paperback―and becomes determined to create a museum dedicated to preserving the remaining artifacts and memories of her vanished culture.
But the refugees are unwelcome and Hel’s efforts are met with either indifference or hostility. When the only copy of The Pyronauts goes missing, Hel must decide how far she is willing to go to recover it and finally face her own anger, guilt, and grief over what she has truly lost.
“Fantastic world-building… Chess is a writer to watch.”
Halmey Dz and her partner Connla Kurucz are salvage operators, living just on the inside of the law… usually. Theirs is a perilous and marginal existence—with barely enough chance of striking it fantastically big—just once—to keep them coming back for more. They pilot their tiny ship into the scars left by unsuccessful White Transitions, searching for the relics of lost human and alien vessels. But when they make a shocking discovery about an alien species that has been long thought dead, it may be the thing that could tip the perilous peace mankind has found into full-out war.
“Anyone who enjoys space opera, exploration of characters, and political speculation will love this outstanding novel… Amid a space opera resurgence, Bear’s novel sets the bar high.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
One afternoon at an outdoor market in India, a man’s shadow disappears—an occurrence science cannot explain. He is only the first. The phenomenon spreads like a plague, and while those afflicted gain a strange new power, it comes at a horrible price: the loss of all their memories.
Ory and his wife Max have escaped the Forgetting so far by hiding in an abandoned hotel deep in the woods. Their new life feels almost normal, until one day Max’s shadow disappears too.
Knowing that the more she forgets, the more dangerous she will become to Ory, Max runs away. But Ory refuses to give up the time they have left together. Desperate to find Max before her memory disappears completely, he follows her trail across a dangerous, unrecognizable world, braving the threat of roaming bandits, the call to a new war being waged on the ruins of the capital, and the rise of a sinister cult that worships the shadowless.
“Shepherd’s debut is graceful and riveting, slowly peeling back layers of an intricately constructed and unsettling alternate future.”
— Publishers Weekly
The Nigerian town of Rosewater is on the edge. A community formed around the edges of a mysterious alien biodome, its residents comprise the hopeful, the hungry and the helpless—people eager for a glimpse inside the dome or a taste of its rumored healing powers.
Kaaro is a government agent with a criminal past. He has seen inside the biodome, and doesn’t care to again. But when something begins killing off others like himself, Kaaro must defy his masters to search for an answer, facing his dark history and coming to a realization about a horrifying future.
“Nothing short of brilliant…. A captivating, cerebral work of science fiction that may very well signal a new definitive voice in the genre.”
In this slightly old-fashioned but well-written book, an American Civil War veteran is tasked by aliens to administer a way station for interplanetary travel. He is not allowed to tell any other Earthling about his job. Humans, however, are curious creatures…
Who will inherit this new earth? The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age—a world terraformed and prepared for human life. But all is not right in this new Eden. In the long years since the planet was abandoned, the work of its architects has born disastrous fruit. The planet is not waiting for them, pristine and unoccupied. New masters have turned it from a refuge into mankind’s worst nightmare. Now two civilizations are on a collision course, both testing the boundaries of what they will do to survive. As the fate of humanity hangs in the balance, who are the true heirs of this new Earth?
Artemis isn’t as good as Weir’s debut novel The Martian, but it’s pretty close. Weir kept what was great about The Martian: hard science, humor, and a charmingly sarcastic protagonist.
It takes a little while for the story to get going, but it’s the best depiction of a lunar colony I’ve ever read.
Artemis is about a young, super-smart but lazy criminal on the moon who goes for a major score and immediately gets in way over her head. Clever scheming, problem-solving, and the occasional explosion keep this book entertaining.
More than twenty-two years have passed since Ren and the rest of the faithful braved the starry abyss and established a colony at the base of an enigmatic alien structure where Suh-Mi has since resided, alone. All that time, Ren has worked hard as the colony’s 3-D printer engineer, creating the tools necessary for human survival in an alien environment, and harboring a devastating secret.
But the truth Ren has concealed since planetfall can no longer be hidden. And its revelation might tear the colony apart…
“Cathartic and transcendent.”
— The New York Times
Some of the included authors are already familiar to readers in the West (Liu Cixin and Hao Jingfang, both Hugo winners); some are publishing in English for the first time. Because of the growing interest in newer SFF from China, virtually every story here was first published in Chinese in the 2010s.
The stories span the range from short-shorts to novellas, and evoke every hue on the emotional spectrum. Besides stories firmly entrenched in subgenres familiar to Western SFF readers such as hard SF, cyberpunk, science fantasy, and space opera, the anthology also includes stories that showcase deeper ties to Chinese culture: alternate Chinese history, chuanyue time travel, and satire with historical and contemporary allusions that are likely unknown to the average Western reader. While the anthology makes no claim or attempt to be “representative” or “comprehensive,” it demonstrates the vibrancy and diversity of science fiction being written in China at this moment.
“This anthology is a must-read.”
― Booklist (starred review)
January is a dying planet—divided between a permanently frozen darkness on one side, and blazing endless sunshine on the other. Humanity clings to life, spread across two archaic cities built in the sliver of habitable dusk.
But life inside the cities is just as dangerous as the uninhabitable wastelands outside.
Sophie, a student and reluctant revolutionary, is supposed to be dead, after being exiled into the night. Saved only by forming an unusual bond with the enigmatic beasts that roam the ice, Sophie vows to stay hidden from the world, hoping she can heal.
But fate has other plans—and Sophie’s ensuing odyssey and the ragtag family she finds will change the entire world.
“[A] tale that can stand beside such enduring works as Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, Frank Herbert’s Dune, and Dan Simmons’ Hyperion.”
― Booklist (starred review)
Mutual incomprehension has fractured the globe. As humans race to be the first of their kind to reach the stars, another Great War looms. For you, that means returning to Yorkshire and the town of your birth, where factories churn out the parts for gigantic spaceships. You’re done with the pretentions of the capital and its unfathomable architecture. You’re done with the people of the Bund, their easy superiority and unstoppable spread throughout the city of London and beyond. You’re done with Georgy Chernoy and his questionable defeat of death. You’re done with his daughter, Fel, and losing all the time. You’re done with love. But soon enough you will find yourself in the Smoke again, drawn back to the life you thought you’d left behind. You’re done with love. But love’s not done with you.
Adrana and Fura Ness are the newest crew members of the legendary Captain Rackamore’s ship, using their mysterious powers as Bone Readers to find clues about their next score. But there might be more waiting for them in space than adventure and fortune: the fabled and feared Bosa Sennen, in particular.
“An expert mix of the fantastical and horrific.”
― Publishers Weekly (starred review)
In the mysterious City of Towers, the center of the destroyed Tarakan empire, a lowly scribe of the Guild of Historians is charged with a dangerous assignment. He must venture into the wilds beyond the glass and steel towers to discover the fate of a child who mysteriously disappeared more than a decade before. Born of a rare breed of marked people, the child, Rafik—known as “The Key”—was one of a special few with the power to restore this lost civilization to glory once again.
In a world driven by fear and violence, where tattooed mutants, manic truckers, warring guilds, and greedy mercenaries battle for survival, this one boy may have singlehandedly destroyed humanity’s only chance for salvation—unless the scribe can figure out what happened to him.
“Readers looking for a crafty puzzle that descends into the twisty depths of loyalty and betrayal will enjoy this far-future adventure.”
— Publishers Weekly
Ella Patel–thief, con-artist, and smuggler–is in the wrong place at the wrong time. One night, on the border of a demilitarized zone run by the body-swapping alien invaders, she happens upon a man and woman being chased by a group of assailants. The man freezes, leaving the woman to fight off five attackers at once, before succumbing. As she dies, to both Ella and the man’s surprise, the sparkling light that rises from the woman enters Ella, instead of the man. She soon realizes she’s been inhabited by Io, a low-ranking Quasing who was involved in some of the worst decisions in history. Now Ella must help the alien presence to complete her mission and investigate a rash of murders in the border states that maintain the frail peace.
“Three things contribute to the success of this novel: an understated, occasionally snarky sense of humor, well-done action sequences, and strong character development.”
– Publishers Weekly
Bela and Paul, two wild young mathematicians (go ahead and read that again), are friends and roommates, and in love with the same woman, who happens to be Alma, Bela’s girlfriend. They fight it out by changing reality using cutting edge math to change who gets the girl. Their world is not quite this one, but much like Berkeley, California, and the two graduate students are trying to finish their degrees and get jobs. It doesn’t help that their unpredictable advisor, Roland, is a mad mathematical genius who has figured out a way to predict isolated and specific bits of the future that can cause a lot of trouble… and he’s starting to see monsters in mirrors.
“While most of the mathematical flights may stun hapless mathophobes, Rucker’s wild characters, off-the-wall situations and wicked political riffs prove that writing SF spoofs, like Bela’s rock music avocation, ‘beats the hell out of publishing a math paper.'”
— Publishers Weekly
On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington, D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the Earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process.
Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too.
Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her.
“Readers will thrill to the story of this “lady astronaut” and eagerly anticipate the promised sequels.”
― Publishers Weekly (starred review)
The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. is brilliant, fast-paced, and will give you sore wrists because it’s a thick, heavy book, but you will not want to put it down.
An expert in ancient languages is hired by a mysterious government agency to translate some documents that suggest that magic actually once existed in the world. But the advance of science caused magic to disappear in 1851. However, the existence of a two-hundred-year-old witch and some fancy technology allow a limited amount of magic to occur in this world, and soon the language expert and others are being sent back in time to repair history. And, if they’re lucky, bring magic back to the world.
Told almost exclusively from the point of view of female characters, The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. is one of the few science fiction books that I strongly recommend to my wife (who doesn’t read science fiction).