Even though I grew up assiduously reading and watching science-fiction, I am more a reader of non-fiction these days. But every now and then, it’s pleasant to go back to one’s “roots” and discover what you have missed.
An excellent title to discover or re-explore the genre in all its shapes and forms is Sci-fi chronicles : a visual history of the galaxy’s greatest science fiction. This comprehensive volume provides examples of the greatest works from every country in the world, from the 19th century to the present, citing the important classics and their influence on culture and society through books and their adaptations in movies and television, followed by comics and even video games. There are articles about famous writers (of every media), descriptions of the popular themes that were explored by science-fiction throughout history and lots of great illustrations and photographs. Overall this is an excellent reference book accessible to everyone.
Dystopian fiction is a very popular theme in science-fiction, and for good reasons, but it is refreshing to find titles that can include comedy.
In Rob Reid’s Year Zero, an everyman entertainment lawyer discovers that we are not alone in the universe. It is in fact filled with alien civilizations and earth songs have been smash hits with them for decades. That’s the good news; the bad news is that earth copyright laws would bankrupt the entire inhabited universe and many see the destruction of humanity as the most expedient (and cheapest) solution. It is up to our hero and two extraterrestrial visitors (disguised as a nun and a mullah) to find a solution while avoiding being eliminated by less-friendly alien agents. For those who are thinking Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, there is definitely a resemblance but with a lot more pop culture humor.
Likewise, the pleasure of reading Redshirts by John Scalzi is the self-aware humor based on the concept of expendable “extras” that start to realize their true role and try to escape their pre-assigned fate. An ensign newly posted on the starship Intrepid realizes the high mortality rate of low-level crew members that accompany the higher officers on away missions (who always manage to survive – sound familiar?). His fellow crewmates all suspect something fishy is going on, but when Ensign Dahl uncovers the truth, it threatens to unravel everything he believes about his existence. The story makes fun of a lot of classic shows and their conventions, and if you are fan of Star Trek, you will nod more than once at the inside jokes and commentaries.
On a more serious note, Influx by Daniel Suarez mixes conspiracy and futuristic element. The book’s premise is that our current civilization is far more advanced technologically than we suspect. A group called the Bureau of Technology Control has been working in the shadows to keep revolutionary inventions from being publically revealed and made available to humanity “for its own good”, thus keeping humanity artificially stunted by decades. The main hero the book, a physicist who is on the cusp of inventing something revolutionary is “eliminated” under the guise of a terrorist plot. In fact, he is given the choice of working for the Bureau and join the conspiracy, or live the rest of his life imprisoned in a secret facility. But he has no intention to take either options and set about changing humanity’s future.
In SecondWorld, it is an old enemy that threatens to rise again and set about the destruction of humanity as we know it. Lincoln Miller, an NCIS agent sent to an underwater facility near Miami returns to the surface to an horrifying reality: his city, and others around the globe have been covered with a film of red particles that has killed all life by absorbing the oxygen from the air. As the apparent sole survivor to look for an explanation to the disaster he comes to learn that it is merely the beginning of a doomsday plan set in motion in 1945 to bring about a new world order. This is for fans of quick-paced action and high-stakes thrillers.
Blindsight by Peter Watts offers a scenario resembling first contact with extraterrestrial life, but with a very unique terrestrial crew. In the late 21st century, the earth is briefly approached by what seems to be alien probes which leads humanity to a signal originating from the edge of the solar system. A ship is sent to investigate equipped with an advanced artificial intelligence, crewed by individuals with unique gifts and traits including a “vampire” linguistic officer, a cyborg biologist, a man with only half a brain but with an amazing gift for predicting the behavior of others and another with multiple personalities. Will they be able to contact and understand what is truly alien? The novel explores the concept of transhumans (augmented or altered humanity) and consciousness (human and otherwise) and how one can define these things. This is a more challenging read but explores fascinating questions.
As a long-time fan of both the steampunk and alternate history genres, Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century series of novels come as a treat that I highly recommend. The stories take place in a United States still in the throes of civil war well into the 1880’s, where retro-futuristic inventions have spread both progress and carnage. In Fiddlehead, Pinkerton agent Maria Boyd must help the inventor of a prototype computer to find allies on both sides of the conflict in order to stop a zombie plague from spreading to the entire continent while war profiteers are determined to extend the conflict for as long as they can. The mixing of historical settings and characters (including here ex-president Lincoln, still very much alive) with futuristic machines is always a joy to read.
What would you like to recommend for good sci-fi reading?