Okay, so by saying Scifi here, I’m going to have to narrow the subject a bit. I realize that Scifi is an expansive and sometimes exhaustive genre that’s kinda hard to pin down. The following titles are pretty much Scifi in the following grains: spaceships, giant robots, stargates, incredibly futuristic societies. I left out time travel, duh. I’m leaving out a bit for two reasons. One—“science fiction”, as I’ve said could pretty much describe my entire library. Two—I’ve read so many great Scifi books that I had to pare it down, a lot. Even now, I STILL couldn’t get it to 12. So, these are the best of the best involving extra-solar events or tech or whatever. I’ll throw up a few other sub-genre ones like cyberpunk or post-apoc or dystopian later. By “New”, I mean in the last decade or so. I’ve mentioned several in HM that were written prior to this, but in general I’m only focusing on books I’ve read recently. Otherwise… it gets kinda difficult to describe them in any detail as I tend to mix up my plots a bit. So, don’t get too mad if I miss something. Just complain in the comments.
1. Six Wakes – by Mur Lafferty
Spaceships, clones and a murder mystery in which no one technically dies.
Maria awakens in the cloning bay of an interstellar starship, with no memory of any events which led her there. Her team, her friends and allies, awaken beside her—to find their dead corpses scattered across the floor of the cargo bay. Her friends—well, the people she remembers meeting but once prior—have no memory of anything either. Countless light years from earth, en route to a new planet, a new start—years they should have spent in deep sleep—the crew is forced to confront their grissly murders, and solve the mystery of how and why they were killed before reaching their destination: a new planet, a new home.
Pretty much the first line tells you everything you’ve got to know. Otherwise… the murder mystery was actually pretty good. Definitely worth a read, definitely scifi enough to start off this list.
2. The Fold – by Peter Clines
The Fold was one of the last reads I included here. While there are no spaceships, gundams or androids, tF is actually such a scifi definer that I couldn’t leave it off. I know I just said “scifi definer”, just leave it—I can explain.
When I think of science fiction, I think of Stargate, Star Wars, and a lot of anime. Other people probably have different images that this phrase evokes, but even the Fold’s cover nailed down enough of them to convince me. And honestly, this is a book that you can judge by the cover. If you love scifi adventure and wormholes, well, tF’s for you. If you like Jumpman by Drake, anything on MTV, books heavy on pictures, and the phrase “beer me”, well, maybe skip it. Also, we probably won’t be friends.
The Fold features stargates, a dude with perfect recall, and something that isn’t as it seems. It’s like Fringe crossed with any good detective novel; an old friend comes calling, a man tries to forget his past, the world is probably in danger but no one’s sure how exactly. If you’re not sure yet, maybe skim my review of The Fold, then leave some ambiguous and vague comment. Like an emoji or two.
3. Forsaken Skies – by D. Nolan Clark
The lead book in The Silence—a trilogy about space battles and aliens, legends and soldiers, fire and blood—D. Nolan Clark delivers a great read, while not the best or greatest around. The second novel of The Silence, however, is just as good, maybe better. As the third and final book of the trilogy is out, now is the best time to read it.
Alestair Lanoe is a living legend, the product of centuries of war and conflict, of countless dogfights fought amidst the clouds, out in the vacuum of space and into the unknown of the universe. He has seen things no other man has ever laid eyes on, done things most would dismiss as myth or legend. As the first installment of The Silence is filled with ground-breaking firsts (at least to this universe), like true AI, alien life—it’s good to have a journeyman such as Lanoe along to guide the tale.
Both Forsaken Skies and Forgotten Worlds are quite good. The conclusion, Forbidden Suns, was out last fall. I’ve yet to get to it.
4. Altered Carbon – by Richard K. Morgan
While Altered Carbon (AltC) is also on my cyberpunk list, I haven’t really finished that one, so I’ll include it here, too. And yes, I realize it’s more than a decade old. I’m breaking my own rule, by at least I waited til #4. If you haven’t heard, Alt-C is now a show on Netflix, and a great one at that. I know that Morgan was on the executive committee, but still I was surprised how well the show hugged the novel. It features its own added characters for complexity and whatnot, but otherwise does the novel pretty well.
In a universe where consciousness is digitized, people can be set up into new bodies via downloading their consciousness from storage to a stack—an fancy little tech component attached to a body (called a “sleeve”). Prison terms are served via download, while sleeves are recycled and given away to new users. Humans can also travel light years in little (relative) time, via download and resleeving. Alt-C features the envoy Takeshi Kovacs—a Slavic-Japanese super-soldier and professional badass—who is retrieved from digital storage and resleeved on Earth to help solve the murder of one of the richest, most powerful men alive, Laurens Bancroft. Bancroft is practically immortal, having resleeved to a clone of himself, but is shaken enough to hire Kovacs (pronounced “ko-vach-s”) to solve the crime.
Alt-C is really a ground-breaking cyberpunk thriller, with a bit of mystery thrown in. It does feature graphic sex, violence, language and issues of religion, identity and morality. You know, nothing TOO terrible. Just be aware.
5. Leviathan Wakes – by James S. A. Corey
Leviathan Wakes kicks off the immensely entertaining Expanse—a series that has thus far spawned seven novels (with an 8th coming in December) and two seasons of TV (with another premiering later this week). The first installation of this involves a solitary pair of POVs: Holden, the first mate on an ice hauler; and Miller, a detective on Ceres, a dwarf planet in the Belt. Leviathan Wakes takes place entirely in the solar system—with the subsequent novels expanding the purview to the outer planets and beyond—with Earth as a perennial power, but Mars as the current high-roller. The inhabitants of the Belt, the asteroid-field and a few dwarf planets within, are perpetually oppressed by the larger planets. The outer planets boast research and mining stations and the like, but are mostly either tenuously independent or under the control of the inner system worlds.
Both POVs are both quite relatable; Holden as the champion of the everyman, the man that acts often before he speaks, the character that is not without flaws and mistakes clouding his past. Miller, however, often thinks too much before he acts, though his actions are often more rash and brazen than Holden’s. And as for flaws and mistakes? Forget about it—Miller wrote the book on mistakes. Where Holden is a consistent character to predict, Miller is edgier and often a difficult man to call. As a side, I thought Thomas Jane’s portrayal of Miller in the SyFy series was excellent.
Leviathan Wakes is a must read for scifi fans, and can even be enjoyable for fantasy fans. My sister—who doesn’t usually get out for scifi—enjoyed the read, though lost interest in subsequent novels where the number of POVs doubles from 2 to 4. But try it, see if you like it, yeah? Not every book is for every person, after all.
6. A Closed and Common Orbit – by Becky Chambers
Honestly either of Chambers two Wayfarers novels could have made the list—I even toyed with throwing both on here—but eventually settled for the second. While each feature an astounding and relatable set of characters, I found that a tighter cast (just the two in ACaCO) helped to further enmesh me in the story. The tech, while not at Hamiltonian or Reynolds or the like levels, is well thought out and explained. And while the characters depth and interactions excel, I found that the plot and character development really helped put this over the top.
Pepper was born a clone, in an illegal facility where every girl had her place and every her skill. If you weren’t skillful—well, you didn’t want to be unskilled, or wasteful, or rebellious, or outside-the-box. ACaCO follows her fight for survival, acceptance and personal identity. Lovey is an AI, which, originally set within the confines of a spaceship, has been liberated into a body of her very own, and as such struggles mightily with identity issues, motivation to act and live, and a constant worry that she’ll be captured and doom the lives those around her. We follow these two unlikely companions through their struggle for acceptance and survival—Pepper’s both in the present and in a series of flashbacks, Lovey’s primarily in the present—where one mistake may end their journey, while the same mistake may just help define their shared existence.
One of my favorite books ever. Seriously. I’d even put both in the Top 10 or 15 ever. You really don’t NEED to read the first—The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet—for ACaCO to make sense, but it does introduce the universe and adds depth and gravity to Pepper and Lovey’s shared tale.
7. Waking Gods – by Sylvain Neuvel
The style used by Sylvain Neuvel (which is a great name, by the way) to write the Themis Files, took some getting used to. So much so, in fact, that I skipped over the first book—Sleeping Giants—and included the second here. Told through a series of excerpts and interviews, it’s unlike any scifi novel I’ve ever read. And it’s not just the style that felt off in SGs, the plot itself felt a bit bland, to be honest. I mean, the story is good, the characters good, but both feel rather impersonal due to the writing style. Not to mention that the narrator is little more than just a voice that barely casts its own shadow.
Characters feel a little more real in WGs. The narrator extends beyond his own shadow, feeling nearly human in the back half. The story really takes off beyond a feeling of exploration, and features some really thrilling sections. It’s an adventure best started in Sleeping Giants, but Waking Gods is really the first must-read. The trilogy’s conclusion, Only Human, is due out in May,
8. Morning Star – by Pierce Brown
Morning Star ends the original Son of Mars trilogy, following the future of human evolution in a dystopian universe. The story follows the 1st person POV of Darrow, returning, um, hero from the first two books, though life has fairly well sucked for him so far, and is about to go to a whole other level of shit after the events of the series to this point. If you haven’t read the trilogy, you really should—despite the fact that Pierce Brown went and rated the books that I doubt he’s even read himself after writing them.
The entire Son of Mars, while dark, foreboding, and fantastical—isn’t terribly full of the scifi world they represent. The main reason I chose the third book is that it does provide a reasonable science fiction backdrop; with spaceships, a universe to explore, and well thought out advanced tech.
9. Children of Time – by Adrian Tchaikovsky
As I’ve previously mentioned, my sister doesn’t often go for scifi novels. Children of Time, by Adrian Tchaikovsky, is an exception. And this is in no small way due to the presence of gigantic, self-aware, mechanically advanced spiders.
So let’s just say, if you’re arachnophobic—maybe skip this one, eh? There are three primary POVs in Children of Time: Holston Mason, a human male, historian of a crew escaping a dying earth, stuck in a state of suspended animation aboard their interstellar ark; Dr. Avrana Kern, a human female, architect of a plan to evolve self-aware monkeys on a fringe world well outside the sphere of human influence; Portia, consecutive generations or perhaps consciousness of a female jumping spider on the same such fringe world, where the human-designed mutagen has been spread.
I think you know what’s coming, but anyway… the monkeys die, the spiders become infected by the mutagen designed to expand consciousness, and thus—self-aware, intelligent mega-spiders. The entirety of the plot takes place over the course of hundreds or thousands of years as the spiders evolve, the humans enter and exit hibernation.
The end result is an excellent one and a completely riveting story. But the beginning… the first hundred or so pages I had trouble getting in to. Like, a lot of trouble. My sis loved it though, so. Give it a read, eh? Unless you have a distaste for spiders.
10. Dark Sky – by Mike Brooks
Keiko Book 2 is the best of the batch thus far. Not that I minded Book 3 either, but you should probably read #1 first. That said, Dark Sky checks all the boxes. Well—some of the boxes. Spaceships, enhancements, the future of computer tech, exotic worlds and human exploration. Now, that may all seem pretty good, but the series itself proves a bit of a disappointment (at least, to me). The tech is all casual, with very little thought or explanation behind it. The tales are interlocking, but more in a armchair way. You could probably start reading wherever, and not fall behind. Where The Keiko series excels is in its characters, and their interactions. Not a problem, really—just a little disappointment from a scifi series to focus on something other than the science fiction element. If the plots had been sophisticated, I doubt this’d be an issue for me, but really, I only found Dark Sky to triumph a plot, while Dark Deeds was alright and Dark Run was barely passable.
It’s on this list though, so give it a read, if you’ve the time.
11. The Martian – by Andy Weir
A novel set in the not-so-distant future, about Mark Watney, King of Mars. I much preferred it to Artemis—Weir’s sophomore effort—which employed a tremendous level of space-colonial tech and culture, but suffered from a lack-luster plot, characters with little depth and no development, and a predictable and boring outcome. The Martian—or, as I do prefer to call it, “Mark Watney, King of Mars”—is an instant scifi classic regarding the initial human exploration of Mars. Made such a good movie too, that I have trouble not associating Watney, at least in part, with Matt Damon. But honestly, I prefer the book to the movie.
Nothing goes right for Watney. Which he handles with a mixture of sarcasm and lip. An immensely entertaining read in a red, red world, following mostly Watney, but other secondary characters in their effort to rescue him. I’d read both the book and watch the flick, though in whatever order, really.
Watney is a worthy successor to John Carter for the Kingship of Mars, although the two have really very little to do with one another.
12. Odyssey One: Into the Black – by Evan Currie
Odyssey One: Into the Black (Ody1) introduces a scifi concept I’d never seen before. I mean, I’m more of a fantasy guy, but I get around enough. It’s like… like instant-transmission in DBZ crossed with the transporter in Star Trek. Pretty much, you shot tachyons forward at speeds far beyond the speed of light. Then, the ship’s systems lock onto said particles in whichever system they were fired to and transport the ship in parts. The ship is literally broken apart and transported, then reassembled on the other side. Many characters in Ody1 remark on how awful this transmission seems, and to be quite honest, some of the sections describing transitions left me feeling queasy.
I would classify this as really a Military SF as most of the characters have very little depth, instead written up as regimented stoicism. It’s disappointing, though the plot helps carry Ody1. Where it begins as a novelization of Star Trek, with exploration, final frontier, and scifi elements as the mainstay, Ody1 is quickly transformed into a Military SF Thriller, as rival alien factions are introduced and the ship is thrown into a war. Space battles become the norm, with chapters of exciting skirmishes flanking those of anticipation and refocus.
It is quite a good read, though, if you’re into military SF. Personally I got a bit bored going into book 3 (of a current 7), or maybe it was 4…as the series starts to blend together.
Baker’s Dozen – Ender’s Game – by Orson Scott Card
I’m not really sure what’s worse: never reading the Martian, or never reading Ender’s Game. In the end I settled for Card’s book for two reasons. One—it’s been out longer. And two—the movie’s been out longer. Not to mention, Ender’s Game is waaay over a decade old, so, yeah.
Honorable Mention – Quarter Share – by Nathan Lowell
It’s really damn hard to classify Scifi in general, by Nathan Lowell’s Solar Clipper tales takes it to a new level. I mean, they’re just some stories about a regular dude, who mostly works in the food service industry. If people actually wanted to just learn about life day after day in the food industry, I’d just write about a little of my job history. Oh, but then he IS on a spaceship. Annnnd that’s about as highly advanced and technical as the first book gets. Now, I could’ve thrown some of the later ones on there but it’s really an acquired taste—I know some people who couldn’t get past the first fifty pages and others who threw the book at the wall when the ending was anticlimactic. (Note—if reading on a kindle try to avoid throwing the book at the wall. Seriously, I mean. That’s what paperbacks are for. And why I love them so much.) I ran through a few of these in college when I was so insanely busy and was suffering from insomnia. A little light, mindless, time-ticking relaxation. They’re good books, really, but maybe not what you’d normally think of as “scifi”. At least, not at first.
Honorable Mention – Ready Player One – by Ernest Cline
As much as I loved this book, and as much as I wanted to put it on this list, Ready Player One isn’t terribly… it doesn’t really… dang.
It’s about a virtual world full of 80’s references. I just don’t know how to classify this. Yeah, I guess the virtual reality thing is science fiction and all, at least when taken to the level of RPO, but it’s not really “far future” stuff. That and seeing as how half the elements of it are older than I am… well, I really couldn’t include it. Besides, it’s pretty much the movie Surrogates but with a younger, more annoying Bruce Willis and an even lamer ending. Oh wait, that’s The Eye of Minds.
Ready Player One is like a GOOD version of The Eye of Minds, just with more 80’s references.
Additional Honorable Mentions – Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi; The Roboteer, by Alex Lamb; Seeds of Earth, by Michael Cobley; Revelation Space, by Alastair Reynolds; Pandora’s Star, by Peter F. Hamilton; The Great North Road, by Peter F. Hamilton; The Spaceship Next Door, by Gene Doucette; Orbs, by Nicholas Sansbury Smith; Perfect State, by Brandon Sanderson.