My dad recently found out that I read science fiction. I’m not sure how he missed this, as I have always read science fiction, even when I was living in his house, but it was apparently sort of traumatizing for him. Contemporary science fiction thrillers and certain dystopias seem to not count. He considers science fiction to be involving space, and is utterly uninterested.
Now this was not my first genre by any means, but from Star Wars to Outlaw Star to Cowboy Bebop I have been thoroughly enamored of science fiction for a long time. Some of my earliest scifi reads were by Julie Czerneda and C.J. Cherryh, and I’ve continued to read science fiction in that tradition as well. So below are three brief recommendations of recent science fiction books that I have enjoyed – all written by women and all dealing with very different things.
For those who like an element of romance in your fiction, scifi may seem unapproachable. Luckily, Jessie Mihalik is stepping in with her new series, kicked off by the book Polaris Rising. I really enjoyed this book, which I have described to friends as something like Chronicles of Riddick, for the folks that remember that film, and something like Jupiter Ascending (but with a lot more action and much more internally cohesive). If you enjoyed either movie but they didn’t quite do what you wanted them to, I suggest Polaris Rising as the ideal replacement. It’s fluffy and fast-paced, in space!
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear. This rambling, first person standalone is full of strange space creatures and fascinating technological ideas. It’s not for the faint of heart, though – the writing style, while clear, is full of digressions that don’t always seem relevant (thought usually end up relevant later) and so it can be hard to track this winding tale. The thematic elements of the book are also hard to wrestle with at points, especially since some of the most tense moments of the book involve two people trapped on a spaceship, each essentially trying to talk the other into coming to their side before they both starve to death or reach their final destination. While there is definitely action in this book – exploding spaceships, high speed chases, and a rather large praying mantis creature – the main conflicts are cerebral. It’s a strange, vulnerable book that will not be for everyone, but which posits some truly fascinating and beautiful futures.
Lastly comes my favorite science fiction book I’ve read recently. The Light Brigade looks similar to Ancestral Night at first glance, but the tone of this book is far more gritty. While space in Bear’s distant future is almost (but not quite) bloodless, Kameron Hurley brings her trademark gore and grunge to this book about space marines subject to psychological and physical experimental technology that literally transforms them into light. This is a profoundly psychological book, but it’s also a profoundly physical one. And it does not hesitate to make strong assertions about power and how it corrupts. While most of the action takes place on Earth in a not-so-distant future that is terrifyingly plausible and there are no spaceships to speak of, this is a science fiction book that deserves a read. Do not miss it.