One could convincingly make a case that we’re truly living in a new golden age of SF. New and diverse voices, great writers everywhere are pushing the possibilities of the genre, reinventing and reshaping SF and going boldly where no SF author has gone before. To read all of them would take half a lifetime and to write about them more so. But over the course of the 2-year run of New Worlds Weekly, we’ve put the spotlight on a few books that aren’t just great reads, but original, thought-provoking, each a classic it in its own right. Here then are just 7 of them – read, reviewed and recommended (in the order of the piece’s publishing date).
With data rajas, AIs, robots, gods, water wars, nutes, Krishna Cops and divided into a dozen semi-independent states, Ian McDonald’s River of Gods is set in a somewhat familiar yet modern India, a hundred years after independence. Is it cyberpunk? Khyberpunk? Post-cyberpunk? A thriller? River of Gods defies easy categorization, except as a good science fiction novel.
Just when you think ‘zombies have become all-too-familiar, along comes a tale that isn’t quite about the zombies you’d been expecting (but with unexpected fungi). MR Carey’s The Girl With All the Gifts is one such story, a modern zombie classic that’s surprising, warm, chilling, fresh and terrifying, all at once. As Joss Whedon said, ‘reading this book is like I’d been simultaneously offered flowers and beaten at chess’. This piece also comes with a bit about the history of zombies.
Never had a translated novel, let alone a Chinese sci-fi novel, won the prestigious Hugo Award for Best Novel. Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem did. A grand first-contact novel, it asks the questions that all first-contact novels do, ‘What would we do if we come in contact with an extra-terrestrial civilization, and how?’ And answers it with a uniquely enjoyable blend of science, speculation, technology, philosophy, politics, culture, conspiracies and cosmology, all rooted genuinely in a non-Western culture.
One part near-future sci-fi in a post-internet world, one part locked-room murder mystery, and two parts fast-paced Hitchcockian thriller, with a dash of Hammett, the Real-Town Murders is recommended for fans of the mystery novel as much as it is for sci-fi readers, written by an author who proves himself to be a master of both these crafts. And yes, a book that will also make Alfred Hitchcock fans happy.
The list of books I’d recommend to someone who wants to get into or start reading, sci-fi has now been updated, with this tale from a master storyteller telling a different kind of sci-fi story. One of the most lauded and recommended sci-fi novellas of our times, the Hugo and Nebula-winning Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor is the tale of a young African girl of the Himba tribe, living in the very far future, and her adventures as she sets out to be a student at the most prestigious educational institutions in the galaxy, Oomza University. What makes Binti more special is that this is a different kind of sci-fi, evolved from a different line of ancestors, and seeped in the culture that birthed it.
A book for robots who question their programming, Autonomous is an intelligent thriller with patent pirates, biohackers, sentient robots and questions about freedom, free will, and gender. Set in a future world a little over a century from now, Autonomous is a thriller of a novel that explores big ideas about the implications of unbridled capitalism, of people (born or manufactured) as property, of anthropomorphising artificial intelligence, the conflict between property law and piracy, and the coming golden age of biotech – while giving it a cyberpunk-ish treatment.
Missing good space opera? Intergalactic adventures, interstellar intrigue, ancient aliens, sentient spaceships and space battles in a fun, fulfilling book? Here’s a good read that’ll scratch that itch. Set in the far future, when humanity is part of an intergalactic community, Embers of War follows the adventures of the autonomous and conscious spaceship, Trouble Dog and her motley crew of misfits, exiles and outcasts, intertwined with a mysterious poet with a hidden past and a secret agent on a mission which soon gets more complicated than he bargained for. But what really makes this book stand out is Gareth L Powell’s very human and emotional handling of the characters in particular and the story at large.
That’s it for this recap. New Worlds Weekly will return next week with its 101st edition as it begins its third season, and as with the first two years, we hope to have your support and your company as we together explore this many-splendored thing we call SF.
Live long and prosper!
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