Science Fiction has so often been overlooked or actively consigned to the ‘pulp fiction’ scrap heap by the critics and the literary establishment. Yet it is a field that has constantly produced some of the most l thoughtful original and lastingly relevant writing across the years.
This is a personal selection of some great science fiction novels published over the last ten years or so, together with one or two ground breaking books from times past.
China Mieville£9.99 £9.29
On the surface a murder mystery but the investigation crosses the boundaries between two separate worlds. On our own planet there are cities which are deeply divided -Jerusalem or Berlin before the wall came down. Here the two cities actually occupy the same physical space but such is the strength of upbringing and conditioning that people can walk down the same street yet filter out everything that does not ‘belong’ to their space. So, behind the fascinating detective trail isa sophisticated commentary on psychological conditioning and the strength of preconceptions and and the dangers of divisive religions and pollical movements.
Cixin Liu£8.99 £8.36
Faraway in the universe is a solar system where three suns revolve around each other in an unstable fashion. The single planet in the system moves through phases of extreme chaos where civilisation is threatened. From this planet an invasion force is heading towards earth – but it will be 450 year before it arrives. Early contact is made and a secret organisation develops amongst people disillusioned with earthly trends who believe the invaders can solve earth’s problems. Among them is Ye Wenjie, an astrophysics graduate, who as a child witnessed her father beaten to death by the Red Guards during the Cultural revolution. An epic of interplanetary contact exploring power, science, politics and conspiracies.
James Smythe£8.99 £8.36
A brilliantly conceived fictional exploration of the horrors and possibilities of artificial Intelligence. From its opening in 1997 when a lost and troubled teenager begins to develop her own software to power her diary and to become her confidante, the book continues with a sequence of 10 year leaps forward in time. Laura becomes a leading software engineer working on increasingly sophisticated programmes that become integrated through the web with alarming consequences. What marks out this story is the deep humanity at its heart as the impact of AI on our lives is explored across a lifetime.
Andy Weir£8.99 £8.36
One man stranded on an alien planet must survive with only the bits and pieces left from previous missions – as well as his own wit and inventiveness. The hard science behind this tale of survival against the odds is impeccable and the character of Mark Watney brings life and sometimes humour to this pacy, page turner which became a brilliant Ridley Scott film. The book is notable also because, despite its eventual enormous success, it was originally declined by publishers and was first self-published in serial form on the author’s own website.
Ann Leckie£8.99 £8.36
This epic took the classic space opera form to new and conceptually ambitious level. Two empires are battling for control, thousands of years in the future. Humans become ‘ancilliaries’ their bodies controlled by spaceships powered by Artificial Intelligence. When one such ship, the massive ‘Justice of Toren’ is destroyed, a single human soldier survives and faces an enormous challenge; one fragile human against the might of an empire.
Emily St. John Mandel£9.99 £9.29
Not generally a writer of science fiction, Emily St John Mendel sets this 2014 novel in a future North America where a deadly flu pandemic has devastated civilisation and small isolated bands of survivors are beginning to rebuild society. A small company of travelling actors set out on tour to stage plays in the new struggling communities in this gentle and graceful tale which shows the importance of art and theatre in a grim future world.
Ursula K. Le Guin£8.99 £8.36
Published in 1969 this novel was so far ahead of its time it still seems ground breaking and is a supreme example of how science fiction can be subtle sophisticated and experimental. Genly Ai is a kind of interplanetary anthropologist sent to report back on the state of civilisation on a far flung planet. It is a cold and permanently wintry world where people are mostly androgynous, only taking on male or female characteristics briefly when entering a sexualised phase. Ai struggles to understand the politics and social conventions of a world where gender is so different in this novel which includes one of the most unusual love stories ever written.
Kazuo Ishiguro£20.00 £18.60
Set in a future where where, for those that can afford it, an Artificial Friend can be the perfect companion to help youngsters navigate the turbulent teenage years. The novel opens with the android Klara on display in a department store waiting and hoping that she will be bought and introduced to the world outside. She is programmed to observe and learn and when she is finally taken into a family it is through her eyes that we begin to see the nature of this future world and what it is that makes us human.
Ray Bradbury£8.99 £8.36
Science Fiction as we know it really developed through the American short story magazines of the twentieth century. Ray Bradbury was a master of the short story and this collection, published in the 1950's, is framed by the Illustrated Man who travel the country with a carnival displaying his amazingly intricate tattoos which cover his whole body. Each tattoo tells a story all different but all display Bradbury’s power to explore the impact and possibilities of technology and the real hopes fears and dreams of people.
Naomi Alderman£8.99 £8.36
This 2016 novel shows how science fiction allows an author to imagine one big twist or change in the world and see where it might lead. In this thought-provoking thriller young women across the world begin to develop a strange power to emit electricity through their fingers. A power that can be controlled, used to protect themselves…or to attack, hurt or even kill. The gender balance of power is totally overturned and we have a glimpse of a possible world where women are in charge.