#RRSciFiMonth: Mogsy’s Top 10 Sci-Fi Reads of 2017
As Sci-Fi November comes to a close, I hope everyone has enjoyed the science fiction related goodies we’ve featured at The BiblioSanctum this month. I also want to take this opportunity to thank Lisa at Over the Effing Rainbow and Imyril at X+1 for running such a successful event this year, and we hope to keep participating in this annual tradition.
Anyway, what better way to wrap things up than with a Top 10 list of the best Science Fiction novels I’ve read in 2017? It was certainly a tough choice narrowing it down, since I read a lot of books this year, but these are the sci-fi books that really stood out for me and I hope you’ll check them out.
My first book by the author, and what a way to start my initiation into the Adrian Tchaikovsky fan club. I’ve never read anything quite like this before. First of all we have this incredible story, which has everything in place for a space opera of the grandest proportions. Long ago, when Earth was on its last legs and humanity feared it could go no further, scientists were sent out beyond the solar system to find and terraform new planets to ensure the future of our species. One of them, the brilliant but megalomaniacal Dr. Avrana Kern was successful in locating such a world, but just as she was about to implement a nanotech virus to accelerate the development process, sabotage occurred. Kern’s monkeys that were intended for biological uplift were not deployed on the planet because they were all killed in the attack on her ship. However, the nanovirus intended to speed up evolution in the monkeys did in fact make it onto the planet, imbedding itself into—wait for it—a species of spiders. As a huge life sciences geek, I loved the ideas behind books like Children of Time or what some other science fiction fans call “biopunk”. It’s one of the smartest, most remarkable and innovative science fiction novels I’ve read in years and now I can’t wait to read more by Adrian Tchaikovsky. (Read the full review…)
Mother Nature can be a scary bitch. Which was why, when I first found out about the premise of The Genius Plague, I was immediately intrigued. A great number of books, movies, and video games have come out in recent years to show us just how screwed humanity would be if we ever went to war with Kingdom Fungi, but unlike most examples where being infected with a fungal plague usually meant very bad things, in the case of this novel, a fungal infection actually made you…smarter? This was definitely a new angle for me, and I was curious to see how it would play out. We begin this tale deep in the Amazon jungle, where mycologist Paul Johns was on scientific expedition. Shortly after boarding the riverboat that would take him back to civilization, however, they are attacked by a group of men disguised in military uniform, and Paul barely manages to survive. Rescue finally comes after days of trekking through the rainforest, and he eventually makes it back home to the US only to be diagnosed with a lung infection caused by fungal spores. He eventually recovers, but then begins showing signs of increased intelligence. It appears that the fungus has altered his brain functioning, improving memory centers and enhancing pattern recognition and communication skills. Excited about what this could mean for the human race, Paul believes that a symbiotic relationship with the fungus is the next step in human evolution, but his brother Neil, a little more circumspect, is not entirely convinced that joining with an unknown organism would be in humanity’s best interest. (Read the full review…)
The Punch Escrow has all the makings of a runaway hit which will no doubt strike a chord with a broad range of readers, reaching even those who might not normally read sci-fi. It is not only clever and technological, but also a lot of fun. Opening in the year 2147, the story follows protagonist Joel Byrama, a typical average guy who’s dealing with some problems in his marriage. Ever since Joel’s wife Sylvia got her promotion at International Transport, the company that made teleportation possible, the two of them had started to drift apart. All that was supposed to change with the couple’s plans for a second honeymoon in the remote mountains of Costa Rica. Unfortunately though, while at the New York City teleportation center on his way to meet up with his wife in San Jose, Joel suffers a terrible mishap. The incident results in Joel being duplicated, raising some serious questions about the truth behind teleportation—questions that certain parties will go to great lengths to silence. This book ended up being extremely fun, fast-paced, and thrilling, yet there’s also a deeper, tender side to our protagonist’s existential journey and moments where he experiences meaningful philosophical reverie. It’s truly a wholly unique, mind-bogglingly innovative novel that only come once in a blue moon. (Read the full review…)
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the biggest fan of short fiction, but I genuinely enjoy reading Brandon Sanderson novellas. Whether his books are 1000 pages or 100, they’re always fun to read, not to mention creative as hell. As you’d expect, this was definitely the case with Snapshot. Davis and Chaz are investigative partners with an interesting job, working out of a town called New Clipperton where law enforcement has access to a very special facility that helps them solve crimes. The police there have access to a technology that allows them to create a “Snapshot”, a perfect reconstruction of a day recently in the past right down to the smallest detail. Knowing exactly what’s going to happen beforehand, investigators like Davis and Chaz can be sent through into Snapshots to gather evidence or to witness the actual crimes that take place, which may then lead to arrests and charges in the real world. What follows is a pulse-pounding hunt for a serial killer as our two able investigators uncover even more gruesome details about the perpetrator’s crimes. If you’re even passing familiar with Sanderson’s work though, you’ll already know that things are never so straightforward. Yes, Snapshot is a mystery, but there are so many layers to this novella that I believe even non-fans of crime and detective stories will be able to appreciate it. (Read the full review…)
Cold Welcome was my first Elizabeth Moon novel, and what an excellent surprise it was! Knowing little about the book, I dove right in thinking it would be your run-of-the-mill military science fiction, so imagine my delight when I found out it was more of a survival adventure. The star of the novel is Admiral Kylara Vatta, a space-fleet commander returning to her home world of Slotter Key where a hero’s welcome awaits her. But when sabotage brings her shuttle down over the most inhospitable part of the planet, what greets her instead is death and rough icy seas. With most of the shuttle’s passengers dead from the crash, Ky and all those who are left on the life rafts must do what they can to survive until the rescue crews can reach them. However, as time goes on, the hope that someone will find them before the winter sets in begins to fade. So far Ky’s leadership has kept them going far beyond what they expected, but soon the survivors will need better shelter and a new source of food. And yet when they make landfall on a rocky beach, they find their conditions are only marginally improved. This continent, apparently abandoned because of failed terraforming efforts, has little in terms of resources, but what the survivors do find is a secret military base that certain shadowy groups have gone to great lengths to conceal. Now there is a new fear that those coming for the survivors might not be their rescuers at all, but in fact the saboteurs looking to finish the job. (Read the full review…)
Books like Ghosts of Tomorrow make me wonder why Michael R. Fletcher isn’t a bigger deal. I don’t even enjoy cyberpunk all that much, but I fucking loved this. These are the kinds of stories I enjoy, gripping narratives about darkly philosophical subjects with plenty of intrigue and in-your-face action and violence mixed in. In the near future, when most of the world’s countries have consolidated into continental trade unions in order to compete in the global market, technology has come a long way with the advent of brain scans and the ability to transfer a deceased person’s mind into machines called chassis. Not quite human and yet not quite a computer, these scans have effectively become a source of slave labor. Officially, people become scans voluntarily, but because demand outstrips supply, criminal organizations have capitalized by churning out their own black market scans in illegal crèches. It’s a horrifying process: children are either illicitly bred, bought, or stolen from their homes, put through forced conditioning, and then killed for their precious brains which are then scanned and sold. Do not read this book if you are squeamish or prefer only safe, happy, familiar topics—because here you will find the complete opposite of all that. Unflinchingly twisted and mind-bending, Ghosts of Tomorrow is guaranteed to get under your skin and stay with you for a very long time. (Read the full review…)
The Last Iota is definitely one of those awesome and rare instances where a sequel surpasses its predecessor. All the elements that made the first book such a rollicking good read are back, and this time the mystery is even bigger, better, and more impressive than before. The humor has been cranked up a notch as well, thanks to the often witty, sardonic back-and-forth exchanges between the two main characters. It is the year 2039, eleven years after the great Collapse which decimated the world’s economy and caused a large chunk of Los Angeles to be abandoned by the American government, turning it into the Disincorporated Zone. Picking up shortly after the end of the first book, the story once again follows Blake Fowler as he struggles to keep his and his partner Erasmus Keane’s private investigation firm afloat following the fallout from their last assignment. Besides being hilariously funny and full of exhilarating plot twists, the premise behind The Last Iota is also incredibly fascinating. I’ve always asserted that the best reads are not only fun and satisfying, but they also leave you feeling like you learned something interesting and new. Within this narrative Kroese has also injected all the central features of classic noir and then some, combining mystery elements with imaginative world-building and social ramifications to create something that is entirely unique and stands on its own. (Read the full review…)
Meet Bob Johansson, who has just sold off his software company and is looking to take his new fortune to a service offering their clients the option to cryogenically freeze themselves in the event of their deaths. You can probably guess where this is headed. Sure enough, while enjoying his new life of freedom and leisure, Bob gets distracted while crossing the street and—BAM! Pain and blackness is the last thing he remembers before waking up more than a century later to discover that he is now an artificial intelligence created from a brain scan of his consciousness. The country has turned into a theocracy which has declared that replicants like Bob are without rights. He is also now the property of a government program, developed to be a self-replicating interstellar von Neumann probe with the goal of exploring the galaxy. As Bob travels deeper into space, he also begins to realize the need for more processing power, leading him to clone himself multiple times in order to distribute all his responsibilities. And thus, we end up with a “legion” of Bobs, each one going about their own way and chronicling their own adventures in deep space. Having finished this book and seen for myself what it’s all about, I can understand now why the popularity of this book blew up in such a short time. I highly recommend taking a look for yourself, especially if you enjoy space opera or sci-fi comedy that manages to be both smart and funny. (Read the full review…)
Reading Martha Wells is always such a delight, but All Systems Red seemed like such a departure from her usual projects so I had no idea what to expect. As it turned out though, this little novella was a real treat. Told from the point of a view of a rogue SecUnit—a part organic, part synthetic android designed to provide humans with protection and security services—this novella takes readers on a journey to a distant planet being explored by team of scientists. Accompanying them is our protagonist, a self-proclaimed “Murderbot” who has hacked its own governor so that it doesn’t have to follow any directives. All it wants is to be left alone to enjoy the thousands of hours of entertainment vids that it has downloaded from the humans’ satellites. Of course, no one can suspect that Murderbot is secretly autonomous, so it still has to go about its job like everything is normal, which was working out just fine until one day, a routine surface test goes seriously wrong. Murderbot ends up saving the day, and soon it is left with no choice but to take the lead in defending the scientists, when disaster strikes another neighboring expedition on the planet and threatens to come after them next. There wasn’t much else I didn’t enjoy about this book. It was entertaining, and more importantly, it also felt complete to me, unlike a lot of novellas that leave me wanting more. Murderbot’s narration was a joy to follow, and I definitely would not hesitate recommending All Systems Red to anyone looking for a quick sci-fi fix with a fun and captivating premise. (Read the full review…)
Defy the Stars follows Noemi Vidal, a seventeen year old soldier for her planet, Genesis. Ever since her people split from Earth many generations ago, the two sides have been fighting. However, Earth has a powerful weapon on their side: Burton Mansfield, a scientist and cybernetics genius who designs androids, or mechs, for the purposes of war. In the face of this tireless army, it’s only a matter of time before Genesis is overwhelmed and destroyed. Meanwhile though, on a battled-damaged and abandoned ship called the Daedalus, a mech named Abel has been living alone for the last thirty years, yearning to be reunited with his creator. As the most advanced mech the galaxy has ever seen, he is Burton Mansfield’s greatest and most perfect creation, though in the eyes of Genesis, he is an abomination. For the past three decades, Abel’s programming has been learning and evolving, becoming more human. Then one day, Earth launches a surprise attack on Genesis’ ships, leading a Noemi to chance upon the Daedalus and Abel in her desperate attempt to escape. Equal parts space adventure and slow-burn romance, this book was an entertaining sci-fi romp from start to finish. Sure, it’s not setting any new standards or shattering any molds, but the story was still a rollicking fun read with a romantic arc I actually enjoyed. If you’re a YA fan who enjoys stories set in space, this fun and fast-paced adventure among the stars could be exactly what you’re looking for. (Read the full review…)