#RRSciFiMonth: Top 10 Sci-Fi Reads of 2018
Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish, a weekly meme that now resides at That Artsy Reader Girl. The meme first came about because of a love of lists. Who doesn’t love lists? The original creators also wanted their lists to be shared with fellow book lovers and to ask that we in turn share ours with them and connect with other book bloggers. To learn more about participating, stop by their page dedicated to it and dive in!
This week’s topic: Top Ten Sci-Fi Reads of 2018
Today’s topic is actually a Thanksgiving freebie, but it being Sci-Fi Month, I thought it would be apt to use this week’s post to express my gratitude and give a tip of the hat to the top ten best science fiction books I’ve had the pleasure to read this year. Of course, 2018 isn’t quite over yet, so this list may still be expanded in my year-end wrap-up. So far though, these are the ones that have really stood out for me.
Rarely have I ever read a debut as solid as Semiosis by Sue Burke. This multi-generational story takes place over the course of many years, following a group of human colonists who have traveled light years from Earth to settle on a planet they dubbed Pax. The first pioneers, made up of mostly young scientists and activists who were saddened by the plight of their polluted and war-torn world, hoped to start over and establish a peaceful society on this newly discovered planet. However, they were wholly unprepared for the alien environment that awaited them, nor did they anticipate Pax’s bizarre flora and fauna and the surprising ways they interacted with their surroundings. As someone fascinated with biology, my favorite aspect of Semiosis was the author’s portrayal of the plant and animal life on this strange new world. The world-building was phenomenal and extremely convincing, as though I was truly transported to an alien planet, encountering organisms that felt vaguely familiar and yet unlike anything I’d ever seen before. I would highly recommend this book for readers who are interested in a fresh and fun perspective on planetary exploration stories and space colonization sci-fi. (Read the full review…)
Despite knowing that Obsidio was the final book of a planned trilogy, it still hit me hard when it was over. I genuinely believe it’s because The Illuminae Files is one of those once-in-a-lifetime kinds of stories—a series that will stand in its own class, as time will prove, though I have no doubt plenty of imitators will try to duplicate its successes in the years to come. As for the novel itself, the story is once again told in the epistolary style established by the first two books, presented as a collection of transcripts, journal entries, emails, chat messages, and other types of documentation. It picks up from the end of Gemina, following the major characters that have already been introduced while adding a couple more in to the mix. Unlike the previous installments though, this time the focus of the tale is split, requiring the reader to simultaneously keep track of no less than six characters, spread out between two very different settings. This also made Obsidio the most complex installment, with a lot of background information to cover. For all that, the authors still did an outstanding job keeping up the tensions and excitement, filling the plot with plenty of conflicts and plot twists. One might even venture to say it is the deepest and most emotional of the three books, tying everything up so that the final pages filled me with a warm sense of satisfaction and fondness. At the end of the day, that’s all I can really ask for. (Read the full review…)
I’m a huge fan of Scalzi, having read almost all his novels, and when Lock In came out a few years ago it quickly became one of my favorite books by the author. It was therefore with great excitement that I picked up Head On, which is described as its standalone sequel. Once more, readers follow Chris Shane, the series’ rookie FBI agent protagonist. Chris is also a Haden, the name given to those individuals whose minds are “locked in” as the result of a devastating flu that swept across the globe several decades ago. This disease killed many in the first stage of the infection, but a percentage went on to survive only to suffer acute meningitis, which affected the victim’s brain and caused them to become trapped in a state of being fully awake and aware but having no control over their voluntary nervous systems. A cure for this condition was given the highest priority, though none was ever found. Instead, scientists created humanoid personal transports called “Threeps” into which locked in individuals were able to link their minds remotely, allowing them to interact with their world even as their physical bodies remained immobile. Head On is in every sense a Scalzi novel. It has his signature style all over it: in the clever premise, the slick sense of humor, the quippy lines of dialogue. I had a smashing good time, and whether you are new to the author or a long-time fan, I think you will too. (Read the full review…)
By now, the Planetfall books have begun to establish a pattern: each book in the series stands alone, following a different character as he or she travels their own journey across this complex and unforgiving universe. The third book in the chronology, Before Mars, also fits this trend. This time, the story follows the life of Anna Kubrin, a young geologist who has arrived on the Red Planet to study it with a group of her fellow scientists, but mostly she is also there to put her artistic talents to work as a commissioned painter. Upon her arrival on Mars, however, Anna is immediately confronted with adversity. I could probably go on and on about the delectable mystery of this book, but as always, when it comes to many of Emma Newman’s novels, I felt that character development was the greatest strength. Like the two previous volumes, Before Mars stars a protagonist who feels caught outside of society’s norms and standards. However, it also has the distinct sensation of being a more personal book for the author. A lot of it rings a little too genuine and too powerful for me to believe it is completely fiction, which along with Newman’s acknowledgement section makes me think that a lot of her protagonist’s experiences are largely based on her own. Whether or not this is the case, in the end, the character-driven nature of the story and the author’s personal touch elevates this one to something that is truly beautiful and extraordinary. (Read the full review…)
Whew! What a ride this was. I’m already a big fan of the author from his Naturalist series, and not long ago, I discovered that before those books, he had also written a near-future sci-fi duology described as a space disaster meets manhunt thriller. In Station Breaker, we are introduced to astronaut David Dixon, who is feeling excited but also a little nervous about his first mission. His whole life, David has always dreamed about going to space, and after waiting in the wings for so long, he’d started to think this day would never come. So understandably, he is a little hesitant to say anything to jeopardize his chances when he notices the mission commander slip a gun into their spacesuit. Being the rookie though, David decides to trust his superiors. Unfortunately, that decision ultimately winds up with shots fired on a Russian space station, leading to multiple deaths and David is forced to make an emergency landing back to Earth by himself, while the whole world thinks he is a terrorist. By now, I’ve come to expect certain things from Andrew Mayne, like his addictive writing style, his hilariously snarky sense of humor, and his ability to pull me in with fascinating science. And of course, who can forget his over-the-top plot twists? This book was completely insane. Thing is though, I didn’t mind at all. Funny and packed to the gills with action, this would be great read for anyone looking for a high-octane thriller. (Read the full review…)
I suspect we’ll see this one on a lot of best-of lists this year. Record of A Spaceborn Few might be my favorite Wayfarers novel yet. Like both of its predecessors, this third volume in the series is a deeply personal tale, but the core of its narrative explores the evolution and development of human society, focusing particular attention on the shipborne descendants of the last people to leave a dying Earth. The Exodus Fleet is a collection of ancient ships home to the largest population of humans found outside the Sol system. Since their departure from Earth, generations have been born and raised here. And while some have left for greener pastures, never to return, others have chosen to stay and carry on the way of life. This book touched me in a profound, beautiful way. Like the previous novels, it is celebration of life, love, and hope. There is just so much heart here, the message being that the galaxy might be a big and scary place, but you can always count on the best of humanity to come out in a crisis. Once again, I’m simply astonished at the level of warmth and compassion found in the individual character’s stories. Each person is someone you can relate to, someone you can come to care deeply about. What more can I say? Becky Chambers is probably one of the most remarkable talents to break out in recent years, and I think her stories are only getting better and better. (Read the full review…)
This one’s for the kids…and the dogs. Billed as The Incredible Journey set in space, Voyage of the Dogs follows a team of four scrappy and adorable canine Barkonauts as they travel aboard the colonization ship Laika as companions and specially trained helpers to the human crew. Our protagonist is a terrier mix named Lopside, who fought hard against the odds to make it into the Barkonauts program despite his small size. The book begins with the crew preparing to go into hibernation for a long journey. When the dogs wake up though, they find the Laika severely damaged, the ship empty save for the four of them. Alone with just their wits, Lopside and his fellow Barkonauts must work together to survive and find out what happened to the human crew. That’s because they are good dogs, and good dogs always complete their mission. Despite initial reservations that this book would be too childish, I actually ended up enjoying it a lot. Yes, it is cutesy and has talking dogs, but I was also impressed with the story and many of its deeper and more poignant themes. All in all, a tail-wagging good time. I don’t often find myself taken with a lot of children’s books, but this is definitely one to bark about. (Read the full review…)
I’m featuring this second book of the Murderbot Diaries, but really, this entire series is a treasure. Following Murderbot’s leave-taking from its former team of human allies, our protagonist now has a precarious kind of freedom to decide where to take the next step. But with so much of its past shrouded in mystery, everyone’s favorite SecUnit is resolved to fill in the missing details in its memory bank first, and to do so, it must find a way to pass itself off as human in order to travel freely. Just its luck though, Murderbot gets stuck on a transport whose AI sees right through its cover story and disguise. With each book in The Murderbot Diaries, Martha Wells continues to expand and explore the personality of her protagonist, putting her character in new situations where it must learn and adapt. Despite being somewhat prickly and a little awkward, Murderbot is charming in its own way, and I just love reading these adventures through the eyes of such a compelling character. (Read the full review…)
As someone who has lost track of the number of times I’ve been hoodwinked into reading so-called sci-fi comedy mashups à la Douglas Adams or Star Trek-like spoofs only to have them turn out to be cringeworthy juvenile attempts at humor, all I have to say is Gate Crashers is the real deal. Smart, funny, and creative, it elicited more than a few genuine belly laughs from me, and not a lot of books can do that. My past experiences with books that have touted something similar have mostly been enjoyable, but in my eyes, they all lacked something important: balance. Humor, especially parody, can be quite tricky. What I’ve learned is that the amount of silliness in a story is usually inversely proportional to the amount of depth you’ll find. Go overboard with the slapstick or toilet humor, and you also run the risk of turning off your readers looking for something less infantile. Perhaps what works most about Gate Crashers is that it could probably be categorized as full-on comedy, but general sci-fi readers can also enjoy it as an adventurous space opera with comedic elements. While books of this genre aren’t all that uncommon, I found the blend of humor and amount of substance behind the story to be just right, and for me to find something that strikes that perfect balance is very special and rare indeed. (Read the full review…)
In a word, Skyward soars. Teenager Spensa has always grown up in her father’s shadow, though in her world, it is not so rare for the descendants of First Citizens families to feel outshined by the heroic achievements of their elders in the Battle of Alta—the battle in which forty pilots for the Defiant Defense Force protected their planet Detritus from the alien Krell attack. Except in Spensa’s case, her father was known as the pilot who ran. Shot down in disgrace for trying to abandon the fight, the stain of his legacy has followed his daughter since. Because in the DDF, there’s nothing worse than being a coward. However, becoming a pilot has always been Spensa’s greatest desire, and thanks to the growing Krell threat and an unexpected ally in her corner, she may have found a way to achieve her dreams after all. As always, Sanderson brings his own brand of storytelling and creative concepts to the table, which is why even if you don’t consider yourself a “YA fiction” person, you shouldn’t let the label discourage you from checking this one out. While Skyward isn’t exactly as nuanced as the author’s adult novels, I think it explores some rather important coming-of-age lessons, especially those related to identity and defining yourself. I hope Sanderson will expand this universe because I’m definitely interested in more. (Read the full review…)
For epic fantasy lovers who want to see storytelling, characters, and worldbuilding get the same extensive, sweeping treatment in sci-fi, Empire of Silence is the answer. In this ambitious debut, readers are introduced to Hadrian Marlowe, a monster or a hero—you decide. The entire galaxy knows his name, but well before he achieved notoriety as the man who defeated an alien race—by destroying a sun and snuffing out billions of lives to do it—he was the disappointing firstborn son of a noble archon and hopeful heir to the family’s uranium empire. Since so much of the truth about his past has been misrepresented or obscured, Hadrian’s own accounting of his life’s story makes it clear there is much more than meets the eye.
Rosewater was weird, but in the best way possible. The story opens in 2066 to a world that has seen dramatic changes since the arrival of an alien lifeform which has settled itself near right outside of Lagos, Nigeria. There, the alien presence has taken the form of a biodome, giving rise to Rosewater, the name of the community that has sprung up around its edges. I won’t deny this was a story that took a long time to take shape and gain traction, but it eventually expanded and developed into something strangely wonderful and compelling. So if you are feeling brave, consider giving Rosewater a chance to sweep you off your feet.
And speaking of reading outside my comfort zone, The Oracle Year is another fascinating novel, following the life of a struggling bassist named Will Dando who wakes up one morning from a dream, his head filled with 108 predictions about the future. Enlisting the help of his friend Hamza, Will proceeds to set up a heavily secured and untraceable website where he begins to release his predictions to the world anonymously, calling himself the Oracle. Pretty soon, he becomes a world-wide sensation when every single one of his prophecies come true. Now everyone wants their future told by the Oracle, from those who think he is some kind of savior to global corporations willing to pay big bucks for any information he can give them. I’m glad I took a chance on this thrilling and fast-paced adventurous debut.