#SciFiMonth Favorite Science Fiction A-Z
One of the most fun posts I did on my blog this year was my “Favorite Books A to Z” list this summer, and when I saw that Tammy from Books, Bones, and Buffy had adapted the feature for Sci-Fi Month, I just knew I had to get on board as well! After all, I just love making lists. So without further ado, here’s an A-Z list of even more titles I’ve read and loved, the Science Fiction edition! Where I was able, I’ve also tried my best not to duplicate books I’ve talked about on recent “best of” lists, because there’s a lot of good stuff out there and lots of hidden gems to discover, so let’s spread the love.
Our story begins with the main protagonist, our unnamed narrator, waking up on a dead ship with no one else alive on board besides a trio of newly graduated recruits from the Evagardian Imperial Service. The only clue we have to his identity is the insignia on his sleeper pod that marks him as an admiral…but is he? He and and his three trainee companions are stranded on an unknown planet, and worse, their faltering equipment is picking up signs that they are not alone after all. Something dangerous is lurking out there, and it might have been what killed everyone…
This one is Will McIntosh’s first YA novel and the premise is just so cool! Imagine going to sleep one day and waking up the next to find that everything has changed, thanks to the sudden appearance of strange, colorful marble-sized spheres all over the world. And when you put a matched set of the same color to your temples (in a process called “burning” the spheres) they can permanently enhance your features and abilities. But of course, some colors are rarer than others, and there’s a lot more demand for the desirable traits. As a result, a billion industry has sprung up around the spheres, though there are also the “little guys” like our protagonist David, a high school sphere hunter who buys and sells them at the local flea market on weekends. Desperate for money after his mom loses his job, Sully decides to join forces with Hunter, a girl with a natural talent for finding spheres. Together, they hope to strike it rich soon with one big find, and then one day, they get lucky—really lucky—by finding a Gold, a color that no one has ever seen before, and it’s anyone’s guess what it might do.
Cold Welcome was my first Elizabeth Moon, so I had no background knowledge of the story or any of the characters prior to starting. But even though it is actually the first book of a new sequel series to Vatta’s War, I still found it perfectly accessible as a newcomer to the world. And what an excellent surprise it was! A space-fleet commander is returning to her home world of Slotter Key when sabotage brings her shuttle down over the most inhospitable part of the planet. With most of the shuttle’s passengers dead from the crash, those who are left alive must do all they can to survive the icy rough seas until the rescue crews can reach them.
Dark Eden takes place in the far-flung future on an alien planet. Approximately 160 years ago, five human astronauts were stranded on this dark and icebound world, which they dubbed Eden. The planet is too far from its sun and the only inhabitable areas are those where the ground is warm and the lantern trees give off light. Three of the original humans who arrived decided to leave in their damaged spaceship to seek help from Earth, but two opted to remain behind on Eden instead. Generations later, the population of Eden has grown from those two, to 532. Collectively calling themselves “Family”, they all live together in the area they call Circle Valley, the site of the original circle of stones laid down by the first astronauts to mark where the landing vehicle is supposed to return to when they come take them all back to Earth. However, with their numbers ever increasing, Circle Valley is becoming far too small for Family and the surrounding resources are becoming depleted. One teenager named John Redlantern changes everything when he proposes Family abandon their old ways to seek new expansion beyond the forest and over the mountains.
Following a handful of characters, the story is set in the aftermath of a bitter and violent war fought in a galaxy rife with political tensions. Disgusted with the part she played, the sentient warship Trouble Dog has decided on a new course for her life, joining the House of Reclamation, an organization that answers the calls of distressed starships, in the hopes of atoning for the atrocities she committed. Sal Konstanz, who once fought against Trouble Dog, now finds herself on the same side as the ship as her captain. Together with their crew of medics and rescue workers, they follow a signal from a downed vessel to a touristy but disputed area of space called the Gallery, a system whose planets have all been carved into gargantuan intricate shapes by an ancient alien race, where the ship of a missing poet is purported to have gone down.
Fortune’s Pawn introduces us to Deviana “Devi” Morris, a Paradoxian mercenary not content to settle for anything less than the best — and the best, to her, is a position with the Devastators, the elite armored branch of the king’s fighting force. But achieving such a decorated post won’t be easy, and Devi knows she will need a lot more experience to even get herself noticed. Following a tip from a friend, Devi applies for a job on the Glorious Fool, a tiny trade vessel with a reputation for being a “cursed ship”. Trouble seems to always follow the Fool, and it is said that one year of security work there is equal to five years anywhere else. If experience is what the Devastators want, Devi figures there’s no better place to get it. After all, she’s confident her skills can get her through anything.
Ghosts of Tomorrow takes place 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 too, 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. Certain boutique crèches have even sprung up, brainwashing and training children to become loyal, unquestioning fighters intended for combat and assassin chassis. Somewhere deep within mob territory in Costa Rica, the scanned mind of an autistic girl known only as 88 awakens to her new reality. Bought for an exorbitant sum from a black market crèche, her scan was originally acquired by the South American Mafia to manage and expand their vast business empire by seeking out patterns in everything from financial markets to sports betting pools. However, all 88 wants to do is find her mom. And unfortunately for 88’s masters, she has all the mental and technological resources at her disposal to break free of their virtual chains.
Hollow World tells the tale of a man who has played it safe his whole life until he has nothing left to lose, and what he finds in the far, far future is way more than just the freedom from his illness. The story was compelling from page one, with its masterful introduction to its protagonist Ellis in the moments after he first receives the life-altering news about his disease. It’s obvious that Michael J. Sullivan also drew inspiration from The Time Machine, and how Ellis manage to travel forward in time in a disembodied old van seat surrounded by a stack of plastic milk crates isn’t the point of the book — it’s the character’s story, its fascinating concepts and the heartfelt emotions it invoked, that will make this book stay with me for a long time.
Presented in an epistolary format Illuminae follows a pair of high school students, Kady and Ezra, who break up the morning their planet was invaded. Talk about poor timing. It is the year 2575 and whole galactic empires are ruled by megacorps, and the two teenagers just happen to reside on Kerenza, a small ice planet on the edge of the universe involved in a secret and illegal mining operation by one of these corporations. Rival corp BeiTech descends upon them, destroying the Kerenza settlement, leaving thousands dead and on the run. Kady and Ezra are among the survivors who end up on the Alexander fleet. Damaged and crippled, the fleet limps away towards the closest jump gate more than half a year away, while an enemy dreadnaught follows in hot pursuit, determined to leave no witnesses.
What a fun little time travel book! And on top of that, it wastes no time getting to the good stuff. The story stars our plucky narrator Madeleine “Max” Maxwell, a historian who gets recruited by a group of time travelers working undercover behind the façade of St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research. After the most hilariously bizarre interview process, Max join up with them and the adventures—and the disasters—immediately begin. After a while, it’s clear that Murphy’s Law generally applies to all missions at St. Mary’s.
This book was like eating a big bowl of popcorn for lunch — sure, you’re not really getting anything substantial from it, but boy does it fill you up good and gobbling it all down felt so wickedly delicious and indulgent. Like a B-action movie, Koko Takes a Holiday was great pulpy fun while it lasted. It stars Koko, an ex-merc who has retired from the hired soldier gig to run a brothel at the tropical archipelago resort known as a place for tourists to indulge in their sexual simulated fantasies. Sure, it’s sleazy, but Koko figures, what the hell, she’s having a good time and she’s earned her rest. But then, of course, an old comrade-in-arms had to show up and ruin it all.
Now, there was no way I wasn’t going to feature The Expanse somewhere on this list today. And of course, I just had to choose the book that started it all. Leviathan Wakes was a great read, though nothing like I expected. It was probably the weakest of the series, but considering it was the first book and also the first time Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (the two authors who make up the pen name James S.A. Corey) worked together, hey, I’d say it’s pretty impressive. I have followed The Expanse ever since, and the series has become one of my favorites of all time.
At its heart, The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is a deep analysis and portrayal of its protagonist Caterina Novak, daughter of a brilliant yet a eccentric inventor and cybernetics expert. We follow her character’s development from childhood to her adult years, witnessing as, at five years old, Cat first lays eyes on Finn, the android her father brings home to be her tutor. But as Cat grows, she discovers Finn is different from other androids. With every year that passes, their relationship becomes increasingly complicated as Cat starts to see Finn as someone more than just a tutor and friend.
Noir was my first experience with the writing of humorist Christopher Moore, and I was not disappointed. The story opens in San Francisco, 1947. Protagonist Sammy “Two Toes” Tiffin is working as a bartender at Sal’s Saloon, when a beautiful blonde named Stilton (like “the Cheese”, which is henceforth how she will be known to Sammy) breezes in through the door and captures his heart. However, the romance will have to wait, because soon afterwards, Sammy’s boss puts him in contact with an Air Force general who desperately needs his help. Subsequently, Sammy inadvertently stumbles into a loony conspiracy involving a mysterious flying object spotted over Mount Rainer, topped off by an unexplained plane crash in the desert near a town called Roswell, New Mexico. Part satire and part homage, this novel feels like a zany, breathless love letter to the noir genre. That being said, it also has the feel of a tongue-in-cheek satire. And if it means getting more of the same laughs and cleverness I found here, I’m definitely on board to read more of the author’s work.
This classic John Scalzi was another title I just had to feature on the list today because I credit it and other books like it for being my gateway to science fiction, back when I was just getting into the genre. Featuring the perfect mix of hard sci-fi and adventurous fun, I found it highly accessible, and most importantly, it made me laugh a lot. Hell, even when someone in the story was dying a gruesome death, it was hilarious. Years lately, I still love to read John Scalzi because I know when I do, I will be entertained.
This probably isn’t one of McDonald’s better known works, but it’s one of my favorites by him. It’s also one of the most interesting and well-written YA novels I’ve ever read. Our protagonist is high school student Everett Singh, whose father is a brilliant scientist and one of the leading researchers in the study of parallel earths. But then one day, Dr. Singh is kidnapped from the streets of London, leaving his son with a mysterious file on his computer called the Infundibulum which turns out to be a map to all the parallel earths he’s discovered — more than 10 to the power of 80 of them! — making Everett the guardian of the most valuable tool in the whole entire multiverse. Though I doubt it would happen, I do wish the author return to this amazing world one day.
I’m a big fan of the Quantum Break action video game developed by Remedy Entertainment, and so not surprisingly, I also had a lot of fun with this tie-in novel. However, I urge you not to write off this book just because you haven’t played the game, or because you don’t think a “video game book” would be for you. Quite frankly, tie-in or not, I really think it can easily stand on its own against any of the more mainstream or popular sci-fi thrillers out there. It was that good. If you enjoy this genre in general, and the idea of time traveling and superpowers sounds like a good time, then you should check it out.
Red Rising was another major title that I just had to feature, because hands down, this book is in a league of its own. Meet Darrow, a miner on Mars. His people, the Reds, occupy the lowest rungs of society. And like all Reds, Darrow is resigned to a life of hard labor, of digging under the planet’s surface for the rest of his days. He thought it was for a noble cause, that his hard work will provide future generations a safe place to call home. Except, as it turns out, it was all a lie. Even knowing beforehand that some terrible event is going to set Darrow off on his mission for justice, I was not prepared for the number Red Rising did on my poor, battered emotions. I credit much of this to Pierce Brown’s writing, which is just gorgeous. The first chapters were simply astounding, and it only gets better the more you read.
Andrew Mayne is one of my favorite new discoveries, so I just had to find a way to fit him on here! So I give you Station Breaker, which introduces protagonist David Dixon, an astronaut about to go on his first space mission. It’s been a dream of his for a long time, and just when he’d started to think this day would never come, an opportunity suddenly falls into his lap. 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, and now the whole world thinks David is a terrorist, forcing him to make an emergency landing from orbit and go on the run. This book was so much fun and I highly recommend it.
Timeline tells the story of a team of historians and archaeologists who must travel back to the year 1357 to recover one of their colleagues, using quantum technology developed by their project financiers. Upon their arrival though, they are ambushed by attackers, who also destroy the transit pad required to get our characters back to their own time. Jam-packed with action and adventure, Timeline has the distinction of being one of my favorite Crichton books! I mean, time travel and Medieval history and knights, what’s not to like?
Imagine a dystopian Midwest-type setting where a particularly aggressive species of corn has taken over, creating an ocean of corn as far as the eye can see. This is the Heartland, the setting for this YA novel. And as the leader of his scavenging team, our protagonist Cael captains a small airboat over the cornfields day after day, scrounging for valuables and useful materials to sell. But it’s never enough. The tyrannical Empyrean government oversees life in the Heartland, literally looking down on all of them from above in their luxurious sky flotillas, while people like Cael and his friends and family are struggling to survive.
Billed as The Incredible Journey set in space, the story 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. Thanks to technological advancements, the vocalizations and behaviors of dogs can be translated into human language, allowing communication between the two species. Overall, a feel-good read with appeal to wide audiences while staying age-appropriate for Middle Graders, and it is one I would recommend to all dog lovers.
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. But while enjoying his new life of freedom, 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. He is also now the property of a government program developing 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. Like a funnier, more action-oriented version of The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet, the book is presented in a format that feels almost episodic, but it was fun to follow all the “Bobs” in this hilarious and cleverly written adventure about space exploration.
Superheroes, zombies, and Hollywood — you really can’t go wrong with this combination. This is the opening novel of a series that can be best described as the X-Men meets Dawn of the Dead. After a zombie plague decimates humanity, a group of powered heroes have banded together to create a safe haven for the surviving remnants of the population in the ruins of Los Angeles. Certainly, if you enjoy reading “superhero fiction”, this book would be a great choice. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, so just sit back, don’t think too much, and enjoy the ride.
This story is told from the perspective of a small-time music blogger who one day stumbles across a mysterious track on Bandcamp uploaded by a new artist he’s never heard of before. Fronted by its enigmatic singer, Airee MacPherson, the band promises to release a new song every day for the next ten days, much to the delight of its legions of new fans who listened to the first track and couldn’t get enough. There was just something about the song that was so potently addictive and irresistible, almost transcendent. Before long, our music blogger gives in to curiosity and reaches out to Airee, managing to score an interview. But to say Airee is nothing like he expected is an understatement. Yet by the time her true intentions are revealed, it is too late. While you could technically classify this novella as science fiction with a light sprinkling of cosmic horror, at the end of the day, I believe this strange and wonderful and slightly freaky novella is simply too unique to be pigeonholed into any one category.
This story’s protagonist, a self-described retrieval specialist named Cas Russell, is a quick-witted and legitimate badass who is scarily good at what she does. Her tremendous math skills and ability to calculate complex equations on the fly have helped her navigate through the worst dangers of her profession and made her a survivor. Which is why Cas is thrown for a loop on her latest assignment when what should have been an easy rescue operation goes completely awry. This was an entertaining read, if not entirely cogent or deep. Nevertheless, it’s a solid debut that I think most most sci-fi and techno-thriller fans would enjoy if you’re looking for something fast and fun.