Today I am going to recommend some science fiction books for those who are a bit intimidated by the genre. I’m not doing it because I am an expert, but because I used to be in the same boat, and have only recently been able to plunge full force into the churning, whirling waters that is sci-fi. I think if we hold on to each other, we might survive this.
I first started my journey into science fiction with the likes of Orson Scott Card. Bad idea! A book that focused on military and intergalactic wars with other species just did not appeal to me. I wanted something I could actually relate to. Fortunately I did not give up the genre altogether, and after some trial and error I finally started to notice a pattern – I preferred books closer to home.
The key to enjoy sci-fi when you are just starting out, in my opinion, is not to overwhelm yourself with a completely different world. For example, I saw myself liking books with few to no alien characters, or the ones that took place in not so distant future, where technology was still somewhat recognizable. The following list contains some novels that really stuck with me over the recent years, and those that I consider great literature despite the genre.
If you see yourself liking books with few fantastical elements, set in the near future, try…
Title: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
Why: Driven mainly by science with a touch of suspended disbelief, this best-selling novel about an astronaut stranded on Mars spread like wildfire through the reading community and launched a well-received film of the same name. With humour and intense action scenes it appeals even to the most timid sci-fi readers. Some might find the conversational writing style a bit hard to handle for the first few chapters, but once you get used to it, it’s one smooth (Martian rover) ride from there.
Title: Luna: New Moon
Author: Ian McDonald
Why: Imagine a recently colonized Moon where five family-owned corporations control production of all natural resources, effectively ruling the Earth’s supplies. With complexity of character relationships and political gameplay of The Godfather and Game of Thrones, the boardroom rivalry between American MacKenzies and Brazilian Cortas over Helium-3 mining spins out of control and spills into a bloody battle on the streets. The author does an amazing job creating the world that is both futuristic and realistic. Warning: mature content.
If you aren’t averse to other worlds, have patience, and enjoy pondering about mysticism of life, try…
Title: 2001: A Space Odyssey
Author: Arthur C. Clarke
Why: A classic. When an ancient monolith is uncovered on the Moon it sends out a radio signal to Jupiter’s own satellite. Immediately a group of scientists is dispatched to investigate, but the on-board computer turns hostile and causes a malfunction. As much a survivor story, this is also a book about our origins and the secrets of the universe. 2001: A Space Odyssey is very much a sensory novel that allows you to get completely immersed into the process of interplanetary travel: the uncertainty of weightlessness, the confusion of cryosleep, the claustrophobia of a tiny ship in the vastness of space.
Title: Hyperion/The Fall of Hyperion
Author: Dan Simmons
Why: In the vein of Canterbury Tales, Hyperion consists of a series of stories told by a group of pilgrims on the way to meet the mysterious being The Shrike. Slowly, these stories reveal the vast galactic empire at war and the ancient time-bending mythology bound in one main plot. This book and its sequel must be read consequently, as they do not stand on their own, but appear to be two parts of one epic novel. Hyperion saga is a multi-layered drama of history, science fiction, and literary allusions. It might not be an easy read, because it requires commitment, but it is gripping and thought-provoking.
If you want human drama to be the center of attention, with sci-fi just being a setting element, try…
Title: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
Author: Becky Chambers
Why: Do you like character-driven stories? Then Becky Chambers’ debut might be right up your alley. We follow a crew of original and likable characters, as they traverse through the galaxy, building wormhole tunnels for other ships. While on a mission to particularly unstable zone, we get to know them better as individuals and as representatives of their respective species. This is a novel mainly about relationships, futuristic at first, but very relatable to our life. It discusses acceptance and prejudice, while featuring an array of multifaceted types of love, identity, and social stigmas.
Title: Good Morning, Midnight
Author: Lily Brooks-Dalton
Why: Something is terribly wrong in the world. All communications seize. The planet plunges into darkness. An elderly astronomer stranded on an arctic research station and a group of astronauts returning home after a mission to Jupiter are the only people who do not know what’s going on. While facing isolation and uncertainty these characters finally get a chance to slow down and reevaluate their life decisions. This novel is more about self-discovery, than post-apocalyptic survival, so don’t expect to get all the answers, but the journey is one lyrical ride.
If you are sick of floating in space and need the pace to pick up already, try…
Title: Dark Matter
Author: Blake Crouch
Why: If you are more of a thriller type, try Crouch’s latest novel. When a mediocre college professor gets a chance to relive his life he’s always wondered about, he finds himself desperately trying to get things back to the way they used to be. This novel is both action-driven and smart. It explores the possibility of travel between dimensions, has daring last-moment escapes, mixes a dash of real science, and poses some interesting questions of “what if”. I would be very surprised if Dark Matter doesn’t end up getting adopted into a film or a mini-series.
There you have it. I only just realized that most of the covers feature a starry sky, but that doesn’t mean that the content is repetitive! All of these books are taking unique approaches to the genre, and I can stand behind all of these selections as first class fiction. I hope at least some of them intrigued you enough to pick up a science fiction book as soon as possible. Remember, just keep swimming… keep swimming…