I went through a heavy sci-fi reading phase as a young person… then kinda got lost? With movies, tv, anime, and comics, I was getting my science fiction fix elsewhere. In the last few years, though, I’m back in the game. So here are my fave recently read science fiction books – both novels and novellas – from my personal sci-fi reading renaissance.
The way my life is organized these days, it’s tough for me to write reviews. Some of the books below have them, some do not, but I love them all. Hope you find something new to enjoy!
Before we jump in:
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I really liked this quiet short story about a young woman named Dell who survives a plague that kills most of humanity. It’s a post-apocalyptic story about people instead of, you know, zombies or killer robots, and specifically about how people get up and keep going after trauma, how they remake themselves, and how they re-connect to other people. It also has the gritty logistical details that I always want from post-apocalyptic lit, such as where the food is coming from, what survivors are scavenging, etc.
It’s a short read, very thoughtful and ultimately hopeful.
Diversity note: Meyers is is grey ace/pan and biracial. She/they pronouns.
Some of the short stories in this collection are science fiction, and some are fantasy, but they are all amazing.
“A refugee arrives from elsewhere in time; a generation ship makes landfall; a vast galactic empire settles to the business of government. Tarot readers find hope in the cards; witches live through the aftermath of war; and Indian mothers think it’s high time you were married. Here are thirteen stories of love and queerness, hope and decolonisation, and the inevitability of change.”
Diversity note: Datt Sharma is a British-Indian writer whose pronouns are they/them.
This novel reminded me how much I love space-based science fiction. It’s a gripping espionage tale revolving around the rights of humans known as third gender changelings, biologically intersex people who can assume secondary sex characteristics of either gender if they so choose. Dalí Tamareia, the main character, has a resting neutral state, though other third gender people have/prefer either a male or female resting state.
After Dalí’s husband, wife, and their collective unborn child are murdered by human extremist conservatives, Dalí falls apart. Passively suicidal, they only find purpose again when they’re recruited into an extra-governmental black ops team that’s tracking a smuggling ring sending third gender people to be enslaved outside of Earth space.
Political conspiracy is one of my fave flavors of catnip, so this was perfect for me. The worldbuilding is rich and detailed without slowing down the story. Dalí’s grief is achingly real. The secondary characters are textured and interesting, with even the villains being more than cardboard cutouts. This would be an amazing start to a series, so here’s hoping that’s what Hamill has in mind.
Update: I have read the sequel, Peacemaker, and it’s also yay.
Diversity note: Hamill is bi.
Space diplomacy novel with an #ownvoices autistic protagonist who’s also bi? I almost didn’t read it, ONLY because I didn’t want to be disappointed if it didn’t click for me! Thank goodness I came to my senses. It’s superbly well-plotted, every single character is distinctive and fascinating, and it manages to both resolve the main story and set up for the second book in a totally satisfying way. Xandri Corelel, one of the few neurodivergent humans in the universe, has trained herself so well to read communication styles that she’s now the head of a first contact team. Her ship gets summoned to an isolationist planet long past first contact, though, because they’ve gone and built a super-weapon that both Xandri’s civilization and their genocidal space foes want. Result: political machinations, assassination attempts, and all kinds of backstabbing and general chaos – but then Xandri being super-smart and brave and telling people to sit down, shut the hell up, and LISTEN. Totally engrossing!
The second book is also great, so jump in on this series if it sounds at all intriguing.
A fantasy / high-tech mashup about Mordred Pendragon (yes, that one) and Alan Turing. Intricate, at times hilarious, profoundly geeky, and I deeply wish the clearly intended second book would have been written – but it’s worth reading anyway.
Mordred Pendragon has been exiled to Canada for committing an un-specified but heinous crime. To achieve solvency, he decides to get a job as a programmer, despite having almost no knowledge of computers. He gets hired, learns C++, and makes a surprising and genuine connection with the remote software genius that created his employer’s product. The genius’s name is Alan. Everything’s going… well, okay, until conspiracies and interference from various parties with evil intent turns Mordred’s life into a war zone. There’s some kidnapping, some necromancy, and a growing desire on Mordred’s part to be closer to Alan, before Mordred gets some answers about what the hell happened that led to his exile, and he has to make a choice about what matters to him the most. I’ve read it twice, love it, will read it again.
I went into this with zero details about the plot, because I’d seen Brissett on a panel and wanted to read some of her work, and I’m so glad I did. I suspect the story almost works better if you don’t know what’s happening the first time reality shifts. And it shifts a LOT. It’s the story of two people, manifesting in different ways in different settings, but always with some kind of love between them, and usually struggling to survive.
I don’t want to say much more, but this is an ambitious, interesting science fiction / post-apocalyptic novel with hella diverse and queer representation, by a woman of color, and you should totally try it out.
A dystopian short story about an anonymous assassin who almost dies during a mission, the security video operator who secretly saves him, and the dramatic (in a good way) connection between them.
And that’s all I’m gonna tell you so I don’t spoil it! After reading it twice, I still don’t know how a short story was able to clobber me so hard. In my imagination, Genao was all “Do you want to feel a lot of things today?” and I was all “No, actually I’m kind of busy” and he was all “TOO BAD!” So beautifully, so elegantly constructed, and so human.
Diversity note: Genao is a queer Dominican-American man.
“Autistic scientist Yasira Shien has developed a radical new energy drive that could change the future of humanity. But when she activates it, reality warps, destroying the space station and everyone aboard. The AI Gods who rule the galaxy declare her work heretical, and Yasira is abducted by their agents. Instead of simply executing her, they offer mercy – if she’ll help them hunt down a bigger target: her own mysterious, vanished mentor. With her homeworld’s fate in the balance, Yasira must choose who to trust: the gods and their ruthless post-human angels, or the rebel scientist whose unorthodox mathematics could turn her world inside out.”
Gorgeous story about trauma. This absolutely took my breath away, and it was so kind.
“Welcome to the Scattered Pearls Belt, a collection of ring habitats and orbitals ruled by exiled human scholars and powerful families, and held together by living mindships who carry people and freight between the stars.
A transport ship discharged from military service after a traumatic injury, The Shadow’s Child now ekes out a precarious living as a brewer of mind-altering drugs for the comfort of space-travellers. Meanwhile, abrasive and eccentric scholar Long Chau wants to find a corpse for a scientific study. When Long Chau walks into her office, The Shadow’s Child expects an unpleasant but easy assignment. When the corpse turns out to have been murdered, Long Chau feels compelled to investigate, dragging The Shadow’s Child with her.
As they dig deep into the victim’s past, The Shadow’s Child realises that the investigation points to Long Chau’s own murky past–and, ultimately, to the dark and unbearable void that lies between the stars…”
Diversity Note: de Bodard is of French and Vietnamese descent.
So dense that I had to take breaks to rest my brain, and so good that I (almost) want to take a college lit class where it’s on the syllabus so I can hear people say smart things about it. (But I hate school, so that’s not happening.) Whitehead’s writing is rich and textured. Every single “minor” character is memorable. Just freakin’ amazing.
Here’s the blurb, a bit condensed – tell me this doesn’t sound like the best kind of weird:
“It is a time of calamity in a major metropolitan city’s Department of Elevator Inspectors, and Lila Mae Watson, the first black female elevator inspector in the history of the department, is at the center of it. There are two warring factions within the department: the Empiricists, who work by the book; and the Intuitionists, who are simply able to enter the elevator cab in question, meditate, and intuit any defects. Lila Mae is an Intuitionist and has the highest accuracy rate in the entire department. But when an elevator in a new city building goes into total freefall on Lila Mae’s watch, chaos ensues. The good-old-boy Empiricists would love nothing more than to assign the blame to an Intuitionist. But Lila Mae is never wrong.
The sudden appearance of excerpts from the lost notebooks of Intuitionism’s founder, James Fulton, has caused quite a stir. The notebooks describe Fulton’s work on the “black box,” a perfect elevator that could reinvent the city as radically as the first passenger elevator did when patented by Elisha Otis in the nineteenth century. When Lila Mae goes underground to investigate the crash, she becomes involved in the search for the portions of the notebooks that are still missing and uncovers a secret that will change her life forever.”
Diversity note: Whitehead is African-American.
Father-son relationship books aren’t even usually my jam, but I found this so touching, and it was a kind of quirky that really worked for me.
“Minor Universe 31 is a vast story-space on the outskirts of fiction, where paradox fluctuates like the stock market, lonely sexbots beckon failed protagonists, and time travel is serious business. Every day, people get into time machines and try to do the one thing they should never do: change the past. That’s where Charles Yu, time travel technician—part counselor, part gadget repair man—steps in. He helps save people from themselves. Literally. When he’s not taking client calls , Yu visits his mother (stuck in a one-hour cycle of time) and searches for his father, who invented time travel and then vanished. Accompanied by TAMMY, an operating system with low self-esteem, and Ed, a nonexistent but ontologically valid dog, Yu sets out, and back, and beyond, in order to find the one day where he and his father can meet in memory. He learns that the key may be found in a book he got from his future self. It’s called How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, and he’s the author.”
Diversity note: Yu is Taiwanese-American.
“Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.
Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.”
I can’t wait for the sequel to this one!
A top notch scifi novel about a cynical, exasperated security robot that’s disabled its own control software, loves to watch television series, and calls itself “Murderbot.” Except that sounds like a comedy, and this is most certainly not. Murderbot is assigned to a scientific mission, exploring a new planet, that goes horribly wrong when one of its teams goes radio silent. All it wants, really, is to be left alone to watch its shows and come to terms with its identity, but in the end it can’t ignore its feeling of responsibility towards its scientists.
The scientists, for their part, are somewhat startled to figure out that Murderbot has a personality. It’s a lot to process while they’re all busy investigating what the heck happened to the other team and then fighting for their lives. I thought the decisions made by the scientists and Murderbot near the end each made complete sense based on who they were, and the ending was a good jumping off point for the next book in the series. Which was also wonderful.
An engrossing pre-apocalyptic series about the world’s impending end from a foreseen asteroid strike, how society reacts to that knowledge, and how people become a distilled version of themselves in terrible circumstances. It’s a mystery focused on Hank Palace, promoted from beat cop to detective as people in his police department started walking off the job, in a world where solving murders seems meaningless to many. It has a bit of noir feel to it, and the end of the trilogy doesn’t pull any punches, but I did feel a sense of peace at the end even though I was, honestly, sad. If you’re at all interested in how societies break down, and how people step up (or don’t) in those times, this is a great read for that.
And that’s my post rounding up science fiction novels I loved and highly recommend. Hope you found something interesting. If you have any reading suggestions, let me know, and as always, if you found this post helpful, please share it!