Welcome to my first ever episode of Mike talks about SFF you may not have read. In this space I’m going to discuss some possibly lesser known books that for whatever reason haven’t gotten the attention they deserved. I won’t be talking about the newest Scalzi book, or Kameron Hurley’s latest. Yes, I’ve read them. Yes, they’re good. NK Jemisin? Please. I could write a five-thousand word thesis telling you why The Shattered Earth is the best fantasy trilogy ever written. But you can find people talking about those books in a hundred different places. I’m going to talk about some books that I’ve read that might not have made your radar.
Where to start? How about with my favorite science fiction books of 2017? We Are Legion (We Are Bob). This one might be a bit of a stretch for this column, since it has over 20,000 ratings on goodreads, which means a lot of people have read it. The first book in this series came out in September of 2016, and the fact that it didn’t get a Hugo nomination highlights a lot of what’s wrong with that award. Don’t get me wrong–the right book won (The Obelisk Gate was the absolute best SFF book I read in 2016)–but this one should have received consideration. It’s funny, it’s smart, and it explores a world beyond our own that is both fantastic and strikingly plausible.
The Premise: Earth implodes in Armageddon and an AI sets out to explore the universe and save the human race. The whole series is fantastic, with books one and three standing out as top reads of the year for me. Imagine the fate of the human race resting in the hands of a snarky nerd who became an AI and then replicated himself.
Next up is The Prey of Gods, by Nicky Drayden.
Caveat up front on this one: Nicky and I share a publisher, and we probably have the same editor. That’s how I became aware of the book; I follow my own editor on twitter. With that said, I bought it myself, and nobody has ever asked me to read it, talk about it, or in any other
way do anything. With that said, if anyone from Harper Voyager is reading, you should feel totally free to send me her next book early.
What can I say? I’m a sucker for a robot revolution. Throw in an angry god and a rogue AI, and I’m all about it. Set in South Africa, it’s got a Zulu girl with strange powers, a teen who controls other people’s minds, some messed up politicians, and a pop star as major characters. The writing is excellent and the story engrossing. It drew me in so much that it was a super quick read.
Looking for military science fiction?
Let me introduce you to Outriders, by Jay Posey. I’ve been talking about this book for a while, as it came out in 2016. But the sequel, Sungrazer, came out this year and was every bit its equal. The thing I love about Posey is that he gets the attitudes and interactions of military characters more right than any other writer I’ve seen who hasn’t been in the military himself. It’s perfect. The characters are both diverse and authentic. The plot has enough twists to keep you guessing, and the pace is perfect for an action thriller. I’ve recommended this to a lot of people.
Maybe you’re looking for a book where things don’t explode. I mean, I’m not sure why anybody would be looking for that, but hey, I’m not judging. For all I know you lost your family in a tragic bowling alley explosion. It happens. For something on the more thoughtful side, might I recommend A Close and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers?
This one did get some recognition, with around ten thousand ratings on goodreads as well as nominations for a number of awards, including the Hugo. I actually discovered it as part of my pre-Hugo vote reading. This is a little bit slower book than the others I’ve mentioned here, but the thing that made it stand out to me is that it attacks one of the fundamental questions of science fiction: What it means to be human. The story follows a ship’s AI (hey, there’s a theme to my reading here…) that wakes up in a new body and discovers what it means to be alive, and a girl that grows up outside of normal civilization, and her adaptation as that situation changes. While the book is definitely slower paced, it never feels slow. This one will make you think.
Lastly, if you’re looking for something a little off the beaten path…or so far off the beaten path that you may never find the path again…let me introduce you to Mechanical Failure, by Joe Zieja.
I’ll say up front that you’re either going to love this or hate this. I laughed out loud at parts and smiled through the rest as Sergeant R. Wilson Rogers is forced to give up his life as a smuggler and return to the military only to run smack into a robot overthrow. Sounds like typical sci-fi fare, right? Did I mention the character riding charging animals on the zoo deck to stem the tide of attackers? Or that the military ship has a zoo deck in the first place?
Everything about this is farcical, and it takes military bureaucracy to the next level. For a special bonus on this one, try the audio version. The author is a voice actor and does the reading himself to great effect. People probably wondered why I was laughing at the gym. This sort of feels like if Douglas Adams wrote military science fiction, but with a little more slapstick.
That’s all I’ve got for right now, but I’m already working on 2018 with several new books lined up that you might not have heard about yet. I’ll let you know.