Gaunt's Ghosts by Dan Abnett
This book really meets all of my criteria for a fun little light sci-fi book set in a universe I really don't have any expereince with, Warhammer 40k.
It does offr everything that I could possiblely want for some light entertainment, including: aliens, robots, warring human factions, and plenty of future tech.
I have been told that it is par for the course with 40k, but I noted that it is dark at times. It still did not hinder me becoming attached to several of the characters, both the good and the bad.
While I beleieved that much of the Warhammer 40k universe was written about the super-human space marines this book features the Imperial Guard and the Inquisition.
I'm currently reading the Gaunt series after a little bit of over indulgence in high sci-fi and I plan to try the Eisenhorn and Ravenor series which is also written by Dan Abnett and set in the 40k universe.
If you are like me and never really ventured into Warhammer you may want to give it a try. I was plesantly surprised.
I just wanted to jump in today and put out a little list of shows many people haven't probably seen:
- 10th kingdom
- Black Mirror
- Lost Room
- Torchwood (not that obscure I know, but older and easy to forget)
- Red Dwarf
- This show was made by some of the same people that made Stargate, it also stars Amanda Tapping (Samantha Carter) from Stargate SG-1.
The easiest way to find some non-standard police procedurals is to look into the urban fantasy genre.
I do enjoy it, though it is not my favorite genre.
If you have explored the genre though you will know that they frequently uses investigations as a genre trope and you can often get some, if nothing else, interesting plots, even if the protagonist isn't a police officer they often need to figure out the mystery.
They're urban fantasy because they're fantasy novels that take place in the modern world; however, do not get them confused with Paranormal Romance which is a very similar genre which may or may not feature a peace officer in some form or another. While they have the same elements, their focus is less on mystery and more on the relationship/s.
When it comes to sci-fi police procedurals I enjoy:
9 Tail Fox
by John Courtenay Grimwood
The book follows sergeant Bobby Zha of the SFPD. One day he finds himself in a new body and attempts to find out who murdered him.
It is a good book all around. But it may not be for everyone. I would say that it borders on the urban fantasy fence.
The Rivers of London Series
By Ben Aaronovitch
These are very engaging, no small thanks to the protagonist. The series follows a young London cop as he discovers that he has a talent for magic and ends up in the special division which focuses on supernatural crimes.
The series begins with "Midnight Riot" here in the US. In the UK it is called "Rivers of London". Be aware that they are the same book!
Pashazade, Effendi and Felaheen
By John Courtenay Grimwood
This one is a mix of cyberpunk and alternative history, though it has a strong procedural narration throughout. You follow a former street criminal who becomes a police employee in the city of El Iskandryia.
I will be honest, these are very strange, albeit great books.
KOP, Ex-KOP and KOP-Killer
By Warren Hammond
Juno Mozamb is your typical bent copper stationed on a backwater planet in economic decline.
Definitely a fun series to follow.
The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun and The Robots of Dawn
By Isaac Asimov
Classics, calling them anything else would be insulting. Elijah Baley is a homicide detective in the New York City Police Department, but this NYC is 3,000 years in the future, and the victim, R. Daneel Olivaw is a robot.
The Barbie Murders
By John Varley
A short story which gets right to the point. It follows Lt. Anna-Louise Bach and her partner Jorge Weil, police officers in New Dresden, a domed city on the Moon as they uncover a strange religious colony.
The Retrieval Artist series
By Kristine Kathryn Rusch
A detective in Armstrong Dome on Luna investigates crimes involving aliens - there's a lot of politics and treaties between the various alien cultures that cause confusion and lots of humans go into hiding after accidentally breaking an alien law.
It can be hard to get through, but you will enjoy it and be well rewarded for your efforts. At least I was.
I know that I started on the urban fantasy note, so if you would rather go with sci-fi that has an urban fantasy character to it ou could try:
- Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu
- Brillance by Marcus Sakey
- Newsflesh Trilogy by Mira Grant
- Daemon by Daniel Suarez
- Nexus by Ramez Naam
Many people feel that science fiction, is in many parts the domain of men. But that is not true. Just look at the list of Hugo and Nebula award winners.
While I will not reprint that list here today I want to take a look at some truly talented writers that you should consider putting on your reading list.
"The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood
This truly is a dystopian classic, in the event that you have not read it yet, I really recommend you check it out. I have seen that there is also a TV series on Hulu which I have heard good things about, but I haven't yet seen.
The story is set in a version of the 1980's US where there has been a military coup. The new government establishes a patriarchal Christian theocracy (wow, where did she come up with that) in which women are restricted and placed in a couple of different castes. When a woman does not fit into one of these castes and is slightly different or they disapprove of the regime they are austricized and further oppressed.
The book follows Offred, who fits nicely into the role of "handmaiden," her sole purpose in life is to have sex with one of the leaders of the movement, so that he can have children, since his wife cannot. There are a few characters in the book, though the cast is pretty limited.
"The Drowning Girl" by Caitlín R. Kiernan
I will be honest when I say that "The Drowning Girl" is one of my favorites right now.
What you should know is that it is more horror than fantasy or sci-fi and to fairly describe the book in such a way that it deserves is hard at best.
If you aren't up for something that really captures the dark nature of schizophrenia it may not be for you. Since this book does so it an alarming way and it makes it really dark.
You follow, Imp, a young woman who has schizophrenia and is haunted by a mermaid or werewolf.
Another thing that makes the book more unsettlingis that it is told in first person narrative. You follow Imp's very meandering thought-process and how she links seemingly unrelated things. There's a lot of musings on art, writing, mental illness, hauntings, and all sorts of other things that would potentially derail the story, yet they do not. And despite the topic and style I did not find it at all confusing to follow the story. In fact I think it helps to highten the mystery as we are lead step-by-step through the story as Imp progresses.
"Karen Memory" by Elizabeth Bear
If you like well written steampunk westerns then this book is for you. The story draws you in through the first-person narrative set in the steampunk version of a fictional take on 1800's Seattle.
While I do not find the story perticualrly clever, it is esseally a murder mystery surrounding the sex workers with some mind control thrown in for good measure. It has more to offer than that.
It is a strong character-driven with a lot of action that akes place later on in the book. My memory is a bit vague as to the number of characters, so the cast might be a bit larger than you would like. Other than the protagonist, Karen, there is her love interest, a number of other women who work at the same bordello, a badass US Marshall, and the baddies.
It's a lot of fun, especially because a number of characters are based off of historical figures.
"The Left Hand of Darkness" by Ursula K. Le Guin
This book much be read to understand, and I don't even want to write a synopsis . What I will say is that
This is a very touching sci-fi story which takes a hard look at our cultural differences and what they can mean for our friendship and love.
What drew me into the stroy was the limited cast. There are only two point of view characters and there are few other characters in the book.
"The Salt Roads" by Nalo Hopkinson
Nalo Hopkinson is really a wonderful writer, and her work is able to capture me in a way that few others do. It is cozy, and "The Salt Roads" tells a story about three women living in different places and time periods whose lives are linked by a goddess of the sea. Not something that I would generally enjoy reading if it was not from Nalo.
But it is truly a captivating tale, with each protagonist having a small supporting cast of about 2-3 characters, but they are easy to keep apart and they do not overlap with the other main characters' cast.
For lovers of historical and literary fantasy this may be just what you are looking for.
I understand that this is not everybody's thing, but that does not mean that you do not have miss out on Nalo Hopkins. She has a number of fantastic books. For example if you are more at home in the urban fantasy give her book "Sister Mine", which takes place in Toronto and is about a pair of divine twin sisters with a lot of charm.
The Culture Series
"Use of Weapons" and "Surface Detail" are both incredibly dark and leave you with a sense of dread, or foreboding at times. For instance "Use of Weapons" in the Culture series by Iain M. Banks made me feel physically unwell at times, and several others in the series are pretty dark as well.
Yet, even as dark as "Use of Weapons" is, I feel that "Surface Detail" is actually darker on the physical level. However, it did not make me feel as unwell as the first book. The tone of the book goes down a darker path, it is about people being sent to virtual hells, and in that context it is far more explicit, still "Use of Weapons" was darker on a psychological level for me. I think that one thing that you can say about "Surface Detail" is that there are aspects of the book that feel like they have more in common with a horror novel than "Use of Weapons" which is a at its very core a personal drama, and wartime fiction. Still I wouldn't classify it as horror novel as a whole, just that it certainly contains horrifying parts.
The Ender Series
Ender is a strange thing to categorize. I would say that on a whole, it does what it sets out to do. But there is a loss of quality across the board. And it suffers from a number of different flaws that I won't get into.
If it has flaws you ask, why did it make it on the list? Well, the thing is, all books, no matter how tight they are, have some flaws. So it isn't an aspect that excludes it in my opinion.
One flaw with the series is that it meanders around without an ender in sight.
But if you take the books out of their publication order you can avoid some of these issues. This is how I suggest you read the series.
You should read them in this order, staring with: "Ender's Game" (of course), "Speaker for the Dead", "Xenocide" and "Children of the Mind".
These are the best books in the series. Plus they are the closest you will get to serious sci-fi, and they offer the most interesting science fiction in the series.
Once you've read those books you can either stop there, since you have read the best books in the series, or you can pick up "Ender's Shadow" which, if you may find worthwhile. I ended up flicking through it, since it is mainly a Battle School book. I wouldn't call it a great read, and you can definitely tell that this is where the series starts to degrade.
I would call everything including "Shadow of the Hegemon" a sub par Tom Clancy-style which was written by a man with a laughably childlike view of how geopolitics actually work. It is essentially two thousand pages of very shallow, excruciatingly tedious, and something only really worth reading for those who need a sense of closure for the original Battle School team.
"Ender in Exile" should only be read if you decided to read the Shadow series, especially if you have read up to "Shadow Puppets" otherwise you will not have the final plot elements: Achillies/Petra/Bean, to name a few.
If I had the chance to do it over, I wouldn't recommend it, since I feel that it changes the Shadow series' finale more than is acceptable. While as a standalone work does not add anything of note to the plot.
If you somehow manage to reach "Shadows in Flight", you should just stop there. The reason is that, in my opinion, this book is the only installment in entire series with absolutely zero redeeming characteristics. It is also by far the most insultingly dull entry into the series. And that fact that fans of the series had to wait for more than twenty years for the book's release it is all the more unsatisfying. It is honestly so bad that it finally made me lose interest in, what was growing up my favorite sci-fi novel.
Probably not what everyone would consider sci-fi, but if you can find the abridged versions (*stay with me) read by Tony Robinson, the Discworld audiobooks are really enjoyable to listen to.
Good Audio Sci-Fi
- Snow Crash
- The Martian (more fictional science than sci-fi, but still excellent)
- Ringworld series
- Beyond the Blue Event Horizon
*Unfortunately, the unabridged versions were read by Nigel Planer and Stephen Briggs and neither of them capture the characters in the same way Robison does.
When a book is ground in what many like to call reality, that is, a work that is set in the here and now, or near future it by this distinction cannot be scifi. At least not marketed as such. Instead you will see it appear under the techno thrillers heading, because sci-fi still ostensibly carries a deep rooted stigma preventing any sort of mass market appeal.
Some of the works that come to mind are Michael Crichton's "The Andromeda Strain" and "The Terminal Man," while both a bit dated, still lend themselves to enjoyable reads. At the time of publication they were not considered sci-fi. Though even with many of the points being proven, either right or wrong, they are still quite clearly sci-fi of the era. When I read them they were still contemporary, yet today they still work well as seventies period pieces now and you can almost get a feeling that you have been taken back in time. Even today I can still pick up "The Andromeda Strain" and read it cover to cover before I know what's happened.
Other books I have found myself enjoying:
- "Zoo" by James Patterson
- "The Business" by Iain Banks
- "Deep Storm" by Lincoln Child
- "Rainbows End" by Vernor Vinge
- "Kong Reborn" by Russell Blackford
- "Deception Point" by Dan Brown
As well as the under rated "The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August.
Personally, I think superhero is and has been its own genre for quite some time now. While, you can loosely placed it under under the fantasy umbrella, this does not always work. Because as expected you will find pretty much any and all genres represented in the pages of a simple series like, Spiderman for example. If we look at comic books in general this is a common feature. They aren't self limiting, in fact it appears that the more mumbo jumbo a writter piles on, the better. Many of the comic books I read as a childtouhed on elements that were clearly fantasy, yet you also saw sci-fi, as well as supernatural spirituality.
Without a "clearly" defined path it is hard to classify specific works, let alone the medium as a whole. Because that is what it is.
For a genre to be defined it at the very least needs a common unifing theme. And that is something that seems to evade the different comic offerings. Or does it?
If you dig deeper you will see some of the elements central to the superhero universe do provide a rough sketch of what they are about. One aspect, protecting the everyday you and I, is a common element that is found in all of the mainstream properties you will see in shops today. While the idea may seem nobel, people like us are often nothing more than collateral red shirts there to die in en mass.
So when you look, there is a central theme that binds them together forming a genre. It is interesting to look at the different media, how does it sell you on the idea of watching the movies when they are advertised? Rememer they are selling you on the idea so they need a way to tell you waht the film is about. They don't call Guardians of the Galaxy and Batman Vs. Superman a fantasy film, nor do they use sci-fi, rather they make it clear that it is a superhero film.
When you boil it down to its core principles science fiction is about things we think might be possible. On the otherhand, fantasy is about things we know are not. I understand that this is a rather blunt example, at times things are more obtuse than that and it can be hard to tell one from the other sometimes, and of course, there is the issue that science fiction does not always age well, but neither does fantasy. While this can be argued on the level of probable vs. inprobable with fantasy we know the answer. However, there are plenty of classic sci-fi works which were published long before their ideas even got much though, but are today now firmly in the realm of possible, or reality.
Yet, no matter how much they try and sell you the idea that Iron Man is possible, he's rich and smart after all, he is nowhere close to ever becoming a reality. Yet, this does not exclude him from one day being a reality. On the other hand, Doctor Strange is magic and there is little that will ever change that. But yet they have interacted on numerous occasions so what would those stories be categorized as?
It is this ambiguity that leaves many people confused, yet they are two rather clearly defined cases.
What about other offerings in the superhero genre?
Let's take Superman for instance. He is somewhere in between, his backstory, his excuse that "he's an alien" is a very weak explanation for why he has the powers that he has powers.
Does this limit his ability to being categoried into a sci-fi genre? No matter how much it pains me, poorly researched sci-fi is still sci-fi.
And most superhero pieces are just that.
Poorly researched, no matter if the topic is sci-fi, fantasy, or reality. The question is less "is this possible" and more "does the writer think this is possible". Even then, there's soft sci-fi that bends the rules a bit in their favor and hope that the reader does not notice, or at the very least mind too much. One good example of this is Back to the Future. I'm sure the writers knew that a time machine like that is impossible, but it's still sci-fi.
And it is still fun.
And so for those reasons, any form of superhero is never going to fit in a box, unless that box is redefined and named something unique. Thus superhero, as a whole is a genre no matter what subject matter is being touched on.