While a lot of the sci-fi that I review or share on here is rather deep. There are a lot of things that you can do with the genre. And humor is definitely one of them.
"John Dies at the End" by David Wong
I would be more tempted to say that "John Dies at the End" is actually more horror comedy than sci-fi than anything actualy seen as true sci-fi. The novel stars John and Dave, who ended up being drawn into the strange and horrifying paranormal craziness of their unnamed Midwestern town.
When you are done with this book you’ll never look at soy sauce the same way again.
"Redshirts: A Novel With Three Codas" by John Scalzi
This one is most definately sci-fi book. And a wonderful one at that. If you have any exposure to Star Trek you will be pleased with the tounge-in-cheek adventures Ensign Andrew Dahl as he tries to stay alive while accompanying the starship Intrepid's bridge crew on increasingly more dangerous away missions to alien worlds.
trope of the original Star Trek series, Redshirts follows
"Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams
Seriously, if you haven't read Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, stop what you're doing right now and go pick it up. A fantastic, comedic read about a poor hapless human named Arthur Dent as he traverses the odd corners of the universe with alien explorer Ford Prefect, this novel is just a flat-out entertaining read and a must-have for any sci-fi fan.
I think that one thing that speculative fiction, hard sci-fi, and even fiction as a whole does for us is that it gives us a platform to text new ideas. New technology, and more importantly to encourage and inspire those in the position to actually make it become reality. One thing that has always intregged me is the notion of effortless travel.
Something that may to some seem outlandish is actually feasible. It also has the potential to completely change humanity. While it may not be propelling you next SUV, it is something that, given enough time human kind has the ability to achieve.
Another technology that is often reviewed in speculative works is full immersion virtual reality. The idea is attractive to authors because they have the opportunity to remake physics, creating a place where technology as well as magic is achievable.
There is simply no reason to question our ability to become an interstellar species ready and capable to take to the stars. The advent of antimatter propulsion, which should become attainable in the next two hundred years or less will enable us to reach .1 to.3 c. Something like that has the potential to send viable generation ships to nearby systems, which would in turn be able to gone one step further. At this point, an interstellar federation is not only possible, but it has already begun.
The idea that after a couple of generations of colonization, those first colonist can send a new generation ship isn't new in sci-fi. Colonizing nearby stars is a common theme among sci-fi authors and it is one that even just a hundred years ago seemed like the wildest form of speculation, yet today, many different organizations around the world are actively working to bring us there. It is such common knowledge/understanding that we don't even think twice about it.
Another theme that is common among authors is the possible option of trans-humanism. What it deals with is the ability to multiply human life expectancy by factors of 100s or 1000s. Life expectancy is only going to keep increasing, and when once, forty was considered old, today it is simply the start of middle age.
Is any of this feasible?
Just look at the technology that sounded so alien from the last decades.
The military is one area that is always pushing the boundaries when it comes to applying the hypothetical to current technology.
Take for example the old Tomahawk cruise missiles, once it topped all of the list for high-tech weaponry. Yet, to today's standards it was rather primitive. Coming pre-loaded with maps of the terrain, they rockets were supposed to follow and using sensors to scan and match the terrain.
Many of the "improvements" are simply a bit of the old with a bit of the new. Take for instances GPS guided bombs. They are nothing more than the old dumb bombs with basic GPS guidance system and fins connected to them.
The laser guided bombs/missiles required laser spotters to be located on the ground or built into the aircraft to function. While the missiles were constructed to utilize a more advanced laser targeting system, the "smart" bombs were just dumb bombs with the laser hardware attached to them and functioned on the same principle as the GPS guidance systems.
Yet no matter how basic they are, modern threats have been addressed with an additional layer of technology that was not required when they were conceived.
EMP weapons are products of early 80's fiction, yet whatever threat they posed them, it has largely been mitigated by redundancy and mass production.
And even when you take that into consideration, today's smart weapons incorporate shielding into their design, with hardware that acts in a manner similar to Faraday cages. This prevents any strong pulse from charging the circuit boards. Yet it is also simply, and rather low tech. They use simple copper alloy that prevent any similar boards from being shorted.
In short, while once considered the weapon of the future, EMPs would have no effect on today's smart weapons, or any produced in the last twenty years. What at one time was speculation was rendered useless by an even more advanced technology.
Speculation leads to reality, which leads to history.
70's 80's and especially 90's had so many more sci-fi shows on tv than now. Granted, many of them were not good, and plenty were crap, but at least it was on TV. The reason is that it is much cheaper to commission a realtity TV show, and even easier to get the viewers. That is why the Nineties was a golden age for TV in sci-fi and fantasy. That was an awesome decade be a geek.
- Deep Space 9
- Babylon 5
- Stargate SG-1
- Seaquest DSV
- Space Above and Beyond
From the UK:
- Doctor Who
- Blake's Seven
- The Tomorrow People
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.