Science Fiction Picks
"I have books, new books, and I can bear anything as long as there are books." So says our protagonist, a 15-year-old girl who has just fled from her mother, reunited with her father, and been shipped off to boarding school. Mori is awkward and lonely, but confident in who she is, a mixture that is undeniably appealing. Her crippled leg (a souvenir from a car accident or a magic battle or perhaps both) gets her out of the physical part of her lessons, leaving her hours of uninterrupted reading time in the school's library. Mori is a devout fan of SF, and her diary reads as a love letter to the classic books in the genre, shaping her just as surely as the circumstances around her. Mori sees beyond the surface of things, an ability that makes her a critical reader, a keen observer of people, and able to see fairies. The magic in this book is unlike anything I've otherwise seen. It's a quiet magic, and the theory behind it is so well done that I started to wonder if perhaps everything I once believed was magic and later convinced myself was coincidence was truly magic, after all. Although the story is told from a teenager's perspective, the book is marketed as adult fiction, and it would be well worth reading in either age group. Mori's self-sufficiency makes me want to cheer, while her love of books and desire to understand magic set off my soulmate vibes.
Recommended by Danielle.
The Wise Man's Fear takes us to Day Two of Kvothe's compelling story, which began with The Name of the Wind. We resume his trials at the University, where he is studying to be an Arcanist (which is kind of like a magician or wizard except not), but he soon takes off to "chase the wind" as some would call it. His journey brings him to a courtly place with new mentors and mysteries, a hunt for bandits, the mysterious Eld and the woman no man can resist, schooling with the famed Adem mercenaries, and more. This is a book for anyone interested in the nature of storytelling: in the shape of stories and how they shape us. It's even more enthralling than the first, and I couldn't put it down. Recommended by Danielle.
Consummate world-builder Ursula K. LeGuin has just released the second novel in her Annals of the Western Shore series: Voices. Although the story of the two main characters of Gifts continues, this book is told by a new character, Memer, a 17-year-old girl that Orrec and Gry meet on their travels. The subject of this volume is language, history, myth and the danger of controlling literacy to subjugate people. These are short novels marketed for juvenile readers, but LeGuin never writes down to her readers. Try this hopefully continuing fantasy series. Recommended by Bill.
Sandman Slim is easily my current favorite anti-hero. He spent 11 years in Hell. Alive. Fighting all sorts of icky Hell Monsters.
And then he climbs up into LA, where it is worse.
This is the third of the Sandman Slim novels and we follow our hero back to Hell carrying an angel in his head looking for the guy who is trying to run Hell after Lucifer fled back to his Daddy's place (Heaven, natch) and then stole the soul of the girl that Slim used to love and Jack the Ripper turns out to be a kind of odd guide - confused? Don't worry, it all works.
The classic monster/vampire/demons fighting everyone story. And yes, there's a girl. Or rather a girl who is really a murderous beastie - oh, never mind.
Also, he's working on the fourth one. There's going to be a fourth one!!!!
Recommended by Jonesey.
I could not put this book down. The idea itself is gripping enough: What happened to the gods who followed immigrants to North America? Who are the American gods? And with a battle between them on the horizon, what role does an ex-convict have to play? Although it occasionally borders on ridiculous, American Gods is relentless, balancing large-scale mythology with quiet moments of human relationship and small-town life. It’s engrossing, fun, and makes an interesting statement about American culture through the eyes of its non-native author.
Recommended by Lauren.
Along with Ison of the Isles: Two parts of a single novel, a richly detailed fantasy about colliding cultures in which superstition confronts rationalism against the backdrop of colonialism and global power politics. Epic, great characters, and a thoroughly engaging theme.
Recommended by Mark.
Gene Wolfe is one of the finest craftsmen in fiction today. Many of his short stories are exemplary of the form. He will likely never be a contender for a Nobel (or even a Pulitzer) because of his chosen milieu. But he consistently demonstrates that the supposed limits of science fiction have no merit.
In his novel Home Fires he addresses the question of true love and separation, pivoting on the issue of timing. Skip and Chelle married in a white heat of young love. But while Skip remains on Earth, pursuing what becomes a very successful law career, Chelle is a soldier, and she leaves him soon after the all-too-brief honeymoon to fight on another world, in another star system, and it is more than two decades before Skip sees her again. But for Chelle, her tour of duty lasts only months, and she returns still more or less a newly-wed, still young, to find a man who is much older and much changed. Skip takes her on a cruise to rekindle what he assumes needs rekindling and to discover if they still have a meaningful basis for a marriage. Clear-eyed and unflinching, Wolfe explores the meanings and consequences of choices in a world where timing is ever more complicated.
Recommended by Mark.
Ian McDonald is Irish and he writes science fiction. An unusual combination. But since he began publishing in the Eighties he has established himself as one more thing unusual in SF—a stylist. McDonald writes with an exuberance and an ear for the music of language that sets his work apart and allows for rich evocations of landscape and character rare in any genre. PYR began bringing his older work back into print.
Desolation Road is many things rolled into one. It is an homage to Ray Bradbury, unapologetically springing off from The Martian Chronicles for a story of Mars that is also a myth of the Wild West, a critique of the industrial age, a bitter examination of revolutionary politics, and family saga. McDonald has brought his inventiveness under control to produce serious works about the near future, such as Brasyl and River Of Gods, but this early example displays a joy in creativity that should not be missed.
Recommended by Mark.