The September topic for Monthly Recommendations is for Science Fiction, and I didn’t have any ideas of ones I love spring immediately to mind (except for the Lunar Chronicles, which are VERY well covered by the book-ternets). I could think of a movie (Star Wars) and a TV show (Firefly) that I love, but not a lot of books, so I was planning to go quiet this month and check out others’ suggestions for bumping up my SF TBR.
However, it seems that a few people in the MR group page were a little unsure about the topic choice and there were only a few posters as of my check. So I’ve decided to do a post and expand my own thoughts about SF, and whether I should consider myself an SF reader. Some of these will be SF books I’ve read, some will be ones I’d like to read, some are authors I’d suggest or like to read more of.
I can think of more TV/movies that I like than books. This maybe because SF and Fantasy often overlap/lumped together, and Fantasy is considered the girlier genre, so therefore less worthy/profitable to the mind of studio execs? Maybe this feminization of fantasy and masculinization of science fiction is some of why people have found this topic a little harder this month as the Book-ternets I believe are quite strong in the X-chromosomes.
Finally, several years ago I started a steampunk book that was NOT for me. It was all character descriptions of the crew and explanations of how the ship worked with very little story. While I put it down pretty quickly (I gave it a good 30 pages but still didn’t hit much story), it did make me realize that steampunk could be viewed as science fiction from a historical perspective. I quite like that angle and it certainly opens up the idea of what is science fiction and why we classify stories the way we do.
On to the books! We’ll start with some that I have actually read and recommend:
I met Wen Spencer at a teen writer’s conference I went to many years ago, and I read a sampler of her Ukiah Oregon series. Her writing was great, intense, fast-paced and my first experience with urban fantasy/soft SF. (And Ukiah is not a white dude! Although he is an alien. . .but he doesn’t manifest as white, which I remembered appreciating, though I haven’t re-read the books in a while to see if they are appropriate too much from Native peoples.) I haven’t finished the last book in series, probably because my reading tastes have changed from urban-style fantasy, but Spencer is good! She also has a big series known as Elfhome, about a mixed up chunk of alien/elf land that is smooshed into Pittsburgh. I haven’t read this one (the Pittsburgh references went right over my head and fairies aren’t my fave), but it’s worth a look for anyone who thinks it might suit them!
My favorite of her books is A Brother’s Price, an inverted society where women rule and men are rare and prized. Our main character, Jerin catches the eye of the royal sisters, and must survive political intrigue and machinations while preserving his virtue and staying alive. Some readers found the conceit tiresome (women have the power, men are only good for one thing–not sure why the cover is not representing that theme, though it is a scene from the book), but I thought Spencer handled it really well and built a strong story beyond just the initial idea.
This is a short story set on Mars about a woman who was an astronaut in her younger days and helped with the colonization of Mars. She has been offered one last chance to go back into space, but has personal issues to deal with as well. Kowal is always a good read, and this novelette won a Hugo in 2014. I remember reading this laying down with my 1-year-old, trying to get him to go to sleep while we were visiting family, and silently crying while I read this. The good kind of crying. Oh, and it’s only 19 pages, so you can def fit it (and a little cry) in!
This book was all over BookTube last year and won all sorts of literary and SF awards. It’s told from several different viewpoints leading up to a terrible flu that kills off a huge portion of the world, with Kristin as our post-apocolypse narrator as she travels around in a symphony, performing Shakespeare for these little towns of survivors. The threads in it all tie together beautifully, and as you are reading, you keep trying to figure out how they connect. The narration on the audiobook is pretty good too, if you’re looking for something to listen to!
My grandfather gave this book to me and I have nice memories of it as a story that connects me with him. It’s a classic SF about Guy Montag who works as a fireman, someone who goes around burning books for the government because reading is banned. Montag isn’t happy in his life, and starts keeping the books he’s supposed to be torching, as he begins to question his whole outlook on things. And the temperature that papers burns at is 451 degrees F, hence the title.
Ray Bradbury is one of the pillars of post-War SF. My mother loves The Illustrated Man. I am a bit of a horror wimp, so haven’t read tons of Bradbury, as his work often walks that line of SF and horrory, but he’s a good writer and worth a try.
Her Pern books vary in the fantasy to sf amounts, some are more SF than others, but I prefer the more dragony ones, though the sexism marks them as a bit dated, and may actually be more annoying than I remembered if the Magical Space Pussycats goodreads ratings are any indication. I read Dragonflight as a 14-year-old and really liked headstrong Lessa (who was SHORT like me; she was short yet powerful). My other favorites are the Harper Hall trilogy, starting with Dragonsong. I didn’t get very far into McCaffrey’s other definite SF books (I feel like I read Damia?), so can’t say much on those, but she’s a real fixture in the SFF of the last 50 years.
Another book that deserves the hype! I liked the story about a futuristic society where fertile women are in short supply so they are given as short term handmaids to high-ranking officials in order to provide children to him and his wife. I mean, it’s horrible, and our main character is described only as Offred (of Fred). But what I really loved was the way the slow creep was described that sent this society from one we’d recognize to this totally crazy totalitarian one. Highly recommended!
Girls doing science (moms doing science), an absentee father, sibling love, and girls are lovable even if they are prickly and poor and wear thick glasses. And that brain thing was creepy. This was one of the first books I read that had real crazy science in it (tesseracts, huh?) and I still think of A Wind In the Door when I think of mitochondria (which is more often than you’d guess). Some of the later books were a little too Christian-heavy for me (Many Waters was. . .interesting. I’d never read anything like that one either when I picked it up in high school, and I’d need to re-read it to work out my adult thoughts on it) but A Wrinkle is totally worth a go.
I didn’t realize until putting this list together how big a thing feminist SF is and how many of them I enjoy. First published in 1915, this story is about 3 men who come across an all-female society and must re-evaluate their perceptions about the roles and abilities of women. I found this book while in college and read it for fun, which it totally was. And yes, Charlotte Perkins is she of The Yellow Wallpaper fame, for W&GS students out there.
There aren’t tons of SF picture books, and this one, featuring a Cinderella who is an awesome mechanic and has a rocking socket wrench. Also, hooray for a brown-skinned prince, and an ending where the girl retains her independence! The only complaint I have is that only my husband (who is English) can say the title in a rhyme; I want to say “Interstellar Cinderellar.” 😉
These next four are big book-ternet series that I’m sure most people have heard of, so I won’t give covers or descriptions here. But if you haven’t tried them, I’d recommend at least the first one of each of these!
And here is a quick list of books and authors I’d like to read. I’ll link the books and authors to their goodreads pages, but I won’t provide summaries or covers just so this post isn’t 8 posts long! The List:
Crudrat by Gail Carriger – Yes, that Carriger. It’s only available as a full-cast audiobook which is why I’ve avoided it, but the premise sounds good and I’m hoping we’ll see it in print some time soon.
Zita, Space Girl by Ben Hatke – Look at that cover! Kids book that I am excited for my kids to get old enough for!
Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee – Zero gravity boxing. SF sports. Why is this not a bigger genre?
Tracked by Jenny Martin – A reviewer says this combines Star Wars and Speed Racer, which sounds like tons of fun to me!
Starglass by Pheobe North – A city-within-a-spaceship, a secret rebellion, and I found this on a blog where the author was talking about portraying a character with a diverse background, that of a Jew in space. Because obviously, Christians aren’t the only ones who go to space.
The Martian by Andy Weir – Nothing to add, you all know what’s up with this one.
The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson – “A heart-stopping story of love, death, technology, and art set amid the tropics of a futuristic Brazil.” Need I say more?
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick – Because who doesn’t enjoy Blade Runner? (Aside from my husband.)
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor – This book is everywhere, beloved, and provides us a strong voice from the African SFF-side. I need more
Douglas Adams – Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the famous one from Adams, but I had a LOT of fun watching the TV show for Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. I want to give them a read. And re-watch the show. And you should watch it too!
Octavia Butler – For a long time, Butler was the token black woman SF author when lists were created. In fact, she was the sole black face on a wall of influential SF people (which David Bowie somehow was on?) at an SF exhibit I saw. And, regardless of tokenism, Butler is a good writer and an important writer, and rightly noted as an influential writer in SF. (Book Riot makes the point that she should no longer be in the “diverse SF” lists, she should in the classic SF lists.) I read Dawn, which was an intense reading experience, but I think that any SF reader should try out Butler’s work.
Lois McMaster Bujold – Bujold has some spots on her reputation for depictions of minority group but she is biffles with my childhood fave Patricia C. Wrede (also with some spots), but her writing is hugely beloved in the SFF world, and she has been very influential. Her Vorkosigan series has been on-going for decades, and I read one of the short stories from it this spring, The Mountains of Mourning (you Enchanted Forest fans will know why I picked that one). I thought it was really good, and apparently lots of other people did too, because it won a Hugo.
Jessica Khoury – I was really surprised by The Forbidden Wish, and saw that Khoury’s Corpus series was about a girl from the Amazon who was raised in a lab by scientists. She escapes and tries to figure out her origins. I’m getting visions of Genevieve Valentine’s Persona duology, which is good thing!
Kurt Vonnegut – My freshman roommate read Slaughterhouse Five for her English class and became a Vonnegut fan. From his quotes, he sounds an author who saw the world too clearly in many ways.
Ursula Le Guin – Le Guin is like a rockstar in SFF. I didn’t get on with A Wizard of Earthsea, but I’d still like to try out some of her adult SF.
The Female Man by Joanna Russ – This is a staple of feminist-SF, about 4 different versions of a woman who live in 4 different worlds with varying gender-dynamics. What happens when they meet? I haven’t read the book so I have no idea, but I’m interested!
Arabella of Mars by David Levine – I saw this one get hauled by a bunch of BEA goers, but no reviews yet. However, I thought the cover, title and premise were too good to by-pass and I hope to read and love it.
Cassandra Rose Clarke – She’s famous for the Assassin’s Curse duology, but she also seems to have an SF-side which I’m interested to check out.
Old Man’s War by John Scalzi – Scalzi has been getting some love and airtime from a few of the booktubers I follow and I’m intrigued by this story in particular. A space war fought entirely by the elderly? We need more stories with elderly action heroes/heroines! (See: Lady Astronaut at the top. ;))
**Bonus for anyone who gets down this far, Gail Carriger listed some SFF-romances that sound like they’d suit readers who want more than just spaceships in their SF. This sounded to me like readers who are outside SF might also find them of interest.