Summer is quickly approaching, with its scorchingly hot afternoons and languid vacation days; a perfect time to escape the crazy pull of work, politics, the pressures put on you by your overly demanding cat, or anything else that might trouble you. Science fiction offers you new worlds to explore, futures to fear/fantasize about, and technologies that may yet come to be. If you are looking for a few good books full of fantastical science and interplanetary adventure to bulk out your summer reading take a look at these five recent titles.
Autonomous by Anna Lee Newitz
Autonomous is Annalee’s debut novel which focuses on the dangers of future of property law, coming of age as a robot, and pharmaceutical piracy. The book is told from two points of view.
One follows Jack, a biochemist disillusioned with the big pharma. She’s gone rogue; recreating patented drugs to give to those who cannot afford them in a futuristic Robin Hood style (that is, if Robin Hood was a woman living in a submarine in the Arctic sea). Unfortunately for Jack one of the drugs she’s copied has started killing people and she must race to find a way to make things right.
The other perspective follows Paladin, a newly created robot, whose AI is trying to understand the world while being thrust into a mission to track down the notorious pirate Jack. Annalee was inspired to write the book after coming up with Paladin. As she describes it:
“The first image that came into my head was a robot in pain struggling to climb a sand dune. From there I became interested in who is this robot? It became the character Paladin and he is experiencing physical pain, but also emotional pain; the pain of growing up. He’s struggling to understand how humans interact and their emotional reactions to Paladin because project a lot of stuff onto robots and expect certain things based on a robots morphology.”
Annalee knows her stuff; she cofounded io9, was the former editor at Gizmodo, and is currently writing about science as the Tech Culture editor at Ars Technica. She’s also written for Wired, Popular Science, the New Yorker, Smithsonian Magazine, and more. Autonomous is a fantastic read for anyone who is interested in delving into the idea of identity and freedom.
Walkaway by Cory Doctorow
Cory Doctorow takes the theme of ownership to the next level. In his book, Walkaway, Cory give us a look at the near-future where the world is a mess (a bigger mess anyway); the wealth divide has grown to astronomic proportions and environmental disasters have ravaged our world.
The main characters are a group of twenty-somethings who feel angry at pressures of the society and decide to become Walkaways; people who have decided to leave everything behind them and walk into no Man’s land to start over.
This idea of throwing it all away and starting over appeals to many. Finding a place where no one disagrees with you and you can create your own idyllic society is great for novels about uninhabited planets, but as Corey points out, here there is no empty place to begin over.
“The Walkaways run up against some of the problems there. A lot of their iterations are with indigenous people who have contested land claims. They’re attempting Utopia under conditions of adversity in which there is no clean slate and in that regard I think it is a different kind of Utopian tale; both in the one that we’ve told ourselves and one that we tell in literature.”
Will the Walkaways find their Utopia or will the struggle to survive chase them back into the cities to resume their stilted lives? You’ll have to read Walkaways to find out.
The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
John Scalzi is a master at creating epic stories of space exploration and interstellar war. In The Collapsing Empire, the universe is open to us when humans discover the Flow, an extradimensional field that allows for travel across the universe beyond the speed of light. Humanity expands its presence throughout the stars, until the Flow begins to shift. Dealing with the collapse of an empire could be bleak, but John takes a lighthearted, crass, and humorous look at how this world is affected by this sudden change.
“One of the major inspirations was I was thinking about ocean currents and the European empires of the 14th through 17th centuries; the Portugese, the Spanish, the English, and the French and how their worlds would have been different if the ocean currents went away. There was all of the sudden no easy way to get to the new world. How would things have changed?…I applied it to the future. What if there was s substitute for faster than light that acted superficially like rivers or currents and those rivers or currents went away.”
The Best Science Fiction of the Year Vol. 2 by Neil Clarke
To round things out, if you are looking for a wide selection of stories to enjoy, The Best Science Fiction of the Year Vol. 2 has got you covered. The book features writing by authors Lavie Tidhar, Carolyn Ives Gilman, Xia Jia, Karin Lowachee and Ian R. MacLeod. This anthology and its predecessor are great introductions to writers you might not have heard of and having so many stories in one book sure does cut down on the amount of spec you need in your luggage for reading materials.
This is my list of sci-fi that I’ll be reading this summer. What’s yours? Let us know in the comments below!
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Image Credits: Nightshade Books, Tor Books, Jessica Fisher