Monday, April 26, 2010

My favorite contemporary science fiction novels

Not what I should be doing with my Monday morning. At all. But I'm about to make a list of my favorite contemporary science fiction writers for a friend, and thought I'd put it somewhere publicly accessible. Using "contemporary" a little loosely and mixing some steampunk and new weird in with hard sci-fi.

Octavia Butler, Lillith's Brood
Humanity is sexually absorbed into an alien race. Somewhat unwillingly. Might be my favorite trilogy of all time. Takes place on primordial, post-apocalypse earth and on the alien generations ship. (Please overlook the terrible cover they slapped on there because a woman wrote the book.)

Richard K. Morgan, Altered Carbon, (& the other Kovacs novels, but not the rest of his work)
Awesome cyberpunk ex-cop thrillers on a galactic scale, working off the premise that human consciousness can be downloaded into different "sleeves" (bodies). Sex, drugs and the possibility of being tortured to death—over and over again.

Alastair Reynolds, Chasm City, Revelation Space, Absolution Gap
An actual European Space Agency rocket scientist who spent 20 years in the Netherlands peering through telescopes and writing these brilliant, nerdy, violent, cerebral hard-space odysseys. Oddly enough, I discovered Reynolds through an Art Forum "best of the year" list.

Iain Banks, Excession, Look to Windward, The Player of Games, any & all of the Culture novels
Elaborate adventures in a high-tech, far-futuristic and somewhat alien culture known as the Culture, a society devoted to enjoyment. Banks is a wonderful writer on the sentence level and nasty and apt about our own society in all sorts of unexpected ways. Depending on the book, these can be spectacularly violent. I also like Inversions, the Banks treatment in a semi-medieval world.

M. John Harrison, The Luck in the Head
I'm sorry, but you have to buy Jeff & Ann VanDerMeer's New Weird anthology purely for M. John Harrison's short story, The Luck in the Head, which is the most perfect piece of steampunk ever written. In its weirdness and beauty and gore, a new and disturbing format born. Go. Buy it. Now. Please.

Geoff Ryman, Air
Speculative fiction about the time when we go online straight from our brains, set in a tiny village on the apron between China and the 'stans. Female protagonist. Fairly real, quite literary.

China Mieville, Perdido Street Station
The best work by a steampunk pioneer. Set in the disturbing and fantastical city of New Crobuzon. Raunchy sex with an insect-headed mistress. A de-winged bird man. A work of casual brutality and stunning imagination.

Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars
For the enthusiast, the exhaustive story of how humanity colonizes Mars. An amazing work of science and speculation. When you finish the first 900 page opus and discover that it's a trilogy, you might cry, though.

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