Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Exciting SF titles

Here’s a good column by Jo Walton at tor.com, reprinted from 2013, listing 8 (relatively) recent SF novels that, she says, made her excited about the genre. One of the interesting things about this column is that I’ve only read one (1) of the novels: THE SPEED OF DARK, which is in fact one of my all-time favorite SF novels, though I can’t say I think of it as recent. (It was published in 2003.)

Jo Walton says: The “sense of wonder” is easy to get when you’re twelve, because everything is new, but books that can give it to me now are valuable.

Then she lists these eight titles — seven because I already mentioned THE SPEED OF DARK — with comments that you can click through to read:

Karl Schroeder’s Lady of Mazes (2005), which Walton describes as “post-everything SF.”

Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin (2006), which sounds like it has a truly unique premise.

Susan Palwick’s Shelter (2007), which she describes as “a thoroughly imagined near future US” about “the medicalization of character flaws.” Hmmm.

Neal Stephenson’s Anathem (2008) is evidently “a big novel about the history of philosophy and science” in an alternate world.

Geoff Ryman’s Air (2005), which Walton says is “about a future mind-internet coming to a little third world village that has been on the edges of technological civilization for a long time.” That doesn’t necessarily sound fun, but it does sound interesting.

Kasuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (2005), I have to say, this one sounds like something I do not want to read: “dystopia that uses the mode usually used for writing about privilege and nostalgia to talk about appalling things.” Um, okay, not sure I’m up for that.

M.J. Locke’s Up Against It (2012), which Walton describes as “doing what old SF did, taking current science and engineering and writing fun stories with it, only with current science and engineering. And current practice of characterisation and plot.” Now, that sounds fun.

Now, if I were asked to recommend exciting SF — not fantasy — titles that came out within the last decade, well, hmm. I couldn’t recommend THE SPEED OF DARK because, published in 2003, it is no longer within the ten-year window.

So, then, what?

Though I read a lot more fantasy than SF, I think I would feel good recommending these five SF novels:

LEVIATHAN WAKES by “James S A Corey”, though I haven’t read the sequels. This first book of the series does big things, and it does them well, with good character development and an ambitious setting.

A DARKLING SEA by James Cambias, because great alien species like these are exactly why I love science fiction.

THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir, which does the science/engineering thing wonderfully, on a very small scale.

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson, which does the science/engineering thing on a very big scale.

AND ALL THE STARS by Andrea K. Höst, for a different kind of alien invasion plus superpowers.

How about you all? Any other recent-ish SF titles that leap to your minds?

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5 Comments Exciting SF titles

  1. Elaine T

    I’ve read NEVER LET ME GO. The writing is beautiful. I can even buy the buyin from the kids, after all they’ve been brought up, groomed for this. And some IIRC do revolt. It’s a creepily awful story, though.

    Maybe for recent exciting SF GRAND CENTRAL ARENA by Ryk E. Spoor, but I’ve only read it once and haven’t gotten around to the seuqel. The author thought big and tried for mind blowing.

    My husband liked the Cambias, but it’s still on my pile.

    Palwick puts words together very well, but I’ve only connected to her very first work, FLYING IN PLACE.

  2. Linda S

    Of the novels Walton lists, I’ve read SPIN and ANATHEM, and I’d definitely recommend them to someone who wanted a big, ambitious story with a high sense-of-wonder quotient. ANCILLARY JUSTICE is an obvious candidate for the list, too. (The book wasn’t out at the time the list was written, so I don’t know if Walton would agree.) I’m afraid Walton doesn’t do a great job of selling the others to me, but I do like a lot of the books she likes, so I should probably give some of them a try.

    I agree that THE SPEED OF DARK is an amazing book, but it wouldn’t necessarily occur to me to recommend it to someone who was looking for “sense of wonder.” I suspect Walton and I may be defining “sense of wonder” differently here.

  3. Rachel

    Elaine, “beautiful writing” is always a plus, but “creepily awful”, yeah, count me out. On the other hand, Grand Central Arena sounds like it might be a lot of fun! I see that Bill Swears, a commenter at Amazon, says, “A group of eight explorers from the not too distant future set out to test-fly The Holy Grail, the very first faster-than-light experimental ship. Instead of finding themselves in interstellar space, they find themselves at a massive artificial construct that houses thousands of different intelligent species, and has existed for long enough to house creatures that have evolved to live within it.”

    And thanks for the pointer to Palwick’s Flying in Place, which I’ve never heard of.

    Linda, YES OF COURSE Ancillary Justice. I have no idea how that slipped my mind.

  4. Craig

    I’ve read ANATHEM, and it’s an interesting Big Novel. I’ve read a book by Schroeder, which I thought was ambitious and pretty good, but not that one.

    As Rachel knows, my favorite SF discovery since 2000 is John C. Wright, and I would be prepared to maintain that his Count to the Eschaton sequence — 3 books so far starting with COUNT TO A TRILLION (2011), though they’re really v. 1, 2A, and 2B — is the most significant SF series currently being published. But since a good bit of that is the way they’re in dialogue with the history of the field, I don’t know that I’d recommend them to someone who hadn’t been reading SF for a while already.

    Walter Jon Williams is an uneven writer, as far as my tastes go, but IMPLIED SPACES (2008) is one of his good ones: it does some interesting post-Singularity stuff.

    I’m having trouble sorting out in my head stuff that was published recently from stuff that I merely read recently; may add more later.

  5. Rachel

    That’s right: I have COUNT TO A TRILLION and THE GOLDEN AGE on my TBR shelves, but I’ve never read anything by Wright, yet. I like the first paragraphs, though!

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