This is my list. Like Gareth Powell I’m avoiding the “classics” of the genre by the likes of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Larry Niven or Robert Heinlein in favour of more modern works, on the grounds that they’ve dated quite badly, coming from a time when it was still acceptable for SF novels to contain cardboard cutout characters. And don’t even get me started on Heinlein’s and Niven’s view on sexual politics…
Some of these take place in the ill-defined borderland between science-fiction and fantasy. I find hair-splitting arguments over genre boundaries are never productive, all I’ll say is that this is my list, and they fall under my personal broad definition of SF.
Yes I am aware that I’ve only got one book on the list by a woman; my bookshelf is filled overwhelmingly with the work of men in the way my record collection isn’t. I do need to do something about that, but that’s really a topic for another blog.
“Century Rain” by Alastair Reynolds.
Part noir detective story, part alternate history, and part space-opera, most of the action taking place in a version of Paris that isn’t quite our own rather than in outer space. A couple of the central characters reminded me of some musicians I know.
Ash: A Secret History” by Mary Gentle.
This starts out as if it’s a straight historical story about a medieval mercenary company, with a framing story formed from the correspondence between a present-day translator and her editor. Then things start to get strange, as it’s slowly revealed that things are not what they seem.
“The City and The City” by China Mieville.
No aliens, spaceships or vampires, and set in something resembling the present-day, but with a central concept that does require an SFF-style suspension of disbelief. May not work for everyone, since I do know both SF and non-SF fans who have failed to get their head round this one.
“The Bloodline Feud” by Charles Stross.
Marketed as fantasy but actually science-fiction, with the science in question being economics with a side order of dynastic politics, and very cleverly inverts a lot of fantasy tropes. Biggest downside is it’s the first volume of a trilogy.
“Anathem” by Neal Stephenson. An ambitious work that’s partly about philosophy, part social satire (I do love the concept of the word “bullshytte” as an academic term), and part rattling adventure yarn. Not really a lightweight popcorn novel, though; one of those works that’s hard work but ultimately rewarding, so it’s one for your friends who are into heavyweight literary stuff rather that mass-market bestsellers.
What would your recommendations be?