Recently, we lost the incredible Stephen Hawking, a man who fundamentally changed the way we view and interact with the cosmos. His works have had such a strong influence on the scientific world and science fiction as a genre. In honour of his passing, here is a look at some of the most influential and interesting science fiction novels of recent years.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Since its debut in 1985, this story has become a cornerstone of modern science fiction. The story follows Ender, an extremely gifted six-year-old who is offered a place at a military school in space to learn how to fight the ‘buggers’, an alien race that once tried to invade Earth. Over the years, we watch as Ender fights in war simulations with fellow students and ultimately prepares for a second war against the buggers. While heavily focused on violence and war, this story at its heart is about humanity and empathy, which is what good science fiction is always about.
A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
Set in a universe where space travel is fast and aliens, humans, and artificial intelligence live in relative harmony throughout the galaxy, a young woman named Rosemary Harper joins the diverse crew of the Wayfarer, who explore the far reaches of space and create portals to make space travel instantaneous. This Firefly-esque story goes beyond just the fantastic science behind space travel to explore ideas of gender, sexuality, and what it means to be human, when that definition extends beyond the boundaries of Earth.
Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
In his debut novel, Sleeping Giants, Sylvain Neuvel brings a fresh and global perspective to the well-worn science fiction trope of giant alien robots. Rose, a high-ranking physicist, is charged with leading a research team to reassemble pieces of unearthly giant scattered across the globe and glean any knowledge they can from its advanced technology. The team races to find all of the giant’s body parts before the rest of the world finds out about the alien technology. Their attempts do not go unnoticed and geopolitical tensions rise quickly, bringing the world to the brink of war. While mostly science fiction, the apocalyptic undertones due to the threat of global, and possibly even extraterrestrial, conflict tell a story that seems more relevant than ever.
Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
This strange and captivating story is a mix of literary elements, from noir to space opera, creating something utterly unique. Set in an alternate universe where humans travelled into space in the 19th century, the solar system was early on colonised by the great empires of the world and Hollywood was established on the moon. That is just the start of this pulpy tale about Severin Unck, the daughter of a famous director who disappears whilst filming a documentary. What follows is the life and disappearance of Severin told through journal entries, radio transcripts, gossip columns, and more. This unique take on science fiction is one for the ages.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
The year is 2045 and the planet is heading in a not-so unbelievable direction in which people live in extreme poverty and the world is slowly dying due to over-pollution and dwindling natural resources. Most people escape their horrible lives through OASIS, a massive online virtual reality role-playing game. The creator of OASIS releases a video after his death that says whoever can figure out his puzzle can have the entirety of his ridiculously massive fortune. When Wade Watts figures out the first clue, it’s suddenly a race against powerful forces to figure out the puzzle before anyone else can with stakes that are much higher than he could have ever imagined. What truly makes this book incredible is the sheer amount of pop culture references littered throughout the story. Pulling together the best parts of science fiction and pop culture, this story tells us something refreshingly new using everything we already love.
Image: The Novel Hermit