What’s new, readers? I hope you’re continuing to social distance, wash your hands, wear masks, et cetera. Unfortunately, there are some people out there who see fit to protest these crucial guidelines. A tweet by @kellydavio perfectly encapsulates the circumstances: “What zombie movies got wrong about the actual apocalypse, part 1,487: they omitted scenes of people on the street demanding the right to be eaten.” It doesn’t help that Vice President Mike Pence refused to wear a mask when he visited COVID-19 patients at the Mayo Clinic. Same goes for President Donald Trump advising us to kill the virus by pumping ourselves full of bleach and UV light. Oh, but don’t worry, he was just being sarcastic. On top of all that, we have to worry about these badass murder hornets that are hitting the US. Honestly, all 2020 needs are some solar flares setting off global weather disasters and WICKED sending teenagers into treacherous mazes.
Anyhoo, this is the perfect time to cozy up in your armchair or bed or that dark little corner in the attic where nobody bothers you, and bury yourself in some good books. So today I’m going to recommend five enthralling science-fiction reads that will help take your mind off this interminable pandemic.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (2015)
The first entry in the Hugo Award for Best Series-winning Wayfarers Seriesfocuses on the exhilarating voyages of the Wayfarer, a spaceship that tunnels wormholes to open up interstellar routes for the Galactic Commons. Its motley crew includes the protagonist, Rosemary Harper, a Martian human who gets hired as the ship’s clerk while running from secrets in her past; Sissix, the offbeat reptilian pilot; and Jenks and Kizzy, the talkative technicians. The gang of endearing characters, the heartfelt and entertaining story, the vibrantly realized world, and the thought-provoking perspectives on such topics as cultural diversity and gender-fluidity make this a wholly riveting space opera.
Borne by Jeff VanderMeer (2017)
The author of the Southern Reach trilogy takes us on a journey into a city ravaged by the monstrous experiments of the Company, an Evil Corporation-type biotech firm. The protagonist, Rachel, toughs it out as a scavenger alongside Wick, her boyfriend and psychotropic biotech dealer. Both of them once worked for the Company and have now taken refuge together from one of its failed projects—Mord, a humungous mutant bear that routinely flies over the city’s ruins. When Rachel chances upon the peculiar creature featured on the front cover of this book, she adopts it and names it Borne. Their complex relationship is one of many things to love about this strange, intelligent, and evocative novel. The bizarre dialogue that Rachel has with Borne and the uniquely philosophical perception he gains of his post-apocalyptic world as he grows up are especially enjoyable.
Exhalation by Ted Chiang (2019)
Chiang published his first short story collection back in 2002, Stories of Your Life and Others, which provided the basis for the Amy Adams-starring blockbuster, Arrival. His second collection, Exhalation, presents nine science-fiction short stories, including “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” which focuses on a fabric merchant in Baghdad who attempts to use a time-travel gateway to rectify his devastating past; my favorite short story, “The Lifecycle of Software Objects,” which centers on software testers who experience the joys and frustrations of parenting while tending to digients, digital AI entities; and “Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom,” which explores free will and determinism through a groundbreaking invention that provides transient opportunities to communicate with ourselves in parallel universes. Every story in this assortment is insightful and gripping, and will compel you to confront the basic questions of life with its existentially hefty content.
Anyone by Charles Soule (2019)
In the future, the world has been radically changed by the flash, a technology capable of switching the human consciousness between bodies. The titular corporation controlling it, Anyone, promotes it with the excessively clever tagline, “Be anyone with Anyone.” One of the dual protagonists, Gabrielle White, is the ingenious scientist who, in a serendipitous fashion akin to Alexander Fleming and penicillin, accidentally invents the flash in the present day while working on a cure for Alzheimer’s. The second protagonist, Annami, lives twenty-five years in the future and pays the bills as a darkshare runner—someone who lets people borrow her body through the flash for a number of dubious intentions. Soule’s novel becomes increasingly engrossing and mind-bending as the plot progresses, particularly once Gabrielle and Annami’s narratives join together through a twist as startling as it is satisfying. This is a tale of electric and gritty speculative fiction that offers incisive musings on the concepts of identity and privacy.
1984 by George Orwell (1949)
It feels redundant to plug a book as unparalleled as this one, but here I am doing just that. Chillingly pertinent to our current political climate, it is essential that you follow Winston Smith on his quest to rebel against the totalitarian dystopia of Oceania, Big Brother, and the Thought Police all the way to the heart-rending conclusion.
Feel free to comment below with your own sci-fi recommendations. All my love and prayers go to you, readers. Stay healthy and stay strong.