Saturday, July 26, 2014

7 Under-Appreciated Sci-Fi Reads

Last week, we took a look at some fantasy books that just deserve a little more attention than they've been getting. Today, we turn to the science fiction side of the spectrum, throw out a few more books to make your to-be-read pile all the larger.

7: Can of Worms by Kathy Mackel

Remember when sci-fi was fun? Aliens and technology and adventure? That's Can of Worms. It rose to popularity during the era of Disney Channel Original Movies, and that's how I discovered it. A TV movie. I proceeded to read it ten or fifteen time. In a row. It's the story of Mike Pillsbury and his attempts to move through the sea of the public school system, all the while dealing with a cavalcade of aliens drawn by the signal he sent out into the universe, all ready to 'rescue' him from his family. And of course, things take a turn for the worse. But as far as sci-fi goes nowadays, it's a nice, light read.

6: Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott

Flatland does have a certain level of popularity, but will that last? As we, unfortunately, lose our oldest generation of sci-fi readers, more and more classics fall by the wayside. Already, enough people haven't read Flatland. But I think it deserves attention, if only because of how completely groundbreaking it was at the time. In 1884, Edwin Abbott published Flatland under the pen name A. Square as the memoirs of a resident of Flatland, a two-dimensional world. But our noble square is not your average square. He receives a message from another world. A sphere who descends into flatland from our world to show him the truth. An allegory to it's core, the very fact that a work in such a time period, one that not subtly suggests that God may, in fact, be quite fallible, astounds me to this day. And you can't beat the price—under two dollars for an ink and paper copy.

5: Hopscotch by Kevin J. Anderson

Now, Kevin J. Anderson is hardly a name to be forgotten in the world of modern speculative fiction. But try to talk to someone about Hopscotch. How many people have read it? I've been to numerous sci-fi and fantasy cons, both as a fan and as a panelist, and I have yet to run across a single other soul who has read the book, or even heard of it.
It tells the story of a group of young people in a world where body-swapping is not only prevalent, but quite normal. An artist who switches out with another to avoid exhaustion. A young woman seeking some sort of spiritual truth. A government officer without the ability to swap, but unfooled by the mutable outward appearance of the world's population. I read it first in middle school, and it's stuck with me since then.

4: Manta's Gift by Timothy Zahn

Jupiter: the great, inscrutable gas giant. What lies beneath the surface? What could possibly withstand the gravitational force of such a massive stellar body? Timothy Zahn, well known to fans of the Star Wars Extended Universe as the creator of Mara Jade and Admiral Thrawn, answers that question—the Qanskas. They travel from gas giant to gas giant throughout the universe, floating about and just surviving. Our main character, injured, is given the chance to join his consciousness with the body of one of the Qanska (I know, Avatar… but this came first. Remember that.). They accept him… kind of. As he moves deeper into the Qanska society, he learns the truth. Whether he wants to or not.

3: Ultra Fuckers by Carlton Mellick III

Dystopian fiction has always been one of my favorites. Now, technically, Ultra Fuckers is considered bizarro fiction, which is a relatively new genre that sprung out of splatterpunk and magical realism, but it reads exactly life sci-fi. Weird sci-fi, but sci-fi. It begins innocently enough: a dinner party with a woman's new boss. It's in this brand new housing development, but the GPS isn't working. Before too long, she abandons her husband, the story's main character, and he has to try and find his way out. But that won't happen. This housing development keeps growing. Constantly. It's computer programmed for perfection, but the computer has a bug. Of course it does. Soon enough, the whole world is one big housing development, complete with the ubiquitous goldfish mohawked robot cyclops.
I told you it was weird.
As with most dystopian fiction, it's not particularly hopeful, but it's a hell of a read. And you can finish it, cover to cover, in a few hours. Great for a gray and rainy day off.

2: This Perfect Day by Ira Levin

God, this list is starting to look familiar. Any regular reader probably recognizes half of these books, including This Perfect Day. It's one of my favorites. Now, I love The Giver, I do, but this is better. So much better. It's very clear about the whole thing rather than leaving it to imagination like The Giver. You meet the people in charge. You see the escapees. You understand the full and complete level of the treachery committed in the name of keeping society peaceful. Chip doesn't quite fit in. Chip's genetics are flawed, leaving him with heterochromia, one brown eye and one blue. Chip questions the way things are done, and he isn't the only one. There are others around him, people who appreciate art and smoking and sex that isn't shortened by chemical injection. He gets in with them, but he's not happy with their small victories. He wants more. He wants true, actual freedom, and he's willing to fight for it.

1: The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem

You had to see this one coming, didn't you? It's my favorite book. No one's ever read it. I want them to read it. It's sci-fi. This list is about sci-fi. It may not be the least popular sci-fi book ever written, but it's not exactly popular, either. At least not in the states. It got quite a bit of notice when it was released in Poland. It's not a single narrative, rather a collection of vignettes about the illustrious constructors, Trurl and Klapaucius. From a run-in with a pirate desperate to collect information to a trip hunting dragons through the phases of probability, the stories are just fun, which is what this list seems to come down to. The science is… well, there really isn't any science. It's very heavy on the fiction. But it's brilliant. Completely and utterly brilliant, and a lot of the credit goes to the translator, Michael Kandel. Not only the text but the poetry was translated, rhyming intact.

So there it is. We did seven fantasy books, and now seven sci-fi books. So again, I turn to you: which books did I miss. What can I add to my bookshelf? Let me know, and subscribe up at the top, if you want to keep the dialogue open. I always like to hear from other readers.


No comments :