I think most of us can currently be described as ‘forward thinking.’ The desire to see 2020 in the rearview mirror is nearly universal at this point. My reading choices have been reflecting this trend with science fiction being my go to genre of late. I’ve always liked it, but something about our current position on the space-time continuum makes me gravitate towards stories of the distant future. My reasoning being: whatever that future is, at least it isn’t now.
Luckily for me, there are a lot of great science fiction tales being published. While it is hard to choose, here are two of my recent favorites.
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
Ambassador Mahit Dzmare has her work cut out for her. Arriving in the imperial capital of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire, she has been tasked with preventing her independent, but small, mining colony from being annexed. While she has studied and admired Teixcalaanli culture and literature, she isn’t totally prepared for its Byzantine political structure and rituals. She also arrives at a time of political turmoil, with an aged emperor facing succession problems and a growing threat on the border. Oh, and the matter of the former ambassador being murdered, officially a case of food poisoning no less, has complicated things.
A Memory Called Empire is definitely chock full of world building and political intrigue, but it didn’t feel like a space opera to me. The author creates fully formed characters, Mahit and her cultural guide Three Seagrass especially, who you sympathize with as they try to negotiate a foreign cultural landscape. It also brings up intriguing ideas about identity and assimilation; the push and pull of simultaneously wanting, and not wanting, to be something else. All this plus lots of adventure, humor and fascinating concepts that only science fiction can provide make for a great read, or listen.
Network Effect by Martha Wells
Murderbot, its chosen moniker, hacked its governor module long ago and is free from the corporate entities that once controlled its every move. But what is an artificial intelligence with organic elements to do with new found freedom? If it was up to Murderbot, all its time would be spent watching its beloved media serials, especially The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon, and making snarky comments. But, sadly, reality always has a way of intruding. This time around, reality includes protecting clueless, and somewhat gross humans, interacting with a cynical ship’s AI named ART, all while trying to prevent evil corporations from getting their hands on alien technology.
Network Effect is the first novel length book in the Murderbot diaries series but easily stands on its own. Wells has created a unique and incredibly entertaining central character whose take on the humans around it is both hilarious and unique. As the ultimate, but sympathetic, outsider, Murderbot’s perspective also examines the idea of looking in at a corporate culture that produces great fictional universes via popular media, but which has a reality that doesn’t match up. Ultimately, though, this is an adventure story chock full of interesting characters that is hard to put down once started.
So if you need a little break from reality as well, give these two excellent science fiction novels a try. What have you got to lose?