Stranger Than Science Fiction

Library staff sound off on some of their favorite sci-fi!

LindaMy favorite books are all character-driven and most sci-fi doesn’t really satisfy me in that way, but I still have a few favorites.

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis is about a historian who time travels to the Middle Ages and ends up in the midst of the plague. Meanwhile, her colleagues back home in the future are also being struck down by an epidemic. The combination of science fiction and historical fiction was wonderfully engrossing.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell isn’t usually considered science fiction, yet it’s about people who travel to a planet and spend time with aliens and if that’s not science fiction I don’t know what is. Jesuit priests hear beautiful music being transmitted from space and set off to find the source. What one priest experiences forces him to believe that either God doesn’t exist, or that He is vicious and cruel.

I’ve always loved post-apocalyptic novels, and one of my favorites is Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban (who is also the author of one of my favorite children’s books, Bread and Jam for Frances.) Set far in the future after civilization as we know it is destroyed by nuclear war, society is based on scavenging iron from ancient machinery and learning a distorted version of history through traveling puppet shows. It’s written in a form of pidgin English that’s a bit jarring at first, but if you stick with it, it will be so worth it!

MauraPretty much anything by Brit Marling!

Another Earth, screenplay written by Brit Marling, who also stars in it. A duplicate earth is discovered, a tragic accident occurs and brings together a young student and a composer. The story unfolds as their lives become more interconnected, while scientists are discovering and making contact with Earth2. The student wins an essay contest to travel to Earth2, where life had mirrored Earth until the moment of discovery. It’s a story about second chances. The viewer can’t help but wonder what their life may look like if they had made different choices.

RobKim & Kim by Magdalene Visaggio – A fun, colorful romp through other planets, dimensions, etc.  featuring two rad queer female characters.  The two Kims deal with problems ranging from paying rent to battling with sandworms summoned by necromancy.  Need I say more?

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – Set in a not-so-distant future, reality is not a place you want to spend a lot of time in.  Luckily, there’s a virtual reality program known as OASIS to distract people from their problems.  Our protagonist Wade Watts spends most of his time inside OASIS, exploring the nooks and crannies in search of hidden clues that will lead to the ultimate Easter Egg left behind by the creator of OASIS.  The first person to find it will inherit the creator’s estate, which means that there are people out there that will do anything to win the prize.  This book is chock-full of 80’s nostalgia and references, as well as video game culture, but neither are a requirement for enjoying the book.  If you’re looking for an exciting adventure set in a virtual world, this one’s for you!

Descender by Jeff Lemire – The art style of this book is absolutely gorgeous, painted in a uniquely vibrant palette of watercolors.  In Descender, mysterious giant robots, known as the Harvesters, wreaked havoc on heavily populated planets 10 years ago.  Now all robotic lifeforms are marked for destruction in a reactionary fear-based purge.  Our story picks up with a young android named Tim-21, who has been asleep since the Harvesters attacked.  Tim-21 just may hold the key to the mystery of the Harvesters, and be the only hope for salvation for all of humanity, as well as what remains of all robotic life.

Melancholia – A visually stunning film that follows Justine, who is dealing with a severe bout of depression, & her sister Claire who takes care of her through it all.  The relationship between the two changes dramatically when they learn that a rogue planet is on a collision course with Earth and there is no way to stop it.  Justine, in her depressed state, remains calm about the end of the world, while the usually steady Claire falls apart.

Let us know your personal favorites in the comments below!

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2 Responses to Stranger Than Science Fiction

  1. mwinikates says:

    Thanks for the recommendations! (And if Ready Player One sounds interesting to further readers, I suggest listening to the audio book read by Wil Wheaton. He has the perfect affect for Wade’s narrative voice.)

    I totally loved Linesman by SK Dunstall when I read it, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series. (Space travel technology as described through music, I’m so there!)

    And if folks like their sci-fi short, some of my favorites by Mary Robinette Kowal are in her recently released compilation, Word Puppets.

  2. samldiener says:

    I’ll recommend my favorite least-known science fiction writer, a Quaker feminist biologist named Joan Sloanczewski. She blogs occasionally at I still look forward to reading more of her, but one of my all time favorite books is A Door Into Ocean, featuring a militaristic patriarchal planet attempting to conquer a pacifist feminist planet (with a fascinating ecosystem), but with characters with much more complexity, on both sides, than you might expect from that schematic a set-up. It’s world-building SF with a heart, it’s utopian _and_ dystopian SF with believable problems (reminiscent of Le Guin’s Dispossessed) and challenging/complicated politics, it’s character-based _and_ scientifically fascinating.

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