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Triple-Decker Sci-Fi Book Review

There is always great speculative fiction out there. How can you choose? Well, I’m trying to pick a filter for a few books in a row, just to narrow down the choices. Lately, there have been a number of articles and interviews pointing out how underrepresented women authors are in SciFi, historically of course, but also right now. So, I’ve been using the dual filters of female author and critically recommended — not really such a risky filter.

            When I reach for science fiction, I want to read something that challenges me to think in a new way, that hits me somehow. So, here are three very different recommendations:


Axiom’s End, by Lindsay Ellis. This is a debut novel set in a current-feeling world. Things aren’t great. People are flawed. And now there are aliens. This is a quick read in the first contact milieu. The communication problems go in both directions. All the assumptions are wrong. There is a thematic nod to the concept of the Hierarchy of Foreignness from the Ender’s Game series.  This is the beginning of a series called Noumena (of 5 maybe) with the third book coming out this year.


Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer. This is the first book of a trilogy (Terra Ignota). The first book has the most to think about, and a satisfying ending — you are not signing up to read the whole set unless you want to (I did). This is a deeply researched book exploring concepts at the intersection of political science and transportation technology. What are countries if both international travel and communication are readily available and lightning fast? The setting also explores many other social changes, including a culturally enforced non-binary gender system and the deviant behaviors that become available when it is salacious to break those norms. Set far in the future on earth, the world is nothing like ours, but the narrative puts us at a point of upheaval where the world is changing again. The system that came to replace ours is now creaking under the weight of accumulated flaws.


Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie. This has made all the lists and is probably a must read if you want to stay up on the cannon. With good reason. Again it is the first of a trilogy, and you don’t have to read the trilogy to enjoy the first book. The space setting is familiar with starships, huge weapons, galaxy spanning empires, and faster than light travel. But that is not what the book is about. The exploration is about identity in a world with AI minds and cloning. Ann Leckie gives you the opportunity to explore consciousness with multiple bodies. But inseparable from identity, of course, is what you know and why you think you know it. Thought provoking examinations of technological slavery and colonialism.


Try Axiom’s End, Too Like the Lightning, and Ancillary Justice!

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