My favorite books that embrace the “strangeness” of science fiction

Why am I passionate about this?

As much as I love the science of sci-fi, I’ve always been drawn to human stories—the ones that remain focused on the ways we respond to the most strange and exotic of circumstances. In the end, the exotic locales are set dressings, and the players should be people (at least in spirit) that we can relate to. But I especially like the stories that play at the edge of this line: is it possible for us to lose our humanity? Are we not who we thought we were when our circumstances change? Those themes of self-perception and loss are ones I’ve found myself exploring in my own fiction.


I wrote...

The Last Shadow

By J.D. Robinson,

Book cover of The Last Shadow

What is my book about?

It’s 1991, and strange things are afoot in Boston. Bas is on the verge of hanging up his hat, until his final client suddenly claims to be someone else entirely. Across town, Dee Khalaji finds herself having visions of a video that changes each time it’s played. In a downtown compound, a secretive couple promises healing to lost souls through meditation and dance. But how have they been monitoring each member without the use of cameras? And why do they have recordings of someone Bas lost a decade ago?

A man on a mission to put the pieces together. A nonverbal autistic girl with the ability to see through others’ eyes. A story of identity, connection, and magic, set in a Boston that never was.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Recursion

J.D. Robinson Why did I love this book?

Recursion tells a time travel story in a way we don’t often see in science fiction, focusing less on the tech, and far more on the personal impact it has on the lives of each character. This isn’t the story of time machines—though the means of time travel depicted here is quite cool and unique. It’s a story about several people who become ensnared in a scheme to misuse the technology, and how quickly matters can go off the rails—with devastating consequences—even when you’re trying to do the right thing.

By Blake Crouch,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Recursion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From the bestselling author of Dark Matter and the Wayward Pines trilogy comes a relentless thriller about time, identity, and memory—his most mind-boggling, irresistible work to date, and the inspiration for Shondaland’s upcoming Netflix film.

“Gloriously twisting . . . a heady campfire tale of a novel.”—The New York Times Book Review

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY Time • NPR • BookRiot

Reality is broken.
 
At first, it looks like a disease. An epidemic that spreads through no known means, driving its victims mad with memories of a life they…


Book cover of The Book of Strange New Things

J.D. Robinson Why did I love this book?

This book tells the story of a religious man selected to meet the most alien of aliens far across the galaxy, leaving the woman he loves in the process. But their physical distance is the least of their concerns as he finds himself starting to question his most core beliefs as a missionary, and becoming ever more alienated from his own people even as he struggles to communicate his new, alien-inspired insights. Faber wrote this book as his own wife was dying, and I have to think that feeling of urgency and loss was interwoven into this amazing story. As a result, this book is one that touched me so deeply that I’m not sure I could read it a second time though.

By Michel Faber,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Book of Strange New Things as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'I am with you always, even unto the end of the world . . .'

Peter Leigh is a missionary called to go on the journey of a lifetime. Leaving behind his beloved wife, Bea, he boards a flight for a remote and unfamiliar land, a place where the locals are hungry for the teachings of the Bible - his 'book of strange new things'. It is a quest that will challenge Peter's beliefs, his understanding of the limits of the human body and, most of all, his love for Bea.

The Book of Strange New Things is a wildly…


Book cover of A Fire Upon the Deep

J.D. Robinson Why did I love this book?

A Fire Upon the Deep is a galaxy-spanning book that’s about as wide in scope as you can hope to find. As difficult as it is to boil down into a paragraph, it remains a character-driven story that we follow episodically as we learn how they all relate. Whether it’s a pair of human siblings integrating with a strange pack of telepathic alien canines, or a human employee of a vast alien communication network working with an ancient universal entity to help save the galaxy, Vinge never shrinks from the most exotic of alien concepts, but—astoundingly—never loses the humanity of the tale.

By Vernor Vinge,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked A Fire Upon the Deep as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Fleeing a menace of galactic proportions, a spaceship crashes on an unfamiliar world, leaving the survivors - a pair of children - to the not-so-tender mercies of a medieval, lupine race. Responding to the ship's distress signal, a rescue mission races against time to retrieve the children.


Book cover of Annihilation

J.D. Robinson Why did I love this book?

Annihilation is unique in a world of unique books. The story is keenly focused on the lives of its protagonists, yet none are ever named beyond their professions. They are sent into the unknown, an area of land that is in a state of ecstatic transformation, possibly under the influence of an alien virus. They are sent to solve a mystery—namely, what became of the teams prior to theirs, the last of which included the husband of the main character.

The story is, at its core, a psychedelic story about an exploration for some common truth, both internal and external, and how elusive such truth can be. Just as interesting is its more superficial tale of transition, as each character, to some extent, finds themselves changing and questioning their mission, each other, and themselves. The story continues in several other books, but even as a stand-alone work, I was riveted by this setup.

By Jeff VanderMeer,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked Annihilation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A contemporary masterpiece' Guardian

THE FIRST VOLUME OF THE EXTRAORDINARY SOUTHERN REACH TRILOGY - NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY ALEX GARLAND (EX MACHINA) AND STARRING NATALIE PORTMAN AND OSCAR ISAAC

For thirty years, Area X has remained mysterious and remote behind its intangible border - an environmental disaster zone, though to all appearances an abundant wilderness.

The Southern Reach, a secretive government agency, has sent eleven expeditions to investigate Area X. One has ended in mass suicide, another in a hail of gunfire, the eleventh in a fatal cancer epidemic.

Now four women embark on the…


Book cover of Wool

J.D. Robinson Why did I love this book?

In a way, Wool—actually a series of stories bound together—can be seen as both an odyssey and a chamber piece. What fascinated me was that the entire series (almost) follows the stories of several key people who live within Silo 18, a vast underground complex 144 floors deep. There, generations of people have built a self-sustaining culture because the outdoors is a toxic wasteland that is not only to be avoided but is best not even contemplated. Anyone who does raise questions risks being sent outside to find out for themselves… never to return.

But even as generational memory about the outside world fades, humans being humans, that itch for the truth never fully dies off. And as events inside Silo 18 escalate for our heroes, the push to finally understand what happened to the outside world—including whether other silos exist—becomes impossible to avoid.

By Hugh Howey,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Wool as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

SOON TO BE A MAJOR APPLE TV SERIES
__________________________
'Thrilling, thought-provoking and memorable ... one of dystopian fiction's masterpieces alongside the likes of 1984 and Brave New World.' DAILY EXPRESS

In a ruined and hostile landscape, in a future few have been unlucky enough to survive, a community exists in a giant underground silo.

Inside, men and women live an enclosed life full of rules and regulations, of secrets and lies.

To live, you must follow the rules. But some don't. These are the dangerous ones; these are the people who dare to hope and dream, and who infect others…


You might also like...

The Circus Infinite

By Khan Wong,

Book cover of The Circus Infinite

Khan Wong Author Of The Circus Infinite

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Creative expression has been one of my most cherished values since childhood. I've always had a creative hobby of some kind since I was a kid. Not sure how that happened – my parents were tolerant of my interests at best. I made my day job career in the arts, fostering the creativity of community members and supporting the work of artists. Art (in the general sense of all forms of creative expression) is, to me, a defining characteristic of humanity, it makes life worth living, and the way it’s devalued under Capitalism both saddens and inspires me as a creator myself. I’m a writer of speculative fiction and I write about creative people.

Khan's book list on how art is more than art

What is my book about?

Hunted by those who want to study his gravity powers, Jes makes his way to the best place for a mixed-species fugitive to blend in: the pleasure moon where everyone just wants to be lost in the party. It doesn’t take long for him to catch the attention of the crime boss who owns the resort-casino where he lands a circus job, and when the boss gets wind of the bounty on Jes’ head, he makes an offer: do anything and everything asked of him or face vivisection.

With no other options, Jes fulfills the requests: espionage, torture, demolition. But when the boss sets the circus up to take the fall for his about-to-get-busted narcotics operation, Jes and his friends decide to bring the mobster down. And if Jes can also avoid going back to being the prize subject of a scientist who can’t wait to dissect him? Even better.

The Circus Infinite

By Khan Wong,

What is this book about?

Hunted by those who want to study his gravity powers, Jes makes his way to the best place for a mixed-species fugitive to blend in: the pleasure moon where everyone just wants to be lost in the party. It doesn't take long for him to catch the attention of the crime boss who owns the resort-casino where he lands a circus job, and when the boss gets wind of the bounty on Jes' head, he makes an offer: do anything and everything asked of him or face vivisection.

With no other options, Jes fulfills the requests: espionage, torture, demolition. But…


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