The best contemporary fantasy and science fiction books with new takes and fresh characters

Allen Stroud Author Of Resilient
By Allen Stroud

Who am I?

I’m a science fiction writer and academic who is interested in the big themes that challenge us as individuals and as a civilisation. My recent writing explores the representation of disability in science fiction. I want to create characters who readers can identify with and who provide different perspectives on the fictional future I am writing about. These characters are not trying to overcome any limitations, they live and accept who and what they are as we all do. The writers and stories I have chosen in this list do the same, showing us something about the human condition that we may not have thought about before.


I wrote...

Resilient

By Allen Stroud,

Book cover of Resilient

What is my book about?

AD 2118. Humanity has colonised the Moon, Mars, Ceres, and Europa. The partnership of corporations and governments has energized the space program for one hundred years. That partnership is shattered when a terrorist attack destroys the world’s biggest solar array in Atacama, Chile, altering the global economic balance.

Resilient is a masterpiece of hard sci-fi, a worthy follow-up from events of his successful and highly-praised Flame Tree Press debut, Fearless.

The books I picked & why

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The Janus Cycle

By Tej Turner,

Book cover of The Janus Cycle

Why this book?

This brilliant collection of interlinked urban fantasy short stories makes use of a variety of magical devices to change the lives of the featured characters. Each story is from a different character viewpoint, each character connected with the others in some way, and each story moves the narrative forwards to its heartfelt and dramatic conclusion.

Turner brings together a group of young, and young-at-heart, individuals all attempting to find themselves, and struggling with the circumstances they are in. Gradually, as the narrative progresses, they discover each other and help each other towards a powerful and profound intervention that showcases the best of human kindness, community, and acceptance.

This book moved me. After going through the different character stories building towards the end, the finale with an assemble moment of courage between many of the characters is such an empowering and cathartic moment. When I read it, I was listening in the car and found myself in tears - which is a rare moment for me.


Tangle's Game

By Stewart Hotston,

Book cover of Tangle's Game

Why this book?

Tangle’s Game is a clever examination of the near future with an exploration of prejudice that is massively relevant in today’s society. The very best science fiction offers us a mirror to our own circumstances and situations. In the world of Tangle’s Game, we see the cultural behemoths of blockchain technology and social media as even more dominant forces than they are today.

Hotston uses this story to offer an informed and nuanced perspective on the world. Amanda’s descent from conformity highlights the ways in which we are measured and judged.


The Year's Best Science Fiction: Thirtieth Annual Collection

By Gardner Dozois (editor),

Book cover of The Year's Best Science Fiction: Thirtieth Annual Collection

Why this book?

Included in this collection of the best science fiction from 2013, edited by the late Garner Dozois, is the novella, "The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi" This is a story from the Mistress of Cyberpunk, Pat Cadigan, which is also available for free from Clarkesworld Magazine. Pat Cadigan has been writing thought-provoking science fiction for decades. Girl-Thing depicts a futuristic society where colonisation of our solar system means the transformation of our physiology. The parallel between this and current times is palpable. Cyberpunk has always concerned itself with asking the question, what makes us human? This question is usually explored through the interaction and integration of machines and technology into the organic form. However, in Girl-Thing, there is something else going on. The necessity of form to survive in different environments is combined with an exploration of identity and acceptance.

After Atlas

By Emma Newman,

Book cover of After Atlas

Why this book?

The second book in the Planetfall series. Emma Newman writes reflective and profound science fiction with characters trying to find their way in a complex future Earth society. 

After Atlas deals with events on Earth some years after the first colony mission has departed. There is a feeling of hope, and a fusion of science and religion that drives it, but really, the lives of people are as unequal as they are today. The main character, Carlos Moreno is a corporate slave, forced to work as an investigator. He is assigned to a case in a hotel in Dartmoor, England, where Alejandro Casales, leader of the Circle, a religious cult from Texas has been murdered.

Newman’s work echoes Asimov. Her detective is constrained by powerful overseeing forces, but this is a far superior take, with real danger and consequence.

I grew up with Asimov’s Elijah Bailey stories. To read this novel from a contemporary author that uses a similar detective story structure, but then steps beyond it, like Asimov did, is great. In addition, Newman’s story has the kind of modern sensitivities and careful thought paid to her the context that is essential in twenty-first-century science fiction. This is an upgrade on what went before and well worth reading.


The Left Hand of Darkness

By Ursula K. Le Guin,

Book cover of The Left Hand of Darkness

Why this book?

Written in 1969, Le Guin’s novel is an exploration of a world far in our future. Genly Ai is sent to the world of Gethen, to persuade its people to join the Ekumen – a collective of human worlds, but he is thwarted by his lack of understanding of their ways. 

Le Guin’s Gethen are ambisexual. They lack the concept of gender. Their society exists without it. The story explores this through the perspective of the outsider, Genly, but also inhabits it through the viewpoint of Estraven.

This book has been talked about ever since its publication with each generation finding new meaning and conversation from its themes. The story shows another society, one similar and different to ours. That gives us the opportunity to question the social constructs that bind our understanding of gender, sexuality, and love. 


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