The best books that make you look at the familiar differently

Who am I?

I’ve always read speculative fiction for its new perspectives on reality. Now that I write it too, I appreciate the fabulous minds that create these unique views of our universe even more. Experience in higher education and instructional design led me to appreciate organization that flows at the speed and direction of thought. I adore a well-turned phrase and a well-built world, and I hope this list leads you to a new experience of that same joy.

I wrote...

Book cover of Barbary Station

What is my book about?

Adda and Iridian are newly-minted engineers but aren’t able to find any work in a solar system ruined by economic collapse after an interplanetary war. Desperate for employment, they hijack a colony ship and plan to join a famed pirate crew living in luxury at Barbary Station, an abandoned shipbreaking station in deep space.

But when they arrive there, nothing is as expected. The pirates aren’t living in luxury—they’re hiding in a makeshift base welded onto the station’s exterior hull. The artificial intelligence controlling the station’s security system is killing station residents and shooting down any ship that attempts to leave—so there’s no way out. Adda and Iridian have one chance to earn a place on the pirate crew: destroy the artificial intelligence.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Deep

R. E. Stearns Why did I love this book?

You must know at least one mermaid story, but I doubt it spans distance and history as thoroughly as The Deep. This novella demonstrates that first, the ocean is huge and unexplored enough to believably hide an underwater civilization, and second, memories do strange things to us, whether we forget them or think about them every day. Rivers weaves together the vast emptiness of the sea interrupted by bubbles of unique life with the vast emptiness of time punctuated by major and minor events in a magical and painfully poignant story I read in three days (which is fast, for me).

By Rivers Solomon, Daveed Diggs, William Hutson , Jonathan Snipes

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


The water-breathing descendants of African slave women tossed overboard have built their own underwater society-and must reclaim the memories of their past to shape their future in this brilliantly imaginative novella inspired by the Hugo Award-nominated song "The Deep" from Daveed Diggs's rap group clipping.

Yetu holds the memories for her people-water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners-who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one-the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on…

Book cover of The City in the Middle of the Night

R. E. Stearns Why did I love this book?

Readers have been exploring human colonies on tidally locked planets for about as long as science fiction has existed, so it’s fantastic how well this adventure novel can give the reader a brand-new perspective on what, exactly, an improved version of our world might look like. You’ll have a difficult time predicting the end of this story from its beginnings. Events force the protagonist to learn new and sometimes horrifying things about her world and the people close to her, and like her, we can’t hold onto unproven assumptions if we really want to make the world a better place. I can’t say much more without spoiling this story’s many twists and surprises!

By Charlie Jane Anders,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The City in the Middle of the Night as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"If you control our sleep, then you can own our dreams... And from there, it's easy to control our entire lives."

From the brilliant mind of Charlie Jane Anders ("A master absurdist"-New York Times; "Virtuoso"-NPR) comes a new novel of Kafkaesque futurism. Set on a planet that has fully definitive, never-changing zones of day and night, with ensuing extreme climates of endless, frigid darkness and blinding, relentless light, humankind has somehow continued apace-though the perils outside the built cities are rife with danger as much as the streets below.

But in a world where time means only what the ruling…

Book cover of How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler

R. E. Stearns Why did I love this book?

A lot of speculative fiction involves “basic” technologies like animal domestication, farming, and written language. This well-organized, thoroughly sourced non-fiction book will tell you just how difficult developing all that stuff was on our planet, let alone in whatever fictional universes you may find these technologies in! I will never again take charcoal, or the concept of zero, for granted.

Aside from the book’s valuable content, its language is simple. The author integrates the facts into the fiction that our time machine has broken down, stranding us in a previous era where we are a long, arduous journey away from ever eating microwaved ramen again. North also points out, at every opportunity, all the ridiculousness and hilarity involved in invention, civilization, and attempting to do everything by ourselves. Please, read the footnotes in this one.

By Ryan North,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How to Invent Everything as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"How to Invent Everything is such a cool book. It's essential reading for anyone who needs to duplicate an industrial civilization quickly." --Randall Munroe, xkcd creator and New York Times-bestselling author of What If?

The only book you need if you're going back in time

What would you do if a time machine hurled you thousands of years into the past. . . and then broke? How would you survive? Could you improve on humanity's original timeline? And how hard would it be to domesticate a giant wombat?

With this book as your guide, you'll survive--and thrive--in any period in…

Book cover of Zero Sum Game

R. E. Stearns Why did I love this book?

Many readers fear math, and this action-packed adventure may give you new reasons to fear it. The protagonist’s superpower is super-fast mental calculation that lets her dodge bullets and kick incredible quantities of butt in a fight. Even more devious minds are opposing her. If you’ve ever wondered what use your high school physics and calculus classes were, this novel offers some explanation, although you can appreciate the story without them. This is, and I cannot stress this enough, a fun and exciting tale that treats math like magic and totally gets away with doing so.

By S. L. Huang,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Zero Sum Game as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

ZERO SUM GAME Best of Lists:
* Best Books of the Month at The Verge, Book Riot, Unbound Worlds, SYFY, & Kirkus
* The Mary Sue Book Club Pick
* Library Journal Best Debuts of Fall and Winter

A blockbuster near-future thriller, S.L. Huang's Zero Sum Game introduces a math-genius mercenary who finds herself being manipulated by someone possessing unimaginable power…

Cas Russell is good at math. Scary good. The vector calculus blazing through her head lets her smash through armed men twice her size and dodge every bullet in a gunfight, and she'll take any job for the right…

Book cover of Dawn of the Algorithm

R. E. Stearns Why did I love this book?

If you, like me, have to consciously choose to read more poetry, this is a fascinating book to add to your collection. The poems’ subjects range from pop culture to body horror to the titular implications of algorithms and AI, and every one of them is a well-structured look at an apocalypse, large or small. Chances are excellent that you will encounter an English word you can’t readily define. Many of the poems are illustrated with haunting and/or humorous line art which even the ebook format renders well. Everything ends, but not every description of those endings are as beautiful as the ones in this book.

By Yann Rousselot,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dawn of the Algorithm as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Dawn of the Algorithm, Yann Rousselot’s debut collection of poetry, is a bestiary of octosharks and dinosaurs, zombies and pathogens, mecha robots and common mortals.

These monsters were raised on a diet of TV tropes, movie clichés, book snippets, and video game storylines. Some have beating hearts, others interlocking mechanical parts. They are forces of human nature, genetically engineered with a single purpose: to herald the apocalypse.

Building on user-friendly motif and imagery, Rousselot draws acute, playful but painful conclusions about twenty-first century Earth. He paints a darkly comical portrait of humankind, a species plagued by heartbreak and alienation, yet…

You might also like...

Quoz: A Financial Thriller

By Mel Mattison,

Book cover of Quoz: A Financial Thriller

Mel Mattison Author Of Quoz: A Financial Thriller

New book alert!

Who am I?

I’m a huge thriller fan, and I love finance. In fact, I worked in the industry for over twenty years. I have an MBA from Duke and have been the CEO of three different SEC/FINRA-registered broker-dealers. Unfortunately, I’ve found myself deep into a thriller with a financial component that turns out to be implausible, overly simplistic, or both. It breaks the narrative for me. With these books, that’s not a concern. Financial thriller aficionados unite!

Mel's book list on exploring the dark side of finance

What is my book about?

It’s 2027. Rory O’Connor is the financial genius who helped create ICARUS, a quantum computer that controls the world’s stock markets with AI and algorithms. But Rory has recently suffered some tough breaks. He’s checked out of high finance and into a luxury Caribbean condo. After a former colleague finds anomalies with ICARUS, Rory quickly finds himself at the nexus of a high-stakes international conspiracy.

In the process, he discovers a hidden thumb drive that contains the mysterious and encrypted Vega files. Now, Rory must travel to Switzerland, access the ICARUS mainframe, decrypt the drive, overcome his demons, and save the world from financial chaos. If he fails, the globe descends into an economic Armageddon controlled by madmen and psychopathic bankers.

Quoz: A Financial Thriller

By Mel Mattison,

What is this book about?

Quantum AI, corrupt central bankers, and the blockchain collide in a stock market supernova. The annihilation of the global economic order is just the beginning.

"As governments around the world seek to exert tyrannical control over currency, Quoz serves as a cautionary tale for what lies ahead. You've been warned." -Trey Radel, Former Member of United States Congress

It's 2027. The AI revolution has merged with quantum computing to take control of global financial markets. Operated by the mysterious Bank for International Settlements based in Basel, Switzerland, the quantum supercomputer known as ICARUS has promised the world a more stable…

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