The best SF books you missed because they were novellas or by international authors

Felice Picano Author Of The Betrothal at Usk
By Felice Picano

The Books I Picked & Why

Tales of Pirx the Pilot

By Stanislaw Lem, Louis Iribarne

Book cover of Tales of Pirx the Pilot

Why this book?

When is the last time you laughed out loud again and again while reading sci-fi? Right! Me either. Here’s a deliciously wacky novel about a perfectly ordinary young space pilot fresh out of training and what happens on several of his more “interesting” interstellar voyages. Lem was a brilliant scientist, and the conundrums of time/space he comes up with are startling, fresh and often very twisty. For example, let’s say you end up in a space/time logjam in which you encounter your future self. Would you take your own advice?  

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By Nnedi Okorafor

Book cover of Binti

Why this book?

A young tribal woman defies her homebound culture to become a mathematician and attend an off-world university. On the way, their craft is attacked by a very alien enemy. Binti alone survives and it is up to her to save herself and possibly also her planet’s people by initiating the difficult first communication between the species. This compelling 96-page book by an Afro-Centric woman led to two sequels and eventually a prize-winning career. No surprise, as it is as full as a much longer novel.   

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Roadside Picnic: Volume 16

By Arkady Strugatsky, Boris Strugatsky, Olena Bormashenko

Book cover of Roadside Picnic: Volume 16

Why this book?

Imagine that an alien vehicle crash landed in your rural area, leaving behind a strange, mysterious, probably dangerous Zone that you accidentally entered? In this 1975 novel by two of Russia’s best SF writers, the Zone has taken over Red Schubart’s life. He leads unsanctioned tours through it, never knowing what to expect at any moment, but also earning his living that way- and by black market sales of “objects” with unpredictable qualities recovered from the Zone. Andrei Tarkovsky’s film, Stalker, conveys some but by no means all of the steadily growing utter weirdness, dread, and excitement of the novel.  

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All Systems Red

By Martha Wells

Book cover of All Systems Red

Why this book?

Who doesn’t like bad boys? None are worse than the SecUnit with a violent past who calls himself Murderbot. He is addicted to consuming digital entertainment, including Space Operas he knows from experience are bogus and he is our sly commentator on human foibles and absurdities. When he gets himself into a “Protection Racket” job for a science group on one of the Company’s colonies, he grasps what is going down faster and more realistically than all of them and goes into action. An almost indestructible conjoining of human and machine, he exhibits the worst attributes of each—to this reader’s utter delight. Wells followed up this short novel with four more, all starring Murderbot.  

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Consider Phlebas

By Iain M. Banks

Book cover of Consider Phlebas

Why this book?

This is the first of the late Scottish author’s “Culture” novels, set in a future where people and intelligent machines—including moon-sized spacecraft—interact while going about their usual lives of survival, desire, and revenge. Our “hero” may or may not be the secret “Special Circumstances” renegade some say he is. Or he may be its latest quarry. His adventures span several worlds and, on each, surprising and often horrific variations of power and dysfunction are revealed. The minute I finished reading Consider Phlebas, I began the next volume, The Player of Games, and the next and the next.   

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