This isn’t strictly a reading list, because it’s about books I’ve already read, but it’s a list of reading!
As part of my effort to more regularly blog this year I’ve found myself straying from purely techy topics into the realms of the more personal, and as part of that I’ve been covering one of my most favourite things in the world. Music. This was originally a back-burner topic, but then when I wrote my 2015 Roundup I enjoyed it, so I’ve decided to make it regular.
Now, I’m slightly behind my weekly blogging schedule, so I think it’s time to pull out another one of those back-burner topics, and this one is books.
Back in my undergrad years I didn’t ever feel like I had time to read fiction, and so I pretty much limited myself to reading textbooks and technical stuff, but then, when I finished my first degree I decided (with encouragement from my girlfriend) to make reading part of my daily routine, and for want of somewhere to start I decided to focus on science fiction.
Turns out this was one of the best decisions ever!
Since then, I’ve read voraciously, pretty much every day. I’m fairly sure it’s changed the way I think, and largely replaced the imagination I lost during my engineering degree(!). While I started off with classics, like Dune, and the Ringworld books, I quickly moved onto more modern books, which I tend to prefer. In this post I want to write about a few of my favourite books, most of which will be SFF, and most of which will be fairly modern. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be a few older things and some that aren’t strictly SFF. I should also add that I can, and do, read other things, but that I find the science fiction genre so expansive that you can move from alternative ancient histories through to massive space operas all while still reading nerdy old SciFi. So, in no particular order…
Doomsday Book - Connie Willis
I think this might be one of the most emotionally involving books I’ve ever read. It’s about time travelling history student who is accidentally transported right into the English countryside during the plague, where she gets stuck.
Over the course of the story, the protagonist, Kivrin, struggles to help those around her as the plague rages on, and you really feel as though you could be there.
This book won a lot of awards, and if you read it it’s easy to see why.
- On Amazon
Snow Crash - Neal Stephenson
This is a bit of a classic, along with things like Neuromancer, and with good reason. When I read it I had no idea it was written in the early 90s, it has such a timelessly modern feel. I read this a long time ago, and it’s something that I still remember being awesome.
Equoid – Charles Stross
I often find short stories unsatisfying, but this might be too much to cope with if it were any longer. Stross captures the essence of Lovecraft here, but then turns it up a few notches by literally describing the indescribable horrors.
I really love this story, but I’d recommend you read all of The Laundry Files series in order, rather than just skipping straight to this one. The series one of my favourites, with likable characters and a cool mythology in which certain types of mathematical operation can unleash Locraftian horrors from nether dimensions.
The Scar - China Miéville
I find Miéville’s stories hard to get into, but once I do they’re hard to put down. The Scar in unconventional in lots of ways and the protagonist isn’t the most likable of characters, but the ideas contained in this story are immense and the world of Bas Lag feels real. I read all of this series and really enjoyed both this and Perdido Street Station, but didn’t like Iron Council as much. Still they’re all worth checking out.
Idoru - William Gibson
I love Gibson’s Bridge Trilogy because it’s brimming with ideas about the future. It’s hard to pick just one of the three to mention here, so read them all, they all make you feel as though you’re glimpsing something absolutely massive.
Old Man’s War - Redshirts
Scalzi’s stories are excellent, and really, really easy to read. His characters and dialogue are witty and realistic, and most of all they’re always fun.
Redshirts is a hugely accessible story about a starship crew which is stuck in a story. It’s a modern retelling of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, but with a lot stuck on the end, and it’s great. I’ve read most of Scalzi’s work, but this stands out as one of my favourite.
Leviathan Wakes - James S. A. Corey
This is the start of really well written character driven space opera, and its deserved to be read. There’s also a TV series I’m looking forward to watching when it gets to the UK. This is another book where the characters seem realistic: flawed but likable, and then there’s a cool existential threat and space ships too. Read the whole series!
Absolution Gap - Alistair Reynolds
This is a more traditional space opera, but really bleak, and with a bit of twistedness that reminded me of Iain M. Banks. If you like hard science fiction you should read this series. I picked this book because I clearly remember the imagery of the giant moving cathedral, and the sense of scale it gave me, but the whole series is one of my favourites.
The Memory of Sky - Robert Reed
This is a strangely compelling book about weird boy who goes on an epic journey. I only found out after reading this that it’s actually part of a trilogy, and I’ve not read the rest, but I really find myself hooked on this, and on finding out what happens to the characters, so much so that after a year or so I remember how it made me feel more than what happened!
Matter - Iain M. Banks
The world lost amazing talent when Banks died in 2013. This is the first of the Culture books I read, and from there I went on to devour all of the others. I love how sophisticated the Culture is, despite its obvious flaws, and the mix of technology, space opera elements and plain madness make all of the Culture books really enjoyable, and one of my favourite series.
I could go on and on, and I have! Instead of going on more, I’ll just say that a lot of my favourite books end up on awards lists. If you’re looking for good things to read, you could do much worse than having a look at the Locus Science Fiction Award winners and shortlists. I tend to find its contents more enjoyable (and maybe less controversial) than the Hugo award, although both are great ways to discover new books.