The promised final installment of science fiction books for everyone (not just nerds!). This week features young adult and adult scifi. To try and limit this list, I’m not including books I’d consider classics or modern classics. I personally really enjoy many of Jules Verne’s books, C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, Crichton’s Andromeda Strain, Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, and the ineffable (mostly because you’re laughing too hard) Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Adams. I’m also avoiding dystopia to help keep this list manageable. And I’ll only include target readers in the interest of space. Click on the titles for more info on each book. So without further ado, here’s some of my more recent scifi favorites for young adults and adults.
Young Adult Fiction
Stitching Snow by R.C. Lewis
Once upon a time there was a teenage girl named Essie. She lived on the outskirts of a village on the mining planet of Thanda. Essie makes her way by stitching tech, and fighting in the ring to make some extra dough every once in a while. She has made seven drones who help make the mining in her village much more efficient. They also provide company to her. Essie's life is comfortable, and she's holding her own. But when a stranger crashes near the village and Essie decides to help him get his ship back together, her carefully built walls are threatened. Dane is looking for a treasure. A treasure that will help end the war on Windsong that started when Princess Snow was kidnapped. Essie can't wait to get Dane on the road, because he is bringing up memories she had carefully buried and his presence is threatening to make her dissatisfied with the life she has built on Thanda. ...and to find out more you just have to read the book.
What I liked: It’s a smart scifi retelling of Snow White, but Lewis made the story all her own. It was a geeky girl's perfect fairy tale retelling. There's space travel and thrilling action, and just the right touch of romance. This is one I'll have to reread. And I loved finding out that the author is a high school math teacher. Who said the math/science people can't write too?! (And those daily interactions with teens in the classroom means she knows her audience well.)
- Those who like fairy tale retellings, smart scifi fans, action fans, and those who prefer stand alone novels.
Spinning Starlight by R.C. Lewis
Welcome to Sampati. One of the seven planets that form the Seven Points. The planets all work together to form a society. Transport between them used to rely on things called portals which were temperamental and painful. Thanks to the brilliant Jantzen family, though, conduits are now used to travel between planets. They are less painful and more reliable. Only the Jantzen brothers recently noticed that the conduits were starting to destabilize and quietly began researching a way to fix them. This didn't much concern Liddi Jantzen, their younger sister, until a bunch of armed guys arrived at the family estate. She evaded the strange men and made her way to town only to find out the men were henchmen for Ms. Minali, who currently runs JTI, the Jantzen tech company Liddi is set to inherit once she comes of age. Ms Minali has decided she knows how to fix the conduits, and it requires a biological to be inside. She's trapped all eight of Liddi's brothers in the conduits in her mental instability and is determined she can fix things in the next month or so. Liddi is obviously in the way, so Minali installs a mechanism in her voicebox making the smallest squeak from Liddi set off an explosion that will kill her brothers. With her brothers trapped and parents dead, Liddi has no one else on the planet she can trust. Sure she has loads of "friends" as one of the richest and most followed celebrities on the planet, but Liddi is not blind to why these people hang around her. The Jantzen brothers discover that in moonlight they can appear to Liddi. They help her escape from Sampati via a portal. Liddi expects to find herself on one of the other Seven Points when she recovers from her uncomfortable journey, but it is a planet she doesn't recognize. To further complicate things, Sampati no longer has a written language, so between her inability to talk and unfamiliarity with writing or reading, it is going to be really hard for Liddi to find ways to convey what is going on and figure out how to help save her brothers.
What I liked: The cover of this book gives a big clue as to the original fairy tale it is based on, "The Wild Swans." As in Stitching Snow Lewis has cleverly incorporated some of the key points of the tale in her own unique way to make this story all her own. I really did like the scifi elements Lewis created and the technological/scifi world she imagined. The portals and conduits stuff especially was imaginative and fascinating.
- Those who like fairy tale retellings, smart scifi, and stand alone novels.
Railhead by Philip Reeve
Zen Sterling just loves riding the trains of the Network. Such people are called railheads in the empire. The empire is made up of a Network of stations on different planets and moons linked together by K-gates allowing speedy travel across lightyears. Zen is a small-time thief trying to help his sister and delusional ma until the day he is recruited by a strange man named Raven. Raven hires him to get on the Noon's train, the imperial family train, and steal a small object from the art collection. After a little training, Zen is put on the train impersonating one of the lesser nephews in the Noon family with a Motorik named Nova to help. And Zen has no clue as to how this mission will change not only his life, but the lives of everyone in the empire.
What I liked: Reeve has created a fascinating world in the far distant future (so much so that Old Earth is cryptic and somewhat misunderstood...at one point Klingon is mentioned as one of the main Old Earth languages). The whole rail system is fascinating, the sentient tech (the trains and many of the robots have their own personalities and feelings), the imaginary worlds, the Guardians who set up the system and still rule through programs in the datasea that can take on physical manifestations. It's a great job of world building, and I am quite curious to see what will happen in the next book as some of the secrets of the origins of the rail line will be further explored.
- Those who like stories of heists, those who like far future scifi, and those who like spectacular world building.
A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan
Rose Fitzroy wakes up from stasis to find that it is 62 years in the future. Her stasis tube was found completely by accident, she evidently missed a horrible time period filled with plague and catastrophe, and everyone she knew and loved is now dead. That doesn’t change the fact that she’s still the heir to UniCorp, her father’s company that is still pretty much running the known universe. Since she’s technically only aged 16 years, she isn’t quite up to inheritance age though, so UniCorp quickly scrambles to find her some guardians and arranges for her to go back to school. Rose has quite the uphill climb ahead. First there’s her body trying to recover from stasis. Then there’s the mental assault of dealing with your parents and your boyfriend now being dead. Add to that the challenge of trying to fit in at a high school with teens using tech and slang decades distant from what you last experienced, and yeah, it is a bit much to handle. Oh, and as if that wasn’t enough, an undead human shell with a computer brain has evidently been sent to assassinate her. This sleeping beauty is in need of some serious help or she’s not going to make it in this strange new future she’s woken up to.
What I liked: There’s a nice mystery as to why she was in stasis for so long, and why one of her friends who can read minds describes her mind as being full of gaps beyond what stasis would cause. And of course, why someone sent an undead assassin after her. Kind of like a Sleeping Beauty told Memento movie style. Once all the pieces fall together in the right order you go, 'Ohh!!!' Quite enjoyable sci-fi fairy tale.
- Those who like fairy tale retellings, those who like time travel stories (though it isn’t technically time travel, Rose has similar issues), those who like post-dystopia settings, those looking for a lighter scifi, and those who like mysteries.
Burning Midnight by Will McIntosh
Sully's world revolves around spheres. Spheres have made his life a mess, but they are also his best hope. The spheres just appeared on Earth one day - hidden all over the place. The one that ruined Sully's life he found in a drain pipe. They fit in your hand and come in various colors. The color is very important. Because if you have two of the same color you can put them to your temples and give yourself a new power. Some make you smart, some improve your looks, some can make you faster. The less impressive the power, the more common the color. Which means that when an unheard of color is found, you know you've got yourself a gold mine. At least, that's what Sully thought when he found a cherry red. But then Alex Holliday, the up and coming king of the sphere empire in America swindled Sully out of millions. Now Sully is infamous as the kid who got ripped off by Holliday but can't do anything about it. He and his mom are barely scraping by since she lost her job. Sully knows their best chance of survival is to find a really rare sphere. So when Hunter, sphere hunter extraordinaire (and also good looking chick) walks up to his table at the flea market, Sully believes he's found the perfect partner to help him survive. Hunter wants a big find possibly even more than him, she's homeless and a big find would open the doors to a new life. But when Sully and Hunter do make a huge find, it has consequences they never could have dreamed and could spell disaster for the entire solar system.
What I liked: The interesting rewrite of the modern world, the treasure hunt, the big twist at the end and how they figured out to fix it, and the moral that greedy people are not always the happiest in the end.
- Those who like big twists, those who like treasure hunts, those who like slight changes in the modern world, and those who like epic road trips.
Dark Energy by Robinson Wells
The aliens are here. They've landed in Minnesota. Well, they actually crash landed in Iowa and eventually came to a stop in Minnesota. So far they've yet to make a personal appearance, and everyone is wondering if they are the friendly kind or the disease carrying kind or the world dominating kind. Aly's dad works for NASA, so they are temporarily uprooted from their home in Miami, Florida to chilly Minnesota while her dad and the rest of the science world geeks out over the new visitors. Since her mom is dead and her dad will be very distracted, he enrolls her at a prestigious prep school in Minnetonka. Aly soon finds herself surrounded by trust fund babies, congressmen's kids and most likely future Nobel prize winners in biology and calculus. Thankfully, just because they're rich and/or nerdy does not mean there aren't any potential friend-material fellow students. Aly's roommates turn out to be pretty cool. Nerdy geniuses, but cool. And she almost literally runs into Kurt, a poor little rich Indian (as in from India) boy with a nice sarcastic sense of humor whose parents live on different continents and dump him in boarding schools since they're so busy. So Aly's making some friends and figuring out her new school, and then the aliens emerge from the ship and everything gets way, way more exciting for Aly and her friends...and I can't tell you anything more without ruining some of the fun.
What I liked: It's hard to talk about this too much without ruining various things. I did like the aliens and the mystery around them. This definitely satisfied the itch I get for good ol' scifi with some "Ooo, I like what the author did there with that origin story" thrown in. Oh, and excitement, and some mystery, and towards the end some rather seriously tense moments but not too tense. So good. But my favorite part about the whole book was the witty banter between Aly and her father. They're like a dad/daughter version of Gilmore Girls. Loved it. Kurt was able to banter a little bit too, which gave him instant approval if he wanted to get interested in Aly. I also liked that Wells managed to avoid some of the cliches of rich boarding school settings. He managed to convey that Aly's roommates were complete and utter brainiacs and one is a bit of a recluse, but he also managed to make them likeable and cool too. And the majority of the people Aly meets at the school fall in the cool category. There's just one guy and one girl that fall in the spoiled brat/entitled jerk category and they're very minor characters. I also appreciated the lengths Wells went to make the Navajo parts of the book Navajo-approved (Aly's mother was Navajo and she is still in touch with her grandmother), definitely read his notes on this. And there's all the issues brought up because of the aliens' arrival, ethical and philosophical things the characters have to think through that are important things to consider even if aliens aren't in your backyard. So it isn't just a fun and exciting read, it'll make you think a little about real issues if you aren't careful. And that's my favorite kind of book, fun with some hidden depth.
- Those who like boarding school stories, those who like alien invasion stories, those who like thrillers, those who like multicultural tales, and of course, those who like some good ol’ witty banter.
Fallout (Lois Lane, #1) by Gwenda Bond
Lois Lane is starting yet another new school. This time her military General father is supposedly taking a permanent post in Metropolis and Lois needs to plan on staying for a while. Her plan is to make friends, settle in, and not make waves. No more trouble for Lois. But when the local editor of a newspaper invites her to join the staff of their high school branch, the Scoop, Lois can’t say no. And she never could have predicted that standing up for spelling bee champ Anavi in a story about the champion speller being bullied by gamers and ignored by the principal could mix her up in something way bigger and more dangerous than anyone imagined.
What I liked: I’m not a huge Superman fan, but I still enjoyed reading this. (And he’s hardly in this.) Lois is a spunky, precocious heroine to follow around. That could be annoying, but she channels her spunk and smarts to fight for those who need a hero.
- Those who like thrillers, those who like superhero stories, those who identify with moving around a lot, those who want very minimal scifi, and those who like spunky heroines.
For the Darkness Shows the Stars (For the Darkness Shows the Stars, #1) by Diana Peterfreund
The world has barely survived a worldwide apocalypse that ravaged the earth and rendered those with genetic modifications mute and barely able to function. If it were not for the small band of Luddites who hid in caves and avoided the unnatural twiddling with genes that everyone was so keen on, there would be no one around with enough intelligence to survive. So now the known realm (which is an island) is ruled by Luddite barons. The workers are the Reduced and their descendants. Some of those descendants have started to show more intelligence and the ability to speak, much like their Luddite owners. Some of these Posts (as these people prefer to be called) are starting to desire more freedom. Elliott North is the younger daughter of the pompous Baron North. After the death of her capable mother, it has fallen to Elliott to try and keep the farm running, the Posts and Reduced workers alive and fed and the books balanced. Her elder sister has taken it upon herself to be the height of Luddite fashion and lady-likeness and her father was never good with managing things. Growing up, Elliott's best friend was a Post boy named Kai. Letters from the past that are interspersed throughout the book give us the back story of Elliott and Kai's relationship and how that became strained when Elliott chose responsibility to the farm and the Reduced and Posts in the North's care over Kai. But when a group of free Posts show up one summer to rent part of Elliott's grandfather's land to build a boat, she finds herself suddenly reunited with an older Kai full of bitterness over the past. Underneath the personal stories of Elliott vs her father and Elliott and Kai, there is Elliott's war within over the traditional Luddite beliefs about the evils of playing God with genetics in any way and her desire to develop a better wheat to help her family (and all therein) to survive. (And those who know how Persuasion ends will easily predict how the book will end, but you aren't exactly sure how all the little details of this future world will work out.)
What I liked: This is a rewrite of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. And Peterfreund managed to pull off a post-apocalyptic scifi that feels incredibly Austenish.
- Those who like Austen rewrites, those who like Regency fiction, those who like light scifi in a futuristic world that slid backwards in tech, and those who like scifi that is low on action.
Across a Star-Swept Sea (For the Darkness Shows the Stars, #2) by Diana Peterfreund
After Earth was all but destroyed in a war, the survivors built the islands of New Pacifica, Albion and Galatea. In Galatea two generations ago, Persistence Helo developed a cure for the Reduced, so that now no one on the islands suffers from the debilitating brain disorder. Well, at least until the Revolution. On Galatea, the regs are tired of the overlording aristos and royalty, so under the leadership of Citizen Aldred they are fighting back and waging a bio-weapons war by giving captured aristos a drug that renders them Reduced. Albion so far has not joined in on the social strife. But not everyone on Albion is comfortable sitting back and watching while their island neighbors suffer. One Albian in particular has become a legendary hope for the Galateans under threat of the new reduction, the Wild Poppy, an Albian man with cunning and amazing skills for rescuing aristos right out from under the noses of the Galatean revolutionary leaders. No one knows who the Wild Poppy is, and Lady Persis Blake is doing everything she can to make sure that remains true. Who would guess that the cunning spy masquerades by day as the flippant and fluffy headed friend of the Albion Princess Regent Isla? But when one of Persis' disguises backfires and she only makes it back to Albion from a Wild Poppy venture thanks to the quick actions of a Galatean medic (who just happens to want to get out of Galatea), she has to put on the show of her life to keep Justen Helo in the dark as to her true identity. Thankfully, he fully buys her light-headed act and has nothing but disdain for the stupid Persis Blake. But things get more complicated when Justen asks Princess Isla for refuge, and to prevent war (since Justen is none other than Citizen Aldred's ward), Persis and Justen are ordered to pretend Justen is on Albion as her new boyfriend. Meanwhile, Citizen Aldred is stepping up the revolution, and is now using the reduction on anyone he thinks doesn't see his way, including regs and children. Justen had been working on a cure for the new reduction, but he hits a road block that ups the stakes for everyone in Galatea (and in the Wild Poppy's circle), and he is also battling his own demons and secrets. As if things weren't crazy enough, in the middle of the spy games and revolution, the impossible happens. New Pacifica was supposed to be the only place with survivors on the planet, but the appearance of strangers in a golden flying ship shakes everything up, and could easily end up tipping the war one way or the other.
What I liked: Peterfreund does a fantastic rewrite of The Scarlet Pimpernel. It bears enough similarity to the original, I felt it was a faithful tip of the hat, but it has enough of its own unique qualities I was kept guessing as to how exactly things were going to work out. Peterfreund has built such an interesting and captivating place (with some similarities, but many differences from Elliot's island), and the perfect setting for this tale. The ability of Persis to use genetic technology for her disguises is genius, and the way the genetic tech plays integrally into the plot is fascinating, and very well done. It takes a while to figure out how this is linked with For the Darkness Shows the Stars, but it is.
- Fans of The Scarlet Pimpernel, those who like spy stories, those who enjoy smart scifi, and those who like thrillers with a dash of clean romance.
Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyers
This fairy tale mashup in futuristic Earth that stars a cyborg Cinderella who must figure out a way to stop the evil Lunar queen from taking over the Earth with lots of help from other fun fairy tale character rewrites. I've mentioned this series, or the first book Cinder, several times, so I won't go into more detail again.
What I liked: So well written, with plenty of action and fun fairy tale nods. This is hands down the most popular scifi series in our library right now. I love that it gets reluctant readers devouring books over 300 pages long in rapid succession.
- Fairy tale rewrite/mashup fans, those who like thrillers, and those who like to watch heroines and a fun group of friends save the world from evil villains in a future world.
Pivot Point (Pivot Point, #1) by Kasie West
Addie's parents have dropped a huge bombshell on her; they are suddenly and inexplicably getting a divorce in the middle of her junior year of high school. Her dad is not just moving out of the house, he is moving outside of the compound and several hours away. And her parents are making her decide who she will live with, of course they fully expect her to do a Search before making this life changing decision. Addie calls for backup support - in the form of her best friend Laila - and with Laila's help decides to search 6 weeks into the future down either path to see which choice is better. Oh. Did I mention that Addie and her parents and everyone else on the Compound aren't quite normal? Everyone who lives there has some kind of mind power. Addie's dad can tell whenever anyone is lying. Addie's mom can Persuade people really well. Laila can Erase people's memories, and Addie, when faced with an either/or decision, can search and see into her own future down either path. Of course, the Compound is tippy top secret stuff, and it's a huge deal to consider living out in the real world with her Dad. From the time Addie enters the Search, the chapters alternate between each possible future. One in which she stays with her Mom, decides that if her parents are going through a divorce she should try to live true to literature and do some semi-rebellious things to get her opinion about the state of affairs across, continues to get to hang out with Laila all the time, and starts to get noticed by the star quarterback (even though he is definitely not her type). In the other possible future, she moves to Dallas with her Dad, has to adjust to living like Norms (who have decidedly less sophisticated technology) and make sure she doesn't let anything about her extra powers or the Compound slip, has to make all new friends including a cute former quarterback, and try to figure out who she is when not defined by her powers. Both futures seem equally good until close to the end of the 6 week search, when a mystery building in the Compound is going to affect Addie drastically regardless of which future she chooses. The outcomes aren't exactly the same, but neither is good and Addie's choice gets infinitely more difficult.
What I liked: I love that this book and the other book in this duology are constantly checked out. It is not an easy read. Swtiching back and forth between the different timelines takes a lot of concentration to keep straight, but Kasie West has such a huge following now readers will put in the effort required. And I think that’s saying something about her writing. She gets teens reading, even crazy complicated plot filled books!
- Kasie West fans, those who like superhero books, and those who like books about teen relationships.
Leviathan (Leviathan, #1) by Scott Westerfeld, ill. by Keith Thompson
Leviathan is alternate historical fiction set at the beginning of WWI, but instead of the technology we know, the Germans have different mechanical machines (picture stuff in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow) and the Brits have bio-engineered creatures that compose much of their armory and transportation devices. The story is split between a girl pretending to be a boy in the British airforce, and Prince Aleksander, the son of the assassinated Austrian archduke whose death was used as an excuse to start WWI. Eventually, circumstances bring together these two young people. As might be expected, worlds collide and you'll just have to read it to find out if it works out.
What I liked: I love the imagination of this steampunk version of WWI. I also love that this appeals to such a wide group of readers in age, gender, and normal reading preference. It seems like just about everyone loves the Leviathan trilogy.
- History has shown you can try handing this to just about anyone. Those who like adventure, those who like history with a bit of thriller, and those who like imaginary worlds especially.
Numb by John W. Otte
Crusader is the Ministrix's sword to do God's work, specially anointed for the job by his inability to feel pain or emotion. He eliminates those who deserve punishments, and hopes that his acts will earn him forgiveness from the guilt that plagues him. His latest assignment, to take out a heretic Isolde, should be routine, but Crusader has trouble following his orders. Of course, the fact that another agent gets in the way and seems to have contrary orders makes things a little difficult, the more disturbing thing is the breakdown of his numbness whenever he sees the target. During the temporary glitch in the assignment, Crusader does some digging on why another agent has appeared on what was supposedly a solo mission. What he finds, makes him put the mission on hold, long enough to interrogate Isolde and reevaluate what is really going on. Because something is definitely going on. Both the Ministrix and the opposing Praesidium seem to be very interested in this Isolde, and Crusader can't figure out exactly why nor why there now seems to be a target on his head as well.
What I liked: This was a Christian fiction that was well-written and felt like a good ol’ scifi adventure.
Those who like Christian fiction, those who like stand alone novels, and those who like classic space adventure with a touch of clean romance.
Offworld by Robin Parrish
The astronauts on board the Ares, first manned mission to Mars, return to Earth only to find it completely deserted. Or at least so it seems. There are no people or animals anywhere, and it is obvious there hasn't been anyone around for a while. Now the termination of communication with Earth two months ago seems to make sense. Command stopped talking to them because they vanished. Chris, Trisha, Terry, and Owen do all they can in Florida to try and figure out what happened. Thanks to a working satellite, they do notice a strange, extremely bright light emanating from somewhere around Houston, Texas, so they grab some vehicles and start working their way to Texas. The road there is peppered with unexpected findings and numerous hazards. And the closer they get, the more they realize that they need to get to the bottom of this.
What I liked: I felt that the mystery was well done while being balanced by character development, and just the right touches of action. It definitely kept me reading till the end.
- Those who like mysteries and thrillers, those who like scifi that feels inspired by B scifi movies but takes a better twist, or just those looking for clean adult fiction.
Adult Graphic Novel
Mooncop by Tom Gauld
He's got the best crime fighting rate in the universe. He's also possibly the most bored cop in the universe. What if there were a colony on the moon complete with its own police force? When the colony thing starts to go bust and the people get replaced by robots or just decide to go home, how would a moon cop fill his time?
What I liked: This is simple in illustration and concept, but has subtle moments of comedy (like mooncop filling out his report) and moments of bittersweetness (coffee date). A quiet book, but with some subtle depth and it's a super quick read.
Those looking for a quick read, those who like space colony stories, those who like cop stories, and those looking for light humor.