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Redefining sci fi.

June 23, 2020 - 14:35 -- Admin

I was asked by Publishers Weekly to do up a list of authors and books that are rewriting the rules of science fiction. Or maybe it was space opera? Who can remember anything these days? It was before… all of this. (JB frantically waves his hands around. Again).

Anyway, below is the list, in case you were interested. Dan Moren’s Galactic Cold War Series was also on it, but I’ve written about that separately. So these guys are all that remain…

Liu Cixin. The Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy.


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The nine-time winner of China’s most important science fiction award and author of The Three Body Problem has also carried off a cupboard full of Hugos, Locus and Nebula Awards for his very Chinese but also very cosmopolitan novels of the five hundred year struggle with the Trisolarins, a badass bunch of space nazis who are incapable of internal monologue. Liu Cixin has named both Arthur C Clarke and George Orwell as deep influencers, but his synthesis of Chinese literary forms, cultural memes and western genre tropes has created something very new and very special.

Kameron Hurley. The Stars Are Legion


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Kameron Hurley doesn’t have readers. She has addicts. Seriously messed up addicts, all jonesing for their next hit of tragic love, embittered vengeance and never-ending war within the seams between the stars. You can trust nothing in Hurley’s grim and often grotesque future. Certainly not love, and probably not your sanity when she really decides to crank on the infinitely weird engine of exotic matter and dark forces that barely contains her imagination. Fervently held genre tropes get melted down to plasma slag and Hurley has even fewer fucks to give for your feelings about that than does her all-female cast of dark-toned, body-modded warrior she-devils, forever contending with each other for control of a legion of decaying world-ships.

Ann Leckie. The Imperial Radch series.


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Leckie did not invent or discover gender blindness for the world with Ancillary Justice, but her far future debut novel landed with enough explosive force that the blast wave seemed to clear a vast open space in which other authors could then be free to play with nations of identity and culture. Complex, challenging, even difficult at times, Justice and its sequels made no compromises on the journey to explore the sort of political and personal ambiguities normally the preserve of purely literary fiction.

Nnedi Okorafor. The Binti novella series.


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Nnedimma Nkemdili "Nnedi" Okorafor will take none of your guff about the lack of literary merit in science fiction. The multi-award-winning Nigerian-American novelist is crafting beautifully realised literary gems deep within the same genre that, er, gifted us with a thousand derivative space marine sagas. Her novellas of Binti, first of the Himba accepted into the illustrious pan galactic Oomza university, explore intimate questions of belonging and identity, but via wars against jellyfish aliens, rogue human factions and vast, galaxy spanning searches for meaning.

John Scalzi. The Interdependency Series.


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Scalzi is such an elder God of the genre it might seem a little weird to throw him into the mix here, but there are two aspects to The Interdependency series, his current trilogy, that make it stand out. First, it’s funny. Not just witty or occasionally amusing in the way that any droll observer of the human condition can tickle a few lulz out of a reader. The humour in The Collapsing Empire and The Consuming Fire is entirely character driven, and ranges from mordant wit to lough-out-loud outrage. Technically, too, the series breaks a lot of models for old school space opera by taking away FTL travel, rather than adding it to the story for narrative ease. The loss of ‘the Flow’ which imperils the galaxy spanning civilisation in this series, is an obvious analogue for climate in our ou own world, but it also kicks the legs out from under the settled table of sci-fi topes we’ve been dining at for years.

Yoon Ha Lee. Dragon Pearl.


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Running away to find ourselves is as much as venerated myth of space opera as wayward starships and young heroes’ misadventure on the highest, most lawless frontier. Yoon Ha Lee retouches all your favourite archetypes with a delicate Korean brush. A lovely introduction to space faring for the younger reader, her shape-shifting magical fox named Min, who presents as human to our unmagical eyes, strikes out from home to clear her brother’s name of a vile slander. Along the way she teams up with more supernatural allies, one of them a non binary goblin in the Space Cadets.

Becky Chambers. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.


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A stand out example of the good things that can happen when you fundamentally disrupt long established publishing models, Becky Chambers did not walk the conventional path to her well deserved success. Long Way began life as a modest Kickstarter, looking for a lousy two and a half grand to fund a couple of months part time writing. A year later, Hodder and Stoughton had acquired Chambers character driven road trip through the galactic sublayer, and fans of quirky, humane SF had a new favourite in Rosemary Harper, a human of Mars, who leaves her leaves her home world as clerk of the tunnelling ship Wayfarer.

Alex White. The Salvagers Series.


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Okay, yes, it starts with a magic car race. But its very colourful magic, and a very exciting car race, and White is a supercool stylist who soon drags you into the search for A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe. A misfit crew, a ship of legend, a universe in peril, all of the big boxes are ticked with big colourful technomagical pens. Boots Ellsworth, White’s washed up and not entirely trustworthy treasure hunter, and Nilah Brio, a brilliant racer framed for murder, make an engaging team as they heist, scheme and copulate their way across the cosmos.

Marina J. Lostetter. Noumenon


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In Lostetter’s audacious debut novel, teams of multi-cloned humans venture across cold space for eons to explore the far reaches of the outer galaxy. Recalling the dilemmas and paradoxes of FTL campaigning in The Forever War, one team tentatively creeps up on a mysterious and possibly threatening alien star, seeking clarification of any threat it might use to a human civilisation which has most likely changed beyond all recognition at the other end of the time dilation effect.

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