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Sci-fi or Science Fiction has been a genre for the last 100+ years. It explores themes of what technology can do to the human population. There are many sub genres, including those that combine Sci-fi and Fantasy.
Fantasy generally (a big simplification) alternative pasts. What would happen if we lived on a different planet with different rules. Such as magical systems or different class systems. Again Sci-fi elements can creep into Fantasy novels.
This will always be down to personal preference. I have read many books in both genres at different levels. From the best authors in the genres (Tolkien, Banks, King Etc) to less known authors. My preference is Sci-fi that asks the important questions. Would AI obsolete us? If we can change ourselves using genetics should we? Does having all civilians on constant watch benefit everyone etc. There are fantasy books that delve into these questions too, but not as many.
What Books in Sci-fi Should I Read?
So here are some books that I have read that I can recommend.
1984 – George Orwell
1984 (Click here to buy the book) is a well known book written by George Orwell. It explores a World where the government has eyes on everyone all the time. From the moment they wake up to the moment they go to sleep.
The government use this power to control the population in almost every aspect of their lives. They even control the history, rewriting it to maintain order.
Winston is the main character, who’s job is to maintain the illusion that the history the government has created. This is by removing any written documents that contradict this history.
The scary part of 1984 is the fact the people are on constant surveillance, with barely any free will. The technology that Orwell feared is becoming more and more real. Such as Alexa and Siri who claim to not record sounds without the keyword being uttered. But they are just one way this future could happen.
The book took a while to get started so you really do have to keep with it during the early stages, but it ramps up pretty quickly and the ending is a shocker.
Dune – Frank Herbert
Dune (Click here to buy the book) is set in the future and centers around a boy called Paul, heir to the House of Atreides. The local fortune teller tells him of a terrible fate that will befall his father and that he must be ready to act.
Even though Paul is the main character, the viewpoint changes as much as Herbert requires it. Which makes for a far more interesting read.
The only downside to Dune is that there is so much to take in that the first read may not be satisfying once you reach the end. A second reading can help this, or moving on to the next book. I’ve only read it once, and will try a second read sometime this year for a full review.
Star Wars: Bane Trilogy
When watching the Star Wars movies, or partaking any activity regarding this universe. One thing is pretty much a staple, there can only be two Sith: An apprentice and a Sith Lord/Master. The Bane trilogy explains why this is.
The Darth Bane Trilogy follows Dessel, a lowly miner in Cortosis. The work is brutal yet soul destroying and Dessel wishes to be out. After a card game gone wrong, he escapes into the Sith army.
As he trains with the Sith, he realizes how weak they have become. He then conspires to make them strong again and establish the rule of two.
For Star Wars lovers this is a must-read. Seeing once a insignificant man can change the history of Star Wars forever. I enjoyed it especially seeing how Bane outwits everyone and attempts to do the same to his apprentice.
Click here to buy the trilogy.
All Systems Red
What Happens when a robot breaks its own coding? Does he go on a murderous rampage killing all humanoids. Or does he hide the fact while living side by side with humans.
Well the Murderbot decides that all he wants to do with he new found freedom is watch soap operas of all things. But as he gets to know his new wards they uncover a worrying amount of secrecy regarding the planet.
Together with his wards they investigate the other science camps on the planet to make sure they aren’t alone.
I love the character of the Murderbot. He hides his freedom from his wards and his employers. This works out well for the wards but not so much his employer. And the other characters are very much believable on how they react.
Imagine a weapon of mass destruction that could only kill people speaking a specific language. Genocidal Organ explores this to great effect.
After a huge genocide, all of the developed countries began to survey each and everyone of their people. Sounds almost like 1984. While developing countries ended up as war zones. Later we learn this is all part of the control of the developed countries.
In order to prevent developed countries from being attacked, a weapon called the Genocidal Organ was created. A sequence of words that can send people into a frenzy. Which results in the host county descending into chaos.
It isn’t a problem until the head of the project escapes and starts to reprogram the weapon to work with English speaking worlds and all of the sudden the developed worlds are not happy.
It’s a great look at how WMDs don’t always have to be so destructive, they can be programmed to eliminate targets without destroying large amounts of buildings. Its also pretty scary. The other side to this book is that the developed world would rather the developing world suffer than for them to be attacked. Which is true in real life
What Books in Fantasy Should I Read?
And here are some of the fantasy books I have read. I’ve tried to avoid any of the big authors such as Rowling, Tolkien and Martin. Some of these books do explore more than fantasy settings.
The Year of Our War
The Year of Our War is written by Steph Swainston and was released back in 2004. It follows the adventures of Jant who is the only one who can fly. He is also immortal since he is part of the elite group called the emperor circle.
The kingdom of the Fourlands is under attack from insect like creatures from the Paperlands. Kings fall in battle and the Emperor Circle must prevent the insects from winning.
Jant has his weaknesses such a dependency on a drug. He administers this drug to a dying King who is sent to the Shift. Another dimension which Jant visits often, only now realising that it is a real place. It too is being invaded by the insects.
The Year of our War is great and it has spawned many sequels. The best part of the story is that Jant doesn’t enjoy being an immortal and hates people depending on him. He is far from perfect, but somehow always tries to do his best for the Emperor.
The Farseer Trilogy
Robin Hobb is one of the biggest authors in fantasy. It all started with the Farseer trilogy. It follows the adventures of Fitz Chivalry, the illegitimate son of Chivalry heir to the throne. We follow his adventures from a scrawny little child up to and including adulthood. Starting with the Assassin’s Apprentice.
This trilogy from romance to thrills to plot twists. You begin to appreciate Fitz and really feel sorry for the hand he is dealt. Due to his status he is recruited to become an Assassin Apprentice. The Assassin is tasked with keeping the King safe and destroying all threats covertly.
Since Fitz is also a rare anomaly. He inherits the Skill from his father and The Wit possibly from his mother. The Wit allows Fitz to bond with animals and get into their thoughts. This ability is typically shunned.
The Skill on the other hand is a royal gift. Which allows the user to connect with other skill users over considerable distances. And those strongest in the Skill can even lend their strength which becomes a key point to the whole story.
This is the first series that I have read more than once. I’m on my second read through of the final book in the series then I can move on to the next one. There is so much going on, but there is never a point where you lose track of everything.
The Mirror Empire
The Mirror Empire was written by Kameron Hurley and is the first book in the Worldbreaker Saga. I only picked this up after reading one of her other books, The Stars are Legion.
Hurley completely flips the script with regards to gender and sexual orientation. Men are considered the weaker gender, with women going to wars and holding positions of power. It takes a while to get used to, but it does work.
The magic system is based on the planets, if a planet is said to be rising then that planets magic is strengthened. While if a planet is far away from them, their powers become weaker to the point that its non existent.
I feel like I need to give this one a second read through before I completely understand it.
I had to include a Mark Lawrence book. The Prince of Thorns was one of my first reads that was of the mature audience. Instead I picked Red Sister mainly because its fresher in my mind.
The series starts with the Red Sister and finishes with Holy Sister. A number of events happen to the young peasant girl Nona. Who eventually winds up in the Sweet Mercy Convent. Which is an assassin school for girls.
The story follows her as she makes new friends and learns to become an assassin. Think Harry Potter but with less magic and more death. There is also a prophecy which puts Nona second to one of her class mates.
The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids
There’s a bit of a theme here with assassins and the not so good protagonists. The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids written by Michael McClung follows Amra Thetys. A thief.
She is a great thief, but then her friend gets butchered in public. She then spends her time trying to find out who did it. Soon she is being pursued by unimaginable enemies that she has no chance of stopping. Her only salvation is if she can find the Blade That Whispers Hate.
The book spawned multiple sequels and they are all worth reading. Again this needs another re-read for me.