Summer 2021 Science Fiction Reading List – Therapy Box

Summer 2021 Science Fiction Reading List

With vaccinations finally available, it seems that some semblance of normal is on the horizon, including safely traveling and seeing friends (in person!). Here are some books to take with you.

 

13
by Becky Chambers – 2021

This is book four of the Wayfarers series, but you can dive straight into this one.

With no water, no air, and no native life, the planet Gora is unremarkable. The only thing it has going for it is a chance proximity to more popular worlds, making it a decent stopover for ships traveling between the wormholes that keep the Galactic Commons connected. If deep space is a highway, Gora is just your average truck stop.

At the Five-Hop One-Stop, long-haul spacers can stretch their legs (if they have legs, that is), and get fuel, transit permits, and assorted supplies. The Five-Hop is run by an enterprising alien and her sometimes helpful child, who work hard to provide a little piece of home to everyone passing through.

When a freak technological failure halts all traffic to and from Gora, three strangers—all different species with different aims—are thrown together at the Five-Hop. Grounded, with nothing to do but wait, the trio—an exiled artist with an appointment to keep, a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, and a mysterious individual doing her best to help those on the fringes—are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they are, or could be, to each other.

“[A] delightful, cozy novel. Devoted fans and newcomers alike will thrill with this imaginative sci-fi confection.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review

12
by Elizabeth Bear – 2019

Halmey Dz and her partner Connla Kurucz are salvage operators, living just on the inside of the law…usually. Theirs is the perilous and marginal existence, with barely enough chance of striking it fantastically big—just once—to keep them coming back for more. They pilot their tiny ship into the scars left by unsuccessful White Transitions, searching for the relics of lost human and alien vessels. But when they make a shocking discovery about an alien species that has been long thought dead, it may be the thing that could tip the perilous peace mankind has found into full-out war.

“Outstanding…Amid a space opera resurgence, Bear’s novel sets the bar high.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review

11
by Chuck Wendig – 2019

Shana wakes up one morning to discover her little sister in the grip of a strange malady. She appears to be sleepwalking. She cannot talk and cannot be woken up. And she is heading with inexorable determination to a destination that only she knows. But Shana and her sister are not alone. Soon they are joined by a flock of sleepwalkers from across America, on the same mysterious journey. And like Shana, there are other “shepherds” who follow the flock to protect their friends and family on the long dark road ahead.

For as the sleepwalking phenomenon awakens terror and violence in America, the real danger may not be the epidemic but the fear of it. With society collapsing all around them—and an ultraviolent militia threatening to exterminate them—the fate of the sleepwalkers depends on unraveling the mystery behind the epidemic. The terrifying secret will either tear the nation apart or bring the survivors together to remake a shattered world.

“This career-defining epic deserves its inevitable comparisons to Stephen King’s The Stand.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review

10
by M. R. Carey – 2020

Beyond the walls of the small village of Mythen Rood lies an unrecognizable landscape. A place where overgrown forests are filled with choker trees and deadly seeds that will kill you where you stand. And if they don’t get you, one of the dangerous shunned men will.

Koli has lived in Mythen Rood his entire life. He believes the first rule of survival is that you don’t venture too far beyond the walls.

He’s wrong.

“A captivating start to what promises to be an epic post-apocalyptic fable. Narrator Koli’s inquisitive mind and kind heart make him the perfect guide to Carey’s immersive, impeccably rendered world.”
―Kirkus

9
by Colson Whitehead – 2011

A pandemic has devastated the planet, sorting humanity into two types: the uninfected and the infected, the living and the living dead. After the worst of the plague is over, armed forces stationed in Chinatown’s Fort Wonton have successfully reclaimed the island south of Canal Street—aka Zone One.

Mark Spitz is a member of one of the three-person civilian sweeper units tasked with clearing lower Manhattan of the remaining feral zombies. Zone One unfolds over three surreal days in which Spitz is occupied with the mundane mission of straggler removal, the rigors of Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder (PASD), and the impossible task of coming to terms with a fallen world. And then things start to go terribly wrong…

“Uniquely affecting… A rich mix of wartime satire and darkly funny social commentary… Whether charged with bleak sadness or bone-dry humor, sentences worth savoring pile up faster than the body count.”
—The Los Angeles Times

8
by Octavia E. Butler – 1993

Lauren Olamina and her family live in one of the only safe neighborhoods remaining on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Behind the walls of their defended enclave, Lauren’s father, a preacher, and a handful of other citizens try to salvage what remains of a culture that has been destroyed by drugs, disease, war, and chronic water shortages.

While her father tries to lead people on the righteous path, Lauren struggles with hyperempathy, a condition that makes her extraordinarily sensitive to the pain of others.

When fire destroys their compound, Lauren’s family is killed and she is forced out into a world that is fraught with danger. With a handful of other refugees, Lauren must make her way north to safety, along the way conceiving a revolutionary idea that may mean salvation for all mankind.

“A real gut-wrencher… What makes Butler’s fiction compelling is that it is as crisply detailed as journalism… Often the smallest details are the most revelatory.”
―Washington Post

7
by Nnedi Okorafor – 2021

The day Fatima forgot her name, Death paid a visit. From hereon in she would be known as Sankofa­­―a name that meant nothing to anyone but her, the only tie to her family and her past.

Her touch is death, and with a glance a town can fall. And she walks alone, except for her fox companion, searching for the object that came from the sky and gave itself to her when the meteors fell and when she was yet unchanged; searching for answers.

But is there a greater purpose for Sankofa, now that Death is her constant companion?

“This imaginative, thought-provoking story uses elements of the fantastic to investigate the complexities of gender and community outside of a European, colonial imagination. Readers will be blown away.”
―Publishers Weekly, starred review

6
by Jasper Fforde – 2018

The Earth is just a tiny bit farther away from the sun in Early Riser, but that’s enough to make the winters harsh enough that humans have evolved to hibernate. The exception is the Winter Consuls, a group of misfits tasked with keeping the sleeping population safe.

Charlie Worthing has just joined the Winter Consuls and is experiencing her first winter awake. Unfortunately, a viral dream appears to be killing people, and Charlie must survive the dream, the Villains (murderous non-hibernators), and Nightwalkers (essentially zombies who are placated by comfort food and candy bars).

I’m a big fan of Jasper Fforde’s well-written and mildly insane other books, including the Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series, and Early Riser does not disappoint. It’s a funny, absurd, dystopian murder mystery with great characters in an alien yet cozy British setting.

“Charlie’s journey… is so absorbing, and Fforde’s wit so sharp, the reveal that the narrative is also a commentary on capitalism comes across as a brilliant twist… Whip-smart, tremendous fun, and an utter delight from start to finish.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

5
by Andrew Kelly Stewart – 2021

Remy is a Chorister, rescued from the surface world and raised to sing in a choir of young boys. Remy is part of a strange crew who control the Leviathan, an aging nuclear submarine that bears a sacred mission: to trigger the Second Coming when the time is right.

But Remy has a secret too: she’s the submarine’s only girl. Gifted with the missile’s launch key by the Leviathan’s dying caplain [not a typo], she swears to keep it safe. Safety, however, is not the priority of the new caplain, who has his own ideas about the mission. When a surface-dweller is captured during a raid, Remy’s faith becomes completely overturned. Now, her last judgment may transform the fate of everything.

“Stewart skillfully melds the specters of nuclear apocalypse and religious fanaticism with a story of survival… This bracing examination of humanity’s weaknesses and strengths marks Stewart as a writer to watch.”
―Publishers Weekly

4
by Jeff VanderMeer – 2021

Security consultant “Jane Smith” receives an envelope with a key to a storage unit that holds a taxidermied hummingbird and clues leading her to a taxidermied salamander. Silvina, the dead woman who left the note, is a reputed ecoterrorist and the daughter of an Argentine industrialist. By taking the hummingbird from the storage unit, Jane sets in motion a series of events that quickly spin beyond her control.

Soon, Jane and her family are in danger, with few allies to help her make sense of the true scope of the peril. Is the only way to safety to follow in Silvina’s footsteps? Is it too late to stop? As she desperately seeks answers about why Silvina contacted her, time is running out―for her and possibly for the world.

“Riveting… VanderMeer is a marvelous craftsman. Every word here feels carefully chosen; every sentence has a purpose; every plot point causes ripples felt through the rest of the story… The author’s devoted fans will flock to this novel, and they will be richly rewarded. Switching genres with aplomb, VanderMeer knocks his conspiracy thriller out of the park.”
—Booklist, starred review

3
by Martha Wells – 2017

Winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards.

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied droid: a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

“We are all a little bit Murderbot… we see ourselves in its skin. And that reading about this sulky, soap-opera-loving cyborg killing machine might be one of the most human experiences you can have in sci-fi right now.”
―NPR

2
by Ernest Cline – 2020

Days after winning OASIS founder James Halliday’s contest, Wade Watts makes a discovery that changes everything.

Hidden within Halliday’s vaults, waiting for his heir to find, lies a technological advancement that will once again change the world and make the OASIS a thousand times more wondrous—and addictive—than even Wade dreamed possible.

With it comes a new riddle, and a new quest—a last Easter egg from Halliday, hinting at a mysterious prize.

And an unexpected, impossibly powerful, and dangerous new rival awaits, one who’ll kill millions to get what he wants.

Wade’s life and the future of the OASIS are again at stake, but this time the fate of humanity also hangs in the balance.

“The game is on again… A great mix of exciting fantasy and threatening fact.”
—The Wall Street Journal

1
by Andy Weir – 2021

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission—and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, Ryland realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Hurtling through space on this tiny ship, it’s up to him to puzzle out an impossible scientific mystery—and conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And with the clock ticking down and the nearest human being light-years away, he’s got to do it all alone.

Or does he?

“Readers may find themselves consuming this emotionally intense and thematically profound novel in one stay-up-all-night-until-your-eyes-bleed sitting. An unforgettable story of survival and the power of friendship—nothing short of a science fiction masterwork.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

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