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The Top 5 Science Fiction novels I read in 2017

December 21, 2017
  1. Kim Stanley Robinson – New York 2140
  2. Charles Stross – Empire Games
  3. Nnedi Okorafor – Binti: Home
  4. Taiyo Fuji – Orbital Cloud
  5. Gergory Benford – The Berlin Project

KSR’s latest social-ecological science fiction novel moves further backwards in the same timeline as 2312 and Aurora, to examine a rather nearer-future New York struggling to deal with the ongoing reality of rising sea-levels. A large cast of diverse characters centred around a common connection to one particular appartment block lends the book a real humanity and, despite everything, a sense of optimism that we can overcome the worst if we all begin to realise and work with that common humanity.

While Charles Stross shares KSR’s broadly leftist politics, his work has always exhibited a far more British cynicism. I never really got into the earlier volumes of the timeline-hopping multiversal Merchant Princes sequence of which this latest book, Empire Games, is nominally a sequel, however you don’t even need to have read any of those books to enjoy this very timely SF thriller, which deals effectively with auhoritarianism, imperialism, capitalism and surveillance without laboring any of its political points. I will definitely be reading the next book in the sequence.

Nnedi Okorafor is perhaps the most exciting young SF writer around. Home is a black, African, feminist SF novella, the middle volume of the Binti Trilogy. It deals with the experience of a brilliant young Himba woman, who gains a place at the best university in the galaxy, overcomes the most violent adversity and is herself transformed in the process, and in this volume returns home, both alien and alienated and seeking deeper roots. It is really quite marvellous but written with an incredibly light touch that makes is suitable for all ages.

Taiyo Fuji is an emerging Japanese SF writer, whose 2014 novel, Genehacker, was a really prescient biotechnothriller dealing with the corporate commercial dominance of genetic modification. Orbital Cloud deals with more conventional hacking, along with Bourne-style espionage and surveillance satellites and features all kinds of political and personal machinations between the USA, Japan, North Korea and Iran.

Gregory Benford’s The Berlin Project, is a rather more subtle alternative history than most until around halfway through. Like Katherine Ann Goonen’s In War Times from a few years back, Benford uses the technique of mixing the author’s family history with alterations to what actually happened in quite an effective way. However, also like Goonan’s book, it starts to make rather implausible demands of its characters to get some of its plot twists to work.

I could write a lot more about all the books I didn’t enjoy quite so much this year that everyone else seemed to, but I won’t!

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