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Best Science Fiction Books of 2014
It was an extraordinary year for science fiction, with so many books challenging for our attention that any of half a dozen titles could have made the top spot, and so many other works of interest appearing that it was hard to keep this list down to just 25.
Generally speaking, it was a year in which William Gibson returned to science fiction, in which Ann Leckie produced a follow-up to the book that won just about every award going, in which Jeff VanderMeer produced all three volumes of a trilogy within the space of just nine months. It was a year in which more and more mainstream writers ventured into the genre, from Howard Jacobson to David Mitchell. It was a year in which we finally got to discover what Chinese science fiction is like with the first translation of a novel by Cixin Liu. It was a year of stunning debuts from Nina Allan and Laline Paull.
It was a year … well, better to just read the list.
Claire North's novel is one of a number of works recently that have presented numerous different versions of the same person, all of which deserve attention.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is the story of Ursula Todd who is born one snowy morning in February 1910 and instantly dies, or she dies in the influenza epidemic after the First World War, or she is killed by a brutal husband, or she bombed in the Blitz, or she dies a lonely death in the 1970s. At each death, the story is reset back to that snowy February, and Ursula takes a different path in life. She doesn't remember her other lives, but there is an awareness that helps her avoid repetitions of the same death. Her lives are mostly ordinary, a mid-level clerk, an ARP warden in the war, but they work constantly towards a course of events in which her beloved brother is not killed in the war. Written with humanity, compassion and a wonderful eye for detail, this is an extraordinary account of one woman's lives in the 20th century.
My Real Children by Jo Walton differs from Atkinson's novel by starting not at the beginning of life but at the end. Patricia Cowan is an old woman in a nursing home whose memories seem incoherent and contradictory. Then we flash back to a fateful phone call when her boyfriend called to ask her to marry him. If she said yes, she entered a troubled marriage in which she raises four children but is disappointed in life, but the world is more peaceful than our own; if she said no, she developed a passion for Italy, wrote best selling guide books, and had a long-lasting lesbian relationship, but the world was less peaceful and more threatening. In both lives, she faces limitations and restrictions simply because she is a woman, which is what makes this such an interesting book.
Books in Imperial Radch Series (2)
It may be a sign of the times, but the collapse of society has come back into fashion in current science fiction. There are several examples of the form, of which these are probably the best.
Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson is set in an extremely balkanised Europe, where city blocks or country parks or even train lines can declare themselves independent statelets. Suddenly Europe is criss-crossed with new borders. But there is always a need for goods or money or people to be transported secretly across borders, and with so many new borders the need is more acute than ever. Which is where the coureurs come in: a secret organisation dedicated to getting anything across any border. When Rudy, a chef, is recruited by the coureurs, however, he finds himself involved in a secret world that is far more deadly than he had ever imagined, because it turns out there are borders that no-one even knew about.
Wolves by Simon Ings is the story of two childhood friends whose friendship is tested as the world falls apart around them. One of them, Micky, is so convinced that the end times are coming that at one point he even builds an ark at his home, and he goes on to write a novel about a flooded world; but when the rains do come, the novel proves to be eerily prescient. Conrad, on the other hand, wants to know who killed his disturbed mother; while his father's invention of a device to help blind servicemen see doesn't stop him falling through the cracks in society and ending on the breadline. It is a world that is slowly falling apart, and the natural catastrophe that is just beginning as the novel ends is only the final act in a long process of disintegration.
Books in Animorphs Series (47)
For some specific Mars book recommendations, read our Best Mars Novels list on our blog.
If you love this story of survival against the odds on Mars, then you should seek out No Man Friday by Rex Gordon. This is also a story of an expedition to Mars gone wrong. An accident on the ship midway to Mars kills all the crew except for one, who happens to be in his spacesuit at the time. Crash landing on Mars he has to find ways to produce oxygen and water, but the difference from Weir's story is that there are giant Martians in this story, and the planet has its own plant life.
And for stories about problem solving at NASA, you really can't beat Voyage by Stephen Baxter. Set in an alternate history in which Kennedy was not assassinated, it tells the story of the determination to send a manned mission to Mars. Baxter provides a carefully worked out account of the moon missions that are cut back to divert resources to the Mars programme, and the unmanned probes that are never sent; he also describes the technical innovations that are made and the problems that need to be solved before NASA can send an astronaut to set foot on Mars.