Book – I don’t make a lot of universal recommendations, but I’ll make one now: if you like science fiction, read Ted Chiang. Short stories can be a difficult form for SF, because SF is all about ideas, and how many ideas can you cram into ten pages? The answer appears to be a lot, if you’re good enough. And Chiang is really good. In twenty-four years he’s produced only fourteen stories, but each one of those is a polished gem.
“Tower of Babylon” follows one man’s ascent through the celestial spheres and into heaven. The multiple-award-winning “Hell is the Absence of God” describes a universe where miracles, angelic visitations, and proof of hell are daily occurrences. “Seventy-Two Letters” combines science, biology, and the legend of the golem in unexpected ways. Each single story is incredible, and incredibly different from the others. And lucky for us, Chiang has continued writing since the publication of his only collection to date. The Lifecycle of Software Objects won both the Hugo and Nebula awards in 2010, and his latest story, “The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling,” is available online from Subterranean Press.
Graphic Novel – Wasteland is the kind of story that drops you into a new world and expects you to just get to swimming in it. Or walking, as the case may be – and there’s a lot of walking in Wasteland. Michael and Abi are on a quest, after all, to find the mythical land of A-Ree-Yass-I, which legend says was the origin of the poisoned world they now live in. Michael is a scavenger who’s been wandering this desert world for longer than he can remember. When he saves her town from raiding sand eaters, healer Abi decides to trust him, and to join him on his journey.
A lot of the enjoyment of this series is piecing together the history of the Big Wet and the world it destroyed. The comic is advertised as “Post-Apocalyptic America,” but the characters have forgotten so much of their history that as a reader, you know just a little bit more about their world than they do. Fans of dystopias and political science fiction will find a lot to enjoy in Wasteland. (For a really immersive experience, read each volume while listening to the accompanying soundtrack!)
Book – Anyone who’s been regretting a shortage of great sci-fi movies lately can find consolation in the Expanse series by James S.A. Corey (the pseudonym for the duo of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck). In the first volume, Leviathan Wakes, we’re introduced to the solar system as it will be. Earth is an aging power, Mars a powerful colony, and the Belt – the thinly-populated region of outer space that’s developed its own language, culture, and phenotype – well, the Belt just wants to be left alone. Tensions are high anyway, but they only get worse when Jim Holden of the late ice miner Canterbury accuses Mars of destroying his ship. Holden’s wrong, though. It wasn’t Mars. It was someone else – someone covering up a secret that no one would have guessed.
Corey is terrific at making books out of nothing but awesome things. If you’re in the market for space battles, unnameable horrors, down-on-their-luck cops, and the unstoppable force of a dedicated optimist meeting the immovable object of human politics, Leviathan Wakes is the book for you – and if you like this, there are two more books already available and three more in the works.