Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler (Seven Stories Press, 1993 – 2016 edition with introduction by Gloria Steinem)
This is the first book in a trilogy about an apocalyptic near-future California, by accomplished (and gone too soon) science fiction author Octavia Butler. Like Ursula LeGuin in “Always Coming Home,” Octavia Butler combines feminism with religious verse, inventing a new religion to go with an imagined future. In addition, Butler puts African-Americans and other people of color front and center in her story, which is not common in science fiction. The novel takes place from 2024-2027, which is a lot closer now than when Butler wrote it, and the future she imagines – where refugees from gang violence and climate change wander the country on foot – seems even more possible than the worlds of some of Margaret Atwood’s novels now. This is a disturbing book, but worth reading. It will stick with you.
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders (Tom Doherty Associates, 2016)
I’m pretty sure I recognize the title from a line in a rock song, but I can’t place it. It also refers to the main character’s ability to talk to birds. There are two main characters actually: Patricia the witch/magician and Lawrence the technology geek. They meet as children, go their separate ways, then meet back up as young adults in an end-times world of the near future. They each try to save the world but in their own ways and not very successfully. This sci-fi novel comes with all kinds of comparisons to major sci-fi novels of the past on the book jacket, though I’m not sure it lives up to the hype. That is not to say it’s bad, just that perhaps it is a little too complex. It might take multiple readings to appreciate fully. For some reason it reminded me of the Harry Potter series, although that was not one of the comparisons mentioned.
The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett (Penguin Random House 2017)
This is a successful first novel by an accomplished British writer of science fiction short stories. It tells the story of what happens when all but 0.0001 percent of the human race (even those that have colonized distant star systems) is killed off all at once by a deadly virus. The story mainly centers on one young woman and the small group of people she ends up traveling with looking for more survivors. It starts out on a distant colony planet but ends up in England. Like a lot of science fiction written by women, it is fundamentally hopeful about our future and doesn’t devote much space to violent battles and power struggles. Instead it explores themes like religion, love, and survival strategies when the world changes overnight.
Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson (Tom Doherty Associates, 2013)
The great thing about science fiction is that even when it is four years old, it usually doesn’t seem any less (or more) timely. Hugo Award winning author R. C. Wilson, whose work I haven’t encountered before, imagines in this novel an alternate 2014 that is just subtly different than the one we remember happening three years ago. The difference is the hive colony of aliens who reside in our upper atmosphere. This network of microscopic organisms acts as a parasite that steer the world towards peace rather than war, by influencing our telecommunications (radio, tv, etc.) This is so implausible that even in the story, only a small group of people know about it. Nevertheless, our heroes (a couple of college-age kids) eventually save the world. You would think we’d rather continue to have peace than war, but it’s complicated. I would have to give it an R rating for graphic violence and sex; it reads like a movie, though not one I’d particularly want to see.
Ex Libris: Stories of Librarians, Libraries, & Lore edited by Paula Guran (Prime Books, 2017)
This collection of 24 short stories is all about librarians and libraries, as the title says. Many of these stories could be described as science fiction, fantasy, or horror, and several are post-apocalyptic. Others are completely different. I didn’t like all of the stories, but there is something for every taste. Librarians are portrayed positively and with a modern adult perspective (there is sex and romance of both straight and LGBTQ persuasions). Books are highly valued in every story. Libraries are portrayed primarily as a place to keep books safe, though they have many other roles in the twenty-first century. This collection reminded me of my roots as a person who became a librarian because I love books and reading.
Crosstalk by Connie Willis (Random House, 2016)
It’s always a good idea to visit your library or bookstore regularly, because sometimes you will discover that your favorite author has published a new book. Award-winning science fiction author Connie Willis has written another great novel, but this one involves neither history nor time travel. It simply takes the current world, in which we are connected 24/7, a step farther. What if someone invented a surgical procedure that would allow you to communicate telepathically with your romantic partner? What could go wrong? Read this book and find out!
Steal across the sky by Nancy Kress (Tor, 2009)
This science fiction story has a unique premise which I won’t reveal. You should read it for yourself. I will say that 21 humans are selected by an alien race to visit several planets and “witness” a situation that they are expected to bring back news about to the Earth. The book takes place in a near future (nearer now than it was in 2009) early 2020’s that is not much different from the present. It tells the story of several young people who are selected for space travel, interact with the people on the other planets, and come back changed. In fact more than half of the story is what happens when they come back. This is the sort of book you will have to read to the end before you can go to sleep.