SINGAPORE (May 29): For fans of the science fiction and fantasy genre, these books are like a spaceship, taking us far away from the “circuit breaker” lockdowns and outside our increasingly messy homes. Words are long, winding roads, allowing us to traverse to different realms, see our world with different eyes while taking us on journeys to destinations unknown. This week, we bring to you some of our new (and old) genre favourites where you will encounter sentient robots, dangerous beasts and so much more. Strap in — we are in for quite a ride.
Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear
In 2007, American author Elizabeth Bear wrote the Hugo Award winning short story Tideline — a story about a sentient war machine Chalcedony, a survivor living in a post-apocalyptic world populated by a human population which has been reduced to living as cavemen. Along the way, Chalcedony sparks a friendship with an orphaned boy while combing a beach for trinkets to commemorate her fallen comrades. When Chalcedony’s power cells wear out, it hands the trinkets to the now matured companion.
The heartfelt, contemplative, and deeply evocative short story was widely praised upon release and made Bear a genre author to watch out for. She has released many short fiction pieces since but her stock has risen again with the release of her latest novel Ancestral Night, which was released last year. Written in Bear’s inimitable and unique style, the book tells of Haimey Dz and her small crew who run afoul of pirates at the outer limits of the Milky Way. They soon find themselves on the run and in possession of universe-changing information.
Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang
American author Ted Chiang’s long-awaited collection of short stories follows in the footsteps of his previous critically acclaimed anthology from 2002, Stories of Your Life and Others. That collection included the beautiful novella, Story of Your Life, which explores and re-examines the phenomena of time, and memory in terms of language. It also served as the inspiration for the 2016 sci-fi blockbuster Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve.
Other stories in that collection reinterpreted the Biblical Tower of Babel, imagined an industrial era powered by Kabbalistic golems and revisited the oldest of theological arguments regarding the nature of God. So how can Chiang top his own first magnificent effort? With Exhalation, Chiang does not fail to dazzle. He explores issues relating to bioethics, virtual reality, free will and determinism, time travel, and the uses of robotic forms of artificial intelligence in stories such as In the Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate, Exhalation and The Lifecycle of Software Objects
The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu
Most would know Ken Liu as the translator of the hugely popular Chinese science fiction novel The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin. But Liu — a multiple Hugo Award winning American author of science-fiction and fantasy as well as a translator, lawyer and computer programmer — has also penned several short fiction collections and novels, including the highly acclaimed Dandelion Dynasty series.
This collection includes a selection of his science fiction and fantasy stories from the last five years — sixteen of his best — plus a new novelette, and also an excerpt from the forthcoming book three in the Dandelion Dynasty series, The Veiled Throne. In all, The Hidden Girl and Other Stories is a beautifully-written and thought-provoking collection of speculative fiction stories exploring death, life, artificial intelligence and more
The Migration by Helen Marshall
There is a plague called Juvenile Idiopathic Immunodeficiency Syndrome, and those who die do not stay dead. However, this is not your typical zombie story for The Migration is also a tale of sisterhood, courage and of life, even after death. Canadian author Helen Marshall weaves a surprisingly tender tale about high school senior Sophie Perella whose sister is diagnosed with the disease.
Their parents’ marriage falters under the strain and Sophie’s mother takes the girls to Oxford in England to live with their Aunt Irene. An Oxford University professor and historical epidemiologist obsessed with relics from the European pandemic known as the Black Death, Aunt Irene works with a centre that specialises in treating people with the illness. She is a friend to Sophie, offering a window into a strange and ancient history of human plague and recovery. Sophie wants to understand what’s happening but it becomes clear there is nothing normal about this condition — especially when the dead refuse to stay dead
The Shattered Sea Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie
British author Joe Abercrombie is perhaps one of science fiction’s newest and most exciting names. His Shattered Sea trilogy begins with Half A King, the story of prince Yarvi, a reluctant heir to a divided kingdom who has been betrayed by his own family and has vowed to reclaim a throne he never wanted.
This story of survival is as engaging as it is vividly imagined, with well-fleshed out and well-written characters who you root for from start to finish. The series follows with Half the World, and ends with Half A War, continuing on Yarvi’s story and the others around him.
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
One of acclaimed British author Neil Gaiman’s many excellent books, Neverwhere takes the reader on a journey through London seen through the eyes of the boyish and good-hearted Richard Mayhew. But this is not the London you know — when Richard helps an injured young woman on the streets, he is plunged into the world of London Below, where magic and mystery live parallel to London Above. He finds himself unable to return to the London he knew, and embarks on an adventure to find his way home.
The novel began life as a Gaiman penned six-episode BBC television series in 1996. But in the process, the writer found that much of the story he wanted to tell was simply not replicable on television, and he decided to someday put it into a book — which he did. The book has since been adapted for radio by the BBC, and a sequel — tentatively titled The Seven Sisters — is in the works.