18 excellent recent sci-fi novels

great recent sci-fi: American War by Omar El AkkadHere are 18 excellent recent sci-fi novels published from 2015 to 2017 that I’ve reviewed here. They’re arranged in alphabetical order by the authors’ last names. You might also be interested in reading My 27 favorite science fiction novels. I might well add to that list several of the books cited below.

American War by Omar El Akkad – A chilling tale, lucidly told, of a Second American Civil War

The Second American Civil War erupts in 2074. Four states in the Deep South have seceded in response to federal legislation banning the use of fossil fuels—and a Southern “homicide bomber” has assassinated the President of the United States in Columbus, the country’s new capital. The Reds and Blues are now at war. Read the review.

Landscape with Invisible Hand by M. T. Anderson – A clever new take on an alien invasion in a humorous young adult novel

“We couldn’t believe our luck when the vuvv offered us their tech and invited us to be part of their Interspecies Co-Prosperity Alliance. They announced that they could end all work forever and cure all disease, so of course, the leaders of the world all rushed to sign up.” Big surprise! This was not a good idea. Read the review.

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi – Dystopian fiction that breaks the mold

Prolonged drought, the draining of the aquifers, and climate change have combined to make most of the Southwest into a desert. The Water Knife of the title is a hired gun for the powerful Southern Nevada Water District. His job is to disrupt water supplies to other regions and redirect them to the Las Vegas area. Read the review.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers — A delightful modern space opera that’s all about character development

A 23-year-old woman is fleeing her life on Mars under the assumed name Rosemary Harper. To get as far as possible away from the people there who blame her for something terrible she had nothing to do with, she secures a job as a clerk on a ship that cruises through the galaxy “punching” wormholes into space. The Wayfarer is a second-class ship with a typical multispecies crew. It’s “the ugliest ship she’d ever seen.” Read the review.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch – A journey into the multiverse

Imagine that every decision you make throughout your life creates a new universe: the old one representing the path you actually take, the new universe conforming to the alternate path. Over the years, then, your life branches into innumerable possible universes. So does the life of everyone else on earth—an infinity of possibilities. Read the review.

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison – A powerful feminist story in a dystopian landscape

In the aftermath of a pandemic, a nurse-midwife has awakened only to find that everyone else in the hospital is dead. She staggers through the desolate world, writing a diary, incorporates stories from others she meets along the way. Several generations later, the midwife’s book represents the only full account of the collapse that followed the plague. The book is treated with reverence by the survivors, who are gradually building a new, matriarchal civilization. Read the review.

The Fear Index by Robert Harris – A taut thriller about the world of multibillion-dollar hedge funds

We have yet to grasp more than a hint of the forces unleashed by the creation of the Internet and, more recently, the World Wide Web. The Fear Index dramatizes one possible chain of events that could upend human society–when people too smart for their own good manipulate the global financial system. Read the review.

An Excess Male by Maggie Shen King – A great science fiction novel set in a future totalitarian China

In Shen King’s dystopian future, women typically have two husbands. The law allows them to “go the max” and marry a third, which they are encouraged to do. Matchmakers help excess males compete for the limited marriage opportunities, usually without success. Read the review.

Nexus by Ramez Naam – The post-human future explored in an outstanding SF novel

Is there a step far beyond into post-human abilities so far superior to those of human beings today that a new species will result? This is the premise of Ramez Naam‘s brilliant science fiction trilogy. In Nexus, the first of the three novels, Naam explores the circumstances in which the conflict between humans and post-humans emerges into the open. This is hard science fiction, not fantasy. Read the review.

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz – In 2144, Arctic resorts, autonomous robots, and killer drugs

Slavery has revived. Millions of humans and robots alike are trapped for life in unbreakable contracts. Bioengineering is supreme. The lives of most are dominated by a handful of huge pharma corporations, which produce patented drugs that lengthen lifespan, enhance productivity, and induce euphoria as well as prevent illness. But only the very wealthy can afford their drugs. Patent pirates supply most of the public’s needs. Read the review.

Sleeping Giants (Themis Files #1 of 2) by Sylvain Neuvel – An entertaining if puzzling sci-fi novel

A young girl living walks across a field in South Dakota, only to find the ground vanishing from under her. When she regains consciousness, she sees a photo of herself lying far down at the bottom of a perfectly square hole in the palm of an enormous metal hand. Scientists learn that the hand is made from an alloy unknown on Earth and is 6,000 years old. The four walls of the hole where it lies are covered with strange symbols that correspond to no language known to humankind. Read the review.

Waking Gods (Themis Files #2 of 2) by Sylvain Neuvel – Aliens, giant robots, and a motley collection of scientists

Waking Gods picks up the story of Themis, the giant alien robot reconstructed by American and Canadian scientists from body parts buried all over the Earth. Dr. Rose Franklin, who discovered the robot as a child, heads the team in control of Themis. Two of her teammates appear to be the only people on Earth who can manage the robot’s controls and cause it to move. Read the review.

After Atlas (Planetfall, A) by Emma Newman – A 22nd century police procedural in a fascinating future Earth

This is a world you or I wouldn’t want to live in. Only the wealthiest can afford to eat real food. Everyone else must eat what comes from printers. Every nation is governed by a “gov-corp” that operates under the influence of a tiny elite of billionaires. Virtually everyone is “chipped” with implants in their brains that connect them to the world around them—and make them vulnerable to their bosses or public authorities. Read the review.

Dead on Arrival by Matt Richtel – Neurology meets high-tech in this gripping science fiction novel

Just imagine. You’ve landed at a small regional airport somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. The world has gone silent. There’s nothing but static on every channel on the radio. The body of a man in a jumpsuit lies sprawled on the tarmac, and human figures inside the terminal are motionless. Is this beginning of a dystopian tale? Read the review.

Absence of Mind by H.C.H. Ritz – In an unusually original sci-fi technothriller, technology meets neuroscience

A psychiatric nurse named Phoebe Barnhart encounters a baffling neurological pandemic that is flooding the city’s hospitals with “aggressive and paranoid people.” Like nearly everyone else, she has had a Navi installed in her brain to access instant messaging and news non-stop, hold subvocalized conversations, and command smartcars and smart appliances with her thoughts. Is there a connection between the Navi and the pandemic? Phoebe sets out to investigate. Read the review.

Saturn Run by John Sandford and Ctein – First Contact: Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind

This book is full of surprises—so many that merely to summarize the plot would be to spoil the story. Suffice it to say that this tale, which begins in the year 2067, describes humanity’s first contact with civilization from beyond the Solar System. However, Saturn Run is “hard” science fiction, based on proven science and engineering, with as little speculation as possible. Read the review.

The Collapsing Empire (Interdependency #1) by John Scalzi – A promising start to a new John Scalzi series

In a distant future empire called the Interdependency, Cardenia Wu-Patrick is an illegitimate daughter of the reigning emperox. Now the emperox is on his deathbed. Cardenia is his designated heir—and she’s not especially happy about it. She must learn how to command a realm consisting of 47 planetary systems and billions of people. Read the review.

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky – Accelerated evolution is the theme in a superior science fiction novel

Tens of thousands of years after Earth has self-destructed in a horrific civil war, humanity has once again reached for the stars. The toxic wastes the war left behind have rendered Earth lifeless before humankind can rebuild. The remnants of the human race have set out to relocate elsewhere in ships housing a half-million people in stasis. One of those immense lifeboats is approaching the nearest terraformed planet after a journey of 2,000 years. What they will encounter there is a nightmare: the unintended consequences of a biological experiment carried out by a lone survivor of the Old Empire. Read the review.

You will have noticed that a number of these 17 novels are dystopian. My post, My 6 favorite dystopian novels, should interest you, too, as should A brief look at 15 notable dystopian scenarios and 24 compelling dystopian novels in series. You may also be interested in my newest book, Hell on Earth: What we can learn from dystopian fiction.

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Mal Warwick

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