Recommended Reads

I was a reader of science-fiction long before I started writing it, so as part of telling the story of the Tau Ceti mission I will share the sci-fi books that have influenced my writing or stood out in some way for me. If you haven't read any of the books I recommend then you should take a look. If you have then post what you think in the comments below.

The first book in my recommended list is also my favourite novel. Ian M Banks is a talent that will be sorely missed and while his book 'Excession' isn't his most accessible, but it represents what attracts me to science-fiction as a genre. What makes science-fiction great is the big ideas, all of the notable authors in the genre tackle big ideas.

This will be a theme for many of my recommendations, but in this case the topic covers that of an excession event. This is an encounter with an object way beyond the contemporary technology and the impact it has on the civilisations aware of the event.

What Banks also does well is his portrayal of artficial intelligence with the ship minds and drones. The collection of minds at the heart of the story provide a classic example of this. He also blends some interesting concepts of a technologically advanced culture and how individuals fit within it.

Simply put I love this book and I'd recommend to any fan of the genre - I think I'll have to re-read this myself soon!

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Two and a half millennia ago, the artifact appeared in a remote corner of space, beside a trillion-year-old dying sun from a different universe. It was a perfect black-body sphere, and it did nothing. Then it disappeared.

Now it is back.

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Continuing the weekly feature of my recommended science-fiction reads I delve deep into my past and one of the books that drew me into the genre. I've read many of Arthur C Clarke's books since and while many are better books than 'Islands in the Sky', they didn't capture my imagination in such an immediate way.

The story is a simple one, a young lad manages to win his way onto a space station. There's nothing complicated here and perhaps that's what drew me in to begin with. It's a very personal story about the lead character's experiences, but it's deceptive. I'm a big fan of big ideas in science fiction, but here the big idea is life in space.

Now in most modern sci-fi operating in space is taken as a given, but even now with the nascent industrialization of space we haven't reached the point were it is a mundane operation. In the world of the story is has become commonplace, but it is seen through young eyes so the wonder of it is more apparent. It also provides a solid introduction to the principles of working in space.

I re-read the book recently and there's always a danger of having the memory of a great read tarnished by years of progress or just more adult appreciation - thankfully this wasn't the case here. It's true that science has progressed a lot in the 60 odd years since it was written, but the fundamentals still apply. Although it is interesting to see what wasn't considered an issue back then, such as the effect of living in space on the human body.

So while it's gained a few flaws over the years it's still an excellent sci-fi read and a great introduction to the genre.

The story of 'Island in the Sky' centers around a young man, who, after brilliantly winning a space-related competition, requests a vacation on a space station as his prize. It is written with Arthur C. Clark's obvious knowledge of science, but moves at a page turning rate throughout the entire narrative. The short novel gives a realistic possibility of work and play in future space, heightened with constant excitement and action. Character development is very good, as are the not-overdone (but still awesome) visual descriptions.

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For the first two recommended read features I wrote about two well known science-fiction reads, but I'd also like to showcase some lesser known books and authors that might have otherwise passed you by. One such book is Black Hole Butterfly by Salem that I awarded five stars to in my review back in June.

This book stood out for me for a few reasons. The first is the sheer imagination of the story. If you like weird reads that require some thought to keep track off then this is definitely a book to keep track of. It uses the possibility of quantum realities in an engaging and though provoking way. I'll confess that on occasion I had to re-read sections to make sure I was in the reality I thought I was!

In this story reality is malleable, but more coherent than simple hallucination or illusion. On the face of it the story might seem like a 'Through the Looking Glass' type of affair, but it's more complicated than that.

As I've already mentioned the book does make you work at keeping track of what's going on and where, but this effort is amply rewarded by the strange worlds you get to visit and the constructs connecting them. As visions of the future go, this is very different from others in the genre.

On top of this we have the author's skill at writing. The prose here fits the story perfectly and is a joy to read. There's a real craft and eloquence to the writing and as I mentioned in my review is probably my favourite sci-fi read this year.

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Detective Rook Black is having a tough time solving crime in a New York City where reality is traded on the black market by the mysterious quantum butcher, Jack the Butterfly. While following an assassin's trail through Chinatown, space and time begin to overwrite. A reality storm lashes Manhattan. Overnight, crocodile wrestling becomes a deadly sport, synthetic sex with Egyptian gods is the norm, and the reigning solar power Empire believes Shakespeare authors their universe.They believe if his works are destroyed, the universe will end. The Empire will do anything to protect his legacy, but their enemy, Gasland, wants to annihilate it. It is the beginning of a reality war. When the sky rains ink and paper turns into butterflies Rook soon realizes he's much, much more than a private eye. He is the eye of the reality storm.

Click here to buy Black Hole Butterfly from Amazon

I'll confess that I discovered Olaf Stapledon relatively recently, but what a discovery he was! A common theme in these recommended reads is the concept of science fiction tackling big ideas and the premise for this book is pretty big - although it pales in comparison to Star Maker which will be a future recommended read.

It's an unusual story in that it doesn't have a cast of individual characters as it tells the tale of humanity itself. That in itself makes this an unusual read as it doesn't tie you in with the usual emotion of the individual. Yet while the glimpses of individuals' lives are scant, there is great drama here, but on a planetary scale.

The scope is staggering as it covers billions of years of human evolution and civilisations rising and falling. Impressive as the scope is, it's the imagination which really sets this book apart. It explores a diverse range of possibilities for how our species evolves and establishes its existence on our home planet and beyond.

If it has a downside then the story suffers from a common issue with old science fiction and that is the science. This is most noticeable in the early part of the story, and this is compounded by the early events not fitting with the actual events from our timeline for the beginning. However this becomes less of a problem as the story progresses and the imagination and exploration of possibilities comes to the fore.

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"No book before or since has ever had such an impact upon my imagination," declared Arthur C. Clarke of Last and First Men. This masterpiece of science fiction by British philosopher and writer Olaf Stapledon (1886–1950) is an imaginative, ambitious history of humanity's future that spans billions of years. Together with its follow-up, Star Maker, it is regarded as the standard by which all earlier and later future histories are measured.

The protagonist of this compelling novel is humanity itself, stripped down to sheer intelligence. It evolves through the ages: rising to pinnacles of civilization, teetering on the brink of extinction, surviving onslaughts from other planets and a decline in solar energy, and constantly developing new forms, new senses, and new intellectual abilities. From the present to five billion years into the future, this romance of humanity abounds in profound and imaginative thought.

Click here to buy Last and First Men from Amazon

I've said before that the reason science fiction stands out for me is the big ideas, but some of the great sci-fi can also be something more personal and in the case of The Inevitable we have a fascinating and finely drawn story.

The core premise is a simple one, an android trying to survive in a world where his kind no longer exist and the parts he needs become ever scarcer.I normally believe that story is king above all else, but in this case it is the character of Tuck that makes this book shine.

He's a complex character with problems different to that of a human. His long life span has seen some dramatic changes and these add a rich tapestry to his back story. If I have any complaint about this book then it's that I would have happily read more about Tuck's history.

Another aspect of a story that I appreciate is surprise, especially when it's properly founded on previous developments. I find too many stories to be predictable, but this one kept me guessing right up until the end.

Overall this a well written gem of a story that deserves more recognition and if you enjoy character driven science fiction then you should really give this a try.
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Tuck is on his last legs, literally. He is the last functioning bot in the galaxy, a broken machine that used to look like a man. Now he wanders between planets, searching for spare parts that can keep him running for a few more years. But he's out of parts, and he's nearly out of time.

He's a valuable relic of a bygone era when bots were a luxury on Earth, back before they were hunted down and destroyed. More and more collectors want Tuck, damaged or not, as the centerpiece of their collections. They'll do anything to get him, but Tuck will do anything to stay free and functional.

The truth is, Tuck is afraid to die.

He was originally programmed to value human life, even if they don't value his, but he can't ignore his own need to survive, at any cost. That's why Tuck is haunted by memories of the sixteen people he has killed over the last 150 years.

After a particularly dangerous run-in with a collector, Tuck meets a mysterious man dressed in white who offers a solution. In exchange for some help in a less-than-legal business venture, he'll give Tuck what he really wants: immortality. It's a bad idea, and Tuck knows it, but he can't ignore it.

Even if it means killing again.

Click here to buy The Inevitable from Amazon

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