The Bossy Bookworm
Six Four-Star (and Up) Science Fiction Reads I Loved Last Year
Six Four-Star (and Up) Bossy Science Fiction Reads
I realize I just said this last week regarding mysteries, but really, doesn't the cold winter also feel like the perfect time to cozy up with a science fiction story with fantastic characters and some space adventure or other-world escapism?
Here are six of my favorite science fiction reads of last year--with another list to come!
Two of these share one of my favorite setups (a ragtag crew with heart has adventures in space; The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and Activation Degradation), and I've included a thought-provoking robot-focused story (A Psalm for the Wild-Built), the newest novel by the fantastic Blake Crouch (Upgrade), a strange, dark, captivating sequel (Harrow the Ninth), and one of my top favorite reads from last year (Project Hail Mary). I rated each of these books four Bossy stars or more.
(Check out My Very Favorite Bossy 2022 Reads for all my best-of reads from last year.)
If you've read any of these, I'd love to hear what you think!
You can click here for other science fiction and fantasy books that I've reviewed on Bossy Bookworm. I'd love to hear: what are some of your favorite science fiction reads?
01 The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers #1) by Becky Chambers
Chambers's science fiction is full of heart, heartbreak, and hope--with a fascinating backdrop of space travel and interspecies relations.
This is one of two Becky Chambers books on this short list.
In The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, the first science fiction title in Becky Chambers's Wayfarers series, young Rosemary feels lucky to have landed the job of clerk for the quirky, ragtag, but welcoming crew of the Wayfarer ship.
The group is made up of various creatures from around the galaxy, and they've already built bonds through working together for ages. Yet they make room in the mix for Rosemary, who's grateful--and who's frankly glad to leave her significant personal troubles behind.
Chambers's story is science fiction that's full of heart, heartbreak, and hope. The book feels much more focused on the characters--with a backdrop of space travel and otherworldly creatures--than on exploration or adventure. Much of the story is about acceptance and openness and finding ways to get along. Interspecies relations are prickly, comfortable, romantic, puzzling, or all of the above.
I love that the crew of the Wayfarer feels like a close-knit group of summer camp counselors somehow, palling around, sometimes irritating each other, each with special gifts and the ability and desire to help crewmates reach their full potentials, emotionally or otherwise.
I just adored this. For my full review, check out The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.
02 Activation Degradation by Marina J. Lostetter
Lostetter's standalone science fiction is a story about robots, a ragtag space crew, friends like family, and reimagining one's place in the universe.
Activation Degradation begins with Unit Four's initial activation. It has just become sentient, and like its robot sisters, it has been programmed to fight the aliens currently attacking its ship.
But whether it's a glitch or instincts that shouldn't be possible, Unit Four realizes that the situation as its handler has explained it doesn't quite add up.
When Unit Four is taken onto the enemy alien ship as a prisoner and is unable to communicate with its handler, it begins to understand that all is not black and white, and that it may need to rethink all it has been taught to believe.
Lostetter's book started off with a lot of logistics that slowed things for me, but as of page 66 the action and character development and exploration of morality and friendship and life purpose began clicking along.
Activation Degradation explores what makes a person worth saving--or simply existing--as well as unconventional love and relationships, personal responsibility, sacrifice and bravery, and staying open to revolutionarily new ideas and ways of looking at the world--and the universe.
Click here for my full review of Activation Degradation.
03 Upgrade by Blake Crouch
Main protagonist Logan was hard for me to emotionally connect to, but I was hooked by the heart-pounding action, the fascinating imagined power and scope of gene engineering, the world on the verge of collapse--and the most intense, high-stakes sibling rivalry imaginable.
Upgrade presents a future version of our world in which humans are teetering closer than ever to extinction because of a crumbling environment. SoHo and southern Manhattan are underwater, eating synthetic meat is the norm, and geneticists who have tried tinkering with the human state in a desperate attempt to shift the future of homo sapiens have largely been punished and jailed.
Logan Ramsey is in charge of investigating suspected gene scientists who are up to illegal activity, and while investigating a suspicious situation, he is injured by an odd explosion. In the hospital he has headaches, a fever, and body aches, then his symptoms subside.
The stakes couldn't be higher for Crouch's protagonists--pending global destruction and the elimination of the human race. So everything that occurs is a Big Deal, and Upgrade offers detailed, heart-stopping chases; the most intense sibling rivalry imaginable, interesting scenes of superhumans' outsmarting each other; and noble desires to "save the world" that conflict with others’ similar desires in crucial ways--and with potential global consequences.
You can find my review of Blake Crouch's Recursion (mentioned in the Greedy Reading List Six Riveting Time-Travel Stories to Explore) here and my review of Dark Matter here.
Click here for my full review of Upgrade.
04 Harrow the Ninth (Locked Tomb #2) by Tamsyn Muir
This sequel to Tamsyn Muir's Gideon the Ninth is a complex, fascinating, gruesome story full of action and shifts in reality as well as endless bad language, wicked barbs, and dark-as-night humor.
At the start of Harrow the Ninth, Harrowhark Nonagesimus, the last necromancer of the Ninth House, wakes disoriented and without her full powers on the Emperor's space station.
Trapped in the eerie space station with three grumpy, unwilling teachers trying to prepare her for the battle of all battles (which by all accounts will be unwinnable), Harrow has to determine whether someone is trying to kill her--and to figure out what she has to live for anyway.
This is dark dark dark, with death, nefarious plotting, and gleefully gruesome elements (bone work, etc.). But Harrow the Ninth also offers fantastically bratty episodes on the parts of various characters; frenzies of double-crossing, long-term plans for destruction, and evil impulses; and endless moments of silly and dark humor that made me laugh.
The strong, ruthless, intelligent women in Harrow the Ninth absolutely steal the show--which is saying something, since God of the Universe is a character in the story.
For my review of the first book in this series, Gideon the Ninth, check out this link. (Gideon was also mentioned in my Greedy Reading List Six More Postapocalyptic and Dystopian Favorites.)
The third book in this series, Nona the Ninth, was published in 2022, with the fourth book, Alecto the Ninth, to follow in fall 2023.
For my full review, check out Harrow the Ninth.
05 Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
In one of my favorite overall reads of last year, Andy Weir offers the fascinating story of a desperate space mission, creative innovation, and enduring optimism, with an enormous amount of heart that surprised me.
Ryland Grace wakes up as the sole survivor of a last-chance effort to save Earth and its inhabitants.
But he doesn't know that yet. He seems to be in space and isn't sure what has happened, and not only does he not remember his own name or where he's from, he also doesn't remember his scientific expertise or anything else that could help him survive and succeed in his quest. The memories are beginning to slowly shift back into focus, but he needs them now.
He's millions of miles from Earth, and he's got two dead crewmates, a chatty AI robot caregiver, a lot of complicated equipment, and a mysterious mission whose purpose and execution he'll have to unravel if he's to possibly survive--much less save humanity.
In Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir has created another irresistible story of hope, resilience, wonder, and discovery.
Andy Weir is also the author of The Martian and Artemis.
One of my reading regrets from last year is not listening to this as an audiobook. For my full review, please check out Project Hail Mary.
06 A Psalm for the Wild-Built (Monk and Robot #1) by Becky Chambers
Chambers's slim book explores a man's search for meaning--and how a robot's simple questions about maintaining the status quo might open up a world of new possibilities.
Is this a second book by Becky Chambers on one short Greedy Reading List? Yes, yes, it is.
In A Psalm for the Wild-Built, the robots vanished from Panga centuries ago, and accounts of a world where they existed are beginning to feel more and more like folklore.
But tea monk Dex finds himself wandering and yearning--for long-lost crickets' nighttime noises, and for some deep connection he can't quite identify.
When Dex wanders into the forest and encounters a robot, the traditional exchange must occur, of checking in, and the robot asks: What do humans need? Dex can't imagine being able to answer this enormous question, but the robot wonders if the matter is really so complicated after all.
The story is full of heart and strange, captivating details of Chambers's imagined world--and of an unorthodox friendship that could save both monk and robot.
For my full review of A Psalm for the Wild-Built, please click here.
If you're interested in books about robots, you might also like the books on the Greedy Reading List Six Great Stories about Robots, Humans and Alien Life, and AI.