My top Sci-fi book series of the 2010s: Part 1

I’ve read 308 books this decade (2010-19), although 2010 was actually quite a fallow year for me, as I was busy moving base from Vietnam to Malaysia that year. Getting an iPad in 2011 and subsequently a Kindle at the end of 2014 really turbocharged my reading and took me back to the levels I maintained in India where we had easy access to high quality lending libraries.

Of those 308 books that I read in the 2010s, 167 were actually published within the decade. And not surprisingly for me, 97 of those were Sci-fi (although in some cases, I would be better off using the broader term “speculative fiction”). I spent an enjoyable hour yesterday scanning through my database and came up with this list of my favourite speculative fiction series of the decade.

The Passage series by Justin Cronin: The Passage (2010), The Twelve (2012) and The City of Mirrors (2016). This series combines one of my favourite sub-genres – post-apocalyptic fiction – with one of my least favourite – vampire fiction. I usually know within the first few pages if I like a particular writing style and if the characters are appealing. That was definitely the case with The Passage. Using different narrative devices, including emails and a research paper from the far future, we are introduced to the top-secret Project Noah and the main protagonist, six-year-old orphan Amy Bellafonte. I think what works about the series is that it is epic in scope but intimate in the way it explores the relationships and motivations of its large cast of characters. The first half of the first book was adapted into a series on Fox (produced by Ridley Scott) which was cancelled at the end of the first season. Somehow it didn’t capture the gravitas of the book and seemed to have more style than substance.

The Passage post-apocalyptic series by Justin Cronin

The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey: Leviathan Wakes (2011), Caliban’s War (2012), Abaddon’s Gate (2013), Cibola Burn (2014), Nemesis Games (2015), Babylon’s Ashes (2016), Persepolis Rising (2017), Tiamat’s Wrath (2019) plus 7 short stories. I picked up the first book soon after it was published in 2011 and struggled to keep track of all the characters, spaceships and locations in the story! After a gap of several months, I restarted it and this time created notes and charts to make sure I could see all the moving parts of the narrative. It turned out to be a very rewarding read. But it then took me another 5 years before I picked up book 2 (for which I had to speed read through book 1 and refer to those notes again) and then read 5 of the sequels in reasonably quick succession. Even though the narrative is set a few centuries in the future, with humanity having expanded through the solar system, the science is still remarkably ‘grounded’ and realistic. What starts off as a conspiracy involving interplanetary politics and the quest for economic and scientific power eventually grows in scope, scale and personal stakes in the subsequent books. The central characters are a closely knit foursome who are inadvertently drawn into this power play. Driven by a sense of justice, they play a major role in the events that unfold across (and beyond) the solar system. They are frequently assisted by a ruthless but highly pragmatic old lady of South Asian descent named Chrisjen Avasarala, who holds a senior position in the United Nations and is not squeamish about using her power and connections to ‘do the right thing’. Of particular note is that the author is actually two people – Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck – who are part of a New Mexico speculative fiction collective which is closely associated with George R.R. Martin.

Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck – collectively known as James S.A. Corey, the author of the Expanse series

Silo series by Hugh Howey: This is actually a story arc that consists of three sub-series – Wool (5 books), Shift (3 books) and Dust (1 book). The first book in the series was self-published by Howey via Amazon’s Kindle direct publishing platform and became a word-of-mouth phenomenon. The silos in which people live in the post-apocalyptic future are an amazing example of world building, with an entire society surviving for years in a subterranean dwelling which extends to over a hundred levels connected only by a spiral staircase. The Shift is a prequel series to explain the events that led to the apocalypse and the entire story is closed out in Dust. Frankly, I feel the 5-book Wool series is the best in terms of narrative tension, with the subsequent books really just filling in the back story. Put together, the books make for a chilling and depressing read, so not really something that I feel compelled to re-read. I briefly referenced this series back in 2013 soon after reading the Wool and Shift books.

There are 5 more series in my list of top scifi series of the 2010s, including two trilogies which will only be completed in 2020 or later. I’ll cover these in Parts 2 and 3.

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