Concluding my rundown of favourite sci-fi series published this decade, both the trilogies listed in this post are still on-going with their respective third books yet to be published. For good measure, I’m finishing off this review with an “honorable mentions” list of great standalone sci-fi novels published in the 2010s.
The Book of Dust trilogy by Philip Pullman: La Belle Sauvage (2017) and The Secret Commonwealth (2019). These books are a continuation of the story from Pullman’s seminal His Dark Materials trilogy, with Lyra Belacqua at its narrative centre. The first book is set 12 years before the first novel of His Dark Materials when Lyra was a baby and the second book is set a few years after the conclusion of the first trilogy with Lyra a young woman. There is no confirmed publishing date for the final book. One naturally doesn’t experience the same thrill as when one first encounters the concepts of Dust and the Authority in the original trilogy. Nevertheless, these books continue to explore the physics of this world, specifically the properties of Dust and deliver well-paced adventure stories with strong characterizations. For those who have read the original trilogy, the new His Dark Materials series from BBC and HBO which just concluded its first season is highly recommended viewing.
The Interdependency series by John Scalzi: The Collapsing Empire (2017) and The Consuming Fire (2018). This is a full blown space opera, with all the usual tropes one would expect from the genre – wormhole technology, a galactic empire that is spread across dozens of star systems and interstellar trade controlled by megacorporations. Typically, the key aspect of a space opera is figuring out the science for interplanetary travel…is it faster-than-light travel, is it through wormholes or through human-built technology, etc. John Scalzi is a seasoned writer who ensures that his science is properly thought through and this makes for a strong foundation upon which to build the plot. The two books are filled with highly entertaining (somewhat larger-than-life characters) doing quite extra-ordinary things…in the true sense of the term “space opera” it’s a soap opera taking place in space! The final book in the trilogy The Last Emperox will be released in April 2020.
I thought it also worth mentioning a few standalone sci-fi novels that really stood out for me in the last decade, some of which are good enough for me to wish that there would be a sequel.
Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds (2010): I wrote a detailed review of this novel in 2012, when my blogs were on the Weebly platform, so I don’t really need to add to what’s on the link. I have read four of Mr. Reynolds’ books but this remains my favourite.
The Martian by Andy Weir (2011): I wrote extensively about this book after I read it in 2014. I completely missed it when it came out in 2011 but heard about it when Ridley Scott’s film adaptation starring Matt Damon went into pre-production and of course, the movie was as big a hit as the book. This book ranks in the same “unputdownable page turner” category as Dan Brown’s Da Vince Code.
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (2015): This is an epic multi-generational story grounded in hard science. It is one of the most intelligent books I have read and one that if I had the time, I would read again (difficult to do when one is constantly catching up with new stuff). This is a story of humanity and courage, as much as a story of science and ingenuity. A significant (and very harrowing) part of the story takes place in earth’s orbit while the latter part, several generations later, takes place back on the surface of a changed world.
The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland (2017): This is a fun novel that brings together some big ideas (enough for two or more novels) into a riotous time-travel story. Unlike the grounded science of Mr. Stephenson’s previous book Seveneves, what we have here is ‘pop science’, the technology sounds plausible enough (if you don’t think too much about it) and serves adequately as the foundation for a high-stakes adventure story. The intent here is to have fun, as evidenced by the ridiculous acronym given to the Department of Diachronic Operations, the secret government department that manages time-travel operations. This is the sort of story that would be perfect for a big studio blockbuster; the big set-piece events and fast-moving action are designed for adequate suspension of disbelief.
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson (2015): I have great respect for KSR’s Mars trilogy books for their verisimilitude (although this same quality also caused the narrative pace to drag at various points of the story). Perhaps his most ambitious and greatest literary achievement is The Years of Rice and Salt (2002). In Aurora, KSR tackles the very real challenges faced by a generation starship, namely that of a closed artificial bio-system of relatively small size with no natural thermal sources (sun or internal planetary heat) and finite raw materials will face challenges in maintaining integrity and viability after a few generations. The sheer scale of what the occupants of Aurora endure and achieve over the story is astounding, almost impossible to believe, but narrated with a degree of plausibility that makes the reader feel like this all really happened.
So there you have it – eight sci-fi series from 7 authors and five standalone novels from 4 authors which together constitute my favourite sci-fi reads published in the past decade.