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Water Cooler: Exploring contemporary science fiction

UPDATED: Tue., Aug. 24, 2021

Since these unprecedented times aren’t going anywhere fast, it’s still a great time for some escapist fiction. It may be an even better time for these stories now as the Inland Northwest has seen some cooler, breezier days offering the first hints of fall and setting the perfect mood for adventurous and fantastical stories.

Last week covered a few fiction staples, so this week will instead dive into the exciting contemporary world of science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction. See how these genres have evolved while sinking into a world of wonderful imagination. Here are a few titles you can check out, but don’t forget to ask your local librarians and book store employees for their suggestions, too.

“Gutter Child,” by Jael Richardson (2021) – Elimina Dubois was fated to be born in the Gutter, a heavily policed area of the world where its inhabitants are forced to purchase freedom through years of work. Elimina’s fate is interrupted however after she is selected as one of 100 babies to be taken from the Gutter in order to be raised in the world of opportunity in the Mainland as a part of a governmental social experiment. This experiment fails, as Elimina’s Mainland mother dies and she is returned to the Gutter System.

“Project Hail Mary,” by Andy Weir (2021) From the author of “The Martian,” comes another tale of isolation and interstellar voyage. Ryland Grace is the only surviving crewmember of a deep space mission to stop the extinction of humankind. The only problem is that he wakes up not remembering who he is, the assignment he was given or how to complete it. He only knows he has been asleep for a long time and is now a million miles from home.

“The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet,” by Becky Chambers (2014) – Rosemary Harper’s expectations are low when she decides to join the odd crew of an aging ship, The Wayfarer. It provides enough – a bed, a chance to travel the depths of space and an escape from her past life. When the crew takes on a dangerous dream job, she must learn to leave her comfort zone and rely on her zany crewmembers.

“The Last Day,” by Andrew Hunter Murray (2020) The world keeps on spinning, until one day it doesn’t. Earth has had its last day, now stopped in space for one side to suffer under eternal frozen night and the other to endlessly bake under the direct sun. Life persists in the small sliver between. A scientist living in an isolationist Britain receives a letter from a dying man that contains a powerful and perilous secret that those in charge would kill to keep concealed.

“The Doors of Eden,” by Adrian Tchaikovsky (2020) An adventure through parallel universes with hidden monsters and unanswered questions. A researcher comes across cracks between these parallel worlds, revealing fascinating new creatures. Her work reveals too much, and the researcher is suspiciously attacked. An investigation into the attack leads to conflict with agents of a mysterious higher power.

“All Systems Red,” by Martha Wells (2017) Space travel is a corporate game and only the Company can approve and supply interplanetary travel. Teams of researchers and explorers must be accompanied by Company-supplied security androids. One of those androids becomes self-aware, developing a deep disdain of humans and secretly referring to himself as Murderbot.

“Klara and the Sun,” by Kazuo Ishiguro (2021) Klara is an Artificial Friend who carefully observes the outside world from the store where she awaits finally being chosen by a customer. Her observations lead her to ponder human relationships and what it means to love.

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