New Year in Sydney

Best sci-fi novel of 2014 | Day 132

Technically, this is going to be favourite sci-fi book, because this year I have read many books of very different ages, from many different authors dead and alive.

Many of them were indeed in the science fiction genre, which I dearly love. There were three contemporary sci-fi titles I read this year, and they deserve a special mention before I move on to my favourite.

The first two were novels by first-time novelist Ann Leckie: the critically acclaimed, award-winning Ancillary Justice, and its sequel, Ancillary Sword, which only came out this October. Both are thrilling, intelligent, and refreshing additions to the genre of military space opera, written in a manner that will keep you on your toes and challenge your perceptions. Highly recommended. The third instalment of the trilogy, Ancillary Mercy, is coming next year or so,  and I’m already looking forward to it.

Another contemporary read was The Martian by another first time novelist, Andy Weir. It’s a riveting survival story, with well-researched science throughout, and with a plot that leaves you asking for more at every twist and turn. However, even though I could barely put the book down until I had reached the end of the story, the novel is not expertly crafted, because the dialogue is flat and the character development is paper-thin. So much so that halfway through the book I realised – all people, without exception, are basically the incarnation of one dude. And he’s not particularly mature or particularly fitting to the scene of space exploration. I would still recommend The Martian for the excellent story arc, but do not expect it to be a pleasant literary experience, because it somewhat lacks in that department.

It might be ironic that I say this, because the following novel was also once criticised for lack of character development. To me, however, it was nothing but splendid.

Favourite sci-fi novel of 2014

“If such a thing had happened once, it must surely have happened many times in this galaxy of a hundred billion suns.”

rendezvous with rama
First edition cover (UK) | Wikimedia Commons

It was published in 1973, and written by one of the greatest science fiction authors who ever lived, Arthur C. Clarke. Rendezvous with Rama is a classic, but I had not come across it before. I love picking up books and reading them without any pre-meditation, without even a hint of what the story might be about. This was one of those cases. From the first sentence the journey was unknown, but told with such imagination and detail that I felt like I was living every moment of it.

It is my favourite because the story, the way it is told, parallels the feelings evoked in me by the great age of discovery when humans sailed their own planet in search of new shores. Yes, the novel is set in the future, and there is space travel involved, but ultimately it is a story of one of the most captivating experiences humans can have – encounters with the unknown, the way they shape us, change us, challenge us. What would happen, if…?

To me, the what-if brand of hard science fiction is some of the most satisfying literature to enjoy. And Rendezvous with Rama is amongst the very best works in its genre.

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