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The Martian by Andy Weir truly is a groundbreaking work of modern science fiction for many reasons. The way it was released, the blockbuster adaptation it has since received, and the humor shown by the main character Watney. However, there is a lot to love for sci-fi fans of any age. The Martian is a gripping tale of survival on Mars which is sure to appeal to modern and old-school science fiction readers alike.
Embassytown is a fine example of modern sci-fi that is able to captivate readers and critics alike. As well as being enjoyed by almost all who read it, Embassytown received widespread critical acclaim upon its release. The book even won the Locus Award. Modern science fiction is known for its blend of literary skill and scientific seriousness, and Embassytown doesn’t disappoint on this front. If you’re interested in language, and alien interaction, you’re sure to enjoy this.
The Three-Body Problem
The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin has been widely praised as one of the best hard science fiction books of the modern era. It’s also particularly significant for introducing Eastern style sci-fi to many Western readers for the first time. If you want an intellectually gripping sci-fi showcase, The Three-Body Problem is exactly that.
Blindsight by Peter Watts is widely regarded as one of the finest and most challenging works of modern hard sci-fi. It takes a classic first contact scenario and mixes in healthy doses of neurology, biology, and musings on the nature of consciousness. Make no mistake - this is a story for serious sci fi fans only. It’s no easy read. But, if you take the time to get to grips with Blindsight, you’ll be rewarded with pure modern hard sci fi excellence.
Old Man's War
John Scalzi created one of the most beloved modern science fiction tales with Old Man’s War. As well as acting as a gripping space sci fi epic in its own right, there is a deeper layer to Scalzi’s story. How? It makes us as readers stop and think about the nature of war, aging, and man’s place in society over time. The mark of superb science fiction is the devotion it inspires in those who read it, and Old Man’s War has countless people claiming it is their all time favorite sci fi book.
The Calculating Stars
Mary Robinette Kowal
Mary Robinette Kowal begins her Lady Astronaut series with The Calculating Stars. This is an empowering tale of modern science fiction which deals heavily with themes relating to gender and mathematics. The Calculating Stars deals with these themes in an engaging way which doesn’t preach at the reader. There is also a conventionally epic sci-fi tale of destruction and danger for fans to get to grips with.
Kim Stanley Robinson
Red Moon is one of the most recent science fiction book on this list, having been released back in 2018. The story explores what would happen if the moon was being colonised. Robinson draws upon topics including environmentalism and modern politics to tell their tale. This is quite heavy-going sci fi, but at its heart rests a touching tale with a very human touch. A fine example of modern science fiction with genuine topical relevance.
Ready Player One
Ready Player One is perhaps the most famous modern sci-fi book on this list, alongside The Martian and The Hunger Games. Similarly to Weir’s tale, Ready Player One encouraged a cult following in print, before being adapted into a smash hit Hollywood blockbuster. The story is a fun romp through an advanced VR world. The book’s hero is one we can all root for, and there is plenty of pop-culture nostalgia to keep readers entertained.
Leviathan Wakes is a fine example of modern sci-fi beloved by fans and critics like. The book, and the subsequent series it spawned, went on to be adapted for television. The plot centers on an existence in which humanity have colonized the solar system, and are no longer the dominant power in the universe. If you're looking for a modern take on classic space sci-fi, Leviathan Wakes is a superb choice.
The Hunger Games
Of course, The Hunger Games has gone on to become a hugely popular series of motion pictures. However, like much great sci fi, a lot of people prefer the books. They offer a greater sense of depth than the big screen adaptation. Suzanne Collins has painted a powerfully dystopian picture of a society where the need for entertainment for the privileged tramples over the sanctity of life. An epic modern sci fi saga suitable for readers of all ages.
Alastair Reynolds released Revelation Space back at the turn of the millennium, and his strong scientific background can be seen throughout its pages. Reynolds worked for the European Space Agency before releasing his debut novel and also has a PHD in astronomy. His work more than evidences his scientific clout. The plot itself masterfully blends together separate story strands into an epic tale of space warfare and the extinction of species. Must-read modern sci-fi.
In Daemon, Daniel Suarez paints a chilling picture of an out of control computer program, set free to unleash a new world order after the death of its creator. This menacing cyber theme plays host to a range of engaging characters including detectives and agents. Fans of action packed, modern day science fiction will find a lot to enjoy here. Some of the most memorable aspects of Daemon include the weaponized vehicles created by the program. A rip roaring cyber romp with plenty of parallels in our modern world.
William Gibson released Pattern Recognition back in 2003. As you would expect from a Gibson story, it is a sci fi thriller, and the first book of the author to be set in the contemporary world. The story is a high tech thriller incorporating ideas from terrorism and organized crime. Gibson masterfully mixes in elements of cybercrime and assassinations to craft his trademark cyber sci fi that fans know and love.
Accelerando is a Locus Award winner and a Hugo Award nominee, and rightly so. The book is a clever collection of three stories which merge and combine to create a skillfully connected narrative. The guiding theme of the story is the singularity, an event many expect to actually occur within the near future. The three stories found in Accelerando explore life before, during, and after the singularity has taken place. Thought-provoking science fiction for the modern era.
Jeff VanderMeer is well known for his survival science fiction, and he begins his Southern Reach trilogy with Annihilation. The book deals with a team of four explorers who are stranded amidst harsh terrain. Annihilation won a Nebula Award for its masterful exploration of the psychology and practicalities of being stranded. A fine example of literary but intellectually satisfying modern science fiction.
What time period has been counted as modern science fiction?
No hard and fast rule has been used when compiling this list, but roughly speaking, we consider modern sci fi for this purpose as being from the 21st century.
Modern science fiction encompasses many different subgenres and types of story, but its style tends to be distinct from some older works of sci fi.
So what are some ways in which modern sci fi differs from its traditional counterpart?
Aesthetics. Modern science fiction books tends to have an aesthetic more in line with conventional literature. This stands in stark contrast to more old -school sci fi, which has its own distinct pulp or retro aesthetic.
Theme. Back in the day, sci-fi authors speculated about strange and unknown futures. We now live in a world which has virtual reality and the dark web. We’ve landed on the dark side of the moon. The science found in modern sci-fi is often a lot more believable as a result. We don’t have to guess if it’s possible, because we probably have something equally as strange in our real life.
Politics. Like all literature, science fiction often has political parallels with the time in which it is written. Many sci-fi stories written back in the Cold War era deal with the concerns people had at that time. Modern sci-fi is no different. You’ll often see stories related to environmental damage, terrorism, and the risks of an unchecked dark web.
What does modern science fiction have in common with old-school sci-fi?
While there are differences in modern science fiction and its older counterpart, there are also a ton of similarities.
Science fiction released in the modern era tends to have many of the following elements in common with old school sci-fi:
Space. Of course, not all science fiction is set in space. But much is, both old and new school. It’s natural that we would renew our focus on space in modern sci-fi. After all, this is the era in which Teslas are sent to space and people jump from the edge of space back to Earth. We seem very much on the cusp of big changes. Modern science fiction reflects that.
Technology. Science fiction has often pondered the impact technology has on humanity. This portrayal can be either positive or negative. Modern sci fi is no different. Unlike older sci-fi, our real world society now has many of the technologies that were only previously dreamt of. This can lead to new school science fiction being both less speculative and more plausible than ever before.
Character. There are definitely parallels between the characters found in modern and old-school science fiction. In modern sci-fi, many of the characters draw upon old-school archetypes, such as explorers, reluctant heroes, and tyrannical villains. The key difference in modern science fiction is the general absence of crass stereotypes. The more socially aware times in which we live have led to the abandonment of sexist and racist caricatures, thankfully.
Ultimately, modern science fiction is able to both appeal to old-school fans of the genre, while also providing much to love for fans of literature in general. This crossover appeal can be seen in the popularity of sci-fi adaptations going on to become smash hits, such as The Martian and Arrival.
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