Top Five Saturday is a meme hosted by Devouring Books to discover and share books that all have a common theme. Previously, the focus has included witches, werewolves, thrillers, faeries, fairy tale re-tellings, high fantasy and many more.
This week, the Top Five is “Set in Space”.
This is the problem and the pleasure of abiding by another blog’s list: it forces you to look outside your comfort zone and sci-fi is definitely outside my comfort zone! In reading. In film, it is probably one of my go-to genres. Is that weird?
Anyway, let’s see what I can bring to the table.
1. Embassytown by China Mieville
I love Mieville! Intellectual, unashamedly Socialist, concerned with words. Embassytown is set on Arieka, a distant planet where humans co-exist with Hosts, a species with two mouths and an inability to lie. Interactions between the two are tense, with a few paired humans managing to communicate with them. And a new Ambassador’s arrival triggers a catastrophe. It is a meditation on language and its limits – the scene of the lying contest between the Ariekans is delightful; on colonialism; on acceptance. It is jam-packed with one of the most alien aliens I have ever encountered; and some memorable characters.
2. The Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness
Like Mieville, Ness is a favoured author and albeit nominally a Young Adult author, he is just brilliant. The title of the series, Chaos Walking, is beautiful and powerful, used to describe humanity who, as in Embassytown, have colonised a planet in deep space and are struggling to co-exist with the native species. In this case, it led to war and the dawn of basically telepathy in men’s minds: an uncontrolled and chaotic telepathy where every thought is broadacst into every nearby mind. Hence the chaos of our minds becomes public. As the series, which begins with The Knife of Never Letting Go, progresses we explore more and more narrative voices including the aboriginal species.
3. The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu
Is this set in space? Not truly. But sort of: the aliens here are referred to and their experiences on a distant planet orbiting a tri-solar solar system is explored. It’s setting, however, in the aftermath of China’s Cultural Revolution is firmly rooted on Earth so this is a little cheating. I struggled a little with this one: it is very densely scienced! The trisolaran planet is on the verge of destruction and they encounter a signal sent into space from China, deciding that Earth offered a stable and viable escape from death and destruction.
4. The Long Earth series, by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
You can see I’m struggling when “set in space” generate a series entitled The Long Earth! But it sort of is set in space: a parallel space rather than a linear space, but a space outside Earth. Maybe. Rather than heading off in space ship, in the series, thus far, I have only read the first two, humanity discovers the ability to step into parallel earths in parallel dimensions, where the Earth has developed differently often in unnoticeable and minor ways; sometimes in vastly different ways: on one, the moon was absent; on another, if I remember rightly, there was no Earth at all! Does this count? I’m deciding it does! Look: Book 3 is The Long Mars! It clearly counts!
5. Railhead, Philip Reeve
Another author I love! I’ve seen him talk about his inspirations as a reader and he is a great speaker and seems a lovely chap. As self-consciously archaic in his tweeds as if he has just stepped out of a Sherlock Holmes novel as China Mieville is self-consciously urban with his skin head, tattoos and piercings. Yet both share a core sensitivity and world view. In my humble opinion anyway.
Railhead is Reeve’s steampunk intergalactic train driven tour de force. I mean, intergalactic trains! Wonderful. Zen Starling – what a great name! – taken from his life of street crime on an intergalactic journey which is part heist story and thriller, part philosophical and metaphysical. Hive monks (eww but also awww!), androids, cocky urchins, self aware, sentient trains. It almost felt overwhelming, but the writing is so graceful and clear it carries you along for the ride!
So that is my Top Five Saturday.
Next week, apparently is the top five books over 500 pages…