Murderbots, spaceships and other planets

It's been a good year for science fiction, with some great series wrapping up. Don't worry about cliffhangers or long waits between sequels with these recommendations, you can read the whole lot back-to-back if you feel like it!

All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol and Exit Strategy by Martha Wells

Cover of All Systems RedCover of Artificial ConditionCover of Rogue Protocol

You might think a book series about a being who call themselves "Murderbot" would make for grim reading, but you'd be wrong. An AI SecUnit (security consultant) for a research party on a newly discovered planet, Murderbot just wants to watch their favourite media show rather than having to interact with humans. But when they're attacked by unregistered indigenous fauna it starts to look like their research mission has been sabotaged, and Murderbot finds themselves caring more about the humans than they'd like to admit.

The sequels all feature Murderbot trying and failing to stop protecting humans from themselves, as well as a sarcastic AI ship and some of Murderbot's back story. The final novella in the series came out at the start of this month, so if you feel like some comforting, slightly snarky science fiction then I'd highly recommend giving the series a go, starting with All Systems Red.

Ninefox Gambit, Raven Stratagem and Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee

Cover of Ninefox GambitCover of Raven StratagemCover of Revenant Gun

If Murderbot is the literary equivalent of chocolate pudding then Ninefox Gambit and its sequels are like kimchi -- delicious but not to everyone's taste. It took me a while to get into but once I did they were compulsive reading. Ninefox Gambit begins with disgraced captain Kel Cheris being given a second chance in order to recapture the Fortress of Scattered Needles. The catch? To do so she must ally with undead tactician Shuos Jedao, a man who went mad before murdering his own troops as well as the enemy. Cheris must decide whether she can trust his tactical ability, or whether he's leading her to her own grave.

Planetfall, After Atlas and Before Mars by Emma Newman

Cover of PlanetfallCover of After AtlasCover of Before Mars

The Planetfall series is technically not closed to future sequels, but there are now three books out and they all stand alone (although there are some common threads). I find each of them very odd -- Newman doesn't go in for satisfying conclusions, but at the same time there's something compelling about them that keeps me reading. They all grapple with mental illness in different ways, from hoarding in Planetfall to postnatal depression in Before Mars. For that reason the experience of reading each book is very unsettling, Before Mars especially so as it begins with that classic trope of arriving in a new place (Mars) only to discover a note in your own handwriting warning you not to trust the others. My favourite of the three is probably After Atlas -- detective (and indentured slave) Carlos Moreno is tasked with finding the murderer of the leader of the same religious cult Carlos escaped as a teenager.

Bonus: Semiosis by Sue Burke, an entertaining but odd book about coexisting with intelligent plantlife on an alien planet.

Some books I haven't read yet but are on my list:

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal: I liked the novella that inspired this novel (The Lady Astronaut of Mars) so I'm keen to read more about how Elma York got to Mars.

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe by Alex White: A treasure hunter and a racing driver framed for murder and trying to clear her name both meet on a smuggler's ship in search of riches and justice. From the reviews it sounds fun and pacy!

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers: I enjoyed the two previous books in this series (beginning with The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet) and look forward to another quiet read about found family in space.

Cover of SemiosisCover of The Calculating StarsCover of A Big Ship at the Edge of the UniverseCover of Record of a Spaceborn Few

Further reading

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