Science Fiction is frequently written as a way to provide commentary on society – to warn of a future too dependent upon technology, to criticize governmental policy, to speak indirectly of the evils of colonization or the racial divide in terms of alien civilizations. But frequently, the titles that crowd the bestseller lists in this genre are made up largely of North American or British authors.
This list is an effort to provide a more global look at Science Fiction (and its related genres Fantasy and Speculative Fiction); to showcase the range of perspectives the genre has to offer from cultures across the planet. Because while the viewpoints may come from countries not our own, we must remember that we’re all Earthlings under our spacesuits.
Before she became the best-selling author of books like The Shining Girls and Broken Monsters, South Africa’s Lauren Beukes wrote some urban fantasy novels, including Zoo City, which takes place in an alt-universe Johannesburg where magic mingles with 419 schemes and people are forced to confront the weight of their own sins – literally- in the form of companion animals to which they are bonded for life. It’s a mixture of real and surreal; of cyberpunk and dystopia that does what the best of the genre strives for – to view societal ills through a distorted lens. Also from Africa is Nnedi Okorafor and her novel Lagoon, which takes place in Lagos, Nigeria, and is a version of an alien invasion story. But like most alien stories, it is really a story about humanity, and specifically the humanity of modern Lagos; its social ills and potential, and the strength and failings of its people.
From the Asian continent comes Chinese author Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem, a critically-acclaimed first-contact story set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution. This novel incorporates military tech elements with physics, online gaming, aliens and conspiracy theories layered on top of historical realities to deliver a gripping action story. Yukikaze is a work of Japanese military science-fiction written in 1984 by Chōhei Kambayashi. It’s your typical “aliens attack and man fights back” story, but it also explores the deeper philosophical themes of the nature and definition of humanity through both the presence of artificial intelligence and the dehumanizing aspects of war.
The Argentinian novelist Angélica Gorodischer wrote Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was, a collection of linked stories covering thousands of years of the imagined history of a nonexistent empire, detailing its politics and people, its rises and falls. It is part fantasy and part social science fiction and it’s a beautifully-written example of the imagined folklore of a culture that could have existed, but didn’t.
Europe is represented by the steampunk adventure romp of Félix J. Palma’s The Map of Time, the first in his Trilogía Victoriana series, which plays with time travel and places novelists like H.G. Wells in a magical Victorian England setting. Also from Europe is Memory of Water; the debut novel from Finland’s Emmi Itäranta, which is her near-future global warming cautionary tale blending Scandinavian and Chinese cultures into a post-apocalyptic narrative with very timely concerns.
Australia’s Jay Kristoff begins his celebrated Lotus War trilogy with Stormdancer, an alternate history steampunkish novel set in feudal Japan with griffins and telepathy showcasing his superior world-building skills to tell the story of Yukiko – the coolest samurai heroine ever. Samit Basu, rounding out the list for India, gives us The Simoqin Prophecies, first in the GameWorld trilogy, which has been described as “Monty Python meets the Ramayana, Alice in Wonderland meets The Lord of the Rings and Robin Hood meets The Arabian Nights.” So that’s a perspective you don’t read every day, and that’s the purpose of the list – to offer fresh takes and alternative reads in a genre whose whole raison d’être is broadening the possibilities of human existence.
Antarctica, step up your game!