12 Science Fiction Books to Help You Escape Earth for Awhile

There is nothing quite like exploring the universe. Since we can’t physically go take a vacation among the stars, here are some books to let you do so from the comfort of your own home.

The Martian

Andy Weir’s The Martian is a great getaway, even if it means being stranded on Mars. Despite the serious predicament, Mark Whatney keeps a fun attitude as he tries to survive. If you liked the movie and prefer another story by Weir, he does have another novel titled Artemis that is also a fun read. It takes place on a colonized Moon and is also filled with fun, scientifically plausible events.

The Forever War

Joe Haldeman’s story of intergalactic warfare against an unknown enemy includes the realistic effects of time versus traveling near the speed of light. This story follows William Mandella as he tries to survive the war, and learns to survive with how the war has changed him.

Dune

With the new Dune movie set to release at the end of the year, I suspect many people will read this book for the first time within the next several months. Unfortunately, some people will also forego reading the book and only watch the movie believing it will be just as good. The book is almost always better. I have high hopes for the new movie, but I know how good the book is. I only read the first book since it can be read as a standalone story. I am uncertain if I will read the entire series, but there is more story out there if you find yourself wanting more after the initial book. The first six books were written by Frank Herbert. All other sequels were written by his son, Brian Herbert, and Kevin J. Anderson. Though this book came out in 1964, it reads like it could have been written last year.

The Princess of Mars

This is the first book in a series most commonly known as John Carter of Mars. I discovered these books after watching the movie John Carter back in 2012. I thought the movie was entertaining but it differed greatly from the books. Interesting fact, the movie was released exactly 100 years after the first book/story was published. They were written by Edgar Rice Burroughs who is best known for his Tarzan books.

Ender’s Game

This is another series of which I have only read the first book. Orson Scott Card wrote plenty of sequels to keep you satisfied if you are left wanting more, but I was okay reading just the first one. I may try more of the series at another time. I first read this book when the movie was set to release in 2013. I thought the movie was a great adaptation of the film.

The Hunger Games

Okay, this one technically takes place entirely on Earth, but it is an interesting series. Suzanne Collins’s dystopian trilogy recently had an addition, released last week, titled The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes which takes place 64 years prior to the events of the original The Hunger Games book.

Solaris

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem is a psychological ride originally published in 1970. It takes place above the planet of Solaris which contains a sentient ocean. Kris Kelvin is sent to the planet in an attempt to understand what this alien life, which envelopes the entire planet, could be and what it can do.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

What’s better than an escape? An escape that let’s you laugh. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is an absurd journey that will not only get you away from current events, it will remind you how crazy things can be when viewed objectively (and at a slight angle). The Earth is destroyed to make way for an intergalactic bypass? What? Douglas Adams was a treasure.

All System’s Red

All Systems Red is the first book in The Murderbot Diaries. Murderbot, as it calls itself, is a machine/human construct designed to protect humans who are surveying new planets. Murderbot would rather watch TV than even be around humans, but it must do its job so the company that owns it doesn’t find out that it hacked its governor module (the thing that makes sure it follows every order). The first four books are novellas. The fifth book is a full novel and was released earlier this month. There will be another novella continuing the series slated to be released next April. I adore this series.

The Shadow of the Torturer

Gene Wolfe’s series The Book of the New Sun begins with The Shadow of the Torturer. This series is unlike anything I have read before. Once you get into it, you can’t help but keep reading to know where Severian’s adventures will lead him. Each chapter gives a better glimpse into the world Severian inhabits. But is it a distant future version of Earth, or is it perhaps one of a distant past, or is it Earth at all? It could be any of the three. The real question is, how did humanity end up like this?

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

I recently saw some posts floating around stating that the book version of the third Star Wars film is actually superior to the film itself. I read the book a long time ago, shortly before the film released, and I remember it being great. Matthew Stover did a great job bringing the characters to life and the book delves more into the psyche of Anakin. I read a lot of Star Wars books when I was younger and there are some great stories. Yeah, I know, most of the books are considered non-canon now because of the new movies and stuff, but who cares if they are/aren’t cannon if they are good. Some of my favorite Star Wars stories are technically still cannon and they are in book format. These being the Republic Commando series. If you like Star Wars at all, and haven’t read any of the books, check some out.

Neuromancer

William Gibson gives readers an amazing ride with Neuromancer. Published in 1984, this book has influenced many other science fiction stories. This is the The Matrix meets The Ghost in the Shell before either existed. Though the iconic first line has already become dated, this book remains a great read for any science fiction fans.

The Book of the New Sun

Books of the New SunThe Book of the New Sun consists of four novels by Gene Wolfe. I bought all four in two volumes after I had added Gene Wolfe to the list of authors whose work I wanted to look into. This tetralogy is considered some of his best work. Unfortunately, I didn’t really know about his work until shortly before he passed away in April of last year, but I’m glad I am no longer ignorant of its existence.

I would normally have written a book recommendation for the first book in the series, but there are several reasons I did not do that for this story. Of course, I would not recommend the series if I did not like it or I didn’t think it held value. I am glad I read the series since I have learned a lot from it. However, this recommendation comes with a few reservations so let’s get started.

First, a very short introduction: The universe of the New Sun is definitely strange and the adventures of the main character, Severian, lead us through it. He is an apprentice in a guild of torturers and faces consequences for showing mercy to a client (as they refer to the prisoners).

We often compare things to better describe them to others, and I think in this case it would be easier for me to describe this story as a comparison or mixture of a few others you may already know. Since reading the first book, I could not help but think of the story as a mixture between The Name of the Wind (TNotW), Alice in Wonderland, and The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. A weird combination, I know, but hear me out.

I thought of TNotW for several reasons. The story of the New Sun is told as a recounting of events by the main character, much like in TNofW, and they both include a spurious young man who has many travels and finds himself involved in powers much greater than himself that impact their entire world. New Sun has many fantastical elements as well and the loner-ish main character often has to fend for himself. I liken New Sun to Alice in the way that we as readers are thrown into a strange land where strange things happen seemingly at random. We don’t get a lot of information about the strange world but are given just enough to know what is going on and how things (kind of) work within the rules of that world. The last comparison, to Hitchhiker’s Guide, brings in the science fiction elements and continues the comparison to Alice insofar as the story’s universe is much larger than the glimpses we are given and things seem to happen randomly but often come back around before the story ends. Unlike Alice and Hitchhiker’s Guide, the random events of this story are not whimsical but often lead Severian into dangerous situations.

So, this series is a mixture of fantasy, science fiction, myth, philosophy, and many other areas I’m sure I may have missed or forgotten. I believe this series is greater than the sum of its parts, which is why I was so hesitant to recommend the first book without having read the entire story. Another reason was because it took me several chapters to get adjusted to the style of the book. Yes, it was written as an account by the main character, but the verbiage and structure took some time getting used to. This alone may deter some readers, but if you can get into the story, you will find it is well-written and engaging.

I consider myself well-read, but I learned a lot of new vocabulary from this series. This, for me, is a bonus though I can see some readers viewing it as negative if they need to look up several words per chapter or page. Most of the terms are more archaic. Very few, if any, were made up as part of the fictional world. This being the case, I’m happy to say that I have several new words in my arsenal for my own writing. I think an expanded vocabulary is definitely a positive.

Another reason I was hesitant in recommending the first book alone was because the transition from the first to second book was a little jarring. I think the series should be viewed as one continuous text, which I just discovered it had been written in its entirety before the first book was published. This may explain why each installment doesn’t follow a familiar story path or begin and end in a traditional method. This could also be seen as a negative, which is why I think considering all four books as one volume is an easy way to escape that thought concern.

I did see a few reviews of readers giving up during or after books two or three because they couldn’t continue with the seemingly random events. I had also heard that the fourth book wrapped things up nicely and fits all the pieces together. I would agree that the ending does bring the whole series together, but there is a lot to get through before this ending and many readers may not be committed to doing so. Which is another reason why I’m recommending this as a series instead of a standalone book. I definitely could have used a little more details regarding how the world of Urth worked, and there is a sequel novel title The Urth of the New Sun which I could read, but I think I may save that for another time.

I recommend this series because it is well written and engaging despite the events seeming to be random at first. There were several times where I thought I just had no idea what was happening or I didn’t have enough information to appreciate the story, but at the end of it all I felt satisfied. I was always interested in the events and characters, and I did read all four books fairly quickly. I am also still thinking about the book and what the whole story accomplished. I will definitely be looking into other books by Gene Wolfe in the future.

You may like this series or find it isn’t for you. I enjoyed it and wanted to (hopefully) introduce others to Gene Wolfe if not this particular story. I have entered the camp of those who believe his work has gone overlooked and I’m glad I remedied my own oversight. I look forward to discovering more of his stories. Perhaps you will too.

Happy Reading.

12 Memoirs & Biographies

This time I’m listing memoirs and biographies I’ve read these past several years that I enjoyed. Several of them are about authors or actors I like, but some are simply ones I found or heard about and eventually read.

This Boy’s Life & In Pharoah’s Army

This Boy's LifeThese first two are by Tobias Wolff. The first recounts his unexpected childhood while the latter covers much of his time serving during the Vietnam War. I’m a big fan of Tobias Wolff and enjoy all of his fiction, but his memoirs are equally intriguing and entertaining. This Boy’s Life was actually adapted into film and won the Ambassador Book Award.

The Princess Diarist

The Princess DiaristThis memoir by Carrie Fisher covers her time during the filming of the first Star Wars movie and her eventual launch into stardom as the iconic Princess Leia. It includes a section that reprints her original diary entries from her time during filming including her affair with Harrison Ford. What I found most interesting was Carrie’s admission that she did not plan to enter the field of acting, and then her discussion of what it was like interacting with fans who only saw her as Princess Leia. She had to almost live a double life from the time of these events through the end of her life. I know she has several other memoirs and I plan to check them out sometime.

Robin

Robin WilliamsDave Itzkoff’s biography of Robin Williams was released in 2018 and is a great, detailed account of his adult life. Most of the book events discussed are supplemented by accounts from Robin’s friends and family. The book covers his early years briefly, goes into how he became an iconic comedian and actor. It then ends briefly after his death to tell an all-encompassing account that gives us a holistic view into who he was and what he faced. I learned a lot about about him and I am glad I did.

 

Amazing Fantastic Incredible

Stan LeeAmazing Fantastic Incredible is a graphic novel memoir of comic icon Stan Lee. This account is beautifully illustrated and shows a great history of the comic industry. It gives us an overview of Stan’s life (including his real name) but don’t look for any in-depth details of his life here. A full biography would be better if you want to know more about the man. However, this does give a great insight to the man who was behind many of the hugely popular characters in the Marvel Universe, and it is in his own words and his own style.

J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography

J.R.R. Tolkien BiographyThis biography of J.R.R. Tolkien by Humphrey Carpenter is, as far as I am aware, the best biography of the man behind The Lord of the Rings. I at least think it is the only authorized biography. Carpenter actually met Tolkien and had access to many materials and resources surrounding the author’s life prior to his passing in 1973. I, of course, greatly enjoy Tolkien’s works and enjoyed learning more about the man himself. If you read this and want a little more, I suggest watching the recent biopic titled Tolkien starring Nicholas Hoult. It only covers a brief part of his childhood and ends shortly after his time in the war, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

What if Our World is Their Heaven? The Final Conversations of Philip K. Dick

What If Our World Is Their Heaven?This “book” is unique as I’m not sure it would be considered memoir or biography. It is a transcription of the last interview with Philip K. Dick. I randomly came across this book in a used book store and picked it up as I am a fan of PKD’s works. The interview covers a lot of areas, including the unfinished book PKD was working on at the time and his excitement at seeing early footage of the film Blade Runner which is an adaptation of his book Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep? Unfortunately, PKD died of a stroke months after this interview. I haven’t read a full biography of PKD, but I will likely do so in the future. However, I think this interview proves to be a great insight into who he was.

Educated

EducatedThe most recent memoir I’ve read is Educated by Tara Westover and it is captivating. This book details Tara’s childhood through her eventual pursuit of a college education. She grew up without access to school but was always a highly curious child. Her father did not believe in education as he believed it indoctrinated people. He didn’t believe in modern medicine either. Both stem from his religious and personal beliefs. The events of Tara’s life are both shocking and, from an outside view, infuriating at times, but I think this book is important because it highlights more than the importance of knowledge. It highlights the importance of family and doing what is best for yourself.

Tesla: Man Out of Time

Tesla Man Out of TimeMargaret Cheney may be the best biographer of Nikola Tesla. She has written a few, but this one is a great resource if you are wanting to know more about the man who rivaled Edison and became an important figure in the development of electricity. Yes, he is also the person the Tesla Company is named after, but Nikola Tesla never had a company all of his own. I’m glad to see that he has not been lost to history since he is an important contributor to much of the technology we have today, and he continues to inspire and influence research into new technology.

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

As You WishIf you are a fan of The Princess Bride, you will greatly enjoy this memoir by lead actor Cary Elwes. He recounts his time on the set and the making of the film and tells many stories that only make the fellow actors and the film even more lovable. Especially Andre the Giant. I recommend checking out the audiobook version because Cary narrates it himself and it includes snippets from fellow actors and production crew who give their accounts of events as well. This book adds to the film and will make you likely make you want to rewatch it while you read.

Man’s Search for Meaning

Man's Search for MeaningVictor Frankl’s memoir/psychological novel is small but powerful. This insight into Victor’s time inside a concentration camp during World War II not only gives us a glimpse into history and some of the worst things humans have done to each other, it analyzes the human psyche during such harsh conditions. However, I believe this little book is an insight into the human condition and provides a bit of hope through all the sadness. The first part is the memoir of his time during the war while the second goes into his own psychological theories.

A Moveable Feast

Ernest Hemingway’s book telling of his times in Paris during the 1920’s was fun and insightful. I think it is a great glimpse into a bygone world as we are now almost exactly 100 years removed from the time it took place. I’ll admit my favorite part includes F. Scott Fitzgerald and a broken-down car, but this book gives a look into the life of the iconic author and the world he knew.A Moveable Feast

18 Fantasy Books to Escape Into

I ran a short poll on Twitter to determine which list of books (by genre) I would write about next. The majority vote was Fantasy. I was surprised the lowest amount of votes went to Science Fiction and Memoir with Short Story Collections coming in second. Without further delay, here are 10 fantasy books I’ve read and enjoyed, and 8 I look forward to reading in the future.

10 Fantasy Books I’ve Enjoyed

The Magician: Apprentice

The Magician: Apprentice is the first book in Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar Saga which is the core of the even larger Riftwar Cycle. It tells the story of Pug, a seemingly low status, serving-boy in a castle who unexpectedly finds himself as the apprentice of the lord’s magician. He also quickly realizes he has an aptitude for magic. It’s been some time since I’ve read this book, but I greatly enjoyed it and have fond memories of the story. Perhaps a reread is in order.

The Once and Future King

This book by T.H. White is sometimes classified as science fiction for reasons I don’t quite understand outside of inferred time/inter-dimensional travel. But this book (a collection of four books in one volume) tells a mostly fun, easy-to-read version of the legend of King Arthur. The first part, The Sword in the Stone, inspired the animated film of the same name.

Howl’s Moving Castle

I will always recommend Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. I simply love this book, but I still need to read the other two in the trilogy. I also greatly enjoy the animated film adaptation by Studio Ghibli despite the several, smaller changes made to the story. The story follows young Sophie, who gets turned into an old woman by the Witch of the Waste. She sets out to find a cure for the curse placed on her and makes a pact with the fire demon Calcifer who requires her to break his contract with the wizard Howl in exchange for his help.

The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss is book one of The Kingkiller Chronicle and is an excellent read. It tells the tale of Kvothe as he survives tragedy to then enter the famous University. There, he learns many incredible skills that lead to his eventual fame. The story is told by Kote, the older version of Kvothe, who has since forsaken his abilities. Books one and two of this trilogy have been published along with a supplementary novella and short story. I will be re-reading these books to prepare for when the third is published.

The Lord of the Rings

J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is a phenomenal read if you have not read it yet. The films by Peter Jackson do it much justice, but the books are still better. You can often find all three in one volume (hence the grouping under the one title). Frodo sets out to destroy the One Ring as he is hunted by the forces of evil who seek to reclaim the ring and allow the Dark Lord Sauron to rule Middle Earth. This trilogy laid a strong foundation for much of the fantasy books we know today.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone as it was originally titled in the UK) is the first in J.K. Rowling’s world-wide bestselling series that was adapted into eight films. This book is the first of seven that tell the story of Harry Potter as he learns he is a wizard and is swept off to the Wizarding School Hogwarts the day after his 11th birthday.

The Eye of the World

The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan’s magnum opus, begins with The Eye of the World. The first of 14 books (plus a prequel) with the final three installments finished posthumously by Brandon Sanderson. The story follows Rand, Mat, Perrin, Egwene, and Nynaeve (as well as a plethora of other characters), as they are swept out of their small village onto an epic journey that leads one of these characters (no spoilers here) as they become the savior of the land against evil forces.

A Darker Shade of Magic

Admittedly, I have only read this first book in V.E. Schwab’s magical trilogy, which I recently heard may have more story to come with future books. This story follows Kell who has the unique ability to travel between the four Londons. The London in each dimension is always the same as far as layout, but each world suffers from different leaders and levels of magic. Red London is teeming with magic and is Kell’s home. Grey London is where us non-magic folk live. White London is slowly losing it’s magic and is ruled by strength. Black London was consumed by magic and effectively no longer holds life. Follow Kell as he must travel through the London’s in order to find the mystery of a powerful artifact given to him that seemingly came from Black London.

The Eyes of God

The Eyes of God is the first of four books by John Marco which follow the knight Lukien. I read the first three books as a trilogy and only recently discovered a fourth was published that follow the events of the original trilogy. I have not read this newer book, so I am unsure what parts of the story it expands upon or if it adds only new material. Lukien, much like Lancelot, falls in love with his king’s wife, Cassandra, and is later tasked with finding a magical item, called the eye of god, to heal Cassandra from an inexplicable illness.

The Stormcaller

Another unfinished series for me begins with The Stormcaller by Tom Lloyd. I read the first three books before the fourth and fifth were published. Unfortunately, it has been some time since I’ve read them so I will likely start from the beginning and read them all the way through. This story follows Isak who is a white-eye, a human with traits that designate them as outcasts. Isak is thrown into the middle of a war and must learn to control his powers and find out what he is really capable of.

8 Fantasy Books I Want to Read

The Sword of Shannara

My wife bought me this book, or the trilogy in one volume, a while back and I’ve always heard it is a great read. It’s been in my to-read list for some time and I need to bump it up and actually read it. Another reason for me to read it is because I have not yet read anything by Terry Brooks.

The Wizard of Earthsea

Another series, the Earthsea books by Ursula K. Le Guin have been on my radar for some time. I have read other books by Le Guin and have enjoyed them so I’m sure I’ll like this one and the sequels. Ironically, this is also another series my wife bought me (because she loves me). She bought the illustrated edition, all in one volume, and it is a massive text.

The Gunslinger

Technically I have already read this book. I just haven’t read the remaining six books in Stephen King’s acclaimed Dark Tower series. A friend of mine recommended this series to me and I will get around to finishing it at some point.

The Lies of Locke Lamora

This book by Scott Lynch I had picked up in a bookstore simply from browsing and thinking it was interesting. This was before I had a massive TBR and I developed the habit of always finding new books to read before I finish the ones I have. I keep seeing this book come up time and time again in mentions by other authors or fans, which bumps it up on the TBR list each time.

Gardens of the Moon

I purchased the first few books in Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series but have not read them yet. I think I held out because the series was not yet finished. I think the series is now finished and has a total of 10 books, so I will get around to it soonish. I just finished Wheel of Time which is a big series so I am taking a break at the moment on bigger series.

An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir is a series that I believe is still on-going. If I remember correctly, the fourth book is slated to be released at the end of this year. I first discovered Sabaa Tahir when I discovered Patrick Rothfuss when I came across them interviewing each other (or maybe it was Patrick interviewing Sabaa). I think I will like this series so will give it a shot one day.

Game of Thrones

I did get into the Game of Thrones craze and greatly enjoyed the show. I am holding out until the book series is finished before diving in because I prefer to be able to read it all in one go without a large hiatus. I believe George R.R. Martin stated there will be two more volumes before the series is completed.

The Fifth Season

Honestly, I do not know much about The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin except it is the start of a trilogy. I’ve heard great things about it and I’ve added N.K. Jemisin to my list of authors to read having only heard great things about her writing and books.

Dune Looks Beautiful

DuneTitleI found out they were filming a new Dune movie when I was reading the book for the first time about two years ago. The movie is slated to release at the end of this year on December 18th. A few images were released just today and I must admit that I am very much looking forward to this movie adaptation.

I knew the cast was filled with talented actors when the film was first announced. I had finished the book by the time they began gradually announcing casting decisions so luckily my interpretation of the characters were not influenced by the film choices (which has happened in other occasions but few and far between). Below is the majority of the main character castings.

Dune Cast

I must admit that I am very interested to see how they transform Stellan Skarsgard into Baron Harkonnen, but I have no doubt that he will portray the character well. A beardless Jason Momoa is interesting but he will likely do well as Duncan Idaho (which I always thought was a strange name). I love Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica and Oscar Isaac as Duke Leto Atreides. DuneI haven’t seen too many films with Timothee Chalamet, but I understand he is an excellent actor who has already established himself in Hollywood, so I am looking forward to seeing his portray of Paul. I love all the other choices. My only reservation is that movies that have this many stars tend to struggle with sharing screen-time of characters. I think this movie is currently planned as two parts so I hope that will help with this concern. I also think that all the characters are distinct enough that it shouldn’t be an issue.

If you haven’t read Dune, then I recommend that you read it before this movie comes out, and I am excited for you to experience this story. I consider it one of the best science fiction novels of the past century as do many others. I hope you take the opportunity to read it. You’ll likely then join me in the excitement to see a modern adaptation. If you’ve already read it, you’re probably already hyped.

Dune

From the few glimpses we are given in the pictures, alongside knowing the cast, I am already impressed. Of course I am trying not to get my hopes up too high, but there is plenty of time to let the excitement settle and better prepare for the film. Going in with too high of expectations always hinders the enjoyment of a movie.

I can already see from the few stills that their portrayal of the desert planet Arrakis is going to be great. I think splitting it into two parts is a wise decision considering the length of the book and the accumulation of events that take place. Doing so will help prevent trying to cram the entirety of the story in one film which has hurt other films in the past. Though I don’t think they will have much room to do so, I am curious if they will include any original concepts that were not in the book. This is always tricky to do but some films pull this off well. I’m not sure what they would even add if they did do this as I think there is plenty already.

Many films also change some things to better adapt it for the screen. It usually works best when the change is necessary to make it presentable in the new medium. Some things just don’t translate well onto the screen. One thing that comes to mind for this film is how they will portray Paul’s growth of mental acuity through the Bene Gesserit training.

Regardless of how they do things, I hope this film adaptation turns out well and does the story justice. I’m happy it will bring the story to a wider audience and even get more people interested in reading the book.

Dune2