Here’s a list of some of the great books I’ve read that have influenced and inspired me to have a go at getting some of my own projects out into the open. This is a living page so be sure to check in every now and then for updates.
Oh, and to be clear, the links that take you out to Amazon carry associate data on them. That means if you click one and end up buying something at Amazon, I might get a small percentage paid back as a reward for your purchase. Most of these links are to Kindle titles. I’m not sure if I get anything for those or not because Terms and Conditions and reasons etc. I’ve had an associate account for years and never received a penny, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Anyway, are we green? Shiny, read on!
Wayfarers Trilogy (Becky Chambers)
If I ever fly a starship, I want this crew on board. This book delves into the personalities, conflicts, quirks and flaws of a mixed-species crew aboard the Wayfarer, and the plot, good as it is, serves more as a background for the journeys of personal discovery, development and realisation that there’s almost always a point of view that is different from your own. BTW: Kizzy is super awesome!
From book 1 (A Long Way To A Small Angry Planet):
When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much.
The Wayfarer, a patched-up ship that’s seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled past.
The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptilian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. Life on board is chaotic, but more or less peaceful – exactly what Rosemary wants.
Until the crew are offered the job of a lifetime, tunneling through space to a distant planet. They’ll earn enough money to live comfortably for years… if they survive the trip.
But Rosemary isn’t the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.
Smuggler’s Tales From The Golden Age Of The Solar Clipper (Nathan Lowell)
I first discovered Nathan Lowell’s Solar Clipper stories on the Escape Pod podcast during a long, dark and lonely drive along the M4 one winter night. That episode was one of the Trader’s Tales (see further down this list) and Lowell, I think, was reading it himself but don’t quote me on any of this, it was a long time ago.
Anyway, I was struck by the sedate pace of the story, the depth of description, and the sense that, in deep space, on a solar clipper, it just takes ages to get anywhere. It kind of chimed with my own journey that night.
Some years later I rediscovered these books and immediately bought them all. Sure enough, the sedate pace, interspersed with the occasional life-threatening situation, and the deeply immersive sense of being on board one of these ships was right there. I got the sense from his writing that Lowell had really lived some of this stuff.
And sure enough, according to Lowell’s Wikipedia entry, he spent five years serving in the US Coast Guard.
Academy graduate Natalya Regyri stood first in line for her pick of Engineering Officer jobs, until, at the graduation party, a classmate turned up dead. Now, betrayed by her friends and framed for murder, she must flee beyond the reach of the Confederation…and any semblance of civilized society.
With a damaged second-hand ship and TIC interceptors dogging her step, she nets a smuggling contract that might just get her back on her feet and in control of her destiny. But only if she’s willing to make an ore run back to the place she’s wanted for murder, and into the arms of the authorities…
…who somehow know she’s coming.
The Murderbot Diaries (Martha Wells)
This is a series of novellas, so are quite quick to read. It’s a set of four and, at the time of writing, two are available. The self-named “Murderbot” is a fabulously flawed and interesting character. If AI is allowed to go off in that direction, well, humanity is going to have a few problems to deal with. But all the same, I love Murderbot and have pre-ordered books 3 and 4.
A murderous android discovers itself in All Systems Red, a tense science fiction adventure by Martha Wells that interrogates the roots of consciousness through Artificial Intelligence.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (Douglas Adams)
I originally started reading this series back in the 80s but I think I picked up The Long Dark Teatime Of The Soul first, and I never really got into that. Having re-visited it recently (after watching an adaptation on Netflix) and this time starting with book 1, I’m thinking TLDTOTS is going to be worth another look.
What do a dead cat, a computer whiz-kid, an Electric Monk who believes the world is pink, quantum mechanics, a Chronologist over two hundred years old, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (poet), and pizza have in common?
An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth (Chris Hadfield)
Surprisingly, not everything I read is sci-fi. Sometimes it’s sci-fact. And in this case it’s a blend of science, psychology and even personal development. Plus, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Chris Hadfield live, delivering a talk about his experiences, so then I had to know everything.
Colonel Chris Hadfield has spent decades training as an astronaut and has logged nearly 4,000 hours in space. During this time he has broken into a Space Station with a Swiss army knife, disposed of a live snake while piloting a plane, been temporarily blinded while clinging to the exterior of an orbiting spacecraft, and become a YouTube sensation with his performance of David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ in space. The secret to Chris Hadfield’s success – and survival – is an unconventional philosophy he learned at NASA: prepare for the worst – and enjoy every moment of it.
Altered Carbon (Richard Morgan)
I first spotted the first book in this series on a shelf a couple of years or so ago, and made a note to read it. Then many others jumped the queue and I never got around to it until I heard that it had been adapted for a Netflix run. So I bought and read the three books in the set back to back.
To be honest, they’re hyper-violent and coarsely graphic in every detail, but once I’d started I couldn’t stop reading. I’m hoping for more one day.
Four hundred years from now mankind is strung out across a region of interstellar space inherited from an ancient civilisation discovered on Mars. The colonies are linked together by the occasional sub-light colony ship voyages and hyperspatial data-casting. Human consciousness is digitally freighted between the stars and downloaded into bodies as a matter of course.
Gnomon (Nick Harkaway)
This was an unexpected find. A preview copy turned up at work a month or so before it was due to be published and I was instantly intrigued by the back cover. It’s not a small book and it took a long time to read because I didn’t fancy lugging it back and forth to work, for the two blocks of 20-ish minutes of reading time I have in an average day.
So by the time I read about half way through, it was released on Kindle. Naturally I had to buy it (I would have anyway, even if I’d already completed the preview copy) and even now, some elements of it stay with me and occasionally pop into mind unexpectedly. It took me on the weirdest journeys through time and space.
Near-future Britain is not just a nation under surveillance but one built on it: a radical experiment in personal transparency and ambient direct democracy. Every action is seen, every word is recorded.
Diana Hunter is a refusenik, a has-been cult novelist who lives in a house with its own Faraday cage: no electronic signals can enter or leave. She runs a lending library and conducts business by barter. She is off the grid in a society where the grid is everything. Denounced, arrested and interrogated by a machine that reads your life history from your brain, she dies in custody.
La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One (Philip Pullman)
Who’s “mature” enough not to be embarassed by reading young adult fiction? Me! I enjoyed the original Dark Materials trilogy greatly: Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, so was quite pleased to hear that this prequel series was coming out. As soon as it launched, I bought a copy.
It’s an easy-going and pleasing enough read and, truth be told, I was a little disappointed when the last page came along as there’s still so much story to unravel. But then this is book one of a new set so I’ll just have to wait.
Eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead and his dæmon, Asta, live with his parents at the Trout Inn near Oxford. Across the River Thames (which Malcolm navigates often using his beloved canoe, a boat by the name of La Belle Sauvage) is the Godstow Priory where the nuns live. Malcolm learns they have a guest with them; a baby by the name of Lyra Belacqua…
In Times Like These (Nathan Van Coops)
Another serendipitous gem. I can’t remember where or how I found it, probably through Kindle recommendations or some such, but it’s a definite page-turner, and takes a surprisingly pragmatic stance about time travel. Definitely worth a look.
Benjamin Travers has been electrocuted. What’s worse, he and his friends have woken up in the past. As the friends search for a way home, they realise they’re not alone. There are other time travellers, and some of them are turning up dead.
When Ben meets an enigmatic scientist and his charming, time-traveling daughter, salvation seems at hand, but escaping the dangers of the past may lead to a deadly future.
If he hopes to save his friends, Ben must learn to master space and time, and survive a journey where past and future violently collide.
The End of the World Running Club (Adrian Walker)
An interesting angle on the post-apocalyptic genre. This is another book I had in my collection for quite a while before starting to read it. And then I just had to keep those pages rolling by. It’s a will he, won’t he? all the way through. But I’m not going to spoil it for you.
No one knows this more than Edgar Hill. 550 miles away from his family, he must push himself to the very limit to get back to them, or risk losing them forever…
His best option is to run.
But what if your best isn’t good enough?
A Boy Made of Blocks (Keith Stuart)
A fictional take on a real-life parent/child relationship. I learned a lot from this book, particularly how to re-evaluate what might be considered an uncomfortable situation and assess things from an entirely different perspective. Amazing work, Keith. Thanks!
A son who shows him how to live
Meet eight-year-old Sam: beautiful, surprising – and different. To him the world is a frightening mystery. But as his imagination comes to life, his family will be changed . . . for good.
Déjà Vu (Ian Hocking)
In the year 2023 Saskia Brandt, detective with the European FIB, comes back from holiday newly single, tired and full of sadness. Heading straight back to the office she finds no peace, only her receptionist dead and no suspects. Given only 12 hours to clear her name she sets to work on unravelling the mystery, one that proves greater than the sum of its parts.
Trader’s Tales from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper (Nathan Lowell)
When his mother dies in a flitter crash, eighteen-year-old Ishmael Horatio Wang must find a job with the planet company or leave the system–and NerisCo isn’t hiring. With credits running low, and prospects limited, he has just one hope…to enlist for two years with a deep space commercial freighter. Ishmael, who only rarely visited the Neris Orbital, and has never been off-planet alone before, finds himself part of an eclectic crew sailing a deep space leviathan between the stars.
Join the crew of the SC Lois McKendrick, a Manchester built clipper as she sets solar sails in search of profit for her company and a crew each entitled to a share equal to their rating.
Seveneves (Neal Stephenson)
To ensure the survival they had to look beyond its atmosphere.
So they became pioneers.
Five thousand years later and their progeny form seven distinct races and they must journey to an alien: Earth.
The Peripheral (William Gibson)
Flynne Fisher lives in rural near-future America where jobs are scarce and veterans from the wars are finding it hard to recover. She scrapes a living doing some freelance online game-playing, participating in some pretty weird stuff. Wilf Netherton lives in London, seventy-some years later, on the far side of decades of slow-motion apocalypse. Things though are good for the haves, and there aren’t many have-nots left.
Flynne and Wilf are about to meet one another. Her world will be altered utterly, and Wilf’s, for all its decadence and power, will learn that some of these third-world types from the distant past can be real badass.