My top 10 Science Fiction Novels for 2014: Part 1
Two years ago I told myself that once I had read 200 science fiction novels, I would teach a seminar on the relation between science fiction and theology. I figured that once I had read 200 novels, I'd have a fair idea of what was going on. At the moment I have read approximately 180: not as many as most SF fans, but plenty enough under the circumstances of a PhD student. Now that I've been hired by Fuller Theological Seminary, I am happy to announce that I've been given a green light to go forward with this course proposal. The target date is fall 2016.
My principle theological interests in SF include 1) the nature of mediation in human relationships, 2) time travel and the meaning of history, 3) post-apocalyptic novels as insight into both protology and eschatology, 4) the strange, alien creatures in the cosmos as images of the biblical "leviathan," 5) an instinct for resurrection in the (misguided) transhumanist instinct for bodiless humanity, 6) the rise of the humanoids or Artificial Intelligence as alternate humanities, 7) ecclesiology in the encounter of like and unlike species, and 8) the ways in which new technology provides a frame of reference that humans immediately and unquestionably take for granted as meaningful.
In 2014 my reading habits took me to a variety of SF corners: from Thomas Disch' The Genocides to James Tiptree Jr.'s Her Smoke Rose Up Forever to Haruki Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World to Chang-rae Lee's On Such a Full Sea. I also read a few awful ones. This included books like Zolan Istvan's The Transhumanist, which after twenty pages, I couldn't bear to read another word. I watched "The Machine" one night (low budget but compelling). I watched a double-header on another night: “Under the Skin” (horrifically good) and “Her” (sweet and sad). I thought "Snowpiercer" was stunning. And I watched halfway through television shows like “Almost Human” and “Extant.”
It was a good year for me and I am happy to share my top ten, which, like previous years, actually involves a pair of novels in each slot. Dave Eggers, The Circle, is my top sci-fi novel of 2014. I I heartily recommend to anybody who uses the internet.
1. Dave Eggers, The Circle + Will McIntosh, Love Minus Eighty
Like “Hamlet,” you know how The Circle will turn out: badly. You dread the end and you keep
reviewer at Tor.com: “The required account balance will be maintained by the fees of rich men who can set up expensive “dates”: you’ll briefly be thawed to be interviewed and inspected, and if you pass muster, you’re revived and returned to life. Colloquially, the (often involuntary) participants in this program are referred to as “bridesicles.” Like I said: creepy good, totally wrong, and absolutely believable.
2. Andy Weir, The Martian + John Scalzi, Redshirts
These two novels belong to the genre called riotously funny science fiction.
Then they bend history. Then they meet their non-fictional counterparts who play the fictional versions on a television show in a parallel universe. As a Forbes magazine review puts it, if you want to “read it as a surreal meditation on character and genre like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, this is your book." Redshirts was the winner of the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Novel, and rightfully so.
The Martian is the novel where two things happened repeatedly while lying in bed late at night with Phaedra: 1) I laugh out loud every five minutes and 2) I say things like, “Phaedra, I’ve got to read you this part.” The Martian is Robinson Crusoe meets credible astrophysics meets suspenseful drama. Written by the son of a particle physicist, with a background in computer science and the skill to write an original software program in order to determine a particular astrophysical and dramatic plot feature, Weir’s novel evokes the happy sense of adventure that you experienced when you read Bradbury’s short stories, along with the sense of awe that you felt about deep space in the work of Carl Sagan and that feeling of eerie solitude that characterizes many of Arthur C. Clarke’s principal figures. Andy Weir not only studied orbital mechanics, astronomy and the history of manned spaceflight, he also figured out how to make a single character survive 1,412 days till the next Mars expedition could come to rescue one NASA astronaut Mark Watney in a way that was both hilarious and riveting.
(Part 2 coming soon.)