[Reading is Sexy] Seven Scintillating Sci-Fi Series

Every so often, a novel comes around that reinvigorates our imaginations with an infused sense of adventure and wonder, diving into future worlds while delving further into our souls. And if you’re truly lucky, you discover an author with an incredible back catalog or series of work that humbles you by standing so significantly within its literary prowess.

In the introduction to Ursula K. Le Guin’s anniversary edition of ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’, she so eloquently states:

“In reading a novel, any novel, we have to know perfectly well that the whole thing is nonsense, and then, while reading, believe every word of it. Finally, when we’re done with it, we may find – if it’s a good novel – that we’re a bit different from what we were before we read it, that we have been changed a little, as if by having met a new face, crossed a street we never crossed before. But it’s very hard to say what we learned, how we changed. The artist deals with what cannot be said in words. The artist whose medium is fiction does this in words. The novelist says in words what cannot be said in words.”

In exploring the universe, known and unknown, whether funneled by future fantasy or semi-tangible half realities, through each of these books one thing is clear – the more we understand of what surrounds us, the more we understand of ourselves; as above, so below.

While each of these authors has produced novels that stand alone, these series are not islands – they’re beautifully woven universes with complex creation, rich characters, and plots that pull you in and won’t let you go.

That said, let’s dive right in to some of my favorite Science Fiction series.

Ursula K. Le Guin – The Hainish Cycle

Where most literary series must be read sequentially, Le Guin’s Hainish Cycle stands uniquely alone in the fact that while the books are interrelated, albeit at times loosely, the books can be read in almost any order.

Consisting of ‘The Dispossessed’, ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’, ‘The Word for World is Forest’, ‘Rocannon’s World’, ‘Planet of Exile’, and ‘City of Illusions’ – the Hainish Cycle is set in a future where human civilization on multiple planets, such as Terra – Earth, are coming into contact for the first time. Bear witness as interpersonal relationships and togetherness are illuminated and contrasted against an overarching idea of otherness, while exploring ideas from politics and the environment, to technological revolutions and gender roles.

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Isaac Asimov – Foundation Series

While younger generations have been exposed to Asimov through movies like I, Robot or Bicentennial Man and the show Foundation on Apple TV+, Asimov has been ubiquitous within the literary realm for decades. As a professor of biochemistry, Asmiov approaches writing in a methodical manner that’s technical without being formulaic and has published work within almost every major category of the Dewey Decimal System, except for Philosophy.

Spanning seven novels, The Foundation series firmly cements itself as one of, if not the most important series within the entire genre of Science Fiction. In the downturn of the Galactic Empire, the realm of ‘Psychohistory’ is uncovered. Synthesizing statistics, sociology and history in order to predict future group behavior – the theory of Psychohistory poses a galactic threat to the foundation of the Empire, as well as it’s inventor, mathematician Hari Seldon.

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David Brin – The Uplift Saga

Not to be (easily) confused with the Uplift Trilogy which came later, the Uplift Saga‘s adventure spans three books from acclaimed author David Brin – Sundiver, Startide Rising and The Uplift War. Similar to Asimov in more than just his scientific style of storytelling – Brin is equally accomplished in the academic world with a PhD in astronomy and a Masters of Science in electrical engineering; both of which shine between the lines of the Uplift Saga.

In his Uplift novels, Brin launches us on a journey to a universe concerned with the Uplift of races within the realm of the Five Galaxies. In simple terms, for a species to become uplifted to sapient intelligence, a more intelligent species must become their patron – taking them under their wing as they develop them, through genetic advancement and engineering; often uniting with them as a tribe or in partnership. Though humans have managed to uplift both dolphins and chimpanzees, humankind has no ‘patron’ species to attribute its intelligence to; or do they? Join the crews of the Sundiver and the Streaker as they explore not only the galaxies but the complex relationships of the Uplifted in this page turning, and unforgettable adventure.

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John Varley – Gaea Trilogy

While Brin leans more towards the Science of Science Fiction, Varley’s world exploring Gaea Trilogy plants his novels in the realm of Science Fantasy for me – and I am here for it. Varley’s lyrical writing and incredible imagination have bolstered the Gaea Trilogy into a classic Sci Fi series that shouldn’t be missed.

As Captain Cirocco “Rocky” Jones and her crew of the Ringmaster descend into the orbit of Saturn, their discovery of a planetoid sweeps them into a world that’s alive in more ways than meets the eye. Landing on Titan, later referred to as Gaea, Jones and the Crew are introduced to an assortment of Titanides – think half human half horse, and then some – as they journey into the core of the planet in hopes of discovering its sentience. What they end up uncovering is even more astounding – and that’s just book one. This is a series I couldn’t put down and eagerly ate the words of last Summer – I couldn’t recommend it more! Varley eloquently engages on an out of the world adventure, while also exploring the ephemeral nature of humanity.

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Larry Niven – Ringworld Series

While a lot of the Sci Fi books I’ve read are more explorative of space, Larry Niven’s Ringworld trilogy confronts the idea of world building as it heads off into a deep-space journey that’s equal parts hard science and adventure.

Slightly similar to Brin’s idea of the coexistence of extraterrestrial species within the galaxy, in Ringworld we meet the tiger-like Kzin and the thoughtfully intelligent yet manipulative Pierson’s Puppeteers. From the jump of the novel, we’re thrust into complexities of interspecies relations as they join forces with human Louis Wu on an otherworldly expedition: to explore the Known Galaxy and uncover truths about a mysterious Ringworld that’s appeared in the outer reaches of space, including who built it and why.

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William Gibson – Sprawl Trilogy

William Gibson is often hailed as the father of modern cyberpunk, and rightfully so – if you’ve seen any Sci Fi movies in the last two decades, you’ve undoubtedly been influenced by Gibson’s work in one sense or another. And his Sprawl series is no exception. Referred to equally as the Neuromancer, Cyberspace or Matrix trilogy – it contains three incredible works (Neuromancer, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive) that stand alone, but are wonderfully woven together. If you’ve seen Johnny Mnemonic (also a short story of Gibson’s) or any of the Matrix movies, just brace yourself for the correlation and congruency to his literary prowess.

In the near dystopian future, Henry Case is a former “console cowboy” – or what we commonly refer to as a computer hacker – and current drug addict, who made quite a living jacking into the Matrix to retrieve data for the highest bidder. Sidelined from a gig gone bad, Case is brought out of an early retirement to work alongside razergirl Molly Millions, a mercenary that first made her appearance in Johnny Mnemonic, in order to release a form of artificial intelligence from the Matrix, thus changing its landscape. Join Case on his journey into the Matrix, alongside Rastafarians from Zion (sound familiar?!) as he uncovers more than meets the eye and a world beyond ours, contained within its technology.

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Richard K Morgan – Takeshi Kovacs Trilogy

I first stumbled onto the genius of Richard K Morgan’s series by watching the show Altered Carbon on Netflix – immediately I was hooked. Pulling influence from timeless Sci Fi authors like Phillip K Dick, John Varley, Isaac Asimov and William Gibson, the Takeishi Kovacs series imagines a world where body modification is the norm; human consciousness is stored in ‘stacks’ which can be implanted into lab grown and genetically modified bodies, or ‘sleeves’. Immortality is here – but only for those who can afford it.

Takeshi was and is an Envoy, and has been pulled back from stasis after a violent death to play detective in conspiracy laden Bay City. All is not what it seems, including the people he believes he can trust. Join him in this three tiered journey into uncovering the truth, about himself, the technology, and the people that surround him.

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I eagerly urge and implore you to take some time and explore each one of these incredible authors, and take the long journey through their masterclass of works. That said, I have a whole other list ready for y’all with some of my favorite stand alone Sci Fi novels – so stay tuned; happy reading!

Please note that while purchasing books on Amazon is easy, breezy – it’s just as quick to support small and local businesses. Take some time to research your local library and regional small book sellers; it’s good for your pocket, and it’s good for the world.

Do you have a favorite Sci Fi series that didn’t make the cut? Let me know in the comments below.

[Reading is Sexy] Altered Carbon: A Show Finally As Good As The Books

Image result for Altered Carbon

There’s an old adage that admittedly most of the younger generation knows only variations of; I grew up with my parents informing me that I shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, but it quickly became “Don’t judge a song by it’s cover” and “Don’t judge a movie by the TV show (/ Video Game / Etc)”.  But, per usual, I digress.  Over the last year, there’s been an explosion of amazing Science Fiction shows entering our sphere of entertainment – from dystopian movies like Elysium, Interstellar and The Arrival to television shows spanning from Black Mirror, Dark Matter, the latest Star Trek: Discovery, Dark, The Expanse and Incorporated (ps. Kudos to Netflix and SciFy for their creative and mind bending content!).   Until now, I hadn’t much found one as enthralling in both story line and technological potentially as Netflix’s Altered Carbon, and the second I found out it stemmed from a novel series by Richard K Morgan – I had to see how they measured up to each other.

Set in the 2500s, in a world that’s evolved out of our current San Francisco, Digital Human Freight is currency and your memories are stored in a cortical stack from birth; though your body has an end date – your soul no longer does.  Takeshi Kovacs is a man of many hats, and sleeves – Quellest, Envoy and now Detective, he’s been brought back from the ether to solve a murder…or, has he?  Over the course of ten high-octane, vividly lit episodes, we dive into Kovac’s past, present and potential futures.   Thanks to Netflix’s formatting, we sped through the series in a weekend, injecting ourselves over and over with Altered Carbon’s universe and potentialities.  It’s a slippery slope for me to fall digital head over digital heels with a concept, because I will do my best to uncover anything and everything about it; loopholes, cut chapters, the unnatural evolution of characters.  Low and behold, I discovered that Altered Carbon (like most good things that just came about this year), is a remake.

Originally a trilogy of novels, the Takeshi Kovac’s series – consisting of Altered Carbon, Broken Angels and Woken Furies – is even more apocalyptic, militaristic, sexualized and dystopian than even the series would have one imagine.  I’ve never once believed that Netflix held back on a show, but the raw carnal nature of Kovac and Miriam’s relationship was heavier in the book, as were the guts, gore and good stuff that I thought they would have surely capitalized on for television; not that I minded though, I love when books and shows truly can deviate.  Now, the first half of the book was spot on – however, slowly but surely the show begins to deviate and take liberties of its own.

I have to say: both the novels and the show become worthwhile, altered, story lines – but each remain equally compelling for their own reasons.   Not surprisingly, the critical acclaim the show has received almost matches the book., which earned the prestigious Phillip K Dick award back in 2003 when it was penned.  Now that I’ve migrated to the second novel in the series, Broken Angels, and have the third to look forward to (Woken Furies), I can’t help but think of how the show could surpass or manipulate the books to become it’s own universe all together.  For as much as I love the adaptation to television and the presence of more of a female protagonist in Ortega, I very much prefer the novels, with their raw grit and truer dystopian lone wolf feel to Kovacs.

To learn more on the series, show and author – head to the links below; I promise you: this is a ride you will not want to end.  To those of you that both read the series and watched the show, what did you think of the nuanced differences and what did you prefer?

Richard K Morgan: Website | Goodreads | Twitter

Read the Books: Altered Carbon | Broken Angels | Woken Furies

Watch the Show.