The Employees – Olga Ravn

This is a fascinating and original story. The Six Thousand spaceship has both a human and humanoid crew. The ship removes strange objects from the planet New Discovery. The story is told as a series of statements, like an HR debrief. Is this part of an investigation? What causes tension among the humanoids? Is this an existential nightmare? Much is left to our imaginations; very entertaining.

Sea of Tranquility – Emily St. John Mandel

Another brilliant book by Ms. Mandel, a sweeping epic that spans from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a moon colony in 2401. Intriguingly, there are links to Mandel’s previous novel, The Glass Hotel, and to post-pandemic literature in general. And there is an author on a book tour and a time traveller. Absorbing and immersive, this is a fantastic futuristic novel that eerily captures our current reality. Highly recommended.

The Paradox Hotel – Rob Hart

A fascinating speculative-fiction story: the time is 2072 and the place: The Einstein Intercontinental Time-Port and associated Paradox Hotel. Yes, there is time travel for tourists, to visit, for example, Ancient Egypt or the Triassic Period. January Cole works for the Time Enforcement Agency providing hotel security and she has an extraordinary caustic and acerbic personality. The story is really about the nature of time, but also grief and memory. And there are murders, dinosaurs and maybe ghosts: a thrilling read.

Gutter Child – Jael Richardson

 A fierce debut novel about a contemporary dystopian world. consisting of the privileged Mainland and the suppressed Gutter world. The history is one of colonialism and exploitation which produces a society rife with injustices. Gutter children are born with an original sin, a debt to society that must be repaid. Elimina is a young 15-year-old Gutter child who has been raised in the Mainland as a social experiment. Her story is one of resilience, to choose a future and defy a system that is patriarchal and controlling. A very powerful story – highly recommended.

Hench – Natalie Zina Walschots

This is an imaginative example of speculative fiction. Imagine a comic book world of super-heroes and dastardly villains. Even villains need administrative help, so Anna is recruited from a temp agency. When Anna is injured as collateral damage in an out-of-control encounter with a super-hero, she develops a righteous anger toward this super-hero (Supercollider). Consequently, she devotes her energy and talents to the downfall of this super-hero (and others) by working for a super-villain. A very interesting take on office politics follows; justice and the nature of heroism are also topics. And how can you not love a story with a villain called Quantum Entanglement! Thanks Amy, for giving me this book.

Amy Notes: It was on the staff recommendations shelf one of my local bookstores; Book Warehouse. Three cheers for independent bookstores staffed by booklovers.

Machines Like Us – Ian McEwan

McEwan has created an alternative 1982 London in which Britain loses the Falklands War and PM Thatcher is defeated by Tony Benn. Most significantly, Sir Alan Turing achieves an artificial intelligence breakthrough resulting in the creation of humanoid robots; prototypes are named Adam and Eve. Charlie purchases an Adam and together with his girlfriend Miranda, Adam’s personality (mind) is personalized. What follows is a fascinating 3-way relationship story. With machine learning, what makes us human? This provocative and enthralling story is one of McEwan’s best.

The Dreamers – Karen Thompson Walker

Given the current concern over a potential coronavirus pandemic, this remarkable book is prescient by capturing the mood perfectly of a contagion, specifically the chaos and confusion. In this story, individuals fall asleep and can’t be aroused; sleep is associated with a profound dream state and is fatal in many cases. This story is not about the medical/scientific search for the cause and cure; the focus is on residents caught in an eventual quarantine. Ms. Walker previously has captured the devastating consequences of an unexpected and unexplained catastrophe in her earlier (2012) book The Age of Miracles.  A topical and riveting read.

The Future of Another Timeline – Annalee Newitz

An imaginative look at time travel using 5 ancient machines of unknown origin, one of which in Flin Flon, Manitoba. Travellers can go back in time only; most of the action in this story takes place in 2022, 1992-93 and 1893-94. The goal is to alter the timeline, to reduce future misogyny and prevent the loss of female reproductive rights (think Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments).This is a very entertaining blend of historical and speculative writing; highly recommended.

The Old Drift – Namwali Serpell

This delightful novel resents a sweeping saga of Africa (Zambia) from 1903 to the future (2024), covering three generations (the grandmothers, mothers and children) of black, brown and white individuals. The challenges of life in Zambia’s transition from colonialism to independence are highlighted graphically: the conflict of wealth and privilege versus poverty, the HIV catastrophe, revolutionary actions, hair, high-tech drones…. In fact, you should be wondering how these diverse topics can be inter-related!. This is a wonderful blend of historical and speculative writing with some great phrases; a married couple is described precisely –  “their marriage has ceased to be conjugal; his body did not conjugate hers; there was no grammar between them”.