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Culture Books

Science Fiction and Fantasy


Science Fiction and Fantasy

The Story Peddler 

Lindsay A. Franklin

Franklin, a Christian and homeschooling mom of three, believes art that expresses truth is powerfully subversive in an age when representing truth can invite society’s ire. In this novel, protagonist Tanwen’s magical ability to weave words into glass sculptures is too unrestrained, and her personality too contrary, to accept the king’s edict allowing only crown-approved stories. So when she’s labeled a criminal, she joins a band of rebels seeking to overthrow the king. Despite its stock characters, the story explores important truths in a fast-paced plot with surprising twists. This clean, light, and enjoyable read is perfect for a rainy afternoon.


Alan Dean Foster

Relic explores the culture shock, loneliness, and personal transformation inherent in the immigrant experience. How would the last human alive in the entire universe act? Wallow in despair? Seek to overcome the tides of fate? Or join, as a sideshow and museum piece, the peaceable alien race that fosters him? Main character Ruslan’s philosophical musings on life in an alien culture are so emotionally absorbing that readers’ hearts will ache for him. At the same time, this well-paced story delights with bouts of action and surprise twists. Foster’s high-concept novel is a gripping tale of serenity amid sorrow.

Terra Nullius 

Claire G. Coleman

This debut novel follows the dreary and dry experiences of an escaped slave, an outlaw, a free woman, a nun, and a church investigator barely surviving Australia’s blighted desert. At first glance, Coleman seems to be constructing straw-man arguments that demonize imperialist settlers and idealize primitive cultures. To some extent that’s true, but a crucial revelation in Chapter 9 reveals a more nuanced treatment of the settlers. Coleman, an indigenous Australian, transposes her people’s history of despair, fear, and longing into humanity’s future in an intelligent and provocative sci-fi tragedy.

Frankenstein in Baghdad

Ahmed Saadawi

Set in 2005 Baghdad, this novel uses Shelley’s monster—reimagined as the accidental creation of an Iraqi junk dealer—to mirror the patchwork society of once-dead desires, beliefs, and cultures revivified in post-war Iraq. In a style reminiscent of Flannery O’Connor, this moving and shocking tragicomedy weaves together the stories of a naïve journalist, a Christian mother mourning a lost son, two merchants in a commercial war, the monster “Whatsitsname,” and its creator. Farcical, fantastic, and darkly humorous, the stories embody the rejuvenated but insecure new Iraq. (Cautions: sex and violence)


David Walton’s The Genius Plague (Pyr, 2017) won this year’s Campbell Memorial Award for best science fiction novel. In it, two brothers—a mycologist and an NSA analyst—investigate a pandemic fungal infection that leaves its survivors smarter, a result that is miraculous but dangerous. In a page-turner reminiscent of Michael Crichton, Walton’s well-researched near-future thriller turns the two brothers into adversaries seeking answers to age-old moral and political questions: What is the value of free will? Can a free society balance individual rights and the collective good?

In his award acceptance speech, Walton said, “Science fiction can take what it means to be human, and tear it apart, and put it back together again, and make you see it in a new way.” The Campbell Memorial Award (not to be confused with the Campbell Award for Best New Writer) has been given by the University of Kansas since 1973 and is named for John W. Campbell, the former renowned editor of Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine. —J.O.