- The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet – Becky Chambers. A warm hug of a book that envisages mostly-peaceful cooperation between hundreds of alien species.
- Radiance – Catherynne Valente. An unusual type of science fiction, steeped in the glamour of thirties Hollywood, only strung out over a solar system that is, and is not, like our own.
- Saga Volume 1 – Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. The universe of Saga is, frankly, bonkers: there are trees that grow rocket ships and assassin ladies who look like spiders and humanoid dinosaurs wandering around casually. And yet the stories Vaughan and Staples tell there are intimately human.
- God’s War – Kameron Hurley. Set on the desert planet of Umayma, only half-terraformed and powered by bug tech, God’s War is noirish and brutal and compelling.
- The Clockwork Rocket – Greg Egan. The universe of The Clockwork Rocket is fundamentally different to our own: we know this because Egan’s worked out all the physics, in occasionally excruciating detail. It’s a great exploration of the interaction of science and society.
- How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe – Charles Yu. Clever, witty and experimental, Charles Yu’s novel is set mostly (and claustrophobically) in a time machine, drifting in space.
- Ancillary Justice – Ann Leckie. I think the best thing about Leckie’s novel is just how alien she makes the Radchaai and their space empire.
- Jack Glass – Adam Roberts. In Roberts’ mashup of locked-room mystery and Golden Age science fiction, the Solar System has been colonised by people living in plastic bubbles in orbit around the sun, while only the rich have the luxury of living on Earth. It’s a superviolent, amoral world where revolution means massacre: sort of the science fictional equivalent of grimdark.
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams. Another truly bonkers universe, only this one is played for laughs. Like many of the great comic novels, it’s at heart intensely nihilistic and absurdist.
- Foundation – Isaac Asimov. In a far-future version of our universe, a great empire collapses and civilisation is saved by a man who’s perfected the science of predicting the future. It’s a concept novel, not a character-based one, but Asimov is a master of the genre.
(The theme for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)