Welcome back to another curated special list of hidden finds that will dazzle and delight. This piece is a follow-up to the hidden gems of fantasy which you can read about here. If you find yourself tired of reading the great and famous minds of science fiction and are looking for something a little more on the DL and with some fresh takes, I have some books for you. Below is a list of science fiction series/books that have approximately 5000 ratings or fewer on Goodreads, but are absolutely worth your time. These books are criminally underrated and have a ton of great ideas and stories that deserve to see the light of day. Go check them out so you can also be smug annoying people to your friends and claim you had already read these before they got big.
The Lost Puzzler by Eyal Kless – I don’t usually go in for post-apocalyptic stories, but this one stands out among the pack. The world is a post-apocalyptic wasteland stuffed full of mysteries I want to solve. Puzzlers are people with a special talent to unlock mysterious puzzle box-like caches of technology that are scattered across the world. These boxes are hidden away in dangerous mazes and dungeons and contain treasures of the lost Tarkanian civilization. Diving into dungeons for lost technology became one of the major forms of progress in the new world, which made puzzlers extremely important as they are the only ones who can unlock the nodes. Reading it felt like the literary equivalent of solving a Rubik’s cube, and I liked that a lot. The book is grim and dark without being depressing and it knows how to keep you coming back to puzzle out its many questions.
Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja – If you are looking for an irreverent laugh, this might be the entry for you. The plot of Mechanical Failure revolves around a disgraced engineer being continually placed in fish-out-of-water scenarios. The book reminded me strongly of a whole slew of post-apocalypse/tragedy games where you try to figure out what happened to create the huge mess you are presented with; except instead of horror, Mechanical Failure reaches for humor. The book is quite funny, with a sense of humor along the lines of the classic Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. The characters are constantly being placed in humorous paradoxes with terrible outcomes. In addition, the book has no problem making fun of several sci-fi tropes and can be refreshingly original in many places. While the mystery of what is happening in the book is fairly obvious, the real power of the comedy comes from the hilarious detective work the characters produce as they discover it for themselves. The characters are all original, relatable, and interesting, and the prose was simple and clean. The book is very easy to read and I found myself losing track of time as I flew through it.
How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse by K. Eason – Thorne is a fantasy and science fiction hybrid, one of my favorite things to stumble upon, and a genre that is often overlooked. It’s about a fairy princess that eschews being rescued in order to save her family’s galactic empire. Thorne leans more towards science fiction, with the fantasy sprinkled in for some magic realism…in space. The formula works well for the book as the magic always feels like a subtle catalyst that keeps the plot moving and keeps things interesting without overstaying its welcome or stifling character achievement. Its pacing, storytelling, tone, and genre-blending are all uneven, but they serve to enhance the power of the narrative instead of detracting from it. Rory is a relatable and endearing protagonist that you would need a heart of stone not to like.
A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe by Alex White – If I had to describe this book in an elevator pitch, I would say it is Firefly meets Fast and Furious meets National Treasure. Building off that last sentence, Big Ship is a story about an unlikely and eclectic spaceship crew with a penchant for danger and huge ridiculous vehicle stunts, on the hunt for historical treasures. They are searching for a lost ship worth more money than a person can spend. The book just radiates energy and action. It feels like being locked into a cocaine-fueled nitro boost in a drag race. It has this blockbuster energy that paints the story set-pieces as these vivid events you can picture with perfect clarity and I cannot wait for it to be picked up for a visual medium. Grab yourself a copy if you want to be able to say you read it before it got big.
The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman – The Half-Made World is a book that is fundamentally about order and chaos. Taking place in a world reminiscent of the American West that is quite literally only half-finished, we are introduced to a conflict between the Line and the Gun – representatives of order and chaos. These two forces are embodied by demonic spirits who use human emotions to enslave operatives to their service. The Line are housed in great Engines that push forward the ideas of industry and progress. They build monumental rail lines that cover the West, flattening anything in their path in order to build orderly stations and factories. The Guns prefer a more personal anarchy-driven approach and like to inhabit the weapons (guns) of their bearers, whispering into their ears like a warlock’s patron. They shape their operatives into killing machines, with both regenerative powers and speeds faster than the eye can follow. Between these two awful sides are the innocent people of the world that get caught in the crossfire as the two sides fight for dominance. The Half-Made World is a bombastic ride from start to finish that uses hyperbole and intensity to add new life into an age-old conflict. If you are looking for something loud and gritty, look no further.
Noumenon by Marina J. Lostetter – German philosopher Immanuel Kant explains the “noumenon” as a thing in itself or something that exists beyond the realm of human experience, whereas a phenomenon is something that can be explored and related to through our senses and emotions. Marina Lostetter’s Noumenon is a novel as intricate and thought-provoking as the idea from which it draws its title. From the very first chapter, she plays with the reader’s sense of right and wrong. The characters especially help to sell the ideas at play in the book. They feel incredibly human. Their lamentations and inner thoughts felt relatable as they opened up to themselves or others around them. Every character feels imbued with the author’s own experiences of sadness, shock, anger, ambition, hopelessness, and ultimately with her curiosity. It’s a deeply moving book that more people should give the time of day, and it’s a definite hidden gem.
Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O’Keefe – Reading Velocity Weapon is joy synthesized with breakneck thrills, and it’s a drug that does not lose its potency upon repeated use. The story takes place in the far future of humanity, centered on a single star system (called Ada) that seems to reside on the borders of a greater human civilization. It has a single jump gate that leads to a wider universe populated by humanity, and two planets that are competing for control of the gate. Our narrative revolves around two siblings that are central to the conflict but are separated in time by thousands of years due to an accident. The story is about how the past informs the present, and how these two individuals can find a way to change the timeline to make a better future for everyone. The book is a non-stop roller coaster that just never ends. O’Keefe slams the throttle to ludicrous speed from the opening chapter and does not let up. I found myself constantly amazed with O’Keefe’s ability to weave back and forth between the two stories and hanging on the edge of my seat to see how they came together. I am confident that this book has what it takes to pull you in and never let you go, check it out.