Hidden Gems Of Science Fiction That You Should Be Reading

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.

Velocity Weapon — Shooting for the Stars

Friends, folks, however you consider yourselves, I have to admit a wrongdoing of untold selfish proportions. I have read this book twice, once upon its release, once quite recently, and I have yet to praise it’s glory to you. However, with Megan O’Keefe wrapping up her trilogy later this year, I figured I’d revisit the saga for a full read through, and ameliorate my sins. Reading Velocity Weapon is joy synthesized with breakneck thrills, and it’s a drug that does not lose its potency upon repeated use. Its twists and turns still came out blasters a’blazing, even the ones I remembered. So I’m here to tell you, if you missed Velocity Weapon by Megan O’Keefe, you should take another pass at the Ada system and marvel at its fast-paced beauty.

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. The planet Ada Prime is ruled by the Keepers, and its neighboring planet, Icarion, is signalling it will fight for greater access to the jump gate heavily regulated by the Primes. Enter the Greeve siblings, Biran and Sanda. Sanda is a member of Ada Prime’s spaceborn navy, while Biran is a newly inducted member of the Keepers. However, Sanda has woken up inside an enemy warship, after spending 230 years in cryo sleep. There is not a single human soul on board, leaving the ship’s AI, Bero (shortened from The Light of Berossus), to explain the situation to her. Ada Prime (Sanda’s world) was destroyed alongside Icarion in the latter’s pursuit for greater Autonomy. Unfortunately, with that knowledge comes Bero’s own complicity in the act, as he is the weapon Icarion used. Meanwhile, 230 years in the past, Biran is the new Speaker for the Keepers. His goal is to maintain a sense of peace and control of the situation after discovering his sister may have been killed in a warning shot from Icarion. How does Sanda cope with the loss, and how can she survive when everything she has ever known has been wiped out? What can Biran do in the face of impending doom, unbeknownst to him, as the two planets hurtle towards oblivion?

Velocity Weapon 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 stories. She consistently ramps the tension up in both, while having them interact over the vast timeline. There is no direct interaction, but Sanda slowly coming to the realization that her entire life is gone, and those she loved destroyed, ramps up the ever present threat in Biran’s story. They are both speeding towards the collision, and even after several reveals, O’Keefe never lets up on the gas, finding ways to accelerate the narrative even more. It’s one rip-roaring hell of a good time.

The characters are a hoot and a half. Sanda doesn’t take shit from anyone, even from the ship Bero. If there is a problem, she puts her head down and works to solve it, even when it seems impossible. She is pure grit and action, pushing forward through her muddy circumstances with unwavering tenacity. She often puts herself in harm’s way, even when odds are clearly stacked against her. On the other hand, Biran is more like a bull in a china shop with a law degree who convinces the shop owner it was their fault for letting him in. He has moments where he wreaks havoc unwittingly because he feels it’s the best choice in his heart. Once he sees the trap he’s gotten himself into, though, he’s really good at turning the tables and making it work for him. Over time, he becomes more of a smooth operator, and it’s a pure joy to watch. Bero is a delight, and feels like an overpowered computer that is just growing as a personality. The computer exhibits the calculating nature and instant access to information while being jumbled up with emotional control of a child. Bero’s relationship with Sanda is a treat, and O’Keefe’s ability to write banter truly shines here.

The world presented within Velocity Weapon is also astoundingly realized, especially given the lightning pace that characterizes the book. It is a relatively small story, taking place within a single system that feels very much on the outskirts of a vast network of human colonies. There definitely seems to be a reason that the information dial is set to low for the majority of the characters, and O’Keefe sells it. Some people might find that certain sections of the book feel conveniently written, giving context to a mystery that isn’t present till later in the story, but I personally ate it up. It felt like following gumdrops into the dark forest that is clearly also on fire. O’Keefe littered the pages with these small mysteries nudging the reader forward, forcing me to interrogate the world and the character’s roles within it. It helps that O’Keefe leaves one with the knowledge to understand some things, but the well is much deeper than one can even imagine.

I only have two miniscule complaints about the book that stood out to me more on my second reading. The first is that sometimes the last quarter felt exhausting. O’Keefe shifts the plot into lightspeed, and twists and turns fly at you like asteroids in a Star Wars movie. It’s a rollicking good time that forces you to finish the book, but it’s also a lot of information to handle. I’m very glad I went for the re-read in preparation for the next two books. Second, there is a third POV character involving  a heist that is mostly disconnected from the back and forth between Sanda and Biran. It’s not that it was uninteresting, it just occasionally breaks the flow of the story. When it worked well, it was a good break, other times it just felt like it got in the way. It’s a great set up for the following books, but right now it feels a tad clunky.

Velocity Weapon ranks up there with one of the most aptly named science fiction books I’ve ever read. It blasts off with an extreme amount of force, and accelerates into near oblivion by the end. The first time I read it, I was ecstatic about it, and that really didn’t change on the second go around. It packs a punch and leaves one wanting more from the world and its characters. It’s hard to cover so much good that happens in a single book, but O’Keefe manages to make almost every aspect of the book tantalizing. However, now that I’ve refreshed myself on the details, I’m ready to dive into Chaos Vector just in time for the end of the trilogy later this year. If you’re looking for a fun, fast paced, high octane science fiction story, then Velocity Weapon is the perfect ignition.

Rating: Velocity Weapon 8.5/10
-Alex