February 17, 2019

My favour­ite & recom­men­ded books

I read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy books. Explor­ing fictional universes – with differ­ent rules and real­it­ies – not only helps me to relax, but also helps me to think about how our world could be differ­ent.

Stretch­ing my imagin­a­tion in unex­pec­ted direc­tions helps me when I’m devel­op­ing ideas, content and strategies. It’s creativ­ity fuel.

My favour­ite books are those which explore unique ideas or perspect­ives, and which changed my perspect­ive or think­ing as a result. Here are some of the high­lights (in no partic­u­lar order).


Chil­dren Of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Follows the evol­u­tion of a species of spider-like creatures to accel­er­ated sentience, as a result of acci­dental inter­fer­ence from the botched terra­form­ing attempt. Incred­ible and unique perspect­ive over multiple gener­a­tions as the species and indi­vidu­als mature to domin­ate their planet and become a space-faring race.


The Malazan Book Of The Fallen series by Steven Erikson

An enorm­ous fantasy epic, which brutally and unfor­giv­ingly omits any kind of expos­i­tion what­so­ever – but in exchange provides some of the most in-depth high-fantasy I’ve ever read. Devel­ops from small scale swords-and-sorcery into a race for ascen­sion to godhood, and culmin­ates in an inter­plan­et­ary magical war between inter­di­men­sional beings.


The Ember War by Richard Fox

A sci-fi war to protect the last of human­ity and an alli­ance of dwind­ling races from an over­whelm­ing incur­sion into our galaxy from tril­lions of seem­ingly invul­ner­able alien drones. Balances hack-and-slash, hand-to-hand marine combat with darker under­tones of what it means to be human, and how far we should comprom­ise those values, as a species, in order to survive.


The Game Is Life series by Terry Schott

What if everything we exper­i­ence is just part of a simu­la­tion? Starts off lightly, and gets very deep; with some of the most chal­len­ging ideas (and the biggest spoiler/​surprise) I’ve ever read in fiction. Discov­er­ing universes-within-universes and explor­ing ques­tions around multiple iden­tit­ies and the nature of ‘self’ is just the begin­ning.


The Shad­ows Of The Apt series by Adrian Tchaikovsky

A world popu­lated by city-states where the inhab­it­ants have skills, powers and capab­il­it­ies modelled after insect species; as an unfold­ing indus­trial revolu­tion chal­lenges the decline of magic. A story woven through­out a global conflict as the imper­i­al­istic wasps and their subjug­ated allies march across the world, thwarted only by the indus­tri­ous beetles and their frag­men­ted resist­ance – all under­pinned by a darker war between tech­no­logy and magic.


The Mist­born series by Brandon Sander­son

A fantasy epic with a unique magic system, where powers and abil­it­ies are gran­ted based on the inges­tion of differ­ent types of metals. Some excel­lent twists, and gets deeper and darker as side-stor­ies and the subsequent trilo­gies explore more of the universe(s).


The Painted Man series by Peter V. Brett

The only defence against the demons which rise from the earth each night to terror­ise human­ity are the magical wards which we inscribe and main­tain around our towns and villages. One man’s discov­ery and newfound abil­ity to fight back changes everything, leads to the gradual revel­a­tion of the inner work­ings of the demon soci­ety, and reveals a much deeper truth.


The Syncronicity War series by Diet­mar Wehr

Human­ity is losing an inter­stel­lar war, until we start receiv­ing visions from the future, which shift the course of events in our favour. It becomes appar­ent that, at some point in the future, both sides in the war develop the abil­ity to send messages back in time – requir­ing them to develop strategies to fight in both time and space, and across multiple real­it­ies.


The Night­side series by Simon R Green

A private eye oper­ates out of the Night­side; an altern­ate real­ity London created by Lilith as an immut­able space outside of the control and influ­ence of heaven and hell. Often cheesy and gimmicky, but jam-packed with fascin­at­ing ideas, concepts, and plot twists.


The Godslayer series by James Clem­ens

Set in a world where 100 immor­tal gods carved out and rule territ­or­ies in relat­ive stabil­ity until one of them is killed, in a plot to disrupt the status quo. Magic and science are powered by the bodily fluids of gods; blood, sweat and tears (and beyond) are harves­ted, distilled, and used in everything from medi­cine to industry.


The Black Prism series by Brent Weeks

Set in a world where magic and tech­no­logy is based on the abil­ity of indi­vidu­als to manip­u­late differ­ent colours of light, in the midst of an unfold­ing civil/​religious war. Has some slow moments, but the scope is an enorm­ous, and the twist in one of the later books completely resets your whole perspect­ive and lends a dark lens to the whole series.


The Crys­tal Singer books by Anne McCAf­frey

Crys­tal powers tech­no­logy, commu­nic­a­tion, travel, and soci­ety. It’s mined, uniquely, by ‘crys­tal sing­ers’ on the world of Bally­bran. Crys­tal singing is danger­ous, addict­ive, and erodes memory and person­al­ity. The heart-break­ing trilogy follows the life and exper­i­ence of Killashandra Ree as a crys­tal singer and addict.


The Farseer Trilogy (and follow­ing trilo­gies) by Robin Hobb

One of the richest, most immers­ive fantasy series I’ve ever read. Unashamed to admit that these books filled my heart with joy and moved me to tears more than once.


The Storm­light Archive by Brandon Sander­son

An enorm­ous fantasy epic set between warring nations, in a richly construc­ted world. Loads of depth to the magic system, reli­gion, and soci­et­ies. Fant­astic, compel­ling read­ing!

Thanks to @Mr_TP for remind­ing me about this one!


The Dark Intel­li­gence Trilogy by Neal Asher

Evil aliens, rogue AIs, space marines and body horror combine in an incred­ibly dark, addict­ive, and Love­craf­t­ian universe. Compel­ling read­ing, rich char­ac­ters, and writ­ing which deliv­ers addict­ive, can’t-put-down thrills.


The Gentle­men Bastards series by Scott Lynch

A surpris­ingly deep, rich and compel­ling yarn of thieves, con-men and continual one-upman­ship. Itin­er­ant and delight­ful, with spat­ter­ings of whodun­nit, swords, sorcery, polit­ics and more, all in perfect balance.


Honour­able mentions

  • The ‘Silo’ series, where a dysto­pian soci­ety subsists in an under­ground bunker, follow­ing an armaged­don event.
  • The ‘Bobi­verse’ series, where the simu­lated person­al­ity of a tech entre­pren­eur becomes a von Neumann probe.
  • The Moth Saga, where a world-stopped-spin­ning
  • To Your Scattered Bodies Go, where the whole of human­ity finds itself resur­rec­ted in small groups on an alien planet, along­side an infin­itely long wind­ing river.
  • Stranger in a Strange Land and Time Enough For Love – both fant­astic sci-fi clas­sics, but dated to the point where casual sexism and racism has dated and marrs the writ­ing.
  • The Vampyr­icon – A dark, Love­craf­t­ian vampire trilogy (some­what off-piste from my usual pref­er­ences, but unex­pec­tedly good), explor­ing a war through­out the Dark Ages between forces from beyond the vale of real­ity. A great balance of high concept fantasy, and sword-and-sorcery romp.
  • Dogs Of War – A fun explor­a­tion of what happens when bio-engin­eered, cyborg dog soldiers wonder if there might be more to life than killing.