Tad Williams offers up a modern view of the struggle between heaven and hell and in his version of the conflict things aren't quite as black and white as you would imagine. Angel Doloriel (Bobby Dollar) is unlike any angel you've ever read about before and his heavenly assignment is to be an advocate for the recently departed. He is responsible for pleading the case on behalf of the deceased's soul to ensure their final judgment results in a trip to heaven or no worse than minimal time in purgatory.
This is science fiction with an emphasis on science and it often feels like you are experiencing the events as they would unfold on the evening news. Andy Weir brings to life the character of astronaut Mark Watney in a very realistic way. Mark is an engineer, a botanist, and the junior member of the 6 person crew that forms the Ares 3 mission to Mars. Mark is a bit of a quirky character who keeps everything lose which is an important quality to have on a team when they are going to being living together in cramped quarters for an extended period of time. Of course, plans can abruptly change...
Take what you know about "urban fantasy" and throw it out the nearest window. Rae Seddon, nicknamed Sunshine, lives in a world that has always known magic, vampires, weres, and demons. Sunshine sucks you in with a detailed narrative that is almost stream of consciousness. Rae introduces us to the family coffee shop, its employees, and patrons in fun but very realistic detail. She's just an ordinary baker wishing she didn't have to get up at 4am...until she's taken by the darkest of Others, vampires.
If you like happy endings where the hero gets the girl or the hobbit returns home to sit by the fire then you need to look elsewhere. Joe Abercrombie is ruthless in the way he resolves his story arc and no character gets through this series unscathed no matter how important. Things go from bad to worse for most of the characters and even those who win big in the end are actually losers. This is a 3 book series that wraps itself up nicely despite the fact that Abercrombie has written additional books in this world with some of the same characters.
There is a lot to like about Redshirts and John Scalzi creates an interesting meta-universe that gives a backstory to all of the disposable extras the filled many an episode of Star Trek. The book pokes fun at a storied television franchise and goes from silly to absurd as the junior crew members do what they can to avoid going on away missions. These crew members are more savvy than the original redshirts and they fully understand their odds of returning from an away mission when they go down to a planet along with more important ship personnel. Seeing things from the perspective of an "extra" is somewhat unique and one inside joke after another keeps things entertaining.
At the crossroads of a gold rush western and science fiction you'll find Alex Lomax, private investigator. Most residents of Mars dream of finding Martian fossils, returning to Earth fabulously wealthy, and virtually immortal in a synthetic body. Alex is a wanted man back on Earth so he's stuck in the one grungy port city Mars has to offer when a dame (synthetic) walks into his office. We have now boarded the roller coaster ride of crosses and double-crosses that makes up Red Planet Blues.
The Furies of Calderon kicks off the Codex Alera series which is an excellent 6 book series written by Jim Butcher. The series follows the life of Tavi, a young boy with no fury-crafting skills, in a world where everyone has access to elemental furies and their magical abilities. The fantasy world of Alera is very interesting and the magic system hooks you in quickly by creating a diverse set of circumstances. Furies are elemental beings (Air, Earth, Fire, Metal, Water or Wood) capable of helping the person who summons them in various ways from small everyday tasks through fighting in combat. As examples, earth furies help lift heavy loads and wind furies help their summoner travel faster. Alerans start to manifest their personal furies as children and by the time they are teenagers they are capable of summoning one or more furies to aid them at will. A person's place in society is often dictated by the strength of their furies.
David Farland has created a world where rulers take advantage of a magical process by which they acquire one or more of the attributes of their subjects, such ..Show More »as strength, stamina, glamour, metabolism, grace, etc. The person that gives up such an endowment is known as a "dedicate" and they are now crippled in that capacity for the rest of their lives so that the receiver can be enhanced. Those who receive endowments are known as Runelords and they each approach the ethics of receiving endowments from different moral perspectives which adds to the richness of the characters. Some are ruthless in their thirst to improve themselves for their own purposes while others pledge their lives to making the world better on behalf of their dedicates.
Anyone who has ever played a character in an online game or assumed any kind of persona in a virtual world will identify with this book. Serious MMO players in particular understand the challenge of managing the demands of the real world versus a virtual world and know the perils of trying to live in both at the same time. The two have a way of bleeding together with each having the ability to negatively impact success in the other. Ernest Cline take this concept and creates a virtual utopia known as the OASIS and juxtaposes it against a dystopian society that is in near ruins. Many people live in poverty in the"stacks", which are trailer homes vertically stacked on top of each other, and the only grass they ever see is virtual grass when they are online.
The Riyria series has an interesting publishing history that is not very typical. Michael J Sullivan self-published 6 books in this series on his own and they were successful enough to land him a publishing deal with Orbit Books. These 6 books were then re-packaged into a trilogy containing 2 original books each and known as the Riyria Revelations. This is a great trilogy that has a strong story arc containing well written and entertaining characters and it all wraps itself up nicely at the end. What more could you want?