It’s back-to-school time again, colder weather is coming, and the kids will soon be spending more time inside. So, we dug around (consulted my best friend and a professional YA librarian), and asked for some recommends for our young adult readers.
Check out the hot new SF titles below and see if one of these books will lure the kids from their gaming consoles and set them off on an adventure to outer space!
It’s very easy to combine science fiction with horror. Whether you’re working with sentient artificial intelligence that’s hell-bent on control, or if you’ve got some weird, terrifying landscape that messes with the character’s minds, there’s always some kind of sci-fi fright to be had.
But, perhaps one of the most terrifying things that authors can do with science fiction is include bugs. Spiders, wasps, slugs–you name it! Creepy crawlies scare the bejeezus out of millions of people, so it’s always been a perfect topic for sci-fi horror stories.
We’ve collected some of the zanier sci fi books with insects in them, so it’s up to you if you want to pick them up to read before bed, or put them on the DON’T EVER READ list.
The Bees by Laline Paull
This is one of the more interesting, conceptual books on this list. Laline Paull crafts a sci-fi microcosm of a bee hive, where the main character is a worker bee. That’s right, Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, a drone responsible for cleaning up the walkways of the hive.
But, as her role starts to change, Flora 717 finds herself getting closer and closer to the Queen, and closer to uncovering dangerous hive secrets.
Paull’s book reads kind of like a story from Aliya Whiteley, but the unique take on the phrase “hive mind” makes this a fresh, interesting book. Not the conventional creepy crawlies you might have been expecting, but still worthy of a spot on this list.
Petal Storm by Paul Kidd
It’s quite possible that Laline Paull’s The Bees was a tip of the hat to Paul Kidd’s Petal Storm. While the hive metaphor isn’t as fleshed out, there’s still a distinct similarity in Petal Storm.
In this novel, the ancient civilization of The Hive is stumbling. They’re a warrior-class of bee-like humanoids, but their aging Queen will soon pass. Most of the novel revolves around this conflict, with court intrigue, skyborne battles, and assassinations. It’s a very inventive story, but it might not be everyone’s cup of tea.
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
We can’t have a list of books with creepy crawlies without including this classic. This book was one of the first jaunts into the insect-humanoid genre (is that a genre?). It’s been a staple of English literature classes across the world for years, and it’s profoundly an early work of science fiction.
If you haven’t read The Metamorphosis, you should! It’s a fast read, with an engaging plot. The main character, Gregor Samsa, awakens one morning to find himself transformed into a giant insect, unable to communicate with his family. All sorts of madness ensues, and it’s a lesson in compassion if I’ve ever seen one.
Texas Chainsaw Mantis by Kevin Strange
This one had to be on the list simply because it’s so weird. Kevin Strange is known for writing, well, strange fiction.
Texas Chainsaw Mantis is a parody of the popular horror film, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But, instead of people, the characters are all praying mantises. And if you know anything about the praying mantis, it’s that the females rip off the males’ heads after they are done mating with them.
The main character of this story is a mantis named Matthew, whose wife almost bites his head off and leaves him for dead. But Matthew brings himself out of the garden shed with his trusty chainsaw, intent on destruction.
It’s a bizarre premise, but a fun, quick read.
Slugs by Shaun Hutson
If you’ve ever seen the 1990 movie Arachnaphobia, then Slugs will be familiar. Published in 1982, Slugs follows a classic horror plot, with dozens of characters in a small town having different harrowing experiences with carnivorous slugs.
It takes the main character, Mike Brady, a good long time to figure out that these dangerous slugs are not only eating people, but poisoning them too. Slugs is a classic 80s horror novel, and definitely a throwback.
With the height of summer right around the corner, it’s time to pad out your reading list for the weekend beach trips and lazy backyard afternoons.
Thankfully, there’s no lack of new sci fi books coming out this summer, so you’ll have plenty to keep you busy.
The City Inside by Samit Basu – June 7th
In near future Delhi, Joey works as a Reality Controller for one of the city’s biggest reality stars. Rudra lives on the other end of the spectrum, in an impoverished neighborhood, estranged from his family.
When Joey offers Rudra a job, they’re both thrust into a world of complex loyalties, capitalism, and toxic relationships.
Lavie Tidhar, a World Fantasy Award winner, says, “The City Inside is a triumphant exploration of near-future India that is as compelling as it is urgent. Don’t miss this one.”
The Splendid City by Karen Heuler – June 14th
Eleanor lives in the state of Liberty, which is not as free as it might sound. When a witch disappears from a local coven, Eleanor believes it could be linked to the water shortage in Liberty.
Along with her ex-co-worker-turned-cat Stan, Eleanor embarks on a quest to get to the bottom of Liberty’s dark secrets.
“The dialogue is clever and the satire spot-on. The social commentary hits the nail on the head.”
Drunk on All Your Strange New Words by Eddie Robson – June 28th
Lydia works as a translator for an alien ambassador to Earth, putting into words his thoughts and feelings. But, as tragedy strikes, Lydia is thrown into an intergalactic incident with no end in sight. She has to muster her strength and use her skills to prove her innocence.
“Drunk on all Your Strange New Words is a twisted murder investigation through a post-contact future full of world-building in fascinating detail.” ―Django Wexler
The Moonday Letters by Emmi Itäranta – July 5th
Sol has gone missing, and their wife Lumi must start the search. As she works her way closer to Sol, she uncovers the secrets of eco-activists and Sol’s past. Lumi travels from the colonies of Mars to the devastated Earth in search of Sol.
This book is part epistolary mystery, part eco-thriller.
“Where Itäranta shines is in her understated but compelling characters.” – Red Star Review, Publishers Weekly
Upgrade by Blake Crouch – July 12th
Crouch is well on his way to becoming the next William Gibson, and Upgrade is right in line with that trajectory.
This new novel is about Logan Ramsay, a wayward science experiment who may be the only person who can set the world straight.
Andy Weir said about the book “Walks the fine line between page-turning thriller and smart sci-fi. Another killer read from Blake.”
The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – July 19th
Carlota is the only daughter of Doctor Moreau, and she lives side-by-side with his hybrid experiments. Her whole world is shaken up when the son of her father’s benefactor comes to their estate.
This book is a historical novel, a romance, and a science fiction novel.
Booklist says this book, “As alluring as it is unsettling, filled with action romance, and monsters . . . Readers will fall into this tale immediately, enchanted.”
Just Like Home by Sarah Gailey – July 19th
Gailey’s back at it with another gothic horror novel, this time focusing on Vera, a young girl returning to a home that houses a serial killer.
A “parasitic artist” resides at Vera’s house now, and Vera’s not sure whether or not he’s the one leaving messages in her father’s hand writing.
“Gailey’s newest gothic novel is painfully suspenseful and richly dark, their rushing, intoxicating writing in peak form. Delightfully creepy and heartbreakingly tragic, Just Like Home is equal parts raw terror of a dark childhood bedroom, creeping revelations of a true-crime podcast, and searing hurt of resentment within a family. It’s a must-read for all gothic horror fans.” ―Booklist, starred review
Eversion by Alastair Reynolds – August 2nd
Dr. Silas Coade, a physician for an exploratory space voyage, realizes that he alone can save the crew from a dangerous fate. A fate that had been foretolds since the 1800s, in an exploration that Coade was also a part of.
This book bends the fabric of time and space with a dark twist.
“Pirates in space, full of peril and high-jinks… This is a novel that’s elegantly plotted, full of surprises and, as first time round, rip-roaring fun.” – SFX Magazine
The Sleepless by Victor Manibo – August 23rd
Jamie Vega works as a journalist until his boss mysteriously dies during a corporate merger. Vega’s the last person to have seen his boss, but can’t quite remember it.
He becomes subject of a murder investigation and Vega dives deeper into what it means to be Sleepless, coming toe-to-toe with brutal crime organizations and corporate lawyers.
“The Sleepless is just the beginning; Victor Manibo is an author to keep your eye on.” —Lara Elena Donnelly, author of The Amberlough Dossier and Base Notes
Babel by R.F. Kuang – August 23rd
Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution is about the balance of power and the promise of revolution.
A young Chinese boy, Robert Swift, is raised in England and prepared to attend the Royal Institute of Translation. This school is dedicated to imperial expansion, and uses magic to help reach the English agenda. Rebecca Roanhorse, author of Black Sun, says “R. F. Kuang has written a masterpiece.”
Pyromancy, as it was originally described, is the act of divining the future by looking at flames. Similar to other methods of divination that date back to ancient Greece, like knissomancy (using incense smoke) or osteomancy (using arrangements of bones).
But, in today’s SFF scene, pyromancy often refers to the ability to control fire, and pyromancy appears in countless sword-and-sorcery novels.
We’ve compiled a short list of some of the most prominent books that involve fire magic!
Pyromancer by Don Callander
While it’s a bit on the nose, Pyromancer is, in fact, about fire magic. As the first book of Callander’s Mancer series, the book follows Douglas Brightglade as he comes to master his abilities over fire. Along his journey, Brightglade makes many friends, animal and human, who help him take on the Ice King.
This story has often been described as simple, with a fairly basic plot of good against evil, but it’s a quick, fun read for anyone that loves old sword and sorcery fiction.
This classic fire vs. ice story was first published in 1992 by Ace, and reprinted again fairly recently. If you’re looking to read this story, I suggest finding an older printing, because the new edition is full of typographical errors.
Beyond Redemption by Michael R. Fletcher
While this book sparked some controversy over it’s use of mental health issues as fundaments of magical power, it does feature pyromancy.
In Fletcher’s world, there are two kinds of people: the “normal”, sane people, and the Geisteskranken, which translates to The Insane from German. Within the second group, there are various different people who gain power from their relative insanity. The Hassebrands in particular, are adept at fire magic.
This grimdark SFF book follows a group of murderers as they attempt to capture and kill a young boy Morgen, who they believe will become a new god. This book isn’t for the faint of heart, as Fletcher goes into very dark territory. If you’re looking for some wicked fire magic, this book is for you, but make sure you read something more lighthearted—like Pyromancer—after you finish it.
The Castes and the OutCastes by David Ashura
This trilogy consists of A Warrior’s Path, A Warrior’s Knowledge, and A Warrior’s Penance. The first book won the 2015 Beverly Hills Book Award for fantasy, and was a finalist for multiple other awards.
In this series, which is loosely based on Indian mythology, there are the castes, and the outcastes. The main character, Rukh Shektan, is born into the Caste Kumma, and becomes a renowned warrior, skilled with both fire magic and the blade.
The characters are well-developed, and the world presents enough similarities to traditional fantasy books that it feels familiar, but has aspects of political intrigue, deception, and action that make it unique.
This sword-and-sorcery series has been likened to The Wheel of Time, the works of Zelazney, and other big-name fantasy series.
The Fire Mages by Pauline M. Ross
Even thought The Fire Mages is part of the Brightmoon series, it can be read as a standalone book. The story follows Kyra as she navigates a world of magic and deception. Magic in this world requires specific symbology written on magic paper, with very few magicians capable of using their powers without these things.
As such, fire magic is pretty dangerous, seeing as how the mode for power is flammable paper.
The book reminds me of a mix between The Name of the Wind (thinking about Kvothe’s struggle with money and school) and The Armored Saint by Myke Cole.
It’s a fun ride, and the characters are well-thought out and the world is full of rich details. Definitely worth a read if you’re a fan of traditional fantasy magic.
Firestarter by Stephen King
Moving out of the realm of fantastical magic-wielders, Firestarter imagines a world where experimental drug trials leave some individuals with psychic abilities. The main character, Charlie McGee, has a very strong pyrokinetic ability, which she often uses to protect her and her father from secret government agents who are hunting them down.
Firestarter is a sci-fi horror story, typical of King’s style as a writer. The book was first published in 1980, and was adapted as a film in 1984. The reboot of the film comes out later this year, starring Zac Efron as Charlie’s father, Andy, and Ryan Kiera Armstrong as Charlie.
If you like stories about powered people hunted down by shadow organizations, then Firestarter is a must read.
If you liked this post, consider checking out some of our other Top 5 book lists!
For a long time, the fantasy genre was dominated by stories about tall stone castles, misty forests, and knights in medieval armor. This intense focus on the medieval European landscape kind of defined fantasy as a genre. Just saying the word “fantasy” inspires thoughts of dragons, knights, and maidens in despair.
But there are plenty of other kinds of fantasy out there that don’t take such heavy inspiration from the Middle Ages. One of the most interesting fantasy genres is desert fantasy. Authors of desert fantasy replace the mountains and ancient forests with vast seas of sand and massive trade-center cities.
Here are the top 5 desert fantasy books that feature sandy dunes, complex cities, and a fresh take on the fantasy genre.
Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
When this book first came out in 2012, it was a big hit. It was one of the most popular desert fantasy books by far, and it still stands as a great example of non-European fantasy.
But it was planned as a series—The Crescent Moon Kingdoms. But it’s been 10 years and we haven’t seen a second book released. It has a title and a description on Goodreads, but no official news about its publication date.
The story follows a number of interesting characters, including a ghul hunter, a holy warrior, and a shapeshifter. All the characters are investigating a series of murders that are all connected, and when they end up banding together, they realize there’s a plot much bigger than anyone realized. In the kingdom of Dhamsawaat, the Falcon Prince is brewing up a revolution, and it’s up to the ragtag band to stop him.
We Hunt the Flame is part of the Sands of Arawiya series, and is succeeded by the book, We Free the Stars. This book was published in 2019 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. The kingdom of Arawiya was inspired by ancient Arabia,
The story follows Zafira, a hunter of rare artifacts. She disguises herself as a man to avoid scrutiny as she acts as a champion for her people. When she sets out to find a precious artifact that can heal her people, the Prince of Death, right hand of the sultan, is put onto her trail. During the course of their hunt, the two champions realize that something much bigger is stirring in the world, something neither of them can control.
We Hunt the Flame is often considered a young adult series, but it stands on the line between adult fantasy and young adult desert fantasy.
The Eyes of the Tamburah by Maria V. Snyder
The Eyes of the Tamburah is the first book in the Archives of the Invisible Sword series, and is often considered a young adult novel. The book was published in 2019, so it’s a fairly new addition to the desert fantasy genre.
The story follows Shyla, an 18-year-old outcast. Her sun-colored eyes maker her a sun-kissed, a child marked by the Sun Goddess as a sacrifice. But instead of meeting a gruesome death, Shyla was raised by monks.
Soon after leaving the monks, Shyla ventures into the underground desert city of Zirdai and starts working as a kind of Tomb-Raider-esque archaeologist. When a precious religious artifact is stolen, Shyla is blackmailed into finding it, but ends up getting caught in the middle of a deadly turf war.
Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu
As the first book in The Song of Shattered Sands series, Twelve Kings in Sharakhai sets up the whole desert environment. From the tallest spire of the desert city’s towers to the gnarled, magical trees that pepper the windswept plains outside the city walls.
In this book, we meet Ceda, a pit fighter and a rogue, trying to unravel the mysteries in her late mother’s diary. Little does she know; she holds the secrets that the Twelve Kings tried to purge from existence. Finding foes at almost every turn, Ceda must navigate the dark streets of Sharakhai to finish what her mother started and free the people of the desert from the kings’ tyranny.
This book is one of my favorites, and it has such rich lore and backstory. Many of the elements are inspired by Arabic folklore, specifically Egyptian. The Song of Shattered Sands includes 6 full-length novels, a prequel novella, and a handful of other novellas/short stories.
The Blue Sword is the oldest book on this list, having been first published in 1982. The book is first of the Damar series, which includes four other books.
The Blue Sword takes place in the desert land populated by Homelanders and Hillfolk. The protagonist, Angharad “Harry” Crewe, is captured by the Hillfolk King and taken deep into the desert. Harry is then trained to be a master warrior, and develops a keen sense of respect for the Hillfolk. As Northern invaders threaten their sovereignty, Harry must be the bridge that brings the Homelanders and the Hillfolk together.
There are plenty of other desert fantasy books out there that we didn’t mention, and the genre is still growing! If you have a favorite book that wasn’t mentioned here, feel free to leave a comment below!
And if you liked this blog, consider checking out some of our other content:
It’s been a while since we discussed any Top 5 Sci Fi Books on Signals from the Edge, so I figured it’s high-time we do.
I wanted to take a look at some of the weirdest landscapes throughout science fiction. These include neutron stars, landscape structures dictated by vocal ques, and sentient slime beings in deep towers.
Here are the top five sci fi books with weird landscapes!
Know of a weirder book? Leave a comment below to tell us about it!
In this novel, we have two different weird landscapes that are connected to one another. We have the Earth as we know it (well, kind of), and we have the planet Qita, which has been conquered by Earth.
Both of these landscapes are connected, to the point where what happens on Qita, happens on Earth. At one point in the novel, Earth’s land starts to turn to mud, and then slime, and then a flood sweeps all of the inhabitants up into a central location—the Skyward Inn. But not only is the land itself turning to sludge, so are the people.
Like we said, everything is connected, the planets, the people, the land. Skyward Inn is certainly a slow-burner, but it’s one of the most disturbing sci fi books I’ve read.
The Helliconia Trilogy by Brian Aldiss
As far as weird landscapes go, Brian Aldiss certainly hit the nail on the head with his Helliconia Trilogy. Published in between 1982 and 1985, Helliconia Spring, Summer, and Winter all take place on the planet of Helliconia, an Earth-like planet in the Batalix-Freyr system.
The series doesn’t really follow a certain main character because the timeline spans across thousands of years. Instead, the books focus on the evolution of civilization on Helliconia, a planet that’s similar to Earth enough to support life, but different enough to make it incredibly difficult.
For example, seasons on Helliconia last for hundreds of years, with winters being equivalent to Earth’s Ice Age, and summers being scorching hot. Accompanying the seasonal differences are some new diseases, such as bone fever and fat death, both of which are viral eating disorders.
All-in-all, the Helliconia Trilogy isn’t nearly as weird as Skyward Inn, but it certainly gives a lot more backstory and scientific information about life on this non-Earth planet to make it bizarre.
Dragon’s Egg by Robert L. Forward
Dragon’s Egg is one of those old sci fi novels that stands out because of its weird premise. Published in 1980 by Ballantine Books, Dragon’s Egg focuses on the development of the Cheela society, a group of incredibly tiny people that live on the surface of a neutron star.
If that’s not a weird landscape, I don’t know what is! The whole environment of the novel is other-worldly. The Cheela inhabit the neutron star, as mentioned, and when humans eventually show up to explore their home, the rapidly out-develop the humans in terms of technology.
Time on the Dragon’s Egg, as the neutron star is called, moves much more quickly for the Cheela, where 30 human seconds is one Cheela year.
This book is a pretty fun read if you can get over the dense, scientific worldbuilding.
Amatka by Karin Tidbeck
There are a few things that make the landscape of Amatka weird. First, it’s just eerie. Lakes freeze and thaw without the interaction of weather, and most of the population live on underground mushroom farms.
But what really makes the landscape of this novel weird are the rules around it. Everything in the colony of Amatka must be named vocally, from farm machinery to buildings in town, else they become “gloop”.
And stuff really starts to kick off when more and more things start turning to sludge, and the conspiracies that government has been indoctrinating their people with poke through the surface.
Amatka was originally published in Sweden in 2012, and was translated to English in 2017. It stands as one of the most politically-charged and weird sci fi pieces out there to date.
Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
Let’s be honest, no list of weird science fiction worlds would be complete without something by Jeff VanderMeer. He’s often regarded as one of the most prolific writers in the New Weird movement, where his fiction continuously crosses back and forth over the horror, science fiction, and fantasy borders.
The landscape of Area X in the novel is one of the weirdest places that I’ve encountered in my reading of science fiction. The contrast between the Lighthouse and the Tower, diametrically opposed pinnacles, set an unsettling vibe over the whole book. Not to mention that dolphins with human eyes, moss-covered human statues, sentient slimes, and creatures molting human skin.
Annihilation is as weird as it is profound, and it’s one of the most thoughtful books I’ve read in a while.
As someone who has a keen appreciation of old art, I find that many of today’s sci fi book covers lack a certain luster. In the course of forty or fifty years, we’ve moved away from book covers of full illustrations, painstakingly painted by hands by leading artists in the genre. Today, most sci fi book covers have an abstract quality that doesn’t say much about the book.
I know the adage, of course: “Don’t judge a book by its cover!” And yeah, for the most part that’s true. But as attention spans decrease and the flashy effects of TV and video games influence our tastes in science fiction art, book covers had to adapt to draw in new readers. Where there were once detailed oil paintings, there are now abstract, digital designs.
In this article, I want to showcase some of the classic sci fi book covers that helped defined the genre and influenced not just future art, but writing as well.
Darrell K. Sweet’s Red Planet by Robert A. Heinlein
Darrell K. Sweet is a big name when it comes to sci fi and fantasy illustration. He’s best known for his fantasy book covers for The Wheel of Time, The Lord of the Rings, and The Shannara Chronicles.
His grasp of fantasy concepts is really quite spectacular. As a kid, rummaging through library book sales and second-hand bookstore shelves, his art stuck out to me as an embodiment of the books themselves. His portrayals of Rand al’Thor, Gandalf, and the Eagles inspired me to not only read those books, but to explore his art as well.
Aside from fantasy masterpieces, Sweet was also known for his covers of Heinlein novels. While simple, the cover for the 1981 edition of Red Planet perfectly embodies the sci fi feel of Mars, while not being so weird it’s inaccessible.
The image of a massive Martian monster striding through a marsh of big frond leaves is serene, isn’t it?
Frank Frazetta’s The Moon Trilogy by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Frank Frazetta has a very specific style, and he’s gained renown for his work on Conan and Tarzan novels. He pits the classic, muscular heroes against hideous monsters with malicious eyes and sharp teeth.
He did a set of covers for Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Moon Trilogy, which was originally serialized in Argosy magazine from 1923 to 1925. Later, the series was reprinted in a few different editions, and Franzetta did the cover art for the 1978 reprint.
The art for The Moon Men, specifically, gives me a Hercules vibe, crossed with the scene from Star Wars where Luke is facing off against the Rankor. Frazetta does a great job of portraying conflict, and as I looked into more of his work, he has a keen sense of contrast. A lot of his paintings and classic sci fi book covers have a clear delineation from dark to light, making them super interesting.
Chris Foss’ Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov
The Foundation series is one of Asimov’s best works, and it was recently adapted for television. But, before it came to Apple TV, it had a lot of different imagery associated with it.
The series has been reprinted multiple times, but the edition that sticks out to me is the 1976 reprint with covers by Chris Foss.
Foss’ paintings usually focus on mechanical things, like spaceships, vehicles, or robots. He’s done designs from the Dune universe, as well as other military science fiction books.
Perhaps the most intriguing part about his illustrations for the 1976 Foundation books is the simplicity of them. The covers place an immense focus on the space ships, which perfectly reflect light and seem almost like a photograph. And the background is almost pure blue, presenting an interesting contrast between the hard light of the ships in the foreground.
Bruce Pennington’s Out of their Minds by Clifford D. Simak
Bruce Pennington is one of those sci fi illustrators that took their game to the next level. He’s worked on over 200 book covers for big-name writers, including Asimov, Heinlein, Aldiss, and Herbert.
However, the classic sci fi book cover that stuck out to me was for the 1973 edition of Clifford D. Simak’s Out of Their Minds.
Now, I’ve never read this book before, but I really want to. The cover Pennington did is fantastic. It’s weird, bright, and unforgettable. It features a huge tower/tree that resembles a brain, set against a barren landscape. It’s eerie. The truck is made of vertebra, and the rocks on the ground resemble molars.
I think this is a great example of how science fiction book covers can entice readers to pick up the book and give it a shot. All the other editions of Simak’s novel don’t stand out to me, but Pennington’s sparks a keen interest in what inspired the art.
At the end of the day, all I wanted to do with this article was talk about some vintage sci fi book covers that stand out more than some modern book covers ever could. I think the golden age of science fiction had a lot of problems – racism, sexism, imperialism, etc.—but it certainly had fantastic art.
What are some classic sci fi book covers that your really love? Let us know in the comments below!
A topic we haven’t delved into very much on Signals is video games. Everyone has their own preference for what kind of video games they enjoy playing. Some people, myself included, love first person shooter games because they can get right into the action.
But, there’s something to be said about laid-back, simple video games that you can sit back and play with a cup of hot chocolate.
And there are certainly many cool indie games out there that fit the bill as relaxing while still being entertaining.
Best Indie Games to Chill Out With
When I’m looking for a new video game that I can play on a weekend morning or Friday evening after work, I tend to deviate toward games without a plot or story involved. As such, these games need refined gameplay and a simple premise to hold up their end of the deal.
Landscape-building and town-building games are particularly special, and happen to be some of the best indie video games out there.
There are a couple that made this list, which is as follows:
Luna’s Fishing Garden
Dorfromantik by Toukana Interactive
This is a delightful little game based around fitting hexagonal tiles together to form a vast landscape.
In German, Dorfromantik means “Village Romanticization”, and the game certainly stays true to that theme. Your goal is to create the most expansive landscape possible, connecting fields, forests, villages, rivers, and railways.
You’ll never play two similar games of Dorfromantik. All the tiles are randomly generated, so you can start fresh every game.
This game isn’t without its goals, but they are simple. Certain tiles have challenges associated with them, like pairing up 50 houses in one cluster. There’s a strategy element to it, but nothing overly complex.
Players are rewarded for completing challenges with more tiles to keep the game going. I find myself playing this game for hours at a time, completing quests and aiming for a high score.
Dorfromantik is a must for anyone looking for a cool indie game about building countryside vistas.
Islanders by GrizzlyGames
Islanders is similar to Dorfromantik, but instead of tiles, players are given buildings and farm pieces to place on a randomly generated island.
All the islands are different, and in my five hours of playing it, I don’t think I’ve seen the same island twice.
The goal is to rack up points by placing buildings and farms close to each other. The more points you have, the more buildings you can unlock.
Once you’ve completed fleshing out one island, a new island will appear and you can build that one up from scratch too.
Unlike Dorfromantik, there aren’t any specific quests to complete. The goal is to complete as many islands until you can’t unlock any new buildings.
Islanders is fun, pithy, and something I play after a stressful day.
Gris by Nomada Studio
Gris deviates from the theme a bit because it does have a story. Well, a bit of a story. There isn’t any dialogue, and the minimal plot advances every time the player completes a level.
What I love about this game is its dedication to color. Each time you unlock a new level, the color scheme changes to reflect the character’s emotions.
Gris is short, I think I finished it in about 5 hours. But it’s one of those games you can play again and again, and you can go back after you’ve finished to find all the little trinkets hidden across the map.
Gris has won multiple awards, including Best Indie Game at the Italian Video Game Awards, and Best Art at the Titanium Awards.
For those of you looking for a simple game with a bit of a story, Gris is for you.
Luna’s Fishing Garden by Coldwild Games
Luna’s Fishing Garden pairs the relaxing nature of Islanders and Dorfromantik with a bit more structured gameplay.
You play as a young girl, who was lost in a storm and washed up on an archipelago full of fantastic creatures and characters. The goal of the game is to help rebuild the archipelago by planting coconut trees, cattail reeds, and other plants while also uncovering the mysteries of the archipelago’s inhabitants.
It’s a fun little game with more story than traditional fishing games. This game is great, as is another Coldwild game, Merchant of the Skies.
Bad North by Plausible Concept and Oskar Stalberg
For people interested in cool indie games with an element of combat, Bad North provides! This game is about protecting multiple different islands against Viking invaders.
It’s not super in-depth, more so about leveling up your generals with ancient artifacts and placing them strategically on the island.
If you’re going to play Bad North, I suggest purchasing the Jotunn Edition. This edition gives you the ability to set skills for your characters before you start playing, and it adds fun names and themes for each of your generals.
At times, Bad North can get kind of intense, but visually it’s pleasing and a game I play all the time.
At the end of the day, you can play these indie games however you want. Play them to de-stress or play them with friends! For me, at least, gaming is all about having fun, and I won’t play a game if I’m not going to have fun doing it.
What cool indie games do you like to play? Let us know in the comments down below.
And if you liked this article, check out some of our other blog posts!
Now, I love short stories. I love reading them, I love writing them, and finding a short story I really enjoy gives me a feeling I can only describe as ecstatic.
But, sometimes, a short story isn’t enough. Sometimes I need more, but not too much more, to flip that satisfaction-switch in my brain.
And that’s when I turn to science fiction novellas.
These long-short stories tack on a few thousand words and can often be read in one sitting, but they have more substance than short stories.
Here are my favorite science fiction novellas!
What Are Science Fiction Novellas?
Before we jump headlong into the best of the best, I want to clear up some things. There are many warring sects of the Internet that claim novellas have to be a certain length, while other corners of the web will vehemently debate you over one or two thousand words.
In this debate, I tend to follow this principle:
Novellas are between 20,000 and 40,000 words. The higher end of that spectrum is usually where I see markets like Tor.com cap their submission guidelines. And they would know, with the exorbitant amount of quality novellas they put out.
And within the novella definition, there’s the novelette, which is anywhere from 10,000 to 17,000 words.
That being said, some novellas fall into a grey area. When trying to publish my cyberpunk naturalist novella, TechnoRonin, I found that 24k words was a weird limbo. Not long enough to justify printing, too long to publish in a magazine.
So, I guess here we are, back to square one.
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
Publish Date: 2017
Speaking of Tor.com, no science fiction novella list would be complete without All Systems Red.
The story follows a Murderbot who would rather spend its days watching romance sitcoms than killing. But as disaster strikes in the little expedition outpost, Murderbot is forced to kill or be killed.
It’s a pithy, fun novella, and a quick read. It’s the first book in Martha Well’s Murderbot Diaries, of which there are now six books.
Samuel R. Delany, one of the giants of science fiction, brings a unique take to the space opera genre. In Empire Star, a young simplex, Comet Jo, starts on a journey to bring a message to Empire Star. Throughout the story, we see Jo’s cognitive development framed against the every-growing conflicts around him.
Delany plays a lot with chronological storytelling in this novella, starting off in a linear fashion, and eventually moving to a less linear structure.
For that reason, Empire Star can be kind of difficult to read, but it’s well worth it in the end.
The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
Publication Date: 2016
While this one isn’t a science fiction novella in the strictest sense of the term, it’s definitely a story you’ll want to read if you’re a fan of weird horror.
The Ballad of Black Tom is loosely based on the H.P. Lovecraft story, “The Horror at Red Hook,” but written with a modern voice.
The story follows Tommy Tester, a thief disguised as a musician. He gets roped into an ancient ritual involving blood, Lovecraftian horrors, and arcane tools.
The books puts a good spin on the classic Lovecraft story, but from the perspective of a young black man in Harlem.
A good read, for sure, but make sure your lights are on.
The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang
Publication Date: 2010
This novella was Ted Chang’s first hardcover novella, but it’s still a work of art.
As the name suggests, it follows a fledgling artificial intelligence as it grows into a “digital pet”. Ana, the main character, raises the AI as her own over the course of 20 years.
The story plucks at our moral heartstrings, as it debates the questions surrounding AI: Are they human? Should we treat them as human?
Definitely a must read for anyone interested in advanced intelligence science fiction.
War Cry by Brian McClellan
Publication Date: 2018
If you’re a fan of sci fi war stories, this one is for you. McClellan takes dieselpunk themes with tanks, bolt-action rifles, and airplanes and pairs it with shapeshifting wizards.
The story follows Teado and his small group of comrades as they attempt a risky resupply run, only to discover a magical secret that could change the war.
This science fiction novella is short, but it packs a great punch. Planes and monsters make a perfect pair.
And that’s a wrap! There are plenty of other science fiction novellas out there, and many speculative novellas beyond that. I personally really enjoyed Taste of Marrow by Sarah Gailey and Inside Job by Connie Willis.
What sci fi novellas do you love? Let us know in the comments below.
But there are many more stories out there that leave readers huddled under their covers, sleeping with the lights on.
As far as spooky speculative fiction short stories go, you might be familiar with the big ones. Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”, Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”, and Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart” all ring a bell.
But from deep in the annals of long-gone spec fic magazines, there come new contenders for the throne of horror.
Keep reading, if you dare…
Mop-Head by Leah Bodine Drake
“Mop-Head” was first published in the January 1954 issue of Weird Tales. It was later included in various anthologies, the most recent being the Weird Tales Super Pack #1, released in 2018.
This horror short story is set in the open fields of Kentucky, where the Loveless children Dorothy and Harry Todd mourn the loss of their mother, Reba.
But alas! All is not lost; they have a friend in Mop-Head. He’s their confidante and saving grace, their only hope of seeing their real mother again.
Things get creepy as the mysterious amalgamated Mop-Head climbs from his old well, his sole purpose to fulfill his promise to the young Loveless children.
Drake’s style dribbles unsettling imagery throughout the whole story. Take, for example, the line: “From darkness and silence and damp, out of earth-mold and wet leaves and blown dandelions, of scum and spiders’ legs and ants’ mandibles and the brittle bones of moles, it formed a shape and a sentience.”
The slow buildup of horrifying imagery is what makes this story interesting, and the quick resolution in the end reassures us that everything will be alright.
Do take this story with a grain of salt. Written nearly 70 years ago, the dialect of the African American characters reads like Mark Twain, and was a bit off-putting.
Unlike “Mop-Head”, there are no abysmal horrors to be found here. Instead, a mysterious little girl, Miriam, seemingly haunts an old woman named Mrs. Miller.
Capote’s sense for setting is unmatched, and he instills a cold, creepy tone into a once harmless story with this line: “Within the last hour the weather had turned cold again; like blurred lenses, winter clouds cast a shade over the sun, and the skeleton of an early dusk colored the sky.”
“Miriam” reminds me of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, but with far less of a clear answer as to what’s happening. There are many interpretations of “Miriam” and all of them are equally as creepy. This story definitely fits the bill as a spooky speculative fiction short story.
The story starts of like all classic horror stories do, at an ancient mansion in the midst of a thunderstorm. Tom and Helen Egan call upon their old friend Malcolm Orne. They are much surprised when they’re greeted by a seven-foot giant instead of the three-foot tall Malcolm they used to know.
“Spider Mansion” operates on the fringes of science fiction, but right in the middle of horror. As the name suggest, there’s no lack of creepy crawlies in this speculative fiction short story.
And like “Mop-Head”, it should be read with a grain of salt. The slight racism of Malcolm’s character makes him that much more deplorable.
“The Portrait” by Nikolai Gogol
This is by far the oldest speculative fiction story on this list, and it falls in line with more Gothic, classic literature.
“The Portrait” by the Ukrainian author Nikolai Gogol was first seen in Arabesques, a short story collection published in 1835.
The story follows the rise and fall of a young artist, Andrey Petrovich Chartkov, known in the story as Tchartkoff. He purchases an eerie painting of an old man with his last few coins, but is pleasantly surprised when the portrait produces a vast sum of money, seemingly from thin air.
This story is a real slow-burner, and a bit long-winded at times, but the imagery, especially in the first few scenes, is incredibly profound.
Even in 1835, people where frightened of moving eyeballs in portraits!