An SF/F Book for Every Gamer

pairings

Ernie Cline’s Ready Player One hit the scene in 2011 like a meteorite. Its near-future dystopian plot impressed nostalgic Gen Yers with copious throwbacks to ’80s geek culture, and its critical eye towards digital media examined the effects of our current-day obsession with technology. Three years later, Cline is back with what is likely one of the biggest science fiction novels of the year: Armada, an outer space thriller in which a teenager discovers video games are one piece in a generations-long conspiracy to prepare humanity to battle an alien invasion.

To celebrate release of Cline’s sophomore effort, we thought it would be fun to pair popular, highly anticipated video games with perfectly complementary SF/F books.

Love The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt?

(CD Projekt RED—PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows)

The Last Wish, by Andrzej Sapkowski
Can’t get enough of Geralt of Rivia? Look no further than the source material itself! Sapkowski first introduced readers to the Witcher when his eponymous short story was published in a Polish SF&F magazine called Fantastyka. Geralt was eventually introduced to the English audience in 2007 when UK publisher Gollancz released The Last Wish, a short story collection featuring many of the early Witcher stories. It made its North American debut in 2008 thanks to Orbit Books.

About the Book

Geralt of Rivia is a witcher. A cunning sorcerer. A merciless assassin.

And a cold-blooded killer.

His sole purpose: to destroy the monsters that plague the world.

But not everything monstrous-looking is evil and not everything fair is good… and in every fairy tale there is a grain of truth.

The Witcher video game series is known for its gorgeous world, morally ambiguous story line, and rich cast—all traits that can be found in equal quality and quantity in the novel series that inspired it. “The Last Wish is a must-read for fans of the games, as well as anyone who likes character-driven sword & sorcery,” says The G. of Nerds of a Feather. “Geralt [is] one of the great fantasy characters of all-time. He’s a cynic with a moral compass, a killer with standards and has a way with the ladies, who are themselves similarly complex and interesting characters.”

Love Pillars of Eternity?

(Obsidian Entertainment—Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux)

King’s Dragon, by Kate Elliott
Obsidian’s Pillars of Eternity is a satisfying epic that encourages gamers to lose themselves in the beautiful world of Eora for hours on end. When it comes to similar on-the-page epics, few novelists are as adept as Kate Elliott, and her Crown of Stars series, beginning with King’s Dragon, offers readers a world just as big, and a history just as riddled with twisted magic and politics, as the one in Obsidian’s modern classic.

About the Book

Set in an alternate Europe, a world where bloody conflicts rage and sorcery holds sway, both human and other-than-human forces vie for supremacy. In this land, Alain, a young man seeking the destiny promised him by the Lady of Battles, and Liath, a young woman gifted with a power that can alter the course of history, are about to be swept up in a world-shaking conflict for the survival of humanity.

Like Pillars of Eternity, King’s Dragon is set in a sprawling world inspired by historical England, beset by a malevolent magical force. “King’s Dragon is not a happy fluffy fantasy,” says Liz Bourke of Tor.com. “It is, in fact, as grittily realistic as anyone might wish.” Both Pillars of Eternity and King’s Dragon are reactions against their predecessors—like Baldur’s Gate, or the D&D-inspired fantasy of the ’80s—but also so much more more, exceeding their inspirations in many ways.

Excited for Halo 5: Guardians?

(Microsoft Studios—Xbox One)

The Red: First Light, by Linda Nagata
High tech weaponry, robotic combat exoskeletons, and an entirely flippant disregard for subtlety aren’t the only ways that Nagata’s Red series is the perfect fit for gamers salivating over the upcoming release of Halo 5: Guardians. It’s also a “dark, intelligent, cynical take on military SF,” according to Tor.com’s Stefan Raets.

About the Book

Reality TV and advanced technology make for high drama in this political thriller that combines the military action of Zero Dark Thirty with the classic science fiction of The Forever War.

Lieutenant James Shelley, who has an uncanny knack for premeditating danger, leads a squad of advanced US Army military tasked with enforcing the peace around a conflict in sub-Saharan Africa. The squad members are linked wirelessly 24/7 to themselves and a central intelligence that guides them via drone relay—and unbeknownst to Shelley and his team, they are being recorded for a reality TV show.

When an airstrike almost destroys their outpost, a plot begins to unravel that’s worthy of Crichton and Clancy’s best. The conflict soon involves rogue defense contractors, corrupt US politicians, and homegrown terrorists who possess nuclear bombs. Soon Shelley must accept that the helpful warnings in his head could be AI. But what is the cost of serving its agenda?

“If the Red series hasn’t been optioned for movie rights, it needs to happen as soon as humanly possible,” says our own Rich Rosell, adamant that the series is meant for television. Instead of plunking folk on their couch with a bowl of popcorn, why not stick ’em right in the action? What better way to show off the upcoming wave of VR consoles than by allowing gamers to take control of the action in the midst of the one of the most visceral and exciting SF series to wow readers in recent years?

Excited for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided?

(Square Enix—PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows)

Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
Without Neal Stephenson, there would be no Deus Ex. Stephenson wrote Snow Crash as a response to the cyberpunk genre—a biting and satirical take on the ideas and themes first put forth by writers like Bruce Sterling, Phillip K. Dick, and William Gibson. Offering this counterpoint to beloved novels like Neuromancer helped not only to establish Stephenson as one of science fiction’s loudest voices, but also further cemented cyberpunk as one of the preeminent, prescient sub-genres in ’80s and ’90s fiction.

About the Book

Only once in a great while does a writer come along who defies comparison—a writer so original he redefines the way we look at the world. Neal Stephenson is such a writer and Snow Crash is such a novel, weaving virtual reality, Sumerian myth, and just about everything in between with a cool, hip cybersensibility to bring us the gigathriller of the information age.

In reality, Hiro Protagonist delivers pizza for Uncle Enzo’s CosoNostra Pizza Inc., but in the Metaverse he’s a warrior prince. Plunging headlong into the enigma of a new computer virus that’s striking down hackers everywhere, he races along the neon-lit streets on a search-and-destroy mission for the shadowy virtual villain threatening to bring about infocalypse. Snow Crash is a mind-altering romp through a future America so bizarre, so outrageous…you’ll recognize it immediately.

Snow Crash is beloved by geeks because it was written by a geek,” says Paul Graham Raven of SF Site. “[It] defends the oft-repeated (but rarely supported) notion that ‘SF is inherently about the time in which it is written’, which is why it will always remain a defining novel for the generation who drove the first virtual wagon trains deep into the digital frontiers.” Whether you love Deus Ex for its labyrinthine near-future storyline, or its willingness to engage with heavy-hitting themes, Snow Crash will be right up your alley.

Love Never Alone?

(E-Line Media—PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U, Microsoft Windows, OS X)

Gaslight Dogs, by Karin Lowachee
No matter the medium, SF/F is saturated by narratives and worlds drawing from the same faux-Medieval European inkwell. A refusal to retread familiar ground is part of why Never Alone (and Karin Lowachee’s Gaslight Dogs) are so fascinating. These worlds, inspired by the magnificent landscapes and peoples of Northern Canada and America, are gorgeous, flush with engaging characters and stories that feel fresh and exciting.

About the Book

At the edge of the known world, an ancient nomadic tribe faces a new enemy-an Empire fueled by technology and war.

A young spiritwalker of the Aniw and a captain in the Ciracusan army find themselves unexpectedly thrown together. The Aniw girl, taken prisoner from her people, must teach the reluctant soldier a forbidden talent – one that may turn the tide of the war and will surely forever brand him an outcast.

From the rippling curtains of light in an Arctic sky, to the gaslit cobbled streets of the city, war is coming to the frozen north. Two people have a choice that will decide the fates of nations – and may cast them into a darkness that threatens to bring destruction to both their peoples.

Lowachee, a Canadian author, drew on her experience living in the northern territory of Nunavut when creating the beautiful world of the Aniw people. “I found the culture and the experience so unique and fascinating,” she said in an interview with Orbit Books. “Working among the Inuit of Nunavut influenced me pretty directly. I knew that I wanted to highlight some aspects of what is a great and unique culture that many people are not all that familiar with, but throw my own spin into it as well. […] My imagination tends to flesh out all aspects of my writing and that’s part of the reason I love writing speculative fiction.”

Excited for Persona 5?

(Atlus—PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3)

After Dark, by Haruki Murakami
From its early days on the Sony PlayStation, the Persona series has enchanted gamers with its weird, hormonally-charged tales of Japanese teenagers caught between the modern world (High school! Dates! Photography club!) and the eerie realm of Japanese spirits. There’s nothing quite like it, but Haruki Murakami’s library of fiction treads similar ground, particularly his 2004 novel, After Dark.

About the Book

A short, sleek novel of encounters set in Tokyo during the witching hours between midnight and dawn, and every bit as gripping as Haruki Murakami’s masterworks The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore.

At its center are two sisters—Eri, a fashion model slumbering her way into oblivion, and Mari, a young student soon led from solitary reading at an anonymous Denny’s toward people whose lives are radically alien to her own: a jazz trombonist who claims they’ve met before, a burly female “love hotel” manager and her maid staff, and a Chinese prostitute savagely brutalized by a businessman. These “night people” are haunted by secrets and needs that draw them together more powerfully than the differing circumstances that might keep them apart, and it soon becomes clear that Eri’s slumber—mysteriously tied to the businessman plagued by the mark of his crime—will either restore or annihilate her.

After Dark 
moves from mesmerizing drama to metaphysical speculation, interweaving time and space as well as memory and perspective into a seamless exploration of human agency—the interplay between self-expression and empathy, between the power of observation and the scope of compassion and love. Murakami’s trademark humor, psychological insight, and grasp of spirit and morality are here distilled with an extraordinary, harmonious mastery.

After Dark is an ephemeral masterpiece,” says Nathaniel Katz of Strange Horizons. “It’s quiet and vivid and engrossing and organic, filled with all the hallmarks of a good story without bothering to possess any of the standard pieces of your average tale.” We don’t know a lot about the plot of Persona 5, but, from post-midnight teenage angst, to surreal Japanese mythology-inspired fantasy, to a universe inside a television, fans of the previous entries should feel right at home with Murakami’s modern fantasy.

Love Bloodborne?

(Sony Computer Entertainment—PlayStation 4)

Black Sun Rising, by C.S. Friedman
Bloodborne is a rollercoaster ride of visceral action, labyrinthine story, and pure Lovecraftian horror. If you’re looking for gothic fantasy with feral villains, morally-questionable heroes, and more weird magic than you can shake a stick at, Friedman’s classic Coldfire trilogy, beginning with Black Sun Rising, has you covered.

About the Book

The Coldfire trilogy tells a story of discovery and battle against evil on a planet where a force of nature exists that is capable of reshaping the world in response to psychic stimulus. This terrifying force, much like magic, has the power to prey upon the human mind, drawing forth a person’s worst nightmare images or most treasured dreams and indiscriminately giving them life. This is the story of two men: one, a warrior priest ready to sacrifice anything and everything for the cause of humanity’s progress; the other, a sorcerer who has survived for countless centuries by a total submission to evil. They are absolute enemies who must unite to conquer an evil greater than anything their world has ever known.

A gothic horror/fantasy pastiche, the Coldfire trilogy introduces readers to a weird alien world populated by some of the genre’s most memorable characters. It’s familiar in the way it draws from both pre-industrial European history and traditional fantasy world-building tropes, but its roots as a science fiction novel (humanity crash-landed on a volatile alien planet centuries ago) twists the premise just enough to set it apart from its contemporaries. And, Gerald Tarrant remains one of the most fascinating anti-heroes in all of fantasy.

Excited for No Man’s Sky?

(Hello Games—PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows)

Rendezvous with Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke
No Man’s Sky is all about traveling to wondrous other worlds, and there’s no better place to explore the vast, weird corners of the universe’s most alien environments than Clarke’s classic Hugo- and Nebula-winning science fiction novel.

About the Book

At first, only a few things are known about the celestial object that astronomers dub Rama. It is huge, weighing more than ten trillion tons. And it is hurtling through the solar system at inconceivable speed. Then a space probe confirms the unthinkable: Rama is no natural object. It is, incredible, an interstellar spacecraft. Space explorers and planet-bound scientists alike prepare for mankind’s first encounter with alien intelligence. It will kindle their wildest dreams… and fan their darkest fears. For no one knows who the Ramans are or why they have come. And now the moment of rendezvous awaits — just behind a Raman airlock door.

Hello Games, developers of No Man’s Skyasked their fans to recommend science fiction novels in celebration of the game’s upcoming release. On the back of its eerie, imaginative exploration of alien life, Rendevous with Rama was one of the most recommended. “That it, in a single moment, completely shatters man’s exceptionalism is just the start of my love for this book,” said Mars Dionne in Hello Games’ round-up of responses. “It’s the purity of exploration and discovery that book truly embodies that really gets me hooked.”

Excited for Fallout 4?

(Bethesda Softworks—PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows)

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
The Fallout franchise has long-provided gamers with an expansive, down-in-the-gutters way to experience post-apocalyptic America. With Fallout 4 just around the corner, the apocalypse (more specifically life after the apocalypse) is sure to be a hot topic, and there are few better contemporary post-apocalyptic novels than Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven.

About the Book

Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end.

Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves The Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as the story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.

Fresh off of winning the Arthur C. Clarke Award, Station Eleven is the honey to Fallout‘s grape jelly: very different narratives and visions of the future, but with the same aspirations, and oh so tasty. It’s a hopeful reflection of pre- and post-apocalyptic life in North America, and what it lacks in action (something Fallout 4 is sure to deliver in spades), it more than makes up for in nuance, characters you’ll love, and a chilling narrative about the fall (and rise?) of modern society.

Excited for Xenoblade Chronicles X?

(Nintendo—Wii U)

The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell
Xenoblade Chronicles X, the follow-up to the surprise Wii and 3DS hit Xenoblade Chronicles, is a sprawling science fiction RPG that follows the survivors of the White Whale, an enormous spaceship full of Americans fleeing Earth after it’s caught in the middle of a war between two alien races. Attempting to establish a colony on Mira, where they’ve crash-landed, the evacuees must deal with a hostile planet and continued alien threats. When it comes to colonization of alien planets, it’s hard to top The Sparrow.

About the Book

In 2019, humanity finally finds proof of extraterrestrial life when a listening post in Puerto Rico picks up exquisite singing from a planet that will come to be known as Rakhat. While United Nations diplomats endlessly debate a possible first contact mission, the Society of Jesus quietly organizes an eight-person scientific expedition of its own. What the Jesuits find is a world so beyond comprehension that it will lead them to question what it means to be human.

While you won’t find a ton of action or enormous alien-fighting mecha in The Sparrow, Russell’s 1996 science fiction award-winner is a fiercely intelligent look at what happens when humans make first encounter—and spectacularly fail to communicate with—alien life. Rife with themes of religion and faith, colonialism and humanism, The Sparrow trades none of its thoughtfulness and introspection for deep emotion and believable characters. “The Sparrow is harrowing, all the more so because of the contrast between the tragedy and the liveliness of the characters,” said Karen Burnham of Spiral Galaxy Reviews. “[It’s] the single most tragic science fiction story I’ve ever read.” Trade your mecha for some kleenex and get reading!

Looking forward to 2015 and 2016

2015 is shaping up to be a great year for gamers, and 2016 is looking even better. With The Last Guardian, Horizon Zero Dawn, Final Fantasy XV, Zero Escape 3, Shenmue 3, Cosmic Star Heroine, and so many more highly anticipated games on the horizon, there’s never been a better opportunity to split your time between reading and gaming.

What books would you recommend to gamers?

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