Each of these books does something completely different from its peers on the list, and does it superbly, thereby illustrating the vast range of themes, styles and topics at the command of speculative fiction.
Although Rucker’s book takes place only during the day after tomorrow, the whole landscape of Earth and humanity’s role thereon has been radically transmogrified by the seachange of an entire new paradigm of physics. With godlike powers come cosmic-level threats, yet human foibles and virtues naggingly persist. The effect is like an issue of the Fantastic Four written by Freeman Dyson.
Adopting an echt-Mittel-Europa tone, British writer Miéville crafts a noir police procedural that also functions as a kind of Stanislaw Lem-style thought experiment on the nature of perception, prejudice, and cognitive dissonance. Eschewing standard villains, the book documents the painful yet necessary accomodations its characters — and by extension, its readers — must make with a reality that would, in its naked form, prove overwhelming.
These Kafkaesque, Singeresque fables from a Russian writer previously denied the high profile she deserves, both in her native land and abroad, amount to a revelation from another world. Full of rich quotidian details, they also mercilessly engineer melancholy, absurdist lifetraps for richly rendered characters who respond with a stolid madness that is the essential postmodern coping tactic.
Another near-future forecast, Makers hews closer to probable extrapolative paths than the Rucker outing, and yet still manages to parade an outre future before our wide-eyed and startled gaze. Doctorow’s forte lies in building novel social systems from the debris of shattered ones, and his optimism about humanity’s ability to think and experiment its way out of disaster scenarios is refreshing, and reminscent of the sometimes seemingly abandoned core values of SF.
Taking the almost-expired trope of First Contact and making it fresh again, Kress layers in themes of religion and evolution in a manner that recalls work by two Jameses — Tiptree and Blish — and that of Ursula K. Le Guin as well. Upending mankind’s self-conception and our notion of the species’s place in the universe, this novel delivers a sharp and salutary kick to complacency.