Kim Stanley Robinson, a leading SF author for over three decades, has recently argued that "science-fiction is the only genre that treats seriously the complex effects of technological change on humanity and confronts the ecological devastation of Earth by industrial capitalism".
Robinson's The Ministry of the Future (Orbit, $32.99) is an avowedly political take on the need for climate change action. In 2025, a devastating "wet-bulb" heatwave kills 20 million people in India and poses a major challenge to the newly founded UN Ministry of The Future.
Robinson's complex narrative, underpinned by significant climate info dumps, includes traumatic Indian geo-engineering, deadly eco-terrorism by the "Children of Kali" and some ruthless social and economic pragmatism to enable a potentially optimistic outcome.
Diana Cook's The New Wilderness (Oneworld, $29.99), shortlisted for the 2020 Booker prize, another powerful climate change novel, is set in a near future world of "uninhabitable regions". Bea, her husband Glen and five-year-old daughter Agnes leave a toxic city to be part of a small nomadic research group, The Community, in an American Wilderness State, attempting to prove that humanity can live in harmony with nature.
The project, seen through Bea and Agnes's turbulent relationship over the years, fractures due to tribal individualism, the harsh natural environment and the surveillance of the hostile Wilderness Rangers.
Award-winning South African writer Lauren Beukes' Afterland (Michael Joseph, $32.99), a dystopian fast-moving novel, also focuses on a mother-child relationship. In 2023, a rampant HCV virus induces a prostate cancer which kills 99 per cent of the world's male population.Thirteen-year-old Miles, disguised as a girl, escapes with his mother, Cole, from a Californian "Male Protection Facility".
They are pursued across America by the authorities and Cole's manipulative sister, Billie, determined to sell Miles' valuable sperm on the black market. Their road journey will encounter matriarchal communes, female anarchist groups, and the Church of All Sorrows, where women apologise for their sins in the hope that men will return. While women take over "Previously Male-Dominated Fields", Beuke's message is that power is power and, ultimately, women can be just as ruthless as men.
Biochemist researcher Carole Stivers' debut novel, The Mother Code (Hodder $32.99), begins in 2049 "on a planet Earth that was natural except for the almost total lack of other human life", as a result of a biological weapons apocalypse. The survival of the human race depends on genetically engineered children, incubated by "mother bots", programmed with 'The Mother Code'. In 2060, Kai must ultimately decide where his loyalty lies as his robot mother Rho-Z's existence is threatened.
More high-level AI interaction comes in Cory Doctorow's Attack Surface (Head of Zeus, $32.99), the third novel in his near future "Little Brother" trilogy. Masha Maximow, is a high-level cyber hacker at an Eastern European multinational cybersecurity firm, which assists authoritarian regimes to spy on dissidents. Masha, who also moonlights to support the rebels, flees to San Francisco when her duplicity is revealed. Here, she defends her friend against incursions of another cyber surveillance firm. Masha's complex personality makes her an interesting central character in a plotline often slowed down, however, by Doctorow's info dumps.
Multi-award-winning author, Sarah Pinsker brings together 13 stories in Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into The Sea (Head of Zeus, $32.99), with music and memory as overarching themes. Wind Will Rove follows a multi-generational space ship voyage in which the cultural past has been deleted, leaving "fiddlers" to evoke the memories essential for survival.
How we want to live our lives is explored in Remembery Day. PTSD memories of a brutal war can be repressed for veterans by "Veil" technology, but is it worth it when other memories are also repressed. In, A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide, Andy, a young farmer, loses his arm in a farm accident. The prosthetic replacement has a "Brain-Computer Interface" but unfortunately, the arm's software was originally a Colorado Road monitor and keeps taking Andy there.
The difference in philosophical approach between the American novels and the 11 stories in Hold Up the Sky (Head of Zeus, $32.99) by Cixin Liu probably the best-known living Chinese SF writer, is remarkable in tone. Liu's stories, dating from 1985 to 2014, superbly reflect his aim to "to imagine the relationship between Small people and Great universe."
The Village Teacher, dying of cancer, works in an impoverished rural village, but his legacy lives on after his teaching of basic Newtonian physics ensures that Earth survives an alien examination. Liu's stories present a view of humanity as "a collective unit, rather than an assembly of different parts divided by ethnicity and nation".