10 Great Science Fiction Mysteries you may never have heard of…
(10 Great Science Fiction Mysteries you may never have heard of showcases those works that won’t make top ten lists but will be enjoyed all the same by mystery fans…)
When I set out to assemble this list, I did what any self-respecting researcher might do. I went online to see if I could steal someone else’s work. There was no shortage of material on this topic, but many of those lists (not surprisingly) contained many of the same books. Those entries were renowned sci-fi novels, and although several of them appear here, I thought I’d offer a few that weren’t getting much attention. I also included two short stories, and I would explain why I did that—but then there’d be no mystery.
Armor by John Steakley
This may be my favorite military science-fiction book, if only for the heart-pounding descriptions of combat in an armored suit against buglike aliens. The protagonist, known only as Felix, presents several mysteries by his very existence. What is that dark event in his past? How did he come to enlist? Why does he survive when so many others die?
Neuromancer by William Gibson
I’ve read this book five times at least, and the word that always comes to my mind is seamless. Gibson weaves complex technology, brand-new words, surprising violence, and a mystery involving the evolution of an artificial-intelligence superconsciousness into the storyline so easily that you almost don’t notice it.
The Tommyknockers by Stephen King
An alien spaceship, buried for millennia in the Maine woods but finally risen to the planet surface, starts influencing the local townspeople in bizarre and sometimes homicidal ways. Its purpose in altering the locals (referred to as becoming) is one of the central puzzles of the story, as is the ultimate fate of a young boy who disappeared as an unforeseen effect of the becoming.
This Is Not a Game by Walter Jon Williams
This near-future thriller presents an “alternate reality” game where players interact with game characters (and each other) both online and in the real world. The game merges with reality when an actual murder occurs, propelling the main character into a world of shady finance and international crime.
“A Study in Emerald” by Neil Gaiman
This one’s a Hugo Award-winning short story, with a couple of marvelous twists that I didn’t expect. Blending the worlds of Arthur Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft, Gaiman presents an alternate-history London where the royal family comes from an alien race and a murderer reminiscent of Jack the Ripper has taken umbrage at their rule.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
This brilliant, hilarious book probably doesn’t strike too many people as a sci-fi mystery, but perhaps it should. After all, when a supercomputer spends millions of years calculating the answer to the ultimate question of “Life, the Universe, and Everything” only to spit out the number “42,” I’d say that’s one heck of a mystery.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Presenting a bleak future where humanity is preparing for a return invasion by an alien race known as the “buggers,” about which they know little, this tremendous work is a study in strategic and tactical thinking. The mystery it contains is revealed as one of the best plot twists I’ve ever encountered and, like most good mysteries, the clues were there all along.
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
In an alternative universe filled with time travelers and warlocks, “literary detective” Thursday Next pursues her former teacher, Acheron Hades, in order to stop him from altering the storylines of beloved books through a device that allows him to enter the book’s world. Witty, touching, and humorous, this one’s hard to put down.
Gateway by Frederik Pohl
Experienced through flashbacks and counseling sessions with an artificial-intelligence psychiatrist, Gateway tells the story of the lone survivor of an extremely hazardous space voyage. Using alien ships discovered on a hollow asteroid, teams of explorers set out in these craft in pursuit of fame and fortune. Knowing little about how their ships operate (or even their pre-programmed destinations) means that every journey could be their last.
“Second Variety” by Philip K. Dick
In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, soldiers from opposing sides are forced to work together against self-replicating robots that have evolved to the extent that they can pass for humans. Robot Variety I takes the form of a wounded soldier while Variety III is a refugee child. The mystery involves the guise that the yet-unidentified “Second Variety” might take. This short story was a big inspiration for the first book in my Sim War series, Glory Main.
Henry V. O’Neil is the name under which Malice Award-winning mystery and horror novelist Vincent H. O’Neil writes his science-fiction work. Harper Voyager is currently releasing his Sim War series, which consists of Glory Main, Orphan Brigade, Dire Steps, and CHOP Line. The fifth and final book, Live Echoes, will be published in February 2017.