It's been a while since we last looked at popcorn science fiction books. Popcorn science fiction books are novels with the primary objective of entertaining readers. Serious science fiction has its place, sure, but sometimes you just want to kick back and enjoy the ride. That's when you reach for the crunchy goodness of popcorn science fiction.
Here's a look at some fun science fiction books, none of which take themselves too seriously, but all of which deliver the goods in entertainment value.
The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough
By the mid-23rd century, humanity has all but been eradicated by a devastating plague. The survivors remain mostly concentrated around the city of Darwin, Australia near a massive space elevator that was left as a gift by mysterious aliens. The elevator emits an aura around it that protects people from the plague. This grim setup doesn't sound like fun, what with the survivors being reduced to savages and humanity hanging on by a tenuous thread, but this action-packed story about Skyler Luiken, who has a rare immunity to the plague, is moving too fast for you to dwell in your sorrow. Luiken and a team of his fellow "immunes" run scout missions outside the aura to retrieve valuable resources. It's not a great life, but it's better than the alternative, which becomes a frightening reality when the alien tech threatens to break down, spelling doom for the last survivors of humanity. The Darwin Elevator is "Grade A" popcorn science fiction.
The Human Division by John Scalzi
You can't go wrong with John Scalzi. His particular brand of fiction is built from the ground up to entertain readers. That's why his book Old Man's War was included in the first Popcorn SF book list, and that's why the latest book in that series, The Human Division, is included, too. It's about what happens when the people of Earth learn that they have been betrayed by the all-powerful Colonial Defense Union, who bleeds Earth's population for new recruits to explore the universe while it lies about the safety of the human race. Enter races of aliens who have teamed up to thwart the Colonial Defense Union and who tap the suppressed people of Earth for assistance. The Human Division is tasty popcorn indeed.Alien in the House by Gini Koch
Gini Koch's Alien series began with Touched by an Alien, in which a marketing manager named Katherine “Kitty” Katt, capably demonstrating that she can act quickly and defend herself against a heretofore unseen supernatural monster, is enlisted by a super-secret organization set on defending the Earth. Turns out that the organization was started by a group of aliens from the Alpha Centauri system seeking political asylum on Earth. Over the course of the series, Kitty has had to deal with aliens, monsters, terrorists, conspiracy and political bureaucracy, all while maintaining a growing relationship with one of the handsome Alpha Centaurions. Alien in the House is the seventh book in the series, and Kitty and friends must save the members of the U.S. House of Representatives who are being systematically killed off. Like the other books in the series, this one is a ride that successfully mixes together elements of comedy, romance, action, adventure and drama into a book that's ultimately fun.
Hell to Pay by Matthew Hughes
With serious superhero stories being all the rage now, it's nice to know that readers can find lighthearted superhero stories too. Matthew Hughes' To Hell and Back series fills that spot quite nicely. It's about a likable nebbish named Chesney Arnstruther who learns what it’s like being a superhero in the real world. The key here is "real world" because life is not really as it appears in movies and comic books. Chesney became a superhero—an origin story comically depicted in The Damned Busters—when he accidentally summoned a demon who, through an unexpected turn of events involving huge amounts of red tape, subsequently renders his supernatural services (with caveats) to Chesney as he fulfills his dream of being a superhero. Chesney must navigate the complicated superhero waters of maintaining his secret identity, a relationship with his girlfriend, and dealing with his wisecracking demon as he fights crime. In Hell to Pay, Chesney confronts even more criminals (some human, some not so much) and even a race of—wait for it—warrior dinosaurs. Hughes' dry humor is the perfect voice for this fun, superhero popcorn book.
Redshirts by John Scalzi
Yes, two books on the same list by the same author. Didn't I say Scalzi knows popcorn? Redshirts is John Scalzi's Hugo-nominated standalone novel that pokes fun at the tropes of sci-fi television, with particular attention paid to Star Trek. In the book, the stand-in for the U.S.S. Enterprise is the UUC Intrepid, where newly assigned ensign Andrew Dahl, eager to start his tour of duty aboard such an esteemed ship, begins to realize that something is not quite right. Although Redshirts is predominantly aimed at sci-fi fans, Star Trek is so universally known that most readers will get the jokes. And even if they don't, the story so engaging that it's still a hoot. Ultimately, Redshirts is a lighthearted and fun read.