All I Want for Christmas Is…Sci-Fi

A shot of Jonas Kahlwald (played by Louis Hoffman) in Netflix sci-fi time-travel thriller series, Dark

I certainly wouldn’t ho-ho-hold it against you if you prefer the saccharine candy-cane feels of A Christmas Carol (with or without muppets, of course) or It’s a Wonderful Life, but the holiday classics just don’t roast my chestnuts in quite the same way the science-fiction greats do.

For those like me, who will always prefer the terror of droids and extra-terrestrials over the cheer of elves and reindeer, here’s a small selection of my top sci-fi (and sci-fi-adjacent) print and screen picks, perfect for whiling away those long and painful turkey-and-cranberry-coma hours:

Print

The Mandibles book cover

Does 2029–2047 mean anything to you? No, it’s not the estimated time period in which we can expect an end to the pandemic, but a reference to my all-time favourite dystopian tale, The Mandibles: A Family, 2029–2047, by the fiercely intelligent and imaginative Lionel Shriver.

This gripping novel follows three generations of a once-wealthy family in near-future America as they struggle to survive the aftermath of a huge national debt crisis that floors the country’s economy and wipes out their fortune. Equal parts unsettling and entertaining, this is essential reading, offering a sneak peek into a dark and twisted nightmare of a world that makes Jack Skellington’s Halloween Town look like Bora Bora. Read it.

Nexus book cover

A close second is Nexus, the first book in Ramez Naam’s outstanding post-cyberpunk series, The Nexus Trilogy, about the “urge to merge” — a concept brought into the mainstream by Elon Musk.

Set in 2040, this gripping tale follows a scientist testing an illegal, experimental nano-drug called Nexus, which allows the brain to be programmed and networked, thus linking humans through their minds.

As with a lot of existing tech (such as AI technologies), some want it gone, others wish to exploit it, and then there are those who hope to improve it — just like the protagonist, who finds himself in a dangerous, high-stakes world of international espionage doing so.

A couple of years back, I had the pleasure of meeting the author at Singularity University, where he’d been lecturing and where EY had sent me on a ‘Disruptive Technology’ course. It was an honour to meet him and chat about his novels, including The Nexus Trilogy — the second and third installments of which I’ve asked Father Christmas (my husband) to pop in my stocking this Christmas.

Screen

Dark poster

If you’re a real Grinch about subtitles, then I apologise for my first screen pick: the critically-acclaimed Dark. This German-language sci-fi-thriller series, created by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese, ran for three seasons on Netflix between 2017 and 2020, and it’s so good (like pigs-in-blankets good) you’ll soon forget the subs.

Set in a fictional German town as a little boy goes missing, four estranged families try to find out what happened to him, slowly unearthing a complex, twisted time travel conspiracy that connects them all in the most unexpected ways.

With a tone that lives up to its title, this smart and addictive slow-burner is one of the strangest, creepiest time travel stories I’ve ever come across. Its narrative is rich, its characters well-developed, and its plot mind-bendingly intricate and inhibited by very few tropes or holes. I can’t recommend it enough.

Extinction poster

You may also think I should apologise for my second screen pick, but for a different reason altogether. You see, Netflix sci-fi-action flick Extinction (2018), written by Spencer Cohen and Brad Lane and directed by Ben Young, was absolutely panned by critics. But in my opinion, that bah humbug bunch got it oh-so wrong!

The subversive story centres on a man plagued by terrifying recurring nightmares about his family and the rest of mankind being exterminated by a hostile alien species.

I really wish I could reveal more about this film and explain why it’s right up my street, but I’d be revealing a super clever twist. Let’s just say that all is not as it seems here. Admittedly, the pacing is a little uneven and the plot a tad muddled, but the premise more than makes up for both.

If you do decide to devour any of these titles over the holidays, let me know your thoughts. But for now, Merry Christmas!

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Behavioural psychologist; AI-quisitive; EY UK&I Client Technology & Innovation Officer. Views my own & don't represent EY’s position. catrionacampbell.com

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Catriona Campbell

Catriona Campbell

Behavioural psychologist; AI-quisitive; EY UK&I Client Technology & Innovation Officer. Views my own & don't represent EY’s position. catrionacampbell.com

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