C. J. Cherryh — Visitor

This novel involves first contact (actually second contact) and negotiations with an alien race (kyo) of star travelers. Bren Cameron, human representative of atevi (another alien race who have allowed humans to share their planet), arrives at the space station Alpha to communicate with the approaching kyo. Bren is translator and the bridge between, the atevi, the kyo, and three distinct groups of humans—each with their own language, culture, and social norms. His task is to learn why the kyo are contacting them, to learn the kyo’s language and customs, and come to a peaceful agreement between all.

The intricate plot involves understanding why the kyo are seeking out the human/atevi civilization. Ten years earlier, they attacked another space station, Reunion. One of the human groups currently residing in Alpha Station are refugees from Reunion. Hopefully Bren can prevent another confrontation. But he doesn’t know what actions or motivations caused the attack.

I hadn’t read any Cherryh novels in a few years. At the beginning of this story, I found it difficult to get into her very detailed writing. She follows her characters comprehensive thoughts—observations, calculations, anxieties, pleasures, planning, random thoughts, etc. But the book grabbed me when I got into it and kept me reading until 3:00 or 4:00 a.m.

Cherryh’s approach to science fiction is at the human (or alien) level.

Great read!

David Baldacci — The Guilty

I always enjoy David Baldacci’s novels. I enjoyed this one too, even though it was too macho and filled with too much killing by both the bad guys and the good. I guess that’s to be expected when the two main characters are government assassins—Will Robie and partner Jessica Reel.

The plot twists and turns, interesting but at times unbelievable. I like that Robie goes back to his hometown to help his father, who he hasn’t seen or spoken to in over twenty years. I felt as if the first two or three chapters explaining why he did this could have been condensed into a couple of pages or left out altogether.

Not my favorite of Baldacci’s books, but interesting enough to keep me reading to the end.

Ian Rankin — Even Dogs in the Wild

I like reading British authors—there’s a different tone about their writing. Ian Rankin writes about Police in Edinburgh, Scotland. The British do have their own version of English. When I started this book, I had just finished editing a book, so I was aware of every altered spelling and punctuation, which doesn’t usually bother me. As I got into the story, those differences disappeared for me.

This story features three of Rankin’s characters he has followed in previous novels. Sometimes when protagonists span multiple books they become flat and boring. But he keeps his characters interesting. John Rebus is retired but can’t resist coming back to work as a consultant for the police, after someone takes a shot at mob boss Cafferty in his home. Malcolm Fox has left the Complaints Bureau and is not fitting in well with his new department. He’s assigned to a visiting crew who are tracking a Glasgow crime family who have come to Edinburgh. Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke, friend of Fox and Rebus, is working a case of the murder of a senior prosecutor. All three are working separate cases, which become entangled. Even when they are supposedly working together they each go off in their separate ways, following their instincts.

Rankin writes good characters, intricate plots, and makes you feel at home in the Scottish countryside.

Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter — The Long Earth Series

I just finished reading the fifth and last of Pratchett’s and Baxter’s science fiction series collaborationThe Long Earth, The Long War, The Long Mars, The Long Utopia, and The Long Cosmos. Sadly, Terry Pratchett died before the last book was published.

“Long Earth” is the name given to an infinite series of parallel worlds, which can be reached by a “stepper.” Each Earth is slightly different, and if you step far enough down the line, the differences become extreme—different flora and fauna, different atmosphere, gravity, even a gap where the earth no longer exists. But homo sapiens only exist (before stepping) on Datum Earth, the name given to our original earth.

This is a saga with a varied cast of characters. Joshua Valienté is a natural stepper who doesn’t need a device to step between worlds. Lobsang is an artificial intelligence who travels the Long Earth with Joshua. Sally Linsay is a natural stepper and the daughter of the man who invented the “stepper” box. Sister Agnes is a nun who was Joshua’s caregiver at the orphanage. Then there are the trolls, a hominid species with natural stepping abilities who left Datum Earth long ago. The “Beagles” are a canine intelligent species inhabiting Long Earth. There are more characters and groups of characters, but I won’t try to list them all.

Each book has more than one story line and plenty of imagination. You can read any of the series as a stand-alone, but if you want the whole picture, you will want to read them in order.