Category Archives: SF

Cassandra Rose Clark — Star’s End

Star’s End is the ultimate in corporate control. A science fiction story about the Four Sisters, four planets terraformed by Phillip Coromina. He not only owns the planets, he owns the people who inhabit them. Any person who doesn’t follow company rules disappears. Exiled or killed? The family business manufactures weapons. One product of the company is manufactured humans who are programmed in their DNA to be soldiers. They fight wars across the galaxy alongside normal human mercenaries hired by the corporations.  The manufactured soldiers are programmed to be loyal to each other and the corporations.

The protagonist in Star’s End is Phillip’s oldest daughter, Esme. Her mother is a soldier who left her to be raised by Phillip when she was born. Esme’s three-hundred-year-old father is dying. He has a disease which kills even those taking rejuvenation treatments. She is taken by surprise, but she has been waiting a long time. Esme will become CEO of Coromina Group. She wants to change the path of the company and no longer manufacture weapons.

There are also aliens living on the planets. Philip isolated them long ago and they have no contact with the humans. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Fear the aliens; fear anyone different from you instead of learning to live together; creating wars for profit.

Esme’s three younger half-sisters have all disappeared. She is trying to track them down and bring them home before her father dies. Each sister chose to leave when they found out how cruel their father was and what he had done to Isabel, the youngest. But Esme has stayed to work from inside to improve the system.

The novel jumps between present and past. The past POV is Esme, first person past, and the present is Esme, third person past. There are many secrets that we don’t learn until events occur in the past chapters or until Esme reaches a level in the corporation to learn them. Phillip is all about secrets. You are privy to more of what’s happening as you go up the ranks of the company. At the end of the story, Esme is one of the few Ninety-Nines, the highest level who can know all the secrets.

An interesting novel, obviously anti-corporate. I enjoyed it, even if I found Esme reluctantly following her father’s orders hard to take.

Annalee Newitz — Atonomous

This novel is speculative or science fiction; exploring robotics, pharmaceuticals, biotech, and artificial intelligence. The characters and POV include a human biotech pirate, an “indentured” human, a free robot scientist, an indentured android, other humans and bots. Newitz does a good job of getting into the “minds” of the bots as well as the humans.

Many underlying themes weave through this story—property rights, patents, pharmaceuticals, indenture/slavery, what is human. The plot revolves around the female biotech pirate, Jack, reverse-engineering a drug the makes people love their work. The patented version is very expensive and only available to the rich. Her version is cheap and available. It’s very addictive and some people work themselves to death or cause catastrophes that kill others. She goes to work finding a cure.

Other characters are Eliasz, human, and his indentured robotic partner, Paladin, who are working for Big Pharma tracking the pirate. Jack rescues and frees an indentured human. An autonomous robot comes into the story, working with Jack on the cure. Other characters, mostly from Jack’s past, pass through.

I enjoyed the ideas about our future more than the main plot of the story. I also liked the various points of view. Newitz did well poking into the thoughts of robots.

Anne Corlett — The Space Between the Stars

Humans have expanded throughout the galaxy before a virus wipes out nearly all the population on every planet. Jamie Allenby wakes up alone on a remote planet she escaped to when her marriage was failing and she wanted “some space.” Zero point zero zero zero one percent survival rate, she had heard before her planet fell to the virus. After three days alone she finds two other people. They are rescued by two others in a small spacecraft looking for fuel. Their little band of survivors gathers two more as they bounce from planet to planet toward Earth.

This is not hard science fiction. I would call it “literary” or maybe “psychological” — a study in human behavior. Jamie isn’t sure what she’s searching for, maybe home. The small group includes an ex-priest, a prostitute, an ex-scientist who believes God has caused the apocalypse in order to start over, a young man with autism, the spaceship captain, and his engineer.

Corlette, with her first novel, has written an intriguing story that covers many issues that are relevant today, in the past, or our future.

This one kept me awake until 3AM to finish it. I look forward to more from Anne Corlette.

Kim Stanley Robinson — 2312

I picked this book to read because I was delighted with Robinson’s New York 2140. I wanted to read more. But there is no connection between the two novels except the author.

For me, the best part of this book was the settings. It starts with a sunrise on planet Mercury. The descriptions are breath-taking. The author continues to give us imaginative pictures of and from other places in our solar system throughout the book. It must have required tons of research combined with an ingenious imagination to create these scenes.

There are four (or five) principal characters. Swan is an artist from Mercury. She designed worlds and created habitats in moons and asteroids. Her grandmother Alex, who was the leader of Mercury and more, has died, and Swan is mourning. Swan is volatile, angry, hyper…and 135 years old. She meets Wahram, a diplomat from the Saturn system, whose personality is the complete opposite—relaxed, accepting, enjoying life. Inspector Genette is an interplanetary policeman. Kiran is a young man from Earth who helps Swan. She, in turn, helps him leave Earth and immigrate to Venus. The fifth main character is Pauline, the cube (quantum computer) in Swan’s head. There are many other characters scattered through the book, but I believe these are the central cast.

The intricate plot twists and turns. Earth is in bad shape with political and environmental issues. It is the only planet in the solar system still struggling with poverty and social inequality. Swan and Wahram are trying to fix it with successes and failures. Someone tries to destroy Terminator, the city on Mercury, but most of the people escape. An asteroid habitat was destroyed previously, and all inhabitants died. These events appear to be related. Was Alex’s death murder or natural causes? Swan and Wahram work with Genette trying to find who is responsible for these disasters.

I could go on, but you should read the book. It’s long, but you could skip the extracts and lists and get the whole story. I recommend you read everything. Those extracts give history, explanations, and descriptions that enhance the story.

Dave Eggers — The Circle

This is a dystopian, creepy, novel. I can’t say I liked it, but it kept my interest to the end. To me it was a different kind of horror story, too close to the reality of where we are headed. I picked up the book because friends were talking about the movie, which I didn’t see. From what I understand, the movie didn’t exactly follow the novel and may have missed the point of the book.

I guess you could call the story a satire.

Satire definition from Oxford Dictionary: The use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

I didn’t see much humor in the book, but the rest fits.

Mae Holland is thrilled when her friend Annie gets her a job at The Circle—a company that has become the ultimate monopoly in social media and the Internet. Think Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, Instagram, Flikr, Tumblr, YouTube, government databases, medical databases, police records, real estate records, credit bureaus…anything that collects data about you and more…all lumped together in one company. Your life is available to anyone.

Mae is needy and wants to be loved and admired by the whole world. She accepts and enjoys the cult-like behavior required of her by The Circle. She ends up wearing a camera, which records everything she does and everyone with whom she comes in contact.

Mercer, an old boyfriend and a friend of her parents, sees all that is wrong about The Circle—the lack of privacy and lack of control of your own life. He tries to explain to Mae, but she can’t see it.

I could go on, but if this sort of book interests you, read it.

Kim Stanley Robinson — New York 2140

Have you ever read a book that you didn’t want to end (even after 613 pages)? New York 2140 is that book for me. Many bestselling authors seem to lose their edge with later books, but not Robinson. In my opinion, this novel is his best yet.

The Atlantic labeled Robinson’s work as “the gold-standard of realistic, and highly literary, science-fiction writing.” This novel takes social, economic, political, and most of all climate-change problems into the next century in New York City. Imagine the streets of Lower Manhattan as canals, buildings collapsing from the constant tidal wash, and a hurricane to make things worse.

The book is not a fast-paced thriller, not a SF space adventure, not a murder mystery to solve but serious look at environmental and economic problems to resolve. It is about a community of very different individuals who combine ideas and work toward solving some of the world’s and humanity’s major problems. Many of those problems are with us today: the growing disparity between the rich and the poor, the problems with the housing market, the out-of-control financial market, etc.

Robinson does it all. His settings, real and imagined future, let you feel you are living in a drowned NYC. His characters with their distinct personalities absorb your interest. The way these people, all living in the same building, get to know each other, rely on each other, collaborate to solve the city’s problems, makes an intriguing story. Overlying all of this is Robinson’s optimistic view of human character and our ability to make things work.

New York 2140 is my favorite read of the year (and more).

Mark de Castrique — The Singularity Race

Not too far into our future, several companies and governments are on the verge of creating the Singularity, the ultimate in Artificial Intelligence (AI). What if they create a machine mind that can surpass human intelligence, can control all of our communications, and has no moral values?

Scientists from around the world are meeting at a conference in Washington, DC. Prime Protection, a private security company, has the job of protecting the scientists who are being threatened by an anti-technology terrorist group. Ted Lewiston, the head of Prime Protection, asks Ex-Secret Service agent Rusty Mullins, to protect Chinese scientist Dr. Li and her nephew—one last job before he retires. A team of assassins storms the conference, killing top scientists and Lewiston. Mullins manages to save Dr. Li and nephew Peter.

Lewiston’s wife convinces Mullins to investigate who is responsible for her husband’s death and scientist/genius/billionaire Robert Brentwood wants Mullins to protect Dr. Li who is starting work at his company working on Apollo, his company’s AI. Brentwood’s goal, and the reason he hired Dr. Li, is to create a subconscious and morality for Apollo.

The plot twists and turns, leaving you trying to figure out who are the good guys and bad guys. Are Mullins, Dr. Li, and Peter protected or prisoners? Murder, kidnappings, missing scientists, Mullins’ family threatened…

Fast-paced and intriguing, the book kept me reading. I have to admit there were a couple of places where I thought Mullins missed the obvious or came to a realization a little late. I enjoyed the ride and will go back for more from author de Castrique.

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!

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.

Preston & Child — Beyond the Ice Limit

This novel is a science fiction thriller by two authors, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. Gideon Crew has been asked to help destroy an alien who arrived on Earth as an asteroid. The asteroid turned out to be a seed, which has planted itself in the waters off the Antarctic two miles down. If allowed to grow and reproduce it will destroy the planet in order to send more seeds into space.

The plot is good; it keeps you reading. There is a varied cast of characters, but I found them a little flat. I wanted more from them, wanted to get into their heads. Gideon is apparently a returning character from previous books. Maybe we are supposed to know him already and that’s the reason I’m not feeling particularly attached to him.

Still, the story is good and I enjoyed the adventure.