Category Archives: SF

Martha Wells — Network Effect

I read this as a stand-alone, not having read the first 4 Murderbot novellas. Maybe if I’d read them, I would have given it 5 stars instead of 4, because I was a little confused from time to time.

I love SecUnit Murderbot and the transport AI ART and their quirky “relationship,” full of the dreaded “emotions.” Lots of humor there. Murderbot attempting to learn to be a person while despising humans always gave me a laugh.

Martha Wells writes very well, but her use of parentheses drove me crazy until after a few chapters I learned to ignore them.

Great read. Maybe I’ll read Murderbot 1 through 4 (and then 6?).

Kim Stanley Robinson — The Ministry for the Future

The book is not really a novel.

I’m a huge fan of Kim Stanley Robinson, but I almost quit reading a third of the way through. To me it felt like a mind dump of facts, ideas, speculations, possibilities, etc., with a thin plot woven in between. Maybe the author was trying to get all his thoughts about how to deal with global warming down in one place. It was filled with vignettes about the environment, economy, banking, politics, history, terrorism, immigration refugees, and more. But a chapter from the point-of-view of a carbon atom? Come on!

Something that bothers me as an editor is the switching back and forth in style of writing. An example: the use (or lack thereof) of quotation marks in conversation. It takes me a while to tune into a story where the author chooses not to use quotes. It hit me over the head when KSR threw in some chapters where he used them in a book that was mostly written without. One chapter even switched in the middle.

Needless to say, since I finished the book, KSR captured my attention. I learned a lot and was intrigued by his ideas (real or imagined) about how to deal with the world’s environmental, social, and economic problems.

Lawrence Wright — The End of October

A well-researched pandemic novel. Reading the book, I learned a lot—interesting facts and history about viruses and epidemics—more than I wanted in a thriller. It felt almost like nonfiction. There were side trips that didn’t add to the story, such as the chapter about Henry’s family camping trip. Maybe the author was trying to give us a break from the science and political unrest.

This was a timely release, during the COVID-19 epidemic. Written before this disease cropped up, it’s surprising how much prediction was correct, but thankfully, our current crisis isn’t nearly as bad as the one in this story, and the world hasn’t responded in quite such a negative way.

Hank Green — An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

I read #2 in this series, A Beautiful Foolish Endeavor, before #1. That’s not usually a good idea, but in this case, it may have helped. On one side, I knew and appreciated the characters better. On the other side, I already knew how the story would end.

I probably didn’t judge April May as harshly as I might have if I read this book first. She’s quirky, self-centered, and addicted to fame. She’s young and foolish, makes stupid mistakes, and mistreats her friends. But overall, I found her amusing, believable, and somewhat likable. April May believes in humans, and she believes the alien Carl is good, not threatening. Her goal is to convince the world of both. But she gets sidetracked trying to please her huge social media following and stay in the spotlight.

I liked the book, but #2 was better. If I’d read #1 first, I would have been irritated by the ending, which leaves you hanging. The two books are obviously one story. The fact is, I enjoyed this book even knowing the plot in advance.

Hank Green — A Beautiful Foolish Endeavor

“…Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Lord Acton, 1887

Let me first say that I’m an eighty-year-old woman who loves to read most fiction genres. I receive my books from the local library Books by Mail program. Most are not specific requests and they cover a wonderful variety of subjects and styles. Second, I almost didn’t start this novel because it’s a sequel to a book I haven’t read, and reviews indicated it was aimed at a young audience with a theme about social media, which I avoid.

But I loved this book (even without reading the previous installment). It’s not only about the abuse of money and power, it’s about humanity, encompassing our worst and best traits and in between.

Adrian J. Walker — The Human Son

*SPOILER ALERT*

Fascinating and well written, but in my opinion a few things don’t quite add up. The story has good concepts and questionable ones.

An intriguing concept—Erta, genetically modified, superior homo sapiens, created to save the earth from the destruction caused be humans. Humans have died out. The Erta have promised to bring back the human race when their purpose is complete. Five hundred year old Ima, who was programmed to clean up earth’s atmosphere, is assigned the task of raising the first human child.

Good: Ima maturing emotionally and becoming more human along with her human son, Reed. She even appears to go through some of the behaviors of puberty along with her son.
Questionable: How could Ima live so long without evolving emotionally, then in the relatively short time develop emotions, curiosity, and question what she has been told and believed all her life?

Good: A true villain, Caige, (every good story needs a villain) who wants to keep the earth free of humanity. He meddled with Reed’s genetics to make him weaker physically and less intelligent than Ima’s design. There are also lesser villains, some appear friendly in the beginning, and some who appear mean and evil at first but turn out to be allies.
Questionable: How did such an evil and emotional being, Caige, develop when all Erta are designed for the purpose of cleaning up earth with no emotional connections?

Good: A picture of a mother with zero experience or education on taking care of an infant or raising a child. A good mixture of head, heart (and heartache), and humor.
Questionable: Why would a race built around superior logic, education, and programming neglect educating the mother? (Possibly because she was meant to fail?)

Good: Full of interesting characters.
Questionable: Why do we even need Ima’s sister?

Good: The idea of transition at the end of the Erta’s existence.
Questionable: How do a people who are supposedly programmed for logic fall into an emotional “religious” belief? Why do they need this? I guess it adds to the plot.

Good: Ima’s journey through emotional maturity.
Questionable: Why the phase with alcohol addiction? Wouldn’t her perfect immune system see alcohol as poison and mute its effects?

I found other questionable ideas in the story, but overall it was engaging and kept me reading, wanting to know what would happen next. The ending was both good and frightful. It felt a bit like it was the beginning of a series.

Dean Koontz — Devoted

I’ve read Dean Koontz in the past with mixed feelings. Some are excellent and some I haven’t finished due to lack of interest. This one is somewhere in between. The differences in Koontz’s writing styles makes me wonder if he uses ghostwriters, or if he has multiple personalities.

Devoted is a mix of fantasy, suspense, genetics SF, horror, psychological thriller, paranormal, and maybe a “shaggy dog story” without the humor. It’s the story of an intelligent dog, Kipp, and an autistic eleven-year-old boy, Woody, who has never spoken a word. The boy screams a psychic cry for help that is picked up by “The Wire,” a telepathic communication network for a group of dogs. Kipp comes to the rescue.

My biggest problem with this book is the characters all appear to be seen from the point of view of the dog. All the people are either very bad (haters, liars, greedy, etc.) or unbelievably good (loving, truth-tellers, sympathetic, loyal, etc.). The good people have no bad characteristics, and the bad have no good. And of course, all the dogs are noble.

The best part of the book is the hopeful ending.

Ben H. Winters — Golden State

In this dark, dystopian novel set in Golden State, a future California, lying is the worst of all crimes. Laszlo Ratesic, an officer in the Speculative Service, is trying to solve anomalies in a case where a roofer fell from the top of a house and died. He can sense lies. His partner, a recruit to the service, is even better at this skill than Laszlo. In following the details of the incident, they uncover a plot to undermine “the truth.”

The story is set in a world of complete surveillance where everyone is required to record all of their actions and add them to the official “Record” each day. The only books allowed are books of fact. Any history before the founding of the Golden State and anything outside its boundaries are “unknown and unknowable.”

Although brainwashed, the main character was interesting. The plot was good, and there were surprises at the end.

Not a bad read.

James Rollins — Crucible

I enjoyed the read, but there was far too much action and technology packed into two or three days in the story. I found myself speed reading through or even skipping sections of the book describing weapons, battles, and physics lessons, also some of the repetitive descriptions.

I like the concept of a super-intelligent AI trained in two different ways—one to be helpful and the other to be destructive. The science behind bringing Kat back from a coma was interesting. Rollins notes on the read history and technology at the beginning and end of the book were thought-provoking.

Some of the characters seemed thin to me, probably because I haven’t read any previous books in the series. But the story works as a stand-alone.

Kim Stanley Robinson — Red Moon

Excellent book!
Red Moon is combination of speculative fiction, near-future, environmental, political, hard and soft science fiction, moon colonization, and a little space opera thrown in. Even though it’s called Red Moon, much of the story takes place in China. All the main characters but one are Chinese.

The amount of knowledge and research required for this book is mind-boggling—China’s history, geography, present day culture, technology, and politics; moon geology; quantum mechanics; artificial intelligence; space travel; cryptocurrency; global economics; moon exploration; and more.

Robinson paints images of the moon and China in such detail that you feel you are there, from earthrise on the moon to crowds of millions of protestors in Beijing. He also depicts various contrasting possibilities for communities on the moon.

He extends the unrest in today’s world into a political and economic crisis in China and the United States (and the world) of the near future, with a hopeful outcome.

The characters are varied, interesting, and believable. Fred Frederickson, an American delivering a quantum phone to the moon, is accused of murdering his client. Chan Qi, the daughter of China’s Minister of Finance and a leader in the opposition to the current government, is hiding on the moon and is pregnant. Poet and celebrity travel reporter Ta Shu helps Fred and Qi evade their pursuers. There is even an AI who matures throughout the book. Even the less major characters are interesting.

The story kept me involved from beginning to end.