Category Archives: SF

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.

Cory Doctorow and Charles Stress — The Rapture of the Nerds

Full Title:  The Rapture of the Nerds 
A tale of singularity, posthumanity, and awkward social situations.

I read somewhere that speculative fiction that predicts the future is truly about the era in which it is written. I believe this was in reference to one of the classic dystopian novels, Brave New World or 1984. The Rapture of the Nerds is written in our far-flung future but definitely reflects our current world.

The novel is set in a future Earth where most of the population has chosen to leave and become part of “the cloud,” which occupies the inner solar system. The protagonist, Huw, is quite happy in his simple home and garden in Wales where he spends his time throwing pottery. His parents gave up their earthly bodies and left for the posthuman cloud fifty years ago.

Huw volunteers for jury duty to judge whether or not to accept the latest technology tossed back to Earth from the cloud. This leads him to being chosen as witness for those still living on our planet when a decision is eminent as to whether to preserve Earth or use its resources and move everyone into the cloud.

The book is ridiculously funny, full of pokes and prods at today’s world. If I read it ten times I would probably catch something new each time.

I have read other novels by Doctorow but none by Stress. Together they wrote a rollicking good story.

Curtis C. Chen — Waypoint Kangaroo

Waypoint Kangaroo is a delightful, high-tech, SF thriller with lots of humor thrown in. Kangaroo is the code name for a spy who has the unique ability to open a “pocket” into an alternate universe where he can store all sorts of tools and toys and retrieve them later. Since he’s somewhat of a loose cannon, he has been ordered to go on vacation on a tourist ship to Mars so that he’ll be out of the way while the home office is audited.

Of course, he runs into trouble on his vacation.

The characters are fun and the plot is fast-paced and full of twists and turns. The author has a vivid imagination when it comes to the space ship, the techy stuff, and the weird “pocket.”

Chen wrote a captivating first novel. Try it. You might like it.

Walter Mosley — Inside a Silver Box

I’ve read Walter Mosley novels before, usually mysteries. Knowing he writes science fiction too, I thought Inside a Silver Box was one of his SF works. But it is much, much more. I’ve posted about mixed genres; this is the ultimate mix. It probably can’t be classified. Try fantasy, SF, mystery, thriller, quest, literary, psychological, philosophical…. It also fits all of my three H’s—Head, Heart, and Humor.

Two people, black thug and rich white girl, are perpetrator and victim brought together when he saves her life. They become friends and together they set out to save the world from the Silver Box and its evil alter ego. If it sounds like a wild tale, it is. But Mosley is an excellent writer who makes you think.

The book is unique, strange, and for me captivating.

Characters — Part II

I’ve read a lot of novels lately and I’m getting behind in blogging about them. The best ones for me all have one thing in common — good characterization.

From Wikipedia:

There are two ways an author can convey information about a character:

Direct or explicit characterization

The author literally tells the audience what a character is like. This may be done via the narrator, another character or by the character themselves.

Indirect or implicit characterization

The audience must infer for themselves what the character is like through the character’s thoughts, actions, speech (choice of words, way of talking), physical appearance, mannerisms and interaction with other characters, including other characters’ reactions to that particular person.

For me, direct characterization doesn’t cut it. I like to be in the characters head. Show, don’t tell.

Some of those books I’ve read recently: Lies That Bind, by Maggie Barbieri; Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson; Bittersweet by Susan Wittig Albert; Cuba Straights by Randy Wayne White; and there were more. There is one in my pile of books to go back to the library that I didn’t finish: Adult Onset by Ann-Marie MacDonald.

The characters in each of these books were probably the main reason I kept reading and enjoyed the stories, or not. In Lies that Bind, there were many things I didn’t like about the protagonist Maude Conlon. But she was interesting and likable even though she had a bad temper, sometimes treated her daughters badly. She kept secrets but didn’t like others keeping secrets from her. The story had a good plot; Mauve looking for a sister she didn’t know existed until her father died. I would like to read other novels by Maggie Barbieri.

Kim Stanley Robinson is one of my favorite SF authors. He writes epic novels that are more about science than characters. But Aurora had a unique main character. (There were two, maybe more protagonists.) This unusual character is the starship’s quantum computer. We meet him/her/them (the computer calls itself we for a long period of time) as a child being taught to think in human terms by the ship’s chief engineer, Devi. By the end of the story he has a very distinct personality, even a sense of humor. The other main character is Devi’s daughter, Freya, who (like all the others currently on the spaceship) was born in space. The plot is good. What do you do when you arrive at your destination and the planet you are supposed to live on is poisonous to humans? The science goes way beyond what I understand but didn’t bore me.

Bittersweet: A China Bayles Mystery by Susan Wittig Albert is part of a long series. In this book China Bayles, a police detective, is out of her territory visiting her mother when she becomes involved in two murders, plus game theft and smuggling. The characters are interesting and real, including her game warden friend Mack Chambers. The plot is good and the settings are wonderful. It makes me want to visit central Texas, a place I never before had a desire to see.

In my opinion Cuba Straights, Randy Wayne White’s latest Doc Ford novel, is not his best. The settings kept my interest (Cuba and Florida history included), but the plot was somewhat disjointed. I felt that Doc Ford has devolved into a typical macho male, his friend Tomlinson, who used to be interesting, has turning into a drugged-out freak show, and some of the other characters are two dimensional. I probably won’t read the next one. White has lost touch with his characters.

I don’t usually give bad reviews here, but here is a second one to go with the one above. Adult Onset by Ann-Marie MacDonald drove me crazy and I couldn’t finish it. Her main character is apparently ADHD. Off the wall, bouncing around, can’t complete anything, not even the email she is trying to write. Maybe it gets better but I couldn’t follow the story and quit after a couple of chapters. Could the author be like that? In this case the character is what kept me from reading this book.

Ben Bova — Death Wave

This book reminded me of the good old-fashioned SF space operas I used to read as a kid. This one is about a more or less one man crusade to get the people of earth to help save other intelligent species in our galaxy.

There is a “Death Wave” traveling across the stars wiping out all life on every planet it touches. Jordan Kell has returned from New Earth, a planet created by a very old machine intelligence. The planet is populated with human inhabitants created with DNA from earth. Kell and his wife from New Earth are on a mission to save intelligence on other planets. His battle is with the politicians who want to silence him. They are too busy trying to save earth from global warming. One particular politician, Anita Halleck, head of the world government, is determined to stop him. She is afraid of losing her almost dictatorial power over the earth.

There are underlying themes about greed, power, loss of freedom and privacy, and not paying attention to what today’s actions will cause in the future.

I enjoyed the story and Bova’s writing. But there were a couple of issues that bothered me in this book. One was the fact that Jordan and company were only concerned with saving “intelligent” life. How about all life?

The other was a minor irritation. The dialog between Kell and his wife is full of “dear,” “dearest,” and “darling.” People don’t talk that way. The rest of the dialog was realistic, but that little tick Bova added to the loving couple’s conversations is an annoyance.

Read the book anyway. It’s fun.

Claire North —Touch

This novel is a SF/Fantasy/Paranormal weird story. I hadn’t read anything by Claire North previously. When I checked her out I found she wrote her first novel at age fourteen as Catherine Webb. She has also published under the name Kate Griffin.

I’m not sure why I picked the book up. It isn’t the type of book I usually read. It’s the story of Kepler, a “ghost” who moves from person to person by touch. “Have you been losing time?” The person whom Kepler inhabits remembers nothing of the time Kepler has been using his or her body. Many times he/she asks permission and leaves the borrowed body better off than when he took possession. He is fond of the people he chooses.

The story begins as Kepler is being assassinated and he jumps into the body of his killer. He is one of a group of people who know of the ghosts and are trying to eliminate them. Kepler sets out to discover who is behind this group. He wants to save the ghosts.

Even though it is a strange premise, the book held my attention. North’s characters, the ghosts, are interesting and her descriptions of settings are wonderful.

I enjoyed the story.