Lock In by John Scalzi
A pandemic has left many people completely paralyzed in this science fiction thriller. Named after the President’s wife, Haden Syndrome patients can interact with the world via humanoid robots known as threeps, online with each other in the Agora space, and occasionally with human Integrators who’ve had a neural net installed. A law cutting government financial support for Haden patients has led to protests and corporate mergers. Chris Shane, a famous Haden patient, is a newly minted FBI agent who is teamed with Leslie Vann, a former Integrator, to work on cases with a possible Haden connection. In their first week together, Shane and Vann handle a series of murders and the bombing of a pharmaceutical plant. Shane proves to be as hard on his robotic threeps as Stephanie Plum is on cars. John Scalzi is a very creative science fiction and fantasy writer, and has been blogging at Whatever for sixteen years. I hope he writes more crime thrillers featuring Shane and Vann.
Wool by Hugh Howey
Wool is a science fiction novel about a time in the earth’s future when the planet’s surface has been rendered uninhabitable. The soil is dead and the atmosphere is lethally toxic The remaining earth survivors live in a giant silo dug out of the earth by huge digging machines that were buried at the bottom of the silo when their mission was over. he silo has 150 levels and is a self-sustaining entity unto itself. There are hydroponic gardens for food, energy for electricity, oxygen for breathing, everything to sustain life, kind of like living in a giant submarine. However, in order to maintain the silo’s functioning and ensure its long time survival, the inhabitants live in a brutal regime of onerous rules and regulations. For each birth there must also be a death. Talking about the past, or thinking about changing their current situation is forbidden. Breaking the rules can mean being sent to the surface and perishing in a deadly environment.
The plot revolves around one character, Juliette, a worker in the mechanical section, who is seen by the current mayor, a woman named Jahns, as a good candidate to succeed her, someone who will let nothing stand in the way on knowing the truth, even if it means destroying their current way of life. Bernard is the head of IT, and the chief keeper of the secrets. The characters are fully developed and the surprises keep coming. Everything is not as it seems.
Juliette reminds me a lot of Ripley from the Alien series, which may be why the film rights have been acquired by Ridley Scott.
Wool started as a self-published serial work in five parts. I read the Omnibus, which was all five parts in one book.
The Cassandra Project by Jack McDevitt and Mike Resnick
In 2019, NASA is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first man on the moon, while its current budget has the space program on hold. NASA’s Public Affairs director Jerry Culpepper is stunned when a routine release of old records brings up the possibility of an earlier landing on the moon. A recording of Sydney Myshko, orbiting the moon in an early 1969 mission (not Apollo 9 or 10), suggests he’s preparing to descend. A cryptic diary entry of astronaut Aaron Walker, on another 1969 spaceflight, indicates that he also walked on the moon. Does President Cunningham know the truth, and what secret could need to be kept for 50 years? Is it even possible that the truth could be kept from future presidents, and from NASA? As Jerry investigates the clues, including the possibility that 1969 photos of the far side of the moon have been doctored, he is pressured to stop. Billionaire entrepreneur Bucky Blackstone is planning to launch a private spaceship to land on the moon, and promises to reveal all. The authors have dreamed up a fantastic near-future adventure, fast-paced and believable.
Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think, by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler
This is one of the best books I’ve read this year. I expected the book to be an optimistic look at the future, but I didn’t expect it to be so engaging and readable. My husband also read this book, and we kept sharing interesting facts as we read. The news we see and read is often depressing; apparently there’s a lot of good news that hasn’t been highlighted by the media. Did you know that the rate of extreme poverty in the world has decreased greatly from 1981 to 2008? In Mexico alone, the rate dropped from 19% to 5%. The poorest people in the world, formerly 1.94 billion and now 1.29 billion, are now known as the rising billion. About $11 a month will get all the power of a smartphone to an African family; better communication and computing power than President Reagan had 25 years ago, and even access to banking and microloans in areas without banks.
The authors look at how exponential growth in new technologies can help provide an abundance of clean water, food, energy, health care, and education within a couple of decades. By the end of this decade, solar powered electricity is expected to cost less than coal powered electricity. And with improvements like LED bulbs, we won’t need as much power. There are many brilliant, creative, and generous people working to make the future bright and exhilarating. Learn more, and read the first chapter here.
Many authors have wondered what the world would be like if something big happened and the world changed. Many of the future earths imagined are rather bleak and more about survival then creating new futures. S. M. Stirling has a different viewpoint. When the Change happens to our characters in the Pacific Northwest, they see a dazzling flash of light, and find that higher technologies stop working, such as electricity and combustion engines. Chaos, disease, accidents, and hunger mean that a year later many people have died. The people still living have mostly gathered in small communities where archaic ways of life have become popular. Medieval history professor Norman Arminger takes charge of Portland, creating knights and serfs. Musician Juniper MacKenzie moves to her uncle’s farm and ends up chief of a Celtic clan which practices Wicca and trains youth in archery. College faculty form a democracy, and a monastery becomes a Catholic stronghold. A pilot with a teen passenger who’s a Tolkien fan become leaders of the Bearkillers and Rangers. Three books, starting with Dies the Fire, describe the development of the new societies. Another series, starting with The Sunrise Lands, tell the story of those leaders’ grown children and their quest to travel across North America fighting villains and bringing communities together. The characters are realistic, the author’s imagination fascinating, and the unfolding story lines and curiosity about the future engaging, as is the question of why and how the Change occurred and if a mystical sword will change things back.
Triggers, by Robert J. Sawyer
In near future Washington, D.C., president Seth Jerrison is giving an anti-terror speech at the Lincoln memorial on the eve of a secret military operation. At a nearby hospital, researcher Ranjip Singh is conducting a memory modification experiment with a young Iraq War veteran. When a bomb goes off, no one dies, but a group of people, including the president and Secret Service agent Susan Dawson, are linked in a chain, each able to access the memories of another person. Dawson and Singh rush to find out who has access to the president’s highly classified memories. Parts of the books are thrilling; Sawyer is quite a storyteller. The reactions and interactions of the memory linked people are fascinating, but to me the ending was not quite as good.
While this is science fiction, I think thriller fans would enjoy this book. Find out more about Canadian writer Robert Sawyer here.
Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
Children of the 80s, this one is for you. Despite taking place in 2044 and mostly in a completely immersive online simulation called the Oasis, this is really a tribute to the culture (popular and otherwise) of the 1980s. The Oasis is the creation of Richard Halliday—a videogame programmer who used music, movies, TV, books, and videogames to escape his dysfunctional home. His expertise and desire to escape lead him to create an online experience that becomes the escape for most of the population. The glimpses Cline gives of America in 2044 are bleak—resources like gasoline have been depleted so everyone lives in cities since they can’t travel and the poorest people live in trailers that have been stacked to form dangerous towering units. The Oasis provides them with a nicer, more hopeful world. Part of that hope comes from the hunt for Halliday’s Egg. Before he died, he hid three keys and three gates in the Oasis and left clues for egg hunters (nicknamed “gunters”) to find the first one. Whoever finds all the keys and makes it through all the gates will gain control of the Oasis. Millions of people studied the things Halliday was obsessed with to try to figure out the clues. Teenaged Wade Wilson is the first gunter to find a key. His fellow competitors Aech, Art3mis, Shoto, and Daito meet him along the way and sometimes offer help and camaraderie while trying to find the keys themselves and fending off the evil Sixers that want to gain control of the Oasis for their own profit. The plot is familiar but the setting and Cline’s love of the 80s makes this a fun read. You don’t have to be familiar with all the references and the really important ones are explained but you may find yourself wanting to dig out your old cassettes or find Family Ties on DVD.
Ernest Cline has a mix tape with all the songs mentioned in Ready Player One but some of them are spoilers
His blog is also full of 80s geekery.
There’s also a pretty rad fansite set up to look like the channel Wade Watt’s Oasis alter ego Parzival runs.