The Human Division by John Scalzi
From award-winning science fiction writer John Scalzi, another adventure in space. This book was originally released as a serialized ebook. It’s good to have a Plan B. For Colonial Union administrators, Plan B is the unarmed courier ship Clarke, with Captain Sophia Coloma, Ambassador Abumwe, her assistant Hart Schmidt, and Lt. Harry Wilson, on loan from the Colonial Defense Force. Unknown to the crew of the Clarke, they are sent on diplomatic missions that have not gone well for various reasons, including the disappearance of one of the ships they’re replacing. The division referred to in the title is the disconnect between the humans on Earth, and the humans in the Colonial Union, a collection of human colonies, which has been using the Earth to staff its Colonial Defense Force, whose recruits have a short life expectancy. The Clarke and its crew have various adventures which include Harry and the secretary of state’s daughter, a doctor, skydiving to Earth from a space station that is under attack. It was entertaining to read, and I look forward to the serialized sequel. For more about the book and sequel, visit the publisher’s website. For more about the author, visit his well-known blog.
Red Planet Blues by Robert J. Sawyer
Alex Lomax is the only private detective in New Klondike, a domed town on the Mars frontier. 40 years ago priceless fossils were found nearby, but the explorers’ spacecraft crashed after a prospecting trip. This is a unique combination of noir mystery and science fiction, where humans can transfer their consciousness into an android body. Then they don’t need to eat, and can work in comfort outside the dome. The transfers are also very hard to kill. Alex is approached by an owner of the transfer company to find her missing husband. With a small town, there shouldn’t be that many places to look. The police reluctantly help Alex, but are happy to have him do the detecting. Then it turns out that the diary of one of the prospectors has made it back to Mars with his granddaughter. Can Alex trust her, or the beautiful new writer in residence? There are some exciting scenes outside the dome, where Alex’s life is endangered more than once. Other scenes are in Alex’s favorite bar, where his girlfriend Diana works. Fast-paced and exciting, this book may appeal to readers of noir mysteries. Readalikes include The Disappeared by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, first in the Retrieval Artist mystery series set on the Moon. Another suggestion is A Talent for War, by Jack McDevitt, the first book featuring Alex Benedict, an interstellar antiquities dealer. I’m hoping for more Alex Lomax books from Sawyer, an award-winning science fiction writer.
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.
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold
I really enjoyed reading this book (partly in print and partly on cd), and didn’t want it to end. This is the first book in Bujold’s science fiction series to feature Ivan Vorpatril, and is an excellent introduction to her writing. Adventure, humor, and romance are the main characteristics, along with memorable characters; the science fiction aspect is less emphasized, except for the setting.
Ivan is the cousin of the short, over-achieving Miles Vorkosigan, who has involved Ivan in several of his adventures, to Ivan’s regret. They are both cousins of Gregor Vorbarra, emperor of the planets Barrayar, Komarr, and Sergyar. Working as an admiral’s aide on Komarr, Ivan is approached by undercover agent Byerly Vorrutyer and asked to befriend a young woman who may be in danger. Tej Arqua resists Ivan’s flirting so he follow her home, where he is stunned by Tej’s sister Rish. After some complicated adventures, Ivan discovers that he’ll go to great lengths to protect Tej, and they end up back on Barrayar together, where their families have varying reactions to their relationship, and the Arqua family arrives to search for buried treasure, resulting in an underground search is both dangerous and funny. Komarr would be a good introduction to Miles Vorkosigan, while A Civil Campaign is a humorous look at Miles and Ivan.
Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time: the Graphic Novel, Adapted and Illustrated by Hope Larson
A Wrinkle in Time was published 50 years ago, and won the Newbery Medal for children’s literature. I don’t know when I first read it, but probably around 6th grade, as my mother used to read it to her class of 6th graders. Now there is a graphic novel version, adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson. One dark and stormy night ugly duckling freshman Meg Murry and her little brother Charles Wallace meet Mrs. Whatsit, who is staying with Mrs. Which and Mrs. Who in an abandoned house rumored to be haunted. They make friends with Calvin O’Keefe, two years older than Meg. Together they travel through space and time to rescue Mr. Murry, a scientist who is stuck on another planet. Charles Wallace, Meg, and Calvin learn to use their strengths and their faults on their adventure. A classic for all ages, I was pleased to find that the graphic novel is just as interesting as the original. Whether you read the original book as a kid or not, either the book or graphic novel is well worth reading. Now I just need to figure out which version my 6th grade niece would enjoy most.
Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey
While I read this novel because it is a space opera and was a finalist for the Hugo and Locus awards for science fiction and fantasy, I think readers of thrillers and noir mysteries would also enjoy it. James S. A. Corey is a pseudonym for Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham. Jim Holden is the executive officer of an ice hauler which responds to the distress beacon of a ship. Holden takes a small crew on a shuttle to board the Scopuli, which is empty of survivors. On Ceres, a dwarf planet between Mars and Jupiter, Detective Joe Miller is divorced, unhappy, and drinks a lot. His earthborn partner gets harassed frequently for being different. Miller is assigned to look for Juliette Mao, the missing daughter of an Earth VIP, and to make sure she goes back to Earth, willing or not. Unlikely sources give him a tip that she was on board the Scopuli. Miller tracks down Holden and crew as interplanetary war is on the horizon, partly because of some rash broadcasts Holden made. Now they must team up to stop a horrifying biological experiment brewing on Eros, a small asteroid. There is a lot of mystery, descriptions of stations and ships that feel real, and a very fast pace. There’s even a little romance, and an almost hopeless quest. Readers will be happy to learn that a sequel, Caliban’s War, has been published, with another book in the works. Other space opera authors to try are C.J. Cherryh, Lois McMaster Bujold, and Jack McDevitt. If your prefer noir mystery on the Moon, try The Disappeared by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
The Islanders by Christopher Priest
In this Sci Fi imagining of Earth written in a travel guide format, the planet is mostly open water filled with thousands of Islands of all sizes, shapes and weather patterns. The northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere are bisected by this world sized ocean. The hemispheres are where endless wars are waged for one reason or another. The islands are a haven from all the unrest in the two hemispheres. Each featured island has its own stories and characters. As you read through the book you see that some of the stories and characters are related but you would have to read through it twice to really see the connections. The stories are uneven with one about discovering a lethal variety of insect on one island, which is quite engaging, to another about a man working in a theater, which is rather lame and boring.
This book is intriguing at first and then as you get into it, becomes confusing unless you read it all in one sitting and have the memory of an elephant. It kind of works as a group of short stories but the gazetteer function is a distraction. I read it because it was favorably compared to Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I would stick with Mitchell.
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.
The Long Earth, by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
Discover of the long earth begins when kids in Madison, Wisconsin start building a simple electrical device powered by a potato. When they flip a switch, most of them disappear, reappearing in a forest, confused and nauseated. Orphaned teen Joshua helps bring the children home. They had stepped into one of thousands of parallel Earths. Soon, pioneer colonists and entrepreneurs settle in nearby Earths, hampered by the fact that iron can’t cross the border. Some people can’t step, either, and this creates resentment. Governments and police struggle to keep up with all of the changes.
Fifteen years later, Joshua is approached by the transEarth Institute. A Tibetan mechanic reincarnated as an artificial intelligence wants Joshua to travel with him in an airship to distant Earths. They travel quickly, as Joshua is a natural stepper who experiences no nausea and doesn’t even need a device. They encounter varied settlements, exotic and sometimes dangerous fauna, and varying geology and climates. They meet Sally, the daughter of the device’s inventor. Other, more primitive, hominids are found, and some of them are fleeing from danger towards main Earth, where the anti-stepping crowd is becoming more vocal. A strange and marvelous journey, with some of Pratchett’s usual humor.
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.