The Martian by Andy Weir
A great first novel for fans of science fiction or thrillers. This book grabbed my attention from the first page and never let go. Imagine waking up on Mars, alone. That’s what Ares 3 astronaut Mark Watney experiences after a powerful dust storm forces his fellow astronauts off-planet. They think he’s dead, and with communications down, he is stuck. He is very resourceful, being a botanist and a mechanical engineer, and figures out how to generate enough water and breathable air to survive in the canvas habitat, for a while. But it will be years before the Ares 4 crew arrives, and his food will run out before then. NASA gradually realizes he’s alive, and Mark takes a rover to retrieve Pathfinder and the Sojourner rover in an attempt to communicate. Mark and NASA get creative in looking for solutions to the many problems that occur, but most of the time Mark is on his own. The Ares 3 crew on the spaceship Hermes also have ideas, when NASA finally decides to tell them that Mark is still alive. Very suspenseful, and even funny in spots, as Mark likes to joke around, much to NASA’s displeasure.
Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
In the first book in a science fiction trilogy for teens, life on Earth changed over a decade ago. A red star, called Calamity, suddenly appeared, and some people developed extraordinary powers, and became the Epics. David, 18, has been studying the powers and habits of Epics for ten years, since the day Steelheart killed David’s father in a bank. Steelheart is the ruler of Newcago, formerly Chicago, which he has coated in steel. Tunnels and rooms of steel are now underground. People don’t mind living underground because Nightwielder, another Epic, has blotted out the sun over Newcago. David hopes to join the Reckoners, an underground group secretly plotting against the Epics. Are all Epics evil? David thinks so, but his father believed differently. A quick, fast-paced read that will leave the reader waiting for the next book in the series.
Treecat Wars by David Weber and Jane Lindskold
On pioneer planet Sphinx, human settlers have recently encountered a six-legged species known as treecats. Developers planning to buy large tracts of forested land where the treecats live in family groups are hoping that the treecats are not declared sentient. As the reader quickly learns, they are not only sentient, they are empathic and telepathic, and can bond with humans. Their strong advocate, teen Stephanie Harrington, is away with treecat Lionheart for more training as a forest ranger, along with Karl, son of a recently discredited xenoanthropologist. Their friend Jessica, with treecat Valiant, and Anders, Stephanie’s boyfriend, are the only ones who can help when recent forest fires drive one clan of treecats out of their home territory and into the fringes of another clan’s territory, which reacts with unexpected violence. This is the third book featuring Stephanie and Lionheart, following A Beautiful Friendship and Fire Season. The series, written for teens, provides a fascinating look at another species that is very different from ours, as well as a coming-of-age story.
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 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.