Blackout / All Clear

blackout jacketBlackout / All Clear by Connie Willis

Historical fiction readers may enjoy this two-volume novel that won the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards. I read it five years ago, and enjoyed rereading it almost as much. Three time-traveling historians visit Great Britain during World War II from Oxford in the 2060s. Eileen is in a country house, observing children evacuated from London during the Blitz, and has her hands full with anxious Theodore and mischievous siblings Alf and Binnie Hodbin. A measles epidemic keeps her from returning to Oxford as scheduled. In London, Polly is assigned to observe Londoners during daily life and in shelters during air raids by finding a job at a department store. When she tries to report back to Oxford, nothing happens. Mike Davies, with an American accent, is supposed to be a reporter in Dover all clear jacketcovering the evacuation of soldiers from Dunkirk. He arrives in a small town down the coast and has great difficulty getting to Dover. Unexpectedly, Mike gets caught up in the action and helps save the life of a soldier who goes on to rescue hundreds more. He also suffers an injury that would be easily treated in his own time. Eileen and Mike make their way to London to find Polly, and the trio is concerned that their actions might have affected the war’s outcome or that something has happened in future Oxford to prevent their returning home. Two other historians are working hard to retrieve them, with unexpected consequences. The pacing is fast and the tension level is high, but there are plenty of lighter moments. The real highlight of this novel is the spotlight on daily life on the home front in Great Britain during World War II. Long, but definitely worthwhile, with characters I really cared about.

The End of All Things

end jacketThe End of All Things by John Scalzi

If the enemy of an enemy is a friend, then two space empires, one human and one alien, should work together despite their differences to prevent a war and save Earth. Readers of Scalzi’s science fiction space operas may be familiar with the alien Conclave and the human Colonial Union. Familiar characters are joined by pilot Rafe Daquin, who has to think his way out of a terrible situation, and Lieutenant Heather Lee, whose paratrooper forces are tired of visiting planet after planet to keep the peace. Exciting and thought-provoking, this book is darker in tone although less violent than other books in the Old Man’s War series; a satisfying read. Old Man’s War is the first book in the series, one more book is planned.


seveneves jacketSeveneves by Neal Stephenson

To begin with, this is a massive book that feels like two different novels. Most of the book is set in the near future, with an epilogue at the end set 5,000 years in the future. At the start of the book, Earth’s moon breaks apart into seven massive pieces. Scientists don’t know why, but soon realize that the rocks will start colliding with each other, forming smaller and smaller boulders that will eventually result in a destructive hard rain of debris. Estimated time to the hard rain is two years. Stephenson has put a lot of thought into what might happen if we had two years to prepare for disaster, including the political, social, and technological challenges, and puts most of these thoughts in the book. His readers are used to these info dumps, but they are unusual. What happens is that the International Space Station gets a lot bigger and busier, with Earth trying to send as many people into space as possible. These challenges take up most of the book, with an intriguing glimpse at a new civilization in a marvelous setting in and around Earth 5,000 years later. The characters, settings, and plot are all compelling reading, but a few events seemed forced to me, unrealistic even for ambitious science fiction. I really would like to read more about the people of the future, and hope Stephenson writes more about their world.


aurora jacketAurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

This epic science fiction novel imagines the first voyage of humanity beyond the solar system, in a multi-generational ship. The ship, traveling at 1/10 the speed of light, is finally approaching Aurora, a moon of one of Tau Ceti’s planets. The ark-like ship is divided into 16 distinct biomes, with different plants, soil, climate, and animals, set into 2 large rings around a central spine. Chief engineer Devi and Ship, the artificial intelligence, are kept extremely busy as parts are wearing out after more than 100 years. Devi’s daughter Freya is a slow learner, but grows up to be a great listener, visiting all of the different biomes, each with its distinct small culture representative of its ecosystem. The ship can comfortably support 2,000 colonists, but this leads to major social and political strife when some colonists want to increase the population. The journey is a large part of this book, and I can’t say much of what happens as they approach Aurora and try to decide if colonizing the moon will work and is the right choice, or if they should look for another site. Ship is the narrator, and the strongest character. The pacing isn’t fast, but I kept turning the pages to find out what would happen. I also enjoyed the descriptions of life on the ship in the different biomes.

The Fold

fold jacketThe Fold by Peter Clines

The Fold is a fun read, a thriller that has been described as a combination of mystery, suspense, science fiction, and horror. Mike Erickson, a high school English teacher in Maine, gets a summer job offer from his friend Reggie that he finds difficult to refuse. Reggie needs him to travel to the desert in southern California where six scientists are working on a teleportation device called the Albuquerque Door. The team keeps stalling on giving the U.S. government any information about the project. The only problem seems to be one man who went through the door and no longer recognizes his wife. The team doesn’t trust Mike, who’s brilliant and can remember everything he sees or read. Clearly something is terribly wrong, or there wouldn’t be a story. I kept waiting for Mike to volunteer to go through the Door, and hoping he wouldn’t. Then Mike realizes they don’t really understand how or why the Door works. A little romance and some completely unexpected plot twists kept me turning the pages faster and faster.

Ancillary Justice

ancillary justice jacketAncillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Breq is a soldier, visiting the icy world of Nilt, in search of an unscannable weapon to help in her quest of revenge against the leader of the Radch. Breq is also Justice of Toren, a spaceship that is two thousand years old, and was most recently a troop carrier in orbit around the planet of Shis’urna. In debut novelist Leckie’s universe, a starship is run by an artificial intelligence, and the same AI also has dozens of soldiers, in formerly human bodies known as ancillaries. Breq was 19 Eck. On Nilt, Breq rescues and treats the unconscious Seivarden Vendaii, a former officer on Justice of Toren who has outlived all her relatives and is addicted to kef. Breq and Seivarden, who doesn’t recognize her, have adventures while the reader learns their stories. Breq is remembering something that happened in a temple on Shis’urna, and a later incident on the starship involving a favorite officer, Lieutenant Awn. The conquering Radch are inclusive of different religions, but intolerant of civil unrest. To make things more confusing, the Radch, who have spread through many galaxies, have no gender in their language so everyone is referred to as she or her. A brilliantly imaginative book that has swept the major science fiction/fantasy awards, this book is also challenging and can be confusing. Several days after finishing this book, I’m still thinking about it, and just re-read the first chapter. This book was published a year ago, and the sequel, Ancillary Sword, has recently become available. I’m looking forward to seeing where Leckie’s creativity will take Breq in Ancillary Sword, and the final, not-yet-published book. Suggested for fans of C. J. Cherryh, John Scalzi, and Anne McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang.



The Martian

martian jacketThe 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.



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