Crosstalk by Connie Willis
After a minor medical procedure intended to make Briddey Flannigan and her boyfriend Trent able to sense each other’s emotions, Briddey hears a man’s voice, and panics. She’s hearing the thoughts of C.B. Schwartz, a nerdy coworker at Commspan. C.B. tries to convince Briddey that she’s now telepathic, and that no one else must know. Trent wants help to develop a new phone app, while Briddey just wants some peace and quiet, unlikely given her overly intrusive Irish-American family and gossipy coworkers. Briddey’s young niece Maeve gets involved as C.B. teaches Briddey how to quiet her mind before Trent and their doctor find out what really happened. Fans of slapstick romantic comedy will enjoy this fast-paced romp, which skewers our society’s dependence on digital technology and avoidance of self-reflection and true intimacy. The author nicely contrasts internet dating sites with the simple pleasures of reading in a library surrounded by others, or taking a walk late at night.
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
A highly imaginative, page-turning first novel, set mostly in Victorian London and partly in imperial Japan. Former pianist Thaniel Steepleton helps support his widowed sister by working as a telegraph operator for the Home Office. A bomb threat is received, and Thaniel finds that his flat was broken into. Nothing was taken, but a pocket watch was left. After an alarm on the watch saves his life during an explosion, Thaniel seeks out the watchmaker, the mysterious Keita Mori. Mori is a Japanese nobleman who is a genius with clockwork, and who can sometimes “remember” the future. He even has a clockwork pet, an octopus. Scotland Yard suspects Mori of making a bomb, and Grace Carrow thinks he is probably guilty. Grace is a physics student who needs to marry in order to inherit her aunt’s house, where she can set up a lab. Victorian London is vividly described, including a diplomatic party, a Gilbert and Sullivan performance, and a Japanese exhibition village in Knightsbridge. With plenty of suspense and intrigue along with an unpredictable plot, this is an impressive, original debut.
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
How to describe a book that the author describes as six long, inter-connected novellas? Amazing comes closest. Not a happy book, but not bleak either. I won’t suggest this for a book discussion as it’s 624 pages long, but it’s well worth reading. Our first narrator is Holly Sykes, age 15, getting ready to leave home in southeast England in 1984 after a big argument with her mother. She meets the mysterious Esther Little, is aided by teen Ed Brubeck, and has a horrible scene removed from her memory on her way to picking strawberries on a farm. Other scenes are set in different countries in different decades, with a group of people who are reincarnated and can live for centuries (horologists) battling with those who would steal souls to stay alive. Holly is a recurring character, and she encounters both groups of people throughout her life. The scenes set a few decades in our future are quite fascinating; a look into one possible future. This book reminded me a little in its size and wideranging themes of Neal Stephenson’s Anathem and some of Neil Gaiman’s books.
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.