Mickey7 by Edward Ashton

Darkly humorous, this science fiction novel is narrated by Mickey7, an expendable human on Niflheim, a brand new colony. Niflheim is icier than the colonists expected, and crops in their dome aren’t growing very well. Mickey7 is assigned the most dangerous jobs, and after he falls into a deep crevasse where dangerous Creepers live, his friend Berto, a helicopter pilot, reports his death. A bio printer makes Mickey8, who’s missing the last six weeks of Mickey7’s memories. Mickey7 doesn’t die, but he and his double must keep their overlapping lives a secret and share a short food ration. What happens when you meet yourself? Why did Mickey agree to be expendable, and will his girlfriend stand by him, or them? Mickey7, an amateur historian, reads about other colonies and how they thrived or failed. Suspenseful and thought provoking, this story really kept my interest, though I worried about how the book would end. Readalikes include Redshirts by John Scalzi, Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh, and Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson.


The Spare Man

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The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal

This blend of mystery and science fiction from the author of the award-winning Lady Astronaut series and the Glamourist Histories makes for an entertaining read. Tesla Crane and Shal Steward are on their honeymoon on a luxury spaceship en route to Mars, along with Tesla’s therapy dog Gimlet. Tesla is traveling incognito, and Shal is a recently retired detective. When Shal witnesses a murder, he becomes a suspect, and Tesla, who has wealth and great tech skills, goes into action to clear his name. Tesla has anxiety and back pain from a lab accident years ago, and Gimlet both helps with her anxiety and charms almost all the passengers and crew. The spaceship has different levels with Earth, Martian, and lunar gravity, a fancy bar, an auditorium with a spectacular magic show, and plenty of staff corridors for Tesla to try to search for answers. Tesla and Shal enjoy spending time together, trying a variety of imaginative cocktails (with and without alcohol), and very much resemble a future version of Nick and Nora from the 1934 film The Thin Man. There is plenty of witty banter, a funny and indignant remote lawyer, and plenty of drama as well as security personnel with varying levels of detecting skills. Tesla is famous as well as wealthy and walks a fine line between asserting her privilege and needing accommodations for her disability. The mystery is clever and certainly kept me guessing. This book will be published October 11.


A Prayer for the Crown-Shy

prayer for the crown shy jacket

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy by Becky Chambers

In the second Monk & Robot novella, we meet up again with Mosscap and Sibling Dex. Mosscap is a robot who is curious about humans. For a very long time, humans and robots on the moon Panga have lived separately. In the first novella, Mosscap befriended Sibling Dex, a traveling tea monk. Mosscap wants to know what humans need. In this solarpunk science fiction story, humans live simple lives, in harmony with nature, either in small villages or in The City. Dex and Mosscap travel to different communities in settings that resemble those in northern California. Dex and the reader learn more about the culture of robots, and Dex takes Mosscap to visit their large extended family, who don’t quite understand how Dex has grown and changed. Chambers’ intent with this short series is to give readers a chance to take a break, to read a story that may make you think, but without causing anxiety. The Monk & Robot series is as charming and refreshing as pausing to make and enjoy a cup of tea. I plan to reread the first novella, A Psalm for the Wild-Built.


A Desolation Called Peace

A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

Literary science fiction that concludes the duology begun with A Memory Called Empire.  While sometimes described as space opera, Martine’s writing is more descriptive and complex than most adventure filled space operas. If you enjoyed Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie or Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor or The Witness for the Dead, you may find this a very satisfying read. The world building, characterization, and writing are all top-notch, and there are feline-like creatures that purr. However, there are also aliens so dangerous that just an audio recording of them can make listeners ill. In this first contact story, there are multiple narrators from two very different cultures. Young ambassador Mahit Dzmare has most of the memories of her predecessor, and is in some danger back home on Lsel Station. Her former liaison to the Teixcalaan Empire, Three Seagrass, spots an emergency request from Nine Hibiscus, in charge of the fleet facing these aliens, and travels with Mahit, her potential love interest, to Nine Hibiscus’s fleet to try to communicate with the aliens. Back on Teixcalaan’s capital world, young imperial heir Eight Antidote, 11, is exploring the tunnels and back ways of the palace complex, where he is encouraged to observe and learn how the empire is governed. While observing quietly, Eight Antidote picks up information that may help Mahit and Three Seagrass, and keep Nine Hibiscus from escalating the conflict. While there are several main characters and multiple plotlines, the author skillfully draws the reader in with beautiful prose and an ever-intensifying pace. A finalist this year for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, this story may also appeal to fantasy readers of Guy Gavriel Kay. Future books are planned in the Teixcalaanli Empire, but they will not be sequels.


Klara and the Sun

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Klara, who narrates this introspective story set in the near future, is an Artificial Friend, designed to be an empathetic companion for a human child or teen. The beginning chapters relate her experience in a city department store, where she and other AFs wait to be chosen and long for their time in the front window, where they can soak up the sun’s rays and see the activity on the street. Happily, young teen Josie and her mother take Klara home to their house in the country. Josie has a friend, Rick, who lives nearby, but only sees other teens at scheduled parties. Everyone has remote instruction, on their tablets. Josie isn’t well, and Klara hopes that the rays of the sun will help heal her. Housekeeper Melania isn’t very welcoming to Klara, but they share responsibility for looking after Josie.

Many people are now unemployed, having lost their jobs to robots. And there is visible smog, which upsets Klara, who reasonably supposes the pollution is affecting Josie’s health. Klara sees the world differently, in a series of boxes, and her speech is very formal, deliberately machine-like. But in the end, Klara has a bigger heart than some of the humans she comes to admire and will do almost anything to help Josie grow and thrive. Described as literary science fiction, this is another thought-provoking novel by the Nobel award-winning author of The Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go, and The Buried Giant.  



A Psalm for the Wild-Built

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

Long ago, the factory robots of Panga became self-aware and left for the wilderness, and the humans of Panga returned to a more agrarian lifestyle, in small villages and The City. The setting feels Japanese-inspired, perhaps because of the importance of tea. Sibling Dex, a monk, leaves the City monastery they enjoyed visiting as a teen, to become a self-taught traveling tea monk, seeking to get closer to nature. The order provides Sibling Dex (they/them) with a bike-powered wagon, complete with a comfortable bed and an outdoor kitchen and shower. Dex has some challenges in the beginning, then learns their craft and has a circuit of small villages they visit regularly. Dex harvests and serves tea, provides a place to relax, offers advice when requested, and is welcomed into the social life of the villages. After a few years, the wilderness calls, and Dex leaves their usual routes and encounters Mosscap, a robot. Mosscap is seeking to learn what humans need. They journey together for a while, while Dex struggles to find contentment and their true purpose in life.

I listened to the audiobook of this novella, narrated in two and a half hours by Emmett Grosland, and was charmed by this engaging and reflective story. Leisurely paced with an excellent sense of place, the dedication says it all: “To anybody who could use a break.” A sequel, A Prayer for the Crown-Shy, is expected this July. Readalikes include Chambers’ The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune, and the middle grade novel The Wild Robot by Peter Brown.



Sea of Tranquility

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

In the early 1900s, Edwin is exiled by his wealthy British family, and is walking in the woods in western Canada when he hears the music of a violin and what turns out to the the noise of an airship terminal. Set partly on the Moon, this intriguing, challenging, and rewarding novel moves through time and space, exploring the importance of art and connection, and playing around with the nature of reality. Best known for Station Eleven (a current television miniseries and an earlier book group selection) and The Glass Hotel, this book includes character from a couple of her novels. We also meet Olive, a novelist from the Moon who is on a book tour on Earth when a pandemic begins in 2203, and Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a detective in 2401 who is sent back in time for an investigation that includes an airship terminal. Mandel beautifully weaves together the different scenes and themes, without quite resolving all the plotlines. Hard to put down and difficult to describe, likely to be very popular when published in early April.



The Kaiju Preservation Society

The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi

Three cheers for Scalzi’s Plan B! This is not the science fiction novel that the award-winning author meant to write during the pandemic, but it’s one that will entertain and delight his many fans. In this very funny adventure thriller, New Yorker Jamie Gray is unexpectedly fired at the beginning of a very bad year. Demoted to food delivery driver, Jamie renews his acquaintance with Tom, a frequent customer who gives Jamie a job lead with KPS, the Kaiju Preservation Society. Jamie ends up in a warmer parallel earth with a jungle full of flying insects, creatures called tree crabs, and the super colossal kaiju, whose rare visits to our world inspired the Godzilla films. Jamie’s smart, snarky coworkers all seem to have a Ph.D. (unlike Jamie), and are studying the kaiju and trying to encourage a pair to mate and produce offspring. Suddenly Jamie encounters his terrible former boss, a billionaire tourist who almost gets himself kicked off a helicopter. Soon, Jamie and his coworkers have to strategize to protect the kaiju, themselves, and a small Canadian city from danger. Pure escapist reading, sure to be a hit. Readalikes include Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park and Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s The Long Earth.


Termination Shock

Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson

Stephenson’s new techno-thriller is set in the near future, and describes possible effects of climate change and one Texas billionaire’s idea to reverse global warming. Action-packed, with a variety of settings that include Texas, the Netherlands, New Guinea, and the Line of Actual Control in the Himalayas separating China and India. Saskia, Queen of the Netherlands, is flying to Houston when her plane is diverted by extreme weather to Waco, where a group of feral swine on the runway disables her plane. She’s traveling to Houston to meet T.R. Schmidt, who’s demonstrating a way to use sulfur to help lower temperatures and prevent a rise in sea levels. The feral swine, alligators, and the aftermath of a hurricane make for exciting travels, but this is just one plot line in this page turning novel by the bestselling science fiction author of Reamde, Seveneves, Anathem, and Cryptonomicon. Laks, a Canadian semi-observant Sikh who practices martial arts has his own adventures. Though some of the characters could be developed more, I found this to be an entertaining and informative look at a possible near future. Readalikes include New York, 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson and Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi.


A Pale Light in the Black

A Pale Light in the Black by K.B. Wagers

A fast-paced, character-driven science fiction novel set in the 25th century. Lieutenant Maxine Carmichael gets her first ship assignment in the NeoG, the Near-Earth Orbital Guard, joining the diverse crew of Zuma’s Ghost, assigned to Jupiter Station. The NeoG is the equivalent of today’s Coast Guard, rescuing stranded ships, searching for contraband, and locating missing ships. The small crew needs to find a role for Max in the upcoming Boarding Games, where she gets lots of attention for being a Carmichael; her sister is CEO of LifeEx. There is plenty of action and some danger but mostly this is an uplifting, entertaining, and enjoyable read. Similar authors include Becky Chambers and Elizabeth Moon. I’m looking forward to the sequel, Hold Fast Through the Fire, which will be published in July.