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.

Brenda

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.  

 

Brenda

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.

Brenda

 

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.

 

Brenda

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.

Brenda

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.

Brenda

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.

Brenda

Project Hail Mary

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Better than The Martian or Artemis, more compelling and memorable, with much higher stakes. And, like The Martian, sure to be a hit movie. Ryland Grace wakes up alone on a small spaceship, with amnesia. Gradually he remembers his crewmates, and his mission, to save Earth from a dying sun by traveling to Tau Ceti and sending back a probe with the results of his experiments and discoveries. Unexpectedly, Ryland encounters Rocky, an engineer on a similar desperate mission. Then Ryland remembers that he’s on a one-way only journey. The science is pretty cool, and the ingenuity and perseverance of Ryland and Rocky are inspiring and occasionally funny. Hard to put down and impossible to forget, a science fiction novel to celebrate and share. Publication date is May 4.

Brenda

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

A short stopover at a small planetary dome is prolonged for three travelers during a communications and travel outage. At least there’s a garden, a friendly host, and her tween child. How strangers from four species cope during their extended stay makes for an enjoyable, heartwarming read. The dome reminds me of a family run motel. All of the travelers are anxious at being delayed and out of contact, worried about missing an important event on their home planet, a rendezvous with a lover, or just their crewmate sibling. Tupo, the child of host Ouloo, steals most of their scenes; enthusiastic, curious, clumsy, and adorable. A sure bet for readers of this award-winning series, and a good entry point for anyone looking for a feel-good science fiction novel, to be published on April 20. Earlier books by Chambers include The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and Records of a Spaceborn Few.

Brenda

Ancestral Night

Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear

Haimey DZ is an engineer, living on a salvage tug with shipmind Singer, pilot Connla, and their two cats. They explore a derelict ship, only to discover an alien parasite and a booby trap. After an encounter with judicar Cheeirilaq, who resembles a giant mantis, their ship is pursue by pirates, including Zanya Farweather, who’s also encountered the alien parasite. Haimey, who had some of her memories inactivated by a judicial proceeding as a young adult, has to figure out who she really is, plus learn to function in gravity. I really enjoyed reading this fast-paced, entertaining, and thought-provoking space opera novel. Readalikes include books by Ann Leckie, Becky Chambers, Valerie Valdes, and C.J. Cherryh. Machine is Elizabeth Bear’s next book, also set in White Space.

Brenda