A Memory Called Empire

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

Young Mahit Dzmare, fond of the poetry and epics of the vast Teixcalaanli empire, is the new ambassador from Lsel, a space station. She has just begun exploring the outdated memories of the former ambassador, Yskandr, when her neural implant malfunctions. Her liaison, Three Seagrass and Twelve Azalea, Seagrass’s friend, are the only Teixcalaanli she can rely on, and perhaps trust. Mahit must find out Yksandr’s fate and if recent dangerous accidents are connected and aimed at her. After Mahit meets the elderly emperor Six Direction she receives an encrypted message from Lsel with implications almost as powerful as the poetry that can rescue Mahit, Three Seagrass, and Twelve Azalea from a riot and kidnapping. With excellent world-building and an ever-intensifying pace, this is an absorbing read that’s perfect for right now; and a good readalike for Foreigner by C.J. Cherryh, The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, and the very entertaining Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold. Mahit is viewed as a barbarian by the Teixcalaanli, but some aspects of their culture shock her. A thought provoking read, this novel is nominated for the upcoming Hugo and Nebula Awards, and the ebook is available from Media on Demand/Libby. A second book, A Desolation Called Peace, will be published next March.
Brenda

Scythe

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Most people in this future utopian society are content, but are their lives still meaningful? Death and old age are now reversible conditions, except for those gleaned by an order of scythes. Feared and celebrated, scythes can grant a year of immunity. Teens Citra and Rowan are selected to be apprentices to Scythe Faraday, but only one will be chosen to be a scythe. This is a unique, astounding blend of philosophy and high-octane adventure. First in the Arc of a Scythe trilogy, this book is deservedly popular with teens and adults. The sequels are Thunderhead and The Toll.
Brenda

Chilling Effect

Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes

In this entertaining debut space opera, Eva Innocente, captain of the small cargo ship, La Sirena Negra, has a cargo of psychic cats but no buyer. Then Eva learns that her sister Mari has been kidnapped by an intergalactic crime syndicate known as The Fridge and she is being blackmailed in a piracy scheme that might be connected to an archaeological find. Her crew, including attractive engineer Vakar, wonder what Eva’s got them into, with each mission more dangerous than the last. Full of adventure and humor, yet often poignant, this science fiction novel is a good readalike for Becky Chambers. The audiobook is very well narrated by Almarie Guerra, especially when Eva, who has Cuban roots, swears eloquently and often in Spanish. Ultimately, Eva has to decide what she stands for, and whether her crew or her family are more important. Intriguing aliens and a variety of planets make for a fast-paced and fun read. Eva’s next adventure, Prime Deceptions, will be published in September.

Brenda

 

To be Taught, if Fortunate

To be Taught, if Fortunate by Becky Chambers

Ariadne narrates the travels of a small crew of astronauts exploring several distant planets and an icy moon in this thought-provoking novella. A flight engineer and pilot, she supports the scientists on their long-term mission. In cryosleep for years, their bodies are transformed by bioengineering to adapt to each world they visit. Receiving occasional news updates from an increasingly distant Earth, the crew explore worlds that are wondrous, bleak, terrifying, and lonely. As they wonder if anyone back on Earth is receiving their reports, the crew must decide whether to return to Earth ahead of schedule, continue with their mission, or settle on a planet of their choosing. Another memorable work from the author of the Hugo award-winning Wayfarers series, this is a good readalike for Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson.
Brenda

The Andromeda Evolution

The Andromeda Evolution by Daniel Wilson and Michael Crichton

Fifty years after The Andromeda Strain, a mysterious structure appears in the Amazon rain forest. Project Eternal Vigilance is activated, and an international team of scientists is sent to investigate, including an astronaut aboard the International Space Station. Fighter planes are on high alert should their exploration fail. Daniel Wilson was an excellent choice to write this sequel. The scenes in the rain forest are vividly drawn, as are the robotics on the ISS. Fast-paced from the beginning, the pace and tension intensify, and the fate of the expedition (and the planet) is always in doubt. Readers know that all the scientists will not survive, but the plot is far from predictable. This science fiction thriller is sure to be popular. Matthew Reilly’s Jack West series is a good readalike.

Brenda

Aurora Rising

Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

A fun, exciting science fiction novel written for teens, but with plenty of appeal for all fans of space opera. Tyler Jones misses the chance to draft a squad of the best cadets graduating Aurora Academy, but for an excellent reason. On a late night practice flight, Tyler responds to a distress beacon and rescues Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley, in cryosleep for over 200 years. His squad, including his twin sister, has unexpected talents and quickly gets in over their heads on what should be a routine mission. Fast-paced and full of adventure, this first book in a new series by the authors of the Illuminae Files is off to a great start.
Brenda

Record of a Spaceborn Few

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

Not many finalists for major book awards are described like this: likeable, heartwarming, engaging, inspiring, and thought-provoking. Especially not Hugo Award nominated science fiction novels. Intrigued? How about this proverb from the Exodus fleet, generation starships now permanently orbiting a star: “From the ground, we stand. From our ship, we live. By the stars, we hope.” The Exodans have all their basic needs met, and live in hexagonal buildings, neighborhoods and towns, using barter for extras. Included are detailed descriptions of daily life, from the point of view of a parent, a teenager, a stranger, an alien scientist, an archivist, and a caretaker. Tradition is very important to the Exodans, but alien technology may replace some jobs, and a tragedy means that some rituals can’t be followed. The characters are looking for the right job, life/work balance, a lover, or considering moving to a colony planet. Their stories gradually come together making for a compelling, delightful read. The author’s first book, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, is also an excellent read, but does not need to be read first. Here is the list of other Hugo Award finalists, to be awarded in Dublin in August.
Brenda

The Fated Sky

The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal

In this alternate history/science fiction novel, Lady Astronaut Elma York is piloting a shuttle on the Moon, several years after an asteroid strike in 1952 led to an accelerated international race to reach outer space. The sequel to The Calculating Stars, currently a finalist for the 2019 Hugo Award for best novel, cleverly details daily life on Earth and in space. Elma and her engineer husband Nathaniel have been involved in the space program since the beginning, and have figured out a way to communicate via teletype when Elma is selected for the first voyage to Mars. As a southern Jewish woman, Elma thinks she understands discrimination, but her African American and Asian colleagues set her straight after her efforts to help make things worse. As a mathematician, Elma calculates their ship trajectories (often faster than their mechanical calculator), bakes to relieve stress, and pilots a shuttle to their companion ship after its crew falls ill. While very issue-oriented, this is an enjoyable, absorbing novel. Now I have to re-read the award-winning novelette Lady Astronaut of Mars, which was written first but is set later.

Brenda

The Calculating Stars

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

This alternate history of the space race is an excellent readalike for Hidden Figures, Code Girls, and The Mercury 13. In 1952 a meteorite hits Chesapeake Bay while scientist Elma York is on vacation in the Poconos with her husband Nathaniel, an engineer. They have a narrow escape in Elma’s Cessna plane, and end up in Kansas City working for the International Aerospace Coalition. Elma was a WASP (pilot) in World War II, and works as a computer on calculations of the effects of the meteorite and later on rocket trajectories. She has kept her phobia of public speaking secret, but an adversary from the war years may expose it and derail her hopes of becoming a lady astronaut. The Yorks are Jewish, and their struggle to stay observant is noted, but prejudice against women and African-Americans in science is a major theme. The author, most known for her Regency-era fantasy novels, really did her research on Apollo era science, technology, and daily life, and this makes for an immersive, compelling reading experience. I would have liked less about Elma’s anxiety disorder and more about how others survived the meteorite strike but still found this to be quite the page-turner. The second part of the Lady Astronauts’ story is The Fated Sky, which I hope to read while I’m rereading Rocket Men by Robert Kurson, for a book discussion on February 19.

Brenda

Alliance Rising

Alliance Rising by C.J. Cherryh and Jane Fancher

The dramatic, unexpected arrival of Finity’s End sparks a crisis at Alpha Station, the closest space station to Sol, which sends cargo ships every five years. Alpha Station resources have been directed to building a faster-than-light ship, which has glitches, an inexperienced crew, and too many security personnel. This is the welcome return of Cherryh and co-author Fancher to the award-winning Alliance-Union Universe, and a good place to enter a far future that includes Downbelow Station, Cyteen, Rimrunners, and Finity’s End. Told from three very different points of view: station master Ben Abrezio, navigator trainee Ross Monahan, and Finity’s senior captain JR Neihart. The space ships are owned and crewed by families, and Neihart is seeking an alliance to protect the rights of smaller ships and promote trade without being dependent on Sol or distant Cyteen. Low in violence, but with plenty of thrills and intrigue; very enjoyable space opera.

Brenda