Space Opera by Catherynne Valente
This amusing, engaging science fiction novel was inspired by the Eurovision Song Contest, David Bowie, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and the author’s Maine Coon cat. Set in the near future, first contact with Earth is made by the appearance of an alien who resembles a flamingo and a fish, and can speak with your grandmother’s voice. The sentience of Earth’s inhabitants is in doubt, and Earth must participate in the upcoming Megagalactic Grand Prix and finish anywhere but last to survive. As Yoko Ono is no longer available, Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeros, a former British glamrock trio, is selected. The two remaining musicians aren’t on speaking terms and have no ideas for a new song. Danesh Jalo (Decibel Jones) parties with the aliens en route to the contest, while Omar Caliskan (Oort St. Ultraviolet) misses his kids and chats with Oö, who resembles a red panda. Fans of Douglas Adams or Connie Willis may enjoy this whimsical, bittersweet, and ultimately hopeful musical extravaganza.
Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach
Mercenary Deviana Morris wants to join the Devastators, the King’s own guard on Paradox. To gain experience, she takes her high-tech suit of powered armor and applies for a position as security guard on the unlucky Terran trading ship Glorious Fool. Attracted by the handsome ship’s cook Rupert, she is stunned to meet the ship’s doctor, a potentially dangerous xith’cal. Fast-paced and entertaining, with a kick-ass heroine who’s curious, stubborn, loyal, and passionate, this book will appeal to fans of military science fiction or space opera. This is the first book in the Paradox trilogy, followed by Honor’s Knight. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers is a good readalike, along with books by Elizabeth Moon and David Weber.
Artemis by Andy Weir
Jazz Bashara, born in Saudi Arabia, has grown up in the Moon’s only city, Artemis. She’s just getting by, delivering packages and the occasional contraband, sleeping in a capsule berth and eating Gunk. When she’s offered a large reward to vandalize a refinery, the pace revs up as Jazz starts down a slippery slope, taking the reader on a wild ride as she gets creative and enlists an unlikely group to save Artemis from disaster. While the plots differ, Marina in New Moon by Ian McDonald and Bet Yeager in C.J. Cherryh’s Rimrunners have a lot in common with Jazz, using all their skills to survive in a hostile environment. This book was fun to read; I really enjoyed the unusual, well-detailed setting.
Provenance by Ann Leckie
Provenance is about identity, history, value, and connections. While not as stunning as the award-winning Ancillary Justice and its sequels, this is a thoroughly absorbing, enjoyable return to that universe. The people on Hwae highly value vestiges, rare artifacts and collectible documents. Some of them may be forgeries, and others may be stolen. Family is key, with some politicians adopting children to vie for the chance to claim their parent’s position and name. Gender is key here, with e and eir often substituted for he/she and their. Ingray Aughskold has taken a big chance to secure her future by borrowing against her inheritance to rescue Pahlad Budrakim, a thief, from “Compassionate Removal”. The person she finds claims to be Garal Ket, not Pahlad. Ship captain Tic Uisine provides food and some clothing, but is temporarily stuck in port when the alien Geck claim his ship is stolen. Back on Ingray’s planet Hwae, her scheming brother Danach can’t believe Ingray’s been so daring. Soon a visiting diplomat is killed with Ingray, Garal Ket, Danach, and another diplomat present, along with an AI mech. Ingray gets caught up in one crisis after another, most notably when there’s a hostage crisis involving her parent and some children who were visiting the Lareum, a museum containing rare vestiges. Ingray is smarter, braver, and more creative than she realizes, although the reader catches on pretty quickly. Ingray’s friend Taucris, who doesn’t declare her gender and claim her family name until she’s an adult, certainly appreciates Ingray. Identity is also key, with Garal Ket/Pahlad, Gecks and human Gecks, AI mechs with false identities, and orphans having not quite the same status as foster children. Highly recommended for science fiction readers looking for an compelling, fast-paced novel, especially fans of C. J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series.
Way Station by Clifford Simak
Enoch Wallace lives quietly on a farm in southwest Wisconsin. Except for serving in the Civil War, Enoch has lived in Wisconsin for all of his 140 years. Enoch, who looks 30, is given privacy by his neighbors, and his only regular contact is with the mailman. Well, his only human contact. Enoch runs a way station for interstellar travelers. He gets a message when to expect a visitor and what special requirements they have. Travel is by a sort of transporter. Enoch has regular visitors who have become friends, and this contact, along with his books and magazines make for a pretty satisfactory life. He also interacts with two 19th century holographic humans. The farmhouse has been remade to look old but is is impenetrable and basically indestructible. Enoch only ages when he leaves the farm house to take a daily walk around the property. One day a neighbor, a mute girl, needs his help, and his privacy is gone. Also, as is common in science fiction, the fate of the earth (and Enoch’s way station) is uncertain. A short, absorbing novel with a very likeable narrator; well worth reading. This novel was published in 1963, and won the Hugo Award in 1964.
New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson
Years after melting Antarctic ice has raised sea levels by 50 feet, New York City is partly submerged, with canals and sky bridges taking the place of streets, turning the city into a Super Venice. Vlade, superintendent of the Met Life Tower condo building keeps busy checking for leaks, when he’s not retrieving residents’ boats from the multilevel boathouse. Charlotte is head of the building’s condo board, and is faced with an anonymous bid to buy the building. The many and varied residents dine together, partly fed by rooftop gardens. Young orphans Roberto and Stefan have a boat and keep getting in trouble as they explore the city, and are repeatedly rescued by financial trader Franklin. In turn, the boys rescue their friend Mr. Hexter and his precious maps from a collapsing building. Inspector Gen of the NYPD, cloud star Amelia Black, who tours the globe in her blimp, and two kidnapped coders known as Mutt and Jeff round out the varied cast of characters who at first have only the building in common. When Roberto and Stefan find sunken gold in the Bronx but need help retrieving the treasure, the residents come together to help the boys, and after a bad hurricane, use the gold to help crash and remake the city’s economic system. Quite a fun, if lengthy read, full of adventure, about a possible future city with appealing, memorable characters.
The Beast Master and Lord of Thunder by Andre Norton
Andre Norton wrote over 130 science fiction and fantasy novels during a 70 year writing career. Born Alice Mary Norton in 1912, she started writing adventure stories for boys, and used the pen names Andrew North and Andre Norton, later changing her name to Andre. Her series include Witch World, Solar Queen, Forerunners, Time Traders, and Beast Master. The Beast Master was published in 1959, and a sequel, Lord of Thunder, was published in 1962. Together, they’ve been reprinted as Beast Master’s Planet, and both are set on the planet Arzor, and feature Beast Master Hosteen Storm, a Navajo from Terra. Terra has been destroyed by the alien Xik, and Storm is seeking both a new home and revenge. Storm can communicate telepathically with his animals, an African black eagle, a large feline named Surra, two meercats, and his new horse, Rain. He finds work as a herder on largely rural Arzor, while looking for land to settle on. Storm learns the sign language of the native Norbies, and befriends young Gorgol. They discover sealed caves, some of which have wondrous gardens, while others have machines of unknown purpose. The Xik are still a problem, and Storm tries desperately to prevent a war between the Norbies and the human settlers. Fast-paced, with appealing characters, a compelling story and plenty of adventure, these connected books are quick, enjoyable reads. I have read several other books by Andre Norton in the past, but this series was new to me. The series was continued in 2002 – 2006, in collaboration with Lyn McConchie, who wrote three more books based on outlines by Norton. These books are Beast Master’s Ark, Beast Master’s Circus, and Beast Master’s Quest. I expect to read more of Andre Norton’s books in the near future.