Posts filed under 'Science Fiction'
Skip Grison has been a lawyer for almost twenty years and is wealthy and successful. Returning soldier Chelle Sea Blue, Skip’s contracta (a neologism indicating the female partner in a civil union), has been away from the planet for a matter of months, fighting the alien species known only as the Os, but due to the relativistic effects of time travel is now twenty years younger than Skip. As Skip prepares for Chelle’s return, wondering what she will make of her youthful sweetheart turned middle-aged man, he chooses to download her dead mother Vanessa’s electronically recorded personality into a new body as a gift to Chelle. He also books the two of them onto a luxurious Caribbean cruise. Chelle, however, is quite literally a new person as well. Having been severely injured during her tour of duty, she was patched up with donor body parts and may well harbor a split personality. As the three of them attempt to put their lives back together and find a balance between old and new, darker happenings…including a hijacking, a bomb, mercenaries, and several attempted or accomplished murders…hint that someone, or something, isn’t done with Chelle. Or possibly they want Vanessa. Or Skip. Or something else altogether.
Genre-bending elements such as the multiple red herrings, fast-paced plot, layer upon layer of psychological and narrative complexity, and mistaken or hidden identities make this a good choice for those who don’t usually read science fiction. This title should have broad appeal for anyone who enjoys teasing open a particularly knotty plot.
Find Home Fires in our catalog.
April 12th, 2011
Andre Deschenes is a very good assassin—one of the best—but he wants to branch out into the field of “conjuring;” that is, manipulating events by calculating probabilities. He thinks he has the gift, but he can’t find an experienced conjurer willing to take him on as a pupil. Novo Haven, a floating city on the planet of Greene’s World, is the kind of frontier town where people go to hide. The city, and the planet itself, are controlled by the ruthless Charter Trade Company, who have their closely-guarded secrets: the lucrative mineral they’re mining may not be entirely natural, the mining operation itself is on the verge of destroying the planet, and the ranids (the native population species the Company uses as a labor force) are much smarter and more civilized than anyone gives them official credit for being. Meanwhile, Andre Deschenes accepts one last contract against Lucienne Spivak, one of the guerilla operatives attempting to free the ranids from the Company’s control. Unfortunately for Andre, Lucienne was not only the lover of one of the greatest conjurers in the known worlds, but was the best friend of Andre’s own lover. But Lucienne’s death sets into motion events of far greater importance than a few domestic squabbles and Andre and the others find themselves fighting on the same side, attempting to save the world before the Charter Trade Company can destroy it all.
Elizabeth Bear has a wonderful way of writing straightforwardly complex plots. Nothing is intentionally obscure or ambiguous, and yet a reader must pay close attention as the story unfolds and develops. A delightful challenge!
Find Undertow in our catalog.
March 25th, 2011
Onyesonwu—whose name means “Who fears death?”—was born Ewu; that is, she is a child of mixed racial heritage, born of rape. Her mother’s people, the Okeke, hate and fear Ewu because they believe that all Ewu children, whose features are uniformly paler than their own, are destined for violence because of the violence that engendered them. But Onyesonwu is determined to prove her village differently, even going so far as to undergo a brutal traditional Okeke ritual to prove herself Okeke at heart. But when she begins manifesting signs of latent sorcerous ability, she finds herself outcast again. Surrounded by a small group of those loyal to her, Onyesonwu sets out for the home of her greatest enemy—her own father, leader of the rival Nuru tribe—hoping to fulfill a prophecy and change her world for the better.
Set in a post-apocalyptic version of Africa in which what technology is left is in the hands of the dominant, lighter-skinned tribe and the subservient, dark-skinned people are blamed for the destruction of the old world, Who Fears Death is not a light-weight book. At times, it is extremely violent and graphic, especially when dealing with the systematic rape of Okeke women by Nuru men. But Onyesonwu is a winning heroine whose struggle for acceptance and whose fight to change the racist, repressive attitudes of those around her are vital and almost painfully realistic. This is an important book for our times.
Find Who Fears Death in our catalog.
March 16th, 2011
The ambassadorial team of Michelangelo Kusanagi-Jones and Vincent Katherinessen have been recruited by Old Earth for a mission once again, despite the scandal that clouded their last assignment together. However, as an openly homosexual pair in a society which does not approve of homosexuality and which also treats women as subservient, they are the only ambassadors suited for this particular mission: they are being sent to the matriarchal planet of New Amazonia, in which heterosexual males are kept as breeding partners and servants only and homosexual, or “gentle,” males are the only ones able to approach equality with the ruling women. Ostensibly, the pair is to return the female-created artworks stolen by Old Earth during the last conflict between the two planets as a show of goodwill, hoping to reopen the lines of diplomacy. In reality, Old Earth really wants to pair to discover, and, if possible, steal, Amazonia’s mysterious power source. However, no one’s motivations are nearly as simple as they seem, and both Kusanagi-Jones and Katherinessen have their own secret motivations, as do their diplomatic contacts on Amazonia.
Complex, plot-driven, and intricately woven, “Carnival” is a delightful puzzle. The shifting dance of loyalties and motivations that unfolds in a fully-realized, detailed, and fascinating future society is fascinating. Highly recommended for those seeking cerebral science fiction and an intelligent exploration of gender and politics.
Find Carnival in our catalog.
February 17th, 2011
In the far future, science has perfected both immortality and time travel. However, immortality can only be gained through a complex series of invasive operations with the end result being more cyborg than human. Time travel, too, has limitations: one can only go backwards in time, and then forward again to one’s starting time; and recorded history cannot be changed. However, the Company, also known as Dr. Zeus, who perfected both of these techniques, realized that UNrecorded history could be their playground. They began sending operatives back in time to recruit orphans to become the Company’s operatives. These orphans were given the immortality cyborg treatments, trained extensively, and set loose in the hidden bits of history to rescue artworks, animals, plants, and cultures from extinction, so that, in the future, Dr. Zeus could miraculously discover or recreate them…and make a lot of money doing so.
Mendoza, a young orphan taken by the Spanish Inquisition, is one of those immortal operatives of the Company. For her first mission as a botanist for Dr. Zeus, she is sent, along with the man who rescued her from the Inquisition and a small team of other immortals, to the Garden of Iden, a typically British folly containing rare and unusual botanical specimens. Her mission is to retrieve samples of the many now-extinct plants, most of which have medical applications in the future. But she didn’t expect to encounter someone like Nicholas Harpole–a strong, passionate, intelligent mortal man who serves as secretary to Iden’s owner–and she makes the worst mistake possible for an immortal: she falls in love with a mortal. When Nicholas is captured as a heretic and sentenced to be burned at the stake, Mendoza must choose between the man she loves and her own immortal mission.
Replete with vibrant historical detail, brimming with insightful social commentary, and possessing some truly engaging characters, “In the Garden of Iden” is engrossing. And since it is only the first in a series about the immortal agents of the Company, fans will have a lot more to look forward to.
Find In the Garden of Iden in our catalog.
January 3rd, 2011
The end of the world is one insomniac night away in Huston’s apocalyptic thriller. A strange new plague of unrest has gripped the world. Sufferers of the mysterious ailment—known as Sleepless—are literally unable to sleep. At all. Ever again. For months on end, they endure, becoming more and more exhausted and more and more mentally unstable as the sleeplessness takes its toll until finally, death takes them into the final sleep. There is no cure, and the only medication that offers any relief, known colloquially as Dreamer, cannot be manufactured in sufficient quantity to aid all the sufferers. No one is untouched by the plague at any level of society, and society itself it crumbling. Mob rule has taken parts of the city, and no one segment of law enforcement speaks to or works with any other.
In this crumbling society, undercover narcotics cop Parker Haas fights desperately to infiltrate a drug ring selling black-market Dreamer—not only because he is still dedicated to an ideal of justice, but because his own wife is Sleepless. His investigation takes him into the underground world of gamers addicted to a World of Warcraft-like videogame called Chasm Tide and into the circle of Cager, a wealthy top gamer who happens to be a scion of the family that manufactures and sells Dreamer. Meanwhile, an aging mercenary named Jasper is tapped to recover a piece of property from Cager and is drawn into intricate and various conspiracies and plots swirling around Parker and Cager and the beginning of the end of the world.
Skillfully drawn and artfully complex, this apocalyptic tale is recommended for fans of tech-oriented thrillers with a good dose of social commentary, a la William Gibson and Cory Doctorow.
Find Sleepless in our catalog.
December 10th, 2010
Sir Maurice Newbury is not the mild-mannered academic he seems. Or, rather, he IS…but he is also a highly-trained secret agent in the employ of Her Majesty Queen Victoria. He uses his special expertise in anthropological studies—with a concentration in mythology, magic, and the supernatural—to solve the otherwise unsolvable mysteries plaguing London and the environs. While investigating a series of deaths that onlookers have laid at the feet of a blue-glowing policeman, Newbury is called away by royal decree to focus his attentions on the mysterious crash of an airship that resulted in the deaths of all aboard. When Newbury and his assistant, the plucky young Miss Veronica Hobbes, arrive at the scene, they discover that the pilot of the airship is missing! Further investigation reveals that the ship had been piloted by a new breed of automaton, supposedly infallible and failure-proof. Newbury is not so certain about that, and infallible or not, no one has a reasonable explanation for the automaton’s disappearance. The pair’s investigations begin to reveal strange connections between the glowing policeman murders, the missing automaton, and the plague of undeath ravaging the city’s slums.
Exciting and original, if somewhat marred by slightly clunky expositions and a tendency toward anachronistic slang, “The Affinity Bridge” is a worthy first in a new series of steampunk Victorian mysteries.
Find The Affinity Bridge in our catalog.
October 9th, 2010
It’s taken me quite awhile to get to this trilogy even though it is wildly popular with teens and book three is just out. I can certainly see why they can’t wait to get their hands on it. It’s a compelling story, reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery.
America is no more, Instead there’s the country of Panem comprised of 12 districts and The Capitol. Because the districts rebelled against The Capitol decades back, the districts are continually punished. While those in The Capitol are well fed and pampered, those in the districts must struggle for survival. As part of the punishment, each district must send a teenage boy and a girl to The Capitol each year, chosen by lottery. The teens sent must compete in a Survivor-like game in which they live off the land and fight to the death–all of which is televised for the entertainment of the residents of The Capitol. When Katniss’ younger sister, Prim, is chosen to go to The Capitol, the resourceful Katniss volunteers to take her place hoping at least to save her sister, at most, to win the Hunger Games and return to her district with food and riches to live in comfort with her family.
The world Collins has created is full of terrifying possibilities, the pacing is fantastic, and the story is riveting.
Find The Hunger Games in our catalog.
September 27th, 2010
Sometime in the near future, gasoline is up to $13 a gallon. New Orleans has been wiped from the earth by another hurricane. The War on Terror is still on-going but the US isn’t winning. And the US military, lead by Homeland Security, is seeking an edge. To that end, they collect twelve convicted murderers from Death Row and conveniently make them “disappear” from the records, taking them to a facility in Colorado that is conducting experiments to create the perfect, self-healing, near immortal soldier. This sort of thing never being a good idea, of course, the virus with which the murderers are infected instead mutates them into something very close to vampires. The twelve are now telepathic, sensitive to light, glow in the dark, and are extremely fast, extremely strong, and extremely hungry. And then…they escape. After that, it’s all just a matter of time.
Barely one hundred years later, North American society has entirely collapsed, and nothing is known about the state of the outer world. What few humans may remain live in walled colonies and fear the dark. One such colony, established by FEMA in what was once California, has suffered heavy losses over the years, and is now facing the fact that the batteries which power the lights that keep them safe are dying. Within a few years at most, the lights will go dark and the “virals” who hunt them will be over the walls one night and feasting on their blood. And then, one day, a young girl walks up to their walls and is taken in. It has been years since the last “Walker” came into the Colony for succor against the vampiric virals, and this particular Walker, Amy, is a horse of a different color. She, too, was part of the original experiment to create the supersoldiers, and she may well be the last best hope of humanity.
Lengthy, but intense and gripping, this epic compares favorably to the best of Stephen King and Michael Crichton. Hard to put down!
Find The Passage in our catalog.
August 7th, 2010
SFSignal has polled a panel of writers, editors, and others active in the Science Fiction genre asking them one seemingly simple question: What Science Fiction titles should be in every fan’s library? It’s an interesting question, and one without a truly simple answer. Each fan will come at the idea from a different direction. Not considering myself to be a true science fiction fan…I’m more of a fantasy fan who occasionally reads science fiction…I read the panelists’ suggestions with interest, discovering that I have in fact read far more of what might be considered the seminal works than I would have thought. They aren’t necessarily all books I’d pick as essential, however, which is another interesting discovery.
The list of books I’ve read follows. The original SF Signal posts appear in two parts: Part 1; and Part 2. Have you read any of these titles? What additional books would you add to the panelists’ picks?
The “Top Science Fiction” titles I’ve read:
Adams, Douglas Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Atwood, Margaret Oryx and Crake
Bradbury, Ray The Martian Chronicles
Bradbury, Ray Fahrenheit 451
Card, Orson Scott Ender’s Game
Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Dumas, Alexandre The Count of Monte Cristo
Gibson, William Neuromancer
Herbert, Frank Dune
L’Engel, Madeleine A Wrinkle in Time
Le Guin, Ursula The Left Hand of Darkness
Le Guin, Ursula The Dispossessed
McCaffrey, Anne Dragonflight
Orwell, George 1984
Shelley, Mary Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus
Verne, Jules 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Wells, H.G. The Time Machine
June 22nd, 2010
It is the golden age of Hollywood monster movies and actor Syms Thorley is riding high, famous for his portrayals of such beasties as the Frankenstein-esque Corpuscula and the lumbering mummy Kha-Ton-Ra. However, Thorley’s skill at shambling and lumbering and groaning have won him some attention he would rather have done without…that of the US Navy. The Navy, hoping to end the war in the Pacific against the Japanese, have been developing the ultimate super-weapon: giant, mutant, fire-breathing lizards. In hopes of intimidating the Japanese into surrender rather than being forced to unleash the behemoths, they hire Thorley to don the rubber suit and portray a juvenile “Gorgantis” monster. They’ve built a miniature Japanese city and invited the Japanese delegates for a demonstration. If Thorley’s performance is convincing enough, they believe, the war will end without further bloodshed and neither the Navy’s lizards nor the Army’s atom bombs will have to be deployed. So Thorley knows he’d better put on the performance of a lifetime! Unfortunately, his greatest movie-making rival has plans to steal his thunder…and his screenplay!
Humorous, though dealing with its driving conceit in a straight-faced fashion, the seemingly ridiculous concept becomes entirely plausible in the author’s capable hands. However, the plot is slightly too thin to support the full weight of the satire being attempted. Still, an enjoyable satire with layers of real moral quandary woven through the romp.
Find Shambling Towards Hiroshima in our catalog.
February 26th, 2010
In a future in which genetically modified organisms have destroyed many naturally evolved plants and animals and genetically modified plagues have already killed thousands of people, generippers and calorie companies are both the greatest saviors and greatest destroyers of the human race. Everyone is always fighting to stay one step ahead of the latest mutation, and the greatest wealth of any nation has become the seedbanks and generipped versions of plants that have been modified to withstand the plagues that have taken the calories out of everyone’s stomachs.
In this future, Thailand has followed a policy of protective isolationism for many decades, fiercely protecting its extensive seedbank and doing its best to attract the world’s best generippers to modify those seeds for the modern environment. Into this insular society comes Anderson Lake, secretly a “calorie man” for Agri-Gen, one of the world’s biggest calorie companies, seeking to acquire the seedbank for his company. He encounters Emiko, a Japanese windup girl…that is, a genetically engineered “New Person” designed to provide labor and pleasurable company, but now hated and feared for her very nature and tossed aside by the man who had owned her. Emiko’s life is a tenuous one; she is constantly degraded and reliant on criminals and bribes for survival. Anderson finds himself smitten with her seeming fragility despite himself. Between the two…Anderson seeking to leverage his company’s favor in exchange for access to the seedbank and Emiko pushed to the brink and seeking only to escape her captivity in any way possible…they set in motion a violent coup and uprising in a country whose hold on survival was already fragile at best.
Vibrantly imagined and immersively detailed, Bacigalupi’s tale is complex, multi-layered, and razor-sharp. Highly recommended.
Find The Windup Girl in our catalog.
February 19th, 2010