Book Review: The Dreaming Stars

the dreaming starsThe Dreaming Stars
by Tim Pratt
Science Fiction
384 pages
Published September 2018

I don’t read a lot of hard sci-fi. It’s just not where my interests lie. But every once in a while, I do enjoy a good space opera. Firefly/Serenity (before I learned about the Confederate connection, dammit), Dark Matter, even the occasional episode of The Expanse. Tim Pratt has written a fantastic space opera in his Axiom series. (The Forbidden Stars should be coming out sometime in 2019.) The story started with The Wrong Stars and continues here.

First, the diversity is fantastic. The crew runs the gamut of genders, sexualities, ethnicities, and religions. Our two main characters, Captain Machedo and Elena, are both bisexual women, and the Captain is also demisexual. (One of the first things she does in this book is crash her own funeral being held by her ex-husband!) I enjoyed seeing Elena and Callie’s relationship continue to grow.

Second, the dialog is hilarious. The Captain and her ship’s AI are both smart alecks, and sarcasm and snappy comebacks abound.

The action is also very well-done; the physics of traveling through space aside, most of the science is feasible. All of the Axiom-tech is pretty far out, and some of the other science is….well it’s such a long shot that it only worked because it’s in a book, but it IS conceivable it could work.

This is one sci-fi series I will continue to watch for. (And I wonder how long before it gets optioned for TV?)

From the cover of The Dreaming Stars:

In the breathtaking sequel to The Wrong Stars, Tim Pratt brings you much closer to that ancient race of aliens, the Axiom, who will kill us all – when they wake up. 

In deep space, a swarm of nanoparticles threatens the colonies, transforming everything it meets into computronium – including the colonists. The crew of the White Raven investigate, and discover an Axiom facility filled with aliens, hibernating while their minds roam a vast virtual reality. The treacherous Sebastien wakes up, claiming his altered brain architecture can help the crew deactivate the swarm – from inside the Axiom simulation. To protect humanity, beleaguered Captain Callie Machedo must trust him, but if Sebastien still plans to dominate the universe using Axiom tech, they could be in for a whole galaxy of trouble.

Book Review: Redshirts

redshirtsRedshirts
by John Scalzi
Science Fiction
317 pages
Published 2012

Some books are surreal suspensions of disbelief. Some books just make you go “WHAT the FUCK” every couple of chapters when a new twist is revealed, and this is one of the latter. Just – what the FUCK.

Imagine your average sci-fi space opera TV show on cable television with hand-wavey science and half-assed special effects – take those characters and make them realize they’re IN A TV SHOW. Let them realize all of their woes are due to shitty writing, and see what they do with that knowledge. THAT is this book, and it is crazy and hilarious and weird and eye-roll-inducing.

Between the time travel, the Box that does magic science behind the scenes so things work out on-screen, the Narrative taking control and making people say and do things they wouldn’t otherwise do – this book is wacky and just full of what-the-fuckery. It’s fun, though, and if you can keep yourself from groaning out loud every few pages, it’s a pretty good read.

From the cover of Redshirts:

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is even more thrilled to be assigned to the ship’s xenobiology laboratory, with the chance to serve on “Away Missions” alongside the starship’s famous senior officers.

Live couldn’t be better . . . until Andrew begins to realize that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) sadly, at least one low-ranked crew member is invariable killed.

Unsurprisingly, the savvier members belowdecks avoid Away Missions at all costs. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is . . . and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.

Book Review: Autonomous

autonomousAutonomous
by Annalee Newitz
Biopunk
301 pages
Published 2017

Autonomous is an interesting story that poses a lot of moral questions. It doesn’t really take sides; both the pharmaceutical pirate and the agents tracking her down are painted in sympathetic ways, as if we’re meant to like them all. We see why Jack is a pharmaceutical pirate; medicine is only available to those rich enough to pay for it, so the poor stay poor and sick and short-lived. She wants to change that. She reverse-engineers drugs, manufactures them, and distributes them to the needy through her associates.

Meanwhile, Eliasz is a conflicted military agent who is sexually attracted to robots. Or at least to his partner, Paladin, though a flashback shows what might have been the start of his attraction to robots. Paladin is probably the single most interesting character in the entire book, as she muses on the nature of being indentured, and searches through her memories and the internet for information about her situation.

The book does have LGBT content – Jack is bisexual, and Eliasz is – robosexual? Is that a thing? Paladin could be called nonbinary or trans; she repeatedly mentions that gender isn’t a thing to robots, but because she’s a military robot, most people call her a he at the beginning of the book. She learns the brain inside her is female, and to make Eliasz more comfortable with his attraction, she decides to use female pronouns. Eliasz does use the F word to refer to himself being attracted to the robot at the beginning, when they were using male pronouns. This puzzles Paladin for a while, causing her to search the term and figure out what Eliasz meant by its use.

There’s a lot of complex world-building in this book that is barely brushed past. From the corporations who own patents covering everything, to the system of indenture that covers humans as well as robots, to the bio-domes that cover cities (but it’s livable outside the biodomes, so why are they needed?), to the new federations that cover continents that used to be divided into several countries – there’s a LOT going on. And there’s not just robots, but also some pretty advanced cybernetics implanted in humans as well as an everpresent network of data that can be tapped into with implants that everyone has.

Ultimately, for as complex as the world is, and cohesive as the plot is, I’m left wondering who, if anyone, was in the right in this story. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to be happy with the ending or not. I’ve seen other reviews saying Neuromancer was a way better book in a similar vein, and I actually have copy of that waiting to be read. So we’ll see.

From the cover of Autonomous:

When anything can be owned, how can we be free?

Earth, 2144. Jack is an anti-patent scientist turned drug pirate, a pharmaceutical Robin Hood traversing the world in a submarine, fabricating cheap scrips for poor people who can’t otherwise afford them. But her latest drug hack leaves a trail of lethal overdoses as people become addicted to their work, repeating job tasks until they become insane.

Hot on her trail, an unlikely pair: Eliasz, a brooding military agent, and his partner Paladin, a young indentured robot. As they race to stop information about the hacked drugs at their source, they form an uncommonly close relationship that neither of them fully understands, and Paladin begins to question their connection – and a society that profits from indentured robots. 

Book Review: Guardian Angels & Other Monsters

guardian angels other monstersGuardian Angels & Other Monsters
by Daniel H. Wilson
Sci-fi short stories
280 pages
Published 2018

So I obviously didn’t read the description of this book closely enough, because it wasn’t until I hit “One For Sorrow – A Clockwork Dynasty Story” that I realized this was the same author that wrote Clockwork Dynasty, a book I read last year! We’ll blame it on my goldfish memory. My goldfish memory is a large part of why I keep this blog, so I can look back and remember what I’ve read and what I thought about it! I randomly plucked this book off the New Book display while grabbing my holds from the library; I didn’t recognize the author’s name at the time. So I’m highly amused.

These stories are . . . hard to quantify.  Some of them I really enjoyed – “Miss Gloria” is probably my favorite – she’s a little girl with a robot guardian. When kidnappers disable the guardian and take her, the guardian’s programming jumps to the closest possible hardware – being the getaway car. From there to one of the kidnappers’ smart helmets, and so on. I very much disliked “The Blue Afternoon That Lasted Forever” but to say why would spoil it entirely. The Clockwork Dynasty short story was quite good – I’m still hoping he’ll write another full-length novel in that world.

I haven’t read his other novel, Robopocalypse, and I wasn’t thrilled with the short story from that universe, but the synopsis of it sounds amazing. I don’t know if I want to read it or not!

This was a fascinating, if weird, collection of stories. I like how he explores the possible consequences of things like teleportation, AIs, robots, and battle armor. As a race, our capacity for invention tends to outpace our consideration of the consequences. We try to figure out how to do a thing before stopping to consider if we should. In this book, over and over again, I feel that Wilson is asking us “Is this the future we want?” which has often been the case with truly visionary science fiction. That’s why people complaining about politics in science fiction make me laugh – science fiction has ALWAYS been political!

This is a book for mature audiences. There are deaths, sacrifices, pain, sex, war, and other mature themes – it’s definitely not the lightest of reads. But it’s good.

From the cover of Guardian Angels & Other Monsters:

From the New York Times bestselling author of Robopocalypse and The Clockwork Dynasty comes an enthralling and fantastic collection of stories that explores complex emotional and intellectual landscapes at the intersection of artificial intelligence and human life.

In “ALL KINDS OF PROOF,”  a down-and-out drunk makes the unlikeliest of friends when he is hired to train a mail-carrying robot; in “BLOOD MEMORY, ” a mother confronts the dangerous reality that her daughter will never assimilate in this world after she is the first child born through a teleportation device; in “THE BLUE AFTERNOON THAT LASTED FOREVER,” a physicist rushes home to be with his daughter after he hears reports of an atmospheric anomaly that he knows to be a sign of the end of Earth; in “MISS GLORIA,” a robot comes back to life in many different forms on a quest to save a young girl. Showcasing the brilliance and depth of Daniel H. Wilson’s imagination, Guardian Angels & Other Monsters is a masterful collection that probes the profound impact of the rise of digital intelligence in a human world.

Book Review: The Wrong Stars

the wrong starsThe Wrong Stars
by Tim Pratt
Science Fiction/Space Opera
396 pages
Published 2017

I’ve watched my fair share of Space Opera (Firefly, Dark Matter, Farscape, Star Trek, Star Wars – don’t try to tell me those last two aren’t Space Opera, THEY TOTALLY ARE) – but I haven’t read much of it. I picked up The Wrong Stars mostly because reviews said it had a demisexual main character, rather than because it’s a Space Opera. Regardless, I am SO GLAD I DID. The book is excellent.

First off, the diversity! Over the course of the story, we meet people who are, in no particular order, gay, bisexual, demisexual, asexual, transgender, and non-binary. The story is set 500 years after Earth sends out its first colony ships, and in that time, culture has evolved. Marriage is not common, but contractually-bound relationships exist. Promiscuity and non-monogamy aren’t viewed any different than monogamy, and in the same way, the distinctions between gay, straight, and bi don’t carry any negative connotations. It’s not a complete utopia – it’s still a capitalist society, and there is still scarcity – but socially, at least, it has definitely evolved a lot from the present!

Elena, one of our main characters, was a biologist sent out on one of the first colony ships. Stocked with seeds, crude replicators, and cryo-sleep pods, a small crew was sent out, in stasis, on a five-hundred year journey to a system with probable life-supporting planets. They were called Goldilocks ships, in the hope they’d find a planet that was “just right.” What humanity didn’t expect was that in the intervening five hundred years, they would make contact with an alien species and be given the means for true space travel via wormholes. Some of the ships arrived at their destinations to find human colonies already thriving on their target planets! Elena, however, found something quite different, and it’s a very disconcerting difference. She is rescued by the motley crew of the White Raven, and they quickly get drawn into the mystery.

I really enjoyed the world-building and characterization in The Wrong Stars. The science of it made sense to me, but I’m not very versed in science, so I can’t really say how realistic it is. It was at least pretty internally consistent. I’d like to learn more about how the AIs are created, though. Luckily, there is a sequel coming! The Dreaming Stars should be coming out this September, and I’m DEFINITELY going to read it.

If you like Dark Matter, Firefly, or Farscape, you should definitely read The Wrong Stars. There’s a little bit of light romance threaded into the larger plot, and one fade-to-black sex scene. It’s definitely not the focus of the book. There is some violence, but nothing incredibly graphic. I would put it at about the same maturity level as Star Trek.

From the cover of The Wrong Stars:

The shady crew of the White Raven run freight and salvage at the fringes of our solar system. They discover the wreck of a centuries-old exploration vessel floating light years away from its intended destination. When they revive its sole occupant, she wakes from cryosleep with excited news of First Alien Contact.

The crew break it to her that, in the many years that she has been in stasis, humanity has already met and made an alliance with an alien race. But she reveals that these are very different extra-terrestrials . . . and the gifts they bestowed upon her could kill all of humanity, or take the human race out to the most distant stars.

Book Review: The Diabolic

the diabolicThe Diabolic
by S. J. Kincaid
Young Adult Sci-fi
403 pages
Published 2016

I really enjoyed this book. There were twists I absolutely did not see coming, and Nemesis’s confusion over whether she is truly human or not is an absorbing part of the plotline.

The book opens on Nemesis, an artificially created humanoid, as a child, being bonded to her charge, Sidonia Impyrean. The chemically-induced bonding creates an artificial love from Nemesis towards Sidonia – a love so strong she will kill and die to protect her. Many years later, Diabolics – what Nemesis is – are outlawed. Rather than kill Nemesis, Sidonia’s family fakes her death, and eventually sends Nemesis to court masquerading as Sidonia. No one has seen Sidonia before, so the masquerade is fairly easy, other than hiding Nemesis’ real abilities as one of the last Diabolics. Thrown into a world of conspiracies and courtly intrigue, Nemesis flails a little bit, but eventually finds her footing, and I can’t say anymore than that because that’s when the plot twists start!

This is one of the most surprising YA books I’ve read. I only anticipated one or two of the twists; many of the events revealed themselves to the reader at the same time that Nemesis uncovers them, which makes sense, as the book is told from her point of view.

The bond between Sidonia and Nemesis is strong and intriguing, even across star systems. I wish their relationship had been explored more. Sidonia always believed Nemesis was truly human, even when Nemesis did not. The book did not delve deeply into the actual creation of Diabolics; I’m hoping the sequel does. I’m curious if they are actually created, or if they are genetically modified humans and that’s just a closely guarded secret. (Even if they are created, they’re human in every way except their strength and endurance – I’m sure they’re simply modified in the womb. Or test tube. Whichever. I really hope the sequel gets into that.)

I have the sequel, The Empress, requested from the library, but it’s supposed to be a trilogy. I don’t know when the third is due out.

This is a fantastic, surprising YA book with interesting politics and world building. I really want to learn more about the history of this world, and hopefully the rest of the trilogy will cover that.

From the cover of The Diabolic:

A Diabolic is ruthless. A Diabolic is powerful. A Diabolic has a single task: Kill in order to protect the person you’ve been created for. 

Nemesis is a Diabolic, a humanoid teenager created to protect a galactic senator’s daughter, Sidonia. The two have grown up side by side, but are in no way sisters. Nemesis is expected to give her life for Sidonia, and she would do so gladly. She would also take as many lives as necessary to keep Sidonia safe.

When the power-mad Emperor learns Sidonia’s father is participating in a rebellion, he summons Sidonia to the Galactic court. She is to serve as a hostage. Now, there is only one way for Nemesis to protect Sidonia. She must become her. Nemesis travels to the court disguised as Sidonia—a killing machine masquerading in a world of corrupt politicians and two-faced senators’ children. It’s a nest of vipers with threats on every side, but Nemesis must keep her true abilities a secret or risk everything.

As the Empire begins to fracture and rebellion looms closer, Nemesis learns there is something more to her than just deadly force. She finds a humanity truer than what she encounters from most humans. Amidst all the danger, action, and intrigue, her humanity just might be the thing that saves her life—and the empire.