2015 Sci-Fi Experience

A stand-alone historical fantasy set in the Roman Republic.

Publication year: 2007
Format: print
Page count: 250
Publisher: Juno

Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Hispallus comes from a powerful and respected family (Scipio) and is a praetor peregrinus of Rome, yet he feels like he hasn’t accomplished much in his life, especially compared to his grandfather Africanus or his cousin who is the consul. He also has secrets which could ruin him. When a young architect Daedalus, his former slave, comes to him to ask for money, he doesn’t have it. But Daedalus threatens to expose Hispallus’ secrets if he doesn’t pay. Hispallus receives only a few days to get a great sum of money. When he hears that Domina Euryale is giving a similar sum of money to anyone who can answer her question, he tries to persuade her to give the money to him instead.

Domina Euryale is a mysterious and very rich foreign woman who has come to Rome to get an answer to her riddle: how can stone be brought to life. Euryale is always veiled, claiming infirmity or disfigurement. Every servant and slave in her household is either blind or has very poor eyesight.

Daedalus is a young man whose father, a slave, was part of Hispallus’ household and he is convinced that Hispallus is to blame for Daedalus’ father’s death. Daedalus had befriended Hispallus’ drunkard son and is looking for a way to avenge himself on Hispallus.

Sevisus is a young slave in Euryale’s household. He works hard and he’s very interested in books. His mistress’ old maidservant taught him how to read. He runs around Rome doing errands for his mistress, such as talking to an astrologer and an alchemist who are working to find an answer to Euryale.

As far as I can tell, this is an excellent portrayal of the Roman Republic, including festivals and the Roman mistrust of anyone or anything foreign. The characters are interesting and don’t have too modern mindsets. The plot doesn’t bring much surprises but it also avoids clichés.

I very much enjoyed this historical fantasy and I’m hoping that I can find Dalkey’s other books.

A new Retrieval Artist book! The tenth book in the series.

Publication year: 2015
Format: Audio
Running time: 10 hours, 35 minutes
Narrator: Jay Snyder

“A Murder of Clones” continues the Anniversary day saga which began with the “Anniversary Day”, eight book in the series. The domed cities on the Moon were bombed and the investigators never found out who did it. Now, we get one step closer to unraveling the mystery. This book introduces a new set of characters and the older characters in the series don’t appear. However, I recommend starting the “Anniversary Day” or perhaps even with “The Disappeared” to get the whole story.

The first part of the book was published as a novella in “Fiction River: Moonscapes”. In fact, I think that would a great place to sample this story and Rusch’s style.

Judita Gomez is a Frontier Marshall for the Earth Alliance. When an alien species, which isn’t yet part of the Alliance, are having trouble with a bunch of humans, they turn to Gomez. A group of humans have built a domed city on the moon of the aliens’ planet but the species have left each other pretty much alone until now. A group of young boys have come out of the dome and another group of boys have killed the first group. Also, the aliens have one live boy in custody who is asking for protection for an asylum. If that’s not complex enough situation, Gomez finds out that the boys all look that same: they’re clones and so by Alliance law they aren’t humans but property.

After the novella, the book continues both with Gomez and introduces a new set of characters.

This is another great book in the series. It has pretty much everything I’ve come to love in a Rusch book. All of the characters have their own motivations; sometimes they do bad things because of good motivations and sometimes they do good things because of bad motivations. The central new character is a lawyer who is disgusted with the way that clones are treated in the Alliance. “Illegals”, ones created not the Alliance way, are incarcerated for life because of the simple fact that they’re born (or created) with the wrong gene set. While in this case, the gene set belongs to a specific individual instead of a, say, race, it still mirrors some things in our own world.

This book explores the larger universe in this series and I was thrilled to see that. While I like Miles Flint, the protagonist for most of the other books in this series, the poor guy has suffered quite a lot already. I also really liked Gomez and her effective team of Marshalls. I can hardly wait for the next book which is apparently coming out next month!

This is clearly part of a series. While it doesn’t end in a cliffhanger, there’s no resolution at the end.

The first in an SF trilogy.

Publication year: 2002
Format: print
Page count: 451
Publisher: Aspect

Jocelyn Musey, Jos, was born in a merchant space ship Mukudoki. But space pirate Falcone attacks the ship, kills all the adults and kidnaps the kids. The kids are terrified that they’re going to be sold into slavery. Falcone personally talks with the eight-year-old Jos and strips him naked. One time, when Jos wakes up all the other kids are gone. Falcone doesn’t talk about them; instead he takes Jos as a sort of protégé. He teaches the boy good manners, gambling, and other things. All the while, Jos lives in constant fear. He doesn’t know what Falcone wants from him but he’s afraid that Falcone will sexually abuse him. A year later, Jos has a chance to escape and he takes it. But he’s shot and ends up on the wrong side of the war. The enemy aliens take him with them.

The EarthHub is in a war against an alien race, called the strits, and their human allies. Jos doesn’t know much about it, but he’s terrified of the aliens and think their human allies are traitors to their race. However, one of the alien sympathizers takes him in and start to train him. Jos wants to trust him, but previous experiences have taught him not to.

After Mukudori’s destruction, Jos is very much a broken character. He has a desperate yearning for love and understanding and a safe place. When he finally finds someone he can trust, this person sends him away on an undercover mission where Jos has to infiltrate a tightly-knit military unit. All around him he sees the camaraderie and friendships which he really wants but he keeps himself aloof from everyone. And he’s not yet even 20 years old; he’s still growing up and trying to find a place for himself.

This is a very dark book, dealing with themes of abuse, murder, and betrayal. But it’s a hopeful book, too. It’s very intense and heart wrenching.

It starts in second person which gives the readers a distance to all the horrible things that happen during Mukudori’s destruction. Then it switches into first person, giving us a very intimate insight into Jos.

The alien culture seems to be inspired by Spartan and Japanese samurai culture, at least the parts that we see of it. The aliens are very reserved people and expect the humans to behave the same way. But Jos never has the opportunity to choose if he wants to be a part of that culture so to me it seemed unfair how he is expected to tightly keep his feeling in check all the time, even as a teenager.

The other books in the series have different main characters. However, I would have wanted more closure from the ending; perhaps we’ll see more of Jos in other books as a minor character.

The first book in the Zelda Pryce series.

Publication year: 2012
Format: ebook

Zelda Pryce is a geomatrix and a security consultant. She uses arcane science to create devices which looks like magic to the untrained people. As a security consultant it’s her job to test the security of places; essentially she’s hired to break into places and steal things (which she then gives back of course). She’s just graduated from her arcane science school and started her career. Her first job is to break in to the Smithsonian and take the Nicomachean whistle. She has built anti-gravity wings with allows her to fly and Theodore Key which opens any door. With them, all goes well and soon Zelda gets another job, to break into the British Museum and take out Chatton’s Anti-Razor. Zelda is thrilled and accepts the offer.

However, during the job, everything starts to go wrong. For one thing, another person is burglaring the Museum at the same time. Clive Caspian isn’t a security consultant but a real thief and Zelda finds that out a bit too late. They escape together from the local police in Clive’s old Skoda but a French secret agent catches them and tells them that they’ve been used. Someone has conned Zelda and Clive into robbing the Museum for real. Zelda is furious and wants to catch the person responsible.

In a book geared toward the romance readers, Zelda and Clive would be chasing the con artist around the world with sexual tension rising. But in this book (yay!) Zelda teams up with the French agent Yasmin Demir. Yasmin is pretty much a lone agent but she adjusts well to working with Zelda and I enjoyed their team-up.

Zelda is pretty young but she’s very smart and determined. She also doesn’t want to use her abilities for crime, which she could do. She has a younger sister Roxanne and she worries about her sister’s future. They talk on the phone often, even when Zelda is on the job.

Yasmin is a more reserved person. She’s had a hard time in her job and I think she’s often frustrated in it. In contrast, Clive is the suave and charming thief. But he isn’t interested in taking any unnecessary risks. He also uses arcane science devices to help him in his crimes and that’s one reason why Zelda is attracted to him.

The world feels very much like our own (with cell phones and the internet) but with some strange objects which are really fun. Those that were introduced early included Occam’s Razor which is an actual and very dangerous razor, Hypatia’s Wings which allows the person using them fly, and Faraday Cloak which makes the wearer invisible to electronic devices.

The pace is quick and takes Zelda and her friends to various places around the world, which was fun, too. However, there’s not much character development. While the plot isn’t unique by any means (which book has a unique plot??), it’s written in a fun way and I enjoyed the book a lot.

This was part of the Steampunk bundle but it doesn’t actually have any steam powered items. I’d rather call it alternate world/history. While the items might feel like fantasy, Zelda is adamant that they are scientific and not magic at all.

The fourth collected volume of Firefly comic but the first one set after the movie Serenity. Collects Leaves on the Wind 1-6 and “It’s never easy”.

Writer: Zack Whedon
Artists: Georges Jeanty, Fabio Moon, Karl Story
Publisher: Dark Horse
Publishing year: 2014

The story starts several months after the movie Serenity. The crew have let the regular people know about Miranda and what they found there. Some of the people think that the crew are heroes but there are people, apparently working for the government, who are branding Mal and his crew as terrorists and criminals. Shadowy Alliance operatives are sent after the crew. However, there’s also a group calling themselves the New Resistance who wants to find Mal and make him their leader.

Mal and the crew are hiding. At least until Zoe gives birth to her and Wash’s baby. Unfortunately, Zoe is bleeding internally and the crew have to head for the nearest hospital. Once there, it doesn’t take long until the Alliance is notified and the crew is forced to abandon Zoe to the hospital. Of course, they’ll try to get her back any way they can.

Mal and the crew are rather desperate at the start of the story. They don’t have much food left and Serenity is falling apart. Two of their crew is dead and Jayne has left, too. On the other hand, River is doing much better and she’s now the pilot. There are other personal development which I won’t spoil here but which I very much approve of.

The story starts in a very interesting way but I think the middle was a bit rushed (or maybe I just wanted a longer story ). Lots of familiar characters reappear and Zoe has her own adventure. Also, the first pages were interesting where we saw the quick progression of Mal being branded as a terrorist for revealing Alliance’s secrets.

The stakes were raised quite high in the story and especially in the last pages. I don’t see how they can go back to being relative nobodies and doing odd jobs (in every sense of the word). Unfortunately, they don’t have much of an income so I’m very curious to see how they can support themselves from now on. It’s also a bit of shame because I liked that part of the story before, the small (criminal) gigs they did but at least they could pick and choose the ones they did. I already feel that this comic is darker in tone than the TV show and it seems that it will go even darker because their enemies are so dangerous now. The comic doesn’t have the comedic moments the show had which lightened up the mood.

Overall, I liked the first two collections more.

Oh, yes. This isn’t a good jumping-on point. I recommend watching first the TV-show Firefly (just half a season) and movie Serenity.

A stand-alone alternate history steampunk clearly inspired by the Shakespeare play in the title.

Publication year: 2013
Format: ebook
Publisher: Xchyler Publising

A Midsummer Night’s Steampunk is pretty much what the title says: A Midsummer Night’s Dream recast in Steampunk. The story begins with a group of mechanics; men who have lost body parts in wars and those parts have been replaced with mechanical parts. Even though they now serve their country and fellow citizens very diligently, they are shunned by all other people. Our six heroic mechanics have decided to perform a play to the Queen in honor of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Sadly, some of the mechanics require repairs before the Queen can fully enjoy “Pyramus and Thisbe” and they don’t want to return to the malicious care of the man who built them: Doctor Oberon Malieux. So, they head up to the Queen’s Artificer, Pauline Spiegel. The mechanics, Pauline, and her friends becomes embroiled with a plot to overthrow Britain.

Of course the retelling needs two pairs of star crossed lovers. They are Pauline Spiegel, a humble artificer, and her intended, Alexander MacIntyre who is a lowly clerk in the British Royal Household and Pauline’s friend Clemmie Hozier and her intended, certain young Lieutenant with the name of Winston Churchill. However, Pauline’s and Winston’s mothers were best friends and promised that their kids would be married to each other and to Winston duty becomes before love. Clemmie isn’t thrilled and Pauline is adamant that she wants Alex.

The villain of the story is Oberon Malieux, a brilliant doctor who has built the mechanized men from wounded soldiers from the Zulu War. However, lately has also built mechs from the criminally insane and uses them as his private army. He want power and wealth for himself and doesn’t care whom he hurts in the process. He also requires the expertize of his estranged wife, Lakshmi Malieux, who is an expert in eye surgery and has created small, insect like mechanoids. But she doesn’t want to help him; in fact she wants to stop him.

The book has lots of steampunk elements and very clever use of mechanical objects and people. It’s set in a Britain which is on the brink of war but that doesn’t darken the mood of the story. It uses quite a lot of real historical people with twists. The political scene is also somewhat different from the real politics around that time. I greatly enjoyed them and the characters, too.

The story is fast-paced, almost breathlessly fast and great, light-hearted fun. It also has lots of references to various Shakespeare plays.

Playback Effect is near future, thoughtful SF about how technology affects humans and whole societies.

The setting is the near future where people have invented the technology to record what other people experience and then play it back and experience it themselves. Feelings can be recorded and one of the main characters is a professional dreamer who records her dreams for others to buy and experience. However, specifics and details aren’t yet recorded.

One of the most interesting ways that this technology has impacted the society is in the criminal justice system. When a crime happens, technicians try their best to record the victim’s experiences and when the criminal has been sentenced, their victims’ recordings are played back to the criminal so that he or she can truly experience the hurt they’ve done.

Wynne Cantrell is a professional dreamer; she records the feelings she has during her dreams and can then sell the products to other people. She’s also married to Hal Wakeman but their marriage is has become more and more unhappy because of Hal’s self-centered interest in only himself and his work. The book starts when Wynne is sitting in the Cardinem Square waiting for Hal who is once again late, a bomb blows up near her. The EMTs and also a recording team arrive. Wynne survives but is terribly wounded and even loses a hand. The police have only one serious suspect: Hal.

Hal is tried and convicted and he has to experience the memories of the bombing victims. The first memory he experiences is Wynne’s… and then his sentence is stopped. Hal’s father used his influence to get Hal off the hook and the investigation is opened up again. However, the case’s lead investigator is convinced that Hal is the perpetrator and continues to hound him. Meanwhile, Hal realizes that he almost lost Wynne and how much he really loves her.

Also, on the crime scene, a young man dies while wearing a recording helmet. Just who, if anyone, should be able to experience that recording?

Wynne’s and Hal’s marriage has been falling apart for a while before the explosion. After that, it changes dramatically because Hal realizes that he has been taking Wynne for granted and stops doing that. The whole court case is also very humbling experience for him, during which he isn’t allowed to even see his wife. Hal’s career has been the most important thing in his life and that’s pretty much over. So, Hal changes quite a lot and then struggles to come to grips with the change.

The book has a lot of point-of-view characters. In addition to Hal and Wynne, there’s Arthur Kellic, the lead detective who has no other suspects than Hal, various other characters, such as a young hacker and the real bomber who considers himself a scientist.

I really liked most of the characters and the new technology is intriguing. As we’ve seen, new tech can bring about quite a lot of change. The possibility of recording people’s emotions can be a huge change and it’s explored through various characters.

The pace isn’t particularily fast at first but starts to build up.

I recieved a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

This is another stand-alone SF.

Publication year: 1980
Format: print
Page count: 250 (The Deep Beyond omnibus)
Publisher: Daw

In typical Cherryh style, the reader is thrown in with little explanation and is expected to deduce things on the fly.

Serpent’s Reach is set in an isolated region of space. The whole constellation is forbidden for outsider humans to settle and they’re only allowed to visit one planet. The reason is the local alien lifeform which is considered very unpredictable. The Majat, as they are called, are an insectoid hive mind species which at first can’t even understand the concept of individuality. Before the constellation was quarantined a group of humans settled there: humans and their genetically engineered slaves, the azi. By the time of this book, the humans have divided into two further groups: the House humans and what they call the Betas. The House humans (called Kontrin) are virtually immortal and possess limitless funds. They rule over everyone else and work with the Majat. They also sell azi to the Majat.

Raen is a young woman in the House of Meth-Maren, a high born human looking forward to a rigid life of duty. Then her entire House is slaughtered but other humans and Majat working together. She’s the only one to escape and she runs to the nearest Majat hive. The Blue Majat Queen agrees to help her and she wants revenge. She and the Blue hive warriors manage to attack Raen’s former home and kill all the invaders there. However, Raen is captured and the hive slaughtered.

Raen is brought before the Kontrin council. Many want to kill her too, but the two eldest Kontrin (Lian and Moth) protect her and just banish her. Raen still has her funds and is allowed to travel freely in Serpent’s Reach. She wanders seemly aimlessly for years, surviving assassination attempts and burning with the need for more revenge. When we see her again, she’s on transport to the corner planet Istra which is the only planet where outsiders are allowed to come. And she has a plan.

The book has several point-of-view characters and none of them are particularly sympathetic. Most of them are only interested in their plots and schemes; the rest are people caught up in them. Raen is driven but near the end she starts to have sympathy towards the people she’s trampling under – and even saves a large group of azi from a horrible fate. Jim is an azi dedicated to Raen. His viewpoint is interesting but also quite focused

The book doesn’t have a happy ending. In fact, it’s quite dark and melancholy in tone. Some of the scenes might even qualify for horror.

The Majat are the most interesting part of the book to me. They don’t have individuals but just units that know everything that the all other similar units know, except when one is given a message to deliver. If they are cut off from the hive mind, they go crazy and the others kill them.

Carl at the Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting the 2015 Sci-fi Exprience and I’m joining it. Better later than never!

Eight years ago this excitement lead me to invite other readers to spend time together to:

a) Continue their love affair with science fiction
b) Return to science fiction after an absence, or
c) Experience for the first time just how exhilarating science fiction can be.

Thus The Sci-Fi Experience was born, and the time has come for all good women and men to boldly go forth once more…

Traditionally this experience has begun on January 1st and continued through the end of February. Every year I find myself with an overwhelming desire to focus my reading and viewing to the science fiction genre as soon as the weather turns cold and because of this I end up partaking of a lot of science fiction before the experience ever officially begins.

Last year I made a change and will be continuing with that format this year. We will celebrate the joys of Science Fiction to end 2014 and begin 2015 by officially beginning The 2015 Sci-Fi Experience on December 1st, 2014 and it will go through January 31st, 2015. As we have done the past few years, we will be coupling the Experience with Andrea’s Vintage Science Fiction Month which runs through the month of January 2015. You should take a moment now and pop over there to sign up!

I’ve got lots of great SF books waiting in my TBR such as
Karen Wyle’s Playback Effect
Karin Lowachee’s Warchild
Matthew Hughes’ Majestrum
Elizabeth Bear’s Undertow.

1, C. J. Cherryh: Serpent’s Reach
2, Karen Wyle: Playback Effect
3, Scott E. Tabert: A Midsummer Night’s Steampunk
4, Serenity: Leaves on the Wind
5, Joss Llewlyn: The Razor’s Edge
6, Karen Lowachee: Warchild
7, Kristine Kathryn Rusch: A Murder of Clones