2016 sci-fi month

The second book in the science fiction series.

Publication year: 2016
Format: ebook
Page count: Kindle doesn’t have them
Publisher: Kelt Haven Press

Full disclosure: Mr. Gallagher is a fellow member of the emailing list for fans of Lois McMaster Bujold.

This book continues the stories of Michigan “Mitchie” Long and the crew of cargo space ship Fives Full. The first book is Torchship.

The war between the Fusion worlds and the Disconnected worlds is heating up. The crew is now part of the Disconnected Worlds’ Defense Force and go where the admirals direct them. This time, they are sent to one of the Fusion worlds so that they can scan for enemy ships before a battle. This duty is quite dangerous because the enemy warships could destroy them at a moment’s notice. Fives Full isn’t a battle ship but it’s required for different kinds of operations. All very dangerous. Also, Mitchie has to deal with her in-laws…

The book is set in a future where Old Earth and the planets near it have been overrun by Artificial Intelligences and are therefore off limits to humans. The AIs are trying to destroy humanity. Meanwhile, humans have divided into two distinctive cultures: the wealthy Fusion worlds, where the government controls people tightly in order to continue the war against AIs, and the Disconnected worlds, which are less wealthy but the people live how they want to (as long as they can afford it). In fact, in this book we see some of the different cultures which make up the Disconnect.

Mitchie and her new husband are very cute together. He supports and trusts her. There are no sex scenes, though. However, Mitchie is an intelligence officer, in essence a spy. She puts duty above everything and her husband is starting to realize that.

Unlike in many other SF books or shows, the crew of Fives Full changes somewhat when needed. I was at first shocked and then delighted with it. The changes give the stories authenticity. Also, we’re introduced to a lot of new characters but not all at the same time. The new crew members are professionals in their own areas but lack expertize in others, so Mitchie gets to try teaching. The secondary characters have their own quirks and personalities, too.

Fives Full doesn’t have any weapons so action scenes don’t revolve around ships bombarding each other. In fact, time lag is a very substantial element in space battles, and in communication for that matter. No instant hits in this book, unless your ship is really close. Yet, I found the action scenes intense. Part of it could be that I haven’t read many books with such technology.

Like the first book, Torchship Pilot hasn’t got one plot line but a string of interconnected missions. It even answers some of the questions I had about the setting. The plot isn’t fast-paced, though.

This was a great sequel and I recommend reading Torchship first. If you like it, you’ll probably like this book, too.

First in a science fiction series. Can be read as a stand-alone.

Publication year: 2007
Format: print
Page count: 232 + an excerpt of Spiral Labyrinth
Publisher: Night Shade books

Henghis Hapthorn is a discriminator, a private detective in a world thousands of years in the future when humanity has spread far into space. The nobility is so far removed from the ordinary people that the nobles are literally unable to see them, unless the ordinary people, like Henghis, put on certain items and make certain gestures.

Lord Afre hires Henghis to find out just who is Hobart Lascalliot. Lascalliot has become a constant companion to Afre’s daughter and yet it appears that the young man isn’t anyone of significance. Henghis takes on the job and has to travel to several planets until he discovers the humiliating plot centered on the daughter. Just after Henghis has returned home, a man in an invisibility suit calls on him. As a famous, and apparently (at least according to himself) the most successful discriminator, Henghis has more than a few enemies so as a precaution he attacks the man and renders him unconscious. Only afterwards he realizes that the mystery man is the ruler of humanity, the Archon. Fortunately, the Archon has a problem that he needs Henghis to unravel and doesn’t throw Henghis to a deep dank cell for assault.

The book has a fascinating setting. In this universe, there are seasons for when magic is ascendant and seasons when reason is ascendant. Currently, reason rules but the time of magic is rapidly approaching. Henghis is a man of reason and loathes and distrusts magic. He uses reason to unravel conundrums, pick apart puzzles, and uncover enigmas. This world has space travel and high technology, all built on laws of nature. At least the wealthier people have all AI assistants called integrators which have access to an internet which spans all the known planets. Yet, magic is starting to seep back in to the cosmos.

Henghis knows intimately that magic is coming. He has encountered it before and in that encounter he and his assistant (whom he has built, so I assume it’s an artificial intelligence in a tiny, robotic body) were changed. Now, Henghis’ intuitive self is a separate persona inside his skull. That intuitive self is the part of him which will rise to the surface when the age of magic starts. But that earlier encounter apparently triggered its self-awareness prematurely. Henghis knows that the other is a part of him but still he resents and distrusts him. Also, his assistant has apparently come to life. Previously, it didn’t need to eat or sleep – now it does both and often at inconvenient times.

Other reviews compared Henghis with Sherlock Holmes and I can see the resemblance: Henghis is conceited, arrogant, and very intelligent. He also has a temper when things don’t go his way. The book is written in first person from his POV.

Unfortunately, the writing style didn’t agree with me. That’s too bad because the universe was interesting and so were Henghis and his other self.

A collection of science fiction short stories by very influential women writers. The oldest was written in 1933 and the newest 1989.

Publication year: 2016
Format: print
Page count: 267
Publisher: Baen

Lots of people are saying the women don’t write, and publish, science fiction. That’s simply not true. As Rusch shows us in her “Introduction: Invisible Women” women have been writing SF since the beginning of the genre attracting readers and winning awards. But readers and critics, both men and women, have many, many ways of marginalizing and outright forgetting women. They write in wrong subgenre, have wrong themes, the science is outdated etc. etc. ad nasaum. Well, Rusch and Baen are now bringing back some of the ignored women whom the younger generation of readers, and writers!, don’t know.

Much to my surprise this collection has only one writer I haven’t heard of before: Zenna Henderson. Actually, I’ve read only one story from these before: Bujold’s Aftermaths. So, I was delighted to read these stories and I dearly hope there will be more.

The stories are in a variety of styles and sub genres from horror to pulp fiction to time travel. I liked the introductions, too, because Rusch tells us the awards and honors these writers have won and the way they’ve influenced each other and the whole genre.

“The Indelible Kind” by Zenna Henderson (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, December 1968): Miss Murcher is a teacher in a small school and Vincent comes to her school. Vincent is eight but he can’t read much. Otherwise, he’s very bright boy and perhaps something more.
This is one of the quieter stories, with the Other as its theme.

“The Smallest Dragonboy” by Anne McCaffrey (Science Fiction Tales, 1973): Keevan is barely twelve and the smallest of the boys who want to be dragonriders. But the more he’s bullied and teased by the oldest boy, the more he’s determined to impress a dragon hatchling.
It’s been decades since I read Pern books but this story brought the setting right back and made me want to read some of the Pern books I haven’t read.

“Out of All Them Bright Stars” by Nancy Kress (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, March, 1985): Sally works in a diner. The US government has contact with aliens but Sally and her friends have only seen them on TV. Until one walks into the diner.

“Angel” by Pat Cadigan (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, June 1987): Angel is the main character’s (MC) friend. He communicates with the MC without words and do all sorts of little tricks. Then Angel sees a strange woman he clearly fears.

“Cassandra” by C.J. Cherryh (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, October 1978): One of my favorite authors but I don’t think I’ve read her short fiction before.
The people call her Crazy Alis because to her only she is a solid person. Other people are grey ghosts walking around in a town which is in flames and crumbling down. Medicines take away her nightmares and allow her to sleep, but they don’t take away the things she sees when she’s awake.

“Shambleau” by C.L. Moore (Weird Tales, November, 1933): The oldest story in the collection mixes pulp fiction and horror.
Northwest Smith is an intergalactic smuggler and not the most gallant of men. But when he sees a girl running from a murderous crowd, he rescues her and even gives her a place to sleep. However, the girl isn’t human and then his real troubles begin.

“The Last Days of Shandakor” by Leigh Brackett (Startling Stories, April 1952): Another pulp story but this time with the subject of lost city. Set in Mars in Brackett’s Eric John Stark universe where Mars, Venus, and some of the other planets are habitable and have their own humanlike people.
John Ross in a man from Earth but he lives on Mars. He studies the local peoples and places. Then he sees a man who doesn’t look like anyone else John has ever seen. He calls himself Corin and at first he refuses to take John to his city, which is apparently dying. But reluctantly he agrees and the two set into a desert on the road to Shandakor.

“All Cats Are Gray” by Andre Norton (Fantastic Universe, August/September 1953): Cliff Moran is a down-of-his-luck captain. Steena of the Spaceways, and her gray cat Bat, are a legend among the spacefarers. When she says that the legendary haunted luxury liner Empress of Mars is drifting close by, Cliff believes her and they head out to capture it.

“Aftermaths” by Lois McMaster Bujold (Far Frontiers: The Paperback Magazine of Science Fiction and Speculative Fact, Volume V, Spring 1986): Bujold is one of my favorite authors. I’ve read this little gem several times.

Falco Ferrell is a pilot and new to the Personnel Retrieval and Identification branch of the Escobaran space military. He and his new partner, MedTech Tersa Boni, have been assigned the rubble of space battle. Their task is to retrieve the bodies, identify them, and send them home. But soon, Falco starts to suspect that Tersa has been in the service for too long.

“The Last Flight of Doctor Ain” by James Tiptree, Jr. (Galaxy, March 1969): Doctor Ain travels around the world and everywhere he goes, people fall sick.

“Sur” by Ursula K. Le Guin (The New Yorker, February 1, 1982): This story is alternate history without any SF elements.
Since she was a little girl, the main character has been fascinated by the reports and books by men who have gone to the South Pole. But the dream of going there herself has seen unattainable, until she gathers a group of determined women who share her dream.

“Fire Watch” by Connie Willis (Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, February 15, 1982): A story about the time traveling historians! I can’t believe I haven’t heard of this one.

Time traveling to the past is hard. But it’s even harder when you’ve been preparing to walk with Saint Paul himself – and are sent instead to St. Paul’s in the middle of air raids. The main character tries to prepare as well as possible, but it might not be enough.

Not all of these stories worked for me but most of them are strong and some of them are real gems.

Rusch has a related website: http://www.womeninsciencefiction.com/

By the way, some of Leigh Brackett’s work is available on Audible.com if you like audio books.

A stand-alone science fiction book.

Publication year: 2006
Format: Audio
Running time: 10 hours and 52 minutes
Narrator: Ray Porter

I love Clines’ Ex-Heroes series but was reluctant to pick this one up because it was categorized as horror and I don’t like horror movies or books. But after I got a few recommendations, I ended up getting this one and listened it quickly. The first chapter is kind of horror but then it switches into science fiction. The real horror elements kick in again near the end. Oh, and there’s no bigger themes in the story. It’s just fun.

Leland “Mike” Erikson is a high school English literature teacher. However, he has a rare ability: eidetic memory. He refers to it as “his ants”. He can’t forget anything and he can recall anything he wants with perfect clarity and quickly. He also looks like a young Alan Rickman! He’s a sci-fi movie and TV-show nerd. We’re told that he’s a super genius. The problem is that he doesn’t act like one. His “ants” process information for him, yes, and do it very quickly but that’s it. Being socially awkward doesn’t mean that you’re a genius. (Sorry)

Summer break is just beginning and his old friend Reggie Magnus is trying to get Mike to work for him, for the US government. Reluctantly, Mike agrees to join a secret conference. But when he finds out just what his job would be, he really has no choice but to agree.

You see, humans have discovered Albuquerque Door. It’s essentially a way to teleport people and objects from one place to another by making a path through another dimension. However, the team who is working on it refuses to give anything away until they’re ready to make it public.

However, Magnus thinks that something is wrong. So, he asks Mike to go and look everything over. Mike agrees eagerly. The team isn’t happy about him being there, however, and soon strange things start to happen.

I thoroughly enjoyed the science fiction part of the book. The book is riddled with science fiction and pop culture references. One of the team members, Sasha Prestige, is a Star Trek fan and everything is named after something. Even Albuquerque Door is a Bugs Bunny reference.

The science team has six people, a couple of them women. Most of the team makes it clear that they don’t want Mike there but a few are more friendly.

We’re told that Mike is brilliant but I realized what was going on before he did. If you’ve seen a couple of sci-fi TV-shows, that wasn’t hard. From there it was easy to see how the book was going to end. Still, it’s very entertaining if you like that sort of thing.

Rinn provided stats about her science fiction reading 2015, inspiring me to do the same:
Note, I’m including here only novels. I also read three short story collections which had SF stories. The collections would change the stats even more towards multiple POVs.

Novels and collections read and reviewed: 89, science fiction novels: 29
13 of them were stand-alones, 16 part of a series including one Star Trek and one Farscape book. No a surprise here: I read a lot of series.
I also read four books from Edgar Rice Burroughs. I don’t include them as SF, but if you do, you can adjust: all are part of a series and all have male POV. I call them science fantasy but I should really outright call them fantasy.

Written by women: 16 and written by men: 13: Not really a surprise. One of my favorite SF authors, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, ended her long-running series (Anniversary Day) inside the Retrieval Artist SF series (by releasing many books just a couple of months apart) so I ended up reading from her six books in that series and one stand-alone. I also read the Quantum Thief trilogy from Hannu Rajaniemi but most of the other books written by male writers were stand-alones.

Single or multiple point-of-view character(s) who is/are male: 5
Single or multiple point-of-view character (s) who is/are female: 7
Multiple point-of-view characters, both male and female: 14
Not determined: 1 (John Scalzi’s “Lock in” where the POV character’s gender isn’t revealed)

Among the SF novels I read last year, a couple have only two POVs, one male and one female. However, the clear majority had multiple POV characters, in both genders.
I thought at first that it’s because six of them are in Rusch’s series and she uses lots of different POVs in her Retrieval Artist series but so do other writers I read last year. For example, Nancy Kress in her Probability series has both male and female POV characters and “The Quantum Thief” has three POVs, one female, two males. The rest of the series (“the Fractal Prince” and “the Causal Angel”) have many other POVs.

Out of 16 women authors, four had a female point-of-view character and three a male one. The rest, 9, had multiple POV characters from both genders.
Out of 13 male authors, three wrote from a female perspective, three from a male’s. The rest, 7, had both male and female point-of-view characters.

This year’s stats show the same trend, although my SF reading has gone down: only 17 SF novels so far (but at least a couple of more to come) out of 81. 10 were written by a female author and 7 by a male author. Only 5 books were stand-alones, the other 12 were part of a series, although five were the first ones in a series.

Single or multiple point-of-view character(s) who is/are male: 4
Single or multiple point-of-view character (s) who is/are female: 4
Multiple point-of-view characters, both male and female: 9

Again, the multiple POVs dominate. For example, Becky Chambers’ “The Long Way to the Small, Angry Planet” has lots of different POV characters and so does Karen Wyle’s “Leaders”.

Out of 10 women authors, two had a female point-of-view character and one a male one. The rest, 7, had multiple POV characters from both genders.
Out of 7 male authors, two wrote from a female perspective, three from a male’s. The rest had both male and female point-of-view characters.

A stand-alone speculative fiction detective story.

Finnish name: Toiset (the others)
Publication year: 2009
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2011
Translator: J. Pekka Mäkelä
Format: print
Page count: 367
Publisher of the Finnish translation: Karisto

Beszel is a divided city but not in a physical way. Inside and beside it is another city, Ul Qoma, which is different legally, culturally, and especially in the minds of the citizens of both city states. Daily, they see the buildings and people of the other city but must ignore and unsee them. If they don’t, they are guilty of a breach which the most heinous crime either city has. Breaches are governed by the mysterious organization called the Breach. They are the bogie men making sure that the citizens of two cities keep apart from each other. This book is really a hard-broiled detective story but in fantastical cities.

Detective Inspector Tyador Borlú works for the Beszel Extreme Crime Squad and the story begins when he’s called to a murder scene. A young woman has been found dead. At first, the police suspect that she’s a prostitute. But soon Borlú gets a mysterious phone call which tells him otherwise. The call comes from Ul Qoma which is, of course, almost a breach.

Borlú recruits a young constable to help him. Lizbyet Corwi knows the streets better than the inspector and acts as a back-up and a sounding boards too. Together they suspect the unificationists, who want to unite the two cities, and nationalists who want to keep the cities apart. But their investigation leads inexorably towards the other city Ul Qoma.

The two cities’ relationship is fascinating and Miéville spends a lot of time clarifying it to us. In the end, the book is about how people’s perceptions and thoughts shape our reality. How what we’ve been taught (from birth) shapes the way we see other people and buildings around us. In this story, if the house next door to you belongs to the other city, you aren’t allowed to see it, or the people walking beside you if you think that they belong to the other city.

Borlú is a pretty typical detective. He’s a good cop and very soon he starts to care about the dead woman and her life, putting even his own career in jeopardy in order to find out what happened to her. Corwi trusts him and backs him up all the way, even though they don’t seem to have any special relationship before the story. There’s very little character development and the vast majority of the story is Borlú and his companion interviewing people and making deductions.

While Miéville follows many of the definitions for a hard-boiled detective story, one refreshing element for me was the lack of misogyny. Yes, some of the women are victims but Corwi is a fellow police officer and Borlú clearly needs and depends on her. However, personally I could have done without the constant swearing.

The story doesn’t have fantasy or science fiction elements beyond the two cities. It’s set during our time with people using cell phones and email. But Beszel is a poor city so the cops don’t have newest equipment, the streets have litter and run-down houses, cars are old. Ul Qoma is more modern with newer buildings and richer people. They seem to be somewhere in Eastern Europe which was a pleasant surprise because a lot of fantasy/sci-fi books which aren’t set in a secondary world or off planet are set in USA.

The concept of the two cities was far more fascinating to me than the plot or the characters.

I read the Finnish translation and for a while I thought Ul Qoma was the translator’s choice, translating whatever the English word had been for the other city. That’s because a Finn pronounces the city’s name close to what in Finnish would mean “Foreign land” (ulkomaat). But I see that Ul Qoma is the city’s original name. Funny coincidence.

Comic book based on the TV-show, collects issues 1-4.

Writers: Scott Tipton, David Tipton
Artists: Fabio Mantovani, Emanuela Lupacchino, Franscesco Lo Storto

The comic is set after Sisko was promoted to captain but before Worf’s arrival to the station.

All has been quiet on the station for a few weeks but now more and more people are coming to the station. Odo isn’t happy about it because he thinks the newcomers are unsavory types, to the say the least but apparently the Bajoran board of commerce is happy about the increased business and so is Captain Sisko. However, Major Kira agrees with Odo and, Chief O’Brian realizes that someone has been literally ripping the station apart. Now Kira and Odo have to find out just what is going on.

This was a fun comic and catches the mood of the show well. It could have been a short, light-hearted secondary plot in an episode. I really liked the beginning of the comic where two unsavory characters come to the station and in just a couple of pages we see Odo, Kira, O’Brian, Nog, and Doctor Bashier just going along their business. Great way to start the story. From there the story rolled smoothly, if predictably, along.

It was great to revisit the characters and this is clearly written for people already familiar with the show. I liked it even though I could have done without the Kira butt shots.

Comic book based on the TV-show, collects issues 1-4. Alternate future with Borgs!

Writers: Brannon Braga, Terry Matalas, Travis Fickett
Artists: Joe Corroney, Matt Fillbach, Shawn Fillbach

Set after the end of TNG series with Riker and Troi aboard U.S.S. Titan and Data destroyed.

The story starts 500 years in the future where the Borg Queen and Locutus have just destroyed the last bit of Federation resistance. But some part of Picard still remains inside Locutus and he decides to destroy the Queen. He reminisces about the past and how he and Seven of Nine were reassimilated into the Collective.

In the “Now” part of the story, Picard is hearing the Borg in his head and then Federation sees increased Borg activity in several sectors. But this time the Borg have come to ask for help. It seems that they’ve gone to other dimensions but have brought back an enemy who is a threat to both the Borg and everyone else. So, they ask Picard for help. A couple of years ago, Seven agreed to infiltrate the Borg as a double agent and now she’s to work with the humans in order to neutralize the new threat. But can the Borg be trusted?

The story moves along fast and furious. Picard’s terror of the Borgs is almost the only character moment as the story focuses more on action. The action is exciting and we get time travel, too, which is usually a plus on my books.

Unfortunately, I had some issues with the storyline. It mixed some familiar concepts but doesn’t bring anything new; I pretty much knew how the story would end. Also, some of the characters have moved on from Enterprise-E but here they’re back in their familiar positions: Riker’s ship is damaged and he steps smoothly back into the shoes of Picard’s first officer (we don’t even see who his current first officer is), and Worf is back, too. We see only a glimpse of Seven and Picard together, even though it makes a lot of sense that as former Borgs they would bond over their shared experiences which others can’t understand. I would have loved to see more of them together and to see how their implied friendship developed. I also hugely disliked the ending.

So, Hive isn’t a perfect story but it’s a fun bit of fluff with the Borg.

Comic book based on the TV-show, collects issues 1-5.

Writer: Zander Cannon
Artists: Javier Aranda, German Torres-Ruiz, Marc Rueda
Publisher: IDW

Set during the fourth season.

Enterprise-D has answered a distress call from a ship orbiting Allios IV, an ally world of Federation. They find one survivor on the ship who is babbling about seeing ghosts. While Doctor Crusher tend to him, Captain Picard becomes involved in the planet’s political situation. Republic of Juuleth claims to speak for the whole planet. Their application to join the Federation has now been pending for 11 years, because the Federation has reports that there’s a civil war going on between the Juuleth and the Dorossh, the two largest nations on the planet. Picard wants to negotiate with the leaders of both nations.

Supreme Elder Kalkass of Dorossh agrees to meet Picard and the Juuletian’s leader, Speaker Kejaal. However, Kalkass accuses the Juuletians of murder and kidnappings while the Juuletians accuse of Dorosshians breaking every treaty and being backward barbarians.

Meanwhile, the sole survivor from the ship wakes up and says that Captain Picard is one of the ghosts he has been seeing.

This was a nice story. Not one of the best but miles better than the worst TNG episodes. The characters were pretty much in character, and poor Worf got pummeled again. Picard was a diplomat to the end and for once Geordi and Beverly got to work together. Pretty much the only regular cast member who didn’t get to shine was Data which is unusual. I could easily see this story as an episode in TV.

The two leaders of their respective nations are stereotypes to start with: one is the aggressive “barbarian” who accuses the other of assassinations and the other is a smooth-talking civilized progressive man. It’s not easy to try to get them to agree on anything. Riker even loses his cool but Picard doesn’t.

The story rolled forward smoothly but because it came out as a limited series, it has four recap pages which was a bit too much. The art mostly captures the actors’ likenesses, but on some panels they look a lot older than on the show, which is a bit strange since usually characters in tie-in comics tend to look younger.