2019 pick&mix


The third book in the Star Trek: TNG Q-Continuum trilogy. Also ST:TNG book number 49.

Publication year: 1998
Format: print
Publisher: Pocket Books
Page count: 270

Riker has decided to take the Enterprise-E inside the Galactic barrier because the Calamarain’s attack is tearing the ship apart and he thinks that it’s the only place where they wouldn’t follow. However, this puts all the telepathic people aboard the ship in danger, including his imzadi Deanna Troi and the Betazoid scientist Lem Faal and his two young children. Riker decides to put the Betazoids to coma for their safety. However, Faal is obsessed with his experiments and refuses to end them. In fact, he’s doing everything he can to start the wormhole he created to punch through the barrier. He also cruelly ignores the needs and fears of his kids. However, he’s apparently under the influence of otherworldly power.

Meanwhile, Q has kidnapped captain Picard and led him through Q’s own history, when Q was quite a bit younger and under the influence of a murderous otherworldly being calling himself 0. Eventually Picard witnesses how the Q-Continuum is at war with 0 and his four nefarious minions, with young Q caught in the middle. Picard realizes that if the Enterprise-E goes through the galactic barrier, they might unleash the horrors of the malicious 0 once again.

In this final book, the different story lines come together for an exciting and enjoyable ending.

I ended up liking this last book the best, perhaps because the TNG crew themselves had a larger part to play than in the previous books. The book, like the whole trilogy, had quite a lot of references to classic Trek episodes, as well as TNG and DS9 episodes. I had fun revisit old friends, even though Q was far too human for my tastes.

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The second book in the Star Trek: TNG Q-Continuum trilogy. Also ST:TNG book number 48.

Publication year: 1998
Format: print
Publisher: Pocket Books
Page count: 270

Enterprise-E is on a mission to investigate a way to go through the galactic barrier using a wormhole technology. However, the gaseous alien species called the Calamarain have attacked, enveloping the starship and trying to get through the shields. The shields are failing and Commander Riker is desperately looking for a way to save the ship and crew. Meanwhile, Professor Lem Faal, who came up with the wormhole technology, is equally desperate to try his technique. He’s even ignoring his young children who are on board with him. His son especially is starting to really resent him.

Q has abducted Captain Picard and is showing him certain points in Q’s own history. Specially, how much younger Q has fallen in with a malevolent being calling himself 0. 0 and his equally malevolent comrades talk about testing developing species and then torment entire empires.

The majority of the book follows the Tkon Empire which was a vast star spanning empire long before Federation. We get scenes from different key people around the empire, such as the empress. They’re a humanoid species and not very different from humans. 0’s companions are various entities from the original Trek. We also get to see where Calamarain’s original hatred from Q came from (as seen in the episode “Q who”). Unfortunately, I didn’t really care for the plight of the Tkon Empire, terrible as it was.

Q’s mate and child are also a significant part of the book.

This is clearly a second book in the series when stakes are raised and nothing is resolved.

A short story and novella collection about exploring space, colonizing the universe, and first contact.

Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 28 hours 21 minutes
Narrator: Tim Campbell, James Anderson Foster, Mary Robinette Kowal, Karen Cass, and James Langon

This was a fine collection and I liked most of the stories. However, the vast majority of these stories are about the relationships between the humans who are in space, rather than first contact or colonization. Some of them also explore the world that the explorers left behind far more than what they encounter.

”A Jar of Godwill” by Tobias S. Buckell: The gedda are an alien race whose economics are based on patents rights on technology. Since they’ve previously developed tech that the humans use, they own the patents. Alex is a professional friend. A genetically engineered human (a hermaphrodite) whose job is to, essentially, keep humans sane in the vastness of space with empathy and touch (not necessarily sex). However, Alex’s account is overdrawn and his only chance is to take a job in an approaching space ship full of scientists. Alex’s job is to befriend a drone, another engineered human who is part of a hive mind but who is now far away from the hive.

In “Mono No Aware” by Ken Liu, a giant asteroid is on a collision course with Earth. Some governments have tried to build space ships. The narrator was a child in Japan and we see in flashbacks how the Japanese reacted. In the now of the story, he’s aboard the ship, working with others when a disaster occurs.

”Rescue Mission” by Jack Skillingstead: Michael and Natalie had a brief affair. Since they’re both single adults, that shouldn’t have been a problem. However, they’re assigned to the same mission of exploring a new planet. They’re the only crew. Things get really weird down there.

“Shiva in Shadow” by Nancy Kress is a story I’ve listened before in the collection Starship Vectors.

This story takes place in a deep space exploration ship the Kepler which has just three people; the Nurturer Captain Tirzah and two scientists Kane and Ajit. Tirzah’s duty is to keep the scientists focused on their work and working together. In order to do that, she has to constantly monitor them and she also has sex with both. They are exploring a black hole and to get data, the ship launches a probe which will send the data back to the Kepler. The probe has uploads of Tirzah, Kane, and Ajit. The story alternates between the crew aboard the ship and the probe.

In “Slow Life” by Michael Swanwick, three scientists explore the surface of Titan, especially it’s nitrogen/methane sea. Lizzie O’Brien enjoys her work immensely when she’s ballooning around inside her armored exploration suit, even when she must sleep inside it. But then her dreams turn weird.

In “Three Bodies at Mitanni” by Seth Dickinson humanity has sent seed ships into space. Much later, they have chosen three people who have been sent to evaluate the human colonies which have sprang from the ships. If the colonies might offer existential threat to humanity, they must be destroyed.

Anja-Hera, Tien, and the POV character have complex relationships and they must vote if the colonies will survive or if they will be destroyed.

“The Deeps of the Sky” by Elizabeth Bear: Stormchasers are space miners; they mine a gas giant in fragile little skiffs. When one of them notices an alien ship in trouble, he must decide if helping it is worth losing his potential mating rights with the Mothergrave.

I’m a fan of Rusch’s Diving universe so I’m very familiar with the next story, “Diving into the Wreck” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Boss has found an old space ship. It’s possibly several thousand years old. She and her crew of four are “diving” into the airless ship without knowing what they’ll find. They take a lot of precautions which might not be enough.

“The Voyage Out” by Gwyneth Jones: Ruth is a criminal condemned to death because she dared to speak out against the government, United States of Earth. She and more than a hundred other people are aboard a spaceship which is heading toward a habitable planet. They are going to be put down and start a colony without a possibility of coming back. None of the people are violent criminals but one young girl seems especially innocent.

This story feels like it could be a beginning of novel about the colony.

“The Symphony of Ice and Dust” by Julie Nováková: Kieran and Manuel are aboard Orpheus, looking for material for their next great symphony. On the planet Sedna, they find the remains of the previous expedition, 1100 years go.

“Twenty Lights to the ‘Land of Snow'” by Michael Bishop: 990 Tibetian Buddhists, and a group of others, have accompanied their Dalai Lama to exile to another planet. The Kalachakra is still on its way. Two young people are competing for the position of the next Dalai Lama: Jetson is Tibetian teenager and Greta Bryn is young Western woman. The story is seen through computer logs by Greta.

“The Firewall and the Door” by Sean McMullen: Argo is the only unmanned space probe sent about 30 years ago. Its information is sent directly to everyone’s living room. Its crew is on Earth and runs the drone from there. The main character is a magistrate, specializing in space law. When things go very wrong on Argo, he’s called in. In this world, stopping waste is the most important thing and no other spacecraft were ever built because it would have been too wasteful.

“Permanent Fatal Errors” by Jay Lake: the spaceship has just seven people but they’re all heavily modified: one can even withstand vacuum without a spacecraft. They’re also all immortal. When they find out something unexpected, they start to turn against each other.

“Gypsy” by Carter Sholz: When the US (or is that world?) economy tanked, Sofi was one of the people who had to take any job she could to survive. Her job isn’t terrible but in the end it can’t even support her and she must move to the company barracks. The world is full of hate and distrust. Governments and companies try to control everything and everyone. However, Sofi finds out that a group of people have built a spaceship and they’re going to escape the oppressive Earth. They’re heading to Alpha Centuri which should have a habitable planet. Sofi joins the crew happily. She should have spent the journey in hibernation but something goes wrong and she’s woken just two years into the journey. We also get to know Roger who came up with this project, called Gypsy, and many of the other people involved in and living in this hopeless world.

“Sailing the Antarsa” by Vandana Singh: Mayha is from the planet Dara, which was inhabited a few centuries ago. When the council of kinhouses decides to send someone to find out what happened to people who had left Dara a few generations ago, Mayha in the one who is chosen to go. Alone. She’s put in cryosleep but something happens and she’s woken too soon. She reminisces about her life in peaceful Dara.

“The Mind is Its Own Place” Carrie Vaughn: Mitchel is one of the pilots on starship Francis Drake. But then Mitchel wakes up in the neurological ward without memories of what happened. He’s told that he has a disease which affects a lot of pilots but he can’t accept that.

“The Wreck of the Godspeed” James Patrick Kelly: Adele volunteers to go aboard a starship which is looking for new planets to colonize. It has been doing that for a couple of thousand years, with changing crew but the same AI.

“Seeing” Genevieve Valentine: Marika is a scientist and one of the crew of three who are going to travel to Gliese 581. However, something goes terribly wrong.

“Traveling into Nothing” An Owomoyela: Kiu Alee is waiting to die. She was sentenced to death because she’s a murderer. Instead, an alien gives her a chance to live, if she becomes the alien’s pilot. The catch is that it’s a one-way trip to the alien planet. However, Kiu agrees and then finds out that she must deal with a neural interface she doesn’t like.

“Glory” Greg Egan: Two xenomathematicans travel to another star where there are two alien nations which are hostile to each other. The aliens know that they’re not alone in the universe because they have a founding culture which they think is actually alien. However, they’ve never seen or heard from actual aliens before. The (human) mathematicians are interested in that root culture and the mathematics that they came up with. However, that culture died out three thousand years ago so the two must rely on the two nation’s archaeology. The scientists have bodies which look and function like the aliens. Each scientist goes to one nation to encourage them to dig up more of those artifacts. The aliens have very interesting different biology but behave like, well, like USA and Soviet Union at the height of their paranoia.

“The Island” Peter Watts: In the far future, humans have left Earth. This group is traveling very long distances in space to explore. The crew is in deep sleep and only revived when necessary. When the ship encounter something new, it wakes up one of the humans from a very long sleep. To her surprise, she’s confronted by a boy she doesn’t know. He’s build partly from her genes so she’s unexpectedly a mother which doesn’t please her. The boy hasn’t been around humans and the ship’s AI, the Chimp, has been making independent decisions for very long.

“Gypsy” is mostly about the horrible, dystopian world the whole Earth has become. The next story, “Sailing the Antarsea”, is about the wonderful world of Dara that our explorer has left behind and the secrets it might yet contain. It was very interesting to read them one after the other. Many of the stories have spacecrafts where most of the crew is in cryosleep but one is awakened prematurely to deal with a threat. It’s interesting that the stories were still quite different.

I really liked the first story and I’m hoping Buckell will write more in that universe. Bear’s story was very interestingly different from the others and I liked it a lot, too. The same with Swanwick’s story

Of course, Rusch’s novella was also a favorite but I’ve already read the whole series.

While I was somewhat frustrated with some of the stories, overall I enjoyed the collection. The narrators were good and Kowal was very good, as usual

The first book in a fantasy series.

Publication year: 2015
Format: ebook
Publisher: Tor
Page count at GoodReads: 400

This world has four alternate realities and only very few people can travel between and even they need tokens, blood, and magic to do it. Kell is one of those few people. He’s an Antari, a member of a magical race, marked by one eye which is black. Only very few Antari are left. Kell was sort of adopted into the royal family; while king Maxim and queen Emira treat him well they don’t consider him quite family. But Rhys, the heir, does think Kell as his brother and vice versa. Because of his abilities, Kell is a messager for his king for the other two worlds.

Kell calls the worlds with different colors. He’s from Red London which has a lot of magic. The country is called Maresh Empire and it’s far larger than Great Britain. Indeed, people who don’t have magic are at distinct disadvantage. Black London is sealed off. It was corrupted by magic and the others don’t want anything to do with it or the people inside. White London is ruled by royal twins, Athos and Astrid Dane. In that world, magic is coveted and bound with tattoos, and those who have the most magic are rulers. So, the twins are the most powerful magicians and sadists. They use their powers to make others their soulless servants. The final world is Grey London where magic is weak and only a few people even know that it’s real. It’s the equivalent of our world and the country is called England and the sovereign is old George III.

It’s forbidden to bring anything from one world to another, with the exception of small tokens that the Antari need to travel between them. However, Kell loves thrills and so he’s agreed to smuggle small items for a few people. His brother Rhys warns him that if he’s caught, the king must punish him.

One day, a desperate woman in White London gives Kell a letter and a small token to take to Gray London. Before Kell can quite make up his mind, the woman is gone, leaving behind the items. Soon, Kell finds out that the token isn’t at all what he thought it would be: it’s a very powerful magical stone from Black London and a lot of people want it, too. Kell must try to survive long enough to take it back where it belongs.

Delilah Bard is an orphan and a thief. She dresses as a man so that she can move easier among the throngs of Grey London. However, when she returns to her base, her “landlord” tries to rape her. She kills him and is forced to return to Ballard, the only man who has been kind to her. She feels that she already owes him too much but has no choice. When she comes across Kell, she robs him and is disappointed to realize that she only got a rock. But Kell tracks her down and when Lila realizes that he’s really from another world, she almost forces him to take her with him, even though the danger is great.

Lila’s trying to save money so that she can escape somewhere better, but her pickings are so small that it’s not likely. Still, she craves for grand adventure and something better and more than being a petty thief. She’s clearly being wounded and she’s used to taking care of herself and not being able to trust anyone.

Kell also longs for thrills but is disgusted with himself that he wants it. He both loves the royal family and feels that he’s not really a part of it.

The only other known Antari is Holland. He serves the twin royals of White London. He’s cold and calculating and we find the reason for that, too.

The London in each world isn’t the same city. They have similarities, of course, but many things are different, especially the people and the “mood” of the city. The larger country is also different and so is the river through each London.

The book takes it’s time showing us the setting before the plot kicks in. While the worlds are complex, the plot isn’t, which is probably a good thing.

While this is the first book in a trilogy, it can be read as a stand-alone.

I really liked the setting and the different moods in the different worlds. The characters are fine. Lila and Kell are the main POV characters but there are lot more, most of them seen just once.

A stand-alone science fiction book.

Original name: Voyage au centre de la Terre
Publication year: 1864
Format: print
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1987
Finnish publisher: WSOY
Page count for the Finnish translation: 191
Translator: Pentti Kähkönen

Axel Lindenbrock is a young German man who lives with his uncle geologist Professor Lindebrock. The Professor finds a 300-year old manuscript written in Icelandic runes. Inside it is also a smaller paper which was written by Arne Saknussem who was an alchemist and an explorer. The paper is written in runes and different language which the Professor realizes is Latin. However, the message is also crypted. Axel is able to decipher the code, much to his annoyance, because it is Saknussem’s account of his journey to the center of the Earth. The Professor is immediately on fire with determination to go on the same journey and forces Axel to accompany with him. He takes with them a lot of equipment.

They travel to Iceland because Saknussem started his journey through the crater of an Icelandic jökull. Axel is very reluctant and fearful but follows his uncle, leaving behind Grauben, a German girl he loves. In Reyjavik, they hire a Danish-speaking eiderdown hunter Hans Bjelke as their guide to the crater and as their servant for the rest of the journey.

They see wondrous things below the surface.

The Professor is determined to the point of obsessive lunacy. He won’t listen any arguments to stop or return back. While he bases most of his arguments in science, he also makes assumptions about things he can’t possibility know, for example that there is going to be a lot of drinkable water underground so the small company don’t take much with them.

Axel is his counterpoint, always expecting trouble. Hans speaks as little as possible and is extremely loyal to the Professor, following him without question as long as his salary is paid. His skills save them a lot of times.

Axel is the narrator and he tells the story in past tense, although at one point he provides us with direct quotes from the diary he kept for a part of the journey.

This is a very good adventure novel where manly men go where no other man has gone before. We’re also told about the arguments that the scientific community at the time had about dinosaurs, what Earth’s is made of, and other things. Of course, we now know that some of the things that the Professor, and the scientific community of the time, speculated are wrong.

Unlike the other books I’ve read from him, this one contains clearly very imaginative things that the characters encounter below ground. I’ve read Burrough’s Pellucidar books and they were clearly inspired by this one.

The characters are archetypal but quite entertaining. I think I like this book more than the other Verne’s books I’ve read. However, the only female character is Graube, the Professor’s foster daughter, who laments that she can’t go because she’s a woman and all women are weak and useless on such a journey. So, her only role is to provide inspiration for Axel.

The Finnish translation is aimed at younger readers and so it includes maps and a small dictionary.

A stand-alone science fiction book.

Publication year: 1895
Format: print
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1979
Finnish publisher: Kirjayhtymä
Page count for the Finnish translation: 120
Translator: Matti Kannosto

The Time Machine has two first-person narrators, both nameless but both male and at least relatively well-off. The story begins with the first narrator who comes to the house of the time traveler and meets other people there. The time traveler talks about traveling through time and the others think the whole idea is ridiculous. The people leave.

Later, the first narrator returns to the time traveler’s home and again meets other people and later the disheveled time traveler who tells the others about his journey to distant futures.

The traveler is so sure that the future will be good for humans that he doesn’t take any equipment with him. He just has a box of matches in his pocket but that’s all.

The time traveler tells about the year 802701 in the future where he first meets small, beautiful but not very smart humans. They live in deteriorating buildings and eat mostly fruit. They don’t work; instead their time is spent frolicking in meadows and rivers. But they fear the dark. Soon, the time traveler meets another race of small, ape-like people who live underground in darkness. He makes observations but also draws conclusions based on his own biases and expectations, as a wealthy man in Victorian England. Later, he briefly travels further in time to witness the end of Earth.

While the story has some exciting passages, it’s not really an adventure story. The traveler draws very intricate conclusions from small evidence. Also, he sees only a small part of the world and yet supposes that everywhere is the same.

The story doesn’t really have character development; in fact the future seems to confirm the traveler’s expectations and ideas, that strife and hardship are good for humans and if they’re done away with, the human race will degenerate.

This a perfect example of idea based story. It’s the first time travel story so Wells is focused on showing off his idea rather than on the story and characters. However, these days most, if not all, readers are already familiar with the concept so they expect more. The influence of the idea is, of course, great. It’s now an accepted part of not just science fiction books, but TV-shows, movies, comics, plays.

The story is available for free at Project Gutenberg as are all of H. G. Wells’ books.

The second novella in the Murderbot Diaries SF series.

Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 3 hours 21 minutes
Narrator: Kevin R. Free

I enjoyed the first Murderbot story, All Systems Red, and I enjoyed the voice of the Murderbot just as much in this novella. We also get to see a bit more of the world.

The Murderbot is a security unit, an android with both mechanical parts and cloned biological parts. It’s designed for security on various sites and ships. What it hasn’t been designed for is interactions with humans and that makes it nervous. Because of an incident in the past where it (supposedly) killed lots of humans, it christened itself Murderbot. However, it has only a partial memory of that event so it has decided to go back to that planet and research what actually happened.

The Murderbot has left it’s human owner and former ally. It’s technically a rogue SecUnit but it’s trying to pass for an cybernetically augmented human. However, that’s not easy. When it finds a transport space ship which is going to the right planet, it hitches a ride. However, the transport doesn’t have a human crew, so the Artificial Intelligence of the transport is lonely and wants to interact with the Murderbot. Who just wants to be left alone and view its shows.

I enjoyed the first novella a lot and this was a great continuation. We get some more world-building because the ‘Bot is now outside and eventually forced to work with humans. It tries to minimize that as much as it can but don’t really succeed. It also forms a bond with the transport despite the fact that it calls it ART (Asshole Research Transport). The ‘Bot denies having feelings and yet it clearly has them: it cares for the humans when they’re under its care, it’s scared and anxious. I love that the bot doesn’t have gender. Bots that have sexual parts are called sexbots, or Comfort units. Murderbot doesn’t want to help humans because it’s in love with or attracted to any of them: it’s has been programmed to do so. Just like most humans.

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