2021 Sci-fi Month

The first book in a space opera SF trilogy the Conquerors Saga.


Publisher: Bantam Books

Publishing year: 1995

Format: Print

Page count: 389

Humans have spread out to space and live more or less peacefully with four non-human species, Pawolians, Yycromae, Mrachanis, and Suundali, in a Commonwealth of planets. The species each have their own culture. Indeed, Yycromae were about to conquer the Mrachanis when the humans interfered. The human Peacekeepers patrol space.

One of the strongest Peacekeeper groups meets four unknown alien ships. The humans send a greeting, but without provocation the aliens attack, wiping out the force seemingly easily. Afterward, the aliens destroy every escape pod launched, slaughtering everyone. Except for one man. Commander Pheylan Cavanaugh is taken captive.

Pheylan’s father Lord Steward Cavanaugh, a former member of the Commonwealth’s Parliament, takes his son’s supposed death hard. When he tries to get Pheylan’s body back, he hears that the body and the escape pod have disappeared without a trace. He refuses to believe Pheylan is dead and his remaining children agree with him. Unfortunately, without any evidence the Peacekeeper Command must assume Pheylan is dead and so can’t look for him. The Cavanaughs’ take the matter into their own hands.

It’s very dangerous for civilian ships to go to the attack site. Cavanagh employs several former Peacekeepers, and he uses their ties and his own influence to secretly gather ships and a group of elite soldiers under false orders to go and look for his son. His other son, Aric, joins the mission even though Aric runs the Cavanagh’s business and doesn’t have any military training. Cavanagh puts one of his bodyguards, and former Peacekeeper officer, in charge. Melinda Cavanagh is a doctor and she heads to the outpost nearest the attack site and brings supplies. At the same time, Cavanagh and his bodyguards head to one of the alien Mrachani’s worlds to find out more about the mysterious attackers. The Mrachani have legends about encountering them.

The book has two main plotlines: Pheylan is a captive and is sent to a world that the attackers control. He learns a little bit about his captors’ culture and the reasons behind the attack. Of course, he tries to escape. Meanwhile, Pheylan’s dad, brother, and sister are scheming to mount a rescue operation. The senior Cavanaugh’s political enemies are watching him carefully and try to block him at every turn.

The book has many POV characters. While there are some action scenes, most of the story is politics. While a couple of main things are resolved at the end, the war is just heating up and many things are left open.

Cavanaugh and his family know that they’re potentially committing treason, but they are still determined to find Pheylan. Unfortunately otherwise, they weren’t really memorable characters.

World-building is the book’s strongest point. All the several aliens have their own cultures and customs. Many of them resent humans who the aliens think are quite imperialistic and arrogant. The humans have also a superweapon, CIRCE, which they’ve used only once and then dismantled, only to be assembled again when the Commonwealth is in grave danger. The threat of CIRCE keeps the more aggressive aliens peaceful. This is, of course, reflective of the state of the world in 1995 when the book was first published.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I had read it when I was younger.

This is a collection of eight time-traveling stories that have been published before in previous Fiction River anthologies: Pulse Pounders, Recycled Pulp, and Christmas Ghosts.

Publication year: 2020


Publisher: WMG Publishing

Format: ebook

Time travel is one of my favorite SF elements and I enjoyed this collection a lot.

Thomas K. Carpenter: ”Tower One”: Set on September 11th in the World Trade Center during the strike. One of the main character’s friends died there and she traveled back in time to see her one more time.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch: “September at Wall & Broad”: Philippa is an agent for the United States’ Time Division of the Justice Department. She’s sent from the year 2057 back to September 16th 1920, just before a terrorist bombing of Wall Street. For some reason, New York at that time is under an unofficial time shield. Philippa goes in to find out who or what has done it. But she doesn’t return.

Scott William Carter: “The Elevator in the Cornfield”: Hank lives on his farm with his youngest son Timmy. One morning a blue elevator stands in the cornfield. Hank doesn’t want anything to do with it.

Kelly Cairo: “Sacred Poet from the Future”: Tess goes to see her grandfather in a home he lives in. He has had a stroke and can be quite forgetful. This time, one of grandpa’s old friends has come to see him, too. Except that grandpa calls him Arnie who is Tess’ younger brother. Surely grandpa is just confused…

Dean Wesley Smith: “The Wages of the Moment”: The Garden Lounge has a jukebox that can make people travel through time. Stout is the former owner of the bar. When an older version of himself appears next to the jukebox, he knows things are getting weird.

Chuck Heinzelman: “Three Strikes”: Jackson is at a baseball game, waiting for his girlfriend to arrive. He’s about to propose to her. Instead, he gets a phone call: he has half an hour to get a package and deliver it or she will die.

Lisa Silverthorne: “Christmas, Interrupted”: Mallory isn’t looking forward to Christmas: her family is far away and she broke up with her boyfriend over a year ago. Last year, she was about to go out with her high school crush, Rowan. But he never showed up. Only now she finds out that he was murdered last year on Christmas Day. But she might be able to save him.

Sharon Joss: “Love in the Time of Dust and Venom”: Keiko’s grandfather is 97 years old. He had to move away from Japan after the nuclear plant disaster, but both his son and wife died there, so he wants to return so that he can die there. But the only way to return is to travel through time. He doesn’t want to go to the past. Instead, he wants to travel a hundred years to the future. Keiko is afraid of losing him, but must obey his wishes.

This is an excellent collection of time travelers even though not all of them are told from the point of view of the traveler. The stories have quite a lot of variety including a couple of race against the clock -stories, mysteries through times, people wrestling with their emotions, and a sweet Christmas love story. Most of them have mystery elements. They all have very human characters who have very human motivations.

I’ve read Sharon Joss’ story a couple of times and it still moves me. “Three Strikes” has a time travel trope I really enjoy and haven’t read enough of, but I won’t spoil it here. I enjoyed almost all of the stories. “Love in the Time of Dust and Venom”, “September at Wall & Broad”, and “Three Strikes” are my favorites.

Sawyer’s collected short stories with the theme of time.


Publication year: 2019

Publisher: SFWRITER.COM Inc

Format: ebook

Page count from GoodReads: 218

All of the thirteen short stories were commissioned for different collections including Future War, Men Writing Science Fiction as Women, Down These Dark Spaceways, Dark Destiny III: Children of Dracula, and Star Colonies.

Some are set in the future and a couple involves time travel. Some of them deal with time differences and how society has changed during that time.

Just Like Old Times: This story was originally written for Dinosaur Fantastic. It starts when Cohen’s mind is sent to the past, inside a Tyrannosaur Rex.

Immortality: The main character returns for her 60th class reunion. A lot has changed from 1963 to 2023. The main character must confront the biggest mistake she has done in her life.

If I’m here, Imagine Where They Sent My Luggage: a 250-word story that (again) has dinosaurs and time travel.

On the Surface: A homage to H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine. The Morlocks are using time machines.

Relativity: Cathy is one of the few humans who travels to another planet, to explore it. The journey takes seven years, from her perspective. But Earth, a lot more time has passed. Will she even recognize her husband and children?

Forever: Cholo is an astronomer in the Shizoo queendom. He wants to find an unknown planet so that everyone will remember his name forever. Instead, he notices a huge asteroid hurtling toward Earth.

Iterations: Erik knows that he lives in a computer simulation. That he himself is also a simulation. What really drives him crazy is the thought, the knowledge, that in other simulations versions of him are doing unspeakable things.

The Right’s Tough: This story first appears in Vision of Liberty where the world is a better place without governments. The main character lives in such a world. After being in hibernation for 250 years, a crew of the only off-solar system spaceship is returning home.

E-Mails from the Future: This story was written in 2008 for a collection that looked at business a decade down the road. Sawyer’s (imaginary) agent sends him emails. Through them, we can see how far more mercenary businesses will be.

Identity Theft: Alexander Lomax is a private detective in New Klondike, the only town on Mars. It’s small and under a dome. Most of the people who have come here are looking for fossils, but they’re rare, so very few people can get rich. Most just stay in the town hoping to find at least something or they simply don’t have the money to leave anymore. A missing husband should be easy to find, but the case turns out to be more complex than Lomax expected.

Biding Time: Set in the same setting as the previous story, this time Alex Lomax is trying to find out why someone killed an old woman who has just transferred her mind to an artificial body.

Peking Man: 130,000-year-old bones of Peking Man were discovered in 1927 near Beijing. During WWII they were supposed to be smuggled out of China and to the USA. But the remains disappeared. What really happened?

The Shoulders of Giants: 50 people have been in cryosleep for 1,200 years traveling to Tau Ceti and to the planet which is in the habitable zone. Now they’re close enough that they’re being revived so that they can finally see if the planet is habitable.

These were all entertaining reads. I like the two Marsian stories the best, but the two dinosaur stories were lots of fun, too. “Iterations” has also a fascinating idea.

The stories all have a strong central idea. Often, the main character is written in the first person and they aren’t too different from each other. The atmosphere of the stories varies a lot from a detective story to regret about things the MC has done in the past to an MC killing gleefully.

“Identity theft” was apparently expanded to a novel, “Red Planet Blues”, and I’m very curious to read it.

Today the daily prompt is Remote Moon Reads

I have lots of SF books I want to read and even more books I’d like to reread. A remote moon would be the perfect place to reread the whole series:

1, Lois McMaster Bujold: The Vorkosigan series

I just adore her character-oriented science fiction. Two of my favorite characters ever are from this series, Aral and Cordelia. I would start with the omnibus “Cordelia’s Honor”.

2, Martha Wells: The Murderbot series

So far, this delightful series has four novellas and two books. I haven’t yet gotten my hands on the latest book. The main character is a nameless artificial being who calls themselves Murderbot and just wants to be left alone to watch their favorite shows. The first is “All Systems Red”.

3, Kristine Kathryn Rusch: the Diving series

Another delightful first-person POV science fiction series. Boss dives spaceships that are thousands of years old. So, they’re very dangerous. The first is “Diving into the Wreck”.

4, Andy Weir: The Martian

The lone single book on my list is fun and funny.

5, John Scalzi: “Lock In” and “Head On”

The SF premise for this duology is a disease, a strain of bird flu, which has wiped out a lot of humanity. But about one percent of the afflicted suffer from “lock in”: they’re fully conscious, but can’t move or respond to any stimulus. The main character is a police officer who suffers from it. They use a robot body to interact with the world.

6, Jackie Kessler and Caitilin Kittredge: “Black and White” and “Shades of Gray”

Another duology, this time about two women with superpowers who went through a Supers Academy together, but end up on different sides of the law.

7, Dan Koboldt: Gateways to Alissia

In this trilogy, a stage magician travels to a world where magic really works. The first book is “The Rogue Retrieval”.

8, C. J. Cherryh: Chanur series

I’d love to reread quite a few of Cherryh’s books, but for this list I chose Chanur. It’s not quite as densely packed as some of her other books. It’s space opera but from the point of view of an alien. The first book is “Pride of Chanur”.

9, Timothy Zahn: The Empire trilogy

These were the first books set after the original Star Wars movies, continuing the story of Han, Luke, and Leia. I loved them when I first read them and I’d love to revisit them.

Of course, I’d also bring lots of X-Men comics with the starfaring Kree, Shi’Ar, and the Starjammers.

Today the daily prompt is “I can kill you with my mind #TropeTuesday (psychic powers)”.

Psychic powers are very popular in SF, especially in comics. Here are just some of my favorites.

Of course, sometimes it’s hard to know if certain powers are psychic or not. Are the Jedi psychic? I guess vampires’ hypnotism powers would be considered mental powers, too.

1, Jean Grey of X-Men

The X-Men have probably the most members, and enemies, with psychic powers. Professor X, Rachel Summers, Psylocke, Legion, Emma Frost, Shadow King… Marvel has other psychics as well, such as Moondragon. In the MCU, Wanda could manipulate people’s fears, when she was the bad guy. In the beginning, in the 1960s, Jean’s powers of telepathy and telekinesis were very minor. Today, she’s one of the powerhouses.

2, Dejah Thoris by Edgar Rice Burroughs

In Barsoom, everyone is telepathic. Except for our hero John Carter whose thoughts the Barsoomians can’t read. Unfortunately, telepathy doesn’t affect the cultures, except that everyone speaks the same language. The only other place where the Barsoomians regularly use their powers is to control the fierce thoats they ride.

3, the Martian Manhunter of JLA

DC comics has some psychics as well, although not as many as Marvel. J’onn J’onzz is perhaps the best known of them, especially because he’s in the Supergirl TV series. He’s an older, more experienced adventurer.

4, Deanna Troi from Star Trek: TNG

Star Trek also has a lot of characters with psychic powers. The original series had Vulcans who have touch telepathy and TNG added the Betazoids who are far more powerful telepaths. Sadly, Deanna was possibly the most underused character (in addition to Beverly Crusher) in the show so we didn’t get to see her do much. Being both an empath and a psychologist, she should have been the lead diplomat but that was Picard’s role.

5, Talia Winters from Babylon 5

In the B5 universe, Earth has a lot of telepaths. They even have commercial telepaths, keeping everyone in the deal honest. Of course, Psi Corps turned out to be a pretty sinister organization, keeping all telepaths under their thump. The Centauri and the Minbari also have their own telepaths.

6, Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold

This book can be read as a stand-alone. While Athos, the planet where the story begins, doesn’t have telepaths, the main character Ethan encounters a telepath.

7, X-Files

A lot of minor characters have various psychic powers in different episodes. For example, the boy Gibson Praise was telepathic and in the episode ”the Walk” Mulder and Scully investigated a man who apparently can astral project himself.

8, Deadly Silents by Lee Killough

This book has a telepathic culture as the main setting. A small group of humans moves to that planet.

9, Medium

This TV show focuses on Allison DuBois who is a medium: she can talk to dead people, as well as foresee events and witness past events in her dreams. In the show, she works together with law enforcement. She’s also happily married with three daughters.

10, Doctor Who

Much like X-Files, Doctor Who has many episodes that deal with psychic powers.

The daily prompt for today for Sci-fi Month is “Sweet dreams #TropeTuesday (cryosleep / suspended animation)”. Cryosleep isn’t as widespread trope as, for example time travel, but I did remember quite a few characters in hibernation. Many times, cryosleep is just a way to take character(s) to the start of the story. Bujold perhaps explores best what a cryosleep society could look like.

1, Mur Lafferty: Six Wakes

Cryosleep is essential to this murder mystery in space -book. The generation ship Dormire has a crew of six clones. They all wake in new bodies at the start of the story. Someone has murdered them all. One of them.

2, Lois McMaster Bujold: Cryoburn

The setting is a planet called Kibou-Daini where the most notable industry is cryotechnology. The wealthiest people freeze themselves when they’re near death or if they have life-threatening diseases. So, cryosleep is a very prominent part of the plot.

3, Marvel Comics: Captain America and Winter Soldier

Steve Rogers agreed to become a super soldier to fight the Nazis. He was accidentally frozen in ice until modern times. His partner, Bucky Barnes, was also put under suspended animation by Russians who were using him as an assassin.

4, Alien

When “Alien” starts, the crew is just waking up from a long hibernation after their work. But they’re dismayed to realize that they aren’t back on Earthy but near a remote planet.

5, Star Trek: TNG episode “The Neutral Zone”

The Enterprise finds three people from 20th century Earth who have been put under crysleep because they have diseases that which weren’t curable back then.

6, Mass Effect: Andromeda

The game starts with the main character waking up from crysleep to their destination.

7, Underworld the movie and sequels

In these movies about a war between vampires and werewolves, the three vampire elders enter centuries-long hibernation so that they get rest from their immortal lives.

8, Demolition Man

In this rather cheesy SF film, both a cop (Sylvester Stallone) and a criminal (Wesley Snipes) are sentenced to cryosleep in 1996. But the criminal escapes from his parole hearing and so the cop must be revived, too. The world of 2032 is a peaceful, if sterile, utopia that can’t handle violent criminals anymore.

9, Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back

Han Solo is frozen in carbonite.

10, Futurama

Filip Fry is a pizza delivery man who is accidentally shoved to a cryosleep tube and wakes up again a thousand years in the future.

The 64th Star Trek: the Next Generation book set after the movie First Contact.


Publisher: Pocket Books

Publishing year: 2002

Format: Print

Page count: 332

The book starts with an intriguing little scene seventy years previously where two young students Noonien Soong and Ira Graves are mountain climbing with their professor Emil Vaslovik. They stumble on a body… that turns out to be thousands of years old and an artificial being.

In the present, Data is returning to the Enterprise-E with the body of his ”mother”. His emotion chip is fully active and he’s struggling with grief and his emotional realization that he will outlive all of the people dear to him. However, then the Enterprise-E is summoned to Galor IV where Commander Maddox, Reginald Barcley, and professor Vaslovik are working on creating a sentient android, but with one that has a holomatrix brain. Just when they were going to active the android, there was an accident that left Maddox is in a coma, Vaslovik vaporized, and the new android destroyed. Of course, the Enterprise investigates.

This book is a delight to an old fan because it references a lot of Data-centric TNG episodes, such as “the Offspring”, “the Measure of a Man”, “the Schizoid Man”, and “Descent part II”. It also mentions many secondary characters, such as Soong and Lore, and even brings back characters we’ve only seen once, such as Admiral Haftel. It also uses as an inspiration three of the original Star Trek episodes and ties them to TNG.

The overall theme is sentience in artificial beings. While the episode the Measure of a Man establishes that Data is a sentient being, TNG has a surprising number of other sentient artificial intelligences whose right to choose hasn’t been so clear, such as the Exocomp and even a hologram Moriarty. While Picard is concerned with, and acknowledges, their sentience, not everyone feels the same way. Another theme is Data growing close to a new female crew member so the book also has a ”romance of the week” subplot (which I don’t really like. Since the new character doesn’t appear in the show or movies, we know that she’s going to leave or die, so it feels pointless. Doubly so if I like the romance character which I did this time. Such an interesting character wasted. Oh well).

The book has some elements I’m not sure would actually work, but for the most part, I enjoyed it, despite the inevitable downer ending. It does a wonderful job of tying together all the themed elements. Data has a working emotion chip almost the whole book so he’s a bit different than what I’m used to, but I think this was also done well.

Recommended for TNG fans. Will you be able to enjoy it without watching the show? I don’t know, but I recommend watching the integral episodes first.

Sci-fi month has started! November is here, which means the good ship SciFiMonth is blasting off with a crew full of SFnal-loving geeks to spend 30 days celebrating the joys and horrors of but what if? We’ll be reading, watching, listening, playing and above all chattering our way through all forms of science fiction all month long.

The first daily prompt is TBR.

I’m planning to read a mix of older and newer scifi. The first book in the older list is Jeffrey Lang’s Immortal Coil. It’s number 64 in the Star Trek: TNG series and was first published in 2002. It’s set after the movie First Contact and focuses on Data who has an emotion chip.

Another book from my oldies pile is Timothy Zahn’s Conquerors’ Pride, first published in 1994. It’s the first book in a military space opera series. I loved Zahn’s Star Wars books but haven’t read much of his original works.

In the newer pile of books I’m waiting for Becky Chambers’ novellas ”To be taught, if fortunate” and ”Psalm for the Wild-built” from the library. I’ve loved her previous books, but these two have gotten mixed reviews so I’m very curious about them.

Happy reading!