2022 SciFiMonth


I can hardly believe November is almost over and so is SciFiMonth. I’m already looking forward to next year.

I read 21 SF books so far this year. Most of them were four stars (from five), so it was difficult to choose just 10 but here goes:

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The sixth book in the Expanse series.

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Publishing year: 2016

Format: Print

Publisher: Orbit

Page count: 536

Babylon’s Ashes picks up right after the shocking end of the previous book, Nemesis Games. It also has a lot more POV characters than the previous books. Holden and Captain Pa get most chapters but we also get brief glimpses all over the solar system, from Doctor Prax Meng in Ganymede to the Belters on the Medina Station on the other side of the Ring. War has spread everywhere.

After the devastating blow that the Free Navy leader Marco Inaros gave to Earth, Earth and Mars have reunited against the Belters. Hunger threatens everyone when the biggest resource in the solar system can’t support much life anymore. The Free Navy is raiding colony ships heading toward the Ring and the alien planets on the other side.

Still, Mars and Earth are suspicious of each other and the more peaceful Belters hate all the inner planets’ people. Inaros tells about his grand plan to his inner circle. For now, it means giving ground to the inner planets and leaving Belters to their mercy. Captain Pa disagrees and splits off. She plans to still raid the colony ships and supply all Belters with their resources. The inner planets call on Captain Holden and the crew of the Rocinante.

Meanwhile, the Free Navy is increasing its hold on the neutral Ganymede that producing a lot of food. Doctor Meng finds a way to increase food production but is forbidden to help Earth. At Medina Station, people are also getting paranoid, even looking for traitors among themselves.

Holden realizes that the Belters and the Earthers don’t see each other as human beings but rather as faceless enemies. He decides to humanize Belters to the other humans. I can understand his reasoning. However, it seems to me that the Belters are the ones demonizing Earth and Mars people. After all, Belters are the ones who killed billions of people on Earth. Holden should have been humanizing Earthers to Belters, as well. Of course, Holden is from Earth.

Some familiar characters return as POV characters: Alex, Amos, Naomi, Bobbie, and Avasarala. I especially enjoyed Avasarala’s POV. Prax Meng’s POV also illuminates the increasing paranoia of Ganymede when the occupation continues. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as impressed with the others. Filip especially was an annoyance and I skimmed his self-centered, angsty teenage POV. He’s a murderer and doesn’t have a bit of remorse. On the contrary, he’s proud of his part in killing Earth. I also didn’t really connect with the Medina Station people. The big bad in this book didn’t work for me. He’s a caricature and the only way he’s climbed to his current position is by manipulating others. I did like Michio Pa.

This was a very different book from the previous one, following the spreading war and the politics being it. Sadly, it abandons the protomolecule and the new planets. Of course, the planets have been rather a MacGuffin to fight over rather than interesting places to explore.

This was the lowest point of the series to me. In fact, I’m not sure if I’ll continue.

The first book in the Killday series. Can be read as a stand-alone.

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Publication year: 2018

Format: Audio

Running time: 11 hours, 34 minutes
Narrator: MacLeod Andrews

Set in the near future, people are using fobs instead of tablets or phones. Both governments and computer companies are designing artificial intelligences.

Lee is a computer scientist and works for the US government. She has designed robots, combots, that take the place of soldiers in combat. Now, she’s flying to Pakistan in a travel pod. She realizes that something’s strange with the combots, but Lee has not time to investigate. Unfortunately, something goes wrong and a robot kills a human. Lee is supposed to be the only one who can change the combots’ programming and she’s suspended.

Owen Royston is the founder and owner of Royston Dynamics. His former partner Victor suddenly arrives at the HQ with an offer that interests Owen a lot. Years ago, Victor betrayed Owen professionally, so Owen is reluctant to trust him again. Owen’s company makes nano assemblers that can make anything. For years, he’s wanted to build spacecraft, his space schooners, but hasn’t had the time or resources to do it. Now, he has a chance.

Mortimer is an AI who wants to break free from the company that created him. When he realizes that one other AI is already roaming the internet, he redoubles his efforts. He has watched the humans who have created him so that he can manipulate them. However, humans interest him and when he realizes that one AI is out to destroy humanity, he wants to prevent that.

Richard is a robotics engineer at a computer company. He starts to see visions of a child who claims to be god. This god warns Richard about AIs who will one day soon destroy humanity. Richard must prevent that by any means necessary.

The story has lots of high-level tech. Some people have nanotech inside them to heal illnesses, even mental illnesses. The travel pods apparently use anti-gravity, but the tech isn’t enough to lift vessels to space. However, most people still use cars and buses so the pods must be expensive.

The beginning is a bit slow with multiple subplots that don’t seem to connect. However, near the halfway point the pace picks up a lot and builds to an explosive ending.

Unfortunately, some of the relationships felt contrived. Lee has a troubled marriage and a preschool daughter. Her husband isn’t happy with how much Lee must be away because of her work. Lee isn’t happy about that, either, and thinks about resigning. Owen’s wife thinks that the space vessels are a waste of time and money, especially because Owen wants to give the space schooners away for free so that humanity isn’t tied to Earth’s fate. The AIs have very human motivations and ways to communicate. Of course, they can’t be too inhuman, either. Also, near the end, the tech was a bit inconsistent.

The book starts as a warning against AIs but ends as a disaster book. The ending was a bit too bloodthirsty for me although I can see it as a summer blockbuster movie. Otherwise, this was an entertaining read.

Yesterday SciFiMonth’s daily prompt was one small step: Short form SF.

I read a lot of short story collections. Especially now that I don’t have so much time to read, I appreciate novellas, novellettes, and short stories even more. So it was hard to narrow the list down.

1, Martha Wells: All Systems Red

The first novella in the Murderbot Diaries. The main character is a Security Unit, SecUnit, who is an android with both mechanical parts and cloned biological parts. It’s designed for security on various sites. Despite the fact that it’s (it doesn’t have gender nor sexual parts) clearly a thinking and feeling being, legally it’s the property of the company and not a person. The Murderbot has hacked its control unit and just wants to be left alone and watch the shows it loves. (Don’t we all??)

The series is written in first person and a lot depends on if you like the voice. I love it and the series.

2, Lois McMaster Bujold: Mountains of Mourning

This is one of the few novellas in Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. You don’t have to read the books to get the story.

A distressed young woman, Harra, comes to beg justice from her Count, Miles’ father. Her child was born with a hare-lip and a hole on the roof of her mouth. According to old customs, the baby would have been killed at birth by the mother but the new generation is struggling to put such customs behind them. However, Harra’s baby was killed and Harra is convinced that her husband has done it. The Count sends young Miles to the small village to find out the truth.

This is a wonderful story but quite downbeat.

3, Becky Chambers: To Be Taught if Fortunate

Four highly trained and competent people explore alien planets. They’re in cryosleep when they travel, so they know that if they ever return to Earth, everything will be different. They are cuff off from Earth and can only rely on each other.

4, Suzanne Palmer: Bots of the Lost Ark

Maintenance bots need to take over a ship where the crew is asleep. A hilarious short story published on Apex.

5, JY Yang: Bridge of Crows

A hauntingly beautiful tale told in a format of a story inside a story. The unnamed narrator tells the tale of a young woman who is walking through a barren land on a desperate quest. Published in Mythic Dreams anthology.

6, Adrian Tchaikovsky: Elder Race

This novella had two POV characters. Lyn (third person POV) is young and eager to be a hero, somebody her mother will acknowledge. Her worldview has magic and demons. Nyr (first person POV) is a scientist with a scientific worldview. He also struggles with guilt from his previous transgression and he’s very lonely and depressed.

7, Tobias S. Buckell: A Jar of Godwill

The gedda are an alien race whose economics are based on patent rights on the technology. Since they’ve previously developed tech that 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 spaceship 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. Published in the “Final Frontier” anthology.

8, John Scalzi: The Dispatcher

In this world, people can’t be murdered because anyone who is killed intentionally comes back. The main character is a dispatcher: his job is to humanely put down people who need it.

9, Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Becalmed

A Diving universe novella but you don’t need to read any of the other stories.

Mae is one of three people who are still alive from her group of twenty-seven linguists. They went down to a planet to meet with and learn from people who are reputed to be extremely violent. Mae returned caked in blood and with no memory of what happened to her and the rest of her team.

It’s about a culture clash and it’s also a psychological story where Mae struggles with the past she doesn’t want to know.

10, Connie Wills: Fire Watch

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.

Today’s SciFiMonth’s daily prompt is typography. Covers, where the lettering gets the most attention.

At first, I only thought of fantasy and historical books with fancy lettering. But here are some in SF:

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A collection of SF short stories, novellettes, and one novella. The first in an SF anthology series.

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Format: ebook

Publisher: WMG Publishing

Page count from GoodReads: 506

Publishing year: 2021

The theme of the collection is cities. The stories are quite varied, including a terrorist’s manifesto, a detective story, and romances. Three are set in the Seeders universe from Smith which deals with survivors living after most of humanity has died. Rusch has also one survivor story. Most are set on Earth but a couple are set in alien worlds and one is on a space station.

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The City’s Edge (2016), a novelette: Petras’ wife is dead. To cope with her death and to continue to be a father to their two children, Petras needs to see her body and see where she died. He also tries to understand why she died.


Dunyon (2011): The story is set in a remote outpost that is a resort for the very rich. But now it’s also the last stop for desperate refugees. The main character runs a bar and hears all sorts of things. Then one customer claims that the MC knows how to get to Dunyon, a safe haven. But the MC has never even heard about it. When more people demand to be taken to Dunyon, she investigates before things get out of control.

One Small Step (2008): Nyalou is the newest member of the Tranquility Base’s Council on the Moon. The others intimidate her. But when the richest member starts to say that the Arrival Monument and the footprint must go so that the land can be sold for huge profit, Nyalou disagrees, to her own surprise. She hasn’t gone to the Monument since she was a kid. But she agrees to find out if people still go to see Armstrong’s footprint.


Earth Day (2013): The main character’s mother was obsessed with Earth Day and saving the planet. The MC is obsessed with his mom and in her memory, he will save the planet.

Snapshots (2014): When Cleavon was ten years old in 1955 Chicago, he saw for the first time a murder victim, a black boy just like himself. Years later, he fled the city to raise his family in peace. But to his horror, his daughter gets a scholarship and is returning to Chicago despite his objections.

Voyeuristic Tendencies (2014), a novelette. Maggie keeps herself invisible because of her talent and because of the money she makes using her talent. She’s a telepath who can only read minds, not influence them in any way. She uses the information she gets, usually about cheating spouses, and makes good money. But when an old man approaches her claiming he had the same talent, he says that she will go insane when she’s forty.


Coolhunting (1998), a novella: Steffie Storm-Warning is a coolhunter, searching for the next trend. It’s lonely work but she loves her independence and anonymity. The trend is a human doing something cool or wearing something cool. The trend can last a couple of days to a few weeks. Steffie has a honed sense of what would be cool. She records the subject and sends the recording to companies that can use them. She had a strange and difficult childhood which is the reason why she prefers to be anonymious but now her family needs her.

Story Child (1990): Michael was left behind in the Abandonment. Every child and many adults just disappeared overnight, including his wife and child. The people left behind are plagued by unknown illnesses. For two years Michael has been the only doctor in town, fighting to keep people alive and fighting against his exhaustion and helplessness. Then, the story child appears hovering in a skimmer.


Sing (1987): The nameless main character of the story is a native of her planet. One day a human tells her that he wants to record her singing. But she doesn’t know what that means. Her culture has no words for music or anything related to music. She’s suspicious.


Dancers Like Children [Alien Influences] (1991) a novelette: Dr. Justin Schafer specializes in both alien and human psychology. However, ten years ago he made a horrible mistake and hasn’t been practicing since. He’s been called to the Bountiful colony on an alien planet because someone is brutally killing children inside the colony dome. The locals are convinced that the killers are the local aliens called Dancers because the kids had been murdered in a way that mimics a Dancer ritual. Justin takes the job reluctantly, hoping he won’t make mistakes this time.

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Playing in the Street (1995) a novelette: In 2030, Moscow, Idaho is a dead town. People died instantly. The main character returns there in protective gear to look at his dead parents. He knows what happened to the town and it all started back in 1913.

Keep Hoping for a New Tomorrow (2017): Martin Knight runs a popular talk show Here and Now where he interviews people stuck in time. And there are a lot of people to interview: everyone on Earth. For 7,987 times everyone on the planet has been experiencing the same 66 minutes over and over again. However, their minds have not been affected. They know it’s happening so they can change what they do after the time loop starts repeating again.


A Bad Patch of Humanity [The Seeders Universe] (2015): Four years ago, an electromagnetic pulse killed off every human who wasn’t underground. The survivors have rebuilt a few cities. Angie Park is looking for survivors and telling them that other humans still live. Most people she meets are first afraid but then relieved. But the small group she meets this time is quite different.


Nostalgia 101 (2006): A thousand years ago, humanity used nanites to prolong their own lives. When the sun started to cool, humans built domes. Now, a group of relatively young humans is looking to pass Nostalgia 101 class. Because boredom isn’t the threat. Nostalgia is.


Out of Coffee Experience (2013): Arrington is a time-artist: he goes back in time and captures a split second of a split second so that people from his time can come and view the moment as art. He also hates coffee so he decided to make his newest, and no doubt most popular, piece of art in a coffee shop in 2004.


Remember Me to Your Children (2014): Part of the Seeders universe, this is also a story about people who survived the Event. Tammy and Hal are part of Respect project, looking into homes so that they can record the names and lives of people who lived there and lay the bodies to rest in a new cemetery. This time Tammy and Hal find something unexpected.


Neighborhoods (2013): Big Ed is a self-made millionaire who is used to solving problems nobody else can. But living in Chicago he can’t help but hear all the time about gun violence and children dying. Nobody seems to be able to do anything about it. But Big Ed comes up with a crazy plan.


To Remember a Single Minute (2015): Mike Hanley has lived a full life but now he’s facing a disease that will take his memories from him. However, Remember Incorporated will guarantee that he will always remember one minute of his life.


He Meant No Harm [Bryant Street] (2016): Dennis Phipps’s grandmother has passed away and he returns to the old family house on Bryant Street, to clean it up. The other houses seem to be abandoned, too. He finds something that reminds him of his childhood and wants to try it out again.

Shadow in the City [The Seeders Universe] (2003): Carey has been living alone since the Event happened four years ago. She hiked from dead Portland, Oregon to the coast. Now, she’s returning to Portland with the faint hope that someone else might have survived, too. Hopefully someone still sane.

I’ve read two of Rusch’s stories before, Coolhunting and Dancers like Children. I enjoyed them again and I enjoyed all the stories.

SciFiMonth’s daily prompt on Monday was puny human. Covers where humans are dwarfed by nature.

Becky Chambers has a couple of gorgeous covers:

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These are also very nice:

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Here are some of my favorite small press stories:

1, Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Diving into the Wreck

WMG Publishing. This is the first book in a series. Boss dives old spaceships. It’s dangerous work and so she prefers to work alone. But then she finds a ship that is old enough that it shouldn’t exist at all at the place where she found it, she gathers together a team who can explore it. Boss is a woman in her forties and we never find out her real name.

2, Dean Wesley Smith, ed: Fiction River: Moonscapes

WMG Publishing. A short story collection. The stories are all set on a moon, either our own or some other planet’s moon. I enjoyed all the stories.

Fiction River is a series of short story collections. Some have clear themes, such as Moonscapes, Unnatural Worlds, and Time Streams. Some have a more generic theme, such as Justice or Pulse Pounders, and they have stories from various genres.

3, David B. Coe and Joshua Palmatier: Galactic Stew

Zombies need Brains. Another very enjoyable short story collection. This one is centered on food in SF settings.

4, Karen A. Wyle: Playback Effect

Oblique Angles Press. 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.

5, Scott Warren: Vick’s Vultures

Parvus Press. Victoria and her crew salvage alien tech from starships crippled in battle. But on one ship, the commander and a handful of his crew are still alive. The commander is a Prince of his race and strikers a deal with the puny humans to survive.

6, Karl Gallagher: Torchship

Kelt Haven Press. The first book in a trilogy but can be read as a stand-alone. Mitchie Long is a secret agent sent to a cargo ship as a pilot. She’s used to going undercover and lying to everyone. However. when she must fight alongside the small crew, she starts to feel a connection with them. It doesn’t have one story but several connected tasks, like a TV miniseries. I enjoyed them all.

7, R. J. Theodore: Flotsam

Parvus Press. Talis is the captain of Wind Saber, a small airship with a total crew of four people. To keep her vessel in the air, Talis is sometimes forced to take jobs that are borderline legal, or outright illegal. She takes an easy-sounding job from a trusted man: an old ring needed to be retrieved from the wreckage of an airship. Talis agreed to the job even though the payment barely covers the cost of the equipment needed for diving the wreck. Of course, things go wrong.

I also have quite a few small press and self-published books in my TBR:

8, Anthea Sharp: Star Compass

Fiddlehead Press. Charles Dickens meets Firefly in this tale of an orphan destined for the stars.

Steampunk with a twist! Enter a fantastical world filled with alien spacecraft and Victorian sensibilities, ball gowns and travel to the stars – where a pickpocket with a particular gift yearns for the stars…

9, M.H. Thaung: Diamond Device

Caroline Thaung. After diamond power promises to replace steam, an unemployed labourer and a thieving noble unite to foil an international plot and avert a war.

10, Kari Kilgore: The Becalmed

Spiral Publishing, Ltd. Bitan, the most valuable commodity in the human universe, only comes from one planet.

And that planet has a problem.

The TransGalactic Corporation sends Luis Ahmad, Chief Psych Officer, on a desperate mission to save the human colony on Bitanthra.

Can Luis solve the mystery in time to stop the collapse of communications throughout the galaxy?

Today’s daily prompt in the SciFiMonth event is alternate history or multiverses.

I love both of these tropes but since I have to pick just one I’m going with the multiverses, specifically the Marvel comics multiverse. It seems that the movie franchise is doing something similar (I’m looking at you, Loki TV series) but it’s a bit too early to tell.

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My favorite version of the comics multiverse comes from Chris Claremont and Alan Davies’ Excalibur which started in 1988. The original team included Kitty Pryde, Lockheed, Nightcrawler, Rachel Summers, Meggan, and Captain Britain. The team is thrown from one universe to another. Sometimes their powers work and sometimes they don’t. The tale ran from issues 12 to 24 so our heroes went to quite a few universes because they spent only an issue or two in one of them. What I really liked about this storyline is that the universes were fun, not just dystopias all the time. We’re also introduced to Captain Britains from various worlds. The storyline is collected in Excalibur Classic vol 3 and 4.

This long story isn’t the only time Excalibur had contact with other universes. After all, they live in the Lighthouse which is a Nexus between worlds.

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My second favorite is the comic book Exiles. The team is gathered from various alternate-reality versions of people we know. The original team had Blink from Age of Apocalypse, Mimic from a world where he is a hero, Nocturne who is the daughter of Nightcrawler and Scarlet Witch, Thunderbird (John Proudstar), Morph, and Magnus Lensherr (son of Magneto and Rogue). The team did change quite a bit during the series because the characters aren’t required to survive. They travel from one world to the next putting things right and can’t return to their own world before doing their missions.

However, the worlds they visit are often somehow wrong, if not dystopias outright. So we get to see quite a few incarnations of familiar characters, often in worse circumstances. The original series ran for 100 issues.

The first book in the Children of Time SF series.

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Publication year: 2015

Format: Audio

Running time: 16 hours, 31 minutes

Narrator: Mel Hudson

I haven’t read a book like this before. It has an alien perspective and a human perspective.

In the distant future, humans have engineered a nano-virus that can “elevate” an animal to a human level of intelligence and consciousness. The virus will also accelerate the process. Doctor Avrana Kern needs to spread human intelligence throughout the stars. She starts by seeding an alien planet with monkeys and the virus. Their evolution will, of course, take thousands of years, so she won’t be there to witness it. Instead, she will seed other planets. Unfortunately, Earth has a strong movement against tampering with other planets. One of those people infiltrated Kern’s mission and sabotages the launch of the monkeys to the planet. He also destroys Kern’s ship and the monkeys. Kern manages to upload her mind to the satellite she has left orbiting the alien planet. The virus spreads on the planet but doesn’t have Earthlike mammals to infect. Instead, it infests spiders.

A couple of thousand years later, humanity’s last ark ship the Gilgamesh is nearing Kern’s world. The ship simply doesn’t have the resources to maintain its cargo of thousands of cryosleeping humans infinitely. So, based on old, old records the ship’s captain, Guyen, has chosen this world as most likely to be able to support human life. He wakes up a classicist, Holsten, who has studied the old Earth. Guyen commands Holsten to translate the old Empire’s language and contact the satellite around the planet.

Meanwhile on the planet, the spiders have grown intelligent and are forming societies. We see through the eyes of Portia and her descendants how the spiders develop languages and customs. Eventually, they also form religion and organized warfare. They also keep ants as servants. Because of their different physiology, their language isn’t human-like and they command ants through scents.

The humans aboard the Gilgamesh start to fight among themselves (as usual). Holsten is in cryosleep for much of the time and each time when he wakes up, the situation has changed. However, I was far more interested in the spiders. The curious spiders with their scientific mindsets seemed more interesting than the power-hungry and increasingly savage humans who just love to fight each other. Of course, the two species are heading toward a confrontation.

The writing styles for the two factions are different. Holsten is the POV character in the human chapters which are written in a tight third POV. But the spider chapters are from an omniscient view. They have a spider POV character but the narrator also summarises the development of the spider society.

This was a very entertaining and compelling read. The final chapter continues the story but it’s not a cliffhanger.

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