science fiction


The first book in an SF series. Which isn’t mentioned on the book, by the way.

Publication year: 2016
Format: print
Page count: 432
Publisher: Tor

This book is very difficult to review and it wasn’t an easy read, either. It’s complex, very wordy, full of interesting ideas, and frustrating. Mostly it’s written in first person in a deliberately archaic manner by an unreliable narrator who keeps secrets from the reader and more than occasionally addresses the reader directly. It’s also not just influenced by great philosophical and theological thinker but their ideas are talked about in the book, at length. If those are to your taste, you might want to pick it up.

The reader is dropped in the middle of things at first without explanation. But later things are explained, perhaps more than absolutely necessary. The main POV character is a Mycroft Canner, a convict who is now a Servicer, doing penance for his crimes by owning nothing and giving service. In his case, he knows the most important people in this society and while serving them, he gets mixed up in their business, of course. These people aren’t very likable but I guess powerful people rarely are.

The most fascinating, and best, part of the book to me is the society. It’s set in 25th century, during a time when the people of Earth (and on the Moon, yay!) no longer have nation-states. Instead, they have Hives, classes based on what they’re interested in. For example, the Cousins are the care-takers of people. If that’s your passion, you can join the Cousins, no matter where you live. The Utopians are the most advanced scientists who are currently mostly occupied trying to travel to Mars. The Masons, the biggest Hive, are the lawyers and administrators. There are also the Hiveless. Each Hive follows their own laws but there are some laws which are universal. Each Hive also has a different method to choose their leaders. For example, the Masons have an emperor who chooses his follower but the Cousins have a democracy, and the Humanists can vote for anyone they want, not just a guy from a premade list. (Somewhat disappointingly to me, they still choose to vote most for the rich, handsome celebrity who is voted into office time and again.)

Following the great violence in the Church War, organized religions is illegal and even talking about religious ideas in groups of more than three is illegal. However, each person is assigned a sensayer, a priest and a philosopher, with whom they can talk about religious ideas. Sensayer is trained to know all religions, history, and philosophy. Also, biological sexuality has been suppressed. Even though English is still the universal language (but not the only one, people speak French, Japanese, Latin, and other languages) he and she are forbidden because they are too sexually titillating and explicit. So, they is used as a singular. Except that Mycroft uses he and she because he uses archaic language. But he doesn’t use them as a biological differentiator but according to the female and male personality traits of the person he’s describing. Clothing it also gender neutral. Fascinating stuff! (and yeah, I’m a Finn and we don’t use gendered pronouns so it’s not a new idea to me but very interesting to see in English which is so very centered on gender. What about languages with female, male, and neuter pronoun? Would the neuter be used there?)

Oh, the plot. We are introduced to Bridger, a 13-year-old boy who can make things come alive with a touch. More a fantasy concept than scifi. Mycroft and some of his friends are trying very hard to keep Bridger a secret from everyone else and especially from the very powerful people. Also, there’s a burglary which involves a list of names and that becomes more and more important.

I also loved the concept of bash’ which has substituted a family. Essentially, it’s a group of people (usually 2-8 adults) living together and kids are raised in these bash’es. But the adults aren’t all necessarily involved with each other – they can be just very good friends or even siblings. But they could be parents and grandparents, too. Oh, and people from different Hives can live in the same bash’.

Unfortunately, no book is without some flaws. This one felt too long and I wasn’t really interested in all of revelations, especially later in the book. And the setting is much more interesting that the plots. It also doesn’t have a proper ending, just an end.

The first book in an SF trilogy.

Publication year: 2016
Format: Audio
Running time: 10 hours and 52 minutes
Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller

Captain Kel Cheris is a young infantry captain in service to the galactic Hexarchate. She finds a way to win in a difficult situation but it’s disgraced for it, because she used an unorthodox, almost heretical, methods. Right at the start we see the Kel in action, using formations which are the most important strategy elements. Afterwards, Cheris thinks that she’s going to be dismissed but instead she’s invited to a group which is thinking of ways to retake the Fortress of Scattered Needles which the heretics have taken. Apparently, the only way to storm it is a siege and it should be led by general Shuos Jedao who hasn’t been defeated in battle yet. Except that Jedao died three hundred years ago, after murdering his whole army. But the Hexarchate have preserved his mind digitally and it’s possible to download it to the mind of a volunteer. Cheris volunteers. The general isn’t what she expected. He’s mostly rational, or at least pretends to be, but he’s of course very manipulative.

The Fortress is tactically very important. If Cheris and Jedao can’t get it back, their whole society might collapse.

This was not an easy to book to get into. The reader is thrown in the middle of a battle into a very complex society and the author doesn’t explain much. Also, Cheris isn’t the only POV character. Most likely, the different POVs are differentiated better in the print book, but sometimes in the audio book they aren’t so clear when my attention wanders. There are also stuff, especially the physics and mathematics, which I didn’t get. I need to relisten the whole thing before getting the next book. Or maybe read it as a print book. The unfamiliar names were also tough in audio.

But once I got over the huge learning curve, the book was fascinating. I really enjoyed both Cheris and Jedao and their conversations were great. The siege is quite slow but I didn’t mind that. Cheris has seen raised from a child to be obedient, loyal, and conform. Jedao is from a time before Kel soldiers were raised like that. Yeah, their first names are also the name of the social group they belong to.

The Hexarchate is also a fascinating society despite being a very oppressive one, too. It’s based on a calendar which everyone has to follow, including feast days and remembrance days with different rituals, like ritual torture of prisoners or private meditation. The calendar makes possible to use what is called “exotic physics” which are used as weapons and can also affect local environment. If a certain number of the people don’t follow the calendar, the exotic physics don’t work. So, these people, called heretics, are persecuted mercilessly.

Men and women serve in the military without any comment. None of them are really described much, neither are the ships (called moths) or the fortresses, nor, indeed much at all.

The third book in the Star Trek: TNG Double Helix series.


Publication year: 1999
Format: print
Page count: 293 + an excerpt of the next book, Quarantine.
Publisher: Pocket Books

This time the TNG crew only appears in a couple of chapters and the main character is new character: Eric Stiles. Both Spock and McCoy appear.

The story starts several years before TNG series. Ensign Eric Stiles is the leader of a Starfleet security services special squad. They’re going in planet PojjanPiraKot where the population wants all aliens out. Federation embassy is the last one to be evacuated and Stiles’ group has to get them out. Unfortunately, the who group is full of ensigns on their first mission and things go wrong. Stiles is captured and imprisoned for years. His only companion is another alien prisoner: Romulan scientist Zevon. They keep each other alive and develop a deep friendship.

Years later, the Romulan Star Empire is in an uproar. They’re attacking Federation ships and the Romulans claim they’re just renegade captains. However, the engineered virus has struck again. This time the victims are the Romulan empress and all her blood relatives. And the Romulans are accusing the Federation.

Eric Stiles is a well-drawn character. At the start, he’s a nervous ensign, determined to look good in front of his hero, Spock, who is at the embassy. Then he grows up fast and becomes even a heroic figure but without realizing himself. He carries a lot of guilt around, too.

This is a good look at the less explored side of Star Trek, the less glorified work. Unfortunately, I really wanted to read a book with the familiar TNG cast and this wasn’t it.

Both Spock and McCoy are very distinctive.

A sequel to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. SF book.

Publication year: 2016
Format: print
Page count: 365
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton

This is not a direct sequel but takes up the tale of Wayfarer’s artificial intelligence, Lovelace. About half of the story belongs to Jane 23, a clone girl on a different planet.

Lovelace has now a synthetic body kit and she’s having trouble adjusting to it. Because it’s illegal for AIs to have bodies, she and the people around her are constantly in danger and she has to hide herself. She was put into the body (or kit as she calls it) after a system reboot so she doesn’t remember deciding to go into a body. A single body is a very limited place; she’s used to running a whole spaceship, “seeing” with sensors both inside and out, being in constant communication with other computers. Now, she has very limited senses and no internal link access. She also has programs which make it hard to interact with people, such as 100% honesty and whenever she’s asked a direct question, she has to answer it. No wonder she has all sorts of difficulty. Fortunately, she has two people to help her: Pepper and Blue. They’re very patient and understanding with her because they know very well what’s it like, trying to fit into a society you weren’t born in. Pepper’s a great mechanic and Blue’s an artist.

Lovelace is actually the name of the AI series, so she has to come up with a new name: Sidra. Her tale is rather a quiet one, when she tries to adjust to her new circumstances. She even thinks of her body as “the kit”. “The kit sighed.” “She swung the kit’s head around.”

In this world, AIs have emotions. There’s never a question of if Lovelace’s feelings are real. Other ship AIs have feelings, also. But we also see low-level AIs which don’t (presumably) have feelings and only limited intelligence: AIs from which people buy tickets or who instruct people or are characters in games. Lovelace is uncomfortable with them.

The other half of the book follows the story of Jane 23, who was created to work in a factory alongside with dozens of other clones. They’re fed and only educated enough to do the work. They know nothing of planets and have never even see the sky outside. The younger girls clean junk and the older girls fix them. Jane is very good at fixing things. They’re overseen by robots who are called Mothers. All the Janes are ten years old when the story starts. There are other girls, apparently one batch per year.

One day, there’s an accident at the factory and Jane 23 has a chance to get away. She hesitates at first, but quickly takes her chance, together with her bunkmate, Jane 64. Unfortunately, Jane 64 is caught by the Mothers and apparently killed. Fortunately, Jane 23 finds a loyal ally: a small shuttle with an AI, Owl. Together, Jane 23 and Owl try to survive and perhaps one day even leave the planet behind.

Jane’s part of the book is focused on survival. The shuttle isn’t in any condition to fly and Jane has to fix a lot of systems. Fortunately, this part of the planet is a junkyard of everything the wealthier people throw away. But it’s also huge. And there are genetically engineered dogs which try to kill anyone entering the junkyard. Food and water are in limited supply. Just survival is a huge task to a ten-year-old but Owl does her best to teach and guide the girl.

I enjoyed Jane’s part of the book more but both were enjoyable. However, this isn’t an adventure book and it’s quite different from the first in the series. The stories are liked thematically. Even though Jane’s and Lovelace (Sidra)’s situations are very different, they’re both people created by others for a specific purpose. They’re both looking for a new purpose, beyond just surviving. The galactic law doesn’t recognize Sidra as a person and the law on the planet where Pepper was created also didn’t recognize her as person, either. (I don’t think it was said clearly if galactic law recognizes a clone as person.) They were both tools.

I enjoyed this book a lot. The aliens were great, too.

A collection of seven science fantasy stories.

Publication year: 1975
Format: print
Page count: 212
Publisher: Ballantine Books

“Beyond Our Narrow Skies” by Leigh Brackett

Brackett’s introduction to the collection shows something of the science fiction field in the 1970s. She defends the need for space opera or purely entertaining stories which the critics apparently scoff. So nothing much has changed in my lifetime. She also introduces each of the stories and we get a fascinating glimpse into her own writing process; in 1945, at least, she seemed to have been a pure “pantser”; working without an outline or even an ending to aim for. She reveals how she came to collaborate with Ray Bradbury on the first story of the collection.

I was only familiar with Brackett, Bradbury, and Anderson before reading this collection.

“Lorelei of the Red Mist” by Leigh Brackett & Ray Bradbury (originally published in Planet Stories 1946)
Hugh Starke (note that Stark/Starke name!) is a thief and a very successful one, too. This time he has robbed a million credits from the Terro-Venus Mines. He’s racing from the thugs the Mines sent after him, when his ship crashes. Starke wakes up and sees a strange, naked woman. Starke realizes that his own body is dying and the woman says that she will transfer his mind to another body. Starke wakes up again, this time in chains. It turns out that the body he’s given is one of swordsman Conan, who has betrayed his wife and his liege, in Crom Dhu.

This is a fantasy tale set on Venus. Starke quickly becomes accustomed to his new body but finds himself a hated man. The strange woman, Rann, tries to control Starke’s actions for her own ends but Strake resents that and tries to make his own decisions.

“The Star Mouse” by Fredric Brown (originally published in Planet Stories 1942)
Professor Oberburger is a German scientist of rockets and other hard sciences. He lives now in Connecticut and, because he lives alone, talks to himself in a rather thick German accent. He has invented a new type of rocket and wants to send it to the Moon before revealing it to the scientific community. The only thing he can put in the rocket is a mouse which he names Mitkey (yes, after the famous Disney mouse). Poor Mitkey is stuffed into the rocket, with plenty of cheese, and blasted off. But something unexpected happens.

This is quite a humorous and charming short story.

“Return of a Legend” by Raymond Z. Gallun (originally published in Planet Stories 1952)
Port Laribee is an Earth outpost on drying and dying Mars. A few people are attracted to Mars and work there as settlers but the work is hard. Joe Dayton came there as a young man with high dreams. Some years working there quench his dreams, but not his love of Mars. Then Frank Terry and his 10-year-old son Will come to the outpost, too. A year later, Frank is found dead but his son is missing and Joe is one of the people searching for him.

I was very intrigued by the world-building in this story. The story itself is lyrical and haunting but for me the world-building was the best part. In this Mars, too, the civilization had died, leaving only ruins. There’s little oxygen but the vegetation remains and has gone mostly underground. Some of the plants are still on the surface and it’s possible to puncture holes into the plants and get air that way.

“Quest of Thig” by Basil Wells (originally published in Planet Stories 1942)
Thig is part of a three-man exploration team. They’re looking for more planets for their race, the Horde, to conquer. His people are grown in laboratories and the only emotion they know is loyalty to the Horde. However, they also have a machine which can transfer one man’s memories (and emotions) to another’s mind. To find out more about Earth, they capture the first Earthman they see and Thig is ordered to take the Earthman’s memories and explore the planet. It’s easy because with little plastic surgery Thig looks exactly like the Earthman they captured. However, the man is happily married with children and family life affects Thig strangely.

The Earthman is Lew Terry, a writer of Western tales. He’s struggling to write a new story. Unfortunately, the transfer of his memories kills him and so Thig takes his place in Lew’s family.

“The Rocketeers Have Shaggy Ears” by Keith Bennett (originally published in Planet Stories 1950)
Patrol Rocket One crashes on Venus, in an unexplored jungle. The scientists and military troops, 45 in all, have to walk hundreds of miles to their base camp, encountering all sorts of horrors on the way. Meanwhile, the men at the base camp are trying to think of a way to help them.

A horror/SF story where the military plays the central part. The main character is Lieutenant Hague who leads a group of infantry men.

“The Diversifal” by Ross Rocklynne (originally published in Planet Stories 1945)
Bryan Barrett feels were strongly about social justice. He’s a writer and he brings to light the wrongdoing of the (US) government and big businesses. However, on man has convinced Bryan to go against his conscious. Bryan hates it but is persuaded by that man to become part of the news media which do their best to keep people uninformed. Bryan hates that man but has to endure a whole ten years of him.

A short but very atmospheric story.

“Duel on Syrtis” by Poul Anderson (originally published in Planet Stories 1951)
Kreega is one of them original Martians; he even fought against the humans when they first conquered Mars a hundred years ago. A lot of things have changed since then: the Martians are no longer slaves but they’re very dependent on humans and their higher technology. Kreega is the last one still living in the harsh Martian wilderness. Riordan is an Earthman who has hunted every kind of big game – except a Martian. He knows that he might not get another chance, so he bribes a human official to look the other way when he goes to the wilderness, with a rockhound and a Martian hawk to run down the last true Martian.

Another very atmospheric story set in a dying Mars.

This is a marvelous collection to fans of pulp SF. The only piece I didn’t care for was Bennett’s; I’m not currently in the mood for horror so I might like it at some other time. Sadly, it seems that no further volumes were published.

Collects comic miniseries 1-3.


Writers: Mark Altman, Chris Dows, Colin Clayton, R. A. Jones
Artists: Rob Davis, Terry Pallot, Brian Michael Bendis, Bruce McGorkindale, Leonard Kirk, Jack Snider
Publisher: Malibu

The majority of this collection is taken up by three-part story the Maquis. It’s pretty solid although not in the same league as the best DS9 episodes. It starts with the rescue of a missing commander from the starship Grissom. However, when he meets Gul Dukat, the commander tries to kill him. But the main story centers on Doctor Bashir. He’s taking a vacation on Risa but on the way there he meets a beautiful woman who promptly kidnaps him. It turns out that she’s a Maquis and a group of them are going to storm a stronghold where the crew of Voyager and Chakotay’s Maquis group are held prisoner. Unfortunately, it’s a Cardassian trap. The plot here is pretty elaborate and I’m not sure it was worth the cost. But I’m not a Cardassian. 😉

This was a pretty fun story and involves Garak which is always a good thing. Some of the secondary characters even had more depth than was obvious at first glance, which is another positive thing. Of course, it’s a minor story which is never referred to again. Each part has also a box to remind the reader to start watching the new show, Voyager.

The collection has two shorter stories as well. They’re pretty good but unfortunately, they’re put in the middle of the Maquis story, cutting it senselessly. The first one is “The Memoir of an Invisible Ferengi” which is a fun short strip about Quark. A Romulan vessel has docked and some threatening looking Romulans pay Quark a visit: they want holosuits and for him to keep an item safe for them. Of course, Quark has took into the box and try on the belt he finds there. It makes him invisible. However, things turn up different than he expected. The second one, “A Tree Grows on Bajor” is a Sisko and Jake story. Sisko and his son have been invited to a ceremony on Bajor which reminds Jake about his mother.

These are also good little stories but unfortunately they interrupt the main story strangely. The Quark story is especially jarring. Otherwise this is a good collection.

A new book in the Diving universe! It’s set on a different planet and with different characters though, so it works as a stand-alone.

Publication year: 2016
Format: Audio
Running time: 11 hours and 48 minutes
Narrator: Flora Plumb

Frisket Falls in a giant waterfall near Sector Base E – 2, which is dependent on the Fleet. When the Fleet announces that they’re going to move on and close down the base, the people living there aren’t happy, even though the base will operate another 30 years. So, when Rajivk Agwu finds two pairs of shoes near the falls, he thinks that someone has killed themselves. He alerts the local search and rescue group who find clues that they could be dealing with a murder victim.

Meanwhile Bristol Iannaze is repairing an anacapa drive which is the only engine able to move people and space ships through fold space, through space and sometimes even through time. She notices a door slamming which means that someone unauthorized is in the secure laboratory with delicate equipment. And that shouldn’t be possible.

The story is told from many point-of-view characters. All of them are specialists on their own field, used to doing things their own way and with their own priorities. Now, their habits collide and they aren’t charitable towards each other. They all want results fast but the results also have to be reliable to their own exacting standards. So, most of them constantly berate each other as incompetents, but mostly in their own minds. This makes them, well, quite human. As a mystery, this structure works very well, at least for me. I’ve read her SF with multiple POV books before but for those who haven’t, the transition from the Boss stories which are written in first person could be jarring.

Unfortunately, the many POV characters also means that some information is repeated, especially at the beginning.

The city and the base are a new setting, and they have a complex relationship with each other. The Fleet takes care of the people and in return a city has sprung up around the base, with plenty of different kinds of people and professions. A very interesting setting.

I enjoyed this very much but it seems like a side story, not related to the main Boss stories.

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