science fiction


A full cast audio production, based on Joe Harris’ X-files comics. Contains five cases so apparently the first five issues.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 4 hours and 4 minutes
Narrators: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Mitch Pileggi, William B. Davis, and rest of the X-Files cast.

I’m a long-time X-Files fan but I haven’t read much of the X-Files tie-in fiction. But after reading glowing reviews of this audio production, I succumbed and bought it. So, quite likely I had too high expectations. However, I really think that there should have been more thought put into adapting a comic book script, which is visual, to the radio drama format. And no, sound effects can’t substitute for a description. In fact, because I listen to a lot of audio books, which don’t have sound effects, I was quite distracted by the sound effects. The first story is particularly bad in this way and it was hard for me to even understand what was happening. The other four stories are either better in description or I got used to filling in the blanks.

This sounds awfully negative but I loved to revisit the characters and hear the familiar voices. Pretty much every significant secondary character has a part, even some dead ones. The Lone Gunmen faked their deaths and are now hiding under Arlington cemetery and so they are back, but so are some of the dead villains.

However, the stories don’t give anything new. They have the same old familiar stuff: a cult is after Scully’s on, Scully is kidnapped, mysterious people saying mysterious things, the black ooze resurfacing. One episode is titled “More musings of the cigarette smoking man” and centers on his past.

This was a fan and campy take on the X-Files. Recommended only for hard core fans because you really need to have watched the whole show before attempting to listen. This is not the place to start with X-Files. As is usual for the show, we don’t get much closure at the end: in fact two agents who disappeared at the start are still missing.

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A stand-alone sf/f book.

Publication year: 1993
Format: print
Publisher: ROC
Page count: 384

Traitors has an sf premise: the book is set is another planet which humans colonized centuries ago and the people know it. However, mostly it reads like fantasy. The countries in this setting are islands so you need to have either a ship or an air-born shuttle to go from one country to the next. All high tech is controlled by one nation, Vorgel, and while other nations can use them, the Vorgellians keep tight reins on the tech so nobody else can build anything high tech, anything from laser pistols to shuttles.

The Kingdom is a place where, at the surface anyway, art and artists are regarded highly. However, the Kingdom has a very cruel and rigid caste system. In it, young children are tested for their level of Talent (in any form of art, such as dance, poetry, or music and also in Magic). Those with A-level Talent are then expected to perform so that their performances bring money to the government. Those without A-level Talent are essentially used for scouting rich targets (in foreign countries) and robbing them. Also, a person can have only one Talent and only one A-level Talent in one family. Of course, the Kingdom don’t admit that they steal to anyone outside. Golga is a neighboring country where all frivolous thing, such as fiction and other arts, are forbidden. Supposedly, the Golgans kill all Kingdom members they get their hands on.

Emilio Diante is an A-level Dance Talent. One day, he comes home and finds his family brutally murdered. He knows that the Queen has done it. So, he stows away on a ship, heading for somewhere else, anywhere else. He’s rather become a slave than stay in the Kingdom. However, a mage aboard notices him and the only place where he can stay is Golga. Diante is sure that he will be killed but instead the ruler of Golga, the Golgoth, gives Diante one chance to prove himself and stay. Diante takes that chance. 15 years later, he’s the head of detectives in the Golga capital and one of the ruler’s most trusted advisors. Then, he finds a badly beaten and burned Kingdom woman near the port. He and his closest friend, a wine merchant, take the woman to heal in a resort where they can hopefully rebuild her broken body. On the island resort Diante meets and falls quickly in love with a stunningly beautiful woman. He suspects that she’s from Kingdom but waves away his concerns. That turns out to be a mistake.

As usual with Rusch, I loved the setting. However, this is one of her earlier books and it shows a little.

The various nations we’re given a glimpse of are fascinating. Apparently, the people who founded them, made them opposites of each other. For example, Golga was once part of the Kingdom but the future Golgans rebelled and when they founded their own country, they forbade anything resembling the Kingdom, namely the arts.

Diante is the only POV character so his opinions color everything. He’s a very serious and duty-focused man. He’s only loyal to the Golgoth who trusts Diante. But few others trust Diante. The wine merchant is his only friend and he’s closed himself off from other people so much that he hasn’t had a romantic relationship until he meets the woman at the resort. Also, when he gives someone his loyalty, he has very hard time letting go.

Sheba, the woman Diante falls for, remains a mystery. We don’t see her reasons for her choices. The other major characters change through the story. The Golgoth is another very duty-bound man who will do anything for betterment of his country. He’s also quite different from his reputation in the Kingdom. The wine merchant starts out like a plot device (urging Diante to do something he normally wouldn’t do: take a vacation) but gets deeper during the story. The same thing happens to the wounded woman.

I rather enjoyed this book but it’s not one of Rusch’s best, even though it has some quite unusual twists which I quite enjoyed and the ending was also somewhat unusual (for fantasy).

The first book in the SF series Mars Ascendant. It leaves some questions open at the end but can be otherwise read as a stand-alone

Publication year: 2016
Format: ebook, kindle
Publisher: Fuzzy Slipper Publishing
Page count: 268 in the paperback version

Melanie Destin is a doctor aboard a company starship, a merchant freighter. However, the job doesn’t pay much and recently the captain was changed and Mel doesn’t like the new captain. Her only friend among the crew has gotten a better job, too. Mel is on leave at home, at Luna, until the ship leaves again. She’s saving up so that she can move to Mars and live in luxury there. One of the best ways for her to earn money is to sell medicines under the table which the new captain prevents. Also, when she returns to Luna she realizes that she’s done more harm than good to one of her former clients and so feeling enormously guilty she gives most of her saved money to the client’s family. But then reason returns and she realizes that she doesn’t have any other choice but to get back to what she was doing before medical school: prostitution. Unfortunately, she’s caught by Luna’s Morality Police and promptly fired. Fortunately, one of her old friends from med school can offer her a new job. However, that new job turns out to be something quite different than what she was told beforehand.

From the start, Mel is a shady character. But she knows it and sometimes tries to make up for what she’s done in the past. She’s also distrustful of others and looking out for herself, because nobody else will. But’s she’s extremely loyal and always trying to work herself up and out of her situation.

As you might expect, bad guys are really bad. They don’t hesitate to murder, blackmail, and manipulate. The main baddie, known as Regis Mundi, has a thing for Ancient Roman customs. Although it seems that the others have the same because the Terran military space ship which we see is called Athena and a couple of other space ships are called Helios and Requiem.

The plot has more mystery and intrigue elements than action. Many of the characters manipulate each other and the reader is left guessing which character is going to betray who next. Mel’s chapters are written in first person but the others are from third person POV. There are several other POV characters, most of them the bad guys, plotting to get what they want.

The world-building was good. We only visit one city on Luna, Armstrong, which seems to be pretty run-down place. There’s also a sharp contrast between the old freighter Mel is on first and the new spaceships. We don’t really see Mars yet just what people think about it. Pretty much everyone has cortical implants and nano-tech plays a big part.

Unfortunately, the book has lots of typos. Also, I ended up wondering why Mel didn’t rent her apartment when she was away. After all, she clearly needed the money and she knew when she was going to come back. But she did live in the seedy side of town so maybe it would have been too much of a hassle to try to get a reputable renter. However, leaving the apartment for squatters seems to me a lot riskier option. Also, sometimes the choices of some of the characters didn’t make much sense.

Otherwise, this was an enjoyable read. Mel was definitely an entertaining main character and the plot moved at a good pace.

A Babylon 5 novel, set near the end of the second season.

Publication year: 1996
Format: print
Publisher: Boxtree
Page count: 279

President Clark has rewritten the death penalty for murder into law. The law is applied to both humans and aliens. This is the first time it’s going to happen, and on Babylon 5.

The Tuchanq are an alien race who were conquered and abused by the Narn, after their war with the Centauri because they needed their planet’s resources. However, the Narn ruled very cruelly and when they left, the planet was used up. A delegation of Tuchanq comes B5 to look for help. Several governments, Earth and the Centauri among them, are eager to help and the Tuchanq have to decide which people to turn to. However, soon after they come to the station, they get into a brawl and Ivanova decides to stun everyone involved. This turns out to be horrible mistake because the Tuchanq don’t sleep. For them, unconsciousness is the same as death. When the stunned ones return their consciousness, they’re effectively insane. The other Tuchanq can help them but they don’t get to one member of their delegation in time: she slips away intent on wanting a life for the life she has lost. So, she kills a human. Unfortunately, the human has a PPG gun and makes a big mess, plunging a cargo hold into vacuum. The human dies and the alien is apparently brain damaged. But because she killed a human, President Clark is adamant of punishing her and orders Sheridan to go through with a modern Western style trial. The racial (or species) tension on the station is running very high.

Apparently, this is a book about the cons of death penalty. I’m a pacifist and live in a country without death penalty so he’s preaching to the choir in my case. The only character in this book who supports the death penalty is Garibaldi, because it’s his job to uphold the law. All the others view it as a horrific aberration. Yet, quite a few people, both human and others, are killed and the only death viewed with any significance in the Tuchanq killing the human and then the upcoming execution. This seems a bit strange and limiting, too. The aim of the book is quite ambitious but unfortunately it falls short. Also, the plot would have probably worked better in another universe. This book makes Sheridan and some others somewhat different from their canonical selves. Also, there are some strange and inconsequential differences to canon. For example, Lyta Alexander makes a brief appearance during which we learn that this Lyta has been deaf her whole life, unlike the real B5 Lyta. Also, this G’Kar is married to J’Ntiel who gave him the book of G’Quan which was her family’s heirloom.

The Tuchanq are an interesting species. They’ve gone through a terrible occupation under the Narn but they’ve managed to keep their culture. They’re also physically quite different from humans (and Narns). For example, they’re a lot taller and have spikes which they use to say yes or no. They also have no eyes. In fact, I sort of think that they were wasted in a one-shot tie-in book because there’s no chance they’re seen again.

Unfortunately, the plot has some holes. The people at the station seem divided along the lines of “love the alien” and the Home Guard who hate all aliens on principle. Nobody seems to be interested in if the alien murdered someone or not, which seems more than a bit weird. Of course, humans are known for getting sidetracked in pretty much every issue. Clark is adamant at wanting a guilty verdict and a quick execution, no matter what. Nobody is really concerned with the law, even those who are supposed to uphold it. And like I mentioned, the other killings aren’t even mentioned about much less prosecuted. Also, people seem to know stuff they couldn’t have known. There’s a second plot line with Londo and G’Kar (who are as entertaining as ever) which at first glance seems fine, but when I started to think about it, doesn’t make any sense. The B5 characters are also uncharacteristically unsympathetic to the murdered man’s widow, especially Sheridan who is also a widow and so should have behaved quite differently.

Somewhat entertaining but the problems kept me from fully enjoying the book.

The first quarter of an SF book. It’s available for free at Amazon.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Publisher: Epic Journeys entertainment
Page count: 133

This is labeled as book 1 and a science fiction thriller. But it’s neither. It’s not a complete book; instead it’s the beginning of a story. It’s also not a thriller because, again, it’s the start of a story. But I enjoyed this story taster.

The story starts with a very tense situation: astronauts Brent Carlson and Calvin Williams are rescuing people from the first commercial space station, the Pisces III. Unfortunately, someone dies and because of that the plans for a manned Mars mission are put on hold.

However, Brent and his wife Shayla manage to convince the UN to continue the mission which requires co-operation from all nations. Some mysterious people are against the mission and set plans into motion to stop it.

Then we jump ahead four years. Shayla is dead and Brent has lost his will to live. He’s convinced that she was murdered but no evidence of foul play was found. NASA’s chief Mike Johnson tries to convince Brent to go on a tour to speak for the mission and eventually, Brent agrees. The mission is going to happen, and now Brent and Mike go on a tour around the world to see the astronauts who will go.

I enjoyed this beginning of a story. For the most part, it’s moves along briskly. Because there’s no conclusion as such, a lot of questions are raised but not answered. The writing style isn’t complex.

Brent was a child prodigy in astrophysics and in dangerous situations, he can calculate odds and deduce outcomes really quickly. He’s also a pretty nice guy, at least at the beginning of the novella. However, after his beloved wife’s death he becomes more cynical and in convinced that there are conspiracies around him. Even his old friends don’t trust him anymore. There are a couple of chapters from others’ point-of-view, but mostly from Brent’s. If Brent was a female character, readers would be calling her a Mary Sue. I don’t have anything against people like that and in space you have to very competent to succeed and especially to excel, as Brent has done.

We don’t see much of the other characters. I’m not sure why anyone would want to stop humans from going to Mars, but someone does seem determined to undermine the effort.

The third Babylon 5 book, set during the middle of the second season, before “Coming of the Shadows”. It draws heavily on the first season episode “The Parliament of Dreams”.

Publication year: 1995
Format: print
Publisher: Boxtree
Page count: 232

G’Kar receives a data message where the daughter of his old enemy Du’Rog swears the blood oath against him. The Shon’Kar is a powerful part of the Narn culture and G’Kar is very much afraid. Shortly, he leaves the station in a one-man craft which explodes before reaching the jump gate. Garibaldi suspects murder and it seems that G’Kar’s craft was tampered with. He investigates but before any conclusions can be drawn, Sheridan sends Garibaldi and Ivanova to the Narn Homeworld, to participate in G’Kar’s funeral and to tell everything they know about the ambassador’s death to the Narn ruling body, the Kha’Ri. Na’Toth will travel with them and also a new character Al Vernon whom Garibaldi meets just before he leaves. Vernon used to live in the Homeworld and offers up himself as a guide to the two humans. Garibaldi accepts but is determined to keep a close eye on him.

Of course, G’Kar isn’t dead. He faked his own death in the hopes of resolving things with Du’Rog’s family, one way or the other, before he’s really killed. He travels to the Homeworld, too.

Most of the book is set in the Homeworld, which was a fascinating place. Temperatures are really cold during the night and really hot during the day, in the same place. This doesn’t seem to bother the Narns but does bother the humans a great deal. We’re shown the rigid caste system of the Narns; people who don’t make it are shunned and live in horrible slums which are practically lawless. The Rangers who are supposed to keep up the law are bullies.

We also meet G’Kar’s wife Da’Kal who is apparently a well-connected woman whom G’Kar loves – but whom he just cast aside when he moved to B5. I don’t think there was ever a mention of G’Kar being married in the series.

This was another quick read. It was mostly enjoyable but there were pretty significant typos, like Garibaldi’s and G’Kar’s names exchanging places. Also, I rather liked Da’Kal but G’Kar’s abandonment of her made him a really callous character. I also really like Mi’Ra who was Du’Rog’s spirited daughter hellbent on getting her revenge on G’Kar. So, interesting alternate version of G’Kar.

The first book in a space opera series.

Publication year: 2004
Format: Audio
Running time: 13 hours and 45 minutes
Narrator: Cynthia Holloway

Kylara Vatta is the youngest of the Vatta family who owns a very successful space shipping firm. But Ky wants to be a soldier and so she goes to the military academy even over her family’s objections. However, another cadet tricks her and she’s kicked out in disgrace. She’s now an embarrassment to her family so they want her out of sight. At least until everyone forgets her troubles and her mother can marry her off.

However, her father and brother conspire to give her a star ship to captain. The ship is an old one and in fact Ky is expected to take it to a scrapyard. But along the way, she finds opportunities to trade and takes them. Unfortunately, the ship breaks down and leaves her and her crew in the middle of a war, without a functioning FTL drive, so Ky will have to grow up fast and think quick.

This is Ky’s coming of age story as a captain. For her maiden voyage, she’s been given a very experienced crew. She knows that and learns to rely on them, even though at first she wants to do herself everything she can. Her previous experience at the academy serves her well and even though she isn’t a teenager, she still has some flaws to overcome. Other people don’t expect much from her because of her youth and those who know about her previous blunders think that she wants too much to help other people. But she’s very resourceful and a no-nonsense character. She also has a dark side.

The other major characters are the crew members. One of them Ky has known off and on her whole life. I also rather enjoyed a certain senior Vatta captain when he made an appearance later in the book. Ky’s family is very supportive of her but they definitely treat her like a little princess who needs to be rescued. But that did mean that even if Ky had screwed up, her family would have bailed her out which diminished the danger somewhat.

However, only Ky herself is really a memorable character. Also, the story devotes more time to business dealings and trying to get enough money for repairs than action. I was a bit thrown by the fact that this universe uses ansibles for communication because I though Ursula Le Guin invented them.

Even though this is the first book in the series, it doesn’t end in a cliffhanger. But I enjoyed the book enough that I’ll continue with the series.

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