science fiction


The first book in the Planetside SF duology.

Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 8 hours 38 minute
Narrator: R. C. Bray

Colonel Carl Butler is on semi-retirement from active duty. Many think of him as a war hero. When his old friend Admiral Serata contacts him about an investigation job on a far away planet of Cappa Three, he’s not thrilled. It seems that the son of a powerful politician has gone missing and the politician is demanding answers. The son is a lieutenant in the space force. Butler is reluctant to agree because he has bad history with Cappa Base. But he does agree.

When Butler, his young aide, and a seasoned bodyguard arrive on the base, after three months in cryosleep, the base is still fighting against alien population. Most of the soldiers on the base view him with distrust and suspicion but he tries to put their fears to rest. The official report shows that the young lieutenant was wounded and disappeared on the way to the hospital. The soldiers are tight-lipped, so Butler has his work cut out for him.

The book is told in first person. Butler is a seasoned soldier who doesn’t really think of himself as part of the brass. He’s no-nonsense type with a dry sense of humor. He drinks hard, which surprised me a bit at first, but it understandable when we find out about his history. He’s married and the book has a few mentions of his wife Sharon but she doesn’t appear. In the past, he has been sent to war on far away planets which is done by putting him into cryosleep. At one point he says that thanks for cryosleep he’s already 13 years younger than his wife.

Butler focuses on unraveling the mystery on Cappa Base. This is a mystery story as much as military SF. In this world, Earth has conquered several planets and basically plundered them for their natural resources. On Cappa Three, 90% of the population supports trade with Earth but the remaining 10% fight a guerrilla war against the Earth forces who want to practically strip-mine the planet. However, we don’t see much of the aliens as the action is focused on the human military. In fact, the Cappans feel like they’re just an afterthought or a substitute for a historical enemies. (They have yellow skin and big, slanted eyes…)

However, the mystery pulled me in, even if the world-building could have been deeper. I enjoyed Butler’s first-person POV and his attitude.

The narrator was very good and suited the voice of Butler very well.

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A stand-alone SF book. Technically the third in Wayfarers series but you don’t have to read the others (although I recommend them).

Publication year: 2019
Format: Print
Page count: 359
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

This is not an adventure story. It has five POV characters who are remarkably different from each other, considering that they (mostly) live in the same place: the Fleet. They are all humans. The humans who live in the Fleet are called Exodans. They had to abandon Earth because their ancestors had made in inhabitable. Luckily, they were accepted into the galactic community of different species.

These are more like vignettes, flashes from their lives. I really enjoyed the book because I find their culture fascinating and it was fun to explore it. The book doesn’t really have an antagonistic force, unless you count the accident at the beginning of the book or evolving attitudes or technology.

A couple of the characters are restless and looking for something new in their lives. They were all touched, one way or another, by a disaster at the beginning of the book. They’re all reacting to it while getting on with their lives. Kip is a teenage boy who yearns to be able to leave the Fleet and find something else, something better or at least different. Sawyer lives in Mushtullo, an alien world where he works when he can and doesn’t have any family. When he’s once again unceremoniously fired, he decides to go to the Fleet where he doesn’t have any relatives left but he thinks he could make it there, among other humans. Tessa is a mother of two and her husband is a space ship mechanic. He’s away a lot and Tessa must try to deal with her five-year old daughter who was traumatized by the events at the beginning of the book. Isobel is over sixty and she’s a senior archivist, in charge of keeping the stories of the past alive. She’s also a host to a visiting alien anthropologist. Finally, Eyas is a caretaker. She takes care of the bodies of the dead. In space, everything is used and recycled and so are the bodies.

I very much enjoyed the alien anthropologist, Ghuh’loloan who is really not a Star Trek alien (although I adore some of them, too.:) ). She’s a Harmagian so she’s doesn’t have bones; she uses a motorized cart to get around and breaths through her skin. She has a air pouch which she vibrates so that she can talk.

This book has some ideas which are very, very different from our Western consumer culture. Such as every human in the Fleet is given water, air, food, and a place to stay. They can work and the society’s pressure, especially for the young, is that they stay and do something that benefits the Fleet. But that’s not a condition for getting food and air. They also don’t use money. They use barter. The galaxy around them uses money and some aliens see the Exodans as quite backward.

It also has some other very interesting notions which aren’t explored in fiction much (or at least I haven’t come across them). This is a quote late in the book:
“Our species doesn’t operate by reality. It operates by stories. Cities are a story. Money is a story. Space was a story, once. A king tells us a story about who we are and why we’re great, and that story is enough to make us go kill people who tell a different story. Or maybe the people kill the king because they don’t like his story and have begun to tell themselves a different one.”

Of course I’ve read books about books which are about stories. But to put our whole society as a story is blunt (and wonderful). And money is a story, something we made up. We, the society, have just allowed it to take over, well, everything else.

This book, like the others in the series, is also happily inclusive. Xyr is a gender and species neutral pronoun for a person. Isobel is happily married to another woman and we see some other same-sex couples as well, and nobody comments on it.

An Alien story set some 37 years after the first movie, between the first and second movies.

Publication year: 2016
Format: Audio
Running time: 4 hours 28 minute
Narrator: Rutger Hauer, Corey Johnson, Matthew Lewis, Kathryn Drysdale, Laurel Lefkow, Andrea Deck, Mac McDonald
Dramatizer: Dirk Maggs

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this full-cast dramatization of Lebbon’s novel. But I was very impressed: the cast was great, the sound effects and music added to the story wonderfully, and it was easy to follow, even though the book wasn’t read word for word. The actress doing Ripley’s voice was so prefect that I had to check if Weaver was actually part of the cast.

The story itself is simple enough. The crew of the mining ship Marion are in trouble: they’ve lost one drop ship and crew. When the other ship returns, it has aboard it an alien which starts to kill the rest of the crew. Among the first killed are the captain and the security man. When another vessel approached instead of a rescue ship, it’s a shuttle with Ellen Ripley in it. She has been sleeping for 37 years, but she must quickly get over her shock and help the rest of the crew survive. To make matters worse, the android Ash has downloaded his consciousness into the Marion’s computer and it doing his best to collect specimens.

This was very entertaining listening with lots of atmosphere. It used the listener’s knowledge of the movies to quickly sketch out of characters and places which tied it will into the Alien universe. Ripley doesn’t remember this episode in the movies, so of course we know how it will end. I’m sure hardcore Alien fans will find lots of faults with it.

The first book in the SF series White Space. Can be read as a stand-alone.

Publication year: 2019
Format: Audio
Running time: 16 hours 48 minute
Narrator: Nneka Okoye

Haimey Dz is a space salvager. She works in a small “tug boat” of a ship with Connla the navigator and the ship’s AI. The ship is too small to have a name but Haimey named the AI Singer. Haimey has a troubled past but this ship and the small crew are her home. Unfortunately for Haimey, Singer has been drafted and is leaving the ship soon. She’s already in morning for the AI. The small crew are looking for derelict ships and old tech to salvage. However, on this trip they find more than they bargained for: a really old ship which has apparently belongs to the Korugoi, the people who died before the current nations rose and about whom the current people don’t know much about. Haimey goes in to investigate and an alien technological parasite latches on to her. Even worse, pirates know about the ship too and they’ve come to collect what they can. Haimey and her little ship manage to escape but the pirates are now after them and soon, so are the authorities.

This book has a lot of things I really, really liked: a complex and flawed female main character, a small crew, a lost ancient civilization, and alien species who are part of a vast galactic government. Humans are just a tiny minority who (IIRC and it’s so difficult to try to find anything from an audio book) were let in grudgingly. And it all works wonderfully. The aliens are strange but not too strange.

Also, the humans have implants which can control all of their body chemistry and so their moods, as well. Tech can also change their memories. There are some interesting conversations about this all. Well, interesting to me. No doubt some others will find them slowing the book down. Haimey comes from essentially a cult but has managed to get away from it and carries a lot of baggage. This is her struggle for her identity.

One other thing which endears Haimey to me is that she’s reader. She reads 19the and 20th century books and sometimes comments on them:
”They’re great for space travel because they were designed for people with time on their hands. Middlemarch. Gorgeous, but it just goes on and on. ”

They also debate and talk about politics, such as various political systems and how far you can program people, even when the programming is supposed to be for good reasons.
“Earth could have learned a long time ago that securing initial and ongoing consent, rather than attempting to assert hierarchy, is key to a nonconfrontational relationship. Because we’re basically primates, we had to wait for a bunch of aliens to come teach us.”
“There’s value in work you enjoy, or that serves a need. There’s no value in work for its own sake.”

A stand-alone trilogy of science fiction novellas: Collision, Impact, and Maelstrom. With dinosaurs!

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 7 hours 36 minute
Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller, Andrew Eiden, Amy Landon

These three novellas were a fun ride! Each has a different point-of-view character and a different narrator. All of them are in first person and present tense.

Doctor Elizabeth Callie works in a rural Chinese hospital. When a man fights with the security guards in the hospital, Elizabeth calms him down and does what she can for someone she thinks is the man’s father. The locals claim that the man and his father are tribesmen from nearby desert. But in the X-rays she finds something remarkable: the men have deformities which mean they aren’t modern humans. They are, in fact, neanderthals. Elizabeth thinks that she’s found a neanderthal tribe which has survived to modern day. She takes the man and one collage, Chen, and they head to the desert. But the place is heavily guarded by Chinese military and Elizabeth finds out more than she bargained for: the tribe if from another Earth. Also, there are portals between different Earths in different dimensions and the Earths are heading for collision which will destroy them.

In “Impact”, NYC mounted police Mark finds himself in an alternate world when our Earth collides with another. He teams up with a paramedic Vicki and together they try to survive, help other people, and even find a way back home. They fight saber tooth cats as well as some dinosaurs

The third book has another point-of-view character and most of the characters from the previous novellas meet. It’s good conclusion to the story.

These are fun and fast-paced SF thrillers. The main characters were mostly distinct from each other: Mark tried to be the stoic police officer while he has to make some very difficult choices, Elizabeth is a scientist and a doctor, excited by a potential new discovery. I also really enjoyed the portrayal of the neanderthals. They’re different from humans but clever in their own way. I also enjoyed the scenes where Elizabeth (and later another character) was communicating with the neanderthal man.

I also enjoyed the ending but I think some readers might be disappointed with it. There’s some romance but it doesn’t take over.

An SF novella.

Publication year: 2016
Format: Audio
Running time: 5 hours 22 minute
Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller

Dai Viet Empire is at war and it shows in lack of resources and because many of the citizens are away, at war. However, this isn’t a war story. This isn’t an adventure story, either. It’s about politics and two strong women clashing because they resent their place in society and each other.

Linh was the magistrate of the 23rd planet. When war came to that planet, Linh’s assistant managed to convince her to flee. She’s come of Prosper Station where she has kin. She’s used to being a in control and having power; now she must be humble and beg for shelter. That’s very frustrating for her. She has six ancestor’s voices in her mem-implants. They constantly interfere in her thoughts and she must be respectful of them. Linh is also full of regret, especially when she hears what happened at the planet after she left.

The Mistress of Prosper Station is Quyen. However, she feels that she’s only a minor official because she didn’t pass her examinations. In her arranged marriage, she’s the lesser partner who isn’t as educated as her greater partner. However, war has taken many of the greater partners away and now Quyen has found herself in a position which she hardly could dream of. (In this universe, gender has no bearing of if a person is a lesser or greater partner – only if they’ve passed the examinations.) Quyen resents Linh’s intrusion and her station in life, so she gives Linh the chore of teaching young women. Linh, in turn, know that this is a slight and resents Quyen.

However, the station is run by an AI, Honored Ancestress, and it is failing. Also, Quyen’s kinsman (by marriage) has sold (or otherwise lost) his memory implants. One of the “people” in the implants comes from Quyen’s family and now it’s her job to retrieve them.

This is a complex world where familial relationships are honored above anything else. Many people interact very formally. For example, children shouldn’t criticize their parents, not matter what the parents have done. Also, kin is expected to help each other, no matter what. While others find comfort in that, and also in the AI who watches over everyone, others find it very confining. Also, the culture is very class oriented, although they don’t really call it class.

I felt the ending was a bit abrupt.

Linh and Quyen are both flawed people but very human because of their flaws. The world was fascinating and I’m happy to read more about it.

The third novella in the SF Murderbot Diaries series.

Publication year: 2018
Format: print
Publisher: TOR
Page count: 150

After the events of the previous novella, “Artificial Condition”, Murderbot (SecUnit) as it calls itself, is returning to the planet where the huge company GrayCris, which owned SecUnit, first attacked the scientists. SecUnit is trying to get evidence about GrayCris’ wrongdoings. However, to get to the planet where it all started, SecUnit must travel with humans. It poses as a security consultant, an augmented human. Unfortunately, it also is called in when the humans do something stupid, which is too often.

After the emotionally harrowing ride with the humans and another ride with just a bot controlled transport, where it can concentrate on what it loves the most: watching entertainment, it arrives on the station orbiting the planet. The station is supposed to be abandoned but an independent research team is just arriving. SecUnit decides to hide from them, which isn’t very hard. However, the team has with them a bot, called Miki. SecUnit talks with Miki through a feed and so it keep it’s true nature, as a rogue Security Unit, hidden from Miki. However, things go drastically wrong.

I really enjoyed this installment, too. SecUnit is much the same, making sarcastic comments (to itself) and trying to evade dealing with humans. But it now sees how Miki is treated. As a SecUnit, it has been always treated as a thing, either ignored or feared. But Miki is treated very differently and Miki’s personality is quite different from SecUnit’s. Miki is trusting, almost naive (or that’s how SecUnit sees it). We don’t know if that’s the result of original programming or treatment: we don’t know how long Miki has been with these humans or if it has been treated differently in the past. SecUnit makes a very interesting decision at the end so I can hard wait to get my hands on the next book.

Oh, yes and I quite enjoyed the plot of humans and bots running around scared on a supposedly empty space station with a couple of twists thrown in.

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