science fiction


The first book in the YA SF/fantasy series Pit Dragon Chronicles, but it can be read as a stand-alone.

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Publishing year: 1982

Format: Print

Publisher: Orbit

Page count: 243

Austar IV is a backward planet that has only one thing going for it: dragons. Specifically, dragons fighting each other. Some Austarians own, train, and breed such dragons.

The Austarians have been divided into two classes: those born free and those born into bond slavery. Also, some free people are forced to sell themselves, or their children into slavery to survive. A bondslave must always carry his or her bag of coins around their neck so everyone can see that they are a bonder, as they are called.

Jakkin is one of the latter. A feral dragon killed his father when Jakkin was very young and his mom sold herself and Jakkin to bond slavery. Now, Jakkin is 13 and working in a dragon Nursery. He cares for the male dragons, the studs. But he dreams of stealing a dragon egg and training it to fight. That way he could get a lot of money and buy his freedom. He has two friends among the other bonders, boys his age. However, the supervisor (also a bonder) hates Jakkin.

Jakkin is determined to steal an egg: he has even found a secret place where the dragon can grow and Jakkin can train it. However, an accident with one of the most temperamental male dragons leaves him in a bad shape. How can he now pursue his dream?

For a children’s or a YA book, this story has lots of very mature elements. Jakkin is a slave even though he’s called a bonder and not a slave. Granted, his master isn’t a harsh one and he’s allowed Bond Off days, essentially days free of work. He isn’t beaten or starved. It’s more a plot device: he wants to become the trainer and owner of a fighting dragon because he wants to be free. Also, because he likes dragons a lot. Also, the world has Baggeries where the bonders and free men go. They’re bordellos and it seems that a lot of free women work there. One of the significant secondary characters is a weed smoker. Also, some of the characters believe that some men are simply born into bondage and can’t survive free.

Children probably won’t even notice these things, though. (I hope.)

Otherwise, this was a fast-paced, exciting read. Jakkin is single-minded in his goal to get and train the dragon. Unfortunately, it can make him look stupid. But he is only 13.

The book has only two named female characters. One is an older woman, the cook. The other is Jakkin’s age and was clearly created to be a mysterious teenage girl for Jakkin to pursue. The world-building is, unfortunately, quite sexist.

The dragons themselves are interesting. They’re herbivores but still fight each other so much that before humans started to train them, they were nearly extinct. They live in stables, males and females in different buildings. The females are also referred to as hens. So, I got the impression that they’re horse-like. However, their blood is acidic and burns a human. A dragon can form a mental bond with a human. However, that’s not common.

We don’t actually see the dragons fighting until very near the end.

This was a fun, if somewhat peculiar read. Unfortunately, I can’t really recommend this for kids.

A collection of 16 SF&F stories centering on derelict ships, either in space or at sea.

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Publication year: 2021

Publisher: Zombies Need Brains

Format: ebook

Page count from GoodReads: 312

Most of the stories are SF and many have horror elements. Two stories have AI point-of-view characters. One is historical fantasy and two are set in fantasy worlds.

“Symbiote” by Kristine Smith: Shelly Conn’s luck has been bad for the last few weeks. When she and her crew go onboard an old laboratory spaceship, she’s hoping to get good salvage out of it. She gets far more than she bargained for.


“The Wreck of the Sarah Mohr” by D.B. Jackson: Set in 1767, this is a historical fantasy story. Ethan Kaille is a conjurer; he finds stolen or missing goods through magic. A merchant asks him to dispel the ghosts that are haunting his ship. Ethan finds a grimmer secret in the wreck.


“The Tempest in Space” by Griffin Ayaz Tyree: Faizal has finally found his sister among the stars and he’s trying help her.


“Playing Possum” by Andrija Popovic: Darryll is a salvager. He and his trained, wired possum find a derelict ship. He sends his possum in to see if it has anything good. But it isn’t abandoned.

“Standing Orders” by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller: The war is over and the humans won. However, in order to win, the human High Command had to build artificial intelligences to fight for them. The humans promised that after the war, the AIs would have a place in human society. The humans lied.

“Time, Yet” by Gerald Brandt: Senn Jal is a happy man: his lovely wife is pregnant with their first child. While that means more work for him at the farm, he couldn’t be happier. But then something falls from the sky and his world is shattered.


“Flight Plans Through the Dust of Dreams” by Kit Harding: Twenty years ago Rosie was a terrorist and her airship was shot down. Now, she’s trying to fix her old derelict ship. If only the curious and rebellious teenager doesn’t find out who Rosie really is…


“Saving Sallie Ruth” by Gini Koch writing as Anita Ensal: Sallie Ruth is a ghost spaceship, rumored to destroy all ships that encounter it. Now, Space Police’s prison ship sees the remains of an envoy and behind it the Sallie Ruth. The police have the duty to rescue anyone who might be inside.


“Methuselah” by Jacey Bedford: Renny is the captain of a small spaceship Staten Island. He and his crew need money badly. When they come across a derelict ship, they first think they have a great salvage in their hands.

“Celestial Object 143205” by Mark D. Jacobsen: After decades of serving in the US Space Force, Cooper commands his own ship. However, because of various construction delays, that ship won’t leave Earth’s orbit until after Cooper’s command is over. He’s more than a little resentful. But suddenly he has a chance for a deep-space rescue mission, with a barely-finished ship and just one crew member. Of course, Cooper agrees to it. But is he prepared for the isolation of long-time space travel?


“Mercy for the Lost” by Jana Paniccia: young Monkey is a captive crew member of the pirate ship the Outcast. When they find a derelict mage ship, Monkey almost hopes she will die with it. Instead, she gets a chance.


“When the Star Fell and the Levee Broke” by Alex Bledsoe: A big storm washes away Travis’ levee. A strange metal object is left in the mud. At first, Travis thinks it’s a satellite. But it’s far stranger.


“Derelict of Duty” by Chaz Brenchley: The point-of-view character of this story is an AI who was constructed as a weapon in a war. But they have escaped and are now on the run. When they hear about an old vessel, possibly an alien vessel, they can’t resist but investigate.


“Two Ruins Make a Beginning” by R.Z. Held: Alexandrine is a ghost, bound to a murderous ruin spirit. Alexandrine’s purpose is to prevent the spirit from hurting anyone. When Alexandrine and the spirit go to a beach, they see the wreck of a ship. The ship has also a ruin spirit which is holding four people hostage. Can Alexandrine help them without losing her soothing connection to ”her” spirit?


“Orpheus” by Jack Campbell: The Daedalus is the second crewed mission to Saturn. One of their tasks is to find the three crew members who were left behind during the first mission. The bodies, if there are any, are Saturn’s biggest moon, Titan. However, their lander malfunctions so they must use the previous mission’s lander, the Orpheus, to set down on Titan and see if there’s anything left of the three astronauts.


“Decay in Five Stages” by Julie E. Czerneda: A prequel story to her In the Company of others. Aaron Raner is an old engineer working on Thromberg station. When the humans realize that the seemingly innocuous alien Quill brings contamination, Aaron’s spacefaring friends are some of the first victims. Aaron is left with their baby and he needs to get the baby out of the station.

This is an enjoyable collection, even if many of the stories have horror elements and some are otherwise depressing. It was very interesting to see just how many different kinds of stories the writers got from salvage operations on derelict spaceships.

A stand-alone science fiction thriller.

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Publishing year: 2015

Format: Print

Publisher: Del Ray

Page count: 445 + a novella set in the writer’s other world, the Dire Earth

Peter Caswell is a very capable assassin who never remembers his work. He has an implant that not only gives him a huge edge in a fight but also makes him forget his missions so that his conscience is clear. However, he doesn’t control the forgetting aspect of the implant. That part is controlled by Monique, his partner whom he’s never met face-to-face. The implant speeds up his thinking, giving him ample time to plan and execute his moves in a fight. It also enhances his senses and suppresses pain, hunger, thirst, and emotions. All of these abilities work only for a limited time.

Now, Monique has sent him on a mission that doesn’t require a memory wipe. A spaceship that was lost a couple of decades ago has been found again. Peter needs to infiltrate the salvage crew. However, once inside the old ship, Monique tells Peter that the ship holds such sensitive information that this now becomes a mission Peter will later forget. Usually, he only forgets a couple of days. Now, he will have a time window of two weeks to find and kill the only surviving crew member of the old ship. But the catch is that the survivor is not on the ship nor on Earth. She’s on a parallel Earth, a world Peter knows nothing about. But he has no choice; the mission has already begun.

The other Earth has its own history and politics. Our other point-to-view character is Melni who was born and raised on that other Earth. She’s a member of a minority race and also a spy in a culture she didn’t grow up in.

This was a very entertaining book with lots of action. Melni and Peter are very different. They’re thrown together and must work together to survive. While Peter is very good at his job, he doesn’t know the world and he can’t even eat the food. As much as he hates it, he needs Melni. Melni doesn’t know him but realizes that he’s very peculiar and strangely similar to the genius she’s spying on.

I really enjoyed the alternate world, even though we are thrown in without explanations and need to figure out who is who. The differences in culture were fascinating, such as that the doorknobs are near the ground and used with toes, not hands. This world’s technology is behind Earth’s.

I guess the biggest problem I had with Peter is that we don’t really know him. What is the company he’s working for? Why is he an assassin if he doesn’t want to remember killing? Why does he trust Monique? We do get an explanation for the latter questions near the end. Melni seems a very capable undercover agent, but she was too trusting with Peter.

And the ending. Not a fan of it. While this is technically a stand-alone book, that ending pretty much requires a sequel.

A stand-alone science fiction book.

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Publication year: 2018

Format: Audio

Running time: 13 hours
Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller

Nika Rik Terri is a famous body-modification artist. She redesigns people’s bodies and sometimes heals them, too, using machines made for it. She considers it both an art and a science. She’s obsessed with her work and has even invented the extraordinary machine that can put one person’s mind into the body of another. Unfortunately, she fell in love with a smooth-talking, ruthless criminal who treated her badly, and she plans to run from him. Then a mobster comes into her shop and forces Nika to use her machine so that the mobster will use Nika’s body to assassinate someone. Nika realizes she needs to run right then. On the way, she stumbles into a beginning body-modder Snow. She helps him against a violent man, but they both need to run.

Josune Arriola is a junior engineer aboard the cargo spaceship Road to the Goberlings. She keeps her head down and works as well as she can. But she has a secret of her own: she’s actually a member of the legendary exploration ship the Hassim. Her captain has sent her undercover to the Road so Josune can tell her captain where the Road is and the two ships can meet covertly.

Hammond Roystan is the captain of the Road. He is supposed to be happy ferrying goods around space, but slowly Josune starts to realize he’s not what he appears to be.

But then the Road encounter Hassim, drifting in space. Someone has attacked it. The Road’s crew are salivating at the chance to loot it, but Josune is heartbroken for her former crewmates. But the Hassim’s treasury of knowledge of undiscovered planets makes the Road a target for powerful enemies and also some of the Road’s crew members want more than just their share.

This was mostly a fast-paced space adventure with mystery. Nika and Josune are the two POV characters. Nika, Josune, and Roystan all have secrets to hide while they run from their enemies. The rest of the crew are entertaining, as well. For example, Jacq is a cook and makes special meals for his captain. I also liked the growing relationship between the beginner body-modder Snow and Nika. Her blunt manner and way of doing bodymods scandalizes Snow who is trying to soften her words and eventually even stop people from relying on Nika.

Nika is a very single-minded character. She speaks bluntly, seeing no reason to hide her skills or interest in other people’s modifications. Her obsession with trying to ”improve” people can feel offputting, even fatphobic. Josune is a seasoned fighter. Hassim was a target for greedy people and companies, so all the crew must be capable fighters. She’s attracted to Roystan but doesn’t believe he cares about her.

The first chapters are slower when Nika is doing her body-mod thing and we get a lot of details about it. The implications of being able to change your appearance on a whim, as long as you have the money of course, are fascinating. However, we don’t see enough of society to really see the impact. The focus is on the Road and its crew. Most of the power seems to be in the hands of 27 companies and freelancers like the Hassim or the Road must be constantly on their guard. Laws are only followed in legal zones but even they aren’t safe.

This was a fun, light space adventure. It’s a stand-alone, but has a sequel.

Dean Wesley Smith has a very interesting Kickstarter project: Rescue Two. It’s a new book in his science fiction series, Seeders.

The project is already funded and reached the fourth stretch goal. That means three more books for us readers, two of them in Smith’s Earth Protection League SF series, and several Pop-Up classes for writers. This time the Pop-Ups focus on SF world-building.

The project has also two very interesting workshops for writers: Writing Idea Fiction and Writing about Time.

10 days to go.

The 12th Star Trek: TNG book.

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Publisher: Pocket Books

Publishing year: 1990

Format: Print

Page count: 276

I read this book when it first came out and even remembered something from it. I think it’s set during the second season.

A long-dead species made an artificial world that is now called Kirlos. It has both a Federation embassy and a K’Vin Hegemony embassy. Yes, this book introduces a couple of new humanoid species which we never see again.

The K’Vin are a military race, bent on conquest. Currently, they have an uneasy alliance with the Federation because they don’t like how the Federation “meddles”. The Sullurh are an unassuming race that serves both the Federation and the K’Vin embassies.

Kirlos has one underground city. It also has a huge archeological dig. The leading archeologist asks for Geordi LaForge, in the hope that his VISOR can reveal something. Geordi, Data, and Worf beam down to the dig. Meanwhile, the Enterprise-D receives a distress signal and must leave the Kirlos to protect a small colony against an attack by mysterious spaceships.

On Kirlos, someone puts explosives in the Federation embassy. The next day, someone bombs the K’Vin embassy. The civilian population on both sides fears for their safety and needs someone to blame. The K’Vin blame the three Enterprise crewmembers.

This was a solid, quick read. Geordi, Worf, and Data have a few amusing adventures on Kirlos before the tension starts to rise. They’re cut off from the other crew, which was a bit unusual. The Federation ambassador is Stephaleh, an elderly Andorian, which was interesting because I haven’t seen Andorians much. The two ambassadors have a good relationship which is, of course, strained when the attacks start. The real villains aren’t seen until near the end. Unfortunately, the archeological dig wasn’t seen much.

A stand-alone M/M science fiction romance.

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Publication year: 2021

Format: Audio

Running time: 15 hours, 24 minutes
Narrator: Raphael Corkhill

I’m not a romance reader. I got this book because Audible recommended it to me for some reason. It’s pretty fun and has decent world-building, but it’s solidly grounded in the romance.

Kiem is a prince in the galactic empire of Iskat. He’s a friendly and open-hearted man in his twenties and has a reputation for having wild parties and many willing partners of both sexes. So, it comes as a shock to him when the Emperor summons him and promptly informs him that he’s going to be married in three days so that a very important galactic trade and military treaty can be ratified. His partner-to-be is Count Jainan from a minor world, Thea. Jainan’s previous partner, Taam, was also an Iskat prince and Kiem’s cousin, but firmly a military man. There was also an arranged marriage. Taam died in an accident only a month ago. Kiem feels that it’s too soon for Jainan because the couple must keep up appearances, for the treaty’s sake, and pretend to be in love. However, Kiem must obey the emperor and so they are married.

To Kiem, Taam and Jainan’s marriage was a perfect match and he tries to make things as easy for Jainan as possible. However, Jainan is a very aloof man, who thinks before he says or acts. He’s also a consummate diplomat who will do (almost) anything to make the treaty happen. So the two men’s personalities are very different, which means that the beginning of their relationship is full of misunderstandings and problems. But then they find out that Thaam’s death might not be an accident and that affects the treaty, as well.

Since this is a romance book, it has quite a few romance tropes, but thankfully not really any of the toxic ones. The misunderstands were the most annoying ones to me. Jainan and Kiem are attracted to each other, but think the other isn’t attracted. Kiem thinks that Jainan is in mourning for a partner he loved, and Jainan thinks Kiem has been saddled with an unpalatable partner. Most of the plot could have been solved if they just sat down and honestly talked about it for ten minutes. Their personalities played off each other quite nicely, though.

The world is based on historical arranged marriages to seal off treaties. It has quite a few interesting things, but all of them serve the romance plot. One side character also got some pretty interesting secrets.

Collects Exiles issues 1-4 from 2001.

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Writer: Judd Winick

Artist: Mike McKone

Publisher: Marvel

I love alternate realities and this series has lots of them. All the characters are from different alternate realities and they travel to other alternative realities trying to fix them. I read it when it originally came out and really enjoyed it. Still a very enjoyable read! The whole series is aimed at X-Men fans who already know the characters and the seminal storylines.

Six heroes: Blink from Age of Apocalypse, Nocturne who is the daughter of the Nightcrawler and the Scarlet Witch, Mimic who is a heroic X-Man and an Avenger, Warpath whom Apocalypse captured and made his Horseman, Morph who is a respected X-Man, and Magnus, son of Rogue and Magneto. At the end of the first adventure, the heroes are joined by Mariko Yashida who is Sunfire.

A strange little man Timebroker tells that they’ve been yanked from their home realities to right wrongs in other universes. If they don’t, ripples in time will change their own lives for the worse. But they can be wounded or die for real. The Timebroker gives them a device called Tallus which will tell them what to do. Blink wears it.

In the first story, our heroes are sent to a world where humans have overcome mutants with technology. The Tallus tells Blink to ”find their greatest teacher” and they set out to bust Professor Xavier from a maximum security prison.

The second story is a retelling of the Dark Phoenix saga! Our heroes appear on the Moonbase, just when the Shi’Ar transport the X-Men there. The Tallus tells the Exiles that Jean Grey must die. Almost all Exiles know and love Jean, so their mission will be hard.

The art is pretty 90s style. What I really disliked is that both Nocturne and Sunfire wear very little. Nocturne first appears wearing just panties and a very short shirt. She then wears a leather bikini as a ”uniform”. Mariko similarly wears a bikini. Meanwhile, the men are fully clothed. Sigh. Otherwise, the art is pretty good.

A stand-alone SF novella. It’s also the first book in a Monk and a Robot series.

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Publisher: TOR

Publishing year: 2021

Format: Print

Page count: 147

Sibling Dex is a monk. One day they hear a recording of crickets and they can’t get it out of their mind. There are no crickets where they live. They become restless and decide that they want to become a tea monk, traveling from one settlement to another, giving people the chance to talk. But seeing it done, isn’t the same thing as doing it, as they realize on their first day.

Two years later, Dex has a regular route where the people love them and look forward to talking with them. But discontent and restlessness are growing inside again and Dex makes a decision to change their life again. Then they meet a robot for the first time. In fact, no human has met a robot after the fateful day of Awakening centuries ago, when robots became sentient and marched off to the wilderness. Dex wants solitude, but the robot, Splendid Speckled Mosscap, insists that it’s on a mission to find out what humans want. It wants to tag along and question Dex. Reluctantly, Dex agrees.

This isn’t an adventure story. It’s a more quiet tale. Dex is single-minded about their destination in the wilderness. While they like their job as a tea monk, when they’re not around other humans, they’re quiet and require their solitude. Mosscap is much chattier and Dex resents that. Still, they have wonderful conversations about their cultures, lives, and the meaning of life.

Once again, Chambers delivers a ”cozy” SF story with likable characters. This time, the humans learned from this mistake of enslaving the robots and have a built a society without AI or robots. (Personally, I’m a bit skeptical about that. I mean if our computers, smartphones, marketing AIs, and smartTVs and whatnot became self-aware would we really just let them go and designed something without AI? I hope so but…)

The world-building was good, although somewhat limited in such a short tale. I look forward to seeing more of the characters and the world.

Quotes:

“This had been the way of things since the Transition, when the people had redivided the surface of their moon. Fifty percent of Panga’s single continent was designated for human use; the rest was left to nature, and the ocean was barely touched at all. It was a crazy split, if you thought about it: half the land for a single species, half for the hundreds of thousands of others. But then, humans had a knack for throwing things out of balance. Finding a limit they’d stick to was victory enough.”

“You and I — we’re just atoms that arranged themselves the right way, and we can understand that about ourselves. Is that not amazing?”

“If we want change, or good fortune, or solace, we have to create it for ourselves.”

Ten short stories about different timelines. Part of Storybundle’s the Big Time Bundle I bought in 2020.

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Publication year: 2020

Publisher: Thousand Faces Publishing

Format: ebook

Page count from Amazon: 160

The short stories are mostly SF (depending on how you categorize time travel) and a couple of fantasy stories. Almost all of them are written in the first person and start either in the middle of the action or right before it.

The Face of Trouble: The main character wakes up in a new body, once again. They hop from body to body without knowing who they are in or when, so that they can change the future. But this time, another body hopper is after them.

Forty Years Among the Elves: After driving for many hours, the main character stops to sleep. But first, he takes a walk around the trees. He feels that someone is watching. Someone is: a jaw-droppingly gorgeous man. The main character follows him further into the forest.

Frozen: The main character is a teenager who has just gotten a date with a girl he admires, so he drives rather recklessly. His car is about to slam into another car, when time freezes.

If You Kill Hitler…: When the news tells everyone that time travel is now possible, Willie doesn’t believe it will change anything for the normal people, just for the rich and powerful. But he’s a former soldier and what he did still haunts him.

No Shortcuts to Fame: Holland is the lead singer of a metal band climbing their way up to fame. He wakes at 4 AM staring at his own face. A second him standing next to his bed.

Reversing Ill Fortune: Tyler has had an abysmal year, culminating in a car accident where his girlfriend died. He desperately needs change. So he puts his trust in a booklet he found on the internet, goes to a secluded mountain, and starts the spell.

The Night of Absinthe and Regret: The main character made a stupid mistake and now he has a chance to fix it.

Trapped in Sepia: A red Corvette almost hits Kevin when he’s crossing the street. Everything slows down and he just manages to dodge. But then everything is sepia-toned. And people walk right through him.

The Side-Effect Staircase: The main character lives on the 12th floor of his building. He’s lived there for six months so he knows the staircase well. One day, the steps continue up and he can’t resist them.


Paradox. Lost.: A (black) scientist has invented time travel. Now, he’s drifting through time, trying to find back home.

These were all entertaining and fast-paced. My favorites are ”Face of Trouble” and ”Trapped in Sepia”. I think both have possibilities for further stories. The last one is very brief and I think it works best for people who have already read or watched many time travel stories.

Some of the stories have different theories about time travel. In some, you can make changes, in others you can’t, while some create alternate timelines instead of changing your own life. Some of the characters travel through time intentionally, others by accident. So, this was a good mix of stories.

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