science fiction


The first volume in a comic where Earth has lost gravity. Collects issues 1-5.

Writer: Joe Henderson
Artist: Lee Garbett

Willa was an infant the day Earth lost gravity. Her mother was sucked to the sky and died, along with a lot of other people and animals. Willa and her brilliant scientist father were inside and survived. Twenty years later, Willa is working for a delivery company and flying around Chicago delivering packages. Humanity has adapted to living, using ropes to tether themselves to buildings. She has a crush on her co-worker Edison who doesn’t have legs below the knees. She’d like to see the world but her father hasn’t left the apartment since G-day and Willa must support them. She carries a gun, but not really for protection but to use in an emergency: the recoil will push her back toward ground. She also carries a fire extinguisher to aim her flying.

Willa’s dad, Nate, was working on gravity when it failed and now he claims that he can reverse the effect. Willa hears from her surrogate mother that Nate had worked with a man who’s now rich and lives on the surface of Chicago. Nate has never even mentioned his partner Roger but Willa thinks that Roger could help her dad. So, she flies to the surface and encounters a really strange culture which tries very hard to keep things the way they were before G-day. The place is also dangerous.

This was a really fun idea and visually the comic is really appealing. It’s fast-paced. Willa is brave and curious but she also argues a lot with her dad and is very impulsive and trusting. Nate blames himself for “letting” his wife die on G-Day and is deathly afraid to leave the apartment. Edison was apparently born without legs but now he’s able to fly just like everyone else. However, I didn’t care for the way Willa’s mom is killed off to have her dad scared of leaving the apartment.

I found the culture on the ground fascinating, but won’t spoil it for you. But the way the people have adapted to flying was great, very visual.

However, I didn’t really care for one thing in the ending which I won’t spoil. The ending is not a cliffhanger but leaves everything open.

The first book in the Foreigner SF series.

Publication year: 1994
Format: Print
Page count: 426
Publisher: DAW

Other people, including the back cover of this book, describe the Foreigner as anthropological SF and I have to agree. The main draw and attraction in this book is the alien race, the atevi and their culture, and the interaction between the humans and the atevi. This is not an adventure book.

At first glance, the book can be confusing as the first two “books” are just a prelude to the actual story which starts at “book 3” on page 65. Essentially, in book one a human spaceship is lost in hyperspace and after three dangerous years it makes its way to the atevi planet. They don’t contact the locals aliens whose tech level has just reached steam power. In book 2 we see the first contact between the atevi and humans where one atevi kidnaps a human but they’re able to communicate a little. The back cover summarizes the events better than the chapters. Apparently, the humans were able make an alliance with one atevi lord. The humans have far better tech than the atevi. Some atevi attacked the humans wanting their tech and also because the humans had insulted them. The war was ended with a truce in which the humans got a small section of land where their only city Mospheira is now. Also, one human at a time is accepted into the local atevi court, acting as a diplomat and a translator. He or she will slowly give atevi access to tech, so that it doesn’t hurt their planet or culture. However, the atevi way to think is so different from humans that even after generations of cautious contact, humans don’t really understand the aliens.

However, the real story starts on page 65, some 200 years after the treaty was signed. Bren Cameron is the current translator/diplomat (paidhi). By law, he’s not allowed to have any weapons. He’s attacked in the middle of the night. Luckily, the local lord Tabini has given him a firearm a few weeks previous. Bren shoots the assassin but they get away. Because of the attack, Tabini sends him to Tabini’s grandmother’s place in the countryside where they barely even have electricity. The grandmother, Ilisidi, is a strong-willed woman who isn’t happy that she lost the lord position first to her son and then to her grandson. She’s also a very traditional person who hasn’t had contact with humans. Bren has no idea if he can trust her or her staff.

Unfortunately, nothing much else happens. There are a couple of assassination attempts against Bren but he’s kept away from them and only hears about them. Nobody tells him anything. Ilisidi tests him a couple of times, but mostly Bren just sits and wonders what’s going on and thinks about the local politics. I’m afraid it’s not very exciting.

The atevi culture is in the middle of everything. It’s quite different from modern Western culture. They don’t have lands or nations. Instead, they have alliances to people. They also don’t have words for affection or trust. If they can still feel such emotiond, remains to be seen. Part of the legal system are licensed assassins. Most of them work as bodyguards and Bren’s primary protectors, Banichi and Jago, are both assassins. However, for assassination to be legal it must be declared and nobody has declared Bren a target. So, the situation is strange by atevi standards.

Also, they have very strict way in which they need to be seen to behave in public. The higher the rank, the more formal the person (male or female) must be. Personally, I also enjoyed Tabini’s attitude towards eating meat. He, and his household, eat only game:

“[Bren] preferred distance from his meal. Tabini called it a moral flaw. He called it civilization and Tabini called it delusion: You eat meat out of season, Tabini would say. Out of time with the earth, you sell flesh for profit. You eat that never runs free: you call that civilized?”

I enjoyed the atevi characters but I was frustrated by Bren who seemed to be doing noting but arguing with them and moping around. We did learn stuff about atevi history.

Cherryh’s dense style of writing here is similar to Chanur or Faded Suns on the surface. However, the repetitions and lack of action isn’t typical. I’m told that the series gets better. So far the only attraction in the series is atevi culture and characters. I’m hoping the second book will better.

A stand-alone time travel story. Part of Storybundle’s Race Against Clock bundle this year.

Publication year: 2013
Format: ebook
Publisher: WMG Publishing
Page count in GoodReads: 160

Thomas Ayliffe is a thief who wants to commit the jewel robbery of a life time: to steal the Crown Jewels of Britain. And he’s going to do it by swindling his way to a team which is going back in time to the White Tower in 1674. This isn’t his planned time spot but he must use what he can get. He couldn’t care less about the historian’s goals. In fact, he finds them very strange.

Neyla Kendrick is a historian with an obsession with the murder of the two princes, the sons of Edward IV. She can’t get to their supposed bones now, but Portals Inc has been testing a time traveling device and they need to send a team back in time to test the system. Neyla and her team of handpicked four men are going to do it. However, the day before they’re leaving, one of Neyla’s team members becomes violently ill and needs to be quarantined. To make matters worse, their patron practically forces a complete stranger to join the team. The stranger’s name is Thomas Ayliffe. In 1671 a Thomas Ayliffe was caught trying to steal the Crown Jewels. Neyla has a bad feeling about him, but has no choice but to accept him.

This was a quick and enjoyable read. The characters worked well and the plot was fast-paced. However, I was surprised and a bit disappointed by how little time the characters spent in the past.
Also, the bodies of the princes didn’t play a large part, after all.

The characters are very distinctive for such short tale. Neyla’s very confrontational when required while Thomas is focused on his job. She isn’t looking forward to having a spend a whole month in 1674. In fact, she’s prefer it if she could come back as soon as possible. But for research, she’s willing to risk disease and food poisoning. The past was described vividly.

Portals Inc plans to commercialize time travel. I’d love to read more stories set in this world, but this seems to be the only one.

A short story collection which has stories from multiple genres including fantasy, science fiction, and history.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Publisher: WMG Publishing

For a collection with the name “No Humans Allowed” this one sure had a lot of humans. 🙂 None of them were the main character, but in most stories many, if not all, secondary characters were human.

About half of the stories in this collection are fantasy and six are science fiction. Some have no supernatural elements except for intelligent non-human creatures (or other things) which don’t communicate with humans in any special way.

“In the Beginnings” by Annie Reed: This is a very cosmic story of a universe coming into being, seeing other life blossom and evolve.

“At His Heels a Stone” by Lee Allred: This story is set in the dawn of human age. The POV character is a huge boulder. It has endured ice age and is worshiped by the plants and animals around it as the king of everything it sees. Then Man came and is determined to move it.

“In the Empire of Underpants” by Robert T. Jeschonek: Before their disappearance, humans created many artificial intelligences. They even put AI into their underwear. One courageous pair of underpants is searching for any information about where the humans have gone.

“The Sound of Salvation” by Leslie Claire Walker: This is lovely short story with a very inhuman main character.

“Goblin in Love” by Anthea Sharp: Crik Nobshins is a young goblin, a redcap who is supposed to eat meat raw and enjoy violence for its own sake. But Crik is a different goblin and he must keep that a secret from the rest of his riot. Especially he must keep a secret that he loves a luminous and pure lady of the waters.

“Slime and Crime” by Michèle Laframboise: The main character of this story is a garden snail who has had an unfortunate accident which makes some other snails look down on them. They’re also a detective, doing their best to keep order in the snail community.

“Always Listening” by Louisa Swann: A very small sphere is looking a home or at least anyone else in the vastness of space. She has been built to calm and sooth others and the long, lonely journey after an accident separated her from her mother ship, has been trying.

“Here I Will Dance” by Stefon Mears: One of the most inhuman stories in the collection, it’s set in a forest.

“Rats at Sea” by Brenda Carre: Willy Topper is a white rat. When his ship HMS Rubicon is attacked by the loathsome French frigate, Willy wants to rescue his lady love who lives in a cage.

“Sense and Sentientability” by Lisa Silverthorne: Ottotwo is one of three robots (or androids). Three scientists are working to give them real intelligence. Ottotwo learns a lot.

“When a Good Fox Goes to War” by Kim May: The narrator of this story is a kitsune, a fox spirit. One Japanese lord captures the kitsune and tries to make it take sides in a war. But nobody commands a kitsune.

“The Game of Time” by Felicia Fredlund: The main character in this story is the gods’ Book of Time. When the gods make a mistake part of the book’s power goes to humans and give some of them powers beyond what they should have.

“The Scent of Murder” by Angela Penrose: A science fiction murder mystery story where human has been murdered in their own starship on a planet far away from Earth. Thinker for Useful Ideas Yazvoras has been assigned the duty of investigating the death. However, human diplomats demand that the ship and the investigation be given to them the next day, so Yazvoras must work quickly.

“Still-Waking Sleep” by Dayle A. Dermatis: Juliet was created to bewitch a certain boy and bring down one of the most prominent families of the city. She was created without emotions and only the knowledge which is required for her to perform her duty. But something unexpected happens.

“Inhabiting Sweetie” by Dale Hartley Emery: Dje’Eru is one of many ambassadors from their own plant, sent to open communications with humans. However, they must inhabit a human body to do so and they can’t do it for long.

“The Legend of Anlahn” by Eric Kent Edstrom: The Force of One Thousand has gathered to defend a mountain pass from the enemy. The enemy are other craskin and the two armies are fighting for the ultimate honor of defending their homeland from encroachers. Anlahn is one of the smallest of his pack but he realizes that the craskins can’t continue to fight among themselves. He knows what he must do, even if it means further shame to himself.

“Sheath Hopes” by Thea Hutcheson: Shukano is out mining. He’s short on survival obligations and he really needs to find a slit and treasures inside it. Treasures he could sell and as soon as possible. Mining is dangerous work but the rewards could be more than he expected.

“We, The Ocean” by Alexandra Brandt: The sea is full of intelligent species. One is a hive or a group mind of near immortal creatures whom men in the past thought of as women, tempting the men. But modern humans don’t pay attention to sea creatures. Instead they litter and pollute and poison the oceans. Among the hive mind, one of them wants to do something and is severed from the hive mind. They go to observe the humans.

I must admit that some of the stories were different than what I was expecting. I thought it would have alien or fantasy species cultures, perhaps first contact with humans, similar to Cherryh’s Chanur books or Elfquest. The collection has four such tales, “Goblin in Love”, “The Scent of Murder”, “The Legend of Anlahn”, and “Sheath Hopes” except with not species we’re familiar with, except for the goblins. Out of the science fiction stories, three deal with AI characters, “Empire of Underpants”, “Always Listening”, and “Sense and Sentientability”, one is murder mystery set in an alien world “Scent of Murder”, one is set entirely in an alien world “Sheath Hopes”, and one is a first contact story “Inhabiting Sweetie”. A couple of the stories have animals which have their own human-like societies and customs. “Slimes and Crimes” is a police procedural while in “Rats at Sea” rats adventure during the age of sail. Both are really fun.

My only complaint is that very few of these stories have a really alien POV. The rats and snails have very human motivations and even the boulder dreams of vengeance against the upstart humans. “The Sound of Salvation” and “Here I Will Dance” succeed best in that respect. Of course, if all the stories were that alien, the collection would be much harder to read.

My favorites, in addition to “the Scent of Murder” were two of the most inhuman stories “The Sound of Salvation” and “Here I will Dance”. But I didn’t dislike any of the stories.

The second book in the SF series Lock in. This one centers on an imaginary sport. It can be read as a stand-alone but I recommend reading the first book, Lock In, first.

Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 7 hours 36 minutes
Narrator: Wil Wheaton

I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, Lock In. It introduced us to a world where a significant minority of people suffers from Haden’s Syndrome where the affected are fully conscious but can’t move or respond to any stimulus. So, they’ve been fitted with neural implants and they operate robot bodies called threeps. They can also interact with each other in a virtual world.

Chris Shane in an FBI agent and a Haden. They (we never learn their biological sex) are also the daughter of a huge NBA star and his very business smart wife. When a sport star, who is a Haden, dies during a very high-profile game, Chris is just the right person to investigate.

The sports in question is hilketa where all the players use the robot bodies. They attack each other with swords and hammers and the aim is to rip off the head of one of the opposing players, called a goat, and take it to the goal posts. The robot bodies also means that the operators can be male or female in the same game. Hilketa is hugely popular not just in the States but all over the world.

Chris and their sarcastic partner Leslie Vann are plunged into the world of professional sports, trying to find out if the death of Duane Chapman is an accident or murder. And if it is murder who did it and why.

I really enjoyed this one, too. It’s got witty dialogue with Leslie chewing out pretty much everyone, and lots of humor. I sort of think that we all need a Leslie in our lives, to remind us that we don’t need to take crap from anyone.
I also enjoyed Chris’ roommates some of whom are hilketa fans and also fellow Haden sufferers. It also comments on disability and gender, although not as much as the first book.

It’s a fast-paced book with lot of twists which make it hard to put down (or in my case, stop listening). I also like Wheaton’s narrator style a lot.

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.

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.

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