science fiction


The sixth book in the Diving universe sci-fi series.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 4 and 57 minutes
Narrators: Jennifer Van Dyck

Boss and her crew are exploring the Boneyards, the graveyard of ships which the Fleet left behind years, maybe hundreds of years ago. Many, if not all, of the ships have the dangerous anacapa drives. She and her team are diving one of the ships when they realize that one of the drives on a nearby ships is still in operation. Anacapa drives are unpredictable and this one affects Boss herself and one of the crew very badly. Still, the crew needs to find out more.

As in the previous books focusing on Boss, this book is written in the first person and present tense, which adds to the tension and immediacy of the story. It has a lot of tensions between the crew and highly experienced people trying to anticipate problems. Both are things I really enjoy in this series.

On the other hand, if you’ve read the previous book in the series (the Falls) you already know what the runabout it, so the story has less surprises than in previous books. Still, it was great to return to Boss and her crew. It’s clear that the series will continue and I’m looking forward to their further adventures.

Boss is a very independent character: in the first book she works alone and very reluctantly hires others only when absolutely necessary. Now, she’s the leader of this team and she’s still sometimes rather uncomfortable with all that.

Other reviewers have remarked that it’s possible to start with this book, but personally I recommend starting with the first one “Diving into the Wreck”.

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The third book in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences steampunk series.

Publication year: 2014
Format: print
Publisher: Ace
Page count: 374

Our colonial pepperpot and dashing archivist are heading to the US. During the airship voyage, a mysterious man tries to sabotage the ship but Agents Eliza Braun and Wellington Books manage to stop the sabotage. Otherwise, Eliza is unhappy with the voyage because Wellington kissed her previously and she’s expecting him to continue in the same way. Instead, Wellington labors with his steam powered motorcar.

In Norfolk, our intrepid agents are met by two agents from the US’ Office of the Supernatural and Metaphysical. Librarian Felicia Lovelace is on her first field assignment and she clearly doesn’t have any experience in spying, going so far as forgetting the others’ assumed names. On the other hand, her partner William “Will Bill” Wheatley is a very experienced field agent. The Ministry agents are supposed to just consult the Americans about why ocean and airships are disappearing. Soon, they uncover an ominous plot which seems to involve Thomas Edison and his inventions.

I really enjoyed the steampunk elements and the inventors, Edison and especially the others. Both new agents are also rather interesting characters and they play well against each other but their role in the story made me dislike them. I also rather enjoyed the Ministry’s own mad scientists Blackwell and Axlerod.

Also, the Ministry’s enemies are on the move. Almost every other chapter was an interlude focusing on a mysterious priest doing the House of Usher’s work or Sophia del Morte moving in on her newest target. I rather enjoyed these chapters as well. The story is fast-paced with lots of fight scenes.

Unfortunately for me, this book has not just one romantic triangle but two. That’s right: Bill/Eliza/Wellington and Eliza/Wellington/Felicity. Both American agents start to court a British agent amazingly quickly. Eliza and Wellington are unsure about each other’s feelings and Eliza is barely civil to Wellington. So, the story has lots of Eliza and Bill going off to do mayhem while Wellington and Felicia do scouting and other spy things. So, there’s plenty of time for Bill to make moves toward Eliza and likewise Felicity to Wellington. Unfortunately, it felt very contrived to me and went on for far too long.

Near the end, there are some revelations which will, no doubt, feature heavily in the next two books. It ends almost in a cliffhanger. I was thinking that I might not want to continue with this series but it seems that the jealousy and UST is now finally ended as major parts of the books, so I’m going to get the next two books, too.

The third book in the science fiction series.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook

In the previous book, Torchship Pilot, Mitchie, a spy and now a starship captain, used a secret to blackmail an entire nation, the Fusion, into the war against the AIs, called the Betrayers. It had to be done because otherwise the AIs would have wiped out humanity. However, the war is still far from over and Mitchie and her crew have been sent to the central Fusion world to gather more ships and troops needed in the war. Unfortunately, the secret has leaked out and is now leading into the destabilization of the Fusion worlds. Mitchie and her crew are caught in the middle. If they survive they still have the problem of getting the new, possibly unstable, government to send ships. Mitchie will use any weapon at her disposal to make sure she can complete her mission. Those weapons include sex and relationships.

Torchship Captain is a bit different from the previous books because most of the time Mitchie and her husband are engaged in national and international politics. In fact, when they are in danger, the situation can’t be solved with simple violence, but its far more complicated than that. Also, Mitchie has to do more very precise flying than any hand-to-hand combat.

The book has couple of explicit sex scenes but they are very much part of the plot and in character. Also, while Mitchie and her husband are happily married, they aren’t monogamous. Mitchie uses sex and relationships to manipulate the people around her. This makes her far more realistic spy than is usual in books and movies. She’s also willing to sacrifice anything to save her worlds, quite literally. I was surprised at first about some of her actions but they make sense given the situation and her dedication to her duty.

In the previous books, Mitchie was pretty much the only POV character but in this book there are several others, mainly her husband. Other secondary characters get their chance to shine, as well. Most notably, the young politician Guenivere Claret whom Mitchie manipulates pretty ruthlessly but who also is put into very tough situations, politically.

I enjoyed the whole story and this book tied up the most important loose threads together. There are clearly other stories to tell in this universe, though.

The second Fiction River short story collection.

Publication year: 2013
Format: Audio
Running time: 7 and 15 minutes

Narrators: Matthew Buckman, Jerimy Colbert, Kristine Rusch, Dean Smith, Barton Grover Howe, Jane Kennedy, Alison Longuera, Stephanie Reid

Like the name implies, these stories focus on solving problems that humans are facing today. They each focus on a different problem, though, which shows just how many problems we have. All of the stories overcome problems that humans themselves have created, not outside threats like an asteroid hitting the Earth.
I liked most of the stories and my favorites are “Flight of the Little Bird”, “Neighborhoods” and “The Legend of Parker Clark and Lois Jane”.

“The Gathering” by David Gerrold: In this story, a group of people who want to save the world have gathered together and discuss their past successes and failure. And why they always fail.

“Positive Message” by William H. Keith: Sunrise Earth is a company which specializes in solar power. But when the company starts to get real successes, the old oil companies fight back.

“The Legend of Parker Clark and Lois Jane” by Ron Collins: Clark is working on reducing carbon emissions when suddenly his boss tells him to stop work. However, he was very close to a breakthrough, so that decision makes no sense. Until Clark realizes something.

“Your Name Here” by Laura Resnick: the main character works in the population control office. Some people desperately want to procreate despite not passing the tests.

“Flight of Little Bird” by Stephanie Writt: Tara hates her job and feels that she’s very small and worthless. She wants to be so much more, but doesn’t know how. But then she has an idea and everything changes.

“Staying Afloat” by Angela Penrose: many fields are suffering from too much rain. Paola is trying to find some good and cheap solution that small and poor farmers could use.

“The Shape of a Name” by Annie Reed: Anisha is a war orphan who has lost her arm. One day, one white woman comes to the refugee camp and takes her away, to a girl school.

“Neighborhoods” by Dean Wesley Smith: an eccentric millionaire is disgusted with the news of continuing violence in his home city of Chicago and he decides to do something about it.

“Heaven Backwards” by Lisa Silverthorne: In the future, the Earth is a desert because of the sins of people who didn’t follow the Word. But one small settlement still survives. However, some of their children have been disappearing. Then, three outsiders are at the gates.

“Earth Day” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch: the mother of the main character was obsessed with saving the Earth and her son continues that trend, although probably not in the way that the mother intended.

“Deus Ex Machina” by Travis Heermann: the world’s first functional artificial intelligence awakens.

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.

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.

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