The 2012 Science Fiction Experience

The first book about little aliens the humans call the Fuzzies.

Publication year: 1962
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Peter Ganim
Running Time: 6 hrs and 28 minute

Jack Holloway is an old prospector looking for valuable sunstones on the alien planet Zarathustra. The sunstones are fossilized jellyfish and the arid planet also has land prawns which Jack detests. One day when he returns to his shack, he finds a small, hairy, and cute being in his house. Jack calls it “Little Fuzzy” and feeds it. The Fuzzy has taken Jack’s chisel and uses it as a tool. The Fuzzy also brings his family to meet “Pappy Jack”. Jack tells about them to his friends and the local xenobiologist who are fascinated by the little creatures. They seem to be very intelligent and so the humans are trying to prove that they are sapient.

Unfortunately, the company can exploit the planet only as long as the planet doesn’t have any native sapient people. So Victor Gregor, the owner of the company, wants to keep the fuzzies classification as animals.

The book centers around the question of if the Fuzzies are sapient or not. The humans don’t have an official definition of sapience but many think that being able to use fire and communicate with speech should be the main requirements. Interestingly (because it’s in a book and not real), there’s been a case where a woman who killed her baby had tried to prove that the infant hadn’t been sapient yet, but that didn’t work.

Jack Halloway is a paternal figure to the fuzzies and he’s very protective of them. He’s got loyal friends who are also very concerned about the fuzzies’ future. All of these people seem to be kind and benevolent. They are curious about the creatures but don’t want to harm them or even annoy them. They just want to at first to study the fuzzies and then to prove them sapient. In contrast, the company people are only interested in the fuzzies’ possible impact to their bottom line and are willing to do anything, including murder, to prevent the fuzzies being found sapient.

The humans have a way to know when a person is telling the truth. The device is called a veridicator and is used in courts instead of swearing an oath. It’s, of course, very convenient but was used interestingly with witnesses who have to first be honest with themselves before being able to be honest to the court.

Unfortunately, for me some of the things near the ending were very convenient. Otherwise, this is a charming and thoughtful, if simplistic, short book and I might look up the sequels.

A stand-alone scifi book which is a re-imagining of H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy. I haven’t read Little Fuzzy but it’s part of the audio book so I will listend it soon.

Publication year: 2011
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Wil Wheaton
Running Time: 7 hrs and 19 minutes

Jack Holloway is an independent contractor for ZaraCorps. He and Carl are looking for valuable minerals to mine from a planet without natural intelligent life. The planet does, however, have a lot of various animals, some of them quite dangerous. Jack is a disbarred lawyer who enjoys working all by himself, with Carl. He tends to speak before thinking so he doesn’t really have any friends and has pretty much alienated everyone at ZaraCorps’ local base, even his ex-girlfriend.

Jack has trained Carl, his dog, to set off explosives against ZaraCorps’s regulations and when Carl blows up yet another site, the whole cliff wall collapses. This is against all environmental regulations which ZaraCorps has to follow. Chad Borne, a ZaraCorps’s representative, is furious and fires Jack. However, the collapsed cliff wall has a big stash of sunstones, one of the most highly prized luxury items in the universe. They come from fossilized jellyfish. Because Jack isn’t working for ZaraCorps anymore, technically he owns the find. Borne agrees to give Jack 0,4% of the profits instead of usual 0,05% as a contract prospector.

When Jack returns to his house, which is outside the base, he realizes that a cat like creature has somehow gotten into his house. Except that the cat thing walks on two legs. Jack dubs the creature a fuzzy. Soon, the fuzzy brings more of its kind with it to Jack’s house and Jack decides that they are a family and names them accordingly. The fuzzies seem to be very intelligent. Jack talks about them to his ex-girlfriend Isabelle who is a biologist for the company. She thinks that the fuzzies could be intelligent. If they are, they would be a huge problem for the company because it can mine the planet only so long as there’s no native intelligent life forms on it.

The story is written in a very humorous way in tight third POV. Jack is a witty main character which is a good thing because he isn’t very likable. He seems to enjoy irritating other people, he lies when it suits him, he has no problem undermining his ex’s career, and he’s greedy (well, okay, who wouldn’t be?). Yet because of the humor, this isn’t obvious.

Sometimes he does inexplicable acts of kindness such as feeding the first fuzzy and saving it from Carl. He himself doesn’t know why he did it. Later, we see that he has some morals and lines he doesn’t cross which makes him a bit more palatable.

Most of the secondary characters are corporate employers who want to protect their job or who bully other people because they can. Most of them are quite unlikable. Isabelle is a notable exception to this with her idealistic views of environment and treatment of other people. And Carl is of course a great character, loyal to his master and friendly with others.

Near the start of the book there are a few infodumps. However, they are entertaining to listen to, so they didn’t slow the book down much. We’re told about the human workers on the planet and about the various laws ZaraCorps has to obey. For example, ZaraCorps doesn’t do science as such, just exploitation of the various planets because scientific research doesn’t produce money.

We are told the humans have encountered a few alien species but only two of them have been proven to be intelligent. With both of them the key was that they could talk. I find this fascinating and possibly very human-centric because it’s possible for species to communicate in other ways than speech. Of course, it’s a completely different issue if humans want to give intelligent status to species which doesn’t communicate via speech or how effective such communication would be when building an (advanced) society.

One of the book’s themes is how humans would treat other planets (strip mining) or other species (badly). Then again, people also treat each other miserably. There are glimmers of hope but as a whole it give rather a pessimistic view of the human race as focused on themselves only and on the individual level, getting as much money as they can and the rest of the universe can go to hell.

I enjoyed Wheaton’s narration. He reads quicker than many of the other narrators I’ve listened to so far and sounds very enthusiastic. However, at time it was a bit surreal because I was reading Star Trek books at the same time. 🙂

The first in a nine book series about Star Trek: TNG crew before the movie Nemesis.

Publication year: 2004
Format: print
Page count: 284 plus an excerpt from the next book in the series
Publisher: Pocket Books

The book starts with Wesley. He will have to choose for the final time if he will be a Traveler who will witness things but not get involved or he can return to his mortal life. He chooses to be born again as a Traveler, but afterwards he sees a vision of Enterprise-E’s destruction.

Enterprise-E has been assigned to the Rashanar Battle Site which is a veritable graveyard of star ships and their crews. One of the most fiercest battles in the Dominion War was fought there and now some unexplained phenomena happen there. The starship Juno has been assigned there for the past year and her captain Jill Leeden warns Picard that the site is far more dangerous that he had been told. However, Picard is confident that his experienced crew can handle it and is looking forward to puzzling out what is really happening. Juno’s job is to retrieve the dead for proper burials and identification but the looters are a constant problem so they haven’t had time to research the strange gravity anomalies or floating antimatter which also make sensor readings unreliable.

However, Picard soon finds out that Captain Leeden was right. A whole race of human-like looters, called the Androssi, are determined to steal what they can get, in addition to the Pakleds and some other races. Picard chooses to investigate personally the husk of a Galaxy-glass starship. He takes Data and LaForge with him on his captain’s yacht. Unfortunately, the husk has been occupied by a pair of looters who manage to poison Picard and steal the yacht. Captain Leeden is not impressed and things only go downhill from there.

The second half of the book is a court room drama where Picard has to defend his actions. The book ends with the whole crew in dire straights but from their own Starfleet and not so much from an outside threat.

The book introduces a new non-humanoid race called the Ontailians. They have only recently joined the Federation and their world is closest to the Rashanar site. Four of their vessels are patrolling the site against the looters. They look and move like sloths which was an interesting idea but we don’t get to know much about them.

The main point-of-view character is Captain Picard but other Enterprise crew are also point-of-view characters, as is one of the looters. However, we don’t get a glimpse into the Ontailians.

The book is pretty grim for a canon Star Trek: TNG book with just a couple of Starfleet ships fighting desperately against a whole fleet of looters and other weird thing happening on the battle site. We’re also told that several worlds are withdrawing from the Federation because they’re unhappy about how badly the Dominion War went. The Admiralty is also shown in less than flattering light.

Unfortunately, I found some of the characterization to be a bit off. For example, I’m very surprised that Riker let his captain go to the unexplored husk in a clearly dangerous area, even with Data and LaForge. Also, Crusher should have insisted on seeing Picard immediately after he got back on board instead of meekly waiting until he came to see her. Both of these are plot points later which is unfortunate because now it felt that the writer had to resort of a plot which made the characters idiots.

For some reason Vornholt tried very hard to avoid repetition, including such standard repetition as characters’ names and the verb “said”. I also really didn’t care for the use of “skipper”.

The Rashanar site was pretty exciting and there was a constant feeling of danger when the crew can’t rely on their instruments as usual. We also get to see quite a few familiar secondary characters such as Admiral Nechayev, whom I like a lot, and Admirals Ross and Nakamura. I was also happy to see Wesley again.

Everything was left wide open in the end.

A novella set in the Disappeared universe. It happens during the book The Recovery Man and compliments it nicely. However, it can be read as a stand alone.

Publication year: 2010, first published in Analog in 2009. It’s available at Smashwords.
Format: ebook, pdf
Page count: 87
Publisher: WMG Publishing

Hadad Yu is a Recovery Man; he finds things that other people want him to find. He assumes his clients have lost them or they have been stolen but he makes a point never to ask about it. Now, he has a possibly very lucrative job. A very wealthy woman wants him to find a rare flowering fidelia and bring it back to her still blooming. Yu suspects that the tree the flower is attached to might be sapient but he doesn’t ask or think about it too much. The terms are generous but Yu has only one chance to recover the flower; if the flower withers or something else happens, Magda Athenia will make sure that Yu will never work again in the Earth Alliance.

Things seem to be going well. Yu has trained with specialists so that he knows everything possible about the flower and after three years he has managed to track down the one place they are blooming. He’s approaches the place carefully, manages to secure the flowering fidelia, and smuggle it out of the planet. He contacts Athenia and confirms a meeting. But then a disaster strikes: the mysterious Black Fleet tracks him, breaches his space ship, and steals the flower. The client is furious and makes good of her threats.

Desperately, Yu travels to the alien Gyonnese for whom he has worked before. To his surprise, a high ranking group of the aliens meets him almost immediately and offers him a lucrative job. They have been hunting down a human woman who is responsible for killing thousands of their larvae. The woman was convicted to lose her child to the Gyonnese but the child died. However, now the woman has another child who apparently is a clone and therefore outside the jurisdiction of Gyonnese who care only about “originals” and not clones who, for them, aren’t real. But the Gyonnese strongly suspect that the mass murderer has fooled them and her original child hadn’t died at all. They want to hire Yu to take the child to them and serve justice. Yu is originally skeptical but when he views the case, he become convinced that serving the Gyonnese is the right thing to do, and he accepts.

Yu is the central character in the story and the only point-of-view character. He’s skilled and competent in his job, but a loner. While Yu often doesn’t care if his work is legal, he does have moral code. He doesn’t recover people, until he agrees to this job. He takes care not to hurt anyone but he doesn’t really think through to the consequences of his actions, especially about the possible consequences to other people. He often works alone and when he works with someone, he keeps them at a distance and doesn’t really know them at all. Yet, when he decides that one of the other characters doesn’t really care for their child, he has nothing but contempt of that person.

Apparently, Yu knows the Gyonnese better than most other humans and he sympathizes with them more than the woman he’s sent to recover.

Yu’s side kick/employee is Nafti who might be a comic relief. Nafti is a strong man who is supposed to carry out Yu’s orders but he isn’t very bright. He’s also a hypochondriac who worries about everything concerning his health. He’s cruel which is, of course, less funny. In fact, Yu has to stop him from hurting people a couple of times.

I listened to Recovery Man a couple of years ago but I remembered how it ended. Still, the novella contained enough new stuff to keep me guessing and entertained.

A new book in the Diving universe! It’s the third book in the series after Diving into the Wreck and City of Ruins. Some spoilers for those two books.

Publication year: 2012
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Jennifer van Dyck
Running Time: 9 hrs and 49 minutes

Boneyards opens five years after the end of City of Ruins. The crew of the Ivuar has had a rough time when they are adjusting to their new life. Some have resigned and left, and a few have killed themselves. However, some are still working for their Captain Coop. Boss has employed Coop and his crew, and together they are trying to find out what happened to the world Coop knew. They are also doing their best to keep all technology out of the hands of the Enterran Empire. They are researching all clues they can find about the Dignity Vessels and sector bases which where functional five thousand years ago. What or who destroyed a society powerful enough to build them?

About half of the book focuses on Squishy. Twenty years ago she used to work for the Empire researching Stealth Tech but when she realized just how dangerous it was, she quit and left for wreck diving. She worked for a while with Boss. When the story starts, she’s infiltrated a Stealth Tech research station in order to destroy their work in the hope of saving lives of innocent people. Squishy is also a doctor and she cares a lot about other people’s lives. A lot of Squishy’s story is told in flashbacks some 20 years, back, some a year back. Unfortunately, this was sometimes a little hard to follow in the audio book when I can’t just flip a few pages back, but I enjoyed learning about Squishy’s back story in more detail.

Most of the characters from previous books return and I enjoyed their interaction. However, the book doesn’t advance the overall plot about the anacopa drive much, except for the ending. I also enjoyed a lot that the time displacement wasn’t dealt with easily, as it usually is in Star Trek type stories. Instead the people are stranded and some are rather desperate because of it. Some, such as Coop, are trying to focus on their work and a few couldn’t handle it at all.

Both Coop and Boss are leaders but they have worked together for a while and have a comfortable working relationship, but their personal relationship isn’t as comfortable. They are lovers, but they haven’t revealed that to their crews and Boss doesn’t even think of him much. They don’t interfere with each other’s crews. Coop’s people are military and they don’t sometimes like the way that the civilians work or can argue with their leader.

Most of the characters are single minded in their goals and they are often also paranoid loners. Boss is somewhat more comfortable with her leadership position than before but she still wants to do everything herself. Boss’s crew and the crew from the past work together but sometimes one side lacks information that it very obvious to the other and this causes conflict.

I liked the book a lot but it wasn’t as good as the City of Ruins. However, the ending promises really interesting things to come.

Written by Alan Moore, Peter Hogan, Geoff Johns
Artists: Jerry Ordway, Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, John Paul Leon, Dave Stewart
Collects Tom Strong 20-25 with the original covers and concept art.
Publisher: America’s Best Comics
Publication date: 2005

The first three issue have an alternate universe story about Tom Stone. The rest are stand-alone issues.

Issue 20 starts in Tom’s lab where a mysterious, wounded woman is talking to a man whom we don’t see but who is clearly Tom Strong. She tells the tale of “How Tom Stone Got Started”. Tom Strong’s mother Susan had dated a genius scientist Foster Parallax. Ultimately, Susan chose Sinclair Stone but Parallax gives her a locket which contains chronium. Later, when Susan and Sinclair are boarding the ship they’ve hired, Susan is delays for just a few seconds and “Things went one way, rather than another.” The storm is slightly different and so Sinclair dies and the black sailor, Tomas Stone, is stranded with Susan. Tomas and Susan end up together and Susan gives birth to Tom Stone. They raise the boy together among the local tribe.

Tom goes to US and after he’s done a few heroic rescues, he encounters Paul Saveen. Instead of being enemies, the more compassionate Tom suggest that they work together. And so Saveen and Stone become great science heroes. They return to Attabar Teru to Tom’s parents. Tom brings his fiancee Greta Gabriel and young Dhalua is heartbroken about it. However, Paul notices that and makes his own advances on Dhalua. In the end, Dhalua marries Paul and Greta marries Tom. Tom and Paul become the premier science heroes of Millenium City. Most notable, Solomon and Pneuman are missing.

In the next issue, “Strongmen in Silvertime”, the dynamic duo continues to fight familiar foes and mostly rehabilitate them. In the finest alternative universe traditions, the characters are some what different but recognizable: Tesla is the daughter of Dhalua and Paul, and she’s dating a young man whose “father” is a villain in the usual universe. Many of Strong’s villains have joined the ranks of heroes and there’s a great parody about the usual superhero team ups and how they tend to end up fighting each other even though they’re all supposed to be on the same side.

In the final issue “Crisis in Infinite Hearts” the utopia falls because of human mistakes.

I’m a fan of alternative universes so I thoroughly enjoyed this story, although it was a shame that it had go. Of course, it’s pretty hard to write about utopias villains are rehabilitated instead of returning to their villainous ways every few issues. 😉

Issue 23 is “Tom Strong in Moonday”. Svetlana’s husband Dimitri has disappeared during a mission on the Moon and the Strong family are helping to look for him. They are putting up sensor all over the Moon so that they can have a bio-active net which should be able to notice any living things. When putting up a sensor, Val disappears and Tesla is frantic. Meanwhile Tom tells Svetlana about his earlier journey to the Moon when he dreamed about bat people. Only, it might not have been a dream.

The story starts with Tesla and Val at the site of the monument to the Moon landing. Tesla says “They flew up here in this like, really primitive bucket. It must have taken real guts…” I think that was a real nice touch. It’s always nice to have stories in the Moon. I also enjoyed the banter between Svetlana and Tom, and earlier with Dhalua and Svetlana. I also really enjoy it that there’s no sexual tension between Svetlana and Tom.

However, I didn’t really much care for the bat people sot the story was a mixed bag for me.

Next is “Snow Queen” where a group of men are drilling a new tunnel and end up releasing a woman who seems to be made of ice. She turns out to be Tom’s first love, Greta. Tom saw how Doctor Permafrost killed her, except that he didn’t kill her, he put her on suspended animation. In 1928. Now, Greta is back and lots of things have changed in the world, but not for her. Tom tries to help her and introduced her to his family.

This was a good story and rather different for a super hero tale. It’s clearly meant to be continued at some point. It’s introspective but far too short to show us how Greta feels about the situation.

The last story is “Tom Strong’s Pal, Wally Willoughby”. Wally is a huge fan of Tom Strong and he’s come all the way from Buffalo to meet him and become Tom’s new friend. Unfortunately, he has a lot of bad luck; first the bus he’s on, has a flat tire. Then he meets a couple of kids from the Strongmen of America and asks them to introduce him to Tom Strong, but they refuse.

Meanwhile, Millenium City is plagued with rain falling from a clear sky. Then the Strongmen kids have been sucked into their yearbook alive and a giant jelly donut is blocking a high way.

This was a strange and wacky story even by Tom Strong’s standards. Unfortunately, I’ve read a couple of similar stories so it didn’t seem very original.

You get the most out of the first story, if you’ve already read previous issues and are familiar with the characters and the world. So, if you’ve read the earlier collections and enjoyed them, this one is worth reading. However, it’s not a good place to start the series. Overall, I enjoyed the previous collections more.

The third and final book in the trilogy. It’s part on the Sci-Fi Challenge in the Aliens/starships category.

Publication year: 1979
Format: print
Page count: 265
Publisher: DAW

The book starts soon after the startling events at the end of the previous book, Faded Sun: Shon’jir. Sten Duncan has proven to other humans that he has turned fully into a mri and left the human ship orbiting Kutath. He starts a long and painful trek back to the camp.

Meanwhile, the humans don’t know what to think. Admiral Koch commands the three humans ships Flower, Saber, and Santiago. They have followed the mri for long years to their ancient home world Kutath and they’ve seen dead worlds during their journey. The humans are convinced that the mri are the ones who destroyed the worlds. Combined with the forty years of war against the mri, the humans are quite suspicious of them. However, they can also see that the ancient cities on the surface of the planet aren’t inhabited and that the mri are likely a nomadic people living in tents, so they aren’t willing to just destroy the mri. Unlike their allies, the regul.

The regul are a non-violent species who have employed the mri as mercenaries sometimes against the other regul houses and most recently against the humans. However, the humans and the regul have signed a peace treaty and are investigating Kutath more or less together. The regul are in serious trouble: at the start of the journey they had only one mature adult and lots of younglings. The younglings can’t make decisions; they just serve the elders. Because of this biological imperative, the oldest of the younglings have started to mature which is a long and painful process. It matures as a male and a group of three other younglings mature as females. However, they don’t have any elders around to advice them, so they will have to decide what to do on their own, surrounded by the flaky humans and with the threat of the mri.

On the surface of Kutath the last two remaining mri, from the army employed by the regul, have taken over one of the planet bound mri tribes. The tribe resents the fact that the newcomers have killed their kin and tribe leader she’pan, and yet they have to obey the newcomers and trust that their new leader knows what she’s doing. Hlil and Ras are two mri who were very close to Merai, who was killed, and they both have their reservations. Niun, the tribe’s new warrior leader, worries about the distance between him and the tribe, and starts to even fear that someone might assassinate him. However, he fears most that someone will kill Duncan who is an outsider and none of the other mri have ever seen a non-mri before. The non-mri are despised by custom. He’s also afraid that the regul will just wipe out the whole tribe with space ships. However, the new she’pan calls herself the leader of all mri and she has a plan.

This is a satisfying ending to the trilogy. All three cultures clash while they are trying to understand each other. All of the cultures are quite different and they all wonder if they can trust or understand each other. The regul are non-violent, at least against other people; they kill their own younglings casually. The regul also don’t lie and because they remember everything, they don’t have much written records. They find both the mri and the humans quite baffling. The mri cling to their old traditions and notions of honor which have stayed the same even throughout the several millenia which the mercenaries and the planet bound mri have been apart.

There isn’t much violence in the book but there is a lot of tension. The characters are flawed in their own ways which makes them very human, no matter if they are mri or regul or human. We also find out about the history of the mri. Both the humans and the regul realize that this isn’t an isolated incident but likely will decide the fate of the mri, and also the relations between the humans and the regul for years to come.

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