Review: A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias

A Darkling Sea As a lapsed marine zoologist, I couldn’t help but love A Darkling Sea. It has aliens, intrigue, desperate missions, and it all happens underwater.

On a moon orbiting a gas giant, a human science station sits in pitch-black water. They’re studying a semi-primitive alien species, but when a dumb-ass scientist gets himself killed by the curious aliens, another alien species visits the science station and tries to take over. Chaos ensues.

Recommendation: Get it at the library. It’s an excellent read, but not mandatory for a bookshelf.

Continue reading

Review: Echopraxia by Peter Watts

echopraxiaI have a bad habit of getting excited by a book and skimming, eager to find out what happens next. Usually, this works out fine.

I did that with Echopraxia and missed so much that I had to read it again. This book is as dense as those borderline-illegal molten chocolate desserts that are as big as a teacup but somehow weigh ten pounds.

Don’t skip a word. The writing is that tight.

Echopraxia is a sequel to Blindsight, and again author Watts explores the craziness of space, aliens, vampires (he makes them work, even more believably than he did in Blindsight), and how malleable human brains are. His central idea that human consciousness is like a flea riding a dog, thinking it’s in charge of everything, when really the dog, i.e., the rest of our brain, makes all of the decisions. (This is something that a lot of studies are actually agreeing with.)

In addition to all that, it’s a smart, fantastic read, and his best book since Starfish, one of my absolute favorites.

Recommendation: Buy it. It’s excellent on the first, second, and further readings.

23 Best Alternate History Books

Possible Earths

Possible Earths

Since the present time is just the wildly unlikely result of several trillion coincidences, it makes sense that humans would occasionally wonder what would happen if one or two events concluded differently.

Most alternate history stories are some variation of “What if Hitler had won the Civil War, and was a dinosaur?” but there are some great, well, alternatives, in the list below.

Continue reading

Review: Accelerando by Charles Stross

accelerandoAccelerando moves like a bat out of hell and made me afraid that the future’s going to tear us all a new one.

It’s dense, and author Charles Stross presents enough throwaway ideas for at least a dozen other novels.

Accelerando follows the adventures of three generations as they experience the world just before the technological singularity, during it, and just after.

(The technological singularity is the point where an artificial intelligence begins to create a runaway chain reaction of improving itself, with each iteration becoming more intelligent. Eventually, it is vastly superior to any human intelligence. Is that something to worry about? Maybe. Stephen Hawking once said, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”)

The book is deeply technical in spots, which is fun, but still has good characters you root for (or despise).

Recommendation: Get it at the library. I really liked it, but its vision of a future that requires implants soon after (or before) birth just to keep up with the world freaked me out a bit. I don’t want to be reminded of my impending future shock every day.

Review: The Maiden Voyage of the Destiny Unknown by Nicholas Ponticello

Like his earlier book Do Not Resuscitate, Ponticello’s prose reads like a less-angry Vonnegut. However, in The Maiden Voyage of the Destiny Unknown, he gets wilder and funnier.

Two hundred million years in the future, the sun is about to engulf the Earth, so a spaceship filled with people is sent out towards a likely star in order to save the species.

The outrageous situations and badly-behaving people on the spaceship are entertaining as hell, and are nicely balanced with an occasional thoughtful perspective from the narrator, a non-interfering alien observer.

The Maiden Voyage of the Destiny Unknown is bold and fun, and I found myself eagerly waiting for the next time I could get back to reading it.

Recommendation: Buy it. The bright yellow spine pleases me whenever I see it on my shelf.
Continue reading

Review: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

flowers-for-algernon Flowers for Algernon is a beautiful, human book, with a little science fiction thrown in.

It examines morals and ethics without getting preachy—it’s a surprisingly easy read for such a thoughtful and deep book.

There are a few juicy scenes in it, which is why it’s occasionally removed from school libraries in Texas.

Flowers for Algernon is told through progress reports written by a low-IQ person who has an operation (we never learn the details) that quickly increases his IQ to genius levels. Unfortunately, his social and emotional skills do not increase at the same rate, and this causes hurt feelings all around.

Recommendation: Buy it. Seeing this on my shelf gives me a moment of pause, a two-second meditation, like briefly floating in a deep but safe ocean, before getting on with my day.

Continue reading

Review: The Fall of the Towers by Samuel R. Delany

The Fall of the Towers

Despite the title, this isn’t about 9/11. The three books in this collection were written in the sixties. They don’t feel like sixties books, though—these could easily have been written today.

The only humans left on Earth are on a single island, in a single city. There’s another city on the mainland, but a strange radiation barrier appears, dousing that city in radiation and locking the people on the island off from the rest of the planet.

There’s an enemy that may or may not exist beyond the barrier. An escaped prisoner finds himself in the middle of the radiation, but perfectly healthy. He meets Neanderthals and mind-reading giants as he tries to get home. Things get much weirder.

There’s an enjoyable strangeness to these three books. They’re a great combination of advanced technology, unintended consequences, and good old political intrigue.

While some of the dialogue was unrealistic, the stories are interesting, well-crafted, and smart as hell.

Recommendation: Get it at the library. It’s a damn good read, but not necessary for a shelf.