It’s been seven years since my first blog post (4 Things You Didn’t Know About Dune), and it’s time to check out the coolness that’s been published since.
Do Not Resuscitate is a story told by the aging Jim Frost, who’s being harassed by a daughter with control issues to get his brain downloaded and backed up. As he considers what this means about the impermanence of death, and how much he doesn’t agree with it, he tells the story of his life. He’s seen a lot of the world go to pot while transporting red coolers for a mysterious boss.
Filled with interesting characters and a strong storytelling style that only slips a couple times, Do Not Resuscitate had me continually wanting to get back to reading it. I enjoyed it thoroughly.
In fact, while Do Not Resuscitate isn’t as dark or deep or weird as anything by Kurt Vonnegut, Ponticello’s writing somehow has the same music as those works. Maybe it’s the cadence of the words, or the patter of a slightly odd person talking about the insane world around them, but Do Not Resuscitate continually reminded me of Vonnegut, and that’s never happened before, in decades of reading science fiction.
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.
“An exceptionally thoughtful, searching and intriguing debut.”
―Kirkus, starred review
Given a billion more years of evolution, what would plants evolve into? Given that life on Earth went from single-celled organisms to us in a billion years, an intelligent plant evolving in the same period of time seems not only plausible, but likely.
Semiosis is a well-written book that follows several generations of humans that land on a planet a billion years older than Earth and have to deal with intelligent plant life that’s friendly and not-so-friendly.
It’s a fun, interesting take on alien plant intelligence, but since the story keeps jumping generations, I never got to settle down on a single character’s story.
“This first-contact tale is extraordinary.”
―Library Journal, starred review
A generation ship, having left Earth centuries ago, finally approaches its destination. The ship’s not in great shape, and the planet they’re supposed to settle has some surprises…
“This ambitious hard SF epic shows Robinson at the top of his game… [A] poignant story, which admirably stretches the limits of human imagination.”
Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.
Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret: one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life, or rescue it from annihilation.
“[P]erfectly balances action and intrigue with matters of empire and identity. All around brilliant space opera, I absolutely love it.”
—Ann Leckie, author of Ancillary Justice
Our universe is ruled by physics. Faster than light travel is impossible—until the discovery of The Flow, an extradimensional field available at certain points in space-time, which can take us to other planets around other stars.
Riding The Flow, humanity spreads to innumerable other worlds. Earth is forgotten. A new empire arises, the Interdependency, based on the doctrine that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war—and, for the empire’s rulers, a system of control.
The Flow is eternal, but it’s not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes, as well. In rare cases, entire worlds have been cut off from the rest of humanity. When it’s discovered that the entire Flow is moving, possibly separating all human worlds from one another forever, three individuals—a scientist, a starship captain, and the emperor of the Interdependency—must race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.
“Political plotting, plenty of snark, puzzle-solving, and a healthy dose of action… Scalzi continues to be almost insufferably good at his brand of fun but think-y sci-fi adventure.”
We Are Legion (We Are Bob) is ridiculously fun. If a nerd got three wishes from a genie, experiencing what happens in this book would be one of them.
Bob Johannson sells his software company for a mint when he steps off a curb to start spending his money and is hit by a truck. Fortunately, his head is being preserved cryogenically.
Unfortunately, 117 years later, his brain was scanned into a computer and now he’s an AI controlled by a theocratic regime.
Fortunately, he is uploaded to a space probe with the ability to replicate himself.
Unfortunately, plenty of people want him dead.
The point of view shifts regularly, there isn’t a single storyline to follow, and while the ending is good, it’s clear you need to read the rest of the books in the trilogy (this is book one), but none of that matters. It’s a seriously fun ride.
I’m a big fan of author David Wong, and his latest family-friendly-read-aloud-to-the-kids book, Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick, is awesome. As usual, Wong combines outrageous humor with surprisingly deep, three-dimensional characters, and very little literal dick-punching.
Zoey is young, smart, deeply sarcastic, a little overweight, owns a cat called Stench Machine, and has unexpectedly inherited the most powerful criminal enterprise in Tabula Ra$a, a near-future dystopian city that makes Las Vegas feel like a nursing home. When both other crime bosses and the rabid citizenry of Tabula Ra$a rise up against her for no good reason, Zoey and her band of wildly lethal protectors must figure out what’s going on.
Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick is the second book of the Zoey Ashe series, which starts with Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits.
“Biting humor and blatant digs at modern society overlay a subtly brilliant and thoughtful plot.”
Winner of the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award for Best Novella.
Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.
Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.
If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself—but first she has to make it there, alive.
“Prepare to fall in love with Binti.”
—Neil Gaiman, co-author of Good Omens
The least human character in All Systems Red is also the most human. A half-robotic creature (or maybe more than half) privately calls itself Murderbot, and it’s got a good reason to. All the humans around it consider it just another security android, which is fine by Murderbot; it’d rather watch bad TV than have to interact with humans.
But when things start to go seriously wrong with the planetary exploration team that Murderbot is supposed to protect, more truths are revealed than it would prefer.
“We are all a little bit Murderbot… we see ourselves in its skin. And that reading about this sulky, soap-opera-loving cyborg killing machine might be one of the most human experiences you can have in sci-fi right now.”
A catastrophic event renders the Earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space.
But the complexities and unpredictability of human nature coupled with unforeseen challenges and dangers threaten the intrepid pioneers, until only a handful of survivors remain.
Five thousand years later, their progeny—seven distinct races now three billion strong—embark on yet another audacious journey into the unknown… to an alien world utterly transformed by cataclysm and time: Earth.
“Stephenson’s remarkable novel is deceptively complex, a disaster story and transhumanism tale that serves as the delivery mechanism for a series of technical and sociological visions.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Dark Matter is one of those books that I stayed up way too late reading. The science is perhaps a little iffy, and dark matter itself plays very little part in the book, but the book grabs you by the eyeballs early on and doesn’t let go.
A man with a decent life is knocked unconscious by a masked abductor and wakes up to find his life is entirely different. Instead of a family, he has the career of his dreams: instead of a college professor, he’s a famous, rich creator of something incredible. But he’s unmarried and his son was never born.
How can he make it back to the family he loves when he’s not sure what’s real and what isn’t?
“You’ll gulp Dark Matter down in one afternoon, or more likely one night… Alternate-universe science fiction [and] a countdown thriller in which the hero must accomplish an impossible task to save his family. There’s always another door to open, and another page to turn.”
—New York Times Book Review
Tom Barren in All Our Wrong Todays is from an ideal version of our present time. No war, no poverty, jet packs for all, and pretty much every starry-eyed prediction made in the 1950s has come true. It’s awesome. But then Tom loses the love of his life and in his iffy mental state, does something stupid with a time machine. He screws everything up so badly that his amazing 2016 turns into a crap 2016: that is, our 2016. Now he’s got to fix it. Except that the love of his life is alive in our 2016…
All Our Wrong Todays is funny, charming, and the sci-fi is soft enough that my wife (not a hard SF fan) read and loved it.
“[An] amazing debut novel… Dazzling and complex… Fearlessly funny storytelling.”
—The Washington Post
The Girl With All the Gifts is a wonderful book, which is odd praise for a story about zombies. But it’s surprisingly thoughtful, and at times, even tender, all while managing to be a fast-paced thriller. Every day I looked forward to reading it.
In a post-apocalyptic England, Melanie, along with other children, is imprisoned in a windowless bunker. They are all strapped down and muzzled whenever they leave their cells. No adult is allowed to touch them under any circumstances. Given who these children are, these are reasonable precautions. Then the installation is attacked, and Melanie is freed along with several adults, some who want her alive, some who want her dead, and others who want her dissected.
“Original, thrilling and powerful.”
The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age: a world terraformed and prepared for human life.
But all is not right in this new Eden. In the long years since the planet was abandoned, the work of its architects has borne disastrous fruit. The planet is not waiting for them pristine and unoccupied. New masters have turned it from a refuge into mankind’s worst nightmare.
Now two civilizations are on a collision course, both testing the boundaries of what they will do to survive. As the fate of humanity hangs in the balance, who are the true heirs of this new Earth?
“This is superior stuff, tackling big themes—gods, messiahs, artificial intelligence, alienness—with brio.”
On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington, D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the Earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process.
Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too.
Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her.
“Readers will thrill to the story of this ‘lady astronaut’ and eagerly anticipate the promised sequels.”
―Publishers Weekly, starred review
I’m not usually a big fan of post-apocalyptic stories, but Station Eleven is a great story and exceptionally well-written.
A virus sweeps through the world and quickly kills off 95% of humanity, ending all comforts of civilization. The book’s protagonist is Kirsten, a young woman traveling with a band of musicians and actors who move from town to town, playing music and putting on Shakespeare plays. They hunt for food and tread carefully in a dangerous world, but even they can’t avoid a deadly and insane prophet.
Author Emily St. John Mandel flings the reader back and forth in time, examining characters both before and after the pandemic by jumping from thirty years before the virus to twenty years after and back again. But she does so with such a deft touch that these transitions feel natural and illuminating.
“Darkly lyrical… A truly haunting book, one that is hard to put down.”
—The Seattle Times
I 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.
“A paranoid tale that would make Philip K. Dick proud, told in a literary style that should seduce readers who don’t typically enjoy science fiction.”
In the dream-like Annihilation, a section of the Californian coast has turned so weird that it’s now called Area X. This happened thirty years ago, and no one on the outside knows why everyone inside Area X died, why there are weird structures inside, or why there’s a border you can’t get through except through one invisible entrance. Is it a slow alien invasion, a mass hallucination, or something else?
Annihilation covers the twelfth expedition into Area X, where the members have given up their names and refer to each other only by profession: the biologist, the linguist, and so on. All the previous expeditions into Area X have ended in death, madness, or cancer.
This book is a gentle ride into subtle weirdness. You don’t get too many straight answers about what Area X is or is even like on the inside. Some things are normal, some fantastical, and most of it messes with your head. It all feels truly alien and you get the sense that this is going to be impossible to understand, no matter how many facts you have at your disposal.
“[G]ripping… thoroughly suspenseful… VanderMeer weaves together an otherworldly tale of the supernatural and the half-human.”
—Booklist, starred review
The Earth is just a tiny bit farther away from the sun in Early Riser, but that’s enough to make the winters harsh enough that humans have evolved to hibernate. The exceptions are the Winter Consuls, a group of misfits tasked with keeping the sleeping population safe.
Charlie Worthing has just joined the Winter Consuls and is experiencing her first winter awake. Unfortunately, a viral dream appears to be killing people, and Charlie must survive the dream, the Villains (murderous non-hibernators), and Nightwalkers (essentially zombies who are placated by comfort food and candy bars).
I’m a big fan of Jasper Fforde’s well-written and mildly insane other books, including the Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series, and Early Riser does not disappoint. It’s a funny, absurd, dystopian murder mystery with great characters in an alien, yet cozy, British setting.
“Charlie’s journey… is so absorbing… Whip-smart, tremendous fun, and an utter delight from start to finish.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
I’m a huge fan of Andy Weir’s first book, The Martian, and his new book, Project Hail Mary, is even better. It’s fast-paced, fun, smart, and bold.
Project Hail Mary shares some themes with The Martian, namely Astronaut In Trouble and Science Saves The Day. The main character in both books is also charming, funny, geeky, and brilliant.
The math and science may be too much for some readers. I loved it, but my wife was totally uninterested. Here’s a measure you might use: if I say “high school physics” and you do not scream and run away, this book might be for you.
“Readers may find themselves consuming this emotionally intense and thematically profound novel in one stay-up-all-night-until-your-eyes-bleed sitting. An unforgettable story of survival and the power of friendship—nothing short of a science fiction masterwork.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.
“Remarkable, revelatory and not to be missed.”
―Kirkus Reviews, starred review