The idea was to terraform a world to prepare it for human life (check, done), send in a supervirus that makes some creatures really smart (check, also done), and finally, land some Earth monkeys on it and watch them get really smart and do amazing things (whoops, nope, total disaster).
A giant spaceship lands in the waters offshore of Lagos, the most populous city in Nigeria, and things get out of control immediately. Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor is more about the writhing, hustling world of Nigeria, and the arrival of aliens is a great way to see that in action. It’s very well-written, fast-paced, fascinating, and intense. It does not, however, make me want to visit Lagos.
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.
Dragon’s Egg is a fun, clever look at life evolving on the surface of a neutron star, where one hour of human time is the equivalent of hundreds of years on the alien star.
While the extreme physics of the story may be accurate, Dragon’s Egg contains some of the most stilted dialogue I’ve come across in a long time, especially in the beginning. I found myself thinking that author Robert L. Forward must have talked to a human woman at some point in his life, but if so, that knowledge did not find its way to his book.
However, this is not a story you read for its character development. Dragon’s Egg is all about examining an alien race evolving on a sphere with a gravity of 67 billion Gs, and living at a million times the speed of humans. The story is most believable when it’s dealing with aliens, and it’s still a fun ride.
Recommendation: Get it at the library. Power through the first chapter and you’ll be fine.
Nominated for a Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards in 1975, The Mote in God’s Eye has not aged particularly well. There are some clever twists and exciting sequences in this far-future first-contact tale, and the alien Motes are, in some ways, truly alien.
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.
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.
We’re all waiting for this moment, the instant we know for sure that we’re not alone in this big, cold universe.
Regardless of how our first contact actually happens, a good story has to have drama. No one wants to read We Met the Aliens and Gosh, They Were Nice.