To Say Nothing of the Dog is one of the funniest science fiction books I’ve ever read. It isn’t a silly, knee-slapping romp like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but a calmer story that relies more on character interactions than external craziness.
The Justice of Toren was a colossal starship run by an artificial intelligence. That intelligence also linked thousands of human soldiers, each soldier’s mind completely run by the AI. These AI-run soldiers are known as ancillaries.
In an act of treachery, the Justice of Toren is destroyed, and the AI—now going by the name of Breq—is a single human body filled with unanswered questions and a burning desire for vengeance.
In Pushing Ice, one of Saturn’s moons suddenly departs from its orbit and shoots off into deep space. The only nearby ship chases the errant moon and watches as huge chunks of ice fall off its surface to reveal a gigantic machine underneath.
Not everyone on the ship wants to keep chasing this object. The object seems to have some ideas about that, too.
Pushing Ice is a great book, and I lost some sleep because I couldn’t put it down. Even though we follow the same characters throughout the book, so much happens that it has the feel of a big, sprawling, multi-generational epic.
The science is hard, the humans flawed, and the surprises keep coming.
Recommendation: Get it at the library unless you’re building a shelf of all of Alastair Reynolds’ books. Which may be a pretty good idea, actually. Hmm.
Mooncop is an oddly beautiful piece of work about the last policeman on the moon. Short and simply drawn, it’s a quiet story, with broad lunar landscapes and mostly-silent people as they go about their business as the lunar colony slowly winds down.
The quiet is just on the surface, though. It’s clear there’s more going on in the heads of the characters than just what’s in the speech bubbles.
The writer/illustrator Tom Gault is a popular cartoonist in Britain, and I hope he continues to create work like Mooncop.
Recommendation: Buy it. Its sweet, sad simplicity is more than welcome next to all the serious tomes on my shelf.
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.
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.
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.
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.