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.
Accelerando 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.
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.
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.
If, before sitting down to write 1984, George Orwell had decided to candy-flip (ingest LSD and ecstasy simultaneously), he might have ended up with something like Memoirs Found in a Bathtub.
Panda Ray is a rare beast: a fun and weird adventure for kids where there is no Chosen One. Thank God. I’m a little tired of the Hero’s Journey.
In The Drowned World, the sun’s become too hot (130°F on a good day), and the cities of the world are submerged. Humanity is now collected down in Antartica or above the Arctic circle.
(This was written in 1962, so way before the current climate change troubles.)
I learned about author Iain M. Banks when I was in San Francisco, swing dancing with a woman, who recommended him to me during a twirl. I paid her back by executing a successful “death drop” dance move on her. Amazingly, she did not end up with a cracked skull.
The Algebraist is not one of Banks’ popular Culture stories, taking place only a couple thousand years in the future instead of ten thousand, but it’s still fun.
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.
His Master’s Voice is a smarter book than I am a reviewer, so my vantage point is of a slow runner presuming to give a complete 3D perspective of a faster runner, when all I can see is his back.
Earth has received a mysterious message from space, and several thousand scientists are tasked with decoding it. They fail (this isn’t a spoiler—it’s revealed early in the book).