Science Fiction…lul.

As promised I have put together a list of some of the more satirical or outright funny science fiction I have read recently.  To qualify for this list I had to at least smile while reading passages.  All these are recommended reads, I’ll put up a review of Mechanical Failure soon!

Mech failure cover artMechanical Failure (Sage Press, 2016)

by Joe Zieja

A smooth-talking ex-sergeant, accustomed to an easygoing peacetime military, unexpectedly re-joins the fleet and finds soldiers preparing for the strangest thing—war. Amazon link

 

 

The Humans (Decle Edge, 2013)the humans cover art

by Matt Haig

The bestselling, award-winning author of The Radleys is back with what may be his best, funniest, and most devastating dark comedy yet. When an extraterrestrial visitor arrives on Earth, his first impressions of the human species are less than positive. Amazon link

 

red shirts cover artRed Shirts (Tor Book, 2012)

by John Scalzi

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union [ ].  Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to realize that 1) every Away Mission involves a lethal confrontation with alien forces, 2) the ship’s senior officers always survive these confrontations, and 3) sadly, at least one low-ranking crew member is invariably killed. Amazon link

 

 

Advertisements

Chandler Klang Smith – The Sky Is Yours

The cover art of the hardcopy I picked up of The Sky Is Yours immediately drew me to this purchase.  I really didn’t know what I was getting into but that seems to be in tune with this novel!

My head still wanders a bit (which happens quite often in the book) thinking about the path the characters take in The Sky is Yours.  I say path because Chandler Klang Smith impossibly throws and pastes (not spins or weaves) utter chaos mixed with bumbling incompetence to propel her main trio in The Sky Is Yours, yet still keeps the events and happenings disturbingly relatable. A late teen, his even younger teenage mistress, and his betrothed fiance descend into the insanity of the relic of unchecked and unremorseful capitalism, anymore description would be too long or incomprehensible.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

the sky is yours cover art

The Sky Is Yours

by Chandler Klang Smith

Published by: Hogarth (January 23, 2018)

Hardcover: 464 pages

My rating: 7.0/10

First sentence: “This is the story of what it is to be young in a very old world”

 

I will be honest I found this book uncomfortable in many ways, and obviously that is the point!  What made it more uncomfortable than most is the recognition, something familiar about our time today and their time.  When I read ‘speculative’ or ‘creative’ science fiction or fantasy, it is usually in a setting or period where I can say to myself, ‘huh, that’s unusually graphic but hey we’re in space, it’s harsh’ or ‘wow, did not see that [insert taboo sexual stuff] coming, but you know it’s the future’.  What is jarring and disturbing is Smith’s ability extend our post-modern issues to extremes by just taking down everyday predictability just a bit; remove that certainty that the sky won’t fall and see how society copes with it.

This uncertainty seems to be a common theme in this new-to-now genre of near future speculative science fiction (see the ‘Where are we going…it’s aaaa list’ post below of similar themed books).  Most authors in the list point to a world becoming less stable, less certain, and more polarized (though Doctorow pulls out the optimism in Makers). Again Smith really nails that point of polarization, and just when you think the literal protagonist is figuring things out or progressing…well you can read it, cause it won’t be what you expect.

I rated this book 7/10 because I felt like the conclusion was rushed and not satisfyingly explained.  The drug ‘chaw’ phenomena seemed really cool but how and why? Is it natural or man-made? Is it an allegory for escapism? Is it linked to the tooth issues? The the whole ‘Secret of NIHM’ (if you don’t get the reference google it…worth) storyline needed more explanation or exploration at some point.  I had a lot of questions, but I guess that’s the point, no one knew; you read it and tell me what you think!

 

 

Where are we going? It’s aaaa list!

In light of my impending book reviews of Infomacracy (Malka Older) and The Sky is Yours (Chandler Clang Smith) I thought I’d put a list together of some awesome recent reads that seem to ask the question…..what will society be like in a few years? These don’t need a review – they are epic award winning books and authors. Also Doctorow seems to make it into my lists a lot… Finally when I make lists, I tend to want to make more…look for upcoming lists – Human Augmentation and Made Me Laugh (that’s hard in scifi).

Oh, also because I review things, and if you want my opinion on a particular book in this list let me know….

In no particular order….descriptions are Bezos’.

THE AFFINITIES

by Robert Charles Wilson (Tor Books, 2016)

In our rapidly changing world of social media, everyday people are more and more able to sort themselves into affinity groups based on finer and finer criteria. In the near future of Robert Charles Wilson’s The Affinities, this process is supercharged by new analytic technologies–genetic, brain-mapping, and behavioral. To join one of the twenty-two Affinities is to change one’s life. Amazon link

WALKAWAY

by Cory Doctorow (Tor Books, 2017)

Fascinating, moving, and darkly humorous, Walkaway is a multi-generation SF thriller about the wrenching changes of the next hundred years…and the very human people who will live their consequences. Amazon link

THE WATERKNIFE

by Paolo Bacigalupi (Orbit, 2015)

Paolo Bacigalupi, [], dives once again onto our uncertain future with his first thriller for adults since his multi-award winning debut phenomenon The Windup Girl. In the American Southwest, Nevada, Arizona, and California skirmish for dwindling shares of the Colorado River. Into the fray steps Angel Velasquez, detective, leg-breaker, assassin, and spy. Amazon link

WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT

by David Shafer (Mulholland Books, 2014)

The Committee, an international cabal of industrialists and media barons, is on the verge of privatizing all information. Dear Diary, an idealistic online Underground, stands in the way of that takeover, using radical politics, classic spycraft, and technology that makes Big Data look like dial-up. Amazon link

MAKERS 

by Cory Doctorow (Tor Books, 2009)

Perry and Lester invent things—seashell robots that make toast, Boogie Woogie Elmo dolls that drive cars. They also invent entirely new economic systems, like the “New Work,” a New Deal for the technological era. Barefoot bankers cross the nation, microinvesting in high-tech communal mini-startups like Perry and Lester’s. Together, they transform the country, and Andrea Fleeks, a journo-turned-blogger, is there to document it. Amazon link

G. Willow Wilson – Alif the Unseen

I began to read Alif the Unseen in 2016 and I didn’t get around to posting…anything for a while, so this great book is getting its much deserved review.  When I originally read Alif the Unseen the Arab spring had yet to turn into the conflicts seen in the Arab region today.  G. Willow Wilson gave me, as a Western reader, a fascinating and exciting view into the Arab world. The story is superb, an adventure that bursts with romance, politics, theology, history, legend, and magic.  Where is the science fiction? That is the best idea and surprise of all; it is a must read!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

cover art - Alif the Unseen

Alif the Unseen: A Novel

by G. Willow Wilson

Published by: Emblem and imprint of McClelland & Stewart, division of Random House if Canada ltd., 2012.

Paperback: Second print 433 pages

My rating: 9.0/10

First sentence: “The thing always appeared in the hour between sunset and full dark”.

My gosh that first sentence should get you into this novel right away! This is a novel that takes a great idea about the power of language and combines it with the modern idea of computer programming to merge ancient legend with modern society, specifically Arab society.  G. Willow Wilson places her protagonist Alif in an Arab world where he is half in and half out…of everything.  He is in love, but he is not in love. He is half-Arab and half-Indian. He lives half-online and half-IRL.  He is Arabian, but also worldly.  One thing he is not half-minded about is computer science and programming. His programming consumes him to the point where he might not be coding in our world anymore….

Quite literally this book is one of the best I’ve read for the raw adventure, mixed with amazing characters, and an exciting world.  The story of Alif, from the perspective of a Western reader for me was incredibly interesting and compelling from his home and family, to his personal relationships, to his political views and reality.  The story of Alif is of the recent tradition of Harry Potter, Golden Compass, and Stardust mixing a period (usually modern times) with a parallel reality – typically magical.  The difference with Alif the Unseen is the complexity of adding modern political and religious elements intertwined with the legends of Arabian culture and a pinch of ‘magic’ empowered by the ancient idea of the power of language.

I am literally looking at ways to social media stalk G. Willow Wilson so I don’t miss anything she does.  A must read!

Lev Grossman – Warp: A Novel

I ended up reading Warp: A Novel the reprinted 2016 copy on a bargain pick-up at a discount book warehouse.  I read the back cover and thought, a first work of a now acclaimed author, sounds cool.  More than cool, a very deep but quick walk back in time, the feelings generated from this novel will definitely resonate with anyone born in the late stages of Gen X and the newly named Xennial generation.  The novel is a period piece set in the early 90’s, those years just prior to the internet when hints of the interconnection to come were appearing, a time that felt like we were all on the precipice of change.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Cover art - Grossman - Warp

WARP: A NOVEL

by Lev Grossman

Published by: St. Martin’s Griffin (1997, September 2016)

Paperback: Second print 176 pages

My rating: 7/10

First sentence: “I’m trying to think who the girl reminds me of,” Hollis said. “Somebody famous.”

The novel is inspired by the author’s years in Boston as a University student.  The fictional character of Hollis moves through an existential crisis over a pivotal 24 hours, precipitated by his last semester and all the anxiety and expectations that can accompany that time.  As the book develops and the existential crisis of Hollis becomes more evident the author deftly weaves in the mixed emotions of angst with hope.  The malaise that some feel when looking back on the pre-internet age can be keenly felt throughout the book.  The popular culture and technological references are amazing in the early chapters and you get that sense of the pop hangover from the 80’s and the darker and angrier grunge/alternative of the 90’s.

My favorite quality of the book is the character interaction, especially the aspect of Hollis’ inner world commenting on his reality.  This on-going inner-monologue highlights a defining aspect of Gen X and Xennials, that they were the first raised in the post-modern era where technology can make you feel as if you are the star of your own movie, social media channel…or ugh blog.  Hollis’ inner-monologue helps define and develop characters (Hollis’ classmates and the mysterious Xanthethroughout the novel and you definitely get the same wonderful John Hughes journey that The Breakfast Club or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off provides.

A brave first novel, I gave it a lower score because it is short (I wanted to languish more in what I look upon as the best years…our young adulthood).  Or maybe we look upon it as the best because it is our most egocentric years?  The novel is brave because it has a daring final chapter and an ending that leaves the reader responsible for deciding Hollis’ state in the end.

Although a ‘period’ piece, as the back cover synopsis states perfectly “Warp is for anyone (and everyone) who has ever felt adrift in their own life.” I would recommend that you power through Warp: A Novel quite quickly over a weekend, or on a business trip (it’s short!).  Reading it all at once enhances the emotional ride of this novel and if you are feeling adrift or at a point of decision it can definitely make you think.

Adrian Tchaikovsky – Children of Time

Children of Time starts with a prologue of sorts that sets up two different story lines (humans versus spiders). As Peter F. Hamilton’s cover endorsement nails, “evolutionary world-building” is the key theme Children of Time, with an emphasis on evolution.

Children of Time starts with a prologue of sorts that sets up two different story lines (humans versus spiders). As Peter F. Hamilton’s cover endorsement nails, “evolutionary world-building” is the key theme Children of Time, with an emphasis on evolution. To achieve this the author indulges in large time gaps regularly for the humans (in hibernation) while the spiders happily evolve up the intelligence ladder.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Children of Time coverCHILDREN OF TIME

by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Publisher by: Pan; Main Market Ed. edition (May 19, 2016)

Paperback: 608 pages

My rating: 8/10

First sentence: “There were no windows in the Brin 2 facility – rotation meant that ‘outside’ was always ‘down’, underfoot, out of mind.”

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?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The choice of insects (spiders, ants, and others) is interesting with many readers probably suffering from a spider aversion or who are downright arachnophobic. The author clearly has done his homework on spider anatomy/biology/ecology and the perspective of the spider characters as they develop is a really positive aspect of the book. The author achieves a uniquely inhuman perspective in the spiders, ants, and other insects. One of the most thrilling and terrifying parts of the book is the interaction of humans with the evolving insects and the visions of baseball sized ants chewing through your abdomen. The author captures the visceral terror quite well, while not overdoing the graphic violence.

The human side of the story covers diaspora from a more familiar science fiction trope. Humans have ruined Earth and the remnants have to leave to find a new home. The also familiar trope of a descendant race of humans is all that is left of a glorious more advanced previous civilization(s) creates the driving motivations of the surviving humans. The main protagonist ‘classicist’ struggles with the need/desire to rediscover the old civilization’s knowledge and specifically technology, while at the same time yearning to pave a new path for humanity. Underlying this is the doubt that all has been discovered and done before and that a new path is futile.

Tchaikovsky does well with building tension and keeping the reader guessing and mostly in the dark in the human story line. It is a slow build in tension between characters with some very good dialogue between the protagonist and the other leads. Unfortunately the characters are very one-dimensional, literally each displaying one trait such as cowardice, over-aggression, psychopathy, sociopathy, and so on.

The spider story line takes on more Asimov-like large scale world building. The author tends to the third person to explain much of spider society and events, while the mute spiders intersperse dialogue in italics. The author roughly wields large themes in building the spider society that mimic large societal struggles such as religious conservatism, progressive technological development, warfare, and individual rights. Not much is subtle and much seems glossed over, or that the author is ‘talking at’ the reader to get points across. Because of the format it felt like watching a National Geographic documentary that has turned into a History channel show starring spiders, leaving me not very invested in the actual characters.

By the last section of the book I was very tired of generations of spiders being referred two by three names instead of individual spider characters. Worse so, the spiders evolution seemed to have stagnated and the characters really didn’t have the depth to be differentiated between multiple generations. What does work is the idea of spider space exploration and their ability to build, extrapolated to the extreme.

The overarching theme throughout the novel is communication and what it means between intelligent beings. Although a building undercurrent throughout the entire novel, especially on the spider story line in the second section, the author basically ‘talks to the reader’ in the final pages about this theme. The author lays out all the questions about forms of communication, the failure to communicate, and how limited our ideas can be when we don’t communicate. The biggest science fiction leap and near-science idea of future communication are understandings (as the author names it). In the end the author waxes about empathy and the ability to see yourself in others that allows for progress and growth. I left the final pages wondering whether understandings are a form of communication or more of a brainwashing.

I felt the characters were weak throughout the novel and so did not feel invested in either story line; I didn’t really feel compelled to root for one side or the other. This fact aside, I never got tired of the ideas throughout the book and that is the major strength of Children of Time. The imaginative world of the spiders is fantastic and the issues faced by both species keeps you thinking throughout.

Top Video Game Themed SciFi Novels

From copious pop culture references, to Jason Bourne-like plot lines, strap in and get ready to….read about being online?

Cline Ready Player One_website image

Top Video Game Themed SciFi Novels

Not ranking, but just a group of excellent science fiction books with video games as a main theme.

armada coverARMADA

by Ernest Cline

Paperback: 384 pages

Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (April 12 2016)

Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and video games he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure.

for the win coverFOR THE WIN

by Cory Doctorow

Hardcover: 480 pages

Publisher:Tom Doherty Associates (May 11, 2010)

In the virtual future, you must organize to survive.

At any hour of the day or night, millions of people around the globe are engrossed in multiplayer online games, questing and battling to win virtual “gold,” jewels, and precious artifacts. Meanwhile, others seek to exploit this vast shadow economy, running electronic sweatshops in the world’s poorest countries, where countless “gold farmers,” bound to their work by abusive contracts and physical threats, harvest virtual treasure for their employers to sell to First World gamers who are willing to spend real money to skip straight to higher-level gameplay.

in real life coverIN REAL LIFE

by Cory Doctorow (author) and Jan Wang (illustrator)

Paperback: 192 pages

Publisher: First Second (October 14, 2014)

Anda loves Coarsegold Online, the massively-multiplayer role playing game that she spends most of her free time on. It’s a place where she can be a leader, a fighter, a hero. It’s a place where she can meet people from all over the world, and make friends. Gaming is, for Anda, entirely a good thing.

Ready player one coverREADY PLAYER ONE

by Ernst Cline

Paperback: 400 pages

Publisher: Broadway Books; First Edition edition (June 5, 2012)

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines—puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.

reamde coverREAMDE

by Neal Stephenson

Paperback: 1056 pages

Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (May 15, 2012)

With Reamde, this visionary author whose mind-stretching fiction has been enthusiastically compared to the work of Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, Kurt Vonnegut, and David Foster Wallace—not to mention William Gibson and Michael Crichton—once again blazes new ground with a high-stakes thriller that will enthrall his loyal audience, science and science fiction, and espionage fiction fans equally. The breathtaking tale of a wealthy tech entrepreneur caught in the very real crossfire of his own online fantasy war game, Reamde is a new high—and a new world—for the remarkable Neal Stephenson.