Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson (Tom Doherty Associates, 2013)
The great thing about science fiction is that even when it is four years old, it usually doesn’t seem any less (or more) timely. Hugo Award winning author R. C. Wilson, whose work I haven’t encountered before, imagines in this novel an alternate 2014 that is just subtly different than the one we remember happening three years ago. The difference is the hive colony of aliens who reside in our upper atmosphere. This network of microscopic organisms acts as a parasite that steer the world towards peace rather than war, by influencing our telecommunications (radio, tv, etc.) This is so implausible that even in the story, only a small group of people know about it. Nevertheless, our heroes (a couple of college-age kids) eventually save the world. You would think we’d rather continue to have peace than war, but it’s complicated. I would have to give it an R rating for graphic violence and sex; it reads like a movie, though not one I’d particularly want to see.
Ex Libris: Stories of Librarians, Libraries, & Lore edited by Paula Guran (Prime Books, 2017)
This collection of 24 short stories is all about librarians and libraries, as the title says. Many of these stories could be described as science fiction, fantasy, or horror, and several are post-apocalyptic. Others are completely different. I didn’t like all of the stories, but there is something for every taste. Librarians are portrayed positively and with a modern adult perspective (there is sex and romance of both straight and LGBTQ persuasions). Books are highly valued in every story. Libraries are portrayed primarily as a place to keep books safe, though they have many other roles in the twenty-first century. This collection reminded me of my roots as a person who became a librarian because I love books and reading.
Crosstalk by Connie Willis (Random House, 2016)
It’s always a good idea to visit your library or bookstore regularly, because sometimes you will discover that your favorite author has published a new book. Award-winning science fiction author Connie Willis has written another great novel, but this one involves neither history nor time travel. It simply takes the current world, in which we are connected 24/7, a step farther. What if someone invented a surgical procedure that would allow you to communicate telepathically with your romantic partner? What could go wrong? Read this book and find out!
Steal across the sky by Nancy Kress (Tor, 2009)
This science fiction story has a unique premise which I won’t reveal. You should read it for yourself. I will say that 21 humans are selected by an alien race to visit several planets and “witness” a situation that they are expected to bring back news about to the Earth. The book takes place in a near future (nearer now than it was in 2009) early 2020’s that is not much different from the present. It tells the story of several young people who are selected for space travel, interact with the people on the other planets, and come back changed. In fact more than half of the story is what happens when they come back. This is the sort of book you will have to read to the end before you can go to sleep.
Time Travelers Never Die by Jack McDevitt (Penguin Group, 2009)
On the cover of this novel, Jack DeVitt was described as the successor to sci-fi greats Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, and I can see why. His style screams “20th century middle-aged male.” Asimov and Clarke were very popular, intelligent, forward-thinking writers, but they had a very male-oriented perspective. That being said, the book is well written and hard to put down. But McDevitt’s time travelers follow much looser rules than those set by other science fiction authors (such as Connie Willis). It’s perfectly acceptable for a time traveler to exist twice in the same time period, for instance. The men in this story visit times from ancient Greece to the present (and even the future) with very little concern for their impact. They’re not completely selfish though – they bring back a whole collection of ancient Greek plays that had been lost to us.
The Last Adventure of Constance Verity by A. Lee Martinez (Saga Press, 2016)
This light-hearted sci-fi novel concerns a young woman who had a spell placed on her at birth that resulted in her constantly having to use her superpowers to save the Earth and sometimes other galaxies. After a couple of decades she declares herself tired of the workload and ready to settle down and live like a normal person. So she tries to find the fairy godmother who gave her the spell, and get it removed (much like Ella in the children’s book/movie Ella Enchanted). It doesn’t go quite the way she expected. But the book is very funny and Constance does end up with some normalcy in the end.
Infomocracy by Malka Older (Tom Doherty Associates, 2016)
I first saw this science fiction novel reviewed in BookList’s online site, and wanted to read it badly enough to ask my local public library to get it by interlibrary loan for me. It was pretty good – I’d give it about 8 on a 10 point scale. It takes place in the 2060’s in various major cities around the world such as Tokyo, Jakarta, Paris, and a bunch of cities whose names are not familiar to me, being only an armchair traveler myself. I assume they are real cities in the Middle East, South America and Asia since the author’s bio claims she has been to all of them. In this world they have “micro-democracy” in place of nations, and each group of ten thousand citizens gets to vote for their preferred government every ten years. There are dozens of political parties to choose from, and an almost infinite amount of information available from the entity the Internet has evolved into 50 years from now. The “Information” is a global bureaucracy that keeps this supply of knowledge analyzed, updated, and transmitted. The main characters include a small set of Information employees, party employees, contractors, and activists who try to bring down the system (or save it, depending on their role) during the third 10-year cycle. It’s an imaginative concept and a thought-provoking plot.