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.
Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel (Del Rey, 2016)
I am happy to report that another excellent new science fiction writer has entered the scene. This writer is not from New Jersey like the ones in my recent posts; he is French-Canadian. The story takes place primarily in the United States, but one of the characters is a French-Canadian linguist. It’s hard to say exactly who the “main” character is. The physicist who initially discovers the giant robot hand doesn’t survive to the end of the book. The linguist plays an important role but the ex-military pilot has a bigger one. The one character who appears throughout is the unnamed person who conducts interviews with the others. This book is subtitled “Book 1” because the story is clearly left unfinished at the end. The giant robot has been assembled from buried pieces found around the world, and the pilot has learned to operate it using the helmet and gloves, but international politics have put a halt to further exploration of the robot’s rather scary capabilities. I look forward to reading the next installment when it comes out.
Version Control by Dexter Palmer (Pantheon Books, 2016)
This new science fiction book looked intimidating at first (it’s almost 500 pages long) but once I got into it, it was hard to put down. It turned out to be one of the best science fiction novels I’ve read in a long time. The author, who lives in New Jersey, won an award for his first novel in 2010 and will probably be winning another for this one. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but it hangs on this question: whether traveling back in time branches you off onto a new version of the universe, or overwrites the present with a new version. Physicists feature prominently in this complex story, set only a few years in the future, which also examines the ethics of online dating sites, the dangers of self-driving cars, and where artificial intelligence could be leading us. There is a side plot about racism and sexism in the sciences. The ending was very satisfying, to me anyway. I highly recommend this book.
Lightless by C.A. Higgins (Del Rey, 2015)
I haven’t figured out the reason for the title yet, but it probably has something to with physics. The author has a bachelor’s degree in physics and her main character is a woman engineer; each of the three main sections of the book is prefaced by one of the laws of thermodynamics. Whatever the title might mean, this is an excellent work of science fiction, with lots of suspense and a minimum of dry facts. It takes place at some point in the future when the solar system has been colonized. There is a strong solar system-wide government which offers the security of constant video surveillance of its citizens. The three officers on the top-secret military spaceship on which the story takes place seem to have accepted it, at least. Then a couple of anti-government terrorists invade the ship and mess with the ship’s computer. In the course of trying to fix the computer (which is in fact prone to turn the lights off randomly), the engineer makes some far-reaching discoveries, and the terrorists eventually pull victory from the jaws of defeat. I predict that first-time author C.A. Higgins will have a successful career as a sci-fi writer.