Off Rock, by Kieran Shea

Off Rock, by Kieran Shea

I read this novel almost entirely from a hammock in my backyard, and I’d recommend taking that approach. It’s good and pulpy, a light summer Science Fiction read. A blue collar crime caper set during the closing days of a mobile mining station on an asteroid. Seedy characters, none particularly too bright, almost all involved in some sort of side action, fumbling their way through life with the limited choices left to them. Blackmail, vices, bribes, and lost causes are all welcome here.

Shea writes in a straightforward, no-nonsense style that reads fast and easy. Think a pulpy crime mag from the 40s, but make that 2740, and transplant that magazine onto a virtual rack residing on an illicit local intranet, accessed from portable “CPUs”. There are no lessons learned, no moral philosophies tying everything together. No overall takeaway. Sometimes a gold heist is just a gold heist. I think it works very well here.

The worldbuilding is sparse, but it has a vague feel of existing just on the outside edges of Cyberpunk. There are mega-corporations that demand complete loyalty, drones that watch your every move, and offenses against mega-corporations carry the harshest punishments: medical experimentation, and if you survive, maybe life in prison afterward. It’s a rough life for an asteroid miner, but if a highly illegal once-in-ten-lifetimes capital one corporate offense comes up, you say fuck the odds, grab hold and see how far it might take you. Maybe it’ll be just the right ticket to get out of that life, but you still have to get your loot off rock to have it do you any good. That’s where things might get difficult. Who do you trust? How much should you trust them? Give ‘em just enough rope for them to hang themselves if they fuck you over? Fuck them over first just in case? All pertinent questions if you’re a low life with limited options trying to better your situation.

This is some great sci-fi escapism, read it on a lazy Sunday, or take a copy on vacation, grab a chair by the pool, or chill in a hammock with a highly alcoholic cold drink. Turn off your head and enjoy. It was just what I needed to read between some heavier non-fiction that I’ve been slowly working on over the last month or so. I plan on picking up copies of the Koko books by the same author this summer as well. I’m hoping it’s more of this, but in a more detailed cyberpunk setting. I’ve heard good things.

 

 

Injection Burn, by Jason M. Hough

Injection Burn, by Jason M. Hough

A high concept Space Opera full of huge ideas; instantly readable, and a hell of a lot of fun. I have been reading a bunch of really heavy non-fiction lately and this was just the right fun SF to break out of that over the last few days. It’s been such a ride reading this.

I am extremely impressed with the pacing of this novel. It builds and builds and builds, and just never lets up. A real page turner like James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse series, but exploring loftier themes similar to some of those covered in Iain M. Banks’ The Culture novels. I’m a big fan of both, so this resonated with me on nearly every level.

Jason M. HoughThe cover is extremely action/military Scifi looking, and there is a lot of that toward the end, but I’m extremely happy that it’s not just an action story. There is a lot of classic, high concept, creative idea science fiction going on here as well. If you’ve read last year’s fantastic Zero World, you know this is something that Jason M. Hough is particularly fantastic at. At the risk of diverging a little here, I’m just going to say that Zero World needs a lot of sequels. It’s absolutely crying out for them.

This book is technically both the fourth Dire Earth novel, and the first in a new duology. I had previously read about the first hundred pages of The Darwin Elevator, the first Dire Earth novel, and couldn’t really get into it. So, I was only slightly familiar with the concept of the series going in, but never felt like I missed anything. I’m happy to report that this could absolutely be read without having to read any of the other Dire Earth books first; I have a feeling there are some small moments of payoff for longtime fans of the series sprinkled throughout though. I’m always really impressed with books that are both standalone, and a part of a larger series like this. That takes some serious writing chops to pull off, which Jason M. Hough obviously appears to have.

It is definitely half of a much bigger story, and ends on a cliffhanger of sorts. Thank god that Del Rey is publishing them less than a month apart. I think I would lose my mind if I had to wait much longer than that to finish this narrative. Del Rey, if you’re reading this, please send me a copy of Escape Velocity ASAP. I kind of need it.

Injection Burn is out now, and the follow up Escape Velocity will be out June 27th.

 

Skyler Luiken and his ragtag crew of scavengers, scientists, and brawlers have a new mission: a long journey to a distant planet where a race of benevolent aliens are held captive behind a cloud of destructive ships known as the Swarm Blockade. No human ships have ever made it past this impenetrable wall, and Skyler knows not what to anticipate when they reach their destination.
Safe to say that the last thing he expects to find there is a second human ship led by the tough-as-nails Captain Gloria Tsandi. These two crews and their respective captains initially clash, but they will have to learn to work together when their mutual foe closes in around them and begins the outright destruction of their vessels along with any hope of a return to Earth.


Babylon’s Ashes (The Expanse, book 6), by James S.A. Corey

Babylon's Ashes, by James S.A. Corey

Let me start by saying, if you’re 6 books into an ongoing series like this, than I’m going to assume you’re in it for the long haul, and I think you’ll enjoy the hell out of this one too.

James S.A. Corey (Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham) refer to their Expanse series as 3 duologies and a trilogy (forthcoming books 7,8 & 9) to cap it all off. Leviathan Wakes/Caliban’s War tell a fairly contained story about the protomolecule in the style of noir and political thriller respectively. Abaddon’s Gate/Cibola Burn deal with the expansion out into deeper space as a ghost story/western, but Nemesis Games/Babylon’s Ashes really read like two halves of the same larger novel. They are much more deeply intertwined than any of the other sets in the series. If each novel is a different genre married into the science fiction backdrop, then I’d call Nemesis Games a survival tale, and Babylon’s Ashes a great russian tragedy a la Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy.

Gone is the simple narrative structure of the first five books, each — excluding Leviathan Wakes — with four alternating POV characters. Instead we’ve got nineteen unique points of view. But if you’ve made it this far, you’re ready for that kind of complexity, you’re already intimately familiar with most of these characters. Holden, Pa, and Filip are the main ones, but we get lots of tertiary views on the action and plot. I really love this change to the structure, and can’t help but think that The Expanse television series influenced it in some way. It does feel more like the way that a TV show handles narrative. We get a perspective from nearly every main and secondary character still living, and some new ones as well. This opens up the world even more, something that this series has done so well along the way.

James S. A. Corey

The main story involves the aftermath of the events of Nemesis Games, and how those events affect everyone, both inside and outside of the Sol system from here on. The Free Navy is causing havoc all over the place and has essentially taken over several large belter settlements. Holden and crew are caught in the middle, working with Avasarala and Fred, trying to do what they can to clean things up and bring Marcos down. Meanwhile, a splintered remnant of the MCRN is working in the shadows, silently preparing for what’s to come. And don’t forget the even larger threat looming on the periphery: whatever killed the protomolecule makers.

It’s a sad story, ultimately a tragedy, but there are several threads woven throughout that are paving a path to redemption for some, and death and destruction or others. It all makes for a terrific story, and moves at a breakneck pace toward a very tight conclusion. One that comes together so smoothly in fact, that a lot of people have been confused, thinking this was the end of the entire series. Of course, that isn’t the case, but I think you could approach this as the penultimate end to some of the earlier narratives begun all the way back in the first novel. Call it a semicolon; the conclusion of the series to follow.

The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi

The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi

Scalzi is accessible science fiction, and this is Scalzi (the storyteller) at his best. He’s improved at structuring a story over the years, and this is more evidence to support that claim. You can tell how much fun he’s having writing a space opera in a universe very separate from the Old Man’s War series. My one complaint would be with Scalzi’s prose, and only because I know he can do better than this. See the codas at the end of Redshirts, or the novella The Sagan Diary for perfect examples of just how good his prose can be when he really goes for it).

Very much the first book in a series, The Collapsing Empire resolves the main plot expertly while simultaneously paving the way for a lot more stories that will undoubtedly come. This series really feels like it has legs. There is a lot of stuff going on here, and I need at least 3-4 more books in this universe.

John ScalziThis is basically Scalzi’s Dune. Several powerful houses competing for power and resources, an Emperox (Emperor) that control a planet called Hub, which resides at the epicenter of The Flow, a trade network of one-directional interstellar wormholes that humanity found a thousand years ago, religion and politics intertwined, etc. Using The Flow we branched out into the galaxy and started living in some areas that were not so hospitable. Each colony is dependent on the others for resources they do not have available locally. So what happens if this network doesn’t always function the way it has in the past? What happens if Hub isn’t always where all paths in The Flow lead?

With the exception of a fantastic interlude, the story is told through the point of view of three main characters (and mostly through dialogue): a representative of a powerful family aboard a trade ship, a Flow physicist living in the ass end of the empire, and the new Emperox who didn’t ask for, and doesn’t want the job or the responsibilities it entails.

The allusions to the impending issue of Climate Change are apparent, but not so heavy handed that it becomes preachy. I enjoyed it a lot, and I’ll definitely be checking out the next ones in the series. Still, I know that Scalzi can write more elegant prose, and it would drastically improve his novels if he did.

 

Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible — until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars.

Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war — and a system of control for the rulers of the empire.

The Flow is eternal — but it is not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well, cutting off worlds from the rest of humanity. When it’s discovered that The Flow is moving, possibly cutting off all human worlds from faster than light travel forever, three individuals — a scientist, a starship captain and the Empress of the Interdependency — are in a race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.

The Player of Games, by Iain M. Banks

Synopsis: “The Culture–a humanoid/machine symbiotic society–has thrown up many great Game Players. One of the best is Jernau Morat Gurgeh, Player of Games, master of every board, computer and strategy. Bored with success, Gurgeh travels to the Empire of Azad, cruel & incredibly wealthy, to try their fabulous game, a game so complex, so like life itself, that the winner becomes emperor. Mocked, blackmailed, almost murdered, Gurgeh accepts the game and with it the challenge of his life, and very possibly his death.” 

The Player of Games

The Player of Games

The first Culture novel, Consider Phlebas, did a lot of world-building heavy lifting from a Culture antagonistic POV. Having read that previously, this one is allowed to come in and really flesh out the world from a pro-Culture POV, which was really fun. Reading them in order gave a sort of a pros-and-cons approach to their philosophy. We get all of the negative things about the Culture first, and then we start to see the positives in this book.

Big shocker, I really loved it. The complexities of the main character and his occasional slips into apathy and/or something much darker during his experiences playing the game and interacting with the foreign philosophy an actions of the Empire, were handled expertly and really made him feel flesh and blood.

Iain M. BanksUltimately, this story serves as an allegory for — and examination of — the ultimate cause of the baser desires of humanity. The Culture’s philosophy stands in for one possible method that these social terrors might be not only curtailed, but pretty much completely circumvented. Of course, this is a work of fiction, and this philosophy may not work so perfectly in practice. I do think there is at least a little truth to it though, but for it to function in practice we may need access to those pesky ‘unlimited resources’ that the Culture has.

Bottom line, you should read this book. But you should also read Consider Phlebas first. Don’t be an idiot, read the books in publication order. There has never been a series that has ever benefited from being read/watched/listened to in any other order than the order it was published in.

Since I read this back to back with Consider Phlebas, think I’ll read a quick palette cleanser before moving on to Use of Weapons. This is heavy stuff, and I’m exhausted.