Salvation

Salvation
By Peter F. Hamilton

The discovery of an alien artifact in a distant galaxy in the year 2204 leads to a high-powered assessment team of specialists being sent to investigate, and launches us into a thrilling new series – the Salvation Sequence – from Peter Hamilton.

Hamilton is one of those writers with narrative gifts so polished and an imagination so fertile that one scarcely notices that almost all of the action in Salvation occurs during flashbacks introducing each of the most important members of the assessment team while at the same time filling in the back story to this fascinating new world.

The defining technology is instant travel from any two points in the universe connected with a special quantum portal device that has made planes, trains, automobiles, and rocket ships obsolete. In annihilating time and space, however, humankind has caused some ripples in the fabric of the cosmos. It also seems as though one of the team’s members is not what he, she, or sie seems.

Summerland

Summerland
By Hannu Rajaniemi

In the alternate history presented in Summerland the undiscovered country has been not only discovered but colonized by spooks.

The year is 1938 and death is no longer the end. Instead, lucky stiffs have their “Tickets” punched to an afterlife in the ethereal dimension next door. From there they can still communicate with the land of the living by way of ectophones and other pseudospiritual technologies.

It’s a complicated premise and Hannu Rajaniemi layers an even more complex spy story on top of it, with agents from the Winter Court (Britain’s secret service in this world) liaising with the Summer Court (its counterpart in the ghost world). Together the living and the dead have to unravel a plot involving lots of double agents and international (not to mention interdimensional) intrigue.

In addition to being a fantasy spy thriller, there’s an analogy here to our current imagining of a “cloud” that consciousness can be uploaded to, wherein we enjoy a digital afterlife. Summerland suggests that this might not be such a great thing, or will at least involve us in complications we need to consider more deeply.

The Book of M

The Book of M
By Peng Shepherd

Assuming the world manages to keep on its present course without suffering any great civilization-ending catastrophes, one wonders what future historians will make of our culture’s obsession with apocalyptic fictions.

In The Book of M we find ourselves again on this blighted road, traveling through an American landscape ravaged by a plague that steals people’s memories along with their shadows. In the wake of this great Forgetting various survivors, including an archery champ and a man looking for his shadowless wife, set out on an eventful pilgrimage to New Orleans to meet a mysterious figure known as “The One Who Gathers.”

In her first novel Peng Shepherd stays on what is mostly familiar ground, telling a story reminiscent of books like Stephen King’s The Stand, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, and Michael Tolkin’s NK3. Still, she keeps the journey interesting and makes us care about her characters while inviting us to consider how we are all the stuff of dreams.

Gate Crashers

Gate Crashers
By Patrick S. Tomlinson

As Nietzsche might have said, we should be aware that when we stare out into the immensity of space, space may be staring back.

Gate Crashers begins with a distant-exploration vessel discovering a mysterious alien device, setting off alarm bells back on Earth. This first contact, however, turns out to have a different meaning for the rest of the inhabited universe. One that consulting a copy of First Contact for Dummies isn’t going to help with.

The device is actually a signaling buoy alerting those who dropped it off that humanity has crossed a threshold in its development and broken out of its local game preserve. The buoy’s discovery then sets in motion a chaotic series of events that have to be somehow navigated by the usual loveable cast of heroes (including one gorilla).

Patrick Tomlinson obviously enjoyed jamming a whole season’s worth of Star Trek material into a single comic space opera, and it adds up to a lot of fun for the reader too. The only problem for humanity is that the alien lizard people have been watching Star Trek too.

The Robots of Gotham

The Robots of Gotham
By Todd McAulty

Todd McAulty’s debut novel is a massive, fast-paced, action-packed epic . . . with robots!

Lots of robots. In the year 2083 the world’s geopolitical order has been shaken up by the rise of sentient machines, with many countries now being ruled by god-like sovereign AIs, and robots of all different shapes, sizes, and functionality rubbing shoulders in the streets with humans.

Canadian tech entrepreneur Barry Simcoe is visiting Chicago, which is now part of an occupied zone governed by a Venezuelan-led consortium of powers, when he gets sucked into a complicated web of plots and counterplots that lead all the way to the top of the global machine hierarchy, with the fate of humanity hanging in the balance.

Even more than the fascinating and fully realized world it presents, what makes The Robots of Gotham such a great ride is its sheer narrative drive. Every page has the fierce readability of early Neal Stephenson, which is as high praise as it gets. Enjoy!

American Science Fiction: Eight Classic Novels of the 1960s

American Science Fiction: Eight Classic Novels of the 1960s
Ed. by Gary K. Wolfe

This boxed-set two-volume collection of classic American SF novels from the 1960s, part of the distinguished Library of America series, is a must for fans of the period.

Editor Gary K. Wolfe’s previous collection of classic SF novels from the 1950s provided a window into the early days of the genre, when particular tropes were just becoming established. In the ‘60s we see variations and experiments beginning to be played on many of these same themes.

What makes a classic? The eight titles included aren’t the most famous SF novels of the ’60s. Flowers for Algernon is probably the best known after being made into the movie Charly. You’d be forgiven for not knowing that they also made a (very bad) movie out of The High Crusade. Space was a consideration for not including some longer titles, as was whether the author has been published by the Library of America in other volumes (hence no Vonnegut, Dick, or Le Guin here).

It works out for the best though, as these are all great novels that many readers, especially younger ones, may not be familiar with.

Down Among the Dead

Down Among the Dead
By K. B. Wagers

The label space opera refers to the kind of story that characterizes what most people probably think of when they think of science fiction. Space opera is large-canvas, galaxy-hopping SF with lots of characters, space battles between different species, and complicated plots that often stretch out through whole series of novels. Think Game of Thrones in space and you have the general idea.

K. B. Wagers writes pure space opera, and does it well. Down Among the Dead is technically the second book in her Farian War trilogy, though since the Farian War novels are a direct continuation of the Indranan War trilogy you could think of it as the fifth book in an ongoing saga. You’ll want to have at least read the first Farian book because otherwise you’ll be lost.

The hero of all these books is the tough but empathetic Hail Bristol, a former gunrunner who has become empress of Indrana. In this series she finds herself caught between two warring sides, the Farians and the Shens. As with most middle books in a trilogy there’s a sense of marking time, but it moves along at a brisk pace, weaving a complex web of politics and mythology.

Chokehold

Chokehold
By David Moody

Chokehold is the third instalment in David Moody’s second series of books set in the Hater universe. The basic set-up is a variation on the zombie apocalypse, with murderous Haters in mortal conflict with the Unchanged. At the end of the previous book the nukes had just been launched and as Chokehold begins we’re stuck in a blasted English landscape stricken by nuclear winter, with the struggle between, and now within, the two tribes still going strong.

Moody only does one thing, but he does it really well. I’ll confess the Hater novels are a guilty pleasure of mine. Fans of The Walking Dead will be hooked by the story of ultimate survivor Matthew Dunne as he navigates a wasteland of endless brutal violence. As one character educates us: “In a world that’s been stripped of warmth and emotion and purpose, killing is perhaps the only positive action that remains.” So let the savagery begin!

We

We
By Yevgeny Zamyatin (translated by Natasha Randall)

This is a strange book. Strange primarily in terms of Zamyatin’s style, his deliberately alienating “language of thought” that traps us uncomfortably in the head of the fragmenting and indeed insane mind of D-503 to the point where trying to make any sense out of his impressions becomes futile. A “multicolored noise that stifles the logical process of thought,” we might call it. And no, I’m not even sure what those words might be referring to when read in context.

Also strange, however, is the political angle. A satire on the Russian Revolution, sure, but wasn’t Western industrial society more into the sort of mechanization that’s being sent up here, with Taylor playing the role of Huxley’s Ford in the dystopic vision? It’s curious how all the classic dystopias of this period took as their subject different political routes (socialism, fascism, capitalism) ending up at the same point. That We would influence subsequent works as diverse as 1984 and Anthem is telling. The technology of power is non-denominational.