JUDAS UNCHAINED by Peter Hamilton

This is the follow up to Pandora’s Star, which I babbled on about here.  And yeah, I know, I said in that review that I would not be reading the followup novel(s).  However, it is a woman’s prerogative to change her mind, so I did.

Another HUGE ginormous book, at 847 pages, give or take a flyleaf or two. Probably wouldn’t be damaged all that badly by the elimination of a detailed description or four of battles, landscapes, and trivial acts, but it is his style of writing, so we just go with it.

Again, (and I urge you to read my review of Pandora’s Star in order to get a grasp on the general theme), we have the several infinitely long plot lines which intertwine and finally merge at the end.  Here is the general gist:

Robust, peaceful, and confident, the Commonwealth dispatched a ship to investigate the mystery of a disappearing star, only to inadvertently unleash a predatory alien species that turned on its liberators, striking hard, fast, and utterly without mercy.

The Prime are the Commonwealth’s worst nightmare. Coexistence is impossible with the technologically advanced aliens, who are genetically hardwired to exterminate all other forms of life. Twenty-three planets have already fallen to the invaders, with casualties in the hundreds of millions. And no one knows when or where the genocidal Prime will strike next.

Nor are the Prime the only threat. For more than a hundred years, a shadowy cult, the Guardians of Selfhood, has warned that an alien with mind-control abilities impossible to detect or resist — the Starflyer — has secretly infiltrated the Commonwealth. Branded as terrorists, the Guardians and their leader, Bradley Johansson, have been hunted by relentless investigator Paula Myo. But now evidence suggests that the Guardians were right all along, and that the Starflyer has placed agents in vital posts throughout the Commonwealth — agents who are now sabotaging the war effort.

Is the Starflyer an ally of the Prime, or has it orchestrated a fight to the death between the two species for its own advantage? Caught between two deadly enemies, one a brutal invader striking from without, the other a remorseless cancer killing from within, the fractious Commonwealth must unite as never before.

The nifty thing about this universe is that the folks have the ability to re-life people who have died.  The common activity is to periodically backup your memories and leave them in a secure location so if you get killed or die by disease, etc., you can get re-lifed with your memories reintroduced.   ALSO, and this I totally love, they have a rejuvenation process which takes about a year or so, and from which you emerge all young again.  So you look young and bouncy, but you have the wisdom and skepticism and jadedness of your former lives.  hahaha.  So you can have marriages between two people, one of whom is a first time around-er, and the other maybe 300 years old, working on their third or fourth life.  Talk about a cougar!

I enjoyed this book more than the first, but I think it has more to do about where my mind is as opposed to where it was when I read the first book, than having to do with the books themselves.

 

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EXIT STRATEGY by Martha Wells

This is the fourth and final installment of the Murderbot Diaries series.  Murderbot wasn’t programmed to care. So, its decision to help the only human who ever showed it respect must be a system glitch, right?

Having traveled the width of the galaxy to unearth details of its own murderous transgressions, as well as those of the GrayCris Corporation, Murderbot is heading home to help Dr. Mensah—its former owner (protector? friend?)—submit evidence that could prevent GrayCris from destroying more colonists in its never-ending quest for profit.

But who’s going to believe a SecUnit gone rogue?

And what will become of it when it’s caught?

Our A.I., complete with sarcasm and social anxiety, is back. We already know that Murderbot is not really a bot (robot) or technically a murderer.It is a highly augmented human who is gainfully employed as a security unit. It guards the lives of those who hire him.

Not only is it highly intelligent, it is also personal and is burdened with empathy, loyalty and a love for escapism into video dramas. It had been searching on Milu for additional evidence against the evil-ridden corporation GrayCris. Because of key evidence found on the Milu trip, Murderbot decides it needs to meet face-to-face with Dr. Mensah, who is technically Murderbot’s owner and possibly also its friend … though Murderbot would say it doesn’t “do” friendship.

Murderbot’s return to HaveRatton Station isn’t as straightforward or successful as it had hoped it would be. Station authorities have been alerted that there’s a rogue SecUnit on the loose, and security personnel are pulling out all the stops to capture or kill Murderbot. Worse, Mensah may be in serious trouble. News sources on HaveRatton state that she’s traveled to TranRollinHyfa, a major space station where GrayCris has its corporate headquarters, to answer GrayCris’s legal claim of corporate espionage against her. Now Mensah has disappeared and is presumably in the hands of GrayCris. Murderbot gets another chance to hone its talents at armed conflict and human rescue missions and, perhaps, at friendship as well.

So sorry this is the last in the series. However, we are advised that there is a full length Murderbot novel planned for release in 2020, so we will keep our fingers crossed.

PERMIAN – EMISSARY OF THE EXTINCT by Devyn Regueira

Official plot description:

Their vastness  concealed since an era predating the earliest mammals, two titanic chasms are uncovered beneath the canopy of modern Siberia.

Lining the granite walls of the first, high above an orderly reservoir of fossilized eggs, an inscription spanning eighty-five miles describes the genome of a proto-mammalian species eradicated during the Permian Extinction. In the next, researchers discover etchings of the constellations as they would have appeared across the eons; a global timeline of ten billion years remembered and foretold by a primordial intelligence beyond our own. Armed with a genetic recipe, compelled to act by the harrowing implications of a pattern detected in the timeline, an international effort begins to return that species from extinction before mankind encounters its own.

The human race has only just learned to pluck at the strings of life on Earth. Will the curtains rise on a siren’s song?

The group of governments who are investigating the genetic recipe etched around the abysses use that recipe to make a creature which is a compilation of an extinct somewhat-human species, and then spend a lot of time dialoguing with it.  Mixed in with this are flashbacks of a sort to episodes of the creature’s life in which we learn they have the ability to see into the future and predict their own extinction.

Interesting premise, confusing second half.  Reads like a textbook on genetics, etc. wrapped within some kind of plot.  The writing itself was fine, the plot line could use some serious work to make it a bit more palatable and less pedantic.

But again, intriguing premise.  I am always supportive of ideas that do not trod the tried and true ruts, but come up with something different.

 

ROGUE PROTOCOL by Martha Wells

SciFi’s favorite antisocial A.I. continues his mission. The case against the too-big-to-fail GrayCris Corporation is floundering, and more importantly, authorities are beginning to ask more questions about where Dr. Mensah’s SecUnit is.

Well, I just adore Murderbot.  I wish the series could go on forever.

Here’s the story, morning glory:  GrayCris appears to be intent on illegally collecting the extremely valuable remnants of alien civilizations. To all appearances Milu is an abandoned project of GrayCris, but Murderbot suspects, based on its online research, that GrayCris may have been secretly using Milu as a cover for its recovery operations for alien remnants. If Murderbot can find proof of these illegal operations on Milu, the legal case against GrayCris will become much more compelling … and perhaps people will forget about a certain SecUnit that has mysteriously gone astray.

As always with its plans, Murderbot thinks it’s going to do this thing all by itself; as usual, a group of humans that desperately needs its help causes a change of plans for our deeply introverted SecUnit. Masquerading as a technologically augmented human security consultant rather than a cyborg, Murderbot find that the bot-driven transport spaceship needs its intervention to mediate conflicts between its passengers (“If you bother her again I will break every bone in your hand and arm. It will take about an hour.”).

Once Murderbot reaches Milu, it finds the facility isn’t entirely abandoned: a team of humans, along with two suspicious security consultants and a chipper human-form robot assistant called Miki, are on an excursion to investigate Milu as well. Murderbot scrambles to convince Miki, and through Miki the rest of the team, that Murderbot is authorized to be on the site as additional security help. And then the team is attacked …

Murderbot’s system hacking, strategizing, and enemy ass-kicking talents continue to develop and amaze in Rogue Protocol, and are just a complete joy to read about. Even Murderbot’s interpersonal relationship abilities develop, despite all of its intentions otherwise. Murderbot does a lot of internal grumping about the various shortcomings of humans, bots and other sentient beings, but when they need its help and protection, somehow Murderbot never fails to throw itself into the fray.

Murderbot is also taken aback by the rather childlike bot Miki’s claim of friendship with its human owner, Don Abene … and even more dumbfounded to find that Don Abene considers Miki a friend as well. Murderbot’s interactions with them prompt it to reevaluate its own relationships with humans, especially Dr. Mensah, Murderbot’s legal owner.

Want some quotes from our A.I., complete with sarcasm and social anxiety?  Allow me:

About Miki, the human-looking bot belonging to Don Abene:

When I called it a pet robot, I honestly thought I was exaggerating.  This was going to be even more annoying than I had anticipated, and I had anticipated a pretty high level of annoyance, maybe as high as 85 percent.  Now I was looking at 90 percent, possibly 95 percent.

And

I couldn’t pin down what was bothering me.  Maybe it was something subliminal.  Actually, it felt pretty liminal.  Pro-liminal.  Up-liminal?  Whatever, there was no knowledge base here to look it up.

And

“With Gerth at the ship, we have a hostage situation”.   I hate hostage situations.  Even when I’m the one with the hostages.  Miki `[that humanish, child-like bot], said, “That’s not good.”  See that?  That is just annoying. That contributed nothing to the conversation and was just a pointless vocalization to make the humans comfortable.

And finally,

I was pretty sure the combat bot had been original equipment for the facility.  We were talking about GrayCris here, whose company motto seemed to be “profit by killing everybody and taking their stuff.”

So now on to the fourth book.

ETTA AND OTTO AND RUSSELL AND JAMES by Emma Hooper

Etta’s greatest unfulfilled wish, living in the rolling farmland of Saskatchewan, is to see the sea. And so, at the age of eighty-two she gets up very early one morning, takes a rifle, some chocolate, and her best boots, and begins walking the 2,000 miles to water.

Meanwhile her husband Otto waits patiently at home, left only with his memories. Their neighbor Russell remembers too, but differently – and he still loves Etta as much as he did more than fifty years ago, before she married Otto.

The characters have such a touching vulnerability, they have known each other for such a long time, have a shared past that is memorable. A book about a journey, a quest if you will, about memories, longing and unfulfilled desires.

Is it unrealistic that an eighty two year old woman who is losing her memory will set out on a walk to the ocean that is 3232 kilometers away ( just over 2008 miles?  Sure it is, but then I think of some of the candidates running for president of the US, and frankly, I don’t know how they have the stamina, so I am open to believe anything.   Joining her is a coyote named James.  Whether he really exists or not is up for debate, sharing as he does the name of the baby her sister adopted out when she became a nun, and possibly the name of the baby she lost to a miscarriage, who may or not have been named James in her mind.

It was really a poignant story, and one that you either get, and love, or is just totally ho hum for you.   Maybe one´s age when one reads it has a lot to do with what you think about it.

LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE by Celeste Ng

A slow-moving character portrait filled with complex family dynamics and small-town politics, this book felt like something I read in the fifties or sixties.  Here’s the official plot:

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons, a well-to-do, seemingly ideal family. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the alluring mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby who was found abandoned at a fire station, it turns out that the single mother, new to the country, had recovered her health and a bit of finances and was not frantically looking for her daughter.  She learns that of the couple who now have her child, and a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town and puts Mia and Mrs. Richardson on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs to her own family – and Mia’s.

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of long-held secrets and the ferocious pull of motherhood-and the danger of believing that planning and following the rules can avert disaster, or heartbreak.

We meet the Richardsons first as they stand across the street, watching their beautiful, spacious home burn to the ground.  All are there, all except the rebellious youngest, Izzy.  Are ya getting a sniff of what happened?

I liked it, but the undercurrent, ok, uppercurrent, of a screed against suburbia did seem a bit dated. Hell, we all know by know that that suburbs are soul-sucking constructs that will eat the meat out of you.  I really must read her other touted work, Everything I Never Told You, and see how that goes.

ARTIFICIAL CONDITION by Martha Wells

The second in the Murderbot Diaries series, Artificial Condition continues the story of the  deeply introverted cyborg security unit, or SecUnit, who previously hacked the governor software that forced obedience to human commands, and has illegally gone off the grid, eschewing the safety of a mostly-free life with a sympathetic owner in order to travel on its own. Disguising itself as an augmented human, Murderbot takes off for the mining facility space station where, it understands, it once murdered a group of humans that it was charged with protecting, though its memory of the event has been mostly erased. He/she/it is determined to find out what happened exactly on that planet that was being explored with an eye to terraforming it, and exactly what happened in that massacre on the Company’s mining  site.

I will continue to refer to Murderbot as ‘it’ because it continues to insist it is genderless.  So It manages to hack the various id systems, surveilance systems, etc. and get itself aboard a huge bot-operated transport ship by trading downloaded media (a lot of them space drama series) from Muderbot in exchange for the ride.  During the ride, the transport AI turns out to be far more powerful and intelligent than Murderbot had anticipated. The transport AI, which Murderbot calls ART (short for Asshole Research Transport), is looking for more than just entertainment media. It actually wants to understand and help Murderbot with its quest.  They become friends of sorts, and the transport bot has a whole medical suite and does some work on Murderbot to make it more human-looking.  The Company is looking for him, and scans can sense it is not human by its height and carriage.

Our Unit finally gets himself to a port where he can grab one more ride to the Company’s main planet and go searching in its innards for evidence of what might have happened during to cause that massacre and was it really involved.  He needs documented valid reason for entry to the planet, and manages to get a job as a security unit to some young scientists who need to get to that planet also in order to retrieve some of their work data.

Drama happens, Murderbot gets to see the site of the massacre, more drama happens, Bot works at being more human-like, and while it ends, you just know there is more, and want to read the next Diary Entry.

Again, we have the snarky comments and observations where you can just see the eye-rolling.

Did I really care what an asshole research transport thought about me?  I shouldn’t have asked myself that question.  I felt a wave of non-caring about to come over me, and I knew I couldn’t let it.  If I was going to follow my plan, such as it was, I needed to care.

The two of them argue over whether to make alterations to Murderbot or not.  Finally, Murderbot reluctantly agrees.

It will be simple, ART insisted.  I’ll assist you.   Yes.  The giant transport bot is going to help the construct SecUnit pretend to be human.  This will go well.

A ComfortUnit (a euphemism for sexbot) seems to be trying to kill Murderbot.  The ART says, what does it want?

To kill all humans, I answered.  I could feel ART metaphorically clutch its function.  If there were no humans, there would be no crew to protect and no reason to do research and fill its databases.  It said, “That is irrational.”    I know, I said.  If the humans were dead, who would make the media?  It was so outrageous, it sounded like something a human would say.

I really love Murderbot.  On to the next in the series.