WHERE LATE THE SWEET BIRDS SANG by Kate Wilhelm

This is a story of an isolated post-holocaust community determined to preserve itself, through a perilous experiment in cloning.  Written in 1977, this is a definitely 70s dystopian/apocalypic genre, well put together but from the vantage point of almost 2020, it has a quaint feel to it, kinda like listening to old grandpa tell about when he was a kid and had to walk to school in the snow, uphill, both ways.

David Sumner has a problem: the world as he knows it is about to end. what’s a brilliant young man and his equally brilliant family to do? why, bring back members of that extended family, store supplies, circle the wagons, and build a lab which will eventually help the Sumner family to repopulate the earth.  The lab is creating clones, and eventually the clones take over, and kick out the original human elders.  Eventually as generations of clone interations progresses, it turns out that each interation has less and less initiative and creativity and imagination.  You know how when you make a photocopy of a picture, then make another photocopy of that photocopy, and then a photocopy of that second photocopy, etc, etc., until finally the copy you make is starting to get blurry and out of true with the original?  Yeah, like that.

Our protagonist of the second half of the book is a rebel type boy who sees how things are going and is determined to disrupt the process and bring full humans back into the picture, believing that only humanity, not clones or what today we might call similacrums, can save the species, and eventually secretly establishes a small settlement where a handful of humans are the start of a new generation.  This part I found suspect, because I think there has been established by researchers a minimum number of people necessary to repopulate the world, but since I am too lazy to look it up, I will leave that to you.

 

STARFISH by Peter Watts

Boy, I love Peter Watts.  A foremost sci fi British writer, he gives us a story line that is a page turner, great style writing, and some pretty nifty science stuff.

Starfish is the first of a trilogy, and I accidentally read the second book  in the series already, Maelstrom,  which I talk about here.

Here is the basics of Starfish.

A huge international corporation has developed a facility along the Juan de Fuca Ridge at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean to exploit geothermal power. They send a bio-engineered crew–people who have been altered to withstand the pressure and breathe the seawater–down to live and work in this weird, fertile undersea darkness.

Unfortunately the only people suitable for long-term employment in these experimental power stations are crazy, some of them in unpleasant ways. How many of them can survive, or will be allowed to survive, while worldwide disaster approaches from below?

Really fine, really really fine.

 

DEFINITELY MAYBE by Arkady Strugatsky, Boris Strugatsky

The Strugatsky brothers were Soviet-Russian science fiction authors who collaborated through most of their careers.   They were arguably  the greatest science fiction writers of the Soviet era: their books were intellectually provocative and riotously funny, full of boldly imagined scenarios and veiled—but clear—social criticism.

Definitely Maybe tells the story of astrophysicist Dmitri Malianov, who has sent his wife and son off to her mother’s house in Odessa so that he can work, free from distractions, on the project he’s sure will win him the Nobel Prize.

But he’d have an easier time making progress if he wasn’t being interrupted all the time: First, it’s the unexpected delivery of a crate of vodka and caviar. Then a beautiful young woman in an unnervingly short skirt shows up at his door. Then several of his friends—also scientists—drop by, saying they all felt they were on the verge of a major discovery when they got . . . distracted . . .
Is there an ominous force that doesn’t want knowledge to progress? Or could it be something more . . . natural?

Told in the form of diary excerpts, it is fragments of the attempts of various scientists to achieve their breakthrough ideas, but just who or what is preventing them is unclear to all.  Could it be ……. aliens?  hahaha

Not quite as funny as Roadside Picnic, which posits the debris and trash left behind by alien sightseers, but Definitely Maybe is still pretty clever, nonetheless.  The Strugatsky books give the reader a lot of questions, and dang little in the way of answers, suggesting that we are simply a clueless species who don’t know what questions to ask, let alone any of the answers.  I talked about Roadside Picnic here.

 

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.

 

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.