ANCHOR LEG by Jack Croxall

This little sci fi YA was almost good.  Almost.  Fell a bit short as the ending drew near because the actions became more and more improbable and the plot more predictable.

Official blurb:  Humanity has spilled out into the Solar System, into a succession of giant space stations known as the Relay. Seren Temples is a security apprentice running the Relay’s remote Anchor Leg. When sabotage strands her vessel near another damaged ship, Seren and her team are sent across to investigate. The second ship is a zero-G graveyard. Inside its vast hold, nothing but a single vial of frozen blood.

Seren is 17 years old. Her boss, the head of security, is injured during a riot control, and during that riot, a man steps in and shoots one of the security team, killing him.  Another member of the team goes after the shooter, and kills him.  He is taken into custody and thrown in the brig. The head of security is in a coma in the hospital, leaving only two members of the team still available and functioning — the former pirate turned good guy, and the 17-year-old trainee.  So.  Who does  the captain of the ship make acting head of security?   Sigh.  Yes.  The 17-year-old trainee, because, duh the other one used to be a pirate.   [Insert eye roll here.]

So right there, I am trying to decide whether to just abandon the book at this point, or slog forward.  I slog forward, because it is actually a space mystery/thriller and I usually finish a mystery, no matter how less-than-excellent they are.

The mystery itself wasn’t bad, but really, the star of the show being a 17-year-old?  That wasn’t really working for me.  However, I did like the world building — very creative.  The sci part of the fi was a smidge lame,  but the author wasn’t going for competition with Miéville or Kim Stanley Robinson, so we readers just went along for the ride.

I think I just discovered a new genre:  cozy sci fi YA mystery/thriller.    🙂

 

 

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ABADDON’S GATE by James S. A. Corey

I love literary allusions.  Some of them I have to look up, like this one.  This one I believe is a reference to a questing game, where Abaddon’s Gate is the entrance to the third and final layer of the prison built by the five gods of this game’s world. Beyond this gate lies the Heart of Abaddon, where the dark god, twisted by centuries of torment, strains against his prison. It lies at the bottom of the Realm of Madness, surrounded by constantly flowing falls, which carry the entire realm’s torment down upon the imprisoned god.

Abaddon’s Gate the novel picks up a year after the events of Caliban’s War, (and in case you have forgotten the gist of that episode of our space opera, you can refresh your memory here)   For generations, the solar system — Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt — was humanity’s great frontier. Until now. The alien artifact working through its program under the clouds of Venus has appeared in Uranus’s orbit, where it has built a massive gate that leads to a starless dark.

Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are part of a vast flotilla of scientific and military ships going out to examine the artifact. But behind the scenes, a complex plot is unfolding, with the destruction of Holden at its core. As the emissaries of the human race try to find whether the gate is an opportunity or a threat, the greatest danger is the one they brought with them.

A young Belter, the space opera counterpart to our teenagers,  tries to thread the ring with his spaceship, and it sets into motion a major interplanetary incident that brings each of the major Solar System factions (Earth, Mars and the Outer Planets Alliance) to the Ring, where they begin to study the construct, and keep tabs on one another.

We lose many of the secondary characters from the previous books, but Miller the detective who died in the first book, shows up again,  a phantasm constantly reminding Holden to check the doors and corners.  A ghost?  Have we gone paranormal?   Holden manages to get the Rocinante through the gate thing without being pulverized by keeping the speed slow.  He then EVAs out to what looks like  a guardhouse, or something, where he meets Miller again, and learns that Miller is just a visual of the entity that is the protomolecule created to communicate with him.  Insert eye roll here … why him especially?  Oh, well.  It’s fiction.  Move on.

Meanwhile, some chick, the daughter of a bad guy who was finally brought to justice and is languishing in jail, is out for revenge on Holden, so that plot thread twists around the investigating the protomolecule thing/ring plot thread, and all in all, it is all good fun.

Several more books to go in this series.  I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM by Cixin Liu

This is an award-winning sci fi book by China’s most famous sci fi writer.  It was written in 2008 but not translated into English until 2014 by the excellent Ken Liu, no relation to the author.   It is the fourth most common surname in China.

Should you have forgotten your physics, I will be happy to refresh your memory.  In physics and classical mechanics, the three-body problem is the problem of taking an initial set of data that specifies the positions, masses, and velocities of three bodies for some particular point in time and then determining the motions of the three bodies, in accordance with Newton’s laws of motion and of universal gravitation which are the laws of classical mechanics.

Historically, the first specific three-body problem to receive extended study was the one involving the Moon, the Earth, and the Sun.  In an extended modern sense, a three-body problem is a class of problems in classical or quantum mechanics that model the motion of three particles.

Now, can we take this particular issue and make an interesting and exciting science fiction tale out of it?  Why yes, yes, we can.  Set in China, it starts off with the cultural revolution and a disgraced scientist who is beaten to death.  His daughter, an acclaimed scientist herself, is recruited from a labor camp to work at a top secret facility out in the boonies.  It’s massive telescope and radio tower and equipment are said to be for the war effort and to prevent further conflict.

Fast forward to the modern day and we meet Dr. Wang, another top scientist in his field, now recruited by the government via the police and military to help them with a strange situation.

It is basically the story of  the two scientists, Ye Wenjie, an engineer working in a top-secret military base during the 1970’s, and Wang Miao, a nanotechnologist in current day China. While events in current day China unfold for Wang, the story of Ye is told in alternate sections. The nature of the top-secret base is uncovered during the intricate story.

This is a dense, Byzantine plot, with switchbacks and a role-playing virtual reality game not making anything any easier to follow.  It is just chock full of physics.  Thank goodness it stops just short of giving us calculations and mathematical summations.  My physics is a little shaky.  OK.  A lot shaky, but while it helps to have a basic understanding of the physics, it is even more helpful to have a basic understanding of human nature.

We think that if we meet extraterrestrials, it will be all hi and welcome.  But what if it isn’t?  What if the safest thing is to remain silent, instead of looking for life in the great cosmos?  Because what if that life is looking for us…. for no good purposes?

It is all about trust, loyalty, curiosity, and wishful thinking.  And there are two more books in the series.

 

 

 

CALIBAN’S WAR by James S. A. Corey

I am not sure, but I think Caliban is a reference to either the X-Men world of superhuman robotics run amok, or to Roger McBride Allen’s Isaac Asimove’s Caliban, which is set on a planet in Asimov’s Foundation universe, and focuses on a cultural and legal dilemma posed by the Three Laws of Robotics after a roboticist is apparently assaulted by one of her robots. This event threatens to cause a global panic, because the planet’s entire way of life relies on the belief that robots are incapable of harming or disobeying humans.

Caliban’s War is the second in The Expanse series written by two guys with one name.  The first is Leviathan Wakes,  which is a humdinger and which I talk about here.   And even though I said in that review I thought I would pass on No. 2, I changed my mind, and boy am I glad I did.

The official plot summary:  On Ganymede, breadbasket of the outer planets, a Martian marine watches as her platoon is slaughtered by a monstrous supersoldier — kind of a robot monster. On Earth, a high-level politician struggles to prevent interplanetary war from reigniting. And on Venus, an alien protomolecule has overrun the planet, wreaking massive, mysterious changes and threatening to spread out into the solar system.

In the vast wilderness of space, James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante have been keeping the peace for the Outer Planets Alliance. When they agree to help a scientist search war-torn Ganymede for a missing child, the future of humanity rests on whether a single ship can prevent an alien invasion that may have already begun . . .

I am really enjoying the universe which James S. A. Corey, (aka Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) have created for this series.  Lots of great planets, which although in real life would seem just absolutely uninhabitable, in this universe of theirs, Mars has been terraformed and ice planets like Ganymede are the breadbaskets for the outer planets.  Everything is possible. This second novel in The Expanse series finds Holden and the crew of the Rocinante trying to stop further attempts to weaponize the protomolecule, with a little help from a Martian marine, a belt-born botanist, and a UN power broker.

Yeah, it is kind of Robots Run Amok Are Us.

And yeah, it is space opera, but interesting space opera, with great science-y stuff and wonderful characters.

Loved it.

THE HUNGER OF TIME by Damien Broderick and Rory Barnes

Technology has started to accelerate at a terrifying rate. By mid 21st century, we might see a Singularity: a convergence of artificial intelligence, advanced nanotechnologies for building things at the atomic scale, precise genomics, other wonders. What happens after that? Will the descendents of today’s humanity become gods or demons, or simply destroy themselves? And will we be among their number, carried along by rejuvenation and immortality treatments?

For twenty-six year old Natalie and her irritatingly beautiful 17-year-old sister Suzanna, these are no longer abstract questions. The familiar world is on the brink of crisis. Dumped by her live-in boyfriend and stuck back at home with her parents, Nat is not a happy person. And her father Hugh is acting like a mad scientist. What the hell is he building out there in the garage? When Hugh frog-marches his family into the garage, it looks as if he’s really gone mad, and they’re due to perish even before the plague wipes out all life on earth. But the machine Hugh has been working on hurls them all-not forgetting their dog Ferdy-ever farther into the future, and the escapade doesn’t stop until the very end of time and space.

Odd book.  Natalie, supposedly 26, through whom the story is told in first person, thinks, speaks and acts like a mid teen.  Without knowing really what this book was about, I thought it was a YA sci fi effort.  But nope.  Dad builds or discovers, or creates, an everted fractalized 6-brane.  Which is a space located inside what seemed like a giant geode.  They spend a few minutes hopping forward a year, emerge to find the world different, having somewhat survived the big plague.  After a series of dangerous events, it is apparent that they need to get out of Dodge, so they go back inside the thing, and hop forward another thousand years or so, to find a really different world, pick up a passenger, and on they go again.  Each leap is a huge amount farther in time than the previous.

Each world they encounter is odd and for me not the best imaginative idea of future societies, all of them seemingly similar to our current society.

The whole thing devolves into an incomprehensible philosophic/physics mishmash that although poetic in the reading, didn’t make all that much sense,  and anyway if I want to read incomprehensible philosophic/physics musings, I prefer it in non-fiction form, not badly disguised as bad fiction.

It was an interesting concept, this ever-increasing leaps through time,  to the end of time, but mostly it just left me with that whaaaa? face.

ANCILLARY MERCY by Ann Leckie

The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown:

(The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene I)

Mercy of Kalr is a small warship.  Ironic name, isn’t it.  In this final volume of the Imperial Radch trilogy, Breq, the only remaining creature, human or ancillary, of the troop carrier Justice of Toran,  is now Fleet Captain in charge of keeping the peace and security on Athoek Station and it’s companion planet.  The station is quite the elaborate entity.  It’s not three rooms and a bath, it is a huge complex, with a garden area at the top, a waterfall, many other levels.  The area under the garden has become something of a slum, unrepaired, untended, medical and security do not go there.  It has hundreds of unofficial residents living there, with no services, no waste disposal, no electricity, no water.

Now a conflict is brewing between the Ychana residents of the Undergarden, and the station’s more privileged residents, led by the head priest.  The conflict is over how the now-damaged Undergarden will be repaired, and who will be allowed to live there once it is. Both the Ychana and the priesthood go on strike in protest, and Breq tries to convince the new head of security, Lusulun, that the less she threatens the Ychana protesters with violence, the less likely it is that mayhem will result.

One person, discovered in the Undergarden and taken prisoner by security, is someone Breq recognizes as not human at all: the ancillary of a ship hiding on the other side of Athoek system’s Ghost Gate, a ship that has not been seen for millennia. What is this ship’s purpose, and how can Breq get its ancillary to share information with her?

A new Presger translator, Zeiat, arrives to investigate what happened to her predecessor, Translator Dlique. Since Dlique was accidentally killed by station security, and the Presger are far more powerful than humans, this is a delicate situation which Breq tries to defuse partly by humoring Zeiat’s strange requests.

Oh, sigh……  I was going to give you more of the plot precis, but really, it is so involved and packed that I am losing my will to live just contemplating how to do this.  Let me just say this,  if this trilolgy intrigues you, read it, and start with Ancillary Justice, right on through Ancillary Sword, ending up with Ancillary Mercy.   You won’t be sorry.

As with any really good sci fi, it is more than just space warfare, and evil aliens.  It is about people, their everyday lives and thoughts, and their decisions, good and bad.  Yes, some of the characters are larger than life, some are smaller.  It’s all good.

What wonderful world building,  what great characters, what an atmosphere!

 

 

 

ANCILLARY SWORD by Ann Leckie

OH, my goodness, I love this trilogy, and one of the best things is that is was written by a woman!!!!!   Yea, us.  Ancillary Sword  is the second novel in Leckie’s “Imperial Radch” space opera trilogy, which began with Ancillary Justice, which I wrote about here.  

An ancillary is the term for a human who has been turned into an AI, usually unwillingly, with implants, and is used to supplement the work and activities of a ship’s AI.  It took me all three books in the series to have the aHA! moment concerning the titles.  The series features one ancillary from the troop transport ship Justice of Toren, Breq,  so the first book is not so much about justice, as it is about setting up the full storyline which is about Breq’s fight with the head of the Radch who has splintered off into different factions of herself (or possibly himself, we don’t know since the female pronouns are used exclusively throughout the series.)  There is some justice served, but it is not the main plot point.

This second book has Anaander Mianaai, the Lord of the Radch – or the part of her personality that opposes further militant expansion of the empire – adopts Breq into her house, appoints her Fleet Captain, puts her in command of the warship Mercy of Kalr, and charges her to protect the remote Athoek system. Breq’s crew includes her old comrade Seivarden and the young Lieutenant Tisarwat, who is revealed to be an ancillary copy of Anaander herself. After Breq recognizes Tisarwat as an ancillary of Anaander, she has her ancillary implants removed, allowing Tisarwat to develop an independent personality.

At Athoek Station, Breq seeks out Basnaaid, the sister of Awn, an officer Breq, as the ship Justice of Toren, once loved and, on Anaander’s orders, killed. She meets Dlique, translator for the alien Presger, who is killed in a scuffle with ancillaries of Sword of Atagaris – the other warship on station, commanded by Captain Hetnys, Breq’s nominal subordinate. To hopefully placate the powerful aliens, Breq and Hetnys enter formal mourning on the estate of Fosyf, a prominent tea planter who holds her workers, transportees from other Radch-conquered worlds, in conditions akin to serfdom.

After Breq survives an attempt on her life by Raughd, Fosyf’s abusive heir, she suspects that somebody abducts suspended transportees, possibly an ancient warship seeking to replenish its ancillary crew. Hetnys and her ship move against Breq, apparently serving the other half of Anaander Mianaai, but they are subdued after Breq holds Hetnys hostage.

Plot description stolen from Wiki.  So sue me.

I finally, after reading the third in the series, Ancillary Mercy,  realize …. (I’m a slow learner) that the series is named after classes of space ships in this fictional world.  Justices are huge carriers, Swords are warships,  and Mercys are small fighters.  And that each volume addresses the concept suggested by each class of ship.  This second volume is about fighting and potential warfare.

Just LOVE this series.  It is space opera.  Well, for me, not so much space opera but a story of loyalty, betrayal, and just trying to get by with a little help from our friends, all wrapped up in some of the absolutely coolest futuristic space ideas ever.  If hard science sci fi flips your tortillas, then this series is a must read.