FOR WE ARE MANY by Dennis E. Taylor

This is the second of the Bobiverse space opera trilogy.  I missed the first book, and had a bit of catching up to do in this volume, because they are not true stand alones;  each builds quite a bit on what went before.

The basic idea is this:

Bob Johansson has just sold his software company and is looking forward to a life of leisure. There are places to go, books to read, and movies to watch. So it’s a little unfair when he gets himself killed crossing the street.

Bob wakes up a century later to find that corpsicles have been declared to be without rights, and he is now the property of the state. The world is in a state of apocalypse with a kabillion population, and humanity quickly on its way to total annihilation.   He has been uploaded into computer hardware and is slated to be the controlling AI in an interstellar probe looking for habitable planets. The stakes are high: no less than the first claim to entire worlds. If he declines the honor, he’ll be switched off, and they’ll try again with someone else.

Original Bob clones himself, and eventually there are a whole bunch of Bobs piloting space ships which are locating and terreforming and populating habitable planets with the humans brought from Earth.  Each Bob clone names himself, and the story arc bops back and forth between  what each Bob is doing in his particular area of the universe.  

There are First Contacts with some alien species, some baddie aliens, and lots of fun references to Star Trek.  There are also a lot of holes in the plot, many of which concern the virtual realities each Bob builds in which to appear, since each is really only a computer program.  More holes as to the exact science of getting from one remote section of the universe to another, but really, it is such a fun read.

Heads up, ladies.  This is a guy’s book.  There are only two female characters –  one a human doctor that one of the Bob clones falls in love with, and the other is the female mate of an humanoid species on one of their discovered planets. It’s a man’s world, written by a man, for men.  For nerdy, Star Trekkie men.  Boys club.  No girls admitted.

Fun premise, pretty interesting, actually.  Not sure if I will bother with the third book in the trilogy.

 

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THE HERETIC by Lucas Bale

As I have mentioned before, I download books when they are offered for free, they go into the depths of the Kindle until I get around to reading them, because of course every day there is ANOTHER one offered that I just gotta read first.  Then, as I peruse the ‘stacks’, as it were, those shelves back in the far corners, you know, the ones where they usually don’t have enough lights to see the titles on the spines very well?, yeah there, I choose a book by its title and start reading.  I seldom remember anything about it, and being the laziest person South of the Border and East of the Sierras, I don’t bother looking them up for plot, I just start reading.

I thought this was going to be about the middle ages, you know, when heretics were hunted down and exterminated.  Imagine my astonishment to find that it is a sci fi.  Who knew?

Here is the official plot description:

Centuries have passed since life ended on the blue planet. Humanity’s survivors are now dispersed among distant colonies, thousands of light years from the barren, frozen rock that was once their home.

At a time when power means everything, the ultimate power, the imperium, rests with the Consulate Magistratus. In return for its protection, citizens must concede their rights absolutely. The Magistratus controls interstellar travel, access to technology, even procreation. Every citizen is implanted with a device to monitor their location, health and emotions. Freedom, religion and self-determination are anachronisms. Humanity’s true history survives only in whispers of a secret archive.

On the planet Herse, a nasty hostile kind of place, Shepherd, a freighter-tramp and smuggler, is commissioned to deliver illicit medical supplies to a village some distance from the main city.  It is here he discovers just how monitored the citizens are, and how free will and autonomous thinking and actions are stamped out.

The storyline follows Shepherd and a teenager named Jodi, who is one of the citizens of a village that are being hunted by the Magistratus for heretical beliefs, for following the Preacher, who talks of freedom and choice.

Not exactly a new storyline, but hey, there are only 7 basic stories in the world, and this is a version of one of them.  Exciting, fun, and once again — one of my huge pet peeves — we have interplanetary space travel and no indoor plumbing.

This is the first of a four book series in this space opera.

The final book of The Broken Earth trilogy, with The Fifth Season as the first, and The Obelisk Gate the second.

The whole series is a great big sprawling complex, hard-to-follow-at-times plot, featuring people (orogens) who have powers to move earth objects, gemlike objects in the sky, which these same people of high abilities can connect with and move, stone eaters, creatures who are made of stone but are able to move through the earth, and who feed on normal people, and when the orogens work with the big gems in the sky, parts of their bodies turn to stone,  humans,  who are afraid of the orogens because they can turn humans into ice, and lots of other terrible things.

I saw it as a giant metaphor for the racial conflict of not just the USA but globally, with the orogens representing the hated ‘race’ but here that hated race is given superpowers.  It is all about who runs things, the payoffs, the usual stuff, all cloaked in a sci fi fantasy, grimdark, dystopian guise.   As one reviewer writes:

The Broken Earth is a hateful trilogy of hating; so it’s appropriate that book 3 emphasized that the Earth was alive and conscious and really really hated humanity. Like every other character in this book, Father Earth was petty and resentful, even going so far as to descend to the most childish of self-justifications: ‘You started this!’ He wanted revenge on humans because they tried to drill to the core, without stopping to think about how Earth would feel about that. Of course, humans didn’t know that Earth was living and conscious, so they never gave a second though to his feelings. This was presented as a terrible failure on the part of humanity.

So yeah, I enjoyed it, what I understood of if.  Some of it just made no sense to me.  I need a smidgeon, a soupçon , a pinch, of plausiblity here and there for me to really get into it, and stone creatures moving through the earth just didn’t make the cut, but generally, I loved the characters, who were all beautifully drawn and fleshed out, and the world building was fantastic.

See, here is the difference between good sci fi, great sci fi, and really great sci fi.  Good sci fi gives you an exciting story with great world building.  Great sci fi gives you that plus more involved characters and situations.  Really great sci fi gives you a world, and characters, and situations that would never occur in your own world, because your own world is nothing like that world.  Good sci fi plops down  recognizable characters and recognizable and familiar situations into some made up futuristic  world that although is interesting and entertaining, does not strike you as much more than a stage set as background for that familiar trope of people and situations.  But really great sci fi gives you a world you could not possibly imagine on your best imagining day, and then creates a plot there, which because of that alien world, could only happen there.

A trilogy — with each volume just as interesting and compelling as the one before it.  Don’t find that too often, do we.

ALL SYSTEMS RED BY Martha Wells

I absolutely loved this book!

The official plot synopsis:  “In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.”

Narrated in first person by the Unit, we learn his disdain for his educational packs, “I ran my field camera back a little and saw I had gotten stabbed with a tooth, or maybe a cilla.  Did I mean a cilla or was that something else?  They don’t give murderbots decent education modules on anything except murdering, and then those are the cheap versions.”    When asked by one of the explorer party he is guarding about his internal software, he responds ” ‘I carefully monitor my own systems.’  What else did he think I was going to say?  It didn’t matter;  I’m not refundable.”

When he finds himself concerned about one of the explorers, he muses to himself, “I don’t know why, because it’s one of those things I’m not contractually obligated to care about.  When I do manage to care, I’m a pessimist.”

He spends his downtime watching the futurist versions of sitcoms, weekly dramas,  soap operas that he has downloaded, probably illegally.  He feels he has learned more about how to do his job from the action dramas he watches than from any of his internal instructions.   He gets annoyed when he has to direct his attention to the job he was contracted for.

Basically, the storyline is about an explorer party of the future equivalent of Green Peacers, on a planet which also has at the same time another explorer group on the opposite side of the planet, all looking for resources.  Things go awry with transmissions, and missing parts of maps, etc., and when they find they cannot contact the other group, they fly to that part of the planet to discover them all murdered by the same security bots who were supposed to be their security team.

But semi-interesting as the action plotline is, the real core of the book is its star, the narrator android.  Sarcastic, introspective, and competent, we like him so much.  Or her?  It does tell us that it has no gender parts, so I guess ‘it’ is the proper pronoun.

Three additional volumes in this series. Yee haw!

 

SIX WAKES by Mur Lafferty

A fun closed-room space ship murder mystery featuring ….. ta-da …. clones!   The six person crew of a generational ship on it’s way to a distant planet, its hold containing 2000 sleeping bodies, and a bunch of mindmaps in a special computer, are abruptly pulled out of their cloning vats to discover they were all murdered.  And to prove it, there were their previous bodies, ripe with evidence and bleeding horrifically.

The ship, a-sail for twenty five years now, has suddenly been hacked, sabotaged,  the AI running the behemoth (about 3 miles long) not working, and the course has been altered, the ship is slowing down and off its original course.

Interesting ideas about cloning.  In this future time, cloning is for basically eternal life, not for multiplying oneself.  You can only have one clone going at a time, and you have to be dead.  You can, however, leave your estate to your cloneself, so you can see how this could be real popular.  It brings up the issues of the value of life, because if you can die and wake up tomorrow as your 20-year-old self, there is no thrill too dangerous, no drug too toxic, etc., etc.

The six crew members were all criminals with prison time awaiting them, or currently serving it, when they were offered the opportunity to crew this ship, with their records expunged at journey’s end and a new life awaiting them.  But in order to find out what has happened, and who dunnit, which none of them have any memory of, they must discover what connects them all, and what secrets each is hiding.

Great mystery.  Kind of light on the sci aspect of the sci fi, and heavy on the cloning ideas, so don’t ask too many questions about how this approximately 100 year journey is being accomplished, and how an AI runs a ship.  No astro physics but lots of philosophizing.  I loved it.

It got a Hugo nomination, but frankly, much as I liked it, didn’t quite seem Hugo-quality, but what do I know?  Anyway, mystery, space, clones.  What’s not to like?

 

 

 

THE SEEKER’S RIDDLE by Andrew Calhoun

A seventeen-year-old kid from Corpus Christi in the Southern Union, an insular and backward-looking area of the country (world? not sure), wants out.  He is obsessed with space, and astrophysics.  It is the 23rd century, and citizens of the SU are not accepted into top universities in other areas because their education is so backward.  Locke Howden and his ten-year-old sister are orphans, living off the charity of their housemates.  He figures if he gets a job mining asteroids on a three-year hitch, then goes to a decent university, he will finally be able to return to Earth and get his sister for a decent life elsewhere.

On the elevator vehicle to the space station transportation center, he meets a young woman pilot and her autistic brother who is continually tapping something.  Bullies enter the room, and do bullying things, Locke intervenes, and the sister is grateful.  He eventually figures out that the young autistic man is tapping out some mathematical equations.   They reach the space station and board their transport to the outer fringes of the galaxy, but help!  The ship is boarded by pirates, and the sister, the brother and Locke are kidnapped and taken to an heretofore undiscovered planet.  Fortunately, this planet is like earth with gravity, biosphere, atmosphere, and all that.  What is also on the planet is a downed HUGE spaceship.  The planet is the headquarters for the pirates, and they want to get into that spaceship but it apparently still has internal power, and the security system won’t allow them in.  In fact, there is a vestibule which has a wall containing a puzzle which must be solved in order to get into the rest of the ship.

Turns out the pirates are ‘hacked androids’ — human brains and consciousness in an android human-like body, and the ship won’t let them even near it.  But the planet also has a community of human farmers, and the ship will allow the humans into the vestibule. But nobody can solve that puzzle.

The autistic brother is actually a savant, with some extraordinary knowledge, and the pirates kidnap him hoping he will be able to solve that puzzle and get them inside the ship.

All very space opera-y and fun, and filled with some interesting ideas.  But there were some things that kind of took it out of the A+ category for me.  First of all, not sure why the protagonist was a 17 year old boy.  It didn’t quite work for me, seems like it should have been a young twenties person.  Second of all, and most annoying, even though the time is the 23rd century, the book is filled with current, and not only current to 2018, but current to mid-20th century’s slang and phrases and references.  Like when a character who is in a hurry quotes Frost:  “I’m afraid I’ve got promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”  Really?  Folks would still be quoting a somewhat minor American poet of the twentieth century in the twenty-third century?  naaaaaah.  And lots of tired old cliches, which are tired old cliches even now, like “avoid like the plague”.  Stuff like that.  It put me off.

This is billed as a First Contact novel, so I am not letting the alien out of the bag if I tell you that, yeah, there were aliens, the main spokesalien of which seemed a pretty jazzy hipster, which also struck an odd note.  I can go with the alien speaking English using one of the character’ brains and body, but it seems just a little far-fetched that it would be so culturally attuned in his attitude and speech. Well, culturally attuned, that is, to the twenty-first century American culture.

But anyway, as I said, it was fun, and hey, aliens! Right?  Nifty weapons.  A boots-on-the-ground battle. The good guys win, the bad guys go to android heaven, and the rest who have a righteous mission to save the rest of their android brethern and sisteren from slavery, go and do just that.

(Yes, I know that sisteren is not a word. I was just being cute.)

THE WORLD WALKER by Ian Sainsbury

I am not sure what to say about this book.  I sot of liked it.  I didn’t like it.  It was strangely weird.  It was  properly strange.  Let me explain.  If I can.

Roswell, NM.  1947.  What seems to be an extraterrestrial  spaceship crashes in the desert.  A being is found, and whisked away to an unmarked secret facility, where it does absolutely nothing.  Until now, when it seems to wake up and just walk through the walls and leave.

A young man, faced with a cancer death sentence, walks out into the desert where he plans to kill himself.  Slashes wrist, is bleeding out on the ground.  Mysterious being approaches, heals him.

A magician in Australia finds he can manifest real elephants in his shows.

A pretty much secret international group of people who can work magic.  With a k.  Magick.  But they call it manna.  Using manna.  Another secret society using manna is the Sons of Satan.  OK, that’s not the name.  I forget the exact name, but something like that.  Nasty bunch.  Headed by a woman, who requires the unwilling services of young men hung upside down on Xs on pentagrams bleeding to death so she can do her spells.

A secret terribly powerful paramilitary organization with an awful lot of pricey high tech weaponry and equipment and helicopters.  Run by a guy who nobody has seen.

The young man in the desert now finds himself with massive superpowers, and the secretary military force is after him, and that Satan lady is after him because she wants to use him as her final sacrifice, and the young man, Seb,  also finds that with his superpowers comes himself divided into three parts, (Omnia Gallia in tres partes divisa est), one part of which claims to be his subconscious and acts like a whole separate person, and which I took to represent the ego, the id and the superego.  meh.

He now finds through his mentor that he has unlimited capacity for sex with no debilitating effects.  With multiple partners.  At the same time.  Sounds like every teenage boy’s wet dream.

OK, so we have a mash-up of aliens, alien technology, magic, violence, gratuitous violence, military stuff, Freudian psychology, lite porn, and ….  so’s we don’t leave out the ladies, …  a romance between Seb and a gal he knows, although why she would want him now since he is banging everything in sight is beyond me, but since it is written by a male writer, I can see why he would think so.

There was also a whole back story of his time as a orphan in an orphanage.  There was a whole lot of a whole lot. It felt like the Trope of the Week book, which my Dearly Beloved liked very much and I found annoying.  I was likin’ the whole alien thing, and then everything became about magic, and OK, are we going the fantasy route?  I can dig that.  But then we had the whole tearjerking orphan back story, and just when I was getting into that, we had the paramilitary, which while I didn’t love it, I could deal with it, when Enter Stage Left come the Satanists and their carnage.

It sort of all came together in the end, but really, superpowers?  And there are several more volumes to this?  The Dearly Beloved downloaded the next in the series, The Unmaking Engine,  which I am not sure I will bother reading.   I am not a big fan of gratuitous violence, being of the gamboling through the daisy-filled hillsides kind of a chick.

He wakes up and finds he has superpowers?  Sounds like every second-rate YA book ever written.