AXIS by Robert Charles Wilson

I’ve been feeling in the mood lately for some good hard science sci fi,  so thought I would get back to the Spin series.  I strongly recommend that you go to my review of the first book, Spin,  which you will find here,  because you will need it to understand Axis.

Axis takes place on the new planet introduced at the end of Spin, a world the Hypotheticals engineered to support human life and connected to Earth by way of the Arch that towers hundreds of miles over the Indian Ocean. Humans are colonizing this new world — and, predictably, fiercely exploiting its resources, chiefly large deposits of oil in the western deserts of the continent of Equatoria.

Remember those folks who colonized Mars back in Spin? The reversed engineered some Hypothetical pharmaceuticals and created a drug that would add 20 or 30 more years to one’s lifespan, while at the same time making the individual more compassionate and caring.  Bring it on,  we could use some of that ourselves.  It was all done around a kind of quasi-religious structure in order to control it.  The head guy brought it to Earth on his only visit between the planets, and the Earth government was quick to outlaw it, seeing  how it would surely instantly be explointed.  People who took the drug were call Fourths, for what was thought of as the fourth stage of life, and it was illegal and the Fourths kept their existence very secret and hidden.

Lise Adams is a young woman attempting to uncover the mystery of her father’s disappearance ten years earlier. Turk Findley is an ex-sailor and sometimes-drifter. They come together when showers of comet dust seed the planet with tiny remnant Hypothetical machines. Soon, this seemingly hospitable world becomes very alien, as the nature of time is once again twisted by entities unknown.

A quasi-religious group of “Fourths” from Earth, led by Dr. Avram Dvali, lives in the desert seeded by falling dust. They’ve created a child they call Isaac with a Martian upgrade (fatal to adults) that connects him with the Hypotheticals.   They are hoping he will be able to communicate with the Hypotheticals and gather some answers for them.  The Fourth-hunting “Department of Genomic Security” is searching for this group or for a visiting Martian Fourth who disapproves of Isaac’s creation.

I don’t know that this a good stand-alone or merely a bridge between Spin and the third of the trilogy, Vortex,  but you can read it and enjoy it without having first read Spin, but why would you?  The trilogy is an examination of our notions of religion, identity, our place in the universe, and what would appear to be our need for a deity.  If you prefer your sci fi to be space opera-y, and less intellectual, maybe this is not for you, although the storyline is compelling on its own without having to think too much.  But if you prefer, as I do, the kind of sci fi that does what sci fi does best — that is, look at the bigger picture, ask the big questions that probably have no answers, make you realize that we really ARE just a microscopic dot in this ever-expanding cosmos, then you will truly enjoy this trilogy.

THE WELL OF LOST PLOTS by Jasper Fforde

This is the third in the Thursday Next series.  I read the first two before I started the blog, and although I had high hopes of writing up my thoughts on those books, I think we can safely say that it is probably  never going to happen.  I am having trouble keeping up the blog with what I am currently reading.  I do have some excuses, but they are not very good ones, so I am just going to get on with the writing.  I have four more to get down on pixels,  and I have an I Want to Read This One Absolutely NEXT list that is growing alarmingly fast.  I used to worry about living long enough to read everything on my To Read List.  Now I worry about living long enough to read everything on my I Want to Read This One Absolutely NEXT list.

Jasper Fforde is a truly gifted writer.  He is clever, funny, and has an imagination that stretches into the infinite mists.  His style is somewhat like that of Terry Pratchett, the writing is serious, but the word play and the situations are really funny.

The Thursday Next series is  a series of comic fantasy, alternate history mystery novels about a young woman named, what else, Thursday Next.  For Americans, we would say, about a day in the following week, next Thursday, but of course, the British use the expression, Thursday next for that, so her name has more ummmm cachet for the folks across the pond.  The first series is made up of the novels The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, and Something Rotten.  There is a second collection, consisting of  First Among Sequels, One of Our Thursdays Is Missing, and The Woman Who Died a Lot.

In this parallel universe, England is a republic, with George Formby as its first president, elected following the success of Operation Sea Lion (the mooted Nazi invasion of Great Britain), occupation, and liberation. There is no United Kingdom, and Wales is the independent “Socialist Republic of Wales”. The Crimean War is still being waged in 1985, Russia still has a Czar, and the Whig Party still exists in the House of Commons.

Genetic engineering is far more advanced than in our own timeline, and so Thursday has a pet dodo, Pickwick. Re-engineered mammoths can cause damage to local gardens if in their path, and there is a Neanderthal rights movement, given the resurrection of this kindred branch of human evolution. Interestingly, the duck is extinct in this universe. Computer and aviation technology are far behind our own timeline, with the transistor having never been invented (computers are still massive and run on vacuum tubes) and research into the jet engine unfunded as propeller and dirigible technology are viewed as ‘good enough’.

The line between literature and reality is quite thin, allowing characters in the books and those in ‘real life’ to jump in and out of novels. This leads Thursday to change the ending of Jane Eyre, the joke being that the plot we know in our reality is the far superior change caused by Thursday. This also happens to other classic novels: Uriah Heep becomes the obsequious, and generally insincere character we know, due to an accident inside the book world, and Thursday’s uncle Mycroft becomes Sherlock Holmes’s brother.

In this world, the characters in novels are self-aware, knowing they are in a book. They make comments stating they are not needed until page ‘such and such,’ rather like actors in a play, and thus have time to help Thursday.

The world of fiction has its own police force – Jurisfiction – to ensure that plots in books continue to run smoothly with each reading. Thursday ends up hiding in a book, and working for Jurisfiction. The book Caversham Heights  that features in The Well of Lost Plots is a detective novel featuring Detective Inspector Jack Spratt and his sergeant, Mary Mary, (listed as Mary Jones in WOLP) who swaps with Thursday. Spratt and Mary get their own Fforde series, The Nursery Crime Division books, and appear in The Big Over Easy and The Fourth Bear featuring crimes against characters in classic children’s literature.

Ok, so that is a brief description of the series, lifted with no shame whatsoever on my part directly from Wikipedia.

From this volume, The Well of Lost Plots,  we have a character named Harris Tweed,  and a fine description of a Grammasite:

Generic term for a parasitic life-form that lives inside books and feeds on grammar.  Technically known as Gerunds or Ingers, they were an early attempt to transform nouns (which were plentiful) into verbs (which at the time were not) by simply attaching an ing.  A dismal failure at verb resource management, they escaped from captivity and now roam freely in the subbasements.

[I would like to add that grammasites can be seen in the wilds of Facebook on posts such as “I am wanting to find a copy of xxxxx….”   “My son is wanting to travel to Barcelona.  Does anyone have any hotel recommendations?”]

We learn that

The twentieth century has seen books being written and published at an unprecedented rate — even the introduction of the Procrastination 1.3 and Writer’s-Block 2.4 Outland viruses couldn’t slow the authors down.   Authors are beginning to write the same books.  There is maybe a year, possibly eighteen months, before the well of fiction runs dry.

We learn of UltraWord™,  which Text Grand Central, the final arbitrators of plot, setting, and other story elements,will release BOOK version 9, code-named UltraWord. UltraWord is touted at a JurisFiction meeting as the greatest advance “since the invention of movable type” because it creates a thirty-two plot story system and allows the reader to control the story.  However, it has its drawbacks — it makes books impossible to read more than three times, thus rendering libraries and second-hand bookstores useless, and the quality of the writing is also substantively poorer.

There are all kinds of threads and twists, and it is all too complicated to tell you all of it, but if you are a Terry Pratchett fan, and a book fan, it is a good bet you will enjoy Fforde and his cast of lovely characters.

 

 

 

NOT ALONE by Craig A. Falconer

I do love a good hard science sci fi book.  And this one was a doozy.

A young man, a believer in aliens since childhood,  is working in a bookstore cum coffee shop, when he is sent to deliver a book on his bicycle.  Near the large IDA building, which stands for  Intelligence Something Something, a masked man carrying a bag of folders and six gold bars, dashes out from between parked cars, running into our guy, knocking him over, scattering the folders.  He pulls a gun on our boy Dan, tells him not to touch the folders, grabs them up and disappears!   But Dan sees one that had slid under a car, picks it up and takes it home.

It contains information about mysterious objects that were discovered back in the time of the Second World War.   All evidence points to these objects being from outer space.  The German government decides the best thing to do was to hide them, and so all evidence was hidden all these years. Among the papers was a letter in German.  Dan decides to publish them on on social media, in the interest of Truth, all but the letter.  He then gets a book on translating German, and little by little, translates the letter which is a confession by a known scientist of his day, telling all about the discovery and how it was all put under wraps.

Most of the book is about the media, publicists, government coverups, and how governments use all of this to smokescreen their own problems.  One of the first characters to appear is a young, brilliant  P.R. gal who pushes her way into Dan’s life to help him take charge of the narrative.  I couldn’t help but see her in my mind’s eye as KellyAnne Conway, but her heavenly twin (you know, as opposed to the evil twin), lol.

It was a really really really long book …. 700 and some pages, and try as I might, I could not think of any part of it that could be shaved, cut down, or eliminated, without being a detriment to the book.

The final portion has first twists that you don’t see coming, then twists that you do, then twists that you don’t.

I really enjoyed it, but do confess that I ‘read’ about two thirds of it via audio while I was quilting.  My Kindle Fire has a text to speech feature and the speech has improved so much over the robotic voice of the early Kindles.

Great book.

 

BENEATH A BLACK MOON by Benjamin Hanstein

beneath-a-black-moonWell, in this fantasy, horror, alternate history, (yeah, alternate history is really a genre, not just something Kellyanne Conway made up), steampunk novel,  there is something for everyone.  Even a sex change.   OK, that was inadvertent,  kind of like that Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin movie.

Our heroine, Mab … and here’s where we try to have our cake and eat it too…. is an actress, off, off, off, off, off Broadway, circa pre 1900s.  The gigs are bad, but then, so is she, actress-wise.   She has a real sleaze for a boyfriend, and in an altercation, he cuts her throat, and she finds herself in a dark, muddy, slimy disgusting place.  Turns out it is hell.  Strangely enough, she meets a guy, seems like a decent sort, and they slog together towards a hill, upon which stands a personage directing who goes where.  (No, really,  is Hell where a girl has to go these days to find a fella?)  While awaiting their turn, a sliver, a string width, of light pierces the blackness and begins to descend from above.  It reaches for the guy, but our gal Mab, being a survivor from the Bowery, etc. snags it and is hurled….   well, I don’t know how all this happens, but anyway she wakes up in the body of the guy.  Turns out the people wielding the light were witches trying to get the guy back.  Oops.  Missed.  They need him to find the killer of the daughter of the guy who invented the machine that created the light that got the dead guy back.  Sounds like the House that Jack built.   So our heroine turns into our hero.

Also, someone has been snatching young children and doing horrible things by way of knives.  Really disgusting.  I tended to skip over those parts.  We do get one scene where we see the guy and he sees angles,  and I told you this was a fantasy, so shut up.

So Mab, inside the guy’s revived body, is forced to go off in search of the killer, and meanwhile we have the search for the serial abductor/killer in the person of a sweet detective who Mab might have the hots for but can’t because she is in a man’s body,  but that large male body comes in handy for a lot of other heavy lifting kind of activities, so it all balances out.

There’s a guy who runs the city, seems like a decent sort, well, except for the monsters living beneath the streets which he unleashes, and turns out he is really a terrible person and a witch and can do all kinds of spells, and turn into things.  If you don’t generally care for fantasy, you will hate this book.  On the other hand, it is quite possible you will keep reading page after page after page,  telling yourself that you are going to abandon it…… right up until you get to the last page ….  where, …. spoiler alert, spoiler alert…… Mab does NOT get her own body back, and we are left thinking that maybe there is another book coming.

And the black moon.  There is this ominous dark presence, planetoid in shape which has risen over the city, and brought death, destruction, monsters, and apparently dirigibles with it,  with sea traffic all but eliminated because of the sea monsters, and disease and pestilence.  There is no explanation for this black moon;  it is just there.

As a reviewer on Goodreads, known only as Ralph,  wrote (lawsy, lawsy, I love it when somebody else does all the research work for me):

According to mystics and occultists, the Dark Satellite (not to be confused with the mysterious 13,000-year-old object in a polar orbit) began to recede from our Earth around 1881. Prior to that date, the object, sometimes described as an “astral moon” or a “dark body perceptible only on a psychical level,” exerted a sort of spiritual influence over humanity, causing spiritual turmoil and crises of the soul.the Dark Satellite is more of a physical manifestation, but still with occult influences, one than not only did not leave the Earth, continuing on its long orbit about the Sun, but which came to loom hugely over the Earth toward the middle of the Nineteenth Century. At the rising of the Black Moon, societies and countries collapsed, the wilderness and rural areas became dominated by Witches and those afflicted with “the Mark,” and the largest cities of the now-fallen United States of America became self-sufficient city-states.

I really enjoyed this book.  It requires more than the usual amount of suspension of disbelief, and it has a mystical and symbolic underlayment to it, which is probably why I couldn’t stop reading it.   I mean, blood, gore,  witches, monsters, people in bodies not their own… what’s not to like?

 

 

IN TIMES LIKE THESE by Nathan Van Coops

times-like-theseHow do you stand on time travel stories?  Me?  Usually one a year is my limit.  But in times like these, you need a good get away book, so I went for In Times Like These.

Fun book!   Five young adults, all friends,  are playing softball one typical summer evening in St. Petersburg,  Florida.  As usual, a storm comes up, and they are sitting it out on the dugout bench when lightning strikes something, a wire goes down, and it would seem they are electrocuted.   But danged if they don’t wake up ….. in 1985.  How could that happen?  Well, it seems that

the Temporal Studies Society suffered an explosion that released the gravitites into the environment around [them] by way of electricity.  That is crucial to the events, because electricity acted in this case as not only the medium in which [they] were exposed to these particles, but also the catalyst for the reaction that ensured.  the unique particles, called gravitites were sent into the environment around the lab by way of the electrical power lines.  When that power line broke free of the pole and hit the bench, it transferred not just the electricity, but the gravitites as well.

Time travel stories have to have some kind of scientific explanation that is slightly incoherent to the normal mind.  So, I would say, so far, we are right on track.  And anyway, I know you want to know more about those little gravitites.

These particles act as disruptors to the way individual cells stay anchored in time.   The cells of your body and in all the things around you have a gravity of sorts that keeps you in sync with the flow of time, stuck in the river with everything else that’s floating with you.  All of it is flowing at the same speed.

Well, so THAT explains it.  Getting out of sync with the flow of time could certainly play havoc with the framastam and your combobulator big time!  What I want to know is if these gravitites have calories.   Because, well, you know,   if you have too many gravitites, do you gain weight?  Because that, too, could explain a lot of things in my life.

I remember the 80s very well.  Big hair.  Leg warmers.  Ugly clothes.  These guys:

guys

Turns out that a serial killer who was on his way to jail in a Sheriff’s van also ended up in this same Florida city on the exact same day!  Talk about time traveling coinkydink!  Whew!  He kills the two sheriff’s guys, leaving a very confused 1985 police force, seeing as how the van has not even been manufactured yet.

I love that the city has a Temporal Studies Society.  And a director who hops around from time to time.  The book uses quotes from his diary and they are fun.   So now the big thing for the five friends is to get back home to 2009,  but it also turns out that there are infinite time streams, little slivers of time streams, kind of like the string theory for time travel, and they do get back, but daggone, they are in the wrong time stream, and meet up with themselves, and find the one friend they left back in 1985 because he wanted to stay with his grandfather who died in his other time stream, but anyway there he is, having arrived in 2009 the hard way, by living it out, and he is now 25 years older, and is married and has kids, while his friends are still their original ages,  But the other friend they left there to keep an eye on friend one got murdered so they go back to try to find the right time stream and get that other friend unmurdered and if you think this precis is confusing, you should read the book!

Time streams branch out, infinitely, so it is a wonder that anything happens on time at all.

Like I said earlier, it really was fun, and if it makes your brain hurt a little bit, that’s all right, because that’s what reading is for….. to stretch your intellectual muscles. And also to take up time while you are sitting on the pot.

Yeah, because I want to do a lot of fast, hot, sweaty exercising with a thong up my b..... never mind.

Yeah, because I want to do a lot of fast, hot, sweaty exercising with a thong up my b….. never mind.

 

HAL SPACEJOCK: JUST DESSERTS by Simon Haynes

hal-space-jockI like my sci fi sciency and with lots of robots.  I mean, really,  I want robots in my life, not just the kind that assemble car parts and deliver packages.  I like the kind of robots that wait on you, clean your house, and are good at clever repartee.  Kind of like Jeeves with replaceable parts.

In this third in its series, Hal Spacejock, free lance space freighter pilot extraordinaire is running out of options and money.  The only jobs available on  Planet Cathua are shady, illegal — not that that’s a bad thing, mind you — but ones pretty likely to land him in hot water, but now that the local loan shark is after him, using for their muscle a huge unpleasant robot with a penchant for destruction, he is forced to take an iffy job from the biggest robot builder on the planet.  That job would be delivering a sealed shipment to a distant yuk-a-toid planet where there is an operation that refurbs parts and reships them.  Along for the ride is an elderly robot, a bit rusty around the seams, but who (which?) still has all his brain parts functioning very well. 

Unfortunately, the place for repairs on that planet turns out to be a chop shop, and poor Clunk, the robot, is supposed to be chopped up, not given a class on modern technology.  Well, Hal can’t let this happen, especially when his return load is all refabbed parts, not the new ones the robot company claims to use.

So there is lots of thriller stuff, lots of funny conversation, and frankly my dears, Clunk is way smarter than his dented parts would suggest.

A totally fun read, a quasi thriller that doesn’t take itself too seriously, so neither should we.  But be prepared, I am neck deep in a Peter Watts sci fi series, and that DOES take itself VERY seriously.

OK, dear ones, see you on the flip side.

THE ORION PROTOCOL by Gary Tigerman

orion-protocolSci fi, going where no man or woman has gone before.  I sure do love a good hard sci fi story.  They tend to be a combo of barely disguised current events, scarily accurate prognostications, and a whole lotta imagination.

This one is barely disguised current events, scarily accurate prognostications, and a whole lotta imagination.   I found it to be fascinating because it is about government coverups, (and Buddha knows we sure do have enough of those), aggression disguised as surveillance, and a clueless President of the US trying to become less clueless.

The basic premise is that the government is actually run by a cadre of shadow figures, and has been for decades, which nobody knows about, with Congress thinking they are pulling the strings, and each successive President thinking he is in charge.

1958: The Eisenhower-commissioned Brookings Report recommends that any future discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence be kept secret from the public.

1968: Congress grants NASA the power to indefinitely”quarantine” anyone exposed to alien life or artifacts.

That stuff is true;  did you know that?

1993: Just 48 hours from the Red Planet, NASA’s Mars Observer probe inexplicably disappears and is declared “lost.”

That is not true, it is part of the fiction so don’t get all hyped up over it.

A high profile science journalist is sent anonymously a packet of photos of non-natural artifacts on Mars.  I want to say man-made, but who knows.  Is ‘alien-made’ a phrase?   The journalist takes it to a computer whizz who confirms the photos are real and not tampered with, and of the location they purport to be.  You know — stuff like that face and the pyramid we see on posts from IDontMakeThisStuffUp.Com.  I personally am keeping my fingers crossed that those artifacts are true, and not just Light and Shadows.   I so want there to be aliens.

Two NASA astronauts, one retired from NASA and teaching, and one still in the program, get involved.  You know why?  Because back when they were moon walking, they saw stuff.  Stuff the government hushed up.  But it is all now coming back to bite them in the butt.

Great storyline. I am not telling you any more of the plot because if you don’t read sci fi, you don’t care, and if you do read sci fi, I don’t want to ruin it for you.  Interesting twists, some thriller aspects, heart pounding finish.  OK, maybe not heart pounding.  Very little in fiction actually makes my heart pound.  The sound of the dinner bell?  Now that makes my heart pound.

martian_face_viking_rotatedpyramid-on-mars