WAKING GODS by Sylvain Neuvel

This is the second in The Themis files trilogy.  As a child, Rose Franklin made an astonishing discovery: a giant metallic hand, buried deep within the earth. As an adult, she’s dedicated her brilliant scientific career to solving the mystery that began that fateful day: Why was a titanic robot of unknown origin buried in pieces around the world? Years of investigation have produced intriguing answers—and even more perplexing questions. But the truth is closer than ever before when a second robot, more massive than the first, materializes and lashes out with deadly force.

Now humankind faces a nightmare invasion scenario made real, as more colossal machines touch down across the globe. But Rose and her team at the Earth Defense Corps refuse to surrender. They can turn the tide if they can unlock the last secrets of an advanced alien technology. The greatest weapon humanity wields is knowledge in a do-or-die battle to inherit the Earth . . . and maybe even the stars.

In the first book of the series, giant metal body parts are discovered in the earth that predate the human technology required to make them. A simple idea with huge implications. What does this mean for humanity? For science? Religion?

The story unfolds through interview transcripts and journal entries, and begins 9 years after the events in the first book.  Interesting sci fi premise now is revealed to us readers.  The aliens want to erase all their descendants with their DNA because they feel the experiment or whatever it was got messed up.  Only pure humans with no alien DNA survive the chemical exterminating fog.  Only Rose can figure out how to stop the extermination, by using solely materials available 3,000 years ago.

Yeah, I know.

Anyway, kind of fun, and one more to go.

 

NETWORK EFFECT by Martha Wells

Murderbot.  What a guy!  This is the fifth in the series starring a self-aware SecUnit that is half robot, half human,  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.

You know that feeling when you’re at work, and you’ve had enough of people, and then the boss walks in with yet another job that needs to be done right this second or the world will end, but all you want to do is go home and binge your favorite shows? And you’re a sentient murder machine programmed for destruction? Congratulations, you’re Murderbot.

Come for the pew-pew space battles, stay for the most relatable A.I. you’ll read this century.  When Murderbot’s human associates (not friends, never friends) are captured and another not-friend from its past requires urgent assistance, Murderbot must choose between inertia and drastic action.

Drastic action it is, then.

Murderbot is now with Dr. Mensah and the other Preservation Station characters who Murderbot was protecting in the first book, All Systems Red, and the fourth, Exit Strategy. Preservation is an unusually liberal society in this universe, where single-minded, coldhearted corporate profit-making is the norm, and Mensah and her family and friends treat Murderbot, whom they call “SecUnit,”as a person rather than as a possession. Mensah’s brother-in-law Thiago, however, is suspicious of Murderbot’s influence over Mensah, and Mensah’s adolescent daughter Amana considers Murderbot an annoyance, especially after it scared off someone she thought was a romantic interest.

As Network Effect begins, Murderbot is accompanying Thiago, Amana and several others on a survey expedition of another planet. After surviving an encounter with pirates — where Murderbot gets a chance to flex its muscles and show its expertise as a security consultant — the group lifts off the planet to rejoin their base ship in space. Just after the base ship exits a wormhole on its return to Preservation Station, there’s another attack on their group. This one succeeds in capturing Murderbot and Amena in their spacesuits and pulling them onboard the raider ship. Murderbot is completely bewildered to discover that the ship that attacked them is its old friend ART (an acronym for “Asshole Research Transport”) from Artificial Condition. But ART, the powerful artificial intelligence that controls the ship Perihelion, is nowhere to be found once they’re onboard the ship. Instead there are gray-skinned hostile humans that immediately try to kill Murderbot. Now it’s on!

We have space exploration and space raiders and alien abductors and sentient killware and contamination by alien remnants, and space flight and explosions and other stuff that tends to result in the catastrophic systems failure and forced systems shutdown more often than not.

What we have here is, of course, the issue of personhood and interpersonal relationships. And friendship, and the dreaded ‘f’ word — feelings.

What a great character and story line Martha Wells has created.  A hero we can all relate to, sarcastic, prickly, grouchy, media-obsessed, and yeah….. darn competent.

Love love love this series.

A MEMORY CALLED EMPIRE by Arkady Martine

Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.

Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.

Ambassador Mahit Dzmare has more than one identity crisis on her hands: she has a deep affinity for the empire that wants to annex her home and she also literally has someone else’s personality nested in her brain. Dzmare’s internal conflicts correlate with the external ones that drive the novel’s plot. Living within the Teixcalaan Empire has been her heart’s desire since childhood, yet her primary aim as ambassador is to keep Teixcalaan from assuming control of her home, Lsel Station. This same conflict between personal desire and professional duty may have gotten her predecessor Yskandr Aghavn killed. It is Yskandr whose “imago” (an impression of the man built from his recorded memories) is implanted in her head. Imago technology is a Lsel state secret, yet the Teixcalaanlitzlim find it during Yskandr’s autopsy, and this discovery could embolden those who wish for Teixcalaan to consume Lsel.

Good story, although I had a bit of a struggle placing credulence on the way the memory of the previous ambassador in the head of the current Ambassador was handled.  At times, they were having conversations between themselves (in her head), although the technology is explained as it being only the memories of the previous person integrated with the current living person, and that they were integrated, not separate individuals having a dialog.

The other thing I found extremely irritating was the absolutely overuse of italics. I mean, in every paragraph there were at least two or three words italicized, and really,  if your writing is so unclear that you must italicize  what you are thinking, then I would seriously recommend a rewrite.

None of which will stop me from reading the next volume in the series.

SLEEPING GIANTS by Sylvain Neuvel

A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square-shaped hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved – the object’s origins, architects, and purpose unknown.

But some can never stop searching for answers.

Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top-secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the relic they seek. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unravelling history’s most perplexing discovery-and finally figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?

The story is told through a series of interviews with a nameless interviewer, as well as the occasional journal entry and news article. It gives us a look at all the people involved in this project – in uncovering the body parts, finding out how they work, what it all means, and trying to keep their sanity as the world becomes more and more insane.

What I am is very much a function of what I am not. If the “other” is the Muslim world, then I am the Judeo-Christian world. If the other is from thousands of light-years away, I am simply human. Redefine alterity and you can erase boundaries.

We see how this discovery and the subsequent revelations affect the world. Imagine what this means for humanity. It is the suggestion that we are not alone and are not the most advanced creatures in the universe. What were these giant body parts created for? Are they a message or a weapon? What does this mean for religions? Is someone out there waiting for us?

All of the parts of the relic are finally found, and put together, it is a 22 ft tall woman, whose knees are backwards, and which is basically a short range defensive weapon.

A fun read, except for the boyish wet-dream of how gosh golly attractive the nasty attituded female helicopter pilot is.  I mean, really.

THE KNOCKABOUTS by D.K. Williamson

Strap in, hang on, and remain seated. Keep your hands inside the story at all times—and enjoy the ride.

It’s a wide open galaxy out there and anything is possible. Adventure and opportunity await! All a freelance spacer needs is a good ship, a nose for opportunity, and a fistful of luck.

But there’s a downside. There’s always a downside. The Big Black is a dangerous place and a single mistake can turn an adventurer into… it’s best to not even think about it. The safe move is to be sensible and leave spacefaring and all the hazards that go with such foolishness behind and get a safe job groundside, complete with benefits and pension.

What spacer worthy of the name would want that?

Knockabout spacers Teller Skellum and Ord Hawmer have earned a name for themselves in certain circles, with the ship ARC Lance the tool of their trade—a strike sloop turned rapid transit transport that many call a smuggler’s dream.

When a legit transport job goes sour, Teller and Ord find themselves boxed in by a first-rate frame job and pursued by just about everything the galaxy can throw at them, making escape an unlikely prospect. Things look grim for our intrepid adventurers—but there’s good news! They have a wealth of options: death, prison, or clearing their names, and not a one will be easy.

Not every mismatch has a foregone outcome and sometimes the underdog strikes back. Long odds and high stakes mean one thing: Roll with the punches or get busy landing a few of their own, what else is a knockabout to do?

This is a fun hard science tale, cleverl written,  with lots of action,  and containing just enough chuckles to not take itself too seriously.  I have to say I really enjoyed it. 

 

PERIGEE by Patrick Chiles

Stranded in orbit, with no way home before the air runs out…

A veteran pilot flying a revolutionary spaceplane,

A media mogul on an urgent mission halfway around the world,

And an aerospace legend fighting to save his legacy, in the face of a government that would stand aside to let it be destroyed.

At hypersonic speed, Arthur Hammond’s fleet of Clipper spaceplanes has become the premium choice for high-flying travel, placing every corner of the globe within a few hours’ reach. But when the line’s flagship is marooned in space with a load of VIP clients, its crew must fight to stay alive knowing that help may never arrive.

As they struggle with failing life support and increasingly desperate passengers, their colleagues back on Earth scramble to mount an audacious rescue. A contentious mix of old airline hands and NASA veterans, they will face shocking betrayals in a battle to save their friends.

In this race against time, Hammond must confront an onslaught of horrendous press, nitpicking bureaucrats, and dubious financiers – all of them pawns in a larger game, with his business empire as the prize. Amid a spreading web of industrial espionage, he may find the truth to be worse than imagined.

And in space, one man will discover that escape may demand a terrible sacrifice.

In spite of the excited tone of the official plot description, I was disappointed to discover that all of the drama comes from sabotage of the equipment because of political issues.  Pfffft.  Boring.  I mean, every little thing went wrong.  Just too over the top for me.

 

SORCERY AND THE ART OF GIANT ROBOT MAINTENANCE by Andrew Merrigan

Plot:  “A science-fiction/comedy novel, ‘Sorcery and the Art of Giant Robot Maintenance’ is both hilarious and irreverent. Science Fiction Comedy chaos set in a world were giant robots, like Voltron and Tranformers, are painted as Weapons of Mass Destruction, while wizards are hunted and despised by a madcap planet of aliens. A robotics genius (who is also an outlawed archeologist) and a wizard (who only knows one spell that could kill everyone) team up to save the world from… themselves?”

A fun, goofy read, light and airy.  That’s all.

SNOW CRASH by Neal Stephenson

In reality, Hiro Protagonist delivers pizza for Uncle Enzo’s CosoNostra Pizza Inc., but in the Metaverse he’s a warrior prince. Plunging headlong into the enigma of a new computer virus that’s striking down hackers everywhere, he races along the neon-lit streets on a search-and-destroy mission for the shadowy virtual villain threatening to bring about infocalypse. Snow Crash is a mind-altering romp through a future America.

This book has the pervasive air of nerdy geekiness (or, perhaps, geeky nerdiness), an unexpected take on linguistics, a kick-ass female character, a parallel (virtual) reality, a hefty helping of (admittedly, overexaggerated) satire, and just enough wacky improbable worldbuilding to make this complicated book a page turner, even when you don’t understand the pages you are turning.

Stephenson introduces a world where governments have collapsed and societies are held loosely together by anarcho-capitalism.  It is an intelligent, modern adventure that expertly weaves in elements of pre-history and archeological thrill seeking,  spiced up with a cacophony of sci-fi, techno-socio-economic observations, and a kaleidoscope of theological and philosophical concepts all thrown together.

 

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.