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.

 

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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.

The CERBERUS Asteroid Diversion Program: Summary of Findings from the Several U.S. Gov’t Investigations into Cividan Laboratories

Documents released to the public in 2025 regarding the events leading up to and after the approach and diversion of asteroid HR42.   Presented in the form of transcripts conducted by the FBI, and a Senate investigatory commission, and a letter from the CEO of Cividan Laboratories, it tells the story of a suddenly discovered asteroid on a disastrous trajectory approaching the earth, and how Cividan Labs pulled everyone together to avert it by shooting a lot of nuclear bombs at it to deflect its course.

Ostensibly started by the government, the investigation after the fact was allegedly into misuse of government funds, and all was refuted by Cividan Labs, flooding the organizations with documents in the name of transparency, agreeing to numerous interrogations by the FBI on the condition that every word of the transcripts would be released to the public.

As time went on, it appeared that embedded in the digitized data submitted to all kinds of investigating divisions and organizations was some kind of code which created a back door into their computer systems, giving Cividan access, while leaving no trace of itself, so it could not be proved.

Led by an altruistic and wealthy man, Cividan’s motto is Make Better Things;  Make Things Better.

My only cavil is that there really was no twist, which I kept waiting for, which maybe was the twist.  It seems the guy really did want to make things better.  The various investigators kept asking what secrets Cividan was hiding what where they doing, and why had they launched a lot of equipment, parts, and fuel into orbit and left it there.  What were they DOING up there?  The CEO’s response was beautiful:

One of the most notable characteristic of space is that it is extremely cold.  Anything up there putting off any kind of heat is very easy to see.  Voyager I was built in the 70’s and is out past the edge of the solar system.  It’s twelve billion miles away from us.  You know how we track it?  It’s got a twenty-watt radio on board.  If you want to know what we are doing up there, look up.  Anything Cividan builds or does in orbit can be seen.

There is even given in the book the internet address for their ‘company’.   www.cividanlabs.com   Yeah, that site exists, and you can go there and read about all of their fictional programs and updates.  and even sign up for updates.

Very clever, and other than Cividan Laboratories, there is no author given.  Even the publisher is listed as Cividan Labs.   If it weren’t set in 2025, you would get to thinking it was real.

In Greek mythology, Cerberus, often called the “hound of Hades”, is a multi-headed dog that guards the gates of the Underworld to prevent the dead from leaving.

 

FEEDBACK by Peter Cawdron

Groundhog Day with space ships!  Hot diggity dawg!

It’s a time travel-y thing, with a UFO space ship that is actually biological, and a kid who keeps appearing under variants of his name:  Jason, Jai-San, etc.

Here’s the low down:  “Twenty years ago, a UFO crashed into the Yellow Sea off the Korean Peninsula. The only survivor was a young English-speaking child, captured by the North Koreans. Two decades later, a physics student watches his girlfriend disappear before his eyes, abducted from the streets of New York by what appears to be the same UFO. Feedback will carry you from the desolate, windswept coastline of North Korea to the bustling streets of New York and on into the depths of space as you journey to the outer edge of our solar system looking for answers.”

So, anyway, it’s kind of like karma — ya gotta keep coming back until you get it right.

I’m sitting here trying to think of something else to say, but I got nuthin’.  It was a fun and compelling read, and just the teensiest bit hokey at the very end.  Yeah, well. But there IS a part where a guy gets his fingers chopped off by the North Korean army, so there is that.

Oh, yeah.  The title refers to what happens when your amp is too close to the microphone.  You get feedback, right?   Infinite regress, and all that.

LOSING MARS by Pater Cawdron

Disaster strikes in orbit around Mars. A Chinese spacecraft is disabled, stranded near Phobos. Well over a hundred million miles from Earth, their only hope for rescue comes from the American base on the edge of the Vallis Marineris on the surface of Mars. The Americans need to decide, do they lose Mars or their humanity?

Six scientists are on Mars for two years to map some of the terrain, and examine the rocks etc.  Three couples, one of which is a lesbian couple.  While out roving, one of the guys falls over a ledge into some kind of crevasse, and needs rescuing, which is done by the first person narrator, a botanist, whose spouse is the mission’s doctor.

Then, they are alerted by NASA that the nearby Russian ship which is orbiting Phobos, and exploring its surface. is in trouble.  Seems there was an explosion.  Our narrator feels they should attempt a rescue, which means using their only return to USA vehicle.  They can got to the Russians, but then must leave for Earth, leaving the others behind on Mars for the remainder of the mission.

So our narrator, once again playing hero, and another woman, take off for the rescue, and find nobody on the Russian ship, although NASA is telling them that of the 4 man crew, there are now registering only two heartbeats.  The woman takes a jet pack and enters the Russian ship, experiences something weird, and nothing more is heard from her.  Our botanist hero then goes after her, to find himself caught up in some surreal thing where he skips in time to various situations in his life, stuff in the past, the future.  He is pulled back into reality by the voice of his crew chief and his wife.  He manages to get back into his own rescue vehicle.

Then there is some convoluted stuff and he is asked to stop by Phobos as he passes it (could ya pick up a loaf of bread and quart of milk on your way home?) to take some pics, he crashes on Phobos, ends up finding some kind of huge cavern with hundreds of dessicated bodies of four-armed aliens, dead for millenia, gets involved in a lot more time travel horse pucky, finds the female who was with him in some kind of coma, rescues her, find the two Russian astronauts, also in comas, rescues them, and takes everybody back to Earth (along with the bread and milk and a Hershey bar), where he spends the next 50 years not telling anybody about any of this because the technology is so far advanced he is afraid that humans will destroy themselves in heartbeat.

Pros:  lots of good science kind of stuff, lots of good nitty gritty details of life on a dead planet, and NASA routines, some real creativity about the aliens, etc.

Con:  “I’m just a poor simple botanist”  schtick is really annoying.  He is the only hero we have in the story.  It is awkward having the narrator narrating how humble and wonderful he is.  For me, it would have worked better with an omniscient narrator.

Con: Too much moralizing and preachiness.  The last quarter of the book was for me really a drag, with too much wandering around time-space and hallucinating yada yada yada.

Three stars, maybe four if I’m having a good day.