These were the work I read and enjoyed, but did not which did not receive enough nominations to make the list of finalists for the 2018 Hugo Award. Numbered amongst my nominees were 'American War', All our Wrong Todays' and 'The Stars are Legion'. All are worthy works to read.
Seven Surrenders is every bit as infuriating and brilliant as the first half of Mycroft Canners's history of the flawed utopia of 'Terra Ignota'. Whilst 'Too Like the Lightning' sets the scene, recounting the murders of the Mardi Bash by Mycroft Canner, introducing the reader to the miraculous child Bridger. the manipulated leaders of the world spanning Hives and the Machiavellian Madame D'Arouet and her scandalous salon. A seemingly minor theft uncovers suspicions surrounding the activities of the Saneer-Weeksbooth bash, controllers of the world spanning transport network , the sequel uncovers the causes, and recounts the consequences which arise from these events.
The most effective passages are the extended setpieces in Romanova and environs, where the protagonists contend, with attendant mayhem and bloodshed, and in the revealing conversations in the Madame's salon, where the plots and deceptions are laid bare. Less effective are the philosophical ruminations on godhead and destiny, which never for me transcend my suspension of disbelief, with the effect of throwing me out of story to exclaim 'WTF'. I just can't believe in JEDD Mason. At All. Sorry Ada. But the ideas make the reader think, even if it is to think that nobody could be that stupid!
It is testament to the power of the author's vision and execution that I could pick it up again, just to see what happens in the end. Suffice to say, it does not end well. And there is a 3rd installment to anticipate in future ('The Will to Battle'). Forward then, brave Achilles!
What do you do when the economic system finds that you are surplus to its requirements? Cory Doctorow attempts to answer this question in this near future dystopia/utopia.
The world is ravaged by climate change, by the loss of employment for the huddled masses. You havve been replaced by robots and automation, by 3D printing of the basic necessities and replicating 'fabbers' which don't need your input. Well. you just walk away from it, and build something of your own using the cast-offs of the post-industrial revolution.
Which is fine from the perspective of the uber-rich until the 'walkaways' begin to upset the system, threatening to turn it on its head, depriving the rulers of their rightful place and rewards.
And so this leads to a bitter struggle for the future of humanity and post-humanity.
The story follows the exploits of a trio of walkaways, Seth, Etcetera and Iceweasel, who have decamped the 'default' to make their own way. The society they create. the characters they meet and their struggle to survive and grow makes for a gripping narrative, brimming with challenging ideas and concepts. Doctorow dares to imagine a future which does not depend on mindless expansion and eternal growth, concentrating resources into the hands of the few for little benefit to the majority or the planet.
With a nod to Thomas Piketty ('Capital in the 21st Century'), David Graeber ('Debt: The First 5000 Years') and Rebecca Solnit ('A Paradise Built in Hell), 'Walkaway succeeds in telling a tale which introduces the reader to ideas that might actually matter whilst entertaining them thoroughly in the process.
It is not so surprising to find that Chris Brookmyre has written his first science fiction novel. His hugely popular crime novels have frequently contained and even depended on genre elements, most particularly to computer gaming references. But it does take some time to work out just why the setting of this latest crime novel should be the dark and seedy underbelly of a space station, the 'ciduad de cielo' rather than the back streets of Glasgow or Edinburgh.
It is brave of Brookmyre to eschew his usual formula, where the reader is most often apprised of who is the instigator of the dastardly deed of murder and mayhem revealed at the outset. The thrill of the chase is instead in just how the investigating heroes, be they Jasmine Sharp, Catherine MacLeod, or Jack Parlabane piece together the breadcrumb clues and lead them to the miscreants, who will invariably be pillars of the conservative establishment, or captains of industry, and whose comeuppance will be both enjoyable and deliciously appropriate to the nature of their transgressions. Brookmyre relies on the sometimes challenging backstory of his protagonists to elicit empathy with their plight, and have readers cheering them on.
So the when mismatched pair in whose hands the investigation into the 'first' murder on the 'ciduad de cielo' is dumped have a curious lack of history revealed or explored, it makes Alice Blake and Nikki Freeman hard to care about. Particularly when Alice Blake appears for all the world like a privileged child of the establishment, and Freeman (aka Nikki Fixx) has no apparent 'heart of gold' as counterpoint to her corrupt mercenary cop persona.
Suffice to say without spoilers that this set up proves a key aspect of what makes the stakes so high, and success in the investigation most vital. It is in this mystery and danger that the science fiction element becomes both apparent and required for the success of the story and the resolution of the conflicts of the protagonists. I found it to be not particularly plausible, but I was certainly able to suspend disbelief effectively enough that the payoff was satisfying. It helped that the danger and peril into which our heroes had been plunged managed to keep the adrenaline pumping and the pages turning fot the last half of the book.
Eligible for the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2018.
At the end of Luna: New Moon, things do not look good for thr Corta family. Their empire has come off a very poor second in the continual internecine battles between the five family corporations (the Five Dragons), who rule the moon. Their rivals, the Mackenzies and the Suns seem victorious.
With their home destroyed, and their corporation gobbled up by the other Dragons, the surviving Corta children, Lucas, Lucascinho, Ariel, Robson, Luna and Wagner are scattered and in hiding. Only Lucas Corta has a plan. A dangerous, risky plan which will probably kill him. He cannot share it with his siblings. He goes for it anyway...
McDonald has drawn an entrancing picture of a working civilization on the moon, drawing on the tropes used by writers of the past. There are echoes of Clarke and Heinlein, though the pure exuberance of the lunar social world and its mores and customs is reminiscent of the 'Seven Worlds' stories of John Varley.
As with the events of New Moon, there is much wanton destruction by all of the players of precious infrastructure, resources and lives in the pursuit of power for its own sake. These endeavors are anything but glorious. But there are also stories of survival against the odds, and the cold equations of mathematics and physics and biology. It is these stories of human endurance which have the most resonance and power for the reader.
This installment ends on another cliffhanger, promising further adventures, and implying that the protagonists will cause more waste and destruction before there comes resolution.
Is it a world, or a ship? Just how and why does it work that way? And why is it dying, and why can't we seem to do anything other than help to kill it? These are some of the questions that Zan and Jayd must answer as they seek to learn the world and implement a plan that will bring them hope and freedom. It is a high octane and wild ride, filled with betrayal, visceral horror and a well imagined and quite alien world.
Note for all man-childs out there. There are no manly men doing doings of bravery and derring do in this book. There are no men at all! There seem to be only women, and they seem to be able to fend for themselves quite well. And it all fits seamlessly into the built world!
Charles Stross' latest installment in his 'multiverse' series kicks of more than a decade after the events of the concluding volume of the 'Family Trade' series.
A strong beginning introduces us to Rita Douglas, surrendered daughter of Miriam Beckstein, the heroine of the earlier series. Rita is a struggling actor, in the paranoid and repressive USA of her timeline. She is being watched closely by the security services, who plan to 'coopt' her into service, trading on her resentment of her 'abandonment' to manipulate her loyalty. Their need is great. They have nuked the homeland of the Clan, whose factional war resulted in the destruction of the White House in 2003, but they fear that they might not have finished the job. And they have evidence of other, more advanced unknowns in the multiverse who may likewise threaten their future existence.
But it turns out the Rita's background story is just a little more complicated and byzantine than even the security apparatus of a Rumsfeld inspired USA could imagine.
This is a fast and easy read, flows along nicely despite getting slighly bogged down in the recap and update of events in the timeline into which the Clan's refugees, lead by Miriam Beckstein have escaped. But Miriam and her followers also have a plan. None less than to return the flame of democracy to the benighted USA.
If you are of the view that 'if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear' then Stross' sceptical approach to the benefits of the security state may not be convincing. He is however, able to adroitly posit 'good' people, within a misguided or evil system, making the narrative more complex than just a simple good versus bad dichotomy. All is not sweetness and light in the world of the putative 'good guys' either. The political instability of a people who have just lately thrown off the yoke of the 'Ancien Regime' is both plausible, and deftly plotted.
This installment leads to a tantalising climax, promising more excitement in the next 2 volumes. 'Dark State' is scheduled in January 2018, and the concluding volume 'Invisible Sun' a year later.
Omar El Akkad knows something about revolutions, lost causes and cautionary tales. He has reported at length on the misadventures of the West in the Middle East, on terrorism and on oppression at home and abroad, and its effects on the oppressed and how they choose to resist.
The 2nd American Civil War (2075-2095) is described through the eyes and words of Sarat Chestnut, a child of the drowned and desperate 'Free Southern States' some fifty years hence. In this doomed enterprise, the South is fighting for another economic 'lost cause', in this case the right to continue to use the fossil fuels whose effects on climate have drowned the cities of the coast and disrupted the economic house of cards of the once mighty USA.
it is a treatise on the way in which the strong seek to keep their opposition divided and weak. The mighty are of couse, only here to help. 'Our guns, but your blood', says Joe, the representative of the solar power rich Bouazizi Empire, now ensuring that the nasty little war over a lost cause continues to be sustained. It just needs the right tools. Sarat Chestnut turns out to be a perfect tool for the purposes of those who pull the strings. 'When will you know that the tool is ready? The tool is ready when it does what you need it to do.'
There is no glory in the exploits of the warrior class. It is merely the old and the powerful using the passions of the young and desperate to delude them to their own destruction, and the destruction of anything they hold dear. Atrocities and abomination are the lot of the soldier. But 'If it had been you, you'd have done no different'. The important thing is how the tale is told. 'Wars are fought with guns. The peace is fought with stories'. So it goes.
It is not a happy story. There is no closure or vindication to be had. But with our world as it is now, with the pre-eminence of hateful and ignorant voices, it is an important one. Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.
The novel has been nominated for a 'Dragon' award (Dragoncon's attempt at a Fan award), in the Alternate History category. It is really too good for that award!
Tom Barren is a disappointment to his genius father, inventor of the first time machine. He has inadvertently caused Penelope, the woman of his dreams to lose her only reason for living, with tragic consequences. But most of all, he is a disappointment to himself. Especially when, after the aforementioned tragic events, his impulsive and careless use of his father's invention causes the erasure of the perfect world into which he was born.
So begins Elan Mastai's time travel caper, narrated by the ever so unreliable Tom. The version of 2016 into which Tom finds himself rudely thrust looks awfully like our own world. There is admittedly no evidence of Donald Trump, but limitless free energy, flying cars, teleportation, world peace and robot maids are sadly absent. Tom's time travelling misadventure disrupted the first trial of the wonderful machine which provided the world with limitless free energy. Guilt ridden, Tom's first thought is that he must rectify his mistake, and return to his proper timeline.
Only it turns out to be much more difficult, perilous and complicated than that.
The novel works on a number of levels. There is just enough consistent handwavery to justify the science fantasy of time travel and free energy. There are engaging and (mostly) believable characterisations. The motivations of the cast are consistent and not manipulated for the needs of the plot. Tom, as drawn by the author has sufficient complexity to keep us wondering what choices he will make. And the narration is both humouros and humane, cut through with insight and honesty as Tom questions his motives, choices and behaviour.
This is a novel which is very much worth your time.