Archive for the 'Books' Category

Joe Zieja’s 2016 debut ‘Mechanical Failure’ pits a grade-A slacker against a dysfunctional military

June 22, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 22, 2019

The 2016 science fiction comedy Mechanical Failure was the debut novel by Joe Zieja, an Air Force Academy graduate who’s worked as a voiceover artist and composer for commercials and video games. The book, which is set centuries in the future, follows R. Wilson Rogers, a retired sergeant of the Meridan Patrol Fleet in a distant corner of the universe. (“The Fortuna Stultus galaxy had been humanity’s home for a thousand years or so — ever since they’d accidentally collapsed the Milky Way,” Zieja explains in an aside.)

As Mechanical Failure begins, Rogers is a smuggler and con artist trying to play two different criminal factions against each other. Rogers is a bon vivant and slacker, but he’s close to getting away with his scam (passing off baking flour as medical supplies) when a patrol ship stumbles upon the small flotilla of mercenary ships where the phony sale is occurring. Upon being arrested, Rogers is allowed to choose between serving up to five years a prison or a three-year re-enlistment.

He opts for the latter, and ends up returning to his old assignment: A berth aboard “the aptly-if-uncreatively named [Meridan Patrol Ship] Flagship.” Flagship is, of course, the flagship vessel of the 331st Anti-Thelicosan Buffer Group, which has helped maintain the Two Hundred Years’ (and Counting) Peace for, well… you know.

However, Rogers finds that a lot has changed in his former unit. The 331st is on a war footing, the Flagship is awash in robots, and personnel assignments have been shuffled seemingly at random. Worst of all, Rogers finds himself the recipient of an unwanted and unexpected promotion. As the newly minted Ensign Rogers laments, he’d “never wanted responsibility or accountability, people calling him ‘sir’ and saluting him, people asking him to fill out paperwork.”

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Alex White’s thrilling ‘A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe’ assembles a band of misfits for a perilous treasure hunt

June 20, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 20, 2019

Alex White, an Alabama resident who uses the gender-neutral pronoun they, has published at least five novels, the first of which appeared in 2011. (Goodreads also credits White with a 2005 novel.)

2018 was an extremely prolific year for White. In April, they published Alien: The Cold Forge, licensed from the 20th Century Fox science-fiction film franchise that was recently acquired by the Disney empire. Two months later, White followed up with an original book, A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe. In December, White published A Bad Deal for the Whole Universe, a sequel to A Big Ship in what is billed as the Scavengers series. (A third entry in the series, The Worst of All Possible Worlds, is due out in a year.)

I checked a digital copy of A Big Ship out of my local library based on a half-read description. I was attracted by the prospect of a ragtag band seeking out a powerful lost warship that some dismiss as fictitious.

Once I began reading A Big Ship, I was a bit taken aback to discover that it was a science-fiction/fantasy genre crossover. Although the story is set in a future where humans have colonized many different star systems and journey in faster-than-light spaceships, most of the characters use magic. I also was a bit put off by the characters, who are something of a motley lot.

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A marine legend turns terrifyingly real for the scientists and sailors of Mira Grant’s ‘Into the Drowning Deep’

June 18, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 18, 2019

Author’s note: This book review, and particularly the novel excerpt featured herein, concerns a horror story and may not be appropriate for younger or sensitive readers. MEM

The California-born author Seanan McGuire has published, by my count, more than 40 different books, a handful of essays and dozens of short stories — all this before her 42nd birthday. In a somewhat catty assessment, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction sniffs that “[t]he fluent copiousness of McGuire’s talent helps explain the rapid increase of interest in her work; but may also explain its occasional repetitiveness.”

Some 10 of McGuire’s novels appear under the nom de plume Mira Grant, which she adopted for reasons unclear to me. The most recent Grant book is 2017’s Into the Drowning Deep, an entertaining trifle about a research vessel that makes… well, not exactly first contact… with carnivorous human/fish hybrids that normally dwell in the deeps of the Pacific Ocean.

Grant assembles her voyagers aboard the Melusine, a spacious new research vessel that sets sail for the Mariana Trench in August 2022. The ship and expedition have been commissioned by Imagine Entertainment, a media empire with the approximate success and scope of Disney — although its aesthetics are more aligned with those of infamous C-movie studios like Cannon Films and the Asylum.

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Aliette de Bodard’s ‘The Citadel of Weeping Pearls’ is an unimpression extension of her Xuya science-fiction sequence

June 15, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 15, 2019

Some months ago, I read a short novel called On a Red Station, Drifting, set in a future galactic empire guided by the values of ancient Vietnamese culture. Aliette de Bodard’s tale evoked a very different vision of human expansion than the American- and European-centered versions with which I grew up. De Bodard is an American-born software engineer who shares French and Vietnamese heritage who has spent most of her life in France, and I was fascinated and enchanted by her creation.

Regrettably, I was far less absorbed by de Bodard’s 2017 follow-up, The Citadel of Weeping Pearls, which is set a few decades after Red Station. The empire is still embroiled in conflict, but the irresolute young emperor has been replaced a number of years ago by a much firmer queen. In a bid to counter a new threat, Empress Mi Hiep has launched a project to find the titular citadel.

The citadel is not a building but a fleet commanded by the monarch’s estranged daughter, Bright Princess Ngoc Minh. The highly advanced ships disappeared three decades ago, but now Mi Hiep believes she needs the citadel’s innovative engines, defenses and weapons to repel a surprisingly swift invasion fleet dispatched by a rival kingdom.

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An amnesiac Londoner with supernatural powers is charged with sniffing out a mole in Daniel O’Malley’s ‘The Rook’

June 12, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 12, 2019

The Rook, a 2012 novel by an American-educated Australian, launched what to date has been a two-part series called the Chequy Files. Daniel O’Malley’s first book belongs to a genre I think of as urban fantasy fiction, which the 1997 Encyclopedia of Fantasy defines in part as “the subgenre of stories set in an alternate version of our modern world where humans (often with special Talents) and supernatural beings — most typically Vampires, Werewolves, assorted other Shapeshifters and very humanlike Elves or Fairies — interact via adventure, melodrama, intrigue and Sex.”

Now I enjoyed the Harry Potter series about as much as anyone else my age. In my early teens, I was something of a fantasy aficionado, dabbling in The Lord of the Rings and successors such as Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern volumes, Terry Brooks’s Shannara series and Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant books. But my interest in the genre died off sometime by the middle or end of the 1990s. Other than J.K. Rowlings’s mega-best-selling Potter series, I hadn’t read a new work of fantasy in something like two decades — until last month.

The Rook has a very clever premise and is mostly well-written, but it emphatically did not rekindle my interest in fantasy. The book begins with a woman standing in the rain in a London park with no knowledge of who she is or why she’s surrounded by bodies of people wearing latex gloves. This mostly blank slate is inhabiting the body of Myfanwy Thomas, an high-ranking official in “the Court” of a quasigovernmental secret British institution called the Checquy Group. (Her given name rhymes with Tiffany; the organization’s sounds like Sheck-Eh.)

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A covert agent fights his way through a hazardous galaxy in Iain M. Banks’s dynamic 1987 novel ‘Consider Phlebas’

June 5, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 5, 2019

Iain Banks, who published many of his science fiction novels as Iain M. Banks, falls into what for me is quite a large category of knowledge — or perhaps I should say quasi-knowledge. This Scottish writer’s name is something I’ve heard or read and am aware of, but I could not really tell you anything specific about him.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction credits Banks, who died in 2013 at age 59, with 33 titles. His debut novel came out in 1984 and was followed by books in each of the following two years. In 1987, impressively, Banks published a whopping three books; he maintained a relatively brisk pace for the rest of his life. Consider Phlebas, which was part of that trio, is part of my local library’s catalog of digital books. On the cover is a legend labeling the volume as “A Culture Novel.”

Prior to this spring, on a good day, about the only bit of information my brain could have dredged up about Banks, besides his being a writer, is that he had authored a science fiction series named after something called the Culture.

In fact, Consider Phlebas is the first novel in what ultimately wound up as an 11-book series that spanned most of Banks’s wiring life. I had very little idea what to expect from the series as a whole or the debut entry in particular, in part because the library catalog description is a bit vague. I’ll confess that I anticipated some highfaluting book of ideas, a notion that may have been fostered by my associations with the word “culture.”

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Three entertaining Connie Willis novellas journey to space school, future Hollywood and a remote planet in ‘Terra Incognita’

May 13, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 13, 2019

American author Connie Willis was named a grand master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2011. She’s best known for a quartet of novels in which historians from the University of Oxford travel through time to conduct their work; all four books won the Hugo award, and three of them also won the Nebula.

Terra Incognita, a 2018 anthology, collects three tales by Willis, presented by date of publication; I’ll be discussing them in reverse order.

The last item, “D.A.,” which appeared in 2007, is the slightest of the works, both in length and substance. The story is narrated by Theodora Baumgarten, a senior at Winfrey High School in Colorado who has her heart set on attending UCLA.

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Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids: Brian Aldiss examines whether the human species has a future in ‘Finches of Mars’

May 4, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 4, 2019

I gave passing mention to British science fiction author Brian W. Aldiss about two and a half years ago, in the first part of my examination of which science fiction grand masters have had the most works translated into television and film. But only recently have I ever read any of his novels.

Finches of Mars came out in 2012; it was Aldiss’s last science fiction novel, although he subsequently published an original anthology, a revised novel and a non-genre novel before his death in 2017. Somewhat like Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station, Finches of Mars features a narrative that, at least initially, floats almost aimlessly from character to character and even, in this case, planet to planet. (However, I have no indication that Aldiss wrote the chapters as individual pieces or intended them to work on their own, as Tidhar appears to have done.)

The situation Aldiss posits is rather dire: Roughly a century in the future, Earth is even more conflict-riven than today. About four million people live on the moon, but they must rotate back home every three months to prevent deleterious effects of longterm exposure to low gravity. A consortium of schools, UU, or United Universities, has established humanity’s first beachhead on an entirely different planet: Six residential towers, segregated by region. (Westerners, Chinese, Russians, Singapore and Thailand, South America and Scandinavia each have their own building on Mars.)

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To sleep, perchance to change the world? Ursula Le Guin plumbs the depths of subconsciousness to little effect in ‘The Lathe of Heaven’

April 30, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 30, 2019

In 2002, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America designated Ursula K. Le Guin as a grand master. The American was the 20th author to win the honor but only the second woman, after Andre Norton in 1983. Despite her prestige and influence — Le Guin, who died last year at age 87, was named a living legend by the U.S. Library of Congress two years before she was honored by SFWA — I’ve only read a handful of her tales, mostly in the form of short fiction included in anthologies.

Le Guin’s sixth novel was The Lathe of Heaven. Unlike the preceding volumes, four of which established the Hainish or League of All Worlds universe and one of which launched the Earthsea saga, this 1971 narrative is a stand-alone story about one George Orr. This mild-mannered draftsman from Portland, Ore., seems thoroughly average in every way but one: He’s afraid of his own dreams.

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Human evolution moves in new and strange ways in ‘Central Station,’ Lavie Tidhar’s loosely linked 2016 novel about future Tel Aviv

April 29, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 29, 2019

Central Station, Lavie Tidhar’s 2016 novel, is a rambling meditation on the nature of humanity and the possible directions our species might take in the coming decades.

Tidhar envisions a future Israel that has been apportioned and has achieved a measure of stability. Palestine includes what has become the city of Jaffa, while Jews retain the remainder of Tel Aviv and other parts of today’s Israeli territory. The space port of Central Station straddles the two cities, uniting and dividing them, funneling people and goods both into and out of the sector.

The port serves as a gateway to colonies all around the solar system. But that doesn’t entirely explain Central Station’s amazing diversity: The neighborhood boasts creatures of many ethnicities and native tongues. Some of these are very familiar, others are fantastic and still others are wholly intangible — and a number, like the port, straddle different categories of existence.

Tidhar, an Israeli, begins to outline Central Station’s huge variety with this passage near the start of his book:

The rain caught them by surprise. The space port, this great white whale, like a living mountain rising out of the urban bedrock, drew onto itself the formation of clouds, its very own miniature weather system. Like islands in the ocean, space ports saw localized rains, cloudy skies, and a growth industry of mini-farms growing like lichen on the side of their vast edifices. 

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‘Broken Angels,’ Richard K. Morgan’s sequel to ‘Altered Carbon,’ puts his hero in jeopardy on a war-torn colony world

April 22, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 22, 2019

About four months ago, I reviewed Altered Carbon, the breakout debut novel by British science fiction and fantasy author Richard K. Morgan. Last week, my local library hold on a digital copy of the sequel, Broken Angels, and I’m happy to report that it’s just as entertaining as its predecessor.

The second book, which was published in the U.S. the same year as Morgan’s first, 2003, is set on the war-wracked colony planet Sentinel Sanction IV roughly 30 years after the events of Altered Carbon. The story opens when narrator Takeshi Kovacs, a soldier with a freighted past, is approached while recuperating from wounds sustained in a savage local civil war being fought between a cartel and insurrectionists. This individual has a proposition for Kovacs that concerns an artifact left behind by an apparently extinct alien race whose remains humans have been uncovering and attempting to interpret for centuries:

“[A]ny decent archaeologue who wants to make a killing is going to head for the centers of habitation, and that’s what they all did.” 

“How do you know all this, Schneider? You’re not an archaeologue.” 

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Humanity makes a sudden and unexpected splash on the interstellar scene in Patrick Tomlinson’s science-fiction novel ‘Gate Crashers’

April 13, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 13, 2019

Patrick S. Tomlinson’s 2018 science-fiction story, Gate Crashers, is an uneven but promising work.

At the heart of the book is a slight twist on a familiar premise: Homo sapiens discover an alien device and use it to reverse-engineer revolutionary technologies, including faster-than-light travel. Tomlinson’s novelty is that the object is discovered in deep space — literally the middle of nowhere — by humanity’s most ambitious crewed extrasolar flight. However, the crew is not alone…

…and not just because there are aliens about.

Due to the miracle of quantum entanglement radio, or QER (for which read: ansible), which enables instantaneous communication, the crew of the American/European Union Starship Magellan is able to share its discovery with a small group of scientists at the American/European Space Space Administration, the 24th century’s successor to NASA. The ground-based team of whiz kids team up with the astronauts to unlock amazing secrets.

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A time-traveling federal agent doggedly pursues justice in Tom Sweterlitsch’s gripping novel ‘The Gone World’

April 12, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 12, 2019

I’d never heard of Pittsburgh science-fiction author Tom Sweterlitsch until I stumbled across a library catalog listing for his second novel, 2018’s The Gone World. Having read the book last month, however, I’m prepared to say that he’s a force to be reckoned with in the genre.

Sweterlitsch’s debut book, Tomorrow and Tomorrow, concerned a man who investigates unexplained deaths in a virtual recreation of a destroyed city. The Gone World is a complex time-travel mystery in which a Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent attempts to apprehend a SEAL accused of slaughtering his wife and children.

The protagonist here, Shannon Moss, is uniquely qualified to investigate the 1997 triple homicide. Like suspect Patrick Mursult, Moss trained to sail with Naval Space Command, a classified U.S. military fleet capable of probing the distant reaches of time and space. Moss was diverted to NCIS after her first solo excursion on a far-future Earth ended in a bizarre injury that resulted in the partial amputation of her left leg.

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Science fiction anthology roundup, including a major reason to visit ‘Old Venus’

March 31, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 31, 2019

Over the last month and a half or so, I’ve been reading a handful of anthologies. Notable among them were Galactic Empires, a 2017 publication edited by Neil Clarke themed on, well, exactly what the title says; and Infinite Stars, also from 2017, edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt and billing itself — rather grandiosely, I thought — as “The Definitive Anthology of Space Opera and Military SF.” I enjoyed both volumes but thought the former to be stronger overall.

It’s worth devoting a moment on Schmidt’s collection because it revisits some famous science fiction universes. Infinite Stars includes a new Dune story co-written by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, which I found to be particularly weak, and an original “Ender’s Game” story by Orson Scott Card, which I didn’t much enjoy but felt arrived at a haunting ending. I particularly enjoyed Nnedi Okorafor’s “Binti,” which approaches space exploration and interspecies conflict from an African perspective, and “Night Passage,” an Alastair Reynolds tale set in his “Revelation Space” saga, of which (unlike “Dune” and “Ender’s Game”) I have no knowledge.

However, the real point of this post is to share a few thoughts about Old Venus, a 2015 themed collection edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois.

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The specter of death writ large looms over Ben Winters’s science fiction–mystery hybrid ‘The Last Policeman’

March 26, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 26, 2019

Maryland native Ben H. Winters is a prolific author whose first two books, published in 2009 and 2010, were the literary mashups Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Android Karenina. The author’s first wholly original novel, the horror story Bedbugs, appeared in 2011. Since then, Winters has completed a number of volumes for adults and young readers. His work for the youth set includes a horror anthology and a pair of mysteries. Over the years, Winters has also penned several theatrical productions meant for both adult and young audiences.

Most of Winters’s adult-oriented tales have science-fictional elements; many also borrow elements from the mystery genre. His 2012 book, The Last Policeman, straddled both literary categories in launching what’s come to be called the Last Policeman trilogy.

The core death investigation plays out against an unusual background: The planet is six months away from a catastrophic collision with a massive asteroid. A number of tales about apocalyptic encounters between Earth and heavenly bodies with menacing trajectories focus on the effort to avert potential tragedy or to preserve segments of the population. The 1998 movie Deep Impact, by way of example, features both elements, with the U.S. government converting a set of Missouri caves into a shelter for a million survivors while a space mission attempts to alter the asteroid’s course.

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Horror maven Stephen King’s 1978 anthology ‘Night Shift’ still packs a powerful sting

March 23, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 23, 2019

Look, Stephen King obviously doesn’t need my help to sell more copies of his books — even though, as I recently established, he isn’t the best-selling modern fiction author of all (or even just of modern) times. But still…

I recently reread Night Shift, a 1978 anthology of King stories that I probably first read back in the ’80s. I’m happy to report that I enjoyed it as much as I did the first time round. Some of the passages that chilled me back then gave me the same shivers of horror more than two decades later.

The book contains 20 stories, which by my count directly inspired an eye-popping six movies: Children of the CornMaximum Overdrive (infamously known as King’s only directorial outing, based on the story “Trucks”), Graveyard ShiftThe ManglerSometimes They Come Back and The Lawnmower Man (although this film was so loosely based on King’s story that he successfully sued to have his writing credit de-emphasized).

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Authorial success: A highly skewed investigation

March 21, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 21, 2019

The other day, I wondered who was the most successful author of all time. So I did what people do in 2019: I consulted Wikipedia.

As of mid-March 2019, a regularly updated Wikipedia list of books sold ranked Stephen King as the 22nd most successful fiction author. The American horror scribe rises to 16th by excluding writers working in a language other than English — by name, Belgian mystery writer Georges Simenon, Japanese manga artists Eiichiro Oda and Akira Toriyama, Spanish romance author Corin Tellado, Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy and Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. And by removing five children’s and young-adult writers — Brits Enid Blyton, J.K. Rowling and Gilbert Patten and Americans Dr. Seuss and R.L. Stine — King rises to 11th place.

Now, you might protest that this is cheating. After all, not all of Rowling’s books have been aimed at youngsters — see The Casual Vacancy and her trio of mysteries written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Moreover, there’s some debate over whether the Harry Potter series, which of course brought Rowling fame and fortune, is properly categorized as children’s literature. My qualms about classification extend to Stine, Blyton and Patten, with whose work I have zero familiarity. But who’s writing this post — me or you?

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A Canadian master puts a modern twist on Shakespeare in Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Heart Goes Last’

March 17, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 17, 2019

Margaret Atwood, the Canadian poet and novelist, is one of the most celebrated contemporary writers. Her popular 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, postulated a post-democratic United States controlled by fundamentalist Christians. The book, which Hulu adapted into a hit streaming video series, plumbed the souls of a certain strain of Reagan supporters and came away with a vision of a near-future America that no longer seems as preposterous as it once did. (See: Bush, George W.; and Trump, Donald.)

Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy explored future scenarios that were far wilder — as well as more dystopian and more apocalyptic — than that of The Handmaid’s Tale. As with the earlier book, the vision expressed in 2003’s Oryx and Crake and sequels, seems more relevant today than at the time of publication. Not only does corporate power, and its ability to quash individuality and independence, appear to be ascendant in the United States (thanks in no small part to federal judges appointed by Bush and Trump), scientists are slowly acquiring the genetic mastery needed to create the augmented, hybrid and altogether novel species that Atwood described in her MaddAddam sequence.

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Unseen phenomena seemingly lurk around every corner in Jeff VanderMeer’s ‘Authority’

March 4, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 4, 2019

Annihilation, the first book in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, described the dissolution of a four-woman expedition into Area X, a mysterious zone somewhere on the coast of the U.S. Authority, which like the other books in the sequence was published in 2014, details the aftermath of the excursion.

The book takes the point of view of one John Rodriguez, who for reasons that are never fully explained goes by the moniker Control. A disgraced former operative with influential supporters in an unnamed American intelligence agency, Rodriguez as the story opens has just taken up his post as head of Southern Reach, the obscure government agency tasked with overseeing research into Area X.

The reason — or, at least, one reason — for Rodriguez’s appointment its explained to the reader early on:

His first full day was only four hours old and he already felt contaminated by the dingy, bizarre building with its worn green carpet and the antiquated opinions of the other personnel he had met. A sense of diminishment suffused everything, even the sunlight that halfheartedly pushed through the high, rectangular windows. He was wearing his usual black blazer and dress slacks, a white shirt with a light blue tie, black shoes he’d shined that morning. Now he wondered why he’d bothered. He disliked having such thoughts because he wasn’t above it all — he was in it — but they were hard to suppress. 

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John Scalzi traps readers in a dull narrative with his 2014 science fiction–detective novel ‘Lock In’

February 26, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 26, 2019

About four and a half years ago, I read and very much enjoyed John Scalzi’s popular 2012 novel Redshirts, a comic exploration of the (often short) lives of junior crew members aboard a starship that bore a suspicious resemblance to a certain vessel from the TV series Star Trek. This month, I read Lock In, which the same author published in 2014.

This Earthbound story, set perhaps three or four decades into our future, posits a world where a disease known as Haden’s syndrome has caused millions of people to experience total paralysis — the titular lock in. However, thanks to new scientific advances, victims needn’t suffer silent and unheard. (This fortunate development is partly a function of one very prominent early victim being Margaret Haden, the beloved spouse of an American president.)

Implanted neural nets enable Haden’s sufferers to remotely operate sophisticated human-shaped machines known as personal transports. While a Haden’s sufferer’s body remains stationary at home or in a facility, where they’re fed intravenously, transports or “threeps” enable her or his mind to engage with the real world. Threep users hear and sense just what a “normal” person would.

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William Gibson connects a small Georgia town to Russian-British kleptocrats in his intricate 2014 novel, ‘The Peripheral’

February 17, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 17, 2019

To read a William Gibson story is to embark upon a journey of discovery.  What kind of world — often at once amazing and dispiriting — has the U.S.-born writer created, and what convoluted scheme are the characters enmeshed in, voluntarily or otherwise? Moreover, what kind of inventive gadgets will they wield?

Gibson, who moved to Canada in 1968, after initially traveling there to explore options for avoiding the draft, is one of the titans of science fiction. Beginning in the early 1980s, Gibson’s enormously popular short stories and novels fueled the genre’s cyberpunk movement. The subgenre typically posits dire futures in which a small number of powerful corporations, oligarchs, criminal syndicates and autocratic, sometimes rogue, governmental organizations oppress large civilian populations; clever hackers who infiltrate computer systems also appear often.

Naturally, Gibson’s writing has evolved over the past three and a half decades. He’s no less enamored of novel scientific concepts and technology, but over time his stories have shifted their focus from heroic figures to regular people. That transition is on display in his most recent novel, 2014’s The Peripheral, which features as its main characters a dissolute publicist from (presumably) the late 21st or early 22nd century and an underemployed 27-year-old from small-town Georgia about a decade in our future.

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China Miéville invents an incredible alien civilization in ‘Embassytown’

February 14, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 14, 2019

I know the British author China Miéville by his reputation for being one of the more inventive science-fiction scribes working today. However, until recently, the only work of his that I’d read was his novelette “Reports of Certain Events in London,” a haunting epistolary tale about streets that mysteriously appear and disappear in that city.

Miéville’s 2011 novel, Embassytown, is narrated by one Avice Benner Cho, a native of the eponymous community on the planet Arieka. Cho lives in a future so distant that Earth’s location has been forgotten by humanity, which along with other sentient races lives in cities scattered across at least one galaxy. (Trade and travel is enabled by a mode of faster-than-light transportation known as immersion.) As it happens, one of the strangest places in existence is her native world, an isolated outpost populated by a race of alien genetic engineers called the Ariekei, also known as the Hosts.

There’s no simple way to describe the many-legged Hosts, which “walked with crablike precision … with a gait that made them look as if they must fall, though they did not.” They see through moving eye-corals, described as a “constellation of forking skin.” Each hears through a many-colored fanwing that extends from its back; each grips using a giftwing mounted below its primary mouth. Their technology, called biorigging, is completely organic — Ariekene buildings, batteries, power plants, planes, garbage cans and even their equivalent of spacesuits are all living beings.

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In ‘The Feed,’ a young married couple goes through hell after society’s disintegration

February 12, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 12, 2019

Think about what you do with your computer, phone and/or tablet: Scrolling through social media, favoriting your friends’ posts, checking and responding to emails, posting a rant or status update, sampling the headlines on your favorite news and entertainment websites, watching videos, sharing a funny meme or interesting article, voting in polls.

Now imagine doing all these things — and so much more — exclusively using your brain, with each activity consuming not seconds, or even tenths of a second, but mere thousandths of a second. What’s more, imagine if equipment enabling this instant networking could be implanted in utero. This near-future innovation serves as the basis for Nick Clark Windo’s 2018 science fiction novel, The Feed.

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Harry Harrison’s debut novel, ‘Deathworld,’ is a light and breezy science fiction adventure

February 7, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 7, 2019

As a child, I spent a bunch of time loitering in the science fiction section of libraries and bookstores; my friends also tended to be sci-fi enthusiasts. From these times, I have vague memories of the covers of paperback books written by Harry Harrison, whom I associate with a series of books about someone or something called the Stainless Steel Rat. However, I don’t think I’d ever actually read any of Harrison’s fiction until just the other week, when I zipped through his first novel.

Like many sci-fi adventures prior to 1980, Deathworld was initially published in periodical form. But even though the tale dates to 1960 (when its Connecticut-born author was 35), the book has a spare prose style and propulsive narrative that makes it feel like a much more contemporary work.

The hero of this work, Jason dinAlt, left his native stuffy, caste-conscious farm planet of Porgorstorsaand at age 19 and hasn’t looked back since. He became an itinerant gambler after realizing that he possessed unusually long runs of sustained success at games of chances — a phenomenon enhanced by his fickle psychic powers, which at times grant him amazing awareness of his environment and the thoughts of the people around him.

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Joe Haldeman postulated a peaceful first contact in his 1976 novel ‘Mindbridge’

February 5, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 5, 2019

Author’s note: This post contains some minor spoilers for the terrific novel The Forever War. Although these spoilers are rather trifling, If you have any interest in science fiction and haven’t read that book, I urge you to do so before you read this post! MEM

Joe Haldeman made his bones as a science fiction author in 1974 with his first genre novel, The Forever War. Like much of Haldeman’s work, this gritty soldier’s-eye perspective of a centuries-long conflict fought between humans and a mysterious alien race was informed by the author’s experiences as a draftee who was injured during his service in the Vietnam War.

Under a pseudonym, the Oklahoma-born author published two adventure novels featuring a merman before releasing another book using his own name. That volume was Mindbridge, a 1976 work which borrows a few techniques from The Forever War while tackling a story that in many ways is quite different from its predecessor.

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