Posts Tagged ‘science fiction novel’

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

March 4, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
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. 

Read the rest of this entry »

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

February 26, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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
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.

Read the rest of this entry »

China Miéville invents an incredible alien civilization in ‘Embassytown’

February 14, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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

February 12, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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

February 7, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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

February 5, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
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.

Read the rest of this entry »

A psychic astronaut hits the road in Clifford Simak’s 1961 novel ‘Time is the Simplest Thing’

February 2, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 2, 2019

Shortly after the opening of Time is the Simplest Thing, the 1961 Clifford D. Simak novel, protagonist Shepherd Blaine realizes that the machine he is telekinetically operating has entered an artificial structure in a desert on a faraway planet. The open-aired dwelling is occupied by a sprawling pink blob about 12 feet high with a base 20 feet in diameter.

“Hi pal,” the Pinkness tells the probe, “I trade with you my mind.” In that instant, the alien creature swaps a slice of its consciousness with part of Blaine’s… and in the next, Blaine’s mind is recalled to his sleeping body at the Fishhook complex in Northern Mexico.

It emerges that Blaine — and yes, his first name is capital-S Symbolic — is a sort of psychic astronatut who works for an organization called Fishhook. Over a century or so beginning around the end of the 1900s, Fishhook has harnessed psychic powers to explore outer space, a task to which human bodies and ordinary technology proved ill suited. As soon as Blaine awakens, he realizes that in a matter of minutes, the scientists at his organization will review recordings from the probe he’s been using and discover that he has been compromised.

Read the rest of this entry »

Astronauts face peril on a remote planet in Poul Anderson’s 1966 novel ‘World Without Stars’

January 31, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 31, 2019

I continue this month’s (inadvertent, I swear!) tour of early novels by science fiction and fantasy grand masters with World Without Stars, a 1966 tale by Danish-American author Poul Anderson.

The book revolves around an ill-starred voyage by the merchant vessel Captain Felipe Argens and his crew of eight. The Meteor is bound for a remote star located outside our galaxy, a place where sentient technology users have developed despite the relative paucity of heavy metals (due to the vagaries of the formation of isolated heavenly bodies).

Humanity is but one of many species that use space jump to zip from one point to another in Anderson’s far future. What’s more, galactic inhabitants are blessed with virtual immortality courtesy of the “antithanatic,” an internal system that instantly rejects “any hostile nucleic acids.” People don’t live forever, for as our narrator, Argens, relates, “sooner or later some chance combination of circumstances is bound to kill you.” And without selective memory editing every so often over the decades or centuries, brains become overwhelmed with information and eventually succumb to madness.

Still, the travelers are engineered to survive all but the most extreme exigencies, which means that for Anderson to imperil his characters, he must meet a high barrier. Naturally, the author realizes this, and he’s up to the challenge: In chapter five, out of 17 in the book, Meteor crash-lands on a distant planet. Two of the astronauts die instantly; one lasts only a few hours longer.

Read the rest of this entry »

Paper-thin characterizations help sink Robert Silverberg’s 1969 science-fiction tale ‘The Man in the Maze’

January 30, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 30, 2019

Every so often, I’ll think about books that I read, or at least tried to read. A long time ago, probably when I was a teenager, I stumbled across a promising book in my local library’s science fiction section. It was set in an ancient and deadly maze constructed millennia ago by a mysterious alien race that had long since gone extinct. The heart of this sprawling, city-sized labyrinth housed a former interstellar ambassador who lived in self-imposed exile after having been tainted in the course of making first contact with an alien species. This contamination, which took place unbeknownst to the ambassador, left him telepathically emitting a flood of noxious emotions that quickly sickened anyone who entered the same room as him.

Into this tableau enters a starship crew on a desperate quest: To evade the maze’s numerous dead ends and lethal traps, reach its center and recruit the embittered exile for a dangerous mission that could save humanity from extermination.

This seemed like a surefire premise for a science-fiction thriller. Unfortunately, experience belied expectations; my teenage self began reading this book but never finished, put off by meandering philosophical and psychological digressions that hopelessly bogged down what I’d expected to be an action-packed story.

Read the rest of this entry »

Richard K. Morgan’s dynamic 2003 debut novel, ‘Altered Carbon,’ is an entertaining murder mystery set on far-future Earth

January 29, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 29, 2019

Richard K. Morgan’s 2003 debut novel, Altered Carbon, is an immensely entertaining synthesis of two genres: The noir-style hard-boiled detective story and the hardcore cyberpunk science-fiction tale.

The narrator and protagonist of the tale is Takeshi Kovacs. A one-time hoodlum from Harlan’s World, Kovacs endured a rocky experience as a marine for the United Nations’ interplanetary protectorate before becoming a member of a shadowy group called the Envoys, a contingent of planet- and body-hopping warrior monks with the lethality and mission-oriented amorality of James Bond.

Kovacs has bombed out of the Envoys and been placed in punitive deep freeze when he’s summoned back to consciousness on Earth by Laurens Bancroft, an ultra-rich, nigh-immortal centuries-old Methuselah who needs a can-do private investigator to unravel the mystery of his death.

Read the rest of this entry »

Aliette de Bodard fashions a fascinating albeit understated crisis in deep space with her ingenious novel ‘On a Red Station, Drifting’

January 28, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 28, 2019

Aliette de Bodard’s 2013 novel On a Red Station, Drifting is an intriguing, understated science fiction story set in a future galactic empire where Vietnamese culture reigns supreme.

The story begins as Lê Thi Linh, a magistrate — here apparently signifying a planetary governor — arrives at an interstellar outpost known as Prosper Station. Linh has preemptively fled her position on the Twenty-Third planet because of an approaching invasion fleet led by an insurrectionist warlord. Resources are scarce on Prosper Station because of the rebellion, which the emperor finds himself unable or unwilling to resolve. The position of chief human administrator on Prosper has fallen to Lê Thi Quyen, whose husband was drafted by the empire.

Read the rest of this entry »

In George R.R. Martin’s 1981 science fiction thriller ‘Nightflyer,’ the possibilities raised by a long journey and a malevolent force are thwarted by bad company

January 26, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 26, 2019

As a youngster, I loved almost everything about space. If I found a book, movie or TV show with a spaceship in it, I wanted to read or watch it.

This enthusiasm has persisted into my adult, albeit in somewhat diminished strength. (I still haven’t seen Solo: A Star Wars Story, for instance, and it took me months to watch Star Wars: The Last Jedi.) These days, I’m especially intrigued by science fiction stories concerning mysteries or atrocities committed aboard a spaceship — for instance, Event Horizon or Supernova.

Given that background, you can understand why I was excited to run across George R.R. Martin’s 1981 novel Nightflyers in my library’s online catalog. Unfortunately, my enjoyment of the book’s potentially dynamite scenario was tempered by my disinterest in the 10 travelers whom the author imperils.

Read the rest of this entry »

A biologist investigates impenetrable mysteries in Jeff VanderMeer’s enigmatic 2014 science-fiction novel ‘Annihilation’

January 22, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 22, 2019

When I saw Alex Garland’s Annihilation last spring, I found myself captivated by the atmospheric, understated science-fiction story. I recently read the book it’s based upon, Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 novel, which similarly establishes an odd and unsettling mood.

The story unfolds entirely from the perspective of an unnamed biologist, the template for the movie’s Lena, played by Natalie Portman. Much like Garland used an interview with Lena after her emergence from the strange Area X to frame most of the events, the book unfurls as an account that the biologist has written in her journal following the dissolution of her four-woman expedition.

The exploration party is led by an older psychologist and includes an anthropologist and surveyor. (The movie’s group was led by an older psychologist and had an anthropologist, but featured a physicist and paramedic.) The biologist has followed her husband, who vanished along with the previous party sent into Area X before mysteriously returning to the couple’s home; unlike in the movie, the husband — here a seaman turned paramedic, rather than an army special forces operator — has died.

Read the rest of this entry »

Strangers in a strange land grapple with their lust for death in Fritz Leiber’s strangely poignant post-apocalyptic novella ‘The Night of the Long Knives’

January 16, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 16, 2019

If you’d asked me just yesterday to recite everything I knew about Fritz Leiber, I’d only have been able to tell you that he was one of the old grand masters of science fiction. This is correct, but only in a limited technical sense. While the Chicago native was the fifth person to be named a grand master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, in 1981, his biggest impact on speculative fiction was actually in fantasy, by way of his Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories.

As it happens, I was browsing my local library’s collection of science-fiction electronic books earlier this month when one of Leiber’s titles caught my eye. I initially thought that this 1960 novella was known to me as an old science-fiction movie. Here again, I was mostly wrong; the movie of that title, released in 2005, is a 45-minute documentary concerning the deadly 1934 purge of opposition figures that then-chancellor Adolf Hitler ordered to strengthen his control over the Nazi party and German society at large.

Long story short: I started reading Leiber’s tale on the strength of (somewhat mistaken) name recognition and a short blurb about the contents of the book. As it turns out, The Night of the Long Knives is an engrossing story about drifters in a hellish wasteland who are drawn together by happenstance.

Read the rest of this entry »

The pioneering ‘Mission to Horatius’ is both a path-breaking and pedestrian ‘Star Trek’ tale

December 31, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 31, 2018

It’s safe to say that when Star Trek debuted in the late 1960s, its corporate masters had no concept of its potential. NBC considered axing the show in 1968, after ratings for the series’ second season sagged, but a fan-led campaign of protests, letters and postcards persuaded the network to extend the show for a third year. (There would be no fourth season, of course, although the show eventually inspired a number of books and toys before segueing into a string of movies and television productions.)

Given corporate America’s initial cluelessness over Star Trek, it follows that initial efforts at merchandising the show were rather spotty. I mention this because for no particular reason I came across a copy of Mission to Horatius, the very first licensed book containing an original Star Trek story.

The 1968 novel was written by Mack Reynolds, an obscure but prolific science-fiction author who died in 1983 at age 65. The story, which was purportedly aimed at a young-adult audience, is straightforward enough: The U.S.S. Enterprise has been dispatched to respond to a mysterious distress call originating from the distant solar system Horatius. Centuries ago, three of the system’s planets were settled by humans, but the colonists have long been out of touch with their ancestral planet of Earth.

Read the rest of this entry »

Can a movie adaptation be better than the book? In the case of Ernest Cline’s 2011 tale ‘Ready Player One,’ that argument can be made

December 28, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 28, 2018

This spring, when I watched Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, I had yet to read the 2011 debut novel by Ernest Cline on which the movie was based. I recently did so, and I’m here to tell you that the book is… OK.

I can see why Spielberg would have wanted to adapt the tale for the big screen. The man at the center of Ready Player One, the late computer programmer James Halliday, harbored “an extreme fixation on the 1980s, the decade during which he’d been a teenager.”

That was, of course, the period when Spielberg was arguably at the peak of his cultural influence. E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, which Business Insider ranked as Spielberg’s second-biggest box-office hit, premiered in 1982. Raiders of the Lost Ark and its first two sequels came out in 1981, 1984 and 1989, respectively; all three are top-10 earners on Business Insider’s list. The Color Purple, slotted 12th by BI, was released in 1985.

Read the rest of this entry »

John Sandford and Ctein tell an enjoyable story of interplanetary travel in their 2015 novel ‘Saturn Run’

December 18, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 18, 2018

Saturn Run, a 2015 science fiction novel by prolific thriller writer John Sandford and mononymic polymath Ctein, is a diverting tale about two spacecraft racing to uncover the secrets of a mysterious alien artifact hidden in the far reaches of our solar system.

Sandford, a Pulitzer Prize–winning former journalist who’s probably best known for his 29-book “Prey” series, joined forces with Caltech-trained photographer/physicist/computer scientist Ctein for this tale, which I believe represents Sandford’s first venture into space. None of the characters evince much complexity, but the scenario is gripping enough to make Saturn Run a fun read for science-fiction enthusiasts.

The story opens shortly before an astronomer accidentally detects signs of an alien craft approaching Saturn in early 2066, an event that triggers a frantic U.S. government effort to retrofit a space station for interplanetary travel and research. This project is initially disguised as an effort to accompany and support China’s Martian Odyssey, a ship intended to establish humanity’s first colony on the red planet, but the subterfuge evaporates a few weeks later when every astronomer on Earth notices the alien vessel exiting the solar system.

Read the rest of this entry »

Timothy Zahn builds a fun and engaging science-fiction universe in ‘Night Train to Rigel’

March 21, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 19, 2018

Timothy Zahn’s 2005 novel Night Train to Rigel is a fast-moving thriller set in a galaxy on the verge of war.

The tale, which is the first volume of a five-book series, is narrated by one Frank Compton. A former spy who used to work for the future equivalent of NATO, Compton is more or less between jobs when a bullet-riddled courier hands him a ticket to ride the Quadrail, a transit system that connects star systems around the galaxy.

Compton’s slain recruiter turns out to be an agent of the Spiders, the mysterious mechanical creatures that control the Quadrail. They’re concerned that a malevolent faction may have found a way to circumvent the hyperdimensional railway’s restrictions against transporting weapons. If true, such a development would trigger major bloodshed between the handful of alien empires who control most of the galaxy.

Read the rest of this entry »

An adolescent explores frontiers within and without in Jonathan Lethem’s ‘Girl in Landscape’

April 21, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
April 21, 2017

Jonathan Lethem’s 1998 novel Girl in Landscape is a coming-of-age tale set on an alien world.

The story unspools from the point of view of 13-year-old Pella Marsh. Her father, Clement Marsh, a New York politician, recently lost an election and is planning to move to an alien world with his wife, daughter and two young sons. Their preparations are interrupted when Caitlin, Pella’s mother, suddenly falls ill in a prologue set on a future Earth.

The old world is a dire place. Most humans (at least in New York) have retreated underground because the sun’s intense radiation has made the outdoors deadly. But the city’s infrastructure is failing, and morale seems to be terrible. Indeed, the deadly collapse of a subway tunnel combined with the specter of mass suicides — Raymond, the 10-year-old middle child, calls this “that lemming thing” — are two major reasons why Marsh’s party lost the election in a landslide.

Read the rest of this entry »

‘The Hunger Games,’ Suzanne Collins’s hugely popular 2008 novel, challenges the reader’s conception of love and reality

December 14, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 14, 2016

If hearing or seeing the words The Hunger Games doesn’t spark at least a flicker of recognition in your mind, then you probably were not literate, conscious and residing in the United States for most of the years 2008 through 2015.

That first year, of course, was when American TV writer and young-adult novelist Suzanne Collins published The Hunger Games, her tale of a teenager in a post-apocalyptic United States who is essentially drafted as a competitor in a televised life-and-death battle of adolescents from across what used to be known as North America. The book and its sequels, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, were enormously successful, selling 4.3 million copies in 2010, the year the finale was published.

Book sales grew exponentially, reaching nearly 28 million copies by 2012, when a movie adaptation starring Jennifer Lawrence was released. Three film sequels appeared in late November of the following three years. (The last book, rather notoriously, was split into two films.)

I’ve watched and enjoyed the first two movies, and I toyed with the idea of reading the books, but I never acted on the impulse until I saw a copy of The Hunger Games sitting on the small shelf of free books at Joe Van Gogh’s Broad Street store in Durham.

I can now report that the Hunger Games book is a lot like what I expected. Like the movie, the book is briskly paced and enjoyable. Collins’s novel feels more nuanced than the film adaptation because some of the story’s emotional beats develop more organically here.

Read the rest of this entry »

Stephen Goldin constructs an amiable but rather forgettable ‘Trek to Madworld’ in his 1979 original ‘Star Trek’ novel

December 3, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 3, 2016

I initially couldn’t remember how I acquired Bantam’s February 1998 reissue of Trek to Madworld, a 1979 Star Trek novel by Stephen Goldin. After thinking about it for a while, I decided that the book must have been mailed to me gratis by the publisher thanks to my stint as books columnist for the short-lived periodical Sci-Fi Invasion!

I certainly don’t remember reading the book, which is pleasantly mediocre, and which was one of a handful of original Star Trek novels that helped maintain the franchise’s popularity between the cancellation of Gene Roddenberry’s pioneering TV series in 1969 and the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979.

How did I obtain a copy of Trek to Madworld? Well, the story isn’t very interesting. Here it is:

I visited Ye Olde Family Homestead for Thanksgiving. A day or two before I was to return to North Carolina, I was sitting on the couch in the living room. There’s a free-standing bookcase on the south wall; the north wall is completely lined by built-in bookshelves. I happened to look south (that is, to my right) and for some reason noticed three Star Trek books on a lower shelf. I decided that I should read one of them; as to which got chosen, well, need I say any more?

The book opens as the U.S.S. Enterprise embarks on a routine mission: Ferrying legendary explorer Kostas Spyroukis and his daughter, Metika Spyroukis, back home to Epsilon Delta 4 from the conference world of Babel, where they had unsuccessfully petitioned the Council to admit their colony as a full member of the United Federation of Planets.

Read the rest of this entry »

‘At Empire’s Edge’ is a fun but negligible science fiction adventure

October 13, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 13, 2016

At Empire’s Edge, a 2009 novel by William C. Dietz, is an entertaining if low-rent science-fiction thriller set on a remote colony world in the far future.

The book’s main protagonist is Jak Cato, a “section leader” in a group of genetically engineered police officers whose psychic sensitivity enables them to identify a race of malevolent alien shape-shifters known as Sagathi. When a space battle forces his unit to set down on Dantha, the planet’s venal ruler, Uma Nalomy, arranges to have Cato’s fellow cops murdered in order to use their prisoner as an assassin.

This deadly scheme is prompted by the imminent arrival of a high-ranking official of the Uman (read: Human) Empire. Isulu Usurlus may be decadent, but he’s a relatively decent sort, and he’s outraged by Nalomy’s blatant corruption, oppression of her subjects and squandering of imperial resources. By replacing one of Usurlus’s trusted aides with the shape-shifter, who goes by the unfortunate name of Fiss Verafti, Nalomy hopes not just to tighten her grip on Dantha but to expand her influence on the galactic stage.

Read the rest of this entry »

Brian Daley provides fast-moving space opera fun in ‘The Han Solo Adventures’

July 7, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
July 7, 2016

Sometimes, when I pick up certain books that I read years ago, I am transported to past eras of my life. There was a stretch in the summer of 2003 when I would frequently take a picnic lunch from my apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, amble over to Riverside Park and read one of the hefty volumes from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. I no longer recall which of the books I consumed during those warm, lazy afternoons, but I think of those idle summer reading sessions anytime I pick up the third or subsequent entires from the Potter chronicles.

Similarly, when I reread the first two volumes in Douglas Adams’s “increasingly misnamed trilogy” of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy novels, I recall sitting in the backyard of the house where I grew up, also on a summer day, and virtually inhaling the words that I still enjoy these many years later.

The other day, I was looking for books to discard from my personal collection when I noticed a long-forgotten paperback that bore the clunky title of Star Wars®: The Han Solo Adventures. This yellowing mass-market paperback was published in June 1992 by Del Rey, an imprint of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House. It’s an omnibus edition of three space opera novels licensed from George Lucas’s Star Wars universe; its cover boasts, “For the first time, all three books in one volume!”

The three books contained therein — Han Solo at Stars’ EndHan Solo’s Revenge and Han Solo and the Lost Legacy — were all written by science fiction author Brian Daley. They were originally published over what seems like an unbelievably short period: Han Solo at Stars’ End debuted in April 1979, according to Wookieepedia, while the trilogy concluded in August 1980 with the release of Han Solo and the Lost Legacy.

As soon as I saw the book, I knew that I wanted to reread it, and almost as soon as I started rereading it, I began recalling the novel’s intricate particulars in detail. All three books are rip-roaringly fun adventures that pay loving homage to the eponymous smuggler, his immense fur-covered Wookiee sidekick, Chewbacca, and their battered, deceptively ordinary-looking freighter, the Millennium Falcon.

Read the rest of this entry »

Four astronauts embark upon a quixotic interplanetary quest in Lewis Shiner’s ‘Frontera’

March 29, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 29, 2016

Frontera, the 1984 first novel by Lewis Shiner, chronicles a mission to Mars undertaken by a small, ragtag group of astronauts who harbor multiple secrets and varying agendas. Shiner uses the tale to explore the nature of humanity, asking what happens when traditional governmental and national structures fail due to decisions both intentional and otherwise.

The novel is set at some point in the early 21st century. Ten years ago, as governments around the world began collapsing for unspecified reasons, a ship was sent to Mars to recall colonists from the American base at Frontera. A few dozen souls opted to stay behind; later, their numbers were reinforced by survivors of a disaster (also unspecified) that struck the Soviet Union’s colony on Mars. Frontera sent a few grim transmissions in the two years following the recall, but the updates stopped, and most people believe all the colonists to be dead.

The travelers are quite an eclectic lot: Lena, the expedition’s medico, whom Shiner gives such shallow treatment that she barely exists as a character; Takahashi, scion of the Japanese affiliate of Pulsystems, the corporation that is sponsoring the flight to Mars; Kane, the nephew of Morgan, Pulsystem’s über-capitalist CEO; and Reese, an aging astronaut who was the first American to set foot on Mars, and who never wanted to leave the red planet but did so because (apparently) he was duty-bound to staff the return flight.

Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: