Tag Archives: Wesley Chu

Books Reviewed 2015

Here is  housekeeping post, collecting all the books reviewed here in 2015.

Looking back at this list, I see that this year saw Terry Pratchette’s last book (a wrenching experience), and new novels by old favorites Stross, Perry, Macguire, Holt, Gaiman, among others. I also read older but still good histories by Goodwin and Graeber. I read several books about banking, Papal and otherwise, and overlapping works about Italy, fictional and (supposedly) real.

Over the year, I reviewed a sampling of important books about contemporary digital life, including cryptocurrency, the “sharing economy”, social media, and “mind change”.   These works covered a spectrum from enthusiasm to dark worry, giving us much to think about. There are many more I did not have time or energy for. (I will say more on this topic in another post)

Throughout 2015 I continued my ongoing investigation of the question, “what is coworking?”, including reviews of two recent (self published) books about coworking by practitioners. (More on coworking in another post.)

Shall I name some “Best Books” out of my list? Why not?

Fiction:

There were so many to pick from. I mean, with Neil Gaiman in the list, how can I choose? But let me mention two that are especially memorable

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
Very imaginative and well written, and, for once, not so horribly dark. This book lodged in my memory more than others that are probably equally good.

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
Published a few years ago, but I didn’t read it until this year. A wonderful, intricate story. The flight of the parrot is still in my memory.

Nonfiction:

There were many important works about digital life, and I shall try to comment on them in another post. But three books that really hit me are:

Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
From several years ago, but I didn’t read it until this year. Highly influential on the ‘occupy’ and other left-ish thinking. This is an astonishingly good book, and long form anthropology, to boot. Wow!

Reimagination Station: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space by Lori Kane
An exlectic little self-published book about “home coworking”, which I didn’t know was a thing. Kane walked the walk, and made me think in new ways about community and coworking.

Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs
Unexpected amounts of fun reading this short book. It does an old, graying nerd no end of good to see that at least some of the kids are OK. Really, really, OK.

List of books reviewed in 2015

Fiction

A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias
After Alice by Gregory Maguire
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson
Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen
Chasing the Phoenix by Michael Swanwick
Candy Apple Red by Nancy Bush
Chicks and Balances edited by Esther Friesner and John Helfers
Corsair by James L. Cambias
Count to a Trillion by John C. Wright
Diaspora by Greg Egan
Distress by Greg Egan
Electric Blue by Nancy Bush
Forty Thieves by Thomas Perry
Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong
Get In Trouble by Kelly Link
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
Koko the Mighty by Kieran Shea
Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald
Mort(e) by Robert Repino
Numero Zero by Umberto Eco
Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
Rebirths of Tao by Wesley Chu
Redeployment by Phil Klay
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Shark Skin Suite by Tim Dorsey
String of Beads by Thomas Perry
Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross
The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year Volume Nine ed. by Jonathan Strahan
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff
The First Bad Man by Miranda July
The Fortress in Orion by Mike Resnick
The Future Falls by Tanya Huff
The Good, the Bad, and The Smug by Tom Holt
The Mark and the Void by Paul Murray
The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu
The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone
The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
The Wild Ways by Tanya Huff
Time Salvager by Wesley Chu
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman
Ultraviolet by Nancy Bush
We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler
Witches Be Crazy by Logan J. Hunder
Zer0es by Chuck Wendig

Non Fiction

Arrival of the Fittest by Andreas Wagner
Blue Mind by Wallace J. Nichols
Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
Digital Gold by Nathaniel Popper
Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs
God’s Bankers by Gerald Posner
LaFayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell
Let’s Be Less Stupid by Patricia Marx
Live Right and Find Happiness by Dave Barry
Merchants in the Temple by Gianluigi Nuzzi
Mind Change by Susan Greenfield
Mindsharing by Lior Zoref
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
No More Sink Full of Mugs by Tony Bacigalupo
Not Impossible by Mick Ebeling
Pax Technica by Phillip N. Howard
Peers, Inc by Robin Chase
Reimagination Station: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space by Lori Kane
Speculative Everything by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
The Age of Cryptocurrency by Paul Vigna and Michael J. Casey
The Art of Forgery by Noah Charney
The Next Species by Michael Tennesen
The Reputation Economy by Michael Fertik and David C. Thompson
The Social Labs Revolution by Zaid Hassan
The Ugly Renaissance by Alexander Lee
Twentyfirst Century Robot by Brian David Johnson
Women of Will:  Following the Feminine in Shakespeare’s Plays by Tina Packer

 

Book Reviews

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Books Reviewed Third Quarter

Books Reviewed Third Quarter

A bit of housekeeping:  here is a list of all the book reviews that appeared in this blog in Q3 2015.  Mostly new or recent releases, with a few old but good thrown in.

Fiction

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen
Chasing the Phoenix by Michael Swanwick
Chicks and Balances edited by Esther Friesner and John Helfers
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman 
Koko the Mighty by Kieran Shea
Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore  
The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross
The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year Volume Nine ed. by Jonathan Strahan
The Good, the Bad, and The Smug by Tom Holt
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley 
The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
Time Salvager by Wesley Chu 
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis 

Non fiction

Reimagination Station: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space by Lori Kane
Digital Gold by Nathaniel Popper
Let’s Be Less Stupid by Patricia Marx
Mind Change by Susan Greenfield 
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
Peers, Inc by Robin Chase
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin 
The Art of Forgery by Noah Charney
The Next Species by Michael Tennesen 

 

Book Review: “Time Salvager” by Wesley Chu

Time Salvager by Wesley Chu

 A new novel from the author of the ‘Tao’ books.

In this story, Chu explores time travel, and follows the troubles of a time cop. In this case, the future is a post apocalyptic dystopia, after a great ecological crash and massive wars. Humans survive (barely) on Earth and in various parts of the solar system, partly through raiding the past for technology, energy, and natural resources (including timber and other bulk commodities!)

When a “retrieval” goes awry, troubled Chronoman James Griffin-Mars becomes enmeshed with a complex and dangerous mess in his own time, uncovering political and corporate conspiracies, and driving him underground and out into the hinterlands of a destroyed Earth.

Chu again demonstrates the strengths and weaknesses seen in his earlier writing.

He is well versed in martial arts, and gives us plenty of fight action. Indeed, he seems to have designed his future technology to require hand-to-hand fighting, when it clearly could just as well prevent close combat. Actually, there is more fighting than I really needed, though nothing too graphic or unpleasant.

Chu also has studied and thought a lot about ecology and scenarios for the future of Earth’s environment. His dystopia is realistic if over the top, and all the more frightening for its detail and unfortunate plausibility. He describes it first person and with intense clarity, which gives us a visceral feeling for how horrible life will be if we mess up the Earth this badly.

Chu’s characters are fairly simple, and some—especially the bad guys—are one dimensional. I didn’t find the psychology all that plausible or interesting. This is an area he can still improve in future tales.

The worst shortcoming of this story is that he doesn’t give us very much of the backstory, even when we need to know it. Who were the “Technological Isolationists” and what were they up to? For that matter, who were they fighting that wiped them out? What are the corporations actually doing out there in the solar system? Several global and solar system wars are mentioned, with no explanation of who fought or why or what happened (other than the devastation of many billions of people).  And so on.

C’mon man!  Don’t do tease us this way!

For that matter, the whole “time cop” thing is hard to credit. There doesn’t seem to be a central government, or even local governments, yet there is an incorruptible, powerful, system-wide police force. How is this possible?  How did this come about?

Myself, I would have been happier with a bit more future history and a bit less future Kung Fu, if you know what I mean.

Still and all, Chu has given us a fast-paced adventure with some interesting technology and a few people we care about. We can look forward to more from this author, who is still improving.


 

  1. Wesley Chu, Time Salvager, New York, Tor, 2015.

Sunday Book Reviews

 

Housekeeping: Second Quarter Round Up

This blog has now passed 500 days of daily posts.

This quarter saw the start of the “Inappropriate Touch Screen” File, as well as other grumbling about cruddy digital design.

I also posted initial “Notes on “What is Coworking?””, which will be continued in ongoing research.

  1. Notes On “What Is Coworking?” (Part 1)
  2. Notes on “What is Coworking?” (Part 2): Rules
  3. Notes on “What is Coworking?” (Part 3): Recruitment
  4. Notes On “What is Coworking?” (Part 4): Noisy versus Quiet
  5. Notes on “What is Coworking?” (Part 5): Demographics
  6. Notes on “What is Coworking?” (Part 6): Research Methods

Book Reviews

Non Fiction

Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs
God’s Bankers by Gerald Posner
Mindsharing by Lior Zoref
Pax Technica by Phillip N. Howard
Twentyfirst Century Robot by Brian David Johnson
Women of Will:  Following the Feminine in Shakespeare’s Plays by Tina Packer

Fiction

A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias
Corsair by James L. Cambias
Count to a Trillion by John C. Wright
Diaspora by Greg Egan
Distress by Greg Egan
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
Rebirths of Tao by Wesley Chu
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

 

For reference, the Q1 summary is here.

 

 

“Rebirths of Tao” by Wesley Chu

Rebirths of Tao by Wesley Chu

 The book is Chu’s sequel to the earlier ‘Deaths’ and ‘Lives’ of Tao.

After Roen’s bold move, the war among the Quasing puppetmaters has grown more confused and extremely dangerous. Now that humans are aware of their presence, they are hunting all Quasings with the savagery only true humans can muster. The world is sunk in global warfare, and Roen and his family (Jill and sone Cameron) are underground and fighting with Prohus on two fronts, their Quasing enemies the Genjix and the human Interpol Extraterrestrial Task Force (IXTF). For Roen Tan, it is some of his happiest days, because he is reunited with his wife and child and fighting the good fight.

But happiness can’t last, and the family is soon swept up in violent and dangerous events, with the fate of human life on Earth in the balance. The Tans are separated by events and must fight desperately to survive and reunite. The action is fast and exciting, and I really didn’t know what would happen next.

This book is probably the best written of the three Taos (Chu is getting better at it). There is still plenty of combat and pseudo history, but the plotting is much better and there are many more believable characters and much better dialog.

The war isn’t over, so there may well be further sequels.


  1. Chu, Wesey, The Rebirths of Tao, New York, Angry Robot, 2015.

Sunday Book Reviews

December Fiction Roundup: the Puppetmaster Meme

There is a secret war on Earth, alien puppetmasters hidden amongst us running the show. At least that is what I have been reading.

Let us all pause to thank our great sensei Robert Heinlein for popularizing the term.

Secret forces control our lives.  This theme has been popular for a very long time. Tales of demons and angels among us probably date to the first humans. The concept also permeate public discourse, in various guises:  Zionist, Muslim, Papist, Masonic, Communist, Wall Street, etc., conspiracies abound in people’s imagination.

The “puppetmaster” theme puts a particular spin on this:  aliens secretly live among us, sometimes disguised as us, sometimes inhabiting helpless human shells.  They manipulate our lives for their own ends.  Long ago the aliens were gods, devils, demons and angels (many of your neighbors still believe in these visitors), in bad times they are agents of human powers (Communist infiltrators, Zionist spies, CIA moles, Black Helicopters), and nowadays we have a variety of pseudoscientific beings to worry about, androids, energy beings, ETs, and so on.

The appeal of this narrative is pretty clear.

  1. It’s not my fault.  All this bad, crazy, stuff is part of a hidden plan.
  2. The enemy is not human (even if they seem to be). Any and all action is moral.

I am absolved from “we have met the enemy, and he is us”, not to mention any namby-pamby Miranda rights or Geneva accords.

Perhaps this theme is popular today because, more than ever, nothing is really hidden.  Even stuff like the personal lives of Kardashians that really should be hidden  We have far more information than we need, and it all tells us that terrible things are happening mainly because we are all greedy and stupid, and thinking with our gonads.

Exhibit 1: the Internet.  Prosecution rests.

Far better to dream that we are absolved from responsibility, and that the only moral thing to do is blow ‘em away.  Quite an understandable fantasy, if you are an emotional six year old, such as, well, pretty much all of us.

[Don’t even get me started on Zombies.  The most idiotic cultural creation of the fin-de-century, popular mainly because it is so easy to play along.]

Let’s get to business here, with three recent novels that play on this theme.

The Deaths of Tao by Wesley Chu (Angry Robot, 2013)

The second book about a long running wars among the invisible alien puppet masters who control not only humans but actually created the species through directed evolution. (No really, it isn’t as bad as it sounds) (The first book, Lives of Tao, was mentioned here).

In this story, not only are the alien puppetmasters manipulating human history (and evolution), there are two warring factions.  Most of the last 500 years of history reflect this conflict.

Chu’s background in martial arts is on display, with considerably more detail about fighting than I really need, though I’m sure some will be pleased to read this. I especially could have done without so many details about practice workouts.  (One writes what one knows.)

The book develops the back story—the  “true history” of human evolution and history—in asides, while all kinds of bad things happen in the world.

One of the intriguing ideas in this story is the notion that human generated climate change is essentially terraforming Earth, though it is transforming the planet to an environment favorable to non-Earth, and certainly non-human life.  An interesting, if terrifying, take on climate change.

Happy Hour in Hell by Tad Wiliams (Daw Books, 2013)

His second book about the invisible wars on Earth between Heaven and Hell (no really, it isn’t as bad as it sounds).  The third and maybe final book in the story has been announced.

Williams has written many books, these are apparently his first foray into “fantasy noir”. I like it.

In this story, some classic religious fantasies (immortal souls, Heaven, Hell, Demons, Angels) are taken as literally true, as is the competition between Heaven and Hell for the souls of the dead.  This conflict takes place, in secret, on Earth in our familiar physical world.

Bobby Dollar is an angel living on Earth, sort of hard-boiled noir guy, though his actual job is essentially public defender, assigned to individual cases as each soul is judged just after death. When he wins, the soul goes to heaven, if the prosecution wins, the soul goes to hell.

Stuff happens around Bobby.  Lots and lots of stuff.  And—you’ll be shocked to learn—neither Heaven nor Hell are free of conflict, intrigue, and screw ups.  Earth is the neutral battleground for all this and, in addition to mortal humans, angels and demons, there trun out to be quite a few in-betweens.

This whole thing makes no sense, really.  In fact, unease underlies the whole story, as more and more details of how this all works leave us more and more astounded and appalled.  If there is a divine plan at work—which there is supposed to be—it’s not clear what the purpose is.  And it is very, very clear that it is not in any way moral, as we mere humans would view it.  Inevitably, rebellion is brewing in both Heaven and Hell, though prospects appear dim (but hope always dies last).

Anyone who has attempted to understand contemporary religious creeds has encountered many of these issues.  Of course, poor Bobby and others are dealing with them concretely and very painfully.

This volume ups the ante, sending Bobby Dollar down into Hell, for reasons that seem nothing short of insane, though that’s par for the course when you are in love.  We are treated to a detailed travelogue of Hell, which is not easy to read.  But every author should do this, and Williams does a great job with this classic theme.

Stay tuned for book three, maybe there will be some resolution and healing.  I hope.

Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson (Tor Books, 2013)

This latest from Wilson is about, wait for it, an alternative history manipulated by secret puppetmasters.  (I’ll bet you weren’t expecting that, huh.)

Wilson has written a number of imaginative books, usually involving astronomy and extraterrestrials, including one of the greatest ever fiction depictions of machine learning algorithms (the interstellar probe in Blind Lake (Tor Books, New York, 2003))

In this story, the ETs have manipulated human society, subtly and mostly secretly.  The manipulations are apparently benign, as they have suppressed war and violence, and stabilizing societies around the world.  This is particularly to we in this historical time line, comparing their twentieth century with ours.

Nevertheless, some humans are attempting to resist the aliens, though it is far from clear whether the resistance has even a chance to succeed.

As the story unfolds, much hinges on what the goals of the ETs may be, and the possibility that there are more than one group of ETs.  We come to view them as interstellar parasites, commandeering the behavior of the host to enable their own reproduction.  If so, do they have any “goal” at all? Are they really benign?  What happens when the parasites die or depart?  What if there really are more than one species of parasite?

I must say that the “parasite” theory is one of the most logical explanations for why “puppetmasters” might come to Earth.  I mean, it’s a lot of trouble hiding and pulling strings.  Why not just wipe us out and take over?  Parasitism is a familiar pattern on Earth, and has evolved many times in many forms.  So why not at a plantetary/interstellar scale.

Summer Fiction Roundup (Mostly Science Fiction)

This posting works through my personal reading list, focusing on fiction, which I read for pleasure. This summer has included quite a few outstanding books, mostly Science Fiction-y, but all certainly imaginative.

For the record, I generally only comment on fiction that I like.  (A rare exception can be found here, which was provoked by ludicrously favorable reviews.)  Life is too short to work hard complaining about stories I don’t like.

So here are some things I read recently that I liked.  You might like them, too.  (Alphabet order by author.)

Only Superhuman by Christopher L Bennet (New York, Tom Doherty Associates, 2012).

This is not the deepest book I ever read, but it was interesting enough.  Set in a future of space habitats, settlements on asteroids and Mars, as well as technology that enables serious human modification, the story follows the protagonist as she struggles to find a way through life.

In this society—actually, many small, semi-isolated societies—law and order is very much up for grabs, with each habitat barely able to enforce its own laws, let alone defend against larger neighbors, pirates, and gangs.  One response is a loose group of superheroes, call the “Troubleshooter Corps”, modeled after comic books, and augmented to superherohood by genetic, molecular, and other technologies, with a mission to help others and fight evil.  If that mission seems vague to you, it is certainly an issue in the story.

Young Emerald Blair is a Troubleshooter, know as the Green Blaze.  But all is not well with the Troubleshooters, and she soon gets in deep trouble, tangled in comic book caliber supercriminal conspiracies.  None of it really makes sense, but I think you were warned.

Anyway, the story works because you like Esmy, and root for her to make good despite her wild past and some poor decisions.

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes, (Little Brown and Company, 2013).

This new book by Beukes is a taught thriller with a not-especially-believable supernatural core.  A time traveling serial killer who is tracked down in Chicago (in the 1980s I think).  I couldn’t really grasp the killer, there didn’t seem to be any logical explanation for either how or why it is happening.

I picked up the book because I loved Beukes’ earlier books Moxyland and Zoo City.  These two were set in South Africa (L. B. is from Johannesburg), in near future with strange pharmacological and neurological enhancements.  These stories are gritty urban stories of slums and clubs and street people, dealing with the soul-sucking technologies.  Some of the stuff is totally crazy wild, but she makes it both believable and human.

I didn’t like Shining Girls nearly as well as the earlier stories, since it wasn’t either believable or really interesting (sorry—serial killing just isn’t an interesting topic).  Nevertheless, Ms. Beukes is clearly a top notch writer, and I look forward to more imaginative fiction from her in the future.

Kiln People by David Brin (New York, Tom Doherty Associates, 2002).

This is actually an earlier work, which happened to be rereleased this summer after his newest novel, Existence.

Brin is, of course, a widely recognized master, author of a number of beautiful and influential science fiction novels since the 1980s.  His work is usually full of strange technological futures, very carefully worked out, including social, political, and economic ramifications

In this case, the technology is the ability to record “brain states” from humans, and implant them into short lived artificial bodies (made of special “clay” and baked in “kilns”).  The forked versions can then merge back, giving the main person all the memories of his or her copies. In this way, one can live hundreds of lives in parallel each day, and take risks and chance experiences that one would never try with only one body. Taking this astonishing idea at face value, he works out what it (or something similar) might mean.

Among other things, biological people become very special, while short lived clones become second and third rate entities.  Original humans no longer work, because everyone can clone off dozens of copies to do all the dirty and dangerous work for them.  People also mostly don’t interact in person—far too risky for the flesh—most of society is lived out remotely and vial clay copies. But the copies have no human rights, and live short, intense, and possibly nasty lives.  And, of course, a handful of people control the coping technology, and wield absurd wealth and power.  Much of the book lays out what everyday life might be like under such assumptions.

I can’t say this is his best book, but then again, his best books are absolutely awesome.  It’s Brin, so it’s good.  Very good.

The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu (Long Island City, Angry Robot, 2013).

A first novel, this is pretty good.  (Note: Angry Robot also published Beukes’ first two novels—I’m starting to like this imprint.)

The premise is that an alien race of symbiotes have lived on Earth for thousands of years, inhabiting the minds of selected humans.  Everyone famous had a symbiote in his or her head, it seems.  Apparently this race is stranded here, unable to live autonomously.  They have been driving human society and technology, to eventually gain technology so they can leave the planet.

The plot is thicker, as there seems to be a civil war among the symbiotes, which has resulted in disasters and cultural regression, major wars, epidemics, and so on.  Millions of humans have been incidental casualties of these wars.

Into this struggle, young Roen (a chubby, out of shape, IT grunt) is suddenly thrust.  His symbiote (Tao) is very old, and must whip him into shape before they both perish.  Roen doesn’t have much choice, nor is he given much option to develop his interest in Sonya.

Is this deep meaningful literature?  No. But is is pretty decent science fiction.  Certainly for “summer reading”.

Wicked Bronze Ambition, by Glenn Cook (New York, Penguin, 2013).

The 14th book featuring Garrett, P.I., this is a fantasy-noir story.   Sword & Sorcery plus hard boiled Private Eye. There are a handful of authors who attempt this genre, Cook is actually good at it.

There is little point in recounting the story; it’s complex and tangled up in the fantasy world he has created for this series.  He tells the story well, even though aspects are completely fantastic and irrational.  The reason it works is you care about the people.

In particular, Garrett’s life is filled with quite a few remarkable men  and women, despite his “loner” persona.  Somehow, being the “last honest man” in the city of TunFaire, has accumulated a network of friends, allies, and mentees.

Most interesting to me are the women in the story.  Not necessarily “human”, they are good, bad, broken, healed; but altogether a remarkable array of strong, independent women. For reasons that no one really fathoms, they seen to harbor affection for Mr. Garrett.  Perhaps part of the reason is that, despite his “hard man” façade, Garrett seems to respect women, as allies or antagonists, lovers and friends.

Mr. Garrett is aging (as is his author), so we cannot count on too many more episodes.  We’ve grown to like these people, and I think we all would like to see some of these people reach some resolution.

In The Lion’s Mouth, by Michael Flynn New York, Tom Doherty Associates, 2011.

This is the third book in a series, and I had to go back and reread the earlier books (The January Dancer and Up Jim River) because the plot and characters are so complex I needed to refresh my memory.

Set in a future universe of faster than light travel via wormhole-like space rivers (in which the local speed of light is faster than the local speed of light in ordinary, “flat” space).  In the long past, humans were crippled by an alien race, scattered across hundreds of planets, deliberately mixing and matching cultures. Centuries later, humans are reconnecting, with each local system being a weird cultural hybrid based on the chance collection of people who were dropped there.  This universe gives Flynn a giant canvas to create cultures and characters.

Flynn loves language, and has invented the lingua franca ‘Gaelactic’, which is based on Gaelic.  I was forced to look up quite a few Gaelic words, trying to follow the details of his marvelous worlds and cultures and histories.  There are also several competing governments, conspiracies, mercenaries, pirates, and so on.

In The Lion’s Mouth could have been called, “The Ladies Tea”, as the plot unfolds via a tense conversation among three very, very interesting and dangerous women who we met in the earlier books.

This is absolutely top-notch fiction.  But you really have to read the books in order, or you have no chance at all to understand the story.  (There certainly will be a fourth book.)

Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest by A. Lee Martinez (New York, Orbit, 2013).

Ah, Martinez.  One of our best contemporary authors.  In an earlier post, I praised an earlier book.

In one sense, this, his tenth novel, is the same story as always.  Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl.  Boy gets girl.  Boy and girl save the universe/multiverse from ultimate destruction.  Can’t go wrong with the classics, right?

Of course, the boys and girls are always a bit “different”, strictly speaking, not technically “human”.  But they are all people, and we grow to love and respect them for their deep humanity, and for their struggle to live, love, and help others.

I wouldn’t want to spoil this beautiful story for you, so I’ll just say:  you’ll like this teen age love story.

The Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxer (New York, Harper Collins, 2013).

And here’s a book by two of our best writers. Sensei Pratchett is possibly the best living author in the English language.  And I’ll be happy to step outside with anyone who cares to dispute on that.

This book is a sequel to last year’s The Long Earth, which you really need ot read first to understand the background.

Parallel Earths has always been a favorite science fiction topic, and has the additional virtue that the concept provides a H-U-G-E canvas for the story teller.  Baxter and Pratchett take advantage to give use several parallel plots, many interesting characters, and a variety of interesting societies that fork off as humanity expands into this frontier.

I don’t know enough to parse out the contributions of the two authors, or how they interacted.  Obviously Lobsang comes out of Pratchett’s world (one would like to believe this is autobiographical).  One of the character’s is a cop, another is a very independent lady.  These are frequent TP themes.   Some of the frontier societies have the granite hard, but velvet soft, humanity of a Pratchett village.  One can suspect that the super zeppelins and aliens might be Baxterian. Of course, they could be Pratchett emulating Baxter.

Not that it matters.  These are fine pieces of science fiction, however they were crafted.

Neptune’s Brood, by Charles Stross (New York, Ace Books, 2013.)

OK, I painted myself into a corner with my “best author” pronouncements.  Stross is really good, and certainly in the, “you must read everything he writes” category.  Let’s call him the best living Scottish author, or something like that.

This book is a sequel to the earlier Saturn’s Children and other stories, set in a future post-human universe, where “people” are mostly software running on various designed platforms (robots, radially designed biotech, etc.).  A throw away line indicates that the original human species has gone extinct 4 times by now, and has been resurrected to run on these replacements.

This melange of strange beasts have spread to the stars through sub light speed transits, but have formed an interstellar trading network via light speed transmission of information.  This information includes entire personalities.

So, to get the next solar system, you scan your brain, and then upload the data, and transmit it to the target.  Meanwhile, a body is fabricated, and after you arrive (decades or centuries after sending), the brain is booted into a physical body of some kind.

Can you tell that Mr. Stross has done Internet IT?

The fertile imagination of CS gives us a variety of mind blowing settings, including a star-faring cathedral, a sea world inhabited by mermaids and squid people, a privateer (er, they prefer to be called “auditors”), crewed by bat people, and several extremely dysfunctional extended families (and with star travel and cloned personalities, families can become very, very extended indeed).

Stross is famous for his carefully thought out economic systems, and this is on full exhibit here.  If anything, there is far more information than we want about interstellar trade protocols.  You’ll find a realistic account of how interstellar transactions might be implemented, using contemporary P2P protocols as models, as well as an explanation of the Spanish Prisoner con at interstellar scales. He also gives a refreshing take on the accounting and auditing professions.  In this book we find clear evidence of the long suspected influence of a sinister cabal.

Get it, read it, enjoy it.

Cheers.