This review was first published by Booklist on January 1, 2020.
**STARRED REVIEW** After the fall of Earth, humans colonize other planets, some of which are at war while host to increasing numbers of refugees, with the destitute living in urban squalor while the rich flee to their mansions. Flying between worlds on relativistic space ships are Trader families, who experience months as years pass for the planet-bound. Hisako Sasaki, an unauthorized child on the planet Gaul, is contracted to marry the Trader Adem Sadiq before she’s even born. Hisako grows up knowing her future is out of her control, while the Sadiq’s discover an ancient lost ship with technology that could change everything. There are elements of a thriller story here, but this isn’t about plot. Instead, it’s a social and family drama with a focus on character study and world building. The novel is conceived around a set of questions: How would the time dilation of relativistic travel affect civilization? How would space travelers relate to the planet-bound? How would it alter our perceptions of history and our responsibilities to one another? Greene builds his immersive and socially complex world on these deeply human questions. The Light Years is a story of resistance and acceptance, anger and forgiveness, and the costs of our actions.
This review was first published by Booklist on November 1, 2019.
**STARRED REVIEW** Multi-award-winning Uncanny Magazine has been the preeminent publisher of speculative short fiction, poetry, and nonfiction since 2014, and is renowned for offering its contributors tremendous creative freedom. Authors published by Uncanny are a roster of the greatest sf writers of the present era: Neil Gaiman, N. K. Jemisin, Charlie Jane Anders, Seanan McGuire, Naomi Novik, and many, many more. The works in this anthology are the best of the best in the genre, from science fiction to fantasy to weird tales to poetry, representing a stunning diversity of styles and perspectives, from the Hugo award-winning “Folding Beijing,” by Hao Jingfang to a female empowerment parable, “Monster Girls Don’t Cry,” by A. Merc Rustad. Language and family tie into technology and posterity in “Restore the Heart to Love,” by John Chu; “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand,” by Fran Wilde visits a nightmarish circus freak show; “And Then There Were (N-One),” by Sarah Pinsker is what happens when Being John Malkovich meets Agatha Christie. This anthology contains a gluttonous surfeit of narrative riches. The works in this collection are inventive, gorgeous, occasionally difficult, and immensely rewarding. Truly, the best of Uncanny.
This review was first published by Booklist on September 1, 2019.
An order of nuns ministering to colony worlds in the outer reaches of human settled space. A living spaceship that might have a will of its own. Conflict between Earth and the outer systems. A controlling church. A deadly plague and a conspiracy with galaxy-spanning consequences. Sisters of the Vast Black uses these elements to explore questions of faith and free will, the conflicts that arise between obedience and conscience, complicity and refusal, and how people move on from tragic pasts. It offers a compelling blend of religious and moral challenges, science and politics. Awfully heady stuff to tackle in a novella, but Rather succeeds with intelligence and empathy. Her world building is exceptional, especially in her descriptions of the little details on the sisters’ living ship. Her characters are authentic and developed with compelling back stories. What stands out the most is Rather’s lyrical and assured style. Her language invites the reader in and sustains a sense of wonder within a challenging world. This is a beautifully written work.
This review was first published by Booklist in August 2019.
**STARRED REVIEW** Egan (Perihelion Summer, 2019), a master of short form science fiction, has collected twenty of what he considers the best of his short works from the past thirty years. By presenting these works in chronological order, the collection highlights the growth of his skill as a writer: readers see his style become more elegant and subtle, his characters more nuanced and empathetic, his stories more incisive. As satisfying as each story is on its own, the greatest reward of this collection is witnessing Egan’s development as a storyteller. It also brings his obsessions front-and-center: the workings of the human mind (“Axiomatic,” “Reasons to Be Cheerful”), reason and identity (“Learning to Be Me,” “Closer,” “Uncanny Valley”), humanity’s relationship to technology (“Appropriate Love,” “Bit Players”), artificial intelligence (“Singleton,” “Crystal Nights”), the relationship between science and faith (“Oracle,” “Oceanic”), and his deep fascination with mathematics (“Luminous,” “Dark Integers”). This retrospective is sure to be treasured by Egan’s many fans, and it presents an excellent doorway for new readers to discover and explore his work for the first time.
This review was first published by Booklist in August 2019.
There is a rift among the humans who have spread throughout the galaxy: a divide between those who embrace genetic and technological enhancements to their bodies and those who reject them. The unenhanced lost a war and were exiled into the depths of space. Centuries later, they’re back and intent on destroying those who would pollute human purity. Now the fate of humanity depends on a new military officer with something to prove, a pirate and her crew, a plucky princess, a condemned criminal, and an obnoxious living legend and his companion AI. Birmingham’s series starter has everything going for it: interesting characters, immersive world building, a believable backstory, high-stakes conflict, visceral action, and credible villains. It’s exciting and funny with just the right amount of tension and violence. This is what military space opera should be. Even the slightly contrived climax does not take away from the satisfying conclusion. The Cruel Stars is sure to be popular with military-science-fiction readers and fans of James S. A. Corey’s The Expanse series.
I finally got around to reading From a Certain Point of View, a collection of short stories written by a Who’s-Who roster of big name SF authors, all from the perspectives of side- and background characters in the original Star Wars movie. Most of them offer backstory or imagine what happened leading up to various scenes in the movie. Some imagine what was happening elsewhere in the universe.
This collection is a gimmick and it reads like one. The stories are all pretty good (some are excellent, none are bad) but very few of them would stand on their own merits. It’s an entertaining read, certainly, but mostly forgettable.
But it did get me thinking more about the Star Wars Expanded Universe and my ambivalence toward it. I love the movies but I’ve never bothered about the EU. There are a couple reasons why.
This review was first published by Booklist in July 2019.
Tyger Burning begins what promises to be a sweeping new military-sf series. The Sommen, a war-obsessed alien race, arrived in Earth’s solar system but then mysteriously disappeared, though they promised to return in 100 years. Maung is the last Dream Warrior, a cybernetically enhanced soldier in the Myanmarese army who fought for the Chinese against America and its allies in the last war. He has been in hiding, hunted by those who killed all of his compatriots. When he stumbles upon a secret, it sends him on a journey across the solar system, far from his family, to discover that nothing is as it seems. McCarthy is building a reputation as an author of compelling and believable military sf, and this latest outing proves his reputation is deserved. Focusing the story on characters from Myanmar gives it a unique twist. There are many threads established here to set up the rest of the series, resulting in an exciting if occasionally jumbled narrative which will leave readers awaiting the next installment.