Black lives are not a problem to be solved or an academic text that can be studied. To recognize Black lives as ones to celebrate, empathize with and care about, here’s your antiracism work: read more fiction by and about Black people.
It brings to mind a story that has become core to who I am and how I see the world:
This review was first published by Booklist on May 1, 2020.
These 13 powerful, well-crafted stories by Hawkins (American Neolithic, 2019) have been aptly compared to The Twilight Zone: they offer a similar sense of dread and moral disquiet. These are tales of how things go wrong. Though it is marketed as a speculative fiction title, fewer than half are explicitly sf. “Turing’s Graveyard” examines identity and online dating gone haywire. “The Darkness at the Center of Everything” considers the mystery of time from ancient and modern perspectives. “The Thing That Matters” is an alternate history that imagines Ernest Hemingway and characters from the movie Casablanca all in Cuba in 1956. “Changeling” is straight-up creepy. “An Event in Judea . . . ,” about the crucifixion of Jesus, and “Acts of Contrition,” a murder noir exploring greed, spiritual mystery, and forgiveness, both flirt with sf tropes. The remaining stories are literary fiction, focused on the mistakes characters make in personal relationships. In the end, though, genre is irrelevant. Hawkins tells tales that fascinate him, and they provide a beautiful reading experience.
This review was first published by Booklist on April 1, 2020.
**STARRED REVIEW** Everyone’s favorite Murderbot is now working as a security consultant for Preservation Station. While accompanying several members of Dr. Mensah’s family on a research outing, they’re attacked by a ship that looks a lot like their old friend, the transport ship ART. Murderbot and Amena, Mensah’s daughter, are kidnapped and taken aboard, where they uncover a plot that leads back to a strange planet, corporate machinations, and a possible alien contagion. The Murderbot novellas were perfectly paced to fit a ton of action into a short form. Network Effect is just as action-packed, but the pace is now calibrated to fill a full novel, which gives it more breathing room and opportunities to explore the characters and the setting in greater depth. Relationships between all the characters are richer and more nuanced. Wells reveals more about Dr. Mensah’s family and some surprises about ART and establishes more details about how the Corporations function, the contrasts between the Corporate Rim and Preservation Station, the politics at play, and some of the history of pre-Corporate planetary colonization attempts. It’s a welcome expansion of this universe and lays the groundwork for more stories to come in a series that continues to grow and impress.
This review was first published by Booklist on March 6, 2020.
After striking manna in the oil fields, the citizens of Titanshade thought things were looking up. But federal troops have taken command, and people from all over the planet are flocking to the city in hopes of cashing in. Tensions are high leading up to a political showdown on Titan’s Day, the most important holiday of the year. When Carter and Jax are tasked to solve the murder of a Jane Doe in an alley, it unravels a complicated web of gang warfare, political machinations, and magic. And there’s something wrong with Carter . . . . Titanshade (2019) introduced readers to a compelling new world. The second book in the Carter Archives takes readers on a deep dive into its culture: politics and crime, social conflicts, fear and intolerance, local versus national interests, and especially the workings of manna and magic. It broadens readers’ understanding of how the characters relate to each other and maintains a wonderful sense of discovery. Stout proves once again to be a master of retro sf noir.
This review was first published by Booklist on March 1, 2020.
This previously unpublished manuscript by Grand Master Heinlein will be in demand by his many fans and readers interested in the history of the genre. It’s based on the same premise and features the same characters as his The Number of the Beast (1980). Indeed, the first third of the book is identical. But the novel then veers into an entirely different story, appropriately, since the books are based on travel through alternate worlds. As in Beast, our intrepid explorers travel to various fictional universes: Burroughs’ Barsoom, Baum’s Land of Oz, Smith’s Lensman universe, confronting the idea that all fictional universes exist somewhere in the multiverse. Beast is recognized as the first work of Heinlein’s late style, but The Pursuit of the Pankera is mostly in his middle style and occasionally hearkens back to his earliest pulp action writings. Together, the two novels offer fascinating insight into an inflection point in the evolution of one of science fiction’s greatest writers. Pankera can also be read on its own, though it will be of greatest interest to Heinlein fans.
This review was first published by Booklist on February 1, 2020.
After almost driving themselves to extinction, human beings have colonized the local solar system and the nearby Trappist system, using an anti-aging drug to extend their lifespans. Every year, the military branches, which protect civilization, compete in the Boarding Games. This year, the Near-Earth Orbital Guard hopes to finally win against the Navy—if their newest recruit can be whipped into shape in time. Max Carmichael, a child of the most influential family on Earth, has broken with tradition and enlisted in the NeoG. But there’s a vast conspiracy afoot that threatens genocide on a massive scale. The big mystery establishes high stakes and the exciting competition sequences of the Games make this book a surprisingly fun read, but this is a character-driven story above all else. Every character is someone readers will enjoy spending time with, and exploring the characters’ relationships is the heart of the tale. Aside from a few stereotypical villains, no one is a bad guy. Wagers’ first book in the NeoG series is an unexpected and refreshing twist on military science fiction.
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.