Well, I worked through this summer’s scifi TBR, adding a few more titles along the way, but not all of the novels and stories were quite right for me. I’ve already reviewed the four I really loved – books that changed me in some way. Those are Notes from the Burning Age, And What Can We Offer You Tonight, Shards of Earth and The Escapement.
As for the rest of the scifi TBR, including the ones that were late additions. I decided early on not to attempt a full review of any book I didn’t really take to. It’s unfair to the author, and I just don’t believe there is any objective truth when it comes to reactions to books.
Some of the new additions to the TBR list are fantasy megastars. I was just late in getting to them. Prime among them: the first two novels of Fonda Lee’s Green Bone Saga (Jade City and Jade War) and R.J. Barker’s The Tide Child Trilogy (The Bone Ships and Call of the Bone Ships). These are two of the finest epic fantasy series of the last decade, and I will review the final novel in each trilogy later this year.
The Tide Child Trilogy
The Tide Child Trilogy‘s first novel, The Bone Ships, is one of the best adventure stories I’ve ever read. If you were once a fan of the Horatio Hornblower series or, more recently, the Master and Commander books, you’ll take to this thrilling high seas action based in a finely imagined world of warring island nations. They confront each other in ships built of the bones of a supposedly extinct race of sea dragons. It’s a great tale of rebirth on many levels.
The drunken young shipwife (captain) Joron Twiner of the black bone ship of condemned crew is challenged and abruptly replaced in his command by the indomitable Lucky Meas. She offers Joron and the crew a chance to redeem themselves by finding and protecting a seemingly lone survivor of the sea dragon race. They set off on a series of adventures that put them all to the test. With the aid of a unique bird species that talks to the wind and thus powers the ship, Joron, the ship and the crew all find new meaning in life under Lucky Meas’ inspiring leadership. Call of the Bone Ships, the second novel in the trilogy, picks up on an equally strong note with a lyrical chapter that perfectly suits its language to the re-creation of a frigid storm. There is no falling off in this middle book, which leaves Lucky Meas in a tough spot and thus sets the stage for the final book. I look forward to doing a full review of The Bone Ship’s Wake soon.
To wrap up briefly my summer scifi TBR, I read Activation Degradation, The Best of David Brin and added There is No Antimemetics Division. I don’t do ratings on this blog, but on Goodreads I gave each of these three stars. For me, that means each is a fine book that doesn’t quite grab me for reasons having to do entirely with my personal interests. Here’s a quick overview of each one.
Marina Lostetter’s Activation Degradation is a solid science fictional action story about the clash between robots and humans. We are introduced to Unit Four, one of a team of biological robots operating a space station near Jupiter that manages an important energy mine on the planet’s surface. Suddenly the station comes under attack from an alien space ship, and Unit Four is guided in its response by its handler, based on earth and communicating in real time through an ansible transmitter. Once the action settles down about mid-book, all sorts of complications arise as Unit Four is forced to rethink who the aliens really are, its own nature as a biological robot and the intentions of its handler. Some of the action and plot seemed too predictable and often chapters drew out the all-too-obvious reveal in the prose equivalent of slow motion, taking us through each detail even when it’s obvious where the story is going. But apart from that problem, largely confined to the first half of the novel, the story evolves into a deeply interesting meditation on our expectations about robots, aliens and humans. I wasn’t always convinced by Unit Four’s later epiphanies about its nature, but there is a lot to get from this story.
The Best of David Brin
David Brin is one of the masters of science fiction, especially known for his great novels of the 80s and 90s, including the Uplift trilogies, Earth, The Postman, Existence and a dozen others. The Best of David Brin draws on his shorter fiction from throughout his career with a strong emphasis on his intellectually sophisticated experiments in looking at the future. He’s especially interested in what can happen to humanity in the world after the Singularity when people have to deal with artificial intelligence and sapient entities that confuse the boundaries between the real and the artificial. For my taste, too many of the stories in this volume read like abstract thought experiments and rarely capture the excitement and power of his best novels. They are all brilliant and will certainly stretch your mind, but this is an acquired taste and not for everyone.
There Is No Antimemetics Division
The writer who calls himself qntm has produced a brilliant puzzle piece based on the idea that memes cannot only go viral, they can destroy your memory and ultimately kill you. We are plunged into the action when someone working on rooting out dangerous memes realizes he has been attacked by one and thus forgotten his recent work and everything about the meme. That is just the beginning. Each chapter raises the stakes on the hapless workers in antimemetics as the memes eliminate people seeking to find an impregnable area in which to work, one that no meme can penetrate. But maybe the safe room has already been invaded and what seems to be happening for the first time has already taken place many times before. This is tightly written and ingeniously constructed, but again it’s just not my kind of book – and if you look at Goodreads, you’ll see I’m definitely in the minority on this one.
There’s no such thing as finishing off the scifi TBR, especially given the cascade of new books coming out this fall. After a short break, I’ll be back with full length reviews in September.