Friday, March 20, 2015

Upcoming science-fiction

1. "Slow Bullets" by Alastair Reynolds (9th June 2015).

Synopsis: "From the author of the Revelation Space series comes an interstellar adventure of war, identity, betrayal, and the preservation of civilization itself.

"A vast conflict, one that has encompassed hundreds of worlds and solar systems, appears to be finally at an end. A conscripted soldier is beginning to consider her life after the war and the family she has left behind. But for Scur—and for humanity—peace is not to be.

"On the brink of the ceasefire, Scur is captured by a renegade war criminal, and left for dead in the ruins of a bunker. She revives aboard a prisoner transport vessel. Something has gone terribly wrong with the ship.

"Passengers—combatants from both sides of the war—are waking up from hibernation far too soon. Their memories, embedded in bullets, are the only links to a world which is no longer recognizable. And Scur will be reacquainted with her old enemy, but with much higher stakes than just her own life."
2. "Poseidon's Wake" (Poseidons Children 3) by Alastair Reynolds (30 Apr 2015).

Synopsis: "Alastair Reynolds is known as an author with big ideas. From human modification, to techno-plagues, mega-crises to mega-structures, his writing has always contained big ideas. To get it out of the way, this book is no exception.

"The narrative explores the journey of several scions of the Akinya family, who figured heavily in the previous two books in the same universe. Reynolds has done something clever here – setting each novel with protagonists from a new generation of the same family allows the reader to track societal changes, see shifts in viewpoints at the macro level as well as the personal, whilst retaining reader investment in the individual.

"In this particular case, we’re given two initial strands to follow; one on Mars, the home of human ambassador’s to the human-created AI civilisation now present there, and another on Crucible – a human colony, home to the mysterious artefact ‘’The Mandala”, as well as the remnants of a tribe of uplifted, intelligent elephants. Not to give the game away, but these two locations may act as the springboard for the rest of the text, but things do quite quickly change.

"The Elephants, incidentally, are another key thread running through the series – their interactions with humanity showing the way in which we interact with other living beings unlike ourselves, even as the AI on Mars act as a mirror of how we might act when faced with a machine which is also, in some (or perhaps all) senses, alive.

"The characters are a key facet of this novel. I’ve criticised Reynolds before for having characters that seemed to act more like generators of interesting conversations than actual people; he’s done quite a lot to redress the balance here. The Akinya’s, their various friends, loves, and losses, have become quite believable over three books, and Reynolds has managed to avoid getting into the depths of technical exposition at the expense of character growth. Instead we get quite a lot of dialogue trying to build relationships around the characters, and more emotional reflection than might have been visible in earlier work. There’s still a few awkward flashes, emotional responses and intensities which didn't quite ring true, but the characters do feel a great deal like people.

"Worth noting that this is technically a standalone in a shared universe; honestly, I wouldn’t try and read it without having read the other two books first to provide some context. It looks like it would be possible, but a great deal of the text, especially the initial setup, draws on events from the other two books, and the universe of the narrative is much richer, and far less confusing, if you come to this as a conclusion to a multi-generational saga, rather than on its own.

"The text is full to bursting with answers to interesting questions, ranging from the philosophical - how do we act in a universe where we’re not alone? How might we interact with artefacts from a civilisation aeons older than our own? To the philosophical – how do we define humanity? If we were told the ultimate truth of the universe, how might we react? Who are we, really, as a species, as individuals? The narrative approaches all of these questions unflinchingly, and does its best to provide an answer to them.

"In that respect, it’s a typical Reynolds book, and if you want to explore these questions, and their answers, within a well realised sci-fi universe, with plausible characters and a decent narrative, then this book is worth picking up."
3. "Seveneves" by Neal Stephenson (21st May 2015)  [880 pages!]

Synopsis: "Stephenson’s remarkable novel is deceptively complex, a disaster story and transhumanism tale that serves as the delivery mechanism for a series of technical and sociological visions. When the moon explodes, it doesn’t take long for scientists (including Doc “Doob” Dubois, who bears no small resemblance to Neil DeGrasse Tyson) to realize that the debris will soon cause the destruction of Earth.

"The residents of the International Space Station, including roboticist Dinah MacQuarie and commander Ivy Xiao, immediately begin working with their colleagues on Earth to turn the ISS into a viable habitat for as many people as possible. The next two years are filled with heroic sacrifices, political upheavals, and disasters, most of which are only exacerbated when Earth finally succumbs to the “Hard Rain,” meteorite bombardment that last for millennia.

"The survivors—seven fertile women—are destined to repopulate the human race, and it’s only here, over halfway through the story, that Stephenson (the Baroque Cycle) really shows his hand, moving ahead 5,000 years to explore the moral and political implications of the earlier events. There’s a ton to digest, but Stephenson’s lucid prose makes it worth the while."
All three pre-ordered: two Kindle editions + "Slow Bullets" only available as paperback.

And now we turn to the 'to be read' stack. I loved "Fairyland" by Paul McAuley; some of his other stuff not so much. I'll be giving his latest a try.

4. "Something Coming Through" by Paul McAuley (19 Feb 2015)

Synopsis: "The aliens are here. And they want to help. The extraordinary new project from one of the country's most acclaimed and consistently brilliant SF novelists of the last 30 years.

"The Jackaroo have given humanity 15 worlds and the means to reach them. They're a chance to start over, but they're also littered with ruins and artifacts left by the Jackaroo's previous clients.

"Miracles that could reverse the damage caused by war, climate change, and rising sea levels. Nightmares that could for ever alter humanity - or even destroy it.

"Chloe Millar works in London, mapping changes caused by imported scraps of alien technology. When she stumbles across a pair of orphaned kids possessed by an ancient ghost, she must decide whether to help them or to hand them over to the authorities. Authorities who believe that their visions point towards a new kind of danger.

"And on one of the Jackaroo's gift-worlds, the murder of a man who has just arrived from Earth leads policeman Vic Gayle to a war between rival gangs over possession of a remote excavation site.

"Something is coming through. Something linked to the visions of Chloe's orphans, and Vic Gayle's murder investigation. Something that will challenge the limits of the Jackaroo's benevolence..."

5. The Revelation Space sequence by Alastair Reynolds

I read these over the years, but apart from the first volume (which is still pretty familiar) I've largely forgotten the sequels. Luckily they're pretty cheap on Kindle so books 2-5 are now stacked awaiting a revisit. Here are the titles in order.

  1. Revelation Space. London: Gollancz, 2000.
  2. Chasm City. London: Gollancz, 2001. 
  3. Redemption Ark. London: Gollancz, 2002..
  4. Absolution Gap. London: Gollancz, 2003.
  5. The Prefect. London: Gollancz, 2007.

Back to Conjoiners and their drive, Lighthuggers, Exordium, Hypometric weapons and the Inhibitors!