The Man Who Folded Himself (1973) by David Gerrold

TheManWhoFoldedHimself(1stEd)The man best known for giving us tribble troubles also gave us this fun but disquieting 1973 Hugo-nominated story about the technicalities and repercussions of time travel. In the space of 100 pages, The Man Who Folded Himself explores every nuance and angle of time travel, both amusing and troubling at times. I imagine Gerrold had to sit on the cover just to get the pages to close from all that he stuffed in, but the moment it’s unlatched– WHOOSH! Springy snakes everywhere.

It’s like no other time travel novel you’ve read– the ultimate Pandora’s box of time travel fiction. And it just may make you reevaluate that childhood wish for a time machine. Continue reading

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2014 Arthur C. Clarke Nominees Announced!

How timely that I just read Childhood’s EndThe 2014 Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist was announced today and it contains a mix of familiar and not-so-familiar names:

Nexus by Ramez Naam (Angry Robot)
God’s War by Kameron Hurley (Del Rey)
The Machine by James Smythe (Blue Door)
Ancillary Justice by Anne Leckie (Orbit)
The Disestablishment of Paradise by Phillip Mann (Gollancz)
The Adjacent by Christopher Priest (Gollancz)

Seriously, why do people watch sports when there’s this going on? Click here to see the rest of the 2014 SF shortlists.

Ancillary Justice (2013) by Ann Leckie

AncillaryJustice

I finally caved to the pressure and picked up the book award darling of the year, Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, which has been nominated for every major SF award so far, and is likely to continue that trend for the rest of the year. Having not read many 2013 novels yet, I can’t vouch for its presence on these shortlists without an adequate comparison (coming later), but its exponentially growing accolades are difficult to ignore.

Breq is on a personal mission, a vendetta. She is guarded about her identity, but through her first-person narrative, Breq reveals that she is actually Justice of Toren, a starship, or rather the artificial intelligence of a starship computer that once operated her unit’s corpse soldiers (ancillaries). Unfortunately, her mission gets waylaid when she gets stuck caring for her snooty former captain suffering kef withdrawals and, during that time, she unfolds her story of love, intrigue, murder, and vengeance. We also learn that Breq loves to sing (picture AI-operated soldiers singing in perfect rhythm, but nowhere near one another). Continue reading

Planet of the Damned (A Sense of Obligation) (1961) by Harry Harrison

PlanetoftheDamnedCaution: Some cognitive dissonance may result when a tale of a macho hero, who one-handedly saves a planet while armed with guns and muscles and toughness and stuff, simultaneously triumphs scientific humanism, empathy, non-violence and cooperation.

Planet of the Damned is a tale with heart, but that heart is buried under the bulging pectoral muscles of a cardboard hero. It’s high brow scifi for the low brow geek.

Brion Brandd (that’s Branduh-duh) has just won the Twenties, the Anvharrian Olympics of mind and might– a true competition for the Renaissance man: chess, wrestling, sword-fights, poetry, etc. But Ihjel, a former Twenties victor, immediately recruits Brion for a mission to help save the planet of Dis from suicidal destruction. With Ihjel as his mentor, Brion discovers he has innate empathic abilities, which he must use to understand the barbaric inhabitants of Dis. Brion and Lea, a knock-out Terran biologist, work to stop the threats of nuclear annihilation between Dis and its neighboring enemy planet, the peace-loving, normally anti-violent, Nyjord. The pacifist Nyjordians set a deadline to destroy Dis unless the ruling Dis (Dissidents?) give up their cobalt bombs, (which are not pretty blue powder bombs, I checked). Continue reading

WWW: Wake (2009) by Robert J. Sawyer

“The sky above… was the color of a television tuned to a dead channel.” Wake

When Robert Sawyer winks at this opening line from William Gibson’s Neuromancer, it’s a reminder of how drastically technology has changed over the past 30 years. When Gibson wrote that line in 1984, it was intended to evoke the gray fuzziness of a disconnected screen. Two and a half decades later, Sawyer uses the same line to describe a bright blue sky. For me, five years and an awesome Sony app box later, a dead channel is as black as the night of a new moon (with an HDMI input notification in the top corner).

But that line also illustrates how drastically the cyber SF sub-genre has also changed over the past 30 years. Neuromancer is the seminal piece: dark, edgy, and weird, while Wake is safe, comfortable, and sweet. Neuromancer‘s main character is a suicidal adult male with a drug addiction. Wake‘s main character is an optimistic teen girl with good grades and high self-esteem. Both explore similar themes of emerging technology, primarily human interaction with artificial intelligence, but they go about it in completely different ways. If Neuromancer is cyberpunk, then Wake is cyberpop. Continue reading

One to read with the kiddos: The High Crusade (1960) by Poul Anderson

TheHighCrusade 1stWhen a spaceship lands in the English shire of Ansby during the middle of the Hundred Years’ War, Sir Roger, Baron de Tournville, leads his knights to battle against strange blue “demons,” then hijacks their ship to mount an attack against France. But the lone alien survivor of the Wesgorix, kept alive for information, misleads his captors and autopilots a return to his home empire. Do the merry English bat an eye? Hardly!  The sprawling interstellar empire of the Wesgorix is simply another territory for the Crusade-happy Baron to claim in the name of King Edward III and Christendom.

Monty Python meets Hitchhiker’s Guide? Why not? While the marrying of medieval romps and galactic pioneering sounds as fun today as it did over fifty years ago, the execution is sparse for modern SFers whose mash-up expectations require hundreds of pages, years of research, valid science, and ironic nihilism. But when the first tenth of a novel is dedicated to its most famous fans’ love letters, you know you’ve stumbled on to an important piece of SF history. Continue reading