Tag Archives: science fiction

Dust, by Elizabeth Bear

DustA generation ship, disabled, limps in orbit around an unstable binary star that could self-immolate at any moment. For five hundred years, Engine and Rule have established quasi-medieval fiefdoms with the Exalt – whose bodies are augmented by a nanotech symbiont – ruling over the Mean. And the artificial intelligence that once controlled the ship’s systems has splintered into ‘angels’ – chief among them Samael, the angel of death (or life support, at any rate) and Jacob Dust, the angel of memory.

Knight-errant Perceval loses a duel – and her wings. She’s taken prisoner by Ariane of Rule. But the Mean servant girl assigned to take care of her is Rien – her long-lost sister. (This book had me at ‘maimed wingless girl knight-errant,’ and never let go). Before long they’ve escaped from Rule on a quest to find their father and prevent the coming war between Engine and Rule.

This is a book stuffed with Cool Bits, especially if you’re me, but even if you’re not. I think it’s terribly neat that there’s medieval window-dressing and a fantasy quest plot, all packaged – with perfect rationality – in a rigorous science fictional universe. There’s a basilisk! There’s a hermaphroditic necromancer! There are peaches that contain the memories of the dead! And at the same time, all of these Cool Bits are pointed at heavy, intense themes and heartbreaking storytelling. Bear is interrogating power and privilege and love and submission and domination and – as always – what it takes to face terrible choices with honor, dignity, and integrity.

This is also the first Elizabeth Bear novel I understood all the way through without having to read anything twice over. I like the opaqueness in some of her work, but I also like the clarity in this one.

Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow

Little Brother17-year-old hacker, tinkerer, and gamer Marcus finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time when he skips school and gets caught in the worst incident of terrorism in the U.S. He gets separated from his friends, detained by Homeland Security.

As the government starts encroaching more and more on civil liberties, Marcus is determined to get back at DHS, stop the questioning and detainment of innocent civilians, and generally take back the government from the law-and-order-at-all-costs brigade. Tall order for a junior in high school.

This is not a far-future dystopia. It is about the world now. (Based on Marcus having a Sega Dreamcast when he was seven, and discussions of the upcoming midterm elections, I’d put the date at 2010. I’m not sure if the technology is there yet, but certainly Doctorow would know more about that than I would!) It is, specifically, about the situation in the U.S. in the present day, not some handwavy analogy of a dystopia. It is also a manual to do exactly what Marcus does. Mind you, it’s not filled with lines of code and technical detail. (You can look up all that stuff on Wikipedia). It’s just enough to make you go, “Oh, cool!” – or else, “Oh, no!”… and to inspire you to take a few pages from Marcus’s playbook.

Which makes it a really important book.

But it’s something else again that makes it a whole lot of fun. Doctorow – well, he named his daughter Poesy Emmeline Fibonacci Nautilus. That just about says it all. It’s a fast-paced technothriller packed with offhand nifty ideas and references and in-jokes. If you’re at all familiar with Scrotumgate from last year, you’ll know why this was my favorite:

“Did she use the scrotum line on you? I hate it when she does that. She just loves the word ‘scrotum,’ you know. It’s nothing personal.”

I’m thrilled when I read a boy book that’s filled with information and technology and the things that guys will voluntarily read about if they won’t voluntarily read about things like feelings, and is also plenty good on its own literary merits. It’s icing on the cake when that book is also politically conscious, socially relevant, and smart as all get-out. (Of course, that’s not to say that girls shouldn’t read it too!)

In short: it’s made of awesome.

How Much For Just the Planet?, by John M. Ford

How Much For...So, why was I reading a Star Trek novel? I have read a bunch of Next Generation novels in my day, but I never really appreciated original-flavor Trek, mostly because of Kirk’s fondness for womanizing and punching people.

But I had been told by reputable sources that this was perhaps the best Star Trek novel ever written, and out of a general appreciation for John M. Ford’s writing, I picked it up. The plot concerns a newly-discovered planet with huge reserves of dilithium crystals, the essential energy source for both the Klingons and the Federation. Because the planet lies in a treaty zone, both the Federation and the Klingons get to have a crack at courting the planet to get it to join up with one side or the other. And from there, things get a lot wackier.

There is bursting into song. There are references to classic old movies. Alas, I’m not terribly familiar with either Gilbert and Sullivan or classic old movies, and a lot of the funny stuff went over my head. But I did enjoy the wackiness of it, and the everyone-working-at-hilarious-cross-purposes of the plot, and it’s my own fault that I wasn’t better able to get the jokes.