The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley

This is overall my favorite Kameron Hurley book; while it’s wild and weird, there’s a little more handholding–and somewhat more sympathetic characters. (Not that Nyx isn’t awesome.) These characters suffer from caring too much, too irrationally–even through circumstances that would break most of us.

The story builds steadily; Zan’s amnesiac and learning the world at our side–but events don’t pause for a leisurely catch up. Jayd is the schemer, and it’s never quite obvious which setbacks are unforeseen and devastating, and which she can roll with–she’s compelled to roll with them all.

Zan’s story is fun, weird and strange–since we’re learning alongside her, there’s tension and terrible risks taken. Jayd’s life is subject to huge upheavals, but her struggles are mostly on a political plane.

Very enjoyable; I recommend it to anyone who like action, adventure, and science fiction. The world building is alien, but in a more inviting way the Mirrors or Umayma. Though blood and fluids are not spared….

One Jump Ahead by Mark L Van Name

Fast, straightforward and shooty, this is great golden era inspired sci-fi. The gates are alien and weird; the nano-technology is filled with hand waving, but feels limited (particularly by requiring time), while the other technologies feel like reasonable extrapolations–and are completely taken for granted by the locals. The hero is a craft, clandestine survivor–he reminded me a bit of the Stainless Steel Rat.

It’s a fun universe with a lot of “now” aspects carrying forward–Corporations are much like today’s multinationals, just expanded to mutli-planetary. Similarly, despite extensive body modding, gender is basically 20th century, while race has mostly dropped out of description and consideration.

Again, it’s fun and fast–I’ll read the sequels from the library and enthusiastically recommended it to Jennifer.

Survival: Species Imperative #1 by Julie E Czerneda

Mac (Dr. MacKenzie Connor) is one of the last characters that you’d expect to go to space. She’s a dedicated, hands in the earth biologist, who studies salmon in an earth post-diaspora.

Brymn is a Dhryn, an alien who comes to get her help with his people’s struggles. They are set against by mysterious aliens–the Ro–who are long on murder attempts and short on slaughter.

The heart of the story is the Chasm, a stretch of dusty, long abandoned worlds. Disappearances along the Chasm have begun, and the fear that some dark force is active again spurs Mac and Brymn into investigation.

It’s a good story, but clearly incomplete. I’ll check out the whole trilogy, Species Imperative, and see how it is as a greater story.

Hurricane Fever by Tobias Buckell

We’re back with retired Caribbean Intelligence officer Prudence Jones, Roo to his friends.

The book is a fun continuation of Roo’s career–well, post career, as he’s retired from the agency. But his skills, contacts and tradecraft drag him back into the mix. An old friend dies, but an “on death” message directs him to a secret flash drive and a global conspiracy… that’s too well protected to identify after a brief review.

It’s a cool plot with great action scenes and chemistry between the leads. This could easily be a 21st century version of spycraft to rival James Bond for a more complicated world with a more underdog feel.

I’ll keep an eye out for further books in the series.

Bulldogs, Fate Core Edition by Galileo Games

Bryan and I discussed the old Bulldogs game in the past, but this new edition was the first time I read through the game myself.

It’s a good setting, with a lot of the Diaspora/Traveler/Firefly feel of tramp freighters crossing the galaxy, trying to make ends meet. The decision to set the game mostly in a balkanized neutral zone between two great powers does a great job of reinforcing the feel of small-fry trying to keep under the radar. Smuggling and the like are a sure result.

The character creation section is good, with another good discussion of Aspects. Alien Species are handled well-they come out as flavorful, but not just stereotypes, with common aspects and species abilities that replace stunts. And the Aliens are pleasantly alien. Sure, there are a few Aliens that are basically humans (with or without scrunchy noses), but space slugs and tripeds are great. Similarly, there’s a nice implementation of Credits and Gear.

The debate around heirachry in ship games is settled in Bulldogs by making the Captain an NPC representative of the company. Everyone has an aspect reflecting their relationship to the captain.

Anyway, rather than lots of detail, I’ll just end with: this game looks great. I’d be happy to play it.

Alliance by S. K. Dunstall

This is the sequel to Linesman, picking up shortly after its conclusion. We return to characters that we enjoy–the story is half told from Ean’s POV–but we also meet Selma Kari Wang, who holds up the other half of the book. She’s from Nova Tahiti, a world that left the Gate Union to become a member of the new Alliance.

As the title promises, there’s a lot of more subtle maneuvering and clandestine action, plus politics. Ean’s at a higher level now, so politics is a greater part of his day–though he still has the freedom (and eccentricity) to carve out his own priorities. Similarly, Kari is valuable both for her witness at the start of the novel, but even more for the political maneuvering that surrounds her after she loses her ship.

Despite the slower topics, the book races along. Ean’s still mostly plagued by personal relationships–Rigel returns, kidnappers want to grab him, and he has foreign ships to sing to. Kari faces a daunting first half of the book, recovering from the loss of her legs and ship; her passive resistance and despondency ring true and are well portrayed–she remains a sympathetic POV, not one that you avoid. You don’t begin her chapters with a groan.

While the focus is strongly on the politics, there’s enough investigation into the world–the strangeness of the lines, a potential source of Redmond’s strength, and more. I’m looking forward to the next novel, even though I suspect it’ll be a while.

Clarkesworld 112

Clarkesworld ISSUE 112, JANUARY 2016.
(I’ll post it now and just update it as I read the stories.)

Quick notes on the stories:
The Algorithms of Value by ROBERT REED was an odd and interesting post scarcity story. Parchment is our POV character; over the course of the story, it turns out that she is rich, somewhat famous, and partially responsible for the state of the world. It’s a world of tremendous abundance, at least in terms of material goods. It’s quirky and offbeat, with flickering reflections about modern marriage.

The Abduction of Europa by E. CATHERINE TOBLER. The story gets off to a strong, engaging start, with a solid grounding… and odd asides about Europa and Zeus of myth. It’s a weird world; the struggle to survive it blends into odd hallucinations and dreams, successfully conveyed by the author. It was interesting, but the characters didn’t grow on me much.

Extraction Request by RICH LARSON

Everybody Loves Charles by BAO SHU

The True Vintage of Erzuine Thale by ROBERT SILVERBERG

Old Paint by MEGAN LINDHOLM

A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias

A solid book; it’s about scientists exploring an alien world. The science part feels right–there are restrictions that the chafe at, genuine engagement and questions, and resignation to do the best the can, despite the restrictions.

The Sholen begin as an off screen constraint… their rules are the impediment to good science, for understandable reasons. Then we start getting POV chapters from them, and we realize how thin their justification is. They are well built as alien but comprehensible; their politics aren’t fully explained, but they are politics as we’d understand them. The Sholen’s intrusion into the base, after the accident, kicks up a hornet’s nest. Some of the petty and strange behavior of the scientists until then make sense with the new context.

When things go wrong, there’s a solid cultural explanation behind the ratcheting escalation. It’s well done; missteps and misinterpretations grounded in their own understanding of social agreements lead to subtle warfare–but both sides are divided. It’s really well done.

He built an interesting universe; I suspect that I’d enjoy following these characters as they deal with the aftermath of their actions and the repercussions on both societies. I’d also be interested in stories of other characters elsewhere, wrestling under the same constraints–and navigating the changes that Ilmatar’s conflict will have on Human-Sholen relations everywhere.

Windswept by Adam Rakunas

A nicely dystopian sci-fi future; it harnesses corporations’ flaws and projects them forward for an authentic feeling.

Padma’s an excellent character with a bit of mystery to her past. She’s solidly connected to the other people of Windswept, and has strong motivations and responsibilities that get her interacting with everyone in a more than plausible way. She’s also damaged by an experiment, and it’s interesting to learn how it came about in parallel to her world going to shit. Which, of course, it does from a few pages in.

I really like the truths about Windswept that are revealed, slowly but steadily. The plot has a lot of action, but not a lot of deadly violence, which feels right for a world so in need of people.