- Mayday may be the international distress call, but for SF readers the month of May offers a wide range of good books Including a new Alex Benedict novel from Jack McDevitt, Rudy Rucker’s first new novel since 2013, and Clarke Award winner Adrian Tchaikovsky’s second novel in his Children of Time arc. There’s something for everyone’s taste this month, whether you’re looking to have your mind expanded or just find some excitement on the high frontier, but either way, give some thought to reading outside your comfort zone. After all, exploration is at the core of science fiction.
Octavia Gone (An Alex Benedict Novel) by Jack McDevitt (May 7)
This is the eighth Alex Benedict novel, following Coming Home, in which Alex’s uncle, Gabriel who had been lost on a starship stuck in limbo for 11 years was finally rescued. Now, after all that time Alex and his pilot partner in interstellar antiquities Chase Kolpath have to work out their new relationship and the disappearance of an artifact from Gabe’s collection drives them together to solve an archaeological mystery, More Holmes and Watson than Indiana Jones and whoever his sidekick of the day is, but that’s its charm.
Aurora Rising (The Aurora Cycle Book 1) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristof (May 7th)
The setup is totally classic whether you’re talking Ender’s Game or Galactic Patrol. It’s 2380 and Tyler Jones is graduating from the Aurora Academy with a team that, as the blurb puts it, “…(are) not the heroes we deserve. They’re just the ones we could find. Nobody panic.” Tyler has a hero complex that’s not helping him any, and the rest of his team take misfit to new levels of adventure. When they rescue a girl who’s been in cryo for two centuries things get interesting, as in let’s not have the whole galaxy erupt into war, shall we? It’s a setup that’s guaranteed to be fun, and if it’s clearly targeted at YA readers, that shouldn’t stop the rest of us from channeling our inner star cadet and enjoying the ride.
Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang (May 7)
If you haven’t read Ted Chiang, you might be confusing him with authors like Cixin Liu (The Three Body Problem) but no, he’s an American science fiction writer who’s won an array of Hugos and Nebulas for his short story work. You almost certainly know Arrival, the movie that was based on “The Story of Your Life” which titled his first collection. Exhalation, his second collection, was much anticipated and has been critically well received. In addition to the seven previously published stories here there are two new stories: “Omphalos” and “Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom.” Thought provoking, occasionally head-scratchingly so, but very recommended.
The Gordian Protocol by David Weber and Jacob Holo (May 7)
Veteran author David Weber and newcomer Jacob Holo teamed up to create a terrific collision between Alternate History and Parallel Worlds. When history professor Benjamin Schröder has a sudden psychotic episode, it leaves him with vision and nightmares of a different timeline where the course of WWII was horrifically different than the one he lives in. In fact, he’s tormented by visions of our timeline. At first, he’s able to put them aside as PTSD, but just when he thought it was safe to go back in the water, a man knocks on his door to tell him about parallel universes and alternate timelines, and the role he has in deciding what will survive. There’s some really original thinking in this one. Fans of the Netflix series Counterpart should especially take note.
Million Mile Road Trip by Rudy Rucker (MaY 7th)
Recently Night Shade Books has been bringing out reprints of Ruckers quirky SF titles (Turing & Burroughs, Mathematicians in Love) and now they’ve got the author’s first new novel since 2013 with the Million Mile Road Trip in which three Californian teens embark on a journey across an alternate universe filled with pocket universes of its own in a purple station wagon with a dark energy motor through a portal opened by…a trumpet solo? It’s bound to be a trippy adventure that would make Gulliver and Candide’s heads spin.
The Warship (Rise of the Jain) by Neal Asher (May 7th)
Neal Asher is one of the reigning kings of Space Opera, a genre that was once the butt of jokes and has evolved to become a place for serious science fiction about a clash of cultures and the distant future. The Warship is the second Rise of the Jain novel, and Neal takes us back to the setting of The Soldier, the first book in this series, where Orlandine, a human/AI construct, had unleashed a black hole weapon to defeat the alien tech stored inside the accretion disk of a remote burned out sun. Now we find that there’s more than just weapons tech inside the disk, and loosing a black hole may not have been the bright idea that it seemed at the time, safeguarding galactic civilization against one threat while stirring up something much, much worse.
Triangulum by Masande Ntshanga (May 14 eBook, Apr 30 paperback),
There’s not a lot of science fiction coming out of Africa, which is a pity because it’s a landscape that’s at once alien and familiar, timeless and full of change and potential. Films like District 9 and Black Panther show that audiences are eager to engage with it and hopefully we’ll see other forms of science fiction from more regions in the future. Meanwhile, we can start with Masande Ntsahanga’s decades-spanning novel of “Africa’s recent past and near future ― starting from the collapse of the apartheid homeland system in the early 1990s, to the economic corrosion of the 2010s, and on to the looming, large-scale ecological disasters of the 2040s. ” Among his awards and other writing credits, the South African author has written for Rolling Stone and this book is generating a lot of interesting buzz.
Starship Repo by Patrick S. Tomlinson (May 21)
Lastname, Firstname is a girl whose galactic citizenship papers suffered a clerical error, but she doesn’t really mind. You can call her “First.” While you’re doing that and goggling at the first human you’ve ever seen in this part of the galaxy, she’ll probably be stealing your wallet. At least until she gets caught by someone who runs a much more legit operation, repossessing starships. It’s a fun romp following on the heels of Tomlinson’s debut novel, Gate Crashers, and it’s loosely connected. First may not be the most ethical human to step out into the galaxy, but she’s just what humanity is going to need to make a mark. It’s sci-fi humor, but it’s not overdone, winding up in a series of escalating capers with an engaging protagonist.
Children of Ruin (Children of Time Book 2) by Adrian Tchaikovsky (May 16)
At 600 pages, if you read only one First Contact / Space Exploration / Clash of Culture novel this month, this may be all you have time for, but it will be time well spent. The author’s first book in this series, Children of Time, won the 2016 Clarke award with its tale of the encounter between a ship bearing the remnants of humanity hoping to make a new start on a planet that had been terraformed by earlier pioneers. What they found was a planet full of uplifted arachnids, created by a mad scientist with a virus, and the end result was that humanity had to become something new in order to partner with a world of spiders.
Children of Ruin takes place in a different star system and two-time frames, first when these pioneers arrived to terraform a world, only to find it inhabited by life of its own, and second, in intermixed sections, a few thousand years on after the efforts of their labors have borne fruit, though not the fruit they’d hoped to harvest. In the first time frame, there’s a mad scientist as well, this one obsessed with octopuses, and if the world they planned to remake has life on it, what do you think the odds are that the ice-covered world just inside the Goldilocks zone could be thawed, and uplifted octopuses find a home there? The snake in this particular garden is that the life already in the system has a way of getting into things, and once it tastes freedom it wants more. When an expedition from the first book, spiders, “Humans”, and the AI remnant of the scientist that uplifted the spiders arrive they’ve got to find a way to communicate with mollusks and microbes while not getting sucked into either’s agendas.
It’s a big book full of some of the most thought-provoking science fiction you’ll find, and like some recent 3-hour movies, fun at the same time. The first book isn’t required reading, but it may take a chapter or two before you get caught up.
Longer by Michael Blumlein (May 28)
Michael Blumlein’s writing shows his deep understanding of complex relationships, both biological and interpersonal. In Longer, his new novella, a pair of researchers in a habitat examine something that may be an alien attached to a piece of asteroid brought back by a probe while examining the future of their marriage, the consequences of rejuvenation technology, and the definition of life. He’s had one of a possible two ‘juves’ and is dragging his heels about a second. She’s just had her first and is burning with the fire of renewed youth. There’s a lot of interesting futurism here, but the bottom line is that it’s about two people out of step with each. No explosions, but great writing.
Last Tango in Cyberspace: A Novel by Steven Kotler
If you’ve always thought that cyberpunk was really sf-noir you won’t be surprised that this is both a novel of the near future and a hardboiled mystery. Steven Kotler writes about a world either around the corner or already here but not yet out of the lab with this fast-paced tale of neuroscience, cultural patterns, and high stakes corporate plots with the perfect character at its core – Lion Zorn, a man with a gift for detecting empathy and trends suddenly in the midst of a lot more than he bargained for.
Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky (May 28th)
Somehow Adrian Tchaikovsky found time to write a novella for this month as well as his substantial Children of Ruin novel (above). Gary Rendel is an astronaut, and it’s all he ever wanted to be, but when a mysterious artifact is discovered in the Oort Cloud and he gets to go on the team sent to investigate it, winding up lost and alone in an alien catacomb, he realizes he should have been more specific with his wishes. Especially since there are worse things than being alone in an ancient alien structure. Like having the wrong kind of company. This is told in two different time frames, and Gary has a keen sense of the irony in his situation(s), so it’s alternately terrifying and funny. Just the way it should be.
OK, go read something.
About my process and the Usual Suspects
First off, what do I include? Science FIction, that’s what. I’m pretty flexible in what that means, but it’s not Fantasy unless there’s a real effort to cross the streams. I don’t have a problem with Fantasy, but it’s not my main thing. Second, did I actually read all those books? Nope. I read quite a few, maybe half, and I’m looking forward to getting the rest read if I winnow down my book pile. To find them, I poured through my pile of ARCs (advance reader copies), combed the publisher’s catalogs, then ran an advanced search on Amazon, and picked out what seemed most interesting to me. I also listened to the buzz on Goodreads and what Locus Online was on about, but I made my own picks. You’ll probably see full reviews for some of them on SFRevu.com or other outlets I write for.
Since I’m often done with this after the beginning of the month, I do check what I consider to be the usual suspects, but mainly to see if they agree with my picks, which oddly enough, they more or less do. You might check them out at: