June’s here and it’s time to start in on your summer reading. I’ve got a collection of titles coming out over the month that should keep you in reading material at least until July’s rocket red glare appears on the horizon.
This month’s picks range from exciting space dramas like Velocity Weapon, Megan E. O’Keefe’s debut novel, to a wild road trip across a fractured USA with another debut, Reed King’s FKA USA. For those who want to return to familiar settings, Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston have teamed up again for the next to last Ender’s Game prequel, The Hive, as the International Fleet prepares to confront the buggers mothership and make Mazer Rackham a hero. You can also travel back to just after The Last Jedi and watch the Alphabet Squadron chase down Imperials that won’t accept they lost the war, but I’m not sure that turns out the way they hoped in the long run. In Stealing Worlds, Karl Schroeder has come up with a tale cyberpunk authors could only dream of where augmented reality makes all the world a game, at least until somebody gets hurt. We don’t see a lot of paranormal powers in science fiction, at least short of superhero tales, but we get a very nice take on it in The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind by Jackson Ford. So, here are my picks.
Alphabet Squadron (Star Wars Disney Canon Novel) by Alexander Freed
June 4th, 2019 (Del Rey)
I’m starting out by trying to cut off my foot with a light-saber. I haven’t kept up with all the changes in the Star Wars universe, canon or not, but looking over titles listed as “Disney Canon” I didn’t see a lot of my old favorites. Well, we’ll always have Alderon.
Alphabet Squadron takes place after Return of the Jedi when a collection of Rebel pilots take off to clean up the remnants of the Empire. The fun part for fans of the ships in the saga is that each pilot has a different type of fighter, hence the alphabet part. Led by Yrica Quell, a former Imperial pilot, it’s a motley crew of fighter jocks with all the attitude that comes with that breed. Their mission is to root out the Shadow Wing, an elite Imperial squadron of Tie fighters bent on getting in the last shot in a losing war. Having seen the last two movies, we guess that they left a few things unfinished, but it’s a great setup and bound to be a fun read.
You can jump right in with an excerpt over on the official site here.
The Outside by Ada Hoffmann
June 4th, 2019 (Angry Robot)
There’s a lot of buzz about this novel and its autistic physicist main character. In a universe where galactic civilization is run by sentient quantum-comps, humanity has built a station run by human tech that’s supposed to show that we’re players. Unfortunately, Yasira Shien’s radical fusion source winds up taking out the entire station and all aboard, and she finds herself between the godlike AIs and her mentor, Dr. Evianna Talirr, whose equally radical mathematics threaten the fabric of galactic power structure by harnessing the weirdness known as “the Outside”.
The Outside is a force of total strangeness that warps human brains and denies the reality of, well, reality.
Autism and other neuroatypicalities haven’t gotten a lot of play as science fiction main characters, exceptions include Elizabeth Moon’s Speed of Dark and Peter Watt’s Blindsight, both powerful novels that suck you into a different way of looking at the world. There are a number of excellent debut novels out this month, and this is certainly one of the most interesting.
Angry Robot continues to punch above its weight with titles like this.
Velocity Weapon (The Protectorate Book 1) by Megan E. O’Keefe
June 11, 2019 (Orbit)
What if you woke up two hundred and thirty years from now aboard a starship belonging to your enemy and missing oh say, half your leg, everyone you ever knew, and oh yes…your planet. Ask Sandra Greeve, formerly gunship captain in a war between her world of Ada Prime and – Icaria, a planet closer to the system’s sun. Sure, you’d despair, but where there’s life there’s hope, and besides, she’s got a plucky AI to help her out. Things could be worse. And they will be.
The storyline jumps back and forth in time between Sandra and her brother, a freshly minted “Keeper,” part of the ruling class who won’t give up the search for his sister and the others lost in the conflict, or at least stop the war over the gate technology the Keepers hold over the rest of the galaxy.
Megan E. O’Keefe’s Velocity Weapon has a great premise, compelling plot, and engaging cast of characters. It’s a very twisty space opera that kicks off a series and a debut novel from an author worth keeping an eye on.
The Hive (The Second Formic War#2) by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston
June 11, 2019 (Tor Books)
The Hive is the fifth book in the Formic War series of prequels leading up to Ender’s Game, all of which feature Mazer Rackham, the Mauri pilot who managed to stop the “Bugger’s” invasion before recruiting Ender to take the war to the enemy. Along with Mazer, there’s Bing, a Chinese orphan and proto-Ender who’s being groomed by both the Yin of Mazer and the Yang of a Colonel Li. Bing has his own cadre of orphan fighters, and the whole lot of them wind up at a deep space training facility where the commander won’t let them train. If that seems dysfunctional, that’s ok, because much of the theme of this book is a covert effort to root out incompetent officers in the International Fleet before the big fight in the next book.
I found it slow going at first, not having read the entire series, but after a bit, I warmed up to Bing and other assorted characters in parallel plot lines, enough so that I’m looking forward to the final installment, The Queens.
The danger of any prequel to a classic is that it will reframe the original work, and in doing so take away from its power. I think we all know who I’m talking about here. Hopefully, between the book and the movie, Ender’s Game won’t suffer that fate.
FKA USA: A Novel by Reed King
June 18, 2019 (Flatiron Books)
If you’re planning a road trip this summer, Reed King’s debut is a perfect companion, following Truckee Wallace’s Wizard of Oz-nian voyage across the now fractured United States with a talking goat who ate a library, a grifter from Texas who’s not as dumb as he looks, and an “engineered person” that wants to join the free robot state in Silicon Valley. It’s snarky and prescient, and Truckee, who up till now has been a more or less happy cog in a company city/state button pressing on a production line that makes addictive snack food turns out to be the best hope for stopping the spread of cyber-mediated zombies from taking over the world. Surprisingly, things are not always what they seem. OK, not so surprisingly.
Reed’s created a world that’s all too cringably easy to believe lies down the path we’re on while reassuring us that the old stories won’t desert us. Like Frodo, Truckee might wish these things not have happened in his time, but like the hobbit, he’ll keep pushing on to get the job done. Fans of Baum, Douglas Adams, Voltaire, and Cormac McCarthy (The Road) should all find this a worthy addition to books about long strange trips worth taking.
Stealing Worlds by Karl Schroeder
June 18, 2019 (Tor Books)
Sura Neelin’s father died while investigating a possible ecological crime, and for reasons, she doesn’t know she’s next on the killer’s list. It’s hard to disappear in a world where every bit of data is mined for significance by marketers and governments, data fed by every digital interaction as well as millions of dashboard cams, traffic cams, environmental sensors, and drones. Without knowing it though, Sura’s been training for this her whole life, honing skills in getting in and out of places without being seen. Good as she is, she’s going to have to up her game if she wants to stay alive and find out who killed her father and why.
When everything is watching you, where can you hide? The answer turns out to be by dropping out of the real world and into the LARPs that are hidden in plain sight. Shakespeare was close when he said all the world’s a play…but really it’s a game, though games can be deadly.
Stealing Worlds is something of a departure for the author, though not in terms of providing a story both thoughtful and exciting. This book could have come from one of the cyberpunk heavy hitters, Neal Stephenson, Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow, or Gibson himself, but it’s all the better from Karl Schroeder. It’s an intelligent onslaught of ideas about the impact of augmented reality on fully immersive LARPs, the application of cryptocurrency tools to identity registration, realizing the real world as a fully wired space and what lies beyond the clash of capitalism and communism when property owns itself and so does everyone else. This is thought-experiment science fiction of the best kind, and I hope it spawns a revolution or two.
The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind by Jackson Ford
June 18th, (Orbit)
Teagan Frost can move sh*t with her mind, and In order to stay out of government labs and/or dissection tables, she does super-secret work for them out of The China Shop, a ‘pretend’ moving company in LA. Except that some times they actually do moving jobs, because when you can take all the weight off a refrigerator, it makes it easier to carry, right? Just as long as you don’t let on.
That works fine until a body turns up with a piece of iron rebar wrapped around its neck, and it just happened to be the last person Teagan and her team went after. Either Teagan has gone rogue, or she’s not the only one who can move sh*t with her mind. Either way, the team has 22 hours to clear Teagan or she goes back to the lab. Only it’s not like they believe her, and she’s not winning any popularity points with her biting sarcasm and other social skills.
It’s a very good read, and I’m looking forward to the sequel, Random Sh*t Flying Trough the Air. If you like snarky titles and semi-plausible super-heroes, you should also check out All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault by James Alan Gardner.
There are more I haven’t had a chance to dig into too deeply, including Recursion: A Novel by Blake Crouch (June 11. 2019 Penguin) in which an NYC detective tries to figure out how people are being inflicted with “False Memory Syndrome—a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived”. In The Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone we’re promised a “a feminist Guardians of the Galaxy crossed with Star Wars and spiced with the sensibility and spirit of Iain M. Banks and William Gibson,” in which an Elon-Musk type entrepreneur is hurtled from her server farm outside Boston to confront the power that rules the universe at the end of time. And last, but by no means least, Fall, or Dodge in Hell, by Neal Stephenson, is a sequel to Readme, or at least starts with the same main character, who dies and is brain scanned to be instantiated in the future. Surprise, the future isn’t what he expected. Early reviews agree that it’s terrific, but at 893 pages, it had better be.
About my process and the Usual Suspects
For the most part, this list sticks to what appeals to me as science fiction, about which I’m willing to be fairly flexible, but if here there be dragons, you can expect to find some tweaked DNA to explain it. I make up this list based on what I’ve read, what I heard and what I’m really looking forward to. Quite a few will wind up getting full-length reviews here or around the web, especially at SFRevu.com where I’m editor emeritus.
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:
- Barnes & Noble: The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of June 2019
- The Verge: 11 new science fiction and fantasy books to check out in early June
- IO9: Your Summer Reading List Is Set With All of June’s New Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books