There’s a lot of good hard sf out this month, starting with Martin Shoemaker’s The Last Dance, about an Earth-Mars Cycler whose captain has rubbed the wrong people the wrong way and is probably going to get court-martialed for it. Lighter space opera fans will like Fortuna, the start of a series starring a family of smugglers with sibling issues, not to mention the genocidal war they may have triggered. Eternal Shadow is an impressive debut by Trevor B. Williams, where a planet-eating object has Earth on the menu, and Daniel Wilson, author of Robopocolpse continues the story started by Michael Crichton in Andromeda Strain with Andromeda: Evolution. Speaking of hard sf, Robert Markley’s Kim Stanley Robinson (Modern Masters of Science Fiction) takes a look at the unchallenged master of the genre.
If you’re looking for something shorter to read, you’re there are a number of good Collections, Anthologies. and Novellas, this month, spanning the ideological and literary spectrums from And Go Like This: Stories by John Crowley, to The Best of Jerry Pournelle. Gary Wolfe continues his series of science fiction by decades with American Science Fiction Eight Classic Novels of the 1960s
If you want a good novella, there’s Made Things by Adrian Tchaikovsky, a fantasy with puppet persons which asks questions robots need answers for, and The Menace from Farside by Ian McDonald which asks which is the greater challenge, the harshness of space or dealing with family?
The Last Dance (The Near-Earth Mysteries) by Martin L. Shoemaker 11/1/19 (47North)
Nick Aimes is the captain of the I.S. Aldrin, a Mars Cycler forever looping between Earth and Mars. Nick’s a taskmaster and a perfectionist — not an easy man to like. But the Aldrin’s fiercely loyal crew knows that he holds them to the same standard he holds himself, and faced with the dangers of space, that’s what will keep them safe. Nick’s determined to protect his ship and crew, even if it means disobeying a direct order from the Admiralty. Which is how he wound up locked in his cabin while a junior member of the Inspector General’s staff sits in his chair reviewing the case for court-martial. The facts are stacked against Nick, and his enemies, of which there are many, have their knives sharpened for the kill, but newly minted I.G. Park Yerim knows there’s more to this than meets the eye, and she’s determined to do the job right, which is the only way things are done on the Aldrin.
Fortuna (The Nova Vita Protocol Book 1) by Kristyn Merbeth 11/5/19 (Orbit)
A small ship with a dodgy crew skirting the law is pretty much standard sf fare, but Kristyn Merveth’s debut novel ups that stake a bit by making them a family of criminals, run by a hard-nosed mom, which is largely incapable of making sensible decisions. Scorpia, the pilot, thought she had a lock on taking over the family business someday, despite her predilection for flying drunk and making really bad decisions, but when her older brother Corvus, who had abandoned the family for a career as a soldier comes back, it looks like that plan is toast. Ultimately the author gives them something outside themselves to worry about when the crew becomes involved in triggering a genocidal war, and Corvus, Scorpia, and the family deal with some harsh realities.
Fortuna is an uneven debut but shows promise. I found it hard to connect with the characters in the beginning, but once they gelled, I was glad to have stuck with it. Fans of Catherynne M. Valente (Space Opera) should find this engaging and we can look forward to watching the author develop.
Eternal Shadow (Fall of Gods Book 1) by Trevor B. Williams 11/9/19 (Trevor Writes)
When a massive object enters the solar system and starts consuming the outer planets, it’s time to worry. Jennifer Epstein is the SETI researcher that first notices the world eating big intruder as it plots its course towards the water-bearing planets, which means Earth is on the menu. Jennifer and the other scientists studying the “Leviathan” find evidence that we wouldn’t be the first civilization it’s gobbled up, and far more advanced races have failed to stop it. With a ten-year clock ticking down and a menace whose sheer size makes nuclear deterrence laughable, our only hope is to science the hell out of it.
It’s unusual for a self-published book to get much attention, but Trevor is already getting well deserved praise from established authors and reviewers. Eternal Shadow is one of the best hard sf offerings to come out recently, and I’m looking forward to whatever he does to continue the series.
The Andromeda Evolution by Michael Crichton and Daniel H. Wilson 11/14/19 (Harper)
Set fifty years later after the events in The Andromeda Strain, Daniel Wilson, author of Robopocolpse and The Clockwork Dynasty has taken the story into the present with a new outbreak, a new team, and a new perspective on what the microbe is and what it means for mankind.
When a massive structure suddenly starts growing out of the Amazonian rain forest and remote sensors reveal that it’s composition shows Andromeda Strain elements, a new Wildfire team is sent to investigate. Among them is James Stone, son of Jeremy Stone, the pivotal scientist on the first team. A roboticist and technologist, the other team members aren’t sure why he’s there, but his inclusion will turn out to be the key to unlocking Andromeda’s secret.
Since Michael Crichton died in 2008, Daniel Wilson was on his own when writing the sequel. The story echoes Crichton’s writing, especially channeling Congo (1980) in which a team of scientists hacks their way through the jungle to solve a mystery. The post-mission report style follows the original story’s but instead of the spare story and tight focus of Andromeda Strain, this book packs in a lot of elements, settings, and plotlines. Readers of Douglas E. Richards will find this a great read, but fans of the original may find it a bit overdone. Still, it’s entertaining enough that I hope the author gets tapped for a third book in the series, which the ending teases in much the same way the original did.
And Go Like This: Stories by John Crowley 11/05/2019 (Small Beer Press)
Small Beer Press often lives in the interstitial space between literary fiction and science fiction, and John Crowley is a perfect fit for them. This collection of thirteen stories from the past 20 years, which range from discussions about the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays (“The Girlhood of Shakespeare’s Heroines,”) to the title track, which considers the overpopulation of a not so future NYC. The collection includes “Anosognosia” a previously unpublished work featuring a high school student names John C. which leaves us wondering who and what is real.
This is the sort of book that’s perfect for the gathering darkness of November evenings byt he fire. As Publisher’s Week says it’s “like a long afternoon spent with an intimate, excellent raconteur.”
Made Things by Adrian Tchaikovsky 11/05/2019 (Tor.com)
We’re getting a lot of thieves this month. Coppelia is con artist pickpocket, common thief, and puppeteer. What’s not common are the “small puppet-like friends” some wooden, some metal, that work with her, picking the pockets of her audience. She’s a skilled papermaker in her own right, but these creations were made by an Archmage long before. Now there’s rumor of something bigger made by the mages, and a local crimelord wants her to check it out with her pals.
The line between fantasy and science fiction can get pretty blurry, and this novella is firmly on the fantasy side, but I’m including it here party because Adrian Tchaikovsky has been delving into science fiction very credibly with his Children of Time series, and partly that the setup so clearly explores the same relationship between human and automaton that it caught my eye. Interestingly, I’d just read an excellent short story about a wooden robot in the September issue of Analog, (“Trespass” by Tony Ballantyne) so maybe that influenced me.
The Best of Jerry Pournelle by Jerry Pournelle and John F. Carr 11/05/2019 (Baen)
Jerry Pournelle was one of the generation of science fiction writers who started out as an engineer creating the space age (and computer ages as well) and wound up telling some of the best stories about it ever written. He followed closely in Heinlein’s footsteps, and got a fair amount of encouragement from him as well, as the editor’s notes in this volume point out. The publisher’s notes tell you that “Herein you will find over a dozen short stories” and my first reaction was to go count them to get an actual number. But I kept getting sucked into the stories because Jerry wrote to be read, not just to make a point, and never did come up with a real number.
Not only are these great stories by one of science fiction’s grandest masters, but they’re also presented in the best possible way, with an extensive preamble by John Carr, who worked closely with Jerry for many years. Carr provides context and backstory that breaths life into Jerry’s work, which was always lively, to begin with. Jerry was often at his best working with others, Larry Niven in particular, and several stories in here are collaborations. If you’re familiar with Jerry you know he was (as he said) “somewhere to the right of Ghengis Khan” on the political spectrum. If that puts you off, don’t let it. His stories are full of action, but they’re also full of compassionate characters, people you know would have your back in a fight, even if they didn’t quite see eye to eye with you. Just like the author. Read this collection, especially the preamble before each story, and get to know Jerry Pournelle. He might surprise you.
The Menace from Farside by Ian McDonald 11/12/19 (Tor.com)
Cariad Corcoran is the daughter in a group marriage on the Moon, and she’s definitely the alpha female to a pack of boys, which is just the way she likes it. Her world order is upset when a shift in the marriage brings with it a new sister, one that is much better equipped to turn the boys’ heads than she is. Cariad’s not going to give up without a fight though, and that’s how she winds up trapped on the surface with all her friends facing the worst that the moon can throw at you.
Told in retrospect by Cariad, the author leaves you on the hook until the end. That she’s retelling it all to an AI Therapist should worry you a bit, which is no doubt the author’s intent.
Readers of classic science fiction will recognize the title as an echo of Robert Heinlein’s classic short story, “The Menace from Earth (1959)”, and wonder if McDonald is going to follow up with a similar tale. He does indeed, and though it’s very much its own story, set in McDonald’s rich Lunar storyscape, the setup and a number of touchpoints clearly show this as an exercise in updating the original. If you’ve never read Heinlein’s story, this is a fun read on its own. If you have, it’s fun to see how Ian has worked the old bits in.
American Science Fiction: Eight Classic Novels of the 1960s by Gary K. Wolfe (editor) 11/05/2019 (Library of America)
Gary Wolfe continues his curated collections of science fiction novels by decade with a trip into the new voices of the 60s where story and character emerged as critical elements over the setting-driven tales of the previous decade. even if you’ve been reading sf since the 60s you probably haven’t read all these, and this is a great collection to close the gap with. Newer readers will find these books have a lot to offer in understanding how sf changed from adventure stories, whether physical or intellectual, to a richer form. Either way, I highly recommend it, and only wish it were also available in eBook. The collection includes The High Crusade by Poul Anderson, Way Station by Clifford D. Simak, Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, . . . And Call Me Conrad [This Immortal] by Roger Zelazny, Past Master by R. A. Lafferty, Picnic on Paradise by Joanna Russ, Nova by Samuel R. Delany, and Emphyrio by Jack Vance
Kim Stanley Robinson (Modern Masters of Science Fiction) by Robert Markley 10/30/2019 (University of Illinois Press)
Any discussion of what science fiction is will eventually wind up with someone using Kim Stanley Robinson as the gold standard for real science fiction, or at least the hard sf variant. His Rainbow Mars trilogy alone set the standard for terraforming and his solar system novels encompass a bit of Le Guin and a bit of Star Trek.
Robart Markley’s book makes it clear that there’s much, much, more to Kim Stanley Robinson than the conquest of the high frontier. That, in fact, conquest is the last thing the author preaches, leaning towards eco-economics and developing partnerships between humans and everything around them.
Starship Alchemon by Christopher Hinz 11/12/19 (Angry Robot)
In his foreword, Christopher Hinz cites a number of influences on his early, and now reworked space opera including A.E. Van Vogt and the Aliens movies. I hope he’s referring to Van Vogt’s Voyage of the Space Beagle, often cited as important source material for Alien, chest-burster and all. Alchenon is a research ship exploring the planet Sycamore when they discover a bloblike alien lifeform unlike anything else on the planet. Not only that, but there appears to be another lifeform inside it. Naturally, they take it on board before heading back to Earth. With a crew that includes a high functioning psionic with issues with just about everything, a first officer that may or may not be going insane, and an AI that can take control of the ship away from the humans anytime it decides they’re doing a bad job, what could go wrong? Yeah, pretty much everything.
The New Voices of Science Fiction Hannu Rajaniemi (Editor), Jacob Weisman (Editor), 11/13/19 (Tachyon)
Jacob Weisman previously teamed with Peter S. Beagle to present The New Voices of Fantasy (2017) which won the World Fantasy Award for Anthology. Now he’s teamed up with Hannu Rajaniemi (Quantum Thief) to bring a collection of the hottest new authors in science fiction from the past five years. Some you may already know, but if you’re like me, not as many as you’d like. Here’s the chance to catch up and get to know a collection of authors we’ll certainly be hearing more from.
Star Wars: Resistance Reborn by Rebecca Roanhorse 11/14/19 (Del Rey)
Resistance Reborn is part of the collection of books placed between The Last Jedi and the final film in the original series, The Rise of Skywalker. It’s an interesting idea, and since it’s tied to the two movies, it’s inescapably canon and will hopefully bring you up to speed before the opening sequence of the upcoming film. As you recall, the Rebel Resistance was pretty shot up at the end of Last Jedi, so it seems like resurrection might have been a better title. The publisher promises your favorite characters, Poe Dameron, General Leia Organa, Rey, and Finn, doing what they can to breath new hope into the resistance.
Auberon: An Expanse Novella (The Expanse) James S. A. Corey 11/.1/19 (Orbit)
If you can’t wait for the next (and final) volume of The Expanse to come out sometime next year, you can at least enjoy “Auberon”, I haven’t seen a copy yet, but it appears to be set after Admiral Duarte, now Emperor, has reached out to exert control over Earth and all the settled planets. The governer sent to pacify the colony world of Auberon discovers that it’s not as simple as he’d hoped. As the publisher says, “…Auberon already has its own history, a complex culture, and a criminal kingpin named Erich with very different plans. In a world of deceit, violence, and corruption, the greatest danger Rittenaur faces is love.”
The Expanse Hardcover Boxed Set: Leviathan Wakes, Caliban’s War, Abaddon’s Gate James S. A. Corey 11/19/19 (Orbit)
The first books of The Expanse came out as trade paperbacks because nobody knew how big this was going to be. Orbit has corrected that oversight with a hardcover boxed set. You can get everything from book three (Abbadon’s Gate) in hardcover, but a full boxed set would be nice when the series is done next year.
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 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:
- Polygon: 17 new science fiction and fantasy books to check out this November
- Barnes & Noble: 25 Otherworldly Science Fiction & Fantasy Books Arriving in November
- IO9: There Are Tons of New Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books to Keep You Cozy in November
- Locus Magazine (online): Forthcoming Books
- Kirkus: 7 Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books for November