February always seems like a conflicted month to me. Am I really winter or just January’s sad echo? How do I host Valentine’s Day when bees and flowers won’t get busy for another month or two? Well, love is certainly in the offing in this month’s picks, though I wouldn’t characterize any of these as sf-romance novels. I remarked somewhere that February was a science fiction desert, and comparing SF releases to the number of fantasy and horror offerings, I stand by that. Fortunately, if you wander in the desert long enough, you may discover that there are treasures to be found.
One of the things that struck me about these books is how much they have in common, as well as how differently they each tackled their themes. Fittingly for the month, almost all of their main characters are driven by the need to find a lost love, and the diversity of relationships– human-posthuman, AI, cross-species, or even simply cross-cultural–makes one wonder if Turing’s famous test shouldn’t have been about the capacity for love rather than the ability to talk dirty. Another classic science fiction paradigm that’s handled well across a number of these books is the Space/Earther conflict, where humans left behind on a ruined Earth are either trapped or abandoned, with as many different perspectives as there are books.
I started out by saying the month was a desert, and I’ll end by pointing out that all five books are set in one, more or less. Frontier, World Running Down, and Wild Massive are set in the desert, though in Wild Massive much of the action takes place in elevators that cycle between parallel worlds. Arch-Conspirator gets Earth as a wasteland, while the much anticipated Meru gets a raw planet with just some bacteria for company. I could go on, but let’s get to the books.
(The Alloy Era Book 1)
by S.B. Divya
Meru takes a fresh look at one of SF’s classic paradigms, Spacer vs Earther. Humans have been consigned to live on Earth, which they messed up, and Alloys, the biological/synthetic hybrids designed to live in space, get free range to the stars. Jayanthi, a human child created and raised by alloy parents (using remote bodies, while their massive true bodies stay in orbit) is determined to break free from the restrictions of the alloys to become a genetic designer. When an almost habitable planet is discovered, Jayanthi realizes that she has a unique opportunity to show that humans can adapt to its overrich atmosphere, thanks to a trait that has always been a burden, her sickle cell anemia. What follows is a grand space opera with some unexpected twists as different factions of alloys work for and against Jayanthi’s project and she finds love, friendship and support in unlikely places.
This is S. B. Divya’s second novel, following her Nebula nominated novella Runtime (2016) and her novel debut with Machinehood (2021), and Divya’s new offering is a rich work with great characters that I liked a lot. If you enjoyed last month’s Terraformers by Annalee Newitz, you’ll find this interesting for how the two books approach the themes of planetary change and the relationships that the characters develop. Highly Recommended.
World Running Down
by Al Hess
Angry Robot (Feb/14/2023)
“Osric drew in a labored breath. “I’m – I’m not supposed to be in this body.”
Valentine tugged Osric’s shirt closed. “Me neither, hon.”
–Al Hess. World Running Down
Here’s a post-apocalypse tale set in the desert outside Salt Lake City that channels Mad Max and The Wizard of Oz, well, sort of. Valentine is a scavenger in the wasteland who dreams of getting a visa to Salt Lake City where he can get free health care, and, more importantly, the gender change he longs for. Ace, his partner, just wants to get out of the scavenger business and live somewhere other than a beat-up van that smells like socks while avoiding salt pirates’ arrows on every run. The two show up in an outlying gated city only to find an android from Salt Lake City waiting for them with a job and before you can say yellow brick road, the trio is on their way to recover stolen sex-worker androids in what should be an easy haul.
Though Valentine’s trans dreams are front and center, this isn’t just a book about LGBTQ angst. Osiris was an important steward AI in Salt Lake City before crossing someone who got him stuffed into an android body and sent off into the desert. The sex androids are all intelligence-limited, except maybe they’re not as dumb as they seem, and maybe they don’t want to go back, while Ace is a gal capable of making the hard calls to get what she wants. It all adds up to a great romp in the desert with well-realized characters. Highly Recommended.
by Scotto Moore
Wild Massive is a vast, sprawling, wildly audacious, and totally charming ride (in an elevator) throughout the labyrinth of a cheerfully impossible skyscraper of unusual (infinite) height.
Carissa lives in a stolen elevator somewhere above the 500k floors controlled by “the Association.” She’s staying out of their reach because she’s the last living member of the Brilliant, a group of psionically powerful humans the Association wiped out. The Shai-Manak are a race of alien sorcerer shapeshifters living in a pocket universe on a floor they’ve kept hidden somewhere in the uncharted levels above the Association, and the Wild Massive is a theme park that exists on a number of the world/floors/pocket universes and their very best ride reenacts the destruction of Carissa’s world. They’re looking forward to seeing how that story turns out so they can finish the ride, and they’re not above putting their thumbs on the scale of destiny to make sure the outcome is exciting, and just maybe…just.
When a member of the Shai-Manak crashes onto the top of Carissa’s elevator it’s a sign that all three worlds are about to collide in a very noisy way.
Does your head hurt yet? Don’t worry, just sit back and let this cross-dimensional elevator take you along for the ride. Maybe we elevator’s AI could play something soothing?
Scotto Moore is the author of Battle of the Linguistic Mages (2022) and Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You (2019) and loves mixing genres and creating fast-paced havoc with a healthy dose of irreverent humor in the mix. Highly Recommended.
by Grace Curtis
Rebellion, Solaris (Feb/7/2023)
A stranger with no name travels from desert town to desert town, pistol on their hip and trouble in their wake. Cue Ennio Morricone’s theme from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, put your boots up and settle in for a great read.
The stranger fell out of the sky, something that hasn’t happened on Earth since almost everyone boarded massive arks to leave the climate- and eco-devastated planet behind. Like Eastwood’s character, she’s a former soldier and a crack shot, but unlike him, she’s determined to give up killing. Not that the hardscrabble residents of the ruined Earth make that an easy thing to do.
Crawling out of her escape pod with only her gun, her wits, and a good pair of boots, she sets off on a mission to find her ship, and hopefully the person she fell in love with. Not something she’d planned on doing when she signed on as security for a scientific expedition to explore the re-terraforming of Terra, but sometimes these things just happen.
The story is told in a sequence of short episodes as the Stranger shows up in different people’s lives, leaving them all changed for better or worse as she travels towards the one place she might find a working communicator, lawmen hot on her trail for reasons only they know.
I expect fans of Sarah Gailey’s Upright Women Wanted  and Becky Chambers’ Voyage to a Small Angry Planet will find that this resonates nicely. I certainly enjoyed it and at 300 pages (hardcover) it went by pretty fast.
by Veronica Roth
Tor Books (Feb/21/2023)
Veronica Roth, the author of the post-apocalyptic Divergent trilogy, offers up a powerful retelling of Antigone, the classic Greek play by Sophocles. Set in the last human city on a wasted Earth, Antigones must go against the city’s ruler’s will to honor her brother’s last wish, that his ichor, his genetic material, be included in the city’s Archive, allowing his body to be chosen for rebirth. Natural reproduction is forbidden in light of a diminishing genetic pool, and to complicate matters, Antigone and her siblings were all born in violation of that, marking them as soulless to others.
Since her brother was part of a plot to overthrow Keron, both their uncle and ruler of the city (and all of terrestrial humanity), an edict has gone out that his ichor may not be extracted for preservation. Apparently having some premonition of how things might go, the day before he died, the brother asked Antigone to promise she’ll perform the extraction herself to see that he’s not left out of the Archive.
If you’ve read the Greek play, or even if not, you may have some sense of how things go from there. Antigone says yes, the uncle says no, the people are on the edge of revolt, and they call them “tragedies” for very good reasons.
Roth is a terrific writer, as anyone who’s read her Divergent books, Divergent (2011), Insurgent (2012), and Allegiant (22013), or her numerous short stories, already knows. Her new telling of this classic tale gives it a modern presence that makes it both powerful and accessible through its combination of a modern voice and the deeper connection with a reader that a novel, or in this case a novella, affords. Recommended.
Source: Auto Draft