Science Fiction To Look For – March 2023

March brings us a new look at something old with The Moon and the Desert by Robert E. Hampson about a bionic man that costs way more than six mil (and comes out on the 50th anniversary of the TV show). Jane Hennigan’s debut novel Moths qualifies as something new, and something disquieting as well. We’ll skip over something borrowed, and jump right to something blue, as in Antimatter Blues.  It follows last year’s Mickey7 novel by Edward Ashton, and promptly tasks that book’s very expendable title character with more deadly jobs needed to keep his colony alive…even if he winds up getting decanted as Mickey8. Rubicon by J. S. Dewes shares the reusable clone and reload theme, but this time in a military setting, because why wouldn’t you use disposable soldiers if you could? Last up is Infinity Gate by M. R. Carey, author of The Girl With All The Gifts, which provides our monthly romp across the multiverse in which a physicist looking for dark energy wanders into the middle of a war between two multiversive civilizations.

So, happy reading, and watch out for the middle of the month. Let’s get to it.

The Moon and the Desert
by Robert E. Hampson
Baen (Mar/7/2023)

Exactly fifty years ago Colonel Steve Austin crashed his way onto our TV sets and into bionic history with a six-million-dollar makeover based on Martin Caidin’s book from the previous year. So the timing is perfect for prominent neuroscientist and author Robert E. Hampson’s new book, The Moon and the Desert, which poses the question of what we might be able to actually do in the not-too-distant future. Could we take a man “A man barely alive…(and) rebuild him. ” When will “we have the technology….the capability to build the world’s first bionic man”?

In this new book, that man is Glen Armstrong Shepard.  He’s not a test pilot, but an astronaut flight surgeon that gets very nearly the same set of injuries that Steve Austin did, though Glen gets his pulling another astronaut out of a crash on the moon, killing his hopes of going on the Mars mission he has been training for. He may get rebuilt, but he’ll have to face prejudice from his own community to prove that a bionic man can have the right stuff.  Highly recommended for fans of classic hard sf and space drama.

Moths
by Jane Hennigan
Angry Robot (Mar/14/2023)

Your monthly literary dystopia comes in the form of Jane Hennigan’s debut novel is about a near-future world where toxins from the title insect have killed off half the men in the world and caused the other half to experience fits of murderous rage. Nearly half a century after the change, the few remaining uninfected men are kept in sterile facilities where they receive little education and are kept busy with crafts and stories. Society has collapsed, but it’s pulling itself up by its bootstraps, and the most powerful organization is the Men’s Welfare Authority, which controls the carefully managed stock needed for reproduction.

Moths is The Handmaid’s Tale for a post-patriarchal time, with more than a touch of Huxley’s Brave New World (1941) and a very credible thought experiment about what parts of modernity are most dependent on men’s bodies to survive. Told by Mary, a sixty-something caregiver in one of the facilities, we see the contrast between women and men raised in the new order and those who remember the old times, between those who long for the old days to return and those who fear what that return would mean. High Recommended for fans of literary dystopias.

Rubicon
by J. S. Dewes
Tor Books (Mar/28/2023)

It’s not that Sargaent Adriene Valero minds dying. It’s the waking up and having to do it all over again that she hates. Transferred from the expendable 802nd to the elite 505ers, she’s hoping she’ll get to stay in this version of her war-weary body long enough to remember what it feels like to be human.  Whether the jumped-up AI they’ve slotted into her brain is going to help or hinder that is open to debate, but suddenly she’s the pointy end of the spear in mankind’s fight against the mechos, sentient bots left over after the race that created them died out, but still determined to keep humanity bottled up in a dying system.

Rubicon is starts a new bit of Mil-SF-Space Opera from J. S. Dewes, author of both The Last Watch (2021) and The Exiled Fleet (2021), in which humanity faces a collapsing universe and an exiled fleet that was its only hope for making peace with an alien army and halting the destruction. In her new universe, humanity is facing destruction from its own star and finds itself trapped by an alien menace. Fortunately, we have a few good men (and women), and technology reminiscent of both John Scalsi’s Old Man’s War (2007) and Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow (2014). It’s Mil-SF,  but Tor is putting it out as Space Opera, which is probably a good call, because while an enjoyable read, Dewes comes across as more gamer than grunt in her first take on ground pounders at play. Recommended.

Infinity Gate (The Pandominion, 1)
by M. R. Carey
Orbit (Mar/28/2023)

When is a post-apocalyptic novel not a post-apocalyptic novel? When there’s a multiverse to escape to, which is the case in Infinity Gate, the first volume of what’s sure to be a trilogy.  It’s one of the best things I’ve read so far this year. Granted, the year’s young, but I read a lot.

This is a multiverse novel with AI rights issues set on a number of different Earths where a lone scientist, Hadiz Tambual, manages to survive the collapse of everything from climate to civilization while holed up in a lab trying to find a silver bullet for mankind’s problems. What she does discover, too late for our world, is a way to travel between worlds in the multiverse, infinite worlds and many unspoiled by humans, or whatever dominant species rose to claim the title.

Unfortunately, she catches the attention of the Pandemonium, a vast civilization spanning thousands of Earths in the multiverse, already at war with a similarly vast machine civilization. This first novel sets the stage with a great cast of characters,  including a Pandamonium soldier from an evolutionary niche where cats ruled the world (I know, I know), and a precocious young engineering student who would fit, somewhat awkwardly, among the rabbits of Watership Down. Highly  Recommended for fans of serious multiverse space opera (can we say that’s a thing?) and civilization-spanning sagas of all types.

Antimatter Blues: A Mickey7 Novel
by Edward Ashton
St. Martin’s Press (Mar/14/2023)

Mickey Barnes is an expendable.  Or he was until he retired at the end of the first novel, Mickey7. Expendables are the guys who do the dull, dirty, and deadly jobs–the ones pretty much guaranteed to kill you–so that the colony can succeed. You get to come back, more or less; the last upload of your predecessor’s memories are dumped into a newly-printed body, and as you might guess by Mickey7’s number, he’s had the pleasure six times already. He’s died from radiation poisoning fixing the hull of the colony ship in flight while facing down tunnel-boring aliens with an antimatter bomb strapped to his back.

Mickey7 doesn’t die for a living anymore, so when he figures out that the colony administrator has been quietly popping out his clones he gets more than a little concerned. When he sees that power reduction measures are even more quietly taken, he get’s more concerned. So when he’s called to the administrator’s office, he expects to be told that he’s going to have to go all Wrath of Khan and enter the reactor.  No wonder he’s pleasantly surprised to find out that all he needs to do is to recover the antimatter bomb he said he gave to the creepy underground aliens as part of the deal to save everyone. Since he lied about that it should be easy to find.

What follows is anything but easy, and will take Mickey7 back into the alien labyrinth where he will face as much mortal peril as he did when he was still expendable. But Mikey7’s got skin in the game now. He’s got a woman he loves, friends that have his back, and a life he really wants to live out. The universe may have other plans.

I’d say this is terrific space opera, but technically it’s a planetary romance.  Highly recommended for fans of Heinlein, Haldeman, David Gerald and Martha Wells.

A word on the way out –

That should keep you busy until next month. Don’t forget to celebrate National Pi Day (3/14 and change) and one you might not have had on your calendar…National Alien Abduction Day (2/20)

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