#SciFiMonth Sci-5 Tuesday: A.I. and Robot Protagonists

To celebrate science fiction during the month of November, I’ve put together a series of posts I’ll be doing every Tuesday to highlight the sci-fi tropes or themes that I find simply irresistible! I’ve also been fortunate to read some great books in the genre over the last few years, and to give them some extra attention, each week I will also be featuring five titles that I recently enjoyed or thought were pretty special.

This week’s topic is A.I. AND ROBOT PROTAGONISTS! For my purposes, this would include androids or any form of artificial being or bot that used to be human.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

Told from the point of a view of a rogue SecUnit—a part organic, part synthetic android designed to provide humans with protection and security services—this story takes readers on a journey to a distant planet being explored by team of scientists. Accompanying them is our protagonist, a self-proclaimed “Murderbot”, whose presence is required by the Company sponsoring the mission. Thing is though, Murderbot doesn’t exactly feel warm and fuzzy towards humans, and it knows that the scientists aren’t too comfortable with having a SecUnit on the team either, given the cagey way they get whenever it’s around. Still, that’s just fine for Murderbot. Having hacked its own governor so that it doesn’t have to follow Company directives, all it wants is to be left alone to enjoy the thousands of hours of entertainment vids that it has downloaded from the humans’ satellites. Of course, no one can suspect that Murderbot is secretly autonomous, so it still has to go about its job like everything is normal, and this arrangement was working out just fine until one day, a routine surface test goes seriously wrong. Murderbot ends up saving the day, earning the admiration and curiosity of the team leader, Dr. Mensah. Soon, Murderbot is left with no choice but to take the lead in defending the scientists, when disaster strikes another neighboring expedition on the planet and threatens to come after them next. (Read the full review…)

We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor

Meet Bob Johansson, who has just sold off his software company and is looking to take his new fortune to a service offering their clients the option to cryogenically freeze themselves in the event of their deaths. You can probably guess where this is headed. Sure enough, while enjoying his new life of freedom and leisure at a convention in Las Vegas, Bob gets distracted while crossing the street and—BAM! Pain and blackness is the last thing he remembers before waking up more than a century later to discover that he is now an artificial intelligence created from a brain scan of his consciousness. The country has turned into a theocracy which has declared that replicants like Bob are without rights. He is also now the property of a government program developing a self-replicating interstellar von Neumann probe with the goal of exploring the galaxy. If all goes well, Bob will be uploaded into the probe and sent on journey into space to look for habitable planets. Unfortunately, the mission will be dangerous. Other nations have the same idea and are all in competition with each other, and as Bob travels deeper into space, he also begins to realize the need for more processing power, leading him to clone himself multiple times in order to distribute all his responsibilities. And thus, we end up with a “legion” of Bobs, each one going about their own way and chronicling their own adventures in deep space. (Read the full review…)

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

We first met Lovelace and Pepper from The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, and while they might not have been among the key perspective characters, they nonetheless quickly won over readers’ hearts. Now through their eyes, we get to experience another chapter of the Wayfarers saga, continuing the story from another point of view. Without going into too much detail, Lovelace was once the A.I. of a starship, but due to complicated circumstances her programming had to be transferred into a highly realistic (and also extremely illegal) synthetic human body called a “kit”. Having been “reborn” into this new life, she also decides to take on a new identity, adopting the name Sidra. With her friend Pepper, the tech wizard who helped download her consciousness into her body kit, the two of them begin to work out how they will go about integrating Sidra into the greater galactic society without setting off suspicions or attracting attention from the law. In the same spirit as the first book, this standalone sequel likewise tackles the themes of life, love, and family, exploring interpersonal, social, and cultural ideas. In a galaxy so large, where aliens of all different shapes and sizes mingle, this is a powerful story about taking control of your own destiny and finding a place to belong. (Read the full review…)

Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill

The novel follows the life of a robot named Brittle in a post-apocalyptic future. But Brittle isn’t a typical robot and this isn’t your typical post-apocalyptic story. In the world of this book, humanity’s fear of an A.I. takeover has indeed come to pass, but instead of us prevailing like all the movies always show, victory actually went to the machines. Now it has been thirty years since the war, and every last human is dead. Super computers referred to as the One World Intelligences control everything, and the last two standing have turned to fighting each other, determined to be the only mainframe left to reign over the minds of all robots on the planet. But not all robots want to give up their individuality and be part of the collective. Those like Brittle survive by eking out a precarious existence in the large desert known as the Sea of Rust, selling whatever spare parts she can pull from other broken bots she comes across in her travels. Brittle herself is one corrupted core away from certain death, when one day she suffers damage to an irreplaceable, irreparable piece of her hardware. Brittle knows her days are numbered, unless she can find the part she needs to save herself. As it so happens, she is offered a slim chance of survival by a group of independent robots needing her services as a pathfinder through the wasteland. Their mission is secretive and dangerous, but Brittle is left with no choice but to accept their offer in order to avoid her own inevitable shutdown. (Read the full review…)

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Justice follows Breq, a soldier who is more (and, I suppose, also less) than she seems. An “Ancillary”, Breq was formerly one of many corpse soldiers all linked up with an artificial intelligence as part of a massive starship called the Justice of Toren, so in a sense, she IS the Justice of Toren. However, after an act of treachery, our protagonist was the only one who made it out of the subsequent disaster, making her the last surviving remnant of the ship, left alone and isolated in a human body. Now she sets herself on a path of vengeance to track down and kill Anaander Mianaai, the multi-bodied and near-immortal Lord of the Radch who was responsible. Breq’s narration reflects the fact that she is a part of a ship, a bigger whole. In chapters where she is linked up to the rest of the Justice of Toren, we see through the eyes of multiple Ancillaries, which in essence are all one entity. Because the ship’s Ancillaries are everywhere, the narrator is aware of things happening around all her different segments who are in different places at the same time. This “omniscient effect” was no doubt a challenge to write, but I thought Leckie did as well as anyone possibly could. And indeed, this was a compelling novel, raising interesting questions and themes about freedom, identity, independence and choice. (Read the full review…)

What are some of the tropes and themes you enjoy reading about in sci-fi? Are you also a fan of stories featuring A.I. and robot protagonists? Let me know your favorites and recommendations!

#SciFiMonth Book Review: Unreconciled by W. Michael Gear

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Unreconciled by W. Michael Gear

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Book 4 of Donovan

Publisher: DAW (May 12, 2020)

Length: 496 pages

Author Information: Website

I make it no secret my love for the Donovan series, which I had initially thought was going to be a trilogy—and of course, the tidiness to the conclusion of the third book Pariah only reaffirmed that suspicion. As you can imagine though, I have never been so happy to be wrong! To say I was ecstatic when I discovered there was going to be a fourth book on the horizon is a massive understatement.

So now we have Unreconciled, in which readers get to return to the planet of Donovan and catch up with all the characters we’ve grown to know and love! As the story opens, the colony is abuzz with anticipation over the imminent arrival of Ashanti, a Corporation ship that had been given up for lost when it failed to show up years ago with its promised supply of resources and new settlers. But while they may have finally made it to their destination, the situation they bring is not good at all. Complications experienced during space travel had increased their journey time by a number of years which ended up stressing the life support systems on Ashanti, causing widespread starvation and death. In the midst of all this chaos, a man named Batuhan rose to power and gained a loyal following. Calling themselves the Unreconciled, they developed a set of beliefs about their place in the universe which also involved a twisted ritual that required eating their own dead in order achieve immortality.

The captain of Ashanti, horrified by the actions of the Unreconciled, did what he could to isolate and quarantine the cannibalistic cult. Convinced that he would be persecuted for his decision once they arrive at Donovan, he is thus completely baffled by the nonchalance displayed by Supervisor Kalico Aguila even after he confesses to all that he had done. For you see, what newcomers do not understand is that all rules go out the window when it comes to Donovan. Even after all these years, it is still a modest colony in the middle of the wilderness, with no central leadership or an organized set of laws. That’s because everyone is too busy trying to survive, fending off the killer fauna and flora. The situation with the Unreconciled is hardly the worst problem they’ve faced, though it does leave the question of where to put them. In the end, a remote satellite outpost by the name of Tyson Base is determined to be the best location to settle the cannibals, being out of the way and relatively defensible. However, what no one realizes is that the area is already inhabited—by something large, hidden, and dangerous, previously unknown to the colonists. And whatever it is, it is hungry and eager to hunt.

Honestly, I am seriously impressed and amazed by the W. Michael Gear’s storytelling skills. Who knows what other cool ideas this man has got kicking around in his head? We may be on book four, but the series is still going strong, bursting with the potential for more conflicts and relationship dynamics. That’s because Unreconciled not only introduces new plot threads, it also features many more additions to the cast with a fresh injection of characters from the Ashanti.

One of my favorite new characters is Derek “Tek” Taglioni, a privileged playboy hailing from one of the wealthy Corporate ruling families, who arrogantly thought he would make a name for himself by signing up for a mission to Donovan. There’s nothing quite like a few years of hardship aboard the Ashanti to quickly change his perspective on life, though. Much like Kalico, he was an elite who quickly learned just how much his name and money was worth once everything turned to shit—that is, absolutely zilch. I sense a promising future for his character, and I especially loved the snappy banter between him and Kalico, not to mention a potential romance with Talina. And then there’s Batuhan and his faithful companions, who are just off the walls cray-cray. Over-the-top their insanity may be, however, there was definitely an element of entertainment there. As well, mere words cannot describe the immense satisfaction I derived from seeing this psycho cult get completely overwhelmed by the brutal nature of Donovan.

Of course, we mustn’t forget the characters from the previous books either. Gear provides us plenty of time with familiar faces, and in addition to Tal and Kalico, we also get to catch up with Mark Talbot, Dan Wirth, Kylee and her quetzal Flute, and others. There are some groundbreaking shakeups to the cast as well, and I won’t lie, some of these changes were so shocking that they made me gasp out loud. In addition, there were plenty of twists and turns in the story, keeping the pace fast and exciting. The danger of Donovan’s vegetation and wildlife has been a constant theme in this series, and I am glad to see this trend continue. What our characters find lurking out near Tyson Base will give you chills! Needless to say, at no time did the momentum flag, as there were interesting new developments every step of the way.

All in all, I am so pleased with the direction the Donovan series is taking, and I am also glad the author decided to write Unreconciled as he’s clearly got a lot more ideas! Naturally, I am crossing my fingers for a fifth book, and I think chances are good since there’s no shortage of mysteries and questions to explore in this amazing world.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Outpost (Book 1)
Review of Abandoned (Book 2)

Review of Pariah (Book 3)

#SciFiMonth YA Weekend Audio: Memento by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Memento by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Series: Book 0.5 of The Illuminae Files

Publisher: Listening Library (October 20, 2020)

Length: 1 hr and 32 mins

Author Information: Amie Kaufman | Jay Kristoff

Narrators: India Dupré, James Fouhey, Lincoln Hoppe, Emma Bering, Johnathan McClain, Ryan Gesell, full cast

If you’ve read the Illuminae Files trilogy by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, then you’ll no doubt be intimately familiar with a certain murderous artificial intelligence named AIDAN. Love him or hate him, no one can deny that he stole the show in his own way, and in recognition of the impact his role has had on the saga, the authors have written a story about AIDAN in a new prequel novella called Memento.

The book opens with an introduction to Emily Kline, a brilliant and promising young military specialist who is thrilled to have been assigned to a position aboard a stage-of-the-art starship to study its A.I. Throughout the story, she writes to her father about her experiences, gushing about her exciting opportunity to work with AIDAN, as well her growing feelings for her new supervisor, Major Ethan Wolf. Sociable and keen, Emily also makes quick friends with her roommate and fellow ranker, Stephanie.

But what no one realizes, is that while the scientists have been observing AIDAN, the A.I. has been observing them too. Over time, he begins to learn the ways of human thinking and interaction, making notes on Emily’s friendships and her developing romance with Ethan despite his inability to grasp their significance on an emotional level. And as we all know, the controls safeguarding AIDAN and his programming ultimately become compromised, leading to disastrous results. Following the attack on Kerenza IV, the fleet of desperate survivors looked to the powerful A.I. to protect them, only to discover too late he is not the savior they expected.

Essentially, Memento is the bridge story that gets us to that point. It is therefore a prerequisite to have read at least Illuminae in order to appreciate the story in this novella, otherwise it might seem pointless or confusing. Like the main trilogy, it is also written in an epistolary style, so that all the action is presented to us through personal communications, transcripts, and other forms of documentation.

As you might have guessed, the plot is extremely thin. Clocking in at around 80 pages or approximately an hour and a half for the audiobook, there really wasn’t much time to develop the story or the characters, especially given the limits of the format. As I said, this is also a story about AIDAN, and as such he is our main focus here, with all the human characters taking a backseat, which is great if that is what you’d been hoping for. The problem is though, from the way things turned out in the end, it was clear the authors had been gunning for an emotional punch, but sadly because of the lack of character and relationship development, it simply didn’t pan out that way at all.

Still, I hesitate to discount Memento completely, if for no other reason than the fact it felt great to return to the Illuminae Files world, and it’s all the more fun if you’re solely motivated by a background story about AIDAN and not too concerned with the human characters. Its short length also meant it made for a quick bite sized read, and while it’s true I didn’t go in expecting a deep story, I nevertheless found it entertaining. I was also fortunate enough to listen to the audiobook, and as you know, all the books in this series are narrated by a full cast. It makes a huge difference, especially with this talented group of voice actors, and I’m so glad they decided not to forgo that tradition with this novella.

Bookshelf Roundup 11/14/20: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads

Bookshelf Roundup is a feature I do every weekend which fills the role of several blog memes, like Stacking the Shelves where I talk about the new books I’ve added to my library or received for review, as well as It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? where I summarize what I’ve finished reading in the last week and what I’m planning to read soon. Mostly it also serves as a recap post, so sometimes I’ll throw in stuff like reading challenge progress reports, book lists, and other random bookish thoughts or announcements.

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My thanks to the publishers and authors for the following review copies received, and be sure to click the links to their Goodreads pages for more details and full descriptions!

An intriguing trio of new arrivals hit my mailbox this week. First, my thanks to Orbit for sending me a finished copy of Nophek Gloss by Essa Hansen, a galaxy-spanning space opera about a young man’s single-minded quest for revenge. As you know, Sci-Fi November is in full swing, and silly me forgot to factor in new releases when I was putting together a reading list for the event! Nevertheless, I’m going to try my best to fit this one in before the end of the month, because I’ve really been champing at the bit to check it out.

Thank you also to Angry Robot for this next fantastic looking sci-fi title, The Rush’s Edge by Ginger Smith. Super soldiers and aliens feature in this high-tension thriller that was pitched to me as having Mass Effect and Firefly vibes, oh my. Sounds like another book I’m going to have to bump up my reading list.

Earlier this week I also got a wonderful surprise in the form of Honeycomb by Joanne M. Harris, a dark fantasy collection of fairy tale-inspired short stories. I’m not a big reader of anthologies, but I do absolutely make exceptions when it comes to my favorite authors, and Harris is most definitely one of them. Huge thanks to Saga Press for the ARC!

In the digital haul, I snagged a listening copy of From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back edited by Elizabeth Schaefer, featuring forty more tales told through the eyes of a supporting character recreating an iconic scene, this time from The Empire Strikes Back. I have the first volume, and you’re crazy if you think I could resist the second! With thanks to Random House Audio.

With thanks to Macmillan Audio I also picked up The Silver Shooter by Erin Lindsey, book three of the Rose Gallagher Golden Age paranormal mystery series by one of my favorite authors, as well as Ink by Jonathan Maberry, because even though Halloween is behind us, I’m still in the mood for some sweet, sweet horror.

Speaking of horror, I also received ALCs of This Is Not A Ghost Story by Andrea Portes, a YA thriller about a college-bound teen who gets a job housesitting a creepy mansion for a wealthy couple, as well as The Burning God by R.F. Kuang, the conclusion of The Poppy War trilogy. I loved the first book, was slightly disappointed by the second, so I’m really hoping for a strong finish to clinch the ending.

Reviews

We Are All the Same in the Dark by Julia Heaberlin (3.5 of 5 stars)
The Cabin on Souder Hill by Lonnie Busch (3.5 of 5 stars)
The Original by Brandon Sanderson and Mary Robinette Kowal (3 of 5 stars)

This Week’s Reads

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Have you heard of or read any of the books featured this week? What caught your eye? Any new discoveries? I hope you found something interesting for a future read! Let me know what you plan on checking out. Until next time, see you next Roundup!:)

#SciFiMonth Friday Face-Off: Bright

Welcome to The Friday Face-Off, a weekly meme created by Books by Proxy! Each Friday, we will pit cover against cover while also taking the opportunity to showcase gorgeous artwork and feature some of our favorite book covers. If you want to join the fun, simply choose a book each Friday that fits that week’s predetermined theme, post and compare two or more different covers available for that book, then name your favorite. A list of future weeks’ themes are available at Lynn’s Book Blog.

This week’s theme is:

“The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.”
~ a cover that is BRIGHT

Mogsy’s Pick:

Every Sky A Grave by Jay Posey

I’ve really set a challenge for myself this month, in trying to keep to the theme of sci-fi for November. Happily, this was a recent read whose covers I felt was a good fit for the topic. We’re pitting only two editions against each other today, in a good old-fashioned head-to-head, but they’re both very strong:

Skybound Books (2020) vs. HarperVoyager (2020)

Winner:

I confess, I’m quite partial to the Skybound cover as that is the edition I own, but when it comes to “brightness”, the HarperVoyager is really in-your-face! That just might push it over the edge and make it the victor.

But what do you think? Which one is your favorite?

Thriller Thursday: We Are All the Same in the Dark by Julia Heaberlin

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

We Are All the Same in the Dark by Julia Heaberlin

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Ballantine Books | Random House Audio (August 11, 2020)

Length: 352 pages | 10 hrs and 34 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Ten years ago, on a strange and fateful night, a small Texas town was rocked by the disappearance of popular high school cheerleader Trumanell Branson and her father. The only clue is a bloody handprint, left behind by the teenager on her house’s front door. Rumors quickly spread that it was murder, perpetrated by Trumanell’s own younger brother Wyatt, who spent years institutionalized afterward, though no one could prove he had any involvement. Another possible witness, Wyatt’s girlfriend Odette, was also gravely injured in a car accident that night, resulting in the loss of her leg. Soon after that, she fled the town, hoping to leave all the trauma and tragedy behind.

However, nearly a decade after the vanishing of Trumanell, Odette finds herself back in town after getting the news of her father’s death. Now a police officer, new developments have motivated Odette to pursue Trumanell’s case and find the truth of what happened. Most still believe that Wyatt is guilty, and the recent rumors of him kidnapping a teenage girl certainly haven’t helped. A trucker by trade, Wyatt insists he had found the young woman dumped by the side of the road in a field of dandelions, and that he had only been trying to help. While Odette isn’t sure what to think, one thing is for certain: there is more to this strange girl than meets the eye, and against all odds, her story may be the key to unlocking the mystery of Trumanell Branson.

This was a haunting novel, with an almost gothic atmosphere in a way. The small-town vibe is all pervasive, made even more claustrophobic by the presence of suspicious neighbors and some of the open hostility towards Wyatt. The story also featured some huge twists—which readers who have read the book will know is a severe understatement. I will not spoil anything here, but I will say there was a rather significant gamechanger about halfway through which sends the plot in an entirely new direction, so I have no doubt this event will be polarizing, though there was also this sense of exhilaration not knowing what’s going to happen next.

The characters were also well done. Odette is cast as a sympathetic figure, made to face the ghosts of her past, but duty demands her to stay resolute and strong. Although she is a good and competent cop, that hasn’t stopped the town’s enmity for Wyatt spill onto her, and to her frustration, she can’t completely deny the soft spot she still has for her old boyfriend either. Even when her work threatens her already rocky marriage, she cannot stop digging for the truth—a tenacity that ultimately proves dangerous and to be a double-edged blade. Yet you can’t help but feel for her, because of the lengths she goes to for Angel, the lost teen who was found in the field.

The author Julia Heaberlin strictly controls how much she wants to give away. Her writing also reflects this in the deliberate way her prose is constructed, with imagery and descriptions carefully chosen to create a certain atmosphere, injecting so much feeling into the setting and not just to the characters. Perhaps the pacing could have been more even, since it did get a bit jerky in places but sluggish in others, but overall Heaberlin did a great job building the mystery and making the suspense and danger feel even more real.

Unfortunately, this is the kind of book where revealing any kind of detail is like stepping onto a minefield of potential spoilers, so I hesitate to say any more. But if you’re wondering what my final verdict is, I’ll end with this: if you can accept the huge gamechanger that drops about midway through, and handle the murky aftermath that comes in its wake, then We Are All the Same in the Dark may well work for you.

#SciFiMonth Waiting on Wednesday 11/11/20

Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that first originated at Breaking the Spine but has since linked up with “Can’t Wait Wednesday” at Wishful Endings now that the original creator is unable to host it anymore. Either way, this fun feature is a chance to showcase the upcoming releases that we can’t wait to get our hands on!

Mogsy’s Pick

Dead Space by Kali Wallace (March 2nd, 2021 by Berkley Books)

Science fiction and thrillers are an irresistible combination, and I also enjoyed Kali Wallace’s Salvation Day last year, so I’m really looking forward to this one.

“An investigator must solve a brutal murder on a claustrophobic asteroid mine in this tense science fiction thriller from the author of Salvation Day.

Hester Marley used to have a plan for her life. But when a catastrophic attack left her injured, indebted, and stranded far from home, she was forced to take a dead-end security job with a powerful mining company in the asteroid belt. Now she spends her days investigating petty crimes to help her employer maximize its profits. She’s surprised to hear from an old friend and fellow victim of the terrorist attack that ruined her life–and that surprise quickly turns to suspicion when he claims to have discovered something shocking about their shared history and the tragedy that neither of them can leave behind.

Before Hester can learn more, her friend is violently murdered at a remote asteroid mine. Hester joins the investigation to find the truth, both about her friend’s death and the information he believed he had uncovered. But catching a killer is only the beginning of Hester’s worries, and she soon realizes that everything she learns about her friend, his fellow miners, and the outpost they call home brings her closer to revealing secrets that very powerful and very dangerous people would rather keep hidden in the depths of space.”

#SciFiMonth Sci-5 Tuesday: Generation Ships

To celebrate science fiction during the month of November, I’ve put together a series of posts I’ll be doing every Tuesday to highlight the sci-fi tropes or themes that I find simply irresistible! I’ve also been fortunate to read some great books in the genre over the last few years, and to give them some extra attention, each week I will also be featuring five titles that I recently enjoyed or thought were pretty special.

This week’s topic is GENERATION SHIPS. Sci-fi has long featured stories about the human dream of traveling across the galaxy to settle in faraway star systems. But what if you can’t travel fast enough to get there within a single lifetime? The solution: build entirely self-sustaining world ships or interstellar arks that will carry everything you and your descendants will possibly ever need for the journey. Even if you yourself will never reach your destination, future generations will continue on after you die.

Arkwright by Allen Steele

Okay, one might argue that Arkwright isn’t a true generation ship story, per se, because so much of it takes place on Earth. But at its heart, this book is about the enormous undertaking of a team of scientists and researchers coming together to overcome the technological challenges posed by long-distance space travel. The story also spans several generations, beginning with one man’s dream. Concerned about humanity’s future in the event of any extinction-level threats to the world, Nathan Arkwright had decided many years ago that building an interstellar world ship is the only hope our species has for survival. Not trusting to the bureaucracy of government agencies to make this happen, he established his own non-profit organization to do the research and work required, and left the foundation his entire fortune plus all future royalties earned from his books. Once he is gone, it will be up to his family and friends to carry on his vision. Let’s face it, generation ship stories are seldom happy stories, but Arkwright is a very different kind of generation ship story, a truly inspirational family saga about people overcoming personal crises, political roadblocks, technological limitations and many other seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve a common goal. (Read the full review…)

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

We all know the basic premise of the generation starship: while the original occupants might not live to see their final destination, they know their descendants likely would, and that potential alone holds much room for the pioneer spirit. But what happens if it all goes wrong? What if, after all the time and lives invested, you and your group reach the end of your journey to find that your destination is not as it seems, and now all your hopes are dashed to pieces, your hard-made plans gone to shit? This is the tale of Aurora, a book about a starship launched carrying two thousand of the Earth’s best and brightest, all on their way to find humanity a new home in the Tau Ceti system fourteen light years away. Thus to get there will take many generations, and indeed more than 150 years have passed when the novel actually begins. The story follows Freya, our main protagonist, though almost the entire narrative is told in the perspective of the ship itself, a vessel equipped with an intelligent and self-aware A.I. Freya’s mother Devi, the Chief Engineer of sorts, has charged the ship to construct a historical narrative detailing the lives of the people aboard, using her own daughter as the central focus. Aurora is a very beautiful and powerful novel, thought-provoking and deep. It’s a very different breed of generation ship story, infused with more misery than optimism, to tell the truth. Nevertheless, it is a feast for the mind, full of descriptive wonders, interesting personalities, and engaging relationships. (Read the full review…)

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Long ago, when Earth was on its last legs and humanity feared it could go no further, scientists were sent out beyond the solar system to find and terraform new planets to ensure the future of our species. One of them, the brilliant but megalomaniacal Dr. Avrana Kern was successful in locating such a world, but just as she was about to implement a nanotech virus to accelerate the development process, sabotage occurred. Kern’s monkeys that were intended for biological uplift were not deployed on the planet because they were all killed in the attack on her ship. Kern herself was forced to be transformed, reduced to an AI mind and a body preserved in stasis. However, her nanovirus, the one intended to speed up evolution in the monkeys, did in fact make it onto the planet, imbedding itself into—wait for it—a species of spiders. Years and years go by. Earth is no more. Desperate humans take to the stars in generation ships like the Gilgamesh to find these terraformed planets their ancestors supposedly prepared for them, but instead of a welcoming home, they find Kern’s World and the repercussions of her genetically engineered virus. For generations, the planet’s inhabitants have been evolving as well, the uplifted spiders developing their own cultures, civilizations and knowledge. It is their world now, and they don’t take kindly to the assumptions of these strange looking humans who think they can just take over and live on their planet. Don’t think you can ever bring yourself to root for a giant spider? There’s a really good chance this book will change your mind. Children of Time is one of the smartest, most remarkable and innovative science fiction novels I’ve read, and I highly recommend it. (Read the full review…)

Way Down Dark by J.P. Smythe

Way Down Dark begins the way many generation ship stories start—with descriptions of a mass exodus from Earth, whose living conditions are no longer suitable for large populations of humans for whatever reason. It is a tale seventeen-year-old Chan knows well, having been passed on for generations onboard the starship Australia where she lives. One day they will find a new home, but until then, our protagonist and thousands of others remain packed within the crowded berths and decks, trapped in a hellish existence filled with danger and violence. Long ago, the ship’s occupants divided themselves, and now a savage group called the “Lows” have become a persistent threat, venturing out of their own territory near the Pit to invade and take over other areas of Australia. One thing holding them back from attacking Chan’s home in the Arboretum had been her mother Riadne, a well-respected woman rumored to have fearsome, mystical powers. But now Riadne is dead, and Chan is left alone with the truth of how she died, along with a deathbed promise to her mother to keep her head down, be selfish, and stay alive. However, one day she makes a remarkable discovery, learning about a possible way to return to Earth. Unfortunately though, this just increases the tensions on the ship, elevating the brutality and violence in the gangs of murderous fanatics. This being a YA-crossover novel, expect some predictable developments and conflicts, but overall I enjoyed myself. (Read the full review…)

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

Record of A Spaceborn Few might be my favorite Wayfarers novel yet. Structurally and thematically, it is quite unlike either of its predecessors, exploring the evolution and development of human society with particular focus on the shipborne descendants of the last people to leave a dying Earth. This time, Becky Chambers welcomes us to the Exodus Fleet, a collection of ancient ships home to the largest population of humans found outside the Sol system. Since their departure from Earth, generations have been born and raised here. And while some have left for greener pastures, never to return, others have chosen to stay and carry on the way of life. The Exodans have long abandoned their original goal of finding the perfect planet upon which to settle, deciding on space as their permanent home. The many centuries, however, has taken its toll on the fleet’s deteriorating hulls. In the novel’s prologue, an accident aboard the Oxomoco causes a catastrophic breach and decompression, killing tens of thousands. As the rest of the fleet rushes to provide aid, the aftermath of accident is related through the eyes of our main characters, who are still affected by memories of the horror years later. Like the previous novels, Record of a Spaceborn Few is celebration of life, love, and hope. Each character is someone you can relate to, someone you can come to care deeply about. (Read the full review…)

What are some of the tropes and themes you enjoy reading about in sci-fi? Are you also a fan of generation ship stories? Let me know your favorites and recommendations!

#SciFiMonth Audiobook Review: The Original by Brandon Sanderson & Mary Robinette Kowal

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

The Original by Brandon Sanderson & Mary Robinette Kowal

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Recorded Books (September 14, 2020)

Length: 3 hrs and 30 mins

Author Information: Brandon Sanderson | Mary Robinette Kowal

Narrator: Julia Whelan

I’m a big fan of Brandon Sanderson, and I’ve also enjoyed the Mary Robinette Kowal’s work in the past, so you can imagine my excitement for their futuristic sci-fi action-thriller collaboration. There’s a couple things you need to know, however. First, this is novella-length story, and second, it is only available as an audiobook, and both these factors have the possibility to influence your enjoyment as it did mine.

The Original starts with protagonist Holly Winseed waking up in a hospital room with no recollection of how she ended up there, surrounded by government agents waiting to interrogate her, and based on their questions, her heart immediately fills with a sense of dread as she realizes what must have happened. She is a Provisional Replica, a clone that is created only in cases where their Original had committed a serious crime. In this case, the real Holly had murdered her husband Jonathan in cold blood and is now on the run, evading all attempts to track her down. The task now falls to replica Holly to find and kill her. If she succeeds, she will be given the opportunity to assume her Original’s place and petition for Jonathan to be revived. But if she fails, her life-sustaining treatments required by replicas will be halted, and she will die.

But the government had underestimated Holly’s persistence for answers. As a clone, she has all her Original’s memories and emotions, and she cannot fathom any scenario in which she would ever want to kill her husband. With her new combat implants and enhanced abilities, replica Holly sets out to find her Original, convinced of her innocence. But as the trail of clues takes her closer to her goal, Holly comes under attack by terrorists and other shadowy enemies, forcing her to confront some uncomfortable truths.

Sad to say, despite the incredible premise and some of the very cool ideas here, I can’t say I enjoyed this one as much as I wanted to. The good news, however, is that the world-building is fantastic. There was definitely some of that Sanderson magic shining through, especially the points about injectable nanite technology allowing humans to essentially choose eternal life should they want it. Those who decide to live on the edge and “checkout” of this system become the ones that go against the prevailing norm for a variety of reasons, which can range from risk-taking to the preservation of personal privacy. This creates the basis for further exploration—from social, moral, and emotional standpoints and more—quite typical for Sanderson stories, if you’re familiar with his work.

Unfortunately, the world-building is about the only aspect I found to truly stand out. This was a relatively a short novella, so that might a restricting factor, limiting development to the characters and plot. As for Holly, I didn’t feel much sympathy towards her, and felt like there may have been slight overwriting and too much telling-not-showing when it came to her feelings and motivations (which incidentally is a weakness I’ve noted in Kowal’s books in the past). I also could have done with more action and thrills, and less time spent in Holly’s head watching her bemoan her situation and wallow in self-pity.

All in all, The Original was enjoyable enough, but I have to say I’d expected a bit more from a collab project between these two powerhouses of SFF. It’s still a good listen and worth your time, but it didn’t wow me, and on top of that, there were a few things about the audiobook I found irritating. Narrator Julia Whelan delivered a fantastic performance, as she always does, but I had no idea what the production team were thinking when they added in the sound effects, which came in at the most random times. Instead of adding to the atmosphere and immersion, they were just plain annoying, and is definitely not usual for an audiobook.

Audiobook Review: The Cabin on Souder Hill by Lonnie Busch

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

The Cabin on Souder Hill by Lonnie Busch

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Mystery, Paranormal

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Blackstone Publishing (September 29, 2020)

Length: 11 hrs and 4 mins

Author Information: Website

Narrator: Sarah Mollo-Christensen

The Cabin on Souder Hill was a weird book, but in a good way—for the most part. I’m just glad that I came prepared for some of that strangeness, otherwise I probably would have been more nonplussed, because not gonna lie, this one was a very different kind of mystery.

At the heart of this story are Michelle and Cliff Stage, a married couple whose eighteen-year marriage is now on the rocks. Trying to repair the relationship after finding out her husband has been unfaithful has been hard, but Michelle is hoping that spending time together—just the two of them, without their teenage daughter Cassie—will do the trick. Hence, their new vacation cabin in the isolated mountains of North Carolina. One freezing night though, Cliff notices a mysterious light in the woods, and goes out to investigate. When he fails to return hours lately, a frantic Michelle contacts the sheriff’s department about his disappearance but gets no help. She decides to take matters into her own hands, venturing out into the woods to search for Cliff on her own. However, when those efforts eventually come to naught, Michelle staggers back to the cabin, worried and exhausted, only to come home to a reality she doesn’t recognize.

For one thing, Cliff is there to greet her with relief, claiming that she had been the one who was missing. He had contacted the sheriff, who now stands in their home, having no memory of speaking to her earlier about Cliff’s disappearance. To Michelle’s astonishment, her husband is also a changed man. No longer the brash and controlling brute who had cheated on her, he has become gentler and more sensitive. And he is missing a finger. When pressed on it though, Cliff is reluctant to explain, thinking that shock and exposure had affected her memory. Panicked with confusion, Michelle demands answers, and her whole world is shattered when he finally explains that he been in a car accident over a year ago—an accident that also killed their daughter.

Deep down, Michelle knows that can’t be true. She had just spoken to Cassie on the phone earlier that day. But apparently there had been a funeral, and Michelle is even shown the grave. Still, she refuses to accept that Cassie is gone, or that this is even her world. Michelle knows that it must have something to do with what happened to her in the woods that night. Returning to mountains, she seeks out the help of realtor Pink Souder (who had supposedly built their cabin), as well as his family of Wiccan practitioners who may hold the key to the mystery of their shifting realities.

I’ve tried to keep it as straightforward as possible, but this is a tale that grows more twisted and complicated by the second. I’ll tell you right now, if you are looking for a logical explanation by the end of this whole mess, you’re not going to get it. The first half of the book was easy enough to understand at least, but past the halfway point, the plot really turns into a quagmire which takes some effort to follow.

In spite of that though, I had quite a bit of fun with this one. The element of magic and Wicca was a welcome addition to the story, even if it didn’t feature as prominently as I expected. The mystery was what really mattered, with Michelle’s terrifying situation carrying most of the momentum, though we also had sections where other characters’ perspectives took over. One of these belongs to Pink, though by the end of the book, I couldn’t help but wonder just how relevant these other POVs were. Not going to spoil anything here, of course, but it really didn’t take long to figure out how everything would go down—even if you didn’t know the details, you could determine the mood. There was a sense of futility and hopelessness to it all, and ironically, accepting that was what ultimately made it easier to let go and simply let the story take me where it wanted.

Again, sorry for being vague, but The Cabin on Souder Hill was just a very odd book. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s no question that it’s an interesting read if you’re in the mood for a weird journey or are into mind-bending speculative mysteries.

Audiobook Comments: The Cabin on Souder Hill is the kind of audiobook that could have used multiple narrators to make it a more immersive, but Sarah Mollo-Christensen carried a great performance, nonetheless. Her portrayal of Michelle was incredible, where she was able to convey the full range of thoughts and emotions going through the character’s mind as she lived through her ordeal. It was a good listen overall.