by Don Sakers
This is the last issue of the year, which means it’ll soon be time in many cultures for the giving of annual gifts. Naturally, the best gifts are books and other reading material. And the best of the best, it should go without saying, are science fiction books. I’m sure you’ll agree that if everyone gave presents of exclusively science fiction, the inevitable result would be world peace and universal harmony.
Now, when your gift recipients are already SF readers, it’s simple. First, a subscription to Analog (print or e-book) is a no-brainer. Second, look back over the last year or so of Reference Library columns and you’ll find many recommendations for books that make good gifts for SF readers of all stripes. Third, note the names in the Table of Contents and give books by those authors. Follow these simple steps and you can’t go wrong.
However, there is a fly in the ointment. . . . I’m sure that your gift list, like mine, includes more than one person who doesn’t read SF. (Don’t be ashamed—it happens to everyone, even in the best families. Not reading SF isn’t the terrible fate it used to be in the olden days. There are treatments.)
Here’s where you can help those poor benighted individuals who don’t usually read SF: Give them SF books that directly appeal to some other interest of theirs. Who can resist reading a gift selected with such obvious empathy and care? Especially when accompanied by a sincere explanation of exactly why you chose this particular book for such a wonderful, open-minded person.
In other words, if they won’t read science fiction on their own, trick them into it. It’s all in the cause of world peace and harmony, remember.
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Gregory Benford and Larry Niven
Tor, 400 pages, $29.99 (hardcover)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $14.99 (e-book)
Series: Bowl of Heaven 3
Genre: Alien Beings, Bigger Than Worlds, Hard SF
* * *
Let’s start off with something for hard SF readers.
The first two books in the Bowl of Heaven series, The Bowl of Heaven (2012) and Shipstar (2014), introduced the colony starship SunSeeker and how its mission was interrupted by the discovery of an alien construct in the form of an enormous half-sphere around a red dwarf star (the Bowl of the title). In the course of those volumes, the human colonists struggled to find common ground with the Folk, the huge, birdlike race that built the Bowl.
Now the authors return to the story, bringing SunSeeker’s colonists to their destination. The habitable planet Glory is half of a double-planet system with its sibling world Honor. The two worlds are connected by an immense, ancient structure they call the Cobweb.
From here we follow the humans and Folk, plus many associated races, as they explore the Glory-Honor system. Along the way are more fascinating alien races, bizarre physics, communication by gravity waves, and the mystery of who built the Cobweb in the first place. And, oh, there’s a surprising connection to Earth’s deep past.
Benford and Niven are old hands at this sort of speculative hard SF. The aliens have interesting psychologies, the biology is deliciously convoluted, and the physics are appropriately mind-blowing. Those who want their science fiction to play with far-out but plausible ideas will be pleased.
If, however, you’re the kind of reader who looks for nuanced, diverse, character-driven stories . . . well, this probably isn’t the book for you.
The Valkyrie Protocol
David Weber and Jacob Holo
Ben, 592 pages, $25.00 (hardcover)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $9.99 (e-book)
Series: Gordian Division 2
Genre: Alternate History, Military SF, Trips in Time
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There’s a whole genre of movies and TV shows dealing with the mind-bending aspects of time travel and alternate universes, from Looper and the Terminator franchise to Legends of Tomorrow and Doctor Who. If you know someone who enjoys that sort of tale, here’s a book for them.
In The Gordian Protocol (reviewed here in the September/October 2019 issue), David Weber and Jacob Holo introduced the Transtemporal Vehicle Kleio and its stalwart crew, led by Agent Raibert Kaminski. In a multiverse of myriad alternate universes, the government called SysPol has established the Gordian Division to keep order and defend against all manner of transtemporal threats.
In that book, Kaminski and his crew discovered a temporal implosion that eliminated two entire universes. Though they were able to mitigate the disaster, they had no clue regarding the cause of the then collapse—or how to prevent it from spreading through the multiverse.
The Valkyrie Protocol picks up where The Gordian Protocol left off. SysGov is not the only powerful governmental entity in the picture; a xenophobic organization called Admin is on the move. Although their ambassadors talk friendly cooperation, Kaminski finds that Admin is building a huge, heavily-armed transtemporal fleet. An attack on SysGov is inevitable.
Meanwhile (if one can use the word in a story involving extensive time travel), Kaminski’s colleagues in the Antiquities Rescue Trust launch a mission to create a new alternate universe by averting the Plague of Justinian, the sixth century pandemic that may have killed as much as a half of the classical world’s population. Assisting with this effort is Samuel Pepys, transplanted from the 1600s to the 2900s.
As Kleio’s crew investigates the temporal implosion, they become entwined with both the Admin threat and Pepys’s mission. As the action progresses to full-on temporal war, with paradoxes and historical rewrites as major weapons, the worst danger isn’t death—a minor handicap that SysGov’s technology can overcome—but nonexistence itself.
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Echoes of Darkness
Sonar Press, 384 pages, $16.95 (trade paperback)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $9.95 (e-book)
Series: Echoes 2
Genre: Dystopian SF, LGBT SF, Military SF,
Visitors From Space, Young Adult SF
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For young folks into resisting authority (aren’t they all?), or anyone who likes a good tale of alien occupation, Cheryl Campbell’s Echoes series is a good choice. Adults of similar bent would enjoy it as well.
The first book, Echoes of War, told of Dani, a late-twenty-first-century girl who grew up on an Earth dominated by the alien (but humanoid) Wardens. When the Wardens first came to Earth a generation ago, they lived in secret among humans; only later did a faction among them rise up in a war of conquest. Hundreds of millions died, civilization collapsed, and survivors were left to scrabble for life in the ruins while the Wardens occupied the cities.
Dani, part of a band of resistance fighters in a dystopian New England, learns that she is not human; instead, she’s an Echo—a faction of the Wardens who believe in peaceful coexistence, allies of the humans.
In Echoes of Darkness, Dani and her friends are part of an ambitious plan to retake Boston from the Wardens. Differences of opinion lead to tension with the Resistance leadership; at the same time Dani begins to put together her hazy memories of the beginning of the war . . . and the death of her parents at the hands of a genocidal Warden leader.
And for Dani, the coming assault against Boston is no longer just a military operation: it has become a personal matter of revenge.
* * *
Edited by Travis S. Taylor, Timothy Zahn & Michael Z. Williamson
Baen, 288 pages, $25.00 (hardcover)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $9.99 (e-book)
Genre: Military SF, Original Anthologies, Shared/Franchised Universe, To the Moon
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For a more conventional take on rebellion, or for a reader who appreciates war stories that focus on strategy and tactics, here’s a different sort of shared universe anthology on the fight for Lunar independence.
Like many shared universes, this one came about at a science fiction convention, when the three editors were discussing realistic space war. As a framework for discussion, they used a near-future moonbase under attack by Earth forces. Only afterwards did they realize that they had a good basic idea for an anthology.
Most shared universe stories are arranged like series television: a common background and some shared characters, with perhaps a skeleton overarching plot, against which authors tell their own stories. Battle Luna is different: it relies on a basic situation along with some ground rules, allowing authors free rein to create their own background, plot, and characters. As a result, it’s less a batch of connected stories, and more a group of variations on the same theme. It’s an interesting approach that harkens back to the great theme anthologies of the 1970s (such as Five Fates edited by Keith Laumer, Doubleday, 1970, and Robert Silverberg’s The Day the Sun Stood Still, Nelson/SFBC, 1972).
The situation is this: A Lunar mining settlement about fifty years in the future discovers an alien artifact with enormous power and potential (it’s called a “Mimic,” which sounds to me as if it could be an homage to the cinema term “McGuffin”). Naturally, the Lunar settlers want to keep it for themselves; Earth demands they turn it over. Hence the war.
The ground rules specified only weapons and vehicles based on current physics: new engineering was allowed, but not new physics. Also, there were to be no “good guys” or “bad guys”—only two opponents, Earth and Luna, with legitimate but differing objectives.
The result is seven stories by five authors (editor Taylor wrote three). Besides Taylor, Williamson, and Zahn, we have Kacey Ezell and Josh Hayes, both up-and-coming military SF writers.
As you’d expect, each of the stories moves in a different direction. There’s a lot of nuts and bolts on technology and tactics, but also plenty of interesting and relatable characters. This one is fun.
* * *
Steven H. Silver
Ring of Fire Press, 347 pages, $15.99 (trade paperback)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $5.99 (e-book)
Genre: Alternate History
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Among those who are passionate about reading history, I’ve noticed two distinct types. Some folks read only fiction, while others prefer nonfiction (of course, there are those omnivorous readers who enjoy both). This division persists even as historical fiction and nonfiction have been growing less distinct, historical novels featuring more real history and historical nonfiction adopting a more narrative style.
In my experience, the one thing that both types will happily read is alternate history. Partly, I think, this is because there’s not much of a nonfiction market in the alternate history field (or, as they are apt to call it, “counterfactuals”). If nonfiction readers want to explore alternate timelines, they have to go to novels.
All of this is prelude to a recommended gift for the history buffs on your list: Steven H. Silver’s After Hastings.
In our world, the Battle of Hastings in 1066 was won by William the Conqueror, who initiated the Norman Conquest and set the course of English history for the next millennium. Silver, who is an old pro at this game, gives the win to King Harold. From this one change emerges a vastly different England.
Drawn into conflict with the Pope, who refuses to recognize Harold’s claim to the Throne, Harold turns toward the Celtic Church of Scotland and Ireland. This causes a split among the kingdom’s powerful Barons and clergy, some supporting Harold, some opposing him. The Papacy organizes a European alliance against England, which causes Harold to look for allies of his own in Moslem Spain and the Byzantine Empire.
Silver brings this fascinating alternate timeline to life with a huge cast of characters from all levels of medieval British society. This one will definitely warm the cockles of any history enthusiast’s heart.
* * *
Blue Screen: How Peter Gustafson Defragmented the World
Twin Rivers Press, 182 pages, $15.99 (trade paperback)
Kindle: $2.99 (e-book)
Genre: Cyberpunk, Children’s SF
* * *
Bright adolescent hackers are already well-primed for a lifetime of reading SF. Most kids are readers; the trick is to get them hooked before they’re lured away by all the other diversions the teenage world offers.
Blue Screen is a good choice.
The far-future world of 2984 is engineered to provide everyone with the optimal life. Landscape, plants, homes are all constructed for maximum comfort and safety.
Naturally, teenage Peter Gustafson can’t stand it.
Peter’s smart and careful, though, so he leads a double life. By day he’s a well-behaved, perfectly adjusted tenth-grader—but by night he’s a hacker and dealer in secrets, protected by high-level encryption from the surveillance of the perfect society.
Then the power goes out in his town, and Peter sets out to investigate. In the process he finds himself battling the most powerful artificial intelligence ever created. The AI wants full control of the world . . . and it’s chosen Peter as the instrument of its takeover.
Peter, pursued by both the authorities and the AI, embarks on a series of adventures, escapes, and plot twists that lead him from one danger to another. It’s one brilliant hacker against the world—and Peter likes those odds.
* * *
See Sharp Press, 288 pages, $16.95 (trade paperback)
Series: BetterWorld 3
Genre: Cyberpunk, Young Adult SF
* * *
For a somewhat older teen, T.C. Weber’s latest cyberpunk adventure offers everything you could want to get a kid hooked on reading SF.
In the first book, Sleep State Interrupt, an outfit called MediaCorp introduced BetterWorld, an addictive virtual reality platform. A young journalist named Waylee Field and her group of oddball friends discover that BetterWorld is MediaCorp’s first step in a plan to brainwash the population into becoming drones to serve the company’s interests. When they learn that powerful politicians are in league with MediaCorp, Waylee’s group attracts the interest of Homeland Security.
The next book, The Wrath of Leviathan, Waylee is caught and imprisoned. The struggle against MediaCorps is now in the hands of her sister Kiyoko and their hacker friends. Exiled to South America, Kiyoko carries on the fight—but she and her friends are pursued by a batch of lawless mercenaries who will stop at nothing to neutralize them.
Now Zero-Day Rising concludes the story. Kiyoko decides to take the offensive: to free Waylee and bring down both MediaCorp and the corrupt politicians that enable it. But once they succeed in breaking Waylee out of maximum-security lockdown, there are still two problems to overcome. First there’s the matter of eluding capture in the most sophisticated and powerful surveillance state ever. And second are the cerebral implants MediaCorp is deploying throughout the population—implants that permit direct mind control.
* * *
Weird World War III
Edited by Sean Patrick Hazlett
Baen, 320 pages, $16.00 (trade paperback)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $8.99 (e-book)
Genre: Alternate History, Fantasy, Military SF,
* * *
Chances are you know someone who grew up during the Cold War (1945-1990) . . . or, if not, someone interested in the period. Although the long-feared war between the United States and the Soviet Union never happened, at the time World War Three was considered all but inevitable. Anxiety about that war helped shape science fiction and SF writers for many decades.
Now, out of something . . . I suppose “nostalgia” isn’t the right word . . . comes this anthology of alternate history SF and fantasy stories set in and around the war that never was. Novice editor Sean Patrick Hazlett, an Army veteran and finance executive, has published more than forty genre short stories in various venues. He’s pulled together nineteen stories by twenty authors, including big names like David Drake and Mike Resnick and some of the names you’d expect in a Baen anthology: Sarah A. Hoyt, Nick Mamatas, T.C. McCarthy, Bryan Thomas Schmidt, and Brad R. Torgersen. Other familiar names are Erica L. Satifka, Alex Shvartsman, and Analog stalwarts Martin L. Shoemaker, Eric James Stone, and Brian Trent.
The stories go off in all directions. Torgersen’s “All Quiet on the Phantom Front” involves NATO forces who cast a magic spell that goes wrong; John Langan’s “Second Front” brings World War III to the Moon; Shoemaker’s “The Ouroboros Arrangement” provides a quantum physics explanation for why the Cold War didn’t turn Hot. The other stories are all equally interesting, ranging from hard SF to magical fantasy to dark horror-adjacent tales.
* * *
Give Me LibertyCon
Edited by Christopher Woods & T.K.F. Weisskopf
Baen, 347 pages, $16.00 (trade paperback)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $8.99 (e-book)
Genre: Original Anthologies, Nonfiction, Tribute Anthologies
* * *
If your friends and family are anything like mine, they’re always curious about science fiction conventions (at least, the ones who don’t routinely attend cons). Here’s an anthology you can give them to convey a bit of the flavor of one established, literary-focused con.
Now, one caveat here: the old parable about the blind people encountering an elephant particularly applies to SF conventions. Ask any dozen random convention-goers to describe their experience, and you’ll get a good twenty-odd (emphasis on “odd”) answers. Still, there’s little enough SF about the con experience available; we can only celebrate a new addition.
Christopher Woods and T.L.F. Weisskopf have drawn on the Baen crew for fiction, nonfiction, and even songs in tribute to LibertyCon, the long-running annual convention in and around Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Here’s a brand-new Honorverse story by David Weber, a superhero story by Jody Lynn Nye, a David Drake fairy tale, and a secret history story by Charles Gannon. Here is a tale of the 100th LibertyCon in 2087, songs by Gray Rinehart, and an essay on nuclear propulsion systems for solar system exploration. In addition, we have various appreciations of the con and the folks who founded it and continue to run it, a bit of history, and details about each story and author.
If you need another reason to get this book, all the proceeds go to LibertyCon charitable efforts, including a new scholarship fund.
* * *
Edited by Hank Davis & Christopher Ruocchio
Baen, 381 pages, $16.00 (trade paperback)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $8.99 (e-book)
Genre: Psychological/Sociological SF, Theme Anthologies
* * *
Here’s a good gift for an attorney, paralegal, law clerk, or anyone else with an interest in legal matters. Editor Hank Davis, ably assisted by Christopher Ruocchio, has pulled together eighteen SF stories dealing with the courts, trials, and the law. All but four are reprints of classic tales from across the history of the field, from 1947 to 2018—the remaining four appear here for the first time.
True to form, Davis and Ruocchio have dug deeply for the stories they include, not settling for the obvious “usual suspects.” You won’t find here often-reprinted legal tales that lesser anthologists might have chosen after a full twenty seconds of contemplation (Isaac Asimov’s “A Loint of Paw,” for example, or Gordon R. Dickson’s “Computers Don’t Argue”). Instead, Overruled is a smorgasbord of less-familiar but equally thought-provoking stories by the likes of Kevin J. Anderson, Algis Budrys, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein, Larry Niven, Robert Sheckley, Charles Sheffield, Robert Silverberg, and Clifford D. Simak. Three stories first appeared in these pages: Budrys’s “The Executioner” (Astounding, 1956), Anderson’s “Paradox and Greenblatt: Attorneys at Law” (Analog, 2005), and “The People vs. Craig Morrison” by Alex Shvartsman and Alvaro Zinos-Amaro (Analog, 2018).
Over and over, these stories show how science fiction has always had its finger on the pulse of society’s big issues. Heinlein’s “Jerry Was a Man” confronts the question of how far human rights extend; Niven’s “The Jigsaw Man” tackles the morality of compulsory organ donation as punishment for crime; “The Cyber and Justice Holmes” by Frank Riley (1955) deals with computerized justice—an issue that’s in today’s headlines in the form of court use of criminal risk assessment and sentencing algorithms.
Of course it’s not all classic stories. Davis and Ruocchio called upon the Baen stable and got brand new stories by Sarah A. Hoyt, Susan R. Matthews, and Larry Correia . . . and Ruocchio himself contributed a nice story exploring the legal dividing line between human and machine.
All things considered, this is a treat for any reader with a legal mind or an appreciation of intelligent, thoughtful science fiction.
* * *
Destinies: Issues to Shape Our Future
Thomas A. Easton
B Cubed Press, 199 pages, $TBA (trade paperback)
* * *
Do you know anyone who’s concerned about the future? Okay, maybe I should turn that around; do you know anyone who isn’t? Here’s a great gift from a beloved member of the Analog family.
Thomas A. Easton, my predecessor here in the Reference Library for (gulp) thirty years, was for most of that time also editor of a series of textbooks called Taking Sides. These texts, addressing over fifty important and timely social and scientific issues, included readings meant to engage both teachers and students in discussion and further research. Of course, Easton-as-editor was constrained by a need to remain objective and keep his personal opinions out of the way.
Still, Easton is a consummate Analog reader, so naturally he had quite definite (and well-informed) opinions on many of the issues covered in Taking Sides. In 2018, he started writing his own independent essays, often springing from Taking Sides issues.
Destinies is a collection of more than two years of these essays . . . more than thirty in total. The topics are diverse, running the gamut from artificial intelligence and global warming to technology and energy to politics, constraints on humanity, and even dirt.
If you enjoy Analog’s editorials, The Alternate View column, or the more speculative of the magazine’s science articles, then you know what to expect from Destinies. Easton is rational and imaginative, yet empathetic and compassionate as well. Destinies is an important book that could very well change someone’s world. But forget all that . . . it’s also a heck of a lot of fun.
Take my advice: if you buy this for friends or family, make sure you also get a copy for yourself. You deserve it.
* * *
On Reflection and the Zenoid Paradox
Richard A. Brouse
Amazon Digital Services, 138 pages, $2.99 (Kindle e-book)
Genre: Nonfiction, Hard SF
* * *
Finally, in the spirit of the season, why don’t you get yourself a little something?
Longtime Analog reader Richard A. Brouse has published a nice little tome that’s right down the alley for many other longtimers.
Inspired by various Analog science articles and stories, Brouse created a new type of stardrive and then wrote two stories illustrating its potentials.
Starting with speculations on real-physics ways to produce artificial gravity, Brouse goes on to develop a Gravitic Space Drive that can reach relativistic speeds in about an hour, and complete a trip to Alpha Centauri in a shipboard duration of about ten days. (Of course, the trip still takes over four years in objective time.)
In the first story, “On Reflection,” a new Gravitic Drive ship is called upon to confront a threat to the whole Solar System. In the second, “The Zenoid Paradox,” Gravitic Drive ships on the first mission to Alpha Centauri return years early from what should have been a nine-year round trip. Authorities conclude that the expedition aborted the mission...but the truth is more controversial. The returned crews claim that they completed their mission as planned.
Somehow, without even being aware of it, the Gravitic Drive allowed them to travel faster-than-light. . . .
And now, I do believe I’m out of space. Happy Holidays, and we’ll meet again after the turn of the year.
Copyright © 2020 Don Sakers