by Don Sakers
In the last issue of the year, it’s my tradition to devote this column to recommending science fiction books you can give to various types of people in your life . . . even those who aren’t usually SF readers.
For those who do read SF, and for those with a science/tech/engineering bent, there’s no better gift than a subscription to Analog. In addition, you can look back over the past year’s issues for ideas. Don’t confine yourself to this column; the Editorials, Alternate View, and science fact articles frequently mention interesting books. And don’t forget the table of contents: look for books by any and all of the authors who appeared in the magazine.
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The City and the Cygnets
Fairwood Press, 466 pages, $19.99 (trade paperback)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $5.99 (ebook)
Series: Urban Nucleus omnibus
Genre: Alternate Universe, Fortress City,
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You probably have friends who are news and politics junkies, concerned with the increasing fragmentation of the country and the rift between the haves and have-nots (no matter how the two are defined). Consider giving them copies of Michael Bishop’s The City and the Cygnets.
This book presents updated versions of Bishop’s Urban Nucleus series: a novel, a novella, and six short stories first published between 1970–1979. The original novel, A Little Knowledge, appeared in 1977; the seven shorter pieces were collected as Catacomb Years in 1979. The novella, “The Samurai and the Willows” was a finalist for both the 1977 Hugo and Nebula Awards.
The stories take place against the background of the domed city of Atlanta, Georgia, in the period of 2000–2070. When they first appeared, the stories were straight extrapolative SF; reappearing in 2019, they are tales from an alternate universe. But they still speak to our present—in some ways, even more than they spoke to the world of the 1970s.
In the Urban Nucleus universe, the U.S. has fragmented into independent, isolated city-states. Atlanta is one such, the population confined and stratified into a single dome and nine underground levels. The outside world is a wasteland, ignored and all but forgotten. The city is a theocracy under the firm control of the church of Ortho-Urbanism, a tyrannical offshoot of Christianity.
Amid all the trappings of autocratic dystopia—secret police, gangs of armed thugs, conspiracies, political kidnappings, and murders—various people do what human beings always do: survive and thrive on their own terms. Only with the introduction of a few aliens does escape from the system become conceivable.
No mere allegory, The City and the Cygnets does what SF does best: it presents a look at present-day situations from a decidedly different perspective. Instead of simplistic, one-dimensional answers, it gives nuanced, incomplete, and thought-provoking reflections. Your concerned friends will love it.
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Ode to Defiance
LMBPM Publishing, 534 pages, $13.99 (trade paperback)
Kindle: $4.99 (ebook)
Series: BrainTrust 4
Genre: Near Future, SF Thriller
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The next book might also interest those news and politics junkies, but it’s an even better fit for those who love near-future geopolitical thrillers in the mold of Michael Crichton, Tom Clancy, or Dale Brown.
Ode to Defiance is technically the fourth book in Marc Stiegler’s BrainTrust series. Never fear, it’s a standalone that doesn’t require any prior familiarity with the series. Of course, if you really like the gift recipient, you could include all four books.
In this quasi-dystopian future, the President for Life rules a United States that has deported foreign-born scientists and engineers and suppressed much scientific research. Under the lead of genius biologist-administrator Dyah Ambarawati, known as Dash, the world’s leading researchers and technicians have retreated to the BrainTrust: an artificial archipelago of linked ships in international waters. In time, other BrainTrust fleets were established near Europe, Africa, and China.
As more and more of the world’s countries fell under the control of autocrats and authoritarian regimes, BrainTrust personnel fought to defend themselves and produce a technological infrastructure to serve the planet—most notably the means to extend the life and vitality of the elderly. The corrupt leaders of mainland nations wanted the tech for themselves, and sent their agents against the BrainTrust chief.
In Ode to Defiance, a single sociopathic genius takes the reins of chaos, manipulating world leaders, sowing viral epidemics, and bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war. The only thing that stands in the way of domination is the BrainTrust . . . especially Dash.
Under attack on many fronts, with millions dying across the planet, can the BrainTrust find a way to defeat this ultimate opponent?
Full of action and high tech wonders, populated by a huge, multinational cast of well-drawn characters, Ode to Defiance will thrill any devotee of the genre.
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Crown, 336 pages, $27.00 (hardcover)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $11.99 (ebook)
Genre: Psychological/Sociological SF, SF
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Psychological thrillers are very popular. Whether it’s authors like Jonathan Kellerman or Nicci French, or movies like Inception or Memento, lots of folks enjoy action/adventure tales that explore the landscapes of the mind.
Blake Crouch, bestselling writer of thriller books (most notably the Wayward Pines trilogy that became a successful TV series), has recently taken steps in the Michael Crichton/Douglas Preston territory, introducing major science fiction elements in his work. Recursion is his latest effort, and it’s a page-turner.
New York City cop Barry Sutton first encounters a new epidemic when one of its victims kills herself right in front of him. The disease, called False Memory Syndrome (FMS), rewrites its victim’s memories without warning. Sufferers wake up remembering whole different lives—false lives, which bear no resemblance to reality. People go in search of careers they never followed, spouses who say they haven’t met, teenage children who don’t exist.
As the plague spreads, the effects begin to tear society apart. Some few subjects manage to remain sane, others lose their minds, and many are driven to suicide.
As Sutton begins to fear that he’s infected, he joins forces with neuroscientist Helena Smith. In her work on preserving memory, Smith has produced a machine which can record and replay memories. With her device the only weapon for combatting FMS, she and Sutton set out to track down the origin of the disease.
They soon find that FMS has more dire implications than a mere epidemic. As memories change, it seems that the past itself is altering. The foundations of reality are under attack, and it’s up to Sutton and Smith to find and defeat whatever—or whoever—is behind the plague.
More than just a taut thriller, Recursion will leave readers pondering the nature of memory, identity, and reality for a long time.
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Del Rey, 780 pages, $28.99 (format)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $13.99 (ebook)
Genre: Postapocalyptic SF
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While we’re on plagues and epidemics, let’s not leave behind those who enjoy postapocalyptic fiction. Be they SF readers, thriller followers, horror junkies, or fans of highbrow literature—casual TV viewers or hardcore preppers—sooner or later everyone’s in the mood for a good end-of-the-world tale. And Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers is a good one indeed.
It all starts when Shana Stewart’s teenage younger sister Nessie goes missing from their rural Pennsylvania home. Shana finds Nessie a bit down the road, apparently sleepwalking. Shana can’t wake her sister, and when she tries to restrain Nessie, the teen goes into spasms and her temperature rises alarmingly.
Soon enough, Shana and her father determine that Nessie is in the grip of some force that propels her inexorably toward some unknown destination. And nothing can stop her.
Then another sleepwalker joins the procession, and another and another, until people from all over the country are on the roads, inexorably walking forward to who knows where.
Shana and others like her become “shepherds,” accompanying and protecting throngs of friends and family on their mysterious journey. Meanwhile, society begins to come apart in the wake of the spreading affliction.
Then the militia emerges, violent extremists determined to exterminate the Wanderers. Unless the mystery of the epidemic is solved, there appears to be no hope.
Wanderers isn’t just the story of one girl; it’s an epic with a broad canvas and a full, diverse cast. We see the effects of the plague through the eyes of scientists, rock stars, televangelists, and ordinary people. The story moves at a relentless pace toward a conclusion that will alter the nature of humanity forever.
Wanderers is a worthy companion to Steven King’s classic The Stand, and an ideal gift for any fan of postapocalyptic stories.
The Girls With Kaleidoscope Eyes: Analog
Stories for a Digital Age
Howard V. Hendrix
Fairwood Press, 318 pages, $17.99 (trade paperback)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $5.99 (ebook)
Genre: Short SF
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I’ll bet you know someone with an appreciation of the odd, quirky, or absurd. A person whose sense of humor is decidedly skewed. Howard Hendrix’s newest collection is perfect for that person.
Hendrix hardly needs an introduction. In fact, the subtitle of this collection (Analog Stories for a Digital Age) is a bit of a play on words: nine of the ten stories herein were published in this very magazine between 2008 and 2017. (The odd one out first appeared in 2017’s Carbide Tipped Pens, edited by Ben Bova, who was once an editor of Analog.)
Hendrix specializes in exploring offbeat ideas through the eyes of compelling characters who seem just as real as the folks living next door. “Red Rover, Red Rover” is a poignant tale of an elderly astronaut and his dog on Mars, lucid dreaming, and the gulf between species. In “Palimpsest,” two programmers combat a worldwide rash of spam emails purporting to be of divine origin . . . but their filtering program has tragic, unexpected consequences. “The Infinite Manque” deals with the Cardenio Project, an attempt by enhanced bonobos to recreate one of Shakespeare’s lost plays.
In the title novella, an FBI agent investigating a spate of deaths in Utah discovers that a rogue AI has gained the ability to create human-looking dopplegangers with the ability to influence human minds—and is using them to eliminate its enemies.
The stories are quite accessible to non-SF readers; your quirky friend(s) will surely enjoy them.
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Million Mile Road Trip
Night Shade Books, 469 pages, $14.99 (trade paperback)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $8.95 (ebook)
Genre: Humorous SF, Other Dimensions,
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The word “psychedelic” has enjoyed something of a resurgence lately, mainly in connection with pharmaceutical research. But it also applies to the kind of person who would most appreciate receiving a copy of Rudy Rucker’s latest. Someone, perhaps, who’s a step beyond that character with the odd, quirky, or absurd sense of humor. Someone who appreciates and enjoys Philip K. Dick, Jack Kerouac, and Alice in Wonderland.
Zoe Snapp and Villy Antwerpen are California high school seniors; Scud is Villy’s brother, two years younger. When a trumpet solo opens a transdimensional portal, the three enter Mappyworld: a flat, boundless plain composed of thousands of valleys separated by low ridges. Each valley contains a world, each of them wildly different and all of them unique.
They meet two aliens, Yampa and Pinchley, who help soup up Villy’s purple 1980s station wagon with a dark energy motor, quantum-foam shock absorbers, and six-foot graphene tires. Only then are they ready to start on a million-mile road trip through one alien civilization after another.
If they survive the trip, the three misfit teens will get a chance to save Earth from an invasion of deadly carnivorous flying saucers. And, with any luck, they’ll learn a lot more about who they are and where they belong.
Surreal road trip on a world crazier than Wonderland or Oz, preposterous coming of age tale, wacky love story—Million Mile Road Trip has it all, as only Rudy Rucker could tell it.
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Zion’s Fiction: A Treasury of Israeli Speculative Literature
Edited by Sheldon Teitelbaum and Emmanual Lottem
Mandel Vilar Press, 328 pages, $24.95 (trade paperback)
iBooks: 16.95, Kindle: $13.59, Nook: $10.99 (ebook)
Genre: Anthologies, World SF
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Here’s one for anybody whose cultural background involves Israel or the Diaspora, as well as anyone interested in science fiction from nations and cultures outside the United States.
This anthology reprints sixteen stories by sixteen authors, most originally published this century. First appearing in various Hebrew, Russian, and English language venues, the stories have been translated into English by a number of translators, including Nadav Miller Almog, Anatoly Belilovsky, David Chanoch, Vaacov Jeffrey Green, Emmanuel Lottem, and Sondra Silverston. The authors include some names familiar to U.S. readers—Gail Hareen, Lavie Tidhar, Pesach (Pavel) Amnuel—as well as many Israeli authors appearing for the first time in English.
In addition to the stories, there’s a foreword by Robert Silverberg, an essay on the past and current state of Israeli SF, an afterword by Dr. Aharon Hauptman, founding editor of Israel’s top SF/F magazine, and biographical notes on the authors and editors.
The stories span the breadth of science fiction and fantasy, from near-future extrapolation to time travel to tales of magic and dark fantasy to theological fiction. Although the editors suggest some common themes and approaches, there’s enough variety for each reader to decide for themselves what, if anything, makes these stories essentially Israeli.
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Chen Qiufan (translated by Ken Liu)
Tor, 352 pages, $26.00 (hardcover)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $13.99 (ebook)
Genre: Ecological/Environmental SF, Near
Future, Transhuman, World SF
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Here’s one for those interested in non-U.S. SF, Chinese culture, or the problems of technological waste.
Chen Qiufan is a multiple-award-winning Chinese SF writer. His short fiction has appeared in English translation in venues such as Fantasy & Science Fiction, Interzone, Lightspeed, and Clarkesworld, some of it under the name Stanley Chen.
Waste Tide, Qiufan’s first novel, is set on Silicon Isle, off the southeastern coast of China. Silicon Isle is the world’s largest site for recycling electronic waste.
Luo Jincheng leads one of the three clans that run Silicon Isle. He’s driven, ruthless, and very rich. The “waste girl” Mimi is on the opposite end of the social order: she scavenges heaps of dangerous waste, struggling to earn a meager living and support her family.
The government imposes ever-stricter regulations on the island, causing Luo and other leaders to come down more tightly on workers like Mimi. Into this conflict steps Scott Brandle, an American whose corporation seeks to modernize Silicon Isle—and incidentally make a ton of money from the deal. Brandle’s interpreter is a Chinese-American looking to explore his heritage.
The emergence of a powerful virus is the trigger that sets off a war between rich and poor, tradition and innovation. The four main characters must each decide which side they’re on, and what they will do in the name of survival.
Waste Tide, which would be right at home as an Analog serial, is a great gift for anyone who cares about the world beyond our borders and the technology’s impact upon it.
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Pyr, 464 pages, $18.00 (trade paperback)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $9.99 (ebook)
Series: Project Earth 2
Genre: Ecological/Environmental SF
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Everyone knows someone who’s passionate about the environment. (If you don’t, perhaps you want to consider enlarging your circle of friends.) Alert to every endangered species, oil spill, sea-level rise, and part-per-million of carbon dioxide, this person might be vegetarian or even vegan, and very possibly quotes Rachel Carson and Wendell Berry from memory.
Brenda Cooper’s Keepers, second in her Project Earth series, is an ideal gift for your green friends. (So, incidentally, is the previous title, Wilders.)
In the Project Earth future, the country is on the far side of a massive reshaping of climate and ecology. Most people live in self-sufficient, green megacities separated by vast tracts of re-wilded land managed for the benefit of the natural life that thrives there. In many ways this world is an environmental utopia, with sustainable technology used to heal rather than harm the planet.
The fly in this ointment is the Returners, a movement devoted to destroying the status quo and moving back to the bad old days of exploitation and ecological imbalance.
The story focuses on two sisters. Coryn lives and works in the megacity of Seacouver, under one of the most powerful women in the world. She spends her time coping with various threats to the city, both human and natural. Coryn’s older sister, Lou, works with a team of biologists and ecologists to manage a portion of the wild by reintroducing wolves into a landscape that they once inhabited. Lou, too, faces the resistance of the Returners.
Infiltrating the Returners, Lou and her friends discover that the group is more extensive and more powerful than previously known. When they threaten Seacouver as well as the wolf project, the two sisters must unite and find a way to preserve their very different ways of life.
Gripping yet hopeful, Keepers is an optimistic vision of a possible future in an area that usually sees too much doom and gloom.
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Three Rooms Press, 384 pages, $16.00 (trade paperback)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $9.99 (ebook)
Genre: Alien Beings, Short Fiction,
Visitors From Space
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What about aliens? No, I’m not suggesting that you have extraterrestrials among your friends and family—although if you do, I’m sure they’d get a chuckle out of this next book. I’m referring to people you know who are fascinated with alien beings. Whether that fascination stems from scientific or philosophical curiosity, or an obsession with UFOs and alien abduction, I’m not going to judge. Whatever the case, give them Robert Silverberg’s new collection, and they’ll have a lot to think about.
Here are eighteen stories, published between 1954 and 1998, involving interactions between humans and aliens. Settings vary from Earth to distant planets and from the present day to the far future. Tones vary from chilling to funny to profound, plus many others. Even the aliens vary—some are little different from humans, others so divergent as to be almost incomprehensible.
In the final analysis, of course, none of these stories are about alien beings. . . . They’re about humans, with aliens serving as metaphors for our relationship with ourselves and other people. Whether it’s a mixed-species scientific expedition to a collapsing star that faces a terrible choice, a painter faced with the mystery of a woman he believes to be a shape-shifter, or a California teenager who discovers a disguised alien trying to avoid capture, these stories ultimately deal with human beings confronting that within ourselves which is alien.
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The Eagle Has Landed: 50 Years of Lunar Science Fiction
Edited by Neil Clarke
Night Shade Books, 372 pages, $19.99
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $10.99 (ebook)
Genre: Reprint Anthologies, To the Moon
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Space travel buffs are easy to spot nowadays, what with the Apollo missions having their fiftieth anniversaries. Some caught the fever recently, with Curiosity and New Horizons; some with the ISS and LRO; some with Shuttles and Soyuz; some go back as far as Mercury, Gemini, and that One Small Step. A dwindling few caught the fire long before Gagarin’s flight, back when space travel was “crazy kid’s stuff.”
No matter how they started, here’s an excellent gift for your favorite space cadet.
Editor Neil Clarke has gathered twenty-four stories by twenty-five authors dealing with Lunar colonization and exploration, all of them written after the Eagle touched down at Tranquility Base. Three were originally published in Analog: Adam Troy Castro’s “Sunday Night Yams at Minnie and Earl’s” (June 2001), “Fly Me to the Moon” by Marianne J. Dyson (July/August 2010), and “The Moon Belongs to Everyone” by Michael Alexander and K.C. Ball (December 2012). The others are from a variety of sources, their authors a roll call of big names in the field.
There’s something here to please any taste. Disaster stories, romantic tales, survival narratives, time travel puzzlers, suspense yarns . . . ice miners, art forgers, insane AIs, engineers, warriors, police officers, explorers, settlers, administrators . . . a double-dozen versions of life on the Moon.
This book will give your Lunar enthusiast hours of entertainment and stir up plenty of ideas for subsequent reflection. What more could they ask?
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Stellaris: People of the Stars
Edited by Les Johnson & Robert E. Hampson
Baen, 320 pages, $16.00 (trade paperback)
Genre: Nonfiction, Original Anthologies, Psychological/Sociological SF
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Your space travel buff isn’t going to be content to stop at the Moon. So here’s another book that will certainly thrill those who dream of humanity’s future in space.
Stellaris was inspired by the 2016 Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop held in Chattanooga, TN. This conference brings together scientists, futurists, and SF authors to discuss the various aspects of interstellar travel. One of the questions raised in 2016 was how interstellar exploration and settlement might alter the nature of humankind.
The anthology contains five papers from the conference, on topics such as “The Future of Intelligent Life in the Cosmos” by Sir Martin Rees, “Homo Stellaris” by Robert E. Hampson and Les Johnson, and “Biological and Medical Challenges of the Transition to Homo Stellaris” by Nikhil Rao, M.D. It also features eleven never-before-published stories by Kevin J. Anderson, Sara A. Hoyt, Todd McCaffrey, Les Johnson, and others.
This collaboration between working scientists and SF writers gives a unique glimpse into current thought about the far future of the human race in the galaxy. In addition to space travel buffs, it’s an excellent gift for those with a penchant for the SF and nonfiction of the late Sir Arthur C. Clarke.
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The Fandom Fifty: 50+ Fascinating People of the Maryland Science Fiction Conventions
Edited by Diane Lee Baron
Firebringer Press, 345 pages, $22.00 (trade paperback)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $2.99 (ebook)
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Finally, if you have friends who are into organized SF fandom—especially in the mid-Atlantic states—this little gem from Firebringer Press showcases over fifty fannish personalities. Editor Baron has a talent for posing just the right questions designed to draw out her subjects. The result is a book full of sparkling, fascinating people that run the gamut of the SF/fantasy convention scene.
As a caveat, please know that one of Baron’s subjects is your humble reviewer. Despite that, it’s still a fun book.
Don Sakers is the author of Meat and Machine, Elevenses, the Rule of Five serial at rule-of-5.com, and A Cosmos of Many Mansions, a collection based on previous columns—any of which make splendid gifts.
Copyright © 2019 Don Sakers