Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany
Babel-17 won the 1966 Nebula award for best novel, tying with Daniel Keyes’s Flowers for Algernon. Samuel Delany’s space opera novel is dated in many ways, but still holds up.
In the future, humans have colonized many star systems. Currently, the Alliance is engaged in a war with the Invaders, who, despite the name, are also human. The Alliance has intercepted many dispatches in a code they can’t break. They’ve labeled it Babel-17. Desperate, they turn to the inter-galactically renowned poet Rydra Wong to help them decipher it.
Wong is in her late twenties, a linguistic, semantic and telepathic genius, a starship captain, and so compelling that the general who meets with her falls in love with her almost instantly. There is more than a bit of fantasy wish-fulfillment in this character. (Don’t believe me? Say this out loud: “... Read More
Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany
Sailing to Byzantium by Robert Silverberg
I just finished listening to the audio version of Sailing to Byzantium. It was read convincingly by Tom Parker, who transported me in time along with Charles, the lead character. Charles is from New York City, and he is a twentieth-century man, a curiosity in the world of the story. His 1984 is long gone, yet he doesn't quite understand how he's been transported in time to the 50th century. The people of this time, the "citizens," will tell him very little actually. They consider Charles to be a "visitor." Charles doesn't know how long his visit will be though. He is confused and tries to go with the flow, but keeps finding it hard to do so in this very odd future world.
In the 50th century ("of what," he wonders at one point), there are very few citizens. There is a small world population compared to 1984 (and especially compared to our time). All the citizens look almost identical — ... Read More
Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress
Nancy Kress won a Nebula and a Hugo in 1991 for her novella “Beggars in Spain,” about genetically altered humans who don’t need to sleep. In 1993 she expanded the novella into a novel and ultimately into a series.
The first quarter of Beggars in Spain is basically the original novella, in which the reader meets Leisha Camden, the genetically altered child of multi-billionaire Roger Camden. Lithe, golden-haired, blue-eyed and beautiful, Leisha is also extraordinarily intelligent and sleepless. How do people feel about Leisha and the others like her, dubbed The Sleepless? The question is more pointed in Leisha’s case — and more personal — because she has a fraternal twin, Alice, who is a Sleeper.
This book is an “idea” book, less about the character and more about how humans, on the individual level, in the aggregate and in the political aggregate, react to cha... Read More
The Secret Sharer and Other Stories by Robert Silverberg
The Secret Sharer and Other Stories by Robert Silverberg is available on Audible and offers a top-notch performance by Robertson Dean. The title is a little misleading, I think. There are only three selections included, and only one is a short story. The other two seem to be novellas. However, based on the way Silverberg’s works have been repackaged and republished over the years, even those distinctions are difficult to make: For example, We Are for the Dark is included in both his collected short stories volume seven, We Are for the Dark: 1987-1990, and in the collection Sailing to Byzantium: Six Novellas. In listening to all three selections, I noticed that The Secret Sharer and We Are for the Dark are both much longer than "Good News from the Vatican." The short story is a good one, but I absolutely loved the two... Read More
A Time of Changes by Robert Silverberg
After four years of successive losses, sci-fi great Robert Silverberg finally picked up his first Nebula Award in 1972. His 1967 novel Thorns had lost to Samuel R. Delany's The Einstein Intersection, his brilliant 1968 novel The Masks of Time had been bested by Alexei Panshin's equally brilliant Rite of Passage, 1969's time travel tale Up the Line had succumbed to Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, while 1970's unforgettable Tower of Glass had been beaten by Larry Niven's Ringworld.
But in 1972, Silverberg finally copped the top prize given out by the Science Fic... Read More
Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
Mars has been a subject of science fiction since its earliest days: Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, Philip K. Dick’s The Martian Time-slip, Edgar Rice Burrough’s The Princess of Mars series, Arthur C. Clarke’s The Sands of Mars, C.S. Lewis’s SPACEtrilogy, Ben Bova's Mars, and many others have in one way or another imagined what life might be like on our neighboring globe. Representing ... Read More
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
Wow! What a read! Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie grabbed my attention from the first paragraphs, when Breq, a humanoid who was once a soldier, finds an unconscious body in the snow.
There was something itchingly familiar about that outthrown arm, the line from shoulder down to hip. But it was hardly possible I knew this person. I didn’t know anyone here. This was the icy back end of a cold and isolated planet, as far from Radchaai ideas of civilization as it was possible to be.
Breq appears to be a soldier and so does the figure in the snow, Seivarden. Seivarden is a drug addict coming off a high, and will only slow Breq down, but she helps Seivarden anyway.
These two characters have more in common than either of them first realize. Each is a lost soul. Seivarden was in a state of suspension for a thousand years, after the loss of a starship in a battle. Breq was Justice... Read More
The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov
“Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.”
Isaac Asimov’s The Gods Themselves earned the Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, the Nebula Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, and the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. About 15 years ago it was put on the Locus list of All Time Best Science Fiction Novels.
If you’re anything like me, that’s enough to put The Gods Themselves on your To Be Read List and, indeed, it has been on mine for years because I aim to read all those award winners sometime before I die. What moved The Gods Themselves to the top of the list was that Random House Audio recently produced it in audio format and it’s read by one of my favorite classic SF readers, Scott Brick. (I love Scott Brick!)
The Gods Themselves has a strange structure. The story is told non-line... Read More
Startide Rising by David Brin
I had never read a David Brin book before reading Startide Rising. Hearing his background was in math, physics, astronomy, etc., I went about buying one of his books with trepidation. Isaac Asimov, Vernor Vinge, Alastair Reynolds, and other popular science fiction authors may be good scientists, but they lack the touch and feel of an inborn writer and the style of their novels suffers. Though it’s prose is not glorious, Startide Rising was nevertheless a pleasant surprise.
A fun mix of hard SF and space opera, Startide Rising is a unique story that sets itself apart from derivative SF for its premise. A dolphin and human... Read More
Born With the Dead: Three Novellas About the Spirit of Man by Robert Silverberg
Born With the Dead gathers together three of Robert Silverberg's mid-career science fiction novellas into one remarkably fine collection. With a length greater than a short story or novelette but shorter than a full-length novel, these three tales clock in at around 55 to 70 pages each, and all display the intelligence, word craft and abundance of detail common to all of Silverberg's work in the late '60s to mid-'70s. Although subtitled "Three Novellas About the Spirit of Man" on its original 1974 release, the collection features a trio of tales that, strive as I might, I cannot find a common denominator among. Two of the stories concern how mankind deals with the subject of death, while the third has man's relation to religion and God as its central theme. OK, I HAVE thought of some commonalities among all three: They are all wonderful exemplars of modern-day sci... Read More
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
Hype is an untrustworthy thing, which has led me astray before. It either ratchets my hopes so high that they’re bound to be disappointed (see: A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE) or it leaves me snarking condescendingly about popular opinion and the “masses” and how no one really understands empire (see: The Hunger Games). But sometimes, hype operates like giant flashing arrows pointing me towards a book that I never would have otherwise discovered, and my entire faith in popular opinion and my fellow genre-readers is restored. That was my experience with Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie’s 2013 debut novel. From the back-cover blurb, I would never have bought it: On a rem... Read More
Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman
Despite the similarities in name, Joe Haldeman’s 1997 Forever Peace shares nothing in common with his huge success, The Forever War, save the military science fiction motif. Winning its own accolades (the Nebula, Hugo, and John W. Campbell Awards), Forever Peace is a novel less focused on the portent of war and more on the idea of universal understanding. Not without its share of action, however, readers will find Haldeman back in The Forever War form, the novel containing both depth and entertainment.
Forever Peaceis the story of Julian Class, both scientist and operator of a mechanized robot called a “soldierboy” for the US military. By jacking in to a device that collectively links operators... Read More
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Like many, I watched the brilliant stop-motion filmic adaptation of Coraline before reading Neil Gaiman's original story, and as such, it was interesting to see the deviations between the book and film. Much like Stardust, another Gaiman book that was given the big-screen treatment, Coraline is a truly wonderful example of a story of such imaginative potency that any filmic adaptation only enhances and enriches it.
Gaiman is consistently good at two things: drawing upon ancient folklore in which to shape his tales, and remembering what it was like to be a child. So many of his books (most recently The Ocean at the End of the Lane) have taken the structure and elements of fairytales and filtered them through a child protagonist's point of view, resulting in stories that tap into o... Read More
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
Breq used to be a spaceship, or at least a fragment of the spaceship known as Justice of Toren. The ship controlled innumerable human bodies, known variously as “ancillaries” to the people of the interstellar Radchaai Empire and as “corpse soldiers” to the cultures and planets the Empire has conquered. Those soldiers used to be regular, innocent human beings who, if sufficiently healthy, were slaved to one of the Radchaai ships, their personalities more or less overwritten to become part of one of the Empire’s many-bodied artificial intelligences.
But note: Breq “used” to be a spaceship. Now, she is just Breq, a single person with one body, but with memories of being both an immensely powerful artificial intelligence and its army of soldiers. When we meet Breq, at the start of Ancillary Justice, the spectacular debut novel by Ann Leckie, she is hunting for a gun — a... Read More
How the World Became Quiet: Myths of the Past, Present, and Future by Rachel Swirsky
I don’t read a lot of short stories, so it isn’t surprising that Rachel Swirsky wasn’t on my radar. Stories and novellas are what she is best known for. Subterranean Press has gathered 18 of her works into this collection, How the World Became Quiet.
Swirsky also writes poetry, which explains both her precise use of prose and her mastery of tone. This collection ranges from masterworks to pieces that are, in my opinion, interesting experiments. The book is broken into four sections; Past, Present, Future and The End, and the stories follow that, generally speaking; fantastical stories that could be set in Earth’s past or exist as folktales; stories set roughly speaking in the present day; tales, both science fiction and fantastical set in Earth’s future, and stories that discuss event during or after human extinction.
The Voice From the Edge, Vol 2: Midnight in the Sunken Cathedral by Harlan Ellison
As much as I dislike the man personally, I have to say that Harlan Ellison writes great stories. Even the stories that I don’t like — because they’re violent, gory, gross, or full of others varieties of ugliness — are good stories. And if there’s anything that Harlan Ellison does better than write great stories, it’s narrate them. He’s a superb story teller. That’s why I’ve picked up all of his Voice From The Edge recordings at Audible.com. Each is a collection of Ellison’s stories which he narrates himself. This second volume, Midnight in the Sunken Cathedral, contains these stories:
“In Lonely Lands” — (first published in 1959 in Fantastic Universe) This very short story is about loneliness, companionship, and dying. It’s touching and thought provoking.
“S.R.O” — (1957, Am... Read More
The Borders of Infinity by Lois McMaster Bujold (contains the novellas “The Mountains of Mourning,” “Labyrinth,” “The Borders of Infinity”)
The Borders of Infinity has a different structure than the earlier VORKOSIGAN books. It’s actually three previously published novellas with a frame story. Simon Illyan, head of Imperial Security, is visiting Miles while he’s recuperating in the hospital after a surgery for bone replacements. Knowing that the government will start asking questions, Simon needs Miles to justify three large vague items in his expense reports. When Miles protests, Simon explains that because he’s the prime minister’s son, Miles must avoid even the appearance of shady accounting practices. And so Miles explains each item and thus we get the stories in the novellas “The Mountains of Mourning,” originally published in Analog in May 1989, “Labyrinth,” (Analog, August 1989) and “Th... Read More
The Best of Joe Haldeman edited by Jonathan Strahan
Stories by Joe Haldeman are always a good things and Subterranean Press has recently put out this “Best of” collection edited by Jonathan Strahan. The hardcover book has 504 pages and includes a general introduction by Joe Haldeman and 19 of his stories. Each story also has a short introduction which reveals some insight into its crafting — perhaps where the idea came from, or some trouble he had writing or placing it, or how he did his research, or his interactions with his agent or editor. I’m not a writer, but I always find these author introductions interesting.
The stories are, in order:
“Hero” — (1972) This is the opening of Haldeman’s best-known novel, The Forever War, which I loved. I skipped this story since I’d read it before (it takes up about 50 pages in this collection). “Hero” will give readers a sense of what to expect if t... Read More
After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress
In recent years, I’ve hesitated to pick up a hard science fiction novel. The quantum physics one must be familiar with to enjoy the novel is so far beyond me that I feel I need a physics course or two as a prerequisite. It’s hard to appreciate a novel when you haven’t the faintest idea what’s going on.
Trust Nancy Kress to write a hard science fiction novella that is so clear, so precise and so well-written that the reader is never left behind. It is no surprise that After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall has been nominated for a Nebula Award this year. It has finely drawn characters (especially Pete, from the future, and Julie, from the present), and is based (at least in the sections set "during the fall") on solid scientific principals with a touch of imagination — just enough to power the plot.
The novella open... Read More
The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon
[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]
It’s 1999. In January, the Jewish enclave in Sitka, Alaska will revert to the US government, and the Jewish community that settled there in 1948, when an attempt to create a Jewish state in Israel failed, will once again be cast to the four winds, homeless. This isn’t even the plot, really, of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. The plot revolves around a murder mystery, the death of a man in the same Single-Resident-Only hotel that the main character, police detective Meyer Landsman, has lived in in ... Read More