SPSFC Book Review: “Age of Order” by Julian North

Age of Order by Julian North

Dystopias are all the rage. Age of Order might strike some as just another dystopia, but it has more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye. It starts of with Daniela Machado offered a shot to go to an elite school for the privileged and wealthy. There, she has to fight against classism and the genetic modifications of the “richies” even as she contends back home with the impact of a pseudo-police state. It’s a great setup that quickly turns into something that reads a bit like a school drama combined with dystopia.

Then… things kind of get out of hand, in both good and bad ways. At 20% in I was hugely enjoying it; at 40% it started to read like it wasn’t stopping. The extended school scenes and back-and-forth moves across the city read at times like an over-extended travelogue instead of a dystopic thriller. Then, twists and turns started to hit hot and heavy, and our main characters had some more interesting background revealed.

The novel begins to read like a roller coaster, with extremely high points of big twists and reveals punctuating an almost mundane otherwise story of going to school and dealing with bullying. The highs definitely outweigh the lows, however, and I found myself enjoying it all the way through. The character interactions are the strength of the novel, and I especially enjoyed how several major plots were intertwined almost behind the scenes before they got revealed to the reader. As that reader, I never felt cheated by having something come out of the woodworks. North certainly sets up the background to have even massive revelations about the characters feel believable. And there’s no way to avoid empathizing with these characters, who deal with struggles both in and out of their control.

Age of Order is a great read that I would highly recommend to fans of dystopias. It’s got so many great character moments and huge plot points that it overcomes its own problems with being a bit over-bloated. I’ll definitely be reading the next novels in this series.

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Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Vintage Sci-Fi: “A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire” by Michael Bishop

Vintage Sci-Fi Month is here!  As I recall, the rule for calling something “Vintage” is that it was written before you were born, but feel free to adjust that as you like. Follow Vintage Sci-Fi Month on Twitter and get in on the fun, too!

A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire by Michael Bishop

[Publication note: I am writing now of the original version of the book, which is the one I received through interlibrary loan. Apparently the edition available through e-book now is not that version but rather a total re-write Bishop created in 1980. I haven’t read the re-write yet, but I understand that it is quite different.]

I was astonished by this book. It is surprising and deep on so many levels that it makes it one of the most impressive science fiction efforts I’ve ever read. And it was a debut novel? Incredible. Bishop is in total control of the written word here, and it reads like the work of an established master.

The core plot of the novel seems simple: a pair of human brothers join a pair of aliens to try to earn riches by dissolving a conflict on another alien world (different aliens from the pair traveling with the brothers). The concept of pairing runs strong in the narrative (see the excellent review at Sci-Fi Ruminations for even more on this theme), but is perhaps only the most overt of the many layers found throughout the novel. At multiple points in the book, readers encounter stories-within-stories, as characters tell other stories to various characters. These stories are intricately woven into the meaning of the main plot itself, to the point where it becomes a Gordian-like knot of concepts, ideas, and stories.

The plot itself also becomes increasingly complex, as well. Peter and Gunnar, the human brothers, diverge in surprising ways. At the beginning, it is clear our protagonist, Gunnar, looks up to Peter immensely, but as he discovers revelations about his brother’s true character, he has to re-write his own internal narrative of relationships. The aliens’ conflict, between the allegedly progressive and forward-thinking Tropeans and the “backwards/religious” Ouemartsee, becomes increasingly tantalizing as we see the depths of ritual and how it can define society. In a way, the interactions between the Tropeans and the brothers or even the brothers’ pair of alien allies all becomes a large comedy of manners with the necessities of ritual and behavior taking on larger meaning in light of all that’s happening.

As we are confronted with the alien and baffling rituals of the planet of Trope, readers begin to realize that the concepts of ritual, behavior, and conflict that emerge there are remarkably similar to our own. Perhaps, in many ways, they are mirrors for our own uncertainties, conflicts, and even wickedness and beauty.

The question of the ritual in the novel, in which the Ouemartsee maintain the mythic belief in higher meaning behind it while the larger group of Tropeans rejects the same while keeping all the trappings of ritual, is fascinating. If we reject the meaning or truth of religious belief, but maintain the rituals, what can they mean? Does turning the ritual into merely symbolic deprive it of all meaning? Can a society with a “scientific” worldview have deeper meaning by creating its own rituals? Bishop confronts these questions and even offers answers to some of them which are surprising and thought-provoking.

A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire is an anthropology of aliens, but also a true anthropology of humanity. It asks us what makes us human, and what might be inhuman. Moreover, it shows the importance of ritual even to those who have rejected the mythic meaning that infuses the ritual with objectivity. It’s a stunning work.

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Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Nominating for the 2022 Hugo Awards! – A Reader Weighs In

It hasn’t been that long since the 2021 Hugo Award winners were announced, but it’s already nominating season for the 2022 Hugo Awards (and other related awards). I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts on works I will be pulling for and think you ought to consider nominating as well! I have some categories I need to fill out, so let me know your recommendations.

Best Novel

Novels are my preferred format, and I read more than 600 books last year. To be fair, a huge majority of those weren’t published in 2021, so that narrowed it down quite a bit. I still can’t get myself down to a top 5, though, and so I’m sharing some of my choices here in the hopes that you’ll weigh in and help me decide which to put on my nominating ballot.

Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff- A dark epic fantasy about a world in which vampires have taken over after they used some kind of evil spell to darken the world and give them freedom to conquer. The story follows the narrative of  Gabriel de Leon, a vampire hunter known as a Silversaint. De Leon uses the combination of silver tattoos and vampiric powers to take the battle to the undead as he tells his story to a servant of the Vampire Empire itself. The relentless violence and action in the novel is supplemented by numerous twists and turns that keep readers guessing all the way through. It’s a fabulous read.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir- I always feel a bit nervous diving into a novel that is super hyped. Too often, it sets expectations so high that it gets hard to feel anything but unsatisfied after reading it. Andy Weir’s The Martian was a fun read, though, and I wanted to dive into his latest book. I’m glad I did, because Project Hail Mary lives up to the hype. It’s an inventive hard science fiction story that keeps throwing new wrenches into the works. Weir has a way of creating the atmosophere of “just one more chapter” in every chapter. I hugely enjoyed this book from cover-to-cover.

Catalyst Gate by Megan O’Keefe- The finale to O’Keefe’s “The Protectorate” series is a brick of a book with extensive political (and other) intrigue. This is a space opera/adventure novel that punctuates character moments with intense action scenes. It’s a fine conclusion to a great series.

The Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter- I went into this one with no expectations and walked away totally sold on the setting and characters. Speculative fiction being mashed up with mysteries is one of my favorite ways to do things, and The Helm of Midnight has mystery and intrigue in spades.

Shards of Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky- Tchaikovsky continues his blend of unique aliens, excellent action, big questions, and great characters with this novel, first in a series. It’s an epic space opera that certainly delivers the goods time and again.

Chaos on Catnet by Naomi Kritzer- Kritzer raises questions about religion, who we are, how to perceive reality, and teenage angst in this delightful read that continues the Catnet series. I was shocked beyond all when I fell in love with the first book, and this was among my most anticipated reads this year. It did not disappoint.

To End in Fire by David Weber & Eric Flint- Hey, everyone has favorite series/authors. David Weber is one of mine, and it’s beyond insane to me that he’s never gotten even a nomination for his many wonderful Honor Harrington books, Safehold series, or any of his other great books. This novel continues another side series to the main Honor Harrington series, and I know that it’s so many books in that it’s unlikely to get a nod, but dangit, Weber deserves it and I’m going to keep pulling for him. This book is a satisfying info dump of a novel that helps wrap up a number of loose threads and advance the story, and I love it.

Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee- The finale of the Green Bone Saga is a massive epic urban fantasy. I cannot emphasize how fantastic this series is, and Lee is just an absolute master of the genre. Magic, double-dealing, mafia-esque crime rings, and more abound.

Short Story

Here’s a category I have some catching up to do on, but I have a bunch of sci-fi magazines from which I can pick my favorites. I do have one work to discuss here, though.

Proof by Induction” by José Pablo Iriarte- this story rocked me when I read it early this year. In this story, Iriarte weaves an absolutely gripping story about the loss of a parent around some technology that allows a kind of continuing relationship with the deceased. I don’t want to spoil too much, and the story is freely available at the link I put there in the title, but this is a fabulous read. I lost my dad in 2020, and this short story helped me work through some of my own lingering issues and brought me to tears more than once. I consider it among the finest reads I encountered all year, and definitely an early choice for my best short story.

Best Related Work

Out of This World: Speculative Fiction in Translation from the Cold War to the New Millennium by Rachel Cordasco- An academic book about, well, what the title says. It’s a fascinating read by a true expert in the field and deserves to be on the ballot.

“The Problem(s) of Susan” by Matt Mikalatos (Tor.com)- What to do with Susan Pevensie in The Chronicles of Narnia? I love Mikalatos’s approach here, and with the continuing influence of C.S. Lewis and the beautiful prose and thoughtfulness of this essay, I’d love to see it on the Hugo ballot.

“Pro Wrestling is Fake (But You Already Knew That)” by Veda Scott (Uncanny)- I had a brief love affair with pro wrestling, even to the point where a bunch of us in college paid for the Pay-per-view for Wrestlemania. It was a lot of fun seeing the storylines and the humor surrounding the drama on the stage, and this article by Veda Scott was an absolute delight to read.

True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee by Abraham Riesman- A fascinating biography of the (in)famous Stan Lee that shows his life both good and bad. I highly recommend it to any fans of comics, movies, or even speculative fiction generally. It’s a fabulous biography.

Best Novella/Novelette

Would love some suggestions here, but novella must include Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky because he’s the best.

Lodestar Award

I’m still doing my reading for this, so I’d love some suggestions.

Redemptor by Jordan Ifueko- the finale to her duology, this is another fantastic read that combines some unique magical trappings with great character building and epic moments.

Best Series

I think this is one of the most fun categories for which to nominate works. It’s also a great way to see what others are reading and pick up some new series.

The Green Bone Saga by Fonda Lee- What if The Godfather was about Yakuza-esque criminals and had magic and questions of colonialism? Yes, this series is that and then some.

InCryptid by Seanan McGuire- One of my favorite authors continued perhaps my favorite series of hers here. The InCryptid series features a bunch of awesome use of cryptid-like and fairytale monsters along with some originals, all with sets of rules and a family trying to deal with all the drama. Truly some of the most fun books to read that I know of, and I would love to see it get a nod here.

The Books of Babel by Josiah Bancroft- I am finding myself at a loss for words trying to sum up this series. It starts with a man trying to find his wife in the Tower of Babel, only to get sucked into a wonderful adventure that features sardonic humor, a myriad of characters, and so many wonderful locales. It’s a truly amazing experience and this series is fantastic.

The Protecorate by Megan O’Keefe- This series moves from being a rather intimate story about two characters into a massive space opera over the course of three books, and each one has its own unique feel. I hugely enjoyed this series and commend it to you.

Best Fancast

I’m intensely biased here, having appeared twice on the “Hugos There” Podcast, I would love to have it nominated for a Hugo! Please! Also, “Hugo, Girl” is an absolute delight in every episode and ought to be on your nominating ballot.

All Editors/Artist categories, as well as Fan Writer and more

Still doing research and would love recommendations.

Cora Buhlert- she was nominated last year, but definitely deserves to be on the ballot again.

SPSFC Book Review: “Above the Sky” by J.W. Lynne

Above the Sky by J.W. Lynne

Above the Sky has a familiar-sounding premise: teens are coming of age in a society with mysterious strictures that they take for granted but we readers know don’t make sense. Seven, our main protagonist, takes us on a journey as she discovers that her world isn’t what it seems. Sounds like a fairly straightforward dystopia, right? The answer, as readers move on with the plot, is no. It’s not that straightforward at all.

Basically, what happens is we get to experience Seven’s journey as she goes from finding out what she’s supposed to do with her life (be a doctor), to taking her sister’s place to chase after a love interest she’s barely even had any (physical) contact with, to being trained as a warrior for mysterious reasons in order to fight the threat that lingers Above the Sky, to finding out everything is way more complex than any of this seemed to begin with. Along the way, major and minor side characters appear and become more ore less important in believable ways. One of the most riveting scenes in the book involves an action sequence while our characters are under fire and Seven has to decide what to do with extremely limited vision and knowledge of the situation. It’s a truly excellent way to frame a narrative like this, and Lynne delivers time and again on character moments like that.

The plot revelations are spaced out in a satisfying way, such that just as I got settled in to how I thought the plot was going, Lynne introduced a new wrinkle that kept me guessing. It’s difficult to know who the bad guys or good guys are, and as you discover more about the outside world with Seven, it becomes more alluring and more urgent to know who’s who even while the confusion mounts. Meanwhile, the teen drama, training sequences, and discoveries about the characters are what one might expect from standard YA dystopias, but they’re all so well written that I never found any of it remotely boring. Instead, the book is an absolute page-turner from cover-to-cover.

When we finally start to really see that there’s more to the world than Seven has been allowed to find out, it just ups the tension yet again. Lynne truly weaves a story that keeps readers guessing even while investing enough in each major act to slow things down and allow readers to ponder the events and get used to the “new normal” even as Seven does. It’s a great way to write a book like this, and it definitely kept me engaged all the way through.

My major complaint with the book is the way the plot was driven at the end. (MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW.) I wasn’t surprised to find that Seven was pregnant, but the solution to it seems impossible. She and Six are to swap places and somehow Six is supposed to somehow be competent in all the things Seven was doing while also passing herself off as Seven while Seven does the same back home with Six? And they’re going to swap places multiple times? I just… find it really hard to buy into as a real solution. It pressed my suspension of disbelief beyond the breaking point. I’m definitely going to read the next book, because I’m sold on the world and the mysteries happening there. The characters are great, too. I just wish the ending hadn’t been so hard to swallow. (/END SPOILERS)

Above the Sky is a thrilling read that has me wanting more. There are so many different mysteries being teased here that it is impossible not to want to know what’s going on. The characters are strong as well, and Lynne shows she’s not above serious tragedy happening for the sake of the story. I am invested, and I’ll be reading more.

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Links

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub– Check out all of my posts related to the SPSFC here!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Vintage Sci-Fi: “Radix” by A. A. Attanasio

Vintage Sci-Fi Month is here!  As I recall, the rule for calling something “Vintage” is that it was written before you were born, but feel free to adjust that as you like. Follow Vintage Sci-Fi Month on Twitter and get in on the fun, too!

Radix by A.A. Attanasio

I’ve been grabbed, shaken, run over, wrung out, and lifted up by Radix. Attanasio’s masterpiece is a breathless piece of science fiction that is at once shackled to its own time period while also transcending the time in which it was written and perhaps even ideas and concepts of humanity and science fiction itself. I hate when reviews are just a bunch of superlatives and concepts, but these are my initial thoughts on this remarkable book.

Okay, taking a step back, it’s surprisingly simple to offer an introduction to Radix. Published in 1981, its initial scenes read very much like something out of Blade Runner’s world. It’s a somewhat dark, gritty urban landscape in which our main character, Sumner Kagan, scrapes a living by with crime and hate. I thought I saw where this was going, sensing shades of a similar story to Robert Silverberg’s Dying Inside. Like that fantastic novel, Attanasio sets up a kind of coming-of-age that’s less a coming-of-age story as it is a revelatory journey. But the similarities end there as Sumner goes through stark landscapes one after another, ultimately coming to an awareness of self that transcends reality as we know it. Helped along by encounters with transhumans and AIs, whether for good or ill, Sumner turns into an ever more remarkable man from the hate-wracked boy we encounter at the earliest stages of the novel.

The story of Sumner is unrealistic at times and maybe even comically overdone occasionally. But Attanasio’s style and genuineness makes every page worth turning even as one rolls eyes at the occasional blunder. The slew of characters that show up throughout the novel each of their own quirks. The number of locations in the novel isn’t huge, but each feels fully fleshed out and somehow both eerily familiar and utterly alien. Readers need to have a strong willingness to suspend disbelief, but the novel just keeps providing reasons to give it the benefit of the doubt at every turn. And the payoff towards the end is huge.

The best science fiction, in my opinion, makes readers think about themselves and our world in new and unexpected ways. Radix demands that on almost every level. Certainly, by the end of the novel, our views of the world are challenged and even shaped along with Sumner’s. Attanasio’s blog reveals a deep interest in global spiritual practices and, particularly, storytelling as a way to discover the self. There’s no doubt in this reader’s mind that Radix was a journey of self-discovery for the author as much as it was for the character Sumner. Moreover, Attanasio calls and challenges readers to embark upon their own journeys. Read this book.

Links 

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Vintage Sci-Fi– Click the link and scroll down to read more vintage sci-fi posts! I love hearing about your own responses and favorites!

My Read-Through of the Hugos– Check out all my posts on reading through the Hugo Award winners and nominees. Tons of sci-fi fantasy discussion throughout.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

SPSFC Book Review: “Extinction Reversed” by J.S. Morin

Extinction Reversed by J.S. Morin

What if humans went extinct, but the robots/AI that lived on missed us enough to bring us back? That’s the core question that drives the action of Extinction Reversed by J.S. Morin.

Eve14 is a new iteration of the attempt to resurrect humanity, and it appears she is a success. Kind of. She’s given specific inputs and raised in a lab setting, and this has a huge impact on how she interacts with the outside world. Morin delivers on this concept, making the marked difference between Eve14 and “robot” characters like Charlie7 especially stark. This raises questions of humanity, transhumanism, and what it means to be alive. Their interactions, along with several other characters, are interesting.

Unfortunately, I found some of the characters hard to navigate with the naming system. I don’t know why it bothered me so much, as I’ve been fine with naming systems similar to this in other books, but I had trouble keeping track of some of the side characters to the point where I would have to backtrack and reread sections to understand what was happening and to whom.

The main problem I had with the book is that it goes on for far too long without much happening. It reads like an extended action scene for much of the middle chunk of the book and only moves the plot forward more at the end. Charlie7 and Eve14 have quite the adventure, but I didn’t see enough happening with their development for me to get hugely into the story.

Extinction Reversed is a solid premise for a novel and it delivers on the action. Where it stumbles, though, is in dragging out the middle for too long. Readers who love AI/Robot fiction should check it out for the compelling look at themes of transhumanism.

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates

Links

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub– Check out all of my posts related to the SPSFC here!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1977

I’m a huge science fiction fan, and, having read a list of what are alleged to be the top 200 science fiction novels, I decided to next tackle a read-through of all the Hugo Award winners and nominees for best novel. Let me know your thoughts and favorites. I’ve marked the winner as well as my own choice for which novel would win, had I the choice among the nominees. I’ve also dropped a short reflection on the year’s Hugo list at the end.

Mindbridge by Joe Haldeman (My Winner)- Grade: A-
Haldeman’s Mindbridge is a fascinating work of sociological sci-fi that explores what humans might do with things like mind reading powers, teleportation, and first encounters with aliens. Haldeman deftly handles an almost kaleidoscopic novel with everything-and-the-kitchen-sink thrown into it and still pulls out a coherent and even fascinating plot. The reason I’ve downgraded it a bit is that there are some unfortunate aspects of the future world. I’m happy enough to suspend my disbelief regarding some aspects of future humanity, but the whole concept of using women as essentially breeding material out in the stars is very yikes to me. Yes, they go willingly to do so, but one could argue it is coercive due to the contractual obligations built in for any women who want to explore the stars. Sure, the men also have obligations, but there seems to be a latent misogyny here, though not as blatant or overt as some other novels from the period. I was deeply impressed by Haldeman’s handling of the many plot threads he juggles, and frankly didn’t see some of the directions he took coming at all. It’s not a particularly twisting plot, either. It is just quite well crafted. A highly enjoyable piece of sci-fi if you’re willing to look past some of the flaws. 

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm (Winner)- Grade: B-
I initially loved this book. The opening was awesome. I thought it was going to be this epic story of a family struggling to meet the coming collapse of civilization in some kind of pastoral setting. But then, a sharp turn was taken, and the book jumps ahead a few times as we see the real story is about what happens to the clones that same family had set up to try to solve problems of depopulation in a post-apocalyptic setting. And I have to say… I was a bit disappointed. The initial characters were really just foils for the personality of the later clones, and I felt almost betrayed by the shift in premise. Perhaps this is one where I should have read the pitch on the back cover before diving in, because I think if my expectations hadn’t been so dramatically thwarted, I would have enjoyed it more. As it is, I still wrote about it for Vintage Sci-Fi Month, because there is much to discuss in this intriguing, sometimes familiar, often alien novel. 

Children of Dune by Frank Herbert- Grade: B
Following up Dune would feel a monumental task, I would think. but Herbert does an admirable job with Children of Dune. There’s something ineffable about this book that makes it tantalizing all the way through, even in the places where it could potentially drag due to its rather mundane plot. I think it’s the world that Hebert created and the sense of awe about the feel, texture, and rhythm of the same. I have to out myself here, though, I honestly enjoy the Brian Herbert/Kevin J. Anderson works well enough. I know they’re largely panned by a bunch of Dune fans, but for one thing, I don’t really care about gatekeeping fandoms. Yes, I’m a “real” fan of Dune even if I like the other books. For another, I enjoy books that are written as light reads just as much as I enjoy deep reads. Anyway, I’ve ranted long enough. Children… is another solid entry in Frank’s own sequels to Dune, though it never reaches the heights of the original work.

Man Plus by Frederik Pohl- Grade: D+
I don’t know what to make of this book. It’s like an artifact from a time past that seems out of place despite being a relic–like finding a dinosaur fossil alongside rabbits and other modern fauna fossils. The plot follows a man who has been made partially cybernetic to withstand the stresses of living on Mars. It reads, however, like a 1950s sitcom, complete with the casual sexism that goes along with that. It’s startling at times how out of place everything seems throughout the book. I struggled to connect in any way to the characters or the plot. The only part that really got me involved at all was reading about the struggles with being human/posthuman and the potentially interesting directions that could go, but even that got subsumed into the problems I already noted. 

Shadrach in the Furnace by Robert Silverberg- Grade: B
Silverberg’s corpus is filled with novels that I absolutely adore, along with some that are… not great. Shadrach in the Furnace was a surprising read from him, because it feels quite different from many of the other popular works I’ve read from him. Don’t get me wrong–much of the Silverberg flair (and problems) is there. But there’s a kind of sense of weirdness, discovery, and wonder in this one that just has a different sense than others of his works do. Shadrach Mordecai is the doctor for the dictator of the world, Genghis Mao. The names do matter to the plot… sort of. Anyway, Shadrach discovers more and more of Mao’s plans and is horrified to find out that one of the dictator’s ideas for survival involves Shadrach’s body. There are some difficulties in this novel with race and sexism, and no small amount of sex. In other words, it’s very much a New Wave sci-fi novel. The strangeness of the setting, which is largely taken as a given, lends itself to a sense of weird disconnect with reality as reading the book. The closest thing I can think of is watching “Blade Runner” for the first time. I enjoyed it, but it has some problems. 

1977- There are some great reads this year, and what I appreciate most about it is how different each of these books felt from all the others. While they’re all science fiction with barely a hint of fantasy to be found, they show some of the breadth of the field in the best possible ways. Man Plus is obviously not a favorite of mine, but any of the others would have been a worthy winner. Where Late the Sweet Birds Sing is a very strange Hugo winner, because it doesn’t really check any of the boxes many of its contemporaries did. It’s an almost pastoral post-disaster story that grabbed me. It doesn’t have the strong pay off of some similar stories I’ve read, but it certainly does grab the imagination. My own choice, Mindbridge, was surprising to me because I hadn’t terribly enjoyed some of Haldeman’s other works. Overall, it was a good year at the Hugos.

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

My Top 5 Indie Speculative Fiction Books read in 2021

I read more than 500 books again in 2021, and I wanted to highlight some indie works of speculative fiction (sci-fi/fantasy). Hopefully, you’ll find some reads here you didn’t know about! Let me know your own thoughts in the comments!

Dog Country by Malcolm F. CrossDog Country is a military science fiction novel about geneforged dog-people who were created for war only to find there’s no war waiting for them in adulthood. The thought behind the book evokes other war adaptations while bringing up questions of PTSD, sexuality, and more. Time and again, there are problems with our major protagonist, Edane, attempting to adapt to the “real world” and away from war. Then, a crowdfunded war to oust a totalitarian regime gets underway and we get some solid military sci-fi action that feels believable and surprisingly intense at times. Edane struggles to find out how to express himself to his girlfriend, Janine, and takes comfort from the his two adoptive mothers. The inter-character relationships are of utmost importance in the book, and I found it impossible not to get deeply invested in Edane’s story and struggles.

Project Nemesis by Jeremy Robinson- I love Kaiju, and this novel delivers on the goods. Robinson has readers follow Jon Hudson, an investigator following lead after lead which leads him into absurd scenarios of crackpot theories and false Bigfoot trails. Ultimately, though, we get some serious Kaiju action that Robinson manages to make more thoughtful than you might think. Check out my full review of the book here.

The Amethyst Panda by Kay MacLeod– The second book in the Maiyamon series by Kay MacLeod is another fun monster-catching romp. What do I want from a monster-catching book? Battles that feel intense and a plot that keeps it going. The Maiyamon have their own weakness/resistance archetypes, along with evolutions and switching in battle. It’s like reading a Pokemon novel specifically with adults young and old in mind. I hugely enjoy the first two books, so I cannot wait for book 3! Check out my full review of the first book in the series here.

The Trellis by Jools Cantor– Here’s the elevator pitch: it’s a murder mystery in a future America in which the dangers of unfettered capitalism are on full display through the eyes of multiple characters. I love mysteries set in the future, but Cantor makes this one its own unique ballgame. One character POV is a detective using a somewhat out-of-date robot to help solve the murder. Another is an eager new-on-the-job mediator-type who provides glimpses into what society might be like if corporations were allowed free reign. It’s a fascinating read and has a powerful ending. I loved it.

The Seeds of Dissolution by William C. Tracy– A portal fantasy gets combined with first contact sci-fi and space opera in this soup of subgenres that Tracy deftly navigates to create a powerful experience. Following in the steps of a human character thrown into a society of allied aliens that appears on the brink of crumbling, readers get to experience a science fantasy adventure that is wonderful from the beginning to the end. The magic system is based upon the notion that the universe has music behind it that some people can sense and modify–but at a cost over time. The characters are compelling, diverse, and complex. The relationships build slowly in believable fashion. I savored this one over the course of about a week, and then immediately grabbed the next one.

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates

Links

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub– Check out all of my posts related to the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest here!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

SPSFC Book Review: “Zenith” by Arshad Ahsanuddin

Zenith: The Interscission Project- Book One by Arshad Ahsanuddin

When my group, Team Red Stars, was doing its initial sampling of this book, I was somewhat put off by having it so clearly sell itself as a space opera, when it didn’t read like that at all. It went on to my personal “no” stack, but ended up in our quarterfinalists. I’m glad it did, because it has some serious strengths, but it also has some weaknesses that keep it from being great in my opinion.

Zenith is set something like 100 years in the future. For all that, many of the scenes read as if they’re domestic scenes from the present day. Whether it’s characters casually moving sacks of groceries around, cooking dinner in the same fashion as we do now, or having beds on spaceships that don’t seem to have noticeable differences, I admit I felt a constant annoyance at the lack of many contrivances for technology. I get the idea of not innovating for the sake of innovation, but at some point I think that as a reader, I should have had some discernible moments where the book told me “yes, this is the future” with some startling tech. Instead, everything was mundane, as if the next century is going to go on in stasis, with the only real innovations happening in space travel.

Going along with that, the main plot wasn’t engaging. A spaceship is developed and a motley crew is assembled to send it on its maiden voyage. Behind the scenes, there’s much more to the technology. I was intrigued by finding out more about some of the plot developments, but not enough is revealed in this entry. It’s almost as though the author is holding back on the reveals, but doesn’t give the readers the insights they need to see where things may be going.

All of this may make it seem like I didn’t enjoy the book at all. That would be wrong, because despite the problems I listed, the core character interactions are pretty excellent. There is quite a bit of romance here, and much of it is queer romance. Going along with that, there are genuine moments of true character development for all the main characters, and even a surprisingly thought-provoking take on the differences between physical attraction and love. I wanted to see more of these characters, and if I were to continue the series, they would be the reason why.

Zenith is not at all a bad book. It’s just decidedly in the “not for me” category based on the problems I outlined above. That said, it has serious strength in the sense of great characters and some thoughtful moments. Fans of character-driven sci-fi with an interest on queer representation should definitely take a look.

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates

Links

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub– Check out all of my posts related to the SPSFC here!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Presidential Biographies: Herbert Hoover #31

My quest to read (at least) one biography per President continues with Herbert Hoover, the thirty-first President of the United States. My selection process for finding a biography (reading reviews online and utilizing and this website- My Journey Through the Best Presidential Biographies) was served up Herbert Hoover in the White House by Charles Rappleye. 

Here, I’ll offer my thoughts on that biography, and proceed to present my official ranking for the DEFINITIVE RANKING OF PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES!!!!!! The full list of the rankings with all the Presidents as well as comments on their careers, updated as I read through this list, may be found here.

Herbert Hoover in the White House by Charles Rappleye

Herbert Hoover evokes images of a dam, the Depression, and an ineffective Presidency–if anyone thinks about him at all. Rappleye states at the beginning of his biography of Hoover that he’s looking to draw attention to Hoover’s Presidency. Specifically, he seeks to show that Hoover was more effective than he is often portrayed, while also acknowledging the exacerbation of several situations that his personality sometimes led to. 

Rappleye focuses little on Hoover’s pre-Presidency life, but from other biographies, it is clear that Hoover accomplished quite a bit as, for example, the Director of the United States Food Administration. He ably ran supply chains throughout World War I, and despite being secretary of a fairly minor part of the government, was referenced as a secretary of everything else by those who knew him. He was involved in almost every level of the Wilson administration and decision-making process. After the War, he helped direct relief across Europe, providing food for millions of hungry people across the continent. At no point, so far as I can tell, was he anything but excellent at these jobs, though he certainly ruffled feathers by how involved and even overbearing he could be in offering his opinion forcefully on so many subjects outside his purview. 

Hoover leveraged his popularity from his deft administration under Wilson to become President, though he was helped along by a strategy to win Southern states by appealing to anti-Catholicism and fears of the “urbanite” Al Smith to become President (see Rappleye, 38-39). The strategy paid dividends, and certainly has its parallels in the dog whistles of racism in campaigning today. 

Despite the frequent, popular portrayal of the man, Hoover wasn’t a President who rode the country into the ground, flailing as he watched the Great Depression plunge the world into darkness. Even before his inauguration, he convinced Coolidge to allow him to take some of the reins of the Federal Reserve and other financial movers within the government to try to take action against what he saw as a coming financial crisis. He was proactive in attempting to forestall the Depression, and favored policies that interfered with the market instead of simply letting the financial bubble burst and then collapse. Coolidge’s laissez-faire approach had set the country up for financial disaster, and Hoover swiftly attempted to move to stabilize pricing throughout various markets even as the bubble that had built under Coolidge was bursting.

The main problem with Hoover’s Presidency wasn’t inaction and flailing about without purpose as it is so often portrayed. Instead, it was a kind of self-obsession that refused to share insights with advisors and increasing paranoia that cut Hoover off from potential supporters. Hoover was so insular during his Presidency, in fact, that he didn’t even publicly take credit for some of his great accomplishments, such as feeding the hungry. This latter fact was due to his aversion to government spending, causing embarrassment over his apparent personal torn loyalties to lowering government spending while also trying to care for the hungry (243-245). Hoover also appeared particularly heartless at some points in the Dpression, such as when he refused to provide direct food to farmers, instead providing seed and working to stabilize pricing on grain. Hoover’s motivations for such policy seem, in retrospect, not actually mistaken, but his unwillingness to be open about his decision-making (and his alienation of the Press) led to his popularity plummeting. 

Indeed, it was Hoover who ultimately made the banks solvent through his Herculean efforts creating the NCC and additional policies, even though it is Franklin Delano Roosevelt who typically gets the credit for this (286-288; 459-461). Hoover was effective in righting the ship in many ways from the Depression, but his combative, paranoid personality ultimately lost him credit for much of it. FDR’s extreme aversion to Hoover didn’t help his legacy either, though Hoover did get some rehabilitation of image under Truman. 

Rappleye doesn’t look very closely at Hoover’s foreign policy or Civil Rights record. He does note that Hoover’s lily-white strategy was favored by some African American leaders at the time who thought it a way to keep policies working in their favor even if it involved removing black Americans from positions of power. But this historical compromise hardly speaks well of Hoover’s record regarding Civil Rights, especially given the hearty opposition of many black leaders to this same policy. During his Presidency, Hoover was much more occupied with domestic issues than foreign ones.

Herbert Hoover in the White House is a superb look at a long-overlooked President. Rappleye does not overstate his case, though he does reform Hoover’s legacy in much-need ways. Hoover himself, had he trusted his advisors more and been willing to publicly discuss policy more frequently, could have been more effective. The moves he made were, largely, the right ones, but too often they were too little and too late. They were too late by perhaps a decade, however, so it is difficult to hold that against him. He was a fascinating leader in an incredibly difficult time. 

Calvin Coolidge’s Original Ranking in THE DEFINITIVE RANKING OF PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES (Full and Updated List Here)

Herbert Hoover (31st President – Original Ranking #17)- Hoover was not as ineffective as he is often portrayed–a blundering idiot unable or unwilling to take decisive action to slow down or stop the ravaging of the economy. He, in fact, did take such decisive action and should be credited with helping right the ship, even if that had only begun under his Presidency. His active intervention in the economy often goes unnoted due to his own reticence to do the exact thing circumstances had forced him to do. Hoover was no champion of Civil Rights, though his policies were favored by some minority leaders in his own time. He held his cards close to his chest, and due to his almost paranoid nature, some of his best moments remained secret during his Presidency. He’s worth investigating further by any interested in the history of the United States. Hoover was a flawed but important President who fought against a tide of darkness greater than many others in United States history. 

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.