“Space Unicorn Blues” and “The Stars Now Unclaimed” – Two Recent Debut Science Fiction Novels Worth Noting

It’s been an insanely busy summer of reading, but I wanted to take a few minutes to highlight two debut novels that I think are quite worth tracking down to read.

Space Unicorn Blues by T.J. Berry

I saw the cover of Space Unicorn Blues in an ad on Facebook and knew purely based on that that I had to read it. It’s not that the cover is particularly striking, or anything, but it makes it really darned clear the book is about a unicorn… in spa-a-a-ace! Also, the tagline “Humanity’s Last Hope… A Murderous Unicorn” had me running to read it.

I have to say, I’m glad I did. There were a number of surprising things in this debut novel, not least of which is how rather serious it was despite the somewhat silly premise. Yes, of course it has its funny moments all the way through; nothing with this premise can or should take itself too seriously, but this book has some rather thoughtful, serious narrative going on.

The core of the book is really the world that Berry has invented. It’s a future in which humanity has reached the stars only to discover another resource to exploit: fantastic creatures like the unicorn, whose horn can help propel space travel. Yep, you read that right. But Berry manages to piece together a coherent and frankly intriguing world out of this premise in a way that has me salivating for the second book in the series. The characters are each built up in their own way as well, though at times our lovely space unicorn, Gary, isn’t at the center. I don’t mind, however, because the other characters have unique personalities that help foster plot twists and genuine growth.

The next book in the series comes out in May next year, and I will probably dive into a re-read of this delightful debut before I tackle book 2. I recommend it highly. Check out Space Unicorn Blues by T.J. Berry for a fun, insane science fiction/fairy tale mashup that will make you think more than you might expect.

The Stars Now Unclaimed by Drew Williams

I don’t think I would have read The Stars Now Unclaimed unless my local library had acquired it. I pretty much automatically check out every single sci-fi or fantasy book at the local library for two reasons: 1) they don’t get much of it, and I want to show that there is an interest (there really is–a few books I’ve requested have been checked out a lot!) and 2) I basically can’t say no to new SFF. This one was a winner.

Again, the cover didn’t really draw me in much. It’s fine, but the text is so dominant and the ships look somewhat generic. Opening the flap, I didn’t know whether I’d enjoy it, but as a dedicated completionist (can’t check out a book without at least giving it a try, right?), I started reading it… and devoured it in a day. All 444 pages of it. I couldn’t put it down. Why?

Well, a few reviews I saw on Goodreads make comparisons to Star Wars, which I guess is accurate in a few places, but this is definitely not derivative from that blockbuster series. It’s a far reaching science fiction adventure novel with a significant peppering of space opera thrown in for good measure. The book follows Jane, an operative of the Justified, one of the many, many groups vying for intergalactic power in a rather unforgiving universe. There’s the ominous threat of another “pulse”- an event that crippled civilizations all through the galaxy, with few exceptions. There are major plot twists, lots of action, and a good helping of character development as well.

The book is also wonderfully paced, with a few moments to slow down and breathe in between some seriously fast action sequences. If I were to draw a comparison, I’d actually call it closer to a kind of grown up Titan A.E. with a dash of Star Wars and maybe even some of Iain M. Banks as well. That’s high praise, given that I just named 3 of my favorite science fiction visions.

Oh, and another thing I liked about this book is while it is part of a series (and Drew Williams was kind enough to reply to me on Twitter to say the series is planned for 3-4 books plus potential other in-universe works), it doesn’t feel incomplete or too much like a cliffhanger. Yes, you definitely want to know more right away, and there are some major plot points waiting for future resolution, but it has the kind of ending that is satisfying in a series.

If you want a thoroughly enjoyable science fiction adventure, check out The Stars Now Unclaimed by Drew Williams.

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.

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Reading through the [Alleged] Top 100 Science Fiction Books- #61-66

I’m a huge science fiction fan, but realized I haven’t read a lot of those works considered classics or greats. I decided to remedy that, and found a list online of the Top 100 Science Fiction Books. The list is determined by vote from sci-fi fans online, so it may change over time. I am going off the order of the list as it was when I first saw it. Each book will receive a grade between F and A+ as well as very brief comments. I’m interested to read what you think about these books as well. There will be very minor spoilers in some of these.

61. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood Grade: A
“It’s difficult to say that I ‘enjoyed’ this book, because I really did not. It is not the kind of book to enjoy. It makes you uncomfortable, it challenges you, and it challenges some deeply held ideas. But this lack of enjoyment is, I think, the point. We don’t like to confront sexism and other issues that are systematically enforced in our society. But Atwood here forces readers to confront such issues in a very up-front way. It’s a good story, yes, but it is also a warning and a plea.”

62. Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks Grade: A
“It’s not as transcendent as The Player of Games, but what it lacks in the sheer volume of ideas in that latter volume, it makes up for in strong characterization and a sense of overall mystery that pervades the book. Stylistically, Banks continues to flash his brilliance. It would be hard to complain much about the structure of the plot and how it gets revealed. Banks is one of the few science fiction authors I’ve encountered who manages to make both the characters and the overall plot utterly compelling without sacrificing anything. No matter what length his books are, they seem to have an intimacy that cannot be ignored. He’s created an amazing future.”

63. Eon by Greg Bear Grade: B
“My favorite scene in this book occurs within the first 20 pages, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. Revealing that favorite scene might spoil something so I’ll leave it there. Anyway, reading this list has made me feel a bit jaded about the ‘alien artifact’ selection within science fiction. Some of it is done incredibly well (see Revelation Space) while other attempts are kind of dull. It is clearly a topic that science fiction authors return to again and again. Bear manages to give a twist in this one by incorporating multiple sci-fi tropes in alongside the core ‘artifact’ idea, including time travel and Red Scare. I enjoyed it, though it felt a bit bloated at points. Ultimately, a satisfying read.”

64. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi Grade: A
“Scalzi has created a novel that borrows from the same well as Starship Troopers and The Forever War while, in some ways, transcending its influences. At first it seems a fairly standard space marine-type novel, but the unexpectedness of the alien races, the (ultimate) thoughtfulness of the main character, and the twists that are thrown into the mix make it easily one of the best of the bunch. I particularly enjoyed all the ideas Scalzi threw out there for aliens and our interactions with them. The sense of humor that is fairly consistent throughout the novel is also excellent. Top-notch science fiction.”

65. The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke Grade: A
“I thought the beginning was utterly enthralling, with its portrayal of a strange post-human (?) city that had stood almost unchanged for countless eons. Injecting something ‘unique’ into such a city was captivating and exciting. The middle bogged down quite a bit, and it made it feel as though the book didn’t ever quite reach the stunning heights that I expected after the first few chapters. That said, I think it is an achievement of the imagination, and one with scenes that grabbed my imagination as few books have before.”

66. Sphere by Michael Crichton Grade: C-
“It’s not nearly as polished as The Andromeda Strain, and its core premise isn’t as strong as Jurassic Park‘s. What’s left is an interesting idea that seemed to me to get less and less entertaining as it went along. I had higher hopes for this one, to be honest. The payoff at the end is fairly low compared to Crichton’s other works, and because of this some of the flaws in his writing style are more distracting. Let’s not forget an over-defensive caricature of a female scientist, which may have been a rather poor attempt at introducing a pro-woman narrative into the plot (it didn’t work out). The biggest problem with the book is that it seems to get progressively less wonder-filled and devolve into a rather simple thriller. Not what I have come to expect from Crichton.”

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!

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books– Check out more posts in this series as I continue.

SDG.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1955

I’ve almost completed my read-through of the top science fiction books of all time and was casting about for something else to do. I decided that reading through the list of Hugo award winners and nominees wasn’t a bad way to spend my time. I start here, at the beginning, with the first Hugo Award Winner for Best Novel. Each year, I’ll read all the books nominated and pick my own winner, while also noting which novel won the award that year.

They’d Rather be Right by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley (Winner/My Winner)
Grade: D
Apparently this book is widely regarded as the worst book to ever win a Hugo award. I thought it was passable in parts, though. The main plot is a decent thread: scientists make a machine that can basically make you immortal, but only if you are able to give up all of your prejudices and admitting you’re wrong. The problem is that many, many people would rather be right than admit to being wrong, so very few can benefit. It’s a good piece for irony, though the authors don’t often cash in on it. Instead, what we have is a bunch of 1950s ideas about men and women that are very outdated, some horrible dialogue, and some head-scratching moments. Honestly, the opening was the coolest part, where a young boy is discovered to have certain mental powers. Overall, it is not a very good book, though it could have been a great short story. Also, what the heck is with that 1st Edition cover? Finally, I am guessing–I may be wrong–that this is going to be the lowest grade given to a Hugo Award book that is also my winner. This one gets it by default, being the only one known on the ballot.

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!

My Read-Through of the Hugos- Read more posts in this series and follow me on the journey! Let me know your own thoughts on the books.

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: 1953

First Edition Cover By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9110826

I’ve almost completed my read-through of the top science fiction books of all time and was casting about for something else to do. I decided that reading through the list of Hugo award winners and nominees wasn’t a bad way to spend my time. I start here, at the beginning, with the first Hugo Award Winner for Best Novel. Each year, I’ll read all the books nominated and pick my own winner, while also noting which novel won the award that year.

The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester (winner/my winner)
Grade: A-
I thought I had the whole book figured out fairly early on, but Bester got me big on this one at a number of points. I didn’t figure out the ‘truth’ at the center of the novel until the very last pages. I am the kind of person who doesn’t really try to figure things out because I enjoy the development, so that doesn’t necessarily mean it was a masterful manipulation of the plot, but I think it speaks well of the strength of Bester’s storytelling. Does he rely on some pretty outdated psychology? Absolutely, but that doesn’t take much away from the overall enjoyment of the work. As this is the only book nominated this year, it makes my own choice of winner quite simple.

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.

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction books- #51-55

I’m a huge science fiction fan, but realized I haven’t read a lot of those works considered classics or greats. I decided to remedy that, and found a list online of the Top 100 Science Fiction Books. The list is determined by vote from sci-fi fans online, so it may change over time. I am going off the order of the list as it was when I first saw it. Each book will receive a grade between F and A+ as well as very brief comments. I’m interested to read what you think about these books as well. There will be very minor spoilers in some of these.

51. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley Grade: A-
“It’s not really like any film version I’ve seen. The book was intriguing, historically grounded, and foreboding in a very different way than a green man with screws in his head. Not only is it a rather good novel, but it also helped me to see one of the biggest themes in science fiction playing out at a more removed time: that of writing in fear of that which is new. Many novels coming out are centered around dystopic scenarios based on things like social media, nanotech, and the like. Frankenstein is about electricity and it helps convey the sheer joy and utter terror that such a discovery would have conveyed to those who first encountered it. It’s truly moving in that regard. I enjoyed it immensely, and certainly much more than I thought I would.”

52. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes Grade: A
“Heart-rending and poignant, Keyes has created an enduring masterpiece. Yes, some aspects of it haven’t aged well (such as outdated psychological theories), but it’s the kind of science fiction that could be set in the past as something that has happened, so that doesn’t matter. It’s got one of the best aspects of science fiction storytelling, namely that it asks us to look at ourselves as humans and see what we are more fully. I readily admit I did not think I’d enjoy this one going in. It had all the makings of one of those books that is more literary than it is plot, but it is not that at all. I wept bitterly at more than one point in this haunting work. It’s a beautiful book.”

53. Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard Grade: D
“Utterly bloated and in dire need of editing, Battlefield Earth is like a pulp science fiction novel gone wrong. The whole concept of pulpy sci-fi demands episodic structure with plenty of action. Though there is a lot of action here, it is annoyingly repetitive, and if I have to read about the need for ‘leverage’ one more time I’m going to go insane. But I must write about leverage: having an alien who is so concerned with self-interest was intriguing, but like basically every other idea in this novel, it was never developed beyond the surface level, at best. It’s like Hubbard thought ‘Hey, self-interested alien… that’d be a cool way to drive the plot.’ But then, instead of developing further, he just decided to write about ‘leverage’ every single time that alien showed up. Where’s my leverage. I must have leverage. Leverage! We get it, Hubbard. We get it. The book also spends about 150 pages at the beginning with an alien trying to figure out what to feed a human. Not a joke. Well, let’s just say I am not impressed by this one.”

54. Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne Grade: B-
“It was a wonderful adventure full of imagination. Verne was far ahead of his time, and his novels, like those of Wells’, make you really appreciate the ‘speculative’ aspect of speculative fiction. However, it never felt like we got to fully cash in on the strangeness of the world. Simply having a premordial sea in which dinosaurs and ancient creatures move about was not as cool as it could have been. It’s clearly good, but dated.”

55. To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip Jose Farmer Grade: C-
“Farmer had all of humanity to choose from for his characters, and he chose some truly awesome figures. The problem is that he never gave any one character the time or space to develop properly and show the unique personality of each. The characters should surely speak in radically different voices, have conflicting concerns, and even see the world in quite diverse ways. But instead, each character was a fairly standard science fiction trope with a historical figure’s name slapped onto him or her. Their voices all sounded the same to me on almost every page. The book came very highly recommended from a number of sources. I’m pretty disappointed, to be honest.”

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!

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books– Check out more posts in this series as I continue.

SDG.

Reading Through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books- #41-45

cflI’m a huge science fiction fan, but realized I haven’t read a lot of those works considered classics or greats. I decided to remedy that, and found a list online of the Top 100 Science Fiction Books. The list is determined by vote from sci-fi fans online, so it may change over time. I am going off the order of the list as it was when I first saw it. Each book will receive a grade between F and A+ as well as very brief comments. I’m interested to read what you think about these books as well. There will be very minor spoilers in some of these.

41. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle Grade: A
“Theology, technology, and imagination are intertwined in surprising ways in L’Engle’s classic. It’s scary and delightful all at once. So many elements are here that it becomes increasingly surprising that they manage to stay together without bursting apart at the seams. It’s a remarkable book on many levels.”

42. The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov Grade: B
“Another proof that Asimov is capable of at least somewhat interesting characters. The first part of the story is the most compelling, as an apparently free source of energy is revealed to have dire consequences and pretty much nobody cares. Free energy is free, right? So who cares if everyone will die billions of years in the future? It’s the exact kind of reasoning that would probably be used, to the end of us all. But that dire feeling is mostly lost at the end of the book as Asimov changes its tone into a kind of future look at human colonization of the moon and the problems that might face. Yes, there are still references to the earlier portions of the book, and the solutions offered are interesting, but it lost something of the truly bleak and all-too-reasonable feel of the beginning chapters.”

43. The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham Grade: B
“There is a lot going on in this book, and some of it stretches credulity a bit, but it is the kind of campy science fiction that makes you not mind so much. I mean really, plants that can’t see but sense people’s eyes as the weakest points on humans? Sure, yeah, why not? But the campiness also hides layers of complexity that aren’t immediately apparent. This is a pretty thoughtful book, though it is never quite clear what it is thinking about. I still haven’t figured out exactly what the message is that Wyndham is trying to get across here. It is also plagued a bit by outdated views of women. A good book with a few problems.”

44. A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge Grade: A
“It’s as majestic as it is personal, alternating between intimate portrayals of human-alien relations and massive, sweeping conflict. It’s exciting and breathtaking. The only strikes against it are that in a few places it does drag and that it is occasionally so big that I as a reader lost track of all the events happening at once. A phenomenal read overall that will leave you thinking long after completing it.”

45. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Grade: A
“It’s basically a thoroughly Roman Catholic ‘Mad Max.’ Is it even possible to not like that as a concept for a novel? Effectively three short-stories tied together, this novel tells of a dystopian future at three stages. A Roman Catholic order of monks, those who follow Leibowitz, have preserved human knowledge after major nuclear war and pushback against learning and science have set humanity back centuries. It’s a haunting, beautiful novel with character and delight to spare. Fantastic.”

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!

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books– Check out more posts in this series as I continue.

SDG.

Star Trek: DS9 “Destiny” and “Prophet Motive”

I have a particle accelerator shooting out of my brain. Your argument is invalid.

I’ve completed my re-watch of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Now it’s time to start Deep Space Nine! I am much less familiar with this show, though I’m pretty sure I’ve seen about 80-90% of the episodes. It’s been so long that I’m sure it will all feel brand new. My wife has never seen the show. She and I will go through, review every episode, and give commentary and a grade from A-F. There are SPOILERS for each episode below. Without further adieu, here’s:

“Destiny”

Synopsis

A pair (later a triad) of Cardassian scientists arrive on board DS9 to try to set up a way to communicate through the Wormhole. Meanwhile, Vedek Yarka, a somewhat controversial religious leader on Bajor, argues that the Bajoran scriptures prophesy this very event as a calamity that will deeply impact Bajor. Starfleet and the Cardassians press on, however, despite some superficial similarities between this prophecy and current events. When things start to go wrong and it appears the Wormhole is in danger, support for Yarka’s interpretation surges. However, one of the Cardassian scientists finally outs the third, who is revealed to be a member of the Obsidian Order, the Cardassian intelligence group. She was trying to sabotage their efforts. With that out of the way, the plan proceeds and, unexpectedly, some filament science magic happens and the communications are able to be established. Sisko, Kira, Yarka, and others see this as the prophecy being fulfilled in an unexpected way they could not have predicted.

Commentary

I thought this episode was a breath of fresh air. We’ve had Star Trek deal with religion plenty of times before. It hasn’t always done so well. In this one, genuinely interesting questions of interpretation of prophecy are brought forward. Who gets to arbitrate such interpretation? How much should we look at current events to try to figure out what prophecies mean? Can a prophecy really be true? These are just some of the questions briefly touched on in this episode.

What made it so refreshing is that the writers didn’t force answers for these questions. The episode dynamically changed the answers and perspectives for these questions. Most interestingly, at the end, many of the characters take what happened as meaning the prophecy came to its fulfillment.

Okay, a bit more on this one. The plot is fairly bare-bones overall–the meat is spent on the analogues to the prophecy–but it does the job of carrying the episode when it needs to. There is just enough question of whether the prophecy might come true or not that as a viewer you keep wondering which direction it will go. The ending is perfect, showing that we very often read our own perspective onto those things which we read.

Grade: A “I found this a surprisingly good look at how religious groups may interpret their scriptures differently, and how events that are happening here-and-now can change that. It was remarkably balanced in its look at this question, while still delivering a great plot.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A “It was a good combination of new characters and development of a long-standing story thread, plus it was fun to get to know some more Cardassians.”

“Prophet Motive”

Synopsis

The Grand Nagus of the Ferengi shows up once again on DS9, but he’s spreading a message that is utterly baffling to Quark and the other Ferengi. He seems to have re-written the Rules of Acquisition into some kind of rules for being kind to others! What gives? As Quark struggles with the reality that the Nagus might really be losing it, they discover that the Nagus tried to meet up with the mysterious aliens in the Wormhole to exploit them for knowledge of the future–and more monetary gain. The aliens, however, sent him back with a message of compassion. Quark must rush with the help of others to save the Ferengi and the Nagus from certain financial destruction. They do so! Monetary gains all around!

Commentary

Okay, this one was a bit silly, but so fun. I particularly loved the scene in which Quark has convinced himself the Nagus is making these changes as some kind of grand scheme that he can’t possibly comprehend, only to give in to the realization that the Nagus has truly gone off his rocker. It’s funny and delightful.

This kind of lighthearted, silly episode is something that I think DS9 pulls off much better than TNG. TNG takes itself very seriously throughout–often too seriously–so the silly episodes have to be quite excellent to succeed. DS9 just is quite serious–wars and rumors of wars abound, serious topics are constantly explored, etc. Because of this, the silly episodes like this one feel like a kind of breather to give some recovery after serious episodes. I enjoyed this one quite a bit, and love every time the Grand Nagus shows up.

Grade: B “Radically implausible and silly, but insanely fun to watch nonetheless.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B “It was fun. It was also very silly.”

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!

Star Trek: DS9– For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

SDG.