“The Genius Plague” by David Walton – math, cryptography, and thrilling adventures

One of my favorite sub-genres of science fiction is what I call “disaster” sci-fi (tell me if there’s a better name, please!), and I include things like cli-fi (climate based science fiction) and plagues of the future. Greg Bear is one who has written a lot in this area, and most of Michael Crichton’s novels fell into this general category as well. It tends to be a mashup of real science, math, and wild extrapolations. It’s a kind of offshoot of hard sci-fi that combines thrillers with science fiction.

David Walton, with The Genius Plague, has rocketed onto my radar as a truly gifted writer in this sub-genre. Look, if you’re one to avoid SPOILERS, as I am, don’t read on from here AND DON’T READ THE BLURB ON THE BOOK and go read it ASAP. Read on if you want a fuller picture or to talk about the book with me–please do!

I’m a sucker for mushrooms. No, I don’t like to eat them, but yes, they are fascinating. Diverse, hugely innovative, ancient, and creepy. They beg for science fiction novelists to write about them, and they’ve been successful in those novels I’ve read about them–The Girl With all the Gifts, for example: yes please! Walton starts off with a bang- a mycologist (scientist who studies mushrooms) in the Amazon gets ambushed for no apparent reason along with a woman. They’re both infected with a fungal lung thing and she dies but he survives–just changed. As his brother, who goes to work for the NSA, starts to crack some codes (with Walton mixing a small amount of math and cryptography in just for fun), the menace of this fungal plague grows exponentially.

There are many moving parts in this book: whether it’s Neil’s employment at the NSA and the linguistics, cryptography, and mathematics thrown together for that, or Paul’s interaction with the mushrooms, or international politics, it all moves swiftly. Sometimes, it moves a bit too quickly, and a bit of hand-waving is involved, particularly in the move from beginnings of infection to a seeming world threat. But generally, Walton balances the pace with characterization and fascinating set pieces. Though I wasn’t terribly surprised by any of the twists and turns, I loved the ride so much I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I found this book un-put-down-able, as one of the blurbs on the front cover also called it. I basically opened it yesterday and only stopped while caring for my kids. It was an absolute blast of a novel, and one that had a satisfying conclusion.

Another reason I loved this book is that the characters are fully formed and have unique feels to them. Also (and this is a big spoiler for some character development towards the VERY end, so don’t read it if you don’t want it spoiled), I liked that Neil and Shaunessy didn’t end up together and decided to be friends-ish. It was a kind of affirmation of male-female friendship that I truly appreciated. Well done, Walton! [/end big spoilers]

The Genius Plague has earned a place on my personal top 100 sci-fi novels list. It does have a few flaws, but those are overshadowed by a truly great novel that kept me turning the pages compulsively all day. Go read it!

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 the Horus Heresy, Book 3: “Galaxy in Flames” by Ben Counter

I know I’m late to the party, but I finally decided to start reading the “Horus Heresy,” a huge series of novels set in the universe of Warhammer 40,000 (though it is set much earlier than the year 40,000). I thought it would be awesome to blog the series as I go. With more than 50 novels and many, many short stories, there will be a lot of posts in this series (I doubt I’ll get to all the short stories). I’m reading the series in publication order unless otherwise noted. There will be SPOILERS from the books discussed as well as previous books in the series. Please DO NOT SPOIL later books in the series.

Galaxy in Flames by Ben Counter

Ben Counter wrote some of my favorite WH40K fiction, and I know that some people who are really into the lore don’t like them, but that would be the Grey Knights series. Those books were some of the most metal science fiction I’ve ever read. Totally awesome. So I had high hopes for this book, and I was not disappointed.

Galaxy in Flames is surely a pivotal moment in the whole saga, as it shows that the heresy has now taken action. It is here that the traitor factions begin to attack and kill those loyal to the Emperor. Counter does a good job bringing characterization to many of the players, though at times it moves swiftly past these minor characters so the reader doesn’t get a good sense of some of them. However, the main players are of interest, and the action is spot-on as it has been in every Counter book I have read.

There was one scene in particular that I enjoyed, and that was the showdown in the Titan as different players joined either loyalist or traitor sides, then fought inside the titan. I have always enjoyed Warhammer fiction about Titans, and this brought some new dynamics I haven’t read before.

I think what has really made these books enjoyable, though, is the nods to my background knowledge of other lore and fiction I have read in the universe. Like the build up of the cult of the Emperor is fascinating, because it’s taken as such a given in the 40k part of the universe. I also think the questions about Chaos make it seem more dynamic than it is in 40K. That’s not to knock the 40K fiction I’ve read, which is mostly awesome–what I’m saying is that having characters struggle with what Chaos is and how it could be used or abused is a good way to bring interest to something that is mostly black and white in the farther future.

Galaxy in Flames is another fascinating entry in what is already turning out to be a great series. I look forward to diving into the next book in the massive series soon!

Links

Reading the Horus Heresy- This will be a link for the series of posts as I continue to write them.

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.

Two “First Contact” series you should read (and probably haven’t)

Love the hair!

A.C. Crispin’s Starbridge Series

A.C. Crispin was best known for her writings in various expanded universe areas, like the Star Wars EU (including the fantastic Han Solo Trilogy, reviewed at links here), Star Trek novels, and many, many more. She also wrote her own original series, alongside several other authors. The “Starbridge” series is perhaps her magnum opus, and it shows. There are 7 books in the series, with looser and stronger ties to each other. I’d definitely read them in order, as some characters recur and some places show up again. Crispin offers her vision for humanity’s first contact with a number of species in this fascinating series.

There are many commendable aspects of Crispin’s series. First, her featuring of several other authors alongside her own writing. I love when industry greats pay it forward. Second, each book in the series presents many unique aspects. Third, it presents a future of cooperation with others rather than constant war. And it’s not a simplistic vision either: the future will take work. Fourth, they’re all available on Audible as audiobooks! This may not excite all readers, but I love me some audiobooks and it is the same narrator throughout, so no jarring changes in tone, etc.

I’ve read the whole series and each book is good in its own way. Perhaps the greatest highlight for me was Silent Dances, which features a main character who is Native American and deaf. She’s a human being through and through and is treated as such rather than as a foil or an “issue.” These books are truly so good. That’s the way it is throughout the series, though: each character is fully formed and believable. Some aggravate, some you’ll love. Motivations seem genuine. Crispin’s talent for realizing fictional people is dazzling to witness. The series is phenomenal. Read Starbridge ASAP if you like sci-fi and especially if you love First Contact novels

This cover is awesome.

James White’s Sector General Series

James White was a prolific author, and his Sector General series is evidence for how he maintained a level of popularity throughout. Now published in a series of omnibus collections (first one here), the Sector General series introduces readers to a space hospital where any and all who come are treated of whatever illness they have.

The premise is awesome, and the execution is great, too. Some of these read like TV episodes where the main character is trying to figure out what’s killing an uncommunicative alien before it’s too late. Others focus more on some drama within the hospital itself. But they’re all interesting, and the setting is fully fleshed out. There’s even a whole classification system for alien types to help both readers and doctors figure out what the heck is happening.

White’s vision of the future is, like Crispin’s, largely positive. His Sector General series effectively offers a pacifistic hope for our future where alien and human are treated with equal dignity. It’s a great take, and works well with the central premise of the hospital. Someone I met recommended the series to me but no one has yet taken claim to being the one to do so. Unknown person, I commend you! And to you, dear readers, check out the first omnibus if you want to take a dive into a fantastic world.

Links

“Space Unicorn Blues” and “The Stars Now Unclaimed” – Two Recent Debut Science Fiction Novels Worth Noting– Come read about two exciting science fiction debuts that couldn’t be more different. Space unicorn wha?

“Gate Crashers” and “Space Opera” – Two wild first contact novels– Do you like first contact sci-fi? Here are a couple novels to look at if you like a helping of humor to go alongside it.

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.

May is Expanded Sci-Fi Fantasy Month- Read all the tie-in novels

The month of May is “Expanded Sci-Fi Fantasy Month”- a month dedicated to reading all the tie-in novels for science fiction and fantasy worlds you love! I got the idea from “Vintage Sci-Fi Month” run by Little Red Reviewer. I hoping you will join me in reading related works for your favorite sci-fi/fantasy worlds. Let me know here in the comments what you’re reading, and I will try to blog about some of my own reading throughout the month.

I personally love reading expanded/tie-in sci-fi/fantasy. I have read a huge number of Star Wars novels, along with plenty of Forgotten Realms (though almost exclusively R.A. Salvatore here), Battletech, Star Trek, and Warhammer 40k novels. I read a lot and am looking forward to finally getting through a lot of the “Expanded Universe” type works I have had sitting on my shelves for a while. I hope to add to my Star Wars: Expanded Universe read-through, the next book up is Children of the Jedi, which I remember being somewhat perplexed by as a kid when I read it the first time. I also have some more Star Trek: New Frontier waiting to be read–I love this new starship and its adventures. If I manage to get through a ton of those I have some Star Trek: DS9 to read, as well. Alongside those I have a shelf full of Warhammer 40k omnibus editions I need to work through, and the two Firefly collections of graphic novels.

In other words, I’m hoping for a really busy month, and I hope you will join me for Expaned sci-fi/Fantasy month! Let me know in the comments what you’re reading!

Five for Friday: Let’s talk 5 random books! – March 15, 2019

Over at the “Little Red Reviewer,” “Redhead” has been posting a “Five for Friday” feature on five random books from her shelves to discuss and encouraging others to do so. So here, I go. Following (directly, as quoted in the link)  her rules:

The only things these books have in common are:
-they were on my bookshelf
-I’m interested in your thoughts on them

This random mix was actually what was nearest at hand on my shelf, though I was already carrying the Bonhoeffer book to bring downstairs to read.

The Secret of Dragonhome by John Peel (1998)
I got this out of a Scholastic catalog at school and adored it so, so much. It was one of the first books that truly opened my eyes to the wonders of fantasy, making me realize more lay beyond Narnia (which are, of course, excellent books). I was desperate for a sequel when I finished. To be fair, the book is basically stand-alone, but a sequel did come out in 2011. I have it sitting on my shelf, afraid to read it because I adored this book so much. I re-read it as an adult and it still enthralled me. Were you blessed by running into this novel at a young age? Anyone read the sequel?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Berlin 1932-1933 Readers of my other site will know I’m a bit of a fan of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who was executed by the Nazis. I have been reading through his collected works, trying to match them up chronologically as I go. Excited to dive in. Any other Bonhoeffer fans?

Titan, A.E.: Akima’s Story by Kevin J. Anderson (2000)
Titan, A.E. is one of my all-time favorite movies and is, in my opinion, criminally underappreciated on sci-fi lists. A few years back I learned Kevin J. Anderson wrote a couple novels in the universe to set the story, but again, have been afraid to dive in. Anyone read this prequel to the film? Enjoy it?

“S” by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst (2013)
Saw a coworker reading this right when it came out and thought it looked really interesting. Then, got it for a gift at Christmas out of the blue! But I’ve never managed to bite the bullet and take it up and read. The concept is what intrigues me: multiple readers scrawling notes in the margins to put together a mystery for you, the actual reader. It fascinates me. I’m curious as to others’ opinions.

The Night Lords Omnibus by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
A collection of three novels and some stories from the Warhammer 40k universe. Deal with it. I love this fictional setting. It’s grimdark and awesome. I’ve only read the first novel so far and felt a little bit lukewarm about it. I’ve only heard great things from fans, though, so I may take it up again, though I probably need to re-read the first one.

Star Trek: DS9 Season 4 “Accession” and “Rules of Engagement”

Skeptical? Thoughtful? Devious? I don’t know, it’s just the first picture that popped up for the episode.

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:

“Accession”

Synopsis

Akorem Laan, a Bajoran poet from 200 years ago, shows up out of the wormhole and claims to be the Emissary, arguing he ought to supplant Sisko. Additionally, he advocates for a return to the caste system, which would mean Bajor could not join the Federation as the Federation does not allow for any discrimination of that kind. Tensions escalate and cross-caste murder is occurred, prompting Sisko–along with a vision–to challenge Laan’s claim to be the Emissary. They go into the wormhole to ask the Prophets, who say that Sisko is the chosen Emissary and Laan’s presence was to return Sisko to his mission. Laan is returned to his own time with no memory of the events, and Bajor’s movement for the caste system is abolished once again.

Commentary

Anything involving the Prophets is weird. They just don’t seem to interact with reality the same way we do. What would be a reasonable way to remind Sisko that he is the chosen Emissary? Maybe, I don’t know, give visions to more people of him as Emissary? Send him another Kai who will affirm it? Nah, let’s shoot a poet into the future and have him try to integrate the caste system again, thus making Sisko angry enough to challenge him to a Wormhole showdown. Seems reasonable.

The prophets are just odd. I always wonder when they show up about how they chose to portray them as weird facsimiles of people that are known to the person they’re interacting with. This is supposed to be comforting but seems really creepy instead. Hey–here are all your friends and family talking to you but uttering complete nonsense or things that you don’t understand!

Anyway, the central drama of this does help build up the Bajoran culture more, too, especially with the reference to the caste system and the willingness of some to jump on board and not others. I wonder how our society might react to something similar.

Grade:  B “It is always weird to see the Prophets and try to figure out what, exactly, they are. But it’s also confusing. I like that Sisko got re-affirmed as Emissary.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B “Rejecting old religious ways of dividing people in favor of new religious ways–not bad!”

“Rules of Engagement”

Synopsis

Worf is accused of destroying a transport full of Klingons, allegedly murdering more than 400 Klingons just because he thought they were another attacker. With Odo’s help, Worf is cleared of the alleged wrongdoing, as the names of those killed were the same names as those killed in an accident elsewhere. Worf is off the hook, but Sisko tells him he ought to have identified his target before attacking.

Commentary

I thought this was a strange episode. Perhaps it is intended to show how far the Klingons have fallen, but it seemed very odd for Klingons to be involved in this kind of setup. It seems dishonorable, and that’s something the Klingons care deeply about. On the flip side, they seem to have a serious dislike of Worf, who they want to get rid of desperately. I am just not sure how to reconcile it all.

I did enjoy Odo’s investigation and how he once again helps Worf. Their initial relation to each other was negative, but they’ve helped each other out–mostly Odo helping Worf. And, of course, there’s a trial type scenario in Star Trek again, which seems to be a strength of the whole franchise. Every time there’s a trial of any sort, the episode tends to be at least good if not sensational (eg. The Measure of a Man). 

Grade: B- “It feels out of character for Klingons to do this kind of subterfuge, but I enjoyed seeing the investigation.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “Basically any Worf-centered episode is good with me.”

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.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1959

I have no idea who thought this was a good cover for this book, but here we are.

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. Each year, I will show which novel won the Hugo, as well as my own choice from the bunch of which should have won. They aren’t always the same!

We Have Fed Our Sea AKA The Enemy Stars by Poul Anderson- Grade: C
It’s a kind of space adventure that this period is particularly known for, but I couldn’t honestly see anything distinguishing or interesting about this particular book. It’s an inoffensive, at times entertaining romp in a thoroughly 1950s style science fiction setting. If you like that, read it. If not, it’s probably skippable.

Who? by Algis Budrys- Grade: C
A man shows up and claims to be a lost scientist, but here’s the catch: the Soviets have had him under their power for a time. Is he really who he claims to be? Can he be programmed as a spy? Yep, there’s a lot of Red Scare in this one, and the characterization and pacing isn’t all that great, but the idea of it is interesting enough. How do you know someone is someone? What makes you you? Those are the kind of questions that are explored, with however blunt an instrument, in this book.

A Case of Conscience by James Blish (Winner)- Grade: B
I find Blish’s writing style to be a bit impenetrable for my taste. It’s like reading something through a fog. I don’t know how else to describe it. In this work, we have one of the few forays into religious questions found in this era of science fiction. How can an alien race without religion be moral? The Jesuit priest in this book asks that question and ultimately doesn’t really get an answer, leading to some spectacular difficulties in the process. Reading the book, though, is like wading through mud. I enjoyed the ideas, but had difficulty understanding the writing.

Have Space Suit – Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein- Grade: C
Younger Heinlein is in top form here, which means you get his action with much less of his preaching at you about how we should all have sex all the time. Unfortunately, this early Heinlein is not as talented as some of the later Heinlein turned out to be, though I think Heinlein’s works are kind of a roller-coaster of quality. Anyhow, this one is basically just a coming of age story with a spacesuit. If that sounds interesting, you’ll probably like it well enough.

Time Killer AKA Immortality, Inc. by Robert Sheckley (My Winner)- Grade: B+
The premise initially seemed pretty standard–a man gets sucked into the future without any knowledge of what’s happening to him. But as the story developed, the intricacies Sheckley adds, layer by layer, to the plot and premise makes the book feel more and more special. Exploring what would happen if there were a scientifically verifiable afterlife was an unexpected pleasure, as was the way Sheckley deftly danced around questions of the mind-body problem, religion, and more. None of it seemed heavy-handed, which is what I was expecting once I got a feel for what was happening in the book. Instead, it was a unique look at one of sci-fi’s tropes- transhumanism/immortality. It also had a couple compelling characters, which isn’t always the case in some of the classic sci-fi. I recommend this one, folks.

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.