Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

The MartianTitle: The Martian

Author: Andy Weir

Publisher: Crown Publishing

Format: Hardcover

Where I Received the Title: Library

Review:

There was a lot of hype when The Martian was published earlier this year. It had escaped my radar two years ago when Andy Weir self-published the title. Needless to say, good works gather praise and after good sales and word-of-mouth, the previously rejected novel soon had the attention of publishers. Just one year after releasing this novel for free on his website, Andy Weir had a six-figure deal with Crown to publish The Martian.

The premise of The Martian is that an astronaut by the name of Mark Watney is left for dead on Mars after he and his suit are impaled by an object during a sandstorm. He is knocked unconscious and his life support monitor is destroyed, leading his five crewmates to believe that he is dead. Mark awakens to find that his crew has left and he is left alone on the red planet with some damaged equipment and a suit that is barely held together by his coagulated blood.

Most men wouldn’t last an hour in these circumstances, but Mark Watney is no ordinary man. He is one of Earth’s most brilliant botanists and has the survival skills of a Robinson Crusoe or Macguyver. Using the limited resources left on Mars, Watney develops a livable habitat and a sustainable nutrition plan with one goal in mind — to live until a rescue team returns to Mars.

Let me just say that this book was fantastic. I was hooked from the first paragraph with Andy Weir’s great sense of voice and perfect blend of humor, action, and technical savviness. It is very much a hard science fiction novel, with mathematical calculations and engineering know-how, yet it doesn’t read like one. The character of Mark Watney is rich and likable — the kind of guy you’d love to have a beer with, just to hear his thoughts on any subject matter, be it science, baseball, or the best of seventies sitcoms.

The book starts off as a diary-style narrative, with Mark chronicling the happenings of the day with a lot of side commentary that helps paint Mars’s climate and terrain with a sense of realism. Nearly every page is filled with some witty comment or remark that will crack a smile on your face. As the novel progresses, we also find viewpoints from NASA scientists and Mark’s crewmates, bringing the story together.

The Martian reminds me of why I love science fiction. Like Kim Stanley Robinson’s fiction, I would classify The Martian as utopian SF — demonstrating how man can achieve success against great adversity. Mark Watney is in dire circumstances and Mars is relentless and unforgiving in how it punishes the astronaut. But ultimately, this novel is a triumph of the human spirit, demonstrating how the greatest challenges and impossible odds can be overcome with ingenuity and resilience.

Where movies like Castaway left me somewhat bored, The Martian is anything but tiresome. Each challenge Mark faces requires unique solutions and the pacing of the novel is quick, but balanced well with brief moments of planning and recreation.

The SF field has been inundated with pessimistic dystopias, blaming man’s selfishness and ignorance for dooming future generations. The Martian is a cool reprieve from these heavy-handed plots and it was a true delight to read. I would not hesitate to recommend this novel to people outside of the genre and think SF fans will like it equally. It truly was a wonderful book to read.

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Review of Cahill’s Homecoming by Patrick Hester

Cahills_Homecoming_1000Title: Cahill’s Homecoming

Author: Patrick Hester

Rating: 4 star

Publisher: Self-Published

Review:

I don’t read a lot of self-published works, but I had no hesitation in reading Patrick Hester’s novella, Cahill’s Homecoming. I have enjoyed my morning commute listening to the SF Signal and Function Nerds podcasts, both of which Hester is a host. I also read his short story in the Space Battles anthology and found it a pleasure to read.

Cahill’s Homecoming, as the cover suggests, is the first book in a serial collection. The protagonist, Cord Cahill, is a space traveler and sentinel returning home because of a sudden death in the family. His sister, Katie, died of natural causes, but Cord is not buying it.

He scavenges his hometown, which bears resemblance to a wild west where firing a gun will get you in trouble with the law (2×4’s are a thug’s weapon of choice). With assistance from his ship’s AI, Mother, Cahill searches to find the meaning of his sister’s death and bring justice to the events surrounding it.

This story is a quick read and I devoured it easily in one sitting. An immediate comparison can be made to the short-lived but fan-favorite, Firefly. The novella is a science fiction-western mash-up with a classic western vigilante plot. The assistance of the ship’s AI is a cool twist, making the sci-fi element a necessary part of the story. The decision to name the AI, Mother, is an interesting one — leading me to instantly recall Norman Bates’ relationship with his dead mother in Psycho. Don’t mistake the name for an Oedipus complex, though. Mother is a mentor, guiding Cahill by giving him facts of his surroundings and even helping him to detect a sly poker mechanic.

Cahill’s Homecoming is a well-written piece about a young man seeking answers and justice for someone he loves. In order to do so, he must solicit the help of a man he both disrespects and despises. I expect that Patrick Hester will be a recognized name on bookshelves in the near future and this novella shows evidence of his writing talents.

Review: The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang

7886338Title: The Lifecycle of Software Objects

Author: Ted Chiang

Rating: 3 star

Publisher:Subterranean Press (available free online)

Format: Electronic

Review:

Are you familiar with the Turing Test? Alan Turing posed a question in the 1950’s, pondering whether or not machines could think. To answer that question, he devised a test where a human judge would interrogate both man and machine and receive written answers to his questions. If the judge is unable to tell the man from the machine, the machine has passed the test.

The Turing test is one of the primary themes of The Lifecycle of Software Objects. Chiang’s title, in programming jargon, speaks to the typical process a piece of software goes through. When software is designed, it typically goes through alpha and beta testing, is released to the general public, goes through a series of updates, and eventually reaches a point where it is no longer sold or supported. This does not mean it dies — users may continue to run the software as long as it is useful.

This is the case with Chiang’s protagonists. Ana Alvarado, a zoologist, is hired by a company to train digients. In an artificial world, (a glamorized version of Second Life) a rudimentary form of artificial intelligence known as digients have been created to serve as virtual pets. They are sentient software beings and Ana begins to train them as they progress in human speech and self awareness. She grows fond of the pets and as their life cycle runs out, she and a coworker named Derek continue to care for a few of these pets when technology has surpassed them.

To describe the plot any further is to do this novella injustice. It is not a plot-driven story. In fact, it is not a character-driven story either. The Lifecycle of Software Objects is a high-concept novella, exploring the themes of artificial intelligence and what designates a person (natural or artificial) worthy of rights. Chiang’s examination of the software objects parallel many moral dilemmas that face humanity — AI software copying (cloning), AI virtual sex (prostitution), and virtual violence (poignant to today’s blood-thirsty culture portrayed in television and video games).

I have read all but one of Ted Chiang’s short stories and this is his longest (~30k words), but also his most disappointing. Chiang’s prose and structure approaches the greatness of Gene Wolfe at times, but in this novella it falls flat. I am sure this is intentional — the short sentences and simplistic style is reminiscent of the languages of programming, toddler-speak, and the texting age. But even putting aside my stylistic quibbles, the protagonists came across as rather uninteresting. At one point, Ana gets married, to the devastation of Derek who had been pining after her, despite the fact that he himself was married. We learn next to nothing about their spouses or really anything about them outside of their relationships with their virtual pets. Removing this context leaves the characters somewhat one-dimensional, merely there to drive the story forward.

The Lifecycle of Software Objects is told in a series of vignettes. The short narratives walk us through the various stages that the digients go through. The shifts forward through time are somewhat jarring and the need to invent new software terms with each new generation made it feel at times I was reading a software manual.

Bear in mind, my negative comments are made in reaction to the extremely high bar I hold for Ted Chiang. He is one of the most talented short story authors in genre fiction today and his writing is always purposeful and cerebral. There are many what if scenarios that play out over the course of the novella that left me contemplating the nature of artificial intelligence and how humanity would react to having such technology. In answering these thoughts, Chiang has succeeded on a high level.

I would call the experience of reading The Lifecycle of Software Objects akin to reading Issac Asimov’s I, Robot stories. It is ripe with philosophy and science fiction that will appeal to the hearts of Asimov fans. For those looking for the rich prose and the elegant stories that I have grown accustomed to with Chiang, I would recommend stories such as Story of Your Life, The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate, or Exhalation.

Review: Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang

th_a0580aaeccec739569f2502c0aa86498_lightspeed_31_december_2012Title: Story of Your Life

Author: Ted Chiang

Rating: 5 star

Publisher: Lightspeed Magazine, December 2012 (originally published in the Starlight 2 anthology edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden)

Review:

 

I am yet to read a Ted Chiang story I haven’t loved. I often long for him to be more prolific than the one novelette that finds its way into an anthology every two years, but perhaps it is his sparse writing that makes each story so special.

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I have read the various stories mostly from anthologies, not from his collection Stories of Your Life and Others, published by Tor in 2002. I don’t believe Ted Chiang is best read one story after the next, but rather one at a time to let the deep themes sink in deep.

The December 2012 issue of Lightspeed magazine featured one of Chiang’s greatest novellas, Story of Your Life, and I decided to give it another read. The premise of the story is that a young linguist by the name of Dr. Louise Banks is enlisted by the government to try and make sense of the language of an alien species, who have just made contact with Earth. The aliens are nothing like humans, being radially symmetrical with seven legs, a breathing hole on top of its body, and a mouth below.

The aliens communicate both orally and hieroglyphically, using a form of icons that cannot be read sequentially — only absorbed as an entire hole. The very first stroke of the first symbol interacts with everything else that the alien language is trying to communicate. The format of their language is crucial to the story because it aligns with how the heptapods view time as a whole.

From the beginning words of the novella, we learn that Louise has adapted to their language and as a consequence is able to foresee her future, experiencing marriage, divorce, the birth of a daughter, and her tragic and untimely death. Two parallel threads interweave throughout the narrative. The first being chronological as she tries to communicate with the heptapods; the second being somewhat, but not exclusively, told reverse-chronologically, speaking to her daughter in the future tense from death until life.

 

 

51Z0N8GB7EL._SL500_AA300_For anyone looking to introduce themselves to Ted Chiang, Story of Your Life is the perfect place to start. Time and fate versus free-will are concepts that are difficult to grasp and Ted Chiang explores them in such a fascinating way. He draws on Fermat’s principle of least time to explain how light itself defies the chronology of time and shows how we make the same decisions even if we know that our future will be filled with pain. This is a theme that is explored later by Chiang in another fantastic novella, The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate.

Even though Ted Chiang is yet to pen a novel and has but a dozen short stories to his name, he will go down as one of the great speculative fiction writers. Like Gene Wolfe, his writing is insightful and filled with puzzles. His grasp and application of metaphysical themes make each story a delight to read. If you haven’t read Story of Your Life, please go read it now.

 

 

Review of Star Wars: Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn

SW2Title: Star Wars: Dark Force Rising

Author: Timothy Zahn

Rating: 4 star

Publisher: Spectra

Format: Paperback

Review:

The first novel of the Thrawn Trilogy, Heir to the Empire, brought back the nostalgia of the original movie trilogy. Luke, Leia, Han, and the rest of the rebellion now face a formidable foe in Grand Admiral Thrawn. While I appreciated the new characters of this novel, I found it to be primarily a setup for the trilogy and incomplete as a stand alone (review here).

The second novel, Dark Force Rising, comes back with full force (forgive the pun). After nearly being assassinated by the Noghiri, a race loyal to the Empire, Leia travels to their home planet to try and establish them as allies. Luke heeds the call of a self-proclaimed Jedi Master named Joruus C’Boath. Han and Lando try to unveil treachery within the Rebellion and discover that there are a fleet of ships left over from the clone wars that could turn the tide for either the Rebellion or the Empire.

I enjoyed the second novel much more than the first. Dark Jedi C’Boath toes the line between evil and insane, but covets power nonetheless. He believes that he can convert Luke and Leia to his cause and devotes all of his energy to luring them into his self-righteous plans. His character is interesting and one wonders if the very able and almost clairvoyant leader, Grand Admiral Thrawn, is really in charge or if C’Boath controls the puppet strings.

Luke’s interaction with C’Boath is a tad naive, like he is back in training with Yoda before experiencing the struggles against the Empire. Han also falls short of his suave, but rugged self, constantly concerned for Leia’s welfare while he embarks on his own journey with Lando.

While it didn’t reach the same level of magic that it did the first time I read it, Dark Force Rising is an enjoyable read. Mara Jade is one of the better characters, complex in her loyalties and in her abilities. She struggles with her desire to kill Luke and her desire to form an alliance with him. She starts to display Jedi powers, but she has only touched the surface of the power of the force.

The Thrawn Trilogy is a definitive series in the expanded universe and even as I read it twenty years later, it still holds up fairly well.

Review: The Frozen Sky by Jeff Carlson

Title: The Frozen Sky

Author: Jeff Carlson

Rating: 

Publisher: Candlemark & Gleam

Format: Electronic (provided by author)

I was unsure of what to expect from the novel, The Frozen Sky. The book’s description proclaims it to be a “sci fi thriller” taking place on one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa. I’ve read a few science fiction titles this year that have taken place in our solar system. Would this be like Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312, a hard sci-fi novel exploring colonization of multiple moons and planets in a semi-distant future? Or would it be more like James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes, a space opera where science is still believable, but far from the novel’s focus?

The Frozen Sky is clearly a hard sci-fi novel, reminding me most of the writing of Joe Haldeman. It takes place in the distant future where bureaucratic self-interest abounds, sexual promiscuity comes without consequence, and advanced technology flourishes. Alexis Vonderach (Von) is the novel’s protagonist — the sole survivor on a mission to Europa and discoverer of an alien civilization deep beneath the moon’s ice (or frozen sky).

When news of another life form reaches Earth, multiple countries send teams of scientists to study the potentially sentient species. Von is a critical member of one of these teams and when she fears that these creatures will be exploited, she breaks from the ranks to try and bring about a peaceful alliance.

I must admit, my personal tastes are geared more toward soft science fiction. I am more of a Star Wars guy than a Star Trek guy and I often find a lot of the technical conjecture to be of little interest. Even though this novel is quite technical, I never found it to be bogged down with science. There are a lot of cool concepts that were explored including the transferring of human consciousness into machines and the use of mechas in performing heavy labor. Carlson also examines moral conundrums that accompany a first contact when it is very difficult to know if the alien species is actually sentient.

Von is an interesting character, as is her fellow crew member (and friend?), Ash. In the company of many other crew members who blindly follow orders, Von serves as the team’s moral compass, willing to go rogue to protect the creatures she knows very little about.

My biggest criticisms of the novel are the lack of compelling characters. Beyond Von and Ash, I didn’t find any of the other characters particularly memorable or multi-layered in their pursuits. Also, the interaction with the alien species was only semi-compelling as they could only communicate on a very rudimentary basis.

But the novel succeeded in many other regards and overall, The Frozen Sky is a thought-provoking read. For those who are a fan of the Golden Age and writers like Joe Haldeman or Isaac Asimov, The Frozen Sky will be a novel worth reading. I wouldn’t personally classify it as a “thriller,” but the novel moved at a steady pace and had a fitting conclusion. It is a unique take on a first contact and a well thought-out novel.

Review of Classic Novels of the 1950s by Gary K. Wolfe

Title: American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950’s

Editor: Gary K. Wolfe

Rating: 

Publisher: Library of America

Format: e-Galley

Review:

One of my most recent purchases was a beautiful Philip K Dick collection, published by The Library of America. It is a 3-volume hardcover set containing thirteen of Dick’s greatest novels. Considering that he is one of my favorite authors, this set has become a cherished treasure.

Over the past six months or so, I’ve been trying to catch up on some of the classics of science fiction. I had just read a couple of Isaac Asimov titles and Joe Haldeman’s, The Forever War, when I came across a new collection of science fiction stories from the 1950’s. Not being well-versed in the era, I was uncertain what to expect. After all, science fiction is one of those genres that can become easily dated.

I saw that Library of America was making an e-galley available to reviewers and I snagged the opportunity to read some of the collection. There was not a single title I had read before (and I call myself a science fiction reviewer — how embarrassing). I loved Richard Mattheson’s short stories and I am Legend and thoroughly enjoyed reading Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Both of these authors have a novel in this collection. Alfred Bester’s, The Stars My Destination, also made the list — a novel I had been dying to read for quite some time. The collection can be summarized as follows:

Book 1 (Four Classic Novels: 1953-1956)

  • Frederik Pohl & C. M. Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants
  • Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human
  • Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow
  • Richard Matheson’s The Shrinking Man

Book 2 (Five Classic Novels: 1956-1958)

  • Robert A. Heinlein’s Double Star
  • Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination
  • James Blish’s A Case of Conscience
  • Algis Budrys’ Who?
  • Fritz Leiber’s The Big Time

After reading through Alfred Bester’s and Theodore Sturgeon’s novels, I could tell that this really was a special collection. It is not really a “top nine” novels of the fifties, but rather a diverse collection of what the era had to offer in the way of science fiction. There’s space opera, dystopian futures, proto-cyberpunk, and general weirdness in the selected novels. Each author and theme is different. For those who want to learn a little more about the selection process, I recommend listening to Gary K Wolfe on Episode 89 of the Coode Street Podcast. The Library of America has also developed a nice science fiction page that has articles written about the novels by many of the popular genre authors today.

I have not yet seen the physical hardcover books to judge the physical quality of the collection, but I would expect it to be comparable to the high quality of their other books. The covers are fantastic — a clear throwback to the artwork of the fifties. I’m sure there are some folks who will argue some of the books that were omitted from the collection, but understanding the diversity Wolfe was trying to promote, it is difficult to argue with the selection. The novels (and authors) I was surprised to see missing were Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke and Foundation or I, Robot by Isaac Asimov. One could easily add a third volume of short stories to the mix, much like the Library of America boxed set of American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to Now, edited by Peter Straub. Short stories were a definitive part of the Golden Age. In fact, a similar case could be made to add a short story collection to the Philip K Dick set.

If I were to summarize my impressions of this collection, I would say that I am pleasantly surprised — it is truly wonderful. There was a lot of thought that went into selecting the titles and they are still very readable by today’s standards. I look forward to getting my hands on the physical copies, putting one of the books on the shelf next to my Philip K Dick collection, and holding the other in my hands as I read through some of the best stories that the greats of science fiction wrote over a half-century ago.

Review: The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

Title: The Stars My Destination

Author: Alfred Bester

Rating: 

Publisher: Library of America

Format: e-Galley of American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950’s

Review:

Every so often I come across a novel that catches me by surprise. With a genre like science fiction that is often focused on the near future, novels can quickly become antiquated. This is not the case with The Stars My Destination. Originally published in 1956, as a serialized story in Galaxy Magazine, Bester’s proto-cyberpunk classic transcends time.

The plot is essentially a science fiction version of The Count of Monte Cristo — the revenge tale of Gully Foyle. In the midst of an interplanetary war, Foyle is left drifting through space aboard the Nomad. When a passing ship, the Vorga, fails to rescue him Foyle sets out to exact revenge.

The story takes place in the distant future, when humans have learned to jaunte (teleport) using only their mind. There are also a sprinkling of people with telepathic powers. Governments are largely controlled by megacorporations and despite man’s adaptation of a god-like power, the future is bleak and there is little faith in humanity.

Gully Foyle does not start out as a likable character. He is cynical and thirsty for revenge. His face is tattooed like a tiger with the word “N♂MAD” etched on his forehead. He has no recollection how he was stranded or where he was going and instead of looking for answers, he focuses solely on finding the captain of the Vorga to murder him. Through Foyle’s inquisition, he discovers that the Nomad carried a substance so valuable it could end the war. Despite its value, there is something even more precious that the authorities are after — Foyle himself.

I found Bester’s story to be somewhat comparable to the works of Philip K Dick, an author who I hold with high regard. The Stars My Destination has elements of mystery, adventure, speculation, and intrigue. The writing is artistic, but very readable and as a reader I shared in the self-loathing of Foyle only to gain empathy for his pursuits. Foyle’s character is beautifully complex and the people he meets are also interesting. There’s Jisbella McQueen, a fellow prisoner who helps Foyle escape and remove his strange tattoos; Robin Wednesbury, a telesender who has only the less-useful ability of transmitting her thoughts, but not receiving others; Presteign, the megalomaniac corporate mogul in charge of Presteign corporation and owner of the Vorga; and Dagneham, a detective with special skills in interrogation.

Frankly speaking, I really have no criticisms of the novel. The pacing is good, the mystery keeps unfolding like layers of an onion that draw me in to the next scene, the characters are intertwined and well-developed, and the story is completely satisfying. The Stars My Destination epitomizes everything I love about science fiction. It is filled with wonders and ideas and is upheld with its literary merit. I can’t recommend this novel strongly enough.

Review: I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

Title: I, Robot

Author: Isaac Asimov

Rating: 

Publisher: Random House Audio

Format: Audio CD

Review:

The first Isaac Asimov book I ever read was an autobiography. Perhaps that sounds strange — and I suppose it is — considering that he wrote or edited over 500 books. After acquainting myself with the author, I am now going back and reading some of the works that made him famous in the first place. I, Robot is the first of these.

It has been more than sixty years since the I, Robot collection was first published. Nine short stories are told within a larger frame story where robopsychologist, Dr. Susan Calvin, recounts her experiences with several different robots manufactured by U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men. Considering that the short stories were individually published in magazines the decade prior, it is astounding that Asimov was able to collect them into one larger story.

The common thread in the stories is that the robots are governed by Asimov’s famous Three Laws of Robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

What most of these stories boil down to is a study in the nature of these laws and how they affect the robots and the people around them. For instance, in the story “Runaround,” a robot gets caught in an endless loop where the second and third laws conflict with one another. For a normal robot, this would not be an issue — the second law always outweighs the third law. But Speedy, the robot in question, was expensive and its third law was strengthened to guarantee it would not injure itself. Two practical engineers, Powell and Donovan, travel to Mercury to investigate the strange behavior of this robot.

In “Little Lost Robot,” a robot, Nestor, has its first law modified so that it doesn’t intervene when humans are exposed to a radiation that won’t harm them in the first thirty minutes of exposure. After a researcher loses his temper and tells Nestor to get lost, the robot blends in with sixty-two other robots on site, thus becoming unidentifiable. A psychologist is brought on to help identify the lost robot. Elements from this short story were incorporated into the Will Smith movie that came out a few years ago.

I really struggle with how to rate such a collection. After all, the stories are quite different than modern short stories. They are not about character or plot, but center more around the idea of robots and their nature and relationships with humans. Science fiction is losing its status as a genre of ideas, but at the time this collection came out, ideas was what defined the genre. Aside from the first story, “Robbie,” you probably won’t find any stories that leave you with any emotional attachment. Rather, the stories read more like logic puzzles in which you debug robot logic with the other scientists.

I’m probably not giving the collection its proper justice — after all, these stories provide so much foundation and inspiration for later works. I did enjoy hearing them and I find it worthwhile to read the collection. If you want to get a flavor for what’s inside, I’ll recommend the stories Robbie, Evidence, and Little Lost Robot. They represent the greater collection well and have what I consider to be the strongest characters and plots. If someone is new to the genre, I, Robot is not where I would lead someone, but for those trying to whet their appetite with the classics, I, Robot is an essential part of the diet.

Review: 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Title: 2312

Author: Kim Stanley Robinson

Rating: 

Publisher: Orbit

Format: Hardcover

Review:
2312 is Kim Stanley Robinson’s long-awaited novel that returns to the milieu that made him popular — outer space; for me, 2312 was my introduction to the author.

A few things were apparent before embarking on this novel.

  1. Kim Stanley Robinson is a well-recognized and award-winning modern science fiction writer
  2. This novel marks a return to a universe similar to his famous Mars Trilogy
  3. The book was heavy!

A brief synopsis: Swan Er Hong is a terrarium designer and artist who lives on a traversing city on Mercury. The unexpected death of her grandmother and mentor, Alex, draws her into a conspiracy that could put the lives of millions in the solar system at risk. As she begins to dig deeper into Alex’s death, she finds her home planet sabotaged by a terrorist attack. But fortune is with her, and after barely surviving, she is reinvigorated in finding out who is behind what becomes a series of attacks.

I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed the greater part of the novel. World-building is a key element, as Robinson explores what it would actually mean to terraform Mercury (where citizens can only survive at the brink of dawn), Venus (where a sunshade filter  required), and various moons throughout the solar system. One must enjoy the science as well as the fiction to enjoy this novel. The novel achieved brilliance in many parts and I was especially intrigued in a couple of the survival stories of Swan and Wahram, a wombman with dual sexual organs and a toad-like belly. In the middle of the novel, the action gets bogged down slightly, but it is only temporary and the ending is both exciting and satisfying.

Robinson is an excellent writer, interweaving his scientific pursuits throughout the narrative, while allowing the prose to flow smoothly. The characters are intriguing and there were moments where I was reading at the edge of my seat, avoiding the temptation to gloss over the paragraphs to find out if certain characters survive the subzero environment of deep space or the brutal heat of the sun. In addition, there were many twists to Swan’s pursuit of Alex’s work that kept me guessing.

One thing I found odd was the use of extracts and lists interspersed between chapters.

Extract (1): Take a book, 576 pages to be exact, and fill it with descriptions of planets and moons from our solar system. Add to it a protagonist from Mercury, her pot-bellied partner from Saturn, and citizens from the terraformed worlds in between. Develop a clever plot that takes advantage of the setting and is neatly tied up in the end.

seemed that the extracts were used for information, explaining the setting in a way that the prose could not. Other times, the extracts were somewhat random and I didn’t know why they

perhaps it was an attempt to be literary   tell the story in a way   different   I could have done without    editing is your friend

List (1):
dual sexual organs, sex scenes awkward and read like a science text book

fascinating world-building, particularly on Mercury, where habitation is near-impossible. Terminator on rails.

post-singularity seems probable, but is it possible?

Qubes linked to the human mind. AI companions.

economics, politics, science, climate change, a revolution on Earth, Terra reanimated, extended lifespan, technological integration, terraforming

Despite the novel’s tendency to get trapped in the minutiae and the odd format of the lists and extracts, I found most aspects of it original and profound. The plot was not overly complicated, but kept me interested. I am especially interested to check out Robinson’s Mars trilogy now. For those who like science fiction, this is certainly one of the must-reads for the year.