A Miniature Review of Miniatures by John Scalzi

The ex-planet Pluto has a few choice words about being thrown out of the solar system. A listing of alternate histories tells you all the various ways Hitler has died. A lawyer sues an interplanetary union for dangerous working conditions. And four artificial intelligences explain, in increasingly worrying detail, how they plan not to destroy humanity.

Welcome to Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi.

These four stories, along with fourteen other pieces, have one thing in common: They’re short, sharp, and to the point—science fiction in miniature, with none of the stories longer than 2,300 words. But in that short space exist entire universes, absurd situations, and the sort of futuristic humor that propelled Scalzi to a Hugo with his novel Redshirts. Not to mention yogurt taking over the world (as it would).

Spanning the years from 1991 to 2016, this collection is a quarter century of Scalzi at his briefest and best, and features four never-before-printed stories, exclusive to this collection: “Morning Announcements at the Lucas Interspecies School for Troubled Youth,” “Your Smart Appliances Talk About You Behind Your Back,” “Important Holidays on Gronghu” and “The AI Are Absolutely Positively Without a Doubt Not Here to End Humanity, Honest.”

Okay, if those story titles don’t already have you laughing til your belly aches, then this may not be the book for you.

For me, it was perfect! John Scalzi’s science fiction never lets me down, and these (very) short pieces are just a treat. Funny, creative, unexpected, and silly, there’s plenty here to tickle and delight (unless you’re a total curmudgeon and have no patience for silliness… in which case, move along. Nothing to see here.)

The book itself is adorable, slightly smaller than usual for a hardcover (here’s a photo of my book plus some desk accessories, to give you a sense of scale without forcing me to get up and leave my desk):

The original hardcover printing was a limited run (and I think may no longer be available), but it is available in e-book format. Here’s the inside of my book, all numbered and everything!

Besides the utter cuteness of the physical book, what about the content?

Fabulous, of course! If I had to pick, I’d say my favorites are a dialogue among different AIs who are definitely not planning to take over the world, a cat’s-eye view of domestic domination, a supermarket workers’ guide to dealing with unusual alien life forms and their customs, and the interview with a celebrity agent for superheroes.

Oh, and let’s not forget the interviews with smart appliances, who spill the dirt on their owners. Makes me quite sure that I never ever need smart machines in my house. I couldn’t take the gossip.

Those are a just a few of the highlights, but really, all of the stories are terrific. What’s more, they’re super short, so this book can be enjoyed in bite-sized pieces or all in one sitting — either way, not a big time commitment.

If you like your sci-fi with a big heaping of funny, you’ll definitely want to treat yourself to this collection. I think I’ll be thumbing through Miniatures pretty regularly, whenever I need a little jolt of silly to brighten my day.

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The details:

Title: Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi
Author: John Scalzi
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Publication date: December 31, 2016
Length: 142 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased

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Book Review: Six Wakes

A space adventure set on a lone ship where the clones of a murdered crew must find their murderer — before they kill again.

It was not common to awaken in a cloning vat streaked with drying blood.

At least, Maria Arena had never experienced it. She had no memory of how she died. That was also new; before, when she had awakened as a new clone, her first memory was of how she died.

Maria’s vat was in the front of six vats, each one holding the clone of a crew member of the starship Dormire, each clone waiting for its previous incarnation to die so it could awaken. And Maria wasn’t the only one to die recently…

Talk about a powerful opening! The first chapter of this exhilarating sci-fi novel introduces us to the world of Six Wakes with a bang, as six clones wake up in their cloning vats… with their previous bodies, all brutally murdered, floating in zero gravity in front of them. None of the crew members has any memory of what happened. In fact, their last memories are of the reception on Luna as the Dormire was about to launch.

But as they look at their murdered bodies, they discover a startling fact: The bodies are all much older then they expected. While they only remember just joining the ship’s crew, it becomes apparent that they’ve been traveling in space for 25 years. All memories are gone. All ship logs have been purged. The ship’s AI is down. There’s a murderer among them, but even the murderer has no memory of what’s happened.

Wow. Now that’s tension!

In Mur Lafferty’s terrific space adventure, clones have existed within human civilization for hundreds of years. There are a set of strict laws governing clone management and clone rights, which are spelled out in the Codicils that appear at the beginning of the book. In the world of Six Wakes, people’s mindmaps are saved, then loaded into their new cloned bodies — produced to approximate age 21 for peak physical condition — when the old body dies. Clones are sterile; they become their own descendants. Clones essentially live for hundreds of years, from one body to the next.

Let me just pause here for a moment and admire the world-building of this novel. We’re thrust immediately into this brave new world, and it’s fascinating, but the author lays it out in such a way that it’s easy to grasp and get totally immersed. There are so many twists and turns and nuances to be revealed, but we get the set-up and big picture from the start. Amazing.

Meanwhile, on the Dormire, the crew have to solve their own murders, but more urgently, get the ship’s systems working again if they have any chance of survival. They’re intended to be on a 400-year journey to settle a new planet, with hundreds of humans saved in cryo, but they’ll all die if they can’t take control of navigation, get the grav drive working, and bring their AI back on line. Oh, and a piece I just loved — there’s a food printer! Think 3-D printing, but able to create any food desired, based on analysis of crew members’ tastes and programmed to synthesize any food stuff requested. It’s just cool.

The matter of identifying the murderer is crucial, of course. The tension and suspicions run high, and as the story progresses, we learn the truth about each crew member’s past. Each has secrets they’d rather keep hidden, but it’s those secrets that will help them piece together the events leading up to the murders… and hopefully enable them to prevent another round. And since the initial sabotage included destruction of the cloning vats, cloning software, and mindmap backups, if they die again, they’ll really and truly be dead.

At times, Six Wakes made me think a bit of Westworld… but my strongest comparison would have to be to Agatha Christie! Kind of a Murder on the Orient Express vibe, but in space! Everyone is a suspect, and everyone may have his or her own motives. They certainly have plenty of secrets to protect.

It’s just so cool.

Clearly, you have to enjoy science fiction to really get into Six Wakes — although I’d think anyone who enjoys a mystery would love this plot, assuming they accept all the cloning/space/technology pieces of the story.

As for me, I loved it. The story is intricate and requires paying attention to the small details, but the payoff is an amazing read that’s fast-paced, entertaining, and ultra fascinating. I loved the set-up, the human/clone history, the individual crew members’ stories, and the characters themselves, all intriguing in their own ways.

I rarely feel the urge to start a book again from the beginning once I finish it, but I definitely did with this one. I’m dying to go back, start over, and see all the clues I missed the first time around.

I strongly recommend checking out Six Wakes! So much fun. So different. So awesome.

Want to know more about this author? Check out my reviews of two other books by Mur Lafferty:
The Shambling Guide to New York City
Ghost Train to New Orleans

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The details:

Title: Six Wakes
Author: Mur Lafferty
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: January 31, 2017
Length: 364 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased

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Shelf Control #75: The Gate To Women’s Country

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! Fore more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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My Shelf Control pick this week is:

Title: The Gate To Women’s Country
Author: Sheri S. Tepper
Published: 1987
Length: 382 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Tepper’s finest novel to date is set in a post-holocaust feminist dystopia that offers only two political alternatives: a repressive polygamist sect that is slowly self-destructing through inbreeding and the matriarchal dictatorship called Women’s Country. Here, in a desperate effort to prevent another world war, the women have segregated most men into closed military garrisons and have taken on themselves every other function of government, industry, agriculture, science and learning.

The resulting manifold responsibilities are seen through the life of Stavia, from a dreaming 10-year-old to maturity as doctor, mother and member of the Marthatown Women’s Council. As in Tepper’s Awakeners series books, the rigid social systems are tempered by the voices of individual experience and, here, by an imaginative reworking of The Trojan Woman that runs through the text. A rewarding and challenging novel that is to be valued for its provocative ideas.

How I got it:

I bought it at a used book store.

When I got it:

A couple of years ago.

Why I want to read it:

This is considered a feminist sci-fi classic, so I’m a bit embarrassed never to have read it. The reviews on Goodreads are all over the place, from 5-stars (including from reviewers I usually trust) to a whole slew of 1-star ratings from people who absolutely hated the book. I think I owe it to myself to at least give it a try.

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Leviathan Wakes and The Expanse: Book, TV… amazing science fiction!

I just finished this massive book today, and I swear I’ve been reading it for EONS. (Okay, it’s been 10 days, but that seems like forever relative to my normal reading pace).

leviathan-wakesLeviathan Wakes is book #1 in the ongoing series The Expanse, by James S. A. Corey (which is actually a pen name for two co-authors, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck). The paperback I’ve been lugging around with me is HUGE – 560 pages, about the size of a doorstop, and must weigh close to a ton. (It’s true! My arms are aching.)

The book series has also been adapted into a TV series on Syfy, season 2 of which just premiered this past week. No, I haven’t seen the beginning of season 2 yet. I wanted to finish book #1 first.

The world of The Expanse — TV and book — is set far enough into the future that human life has spread throughout the solar system. Earth and Mars are the inner planets, two independent political forces, and then there’s the Belt — the asteroid belt that’s become a source of mining and resources in service to the inner planets. Belters are an underclass, dependent on Earth and Mars, filled with a discontented people who are agitating for freedom. Earth and Mars have wealth and military might. The Belt is cramped, dirty, underfed, crime-ridden, and downtrodden. There’s a class war ready to explode, and it doesn’t take much to set it off.

Our hero is James Holden, who finds himself captain of a small rogue vessel after an untraceable attack on his home ship leaves him and his crew stranded in space. The anti-hero, of sorts, is Detective Miller, a Belter whose missing-persons case takes on intergalactic significance and brings him in league with Holden and his crew on board the Rocinante.

I really shouldn’t go into a whole lot more detail than that, although if you want a recap of season 1 of the TV show, there’s this brilliant video to check out:

I loved reading the book. I originally started it after watching the first season of the TV show, which has so many political factions and plots and military escapades that I thought the book might help me untangle it all. And it did. The book has a narrower scope in some ways than the TV production. Much of the politics, in particular all of the scenes set on Earth, are not in the book. Sadly, I missed one of the show’s stand-out characters, Avasarala, although I understand that she enters the book series world in the 2nd book.

THE EXPANSE -- Season:1 -- Pictured: Shohreh Aghdashloo as Chrisjen Avasarala -- (Photo by: Amanda Demme/Syfy)

THE EXPANSE — Season:1 — Pictured: Shohreh Aghdashloo as Chrisjen Avasarala — (Photo by: Amanda Demme/Syfy)

Another difference between book 1 and season 1 — season 1 ends at about the midpoint of the book’s plot… which makes me even more excited to dive into season 2, now that I know what’s still to come.

All in all, I’d say the creators of the show have done a remarkable job of capturing the universe of the books, combining elements of the first couple of books (or so I’ve been told) in order to achieve a visual and narrative trajectory that makes sense. The drama never lets up; we get some amazing space battles; there are truly stand-out personalities introduced, and the cast does a great job of bringing to life the complexities of the individuals who make up the whole.

I know I’m jumping around a lot here, because that’s just how my brain is processing all the data at the moment. I turned the final page of the book literally an hour ago, and my mind is whirring.

I suppose Leviathan Wakes would be considered “hard” science fiction. You know, space ships and technology and lasers and all that. But the human element elevates the whole into just really great storytelling, with exciting action and people who seem real enough to make us care.

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The crew of the Rocinante

I think anyone who enjoyed Battlestar Galactica will love The Expanse. Likewise, fans of the Killjoys series will find some common themes in the class struggles and solar system dynamics portrayed here.

As for the book, I am thrilled that I finally took the time to read Leviathan Wakes, despite feeling at times like I would never reach the end. From the midpoint onward, the momentum never stops, and I think I must have read the final third just within the past 24 hours. I swore that I would read just one for now… but now that I’ve finished Leviathan Wakes, I have to know what happens next!

Fortunately, it’ll probably take me a couple of weeks to get my hands on a copy of book 2, Caliban’s War… but once I do, I don’t think I’ll be able to keep myself from diving back into this incredible series.

For more info on season 2 of The Expanse, check out this great piece on the politics of the series.

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Book Review: Martians Abroad

martians-abroad

Polly Newton has one single-minded dream, to be a starship pilot and travel the galaxy. Her mother, the director of the Mars Colony, derails Polly’s plans when she sends Polly and her genius twin brother, Charles, to Galileo Academy on Earth—the one planet Polly has no desire to visit. Ever.

Homesick and cut off from her desired future, Polly cannot seem to fit into the constraints of life on Earth, unlike Charles, who deftly maneuvers around people and sees through their behavior to their true motives. Strange, unexplained, dangerous coincidences centered on their high-profile classmates begin piling up. Charles may be right—there’s more going on than would appear, and the stakes are high. With the help of Charles, Polly is determined to find the truth, no matter the cost.

Martians Abroad is a fun space romp, but somehow feels a bit unfinished — as if this is the introduction to a new series, not (as it’s described on Goodreads) a stand-alone.

There’s also the issue that while this book is billed as science fiction, it reads very much young adult to me. The main characters, Polly and Charles, are 17 years old. Although we don’t learn their exact age until the end of the book, the story focuses on their assignment to a new school, and it’s clear that they’re about college age at the start of the story.

In fact, if you took out the sci-fi trappings, much of the story is straight-up coming of age stuff — being an outsider, figuring out where you belong, dealing with cliques, exploring one’s own path, standing up to authority. The fact that it’s set in a brave new world gives it an extra zing, but the ingredients feel very familiar.

That said, I enjoyed Polly as a character very much. She’s independent, focused, and strong, with a rebellious streak and a core of integrity that sees her through the challenges that spring up in her path.

The best part of Martians Abroad, for me, was getting to see Earth through the eyes of someone experiencing it all for the first time. Polly was born and raised on Mars, and to her, Mars is home. She has no desire to leave it, except to fulfill her dream of becoming a pilot. The brown-red colors and the dust are what’s normal to her. Coming to Earth, Polly has shock after shock. Her body has to adjust to Earth’s gravity, so that she feels sluggish constantly and struggles for breath. Her Earth-born classmates are bulky and strong in comparison to the off-worlders’ elongated builds and their brittle bones. Polly has bouts of agoraphobia when stepping outside for the first time and dealing with the open sky. In Polly’s home world, she’d be dead without enclosures to keep the air in and scrubbed clean. Over and over again, we see Polly confront our world, and it’s fascinating (and entertaining) to see how alien it can all look.

A few small examples: Attending a banquet with fancy decorations, including floral centerpieces and arches:

They were cut — I checked, they didn’t have roots, just stems stuck in water. They’d all be dead in a few days. This room had more flowers than entire greenhouses on Mars, and they were all dying. It seemed a little sad.

Polly’s first encounter with Earth-style breakfast:

“Good. I was going to warn you not to eat the bacon, it will probably make you sick. We don’t have the stomach enzymes to digest it.”

[…]

“What’s bacon?” I said.

“Fried pig muscle.”

And on the universality of sweets:

There was a cake — happily, I wasn’t going to have to get anyone to explain cake to me. We had round, fluffy, mooshy sweet things on Mars, because humanity couldn’t exist without dessert.

As Polly acclimates to her school and the planet, she begins to suspect that something sinister is behind a string of accidents that befall her class, and she puts herself in danger time and again to keep others safe and uncover the truth. The accidents provide the key points of excitement in the novel, and there are moments of great adventure and thrill… but unfortunately, the pacing is uneven, so we get these spots of action in between longer segments on daily life at the academy and Polly’s attempts to find a place for herself.

Heck, there’s even dress shopping in the mix. A makeover! Doesn’t that just reinforce the YA-ness of it all?

I don’t really mean to sound overly negative. This is a fun book, but it was a bit too YA and not enough sci-fi for my taste, and I had the odd experience of never quite having a real feel for what kind of book it was that I was reading.

Overall though, I enjoyed Martians Abroad. I can’t help wondering whether there’s more to come. As I mentioned earlier, although it’s billed as a stand-alone, much of this book feels like a long introduction. We’ve met Polly, her classmates, her school — the question is, now what? While the book works on its own well enough, it seems natural that there should be further adventures.

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The details:

Title: Martians Abroad
Author: Carrie Vaughn
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: January 17, 2017
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Book Review: Extreme Makeover

extreme-makeover

The satirical new suspense about a health and beauty company that accidentally develops a hand lotion that can overwrite your DNA.

Lyle Fontanelle is the chief scientist for NewYew, a health and beauty company experimenting with a new, anti-aging hand lotion. As more and more anomalies crop up in testing, Lyle realizes that the lotion’s formula has somehow gone horribly wrong. It is actively overwriting the DNA of anyone who uses it, turning them into physical clones of someone else. Lyle wants to destroy the formula, but NewYew thinks it might be the greatest beauty product ever designed–and the world’s governments think it’s the greatest weapon.

New York Times bestselling author Dan Wells brings us a gripping corporate satire about a health and beauty company that could destroy the world.

Presenting… the book that will make you scared of your moisturizer.

What better book for getting in the holiday spirit than a terrifying yet farcical tale of the end of the world — not an apocalypse caused by climate catastrophe or nuclear war, but rather by a beauty product run amok.

In Extreme Makeover, main character Lyle thinks he’s come up with a promising product that can prompt the body to amp up collagen to repair wrinkled skin. Cool, right? As the executives’ eyes gleam with greed, they encourage Lyle to rush to market before their competition gets wind of this amazing new product — which works because of DNA manipulation, plasmids and retroviruses, in a way that Lyle himself doesn’t fully understand. Wait, the FDA won’t approve what’s basically a gene therapy formulation? No worries, package it as an herbal treatment and move all corporate manufacturing and business headquarters offshore.

As the initial test subjects begin to show some truly horrifying results, Lyle comes to realize that what he made had implications way beyond what was expected. And while the corporate executives push it further and further to rake in huge profits, Lyle still somewhat naively believes that his new creation, ReBirth, can be used for good.

As the product is first introduced to the public, then distributed through the black market, and ultimately ends up everywhere, the terrifying, world-changing results become more and more obvious. Some of the developments are chilling, some (including the accidental creation of thousands of Lyles) are so awful that it’s actually funny.

And of course, there’s corporate corruption and world domination to consider. As ReBirth starts appearing everywhere, it quickly becomes a global catastrophe — with some considering it a religious opportunity, Homeland Security considering it a terrorist threat, and ultimately, the UN coming to realize its potential use as a weapon of mass destruction.

Reading Extreme Makeover is incredibly addictive, and weird, and utterly fun. You want to laugh at the ridiculousness of what’s going on, and yet, given the billions that people pour into buying consumer cosmetics products every year, is it really THAT far-fetched to think that people will pay thousands of dollars for the chance at a younger, healthier, more beautiful body? And hey, no need for pesky gym memberships or diets or surgery! So what if it means your own genetic code will be overwritten by someone else’s? Isn’t it worth it?

After all, WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG??? (Cue ominous soundtrack…)

This is the most absurd apocalypse I’ve encountered yet. The end of life on earth as we know it — brought on by hand lotion? Really?

But accept that, and go along for the ride. Extreme Makeover is cleverly constructed, with a chronology that includes a countdown to the end of the world at the start of each chapter. The wide-ranging cast of characters includes Lyle, the NewYew executives plus the head honchos at their competitors’ headquarters, squads of security goons, all sorts of shady street ReBirth dealers, a religious guru, United Nations delegates, and so many more. And then, of course, as the story progresses, you have not only the characters we’ve come to know already, but various ReBirth-created versions of them as well.

It can get a bit mind-boggling to keep track of the fakes and the originals, and the collapse of civilized society happens almost too quickly to make sense, even given the scale of the unintended destruction caused by ReBirth. I had a hard time figuring out where the various evil-doers were getting their supply of original (or as it’s called in the book, “blank” — you’ll see) lotion, but after a while, I just kind of took in on faith that there were still stockpiles accessible for those who were willing to pay or to steal it.

While the outcomes are frightening, some of the scenarios still managed to make me laugh — the idea of someone spraying someone with lotion suddenly is the scariest thing you might encounter. A teen bringing ReBirth into school is practically as dangerous as one bringing a loaded gun. Celebrities are stalked not for photos, but for their DNA. It’s crazy, but it all makes sense in the claustrophobic depiction of a world gone mad.

I really enjoyed the heck out of Extreme Makeover. It’s fast-paced, cynical, funny, and terrifying; the concept has a core of ridiculousness, but like any doomsday scenario, there’s enough in there to make us all very, very afraid. After all, take out the fact that a hand lotion is responsible for the chaos, and it’s like any other apocalyptic tale, where a new technology with the power to make positive changes is ultimately transformed into a tool for unlimited power.

If you enjoy your apocalypses with a touch of humor and relatable real-world characters, check out Extreme Makeover. I promise you, you haven’t read about an end-of-the-world quite like this one before!

A note on the cover: The cover image available via Goodreads is kind of bland and muted. Here’s a photo of the library copy I borrowed — which is hot pink and black and totally awesome:

extreme-makoever

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The details:

Title: Extreme Makeover
Author: Dan Wells
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: November 15, 2016
Length: 416 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Library

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Shelf Control #62: Darwin’s Radio

Shelves final

Welcome to the newest weekly feature here at Bookshelf Fantasies… Shelf Control!

Shelf Control is all about the books we want to read — and already own! Consider this a variation of a Wishing & Waiting post… but looking at books already available, and in most cases, sitting right there on our shelves and e-readers.

Want to join in? See the guidelines and linky at the bottom of the post, and jump on board! Let’s take control of our shelves!

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My Shelf Control pick this week is:

darwins-radioTitle: Darwin’s Radio
Author: Greg Bear
Published: 1999
Length: 430 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

“Virus hunter” Christopher Dicken is a man on a mission, following a trail of rumors, government cover-ups, and dead bodies around the globe in search of a mysterious disease that strikes only pregnant women and invariably results in miscarriage. But when Dicken finds what he’s looking for, the answer proves to be stranger—and far deadlier—than he ever could have imagined. Something that has slept in human DNA for millions of years is waking up.

Molecular biologist Kaye Lang has spent her career tracing ancient retroviruses in the human genome. She believes these microscopic fossils can come to life again. But when Dicken’s discovery becomes public, Lang’s theory suddenly turns to chilling fact. As the outbreak of this terrifying disease threatens to become a deadly epidemic, Dicken and Lang must race against time to assemble the pieces of a puzzle only they are equipped to solve—an evolutionary puzzle that will determine the future of the human race . . . if a future exists at all.

How I got it:

I bought it.

When I got it:

Gosh. No idea. Ages ago.

Why I want to read it:

Every once in a while, I’m in the mood for good medical sci-fi, and this sounds chilling and awful, which potentially means a great read. I’ve heard good things, so I really do need to take this one off the shelf finally.

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link below!
  • And if you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and have fun!

For more on why I’ve started Shelf Control, check out my introductory post here, or read all about my out-of-control book inventory, here.

And if you’d like to post a Shelf Control button on your own blog, here’s an image to download (with my gratitude, of course!):

Shelf Control

Audiobook Review: Fuzzy Nation

fuzzy-nation

Jack Holloway works alone, for reasons he doesn’t care to talk about. Hundreds of miles from ZaraCorp’s headquarters on planet, 178 light-years from the corporation’s headquarters on Earth, Jack is content as an independent contractor, prospecting and surveying at his own pace. As for his past, that’s not up for discussion.

Then, in the wake of an accidental cliff collapse, Jack discovers a seam of unimaginably valuable jewels, to which he manages to lay legal claim just as ZaraCorp is cancelling their contract with him for his part in causing the collapse. Briefly in the catbird seat, legally speaking, Jack pressures ZaraCorp into recognizing his claim, and cuts them in as partners to help extract the wealth.

But there’s another wrinkle to ZaraCorp’s relationship with the planet Zarathustra. Their entire legal right to exploit the verdant Earth-like planet, the basis of the wealth they derive from extracting its resources, is based on being able to certify to the authorities on Earth that Zarathustra is home to no sentient species.

Then a small furry biped—trusting, appealing, and ridiculously cute—shows up at Jack’s outback home. Followed by its family. As it dawns on Jack that despite their stature, these are people, he begins to suspect that ZaraCorp’s claim to a planet’s worth of wealth is very flimsy indeed…and that ZaraCorp may stop at nothing to eliminate the “fuzzys” before their existence becomes more widely known.

 

I’ve been on a roll with John Scalzi audiobooks lately, and I’m happy to report that Fuzzy Nation is another A+ hit. Fast-moving plot, great dialogue, intricate world-building, and a wickedly sharp sense of humor — Fuzzy Nation has everything I look for when I’m in the mood for a lighter but no less engaging audiobook.

Main character Jack Holloway fits the lovable rogue profile of the leads in other Scalzi books. He’s a loner, has no regard for authority, is seemingly out only for himself, but he’s a rascal with a heart of gold. He may as well be wearing an “I Aim To Misbehave” t-shirt. Yeah, he’s that kind of hero.

As for the plot, take one resource-rich planet, add in some exploitative, money-hungry corporate 1%-ers, and mix in the aforementioned lovable rogue, and you’ve got conflict galore. Jack’s initial goal was to score a billion-dollar payday for himself through the discovery of an incredibly rich mining seam, but once he gets to know the Fuzzies, and then involves his biologist ex-girlfriend in studying them, things get a whole lot more complicated.

Scalzi’s characters are full-blown people with vivid personalities, and narrator extraordinaire Wil Wheaton makes them glow. Wheaton is fantastic with both the rapid-fire wise-cracking and super quick courtroom confrontations. His portrayal of Jack lets us see all sides of him — the compassionate companion to Carl the dog (an important character in his own right), the disillusioned mining contractor looking for a huge find, and the outraged friend of a group of fuzzies who need his help if they’re going to survive.

Fuzzy Nation is a reimagining of the classic sci-fi story Little Fuzzy, written by H. Beam Piper and published in 1962. I’ve never read the original, but it’s not necessary in order to enjoy Fuzzy Nation, although I’m curious enough now to want to check it out.

Fuzzy Nation was a truly enjoyable way to spend my commutes this past week. The story is lots of fun, and while the good guys/bad guys dynamic has shades of grey, it definitely gives us people to cheer for, and even tugged at my heartstrings a time or two. Between terrific writing and excellent narration, the audiobook is a perfect way to experience this story.

Like I said, I’ve been on a Scalzi roll lately. To see more of my reviews of works by this author, check out these links:

Redshirts
Lock In
Agent To The Stars

The Android’s Dream
The Dispatcher

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The details:

Title: Fuzzy Nation
Author: John Scalzi
Narrator: Wil Wheaton
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: 2011
Audiobook length: 7 hours, 18 minutes
Printed book length: 303 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased

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Book Review: Good Morning, Midnight

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Augustine, a brilliant, aging astronomer, is consumed by the stars. For years he has lived in remote outposts, studying the sky for evidence of how the universe began. At his latest posting, in a research center in the Arctic, news of a catastrophic event arrives. The scientists are forced to evacuate, but Augustine stubbornly refuses to abandon his work. Shortly after the others have gone, Augustine discovers a mysterious child, Iris, and realizes the airwaves have gone silent. They are alone.

At the same time, Mission Specialist Sullivan is aboard the Aether on its return flight from Jupiter. The astronauts are the first human beings to delve this deep into space, and Sully has made peace with the sacrifices required of her: a daughter left behind, a marriage ended. So far the journey has been a success, but when Mission Control falls inexplicably silent, Sully and her crew mates are forced to wonder if they will ever get home.

As Augustine and Sully each face an uncertain future against forbidding yet beautiful landscapes, their stories gradually intertwine in a profound and unexpected conclusion. In crystalline prose, Good Morning, Midnight poses the most important questions: What endures at the end of the world? How do we make sense of our lives?

Good Morning, Midnight is a melancholy, introspective novel, with moments of great beauty. And yet, it doesn’t quite succeed — or at least, not for me.

The set-up is interesting: An older man who chooses to remain in his isolated Arctic environment when all others evacuate, knowing that he may not have another opportunity to leave, and the crew of a space mission returning to their home planet with no idea of what awaits them. The book deals with the extremes of loneliness: What does it mean to be the last humans? How does existing have meaning when there likely is no possibility of a future? What does it mean to live without connection to others?

While the themes are interesting, the plot is a bit thin. This is a book about what happens within the souls of people in extreme situations; it’s not a typical post-apocalyptic adventure story. And yet, setting up a plot like this without offering explanation left me feeling very frustrated. Granted, the characters themselves did not get any answers, but I wanted to at least know the cause.

As the astronauts approach Earth orbit, they observe that the planet looks normal — no obliterating dust clouds, no evidence of massive destruction — and yet there’s the eerie fact that the night side of the globe has none of the twinkling lights they’d expect to see. The planet has gone dark, and no one responds to their attempts at communication. The mysterious catastrophe is not the point of the story, but rather what’s left for those who remain, but I simply couldn’t be satisfied without knowing more.

An additional negative for me is the revelation of a connection at the end of the book that’s entirely too coincidental for my taste. It makes the parallel storylines a bit too neat, and is both unnecessary and unbelievable.

Good Morning, Midnight didn’t fully engage my interest, and there are some serious flaws in the approach to the story. I was much more engaged by the idea of the story and how it might go than by the actual execution. Perhaps I expected more science fiction based on the description, and felt let down to discover that the sci-fi set-up is merely a frame for a story that’s very much a look at people’s interiors.

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The details:

Title: Good Morning, Midnight
Author: Lily Brooks-Dalton
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: August 9, 2016
Length: 272 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Library

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Shelf Control #59: Old Man’s War

Shelves final

Welcome to the newest weekly feature here at Bookshelf Fantasies… Shelf Control!

Shelf Control is all about the books we want to read — and already own! Consider this a variation of a Wishing & Waiting post… but looking at books already available, and in most cases, sitting right there on our shelves and e-readers.

Want to join in? See the guidelines and linky at the bottom of the post, and jump on board! Let’s take control of our shelves!

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My Shelf Control pick this week is:

Old Man's WarTitle: Old Man’s War
Author: John Scalzi
Published: 2007
Length: 362 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.

The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce– and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.

Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You’ll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You’ll serve two years at the front. And if you survive, you’ll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets.

John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine–and what he will become is far stranger.

How I got it:

At the used bookstore, when I was trading in a stack of my older books.

When I got it:

Early in 2015.

Why I want to read it:

I’ve been on a Scalzi kick lately. I’ve listened to three audiobook versions of his novels this year, and loved them all. I’ve had my eye on this series for a while, but I’ve been trying to finish up other reading commitments. I think the Old Man’s War series will be the one I choose to kick off 2017!

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link below!
  • And if you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and have fun!

For more on why I’ve started Shelf Control, check out my introductory post here, or read all about my out-of-control book inventory, here.

And if you’d like to post a Shelf Control button on your own blog, here’s an image to download (with my gratitude, of course!):

Shelf Control