Madeline Ashby’s 2016 Company Town is a standalone science fiction novel that has received enough acclaim—in large part due to its position in Canada Reads—that I have as yet been unable to obtain a copy . That is why this is a review of her 2013 novel, iD.
iD is the second instalment in Madeline Ashby’s Machine Dynasty series.
Every von Neumann robot that has ever been built comes with an infallible fail-safe that will kill the robot deader than the dodo if the robot fails to protect and serve their humans. Every robot save Amy, that is. Amy’s failsafe does not work. What’s worse from the human point of view is that vN robots spawn copies unless actively prevented; all of Amy’s iterations will have similarly defective failsafes.
There is an easy solution: simply kill Amy. Or rather, use her lover Javier’s failsafe to compel him to do it for the humans.
This simple plan has only one flaw.
The House of Binding Thorns is the second volume in Aliette de Bodard’s Dominion of the Fallen series.
The dragon realm hidden under the Seine has until now held itself aloof. Their kingdom has been known only to a very few in ruined Paris. Now something has changed. An ongoing crisis in their realm gives Asmodeus, head of House Hawthorn, a chance to open diplomatic exchange with the hermit domain. More than exchange: dynastic merger.
Of course, the dragon kingdom has its own agenda, not to mention long experience of cunning plans aimed its way. The diplomatic mission may well be one from which none will return. It is a risk Asmodeus is willing to accept. That’s why he is sending trusted or expendable (such as returned exile and angel-essence-addict Madeleine) subordinates to conduct the negotiations.
Emma Newman’s Brother’s Ruin is an amiable introduction to her Industrial Magic gas-lamp fantasyseries.
Great Britain’s power and prosperity rests on the talents of the Society for Esoteric Arts. Accordingly, the Society has been granted the legal powers it needs to ensure its continued existence. This includes the right to impress any person with magical talents into the Society, even if the candidate, or the candidate’s family, object to the conscription.
Losing a family member to the Society is not necessarily bad. The Society compensates the candidate’s family. This compensation would be a godsend to the Gunn family, which is struggling with mounting debts. Benjamin Gunn, aspiring mage, might be able to save his family. There is one problem: the Society pays in proportion to the prospective mage’s talents. Although he has some magical ability, Benjamin is a comparative lightweight. It’s his sister Charlotte who has the stupendous talent … and she is determined not to be conscripted. It would be much more convenient if Benjamin were the one to be press-ganged. Now, if there were only a way that Benjamin’s talents could be augmented to increase his compensation …
Charlotte has a cunning plan.
Mira Grant’s 2017 Final Girls is an upcoming standalone work.
Jennifer Webb has invented a new virtual-reality-based therapy and opened an institute to test and develop it. Seeking publicity and credibility, she offers Esther Hoffman, an investigative journalist, a chance to visit the institute and report on the new tech.
This would seem to have been a bad choice. Hoffman is a professional debunker with a strong personal grudge against pseudoscience therapies. But it is that very grudge that makes Hoffman a credible reporter. If Webb can convince Hoffman that the therapy has merit, Webb can convince everyone else.
The question that kickstarts many good plots: what could possibly go wrong?
William Tham Wai Liang’s Kings of Petaling Street is a standalone crime thriller.
Wong Kah Lok Syndicate’s power is waning, but it is still one of the most powerful gangs in Kuala Lumpur.
Gangster Wong has slowed of late. The heart went out of the aging criminal when his wife and oldest son died in an assassination attempt. Wong’s primary goal is now to see his remaining son, Gavin, settled in a respectable, safe occupation.
He shows poor judgment, then, in allowing the heir apparent to his gang, Crazy Foo, to mentor the impressionable Gavin.
Hunger Makes the Wolf is the first volume in Alex Wells’ as yet unnamed series.
Tanegawa’s World is one vast desert; it has very little to offer the other worlds of the Federal Union Moreover, the harsh natural conditions tend to wreck delicate advanced technology far in advance of its expected MTBF. How fortunate for the world’s inhabitants that TransRift, Inc, has taken the planet and its human inhabitants under its wing, providing the able-bodied with full time employment in the mines Without the distractions of decent pay, unions and law beyond that supplied by TransRift’s private army.
All of which will go part way to explain why Hob, Coyote, and Dambala find a dead man desiccating in the desert.
2017’s All Systems Red is the first instalment in Martha Well’s The Murderbot Diaries.
The Company cares (<3 <3 <3), which is why every one of their survey teams is required to have at least one Sec Unit. This is a construct: part machine, part organic, a guardian bound by programs stored in supposedly unhackable governor units. Its duty: to protect its squishy human charges. Of course, the Company is also profit-oriented, which means that the Sec Unit has been assembled from the cheapest components available, which in turn means that those governor units are, in fact, easily hacked.
Dr. Mensah’s team is small and it has just the one Sec Unit. That seems sufficient for a world without any significant known hazards. But appearances can be misleading. There is an undocumented giant predator in the team’s assigned territory. And the team’s Sec Unit is a Murderbot. Its governor has been hacked and disabled. Murderbot refrains from murdering its humans mainly because it can see no good reason to kill them. Not as long as it has new entertainment material to amuse it.
There is another, far greater, threat to the team than a soap-opera-obsessed Murderbot in the offing.
Mur Lafferty’s 2017 Six Wakes is a standalone science fiction mystery novel.
To have one crew-member murdered may be regarded as a misfortune; to have the entire crew murdered looks like carelessness.
Happily for Maria Arena and the rest of the crew of the interstellar ship Dormire, death is a temporary condition. Maria wakes in a cloning pod, as expected. What is not expected: she is still in the pod. Someone should have released her. Oh, and she can see globules of blood floating in freefall outside her container.
It only gets worse.
1993’s Parable of the Sower is the first volume in Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower duology. Here Butler explores a very American theme. From Huck Finn to the Joads ,from the Mormon pioneers to the Donners, from On the Road to The Road, nothing expresses the boundless possibilities of America like the road trip.
Lauren Olamina’s 2020s America is one that makes road trips challenging and eventful.
2012’s The Chaos is a standalone young adult urban fantasy novel by Nalo Hopkinson.
Sixteen-year-old Sojourner Smith leads a far–from- perfect life; she knows it and she knows why. She’s too white to be black, too black to be white, and subject to her parents’ draconian discipline (the same inflexible standards that consigned her older brother to prison). School is something of a refuge: there, she is nicknamed Scotch and admired because she is pretty, flirtatious, and a star performer of the Raw Gyals dance troupe.
Of course, nothing is perfect, and there are a few problems even there. She’s fallen out with Raw Gyals troupe leader and former best friend Gloria. Scotch is convinced that Gloria has her eye on Scotch’s ex-boyfriend Tafari. Not what a real BFF would do.
Oh, and there’s Scotch’s new skin condition and the fact that she’s been seeing floating heads lately….
A night out with her older brother Rich sounds like a welcome respite from parents and school. Pity the Smith siblings picked the night all hell broke loose in Toronto 1 Welcome to the Chaos!
2012’s Devil’s Wake is the first volume in Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due’s Devil’s Wake series.
It didn’t take long for the plague of angry ghouls to sweep across America, because to be bitten by one of the infected is to become one of the infected. There is no cure and there is no vaccine. The only reliable prophylaxis is preparedness or simple dumb luck.
Given enough time, even the prepared run into something unexpected. Given time, the best luck in the world runs out.
2010’s The Broken Kingdoms is the second volume in N. K. Jemisin’s The Inheritance Trilogy.
Ten years after the world changed, blind artist Oree makes a living in the city of Shadow, once called Sky. Although enforcement of the god Intempas’ laws is far laxer for reasons those in charge decline to explain in detail, it would be very bad for Oree Shoth if she were to come to the attention of the Order-Keepers.
Bad enough she found a murdered godling. Much worse that the Order-Keepers know she found Role’s corpse.
Dwayne McDuffie’s 2015 volume, Batman: Blink, collects Legends of the Dark Knight issues #156-158 and #164-167, which were first published in 2002–2003. To put it another way, he has put together two related story lines: Blink and its sequel, Don’t Blink.
Women are being killed in horrific ways. But aside from the ugly nature of their deaths, there seems to be nothing that explains why these women were targeted or who has been targeting them. At least nothing that the police or Batman can see. Lee Hyland is the only surviving witness and the cops don’t expect he will be a useful one. Not because Lee is a career criminal—he has been careful to keep that a secret—but because Lee is blind.
Sheree R. Thomas’ 2000 anthology Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora delivers what it promises. One clarification, however: it is not a Resnickian collection of works about members of the African Diaspora but works by members of the African Diaspora.
2017’s Binti: Home is the sequel to Nnedi Okorafor’s Nebula and Hugo-winning Binti.
Binti has been a student at Oomza University for a year. It’s a year that has transformed her, both physically and mentally. Some of those changes were beneficial. Others, like her post-traumatic stress disorder, are not. Seeking an end to the nightmares, Binti returns to her home on Earth, in Africa, to participate in a healing pilgrimage.
Maurice Broaddus’ 2017 Buffalo Soldier is a steam-punk western. It will be published in April.
Desmond Coke and Lij Tafari appear to be father and son, just a pair of migrant workers making their way across the Tejas Free Republic in search of employment. Jamaica and Albion’s agents know the truth: Lij is a treasure their master are determined to possess and Desmond is an impediment to be removed.
Alaya Dawn Johnson’s 2007 debut novel Racing the Dark is the first of the Spirit Binders secondary world fantasy series.
The great elemental spirits leave chaos in their wake. Centuries before, the islanders dealt with them by binding the great spirits, death, fire, water and air, into forms abhorrent to the spirits but tolerable to the humans.
Born on a backwater island, Lana would have been content to be just another diver among many, talented but not remarkable. Instead, her rite of passage into adulthood marked her as extraordinary. She will be no mere diver. She will be a harbinger of doom.
Kai Ashante Wilson’s 2016 A Taste of Honey is a stand-alone story set in the same universe as Wilson’s The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps.
Aqib’s life has been charted out for him. For his family to regain the status they lost when Aqib’s father was tempted by love to marry far beneath him, Aqib must marry well. This is a sacrifice his family is more than willing for Aqib to make.
Man plans, gods laugh.
1980’s Dustland is the second book in Virginia Hamilton’s Justice Trilogy.
Tom, Levi and Dorian’s psionic abilities are impressive but it took Justice to weld them together into the Unit, able to span time and space at will. There are limits.Although they can project their minds out of their home space-time, the Unit aways manifests in the same distant location. And what an odd location it is.
1949’s The Lottery and Other Stories is a collection of short pieces by Shirley Jackson. Aside from The Haunting of Hill House, there’s a giant Jackson-sized hole in my reading. When I saw how inexpensive The Lottery ebook was, I snapped it up. Time spent in various waiting rooms allowed me the leisure to actually read it.
There are twenty-five pieces in this book. I am not going to do my usual story by story approach; cue sighs of relief all round.
2016’s Hammers on Bone is the first work in Cassandra Khaw’s Persons Non Grata series.
The sign on his door says “John Persons, PI”. It doesn’t say “John Persons, Killer for Hire.” Abel, the kid currently on the other side of Persons desk, wants a killer, someone who will deal with his stepdad McKinsey before the stepdad can kill Abel and his brother James.
Persons has killed, but only in self-defence. Just like any other completely normal person. Persons is trying very hard to be a normal person. Abel is convinced that there’s more to Persons than meets the eye and he’s a very persuasive kid. Persons agrees to take a look at the stepdad and proceed as seems … ethical.
A faint mewling voice in the back of Persons’ head thinks that this is the right choice.
Connie Willis’ 2016 Crosstalk is a standalone near-future SF novel. I regret to inform my readers that this review may not be as enjoyably vitriolic as previous Willis reviews. (I may revisit that decision once Crosstalk gets its inevitable, inexplicable Hugo nomination.) As Willis novels go, I didn’t hate it all that much.
In the exciting world of Tomorrow CE, couples are not limited to intrusive social media and ever-present electronic communications. Now there’s the option of the EED, a device that creates an empathic link between lovebirds. Or at least, it’s supposed to.
Pressured into submitting to elective brain surgery by her loving fiancé Trent, Briddey Flannigan gets an EED. Alas! there is no sign of the empathic link that should have formed between Briddey and Trent. What Briddey got was…
Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s 2014 anthology Fractured: Tales of the Canadian Post-Apocalypse delivers exactly what it promises: post-apocalyptic tales told from Canadian perspectives.
The moral here seems to be that it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
Also, it’s not going to get better.
Carrie Vaughn’s 2017 Martians Abroad is a standalone young-adult SF novel, written in the manner of a very famous series of juvenile SF novels. In fact, it seems to be a response to a specific juvenile SF novel, about which more anon.
Young Polly Newton has a bold plan for her life, one that involves pilot school and helming humanity’s first starship. Polly’s mother also has bold plans for Polly and her brother Charles. Those plans involve an unwanted sojourn at the prestigious Galileo Academy on Earth. Polly’s plans are irrelevant. Mother knows best.
Martha Newton didn’t become Director of the Mars Colony by being easy to out-manoeuvre. By the time Polly learns what her mother has planned, it is too late for either Polly or her brother to do anything about it except pack their bags and give in to the inevitable.
2016’s Ninefox Gambit is the first volume in Yoon Ha Lee’s projected trilogy, The Machineries of Empire.
Success is often punished harshly. Consider the case of Captain Kel Cheris of Heron Company, 109-229th Battalion. She has excelled on the battlefield due to her skill and ingenuity. Those are exactly the qualities her superiors need if they are to retake the Fortress of Scattered Needles from the rebels who currently hold it.
Well, skill, ingenuity, and expendability.