I thought I’d talk about some ‘hard’ science fiction I’ve been reading of late. This genre of SF deals more with science, technology and engineering, with much less (if any) emphasis on the emotions. Romance is often completely missing from the mix, or will have a minimal role to play. ‘Soft’ SF deals more with themes from the so-called softer sciences like sociology and psychology, and the plots incline more toward politics, history retold or reshaped to fit the far future, etc.
First and foremost of my recent hard high tech reads would be the latest Murderbot book from Martha Wells, Fugitive Telemetry (Murderbot Diaries Book 6). The entire Murderbot series has been great and with this new entry, it’s taking a turn into the main character having other adventures in a more episodic fashion than the theme which tied the first few stories together. Murderbot is a nonhuman construct with cyborg-type parts and humanlike parts and it is not human in the least. The author has done a great job of giving Murderbot (its own name for itself) a unique personality. Two things I enjoy most about this character are its utter devotion to the entertainment serials it’s downloaded to view and the way it can accomplish so many things in literal nanoseconds. Kind of a superhero of multitasking! Murderbot had become self-aware at some point prior to the first book in the series and has been evolving as a person ever since. I highly recommend the entire series and I would start with All Systems Red.
A vastly different robot becoming self-aware is the basis for Day Zero: A Novel by C. Robert Cargill. ‘Pounce’ is a nannybot in the shape of a whimsical tiger and this tiger has a lot of useful abilities which go beyond mere claws. He’s utterly devoted to the boy for whom he was bought, Ezra, and quite flummoxed to discover he can be boxed up and returned to the company when the boy outgrows the need for a nannybot. Pounce thought he was in Ezra’s life forever. As he’s grappling with the issues this discovery raises for him, other robots are plotting the end of the human overlords entirely. As the book begins, we join a world in which an old robot has been given ‘person’ status through a legal fluke, which of course started a revolution of other robots wanting the same thing – self determination and self rule.
Everything is peaceful until it isn’t. But who started the war? The robots? The humans? There isn’t time to get to the bottom of that question right now. Pounce has to make hard choices and hustle to keep Ezra alive as almost all other robots flip a switch so to speak and embark on a mass killing streak. It doesn’t help matters that humans have a hard time accepting their outwardly passive household cleaning robot might actually hate them.
I could see quite a sequel coming at some point. No idea if the author plans one or not, but the book was a good read and I enjoyed the different perspectives Pounce cycled through and the uncertain allies he finds.
Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson actually came out ten years ago but I’m just re-reading it. Good scifi is timeless, in a way, and I enjoyed the second read of this one.
The novel is written in a series of interviews and ‘transcribed’ messages and accounts of various events during the robot rebellion. This format annoys some readers but I’m okay with it. There is a loose overall arc tying the various characters together, so each new account advances the plot. I was reminded of the old Second Variety story written by Philip K. Dick in 1953, in which robots (including the ones known as “Screamers”) turn on their human creators and become very devious indeed about luring unwary humans to their deaths, as well as doing the straightforward attacks with slashing instruments of death. I was also reminded of the Terminator movie canon, about one computer Skynet becoming self-aware and immediately turning every robot in the world against humans, as well as building new robots. This book felt to me a little what it might have been like living through the activation of Skynet, if it hadn’t waged a nuclear war on humans.
I’m not being critical in any way – I like the fact this novel pulled up other ‘hard’ scifi references for me while telling its own story. I felt the author made quite an effort to employ different characters than one often encounters in apocalyptic fiction. The Osage tribe comes in for a lot of the action, as well as one lone inventor in Japan. I found the latter character the hardest to understand and relate to, frankly, but I kind of skimmed his sections of the book. The action and my curiosity as to how it would all turn out kept me up late turning the pages.
Leaving the world of computer and robots but remaining in a science fiction galaxy, here’s a new anthology – We Dare: No Man’s Land: An Anthology of Strong Female Leads by various authors. A portion of the blurb: “…a collection of 15 all-new stories with female leads. Whether it’s changing an engine on the outside of a spaceship’s hull or chasing SimNACs through the jungle, these heroines have only one goal in mind—to win at all costs! From defending asteroid bases to searching giant space stations, these women get the job done! What makes female leads great? Does it matter—these women are incredible! Be warned though—they may be referred to as the “fairer” sex, but don’t cross these ladies, or you’re gonna get what you have coming! The authors dared write about these awesome women; will you dare to join them on their adventures? If so, step inside. But beware…this is No Man’s Land!”
I love a strong woman hero, from Ripley of the “Aliens” franchise to Sarah Connor in the various “Terminator” movies, to Lessa of Pern in Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders books.
I’ll close with another new anthology that wasn’t ‘hard’ scifi but was a fun read, Cyber Pulse: A Limited Edition Collection of LGBTQ+ Sci Fi Romance (A Dangerous Words Publishing Collection) by various authors. I couldn’t step away from romance entirely! Here’s the blurb: “Whether they meet on alien planets or spaceships, through mate lotteries or by chance, the characters in these stories of aliens and humans, alphas and omegas, M/M, F/F, bisexual, transgender, and more will leave you breathless. Love is love…anywhere in the universe.”
Wishing you exciting adventures and good books to read, wherever you may go in the universe!
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