Hard to believe it’s been over a year since the last one of these, though there’ve been plenty of other posts covering the Hugo Awards or Halloween Reading, and so on. Still, I’ve built up a backlog of SF books that need reviewing, so here goes nothing:
Reunion by Christopher Farnsworth – Four teenagers save the world in a small town during an event that became known as “New Year’s Evil.” Twenty years later, and the cyclical evil has returned. The four heroes, now cynical adults, must return home to go to their high school reunion and face the evil again. Or do they?
It’s a premise that recalls Stephen King’s It in more than a few ways, though Farnsworth obviously puts his own spin on it and clocking in at just 332 pages, it’s clearly not going for the epic sensibility King was working through in his novel. Farnsworth does make ample use of archetypes though, and it’s almost like he’s using It as a structural archetype. Each of our heroes follows a well established model. Eric is a magician, a la Merlin. Carrie is the girl detective, as in Nancy Drew. Alana is the Warrior Princess, like Xena. And Danny is the boy genius who goes on super science adventures in the manner of Jonny Quest. Each character is introduced in a sorta where are they now chapter, then they come together to confront evil (again), and each also gets flashbacks extolling their teenaged adventures. It all culminates in dueling climaxes, where we get the true story of “New Year’s Evil” cross cut with a redux in the present.
I was a little hesitant at first, but the book quickly won me over, and by the end I was wishing it was an It sized doorstop. It’s a story that does play to Farnsworth’s strengths, as in his President’s Vampire novels, where he gets to mix and match various bits of classic folklore and modern urban legends to craft a page turning adventure. There are some twists and turns and unexpected character revelations, which all worked well enough for me, even if some of them are a tad predictable. It’s still fun seeing each character leverage their talents, then team up to defeat a seemingly unstoppable evil by using clever combinations of said talents. It’s clearly drafting on its archetypes, right down to the structure, but hey: they’re archetypes for a reason. It all resonates quite well in the end. Solid page-turning beach-read type stuff, and a lot of fun.
Fluency by Jennifer Foehner Wells – NASA discovered an alien ship hidden in the asteroid belt in the 1960s and the entire space program has been a covert attempt to develop the technology to reach it. Dr. Jane Holloway is a linguist recruited to help decipher any alien language they stumble upon. When they reach the ship, Holloway discovers it’s not completely uninhabited. A disembodied voice guides and helps the astronauts as they make their way through the ship. But is the voice on their side? Or is it manipulating them for some nefarious purpose?
Straightforward space opera comfort food, this turns the pages and presents a few interesting conflicts that drive tension throughout, but it’s also not going to blow your mind with anything especially new. Plenty of SF tropes and info-dumps, but nothing too unusual for the genre. Alas, the biggest issue here is that it’s all in service of a larger series of books, and while the ending is a natural conclusion for some of the characters, there are still lots of open questions that will presumably be explored in later books. That being said, I might be amenable to reading at least one more of these, which is usually a good sign…
Travel by Bullet by John Scalzi – This is the third novella in a series about “dispatchers”, people who are legally empowered to take a life (except in this world, anyone who is murdered survives – they just wake up in their home after being murdered. Natural deaths still occur uninterrupted, only murders are affected). It’s a silly premise, but Scalzi has set up internally consistent rules and used them to tell tightly plotted murder/mystery stories that rely on the vagaries of the dispatching process in some way. As per usual, lots of snappy dialogue and light humor keep the tone playful and the pace moving sprightly. For some reason, this entire series was conceived as an audio book exclusive (though I think the first two eventually got a print edition), but they’re solid listens and Zachary Quinto does a good job reading the stories. This has been a fun series and I look forward to more installments (for the record: each story is a self-contained mystery, so it’s not the kind of series that leaves you with lots of loose threads and open questions.)
Freedom™ by Daniel Suarez – The sequel to and conclusion of the story started in Suarez’s Daemon, about a quasi-AI system that attempts to take over the world after its inventor dies. I found that first book to be enjoyable enough in a surface-level pulpy fiction way, but was not inclined to immediately seek out the sequel. But I did seek out more Suarez, and he’s grown on me as an author, so I have finally circled back to this sequel. The first novel primarily saw the Daemon as a villain, but in this book Suarez attempts to soften the image a bit. It’s still a situation where the Daemon has to break some eggs to make the omelet, but maybe that omelet is worth it?
There are some interesting ideas floating around here about better ways to organize a society and its various supply chains given a high tech base to start from, though it all still feels like we’re only really scratching the surface, and a lot of plot elements are far-fetched to say the least. That being said, that sort of thing can be a lot of fun if you can get on its wavelength and don’t ask too many questions. I’m glad I read it and enjoyed it well enough, but my complaints from the first book remain and this would not be the first Suarez I’d recommend (if you’re interested, go for Influx or Delta-V first…)
Still a few more books to catch up with, and we’ve got Vintage Science Fiction Month coming soon too, so stay tuned…