Project Hail Mary – Andy Weir

Oh thank God. I can’t imagine explaining “sleep” to someone who had never heard of it. Hey, I’m going to fall unconscious and hallucinate for a while. By the way, I spend a third of my time doing this. And if I can’t do it for a while, I go insane and eventually die. No need for concern.

The book follows the story of the sole survivor of a human crew in their interstellar voyage to find a cure for the microbes that infect the sun and threaten the future of humanity. The narrative is a mix of hard science fiction with comedy.

What a book! For hard science fictions fans this is an almost perfect combination of hard astronomy and physics lessons, a very credible plot, humour, aliens and survival in space. I could not leave the book from my hands.

The story starts with an unexpected dimming of the sun that quickly is determined to be by an infection with some mysterious microbes that simply take energy from the sun and then travel to the highest carbon dioxide-heavy planet (it’s not Earth) to reproduce, return to the sun and restart the cycle. On the other hand, the microbes store immense energy, which changes all interstellar travel paradigm. The dimming of the sun will have rather quickly catastrophic effects on Earth, in only a few decades. All stars around our solar system dim, except one.

A crew is quickly assembled to find if this star has any solutions to Earth’s problems, but only our protagonist survives. And the quest begins.

What is most engaging in this book is that there is no secret recipe, no luck involved, just hard work and using existing tools offered by science and environment. Problems come one after another, but through determination and team work, they are gradually resolved.

A superb book by the author of “The Martian”! I really enjoyed it.

A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers Book 2) – Becky Chambers

What was the difference between strung-together neurons and a simple bundle of if/then code, if the outward actions were the same? Could you say for certain that there wasn’t a tiny mind in that bot, looking back at the world like a beetle might?

The book presents in two separate, but interlinked stories, the survival and friendship adventures of an artificial intelligence (AI) and a clone on the run, sometime in the far future. A Close and Common Orbit is the stand-alone second book of the Wayfarers series.

The impressive world-building and memorable characters remain the strong-points of the series, but this time the story goes in a new direction compared with the first book. If the first book followed a motley crew, this volume is more about personal discovery, grit and friendship. The author explores the consciousness of an AI and how it evolves and interacts with sapient organics, through two separate stories (will not spoil how they are linked).

The book is captivating and fulfilling in its climax, with a good pace, creating a rich world, but unburdened by long descriptions. It is excellent storytelling. The plot is rather straightforward, but the introspection of the main characters makes a fascinating read.

An AI and a clone on the run, in two separate, but interlinked stories.

The author, Becky Chambers, is a well recognized and award-winning sci-fi writer, and these were the books that made her fame, the Wayfarers series being her most accoladed prose so far.

Overall, the second book of the series is an engaging and captivating read that has plenty of food for thought.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers Book 1) – Becky Chambers

The truth is, Rosemary, that you are capable of anything. Good or bad. You always have been, and you always will be. Given the right push, you, too, could do horrible things. That darkness exists within all of us. You think every soldier who picked up a cutter gun was a bad person? No. She was just doing what the soldier next to her was doing, who was doing what the soldier next to her was doing, and so on and so on. And I bet most of them — not all, but most — who made it through the war spent a long time after trying to understand what they’d done. Wondering how they ever could have done it in the first place. Wondering when killing became so comfortable.

This is the story of a motley crew, specialized in building “tunnels”, the highways of space and their adventures and individual stories. It is feel good science fiction, where bad events happen and there are bad people, but generally things are going well, there is relative stability and a place for everyone, good or bad.

The world building and character creation are the hallmarks of this novel. The world created makes sense and has enormous depth, the author cleverly staying away from introducing more complex concepts that could trigger deep changes in the society. The characters are each followed and given backstories, motivations and clear roles.

The crew is composed of nine entities: captain Ashby Santoso, a human who is keeping others in check; Dr Chef – an alien, both cook and medic, with little ambition other than to please others; Kizzy Shao – human female, the ship’s mechanic and an explosion of energy and words; Jenks – human dwarf, the software expert, literally in love with the ship’s AI; Sissix – an alien part of a species promiscuous by design, ship’s pilot; Artis Corbin – human male, responsible for life systems support and aloof guy; Lovelace – ship’s advanced and sentient AI; Ohan – alien, ship’s navigator, able to calculate faster than AI by plot armour; and Rosemary Harper – human female, and main protagonist, a runner because of her father shameful acts.

Social diversity is the theme of the book: a world less sexist, transphobic and xenophobic. It is so nice that the book feels almost like a young adult novel, with malice in few quantities; a very sugar sweet world.

Despite the relative lack of action and more often than not romantic character building, the book is quite engaging and creates memorable, unique protagonists. It is one of those books that you either love or drop midway. The sequel of the book, A Closed and Common Orbit, was even highly regarded, finalist for the 2017 Hugo Award for Best Novel. Interestingly, the book is a kind of reflection of its real life origins, being initially self-published via a Kickstarter campaign, where about 50 people sponsored the author to continue writing.

Shards of Earth – Adrian Tchaikovsky (The Final Architecture, book 1)

What’s the point of making better people, if they’re still sad and afraid and lonely?

The book follows the story of a space pilot, capable of unique feats, and a soldier, driven by duty and skill, in a futuristic galaxy, where strange aliens seem bound to destroy the universe. In a grandiose space opera, the pilot and the soldier take part in wars and in a motley crew, carried around by the threat of the Architects, the destroyer of planets.

The book is the first part of a trilogy The Final Architecture, but can stand alone and does not finish with a major cliffhanger. Tchaikovsky is increasingly appreciated as one of the best upcoming scifi authors, already winning the Arthur C. Clarke Award and Hugo Award.

Shards of Earth is entertaining, credible and memorable. The reader becomes interested in the fate of protagonists, how the world events are affecting them and how are they responding. The plot is well constructed and there are almost no points where the reader is baffled by the luck or invulnerability of the personages. On the contrary, the heroes of the story do not escape their adventures unscathed. The supporting personages are unique and memorable, with their own motivations and different, interesting backgrounds.

But what impresses most is the world building, creating aliens and separate human species, planets, ships, language, clothes, food – all deeply thought how would they look in the future, and how would they interact. The socioeconomic developments that drive colonization are well-understood. The decision of planets to side with one faction or the other make sense.

Additionally, the dialogue and descriptions are masterfully written, with memorable quotes and presentations. The descriptions manage to create and explain the new space world, without going in too much length – a sign of a great writer.

While the aliens and the worlds created are not uncommon in the scifi literature, the way their interact, the attention to strong motivations, the vocabulary, the editing and, overall, the excellent writing makes the book really engaging and hard to let down before finishing.

Colonisation (Tome 6) – Denis-Pierre Filippi, Vincenzo Cucca

Les équipes de l’Agence ont été attaquées. Une branche indépendante d’Écumeurs dirigée par un certain Raylan est parvenue à s’infiltrer dans le vaisseau du Commodore Illiatov. Leur assaut, s’il était destiné à la récolte de données concernant les nefs perdues, ne sera parvenu qu’à une chose : mettre fin à la vie de nombreux agents et notamment à celle du Commodore lui-même. Raylan et ses sbires sont en fuite et mènent la danse, agissant toujours avec un coup d’avance. La menace s’intensifie, les morts se multiplient et l’escouade de Milla réalise peut-être trop tard que l’ennemi qui lui fait face est le plus rusé et le plus redoutable qu’elle ait jamais eu à affronter.

Colonisation est le 6ème tome de la série des bandes dessinées par scénariste Denis-Pierre Filippi et dessinateur Vincenzo Cucca. Les dessins et le scénario sont captivants et clairement profondément pensés. La série est imaginative et pleine d’action. Les inconvénients sont le manque de science dure à certains moments, comme aller sur une planète extraterrestre dangereuse (haut de gamme) par l’équipe de recherche sans casque.

Le context de l’histoire est l’humanité dans le futur, envoyant des colonies dans le grand espace. Cependant, des extraterrestres bien intentionnés offrent à l’humanité le cadeau de voyager vite dans l’espace. Les colonies sont un prix élevé du marché noir et l’Agence est formée, pour trouver et protéger des braconniers maléfiques ces colonies perdues. La série suit les aventures de l’agence dans sa mission de défendre les colonies humaines perdues.

Dans ce volume 6, l’Agence tente de capturer un braconnier habile appelé Raylene, qui s’avère plus ingénieux et impitoyable que prévu.

Défendre les colonies humaines perdues contre les braconniers maléfiques dans le futur lointain de l’humanité.

Le volume était captivant et les dessins capturaient magnifiquement l’immensité de l’espace et de l’humanité dans le futur. Si l’histoire est forte, les dialogues sont moins forts que les illustrations, qui sont vraiment mémorables. Les scènes d’action et l’histoire elle-même sont bien mises en page et facilitent la lecture et le suivi de l’action pour le lecteur.

Dans l’ensemble, même si elle manque parfois de science dure, la série est captivante et avec des illustrations mémorables.

On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington Book 1) – David Weber

The message she’d just ordered Webster to send and Venizelos to relay to Manticore was never sent in drills, not even in the most intense or realistic Fleet maneuvers. Case Zulu had one meaning, and one only: “Invasion Imminent.

The book follows military captain Honor Harrington’s adventures in a distant, far future, fighting foreign invasions, sexism, greed and incompetence. Honor is a woman, captain in the Queen’s Royal Manticoran Navy, and the reader sees how she handles different situations brought to her by politics and discrimination.

The protagonist is one of the best developed characters in the military scifi universe and an inspiration for the entire genre. The book and series is widely regarded as one of the must-reads for the military scifi fans, a reference for this niche science fiction style.

In this first book of the series, captain Harrington is exiled to a backwater station, Basilisk, where she is gradually building the confidence of her ship crew and of the local authorities in dealing with the trade and offworld traffic. She becomes involved in the defense of the planet against foreign forces.

Critics point out that the different types of views that the book presents make the reader to do no thinking, everything is well presented pages in advance. Honor Harrington is too much of an omnipotent captain, who never makes mistakes and pushes duty over everything, even her crew. The hard scifi part, the science in the book is passable, with a long description of the technologies and the world at the of the volume. Some more description of the everyday life and universe would have been helpful as well.

Despite these drawbacks, the book is truly memorable and entertaining. An easy, relaxing read for holidays. The plot is easy, but well paced. the vocabulary is adequate, not really fantastic, but not bad neither.

An entertaining, recommended read.

The Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut, book 1)

There is something magic about takeoffs. I know people who are afraid of flying who say that the takeoffs and landings are the only hard parts, perhaps because that’s when the act of flying is most apparent. I love the way you get pushed back into your seat. The weight and the sense of momentum press against you and the vibrations from the tarmac hum through the yoke and into your palms and legs. Then, suddenly, everything stops and the ground drops away.

A meteorite hits Earth in the 1950s and, in its aftermath, the planet will gradually become uninhabitable. Humanity realizes that it is in danger and looks for stars. Under such entertaining context, the book follows Elma York, a female pilot and mathematician, and her struggle to be accepted in the space programme, as astronaut.

The story is well narrated and the little news headlines at the beginning of each chapter, showing the worsening of the situation on Earth, offer a nice background. The book is overwhelmingly composed by the dialogue of the protagonist and various personages. It nicely presents the prejudice that women had to bear at the time.

The book was a huge hit, with awards from Hugo, Nebula and Locus prizes. It developed into a series called “Lady Astronaut”. It is well written and has an engaging background. The first 100 pages of the book are a marvel.

On the other side, there are some attributes that make the story less convincing. The protagonist has all the cards possible in her hand: father is a general, she is a genius with a PhD in mathematics, her husband is the best rocket scientist in the world, at the exact moment that this science become the most important thing, she is an ace pilot, well-connected and beautiful. In a bit of cliche, she fights sexism, racism and religious discrimination (she is a Jew), and wins.

Nevertheless, an interesting, engaging, well written and multi-awarded book.

Dreadnaught (The Lost Fleet, Book 7) – Jack Campbell

If you don’t exercise a talent, you get rusty,

The odyssey of Captain Jack Geary and his start fleet continues beyond human-controlled space, into the alien enigmas territory. The captain finds itself again in new and tense situations, but dangers are much higher than during the war with the human Syndics.

Already the 7th volume in the series, the story keeps its appeal and, finally, Jack Campbell responds to some of the criticism and does not repeat the various descriptions of the universe it creates. The book is more ingrained in the space opera, rather than a stand alone book, which was always one of the aims of the author in the previous stories.

This time the war with the Syndics is over and enemy is a mysterious alien civilization. While the plot is simple, it develops well and has enough depth and logic to be plausible. This is indeed one of the strengths of the book – taking wild developments in the far future and then apply logic response to them. There is no silver bullet or magic that saves the day.

Beyond human-controlled space, into the unknown.

The jabs to politicians continue, but it is not a nod to fascism, as, while not explicit, democracy is still seen the best of all forms of socio-economical organisation. The political game makes sense and helps drive the plot forward.

The drawbacks remain the same: a somewhat limited vocabulary, too much focus on dialogue that does not really add more depth to characters, too little description of the universe it creates.

Nevertheless, it is astonishing how the series keeps its appeal, even at the seven volume. Jack Campbell is truly a masterful and ingenious storyteller.

Victorious (The Lost Fleet, Book 6) – Jack Campbell

We should have suspected that nonhumans were involved right from the start when the activation process didn’t involve a lot of arcane commands that had to be done in just the right order, and the destination was displayed as a name rather than using some counterintuitive code. No human software engineer would produce a device that easy to use.

The book is the last in the Lost Fleet series, completing the story arc. The odyssey of Captain Jack Black is finishing. Or does it? Jack Campbell brings the story to an end, but leaves place for another adventure.

Compared with the other books of the series, it is rather the worst. The plot is still good, but a bit predictable. The romantic twist is an interesting idea, but it does not add much to the main story. And the romantic ending is a cliche.

However, the story is still captivating and good enough to make the reader follow the story until its end. The final fights are well thought and engaging. The dialogue was never a strong point of the book, but managed to stay at decent levels. Some new characters are memorable, although seem sometimes as caricatures of some human traits and cultures.

I enjoyed the book, although the series does not finish with a high. A nice read for a rainy evening, with a glass of tea nearby.

Dark AGE (RED RISING SAGA: BOOK 5) – Pierce Brown

I kept looking for hope in the world. Expecting the world to supply deliverance if I plucked the right chords. Demanding that it supply validation to my labor if I just gave enough effort. But that is not the nature of the world. Its nature is to consume. In time, it will consume us all, and the spheres will spin until they too are consumed when our sun dies. Maybe that is the point of it. Knowing that though one day darkness will cover all, at least your eyes were open to see moments of light.

“Dark Age” is the fifth book in the “Red Rising” scifi saga, and indeed the story takes a dark path. Darrow’s revolution against the vile colour-coded, class-based Society is crumbling. The very Republic he sought to create ousted him and his wife, Mustang, barely escapes with life in the coup the topples the Republic in the hands of Red Hands, a mafia-like organization.

The splintered Society starts to come together under the courage and bright political mind of Lysander au Lune, son of the previous Sovereign. The allies of Darrow, the Obsidians, fall under the charisma and sheer power of Volsung Fa, a new leader coming mysteriously from the Rim. Sevro and other Howlers, the backbone of Darrow’s intelligence arm, are caught prisoner by old enemies.

The only positives are that Darrow and Mustang are alive. Victra au Barca-Julii, wife of Sevro, is rebuilding her forces, despite losing her capital ship to the monstrous army of Volsung Fa. Mars stands still loyal to Darrow. Pax, Darrow and Mustang’s teenager son, starts to show a great future.

Again, the book shows super writing craftsmanship and an engaging plot. The vocabulary remains a jewel, making reading a fascinating discovery of new words and meanings. I understand the book has a separate vocabulary editor, a true master in his field.

Unlike other volumes, this one presents several points of view, not only Darrow’s. This makes the motivations of personages much clearer and adds depth to characters.

For some, the gore, the violence, the truly gruesome scenes make the book hard to read. It is truly a vision of dark times, where humanity lost its way and starts to break in little fiefdoms fighting with each other.

Overall, a great fifth book in the Red Rising series, with a true vision of dark ages.