Here are some suggestions for what to spend your holiday gift cards on if you are a science fiction reader.
First, a couple of caveats: in order to pare down the number of books we need to cover, we the reviewers are sticking primarily with authors or publishers from the southeastern part of the US, and we gave fantasy and science fiction titles for middle grades and teens their own post.
In order of release date, January 2012 saw Baen’s paperback release of Back to the Moon by Travis Taylor and Les Johnson. This is the story of a United States space mission to return to the Moon, and nobody presents near-future NASA tech better than co-author Les Johnson: his day-job is at the Marshall Space Flight Center. Along with Doc Travis’s multiple science/defense jobs it means that all the real stuff crosses one of their desks, and the two guys from Huntsville present everything, even details about such things as advanced spacecraft propulsion systems, in an easy-to-read style.
Back to the Moon is, at its heart, a “daring rescue” story: the American astronauts discover that a lunar mission launched by China has arrived on the Moon first, but a malfunction has caused the spacecraft to crash, stranding the crew. The problem then becomes one of how to get everyone safely back to Earth.
The characters from both groups of spacers are well-developed and believable, and the scenes on the lunar surface are tense and exciting. Some of the technology presented in the story has already been canceled (the SpaceX Falcon and Dragon spacecraft were not nearly as far along when the book was written), so Back to the Moon could be read as an alternate future history in which NASA developments continued on track, but it remains a solid science fiction adventure.
Guardian of Night by Tony Daniel was released in trade paperback in February 2012. Daniel is Baen’s newest editor, and this is his first sf novel in a few years.
Earth has been attacked by aliens and only two percent of the human population remains alive. The attackers, called the sceeve, were poised to finish humanity off and strip the planet of its resources, but the impending extermination was cancelled when the alien forces suddenly withdrew.
But now word has come that the sceeve are returning to finish the job and a group of sceeve renegades on the run from their repressive government and armed with a single ship and a powerful artifact seek to side with humanity and engage the oncoming menace. Only one human being is able to communicate with the bizarre creatures. Can the Solar System be saved?
Guardian of Night is military SF with a heaping helping of old-school space adventure, seen through the eyes of several well-developed characters, both human and alien, most of whom have lost all of their immediate families to the devastation of the war.
The science that Daniels uses in the story is all extrapolated from current knowledge, despite appearing a bit fantastical in places, but then a twenty-first century smartphone would appear fantastical to someone from the 1950s.
The biology behind the sceeve, who live in a helium-rich, high-pressure atmosphere, communicate primarily by pheromones, and eat through their feet is only cursorily addressed, but the characters are so fully realized and the novel is so briskly paced that the reader has little time to dwell on such oddities.
If you like such stories as The Mote in God’s Eye, Footfall, or James White’s Sector General stories, then Guardian of Night is a book for you.
Military SF readers had a busy spring, first with Daniel’s novel and then books from Baen’s regulars following in March, April, and May.
In March came the release of another David Weber book, this time the new Honorverse hardcover volume called A Rising Thunder. The unseen enemy who appears to be trying to start an interstellar war drives most of the plot in this book. The Solarian League Navy continues to do unexplainable things and get itself into deeper trouble. The unseen enemy is visible more to the reader than to any of the characters in the story, so the bigger picture becomes clearer.
The treecats play a prominent and welcome role in defending the Star Empire of Manticore against the plottings of its enemies, and President Pritchart and Empress Elizabeth figure more prominently than they have previously. They are both very interesting leaders, and Honor’s views and understanding of them both is handled well.
The planets Grayson and Beowulf also figure into the story, and characters from both worlds make their presence felt in the Star Empire. The story also sees the marriage of Roger Winton, introducing the reader to the woman who will be heir to the Manticoran throne. Honor is the woman’s (please pardon the pun!) maid of honor, and the Harrington relatives from Beowulf also put in an appearance as wedding guests.
As usual, David Weber delivers an exciting read, with equal measures of labyrinthine political intrigue and space battles of cosmic proportions.
David Drake had the ninth volume in his space adventure series, The Road of Danger released in April 2012. David Drake’s newest volume of the adventures of Captain Daniel Leary and Adele Mundy sends them off separately to arrive in the Sunbright system to capture a rebel leader who is a Cinnabar citizen.
Their ship the Princess Cecile is disguised and Adele plays a noblewoman while Daniel becomes a laid-off lieutenant on half-pay and takes a berth on a blockade runner.
There is some interesting single-ship combat involving the Princess Cecile as well as the usual espionage and political intrigue present in all the Leary stories. In each volume Adele’s behavior becomes more self-controlled and she better realizes when to use the crew to help her, sometimes for morale purposes since she could do most of it herself.
Leary and his servant/surrogate father Hogg continue to deepen their relationship and their understanding of what each of them needs to do their job, resulting in better coordinated efforts by the pair.
A good space adventure with interesting ship technology involving sails and rigging and engaging characters who have grown and changed over time, any volume featuring Daniel Leary and the deadly librarian Adele Mundy is definitely worth a read.
April also saw Baen release the paperback of Extremis, a return to the Starfire wargame universe in a sequel to Exodus, and series author Steve White has a new writing partner: Charles Gannon.
The story is told from the perspective of the human inhabitants of the Bellerophon system, which in the previous book was invaded by an armada that came not through a warp point (a naturally-occurring spacetime distortion that allows instantaneous travel between two star systems) but at sub-light speed from the depths of interstellar space, and also from the perspective of the fleet personnel who are trying to break in and retake the system. Ian Trevayne returns in this story, and as usual his solutions to fleet battle situations are anything but ordinary.
There is also a third perspective, that of the invading Baldies, or Arduans as they call themselves, who are completely unresponsive to human attempts to communicate. This communication barrier leads to many misunderstandings, and how this barrier is finally breached is as large a part of the story as the space battles which are a Starfire staple.
The Arduans themselves are an interesting and well-thought-out alien species, and seeing humans from their point of view doesn’t do the humans any favors, but the Arduans are not saints by any means. All the characters, both human and alien, are well-developed and change as the story progresses, particularly those who interact regularly with members of the opposing species.
Of course, like any Starfire novel, there are very large numbers of very large spaceships blowing up, and this story will satisfy even the most jaded explosion-junkie.
Extremis is a good reading choice for fans of epic space battles and interesting aliens, and since the plot of this story is centered mostly around a single star system, familiarity with previous Starfire novels or the wargame on which those novels are based not required.
May saw the release of No Going Back, the new volume in Mark Van Name’s Jon and Lobo series from Baen and then we skip to November when we see the Baen hardcover release of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold (see The Exploding Spaceship review here) and also the Baen paperback release of Carnelians from Catherine Asaro. This is Book 3 of the Saga of the Skolian Empire. Kelric, the Skolian Imperator, and his aunt Dehya are attacked through the Kyle web (sort of World Wide Web accessed by technologically-induced telepathy). While this is happening, Kelric’s rock star brother Del appears to release a song called “Carnelians Finale” which has lyrics undermining the peace treaty between the Eubian Empire and the Skolian Imperialate. To sort out the mess a summit is set up for the 2 sides to meet in person, but the security issues for both sides cause many delays. Eventually it takes place but of course it does not go smoothly.
The family intrigue and interstellar politics provide an interesting and complex plot with interesting characters. Del, the renegade rock musician brother, travels off Earth for the first time in recent memory, which surprises even Kelric. The views of Earth and its inhabitants are quite interesting and not really favorable.
December brings a Christmas volume edited by Hank Davis with some older reprints which most of today’s readers would not have seen before, as well as some newer stories from Baen authors like Larry Correia and Sarah Hoyt. Both of their stories involve characters from book series, Larry’s from Grimnoir and Sarah’s from the Darkship Series. Sarah Hoyt also has a new December release, Darkship Renegades, the sequel to Darkship Thieves. They return to Eden but this has unwelcome consequences and they are soon going back to Earth. They have a European adventure which sees some of Thena’s friends appear and she gets news of what has happened to her home and the surrounding area since she killed her father in the last book. They return to Eden and a guerilla war results in changes on Eden for everyone.