Stack Overflow: 4 Sci-fi Novels

Stack Overflow: 4 Science Fiction Picks

Books Columns Entertainment Stack Overflow

Today’s stack: some sci-fi books I’ve been reading recently!

The Relentless Moon

The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal

You may have seen that I’ve been getting caught up on the Lady Astronaut series this year. I missed it when it came out but had heard good things about it, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them so far. (Side note: if you’ve been watching the Apple TV+ show For All Mankind and you’re looking for more alternate history space-race, this is a great series for that!) The third book, The Relentless Moon, was the longest one yet; the timeframe of this book actually overlaps with the second book, The Fated Sky.

We get a shift to a different narrator: this time, instead of Elma York (who is on her journey to Mars), Nicole Wargin tells the story. Nicole is another one of the first batch of women astronauts, and she’s also the wife of Kenneth Wargin, the governor of Kansas. Since the US government relocated to Kansas City after the meteor strike and the International Aerospace Coalition (IAC) is based there, that means Kenneth is a significant political figure, and Nicole has perfected the role of being a politician’s wife, hosting parties when needed and smiling supportively during press conferences, while also pursuing her career as an astronaut.

Her latest trip to the moon carries some extra responsibilities: there’s been evidence that some of the recent malfunctions at the IAC have actually been sabotage by the Earth Firsters, those who feel that the space program is an irresponsible use of resources or that there isn’t enough being done for people who will be left behind. Nicole has been tasked to help the moon base’s administrator track down any potential spies, in case there are plans to sabotage the base itself. Sure enough, problems begin as soon as they arrive, with a crash landing on the moon and then a polio outbreak that threatens the colony.

I think some of the extra length in this book was to help the reader get to know Nicole, who had appeared in the previous books but wasn’t the central character. Nicole’s particular skills and challenges are different from Elma’s, and this volume turned out to be more of a whodunnit than the others. As various things seem to be falling apart on the moon base, Nicole has to do a lot of detective work, figuring out who she can trust and how to draw out the culprit. Some of the events in The Fated Sky intersect with the plot in The Relentless Moon, putting a new perspective on them.

The Relentless Moon, like the other titles in this series, was excellent and I highly recommend it. There’s a fourth novel in the works, so hopefully we’ll get to find out more about what happens on Mars soon! In the meantime, Mary Robinette Kowal also has some short stories and novellas set in this same universe, so I’m planning to go catch up on those.

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy by Becky Chambers

This is the second novella in Becky Chambers’ Monk and Robot series, and it is just as lovely. Sibling Dex and Mosscap the robot are returning to human civilization, and Mosscap is quickly becoming a celebrity. As the first robot to emerge from the forest since the Awakening (when robots gained sentience and decided to live on their own), Mosscap has been tasked with answering the question: what do humans need?

As it turns out, humans aren’t really sure how to answer that question. Some give answers that are purely practical and specific: I need a new tire on my bike; I need some paint touched up; I need this load of lumber moved. Others have more philosophical needs: purpose, adventure. In the world of this book, society is built in a way that people have their physical needs met—nobody goes hungry or can’t afford a place to live. So then what else is needed?

Like the first book, A Psalm for the Wild-Built, this story is primarily one of conversations and philosophical ponderings. Sure, things happen, but the book isn’t so much driven by a series of actions as a series of connected thoughts about what makes us tick. It’s very much the sort of thing that Chambers excels at, creating intriguing characters that you can connect with, and then letting them roam around in a world you wish you could live in.

Fugitive Telemetry

Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells

Now, here’s a sci-fi world that you probably don’t want to live in, even though the book is fantastic. This is the sixth book in the Murderbot Diaries series, set in a dystopian world that is mostly run by corporations. Murderbot now lives on Preservation Station, run by one of the non-corporate states that sometimes serves as a connection between the Corporation Rim and other non-corporate entities. It’s a spot of utopia in an otherwise terrifying universe, but even here things can go wrong.

The book opens with a dead body found on the station, and Murderbot wonders if GrayCris (an evil corporation) is trying to get to his friend (and leader of the Preservation Alliance) Dr. Mensah. Station security thinks otherwise, but they’re also not entirely sure where to start, as murder isn’t the sort of problem they typically have to deal with. It’s another whodunnit in space (I guess that’s my theme today?), and Murderbot works through it in typical Murderbot fashion—that is, with a bit of hacking, extreme paranoia, and as little eye contact as possible.

It’s a novella so it’s fairly short, but Wells manages to pack a good bit in—in part because by now you should know most of the characters and there’s not a lot of catching up provided, so definitely don’t start here. As Murderbot and station security pursue their leads, the mysteries compound and they end up with even more things to figure out, and it kept me guessing up until the reveal.

Station Eternity

Station Eternity by Mur Lafferty

Did I say whodunnit in space? Here’s another one! I mentioned this one briefly in my Stack Overflow about space, but wanted to dive into it a bit more now that the release date is coming up (October 4). Mallory Viridian is a detective and she’s extremely good at puzzling out murders—she just has a knack for connecting the various tangled lines of relationships and evidence and circumstances. However, her big problem is that she feels like her very presence causes murders. Wherever she goes, random strangers end up dead, and she gets drawn into solving the case.

So now she’s living on Eternity, a sentient space station where she won’t be near any humans because the station has largely prohibited them. She figures if she’s not near any people, then they can’t be murdered. But now the station has agreed to allow human guests, and there’s a shuttle full of them on their way … and pretty soon people (and aliens) start dying. Mallory has to figure out the connections quickly, because the station itself is in peril.

Station Eternity is populated by several different alien species, so part of the fun of the book was simply meeting them and getting to see what they’re like, along with how they interact with each other and with Mallory. There are the Sundry, hive-mind wasps who seem to be everywhere on the station and are always collecting information for their own unknown purposes. The Gneiss are giants made of rock who communicate with vibrations, and have a really bizarre lifecycle. The Phantasmagore have plantlike symbionts that can camouflage them.

Although the story is written in the third person, the perspective shifts a little bit from chapter to chapter, depending on which character is central. Most of the time, it’s Mallory, and so we’re treated to her thoughts and impressions, but sometimes the story follows another character and we see things from their point of view instead. It can be a little disorienting at first because of the third-person narration, but you get used to it, and occasionally you see what a situation is like from multiple viewpoints.

I really enjoyed this one, both the murder mystery itself and the eventual reveal of why Mallory is surrounded by murder to begin with. The book is listed as part of the Midsolar Murders series, so presumably there are more of these on the way, too, and I’m excited to see where Mallory goes after this explosive start.

My Current Stack

I’ve just started reading Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes, the first in a series (which doesn’t appear to have a series title) about Captain Eva Innocente and her crew. The third book was just published recently, and the publisher sent me the first two books as well so I could get caught up. Eva had tried to leave her father’s crooked dealings behind her, taking only legal (but less lucrative) jobs, but that her sister has been kidnapped by The Fridge, a criminal syndicate, she’s forced to run missions for them to pay the ransom. There hasn’t been a murder in the book yet, but it’s early yet. I also enjoyed a LEGO photography book called LEGO In Focus, which I’ll share more about soon.

Disclosure: I received review copies of the books covered in this column, except for Fugitive Telemetry, which I purchased myself. Affiliate links to help support independent booksellers and my writing!

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