Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

Summary: Welcome to the future. Humanity has colonized the solar system – Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond – but the stars are still out of our reach.

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, The Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for – and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to The Scopuli and rebel sympathizer, Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations – and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.

Commentary: Leviathan Wakes is the first in an ongoing series, and I picked it up because I hadn’t read a good space opera in awhile. I was hooked from the first page and couldn’t stop reading. Corey’s novel is very plot-driven with a lot of twists and turns, but I actually got pretty invested in our main characters Holden and Miller, as well as the “mystery girl” from the summary, who, although she wasn’t exactly “present” in the traditional definitions of the word for most of the novel, still captured my thoughts and emotions while reading.

Corey also did a good job of explaining the state of his created universe to the reader without being too heavy-handed. I feel like so many science fiction (and/or fantasy novels) get bogged down describing and explaining the rules and present state of their worlds and it can get really awkward. But with Leviathan Wakes, I learned everything I need to know in a way that made sense with the current plot and character stories.

Leviathan also got me thinking about a couple other issues in science fiction and even current space politics/news. I really enjoy science fiction and I particularly enjoy military space opera, a genre that I think makes sense to a lot of people because so much of our own real-world experience with space and space exploration is very nationalistic–the Space Race between the US and the Soviet Union, NASA, various nations’ space organizations, etc. However, the idea of space being privatized, and the most powerful forces in future space exploration being not countries, or even a united force from earth, but corporations and companies–this an idea that isn’t even accepted presently. However, many of the major players in Corey’s world are just that–companies that have done well in the space industry and in the politics that drive the new frontiers that humans have colonized, especially Mars and the Asteroid Belt.

Leviathan Wakes went beyond your typical spaceship shoot-outs and fancy technology; he introduced a world that had shifting cultural, economic, and even social class issues due to colonization of the solar system, and still made it exciting and full of twists and turns (including a particularly terrifying and interesting enemy).

I’d recommend Corey’s Leviathan Wakes for anyone looking for an exciting science fiction that still has a bit of depth. I think I’ll definitely be picking up the sequel.

Author Websitehttp://www.danielabraham.com/books-2/the-expanse/leviathan-wakes/

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Children of the Mind by Orson Scott Card

Children of the Mind is the third book in a trilogy; the first is Speaker for the Dead, the second is Xenocide. The trilogy is itself a sequel to Ender’s Game.

Summary: Orson Scott Card returns at last to the story of Ender Wiggin, the child hero of the Hugo and Nebula award winner Ender’s Game, who as a man found a way to redeem the Xenocide of his youth and restore the Hive Queen to life. Now his adopted world, Lusitania, is threatened by the same planet-destroying weapon that he himself used so many thousands of years before.

Lusitania is home to three sentient species: The Pequeninos, a strange race native to Lusitania; a large colony of humans; and the Hive Queen, brought there by Ender. But the Starways Congress fears Lusitania and a strange virus that it harbors, and they have gathered a fleet to destroy the planet.

Ender’s oldest friend, Jane, the computer intelligence that has evolved with him over three thousand years, allowed the Starways Congress to discover her existence when she tried to stop the fleet. Now they are trying to kill her as well, by shutting down the network of computers and ansibles in which she lives. They are afraid of her and of her control over all human communications.

Jane can save the three sentient races of Lusitania. She has learned how to move ships outside the universe, and then instantly back to a different world, abolishing the light-speed limit. But it takes all the processing power available to her, and the Starways Congress is shutting down the Net world by world. Soon she will not be able to move the ships.

But there is hope: during the first trip outside, Ender’s mind briefly took control and created two new beings – replicas of his brother Peter, who was the Hegemon, and his sister Valentine. These two children of Ender’s mind, together with his adopted children from Lusitania, are racing against time to discover new worlds, to influence the Starways Congress to recall the fleet, and to save Jane by finding a home for her disembodied intelligence once the Human Network is closed off to her.

My Thoughts: Last book in the trilogy. Children of the Mind picks up immediately where Xenocide left off. I thought it was a good ending to a great series.

After doing a little research I found out that Card has another book in the works set in the Ender universe, supposedly meant to tie things up by connecting this trilogy to the books in the Ender’s Shadow series. Exciting!

Author Website: http://www.orsonscottcard.com/

The Songs of Distant Earth by Arthur C. Clarke

Summary: Thalassa is an alien planet populated by humans with an embryonic seed pod, sent out from Earth in a last attempt to continue the human race’s existence before the Earth is destroyed. Thalassa has been thriving for many years, and the marine biologist Mirissa, her partner Brant and other friends and family live peacefully on a world that is mainly covered by ocean.

Their peaceful existence comes to an end with the appearance of the Magellan, a spaceship from Earth containing one million colonists who have been put into cryonic suspension. This was made possible through the discovery of a Quantum drive, and the Magellan was put together in the last days before Earth was consumed by the Sun’s supernova.

Now the Thalassans and the humans from old Earth must learn to survive together. At the same time, the humans discover a seemingly sentient species that evolved in Thalassa’s oceans.

[Awkward summary is really the plot summary from Wikipedia, with major edits and de-spoilering by myself]

Commentary: This is the first novel I’ve read by Arthur C. Clarke, one of the most famous Science Fiction writers ever. I really liked Songs of Distant Earth. 

Clarke’s writing is simple (in a good, succinct, enjoyable way) and he gets the point across quickly and effectively. He also explains scientific concepts very clearly and keeps the action moving. I can’t say much about the romance he includes in this novel, or the characters themselves, who aren’t very developed I don’t think.

I will be reading more of Clarke’s work in the future and this was a great introduction.

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach

I don’t usually read too much non-fiction, but Packing for Mars by Mary Roach was both an entertaining and very informative read on the science of space technology. It brought up lots of things I’d never even though of before (how is one supposed to go to the bathroom in zero gravity?) and clears up a few urban legends surrounding space travel. Packing for Mars covers not only the technology of space, but the psychology that goes into selecting an astronaut for a mission, the politics that surround space organizations, and various other really interesting facets on space travel.

I thought the opening paragraph of the book would best describe what Roach’s efforts are all about:

To the rocket scientist, you are a problem. You are the most irritating piece of machinery he or she will ever have to deal with. You and your fluctuating metabolism, your puny memory, your frame that comes in a million different configurations. You are unpredictable. You’re inconstant. You take weeks to fix. The engineer must worry about the water and oxygen and food you’ll need in space, about how much extra fuel it will take to launch your shrimp cocktail and irradiated beef tacos. A solar cell or a thruster nozzle is stable and undemanding. It does not excrete or panic or fall in love with the mission commander. It has no ego. Its structural elements don’t start to break down without gravity, and it works just fine without sleep.

Packing for Mars was a great intro into space technology for the hoi-polloi like myself who do not hold a degree in astrophysics or rocket science. Roach never sounded preachy and I understood almost all of the concepts that she introduced to the reader. She’s also funny without going too overboard. I think I will be following up with her other books.

Really fun, informative read.

How did I get this novel? From my local public library
Genres: Non-Fiction, Technology
Author Website: http://www.maryroach.net/

The Outback Stars by Sandra McDonald

Summary: Lieutenant Jodenny Scott is a hero.  She has the medals and the scars to prove it.

She’s cooling her heels on Kookaburra, recovering from injuries sustained during the fiery loss of her last ship, the Yangtze, and she’s bored — so bored, in fact, that she takes a berth on the next ship out.  That’s a mistake.  The Aral Sea isn’t anyone’s idea of a get-well tour.

Jodenny ‘s handed a division full of misfits, incompetents, and criminals.  She’s a squared-away officer.  She thinks she can handle it all.  She’s wrong.   Aral Sea isn’t a happy ship.  And it’s about to get a lot unhappier.

As Aral Sea enters the Alcheringa — the alien-constructed space warp that allows giant settler-ships to travel between worlds, away from all help or hope — Jodenny comes face to face with something powerful enough to dwarf even the unknown force that destroyed her last ship and left her with missing memories and bloody nightmares.  Lieutenant Jodenny Scott is about to be introduced to love.

Author Sandra McDonald brings her personal knowledge of the military, and of the subtle interplay between men and women on deployment, to a stirring tale that mixes ancient Australian folklore with the colonization of the stars.

My Thoughts: I almost didn’t end up finishing this one, but I’m glad I did.

McDonald’s world-building was very unique and original. I know almost zilch about Australian culture and especially Australian Aboriginal culture. In The Outback Stars, the planets that humans have colonized and moved to are named after areas or significant places in Australia, because the woman who discovered how to travel quickly between planets was Australian. The absent aliens that populated these worlds originally also have some kind of ties to the Aboriginal religion and culture. It was very interesting and I don’t think I’ve read anything like it before.

The Outback Stars started out very slowly, and there was a deluge of character introductions when our heroine joined her new ship. I dislike Deluge of Character Introductions. It’s too much at one time (like 5 new characters per page) and I feel like I have to make a flow chart or some kind of Excel spreadsheet to keep up. There was also a lot of military lingo and lots of acronyms splashed everywhere that I had a hard time understanding, so sometimes I just didn’t try. I feel like McDonald spent a lot of time on these kinds of details and it slowed down the story quite a bit.

The summary makes it sound like the love story will be the focus of the novel–it’s not, and I think I liked it better that way. I haven’t read any of McDonald’s other novels but I didn’t feel the romance here at all. It was sudden and I didn’t understand why exactly they fell in love other than a mutual attraction that had only been sort of simmering on the side for majority of the novel.

But once the story got moving it really got moving. After our heroine and her love interest start cracking the mystery, it got very exciting and (almost) made up for how slow-paced the beginning was. It seemed like everything came to a point in a few last events and I thought McDonald managed to tie it up quite neatly. There were still a lot of unanswered questions so I will definitely be looking into the sequel. I enjoyed Jodenny as a heroine and she was a very admirable character.