Stephen Baxter’s latest offering reads like a synthesis of his global epics such as Moon seed and Flood and his novels, short stories and short stories from the Xeelee sequence concerning a divine alien race. Here in Galaxies (Gollancz, Â£ 20), it’s the year 2057, and the sun suddenly and inexplicably disappears, only to reappear a day later.
The story explores the immediate political and geophysical ramifications of this brief but terrifying blackout, then moves forward several years to describe humanity’s efforts to get to the bottom of the event. Suffice it to say that a mega-powerful otherworldly entity is responsible and its intentions are not harmless.
Galaxies takes a measured, talkative approach to show that rationality and scientific cooperation can solve virtually any problem, no matter how large. Likewise, it reinforces the idea that space exploration is not only one of the great collective triumphs of our species, but perhaps our best hope for survival.
Apollo’s Murders (Quercus, Â£ 20) takes us back to a time when this space exploration was in its infancy. In the alternate universe of author Chris Hadfield in 1973, as in ours, the Apollo program is threatened with closure. However, one last secret mission awaits you. A Soviet lunar rover has discovered precious minerals on the moon’s surface, and NASA sends astronauts to prevent the American Cold War adversary from gaining a crucial technological advantage. The problem is, you can’t trust everyone involved.
The title suggests an alien thriller, but in reality it’s a dynamic action-adventure game, packed with technical details, which dot real characters among the fictional characters. Ever since Hadfield himself flew in a space shuttle and served aboard the International Space Station, he writes with authority but also with a surprisingly astute understanding of what makes a thriller work.
In the near future of Cyber-Mage (The Unnamed Press, $ 18), the ISS is now in the hands of a private company and has been greatly expanded to become a powerful commercial enterprise. Saad Z Hossain’s fourth novel is full of spiritual extrapolations like this one. For example, city dwellers carry nanotechnologies within their bodies that help regulate the urban microclimate and thus give them something useful to do, even passively, in a world where almost everything runs on automation.
The story, set in Dhaka, revolves around a hacker named Marzuk who may dominate the virtual world but is, IRL, a teenager enslaved to his hormones, desperately pursuing his classmate, Amina. There are elements of pure fantasy tossed into the mix too, like a sword-wielding golem roaming the streets, along with dragons and jinn. Hossain is nothing but ambitious, but the book’s mix of genres works well, held together by tight prose and a willingness not to take himself too seriously.
Lori Ann Stephens’ near future blue running (Moonflower Books, Â£ 16.99) is significantly less lightweight. Texas is now separated from the rest of the United States, having surrounded itself with a wall. Virtually everyone carries a gun, including schoolchildren, and abortion is illegal, punishable by death. Meanwhile, gang violence is a daily reality.
When Bluebonnet’s best friend Andrews, 14, is killed by an accidental discharge from a gun, Blue (as she is called) is blamed, and so she flees her dusty little hometown, in the hopes of reunite with her mother, who herself escaped Texas a few years earlier. She falls with a pregnant Latin teenager called Jet, who wants to get rid of her unborn baby, conceived by rape. The couple encounter dangers, hardships and the occasional acts of kindness on their journey to safety, in a novel – Stephens’ first to be published in the UK – that lacks subtlety but ominous plausibility.
There is also secession in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s contribution to the anthology Burn brightly (NewCon Press, Â£ 12.99). Its story “Red Sky in the Morning” postulates a Wales that has separated from a fractured Britain and will stop at nothing to defend its new autonomy, even deploying ancient magic against the encroachment of English forces. The tone of the play – ironic, understated, sharp – is typical of this admirable collection, in which publisher Ian Whates brings together the stories of 14 great British sci-fi talent. The content is taken from a series of free stories written by honored guests at Novacon, SF’s annual convention that has been going on for 50 years, with an additional handle composed especially for this book.
Eric Brown’s poignant but incisive “Acts of Defiance” speak out against a book-burning dictatorship, demonstrating how far people will go to protect the sanctity of literature, while Juliet E’s “Through the Veil” McKenna successfully confuses theater magic with real magic. . Anne Nicholls’ âHeatwaveâ is a tidy, winding journey through time, and Paul McAuley, in âAlien TV,â has fun with all the notion of conventions and conferences.
“The Spheres,” which has never been reprinted since it first appeared in Novacon’s 2010 souvenir booklet, will be of particular interest to fans of the late Iain M Banks; but there are good performances from all parties involved, including – which brings us back to the loop – a story from Stephen Baxter’s Xeelee Sequence.
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