Let’s look back at the month of April at some of the science fiction and fantasy books released that you might have missed.
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For We Are Many (We Are Bob #2) – Dennis Taylor
Bob Johansson didn’t believe in an afterlife, so waking up after being killed in a car accident was a shock. To add to the surprise, he is now a sentient computer and the controlling intelligence for a Von Neumann probe.
Bob and his copies have been spreading out from Earth for 40 years now, looking for habitable planets. But that’s the only part of the plan that’s still in one piece. A system-wide war has killed off 99.9% of the human race; nuclear winter is slowly making the Earth uninhabitable; a radical group wants to finish the job on the remnants of humanity; the Brazilian space probes are still out there, still trying to blow up the competition; And the Bobs have discovered a spacefaring species that sees all other life as food.
Bob left Earth anticipating a life of exploration and blissful solitude. Instead he’s become a sky god to a primitive native species, the only hope for getting humanity to a new home, and possibly the only thing that can prevent every living thing in the local sphere from ending up as dinner.
For We Are Many is amusing and pleasant character science fiction. The Bob probes are genial characters, spread out over the galaxy and over a wide variety of concerns. As such, For We Are Many is episodic, an interleaved series of vignettes with only a bare hint of an overall story arc. Assuming that transhumanist transformations will preserve the whole range of human emotion, the Bobs fall in love, shepherd an alien race towards technological enlightenment, shape solar systems for colonization, and sacrifice themselves for humans and client species. The humor is heavy on the pop culture of the 1980s, and a familiarity with Berke Breathed’s Bloom County comic strip will serve readers well. Bob’s anti-theism is played for laughs here, with the probes ironically filling the same roles and insults used by atheists to mock Christians (sky daddy, etc.). Filled with technological optimism, For We Are Many eventually begins to address the divergence in personalities and goals that occur with each new generation of Bobs. With a concept that could have quickly devolved into a joke, Taylor delivers a poignant and all too human portrayal of a possible future.
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Man Behind the Wheel (Next Half Century #1) – Steven Rzasa
Roman Jasko patrols the automated highways of 2067 America, watchful for illegal cars. He’s put on a robbery case that leads to a band of sophisticated thieves armed with stolen military technology. Things take a turn for the worse when he discovers a personal connection to the thefts, and finds himself in the middle of a vicious attack. Suddenly, he’s stuck on the wrong side of the laws he upholds. Rome will have to use all his skills to avoid every obstacle in his path, and determine the quickest route to the truth.
Man Behind the Wheel creates a near future mix of order and criminal chaos, extrapolating future technologies into crime and law enforcement challenges. As a contractor, Jasko is one of the few men in America authorized to drive without the use of automated computers, and he manages to cross the country almost as quickly as air travel. His story makes for a gripping buddy cop tale. However, those looking for a novel version of “Red Barchetta” or a science fiction ode to the road fit for Jeremy Clarkson will be disappointed. The chase scenes are technological and never invoke the thrills of the chase or the open road that the cover does. Man Behind the Wheel is still a worthy read, though, and a good change of pace for those who tire of the endless space operas and milSF on Amazon.
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The Impossible Wizard (Aegis of Merlin #1) – James E. Wisher
Everyone knew it was impossible for men to do magic, until it happened.
Conryu Koda in a young man of modest ambition. All he wants is to work on bikes and practice Kung Fu. His modest dreams die on the day of The Testing when it’s revealed he has wizard potential.
When the Department of Magic announces that a male wizard has been found it draws the attention of the Le Fay Society, a radical group of wizards that view men as little better than animals and Conryu as an abomination. The Society will stop at nothing to see Conryu dead.
James Wisher took a chance with The Impossible Wizard, attempting to weave multiple viewpoints into a coherent narrative. Unfortunately, the execution became multiple plots instead, and the strongest of these, a police investigation of Conryu’s attackers, acts as a bait-and-switch from the magical academy adventure promised by the cover and sales blurb. This lack of focus extends to the worldbuilding, where a notionally American setting is a strange mix of England, Japan, and China with no unifying rationale or organization behind it. Conryu’s story is familiar, echoing Rand Al’thor’s early adventures in the Wheel of Time down to the female magic users hunting him down, for he should not exist. With echoes of YY xian’xia novels and light novel battle academies livening Conryu’s story, the constant cuts to other plots only serve to distract from the most interesting thread in the book. This makes the presumed chosen one main character nothing more than a bit player in a police procedural. This would be a stronger novel if the spotlight shone brighter on either Conryu or the police investigation. The current split in attention tries to get both plots over, and fails both.
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Ruins of Empire (Blood On the Stars #3) – Jay Allan
War rages between the Confederation and the Union. Shattered fleets watch each other warily across a war torn frontier. Both sides are licking their wounds, gathering strength to continue the fight.
Captain Tyler Barron and the crew of Dauntless are finally enjoying the rest they’ve earned while their aging battleship Dauntless gets the repairs and refit it desperately needs. But their respite will be short-lived. In the Badlands, deep in the haunted vastness of pre-Cataclysmic space, a new discovery threatens to upset the balance of power.
Orbiting a world in a distant system is an ancient battleship, vastly larger and enormously more advanced than anything possessed by the contending powers…and the Union has already sent forces to seize it. The Confederation has no ships close enough to intervene, to get there before the enemy…none save Dauntless.
Combining Honor Harrington-style ship combat with Star Wars and Battlestar: Galactica fighter wings, Ruins of Empire delivers nail-biting space combat. The warships get pounded in each fight, and tactical advantage often gives way to engineering realities. Dautless‘s Chief Engineer “Fritzie” might be a miracle worker, but her miracles are limited to repairing shattered systems and managing the demands of a ship given too many systems to run off too few reactors. There are no Treknobabble solutions here; the constant combat the Dauntless endures as it seeks after the ancient battleship requires her attention. Tyler Barron struggles to live up to the burden of his famous military family and his own reputation as a bright tactician and combat leader. Occasionally soft-hearted without being sentimental, Barron and his crew are hurled into another impossible job, keeping a fifteen-kilometer piece of ancient supertechnology out of enemy hands, a task that will demand the best from the gunners, fighter jocks, and marines under his command. (Not to forget the repair crews…) Allan keeps the action moving, refusing to bog it down with lavish descriptions of missile salvos or the fictional and real-world politics that choke other mil-SF series. While a new reader can easily immerse himself in Ruins of Empire without knowledge of the previous two books, space opera and military science fiction fans will want to devour the whole series.