Home

Fiction: The Last Tree

Leave a comment

The Last Tree stood in the center of the massive temple complex. Under a searingly bright dome of artificial blue sky, It seemed to glow from darkened entryway.
Julissa approached silently, as reverent as a nun, and knelt among the twisting roots of the towering oak. Its leaves, gold as autumn, made a soft carpet for her. She bent her head, reached out one hand to the rough bark, and murmured a prayer to the last living thing that had ever known the Earth.
A long time later, Julissa stood, and wept as she unhooked the axe from her belt.

This story was originally written as a part of Everyday Drabbles, a new free short fiction project I’m doing over on Wattpad. Each day in 2019 I will be writing and publishing a new free hundred-word short story. Please check it out, and let me know what you think!

Advertisements

Fiction: Space Detective

Leave a comment

Detective Orn Sa scanned the crowd, scowling with both mouths. One of the beings below him was Vaporite criminal Frizzion the master of disguise, and he only had one chance to find them before they blew up the station and sank the cause of interstellar peace for good. His only hope was to find some inconsistency… There! He shouted a warning and fired before they had time to transform.
“How did you spot me?” Frizzion gasped as Sa called for transport.
“You made two mistakes, Frizz. First, you made the fingers way too long. Second, most human adults wear clothes.”

Hugh Likes Fiction: The Calculating Stars

Leave a comment

The Calculating Stars: A Lady Astronaut Novel
Written by Mary Robinette Kowal
Audiobook read by the author
Audiobook published by Audible, Inc.

51Y7xn88+qL._SL500_

The Skinny: A calculator fights to become an astronaut in an alternate 1950’s where a meteor has hit Earth.

The Calculating Stars is a rare and remarkable apocalyptic novel that focuses more on solutions than on breakdown. In an alternate 1952, Calculator Elma York and her husband (and lead engineer of the nascent space program) barely escape the devastation when a meteor strike wipes out the east coast of the United States. While she and her husband get back on their feet thanks to the kindness of strangers, she quickly begins to believe there is a bigger problem: The earth will soon be uninhabitable for humans. They get to work ramping up a space program to get humanity into space before it’s too late, but Elma soon reaches a problem: How can all of humanity go into space if only men are allowed to be astronauts?
An incisive, extremely hard SF novel, Kowal does a lot of neat tricks with this novel, a prequel to her award-winning novelette, “The Lady Astronaut of Mars.” The author does an outstanding job of balancing the technical and social aspects of a novel. Dr. York can do orbital mechanics in her head and is a steady hand on a flight stick, but speaking in public terrifies her.
Kowal masterfully echoes the historical space race and civil rights movements as she lays out her story of Elma’s realizations of humanity’s fate, as well as what she comes to realize about herself and her society, and does what she can to change them. The story is essentially hopeful, but it never overlooks the inequality of American society.
The Calculating Stars is a brilliant Science Fiction novel about an alternate space program filled with unforgettable characters. I listened to the audiobook, read by Mary Robinette Kowal, and she brings her equal talent as a narrator to the text. You can find it in print, ebook and audiobook at Your Local Bookshop, Audible, and The Usual Suspects.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Subsurface Circular

Leave a comment

Subsurface Circular
Developed by Mike Bithell
Published by Anthill Games
Nintendo Switch

header

The Skinny – A short but satisfying trip.

Subsurface Circular is an old-school concept in some flashy new clothes. Quintessentially at text adventure, players assume the role of a detective that works on a subway train for robots, the eponymous Subsurface Circular. When the character goes off-programming to help a Tek (the game’s term for Asimo-like sentient humanoid robots) You’ll question passengers to get to the bottom of a mystery at the heart of your unnamed future city.
Gameplay consists entirely of text boxes and dialog choices as you try and get to solve the case, as well as a few simple puzzles the game puts in your path. The train car and its riders are lovingly rendered in high def, and the game uses the Switch’s gyroscope to let you look around a bit, but it is all just set dressing for the text, as shiny and gorgeous as it looks.
The plot is certainly engaging, but Bithell released it as a part of a series of ‘shorts,’ and it is quite short. Even taking a leisurely pace, the game can easily be finished in a two-hour sitting. It is quite forgiving with the puzzles, and while you can make choices, they don’t seem to have much impact on the game, or create much in the way of replay value. While the economy of the resources is quite clever, I would have liked to have solved a few more mysteries, but the game is propelled by its plot to a quick end.
There is a quite cool Easter egg for fans of Bithell’s award-winning “Thomas Was Alone,” which I won’t spoil here, and the Teks are all both convincingly human and utterly alien looking. They’re breathtaking to watch. There is also a clever bit of design where the soundtrack to each chapter is provided by Teks wearing earphones, their too-loud music pushing out into the car alongside atmospheric sounds of air brakes and sliding doors.
At around five dollars, “Subsurface Circular” is well worth the price tag for an evening of Robot Noire on the loop line. It is available for Nintendo Switch as well as Steam and IOS devices.

Hugh Likes Fiction: A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe

Leave a comment

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe
Written by Alex White
Published by Orbit

a-big-ship-at-the-edge-of-the-universe

The Skinny: Spaceship is Magic

Alex White’s new novel, A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe is a seamless Sci-Fi/Fantasy adventure about the misfit crew of a smuggler ship caught in a galactic conspiracy. White is a remarkable stylistic juggler, matching magic and high-tech space opera in a believable, lived in universe filled with despicable anti-heroes you can’t help rooting for.
When well-to-do racing star Nilah Brio witnesses a bizarre murder on the track, her only hope may rest on the dubious shoulders of fighter pilot turned con-artist Elizabeth “Boots” Ellsworth. But after selling fraudulent treasure maps for years, have they stumbled on the real thing? And more importantly, can they avoid the powerful forces on their trail long enough to get it?
White’s novel is an action-packed thrill ride of an adventure novel. But what really impressed me is the well thought out universe White creates for his characters to bust their way through. The magic system is intricately crafted, and feels like a real part of the world rather than set dressing. The technology of the setting uses magic in a number of surprising and delightful ways. Each character has their own magic, of varying types, and they can use it like a signature, or to interact with technology, or even fire weapons. Everyone except Boots, that is, who is one of the rare people born without magic. It’s a nice bit of the story that builds the world and characters in interesting ways.
With this first novel, White offers us a character-focused look into a compelling fantasy future. Fans of Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet will find a lot to like in this scrappy crew of adventurers, with plenty of space-faring action and interplanetary politics to satisfy the most hard-core old school Space Opera fan. You can find A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe at your local independent bookstore, or from the usual digital suspects. I heartily recommend it.

Hugh Likes Fiction: Space Opera

Leave a comment

Space Opera
Written by Catherynne M. Valente
Published by Saga Press

51B-76SoGgL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

The Skinny: In this farcical and inventive Sci-fi novel, aliens arrive on Earth to welcome Humanity to the galaxy. There’s only one catch: They’ll have to prove themselves in the Metagalactic Grand Prix, the universe’s greatest song contest.

I was a big fan of Star Trek growing up, but there was one thing that always bothered me about the show. Everyone was obsessed with historical Earth culture. From reading Shakespeare to playing baseball to Bach recitals to so much Sherlock Holmes, it’s all Earth, all the time. And everything was nice and public domain, of course.
This did make sense, from a certain perspective. It connects the viewer to the characters through shared culture, and makes the unfamiliar setting of an interstellar spaceship that much more human. But I always wanted to know a bit more than than the show let on about the alien cultures. What would an alien world’s culture really be like? Further more, what would their POP culture be like? Catherynne M. Valente’s newest novel, Space Opera, makes that question its central premise.
Once, Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeros were once the biggest band in the world. They’ve broken up, and their a bit washed up these days, but none of that matter when aliens invade Earth, looking for the greatest musicians on the planet to represent Earth in the galaxy’s greatest song contest, The Metagalactic Grand Prix. Decibel and remaining band mate Oort St. Ultraviolet get the nod, by virtue of being the only band on short list that’s still alive. Invitation to the Grand Prix is a great honor, and will give humanity the stars. But if they come in last, the Earth will be destroyed. So, no pressure.
Equal parts Douglas Adams and FM radio count down, Space Opera hilarious, tragic, and breathtakingly intelligent. Valente’s novel examines the utopian science fiction trope of the society that is not merely scientifically advanced but culturally advanced, and twists it to great effect. Continuing her style from previous work like Radiance and The Refrigerator Monologs, She once again has invented entire pop cultures out of whole cloth to both satirize and celebrate parts of our own. In this case, it is the Eurovision song contest, a post-War signing competition that functions much like the Olympics but run by record labels. As someone who likes the idea of Eurovision more than the actual glitzy performances, I expected to be lost in a sea of references, but that was not the case. Outside of a few section quotes and an explanation in the acknowledgements, there is little actual mention, and you don’t need previous experience going in.
Valente structures her novel in her own instantly recognizable style, shifting between the history of the contest and the competing alien cultures and the story of the Absolutes Zeros from their first show to the intergalactic stage. She does more telling than showing, and the non-linear style can be disorienting if that isn’t your thing, but she pays it all off beautifully in the end.
Space Opera is a glittering cavalcade of brilliantly conceived big-idea science fiction, winking satire, and bold, unflinching cultural criticism. It is very well executed, and you should probably be reading it right now. It’s available from the usual suspects.

Hugh Likes Fiction: Killing Is My Business

Leave a comment

Killing Is My Business

Written by Adam Christopher

Published by Tor

The Skinny: Christopher’s follow-up to Made To Kill is another rollicking robot noir set in 1960’s L.A.

Ray Electromatic is the last functioning robot in1960’s Los Angeles, and he’s the world’s only robot private detective. At least, that’s what his business cards say. His real job is assassination. With his trusty computer/business partner Ada, he finds his target and gets the job done. But when Rays targets start turning up dead or missing before he can complete the job, he starts to wonder who he can really trust.

Christopher returns to his post-robotics Los Angeles for a second novel that is as much of a noire delight as the first. Like all good detective novels, it doesn’t rely on having read Made To Kill, while pushing Ray’s story forward in some fun and interesting ways. The author has a knack for voice, and he balances the 60’s sci-fi and noire elements superbly. Ray’s momento-like limitation, the fact that his memory tape only lasts 24 hours, is used to good effect in this story, and requires Ray to engage in a fair amount of trust, something that always goes awry in a noire world.

Killing Is My Business is a cracking read, and you can pick it up from your local bookstore, or download a copy from Amazon.

Thanks for reading this article! If you enjoyed it, please share it! You can also support me on Patreon if you don’t mind paying a ludicrous extra fee!

Older Entries