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Hugh Likes Fiction: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

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The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
Written by Becky Chambers
Published by Harper Voyager

Sometimes the best Science Fiction is quiet and thoughtful. The genre is often buttressed by “Big Ideas” and zap-gun adventure, but my favorite stories are the slower, more character-focused novels. These are novels like Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, or Nathan Lowell’s Quarter Share. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is squarely in this sub-genre, and it excels.
Rosemary Harper is a privileged girl from the upper crust of Martian society. When she decides to escape her past and society, she takes a job as a clerk on a long-haul wormhole boring ship, The Wayfarer. The misfit crew of the ship is completely different from her former life.
While the story is framed by Rosemary’s story, it is a picaresque novel following the misadventures of the small, tightly knit crew. And the book shines in this respect. The crew of The Wayfarer are efficiently constructed, and for the most part, incredibly likable characters. From Dr. Chef, one of the last survivors of an alien species that destroyed itself in a ceaseless civil war, to Kizzy, the wild-child engineer, this book is filled with unforgettable, engaging characters that treat each other like family rather than coworkers. The upcoming Star Trek series will be lucky to be half so charming.
Chambers’ galaxy is also well presented and engaging. The places that The Wayfarer travels are all detailed and iconic. She also creates a galaxy where humans aren’t top dogs. Having poisoned our home planet and settled into a pair of bickering factions, Humanity is a minor player in galactic politics. This is always a refreshing position to take in Sci Fi, and it works really well here.
This book may not be for everyone. Chambers skips past a lot of the things traditional SF banks on. We hear about massive space battles and galactic discourse in the same way the characters do: Through news and rumors, with small hints at chewier, bigger plot elements throughout the book. This is a small, personal story, and Chambers tells it well. But if you go in expecting Senate hearings or military pomp and blaster fire, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is available from Amazon and other online booksellers, or from your local bookstore.

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Hugh Likes Fiction: Six Wakes

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Six Wakes
Written by Mur Lafferty
Publishedd by Orbit
sixwakes
Six Wakes is the ultimate Sci-Fi locked room mystery. The six-person crew of the Dormire wakes up in the cloning lab. They are staring at their own corpses, with no memory of what happened, or anything else, for the last 24 years of their interstellar journey. Light-years from Earth, they’ll have to figure out what happened and how to survive when at least one of the crew is a murderer.
This novel is a story of paranoia, survival, and the ethics of cloning and life extension. Mur’s story is full of rich characters, drama, and unexpected twists. But what I found most interesting were the choices Lafferty made in building her world. The premise hangs on some very hard science astrophysics to build the sense of tension and isolation. This isn’t a quick warp through the galaxy. The characters have been stuck together for a very long time, and they have a much, much longer way to go. The cloning technology, however, is very soft SF. It’s a surprising choice, considering how much of the story, and the mystery, relies on it.
While she never breaks her own rules, Lafferty focuses on the ethics and moral issues of life extension, and what a world where some people will effectively live forever and others won’t, means, and the paradox of the ultimate revenge being reduced to a minor inconvenience. The cloning tech, however, is based on a movie-producer’s idea of how hacking works, and literal glowing goo. I wasn’t particularly bothered by this choice, but hard SF purists may consider it cheating.
Six Wakes is a chiller of a Sci-Fi mystery filled with interesting ideas and plenty of tension. You can find it at your local bookstore, or in print and ebook from Amazon.

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Hugh Likes Fiction: Ancillary Justice

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Ancillary Justice
Written by Ann Leckie
Read by Celest Ciulla
audible.com
leckie_ancillaryjustice_tp
Ancillary Justice is a return to old school science fiction filled with modern twists.  It is the story of 1-ESK, an ‘ancillary,’ or human imprinted with a spaceship AI.  Twenty years ago, she was permanently severed from her ship.  When she finds a former officer, whom she thought dead a thousand years, lying drugged in the snow, she makes a decision that will change the course of intergalactic civilization.
This Hugo-winning novel has been on my radar for a long time, and it was a delight to finally listen to.  Leckie’s universe is an intricate, well built puzzle supported by a story that is about people, even if the people at the center don’t see themselves that way.  The speculative bits are intriguing and explored well.  Her style is engaging and propellant.
The characters center around a society that does not recognize gender.  Leckie uses exclusively the female pronoun throughout the story, even for characters which are male.  This is both a custom of 1-ESK’s culture, which does not differentiate between genders as a cultural norm and a character trait.  She legitimately has difficulty differentiating between them.  It was a unique spin on the trope of a robot trying to act human, and while I don’t know if it was realistic, I did find this aspect of the novel fascinating.
The audio book was read by Celest Ciulla, and I feel she did a great job balancing the oddness of the novel’s culture and protagonist with a listenable cadence.  The story implies a whole slew of completely imaginary accents and speaking patterns, and she rises to the occasion.
Anciliary Justice is a novel that truly deserved its awards, and I can’t wait to dive into 1-ESK’s next adventure.  You can find it at your local bookstore, or on Audible and Amazon.

Hugh Likes Fiction: Radiance

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Radiance
Written by Cathryne M. Valente
Published by Tor
Radiance
Where does cinema end and the real world begin?  Can a camera really film the truth?  And which is more real?  Life, or the film that captures it?  These are the questions that overshadow the life of documentary filmmaker Severin Unck.  Filmed from the moment she appeared as a baby in a basket on the doorstep of Gothic director Percival Unck, she has constantly rejected his brand of fantasy in favor of the truth.  Living in an alternate reality where movies never advanced past black-and-white silent films and every planet and moon in the solar system is both habitable and welcoming, she documents food riots on Mars, end of the world parties on Neptune, and of course, her own larger than life childhood.  But when Severin disappears on an ill-fated voyage to document the destruction of a Venusian settlement, the truth may be the one thing that is indistinguishable.
Compiled from witness interviews, abandoned film treatments, and radio transcripts, Radiance is an ambitious and strange epistolary novel about the life of a realist documentarian in a fabulist universe.  The novel rarely follows a conventional prose format, and when it does, the authenticity of these sections is explicitly suspect.  But the fascinating worlds that Valente creates make sifting through the story puzzle she creates a sheer delight.  The walls between the events of Severin and her associates’ lives, and that of their film counterparts jumble together in an epic spanning a night flower-carpeted Pluto to a tropical Venus that is home to the Callowhales, island-sized aquatic creatures whose milk is essential for long-term survival in space.  But of course, they aren’t really whales, and their milk isn’t really milk.
In this novel, Valente invites us into an editing booth and lays out all these pieces in a lush, fantastic sci-fi mystery.  Like Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, It leaves the challenge of constructing a linear narrative to the reader, and leaves the reader not with the satisfaction of a completed story, but the wonder of a messy, complicated, and beautiful life.  This novel is not to be missed.

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Drabble-The Alien Message

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The message was short, and at first, puzzling.  It boomed in every local language from anything with a power source and a speaker.  There should have been a mothership, a miles long modern sculpture hanging over a major metropolitan center.  That was the alien invasion Hollywood promised us.  But the skies were clear.  All we got was the message, delivered in a smooth, emotionless baritone.
“The test begins now.  You have eight minutes.  Good luck.”  At first, this contact was met with confusion.  We only understood it when the sun went out.
And by then, it was far too late.