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Hugh Likes Fiction: Killing Is My Business

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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.

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Fiction: The Halloween Gig

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“What the p’nong is this?” I said, slamming the plastic crate onto polished a synthsteel table. Amy, the bartender, turned around from where she was hanging some kind of banner.
“It’s your costume for tonight, sweetie.” She went back to the hanging, a pattern of orange circles, white ovals, and black crescents, each with a crude printed face. The shapes vibrated gently in station gravity.
“Costume for what?” I picked up the box with my lower arms and riffled through it with my upper ones. It was a length of cheap black plasticloth. I examined it for a minute before figuring out it was a sort of cloak, with holes for my head and all six appendages. The sleeves were all tattered and trailing, and the hood was so deep my head wouldn’t even be visible. It seemed a terrible choice for a musician.
“It’s Halloween, silly!” She didn’t even turn this time. “You agreed to play holidays.”
“Proper holidays,” I said, grimacing. “The Eclipse Festival, Harmonics Night, Harvest of Poetry.” I knew I was being petulant, but I made an attempt. Humans expected it from their musicians.
“It’s a big party night on Earth, we’re expecting a lot of traffic, so wear the costume.” That was when I noticed her face paint. It was a vivid shade of green. She was wearing an impractical black gown instead of her usual ship suit. A pointed black hat rested on the bar.
“Then why haven’t you cleaned properly?” I asked, taking in the room for the first time. The counters and corners were covered with wispy strands of white plant fiber. The stage was dusty, and the edifice of a ruin had been left there.
“Those are decorations, Ch’Brun.”
“They’re unsettling.”
“I was going for spooky.”
“Just what kind of holiday is this?” I asked. My elders thought I was crazy to run off to human space chasing gigs. Sometimes I agreed with them.
“For some humans, it’s a day of remembrance for the dead, but for others it’s a day for dressing up, eating candy, and getting scared.”
“Wait, your civilization frightens itself for fun?” I wasn’t surprised. Humanity seemed to have a collective fetish for destructive behavior. But since I was already working in an establishment that served weak poison as a recreational activity, this didn’t seem out of character for the species. “That’s so human. Give me a few standard hours to research and I’ll see what I can do.”
A few hours later, I took the stage. It was dark, it was grimy, and the house was full, just as she said. There were humans in all kinds of costumes, mostly mythological archetypes like Amy’s witch and a variety of living corpses. Humans have a ton of hangups about death, I guess. There were also costumes based on characters from popular entertainment programs, historical figures, and even elaborate jokes. It was all very weird, but it made a kind of sense. The humans came from a world with only one sun, which meant they had as much darkness as light. They lived in a world that developed scientific understanding of the universe relatively late, and was delayed by a few notable collapses of civilization. They had a talent for stories. So they found ways to laugh at the darkness. They practiced scaring themselves so they wouldn’t be afraid.
I fluttered my robe dramatically as I sat down on the fake step and pulled out my instrument. It was a fretted, stringed instrument similar to human ones, but it had multiple resonating chambers and was meant to be played with all six hands. Amy nick-named it the Ultra-Cello, and it kind of stuck, although my music teacher back home would probably have fits if they heard. In deference to the holiday, I had placed a representation of a human skull over the pegbox.
I flourished my arms, waiting for silence, then began to perform an ancient traditional hymn I discovered in my afternoon’s research. I sang out, a voice shouting against the darkness. The crowd cheered in recognition and glee, and sang along with religious enthusiasm.
“I was working in the lab late one night…”

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Cover photo by Derek Hatfield, used under a Creative Commons, Attribution license.

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.