2020: As I Liked It; or, Like, Whatever by Russell Letson

For pretty much the reasons anyone can figure, I didn’t get through as many titles as I would usually review in a year. Some anticipated books were held back, but mostly it was lack of appetite on my part – a mild case of what my mother used to call “the blahs” – that condition when energies flag, the palate dulls, and this goodly frame, the Earth, while not quite ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews The Best of Walter Jon Williams by Walter Jon Williams

The Best of Walter Jon Williams, Walter Jon Williams (Subterranean 978-1645240020, $45.00, 610pp, hc). Cover by Lee Moyer. Feb­ruary 2020.

Exactly 30 years ago, this column’s lede was “Walter Jon Williams is an interest­ingly various writer….” The intervening decades have given me no reason to alter that opinion, variations on which I have been re­peating just about every time I write about a Williams title. So why should I ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Pacific Storm by Linda Nagata

Pacific Storm, Linda Nagata (Mythic Island Press, 978-1937197339, $14.00, 264 pp, tp) October 2020.

Linda Nagata made her reputation with far-far-future adventures featuring near-magical nanotechnology and post-human characters, but in the last few years she has also developed a strong line of closer-to-home sce­narios. This day-after-tomorrow work has veered toward military SF in her Red Trilogy (2013-15) and toward the technothriller in The Last Good Man (2017), both of ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Fleet Elements by Walter Jon Williams

Fleet Elements, Walter Jon Williams (Harper Voyager 978-0-06-246706-1, 489 pp, $16.99, tp) December 2020.

Two years ago, Walter Jon Williams re­turned to the setting and subgenre of his ingeniously unconventional Dread Em­pire’s Fall trilogy with the first of a set of sequels, The Accidental War (now branded A Novel of the Praxis). Though perhaps I should call the series “multi-conventional,” since, while the packaging and promotional language correctly signal ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Dead Lies Dreaming by Charles Stross

Dead Lies Dreaming, Charles Stross (Tor 978-1-250-26702-3, $29.99, 384pp, hc) October 2020.

When I first encountered Charles Stross’s Laundry series a decade or so ago, I took its comic-satiric mixture of spy thriller and Lovecraftian horror to be a genre-mashup game with which the author was amusing himself. The farther into the series I got, though – especially after reading the early, non-Laundry trunk novel, Scratch Monkey (2011) – ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Failed State by Christopher Brown

Failed State, Christopher Brown (Harper Voyager 978-0062859105, $16.99, 384pp, tp) August 2020.

These days, reading anything scarier than “The Adventures of the Widdle Kiddons in Ice-Cream-Sundae Land” winds up reminding me of some bit of direness I’ve seen on the telly that morning. So when I saw the title of Christopher Brown’s new novel and recalled the spot-on dystopian vibe of its predecessor from last year, Rule of Capture ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Selkie Summer by Ken MacLeod

Selkie Summer, Ken MacLeod (NewCon Press 978-1-912950-63-8, £9.99, 141pp, tp) May 2020. Cover by Ben Baldwin.

In Selkie Summer, Ken MacLeod has given us – or me, anyway – something quite unlike what I would have expected from the deviser of Newton’s Wake: A Space Opera or The Execu­tion Channel. Its first half operates as a romance with metaphysical/supernatural complications: university student Siobhan Ross, working a sum­mer ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Divergence by C.J. Cherryh

Divergence, C.J. Cherryh (DAW 978-0-756-41430-6, $26.00, 339pp, hc) September 2020. Cover by Todd Lockwood.

C.J. Cherryh’s Divergence is not a minor book, but after 20 previous entries in this long-running series, your faithful reviewer is reduced to recommending the entire Foreigner sequence yet again and assuring those already familiar with its pleasures that even after so many books, Cherryh’s hand has not lost its cunning and that there are ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Beyond the Outposts by Algis Budrys

Beyond the Outposts: Essays on SF and Fan­tasy 1955-1996, Algis Budrys (Ansible Editions 978-0-244-56705-7, $22.50, tp, 378pp) April 2020.

As I never tire of mentioning in these pages, I have always been a book-review junkie, so it should not be surprising that much of my sense of science fiction – not just which books were worth pursuing but how the whole genre works – was formed less by scholars ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Dispersion by Greg Egan

Dispersion, Greg Egan (Subterranean Press 978-1-59606-989-3, $40.00, 158pp, hc) August 2020. Cover by David Ho.

In Dispersion, Greg Egan returns to a familiar but hardly comfortable mode: a variation on the guess-my-world’s-rules story in which the rules in question generate a world that is so fundamentally unlike ours that no amount of homely detail can entirely balance its alienness. The homely part includes the ordinary aspects of the ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews The Eleventh Gate by Nancy Kress

The Eleventh Gate, Nancy Kress (Baen 978-9821-2458-8, $16.00, 344pp, hc) May 2020. Cover by Bob Eggleton.

Ideological, familial, and generational tensions have figured prominently in Nancy Kress’s stories as far back as the Beggars sequence of the 1990s, and now in The Eleventh Gate they become major plot drivers. The new novel combines elements of space opera with quasi-dystopian political conflict and intrigue among a collection of extrasolar colonies. ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews The Human by Neal Asher

The Human, Neal Asher (Tor UK 978-1-509-86244-3, £18.99, 544pp, hc) April 2020. (Night Shade 978-1-950994-83-0, $26.99, 433 pp, hc) June 2020. Cover by Adam Burn.

I don’t know whether Neal Asher had figured out the nature of the ancient, alien, civilization-destroying Jain technology back when he introduced it in some of the early Polity-universe novels (The Line of Polity, Polity Agent), but he certainly has now. ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Bone Silence by Alastair Reynolds

Bone Silence, Alastair Reynolds (Gollancz 978-0575090675, $23.83, 496pp, hc) January 2020.

With Bone Silence, Alastair Reynolds completes the far, far-future adventures of Arafura and Adrana Ness, a pair of nice girls who ran away from home to find ad­venture and got rather more than they expected. In Revenger it was crewing on a sunjamming, treasure-hunting spacecraft; pawing through caches of ancient lost technology in dangerous, widely scattered troves ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews What the Wind Brings by Matthew Hughes

What the Wind Brings, Matthew Hughes (Pulp Literature 978-1988865157, $39.95, 407pp, hc) December 2019. Cover by Willem van de Velde the Younger.

Matthew Hughes is known for his science fiction and fantasy, particularly of the Jack Vance-inspired variety, but he has had a long career in other neighborhoods, notably crime fiction and political speechwriting. His new novel is something quite different from all that – a vivid and carefully ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Sea Change by Nancy Kress

Sea Change, Nancy Kress (Tachyon 978-1-61696-331-6, $15.95, 191pp, tp) April 2020. Cover by Elizabeth Storey.

After a string of novels involving aliens, star-travel, deep time, and exotic physics, Nancy Kress returns to the near future, the thriller format, and the biological science issues that drove some of her work of the 1990s. Her new novella, Sea Change, sets its present action in the Pacific Northwest only a dozen ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Silver by Linda Nagata

Silver, Linda Nagata (Mythic Island 978-1937197285, $19.00, 414 pp, tp) November 2019. Cover by Sarah Anne Langton. [Order from Mythic Island Press, PO Box 1293, Kula HI 96790; <mythicislandpress.com>.

Linda Nagata has also been revisiting old territory, turning from the near-future military-SF of the Red trilogy and The Last Good Man to the very far future of the Nanotech Succession books of the 1990s. Her new sequence builds on ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews World Engines: Destroyer by Stephen Baxter

World Engines: Destroyer, Stephen Baxter (Gollancz, 978-1-473-22317-2, £20.00, 564pp, hc) September 2019.

Stephen Baxter’s novels are generally busy, multi-motif crossroads – interstellar voy­ages intersect with alternate history, space opera crosses into cosmology opera, alien inva­sions get disrupted by time travel, and whole libraries of SF tropes compete for our attention in narratives that often require multiple volumes to work out their complexities and variations. World Engines: Destroyer fits right ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Resurgence by C.J. Cherryh

Resurgence, C.J. Cherryh (DAW 978-0-7564-1427-6, $26.00, 340pp, hc) January 2020. Cover by Todd Lockwood.

A quarter-century and 20 volumes into a long-running series, it’s hard to figure the exact audience to address in a review of the newest, Resurgence. When C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner sequence began in 1994, it looked like it might have been the start of a mere trilogy. Over the last 25 years, it has become ...Read More

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Russell Letson and Gary K. Wolfe Review Agency by William Gibson

Agency, William Gibson (Berkley 978-1-101-98693-6, $28.99, 416pp, hc) January 2020.

In Agency, William Gibson has produced a sequel to The Peripheral – or as much of a sequel as can be expected of a story space built, not on one alternate history or timeline, but on branching sets of them. Of course, the “multiple alternate histories” enabling device has been around SF for decades, going back as far ...Read More

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Mr. Russell’s Neighborhood by Russell Letson

Let’s try a different metaphor for this annual make-sense-of-the-field exercise: a ramble through my science-fictional reading neighborhood, which is a virtual space instantiated from the manifold of all-the-books-published and distinct from the neighborhoods described elsewhere in these pages by my colleagues. As I have pointed out nearly every year of the 30 I’ve been writing these wrap-ups, my reading is not statistically or demographically or subculturally representative – it’s the ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Joanna Russ by Gwyneth Jones

Joanna Russ, Gwyneth Jones (University of Illinois Press 978-0-252-08447-8, $22.00, 224pp, tp; 978-0-252-04263-8, $99.00, 224pp, hc). September 2019.

Gwyneth Jones’s Joanna Russ, part of the Uni­versity of Illinois Modern Masters of Science Fiction series (edited by Gary K. Wolfe, of this parish), also had me looking back at my reading history. For some reason, I have always thought of Russ, who died in 2011, as a contemporary, even ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews The Menace from Farside by Ian McDonald

The Menace from Farside, Ian McDonald (Tor.com Publishing 978-1-250-24779-7, $14.99, tp) November 2019. Cover by Richard Anderson.

Ian McDonald’s The Menace from Farside is also an extension of ideas – and specific settings – from the author’s previous work, in this case his Luna sequence. The Menace from Farside is set earlier, in 2089, when much of the lunar infrastructure is still a-building, but with its wildly multicultural-libertarian social ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Stealing Worlds by Karl Schroeder

Stealing Worlds, Karl Schroeder (Tor 978-0-7653-9998-4, $29.95, hc) June 2019. Cover by Stephane Martinière.

Thanks to its depiction of a tech-based, street-smart, stick-it-to-the-man coun­terculture, Karl Schroeder’s Stealing Worlds will inevitably be compared to classic cyberpunk, but the vibe is quite distinct and not nearly as noirish. The setting is a just-over-the-horizon heterotopian future that nevertheless had me thinking of the much more exotic and farther-out worlds of Schroeder’s earlier ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Rule of Capture by Christopher Brown

Rule of Capture, Christopher Brown (Harper Voyager 978-0-06-285909-9, $15.99, 378pp, tp) August 2019.

Christopher Brown’s second novel, Rule of Capture, is a kind of companion piece to his first, Tropic of Kansas, but not really a prequel. Tropic of Kansas (a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award) takes place in a fractured, alternate-near-future America hammered by cli­mate change and civil disorder. Rule of Capture shows how ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews American Science Fiction: Eight Classic Novels of the 1960s, Edited by Gary K. Wolfe

American Science Fiction: Eight Classic Novels of the 1960s, Gary K. Wolfe, ed. (Library of America 978-1-59853-635-5, $75.00, 1,500pp, hc, boxed set) November 2019. Also available as American Science Fiction: Four Classic Novels 1960-1966 (Library of America 978-1-59853-501-3, $37.50, 738pp, hc) November 2019 and American Science Fiction: Four Classic Novels 1968-1969, (Library of America 978-1-59853-502-0, $37.50, 762 pp, hc) November 2019. Covers by Paul Lehr.

Reviewing is generally ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews The Warship by Neal Asher

The Warship, Neal Asher (Night Shade 978-1-59780-990-0, $26.99, 369pp, hc) May 2019. Cover by Adam Burn.

Okay, now it’s getting complicated. I called Infinity Engine (2017), the finale of Neal Asher’s Transformation trilogy, “sprawling and shaggy,” a description that ap­plies as well to his new book. The Warship is the plot-thickening middle volume of a trilogy that is also part of the Polity future history series that so far ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews No Way by S.J. Morden

No Way, S.J. Morden, (Orbit US 978-0-316-52221-2, $15.99, 372pp, tp) February 2019.

In One Way (2018), S.J. Morden mashed up two kinds of procedural: a very hard-SF planetary-pioneering adventure (the building of the first Mars base) and a countdown murder mystery modeled on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. That book ends with the murders solved and the surviving character facing an un­certain future. The sequel, No ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Perihelion Summer by Greg Egan

Perihelion Summer, Greg Egan (Tor.com Pub­lishing 978-1-250-31378-2, $10.39, 215pp, tp) April 2019.

Once again the imagination of disaster is upon us, haunting our dreams and filling our entertainments with scary scenarios. What is disaster that we should be mindful of it in an entertainment? Or, to be precise, what is there in scary, disaster-haunted storytelling that goes beyond the threats and thrills followed by the relief that comes from ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews The Chaos Function by Jack Skillingstead

The Chaos Function, Jack Skillingstead (John Joseph Adams 978-1-328-52615-1, $24.00, 294pp, hc) March 2019.

Jack Skillingstead’s The Chaos Function invites us to think about the tangle of paths that lead into or away from any given Bad Place, and how hard it is to avoid going down them. It is set ten years from now in a world that differs from the present mainly in improvements in smartphone technology. ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Edges by Linda Nagata

Edges, Linda Nagata (Mythic Island 978-1-937197-27-8, $18.00, 411pp, tp) April 2019. Cover by Sarah Anne Langton. [Order from MythicIslandPress.com, PO Box 1293, Kula HI 96790-1293; <mythicislandpress.com>.]

Linda Nagata’s first four novels – Bohr Maker (1995), Tech-Heaven (1995), Deception Well (1997), and Vast (1998) – constituted a long future history, eventually labelled the Nanotech Succession. Edges is the first volume of an exten­sion of that series, a sequence bearing the ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews The Best of Greg Egan by Greg Egan

The Best of Greg Egan, Greg Egan (Subterranean Press 978-1-59606-942-8, $45.00, 731 pp, hc) October 2019. Cover by David Ho.

I first encountered Greg Egan’s work in 1991, with two stories selected by Gardner Dozois for The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Eighth Annual Collection. Gardner continued to pick up Egan stories with some regularity, and then came the early novels (Quarantine, Permutation City, Distress), ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Luna: Moon Rising by Ian McDonald

Luna: Moon Rising, Ian McDonald (Tor 978-0765391476, $29.99, 448pp, hc) March 2019.

If Ian McDonald’s Luna sequence is a trilogy (or, as I see it, a single triple-decker novel), then Luna: Moon Rising is the final volume, since it completes the large-cast, multi-threaded, braided story arc that began with Luna: New Moon (2015) and continued in Luna: Wolf Moon (2017). On the other hand, this capacious, busy, fictional story ...Read More

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