For fans of science fiction, John Scalzi needs no introduction: winner of the John Campbell award for his first novel, Old Man’s War, winner of the Hugo (well deserved) for his brilliant and funny book Redshirts (which you should definitely read if you are even a casual Star Trek fan), author most recently of the excellent book Lock-in (a sort of science fiction mystery), and frequent nominee for all the major science fiction awards. Even non science fiction die-hards will find much to enjoy in Scalzi’s books, and should give him a try. His newest book, The End of All Things, is set in the same universe as Old Man’s War and its sequels, and takes us to a universe in which humanity is only one of many starfaring races, and far from the dominant one. The Colonial Union, an organization which used earth’s excess population to create colonies and soldiers, is now out of favor with the people back on earth, at the same time its forces are diminishing and different alien races are probing for any signs of weakness. As if that weren’t enough, there’s evidence that someone is deliberately setting alien races against humans, and against each other, for reasons of his or her own. In a race against time, Colonial Defense Force Lieutenant Harry WIlson and Colonial Union diplomats try to placate a suspicious and hostile earth population and find out and stop whoever’s behind the increasing hostility from alien races before it’s too late.
Brian Aldiss has won just about every award available to science fiction authors: the Hugo, the Nebula, the Campbell. His Helliconia series was breathtaking in its scope and breadth, and his novella, “Super Toys Last All Summer Long” was the basis for Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence. So when he comes out with a new book, it’s definitely worth reading. Finches of Mars, which just arrived on our shelves this month, starts with a disturbing premise: earth has become all but uninhabitable, due to ecological disasters, overpopulation and endless war, and a group of humans cling to their precarious existence on Mars, living in towers and attempting to form a new society without religion, art or politics. The colony is dependent on earth for food, and people on earth are increasingly reluctant to supply it, the colonists discover the existence of indigenous life on Mars, and, worst of all, in the ten years the colony has been in existence, no human babies have survived more than a few hours. While this sounds like a total downer, the book is breathtaking and ultimately hopeful, as readers of Aldiss would expect.
A different kind of science fiction book, The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips is set in a world disturbingly like our own in the not-too-distant future. The protagonist, Josephine, has been out of work for a while when she accepts a position at The Database, a mysterious employer which requires her to input endless streams of numbers into a computer. It’s a boring job, if you’re only talking about the work, but gradually the place starts to creep Josephine out, and she begins to intuit that there’s more to this job, and to her employer, than she’d originally suspected. People start to disappear and then reappear without explanation, including her husband. Who or what exactly is she working for and what exactly is her work leading to?The book has been compared to Kafka and Murakami, The Twilight Zone and The Yellow Wallpaper, and it’s an entertaining, if haunting, ride.