One of the best things about science fiction (speculative fiction, if you prefer — I’m not a fanatic on the issue) is the way a good science fiction book can make you think about the larger universe, instead of focusing all your attention on the narrow concerns of this world and, often, this one little slice of this world. With that in mind, I would like to introduce you to three new science fiction books here at the Field Library that take on the issues of space travel and its consequences.
At first glance, The Wanderers, by Meg Howrey, might not seem to belong in this company, since all of the action takes place right here on earth. However, the whole focus of the book is the preparation of the characters for going to space, so it can serve as a good introduction to the strangeness and wonder of human beings going into space. The premise of The Wanderers is that in four years there’s going to be a launch of a ship taking human beings to Mars, and in the meantime, three people are “auditioning” (in a manner of speaking) for the role of first human beings on Mars, by taking part, for seventeen months, in the closest simulation possible to the actual environment of Mars. Helen Kane, a former NASA astronaut, is trying to get back into space for the last time, because it’s the only place she’s ever felt truly at home. Yoshi Tanaka is trying to prove himself to his beloved wife, and Sergei Kuznetsov is willing to undergo any hardship and push himself beyond all his limits for a chance to get to Mars and set an example for his sons. As the three characters face isolation and worse challenges, they start losing their ability to tell what’s real from what’s unreal, what the dangers of inner space are as compared to those of outer space, and what it really means to be human beings.
Leave it to John Scalzi, a famous and skilled writer of science fiction who’s won the Hugo award more than once, to start a new series with a wild and fascinating concept (helped along by his usual intriguing characters and plots), in his new book, The Collapsing Empire. As everyone knows, physics doesn’t really allow for faster than light travel, which does restrict the possibilities of what’s called space opera somewhat. However, Scalzi introduces the concept of the Flow, an extra dimensional field that allows people to transport themselves from planet to planet without worrying about light speed or any of those problems. Naturally, as soon as the Flow is discovered, humans begin flowing away from earth and out to distant worlds to be colonized. A new empire is created based on the concept of interdependency, the certainty that these human societies on these different worlds can’t survive alone. The Flow is like a river, though, and is changing course, cutting off different worlds from the empire and from each other, and nobody knows how that is going to work, for the empire and for the people trapped on the isolated worlds. Three people, a starship captain, a scientist and an empress, join together to investigate the Flow and try to find what, if anything, can be salvaged if the empire collapses altogether. Look for a wild ride from Scalzi, who’s a great read.
And while we’re on the subject of the Hugo award, the third new book here has been nominated for a Hugo in the category of Best Novel. It’s A Common and Closed Orbit by Becky Chambers, a sort of sequel to The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (previewed last year here: https://wordpress.com/post/fieldlibraryadults.wordpress.com/1106). This book, like that one, takes place on a spaceship called the Wayfarer, with its quirky crew of lovable and diverse characters. A Common and Closed Orbit focuses on Lovelace (later known as Lovey), formerly a ship’s artificial intelligence, now, after a shutdown and reboot, inhabiting a new body. She has no memory of what she was before, or how to be what she now appears to be. Fortunately for her, she doesn’t have to explore the universe and discover her place in it by herself. She’s joined by Pepper, an engineer who’s a bit excitable, and who is dedicated to helping Lovey learn and grow, and by the whole wide world of characters on the ship. You don’t need to have read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet to be able to launch yourself into this one and know what’s going on, but if you’ve enjoyed the first book, you’ll definitely want to read this one (and if you like this book, by all means you should go back and read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet).