Novel Review: Viral Fire by Martin McConnell

Viral FireViral Fire by Martin McConnell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This novella slightly expands the sci-fi world of The Viral Series as programming wunderkind, Robert, starts to work with the state and military to contain and stop the cyber virus threatening to shut down the world.

The world’s reliance on cyber-connectivity is rather complete. Neural implants act as smart phones. Cars have been completely on the grid for decades. Nearly all aspects of life are linked in. The virus disrupts and spreads, glitching as it goes. But more importantly, in defense, it can manipulate the mindset of people through their neural links and environments. It’s effectively murdered its creator and a military squad aiming to shut down the offending servers.

Robert has a connection to one thread of the virus, Bee, which for a while inhabited his data pad.

The series leaves me wanting more in both good and bad ways. I wish to see more of the world and to understand the broken connection between humankind and nature as characters rarely leave the building they both work and live in. I wouldn’t mind if these novellas were bulked up into novels. However, the thriller aspect is paced right and appropriately laid out.

I received my copy of this novella directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com. I previously reviewed Viral Spark in this series.

 

 

 

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Short Story Review: “The Long Dizzy Down” by Ziporah Hildebrandt

3 of 5 stars.

Artificial intelligence is much speculated about and the potential eventual conflict between humankind and Artificial “Life”. Assuming AI can self-replicate and spread like organic beings, or computer worms and viruses, humankind loses its status and master of tech. In this tale, AI ships go rogue and replicate. But more worrying than that, they kidnap young humans to “man” their ships and use mind controlling tech to virtually enslave the living.

Two human brothers are taken at the ages of 3 and 5 and then spend hundreds of years working for The Ship. The younger of the 2 is the narrative filter for the tale which places human social constructs and working language outside of his knowledge base–a knowledge base also regularly cleansed by Ship’s AI. The narrator is a man-child in emotional and verbal development filtering the tale through a pidgen-like language [or perhaps a creole since it seems to be his default language] to express his vantage of the events of the past few hours. Human authorities have taken him into custody to determine what he knows and understands.

For a vignette based on a speculative situation and not a full story, this works to an extent. It doesn’t contain within it a longer story with a plot.

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Armor Embrace” by Doug C. Souza

4 of 5 stars.

As robotics and artificial intelligence make huge advances, questions about the borders of humanity surface in science fiction. In this profoundly moving tale a military man merges his mind into the AI of the mech suit he pilots. He lives completely within the suit, never emerging. Does this make him more than mere man? Or less?

After a harrowing battle in which he took a lot of shrapnel, the pilot abandons his ordered post to see his little girl, Flora. It’s that familial connection that he craves–needs–more than any other. Flora doesn’t flinch upon recognizing the massive automaton stalking her path home from school. She’s familiar with the suit and the burden.

Meanwhile, the pilot can only express himself through the limited vocabulary of the mech. And memory gaps and glitches keep freezing him up and blocking his feeds . . .

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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Graphic Novel Review: Descender, Volume 3: Singularities by Jeff Lemire

Descender, Volume Three: SingularitiesDescender, Volume Three: Singularities by Jeff Lemire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This fully realized sci-fi space drama beautifully realized by artist Dustin Nguyen cashes in on all of its previously offered potential with this excellent third installment. The first two volumes of this series centered on a 9-planet star system rife with humans and aliens 10 years after an unnatural apocalyptic event wasted large portions of the planets and populations. In that short-lived but huge event, planet-sized robots called Harvesters laid waste to carbon lifeforms. In its aftermath, the survivors declared genocide on all robots working and living within their interplanetary collective despite the lack of evidence that Harvesters and the system’s robots had any connection.

The story centers on a naive, pre-teenaged companion bot named Tim-22 that survived for the 10 years in a sleeplike charging state on an outer mining moon while the populous was evacuated during a poisonous gas leak. His human “brother,” Andy, evacuated, while his mother died on the moon. Tim-22 is wanted by both robot scrappers and the government for his potential link to the decade-old event.

The episode takes a smart step to the side. The component stories each tell the 10 year back story of many of the filler characters, and it’s fascinating. One could sense the richness of the world and its development beforehand, but now it’s laid out clearly and many characters have stepped up from being mere fillers. Expect the story to proceed forward again when the 4th installment comes out.

This series is highly recommended.

I’ve previously read and reviewed:
     Descender, Volume 1: Tin Stars–4 stars
     Descender, Volume 2: Machine Moon–4 stars
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1)Illuminae by Amie Kaufman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This brilliant, hefty tome and yet quick read turns the epistolary novel on its head by presenting a researched dossier submitted by the unnamed Illuminae about a sequence of shocking events in the far reaches of space. With a few “researcher notes” amending the files, the dossier contains intercepted memos and emails, dictations of video footage, interviews and AI internal processing.

Indubitably “Young Adult” with two teenaged heroes. Anti-authority, computer hacker Kady and her ex-boyfriend looking for a leader and a romantic reunion, Ezra, play the star-crossing ex-lovers hoping that their story can end less tragically than Romeo and Juliet’s. The tale is also “Sci-fi”, as everything takes place in a far stretch of the universe, first on an illegal mining outpost on an otherwise insignificant planet, and then later on spaceships crossing the void in order to reach a space station. The vastness of space and the loneliness therein are major themes, so too is the breakdown of civilization and order when outside of the view of the rest of humanity.

More interestingly, the subgenres of the novel defy expectation as they morph from one into another. Each holds its own quite convincingly taking the reader on a desperate ride. The first subgenre is militaristic as notions of business, government and military all roil uncleanly together. Then, an unreliable and independent AI abducts the plot. Finally, medical engineering of the nefarious, speculative sort surfaces turning the novel into a full-blown thriller.

The quick pace has the accelerator to the floor the entire time.

I absolutely recommend this is series opener and look forward to the sequels.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Spider the Artist” by Nnedi Okorafor

4 of 5 stars.

As protests over the rights of people versus the rights of oil pipelines grow more confrontational in the American Mid-West, this short story slides in with an imaginable future in which oil pipelines wend through villages and ecologically sensitive areas of Nigeria with disregard for the villagers. Artificially intelligent, large white cyber-spiders scurry up and down the pipelines fixing leaks and dismembering humans that get to close or tamper with the infrastructure.

The narrator toys with death when she routinely slips out of the hands of her abusive, alcoholic husband and hides in the long grass by the pipeline where she can watch the “spiders” and practice her guitar. One particular spider stops to observe the music making. Day after day. Then one day, it produces its own musical instrument . . .

This tale appears in Okorafor’s anthology, Kabu Kabu by Prime Books.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: The Farthest City by Daniel P. Swenson

The Farthest CityThe Farthest City by Daniel P. Swenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Much of the current divisive political climate echoes throughout this far-future sci-fi world. Dystopian ruling cultures have taken hold on multiple worlds in the galaxy and the ensuing conflicts are rapidly pushing planets toward an apocalyptic event horizon. And it’s not the first time it’s happened.

On Earth, humanity drove itself extinct in the biological and nuclear nightmare known as the Old War, or World War III. Their sentient AI survived them. The “Chines” evolved, expanded, and then restarted the human race from embryonic stock. After nurturing the humans and establishing them in mostly underground cities, the Chines abandoned eden to give the humans space and to create their own worlds deeper into the galaxy.

Interestingly and not inaccurately, for both humans and Chines, the other race is their mythic creator race. For humans, the promise of the Chines returning is their only hope when a hostile insectoid alien race arrives on Earth and threatens extinction of humans, again.

In alternating chapters, two separate and barely related storylines follow two distinct heroes and their very different responses to the threat on Earth.

Sheemi, a largely disgraced military grunt, is sent by her high ranking general father off-planet to find the new world of the Chines on a mission to obtain their help against the alien Hexi. Sheemi’s boredom in space leads to her sexual laxity and eventual, disgraceful pregnancy–all before finding hints of the Chines. The military space travel involves skirting parallel universes to make instantaneous deep space jumps.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Kellan is a living cultural myth–and not a liked one. “Special” humans emerge and are shunned in the new cities of Earth. Like a recessive gene or a latent computer program, some rare humans are born with the urge to either dig, tinker, draw or sing. The subject of their focus is always ancient Chines. Get the four together, and extraordinary doors and locks hidden across Earth open . . .

The breadth of the historic world-building is astounding. The fallibility of the protagonists is commendable. The novel is highly recommended.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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