Five science fiction books about aliens coming out in May

science fiction books about aliensTo commemorate Alien: Covenant coming out in theaters (though note that the reviews are mixed thus far), here are five science fiction books about aliens that are also releasing this month. At this late date in May, all are available except for Injection Burn, which will be coming out next week.

1. Netherspace by Andrew Lane & Nigel Foster – Available now

science fiction books about aliensAuthors Lane and Foster became tired of the recurring sci-fi trope that humans can always quickly find a way to communicate with aliens. “In our polite, English way we said bullshit to that,” said the authors in a recent interview. So in Netherspace, humans still don’t understand the Gliese alien race, even after trading with them for forty years. Now, with the aliens kidnapping humans, artist Marc and assassin Kara must team up to solve the mystery.

2. Pawn by Timothy Zahn – Available now

science fiction books about aliensZahn kicks off a new series, The Sybil’s War, with Pawn, in which petty criminal Nicole and gangster Bungie are abducted by aliens and taken to a ship called the Fyrantha. When Nicole learns that she and her fellow laborers are pawns in a bizarre game pitting different alien species against each other, she vows to rebel. Timothy Zahn’s biggest claim to fame is his collection of Star Wars tie-in novels, including the Thrawn trilogy.


3. Substrate Phantoms by Jessica Reisman – Available now

science fiction books about aliens

Weird accidents and power surges are occurring on the space station Termagenti. Is the station haunted–or is there an alien on board? Jhinsei must figure out how the members of his operations team died before their ghosts drive him insane. If you’re in Austin tomorrow, be sure to check out the launch party for Substrate Phantoms at Malvern Books. It’ll feature original music for the book performed by a local band; how cool is that?


4. The Gauntlet by Megan Shepherd – Available now

science fiction books about aliens

The Gauntlet is the finale of The Cage, a YA series about teenagers from Earth who have been abducted by aliens and must struggle to survive. Trapped in an oppressive lunar colony, Cora and her friends must endeavor to set humanity free by winning a competition called the Gauntlet. This is Shepherd’s second YA trilogy; the first was The Madman’s Daughtera series described as “gothic suspense.”


5. Injection Burn by Jason M. Hough – May 30

science fiction books about aliens

Skyler Luiken and his comrades must rescue a friendly alien race from a faraway planet. But a fearsome fleet of ships called the Swarm Blockade stands in their way. Injection Burn is book 4 of 5 in The Dire Earth Cycle but is also intended to be another entry point for newcomers to the series, acting as a “duology” with another book coming out next month, Escape Velocity.  Hough is also a game designer who co-wrote a tie-in novel for the video game Mass Effect Andromeda, which Jeff still needs to get around to playing.


So, what will you be reading over Memorial Day weekend?

News from Jeff Deck: On Tuesday, June 6, at the Chesley Memorial Library in Northwood NH, I’ll be reading an excerpt from my story, “Making the Transition,” in the new anthology Murder Ink 2: Sixteen More Tales of New England Newsroom Crime. It’s a peek into the world of my upcoming urban fantasy series, The Shadow Over Portsmouth; I’ll be releasing the first book in the series this summer, City of Ports. Also that week: I’ll be reading during “Wyrd: A Horror Reading Event” on Thursday, June 8 in Salem, Mass. Busy times!

Five noteworthy science fiction books so far in 2016

We’ve covered five horror books you should check out. Now let’s pop over to the science fiction side of the aisle. Here are five sci-fi books that have come out so far this year that people are buzzing about.

1. Sleeping Giants, by Sylvain Neuvel

science fiction booksThis story of an international quest for robot parts has an interesting, typically twenty-teens origin story: it started out as a self-published work that eventually caught the eye of a Big Five publisher once the book already had a movie deal. The big publishers have found a new risk-aversion strategy . . . publishing books that have already been published. In any case, it’s great to see an indie author make good here.

2. Infomocracy, by Malka Older

science fiction booksHmm, a “sci-fi thriller with election-year chills” — I am trying so damn hard here not to link to a certain other book that would also fit that description. Nobody likes a self-promoter. OK . . . I resisted. Anyway, Infomocracy sounds like an interesting take on the politics of the future. The author, making her debut, apparently graces the story with many details based on her own academic and international aid experience.

3. Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, by Lois McMaster Bujold

science fiction booksListen, I’m a couple of books behind in Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan, so please — no spoilers! I know I’m on dangerous ground here even to bring it up; I’m hoping to get to this latest book in the series soon enough. I just wanted to be sure that Bujold’s long-running saga is on your radar. Previous books have mixed science fiction, mystery, adventure, and romance brilliantly. I expect no less from this latest.

4. Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer

science fiction booksAnother debut author just like in items 1 and 2 on this list, Palmer has received high praise from Boing Boing for this novel (first in a series) about life in the 25th century, where religion is a banned topic and humans affiliate based on beliefs or hobbies rather than geography (this latter idea is actually the foundation of Older’s book, above). Some reviewers call this book dense and challenging as a caution to the reader.

5. The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria, by Carlos Hernandez

science fiction booksI met Hernandez in February at Boskone, where he made great contributions to, among other things, a panel on “nifty narrative tricks.” Our fourth debut author on this list gives us a short-story collection that Publishers Weekly called witty and insightful. I’m looking forward to checking Quantum Santeria out after I’ve waded through the remaining four hundred pages of Seveneves.

So, what else belongs on this list? Let me know!

The best Star Wars movie? KOTOR 2.

best star wars movie

OK, asking which Star Wars movie is the best is setting myself up for a fight. But it’s May the Fourth, so I’ll ask it anyway — what do you think?

What if I told you (cue the Morpheus meme) that the best Star Wars movie is actually a game . . . and a decade-old, notoriously broken game at that?

Guess I’m really asking for a punch in the Naboo now. But let me introduce you to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic IIaka KOTOR 2.

Whereas all the movies have subscribed, more or less, to a straightforward “good versus evil” system of morality, KOTOR 2 is ballsy enough to bring up the possibility that the Jedi, in adhering to a strict, uncompromising code, could actually be in the wrong. And that, maybe, the Sith have a point.

You (or rather, the main character) are continually forced to confront these questions by an elderly, blind, former Jedi master named Kreia, who is one of the most fantastic characters ever to grace any video game, not just a Star Wars game. Kreia asks tough questions about the supposedly binary Light and Dark Sides of the Force that nobody else seems to be asking.

For example, after doing the typical RPG hero thing and giving a few bucks to a refugee in need, Kreia asks you: “Why would you do such a thing? Such kindness will mean nothing, his path is set. Giving him what he has not earned is like pouring sand into his hands.”

If you defend your actions, saying you were helping the refugee to survive and to find hope for the future, Kreia goes on:

“The Force binds all things. The slightest push, the smallest touch, sends echoes throughout life. Even an act of kindness may have more severe repercussions than you know or can see. By giving him something he has not earned, perhaps all you have helped him become is a target.”

In a few short sentences, Kreia provides more justification for a Republican Sith / Dark Side worldview than we’ve been given in hours upon hours of Star Wars screen time. Maybe it’s not all about mustache-twirling evil; maybe there’s actually a coherent philosophy underlying the actions of the villains.

Later, Kreia critiques the Jedi’s monk-like approach to upholding their principles:

“Turning away from that which tempts you or causes you fear is not strength. Facing it is.”

“It is only through interaction, through decision and choice, through confrontation, physical or mental, that the Force can grow within you.”

I mean, that’s not only an argument for the value of, erhm, player choice, but also for an active approach for shaping one’s own character, rather than the passivity that the Jedi seem to advocate.

I’m not saying Kreia’s right — there’s a lot of different ways to look at this question (e.g., Western vs. Eastern philosophy, determinism vs. free will, etc.) that don’t hinge on one side being “right” and the other “wrong.” That’s what makes this approach to the Star Wars universe so fascinating . . . it’s set up, at least potentially, as a clash of competing philosophies rather than “bad guys want to destroy the world because evil, and good guys want to stop them.”

The lead designer for KOTOR 2, Chris Avellone (most famous for the monumental achievement Planescape: Torment), admitted that he used Kreia to challenge the existing lore: “She was questioning everything about the Star Wars universe that I thought should be questioned.”

Maybe, you say, this particular universe doesn’t need to be questioned — maybe it’s just meant to be an extended allegory, a simple tale of space wizards versus the forces of darkness. And that’s fair. I’m not sure George Lucas initially had anything much more sophisticated than that in mind.

But I love that it contains the possibility of stretching out into something more complex, and that’s where KOTOR 2 really shines: as both a tribute and challenge to the source material. The game was released as a buggy mess but has since been cleaned up in the “Restored Content” version, largely created by fans who saw the storytelling potential in KOTOR 2 and wanted to help it shine through.

I’ll grant you, though, that the new Star Wars movie was pretty damn good, and I’m looking forward to seeing it again.

Why predicting the future is so hard

science fiction books

What are your best predictions for what the world will be like, say, 50 years from now? How about 25?

Okay, how about just nine years from now?

Even if you enjoy science fiction, and have read lots of it, you’ll probably have a tough time getting the future right. When doing research for Player Choice, rather than making my own haphazard and uninformed guesses, I tried to take cues from the smartest and most skilled minds out there. But sometimes even that approach can go awry.

The “future” is here now

The biggest hurdle to predicting the future is that we think in linear, not exponential, terms.


That’s something pointed out by Ray Kurzweil, one of 60 contributors to a 2008 book called The Way We Will Be 50 Years from Today, a compilation of essays imagining the year 2058. Kurzweil aside, most of the essayists are far too conservative in their predictions for the future.

How do I know this? Well, it’s 2016. Only nine years after the contributors wrote their essays, in 2007. And many of the predictions for 2058 in the book have already come true.

In 2058, we’ll “speak to our appliances” . . . oh, we’re actually doing that now. Some of them are always listening.

In 2058, we’ll have a “personal organizer that gauges our mood and selects a music stream and gives us the news of the day” . . . so yeah, for the music and news, we already have those. We have wristbands that track our heart rate and our sleep, and sensing moods and emotions is just around the corner.

In 2058, we’ll have our “second woman president, three of the nine Supreme Court justices are women, and eleven state governors are women” . . . well, the U.S. seems likely to elect the first female president later this year. The second probably won’t take another forty-two years to arrive. We’ve had three female Supreme Court justices for six years now, and may even end up with four depending how the post-Scalia shitshow goes. As for governors, we have six women now (plus the mayor of D.C., which is denied statehood), and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that number double within the next decade.

In short, the supposedly far-flung future is looking closer every day. Want some nanobots? Now we have our first ones. Want your own complete DNA profile? Just send these folks your spit. Want to send robots to Alpha Centauri? Stephen Hawking’s new project has got you covered (pony up).

Look back to look forward

Hindsight is 20/20, as the old saw goes. I wouldn’t have done any better of a job in 2008 predicting 2058, or even 2016. We should look back at past predictions not to mock what they got wrong — but to recalibrate our predictions for our own future. It’s a sound justification for daring to dream on a lot bigger scale.

If you want the best of our current guesses for what’s over the horizon, you really can’t go wrong with the father of exponential thinking, the aforementioned Kurzweil. His most recent book is from a few years ago, How to Create a MindMichio Kaku covers similar ground in The Future of the Mind.

Any other futurists you’d recommend who seem to have their heads on straight?

Excited for “The Expanse,” that new Syfy show?

the expanse

Hey, so am I!

So I wanted to make sure James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse series was on your radar. It’s a sci-fi book series about an alien threat stirring up war among Earth, its former colony of Mars, and other human-occupied planets, moons, and asteroids in the solar system. Just a terrific read, with a great focus on character-driven adventure. I’m just wrapping up reading the second book in the series.

A new TV adaptation of the books is debuting next month on the Syfy channel. As far as I can tell, the first season of the series (also called The Expanse) is based on the first two books, Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s WarI’m looking forward to it!

Anyway. Two things to mention about my own books:

1) I recently wrapped up my novel for this year’s National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo is a challenge to write a 50K-word novel within the 30 days of November. Due to other stuff I was busy with earlier in the month, I ended up having to cram about 40,000 words into the space of twelve days. And then I still somehow finished two days early! Whew.

There’s a lot of rewriting and revising ahead of me. But you can expect to see this new book — the first novel in my new supernatural mystery series called City of Ports (or The Shadow Over Portsmouth)debut sometime in 2016  (2016 edit: Nope, it’ll be 2017).

2) Next week — December 10! — the fourth and final installment of my serialized supernatural thriller novel, The Pseudo-Chronicles of Mark Huntley, arrives on Amazon. You can pre-order Part 4 here, or just bookmark the page until the release date.

OK, that’s it! Hope your December kicks off with aplomb.