For almost 100 years, technicians have been working on machines that can behave, think, and react like humans. It’s now 2040 and artificial intelligence has been perfected, but something horrible has happened and society has come to realize the impact that sentient machines can have. The story is told by five people from five different eras spanning 400 years, all of them connected in some way to the development of these intelligent machines and who illustrate the importance of human relationships, which define what it means to be human.
Why I picked it up: I received a pre-publication copy and was intrigued that the cover said it was about artificial intelligence. It’s always a thrill for me to read a book before its publication date.
Why I finished it: The short chapters that switched between characters and time periods kept the story compelling. Their stories were each heartbreaking in their own way, and Hall’s writing wove them together into a way that showed how we are all interconnected. This is serious commentary on today’s society wrapped in a heartwarming, touchingly human tale.
Readalikes: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, another book with serious social commentary that contains several individually engrossing, yet interconnected stories that take place over several centuries. Mitchell’s book also focuses on the idea that humanity is dependent on relationships.
What if you could live multiple lives simultaneously, have constant, perfect companionship, and never die? That’s the promise of Join, a revolutionary technology that allows small groups of minds to unite, forming a single consciousness that experiences the world through multiple bodies. But as two best friends discover, the light of that miracle may be blinding the world to its horrors.
Chance and Leap are jolted out of their professional routines by a terrifying stranger—a remorseless killer who freely manipulates the networks that regulate life in the post-Join world. Their quest for answers—and survival—brings them from the networks and spire communities they’ve known to the scarred heart of an environmentally ravaged North American continent and an underground community of the “ferals” left behind by the rush of technology.
In the storytelling tradition of classic speculative fiction from writers like David Mitchell and Michael Chabon, Join offers a pulse-pounding story that poses the largest possible questions: How long can human life be sustained on our planet in the face of environmental catastrophe? What does it mean to be human, and what happens when humanity takes the next step in its evolution? If the individual mind becomes obsolete, what have we lost and gained, and what is still worth fighting for?
Kady breaks up with her boyrfiend, Ezra. Then things get worse when warships attack the mining colony where they live. The two teens manage to get to the spaceships that come to the rescue, but their colony, friends, and families are scattered. The battlecruiser Alexander, the science vessel Hypatia, and the freighter Copernicus desperately race for Jumpgate Heimdall, which will take them out of range of the pursuing warship. They may not make it, though, as a mysterious virus is working its way through the ships, turning its victims into enraged monsters who kill everyone they see. More dangerous still, the Alexander’s AI was damaged in the fighting and may be insane.
Why I picked it up: I adore books like this told through "found media," such as news reports, letters, transcripts, etc. The hard science fiction plot was a bonus.
Why I finished it: Kaufman and Kristoff throw a LOT of elements into their story: political turmoil, corporate greed, space battles, bioweapons, hacking, and teen romance. But those elements don't overwhelm one another. Instead the notes, transcripts, emails, and the like which form the framework of the story make it easier to keep the plotlines, characters, and events straight, especially since the documents are time-stamped. Kady and Ezra's reluctant rekindling of their romance, which might seem incongruous in conjunction with the dangerous events surrounding them, feels natural, as if they are pulled together in love because they are young, scared, and isolated. They and the other characters are distinct and, at times, delightfully snarky. Though Illuminae is a long book, it was a fast, fun read.
Readalikes: Two of my favorite "found media" novels each incorporate elements of Illuminae's plot, though they are both set on Earth. Robopocalypse by Daniel Wilson is perfect for readers who love the "rise of the machines" aspect of Illuminae, as it tracks the effects of a robotic uprising through the first-person reports of those who survived. World War Z by Max Brooks also features first-person reports (after a worldwide fight against zombies) and is for those readers who love the violent disease outbreak subplot in Illuminae.
Sully runs a small store at the flea market selling pairs of colored spheres that appeared all over the earth years earlier. These spheres can enhance anyone who puts a matched pair to their temples -- this is referred to as "burning" them because they are worthless after one use. Their user may gain an inch of height, improved eyesight, or other abilities like increased speed. After Sully purchases a pair of spheres from Hunter, a girl with a rough upbringing, they partner to look for spheres together and try to find rarer colors that can be worth millions of dollars. This puts them up against Alex Holliday, a man who has made his fortune selling such spheres and who will stop at nothing to get what he wants.
Why I finished it: I liked how the author speculated about social issues that would arise because of the spheres. How can athletics be fair when some have increased speed? Workplaces change, too, because some get an increased number sense and others burn for extra intelligence. Everywhere, the haves are getting more abilities and the have-nots are falling farther behind.
It’s perfect for: Rick, who was as gobsmacked as I by the surprise ending of The Sixth Sense. I didn't see it coming, but when I looked back there were clues spaced throughout the movie. There is a twist near the end of this book that is of the same order, and I think Rick will enjoy this one, too.
Jala's father has always known she would be queen of the Five-and-One Islands. When she catches the eye of Azi, the new young king, they are soon married. But trouble from the mainland comes quickly in the form of ships full of corpses. Along with the bodies of these raiders comes the discovery of a magical book that the mainlanders consider sacred. When Jala works with a sorcerer to learn more about the book, she finds she must return it before it is taken by force.
Why I picked it up: The cover art and blurb promised a fantasy adventure with non-white characters, something we don't have enough of.
Why I finished it: The magic is pretty subtle, at least through the first half of the book. There are no wizards and wands, and I was glad of that. Instead the islanders have a magic that creates ships out of living coral, and later on there is deep magic with masks that not only represent gods, but appear to channel godlike powers into the wearers.
Readalikes: Child of a Hidden Sea by A.M. Dellamonica in which Sophie falls through a portal into Stormwrack, a world where everyone seems to know who she is. Both books feature watery worlds of intrigue and magic. Jala and Sophie are each willful and brash, and must struggle to fit the roles they are thrown into.
Aaron’s life had always been hard -- growing up poor in the projects, sleeping in the living room with his brother, and surviving in a house frequently on the edge of violence because of his abusive father. After his dad kills himself, things are worse. His mom has to work more to keep the family afloat, and his brother seems cold and lost in his video games. Thank goodness he has his sweet girlfriend, Evangeline. She always has his back and is the one person he can really show his feelings to. But then one day he meets a new guy named Thomas and something changes. He has never had a friend like him before. He feels like he can really talk with Thomas, geek out with him about the meaning of life, and maybe even show him the comic book he has been writing. When Evangeline goes away to art camp, Aaron starts to feel a strong attraction towards Thomas. He knows it is going to be a problem.
Why I picked it up: I heard the author speak at the American Library Association conference and liked him instantly. He spoke with moving optimism about how the world is getting better for LGBT kids, but how hard it still is for those who are impoverished minorities. A book about closeted teens living in a rough urban neighborhood with a hint of science fiction thrown in? Sounded refreshing and different from anything I’d read before.
Why I finished it: Throughout the book, Aaron keeps mentioning Leteo, a company that has figured out how to wipe people's memories, and wonders if this might be what he needs to deal with all the pain he is carrying. I loved this concept in one of my favorite movies, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and wondered how Silvera might use it. What he came up with blew me out of the water. I love it when a book can surprise me and then keep me wanting more right up until the last sentence.
Readalikes: I think this would be a great follow up to Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King. Both stories are filled with raw teen angst and heartbreaking loss mixed in with just enough weirdness to make them amazing. (Though the memory wiping in More Happy Than Not seems mundane compared to Glory and her friend drinking a crushed, dried-up bat mixed into beer to gain visions of an extremely disturbing future.)
A voyage to Titan is cut short by a meteorite, which quickly kills half of the spaceship’s six-person crew. As the survivors fight mental instability brought on by the deaths of their friends and lovers, as well as the effects of radiation sickness, they devise a radical plan to return to Earth that will allow only one of them to survive the journey.
Why I picked it up: The jacket blurb lists this 1985 book as one of three classics by the father and patron saint of Cuban science fiction, who stopped writing science fiction after the fall of the Soviet Union and spent his final years persuading others that Fidel Castro did not exist.
Why I finished it: The tension in the first half of this book was palpable. The shock of the meteorite strike led the remaining crew to make awful choices. As time grew short, it became more and more apparent they were doomed despite the way they continued to solve immediate problems of survival. The second half of the book, a long flashback into the crew members’ childhoods showing how they were raised together, making their mutual survival imperative, was crucial to the plot.
Readalikes: The Martian by Andy Weir, in which an astronaut is left behind, alone, on Mars, because both deal with astronaut survival after a disaster. It also reminded me of Solaris by Stanislaw Lem, in which a group of humans deal with an alien ocean that probes their minds and shows them their worst fears.
Danny Reilly and Corbin Quinn don their orange chromo-suits and head back in time on their first mission: documenting the 1492 arrival of Christopher Columbus. But Quinn is knocked off course and lands in Samarkand in 1504. When Reilly goes to save him, he emerges in the middle of a battle between horse-mounted warriors and an army with modern military hardware. Quinn has already been there for four years. After he repaired his time suit, he used it to protect the city from the attacking army. The citizens made him their king. And he’s been living it up all over the time stream. He convinces Reilly to do the same.
Contains Chrononauts #1 - #4.
Publisher’s Rating: Rated M / Mature
Why I picked it up: Chris at Comics Dungeon booktalked it to me and it sounded great.
Why I finished it: Reilly is also Pharaoh of ancient Egypt, leader of the Kamakura Shogunate, and he’s dating a young Norma Jean Baker (among others). He and Quinn have hilarious adventures everywhen. Then a time traveling security chief from their home time starts to pursue them and things get even funnier.
It’s perfect for: My high school friend Sung, who was a big Smiths fan. I think he’ll laugh at the moment Reilly kicks Morrissey out of the band.
In a dystopian science fiction screenplay, Max Nomax has been sentenced to a prison orbiting a giant black hole, The Annihilator. It’s known for having driven its previous residents mad. They’re leaving him with the body of the woman he loved and an artificial emotional companion for support. He vows to escape and to find a cure for her death.
In Hollywood, Ray Spass moves into a house with a reputation for driving its residents crazy. He’s there to finish his screenplay. After he throws an out-of-control party, he finds out he has an inoperable brain tumor. He’s about to commit suicide when he is visited by Max Nomax. He tells Ray that the tumor is actually a packet of concentrated information, and that all he has to do to save them both is finish the screenplay.
Originally Published as Annihilator #1 - #6.
Publisher’s Rating: Mature Readers.
Why I picked it up: I’m a fan of Morrison’s comics, which usually involve altered states of consciousness and themes about creativity. And I just really liked the guy in the bug suit on the cover.
Why I finished it: Is Spass crazy? Is he hallucinating the whole thing? Are the Vada and their champion, the heroic Jet Makro, real? Or is it just the cancer?
Irving’s art is astonishing, particularly in the futuristic portions where Max Nomax appears. The darkness of space, The Annihilator, and the evil in the prison where Nomax is sentenced all work to create a bleak setting “lit” by darkness.
Readalikes: Morrison’s The Filth was just republished in a deluxe format. It’s another psychedelic science fiction tale about identity, and (if I remember right) it has several hallucinatory, metafictional moments where Greg Feely / Ned Slade seems to jump off the page, out of the frames, and into the reader’s world.