Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Literary Draughts
Tonics for the Curious Reader
    Book Reviews by Tobias Buckell
March 2008

Singularity's Ring by Paul Melko

Last month I warned you about a potential conflict of interest in my review of Queen of Candesce, by Karl Schroeder, and in a similar vein I have to warn you again that I'm reviewing a book by someone I consider to be a close friend, and colleague. There aren't too many science fiction writers in Ohio, where I've lived for the past ten years or so. There are certainly not too many novelists just breaking in with their first few novels. As a result, it's no particular surprise that Paul Melko and I have crossed paths at local conventions, been founding members (along with Charles Coleman Finlay) of a Columbus writers group, and are friends.

But above admiration of a colleague, I've been eagerly waiting for Paul's first novel to come out since I first started getting glimpses of it in early form. And that's because it's just really freaking cool and pushes all the right buttons for me.

Speaking of Karl Schroeder, he once posited that the Singularity is one of the big elephants in the room for modern SF authors. Even if you don't believe in it, now that it has been proposed everyone sort of has to dance around it, acknowledge it, refute it, or just plain use it in their fiction. In case you haven't read Vernor Vinge's paper, the Singularity is the point at which technological advances, following an exponential curve much like Moore's Law (which predicts computer processors will double in power every year and a half or so), hits a runaway point so fast and extreme, that we on this side of that steep upward cliff can hardly predict what is on the other side. Some have called this the "rapture of the nerds."

So Paul Melko starts right out with the elephant in the room. The Singularity has already come to pass. Billions of humans have joined a sort of mental shared headspace and called themselves the Community. Technology advanced rapidly, enough for them to build a giant ring around the earth where most of them lived. And then the Community suddenly transcended and everyone disappeared in an event the survivors call "the Exodus."

Have they achieved a whole new level of consciousness? Or have they all died in some catastrophic accident? The survivors of the Singularity struggle through a period of war and instability, and thirty years later, it is their story that is then told in Singularity's Ring.

The survivors of the Exodus are themselves biological experiments, including our hero, Apollo Papadopulos. Apollo, like all his fellow citizens, is a multiple intelligence, made up of five different human beings, who create a single mind through the use of pheromones. Memories, thoughts, and emotions are all shared by Apollo through Strom, Quant, Moira, Meda and Manuel: these are the five singletons that make up the whole.

Apollo is training to be a starship pilot, part of a mission to explore what really happened to the Community. But forces seem to be out to stop his training, and we are soon swept up into the politics of Apollo's world. It isn't long before Apollo faces the hazards of separation, makes friends with animals that are also pods like Apollo, and comes to rely on the various strengths of all the different singletons that make up Apollo.

Part young adult tale, part treatise on emergent systems, and all adventure, Singularity's Ring is a great deal of fun and one to watch out for.

Emissaries From The Dead by Adam Troy Castro

Now here's a particularly chewy book. I'd have to describe it as a mix between a mystery and science fiction novel, or maybe a spy thriller and science fiction novel. There are layers of political intrigue that wrap around the plot of this novel and add several dimensions to what is, at base, an intriguing set up.

Artificial intelligences descended from various intelligent races known collectively as the AIsource have created a diplomatic conundrum. It's in the form of an artificial world called One One One, which is a sort of classic O'Neil colony (a giant rotating can in outer space). Unlike the classic model of this structure, where people live on the inner surface of the walls, pinned there by the rotational force that provides gravity, One One One has been inverted by its AI creators. On One One One, the giant cylinder is filled with noxious gases by the walls, and only towards its center are the conditions anything resembling Earth-like. The AIs have created life to populate this giant artificial world, such as floating dragons in its depths. But that created life includes, more importantly, hanging from the vines and crooks of the inner hub, ready to fall towards the walls at a moment's notice: Brachiators.

The Brachiators pose a problem because they are a race created by the AIsource, and they can't leave One One One or they die. They are a subjugated race. Sort of. The AIsource, however, really doesn't ask anything of them. The Brachiators hang from vines, have plenty of food for the picking, and just meander around the hub. But once the AIsource reveals the existence of One One One, eleven different organic space-faring races set out to protest the AIsource's actions, demanding an interspecies tribunal. For now, a contingent of humans have been allowed onto One One One to observe the Brachiators, but two of them have been murdered.

This is the situation Diplomat Corps agent Andrea Cort finds herself in the middle of. Not only is she trying to piece together the pieces of a mystery, but it's one that has grave interstellar diplomatic repercussions due to the fact that the AIsource is so powerful, finding it guilty would spark a war that none of the organic races could win. Such is the life of an interstellar diplomat.

As Cort winds her way through sullen and often uncooperative human observers, the murderer lurks somewhere in the crowd of One One One, waiting for a chance to get at her as well. And in a world where your room hangs from the hub over deadly clouds, that advantage does not lie with Cort. Add to that the fact that the AIsource has a few secrets up its sleeve, and Andrea has a deeply troubled past that keeps her from trusting, well, anybody, and you have the ingredients for an interesting novel.

The nature of it being a novel about secrets that have to be teased out of people can lead to some slower sections, but the end delivers a payoff well worth it.

The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez

Remember that good old fashioned future that never came to be? Flying cars. Talking robots. Mutants in the sewers. Tall art deco buildings. Stunning blondes who're also brilliant scientists. Scientists working on world-altering inventions. Aliens forcing scientists to work on world-altering inventions. Aliens menacing stunning blonde scientists. It never came to be. But it's all here in A. Lee Martinez's latest novel, The Automatic Detective, and the retro-future that never came to be couldn't be funnier. Martinez takes a mix of hard boiled detective noir novel and over the top retro-futurism for this novel and mixes together a cracking read.

Ever since turning in his mad scientist creator after he somehow became conscious (a programming glitch maybe?), robot Mack Megaton has been trying to follow the straight and narrow. True, he was designed to destroy and smash things with an eye towards world domination, but he's doing his best to play to his better nature. He drives a cab in Empire City. He goes to his mandated psychiatrist visits to see how he's integrating with human society. He lives in a rundown area of town and has been keeping his head low, or at least as low as a robot designed to enslave humanity can. And as ordered by his psychiatrist, he regularly visits a scrapyard to destroy things for therapy.

But when the family next door to him gets abducted, Mack decides not to be just another face in the crowd. No matter how many walls he has to break through, or heads he has to crack, Mack is on a mission to find his friends. Because the nice mother of the family, Julie, has always tied his bowtie for him (which Mack could never do, his large, destructive fists aren't built for that kind of dexterity), and the daughter, April, gave him a piece of fridge art that has a message asking for help on the back.

Along the way Mack garners some strange allies. Lucia Napier, a bombshell and society girl, seems to have an unusual interest in the giant robot. It may be because she's bored of her high society life and looking to broaden her horizons, or it could just be because she helped design some parts of him. And then there's the mysterious Greenman. He wants to find Julie's family too. But are his motives the same as Mack's? And why does everyone keep insisting Mack should be a detective, and wear a trenchcoat? He knows he's just a cab driver.

Ever since A. Lee Martinez's first book, Gil's All Night Fright Diner, I've come to look forward to each of this books. So far he has yet to disappoint me.

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