|Tonics for the Curious Reader|
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
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:
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
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
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.