By Edward Ashton
St. Maarten, 304 pages, $37.99
In “Mickey7”, Mickey Barnes, a young man with few job opportunities who is also on the run from debt collectors, embarks in a state of desperation on a mission to colonize a new planet. Alas, the only job he can get is “Immortal”, which is a euphemism for “Expendable”.
This means that Mickey is the colony’s throwaway man. Since flesh is cheaper and easier to recycle than robotics, a Consumable’s job is anything that needs to be done in a dangerous or downright suicidal way. When (not if) he is killed, his consciousness is recharged in a clone body extracted from a vat of protein paste. All so he could be killed again.
It’s a silly but effective premise, and Edward Ashton has a lot of fun with this animated SF action-comedy. Things kick off with the seventh iteration of Mickey being declared dead early, causing Mickeys 7 and 8 to hide the mistake of now having two Mickeys, as duplicate Expendables are against the rules. During this time, the colony is threatened by killer insects called “creepers”. But then, just like with Mickey, all is not as it seems.
Young HG Wells: Changing the World
By Claire Tomalin
Viking, 256 pages, $42.95
Herbert George Wells may not have been the father of science fiction (other nominees would include Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne and a founding mother of Mary Shelley), but he was probably its most influential practitioner, inventing types of stories that have faded to become genre standards, from time travel to alien invasion. It should also be noted that he did so in just a decade of activity, from 1895 to 1905, before gradually moving on to other interests like politics and writing world history.
A creative run lasting about ten years is typical of most authors, and veteran biographer Claire Tomalin has wisely written a little book about this hyper-productive period in Wells’ life, which was fueled by his passion for sex. , socialism and science (in that order). Better to give us Wells in its most vital form and only scratch the surface of the long decline that followed.
How far do we go in the dark
By Sequoia Nagamatsu
William Morrow, 304 pages, $34.99
A terrific collection of related short stories (although it’s called a novel on the cover) about the effects of an extraterrestrial “Arctic Plague” released by melting Siberian permafrost might seem very timely in 2022. This makes it all the more notable as “How High We Got in the Dark” was mostly completed before 2020 and the COVID outbreak.
The actual functioning of the plague, which causes organs to begin copying the function of other organs, with predictably disastrous results, is not as significant as its human impact. Those stories (calling it a novel seems more about marketing) that deal with the subject of grief and loss, especially felt by parents and their children. However, broader considerations also come into play, as the pandemic affects people both on a personal and political level. The funeral industry, for example, is becoming a major growth sector almost overnight. Massive deaths are good for some parts of the economy.
In the face of so many deaths, science is coming up with various substitutes for lost loved ones and family members: talking pigs, robot dogs, and even plastic-coated corpses. Given the subject matter, Sequoia Nagamatsu sometimes has to walk a fine line to avoid falling into sentiment. That he does is a tribute to his imaginative range and the finesse with which he explores the psychological ramifications of the end of our world.
BATTLE OF THE LANGUAGE MAGI
By Scotto Moore
Tor, 448 pages, $38.99
One of the hottest subgenres of science fiction today is what you might call video game fiction. These books can be considered the children of Ready Player One and speak to a culture of gamers that now drives much of the entertainment industry.
“Battle of the Linguist Mages” is video game fiction taken to a bizarre extreme. Isobel Bailie tops the charts in a popular virtual reality game called Sparkle Dungeon. There’s more to Sparkle Dungeon than just rainbows and glitter, however, and as the novel launches the company that makes the game, Isobel becomes embroiled in a real-life plan to harness morphemes: words that have power. magic based on how they are articulated. Also note: punctuation marks are aliens that escaped into our brains from another dimension.
All of this has the effect, common to most video game fiction, of erasing the boundary between the real world and the virtual world. Unfortunately, it also requires a lot of exposition, and for all its whimsical flights, “Battle of the Linguist Mages” feels heavier than it should. Video game fiction is a light genre and you don’t want to spend too much time reading the rules.