by Peter Watt
(Tachyon Publications, $33)
Sunday and Lian are human technical support on a 35 million year construction job, thawed out in relays when their asteroid ship the Eriophora's limited AI needs help constructing intergalactic gates for a human race so post-singularity that they cannot be communicated with. Bred and conditioned to want this strange life lived in blips, they have still become disillusioned with their lot. But when your mission was hard coded an eon ago there is no way to put the brakes on. The puzzle Peter Watts has set his protagonists (and himself) is how do you plan a revolution when you are chipped and continuously surveilled and you have to communicate asynchronously with co-conspirators over thousands of years? Watts invariably writes rigorous, mindblowing science fiction; while there is less room for his biology expertise to come to the fore, he still manages to design a couple of ingeniously original ecosystems aboard and outside the Eriophora. Sadly the book does not come with his trademark footnotes; just take it on trust that everything in here some scientist has theorised just might be possible.
The Tea Master and the Detective
by Aliette de Bodard
(Subterranean Press, $8.48)
After a traumatic experience, The Shadow's Child has avoided transporting people through the dark spaces, instead she prescribes tea blends that will help them survive the trip. When Long Chau, a consulting detective, hires her to briefly go out to retrieve the dead body of a young woman floating at the site of another "mindship's" accident she doesn't want to say no, and gets drawn into both the mystery of the dead body and that of Long Chau's past. There is nothing new about Sherlock Holmes homages but plenty of delight to be had in spotting the parallels in this partnership between an analytical human and a sentimental mindship living in a space habitat with Vietnamese cultural roots. The combination of autonomous spaceships and tea will surely appeal to fans of the Ann Leckie's Ancillary series, though de Bodard's mindships also have similarities to Anne McCaffrey's brainships.
The Poppy War
(HarperCollins Publishers, $35)
Rin is a war orphan and shop girl who takes and passes the national keju exam which wins her admission to the most exclusive military academy in Nikara. She finds herself a provincial nobody amongst the Empire's noblest scions. As she settles into the school, making both friends and enemies, she is disappointed to be singled out by the school's most eccentric teacher, who wants to teach her his shaman powers — as long as she promises not to use them. The second half of The Poppy War takes a sharp turn to the dark when the war Rin was being trained for begins. There are clear comparisons to Chinese history here, from the civil service examinations that controlled upward mobility in Chinese society for 1000 years to the atrocities of the rape of Nanking massacre. The book's weaknesses are those of a young first-time writer — reliance on cliche and characters that lack shades of grey and I am confident that what follows will continue to improve.
by Lilith Saintcrow
(Little Brown & Co, $28)
As a second American civil war draws to a close, a group called Swann's Raiders liberate a death camp and find one of their own held in a brothel. They take her with them as they continue forward, and Spooky slowly bonds with the unit as she tries to recover from and make sense of her years being experimented on and abused in concentration camps. Lillith Saintcrow's strengths are in how she characterises the close knit raiders and their varied coping mechanisms, their contempt for the regular army and wholehearted hatred of the enemy and their dreams of returning to a comfortable civilian life, even as they know themselves forever "othered". Set 80 years from now — so there are flying cars (military vehicles) and other new technologies of war — the most unbelievable aspect of Afterwar is that it took that long for the American culture wars to ignite into a new civil war. Saintcrow has delivered a dark, gripping read that would make a very good graphic novel.