The Tuesday List: Across the Universe

This week’s Tuesday list features books in which characters travel across the stars, whether to seek revenge, to see what’s out there, or to recall the past.  They’re a wide-ranging lot, but that’s the best part about the Tuesday List!

  1. Radiance, Cat Valente

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Radiance is one of those books that dazzles with style, imagination, and pure guts, and makes you wonder just how the author was able to keep it all together long enough to finish.  It’s an alt-universe, surreal take on a world in which space travel became possible around the turn of the 20th century, when the moon was colonized before talking pictures were a thing, and the story of a man seeking to tell the final story of his daughter, a film-maker like him, and yet nothing like him.  It’s beatiful, melancholy, and more than a bit noir, a brilliant homage to groundbreaking science fiction and filmmaking a la A Trip to the Moon, the 1902 french silent film.

2. Planetfall, Emma Newman

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Stumbling forth from a near-future that is only too familiar, the characters in Emma Newman’s Planetfall have made the perilous journey across the universe to a new planet, guided by what can only be an alien intelligence.  But it’s as much a pscyhological thriller as it is science fiction, and what Renata, a brilliant engineer in the field of 3D printing technology that can meet any conceivable need, knows is at the heart of it.

3. Noumenon, Marina J. Lostetter

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Taking a nod from popular hard science fiction predecessors, Noumenon is a startling speculative work while at the same time being an introspective look at humanity and our search for meaning in the wider  universe.  Told in vignettes that skip forward through the generations, it packs thousands of years of history into one epic journey to a distant, unique star.

4. Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie

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Revenge is a dish best served with tea.  The Raadch have colonized planet after planet, making use not only of superior military power, but the advanced technologies of cloning and artificial intelligence.  Breq used to be an entire ship, but now she is just one humanoid, determined to make the Raadch pay for a wrong committed long in the past, but one she can never forgive or forget.

5. The Stars Change, Mary Anne Mohanraj

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One’s view of the stars may change, but human life continues on.  For a university professor and others on a planet dedicated to learning and research, conflict can tear some apart, but it can also bring them together.  Humans and non-humans alike experience joy, pain, and love in a story that really puts the spec into spec fiction.

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Planetfall, by Emma Newman

On a facsimile of Earth, millions of miles from home, a small group of colonists have established a manufactured happiness, living with as little footprint as they can, surviving on the advancements of neuro-computers, 3-D printers, and a hyper-developed sense of social media etiquette.  While the Earth burns slowly behind them in waves of climate change and social unrest, Renata Ghali and her co-colonists wake up every morning at the gates of God’s City, and know they are the chosen.

Until, of course, something changes to break up their utopic existence, forcing Renata and her co-conspirator Mac to go to greater and greater lengths to maintain the fragile peace of a highly connected, insular community brought together by the lure of a planet calling them across the void, shown to them by their Pathfinder, Renata’s former best friend and lover.  This is the real story of space travel, the human side of technology and discovery, the truth under the frilly bedspread sewn by space opera romances.

Newman has a deft hand and an even keener sense of plotting, scattering details and clues to the mystery that has been Renata’s life ever since landing on this new alien planet, and even before she ever left.  She writes with a confidence in her story and ability that wraps the reader up in the plot, giving glimpses into the twists to come but the human story of Renata and her neighbors remains at the heart of the mystery, compelling and heartbreaking at the same time.

Readers interested in near-future science fiction without the authorial compulsion to educate and explain will find themselves engulfed by Newman’s vision of humanity’s future.  Those who prefer a compelling mystery plot to the hero’s journey need look no further than the twists and turns Renata takes to maintain her spun-glass story of a perfectly happy space colony. Newman’s is a refreshing and adept voice in the science fiction world and well worth checking out.