“Don’t be silly Bob”, said Mo, “everybody knows Vampires don’t exist!”. Well, with that very first sentence the topic of the book is well and truly established…
Charles Stross is a British writer living in Scotland. He’s the author of some 25 novels now, plus short story collections, omnibus editions, novellas, novelettes, and various other things in various formats and length. He has won a number of Awards, including the Prometheus and the Hugo. The Rhesus Chart is the fifth book in the Laundry files series, which deals with the going-ons at a fictitious (?) secret government agency dealing with supernatural threats to the realm. It also is written as a ‘jumping-on’ point, for those who have neither read the whole series, nor are planning to in the near future, but want to be part of the fun. Me, I would recommend you start at the beginning, and get all the entertainment…
The book kicks off with the above authoritative statement by Mo, as part of a domestic arguments between her and Bob Howard, the main protagonist of the series so far. Things are definitely going downhill in this household of two secret agents. And it foreshadows (as the first third of this book is very prone to do) that he failed to save their marriage. Heavy stuff, from the word go! The book then starts into who they are, the Laundry, what they do, the whole “Magic is a branch of applied mathematics” which underpins this universe. There are several of these info-dumps, mostly as explanations by Bob for the report he’s writing (and which you’re reading); these will definitely make it possible for you to start with this book, even if you’ll miss some of the background, for obvious reasons.
What I normally post here are things which are a bit more polished, a bit more finished and together that this, but this thread on Imgur by user Looked4LoveInAlderaanPlaces (terrible, terrible pun mate) called Nature, You Scary is really rather neat.
It all stems from a suggestion to come up with a scenario where aliens invade earth, effortlessly wipe out human defences, only to run into major issues from the local wildlife.
Or, to give you the suggested tag line:
They were expecting military resistance. They weren't counting on bears.
It's written in individual short bits, by different authors, in slightly differing styles, with no editing to hold it together or clean up the style (or the typos, for that matter), but it's hugely entertaining, and well worth reading.
The title itself is part of an Internet meme, and so is the picture on the right. Isn't this just the cutest little alien?
Dr Olesya Turkina is a Senior Research Fellow at the State Russian Museum, and the Head of an MA Programme at St Petersburg State University. She has a long list of exhibitions and publications to her name, including a large number on the topic of Space Exploration.
Soviet Space Dogs, the book at hand, is a curious mix of academic paper and popular treaty on the subject - (mainly) of the Soviet research programme of training and sending dogs into space to determine the feasibility of sending humans. The book is structured into six parts:
An Introduction to the topic to set the scene; Unknown Heroes, which provides some background on the personalities, their theories, practical developments, fictional accounts, and of course the ever-present politics behind the development of space-flying capabilities. The Heart of Laika, which focuses on the this specific flight – at once the most famous, and the most infamous flight (as it was the only one without any provision for the recovery of the passenger in the whole series of flights) Belka and Strelka: Space's First Pop Stars – the 2nd successful orbiting flight, and the international fame of its crew (and their offspring!) Paradise Lost, which briefly touches on the Bion programme (a topic worth several books in itself, I reckon), which moved on from dogs to monkeys and other creatures, which was at the end run in conjunction with the US, and was only canceled due to pressure from the public opinion regarding what these flights meant for and did to their involuntary passengers. Plus we get a Chronological list of dog flights – all 42 which are known, including dogs flown, rocket, altitude, duration (for orbital flights), and the outcome of the flight for the dogs
“Being smart has served homo sapiens well, enabling us to colonise the Earth and even sprinkle our technology lightly across the Solar System, but beetles, crocodiles, and horseshoe crabs have enjoyed much longer success, and all without feeling the need to build nuclear weapons or pump the atmosphere full of greenhouse gas. Intelligence may be useful to have but it comes with a self-destructive downside and it certainly isn’t the only way to dominate a planetary biosphere.”
Paradox starts with a chapter titled Fermi Paradox: An Introduction, by Marek Kukula and Rob Edwards. For those not familiar with the concept, the Fermi Paradox (named after Enrico Fermi from the Los Angeles National Laboratories) essentially points out that, given the number of solar systems out there, the statistical frequency of planets in those etc - the universe should be teeming with life, and thus, evolving from it, intelligent life. The basic premise was later expanded upon by Frank Drake in his famous equation, trying to quantify the question. But, we know that this is not the case, or not as far as we can observe. Thus, as the cover posits - Where is everybody?
For this nifty collection Ian Whates, writer and editor (and head honcho at Newcon Press) has assembled a fascinating list of contributors - scientists, scientists who write, writers who write Science Fiction - who in turn provided him (and us) with a fascinating variety of approaches, expanding on the various proposed answers to the paradox in a highly entertaining (and frequently enlightening) manner.
“Our enduring contribution to the shared cultural heritage of the Milky Way could amount to little more than a brief pulse of twentieth century TV and Radio.”
Now, finally available to read without having to buy a collection with some much more questionable content - I present you with what I feel to be a classic Peter Watts 'Military SF' (this definitely deserves the quotes with Peter) story Collateral.
This was originally published in the collection Upgraded, edited by Neil Clarke, but was now also re-published in Lightspeed Magazine and is also available from Peter's own Rifters site.
It is a stand-alone story following an augmented soldier after she has killed a number of apparent civilians on a fishing trip (on an ecologically dead sea...), which turned into a political shitstorm and could not be swept under the carpet. So now her assignment is to play along in damage limitation activities in the public eye, whilst her reflexes, her ethics, her morals, and other parts of her personality involved in battlefield engagements are being 'optimised'. It's not pretty, it has its surprises, and it is very well done.
This has strong echoes of both Malak (Peter's story of Drone warfare and free will) and of his anti-hero Achilles Desjardins from his Starfish trilogy - both of which I strongly recommend to read if you haven't done so.
The amazing picture on the right comes from Staffprod Staffpub via a Pinterest collection.
I don't think I need to greatly introduce the American author Ann Leckie here – her debut novel Ancillary Justice won most of the major awards on the scene, and introduced her as a major new voice in the field. Ancillary Mercy is the final book in the trilogy (the middle one is called Ancillary Sword), and shares both the title structure (and there's some clever allusions in these) and the cover artwork (all three are parts of the same painting. Clever, again).
Ancillary Mercy picks up where Ancillary Sword left off – Breq is still on Athoek Station, barely over the events at the end of the previous book, and the next round of 'fun' is alrady kicking off. It starts off with the discovery of an Ancillary from a pre-Radchaai ship on the station, something which is as impossible as it is alarming. It gets better with the arrival of another Presger translator, Zeiat (after convincing her that she cannot be Dlique as Dlique is dead), and tops off with the expected coming of Anaander Mianai, the lord of the Radch empire, who has split into factions and is at war with herself.
And if this is not enough major pieces on the board for some serious storytelling (and some action) then we can add Breq's rather unconventional take on ships and stations and their AI (given that she is/was a ship) to throw curve balls.
Let's just say there's much more going on here than the drinking of tea, or the Raadchai obsession with wearing gloves.