the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘biology

 

Last week, I reviewed Derek Künsken’s The Quantum Magician. This hard science fiction thief story takes place generations after we’ve figured out how to manipulate our own genetic code to create subspecies of humans.  If you like biology and quantum mechanics, or anything that touches either of those sciences, this is the book for you.

 

I like me some hard science, but what I like even more is a book that makes me think about science, and how science and society and inextricably linked in ways I hadn’t thought about. This book also got me thinking about how when the equation doesn’t give me the result I need, it’s time to change the equation.  Design the input around the result, instead of the other way around. I’m a nerd, so that was a ton of fun to chew on.

 

But let’s go back to the genetic manipulation thing, because I got some stuff I gotta unpack. I gotta get it out of my head. If I’m going to enjoy the fun stuff, then I need to  stare this other shit in the face.

 

Nothing in this post is a spoiler, or at least not exactly. There’s just more than you ever wanted to know about the subtext of The Quantum Magician. And all this seemed a bit too much for the review, you know?

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The Quantum Magician by Derek Künsken

published 2018

Where I got it: purchased new

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Belisarius Arjona gets bored easily.  A homo quantus, he’s able to enter a savant trance to access the quantum computing parts of his brain, giving him the ability (and undeniable urge) to understand the patterns of the universe, the mathematical why behind how everything works.  His kind were designed by a banking group, determined to create people who could see where the markets would go. He’s as close to a mentat as we’ll ever get.

 

Uninterested in financial markets, and even less interested in the mostly naval gazing of his peers, Bel keeps himself busy doing easy things that keep his mind distracted. Easy things like confidence schemes.   He might be known as “the magician” in crime circles, but even he thinks his new con job is ridiculous: he’s been hired to get twelve warships through a public and very expensive wormhole. Even if he can get the first ship through, by the time the rest start coming through the game will be up and the local defenses will be on super high alert. Why did he take this crazy job again? Well, the pay is pretty good, and there’s also that other thing. . .

 

In Ocean’s Eleven style, Bel spends a few chapters collecting his team – meeting up with new resources and recruiting old friends.  I felt thrown in the deep end the first 20 pages or so, so those handful of slower chapters where Bel is getting the band together were the perfect way for me to learn about the world, the different genetically modified sub-species of humans that we’ve created, the politics of the situation, and Bel’s place in the world.  His art gallery suddenly seems so much creepier.

 

With all the “quantum” being thrown around, I was super nervous that The Quantum Magician was going to read like a Greg Egan, where I couldn’t keep up with the math.  Yes, this book is jam packed with physics and biology and quantum mechanics (why didn’t someone tell me before how cool quantum entangled particles are!!), and zero g maneuvers and adjusting for so many atmospheres and triangulation and the insides of wormholes.  Here’s the thing – math is the language of the universe, and if presented correctly, it becomes the poetry of the universe. Künsken made math and physics as fun and as beautiful as I know it can be, he made it into the sweeping architecture of a cathedral. Books like The Quantum Magician are why I love hard science fiction – if the math supports it, anything is possible. Even though sometimes it looks like magic.

 

“The math was comfortingly inescapable”, says Bel.  It may be inescapable, but math gives you the blueprints to do anything in the universe.   Similarly, the inescapable math tell Belisarius that next time he goes into a deep savant mode known as fugue, he won’t be able to come out of it. The need for knowledge will overwhelm his physical need for survival.

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photo credit Roger Czerneda Photography

My friends,  it is my honor to be hosting Julie Czerneda today (and tomorrow!).  Julie’s science fiction starts with biology, asks a wild  biology “what if” question, and fills the answer with science, more science, humor, aliens, and fantastic characters.   Way back when, she wrote a science fiction trilogy featuring the shape shifter Esen.  Esen discovers humans, and well, erm, to tell you anymore would spoil the best parts!  This trilogy was recently lovingly reprinted in trade paperback, and there’s a new novella coming out this autumn, and OH YEAH a whole new Esen novel, also out this autumn!

Today and tomorrow feature Give aways!  Cover reveals! Behind the scenes! Inside jokes!  but before we get to all that goodness:

Julie on Amazon

Julie’s fan page on Facebook

About the author:

For over twenty years, Canadian author/ former biologist Julie E. Czerneda has shared her curiosity about living things through her science fiction, published by DAW Books, NY. Julie’s written fantasy too, the first installments of her Night’s Edge series (DAW) A Turn of Light and A Play of Shadow, winning consecutive Aurora Awards (Canada’s Hugo) for Best English Novel. Julie’s edited/co-edited numerous award-winning anthologies of SF/F, most recently SFWA’s 2017 Nebula Award Showcase. Out this fall is an all-original anthology written by fans of her Clan Chronicles series: Tales from Plexis. Her finale to that series, To Guard Against the Dark, was released in 2017. This fall will also see the return of her most beloved character, Esen the webshifter, in Search Image.

 

 

 Esen’s Back!

by Julie Czerneda

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Fans of her Blobness! New-to-her Readers!

It gives me the biggest of grins to mark the return and perhaps introduce to you my favourite character of all, Esen-alit-Quar. Esen for short, Es in a hurry or between friends.

In honour of the occasion, we’re throwing a two day cover release party!  Thanks, Andrea! Thanks DAW Books!

Today, I’ll tell you a bit about Esen and why she’s so beloved. And fun. And remarkable.

Tomorrow, you’ll see, for the very first time, not one, but TWO NEW COVERS! Really, it’s almost too much fun. Nah. There’s never too much fun.

Here’s a sneak peek.

But wait, there’s more! GIVEAWAYS! Details below, but my thanks to DAW Books for not only keeping Esen’s stories in print, but in doing these gorgeous Trade Editions, released just last year! In stores all over.

Cover art by Luis Royo

 

So Who Is Esen? Or What?

Short answer? A blob of blue, shaped like a teardrop. Who happens to be a semi-immortal shapeshifter. Who has really good intentions…but is working on her life skills.

Writing Esen’s attempts to protect life in the universe–or at least keep it civil–makes me happy and always has. As it turned out, Esen made you happy too, dear readers. I’ve received more feedback and love from you for the Dear Little Blob than for all my other work combined.

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The Gate to Futures Past (Reunification #2) by Julie Czerneda

published in Sept 2016

where I got it: rec’d review copy from the publisher (Thanks DAW!)

 

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The Gate to Futures Past is a tricky book to review, because not only is this the middle book of the Reunification trilogy, it is the penultimate book in Czerneda’s long running Clan Chronicles series. I actually read this book last summer when it came out, but I didn’t have time to review it. What better time for a review, than when the next book is about to come out? I also have the benefit of having already read the final book in the series, so I am cheating  more than a  little bit.   With the final book in this series releasing in just a few months, readers new to this series will have an opportunity no one else has ever had – you’ll be able to read all three Reunification books, This Gulf of Time and Stars, The Gate to Futures Past, and To Guard Against the Dark, one right after the other. That’s to your advantage, as these last three books do read as one long novel.  Click here to read my spoilery review of This Gulf of Time and Stars.  And by the way, both This Gulf of Time and Stars and The Gate to Futures Past are now available in mass market paperback.

 

Did you cringe when you read that phrase “long running series”?  I know some of you did! Yes, the Clan Chronicles is a space opera epic that spans three trilogies. If you’ve read any of Robin Hobb’s interconnected trilogies, you know you can jump in at any Book 1, and do just fine.  I’m sure there are readers and fans who will disagree with me, but I believe the same is true for Czerneda’s  Clan Chronicles series – so long as you jump in at any Book 1, you’ll be ok, with the added bonus that if you enjoy what you read, you can then start again at any other book 1!  It’s neat, because if you and your friend each start at a different point, you’ll have a different timeline and a different perspective of the entire story.

 

I preamble with all of that so you’ll be understanding that this review will involve references to events that occurred outside this novel, that there will be unavoidable minor spoilers. It’s all to the greater good though – if you enjoy space opera with healthy dose of romance, family drama, cosmic mystery, humor, and aliens that work, anything Julie Czerneda writes is for you!

 

“Aliens that work”, that’s a weird phrase.  You ever read a book with aliens and think to yourself these are just humans with blue skin, or elephants that talk and think just like a human?  A biologist by trade, Czerneda’s aliens act differently than humans because they have biological evolutionary histories completely different from anything that evolved on Earth.  They have different physiologies, different brain patterns, different reasons for doing what they do and how they do it. If you want to write aliens that aren’t humans in disguise, quit watching Star Trek and start reading Czerneda. (Actually, keep watching Star Trek. I keep hoping Huido will show up in an episode of DS9 or Voyager)

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darwins radio bearDarwin’s Radio, by Greg Bear

published 1999

where I got it: purchased used

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I talked about this book a little while ago, about how it worked so damn well. I finished the novel shortly after posting that blog post, it just took me forever to write the actual review!

 

Pregnant women are losing their babies.  All across the globe, women are miscarrying at staggering rates, some so early in their pregnancies they didn’t even know they were expecting.  When I first read the back cover of Darwin’s Radio, my first thought was “terrible pregnancies? Is this a book about something like Zika?”  Of course it isn’t. Darwin’s Radio was written in 1999, and it won the 2000 Nebula and Endeavor awards.

 

At first, it’s assumed it’s a virus of some sort that is causing the miscarriages.  CDC Investigator Christopher Dicken is used to travelling the globe, seeing the worst viruses in action.  But this doesn’t act like any virus he’s ever seen.   Meanwhile, molecular biologist Kaye Lang has published a handful of papers on ancient retroviruses found in the human genome, papers that push her to the fringe of academia. Not exactly viruses, these are genetic markers that go into action when triggered. But triggered to do what? And triggered by what?   At the same time, discredited archaeologist Mitch Rafelson has been doing his own secret research, except he doesn’t yet understand what he sees in the mummies in an ice cave.

 

When Lang is brought in to consult on a mass grave, the wheels start turning in her head, because what she’s seeing doesn’t make sense. Why would a village murder the pregnant wives? And why did the same thing happen 40 years ago? And why are there current reports of mass violence against pregnant women and women who recently miscarriage? This is not how civilized modern civilization acts!

 

This isn’t a super fast paced book, or an action thriller,  but the speed and intensity comes into play with how fast their ideas and theories take shape, and how fast that information can be shared with others who can put it to good use. Bear fully fleshes out the three main characters Kaye, Christopher, and Mitch, introducing other supportive characters as needed, and educates the reader about genetics and biology through conversation between characters instead of through infodumping.  Bear writes in a way that makes complicated science and biology accessible to any reader. You can go into this book with zero knowledge of genetics, biology, and how diseases work, and come out of it with just enough knowledge to be a bit dangerous.  Don’t get me wrong, this is a science heavy, hard science fiction thriller. But Bear also subtly deals with grief, scientific academia, mob mentalities, and what we talk about when we talk about evolution.

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2015-04-05 20.33.31The Gabble and Other Stories, by Neal Asher (short story collection)

published 2008, Night Shade Edition published 2015

where it got it: received review copy from Night Shade Books (thanks!)

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My first Neal Asher novel was The Skinner, an edgy  space opera that I’ve lovingly described as “magnificently disgusting”.  In that novel, the name of the game is adapt or die, and the denizens of the planet Spatterjay take full advantage of evolutionary opportunities. Even visitors who stick around long enough can watch their bodies change into something not quite human.  The Skinner made me an instant fan of Asher, and I’ve been watching for his titles ever since.

Many of Asher’s novels take place in his Polity Universe, which in a similar fashion to Banks’ Culture novels,  the novels all take place in the same universe, and occasionally characters from one book show up or are mentioned in another, but you can generally jump around in the order the books were published.   Not sure Asher is for you? Not sure you want to dive into a new universe? The Gabble, a short story collection of stores from the Polity will answer both of those questions for you.  If you ask me, you can just answer those two questions with a resounding Yes and be done with it.

What I loved about how Asher does alien planets and aliens is that everything is so damn alien. Why should aliens have two arms, two legs, a head, a nose and a mouth? If that configuration is unique to Earth, it follows that every planet will have a unique configuration based on evolutionary needs, the planet’s unique environs, and any one of a million other variables in how life works. No one we run into is going to look like us, think like us, or communicate like us. There is no gentleness here, no Star Trek style diplomacy.  Some species simply do not communicate with others, and humans are quite tasty.  It might sound harsh, but this is how nature works.   When it comes down to it, we are just animals in a food chain.

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stableford FloriansThe Florians, by Brian Stableford

published in 1976

where I got it: purchased used

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Back in January of 2013, Susan of Dab of Darkness wrote a guest post about the works of Brian Stableford, and I’ve been looking for a copy of The Florians ever since. And I eventually found one!

 

Once upon in the future, Earth was able to send out colony ships with the idea that as they sent back confirmation of habitable planets, we would sent out more colonists. Habitable planets found or not, shortly after the ships were sent out, the project was cancelled for economic reasons. We never set out more ships, we never tried to reach our colonists, and couldn’t afford to worry if they had survived or not.  There are those who want to completely cancel all space programs. Many people want us to work on solving problems on Earth (pollution, over population, disease, etc) before spending money we don’t have on outer space missions with no guarantee.

 

However, limited funding has made a few ships available to contact colonies.  Alexis Alexander is a member of the small crew of the Daedelus, on a mission to connect with as many surviving colonies as possible. The ship won’t bring supplies or food or anything like that, only the medical lab on board, and the ecological, biological, and medical expertise of Alexis and his crewmates. All they can do is help the colonists adapt to their new worlds, help them fight off diseases. Even if the colonists don’t meet intelligent life forms, they will still be breathing alien air, be interacting with alien soil and microbes and such.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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