SF Book Review, Part 23

Just catching up with SF reading, including the tail end of Hugo candidates and some other stuff. One of these actually made the cut for my Hugo ballot, but alas did not become a finalist. Let's hop in:
  • Corsair by James L. Cambias - The "space pirates" trope can be a fun one if you're willing to sacrifice scientific rigor in favor of a ripping good yarn, essentially pretending that space is an ocean and thus vulnerable to piracy. But space isn't an ocean and the logistics of piracy in space make such an outcome unlikely. And yet, James Cambias has actually managed to make it work in this novel. He does so by cleverly setting up the "ocean" in a limited fashion, speculating about mining operations on the Moon by unmanned semi-autonomous spacecraft (whether there's anything actually worth the trouble of mining on the Moon is another question). This means that piracy is actually conducted from the comfort of our home planet via hacking attacks (sometimes involving other unmanned spacecraft, but still). While the space between Earth and the Moon is vast, energy efficiency essentially dictates the past most of the valuable cargo will have to pass through. The Earth/Moon Lagrange Point is essentially pirate-infested waters. All of this is background, of course, but it's this sort of subtle cleverness that Cambias threads through his work that attracts me. The story itself takes a little while to get going, but works well enough. David Schwartz and Elizabeth Santiago meet each other at MIT, but while they initially hit it off, it seems clear that their general attitudes don't fit together (especially David's more morally flexible approach). A decade later and Santiago is in the Air Force helping fight space piracy. Unbeknownst to her, David is secretly "Captain Jack, the Space Pirate", the most infamous and successful space pirate of them all. Captain Jack's latest endeavor, though, is sponsored by a shady group with their own agenda. When things start to go pear-shaped, David and Elizabeth's paths cross again. Some of the space pirate stuff feels a little cheesy, to be sure, and David's attitude seems naive, egotistical, and maybe even sociopathic at times, but he's at least competent and otherwise likeable enough that he sneaks through. Still, once things get going, it's a lot of fun, and the underlying cleverness worked enough for me that I threw it a Hugo nod (which, of course, did not make the finalists). Cambias is quickly becoming an author I look out for...
  • Zero World by Jason M. Hough - Peter Caswell is an technologically enhanced assassin. To ensure operational security, he has neural implants that prevent him from remembering any details of his missions. After his handler activates him for an emergency mission, Caswell finds himself on an alien but oddly familiar world, tasked with seeking out and murdering an escaped human. Naturally, all is not what it seems, and as Peter goes further down the rabbit-hole, other revelations make him question his involvement... until he hits his time limit and regresses to his "innocent" state. This was an enjoyable enough read, and while some of the later plot twists are well done, others are wholly predictable. It's a bit overlong and yet, incomplete, as it seems like there will be more books in the series. I'm on the fence as to whether or not I'd read those books, which I guess says something about this one. Again, very enjoyable, but somewhat disposable...
  • Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang - A few years ago, I read Chiang's story "The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling" and was impressed enough that I made a note to go back and check out more of his stories. In typical Kaedrin fashion, we're only now getting to read more of his stories, but they're pretty fascinating. Some of them are more purely fantasy, but clearly from the mind of a SF author ("Tower of Babylon", "Hell Is the Absence of God"). Most of them have very human cores, even when delving deeply into the science of this or that. "Story of Your Life" is certainly a standout, covering a team of scientists and liguists making first contact with an alien species (Cross-cut with one of the scientist's memories of her daughter). It's apparently going to be a movie directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring Amy Adams, which sounds promising, though I can't imagine this being a "crowd-pleaser" of a movie... "Understand", about a man given an experimental drug to heal brain damage which has the unexpected side-effect of dramatically improving his intellect. Soon, he's being hunted by the government and, more ominously, another super-intelligence. Very interesting and entertaining. Like all short-story collections, this is a bit uneven, but the quality is overall pretty high.
  • Triplet by Timothy Zahn - I always come back to Zahn, a solid craftsman who I can usually count on for some SF comfort-food. This is one of his earlier efforts, about a three planet system connected through magic. It's yet another play on Clarke's infamous "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic", though in this case, Zahn takes it literally, positing flying carpets, trolls, demons, and so on... It's not a long book, but it does take a bit of time to get going, and our main characters aren't quite as enjoyable as you'd probably want here (my favorite character is the bodyguard Hart, a man our main characters spend most of their time avoiding... drats.) Zahn has lots of better efforts, but this was fun enough.
  • The Commuter by Thomas A. Mays - Originally a finalist for this year's Short Story Hugo, Mays asked to be removed because all of the nominees were part of the Rabid Puppy slate. But I greatly enjoyed Mays' previous effort, a novel called A Sword into Darkness, so I decided to pick this up and give it a shot. It's a fun little fantasy tale of a man whose daughter is inadvertently stuck in the Faerie land. Action packed, fun, and a little clever, it's a good little story and worth checking out...
And that's all for now. I've started making my way through this year's Hugo finalists, so you should be seeing some more reviews here soon enough...