A memorable voyage through a brutal human society, bizarre alien environments, and elastic realities.

PREDATOR MOONS

In Ramsay’s debut SF novel, explorers venture to distant planets to exploit life-forms who may have a few tricks of their own.

Near the end of the 21st century, the invention of “Drag Engine” spaceship propulsion (which is effectively teleportation) grants humanity access to countless worlds, but it also reveals hidden “glitches” in the universe—leading to the disturbing conclusion that reality is a vast software simulation engineered by forces unknown. Despite this existential blow, mankind plods on, following base instincts of greed, power, lust, and self-gratification. Liquid, shape-changing artificial intelligence machines called “ancillaries” are used as servants, sexual partners, pets, and even repositories of human memories. Everyone who could afford it has already fled Earth for other planets while the moon is now a huge library for universities devoted to new sciences. Mercury is home to greedy “clans” eager to exploit alien invertebrates: “We learned the entire universe was actually overflowing with life—arthropods, arachnids, cephalopods, crustaceans, cnidaria and insects in a trillion incredible varieties.” The curious absence of vertebrates leaves humanity as the cosmos’s apex predator. In this milieu, one-time refugee Isaiah Erickson, a Columbia University anthropologist who’s also a prosperous, high-tech arms dealer, ventures to the distant planet of Conrad in search of valuable, hallucinogenic alien wasp venom, to which he’s addicted. Meanwhile, Chloe Keating, an idealistic grad student hoping to explore and investigate endangered species, gets tricked into following a previous, doomed expedition to the muddy planet Hobbes to harvest enormous centipedes. Her mission and Isaiah’s fatefully intersect.

Ramsay crafts brisk, edgy prose that splits storytelling chores across three first-person narrators: Isaiah, Chloe, and a somewhat anguished ancillary who has the memories of an adventurer who perished while on insect safari. Readers may be able to detect influences from Pokémon cartoons as well as Frank Herbert’s classic novel Dune, although other worlds described in Herbert’s fiction, such as the lethal Pandora in The Jesus Incident (1979), might make for more apt comparisons. Overall, Ramsay offers a work that’s a feat of considerable imagination and attitude—a stimulating tale of interplanetary intrigue and monsters, human and otherwise. Some genre connoisseurs may say that the future humanity he invokes—with its betrayals, obsessions, and sham replicas of animals, people, perhaps even the material world itself, seems like something out of Philip K. Dick’s realm of paranoiac dystopia. A semiderelict New York City that’s down to its last 50,000 people, for instance, would seem right at home in the film Blade Runner. Readers will want to know more about this strange future in which the sexes seem strongly segregated, suggesting that ancillaries have replaced domestic partners everywhere. At the same time, they’ll quietly dread whatever answers Ramsay conjures, and that’s quite an accomplishment, in accord with the credo of one of the duplicitous characters: “Space is dark and full of wonders. Wonders and horrors.” The author includes a “Bestiary” of creatures referenced in the text, illustrated by Sonntagbauer.

A memorable voyage through a brutal human society, bizarre alien environments, and elastic realities.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2020

ISBN: 979-8-69-375726-4

Page Count: 222

Publisher: Don’t Give Up the Ship Press LLC

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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A fun, fast-paced epic that science fiction fans will gobble up.

TO SLEEP IN A SEA OF STARS

A curious scientist stumbles on mysterious ruins in the opening chapters of this science fiction epic.

Things are really turning around for Kira Navárez. A xenobiologist, she’s finishing up a stint doing research on the large moon Adrasteia with a small team of other scientists, and her boyfriend, Alan, has just proposed to her. Instead of continuing to spend months apart, working on different planets and waiting until they can be together, they'll be able to ask their employers to make them part of a colony as a couple. As Kira performs a few routine last-minute checks before their team leaves the system, something strange catches her eye. She decides to check it out, just to be thorough, and finds herself in the middle of an ancient structure. When her curiosity gets the better of her and she touches a pedestal covered in dust, a bizarre black material flows out and covers her entire body. She passes out as she's being rescued by her team, and when she comes to, she seems to be fine, and the team reports her findings to the government. But soon a kind of strange, alien suit takes over her body, covering her with black material that lashes out violently against Alan and the other scientists, forming spikes that jump out from her skin. A military ship comes to collect what's left of the team and investigate the reports of an alien discovery. When an alien species attacks the ship, presumably because of Kira’s discovery, Kira will have to learn to harness the suit’s strange powers to defend herself and the rest of the human race. Paolini, best known for the YA epic fantasy series The Inheritance Cycle, makes his adult debut in another genre that welcomes long page counts. This one clocks in at close to 900 pages, but the rollicking pace, rapidly developing stakes, and Paolini’s confident worldbuilding make them fly by. Perhaps not the most impressive prose, but a worthwhile adventure story.

A fun, fast-paced epic that science fiction fans will gobble up.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-76284-9

Page Count: 880

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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A huge, churning, relentlessly entertaining melodrama buoyed by confidence that human values will prevail.

LEVIATHAN WAKES

A rare, rattling space opera—first of a trilogy, or series, from Corey (aka Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck).  

Humanity colonized the solar system out as far as Neptune but then exploration stagnated. Straight-arrow Jim Holden is XO of an ice-hauler swinging between the rings of Saturn and the mining stations of the Belt, the scattered ring of asteroids between Mars and Jupiter. His ship's captain, responding to a distress beacon, orders Holden and a shuttle crew to investigate what proves to be a derelict. Holden realizes it's some sort of trap, but an immensely powerful, stealthed warship destroys the ice-hauler, leaving Holden and the shuttle crew the sole survivors. This unthinkable act swiftly brings Earth, with its huge swarms of ships, Mars with its less numerous but modern and powerful navy, and the essentially defenseless Belt to the brink of war. Meanwhile, on the asteroid Ceres, cynical, hard-drinking detective Miller—we don't find out he has other names until the last few pages—receives orders to track down and "rescue"—i.e. kidnap—a girl, Julie Mao, who rebelled against her rich Earth family and built an independent life for herself in the Belt. Julie is nowhere to be found but, as the fighting escalates, Miller discovers that Julie's father knew beforehand that hostilities would occur. Now obsessed, Miller continues to investigate even when he loses his job—and the trail leads towards Holden, the derelict, and what might prove to be a horrifying biological experiment. No great depth of character here, but the adherence to known physical laws—no spaceships zooming around like airplanes—makes the action all the more visceral. And where Corey really excels is in conveying the horror and stupidity of interplanetary war, the sheer vast emptiness of space and the amorality of huge corporations.

A huge, churning, relentlessly entertaining melodrama buoyed by confidence that human values will prevail.

Pub Date: June 15, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-316-12908-4

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Orbit/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2011

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