Icon Violet, Simon Faye

Icon Violet, Simon Faye

Icon-Violet

Between the ghetto-like existence that humans eke out amidst constant warfare on the home planet, Earth, and the clinically correct, conformist, high-tech civilisation in space, there is a huge, unbridgeable divide of space—and some very heavy security. Enforcing that security falls to the icon spectrums; advanced AIs, able to travel through stretch space with no consequences, and for whose continued psychological stability there is a human observer assigned. When Icon Violet and Icon Yellow are detached from their spectrum to deal with an attempted incursion, for the first time that they remember, they are given full discretion. Do you remember the first time you had to face your own decisions?

The premise of Icon-Violet offers a lot of interesting concepts to consider along with the story; with the question of AI and self-determinism, author Simon Fay brings up whether or not an AI can truly commit murder, or if the onus should be on the person giving them the orders, woven in with the ethics of a refugee situation. I did find, in places, that the amount of internal and external debate on these topics impacted the pacing of the read, as well as the fact that there are few areas where it’s easy to lose track of whose viewpoint the story is being told from: an icon is thought of as an ‘it’, and considers itself to be an ‘it’, so I occasionally found myself backtracking to figure out exactly who I was hearing from. Aside from that, though, this book is emphatically worth the read. The world-building is rock-solid, the characters are well-developed, and the story has a number of relatable elements.

Phoenix Afterlife, James Leth

Phoenix Afterlife, James Leth

Phoenix Afterlife

Mesa Vista is an incubator for tech start-ups. Eliot Stearns, at a loss for two weeks from his normal job, applies to participate in a study at the Rocky Mountain Neurocybernetics Research Institute. After all, having nanobots create a map of his brain to further research into Alzheimer’s and dementia cures sounds like a laudable cause, and solves his problem of two weeks of unpaid leave that he can’t really afford. It isn’t until he goes looking for a place to save some private files, and finds a file already there with his signature filename and containing a dire warning that he begins to really consider that he may be in serious trouble…

Phoenix Afterlife was one of those books that I emerged from still chewing happily on some of the ideas in the story, which provided me with an interesting distraction for quite some time after finishing it. James Leth has used his plot to frame discussion on a few fascinating ethical and scientific concepts. The story itself is a well-structured thriller, playing with society’s ongoing involvement with scientific progress and communication, as well as its deep-rooted fear of the unknown, and the characters were well-developed and believable. This is definitely a title I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys a thought-provoking read with their science-fiction – gripping and unique.

Phoenix Afterlife cover

Meet the author:

Author website

Goodreads

Dancing with the Dead, Charles Freedom Long

Dancing with the Dead, Charles Freedom Long

Dancing with the Dead

In Dancing with the Dead, Charles Freedom Long explores the life and death of Fahd Abdul al-Sharfa, a jihadist from the Mahrat mountains trained as a scientist to infiltrate the elite Luna base. Bartered for gold as a child, he was sold to a terrorist by his clan and raised in the Western style, moulded to be the perfect fit for recruitment by the powerful Lumina Corporation. His mission: to destroy the works of Satan – Luna City and both Earth’s space stations. However, both on Earth and beyond, the ripples of the plot are spreading, and alien and psionic peacekeepers are circling in on Fahd’s identity. At stake are death, truth … and the continued existence of humanity.

The premise of Dancing with the Dead is fascinating and unique, theorising the presence of the dead beside and among the living cultures, both human and alien, respected for their insight and consulted at the personal and political level. This social integration of the dead, new to Earth, is skillfully developed by Charles Freedom Long and convincingly integrated into the story. In some ways, the worlds of the dead overshadow that of the living in this story, as the motivations of the living jihadist and his trainers specifically to destroy the space installations are not made entirely clear, although the influence of the dead on the sides of both law enforcement and the terrorists is striking. Equally, Fahd’s growing self-doubt in regards to his mission, in many ways the keystone of the story, is rooted in his brief romantic encounter with a stunning alien, after having dedicated most of his life to the terrorist cause. Overall, however, the book is definitely worth the read for the thought-provoking philosophical questions it opens and the originality of the ideas on offer.

Fear Dreams, J. A. Schneider

Fear Dreams, J. A. Schneider

Fear Dreams

Fear Dreams opens in the aftermath of an accident, one that has left Liddy, a talented designer and artist, with a damaged memory and psychological trauma. Her husband, working a scientific breakthrough, is increasingly distant, stressed, and rarely available. When Liddy sees a news broadcast concerning a cold murder case, the face of the murder victim begins to show up in her dreams, in her sketches, and in the corner of her eye across the street. In conjunction with her post-accident trauma, Liddy begins to fear that she’s losing her mind – until a dedicated police detective catches a detail in one of her sketches that was never publicly released, and which has the potential to break the case wide open.

J A Schneider’s vivid characterisation and strong portrayal of inner doubt and intense fear makes this book a contagious read, giving a tense and gripping story that makes it entirely clear how even the most rational of us can end up doubting our senses, our deductions, and our own memories. Built on stress dreams and fractured images, the evidence trickles in to coalesce into a damning picture where the finger of possible guilt points to one after another of the principals, building suspicion and creating rifts between the characters. Fear Dreams is one of the best psychological mysteries I’ve read this year, filled with tension and doubt and spiced with unexpected twists.

Second Nature, Ellison Blackburn

Second Nature, Ellison Blackburn

Second Nature

After the human population on Earth was ravaged by a disease that targeted anyone with genetic modification, the survivors have banded together in small communities linked by geo-portals, and in a small underground community near what used to be Seattle, the descendants of Charlotte Rhys Avery still live. Second Nature is the story of Emery Kidd, 68 years old with the appearance of a 17-year-old, and she’s illicitly researching her connection to the mother of regeneration. Someone in power has no interest in her knowing who she’s related to, and the mediators are taking an interest in her work – especially Aiden Brodie, newly arrived in Podular 17.

Second Nature is the sequel to Flash Back, showing us the aftermath of Charley’s decision to experiment with the new process of regeneration, and it showcases Ellison Blackburn’s talent for writing characters that get inside your head. Emery is eminently relatable, a human being with problems and wants – and a burning curiosity to know who her parents are. Where Flash Back in many ways studied the dissolution of a long-term relationship as its back story, Second Nature deals with love, commitment, and how the urge to reproduce could be affected by effective immortality. This series is sci-fi that will make you think, its concepts framed in very human stories. Definitely well-worth the read.