Artificial worlds that seem so real – the latest in science fiction | Canberra time

way of life, colin steele, science fiction

Canadian Chris Hadfield, veteran of three spaceflights and former commander of the International Space Station, used his real-life space experience to lend scientific authenticity to The Apollo Murders (Quercus, $32.95). Hadfield has a postscript, “The Reality Behind the Apollo Murders”, documenting the real-life historical figures and spaceflights mentioned in the novel’s alternate science fiction storyline. The year is 1973, at the height of the Cold War between Russia and the United States, and Apollo 18 is hijacked to disable the Russian satellite spy station, Almaz, before a moon landing. Subsequent conflicts, which took place on the spacecraft itself and on the surface of the Moon, are a microcosm of those on Earth. Award-winning author Tade Thompson in Far from the Light of Heaven (Orbit, $22.99) writes in an afterword, “I wanted to set my story in an environment that, as much as possible, stemmed from the actual experience of astronauts rather than the tropes of SF writing”. It begins as a closed-ended spaceship murder mystery. The artificial intelligence-controlled Ragtime spacecraft, with 1000 colonists in suspended animation, arrives in orbit around the planet Bloodroot, when its “all-ceremonial” human commander, Michelle Campion, awakens to find that 3I people have been murdered and dismembered, Michelle must deal with dangerous AI, biosecurity issues, and a duo of human investigators and androids of the planet, where the treatment of the alien population evokes echoes of colonial genocide.AI 2041: Ten Visions for our Future (WH Allen, $35) by Kai-Fu Lee and Chen Qiufan, cleverly juxtaposes real ity and fiction in its “roadmap of the next decades” of AI. Kai-Fu Lee, a Taiwanese-American, former head of Google China, comments on the themes of 10 “science fiction” short stories by famous Chinese writer Chen Qiufan. Stories extrapolate from the use of algorithms for matchmaking, deep learning-based insurance programs, quantum computing, AI weapon systems, and workers in repetitive jobs being supplanted by the AI industries. Their overall outlook is largely optimistic, reflecting a penchant for AI solutions to human problems and the actions needed to prevent their negative impact. Superhuman powers are commonplace in the Marvel Universe. Douglas Wolk, a “reviewer-superfan” in All of the Marvels (Profile, $39.99), claims to have read all 27,000 Marvel superhero comics published since 1961, comprising more than 540,000 pages. Wolk eschews a chronological approach, instead following individual characters through “the great Marvel…an amusing, mirror story of the last sixty years of American life, from the atomic night terrors of the Cold War to the technocracy and pluralism of today. “. It’s a fascinating insight into pop culture as examined through the diversity of Marvel characters. Timothy Morton’s Spaceship (Bloomsbury, $19.99) spins his “found object,” the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars. Morton, Rita Shea Guffey Chair in English at Rice University, instead of covering spacecraft in SF, instead takes the reader on a journey of speculative philosophy, extrapolating from the Star Wars and Dr Who universes. Morton covers issues such as feminism, American pop culture, capitalism and the possibilities of hyperspace in an unusual and thought-provoking mix. Stephen Baxter’s Galaxias (Gollancz, $32.99) is set in the year 2057. Space exploration began from an earth ravaged by climate change and national strife. Baxter, well known for his scientifically researched fiction, begins with the climate and societal impact of a 24-hour disappearance, the “Blink Day” of the sun. It provides the platform for big SF ideas, seen through the eyes of a variety of individuals. Galaxias is a sobering story about how to adapt to harsh new realities. Scottish SF writer Ken MacLeod begins his “Lightspeed” trilogy, Beyond the Hallowed Sky (Orbit, $22.99), in 2067 when a young graduate student receives a letter providing the mathematical basis for a journey further fast as light. She becomes even more intrigued when it turns out to be a letter from her future self. MacLeod mixes the complexity of time travel and interstellar spacecraft with commentary on contemporary issues such as climate change, asylum seekers and superpower rivalries. Canberra’s Bryn Smith begins a sci-fi/crime noir series with Magnus Nights: The Helios Incident (Hawkeye Publishing $26.95). Smith’s Army Reserve combat engineering background is often featured in the plot set in a dystopian nation-state, Magnus, which bears some similarities to the ACT. Detective Constable Craddock and Detective Sergeant Augustine of Taskforce Bloodhound must race against time to find the sinister mastermind behind the violent clashes and use of advanced plasma weapons disrupting the “undertown.” The characterization isn’t deep but it certainly isn’t lacking in action and musings on power or corruption in society.

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