4x contemporary Sci-Fi / Tech Thriller

4 contemporary books by some of my favorite sci-fi writers who have proven with their earlier works that they can write good, even exceptional books. During the last months I read their latest works, all written in 2017 to 2019 and my thoughts are as follows.

Dave Eggers „Every“
His first work „The circle“ was about a tech-company with a heavy reference to facebook. In this book ‚Every‘ is a company which is a fusion of Facebook, Google and Amazon, shopping, socialising, data control and self-oranzing/-measuring, all in one. The story is about a woman who is set to destroy this company from within, but ends up.. ok, no spoilers from me. The book is written in the same style as „The circle“, but is way too long to be entertaining throughout, it gets boring after a while and the further the story goes, the more uninteresting the not-very-deep-from-the-start characters and scenes become. The ideas he presents are quite fascinating though and one always asks himself if some of these ideas could become reality. So, the writing and characters and what they do are mediocre, but the setting and ideas well done.

Andy Weir „Artemis“
„The Martian“, his first book, had me gripped and wanting to read in one go, which I more or less did (happens seldom). This one here has the same attraction, altough it is different. „The Martian“ was a Robinson-Crusoe-fight-for-survival on Mars with an exceptionally well done scientific and technological approach, entertaining and highly interesting. In „Artemis“ he tunes down the scientific approach a notch and adds some detective-like story elements. A double-edged thing: still an interesting read, but looses the fascination of the hardcore scientific approach and being unable to reach the class of really good thriller or detective-novel writers. Still, a very good, entertainig read.

Richard Morgan „Thin Air“
One of my all-time favourite writers, with his Takeshi Kovaczs „Altered Carbon“ trilogy, this one here is somewhat of a disappointment. It starts very well with the same hard-boiled-sci-fi-special-agent-one-man-army style of story spiked with futuristic technological details but drifts into violent brutality and over-over-constructed story twist the further the story goes and the last third of the book was really hard to read. Sure, i wanted to know how it ended but was kind of bored out with the gory descriptions, two-dimensionalty of the characters and unrealistic scenes. Sorry Richard, this one here is not good.

Daniel Suarez „Delta V“
One of my other favourites, especially „Deamon“, „Kill Decision“ and „Bios“ have been fascinating, somehow terrifying (and terrifyingliny good) Sci-Fi books. And this one here is another one, I´d even say this is his best book so far. The topic is asteroid mining and one might wonder if the story descripted here is already set to become reality or, since in the book the whole operation is kept in secret, is already taking place somewhere in the depths of space. No more words here – this is a must-read for any Sci-Fi, Tech-Thriller fan.

Stanislaw Lem – Solaris

Klassiker der SciFi-Literatur und durchaus lesenswert. Lem schreibt unspektakulär, ohne Effekthascherei, fast ein bisschen zu technokratisch, aber ohne den Leser mit Technik oder Zahlen zuzudröhnen. Andy Weir wäre sein heutiger geistiger Nachfolger, allerdings verwendet dieser mehr Action und eben jenes technische; ohne dabei plump oder aufdringlich daher zu kommen.

Die Story von Solaris erschließt sich sehr schwer. Ein Wissenschaftler wird auf eine Raumstation gesendet, die um einen Planeten kreist, der so etwas wie ein Bewusstsein hat und auf eigenartige Weisen mit den Menschen kommuniziert. Ein mittel ist z.B., daß er verstorbene Personen real werden lässt, zugänglich und sichtbar aber nur für die Menschen in der Raumstation, die engere emotionale Beziehungen zu diesen Menschen hatten. So sieht der Protagonist seine verstorbene Ehefrau und interagiert mit ihr. Lem ging es bei diesem Werk um das Aufzeigen der Möglichkeit einer nicht-menschenähnlichen Intelligenz und den Umgang mit dieser, ein extrem interessantes Gedankenspiel, was den Roman sehr zeitlos macht. Der unaufgeregte Schreibstil könnten das Buch etwas langweilig erscheinen lassen, es hat aber eine angenehme Tiefe. Für Zwischendurch durchaus mal lesenswert.

Dan Simmons – Ilium (Buchbesprechung)

Mal wieder eine Buchbesprechung. Großartiges Buch, Mischung aus SciFi, Fantasy, mit Seitenausflügen in Historiendrama mit ner kleinen Prise Horror. Hochgradig abgefahren. Leider hat es nur für eine Aufnahme gereicht, da kam wohl im Leben was dazwischen.. (keine Sorge, war was sehr positives 🙂

Teil 1 – Einleitung

James S.A. Corey – Leviathan Wakes

Good, robust, action-rich SciFi, but a bit over the top in my opinion.

The scenario is set way into the future where the solar system is colonized and three power blocks, Earth, Mars and The Belt, dominate the goings. The story centers on two main characters, Holden, a space-hauler captain and Miller, an aging detective who is more or less a stereotype anti-hero cop-detective like Deckard from Blade Runner or Philip Marlow, Raymond Chandlers main protagonist. These two get pulled into something big and we follow their inner workings and interactions. Sometimes they appear a bit to superhuman but it´s all in agreeable boundaries. The side characters are also developed quite well, you pretty much get a firm grip with whom you´re dealing with. The same can be said about the worldbuilding, the authors make you feel accustomed with the scenario they set their story in focusing more on interactions between the power blocks and the background stories of the protagonists instead of for example technology like in ‚Neuromancer‘.

The story is a mixed bag, starting slow but picking up more and more pace throughout the book, keeps you reading and wanting to know what happens next. But it is way too fantastic, sometimes absurd, piling on even more superlatives the later the book. The book is the first in a series and maybe I will read the second book, but I have other stuff on my bucket list and this one here gripped my attention, thats for sure but not in a breathtaking way. If you´re into fast-paced sci-fi adventure stories with pinches of a detective story and big-time power shenangians – this is solid entertainment.

Daniel Suarez – Change Agent

Daniel Suarez is IMHO the best and most important contemporary science fiction author.

His books all deal with relevant tech topics and their consequences on the future of mankind, nothing more, nothing less. Reading his books is not like ‚oh, that was nice entertainment – next‘ but rather ‚Daniel, thats a rather fictinous story you spun there, but it´s still fiction. Or not? Could such things eventually happen?‘

His first book, „Deamon“ deals with an AI influencing the real world, „Freedom“ a follow-up to that. „Kill Decision“ is about autonomous drones and is scary as hell. In „Influx“ scientists which discover breakthrough technologies are adbucted by a secret organization.

All books share the same action-paced, story-driven style, the stories itself make sense and are conclusive. His character development is not the best and the reader should not expect much poetry, this suffers from his action-focused style, giving the books a certain B-movie pulpy feel, so it´s more cheeseburger than dry-aged rib-eye slowly grilled, he surely doesn´t play in the same league as William Gibson or Thomas Pychon. I surely like his style though.

What he does incredibly well is world-building. His worlds are full with technologies which are in development in the real world or could be invented in the future. For example in „Deamon“ HUDs are a common thing; the book was written at a time when Google Glass was a mere speck on the horizon. In „Change Agent“ genetic alterations are common, in the real world, well you know the discussions about designer babies from China… His books are full of that and he casually mentions such technolgies, he doesn´t even rub it in. It´s just great. This gives him a very inventive (you could even say prophetic) touch, his books are thought-provoking and go beyond the stories. He shows a could-be world with all the positive and negative consequences on society, human development, politics etc. and in my opinion this is what sciene-fiction is about (at least the ‚real-world‘ science fiction, for the ‚Star Wars‘ science-fiction other rules apply): to show the dangers and benefits of technology, bring it on the radar and start a discussion about it.

„Change Agent“ is his best book beside „Deamon“ book, I think. The topic is gene-editing and he thinks it beyond eradicating inheritable diseases or attribute enhancement via embryo editing, in fact these things are common in the world he creates.

The story centres about a criminal organization which developed a way to … Sorry, no spoilers today. I want you to read it. In fact, I´d say that with „Change Agent“ there is now no way round Suarez when it comes to contemporary sci-fi. This one and „Deamon“ are must-reads if you´re into it. No excuses. You can thank me in 30 years when you´ll say about a technology: ‚I´ve read about this some years ago. Where was that? In the newspaper? No. a company brochure? No. Ah, now I remember – it was in a Suarez book.‘

Vernor Vinge – A fire upon the deep

Are you in for some old-school sci-fi?
Written at the beginning of the 90s by mathematician Vernor Vinge „A fire upon the deep“ can be put into the subcategory „Space Opera“ and is a well-written book – I definetly enjoyed reading it. Vinge doesn´t put emphasis on developing concepts of high-technology, has no direct, raw spelling, doesn´t create superheroes or supervillains – no, he tells a story set in a sci-fi environment which encompasses the large (a mysterious power about to destroy the whole universe and a small motley crew fighting to prevent this) and the small (the story of two children being stranded on a medieval world of dog-like creatures… seriously!) scope. Actually this is a book I´d rather recommend for children aged 12+ than for adults to read because reading it spurs your imagination, two of the main characters are children and it is urging you to read on. Also it doesn´t contain much violence (and definetly no brutal hardcore shit), no sex scenes – actually, if I put it on a meta-level regarding these two plus storytelling abilities, character conceptualization and scope of the story I´d compare it to „Lord of the rings“. No, seriously, the setting may be completely different, it doesn´t contain a truckload of characters or even author-created languages but still – it sucks you in, telling an interesting story… Good book.

Richard Morgan – Black man

Another masterpiece by Richard Morgan.

Black man plays in the same league as the Takeshi Kovacs trilogy. It´s a fast paced, partially violent, more than less complex story of a James-Bond-Terminator-Jason-Bourne lone wolf type of guy who gets things done. It also contains futuristic concepts (Mars colonization yeah) and plays somewhere in the future. The story takes a bit too many spins in the end maybe but hey, actually you don´t want to stop reading, at least I didn´t.

So, if you like hard-boiled sci-fi or fast-paced thrillers gibe it a try. If you´re a fan of Richard Morgan this is a must-read.

Richard Morgan – Takeshi Kovacs trilogy

Well, well, Richard Morgan and his Takeshi Kovacs. These books have blown me out of the window together with the interior of the whole damn room. On my all time favorites list this trilogy would at least be in the top 10. It cannot gamble with “Ulysses”, “Lord of the rings”, “Das Boot” or “Bleeding edge” sure but after these there are a few candidates and Morgan is one of the better ones.

The books are called “Altered carbon”, “Broken angels” and “Woken furies” and are of equal quality, both all three compared and also in each book, you won´t find major divergences from the middle line, which means that if you read 50 or so pages of one book you know what the rest will be like. But this only refers to the style in which the book are written, storywise it´s only one direction – forward.

The story is about Takeshi Kovacs, an ex-black-ops special-force soldier (think of a mixture of James Bond, Jason Bourne with the unscrupulousness of the T1000) and plays several hundred years in the future. Technology has advanced to a point where the whole human brain can be downloaded into a stack and therefore be transferred into a new body. This implies that people are basically immortal. Also space travel and planetary colonization is common, the three books play on three different planets. There is an extinct race of extraterrestrials in the books (“Martians”; winged creatures, but technologically advanced. They have been able to travel space and construct advances weapons etc.) but they only play a minor role, most of the story is human-centric.

The first book, “Altered carbon”, plays on Earth where Kovacs uncovers a ploy amongst the rich. In the second book “Broken angels” he leads a group of mercs and scientists on a war-torn planet on an expedition to uncover martian secrets. In the third book “Woken furies” he is back on his home planet (hundreds of years after his birth), has an encounter with a feminist-religious rebellion leader long thought dead and teams up with old mates to free her from the hands of the ruling family. This book has an exceptional ending.

All of these are full of fast-paced action, violent shootouts and killing, philosophy about society, friendship and life in general, meager dialogues, the occasional (very explicit) sex-scene, all in all very hard-boiled literature, certainly nothing for the faint-hearted.

I´m not sure why I´m so fascinated by these books, but ok, I certainly like when a book has action in it, when the story is pushed forward without much hesitance, when there is some philosophy in it, when there are no long passages of lets say landscape descriptions, also to me most of the characters don´t need depth, I´m fine with stereotype descriptions of thugs, prostitutes, the rich etc. Add to that the sci-fi scenario and basically thats it. These books got me.

Also these books bring up something inside me which is a bit scary and that is the lust for violence, or better said I don´t mind reading about the violence displayed in the book. Now, I´m a very peaceful person and do definetly not enjoy watching horror movies or shit like that. But when reading about it, fine and entertaining – scary, as I said.

All in all, if you want to read some sci-fi and don´t mind the above said things give these a try, I promise you´ll not be disappointed.

Richard Morgan – Takeshi Kovacs Trilogie

Der Richard Morgan und sein Takeshi Kovacs, nun ja. Ich hab irgendwann mal das erste Buch “Das Unsterblichkeitsprogramm” in die Hände bekommen (ich vermute mal weil er dafür den Philip K. Dick Award bekommen hat und mich Science Fiction interessiert) und war wie weggeblasen. Auf meiner Liste der besten Bücher nimmt die Trilogie hinter “Ulysses”, “Herr der Ringe”, “Bleeding Edge” und vieleicht noch “Das Boot” einen der vorderen Plätze ein.

Die Bücher heissen in Reihenfolge “Das Unsterblichkeitsprogramm”, “Gefallene Engel” und “Heiliger Zorn” und sind vom Stil und der Qualität her mehr oder weniger gleich, sprich wenn man 50 Seiten irgendwo reinliest weis man was abläuft. Storytechnisch gehts aber nur vorwärts.

Die Story handelt von Takeshi Kovacs, einem Ex-Militär-Spezialagenten (man denke an eine Mischung aus James Bond, Jason Bourne mit der Skrupellosigkeit des T1000 aus Terminator 2) und spielt ein paar Jahrhunderte in der Zukunft. Die Technologie ist weit fortgeschritten. Es ist möglich das menschliche Bewusstsein auf einen Chip zu laden den man in einen x-beliebigen Körper einsetzen kann. Das bedeutet, daß ein Mensch im Prizip ewig leben kann. Ausserdem ist die Raumfahrt soweit, daß ferne Planeten besiedelt wurde. Und ach ja, eine ausgestorbene ausserirdische Rasse kommt periphär auch drin vor; die Marsianer, geflügelte, technisch ebenso fortgeschrittene Wesen, die aber wie gesagt ausgestorben sind.

Das erste Buch spielt auf der Erde wo Kovacs ein Spielchen unter den Reichen aufdeckt. Im zweiten Buch führt er eine Gruppe Wissenschaftler und Söldner auf einem kriegszerütteten Planeten zu einem marsianischen Artefakt und dort geht dann einiges schief. Im dritten Buch triift er auf seinem Heimatplaneten (den er nach Jahrhunderten mal wieder besucht) auf eine totgeglaubte Revolutionsanführerin und befreit diese mithilfe von alten Weggefährten aus der Hand der führenden Familie mit einem sehr, sehr spannenden Ende.

Lasst euch von den bunten Covern nicht täuschen. Die Bücher sind voller schnell geschriebener Action, gewaltätigen, mitunter brutalen Kampfszenen, kargen Dialogen, philosophischen Einschnitten über Gesellschaft, Freundschaft und das Leben generell und selten gibts es auch die eine oder anderen (explizite) Sexszene, alles in allem sehr harte Literatur, nichts für frohe Gemüter.

Ich bin mir nicht sicher warum ich die Bücher so faszinierend finde, aber ok, sie beinhalten Sachen die ich an Lieteratur mag, eine schnelle voranschreitende Story, kein großes Aufhalten mit sagen wir mal Landschaftsbeschreibungen, etwas Philosophie, eine ausreichende Charaktertiefe (ich brauche nicht unbedingt eine Lebensgeschichte oder psychologische Analyse jedes Schlägers, jeder Prostituierten oder jedes Reichen der im Buch vorkommt, mir reichen da Streotypen aus.), dazu addiere man noch das Sci-Fi-Setting, naja ok, dann kann trotzdem noch was schiefgehen, aber nicht hier, Morgan schafft es eine richtig gute Geschichte zu erzählen.

Es gibt nur eine Sache die mich beunruhigt und das ist das Erfreuen an oder zumindet die Hinnahme der gewalttätigen Beschreibungen. Ich mein, ich würde mich als recht friedfertigen Zeitgenossen beschreiben und mit Horrorfilmen kannst du mich jagen, aber hier ist es was anderes. Muss an der schriftlichen Form liegen – naja, irgendwie erschreckend halt.

Alles in allem, wenn ihr auf Science-Fiction-Geschichten steht und das oben gesagte euch keinen Schrecken einjagt dann gebt dem guten Richard ne Chance, ich verspreche ihr werdet nicht enttäuscht sein.