The watch list

My weekly[-ish] list of speculative fiction novels that I think are worth looking out for. They are mainly – but not always! – new or forthcoming releases.

Sketch-Book-icon The watch list

The One-Eyed Man by L E Modesitt Jr

One-Eyed Man L E Modesitt JrThe colony world of Stittara is no ordinary planet. For the interstellar Unity of the Ceylesian Arm, Stittara is the primary source of anagathics: drugs that have more than doubled the human life span. But the ecological balance that makes anagathics possible on Stittara is fragile, and the Unity government has a vital interest in making sure the flow of longevity drugs remains uninterrupted, even if it means uprooting the human settlements.

Offered the job of assessing the ecological impact of the human presence on Stittara, freelance consultant Dr. Paulo Verano jumps at the chance to escape the ruin of his personal life. He gets far more than he bargained for: Stittara’s atmosphere is populated with skytubes – gigantic, mysterious airborne organisms that drift like clouds above the surface of the planet. Their exact nature has eluded humanity for centuries, but Verano believes his conclusions about Stittara may hinge on understanding the skytubes’ role in the planet’s ecology – if he survives the hurricane winds, distrustful settlers, and secret agendas that impede his investigation at every turn.

This is one of those books that I will admire from afar and probably never get around to reading. I would have ignored it entirely, were it not for Modesitt’s article, Alien Ecology as Character? in which he explains the core environmental/ecological theme of his novel. It hooked me.

Novels where the ecology plays a central role in not just the setting, but in the resolution of the plot, are rare. Novels that do this well are even rarer, and novels that do both accurately, in conjunction and in conflict with a functioning society, are even rarer. Accomplishing all those was certainly in my mind when I wrote The One-Eyed Man, in addition, of course, to writing a novel based on John Jude Palencar’s gorgeous cover painting.

Dr Verano’s role in the complex environment (politically and ecologically speaking) of Stittara  is to ‘find a solution that balances two differing ecologies, multiple levels of political systems, all of which view him as a threat, and his own conscience, a difficult proposition considering that he is a hired ecological consultant with no real power.’

This book would be well placed next to Sherri S Tepper’s Grass, another book I have admired from afar but am yet to read.

On the Steel Breeze by Alastair Reynolds

On the Steel BreezeBook two of the Poseidon’s Children trilogy, which began with Blue Remembered Earth.

An epic vision of our journey into deep space.

Hundreds of years from now mankind will finally inherit the stars. A fleet of holoships is heading towards the nearest habitable planet at 15% the speed of light. In massive asteroids turned into ships, tens of millions of people are heading towards a new home. A home that bears signs of an ancient alien civilisation.

No-one knows what they will find when they get there in 90 years. But the main problem is that the ships will have to break the laws of physics to be able to stop. And the research into ways to stop risk the ships themselves. Has mankind squandered the utopia of years past?

My first exposure to Reynolds was Revelation Space, which I did not finish. I don’t recall any particular aversion to the book–perhaps I was simply not in the right frame of mind at the time. Then I picked up a second-hand copy of Blue Remembered Earth and figured I’d give him another go. BRE is set 150 years in the  future, a time when Africa is Earth’s dominant technological and economic power. I found this book much more accessible and enjoyable than Revelation Space, and made a mental note to keep an eye out for the next volume.

And here it is. I may not rush out to buy it immediately, but if I can pick it up cheap one day I’ll happily to add it to my to-read pile.

The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia

alchemy of stone ekaterina sediaalchemy of stone ekaterina sedia 2Mattie, an intelligent automaton skilled in the use of alchemy, finds herself caught in the middle of a conflict between gargoyles, the Mechanics, and the Alchemists.

With the old order quickly giving way to the new, Mattie discovers powerful and dangerous secrets – secrets that can completely alter the balance of power in the city of Ayona. However, this doesn’t sit well with Loharri, the Mechanic who created Mattie and still has the key to her heart – literally.

This was originally published in 2008, and only recently caught my eye thanks to its beautiful cover art.  On the far right is the edition featuring ‘The Collector‘ by David Defigueredo, and the other cover is by artist Andrä Martyna. And even the Italian edition is glorious.

Sometimes, beautiful cover art is all the motivation you need to read a book (and to purchase both editions).

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