A review of Andy Weir's new book, Project Hail Mary


Project Hail Mary is destined to be a classic of first contact books, up there with "Rendezvous with Rama" and "The Mote in God's Eye" (it's actually better than those books). You might be thinking 'yeah, but reviewers are always hyperbolic in their claims'. I feel compelled to mention that I've never called a book an 'instant classic' before, and I'm not making this statement lightly. I was hooked from the beginning and couldn't put it down. The rate at which discoveries unfold is perfect, the irreverent tone is extremely readable, and the science is fascinating.

Andy Weir took everything great about The Martian, refined it, and used it to create a vastly more interesting world. The familiar elements are there, all well-executed: a lone joke-cracking scientist (this time with an alien compatriot!), fun survival problems that need to be solved by the hyper-competent protagonists, and teams working together toward a common goal. In addition to the familiar elements, Weir adds some immensely fun world-building which feels just as polished as the rest of the story.

There are some plausibility issues, but they're the best kind -- things like "here is a mysterious material that has these shocking properties, what could we do with this if it existed?"

I think that this book is best enjoyed without knowing too much about it up-front, so I'm not going to give a plot overview. I'll just conclude by saying that it's the best book I've read in years, and I give it my highest recommendation.

You can find the book here: Project Hail Mary (as an Amazon Associate Compelling Science Fiction may earn a small amount from qualifying purchases, which helps with server costs). As always, I did not receive any incentives (financial or otherwise) to review this book, but I was sent an early access copy by the publisher.

Take care everyone!


A brief review of The Expert System's Brother by Adrian Tchaikovsky


I didn't know it was possible to both create a rich, convincing world and fit a riveting story arc into so few words. The Expert System's Brother does it effortlessly.

Without giving too much away, the story follows a young man who has been accidentally expelled from his village for biochemical reasons. Over the course of the book he discovers secrets about the history of his world and how it was colonized, while dealing with a self-proclaimed messiah intent on disrupting all human life on the planet. As in most stories of this type, the young man also learns some things about himself along the way.

The setting is one of planetary colonization, but the core tension of the story is the age-old push and pull between changing the world around us vs changing ourselves to fit the world. Tchaikovsky does a fantastic job at maintaining that tension while giving hints at mysterious technology and the motivations of the protagonist's ancestors.

The icing on the cake was the novel alien ecosystems that Tchaikovsky pipes so well. Discovering how the ecosystems function was a joy that could have stood independently from the rest of the story. Suffice it to say that I'm a fan, and I recommend that you pick this one up if you enjoy planetary colonization, unique ecosystems, mysterious ancient technology, coming of age stories, and expert systems.

You can find the book here: The Expert System's Brother (As an Amazon Associate Compelling Science Fiction can earn a small amount from qualifying purchases). As always, I did not receive any incentives (financial or otherwise) to review this book. I'm looking forward to reading the next one!


A brief review of Bandwidth by Eliot Peper


In his latest novel, Eliot Peper has crafted an exciting near-future story with a clever plot. Dag Calhoun is a political lobbyist in a world where nearly everyone has a digital 'feed'. They use this feed to interact with the world and keep informed about current events. The central idea of the story is that a person's worldview can be changed by subtly tweaking the information they consume. Dag figures out that a group of activists have hijacked the feeds of world leaders to accomplish their (mostly laudable) goals, and he has to make some difficult decisions as a result.

Things I didn't like:

The prose often starts to take on a purplish tinge. The story could have retained it's content and been condensed, but I'm sure some will enjoy the vivid descriptions that Eliot has crafted. Also, none of the characters are particularly likable, but that seems to be a typical hazard in near-future corporate-thriller-style novels.

Things I liked:

The idea that a person's decision-making can be changed at a macro-level by subtly altering the news they read every day is a rich, tasty thought-feast. It's also very timely, considering the fact that more and more people are obtaining the majority of their daily information from social media platforms. The book doesn't cover all the possible angles on this idea, but does hit enough to be very interesting. The story itself moves along at a decent clip despite some of the flowery language, and the plot is has some nice twists and turns, which is how I like it.

Overall this novel is firmly in 'recommend' territory. You can find it here: Bandwidth (An Analog Novel Book 1) (As an Amazon Associate Compelling Science Fiction can earn a small amount from qualifying purchases). As always, I did not receive any incentives (financial or otherwise) to review this book.


A brief review of The Sky Woman by J.D. Moyer


J.D. Moyer has put together a wonderfully entertaining debut novel in the genre of 'technologically advanced humans meet regressed iron-age humans'. Car-En is an anthropologist who was born and raised on a ringstation — a spinning artificial satellite orbiting the earth. She is dispatched to the ground below to study the culture of a Viking-like village in the Harz mountains. In the book, all human cultures have regressed technologically due to a variety of natural, political, and economic disasters over the course of several hundred years, while people in the ringstations orbiting above have advanced their technology base. Car-En finds that she wants to help the villagers that she's studying, in direct violation of ringstation policies. There's also a fun secondary storyline involving a simulation happening inside a quantum computer, but to say anything more on that would be a serious spoiler.

Things I didn't like:

There wasn't much to dislike here. Time jumps ahead several times unexpectedly, which pulled me out of the story a little bit. Also, the ending is a bit of a cliffhanger. I was left with quite a few questions, which will hopefully be addressed in a sequel.

Things I liked:

The whole thing felt like a big, fun adventure. It's not often that you get fantasy-style storytelling and good, plausible science fiction in the same package. I especially enjoyed the effort that was made to convince the reader that the 'extinction below, advancement above' scenario could actually happen. It's a pretty huge stretch, but the author really goes the extra mile to detail how things could have gone down. The secondary 'quantum computer' storyline was pretty far out there, but it was as entertaining as the rest.

This is definitely a novel I recommend picking up. You can find it here: The Sky Woman (As an Amazon Associate Compelling Science Fiction can earn a small amount from qualifying purchases). As always, I did not receive any incentives (financial or otherwise) to review this book; however, I did receive the novel as an electronic ARC from the publisher. Finally, I would be remiss not to mention that J.D. Moyer has had one story published here in Compelling Science Fiction — you can read it here: Targeted Behavior.


A brief review of Walkaway: A Novel


I just finished Walkaway: A Novel by Cory Doctorow, and it was wonderful. I've been grinning for close to an hour now. Walkaway is one of those fantastically rare combinations of deeply convincing technological speculation, philosophy, engaging discussion, and individual people doing what they can to make the world a better place.

The novel is set in a near future where wealth disparity is reaching a maximum — nearly all global wealth is concentrated in the hands of extraordinarily rich individuals known as 'zottas,' and the rest of humanity are essentially wage slaves to the ultra-wealthy. Automation and 3D printing have reached the point where much of the global labor force is superfluous, so many people decide to opt-out of default society and 'walk away.' These walkaways collect raw materials from brownfield sites and other abandoned areas, and use software from the U.N. High Commission on Refugees and fabricator technology to build and refine a sort of techo-social utopia. Anyone can contribute, and anyone can use resources, and decisions are made collectively — if you don't like the decision, or if someone wants to enforce their views forcibly, you walk away and make something better.

Default society tolerates walkaways, until a group of walkaway scientists and engineers figure out how to upload and simulate human consciousness — the ultimate walkaway. Shit hits the fan at that point.

The story starts slow, but just keeps getting better until the end. There is something for everyone to disagree with in the book, and if you're not a fan of deep discussion-heavy dialogue you may not enjoy the book as much as I did. Even if you're not a fan of the style or ideology, I'd still read it for the huge number of ideas it contains. I give Walkaway my highest endorsement.


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