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December 8, 2019

3 Books for Science Fiction Fans

by MK French

According to Wikipedia, "science fiction is a genre of speculative fiction that typically deals with imaginative and futuristic concepts such as advanced science and technology, space exploration, time travel, parallel universes, and extraterrestrial life." Today, I'm reviewing 3 different science fiction novels. The first one is a space opera, the second novel is an alternative history adventure in which dinosaurs did not go extinct, and finally, I wrap up with a novel featuring water-breathing descendants of African slaves.

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Red Rover: Origins by C. E. Whitaker III

Red Rover: Origins
May 2019; 978-1733862011
ebook, print (286 pages); space opera
Orion Moore grew up on Rover Base Alpha with over five hundred other humans, and the station was meant to find a new home for humanity. Along with other cadets, Orion was meant to be training for exploration on the Red Rover, learning skills that would help them survive unknown environments. Orion wants to prove that he can be just as courageous as his father and older sister had been. When disaster strikes the Red Rover, all of the teens on board have to prove themselves.

This is the start of a series of novels by C. E. Whitaker III, and he is currently better known for his role in LA as a producer, writer, and director. The novel opens with the chapter one title "A Destination Cannot Exist Without A Journey," which is certainly true for Orion and his fellow cadets. He is baby faced and the one that seems to fail the most out of his group, making him anxious during training and more likely to make more mistakes. "He possessed an insane desire to be liked and respected," which isn't insane at all, and his father being part of the leadership council only adds to the pressure. He had a lot to live up to, especially since discipline, athleticism and intelligence are prized and pushed so hard. There has to be a lot of discipline on a space station, but it's cold and sterile, with strict health prerequisites for living there; it's even mentioned that children are terminated if they can't meet those standards. This leaves little room for children to actually act as children. With this legacy, of course Orion wishes he could be more than he is.

We're treated to a slice of life for Orion and the rest of Rover Base Alpha residents before the three-star systems and seven potential new homes are brought up. This introduces us to the life that they live, the challenges they face on the station, as well as setting up the conditions that the characters all face in the first third of the book. Delly is sent on an exploration mission and Orion is sent to physical training despite not doing well in virtual training sessions. Everyone is tested and pushed, and the needs of the overall colony are the priority of all the leaders. It leads to not only the children being treated and trained like adults on the planet surface, but for the mining outpost to be pushed to maintain production despite earthquakes.

I knew there was going to be a disaster, but it was still a shock when it came. It was the exact disaster that I thought it would be, that some of the characters had warned about, and it hurt because by the time it happened, I had come to care for some of these characters in spite of themselves. There's a glimmer of hope for our teenage crew, but they're at a great disadvantage that hopefully will be worked through in future novels in this series.

Buy Red Rover: Origins at Amazon

Terrible Lizard: A Memoir of My Time In the Police Dinosaur Unit by Doug Goodman

Terrible Lizard
June 2019; 978-1075611049
ebook, print (179 pages); adventure
Oak Jones spent seven years as part of the Police Dinosaur Unit in Houston working with a velociraptor much like K9 units work with dogs. This is a world where dinosaurs never went extinct and were domesticated in Asia much as wolves were domesticated into dogs in Europe. The various breeds of dinosaurs can work with the army or police forces, depending on the needs of the departments, and it’s intense training for handlers.

The novel is written as a memoir, so it’s in first person and directed toward the reader at times. This is evident from the opening, and there’s a bit of humor thrown in for flavor. It’s a very conversational style, as if this is more of a transcript of someone sitting down and talking over a lunch period. This also means that chapters are short and more like vignettes as we go in chronological order from training through to actual action in the field. Along the way, we get history about the raptors, stories about integrating them into day to day life and interacting with neighbors. This is a cute novel in this way, which can work from upper-grade readers through to adults. Kids might not necessarily get the humor of a dating disaster and laugh about a velociraptor stealing shiny things or puking, but adults will definitely understand the frustration of a date gone wrong because of a pet’s antics!

Oak makes the effort to understand Banshee’s history and past trauma, and puts in additional effort to help him work through the trauma in order to complete his training. That kind of perseverance and fortitude is a good takeaway lesson for the reader of any age and is what helps them get through the ups and downs of life on the police force.

Buy Terrible Lizard at Amazon

The Deep by Rivers Solomon, Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes

The Deep
November 2019; Gallery/Saga Press; 978-1534439863
audio, ebook, print (176 pages); African American
Pregnant African slave women had been thrown overboard during the slave trade, and their descendants survive on at the bottom of the ocean. Yeti, always sensitive and anxious, is the Historian of her people. She carries the memories of all the generations, allowing the rest of her people to live in the day to day happily. Once a year she shares the memories of the past with them, but it's been taking a toll on her psyche and destroying her. This year, she seeks to escape this responsibility, finding the world that had been left behind.

This is a tale that speaks on many different levels, and one that I feel I would get more out of if I knew more about African cultures. There are still plenty of themes to delve into, primarily about identity. Who is Yeti if she leaves her people and wanders on her own? Who is she without the weight of hundreds of years of memories? Can she truly be happy if alone? What is identity without memory? This is especially a question of trauma, because Yeti is anxious to start with, sensitive to the sounds and pressures around her, and it worsens when she holds her peoples' collective trauma. It isolates her further because no one can understand her despair, and the urging to just be happy only makes her feel that much more alone. The connections she does eventually make are with those who understand trauma because they carry it as well.

This novella written by Rivers Solomon is based on an EDM concept album by Drexciya, then a song by the group Clipping, who are the other listed authors. This explains the almost melodic and rhythmic way the story is told, with memory bleeding into the present. The shifting I-you-we points of view show how enmeshed the past and present can be with the memories in this novel, and it's only by fully embracing the past for what it was, the terrible and horrible bits as well as the pretty and fun parts, that all of the people can move on. That's a poignant lesson to learn, and made me feel a little disappointed at the end because there's so much more that could be part of the story! But if anything, it matches that energy of a song. The hopeful note at the end promises more to come, but the characters will all have to earn it for themselves.

Buy The Deep at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband and three young children.

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