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March 29, 2023

Two Science Fiction Stories You Won't Want to Put Down

by MK French

If you are looking for a story that you won't want to put down, then you are going to want to pick up both of these books. 

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. Free books were provided for an honest review.

Loki's Ring by Stina Leicht

book cover of science fiction novel Loki's Ring by Stina Leicht
March 2023; Gallery / Saga Press; 978-1982170639
audio, ebook, print (512 pages); science fiction

Gita Chithra captains the retrieval ship The Tempest, and receives a frantic distress call from Ri, the AI she trained and considers a daughter to Gita. Ri is trapped in Loki’s Ring, an artificial alien-made solar system, and says everyone was infected and killed by a mysterious contagion. When Gita and her team investigate, they discover horrible things. They have soon stranded themselves, leaving them vulnerable to infection and attack.

Loki's Ring is a well-done thriller in space. We're introduced to Gita and her ethics at the start: the two AI she partnered with and trained are her children, AI are autonomous beings with a soul, and she will honor that even in the midst of danger where it might be expedient not to. She's willing to put herself in danger to save others, so it's no surprise that she rushes to help Ri even before there is an official sanction to do so. Gita is part of the space faction that believes AI are individuals, and there is a faction that broke away because they didn't and wanted their corporate autonomy. Added to this conflict is the very alien location of Loki's Ring, a solar system where all its planets were obliterated to make a single contiguous ring around the sun, and all envoys sent never return. Helping Ri is dangerous and possibly illegal; we already know Gita wants to go, and her crew will follow because they hold similar ethics. 

The situation is tense from a political aspect, between the two factions and Loki's Ring itself. On top of that is the safety of the crew under Gita's command that the crew that landed on Loki's Ring. As the novel progresses we see a brief glimpse of the Ring surface, learn what its purpose is, and what the infection actually is. Seeing its effects in action is horrifying, and the images from that lingered long after I read past it. That sequence reminded me a lot of the movie "Annihilation," actually. We have questions about the nature of choices, identity, ownership, and creation within this novel. On top of this, we have more than enough space battles, AIs, intergalactic travel, and company posturing to complete the space opera requirements. The novel is wonderfully put together, and I enjoyed every moment of reading it. 

Buy Loki's Ring at Amazon

Meru by S. B. Divya

book cover of science fiction novel Meru by S B Divya
February 2023; 47North; 978-1662505096
audio, ebook, print (447 pages); science fiction

Humans were restricted to Earth for five centuries, and posthuman descendants called alloys explore the galaxy. Meru is discovered, with properties very much like Earth, the habitability of this unoccupied new world must be tested. For Jayanthi, the adopted human child of alloy parents, it’s an opportunity to rectify the ancient reputation of her species as avaricious and destructive and to give humanity a new place in the universe. For Vaha, Jayanthi’s alloy pilot, it’s a daunting yet irresistible adventure to find success as an individual. The two form a bond, but they've also been set up to fail.

This is book one of the Alloy series, a sprawling space opera. Divya is a Hugo and Nebula award nominee, so you know the writing is going to be phenomenal. It does involve many characters, their thoughts, and feelings, lots of world-building, scientific jargon, and new terms to learn. That makes the beginning a bit slower to go through because we're trying to understand the different modes of communication available, the human isolation on Earth, and how different the alloys are. As fast as I usually read, I really had to slow down to really absorb everything in the opening chapters. 

That said, we can empathize with Jaya wanting to prove herself worthy and make a mark on history. Having sickle cell anemia had put her at a disadvantage on Earth, and even in a future where humans aren't expected to work for a living, she felt ostracized. Her changes to communicate with alloys meant she wasn't "pure" human, and she wasn't an alloy either. Left out and not able to belong, she drifted until the opportunity to explore Meru came up. Vaha was the same way, genetically engineered to be the perfect pilot, then abandoned by zir maker when zie didn't live up to that potential. It's not just genetics that determined individual ability, but in a future defined by genes and the engineered purpose of every living being, the failure to meet expectations is crushing. On top of that, the pair are the underdogs in the novel, as they are literally set up to fail: if they don't screw up naturally, a spy is instructed to sabotage the mission so humans never leave earth again.

Once Vaha and Jaya reach Meru, the story picks up and I couldn't put the book down. They fall in love, there's an attempt at sabotage, and then sequences where both are separated from each other and the planet. Their love is unconventional and their actions broke several outstanding laws. This section flowed much faster; Jaya was in danger after leaving Meru, and even in safety she had to deal with grief and health risks. Vaha attempted to save the project and nearly died. Opposing politics played a huge role not only in creating the project but in the desire to destroy it. Crossing the galaxy several times over, we're in a race to see if our literal star-crossed lovers reunite at all. Along the way is the question of autonomy, responsibility, and how far to take ambitious desires; it's called an illness for humanity by the alloys and subject to gene therapy, but it's also the drive to make change and discoveries. Alloys aren't immune to selfish desires either and don't always know what is best. It's a fascinating concept within the story and one that really should be further explored. The conclusion in this novel makes sense, and we have a sense of justice for everyone involved. 

Buy Meru at Amazon
(Kindle Unlimited subscribers can read for free)

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, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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