Best I Read in 2012

Best I Read in 2012

If my records are accurate, I read just over 80 books during 2012. Only a few of these were published this year, so rather than make a Best of 2012 post, I just listed all of them here. Of the remaining 70 or so I wrote down the titles that jumped out the most when I looked over them, compiling these into my Best of 2012 Not Published in 2012 list. I didn’t really plan on a certain number, but ended up with twelve. Titles are listed in reverse chronological reading order.

Spook Country – William Gibson
Gibson delivers, reminding me once again that he has to be one of the most important writers we have.

The Magic of Recluce – L.E. Modesitt Jr.
This book is still demanding a lengthy post, but it got bumped by urgent, end of the year type articles. Easily one of my favorite fantasy novels in quite some time.

Spin – Robert Charles Wilson
This was not at all what I expected, and probably better for it. As it is one of the major books of the 2000s, I should really get a post up about it soon.

The Ware Tetralogy – Rudy Rucker
Weird, weird cyberpunk. Probably not for everyone, but a must read for anyone trying to fully grasp cyberpunk as a movement.

House of Chains – Steven Erikson
I don’t even know where to start on a Malazan post. I’m still not half way through the series yet, let alone anywhere close to figuring out what’s going on and what Erikson will eventually accomplish. Still, if I’m going to read fantasy, I might as well go all the way, since Erikson seems intent on turning it up to eleven.

Warchild – Karin Lowachee
Seething, intense debut novel that is not for the faint of heart. I remain surprised that Lowachee went straight into something this harrowing for her first book.

Terminal World – Alastair Reynolds
I mentioned Mr. Reynolds in the same sentence as Steely Dan in this review, which garnered a happy tweet from him, which in turn led to the Two Dudes single day hits record. I would recommend this book anyway though.

City of Pearl – Karen Traviss
I was surprised to find a novel of this complexity from someone who primarily writes Star Wars and Halo tie-ins, though apparently those are fairly dark and complicated as well. I’ll have to try the Halo books once I get further into the games.

Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights – Mitsuse Ryu
I can’t say that this is my favorite book, but I’m glad that I read it. Often listed as one of the top two or three SF novels of all time in Japan, I’m ecstatic that Haikasoru got it into English.

The Quantum Thief – Hannu Rajaniemi
There is a widening divide between SF focused primarily on engineering and physics, and SF focusing on information and computing. Rajaniemi is writing what cyberpunk might have been if the 1980s had our current information technology.

Embassytown – China Mieville
I’m genuinely surprised that this got shut out of the major awards for 2011. This probably has something to do with him winning a bunch in the past, though I don’t begrudge the year’s winners. Mieville’s foray into straight up SF was my pick of 2011, though I am woefully under-read for the year.

Lord of Light – Roger Zelazny
A classic from days of yore, still pioneering and relevant.

Books of 2012

Books of 2012

I think 2012 will go down as a major year in science fiction. Unlike 2011, when only a few books stood out to me, the last twelve months have been a gold rush. Past masters like David Brin and M. John Harrison released new books, high profile writers of the current generation like Alastair Reynolds and John Scalzi published eagerly awaited novels, big time collaborations like Stephenson – Bear, Stross – Doctorow, Baxter – Pratchett, and Benford – Niven caused heart palpitations throughout nerd-dom, and follow ups to some of 2011’s best kept interest at a fever pitch. I’m sure my greater engagement and awareness this year added to the euphoria, but I still think that the 2012 haul of SF is one of the best in recent memory.

The following list is everything I read in the last year, with links where applicable, so it leaves out several prominent books that I just haven’t gotten to yet. I will probably add some later edits as I finally read things, but for now I can only guarantee completeness on my own terms. Also, this is almost entirely SF; I know there have been lots of heavyweight fantasy books published this year, but I’m either too far behind in the series (Erikson), ignorant of, or apathetic about (Wheel of Time) to read. Apologies for my limitations, but I hope this is still somewhat entertaining or informative. Titles are listed in the order I read them, not by an arbitrary ranking.

The Navidad Incident Ikezawa Natsuki
This was published in the early 1990s in Japan, but finally saw an English translation this year. One of the best books of the year, though more fantastic realism than speculative fiction. Difficult to condense into a four sentence blurb, but this is a unique portrait of the world, and especially Japan, at the end of the Cold War.

Death Sentences – Kawamata Chiaki
Another older Japanese book, Kawamata wrote this in the mid 1980s, with the University of Minnesota Press finishing the translation this year. Kind of a Phil Dick meets The Ring, Death Sentences is another essential Japanese SF novel.

Redshirts – John Scalzi
Scalzi is a science fiction rock star, so there isn’t much about Redshirts that hasn’t been hashed out already. Anytime someone as popular as Scalzi takes on Star Trek, The World will take notice. I will hopefully get a review of this up soon, since it’s definitely a book worth talking about, a must read for anyone trying to stay current in SF.

Armored – ed. John Joseph Adams
I don’t read a lot of short fiction, but as a long time Battletech fan and recent convert to Japanese giant fighting robot anime, I couldn’t miss this collection. Lots of interesting and varied takes on power armor from a mix a rising stars and old timers.

2312 – Kim Stanley Robinson
My vote for the best novel of the year goes to 2312.

Caliban’s War – James S.A. Corey
This is Corey’s follow up to 2011’s Leviathan Wakes, a well regarded, throwback space extravaganza. Caliban’s War largely escapes middle book syndrome, despite the fact that most of what happens is just laying the ground work for the next book. Very enjoyable, if less ambitious than Robinson and Brin.

The Mongoliad Book One and Two – Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, et al
The Subutai collective published the first two volumes of their alternate history retelling of the Mongol invasions this year. There is much background on both the story and the mechanics of writing it that are almost as interesting as the tale itself. I am interested to see how everything wraps up in Book Three, as well as what else they have in mind for this alternate Earth.

Existence – David Brin
In the absence of 2312, this would get the nod for the best of the year. Between the two of them, Robinson and Brin accounted for an estimated 78% of the amazing ideas, 56% of net coolness, and 83% of the thinking immediately applicable to our time. I may or may not have just made all that up, but if someone were to read just two SF novels this year, they should be Existence and 2312.

Bowl of Heaven – Gregory Benford and Larry Niven
Benford and Niven was the most anticipated collaboration of the year for me. Bowl lacks some of the Right Now relevance of other novels published this year, but did more to revive Big Mysterious Object stories circa 1972 than any other book. Unrelenting fun for Hard SF fans.

Ashes of Candesce Karl Schroeder
And if someone were to read just three novels this year, Ashes of Candesce should be the third. This is the final volume of Schroeder’s Virga series, which I wish more people were talking about. I am encouraging all and sundry to check this out so I have someone to natter with.

The Fractal Prince Hannu Rajaniemi
Pretty much what I expected: mind-altering, half incomprehensible Hard SF. Not necessarily for the casual fan, but a grognard like myself will savor this like a plate of Godiva chocolate. (Preferably paid for by others.)

Blue Remembered Earth – Alastair Reynolds
The quality one expects from Reynolds with a more down to earth setting. 2012 was truly the Year of the Solar System. Blue Remembered Earth joins the top four or five list for the year.

Ashes of Candesce

Ashes of Candesce
Karl Schroeder

DownBeat, the leading jazz publication, divides its annual Critics Poll into two: the Best (whatever) and the Rising Star (whatever). The latter used to be called Talent Deserving Wider Recognition (TDWR), which I prefer as a name, even if it doesn’t roll off the tongue. This split allows the critics to vote someone venerable like Sonny Rollins or Dave Brubeck as the best, even though they are ancient, have lost a step or two, and are no longer on the cutting edge; while simultaneously recognizing the younger faces who are really driving the music forward today. I wish the Hugos would do the same, because in a year when SF titans are dropping major works, someone like Karl Schoeder is going to be shut out. Not that I want to take anything away from a masterwork like 2312, but I’d love to see some of the lesser known writers get more attention with a TDWR award.

Candesce is the fifth and (for now) final book of Schroeder’s Virga cycle. Virga is one of the most impressive Hard SF series of the last decade, though I imagine the author didn’t expect it to go in the direction that it did. The first book introduces Virga, a giant, atmosphere-filled balloon with a technology-damping fusion sun called Candesce in the middle. Other, smaller, artificial suns dot the inside of Virga, each with its compliment of cities, farms, and factories. Virga itself is weightless, so the cities are spun up for gravity. This paired with a sun that prevents any transistor or digital technology creates an evocative landscape of wooden city wheels, rotating patches of forest and farm, bubbles of water for lakes, and people moving at all angles via airship, ropeway, air cycle, or personal wing and fin sets. The series started out as adventure yarns in the style of classic nautical tales, with the first three books forming a trilogy of sorts. (The stories are more or less sequential, but each book follows a different character.) The fourth book takes off in a whole new direction, with mostly new characters and places, while Candesce brings everything together.

It also brings the philosophy, which is both where the fun begins and where Candesce fulfills its promise. Intentional or not, Schroeder jumps head first into one of SF’s biggest debates with this book. The Virga series could have stayed with zero-g swashbuckling, wooden ships, iron men, and what not, but for whatever reason, Schroeder decided that he wants more. I have no idea if the last books were conceived as such, but they form an extended counter to the ideas espoused by Greg Egan, Charlie Stross, and others who suggest that humanity’s future lies in some variety of uploaded, software state. Schroeder is unconvinced by this, and has said so in interviews, arguing that our consciousness is too tied up with our wetware to allow simple digitization.

This debate plays out viscerally in Candesce, as the analog Virgans resist incursions from the digitized Artificial Nature, who want to extinguish whatever it is in Candesce that shuts down high technology and upload everyone. Virga is packed full of fractious city-states, so factions and agendas abound. Likewise, numerous groups living outside of Virga ensure that this is not a straightforward, two-sided battle. Further muddying the waters is the simple fact that the Virgans are not idiots. They realize what technology can bring and aren’t sold on their Industrial Revolution era lives. It isn’t clear until near the end just which groups will end up allied with each, or indeed which side is “right.” Most impressive to me is Schroeder’s overall stance. Virga would be easy to idealize, to protect with a paternal attitude of saving the innocents from the evils of The Future. Schroeder is no such romantic however; he is fully on board making lives better through science. In one of the most vivid scenes in the book, a character is stunned by the intensity and happiness of the short, biological lives, only to witness just how messy and tragic those lives can be.

While the meta-dialog shines brightest for me, the book is hardly a philosophy text. Virga is an amazing creation and a world I would love to visit. I doubt it would be a good live action movie, but I would love to see someone like Miyazaki animate Rush or Spyre. And while the pace starts off much slower than the other books, everything blows up for the last hundred pages of frenetic action. Schroeder has lost none of his kinetic prose; this may be his most balanced book for brains and explosions.

The characters are also engaging and likable, though my own favorite is relegated a bit to the background. To be fair, the pirate engineer and renegade sun-lighter Hayden Griffin probably sounds more interesting than he actually is, so I have to trust that the author keeps him in the background for a reason. The newer characters are also interesting, especially those coming from outside Virga, but in the end it is Venera Fanning who rules over the entirety of the series. Nobody else can even approach her mad, regal bearing. I don’t envy Venera’s husband, but she deserves immortality.

Candesce was released early in 2012, so it may be natural that it is less talked about now, especially considering the blockbusters that came out over the summer. Schroeder has a lot on his plate besides writing; I wonder if the book would be more well-known if he spent some of that time blogging, tweeting, going to cons, and generally engaging more with fandom. On the other hand, consulting for the Canadian military has to pay much better, so in his place, I would likely do the same. My only regret is that Candesce will be on my Best of 2012 list, while I fear it will be left off many others, not because my tastes are weird (though they probably are), but because people were blinded by higher profile releases and missed this one. (Maybe I’m totally off base and Candesce is a really big deal. I feel like I’m going to say all of this and then have fifty people tell me that Schroeder is everywhere and what internet have I been looking at anyway?)

Because of that, I want the Hugos to award Ashes of Candesce this year’s Talent Deserving Wider Recognition for novels. More people need to be reading about Virga, talking about Schroeder’s ideas, and possibly building a zero-g theme park so I too can flit about the city wheels.

Rating: Hoffenheim. Quietly putting together quality seasons, but out of the spotlight because, well, they’re Hoffenheim.

Bowl of Heaven

Bowl of Heaven
Greg Benford and Larry Niven

For a certain kind of SF fan, news of a Benford – Niven collaboration is a bladder loosening event. I kept control of myself when I first heard about it, but just barely. Larry Niven was my first favorite SF author and while I am occasionally hard on Greg Benford’s books, his best are very good. My life got even more fabulous when I found out that their book would be an update on the Big Mysterious Object trope that I dearly love. “Let’s take Ringworld,” they must have said, “make so it isn’t broken, so the creators are still in control of things, and, just for the hilarity of it all, send it cruising out in the stars, like a Dyson Sphere sized Winnebago.” This was in many ways the SF event of the year for me.

The collaboration is doubly intriguing because their writing styles are so different. Niven’s stories tend toward fast moving, brightly optimistic tales, with that kind of “science will make it all ok” attitude characteristic of an earlier age. Benford, in contrast, adopts a darker tone, not necessarily pessimistic, but almost seeming resigned to our final irrelevance, what with the impending heat death of the universe and all. Something I read or heard leads me to believe that Benford did most of the writing, with Niven taking the role of Idea Man. I think Benford himself explained this in a Google roundtable, saying that much of the book worked itself out on walks the two would take together, though I would have to track down said roundtable to confirm this. The book itself bears this out, with zany big ideas reminiscent of Known Space, but restrained prose.

I suspect that most people who pick up this book do so knowing exactly what is coming. With an all-star collaboration like this, there is no reason to expect that either author will suddenly strike out in a new direction. Sure enough, this is unapologetic Hard SF. It’s fairly safe to say that fans of the subgenre will love Bowl, while those who demand lyricism, depth, and grand insight will roll their eyes. My own stance should be clear to long time readers, but for any new faces, I will confess to treasuring whiz-bang engineering and plausible, inventive aliens over all else. This is, after all, why I read the genre. Anyway, not everyone is into this kind of thing I guess, but fans of stupendous and mysterious Stuff in Space should begin reading immediately.

Details about The Bowl are pretty easy to come by, but a quick summary follows just in case. Take a Ringworld, attach half of a Dyson Sphere, then dedicate most of the sphere part to a propulsion mechanism that turns the solar wind into a jet engine shooting out the base of the bowl. Put some aliens in charge of the thing and point it towards a yet unknown destination. Unlike most Big Mysterious Objects, this one is neither abandoned nor mysterious, not at least to the aliens in charge. The humans that stumble on it have no idea of course, but The Bowl contains a functioning civilization, not just a bunch of relics and ruins. Further, the aliens are the quality one would expect from Benford and Niven, with a well developed culture that is both comprehensible to us, but utterly different. No people in rubber masks here.

I must reserve judgment about plot, characters, themes, and other prosaic stuff, because Bowl is only half of the story. Part Two will come out in 2013, so for now we are left without any sort of conclusion. Most of the first 400 pages of this epic are concerned with finding The Bowl, landing on it, then having some adventures and capers. Everything points to major developments later on, but for now we have to make do with survival, some chases, and a whole lot of Big Science. I will say that a couple of things surprised me a bit. I didn’t expect as much Boy Scout wilderness survival. I also didn’t expect paragraphs about “leadership” and “team building” to randomly pop up. Earlier Benford spent a lot of time lashing out at management types, and I have never seen Niven pull out business-speak. Neither of these are bad things necessarily, just not what I expected.

The rest goes pretty much according to plan. I am not yet convinced that the characters will learn crucial life lessons or “grow.” Everyone is a rational, pragmatic science type, which is nice for anyone sick of people having emotions in SF. The Bowl, and a couple of aliens to a lesser extent, thoroughly overshadow the mere humans wandering around in it. James S.A. Corey gets credit for writing throwback SF in The Expanse, but Bowl is ten pounds of throwback in a five pound bag. It doesn’t get any more old school than Benford and Niven.

This ultimately is what will make or break the book. Nothing in this review will change an educated SF reader’s mind; the only way I could influence anyone is if the book were a flaming pile of crap and I said so publicly. (It’s not, so I won’t.) Beyond that, Hard SF people know what they want, and they probably want Benford and Niven writing a Big Mysterious Object story together. Other kinds of readers will skip it and read Honor Harrington, or urban fantasy, or whatever it is they prefer. I know what camp I am in, so nobody will ever convince me that half a Dyson Sphere crewed by giant, sentient birds and hurtling through the void is anything but pure awesomeness.

Rating: Zidane and Ronaldo teaming up. What could possibly go wrong?

Spook Country

Spook Country
William Gibson

When I first read William Gibson (the Sprawl books in reverse order about twenty years ago), I thought his books were fun, but a bit light. Even after Neuromancer exploded my brain, I wasn’t totally sold on him as being anything more than entertainment. Long years and several books later, I wonder if William Gibson isn’t one of the most important SF writers at work today. Spook Country in particular has forced me to reconsider some long held opinions and is tempting me toward some serious rereading.

Many readers no doubt question Gibson’s status as an actual SF writer now, as his trilogies creep steadily backward in time. Indeed, Spook Country is specifically set in 2006, now several years behind us. Gibson is on record several times saying things like, “The present is crazy enough without me going and making up any more weirdness.” Spook certainly reflects this, coming off as a hallucinatory cross between John le Carre and Vernor Vinge, but it was not written in a vacuum. Holding steady throughout the trilogies is the re-creation of the noir aesthetic, updated each time for a new now. If the Sprawl was noir filtered through Blade Runner and Max Headroom, and The Bridge through Japan’s pop cultural exports and the early dot-com boom, then the Blue Ant books are noir in the post-9/11 world.

Like classic noir, Spook Country is wholly urban, playing out mostly in New York and LA. The characters are in pursuit of a MacGuffin-driven mystery, finding their answers in the underworld from various sketchy and bohemian types. Mysterious powers are moving behind the scenes. All of the basic elements of a Chandler or Elroy novel are present, just as they are in cyberpunk. This time, however, the mystery involves container ships, the “detective” is a one-time indie rocker turned tech journalist, she meets avant-garde artists who work in an augmented reality medium, and the manipulating powers include Iraq War racketeers and shadowy operatives who may or may not be connected to the US government. All this and we have yet to meet Tito, the Cuban-born, ethnic Chinese, Bronx resident member of an immigrant spy clan, or Bigend himself, the very archetype of the post-modern super rich.

This may seem dizzying. Taken in isolation, any single part of the plot elicits a “yeah, right” response. Together though, the reaction is closer to, “this is crazy, but it just might work!” Holding everything together is Gibson’s prose, which, to sound utterly obsequious, is how I wish I could write. All the unexpected turns of phrase, the dry as toast wit, and the vague sense that everything is weirder and more sinister than it seems is at its crackling best. Without ever descending into screed or tirades, Gibson smoothly blows up everything in his path, sparing little of 2006 America but always maintaining plausible deniability. This pushes right through to the end, with a conclusion that some might think a letdown, but I see as an appropriately quirky resolution to a plot that was never conventional anyway.

Several themes will be familiar to long time Gibson fans: the vague paranoia, the inscrutable motives of the insanely wealthy, and the nods to pop culture and pervasive branding. Gibson remains unique among SF writers with his scrupulous attention to details of clothing and trademarks, enough that we generally know everything from color to style to brand name that the characters wear. He also tosses a bone to cyberspace lovers with the locational art scene, driven by the virtual layers that said artists create over real world locations with their pirated bandwidth and concealed routers. This is the only book I know of that details the early beginnings of augmented reality, a trope that is now commonplace in most near future SF. This bit is of special interest to me, working as I do in an industry that is slowly putting this into action.

Taken together, this is a cocktail of technology, spy tradecraft, and pop culture that only Gibson can blend into his customary sinister cool. I’m don’t think any other SF writer has a finger on the pulse of modern America like Gibson does, nor am I convinced that any mainstream writer has the tech knowledge to understand it either. We ostensibly read SF to peer into the future; William Gibson instead gives us a clearer view of the present.

Existence

Existence
David Brin

The first review I read of Existence didn’t rate it very highly. This is odd, because most of the reviews I’ve seen since have been beside themselves with joy; and unfortunate, because this opinion dampened my enthusiasm for one of this year’s biggest new books. (I won’t say who, because I like him personally, even if I think he was wrong this time.) There were no real world ramifications however, since the line for a library copy wasn’t responsive to my feelings and it took quite awhile for my turn to roll around anyway.

Three things stand out immediately. I remember reading a blog post by or interview with Brin some time ago, saying that he would never again write a back-breakingly thick tome like Glory Season. He may want to rethink that pledge, because Existence is quite the doorstop. The second, related, reaction is that Brin hasn’t published a novel in many years. The ideas must have been bottled up for quite some time in his head, because they come out in a barely contained torrent. In many ways, this is a culmination of his thinking and agitating for the past decade or so; compressing this much into a single novel seems to require the massive word count. Finally, the timing and setting of the novel are going to spark inevitable comparisons with Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312, though they are very different books. More on all of these later, after some background and technical summaries.

Existence takes place over several unspecified years around 2050. The Earth is more or less what any scientifically literate person can expect, in terms of climate change, technological advancement, population, and whatnot. Rising ocean levels and global warming have inflicted the expected havoc and people are facing resource depletion, though science has advanced just enough to hold Armageddon at bay. Just barely. Politically, Brin’s society requires more of a leap, though not nearly as large a leap as some of us might hope. He envisions a global stratification based more on class than on race or gender, where we have taken several steps forward with intolerance problems, but perhaps a few steps back on economic equality. The world is loosely controlled by the very richest of the rich, where families measure their wealth by the numbers coming after the decimal point of the 99th percentile. (Lest one think Brin supports a full-born Illuminati style conspiracy, at least one of the characters wonders aloud if the people supposedly running the show have nearly as much power as they think they do.) The book is written in a multi-perspective third person, with interludes excerpted from “books,” “news reports,” and other miscellanea. Again, this reminds the reader of 2312.

Brin is an activist writer, something that is clear to anyone who follows his online persona. This implies a political agenda, which Brin has, but politics is only a part of his grander philosophy. Things are partially summed up by the political axis he creates, assessing resistance to technological progress and the tendency towards oligarchy as the respective x and y. He has little use for the current US Left-Richt dichotomy, arguing instead that the true fulcrums of policy are the older, deeper rivalries of the Enlightenment – Romanticism and Feudalism – Egalitarianism. (He names this partially after the Satsuma clan, the major source of leadership in Meiji Japan, because this axis frames their policies accurately.) Brin readers will notice the relationship to his oft-discussed definitions of science fiction and fantasy. I don’t fully share Brin’s opinion of our innate longings for feudalism, though I agree that this is a far better way to view public policy than the current US split.

Existence is more than just political navel-gazing. Brin’s activism extends to the genre itself; he uses this book as part of a broader call to action to the SF community. Several authors, among them Kim Stanley Robinson and Neal Stephenson, have called for SF to regain its status as a hopeful, encouraging genre, with books that once again inspire a generation of scientists to go out and fix problems. I don’t know if any other genre spends so much time talking about itself and bemoaning its own demise, but in this case I support the introspection. I appreciate the aims of literary SF and Mundane SF, enjoy a lot of the darker stuff out there, and am fully sympathetic to those who respond to the last decade or so with pessimism. Like Brin I remain a futurist though, convinced that we can overcome (or at least survive) the impending challenges if we create a framework that lets science attack our problems. Books that promote the futurist agenda, like Existence and 2312, are an important part, maybe my favorite part, of science fiction.

Back to the story. Brin is firmly in the Hard SF camp, and Existence is overflowing with ideas. He careens through information technology, environmental science, rocketry, transportation, energy, and astronomy, while dealing with geopolitics, economics, journalism, crowd sourcing, and a host of other topics. Brin is clearly keeping up with current technology, rather than relying on the tropes that carried SF in the 80s, when he first came on the scene with the other Three B’s. (Benford, Brin and Bear.) This is clear with his depiction of the internet and augmented reality, but also in the environmentalism, space travel limitation, and machine consciousness. All of these new ideas labor in service of that most classic of SF themes, First Contact, building a bridge between the current generation of new writers and the Golden Age. The Fermi Paradox is also tied integrally to the narrative, with the answers Brin proposes to both hoary tropes wildly inventive. This particular future is far cry from the bright colors and optimism of the Uplift series, but Brin retains his flair for storytelling. It is this storytelling where Existence really breaks from 2312, despite thematic similarity: Robinson is a painter, creating a series of scenic vistas, while Brin is a Hard SF yarn spinner.

My only real complaint with the book is its balance from start to finish. Existence to me felt more like a book and a half, with the first volume concluding neatly, but the second not quite fleshed out enough to stand on its own. It’s not enough to detract from the book’s impact, though I would have preferred to hear more of the later story. Aside from that, this is Brin at the height of his considerable powers. He will never be a lyricist or poet, but this is Hard SF taken to its logical conclusion.

In a year of heavyweight contenders, Existence has to stand near the top of the 2012 SF pile. It is ambitious, outspoken, stimulating, and entertaining. My review is barely scratching the surface of what’s on offer. There is a character that some think is Bring inserting himself, but canny readers will call The Redemption of Michael Crichton. There are zeppelins. There is a nod to Startide Rising. There are a thousand and one ways humanity could extinguish itself, and possible answers to most of them. Brin largely delivers with his years in the making call to action that is equal parts entertaining, visionary, and inspiring. I don’t know if it will win the Hugo, but it will be on the ballot if I have any say in the matter.

Rating: The Houston Dynamo for two reasons. First, at time of writing, the Dynamo are in the finals for the MSL Championship. Second, everything is bigger in Texas.