Best Steampunk Series
The Iron Seas by Meljean Brook
This sprawling steampunk tour-de-force (five novels, six novellas) has it all: detailed, vivid worldbuilding; fast-paced action; finely-drawn characters; fantastical creatures and marvelous machines; and, above all, love.
Author Brook has set her action-packed stories of love and adventure on an intricately-imagined alternate Earth where the Mongol Horde has overrun much of the world (with the help of nanotech-directed mind control), where zombies roam Europe and Africa, where airships fill the sky and the integrated mechanical technology that enhances human bodies is viewed largely with suspicion. The series began with The Iron Duke, the story of the mechanically-enhanced hero of the battle to save Britain from the Horde and the female detective who is charged to investigate the body that literally drops out of the sky onto his doorstep.
The latest novel in the series, The Kraken King, debuted in 2014 as e-serial novel in eight parts. (All eight parts are now available as a single integrated volume.) Brook keeps up the pace in this recent addition to the series, with a spunky writer heroine (sister of one of her earlier heroes) and the former leader of a rebellion against the Horde carrying the rousing tale.
So much fun I wanted to grab my sword and jump aboard the next airship!
Best Shipboard Mystery
In the Black by Sheryl Nantus
A murder onboard a “courtesan” ship visiting a mining planet kicks off this compelling read. The investigation of the crime would be interesting enough, what with a shipload of suspects in the dead working girl’s, uh, colleagues, and a planetful of them in the girl’s clients.
But author Nantus has created some memorable characters in Sam Keller, Captain of the Bonnie Belle, responsible for what happens on her ship, and marshal Daniel LeClair, brought in by The Powers That Be to “assist” with the investigation. The two are attracted from the start—when they’re not scrapping over how to go about solving this murder. The captain and the marshal make a great pair, and with the sexual tension between the two at a constant boil, it’s only a matter of time before they give in to each other.
Nantus sets her mystery in the believably bleak, gritty world of a workaday future. Space travel is no adventure for the people in this story; it’s a means of getting from one not-very-exciting place to another. The miners work hard for months at a time, with not much to look forward to except the arrival of the courtesan ship. The courtesan ship makes its rounds of similar places. Sam, a military vet, keeps trying to escape her past in this backwater job. And Daniel tries to work his way back from an incident that derailed his career and his life. That Sam and Daniel find each other in all this seems a minor miracle. But isn’t that what romance is supposed to be all about?
Most Thought-Provoking SFR Onscreen
PERSON OF INTEREST (CBS)
The small screen captures the prize for engaging our interest in a year when large-screen efforts bypassed any romantic elements in SF.
This creation of writer Jonathan Nolan (The Dark Knight), with backing from J.J.Abrams’ Bad Robot production company, Bad Robot, Kilter Films, and Warner Bros. Television, captures the post-911 zeitgeist perfectly. Michael Emerson (LOST) stars as Finch, a wounded cyber-genius who has invented a supercomputer for the government to track communications for any possible terrorist activity. The Machine is capable of more than this, however, and begins to identify ALL possible crime. Finch uses this “irrelevant” information to intervene and stop the crime before it happens.
He recruits an ex-CIA agent named Reese (Jim Caviezel) for the active part of this job. Reese has been living on the street, trying to forget his former life. Working with Finch and The Machine provide redemption for Reese.
Others are added to the mix—two NYPD detectives, a former enemy-turned-ally named Root, who is linked to The Machine, a sociopathic former mercenary (Shaw), a sympathetic crime boss (Elias)—as subplots interweave with the main line of the story over the series’ four seasons.
The series’ underlying questions have begun to take on increasing importance in Season Four: When does an artificial intelligence acquire true sentience? How do we define self-awareness? Can we expect a machine to understand (and abide by) human moral constructs? What happens when the intelligence—not just the knowledge--of the machines we create far outstrips our own? The Machine has a rival now in the equally super-intelligent (and self-aware) Samaritan, a computer that has not been created with any moral constructs. Who will win? And, in the end, will it make any difference for humanity?