Sunday, January 31, 2016

4th Annual SFR Galaxy Awards: Round Four by Lee Koven

Best Blockbuster Movie Candidate
Return to Dark Earth by Anna Hackett

Post-apocalyptic Earth with zombies and other radioactive monsters. Professor Jones and The Bride from Kill Bill as protagonists. Gladiatorial arena. Hot and sweet love story. Hilariously wicked villains. I don’t know why this book hasn’t been optioned yet, because it ticks all the boxes of a big-budget action film.While our heroine Nera Darc isn’t out on a mission of revenge like Uma Thurman’s character, she is a bobbed-hair platinum blonde in a bodysuit who spends several scenes slicing everything apart with her katana. Sometimes her man backs her up, too. Niklas Phoenix, our astro-archaeologist, acts as the brains of the operation. He’s respectful of Nera’s boundaries and an all-around stand-up scholar. Watching their chemistry as they navigate a way to be together while dealing with killer giant panthers and treachery.

The action scenes zoom by with romantic interludes and character vignettes, and it would be sure to please action movie buffs, science fiction fans, and romance junkies alike.

Most Intriguing Philosophical/Social Science Questions in Galaxybuilding
 Faring Soul by Tracy Cooper-Posey

Catherine Shahrazad, possibly the world’s oldest person, has saved her credits for decades to do an unusual favor for her navigator. The ramifications of that could upend world religions, governments, and commerce. Well, Catherine does cause chaos anywhere she goes…
Faring Soul explores issues of consciousness and humanity that kept me thinking long after I finished the book. What if you could be eternally young? What if children were raised by a community and romance was usually separate from parenting? What kind of culture and government would form in a world where this were possible?

Factional politics and religious intrigues spur the plot ahead, but it’s the perspective we get from the ship’s new crewman Kemp that makes it real. His refusal to take part in rejuvenation gives him a worldview most like the reader’s, and it’s through his eyes that we learn about the ship crew and their mission. It’s a good bridge to the sometimes mysterious actions of Catherine and Bedivere, keeping them relatable despite their long and unusual life experiences.

The questions Faring Soul piqued that stayed most with me concerned consciousness, identity, and transhumanism. If you use a teleporter that atomizes you and creates a body elsewhere with the same memories and behaviors, is that really you, or did you die and get replaced by a clone? How do we define our “selves”? If we change our bodies, how does that impact our minds and, if we believe in them, our souls?

Best Steampunk Doctor
Clockwork Samurai by Jeannie Lin

Steampunk has come a long way since its Anglocentric roots, and in this story we see the dark side of British imperialism: a war fought over the right to distribute and profit from an addictive drug in another country. Physician Jin Soling has seen many fall prey to the black poison peddled by the English, and if that’s not enough to make things dire, she’s watching her country grapple with the Western invasion, famine, and rebellion. Her story started with the novel Gunpowder Alchemy and continues with Clockwork Samurai.

Clockwork Samurai is a short novel chronicling the journey of Soling and her love interest Chen Chang-wei to see if the Japanese government could render them aid. The mix of steampunk ideas and Meiji Japan lead to some fascinating creations. Soling and Chang-wei’s political and philosophical mindsets do not lend themselves to pride in their accomplishments, but they are willing to go on hopeless errands so that their Emperor need not lose face. Soling is the more practical-minded and worried of the two. She wants the best for her country, but has doubts as to what that is.

This story does not have a happily-ever-after here because their adventures will continue, but there is sweet resolution of romantic tension.

Biggest Tearjerker Per Page
Luminous by A.E. Ash

What would you do if you were all alone on a planet for years? Personally, I’d start talking to my volleyball like Tom Hanks did in Cast Away for the first one, and then descend into gibbering madness. Jothi manages to stay sane by going through her job’s routine. When she finds an injured man on the planet, she reawakens to the pain and joy of navigating interpersonal relationships.

Luminous made me cry because the Jothi’s loneliness is so textured. Her bravery and resolve amazed me. The story made my heart swell with emotion: perhaps I should have the Grinch read this book. We are all worthy of love and companionship, no matter our age, race, or particulate matter state. That relief made me reach for the tissues.

Most Welcome Back Oldies-but-goodies
Eight books by Nathalie Gray

I’ve wanted to recommend Nathalie Gray’s SFR books to many people, but lots of them were unavailable for a while. Happily, she got her rights back to several series and books and republished them this year!

The War Dogs series (formerly published as Lycan Warriors) follows genetically engineered lycanthrope mercenaries who battle baddies and bigots in space and future Earth. The Galaxy Hunter series (previously published as Femme Metal) features the adventures of bounty hunters in spaceships and blue men. Finally, the novel Debbie Diesel features a demo derby in space. All feature high-octane action, hot love scenes, trash-talking characters, and an excellent sense of the absurd.

Best Video Game with SFR Elements
Xenoblade Chronicles 3D for New Nintendo 3DS

Xenoblade Chronicles, originally for the Nintendo Wii, had a British localization and very limited release in the US. The New 3DS (the standard 3DS isn’t compatible, alas!) port gives more audiences exposure to the fascinating universe MonolithSoft has dreamed up.

Humans are under the attack of the Mechon, a race of machines from the neighboring landmass, whereby landmass I mean giant robot. Seriously, the world consists of two frozen giant beings: the Bionis, home of organic life, and the Mechonis, where sentient machines live. Our protagonist, Shulk, vows revenge against the Mechon after a brutal attack against his hometown and takes possession of a powerful sword called the Monado to execute his plan. Matters proceed from there, and Shulk finds the nature of the world he lives on is not what he bargained for.

There is at least one sweet romance subplot, but it/they take many hours to develop in the story.

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