The Alien Stars and other novellas, by Tim Pratt
This book is part of the Axiom series, reviewed here a couple of months ago. It consists of three novellas: The Augmented Stars, The Artificial Stars, and The Alien Stars. Each of them focuses on one of the characters from the series - but not Callie and Elena who are the main protagonists in the original trilogy.
In The Augmented Stars, the focus is on Ashok, the augmented man who died in the previous story (but thoughtfully always maintained a full and up-to-date personality and memory backup in reserve, hence his reappearance here). He is now effectively an AI, with his ship as his usual "body" but able to download a copy of himself into any suitably sophisticated electronic host. The story viewpoint is that of a new member of the crew, Delilah Mears, who has a lot to learn (an excuse for lots of explanations to bring all readers up to speed). An anomaly in space ensnares Ashok's ship, and the crew encounter a truly bizarre band of pirates.
The Artificial Stars features Shall - the AI who has become the president of the revived Trans-Neptunian Alliance and also has the use of a spaceship "body" if required. An earlier version of Shall (named Will) was thought destroyed, but gets in contact five years later to warn of a threat to the stability of the universe as the "gates" connecting planetary systems are beginning to break down. This story gives more attention to the scientist Uzoma who turns out to have a key role to play.
The Alien Stars takes a different approach to story telling: the narrator is the alien Lantern (a member of the Free, previously known as the Liars) who is trying to locate the dangerous central council of her race to determine their future strategy. The means of communication Lantern uses is in the form of messages to her friend Elena, explaining what she has found and what she is trying to achieve.
Overall, a worthwhile addition to the Axiom series for those in search of light entertainment.
If Then, by Matthew De Abaitua
This book must have been sitting in my reading pile for several years, judging by the fact that I bought it not long after publication, which I see was in 2015. I suspect that my reluctance to begin was caused by the dystopian plot summary; it must have come with some glowing recommendations to prompt me to buy it in the first place. It is a difficult book to describe, but the summary on the back cover does it fairly well so I’ll pinch that:
In the near future, after the collapse of society as we know it, one English town survives under the protection of the complex algorithms of the Process, which governs every aspect of their lives. The Process both gives and takes. It allocates jobs and resources, giving each person exactly what it has calculated they will need.
The Process also decides who stays under its protection, and who must be banished to the wilderness beyond. Human life has become totally ruled by its algorithms and James, the town bailiff, is charged with making sure that the Process’s orders are implemented. But now, it seems, it has started making soldiers - terrifyingly, the Process is readying for war.
The author spends considerable time familiarising readers with life in the AI-controlled town of Lewes (an actual English town) then switches the narrative to a very detailed and atmospheric account of the 1915 Gallipoli campaign, a brutal World War 1 battle which the Process has decided to recreate. The truth about what is going on is only gradually revealed and even at the end, there were aspects of the plot which remained mysterious (to me, at any rate). However, it is very well written with strong characterisation and held my attention. I’m not sure if I can provide a general recommendation - I suspect this is a very Marmite story (translation for non-Brits: either loved or hated!).