One of the highlights of Norwescon is the award dinner for the annual Philip K. Dick Award for distinguished science fiction published in paperback original form in the United States. For the second year running, I’ve purchased and read each of the nominated books. What follows are the brief reviews I posted to Goodreads as I finished each book.

  • Helix WarsHelix Wars by Eric Brown
    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    First off, to borrow an old cliché, don’t judge this book by its cover. The cover, of a suited warrior firing a laser rifle against a backdrop of explosions, gives the impression that this is a military sci-fi novel (a genre which I’m not terribly interested in). Instead, this book, the second in a series, has much more in common with Larry Niven’s Ringworld, as it deals with the interplay between races on a giant helical constructed world, wrapped around a star like a slinky, with thousands of cylindrical worlds strung along like beads on a necklace.

    However much the construct may invite comparisons to Niven’s Ringworld, though, Brown’s worldbuilding isn’t quite so engrossing. The structure of the Helix allows for lots of variety in environments and races, but leaves a lot of the technical underpinnings (for instance, how do the individual worlds have gravity?) to be either entirely unexplained or brushed off as “technology so advanced we can’t understand it”. The concept sounds very hard-SF, but the execution leaves something to be desired.

    That said, the book isn’t at all bad, though it’s not likely to end up as my pick for this year’s P.K. Dick award (for which it is one of seven nominees). I just hoped for a little more Niven-like exploration of the hard-SF concept that instead acts as little more than an interesting background for the story itself.

  • Fountain of Age: StoriesFountain of Age: Stories by Nancy Kress
    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    Impressive selection of stories; unlike many anthologies (both single- and multi-author), not a single story I’d consider a dud. Many deal with the not-too-far-future complications of genetic modification, and the whole book has a somewhat melancholy, moody feel to it that I liked a lot.

  • Lost EverythingLost Everything by Brian Francis Slattery
    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    I almost gave this one two stars, but that wouldn’t have been fair to the book. It’s good, well written, and the style is…well, I want to say pretty, but “evocative” is probably a better word. The book was just too sad, too much of a hard slog through a broken country with broken people. Though described as post-apocalyptic, that’s not quite right, as the apocalypse is still in progress during the events of the book. There are moments of hope, but they’re always overwhelmed by despair. I know it’s good…I just didn’t enjoy reading it.

  • The Not YetThe Not Yet by Moira Crone
    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    I had trouble getting into this one — it was interesting, and has some interesting ideas on mortality and the effects of enhanced longevity, but for some reason, it didn’t really pull me in until the last chapter when everything wraps up.

  • HarmonyHarmony by Keith Brooke
    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    Three and a half stars would be more accurate. There’s a lot of fascinating worldbuilding here, presented very much in the “sink or swim” style where you’re simply dropped into the world and must figure it out as you go. Neat stuff, but the pacing felt a little off…there’s a lot of time spent setting the board, only to have the endgame sprung upon you faster than you expect. I’m not sure if I’d have preferred less setup (at the possible expense of less comprehension of the world) or more climax/denouement (which might remove some of the power of the “aha!” moment at the end), but it felt somewhat off-balance.

  • Blueprints of the AfterlifeBlueprints of the Afterlife by Ryan Boudinot
    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    At times both fascinating and frustrating. While there was a lot to like in this, taken as a whole, it just didn’t quite mesh. Neat and very believable ideas (like the Bionet) mixed with wild absurdism (the Malaspina glacier gone rogue) mixed with I’m not sure what (a Mario-Brothers-meets-zombies video game sequence that I’m still not sure how to interpret). Interesting and, on the while, enjoyable, but perhaps a bit too absurdist.

  • LoveStar: A NovelLoveStar: A Novel by Andri Snær Magnason
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    This one, I really, really enjoyed. Frighteningly believable (if improbable) biotech-meets-marketing serves as a base for paired stories of lovers torn apart and a brilliant CEO on a reluctant quest for God. Frequently funny and sweet, this was easily my favorite of this year’s crop of Philip K. Dick Award nominees.