Transcendent. Stephen Baxter
The final volume of the Destiny's Children sequence wraps up the story in a loop of time. Baxter links the bottlenecked near-future of a warming-threatened world with the far-distant tomorrow of the Commonwealth, a human-dominated galaxy where the Xeelee wars are long over, and a nascent transcendent overmind struggles to break through its own bottleneck. But is sorrow and redemption enough to build a new future? Baxter mixes the stories of two societies pondering their roads to their separate futures, and finds a road for today and tomorrow to finally collaborate. A fine end to a space opera that mixes philosophy and world-shattering revelations.
Carnival. Elizabeth Bear
One correspondence I've yet to see mentioned in reviews of Carnival is Ursula Le Guin. There are echoes of The Left Hand Of Darkness all through this story, a dark tale that explores gender issues and revolutionary politics through a diplomatic visit to a matriarchal world. A fragmented diaspora (the result of a machine-driven winnowing of humanity) has left a depopulated, expansionist Earth struggling to control its many colony worlds. Diplomatic methods conceal subversion and military actions, and two such diplomats arrive on New Amazonia to return stolen art. Separated many years ago, the two men were lovers, and their reunion reveals their true allegiances - and at the same time brings political differences on New Amazonia to a head. Bear juggles plots and counterplots in a Machiavellian skein of shifting alliances, tossing in a long awaited first contact to sweeten the brew. An excellent read, with compelling characters and a story that grabs the reader on page one and doesn't let go...
The Resurrected Man. Sean Williams
It's not every SF mystery that starts with a quote from Daniel Dennet's introduction to The Mind's I, a collection of the best readings on AI and intelligence. However, Dennet's musings on the philosophical ramifications of a duplicating teleportation device provide the backbone of Williams' story. What does it mean when the killer may be a duplicate of the detective, and when his dismembered and tortured victims are still very much alive? The search for the Twinmaker killer takes us from orbital towers to a future Australia, exploring the society that results from cheap and easy teleportation, and showing what such a tool could mean to a serial killer freed to indulge his fantasies. A fascinating, compelling read, this is a book that breaks new ground and sets the scene for the rest of the author's career.
The Emerald Sea. John Ringo
Oh dear. I should have stopped reading this at the point at which the dragon-carrier crew managed to reinvent fifty years of carrier operations lessons in one afternoon. Post the fall of a post-scarcity civilisation a rag tag bag of re-enactors battles a bad guy armed with people-changing machines fallen straight out of a Jack L. Chalker novel. The result? A mediocre piece of military SF that fails to engage or entertain. The idea was good - a dragon carrier defending merpeople from the bad guy's demon rays (and a kraken) - but even the set-pieces - dragons fighting orca, the merpeople's sea cave nursery - seemed to be there as plot coupons rather than as part of the story. A pity, as Ringo's earlier Posleen war stories had shown some promise.
The Frost-Haired Vixen. John Zakour
The latest Zach Johnson PI pastiche is enjoyable fluff, just like the rest of the series. Zakour's humour is an easy ride, and Zach's trials and tribulations push our hero to a solution. This time, Zach is sent to the North Pole to solve the murder of two elves (yes Virginia, in New Frisco there is a Santana Clausa...). Mutant geeks, super-powers, killer robots and obsequious elves litter the plot, while Zakour scatters enough clues to help the reader work out whodunnit just as Zach finds himself at the wrong end of a laser... An enjoyable light read.
Pushing Ice. Alastair Reynolds
Pushing Ice is Reynolds take on Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama. One of Saturn's moons turns out to to be an alien spacecraft - and it's leaving the solar system at speed. Only one ship can explore the moon before it leaves the system, and it's an ice miner that really should be heading home. Things are complicated by corporate politics, a high-speed Chinese mission, the possibility that there's not enough fuel to get home, and the alien vessel/moon's mysterious propulsion scheme. Reynolds manages to deliver his own take on the space opera "big dumb object" trope, exploring the human response to the alien, and the effects of politics and survival on friendship and working relationships. It's a story that mixes the wide screen with the human scale - to great effect. Reynolds' best book to date.