Short works

Books : reviews

Linda Nagata.
Limit of Vision.
Tor. 2001

Linda Nagata.
Tor. 2003

Linda Nagata.
Pacific Storm.
Mythic Island Press. 2020

Politics, terrorism, and heavy weather collide over Honolulu in a vividly imagined near-future thriller from the author of The Last Good Man.

Ava Arnett is a Honolulu cop, captain of the night shift in the autonomous Waikiki District. Nine years ago a massive hurricane hit the island. Ava remains haunted by the mistakes she made and the lives she failed to save during that disaster. Since then, she relies on HADAFA, an AI designed to observe, analyze, and predict human behavior. HADAFA monitors her actions, and its assessments guide her decisions.

Now, another Category 5 hurricane is approaching Honolulu…

In the hectic hours before landfall, Ava stumbles into a terrorist conspiracy – and HADAFA begins to glitch. She can no longer rely on the AI. She must decide on her own whether or not to trust a mysterious federal agent named Lyric Jones – knowing the wrong choice could lead to greater devastation…and a war no one will win.

Linda Nagata.
Bantam. 1995

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 30 August 1999

Katie Kishida's husband Tom has died in a tragic accident. Yet death is not necessarily final -- they are both members of Forward Futures Inc, a cryotech company who preserve the dead while waiting for a cure. So Katie has Tom frozen. But Tom's sister, Senator Ilene Carson, is a prominent advocate of sustainable health care -- and comes out hard against expensive life extension technologies. The next thirty years are a battle as Katie struggles to find a Cure, and Ilene works to make that technology illegal.

Usually stories of cryonics are from the point of view of the frozen one -- waking up in a vastly altered world. But here we get a thoughtful look from the point of view of those left behind when one family member is dead but not gone -- while Tom lies frozen, how can Katie get on with her own life?

The beginning, with its description of the freezing process, and the conclusion move along at a brisk pace. The middle third of the book -- as Katie lives through decades herself in a kind of suspended animation -- is necessarily rather episodic, and I found it a little slow. That is because I would have liked more exploration of the actual nanotechnology being developed as the Cure, but that happens only in the background; it is Katie's strangely frozen life that is the foreground. But I did like the way the gradually developing tech is integrated into the story -- the VR, the remotes, the orbitals. (And Nagata has great term for that contrast to Virtual Reality -- which we sometimes find ourselves calling 'Real' Reality -- here it is Cold Reality.)

Linda Nagata.
Skye Object 3270a.
Mythic Island Press. 2007

Linda Nagata.
Mythic Island Press. 2019

Deception Well is a world on the edge, home to an isolated remnant surviving at the farthest reach of human expansion. All across the frontier, other worlds have succumbed to the relentless attacks of robotic alien warships, while hundreds of light years away, the core of human civilization – those star systems closest to Earth, known as the Hallowed Vasties – have all fallen to ruins. Powerful telescopes can see only dust and debris where once there were orbital mega-structures so huge they eclipsed the light of their parent stars.

No one knows for sure what caused the Hallowed Vasties to fail, but a hardened adventurer named Urban intends to find out. He has the resources to do it. He commands a captive alien starship fully capable of facing the dangers that lie beyond Deception Well.

With a ship’s company of explorers and scientists, Urban is embarking on a voyage of re-discovery. They will be the first in centuries to confront the hazards of an inverted frontier as they venture back along the path of human migration. Their goal: to unravel the mystery of the Hallowed Vasties and to discover what monstrous life might have grown up among the ruins.

Linda Nagata.
Mythic Island Press. 2019

A Lost Ship – A New World

Urban is no longer master of the fearsome starship Dragon. Driven out by the hostile, godlike entity, Lezuri, he has taken refuge aboard the most distant vessel in his outrider fleet.

Though Lezuri remains formidable, he is a broken god, commanding only a fragment of the knowledge that once was his. He is desperate to return home to the ring-shaped artificial world he created at the height of his power, where he can recover the memory of forgotten technologies.

Urban is desperate to stop him. He races to reach the ring-shaped world first, only to find himself stranded in a remote desert, imperiled by a strange flood of glowing “silver” that rises in the night like fog – a lethal fog that randomly changes the austere, Earthlike landscape. He has only a little time to decipher the mystery of the silver and to master its secrets. Lezuri is coming – and Urban must level up before he can hope to vanquish the broken god.

Linda Nagata.
Mythic Island Press. 2022

“Tanjiri is not for you. You are not ready to encounter what exists there.”

So Lezari spoke in warning, long ago. Urban still possesses the strange gift—the impossible puzzle—Lezuri gave him that day. A needle, ultra-thin and twelve centimeters long, with a silvery surface that slices light into rainbow glints. All Lezuri’s knowledge lies locked within that needle. Urban has only is discover the trick of opening it, to gain that knowledge for himself—but the needle remains an enigma.

Now Dragon and its fleet of outriders has reached the periphery of Tanjiri system. The belt of ruins lies ahead: a chaos of remnant megastructures from a fallen civilization. Farther in, an Earthlike world orbits in the company of a miraculous living moon created less than 4,000 years ago. An entity—one greater even than Lezuri—must have made that moon. And yet the system is silent. No-one, nothing, has answered Dragon’s hails.

Perhaps the entity is gone? But Urban doesn’t believe that. He is sure that when the fleet enters Tanjiri system, he will meet this maker of worlds—with the lives of everyone he loves at stake. Better, safer, to encounter this entity from a position of strength, armed with all the knowledge and power contained within the needle.

So he believes.

Linda Nagata.
The Bohr Maker.
Bantam. 1995

Linda Nagata.
Deception Well.
Bantam. 1997

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 20 March 2006

In a complex universe a few thousand years in the future, humanity has spread to the stars, but all is not well: the ancient Chenzeme war is still being waged by its remaining machines, using exotic weapons and nanotech in its attempt to wipe out all sentient life. Safe from the war for the moment, Silk is an orbital city connected by a beanstalk to the world called Deception Well. The inhabitants of Silk say the Well is dangerous, but the charismatic leader Jupiter declares it is a place of Commune, where all can be cured. He leads his party of fanatical followers down to Silk, where most are killed before reaching the planet. His young son Lot gets left behind. Ten years later, the grown Lot gathers his own followers for a descent to the surface. But all is not as he believes.

This is a complex and detailed world, with gradually revealed layers of deception and meaning. The technology might seem semi-miraculous to us, but Nagata saves us the info-dumping, leaving the healing properties of the nanotech makers, the networked brain augmentations, and the history of how the universe ended up this way, as ordinary everyday background in the story. The gradual exposure of plot points mean that we learn along with Lot what is going on, sharing his confusion along the way (which doesn't stop me wanting to shout "don't be so stupidly pig-headed" or "stop being a whiny teenager" at him several times). Although there is a sequel, the ending provides sufficient closure to this part of the story.

Linda Nagata.
Bantam. 1998

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 24 April 2006

(Warning: minor spoilers for Deception Well)

Lot, Urban and Clementine have left the city of Silk in the ship Null Boundary with its damaged pilot Nikko, searching for the source of the Chenzeme scourge. The trip lasts many hundreds of years, and they discover much about themselves, the Chenzeme factions, and the rest of star-dwelling humanity -- none of it expected.

This has a tremendous feeling of the sheer timescales involved in their sub-light interstellar travels. There are a few clever tricks involved, the most effective being the massive 200-year-old trees growing in the ship's interior, seeded as it left Silk. There are also clever unravellings of layers of Chenzeme menace, with many unexpected twists. But the best bits, for me, are the feeling of how different these people are, what a different world view they have, being able to spawn and reintegrate alternate personalities -- "ghosts" -- with casual ease.

Some things are never explained (or if they are, I missed the explanations). For example, the direction they go in search of the Chenzeme is the direction known as swan -- the characters don't know why, the reason is lost in history, but it's in the direction of the constellation Cygnus, and they actually pass very close to Alpha Cygni. Fair enough -- but one of the main characters is called Deneb (which is also the name of Alpha Cygni) -- I kept waiting for this to become important, but nothing is ever made of it. Is it just a little joke -- or did I miss a significant plot point?

There is a satisfactory form of closure to the story, although it's not an ending, it's more of a temporary pause in an ongoing, ever-increasingly complex universe. Which, after all, is much more satisfying than an "end".

Linda Nagata.
The Red: First Light.
Mythic Island Press. 2013

There Needs To Be A War Going On Somewhere

Lieutenant James Shelley commands a high-tech squad of soldiers in a rural district within the African Sahel. They hunt insurgents each night on a harrowing patrol, guided by three simple goals: protect civilians, kill the enemy, and stay alive—because in a for-profit war manufactured by the defense industry there can be no cause worth dying for. To keep his soldiers safe, Shelley uses every high-tech asset available to him—but his best weapon is a flawless sense of imminent danger … as if God is with him, whispering warning in his ear,

Linda Nagata.
The Trials.
Saga Press. 2015

Lieutenant James Shelley and his squad of US Army soldiers were on a quest for justice when they carried out their unauthorized mission known as First Light. They returned home to America to face a court-martial, determined to expose the corruption in the chain of command that compelled their actions. But in a country still reeling from the nuclear terrorism of Coma Day, the courtroom is only one more battlefield.

A new cycle of violence ignites when rumors of the elusive, rogue AI known as the Red go public, and Shelley is, once again, pulled into the fray. Challenged by his enemies, driven by ideals, Shelley feels compelled to act—but are the harrowing choices he makes really his own, or are they made for him by the Red?

With millions of lives at stake in a game of nuclear cat and mouse, does it even matter?

Linda Nagata.
Going Dark.
Saga Press. 2015

No real allies, no fixed enemies, no certain battlefields

Presumed dead by those closest to him and with no intention of setting the record straight, former army lieutenant James Shelley is recruited by a black ops outfit devoted to two things: guarding the Earth from existential threats, and the Red.

Operating for almost two years among soldiers who are enhanced and controlled just as he is, Shelley believes he’s learned a proper caution in working with the mysterious artificial intelligence—until the Red’s increasingly erratic behavior ignites an accidental war and launches Shelley on a collision course with his old life.

In the final book of The Red Trilogy, Shelley must choose who—or what—to trust, while struggling to contain an escalating conflict that threatens to plunge the world into chaos and destroy those he loves.

Linda Nagata.
The Dread Hammer.
Mythic Island Press. 2011

rating : 4.5 : passes the time
review : 15 March 2014

Ketty is a pretty shepherdess with a contrary nature, who runs away from home to escape an unwanted marriage. As she flees along the forest road, she prays to the Dread Hammer for help—and to her astonishment help comes in the form of a charming and well-armed young murderer named Smoke. As Ketty soon discovers, Smoke is not entirely human.

Smoke, too, is taken by surprise at their encounter. He had lurked beside the forest road intending to pierce hearts and slit throats, not to fall in love. But love it is—or it would be—if only he can convince Ketty that marriage is better than death.

But just when happily-ever-after seems within reach, Smoke’s past returns to claim him. A deserter from the Koráyos army, his supernatural skill at killing is still very much in demand. Now the army wants him back.

I like Linda Nagata’s hard SF, so I was interested to see that she had a fantasy novel out. It was originally published under her pseudonym Trey Shiels, presumably to separate it from that hard SF, but is now published under her own name, through Mythic Island Press, her own publishing outlet.

We meet Ketty running away from a forced marriage as she is discovered by Smoke, half man, half something else. He is strangely drawn to her, and decides she is to be his wife. Ketty is not so sure, but Smoke won’t take no for an answer. Since this is a fantasy novel, not real life, that behaviour has the expected outcome: they end up happily together. However, their happiness is not to last. Smoke has a hidden past: he is the son and executioner of the ruler of the Puzzle Lands, and his father, despite hating him, wants him back.

The first half of this novel, with just Ketty and Smoke, is somewhat distasteful (given the way Smoke treats Ketty), and also somewhat dull (as nothing much else happens). Once Smoke is back in the Puzzle Lands, however, there is a lot more action. The world-building is interesting, yet all the characters feel rather two-dimensional, acting as they do to move the plot on. Nedgalvin in particular behaves inconsistently and stupidly, despite being a great general. Everything gets sorted in a great rush at the end, leaving Smoke in need of a sequel – which I won’t be reading.