Of the ebooks I picked up at WorldCon, two were hard SF. I think everything else was fantasy or romance or whatever, so these two make a set. I’ve also met both authors and I’ve liked their earlier books. Let’s look at both of these novels now, one right after the other.
So, first, let’s take a look at a new novel Alan Smale. He’s the guy who wrote The Clash of Eagles trilogy, which is, how shall I put this … okay, given a normal curve that goes from zero tension to ultimate tension, this trilogy is way the hell over on the right-hand side of that curve. So, if you’re into relaxing reads at the moment, this may not be exactly what you’re in the mood to pick up. But it’s really well written! And the ending is fine!
And it turns out Smale has a new book out, which I hadn’t realized. It’s an alternate history with the point of departure set in the recent past. Let me see … all right, here’s the description of the backstory: In Hot Moon, the Soviet Union beats the US to the Moon, landing a single cosmonaut on the lunar surface two months ahead of Armstrong and Aldrin’s Apollo 11 landing in July 1969. … if chief designer Sergei Korolev had not died, the Soviets would have maintained their former development pace and beaten the US to the Moon. The survival of Korolev is the point of departure for the Hot Moon timeline.
This sounds like a thriller, possibly a technothriller. Given Smale’s previous trilogy, I’m guessing the story is probably pretty intense in places, though I can hardly imagine it’s as intense as the Clash of Eagles trilogy. From the overall description plus reviews, I’m guessing it’s a bit like Andy Weir’s work, with lots of technical detail. I enjoyed that very much in Weir’s books, so for me this is a plus, as long as the tech details are worked smoothly into the story. I picked up the full book, not a sample, because I know Smale can write. If I’m not in the mood for high-tension right now, I will be eventually, and here this one will be.
Let’s take a look at the opening:
1. Hot Moon by Alan Smale
In orbit around the Moon, ferocious bees assaulted a tin can.
Spacesuited, untethered, and in free fall, Vivian Carter struggled to focus her thoughts and make sense of the scene before her. Woozy from pain and shock, she heard no voices in her headset, nothing but the seething white-noise hiss of jammed S-band communication.
That can’t be right.
It was that empty hiss that freaked her out the most. She was alone in the void, between spacecraft, and as isolated as she had ever been. Comms were critical, and Vivian had none.
She’d been out of it for long, precious moments. Ever since the Soviet cosmonaut’s bullets smashed into her shoulder and raked her helmet and sent her tumbling slowly in space, sixty miles above the mares and uplands, the basins and craters of the Moon. Since the impact trauma, she’d been suspended in a stunned reverie.
Okay, so that’s a fabulous first sentence. Also, we’re sure starting with a bang, or at least directly after a bang. Quite a situation! This is a great example of an opening that’s trying to hook the reader with the question And what happens next? How does she get out of this? Reading a little farther, I’m seeing that oh, yes, lots of technical details. Wow, my goodness, we end the chapter by ramping up from a rifle to a missile launcher. Actually, I really DO want to know how Vivian gets out of this.
But, tearing ourselves away from Hot Moon, let’s look at the opening of the other SF novel I picked up.
This one is by Jim Cambias. I’ve liked lots of things about his previous books, though not everything about any specific book. But I’m interested in anything he writes, and he too has a recent title that I hadn’t known about. It has a funny subtitle for Part 1, so I’ll start with that.
2) The Godel Operation by James Cambias
Part 1: The Imaginary Girlfriend Operation
Here’s how it all happened, or at least how I currently remember it. You might want to keep that in mind.
At the tag end of the Tenth Millenium, I lived in a habitat called Raba, in the Uranus Trailing Trojans. It was an old rock-and-ice asteroid, all honeycombed with tunnels, with a big rotating habitat cylinder stuck on for the meat people. I was living in a cheap little spider mech body at the time, and earned my honest living in the water mines, keeping the big stupid drill bots running despite their energetic efforts to wreck themselves. Nanotech refiners are all very well, but at some point you have to grind stuff up for them, and that means big stupid machines made of iron and graphene. Our three idiots were named Aban, Beka, and Ciadie.
My partner was a human named Zee, pretty clever for a lump of meat.
Wow, is that different from #1! It’s different in practically every way! This is the total opposite of opening with action or opening in media res. This one is also high tech, but massively less familiar, much farther future. Also, Hot Moon was third person and this is first.
I like this, though! I like it a lot. The voice here has energy, which is one way (not the only way) to compensate for opening without action. Lots of worldbuilding is going to be required in the opening chapters here. That’s going to be demanding. But the voice immediately offers a sense of personality.
Of course I’m biased because I’ve liked previous books by both these authors, but I do like both these novel openings. I believe I prefer Cambias’ book at the moment. Near-past and near-future SF is not my favorite, as a rule. But I’ll certainly read both of these … eventually. That’s why I picked up full books and not just samples.