The Spiral Wars

By Joel Shepherd

My father-in-law is a long-time sci-fi fan, so when he recommended Joel Shepherd’s Spiral Wars series, I listened.

I’m so glad I did! At this point, I’m part-way through book 3 out of 5, and I am loving it. Shepherd is an excellent writer, and this is exactly the kind of sci-fi that really does it for me: it’s technical, but not too technical, the emphasis is on action, but big ideas are involved, and perhaps most importantly, the characters are 3-D and compelling. The series definitely has the same kind of feel as that of The Expanse, which is high praise considering how much I’ve enjoyed those books as well.

The books follow the human warship Phoenix, which at the beginning of book 1 has just finished up its role in a century-long war against an alien species. The Phoenix crew return home to be feted, only to find themselves pulled into a political conflict, which quickly grows in scope and complexity, eventually threatening the human race itself. Like the Expanse, the books are a combination of “hard sci-fi,” along with a healthy mix of adventure and mystery.

Part of the appeal of the books is the portrayal of non-human races, as Shepherd is able to create some fascinating and real-seeming alien races for his characters to interact with. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how things unfold in the latter half of the series (there are 5 books total).  I’ll update this post once I finish them all, but for now, I’m comfortable in declaring The Spiral Wars… mandatory reading.

Rating: 4 – Mandatory Reading

If you liked this, you may enjoy: The Expanse, A Fire Upon The Deep.

Altered Carbon

By Richard K. Morgan

I came across the Altered Carbon TV show before realizing it was a book series, so while I typically prefer to read the source material first, in this case I went the other way around. The good news is that the TV show is highly entertaining, even if it departs from the book narrative in some significant ways.

The story follows “envoy” Takeshi Kovacs, which is sort of like a super-spy, with the important twist that much of one’s training involves quickly and seamlessly adapting to a new body. In the distant future, bodies are fungible, and much of the book’s narrative involves exploring the question of how human reality would be affected if our minds and bodies could be mixed and matched at will.

The series’ initial novel (titled Altered Carbon) is set up as a futuristic murder mystery. Kovacs, who had been serving an extended prison sentence for various forms of malfeasance, is woken up in a strange place and given an offer he can’t refuse. You know the drill. As you’d expect in this kind of noir, we follow Kovacs deeper down the rabbit hole, and there are quite a few satisfying twists along the way.

Overall, I really enjoyed the series’ first entry, and will happily be picking up the sequels at some point. The TV show does a good job of nailing some of the sultry, lurid nature of the story (Kovacs spends a lot of time tearing his way through whorehouses), so this is definitely a book for an slightly more mature crowd. The story can also get complex at times, so reader beware if you prefer your mysteries simple. With all that said, I thought it was an excellent read, and recommend it to anyone who likes the darker side of sci-fi.

Rating: 4 – Mandatory Reading

If you liked this, you may enjoy: Snow Crash, Leviathan Wakes