John Scalzi is one of the more popular contemporary science fiction writers, and it’s easy to see why. The Consuming Fire (Tor, 368 pages, $14), the sequel to the Hugo Award-nominated The Collapsing Empire, is lively, funny, profane, thrilling and wildly imaginative.
In the far-flung future, the human empire faces imminent danger: the network of wormholes that connect the empire’s widely separated worlds is collapsing. Emperox Grayland II is desperately trying to keep her shrinking empire from total disintegration, but there are people who are determined to rid themselves of her, no matter what the cost.
Can she save the empire before her enemies bring their rebellious plot to a violent end? Colourful characters, plenty of action, lots of suspense: this is what space opera is supposed to look like.
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In The Escape Artists: A Band of Daredevil Pilots and the Greatest Prison Break of the Great War (Mariner, 352 pages, $23), Neal Bascomb tells the rather surprisingly forgotten story of a daring escape from a First World War prisoner of war camp. Holzminden, nicknamed "Hellminden" by the Allied prisoners who lived there, was run by a cruel and demanding Kommandant, and was supposed to be impossible to escape from. But somehow, right under their German captors’ noses, a group of prisoners orchestrated a remarkable plan.
Based on extensive research, including first-hand accounts by some of the escapees, the book bears comparison with what is generally considered to be the best prison-escape account, Paul Brickhill’s classic The Great Escape. Bascomb’s writing is straightforward and precise; he gets the small details right while painting a dramatic larger picture of life under German rule.
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In the near future, Fred Fredericks, an American communications-systems expert, is making his first trip to the Chinese colony on the moon. Almost too quickly for Fred to process it all, he’s accused of murder, kidnapped by the daughter of a senior Chinese politician and a noted travel writer, and whisked back to Earth. What the heck is going on?
Here’s what’s going on. Red Moon (Orbit, 496 pages, $23), by award-winning science fiction novelist Kim Stanley Robinson, is an exciting adventure set against one of the more venerable science fiction backdrops, political rebellion. It’s a story that could easily have got bogged down in weighty dialogue and yawn-inducing lectures about history and politics, but, like Robert A. Heinlein in the similarly themed The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robinson focuses mainly on characters, not on rhetoric, and keeps the story moving at a brisk clip. Another winner from one of the genre’s most respected practitioners.
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John Lescroart isn’t as well known as some of the other lawyer-turned-novelists (think John Grisham or Scott Turow), but he’s every bit as talented. The Rule of Law (Atria, 336 pages, $23) features San Francisco attorney Dismas Hardy, whose surprise at the sudden disappearance of his faithful secretary, Phyllis, is soon replaced by anger at what appears to be a false accusation of accessory to murder leveled at the (surely she must be?) innocent woman.
What sets the book apart from similar stories of wrongly accused friends and relatives is this: it’s entirely possible that the accused isn’t innocent. Lescroart makes it clear that Phyllis might be guilty, and the meat of the book is Hardy coming to terms with the idea that someone so close to him might not be the person he thought she was. A gripping and dramatic legal thriller.
Halifax freelancer David Pitt’s column appears the first weekend of every month. You can follow him on Twitter at @bookfella.