My reaction to the common lamentation ! But I don't LIKE hard science fiction ! is to hand the person a book by Kathleen Ann Goonan. Then I nudge them until they actually read it. Then I nod sagely when they come back incredulous and happy.
A lot of times when people say they don't like hard-sf, what they're really saying is they don't like soulless technical manuals filled with cypher characters being puppeteered through pages and pages of Concept. I don't like that type of hard-sf myself, which is why I don't finish 80 percent of the hard-sf books I start. I firmly believe that the main reason hard-sf does not burn up the charts is not because it's too hard to read, or because people are too stupid/lazy to take on something meaty, or any of the other reasons folks tend to give as excuse. It's because most of that stuff is ice cold, with technicals in place of humanity and heart.
Goonan does diamond hard sf with vibrant, living people at the core of her stories, never forgetting that the tech and the concepts mean nothing when you fail to twine it with life. On a craft level her work is graceful, often lyrical, and her plots are tight. Bonus! Her books have always demonstrated a full awareness that there's more than just white people in the universe.
Goonan's new book, In War Times, comes out on May 15. Last year I read a couple of drafts and let me tell you it is BEAUTIFUL. Oh, wait. Why listen to me? Listen to the experts!
Booklist, starred review! "[Goonan] can take all the credit for a narrative that has hardly a single flaw of pacing, setting or characterization, and will be intelligible, not to say fascinating, to readers far beyond the ranks of World War II buffs. An authentic classic."
Kirkus, starred review! "A complex, low-key, thoughtful and often dazzling journey through worlds that might, and perhaps should, have been."
PW, starred review! "This engaging alternate-universe tale posits a quintessential enigma of civilization: can technology be prevented from doing as much evil as good- Goonan (Light Music) traces the career of amateur saxophonist Sam Dance, a young soldier who receives plans for a strange electronic device from his physics instructor, Magyar Gypsy Dr. Eliani Hadntz, after she seduces him on the eve of the attack on Pearl Harbor. She intends her "time machine"-melding physics and biology-to harness the human mind and rescue Europe from Nazi evil. As Sam experiences successive horrors of WWII, the love of jazz he and his friend Wink share enables them to build increasingly perfected models of Hadntz's device. Sam eventually plants the machines across the globe, hoping the technology will somehow cause various time-shifting realities and save humanity from its herdlike propensity for violence. Paralleling the evolution of modern jazz with the creative ferment of science, Goonan delivers a bravura performance."
There's a reason Goonan gets powerful blurbage from some seriously excellent writers. The woman is THAT good. I wish more people were familiar with her work.
You can read the first chapter here against a glorious backdrop of Death Row Green. You can read a little bit about the genesis of the project here. Excerpt from the second link: Walter Cronkite narrated the war on television in a series called The Twentieth Century. Tiny puffs of smoke emerged from rolling valleys; troops marched; the Prudential Company's impressive logo, the Rock of Gibraltar, announced its sponsorship, and my father watched, always leaning against a doorway, never sitting down, gleaning information about what he had been through. Winston Churchill's great tomes proclaimed themselves boldly on the Danish Modern bookshelf he'd built in his basement workshop: The Gathering Storm; Their Finest Hour, The Hinge of Fate. By day, my buddies and I crawled beneath the peony bushes and hid behind the sandboxes in our back yards, carrying machine guns and avoiding Germans. At night, when a tiny bedside light illuminated the fine old well-polished bedstead with carefully turned down sheets at the house of the Knotts, my maternal grandparents, the War was in the shadows, sharp and deep, and in the strange artifacts my uncle Johnny brought back after fighting in North Africa.
For the record, this is the woman often referred to around here as The Official Founding Mentor of BGF Central. We'll talk more about this book, and its writer, in the weeks to come.
I like Goonan's work even though Verity was SUCH a complete slut for sleeping with that saxaphone player when poor Blaze was saving himself for her!! I have forgiven Goonan for this. Sort of.
Update! (3.1): Goonan would like to "categorically object to the characterization of the color green on the site. And also, you are STILL wrong about Verity." All I have say is, unlike Goonan, I have SEEN death row and if that is not Death Row Green all over her site, I don't know what is. And I cannot BELIEVE she still thinks I'm wrong about Verity!!