Best 19 Science Fiction Books of 2016
Written by a highly regarded expert on space travel and exploration, Allen Steele's Arkwright features the precision of hard science fiction with a compelling cast of characters. In the vein of classic authors such as Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke, Nathan Arkwright is a seminal author of the twentieth century. At the end of his life he becomes reclusive and cantankerous, refusing to appear before or interact with his legion of fans. Little did anyone know, Nathan was putting into motion his true, timeless legacy.
Convinced that humanity cannot survive on Earth, his Arkwright Foundation dedicates itself to creating a colony on an Earth-like planet several light years distant. Fueled by Nathan's legacy, generations of Arkwrights are drawn together, and pulled apart, by the enormity of the task and weight of their name.
This is classic, epic science fiction and engaging character-driven storytelling, which will appeal to devotees of the genre as well as fans of current major motion pictures such as Gravity and Interstellar.
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|Product dimensions:||6.20(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.20(d)|
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By Allen Steele
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2016 Allen Steele
All rights reserved.
The Legion of Tomorrow
When Kate Morressy's grandfather died on October 5, 2006, his passing made the front page of the next morning's Boston Globe. The headline — NATHAN ARKWRIGHT, SCIENCE FICTION PIONEER, DIES — appeared in the bottom-right corner below the fold, and it was the first thing Kate saw when she picked up the paper from the front stoop of her Cambridge apartment house.
Still wearing her robe, Kate stared at the newspaper in her hand for a long time before she carried it back into her apartment. Pausing to pour her first cup of coffee, she lay the paper down on the kitchen table and read the lead:
Nathan Arkwright, the science fiction author best known as creator of the Galaxy Patrol, died Thursday at his home in Lenox, Massachusetts.
Arkwright, 85, is considered to be one of the "Big Four" sci-fi writers of the twentieth century, along with Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke. His 23 novels and five collections of short stories have been translated into dozens of languages and have sold millions of copies worldwide, and many readers credit him with sparking their interest in science.
Arkwright's most famous creation was the Galaxy Patrol. Beginning in 1950 with the novel of the same title, it became a long-running series of space adventures that eventually consisted of 17 novels until its final installment, Through the Event Horizon, appeared in 1988. The Galaxy Patrol was the basis for a radio drama, a CBS television series, three major motion pictures, and a daily comic strip. Many astronauts claim that they were inspired by the Galaxy Patrol, and a complete set of the novels is aboard the International Space Station.
Born March 18, 1921, in Brooklyn, New York, Nathan Arkwright was ...
Kate stopped reading. She ran a hand through her sleep-tangled red hair, slowly let out her breath, and then picked up the phone. Her mother lived in Milton, just south of Boston, and she was already up when Kate called.
"Grandpapa's dead," Kate said when her mother picked up the phone.
"Yes, he is." Very matter-of-fact, as if she'd just been given the weather forecast.
"I found out about it from the paper. Why didn't you call me?"
"I tried, but you were out of town."
"I was in Vermont." Kate glanced at the phone. Its message center displayed a zero, just as it had late last night when she'd returned home. "You didn't leave a message. You could have called my cell."
"How was Vermont? It's lovely this time of year, when the leaves are changing."
"Mom ..." Kate shut her eyes and tried to count to ten but only made it to three. "Don't you think I would've cared that Grandpapa passed away?"
"Well, maybe you would, but ..."
Sylvia Arkwright Morressy didn't finish the thought, and she didn't need to. She had stopped speaking to her father before Kate was born, for reasons that she'd never made clear. Indeed, Kate had met her grandfather only a few times in her life. The last occasion had been when she was a student at Dartmouth. Her boyfriend at the time, upon discovering that she was the granddaughter of Nathan Arkwright, had badgered her into driving down from New Hampshire so he could meet the famous author. They were met at the front door by the housekeeper, who allowed them to come in only so far as the front hall, where they waited until Grandpapa emerged from his study. He obligingly signed the boyfriend's wrinkled paperback copy of The Galaxy Patrol and then ushered the two college students who'd dropped in uninvited back out to the driveway, where Kate's secondhand Volvo was parked. Her mother had been outraged that Kate would do this, and Kate herself was embarrassed. That was eight years earlier ... no, more like nine ... and she'd stayed away from Grandpapa ever since.
"Are you going to the funeral?" Kate asked.
A pause. "No."
"You can go if you'd like. Maybe there'll be someone you'll know."
Kate knew what her mother meant by this. Her grandmother had passed away before she was born; so as far as she knew, there were no other living members of his immediate family. "It would have been nice if you'd told me."
"I didn't find out until his agent called." Her tone hardened even further. "Her name's Margaret. Tell her I said hello."
Until she said that, Kate hadn't given much thought to attending her grandfather's funeral. Grandpapa was very nearly a stranger, a member of her family in name only. But her mother's indifference resolved the matter; she'd make the trip to Lenox because Nathan Arkwright's only child refused to do so.
"I will," she said.
"Very well, if you think must. Let me know if he left us anything. I kind of doubt it, but he might."
"I —" Kate bit off a response that wouldn't have done either of them any good. "Bye, Mom," she said instead, and she hung up.
Kate's trip to Vermont had been to do research for a magazine article she was writing about a nuclear power plant near Brattleboro that the local residents wanted to shut down. The only thing she had in common with her grandfather was that she, too, was a writer, although she'd chosen freelance science journalism instead of science fiction. She spent the rest of the day transcribing the interview tapes and incorporating them into her piece, but she took a break to make a call to The Berkshire Eagle and find out from the obits desk the place, date, and time the funeral service would be held. Kate's editor agreed to push back the deadline a few days to let her make the trip — indeed, he was impressed to learn that she was related to the Nathan Arkwright and even tried to talk Kate into writing a story about it. Kate told him she'd think about it, which was a polite way of saying no, and the next day she put on a black dress, got in her car, and drove west on the Massachusetts Turnpike into the Berkshires.
Although Nathan Arkwright had been an atheist, the funeral was held in a Congregational church. Kate would later learn that the pastor was big fan of Nathan's and had practically begged for the honor of hosting the memorial service. Thanks to GPS, Kate had little trouble locating the church; parking was another matter entirely. She wished that she'd left home earlier; both sides of the street were lined with cars for three blocks, with local police officers directing traffic.
The church was a big Gothic edifice built sometime in the 1800s, but by the time Kate got there, its oak pews were packed tightly, and people were standing against the walls. Nathan Arkwright may not have had much in the way of an immediate family, but he made up for it with fans, some of whom were apparently unaware of the proper way of dressing for a funeral; amid the dark suits and dresses, she spotted a few dress uniforms of the Galaxy Patrol, mainly worn by people who wouldn't have lasted a week in the Galactic Academy. Many had brought copies of the Patrol novels as if expecting the author to rise from his casket and give one last signing before he went off to the crematorium.
The casket itself rested in front of the nave, surrounded by so many wreaths and bouquets that every florist in town had probably been cleaned out. Its lid was closed, for which Kate was quietly grateful — she'd never been able to stand the sight of a dead body, even one tastefully arranged by a mortician — and instead a portrait photo of her grandfather was propped up on an easel. It was the same picture that had appeared on the dust jacket of every book Grandpapa published since 1972: Nathan Arkwright, a thick-set, red-haired man in his early fifties, smiling slightly as he regarded the prospective readers from behind wire-rimmed glasses with eyes both kindly and wise. Not the annoyed glare he'd given his granddaughter when she'd come to visit him.
The ushers were beginning to turn people away when Kate arrived, but when she quietly explained that she was a family member, she was escorted down the center aisle to the two front pews, which had been roped off with a red velvet cord. A few people were already seated in this section, older folks whom Kate recognized as distant cousins whom she barely knew; they nodded to her, not really recognizing her, either. She sat down by herself in the first pew and looked around. As she'd expected, Sylvia Morressy had made good her promise not to attend her father's funeral.
Once again, Kate wondered what her grandfather had done to earn his daughter's hatred. She'd never said what it was that had caused her to avoid her father or to keep Kate away from him as much as possible. Even Kate's father didn't know why; Kate's mother filed for divorce before she ever gave him a satisfactory explanation.
The pastor had just emerged through a side door and was preparing to step up to the pulpit when four people approached the front pew. The youngest was a middle-aged man Kate recognized as Grandpapa's housekeeper; she remembered that his name was Mr. Sterling, and he looked very nearly the same as he had when she'd met him years earlier. The other three were two men and a woman, Grandpapa's age or thereabouts; one of the men sat in a wheelchair pushed by Mr. Sterling.
The usher who'd escorted Kate to her seat hurried up to meet them. As she watched, he quietly explained that the section was being reserved for family members. The woman — thin, petite, and silver haired but nonetheless bearing an inarguable presence — looked him straight in the eye and said something that Kate couldn't hear but which caused the younger man to hastily apologize. He pulled aside the cord and helped Mr. Sterling assist the woman and the taller of the two men into the pew; the man in the wheelchair remained seated in the aisle.
Kate didn't have the foggiest notion who they were, but it seemed as if the woman immediately recognized her; when she turned to glance at Kate, there was a look of surprise on an otherwise stoical face. The tall man — gaunt and gray, with jug ears and a nose like a beak — barely noticed her, but the man in the wheelchair, who'd lost most of his hair but still sported a trim white mustache, studied Kate as if trying to place her.
The woman stared at Kate so intently that it made her uncomfortable. Kate nervously looked away, but she could feel the old lady's eyes upon her. Kate was about to introduce herself when the pastor mounted the steps to the pulpit. An expectant hush fell upon the church, and Kate decided that any conversation would have to wait until later.
The opening prayer was ecumenical, and the hymnals remained untouched in their pew pockets, with the congregation instead invited to stand and sing the Galaxy Patrol theme song from the original TV series, the lyrics of which were conveniently printed in the program everyone had been handed upon walking in. Kate felt silly singing a song once popular on grade-school playgrounds, but apparently it was a bittersweet moment for many of the people seated behind her; she heard quiet sobs and choked voices when they reached the line "We boldly set forth for the stars," and she glanced back to see people dabbing tears from their eyes. Whose idea was this? Still, she had to admit, it was more suitable than "Amazing Grace" or "Shall We Gather at the River." Grandpapa was famously nonreligious.
The pastor's sermon was much like The Boston Globe obit, both respectful and impersonal. While it was clear that the pastor had met Nathan Arkwright and admired him, he didn't know him well enough to say anything reflecting anything more than a passing acquaintance. Instead, the pastor spoke of his novels and stories and how they'd entertained and inspired generations of readers. He said that Nathan had preferred solitude, particularly after his wife, Judith's, death, but he added that his correspondents had included scientists, authors, astronauts, and celebrities who'd been inspired by his books. He read bits from messages he'd received from famous people: a former NASA chief administrator, an Apollo moonwalker, the actor who'd portrayed Hak Tallus in the Galaxy Patrol movies. He ended the service by reading a passage from Grandpapa's last novel, Through the Event Horizon — a book that had made the New York Times Best Seller List and stayed there for nearly three months — which once again provoked sighs and tears from the congregation.
Before the service ended, the pastor announced that a private reception — "for family members and close friends only, please" — would be held at the deceased's residence. Only those who'd received invitations would be allowed to attend; another reception for members of the public would be held that afternoon at the local library.
Kate hadn't received an invitation, so it appeared that she'd be having fruit punch and cookies with Hak Tallus look-alikes if she decided not to drive home at once. The prospect wasn't particularly appealing. She'd just risen from her seat, though, when Mr. Sterling handed her an engraved invitation. Directions were printed on the back, just in case she'd forgotten how to get there.
Kate was still indecisive about going to the private reception; it was a three-hour drive from Lenox to Cambridge, probably longer now that it was leaf-peeping season and the Mass Pike was jammed with tour buses. But as she followed Mr. Sterling and the three old people up the aisle, the woman stopped and turned to her.
"You're Kate, yes?" She offered a hand. "I'm Margaret Krough, your grandfather's literary agent."
"Oh, yes." Kate recognized her name from the acknowledgments pages of Grandpapa's books. "Pleased to meet you, Ms. Krough."
"Maggie." A faint, almost enigmatic smile. "This is Harry" — she gestured to the man in the wheelchair — "and George." The tall man nodded, favoring her with an elfin grin. "Will you be at the reception?"
"Please come. I'd like to have a little chat with you." Maggie turned back to Harry and George, who waited for her with the polite impatience of the elderly. "All right, gentlemen," she said, "let's be off."
Mr. Sterling continued pushing the wheelchair, but not before Harry raised a gnarled fist. "Forward the Legion!" he exclaimed.
The others laughed out loud. Kate had no idea what was so funny.
Nathan Arkwright's home was located just outside Lenox on a twenty-acre spread at the foot of the mountains. It was a sprawling, single-story manor built in a '70s-modernistic style that was sort of a cross between traditional New England saltbox and midwestern ranch house, with cedar siding and a steep, slate-shingle roof. Once past a front gate marked with a No Trespassing — Private Property sign, Kate followed the gravel driveway as it wound through maple-shaded meadows glowing with autumn wildflowers until she reached a circular turnaround surrounding an abstract iron sculpture.
Several cars were already parked off to the side of the driveway, and she'd barely pulled into the turnaround when a valet in a black windbreaker walked out to open the door for her and ask for the keys. She watched her eight-year-old Subaru with missing hubcaps go away to be parked next to a Lexus and a BMW and knew at once that she was the poor relation both literally and figuratively.
Mr. Sterling had already returned from the services. He met her in the front hall just as he had many years ago, yet this time he was friendlier, addressing her as Kate instead of Ms. Morressy as he hung up her overcoat in the foyer. He led her to the living room and had a tuxedoed caterer offer her a champagne flute and then excused himself.
The living room was large and broad, with a high ceiling and tall cathedral windows looking out upon the Berkshires. Modernist butcher-block furniture surrounded a circular central fireplace; upon oak-paneled walls were framed cover paintings from Grandpapa's books — the better ones by Emshwiller, Freas, and Whelan. The obligatory vanity bookcase contained multiple editions of his novels and collections in several languages, crowned by an acrylic cube: the Grand Master Nebula he'd received from the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America a few years after he'd unofficially retired from the field.
The house looked like a million bucks. Kate had little doubt that it had probably cost that much too. The Galaxy Patrol had made its creator a wealthy man.
Drink in hand, Kate strolled through the room, surrounded by people and yet alone. Aside from the distant cousins she'd briefly met at the funeral, she knew no one. It was likely that many of those here were editors and publishing executives who'd come up from New York, while others might be fellow authors; she wasn't part of that world, though, so none of their faces were familiar. Kate was Nathan Arkwright's granddaughter, but the truth of the matter was that — aside from all his books and stories — she'd barely known him at all.
Drink your champagne and go home, she said to herself. You've fulfilled your family obligation. No one will even notice that you've left.
Excerpted from Arkwright by Allen Steele. Copyright © 2016 Allen Steele. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Book One: The Legion of Tomorrow,
Interlude: Affair with a Dreamer,
Book Two: The Prodigal Son,
Interlude: Ghost of a Writer,
Book Three: The Long Wait,
Book Four: The Children of Gal,
About the Author,