When Fiction Becomes Reality, Read Fiction!

by WLALA Immediate Past President Heather E. Stern

April 2020

Perhaps it’s just me and my “feed,” but self-care during a pandemic seems to be a hot topic out there.  Personally, that self-care has always involved those few minutes before my eyes shut, when I can break out my book light and devour the next few pages of a good fiction book.  My dreams are always better when I unwind with a good story that takes me far away from a stressful job.  These days, with so much of the news focused on animal-to-human hopping viruses that hijack our genome, send us into N95 mask frenzies, and empty out Times Square, I thought I might share my top recommendations for science fiction.

So, in no particular order, here are some science fiction books I’ve really enjoyed, that perhaps you can read electronically if you’re into that sort of thing, or hopefully you can still order through your applicable supply chain, since unfortunately, the libraries are all closed.  I would offer to let you borrow them from me, but I am holed up in a bunker for the foreseeable future.

1.         The Vorkosigan Saga series by Lois McMaster Bojold.  The first book I read in this series was Shards of Honor and I was hooked.  All told, the series spans 16 different books, and I sped through them in record time because they were just that diverting.  The series has to do with a family (the Vorkosigan family), starting with the father and the woman who falls in love with him, and then moving quickly to their son, whose exploits are at times laugh out loud hilarious.  Politics, war, and intrigue abound, and so does culture.  The backdrop for the stories is a galactic event that caused one planet to be cut off from the rest of the civilized galaxy for enough time that significant cultural differences exist.  Many of those cultural differences have to do with sexual mores and gender roles.  When the planet later becomes accessible again, the cultural differences form an excellent vehicle for the conflict and plot devices in the books. 

 2.        The Liaden Universe books by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller.  This series of maybe 20 or more books is rich with engaging characters, usually bearing some relationship to Clan Korval, a leading clan house in this fictional and fantasical universe.  There are many different possible starting points for these books because there are different plotlines/chronologies, following different characters within a larger chronology spanning thousands of years, and it’s not as linear as other series.  I started with Agent of Change and went from there to Carpe Diem, Plan B, I Dare, etc., and generally found that to be a good reading order.  One focus of the universe that the authors create in their books is on trading, and the lawyer in me enjoys the story lines that explore the give-and-take, this-for-that, negotiations and value-add of the various characters.  Another focus of their stories has to do with “saving the world from certain destruction” and the characters in the series always seem to be fighting the good fight against different enemies, with satisfactory resolutions to interesting plots. 

3.         The First Immortal by James Halperin.  Using the storyline of a family whose patriarch uses cryogenics to freeze himself and then is revived decades later, this book explores what happens if humanity can defeat death and become immortal.  Lawyers will love the book’s exploration of the legal aspects of this imagined new reality, including whether a doctor who participates in cryofreezing the patient before he actually dies is guilty of murder, what happens to the person’s estate as he waits frozen to be revived later, and what the criminal justice system looks like in terms of appropriate punishment if everyone can live forever.

4.         The Paul Sinclair novels by John G. Hemry aka Jack Campbell.  This four-book series starting with A Just Determination has to do with a junior officer in a space fleet who becomes the ship’s legal officer because he is the only one with even a small amount of legal training (from memory, it was a single semester class he took at his space academy schooling).  Unluckily for him, he becomes embroiled in the legal aspects of an international incident that leads to a court martial of his commanding officer.  The series explores JAG-like criminal justice issues in a space fleet in a universe that feels not too distant from our own.  Having never practiced criminal law, I found the plot lines engaging and interesting, but I freely admit it could just be because I know nothing about this kind of law whether now or in the next century.

5.         Old Man’s War by John Scalzi.  This book explores what happens if you give old people new bodies and send them to fight a space war.  I won’t spoil your own fun reading of what it means to these characters to be simultaneously young again and destined to die again.  Enough said.

6.         The Vatta’s War series by Elizabeth Moon.  This six book (so far) series begins with Trading in Danger and tells the story of a female protagonist with military training who captains a commercial spaceship but ends up in the middle of a war.  Among other things, she must deal with challenges to her leadership, since she is young, female and potentially the beneficiary of nepotism.  You will definitely find yourself rooting for this character to succeed.

7.         Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi.  This novel involves a new species, the “fuzzies,” and their rights, in a context where if they are sapient, it would mean big financial losses to the company exploiting the planet where they live.  The main character is an ex-lawyer, and the plot includes court proceedings, so this is another book that tickles the lawyer and sci-fi fan in me together at once.

8.         The RCN Series by David Drake.  This book series, starting with With the Lightnings, focuses on an unlikely friendship formed between space navy officer Daniel Leary, and a librarian, Adele Mundy, who becomes a spy and his communications officer.  Mundy’s love of knowledge and creative approaches to information gathering are a delightful aspect of these stories, which are largely military stories with military strategy type plots.  The stories follow Daniel Leary’s rise through the ranks of the military in a manner reminiscent of the Horatio Hornblower series (which is another good fiction series if you’ve never read it), but in a space navy instead of the Royal Navy.

I would also add the classics, like everything ever written by Isaac Asimov, but I take it for a given that if you’re into science fiction, you’re already familiar.  By my list, I’m hoping to give you something else to explore during this pandemic that perhaps you have not yet read.  If you like my list and want to send me additional recommendations based on my list, please reach out.  I am always looking for another good read even when the world is “normal”!

Heather E. Stern is a real estate lawyer and litigation attorney with Parker, Ibrahim & Berg LLP.  Heather is Past President of WLALA, 2018-2019, and has served on the Board since 2009.  She can be reached at heather.stern@piblaw.com.