Four of the hottest sci-fi books - What happens when ''Pearl Harbor'' meets ''Aliens'' meets ''A.I'' meets ''La Femme Nikita''? The answer is a new resurgence in sci-fi novels

By Noah Robischon
July 30, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

WEAPONS OF CHOICE John Birmingham A wormhole experiment goes awry, sending a coed, multi-ethnic U.S. naval fleet from 2021 back to 1942 to battle the Axis Powers — not to mention prejudiced American jarheads.

Logline ”Pearl Harbor” meets ”The Philadelphia Experiment”

Source of Angst ”…It was a hell of a thing to ask a man to accept, that he’d been ripped right out of time itself.”

Key Concepts Time travel, smart weaponry

Lowdown Birmingham’s enthralling battleground mixes provocative historical fiction and socially conscious futurism. A

IRON SUNRISE Charles Stross After a terrorist bombing decimates the planet Moscow, counteroffensive missiles are automatically sent to destroy nearby worlds — unless a crew of special ops and a Goth teen named Wednesday can stop them.

Logline ”When Worlds Collide” meets ”La Femme Nikita”

Source of Angst ”Let’s hope we can get to the bottom of this before the assassins murder 800 million people.”

Key Concepts Eugenics, personal digital jewelry

Lowdown Sunrise, while unnecessarily complex in spots, is a Hollywood thriller with a cyberpunk heart. B+

RADIANT James Alan Gardner A superintelligent alien moss, the Balrog, leads the elite but expendable Explorer Corps on a perilous trip to uncover their godlike origins.

Logline ”Aliens” meets ”Clash of the Titans”

Source of Angst ”The very thoughts I was thinking had to pass through Balrog spores: like a computer network where every transmission was compelled to run along channels controlled by the enemy.”

Key Concepts Parasitism, Buddhism

Lowdown The tenacious Explorers propel the Trek-like saga forward, though Gardner’s emotionless prose would make a poet out of Spock. B-

IRON COUNCIL China Mieville Insurrectionists foment rebellion in New Crobuzon, a Dickensian urban-blight land where criminals are turned into slaves and given horses’ bodies with steam-piston legs.

Logline ”A.I.” meets ”How the West Was Won”

Source of Angst New Crobuzon is losing the war with a mysterious foe armed with magical weapons.

Key Concepts Alchemy, class war

Lowdown Mieville’s phantasmagoric story is eclipsed by a glut of flawed heroes and an invented vernacular that impedes its own progress. C+