I’ve been a steady reader of science fiction for decades, since the days when the “Age of Wonder” could be defined as Twelve, and most of the writers and readers were male. That has changed, happily, and these days science fiction is no longer a male bastion. It has, in fact, expanded to include science fiction romance and/or romantic science fiction, and these two books could tip into either of those categories.
Jeannie Lin’s Gunpowder Alchemy, the story of Jin Soling, once the daughter of privilege, now struggling to care for her eight-year-old brother and opium-addicted mother, takes place in an alternate China in 1850. The coastal ports of the Empire are full of Westerners with their steam-driven ships airships and weapons, while Chinese technology is powered by gunpowder.
Soling’s two-day journey to the provincial capital, where she hopes to sell the last treasure left by her engineer father, goes horribly awry, sending her on weeks-long journeys to the port cities and the open sea, and to meetings with Westerners and one-time colleagues of her disgraced father, including Chen Chang-wei, the man to whom she was promised at the age of ten. The betrothal was dissolved long ago, but Soling and Chang-wei become friends, and perhaps more, as he helps her find her way back to her family in the face of pirates and rebels. The background of Western invasion, the opium trade, and rebellion within the Empire is very much a part of Soling’s story, as is her independence as an apprentice physician.
Gunpowder Alchemy is a departure from Jeannie Lin’s historical romance novels set in 9th century Tang China, and an enjoyable twist on the steampunk genre. A brief excerpt of Soling’s next adventure, Clockwork Samurai, is included. I’ll definitely be watching for it.
Echo 8, by Sharon Lynn Fisher, is set in a near-future version of Seattle, not quite ours but very close. Tess Caufield is a parapsychologist with Seattle Psi, Ross McGinnis is an FBI agent assigned as her bodyguard, and Jake Parker is a captive Echo, a person displaced from an alternate Earth nearly destroyed by a asteroid. The FBI is involved because the Echoes, not all of them captive, are dangerous, energy vampires needing to feed on native humans to survive.
As Tess and Ross delve deeper into the mysterious appearances—and disappearances—of the Echoes and their victims, the dangers mount on both personal and wider levels, while some of the Echoes hit shockingly close to home. Fisher draws a vivid picture of Tess’ Seattle and the parallel ruined Earth, and had me rooting for her characters.
I can also recommend Fisher’s previous books, Ghost Planet and The Ophelia Prophecy; all three are completely different stand alone science fiction romance novels.