Category Archives: colony world

My Outstanding Books of 2017

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Last year was yet another bumper year for reading, particularly in the science fiction and fantasy genres. As usual, I’ll list the ones that stood out for me – and we’re not talking a top ten. I completed 174 books last year, but won’t go into too much detail in this article about my overall 2017 reading experience, as today it’s all about those that gave me the tingle factor. Most will have received a perfect ten on my scoring system, however there will be a couple that didn’t. The reason they are here is because that after I’d finished reading and writing about them, they didn’t go away, but continued to linger in my thoughts. So here they are, in no particular order:-

 

Emperor of the Fireflies – Book 2 of the Tide Dragons series by Sarah Ash

This godpunk duology set within the Japanese pantheon centres around a beautiful, dark-edged myth. Ash’s lyrical prose and deft handling of this tale has stayed with me throughout the year, despite having read it last January. See my review here.

 

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

I absolutely fell in love with this haunting retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. While I enjoyed and admired Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed – another strong contender – this one stole my heart. The ending gave me goosebumps, while making me weep. That doesn’t happen very often. See my review here.

 

After Atlas – Book 2 of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman

While I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, Planetfall, this one blew me away. The characterisation, the horrible situation the protagonist finds himself in – it all got under my skin to the extent that I woke my husband up as I yelled in shock at a particular point in the book. I can’t wait to see where Newman goes next with this amazing series. See my review here.

 

Wolf Moon – Book 2 of the Luna duology by Ian McDonald

This depiction of an existence on the Moon where rampant capitalism holds sway hasn’t left me alone since I read this one. McDonald has called it ‘A game of domes’ and he certainly has nailed the deadly powerplays the main families indulge in with his reference to George R.R. Martin’s epic. I keep thinking about that ending… See my review here.

 

Winter Tide – Book 1 of the Innesmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys

This book was a delightful surprise – I had no idea the writing would pull me into this version of Lovecraft’s monstrous world, with a strong, sympathetic protagonist who is one of the few survivors of the attack on Innesmouth years ago. I loved it and am very much looking forward to reading more in this fantastic series. See my review here.

 

The Forever Court – Book 2 of The Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy by Dave Rudden

I enjoyed the first book in this series, Knights of the Borrowed Dark, finding Rudden’s punchy prose style both enjoyable and memorable. But this sequel builds on the first with an engrossing adventure and some amazing characters. It’s far too good to leave just for the children. See my review here.

 

Scavenger Alliance – Book 1 of the Exodus series by Janet Edwards

I have thoroughly enjoyed all Edwards’ books – but this managed to nock up the stakes to a point I could not put it down until I’d finished reading it. I have rules about never reading or watching TV until after 5.30 pm – otherwise I’d never get anything done. I broke that rule for this book. See my review here.

 

Cold Welcome – Book 1 of Vatta’s Peace by Elizabeth Moon

This is a new spinoff series by a much-loved author which I was delighted to read – even better, it was a storming adventure that proved to be an engrossing page-turner. I remembered all over again why I love reading this author. See my review here.

 

Dichronauts by Greg Egan

No one writes different aliens as well as Greg Egan – and I loved this adventure. I’m very much hoping it turns into a series as I would love to spend more time following the fortunes of these amazing creatures. See my review here.

 

The Lost Steersman – Book 3 of The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein

This is a series I read longer ago than I care to recall – and when I saw it had appeared in Kindle, I snapped it up and reread it, something I hardly ever do. My instincts were spot on – I have thoroughly enjoyed revisiting this engrossing world and following Rowena’s adventures in this smart, cleverly written fantasy/science fiction mashup. This is the particular story that has stayed with me, though the other books in the series are just as good. See my review here.

 

Heir to the North – Book 1 of Malessar’s Curse by Steven Poore

This epic fantasy got under my skin and into my heart in a way that doesn’t often happen with this genre. I loved the clever, clever twist at the end and one of the treats in 2018 is to tuck into the sequel, The High King’s Vengeance. See my review here.

 

Sea of Rust by Robert C. Cargill

This was another amazing book that came out of the blue – I’d not read anything by this author before and was delighted by this post-apocalyptic world peopled by robots who are starting to wear out and fail. With no factories or warehouses full of spare parts anymore, the only option is to harvest those parts from other robots. See my review here.

 

The Last Dog on Earth by Adrian J. Walker

I’ve read a number of apocalyptic tales during the year, however in this version Walker triumphantly succeeds in giving us a dog’s version of a complete collapse in law and order. And the chilling results of what happens when that order is reimposed by the wrong people. See my review here.

 

Empire of Dust – Book 1 of the Psi-Tech novels by Jacey Beford

This epic science fiction adventure stood out because of the flawed protagonist and the gritty depiction of establishing a colony. I really enjoyed the world and the fact that love clearly doesn’t cure all. I’m looking forward to reading more from this talented author. See my review here.

 

The Wizards of Once – Book 1 of The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell

After her marvellous series How To Train Your Dragon, I was interested to see how she would follow it up. The writing is more lyrical, the underlying poignancy is more pronounced. My elderly Kindle didn’t like the illustrations throughout this book and part of my Christmas money is going on buying a print version of this book. Not for the grandchildren – for me. See my review here.

 

Whirligig: Keeping the Promise – Book 1 of Shire’s Union by Richard Buxton

I have to declare an interest – Richard is a former student and I had read some extracts from a very early draft. However that did not prepare me for the excellence of the writing, where this historical adventure finds two young English people from the same small village ending up in America during the Civil War. They are both caught in quite different ways and this story just kept on delivering in terms of plot twists and tension. See my review here.

 

Gnomon by Nick Harkaway

This doorstopper is extraordinary. Don’t ask me what the storyline is – other than recalling there are five main protagonists with very different and vivid voices, it’s too complicated to recall. What I do remember is that very early on I took the decision to slow right down and savour this book as reads like this don’t come along all that often. It took me 10 days to get through this one and I recall feeling sad when it came to the end. See my review here.

To pare the list down to this required setting aside other books that still hurt to leave out – the likes of Mother of Eden by Chris Beckett, Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory, The Real-Town Murders by Adam Roberts, The Invisible Library books by Genevieve Cogman and The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews all missed making this list by a whisker. If you force to me to choose just one of these books, I’ll probably never forgive you, but it would have to be After Atlas.

What were your outstanding reads of the year?

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Review of Mother of Eden – Book 2 of the Dark Eden series by Chris Beckett

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I read Dark Eden a while ago – and the gritty, colony adventure deeply impressed me and has lingered in my memory when many other books have been forgotten. So when I encountered this one on the library shelves, I scooped it up.

Civilization has come to the alien, sunless planet its inhabitants call Eden. Just a few generations ago, the planet’s five hundred inhabitants huddled together in the light and warmth of the Forest’s lantern trees, afraid to venture out into the cold darkness around them.

Now, humanity has spread across Eden, and two kingdoms have emerged. Both are sustained by violence and dominated by men – and both claim to be the favored children of Gela, the woman who came to Eden long ago on a boat that could cross the stars, and became the mother of them all. When young Starlight Brooking meets a handsome and powerful man from across Worldpool, she has no idea what is in store for her…

If you have picked up this one without first reading Dark Eden – don’t. While Mother of Eden can be read as a standalone, there are numerous references to the fabled hero, John, and his followers. In order to appreciate the context and historical distortion around details of his life, I strongly recommend you track down the first book so you understand exactly how John’s life and adventures are being used.

I love the approach Beckett takes to the classic colonist adventure in Dark Eden where the small crew of a crashed ship settle in a nearby valley, eking out a rudimentary existence while waiting for rescue. As they have a lot of time on their hands, sex becomes a main pastime, which in turn leads to a lot of babies.

In this next slice of Eden’s story, humanity has now scattered and we are in the viewpoint of a beautiful young girl living on an isolated island with her sister and some seventy other people. Life is peaceful, if a little slow and limited – until she manages to persuade a small party to make an epic trip across the dark seas to a larger settlement, where she meets someone who will change her life forever. This is a book all about power – who has it, how they go about grasping it and what it takes to hang onto it. It is about the pull of stories and the past. Who gets to tell our history? How is that history fashioned to impact upon our present and future? Beckett gives us answers in this engrossing adventure story that nevertheless, also has some strong messages for us all – history is always fashioned by the victors to justify what happened to make them victorious.

Starlight encounters a culture very different from the peaceful egalitarian existence she has been brought up with on the island. She experiences wealth and luxury beyond her wildest expectations – but discovers the price is very high. The pages kept on turning as I followed her adventure, holding my breath as Beckett is capable of killing off some of his major characters.

Some of the events that unfolded, I could see coming – but there were also plenty of twists that surprised me right up to the end. And when this one finished, I found the characters had burrowed into my brain – the story keeps popping into my head when I’m supposed to be thinking about something else. I think it will continue to do so for quite a while – in just the same way as Dark Eden. The next book in the series, Daughter of Eden, is also available. I’ve promised myself to get hold of it early in the New Year – I want to know what happens next…
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Netgalley arc Artemis by Andy Weir

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I loved The Martian and was delighted when I realised that Andy Weir had another book in the works and thrilled when I managed to obtain a Netgalley arc for it. Question is – does Artemis live up to Weir’s stunning debut?

Jazz Bashara is a criminal. Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent. Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

The short answer is yes. Oh yes – Artemis has yet another memorably enjoyable protagonist every bit as ingenious and determined as Mark Watney – Jazz is a street-wise moon-girl who plays the odds. She ekes out a precarious living by a series of shady deals under the cover of her lowly job as porter as she needs more money. Lots more money. And it is that need that drives her to make a deal against her better judgement… a deal that trips over into something a whole lot more serious. I’m aware some readers have had a problem with her lack of judgement and maturity, but I feel her poor impulse control is entirely realistic and when we learn the whole story of what went wrong between her and her father, there is also a valid explanation.

Like The Martian, we are charmed into really caring what happens to this lively, irreverent protagonist as she takes us into her confidence and tells us how the domes work, how the society is structured and about her tempestuous relationship with her father. So when it all goes really wrong, we are with her every step of the way, hoping she will prevail. As Weir steadily ups the stakes and increases the pressure – I found this one almost impossible to put down.

Despite the strong character-led nature of the story, there are still plenty of details about life on the Moon for hard science fiction fans. We learn about how the domes were constructed, who initially settled this first moon settlement and what currently powers the economy – all without compromising the pace or the narrative tension. It’s a neat trick to pull off and far harder to achieve than Weir makes it look. If all these geeky details tend to slide past you, my firm advice would be not to skim too much – because some of this stuff has a major impact on the story progression.

So after setting up a precarious situation where our plucky heroine finds herself on the sharp end of the trickiest conundrum – does Weir satisfactorily wrap up the story? Absolutely. We get a gripping conclusion to this plotline, while there are also some dangling tendrils that would give Weir the opportunity to revisit Artemis with the surviving characters. I would love to see him do so. Highly recommended.
10/10

Review of Whirligig: Keeping the Promise – Book 1 of Shire’s Union by Richard Buxton

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I do have to declare an interest – Richard was one of my Creative Writing students before he went on to take an MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University and I did see one or two early extracts of this book. However I was not involved in editing it and have not read any other versions.

Shire leaves his home and his life in Victorian England for the sake of a childhood promise, a promise that pulls him into the bleeding heart of the American Civil War. Lost in the bloody battlefields of the West, he discovers a second home for his loyalty. Clara believes she has escaped from a predictable future of obligation and privilege, but her new life in the Appalachian Hills of Tennessee is decaying around her. In the mansion of Comrie, long hidden secrets are being slowly exhumed by a war that creeps ever closer.

This is a story about two young people who didn’t fit the roles offered by their small village community in the heart of England. Clara leaves first, beguiled by the dashing young American who spends a summer visiting, ready to cross the ocean and start a new life as his bride. However, in the wake of a tragedy, Shire discovers a terrible secret that will embroil Clare in a scandal. So he sets off to cross the States and find her before it is too late – the complicating factor is that America is busy tearing itself apart fighting the Civil War and Shire gets involved in the fighting, while trying to work his way to Clara.

It’s a cracking premise – a young schoolmaster and part-time stable hand sets off, determined to save the reputation of the lively, high-spirited girl, who despite her noble birth and material advantages, has indifferent, somewhat neglectful parents. And it also takes a fair amount of writing chops to pull it off, too.

I loved it. Richard manages to depict the society of the time very effectively without holding up the pace with long explanations or too much description – it’s always a tricky line to negotiate which is why historic adventures are so demanding to write. However, for me, the highlight of the book are Shire’s experiences during the Civil War as he finds himself fighting for the Union. Going from being the scapegoat who can’t march, cannot shoot and is the butt of every prank going, he steadily gains in experience and aptitude, which is just as well. Civil wars are always savage affairs and this one was no exception. The amount of painstaking research is evident in the wealth of small details that add to the narrative and Richards’s own account in the Afterword. But at no time did I find myself skimming over the descriptions or action.

There is plenty of pace, strong characterisation and lots of action. The climax works wonderfully well and though I saw some of the elements coming – there were also plenty of twists to keep me turning the pages long after I should have been asleep. If you enjoy your historical adventures laced with the terror and excitement of battle, then this one comes very highly recommended.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook World of Fire – Book 1 of the Dev Harmer Mission series by James Lovegrove

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I had already read the enjoyable World of Water which happens to be the second in the series – and spotted that I actually had the first book in my TBR pile…

Dev Harmer wakes in a new body with every mission, and he has woken this time on Alighieri, a planet perpetually in flames, where the world’s wealth lies below the elemental surface, and humanity is not the only race after it. Dev Harmer, reluctant agent of Interstellar Security Solutions, wakes up in a newly cloned host body on the planet Alighieri, ready for action. It’s an infernal world, so close to its sun that it surface is regularly baked to 1,000°C, hot enough to turn rock to lava. But deep underground there are networks of tunnels connecting colonies of miners who dig for the precious helium-3 regolith deposits in Alighieri’s crust. Polis+, the AI race who are humankind’s great galactic rivals, want to claim the fiery planet’s mineral wealth for their own. All that stands between them and this goal is Dev. But as well as Polis+’s agents, there are giant moleworms to contend with, and a spate of mysterious earthquakes, and the perils of the surface where a man can be burned to cinders if he gets caught unprotected on the day side…

Dev is such an enjoyable character. As ever, this book starts with a bang when poor old Dev, barely able to stand as he is still getting to grips with his new body, which is very nicely described, suddenly finds himself in the middle of an earthquake. And from that moment, Dev is playing catchup on a hostile planet with some heavily vested interests in a body that isn’t his own.

This is just what I needed to keep the misery of flu in the background as I was swept up into this action thriller. Lovegrove’s sense of pacing is always good and as Dev finds himself struggling against an alien race determined to see humanity founder and fail, the pages flipped past where other books I had thought I wanted to read got abandoned. It didn’t hurt that there were also some nice touches of humour in amongst the action and danger. But I simply relaxed and became swept up in Dev’s problems. For me, the highlight was the action in the tunnel when confronting those moleworms.

Lovegrove satisfactorily brings this tale of danger to a suitably exciting close – but I did enjoy the poignancy of poor Dev, doomed to continue on these ridiculously dangerous missions in a series of disposable bodies, until he has earned the right to have his own body back. Checking this out on Goodreads, I note there are only the two books so far – I do hope there are more to come and recommend these for anyone who enjoys a well-written far future action thriller.
8/10

Review of Empire of Dust – Book 1 of the Psi-Tech novels by Jacey Bedford

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I have heard Jacey Bedford speak on a number of panels at various Fantasycons over the years and a couple of years ago, she did an inspirational workshop about submissions that helped me overcome my block about sending work out. So when I had a few pennies for my birthday, I ordered this science fiction offering. I’m so glad I did.

Mega corporations, more powerful than any one planetary government, use their agents to race each other for resources across the galaxy. The agents, or psi-techs, are implanted with telepath technology. The psi-techs are bound to the mega-corps — that is, if they want to retain their sanity. Cara Carlinni is an impossible thing – a runaway psi-tech. She knows Alphacorp can find its implant-augmented telepaths, anywhere, anytime, mind-to-mind. So even though it’s driving her half-crazy, she’s powered down and has been surviving on tranqs and willpower. So far, so good. It’s been almost a year, and her mind is still her own. So far…

I really loved Cara – she is desperate and frightened when we first meet her. Clearly used to dealing with the sleazier side of life, she doesn’t hesitate to sleep with Ben, the pilot who offers to take her off-planet, thinking it’s part of the deal. But over the length of the book, which includes chases, murders and helping establish a colony on a new world, Cara begins to find herself again. Bedford effectively depicts a woman struggling to put an abusive past behind her and build a new life for herself – and I really enjoyed the fact that it certainly isn’t all plain sailing just because she finds someone who cares for her.

I’m aware I may have given the impression this book is all about the romance, and while it is an element, it certainly isn’t the driving force or main theme of the book, which is far more mainstream epic space opera – that of corruption and the ruthlessness of big corporations. Once again, we have a future where it is huge capitalist corporations driving colonisation of planets. Inevitably, it comes down to profit – and you won’t be surprised to learn that when eye-watering sums of money are involved, the people running those corporations regard those in the way as expendable. It doesn’t help that they are a poorly regarded, eccentric cult with relatively few resources…

I loved the growing friction between the team of experts all with brain implants to boost their telepathic, empathetic and healing talents and the colonists who wish to establish an agrarian idyll where technology is replaced by horse and bullock power and industry is severely restricted. Bedford is very good at keeping the pace going with a series of adventures that keep the narrative ticking along at a fair clip, all the while steadily ramping up the stakes. While I love this genre, all too often I find the characterisation suffers in the middle of establishing all the world-spanning action – but it is the characters and what happens to them that is firmly at the heart of this one, which leads to an action-packed finale.

All in all, this is a cracking read and I shall be looking out for the next one in the series, just as soon as I manage to find some space on my bulging book shelves. Highly recommended for fans of entertaining epic space opera.
9/10

ANNDDD…

As part of the blog tour for Running Out of Space, Pippa Jay has interviewed me about stuff about me, writing the book and life in general…