Category Archives: dystopian science fiction

Sunday Post – 26th March 2017

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

It’s been another momentous week for us. Himself has been going through a rough patch, recently with lapses of concentration at work. He often comes back from a shift very tired, though the good thing is that he never has any problem going to sleep, when his snoring is spectacular – the grandchildren call it, ‘Papa’s rumbles…’

I have often wondered just how refreshing his quality of sleep can be, especially as the snoring often suddenly stops, only to start up again with a gasp as he thrashes around, without waking. Good old Google told us it’s a condition called sleep apnea and can be very serious, leading to the increased risk of stroke or heart attack and the onset of type 2 diabetes. So a fortnight ago he made an appointment for the Dr and we went along together, which seemed a good idea as he has no idea what happens during these episodes, because he’s asleep. I cannot fault the NHS for the speed of their response and level of care – it’s been brilliant. Our Dr referred us to the Sleep Clinic at our local hospital and we were seen within a week when Himself came away with a monitor to measure his breathing, pulse rate and oxygen levels last week-end. On Thursday, he had a follow-up appointment back at the Sleep Clinic where he got the results. Five to ten episodes of interrupted breathing an hour is regarded as mild; between ten and thirty is regarded as moderate, needing some kind of intervention; while anything over thirty episodes of interrupted breathing is severe. Himself was averaging at fifty-one episodes of interrupted breathing an hour. She showed us the printout. I was staring at the jagged line in disbelief – and at the fact that it only calmed down during the periods when he woke up. She also explained that he was getting hardly any REM sleep. No wonder he’s making concentration errors! The blood test has also come back positive for pre-diabetes, so he’s also going to be attending a clinic for that, too.

And the reason why I’m telling you this? Because we’ve coped with his snoring for years – he’s repeatedly tried losing weight with limited success although he doesn’t drink or or smoke – but we’d no idea it could be part of such a serious underlying condition. If you or your partner are dealing with similar issues, please do get it checked out. We are both conscious that if this had been left much longer, as well having problems at work, Himself could have suffered a stroke or heart attack. He’s currently wearing a sleep mask and I keep jerking awake at night terrified because he’s so quiet beside me – though hopefully that will soon pass. It’s early days yet, but he already he feels better.

This week I have read:

Blood Upon the Sand – Book 2 of The Song of the Shattered Sands series by Bradley Beaulieu
Çeda, now a Blade Maiden in service to the kings of Sharakhai, trains as one of their elite warriors, gleaning secrets even as they send her on covert missions to further their rule. She knows the dark history of the asirim—that hundreds of years ago they were enslaved to the kings against their will—but when she bonds with them as a Maiden, chaining them to her, she feels their pain as if her own. They hunger for release, they demand it – will Çeda manage to keep their dark drives under control?
This sequel to the highly enjoyable sand and sorcery adventure Twelve Kings proved to be every bit as good as I’d hoped and I shall be posting my review here in due course. Great stuff!

 

From Ice to Ashes by Rhett C. Bruno

Kale Drayton knows his place. As a Ringer, he’s used to keeping his head down and his mouth shut—no matter how much the Earthers abuse him or his own kind berate him. So when he’s caught stealing from a wealthy merchant, he’s lucky to be sentenced to low-paying maintenance work on a gas-harvesting ship instead of life in a cell . . . or worse. But when his mother is quarantined, Kale finds himself backed into a corner. To pay for her medicine, he needs money—the kind of money he’ll never make sweeping floors and cleaning ships. So when he receives a mysterious offer asking him to do a simple job in exchange for his mother’s treatment, Kale takes a chance once more.
This space opera adventure is set in the same world as his excellent novel Titanborn – see my review here – and is due to be released this coming week, so I’ll be posting the review on Wednesday. Another really strong, thought-provoking story that I’ve been pondering about since I finished reading it.

 

My Parents Are Out of Control – Book 2 of the How To Train Your Parents series by Pete Johnson

Louis doesn’t think much of it when his mum and dad ask him for tips on how to be cool. In fact, he thinks it’s pretty funny watching them bump fists and use words like ‘safe’, ‘sick’ and ‘wicked’. Until Dad turns up outside Louis’s new school dressed like a rapper, that is . . . Suddenly they’re trying to friend Louis and all his classmates on Facebook, and wearing baseball caps backwards – IN PUBLIC. Louis and his best friend Maddy are horrified. Mum and Dad have taken things too far . . . and immediate action is needed!
I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in the series – see my review here – and so was delighted to be able to track down this next slice of Louis’s adventures. I find Johnson’s commentary on modern family life to be funny and perceptive.

 

The Operator – Book 2 of the Peri Reed Chronicles by Kim Harrison
Peri Reed’s job eats her mind, but for a special task agent in hiding, forgetting the past can be a blessing. Betrayed by the man she thought she loved and the agency who turned her into the very thing she fought against, Peri abandoned the wealth and privilege of Opti for anonymity riddled with memory gaps and self-doubt. But when a highly addictive drug promises to end her dependency on those who’d use her as a tool for their own success, she must choose to remain broken and vulnerable, or return to the above-the-law power and prestige she once left: strong but without will—for whoever holds her next fix, will hold her loyalty.
This is a cracking premise and Harrison doesn’t disappoint in delivering yet another twisting, action-packed plot underpinned by some interesting and disturbing moral questions. Read my review of the first book in the series, The Drafter.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 19th March 2017

Review of The Drafter by Kim Harrison

Teaser Tuesday featuring My Parents Are Out of Control by Pete Johnson

Tim Tag

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of The Collapsing Empire – Book 1 of The Interdependency series by John Scalzi

Friday Face-off – Seems like, streets lights glowin… featuring The Cuckoo’s Calling – Book 1 of the Comoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith aka J.K. Rowling

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of Wolf Moon – Book 2 of the Luna series by Ian McDonald

 

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

A typical day in the life of a #BookBlogger (in this instance ME!) https://mychestnutreadingtree.wordpress.com/2017/03/18/a-typical-day-in-the-life-of-a-bookblogger-in-this-instance-me/ This wonderful article is a response to some of the ill-founded allegations that book bloggers are somehow playing the system for financial gain, instead of being ‘real readers’.

Cover Characteristics: Book Covers Featuring New York City http://blog.kristenburns.com/book-covers-featuring-new-york-city/ Kristen regularly features a series of book covers on a particular subject and I particularly enjoyed this one.

10 of the best poems about Mothers https://interestingliterature.com/2017/03/22/10-of-the-best-poems-about-mothers/ In honour of Mothering Sunday today, I thought this enjoyable selection would be worth reading.

Useful Sites for the Novice Writer https://richardankers.com/2017/03/24/useful-sites-for-the-novice-writer/ This excellent article lists some of the databases where you can submit your written gems.

A Graphic Novel about the iTunes Terms and Conditions. Yes. Really. https://kristentwardowski.wordpress.com/2017/03/23/a-graphic-novel-about-the-itunes-terms-and-conditions-yes-really/ Kristen makes a point of unearthing the quirky and off the wall relating to books and writing. This is yet another great example of the interesting articles she posts.

Thank you for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

Time Tag

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Many thanks to Lynn from Lynn’s Book Blog for nominating me to take part in this lovely tag.

What is your favourite historical setting for a book?
I love the Tudor period – it’s the period I studied for my History degree so I know a reasonable amount about the history of this time. But I also enjoy the Victorian time – events moved so very quickly during that it was a period of great upheaval and yet isn’t all that long ago. So… both these periods tend to snag my interest.

 

What writer/s would you like to travel back in time to meet?
William Shakespeare. It’s a no-brainer. The genius that gave us a canon of marvellous plays and beautiful poetry must be worth sitting across the table and chatting to! Even if he only wants to grumble about the weather and the difficulties of finding a boy to adequately play Juliet – especially if he wants to grumble about that one, come to think of it…

 

What book/s would you travel back in time and give to your younger self?
It would have to be C.J. Cherryh’s Heavy Time. Her writing style and depiction of space just blew me away. My younger self would love to read this and derive a great sense of comfort to discover that books like that were in existence as I was getting increasingly disillusioned with many of the contemporary literary offerings I was ploughing through at the time.

 

What book/s would you travel forward in time and give to your older self?
I wouldn’t bother. My older self is going to be caught up with the books being published at the time, so my crashing into her reading patterns won’t probably be very welcome. I don’t take kindly to sudden surprises…

 

What is your favourite futuristic setting from a book?
I have three… two based on Earth and one that sees us out in the among the stars. One of the most poignant and effective settings is the depiction of a nearly empty Paris, overrun by alien vegetation from portals drawn by Eric Brown in his novel Engineman. To be honest, the story itself isn’t quite as effective as the setting in my opinion – but I’ve dreamed of this landscape many times. The other futuristic setting I particularly enjoy is that in the Earth Girl series by Janet Edwards, where Earth is largely uninhabited apart from those who are unable to leave due to a genetic quirk.

I also love the world that Lois McMaster Bujold has created in her Miles Vorkosigan series that sprawls across a chain of planets.

 

What is your favourite book that is set in a different time period (can be historical or futuristic)?
I love several – Doomsday is a classic time travel book by Connie Willis that goes back to the medieval period. It’s a wonderful book and rightly regarded as a classic. Another book that I particularly love is the above mentioned Heavy Time by C.J. Cherryh, but my favourite is Mendoza in Hollywood which is a dreadful title for an outstanding book by Kage Baker about a time-travelling biologist harvesting plants about to be pushed into the brink of extinction by the growth of the film industry. It is part of Baker’s amazing The Company series, which I think deserves to be known a lot better than it is.

 

Spoiler Time: Do you ever skip ahead to the end of a book just to see what happens?
Only if I don’t intend to finish the book – otherwise what is the point of bothering to read it?

 

If you had a Time Turner, where would you go and what would you do?
Oh yes please! And now I’m going to sound incredibly boring… I’d like to use one like Hermione Granger so I could fulfil my teaching commitments, keep the house reasonably clean and clutter-free, be a better wife, daughter, mother and grandmother, while also writing full-time.

 

Favourite book (if you have one) that includes time travel or takes place in multiple time periods?
I cannot possibly pinpoint a single book, so I’ll follow Lynn’s example and recommend four, other than the ones already mentioned above:-
Night Watch – Book 29 of the Discworld novels by the late, great Terry Pratchett

This is Pratchett’s time travel book – and one of his best, in my opinion, as Sam Vimes, the grumpy Commander of the Ankh-Morpork’s police force, is caught up in a magical storm and hauled back in time.

 

The Many-Colored Land – Book 1 of the Saga of the Exiles by Julian May

This first book in a remarkable, ground-breaking series features Elizabeth who travels back in time to escape the trauma of having lost her metaphysical abilities. Ironically, her journey – in which she encounters a humanoid alien race who have made Earth their home – causes her abilities to manifest themselves once more. Which draws down a lot of unwelcome attention upon Elizabeth…

Frozen in Time by Ali Sparkes

This standalone children’s book is a joy. A brother and sister cryonically suspended are accidentally woken up fifty years later by another brother and sister, while exploring an underground building at the bottom of the garden. The resulting adventure is both funny and very revealing about how customs have changed during the last fifty years – for both good and ill.

 

 

The Just City – Book 1 of the Thessaly trilogy by Jo Walton

This is a remarkable time travel experiment designed by the goddess Athene to test the principles set down by Plato in his book The Republic. I can guarantee you won’t have read anything quite like it.

 

What book/series do you wish you could go back and read again for the first time?
The Discworld novels! They define a part of my life and if I could bottle the sheer excitement of opening up a new one, laughing at the Pratchett jokes for the first time again, that would be a wonderful treat.

I’m not going to nominate anyone in particular – but do please have a go if this Time Tag appeals to you as a fan of historical settings or time travelling adventures. I’d love to hear your choices!

Review of The Drafter – Book 1 of the Peri Reed series by Kim Harrison

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After recently reading and reviewing The Turn I was reminded just what a good storyteller Harrison is – and once I discovered this covert science fiction thriller, I couldn’t resist getting hold of this one…

Detroit 2030: Double-crossed by the person she loved and betrayed by the covert government organization that trained her to use her body as a weapon, Peri Reed is a renegade on the run. Don’t forgive and never forget has always been Peri’s creed. But her day job makes it difficult: she is a drafter, possessed of a rare, invaluable skill for altering time, yet destined to forget both the history she changed and the history she rewrote.

I picked up this one expecting a cracking adventure story full of action and mayhem, featuring a strong, well depicted heroine. And the story delivered that, alright. Peri Reed is an astonishing protagonist, capable of superhuman feats as she can shift time to either attack or evade her attackers. But she is also so very brittle. And desperately fragile. For this ability comes at a terrible cost. The human brain cannot cope with processing two competing timelines and if that starts to happen, the victim tips into a complete breakdown that progresses into catatonic shock and ultimate raving madness… To stop that happening, each drafter has an anchor, a trained minder who is taught relaxation and mind control techniques so they can go into the drafter’s mind and erase the conflicting timeline by wiping out their memories.

And if there is any risk of a breakthrough – the drafter is recalled to headquarters, Opti, to have a complete mindwipe. But of course, that entails losing chunks of her memory… That is a price Peri is prepared to pay if it means she gets to take out the bad guys, because she is on the side of the angels, right? But what if she isn’t? What if something else is going on? Despite the loving support of her anchor and her talismans – Peri feels that something isn’t right…

This book at times is a highly uncomfortable read where we watch a strong, uniquely gifted woman used and abused as she becomes a pawn in a high-stakes power struggle. Along the way Harrison is asking questions about the notion of self. Who are we? What happens to us if our memories are not the sum total of our life experiences? Peri over-compensates by becoming increasingly obsessed by the material things in her life – her clothing, her car, her food. She is frequently offhand and arrogant to those around her. But given her increasingly shaky grasp of who she is, that would be exactly what would be going on, wouldn’t it?

This is so much more than an escapist, futuristic romp. It is also a warning that in our increasing explorations into how our minds work, there should be no-go areas. Those places that Opti have gone, for instance. My respect for Harrison’s writing has hugely increased after reading this complex, intelligent thriller and if you, too, are interested in these questions then track down this offering. I haven’t stopped thinking about this one since I finished reading it.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Amunet by Robert Harkess

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I attended the launch of this book at Bristolcon – my favourite con of the year for its sheer friendliness – back in October and had always promised myself to get hold of it. And then saw it on Netgalley…

Amunet has a unique talent; she can talk to the dead. She had been told all her life that this is the key to rescuing her mother, who has been taken by mysterious and powerful forces. To unlock her mother’s prison, all she has to do is find the Locksmith. Posing as a Medium, she scours Europe for the one person who can help her. Harry and his father are investigators, employed by the Church to hunt down Mediums and hand them over to the mercies of the Inquisition. Harry has always believed he, and the Church, were doing the right thing. Until now.

This one immediately pulled me in – the writing style is punchy and readable and I really enjoyed Amunet. She is at once entitled and vulnerable, clever and very unworldly with an upbringing you wouldn’t wish on a dog, along with a burning drive to track down her mother, thanks to the person in her head guiding her. Harry has a parallel life in many ways, given he also lost his mother early in his life, but whereas Amunet’s guide and mentor is a voice in her head, Harry’s role model is his own father.

But what Harkess manages to do is depict two detailed, interesting characters while it is busy kicking off around them – because this book hits the ground running and wherever Amunet goes, violence and mayhem follows. But this book really bounces to life when she reaches London – a Victorian-type setting but with some important differences. There are all sorts of nice steampunk touches that garnish this adventure action novel.

Alongside Amunet and Harry, there is also a rich cast of characters who weave through the story – some of them unexpectedly popping up again when I had thought we’d seen the last of them. Harkess is clearly an experienced, able writer who manages to keep the momentum for this interesting alternate historical genre mash-up plunging forward without losing character focus or skimping on the vivid backdrop – which is a whole lot harder to achieve than Harkess makes it look.

While the book is concluded entirely satisfactorily, I got to the end and immediately looked around to see if there is likely to be a sequel as I would welcome the chance to revisit this beguiling world. This one comes recommended, particularly for steampunk/alternate history fans.
8/10

Discovery Challenge 2017 and Tackling My TBR – February Roundup

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After reading Jo Hall’s post on the problems women authors have with getting discovered, I’ve been taking part in the challenge to read and review at least 24 books by female authors each year that were previously unknown to me for the last two years. During February I read three books towards my 2017 Discovery Challenge, making my yearly total seven books so far.

My February books are:-

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey
Miranda is a lonely child. For as long as she can remember, she and her father have lived in isolation in the abandoned Moorish palace. There are chickens and goats, and a terrible wailing spirit trapped in a pine tree, but the elusive wild boy who spies on her from the crumbling walls and leaves gifts on their doorstep is the isle’s only other human inhabitant. There are other memories, too: vague, dream-like memories of another time and another place. There are questions that Miranda dare not ask her stern and controlling father, who guards his secrets with zealous care: Who am I? Where did I come from?

This book is written as a dual narrative, with both Miranda and Caliban giving their different version of events from the time Caliban enters Miranda’s life when she is a six-year-old. If Shakespeare’s The Tempest is told from the viewpoint of Prospero, then this story is from the point of view of two of the characters who are most impacted by the events unfolding around them.

 

Demon Hunting in Dixie – Book 1 of the Demon Hunting series by Lexi George
Addy Corwin is a florist with an attitude. A bad attitude, or so her mama says, ’cause she’s not looking for a man. Mama’s wrong. Addy has looked. There’s just not much to choose from in Hannah, her small Alabama hometown. Until Brand Dalvahni shows up, a supernaturally sexy, breathtakingly well-built hunk of a warrior from – well, not from around here, that’s for sure. Mama thinks he might be European or maybe even a Yankee. Brand says he’s from another dimension. Addy couldn’t care less where he’s from. He’s gorgeous. Serious muscles. Disturbing green eyes. Brand really gets her going. Too bad he’s a whack job. Says he’s come to rescue her from a demon. Puh-lease. But right after Brand shows up, strange things start to happen. Dogs talk and reanimated corpses stalk the quiet streets of Hannah. Her mortal enemy Meredith, otherwise known as the Death Starr, breaks out in a severe and inexplicable case of butt boils. Addy might not know what’s going on, but she definitely wants a certain sexy demon hunter by her side when it all goes down. . .

This is not my normal fare – I freely admit it. But this was just plain fun. While the insta-love was more about insta-lust, I was prepared to go with the flow as Addy is just so much fun. I enjoyed the fact that she was still concerned about what the neighbours thought and was very mindful of her mother’s opinion even after all the life-changing adventures. Meanwhile, she plays with the trope of the good Southern girl, looking for a husband, concerned with her appearance and intent on putting on a good front for the neighbours.

 

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Patricia Delfine talks to trees and birds in the hope they will answer back, as they did one amazing day when she was little… Laurence Armstead invents a two-second time machine in his bedroom. Unsurprisingly, they are both targets for the bullies at school who make their lives hell. So under duress, they become unlikely friends. A friendship that is tested and often found wanting as their lives both spin off in amazing directions…

What I won’t be doing is telling you that this is a fantasy or science fiction book, because it’s a little bit of both. After all, one of the major protagonists is a nerdy scientist and the other is a witch. And what Anders is doing throughout this highly readable, roller-coaster adventure is exploring the space between the magical, natural world and the high-tech, scientific community.

 

This month I managed to clear five books from my teetering TBR pile – they are:-

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey
See above.

Demon Hunting in Dixie – Book 1 of the Demon Hunting series by Lexi George
See above.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
See above.

Clean Sweep – Book 1 of The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews
On the outside, Dina Demille is the epitome of normal. She runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small Texas town, owns a Shih Tzu named Beast, and is a perfect neighbor, whose biggest problem should be what to serve her guests for breakfast. But Dina is…different: Her broom is a deadly weapon; her Inn is magic and thinks for itself. Meant to be a lodging for otherworldly visitors, the only permanent guest is a retired Galactic aristocrat who can’t leave the grounds because she’s responsible for the deaths of millions and someone might shoot her on sight. Under the circumstances, “normal” is a bit of a stretch for Dina. And now, something with wicked claws and deepwater teeth has begun to hunt at night… Feeling responsible for her neighbors, Dina decides to get involved.

Dina is a thoroughly engaging protagonist. Impulsive, brave and with an over-developed sense of responsibility, she immediately plunges into this adventure when she feels the caretaker of this territory is not doing enough. I really enjoyed her character, particularly as she also has a vulnerability that pulled me further onto her side. She has lost her parents, who disappeared from their thriving Inn and though she has spent years trying to track them down, all her efforts have ended in failure.

 

Twelve Kings – Book 1 of The Song of the Shattered Sands by Bradley Beaulieu
Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings—cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite company of Blade Maidens, and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule. Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings’ laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha’ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings’ mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings’ power…if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don’t find her first.

Bradley is clearly an experienced and capable writer. He introduces his main protagonist – an orphan with a terrible backstory – and little by little, we understand exactly who she is and why she is so driven.

Friday Faceoff – I never let my schooling interfere with my education…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is school covers, so I’ve chosen Ender’s Game – Book 1 of Ender’s Saga by Scott Orson Card – a distinctly futuristic educational experience.

 

This is the offering produced by Tor in April 2010 is a lovely uncluttered cover, allowing us to fully appreciate the lovely artwork. I particularly like the depiction of Ender, who looks young and fragile for all his techie suit and cleverness – which is exactly as Card wrote him. This is my favourite cover.

 

This cover produced by Starscape in February 2002 gives us another view of Ender, who is clearly older here. But I love the colours and the detail as he struggles to prevail in the lethal game he is playing. It’s just a shame the title and author crunch so aggressively through the cover art.

 

This cover produced in October 2013 by Tor is clearly heavily influenced by the film. For all that, while I don’t like it quite as much as the previous two covers, I don’t dislike it, either.

 

This effort was produced by Orbit in 2011 is basically the cover of the film, featuring all the main characters superimposed on Ender’s face. For all that, I really like this one. It successfully captures the flavour of the book and as the casting was both clever and creative, even if the film fell some way short of the quality of the book, I think it is very successful.

 

This is another edition produced by Starscape in February 2002. While I know the definition is rather fuzzy, I like this one, too – especially as Ender is suitably young. I like the fact we have his classmates floating around in the background as well.

I think these are all good covers, though the first one just edges it for me. Which one is your favourite?

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

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This was the post I had planned for International Woman’s Day – trouble is… I had it down in my diary as today!

Last year, I loved reading Planetfall – this space opera, colony science fiction adventure has stayed with me far longer than I’d expected. It didn’t hurt that the ending was something of a shock – so it made sense to get hold of the sequel with some of my Christmas book tokens. But whatever I was expecting – it wasn’t this…

Govcorp detective Carlos Moreno was only a baby when Atlas left Earth to seek truth among the stars. But in that moment, the course of Carlos’s entire life changed. Atlas is what took his mother away; what made his father lose hope; what led Alejandro Casales, leader of the religious cult known as the Circle, to his door. And now, on the eve of the fortieth anniversary of Atlas’s departure, it’s got something to with a brutal murder in a hotel room—and why Carlos is the man in charge of the investigation.

Those of you who know the first book in this series will realise that while set within the same world, this book does not immediately follow on from the events in Planetfall so you can enjoy this one without having read the first book. And enjoy it I did. This murder mystery absolutely gripped me in a near future world where most eat food provided by 3D printers and in England slavery is permitted for those unlucky enough to be stateless, such as Carlos Moreno. He is indentured to the Ministry of Justice as a top-grade investigator after a brutal hot-housing course and is one of their top investigators, having never failed in solving a crime. I was completely beguiled by Carlos and his heart-breaking story of neglect with a parent who didn’t bother overmuch with him. Unfortunately, I’m not the only one. After being characterised as the sad orphan who was deserted by his uncaring mother who left him on Earth while she headed for the stars in Atlas, he regularly finds himself pestered by journalists, whom he hates with a passion.

When he arrives at the hotel where a terrible murder has taken place, nothing goes quite right – but Carlos is under enormous pressure to solve this crime in the shortest possible time. I loved the twists and turns of the murder mystery – and then, just as it all seemed to be wrapped up, Newman flings a complete gamechanger into the story. I couldn’t believe it. I was horrified at what befell Carlos – but oh my word… what a way to change the whole tenor and pace of the story! It is a masterful stroke by a skilful, experienced writer at the top of her game.

From then on, it proved very difficult to put this book down – though I’ll admit to feeling a tad apprehensive that Newman wouldn’t be able to adequately pull together these two major strands she had set running alongside each other. I needn’t have worried. Once more, there was another change – more of a deus ex machina – but I’ll take that, given what Newman manages to do with it. The ending is, once more, completely unexpected. I look forward to reading the next slice of this amazing series next year.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds

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I’ll make time for anything Reynolds has written – even his least stellar efforts are characterised by wonderful imaginative leaps and at his best, he weaves worlds of wonder that have lodged in my head years after reading them. See my review of Revenger.

A vast conflict, one that has encompassed hundreds of worlds and solar systems, appears to be finally at slowbulletsan end. A conscripted soldier is beginning to consider her life after the war and the family she has left behind. But for Scur—and for humanity—peace is not to be.

Scur is an intriguing protagonist, having been unfairly conscripted to punish her father for his political activities against the regime. She is on her way back home, eager to see her parents and reassure them that despite some of the things she has been forced to do during the war, she is still okay and it isn’t their fault… Only during her homeward journey, she is once more overtaken by circumstances beyond her control and finds herself in a very tricky situation.

The slow bullets of the title are a type of chip implanted deep in the body such they are unable to be removed without killing the recipient, but nevertheless, they can still be read. Details of a person’s life can continue to be fed into its memory, along with images of people who matter in their lives, where they have worked or served. All soldiers have a slow bullet inserted as a matter of course, along with a portion of civilians. And prisoners…

So is someone the sum of what is on their slow bullet? Does that completely encompass who they are and what they are capable of? These are some of the questions behind this engrossing space opera adventure. Scur finds herself in a leadership role, despite not wanting it, because her driving concern is to return home and she cannot see how they are going to do so if she lets the one technical civilian continue to drift, locked in horror when he discovers the enormity of the jam they are in, when things go wrong on the transport ship. That said, he is also the person who manages to solve a whole lot of problems along the way – they probably wouldn’t survive without his input.

As well as raising some interesting issues, Reynolds also provides a real page-turner – over the years I have read one or three space opera adventures and I sort of guessed where this one was going. Until it took a left turn and went in an entirely different direction altogether, leaving me agog and desperate to know how the whole mess was going to pan out. So once the story steps completely over any of my expectations, does Reynolds bring this one to a satisfactory conclusion?

Oh yes. I think this one is going to reverberate around my head for a while, given the unsettling final section. Small wonder Slow Bullets won the Locus Award for Best Novella 2016 and was a nominee for the Hugo Award for Best Novella. Highly recommended.

While I obtained the arc of Slow Bullets from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
9/10

Review of A Closed and Common Orbit – Book 2 of the Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers

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I loved The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and when Himself said he’d ordered this offering from the library and it had come in, I was very excited. Would I enjoy this one as much as the first book?

Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in a new body, following a aclosedandcommonorbittotal system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow. Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.

While this book is set in the same world as The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and Lovelace was actually the AI on the Wayfarer, that is the only real connection between the two books. So if you are concerned about picking this one up without reading the first book then don’t be – neither book relies on the other in order to fully appreciate the story. Like Angry Planet, which takes the classic space opera theme of long space voyages as the basic plotline, A Closed and Common Orbit uses another popular science fiction subject – that of artificial intelligence as the starting point for one of the two narrative plotlines running through the book.

We learn how Lovelace copes once surfacing within a humanoid body designed to house her during one plotline, while the other goes back in time and relates the story of ten-year-old Jane. She works in a scrap processing factory and has been there for as long as she can recall, spending her days sorting scrap and overseen by faceless droids called Mother who are responsible for caring and disciplining the children. Until one day when something goes wrong…

Chambers’ readable, unfussy prose vividly depicts the plight of a small child trying to do the best she can in order to stay warm and fed and avoid punishment. I was completely caught up in her predicament and struggle for survival interspersed with Lovelace’s battles to cope with the shortcomings of her new housing – which also has the added complication of being completely illegal. Fortunately, she has come across two kind people who take her in and attempt to assist her to integrate.

I found it difficult to put down, and particularly enjoyed the way these two narrative strands intersected to provide a fitting climax and conclusion to this enjoyable, thought provoking read. I enjoyed it even more than Angry Planet, finding the tighter focus and strong characterisations more to my taste. Once more, Chamber provides an entertaining science fiction read that comes highly recommended.
9/10

PREVIEW of Empire Games – Book 1 of the Empire Games series by Charles Stross

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I’ll be honest – this is a complete mistake. I was under the impression that I had got hold of this latest series from Stross, so was somewhat underwhelmed when I realised it was, instead, the opening chapters as a taster…

empiregamesThe year is 2020. It’s seventeen years since the Revolution overthrew the last king of the New British Empire, and the newly-reconstituted North American Commonwealth is developing rapidly, on course to defeat the French and bring democracy to a troubled world. Two nuclear superpowers are set on a collision course. Two increasingly desperate paratime espionage agencies are fumbling around in the dark, trying to find a solution to the first contact problem that doesn’t result in a nuclear holocaust. And two women—a mother and her long-lost, adopted daughter—are about to find themselves on opposite sides of the confrontation.

I have left a large chunk out of the very chatty blurb because if you haven’t read the Merchant Princes series then the names aren’t going to mean all that much, anyway and I think it’s far too much information that you’ll learn more effectively once you read the book. That said, this is a spin-off series from the Merchant Princes series, which is a portal worlds thriller. I’ve only read a couple of books in this series, but found them thoroughly enjoyable and engrossing which was why I requested Empire Games. This epic storyline is spread across multiple worlds, so it takes some concentration to work out what is happening to whom and sadly, the preview extract I received was a misery to read. It’s been a while since I’ve had to slog through anything so appallingly formatted, with a binary thingy of zeroes and ones randomly appearing throughout the text and words being split across lines numerous times – I don’t think there was a single page where the text was correctly formatted.

If it hadn’t been a NetGalley preview, it would have gone winging across the room. I had a pre-migraine headache blow up on me later during the day I’d been battling through this ‘mare of a read and I’m not sure the two aren’t connected. I’ve made a promise to myself that it’s the last time I trudge through anything so egregiously messed up, anyway.

There was a lot of information to impart and just as the story was starting to gather pace and I was beginning to care – it all came to an end. Obviously I cannot comment on the characterisation, the pacing, the plotting or how satisfactorily the story ends. But it’s out there and given that Stross is an able storyteller, it should be good.