Category Archives: heroes in speculative fiction

My Outstanding Reads of 2019 #Brainfluffbookblogger #2019OutstandingReads

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I have had another stormingly good reading year. The highlight being my immediate love affair with audiobooks, once I got hold of a Kindle Fire which could cope with the selection I’d already bought my dyslexic grandson to encourage him to keep reading. Needless to say, I’ve added to that list…

During 2019 I read 168 books and wrote 129 full reviews, with 26 still to be published. In no particular order, these are the books that have stood out for me. It might be that I didn’t originally give a 10 – but something about these books has stayed with me and won’t let go, which is why they have made the cut. And none of this top ten rubbish – I can’t possibly whittle down my list any further.

 

Oracle’s War – Book 2 of The Olympus series by David Hair and Cath Mayo
I loved the layered characterisation of Odysseus and his complex relationships in this intelligent and politically aware retelling of events leading up to the Trojan War. This one has stayed in my memory and I’ve found myself often thinking about it. See my review.

 

AUDIOBOOK The Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones
I’d read this book before – but listening to the excellent narration by Jonathan Broadbent brought home the darker side of the story. It certainly isn’t a children’s read – as the exploitation of the magic kingdom takes some shocking turns, and while Wynne Jones doesn’t go into graphic detail, they are still there. Riveting and thought provoking. See my review.

 

Atlas Alone – Book 4 of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman
This has been one of the outstanding science fiction series of the last few years for me and this latest slice in the adventure held me to the end. Dee’s driven, edgy character is so compelling – Newman writes these tricky protagonists with amazing skill. See my review.

 

Ascending – Book 1 of the Vardeshi Saga by Meg Pechenick
Alien first contact tales are a staple of science fiction, but rarely have they been covered with such skilled detail, featuring such a self-effacing protagonist as Avery. The second book is also an excellent read. See my review.

 

Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Wildest Horse Race by Lara Prior-Palmer
I picked up this true tale of adventure by accident – and I’m so pleased I did. The author opted to take part on a whim and even at the beginning, was clearly not really prepared for what followed. This fascinating account stayed with me throughout the year. See my review.

 

AUDIOBOOK Mythos: the Greek Myths retold, written and narrated by Stephen Fry
Listening to this offering while decorating the bathroom sweetened hours of tedious work as Fry’s smooth, chatty manner belied the scholarship and rigor that has gone into this retelling. See my review.

 

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
This is probably the most quirky, extraordinary read of this year’s selection. A series of letters between two protagonists on either side of a savage war – think Romeo and Juliet with knobs on – drives the narrative in this beautiful, desperate book. See my review.

 

AUDIOBOOK A Room Full of Bones – Book 4 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths
This offering took me completely by surprise. In fact, I’d felt rather fed up with Ruth’s struggles in the previous book – but this story took all the ingredients and ramped up the tension to an unexpectedly heart-rending degree that I still think about… See my review.

 

Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence by James Lovelock
The second non-fiction book in this list, I found Lovelock’s take on our future absolutely fascinating and unexpectedly uplifting. Given he is now over a hundred years old and has been working in a variety of scientific fields until very recently, his opinion is worth reading. See my review.

 

AUDIOBOOK The Empty Grave – Book 5 of the Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud
This was an unexpected treat. One of Frankie’s chosen series, I wasn’t prepared for the sheer quality of the characterisation and worldbuilding, although I should have been, after thoroughly enjoying the Bartimaeus Trilogy. This final book brought the outstanding series to a triumphant conclusion. It goes without saying that you MUST read the previous four books first. See my review.

 

Sweep of the Blade – Book 4 of the Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews
I find this quirky science fiction/fantasy mash-up just goes on getting better and better. I really suffered a profound book hangover after I finished this one – and that doesn’t happen to me all that often. See my review.

 

Circe by Madeline Miller
I’m conscious there is rather a strong Greek myth theme running through this list – but that just goes to show how well-written these books are. And this one is a total joy. The protagonist isn’t pretty or charismatic, so finetunes her magical skills in an effort to prevail alongside sneering relations. And then it all goes wrong… Fabulous, layered characterisation of a powerful woman who has endured a shedload of suffering without it being bleak or self-pitying. See my mini-review.

 

Akin by Emma Donoghue
In these days of serial monogamy and blended families, this interesting, unsentimental book drills down into what – exactly – makes up family. Brilliantly executed and thought provoking. See my review.

 

Lent by Jo Walton
This author is one of the finest, most talented writers in the SFF genre today, so I was thrilled when this one came out. Settling in to read it, I was happily engrossed in 15th century Florence – until a THING happens that changes the whole dynamic. Brilliantly written and completely engrossing, if you were to force me to choose a single outstanding read this year – you’d be a cruel beast for doing so and I’d probably never speak to you again – it would be this one. See my review.

 

AUDIOBOOK How To Fight a Dragon’s Fury – Book 12 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
While I’d read a number of these books to the grandchildren, for one reason or another, I’d never reached the end, so when I realised we had the complete series on Audible, I started listening to the wonderful David Tennant’s narration. And then came the end… I was listening to this one with tears pouring down my face, unable to complete my chores. Epic fantasy of this calibre, written for reluctant primary school readers, is a rarity. Review to follow.

 

AUDIOBOOK To Say Nothing of the Dog – Book 2 of the Oxford Time Travel series by Connie Willis
This quirky, humorous homage to Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat is funny and completely engrossing – a thumping good listen. I loved it and though it isn’t quite as spectacular as her classic, Doomsday Book, that doesn’t prevent it making this list. See my review.

Have you read any of these offerings? What did you think of them? I’d love to hear your thoughts on these books! Wishing everyone a very happy, book-filled 2020…

Teaser Tuesday – 11th April, 2017

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

Avengers of the Moon by Allen Steele
23% Roger climbed down the ladder from the control room to the middeck. Pausing in the galley, he opened a wall locker between the curtained bunks to collect ankle weights. He strapped on a pair and left two more on the galley table for Elaine and Simon—Roger smiled as he wondered how long it would take Curt to adapt to one-sixth g: this would be interesting to observe—then continued climbing down to the third level where the ready-room and airlock lay. He didn’t need to suit up again. A glance at the indicator panel beside the outer hatch as he stepped into the airlock told him that positive pressure lay outside the ship.

BLURB: It was an age of miracles. It was an era of wonder. It was a time of troubles. It was all these things and more . . . except there were no heroes. Naturally, one had to be created.

Curt Newton has spent most of his life hidden from the rest of humankind, being raised by a robot, an android, and the disembodied brain of a renowned scientist. This unlikely trio of guardians has kept his existence a closely guarded secret since the murder of Curt’s parents. Curt’s innate curiosity and nose for trouble inadvertently lead him into a plot to destabilize the Solar Coalition. There’s only one way to uncover the evil mastermind—Curt must become Captain Future.

With the permission of the Edmond Hamilton estate, Allen Steele revives the exciting adventures of Captain Future.

It has taken me a while to acclimatise to the old fashioned feel of the storytelling in this tale – but of course, it’s entirely deliberate, given Steele is evoking the original pulp fiction tone of the Captain Future adventures. However, I’m now getting into the groove of the story’s rhythm and settling into the narrative. It’s very enjoyable to witness Curt’s struggles to relate effectively with other humans, given he’s been brought up by robots and I look forward to more of this as the story progresses.

My Top Ten Literary Heroes

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In the interests of gender equality, I felt that I should write an article featuring my top ten literary heroes, after publishing the blog ‘My Top Ten Literary Heroines’ here. In no particular order, here they are…

1. Rincewind from the Discworld series by Terry Pratchettthelightfantastic
The timid wizard who finds himself in the middle of adventures despite himself. I love his aversion to any form of risk – a confirmed coward myself, I’ve always found the lantern-jawed sort of hero rather offputting. I also hugely envy Rincewind his Luggage, a chest made of sapient pearwood that will swallow any amount of clothing – along with particularly aggressive characters Rincewood regularly encounters on his travels.

thegobetween2. Leo Colston from The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley
I first read this book as a teenager, cried at the end – and it somehow wormed its way under my skin and never really left me. Leo’s bitter-sweet recollection of a particular summer holiday that altered his life when he was thirteen leaps off the page and deserves to be far better known for more than its marvellous opening sentence.

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3. Peter Pan from the play by J.M. Barrie

I fell hook, line and sinker for the beautiful, cocky little boy when I read the story of the play aged eight. And at intervals in my life, there have been other adorable, cocky little boys full of vinegar and spirit, who light up my existence…

4. Miles Vorkosigan from the series by Lois McMaster Bujoldmemory
Miles is a remarkable creation – chockful of testosterone and driven with a desire to prove himself in a series of wonderful science fiction, space opera adventures. He would be unbearable if he wasn’t also battling the congenital defects that he has to deal with due to an attack on him before he was born. As it is, his foolhardy bravery is awesome and admirable.

5. Lord Peter Wimsey from the series by Dorothy L. Sayersbusman'shoneymoon
Forget about Jane Marple or Hercule Poirot – the detective I’ve always loved is the shell-shocked, younger son of a noble family. He often affects the idiot, while being in possession of a keen intellect and a drive to see justice done. Dorothy Sayers confessed that she was in love with Wimsey – and I can see why.

6. Claudius from I, Claudius and Claudius the God by Robert Graves
IClaudiusAgain, a series I read as a teenager and fell in love with this complicated, damaged man who manages to survive by sheltering behind his physical disabilities most of his life. Derek Jacobi managed to bring a marvellous incarnation of the character to life in the acclaimed TV series.

7. Kvothe from The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfussthenameofthewind
Rothfuss took the Fantasy genre by the scruff of the neck and gave it a very good shake in The Name of the Wind. I love the character in all his driven complexity and secrecy – and am very much looking forward to reading The Doors of Stone when it comes out.

farfromthemaddingcrowd8. Gabriel Oak from Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
He has always been my ideal male – brave, physically strong, with an inbuilt instinct for doing the right thing and loyal right down his marrow… Bathsheba Everdeen is an idiot for refusing to marry him the first time around and I just hope she pulls herself together and is the wife he deserves.

wolfhall9. Thomas Cromwell from Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
Henry VIII’s bullying fixer is so much more in this remarkable portrayal. I love the way Mantel’s writing manages to get right inside the character – a man of extreme contradictions, but fascinating, driven, formidably intelligent and physically energetic… Yep. I’m smitten.

themartian10. Mark Watney from The Martian by Andy Weir
Did I mention that I was an inveterate coward? The one exception is that I’ve always longed to go into Space – indeed, as a little girl I was firmly convinced that I’d end up there. I picked up this book, hoping it would be a story of brave derring-do survival and I wasn’t disappointed. And yes… as a girl I read Robinson Crusoe and Swiss Family Robinson and spent hours playing versions of being castaway on a desert island…

Those are my offerings. The near misses include Hagrid from the Harry Potter series – I’ve always loved Hagrid’s sheer stubborn good-heartedness and his bluff inability to keep secrets. If only perfidious Dumbledore had half of Hagrid’s intrinsic integrity… Shakespeare’s Macbeth – yes, I know he turns into a murdering monster. But at the start of the play he’s a brave warrior in love with his wife who wants to do the right thing. For me, he has always epitomised the doomed anti-hero who could have been someone even more extraordinary, if only events and the people closest to him hadn’t stacked up against him. Hiccup from the How To Train Your Dragon series. No, not the magnolia hero of the animated film series – but the skinny, unsure and permanently anxious version Cressida Cowell brings to life in her outstanding humorous adventure series. Cade Silversun from Melanie Rawn’s intriguing and original Glass Thorns series about a magical theatre troupe. In addition to writing their plays, Cade is afflicted with prescient visions – and is one of the most interesting, layered characters in modern fantasy. Matthew Shardlake from C.J. Sansom’s Tudor crime series. A spinal abnormality has prevented Matthew inheriting the family farm, so he travels to London to seek his fortune practising the law and gets embroiled in a number of murder mysteries.

So that’s a roundup of my top literary heroes to date. Who are yours? I’d love to hear who are your favourites and why…

Review of EBOOK The Warslayer by Rosemary Edghill

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This is the wonder of Kindle – discovering gems that for some reason slipped under my radar the first time around. And the huge bonus was that this offering is just that – a free Kindle upload, which had me grinning throughout a chilly, rainy train journey to London.

warslayerLIVE THE LEGEND! Gloria “Glory” McArdle plays Vixen the Slayer in a straight-to-syndication TV show where even the fans say the villain is the better actress. The wizards of Erchanen have been searching all the worlds to find a hero, and Vixen the Slayer is the last name on their list.  The Warmother, imprisoned a thousand years before by Ginnas the Warkiller, has broken free of her ancient chains. If a hero can’t be found somewhere in all the universes to fight for them, the people of Erchanen are toast. But is it Glory they’re looking for… or Vixen

It all seemed to be a perfectly straightforward misunderstanding when Belegir was explaining it in Glory’s dressing room. The reality – if you could call it that – isn’t just fighting for her life. Faced with a challenge like that, what can a girl do but pick up her magic sword and her stuffed elephant and give her trademark battle cry, “Hi-yi-yi-yi! Come, Camrado! Evil wakes!”

There has been a lot of earnest discussion on Fantasy forums recently about female heroines cavorting around in skimpy leather costumes with a lot of attitude and a huge weapon that in reality they probably wouldn’t be able to lift off the ground. Edghill’s take on the whole business back in 2002 pretty much nails all the arguments – in an a sharp, amusing book where her protagonist, an ex-Olympic gymnast, finds herself an overnight star playing in a hugely successful TV show, The Incredibly True Adventures of Vixen the Slayer – think of Princess Xena meeting the first series of Heroes… Nearing the end of a long, gruelling shooting schedule, liberally peppered with wall to wall publicity gigs, Vixen is confronted with three oddly dressed characters in her dressing room, pleading for her help as a hero…

It is a classic and oft-visited Fantasy theme that someone from our world gets mysteriously transported across to another dimension (as reprised in the BBC’s new Saturday night offering Atlantis), normally in a pre-industrial world where horsepower is the norm. So it is here… Edghill plays beautifully with our expectations as Gloria/Vixen finds herself rapidly out of her depth. There are some very funny moments as Gloria finds herself trying to fulfil the brief of visiting heroine, using studio props. Her fight with a monster using the prop sword with a blunt edge had me sniggering aloud – while wincing when another character gets badly mauled in the process, because Edghill also provides us with a cracking adventure story as a bonus.

In addition to the story, we are treated to an article about Vixen the Slayer which will be very familiar to anyone who has read any kind of fanzine, as well an episode synopsis at the back of the book. Overall, this book is a joy and a delightful surprise. Thank you Baen for providing it on Kindle free of charge. Thank you Rosemary Edghill for writing it… And if you enjoy reading Fantasy adventure stories, or watching them on TV, then track down this book. You’ll be really glad you did…
9/10

How Do You Like Your Heroes?

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Well done – all crusty and seared on the outside, but with a core of soft idealism that every so often reveals itself to animals and small children?

Medium – a bit of a mixture? Not exactly the lantern-jawed version, because there are some major flaws such as a weakness for the alteredcarbonopposite sex, rather too fond of drink and a good time when our hero should be righting wrongs – and at times a reluctance to step in and do the right thing because it takes effort and often hurts. More like the rest of us, in other words. But when it all hits the fan this person will step up and put herself on the line for the rest of us.

thebladeOr rare… a mass of simmering resentment against a brutal, unfair world, who will kick against anyone standing in their way. But, who nonetheless, doesn’t steal from cripples or take advantage of defenceless young girls. Mostly…

In speculative fiction, many authors explore the idea of heroes in interesting ways. We have Richard Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs in Altered Carbon, who is a classic anti-hero right on the edge of acceptability. Violent and out for what he can get – yet ensures that he targets the corporate fat cats. Joe Abercrombie’s torturer, Glokta in the First Law series is even less attractive. After being crippled, he gets even with the rest of the world by inflicting pain on other people for a living. It is his desert-dry wit that he is liable to turn against himself as well as everyone else that lets readers empathise with him, even if we’d rather never encounter him. As I read him, I find myself wondering how I’d feel in leviathansimilar circumstances, which is, I feel, always the mark of successful fiction.

But the most absorbing examination of heroes I’ve recently encountered is in James S.A. Corey’s space opera noir thriller, Leviathan Wakes. Miller is the burned out station cop who has become a professional liability – but when confronted with the unthinkable, steps up and does what is necessary. What makes this interesting is that he is juxtaposed with Captain Jim Holden, whose classic heroic stance causes almost as many problems as it poses in a politically fragile situation, where he crashes around with all the finesse of a super-nova… So which one of these men is the more effective hero?

madnessofangelsThen we have the urban fantasy versions – Kate Griffin’s half-mad and scarily powerful Matthew Swift in A Madness of Angels is one of the most memorable, set in the grubbier corners of London. He is classically powerful, driven by an over-developed sense of responsibility as he tackles all sorts of supernatural nasties. But, he’s not all that fond of humanity, either… He is riveting enough – but takes on another dimension when compared with Griffin’s later heroic straysoulsoffering in Stray Souls. Sharon is also something of an outcast and fundamentally nice in a way that many modern heroes aren’t – and has collected around her a little group of misfits, who have as much team spirit as a herd of cats. She spends a lot of time trying to get them to understand each other, while fighting Evil in a way that Matthew Swift just wouldn’t.

So… as readers, which sort of hero do you like? Who are your top three favourites? I’m principally interested in science fiction and fantasy – but if you have a classical hero you bonded with years ago, I’d like to hear about that one, too.