Category Archives: Mars adventure

Friday Faceoff – I collect hats. That’s what you do when you’re bald. (James Taylor)

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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 hats, so I’ve taken the idea of hats into space by choosing The Martian by Andy Weir – see my review. After all, he is wearing his helmet on his head – it must count as a type of hat…

 

This is my personal favourite. I love the drama of the swirling red dust as poor old Mark is being swept away and think this is the cover that most effectively depicts the initial drama the starts the book. It was produced in February 2014 by Crown.

 

This edition, produced in February 2014 by Edbury Digital is produced as a movie tie-in cover. So it is Matt Damon suffering on the cover, with flashes of the faceplate hinting at the helmet as he considers his plight after being stranded on Mars. Again, the colour of the cover and his agonised expression captures the drama of the situation.

 

Published in February 2014 by Broadway Books, this is the ‘arrested’ version – we all have them. The photo of us that looks like it’s been taken at a police station after we’ve done something naughty… I’m quite comforted to see that even film stars endure such pics, as I thought it was only one’s children who specialised in taking these efforts. Suffice to say this isn’t a cover that would persuade me to rush out and buy this book.

 

This cover, produced by Autopublished in September 2012, is clearly a DIY effort. Having said that, I’ve seen worse – the biggest criticism of it being that it is very generic. However, that clearly didn’t stop people buying this book in droves, as it subsequently attracted a publishing deal based on its popularity.

 

This Russian cover is another strong contender. I like the drama and fact it depicts the full horror of Mark’s situation. Produced by ACT in September 2014, I like the fact we are seeing exactly what Mark sees – although I’m not sure there are quite so many clouds in a Martian sky. Which cover do you like best?

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Teaser Tuesday – 24th January, 2017

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tuesdayTeaser 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:
The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter
49% These toiling others, the hair on their legs caked in mud, looked back at us with a kind of furtive themassacreofmankindboldness. And I thought I heard them mutter to each other in an odd, high-pitched, almost gurgling sing-song. It occurred to me that I had not heard the tall humanoids utter a word to each other, and did not even know if they were capable of it; perhaps language had been bred out of them too by their monstrous masters.
‘Then if not from Mars – where, Frank?’
‘They’re from Venus,’ Frank said flatly. ‘The Martians went to that planet, and brought them here to the earth. I think they’re from Venus, Julie. Here in England!’

BLURB:It has been 14 years since the Martians invaded England. The world has moved on, always watching the skies but content that we know how to defeat the Martian menace. Machinery looted from the abandoned capsules and war-machines has led to technological leaps forward. The Martians are vulnerable to earth germs. The Army is prepared. So when the signs of launches on Mars are seen, there seems little reason to worry. Unless you listen to one man, Walter Jenkins, the narrator of Wells’ book. He is sure that the Martians have learned, adapted, understood their defeat.

He is right.

This is the sequel of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds by one of the most established, respected science fiction authors writing today. Has Baxter managed to provide a suitably exciting story with sufficient references to the original book, yet respectful enough that this isn’t just some parody? Oh yes. I think he’s made a cracking job of it and I will be reviewing this book in due course.

Five SFF Books That Made Me Laugh – Part 2

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As promised back here, I’ve now trawled through my lists and added another science fiction or fantasy five books that at least made me grin or laugh aloud. Here they are in no particular order…

Insatiable – Book 1 of the Insatiable series by Meg Cabot

insatiableSick of hearing about vampires? So is Meena Harper. But her bosses are making her write about them anyway, even though Meena doesn’t believe in them. Not that Meena isn’t familiar with the supernatural. See, Meena Harper knows how you’re going to die. (Not that you’re going to believe her; no one ever does.) But not even Meena’s precognition can prepare her for what happens when she meets—then makes the mistake of falling in love with—Lucien Antonescu, a modern-day prince with a bit of a dark side. It’s a dark side a lot of people, like an ancient society of vampire-hunters, would prefer to see him dead for.

Another vampire adventure filled with incident and a large dollop of humour to help it all along. I loved both this offering – see my review here – and its sequel, Overbite.

 

How To Train Your Dragon – Book 1 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell

And no… I am not talking about the rather vanilla version portrayed in the films, which is very how to train your dragonentertaining, but nothing like as vivid, anarchic and funny as the books. Hiccup is far less charismatic and far more worried; while Toothless is far less rare, a whole lot naughtier and less obedient than the film – see my review here.

Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III is a truly extraordinary Viking hero known throughout Vikingdom as “the Dragon Whisperer”…but it wasn’t always so. Travel back to the days when the mighty warrior was just a boy, the quiet and thoughtful son of the Chief of the Hairy Hooligans. Can Hiccup capture a dragon and train it without being torn limb from limb? Join the adventure as the small boy finds a better way to train his dragon and become a hero!

Again, this is has been a joy to share with the grandchildren – and I have been known to dip in and out of these books if I need cheering up.

 

The Radleys by Matt Haig

theradleysThe Radleys are an everyday family who juggle dysfunctional lives. Except, as Peter and Helen Radley know, but their children have yet to find out, the Radleys happen to be a family of abstaining vampires. When one night Clara finds herself driven to commit a bloodthirsty act, her parents decide to explain a few things.

This is another vampire book, but unlike any other you’ll have read see my review here. This is the story of a middle-class couple desperately trying to blend into suburban England with their children – to the extent that they haven’t even got around to explaining to their hapless offspring the cause of their garlic allergy and extreme photosensitivity. It is hilarious and shocking by turns – and I’ll guarantee if you read it, you won’t forget this one.

 

Stray Souls – Book 1 of the Magicals Anonymous series by Kate Griffin

straysoulsThis book sort of follows on from the previous offering – what do you do in our modern world if you are cursed with a special power? How do you blend in? What if you can’t blend in?

London’s soul has gone missing. Lost? Kidnapped? Murdered? Nobody knows – but when Sharon Li unexpectedly discovers she’s a shaman, she is immediately called upon to use her newfound powers of oneness with the City to rescue it from a slow but inevitable demise.

Sharon Li tries to provide an answer with her Magicals Anonymous support group. In addition to getting together and discussing their issues together, they also find themselves caught up in Matthew Swift’s latest problem. Unlike the Midnight Mayor series, this one is laugh-aloud funny, in amongst the chaos and drama – see my review here.

 

The Martian by Andy Weir

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.themartian
Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars’ surface, completely alone, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive. And even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, Mark won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark’s not ready to quit. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity and his engineering skills—and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength–he embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive, using his botany expertise to grow food and even hatching a mad plan to contact NASA back on Earth.

I – finally – got to see the film of this 21st century version of the Robinson Crusoe adventure over the Easter break. And was sort of glad that I didn’t spend a lot of money going to watch it at the cinema. Oh, the film was okay – in fact, better than okay. But it only hinted at the humour that runs right through this story, humanising Mark and preventing him from coming across as either a lantern-jawed NASA clone, or a whiny victim. The book was not only a thoroughly enjoyable science fiction adventure, it was also very funny – see my review here.

So what funny or amusing science fiction and fantasy books have I missed off my list? Have you read any of these and also found they made you smile?

Five SFF books that Made Me Laugh – Part 1

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I saw this list on the Top Ten Tuesday meme and couldn’t resist, but am a tad pressed for time, so I’ve rounded up five – with the intention of trawling through my reading lists and finding the rest when there are more hours in the day. So in no particular order, here are five science fiction and fantasy books that put a grin on my face.

Hogfather – Book 20 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett

hogfatherIf I’d been feeling a bit lazier, I think I could have more or less filled this list with Terry Pratchett offerings – or at least padded it out a lot more. The likes of Moving Pictures, The Colour of Magic, Mort and Equal Rites all had me howling with laughter at times.

There are those who believe and those who don’t. Through the ages, superstition has had its uses. Nowhere more so than in the Discworld where it’s helped to maintain the status quo. Anything that undermines superstition has to be viewed with some caution. There may be consequences, particularly on the last night of the year when the time is turning. When those consequences turn out to be the end of the world, you need to be prepared. You might even want more standing between you and oblivion than a mere slip of a girl – even if she has looked Death in the face on numerous occasions…

I had to choose Hogfather, because the scene where Death is handing out presents in the department store grotto never fails to make me giggle every single time I read it.

 

civilcampaignA Civil Campaign – Book 12 of the Miles Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold

Miles Vorkosigan has a problem: unrequited love for the beautiful widow Ekaterin Vorsoisson, violently allergic to marriage after her first exposure. If a frontal assault won’t do, Miles thinks, try subterfuge. He has a cunning plan… Lord Mark Vorkosigan, Miles’ brother, also has a problem: his love has just become unrequited again. But he has a cunning plan… Lord Ivan Vorpatril, Mile’s cousin, has a problem: unrequited love in general. But he too has a cunning plan…

I’ve mentioned before that Bujold covers a wide spread of sub-genres within in this science fiction adventure series and this one is definitely a comedy of manners. And in places, it is hilarious – especially during a particular formal banquet…

 

Date Night at Union Station – Book 1 of the EarthCent Ambassador series by E.M. datenightFoner

This quirky series of novellas set on a space station by indie author E.M. Foner was recommended to me by Himself after I was a tad wrung out after a rather gruelling apocalyptic sci fi novel. I wanted something lighter and amusing – see my review here. This is definitely it.

Kelly Frank is EarthCent’s top diplomat on Union Station, but her job description has always been a bit vague. When she receives a gift subscription to the dating service that’s rumored to be powered by the same benevolent artificial intelligence that runs the huge station, Kelly decides to swallow her pride and give it a shot. But as her dates go from bad to worse, she can only hope that the supposedly omniscient AI is planning a happy ending.

It’s no surprise that once he published this on Amazon, he was flooded with requests for a follow-up – which he duly wrote. The setting is intriguing, the cast of characters suitably eccentric and Foner’s offbeat style really works. I loved it and will be getting hold another of these little gems.

 

mars evacueesMars Evacuees – Book 1 of the Mars Evacuees series by Sophia McDougall

The adventures of Alice Dare entranced me from the moment I picked up this appealing offering and has gone on doing so. I have reread this one to the grandchildren and it made them snigger with laughter, too – see my review here.

When I found out I was being evacuated to Mars, I took it pretty well. And, despite everything that happened to me and my friends afterwards, I’d do it all again. Because until you’ve been shot at, pursued by terrifying aliens, taught maths by a laser-shooting robot goldfish and tried to save the galaxy, I don’t think you can say that you’ve really lived.

As well as being funny, it is also a cracking adventure story featuring one of the most memorable and appealing heroines I have ever read. If you like splashes of humour in amongst the mayhem, then give this one a go – it really is too good to leave to the children.

 

Vampire State of Mind by Jane Loveringvampirestate

Urban fantasy often has a chirpy thread of humour running through it, which I always enjoy – but Lovering has provided a heroine that memorably bounces off the page and has me recalling the book with affection – see my review here.

Jessica Grant knows vampires only too well. She runs the York Council tracker programme making sure that Otherworlders are all where they should be, keeps the filing in order and drinks far too much coffee. To Jess, vampires are annoying and arrogant and far too sexy for their own good, particularly her ex-colleague Sil, who’s now in charge of Otherworld York.

But when a demon turns up and threatens not just Jess but the whole world order, she and Sil are forced to work together, and when Jess turns out to be the key to saving the world it puts a very different slant on their relationship. The stakes are high. They are also very, very pointy and Jess isn’t afraid to use them, even on the vampire that she’s rather afraid she’s falling in love with.

This is urban fantasy at its smart, snappy best – I particularly liked the Brit take on this sub-genre, with the reflection that there’s nothing so dire that a Hobnob can’t make better…

Have you read any of the above and found them amusing? What SFF books have made you grin or laugh?

My Outstanding Reads of 2015

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It was a cracking year, particularly for science fiction and fantasy. I read 121 books this year, wrote 108 reviews and these are the best – the books that have stayed with me long after I’d closed them up and written a review about them.

Fool’s Assassin – Book 1 of Fitz and the Fool by Robin Hobb
Hobb is one of my favourite authors anyhow, so I was delighted when she revisited Fitz and took his story further. And this new adventure didn’t disappoint.

Tom Badgerlock has been living peaceably in the manor house at Withywoods with his beloved wife Molly thesefoolsassassin many years, the estate a reward to his family for loyal service to the crown. But behind the facade of respectable middle-age lies a turbulent and violent past. For Tom Badgerlock is actually FitzChivalry Farseer, bastard scion of the Farseer line, convicted user of Beast-magic, and assassin. A man who has risked much for his king and lost more… On a shelf in his den sits a triptych carved in memory stone of a man, a wolf and a fool. Once, these three were inseparable friends: Fitz, Nighteyes and the Fool. But one is long dead, and one long-missing. Then one Winterfest night a messenger arrives to seek out Fitz, but mysteriously disappears, leaving nothing but a blood-trail. What was the message? Who was the sender? And what has happened to the messenger? Suddenly Fitz’s violent old life erupts into the peace of his new world, and nothing and no one is safe. See my full review here.

 

The Straight Razor Cure – Book 1 of The Low Town series by Daniel Polansky
Warden is an ex-soldier who has seen the worst men have to offer, now a narcotics dealer with a rich, bloody past and straightrazorcurea way of inviting danger. You’d struggle to find someone with a soul as dark and troubled as his. But then a missing child murdered and horribly mutilated, is discovered in an alley. And then another. With a mind as sharp as a blade, and an old but powerful friend in the city, Warden’s the only man with a hope of finding the killer. If the killer doesn’t find him first.
I’ll grant you the blurb isn’t full of joie de vivre – but this book is more fun than it sounds. Mostly because Warden is written in first person viewpoint and his grumpy, cutting narration throughout the story is often amusing and manages to render the more revolting bits less so. This is a strong start to a remarkable trilogy, which has stayed with me throughout the year and if you like your fantasy gritty with a strong protagonist, then I highly recommend this offering. See my full review here.

 

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
This was recommended to me by a couple of my students – and it didn’t disappoint. But whatever you do, don’t look up the reviews written in The Guardian or The Telegraph because they have seen fit to provide the main spoiler which makes a big difference to how you’d read the book.Weareallcompletelybesideourselves

What if you grew up to realise that your father had used your childhood as an experiment? Rosemary doesn’t talk very much, and about certain things she’s silent. She had a sister, Fern, her whirlwind other half, who vanished from her life in circumstances she wishes she could forget. And it’s been ten years since she last saw her beloved older brother, Lowell. Now at college, Rosemary starts to see that she can’t go forward without going back to the time when, aged five, she was sent away from home to her grandparents and returned to find Fern gone.
As soon as I started reading, the surefooted first person voice pulled me in – and then about a quarter of the way in, came the revelation which I didn’t see coming. At all. This is such a clever, original book. What you think must be the themes when you start reading about the fallout surrounding Fern’s disappearance on her family, once you get past That Point, you realise there is another agenda alongside the expected issues of loss and identity. See my full review here.

 

Mars Evacuees – Book 1 of the Mars Evacuees series by Sophia McDougall
The fact that someone had decided I would be safer on Mars, where you could still only SORT OF breathe the air and mars evacueesSORT OF not get sunburned to death, was a sign that the war with the aliens was not going fantastically well. I’d been worried I was about to be told that my mother’s spacefighter had been shot down, so when I found out that I was being evacuated to Mars, I was pretty calm. And despite everything that happened to me and my friends afterwards, I’d do it all again. because until you’ve been shot at, pursued by terrifying aliens, taught maths by a laser-shooting robot goldfish and tried to save the galaxy, I don’t think you can say that you’ve really lived. If the same thing happens to you, this is my advice: ALWAYS CARRY DUCT TAPE.
Yes… I know it’s aimed at children – but this book enchanted me as well as my grandchildren and we are now all looking forward to reading the next slice of the adventure in 2016. See my full review here.

 

The Detective’s Daughter – Book 1 of The Detective’s Daughter series by Lesley Thomson
Kate Rokesmith’s decision to go to the river changed the lives of many. Her murder shocked the nation in the throes thedetectivesdaughterof celebrating the wedding of Charles and Diana. Her husband, never charged, moved abroad under a cloud of suspicion. Her son, just four years old, grew up in a loveless boarding school. And Detective Inspector Darnell, vowing to leave no stone unturned in the search for her killer, began to lose his only daughter, as young Stella Darnell grew to resent the dead Kate Rokesmith.
The theme of love and loss threads through this poignant, thoughtful book, which took me in so many different directions that I soon stopped trying to second-guess where Thomson would take me next and simply enjoyed the ride. It’s a happy feeling when I can sit back and revel in the story and the author’s skill in telling it. See my full review here.

 

The Future Falls – Book 3 of The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff
When Charlotte Gale’s aunt warns their magical family of an approaching asteroid, they scramble to keep humanity thefuturefallsfrom going the way of the dinosaurs. Although between Charlie’s complicated relationship with sorcerer Jack, her cousin Allie’s hormones, the Courts having way too much fun at the end of days, and Jack’s sudden desire to sacrifice himself for the good of the many, Charlie’s fairly certain that the asteroid is the least of her problems. This could have so easily been an adrenaline junkie’s dream with constant action-packed pages of chases… scary magical confrontations ending in blood and gore – and it would have still been an engrossing read. But the cool, ironic tone of the blurb nicely echoes the emotional tenor of the books.

The aunts bake when they get together, and are often squabbling and eccentric. But as with any entity that is extremely powerful and knows it – they are also dangerous. Huff never lets us forget this. It’s a nifty trick to pull off. I love the fact that the Gale family never comes across as too cosy, or let the fact they are run by a matriarchy means they are kinder or softer… Understanding, maybe, but not kind. They can’t afford to be – they are running a family with sufficient power to level the world. And this is another trick Huff has pulled off – the Gales are something beyond human and the more we see about their adventures, the more alien they are. See my full review here.

 

Window Wall – Book 4 of The Glass Thorns series by Melanie Rawn
For nearly two years, Cade has been rejecting his Elsewhens, the Fae gift that grants him prescient glimpses of possible futures, by simply refusing to experience them. But the strain is driving a wedge between him and his windowwalltheatre troupe, Touchstone, and making him erratic on stage and off. It takes his best friend Mieka to force Cade into accepting the visions again, but when he does, he witnesses a terrible attack, though he cannot see who is responsible. Cade knows the future he sees can be changed, and when he finally discovers the truth behind the attack, he takes the knowledge to the only man in the Kingdom who can prevent it: his deadly enemy.
Meanwhile Touchstone is poised to become the best theatrical troupe in the country, though that isn’t the end of their problems. As Cade is wrestling with his own magical talents, Touchstone still have issues of their own to sort out – domestic life collides with the demands of touring; the pressure of constantly providing new, exciting plays; betrayal by someone they thought they could trust… So there is no trace of this series running out of steam – if anything it just goes on getting better. Though whatever you do, don’t pick up Window Wall first. You need to go back to the start to get a real flavour of this original, outstanding series and it would be a crime to do anything else. See my full review here.

 

Embassytown by China Miéville
EmbassytownEmbassytown, a city of contradictions on the outskirts of the universe. Avice is an immerse, a traveller on the immer, the sea of space and time below the everyday, now returned to her birth planet. Here on Arieka, Humans are not the only intelligent life, and Avice has a rare bond with the natives, the enigmatic Hosts – who cannot lie. Only a tiny cadre of unique human Ambassadors can speak Language, and connect the two communities. But an unimaginable new arrival has come to Embassytown. And when this Ambassador speaks, everything changes.

It is a huge challenge, both imaginatively and technically to write convincingly about another species that has never been seen on our home planet. No problem for Miéville, though. He nails it. See my full review here.

 

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The Wayfarer, a patched-up ship the-long-way-666x1024that’s seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled past. But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with the Wayfarer. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptillian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. But Rosemary isn’t the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.

So is all the buzz about this book merited? Oh yes, without a doubt. If you enjoyed Firefly then give this book a go, as it manages to recreate the same vibe that had so many of us tuning in to see what would happen next to the crew. While Rosemary is the protagonist, this tale is as much about the varied crew and their fortunes as they serve aboard the Wayfarer. Chambers manages to deftly sidestep pages of description by focusing on the fascinating different alien lifeforms peopling the ship. See my full review here.

 

The Shepherd’s Crown – the final Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett
Deep in the Chalk, something is stirring. The owls and the foxes can sense it, and Tiffany Aching feels it in her boots. theshepherdscrownAn old enemy is gathering strength. This is a time of endings and beginnings, old friends and a new, a blurring of the edges and a shifting of power. Now Tiffany stands between the light and the dark, the good and the bad. As the fairy horde prepares for invasion, Tiffany must summon all the witches to stand with her. To protect the land. Her land. There will be a reckoning…

The story trips along at a good clip, providing all the unique Pratchett touches his fans know and love, including the whacky footnotes and the formerly obnoxious character that reveals a nicer side to her nature – a feat Pratchett regularly pulled off throughout this long-running series. And the ending provides plenty of action and excitement with a thoroughly enjoyable, wholly satisfying conclusion. Is this a detached, unbiased review? Probably not. I am discussing the last, the very last Discworld novel, ever. The series that has given me more pleasure over the years than any other. Wherever you are, Mr Pratchett, thank you for this last gem. The magic persists. See my full review here.

 

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Cary
Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite. But they don’t laugh.

The viewpoint is masterful, as is the pacing. I’m not going to mention any more about the story development, thegirlwithallthegiftsbecause Carey has deliberately constructed it so the reader goes on discovering more about the world as the story progresses. I personally love that particular style of storytelling above all others and devoured this book in three greedy gulps, reading when I should have been sleeping. Or editing. Or writing lesson plans. Or organising my trip to Bristolcon. In short, I broke one of my golden rules – I read for pure enjoyment during the day, rather to relax and unwind as a present to myself after a long day’s work. See my full review here.

 

Lock In by John Scalzi
Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. Most of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever lockinand headaches. A few suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And 1 per cent find themselves ‘locked in’ – fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. It may not seem like a lot. But in the US alone that’s 1.7 million people ‘locked in’… including the President’s wife and daughter. Spurred by grief and the sheer magnitude of the suffering. America undertakes a massive scientific initiative. Nothing can fully restore the locked in, but two new technologies emerge to help. One is a virtual-reality environment, ‘The Agora’, where the locked in can interact with other humans. The second is the discovery that a few rare individuals have minds that are receptive to being controlled by others, allowing the locked in to occasionally use their bodies as if they were their own. This skill is quickly regulated, licensed, bonded and controlled. Nothing can go wrong. Certainly nobody would be tempted to misuse it, for murder, for political power, or worse…

Yes, yes – I know – the blurb goes on forever. But you need to know this stuff to fully appreciate and understand the world, because Scalzi doesn’t hang about giving long-winded explanations. This book hits the ground running in first person viewpoint, as Chris Shane walks into the FBI building on his first day as a fully-fledged agent. He is coping with more than the usual first day nerves – Chris Shane is a Haden, whose helpless body is back in his parents’ home being cared for, while his consciousness is uploaded into a threep – a robotic body that allows him to talk, hear, see and move. See my full review here.

 

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
Run away, one drowsy summer’s afternoon, with Holly Sykes: wayward teenager, broken-hearted rebel and unwitting pawn in a titanic, hidden conflict. Over six decades, the consequences of a moment’s impulse unfold, theboneclocksdrawing an ordinary woman into a world far beyond her imagining.

Right from the first page, I was drawn into this episodic narrative. Holly has run away after discovering her best friend in bed with her boyfriend. Though I was reading it on an autumn night, I was whisked away to the blistering heat as Holly has an emotional meltdown. And during this starting point, events unspool during that particular afternoon that go on having consequences for decades to come. The next five episodes that comprise the whole narrative all circle around that primary event, in one way or another as we also chart Holly’s life. It’s a difficult life. Being singled out doesn’t make for an easy time of it. But Mitchell does what he does best – provide a series of sharply written, beautifully crafted slices of action that allow us to join up the dots and provide the overarching narrative. See my full review here.

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…

My Top Ten Literary Heroines

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Thanks to Sara Letourneau’s list here, I decided to have a bash at this fun exercise. I was initially all set to include the likes of Jane Eyre, Emma Woodhouse and Jo March – all solid favourites of mine, but then recalled that every one of them were married off to drearily bossy, opinionated men. I suspect that twenty-something years down the line, after giving birth to a large brood of children, they would have been reduced to slightly more intelligent versions of Mrs Bennet, suffering from a number of debilitating ailments brought on by too many babies in too short a time, and used as a verbal punchbag by their sarcastic husbands.

So in no particular order – here is my list, shorn of my classic choices…

1. Mendoza, the main protagonist in The Company novels by Kage Baker. She is a highly augmented, partinthegardenofiden cyborg immortal slave, rescued by the Company and trained up as a botanist as part of their workforce. Her story starts in the first book In the Garden of Iden where she is imprisoned by the Inquisition as a small child. The series is remarkable – I have never encountered anything else quite like it, a marvellous mash-up of science fiction and fantasy. Kage Baker is a scandalously neglected writer who died tragically early of cancer, while the last two books do slightly lose the plot, the earlier books in this series are wonderful. Mendoza increasingly realises the Company is not the force for good she initially assumed it was – and takes steps to try and fight back…

 

2. Alma Whittaker, protagonist in The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. Alma is a wealthy signatureofallthingsVictorian heiress, but not particularly blessed with looks or social graces. Disappointed in love, she doesn’t lapse into bitterness, or tuck herself away to rot in spinsterly misery – she throws herself into her scientific investigations into the nature of lichens. Gilbert has written a wonderful heroine, full of courage and energy, but still believably vulnerable.

 

3. Mori, protagonist in Among Others by Jo Walton. At the start of this book,15 yr old Mori has been sent to among othersan English boarding school after magically fighting her mother, who is trying to take control of the fairies. Her twin sister is killed in the battle, and Mori sustains major injuries to her leg, leaving her lame and in constant pain. She turns to science fiction books for consolation as she struggles to cope with her grief and pain. It is a wonderful book and swept me up, as well as winning a hatful of awards.

 

4. Sirantha Jax from the series by Ann Aguirre. I read the first three of these books, starting with Grimspace,grimspace featuring the female jump pilot, who is plunged into a series of adventures and scrapes – some of them of her own making. I love her edgy, reckless nature and first person voice that bounces off the page. In looking up the series, I notice with delight that the series is now complete – so I must track down the last three books…

 

5. Mitzy Hatcher from A Half-Forgotten Song by Katherine Webb. Another favourite author of mine, this half forgotten songbook struck so many chords with me, I was humming with pleasure and pain most of the way through… Poor little loveless Mitzy should be an absolute victim – and she just isn’t, though sheer guts and determination to pursue the love of her life… It takes her to some very dark places and an unexpected ending.

 

6. Mary Smith from The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart. This children’s book is a gem that has always littlebroomstickentranced classes I’ve read it to throughout my teaching career – and while the likes of Madam Mumblechook of Endor College and the sheer delight of the narrative pulls the story along, it is small, shy Mary Smith that quietly dominates… It’s a very neat trick to pull off and I’m really sorry that more people don’t know this wonderful book, with its echoes of the far more famous Hogwarts.

 

7. Granny Weatherwax from the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett. I loved her from the moment I first equalritesread the books, more years ago than I care to think. And now, as a granny who regularly practises headology to defuse any confrontations with the grandchildren – she is my absolute heroine. All I now need are the boots and rocking chair…

 

 

8. Oree the protagonist from The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. Oree Shoth is a blind street artist thebrokenkingdomswho lives in the city of Sky, with the ability to see magic. When she finds a beggar blazing with magical potential left for dead in the alley behind her house, she takes him in. This is the second book in the remarkable Inheritance Trilogy and for my money, is the best. I wept at the end of this book – something that hardly ever happens these days. Oree could have so easily been depicted as a victim, but is far too sharp to fall into that category. I think it’s fair to say that she annoys her guest into recovering from his terrible injuries…

9. Alice Dare from Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall. This is a children’s book this adult found absolutely mars evacueesenthralling and shared it with an equally enthralled granddaughter this year, who also loved it. Alice is evacuated to Mars along with several hundred other children destined to continue the desperate fight with the aliens trying to take over Earth. It is poignant, funny, frightening, funny and thrilling by turns. The main protagonist is wonderfully amusing, which goes to some way to leaven the desperate situation they are in – but not by as much as you might think. And Alice’s superpower is that she simply refuses to give up… a wonderful role model for girls of all ages who feel a tad overwhelmed by Life.

10. Sharon Li of the Magicals Anonymous series by Kate Griffin. This series is an offshoot of the very straysoulssuccessful Midnight Mayor series featuring Matthew Swift. Sharon Li is everything Matthew isn’t – for starters, she’s human. And at pains to be as inclusive as possible, as well as celebrating every variation of magical manifestation who turn up to her self-help group. Sharon is marvellous – I love her dogged determination to do the right thing, and the bonus is the laugh-out-loud moments scattered through these books.

 

And that’s my current list. Chances are, you ask me for an update in a couple of years, there will be quite a different selection – though I can’t conceive of a list without Mendoza, Mary Smith or Granny Weatherwax…
What about you? Who are your favourite literary heroines, and why?

Review of EBOOK Kindle edition The Martian by Andy Weir

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I’d seen several posters for this book and when I read the rave reviews on Amazon and the first few pages – after several really disappointing science fiction novels, I was more than ready to be swept away. Did The Martian tick the box?

themartianI’m stranded on Mars. I have no way to communicate with Earth. I’m in a Habitat designed to last 31 days. If the Oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the Water Reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of explode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death. So yeah. I’m screwed.

That is the blurb in Mark Watney’s viewpoint – typically laconic. Several of the reviews called this a 21st century version of the Robinson Crusoe story, and it neatly sums up the first section of the book. Like Defoe, Weir is very keen on demonstrating all the fixes and lash-ups that Watney resorts to. But being an astronaut on a NASA space program, the ingenious ways he manages to avoid death involve a great deal more technology and scientific knowhow than Robinson Crusoe had to grapple with. Weir had to dive into a truly brain-bulging amount of research in order to get this level of detail and apparent plausibility. Although I’m no scientist, nothing jarred – not his reaction or the relationship with NASA.

However, if Weir had kept the story going at that level, I would not have stayed engrossed right to the end. The narrative pacing is pitch perfect – despite the plethora of detail, Weir never loses touch with the fact that he is telling a story. All the setbacks and dramas had a complete ring of sincerity while they all duly turned up at the right part of the book in order to keep me reading, I only realised it afterwards when I flipped back and checked.

As the repercussions of Watney’s misfortunes reverberate throughout NASA and into the wider world, the sense of everyone being caught by his plight, helplessly watching his gritted struggle for survival adds yet another angle to the unfolding drama. As does the question of whether they can mount a rescue effort that will reach him before his food runs out… I am not in the business of giving spoilers so won’t say too much more about it – with a book so gripping, it would be a major sin to ruin such a rich, enjoyable reading experience. This is one of the best science fiction books I’ve read this year, and even if you’re not in the habit of reading sci fi – give this one a go. And if you do, you’ll know why they are currently filming the story…
10/10