Tag Archives: Arthur C. Clarke award

Review of Synners by Pat Cadigan

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I’ve been reading a number of novellas and some children’s books, so suddenly felt like getting my teeth into something a bit more meaty and this alluring, dark cover beckoned to me from my teetering To Be Read pile. So I scooped it up and dived in…

synnersIn Synners, the line between humanity and technology is hopelessly slim. The human mind and the external landscape have fused to the point where any encounter with ‘reality’ is incidental. Now you can change yourself to suit the machines – and all it will cost you is your freedom. And your humanity.

This cyberpunk winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award takes a while to get going as the group of disparate characters are established amongst a tech-heavy world in a near-future where everyone is increasingly reliant on their technology. Given that this was written and published back in 1992, before many of our current technological gismos were in current use, Cadigan’s world is eerily prescient. I felt very at home with much of her near-future predictions, which is a tad worrying when considering how it all ends.

When there is a number of main characters, there are always the one or two who particularly chime – for me, these were Gina, who hooked up with the video star Visual Mark twenty-something years ago and is still drifting in his wake as he becomes increasingly lost to his videos and drug-taking. Though she is still a name to contend with, as her daredevil stunts in Mark’s videos have earned her respect throughout the industry. She sings off the page with her cynical, acidic asides and her gritted passion for what she believes in. The other character I really loved is poor old Gabe, the typical artist-turned-corporate-wage-slave, who makes advertisements, while wishing he did almost anything else. To allay his boredom and sense of futility, he regularly escapes into a classic game using a hotsuit to enable him to virtually interact with the two main characters in the game.

This is one of the main attributes of cyberpunk – not only to pull the reader into a high-tech, near-future world, but also into cyberspace where reality exists in the interface between humanity and machines. And the best of this genre takes you there, immersing you into an altered landscape, where memes and symbols take on different meanings that the reader completely accepts.

Therefore when it all starts kicking off, two-thirds of the way through this one, Cadigan’s virtual world sings off the page in a blend of poetry and prose as she depicts her characters’ rich inscapes with complete conviction. This is why I am prepared to slow down my normal reading rate for this particular genre and pay attention – because the rewards are so very satisfying when it is done well. Needless to say, the climax is beautifully handled, and the final third of the book was difficult to put down as the plot continues gathering momentum during the ongoing crisis and humanity attempts to fight back. And in this genre, there is no guarantee of a ‘happy ever after’ ending.

I finally put the book down, aware of coming back to the present from a long way away – always the mark of a master worldbuilder. So while Synners takes time to get going, my advice with this one is to persevere – it’s worth it.
9/10

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Sunday Post – 20th November 2016

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Sunday Post

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.

This week has been a lot calmer, thank goodness. I cannot believe that there is only three more weeks to go before we break up for Christmas – where has this term gone? I received the news on Friday that both next term’s Creative Writing courses have now sufficient students to run, which is a lovely position to be at this stage in the term.

This week I resumed my Fitstep and Pilates classes after a two week break – and realised just how fast I’d lost ground in my efforts to keep fit… it was a struggle! On Thursday, my writing buddy Mhairi came over for the day and we both got plenty of writing done, as well as putting the universe right. And on Friday morning, to celebrate Himself overcoming a miserable spell at work, we treated ourselves to an outing – we went to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them at Chichester, then had lunch out together. I’ll be reviewing the film this coming week.

I’ve only read two books this week and one of those is a children’s book, but I’ve been working hard on my rewrite for Miranda’s Tempest and after having made a really strong start, I’ve hit the boggy mid-book bit. As I’m also making a major viewpoint change, it is slow going for the time being, until I hit the final few chapters, which I’m confident will be mostly as is.

This week I have read:
Synners by Pat Cadigan
In Synners, the line between humanity and technology is hopelessly slim. The human mind and the synnersexternal landscape have fused to the point where any encounter with ‘reality’ is incidental. Now you can change yourself to suit the machines – and all it will cost you is your freedom. And your humanity.

This award-winning cyberpunk adventure from 1992 is eerily prescient and well worth the effort of slowing my normal reading rate right down so I could fully appreciate the technical world-building. It took a while to get going, but is a satisfying, thought-provoking read and an apt reminder of why science fiction is my favourite genre.

 

Clover Moon by Jacqueline Wilson
clovermoonClover Moon’s imagination is her best escape from a life of hardship in poverty-stricken Victorian London. When tragedy plunges her into a world of grief, Clover realizes that everything she loved about the place she called home is gone. Clover hears of a place she could run to, but where will she find the courage – and the chance – to break free? And could leaving her family be just what she needs to find a place that really feels like home?

I love Wilson’s gritty, tender writing and this Victorian adventure about a child born into a London slum was impossible to put down once I opened it up. And for those who enjoyed Wilson’s awesome Hetty Feather series, there is a wonderful scene where Clover meets up with the indomitable Hetty. I’ll be reviewing this one in due course.

 

My posts last week:
Sunday Post – 13th November 2016

Review of Songs of Seraphina by Jude Houghton

Teaser Tuesday – featuring Synners by Pat Cadigan

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of An Empire Asunder – Book 2 of The Scourwind Legacy by Evan Currie

The Sunshine Blogger Award

Friday Faceoff – The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play… featuring Storm Front – Book 1 of The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

Review of The Silver Tide – Book 3 of The Copper Cat series by Jen Williams

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

All the Gear and No Idea Guide to Maintaining Fitness in Wellington http://memoirsonthemove.com/maintaining-fitness-wellington/ In this enjoyable article, Jess charts her efforts to find a suitable pilates class after recently settling in New Zealand from the UK. But you don’t have to go around halfway around to world to pick up some sound practical tips if seeking a suitable exercise class.

These Words are Knives and Bridges https://jeanleesworld.com/2016/11/17/these-words-are-knives-bridges/ There are times when people who have undergone terrible experiences take the brave, generous decision to share them in all their raw messiness with rest of us. Jean is one such courageous person and I honour her for it. It doesn’t hurt that she also happens to write like an angel…

Five Fascinating Facts about John Skelton https://interestingliterature.com/2016/11/18/five-fascinating-facts-about-john-skelton/ This site is one of my favourites – and this particular article snagged my attention as John Skelton is an ancestor of mine.

That moment just before… https://photolicioux.wordpress.com/2016/11/16/that-moment-just-before/ Another favourite site – and this beautiful pic says it all.

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

Review of Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

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This science fiction offering was a BSFA nominee and the winner of the 2013 Arthur C. Clarke award, so I was interested to see what all the fuss was about. Would my tastes line up with those who felt it was an outstanding read?

You live in Eden. You are a member of the Family, one of 532 descendants of Angela and Tommy. You shelter beneath the Forest’s lantern trees. Beyond the forest lie mountains so forbidding that no one has ever crossed them. The Oldest recount legends of a time when men and women made boats that could travel between worlds. One day, they will come back for you.

You live in Eden. You are member of the Family, one of 532 descendants of two marooned explorers. You huddle, slowly starving, in the warmth of geothermal trees, confined to one barely habitable valley of an alien, sunless world. You are John Redlantern, a teenager and agent of change for life in Eden.

darkedenThis book has a 1970’s feel about it – but with modern nuances and the story being told through a number of the most prominent characters in first person viewpoint. John Redlantern, the main protagonist who feels that the Family emphasis on the past and insistence on staying put in the Circle Valley despite the increasing scarcity of food, starts off as a classic hero. But Beckett is far too sophisticated to leave him as the idealised leader-in-waiting for the group. Despite his intelligent farsightedness, John is essentially far too calculating and self-absorbed to be an effective leader. There is also a sense that the colony’s very open-ended attitude towards sex has caused harm to youngsters like John, who are in demand from the older women. The dynamic between the sexes is very interesting. While the Family is static over a period of time, the Leaders are mostly women who govern through a series of meetings. Once the situation becomes more tense and fluid, this group of women are by-passed as a group of the most effective male hunters take over and decide that they will fix the problem using more aggressive methods. Because the story unfolds through the characters’ viewpoint, Beckett allows the reader to decide which option is preferable for the long term stability and wellbeing of the Family

The backstory of the colony is poignant and effectively depicted, and as the Family’s eldest members all recount the stories of a place where they belong – a place with light – the majority of the colonists yearn to return to Earth. One of the interesting twists, is that one of the original astronauts had a cleft palette and with the amount of inter-breeding that has occurred, there are a number of colonists born with this defect and other more significant problems.

The prose is spare, with a number of invented words and phrases the colonists have coined during their time on Eden (an ironic choice of name), but this belies the richness of detail and complexity Beckett has managed to include in this tale. Several other reviewers have speculated as to whether there will be a sequel. Like others, I would certainly go to some lengths to seek out a continuation of this fascinating story – but my hunch is that Beckett has so effectively portrayed the plight and ongoing situation of this lost strand of humanity, he sees no need to revisit this scenario. And if you only ever pick up a handful of science fiction books a year, make this one of that handful. You won’t be sorry if you do.
10/10

Review of Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

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This has been on my ‘to read’ list for some time – and obviously, when it won last year’s Arthur C. Clarke award, it got boosted to ‘must read’.

Zinzi has a Sloth on her back, a dirty 419 scam habit, and a talent for finding lost things. But when a little old lady turns up dead and the cops confiscate her last paycheck, she’s forced to take on her least favourite kind of job – missing persons.

zoocityAnd that’s the blurb. Which doesn’t really give you much of an idea about what the book is about – however trying to sum up this South African offering in a few lines was always going to be a big ask. Zinzi December is an ex-journalist trying to rebuild her life after having been involved in the death of her brother. But, in this alternate world, those who feel particularly guilty find themselves paired with an animal who may or may not contain the soul of the person they wronged. Beukes doesn’t spend a great deal of time on exposition, but the first person narrative is at times interspersed with other documents – and the academic treatise on the prejudice against ‘zoos’ is examined, along with its causes. Zinzi is bonded with Sloth, who she has to have reasonably close, or die a painful, terrifying death – but in addition, zoos have a gift. Zinzi’s is an ability to find lost things, which she visualises floating above people.

And the Zoo City? A slum area in Johannesburg, inhabited by criminals – mostly accompanied by their animals. This is a vivid and richly different world. I lived in Zambia for a chunk of my childhood and the African slang words and rhythms rang with authenticity, along with the slick, wonderfully worded metaphorical language. Being something of a word junkie, I just loved rolling Beukes’ phrases around in my mouth.

Zinzi leaps off the page with her sharp, street-smart attitude, underscored by the guilt surrounding her brother’s death and occasional shafts of regret for her lost life of privilege and parents… We don’t ever get to the bottom of exactly what happened to Thanda, her brother – or exactly what passed between Zinzi and her parents in the aftermath. Beukes drops a few allusions and the reader is allowed to fill in the gaps, which is fine with me.  Essentially, this vivid, scary world and the cast of eccentric characters peopling it have been crafted to tell a whodunit.

So – does Beukes’ plotline match up the excellence of her compelling world and richly textured prose? Well… no, not really. Not that there is anything essentially wrong with the narrative – there were all sorts of interesting little plot twists and cul-de-sacs that worked perfectly well, but were relatively ordinary. In contrast, her world and characterisation is superb, while her prose is mostly wonderful – the plotting would have had to be amazing to have matched that standard. This doesn’t take away what Zoo City has to offer – it is still dizzyingly good. But don’t take my word for it – if you are remotely interested in speculative fiction and haven’t already got hold of this book, then do so. It is one of those books that will still be discussed ten years from now as a benchmark read of 2010/11.

10/10