Tag Archives: David Brin

Friday Faceoff – After every storm the sun will smile…


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 a cover featuring the sun, so I’ve selected Sundiver – Book 1 of the Uplift series by David Brin.


This cover, produced by Bantam Spectra in July 2010, is certainly full of drama. They certainly have the tone of the novel nailed – bossy aliens and overwhelmed humans clearly on the back foot. The artwork is dramatic and pleasing, though it’s pity about those blocks of brown topping and tailing the cover.


This edition was produced by Orbit in December 2011 and is a copy of their 1996 design, which I actually prefer because I think the shadowed lettering stands out far more successfully. Unfortunately, because it is a photo of the cover, the definition is poor. But for all that, this is my favourite. That torus is just so beautiful against the sizzling heat of the sun…


Published in November 1981 by Bantam, I also really like this one. Where the previous cover is all about drama, heat and fire – this one is darker with shadows and… things lurking there that may or may not be threats. The sphere looks suitably otherworldly, too. The big problem with this one is the lettering – it blends into the artwork far too much.


This French edition, published by Le Livre de Poche in June 1995 is another good effort, with all those swirling solar winds. I like the rather quirky font, too. However the overall effect is rather crude which is why it isn’t my favourite, though I do have a soft spot for this one…


This German edition, produced by Heyne in February 2014 is another very pleasing effort. I love the simplicity of the design, which really pops in thumbnail size and the fade effect on David Brin’s name is very effective. It is wasn’t for that amazing torus, this would probably have got my vote this week. Which is your favourite?


Books I Wish I’d Reviewed…


I read a number of these a long time ago, before the internet existed or I even considered there’d be a time when I would share my love of books and reading with numbers of other people who also take part in this most solitary of hobbies. And the rest are books that I read before I really got bitten by the reviewing bug. Either way, I occasionally tell myself that I’ll go back and reread them some day to write the review. But if I’m honest – I probably won’t because I generally don’t reread books, in case the second time around they disappoint. In which case, I will have gained two miserable memories – the one of revisiting a favourite book and finding it isn’t that impressive after all, but even more devastatingly – it will also have smirched the lovely glow around my recollection of the delight when I read the book first time around.

In no particular order…


Cider With Rose by Laurie Lee
Cider with Rosie is a wonderfully vivid memoir of childhood in a remote Cotswold village, a villagecider with rosie before electricity or cars, a timeless place on the verge of change. Growing up amongst the fields and woods and characters of the place, Laurie Lee depicts a world that is both immediate and real and belongs to a now-distant past.

I read this when I was fourteen and immediately fell in love with the book and the depiction of a lost time in rural Gloucestershire. Much later, when pregnant with my daughter, I encountered Lee’s essay on when his daughter was born and cried as I read it. I was probably a tad hormonal, but it is beautifully written…


The Go-Between by L.P. Hartleythegobetween
“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” Summering with a fellow schoolboy on a great English estate, Leo, the hero of L. P. Hartley’s finest novel, encounters a world of unimagined luxury. But when his friend’s beautiful older sister enlists him as the unwitting messenger in her illicit love affair, the aftershocks will be felt for years.

Another wonderfully written book – a real mixture of humour and bitter poignancy and the ending is a shock. The dialogue is a masterclass in writing subtext and if you haven’t ever read it, do so. Set before WWI, it is another lost world, where poor little Leo is adrift in a social shark tank and is shamefully exploited by people who should have known better.


requiemforawrenRequiem for a Wren by Neville Shute
Sidelined by a wartime injury, fighter pilot Alan Duncan reluctantly returns to his parents’ remote sheep station in Australia to take the place of his brother Bill, who died a hero in the war. But his homecoming is marred by the suicide of his parents’ parlormaid, of whom they were very fond. Alan soon realizes that the dead young woman is not the person she pretended to be…

I’d studied A Town Like Alice at school and loved it, so went looking for everything Shute wrote, which was a fair amount. I loved most of it – but Requiem for a Wren stole a particular portion of my heart, as the story depicted all too clearly the personal cost of war. If you ever encounter a battered Neville Shute novel in a second-hand shop – they occur with surprisingly regularity – scoop it up. There is a solid reason why he was such a popular author for thirty-odd years in the last century.


Chocky by John Wyndhamchocky
Matthew, they thought, was just going through a phase of talking to himself. And, like many parents, they waited for him to get over it, but it started to get worse. Mathew’s conversations with himself grew more and more intense – it was like listening to one end of a telephone conversation while someone argued, cajoled and reasoned with another person you couldn’t hear. Then Matthew started doing things he couldn’t do before, like counting in binary-code mathematics. So he told them about Chocky – the person who lived in his head.

Another wonderful author, who is famous for The Day of the Triffids, but wrote a number of other really enjoyable science fiction stories. Again, I loved them all – but Chocky was a particular favourite.


rideratthegateRider at the Gate – Book 1 of the Nighthorses duology by C.J. Cherryh
Stranded on a distant planet that abounds with fertile farmland, human colonists appear to be in paradise. But all the native animals communicate by telepathy, projecting images that drive humans mad. Only Nighthorses stand between civilization and madness. When a flare of human emotion spreads to all the horses, chaos erupts.

I fell in love with C.J. Cherryh’s writing from the first sentence – and this is her at her unbeatable best. I’d also include the sequel Cloud’s Rider, which is another gem.


Sundiver – Book 1 of the Uplift Saga by David Brinsundiver
No species has ever reached for the stars without the guidance of a patron–except perhaps mankind. Did some mysterious race begin the uplift of humanity aeons ago? Circling the sun, under the caverns of Mercury, Expedition Sundiver prepares for the most momentous voyage in history–a journey into the boiling inferno of the sun.

I loved this take on what might befall Earth creatures should we encounter alien cultures – and how terrestrial species other than humans might fare.


fallingfreeFalling Free – Book 4 of the Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold
Leo Graf was an effective engineer…Safety Regs weren’t just the rule book he swore by; he’d helped write them. All that changed on his assignment to the Cay Habitat. Leo was profoundly uneasy with the corporate exploitation of his bright new students till that exploitation turned to something much worse. He hadn’t anticipated a situation where the right thing to do was neither save, nor in the rules… Leo Graf adopted 1000 quaddies now all he had to do was teach them to be free

Another talented speculative fiction author, whose groundbreaking writing has taken me to wonderful worlds. I have reviewed a number of the Miles Vorkosigan adventures – but this particular story featuring the quaddies has always had a special place in my heart…

What about you – have you any books that you wish you had reviewed? Or books you dare not reread in case they aren’t quite as wonderful as you recall?

Review of Existence by David Brin


I loved the Uplift novels and when I saw this offering on the shelves with the gorgeous 3D cover – it was a no-brainer that I’d scoop it up…

existenceGerald Livingston is an orbital garbage collector. For a hundred years, people have been abandoning things in space, and someone has to clean it up. But there’s something spinning a little bit higher than he expects, something that isn’t on the decades’ old orbital maps. An hour after he grabs it and brings it in, rumours fill Earth’s infomesh about an “alien artefact.” Thrown into the maelstrom of worldwide shared experience, the Artefact is a game-changer. A message in a bottle; an alien capsule that wants to communicate. The world reacts as humans always do: with fear and hope and selfishness and love and violence. And insatiable curiosity.

That’s the blurb. And it manages to make the book sound a great deal more cosily manageable than it actually is… Be warned – this is a gnarly read, particularly if your taste runs to fast-paced, character-led tales. For starters, it is a large book with a smallish font and 550 pages. But if you hang in there and grit your teeth over the info-dumps, this book is a rewarding, thought-provoking read in the best tradition of hard science fiction that raises questions of morality and philosophy, alongside the slice of futuristic adventure.

I haven’t come across a book more aptly named. For most of the novel, Brin addresses the notion of existence – and using his sprawling, epic plot explores various options open to Humanity trying to negotiate through the perplexing puzzles posed by the crystal artefact. I can guarantee you won’t find a First Contact novel that more thoroughly covers the ramifications for both us and any possible aliens still out there. In fact, right the way through this very long novel, this crystal gismo continues to provide one revelation after another. The majority of them are eminently feasible, so that I found myself at times muttering aloud at the sheer coolness of the concept.

For starters, the near-future world in which the crystal artefact pitches up is instantly recognisable. Our social media and constant interaction has been stretched so that the majority are plugged into virtual overlays and artificial intelligence is busy assisting us in every aspect of living – which is both an advantage and disadvantage… Brin has also provided a colourful range of characters whose varying reactions to the cataclysmic discovery is not only informative, but completely convincing. While I won’t pretend that depicting snappy, layered characters in a couple pages is one of Brin’s strengths, by the end of the book I really cared about a small handful of the eccentric band of protagonists that wove their way through this doorstopper.

Any niggles? The multiple viewpoints only have a couple of pages each, before we flit off to another character, which gave the book an old fashioned feel and meant that as a reader there was no getting comfortable or relaxed. While some of the backstory inserts were spot on in length, there were several times I came to an abrupt stop in a character’s viewpoint with some exasperation. While this is an amazing book that demonstrates an impressive breadth of imagination, intelligent deduction and ambition, the later depictions of the autistic character frankly had me wincing. There were also sections that I felt could have been chopped without losing all that much – and would have speeded up the overall pace to the book’s advantage.

But these observations are niggles. Set against what Brin set out to achieve and how triumphantly successful he has been, they are minor annoyances and shouldn’t dissuade anyone from picking up the book. And if you’ve ever seriously wondered where humanity is going and why we haven’t yet encountered anyone else in the galaxy, then go looking for Existence. It doesn’t provide mere food for thought – it provides a seven-course banquet…