Tag Archives: dystopian science fiction adventure

Review of Star Wars: The Dark – Book 4 of the Adventures in Wild Space series by Tom Huddleston

Standard

Oscar and I have really enjoyed this series to date – and we left Lina and Milo Graf in a tough spot at the end of the previous book as they had been captured by the Empire. So we were keen to read this next instalment to discover what happens next.

In a galaxy far, far away… Milo and Lina are adrift on a starship that is spiralling towards disaster. A dangerous criminal is on the loose, the Empire is closing in – and something even deadlier awaits them in The Dark…

Set in the very familiar world of the Star Wars franchise, this series of science fiction books is designed to appeal to boys between the ages of 7-10. We discovered this series last year when Oscar had his World Book Week £1 token and picked up the prequel, full of excitement that he had found something he really wanted me to read to him – see my review of The Snare. The covers are attractive, the font a friendly size and there are a number of black and white illustrations dotted throughout that help the story along, but it is designed for newly independent readers.

After following Lina and Milo in their desperate search for their parents through the previous four books, we were keen that they should be able to escape from their current predicament. Locked up in a cell and heading towards the vicious Captain Korda, their prospects look bleak – and indeed, I was surprised at just how genuinely creepy this offering is. Rapidly, things start to go wrong on this freighter and when the lights go out, there is a rushing, scuttling sound as it appears some of the cargo has escaped…

We ended up reading this not just before bed and first thing in the morning, but we also slotted in a reading session mid-afternoon as we both wanted to discover what would happen next, when two new prisoners are picked up. One has the title the Butcher of Brentaal IV – and it’s easy to see how the huge alien came by his grim title, with his scarred face and growling voice – Lina and Mira are very relieved that he is safely locked up, though they decide not to let the friendly Stel out, either. After all, they had trusted another character earlier in their adventures and look where that led them…

We were both gripped by this one and although I guessed one of the main plot twists that changes the fortunes of our two brave prisoners, it didn’t really matter as there was so much going on. Like Oscar, the moment we came to the end of this one, I was keen to find out when the next instalment in this entertaining series was coming out. This is an enjoyable read and comes highly recommended particularly for boys between 7-10, depending on maturity and reading ability.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Scarlet – Book 2 of the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

Standard

I read and thoroughly enjoyed Cinder – see my review here – and promptly went out and bought Scarlet, which I tucked into while I was still recovering from a heavy cold.

Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, is trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive. Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her.

This series niftily blends the current trend for fairytale retellings and rejigs it into a science fiction world where the terrifying Lunar Queen Levana is determined to bring Earth under her control. The Lunar operatives have a scary form of mind control which works on most Earthers and is a solid reason why cyborgs are so hated and reviled.

Once again, Meyer tips us into the middle of this adventure and feeds us slices of information as and when we need them in amongst the action and mayhem that kicks off almost instantly. There is a high level of violence in this book with a trail of dead and broken bodies, kidnapping and murder – but then the stakes are so very high. What keeps it from being joylessly grim are the shafts of humour that are delivered mostly through the dialogue as some of the awfulness tips into farce.

The two protagonists, Scarlet and Cinder, are both feisty and determined. Scarlet refuses to believe that her grandmother has just wandered off and will wander back in due course, despite what the local police force are trying to tell her. I really liked her character – a strong-minded, emotional person who plunges into situations and thinks about the consequences later. She isn’t unlike Cinder, who is also stubborn and strong-minded. But she is less grounded and sure of herself. And the reasons for Cinder’s odd lack of self-confidence becomes increasingly clear throughout the book.

Wolf is a very interesting character – a savage and effective street fighter who comes to Scarlet’s attention just as her grandmother goes missing. They form an unlikely team – but I wasn’t sure he was completely trustworthy as it seems far too much of a coincidence that he should turn up just as she needs more muscle. But a complicated, ambivalent main character is always interesting. The growing relationship between them is well handled and I believed in it.

I really like Meyer’s handling of the plot, where you think one thing is happening and as the story progresses, you realise in fact that something else is going on. This means I am not going to be able to discuss much of the plot. The pacing and action continue hurtling forward – this is a book that starts with a bang and doesn’t let up throughout. Recommended for fans of fairytale retellings with a difference.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Saven Disclosure – Book 2 of the Saven series by Siobhan Davis

Standard

I really enjoyed the first book in this entertaining YA science fiction series, Saven Deception – see my review here – where an alien race has infiltrated the human population. This is a tried and tested trope – think of films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the TV series V. But this one has a different feel…

Enemy alien ships crowd the skies over Earth while the world waits with bated breath. The Saven have been exposed, and where once they were abhorred, they are now championed as our greatest ally and our only possible savior. Logan and Sadie have been separated, and the longer he is gone, the more their love is tested by duty, doubts, and deception. Sadie and Jarod have infiltrated the highest levels of government, but they are playing a dangerous game. Surrounded by people with conflicting agendas—hell-bent on using her for their own aim—Sadie is confused when the lines between good and evil are blurred. It’s impossible to tell friend from foe, and no one can be trusted.

Sadie is in a unique position with regard to the Saven aliens, which has made her a major target. So she now is being closely guarded – until she gets a job within the Government administration as assistant to the Vice-President. However, all is not as it seems… And this is Davis’ superpower. She sets up a particular situation with Sadie in first person viewpoint thinking that all is going in one direction – until it is revealed that isn’t the case. And the reveal almost always ramps up the stakes so that Sadie’s personal happiness or someone very close to her is put in harm’s way. Of course, in order to continue reading – and I did – I have to care about Sadie and those around her.

This is a YA read, so the protagonist is inevitably feeling out of her depth and the romance is sweet and frustrated rather than steamy with Sadie spending a fair amount of time agonising as to whether Logan really loves her. However, this is science fiction adventure with a romantic element rather than being a romance that uses the sci fi backdrop as a convenient setting for the relationship, so while it part of the driver for the plot, there is a lot more going on than just a love story.

I found Sadie’s steady character development from the first book credible – particularly her growing ability to protect herself when she is attacked, given all the coaching she has received from Haydn, the bodyguard assigned to look after her. As for the supporting cast, they are well written and suitably complex. Logan is desirable and clearly in love with Sadie, yet I still have issues with aspects of his behaviour – not a surprise with the Saven species both aggressive and intent on galaxy-wide domination, before they gained consciences by interacting with humans. His bossiness and tendency to order Sadie around grates with me. The antagonists in the story, including Logan’s father, are suitably horrible and one of them proves to be unexpectedly powerful – another plot twist that caught me unawares.

The action in the last third of the book is continuous, with one shock after another all culminating into a major cliffhanger, whereby the book ends with everything hanging in the balance. I hate it when that happens… At least Davis does apologise for leaving everything up in the air – and the good news is that you don’t have to wait before getting hold of the novella Saven Denial which immediately picks up the story.

This unbiased review has not been influenced by receiving a copy of Saven Disclosure from the author.
8/10

Discovery Challenge 2017 and Tackling My TBR – April Roundup

Standard

After reading Jo Hall’s post on the problems women authors have with getting discovered, I’ve been taking part in the challenge to read and review at least 24 books by female authors each year that were previously unknown to me for the last two years. During April, I read – six books towards my 2017 Discovery Challenge, which brings my annual number of books written by women writers I hadn’t read before to thirteen. They are:

Winter Tide – Book 1 of The Innesmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys
After attacking Devil’s Reef in 1928, the U.S. Government rounded up the people of Innsmouth and took them to the desert, far from their ocean, their Deep One ancestors, and their sleeping god Cthulhu. Only Aphra and Caleb Marsh survived the camps, and they emerged without a past or a future. The government that stole Aphra’s life now needs her help. FBI agent Ron Spector believes that Communist spies have stolen dangerous magical secrets from Miskatonic University, secrets that could turn the Cold War hot in an instant, and hasten the end of the human race. Aphra must return to the ruins of her home, gather scraps of her stolen history, and assemble a new family to face the darkness of human nature.
For those of you who don’t recognise the references, Winter Tide is set in the world of H.P. Lovecraft, the famous horror and dark fantasy short story writer and novelist. The story, without any apparent headlong rush, nonetheless steadily unspools, gathering momentum as this odd, compulsive world continues to beguile. This is one of my outstanding books of the year so far – see my review here.

 

Magic in the City by Heather Dyer
Brothers Jake and Simon Grubb are not happy they have to leave their home in Canada to move in with their cousin Hannah and her family in England. But things get interesting for the boys when, on the way there, they encounter a retiring magician at a highway rest stop who presents them with three gifts he claims have magical properties: a carpet, a camera and a stopwatch. Unfortunately, the magician doesn’t provide them with any instructions. So when the boys and Hannah find themselves being swept away on a wild adventure fueled by the magic in these curious objects, they have to learn as they go. But who cares when it’s this exciting!
I found the three child protagonists all appealing and believable. The boys, in particular, I thought were done well. I also very much liked the way Dyer handled the major life event that brought the boys and their mother across to resettle in Britain – I had assumed one thing was the problem, but it turned out to be something quite different – see my review here.

 

Saven Deception – Book 1 of the Saven series by Siobhan Davis
Sadie Owens has been slowly dying inside. Bit by bit, piece by piece, day by day. Trapped in a life she hates, she relies on only one person—herself. Despised by her family and betrayed by an unscrupulous government, Sadie dreams of a different life. When she is chosen to participate in the government’s new social experiment, she is ecstatic at the prospect of spending six months in Thalassic City, the shiny new city under the sea. Sadie is captivated by Logan, the beautiful boy with the ocean-blue eyes, but he isn’t all he appears to be. When she finally uncovers the government’s real agenda, the truth is more shocking than anything she could ever have imagined.
I very much enjoyed Sadie’s character – she has clearly had a rough time at home with a hostile, unloving mother and siblings who took their cue from her. I like the way Davis fed us a continuous stream of information as the story progresses, so that our perceptions are continually changing throughout – see my review here.

 

Dancing with Death – Book 1 of the Nell Drury mysteries by Amy Myers
1925. The fashionable Bright Young Things from London have descended on Wychbourne Court, the Kentish stately home of Lord and Lady Ansley, for an extravagant fancy dress ball followed by a midnight Ghost Hunt – and Chef Nell Drury knows she’s in for a busy weekend. What she doesn’t expect to encounter is sudden, violent death.
This cosy mystery is a thoroughly enjoyable, engrossing read. Myers evokes the period well as steady, sensible and very ambitious Nell Drury, working at Wychbourne Hall as Chef, suddenly finds herself confronted with a violent murder of one of the guests – see my review here.

 

Fool’s Gold – Book 8 of the Liberty Lane series by Caro Peacock
September, 1841. A new arrival has taken London society by storm. Lord Byron’s handsome illegitimate son, George, recently arrived from the exotic island of Cephalonia in the company of his guardian, the mysterious Mr Vickery, has been setting female hearts aflutter. But not all the attention George attracts is welcome. Mr Vickery has been receiving disturbing letters from a woman who calls herself Helena, and he hires Liberty Lane to find out who Helena is and what she wants.
Of course, the catch is that it is the eighth book in the series, so would I find myself floundering at all? Nope, not for a second. Peacock is far too adroit and experienced a writer to fall into that pitfall and from the first page, I was pulled into this twisting story where the plot snaked in all sorts of unexpected avenues – see my review here.

 

The Sorcerer’s Garden by Wallace D. Peach
Recently fired and residing with her sweetly overbearing mother, Madlyn needs a job—bad. In a moment of desperation, she accepts a part-time position reading at the bedside of adventurer and amateur writer Cody Lofton. A near-drowning accident left the young man in a vegetative state, and his chances of recovery wane with each passing day. Cody’s older brother, Dustin, and eccentric grandmother aren’t prepared to give up on the youngest son of Portland, Oregon’s royalty. Dustin’s a personable guy, bordering on naïve, and overwhelmed by familial corporate duties and cutthroat partners. Grandmother Lillian’s a meddler with an eye for the esoteric, dabbling in Dustin’s life and dealing out wisdom like a card shark. One innocent conversation at a time, she sucks Madlyn into the Lofton story, dubbing her the princess and bestowing on her the responsibility of both grandsons’ destinies. And all Madlyn wanted was a simple reading job.
I really like Madlyn and her struggle to fit into modern life. When she gets the job, I also like the fact that she finds the setup in the Lofton household a bit weird, if not creepy. But it was a refreshing change to have an elderly woman at the helm of the household and keeping control by an unnerving knack of knowing what is happening before anyone else. Review not yet posted.

 

Because I spent most of one week confined to bed either sleeping or reading, I also managed to clear eight books from my TBR pile. They are:

How To Twist a Dragon’s Tale – Book 5 of How to Train a Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
The heat is on for Hiccup as he is called to save the day once again. Someone has stolen the Fire-Stone. Now that the volcano on Volcano Island has become active, the tremors are hatching the eggs of the Exterminator dragons! Can Hiccup return the Fire-Stone to the Volcano, stop it from erupting, and save the Tribes from being wiped out by the terrible sword-claws of the Exterminators?
After having thoroughly enjoyed the first four books in this funny, thrilling series, I was interested to see if Cowell could continue to provide yet another rip-roaring adventure full of intriguing twists. I’m delighted to report that she does – see my review here.

 

Saven Deception – Book 1 of the Saven series by Siobhan Davis
See above.

 

The Tropic of Serpents – Book 2 of A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan
Attentive readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoir, A Natural History of Dragons, are already familiar with how a bookish and determined young woman named Isabella first set out on the historic course that would one day lead her to becoming the world’s premier dragon naturalist. Now, in this remarkably candid second volume, Lady Trent looks back at the next stage of her illustrious (and occasionally scandalous) career.
This is, if anything, even better than the first book. I love the first person narrator – Lady Trent is a feisty, unconventional woman driven by an insatiable scientific curiosity and a real concern that dragons will shortly be driven to extinction. Review not yet posted.

 

Reaper – Book 1 of the End Game series by Janet Edwards
In the year 2519, people on Earth don’t grow old and die any longer, their bodies are frozen and they start a new life in the virtual reality of the Game. Jex is almost eighteen, working twelve hour shifts, and dreaming of when she’ll be legally adult and begin her long-planned idyllic life in Game. When a bomber attacks a Game server complex, one of the virtual worlds of Game crashes, and eleven thousand immortal players die during emergency defrost. Death has struck Game for the first time in centuries, and Jex is questioned as a suspect in the bombing.
I really enjoyed this one. Edwards has a knack for writing strong young characters with plenty of depth and suitable lack of experience, but who don’t come over as whiny and annoying. Review not yet posted.

 

Scavenger Alliance – Book 1 of the Exodus series by Janet Edwards
In the year 2408, a century after the invention of interstellar portals, seven hundred people scavenge a living in abandoned New York. The respectable citizens have either withdrawn to new settlements in the countryside, or joined the great exodus of humanity to new, unpolluted colony worlds, but eighteen-year-old Blaze is one of the undesirables that neither the citizen settlements nor the new colony worlds will accept. Blaze’s mother died six years ago. She thinks her father is Donnell, the leader of the uneasy alliance between the remnants of the Earth Resistance and the old criminal gangs. It’s less clear what Donnell thinks, since he barely speaks to her. The alliance is crumbling under the strain of its hardest winter ever, when an old enemy tries to use Blaze as a pawn in a power bid. She thinks her life can’t possibly get more difficult, but then an aircraft carrying three off-worlders arrives in New York.

I loved this one – I think it’s the best book she’s written to date. The sense of danger and tension with a likeable protagonist made this one difficult to put down – see my review here.

 

Cold Welcome – Book 1 of Vatta’s Peace by Elizabeth Moon
Summoned to the home planet of her family’s business empire, space-fleet commander Kylara Vatta is told to expect a hero’s welcome. But instead she is thrown into danger unlike any other she has faced and finds herself isolated, unable to communicate with the outside world, commanding a motley group of unfamiliar troops, and struggling day by day to survive in a deadly environment with sabotaged gear. Only her undeniable talent for command can give her ragtag band a fighting chance.
This is a full-on survival adventure which I loved. And even if you haven’t already had the pleasure, this is an ideal introduction to Moon’s world – see my review here.

 

Scarlet – Book 2 of the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, is trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive. Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her.
This series niftily blends the current trend for fairytale retellings and rejigs it into a science fiction world where the terrifying Lunar Queen Levana is determined to bring Earth under her control. Review not yet posted.

 

The Sorcerer’s Garden by Wallace D. Peach
See above.

So that is my April roundup. Due to a rush of new releases at the start of May, a number of these reviews have not yet seen the light of day. What about you – have you read any of the above books? If so, what did you think of them?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Scavenger Alliance – Book 1 of the Exodus series by Janet Edwards

Standard

I was a bit shaken to see that I’d let this one slip under my radar as I’m a real fan of Edwards’ writing. But fortunately Himself was on the ball and picked it up for me…

In the year 2408, a century after the invention of interstellar portals, seven hundred people scavenge a living in abandoned New York. The respectable citizens have either withdrawn to new settlements in the countryside, or joined the great exodus of humanity to new, unpolluted colony worlds, but eighteen-year-old Blaze is one of the undesirables that neither the citizen settlements nor the new colony worlds will accept. Blaze’s mother died six years ago. She thinks her father is Donnell, the leader of the uneasy alliance between the remnants of the Earth Resistance and the old criminal gangs. It’s less clear what Donnell thinks, since he barely speaks to her. The alliance is crumbling under the strain of its hardest winter ever, when an old enemy tries to use Blaze as a pawn in a power bid. She thinks her life can’t possibly get more difficult, but then an aircraft carrying three off-worlders arrives in New York.

This post-apocalyptic science fiction adventure is set in the same world as the popular Earthgirl series – see my review of Earthgirl here – but earlier when Earth is still reeling from the Exodus. There is still a group of people eking out a living in the ruins of New York and we follow the fortunes of one of the teenage girls, Blaze. Once again, Edwards has depicted a sympathetic, readable protagonist so we get a ringside seat in her gritted existence as the group battle horrible alien creatures, the constant threat of starvation and illness. However, most of the time Blaze is more taken up with the tensions within the group as some dangerous people are unwilling allies and want to take over the group. And right in the midst of this, three off-worlders turn up, completely ignorant of their way of life.

It’s a nifty plot device as Blaze is regularly having to explain to the clueless bunch what is going on, allowing the equally ignorant reader to glean important details about their everyday life without it turning into an info dump. Particularly as one of the group, Tad, is a real motor-mouth who seems to expect everyone else to wait with baited breath as he asks a constant stream of questions. And a fair number of them are really stupid – while others display a disquieting amount of knowledge about Earth that he shouldn’t have…

As a YA book there is a romance, but as ever with Edwards, it doesn’t hi-jack the story which suits me just fine. In fact, while I always enjoy Edwards’ books, this one nocked up the action and tension such that I didn’t put it down until I’d finished it. If you like your science fiction with a gritty edge, plenty of action and a readable protagonist then go searching for this one. It’s one of the best science fiction adventure tales I’ve read this year.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook From Ice to Ashes by Rhett C. Bruno

Standard

Last year I read and reviewed Titanborn, a rollicking space opera set in the far reaches of the solar system, charting the adventures of Malcolm Graves, who is a fixer for the corporation controlling most of the major industry out there. And the reason why I give it a mention here, is that if you don’t know that nugget of information, the epilogue at the end of From Ice to Ashes – a standalone set in the same world – appears to be completely random.

Kale Drayton knows his place. As a Ringer, he’s used to keeping his head down and his mouth shut—no matter how much the Earthers abuse him or his own kind berate him. So when he’s caught stealing from a wealthy merchant, he’s lucky to be sentenced to low-paying maintenance work on a gas-harvesting ship instead of life in a cell . . . or worse. But when his mother is quarantined, Kale finds himself backed into a corner. To pay for her medicine, he needs money—the kind of money he’ll never make sweeping floors and cleaning ships. So when he receives a mysterious offer asking him to do a simple job in exchange for his mother’s treatment, Kale takes a chance once more.

Like all Ringers, Kale is completely downtrodden. His ancestors fled to Titan before a meteor hit Earth and this outpost of humanity had survived and thrived on this bleak colony – before Earthers, who hadn’t all been wiped out, finally make their way to Titan after 300 years to reunite humanity. Only it doesn’t go all that well for the fragile, thin-boned colonists who die in droves, wiped out by Earth-based germs for which they have no immunity. Now encased in suits and masks designed to protect them and too frail to fight, they have been reduced to serfs. Treated as sub-human, abused and enslaved, they eke a living performing all the menial, dirty and dangerous tasks.

It is a compelling scenario and one that seems all too probable. I kept hoping there would be one decent Earther, who might show a shred of compassion or empathy with the Ringers – but no one did. And then I thought back to the generations of slaves right up to modern times – and wondered how many people they would encounter in their daily lives who would give them more than a glancing thought. Not many, I’m guessing.

You’ll probably realise that Kale gets caught up in events that take him out of his downtrodden, miserable existence – and to be honest, there were times when the speed and effectiveness of the flurry of adventures he is involved in did sort of stretch my credibility. But I was prepared to go with the flow because it was enjoyable, full-on action and I read far later into the wee small hours than I’d intended to find out what happens next.

Bruno is an accomplished writer, who produces cracking action scenes, strong supporting characters and Kale was both appealing and convincing as a confused, angry protagonist. But he isn’t a Malcolm Graves, who for me ticked all the boxes as far as compelling protagonists go – and I’ll be snapping up the next book in this not-quite series to find out what is happening to Malcolm.
8/10

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

Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Terminal Regression by Mallory Hill

Standard

I loved the look of the futuristic cover, so requested it from NetGalley…

Laura Baily’s life is meaningless. In a world where purpose and passion are everything, Laura feels as terminalregressionthough she has no place and no business even existing. Her life is forfeit, and it would be better for everyone if she simply ended it, if she simply got a ticket for a train to oblivion and faded from memory. But what awaits her at the end of the line isn’t death…

I’m reluctant to add the rest of the rather chatty blurb, because while you can gather Laura doesn’t die from the fact that this is at the start of the book and we have another two hundred or so pages to get through, I don’t like how many spoilers it contains. This YA offering has a really interesting protagonist. She is numb. Life washes around her and while her artistic, talented mother is endlessly encouraging and positive, Laura’s efforts to try and find her own enthusiasm and passion have all ended in failure. Wretched and discouraged, she decides to volunteer for the train to oblivion. Everyone knows about the train – it ships out criminals, misfits and those who can’t cope with living anymore and they never come back. There are also a handful of talented, effective people who are commandeered to board the train – like Laura’s dad eight years earlier – and they are never seen again, either.

It’s a tricky business writing a protagonist with severe depression. The classic symptoms – such as an inability to get out of bed, inability to communicate and prolonged fits of crying to name but a few – don’t generally make for the sort of character readers are going to warm to. But Hill manages to pull it off, which is a major achievement in this debut novel. She also tackles the issue of suicide head-on to the extent that it was causing me some concern, given the target audience are teens. I was uneasy with a protagonist who declared she’d rather be dead – and then acts on that impulse. However, by the end of the book I was far happier with her overall stance and felt that she handles the subject with sympathy and insight.

This is a brave book that wears its heart on its sleeve. The inevitable romantic element is very sweet, to the extent that this particular reader who is a dyed-in-the-wool cynic about such matters was won over by the love interest, who I initially was convinced would turn out to be some psychotic murderer. The sequence of events near the end of the book also had me wondering whether it was realistic to have such a seismic shift without any deaths, but then recalled the bloodless revolutions that have occurred throughout history. Overall, I think Hill has pulled off this one – an impressively ambitious book that marks Hill as One to Watch in the future. Receiving a copy of Terminal Regression from the publisher via NetGalley has in no way affected my honest opinion of this book.
8/10