Tag Archives: dystopian science fiction

Review of LIBRARY book The Switch by Justina Robson #Brainfluffbookreview #TheSwitchbookreview #SciFiMonth2019

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I thoroughly enjoy Robson’s intelligent, layered fantasy – see my review of Salvation’s Fire: After the War – so I was delighted to find this offering on the shelves of my local library. I am also linking this review to the @SciFiMonth Challenge.

BLURB: In Harmony, only model citizens are welcome. A perfect society must be maintained. The defective must be eradicated. For orphans like Nico and Twostar, this means a life that’s brutal, regulated and short. But Nico and Twostar are survivors, and when they’re offered a way out of the slums, they take it. Unfortunately, no one told Nico the deal included being sentenced to death for the murder of one of Harmony’s most notorious gang leaders. Or that to gain his freedom, first he must lose his mind.

In many ways, this book follows a tried and tested trope guaranteed to pull readers in and make them care – two orphaned children in a horrible institution make a break to try their luck on the streets. And, yes, you’ve guessed it – the streets aren’t exactly brimming with nurturing kindness, either. They need to live on their wits and toughness, or die. Twostar is prodigiously clever with any tech that comes her way – so it’s Nico’s job to bring down any drones coming their way, enabling her to break them up for parts. Until they come to the attention of one of the local cartels…

The story is told in Nico’s first person viewpoint throughout, which is always my favourite pov when it’s done well. And because this is Robson, it’s fabulous. I love the depth and complexity she manages to bring to this complicated, tough, angry man without compromising the pace or tension. In fact, because I can connect so deeply with him and his innermost thoughts and fears, when he finds those thoughts no longer belong solely to him – I found I identified with the violation he felt. Again, it’s not an original theme within sci fi, but this time around I found I really, really minded alongside Nico when those upgrades he thought would provide him with abilities to pilot his way off the planet have added extras he wasn’t told about…

The other aspect of this book that isn’t immediately apparent, is that one of the reasons why both Twostar and Nico find themselves in the orphanage, is that they are faulty. Both of them are attracted to their own sex – an aberration that is regarded as unacceptable on Harmony. Unsurprisingly, Nico regards this aspect of his personality with some ambivalence, which Robson writes with compassion, insight and great tenderness. While the romance in this book isn’t a major component of story, especially in the beginning, I was extremely impressed at the intensity and beauty of the relationship that is featured. Though not surprised – this is, after all, Justina Robson…

This book is a standalone, apparently. And I am torn – I put it down with an unhappy sigh when I got to the end because I wanted to go on seeing the world through Nico’s eyes. But I’d hate to read a sequel that wasn’t as awesomely wonderful as this offering.
9/10

Teaser Tuesday – 22nd October, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #TeaserTuesday

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

This is my choice of the day:

Shadow Captain – Book 2 of the Revenger series by Alastair Reynolds
p. 269 It was late morning in Port Endless – well into what passed for day in this gloomy place. Perhaps one or two more sky facets had been turned on, or their brightness increased, so that the prevailing illumination was a fraction less sepulchral than the night before. The rains, too, had decreased. Parts of the sky were still emitting steam, but the former torrents were being held in moderate check. The streets below were still wet, though, and the puddles and drainage channels and sluices remained waterlogged, embedded in roads and alleys like little chips and slivers of highly reflective material.

BLURB: Adrana and Fura Ness have finally been reunited, but both have changed beyond recognition. Once desperate for adventure, now Adrana is haunted by her enslavement on the feared pirate Bosa Sennen’s ship. And rumors of Bosa Sennen’s hidden cache of treasure have ensnared her sister, Fura, into single-minded obsession.

Neither is safe; because the galaxy wants Bosa Sennen dead and they don’t care if she’s already been killed. They’ll happily take whoever is flying her ship.

I read the first book in the series – see my review of Revenger – which I very much enjoyed. I’m about two-thirds of the way through this tension-filled, twitchy sequel which is an engrossing read. And I’m so, so hoping that the two sisters don’t end up betraying each other… I’m also delighted to see that the third book, Bone Silence, is due out in January.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone #Brainfluffbookreview #ThisIsHowYouLosetheTimeWarbookreview

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With a title like that – how could I resist? Though I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting… Whatever it was – it wasn’t what I got.

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading. And thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Except discovery of their bond would be death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?

So… no set battles. No gripping accounts of being adrift in unfamiliar time threads with climactic chases between adversaries. This is an essentially epistolary novel where the two protagonists communicate by letters they hide for each other. Expert assassin Blue, for vague reasons she isn’t wholly aware of – reaches out to her opposite number, Red, whose work she knows well and admires. Slightly burnt out with all the violence of her assignments, she wants something… more. And that is how the correspondence starts. I don’t think I’m providing any major spoilers if I disclose the Red doesn’t ignore the letter – or report it to her superiors.

What makes this book an extraordinary read is the poetical beauty of the prose, juxtaposed with some of grim, bloody tasks both Blue and Red are tasked with. And while both are slightly alienated by aspects of their work – there’s no getting away from the fact that they do both revel in their skills, too.

The sheer delicacy of their communication, sharply contrasted by the gory reality of their daily round made this a constantly surprising read – it isn’t often these days that I get absolutely no sense where a book is going. Although, there were a couple of clues – I still wasn’t sure if the authors had seeded a couple of false trails and there would be a different sort of ending. And no… I’m not disclosing anything more – this is one where I think it’s important that the reader fully experiences the story without any spoilery expectations. So kudos to the blurb-writer who respected that imperative – I was pleasantly surprised to be able to include the whole backcover copy without having to edit it.

So did I enjoy it? Oh yes – this is a triumph. Splendidly ambitious and quirky, only exceptionally talented writers could pull this off. This savage, sublimely beautiful book will stay with me for a long, long time as I ponder what it says about our need for connection with someone who can understand. Highly recommended for science fiction fans who enjoy lush poetical prose and flawed desperation. The ebook arc copy of This is How You Lose the Time War was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
10/10

Teaser Tuesday – 11th June, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #TeaserTuesday

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

This is my choice of the day:

The Warehouse by Rob Hart
21% Zinnia’s foot slipped and her stomach lurched. She managed to grab the side of the shelving unit before she fell backward and cracked her head on the floor.

It hadn’t taken long to stop using the carabiner. The clip took precious seconds to engage and disengage, which weren’t worth spending. She was less concerned with falling and more concerned with the yellow line.

BLURB: Gun violence, climate change and unemployment have ravaged the United States beyond recognition.

Amidst the wreckage, an online retail giant named Cloud reigns supreme. Cloud brands itself not just as an online storefront, but as a global saviour. Yet, beneath the sunny exterior, lurks something far more sinister.

Paxton never thought he’d be working Security for the company that ruined his life, much less that he’d be moving into one of their sprawling live-work facilities. But compared to what’s left outside, perhaps Cloud isn’t so bad. Better still, through his work he meets Zinnia, who fills him with hope for their shared future.

Except that Zinnia is not what she seems. And Paxton, with his all-access security credentials, might just be her meal ticket.
As Paxton and Zinnia’s agendas place them on a collision course, they’re about to learn just how far the Cloud will go to make the world a better place.

This Netgalley arc is a somewhat uncomfortable read, given that I do a fair amount of shopping online with another, real-life retail giant… So far, I am finding this an engrossing near-future story. Review to follow in August when the book is being released.

Review of NOVELLA Ebook The Expert System’s Brother by Adrian Tchaikovsky #Brainfluffbookreview #TheExpertSystem’sBrotherbookreview

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Anyone who has spent the odd moment or two glancing at my blog will know I’m a huge fan of Adrian Tchaikovsky – see my review of Children of Time here. So when I realised faaar too late that Himself had treated us to this novella, I immediately tucked into it…

After an unfortunate accident, Handry is forced to wander a world he doesn’t understand, searching for meaning. He soon discovers that the life he thought he knew is far stranger than he could even possibly imagine. Can an unlikely saviour provide the answers to the questions he barely comprehends?

This is another of Tchaikovsky’s interesting offerings where he provides us a rich, well-developed world through the eyes of Handry in an immersive first-person viewpoint. I really liked Handry – what happened to him was clearly very wrong and somehow the fact that it took a long time before the inevitable happened made it somehow worse… This is classic Tchaikovsky – what happens when an injustice occurs? How does this future colony cope with a victim of circumstance? For starters, you begin to see that Handry isn’t the only one on the raw end of a bad outcome – humanity is clearly struggling on a planet that was never designed for animals with our DNA. And over time, the increasingly beleaguered colony found a biological option to help humankind survive – hence the ghosts, a form of parasitic infestation that syncs the brain of the host with a skillset and knowledge that is no longer available to the average colonist.

And then he encounters Sharskin… I have read several reviews where the readers felt this was a predictable story. While I got a sense of exactly what we were looking at once they arrived at Sharkin’s settlement, I didn’t foresee what would happen next and the way in which Handry’s loyalty and sense of humanity would be tested. Because at the end of the day, this novella is all about one of Tchaikovsky’s major themes – a question he keeps coming back to in a variety of fascinating forms and forces his readers to ask – what does it mean to be human? What is the price you pay for your adherence to your code of behaviour? What happens when you turn your back on that code? What defines you, then?

I thoroughly enjoyed this clever, thought-provoking story and have found myself thinking about it quite a lot since I finished reading it, which surprised me rather. There’s something about Tchaikovsky’s writing that always gets into my inscape, leaving me pondering those questions he raises while telling a cracking story. Highly recommended for fans of colony adventures.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Nyxia – Book 1 of The Nyxia Triad series by Scott Reintgen #Brainfluffbookreview #Nyxiabookreview

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I’ve been seeing this one around and hearing lots of good things about it, so when it became available on Netgalley, I immediately requested it and was delighted when I was approved to read it.

Emmett Atwater isn’t just leaving Detroit; he’s leaving Earth. Why the Babel Corporation recruited him is a mystery, but the number of zeroes on their contract has him boarding their lightship and hoping to return to Earth with enough money to take care of his family. Forever.

Before long, Emmett discovers that he is one of ten recruits, all of whom have troubled pasts and are a long way from home. Now each recruit must earn the right to travel down to the planet of Eden—a planet that Babel has kept hidden—where they will mine a substance called Nyxia that has quietly become the most valuable material in the universe. But Babel’s ship is full of secrets. And Emmett will face the ultimate choice: win the fortune at any cost, or find a way to fight that won’t forever compromise what it means to be human.

I have seen various references to Red Rising and The Hunger Games series in relation to this one and they are both apt. There is an ongoing contest where those who lose will never get to land on Eden and as you’d expect from a competition with such high stakes, there are some savage tactics employed. I really liked Emmett’s reluctance to adopt the most ruthless, violent route to try to achieve a place on Eden – and the fact that though he is very poor, he is also from a tight-knit, loving family. The cultural diversity of the youngsters taking part worked well and Reintgen managed to keep up the pace and tension throughout, despite the relatively large number of characters he was handling.

There is a steady progression of unpleasant discoveries about the project and the substance nyxia as the youngsters are mercilessly drilled and pitted against each other in order to hone their skills in mining and controlling nyxia, while coping with the environment. Eden doesn’t sound remotely like paradise if these exercises are any indication of the conditions prevailing on the alien planet. I like the fact that Emmett isn’t one of those who is right at the top – instead he is bumping along at the bottom and in constant danger of being flushed out of the project.

It was a shock when a couple of likeable, major characters died along the way, which raised the stakes and made it harder to put the book down. The ending is well handled, bringing the book to a climactic conclusion with another nasty surprise that genuinely made my jaw drop – I love it when that happens…

Any niggles? I could have done without the romance. It felt rather tacked on and certainly added nothing to the storyline. However, it’s not a dealbreaker and I am keen to read the next book in this trilogy, Nyxia Unleashed. While I obtained an arc of Nyxia from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Truth Sister by Phil Gilvin #Brainfluffbookreview #TruthSisterbookreview

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I was attracted by the title and the premise, so picked this up. Being a feminist, I was hoping that perhaps women would make a better fist of running the world – but that wasn’t to be…

The year is 2149. The Women’s Republic of Anglia seeks to harness forgotten technologies from the time when men ruled the world. Naturals are second-class citizens, while women born through cloning are the true children of the Republic. When Clara Perdue graduates from the prestigious Academy, she is ready to do her part to support the Republic and bring about a better future for all. But when she stumbles on information that the Republic has tried to keep hidden, she begins to realise that the society she has been taught to believe in and trained to defend is not all that it seems. A secret from Clara’s past puts herself, her family, and her friends in danger, and Clara must choose between subservience and rebellion.

Clara starts off as a really unpleasant protagonist – this is a brave move on the part of Gilvin, as many readers, me included, don’t particularly enjoy reading a first-person narrative by someone so priggish and judgemental. My advice would be to stick with her, though, as she becomes less close-minded and brainwashed once she leaves the Academy. There are a number of strong, well-written characters supporting her. I particularly liked Clara’s mother and their manservant, Jamie.

Increasingly, Clara begins to realise that the Republic is nothing like the idealised system she has been taught to love and defend and we are right with her as her beliefs become unravelled, along with her life as the fault lines in society start breaking down. I enjoyed the fact that this story is set in a post-apocalyptic England, where recognisable place names are clearly very different places. London, in particular, is in all sorts of trouble as the Thames Barrier is in danger of failing. I became caught up in Clara’s adventures and thoroughly enjoyed the twisting plot which presented many surprises along the way.

My one niggle is that the main antagonist is presented as something of a caricature who I found it difficult to take seriously. Despite being told how very frightening she was, she seemed too over the top and ridiculous in comparison to the sympathetic, nuanced characterisations throughout the rest of the story. Having said that, it wasn’t a dealbreaker and I have found myself thinking a lot about this book since I finished it. Recommended for fans of post-apocalyptic fiction. While I obtained an arc of Truth Sister from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Friday Faceoff – Red is the ultimate cure for sadness… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoff

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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. At present it is being nurtured by Lynn at Lynn’s Book Blog. This week the theme is a cover featuring red, so I’ve selected Red Rising – Book 1 of the Red Rising series by Pierce Brown.

 

This edition was produced by Del Rey in January 2014 and it is the most well known of all the covers – and with good reason as it is eye-catching and iconic. The extended red wing against a black background is very simple, but that doesn’t stop it being beautiful. The title font is a nice reflection of the story as it runs from the bottom to the top of the cover… I love this one.

 

Published in February 2015 by Сиела, this Bulgarian edition is also strikingly eye-catching. Instead of the wing, we have an image of the young rebel, Darrow, all set to rise from the life of slave-slogged drudgery he’d been born into. The image is clever as it also refers to part of the plot and I also like the way the title font fits nicely between the wings.

 

This Portuguese edition, published by Editorial Presença in March 2015, is another strong contender. I love the stylish, imaginative way the wings have been spun around and used as to depict the backdrop, while Darrow is poised at the nexus of the divided society. My one niggle is that there is too much chatter on the cover, spoiling what should be a clean, uncluttered cover to maximise the effect.

 

This Czech edition, produced by Triton in October 2016 is another beautiful effort. I love the addition of the yellow amongst the red – and the effect, which looks a wing, feather or a flame. I also like the chunkier, yellow title font which nicely pops against the red and the complete lack of unnecessary blather to detract from the effective artwork. This is my favourite.

 

This Polish cover was published in March 2014 by Drageus Publishing House and, in my opinion, is the least effective of all the covers. In contrast it comes across as muddled and overworked. It certainly doesn’t stand out as a thumbnail, so it’s fortunate that Red Rising was a worldwide best-seller and didn’t rely on this cover to lure readers to pick it up. Which is your favourite?

Review of LIBRARY book Windswept by Adam Rakunas #Brainfluffbookreview #Windsweptbookreview

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I plucked this one off the shelves because I liked the look of the cover – and it is published by Angry Robot, whose books often appeal to me if I’m in the mood for a foot-to-the-floor adventure.

Labour organizer Padma Mehta is on the edge of space and the edge of burnout. All she wants is to buy out a little rum distillery and retire, but she’s supposed to recruit 500 people to the Union before they’ll let her. She’s only thirty-three short, so when a small-time con artist tells her forty people are ready to tumble down the space elevator she checks it out… And that’s when her problems really begin…

I’ve slightly tweaked the rather chatty blurb, but hopefully you get the idea. This is a world where oil has gone and the fuel that now powers the galaxy is derived from sugar cane. This small scruffy outpost grows the stuff in industrial quantities and is sufficiently off the beaten track that a number of folks fleeing the encompassing control of the Big Three – the huge cartels that people are born into and become indentured to – are able to eke out a humble living while being free. However, once those new recruits hit the planet surface, events and Padma’s gritted bloody-mindedness rolls this story forward into a gathering whirlwind of events that doesn’t let up until the last page.

Padma is a force of nature. She just never admits defeat and while there are times when I find I am slightly sceptical that young heroines would be in a position of such responsibility to be at the hub of events powering a book forward, this isn’t the case with Padma. In fact, I’m slightly surprised she isn’t running the Universe. She is a grade-A hustler, with a motor-mouth that could sell rainy days to the Brits and a sharp eye for people’s soft spots. That would make her unbearable if she, too, didn’t have her vulnerabilities – which she does, courtesy of a nightmarish long-haul journey in hibernation, when the hibernating didn’t go quite right… Alongside Padma are a colourful cast of misfits and big personalities, some who are her allies while a fair number are ranged against her – Padma tends to collect a fair number of enemies.

Writing strong characters is one of Rakunas’s strengths – as is depicting a grungy, over-industrialised world where people are trying to rub along as best they can. While the action and non-stop adventure is clearly escapist fun, the underlying themes of community, standing up to injustice and the damage inflicted when the profit line rules is a very familiar message, which bears repeating – kudos to Rakunas for doing so without coming over preachy or ranting about it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this entertaining colony world adventure and it comes highly recommended for fans of well-told, high-octane science fiction action tales.
9/10

Teaser Tuesday – 6th March, 2018

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

This is my choice of the day:

Reclaiming Shilo Snow – Book 2 of The Evaporation of Sofi Snow series by Mary Weber

46% The night Miguel met Sofi, he’d been at a party celebrating the successful, newly established FanFight games – which were the latest in cross virtual and live entertainment created by the thirty ruling United World Corporations.

“To feed humanity’s blood-enthrallment while testing our Corp inventions,” they’d joked behind closed doors.

BLURB: Trapped on the ice-planet of Delon, gamer girl Sofi and Ambassador Miguel have discovered that nothing is what it seems, including their friends. On a quest to rescue her brother, Shilo, a boy everyone believes is dead, they must now escape and warn Earth of Delon’s designs on humanity. Except the more they unearth of the planet and Sofi’s past, the more they feel themselves unraveling, as each new revelation has Sofi questioning the very existence of reality.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, Sofi’s mom, Inola, is battling a different kind of unraveling: a political one that could cost lives, positions, and a barely-rebuilt society, should they discover the deal made with the Delonese.
But there’s a secret deeper than all that. One locked away inside Sofi and ticking away with the beginnings, endings, and answers to everything. Including how to save humanity.

I haven’t read the first book in this series – and paid the price as it took me some floundering before I managed to work out who was doing what to whom. I’ve now figured it – I’d have got there sooner if I’d read the blurb – and am now settling nicely into this tense adventure, where those tricky aliens aren’t what they said they were… And isn’t that cover marvellous?