Tag Archives: generational ship

2016 Discovery Challenge – August Roundup

Standard

After reading Joanne Hall’s thought-provoking post, I decided to read and review at least two women authors unknown to me each month. During August, I managed to read 3 Discovery Challenge books, which takes my yearly total so far to 25 books read by women I haven’t previously encountered.

Across the Universe – Book 1 of Across the Universe series by Beth Revis
Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and acrosstheuniverseexpects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone—one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship —tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next.

This YA generational ship adventure manages to evoke a real sense of claustrophobia as Amy views with increasing horror the way society has evolved during her long sleep. The shocking ending means that I hope to be able to revisit this entertaining series before too long.

 

The Thousandth Floor – Book 1 of The Thousandth Floor series by Katherine McGee
the1000thfloorWelcome to Manhattan, 2118.
A hundred years in the future, New York is a city of innovation and dreams. But people never change: everyone here wants something…and everyone has something to lose. Leda Cole’s flawless exterior belies a secret addiction—to a drug she never should have tried and a boy she never should have touched. Eris Dodd-Radson’s beautiful, carefree life falls to pieces when a heartbreaking betrayal tears her family apart. Rylin Myers’s job on one of the highest floors sweeps her into a world—and a romance—she never imagined…but will her new life cost Rylin her old one? Watt Bakradi is a tech genius with a secret: he knows everything about everyone. But when he’s hired to spy by an upper-floor girl, he finds himself caught up in a complicated web of lies. And living above everyone else on the thousandth floor is Avery Fuller, the girl genetically designed to be perfect. The girl who seems to have it all—yet is tormented by the one thing she can never have.

We’ve all seen the plot device on CSI – the episode starts with one of main characters in a burning building/being shot/another horrible situation, and then the narrative jumps back in time to lead up to that particular point… And this is exactly what McGee has done with her debut novel. The book opens with a beautiful young girl plummeting to her death from the top of the tallest building in New York – and then the narration jumps back two months to introduce us to a cast of characters whose lives intertwine in a variety of ways.

 

The Changelings by Christina Soontornvat
Izzy’s family has just moved to the most boring town in the country. But as time goes on, strange thingsthechangelings start to happen; odd piles of stones appear around Izzy’s house, and her little sister Hen comes home full of stories about the witch next door. Then, Hen disappears into the woods. She’s been whisked away to the land of Faerie, and it’s up to Izzy to save her. Joined there by a band of outlaw Changelings, Izzy and her new friends set out on a joint search-and-rescue mission across this foreign land which is at turns alluringly magical and utterly terrifying.

Soontornvat’s pacing is nicely judged throughout in this children’s fantasy adventure. Layers of information unpeel along the way, as we need to know about it, rather than enduring any semi-omniscient info dumps so often occurring in children’s books. An entertaining read for the age group who are ready for Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men.

 

Tackling my TBR
This is in response to my habit of continually gathering up new books – and not reading them. I want try and reduce the teetering pile by my bed, so I’ve decided to report back on how I’m doing in the hope that it will nudge me to read more of them. Except that during August, I was so busy reading Netgalley arcs and other review copies, I only managed one book – Across the Universe by Beth Revis.

Advertisements

Review of Across the Universe – Book 1 of KINDLE Ebook Across the Universe series By Beth Revis

Standard

This was recommended as a cracking generational ship read during a discussion about this science fiction sub-genre, so I went looking for it…

acrosstheuniverseSeventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone—one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship —tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next.

This YA adventure is set on a generational ship and the two protagonists are Amy and Elder, the leader-in-waiting, who is being groomed to take over running the ship by the cynical, short-fused Eldest, who brooks no opposition. When Amy is woken decades earlier before the ship is due to land, she quickly realises it was an attempt to kill her – and when other stored personnel are murdered in the same way, she is desperate to protect her parents, still frozen in the hold of the ship. Meantime, she now has to try and fit in with the other inhabitants of the ship – a far taller order than you might think, given that everyone else on board is genetically very similar to each other, and with her pale skin and auburn hair, she immediately stands out.

We learn about the trammelled society aboard Godspeed through Amy’s appalled eyes and Elder’s increasing restlessness at Eldest’s autocratic pronouncements. It’s nicely done and the sense of claustrophobia experienced by Amy as she realises she will spend most of her life aboard this ship, is vividly portrayed. I liked her efforts to discover who is murdering the frozen personnel who are stored in the ship’s hold as she continues to come to terms with what is going on.

Meanwhile, Elder becomes increasingly distracted by her to Eldest’s fury, though he is also struck by how attached she is to her parents – which leaves him feeling isolated as the custom is that the ship’s Eldest never knows who his parents are to prevent any dynastic ruling family taking control. Revis continually provides us with a steady dripfeed of answers while posing the next layer of question. This book steadily ramps up the stakes as the extent to which Godspeed has deviated from the original mission becomes apparent.

Of course, in order for this story structure to be really successful, the reveal has to pay off. We have to be amazed and/or appalled at the denouement and feel it was worth the book-long wait. Revis handled this beautifully – she produces the big twist at the end and just as I was coming to terms with how this is overcome, she gives us yet another big game-changer. I really enjoyed the way this played out, transforming this book from an 8 into a 9. The good news is that the next two books A Million Suns and Shades of Earth are available and I can see why this book garnered a shedload of nominations for awards when it was first released in 2011.
9/10

Teaser Tuesday – 9th August, 2016

Standard

Teaser

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Books and a Beat.
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:
Across the Universe by Beth Revis
19% Eldest leaves the Learning Center door open, and as he storms away, my eyes drift up to the metal acrosstheuniversescreen, behind which are the twinkling lightbulbs I thought were stars. Why lie about the screen, about the hidden level of the ship? And what other lies has he been telling?

BLURB: Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone—one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship —tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next.

This is a generational ship story carrying the seeds of a colony. Forty-nine years from their destination and in the wake of a plague that decimated the population and abruptly changed the power dynamic on board the ship, a young leader-in-training starts stumbling across more secrets than he should. It is early days, but I’m enjoying the story so far.

2016 Discovery Challenge – May Roundup

Standard

After reading Joanne Hall’s thought-provoking post, I decided to read and review at least two women authors unknown to me each month. How have I done in May?

theoutliersThe Outliers – Book 1 of The Outliers trilogy by Kimberley McCreight
It all starts with a text: Please, Wylie, I need your help.
This time it’s different, though. Instead of telling Wylie where she is, Cassie sends cryptic clues. And instead of having Wylie come by herself, Jasper shows up saying Cassie sent him to help. Trusting the guy who sent Cassie off the rails doesn’t feel right, but Wylie has no choice: she has to ignore her gut instinct and go with him. But figuring out where Cassie is goes from difficult to dangerous, fast. As Wylie and Jasper head farther and farther north into the dense woods of Maine, Wylie struggles to control her growing sense that something is really wrong. What isn’t Cassie telling them? And could finding her be only the beginning?

This twisting thriller cracks along at a fair pace and delivers plenty of surprises along the way. Read the full review here.

 

thelonelinessofdistantbeingsThe Loneliness of Distant Beings by Kate Ling
Even though she knows it’s impossible, Seren longs to have the sunshine on her skin. It’s something she feels she needs to stay sane. But when you’re floating through space at thousands of kilometres an hour, sometimes you have to accept there are things you cannot change. Except that the arrival of Dom in her life changes everything in ways she can barely comprehend. For a while he becomes the Sun for her; and she can’t help but stay in his orbit. Being with him flaunts every rule designed to keep their home in order, but to lose him would be like losing herself. In the end they must decide what is most important: loyalty to the only home they’ve ever known, or to each other?

This a romantic science fiction tale set on a generational ship – with heavy emphasis on the romance bit. Despite the fact that isn’t my go-to genre, the scene setting and shipboard environment is well depicted – read my full review here.

 

Banished – Book 1 of The Blackhart Legacy by Liz de JagerBanished
Sworn to protect, honour and slay. Because chaos won’t banish itself… Kit is proud to be a Blackhart, now she’s encountered her unorthodox cousins and their strange lives. And her home-schooling now includes spells, fighting enemy fae and using ancient weapons. But it’s not until she rescues a rather handsome fae prince, fighting for his life on the edge of Blackhart Manor, that her training really kicks in. With her family away on various missions, Kit must protect Prince Thorn, rely on new friends and use her own unfamiliar magic to stay ahead of Thorn’s enemies. As things go from bad to apocalyptic, fae battle fae in a war that threatens to spill into the human world. Then Kit pits herself against the Elder Gods themselves – it’s that or lose everyone she’s learnt to love.

This Fae story is well written and engrossing – I really enjoyed the fight scenes, which were vividly depicted and the real nastiness of the foes. I’ll be reviewing this in due course.

 

thenothinggirlThe Nothing Girl by Jodi Taylor
Known as “The Nothing Girl” because of her severe stutter and chronically low self-confidence, Jenny Dove is only just prevented from ending it all by the sudden appearance of Thomas, a mystical golden horse only she can see. Under his guidance, Jenny unexpectedly acquires a husband – the charming and chaotic Russell Checkland – and for her, nothing will ever be the same again. With over-protective relatives on one hand and the world’s most erratic spouse on the other, Jenny needs to become Someone. And fast!

This book made my husband laugh and cry and he forcefully recommended it – so I read it… This contemporary/family/crime/mystery/romance is something of a genre mash-up, with a hefty dollop of humour and sadness thrown in. Have a go – you won’t have read anything else quite like it. My review is here.

 

Change of Life – Book 2 of A Menopausal Superhero by Samantha Bryantchangeoflife
With great power comes…great frustration. Several months after the events of Going Through the Change, retired corporate vice president (and occasional lizard-woman) Patricia O’Neill is embroiled in a search for the mad scientist who brought the “change” upon them all. Meanwhile, Flygirl Jessica Roark and gender-bending strongman Linda/Leonel Alvarez have joined a mysterious covert agency known only as The Department. They’re training hard, in hopes of using their newfound powers for the greater good. Patricia thinks they’re being used. Cut off from the other menopausal heroes, she’s alone. And her search has hit a serious dead end. Then Patricia disappears, and all the clues point to a dead man. It’s up to her friends and The Department to find her and bring her home

I expected this to be a parody of the superhero genre, but it follows most of the genre conventions – except the protagonists are women of a certain age… There are some amusing touches and I love Bryant’s original take on what superpowers can endow. See my review here

This month, I more than doubled my original target with five books by women authors I hadn’t previously encountered and of the 66 books I’ve read so far this year, 30 are by authors new to me. Once more, I have to thank the NetGalley arcs for introducing me to many of these writers. While I cannot see myself able to sustain this throughout the year – I’ve too many other things on my plate – I’m delighted I’ve managed to make such a strong start to my 2016 Discovery Challenge.

Sunday Post – 22nd May

Standard

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.

It’s been another really busy week. On Tuesday my son unexpectedly popped down to do another audition tape on Wednesday, which was a treat in itself – he was able to stay until Thursday morning so we got a chance to properly catch up. On Thursday evening I went to see a production of Limelight written by talented playwright Liz Tait as part of the Brighton festival at The Iron Duke pub. It is a play about an open mike evening and if you get the chance to see it (they are hoping to go on tour) do so. The writing is sharp, funny and poignant, while the acting is extraordinarily good. It’s been a good teaching week, all the sessions went off well – though I can’t quite believe we are now halfway the last term of the academic year at Northbrook. Where has the time gone?

It hasn’t been such a successful reading week – I completed three books, but was forced to give up on two others. One was truly dreadful and the other is just very bleak – I may well get back to it, but I read for pleasure and escapism, so I refuse to trudge through a book I’m not enjoying. The books this week I completed were:

 

thelonelinessofdistantbeingsThe Loneliness of Distant Beings by Kate Ling
I was seduced by the wonderful cover and cool title – but should have taken more notice of the blurb. I was expecting a space opera adventure with a bit of romance thrown in and instead found myself reading a Romeo and Juliet scenario set on a generational ship. Nevertheless, the setting and situation was well depicted and I enjoyed it sufficiently to want to complete and review it.

 

BanishedBanished – Book 1 of The Blackhart Legacy series by Liz de Jager
My friend Mhairi Simpson had the arc of this book and once again, I fell for the cover. And I’m very glad I did. This debut swords and sorcery adventure is a great fantasy tale with a strong heroine and a really intriguing Fae world. I’ll be posting the review in due course.

 

The Nothing Girl by Jodi Taylorthenothinggirl
My husband was blown away by it, so I had to give it a go. He’s right. This unusual, contemporary tale full of humour, animals, some farcical set pieces and a crime mystery, with a romantic sub-plot running through it is something of a genre mash-up. But it works due to Taylor’s strong characterisation of a tongue-tied stammering heroine and a lovely dry humour. I’ve already posted the review.

The good news is I’ve restarted editing Breathing Space and now I’m back into Jezel’s world, I’m hoping to really get going on it.

My posts last week:
Sunday Post – 15th May

Review of The Flood Dragon’s Sacrifice – Book 1 of the Tide Dragons series by Sarah Ash

Teaser Tuesday – The Nothing Girl by Jodi Taylor

Review of The Snare – Book 1 of Star Wars Adventures in Wild Space by Scott Cavan

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* The Loneliness of Distant Beings by Kate Ling

Friday Faceoff – Just Then Flew Down a Monstrous Crow featuring Fool’s Quest – Book 2 of Fitz and the Fool by Robin Hobb

Review of The Nothing Girl by Jodi Taylor

I’ve also had a thoroughly enjoyable week on my blog, chatting with a number of friendly, interesting readers. Thank you. I still find it miraculous that I can fire up my computer and share my passion for reading and books – a mostly solitary hobby – with other like-minded people.
May your books bring you entertainment and enjoyment, or profound insights and I hope you all have a great week.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Loneliness of Distant Beings by Kate Ling

Standard

Every so often I get caught out. I loved the title and the spacescape on this YA offering – but what I should have also paid more attention to was the blurb…

thelonelinessofdistantbeingsEven though she knows it’s impossible, Seren longs to have the sunshine on her skin. It’s something she feels she needs to stay sane. But when you’re hurtling through space at thousands of kilometres an hour, sometimes you have to accept there are things you cannot change. Except that the arrival of Dom in her life changes everything in ways she can barely comprehend. He becomes the sun for her, and she can’t help but stay in his orbit. To lose him would be like losing herself . . .

Yep. It’s firmly in the romance category, rather than a space opera with the romance as part of the plotline. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if you are a solid fan of love stories – the snag is that I’m not, unless there is an interesting spin on the relationship. However, as I think this more my mistake than that the book is in the wrong category and there were aspects of it that I really enjoyed.

I found the setting intriguing. This Romeo and Juliet scenario plays out on Ventura a generational ship headed for Epsilon Eridani in response to a beacon that has been detected. Seran’s ancestors took the decision to dedicate the rest of their lives and those of generations of their offspring to head out into the unknown. However, there is no faster-than-light travel and it’s going to take a very long time to get there. In the meantime, there is a controlled breeding programme in place on board, with the strong emphasis on family values, as research as shown it is the most stable social structure. Until a stroppy teenager with a chip on her shoulder the size of Jupiter’s black spot decides she doesn’t want to marry her selected mate – because she’s fallen in love with someone else… And before you roll your eyes, there isn’t a love triangle going on here – the ‘happy’ couple who are slated to spend the rest of their lives together aren’t remotely in love.

I enjoyed the descriptions of life aboard the ship and the ongoing issue of what those space-faring generations do to keep up morale, given the whole of their lives will be spent travelling in the ship – it is a science fiction staple. Ling’s depiction of Ventura is vivid and I felt the overall reaction of the adults confronted with this situation was reasonably realistic in their ongoing efforts to try to persuade her to put her feelings on one side and see the bigger picture. Though there is a darker undertow, with strong hints that Seran’s mother’s suicide was less voluntary.

As Seran and Dom’s relationship becomes a thing, I found it harder to stay engaged with the book, although the climax was unexpected. And to be honest, I’m not sure it works on any level. It certainly felt as if the science fiction aspect of the story slid sideways into fantasy… But of course, I wasn’t caught up with the Seran and Dom’s relationship and didn’t particularly care if they stayed together.

All in all, I found the worldbuilding generally enjoyable and Ling has presented an interesting cast of characters, though I found Seran annoyingly self centred. I’m sure that romance fans will probably enjoy the story progression and ending more than I did. I received a copy of The Loneliness of Distant Beings from the publishers via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
7/10

Friday Faceoff – Metropolis

Standard

This is a new meme started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is the better. This week’s topic is to find two nifty covers relating to cities – and The Forever Watch by David Ramirez was my obvious choice. The added icing on the cake is that it happens to be one of my all-time favourite generational ship novels to date…

The brooding UK cover with its cityscape in shades of grey, apart from Hana, who is depicted in red, very effectively imparts the sense of dread and unease that permeates through this mystery thriller. I love the claustrophobia within the cityscape that the designers, Raid 71, manage to evoke. It so clearly transmits the feel of the book.

foreverwatchuk

And yet, Alan Brooks also manages to create a similar feeling of dread within this accomplished US cover in quite a different way. The flare of yellow within the cityscape which is clearly transitioning, gives a sense of movement within the buildings. While in the foreground the female figure – obviously Hana – looks poised for danger. I also very much like the spacescape right at the top of the cover.

theforeverwatchus

Both covers clearly communicate aspects of the book. Both covers are stunning. But, for me, the UK version just edges it. I love the starkness and brooding threat , which so effectively captures the mood of this memorable murder mystery.

Favourite Space Operas – Part 1

Standard

I have a particular weakness for space operas. It’s an abiding disappointment that I’ll never make it into space – but at least I can do so vicariously with the magic of books. And these are a handful of my favourites in no particular order…

The Forever Watch by David Ramirez
The Noah: a city-sized ship, four hundred years into an epic voyage to another planet. In a world where deeds, and even thoughts, cannot be kept secret, a man is murdered; his body so ruined that his identity theforeverwatchmust be established from DNA evidence. Within hours, all trace of the crime is swept away, hidden as though it never happened. Hana Dempsey, a mid-level bureaucrat genetically modified to use the Noah’s telepathic internet, begins to investigate. Her search for the truth will uncover the impossible: a serial killer who has been operating on board for a lifetime… if not longer. And behind the killer lies a conspiracy centuries in the making.

Generational ship science fiction provides an ideal backdrop for any kind of drama, given that it is the ultimate closed system. And because it is also entirely imaginary, it means an author can add/tweak all sorts of details designed to ramp up the tension and increase the sense of claustrophobia… So does Ramirez take full advantage of this scenario? Oh yes. This is an extraordinary tale – and the final twist took my breath away. Read the rest of my review here.

 

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
And this is another gem that makes extensive use of the generational ship device…

The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age – a world terraformed and prepared for human life. But guarding it is its creator, Dr Avrana Kern with a lethal childrenoftimearray of weaponry, determined to fight off these refugees. For she has prepared this pristine world seeded with a very special nanovirus for a number of monkey species to be uplifted into what human beings should have turned into – instead of the battling, acquisitive creatures who destroyed Earth…

Kern’s plans go awry and the species that actually becomes uplifted isn’t Kern’s monkeys, at all. In a tale of unintended consequences, it would have only taken a couple of tweaks for this to morph into a Douglas-Adams type farce. But it doesn’t, as the ship’s desperate plight becomes ever sharper and the species continues to evolve into something unintended and formidable. I love the wit and finesse with which Tchaikovsky handles this sub-genre and turns it into something original and enjoyable. Read the rest of my review here.

 

Fledgeling – a New Liaden novel by Steve Miller and Sharon Lee
Having trumpeted this post as being all about space operas, I’m now giving you a book where there is hardly any space ship action – but that is because it is the start of a long-running series, which deserves to read in the correct order.

fledglingDelgado is a Safe World. That means the population is monitored – for its own good – and behaviour dangerous to society is quickly corrected. Delgado is also the home of one of the galaxy’s premier institutions of higher learning, producing both impeccable research and scholars of flair and genius. On Safe Delgado, then, Theo Waitley, daughter of Professor Kamele Waitley, latest in a long line of Waitley scholars, is “physically challenged” and on a course to being declared a Danger to Society. Theo’s clumsiness didn’t matter so much when she and her mother lived out in the suburbs with her mother’s lover, Jen Sar Kiladi. But, suddenly, Kamele leaves Jen Sar and moves herself and Theo into faculty housing, immediately becoming sucked into faculty politics. Leaving Theo adrift and shocked – and vulnerable…

This coming-of-age novel is largely in fourteen-year-old Theo’s viewpoint. But it isn’t particularly aimed at the YA market, although I’d have no problem with any teenager reading it. The world is deftly realised and it took me a few pages just to absorb the strangeness and different customs, as Lee and Miller don’t hold up the pace with pages of explanation. So readers need to keep alert. However, this book is a delight. My very favourite sub-genre is accessible, enjoyable science fiction and this is a cracking example. Read the rest of my review here.

 

Marrow by Robert Reed
The ship is home to a thousand alien races and a near-immortal crew who have no knowledge of its origins or purpose. At its core lies a secret as ancient as the universe. It is about to be unleashed.

This is definitely in the realm of epic space opera – with the emphasis on vastness. The ship Humankind marrowhas appropriated is immense. The population this ship supports is in the millions and the people running this ship are of the transhuman variety, in that they are all but immortal with lifespans stretching into the hundreds and thousands of years. To be able to sustain a storyline with plenty of twists and turns, and yet continue to be able to denote the sheer weirdness of the backdrop that is also key to said story takes serious writing skill. It’s one reason why science fiction is regarded with such snootiness in certain quarters – it is easy to write badly and difficult to write well.

So is Reed up to the task? Oh for sure. The only slightly dodgy pov was the initial prologue when the ship is talking and that doesn’t last long. Other than that, the mix of multiple and semi omniscient viewpoint works well. I was gripped by the story and cared sufficiently about the characters, despite none of them being all that likeable – they are too alien and inhuman. But that didn’t stop me becoming completely engrossed in the twists and turns over a huge span of time. Read the rest of my review here.

 

The Clockwork Rocket – Book 1 of The Orthogonal by Greg Egan
There are degrees of science fiction – some books are long on character development and the social consequences of futuristic living, while being short on the science that underpins it, known as soft theclockworkrocketscience fiction. Other books are far more concerned with the science and gismos that will actually power and run our future worlds – the hard science fiction. Egan, as a physicist, has always been on the harder side of the genre, but the important difference – for me – is that he is also able to write convincing characters into the bargain.

However, this time around he has produced a truly different world, where the laws of physics as we know them no longer work. He calls this a Riemannian universe as opposed to the Lorentzian version we inhabit. In Egan’s world, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity simply doesn’t make sense. Further, the basic humanoid template, so prevalent in most space opera adventures, is also off the table. Egan demonstrates a head-swivelling leap of imagination by producing a race of beings who don’t look like us, don’t breed like us… It’s an awesome achievement.

This is one of the most exciting books to be produced in the genre for years – I cannot think of another story that equals the sheer inventive genius displayed by Egan. Readers can take on board as much or as little of the physics as they wish – but his cleverness would be beside the point if the narrative was so hampered by the long passages describing the world that we all ceased to care whether the heroine prevailed or not. However, Yalda’s story gripped me from the start and didn’t let go. Read the rest of my review here.

 

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The Wayfarer, a patched-up ship that’s seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled the-long-way-666x1024past. But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with the Wayfarer. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptillian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. But Rosemary isn’t the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.

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

It’s always a big ask to depict aliens such that they seem realistic and sympathetic, without being merely humans with odd names and the occasional nifty add-on. Chambers has triumphantly succeeding in providing a range of fascinating lifeforms that explore the notions of gender and how to cope with difference, while stretching our preconceptions of parenting and family life. Read the rest of my review here.

So here you have the first selection of my favourite space faring stories – are there any glaring omissions you would like to add?

Review of Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Standard

Tchaikovsky’s fascinating insectile epic fantasy series Shadows of the Apt has made him a major name in Fantasy circles – and rightly so. See my review of Empire in Black and Gold here. So when I encountered a book with his name on the cover featuring a spacescape, it was a no-brainer that I’d scoop it off the shelves. Would I enjoy it?

childrenoftimeThe last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age – a world terraformed and prepared for human life. But guarding it is its creator, Dr Avrana Kern with a lethal array of weaponry, determined to fight off these refugees. For she has prepared this pristine world seeded with a very special nanovirus for a number of monkey species to be uplifted into what human beings should have turned into – instead of the battling, acquisitive creatures who destroyed Earth…

That’s the tweaked blurb – unusually because I felt the book jacket version was rather a vanilla description of the really intriguing conflict Tchaikovsky posits in this generational ship odyssey. For Kern’s plans go very awry and the species that actually becomes uplifted isn’t Kern’s monkeys, at all…

As coincidence would have it, I’ve only recently read another space opera adventure featuring a generational ship and humans whose lives span an extended time. In Tchaikovsky’s version, however, the method used to elongate the crew’s lives sufficiently is for them to go into deep storage, along with the colonists stacked in the cargo holds, to be roused when necessary to deal with various emergencies. So when the captain encounters the problem of Kern’s formidable defences, he finds himself staying awake far longer than he intended.

There is such a welter of unintended consequences and accidental outcomes in this tale, that it would have only taken a slightly different approach and a major tweak to the writing to turn this into a Douglas Adams-type farce. The storyline and Tchaikovsky’s detailed, knowledgeable account of how the species acquired the necessary intelligence to form a planet-wide society had me utterly engrossed.

Because there was a dealbreaker embedded in this book. There are tracts of ‘tell’ throughout, where Tchaikovsky resorts to omniscient pov to relay chunks of the story. Could he have done it differently? Probably – and if the story had been less engrossing, less exciting and more predictable I may well have abandoned it. But the initial premise held me and the ingenious, witty plotting had me captivated such that I was more than willing to give him a free pass on his mode of delivery.

He also made me care about both the wretched humans trapped aboard a ship that is slowly falling apart under them and the interesting beings down on the planet struggling to adapt to an evolutionary tweak not intended for them. Did he bring the story to a suitably satisfying conclusion? Oh yes, he certainly did. I don’t know if this is a precursor to a series of books set on Kern’s World. But if it is, I’m going to snapping them up as they become available. Tchaikovsky has taken an established genre by the scruff of its neck and turned it around in coolly interesting ways in much the same way The Shadow of the Apt series flipped around epic Fantasy.

And the bonus? He is genuinely one of the nicest blokes it has been my pleasure to encounter at various cons…
10/10

Review of Marrow by Robert Reed

Standard

I acquired Marrow longer ago than I care to even think about, on account of the very cool cover as I’m a sucker for spacescapes. Would I enjoy it?

The ship is home to a thousand alien races and a near-immortal crew who have no knowledge of its origins or purpose. At its core lies a secret as ancient as the universe. It is about to be unleashed.

marrowThis is definitely in the realm of epic science fiction – with the emphasis on vastness. The ship Humankind has appropriated is absolutely immense. The population this ship supports is in the millions and the people running this ship are of the transhuman variety, in that they are all but immortal with lifespans stretching into the hundreds and thousands of years. To be able to sustain a storyline with plenty of twists and turns, and yet continue to be able to denote the sheer weirdness of the backdrop that is also key to said story takes serious writing skill. It’s one reason why science fiction is regarded with such snootiness in certain quarters – it is easy to write badly and difficult to write well.

So is Reed up to the task? Oh for sure. The only slightly dodgy pov was the initial prologue when the ship is talking and that doesn’t last long. Other than that, the mix of multiple and semi omniscient viewpoint works well. I was gripped by the story and cared sufficiently about the characters, despite none of them being all that likeable – they are too alien and inhuman. But that didn’t stop me becoming completely engrossed in the twists and turns over a huge span of time.

Reed manages to make the characters care about enough of the aspects of humanity that drive us, so that I could empathise with their motivations and yet they were indisputably ‘other’. It’s a far harder trick to pull off than Reed makes it look, and was certainly helped by the relatively small cast of characters that features in this generational ship adventure.

The worldbuilding was really well done. Reed has an amazing imagination and has let it off the leash when it comes to his lethal world, Marrow. But while it certainly features and shapes the story, Reed hasn’t allowed it to become centre stage. So while there are passages of detailed description, they tend to be added when necessary to the narrative progression, so we don’t have pages and pages of explanation that hamper the pace and diffuse the tension.

All in all, this is a really intriguing, entertaining read and while I note that it isn’t available on Kindle, if you do happen to encounter a copy and you are a hard science fiction fan, then scoop it up. You’re in for a treat.
9/10