Tag Archives: hard science fiction

Sunday Post – 9th July 2017

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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.

Last Sunday was my birthday party – held by my marvellous mother and it gave a great excuse to provide a gathering of the clan. It was a wonderful occasion with a purple theme (to match my new hair colour) and rounded off the now regular ritual of the family rounders game. Once again, we were very fortunate with the weather which was warm and sunny – ideal for a party in the garden.

During the week, I’ve been enjoying Wimbledon – I’ve loved watching it since I was a teenager who played tennis for the school – and found the current heatwave a joy. It has brought back so many happy memories of other hot summers years ago.

On Tuesday, my sister and I attended a talk on the history of watches at Worthing Library given by one of my writing group buddies, Geoff Alnutt – aka The Speechpainter. He covered the history of watchmaking in the last century by focusing on ten iconic wrist watches in a fascinating and informative presentation. On the way home, we stopped off to walk along the seafront and up the riverside walk in Littlehampton to admire the stunning sunset, reflected in the pond-smooth sea and river. A magical end to a lovely evening…

This week-end, Oscar is staying with us, after phoning me up to tell me that he had grade As for every subject in his report – including for trying, being polite and working hard, as well as for being academically clever. My sister came over for a meal last night and we plan to have breakfast together at a local café and then walk along the beach before it becomes too crowded.

This week I have read:
Dichronauts by Greg Egan
Seth is a surveyor, along with his friend Theo, a leech-like creature running through his skull who tells Seth what lies to his left and right. Theo, in turn, relies on Seth for mobility, and for ordinary vision looking forwards and backwards. Like everyone else in their world, they are symbionts, depending on each other to survive. In the universe containing Seth’s world, light cannot travel in all directions: there is a “dark cone” to the north and south. Seth can only face to the east (or the west, if he tips his head backwards). If he starts to turn to the north or south, his body stretches out across the landscape, and to rotate as far as north-north-east is every bit as impossible as accelerating to the speed of light. Every living thing in Seth’s world is in a state of perpetual migration as they follow the sun’s shifting orbit and the narrow habitable zone it creates. Cities are being constantly disassembled at one edge and rebuilt at the other, with surveyors mapping safe routes ahead. But when Seth and Theo join an expedition to the edge of the habitable zone, they discover a terrifying threat
This is another amazing hard science fiction offering from one of the most inventive, imaginative writers who has ever penned a futuristic story. But you really need to visit Greg Egan’s website to get a real sense of the rules that run this particular world.

The Fallen Kingdom – Book 3 of The Falconer series by Elizabeth May
Aileana Kameron, resurrected by ancient fae magic, returns to the world she once knew with no memory of her past and with dangerous powers she struggles to control. Desperate to break the curse that pits two factions of the fae against each other in a struggle that will decide the fate of the human and fae worlds, her only hope is hidden in an ancient book guarded by the legendary Morrigan, a faery of immense power and cruelty. To save the world and the people she loves, Aileana must learn to harness her dark new powers even as they are slowly destroying her.
A gripping read that brings this engrossing YA fantasy/steampunk mash-up series to a triumphantly successful conclusion. This series is one of my favourites of the year so far.

Slouch Witch – Book 1 of The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Magic series by Helen Harper
Let’s get one thing straight – Ivy Wilde is not a heroine. In fact, she’s probably the last witch in the world who you’d call if you needed a magical helping hand, regardless of her actual abilities. If it were down to Ivy, she’d spend all day every day on her sofa where she could watch TV, munch junk food and talk to her feline familiar to her heart’s content. However, when a bureaucratic disaster ends up with Ivy as the victim of a case of mistaken identity, she’s yanked very unwillingly into Arcane Branch, the investigative department of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Her problems are quadrupled when a valuable object is stolen right from under the Order’s noses. It doesn’t exactly help that she’s been magically bound to Adeptus Exemptus Raphael Winter. He might have piercing sapphire eyes and a body which a cover model would be proud of but, as far as Ivy’s concerned, he’s a walking advertisement for the joyless perils of too much witch-work. And if he makes her go to the gym again, she’s definitely going to turn him into a frog.
Himself tracked this one down – and once he’d read it, immediately commanded I do the same. He’s right. It’s sharp, funny and original with an excellent world and strong magic structure. I’m delighted to report that the sequel is being released any day now.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 2nd July 2017

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Eleventh Hour – Book 8 of the Kit Marlowe series by M.J. Trow

Teaser Tuesday featuring The Fallen Kingdom – Book 3 of The Falconer series by Elizabeth May

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Sungrazer – Book 2 of the Outriders series by Jay Posey

Shoot for the Moon Challenge 2017 – June Roundup

Friday Face-off – All that is gold does not glitter featuring Making Money – Book 36 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Fallen Kingdom – Book 3 of The Falconer series by Elizabeth May

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
Happy Belated Birthday Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone https://coffeeandcatsblog.wordpress.com/2017/07/08/happy-belated-birthday-harry-potter-and-the-philosophers-stone/ This is a lovely article celebrates the publication of this genre-changing series – and charts the impact it had on one particular family

On the Science of Bibliosmia: That Enticing Book Smell https://interestingliterature.com/2017/07/07/on-the-science-of-bibliosmia-that-enticing-book-smell/ A fascinating look at the history of our relationship with books – other than reading them…

On Writing – food for thought http://earthianhivemind.net/2017/07/07/writing-food-thought/ There are lots of quotes on writing, but these two that Steph has selected are particularly apt and useful.

When Book Covers Fail Characters https://kristentwardowski.wordpress.com/2017/07/05/when-book-covers-fail-book-characters/ I’m fascinated by this subject – as anyone who has read my weekly Friday Face-off will know and Kristen has some interesting things to say about it.

3 Reasons Why I Love Doing Research http://melfka.com/archives/2353 An excellent article on one of the tasks all writers have to tackle – and Joanna’s love of it.

Thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site and may you have a great week.

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Teaser Tuesday – 19th July, 2016

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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:
Solar Express by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
p. 106: Unlike on transport flights, he was wearing a skintight pressure suit, with his helmet secured solarexpressunder the couch. He had his doubts about the usefulness of the suit. While it would allow him to survive decompression and would provide insulation for several hours, and oxygen for roughly the same time, its usefulness was limited to instants where damage to the burner did not affect the drives, since if he could not return somewhere quickly, he doubted that anyone could rescue him in that time – or would be terribly interested in doing so.

BLURB: You can’t militarize space. This one rule has led to decades of peaceful development of space programs worldwide. However, increasing resource scarcity and a changing climate on Earth’s surface is causing some interested parties to militarize, namely India, the North American Union, and the Sinese Federation.

The discovery of a strange artifact by Dr. Alayna Wong precipitates a crisis. What appears to be a hitherto undiscovered comet is soon revealed to be an alien structure on a cometary trajectory toward the sun. Now there is a race between countries to see who can study and control the artifact dubbed the “Solar Express” before it perhaps destroys itself.

This is hard science fiction with emphasis on the ‘hard’. Modesitt’s writing is dense, scattered with acronyms and allusions to space stuff, without stopping to explain much along the way. That’s okay. I don’t have a problem with that, so long as the protagonists are three-dimensional and believable. So far, so good – although this isn’t a book I’ll be whizzing through. Still… it’s good to let out my inner geek every so often.

Review of Fractal Prince – Book 2 of The Quantum Thief series by Hannu Rajaniemi

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On the edges of physical space a thief, helped by a sardonic ship, is trying to break into a Schrődinger box. He is doing the job for his patron, and the owner of the ship, Mieli. In the box is his freedom. Or not. The box is protected by codes that twist logic and sanity. And the ship is under attack. The thief is nearly dead, being is being eaten alive. Jean de Flambeur is running out of time. All of him. And on earth, two sisters in a city of fast ones, shadow players and jinni contemplate a revolution.

fractalprinceAnd that is the blurb for the follow up to Rajaniemi’s award-winning novel, The Quantum Thief which I whipped off the shelves when it caught my eye – would I enjoy this hard science fiction adventure? Rajaniemi is a Finnish writer with a PhD in String Theory – and his scientific knowledge permeates the world building in this remarkable book.

The thief’s viewpoint is in first person, while Mieli and the adventures of disgraced sister, Tawaddud, the other two protagonists, are told in third person viewpoint. While the thief struggles to open the box, Tawaddud is striving to assist her father in his political manoeuvring by entertaining influential individuals and then roaming the poorer parts of the city and helping those infected with the wildcode. The characters are reasonably successful, although I found I empathised more with Tawaddud and Mieli than Jean, whose enigmatic, tricky persona made him less easy to know and care about.

The other layer of structure running through the book is that much of the narrative is told in the form of stories in the same style as Scheherazade’s tales of a thousand and one nights. I know – it sounds bonkers. And yet, for me, this aspect was one of the main successes of the book. Rajaniemi isn’t a believer in spending time on explaining his world or how it works to the reader – the gismos and terms describing aspects of his world, such as Sobernost, zoku, mutalibun all have to be gleaned through the context of the prose. I would have been cravenly grateful for a glossary, especially in the early stages of the book, given I haven’t read The Quantum Thief. But in the stories – which partly advance the plot and partly highlight the recurring themes of betrayal and revenge, loyalty and power which weave through the book – there is some background and explanation, particularly about Tawaddud and Mieli.

That Rajaniemi is an original writer, pushing the boundaries of science fiction and how narrative works is undisputed. Once I managed to grasp more or less what was going on, I found this an enjoyable read filled with entertaining concepts and underpinned by a story with plenty of tension. However, I do feel Rajaniemi could have, at times, thrown a few more lifelines to his readers that needn’t have compromised his narrative and would have enhanced the reading experience – the longed-for glossary, for example. That said, I recommend you seek him out – but do yourselves a favour, don’t start with Fractal Prince, track down The Quantum Thief. My bad habit picking up a mid-series book as my starting point certainly didn’t help in this case.
8/10

Review of Indie EBOOK Acid Sky – prequel to Below Mercury by Mark Anson

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For those of you who have read and enjoyed Anson’s offering Below Mercury, – read my review here – this book goes back into pilot Clare Foster’s past and gives us a slice of her training, when she first visited the skies above Venus.

Langley plan 250214 150dpiVenus – second planet from the Sun. In the crushing depths of its atmosphere lies a hellish, dimly-lit world of baked rock and furnace-like temperatures, forever hidden beneath thick clouds of sulphuric acid. But high above the clouds, the sky is blue and clear, and a fleet of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers circle endlessly on the high-altitude winds, providing a welcome staging post for crews on long space voyages. For Clare Foster, a newly-promoted lieutenant in the US Astronautics Corps on her first tour of duty on board the carrier Langley, flying on Venus brings new challenges to be mastered. But the endless blue skies of Venus soon darken with an approaching menace, in which the terrifying fury of the planet will be unleashed…

If you enjoy your science fiction on the hard side, then Anson is your man. His world-building is a geek’s dream, with beautiful line drawings of the various craft he portrays in his story. As you can see from the examples I have included – which show up a treat on venusmy very basic Kindle – he has included an extra dimension to the backdrop. There is also a section at the back of the book with additional details about Venus, the acid sky and those amazing craft. However, I have read plenty of amazing futuristic worlds depicted by science fiction authors, who wouldn’t know narrative pace if they fell over it in a wormhole… Anson is one of the other sort – those who not only have an excellent grasp of all the techie toys, but nevertheless can also spin a great story and write convincing characters.

Which is just as well, because his protagonist is young Clare Foster and the nature of the storyline means that this could have gone into some really dodgy territory, with yet another young, good-looking female victimised. Dedicated, talented and extremely hard-working, nevertheless Clare is greener than a four-leaved shamrock when she finds herself on the huge carrier Langley, which is harvesting elements from the surrounding skies as well as providing a convenient stopover for traffic moving back and forth to Mercury.

acid skyShe falls foul of a fellow officer – and rather than just put up and shut up, as she is advised to do, she decides to mete out her own revenge. With startling consequences… The early stages of this book is full of Clare’s experiences as a pilot and the pace is not exactly leisurely, but it isn’t a foot-to-the-floor adrenaline rush, either. But what it does do, is make us really care about Clare and get to know her thoroughly before she is plunged into her adventure. As well as give us plenty of insights into just how everything works on this world, with all the checks and balances and safety regulations, we get the sense that those living and working in this hostile environment know it well and have more or less got it under control… Until it all goes wrong, of course.

It’s a very neat trick. I cannot recall reading a book where I minded so much about the technology and what happens to it. As for Anson, this is his second book and it shows. The pacing is more sure-footed and while he takes risks with the particular storyline he has chosen, I think his depiction of Clare has managed to avoid the accusation that he has set up his female protagonist as a sex victim in a lazy plot device. The situation she finds herself in is all too believable – and Anson’s handling of the whole incident is well done. I’m looking forward to reading Anson’s next book. His particular format of juxtaposing the impressive technical ingenuity alongside the frailty and inherent rule-breaking that goes on in any human community makes for riveting storytelling.
9/10

Review of Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds

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Reynolds is one of the foremost hard science fiction authors around these days and anything he writes is worth reading. Most of his previous work is set out in space, a looong way in the future, peopled with enigmatic, post-human characters. However, his writing style appears to be changing – Century Rain was set far closer to home and Floyd, the main protagonist, was sufficiently complex yet familiar to make me really care what would happen to him. In Terminal World, Reynolds gives us Quillon, another intriguing, likeable character with his own set of secrets.

Spearpoint, the last human city, is an atmosphere-piercing spire of vast size. Clinging to its skin are the zones, a series of terminalworldsemi-autonomous city-states, each of which enjoys a different – and rigidly enforced – level of technology. Horsetown is pre-industrial; in Neon Heights they have television and electric lights…

Following an infiltration mission that went tragically wrong, Quillon has been living incognito, working as a pathologist in the district morgue. But when a near-dead angel drops onto his dissecting table, Quillon’s world is wrenched apart one more time. For the angel is a winged posthuman from Spearpoint’s Celestial Levels – and with the dying body comes bad news.

If Quillon is to save his life, he must leave his home and journey into the cold and hostile lands beyond Spearpoint’s base, starting an exile that will take him further than he could ever have imagined. But there is far more at stake than just Quillon’s own survival, for the limiting technologies of the zones are determined not by governments or police, but by the very nature of reality – and reality itself is showing worrying signs of instability…

This fascinating world is sliced up into zones that change the rules at sub-atomic levels, therefore in some zones nothing more sophisticated than steam engines will work, while in others the level of technology is far greater. And then, there is a large dead zone, where nothing lives.  This is a complicated world that isn’t perfectly understood by anyone living there. Quillon, however, becomes uniquely qualified to discover as much about it as anyone else, especially once he is captured by the Swarm, a large community of people who constantly travel by airship.

As ever with Reynolds’ work, the scope of this book is ambitious and as I found myself swept up into Quillon’s initial plight, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. Steampunk isn’t a particular ‘thing’ of mine, but the Swarm’s journey through the newly exposed zone that was previously impenetrable for five thousand years, is one of the main highlights of the book. And it’s a book that is packed with incident and unfolding information about this original and interesting world. The ending satisfactorily tied up many of the main storylines – so long as this is the start of a new series.

I haven’t seen any indication that Reynolds intends to write more books featuring this planet, but if he doesn’t, then there are far too many dangling threads left waving in the breeze. In Terminal World, he has laid the groundwork for a whole raft of really interesting scenarios, which never get more than a fleeting mention, such as exactly how the zone changes will affect the skullboys, Horsetown or the Celestial Levels. What exactly was Spearpoint for? What will happen to the Swarm? These are questions that Reynolds raises – and never really properly answers. If Terminal World isn’t a one-off offering, then that’s fine; I’ll just wait for the next slice of steampunk adventure to hit the bookshops. However, if this is it – then, Reynolds is guilty of seriously short-changing his readership.
8/10