Tag Archives: John Scalzi

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Collapsing Empire – Book 1 of The Interdependency series by John Scalzi

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I mostly thoroughly enjoy Scalzi’s writing and was delighted when I saw this offering on Netgalley. Sadly though, it wasn’t much fun to read – and that was nothing to do with the author. The Kindle arc looked as though it had been mugged by a binary monster as every page was spattered with zeroes and ones amongst the prose – and if that wasn’t bad enough, the majority of the polysyllabic words were split up into their syll ab les. Fortunately, I very much liked the story, otherwise I wouldn’t have persevered – but I did end up with a thumping headache after a couple of reading sessions and I would plead with publishers to consider their hapless reviewers before letting arcs go out in that state.

Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible — until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars. Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war — and a system of control for the rulers of the empire.

I loved the idea that dark matter includes The Flow which allows humanity to escape from Earth and colonise space. The Interdependency is a nifty idea that has managed to – more or less – keep the empire from fracturing and allows an elite to make a very, very good living, with the rest more or less managing. In other words, capitalism is alive and kicking…

And then there is a gamechanger and a new ruler all at the same time. Said gamechanger is going to shake everything up in such an extreme manner, the information isn’t even accepted without a lot of hard evidence – which means there isn’t a lot of time left to do anything about it…

I loved the premise – it was every bit as interesting as I had hoped. I particularly enjoyed the fact that not only did we get a ringside seat when the new emperox finds herself landed with a job she didn’t want, we also got to see exactly what motivates the main antagonist as they manoeuvre for more power and agency. The plotting and double-crossing going on results in plenty of action – some of it nicely unexpected, which is why I’m keeping my comments reasonably general.

Scalzi’s easy style keeps this book barrelling along at a fair pace, so that while the pages didn’t fly by quite at the speed I would have liked – it was taking too much effort to decode the abysmal formatting in my Netgalley arc – nevertheless the story unfolded with pleasing ease. The finale brought the main story arc to a satisfactory conclusion, though there are sufficient dangling plotpoints such that I will be looking out for the sequel in due course. After a number of great standalone reads, such as Lock In, I’m delighted Scalzi has now embarked upon another major series.

While I obtained the arc of The Collapsing Empire from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.

8/10

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Top Ten Spring Reads

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This was the theme on this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and Bookish and I thought it was such a lovely one, I decided to join in – albeit two days late!

1. Blood Upon the Sand – Book 2 of The Songs of the Shattered Sands by Bradley Beaulieu
When Çeda and Emre are drawn into a plot of the blood mage, Hamzakiir, they sail across the desert to learn the truth, and a devastating secret is revealed, one that may very well shatter the power of the hated kings.
During this winter, I’ve developed a real taste for desert-based fantasy and the first book in this series – Twelve Kings – was a gripping read. I’m really looking forward to getting lost once more in this complex, well written world full of heat, sand and intrigue…

 

2. Mira’s Last Dance – Book 4 of the Penric and Desdemona series by Lois McMaster Bujold
In this sequel to the novella Penric’s Mission, the injured Penric, a Temple sorcerer and learned divine, tries to guide the betrayed General Arisaydia and his widowed sister Nikys across the last hundred miles of hostile Cedonia to safety in the Duchy of Orbas.
I’ve really enjoyed this series of novellas as Penric learns to adapt to the twelve demons riding him. There is plenty of action and I have particularly grown to love the unintended consequences that spring up around a good man coping with a host of chaos demons. Wonderful stuff!

 

3. The Ninth Rain – Book 1 of The Winnowing Flame Trilogy by Jen Williams
The great city of Ebora once glittered with gold. Now its streets are stalked by wolves. Tormalin the Oathless has no taste for sitting around waiting to die while the realm of his storied ancestors falls to pieces – talk about a guilt trip. Better to be amongst the living, where there are taverns full of women and wine.
After the storming series The Copper Cat, I was delighted to be able to get hold of this latest offering by such a talented author. Her swashbuckling energy will nicely chime with warmer days and lots of greenery appearing in the garden.

 

4. The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible — until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars. Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war — and a system of control for the rulers of the empire. And then the Emperox dies just as a cataclysmic change threatens the stability of everything…
Scalzi is always worth reading – I particularly loved his futuristic crime thriller Lock In – so I fell upon this start to a new epic space opera when I spotted it on Netgalley. It should be full of thrills and spills, along with some interesting ideas along the way.

 

5. 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. Immediately drawn to Logan Chandler, Sadie is captivated by the beautiful boy with the ocean-blue eyes. Logan seems to embody everything that has been forbidden, but he isn’t all he appears to be.
While visiting other book blogs, this series kept popping up with lots of good things being said about it, so when I had the opportunity to get hold of the first book in the series and see what all the fuss was about – I grabbed it. I’m looking forward to tucking into this one and maybe getting hold of some more of the books in due course.

 

6. The Operator – Book 2 of The Peri Reed Chronicles by Kim Harrison
Peri Reed’s job eats her mind, but for a special task agent in hiding, forgetting the past can be a blessing. Betrayed by the man she thought she loved and the agency who turned her into the very thing she fought against, Peri abandoned the wealth and privilege of Opti for anonymity riddled with memory gaps and self-doubt.
I’ve recently finished the first book in this series, The Drafter, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Harrison delivers a twisting plot, foot to the floor action and some thought provoking questions along the way – the staple of excellent science fiction. So I’m really looking forward to seeing how this next slice of the adventure plays out.

 

7. My Parents Are Out of Control – Book 2 of the How To Train Your Parents by Pete Johnson
Louis doesn’t think much of it when his mum and dad ask him for tips on how to be cool. In fact, he thinks it’s pretty funny watching them bump fists and use words like ‘safe’, ‘sick’ and ‘wicked’. Until Dad turns up outside Louis’s new school dressed like a rapper, that is . . . Suddenly they’re trying to friend Louis and all his classmates on Facebook, and wearing baseball caps backwards – IN PUBLIC. Louis and his best friend Maddy are horrified. Mum and Dad have taken things too far . . . and immediate action is needed!
I read the first book in this series, How To Train Your Parents, to my granddaughter, who thoroughly enjoyed it – and so did I. We got hold of the rest of the series and I need to read it in advance, as otherwise I’m tempted to skim ahead as I’m reading aloud to find out what happens next…

 

8. A Crown of Wishes – Book 2 of The Star-Touched Queen series by Roshani Chokshi
Gauri, the princess of Bharata, has been taken as a prisoner of war by her kingdom’s enemies. Faced with a future of exile and scorn, Gauri has nothing left to lose. Hope unexpectedly comes in the form of Vikram, the cunning prince of a neighboring land and her sworn enemy kingdom.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Star-Touched Queen. Chokshi’s rich lush prose and mythological story gave this tale an epic feel that reminded me of the Arabian Nights’ stories of my youth. I’m looking forward to being transported back to a land full of wonders and danger – as well as meeting up again with a certain meat-eating horse…

 

9. The Tropic of Serpents – Book 2 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennon
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.
I loved the first slice of this adventure and have left it far too long before revisiting this enjoyable Victorian-like world where an intrepid young woman is determined to continue studying dragons in the wild, despite the dangers and discomfort…

 

10. Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan
A woman with wings that exist in another dimension. A man trapped in his own body by a killer. A briefcase that is a door to hell. A conspiracy that reaches beyond our world…
When I saw this, I had to scoop it off the shelves and bring it home. Sullivan is always worth reading, here is my review of Lightborn. Her stories are invariably peopled by complex, interesting characters and her worlds always reverberate with me, to the extent that I nearly always dream about them… So I’m very much looking forward to getting stuck into this one.

 

And that’s part of my reading list this Spring. Are there any books here that you are also intending to read, or have already read?

Sunday Post – 12th March 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.

It’s as if half-term never happened… I’m right back in the swing with my Creative Writing courses and also busy getting Tim ready for his exams in June. I have had a fortnight without Fitstep and Pilates and now very much looking forward to getting back to it on Monday as I am now really missing my exercise. On Thursday, Mhairi came over and we caught up – it seemed a very long time since we last talked over our writing problems and worked together. In the evening we attended the monthly West Sussex Writers’ meeting where Vanessa Gebbie talked about how to go about selecting short stories for collections and then after the tea break, she set us a crazy and enjoyable timed writing challenge. It was another successful meeting.

I had a hectic and exciting Saturday on a venture, which I’m hoping to talk more about later in the year… Other than that, I’ve been busy editing and beta-reading. The days are now getting steadily longer and Spring flowers are springing up everywhere. Have a lovely week!

This week I have read:

The Collapsing Empire – Book 1 of The Collapsing Empire series by John Scalzi
Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible — until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars. Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war — and a system of control for the rulers of the empire.
I loved the idea that dark matter includes The Flow which allows humanity to escape from Earth and colonise space. The Interdependency is a nifty idea that has managed to – more or less – keep the empire from fracturing and allows an elite to make a very, very good living, with the rest more or less managing. In other words, capitalism is alive and kicking – and then there is a gamechanger and a new ruler all at the same time…

 

Amunet by Robert Harkess
Amunet has a unique talent; she can talk to the dead. She had been told all her life that this is the key to rescuing her mother, who has been taken by mysterious and powerful forces. To unlock her mother’s prison, all she has to do is find the Locksmith. Posing as a Medium, she scours Europe for the one person who can help her. Harry and his father are investigators, employed by the Church to hunt down Mediums and hand them over to the mercies of the Inquisition. Harry has always believed he, and the Church, were doing the right thing. Until now.
This one immediately pulled me in – the writing style is punchy and readable and I really enjoyed Amunet. She is at once entitled and vulnerable, clever and very unworldly with an upbringing you wouldn’t wish on a dog, along with a burning drive to track down her mother, thanks to the person in her head guiding her. Harry has a parallel life in many ways, given he also lost his mother early in his life, but whereas Amunet’s guide and mentor is a voice in her head, Harry’s role model is his own father.

 

The Drafter – Book 1 of The Peri Reed Chronicles by Kim Harrison
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 thoroughly enjoyed this one. Peri has an extraordinarily rare talent – she can shift through Time and alter outcomes. This ability surfaced when as a child she suffered a fatal accident on a swing – then got up and walked away from it. This ability is called drafting and each precious drafter has to have an anchor, who works alongside them and helps them keep sane by filling in the memory blanks and expunging conflicting timelines that otherwise cause catastrophic mental breakdown. But what if your anchor is wiping a lot more than occasional drafting? And who do you become if your memory keeps getting wiped? Oh yes… this twisty near-future thriller is great fun.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 5th March 2017

Review of Clean Sweep – Book 1 of The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews

Teaser Tuesday featuring Amunet by Robert Harkess

Review of Twelve Kings – Book 1 of The Song of the Shattered Sands by Bradley Beaulieu

Review of After Atlas – Book 2 of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman

Friday Face-off – I never let schooling interfere with my schooling… featuring Ender’s Game – Book 1 of Ender’s Saga by Scott Orson Card

Discovery Challenge 2017 and Tackling my TBR – February Roundup

 

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

Reptile Dysfunction https://anaslair.wordpress.com/2017/03/11/reptile-dysfunction/ Something to put a smile on your face…

10 of the Best Poems about Depression https://interestingliterature.com/2017/03/10/10-of-the-best-poems-about-depression/ Once more this awesome site comes up trumps with this collection of poems. One of the worst things about this illness is the terrible sense of isolation it engenders – and hopefully, knowing it has not only afflicted people through the ages, but caused them to write about it, might just lessen that disabling loneliness a tad…

Inspirational Ray Bradbury Quotes http://www.logicalquotes.com/ray-bradbury-quotes/ This site features quotes from a range of great writers and I particularly loved this collection from one of my literary heroes.

Healing the Silent Hurts https://apricotsandadmiration.com/2017/03/02/healing-the-silent-hurts/ This is a lovely, salutary article about how children’s lives can be affected by what goes on in the classroom other than learning to read and write…

50 Word Stories: Unwished For https://richardankers.com/2017/03/09/50-word-stories-unwished-for/ Yet another one of Richard’s quirky unsettling stories sunk its hooks into me…

Thank you for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

The Spring Book Tag

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Daffodils @ Highdown (6)

I discovered this very appropriate tag, while reading Lizzie Baldwins’s fabulous My Little Book Blog and she came across it at The Reader and the Chef. So this my response…

 

1. What’s your Spring TBR?planetfall
Emma Newman’s Planetfall – I bought it in the depths of winter when thoroughly fed up and now green shoots are shooting and I’ve completed all the admin for my latest Creative Writing course, I reckon I deserve a treat.

 

Everyheartadoorway2. If someone asked you for a Spring release recommendation, what would it be?
I’ve read some cracking books this year, but one of the books published at the beginning of April is the novella Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire. I loved the pitch perfect pacing and the wonderful poignant tone of this story.

 

3. Which two books are you eagerly awaiting that releases within the next two centralstationmonths?
I have on my Kindle the arc of Central Station by Lavie Tidhar which looks fabulous (thank you NetGalley!) and I’m really excited about reading this one. And the other book I’m dying to get my hands on is Lesley Thomson’s latest crime thriller The House With No Rooms – and the bonus – I’ve been invited to the book launch up in London!

 

fuzzy nation4. Which character would make a great Easter bunny?
The fuzzy from John Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation would make a fantastic Easter bunny. Apart from looking cute and enjoying interacting with friendly humans, the fuzzys are also smart, so would be good at hiding the Easter eggs.

 

 

5. What book makes you think of Spring?astra
The book that brings Spring to mind is Astra by Naomi Foyle – the book starts during springtime and young Astra is very in tune with her surroundings – as well as that, the beautiful green cover and the apparently cosy surroundings all seem very fresh and friendly…

thephilosopherkings6. Name a cover with flowers on it
My book cover with flowers on is The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton. It’s the second book in her  Thessaly series, which explores the ideas that Plato expounded in The Republic, at the behest of Apollo, who is part of this experiment, and his sister Athene, who devised it. Yes… I know. It sounds barmy – but it really works and is a remarkable series. The cover also is a beautiful spring green colour, which adds to the seasonal feel.

7. Which two characters would you go on an Easter egg hunt with?
Chocolate often gives me migraines, so Easter is a tricky time for me. I’m mostly very good at not eating it, but it would be handy to have a couple of folks who would be both really good at finding the eggs before me and possessing a huge appetite for chocolate. I reckon Harry Potter and Ron Weasley would fit the bill nicely.

8. What is your favourite Spring bookish activity to do?
Curl up on a sofa in a pool of sunshine and read in front of the fire – it’s still far too cold to venture outside to read. I also regularly tell myself I’ll tidy up the sprawling TBR mass of books by my bed and put them into some kind of order, but I probably won’t get around to it just yet. So I’ll continue working up to it, while curled up reading in front of said fire…

9. Which book did you enjoy that had a Spring cover?daughterofsmokeandbone
Well… there’s this fantastic cover of Laini Taylor’s first book in her Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. With feathers that represent the Easter chick… And if you’re unconvinced, can I just mention that books featuring space and fantastic world generally aren’t portrayed in vibrant spring colours, or heaving with flowers. I happen to LOVE this cover, it makes me want to stroke it and coo… And the book is awesome, so I stand by my choice.

10. Who is your favourite contemporary author?
There are some amazing writers, whose skill I admire – C.J. Cherryh is right up there, as is Lois McMaster Bujold and then there is the mighty talent that is Jo Walton, who takes on a completely different aspect of speculative fiction with each new series. And absolutely nails it with something extraordinary and special. Yep. It would have to be Jo Walton…

My Outstanding Reads of 2015

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It was a cracking year, particularly for science fiction and fantasy. I read 121 books this year, wrote 108 reviews and these are the best – the books that have stayed with me long after I’d closed them up and written a review about them.

Fool’s Assassin – Book 1 of Fitz and the Fool by Robin Hobb
Hobb is one of my favourite authors anyhow, so I was delighted when she revisited Fitz and took his story further. And this new adventure didn’t disappoint.

Tom Badgerlock has been living peaceably in the manor house at Withywoods with his beloved wife Molly thesefoolsassassin many years, the estate a reward to his family for loyal service to the crown. But behind the facade of respectable middle-age lies a turbulent and violent past. For Tom Badgerlock is actually FitzChivalry Farseer, bastard scion of the Farseer line, convicted user of Beast-magic, and assassin. A man who has risked much for his king and lost more… On a shelf in his den sits a triptych carved in memory stone of a man, a wolf and a fool. Once, these three were inseparable friends: Fitz, Nighteyes and the Fool. But one is long dead, and one long-missing. Then one Winterfest night a messenger arrives to seek out Fitz, but mysteriously disappears, leaving nothing but a blood-trail. What was the message? Who was the sender? And what has happened to the messenger? Suddenly Fitz’s violent old life erupts into the peace of his new world, and nothing and no one is safe. See my full review here.

 

The Straight Razor Cure – Book 1 of The Low Town series by Daniel Polansky
Warden is an ex-soldier who has seen the worst men have to offer, now a narcotics dealer with a rich, bloody past and straightrazorcurea way of inviting danger. You’d struggle to find someone with a soul as dark and troubled as his. But then a missing child murdered and horribly mutilated, is discovered in an alley. And then another. With a mind as sharp as a blade, and an old but powerful friend in the city, Warden’s the only man with a hope of finding the killer. If the killer doesn’t find him first.
I’ll grant you the blurb isn’t full of joie de vivre – but this book is more fun than it sounds. Mostly because Warden is written in first person viewpoint and his grumpy, cutting narration throughout the story is often amusing and manages to render the more revolting bits less so. This is a strong start to a remarkable trilogy, which has stayed with me throughout the year and if you like your fantasy gritty with a strong protagonist, then I highly recommend this offering. See my full review here.

 

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
This was recommended to me by a couple of my students – and it didn’t disappoint. But whatever you do, don’t look up the reviews written in The Guardian or The Telegraph because they have seen fit to provide the main spoiler which makes a big difference to how you’d read the book.Weareallcompletelybesideourselves

What if you grew up to realise that your father had used your childhood as an experiment? Rosemary doesn’t talk very much, and about certain things she’s silent. She had a sister, Fern, her whirlwind other half, who vanished from her life in circumstances she wishes she could forget. And it’s been ten years since she last saw her beloved older brother, Lowell. Now at college, Rosemary starts to see that she can’t go forward without going back to the time when, aged five, she was sent away from home to her grandparents and returned to find Fern gone.
As soon as I started reading, the surefooted first person voice pulled me in – and then about a quarter of the way in, came the revelation which I didn’t see coming. At all. This is such a clever, original book. What you think must be the themes when you start reading about the fallout surrounding Fern’s disappearance on her family, once you get past That Point, you realise there is another agenda alongside the expected issues of loss and identity. See my full review here.

 

Mars Evacuees – Book 1 of the Mars Evacuees series by Sophia McDougall
The fact that someone had decided I would be safer on Mars, where you could still only SORT OF breathe the air and mars evacueesSORT OF not get sunburned to death, was a sign that the war with the aliens was not going fantastically well. I’d been worried I was about to be told that my mother’s spacefighter had been shot down, so when I found out that I was being evacuated to Mars, I was pretty calm. And despite everything that happened to me and my friends afterwards, I’d do it all again. because until you’ve been shot at, pursued by terrifying aliens, taught maths by a laser-shooting robot goldfish and tried to save the galaxy, I don’t think you can say that you’ve really lived. If the same thing happens to you, this is my advice: ALWAYS CARRY DUCT TAPE.
Yes… I know it’s aimed at children – but this book enchanted me as well as my grandchildren and we are now all looking forward to reading the next slice of the adventure in 2016. See my full review here.

 

The Detective’s Daughter – Book 1 of The Detective’s Daughter series by Lesley Thomson
Kate Rokesmith’s decision to go to the river changed the lives of many. Her murder shocked the nation in the throes thedetectivesdaughterof celebrating the wedding of Charles and Diana. Her husband, never charged, moved abroad under a cloud of suspicion. Her son, just four years old, grew up in a loveless boarding school. And Detective Inspector Darnell, vowing to leave no stone unturned in the search for her killer, began to lose his only daughter, as young Stella Darnell grew to resent the dead Kate Rokesmith.
The theme of love and loss threads through this poignant, thoughtful book, which took me in so many different directions that I soon stopped trying to second-guess where Thomson would take me next and simply enjoyed the ride. It’s a happy feeling when I can sit back and revel in the story and the author’s skill in telling it. See my full review here.

 

The Future Falls – Book 3 of The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff
When Charlotte Gale’s aunt warns their magical family of an approaching asteroid, they scramble to keep humanity thefuturefallsfrom going the way of the dinosaurs. Although between Charlie’s complicated relationship with sorcerer Jack, her cousin Allie’s hormones, the Courts having way too much fun at the end of days, and Jack’s sudden desire to sacrifice himself for the good of the many, Charlie’s fairly certain that the asteroid is the least of her problems. This could have so easily been an adrenaline junkie’s dream with constant action-packed pages of chases… scary magical confrontations ending in blood and gore – and it would have still been an engrossing read. But the cool, ironic tone of the blurb nicely echoes the emotional tenor of the books.

The aunts bake when they get together, and are often squabbling and eccentric. But as with any entity that is extremely powerful and knows it – they are also dangerous. Huff never lets us forget this. It’s a nifty trick to pull off. I love the fact that the Gale family never comes across as too cosy, or let the fact they are run by a matriarchy means they are kinder or softer… Understanding, maybe, but not kind. They can’t afford to be – they are running a family with sufficient power to level the world. And this is another trick Huff has pulled off – the Gales are something beyond human and the more we see about their adventures, the more alien they are. See my full review here.

 

Window Wall – Book 4 of The Glass Thorns series by Melanie Rawn
For nearly two years, Cade has been rejecting his Elsewhens, the Fae gift that grants him prescient glimpses of possible futures, by simply refusing to experience them. But the strain is driving a wedge between him and his windowwalltheatre troupe, Touchstone, and making him erratic on stage and off. It takes his best friend Mieka to force Cade into accepting the visions again, but when he does, he witnesses a terrible attack, though he cannot see who is responsible. Cade knows the future he sees can be changed, and when he finally discovers the truth behind the attack, he takes the knowledge to the only man in the Kingdom who can prevent it: his deadly enemy.
Meanwhile Touchstone is poised to become the best theatrical troupe in the country, though that isn’t the end of their problems. As Cade is wrestling with his own magical talents, Touchstone still have issues of their own to sort out – domestic life collides with the demands of touring; the pressure of constantly providing new, exciting plays; betrayal by someone they thought they could trust… So there is no trace of this series running out of steam – if anything it just goes on getting better. Though whatever you do, don’t pick up Window Wall first. You need to go back to the start to get a real flavour of this original, outstanding series and it would be a crime to do anything else. See my full review here.

 

Embassytown by China Miéville
EmbassytownEmbassytown, a city of contradictions on the outskirts of the universe. Avice is an immerse, a traveller on the immer, the sea of space and time below the everyday, now returned to her birth planet. Here on Arieka, Humans are not the only intelligent life, and Avice has a rare bond with the natives, the enigmatic Hosts – who cannot lie. Only a tiny cadre of unique human Ambassadors can speak Language, and connect the two communities. But an unimaginable new arrival has come to Embassytown. And when this Ambassador speaks, everything changes.

It is a huge challenge, both imaginatively and technically to write convincingly about another species that has never been seen on our home planet. No problem for Miéville, though. He nails it. See my full 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 the-long-way-666x1024that’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 past. 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.

So 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. See my full review here.

 

The Shepherd’s Crown – the final Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett
Deep in the Chalk, something is stirring. The owls and the foxes can sense it, and Tiffany Aching feels it in her boots. theshepherdscrownAn old enemy is gathering strength. This is a time of endings and beginnings, old friends and a new, a blurring of the edges and a shifting of power. Now Tiffany stands between the light and the dark, the good and the bad. As the fairy horde prepares for invasion, Tiffany must summon all the witches to stand with her. To protect the land. Her land. There will be a reckoning…

The story trips along at a good clip, providing all the unique Pratchett touches his fans know and love, including the whacky footnotes and the formerly obnoxious character that reveals a nicer side to her nature – a feat Pratchett regularly pulled off throughout this long-running series. And the ending provides plenty of action and excitement with a thoroughly enjoyable, wholly satisfying conclusion. Is this a detached, unbiased review? Probably not. I am discussing the last, the very last Discworld novel, ever. The series that has given me more pleasure over the years than any other. Wherever you are, Mr Pratchett, thank you for this last gem. The magic persists. See my full review here.

 

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Cary
Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite. But they don’t laugh.

The viewpoint is masterful, as is the pacing. I’m not going to mention any more about the story development, thegirlwithallthegiftsbecause Carey has deliberately constructed it so the reader goes on discovering more about the world as the story progresses. I personally love that particular style of storytelling above all others and devoured this book in three greedy gulps, reading when I should have been sleeping. Or editing. Or writing lesson plans. Or organising my trip to Bristolcon. In short, I broke one of my golden rules – I read for pure enjoyment during the day, rather to relax and unwind as a present to myself after a long day’s work. See my full review here.

 

Lock In by John Scalzi
Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. Most of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever lockinand headaches. A few suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And 1 per cent find themselves ‘locked in’ – fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. It may not seem like a lot. But in the US alone that’s 1.7 million people ‘locked in’… including the President’s wife and daughter. Spurred by grief and the sheer magnitude of the suffering. America undertakes a massive scientific initiative. Nothing can fully restore the locked in, but two new technologies emerge to help. One is a virtual-reality environment, ‘The Agora’, where the locked in can interact with other humans. The second is the discovery that a few rare individuals have minds that are receptive to being controlled by others, allowing the locked in to occasionally use their bodies as if they were their own. This skill is quickly regulated, licensed, bonded and controlled. Nothing can go wrong. Certainly nobody would be tempted to misuse it, for murder, for political power, or worse…

Yes, yes – I know – the blurb goes on forever. But you need to know this stuff to fully appreciate and understand the world, because Scalzi doesn’t hang about giving long-winded explanations. This book hits the ground running in first person viewpoint, as Chris Shane walks into the FBI building on his first day as a fully-fledged agent. He is coping with more than the usual first day nerves – Chris Shane is a Haden, whose helpless body is back in his parents’ home being cared for, while his consciousness is uploaded into a threep – a robotic body that allows him to talk, hear, see and move. See my full review here.

 

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
Run away, one drowsy summer’s afternoon, with Holly Sykes: wayward teenager, broken-hearted rebel and unwitting pawn in a titanic, hidden conflict. Over six decades, the consequences of a moment’s impulse unfold, theboneclocksdrawing an ordinary woman into a world far beyond her imagining.

Right from the first page, I was drawn into this episodic narrative. Holly has run away after discovering her best friend in bed with her boyfriend. Though I was reading it on an autumn night, I was whisked away to the blistering heat as Holly has an emotional meltdown. And during this starting point, events unspool during that particular afternoon that go on having consequences for decades to come. The next five episodes that comprise the whole narrative all circle around that primary event, in one way or another as we also chart Holly’s life. It’s a difficult life. Being singled out doesn’t make for an easy time of it. But Mitchell does what he does best – provide a series of sharply written, beautifully crafted slices of action that allow us to join up the dots and provide the overarching narrative. See my full review here.

Review of Lock In by John Scalzi

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This science fiction crime thriller is set in a really intriguing world with a fascinating premise.

Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. Most of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. A few suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And 1 per cent find themselves ‘locked in’ – fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. It may not seem like a lot. But in the US alone that’s 1.7 million people ‘locked in’… including the President’s wife and daughter.

lockinSpurred by grief and the sheer magnitude of the suffering. America undertakes a massive scientific initiative. Nothing can fully restore the locked in, but two new technologies emerge to help. One is a virtual-reality environment, ‘The Agora’, where the locked in can interact with other humans. The second is the discovery that a few rare individuals have minds that are receptive to being controlled by others, allowing the locked in to occasionally use their bodies as if they were their own. This skill is quickly regulated, licensed, bonded and controlled. Nothing can go wrong. Certainly nobody would be tempted to misuse it, for murder, for political power, or worse…

Yes, yes – I know… The blurb goes on forever. But you need to know this stuff to fully appreciate and understand the world, because Scalzi doesn’t hang about giving long-winded explanations. This book hits the ground running in first person viewpoint, as Chris Shane walks into the FBI building on his first day as a fully-fledged agent. He is coping with more than the usual first day nerves – Chris Shane is a Haden, whose helpless body is back in his parents’ home being cared for, while his consciousness is uploaded into a threep – a robotic body that allows him to talk, hear, see and move. And on his second day at work, Chris and his partner, Agent Vann, are called to an incident where a car has been crushed when a love seat was flung out of a hotel window, and on further investigation, they discover a dead body in the hotel room.

The odd circumstances of this case go on becoming increasingly bizarre as Scalzi ramps up the tension in this cracking whodunit, where this single incident is the start of a string of violent crimes involving Hadens. Next to science fiction and fantasy, crime is my favourite genre, and I’m a real sucker for those whodunits where the plot weaves into a complicated conspiracy theory that has the capacity to undermine society itself… Of course, in order to be able to pull off such a plot, the case needs to lead off in unexpected directions involving some of the political and industrial game-changers in society. Scalzi has brilliantly laid the framework for this in his world struggling to cope with the aftereffects of a virus that has burned through the population, leaving swathes of people coping with terrible symptoms. The resources of our near future technologies have been aimed at alleviating the consequences of the virus. But there is a price to pay and Scalzi also fully explores the tensions between sufferers and non-sufferers as the Government attempts to start withdrawing some of the expensive support it offers.

For those who claim that near future crime thrillers cannot work in a world where everyone is linked up to social media, I advise you to read Lock In. Scalzi has set up a fascinating world where his likeable FBI agent and world-weary partner attempt to unravel a series of crimes that simply couldn’t be committed now – we don’t have the technology or circumstances. I was caught up in the mystery from the first page and whirled away into Scalzi’s world until the successful denouement. This is Scalzi at his very best.
10/10

Review of Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

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As Scalzi flags in the Author’s Note at the beginning of this book, ‘Fuzzy Nation is a reimagining of the story and events in Little Fuzzy, the 1962 Hugo-nominated novel by H. Beam Piper.’ I haven’t yet read Little Fuzzy, but immediately scooped this one off the shelves as I’ve enjoyed Scalzi’s military science fiction series, Old Man’s War – see my review of The Last Colony here.

fuzzy nationJack Holloway works alone for reasons he doesn’t care to talk about. One hundred seventy-eight light-years from ZaraCorp’s head office on Earth, Jack is content as an independent contractor on the planet Zarathustra, prospecting and surveying at his own pace. In the wake of a cliff collapse he accidentally caused, Jack discovers a seam of unimaginably valuable jewels. Although his share of the potential wealth is negligible in percentage terms, according to his Contract, it will still allow him to live in comfort for the rest of his life. But there’s a wrinkle. ZaraCorp’s – and Jack’s – entire legal right to exploit Zarathustra is based on being able to certify that the planet is devoid of any sentient life. So… those ridiculously cute creatures who moved into Jack’s home may be very, very smart – but they couldn’t be as clever as humans, could they? And if they are – what will Jack do?

Apparently in Little Fuzzy, Jack was an elderly crusty loner who fell hook, line and sinker for the charms of the Fuzzies – but Scalzi’s protagonist is younger and a whole lot more edgier. A disbarred ex-lawyer, who has also lied at a hearing when his then-girlfriend claimed he’d trained his dog to detonate explosive charges – this version of Jack is morally ambiguous. During the last section of the book, which is a court room drama, a large chunk of the narrative tension revolves around exactly how Jack will react when confronted with losing a fortune, versus the fate of the Fuzzies.

Scalzi’s breezy style belies a darker undertone to this book – a couple of the murders that take place left me winded. And a lot of the humour is of the sharper sort. So – is Jack an appealing protagonist? Yes – I fully identified with him right from the word go, and enjoyed the fact that Scalzi manages to portray the Fuzzies as beguiling without too much treacle.

He is also a very deft storyteller, who moves the action along at a fair clip and gives us a cast of interesting and enjoyable characters – even if a couple of them seem a bit OTT to be wholly credible. Not that I particularly minded – it all adds to the slightly madcap, surreal tone of the book. While the narrative arc is smoothly concluded, there were a couple of dangling plot points and I’d love to think that Scalzi is all set to visit this world again.
9/10