Tag Archives: near future science fiction

Sunday Post – 20th August 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.

Thank you, everyone so much for your kind good wishes for my sister’s speedy recovery – I have always maintained that book lovers are the loveliest folks and this is yet more proof… Your wishes on her behalf have clearly had an impact because I cannot believe how quickly she is healing – the bruising, though still spectacular, is improving day on day. The hospital were delighted with her when we returned last Tuesday and today we are attending an eye appointment at the local hospital. We have been so impressed at the excellence and kindness of all the hospital staff we have encountered throughout this whole episode – from the ambulancemen who stopped by in A & E to wish her well during their break on that first traumatic day, to the lovely doctor who suggested we have a coffee while waiting for the blood test – and then phoned to give the results while we were sipping our beverages.

Other than that, this week I have managed to write the course notes for my Creative Writing classes and complete some editing tasks. My marvellous writing buddy Mhairi came over for the day on Thursday and we talked through writing stuff in general as well as catching up with each other’s lives. On Thursday evening Himself and I went out for a lovely Chinese meal with my sister and her younger son who was visiting. On Friday I received the exciting news that my short story ‘A Dire Emergency’ has been accepted for the anthology Holding on By Our Fingertips.

This week I have read:

The Voyage of the Basilisk – Book 3 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan
Devoted readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoirs, A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents, may believe themselves already acquainted with the particulars of her historic voyage aboard the Royal Survey Ship Basilisk, but the true story of that illuminating, harrowing, and scandalous journey has never been revealed—until now. Six years after her perilous exploits in Eriga, Isabella embarks on her most ambitious expedition yet: a two-year trip around the world to study all manner of dragons in every place they might be found. From feathered serpents sunning themselves in the ruins of a fallen civilization to the mighty sea serpents of the tropics, these creatures are a source of both endless fascination and frequent peril. Accompanying her is not only her young son, Jake, but a chivalrous foreign archaeologist whose interests converge with Isabella’s in ways both professional and personal. Science is, of course, the primary objective of the voyage, but Isabella’s life is rarely so simple. She must cope with storms, shipwrecks, intrigue, and warfare, even as she makes a discovery that offers a revolutionary new insight into the ancient history of dragons.
This alternate history charting the life of renowned explorer and dragon expert, Isabella Trent is a joy. I was in dire need of excellent escapist fantasy fiction, preferably about dragons, and this offering was perfect.

 

Penric’s Fox – Book 3 of the Penric and Desdemona novella series by Lois McMaster Bujold
Some eight months after the events of Penric and the Shaman, Learned Penric, sorcerer and scholar, travels to Easthome, the capital of the Weald. There he again meets his friends Shaman Inglis and Locator Oswyl. When the body of a sorceress is found in the woods, Oswyl draws him into another investigation; they must all work together to uncover a mystery mixing magic, murder and the strange realities of Temple demons.
While this is actually the fifth book to be published in this series, chronologically the events occur after the second book, Penric and the Shaman. This intriguing murder mystery gives us yet another slice of this rich world as we get to see more of Penric’s gradual growth. An entertaining instalment in this impressive series that has become one of the few must-buy books Himself and I pre-order as soon as they come available.

 

The Real-Town Murders – Book 1 of The Real-Town Murders series by Adam Roberts
Alma is a private detective in a near-future England, a country desperately trying to tempt people away from the delights of Shine, the immersive successor to the internet. But most people are happy to spend their lives plugged in, and the country is decaying. Alma’s partner is ill, and has to be treated without fail every 4 hours, a task that only Alma can do. If she misses the 5 minute window her lover will die. She is one of the few not to access the Shine.
So when Alma is called to an automated car factory to be shown an impossible death and finds herself caught up in a political coup, she knows that getting too deep may leave her unable to get home.
Another storming read – a locked-room murder mystery that rapidly turns into a high-stakes conspiracy set in the near-future. I loved this one and am absolutely thrilled to note it is intended to be the first in a series.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 13th August

Review of The Last Straw – Book 3 of A Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney

Teaser Tuesday featuring The Real-Town Murders – Book 1 of The Real-Town Murders series by Adam Roberts

Review of The Masked City – Book 2 of The Invisible Book series by Genevieve Cogman

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Penric’s Fox – Book 3 of the Penric and Desdemona novella series by Lois McMaster Bujold

Friday Face-off – Silver apples of the moon… featuring Golden Apples of the Sun by Ray Bradbury

Discovery Challenge 2017 and Tackling my TBR – July roundup

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

The NHS saved me. As a scientist I must help to save it. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/18/nhs-scientist-stephen-hawking?CMP=share_btn_tw I don’t normally tweet or comment on issues outside the book world, but after my sister’s recent seizure, I strongly echo Stephen Hawking’s sentiments

Lola’s Ramblings: Do You Clean Out Your Pile of Review Books? http://lolasreviews.com/lolas-ramblings-do-you-clean-out-your-pile-of-review-books/
As a fellow reviewer, I was very interested to see how someone else keeps tabs on their review copies

Where’s Cassini now? Countdown has just started http://earthianhivemind.net/2017/08/17/wheres-cassini-now-countdown-just-started/
Another excellent, informative article from Steph about another exciting chapter in the exploration of our solar system

Tilted Poles https://photolicioux.wordpress.com/2017/08/09/tilted-poles/ I love this photo – I’m not sure why…

The Best Poems about Holidays https://interestingliterature.com/2017/08/16/the-best-poems-about-holidays/ As we are bang in the middle of the holiday season, this article seems particularly apt…

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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Friday Faceoff – I collect hats. That’s what you do when you’re bald. (James Taylor)

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is hats, so I’ve taken the idea of hats into space by choosing The Martian by Andy Weir – see my review. After all, he is wearing his helmet on his head – it must count as a type of hat…

 

This is my personal favourite. I love the drama of the swirling red dust as poor old Mark is being swept away and think this is the cover that most effectively depicts the initial drama the starts the book. It was produced in February 2014 by Crown.

 

This edition, produced in February 2014 by Edbury Digital is produced as a movie tie-in cover. So it is Matt Damon suffering on the cover, with flashes of the faceplate hinting at the helmet as he considers his plight after being stranded on Mars. Again, the colour of the cover and his agonised expression captures the drama of the situation.

 

Published in February 2014 by Broadway Books, this is the ‘arrested’ version – we all have them. The photo of us that looks like it’s been taken at a police station after we’ve done something naughty… I’m quite comforted to see that even film stars endure such pics, as I thought it was only one’s children who specialised in taking these efforts. Suffice to say this isn’t a cover that would persuade me to rush out and buy this book.

 

This cover, produced by Autopublished in September 2012, is clearly a DIY effort. Having said that, I’ve seen worse – the biggest criticism of it being that it is very generic. However, that clearly didn’t stop people buying this book in droves, as it subsequently attracted a publishing deal based on its popularity.

 

This Russian cover is another strong contender. I like the drama and fact it depicts the full horror of Mark’s situation. Produced by ACT in September 2014, I like the fact we are seeing exactly what Mark sees – although I’m not sure there are quite so many clouds in a Martian sky. Which cover do you like best?

Teaser Tuesday – 20th September, 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:
Crosstalk by Connie Willis
76% Set me up is right, Briddey thought as he shut the door behind her. She went over to the table. On itcrosstalk were a pair of headphones, a microphone, a pencil, and a sheet of paper with numbers down the side.

BLURB: Briddey is about to get exactly what she thinks she wants . . . Briddey is a high-powered exec in the mobile phone industry, overseeing new products from concept (‘anything to beat the new apple phone’) to delivery. And she works with her wonderful partner, Trent. They’ve been together for six magical weeks, in a whirlwind of flowers, dinners, laughter and now comes the icing on the cake: not a weekend away or a proposal but something even better. An EDD. A procedure which will let them sense each other’s feelings. Trent doesn’t just want to tell her how much he loves her – he wants her to feel it.

Everything is perfect.

The trouble is, Briddey can’t breathe a word of it to anyone (difficult, when the whole office is guessing) until she’s had two minutes to call her family. And they’re hounding her about the latest family drama, but when they find out about the EDD – which they will – they’ll drop everything to interrogate her. And it might just be easier to have the procedure now and explain later.

The race is on: not just for new, cutting-edge technology, but also for a shred of privacy in a public world and – for Briddey – a chance for love at the heart of it all.

This very-near future romantic comedy is an absolute joy. Yes – it’s funny, brimming with vivid characters and a typical twist in Briddey’s personal life that has me firmly onside and hoping she ends up with the right chap. But underneath all the amusing mayhem, Willis’s gimlet focus is gunning for our current obsession to be connected 24/7 to the world around us. Sooo… what would happen if that was really possible?

2016 Discovery Challenge – August Roundup

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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.

Sunday Post – 28th August

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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 a vile week – a heartbreaking week. When a single issue pounced from the corner, ambushed and overwhelmed me. And just to crown it all – my writing, which is my refuge and defence when Life smacks me around, isn’t going all that well. I’m in the process of ripping apart one of my manuscripts and rewriting it. It’s not the first time I’ve done this, but cutting out a major character is a messy process. It might work but right now the remnants of the damn thing are lying in shards around my ankles and as I’m on the last stages and reaching the climactic final stage – it feels like I’ve ruined it. I’ve worked so very hard all through this year – putting in hours and hours. And for what? Right now, I don’t know. Nothing makes sense or feels worth it. Anyway – enough with the whining.

This week I’ve managed to read:

The Obelisk Gate – Book 1 of The Broken EarthTrilogy by N.K. Jemisin
theobeliskgateTHIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS… FOR THE LAST TIME.
The season of endings grows darker as civilization fades into the long cold night. Alabaster Tenring – madman, world-crusher, savior – has returned with a mission: to train his successor, Essun, and thus seal the fate of the Stillness forever. It continues with a lost daughter, found by the enemy. It continues with the obelisks, and an ancient mystery converging on answers at last. The Stillness is the wall which stands against the flow of tradition, the spark of hope long buried under the thickening ashfall. And it will not be broken.

I was delighted to learn that The Fifth Season won the Hugo Award for the best novel – and deservedly so. This sequel of an extraordinary novel whose world is an amazing feat of imagination, scoops the story up and takes it further. I’m still reeling and buzzed from it… Thank God for books like this, there’s times when they are lifesavers. Though DON’T pick it up until you’ve read The Fifth Season or you’ll flounder. I reviewed this gem yesterday.

 

American Monsters – Book 3 of The Demon Road trilogy by Derek Landy
americanmonstersBigger, meaner, stronger. Amber closes in on her murderous parents as they make one last desperate play for power. Her own last hopes of salvation, however, rest beyond vengeance, beyond the abominable killers – living and dead – that she and Milo will have to face. For Amber’s future lies in her family’s past, in the brother and sister she never knew, and the horrors beyond imagining that befell them.

The action and violence ramps up another notch in this last book with some truly creepy moments – and the climax holds a poignant sting in the tail that completely winded me. This YA offering should be vetted, as I wouldn’t be happy letting any of the younger teens in my life read it.

 

 

 

Unraveled – Book 15 of the Elmental Assassins series by Jennifer Estep
What could go wrong when you’re trying to unravel a decades-old conspiracy?unraveled
As the current queen of the Ashland underworld, you would think that I, Gin Blanco, would know all about some secret society controlling things from behind the scenes. I might be the Spider, the city’s most fearsome assassin, but all my Ice and Stone elemental magic hasn’t done me a lick of good in learning more about “the Circle”. Despite my continued investigations, the trail’s gone as cold as the coming winter. So when Finnegan Lane, my foster brother, gets word of a surprising inheritance, we figure why not skip town for someplace less dangerous for a few days? That place: Bullet Pointe, a fancy hotel resort complex plus Old West theme park that Finn now owns lock, stock, and barrel. At first, all the struttin’ cowboys and sassy saloon girls are just hokey fun. But add in some shady coincidences and Circle assassins lurking all around, and vacationing becomes wilder—and deadlier—than any of us expected. Good thing this assassin brought plenty of knives to the gunfight …

The perky first person viewpoint is accurately portrayed in the blurb. While this offering is full of death and mayhem, it is unabashedly classic urban fantasy with snarky dialogue, plenty of action and dollops of humour. Estep’s bouncy approach provided some much-needed solace and I’ll reviewing this book during the coming week.

 

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.

This intriguing book starts with one of the girls featured in this ensemble piece plummeting to her death – and then the narrative timeline jumps back two months to show why she ends up falling off the roof… This YA offering could have so easily descended into an angsty mess – but McGee’s slick handling makes this futuristic thriller a real page-turner that I thoroughly enjoyed and will be reviewing it in the coming week.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 21st August

Review of Across the Universe – Book 1 of Across the Universe series by Beth Revis

Teaser Tuesday – featuring Unraveled – Book 15 of the Elemental Assassins by Jennifer Estep

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Spellbreaker – Book 3 of The Spellwright Trilogy by Blake Charlton

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of American Monsters – Book 3 of The Demon Road Trilogy by Derek Landy

Friday Faceoff – Looking Out on All I Own featuring The Poison Throne – Book 1 of The Moorhawke Trilogy by Celine Kiernan

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Obelisk Gate – Book 2 of The Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin

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

I Went to a Funeral, and I Never Went Home https://mommyisawidow.com/2016/08/17/i-went-to-a-funeral-and-i-never-went-home/ A beautiful, heart-wrenching piece on bereavement

Tales of the Wellspring 5 – the White Spring of Glastonbury https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2016/08/22/tales-of-the-wellspring-5-the-white-spring-of-glastonbury/ Another wonderful article from a gifted writer…

Day #15 – Doors closing, doors opening #30 Days Creative http://mhairisimpson.com/2016/08/day-15-doors-closing-doors-opening-30dayscreative/
A reminder that sometimes all you can do is just keep putting one foot in front of the other – and if you are lucky there are fab friends to help…

Saying Goodbye to the Sun https://richardankers.com/2016/08/24/saying-goodbye-to-the-sun/
A steady stream of short and micro fiction pours from the pen of this quirky, original author – the very hardest writing to get right. And this is a gem…

Writer’s Music: Ramin Djawadi https://jeanleesworld.com/2016/08/25/writers-music-ramin-djawadi/ Though you don’t HAVE to be a writer to want to get your hands on this music – I’m guessing one or three Game of Thrones fans might also like it…

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

Review of Starhawk – Prequel to The Academy series by Jack McDevitt

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While I was still struggling with a horrendous cold, my day suddenly became a whole lot brighter when I unearthed this gem from my teetering TBR pile…

starhawkPriscilla ‘Hutch’ Hutchins has completed a nerve-bending qualification flight for an interstellar pilot’s license. But her career may be over before it has begun. Faster-than-light travel has only recently become a reality and the World Space Authority is all too aware of how dangerous it can be. To make matters worse, efforts to prepare two planets for colonisation are killing off native species, outraging people on Earth. So pilots are not exactly in demand.

If you are a fan of space opera, and you haven’t yet tracked down this entertaining series, featuring Priscilla aka Hutch, I recommend it. In fact, I’m scratching my head as to why I haven’t written any reviews on the likes of Chindi or Deepsix, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. This book is a prequel, charting Hutch’s adventures while qualifying and around the time just after.

McDevitt manages to convey the political and social pressure on his near future world without pages of exposition, which has a direct impact on Hutch’s aspirations. I confidently expected to find after her initial difficulties, that Hutch would get started and all would roll out smoothly for her. But it doesn’t pan out that way, which I really enjoyed. I also liked the fact the dramatic incident at the beginning of the book leaves a major character traumatised throughout most of story. It felt pleasingly realistic that The World Space Authority had to scratch around for backup ships and personnel once something went wrong – and the administrator at the helm waited to follow protocol, rather than immediately launch a rescue.

The eco-terrorism also felt all too real, right along with the shocking consequences. Unlike Deepsix or Chindi, there isn’t a single major problem that powers this novel but rather, a series of events that involves Hutch and come together in the denouement at the end. This has divided McDevitt fans. Some have found the more fragmented nature of the novel disappointing, but I really enjoyed the sense I wasn’t sure where he was taking this next.

Hutch has always been an enjoyable protagonist, and I liked seeing her a little more inexperienced, making rookie mistakes she later doesn’t commit. I quickly became immersed in the world and the adventure, which drew me in. I even managed to forget the bleeping cold for a while…

Any grizzles? While I enjoy McDevitt’s plotting and worldbuilding, dialogue isn’t his strong suit and at times it plain clunks. But there is too much right with this enjoyable space opera for this to be a dealbreaker and if you are considering diving into a long-running near-future science fiction series, give this introductory novel a whirl.
8/10

Review of EBOOK Kindle edition The Martian by Andy Weir

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I’d seen several posters for this book and when I read the rave reviews on Amazon and the first few pages – after several really disappointing science fiction novels, I was more than ready to be swept away. Did The Martian tick the box?

themartianI’m stranded on Mars. I have no way to communicate with Earth. I’m in a Habitat designed to last 31 days. If the Oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the Water Reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of explode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death. So yeah. I’m screwed.

That is the blurb in Mark Watney’s viewpoint – typically laconic. Several of the reviews called this a 21st century version of the Robinson Crusoe story, and it neatly sums up the first section of the book. Like Defoe, Weir is very keen on demonstrating all the fixes and lash-ups that Watney resorts to. But being an astronaut on a NASA space program, the ingenious ways he manages to avoid death involve a great deal more technology and scientific knowhow than Robinson Crusoe had to grapple with. Weir had to dive into a truly brain-bulging amount of research in order to get this level of detail and apparent plausibility. Although I’m no scientist, nothing jarred – not his reaction or the relationship with NASA.

However, if Weir had kept the story going at that level, I would not have stayed engrossed right to the end. The narrative pacing is pitch perfect – despite the plethora of detail, Weir never loses touch with the fact that he is telling a story. All the setbacks and dramas had a complete ring of sincerity while they all duly turned up at the right part of the book in order to keep me reading, I only realised it afterwards when I flipped back and checked.

As the repercussions of Watney’s misfortunes reverberate throughout NASA and into the wider world, the sense of everyone being caught by his plight, helplessly watching his gritted struggle for survival adds yet another angle to the unfolding drama. As does the question of whether they can mount a rescue effort that will reach him before his food runs out… I am not in the business of giving spoilers so won’t say too much more about it – with a book so gripping, it would be a major sin to ruin such a rich, enjoyable reading experience. This is one of the best science fiction books I’ve read this year, and even if you’re not in the habit of reading sci fi – give this one a go. And if you do, you’ll know why they are currently filming the story…
10/10

Review of The Hive Construct by Alexander Maskill

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This book caught my eye as it won The 2013 Terry Pratchett Prize, complete with a complimentary comment on the back cover by the great man, himself. So I was expecting something remarkable by this young writer.

hiveconstructSituated deep in the Sahara Desert, New Cairo is a city built on technology – from the huge, life-giving solar panels that keep it functioning in a radically changed, resource-scarce world, to the artificial implants that seem to have resolved all of mankind’s medical problems. But New Cairo is also a divided city – a vast metropolis dominated by a handful of omnipotent corporate dynasties. And when a powerful new computer virus begins to spread through the poorer districts, shutting down the implants that enable so many to survive, the city begins to turn on itself – to slide into the anarchy of violent class struggle. Hiding out in the chaos is Zola Ulora, a gifted hacker and fugitive from justice. Her fervent hope is that she can earn her life back by tracing the virus and destroying it before it destroys the city. Or before the city destroys itself…

It takes a great deal of technical skill to be able to immediately pull a reader into a technically complex world with a suitably layered, sympathetic character that allows your reader to fully bond with her. While the world was interesting, the pace was initially silted up by too many chunks of information on how it all worked. However, I persevered because the world was well constructed and entirely plausible, while

Maskill endeavoured to give a fully nuanced take on the situation unfolding.

As it all started kicking off, the pace picked up and provided plenty of unexpected twists I really didn’t see coming, although the themes are very familiar to science fiction fans. Maskill can certainly provide a plot with plenty going on. While I initially was concerned that the outcome was all too predictable, he was at pains to provide a rounded view of the struggle threatening to rip New Cairo apart. Although I would have liked to have spent a bit more time in Zola’s viewpoint. There was a reasonably large cast in a relatively short story and Maskill hasn’t yet acquired the knack of immediately writing a solid bonding moment with the reader and viewpoint character. The consequence was that I wasn’t as heavily invested in the story as I would have liked.

I’m conscious that I have sounded very critical – but this is by no means a bad book. The world certainly works and because of Maskill’s approach, there is an attempt to look at the crisis from both sides – this near future scenario is probably the hardest form of science fiction to write well and there is plenty in it for fans of the genre to enjoy. What this first book has demonstrated is Maskill’s undoubted talent. I look forward to following his writing career – he is certainly One To Watch.
7/10

Review of Down To The Bone – Book 5 of The Quantum Gravity series by Justina Robson

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This is the concluding volume to Robson’s interestingly original take on a world peopled by demons, elves and fae, after the quantum bomb detonated in 2015 tore through the fabric keeping different worlds apart. Earth is now Otopia and humankind are having to rub shoulders with the likes of elves and demons.

downtotheboneWhatever you do, though, don’t pick Down To the Bone off the shelf and expect to get engrossed in the story without first reading at least the first in the series, Keeping It Real – and even then I think you would be significantly short-changing yourself if you didn’t continue with the series. The cool cover and arresting strap line, I think, sells these books short. Neither pure erotic urban fantasy escapism, nor cyber-punk dystopian adventure bulging with gismos, the Quantum Gravity series borrows tropes from both camps. There’s a fair bit of serious science fiction embedded within this apparently classical fantasy world, and Robson’s main character, Lila, has a very familiar feel if you are a sucker for urban fantasy – complete with some steamy sex.  So, has Robson succeeded in satisfactorily concluding this ambitious, genre-melding series?

The gap between the worlds was so thin in places, you could nearly step across without meaning to… Lila Black can still turn into a lethal war-winning machine with the merest thought but she doesn’t work for the agency any more. Problem is, she has no idea what to do next. Teazle is a demon who may have become Death’s Angel. And Zal is a has-been elven musician without a band. They don’t add up to much that when they get together major stuff goes down. And now the dead are walking, the veil between the worlds is tearing and if it fails altogether all bets are off. Someone has to do something and it looks like it’s going to have to be Lila. Is attitude enough to get you through life and death? Will it get you a happy ending?

As with most series, the tone in this last book is a whole lot darker than it was in Keeping It Real, but there is still plenty of humour – I particularly enjoyed the fairy who spent her time arbitrarily fashioning herself into Lila’s clothing. Robson manages to create sufficient vulnerability for her main protagonists despite their staggering powers to evoke the necessary narrative tension and it is in the final instalment that we get a full, final slice of exactly what she has been aiming for throughout the series.

Has she succeeded in bridging the gulf between cyber-punk and classical fantasy with her own particular mix of both? Absolutely. Her nods to fanfic, gaming allusions and hardcore science fiction exposition tick all the boxes in that genre set, while her characterisation of all her main protagonists, particularly Lila as the can-do, conflicted heroine, provides the emotional engine driving the plot forward that is often missing in hard-core science fiction stories. The whole series has been such a roller-coaster, epic ride that this final volume needed to provide Robson’s unique brand of angst-filled action in quantum quantities to provide the necessary, satisfying conclusion. And as far as I’m concerned, she succeeds in fulfilling that requirement, too.

Any niggles? Not sure if it’s actually a flaw, or a necessary by-product of Robson’s ambitious writing, but her style is very dense. This is not a skim-read, brain-snooze book – you need those little grey cells standing to attention to fully appreciate Robson’s world-building and crafting. During the action scenes, Robson’s pacing is perfect but at times during the character interactions, I found I needed to slow down and reread sections, or I missed something crucial. I noticed this when reading the last two books and I’ve come to the conclusion that as I generally zip through an urban fantasy far faster than a hard science fiction read, it was my expectations pressing the ‘go’ button, when I needed to ease up. Rereading this series from start to finish would be a satisfying treat – and something I don’t often consider. But then, encountering a series like the Quantum Gravity isn’t an everyday reading experience, either. Give it a go – love it or loath it, I guarantee you won’t have come across anything else quite like it.
9/10

Review of Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

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‘Absolutely compelling’ is Greg Bear’s verdict on the front cover. Generally I take those credits with a pinch of salt – but this time around, he is spot on. This unusual, thought-provoking near-future science fiction novel is the best thing Moon has written to date – and the lady is no slouch.

speedofdarkLou is different to ‘normal’ people. He interacts with the world in a way they do not understand. He might not see the things they see, but he also sees many things they do not. Lou is autistic.

One of his skills is an ability to find patterns in data: extraordinary, complex, beautiful patterns that not even the most powerful computers can comprehend. The company he works for has made considerable sums of money from Lou’s work. But now they want Lou to change – to become ‘normal’ like themselves. And he must face the greatest challenge of his life. To understand the speed of dark.

Moon has achieved a very difficult feat – she has managed to get right inside Lou’s head and give us an insight into someone who processes information in quite a different way, while continuing to capture our sympathy and understanding. Lou’s characterisation is masterful. The way we perceive the near future through his eyes and begin to appreciate the difficulties that he constantly has to overcome – his acute sense of smell and sensitivity to sound; his constant uncertainty as to whether he has accurately decoded the subliminal signals people give off; the way he cycles and recycles through ideas that concern him… I used to care for a little boy with autism and I found Lou completely convincing.

However as with the very best science fiction, this book is so much more than an entertaining, escapist read. This novel raises issues that are starting to smack society across the chops – issues that we should all be discussing and debating both at a personal and political level.  Of course, being the limited creatures we are, instead we obsess about the daily habits of a handful of celebrities and it falls to books like this one to raise this far more important matters. If a cure for autism does turn up, should high functioning autistic adults who are wholly capable of leading productive, independent lives consider undergoing such treatments? Especially as we’re talking about tampering with the brain…

And while Moon has selected autism as her example having raised an autistic son, this argument is already raging amongst the deaf community about cochlea implants. Many deaf people feel very threatened at the prospect of a cure that will remove them from the community in which they have grown up and with which they identify themselves – to the extent that they refuse to allow their deaf children have an implant. Others feel that deliberately preventing their children from taking advantage of a cure is being irresponsible, if not outright abusive.

I’m conscious that I’ve made this novel sound rather worthy and dull – and it’s not. Because Lou has several other issues to overcome, in addition to coping with this overarching challenge, and, besides, Moon isn’t a writer that does boring or pedestrian plots. So the result is a gripping, intelligent read that leaves you thinking about the issues it addresses long after you’ve finished it. Try it. It’s certainly one of my outstanding reads of the year – and one I’m going to continue recommending to anyone who’ll listen…
10/10