Tag Archives: Paul McAuley

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Austral by Paul McAuley

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The great geoengineering projects have failed. The world is still warming, sea levels are still rising, and the Antarctic Peninsula is home to Earth’s newest nation, with life quickened by ecopoets spreading across valleys and fjords exposed by the retreat of the ice. Austral Morales Ferrado, a child of the last generation of ecopoets, is a husky: an edited person adapted to the unforgiving climate of the far south, feared and despised by most of its population. She’s been a convict, a corrections officer in a labour camp, and consort to a criminal, and now, out of desperation, she has committed the kidnapping of the century.

I absolutely love this one. This first-person narrative by Austral grabbed me from the first page and wouldn’t let me go until the end. It very quickly becomes apparent that Austral is telling this story for the benefit of someone who she feels needs to know her family history, which is woven into this classic chase across the harsh peninsula as Austral and her kidnap victim try to stay one step ahead of those in pursuit – who aren’t necessarily the forces of law and order.

There is all the excitement and tension of their adventure as they encounter a number of memorable characters, some kind and helpful but most are nothing of the sort. This is a hard new land peopled by many refugees from a drowning world, which doesn’t engender soft fluffy feelings. I was waiting for the inevitable moment when the two fleeing finally bond – the huskie outcast and the rich, privileged child of a rising politician. But McAuley avoids that cliché. There is never a time when Austral can relax and feel her young companion will innately trust her.

Meanwhile, Austral’s unfolding story is one of abandonment of the promises made to keep Antarctica ecologically sustainable as once again, the vested interests of multi-nationals and capitalism trumps all else. The sub-species of huskies, whose DNA were edited to equip them for living and working on the land, are now no longer required for that prime purpose. Nor are they wanted by the normals, who fear their size, superior strength and stamina, so ensure the law enforces their instinctive reaction to keep them as far away as possible.

The other character that features throughout is the landscape itself. McAuley’s scientific background shows in the depth and detail of this harsh environment. I love the fact that mammoths have been brought back as a viable eco-system has started to be designed – until forest plantations swallow up the fragile landscape and inappropriate crops are grown to appease the appetites of a people with no appreciation or real knowledge of how this emerging landmass is being eco-engineered. It all sounds horribly familiar.

Any niggles? While I felt that Austral’s storyline about her own family history worked very well alongside the ongoing adventure, the one ongoing narrative thread I could have happily done without was the fairy story Austral’s young teenage companion was reading. It was the one part of the story that didn’t really convince me, both as something that would interest Austral, or its relevance to the other two plotlines and to be honest, I mostly skimmed over those sections. However that aside, this story has lodged inside my head since I’ve read it and notwithstanding that one false step, this is an extraordinary book. Highly recommended for fans who like hard science fiction and cli-fi (climate fiction). While I obtained the arc of Austral from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
9/10

 

ANNDDD…

Today Lillian at Mom With a Reading Problem is featuring Running Out of Space as part of the blog tour, including her interview – where she asks which breakfast cereal I’d like to be…

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Monday Post – 2nd October 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 been a crazy week. My Creative Writing course at Northbrook is going well – everyone has settled in and our classroom is one of the nice big ones with plenty of windows. We started filming this week on Tim’s major project at the Bognor Museum on Wednesday evening, which was a wonderful surreal experience, though exhausting.

When my writing pal Mhairi came over for the day on Thursday, I discussed my increasing concerns regarding Running Out of Space hoping that she would wave her hand and tell me I was making a fuss about nothing. But she didn’t. She nodded and agreed with me. So I went back to the script and made a MAJOR change to the world with less than a fortnight to go before the launch. It took a huge amount of work, but I got the manuscript altered, the new review copies out, extracts and guest posts altered and my shiny new website and Goodreads all updated. Once the dust has settled and I have a chance to fully process exactly what happened, I will be blogging about it. And then fell ill on Friday night as we were picking up the grandchildren.

On top of that the clutch on the car died in the middle of the week and my lovely sister lent me hers while ours went into the garage to be fixed for a lot of money I hadn’t budgeted to go on car repairs. Thank goodness we took the decision not to go to Fantasycon this year, though I am sorry not to be able to catch up with all the lovely people I only get to see then – and huge congratulations to Grimbold Publishing for their Award for Best Independent Press.

I spent the week-end in bed enduring a really nasty cold that has also sideswiped my sister – which is why this is a Monday Post, instead of a Sunday Post…

This week I have read:

The Wizards of Once – Book 1 of The Wizards of Once series by Cressida Cowell
Once there was Magic, and the Magic lived in the dark forests. Wizard boy, Xar, should have come in to his magic by now, but he hasn’t, so he wants to find a witch and steal its magic for himself. But if he’s got any chance of finding one, he will have to travel into the forbidden Badwoods. Xar doesn’t realise he is about to capture an entirely different kind of enemy. A Warrior girl called Wish. And inside this book, at this very moment, two worlds collide and the fate of the land is changed forever.
This new series from the author of the fabulous How To Train Your Dragon series did not disappoint. With all the plot twists and engrossing storyline I have come to expect from this wonderful author, there is also a beautiful lyric quality to the prose and more nuanced characters.

 

Healer’s Touch by Deb E. Howell
Llew has a gift. Her body heals itself from any injury – but at a cost to anyone nearby. In a country fearful of magic, freeing yourself from the hangman’s noose by wielding forbidden power brings dangers of its own. After dying and coming back, Llew drops from the gallows into the hands of Jonas: the man carrying the knife with the power to kill her – permanently.
I really enjoyed this fantasy adventure which takes a classic trope – the youngster growing up on the streets who is singled out by a unique talent – and then gives that premise a thorough shaking. Llew is an interesting protagonist with some scary powers that nonetheless won my sympathy, even though the right thing might be to ensure she can’t cause any more havoc… This one hasn’t left my head since I stopped reading it.

 

Shadowblack – Book 2 of the Spellslinger series by Sebastien de Castell
It’s a few months since Kellen left his people behind. Now aged sixteen, Kellen is an outlaw, relying on his wits to keep him alive in the land of the Seven Sands. He misses home, he misses family and more than anything, he misses Nephenia, the girl he left behind. And when someone else turns up unexpectedly who carries a secret that’s all too familiar to Kellen. Kellen and Ferius resolve to help – but the stakes are far higher than they realise…
I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, Spellslinger, in this entertaining series – see my review here. The good news is that this offering is even better. More Kellen goodness along with the naughty squirrel cat who nearly manages to steal the show, despite a thumping good plot and a satisfyingly nasty antagonist – great stuff!

 

Austral by Paul McAuley
The great geoengineering projects have failed. The world is still warming, sea levels are still rising, and the Antarctic Peninsula is home to Earth’s newest nation, with life quickened by ecopoets spreading across valleys and fjords exposed by the retreat of the ice. Austral Morales Ferrado, a child of the last generation of ecopoets, is a husky: an edited person adapted to the unforgiving climate of the far south, feared and despised by most of its population. She’s been a convict, a corrections officer in a labour camp, and consort to a criminal, and now, out of desperation, she has committed the kidnapping of the century.
I love this one. The landscape, the situation and above all, Austral’s narration of the most turbulent, difficult time in her life to someone she cares about and wants to tell all to… This one held me until the last page and though not flawless, it is a gripping, moving book that will stay with me for a long time.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 24th September

Review of The Lost Steersman – Book 3 of The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein

Teaser Tuesday featuring Healer’s Touch by Deb E Howell

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Select – by Marit Weisenberg

Friday Face-off – Faint heart never won fair lady featuring Heartless by Marissa Meyer

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Wizards of Once – Book 1 of The Wizards of Once series by Cressida Cowell

Apologies to those of you who have commented and are still waiting for a response. Hopefully normal service will be resumed next week… 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.

Review of The Quiet War by Paul McAuley

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This hard science fiction tale grabbed my attention because being a shallow sort, I loved the cool cover…

thequietwarOn twenty-third-century Earth, ravaged by climate change, political power has been grabbed by a few powerful families and their green saints. Millions of people, most little better than slaves, labour to rebuild ruined ecosystems. Those who fled Earth’s repressive regimes to the moons of Jupiter and Saturn live in a fantastic variety of habitats, some deep underground, others protected from inhospitable atmospheres by vast tents; all scientific utopias crammed with exuberant inventions of the genetic arts.

But the fragile peace between Earth and the colonies is threatened by the Outers’ growing ambitions to spread out through the Solar System, pushing human evolution forward. On Earth argument rages: whether to take pre-emptive action against the Outers, or to exploit their scientific talents. Amidst all the debating and turmoil, war between the two branches of humanity moves ever closer.

This book looks at a familiar conflict point much explored by the likes of Alistair Reynolds, Eric Brown and Iain M. Banks – that of humanity diverging as the diaspora start living in space. McAuley, like a number of other science fiction writers, trained as a scientist and this becomes apparent in the loving detail he lavishes on the extra-terrestrial vegetation that the Outers manage to establish in all sorts of unlikely nooks – like Callisto and Titan, for instance.

So, how ably does he handle this ambitious tale that spans a number of far-flung settings, with six main characters? Is the characterisation sufficiently complex and compelling? Do the passages concentrating on the extra-terrestrial eco-systems silt up the narrative pace and get in the way of the book’s message?

While there are six viewpoint characters, it is Macey Minnot and Professor Doctor Sri Hong-Owen whose stories drive most of the action. McAuley has tweaked this familiar territory in interesting ways – while we are given a ringside seat into the slow, inexorable slide into war, all the main characters including Macey and Sri are all underlings, hemmed in by a strict chain of command. Not one of them are free to follow their own wishes – and when any of them try to do so, the consequences are dramatic and dangerous. This gives the reader a first-hand appreciation of the limits experienced by the Earth-based characters, both good and bad. However, it is interesting that we are not privy to any Outer viewpoint. I’m wondering whether McAuley covers the experiences of that faction in detail in the sequel, Gardens of the Sun. I’m not willing to believe that this was just some random omission – McAuley is too careful a craftsman to make such a basic mistake.

I particularly enjoyed Macey and Sri who are both well rounded, complex creations – neither are innately likeable, yet I was able to empathise with their dilemmas as the stakes become ever higher in the increasingly febrile political situation. It was interesting to compare how both women deal with the unfolding conflict, given that there are some obvious similarities along with their very different backgrounds. There is an implicit suggestion that had Macey enjoyed Sri’s advantages, she could have achieved similar success and status. McAuley does an effective job of providing a sophisticated Earth society with a variety of influences and differing agendas, while the Outer factions are less well defined. Though, I’m betting he’s going to get round to those in due course.

Loc Ifrahim is less successful. He starts off very well, but unfortunately towards the end of the story, he becomes too much of a caricature. There are plotlines that could have coped with that type of shorthand, but this isn’t one of them. McAuley’s initial approach is too nuanced and knowing to allow such a lapse to be anything other than a disappointment. The other fascinating character is Dave #8. Perhaps his journey is the most dramatic of all and I’m going to track down Gardens of the Sun in no small part because I want to discover what happens to him.

McAuley is an accomplished, experienced writer and when I realised that he would be devoting pages of detail to his invented world, I decided to go with the flow. After all, if it got too tediously wordy I could always abandon the book and pick up the next one on the pile teetering by my bedside. As it happened, I fell under the spell of his enthusiasm and rolling prose, growing to really enjoy the flights of imagination that had these fragile bubbles of life seeded in improbable crannies around the solar system.

Overall, I found The Quiet War an enjoyable, satisfying read and will be tracking down Gardens of the Sun to discover what happens next, and if your taste runs to the harder end of science fiction and you haven’t yet come across this little nugget, I recommend you do so.
9/10