Monday, June 30, 2014

Cover Reveal: The Abyss Beyond Dreams

Tor UK has unveiled the UK cover for Peter F. Hamilton's next novel, The Abyss Beyond Dreams, due out in October. In an effort to attract a wider audience they've gone with an entirely new look, taking inspiration from SF films and games.

The result is a cover that can do double duty as a poster for the next science fiction blockbuster. It certainly caught my attention so I'd say that it's a job well done.


THE ABYSS BEYOND DREAMS
Release date: October 2014

When images of a lost civilization are ‘dreamed’ by a self-proclaimed prophet of the age, Nigel Sheldon, inventor of wormhole technology and creator of the Commonwealth society, is asked to investigate. Especially as the dreams seem to be coming from the Void – a mysterious area of living space monitored and controlled because of its hugely destructive capabilities. With it being the greatest threat to the known universe, Nigel is committed to finding out what really lies within the Void and if there’s any truth to the visions they’ve received. Does human life really exist inside its boundary?

But when Nigel crash lands inside the Void, on a planet he didn’t even know existed, he finds so much more than he expected. Bienvenido: a world populated by the ancestors of survivors from Commonwealth colony ships that disappeared centuries ago. Since then they’ve been fighting an increasingly desperate battle against the Fallers, a space-born predator artificially evolved to conquer worlds. Their sole purpose is to commit genocide against every species they encounter. With their powerful telepathic lure – that tempts any who stray across their path to a slow and painful death – they are by far the greatest threat to humanity’s continued existence on this planet.

But Nigel soon realizes that the Fallers also hold the key to something he’d never hoped to find – the destruction of the Void itself. If only he can survive long enough to work out how to use it...

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Review: The Martian

Title: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
Pages: 369
ISBN: 9780141042374
Publisher: Crown (US) / Del Rey (UK)
Published: 2014
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher


Buy it from:
The Book Depository (US edition)
The Book Depository (UK edition)

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?
Mark Watney is the unluckiest man in the solar system. During an expedition to Mars a freak accident in a dust storm leaves him stranded alone on the red planet. Everyone believes him dead. Somehow he has to figure out a way to survive until the next Mars mission arrives. In four years' time.

The Martian starts off with one of the best openings I’ve read in quite some time
I’m pretty much fucked.
That’s my considered opinion.
Fucked.
If that doesn’t hook you from the start, I don’t know what will. He then continues calmly cataloguing all the methods of his eventual demise:
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 fucked.
The story is told in the form of log entries chronicling Mark’s daily struggles and experiences as he faces each new obstacle that gets thrown his way. This has the potential of becoming tedious to read, but Mark is such an amazingly likeable character with an insatiable sense of humour and wit that you find yourself jumping at the chance to see what each entry holds.

It’s also this coping mechanism of humour combined with an almost MacGyver-like resourcefulness that carries him through disasters which would send other people into a complete spiral of despair.
I wonder what NASA would think about me fucking with the RTG like this. They’d probably hide under their desks and cuddle with their slide rules for comfort. (page 77)
Technically it’s “Carl Sagan Memorial Station.” But with all due respect to Carl, I can call it whatever the hell I want. I’m the King of Mars. (page 97)
There are plenty of other quips like these that you can’t help but snigger at. (Not to mention the absolute hatred for potatoes and disco music he develops) It’s clear that Mark doesn’t let anything get him down even if Mars is repeatedly trying to kill him.

NASA eventually figures out that Watney is still alive and that’s when things really get interesting. The back and forth between Watney’s viewpoint and that of the NASA team as they frantically work to get him back home provides a much needed counterpoint. I don’t want to give too much away, but suffice it to say that they eventually come up with a rescue mission that makes the Curiosity landing look like child’s play; a rescue so insanely risky that it just might work.

The ending had me on the edge of my seat, I even caught myself holding my breath when the moment of truth arrived; if my thumbs hadn’t been occupied by holding the book I would’ve been holding both of them too. Take the excitement of watching the Curiosity landing live (seven minutes of pure terror), multiply that by ten and you’ll have a rough idea of how utterly transfixing it is. It had me reading till the early hours of the morning, I just couldn't put it down. In the cold weather we are experiencing that's a recommendation all by itself.

Being somewhat of a space geek myself I really couldn’t find fault with any of the science (except the event at the start of the book, but the author should be allowed some license for dramatic effect. Hint: air density). All the rest of the technology and science is spot on. I loved the detailed descriptions and mathematics of pure survival. You might even learn a few things along the way.

One of the criticisms I’ve seen mentioned is that Weir glosses over the monetary cost involved in saving a single human life. Space exploration has the capacity of inspiring and uniting humanity like nothing else ever could. Think about the detrimental impact the first human death on another planet would have. NASA’s miniscule budget would be cut further, human spaceflight will come to a complete halt, set back by years until things are considered safe again, and by that time we might have lost interest in exploration altogether. On the other hand, actually saving Watney captivates the imaginations of millions, sparks international cooperation and highlights our capacity for compassion towards each other. While the expense might be a valid point to some degree I really don’t think you can put a price tag on something like that.*

The Martian is one of those huge success stories. Andy Weir initially wrote it in serial form as a hobby and posted it for free on his website. People begged him to make it available as an ebook on Amazon where it was later discovered by a publisher, which netted him an agent and then a publishing deal. In this case I can say that I’m extremely glad that his remarkable talent was discovered. The Martian is a truly amazing read.

The Verdict:
The Martian is an absolutely stunning read that showcases the perils of space exploration, but also the human tenacity for survival, for compassion and for expanding our horizons even if it's an extremely risky thing to do. This is the ultimate tale of survival, captivating from the first page until the very last. Even if science fiction isn’t something you normally read you HAVE to read this. Highly recommended!

The Rating: 8/10 (Great)

*I digress, but a question you encounter frequently is why we should waste money on space when famine and poverty is a very real problem here on Earth. When that asteroid on a collision course with us eventually heads our way the real question will be ‘why didn’t we spend more?’ NASA’s budget is miniscule in comparison to the machinery of war and the cost of entertainment. The budgets and revenue from a couple of blockbuster movies and perhaps a season or two of Game of Thrones would be able to fund NASA’s missions for a couple of decades. Think about that the next time you consider space exploration a waste of money.

A note on editions: I started reading the eARC of THE MARTIAN provided by Crown, but managed to win a signed hardback copy of the Del Rey edition from the lovely folks at Random House Struik. The page numbers provided refer to the Del Rey edition (9780091956134).

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Dangerous Visions


BBC Radio 4's Dangerous Visions has kicked off a series of stunning SFF radio dramas taking a look at dystopian futures. It will feature a total of 11 dramatizations and runs from 14 June to 29 June. You have 7 days after the initial broadcast to listen to them via BBC iPlayer.

My personal favourites so far have been the brilliantly done adaptation of Bradbury's The Illustrated Man, the first episode of Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and Lauren Beukes' wonderfully weird tale, The Problem With Talitha, which explores the concept of entertainment being taken too far. I loved the reference to "weapons of mass distraction".

The dramatizations really bring the stories to vivid life and even the stories I'm familiar with were cast into a completely different light. I can highly recommend setting aside some time to listen to them. You won't be disappointed.

***
The full schedule is below. Times are in GMT and I've included links to the episodes which have already been broadcast.

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
(Saturday 14 June, 2.30pm - Saturday Drama)

This year’s first ‘Dangerous Vision’ - dramatised by Brian Sibley - stars Iain Glen as the Illustrated Man and Jamie Parker as the Youth. A tattooed man is the resident freak-show attraction in a travelling carnival. As he shows a curious visitor around the circus he reluctantly agrees to tell the story behind the illustrations carved into his skin which come to life after dark and have the powers of prophecy.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
(Sunday 15 June, 3.00pm & Sunday 22 June, 3.00pm - Classic Serial)

In this seminal Philip K Dick novel that inspired Blade Runner, earth has been ravaged by nuclear war. Expensive cloned creatures grown in backstreet labs recall a time before radiation destroyed the animals. Emigrants stream to off-world colonies. Humanoid robots known as androids are banned from earth. We track forty-eight hours in the life of Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter hired to 'retire' three Nexus-6 androids who've escaped off-world lives as slaves and returned to earth. Starring: James Purefoy and Jessica Raine.

The Problem With Talitha
(Sunday 15 June, 12:30am)

Sex as an opiate for the masses is taken to a whole new level in Lauren Beukes' celebrity-obsessed dystopia where every second of a star's life is filmed and recorded for consumers to plug into and experience at first-hand. Talitha Calix, a South African reality TV star, has become a worldwide phenomenon; people are riveted by the soap opera that is her love life. When a hacker group of obsessive fans decide to bring the network down and give Talitha an hour of privacy a whole new world of possibilities opens up to her but will she be allowed to walk away from the limelight?

The Bee Maker
(Monday 16 June, 2.15pm - Afternoon Drama)

It's 2020 and the bees are nearly all gone. Human beings might be next. Robotics expert, Deborah, builds artificial bees in order to help pollinate fruit trees across the world - real bees having been driven to the brink of extinction. But then a strange phenomenon strikes mankind - people start getting lost. It happens slowly, people lose their way, forget where they are. Society starts to crumble. Deborah must fight her way across an apocalyptic Britain and find her way back home. But first she must remember where that is. A dark and cautionary tale about our busy technology-filled lives starring Alice Lowe and Harriet Walter.

Iz
(Tuesday 17 June 2.30pm - Afternoon Drama)

One man risks everything in order to find the woman he loves - a woman he has only met in a virtual world. In 2091, British citizens are living in 24-hour curfew, confined to solitary housing units and communicating entirely through virtual worlds. Students Lee and Iz have been dating each other virtually for three years, but when Lee fails an important exam, he is suddenly cut off from Iz and everything he knows. He sets out on a journey across a deserted England, determined to find the real Iz. Sacha Dhawan, Sian Phillips and Jaimi Barbakoff star in Miranda Emmerson's disquieting new thriller.

The Zone
(Wednesday 18 June & Thursday 19 June, 2.15pm - Afternoon Drama)

Where do the 'dangerous disappeared' disappear to: the escaped prisoner; the hunted terrorist; the fraudster on the run; the murderer; the criminal who has betrayed his partners? They disappear into The Zone, a mysterious microcosm of our febrile world that has its own currency (blood), its own laws, its own security, its own lethal culture. Turner, who operates in that no-man's-land between legal and criminal, enters The Zone by accident. He is desperate to escape back to the city. When he does, why is he obsessively drawn back, knowing that he is a marked man, and that being in The Zone that can only mean one thing? Written by the BAFTA award-winning writer Trevor Preston.

The Two Georges
(Friday 20 June, 2.15pm - Afternoon Drama)

In 1955, the fledgling science fiction writer Philip K. Dick and his wife Kleo received a visit at their California home from two FBI agents, which they believed to be a result of Kleo's left-wing activities. The consequences of the visit are largely unclear, with conflicting accounts suggesting that the couple were asked to spy on college radicals, travel to Mexico, and even that one of the FBI agents taught Dick how to drive.

Using this biographic encounter as its starting point, The Two Georges is a playful and fantastical story, Dick-esque in its absurdity, that sees the sci-fi writer partner up with an FBI Agent to uncover a devilish conspiracy that strikes at the heart of Cold War McCarthyite America.

The Martian Chronicles
(Saturday 21 June, 2.30pm - Saturday Drama)

When the first expedition to Mars mysteriously disappears, Earth sends a second to find out what happened. The real mission is classified however, and only Captain Wilder knows the truth. Derek Jacobi and Hayley Atwell lead an all-star cast in a thrilling new re-imagining of Ray Bradbury's timeless fable of doomed Martian colonisation. Exec. produced by Dirk Maggs.

A Message of Unknown Purpose
(Sunday 22 June, 12.30am)

Peter Marinker reads Tao Lin's curious tale about the discovery of a message from the future in which an elderly prisoner talks about the invention and misuse of a sleep machine. "In 2042, after major worldwide catastrophes in the second and third decades of the 21st century, the world is drastically different. It's much, much worse and maybe more exciting, depending on who you ask." A vision emerges of a society addicted to sleep.

Dark Minds
(Friday 27 June, 9.00pm)

A dangerous obsession with immersive virtual reality games has deadly consequences. In the near future Harry is obsessed with totally immersive virtual reality gaming. Then one day he wakes up with a dead body lying next to him bed. All evidence points to the fact that Harry is the killer. Harry even remembers doing it. But why? Did the violence of the games give him his gruesome blood lust? Or is something far more sinister going on? Slowly Harry uncovers a conspiracy that has its roots in the illicit underbelly of the Internet. Sex, violence and virtual reality combine in this futuristic thriller starring Bryan Dick and Steve Oram.

The Keepers
(Sunday 29 June, 12.30am)

Matt Haig's vision in which a man wonders from his cage in a zoo what it means to be human. In a letter to his daughter he describes the events leading up to the moment humankind's supremacy came to an end. Read by Barnaby Kay.

***

They really are very, very good. Don't miss out!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Cover Reveal: Broken Monsters

The South African cover for Lauren Beukes' forthcoming novel, Broken Monsters, has finally been revealed. Wow! Joey Hi-Fi really outdid himself again with a truly captivating mix of his stunning illustrations and location photos . The SA cover blows both the UK and US editions out of the water. I want it! I want it now!


Release date: July 2014
ISBN: 9781415202005 
Order a copy from Kalahari.com

IN A BROKEN CITY, A DISTURBED KILLER IS TRYING TO REMAKE THE WORLD IN HIS IMAGE.

Detective Gabriella Versado has seen a lot of bodies. But this one is unique even by Detroit’s standards: half-boy, half-deer, somehow fused together. And it’s only the first.

As winter closes in on Detroit, strange and disturbing corpses start turning up in unusual places, pulling several lives into the killer’s orbit.

Gabi has to juggle the most harrowing case of her career with being a single mom to her troubled teen daughter Layla.

Layla, egged on by her best friend Cas, is playing a dangerous game with an online predator.

Broken Monsters is a dark and gripping thriller about the death of the American Dream, online fame, creativity, compromise and the undercurrents of the world we live in right now.

***

The difference in the designs are quite startling. My first choice would obviously be the South African cover. Between the UK and US covers I'd give the edge to the UK one, even though it has a pretty generic crime/thriller look. I'm not quite sure what to make of the US cover. Graffiti gone wrong?

Which cover do you prefer?

(A quick Twitter poll made it clear the SA cover is the firm favorite with 20 votes, US with 6 and UK with only 4. I must admit that I'm surprised that so many people prefer the US cover.) 

The US cover:

Release date: 16 September 2014 (US)
ISBN: 9780007464593
Pre-order from The Book Depository (free international shipping)

The UK cover:

Release date: 31 July 2014 (UK)
ISBN: 9780007464593
Pre-order from The Book Depository (free international shipping)


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Review: Red Moon

Title: Red Moon
Author: Benjamin Percy
Pages: 532
ISBN: 9781444725001
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Published: 2013
Genre: Horror / Urban Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher


Buy it from:
The Book Depository

They live among us.
They are our neighbors, our mothers, our lovers.
They change.

When government agents kick down Claire Forrester's front door and murder her parents, Claire realizes just how different she is.

Patrick Gamble was nothing special until the day he got on a plane and hours later stepped off it, the only passenger left alive, a hero.

Chase Williams has sworn to protect the people of the United States from the menace in their midst, but he is becoming the very thing he has promised to destroy.

So far, the threat has been controlled by laws and violence and drugs. But the night of the red moon is coming, when an unrecognizable world will emerge...and the battle for humanity will begin

Reading Red Moon you soon discover that, while the world seems familiar, there’s one big difference – lycans (that’s werewolves for the ill-informed) live amongst the populace. The lycans act as a stand-in for every oppressed minority in our world. They aren’t monsters howling at the full moon. They’re ordinary people infected by a disease trying to live their lives while their rights are being slowly eroded by increased legislation, mandatory medication and ever increasing restrictions to their freedoms. Something has to give. And it does...

Initially I struggled to really get into Red Moon. The story had a distinct YA feel to it – both the main characters, Patrick and Claire, are teenagers whose lives change irrevocably after an act of terrorism. There’s even that clich├ęd YA trope of insta-love.
“The girl remains on the ground. He looks at her and she looks at him and the air feels at once static and loaded, as if there is some kind of undersound his ear can’t quite decipher. Like after a bell rings. That’s how it is between them. There is something celestial about her, her skin a pale color, but a paleness of the softest gray-white imaginable, as if she had been soaking for years in a bath of moonlight.” (page 119)
At this point I rolled my eyes and almost put the book down as a lost cause, but I persevered and I’m glad I did. It doesn’t take long for the characters to come of age and as they do the rest of their world, with all the different factions at play, also come into focus. At the halfway mark I was completely hooked.

While it starts out with a YA feel, Red Moon is most decidedly not a YA-novel. The narrative is filled with scenes of visceral, brutal violence and the themes are thought-provoking, challenging the political outlook of our post 9/11 world.

Percy manages to write beautifully descriptive prose that capture the human condition or surroundings with a deft hand:
"She does not understand people – whether infected or clean – for their capability and appetite for violence. No other organism besides a virus seems so hungry to savage everything in its way. Violence defines humanity and determines headlines and elections and borders, the whole world boiled down to who hits whom harder." (page 390)
"He feels the snow of the Republic weighing him down and he feels the darkness of the grave pressing around the fire and infecting his vision so that there seems no separation between the living and the dead, a child born with a mud wasp’s nest for a heart and its eyes already pocketed with dust, ready to be clapped into a box and dropped down a hole." (page 388)
But this turns out to be a two-edged sword after a while. At times I felt as if these striking descriptions got in the way of the story, slowing down the pace and flow of the narrative.

There are quite a few instances that resulted in moments of jarring disbelief. Patrick gets a handjob from a complete stranger in class. Seriously?! One of the characters manages to survive being shot multiple times at point-blank range without any explanation being given as to how. The actions of the terrorists in the third part of the novel doesn’t quite make logical sense – why salt the field you want to plow? (You’ll understand the reference once you read the book). And what's up with the Mexicans?

The story also relies too much on pure coincidence to move things along. Patrick takes a drive at precisely the right time to save the girl. Much later in the novel he seems to just randomly stumble into a pivotal character exactly when needed the most.

Despite its flaws Red Moon is an engaging read. Its strongest point is the message of tolerance it imparts – we can’t let the few define the many; a lesson we can all take to heart. The ending is very satisfying even though things are tied up almost too conveniently the sublime twist at the end makes it well worth it.

The Verdict:
Red Moon is an interesting reinvention of the werewolf mythos with beautifully descriptive prose speckled with visceral scenes of bloody violence. It’s a story about love, the duality of being, our capacity for good and evil and acts as a powerful allegory for the world we live in. Marred slightly by an over-reliance on coincidence to move the story along, this is still a good read. If you want to see a different take on werewolves then this might just be the novel for you.

The Rating: 6.5/10 (Good)


Thanks to Chabi from Jonathan Ball Publishers for the review copy.

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