Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Opening Lines: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Some novels have the ability to draw you in from the start. A single line or paragraph can grab your attention in such a way that the novel just demands to be read. Opening Lines is a feature where I'll share some of the best opening lines that hooked me.

I don't think this one needs any introduction. Grab your towels!

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.


The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
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It's an ordinary Thursday lunchtime for Arthur Dent until his house gets demolished. The Earth follows shortly afterwards to make way for a new hyperspace bypass and his best friend has just announced that he's an alien. At this moment, they're hurtling through space with nothing but their towels and an innocuous-looking book inscribed with the big, friendly words: DON'T PANIC.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Opening Lines: The War of the Worlds

Some novels have the ability to draw you in from the start. A single line or paragraph can grab your attention in such a way that the novel just demands to be read. Opening Lines is a feature where I'll share some of the best opening lines that hooked me.

This is another iconic opening I think almost everyone will already be familiar with. There's just something about it that makes it stick in your mind. I just need to hear that first couple of words and the title immediately springs to mind.

No one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.


The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
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The night after a shooting star is seen streaking through the sky from Mars, a cylinder is discovered on Horsell Common in London. At first, naive locals approach the cylinder armed just with a white flag only to be quickly killed by an all-destroying heat-ray, as terrifying tentacled invaders emerge. Soon the whole of human civilisation is under threat, as powerful Martians build gigantic killing machines, destroy all in their path with black gas and burning rays, and feast on the warm blood of trapped, still-living human prey. The forces of the Earth, however, may prove harder to beat than they at first appear.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Opening Lines: Incandescence

Some novels have the ability to draw you in from the start. A single line or paragraph can grab your attention in such a way that the novel just demands to be read. Opening Lines is a feature where I'll share some of the best opening lines that hooked me.

I'm not exactly sure what draws me to this one. Is it that strange question or the fact that the narrator finds it the most interesting thing to happen to him?

***
"Are you a child of DNA?"

Rakesh was affronted; if he'd considered this to be information that any stranger wandering by had a right to know, it would have been included in his précis. After a moment's reflection, though, his indignation gave way to curiosity. The stranger was either being deliberately offensive, or had a very good reason for asking. Either way, this was the most interesting thing that had happened to him all day.


Incandescence by Greg Egan
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The Amalgam spans nearly the entire galaxy, and is composed of innumerable beings from a wild variety of races, some human or near it, some entirely other. The one place that they cannot go is the bulge, the bright, hot center of the galaxy. There dwell the Aloof, who for millions of years have deflected any and all attempts to communicate with or visit them. So when Rakesh is offered an opportunity to travel within their sphere, in search of a lost race, he cannot turn it down. Roi is a member of that lost race, which is not only lost to the Amalgam, but lost to itself. In their world, there is but toil, and history and science are luxuries that they can ill afford. Rakesh's journey will take him across millennia and light years. Roi's will take her across vistas of learning and discovery just as vast.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Review: Reach for Infinity

Title: Reach for Infinity
Editor: Jonathan Strahan
Pages: 339
ISBN: 9781781082034
Publisher: Solaris
Published: 2014
Genre: Science fiction / Short stories
Source: Review copy from publisher


Buy it from:
The Book Depository

What happens when humanity reaches out into the vastness of space? The award-winning anthologies editor, Jonathan Strahan, is back with a stellar list of best-selling SF authors in a collection of all-new original stories.

The brightest names in science fiction contribute new original fiction to this amazing anthology, including new stories by Alastair Reynolds, Greg Egan, Ian McDonald, Ken Macleod, Pat Cadigan, Karl Schroeder, Hannu Rajaniemi, Karen Lord, Adam Roberts, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Aliette de Bodard, Peter Watts, and others!

I think the best description of the 14 stories included in Reach for Infinity comes from Strahan himself, “Many of the stories take place on Earth in the next hundred years, looking at points in time where people, or a person, look to make a critical difference and push forward towards something greater. Some of them take snapshots from places – deep within the future colonies of Mars or perched in the chromosphere of the sun – where humanity as a whole is pushing its boundaries and stretching its limits in order to achieve more. All of them are about, one way or another, reaching for infinity from within and without.” It perfectly captures the essence and tone of the stories you’ll find in the anthology.

For me the best thing about short stories, anthologies in particular, is the ability to discover work by unfamiliar authors. In this respect Reach for Infinity definitely delivered. Two of my favourite stories are from authors I haven’t encountered before, which was a pleasant surprise since most of the really big names in SF are represented.

I thoroughly enjoyed all the stories and each one fits in well with the overall theme. As is always the case there were some stories that resonated more with me than others. For the sake of brevity I’ll highlight seven of my favourites. I know that’s half of the entire anthology, but I couldn’t trim it down further.

Break my fall – Greg Egan
A trip to Mars turns into a daring rescue operation when a CME threatens the lives of the passengers. The story portrays a very interesting concept of traveling between Earth and Mars and the ending is completely heart-wrenching. Great imagery and a stunning start to the anthology.
He rode up in airless silence, unable to turn his gaze to the side to look across at the stars. All he could see was the rock straight above him, cycling through its ten-second days and nights: a lighthouse, a prison, a safe port for all the loneliness and grief to come.

The Dust Queen - Aliette de Bodard
Salvaging childhood memories of home comes at a huge cost to the parties involved; a loss of self, of creativity, but also hope. Hope in the form of performances drawn in the dusts of Mars, a reminder of a future yet to come for the descendents of those watching over the terraforming of the planet. A touching, thought-provoking tale with a refreshing infusion of Vietnamese culture.
Going into someone’s brain is almost like being in space: that curious sensation of hanging, weightless, like floating in water without the water; of hanging in darkness with the stars around her like hairpin wounds in the fabric of the heavens.

The Fifth Dragon - Ian McDonald
This is a touching story about pioneers on the Moon, indebted to companies by the very act of living as they sculpt the lunar landscape into a new foothold for humanity. Two friends become lovers as the Moon takes its toll in bone-density, dreams and money, but it also offers countless opportunity for those brave enough to spot and embrace them.
The scan was routine. Every moon worker has one every four lunes. Achi was called, she went into the scanner. The machine passed magnetic fields through her body and when she came out the medic said, you have four weeks left.
Coffee is the drug of memory. I can remember the great cups of coffee of my life; the places, the faces, the words spoken. It never quite tastes the way it smells. If it did, we would drink it until our heads exploded with memory.

Report Concerning the Presence of Seahorses on Mars - Pat Cadigan
The populace of Mars emancipate themselves in a most peculiar way. I loved how the title only makes sense once you’ve read the story. The use of reality TV/crowd sourcing as funding for the Mars colonies might be quite prophetic if Mars One ever manages to get off the ground.

Amicae Aeternum - Ellen Klages
How do you bid farewell to an entire world? A young girl says goodbye to everything she knows, to everything she’ll never be able to do and to a friend she’ll have to leave behind. Her only solace is in an artefact of friendship she’ll take with her to the stars. This was definitely my favourite story in the anthology. It’s an extremely touching story of leave-taking with just the right mix of hope in the end. I think we all need to experience a day like this to rediscover the joy in the simple things around us.
The grass was chill and damp beneath her bare feet. She let them rest on it for a minute, the freshly-mowed blades tickling her toes, her heels sinking into the springy-sponginess of the dirt. She breathed deep, to catch it all – the cool and the green and the stillness – holding it in for as long as she could before slipping on her shoes.

A morning to remember. Every little detail.

Trademark Bugs: A Legal History - Adam Roberts
A disconcerting tale of corporations infecting people with designer germs in order to sell them the cure. I was sceptical of the legal style of the narration, but in the end it was an extremely effective way to tell the story, especially taking into account the increasingly litigious way large corporations handle trademark issues.

Wilder Still, the Stars - Kathleen Ann Goonan
Artificial people viewed as mere disposable tools turn out to be far more capable than their human creators. Through our creations, our successors we will inherit the stars. I loved the complexity of the themes at play – the love of astronomy and how our dreams can live on through others.

The Verdict:
Reach for Infinity has a stellar array of both authors and stories that explores humanity grasping for a place amongst the stars. Beautifully written, captivating, touching, but most importantly filled with that unique sense of wonder only great science fiction can provide. Don’t be scared off by the hard science fiction label. Science is used to set the stage, but these stories are overflowing with human emotion and spirit even if it sometimes takes unexpected forms. While some of the stories appealed more than others, they were all thoroughly enjoyable reads. If you are looking for a way to dip your toes into hard science fiction then this anthology would be a great starting point – a true showcase of what hard SF has to offer. Definitely recommended.

The Rating: 7/10 (Very good)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Giveaway: Echopraxia (US and Canada Only)

Thanks to brilliant folks at Tor, I have a copy of ECHOPRAXIA by Peter Watts to give away.

Echopraxia by Peter Watts

Daniel Bruks is a living fossil: a field biologist in a world where biology has turned computational, a cat's-paw used by terrorists to kill thousands. Taking refuge in the Oregon desert, he's turned his back on a humanity that shatters into strange new subspecies with every heartbeat. But he awakens one night to find himself at the center of a storm that will turn all of history inside-out.

Now he's trapped on a ship bound for the center of the solar system. To his left is a grief-stricken soldier, obsessed by whispered messages from a dead son. To his right is a pilot who hasn't yet found the man she's sworn to kill on sight. A vampire and its entourage of zombie bodyguards lurk in the shadows behind. And dead ahead, a handful of rapture-stricken monks takes them all to a meeting with something they will only call "The Angels of the Asteroids."

Their pilgrimage brings Dan Bruks, the fossil man, face-to-face with the biggest evolutionary breakpoint since the origin of thought itself.

The giveaway is now closed.

The winner will is Kayla Strickland. Congratulations!

How to enter:
  1. Complete the form below.
  2. It's not required, but liking the blog's Facebook page or following me on Twitter would be appreciated.
Rules:
  1. The giveaway is only open to residents of the US or Canada
  2. Entries close on Sunday, 16th August at 15:00 U.S. Central Time.
  3. The winner will be selected at random and announced as soon as their details are confirmed.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Cover Reveal: Dark Intelligence

I'm a huge Neal Asher fan so this news brightened an otherwise dreary day. The cover for Neal Asher's next novel, Dark Intelligence, has been revealed.

As always Jon Sullivan has outdone himself. The cover is awesomeness taken to the power of googol. I can happily get lost staring at the little details and all they might imply. Fans of the Polity will be glad to know that this new series marks a return to the Polity universe we all know and love. I definitely can't wait! Is it January* yet?


DARK INTELLIGENCE
Release date: 29 January 2015* (* release date may change)
ISBN: 9780230750722
Pre-order a copy from The Book Depository

One man will transcend death to seek vengeance. One woman will transform herself to gain power. And no one will emerge unscathed...

Thorvald Spear wakes in hospital, where he finds he's been brought back from the dead. What's more, he died in a human vs. alien war which ended a whole century ago. But when he relives his traumatic final moments, he finds the spark to keep on living. That spark is vengeance.

Trapped and desperate on a world surrounded by alien Prador forces, Spear had seen a rescue ship arriving. But instead of providing backup, Penny Royal, the AI within the destroyer turned rogue. It annihilated friendly forces in a frenzy of destruction, and, years later, it's still free. Spear vows to track it across worlds and do whatever it takes to bring it down. Isobel Satomi ran a successful crime syndicate. But after competitors attacked, she needed more power. Yet she got more than she bargained for when she negotiated with Penny Royal. She paid it to turn her part-AI herself, but the upgrades hid a horrifying secret. The Dark AI had triggered a transformation in Isobel that would turn her into a monster, rapidly evolving into something far from human.

Spear hires Isobel to take him to the Penny Royal AI's last known whereabouts. But he cheats her in the process and he becomes a target for her vengeance. And as she is evolves further into a monstrous predator, rage soon wins over reason. Will Spear finish his hunt, before he becomes the hunted? This is the first volume in a no-holds-barred adventure set in Asher's popular Polity universe.

Opening Lines: The Day of the Triffids

Some novels have the ability to draw you in from the start. A single line or paragraph can grab your attention in such a way that the novel just demands to be read. Opening Lines is a feature where I'll share some of the best opening lines that hooked me.

This one is another classic. I find the incongruity of the comparison the most appealing.

When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.

The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
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When Bill Masen wakes up blindfolded in hospital, there is a bitter irony in his situation. Carefully removing his bandages, he realises that he is the only person who can see: everyone else, doctors and patients alike, have been blinded by a meteor shower. Now, with civilization in chaos, the triffids – huge, venomous, large-rooted plants able to 'walk', feeding on human flesh – can have their day.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Titles to look out for: August 2014

After scouring the publisher catalogs these are the new or forthcoming book releases which have caught my eye. Books might be included in the list based on their brilliant writing, a captivating premise, the continuation of an addictive series or something as simple as the magical lure of their cover art. It's been a while since I last did one of these, so I hope I still remember how...

The Year's Best Science Fiction 31 edited by Gardner Dozois
Release: 2 August 2014 / ISBN: 9781250046215
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In the new millennium, what secrets lay beyond the far reaches of the universe? What mysteries belie the truths we once held to be self evident? The world of science fiction has long been a porthole into the realities of tomorrow, blurring the line between life and art. Now, in The Year's Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Annual Collection the very best SF authors explore ideas of a new world. This venerable collection brings together award winning authors and masters of the field such as Robert Reed, Alastair Reynolds, Damien Broderick, Elizabeth Bear, Paul McAuley and John Barnes. And with an extensive recommended reading guide and a summation of the year in science fiction, this annual compilation has become the definitive must-read anthology for all science fiction fans and readers interested in breaking into the genre.


Seeders by A.J. Colucci
Release date: 2 August 2014 / ISBN: 9781250042897
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George Brookes, a 75-year old recluse on a small Canadian island, is plagued by guilt, afraid that his botany experiments have released a monster upon the world. He climbs to the top of a cliff and jumps to his death. Several weeks later, six people arrive on the island, heirs to George's estate: his daughter, Isabelle, and her three teenagers, Jules Beecher, a friend and fellow botanist, and Ginny Shufflebottom, a contentious Englishwoman who funded George's research. They will be isolated on the frigid island for two weeks, until the next supply boat arrives. In the laboratory, Jules reads over piles of notes and realizes that George may have achieved the most monumental breakthrough in the history of modern science: communication between humans and plants. Jules knows that the idea of plant intelligence has long been regarded as quackery among conventional scientists, but George's experiments could prove the theories that Jules has been working on all his life. However, the notes are incomplete, and it's unclear whether George's findings are real or the ramblings of a madman. In the woods, Jules begins to have disturbing visions. A fierce storm hits, the power goes out, and a night of terror begins.


The Ultra Thin Man by Patrick Swenson
Release date: 12 August 2014 /
ISBN: 9780765336941
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In the twenty-second century, a future in which mortaline wire controls the weather on the settled planets and entire refugee camps drowse in drug-induced slumber, no one-alive or dead, human or alien-is quite what they seem. When terrorists manage to crash Coral, the moon, into its home planet of Ribon, forcing evacuation, it's up to Dave Crowell and Alan Brindos, contract detectives for the Network Intelligence Organization, to solve a case of interplanetary consequences. Crowell and Brindos' investigation plunges them neck-deep into a conspiracy much more dangerous than anything they could have imagined. The two detectives soon find themselves separated, chasing opposite leads: Brindos has to hunt down the massive Helkunn alien Terl Plenko, shadow leader of the terrorist Movement of Worlds. Crowell, meanwhile, runs into something far more sinister-an elaborate frame job that puts our heroes on the hook for treason. Crowell and Brindos are forced to fight through the intrigue to discover the depths of an interstellar conspiracy. And to answer the all-important question: Who, and what, is the Ultra Thin Man?


The Godless by Ben Peek
Release date: 14 August 2014 /
ISBN: 9781447251248
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THE GODS HAVE FALLEN BUT THEIR POWERS LIVE ON ...Fifteen thousand years after the War of the Gods and their corpses now lie scattered across the world, slowly dying as men and women awake with strange powers that are derived from their bodies. While some see these powers as a gift - most call them a curse. When Ayae, a young cartographer's apprentice in the city of Mireea, is trapped in a burning building she is terrified as this dormant power comes to life within her. The flames destroy everything around her but she remains unscathed - fire cannot touch her. This curse makes her a target for the army marching on her home - an army determined to reclaim the corpse of the God Ger, who lies dying beneath the city, and harness his power for themselves. Zaifyr, a man adorned in the ancient charms, also arrives in Mireea. His arrival draws the attention of two of the 'children of the gods', Fo and Bau, powerful, centuries old beings who consider themselves immortal. All three will offer different visions for Ayae's powers - and whatever choice she makes will result in new enemies. Meanwhile, as the army approaches ever closer to Mirea, the saboteur Bueralan and Dark, his mercenary group, look to infiltrate and learn their weaknesses. Alone in a humid, dangerous land, they find themselves witness to rites so appalling they realise it would take the Gods themselves to halt the enemy's attack - and even they may not be enough.


Lock In by John Scalzi
Release date: 26 August 2014 /
ISBN: 9780765375865
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Not too long from today, a new, highly contagious virus makes its way across the globe. Most who get sick experience nothing worse than flu, fever and headaches. But for the unlucky one percent - and nearly five million souls in the United States alone - the disease causes "Lock In": Victims fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. The disease affects young, old, rich, poor, people of every color and creed. The world changes to meet the challenge. A quarter of a century later, in a world shaped by what's now known as "Haden's syndrome," rookie FBI agent Chris Shane is paired with veteran agent Leslie Vann. The two of them are assigned what appears to be a Haden-related murder at the Watergate Hotel, with a suspect who is an "integrator" - someone who can let the locked in borrow their bodies for a time. If the Integrator was carrying a Haden client, then naming the suspect for the murder becomes that much more complicated. But "complicated" doesn't begin to describe it. As Shane and Vann began to unravel the threads of the murder, it becomes clear that the real mystery - and the real crime - is bigger than anyone could have imagined. The world of the locked in is changing, and with the change comes opportunities that the ambitious will seize at any cost.


Echopraxia by Peter Watts
Release date: 26 August 2014 /
ISBN: 9780765328021
Order from The Book Depository 

Daniel Bruks is a living fossil: a field biologist in a world where biology has turned computational, a cat's-paw used by terrorists to kill thousands. Taking refuge in the Oregon desert, he's turned his back on a humanity that shatters into strange new subspecies with every heartbeat. But he awakens one night to find himself at the center of a storm that will turn all of history inside-out. Now he's trapped on a ship bound for the center of the solar system. To his left is a grief-stricken soldier, obsessed by whispered messages from a dead son. To his right is a pilot who hasn't yet found the man she's sworn to kill on sight. A vampire and its entourage of zombie bodyguards lurk in the shadows behind. And dead ahead, a handful of rapture-stricken monks takes them all to a meeting with something they will only call "The Angels of the Asteroids." Their pilgrimage brings Dan Bruks, the fossil man, face-to-face with the biggest evolutionary breakpoint since the origin of thought itself.


Solaris Rising 3 edited by Ian Whates
Release date: 26 August 2014 /
ISBN: 9781781082096
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These stories are guaranteed to surprise, thrill and delight, and continue our mission to demonstrate why science fiction remains the most exiting, varied and inspiring of all fiction genres. In Solaris Rising 1 and 2 we showed both the quality and variety that modern science fiction can produce. In Solaris Rising 3, we'll be taking SF into the outer reaches of the universe. Nina Allan, Aliette de Bodard, Tony Ballantyne, Chris Beckett, Julie Czerneda, Ken Liu, Alex Dally MacFarlane, Ian R MacLeod & Martin Sketchley, Gareth L Powell, Adam Roberts, Benjamin Rosenbaum, Cat Sparks, Benjanun Sriduangkaew, Ian Watson and Seam Williams are just some of the names set to appear.


The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks
Release date: 26 August 2014 /
ISBN: 9780316079921
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As the old gods awaken and satrapies splinter, the Chromeria races to find its lost Prism, the only man who may be able to stop catastrophe. But Gavin Guile is enslaved on a pirate galley. Worse, Gavin no longer has the one thing that defined him -- the ability to draft.

Without the protection of his father, Kip Guile will have to face a master of shadows alone as his grandfather moves to choose a new Prism and put himself in power. With Teia and Karris, Kip will have to use all his wits to survive a secret war between noble houses, religious factions, rebels, and an ascendant order of hidden assassins, The Broken Eye.

Friday, August 1, 2014

New Arrivals: More Discworld

I fell in love with the Gollancz Discworld editions the moment I first saw a picture of them on the Gollancz site. They were too gorgeous for words and I particularly liked the fact that they were B-format hardcovers. You get the best of both worlds - the comfortable size of a paperback and the durability of a hardcover. From that moment I just knew I had to have them.

Sadly, they aren't readily available in South Africa and require a special import which makes them a tad expensive. With careful budgeting and lots of patience I'm slowly building up a small collection. I'm not sure how many of these I'll manage to get in the end, but, at the very least, I'll definitely try to get my favourite ones.

My latest acquisitions are Feet of Clay and Men at Arms. The photos really don't do them any justice. I love how the shiny foil is used to enhance the illustrations on the covers.



I've also ordered a copy of Mort, but it seems to have gotten lost on an adventure. It's been more than 50 days since I ordered it and it's still a no-show. Hopefully it will get here eventually.

So at the moment I have a glorious collection of three Gollancz Discworld edtions. (Yes, three totally qualifies as a collection!). I'll better go chain them down... just to be safe.

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