Sunday, March 26, 2017

BBC Radio 4's Dramatisation of Voyage


BBC Radio 4 has once again outdone themselves with a brilliant dramatisation of Stephen Baxter's Voyage. In this alternative history of the US space programme we get a glimpse of the future that we never had, but might very well have transpired if history turned out just slightly differently.

The dramatisation brings the events to vibrant life and really makes you yearn for the future that might have been.

The five episodes (roughly 30 minutes each) are available for a limited time, so be sure to check them out. They are definitely well worth a listen!

Listen to the episodes via BBC's iPlayer.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Underrated SFF Novels

In the run-up to the BooktubeSFF Awards there are a bunch of interesting weekly topics, the BooktubeSFF Babbles, to get the SFF community at large discussing all things science fiction and fantasy.

Here are some of my favorite underrated SFF novels. These are the novels that don't quite get the attention I think they deserve.

Prador Moon by Neal Asher
This was my first introduction to Neal Asher's work and the brilliant Polity universe he created. I'm a lifelong fan. Full review.

The Polity Collective is the pinnacle of space-faring civilization. Academic and insightful, its dominion stretches from Earth Central into the unfathomable reaches of the galactic void. But when the Polity finally encounters alien life in the form of massive, hostile, crab-like carnivores known as the Prador, there can be only one outcome — total warfare! Starships clash, planets fall, and space stations are overrun, but for Jebel Krong and Moria Salem, two unlikely heroes trapped at the center of the action, this war is far more than a mere clash of cultures, far more than technology versus brute force... this war is personal.

Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds
One of the best uses of time dilation I've come across in a SF novel which sets the stage for a human colony stranded far away from the home they knew having to face the challenge of establishing a functioning society and surviving with limited resources. A great character-driven story with strong female protagonists. Truly epic in scope.

2057. Bella Lind and the crew of her nuclear powered ship, the Rockhopper, push ice. They mine comets. But when Janus, one of Saturn's ice moons, inexplicably leaves its natural orbit and heads out of the solar system at high speed, Bella is ordered to shadow it for the few vital days before it falls forever out of reach.

In accepting this mission she sets her ship and her crew on a collision course with destiny-for Janus has many surprises in store, and not all of them are welcome...

The Precipice by Ben Bova
A great hard science fiction novel. What stood out was the realistic use of science and that he absolutely gets the vastness of space in the asteroid belt right. Full review.

Once, Dan Randolph was one of the richest men on Earth. Now the planet is spiraling into environmental disaster, with floods and earthquakes destroying the lives of millions.

Randolph knows the energy and natural resources of space can save Earth's economy, but the price may be the loss of the only thing he has left - the company he founded, Astro Manufacturing. The Asteroid Wars have begun.

Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds
Yes, Reynolds makes the list twice. If you like human space exploration you'll love this. With one of the best introductions I adored this optimistic view of humanity's future in space. Full review.

One hundred and fifty years from now, in a world where Africa is the dominant technological and economic power, and where crime, war, disease and poverty have been banished to history, Geoffrey Akinya wants only one thing: to be left in peace, so that he can continue his studies into the elephants of the Amboseli basin. But Geoffrey's family, the vast Akinya business empire, has other plans. After the death of Eunice, Geoffrey's grandmother, erstwhile space explorer and entrepreneur, something awkward has come to light on the Moon, and Geoffrey is tasked - well, blackmailed, really - to go up there and make sure the family's name stays suitably unblemished. But little does Geoffrey realise - or anyone else in the family, for that matter - what he's about to unravel.

Poison City by Paul Crilley
Poison City is the fantastical love child of Supernatural and a Lauren Beukes novel. Part urban fantasy, part crime novel this is a pure twisted reading delight. Featuring an alcoholic spirit guide in the form of a talking dog this is one kickass read! Full review.

The name's Gideon Tau, but everyone just calls me London. I work for the Delphic Division, the occult investigative unit of the South African Police Service. My life revolves around two things - finding out who killed my daughter and imagining what I'm going to do to the bastard when I catch him.

I have two friends. The first is my boss, Armitage, a fifty-something DCI from Yorkshire who looks more like someone's mother than a cop. Don't let that fool you. The second is the dog, my magical spirit guide. He talks, he watches TV all day, and he's a mean drunk.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Review: Infinity Engine

Title: Infinity Engine
Author: Neal Asher
Pages: 464
ISBN: 9781597808897
Series: Transformation #3
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Published: 21 March 2017
Genre: Science Fiction / Space Opera
Source: eARC from publisher


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

In the outskirts of space, and the far corners of the Polity, complex dealings are in play. Several forces continue to pursue the deadly and enigmatic Penny Royal, none more dangerous than the Brockle, a psychopathic forensics AI and criminal who has escaped the Polity's confinements and is upgrading itself in anticipation of a deadly showdown, becoming ever more powerful and intelligent. Aboard Factory Station Room 101, the behemoth war factory that birthed Penny Royal, groups of humans, alien prador, and AI war drones grapple for control. The stability of the ship is complicated by the arrival of a gabbleduck known as the Weaver, the last living member of the ancient and powerful Atheter alien race. What would an Atheter want with the complicated dealings of Penny Royal? Are the Polity and prador forces playing right into the dark AI's hand, or is it the other way around? Set pieces align in the final book of Neal Asher's action-packed Transformation trilogy, pointing to a showdown on the cusp of the Layden's Sink black hole, inside of which lies a powerful secret, one that could destroy the entire Polity.

Infinity Engine is the final installment in the Transformation trilogy and what a conclusion it is. Wow! Just wow! I ended up reading this till well past midnight and my mind is still left reeling from the experience. In the best possible way.

Watching Penny Royal's intricate machinations unfold is like trying to assemble an ever-evolving 4D puzzle while blindfolded with one hand tied behind your back. Up until the last third of the novel you are never quite sure whether Penny Royal is a force for good or evil. It's only when all the set pieces are moved into place for a tense, breathtaking showdown that you discover the true brilliance of what the AI is attempting to do.
"This was about redemption, about forgiveness, about a need to be understood"
The process of transformation is finally brought to completion, not only for Penny Royal but also for all the characters that crossed its path; for some in the most unexpected ways. The end result is a universe irrevocably altered, transformed into something new with far-reaching implications that will leave you reeling under their impact. Neal Asher has absolutely outdone himself!

The Verdict:
Infinity Engine is a stunning conclusion to the Transformation series. It has all the hallmarks of a Neal Asher novel - devastating technology, massive space battles and stellar destruction on the grandest of scales, but it's also a far more intimate story of growth, redemption and forging your own identity. There are a lot of intricate layers at play in the superbly woven narrative; the myriad transformations will leave you both satisfied and utterly intrigued with the implications for the Polity universe at large. A mind-blowingly brilliant read!

The Rating: 8/10 (Great!)

Thanks to Bri from Night Shade Books for the review copy.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Review: Forsaken Skies

Title: Forsaken Skies
Author: D. Nolan Clark
Pages: 570
ISBN: 9780356507477
Series: The Silence #1
Publisher: Orbit
Published: 6 September 2016
Genre: Science Fiction / Space Opera
Source: Review copy from publisher


Buy it from:
The Book Depository

After centuries of devastating interplanetary civil war, mankind has found a time of relative peace.

That peace is shattered when an unknown armada emerges from the depths of space, targeting an isolated colony planet. As the colonists plead for help, the politicians and bureaucrats look away. But battle-scarred Commander Aleister Lanoe will not abandon thousands of innocents to their fate.

What would you get if you cross Top Gun with Firefly? I imagine the end result is bound to be something like the brilliant Forsaken Skies by D. Nolan Clarke. A motley crew of pilots are called back into action by their old commander to defend a colony on the outskirts of civilization against attacks by a mysterious foe. The interstellar corporations in charge just don’t care about the colony or their backwater planet; its economic value is negligible and protecting the lives of the colonists just doesn’t make economic sense. Profit comes first. Always. Commander Lanoe and his crew are their only hope, but even they might not be up to the task.

From the very first page Forsaken Skies just draws you in with an action-packed narrative that keeps growing in scope as the tangled webs are sculpted into a cohesive whole. The characters are engaging, if not particularly likeable and they all come with their own particular brand of baggage. Lenoe is a grizzled, world-weary veteran tired of life and war. Auster Maggs is a cocky conman trying to live up to his father’s illustrious military legacy while working every angle to enrich himself. Thom is a lost teenager whose world has been turned upside down after learning the truth of his existence. He tries desperately to find a place in the universe while coming to grips with the aftermath of his actions. Ehta lives with a trauma so severe she has lost her ability to fly, the very thing that defined her life. And lastly there is Tannis Valk a former foe of Lanoe’s who suffered severe burns during the previous war while fighting on the losing side.

The tension steadily builds as the true nature of the enemy is slowly revealed culminating in a nail-biting space battle where the severely outnumbered squadron of pilots battle against seemingly insurmountable odds. The ending is heart-wrenching with enough twists along the way to keep you on your toes. As the first novel in a series Forsaken Skies works very well to prepare the groundwork for some fascinating things to come while still providing enough closure to make it a satisfying read on its own.

While I didn’t care all that much about Lenoe I adored Tannis Valk and his arc was definitely the most interesting, but saying anything more would be venturing into the realm of spoilers. Suffice it to say that I can’t wait to discover more. At times Forsaken Skies does suffer from some pacing issues, but it’s still a solid start to a gripping space opera that completely drew me in. If the series manages to build on the groundwork already established we are definitely in for a treat!

The Verdict:
Forsaken Skies is a compelling space opera where you can get completely swept up in the story for hours on end. While it might not offer anything particularly revolutionary it is still a damn good read with loads of promise for what is still to come. After turning the last page I was left in the warm afterglow of a good story well told. And who can ask for more than that? Highly recommended!

The Rating: 8/10 (Great!)


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

Monday, March 13, 2017

New Arrivals: A Small Haul

While technically still part of my February book buying binge these only arrived earlier this month. Most of the books are part of different series I'm busy collecting.

I finally have all the books in the Dark Tower series by Stephen King, although these newer editions don't quite match the first four I own and I'm not very fond of the "Soon to be a major picture" bit on the covers. I also picked up Neal Asher's War Factory. The original plan was to give it a quick re-read before Infinity War goes on sale, but the timing didn't quite work out.

Mark Lawrence's Prince of Fools was on sale so I had to pick it up. Not quite sure what it's about, but I'll find out. Eventually.

And lastly there's The Lazarus War: Origins by Jamie Sawyer. I really enjoyed the first book in the series and had to pick up the second and third book. Unfortunately I ended up ordering the US edition of Origins by mistake which came in the weirdest format I've ever seen. It's the width of a MMPB, but much higher; some weird B-format/MMPB hybrid that doesn't quite fit into either category. At least the content is still the same!


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Review: The Stars Are Legion

Title: The Stars Are Legion
Author: Kameron Hurley
Pages: 396
ISBN: 9780857666611
Publisher: Angry Robot
Published: 2017
Genre: Science Fiction / Space Opera
Source: Purchased


Buy it from:
The Book Depository

Somewhere on the outer rim of the universe, a mass of decaying world-ships known as the Legion is travelling in the seams between the stars. For generations, a war for control of the Legion has been waged, with no clear resolution. As worlds continue to die, a desperate plan is put into motion. Zan wakes with no memory, prisoner of a people who say they are her family. She is told she is their salvation - the only person capable of boarding the Mokshi, a world-ship with the power to leave the Legion. But Zan's new family is not the only one desperate to gain control of the prized ship. Zan must choose sides in a genocidal campaign that will take her from the edges of the Legion's gravity well to the very belly of the world. Zan will soon learn that she carries the seeds of the Legion's destruction - and its possible salvation.

The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley is space opera unlike anything I’ve ever read before. Set on, living organic world-ships, the novel is gross, unsettling, unrelenting and utterly glorious. It deals with life in all of its messy glory. Power lies in flesh, the very lifeblood of the Legion is its people who are used, discarded and recycled in an endless cycle of birth and rebirth where every scrap of meat needs to be retained in order to sustain the closed system. But the decaying world-ships are dying; their fate rests in the hands of Zan, a woman who wakes without memory. Thrust into this unfamiliar world, she has to uncover the truth and the path to salvation for both herself and the Legion as a whole.

Told in the first person from the alternating viewpoints of two main characters Zan and Jayd the story manages to pull you in from the start. For the first third of the novel everything is a bewildering confusion as, like the main protagonist, you are thrust into a completely unfamiliar world while slowly being fed bits of information; information that might be less than trustworthy.
“How awful to lose your knowledge of your world, but to lose knowledge of the universe? The loss overwhelms me.” (p 104)
As Zan slowly uncovers parts of her memory the confusion subsides and the pieces slowly slot into place revealing the truly fascinating world-building on display. The worlds of the Legion are complex, many layered things, both in physical structure and in the social and political machinations at play.

While I enjoyed Zan as a character one of the secondary characters, Casimar, just stole the show. I loved her snark and stubborn worldview which provided some much needed comic relief in an unforgiving world.

The plot ends up being a fairly straightforward story of love, betrayal and revenge, but it’s the journey and the far-reaching revelations imparted along the way that ends up being the most important thing. The powerful message that women control their own bodies and have the right to decide their own destiny is the message our society so desperately needs, especially now.
“What is freedom?” Arankadash says. “It is control of the body, and its issue, and one’s place in the world.” (p 318).
“When you understand what the world is, you have two choices: Become part of that world and perpetuate that system forever and ever, unto the next generation. Or fight it, and break it, and build something new." (p 215)
The ending does not provide all the answers, but it’s a satisfying conclusion that leaves you with a smattering of hope for a far better future. I would gladly read more novels set in this universe, but as a standalone novel it works really well. Kameron Hurley has certainly dealt a deathblow to the notion that females are the weaker sex. These lesbians in space are totally badass!

While I thoroughly enjoyed The Stars are Legion there is one thing that bugs me – the magical restoration of one of Zan’s companions after suffering a near fatal accident. The only explanation given is that a jinni saved her. It doesn’t really make much sense and seems to be a contrived deus ex machina solution in an otherwise intricately plotted story.

The Verdict:
The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley is space opera unlike anything I’ve ever read before. Set on, living organic world-ships, the novel is gross, unsettling, unrelenting and utterly glorious. It carries a strong social message and deals a deathblow to the notion that females are the weaker sex. These women are brutal, devious and totally badass. Be warned though, this is definitely not a tale for the squeamish.

The Rating: 7.5 / 10 (Very good!)

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