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.

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