Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Best Reads of 2015

That's it. 2015 is done and dusted. Well, almost.

Looking back on the year I have to confess that I didn't manage to read nearly as much as I would have liked. With a new full-time job and the added responsibility of my freelance work I've discovered just how precious having time to read can be. My goal for the year was to read 25 books. I thought that it would be a breeze to achieve, but I barely managed to make it. If it wasn't for a brief week-long vacation over December I might have failed miserably.

While my reading might have lacked in quantity it certainly didn't lack in quality. Here are my top 5 reads for the year in no particular order.

THE TRAITOR by Seth Dickinson


For making me care so much about the characters and then betraying me every step of the way. Read full review.

Under Ground by S.L. Grey


For keeping me guessing until the very end. Read full review.

Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds


For its intimate, character-driven story, its epic scope and the utterly haunting ending. Read full review.

Dark Intelligence by Neal Asher


For providing that unique Asher magic - a high-tech, action-packed cinematic space opera extravaganza in book form.

Legion by Brandon Sanderson


For its brilliant concept and the sheer amount of humour and suspense crammed into just 80 pages. Read full review.

***

For future reference here is my Goodreads 2015 infographic:


Here's to a 2016 filled with even more amazing books and enough time to read them all. Happy New Year!


Monday, December 28, 2015

New Release: Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard


Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard
Release date: 29 December 2015
ISBN: 9780765377029
Order a copy from The Book Depository

An historian who speaks with the dead is ensnared by the past. A child who feels no pain and who should not exist sees the future. Between them are truths that will shake worlds.

In a distant future, no remnants of human beings remain, but their successors thrive throughout the galaxy. These are the offspring of humanity's genius-animals uplifted into walking, talking, sentient beings. The Fant are one such species: anthropomorphic elephants ostracized by other races, and long ago exiled to the rainy ghetto world of Barsk. There, they develop medicines upon which all species now depend. The most coveted of these drugs is koph, which allows a small number of users to interact with the recently deceased and learn their secrets.

To break the Fant's control of koph, an offworld shadow group attempts to force the Fant to surrender their knowledge. Jorl, a Fant Speaker with the dead, is compelled to question his deceased best friend, who years ago mysteriously committed suicide. In so doing, Jorl unearths a secret the powers that be would prefer to keep buried forever. Meanwhile, his dead friend's son, a physically challenged young Fant named Pizlo, is driven by disturbing visions to take his first unsteady steps toward an uncertain future.

***

Check back on 5 January when Lawrence M. Schoen will be sharing some of his favourite authors as part of the Barsk Blog Tour.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Hogfather: The Best Bits

Yesterday, in dire need of a comfort read before heading back to work after an all too brief 5-day vacation, I re-read Terry Pratchett's Hogfather. It remains one of my favourite Discworld novels and with it being the season for jolly men in red suits creeping around at night, I couldn't think of a more appropriate time.

Like all the Discworld novels Hogfather is filled with so much wit and hidden wisdom that each reading offers something new to discover. So here, presented with a complete lack of context, is some of the best bits that had me either laughing like a mad man or contemplating our mortal existence - sometimes both at once.

If you haven't read Hogfather yet I recommend that you remedy that situation as soon as possible. It's bloody brilliant!

‘… and then Jack chopped down the beanstalk, adding murder and ecological vandalism to the theft, enticement and trespass charges already mentioned, but he got away with it and lived happily ever after without so much as a guilty twinge about what he had done. Which proves that you can be excused just about anything if you’re a hero, because no one asks inconvenient questions.’

She sighed. Normality was what you made it.

‘Never say die, master. That’s our motto, eh?’ said Albert. I CAN’T SAY IT’S EVER REALLY BEEN MINE.

In Biers, unless you weren’t choosy, it paid to order a drink that was transparent because Igor also had undirected ideas about what you could stick on the end of a cocktail stick. If you saw something spherical and green, you just had to hope that it was an olive.

“Nah, ’s pretty quiet just before Hogswatch,” said the raven, who was trying to fold the red paper between his claws. “You get a lot of gerbils and hamsters and that in a few days, mind. When the kids forget to feed them or try to find out what makes them go.”

"... one of the symptoms of those going completely yo-yo was that they broke out in chronic cats. Usually cats who’d mastered every detail of feline existence except the whereabouts of the dirt box.”

LET’S GET THERE AND SLEIGH THEM. HO. HO. HO.
“Right you are, master.”
THAT WAS A PUNE OR PLAY ON WORDS, ALBERT. I DON’T KNOW IF YOU NOTICED.
“I’m laughing like hell deep down, sir.”
HO. HO. HO.

—and a sword. It was four feet long and glinted along the blade.
The mother took a deep breath.
“You can’t give her that!” she screamed.
“It’s not safe!”
IT’S A SWORD, said the Hogfather. THEY’RE NOT MEANT TO BE SAFE.

Binky was not challenged by the high stairs. It wasn’t that he flew. It was simply that he walked on a ground level of his own devising.

“Clever isn’t the same as sensible,” said Susan, “and they do say that if you wish to walk the path to wisdom then for your first step you must become as a small child.”
“Do you think they’ve heard about the second step?”
Susan sighed. “Probably not, but sometimes they fall over it while they’re running around shouting.”

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head

It really was a crummy room, the sort rented by someone who probably took it never intending to stay long, the sort where walking across the floor in the middle of the night would be accompanied by the crack of cockroaches in a death flamenco. It was amazing how many people spent their whole lives in places where they never intended to stay.

On the simple table by the bed was a small, rather crude portrait of a bulldog in a wig, although on closer inspection it might have been a woman. This tentative hypothesis was borne out by the inscription “To a Good Boy, from his Mother” on the back.

Everyone, it is said, has a book inside them. In this library, everyone was inside a book.

“There are magic wardrobes,” said Violet nervously. “If you go into them, you come out in a magic land.”

“I really should talk to him, sir. He’s had a near-death experience!”
“We all have. It’s called ‘living,’” said the Archchancellor shortly.

IT IS THE THINGS YOU BELIEVE WHICH MAKE YOU HUMAN. GOOD THINGS AND BAD THINGS, IT’S ALL THE SAME.

‘All right,’ said Susan. ‘I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need … fantasies to make life bearable.’
REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.
‘Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—’
YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.
‘So we can believe the big ones?’
YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.
‘They’re not the same at all!’
YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET— Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME … SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.
‘Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—’
MY POINT EXACTLY.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Review: Legion

Title: Legion
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Pages: 69
ISBN: 9781473212633
Series: Legion #1
Publisher: Gollancz
Published: 2015 (first published in 2012)
Genre: Crime/Thriller
Source: Review copy from publisher


Buy it from:
The Book Depository
Takealot.com

Stephen Leeds, AKA 'Legion', is a man whose unique mental condition allows him to generate a multitude of personae: hallucinatory entities with a wide variety of personal characteristics and a vast array of highly specialised skills.

As the story begins, Leeds and his 'aspects' are drawn into the search for the missing Balubal Razon, inventor of a camera whose astonishing properties could alter our understanding of human history and change the very structure of society. The action ranges from the familiar environs of America to the ancient, divided city of Jerusalem. Along the way, Sanderson touches on a formidable assortment of complex questions: the nature of time, the mysteries of the human mind, the potential uses of technology, and the volatile connection between politics and faith.

As clichéd as it may sound dynamite does come in small packages and Legion, Brandon Sanderson’s novella, packs a potent punch. In just 68 pages Sanderson manages to weave a captivating, full-fledged crime thriller with a science fiction twist.

Legion starts off with one of the best opening lines ever: “My name is Stephen Leeds, and I’m perfectly sane. My hallucinations, however, are all quite mad.” With an opening like that I was sucked in completely and only stopped reading until I reached the very last page – the acknowledgements. Yes, I even read the acknowledgements in an effort to prolong the story.

Stephen Leeds, the main protagonist is a brilliant man with a unique mental condition that allows him to conjure up different aspects. These aspects manifest themselves as fully independent hallucinatory characters, each with a specialized skill set of their own. Think along the lines of a schizophrenic Pretender and you’ll get the idea.

Leeds gets hired to track down the inventor of a camera with an astounding property, an ability that could alter humanity’s understanding of history and the very fabric of society if it got into the wrong hands. His search for the camera tackles complex issues like religions, the implications of time travel, privacy and the impact of technology on society.
“At the heart of science is accepting only that truth which can be proven. At the heart of faith is to define Truth, at its core, as being unprovable.” (p 31)
Leeds is a fascinating, engaging character (as is all his aspects) with just enough information given about his mysterious mental condition and his enigmatic past to hook you. The fact that you don’t get all the answers or a full back-story is what makes this such an absorbing read. You keep reading just to discover more pieces of his past, tantalizing titbits which are casually worked in to the story. The relationship between Leeds and all his different aspects is where Legion really shines. They feel like entire characters on their own and the endearing, often hilarious interplay between them will have you laughing like a mad man or, at the very least, put a huge grin on your face.
“... he had the eyes of a killer. Or so he claimed. Perhaps he kept them in his pocket.” (p 2)
“I’m not going more mad,” I said. “I’ve stabilized. I’m practically normal. Even my non-hallucinatory psychiatrist acknowledges that.”
“You keep walking through the middle of J.C.,” I said. “It’s very disturbing for him; he hates being reminded he’s a hallucination.” “I’m not a hallucination,” J.C. snapped. “I have state-of-the-art stealthing equipment.”
The ending resolves the story in a satisfying way, but you are left craving more. Leeds is such a fascinating character that you want to know far more about him than a single novella can provide. And that’s a good thing.

The Verdict:
Legion is a fast, utterly captivating read filled with fascinating characters and hilarious moments that will leave you craving for more. For a novella it packs one heck of a punch, the only downside is that it is so short. I’d gladly devour a thousand page epic filled with Leeds and his adventures. Highly recommended!

The Rating: 7.5/10

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



Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Cover Reveal: The Long Cosmos

The UK cover for the final installment in Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter's Long Earth series, The Long Cosmos, has been unveiled. I really hope that this provides a satisfying conclusion to a series filled with endless wonder and possibilities..


THE LONG COSMOS
Release date: 14 July 2016
ISBN: 9780857521781
Pre-order a copy from The Book Depository

2070-71. Nearly six decades after Step Day and in the Long Earth, the new Next post-human society continues to evolve.
For Joshua Valienté, now in his late sixties, it is time to take one last solo journey into the High Meggers: an adventure that turns into a disaster. Alone and facing death, his only hope of salvation lies with a group of trolls. But as Joshua confronts his mortality, the Long Earth receives a signal from the stars. A signal that is picked up by radio astronomers but also in more abstract ways – by the trolls and by the Great Traversers. Its message is simple but ts implications are enormous:

JOIN US.

The super-smart Next realise that the Message contains instructions on how to develop an immense artificial intelligence but to build it they have to seek help from throughout the industrious worlds of mankind. Bit by bit, byte by byte, they assemble a computer the size of a continent – a device that will alter the Long Earth’s place within the cosmos and reveal the ultimate, life-affirming goal of those who sent the Message. Its impact will be felt by and resonate with all – mankind and other species, young and old, communities and individuals – who inhabit the Long Earths…

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Blind Book Challenge 2015


It's that time of year again* when us mere mortals get the chance to participate in a battle of wits with Tiemen Zwaan, the dastardly mastermind behind the blind book date initiative at the American Book Center in Amsterdam. Yes, folks. It's time for the annual Blind Book Challenge!

For those new to the challenge, the aim of the game is to try to decipher the titles of speculative fiction novels based on cryptic clues. It's kinda like a crossword puzzle - only much, much tougher. Post your answers/guesses in the comments below and see how many titles you can identify correctly.

The correct answers will be revealed at a later date.
  1. Science-Fiction & Fantasy/Nazi X-men/British Warlocks/Well, That Escalated Quickly
  2. Young Adult/Waking Up After Dying/Republic of Texas/Worst Newbie Ever Seen
  3. Science-Fiction/A Tale of Two Sociopaths/Experiment Gone Horribly Wrong/ Ambition, Betrayal and Superpowers
  4. Science-Fiction/Asteroid Colony in Peril/Good-Sammies/Rogue AI
  5. Science-Fiction/A Future Plagued by Drought/Occupation/Young Tea Master
  6. Science-Fiction/Abused Child in a War-torn Universe/Enslaved by Pirates/Surviving into Adulthood
  7. Science-Fiction/Invasion/Telepathic Aliens/A Cure worse than the Disease
  8. Young Adult/ Underground City of Sculpted Faces/Deadly Game of a Crafty Upper Class/A Girl Who Is Too Honest (And Slightly Mad)
  9. Fantasy/Vampire Bookstore Owner/College Campus/A Book Sought by Creeps
  10. Fantasy/Company of Mercenaries/Besieged by the Wild/Hermetical Memory Palace
  11. Fantasy/Ancient China/Mysterious Illness/Scholar with a Slight Flaw
  12. Fantasy/Post Apocalyptic Africa/Skin the Color of Sand/Mystical Journey
  13. Fantasy/Six Stories/One About Painting/All About a Big Fucking Dragon
  14. Young Adult/A Girl That Can't Resist the Library/A Talking Cat/Books That Open New Worlds
  15. Fantasy/Not Your Usual Vampires/Kitsune/Missing Girls
  16. Science-Fiction/Dystopian Japan/Invasion by North Korean Rebels/A Band of Renegade Youths
  17. Science-Fiction/Job of a Lifetime/Hopping from Planet to Planet/An Eclectic and Eccentric Crew
  18. Fantasy/Chain Smoking Novice/A City and a Dead God/Junior Associate at a Necromantic Firm
  19. Science-Fiction/Writer with a Writer's Block/Outspoken Cognitive Neurologist/A Neural Net Reading Great Books
So don your monocles, dust off your magnifying glass, boot up that difference engine and prime your lasers. May the best mind win!

* Actually it's much later than initially planned, but sadly that terrible thing we all have to do in order to fund our book habit got in the way.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Review: The Traitor

Title: The Traitor
Author: Seth Dickinson
Pages: 400
ISBN: 9781447281139
Publisher: Tor
Published: 2015
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher


Buy it from:
The Book Depository

Baru Cormorant believes any price is worth paying to liberate her people - even her soul.

When the Empire of Masks conquers her island home, criminalizes her customs, and murders one of her Fathers, Baru vows to hide her hate, join the Empire's civil service, and claw her way up enough rungs of power to put a stop to the Emperor's influence and set her people free.

As a natural savant, she is sent as an imperial agent to distant Aurdwynn - a post she worries will never get her the position and power she craves. But Baru soon discovers Aurdwynn is a complex and secretive country, seemingly on the brink of rebellion. All it would need is a match to the tinder . . .

Drawn by the intriguing duchess Tain Hu into a circle of seditious aristocrats, Baru may be able to use her position to stoke a revolution that will threaten to bring the Empire to its knees.
As Baru maintains a precarious balance between the rebels and a shadowy cabal within the Empire, she orchestrates a do-or-die gambit with Aurdwynn's freedom as the prize. But winning the long game of saving her own people may be far more costly than Baru imagines.

Seth Dickinson’s debut novel, The Traitor (published as The Traitor Baru Cormorant in the US) is a smart, brutal, multilayered fantasy novel which manages to subvert your expectations every step of the way.

The story centres around Baru Cormorant, an intensely intelligent, witty and perceptive female character as she is transformed from an innocent little girl into a ruthless tool to be wielded by her country’s conquerors. It’s this transformation and the turmoil she undergoes, both physically and emotionally that makes Baru such an engaging character. From the start she has to make ruthless choices in order to bring her vow of vengeance - to fight the Empire from within - to fruition. But betraying the Empire also means that she has to betray herself and her very nature. What happens when you can’t separate yourself from the mask you wear?

“It’s not what the Masquerade does to you that you should fear...
It’s what the Masquerade convinces you to do to yourself.” (page 187)


The Traitor is beautifully written with superb world building and characterisation that truly shines. The world is filled with complex, engaging characters that will crawl into your heart and leave you an emotional wreck by the end. While the pacing is slow initially, it ramps up steadily as events draw to a head. And it’s with the breathtaking finale when all the political intrigue, the betrayals and machinations come full circle that The Traitor will blow you away.

Even after being forewarned the ending is a brutal punch to the gut which will leave you shell-shocked and emotionally drained. Not many novels can manage to surprise you even when you are fully expecting the twist, but Dickinson manages to do just that in the most harrowing way.

I can’t wait to see what the next instalment has to offer; it’s going to be tough to top this. But first I think I might need a year or two to recover . . .

The Verdict:
The Traitor is a smart, brutal, multilayered fantasy novel filled with political intrigue and complex, engaging characters. The ending is brutal and harrowing in the best possible way. If you are looking for a fantasy novel that offers something different from the norm, then this is most definitely it. Highly recommended!

The Rating: 8/10 (Great)

Thanks to Eileen from Pan Macmillan S.A. for providing the review copy.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

On My Radar: Solar Express

Today sees the publication of L.E. Modesitt, Jr.’s Solar Express a hard science fiction novel which forms part of the NASA-Inspired Works of Fiction (NIWoF), an initiative by Tor/Forge and NASA to use science fiction as an educational tool to showcase the endless possibilities of NASA's current and future work - to ignite that spark of curiosity and wonder in the scientists of tomorrow.


SOLAR EXPRESS by L.E. Modesitt J.R.
ISBN: 9780765381958
Release date: 3 November 2015
Order a copy

You cannot militarize space.

This one rule has led to decades of peaceful development of space programs worldwide. However, increasing resource scarcity and a changing climate on Earth's surface is causing some interested parties to militarize, namely India, the North American Union, and the Sinese Federation.

The discovery of a strange artifact by Dr. Alayna Wong precipitates a crisis. What appears to be a hitherto undiscovered comet is soon revealed to be an alien structure on a cometary trajectory toward the sun. Now there is a race between countries to see who can study and control the artifact dubbed the "Solar Express" before it perhaps destroys itself.

Leading the way for the North American Union on what may be a one-way mission is Alayna's friend, Captain Christopher Tavoian, one of the first shuttle pilots to be trained for combat in space. But, as the alien craft gets closer to its destination, it begins to alter the surface of the sun in wondrous new ways; ways that could lead Alayna to revolutionary discoveries—provided Chris can prevent war from breaking out as he navigates among the escalating tensions between nations.


***

I'm a huge space geek, so I can't wait to see how this novel turns out. Knowing NASA's influence I'm sure there will be loads of acronyms (they do love their acronyms!), but the best part of hard science fiction novels is that you end up learning so much about the real world while exploring fictional worlds that could very possibly be our future playgrounds.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Partial Eclipse of the Sun

Time for something a little bit different. Today those of us living in South Africa had the opportunity to see a partial eclipse of the sun (around 30-40% depending on location). The conditions were less than ideal with high-level cloud and lots of wind, but I managed to capture a few photos. So for those of you interested in astronomy here are some eclipse pictures.








If I've lost my sight after taking these, you'll all know why...*

* To clarify: All necessary precautions were taken. Images were captured through a telescope fitted with a solar filter.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Five years of blogging!

Today* marks the 5th anniversary of Worlds in Ink. Normally I would let the occasion pass without any fanfare**, but five years of blogging is quite an achievement. In blog-years it means the blog is practically a geriatric! That deserves at least a bit of celebration.

I’ve never been a very prolific blogger, but by some miracle I’ve been able to keep at it for much longer than I’ve ever thought possible. I must confess that I have a torturous relationship with writing. I love reading. No doubt about that, but when it comes to writing I tend to overthink everything. Every word has to be carefully chosen. A simple 400 word review can take me hours to write and quite often it’s just never as good as it was in my mind. I can’t tell you how many reviews never make it past my own expectations as a result.

Over the past five years Worlds in Ink has grown beyond my wildest expectations. I’ll never be nominated for a Hugo, but I’m still pretty proud of what I’ve managed to achieve. The highlight of my blogging career has to be interviewing two of my favourite authors. I adore the Neal Asher's science fiction novels  and in 2011 I got to interview him after the launch of his Owner Trilogy. He's not just an amazing science fiction author, but also a great person who loves interacting with his fans. Late last year I had the chance to interview the author that, arguably, started me on the road that led to my love of fantasy, Raymond E. Feist himself! How can I ever be top that?

There were some unexpected highlights too – having my blurb featured in the Earth Unaware promo video literally sent chills down my spine when I first saw it. I had no idea it would be included and innocently stumbled upon the video late one night. I think that gave me a high that lasted for the better part of a week.



The blog wouldn’t be where it is today if it wasn’t for the awesome publicists and publishers who took a chance on a fledgling blog and who still spoil me with the most amazing book releases. A huge thank you to the folks at Pan Macmillan SA, Jonathan Ball Publishers, Umuzi, Penguin Random House, Tor UK, Tor, Forge, Hodder, Gollancz, Solaris and Tachyon Press. Words aren’t adequate to express my gratitude. Thank you for the squee of delight each and every bookish parcel provides to my life. I wish I could review titles much quicker than I’m currently able to. I promise I’ll try harder.

Thank you to the great community of fellow bloggers I’ve discovered over the years. You guys (and gals!) are so much better at this than I am. Thank you for giving me something to strive for and thanks for all the silly Twitter banter.

And lastly thank you to each and every visitor to the blog. Thanks for dropping by and sharing in my thoughts. Without you I might as well be screaming into the void. It’s good to know that someone out there cares.

I’m not sure what the future holds for the blog. Work commitments keep me extremely busy, so my blog output might be even more sporadic than usual, but it’s good to know that I have this amazing community of book lovers to return to. May Worlds in Ink remain my constant beacon in the darkness, my gateway to other worlds filled with wonders beyond measure. A place I can call my own and share with all of you.

* Via the temporal magic know as a scheduled post.
** Quite possibly because I tend to forget birthdays and anniversaries on a regular basis. Including, but not limited to, those of my own blog.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Review: Under Ground

Title: Under Ground
Author: S.L. Grey
Pages: 352
ISBN: 9781447266488
Publisher: Macmillan
Published: 2015
Genre: Thriller
Source: Review copy from publisher


Buy it from:
The Book Depository

The Sanctum is a luxurious, self-sustaining survival condominium situated underground in rural Maine. It's a plush bolt-hole for the rich and paranoid - a place where they can wait out the apocalypse in style. When a devastating super-flu virus hits the States, several families race to reach it. All have their own motivations for entering The Sanctum. All are hiding secrets.

But when the door locks and a death occurs, they realize the greatest threat to their survival may not be above ground - it may already be inside . . .

What could be more terrifying than a deadly pandemic? For the inhabitants of The Sanctum, a luxurious underground condominium it’s the realisation that they are trapped with a murderer on the prowl.

Under Ground is superb psychological thriller written by the writing duo of Louis Greenberg and Sarah Lotz and centers around a disparate group of characters as they take refuge inside The Sanctum. It soon becomes apparent that The Sanctum is hardly the haven the brochures promised. Their doomsday hideaway turns into a living nightmare when a body is discovered. Not only does it mean that there’s a killer on the loose, but the residents are trapped inside the bunker with no way out.

As the situation spirals out of control everyone becomes a suspect. The claustrophobic environment, constant fear and uncertainty take their toll on the characters. When the veneer of civilization falls apart desperation can lead people to do terrible things. There are no monsters here, only men, but as we all know mankind is the most ruthless monster of them all.

The large cast of characters are captivating, a microcosm of our society crammed into the confines of The Sanctum, each offering their own secrets and motivations to discover. While some characters ran the danger of becoming stereotypes (the religious zealot hillbillies, the Asian gamer) they were still engaging and perhaps, on a deeper level, a very deliberate commentary on our current society. The first person narrative helps to get the reader into the mind of each character and with very little exposition allows the world and events to unfold in a seamless way.

Being a murder mystery, S.L. Grey manages to deftly weave an ocean’s worth of red herrings into the narrative. Just when you think you’ve finally figured out who the killer is something happens to disabuse you of that notion. It’s only at the very end, when the identity of the murderer is finally revealed, that you discover it’s the very last person you’d ever suspect.

Where Under Ground truly shines is in the unexpected open-ended finale. I was completely blown away by the ending. While some people might not find it very satisfying I loved the fact that it can be interpreted in so many different ways. A second life indeed!

The Verdict:
Under Ground is a fast-paced psychological thriller that will keep you trapped in its claustrophobic grip from the very first page of the spine-chilling prologue until the stunning, open-ended finale. If you are looking for a murder mystery with a post-apocalyptic twist, then look no further. Highly recommended!

The Rating: 7/10 (Very Good)

Thanks to Eileen from Pan Macmillan S.A. for providing the review copy.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

First Look At The Shannara Chronicles

There is only one word to describe this first look at The Shannara Chronicles - "WOW!". Based on the visuals this is going to be a series of epic scale to rival even Game of Thrones.

I can't wait to see this.


Monday, July 6, 2015

Excerpt: Dark Orbit

Today I have a rather special treat - an excerpt of the intriguing Dark Orbit by Carolyn Ives Gilman.  If the exploration of strange worlds and alien creatures are your thing this might just be the novel for you.

A team of scientists are sent to investigate an extraordinary crystalline planet, laden with dark matter and thought to be uninhabited. Then a crew member is murdered and Thora mysteriously disappears. Deep in the canyons of the planet she discovers a blind, sentient species which she must learn to comprehend in order to warn the rest of her crewmates of impending danger. But her most difficult task may be persuading the crew that some powers lie beyond the boundaries of science.

Dark Orbit is out on 17 July from Tor. Below you can read the entire first chapter, but that opening paragraph certainly did the trick for me.


chapter one

In the course of Saraswati Callicot’s vagabond career, she had been disassembled and brought back to life so many times, the idea of self-knowledge had become a bit of a joke. The question was, which self should she aspire to know? The one she had left behind on the planet of Andaman nine years (and one subjective second) ago? Or the ones whose molecules she had left elsewhere, strewn across the Twenty Planets in a zigzag as detoured as her life? Since she was now comprised of an entirely different set of atoms than she had been a breath ago, could she really claim to be the same person?

“Welcome to Capella Two,” said the technician. It was her cue to clear out of the translation chamber so he could assemble another migrant waiting in the queue. Too weary to think of a cheeky retort, she slid off the metal slab where she had been reconstituted and followed a sign into a waiting room of truly stunning banality. A medtech gave her a drink that tasted vaguely of mango, to restore her fluid balance, then left her to wait until they could be certain she was not about to have some actionable medical complication. The upholstery on the chairs was worn and splitting, the tile floor was so scuffed it had lost any color, the shuffle of travelers in and out was constant.

Traveling by lightbeam was not hard; arriving was the problem. She still had to steel herself against that feeling of having dropped into a bewildering future, jerked out of the continuity of time, out of step with everyone else. Even with endless experience, she still felt like an anachronism until she accounted for the years everyone else had lived, and she had spent as a beam of clarified light.

It had been five years in her subjective time since she had left Capella Two. She struggled to calculate how many years in elapsed time. Twenty-three, she decided. Not a terribly long absence. But Capella Two was so addicted to change, so avid for every novelty and innovation, that twenty-three years here could be like a hundred on another planet. She supposed this was home, as much as any place was, since she was a graduate of UIC, and that would always give her an automatic entry card. But Capella did not arouse any patriotic loyalties or emotional attachments in her. Being Capellan was not so much an ethnicity as an attitude. You could carry it anywhere.

A technician who looked far too young to trust came by with a handheld monitor to measure Sara’s heartbeat, brain function, and immune status, then gave her a vaccination update and waved her on. Down the hall she joined a line of new arrivals being processed through immigration. In line ahead of her, a teenage girl with skin dyed crimson and silver stared at her a few moments, then turned to whisper to her indigo companion. Sara recognized the evidence that she was a walking fashion antique. She would have to buy new clothes. Again.

When she reached the head of the line, the immigration agent gestured her to look in an eyepiece, where she was treated to a startling view of her own retina. “Magister Callicot?” the young agent said politely, studying the display on his terminal. Sara admitted it, though she never used the title. “UIC,” he went on in a friendly tone. “Class of—Wow.” His eyes widened at the date. He looked like he had barely been born when she had last left Capella Two.

“You’ll need to pick up an identity chit at the security kiosk in the concourse,” he told her.

“Identity chit?”

“Your security clearance,” he explained. “It’s got your arrest record, outstanding warrants, restraining orders, that sort of thing. Don’t worry, all of yours are old as the hills.”

She didn’t know whether to feel reassured or insulted. After picking up her backpack, which had come through the low-resolution receiver, she stopped in a bathroom just to make sure that the lightbeam translator had put her back together right. She looked reassuringly similar to the old Saraswati—rangy, big-jointed body that had seen its share of misadventures; black hair in a braid down her back; long, lean face with deep parentheses on either side of her mouth and river deltas of wrinkles fanning out from her eyes. She had always considered her face a kind of practical joke on her. It was a reckless, generous, kind, unlucky face.

Sara had grown up in a Balavati family, which meant she had been taught to reject all articles of faith except disrespect for authority, the lodestone of her life. But it was hard to survive serial resurrection without entertaining thoughts of the perpetual cycle of birth, suffering, death, and rebirth. Nothing is constant but change, her Buddhist ancestors might have said. She understood it in her reduplicated bones.

The concourse was new—a bright mall bristling with surveillance cameras. The security kiosk was open but Sara ignored it on principle, since it seemed to represent authority. She stopped to withdraw some cash from an old account, but passed up the information vendors, relying on her old knowledge of how to get around Paratuic. As she neared the glass doors, the way was lined with protection franchises renting out weapons and electronic alarm devices, each claiming to answer calls faster and cheaper than the next booth.

Outside, the daylight had the familiar orange tone lent by the presence of the gas giant Gomb in the sky, but otherwise the landscape was strange. Sara stood staring at the distant gray mountains—the rim wall of an ancient crater, she realized. She was not in Paratuic.

“Looking for a security convoy?” a man in a uniform asked.

“What city is this?” Sara said.

The man’s face took on that uniquely Capellan smile that meant I’ll help you for a price. Nothing was free on Capella Two, least of all information. Sara paid the man, and he said, “You’re in Onowac. They moved the waystation here twelve years ago. Been gone a while?”

“Yeah.” With a sinking feeling, Sara realized she would have to buy some hotel information. “Listen, is there a Waster enclave nearby?”

The man looked silently helpful. More money changed hands. At least it was preferable to paying a corporation. “Sure. Join convoy three. They’ll get you there safe.”

At a price, no doubt. Sara waved away the offer to carry her backpack, and set out toward the convoy lines.

Convoy three turned out to be an overworked and sagging armored bus. The driver demanded Sara’s identity chit, but was content with a few bills instead. Sara stared out the grimy window as the bus passed the razor-wire perimeter of the waystation into the city. The architecture of mercantilism had changed. Gone were the plate-glass windows showing off wares for sale, replaced by brick-faced stores with large-screen video displays to attract shoppers. As the bus waited at an intersection, Sara watched the larger-than-life image of a model undulate through a magically changing set of clothes and skin colors.

Sara got off the bus at an intersection where the driver claimed four hotels were located, though it took her several minutes to realize that their only street-level manifestations were registration machines behind sliding security doors. As she approached one of them, the slot on the wall lit up helpfully, INSERT IDENTITY CHIT. There seemed to be no way of speaking with a human being. It probably cost extra anyway.

The jostle of passersby had paused, leaving a conspicuous space around her. She looked up to see two alarmingly large men in nondescript business suits approaching her purposefully. She faced them, backpack to the wall. Their pockets had embroidered logos for WAC, one of the giant infocompanies.

“Saraswati Callicot?” the larger of the two said.

“Who wants to know?” Old Capellan habits came back fast.

“We’re here to escort you to WAC headquarters,” the man said.

“Why?”

Delegate Gossup’s orders.”

Delegate Gossup. The title meant that Sara’s old faculty advisor was on his way to becoming one of the most powerful men on Capella Two. “How did you know where to find me?” she asked.

The big man gave her a pitying look. “We work for WAC, ma’am.”

That was the other side of an information economy: absolutely anything about you was for sale, at the right price.

The silent security man took her backpack, and the talkative one gave her a WAC logo badge with an embedded tracer chip. “Wear this. In case we get separated.”

“What’s all this security paranoia about?” Sara asked.

“Crime. Terrorism. They’ve been pretty bad.”

“Have they thought about restricting weapons?” she asked mischievously. “It works on other planets.”

The man didn’t find it funny. “That would drive the security industry out of business,” he said coldly. “Follow me.”

Sara followed, dropping the WAC badge into an inside pocket. She was damned if she was going to walk around looking like a product.

They headed for the nearest public wayport. She had expected them to try to impress her by leading her in through the opulent WAC headquarters lobby, but what they did was even more impressive. While one security man stood by to discourage ordinary travelers from approaching, the other fitted a chip into the wayport controls, overriding its destination programming. There was a brief frisson of transubstantiation, and Sara stepped out into the private administration floor of WAC. It was a world of wood paneling and silence, all footsteps swallowed by the deep wine-colored carpet that seemed to silently reproach her Andaman mudboots. The security man led her down a discreet back hall to a door with inlaid malachite designs, and knocked. Then, without so much as a moment in a waiting room, Sara stepped in.

The office was restrained and elegant, decorated in geometric black and gray, with bonsai in recessed niches under grow-lights. One wall held the best window simulation Sara had ever seen, tuned to a picture of Capella Two itself, as if from high in a tower, looking out on a pinkish sunset cityscape. The man who rose from behind the black enamel desk matched the room: tall, impeccably cultured, serenely Vind. The carnelian caste-stone in his forehead was the only decoration he wore, if it was a decoration. His close-cropped hair had gone entirely silver, a sight that gave Sara a shock of surprise. He had always seemed immortal, unchanging, one of the few stable points in a flowing universe.

Banter—that was what she needed to counter the subtle intimidation of this setting. “Are you sure I should be here, Magister?” she said. “This place oozes oligarchy.”

Delegate Gossup did not smile—that would have disturbed the surface of his calm detachment. But he said, “Sara, welcome. It is refreshing as always to see you. And your timing is impeccable.”

“Well, I’m glad something’s impeccable about me,” she said. The room was trying its best to make her feel scruffy.

“You are genuine as always,” Gossup said, searching her face with a gaze like deep, still water. “That is a rare commodity here. Rare and valuable.”

“I ought to open a franchise,” Sara said.

Gossup gestured her to a seat on the settee. “Can I offer you a drink?”

Knowing who was paying, Sara tried to think of the most rarefied luxury she could imagine. “Single-malt whiskey,” she said. “Neat.”

The Vind’s eyebrow went up a millimeter, but he activated the terminal in the coffee table and placed the order. A glass instantly substantiated in a niche next to her. Sara sank into the cushion facing the window. She saw now that little silvery fish were swimming in among the buildings of the city, and a giant jellyfish was rising into the sky. It looked perfectly natural.

“So, you’re on the Magisterium now?” she said, emboldened by the golden glowing liquid slipping down her throat.

“For the past fourteen years. I was recently elected to the steering committee.” There was no joy in his voice. It was no wonder he looked tired and aged.

“But you’re still working for WAC?”

“Not at the moment. Today, I am acting on behalf of a … third party. WAC is providing some resources.”

“And doing it very well,” Sara said, stretching out her legs, savoring the comfort her well-used body felt. She had just noticed the almost subliminal sound effect of wind in pine needles. It made the room seem more spacious than it was. “Are you going to tell me who this mysterious third party is, or do you want me to guess?”

Gossup hesitated, caught off guard by such directness. In her place, another ethnic Vind would have probed subtly for half an hour, while he parried, without either of them coming to the point. “That depends,” he said, “on whether you are going to accept the job I am going to offer you.”

So that was what this was about. But the news only sharpened her curiosity: he could have offered her a job in a far less dramatic way.

With a show of weariness, she said, “What a trial to be so employable. I was actually hoping for some downtime.”

“I take it you have not been in touch with the university yet.”

There was something in his delicate manner that made her take notice. “No, why?”

“There was an unfortunate difficulty with the data you sent back from Andaman.”

This time she did sit up. “What sort of difficulty?”

“Some of the ethnobotanical data you collected proved to have a high value for the pharmaceutical industry.”

“No shit,” she said, pleased. Visions of royalties danced in her head, perhaps lucrative ones.

“Unfortunately, there were certain interest groups on Andaman who claimed the information had been … improperly appropriated. They brought a cultural patrimony suit in the Court of a Thousand Peoples.”

“That’s ridiculous!” Sara said, stung at this slur to her professionalism. “I followed every protocol.”

“Unfortunately, the paperwork was … not quite in order.”

She had been meaning to take care of that as soon as she arrived home. It was not really out of order, just in a transitional state of creative chaos. But she had not expected the information to be truly valuable; that raised the bar on dotting i’s and crossing t’s. Sara downed the rest of her drink in a fiery gulp and set the glass down with deliberate care. “When does the case go to trial?”

“It was settled six years ago.”

“Without my testimony?”

Gossup nodded. “It couldn’t wait. WAC and the university lost a great deal of money. They had to return all the information you collected.”

Five years of work, gone. Wasted. Even the time limit for appeals had expired. She wanted to protest, but knew it would be useless. It was the theme of her life: dreams snatched away just as they seemed attainable. She laid her head back against the cushiony leather and stared at the ceiling.

“Under the circumstances,” Gossup said delicately, “WAC and the university are not eager to renew your contract.”

“No, I guess not,” Sara said dully.

“That is why I thought you might be receptive to another opportunity.”

In fact, she could scarcely refuse, no matter how unsavory the job. She brought her gaze down from the ceiling to his face, and their eyes met for a long few seconds. Was he acting as her benefactor, or as an opportunist seizing advantage of the situation? She wanted to challenge him, to strike out at someone. But even so, she was the first to look away.

“Would you like another drink?” he asked politely.

“Yes,” Sara said, against her better judgment. One always needed one’s wits when dealing with Gossup, especially if negotiations were in order. But what the hell, she thought, I have nothing to negotiate with.

“Is it illegal, or just immoral?” she said.

“What?”

“The job you want me to do.” Why else would he turn to a down-at-luck Balavati?

“Neither,” he said smoothly. “In fact, I believe you may find it stimulating.”

Bending over the coffee table terminal, Gossup activated a security shield. The background sound suddenly cut off. Sara felt static electricity on her hands and neck, and a prickle of alertness inside, despite the whiskey.

The words he said next changed everything. “It is not widely known yet, but we have recently received a communication from one of the questships.”

It was something that only happened once a generation, if that. Centuries ago, the ancestors of humankind had sent out a fleet of robot questships in search of habitable planets to receive the seeds of the human diaspora. The origins of the grand scheme had been lost in the demise of Capella One; no one knew how many ships there were, or where they had gone. They crossed the desert of space in mute hibernation, communicating only when they had found something. It had been over a hundred years since a questship had woken from its slumber and called home, and everyone had begun to accept that there were none left to hear from.

“A new planet?” Sara asked. “A habitable one?”

“Yes,” Gossup said.

“Inhabited?” For that was the great mystery: often the planets the questships found already supported human communities. Somehow, a first diaspora had taken place in a time so remote as to be lost to knowledge.

“We are uncertain as yet,” Gossup said. “If the planet is inhabited, then it is at such a primitive stage that evidence of it cannot be detected from orbit. But we are inclined to be skeptical.”

After soaring, Sara’s hopes sank back. To be a member of a First Contact team would have been the reward of a lifetime.

“But the planetary system has other attributes that make it extremely interesting. You may recall from your elementary physics that some ninety-six percent of the universe is comprised of something we cannot detect.”

“Dark matter—or was it dark energy?”

“Both. We can only observe their effects on the four percent of the universe we can see, but we know virtually nothing of their nature. ‘Dark matter’ is a misnomer; it is probably not matter. It interacts with nothing we can see, except on the largest scale. You cannot shine any light on it, because it interacts with no form of energy we know. You cannot build a detector, because it does not collide with normal particles. It casts no shadow on our world. Gravity is the only reason we know it exists, for we can detect its cumulative warping effect on the shape of space. But that tells us nothing of its nature.

“It seems that this new planet is embedded in a region of space that contains an odd concentration of dark matter. We know this because the light from a distant galaxy is very slightly bent, or lensed, in passing through the space around this otherwise unremarkable star. And also because the questship seems to have encountered something on its approach—a gravitational anomaly which gave it a good deal of trouble. We are still analyzing the data to reconstruct the circumstances.”

“But the ship is still functioning?”

“Oh yes. Its internal diagnostics indicate that it is quite intact. A lucky thing, because as you might expect, the physicists are very eager to get out there and begin their research.”

Yes, Sara could imagine that. They would go, even though the lightbeam receiver on the ship was centuries old, the ship itself in questionable condition, the space around it full of anomalies. There would be no shortage of volunteers. It was the mysterious power of this driving will to know.

Knowledge is our wealth, our honor, our sacrament, Sara thought. It drives us to give up family, home, and place in time for its sake. Would we also sacrifice our lives, like ancient martyrs longing to see the face of God? Is knowledge that sacred to us?

“Would you go, if you had the chance?” Gossup asked, and then Sara knew the answer.

“Yes,” she said.

“It is fifty-eight light-years away,” he said.

Farther than any other discovered planet. A 116-year round trip to be deducted from her life. Exile—but exile on a new planet. “I’ll still go,” she said. “If you need an exoethnologist. But if there is no native population…”

There was a secretive look on his face, and she knew that was not what he wanted her for. “All right,” she said, impatient with his Vind indirection, “what is it?”

“Epco won the contract and is assembling an expedition now—”

“Epco? You’re recruiting for an Epco expedition? Is that the third party you’re working for?” The rivalry between the two great infocompanies, WAC and Epco, was legendary, and Gossup had always been on the WAC side. Come to think of it, they were sitting in the heart of WAC headquarters now. No wonder he had activated the security screen.

“No,” he said. “The third party is…” He paused, searching for the right words. “Myself. I have a personal favor to ask.”

Being able to do a personal favor for a member of the Magisterium was not a bad position to be in, not bad at all. Sara waited, afraid to ruin it with an incautious word.

“I have a young relative who is to be on the expedition team. She has been through a bad time recently, and I would like someone to be there to look after her, and keep me informed as to her well-being. Her name is Thora Lassiter.” He glanced at Sara to see if she had any reaction to the name, but it rang no bells.

“What did she do?” Sara said.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Well, a Vind of the ruling caste—one of the Ral lineage, no less—being sent to the far edges of the universe … I’d say you were trying to get rid of her.”

For a moment he looked like he was going to deny it, but then thought better of it. “She was an emissary to Orem when she suffered a health crisis, a mental breakdown. The place where she was posted was too primitive to diagnose her correctly; when she heard voices, they imagined she was receiving revelations from a god. In such isolation, she came to believe it, too. There was a mystical sect that embraced her as a prophet, creating a religious revival and a volatile political situation. You can find out the details if you are curious. Suffice it to say, there was turmoil and backlash, and we had to evacuate her in such a way as to convince the Oreman faithful that she was dead. Since then, she has undergone reconstructive treatment and is quite cured. But now we are in negotiations with the new Oreman regime, and her story complicates the diplomacy considerably. Altogether, it is safer and simpler to have her out of the picture.”

“Wow.” When Vind elites got in trouble, they really got in trouble. Sara already liked this renegade. She wondered if the woman herself had had any choice in the way the situation had been handled. Probably not; Vinds of that status were created to serve. Still, why didn’t they just ship her back to their home planet of Vindahar? Sending her fifty-eight years into the future seemed a rather permanent way to get rid of a temporary problem. Almost like a punishment. Or a cover-up.

Sara wanted to know more, but she was not going to learn more by asking. It was extraordinary that Gossup had told her this much, and was willing to put her in a position to learn the rest, as he must know she would try to do. Any glimpse into the closely guarded world of Vind power politics was too enticing for a Balavati to pass up. Not to mention that scandalous information about a powerful family could be sold for a lot of money. Enough to finance a retirement.

Sara looked at her patron’s face, silhouetted against the rosy ersatz sky. Could she betray him? She had always considered herself cheerfully amoral, culturally relative to the bone. Conscience needed to adapt; morality was contextual. Yet she had never had a temptation that really mattered. She had never owned information that could transform her from a gypsy outsider into a player, a person who could reach the levers of true power.

“Do you trust me?” she asked.

He considered carefully before answering. “I trust you to act in the way I think you will.”

“And what’s that?”

“If I told you, it would affect the outcome.”


He was deep water under a glassy surface: an intricate mind, complexities turned in upon themselves. Perhaps betrayal was already part of his plan.

“All right,” she said. “So what’s my cover story?”

It turned out that her contract would be with the Magisterium, though only she and the director of the expedition would know that. Her secret reports would be sent by instantaneous transmission directly to Gossup; but in the meantime there would actually be some useful work for her. “Epco wants an independent observer to assess the internal dynamics of the research team,” Gossup told her.

Hugely amused, Sara said, “I get to study the interactions of a bunch of scientists locked up together on a questship?”

“I thought it might interest you.”

It was a topic she had some experience with. Exoteric science was her specialty. She had studied all sorts of scientific traditions—all but her own. “It’s as good as a pass into the locker room.”

With a warning glance, Gossup said, “Epco needs useful managerial analysis.”

“I’ll bone up on some management theory,” Sara promised, but her grin belied her show of sincerity.

They settled on a handsome price for Sara’s services, and Gossup gave her the name of the Epco recruiter who would accept her application without question. From now on, she would appear to be an Epco employee.

When Sara rose to leave, Gossup asked, “Where are you staying?”

She remembered the world outside then. It was easy to forget in here, cradled by wealth. “I don’t know,” she said. “The hotels seem to be requiring résumés these days.”

“My secretary will get you a room,” Gossup said. “Just give him your identity chit.” Sara shrugged quizzically and held up her hands. Gossup shook his head with professorial impatience. “Sara, you can’t go around arbitrarily disobeying rules. Some of them are for your own good.”

“I didn’t realize the planet had adopted universal surveillance.”

“It’s the price we pay for a free society. Here, give me your thumbprint and I’ll get you a chit.”

Hopelessly caught, Sara pressed her thumb against the scanpad.

Before long the security man returned, carrying her new chit and her backpack—probably well searched by now, Sara thought. As she was about to step out the malachite door, a tug of reluctance made her pause and glance back, her hand on the ebony doorjamb. It was then that it struck her: the interview had been stage-managed with a feather touch to manipulate her. All her life, Sara’s declared persona had been as an iconoclast, a disputatious romantic, a brave enemy of elitism. She had studied the exercise of power in order to expose its flaws and inner contradictions, those channels by which to subvert it. And yet, in the end, access to the inner sanctum appealed to her immensely. It wasn’t just the power; she savored the aesthetics, the refinement, taste, and civility. She enjoyed being in this patrician world—not of it, mind, not taken in—but as participant observer. And Gossup had known she would jump to seize the slightest thread of access to it. Every detail of this interview said so.

Sellout, she thought to herself. But it was without youthful rancor. Her patron was watching. “What is it, Sara?” he asked.

“I was thinking that I dwell in moral ambiguity.”

“A fairer house than prose,” Gossup replied obscurely.

“Maybe for you it is.”

“I have not asked you to do anything compromising.”

“It’s not what I’m doing,” Sara said. “It’s knowing why I’m doing it.”

Copyright © 2015 by Carolyn Ives Gilman

CAROLYN IVES GILMAN is a Nebula and Hugo Award–nominated writer of science fiction and fantasy. Her novels include Halfway Human and the two-volume novel Isles of the Forsaken and Ison of the Isles. Her short fiction appears in many Best of the Year collections and has been translated into seven languages. She lives in Washington, D.C., and works for the National Museum of the American Indian.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Review: Slow Bullets

Title: Slow Bullets
Author: Alastair Reynolds
Pages: 192
ISBN: 9781616961930 / 9781473218420
Publisher: Tachyon Publications / Gollancz
Published: 2015 / 2017
Genre: Science Fiction / Novella
Source: Review copy from publisher


From the author of the Revelation Space series comes an interstellar adventure of war, identity, betrayal, and the preservation of civilization itself.

A vast conflict, one that has encompassed hundreds of worlds and solar systems, appears to be finally at an end. A conscripted soldier is beginning to consider her life after the war and the family she has left behind. But for Scur—and for humanity—peace is not to be.

On the brink of the ceasefire, Scur is captured by a renegade war criminal, and left for dead in the ruins of a bunker. She revives aboard a prisoner transport vessel. Something has gone terribly wrong with the ship.

Passengers—combatants from both sides of the war—are waking up from hibernation far too soon. Their memories, embedded in bullets*, are the only links to a world which is no longer recognizable. And Scur will be reacquainted with her old enemy, but with much higher stakes than just her own life.

Buy it from:
The Book Depository
Gollancz Hardcover Edition

Slow Bullets, the new novella by Alastair Reynolds is space opera condensed into one of its most potent forms. Mystery, conflict, crisis, strange aliens and a story of interstellar scope - you’ll find it all crammed into a little under 200 pages. Never has that old adage about small packages been truer.

I don’t really want to go into details about the premise which makes it incredibly difficult to adequately write this review. This is one of those narratives where you really need to go in blind and join the characters on their journey as they slowly uncover the full extent of the situation they find themselves in. The impact of this story relies on experiencing the jarring sense of dislocation first-hand.

The story is told in the first-person from the viewpoint of Scur, a female soldier, who inadvertently ends up as one of the leadership figures onboard the Caprice, a FTL skipship. With no idea how she got there she slowly uncovers the truth behind the dire situation the Caprice and its passengers find themselves in. While trying to come to terms with their predicament she has to find a way to keep the peace, balancing her desire for vengeance with that of survival.

There is a poignant moment very reminiscent of Fahrenheit 451 where the occupants of the Caprice are asked to sacrifice their entire identities, the only tangible ties they have left to their past in order to preserve a small part of civilization for the future.
“...we have the chance to make a difference. But we have to give up what we are. We have to sever ourselves from the past. From everything that mattered to us once, everything that made us what we are. We have to let that go.” Taken out of context like this, it doesn't provide a real sense of what they give up, but once you've read the novella you'll understand what a massive sacrifice it turns out to be.

Slow Bullets is an intimate, character-driven story that manages to draw you into the very skin of the characters. It’s that very empathy with Scur that provides the story with its true impact culminating in a sad, thought-provoking ending that still manages to offer a glimmer of hope for the future of humanity.

My only criticism, and it’s mainly a selfish one, is that I would have loved to have seen the story fleshed out into a full length novel. There is so much potential here and some elements could have done with a bit more exploration (the data capacity of the bullets for one). The themes explored are fascinating and I definitely ended up craving more.

*A bit of clarification: the ‘bullets’ are more akin to dog tags, the identification tags military personnel wear, than to actual bullets used in firearms. The blurb makes far more sense if you know that.

The Verdict:
Slow Bullets is an engaging, evocative and touching space opera. It’s a story about sacrifice, redemption and ultimately of hope. It has all the hallmarks of what fans have grown to expect, but also shows that Reynolds is adapt at crafting a far more intimidate tale. With such a rich setting and a myriad of themes at play, this is a story well worth reading!

The Rating: 7 (Very good)

In February 2017 Gollancz released a hardcover edition of the novella which should be a worthy addition to any Alastair Reynolds collection.

Thanks to Charlene from Jonathan Ball Publishers for the review copy of the Gollancz edition of the novella and Tachyon Publications for the original eARC.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Trailer: The Martian

I adored the book and the trailer for the movie adaptation of The Martian looks freaking fantastic. It seems like they've got the tone and characters down perfectly and the CGI looks brilliant.

I definitely can't wait to watch Mark (Matt Damon) science the shit out of this!




Saturday, June 6, 2015

Cover Reveal: The Shepherd's Crown

The cover for the final Discworld novel, The Sheperd's Crown, has been revealed. It's bittersweet to know that this will be the last novel in the series, but it's also wonderful that we get the chance to read just one more wonderful, witty work from the late Terry Pratchett. Be still my aching heart...


THE SHEPHERD'S CROWN
Release date: 27 August 2015
ISBN: 9780857534811

A brand new Discworld novel from the man himself, the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett.

Completed in the Summer of 2014, The Shepherd's Crown features the much-loved teenage witch, Tiffany Aching, the hugely popular character (also one of Sir Terry's own favourites) who appeared in The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, and most recently, I Shall Wear Midnight.

A hugely anticipated book in an iconic series, which will appeal to both adult Discworld fans and to younger readers.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

On my Radar: Slow Bullets

It's no secret that I'm a huge Alastair Reynolds fan so I'm very excited about the release of his newest novella Slow Bullets published by Tachyon Publications.


SLOW BULLETS by Alastair Reynolds
ISBN: 9781616961930
Release date: 9 June 2015
Order a copy here


From the author of the Revelation Space series comes an interstellar adventure of war, identity, betrayal, and the preservation of civilization itself.

A vast conflict, one that has encompassed hundreds of worlds and solar systems, appears to be finally at an end. A conscripted soldier is beginning to consider her life after the war and the family she has left behind. But for Scur—and for humanity—peace is not to be.

On the brink of the ceasefire, Scur is captured by a renegade war criminal, and left for dead in the ruins of a bunker. She revives aboard a prisoner transport vessel. Something has gone terribly wrong with the ship.

Passengers—combatants from both sides of the war—are waking up from hibernation far too soon. Their memories, embedded in bullets, are the only links to a world which is no longer recognizable. And Scur will be reacquainted with her old enemy, but with much higher stakes than just her own life.

***

Colour me intrigued...


Monday, April 13, 2015

BBC Radio 4's Good Omens Adaptation


In case you missed it the first time round you can now listen to the absolutely brilliant radio adaptation of Good Omens for a second time. The adaptation really manages to do justice to the hellishly funny novel (if you haven't read it yet, it's a MUST!) and even features cameos by the authors - Neil Gaiman and the late Terry Pratchett.

The episodes are only available for the next 23 days so be sure to set aside some time to listen to them all. I can't imagine a better homage to Terry Pratchett. That ending still gets me every time.

Go forth and listen!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

New Arrivals: Book Sale Loot

I've been very, very good when it came to not buying more books. My last splurge was in August last year, but alas I fell victim to the temptation of an online book sale. Still, seven months without buying books is an impressive feat for me.

Strangely enough most of these I already own in ebook format, but I haven't gotten round to reading them yet. The physical copies were just too irresistible...


For Review

I also received The Eterna Files from the wonderful folks at Tor for review. There's nothing quite like surprise book post to turn a dreary Monday into pure awesomeness. A huge thanks to Ardi for sending this all the way to the tip of Africa!


Friday, April 3, 2015

Still hanging on

Originally I wanted to start with the iconic line "I aten't dead" from the Discworld novels, but with the sad news that Terry Pratchett passed away it didn't really feel appropriate. I still can't believe that he's really gone, the world is much, much emptier without Sir Terry. Thankfully his spirit will live on forever in the Discworld and as we all know, "A man is not dead while his name is still spoken".

On that rather sad note, back to the real reason for this post. Way back in December I applied for a job which I didn't think I'd stand a snowball's chance in hell of getting. Hell, it seems, has suddenly grown a couple of icebergs richer - I actually got the job! Since the middle of February when I started with just 12 hours of prior notice I've been struggling to cope with the world of the permanently employed.

It has been a HUGE adjustment for me. Being self-employed for the past twelve years has made me accustomed to a certain level of freedom. If you are your own boss there's nobody to complain that you are reading during office hours or spending way too much on Twitter. Suddenly stepping into a much more regimented environment where there's no internet access, personal devices are frowned upon and literally everyone is your superior has been a huge shock to my system.

The work is mentally exhausting and the only thing I want to do when I get back home is to curl into a ball and sleep. Don't get me wrong. I enjoy the work, as frustrating as it can be at times, and the promise of a steady paycheck, pension fund and medical aid is a huge bonus. The problem is that it feels as if I don't have any time left for anything else.  Surely a month and a half should've given me enough time to adjust to the new routine, but I'm still constantly exhausted. That's normal right?

A point. I had a point in there somewhere....

Oh, yes. With the new job devouring all my time it seems that reading/blogging/bookishness will have to be relegated to weekend activities. Needless to say that means that the blog will be even more quiet than usual and I'll have to be very selective in accepting review requests. It breaks my heart since there are SO MANY books I'd love to read and review, but I don't want to commit myself to something I might not be able to follow through on.

So I guess the entire point of this post is to say that I'm still here. I'll still post reviews whenever I'm able and I guess I'll just have to get the hang of being a weekend blogger/reader...

***

How do you guys cope with limited reading time and juggling full-time jobs with blogging? Any tips would be hugely appreciated.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Review: The Forever Watch

Title: The Forever Watch
Author: David Ramirez
Pages: 326
ISBN: 9781444787894
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Published: 2014
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher


Buy it from:
The Book Depository

The Noah: a city-sized ship, four hundred years into an epic voyage to another planet. In a world where deeds, and even thoughts, cannot be kept secret, a man is murdered; his body so ruined that his identity must be established from DNA evidence.

Within hours, all trace of the crime is swept away, hidden as though it never happened. Hana Dempsey, a mid-level bureaucrat genetically modified to use the Noah's telepathic internet, begins to investigate. Her search for the truth will uncover the impossible: a serial killer who has been operating on board for a lifetime...if not longer.

And behind the killer lies a conspiracy centuries in the making.

David Ramirez’s debut novel is filled with a smorgasbord of science fiction ideas - a generation ship, a simulated world, psionics, aliens, nanobots and even an emerging artificial intelligence. Cramming all of these concepts into a single novel could be overwhelming and confusing, but The Forever Watch manages to pull it off with a flourish.

Initially it reads as a murder mystery set in a science fictional world, but as the story progresses and the elements start to fall into place it grows in complexity. Nothing is as it seems. In their hunt for a killer the main protagonists, Hana and Leon, discover that the utopian society on board the Noah is only a husk of normalcy build upon secrets and lies.

“Our perfect little world maintained by secrets and a willing acceptance that those above us know better.” (p 161)

Going into detail about the secrets they uncover would spoil the entire experience. Suffice it to say that The Forever Watch is unpredictable, filled with stunning twists and revelations that take the story into unexpected directions. The character’s allegiances and convictions are mutable, they shift and change as they react to the information they uncover. Their choices are complex with terrifying consequences.

All the different elements at play in the story are brought together in a brilliant finale that’s heartbreaking and yet retains a sense of hope. You couldn’t ask for a better conclusion and it makes persevering through the rough spots well worth the effort.

The Forever Watch isn’t without its faults. I found the pacing somewhat uneven, but once the action picked up I was completely drawn into the world. There are some sex scenes that felt overdone and unnecessary and for some reason Hana referring to “her man” on multiple occasions didn’t feel quite true to her strong, independent character.

The Verdict:
The Forever Watch is a complex, unpredictable read overflowing with ideas and new twists on familiar tropes. The characters are well-fleshed out, the world-building is top notch, there’s enough science for hard SF fans, but it’s the stunning finale that will blow you away. It turns out some secrets are worth protecting... Recommended!

The Rating: 7/10 (Very good)

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

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Guest Post: Comedy in fantasy

I truly believe that a little comic relief is one of the key ingredients of fantasy, especially epic fantasy. And no, that's not the start of some joke, either.

Would the Lord Of The Rings movies have been as entertaining without a little comedic byplay between Gimli and Legolas? Could we have sat through three movies of The Hobbit without joking between the dwarves and Bombur's physical comedy? Would Game Of Thrones been such a massive hit without Tyrion Lannister's quips?

Epic fantasy requires darkness, but too much darkness can leave your reader depressed. You need a little light to both balance out the darkness and highlight it as well. Chapter after chapter of powerful, emotional writing will eventually leave the reader numb. Give them some light and shade and they appreciate the "serious" scenes even more.

Now I'm certainly not suggesting you need to go all Terry "Discworld" Pratchett and make it an out-and-out comedy. For starters, trying to be the next Terry Pratchett will get you only into one place - the reject pile or, if you're lucky, the bargain bin. Nor should you think you need to come up with lightning one-liners that would be worthy of some Ben Stiller comedy.

Instead, you need to focus on characters. Gimli and Legolas are the classic example. Individually they are serious characters but, put them together and add a little dwarf-elf rivalry and you have plenty of opportunity for comedic action.

As an example, two of my favourite shows as a teenager were Fawlty Towers and Blankety Blanks. The latter was a panel show with a group of comedians competing to come up with the best double entendre. Or, often, single entendre! Every episode was hilarious - but I couldn't repeat one of those jokes if my life depended on it. Fawlty Towers, on the other hand, had such rich characters that innocuous, silly quotes like "Don't mention the war" are enough to get people chuckling.

The key to being memorable wasn't the joke, it was the character.

So I love to create characters that offer that light relief. All of my books have them and in The Last Quarrel, this part is taken by Fallon's friends Gallagher, Devlin and Brendan and by Bridgit's father Padraig. Not only does it allow me to break up some of the darkness that the characters face but it also allows me to play with the readers.

For when you have a comedic character that, all of a sudden, is thrust into a life-or-death situation, the impact on the reader is that much greater. You expect the main characters to be put through the wringer. When the comedic characters are also thrust into the fire, it can create a powerful reaction. I want to make my readers feel a full range of emotions, so if I'm going to make them cry, of course I want to make them laugh as well. Ultimately I want the reader to be thoroughly entertained. And there's no better way than to give them a few laughs in with all the drama and excitement.

More about the author:
Duncan Lay is the author of two best-selling Australian fantasy series, the Dragon Sword Histories and the Empire Of Bones. He writes on the train, to and from his job as production editor of The Sunday Telegraph, Australia’s biggest-selling newspaper.

His latest novel, The Last Quarrel, will be released by Momentum in episodic form with the first installment out on 22 January 2015. To find out more you can visit www.momentumbooks.com.au

Friday, January 9, 2015

2015 is go!

Despite my best intentions the blog has been deathly quiet over the last couple of months. I've had the worst reading slump ever - even worse than the great blight of 2012. I barely managed to read 24 books last year. The worst thing is that there are so many stunning books I REALLY wanted to read. I have review copies I just couldn't get to. And that terrifies me. It feels as if  I've failed miserably.

This year I'm going to try to put less pressure on myself. Blogging has started to feel like work and I need to rediscover the fun and excitement I had when I first started out.  Reading should be fun right?

I'm slowly clawing my way back from the abyss one page at a time. The stack of review copies lurking on my top shelf seem slightly less terrifying now. I'll conquer them yet!
 
Here's hoping that 2015 will be a year devoid of reading slumps, filled with amazing books and the time to read them all.


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