Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Getting Graphic: Witchblade Vol 1 (2017)

Title: Witchblade Vol 1 (2017)
Author: Caitlin Kittredge
Artist: Robert Ingranata
Pages: 152
ISBN: 9781534306851
Collects issues #1-6
Publisher: Image Comics
Published: 17 July 2018
Genre: Comic & Graphic Novels / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher


Buy it from:
The Book Depository

Gunned down and left for dead on a New York rooftop, Alex Underwood's life should have ended there-but instead, at the moment of death, she became host to the Witchblade, a mystical artifact that grants the woman wielding it extraordinary powers. But the power comes with a heavy cost, and Alex finds herself thrust into the center of an unseen battle raging on the snowy streets of NYC. Demons are real and walking among humans, and every one of them is intent on taking out the Witchblade's newest host before she becomes too strong to kill. But the artifact chose Alex for a reason, and she's not going down without a fight.

My introduction to the Witchblade franchise came, not through the comics, but through the TV series from 2001 starring actress Yancy Butler. I was intrigued by the magical armor and the concept of the show and it has stuck with me since then. When I saw that a new reboot for the Witchblade comics was in the works I just had to give them a try.

The Witchblade reboot focuses on an entirely new protagonist, Alex Underwood, as she struggles with her own traumatic past while coming to grips with the fact that she is now the new vessel of the Witchblade, a mystical artifact that grants extraordinary powers to the woman that wields it. Dark forces are at work and with her newfound abilities still in their infancy she becomes a prime target.

Bits of Witchblade lore are revealed
The narrative is compelling and draws you in, but the various flashbacks can be jarring and there are times where it felt that the continuity was somewhat off.  Alex meets a mysterious man who acts as a guiding figure to her, he never introduces himself, yet in later panels she somehow calls him by name. You get flashbacks showcasing bits of Witchblade history, but you never get to know how Alex actually came to possess the artifact.

The artwork is stunning and has a dark, gritty vibe to it with vibrant colours adding a dash of visual magic. The facial features of some of the characters can be indistinct, making it difficult to differentiate between some of the male characters.

My major complaint is that the battle scenes lacked depth. Every conflict seemed to be resolved through magic without much real action taking place - whoosh, magic happens and the bad guy is defeated.

The armor lacks detail and definition.
I was also disappointed that the Witchblade is never depicted as a gauntlet or weapon; the armor Alex wields towards the end has no real detail and definition. A big draw for me was the promise of seeing an amazing magical artifact in action and the end result didn't quite deliver. Hopefully this is only the groundwork for greater things to come, perhaps, as Alex reconciles with and grows in power the Witchblade will take on more definition and form. They might just have a trick up their sleeve...

Despite the issues there's a lot to like here. I got a real kick from the ending - a veritable declaration of war!

The Verdict:
While I enjoyed reading Witchblade Vol 1, I felt that the story and artwork lacked detail and depth at times. I would have loved to have seen more Witchblade lore being revealed and the Witchblade itself being more of a focal point. The reboot certainly has promise and it will be interesting to see where the all-female creative team takes it next.

The Rating: 6/10 (Good)

Monday, July 16, 2018

Review: The Soldier by Neal Asher

Title: The Soldier
Author: Neal Asher
Pages: 448
ISBN: 9781509862368
Series: Rise of the Jain #1
Publisher: Macmillan
Published: 17 May 2018
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher


Buy it from:
The Book Depository

A hidden corner of space is swarming with lethal alien technology, a danger to all sentient life. It’s guarded by Orlandine, who must keep it contained at any cost – as it has the power to destroy entire civilizations. She schemes from her state-of-the-art weapons station, with only an alien intelligence to share her vigil. But she doesn’t share everything with Dragon . . .

Orlandine is hatching a plan to obliterate this technology, removing its threat forever. For some will do anything to exploit this ancient weaponry, created by a long-dead race called the Jain. This includes activating a Jain super-soldier, which may breach even Orlandine’s defences.

Meanwhile, humanity and the alien prador empire keep a careful watch over this sector of space, as neither can allow the other to claim its power. However, things are about to change. The Jain might not be as dead as they seemed – and interstellar war is just a heartbeat away.

The Soldier by Neal Asher is a mind-blowing start to the Rise of the Jain trilogy. Set in the expansive Polity universe many familiar characters make a welcome return. The focus this time around is on Orlandine and the enigmatic alien entity called Dragon as they stand guard against a threat that might very well destroy all sentient life. Long time readers know that wherever Dragon is involved things are bound to get interesting in the most chaotic of ways. And boy does it ever!

Neal Asher takes all the best elements from the Polity universe and weaves them together into a narrative that makes it feel as if everything that came before was only meant to set up the groundwork for this moment. Fans of the Polity universe will find everything they adore - incredible technology, weird alien creatures, sarcastic AI drones, gigantic space battles and the fate of the entire universe hanging in the balance. Asher even manages to expand on the back-story of the Polity in some truly surprising ways, with far-reaching implications in the current conflict, making it hard to believe that everything wasn't meticulously planned from the very start. While newcomers will be able to follow most of what happens thanks to an extensive glossary and ample recounting of prior events, The Soldier is best experienced if you are familiar with the previous novels set in the universe otherwise you will deprive yourself from seeing how masterfully all the threads laid down throughout the prior series are brought to fruition.

The characters are engaging and you can't help but feel sympathy for them as they each struggle to reconcile with their own unique nature and identity. The addition of some snarky battle drones provide a lighter touch and The Client introduces a whole new element to the story as it goes in search of its own forbidden history.
'You stir the still pool of history,' said the Librarian. 'Terror you cannot comprehend will come up from the depths.' (p 232)
The last third of the novel sent my adrenaline levels through the roof. I devoured the pages at a blistering pace as beloved characters faced dire peril and unexpected revelations changed the entire dynamic of events up to the very last page. This is one heck of a start to the trilogy, I'm not even sure how the rest of the books will be able to top this, but I can't wait to find out!

The Verdict:
Just when you thought the Polity couldn't get more interesting Neal Asher manages to weave the most awe-inspiring elements of his universe together into an amazing narrative brimming with awesome technology, vast space battles, gigantic explosions and intricate machinations that are terrifying in their scope. This simply tops everything that has come before. Like a true master Asher hits this one out of the galactic plane and it's difficult to believe everything in the Polity universe wasn't plotted out from the very start to bring us to this very point. The Soldier is a truly mind-blowing start to a new trilogy and I definitely can't wait to see what happens next. Highly recommended!

The Rating: 8/10 (Great!)

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

Friday, July 13, 2018

Getting Graphic: A Brief Terminology Primer


If you are a complete comic newbie like me you might find all the terminology a bit confusing. Here is a quick breakdown of common terms used in the world of comics:

Comic: A serialised story told in sequential graphical form.

Single Issue: A single installment of a serialised comic. Often published monthly. If you always want to be up to date with the latest events in the story then this is the way to go.

Trade Paperbacks (TPB): A collection of issues (normally around 4 - 6 issues) collected into one volume. Trades become available after individual issues are sold so you might not be up to date with the latest happenings. The flipside to this is that you get to experience a more complete story in one go. Trades are normally less expensive than buying the individual single issues. Trades are also known as a volumes and a complete comic run can consist of multiple volumes. (While trades are commonly referred to as graphic novels this is not technically correct. See below.)

Graphic novel: A single standalone story in book length. Graphic novels have never appeared in serialised form as single issues.

Digital comics: As you would expect it's the digital version of a comic and, as with their physical counterparts, they are available in both single issues, trades and omnibus editions. One of the most popular retailers of digital comics is Comixology. Digital comics can be read on PC or on tablets as well as some ereaders (if you don't mind sticking to greyscale images).

Now that we have the basics down, onward!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Most Anticipated 2018 Sci-Fi & Fantasy Releases II

Continuing on from my most anticipated science fiction and fantasy releases of 2018 here are 15 more anticipated releases covering the second half of the year. Did I miss any?

JULY

Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio
ISBN: 9780756413002

It was not his war.

The galaxy remembers him as a hero: the man who burned every last alien Cielcin from the sky. They remember him as a monster: the devil who destroyed a sun, casually annihilating four billion human lives--even the Emperor himself--against Imperial orders.

But Hadrian was not a hero. He was not a monster. He was not even a soldier.

On the wrong planet, at the right time, for the best reasons, Hadrian Marlowe starts down a path that can only end in fire. He flees his father and a future as a torturer only to be left stranded on a strange, backwater world.

Forced to fight as a gladiator and navigate the intrigues of a foreign planetary court, Hadrian must fight a war he did not start, for an Empire he does not love, against an enemy he will never understand.

Infinity's End edited by Jonathan Strahan
ISBN: 9781781085752

The highly-anticipated final volume of the critically-acclaimed science fiction anthology series

Life in space is hard, lonely and the only person you can rely on is yourself. Whether you’re living deep in the gravity well of humanity’s watery home, mucking out air vents in a city floating high in the clouds of Jupiter, or re-checking the filtration system on some isolated space station, life is hard and demanding, and life is small.

The stories of Infinity’s End are set in those empty spaces, in futures where planets have been disassembled and reused for parts, or terraformed and settled; where civilisations have risen and fallen; where far future people make their lives anywhere from colonies hanging in the clouds of Neptune or Venus to the repurposed cores of distant asteroids; on worldlets and asteroids, inside Saturn’s rings or distant spheres and wheels, on-board ships trucking from home to home, and port to port. They're set in a future that's lived in. And they make it clear that even if we never leave the Solar System, there's life enough and room enough to live out all of science fiction's dreams.

Death of a Clone by Alex Thomson
ISBN: 9781781086346

The Overseers may call it Hell, but for Leila and the other clones, the mining base on asteroid Mizushima-00109 is the only home they’ve ever known. But then Leila’s sister Lily is murdered, and the Overseers seem less interested in solving the crime than in making their mining quota and returning to Earth.

Leila decides to find the murderer, just like the heroes of her old detective novels would. But Hell is a place of terrible secrets, and a love of cozy mysteries may not be enough to keep Leila from ending up like her sister.


AUGUST

Bloody Rose (The Band #2) by Nicholas Eames
ISBN: 9780356509044

Tam Hashford is tired of working at her local pub, slinging drinks for world-famous mercenaries and listening to the bards sing of adventure and glory in the world beyond her sleepy hometown.

When the biggest mercenary band of all rolls into town, led by the infamous Bloody Rose, Tam jumps at the chance to sign on as their bard. It's adventure she wants-and adventure she gets as the crew embark on a quest that will end in one of two ways: glory or death.


SEPTEMBER

Worlds Seen in Passing: Ten Years of Tor.com Short Fiction
Edited by Irene Gallo
ISBN: 9781250171238

An anthology of award-winning, eye-opening, genre-defining science fiction, fantasy, and horror from Tor.com's first ten years

Since it began in 2008 Tor.com has explored countless new worlds of fiction, delving into possible and impossible futures, alternate and intriguing pasts, and realms of fantasy previously unexplored. Its hundreds of remarkable stories span from science fiction to fantasy to horror, and everything in between. Now Tor.com is making some of those worlds available for the first time in print.

This volume collects some of the best short stories Tor.com has to offer, with Hugo and Nebula Award-winning short stories and novelettes chosen from all ten years of the program.

Including stories by: Charlie Jane Anders, N. K. Jemisin, Leigh Bardugo, Jeff VanderMeer, Yoon Ha Lee, Carrie Vaughn, Ken Liu, Kai Ashante Wilson, Kameron Hurley, Seth Dickinson, Rachel Swirsky, Laurie Penny, Alyssa Wong, Kij Johnson, David D. Levine, Genevieve Valentine, Max Gladstone, and many others.


Salvation by Peter F Hamilton
ISBN: 9781447281313

Know your enemy - or be defeated

AD 2204
An alien shipwreck is discovered on a planet at the very limits of human expansion - so Security Director Feriton Kayne selects a team to investigate. The ship's sinister cargo not only raises bewildering questions, but could also foreshadow humanity's extinction. It will be up to the team to bring back answers, and the consequences of this voyage will change everything.

Back on Earth, we can now make deserts bloom and extend lifespans indefinitely, so humanity seems invulnerable. We therefore welcomed the Olyix to Earth when they contacted us. They needed fuel for their pilgrimage across the galaxy - and in exchange they helped us advance our technology. But were the Olyix a blessing or a curse?

THE FAR FUTURE
Many lightyears from Earth, Dellian and his clan of genetically engineered soldiers are raised with one goal. They must confront and destroy their ancient adversary. The enemy caused mankind to flee across the galaxy and they hunt us still. If they aren't stopped, we will be wiped out - and we're running out of time.

The Accidental War by Walter Jon Williams
ISBN: 9780062467027

It's been seven years since the end of the Naxid War. Sidelined for their unorthodox tactics by a rigid, tradition-bound military establishment, Captain Gareth Martinez and Captain the Lady Sula are stewing in exile, frustrated and impatient to exercise the effective and lethal skills they were born to use in fighting the enemy.

Yet after the ramshackle empire left by the Shaa conquerors is shaken by a series of hammer blows that threaten the foundations of the commonwealth, the result is a war that no one planned, no one expected, and no one knows how to end.

Now, Martinez, Sula, and their confederate Nikki Severin must escape the clutches of their enemies, rally the disorganized elements of the fleet, and somehow restore the fragile peace-or face annihilation at the hands of a vastly superior force


OCTOBER

The Quantum Magician by Derek Kunsken
ISBN: 9781781085707
AN ENGINEERED HUMAN GIFTED WITH IMPOSSIBLE INSIGHT

Balisarius is a quantum man, an engineered human gifted with impossible insight. But his gift is also a curse-a constant, overwhelming flood of sensation. He flees his creators to try and live a normal life. But when a client offers him untold wealth to move a squadron of warships across an enemy wormhole Belisarius must embrace his true nature to pull off the job, along with a whole crew of extraordinary men and women.

If he succeeds, he could trigger an interstellar war...or the next step in human evolution.

Zero Sum Game by S. L. Huang
ISBN: 9781250180254

Cas Russell is good at math. Scary good. The vector calculus blazing through her head lets her smash through armed men twice her size and dodge every bullet in a gunfight. She can take any job for the right price and shoot anyone who gets in her way.

As far as she knows, she’s the only person around with a superpower...but then Cas discovers someone with a power even more dangerous than her own. Someone who can reach directly into people’s minds and twist their brains into Moebius strips. Someone intent on becoming the world’s puppet master.

Cas should run, like she usually does, but for once she's involved. There’s only one problem: She doesn’t know which of her thoughts are her own anymore.

The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi
ISBN: 9780765388971

The second, thrilling novel in the bestselling Interdependency series, from Hugo Award-winning author John Scalzi.

The Interdependency, humanity’s interstellar empire, is on the verge of collapse. The Flow, the extra-dimensional conduit that makes travel between the stars possible, is disappearing, leaving entire star systems stranded. When it goes, human civilization may go with it—unless desperate measures can be taken.

Emperox Grayland II, the leader of the Interdependency, is ready to take those measures to help ensure the survival of billions. But nothing is ever that easy. Arrayed before her are those who believe the collapse of the Flow is a myth—or at the very least, an opportunity that can allow them to ascend to power.

While Grayland prepares for disaster, others are preparing for a civil war, a war that will take place in the halls of power, the markets of business, and the altars of worship as much as it will take place between spaceships and battlefields. The Emperox and her allies are smart and resourceful, but so are her enemies. Nothing about this power struggle will be simple or easy... and all of humanity will be caught in its widening gyre.

The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
ISBN: 9780765380746

A breathtaking geopolitical thriller as fraught as Game of Thrones: one woman's scheme to destroy an empire from within

Even more sweeping and heart-wrenching than its 2015 prequel, The Monster Baru Cormorant is the epic follow-up to the critically acclaimed The Traitor Baru Cormorant, which made it onto no fewer than 17 Best-of-the-Year lists.

Baru Cormormant's world was shattered by the Empire of Masks. To exact her revenge, she has clawed her way up razor-edged rungs of betrayal, sacrifice, and compromise, becoming the very thing she seeks to destroy.

Unable to trust anyone and pursued across the ocean by enemies determined to punish her for her treachery, Baru now seeks the key the starting a war that will either rip apart the Masquerade once and for all, or the world itself...and with it, all that remains of her soul.

Rejoice by Steven Erikson
ISBN: 9781473223813

An alien AI has been sent to the solar system as representative of three advanced species. Its mission is to save the Earth's ecosystem - and the biggest threat to that is humanity. But we are also part of the system, so the AI must make a choice. Should it save mankind or wipe it out? Are we worth it?

The AI is all-powerful, and might as well be a god. So it sets up some conditions. Violence is now impossible. Large-scale destruction of natural resources is impossible. Food and water will be provided for those who really, truly need them. You can't even bully someone on the internet any more. The old way of doing things is gone. But a certain thin-skinned US president, among others, is still wedded to late-stage capitalism. Can we adapt? Can we prove ourselves worthy? And are we prepared to give up free will for a world without violence?

And above it all, on a hidden spaceship, one woman watches. A science fiction writer, she was abducted from the middle of the street in broad daylight. She is the only person the AI will talk to. And she must make a decision.

Red Moon by Kim Stanley Robinson
ISBN: 9780316262378

IT IS THIRTY YEARS FROM NOW, AND WE HAVE COLONIZED THE MOON.
American Fred Fredericks is making his first trip, his purpose to install a communications system for China's Lunar Science Foundation. But hours after his arrival he witnesses a murder and is forced into hiding.

It is also the first visit for celebrity travel reporter Ta Shu. He has contacts and influence, but he too will find that the moon can be a perilous place for any traveler.

Finally, there is Chan Qi. She is the daughter of the Minister of Finance, and without doubt a person of interest to those in power. She is on the moon for reasons of her own, but when she attempts to return to China, in secret, the events that unfold will change everything - on the moon, and on Earth.

Creatures: The Legacy of Frankenstein
Edited by David Thomas Moore
ISBN: 9781781086117

A new anthology bringing together five great new and established writers to explore the world of Mary Shelley’s all-time classic, Frankenstein

“My spirit will sleep in peace; or if it thinks, it will not surely think thus. Farewell.”

Victor Frankenstein was the first to unlock the key to life, but he would not be the last. Through two centuries of scientific enquiry and relentless advancement, five more minds found the secret, and five more creatures were made. Five more stories ended in tragedy.

From the 1840s to the modern day, from the race to publish the first anatomy to the desperate search for weapons to win the Second World War, telling the stories of the creatures that never were.

DECEMBER

Tiamat's Wrath (The Expanse #8) by James S.A. Corey
ISBN: 9780316332873
Thirteen hundred gates have opened to solar systems around the galaxy. But as humanity builds its interstellar empire in the alien ruins, the mysteries and threats grow deeper.

In the dead systems where gates lead to stranger things than alien planets, Elvi Okoye begins a desperate search to discover the nature of a genocide that happened before the first human beings existed, and to find weapons to fight a war against forces at the edge of the imaginable. But the price of that knowledge may be higher than she can pay.

At the heart of the empire, Teresa Duarte prepares to take on the burden of her father's godlike ambition. The sociopathic scientist Paolo Cortázar and the Mephistophelian prisoner James Holden are only two of the dangers in a palace thick with intrigue, but Teresa has a mind of her own and secrets even her father the emperor doesn't guess.

And throughout the wide human empire, the scattered crew of the Rocinante fights a brave rear-guard action against Duarte's authoritarian regime. Memory of the old order falls away, and a future under Laconia's eternal rule -- and with it, a battle that humanity can only lose - seems more and more certain. Because against the terrors that lie between worlds, courage and ambition will not be enough...

Monday, July 9, 2018

Getting Graphic: The Journey Begins


It all started around the middle of last year when I suddenly had this vivid memory of a graphic novel/comic I owned as a teen. The only thing I could remember was this image of a kid with a yo-yo which somehow turned into an owl (the yo-yo, not the kid!). For the life of me I couldn't remember the title. My copy must have gotten lost when we moved since, after an extensive (and I mean EXTENSIVE) search I couldn't find it. The whole thing nagged at me. My OCD brain just wouldn't give it a rest until a) I found out what it was and b) I could get a copy again.

Internet to the rescue! A desperate plea on Twitter resulted in the revelation that the comic in question was in fact The Books of Magic written by Neil Gaiman. Thankfully it was still in print and I managed to track down a copy again which sated my brain's desires and allowed me to once again get a peaceful night's rest.

This whole episode sparked a newfound interest in comics/graphic novels and prompted me to test the waters to see if this whole comic thing is for me. Growing up I didn't have access to any comics aside from those trusted staples of libraries everywhere - Astrix and Tintin (technically both are graphic novels if I understand the jargon right) and the aforementioned Books of Magic which, if memory serves, I received as a gift from someone. So with this very limited background I'm going to start a journey of exploration into the graphic side of things.

Comics are extremely expensive over here in South Africa and availability can be quite limited too. I can't just pop into a local comic shop and see what's on offer. My only avenue is ordering online and since I can't try before I buy it complicates matters quite a bit. Since this is a visual medium there are certain styles that just doesn't appeal to me. Digital comics are an option, but to really experience them as intended I think physical editions would be the ideal way to go.

To start things off I picked up some trade paperbacks of Wytches, Descender and Monstress.


I also got copies of Super Sons and the second volume of Monstress (based solely on the artwork after paging through the first volume).


I guess my fledgling collection is all set for me to give this a try. Hopefully it doesn't turn into another expensive obsession!

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

On My Radar: Salvation by Peter F. Hamilton

I almost forgot that a new Peter F. Hamilton book is coming out in September. I'm really looking forward to this one. It sounds like it will have everything I love in SF and then some. Definitely remember to add this one to your wishlists!

Cover for Salvation by Peter F Hamilton

SALVATION by Peter F. Hamilton
ISBN: 9781447281313
Release date: 6 September 2018
Pre-Order a copy

Know your enemy – or be defeated

AD 2204
An alien shipwreck is discovered on a planet at the very limits of human expansion – so Security Director Feriton Kayne selects a team to investigate. The ship’s sinister cargo not only raises bewildering questions, but could also foreshadow humanity’s extinction. It will be up to the team to bring back answers, and the consequences of this voyage will change everything.

Back on Earth, we can now make deserts bloom and extend lifespans indefinitely, so humanity seems invulnerable. We therefore welcomed the Olyix to Earth when they contacted us. They needed fuel for their pilgrimage across the galaxy – and in exchange they helped us advance our technology. But were the Olyix a blessing or a curse?

THE FAR FUTURE
Many lightyears from Earth, Dellian and his clan of genetically engineered soldiers are raised with one goal. They must confront and destroy their ancient adversary. The enemy caused mankind to flee across the galaxy and they hunt us still. If they aren’t stopped, we will be wiped out – and we’re running out of time.

Salvation is the first title in a stunning science fiction trilogy, The Salvation Sequence, by Peter F. Hamilton

***

Do want!

Monday, July 2, 2018

New Arrivals: The Late Edition

Even though the blog has been on an involuntary hiatus for the last month and a half (damn you reading slumps and work stress!) I still kept acquiring books. Although I might have shared some of these on Twitter I never got round to doing a proper post on the blog. So here are the latest (and some late!) additions to my shelves.

Way back in April I ordered these from Reader's Warehouse. I've read the Witcher short stories and want to try out the rest of the novels. These were going for about half of the normal retail prices so I HAD to pick them up. I also want to try out some more of Jim Butcher's work and a new series sounded like a good place to start.



For Review

I have also been fortunate enough to receive some books for review.

From Jonathan Ball Publishers I received these amazing books. I'm not sure where to start. They all looks so good.



***
And to finish things off, I squeed aloud when I received this package from Pan Macmillan SA. The arrival of the latest Neal Asher at your doorstep is an instant antidote to the most dreadful of weeks!


A HUGE thank you to the publishers for the review copies. Now I have to figure out where to start. Outsider or The Soldier? Tough choice...

Reviews should be up soon*!

*Soon-ish.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Cover Reveal: A New Look for The Spatterjay Series

Neal Asher's Spatterjay series is getting a makeover with some brand new covers by artist Steve Stone. The new editions are scheduled for release on 29 November.




While I'll always prefer the truly amazing covers Jon Sullivan did for the series, these look pretty darn good. I'm not a huge fan of the taglines on the covers though (even if they do earn bonus points for sneaking in a Game of Thrones riff on the cover of The Voyage of the Sable Keech).

What do you guys think?

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Reading slumps, a plague and losing the spark

It's been a while ages since I last posted. Over the last two months it just seems that I've completely lost the spark. My brain just couldn't focus on reading, at most I managed to read a couple of pages and just lost interest. Trying to blog was also an effort in futility. I sat for hours staring at a blinking cursor while it taunted me with its smug superiority and the words just wouldn't come...

I guess the changing seasons and increasing workload just sapped all of my energy. Like Opportunity stuck in a Mars dust storm I just couldn't muster up the drive to do anything productive. I'm not sure if it's the lack of sunlight, the cold (I'm not much of a Winter person) or work stress that has left me so drained. The best I could manage was to crawl into bed and fall asleep as soon as I got back from work.

In the middle of June I had a week of vacation leave scheduled . A glorious week which would've been the perfect opportunity for me to recharge my batteries and get back into the swing of things. Alas, it was not to be. On my very first day off I developed a dose of flu which could give the plague a run for it's money. My week was spent in bed, feverish and just too weak to even pick up a book and before I knew it the break was over and not a single page was read. My only memento is a persistent cough that still refuses to go away. 

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm still here. I'm struggling to rekindle that lost spark, but I can see a faint glow of life in the embers. I might not have lost it after all.

There are some glorious books waiting to be read and I will get to them... it might just take me a little longer than normal.

Happy reading!


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Reading Wrap-up: March 2018

The month of March brought with it two blissful weeks of vacation leave. I had been looking forward to it for ages and I had the perfect staycation planned - a comfy bed, loads of snacks and enough time to read ALL the things. My plan was to put a dent into my considerable review copy backlog, but alas my brain had other ideas...


Things started out great, I read and reviewed Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds. And that's when I lost myself in a decidedly Reynolds-shaped black hole of mesmerising fiction. I couldn't get Reynolds' work out of my head which sparked a frantic re-read of  the first two Revelation Space novels, Revelation Space and Redemption Ark. Both of these were as good, if not better, than I remembered. I loved the complexity, and absolutely gigantic scope of both the universe and concepts Reynolds brings to vibrant life on the page. The female characters in his novels are powerful, captivating and memorable. They aren't just token female characters; they shape the world and have critical roles to play - just as it should be. His work will set your brain abuzz in the best possible way!

After spending so much time in outer space I needed a change of pace and Robert McCammon's Boy's Life was just the thing to bring me back to Earth. Boy's Life is a wonderful, magical look into childhood. It follows a year in the life of a young boy, Cory, as he deals with the loss of childhood innocence. It's beautifully written, funny, sad, and profound, with keen observations about what it means to grow up. There's a touch of the supernatural thrown in, but it just adds an extra bit of magic to a coming of age story that will have you yearning for your own lost childhood. If you can get past the slower pacing this is an absolutely fantastic read! I definitely need to explore more of McCammon's work.

In the end I managed to read 4 books with a total of 2276 pages (an average of 576 pages). Since most of these were tomes I'm really happy with the amount of reading I got done. Overall it was a pretty great month even if things took a detour.




Thursday, March 22, 2018

Review: Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds


Title: Elysium Fire
Author: Alastair Reynolds
Pages: 408
ISBN:9780575090590
Series: Prefect Dreyfus Emergency #2
Publisher: Gollancz
Published: 15 January 2018
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher


Buy it from:
The Book Depository

One citizen died a fortnight ago. Two a week ago. Four died yesterday . . . and unless the cause can be found - and stopped - within the next four months, everyone will be dead. For the Prefects, the hunt for a silent, hidden killer is on . . .

Alastair Reynolds has returned to the world of The Prefect for this stand-alone SF mystery in which no one is safe. The technological implants which connect every citizen to each other have become murder weapons, and no one knows who or what the killer is - or who the next targets will be. But their reach is spreading, and time is not on the Prefects' side.

After more than a decade Alastair Reynolds returns to the world of The Prefect and it's about damn time! Elysium Fire is set two years after the events of The Prefect (recently relaunched as Aurora Rising) and follows Prefect Dreyfus and his team Thalia Ng and Sparver Bancal as they face another threat to the stability of the Glitter Band. All across the ten thousand habitats citizens are dropping dead without warning. There is seemingly no connection between the victims, the rising death-toll threatens to push the already strained relations between the Prefects and the citizenry to the breaking point. It is up to Dreyfus and his team to figure out what is going on and to put a stop to it before it is too late.

All the familiar characters we've grown to love return for this second outing. The characters are older and wiser, scarred by their previous actions they are more conflicted and yet this makes them even more determined to carry out their mandate of upholding the tenets of the democracy that allows the Glitter Band to function.

Elysium Fire is a far more intimate story in scope, the relationships and interactions between Dreyfus and his team takes the forefront as they struggle to make sense of this newest emergency. While the first novel focused on a larger scale with ever-expanding implications, Elysium Fire takes a much more personal route. It is the actions of a few that puts the Glitter Band in jeopardy, but it is also the actions of the small team of Prefects willing to take a final stand that makes all the difference.

"And while a single one of us still breathes, you'll know there's still someone willing to make that final stand. Still Someone guarding the gates of utopia." (p 290) 

When I first read The Prefect I was amazed with the scope of it all and Elysium Fire takes that groundwork and sketches in even more intricate details.  Reynolds plays around with some truly breathtaking ideas - the machinery of governance and democracy, policing a society distributed throughout thousands of habitats, artificial intelligence, identity and the implications of altering memories. I could go on, but suffice it to say that there's a lot to unpack and the technologies underpinning it all are simply astounding.

As the mystery is slowly unraveled Dreyfus and his team manage to connect seemingly disparate clues and events to uncover the truth of an unexpected atrocity at the very center of everything. The ending ties up everything in a satisfying manner and it is heartening to see Dreyfus's compassion shining through at the end.

Elysium Fire was a great return to a world I never truly left behind. Having recently re-read The Prefect (Aurora Rising) it felt like coming home. Let's hope we don't have to wait another ten years for the next installment.I suddenly have the urge to read the entire Revelation Space series again...

The Verdict:
Elysium Fire is triumphant return for Alastair Reynolds to the world of Prefect Dreyfus. It takes a far more personal look at Dreyfus and the Prefects as they face the world in the aftermath of the Aurora event. The pacing is slower than the first novel, but it allows more time to engage with the characters on a deeper level. If you love big ideas, amazing technologies and concepts which will set your brain abuzz then Elysium Fire is highly recommended.

The Rating: 7.5/10 (Very Good)

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


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

New Arrivals: Birthday Edition

While the plan is to cut back severely on my book purchases during the year to focus on titles I already own I decided to spoil myself somewhat during my birthday month. I picked up a few novels and  a couple of graphic novels. If you don't spoil yourself who will?



For Review

I was also fortunate enough to receive some review copies from the awesome folks at Jonathan Ball Publishers.



The titles I received were:
Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds
Shroud of Eternity by Terry Goodkind
The Girl Who Takes An Eye For An Eye by David Lagercrantz
Hero At The Fall by Alwyn Hamilton

I've already finished Elysium Fire (a review will be up later this week), but since the rest are later titles in a series I'll first have to track down the rest of the series before I can consider getting to them.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Favourite Urban Fantasy Books

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. This week's topic is favourite urban fantasy books/series.

While there are quite a few mainstream urban fantasy series I could recommend, I'm going to wave my proudly South African flag around and highlight two urban fantasy books by South African authors.

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

I'm sure Lauren Beukes needs no introduction. Zoo City won the 2011 Arthur C. Clarke Award and put South African speculative fiction in the international spotlight. Lauren Beukes has an astonishing talent with words which she uses to conjure up astonishingly vibrant and fascinating worlds. Her work depicts real world problems that are still prevalent in South Africa – the homeless, drug abuse, xenophobia and discrimination and gives it a fantastical twist.

In Zoo City she creates a vivid version of contemporary Johannesburg. A Johannesburg where magic and muti is real and where Hillbrow (the Zoo City in the title) is a haven for ‘animalled’ people. The ‘animalled’ are people who due to their sinful deeds are magically tethered to an animal companion.

It is believed that the animal is a physical manifestation of their sins – their cross to bear for all the world to see. Separation from their animal companion causes extreme pain so they are forced to take the animal with them wherever they go.

The main character, Zinzi December, in one of the ‘animalled’ (a zoo in slang). She has a sloth on her back – literally! It isn’t all bad though, each ‘animalled’ has a special talent. In Zinzi’s case it’s the ability to find missing things. She uses this talent to make a living by finding lost items, charging a reasonable fee for their return. That’s of course when she isn’t busy running a 419 scam in order to pay off her drug debts. Read the full review.

Poison City by Paul Crilley

Paul Crilley is a Scotsman living in South Africa. His novel, 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.

Poison City is filled with a cast of memorable, snarky characters. Gideon Tau is not your typical hero. Haunted by the death of his daughter he is a broken man struggling to deal with loss; his only true purpose is his quest for justice. He sees ‘n job that needs doing and then simply does it. His spirit guide, Dog (just ‘Dog’) is the perverted spiritual successor to Discworld’s Gaspode - a quite literal boozehound. Dog loves nothing more than getting drunk and watching TV, only occasionally deigning to provide a helping paw. Oh, and he seems to love fire a bit too much... And lastly there’s Armitage, the no-nonsense head of the Delphic Division, with a wicked sense of humour she is overly protective of her domain and doesn’t suffer fools easily.

It soon becomes apparent that in this dark, morally corrupt world there are larger forces at play. Tau’s relentless search for his daughter’s killer drives him to a point where he has nothing left to lose. Utterly despondent, his choices lead the world to the brink of disaster. As a sharp counterpoint to those who wash away all memory of their wrongdoing through the services of sin-eaters, Tau takes responsibility for his actions and claws his way back from the dark abyss to redeem himself, but redemption always comes at a price. A price Tau might not be willing to pay...

The major theme in Poison City is corruption in all its forms. There are corrupt politicians and officials, the law is perverted for personal gain, even people's beliefs are corrupted and ultimately humanity itself proves to be a corrupted blight on the world. You’ll never be able to look at humanity in quite the same way again. It turns out that even in a world filled with supernatural creatures, humans are still the greatest monsters.

If you read it for no other reason, read it for Dog. He steals the show and makes this one kickass read! Read the full review.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Cover Reveal: Best Horror of the Year Volume Ten

While scrolling through Twitter (as one does) I came across this gorgeous cover for The Best Horror of the Year Volume Ten, the forthcoming horror anthology edited by Ellen Datlow and published by Night Shade Books. I'm a huge fan of these anthologies and I'm excited for this one based on the cover alone.


THE BEST HORROR OF THE YEAR VOLUME TEN
Edited by Ellen Datlow
ISBN: 9781510716674
Release Date: 5 June 2018

For more than three decades, Ellen Datlow has been at the center of horror. Bringing you the most frightening and terrifying stories, Datlow always has her finger on the pulse of what horror readers crave. Now, with the tenth volume of the series, Datlow is back again to bring you the stories that will keep you up at night.

Stories included are:
Better You Believe  - Carole Johnstone
Liquid Air - Inna Effress
Holiday Romance - Mark Morris
Furtherest - Kaaron Warren
Where’s the Harm? - Rebecca Lloyd
Whatever Comes After Calcutta - David Erik Nelson
A Human Stain - Kelly Robson
The Stories We Tell about Ghosts - A. C. Wise
Endosketal - Sarah Read
West of Matamoros, North of Hell - Brian Hodge
Alligator Point - S. P. Miskowski
Dark Warm Heart - Rich Larson
There and Back Again - Carmen Machado
Shepherd’s Business - Stephen Gallagher
You Can Stay All Day - Mira Grant
Harvest Song, Gathering Song - A. C. Wise
The Granfalloon - Orrin Grey
Fail-Safe - Philip Fracassi
The Starry Crown - Marc E. Fitch
Eqalussuaq - Tim Major
Lost in the Dark - John Langan

Cover art by Chenthooran Nambiarooran.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Review: Road Brothers by Mark Lawrence

Title: Road Brothers
Author: Mark Lawrence
Pages: 276
ISBN: 9780008267896
Series: Broken Empire
Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: 2 November 2017
Genre: Fantasy / Short Stories
Source: Review copy from publisher


Buy it from:
The Book Depository

This is a collection of fourteen stories of murder, mayhem, pathos, and philosophy, all set in the world of the Broken Empire.

Within these pages, you will find tales of men such as Red Kent, Sir Makin, Rike, Burlow and the Nuban, telling of their origins and the events that forged them. There is Jorg himself, striding the page as a child of six, as a teenage wanderer and as a young king. And then there is a tale about Prince Jalan Kendeth - liar, cheat, womaniser and coward.

To the new reader, welcome to a lawless world where wit and sword are the most useful weapons, and danger lurks as much in candle-lit palaces as in dark alleys and dense woodland. To those who have already journeyed with Jorg, we hope you will enjoy renewing old acquaintances with your favourite characters.

When I finished Emperor of Thorns earlier this year it left me craving more. I put off finishing the series for so long, and now it was finally done. Jorg's journey was at an end and it was time to leave that world behind, but then by a miraculous twist of fate a copy of Road Brothers arrived at my door.

Road Brothers collects fourteen stories set in the world of the Broken Empire, thirteen of which focus on Jorg and his band of brothers. The stories revisit some of the most memorable (and some less memorable) characters from the series, expanding on their backstories and providing a better glimpse into what shaped them into the characters we know and love (or loathe). And of course Jorg makes a triumphant return with stories featuring him in various stages of his life.

I thoroughly enjoyed all the stories collected here. Some standouts were:

Sleeping Beauty - Jorg faces remnants of Builder technology in a a fairy tale mash-up with homage to Goldilocks, Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel. The only difference is that this Sleeping Beauty burns with a fiery vengeance.

"Good lives are built of moments - of times when we step back and truly see. The dream and the dreamer. There's the rub. Does the dream ever let go? Aren't we all only sleepwalking into old age, just waiting, waiting, waiting for that kiss?" (p 50)

The Weight of Command - This story focuses on Burlow, one of the lesser liked characters from the series, but still manages to provide an endearing glimpse into his life as he gets caught up in a challenge over leadership.

"Life on the road is an exercise in choice. A man is made of what he chooses to leave behind. Sometimes too many of them." (p 85)

Mercy - A tale of revenge and how restraint is the only escape from the hunger for vengeance.

Choices - Gorgoth tries to care for his family while forced to make tough decisions. A truly touching backstory which plays with the concept of free will and destiny. A tender, heart-breaking glimpse at the humanity of ostensibly monstrous beings.

No other Troy - Jorg besieges a city and triumphs in a way only he can - by being utterly audacious and ruthless.

"They're dead because they didn't understand the world, because they thought that honour and fair play were some deep foundation on which existence rests, But they were wrong..." (p 197)

The Secret - A delightfully simple tale about assassination with a deadly twist.

Know Thyself - Possibly the most poignant story in the collection. A glimpse into the life of Jorg and his younger brother before true tragedy befalls them. A tale that, unwittingly, sets the groundwork for all that follows.

Even rationing myself to only two stories a day, Road Brothers came to an end far too quickly. There are some amazing stories collected here. They provide even more depth and substance to familiar characters and some expose new facets entirely. It was a true pleasure to return to Jorg and his band of brothers. With their journey now truly at an end I can't help but feel bereft all over again.

I would advise newcomers to hold off on reading Road Brothers until they have finished the Broken Empire series. There are a variety of spoilers and the whole experience will be so much better for it. You'll be thankful to have one last treasure to unearth once Jorg's journey is done.

The Verdict:
Road Brothers is a welcome return to the world of the Broken Empire series. The stories collected here offer a glimpse into the world of Jorg and the Brothers, expanding on their tales in one last bittersweet reunion. Who could pass up one final journey with Jorg and his band of brothers? This is an absolute must for fans of the series!

The Rating: 7.5/10 (Very good)

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

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

On My Radar: The Gone World

Today sees the release of The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitch. I'm a sucker for time-travel stories and by the sound of it this science fiction thriller promises to be a real cross-genre treat filled with all the good stuff.


THE GONE WORLD by Tom Sweterlitch
ISBN: 9780399167508
Release date: 6 February 2018
Order a copy from The Book Depository

Inception meets True Detective in this science fiction thriller of spellbinding tension and staggering scope that follows a special agent into a savage murder case with grave implications for the fate of mankind...

Shannon Moss is part of a clandestine division within the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. In western Pennsylvania, 1997, she is assigned to solve the murder of a Navy SEAL's family--and to locate his vanished teenage daughter. Though she can't share the information with conventional law enforcement, Moss discovers that the missing SEAL was an astronaut aboard the spaceship U.S.S. Libra--a ship assumed lost to the currents of Deep Time. Moss knows first-hand the mental trauma of time-travel and believes the SEAL's experience with the future has triggered this violence.

Determined to find the missing girl and driven by a troubling connection from her own past, Moss travels ahead in time to explore possible versions of the future, seeking evidence to crack the present-day case. To her horror, the future reveals that it's not only the fate of a family that hinges on her work, for what she witnesses rising over time's horizon and hurtling toward the present is the Terminus: the terrifying and cataclysmic end of humanity itself.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Review: First Watch by Dale Lucas

Title: First Watch
Author: Dale Lucas
Pages: 379
ISBN: 9780356509365
Series: The Fifth Ward #1
Publisher: Orbit
Published: 11 July 2017
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher


Buy it from:
The Book Depository

In the cramped quarters of the city of Yenara, humans, orcs, mages, elves and dwarves all jostle for success and survival, while understaffed watch wardens struggle to keep the citizens in line. Enter Rem. New to the city, he wakes bruised and hungover in the dungeons of the fifth ward. With no money for bail - and seeing no other way out of his cell - Rem jumps at the chance to join the Watch. Torval, his new partner - a dwarf who's handy with a maul and known for hitting first and asking questions later - is highly unimpressed with the untrained and weaponless Rem. But when Torval's former partner goes missing, the two must learn to work together to uncover the truth and catch a murderer loose in their fair city.

Imagine a darker, less humorous version of Terry Pratchett's City Watch and you'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect of First Watch by Dale Lucas. All the familiar fantasy races are present in this buddy cop fantasy where the unlikely duo of Rem (a human newbie) and Torval (a grizzled dwarven Wardwatch veteran) are tasked to uphold law and order in the city of Yenara.

Yenara is a veritable melting pot of races and cultures and with that comes a seedy underbelly filled with crime, vice and corruption. Dale Lucas explores what most fantasy novels simply gloss over - how law enforcement would function in a fantasy world. Being a member of the Wardwatch is a dangerous, thankless and violent job and even among the various Wards in the city animosity reigns. The Wardwatch aren't paragons of virtue, but they get the job done even if it means having to resort to torture to find the answers

Our main protagonists, Rem and Torval, are captivating characters in their own right. Rem is a runaway who came to Yenara to forge his own destiny away from the expectations of his father. When he finds himself on the wrong side of the law, he jumps at the chance to join the Wardwatch when an unexpected job opportunity arises. His reluctant partner, Torval, is a gruff, world-weary dwarven Wardwatch veteran who lives by his own code. Torval has seen all the horrors the world has to offer and behind his gruff exterior hides a tragic past. Torval initially resents his new partner, but with time Rem earns his respect, even if it's reluctantly given.

"We're watchwardens, boy. It might not mean much to many, but that means something to me. I only keep my share, I always watch my partner's back, and I never break my word. That's the source of all my honor, such as it is. That's my code. Without it, I'm nothing." (p 130)

As Torval and Rem are tasked to investigate a murder they uncover something far larger at play. Bringing the culprits to book puts not only themselves in danger, but could also threaten the fragile peace that exists between the races.

The pacing in First Watch can be somewhat uneven. It takes quite some time for things to really kick off, but as all the threads come together the narrative races to a violent, satisfying conclusion. The growth in Torval and Rem's relationship is what truly drives the story forward, and it is heart-warming to see how the bond between them solidifies. They both came to Yenara to reinvent themselves even if it meant going against social and cultural expectations. In each other they find a bond stronger than family. A home of their own making.

The Verdict:
First Watch is a solid buddy cop police procedural featuring an unlikely pair taking on the seedy criminal underbelly of a city filled with vice and corruption. The story is an entertaining read and the fantasy setting brings something new to the familiar buddy cop trope. While I thoroughly enjoyed reading First Watch it lacks that certain nuance and depth which could have elevated it to something truly special. That being said I'm keen to see more of Torval and Rem's adventures. I hope we get to see more of Queydon, the elf watchwarden, in the next installment. She would make an amazing addition to their team while adding some much needed female representation.

The Rating: 6/10 (Good)

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

Sunday, January 28, 2018

New Arrivals: The Delayed Edition

While trying to bring a small bit of order to the piles of books taking over my room I discovered some books I received but never got round to including in a new arrivals post. I blame festive season madness.

So far I haven't purchased any books in 2018, so my Taming Mount TBR project is still progressing as planned. I ordered these last year and received them just before Christmas. They totally don't count as 2018 purchases...


For Review

The wonderful folks at Jonathan Ball Publishers sent me this amazing collection of books for review.

Road Brothers by Mark Lawrence
Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson
Ruler of the Night by David Morrell
The Order of Things: How Hierarchies Help Us Make Sense of The World by Jackie Strachan & Jane Moseley


I also received this beautiful copy of This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada from Penguin Random House South Africa. The picture simply doesn't do it justice.


Looks like 2018 will be an amazing reading year. What should I read first?

Monday, January 22, 2018

Opening Lines: Dark Orbit

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

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?


Dark Orbit by Carolyn Ives Gilman

Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate. Thora was once a member of the interplanetary elite, but since her prophetic delusions helped mobilize a revolt on Orem, she’s been banished to the farthest reaches of space, because of the risk that her very presence could revive unrest.

Upon arrival, the team finds an extraordinary crystalline planet, laden with dark matter. Then a crew member is murdered and Thora mysteriously disappears. Thought to be uninhabited, the planet is in fact home to a blind, sentient species whose members navigate their world with a bizarre vocabulary and extrasensory perceptions.

Lost in the deep crevasses of the planet among these people, Thora must battle her demons and learn to comprehend the native inhabitants in order to find her crewmates and warn them of an impending danger. But her most difficult task may lie in persuading the crew that some powers lie beyond the boundaries of science.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Review: Dark Orbit

Title: Dark Orbit
Author: Carolyn Ives Gilman
Pages: 303
ISBN: 9780765336293
Series: Twenty Planets
Publisher: Tor
Published: July 2015
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher


Buy it from:
The Book Depository

Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate. Thora was once a member of the interplanetary elite, but since her prophetic delusions helped mobilize a revolt on Orem, she’s been banished to the farthest reaches of space, because of the risk that her very presence could revive unrest.

Upon arrival, the team finds an extraordinary crystalline planet, laden with dark matter. Then a crew member is murdered and Thora mysteriously disappears. Thought to be uninhabited, the planet is in fact home to a blind, sentient species whose members navigate their world with a bizarre vocabulary and extrasensory perceptions.

Lost in the deep crevasses of the planet among these people, Thora must battle her demons and learn to comprehend the native inhabitants in order to find her crewmates and warn them of an impending danger. But her most difficult task may lie in persuading the crew that some powers lie beyond the boundaries of science.

Appearances can be deceiving and expectations doubly so. I thought Carolyn Ives Gilman’s Dark Orbit would be a traditional murder mystery set on a newly discovered alien planet; instead it morphed into an immensely fascinating exploration of the limits of sensory perception and how the way we perceive our world shapes the reality we experience.

“We are organisms evolved to destroy unfamiliarity by the act of understanding it.” (p 58)

The story revolves around two main protagonists, Sara Callicot an exoethnologist, and Thora Lassiter a former diplomat with an unsettling and unstable past. Sara is tasked by her patron to keep an eye on Thora in order to ensure her safety, but it soon becomes apparent that everything is not as it seems. A crewmember onboard the Escher is found beheaded, no murderer can be found and while on an expedition to the planet’s surface Thora disappears – only to discover that the planet is inhabited by the remnants of a long forgotten human diaspora, the Torobes, a community of blind cave-dwellers.

This revelation introduces us to Moth, a young Torobe, who acts as initial mentor to Thora, but also as a bridge between the scientist and the community of Torobe. There is a stark juxtaposition as both Thora and Moth are thrust into environments completely alien to their normal way of experiencing their world. Thora who relies on her sense of vision is plunged into the perpetual darkness whereas Moth, who relies on tactile and auditory input, is transported to the interior of the Escher which is devoid of texture or marks to guide the way.

“With the wind, Torobe became a soundscape with dimension and direction. There was no near and far, upwind and downwind.
‘We have a saying, that the wind is gracious, for it bringeth the world out of silence,’ Hanna said. ‘Each time it comes is like a new little creation, when all things form out of the voice. When the wind speaketh, its language is the world.’
I stood a while with my eyes closed, listening to the creation of the world around me.” (p 145)

When an attempt is made to teach Moth to see she has immense difficulty in dealing with the rudimentary concepts of sight - distance, angles, apparent and intrinsic sizes. Things we never consciously think about confound her. She thinks that sight conveys a magical ability to see the future, purely because sighted people can avoid obstacles before coming into physical contact with them.

“What good is this seeing?” Moth exclaimed angrily. “All it gives thee is deception.”

Both Sara and Thora are strong, compelling female characters. Sara is headstrong with a devious, inbred contempt for authority. Thora appears as an unreliable narrator at first, the flashbacks to her past reveals her hidden depths and the truth about her as character. She acts as the sensory conduit to the world, sharing her first-hand experiences in the form of audio diaries. But it's Moth who truly steals the show; I found her one of the most memorable characters in the novel. She has an incredible heart and a unique way of looking at the world.

“Their habitude is made of boxes,” Moth said. “They have boxes that slide, boxes that hinge, boxes that fold: they are never happy till they have made more boxes for themselves and everything about them.” (p 207)

As a great danger looms which could spell doom for both the natives and the crew of the Escher Thora has to race against time to find a solution to save them all. The key to their salvation lies in the uncanny metaphysical ability some of the Thorobes have developed. An ability which can’t be explained by science.

The open-ended ending is satisfying with some unexpected turns along the way. My only complaint is that Dark Orbit was far too short, I would have loved to see the repercussions of the discovery and the impact it has. Now that I’ve discovered Gilman’s work I will definitely be on the lookout for more of her work. Hopefully her next novel will have some of the answers I still crave.

Dark Orbit has the uncanny ability to challenge your expectations and perceptions in the most profound ways. There is one observation that has stuck in my mind and makes for some powerful food for thought:
“We bemind people all the time – making assumptions, creating illusionary roles for them – and it alters their reality. They start to become what we expect them to be...” (p 286)

If you are looking for something deeply thought-provoking then this is the book for you. You won’t be disappointed!

The Verdict:
Dark Orbit is a fascinating exploration of how our limited sensory perceptions shape how we perceive each other, the world and the universe at large. A cast of captivating characters and a truly remarkable premise makes this a must-read. The story is dizzying in both scope and implication and will have you re-evaluating how you look at the world. My only regret is that it was far too short.

The Rating: 7.5/10 (Very good)

Thanks to Desirae Friesen from Tor for providing the review copy.



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