Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Reading Challenge: Science Fiction Invaders 2022

Nothing rings in a new year quite like a shiny new reading challenge. It brings me great joy to officially announce the Science Fiction Invaders reading challenge. This is a fun, low-commitment,  science fiction themed reading challenge which will blast off on 1 January and end on 31 December 2022. 

How it works:

Download the game sheet below to print out or keep as a digital file. Each time you complete a prompt you can cross off an invader and award yourself the indicated amount of points. All points earned count towards your yearly total. Be sure to keep track of your accumulated points. During the year we'll have quarterly check-ins and you can share your high score at the end of the year to claim a spot on the leaderboard.

You can read as much or as little as you want. To successfully finish the challenge you need to complete at least one full game sheet which will require reading 18 short stories, 7 novellas/graphic novels, 7 novels with 350+ pages, 4 novels with 500+ pages and 3 novels which are part of a trilogy or the last 3 books in a series.

The game sheet for the Science Fiction Invaders challenge

The prompts and scoring:

As a general rule, unless otherwise stated, you are required to finish one book per prompt. Books cannot be used for multiple prompts. Each story in an anthology/collection counts as a single short story. (And yes, audiobooks and short story podcasts count too! Re-reads are allowed.)

Finish a sci-fi trilogy or series (50,000 points)
To complete this prompt you need to start and finish reading an entire science fiction trilogy during the year. For a longer series you need to finish the last 3 books in that series during the year. The 3 books used for this prompt do not count towards any other prompt.

Read a sci-fi novel with more than 500 pages (10,500 points)

Read a sci-fi novel with more than 350 pages (5,000 points)

Read a sci-fi novel/novella/graphic novel with more than 100 pages (2,000 points)

Read a sci-fi short story (500 points)

Bonus points:

You can earn bonus points by completing any of the following in conjunction with any regular prompt for novellas and above. Only one bonus condition can apply per prompt.

Read a sci-fi novel by a female/non-binary/POC author (1,000 points)
Read a sci-fi novel by an author from a country outside the US/UK (1,000 points)
Read a sci-fi novel released in 2022 (500 points)

Example 1:
You read a 500 page book by a male UK author. You earn 10,500 points. (No bonus applies)
Example 2:
You read a 500 page book by a male South African author. You earn 11,500 points (10,500 + 1,000 bonus points for author outside US/UK).
Example 3:
You read a 500 page book by a female South African author. You earn 11,500 points (10,500 + 1,000 bonus points for either female author or author outside US/UK. Only 1 bonus applies per prompt.).

Level Up

You have successfully completed the reading challenge once all the invaders have been eliminated and crossed off your game sheet. Well done! You can call it a day and bask in the warm glow of your accomplishment, or you can decide to continue your fight (and accumulate even more points) by leveling up.

You level up by starting another game sheet (level) and completing the prompts like normal. You can complete as many levels as you like, but each game sheet must be completed in full before you can start the next one.

All points earned from multiple levels count towards your cumulative total and your yearly high score.

Share your score

You can share your score in the comments below or via Twitter using #SFInvaders. You can also join the Science Fiction Invaders Discord Channel to participate there. Quarterly totals should be posted by the end of March, June and September. At the end of December you can post your final high score to be included in the leaderboard. Feel free to share your monthly progress and what you are reading. Engagement is always great!

The Hall of Fame

A special reward awaits a select few readers who manage to reach 1,000,000 points during the challenge. This magnificent achievement will be forever immortalised in the Science Fiction Invaders Hall of Fame. Only the bravest, most determined souls will be able to achieve this pinnacle. Will you be the one? 


I hope this challenge brings you a little bit of joy throughout the year and that you have fun while expanding your science fiction horizons. Arm your blasters and start your engines. Let's go kick some invader ass!

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Review: You Sexy Thing by Cat Rambo

Cover for You Sexy Thing
Title: You Sexy Thing
Author: Cat Rambo
Pages: 306
ISBN: 9781250269300
Publisher: Tor Books
Published: 16 November 2021
Genre: Science Fiction / Space Opera
Source: Library loan

TwiceFar station is at the edge of the known universe, and that's just how Niko Larson, former Admiral in the Grand Military of the Hive Mind, likes it.

Retired and finally free of the continual war of conquest, Niko and the remnants of her former unit are content to spend the rest of their days working at the restaurant they built together, The Last Chance.

But, some wars can't ever be escaped, and unlike the Hive Mind, some enemies aren't content to let old soldiers go. Niko and her crew are forced onto a sentient ship convinced that it is being stolen and must survive the machinations of a sadistic pirate king if they even hope to keep the dream of The Last Chance alive.

Like its title Cat Rambo’s You Sexy Thing is unusual, unconventional and unique. It takes cooking, alien creatures, sentient spaceships, space pirates, warring galactic empires, prophesied destinies, werebeasts and even magic and blends all of these ingredients together to create something that will make your imagination sing with joy. It shouldn't work, but it somehow does.

She ignored him. “Your prophecies were wrong the last three times,” she told Lassite. “You need to stop sharing them with people. They’re always discouraging. You are a swarm of negativity. I’ve told you this before, it doesn’t do us any good when you make customers afraid by hissing doom.” (p 26)

The characters are engaging and each one brings their own unique perspective and skillset to the story. They form a perfect dysfunctional found family who care very deeply for each other, sticking together when everything goes to hell. 

I really enjoyed the main protagonist Niko Larson and her acerbic wit, but some of the supporting characters manage to upstage her, especially Lassite with his portents of doom and gloom. But it’s the ship, You Sexy Thing, itself that steals the show. I loved how the ship explores emotions and moulds a definite sense of self through its interaction with the crew.

Bioships are grown, not manufactured, and every gleaming, curving inch of You Sexy Thing managed to convey a sense of barely restrained power itching to be unleashed. It was a deep black in color, a black that greedily gulped up the light and buried it where no one would ever find it again. (p 61)

The story unfolds at a breakneck pace without a dull moment. Once the first explosion hits you are drawn completely in until the very last page. The ending is satisfying, but hints at so much more to come. I really hope we get to see more of The Thing and her crew and the amazing adventures that await.

You Sexy Thing is an immensely fun read. If you are looking for an unusual space opera with surprising emotional depth hidden in it’s cozy exterior then this is the book for you!

The Rating: 7.5/10 (Very Good)

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Review: Leviathan Falls by James S.A. Corey

Book cover for Leviathan Falls
Title: Leviathan Falls
Author: James S.A. Corey
Series: The Expanse #9
Pages: 560
ISBN: 9780356510392
Publisher: Orbit
Published: 30 November 2021
Genre: Science Fiction / Space Opera
Source: Library Loan

The Laconian Empire has fallen, setting the thirteen hundred solar systems free from the rule of Winston Duarte. But the ancient enemy that killed the gate builders is awake, and the war against our universe has begun again.

In the dead system of Adro, Elvi Okoye leads a desperate scientific mission to understand what the gate builders were and what destroyed them, even if it means compromising herself and the half-alien children who bear the weight of her investigation. Through the wide-flung systems of humanity, Colonel Aliana Tanaka hunts for Duarte’s missing daughter. . . and the shattered emperor himself. And on the Rocinante, James Holden and his crew struggle to build a future for humanity out of the shards and ruins of all that has come before.

The crew of the Rocinante rides for one final time. It feels like only yesterday when we were first introduced to the idealistic, somewhat naive James Holden and his crew. A decade and nine books later their journey finally comes to an end. The characters have been through hell. Over the span of the series their entire universe has been irrevocably changed and they themselves have aged and grown, transformed by all the dangers, hardships and loss they had to face along the way. Despite it all, they’ve managed to stay true to themselves in every way that matters.

He might know when it came, or it might only be clear in retrospect, or it might end for him so quickly that he never had time to notice all the beautiful, small moments that he was losing.

Leviathan Falls brings the most epic of space operas to a fitting close. The ending is unexpectedly poignant. It will tear your heart to shreds while still offering a pinprick of hope. This is as satisfying an ending as anyone could have hoped for. I’ve treasured every moment I’ve spent with the Rocinante and her crew. It’s been one hell of a ride and worth every moment!

The Expanse series will go down in history as one of the great space operas of our time. You won't regret embarking on this adventure of a lifetime. Highly recommended!

The Rating: 8/10 (Great!)

Sunday, December 12, 2021

New Arrivals: Black Friday & Cyber Monday Book Haul

While I haven't been able to read much over the last two months I went just a little crazy during the recent Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales from Reader's Warehouse. Who could resist a 50% discount on books? Definitely not me. At this stage I've pretty much exhausted the entire sci-fi and fantasy section on Reader's Warehouse's site.

I ended up blowing the last of my book budget and ordered a total of 37 books. This is quite possibly my biggest book haul yet. The photo doesn't quite capture how precariously high the stacks were, they were in serious danger of toppling before I got a chance to take the picture.

Stack of 37 SFF books

There should be some seriously good reading amongst these. I'm particularly excited for From a Certain Point of View, The Minders, 10,000 Light-years from Home, Arrival and the Thrawn Trilogy.

Now I just need to find the time to get to them...

Monday, November 1, 2021

On My Radar: Weaponized by Neal Asher

I just spotted the cover for a new Neal Asher novel coming out in 2022. If you are looking for action-packed space opera goodness then Asher never disappoints!

Weaponized by Neal Asher

Weaponized by Neal Asher
ISBN: 9781529050035
Release date: 26 May 2022

A bright new future for humanity – or a dark and inescapable past.

With the advent of new AI technology, Polity citizens now possess incredible lifespans. Yet they struggle to find meaning in their longevity, seeking danger and novelty in their increasingly mundane lives.

On a mission to find a brighter future for humanity, ex-soldier Ursula fosters a colony on the hostile planet Threpsis. Here, survival isn’t a given, and colonists thrive without their AI guidance. But when deadly alien raptors appear, Ursula and her companions find themselves forced to adapt in unprecedented ways. And they will be pushed to the very brink of what it means to be human.

As a desperate battle rages across the planet, Ursula must dig deep into her past if she is to save humanity’s future.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

The Art of Decoration

Here's a little Halloween flash fiction treat for you. I'm not a writer by any stretch of the imagination, but this story idea just got stuck in my head and had to get out. Even if my writing is atrocious I hope you enjoy it and that it creeps you out just a little...


It’s all in perfecting the rictus. You have to get the timing just right to capture that sublime sense of terror. The light fading away as hope departs, the grimace of agonised jaw, mouth agape with a final scream as the resin sets. A perpetual scream that nobody will ever hear, but which will resonate to the very core of those who will bear witness. Primal fear made manifest.

Shrill screams echo from the candy-crazed kids weaving their way past the judges as they scribble notes on their scoring sheets. He hates kids. At least they are keeping their distance, sticky paws and all. Once a year. Halloween night. His time to shine. He’ll tolerate the mongrels just this once.

The certificate arrives in the mail a week later. With shaky fingers he peels open the envelope and slides it out. The gold embossed lettering pleases him greatly - Briar County Award for Best Halloween Decoration: Exceptional Realism. A sticky note is stuck to the back - ‘Don’t know how you do it every year. Congratulations!’. Another year, another accolade. Just as it should be.

Crafting the perfect Halloween decoration is an art form. He is a master of his craft. Nobody can do what he does. Nobody compares.

It was time to go hunt for the perfect specimen for next year. True perfection takes so much time...

Monday, September 20, 2021

Review: Shards of Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Title: Shards of Earth
Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky
Series: Final Architecture #1
Pages: 548
ISBN: 9780316705851
Publisher: Orbit / Tor
Published: 3 August 2021
Genre: Science Fiction / Space Opera
Source: Library Loan

Idris has neither aged nor slept since they remade him in the war. And one of humanity's heroes now scrapes by on a freelance salvage vessel, to avoid the attention of greater powers.

After earth was destroyed, mankind created a fighting elite to save their species, enhanced humans such as Idris. In the silence of space they could communicate, mind-to-mind, with the enemy. Then their alien aggressors, the Architects, simply disappeared - and Idris and his kind became obsolete.

Now, fifty years later, Idris and his crew have discovered something strange abandoned in space. It's clearly the work of the Architects - but are they returning? And if so, why? Hunted by gangsters, cults and governments, Idris and his crew race across the galaxy hunting for answers. For they now possess something of incalculable value, that many would kill to obtain.

Step aside Firefly there’s a new crew of lovable reprobates in town. Shards of Earth is a brilliant introduction to a brand new trilogy from one of the masters of space opera. After reading the amazing Children of Time I didn’t think Adrian Tchaikovsky would ever be able to match it, but he has somehow managed to surpass himself. You can’t help but be awed by his talent and the boundless scope of his imagination.

It had singled out the system’s inhabited world, as Architects always did. Because they must have their art, and their art demanded death.

Shards of Earth draws you in right from the start with a fascinating universe and a central cast of characters who are diverse in both form and temperament. You can’t help but to fall in love with the crew of the Vulture God, a group of scavengers just trying to make a living and scrounge up enough to keep their ship, their true home, from falling apart around them. They embody found family at its best. Their interactions, which are often quite humorous, and the way they truly care for each other is what makes this such a special experience.

Because I remember… I don’t sleep, I don’t age and I don’t forget—not the big things. I owe you my life. And I owe you double because you kept me sane after Berlenhof, after… first contact. But it’s you I owe, not the Parthenon.”

As a simple salvage mission turns into something far more perilous and apocalyptic you are swept away on an absolutely engrossing journey filled with lots of action and intrigue. The stakes keep escalating as the crew get propelled from one sticky situation into the next with some world-shattering revelations along the way. I had to pace myself otherwise I would've devoured the entire novel in a single sitting. Once the narrative grabs you it has the pull of a massive black hole - it simply does not let go.

Those familiar with space operas will spot many familiar tropes of the genre, but Tchaikovsky puts his own distinctive spin on them making it uniquely his own. There's a rich history to the universe and those that inhabit it. The alien creatures make for some of the most compelling characters. While only a supporting character, I found that the crablike alien Kittering "Kit" had a special draw for me and I enjoyed it immensely whenever he made an appearance. Who doesn't love a ruthlessly capitalist crab?

Shards of Earth is a great introduction to what promises to be a truly epic space opera. The nail-biting ending is satisfying in its own right without resorting to any cliffhangers and paves the way for something much bigger yet to come.

Tchaikovsky has outdone himself once again. I can’t quite decide if I like The Shards of Earth more than Children of time (both, I love both!), but if this is how things start out I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the rest of the trilogy. Highly recommended!

The Rating: 8/10 (Great!)

Friday, September 17, 2021

5 Things only TRUE bookworms will understand

Cover image for 5 things only true booksworms will understand

The life of a bookworm is filled with things other people just don't understand. You can try to explain it to them, but only other bookworms will be able to truly understand and share in your pain and frustration. Here's a list of 5 bookish problems only other bookworms will get.

  1. Being surrounded by piles of unread books and still not having anything to read.

  2. Running out of bookshelf space. No, not running out of space ON a bookshelf. Running out of space to put any more bookshelves.

  3. Realising a book/series has been on your TBR for far too long when you see they are being reissued with new covers.

  4. The agony of publishers changing the book size, spine art or cover style of a series midway in the series. Your beautiful collection will never match now, you'll just have to learn to live with it.

  5. Feeling judged by the progress bar of your Goodreads reading goal. A percentage bar has never been so judgmental.

Have you experienced any of these? Do you have any other bookish struggles to add to the list?

Thursday, September 16, 2021

New Arrivals: The Sale Succumbence Part 2

It's not often that I need to do a book haul post in two parts (part one is over here), but given all the recent book sales and my complete inability to resist a good deal I ended up ordering way too many books. Showcasing them all in a single post would've been a bit too cumbersome.  

Here, in all their glory, is the second part of my bookish shopping spree. Another eclectic collection of titles, but they were going for a song. I was powerless to resist yet another 50% discount sale. Reader's Warehouse will bankrupt me one of these days.

Have you read any of these? Which books should I make a priority?

Monday, September 13, 2021

Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission To Space

With Branson and Bezos both launching themselves on suborbital trips to space social media was rife with narratives about billionaires escaping the planet and what an immense waste of resources these space joyrides are. Resources which could rather be used to solve problems here on Earth. Something that got completely lost in the outrage towards billionaires in space was the fact that space travel - the act of reaching for the stars - should be something inspirational and awe-inspiring.

The Inspiration4 mission is set to change all that. This mission is a magnificent counterpoint to the billionaire vanity projects, each trying to outdo the other (even if they have to resort to pedantic infographics). For the very first time in history a crew of civilian astronauts will launch into space, orbit for 3 days and return to Earth. These are normal everyday people. People who have gone that extra mile, done all the training a normal astronaut does and who, upon completion of their mission, will deserve the title of astronaut through and through.

Netflix has an amazing series chronicling the Inspiration4 crew's journey to space. And their stories are truly inspiring. I challenge you to watch this series and not be touched in some fundamental way. It manages to capture their sense of awe and excitement perfectly as they strive to push themselves and the boundaries of civilian space travel. I doubt you'll find anything more inspiring and touching.

With two days before Inspiration4 launches it's the perfect time to catch up with their journey. This is history in the making and understanding the background will make this achievement so much more profound.

Godspeed Inspiration4! I'll be watching every step of this amazing journey.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

New Arrivals: The Sale Succumbence Part 1

When I'm frustrated. I buy books.

When I'm stressed. I buy books.

When I want to celebrate. I buy books.

All of which have let to a ton of book buying over the past month. Especially since there were not one, not two, but three huge sales during the period. And I just can't resist a good book sale.

First up we have the stunning Halloween editions of Stephen King's Carrie, Rose Madder and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. Since these are about to go out of print I just had to grab them to go with the boxed set of the other Stephen King Halloween editions I picked up last year two years ago (what even is time?).

Then I picked up The Doors of Eden, The Human, The Light of All That Falls and Shadows of Self at a 15% discount. All of these are part series I want to get to or finish soon.

Reader's Warehouse had another Big Sale where you get an increasing discount based on the amount of books you buy. Of course I had to go for the maximum discount - 50% off for 10 items or more.

An eclectic collection to be sure, but they were cheap. So why not?

Later in the month Reader's Warehouse would tempt me once again. Who wants to guess how that turned out? (Find out in Part 2...)

Saturday, September 4, 2021

New Arrivals: Eaglemoss DC Comics Collection

A while back I came across some pictures of the Eaglemoss DC Comics collection. The Alex Ross artwork on their spines looked amazing and I immediately developed some serious shelf envy. I resigned myself to the fact that I would never get my hands on a collection of my own since they were sold as part of a subscription service and unfortunately I had missed that bus a long time ago. And then fate intervened...

As luck would have it an old classmate of mine had to get rid of his collection as soon as possible. I jumped at the chance, and after some logistical struggles I finally got my grubby little hands on the precious beauties. Well, 69 of them at least. Luckily the spine artwork I fell in love with is part of the editions I managed to obtain. Now I can bask in their beauty whenever I want to.

Eaglemoss DC Comic Graphic Novel Collection Spine Art

Isn't that just the best looking shelf ever? Over half of the books haven't even been read yet and are are in almost pristine condition still sealed in their original packaging. The entire pantheon of DC characters are covered and since I'm relatively new to comics I haven't read any of these stories before.

Eaglemoss DC Comic Collection Vol 1 - 9

Eaglemoss DC Comic Collection Vol 10 - 19

Eaglemoss DC Comic Collection Vol 20 - 29

Eaglemoss DC Comic Collection Vol 30 - 39

Eaglemoss DC Comic Collection Vol 40 - 49

Eaglemoss DC Comic Collection Vol 50 - 59

Eaglemoss DC Comic Collection Vol 60 - 69

Comics, comics everywhere! I've always been meaning to get more into comics and now I don't have any excuse not to...

Thursday, August 26, 2021

On My Radar: Inhibitor Phase by Alastair Reynolds

I'm a HUGE Alastair Reynolds fan and can't wait to get my hands on his latest novel, Inhibitor Phase, which promises a triumphant return to the Revelation Space universe.

Inhibitor Phase Cover

Inhibitor Phase by Alastair Reynolds
ISBN: 9780575090712
Release date: 26 August 2021

Miguel de Ruyter is a man with a past.

Fleeing the ‘wolves’ – the xenocidal alien machines known as Inhibitors – he has protected his family and community from attack for forty years, sheltering in the caves of an airless, battered world called Michaelmas. The slightest hint of human activity could draw the wolves to their home, to destroy everything … utterly. Which is how Miguel finds himself on a one-way mission with his own destructive mandate: to eliminate a passing ship, before it can bring unwanted attention down on them.

Only something goes wrong.

There’s a lone survivor.

And she knows far more about Miguel than she’s letting on . . .

Ranging from the depths of space to the deeps of Pattern Juggler waters, from nervous, isolated communities to the ruins of empire, this is a stealthy space opera from an author at the top of his game.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Review: Hold Up the Sky by Cixin Liu

Title: Hold Up The Sky
Author: Cixin Liu
Pages: 407
ISBN: 9781838937621
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Published: 1 October 2020
Genre: Science Fiction / Short Stories
Source: Review copy from publisher

In Hold Up the Sky, Cixin Liu takes us across time and space, from a rural mountain community where elementary students must use physics to prevent an alien invasion; to coal mines in northern China where new technology will either save lives or unleash a fire that will burn for centuries; to a time very much like our own, when superstring computers predict our every move; to 10,000 years in the future, when humanity is finally able to begin anew; to the very collapse of the universe itself.

Hold Up the Sky by Cixin Liu is a fascinating short story collection featuring 11 science fiction tales translated from the original Chinese. For longtime science fiction fans most of the stories will seem familiar, but Liu brings a uniquely different cultural perspective to the genre. Some stories might seem deceptively simple at first, only to reveal the true immensity of their scope as you reach the end. Throughout his work Liu deals with the interconnectedness between humanity and the universe and how the future and transformation of both are inextricably intertwined.

Stories included in the collection are:

  • The Village Teacher
  • The Time Migration
  • 2018-04-01
  • Fire in the Earth
  • Contraction
  • Mirror
  • Ode to Joy
  • Full-Spectrum Barrage Jamming
  • Sea of Dreams
  • Cloud of Poems
  • The Thinker

Overall I enjoyed most of the stories, but like with any short story collection there were a few that didn’t quite hit the mark. In one instance I think this might be a case where the true impact of the story might have been actually lost in translation as it deals with poetry where the form and function can’t be translated easily and might have diminished the impact of the story.

There were three stories that really stood out to me, each of which shows the vast scope of Liu’s imagination. Mirror: What would the world be like if every moment could be known? A fascinating premise where a digital model can mirror reality exactly with far reaching consequences. Full Spectrum Barrage Jamming: Electronic warfare is taken to the extreme. Captures the visceral impact of war and the sacrifices necessary for victory. And finally there’s The Thinker: A chance encounter leads to a discovery with vast implications.

Hold Up the Sky is a really enjoyable story collection with some truly fantastic and imaginative ideas. If you are looking for science fiction outside the Western norms then this is a great start. Recommended!

The Rating: 7/10 (Very Good)

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

Friday, August 6, 2021

Opening Lines: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

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.

"The world had teeth and it could bite you with them anytime it wanted. Trisha McFarland discovered this when she was nine years old."
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King

On a six-mile hike on the Maine-New Hampshire branch of the Appalachian Trail, nine-year-old Trisha McFarland quickly tires of the constant bickering between her older brother, Pete, and her recently divorced mother. But when she wanders off by herself, and then tries to catch up by attempting a shortcut, she becomes lost in a wilderness maze full of peril and terror

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Review: Green Valley by Louis Greenberg

Title: Green Valley
Author: Louis Greenberg
Pages: 319
ISBN: 9781789090239
Publisher: Titan Books
Published: 11 June 2019
Genre: Science Fiction / Thriller / Horror
Source: Purchased

When Lucie Sterling's niece is abducted, she knows it won't be easy to find answers. Stanton is no ordinary city: invasive digital technology has been banned, by public vote. No surveillance state, no shadowy companies holding databases of information on private citizens, no phones tracking their every move.

Only one place stays firmly anchored in the bad old ways, in a huge bunker across town: Green Valley, where the inhabitants have retreated into the comfort of full-time virtual reality-personae non gratae to the outside world. And it's inside Green Valley, beyond the ideal virtual world it presents, that Lucie will have to go to find her missing niece.

Vision is more important than truth. Green Valley by Louis Greenberg is a genre-bending novel that’s never quite what you expect it to be. With its amalgamation of science fiction, horror and thriller it morphs and transforms as you turn the pages defying any easy labels. When Lucie Sterling’s niece goes missing she ventures into Green Valley, an enclave where the inhabitants live their lives enmeshed in a permanent virtual reality world. In a world where all your senses can be tricked and manipulated nothing is what it seems…

In her search Lucie uncovers the horrific secret of what hides behind the outward veneer of digital bliss. A secret which will leave you questioning our relationship with technology.

The characters and plot almost become a secondary consideration as the true horror is revealed. The impact of Green Valley lies not in what actually happens in the novel or how things turn out, but in its exploration of the impact technology has on our society and all the questions that it provokes. Through the juxtaposition of the two communities, two very different extremes, Greenberg forces you to dig below the surface to come to grips with an all too possible future. What will we be prepared to sacrifice as technology becomes ever more immersive and integrated into every aspect of our daily lives?

Green Valley is a thought-provoking read which will change the way you look at technology and its place in your life. Through this prescient cautionary tale, Greenberg asks some profound questions which we should all take the time to contemplate. If you enjoy things similar in tone to Black Mirror, you'll love this. Recommended!

The Rating: 7/10 (Very Good!)

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Book Haul: The Shiny Edition

The past couple of weeks have been extremely tough at work. The world seemed filled with doom and gloom and the cold, rainy weather didn't help either. The bookish gods must have taken pity on me, because one particularly stormy day I received the absolutely best book package from the wonderful folks at Jonathan Ball Publishers. Turns out the best remedy for the blues is a bunch of shiny new books!

A huge thank you to Charlene and the rest of the Jonathan Ball Publishing team. You made my world a little bit brighter at just the right time!

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Review: Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Title: Guns of the Dawn
Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky
Pages: 658
ISBN: 9781447234562
Publisher: Tor
Published: 1 February 2015
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased

First, Denland's revolutionaries assassinated their king, launching a wave of bloodshed after generations of peace. Next they clashed with Lascanne, their royalist neighbor, pitching war-machines against warlocks in a fiercely fought conflict. Genteel Emily Marshwic watched as the hostilities stole her family's young men. But then came the call for yet more Lascanne soldiers in a ravaged kingdom with none left to give. Emily must join the ranks of conscripted women and march toward the front lines. With barely enough training to hold a musket, Emily braves the savage reality of warfare. But she begins to doubt her country's cause, and those doubts become critical. For her choices will determine her own future and that of two nations locked in battle.

Pride and Prejudice goes to war, with just a pinch of magic thrown in to keep things interesting. With Guns of the Dawn Adrian Tchaikovsky once again manages to deliver a fascinating tale that sucks you straight into the lives of the masterfully crafted characters and the world they inhabit.

I'm in awe of Tchaikovsky's talent and how he manages to seamlessly transition between genres. He's such a prolific author who writes not only fantasy, but also excels at science fiction and even horror. It's rare to encounter such a gifted speculative fiction all-rounder and each of his work offers a unique experience. I haven't read a Tchaikovsky novel I haven't loved.

Guns of the Dawn follows the travails of Emily Marshwic, a gentlewoman conscripted into a war she is barely equipped to handle. the midst of war. She is completely transformed by the harrowing experiences she goes through and discovers a strength and resolve in herself that she never knew she possessed. She discovers that in war, truth is not always what it seems...

Emily is a great protagonist and you can't help but to be emotionally invested in her struggles, her loss and pain, but also her personal triumphs. Mr Northway is the perfect counterpoint, a character you love to loathe, but who has hidden depths of his own. Someone who might not be quite as bad as he's made out to be. There's also a large cast of supporting characters who bring the world and the horrors of war to vivid life.

"'We're at war, Em,' said Tubal. 'And it's hard, and it hurts, and the only way to avoid the knife is not to take it seriously.'"

While this is a fantasy novel there is only the smallest spark of magic infused into the world. Only a select few warlocks have magical powers and they are limited in their scope. The rest of the world is mired in the cruel, brutal reality of mundane warfare with sword and gun and the bloody aftermath it leaves behind.

While the ending wasn't completely unexpected it did provide a very satisfying conclusion to the story which felt not only fitting, but so very much deserved.

Guns of the Dawn is a very good read. It deals brilliantly with bringing the horrors of war to life and shows the harrowing toll it has on those who manage to survive. For some reason Guns of the Dawn seems to have sneaked by largely unnoticed, which is a huge pity since it's well worth your time. Highly recommended!

The Rating: 7.5 (Very good)

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The Book Shopping Book Tag

If there's one thing I know how to do it's buying books. When I came across the Book Shopping Book Tag on YouTube I just knew I had to do it too (albeit in text form). Who doesn't love book shopping or talking about book shopping?

1) How do you buy books? Physically because you believe in the power of touch or online because interactions are overrated?

Since the closest book store to me is a roughly 400 km trip I buy most of my books online. Getting to go into an actual physical store is a very rare treat, but that hardly ever happens.

2) Do you prefer bigger bookshops or smaller ones?

Since I'm particularly focused on speculative fiction I prefer bigger bookshops with larger selections. Even the big bookshops normally have very small speculative fiction sections, which tend to be a big disappointment on the very rare occasion that I actually get to go into a shop.

3) Do you prefer to buy books when they are brand new (being the first to touch them, it being in great condition), or do you prefer used ones (the book having character, history, and personality)?

I prefer to have books in very good condition so most of my purchases are new, but I've also bought loads of used books which are in great condition. In an ideal world I'd buy everything new.

4) Are you a coupon TLC level crazy person or a full price sweet sixteen MTV?

I'm an old, so I'm not sure I get this particular reference. If it means that I look for bargains then it's definitely the former. Books are expensive over here, so I'm constantly on the lookout for sales and discount codes. When a sale hits I basically go on a buying spree.

5) Read, research, analysed Sherlock Holmes-style or impulse buyer like a shopaholic?

Both? I generally stay up to date on new releases so I'm aware of what's coming out so a bit of research goes into it. If the price is right I've been known to pick up books I've never heard of.

6) A book or two at a time or full cart pandemic style and till the mailman dies?

Three words - free shipping threshold. I normally order enough books to reach the threshold for free shipping. Normally this means around a minimum of 3 to 5 books at a time.

7) New and recent releases or older and classics?

I prefer more recent releases, but I also pick up older books.

8) Are you a Pre-order total fan freak or wait until it arrives at the bookshop because it can wait?

Due to price I very rarely pre-order. There are a few authors I might do pre-orders for, but it's very rare. I mostly wait till the book is available in paperback before picking it up.

9) Do you prefer special expensive, beautiful covers, colour edges and unique editions or is the inside of the book that counts?

I covet special editions, but I just can't justify the price. There are quite a few limited editions I'd love to own, but only if I got them as gifts. Then again I'd be too afraid to actually read them...

10) Picture your favourite book. Do you show your love by buying multiple copies or do you believe in single true love?

Just a single edition is fine. However by some quirk of bookish magic I somehow tend to accumulate multiple copies of certain books. It's weird how that happens.

11) Name your favourite places to bookshop!

Since I mostly buy online I have to recommend my two favourite South African book shopping sites. The first is Reader's Warehouse -  they have the best prices in the country making my book habit much more affordable. Great service, fast shipping and good packaging. I think I might already own the entirety of the science fiction and fantasy section they have available.

The second is Loot. They are a great option if you want to order something recent and want to ensure that your books are packaged properly when they are shipped. (Unlike another big online retailer, which shall not be named, who thinks just chucking books into a box is sufficient packaging).


What are your book buying habits?

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Love, Death and Robots Volume 2

I absolutely adored the first volume of Netflix's Love, Death and Robots and the second volume, which launched on Friday, doesn't disappoint at all.

While smaller in scope than the first season, with only 8 episodes this second volume packs a tremendous punch with some truly stunning visuals and hard-hitting stories which will leave you craving more.

As with any anthology some stories didn't hit the mark, but those that did blew me away. My absolute favourite was Snow in the Desert based on Neal Asher's short story of the same name. It was great to finally see his Polity universe brought to the screen. There's so much untapped cinematic potential in the Polity universe. Hopefully they'll soon be able to introduce the viewing public to Hooders and a little place called Spatterjay too...

A close second has to be All Through the House. You'll never look at Christmas in the same way again. I also loved Life Hutch and the, very dark, Pop Squad.

Ranking the episodes from most to least favourite is a tough choice since it will depend completely on your personal taste in art style and narrative. If I had to rank the episodes my list would look something like this:

  1. Snow in the Desert (Story by Neal Asher, 2002)
  2. All Through the House (Story by Joachim Heijndermans, 2017)
  3. Life Hutch (Story by Harlan Ellison, 1956)
  4. Pop Squad (Story by Paolo Bacigalupi, 2006)
  5. The Tall Grass (Story by Joe R. Lansdale, 2012)
  6. Ice (Story by Rich Larson, 2015)
  7. The Drowned Giant (Story by J.G. Ballard,1964 )
  8. Automated Customer Service (Story by John Scalzi, 2019 )

Love, Death and Robots Volume 2 should definitely be a priority on your watchlist. It's a visual feast of speculative fiction! I'm amazed at both the animation and story talent on show. I definitely want more.

Have you watched it yet? What's your favourite episodes?

Monday, May 10, 2021

Review: Liftoff by Eric Berger

Title: Liftoff
Author: Eric Berger
Pages: 268
ISBN: 9780008445638
Publisher: William Collins
Published: 2 March 2021
Genre: Non Fiction / Aerospace
Source: Review copy from publisher

The dramatic inside story of the first four historic flights that launched SpaceX—and Elon Musk—from a shaky startup into the world's leading edge rocket company.

SpaceX has enjoyed a miraculous decade. Less than 20 years after its founding, it boasts the largest constellation of commercial satellites in orbit, has pioneered reusable rockets, and in 2020 became the first private company to launch human beings into orbit. Half a century after the space race SpaceX is pushing forward into the cosmos, laying the foundation for our exploration of other worlds.

But before it became one of the most powerful players in the aerospace industry, SpaceX was a fledgling startup, scrambling to develop a single workable rocket before the money ran dry. The engineering challenge was immense; numerous other private companies had failed similar attempts. And even if SpaceX succeeded, they would then have to compete for government contracts with titans such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing, who had tens of thousands of employees and tens of billions of dollars in annual revenue. SpaceX had fewer than 200 employees and the relative pittance of $100 million in the bank.

As you watch the latest livestream of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as it launches, delivers the latest batch of Starlink satellites to orbit and then successfully lands back on a droneship floating around on the ocean it's just another average day. SpaceX has made something that was unthinkable two decades ago seem mundane.  It’s easy to forget that SpaceX had a long, arduous journey to get where it is today. Nobody expected them to succeed, and yet, against all odds, they did.

"Can you believe that thing, or something like it, is going to take people to another planet for the first time in 4.5 billion years? I mean, probably. It may not work. But it probably will."

Liftoff by Eric Berger chronicles the early days of SpaceX where a handful of people made the impossible possible through their hard work, immense sacrifice and perseverance in the face of extreme adversity. With failure after failure they persisted. As the entire future of the company hinged on one final launch, they finally managed to bring Elon Musk’s vision of a more affordable, more agile spaceflight industry into being.

Liftoff is an absolutely fascinating read and shows how truly transformative SpaceX is, both in vision, management style and execution. A small upstart company which nobody believed could succeed, brought disruptive innovation into a stagnating industry which relied on the plodding status quo being maintained.

While Elon Musk is without a doubt the driving force and public face of SpaceX he didn’t do it by himself. Musk gets most of the spotlight but there was an entire team of engineers who worked tirelessly to make the Falcon rocket a reality. It was refreshing to finally hear their stories and to see how much they sacrificed to be part of something they truly believed in. Through sweat, tears and ingenuity they managed to make history. It’s about time their story is told.

If you are interested in spaceflight then Liftoff by Eric Berger is an essential read. It showcases the extremely tough early days of SpaceX and gives insight into a company which transformed the industry forever. With the development of Starship set to completely disrupt the industry once again, it was great to see where it all started and how SpaceX are building the tools to take us to the future. Highly recommended!

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

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

New Arrivals: Epic Book Haul Edition

 March was my birthday month. As luck would have it it also coincided with some really good book sales at Reader's Warehouse and Loot, my two favourite online book retailers in South Africa. Of course that meant that I went totally overboard with the book purchases, but seeing as it was almost a year since I last bought books I think it was more than overdue.

I was also lucky enough to receive some review copies from the wonderful folks at Jonathan Ball Publishers. One title in particulare made my SpaceX fanboy heart squee with glee.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Review: Later by Stephen King

Title: Later
Author: Stephen King
Pages: 512
ISBN: 9781789096491
Publisher: Hard Case Crime
Published: 2 March 2021
Genre: Horror / Crime
Source: Library

The son of a struggling single mother, Jamie Conklin just wants an ordinary childhood. But Jamie is no ordinary child. Born with an unnatural ability his mom urges him to keep secret, Jamie can see what no one else can see and learn what no one else can learn. But the cost of using this ability is higher than Jamie can imagine - as he discovers when an NYPD detective draws him into the pursuit of a killer who has threatened to strike from beyond the grave.

It's been ages since a book kept me up reading long past midnight. Later, the latest novel by Stephen King managed to do just that. It sucked me right in and I lost all track of time while in the grip of the brilliantly crafted narrative. I kept putting off going to sleep. Just one more chapter. Just one more page. I'll sleep later. When I finally came to my senses it was 2AM and I had 3 hours left before I had to go to work. I guess you'd expect nothing less from Stephen King.

Later follows the story of Jamie Conklin a teenage boy gifted with a supernatural ability. As he slowly comes to grips with his ability he is drawn into the harsh reality of the world. A world filled with crime and malice, and those that would use him, and what he can do for their own ends. It's a story about facing your demons in whichever form they may come.

Stephen King excels at capturing the innocence of youth and the transformation which occurs when that childhood innocence is lost forever. I adored Jamie and his story, and I was captivated until the very end. Constant readers will be happy with all the small easter eggs and references to the greater King universe. 

At its core this is a horror story, but it's a far more subtle variety of horror than most of King's other works. The supernatural twist he brings to crime works very well and makes for compelling reading. The ending is satisfying and open-ended enough to hint at some marvelous future possibilities.

"You get used to marvelous things. You take them for granted. You can try not to, but you do. There’s too much wonder, that’s all. It’s everywhere."

There is one thing that I'm ambivalent about. Near the end there is a revelation about a familial connection where Jamie's father is revealed. This felt unnecessary and didn't add to the story, in fact I felt it actually detracted from it. The story might have been better if this was left out, but it does serve to challenge our preconceptions.

Jamie Conklin has cemented himself firmly into my pantheon of favourite Stephen King characters. I hope we see much more of him, hopefully much sooner than later!

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Out of the Darkness Kickstarter

Independent UK publisher, Unsung Stories, has launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund Out of the Darkness, an anthology of dark fantasy and horror fiction which aims to raise awareness of mental health issues and mental wellbeing. Not only does the anthology offer a stunning lineup of authors, but all royalties and fees from the collection will be donated to the mental health charity Together for Mental Wellbeing.

Out of the Darkness, in collaboration with Together for Mental Wellbeing, challenges some of the most exciting voices in horror and dark fantasy to bring their worst fears out into the light. From the black dog of depression to acute anxiety and schizophrenia, these stories prove what fans of horror fiction have long known – that we must understand our demons to overcome them.

Edited by Dan Coxon (This Dreaming Isle) and featuring exclusive stories by Alison Moore, Jenn Ashworth, Tim Major and Aliya Whiteley, this collection harnesses the power of fiction to explore and explain the darkest moments in our lives. Horror isn’t just about the chills – it’s also about the healing that comes after.

Table of contents
  • Nocturia – Nicholas Royle
  • The Note – Jenn Ashworth
  • Lonely Souls in Quiet Houses – Laura Mauro
  • Seabound – Alison Moore
  • Goodbye, Jonathan Tumbledown – Tim Major
  • The Chorus – Aliya Whiteley
  • The Forlorn Hope – Verity Holloway
  • Oblio – Richard V. Hirst
  • Still She Visits – Eugen Bacon
  • Bloodybones Jones – Sam Thompson
  • The Lightness of their Hearts – Georgina Bruce
  • The Residential – Gary Budden
  • Replacement Bus Service – Ashley Stokes
  • Temple – Anna Vaught
  • The Hungry Dark – Simon Bestwick

You can pledge your support for this very worthwhile project at the Out of the Darkness Kickstarter page. What better way is there to spread good in the world than through the magic of story?

Monday, March 8, 2021

Review: Dogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Title: Dogs of War
Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky
Series: Dogs of War #1
Pages: 266
ISBN: 9781786693877
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Published: 2 November 2017
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Purchased

My name is Rex. I am a good dog. Rex is also seven foot tall at the shoulder, bulletproof, bristling with heavy calibre weaponry and his voice resonates with subsonics especially designed to instil fear. With Dragon, Honey and Bees, he's part of a Multiform Assault Pack operating in the lawless anarchy of Campeche, south-eastern Mexico.

Rex is a genetically engineered Bioform, a deadly weapon in a dirty war. He has the intelligence to carry out his orders and feedback implants to reward him when he does. All he wants to be is a Good Dog. And to do that he must do exactly what Master says and Master says he's got to kill a lot of enemies.

But who, exactly, are the enemies? What happens when Master is tried as a war criminal? What rights does the Geneva Convention grant weapons? Do Rex and his fellow Bioforms even have a right to exist? And what happens when Rex slips his leash?

You might think you know what sentience is. You’d be wrong.

In Dogs of War Adrian Tchaikovsky once again shifts the boundaries of possibility of non-human intelligence. The novel follows the members of a Multiform Assault Pack consisting of Rex, Honey, Bees and Dragon — bioforms designed and bred to be ruthless, obedient killing machines. To their masters they are mere tools to be used and discarded, but iIn reality they are far more than their creators could ever imagine.

Tchaikovsky excels at portraying non-human intelligence in it’s multitude of forms. He manages to give each bioform a distinct personality suited not only to their form, but also to their function in the pack. You can’t help but fall in love with them and feel compassion towards their plight. Especially as they slowly discover the reality of the situation and their place in the world.

“That is our choice. You want us to follow human orders. You think that is better.” The bear’s animal stare was nothing if not judgemental.

Dogs of War is larger in scope and far more nuanced than it first appears. The novel tackles huge themes exploring the boundaries of sentience, morality, self determination, freedom and ownership.

Technology is not Good Tech or Bad Tech. It is the Master who is guilty for what it does.

It's difficult to talk about the novel without spoiling it. You have to experience the revelations for yourself as the truth is slowly revealed. The ending broke my heart. Rex is not just a Good Dog. He is the Best Dog!

To say that Dogs of War is a mind-bending read would be wholly inadequate. It took me weeks after finishing it to come to terms with all the implications. It blew my mind just a little… Highly recommended!

The Rating: 8/10 (Great!)

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Adventures in Star Wars Papercraft

One of the things that has been bugging me for quite some time now is that I don't have any cool geeky stuff to display on my bookshelves. Most of my fellow science fiction geeks seem to have the most amazing Lego Star Wars or Star Trek model kits as props to proudly proclaim their geekiness to the world. Stuff that I could only dream of and drool over.  Local prices for similar items are just insane, and that's in the rare even that they are even to be found over here.

So what's a geek on a budget left to do? Stick to sales and hope some good comes your way. In my most recent book shopping spree I stumbled across some Star Wars books published by Egmont which include some foam board paper models you can assemble.  Those looked like they could be fun, so I decided to give them a try.

Now, let is be known that I'm not crafty at all, my dexterity has a -6 penalty and I struggle with spacial orientation. I was filled with trepidation whether I would be able to pull it off, but hoped my crafting skills would be up to the task. If a seven-year-old can do it, I can do it too. Hopefully.

First up was the models from the Starfighter Workshop which included both an X-Wing and a Tie Fighter. The X-Wing consisted of 26 pieces and was suprisingly easy to put together, without any major snags. The Tie Fighter which only had 20 pieces was quite a bit more complex and the folds were quite finicky. After a couple of hours of folding and inserting pieces into each other I had something looking at least similar to the intended goal.

Then it was time to tackle the AT-ST. For something so small it had the most parts (40!) and entailed some very finicky bending and contortions to get things to fit. When it came to the legs the instructions became unclear. Their illustration didn't match what I had in front of me no matter which way I put the pieces together. In the end I had to rely on my best guess and it seemed to work. However, I somehow ended up with an AT-ST which seems far more interested in the sky than the one depicted in the book. I checked and can't see anywhere where I went wrong, so not sure if it's just the angle of the photo in the book. But it still looks pretty cool to me. The feet were the absolute worst to put together. One foot is still a bit wonky and I just can't seem to fix it. The foam board is pretty fragile so I'm going to leave it as is and not risk any potential damage from tinkering further. At least it's standing upright on its own. That's enough of a win for me.

Overall I'm pretty happy with how they turned out. They aren't perfect and it might have taken me way longer than most people to put together, but the result seems good enough. The whole process was pretty fun despite the odd frustration. I have finally fulfilled my lifelong dream of owning a X-Wing, albeit a paper one. There's only one problem - the X-Wing and Tie fighter are so big they basically take up an entire shelf of their own. But that's a problem for another day when I run out of shelf space again...

May the Force be with you!

New Arrivals: First Book Haul in Forever

It has been an entire year since I last ordered some books. So, when Reader's Warehouse announced they had a book sale going on, I just couldn't resist any longer. I might even have gone a tad overboard....

The books arrived in good order except for the copy of The Exorcist which had a damaged cover. While trying to sort out a replacement I stumbled upon the second part of the sale, so there was only one thing to do. Buy more books!

The pickings were rather slim, but I managed to find the last few SFF titles among the sale items.

I also found some Star Wars paper model kits, which looked kinda fun.

We'll have to see if my crafting skills are up to the level of a seven-year-old...