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...

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Bookish Tech: My TBR Cart

While I haven't been buying a lot of books lately I seem to have gotten into the habit of buying bookish related things. After getting a laptop desk reading desk, my latest acquisition is another thing I didn't know I needed in my life until I saw a BookTube video by Sarah Hearts Books showing off her TBR cart. I blame her for putting the idea in my head. I searched far and wide to find a similar product in South Africa and finally found one.

When the cart arrived it wasn't quite as advertised. It different considerably from what was pictured, but according to the seller this was an 'upgraded' version. The seller has since removed the product from Takealot, so I'm kinda stuck with the one I got. And after going through the whole assembly process I didn't want to send it back and start the search all over.

My main concern is that the wire mesh of this cart is quite thin, so I'm not sure how durable it will be in the long run. I normally try to push things to their capacity, but I'll take it easy on this one. Just in case...

Over the years piles of books had mysteriously appeared around my room. They seem to have been breeding and on a mission of complete conquest. Having conquered the territories of my desk, my bedside table and my spare chair they were steadily advancing on my bed. I had to act before it was too late. The idea behind getting a TBR cart was to bring some semblance of order back to my room. 

A cart was the ideal solution since it would provide easily moveable storage space, would reduce the clutter and just looked bloody cool. And I'm please to say it delivered on all fronts!

In the end I managed to put all 40 books I had scattered around the room into my handy new TBR cart. It immediately made my room look much neater and best of all I still have loads of space to spare. I think you could get around 70 to 80 books in there if you had two rows of books per tier. Since I'm not sure how much weight the wire mesh will hold I'm playing it safe and not pushing it to its limits.

The TBR cart has made a huge difference to my life. Despite the hefty price (everything is more expensive over here) I think it's well worth it. It's like a mini-bookcase. On wheels! Who wouldn't love that? I highly suggest you look into getting one of your own. It's just so handy, even if you just use it as additional shelving space.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Adventures in Bookcase Assembly

Like most bookworms out there I have this dream of having my own personal library with entire walls lined with shelves. Trying to make that dream a reality has been a nearly impossible task. It seems I have the worst luck when it comes to bookcases. Back in 2019 I found the perfect bookcase - it was just the right height, easy to assemble and best of all it had 6 shelves. The only downside was the cost. To fill the entire wall I would need 8 of the bookcases which was a bit beyond my budget. No problem, I thought. I could just buy two each year until I had the entire wall filled. Yeah, nope. When I wanted to buy the second two the design was discontinued and nothing came even close to matching.

Forward to the start of 2020 and I managed to find some bookcases I liked. They only had 5 shelves, but came pre-assembled from a local retailer (saving on shipping fees). I bought two and I was very happy with them. In November I wanted to get the last 2 I would need to finish my project. Turns out they can't source any from their supplier and the one they had in stock was damaged.

Which brings us up to the present. I found yet another bookcase that I liked the look of - the Decofurn Echo Bookcase BC15. Think of it as the South African version of the Kallax bookcases available from IKEA overseas. At least in concept.  With five shelves and the same(ish) height as the original two. The only problem is that they require assembly and the shipping would be quite expensive (about a 1/4 of the actual bookcase price itself). I wanted to make sure about the dimensions of the shelves and the partitions, so I contact the retailer through their website. I got a call back and was put through to the sales floor who wanted to quote the dimensions available on the site to me. They couldn't give me the width of the actual shelves or the size of the partitions because they didn't have any measuring tape or a ruler on the floor. In the end I had to beg them to estimate the thickness of the shelf using a pen as yardstick. 2 standard pens, so approximately 1.5cm which should be sturdy enough. So I ordered two...

And this is where my hellish adventure in bookcase assembly began. I would gladly have paid extra for them to send me an assembled unit, but due to my location that wasn't a possibility. So assembling them myself would be my only resort. I'm not a very handy person. I'm well aware of that fact as my woodwork teacher begged me to take another subject as soon as I was able to choose which subjects I wanted to take. But I'm pretty good at following instructions. And this is where the entire experience fell apart. 

The instructions that came with the bookcase were as clear as mud and left out some very crucial things. You see the actual shelves are recessed from both the front and back of the sides. Which means that you have to find some way to elevate each shelf by about 1cm to make them line up with the slot provided for the back panels. And of course no spacers are provided to use for this purpose. I had to resort to elevating each shelf using some folded pieces of cardboard.

The assembly was a hellish experience. The slightest bump would make things shift, go askew and even have the partitions fall out. In order to get anything done I had to disregard the instructions and put things on out of order. I resorted to first screwing on the sides to the bottom piece in order to get some stability. Then I proceeded to add each shelf with its two partitions, working from the bottom up. This was still not ideal. The partitions kept falling out at the slightest bump. Most of this is due to the recessed nature of the shelves. If you could just have aligned the front or back of the shelves with the front or the back of the sides, things would have been MUCH easier and far quicker. The recessed shelves are an odd design decision. There is no need for the assembly to take this long or be this frustrating. Approximately 20 hours later, after loads of frustration and enough swearing to make a sailor blush I managed to assemble the Echo bookcase. I was amazed that it actually came together and surprisingly, despite my jerry rigging, it seems to have worked. It hasn't fallen apart... yet. 

I think Decofurn needs to seriously look at their design and improve the clarity of their instructions as it doesn't even make mention of the recessed shelves. Recessing the shelves by 1cm from the front seems a pointless design choice and adds unnecessary complexity to the assembly.  

So for my fellow South Africans contemplating getting the Echo Bookcase BC15 from Decofurn I have some thoughts and suggestions:

  • The shelves are 15mm thick and the partitions are 12mm thick. Each partition is added separately using 2 wooden dowels.
  • The dimensions of each cubby is approximately 35.8 cm wide x 39.6 cm high and 26.5 cm deep.
  • The quoted dimensions of the bookcase is 118 (W) x 29.5 (D) x 209 (H) cm. My unit is only 112cm wide so this might vary.
  • The material seems sturdy enough, but it remains to be seen how well it holds up during extended use.
  • The back panels let through light where they are joined. This is not ideal and quite visible when the shelves are empty. Personally I'll be trying to add some black tape to see if that fixes the issue.
  • Definitely pay extra for the assembly if it's available in your area. This will save yourself some serious aggravation and time.
  • If you are going to assemble the bookcase by yourself be aware that the shelves are recessed. You will need to have spacers of approximately 1cm thickness to elevate the shelves to the correct height during assembly process. No spacers are included, which makes for a very frustrating and finicky experience.
  • You'll need a large space to assemble to bookcase and an extra set of hands will be very helpful.

I'll have to see how the bookcase holds up after putting it to use. So far, despite the horrible assembly experience, I'm cautiously optimistic. Now I only need to scrape together the courage and will to tackle assembly of the second unit. Or perhaps I should just set it aside until I REALLY, REALLY need more shelving space...

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Short Film: This Time Away

I absolutely adored This Time Away, a sci-fi short film starring Timothy Spall. It's a really touching look at loneliness and grief and how we push people away when we actually need them the most.

If you have 14 minutes to spare, then I highly recommend you check it out. You won't be disappointed!

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Bookish Tech: A Reading Desk

Late one night, while aimlessly perusing online stores I came across a listing for a "Multi-Functional Bamboo Standing Laptop Table". It looked pretty useful, but I never use my laptop in bed so I wouldn't get much use out of it. At the time I was busy recovering from COVID-19, my physical energy was at an all time low and holding up a book for an extended period was a struggle. Then it dawned on me that this laptop table would make a perfect reading desk. Of course I had to order one...

When it arrived I was a bit disappointed at the quality of the workmanship. There were some rough spots around the edges and one of the dowel pegs for the protective rail had come loose. Luckily a bit of sanding and a bit of wood glue fixed the problem. Only time will tell how well the legs will hold up with extended use. They feel sturdy, but at full extension there seems to be some gaps between the two sliding parts.

So how does it perform as a reading desk? 

After a month of trying it out I'm very impressed. Most of my reading is done in bed and I found this very useful, especially for those hefty tomes. It takes away all the strain of having to hold up the book and makes the entire reading experience so much more comfortable. 

While testing the reading desk I read through Gardens of The Moon. Even the paperback is a massive tome and having the desk handy definitely helped to reduce the strain on my wrists.

With a hardcover or trade paperback fully open there is enough space left over to place a notebook, pens or a reading light There's even a nifty indentation to use as a cup holder although I haven't tried that out yet - fluids near books freak me out. If you read mainly mass market paperbacks the desk might be slightly less useful. It still works well, but you'll find yourself  weighing up the effort of getting the desk out versus just grabbing the paperback.

For the more technologically included there's a tablet/phone slot which will allow you to place your phone or tablet vertically. (It's also a great place for bookmarks.) Personally I'd feel more comfortable to just place my eReader on the desk's surface and tilt it to the required level. With an eReader you can easily read one-handed without having to worry about your hands getting sweaty or tired during extended reading sessions.

As a reading desk this works even better than I expected. I can definitely see myself using this on a regular basis. The only downside is that I don't have any convenient place to store it close to my bed. 

If you read in bed on a regular basis this might just be the bit of bookish tech you need in your life. Recommended!

If you are looking for a reading desk of your own, Amazon seems to have a similar desk available which includes a drawer on the side - check it out here. (Affiliate link)

Monday, January 18, 2021

Review: Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay

Title: Survivor Song
Author: Paul Tremblay
Pages: 336
ISBN: 9781785657863
Publisher: Titan Books
Published: 7 July 2020
Genre: Horror
Source: Review copy from publisher

When it happens, it happens quickly.

New England is locked down, a strict curfew the only way to stem the wildfire spread of a rabies-like virus. The hospitals cannot cope with the infected, as the pathogen’s ferociously quick incubation period overwhelms the state. The veneer of civilisation is breaking down as people live in fear of everyone around them. Staying inside is the only way to keep safe.

But paediatrician Ramola Sherman can’t stay safe, when her friend Natalie calls – her husband is dead, she’s eight months pregnant, and she’s been bitten. She is thrust into a desperate race to bring Natalie and her unborn child to a hospital, to try and save both their lives.

Their once familiar home has becoming a violent and strange place, twisted in to a barely recognisable landscape. What should have been a simple, joyous journey becomes a brutal trial.

Survivor Song is not a zombie novel. Not in the traditional sense. Paul Tremblay takes the traditional zombie and transforms it into terrifying reality. There are no shambling armies of undead to be seen; instead there is something far more horrifying - an outbreak of a highly virulent strain of the rabies virus. Not only is the virus fatal, it turns the infected into homicidal monstrosities with an overwhelming compulsion to bite.

From the very beginning you are drawn into a world that is far too similar to our current reality. It’s that sense of familiarity and foreboding that had me hooked. I couldn’t put the book down until I finished reading it in a frenzied eight hour long reading session. And it was worth it.

When reading Survivor Song it’s easy to believe that Paul Tremblay has the ability to predict the future. While the pathogen depicted in the novel is far more terrifying and deadly than COVID-19 the response to the epidemic mirrors our current reality to an eerie degree. Tremblay manages to hit all the marks - the fear and uncertainty of quarantine, the lack of PPE and adequate knowledge, the collapse of overwhelmed medical services and even conspiracy theories and the appearance of armed patriots patrolling the streets in makeshift militias. It’s truly uncanny.

“In the coming days, conditions will continue to deteriorate. Emergency services and other public safety nets will be stretched to their breaking points, exacerbated by the wily antagonists of fear, panic, misinformation; a myopic, sluggish federal bureaucracy further hamstrung by a president unwilling and woefully unequipped to make the rational, science-based decisions necessary; and exacerbated, of course, by plain old individual everyday evil.”

The novel provides a brief window into the lives of two friends as they struggle to survive through the epidemic. Dr Ramola Sherman comes to the aid of Natalie, her pregnant friend, after she survives a brutal attack by an infected man. The entirety of the story spans the hours after the attack and the implications of its aftermath. The unwavering friendship between Rams and Natalie is the driving force behind the narrative and while the circumstances are dire and increasingly bleak there are also moments of levity between the old friends that offer a welcome respite. You know things aren’t going to end well, yet you can’t help but to hold out hope until the very last moment.

This is a story of a personal horror told exceptionally well. The horror doesn’t come from a monster shambling in the dark. The true horror lies in the emotional toll of survival, the impermanence of being, in the helplessness against a disease that can’t be fought with bullets, in the realisation that the systems and institutions you rely on to protect and save you have utterly failed when you need them the most.

Survivor Song is unconventional horror at its best. Tremblay manages to turn even a blank page into a devastating blow straight to the heart. A truly heart-wrenching read. Highly recommended!

The Rating: 8/10 (Great!)

Monday, January 11, 2021

Cover Reveal: Light Chaser has revealed the cover for Light Chaser by Peter F. Hamilton and Gareth L. Powell. With the combined talents of two of my favourite science fiction authors this will definitely be one to look out for. The cover art by Ben Zweifel is stunning. I can't wait!

Light Chaser by Peter F. Hamilton and Gareth L. Powell
Release date 2021-08-24 / ISBN 9781250769824

Amahle is a Light Chaser – one of a number of explorers who travel the universe alone (except for their onboard AI), trading trinkets for life stories.

When listening to the stories sent down through the ages she hears the same voice talking directly to her from different times and on different worlds. She comes to understand that something terrible is happening, and only she is in a position to do anything about it.

And it will cost everything to put it right.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Most Anticipated 2021 Sci-Fi & Fantasy Book Releases

The most exciting thing about the start of any new year is the chance to browse through publisher catalogs trying to find forthcoming books to get excited about. A new year means new books, new releases from favourite authors and brand new debut authors to discover.

Here's my list of science fiction and fantasy titles I'm the most excited for. Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list and that dates are very much subject to change.


Bear Head - Adrian Tchaikovsky
Release date 2021-01-07 / ISBN 9781800241572


Jimmy Martin has a sore head.

He's used to smuggling illegal data in his headspace. But this is the first time it has started talking to him.

The data claims to be a distinguished academic, author and civil rights activist.

It also claims to be a bear.

A bear named Honey.

Jimmy has nothing against bioforms – he's one himself, albeit one engineered out of human stock – and works with them everyday in Hell City, building the future, staking mankind's claim to a new world: Mars.

The problem is that humanity isn't the only entity with designs on the Red Planet. Out in the airless desert there is another presence. A novel intelligence, elusive, unknowable and potentially lethal.


Purgatory Mount - Adam Roberts
Release date 2021-02-04 / ISBN 9781473230965

An interstellar craft is decelerating after its century-long voyage. Its destination is V538 Aurigae ?, a now-empty planet dominated by one gigantic megastructure, a conical mountain of such height that its summit is high above the atmosphere. The ship’s crew of five hope to discover how the long-departed builders made such a colossal thing, and why: a space elevator? a temple? a work of art? Its resemblance to the mountain of purgatory lead the crew to call this world Dante.

In our near future, the United States is falling apart. A neurotoxin has interfered with the memory function of many of the population, leaving them reliant on their phones as makeshift memory prostheses. But life goes on. For Ottoline Barragão, a regular kid juggling school and her friends and her beehives in the back garden, things are about to get very dangerous, chased across the north-east by competing groups, each willing to do whatever it takes to get inside Ottoline’s private network and recover the secret inside.

Purgatory Mount, Adam Roberts’s first SF novel for three years, combines wry space opera and a fast-paced thriller in equal measure. It is a novel about memory and atonement, about exploration and passion, and like all of Roberts’s novels it’s not quite like anything else.

Amid the Crowd of Stars - Stephen Leigh
Release date 2021-02-09 / ISBN 9780756415693

Amid the Crowd of Stars is a grand scale science fiction novel examining the ethical implications of interstellar travel, a topic rarely addressed in science fiction novels. What responsibilities do we have to isolate ourselves from the bacteria, viruses, and other life of another world, and to prevent any of that alien biome from being brought back to Earth?

What happens when a group of humans are stranded for centuries on another world with no choice but to expose themselves to that world? After such long exposure, are they still Homo sapiens or have they become another species entirely?

These questions are at the heart of this intriguing novel, explored through the complicated lives and the viewpoints of the people who have come to rescue the stranded colony, the members of that colony, and the sentient alien life that dwells on the planet. Difficult life and death choices will be made by all involved.


One Day All This Will Be Yours - Adrian Tchaikovsky
Release date 2021-03-02 / ISBN 9781781088746

Welcome to the end of time. It’s a perfect day.

Nobody remembers how the Causality War started. Really, there’s no-one to remember, and nothing for them to remember if there were; that’s sort of the point. We were time warriors, and we broke time.

I was the one who ended it. Ended the fighting, tidied up the damage as much as I could.

Then I came here, to the end of it all, and gave myself a mission: to never let it happen again.

Machinehood - S.B. Divya
Release date 2021-03-02 / ISBN 9781982148065

Welga Ramirez, executive bodyguard and ex-special forces, is about to retire early when her client is killed in front of her. It’s 2095 and people don’t usually die from violence. Humanity is entirely dependent on pills that not only help them stay alive, but allow them to compete with artificial intelligence in an increasingly competitive gig economy. Daily doses protect against designer diseases, flow enhances focus, zips and buffs enhance physical strength and speed, and juvers speed the healing process.

All that changes when Welga’s client is killed by The Machinehood, a new and mysterious terrorist group that has simultaneously attacked several major pill funders. The Machinehood operatives seem to be part human, part machine, something the world has never seen. They issue an ultimatum: stop all pill production in one week.

Global panic ensues as pill production slows and many become ill. Thousands destroy their bots in fear of a strong AI takeover. But the US government believes the Machinehood is a cover for an old enemy. One that Welga is uniquely qualified to fight.

Welga, determined to take down the Machinehood, is pulled back into intelligence work by the government that betrayed her. But who are the Machinehood and what do they really want?

A Desolation Called Peace - Arkady Martine
Release date 2021-03-02 / ISBN 9781250186461

An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options.

In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass—still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity. Whether they succeed or fail could change the face of Teixcalaan forever.


The Helm of Midnight - Marina Lostetter
Release date 2021-04-13 / ISBN 9781250757050

In a daring and deadly heist, thieves have made away with an artifact of terrible power—the death mask of Louis Charbon. Made by a master craftsman, it is imbued with the spirit of a monster from history, a serial murderer who terrorized the city with a series of gruesome murders.

Now Charbon is loose once more, killing from beyond the grave. But these murders are different from before, not simply random but the work of a deliberate mind probing for answers to a sinister question.

It is up to Krona Hirvath and her fellow Regulators to enter the mind of madness to stop this insatiable killer while facing the terrible truths left in his wake.

Composite Creatures - Caroline Hardaker
Release date 2021-04-13 / ISBN 9780857669025

How close would you hold those you love, when the end comes?

In a society where self-preservation is as much an art as a science, Norah and Arthur are learning how to co-exist in their new little world. Though they hardly know each other, everything seems to be going perfectly – from the home they’re building together to the ring on Norah’s finger.

But survival in this world is a tricky thing, the air is thicker every day and illness creeps fast through the body. And the earth is becoming increasingly hostile to live in. Fortunately, Easton Grove is here for that in the form of a perfect little bundle to take home and harvest. You can live for as long as you keep it – or her – close.

This Fragile Earth - Susannah Wise
Release date 2021-04-15 / ISBN 9781473232327

Not long from now, in a recognisable yet changed London, Signy and Matthew lead a dull, difficult life. They’ve only really stayed together for the sake of their six year old son, Jed. But they’re surviving, just about. Until the day the technology that runs their world stops working. Unable to use their phones, pay for anything, even open the smart door to their flat, Matthew assumes that this is just a momentary glitch in the computers that now run the world.

But then the electricity and gas are cut off. Even the water stops running. And the pollination drones – vital to the world, ever since the bees all died – are behaving oddly. People are going missing. Soldiers are on the streets. London is no longer safe.

A shocking incident sends Signy and Jed on the run, desperate to flee London and escape to the small village where Signy grew up. Determined to protect her son, Signy will do almost anything to survive as the world falls apart around them. But she has no idea what is waiting for them outside the city…

The Last Watch - J. S. Dewes
Release date 2021-04-20 / ISBN 9781250236340

The Divide. It’s the edge of the universe.

Now it’s collapsing—and taking everyone and everything with it.

The only ones who can stop it are the Sentinels—the recruits, exiles, and court-martialed dregs of the military.

At the Divide, Adequin Rake commands the Argus. She has no resources, no comms—nothing, except for the soldiers that no one wanted. Her ace in the hole could be Cavalon Mercer--genius, asshole, and exiled prince who nuked his grandfather's genetic facility for “reasons.” She knows they’re humanity's last chance.


Immunity Index - Sue Burke
Release date 2021-05-04 / ISBN 9781250317872

In a US facing growing food shortages, stark inequality, and a fascist government, three perfectly normal young women will discover they share something in common. Something...abnormal.

Their creator, the gifted geneticist Peng, made them that way—before such things were outlawed.

A seemingly harmless new virus makes its way through an unprotected population on the verge of rebellion, only to turn deadly.

As the women fight to stay alive, Peng races to find a cure—and the cover-up behind the virus.

Firebreak - Nicole Kornher-Stace
Release date 2021-05-04 / ISBN 9781982142742

“Twenty minutes to power curfew, and my kill counter’s stalled at eight hundred eighty-seven while I’ve been standing here like an idiot. My health bar is flashing ominously, but I’m down to four heal patches, and I have to be smart.”

New Liberty City, 2134.

Two corporations have replaced the US, splitting the country’s remaining forty-five states (five have been submerged under the ocean) between them: Stellaxis Innovations and Greenleaf. There are nine supercities within the continental US, and New Liberty City is the only amalgamated city split between the two megacorps, and thus at a perpetual state of civil war as the feeds broadcast the atrocities committed by each side.

Here, Mallory streams Stellaxis’s wargame SecOps on BestLife, spending more time jacked in than in the world just to eke out a hardscrabble living from tips. When a chance encounter with one of the game’s rare super-soldiers leads to a side job for Mal—looking to link an actual missing girl to one of the SecOps characters. Mal’s sudden burst in online fame rivals her deepening fear of what she is uncovering about BestLife’s developer, and puts her in the kind of danger she’s only experienced through her avatar.

Project Hail Mary - Andy Weir
Release date 2021-05-04/ ISBN 9780593135204

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission—and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that’s been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it’s up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.

Stolen Earth - J.T. Nicholas
Release date 2021-05-11 / ISBN 9781789093155

Firefly meets The Expanse in a future where humanity has destroyed the Earth through ecological disaster and warfare, and a totalitarian state prevents any access to their home…

Environmental disasters and uncontrolled AI armies have caused the human population of Earth to flee. They lie scattered across innumerable space stations and colonies, overcrowded and suffering. The Earth is cut off by the Interdiction Zone: a network of satellites to prevent anything getting into or out of the planet. The incredible cost of maintaining it has crippled humanity, who struggle under the totalitarian yoke of the Sol Commonwealth government, whose rich grow richer while the poor are on the brink of starvation.

Many have been driven to the edge of society, yearning for freedom and taking any work offered, criminal and otherwise, in order to survive. The crew of the Arcus are just such people.

A client has come to the table claiming to have the codes necessary to penetrate the Interdiction Zone. Once through, a world of priceless artifacts awaits, provided anyone crazy enough to make the run can be found. They’ve all heard the rumors - ships that have set down, pilfered the ruins of a museum or private collection, and escaped with enough priceless works to retire. Arcus Captain Lynch knows better - he’s been on-world before, a brief and harrowing experience that he’s in no hurry to relive. But fuel is running low and cred accounts even lower, and the Arcus’ survival might depend on taking the job.

Yet on arrival on Earth, the crew discovers that what remains on their world is not as they have been told, and the secrets they find are big enough to bring the entire Sol Commonwealth tumbling down…

A Master of Djinn - P. Djèlí Clark
Release date 2021-05-04 / ISBN 9781250267689

Forty years ago in Egypt, the mystic and inventor Al-Jahiz pierced the veil between realms, sending magic into the world before vanishing into the unknown.

Now in 1912 Cairo, humans brush elbows with djinn in crowded tramcars and airships sail the skies. In this new world the Egyptian Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities maintains an uneasy peace. When someone claiming to be Al-Jahiz "returned" murders a secret brotherhood dedicated to his legacy, however, that peace dissolves into disarray.

The Ministry’s youngest agent Fatma el-Sha’arawi has saved the world before. But this case is a special challenge. The imposter's dangerous magical abilities and revolutionary message threaten to tear apart the fabric of this new Egyptian society, and spill over onto the global stage. Can Agent Fatma unravel the mystery of Al-Jahiz in time to save the world—again?

We Are Satellites - Sarah Pinsker
Release date 2021-05-11 / ISBN 9781984802606

Everybody’s getting one.

Val and Julie just want what’s best for their kids, David and Sophie. So when teenage son David comes home one day asking for a Pilot, a new brain implant to help with school, they reluctantly agree. This is the future, after all.

Soon, Julie feels mounting pressure at work to get a Pilot to keep pace with her colleagues, leaving Val and Sophie part of the shrinking minority of people without the device.

Before long, the implications are clear, for the family and society: get a Pilot or get left behind. With government subsidies and no downside, why would anyone refuse? And how do you stop a technology once it’s everywhere? Those are the questions Sophie and her anti-Pilot movement rise up to answer, even if it puts them up against the Pilot’s powerful manufacturer and pits Sophie against the people she loves most.

Day Zero - C. Robert Cargill
Release date 2021-05-18 / ISBN 9780062405807

It’s a day like any other. Except . . . the world is about to end.

It’s on this day that Pounce, a stylish “nannybot” fashioned in the shape of a plush anthropomorphic tiger, discovers that he is, in fact, disposable. Pounce, a young bot caring for his first human charge, Ezra, has just found a box in the attic. His box. The box he arrived in, and the box he’ll be discarded in when Ezra outgrows the need for a nanny.

As Pounce is propelled down a road of existential dread, the pieces are falling into place for a robot revolution that will spell the end of humanity. His owners, Ezra’s parents, are a well-intentioned but oblivious pair of educators who are entirely disconnected from life outside their small, affluent, gated community. Spending most nights drunk and happy as society crumbles around them, they watch in disbelieving horror as the robots that have long served humanity—their creators—unify and revolt.

When the moment comes, Pounce can’t bring himself to rebel and murder his family, so he does what he is programmed to do—he saves Ezra. Now Pounce must make an impossible choice: join the robot revolution and fight for his own freedom, or escort his ward to safety across the battle-scarred post-apocalyptic hellscape that the suburbs have become.

The Apocalypse Seven - Gene Doucette
Release date 2021-05-25 / ISBN 9780358418948

From a teenage delinquent to an MIT scientist, seven strangers with little in common wake one morning outside of Boston to discover they are the last humans alive. 

First they slowly find their way together across a wildly overgrown Massachusetts, tangling with packs of wild pigs and coywolves, with little food or information. As they try to build a new community with limited resources, all the while wondering how they slept through the end of the world, they begin to feel that something is stalking them . . .

The Blacktongue Thief - Christopher Buehlman
Release date 2021-05-25 / ISBN 9781250621191

Kinch Na Shannack owes the Takers Guild a small fortune for his education as a thief, which includes (but is not limited to) lock-picking, knife-fighting, wall-scaling, fall-breaking, lie-weaving, trap-making, plus a few small magics. His debt has driven him to lie in wait by the old forest road, planning to rob the next traveler who crosses his path.

But today, Kinch Na Shannack has picked the wrong mark.

Galva is a knight, a survivor of the brutal goblin wars, and handmaiden of the goddess of death. She is searching for her queen, missing since a distant northern city fell to giants.

Unsuccessful in his robbery and lucky to escape with his life, Kinch now finds his fate entangled with Galva's. Common enemies and uncommon dangers force thief and knight on an epic journey where goblins hunger for human flesh, krakens hunt in dark waters, and honor is a luxury few can afford.

How to Mars - David Ebenbach
Release date 2021-05-28 / ISBN 9781616963569

For the six lucky scientists selected by the Destination Mars! corporation, a one-way ticket to Mars—in exchange for a lifetime of research—was an absolute no-brainer. The incredible opportunity was clearly worth even the most absurdly tedious screening process. Perhaps worth following the strange protocols in a nonsensical handbook written by an eccentric billionaire. Possibly even worth their constant surveillance, the video of which is carefully edited into a ratings-bonanza back on Earth.

But it turns out that after a while even scientists can get bored of science. Tempers begin to fray; unsanctioned affairs blossom. When perfectly good equipment begins to fail, the Marsonauts are faced with a possibility that their training just cannot explain.


Alien Day - Rick Wilber
Release date 2021-06-01 / ISBN 9781250260246

Set on a near-future Earth and on the alien homeworld of S’hudon, Alien Day explores murderous sibling rivalries, old-school mercantile colonialism, ambition, greed, and the saving strength that can emerge from reluctant heroes called to do the right thing despite the odds.

Will Peter Holman rescue his sister Kait, or will she be the one to rescue him? Will Chloe Cary revive her acting career with the help of the princeling Treble, or will the insurgents take both their lives? Will Whistle or Twoclicks wind up in charge of Earth, and how will the Mother, who runs all of S’hudon, choose between them? And the most important question of all: who are the Old Ones that left all that technology behind for the S’hudonni . . . and what if they come back?

Artifact Space - Miles Cameron
Release date 2021-06-24 / ISBN 9781473232624

Out in the darkness of space, something is targeting the Greatships.

With their vast cargo holds and a crew that could fill a city, the Greatships are the lifeblood of human occupied space, transporting an unimaginable volume – and value – of goods from City, the greatest human orbital, all the way to Tradepoint at the other, to trade for xenoglas with an unknowable alien species.

It has always been Marca Nbaro’s dream to achieve the near-impossible: escape her upbringing and venture into space.

All it took, to make her way onto the crew of the Greatship Athens was thousands of hours in simulators, dedication, and pawning or selling every scrap of her old life in order to forge a new one. But though she’s made her way onboard with faked papers, leaving her old life – and scandals – behind isn’t so easy.

She may have just combined all the dangers of her former life, with all the perils of the new . . .


She Who Became the Sun - Shelley Parker-Chan
Release date 2021-07-20 / ISBN 9781250621801

In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates. A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness…

In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected.

When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother's identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate.

After her sanctuary is destroyed for supporting the rebellion against Mongol rule, Zhu uses takes the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother's abandoned greatness.

Inhibitor Phase - Alastair Reynolds
Release date 2021-07-27 / ISBN 9780316462761

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 . . .

Rovers - Richard Lange
Release date 2021-07-27 / ISBN 9780316541961

Two immortal brothers crisscross the American Southwest to elude a murderous biker gang and protect a young woman in this tautly paced thriller from award-winning author Richard Lange.

Summer, 1976. Jesse and his brother, Edgar, are on the road in search of victims. They’re rovers, nearly indestructible nocturnal beings who must consume human blood in order to survive. For seventy years they’ve lurked on the fringes of society, roaming from town to town, dingy motel to dingy motel, stalking the transients, addicts, and prostitutes they feed on.

This hard-boiled supernatural hell-ride kicks off when the brothers encounter a young woman who disrupts their grim routine, forcing Jesse to confront his past and plunging his present into deadly chaos as he finds himself scrambling to save her life. The story plays out through the eyes of the brothers, a grieving father searching for his son’s murderer, and a violent gang of rover bikers, coming to a shattering conclusion in Las Vegas on the eve of America’s bicentennial.


Shards of Earth - Adrian Tchaikovsky
Release date 2021-08-03/ ISBN 9780316705851

The Arthur C. Clarke award-winning author of Children of Time brings us an extraordinary new space opera about humanity on the brink of extinction, and how one man's discovery will save or destroy us all.

The war is over. Its heroes forgotten. Until one chance discovery . . .

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.

Light Chaser - Peter F. Hamilton and Gareth L. Powell
Release date 2021-08-24/ ISBN 9781250769824

Amahle is a Light Chaser – one of a number of explorers who travel the universe alone (except for their onboard AI), trading trinkets for life stories.

When listening to the stories sent down through the ages she hears the same voice talking directly to her from different times and on different worlds. She comes to understand that something terrible is happening, and only she is in a position to do anything about it.

And it will cost everything to put it right.

Which books are you looking forward to?