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?

Friday, January 1, 2021

2021 Reading and Blogging Goals

A stack of books

2020 was a hellish year filled with anxiety, uncertainty and so much loss. I'm so glad it's done and over with. While 2021 won't magically make everything better it as least brings with it some new hope for the future.

With the world falling apart reading and blogging wasn't the biggest priority, but let's see how I did:

Read 40 books: Success. I read 75 books with a total of 22 271 pages.

Read 20 books I already own: Partial success. 15 of the books I read were books I already owned. 75% is pretty good, so I'm happy with that.

Buy fewer books and read within 2 months: Success. I was shocked to discover that I only purchased 14 books during 2020. And I read 8 of those shortly after buying them.

Do quick reviews: Fail. I didn't implement this at all. Will have to try again this year    

Overall, I'm pretty happy with what I managed to achieve, especially taken the circumstances into consideration.

2021 Goals

For 2021 I think I'll keep my goals largely the same. We don't know what the year will bring and I don't need anything more stressful on my plate.

Read a total of 45 books:
I'm upping this slightly since I exceeded my goal of 40 books by a very large margin. Even without a lockdown period 45 books seem manageable.

Read at least 20 books I already own:
This worked very well last year and I think this might have to become a standard goal. Chipping away at Mount TBR one small chunk at a time.

Buy fewer books & read books within 12 months of buying them:
I want to stay more conscious of my book buying habits. Book prices have skyrocketed in South Africa with paperbacks costing what hardcovers used to be. If there are any good sales on I'm allowed to go a little crazy, otherwise I'll have to be very selective with my purchases. I'm extending the deadline to read new purchases to 12 months. If I can buy books and read them within the same year of purchase that means Mount TBR won't continue to grow.

Start doing quick reviews:
I tend to put off reviewing books unless they are review copies I received from publishers. In order to be able to do more reviews and actually review more backlist titles from my own shelves I'm going to try to start doing quick reviews. These reviews will be short, 2 paragraphs or less, and should be easier to write and post. Basically wrap-ups of books I didn't do full reviews for.

Here's hoping that 2021 is better. Just better in every sense of the word.

We can do this!