Category Archives: Sci-Fi


By Frederik Pohl 

GatewayFrederik Pohl has an enviable reputation in the Sci-Fi community. His seven decades as a writer and editor brought him many awards and plaudits from critics and fans alike. Gateway has become one of his best-remembered novels, and for a very good reason. The premise behind the story is simple and ingenious. It is the story of one of a new breed of prospectors, men and women venturing into the unknown in search of wealth, much like the prospectors of the old west during the Gold Rush. 

Like the intrepid prospectors if America’s Wild West, the adventurers of Pohl’s vividly imagined future are out for wealth and, if they can get it, a little glory. The parallels between the two run quite deep, at least at the human level. Those that chose to risk their lives at Gateway do so for many different reasons, but ultimately, they are either running away from something or aiming towards their fortunes. Either way, Pohl’s masterpiece paints a very vivid picture of life on a wild frontier. 

Gateway is an alien construct, it’s the base for hundreds of alien spacecraft. Each has its own pre-programmed destination, the only trouble is, the human flying them can’t read the maps. Nor can they change the destination. It’s like a cosmic lucky dip, some you win, some you lose. Consequently, if you don’t know where you are going or how long it will take, you don’t know how many supplies you need.  

And of course, unlike Earthbound explorers, you can’t take a small detour to replenish your food and water supplies. Trusting yourself to the unknown could mean being sent into a Super Nova, a Black Hole or simply starving to death. 

But there is another side to this story. The book alternates between the narrator, Robinette Broadhead’s past and his present. And for me, that is the really clever part of the book. On the one hand, Pohl gives us a good old-fashioned adventure story complete with heroes, villains, romance and tragedy. On the other, he examines, through a computer psychiatrist, the mixed emotions that inevitably come from daring to stare the universe in the eye and shout “bring it on”. 

As the book approaches its climax, the parallel threads begin to resolve themselves and the reader is made aware of the reasons behind our narrator’s present position.  

Gateway is an imaginative yet simple book that proves beyond doubt how well deserved Frederik Pohl’s reputation is. 

The City of Mirrors (The Passage #3)

The City of MirrorsThe epic Passage trilogy comes to a dramatic and conclusive end in this thrilling final instalment. At over 800 pages, it is quite a read, but well worth the investment in time and the wait. Unlike the first two books, City of Mirrors has more than one narrator and doesn’t follow a single timeline.

The action begins 20 years after the climactic events of book two. With the virals gone it is a whole new chapter for mankind. Just when what’s left of North America’s population begin to believe it is safe to turn off the lights and venture beyond the safety of their Texan compound, the old enemy creeps back. For a new generation of American’s, the virals have become something of a myth, the bogeymen from their parents past. But all legends and myths have are rooted in a truth, and they are just about to find out just how real these particular myths are.

One loose end from the previous two books that I felt needed resolving, was what was happening in the rest of the world whilst North America was being overrun by flesh eating virals. After all, the continent was quarantined at the virals themselves contained within its borders. Thankfully, this and other loose ends are neatly tied up.

After two books bursting with action, City of Mirrors feels a little slow at the start as we are introduced to a new narrator whose tale brings some clarity to the origins of the virals and their actions. It is the story of a man whose obsessions and decisions will bring humanity to the very edge of extinction. But his actions are not born out of hatred but love. Despite the body count and impressive stash of weapons, City of Mirrors is centred around a love story.

Unrequited love, maternal love and all-consuming passions direct the actions of each of the story’s main characters. Justin Cronin has proven himself to be a talented storyteller with a real vision. Bringing this incredible trilogy to a climactic and touching conclusion, City of Mirrors is a captivating and compelling read.

Impact (Outer Earth #3)

Impactby Rob Boffard

The final part of Rob Boffard’s “Outer Earth” trilogy packs just as munch punch as the previous two books. Impact picks up the story immediately after Zero-G’s cliff-hanger ending, with our hero, Riley Hale and he companions drifting away from the Outer Earth space station.

The bulk of the action in the final instalment takes place on a cold and almost barren Earth. Raveg by a nuclear holocaust, the whole planet is swathed in an eternal winter; except for one area centred on Anchorage, where things have started to change.

The pace of Impact is relentless, and the body count just as high as in the previous two books. But now Riley is no longer trying to save the station – that is beyond saving now – this time she is after revenge. There is definitely going to be reckoning, and she knows who is going to come out on top. She also needs to decide who she wants to be with.

Back on Outer Earth things are going from bad to worse. The damage inflicted by the fire fight at the end of the second book has forced the remaining residents into the lonely intact section of the station, but time is running out and there are not enough escape pods for everyone. Who lives and who dies is to be decided by lottery. 

The race to escape the station and Riley’s personal race for revenge and answers can only be won by the kind of daredevil escapades that have become the hallmark of this series. If you like your thrillers full of action then this is definitely a must. A great read that kept me hooked from the very beginning to the climactic end.

Zero-G (Outer Earth #2)

Zero-Gby Rob Boffard 

This is the second part of Rob Boffard’s debut Outer Earth trilogy. In the first book (Tracer) we were introduced to the Outer Earth space station and the storey’s central character, Riley Hale, the tough, independent and resourceful Tracer. 

Whilst I was convinced by the first book of Rob Boffard’s skills as a storyteller, I was a little concerned that the pace and intensity might be slowed down a little. I needn’t have worried. Picking up the story six months after the events if Tracer, Zero-G starts on a high with a hostage situation that tests Riley to the limit, and it doesn’t let up until the cliff-hanger ending 450 pages later.

Riley is now a “stomper” – part of the stations security force and her team get embroiled in a conspiracy that ponce again threatens the future of then whole station, where personal animosities become a danger to everyone.

Riley once again finds herself having to make impossibly tough decisions, but her resourcefulness may be the only hope the residents of humanity’s last outpost have to survive.
Outer Earth is not just any orbiting space station. It is the home of the last of humanity after a cataclysmic nuclear war made Earth itself uninhabitable and wiped out all life on Earth. Or did it?

But it is not just the relentless pace that keeps the reader gripped. Rob Boffard’s characters are both larger than life but also comfortingly vulnerable. Each is faced with conflicting loyalties, their decisions impacting on the lives of those closest to them. As Riley Hale is the driving force behind the plot twists and turns, she is not the only one who’s actions ricochet through the station’s population. Greed for power, desperation over resources and blind revenge all play their part on bringing Outer Earth to the very edge of destruction.

I was as gripped by the story as I was by the first. The dual narrative works well and I love the mix of thriller and science fiction. 

The Gods Themselves

The Gods Themselvesby Isaac Asimov

As one of the true giants of Science Fiction, reading any of Asimov’s books for the first time brings with it a certain expectation and, for me, some trepidation.

I have read “classics” before and sometimes found them disappointing. So, as I slowly work my way through the Gollancz Masterworks series, of which this is part, I have learned to keep my expectations realistic as not all books are as good as the critics claim. In this case though I needn’t have worried.

First published in 1972, The Gods Themselves represents a change in style for one of Sci-Fi’s most prolific and best loved writers. Whilst scientific theories remain at the heart of the story, the focus of this book switches between the all-too-human preoccupations of politics and self-preservation and look at a very non-human life cycle. The book is in three parts, each focusing on a separate set of characters.

The first concerns the invention of the Electron Pump, an apparently free and inexhaustible supply of energy that revolutionises humanity. However, not everyone is convinced about the process which involves isotopes with a parallel universe. But is the negative voice driven by something other than science, or is more personal? With the Pump’s inventor seen by the bulk of humanity as some kind of savior, dissension cannot be tolerated and no one wants to consider that this new era for mankind has any kind of price tag attached.

Part two moves to the other side of the exchange. Here Asimov looks at life in a universe where the laws of physics are different from our own. It is this deference that lies behind the Electron Pump. The life forms here are very different from ourselves, but it seems that the desire to survive is just as strong, even if it threatens the very existence of our solar system.

The final part moves to the Moon and continues the seemingly impossible quest for the truth in the face of institutional resistance.
At every turn, self-presentation, greed and an almost ostrich-like denial of anything that throws doubt on the established position question the credibility of those who dare question the Pump and what it has done for humanity.

Isaac Asimov is a respected and much loved writer for a good reason – he is one of the twentieth century’s great visionaries and a damned good storyteller as well. He has avoided the kind of detail that could so easily date a book of this type and period. In fact, I only found one reference (to tape) that could be considered out of place now. It is a reflection of his skill that the book is as relevant today as it was in 1972.

H G Wells Classic Collection I

Classic Collectionby H G Wells

A collection of five of H G Wells’ finest and best known stories: The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The War of the Worlds, The First Men in the Moon and The Invisible Man. Anyone with even a passing interest in Science Fiction will already know these stories; all of them have been made into films or TV series and have influenced several generations of writers.

Wells is often cited as the father of modern science fiction and re-reading these stories is a reminder of just how influential he has been. There have been many books and films with plots that owe a great deal to the stories in this collection. We have alien invasion, genetic manipulation, time travel and first contact sitting alongside some great social commentary.

Wells was not just a visionary, he was also great writer who understood what made people tick. Unlike many modern writers, he avoided getting too wrapped up in the science behind his stories. He hints at processes and theories, but always falls short of offering any concrete science, but considering the age, that is hardly surprising.

This collection highlights the genius of H G Wells and is, above all else, a collection of good stories that have stood the test of time. Granted, some of the language is dated, but these as all but one of the stories is set in the Victorian age, that is hardly surprising.

The Last Survivors (The Last Survivors #1)

The Last Survivorsby TW Piperbrook and Bobby Adair

I purchased this book on impulse based on the plot. Reviews are mixed and not encouraging, but I thought it was worth a try. And I must admit that I can see why it received so much negative criticism. 

The Last Survivors takes two of modern science fiction’s popular recurring themes to create what could be an interesting view of a post-apocalyptic world, but somehow, even using two writers, they have missed the mark.

The idea of civilization trying to recover from a devastating plague which leaves most of the population in a zombie-like state is not an original one. Neither is society’s return to the Dark Ages. I was intrigued by the religious element of the story, making the dark ages throwback almost believable. Unfortunately, the plot itself is a little lame and the characters not fully formed. 

The narrative moves between several characters at such a pace that I found it difficult to follow the individuals and never really invested in any of them.

All that said, I am intrigued enough to add book II to my wish list. Hopefully the plot and characters will be better developed. 

Monsters and Medics

Monsters and Medicsby James White

I first read Monsters and Medics as a teenager having borrowed it from my local library. At the time, I read a lot of short story collections, virtually all of which I have long since forgotten. But there was something about this particular book that stuck in my mind. I re-read it a few years later, borrowing it again from the same library.

Now, having tracked down a copy I have given it a third reading, and it is still as fresh as it was the first time around. The longest and most popular of the stories in the book is Second Ending, which is actually the only one I remember and the main reason I wanted to read the book again. 

In Second Ending the reader follows the story of the last living man on planet Earth. But whilst he may be the last human being, he is not exactly alone. Coming to terms with his status takes some time, but with the help of the Deep Sleep chamber, time is one thing he has plenty of. Once Ross learns the truth about what has happened whilst he has been “sleeping”, he turns his mind towards trying to rebuild the world around him.

It is an imaginative and compelling tale, unlike most modern science fiction (it was first published in 1961). There are no enemies for Ross to fight, no evil empires or plagues to thwart; just a lone man using the tools he finds around him to create a word he can live in.

The other stories in this collection: Counter Security, Dogfight, Nuisance Value, and In Loving Memory, are all great stories on their own right, each looking at the human side of Science Fiction. 

For me, Second Ending is a stand out story. It has a great narrative and an inspiring message. The book, if you can get your hands on a copy, is well worth a read by anyone with an interest in science or fiction.

The Weapon Shops Of Isher

The Weapon Shops of Isherby A.E. van Vogt

As a lifelong reader of science fiction I can’t believe that I have never read any A E Van Vogt until now. Regarded by many as one of the most influential science fiction writers of the mid twentieth century, he was still writing into the 1980s. The Weapon Shops of Isher was published in 1951, and with the exception of a few references to “atomic energy” typical of the era, it stands up pretty well. 

Like most good science fiction, the technology and scientific projections are only a small part of the whole. In this book, set on Earth several thousand years in the future, Van Vogt has created a world in which corruption and greed have become endemic and the power of the empire not necessarily where it should be. 

In the world ruled by the house of Isher, there is an uneasy balance between the ruling dictatorship and the Weapon Shops, who offer freedom in the shape of firearms. Thrust into this unstable world is Chris McAllister, a news reporter from the twentieth century, who becomes pivotal in the conflict to come, in more ways than one. 

Whilst Empress Innelda rules with absolute authority, she is uneasy about the level of corruption within her government. But changing a system that has become embedded over generations will not be easy. Alongside the political shenanigans is the story of Cayle Clarke, a young man from a poor background who finds himself shifting through time. In a plot linked to the twentieth century journalist, Cayle becomes close to the Empress and central to the shifting balances of power. 

Despite being just over 120 pages long, The Weapon Shops of Isher has great depth of plot and characterisation. The book has great pace and is extremely well written; it is a great example of the best if mid-twentieth century science fiction. I just wish I hadn’t waited so long before reading Van Vogt.

The Long War (The Long Earth #2)

by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

The Long WarThe sequel to their previous collaboration The Long Earth, The Long War takes mankind’s prejudices and intolerances into the new, parallel worlds that opened up in the first book. Whilst The Long Earth explored the possibilities of a new beginning and a return to the spirit of exploration, The Long War tackles the all too human arrogance and propensity for self-destruction that has littered history for millennia.

Sounds a bit deep, but, this being Pratchett and Baxter, it is not. I am not sure how the collaboration between the two worked, but I can definitely hear Terry Pratchett’s unique characterisations and off-centre humour woven into Stephen Baxter’s imaginative storytelling.

It is twelve years since the Long Earth opened up and humanity began its relentless spread across the endless worlds it offered. For some it has been an opportunity to get away from the stresses of the modern world and return to a more simple and meaningful way of life. For others it is an opportunity to expand their influence and gain power. Joshua Valiente was one of the original pioneers who pressed forward across the myriad new worlds with his companions Sally and Lobsang. Now, twelve years later, he is a respectable married man and wants nothing to do with the changes going on in other worlds. But inevitably, he finds himself drafted into a new expedition to prevent the whole lot come crashing down in war.

The thrust of the plot is simple, but the complexity of the interweaving stories makes it a particularly interesting read. Whilst it doesn’t have quite the same level of humour and comic twists that made Terry Pratchett so beloved by his fans (me included) there is just enough hints of madness and quirkiness to make us comfortable.

The Long War may not be a classic; it is certainly not the best I have read from either author, but it is full of imagination and wonderful characters. From the opening scene with scientists seeming to mistreat one of the long Earth’s indigenous species, to the explosive climax at Yellowstone Park, The Long War is a great little story that will keep any fan of Science Fiction amused.