Category Archives: Sci-Fi

Morning Star (Red Rising #3)

Morning Starby Pierce Brown

Morning Star brings to a close a trilogy that has almost everything you could ask for: mythology, action and adventure, epic battle scenes, heroes, villains, romance and political intrigue. The only things missing are fire-breathing dragons and a rusty kitchen sink. Mind you, Marsian raised Griffins are a good substitute (not for the kitchen sink!).

In the Red Rising trilogy, Pierce Brown has created a very unique future for the human race, but one both feet planted firmly in our own history and present. Inspiration for these books has come from many different sources: Greek and Norse mythology amongst the most obvious. However, I feel that the decision to make the hero Darrow of Lykos a Red in The Society’s colour-baed caste system is no accident. A Red” fighting against the system that places people depending on birth and gives privilege to a chosen few mirrors the ongoing clash between socialism and conservatism. 

I have enjoyed the previous two books and had high expectations for the final instalment. And I have to say that I was not disappointed on any level. The story continues with the same pace as Darrow, the Reaper of Mars, faces his biggest challenge yet in his struggle to bring freedom to his “people”. After the events of Golden Son, the big question was just who could he rely on/ With plenty of plot twists and some help from unexpected quarters, Darrow’s journey takes him from Mars to the moons of Jupiter before heading for the heart of the Society, Luna and Earth. As with everything he has done before, things do not always go his way as he learns the painful realities of leadership – the frustration of compromise and the pain of sacrifice. Is he willing to sacrifice thousands for the future of millions? Can he really trust those around him?

Morning Star is dramatic, exciting, compelling and insightful. Pierce Brown has created a world filled with wonder and adventure. Darrow’s story may well be over for now, but I feel there is great potential for more stories of this colourful universe. I would love to hear more about the rise of the Golds and also about the world Darrow and his band of rebels has created. A dramatic and compelling end to a well written and thought provoking trilogy. 

Artemis

Artemisby Andrew Weir

Andre Weir’s debut novel Martian” was undeniably, and justifiably, a great success. The combination of scientific accuracy, vision and natural storytelling made it one of the best new science fiction books for many years. The only problem with hitting the bullseye with a first novel is how on Earth do you follow it? The answer, it seems, is to go to the Moon.

I read Martian with no preconceived expectations other than the hope it lived up to the hype. Turning to the first page of Artemis was a whole different kettle of fish and I have to admit that I was prepared to be disappointed. As it turns out I really should have had more faith. Set in the not-too-distant future, Artemis is every bit as captivating and imaginative as its predecessor.

once again the science is well researched and very accessible and the plot is intense and unpredictable as the characters face the harsh realities of living on the inhospitable lunar surface.

However, for me, the outstanding feature of this book is its protagonist, the feisty and resourceful Jazz Bashara. Making her living in a tough and uncompromising frontier city like Artemis is never easy and Jazz is definitely the kind of girl you want on your side when things get rough. Like many of literature’s more interesting characters, Jazz is far from the traditional whiter-than-white hero. She is a smuggler, supplying all kinds of contraband to the Moon’s more discerning citizens.

Scraping a living on the Moon is not easy and for Jazz, the opportunity to earn a lot of cash very quickly is too good to turn down. But not everything, or everyone, is as they seem and getting herself wrapped up in a fight between big business and criminal gangs brings the kind of excitement she could well do without. Jazz very soon finds herself and the centre of a murder investigation that threatens not just her life, but also those of the people she loves. 

The story is told in Jazz’s own uncompromising and amusing style. Her character leaps out of the page and demands your attention right from the start. The book has a natural flow and reads as if she is there with you, telling her story over a glass or two of reconstituted beer. 

Artemis is every bit as intense and driven as Weir’s debut but is very different in many ways. In my opinion, Artemis proves beyond doubt that Andrew Weir as a writer every bit as exciting as Arthur C Clark or Niven/Pournelle at heir best – a visionary with both feet planted firmly on the ground. His books have adventure, hard science but are very character driven. Artemis is a classic in the making and a book I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who has even a just a remote interest in science fiction. After all, a good book is a goood book, no matter where or when it is set.

Can’t wait to see what he comes up with next. 

A Secret History of Time to Come

A Secret History Of Time To Comeby Robie Macauley

When a book has been out of print for a decade or two you have to as yourself why. Plot? Style? Or just badly written? In the case of Robie Macauley’s book, I don’t think it was any of these. I came across this book by accident and it had had several good reviews, so I thought: why not?

I have to say that I found the story, the writing and the vision all very worthy. The theme of a post-apocalyptic world is not a new one, but Robie Macauly’s future Earth has a unique quality about it. There are several tales within the narrative, but the focus of the story is on two men, separated by generations and disaster. One records the days that lead to the eventual collapse of the structures that hold our society in place; the other driven by some unknown force seeks to learn what happened o the man who had gone before. 

My only real criticism of this book has to be the back story to the events that lead to the downfall of civilization. There is a reason that successful post-apocalyptic stories centre around big global events such as an asteroid strike, a global pandemic or some form of environmental disaster – the effects have to be global for the story to hold together. Macauley’s vision is based on civil unrest and the break down of all and would, therefore, be limit to a single region at the most. Trying to suggest that the civil war in the US would result in the breakdown of society across the globe is either naive or profoundly egotistical. 

However, if you are prepared to accept this admittedly rather large flaw, the book is actually a very good one.

The story is well told. There is plenty of action, some interesting ideas of how the break down might impact on those who come after. The mysterious link between the two characters is never fully explained but did add an interesting element. 

Not a bad book. Not a classic, hence it’s demise. 

Black Holes

Edited by Jerry Pournelle

Black Holes

I first read this book when I was a teenager. Jerry Pournelle himself wasn’t new to me but most of the other contributors were and I was impressed by the various approaches to the subject of Black Holes. Having re-read it again thirty years later I found myself still as impressed by the mix of stories and essays. You don’t often get fact and fiction sitting side-by-side and I find the concept both interesting and informative. Good science fiction (as this collection is) contains as much fact as fiction, but the addition of real ideas and discussions of concepts really opened my eyes as a teenager. 

Most of the pieces in the book were written in the mid to late 70s, with just one dating from 1968. Like all sci-fi of the time, it can seem a little dated with talk of tapes and such like, but the core concepts behind each story are as relevant today as they were then. Stephen Hawkins gets a mention in one of the articles, crediting him with being approaches to responsible for our notions of Black Holes and singularities. 

Revisiting a book from your past can often be disappointing, our memories often coated in that ever present rose coloured tint, but in this case I was far from disappointed. Black Holes is a great collection and a very enjoyable read. 

Authors included in this collection are Larry Niven, Poul Anderson, Charles Sheffield, Robert Forward, R Bretnor, Gail Kimberly, Grant Carrington, George Zebrowski, Mildred Downey Broxon, Dian Girard, Michael Bishop, Peter Dillinger and Greg Bear. 

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

The Moon is a Harsh Mistressby Robert A Heinlein

It is 2075 and the Moon (Luna) is a former penal colony. Now the citizens want their independence and are prepared to fight for it. 

I suppose that in 1966 when the book was first published, the idea of a permanent colony on the Mohon seemed not just possible, but probably. With the space race in full swing and the first Moon landings on the horizon, all was to play for. It’s a shame the reality didn’t quite live up to the promise of those pioneering days. 

But putting that aside, what we have here is a tale of political intrigue, revolution and sociological change. In Heinlein’s Luna colonies, relationships are both free and complicated in a world where men outnumber women several-fold. But as always, writers are limited by their own experiences, even Sci-Fi writers like Heinlein. It seems that in 1966 even the most fantastic plots did not envisage a world where men and women could expect equal opportunities. The female lead, Wyoming Knott, is n the face of it a strong and independent character, but in fact, she is no more than a hook to hang the books romantic thread onto.

Luna’s struggle for independence from Earth draws a great deal from history and comparisons between it and America’s fight against Imperialism are easy to draw. 

If I sound overly critical of the book, I don’t mean to. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is an excellent example of how good science fiction can be. The science is believable and grounded. The problems faced by those having to adjust to the Moon’s lower gravity adds a level of believability so often overlooked. 

Heinlein is undoubtedly a mast of the genre, but he is also an excellent storyteller. The characters and plot are well structured and the pace consistent and relentless. And whilst there is a dated feel about some elements of the book, it stands up pretty well in my opinion. 

 

The Man in the High Castle

The Man In The High Castleby Philip K Dick

Having seen and enjoyed Amazon’s adaptation I felt I really ought to read the book it was based on. The only reason I have left it so long was that I am not exactly a fan of Philip K Dick’s work. I have read several of his works before and found them somewhat difficult to get into. I find his style sits uncomfortably with me and the plots a little lacking in substance. This may be down to poor selection on my behalf, but I can only comment on what I have read. 

The Man in the High Castle is not the first of Dick’s novels to be adapted for the screen. In fact, these adaptations have resulted in some of the most popular Sci-Fi movies of all time, so he must be doing something right.

For me, The Man In The High Castle was a little disappointing. In many ways, it was what I expected in terms of style and plot, but when compared against the TV series, it came a very poor second. All the elements are there, as are the characters, but for me, the big difference between the two, and the reason I prefer the series to the book, is the action or lack of it. The idea behind the book is a whopper – the Allies lost the Second World War and now America is split between Germany and Japan. There is a finely balanced détente between these two new superpowers that is treated by political upheavals within the Reich and the publication of a novel describing a very different world in which the German and Japanese axis lost. 

I have seen and read a number of “What if…” style books over the years and I have to say that Dick’s paints one of the most believable pictures of an alternative post-war history. The Man In The High Castle has a great plot and does a wonderful job of presenting some interesting ideas, but for me, there is a lack of depth to both the characters and the plot. 

I would still recommend the book to anyone who has seen the TV series. It contains a lot more information about the world beyond the American states and some background to the political situation that is well worth knowing. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, the book offers an interesting insight into what might have been. 

 

Gateway

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.