Category Archives: Sci-Fi

Death’s End (Remembrance of Earth’s Past #3)

Death's End

by Cixin Liu

by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu)

Death’s End brings the “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” trilogy to a climactic and unexpected conclusion. The vision of this series is staggering. Cixin takes his readers on a journey to the ends of the universe via some rather dramatic shifts in scenery and time.

Taking up where The Dark Forest left off, Earth is in a standoff with the Trisolaran’s Keeping the upper hand is not going to be easy and complacency threatens. Enter Chang Xin, an imaginative aerospace engineer recently awoken from hibernation. She is one of many who bring knowledge and insight from the twenty-first century in the hope of securing mankind’s future.

What follows is an insightful view of human frailties and strengths. Through several periods of hibernation, young Cheng finds herself at the centre of the human race’s unfolding story. Reluctantly she becomes a catalyst for change and a powerful figure in the race for answers to the ultimate challenge of survival in a universe where we are surrounded by enemies.

Death’s End is not an easy read. The science is challenging and the twist and turns of the plot are a little unnerving at times, but the narrative and characters drive the story forward at a relentless pace. 

As a conclusion to the series, it is all I had expected and more. It is clever, insightful, enjoyable and thought-provoking. Is it the ending I was expecting? No, not at all. And right up to the very end I had no idea where the story was going.

There is a lot of story packed into its 700+ pages, so be sure UI is ready for the long haul.

As for the series as a whole, it is quite spectacular in its scope and delivery. It is a long time since I have read anything with the same breadth and intensity. Remembrance of Earth’s Past is a visionary epic that deserves a place on the list of sci-fi classics. Cixin Liu is a visionary who I am sure we are going to see more from in the future. 

 

 

The Left Hand of Darkness

How To Be Deadby Ursula Le Guin

Once again I take the risky journey into another “classic”. First published in 1969, The Left Hand of Darkness was Le Guin’s fifth novel and went on to win both Hugo and Nebula awards for best novel. No mean feat and an achievement that would make any book worthy of the “classic” status it has achieved.
One of the best features of science fiction is that as a genre it is quite hard to define and novels within the sphere range from all-out space operas and boys-own adventures, to the thought-provoking and visionary. Sometimes, all the same book.

So how does The Left Hand of Darkness fit into this?
Well, I do approach all “classics” with an open mind and some trepidation. I have only too often found myself disappointed. And I have to say that, at first, I thought that this was going to be one of those. It got off to a stuttering start and I struggled a little with the characters and the distant world they inhabited.

The main character, Genly Ai is a representative of the Ekumen, a collection of worlds linked only by their humanity. His role is to observe the people of the winter-world Gethen and to work towards bringing them into the fold. In this universe, mankind is spread throughout the galaxy but there is no explanation of the background to this, just an assumption the reader is happy to go along with it.

The Gethenians are unique amongst the known worlds as they are the only androgynous race whose lives are governed by a sexual cycle that can lead to them becoming male or female at the height of their cycle. To them, Genly’s permanent sexuality is a perversion.

The thurst of the novel’s narrative comes from Genly as he becomes inadvertently drawn into the complexities of the politics and national conflicts of this winter world.

When his only true friend and ally falls foul of the political intrigues of the court of King Argaven, Ai begins a journey across the continent that puts him in great personal danger. His escape and the challenges presented by his journey across the vast ice fields with his now-disgraced friend are the book’s most memorable moments.

Left Hand of Darkness is a slow burner of a book, but one worth the effort. The Gethenian’s androgynous nature allows Le Guin to question our own preoccupation with gender, something very relevant today. Although I would not list it as one of my “classics”, it is certainly a book worthy of its accolades. Le Guin’s easy style and driving narrative give the book real pace, even when there seems to be little happening. The swapping between narrators allows the reader to see events from two different perspectives that I found interesting and kept me on my toes.

So, a good book. One I would certainly recommend, but not to the more casual Sci-Fi reader. It is a book of its genre.

Neutron Star

Neutron Starby Larry Niven

This is my third time reading this collection of short stories from the award-winning Larry Niven. I am more used to reading his collaborations with Jerry Pournelle, but was given this book as a Christmas gift in the late 1970s and loved the concept. Each of the books 8 stories are set in Niven’s “Known Space“, four of then featuring the same principal character, Beowulf Shaffer, a pilot looking for work wherever he can find it.

Although all the stories here are worthy and interesting, it is the, without doubt, the title story itself (Neutron Star) and “At The Core” that makes this collection such a delight.

The first four also feature the enigmatic and ancient race known as the Puppeteers (featured ion the cover of this edition). 

The stories themselves were all first published in 1966 and 1967. At the time that this collection was first published in 1978 the concepts and featured technology were still valid, but time has overtaken Noven’s visions of the future. That does not however distract from what are imaginative and compelling stories. I am not by a rule a fan of short stories, but this is one of those collections that kept me intrigued to the end of the final story. Maybe this is due to the links between them all. 

Larry Niven’s work has always been rooted in the big science and theoretical concepts and much of the science in these stories is as fresh and intriguing as it was when I first read them.

Neutron Star is an interesting and intriguing collection. There is pure science, thriller and even a smattering of crime. As good a selection as you will find anywhere.

Rendezvous With Rama (Rama #1)

Rendezvous With Ramaby Arthur C Clarke

Arthur C Clarks is one of the most prolific and well respected Science Fiction writers of his generation. One of the great things about Clarke is that his works stand up even now. First published in 1974, Rendezvous With Rama has become a classic and with good reason. 

I first read this book when I was in school in the mid-1970s. It was the first full-length Science Fiction novel I had read and I was awed by the grandeur of the story and the science it portrayed. I have reread the book several times since and still find the story, characters and the strange alien world of Rama as captivating as the first time.

Rama is the name given to the enigmatic object scientists discover passing through the solar system. Its trajectory takes it past Venus and Mercury towards the Sun. There is only one ship capable of rendezvousing with the craft, Endeavour. Commander Norton and his crew find themselves the centre of political and media attention as they begin their adventure aboard the alien craft.

What they discover raises more questions than answers, as you might expect. How could we possibly understand the technology of a race capable of building a craft capable of spanning the vastness of interstellar space?

The narrative switches between the science of the expedition on Rama and the political intrigue and plotting back on Earth. 

As you would expect from Arthur C Clarke, the science is real and believable, combined with great storytelling. Re-reading the book has reminded me just how good a writer Clarke is. 

Originally a stand-alone story Clarke later went on to write a further 3 Rama novels. He had not intended to, but pressure from fans and his publishers soon won out.

Rendezvous With Rama is a SciFi classic for good reason. It remains one of my favourite books and one I am sure I will read again. 

 

 

Sphere

Sphereby Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton is one of the most respected writers in his field. Many of his books have become essential reading and a large number have made it to the silver screen. His work is always imaginative and pushes real science to the limited. Sphere is just such a book. 

The story is set deep below the South Pacific where a huge vessel has been discovered resting on the ocean floor. A team of specialists is hastily assembled and shipped out in great secrecy. Joining a naval crew the scientists are faced with attempting to solve a perplexing riddle whilst confined in the hostile environment a thousand feel below the ocean surface. 

What the crew find inside the vessel reveals more mysteries than they had bargained for. Things begin to take a turn for the worse when a storm forces the surface support ships away, leaving the scientists and their navy crew very much isolated. This is quickly followed by a series of events that leave most of them dead and the survivors fighting for their lives against an unknown and unseen adversary.

Whilst I enjoyed the book, particularly the way it looks at the frailty of the human psyche, it did not hold my attention as much as I had expected.

Like Crichton’s other works, Sphere deals with cutting edge science pitted against human frailties. It has an interesting plot and intriguing characters but it does not have the same vital spark that made the likes of The Andromeda Strain and Congo such compelling reads.

 

Adrift

Adriftby Rob Boffard

The concept of being cast adrift, out of reach of help and fighting for survival is a recurring scenario repeated in many good books and films. As the word itself suggests, these stories are generally confined to the dramas set in the sea, usually under attack from an unknown or unseen assailant. In this case, though, the ship in question is a small leisure shuttle taking its passengers to view the Horsehead Nebula – it’s the best view the Galaxy according to the tourist literature.

When they board the rather shabby and far from state-of-the-art Red Panda for their short excursion into space, those on board have no idea that they’re lives, and the lives of thousands of others, are about to change forever.

It was supposed to be a routine trip. A short journey away from the sprawling Sigma Station, a quick look at the Nebula, then back in time for tea. But everything changes when a mysterious ship appears seemingly from nowhere and, as they watch, destroys the station and everyone on it. With no idea who is behind the attack or why, the passengers and crew find themselves struggling to avoid detection. They have no weapons, very little food or water, and no way to escape.

Adrift is a tense drama that keeps the reader in suspense from beginning to end. The story is driven by some interesting characters, most of whom have secrets that pose as much of a threat to the group’s survival as the mysterious enemy now stalking them.

Each twist of the plot provides insight into who the individuals are. There are heroism and betrayal in equal measure from unexpected places in this well-crafted adventure. Rob Boffard has once again proven that he is a great storyteller and a good observer of human nature.

For those who have already read his Out Earth trilogy, Adrift offers more of the same and is a must. If you haven’t yet read his work then this is as good a place to start as any. You will not be disappointed if you are looking for drama, adventure and some science fiction.

The Dark Forest (Rememberance of Earth’s Past #2)

The Dark Forest

by Cixin Liu

In the second of CixiinLiu’s Remembrance Of Earth’s Past trilogy, we find ourselves facing humanity’s end. The Trisolarian fleet is heading our way and it seems that the outcome of the ensuing conflict is in little doubt. With their extra-dimensional agents watching our every move and effectively putting a halt to scientific progress, humanity looks set to pay the ultimate price for being foolish enough to make its existence known. In a universe full of predators the best way to ensure survival to remain hidden. By contacting the Trisolarians humanity had made a seemingly fatal mistake.

Like the opening book of the series (The Three-Body Problem), although Dark Forest is global in scope, the book’s focus is, not surprisingly, from the Chinese point of view. 

The story spans 200 years with the main characters popping in and out of hibernation. But rather than being used as a convenient vehicle to help cover issues with the plot, it is an important part of the narrative. 

Dark Forest is a clever, intense and very well-told story. There is a lot of speculative science and interesting philosophical debate throughout the book as well as some very interiguing characters and one of the most imaginative plots I have read in years. The book never drifts too far from what might realistically be possible in the near future it portrays. 

Cixin Liu has proven himself to be one of the best science fiction visionaries of his generation. His depiction of the first contact between Earth and Trisolarian technologies is quite gripping and totally unexpected. His characters are well defined and engaging. 

The Dark Forest continues with the same intensity and imagination as The Three-Body Problem and I am looking forward to reading the final instalment in this gripping trilogy.

Saturn Run

Saturn Runby John Sandford and Ctein

It is interesting to speculate on how mankind would react to our finding evidence of advanced alien life, particularly if we found it in our own back yard. Would it bring nations together, or would it exacerbate the existing divides between us? There have been many articles and books written on the subject and first contact novels have become a favourite of mine.

Like many things, science fiction is continually evolving. Keeping one step ahead of real science is becoming a challenge for SciFi writers. For me, much of what passes as Science Fiction these days is more of a mix of fantasy and horror. Whilst there is nothing wrong in that, I still prefer the kind of stories that mix speculative science with a touch of adventure.

Saturn Run is one of those stories. The science is believable, as is the insight into the frailties of human nature. When faced with first contact and the possibility of access to new and exciting technologies, the race is on between the two spacefaring power blocks. There are the inevitable failures as existing technology is pushed to the limit in the attempt to be the first to get their hands on the alien pot of gold. But it is not just the technology that is being tested and the politicians back home attempt to manipulate events to their own advantage.

It is a good old fashioned adventure story with plenty of action and some interesting insights into the frailties of human nature. Failures and tragedy beset the two competing crews as they wend their separate ways from Earth to the rings of Saturn. Arriving at their destination is not all they expected, and neither is the events that follow.

Great plot, wonderful characters and a story with real pace and some interesting twists make this one of the best science fiction books I have rea for quite some time. Then lack of blood-sucking aliens is a plus.

 

 

 

The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past #1)

The Three-Body Problemby Cixin Liu
Translation by Ken Liu

Before going any further I need to make one thing clear – the three bodies referred to in the title are celestial rather than biological. That said though, there is a reasonably large number of the later scattered through this very gripping and imaginative book.

I also have to say that when I purchased the book I was not aware that it was the opening volley in a trilogy. At the time I was looking for a stand-alone Sci-Fi novel by a modern author. That may sound a relatively simple thing to do but like so many things these days, it is not as easy as it seems. Science Fiction shelves of bookshops I visit seems o have more zombie and vampire stories that traditional Sci-Fi and those I do find are part of ever-growing series. I am starting to feel very nostalgic for the good old days. 

But enough of that, what about this Three-Body Problem? The story begins in 1967 at the beginning of China’s Cultural Revolution. I have to admit to being ignorant of the events of the period – Chinese history has never been high on the school curriculum and it is something that I have only ever come across references to. This is the first time I have read anything that deals with the events and looks at their implications. It is not long before the bodies begin to pile up and the characters that drive the story to emerge. 

The three bodies in question are three suns. Their orbits are erratic and unpredictable, hence the problem – how does a civilization survive the extremes created by its orbit around these bodies?

The answer is: with difficulty which is why there are looking beyond their own system for a new home. Then one day, due to events precipitated by the Cultural Revolution, their prayers are answered. What follows is one of the most imaginative and compelling science fiction stories I have read in years. The science behind this tale is second only to Cixin Liu’s natural storytelling. 

I have to say that The Three-Body Problem is not only a great piece of fiction, it also taught me a little about an important historical period I knew nothing about. I do have to say that I was very grateful for the List of Characters helpfully added at the beginning of the book. Without it would have struggled to keep track of the characters. Not there are a lot of them, I just found myself struggling with the Chinese names. 

Although I was looking for a stand-alone book, I am not in any disappointed to started on this particular trilogy. I am looking forward to reading the rest.

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.