Raven Stratagem - Yoon Ha Lee (space ships in battle)
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9/10
Review: Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee
Reviews / July 13, 2017

Kel Cheris, half-possessed by the ghost of notorious General Shuos Jedao, survived an assassination attempt that wiped out her entire fleet. Or did she? Physical appearances aside, it appears to be Jedao who usurps command aboard the Hierarchy of Feasts. Formation instinct compels the Kel to follow Jedao – but will he really defend the Hexarchate from the Hafn? Or will he betray them to their deaths? Ninefox Gambit was one of my favourite books last year, although not all reviewers shared my enthusiasm for its unapologetically oblique world-building and its obsession with the ethics of war. In Raven Stratagem, the core dilemma is much the same – can the ghost of the mass-murdering general be trusted? – but this time we see the action strictly through outside eyes. Enter General Kel Khiruev, tormented by her enforced loyalties to both the Hexarchate and – unwillingly – to Jedao as her superior officer. Haunted by childhood memories of her mother executing her father for heresy, it’s only Kel formation instinct that suppresses her doubts about the Hexarchate. When Jedao arrives, she can’t resist the urge to obey him even knowing Kel Command wants him dead. By contrast, Lieutenant Colonel Kel Brezan has weak…

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9/10
Borne by Jeff VanderMeer
Reviews / July 10, 2017

Before even starting to review Borne just let me ask you to take a look at the cover I’ve chosen.  It’s strangely hypnotic isn’t it, you want to look at it, to make sense of it, just turn it around slightly or turn it upside down even. I suppose there’s something in us all that makes us want to find the sense of something, figure out the puzzle and give it a name we understand.  Frankly, I couldn’t make sense of the image on the cover and having read the book I’m still not entirely sure what is being depicted, but, in spite of that, I love the cover, it drew me in and held my attention and more than that is a great representation for this book because I don’t think there is any one fixed image – for me, the point is the image could be anything that your mind comes up with whilst reading this. I was compelled by this read.  I was partly scared to pick it up because I always make the assumption that I’m not going to fully grasp what’s actually going on, but, as I was reading I began to appreciate that it…

Shattered Minds - Laura Lam (an eye with a graphic treatment suggestive of shards of glass streaming out of it)
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8/10
Review: Shattered Minds by Laura Lam
Reviews / June 19, 2017

Carina Kearney is a rising star at Sudice Inc, a gifted neuroprogrammer on a highly sensitive research project to record the lived experience: senses, feelings, memories. She’s also a cold-blooded killer. Scared of her urges, Carina flees her job and embraces Zeal addiction instead, drowning herself in drug-induced sprees of virtual murder. But her mentor Roz has ambitions far beyond brain recording, and Carina is key to her success. How can Carina escape her in a near-future California where any brain can be hacked? And can she ever escape herself? Shattered Minds is a companion novel to last year’s excellent False Hearts, set once again in Laura Lam’s Pacifica – a crime-free, poverty-free near-future California shaped by ubiquitous surveillance and bleeding edge technology. You can make Shattered Minds your point of entry to this universe if you wish: it stands alone – although spoilers in passing for the outcome of the first novel mean you’re better to read them in order. And you really should read False Hearts, because it’s excellent. So is Shattered Minds. That said: Shattered Minds requires a thick skin. Hearts beats with emotions from the first page, circling tightly around the bond between its twin protagonists, their love a…

The Space Between The Stars - Anne Corlett
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9/10
Review: The Space Between The Stars by Anne Corlett
Reviews / June 14, 2017

The virus had a long incubation period. By the time it started killing, it had already spread across the stars. Those who survived the second day lived. The rest burnt up, 99.9999% of the human race reduced to piles of dust. Now the few survivors – scattered across planets – must try to reconnect, regroup and choose their future. Should Jamie try to rebuild what she’s lost or choose a fresh start? The Space Between The Stars is – for me, at least – this year’s Station Eleven. I have seen more critical reviews, but it spoke straight to my heart and unstrung it, leaving me crying quietly on an aeroplane (whether that’s one better than crying on public transport I leave to you). Like Station Eleven, this is a story that uses a SF conceit to explore human nature rather than a story that is interested in its SF trappings. As such, some SF readers may feel sold short. But not this SF reader. This reader is in resonant bits. We meet Jamie on Soltaire, a remote farming planet where she has fled from her long-term partner Daniel to seek the space to heal after a devastating loss. Her flight…

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7/10
Review: Agents of Dreamland by Caitlín R. Kiernan
Reviews / June 8, 2017

Caitlín R. Kiernan’s new novella is an odd beast. Take our universe and turn it a few degrees to strange and this is the world of Agents of Dreamland. It begins with a meeting between two people who are apparently government agents, takes a journey into the mindset of cult members and reaches out into space as a NASA probe falls silent beyond the orbit of Pluto. Kiernan is best known for her lyrical dark fantasy and extraordinarily weird short stories. This novella is somewhere in-between. We begin with the Signalman, a special agent getting off a train in the blistering heat of a 2015 Arizona. He is to meet Immacolata who has information for him. Something strange happened and they need to work out what. She writes as if this is hard-boiled noir. Meanwhile, a typically charismatic-type has founded the Children of the Next Level. This is where we meet Chloe. She is an lost, standing on the roof and reaching for the stars. This particular cult offers transcendence into a better future. This short story alternates in styles between the points of views of the Signalman, Immacolata and Chloe. These are highly descriptive and enigmatic chapters. There are…

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6/10
Review: Avengers of the Moon by Allen Steele
Reviews / April 17, 2017

Whatever can be said about Avengers of the Moon, Allen Steele has accomplished something rare and remarkable here. In his afterword, he suggests that this novel can be viewed as a reboot of Captain Future—a character I was not initially familiar with, though pulp lovers will no doubt recognize this science fiction hero who appeared primarily in a series of adventure stories written by Edmond Hamilton in the 40s. Steele goes on to explain, however, that he did not mean for this book to be a homage or a parody; rather, his intent was to revive the character for modern times and introduce him to a new generation of readers. Avengers of the Moon is therefore the hero’s updated “origin story” following the journey of protagonist Curtis Newton to become Captain Future. Curt was just a baby when his mother and father were murdered in cold blood. The boy then fell into the care of a robot, an android, and the disembodied brain of Professor Simon Wright, a good scientist friend of the family. Together, this unlikely trio raised Curt in a secret underground bunker on the moon in order to hide his presence from Victor Corvo, the corrupt businessman…

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10/10
Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
Reviews / April 12, 2017

Honestly, I don’t understand why there aren’t more science fiction writers like John Scalzi. I don’t need all science fiction to be written Scalzi style, but I do need more than we’ve got. Opening a review this way should give you a sense that I very much enjoyed The Collapsing Empire. It is, in many ways, a traditional space opera, full of imaginative technology, vivid world-building, and enormous stakes. On the other hand, it’s just plain fun to read. And it’s this latter reason that I habitually read anything by Scalzi the minute it’s published. Virtually every other notable science fiction author you can think of has him beat hands-down in the big idea department. Scalzi has imaginative concepts, sure, but there’s also always something entirely familiar and comfortable about his fictional worlds. They are populated by recognizable character types – none of them being altered or warped by alienness or futurity into something truly other. His books also feature sci fi technology that, underneath the hood, feel familiar and contemporary. If you want never-before-conceived-of science fictional musings that brilliantly speculate on how technology or climate or evolution might change humanity, look elsewhere. If you want to have a good…

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8/10
Review: Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel
Reviews / April 11, 2017

I had a blast reading Sleeping Giants last year, and despite some issues with the format, I enjoyed Neuvel’s original take on the alien invasion story. If you haven’t read Sleeping Giants, the story revolves around Dr. Rose Franklin, who finds a giant robot hand as a girl, and later becomes a renowned scientist who discovers that the hand is one piece of a very large alien robot. Sleeping Giants tackles the tale of how Rose and her crew are able to locate all the pieces of Themis, which just happen to be scattered all over the world, and put them back together again. Once that’s accomplished, the characters try to figure out the purpose of Themis—why she’s here and what she does. Now in the second book of the series, Neuvel takes the exciting premise of the first book and injects it with a shot of adrenaline, raises the stakes and gives us a terrifying look at what an alien invasion might be like. If I was intrigued by all the science and alien engineering in the first book, I was scared out of my mind this time around. This is no E.T., it’s more like War of the Worlds,…

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7/10
Review: Gauntlet by Holly Jennings
Reviews / April 3, 2017

Get ready, because it’s time to enter the arena again. Gauntlet is everything a reader dreams of in a sequel—bigger world, higher stakes, and even more dangerous and violent challenges. I had a really good time with the first book, but at the same time I was also curious to see how this follow-up would build on its potential and whether or not it would improve on a few of the weaknesses. Quite a lot has happened since the end of Arena. With her RAGE tournament winnings and money she made from her new found fame, our protagonist Kali Ling has returned to buy out Defiance, becoming the captain and owner of her gaming team. When the story begins, Kali is troubled by a new development that has been sweeping the virtual gaming world—a house. Though in truth, this “house” is more of a colossal mansion. Nicknamed “The Wall”, it sits nestled on a sprawling estate sealed away from the public. For weeks, rumors have been flying around that the best gaming teams from around the world have been invited inside, but no one knows what goes on during these visits. Wild parties? Drugs? Not knowing is driving Kali crazy,…

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8/10
Review: The Return by Joseph Helmreich
Reviews / March 22, 2017

Based on its topics, The Return is what I would describe as hard science fiction—lots of heavy emphasis on technical details, especially surrounding the fields of astronomy and quantum physics. The result is a lot of complex and advanced scientific theory going over my head and plenty more technobabble I’m sure I didn’t quite grasp. So why did I enjoy this book much? Well, for one thing it was thoroughly addicting. Combining an altogether engaging sci-fi premise with the fast-paced intensity of a breathless thriller, Joseph Helmreich’s clever debut is a wild and unexpected journey worth taking. The day humanity found out that it was not alone in the universe began just like any other, with the exception of a few pockets in the scientific community all abuzz with the anticipation for that night’s lunar eclipse coinciding with the winter solstice. It is an occasion rare enough that a news television station has arranged a live broadcast on site in the Bernasconi Hills of Southern California with expert physicist-turned-celebrity scientist Dr. Andrew Leland to cover the event. This is why, when a mysterious spacecraft suddenly swoops down upon the TV crew after the eclipse, Dr. Leland’s subsequent abduction by aliens…