30 June 2010

The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction: Volume 2 - Edited by George Mann

  • Author: George Mann (Editor)
  • Title: The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction: Volume 2
  • Publisher: Solaris Books/Games Workshop UK 2008
  • ISBN: 978 1844165421
  • My Rating: 2/5 - Not great overall.
The Solaris New Science Fiction series started out in 2007 in an effort to re-establish an original fiction paperback series. So far, they are up to volume 3, published in 2009 just before Solaris was bought out by another publisher. It remains to be seen whether this series will continue or just vanish like so many other original fiction anthologies.No news yet on a 2010 edition that I could find....

Volume two has quite a few BIG NAMES in it's author list, so I imagine that it sold quite well. I didn't hear of it until I did a library search for Neal Asher. It was worth getting just for the two Asher stories it contained, although most of the stories were fine. Probably the best thing about this book though, is an outstanding Peter Watts story entitled "The Eyes of God." It totally blew my mind.

It's always nice to see original anthologies, but this one is not exactly promoting new writers, and being unthemed means that it is a little broad in it's definition of what SF is. And the stories are not exactly original either. I mean, the words are obviously in an original order, but most of the idea's have been done to death, and better. A lot of this book reads like it was bashed out to fill a contractual obligation rather than pushing the edges.

There may be spoilers, but just like in base jumping, sometimes, sometimes you just have to jump.

26 June 2010

The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories - Edited by Ian Watson and Ian Whates

  • Author: Ian Watson and Ian Whates (Editors)
  • Title: The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories: Short Stories of What Might Have Been
  • Publisher: Robinson UK 2010
  • ISBN: 978 1845297794
I'm not really sure why I got this book out. I don't much like alternate history fiction, mostly because it tends to deal with things that either bore me stupid (history I have studied, like Russia, Germany, Ancient Rome/Arab States in Ancient Times) or I don't know anything about (USA Civil War, Ancient China). I didn't even finish most of the stories, I didn't like most of the stories and I wouldn't recommend the book to anyone with my kind of taste in fiction, that being SPACE OPERA and NEW SPACE OPERA, with occasional Space Military or Planetary Romance type novels included.

That said, I am sure that plenty of people will love this book. It has work by Ken McLeod, Robert Silverberg and the ever present Harry Turtledove, who's World War series I have been meaning to read for years. (World War 2 plus aliens? What's not to like??) Also a reprint of Pat Cadigan's 'Dispatches from the Revolution,' which I liked the first time I read it. James Morrow writes a piece in which the passengers of the Titanic escape on a raft built in the hours before the ship sinks, only to drift south and on through the Panama Canal. Paul McAuley, Ian McLeod and Stephen Baxter all have work in this book, which on contemplation is probably the reason I got the damn thing out of the library. I must have been expecting Ancient Roman spacecraft or something.

This book has 25 stories of Alternate History, some reprints, some specially commissioned. There is probably something for everyone in here. I did rather enjoy the McLeod piece, apparently one of the commissions, which is about two factions of dimensional shifters who are at war over preservation or intervention in time streams where things didn't go so well. I wish it had been longer though, as it didn't get a chance to go anywhere.

There is a reprint of Frederick Pohl's 'Waiting for the Olympians' that I didn't read, but have come across before. That one was OK, from memory. Rudy Rucker's 2008 short 'The Imitation Game,' in which Alan Turing fakes his own death rather than committing suicide, is also included. Add all this up and you have a book that on face value is pretty impressive in it's lineup.

No rating - I don't know enough AH to judge, and I am highly prejudiced against anything without space ships.

23 June 2010

The Starry Rift: Tales of New Tomorrows - Jonathan Strahan (Editor)

  • Author: Jonathan Strahan
  • Title: The Starry Rift: Tales of New Tomorrows
  • Publisher: Viking 2008
  • ISBN: 978 0670060597
It has to be said right at the outset. This anthology of original SF is completely misnamed. It probably should have been titled 'Tales of New Tomorrows: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction' or something similar. Why? Because the title as is stands implies that it's a book of space stories. At least I thought so. And yes, there are a few space stories in this volume, but for the most part it is just stories about a possible future, and mostly set on Earth rather than in space.

That said, it is a pretty good anthology. The selections are pretty good, the authors, including Paul McAuley, Ian McDonald, Kelly Link, Alastair Reynolds and Greg Egan, are top notch, and each story is followed by an author biography and the authors notes on the story, which I always like. Strahan is becoming quite the prevalent editor of short SF anthologies, and he knows enough of the current greats to be able to get something new out of them on demand, so I had pretty high hopes for this book. It fell slightly short of the mark, just because it isn't as spacey as I expected.

The stories:
  • Ass-Hat Magic Spider - Scott Westerfield: Probably the weakest story in the anthology, about a teenager who starves himself, chucks a wobbly and calls a guy an asshat because he desperately wants to take a hardcover copy of Charlotte's Web on a spaceship. Just pissed me off really.
  • Cheats - Ann Halam: This story looks at consensual reality, what happens when that consensus is broken, and egalitarianism in virtual spaces. Interesting.
  • Orange - Neil Gaiman: Typically Gaiman short story, plays for laughs. This one is particularly interesting because of the format, being a list of twenty or so answers to questions, but the questions aren't included. You have to work out what the answers mean as you go along. I didn't get a couple of them. Not bad.
  • The Surfer - Kelly Link: This one was really cool, the story of a young guy and his dad, who head to Costa Rica to join up with a cult around the man who made (documented and authentic) first contact with visiting aliens. On arriving at the airport, they get stuck in a quarantine station because of a flu pandemic that has been ravaging the collapsed and degenerating United States of America and much of the rest of the world. More a story about human relationships than the future, but has some nice little asides on classic works of SF.
  • Repair Kit - Stephen Baxter: A space story!! An experimental spaceship heads out on it's maiden test voyage, lacking vital spare parts and relying on a repair kit that violates causality, but seems to work OK. A funny paradox tale, I chuckled all the way through.
  • The Dismantled Invention of Fate: Jeffery Ford: Yawn. Jeff Ford sometimes really hits it when he writes, but not this time. It reads like a reject from a 1920's pulp.
  • Anda's Game - Cory Doctorow: In answer to Ender's Game, which supposedly purports that computer games makes children violent (although that's not what I got from it!!), Doctorow presents games as a unifier, equaliser and a path to cultural and social growth.
  • Sundiver Day - Kathleen Ann Goonan: The obligatory gengineering story, which is very Young Adult in it's tone and style. Average as far as SF goes, but fine as a piece of fiction.
  • The Dust Assassin - Ian McDonald: From the Cyberbad universe, McDonald gives us a tale of intercorporate warfare in which even love is a weapon, and innocence the ultimate victim.
  • The Star Surgeon's Apprentice - Alastair Reynolds: Space Story Two!! A brilliant space pirates story, in which the hero is press ganged into apprenticing for a psychotic surgeon on a ship that is not quite what it appears to be. Al Reynolds is one of the best.
  • An Honest Day's Work - Margo Lanagan: This one is straight out weird, in a world where the people seem to be harvesting really really big people and processing them like whales at a whaling station. Supposedly an exploration of the difference between the technological haves and have-nots, although it's a bit of a stretch to claim that kind of depth, in what is essentially a gross fantasy version of a dockworkers story.
  • Lost Continent - Greg Egan: This story is one that I want to distribute to every single one of those racist fuckbags who say things like "send em back where they came from" and "just sink the boats" about refugees coming to Australia. It really is just the story of the Baxter detention centre, (barely) disguised as the story of a refugee from time. Fantastic work by Egan (who regular readers haha will know I am not a huge fan of.
  • Incomers - Paul McAuley: Space Story Three!! From McAuley's Quiet War universe, three kids who have moved from Earth to Xamba on Rhea (Saturn's second largest moon) and while exploring come across an 'Incomer,' meaning immigrant, who is living like an Outer. They set about trying to find out why. My favorite story in this book.
  • Post-Ironic Stress Syndrome - Tricia Sullivan: Corporate Interplanetary Warfare as Single Combat between two specially trained warriors, cyber-linked to all the war junk. As the warriors battle, the weaponry and assets (and people!) are moved, used and destroyed. Not really a new idea, it's been done. But this time, the warriors are a couple of teenagers, who are currently living in 1994 USA. Clever story, really interesting idea, and great execution.
  • Infestation - Garth Nix: Probably my all time favourite Nix, and one of the best stories in this anthology, Nix presents a surfer bum who turns up at a vampire hunt, and is severely misjudged by the other people in attendance. I wrote an epic paragraph-long sentence outlining the plot, but I couldn't do it without spoilers, so you'll have to just read it. Hilarious and brilliant.
  • Pinocchio - Walter Jon Williams: Williams destroys tabloid culture in this insightful, equally infuriating and saddening story about a young guy who finds fame online, but doesn't know whether he wants to keep it. Really good story, one that should serve as a warning and truly shows the impact of the tabloid media, but probably won't make any difference regardless of how many people read it. Ah, cynicism. My special friend.
So there we are. Only three space stories in a book called The Starry Rift. Which pissed me off a little, but it was still pretty good. I give is 3.5 out of 5. And it won't be on my wish list.

22 June 2010

Neal Asher - Shadow of the Scorpion

  • Author: Neal Asher
  • Title: Shadow of the Scorpion
  • Publisher: Tor 2009
  • ISBN: 978 0230738591
Shadow of the Scorpion is an Agent Cormac novel from Ashers 'Polity' universe. It tells the story of Cormac's first missions as an ECS and later Sparkind soldier, and a little about Cormac's childhood on Earth. The novel stands as a kind of prequel to the main Agent Cormac series, adding some insight into the background of the character, as well as polishing the story of Prador Moon a little, since it is set largely after the end of the Prador War.

This novel is completely up to the high standard that we expect from Asher. His fast paced prose and his ability to develop character through action make this a fascinating insight into one of the best SF characters I have ever come across, as well as being an exciting page-turner of an adventure story.

Without spoiling anything, the major outcomes of this story are that it:
  1. Explains the origin of Cormac's dislike of separatists.
  2. Explains the origin of Cormac's dislike of the Prador.
  3. Explains the origin of Cormac's acceptance of golem and AI intelligences.
  4. Explains how Cormac became the owner of Shuriken.
As per, this novel it highly recommended. You won't be disappointed. It even has some sex in it, for those of you who like that kind of thing. And fishing. People go fishing in this one.

73 Stars.

Peter Watts - Blindsight

  • Author: Peter Watts
  • Title: Blindsight
  • Publisher: Tor 2006
  • ISBN: 978 0765312181
I borrowed this book from the library on the back of a short story by Watts in on of the Garner Dozois 'New Space Opera' books, because I am on a major SO kick at the moment. It's the widescreen, regular guy, accidental hero with a spaceship and access to a really big Internet on a pocket computer thing that excites me so much, that I would give my soul (if I had one, or believed in it) to be a part of. It turned out to be a good, but not great, fairly standard first contact story, with a few unexpected and frankly really weird twists.

(Shouldn't be any Spoilers in this one...)

Blindsight, according to the authors notes, is Watts first foray into Space stories in the novel form. All of his other novels have been set in the deep ocean, but he seems to have gotten the basic realities of space travel and has assembled a 'First Contact' novel around the exploration of the human psyche through the characters on a space ship. The premise is that an unknown alien something has dumped a whole bunch of small imaging thingos into our atmosphere, and now the Earth is sending an exploratory craft to find out what the hell sent the ball things.

The crew is made up five very different individuals. Firstly, a linguist who has a multiple personality disorder, except that in the future we understand that it isn't a disorder, it's an evolutionary advantage. Her brain has been surgically segmented so that each of her personalities can run concurrently. There is a biologist, who has been cyborged to the point where he can see in X-Ray, and tastes in ultrasound. A military specialist is also along, just in case. Our narrator, Siri Keeton, who is a Synthesis (or Information Topologist), someone who interprets information developed by AI and genius level humans so that regular people can understand it. He had half of his brain removed as a child as a radical cure for extreme epilepsy. He doesn't understand any of the stuff he interprets, he just interprets the patterns. Or something.

This is where the novel threw me. We now come to the mission commander, who is something of a monster. He is of a species of formerly extinct hominid predators, who were revived using genetic samples by human geneticists. This species is know as Vampire. No, I'm not kidding. Watts has chucked vampires into a space story. Apparently, they have a genetic aversion to right angles, hence the cross thing. They used to eat humans, but they died out a few thousand years ago. They see in four separate visual modes at once. They take a drug to stop them from going into fits when they see right angles. And they only eat donated blood and animal blood now. Honest. Oh, and they only speak in the present tense, because some brain thing means that they experience all time as 'now.'

Blindsight is one of those strange novels that only half drives you to keep reading. For me, it was like a fantastic space opera with an irritatingly vague fantasy novella merged into it. I really like Watts' short stories and I am a big fan of space stories, as anyone who has read my ramblings will know, but this one is kind of weird. I would probably read it again, but I wouldn't buy it for my library.

Average - good enough to read, not a keeper.

21 June 2010

Charles Stross Novel obtained Out of Order!

Bunbury - In a shocking development today, reader and amateur Science Fiction critic Nate Stokes (34) discovered that he was in possession of an out of sequence science fiction novel, Iron Sunrise, by acclaimed British author Charles Stross, author of Singularity Sky as well as several short fiction pieces. Mr Stokes discovered the error when reading an essay by critic and author Iain M. Banks on the subject of space opera, which stated that Iron Sunrise is a 'fitting sequel to...' Singularity Sky, a novel that is not available at the Bunbury City Library.

When pressed for comment, Mr Stokes stated that "I am disappointed that once again, the Library is unable to stock complete series of novels, having rather only one or two volumes and often not holding the first volume of the series." Additionally, he noted that the publishers "once again have failed to note anywhere within the novel" that the book is part of a series. Mr Stokes claims to be in deep shock, and expressed his gratitude that he discovered the error before reading the out of sequence novel.

Mr Stross stated that he was not concerned about this issue, as the reader in question is "a fucking pain in [his] arse..."

Both the Publisher, Ace Books, and the Bunbury City Library declined to comment on this matter.

Mr Stokes stated that he would be seeking compensation for his mental anguish by way of a special 'Inter Library Loan' of the novel Singulary Sky, which forms the first part of the series. Mr Stokes further stated that he would reobtain the novel that he had borrowed in error, once the special loan had been completed. The outcome of the case will largely be determined by the popularity of Singularity Sky at it's present location. Police are no longer involved in this matter.

Nelson Burningham - AAP

Disclaimer - This story is not actually news, and Charles Stross was not contacted IRL...Charles Stross did not really call me a pain in the ass, Ace Books did not decline to comment. Everything else is true though. Except the thing about the goat, I swear, that never happened.

15 June 2010

Alastair Reynolds - Revelation Space

I recently wrote about a Nancy Kress novel, space opera kind of thing, that it was standard, predictable and boring. Revelation Space is the complete inverse of that description. OMFG. Everything happens. Nothing makes sense, except that it does. Reynolds manages to track 4 story lines over differing time frames and periods until they crash into each other in the one place and time, exploding into a whole new story line that had never even occurred to me.

After the jump, I start ranting about just how fricking brilliant and awesome and beyond epic and did I say awesome already? this book is. There are spoilers. It's also really long. Every time I thought I might be finished writing it, another thing occurred to me. And I only mention about 5% of who is, what is, where is and why is this.You have been duly warned. In Alastair Reynolds novels, there are no hyperspace jumps.

Nancy Kress - Probability Moon

  • Author: Nancy Kress
  • Title: Probability Moon
  • Publisher: Tor 2000
  • ISBN: 9780312874063
OK, so humans have found these alien artifacts called Space Tunnels. This has lead to humans finding a whole bunch of inhabited planets around the galaxy, and the aliens are all basically human, down to almost identical genetic information. It appears that humanish hominids have been seeded around the place in the distant past, but Earth humans (Terran's) are the most advanced. A team of Terran's is on a planet called World getting to know the natives, but there seems to be some kind of weird secret military thing going on behind them. The Terran military is in fact using the study as cover for an investigation of a fake moon that turns out to be some kind of ancient alien artifact that, when activated, makes all elements with a periodic table number over 75 turn radioactive. Which would be useful to have, since the Terran's also came across an Alien species called the Fallers, who are NOTHING like humans, won't communicate, and seem to have decided that they've seen the humans, and they have to go.

I know, it's really trite. It's disappointing actually, because I absolutely loved Beggars Banquet, and was expecting big things from the Probability series. What I got was a fairly standard alien planet with species that seems primitive but actually possesses incredible magic/secret science mission to figure out the alien artifact/evil aliens at war with us peaceful humans/useless character makes good in the end kind of story. It's incredibly ordinary. I have read this same story so many times, it's ridiculous. In fact, even Alan Dean Foster has done a version (The Howling Stones). And I hate ADF on principle for media tie in novels, but I have to say that his version was a lot more interesting to read.

I am not in a rush to read the other books in this series now. I will eventually, probably, but it just doesn't excite me enough to make me rush to get the next one. There is nothing TECHNICALLY wrong with the novel, the writing is of the usual high standard, the pacing is fine, the characterisations are fine. It's just that it has been done to death. I already knew how it was going to come out by the end of the fourth chapter. I knew how each character was going to respond to their situation before the situation was fully described. I knew in the first chapter that the annoying git was going to save the day at the end. I knew that the alien girl was going to loose her fear of the humans, realise that they were actually good people and end up helping them to overcome cultural difficulties.

Not a bad book.  Not a bad story. Kress is a great writer. I didn't enjoy it. It was the reading equivalent of a film remake of a 1960's TV show, a la the Brady Bunch Movie, Bewitch: The Movie, The A-Team movie. I don't have the time to waste on it.


Orson Scott Card - Ender's Game (Novel Version)

  • Author: Orson Scott Card
  • Title: Ender's Game (Novel Version)
  • Publisher: Atom Books UK 2002 (Original Printing 1977)
  • ISBN: 9781904233022
Any SF reader who hasn't read, or at least heard of, Ender's Game has been living under a rock. That's right, you're an under-rock dwelling slug if you haven't read this book. One of the all time great SF novels tackling war and first contact, it tells the story of the Earth's quest to find the ultimate military leader in time to fight the war against the Buggers, an alien species which has twice before come close to invading the planet. The great heads of the world decide that the best way to find this ultimate leader is to recruit the most brilliant tactical minds that they can find, through a series of psychological and academic tests to determine who is most suitable. Oh, and the recruits are six years old. Kids, training to fight intergalactic war.

On face value, the premise is a bit silly. I mean, have you ever known a six year old to have any motivation beyond personal comfort and happiness? And these kids are supposedly fighting mock battles in zero-g? 8 year olds commanding armies? WTF.  Surprisingly though, it works. The book reads beautifully, and comes across as a very natural story.

Ender's Game is one of those few stories that starts as a short and is novelised by the author, and still works. If anything, the novel is better than the original short since it gives greater depth to the development of characters in the story. Character development is the key to this story, since the plot is essentially find kid, train kid, kid fights, the end.

Additional to this book, Card has written the same story from the perspective of another character in the story (Enders Shadow), which also works well. This book is really worth reading if you enjoy Ender's Game, as it provides additional depth to the characters.

This really is one of the all time classic stay up all night to finish novels. 5 out of 5.

11 June 2010

Alastair Reynolds - Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days

Two novellas by Al Reynolds from his Revelation Space series.  The first novella, Diamond Dogs, is about a team of misfits/outcasts/weirdos attempting to conquer an alien artifact. The second, Turquoise Days, is about two sisters who live on the ocean planet Turquoise, which is home to Pattern Jugglers.

If you've read any Revelation Space books, you know about Pattern Jugglers. Both of these stories have some link to Jugglers. Dogs has links to Chasm City, The 80 and Calvin Sylveste. Just a pair of glimpses into the larger universe. Little hints about the Pattern Jugglers, and about the mysterious extinct alien races that humans have found traces of in their exploration of the galaxy.

These novellas are both very very good. Turquoise Days gets reprinted ALOT in the best of type anthologies, although I personally think that Diamond Dogs is a more entertaining story. I enjoyed this book enormously (it's the only Reynolds short fiction collection that I don't own) and recommend it to any reader. It's probably not a good introduction to the Revelation Space stories, but certainly a good addition once you have an idea of the overall shape of Reynolds vision.

Get this after you've read Revelation Space, or after you have read Galactic North.

Neal Asher - Gridlinked

I think I may have found a new hero. No, not Superman. This novel by Neal Asher is the first of the Agent Cormac series of Polity Universe books, centering around the activities of ECS agent Ian CormacOMG, he is the second coolest guy in the Universe, following incredibly closely to Captain Mal Reynolds

We're talking about an agent who has a sentient AI shuriken with chainglass blades that can extend to 30cm each. A guy who can take out whole armies of separatist terrorists without blinking, or spilling his coffee. The guy the ECS calls on when they need an agent to do the impossible. He's James Bond without the desperate need for sexual gratification. He's Bond without the need for glory. He is unstoppable. And he has access to weapons that you wouldn't believe. He is cooler than you could ever dream of being, and he doesn't even know it. And he doesn't care. And if he did know and care, he'd be so cool about it that you wouldn't even know that he knew or cared. He's that cool.

Spoilers blah blah blah jump.

09 June 2010

C J Cherryh - Tripoint

This top notch space opera of the old school variety is set in Cherryh's Company Wars (or Alliance/Union) universe. I love finding space opera where each novel stands independant of the others, since I hate waiting for the next novel, and it is easier to get them out of sequence than in, so I am thrilled with this lady.  I had never read any of her books before and only picked it up by chance when I had nothing else going on.

Essentially, this is the story of a kid born on a Family spaceship, his mother is nuts and doesn't really want him, his family don't really want him, and he beleives his father to be evil. Then he gets abducted by his half brother, meets a girl, falls in love, learns the rest of the story of his conception, proves himself in a life threatening situation and lives happily ever after. 

Highly formulaic, perfect for a quick, entertaining, obligation free read. Not the best ever, but certainly worthwhile.

08 June 2010

Neal Asher - The Engineer Reconditioned

The Engineer ReConditioned is a reprint and expansion of Asher's first published book, which was out of print and unavailable until this edition.  My copy had some really confusing printing errors, but once I figured out what the frack was going on, it was an excellent book.  Includes the novella The Engineer, the first Spatterjay story, a precursor to The Skinner, some Owner stories and this great short with vicious carnivore sheep.  Might be spoilers after the jump.

Neal Asher - The Gabble and Other Stories

I really like Neal Asher's Polity series of books. They are clever and varied enough to keep my interest over 20 odd books I think.  This book is a collection of short stories, with several featuring Gabbleducks.  Awesome.  Asher is the new Larry Niven, only he can actually write. At least two of the stories (Softly Spoke the Gabbleduck, Alien Archeology) have featured in the Garner Dozois Years Best series, which is where I first came across Asher.

Just a few notes to follow after the jump, I haven't written about all the stories, but they are all excellent. This book is on my urgently to buy list.