21 July 2010

Today, I'll be mostly returning....

Books. Yeah, that's right. Returning books to the library. What are you gonna do about it?

The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction (Magazine) 60th Anniversary Anthology Edited by Gordon Van Gelder

  • Of Time and Third Avenue - Alfred Bester
  • All Summer in a Day - Ray Bradbury
  • One Ordinary Day, With Peanuts - Shirley Jackson
  • A Touch of Strange - Theodore Sturgeon
  • Eastward Ho! - William Tenn
  • Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes
  • Harrison Bergeron - Kurt Vonnegut Jr. : An old favourite of mine, in which everyone is equal, even if it means we have to cripple ourselves to get that way. Haha, Kurt is hilarious.
  • This Moment of the Storm - Roger Zelazny: Another favourite, a cop on a strange planet, sudden storm, weird animals, girlfriend dies, the end.
  • The Electric Ant - Philip K. Dick
  • The Deathbird - Harlan Ellison
  • The Women Men Don't See - James Tiptree Jr. : This one was weird but good.
  • I See You - Damon Knight
  • The Gunslinger - Stephen King: The original short that became one of my favourite post apocalypse fantasy stories.
  • The Dark - Karen Joy Fowler
  • Buffalo - John Kessel
  • Solitude - Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Mother Grasshopper - Michael Swanwick
  • macs - Terry Bisson
  • Creation - Jeffery Ford
  • Other People - Neil Gaiman
  • Two Hearts - Peter S. Beagle
  • Journey into the Kingdom - M. Rickert
  • The Merchant and the Alchemists Gate - Ted Chiang: One of the best stories ever written, ever ever.
And this is all.

16 July 2010

Alastair Reynolds - Pushing Ice

  • Author: Alastair Reynolds
  • Title: Pushing Ice
  • Publisher: Gollancz 2005
  • ISBN: 978 0575074385
OK, fanboi time. This novel is one of Al Reynolds stand alone books, set in 2057+ in a world divided between the United Economic Entities (The West) and the rogue states of Asia, the specific enemy in this instance being China.

Pushing Ice is the story of an asteroid/comet mining team who are sent to check out the former moon of Jupiter, Janus, as it accelerates out of the solar system. It turns out, Janus is some kind of alien artifact and we never noticed. As Janus accelerates, it sucks the mining ship Rockhopper along with it, headed toward the Virgo constellation, and by the time the crew notices, it's too late to back out. The lock down for a 12 year, relativistic speed journey to the stars. On Earth, 260 years have passed. Suddenly, Janus grows a roof and their view of the universe is closed off, until aliens chop their way through and make first contact.

Along the way, there are crisis political and personal. Adventures and discoveries abound as the crew of the Rockhopper try to survive and understand their new environment. But soon they discover that there may not be any chance of rescue or return, as they find out that the structure they are trapped inside might not be the one they thought it was.

This novel is a brilliant political thriller and a really fun space adventure. There are little bits of galactic history and aliens, new technological discoveries, intrigues and personal vendetta's. It has everything that a good Space Opera story should have.

5/5, a great one off story with good potential for a sequel.

M. John Harrison - The Centauri Device

  • Author: M. John Harrison
  • Title: The Centauri Device
  • Publisher: Gollancz 2009 (1975)
  • ISBN: 978 05750852571
The Centauri Device is one of those incredibly famous sf novels that no-one actually seems to have read. Unless they are super sf geeks like me. It is described variously as the novel that killed space opera, to the novel that turned the conventions of space opera on it's head, to the novel that revitalised space opera.

It is essentially a story following the essential 'space opera plot line' with almost everything mixed up. The hero is actually a drug fucked loser who never seems to get a grip on what the hell is happening to him. His crew is worthless. His best friend is worse than useless. His enemies are insane. His allies are just as bad.

This guy has stumbled through life, and now finds himself in a situation where he is incredibly important, and he just wants it all to go away. He's unlikable, lazy, selfish and stupid. Yet he holds the key to a mysterious device that may in fact be the ultimate weapon.

I can understand that so many sf critics of an older generation than mine will see this novel as seminal, after only knowing the sf space opera of the 50's and 60's. But I just don't get the same thing as these other writers. All I got from this was a fairly disjointed story about a guy that I didn't give a fuck about, bumbling through a universe that I didn't give a fuck about. It is an incredibly dystopian universe that Harrison builds, and I failed to see any appeal in it. It was really hard to care, to be honest.

I don't see that it was this story that changed space opera forever. I think it more likely that the space opera that came after was the product of a more discerning market, a better grasp of the real universe, a change in the way people relate on a global level, and the rise of so called sf-like technology through the 1990's. This novel strikes me far more as a relic of the disappointment that the 1970's held for so many after the promise of the 1960's social and technological changes than a call to arms to reinvent the genre.

I would recommend this novel to students of the history of science fiction, and to some extent to students of social and political attitudes in the previous century. Certainly there is an obvious reflection of an attitude of disdain toward the politics and predictions of earlier sf works, ie. the libertarian frontier of Heinlein's early novels, or the techno-futurism of E E 'Doc' Smith. In the debate that will undoubtedly continue for eternity around just what constitutes Space Opera, this novel will always be an important talking point, and on that basis I suggest that you read it.

However, as a novel for entertainment? Erm, 1 out of 5. It's a piece of crap.

13 July 2010

Neal Asher - Prador Moon

  • Author: Neal Asher
  • Title: Prador Moon
  • Publisher: Nightshade Canada 2006 (Tor 2006 US/UK)
  • ISBN: 978 1597800525
First contact with the Prador was supposed to be a good thing. The AI's lined up a meeting between ambassadors from both species aboard the space station Avalon, and things began smoothly enough. The giant crab monsters arrived through the airlock, and the air grew tense. The human ambassador greeted the Prador with a message of welcome. And the Prador responded with rail guns.

It turns out, the Prador only came to the meeting to find out whether humans were any good to eat, or if they could just be wiped out from space. And we apparently taste pretty good. Better if we have been dead for a while first though.

This novel is essentially the story of Jebel "Up Close and Personal" Krong, ECS agent turned super soldier, and the early defeats of the Prador war. The human Polity is hurt badly in the early days of the war, but as the AI's discover more about the Prador, the tide slowly turn in humanities favour.

A non stop thriller, this book is all action and almost no philosophy. It is quite a quick read, being only 300 pages or so, but it certainly delivers on the promise of all action scifi, with the weird terrain of Asher's future history slotted seamlessly into his vivid, intense and often brutal prose. This novel is a reimagining of First Contact that you won't soon forget.

If this guy gets any better, he's going to overtake Alastair Reynolds as the master. This one is right up there with the best.

Alastair Reynolds - Chasm City

  • Author: Alastair Reynolds
  • Title: Chasm City
  • Publisher: Gollancz 2001
  • ISBN: 978 0575083158
Anyone who has read my previous posts on Alastair Reynolds will know that he is my favourite writer of SF. Reynolds writes exactly the kind of wide screen Space Opera that I love the best, and he does it without ever rehashing his earlier story lines or boring me stupid with pointless filler.

Chasm City didn't disappoint. If anything, it cemented my faith in Reynolds as a reliable source of at least 500 pages of brilliant story (634 pages in this instance). If only he would write faster, more often and direct to paper in my letterbox. I have read half of his back catalogue already, and there are only 6 books to go before I completely run out of new Reynolds to read. It's a scary thought, although I note that on his website, he says that he is going to write more Revelation Space books eventually.

This book is a standalone Revelation Space story in which Tanner Mirabel, a security specialist from Sky's Edge, chases the guy who killed his boss and his bosses girlfriend in an ambush across space and time to Yellowstone, in order to exact revenge.

The story delves into the colonisation of Sky's Edge and the cause of the war, as well as the back story of Sky Haussmann, hero and villain of Sky's Edge. It also looks at the cause of the plague on Yellowstone, the division between the Mulch and the Canopy in Chasm City, and some more information about the war of a few billion years ago with the Inhibitors. The story is set seven years after the plague strikes Yellowstone, being several years before the novel Revelation Space begins.

There are drugs & dealers, ancient weirdo's, moral crises, personality clashes and strange alliances. Exotic weapons, bioengineered humanoids of porcine origin, cyborgs and an exploding space elevator. There is a virus that causes dream visions of religious figures, bungee jumping, exotic weapons and fake passports. And we discover, at the end of it all, the origin of Shadowplay, a game in which the rich and bored volunteer to be hunted by professional assassins for a TV show, knowing that there is around a 30% chance that they will die.

Ultimately, this is a story about redemption. It poses the question "How long does a person have to live a good life before their past crimes are absolved?" It's a question of morality that challenges the idea that you can somehow redeem yourself for any act with the forfeiture of a certain period of time, whether by punishment or by repatriation.

I could write for hours on this book, and probably will at some point, but I don't want to go into spoilers just yet. If you don't read this book, you are seriously missing out. One of the greatest ever.

08 July 2010

Kage Baker - Not Less Than Gods

  • Author: Kage Baker
  • Title: Not Less Than Gods
  • Publisher: Tor 2010
  • ISBN: 978 0765318916
Not Less Than Gods is the final novel in the Company Series by Kage Baker, who died in January 2010. I think it was completed shortly before she died after a long cancer related illness. And the novel stands as a fitting finale to a career as, amongst other things, a brilliant novelist.

I have to admit that I was a little worried when I saw the write ups on the back of the book, 'The Story of the Steampunk Origins of the Company.' I'm not a fan of steampunk. I think that aside from some very clever engineering and a little bit of literature, the Edwardian/Victorian era was largely one of terrible racism, exploitation of the poor and terrible misogyny that took a further hundred years to begin to stamp out. And I think that glorifying the Victorians by attributing a greater degree of rationalism to them is misguided at best, and downright insulting to the memory of the incredible suffering they caused and oversaw.

I was highly relieved to discover that the novel was incredibly good fun to read. Much like the other Company novels, it deals with hidden societies, secret science and mysterious time travellers from the future, who are attempting to raise civilisation beyond greed, materialism and inequity, apparently. We of course know that the Company of the future aims at no such thing, but in the past, the Company line is embraced whole heartedly by employees and operatives who desire a better world for all men.

This novel is not about the cyborgs of the other Company novels, and in fact does not even mention them. It tells a more complete version of the story of Edward Alton Bell-Fairfax, Company operative (and experimental prehistoric prehuman primate of indistinct but clearly ALMOST human genetic origin) and later occupant of the body of identical triplet clone Alec Checkerfield, who is Edwards brother, of sorts, and also father, in a complicated kind of way. Sort of.

We see Edward conceived, raised, educated and recruited to The Gentleman's Speculative Society, and then on to his early missions, long before we encountered him in the original Company novels. Baker flesh's out the motivations and desires of this most complicated of characters, with a depth that was not seen in the other works. We see the origins of Edwards struggle for acceptance, his desperate need for validation from a father figure, and the destruction by stages of his early moral foundations until he becomes the operative that readers of earlier Company novels would recognise.

I would highly recommend this novel as an introduction to the Company series, because it sets such a vibrant image in my mind of the early days of the Company in the modern world. I think, if this novel had been first, that much of the humour, and the science fiction, of the earlier novels would have been far funnier, which is to say that the hilarious would have near killed me.

For fans of the series, this is an absolute must. Readers who disliked the character before will undoubtedly be vindicated in their feelings about this guy. Those who love him will be interested to learn more about the origins of this unfathomable rogue. See, everybody wins!

Five out of five.

Elizabeth Moon - The Serrano Succession

  • Author: Elizabeth Moon
  • Title: The Serrano Succession
  • Publisher: Orbit 2007 (Original 2000)
  • ISBN: 978 1841496740
The Serrano Succession is the omnibus edition of the conclusion to Elizabeth Moon's Serrano sequence, comprising the previously published novels Change of Command and Against the Odds, originally published by Orbit in 2000. When I ordered this book from the library, I was quite excited at the prospect, because I enjoyed the others so much.

Unfortunately, I just couldn't get going on this one. I started reading and got instantly bored. There just wasn't enough there to keep me reading. I think maybe there wasn't any more new story to tell, and I was left feeling like the author was only motivated to write in order to sell another book in an established storyline, but without any real enthusiasm for the task. It felt to me like picking up a mystery book I had already read, so all the fun of discovery is just gone.

I got this massive sense of 'here we go again' as the same major characters make the same stupid errors, the same kind of bad guys have the same early successes, the same minor characters are used to highlight the same failures of communication, eventually leading to a miraculous turnaround in the fortunes of everybody when FINALLY the characters talk to each other, find out that they all made mistaken assumptions, then soundly trounce the bad guys.

The first three books in this series were fantastic. There was a constantly building storyline over the books as each told it's own story, and the final of the trio completed that trilogy story arc nicely. The next story was good in that they developed the overall story further by switching to other characters, which made it new and refreshing without losing that overall story. The fifth story was a little bit annoying because the main character flaw of the hero of book four was used again as the driving force of the story. And now we get to books six and seven, and it's all happening again? It's as though Moon got bored with the bigger story after the fourth book and started bashing out any old thing as long as the World Building work she had already done could be slotted in, but only as a marketing tool.

It might just be the mood I am in, but I was really disappointed by the beginning few chapters to Change of Command. I may have another shot at reading this book some time in the future, but for now, it's been relegated to my 'dead horse flogged sufficiently, thanks!' pile.

05 July 2010

Nealasherfest - It's Fricken Neal Asher Polity Novel Madness!!!

Over the past week, I've managed to get my hands on a number of Neal Asher novels and have read most of them. Still a couple in my stack that I have to get too....

They have all been brilliant. My only complaint is with the library, which has supplied all of the 'supporting' novels from the Polity series, but none of the main storyline books (Agent Cormac series).

And in other fantastic news, Ben Cousins, formerly of the West Coast Eagles, now a Richmond Football Club player, has been rushed to Intensive Care after an 'adverse reaction to a sleeping tablet.'

He just loves his junk far too much, doesn't he? And he really doesn't manage it well. I mean, there's the 'running from the cops to bury the stash' incident, the 'arrested shirtless and high as a kite' incident, a month long trip to rehab in the USA, which I'm sure was excellent fun. There aren't that many druggies who manage to attract quite as much media attention as ol' Bennie.

I'm thinking that he's either eaten a dodgy pill full of GHB and Ketamine, or OD'd on oxy's/greys. Or maybe he just snorted so much coke that his heart stopped? Nah, probably the pill. Or Pills. I'd doubt that he only took one of whatever it was.

Geez, I hope they drug test him and publish the results. I'd love to know what he took. He's such a fuck up, I absolutely love it. It's nice to see the golden haired, private school, rich kid, superstar footballer fall on his ass. It's a timely reminder to people that drug addiction isn't something exclusive to criminals and poor people, or for that matter restricted to stupid people. And I don't like his type anyway. Fuckin' richie rich asshole, walkin' around like he's entitled to greatness, looking down on people who aren't in his social and economic class like he's the better breed of human. (Yeh, I have issues with classism and economic disparity in Western Democracies, and the World in general.)

You shoulda run, Bennie.

03 July 2010

And time.

I came into the library with the intention of finishing off my notes on "The Skinner" by Neal Asher, but first I fucked around trying to find two books that I returned to the library, but that they didn't check in properly. Now I have run out of time.

I am quite cross about this, as the stupid girl who repeatedly does this to me (not checking in the books that I drop off) isn't in any way inconvenienced by this, she doesn't even have to help me look for the damn things.

Fucking stupids.