Review: Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

Ancillary_Mercy_CoverWhen you get to the last installment of a trilogy, you expect big things. This is the installment that ties up loose ends, and completes a character’s journey.

In Ancillary Mercy, Anne Leckie manages to do both of these. The action here picks up a few weeks after 2014’s Ancillary Sword, with much of the first few chapters dealing with the immediate aftermath of that novel. It then moves into a holding pattern, with various other tasks at hand, as the novel waits for the Empire at war with themselves to arrive.

That’s not to say that this makes the novel uninteresting. As a world building exercise, this novel certainly expands the universe that the Ancillary Trilogy lives in, and Leckie should be congratulated for creating such a vivid, true enviroment for the characters to inhabit. During all this, the confusion of Breq with gender continues, and despite the idea of journey the character never seems to be any hurry to try remedy this situation. Since the story is told from Breq’s view, everyone being referenced in the female can make it feel like this is a world only of women.

The climax  is something that seemed like it was going to be massive. Without going into spoilers, it isn’t. Overall Leckie has certainly shown herself to be a talent to look for in the future, and one that I will certainly read when her name comes across my desk. As for this novel ? Well, I would say it is a satisfactory ending to the trilogy, with enough room for this universe to be revisited.

Review: Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

aurora-ksrKim Stanley Robinson’s latest novel tells the story of a multi-generational voyage to Tau Ceti, and what happens when the craft gets there. Robinson’s novel is a well researched piece of fiction and he manages to do this whilst avoiding esoteric information dumps.

We follow the life of Freya, in the beginning a teenage girl on the craft, as she experiences attempts to colonise, then maturing into a woman as the events reach their climax. The story is bookended by an omniscent voice, but  the main part of the novel is narrated by the ship’s Artificial Intelligence. This is where it can sometimes get a little odd, as there is the occasional discourse on the varying aspects of language, story telling, and logic. These ponderings by the AI have the potential to bring the story to a standstill, but Robinson manages to keep them short and easily understood.

As the story progresses, we not only follow Freya growing up, but the narrator also grows with the course of the novel. I listened to the audio version, which was narrated by Ali Ahn. She does a good job of pacing the spoken word – it is young males that are her only challenge, with the three that Freya interacts with all sounding the same to me.

The final part of the novel was not an ending that felt satisfactory. If it had ended in the previous section, it would have finished on a bit of a downer, and yet an optimistic note with all journeys completed .

Overall, if you enjoy good character driven science fiction that will make you think, I would recommend it.

The Hugo Awards: Let’s Talk Puppygate

044602139-ibm-electronic-data-processingSince 1953 the one award science fiction writers have valued is the Hugos. Previous winners include Issac Asimov, Frank Herbert, Arthur C Clarke, and Ursula K. Le Guin. Over the last few years, there has been tension as a voting bloc has tried to move the awards towards how they think science fiction should be.

The Sad Puppies first appeared in 2013, as an attempt to get a particualr novel to win. It failed. Since then, the Sad Puppies have put forward their ideas for nominations. Recently, the founders of the Sad Puppies have tried to distance themselves from the splinter group, known as the Rabid Puppies. Whilst both groups do seem to be wanting the same idea – a popular competition, not one based on the writer’s political, gender, racial or sexual leaning – the Rabid Puppies do seem to lean a little more to the right.

(If you want to do a deep dive into the whole issue, this Wired article is an excellent place to start – Ed.)

Seems rather confusing doesn’t it ? It also misses the point.

Science fiction is a wonderful genre. Within it, there can be thought provoking ideas, philosophies, and inspiring characters. It tells stories that can be intellectually stimulating but also be good old fashioned pulp fun. Asimov’s original Foundation trilogy showed that the two can live together. For people to say that the genre should lean one way or another is to avoid one of the major selling points of science fiction:  it is a genre that can be everything.

This debate shows that the genre is still a living, vibrant entity that is being supported by people with a real passion for it, and how they see it evolving. So long as the debate stays in the background, then this is good. When it comes to the fore, then we end up with no award being given in many categories as happened this year. This denies those of worthwhile merit not being recognised.

What’s your take on the matter?

 

The Hugo Awards: 2015 Winner Prediction

Cursor_and_The_Hugo_Awards___The_Official_Site_of_The_Hugo_AwardsSince 1953, the Hugos have been an award that those in the Science Fiction and Fantasy fields have prized. Over the years, many novels have won that have gone on to become classics. That’s not to say that the awards are just about novels. Magazines, movies, television shows, podcasts, even fan activity are all recognised amongst the awards. Locally, Andromeda Spaceways In Flight Magazine was nominated this year in the Best Semiprozine category.

This year’s nominations for novels have shown the range of the field, with Space Opera, Hard Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Urban Fantasy all getting nominations. To read all of the nominated novels has been something I have been wanting to do for a few years, and this year, I managed to achieve that goal.

The quality of the overall writing I have found to be of high quality, and anyone wanting to write in the field could do worse than to read the five nominated novels to see where the genre is right now.

With almost six thousand ballots recieved, it will be interesting to see which of the novels is being seen as the best . For myself, a novel in the science fiction and fantasy genre has to be entertaining, imaginative , original, thought provoking, and painted with a small brush on a grand canvas. While most of the novels certainly ticked all these boxes, some did more than others. Skin Game was entertaining,  Ancillary Sword was imaginative , Three Body Problem was thought provoking, and  The Goblin Emperor was certainly a grand canvas.

Kevin Anderson’s The Dark Between the Stars ticked all the boxes for me. A grand space opera, played over a galaxy-wide stage with characters that felt real and a pacing that kept the pages moving. All that remains now is to see if a majority of voters feel the same.

Results will be announced on the 22nd of August in Spokane, Washington.

Review: Skin Game

skingame_lgWhen a novel is the fifteeth in a series, there is one thing you can bank on: the author is comfortable with the setting. In Jim Butcher’s Skin Game, he is sitting in the ezy chair, kicking back with a beer and watching the game on television.

The world of the book will be familiar to any readers of urban fantasy. Creatures of myths roam the modern city street, in this case Chicago. In the middle of it all is a human who is tormented in some way, usually by circumstance. They are chosen, or are a human/ mythical half breed. For Harry Dresden, the torment comes from being the “The Winter Knight”, which is a power to be controlled. Further torment comes from being manipulated by the various creatures around him. Demons, Angels, and Fairies from various cultures all combine to make for an interesting world, and Dresden is certainly one of the more interesting characters in the field. His world-weary cynicism adds a hardness that is often lacking in this genre.

Harry is co-opted by Queen Mab to help with a break in to Hades, so you know this is not going to end well for all those involved. Along the way, Harry becomes a likeable character, with his full geek showing. Anyone willing to make a reference to 1979’s “The Black Hole” is definetly an out of the closet geek. Being so far into the series, it would be possible to create a book that anyone new to the series would not be able to follow. However, Butcher is able to put in background information as needed, without slowing the pacing. This is my first Dresden file and I was able to keep tabs of what was going on.

I felt the final reveal was a bit out of left field. This is more to do with the betrayal to the reader. If you are going to go with the first person narrative throughout a book but not reveal everything that you do, then that’s what happens. While Harry may go through the story playing characters and twisting the truth, at the end of the experience the person holding the book is the one that he has to trust with everything.

That said, I did find Skin Game an enjoyable, easy read. Jim Butcher is certainly one author I will read if he crosses my path again.

Review: Three Body Problem

three-body-problemIn the past my exposure to Chinese culture has come mainly from sauce jars and movies, so it was with some interest that I approached Liu Cixin’s The Three Body Problem. It’s the first in his Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy and was originally published in 2008, with this English translation published in 2014 by Tor Books.

The story is that of a researcher approached by a secret military group to discover why scientists have recently started committing suicide. His investigation has him playing a computer game that opens the way to other events.  I felt the book was saying that while Chinese society has solved many social problems, it still seems to have some issues with The Cultural Revolution. The novel deftly moves between the near future and the Revolution as the truth is slowly revealed.

Characters do seem to be a little shallow, but this may have been the result of the audio presentation by Luke Daniels. The hapless scientist is presented with a light voice, while the world weary police officer sounds almost New York tired – imagine Sargent Bullock from the 1990s Batman animated series.

This is not to say that the story is not engaging. It moves along at a nice pace, with a story of science fiction that does grab the attention. The translation is well done, and doesn’t feel clunky – you can feel the spirit of the words, not just the translations of the phrases. More importantly, the science in the book is explained.  I was not thrown immediately into the world of Quantum Theory, I was bought in through a three body collision, nanotechnology, and  microwave astronomy. So the ideas behind quantum theories and some of the other esoteric science did not come as a surprise that had to be understood beforehand. In this style of novel, it  can be easy for the science to be overwhelming, but it isn’t in this case here.

Given that this is an audio book of a translation, there are many places where this could be a dry, introductry novel with a lecturing tone. Instead, I found it to to be enjoyable, interesting and thought provoking. Hell, I wish that the next volume would get here already. For fans of aliens and laser guns science fiction, this is one to probably avoid. However, readers of Asimov, Reynolds or Baxter will find their reading time won’t be wasted.

Review: The Dark Between The Stars

The_Dark_Between_the_Stars__Saga_of_Shadows___Kevin_J__Anderson__9780765332998__Amazon_com__BooksAny fan of the modern space opera would have come across the name of Kevin J. Anderson. Having written novels for the expanded universe of Star Wars, and helping Brian Herbert flesh out the Dune saga, Anderson has developed his chops in the field. The novel The Dark Between the Stars shows that he has paid clear attention as to how to operate in this genre.

This novel is the first of the Shadows of the Seven Suns trilogy,which in turn is a sequel to the seven book cycle The Saga of the Seven suns, which I have not read. This first novel introduces characters, old and new, and handles back story without large info dumps. Showing us the humans, the gypsy clans called Roamers, the alien Ildrians and the tree worshipers on Thorac,  there are a lot of characters to get through. To make this easier, Anderson has each chapter dedicated to an individual character. When reading a chapter with the Ildrians, I did tend to wonder if his apostrophe key was faded from the constant use.

With this chapter structure, Anderson is able to move around the narrative without it getting bogged down. In fact, for an opening salvo in a trilogy it does start off at a fair pace. Although with an ancient enemy returning to the galaxy, shooting to an infidelity did tend to make me briefly wonder what it was all about. .

Once the foe is revealed, the remaining pieces are bought together very well. Characters are well developed, and Anderson is able to show us how much more important narrative is to character survival. Be warned, having a number of chapters named after you is not a sign that you will see the end of the book.

Overall, a well paced book, for fans of grand space opera, from a writer who has worked with some of the most respected franchises in the field.

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