Review: New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

In the near future, the ice caps are going to melt, sea levels will rise, and disaster will hit the planet. Unlike other apocalypses in fiction, Kim Stanley Robinson seems to suggest that we’ll do alright after all this. New York 2140 looks at the city of New York after the disaster. The world has adjusted, with New York becoming a city of canals, where keeping the water out is as important as getting around. Into this world, Robinson places the importance of the finance trader.

The story itself starts with the disappearance of two programmers and then becomes a history of the world, a travelogue of New York, and a treasure hunt. Once the necessary enviromental issues are taken care of, Robinson starts with what appears to be his real agenda. In order to make sure his readers understand everything, Robinson has information dumps along the way. We are presented with an author who is annoyed at how the GFC of 2008 was handled, and he puts forward a solution to it.

This is not a fast moving story, but it is not boring. The characters all get thier own chapters. They are what Robinson does well – regular people just trying to get through. The fact that his future seems possible, and is logically extrapolated from current events, make this novel seem like a warning for the future. Both enviromentally, and economically – ignore his ideas at your own peril. 

Overall, a good book, and one that should be a jump-off point for discussion

Review: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

In the future, corporations will rule everything and crafted drugs will help people achieve many things. Those on the fringe will fight against this same world. From this description, Autonomous by Annalee Newitz would seem like another rip off William Gibson’s Neuromancer, but it’s more than that.

Based in the year 2144, this story tells of a pirate drug maker,  who reverse engineers patented drugs and then sells on the cheap. When an issue is found with the drug, the race is on. With the help of other pharmaceutical patent pirates, an escaped indentured human, and a robot, she will try to find a cure. Hot on her heels is an Intellectual Property Police office, partnered by a brain encased in a robot’s carapace.

What I found interesting was the interaction between technologies. For those into computers, the concept that all machines identify both parties and start and end data is one that rings true. That’s where Autonomous is done very well. All the ideas put forward in this story appear to be extrapolated from current ideas. Given Newitz’s background in technology and science journalism, this is hardly surprising.

The only problem that I really felt was the development of the world itself. Granted the scenes are well written, but some locations felt that they were just names, without much difference to other locations. The locations in Africa felt much the same as those in Canada. But this is a minor qualm. 

This is a good book, from a writer whose fiction will certainly be worth watching in the future.

Review: Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly

In the lead up to the 2018 Nebula Awards, our sci-fi and fantasy guru Shaun Taylor reviews the nominees.

In 1920s Europe, the atmosphere was filled with the possibilites of revolution, and the sounds of the Cabaret. This time of intrigue and music have been captured by Lara Elena Donnelly’s Amberlough.

Starting with a spy leaving his show business / smuggler lover, the intrigue and the tension of the period is slowly ratcheted in Donnelly’s alternate Weimar Republic.

Most of this action is based around Cyril DePaul, a spy reluctant to get back into the field, and his lover Aristide Makricosta, a theatre preformer of many skills.

Donnelly’s world is well realised, with its own slang and inner consistency. It is the factions and their names that I had trouble keeping track of. All seem to be lacking a basic motivation as well. However, given that this is being advertised as part 1 of a series, hopefully this will be realised in later volumes.

I do look forward to reading more of this series, and from the author more broadly. 

Review: Six Wakes By Mur Lafferty

In the lead up to the 2018 Nebula Awards, our sci-fi and fantasy guru Shaun Taylor reviews the nominees.

To start with, I will declare that I am regular listener to Mur Lafferty’s podcast “I Should Be Writing“.

In the future, the technology exists to “print” bodies – called clones – and to them imprint them with the recording of the host’s body. These recordings can be hacked and changed to suit a purpose. From this basic premise, Lafferty creates a murder mystery on a mulit-generational ship.

When a number of clones “wake” to discover their previous versions slaughtered, and no memory recordings for the last couple of decades, the tension in the ship increases. Each clone tries to learn not only who they are, but who they could become. This premise could easily have ended up as a version of the show “Dark Matters”, but Lafferty plays with her topic creatively.

She keeps the pace moving at a tense rate, with the occasional flashback character giving insight to motivations and events that do actually affect the outcome. What Lafferty does really well, is set up the logic and limitations of the technology and doesn’t move away from it, giving the narraration a greater sense of realism.

For me, the only drawbacks were the flashback chapters – much of the information could have been given by characters as the story progresses. Also by keeping the story on the craft, it would have added a sense of claustrophobia to novel.

Overall, a good book, and one that I will revisit if the opportunity presents itself.

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.

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