Archive for August, 2017

Xelee: Vengeance by Stephen Baxter

August 25, 2017 - 3:34 pm No Comments

Xeelee: Vengeance
Author: Stephen Baxter
Publisher: Gollancz
Page count/Size: 346pp/Trade paperback
Release date: 15th June 2017
Reviewer: Chris Stocks

Check out Xeelee: Vengeance by Stephen Baxter http://amzn.to/2wb1PQl
Note: This is the first of a duology from Stephen Baxter, the conclusion of his Xeelee Sequence of short stories and novels. Having not read any of the previous books, I have reviewed this book as a standalone novel.

It is 3646. Michael Poole, a wormhole-engineer and a young scion of the powerful Poole dynasty, is near Io, field-testing one gate of a new wormhole transit system, when suddenly a number of alien objects come through.

At first the intentions of the aliens appear unclear, but as they slowly make their way into the inner Solar System, their actions become more overtly hostile as they start attacking humanity’s many colonies and outposts before preparing a devastating attack on Earth itself.

Apparently, a million years in the future, at the centre of the galaxy, there is a statue of Michael Poole, commemorating his part in a million year war with the Xeelee. In a literary cross between The Terminator and Independence Day, the Xeelee have used the wormhole to travel back in time to attempt to kill Michael Poole, wipe out pesky humanity and erase the war from history.

Despite initial misgivings, Michael is forced to become involved in the unfolding events. He pursues the Xeelee across the solar system, accompanied by the outspoken, anarchic and impulsive pilot, Nicola Emry. On Earth, he is aided (and occasionally thwarted) by his father and head of the family business, Harry, who seems more interested in manipulating the crisis for short term political and business advantage than stopping the aliens. He is also offered advice by Muriel, his long-dead mother, who has been re-created as a virtual simulation, and Gea, a centuries-old AI.

The action sweeps through the solar system as Michael returns to Earth, pursues the Xeelee to Venus and then to the interior of the Sun(!), before battle is joined, first on Mars and then Earth at the novel’s climax . There Michael must decide whether to risk everything in a desperate gamble to save Earth from total destruction…

This is a fast-paced and exciting read, full of high-concept SF; wormhole technology, high-tech propulsion systems and super-weapons extrapolated from cutting-edge physics. There are also some interesting asides, such as the discovery of dark matter life-forms deep inside the Sun and the amusing idea of a virtual Barsoom, created in the Martian desert by gamers, being used to divert a Xeelee attack.

Personally I would have preferred a little more character development and more details about the 37th century society – though perhaps this can be found elsewhere in the Xeelee Sequence. In any case, it is perhaps a little churlish to make such minor complaints about what is otherwise an excellent read.

In the novel’s coda, Michael and Nicola prepare to leave Earth in order to follow the Xeelee to the galactic core, presumably the starting-point of the concluding novel. I look forward to reading it – though I may use the time before it is published to catch up on earlier Xeelee books.

Children Shouldn’t play with Dead Things (Dead Things Series Book 1) by Martina McAtee

August 24, 2017 - 12:03 pm No Comments

Children Shouldn’t play with Dead Things (Dead Things Series Book 1) by Martina McAtee

Published 31st August 2015

510 pages

Reviewed by Yvonne Davies

Ember a young girl who loved being surrounded by the dead, whether it was hanging out at the cemetery or working in the local undertakers. Having a drunk as a dad made her into a bit of a loner, after her dad died she thought she was by herself, how wrong she was. Living in a veiled town are Tristin and Kai, twins with special powers. Rescuing Ember from a mysterious man (Mace) they realise that there is something bigger going on and to get through it, they will need a lot more help.

Even though related, Ember, Kai and Tristin were completely different. Ember was so used to being by herself, she lapped up any interest in her wellbeing. When she was introduced to the people Kai and Tristin lived with, she was really overwhelmed and when she started learning what she was she didn’t know who to trust. Kai was the joker in the family, on the outside he made a joke about most things, but this was more of a defence mechanism. Tristin was completely opposite to her brother, a moody teenager, was happier to punch the stuffing out of a punchbag and had an instant disliking to Ember.  Whilst the story revolves around these three, the story relies on other characters as well. Mace, the mysterious man who attacked Ember, with his cocky attitude, and his bad boy image he reminded me of Spike (Buffy) and was the anti-hero of the story. Quinn, a human born to a magical family, he was the only one that understood Tristan and was the brains. Isa the Alpha and Rhys her brother were werewolves had always played an important role in Kai and Tristin’s lives and Isa really showed her authority when she found out about all the deceit in the pack.

This book had a lot going on, however as the author wrote it in 1st person POV and each chapter was clearly labelled with that 1st person, it was not confusing and helped the story flow. There were some great one liners usually from Kai and this just showed how comfortable he was with his family and his sexuality, the scenes between him and Rhys were sweet and you could feel their love for each other, even when they were at each other’s throats. As Ember became more comfortable with her powers, you get to find out more about the history of the town and the tragic circumstances that happened there. With Reapers, Banshees, Witches, Shifters and not just wolves and many more different supernatural beings this book has it all for paranormal lovers. A long book but as this is fast paced it was a quick read. An unexpected ending leads nicely into Dark Dreams and Dead Things.  

 

One Cog Turning by Anthony Laken

August 22, 2017 - 8:36 am No Comments

One Cog Turning by Anthony Laken

Published by Luna Press Publishing on 1st July 2017

308 pages

Reviewed by Yvonne Davies

 

I purchased this book at the author’s book launch.

Lady Bellina Ressa was a noble of Estrian, not only was she the Lord Chancellor’s daughter she was also a cognopath. A cognopath is so much more than a mind reader and the further you read her story, the more you are amazed with her abilities. To stop war breaking out, her father sends her on a secret mission, accompanying her are Lord Elvgren Lovitz a pompous idiot and Major Cirona Bouchard, a female officer who knows nothing but army life. The mission seems easy infiltrate the Burkeshis and find out what is going on.

As the three main characters go, I loved Bellina, due to being a loner, she was still confident in herself. She had a fiery tongue and I enjoyed reading her one liners, which she used quite a lot to get help her in difficult situations. Elvgren was one of those poncey lords that pruned himself like a peacock, only looking after number 1 and was it wrong that I wanted the author to kill him off from the start of the book and finally Cirona, only knowing army life she came across as a bit of a robot, but the further you went into the story the more her human side comes out. Whilst the start of the adventure went a bit wrong, it gives the reader a chance to get to know the characters in depth. On the journey, you are introduced to other characters that bring out the best and the worse of the three. Two of favourite minor characters was Dargo a loving rogue and Torkwill when he was introduced showcased Bellina’s abilities  

I enjoy steampunk when it is set in another world as it gives the author free range to tell the story without the constraints of history and this story was one of them. Whilst the technology played a big part in the story, like our technology it does go wrong this gave the author to introduce us to exotic creatures and I imagined myself riding a big lizard across the desert. This story has adventure, fantasy, magic and even zombies make an appearance. This is a journey of discovery and as you follow the story you see how each of the characters change. The story flows smoothly and the tension is there when the journey gets difficult showcasing the rollercoaster of emotions that the characters have trying to complete their mission. The twist at the end left my mind reeling and hope I do not have to wait too long for book 2    

THE HOUSE OF BINDING THORNS by Aliette de Bodard

August 20, 2017 - 7:17 am No Comments

THE HOUSE OF BINDING THORNS by Aliette de Bodard, Gollancz, £14.99 paperback, 351 pages. ISBN: 978-1-475-21260-2

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan.

So much literature, whether SF, fantasy or general fiction is set in an English-speaking world, or has its main characters coming from that background. A handful of writers are willing to step outside the box. Ian McDonald is one, having set novels on practically every continent with rarely a westerner in sight. Alastair Reynolds Blue Remembered Earth trilogy has the majority of characters originating from sub-Saharan Africa. From American authors, it is only the likes of Octavia Butler whose characters are non-white. Thus it is refreshing to have a novel set wholly in another country and whose characters do not speak English.

The House of Binding Thorns and the earlier novel The House of Shattered Wings, are set in a Paris devastated by a magical war. In this world, the Fallen were once angels and have immense power. In The House of Shattered Wings the conflict between the rival houses of Silverspires, headed by Lucifer Morningstar, and Hawthorn, headed by Asmodeus, ended with carnage and the diminution of Silverspires. The House of Binding Thorns centres on Hawthorn.

Asmodeus became the head of the house by staging a bloody coup twenty years previously. Now he reclaims Madelaine from Silverspires, where she took refuge at the height of the coup. As his dependent, she has his protection as long as she is loyal and useful. He sends her as part of a delegation to the Annamite, or dragon kingdom which lurks under the Seine. She has visited before but this time notices the decay and shabbiness. Too many of the inhabitants have become addicted to angel essence, a drug made from the bodies of the Fallen and which slowly destroys the user. Madelaine knows as she is an addict herself. Ngoc Bich, ruler of the underwater kingdom, is herself under siege from rebels and is willing to form an alliance with Hawthorn. To seal the pact, a marriage is to take place between Asmodeus and Thuan, prince of the dragons and former spy in Hawthorn, a factor which immediately produces tensions.

Threads from the past weave consequences that emerge in the complex situation. Ngoc Bich’s rebels are being aided by House Astragale. Ciseis, who should have been heir to Hawthorn except for the coup, has taken refuge there and gradually set plans in action to take back the house from Asmodeus.

Another consequence of the magical war amongst the Fallen was the need for workers. Many of these were conscripted in Vietnam, the original home of the dragons under the Seine. Many of them still live in Paris, many are Houseless (not under the protection of any of the Houses of the Fallen). They are poor, living amongst the ruins of the city. Among them is Berith, Fall-sister to Asmodeus. She lives alone – a House of one – with her lover Françoise (not her birth name as the Viet names are difficult to pronounce and they tend to adopt French ones). Françoise, like many of her compatriots, is able to use the magical khi currents that permeate the elements. She is also pregnant.

Phillipe is another Annamite who was once attached to Silverspires and who feels responsible for the death of the Fallen, Isobelle. He knows that the Fallen can be resurrected and has vowed to bring her back. Much of his part in this novel is directed towards this.

The plot is complex, weaving together a number of strands, most of which have their origin in politics and the inter-House conflicts. In the first novel, much of the focus was on Morningstar and the Fallen of House Silverspires. Here attention

gives a wider picture of this Paris, encompassing a different set of passions. It is beautifully constructed and written. The characters are multi-faceted but it is worth keeping in mind that the Fallen are dangerous and ruthless, but like the angel essence that can be made from their bodies, they are addictive. A worthy sequel to the award winning The House of Shattered Wings.

LUNA: NEW MOON by Ian McDonald

August 20, 2017 - 7:10 am No Comments

LUNA: NEW MOON by Ian McDonald. Gollancz, London. £9.99 paperback. 392 pages. ISBN: 978-1-473-20224-5

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan.

Of the current works of SF, they can probably be divided into three groups. There are the Earth based novels that frequently deal with near future such as Paul McAuley’s World Wide Web or future developments like catastrophe, evolution, politics or social change as expressed by Margaret Atwood in The Handmaid’s Tale. Then there are the novels in which travel between stars has been achieved and is common place. It doesn’t matter whether it is wormholes, folding space, alien technology or a bullshit drive. C.J. Cherryh’s Chanur novels are a good example. The third group accepts the current view of physics that faster than light travel is not achievable, that if we want to reach those tantalising planets discovered around distant stars we will either have to use generation ships, solve the problem of longevity or use cryo or stasis techniques. The alternative is to set the novel within the solar system. Ian McDonald’s latest novel, Luna: New Moon, takes this last option.

The moon is our nearest neighbour and would be the first place to look for extra-terrestrial mineral resources. In McDonald’s future the Australians did just that. The Mackenzie family developed a mining dynasty. Three other families carved out their niches in the corporate economy. Then Adriana Corta arrived, initially as an engineer for the Mackenzies but she saw an opportunity and exploited it. She built her own dynasty. As this novel opens, Adriana is approaching the end of her life but is determined that her family will have the alliances with the other families to carry on without her leadership.

Many readers will know the Robert Heinlein novel, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. That is exactly the sentiment McDonald builds on in Luna. He explores the problems involved in living and working in an unforgiving environment where a single mistake means death. Although the action revolves around the families and their sometimes bloody feuds, we also see them through the eyes of Marina Calzaghe. She is a relative newcomer to the moon. Most of the newcomers come for the prospect of earning good money, but as Marina discovers, there is as much poverty here as at home. Everything has to be paid for, including water and air. She is prepared to do anything in order to keep breathing. It is one of those jobs that sees her as a waiter at a party being held by the Corta family to celebrate Lucasinho’s new status as moonrunner. To become a moonrunner, you have to run twenty metres, naked, on the moon’s surface. Only the foolhardy and the rich do it. Some die.

At the party (a handy device to introduce the major players), Marina’s quick reactions save the life of Rafa Corta. As a result, she finds herself working for the family and involved in the interfamily rivalries in the role of loyal retainer. Though the Moon can be lethal she is not as ruthless as the people who try to tame her. Humans are unpredictable.

McDonald has created a totally believable setting and does it with a deft touch. Nowhere is the lecturing that less skilled writers might subject the reader to. From the start we are plunged into a fast, action packed novel. There is no time to breathe but at the same time this hostile world is brought vividly to life. There is a vast cast and initially the character list at the start of the book is a useful tool but they quickly become recognisable as each have their different traits and relationships fall into place. McDonald is also one of these writers who have looked into the future of political dynamics and largely left Europe and North America out of the equation. It is the citizens of other nations, China, Brazil, Australia, who have taken on the task of taming the moon, despite knowing that they will ultimately lose.

Already an award winner, this is a book for anyone who likes hard SF where the characterisation is central to the plot. Here, the main character is the Moon and she doesn’t tolerate the careless.