Posts Tagged ‘sci-fi’

SLOW BULLETS by Alastair Reynolds.

March 10, 2017 - 9:02 pm No Comments

SLOW BULLETS by Alastair Reynolds.

Gollancz, London. 16th February 2016. £12.95 paperback, £6.99 e-book.

182 page. ISBN: 978-1-473-21842-0

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan.


There is almost a sub-genre of SF which deals exclusively with war scenarios. These might be between aliens and humans or between human colonies. As with all these adventures, various assumptions are made, one of which being a method of interstellar travel which gets ships from one place to another quickly. There is no point in sending out the troops when the enemy may have extinguished itself before the force arrives. Readers don’t worry about the technology involved; it is the action that counts, and the number of corpses that results. This is not normally the territory that Alastair Reynolds usually ventures into so it is refreshing to find that in this novelette, this is just the background against which the characters have been shaped.

As the story opens, a ceasefire has been declared. The factions are no longer officially at war. Always, though, there are renegades who will push the limits, feigning ignorance about the actual state of affairs, simply because they enjoy what they do and don’t see why they have to stop. Orvin likes hurting people. On the cusp of peace he has captured Scur, a soldier from the other side. He knows all about her because all soldiers are fitted with slow bullets. These devices are a futuristic version of dog tags. They contain all information about the person they are inside and it can easily be read. Normally, they move at a very slow speed through the body so that the tissues are barely disrupted. Orvin’s method of torture is to insert one going faster and causing excruciating pain during its passage. When Orvin has to leave in a hurry she has the opportunity to try and cut it out.

This is just a precursor to real action and an introduction to the device which is to play an essential part in the plot. Scur wakes up aboard a military prison shop. She and the other ‘passengers’ are being transported as cargo to Tottori in hibernation. What initially seems to be a simple problem with the ship becomes more serious as she and the remnants of crew discover that they have been drifting in orbit for hundreds of years, that all the surviving sleepers are being revived. Amongst them are war criminals from both sides, as well as civilians, and to them the reasons (basically very trivial) of the conflict are clear in their minds as well as the hatred for their perceived enemies. Among them is Orvin. Scur and her new colleagues have multiple problems to solve if they are to survive, the biggest one is to overcome the problem that the ships systems are slowly leaking information and they need to find ways of preserving it. To do that a compromise needs to be found so that the different factions are able to work together.

In this book, Reynolds wraps a number of themes in a relatively few pages. Some of them will feel like familiar tropes from the SF catalogue but it is the way that he deals with them that is original. For those who do not want to face one of Reynolds’ huge tomes as an introduction to his work, this a good place to start to get an idea of his style and ingenuity before embarking on such as Revelation Space series. Then get stuck in to the rest of his oeuvre.

Originally published in 2015 as a chap-book by Tachyon Press, it has already accumulated a number of well-deserved awards and nominations.

Ultraxenopia (Project W.A.R. Book 1) by MA Phipps

February 24, 2017 - 10:00 am No Comments

Ultraxenopia (Project W.A.R. Book 1) by MA Phipps

Published by Shire-Hill Publications on 5th January 2017

332 pages

Reviewed by Yvonne Davies

At the age of 21 Wynter has to sit an exam, an exam to decide her job and living status. However, when she suffers what she thinks is a panic attack, her whole life changes. When she sees flashes of her future self she knows she is in trouble. Taken by the State, questioned about PHOENIX (a terrorist organisation) she knows she has to find the man of her dreams.

Wynter was quite a shy young woman, not wanting to draw attention to herself, but the more she found out about her condition, and the danger she was in, did make her a stronger woman. She still has a sense of vulnerability about her but always knew when she had to man-up.

As this is set in a dystopian world then expect comparisons between other books in the genre, but this book is not a copycat. The original storyline of her being used as a guinea pig in the lab and what she is to become knocks the comparisons out the window. Written in the main character’s POV, this book grabbed me from page 1. With the suspense building through the story made it a book I did not want to put down. The story flowed smoothly and it had an evenly balance of action and sci-fi. The medical procedures were explained well and I never once was confused. There is a romance storyline, but this ran undercurrent to the main storyline

The ending of the book did not feel like a cliff-hanger but has left it open for the already published book 2.  I am looking forward to reading more from this author

Empire Games by Charles Stross

February 22, 2017 - 6:28 pm No Comments

Empire Games by Charles Stross

Publisher: Tor on 17th January 2017

Page count: 324

Reviewer: Steve Cotterill

The first book in a new trilogy of the Merchant Princes novels, Empire Games is set seventeen years after the original books. It is very much a Charles Stross novel, ticking all the boxes that you would expect him to cover, and doing it extremely well. The series centres on the concept of world walking and is based in a (small) multiverse where the reader knows about four different time lines. These range from a divergent, and authoritarian United States, the Commonwealth a rebellious ‘steampunk’ style world which is rapidly modernising, and two timelines that are destroyed. One of these was nuked by the USA at the end of the first trilogy and we are told it ‘still glows’. The other is an object of curiousity which in this book Stross links to a group called the ‘forerunners’, a group of frighteningly powerful individuals who may be linked to the source of the world walking gene.

Empire Games introduces us to Rita Douglas, a latent world walker who is recruited by the Department of Homeland Security to be trained as a deep cover agent. The story follows her recruitment, via a mixture of skulduggery and ‘friendliness’, and training as an agent. As a result, while the world walkers from the first series do feature, their story is largely to do with the politics of their adopted homeland, the Commonwealth, as it approaches as crucial stage in its development. Stross carefully sets the stage for a coup by a proto Stalin. While the coup has not happened by the end of the first book, he is clearly laying tracks for the rest of the trilogy. These chapters allow us to catch up with what’s happened with some of the characters from the first trilogy, as Miriam and her relations attempt to ready the Commonwealth for a war with a terrifyingly powerful enemy and to deal with the United States. Miriam’s oft repeated mantra is ‘The Americans are coming’, and I would argue that this is the beat the novel marches to. The American are, after all, coming.

There’s a lot of tradecraft, training and internal politics within Rita’s plot line, too but they’re largely the internal machinations of the Department of Homeland Security. When she is activated as a spy, it’s because the USA has discovered the Commonwealth timeline, and a number of their drones have been shot down by nuclear weapons. As a result, she is sent in to look around and report back on what she finds. Stross handles this well, deftly giving the reader a sense of how strange it would be to step into a world many decades behind the one we know. His experience of writing weird espionage fiction shows through here.

Rita is a curious character, highly introverted and self contained, she is constantly assessing the situation, and while she is shown to be highly resourceful, it is clear that until the end of the novel she does not fully sign up to the ideals of the government she has been persuaded to work for. As a result it does take a little time to warm up to her, because its never clear how much you actually know her, and how much she is holding back. I found myself wondering if in some respects she had not actually told Stross as much as he would have liked, the same way that Shadow in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods was firm in keeping the author out.

One wrinkle Stross throws in is her Grandfather, Kurt Douglas, a defector from East Germany (back when there was an East Germany), who is pretty obviously a Stasi sleeper and has raised his family to know about basically spy stuff. He’s a curious character who acts as the wise, cynical, mentor. His influence over Rita is clear, to the extent that her geocaching hobby is clearly just a way to practice old fashioned spying, dead letter drops and dealing with discreet packages. Again, we are kept in the dark about Kurt’s true origins but he will doubtless form a significant part of the rest of the trilogy.

As a reader of Charlie’s blog it’s been interesting to watch the formulation of this book, and hard not to smile, and agree, when he has complained that events in the real world have screwed up his ‘grim, meathook future’. As a result the novel is darker than it was initially intended to be, the state in the USA is much more controlling and he makes it plain that there is a panopticon of surveillance in addition to increased levels of knowledge denial and racism (weirdly LGBTQ issues do not seem to be a huge deal and when Rita gets a girlfriend nothing is said). The novel is very much of the now, it addresses the trajectory our society seems to be heading down, and as such it is what I would label ‘good science fiction’. If you enjoy multiple timelines, espionage and real politic this comes highly recommended, and as it is not really necessary to read the first trilogy to understand what’s going on (though I would recommend you read them anyway), it is a good jumping on point for new fans.


The Treemakers: Book 1 in The Treemakers Trilogy by Christina L Rozelle

January 21, 2017 - 12:25 pm No Comments

The Treemakers: Book 1 in The Treemakers Trilogy by Christina L Rozelle

Published by A Spark in the Dark Press on 3rd December 2014

288 pages

Reviewed by Yvonne Davies

The Earth is dying, trees are in high demand and a factory in Greenleigh are contracted to make them. The treemakers are mainly orphaned children, orphaned as the adults do not live past 30 years. Worked to the bone, fed slop and overseen by 4 evil Superiors, the children have no life at all. Trying to look after them is Joy or to the kids Momma Joy, a 16-year-old girl who lost her parents a couple of years before.  Sneaking out at night, Joy and her best friend Jax explore the unused areas to try and find items to make the children’s lives easier. On a regular nightly visit, they come across an open lift, and this discovery changes their lives for ever. From that moment, they knew that they had to get the children out. With help from Smudge, a girl with many secrets, Joy takes all the children on a dangerous adventure.

I took to Joy straightaway as I found her to be a caring selfless person. She was still a child herself but she knew that as the one of the eldest, she had to look after the younger children. Working hard all day she still took time to tell them bedtime stories and to look after the wellbeing. Never forgetting who her parents were, their words would get her through the toughest times.

Some of the scenes in the factory were distressing as these children had a horrendous life. When the children when in isolation, although not mentioned you could only imagine what evil depraved actions the Superiors were inflicting on them. I found Emmanuel Superior a very sick minded individual.

Whilst reading this book I was on an emotional rollercoaster, feeling sorry for the children and then willing them to escape. The action in the story intensified the further on I read. Not wanting to put this down it was a quick read. This is a great story for older teenager and adults alike as it does have some upsetting themes, but this is a dystopian world, and survival is the most important thing.  With some questions left unanswered at the end I am off to read book 2. A great exciting read

Fight Like a Girl edited by Roz Clarke and Joanne Hall

October 30, 2016 - 11:46 am No Comments

Fight Like a Girl edited by Roz Clarke and Joanne Hall

Authors- Roz Clarke, Kelda Crich, KT Davies, Dolly Garland, KR Green, Joanne Hall, Julia Knight, Kim Larkin-Smith, Juliet McKenna, Lou Morgan, Gale Sebold, Sophie E Tallis, Fran Terminiello, Danie Ware and Nadine West

Published by Kristell Ink, Grimbold Books on 6th March 2016

249 pages

Reviewed by Yvonne Davies


This book has a good selection of stories for fantasy and Sci-Fi lovers, each story set in different land or time, but one thing in common, each story had a woman that was not afraid to kick some ass. Every woman had a story to tell whether they were a sword for hire, a mother, a soldier or just fighting to survive, they had to act on their wits and they were there to prove that there is nothing wrong in fighting like a girl.

So not to go on for ever I am going to review the stories that really grabbed my attention.

The Coyote by KR Green: Set in dystopian Brighton, Kai is a young girl with a very good sense of hearing. This talent had helped through many a scrape. A member of the Circlet, Kai, is a highly trained fighter and is on a mission to try and bring peace to the Buddhist community. Throughout, this short story was full of action, with Kai relying on her hearing to get the mission done, this made it an intense read.

Vocho’s Night out by Julia Knight: Vocho and Kacha are brother and sister, working for the guild, they are hired to protect a mysterious cargo. After a failed attempt to steal the cargo, they work together to find the real reason why they were hired. Like most siblings they are in competition with each other to be the best and as both are experienced sword fighters this does get interesting. I found this story to be a fun read, and the ending was comical. This has been a good introduction to the Duellists trilogy which I now want to read.

Fire and Ash by Gaie Sebold: Riven is a soldier who is suffering with PTSD. The last of the Dancers, a renowned troop she lost all her colleagues in one epic battle. Not wanting to go on any more with her life, she prepares to die until a ring changes her mind. Whilst reading this story, I felt really sorry for Riven with everything she went through, but whilst on this journey her character changes to determination, she gets stronger and you are willing her to survive and to learn to live.

A quick mention about the cover, when I saw this I had to smile to myself as when I was little girl I used to have a book of paper dolls to dress up and I wish that my dolls had outfits like these on the cover.

I must be honest: I had not read anything before by these authors and I have kept asking myself why not.  Each story was well written and celebrates women. Now every time I hear you fight like a girl, I will know that it is a compliment as if I or any other girl fights like the girls in these stories then they will be strong, resourceful and not take any nonsense.

A great collection of stories that will keep your interest from the first word