Posts Tagged ‘sci-fi’

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.

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