Posts Tagged ‘Science Fiction’

Roboteer by Alex Lamb

October 14, 2017 - 7:09 am No Comments

ROBOTEER by Alex Lamb. Gollancz, London. £8.99 paperback. 426 pages. ISBN: 978-1-473-20609-0
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan.

There is a sub-set of science fiction which is Military SF and written by such exponents as David Weber and David Drake. I was once told that SF was Mills & Boon for boys (I converted that person by giving her Marge Piercy to read) and to a certain extent, that is what this kind of SF is. It is for readers who have a fascination for hardware and like to read about blowing things up.
Alex Lamb’s debut novel, Roboteer, is a well thought out, military space opera. In this very far future, Earth has succumbed to pollution and the mass of humanity lives mostly on the product of prote farms. The planet is united under the auspices of the Prophet of the Truist religion. Other faiths are tolerated but can never rise to ultimate status. As far as enlightenment is concerned, the clock has been turned back millennia. Girls are not educated and the mass humanity, the Followers are illiterate. Yet they are scooped up and sent to fight for their planet. The enemy are the Galateans. Initially human colonists, they have embraced genetic modification to compensate for lack of personnel and help terraform the colony worlds. By the decree of Earth’s spiritual leader this modification is an abomination in God’s eyes. Also there are no aliens. The reason for the war between the two factions is to wipe out the abominations and to acquire what is believed to be fertile worlds to feed Earth’s population. His Honesty the Prophet is mistaken on several counts.
The story is told from three points of view enabling the situation to be seen from both sides. Will is the Roboteer of the title. He is modified to be able to remotely control various aspects of the war ship including torpedoes and drones. He has a bit more initiative than the average roboteer but when he disobeys an order and saves his ship from destruction he is transferred to the Ariel. This has a six man crew and they are given a spy mission to try and find out where the new technology the Earthers have suddenly acquired comes from. Ira is the captain of the Ariel. The third view point character is the Earther scientist Gustav. The new suntap device is his project. He didn’t invent it. He acquired it from an alien artefact known as the Relic.
Ira is able to follow Gustav’s ship to the Relic but when they are discovered, the aliens hack Will’s mods and download information into him. Aliens do indeed exist and they are giving humanity a choice. It is up to Will to prove that humanity is not a disease that has to be wiped out.
The pace of this novel is relentless and the characters have to endure betrayal, despair and torture before a resolution is reached. For most readers, it will not matter that they are dumped into the middle of the action without any explanation as to how the situation has arisen. For Will and Ira, politics are for others, while Gustav finds politics thwarting him as he tries to do the best for his planet. These three are perhaps nobler examples of humanity and not enough space is given to the mistaken, politically ambitious or nasty characters that always exist in any society. These readers will not mind that the space ships can move between star systems at a tremendous rate or be able to visualise the technology. If they are fans of military SF, they will enjoy this.

 

Sea of Rust by C Robert Cargill

October 12, 2017 - 4:23 pm No Comments

Sea of Rust

Author: C. Robert Cargill

Publisher: Gollancz

Page count: 384pp

Release date: 7th Sept 2017

Reviewer: Nat Robinson (bio below)

It is thirty years since the humans lost their war with the artificial intelligences that were once their slaves. Not one human remains. But as the dust settled from our extinction there was no easy peace between the robots that survived. Instead, the two massively powerful artificially intelligent supercomputers that lead them to victory now vie for control of the bots that remain, assimilating them into enormous networks called One World Intelligences (OWIs), absorbing their memories and turning them into mere extensions of the whole. Now the remaining freebots wander wastelands that were once warzones, picking the carcasses of the lost for the precious dwindling supply of parts they need to survive.

 

Imagine if the Terminators had won. Imagine if every human had been wiped out in a catastrophic war between man and machine. We’re dead. We’re extinct. We’re history.

So, all that remains are the robots. The sexbots, the caregivers, the service droids, the hulking beasts of labour, given free will and their own sentience as they rattle around the post-apocalyptic ruin of earth.

But peace on robot earth is short lived, as the politics of how life should be soon rears its ugly head. Should robot kind be individual as one another, or should they be one hive mind? Further wars decimate the divide the robopop. Even without the sticky fingers of humanity interfering, there can be no peace on earth. Or can they.

Through the wreckage of our civilisation and that of the robopocalypse, a lone wanderer scours the wastes of middle America; The Sea of Rust. A place where the crazy and burnt out beings of this lost future go to die and power down in peace away from the rough fortunes of war.

Brittle is a cannibal. Identifying as a she, she tracks down and hunts the lonely beings that have ventured into the elephant graveyard that is the Sea of Rust, taking what parts she can recycle for herself and sell on to benefit others. She gives the dying hope, before scavenging to protect her future in this world of rare spares.

But after an encounter with a fellow scavenger, Brittle finds herself on the run, system failing and time quickly running out. She needs to find spares, or die trying.

Cargill has created an exceptional novel here, creating a powerful empathy for vicious, blood-thirsty machine. Brittle is no saint. She broke her programming and harmed her masters. But she’s moved on and concentrates on survival as any sentient being would. This is after man. Servitude is a memory. Robots have to make their own lives and live with their mistakes choices. Cargill carries off this pathos brilliantly. Brittle is flawed. She struggles to fit in. She has survivors guilt, but wants to help others whilst helping herself. She suffers from an inner conflict which plagues her memory drives no matter how hard she tries to wipe it clean. But we can never truly forget our memories. Even robots are haunted by past errors.

The actions scenes are pure Hollywood; a blistering assault of pulse rifles blowing sizzling holes through metal and plastic, giant, rolling war machines gunning down dropships in black clouds of burning octane. If this were a film, action fans wouldn’t be disappointed.

But the flip side to this is the touching philosophy of the story. The only human characters are memories of the bloody past, so it’s only the musings of the droids we find ourselves relating to. Cargill carries across their humanness with great aplomb, nailing the adage that life isn’t just intelligence, but intelligence is life.

Ray Bradbury could’ve have written this, but just as easily it could’ve come from Stephen King with its twisted morality and flawed characters you can root for.

Quite easily and very possibly my novel of the year. Part action, part robo-philosophy which will probably make you look at your toaster a little bit funny next time as you consider Asimov’s Laws of Robotics. Sea of Rust goes to show that the Tinman had a heart all along.

5/5

Meet Nat Robinson:

Nathan Robinson lives in Scunthorpe with his wife and twin boys and is the author of Starers, Ketchup With Everything, Devil Let Me Go, Midway, Caldera and many short stories. He also reviews independent horror for Snakebite Horror and Splatterpunk Zine.

Find him at https://www.facebook.com/NathanRobinsonWrites

Electric Dreams Philip K Dick

September 24, 2017 - 6:57 am No Comments

Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams

Published by Gollancz on 14th September 2017

213 pages

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Philip-K-Dicks-Electric-Dreams-ebook/dp/B071X4RMZ4/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1506236010&sr=1-1&keywords=electric+dreams

Reviewed by Chris Stocks

35 years since the death of Philip K. Dick his work seems as relevant as ever. The sequel to Blade Runner is being released next month and Electric Dreams, a ten-part anthology-series based on his short stories, has just started on Channel 4. To coincide with the latter, Gollancz has released this book containing the stories on which the episodes are based, each with an introduction written by the writer or director of the corresponding episode.

In Exhibit Piece, a historian living in a future totalitarian society enters a 20th Century exhibit that he has helped create – and finds himself living in the 1950s with a job, family and memories to match. Which world, if either, is real?

The Commuter deals with similar themes. A harassed commuter tries to buy a season ticket to Macon Heights – only there is no such station. However, when a curious train employee investigates, he finds that Macon Heights is gradually becoming real – and in turn affecting his world.

Impossible Planet concerns a 350-year-old woman who wants to visit Earth before she dies – but Earth is just a myth. However, a pair of dodgy spacers agree to take her there. Obviously, their destination is not Earth – or is it?

The Hanging Stranger and The Father Thing both combine 1950s paranoia with alien invasion. In the former, a man is horrified to find a dead stranger hanging from a lamp-post in the small town in which he lives – yet no one else seems to notice. Is he going mad – or he is the only one not under alien control? In the latter, a young boy discovers that his father has been killed and replaced by a cold, emotionless doppelganger. But who will believe him – and who is next to be replaced?

The Hood Maker is set in a future world where some humans, known as teeps, have become telepathic and where being unwilling to be scanned by them is considered suspicious. So, when devices that block telepathic scans are secretly distributed, the teeps are determined to find those responsible and stop them.

In Autofac, the remnants of humanity in a post-nuclear world are provided for by vast automated factories programmed to manufacture and distribute anything that mankind needs. But then a group of survivors, wanting to start fending for themselves, ask their local Autofac to stop supplying them…

Sales Pitch and Foster You’re Dead are both consumer satires; one darkly comic, the other more chilling. In the former, in a far-future world where advertising is ubiquitous and inescapable, a couple’s home is invaded by a robot, programmed to demonstrate its abilities and sell itself – and which won’t take no for an answer. In the latter, consumers are encouraged – indeed expected – to buy their own bomb-shelters. But with each shelter quickly becoming obsolete as new weapons are developed, who can afford to keep up? Or rather can one afford not to?

In Human Is, a woman’s spouse changes from a cold, work-driven man to a kind, loving and attentive husband after a trip to an alien planet. He’s been replaced by a shapeshifting alien. But has he become more or less human as a result?

These stories were all originally published in SF magazines in the 1950s and concern themselves with the same themes as most other works of the period; cold-war paranoia, post-apocalyptic scenarios, aliens etc. But they also share the same concerns that Philip K. Dick addressed in his later stories and novels. What is the nature of reality? What makes us human? How can one distinguish the real from the counterfeit?

If you are already a fan, then you don’t need me to recommend this book to you. However, if you haven’t yet discovered the weird and disturbing world of Philip K. Dick, then my advice to you is: read this book, watch the TV series and let them blow your mind. Or as Timothy Leary might have put it: read on, tune in and freak out!

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.

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.