Archive for the ‘Sci-Fi’ Category

This is another of those books that I stumbled upon in a charity shop which had long been on my list to read. Written by co-authors Chris Bunch and Allan Cole in 1982, Sten is a military sci-fi adventure set far in the future and full to the brim with action.

Considering when it was produced, the novel does a great job at subverting the premise of a benevolent empire, focusing on a factory planet named Vulcan. Within, migrant workers (or Migs), are trapped in never ending contracts, forcing them and their children into a life of servitude. The company that owns the planet is a ruthless hierarchy of elitist capitalists who care for nothing other than profit. The Eternal Emperor, for whom the company works, turns a blind eye so long as the company remains loyal.

The company, and Vulcan, is run by one Baron Thoresen, a man of epic ambitions and absolutely no morals. When he carelessly murders hundreds of Migs, he sets in motion his own demise. One of the families he jettisons into space belongs to a young boy called Sten. Smart and capable, Sten, however, finds himself under the grindstone of the company and in short order begins to rebel. Soon, he tries to escape Vulcan, bringing himself to the attention of the Empire’s military when he joins a group of likeminded youngsters living in the tunnels and vents of the factory planet.

What ensues is a story of rebellion and revenge peppered with classic military sci-fi boot camp episodes, guerilla warfare and pitched battles as Sten makes his way back to Vulcan to end Thoresen’s reign of terror. The book is a fast, no-frills read and all the better for it. Sten is action packed and great fun. As the start of a series, this is a must for pulpy military action enthusiasts.

My copy

Published by Orbit

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The Expanse (TV series)

Posted: April 6, 2018 in Sci-Fi, TV show
Tags: ,

I read the first few books when initially published and enjoyed them immensely. So, it was a no-brainier that when I saw this series available on Netflix, I put it on my list to watch. Unfortunately (or not depending on your perspective) my reading time has been limited. Due to life, work and training, I’ve instead found myself glued to the sofa in a state of exhaustion taking the easy route of watching television. Thankfully, series such as The Expanse, are excellent.

The quality of the production is truly top shelf and the script has a brilliant story to base itself upon. The multiple players in the political landscape are all portrayed fantastically – even the weird psuedo-London patois accent of the ‘Belters’. Caught in the middle of it all are the mismatched crew run, reluctantly, by Jim Holden. It’s an interesting focal point to take between the Earth and Mars power struggle and the oppression of the population living in the outer belt, as each member represents a different aspect of the conflict.

Thomas Jane absolutely owns the character of detective Miller, a kind of corporate owned police officer. It’s his investigation into the disappearance of an OPA sympathiser that uncovers a very scary plot using an alien virus. Whilst the book made more of the firightening and disturbing nature of this viral life form, the changes made for the series make sense. Most of the actors fit my reading of the novels but I did feel that one crew member, Amos, wasn’t as well cast as could be.

Never-the-less, this is an excellent and awesomely filmed series. If you’re into your big space sci-fi, it’s well worth the time.

I’ve read a number of Alastair Reynolds’ novels and what astounds me is his ability to create such different stories within his own universe from hard sci-fi epics to this crime thriller. Obviously, Reynolds is technically brilliant but the diversity of his themes is refreshing. Elysium Fire is sci-fi, make no mistake, but the bones of the novel are more concerned with acts of vengeance, threaded through with other twisting narratives that, in the end, converge to make a completed jigsaw puzzle.

Set inside Reynolds ‘Chasm City’ universe and featuring the excellent Prefect Dreyfus, Elysium Fire begins as the Glitter Band finds itself dealing with a frightening crisis as seemingly normal people are dropping dead. But, dead in a cruel way as their implants boil their own brains, cooking them from the inside out. At the same time a most charming (yet noxious) figure is pushing for settlements to secede from the Panopoly. As the number of deaths rise and the social dissent builds, the Prefects come under more pressure and more scrutiny, forcing Dreyfus into positions he’s far from comfortable with.

The novel keeps a pace that builds and builds and Reynolds cleverly seeds enough information throughout to make you think you can see the answers. Yet, the twist and turns of the narratives mirror some of the themes in the book and the conclusion climbs to a satisfying reveal and an epic showdown. Featuring some truly nefarious characters and a world building of stunning proportions, Elysium Fire is another excellent addition to Reynolds’ library of work.

Review copy

Published by Gollancz

After the amazing debut, Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee has built on that success with the exceptional Raven Stratagem. Further exploring the larger universe, including the complicated political landscape of the hexarchate, this series is space opera at its finest. Battles large and small, both physical and intellectual abound in a story peopled by gripping cast of characters.

Following the protagonist Cheris/Jedao as they embark on what seems to be a madness induced campaign of warfare, Raven Stratagem drives forward with a thrilling story while setting up a number of ideas for the next book. Turning the hexarchate’s calendrical mathematics against them, Jedao/Cheris is able to take over a huge fleet of Kel ships yet continues to pursue the enemies of the ruling hegemony instead of attacking it. Whilst one Lieutenant is able to resist Jedao’s commands, the fleet is soon gaining popularity and traction in a universe desperate to find hope and freedom from the stifling rule of the hexarchate.

But, nothing is as it seems. The various factions and their leaders are simultaneously at each other’s throats whilst pursuing similar goals. Equally, Jedao/Cheris isn’t trying to murder innocent populations on undefended planets but is, instead, looking to protect those people and maintain a sense of order within the greater culture.

Raven Stratagem is full of intrigue, covert agendas, space battles and wonderful, intoxicating world-building. Yoon Ha Lee has a unique vision and voice and this is definitely a fantastic series for fans of sci-fi.

Review copy

Published by Solaris Books

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I read Kieran Shea’s debut and it was a definite hit. Similarly, Off Rock has all the panache, creativity and excitement but this time packaged up as a classic crime caper set in a far future, space mining facility. There’s a good natured vibe to the book that keeps the fun ratcheted up high even when the action truly kicks off.

Jaded and complacent, Jimmy Vik, is fairly set in his ways, working for various mining companies that exploit the material rich outer reaches of space. He’s bounced around, lived the maxim of ‘work hard, play hard’ and is now getting to that stage in life where he’s stuck with his lot and doesn’t care one way or the other. That is until he discovers a seam of gold, missed by the company scans and ripe for the taking. To Jimmy, it’s the chance to start everything afresh regardless of the very severe and life threatening punishment that comes with appropriating the mining company’s property.

It sets in motion a series of events, bluffs and double crosses as Jimmy is stiffed by his accomplice, Jock. An indebted gambler with a huge criminal cartel on his case, Jock takes little time stitching up Jimmy. Off Rock has, to my mind, the feel of the Ocean’s Eleven movie as each actor brings to the story another complication. Setting up the main heist story for the first half of the book, things quickly unravel as Jock puts his own plan in motion. Sure enough, Jock the fixer is greasing wheels and doing deals. But, the cartel have eyes on him and are determined to get the account settled or, more accurately, terminated. Add in to the mix Jimmy’s ex-girlfriend and supervisor, who is far from stupid and tough to boot, the gold has gone from a sure thing to a hard sell.

Off Rock is, from start to finish, a brilliantly fun read. It hits all the right notes of a caper as everyone scrambles to get their slice of the pie. Jimmy, as hard as he tries, continues to blunder into obstacles, and it looks like he’ll be lucky to get out alive. Off Rock is a strikingly impressive feat of writing from the characters and banter to the plot and conclusion. When all is said and done, this is a book that will keep you thoroughly entertained and leave you with a smile on your face.

Review copy
Published by Titan Books

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I’m a fan of all different flavours of science fiction and fantasy but there is something to be said for plausibility that truly gives a novel weight. Worldbuilding that recognises an internal logic is a praiseworthy quality and, though there might be aliens and space travel and all things fantastic, plausible actions and actors can often take a book from being good to being great. Netherspace by Andrew Lane and Nigel Foster does exactly that.

A ensemble cast of characters set in a future where multiple alien species have made contact with Earth and traded unimaginably sophisticated technology, Netherspace never relinquishes the very human characteristics that gives this book its depth. The two main protagonists, ex-army sniper and current assassin Kara and celebrated, rebellious artist Marc, make an interesting duo as they are coerced into a mission of epic proportions. Their bond, produced through a kind of mind-share technology, allows each to understand the other intricately and work together in unison; an important ability when dealing with aliens with whom communication is basically impossible.

Trade has occurred and humans have been gifted the means to travel huge distances across the universe by using Netherspace. It’s a way of slipping through realspace but it comes at a cost – the aliens demand a human life for every Netherspace drive. Kara and Marc, though ostensibly sent out to rescue a kidnapped group of colonists, are there to find out why. Why a human life for a drive? Where does the technology really derive from? And, most importantly, what is happening in Netherspace?

The story is set between the two groups, the colonists and the rescue team, led by Marc, Kara and pre-cog psychic Tse. Both groups must struggle to understand the aliens and Netherspace whilst simultaneously trying not to impose human ideas, emotions and motivations upon them. It’s a concept reiterated throughout the book: an alien is completely unknowable and there is no common ground upon which to base communications. Bizarre and frustrating, each group must still find their way towards comprehending the situation.

Separated by time and space, as the two groups near each other, I suddenly realised there was a tension growing in the plot that I hadn’t truly recognised. It grows into a mystery that has far reaching implications and, as the start of a new series, sets up some very interesting problems for the next book to resolve. Netherspace is a complex and considered book which has, at its core, a believable logic, sensible and real actors, and a mystery that will leave you waiting for the sequel.

Review copy
Published by Titan Books

The authors of Netherspace will post a guest blog on the 26th May all about space travel, so be sure to check it out.

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Future Space Travel

Let’s assume that we’re using a drive that doesn’t rely on controlled explosions. Make the control mechanisms as complex and high tech as you like, but you still only get forward momentum by making something go bang. So what does that leave us? Space sails? Nice idea – and originally a science fiction one (sigh) – but impractical. Space isn’t empty, a cloud of dust could wreak havoc and the sail would have to be so large it could take days to reach the damage. The sail enthusiasts have said repair-robots. When there’s a technical problem, someone always says robots. When there’s sexy but unsound idea – like a space sail – the human reaction is to add more and more tech to try and make it work. Humanity is programmed never to admit mistakes.
​NASA’s said to be working on two drives: “Alcubierre”, that distorts space; and the “EM”, that provides a better, stronger form of propulsion by using microwaves reflecting back and forth to (somehow) produce an asymmetric forward impulse. Which is good because the idea that humanity will be confined to the Solar System forever is just so wrong it hurts. Surely the universe couldn’t be so cruel? But this does open up a major problem: where do we build whatever craft will take us to the stars? Or even to the outer planets? Do we set up a vast manufacturing facility on the moon? Or conveniently discover anti-gravity (after figuring out what gravity actually is, as opposed to what it does) so we can build on Earth then float the craft into space?

​Actually we do neither. Nor do we set up a Navy Yard (sorry, Star Trek) in Earth orbit (or, as implausibly in J.J.Abrams’s reboot, somewhere in Kansas – how did they get the Enterprise up into space from there? And why?) Aside from the technical problems – did someone say ‘robots’? – mining and transporting the necessary raw materials requires machines and space craft so huge that building them would take years and consume most of our natural resources.

​The solution is hinted at in Netherspace. It’s not totally original, the late and wonderful Iain M. Banks began the idea, but we tarted it up some.

​Turn asteroids into spacecraft.
​Hollow them out, fix up living quarters, add a space drive – the Alcubierre space warp or NASA’s EMdrive – and away you go, protected from radiation and collisions by several hundred feet of rock. Because spacecraft do not need to be streamlined. They do not have to look pretty. All they have to do is take humans safely from point a to b (and we are reminded of the old cartoon in which a middle-aged businessman is talking to a car salesman, saying: “I want something that will get me from a. to c. without b. knowing.”) Okay, you may have to smooth them out to get a sensible centre of gravity. Spin them to increase that gravity. Still far, far easier than trying to build a cruise liner in space. And there are hundreds of thousands of them, all shapes and sizes, parked up in orbit and not that far from this very planet. Bit like a used car lot, really.

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Ubo is an unsettling book; from its impressive yet disturbing cover art to its complex and relentless exploration of humanity’s capacity for violence. Though there is some quite visceral horror throughout, it is that sense of disturbance, pervading the entire text and constantly scratching away in the background, that powers the story and captures the imagination.

Daniel doesn’t know where he is nor why he is being subjected to the terrifying mind experiments he is forced to experience. The only thing he has in common with the other prisoners is a shared nightmare, or hallucination, of being abducted by a large cockroach like creature, borne away from his life to a ruined, crumbling world. The discombobulating nature of the protagonist’s situation mirrors the reader’s own perturbed understanding of the story. Like Daniel, we are trying to work out what these experiments mean and why he and the other captives have been chosen. Yet, we are also tasked with understanding the place Daniel has found himself in, the giant insects guarding him and the worrying decay surrounding everything.

It’s a dark and terrifying world where Daniel is used daily as a vessel of consciousness to experience some of the most depraved and psychotic people in history. Via some strange technology, Daniel rides inside the minds of these killers and dictators, sharing and almost becoming them as they carry out awful acts. The horror of witnessing Jack the Ripper’s murders, for example, is compounded by being caught up in the mind of the madman. The unhinged hunger for violence, the crazed, incomprehensible desires are relentlessly disturbing. Yet, what is more unsettling? The narratives of these criminals or the mental violence perpetuated against Daniel and his fellows as they are forced to be conduits for understanding hatred and aggression on such an unprecedented, unfiltered scale?

Amongst these dual mysteries, the plot unfolds in ever more bizarre and scary ways. As ever in my reviews, I don’t like to give too much away or spoil the impact of the book. Suffice it to say that, with the theme of violence at its heart, it isn’t surprising that the world Daniel finds himself in is as equally unbalanced as the experiments. As a meditation on aggression, brutality and psychotic hatred, Ubo is a savage, relentless look into how violence pervades human history, even (or especially) when those perpetuating it are doing it for the greater good. Steve Rasnic Tem has created a sci-fi horror of impressive proportions with an ending that is horrific, uplifting, apocalyptic and optimistic, all in equal measure. A brutal book that is impossible to put down.

Review copy
Published by Solaris Books

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Ren Warom’s Escapology is an amazing stylistic amalgamation of cyberpunk and anime, told at breakneck speed. As debut novels go, this is a extremely polished, hugely inventive and seriously intense rollercoaster ride for the imagination. Starting off at full throttle, there’s a lot going on in Escapology including an intriguing plot, stunning worldbuilding and a cast of complex, individual characters.

In a future where most of humanity resides in orbiting hubs above the Earth, where the ocean has overrun the land and where humanity coexists in real life and in the ‘slip’, a virtuality just as important as reality, the Gung is of central importance to the planet. It’s populated by a mix of shady underworld gangsters and Fails, and the rich and those termed Pass, useful members of society with a clean psychological evaluation. Escapology follows Shock, a Haunt and one of the best at hacking the Slip for information, and Amiga, a Cleaner for one of the more powerful gangsters ruling the Gung.

It’s here that things intersect so brilliantly; the action is all-out anime violence, both physical and virtual whilst the worldbuilding has strong roots in the cyberpunk genre. Shock is a well considered and very complicated character whose history shapes so much of the story. Through him we get to understand what the Slip is and how it runs, what a Haunt is capable of along along with the myriad hustlers, hackers and collectives that work in the virtual ocean of information, but, most importantly, the importance of each person’s avatar. Amiga, on the other hand, offers us a different look at the underworld, the physical one where gangsters and criminals run operations without mercy. Life is cheap and the Gung is a city of mile high skyscrapers, synthetic food, and a scrabbling, desperate population.

So much of Escapology is about power and control and, in the end, it boils down to Shock. The most beaten down, drug addled, cowardly victim imaginable but the toughest, hardiest and almost noble character out there; forced into a mission to break that which contains the Slip his courage and guile are impressive. Both he and Amiga are the downtrodden, each reacting differently to the adversity which respectively shaped them into introverted hacker and unstoppable killer. As their stories intertwine both must open themselves up to those things they’d turned their backs on; power and control, then, is not wielded over others but is about finding the keys to a true self.

Atmospheric writing, brutal action and the stunning imaginative visualisations of a broken world all wrapped up in an innovative and intriguing future history. Escapology has so much to offer as the characters develop under the pressure of the plot. I’ve hardly scratched the surface with this review but, believe me, if you are a fan of cyberpunk or just impressive sci-fi, this is a definite winner.

Review copy
Published by Titan Books

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Alex Lamb’s debut novel, Roboteer, is a fascinating read; big worldbuilding, big ideas and what feels to be the start of a new voice in space opera/hard science fiction. Set in a far future where Earth has been united under a pseudo-religious, political dictatorship whose aim is to subjugate humanities colonies on other planets and in other star systems, the conflict rests on Earth’s scarcity against the colonies technological superiority. It’s a manufactured war: the colonies are defending themselves whilst Earth promotes bizzare, almost racist ideologies.

Told through the eyes of three different characters, we get to see much of Earth’s political elite as well as the colony homeworld Galatea. Will Kuno-Monet is the eponymous Roboteer, a genetically modified human, designed to control and understand robots and computer systems; Ira Baron-Lecke is a Galatean starship captain who heads up covert missions into enemy territory; Gustav Ulanu is an Earther, a general but a scientist first, and one who has discovered ancient alien technologies. It is with Gustav that the story hinges for his discovery unlocks a set of parameters that will change the whole of humanity’s fate.

Soon both factions are vying for control of the alien relics but it is Will who makes the first meaningful contact. The revelations he is exposed to change everything he knows about his race, the universe and humanity’s place within it all. Yet, these aliens (or rather those behind the ruins) are testing humans and the consequences are dire. So begins an epic journey as Will must convince not only his crew mates but also his enemies that the ancient artefacts they have discovered are lures; the survival of humanity rests on how they proceed to use that technology – whether for warfare or for advancement.

It’s a great concept and there are some interesting discussions about what makes us human, what those limits might be where technology and modification is concerned, and how blind, unquestioning ideology does not constitute knowledge. There’s really little concern that Will and his crew won’t succeed but the journey there is fascinating. Amazing ancient alien ruins, complex political landscapes and intense space warfare abound, along with some unreliable yet semi-altruistic extraterrestrial intelligence. Alex Lamb achieves both good science and good fiction, creating big, believable sci-fi.

A brilliant cast of actors and a superbly crafted set of futuristic ideas makes Roboteer a highly enjoyable read. The worldbuilding and creations the author explores are exceptional and my only caveat was that we didn’t get to look further into the Earth he sketches out nor some of the more interesting concepts behind the colonies. But, as the start of a trilogy, here’s hoping.

Review copy
Published by Gollancz