Archive for the ‘Sci-Fi’ Category

Sometimes I feel guilty for reading a book so fast considering how much effort the author must have put into the novel. But, it’s also a testament to just how enjoyable it was to read, and that goes doubly for Nyxia. Billed as a YA novel, Nyxia definitely hits all the right notes for a coming-of-age adventure yet it is also a brilliantly written, gripping tale of a young man struggling against the odds to ensure that his family and his future are more than his social status would dictate.

Emmett is a thoughtful, brave, complicated teenager who, as the protagonist, carries the story on broad shoulders. Plucked from poverty along with nine other hopefuls, he is whisked away on a journey that will change his life forever, though only if he can survive. In a near-future, Emmett and the others are contracted to travel to a distant planet by a company with technology far beyond his wildest imagination.

However (and there’s always one), whilst the explorers will be made exceptionally rich, they must compete with each other to secure their place with the company. It’s a competition of ruthless rules, changing goalposts and huge rewards; for a group of impoverished teenagers, the stakes are massive. Nyxia captures all of the emotionally charged games, the tentative alliances and the brutal struggle to succeed brilliantly, keeping the pace high and the action engaging.

The company, Babel Communications, and more importantly the man in charge, Marcus Defoe, is both alluring yet dangerous though even Emmett’s street smarts can’t give him the edge he needs to take control of the situation. Constantly on the back foot, desperate to succeed and being forced to make choices designed to break even the toughest, mentally and physically. Yet, looming behind the competition is the planet Eden, it’s humanoid population and, more importantly the substance they are all travelling for – Nyxia. It’s something no-one really understands containing power and ability of epic proportions and a history that Babel is trying to hide.

Nyxia is a gripping, engaging and fun read. Scott Reintgen has created an amazing cast of characters with a protagonist who is captivating in his honest struggle to survive yet succeed along with worldbuilding that holds the promise of amazing sequels.

Review copy

Published by Penguin Books/Michael Joseph

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The Takeshi Kovacs series by Richard K Morgan are among some of my favourite books. The world building and vision is astounding whilst the gritty and cynical protagonist, coupled with the hectic action, combines to form a top notch cyberpunk novel. Thankfully, the Netflix produced T.V series captured all of this in full technicolour.

For those not in the know (unlikely), Altered Carbon is a crime thriller set in a far future where humanity has achieved the ability to download one’s personality and, in theory, live forever by using different ‘sleeves’ or bodies. Space travel is possible by needlecasting; sending your personality data to be downloaded into another body. The possibilities of the tech are far-reaching, creating a fecund and fascinating culture as a background to an intriguing story.

Takeshi Kovacs is one of those used to being resleeved. An Envoy with special training he is tasked with unravelling the mystery of why an obnoxiously wealthy man, who is basically immortal, would kill himself. The man in question has, himself, resleeved and questions abound; was he killed or did he commit suicide.

The resulting merry-go-round that Kovacs finds himself upon is both brutal and eye-opening. He uncovers all manner of disturbing truths about the unobtainably rich, called Meths, such as his employer’s predilection for rape/murder. There are worlds within worlds and layers upon layers of deceptions and double backs as people scrabble for power and status.

The T.V. Series is a visual riot grasping the world Richard K Morgan has created with a brilliance that dazzles. Equally, Kovacs, played by Joel Kinnaman, is wonderfully jaded yet excellently threatening. The weirdness of the ‘sleeves’ is captured amazingly well, causing a considered disturbance to much of the story whilst the action is violent and breathtaking. The series even got the A.I. hotel down too.

Whilst there might be a few niggles ( why they changed Kovacs backstory as an Envoy from the original book version), this is a thoroughly enjoyable, sumptuously created piece of visual entertainment. I’m really looking forward to the next season because, if it’s anything like the books, it should be awesome.

Following on from An Ancient Peace, Tanya Huff’s next novel in the series is, to put it mildly, awesome. Still trying to find her place as a Warden, ex- Gunnery Sargeant Kerr and her motley crew continue to work to keep the peace in a universe recovering from decades of war and the knowledge that it was a manufactured experiment by a bizarrely alien species.

After stopping a shipment of weapons from being sold illegally, Kerr and her team begin to uncover a plot designed to destabilise the peace between the ‘Elder’ races and newer members of the Confederation (such as Humans) as well as their old enemies, the Primacy. But, things are complicated. Not only is Kerr restricted by her new position as a Warden (and the Elder races obsession against the use of force) but she and her team must strive to keep the fragile treaties in place between the Confederation and Primacy.

All of that is made more difficult with the next mission handed to Kerr and her squad. When scientists discover plastic on a world where civilisation has disappeared en masse, a third party of mercenaries take the scientists hostage thinking the discovery of a plastic alien destroying weapon has been made. Adding even more complexity to the situation, Kerr is assigned a team of Primacy counterparts to accompany the rescue attempt.

Tanya Huff uses the set piece of the rescue mission to unpack and explore all the political intrigue and machinations of her universe. Old enemies are forced to work together, former soldiers broken by war and abandoned by their governments struggle to find peace, and bigoted extremists justify their racist ideologies as they seek revenge in all the wrong places. The boundaries are constantly blurred and redrawn as the hostages, mercenaries, Wardens and Primacy agents struggle to achieve their aims all against the backdrop of the plastic aliens’ troubling presence.

A Peace Divided, manages to be both action packed and thrilling whilst also considering some interesting ideas about post-war politics and cultural divides (as well as showing the total idiocy and pointlessness of racism). Behind the rescue mission stands a nefarious yet powerful antagonist, one who will no doubt appear later in the series, as Kerr and her strike team manage to overcome the odds and, once more, display what makes them such an elite force.

Huff continues her amazing world building, delving deeper into the politics of the situation whilst producing a fantastic, fun and frantic read. Personally, I can’t wait for more.

Review copy

Published by Titan Books

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

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.