Posts Tagged ‘Gollancz’

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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 humanities 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 humanities 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 ideologies 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

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Alastair Reynolds’ Slow Bullets is a novella of epic proportions. Though his earlier books were hard sci-fi in every sense, this work has a fairly simple premise and is written using a straightforward first-person narrative. However, in no way does this stop the novella from being full of intriguing ideas or a setting both sublime and awe inspiring. It’s as though Reynolds’ writing prowess is such that he is able to delineate his work, sketching complex worlds without resorting to complicated machinations.

Because, what begins as a tale of revenge, albeit in a setting discombobulating for our protagonists, evolves into something disconcertingly tangled. After a ceasefire is announced, bringing a halt to a vast and terrible war, Scur (our narrator) is captured and subjected to a terrible torture. Left for dead, she continues to fight for survival. Yet, when she wakes it is on a huge spaceship; she doesn’t know how she got there or why. But, quickly, it becomes apparent that the ship is malfunctioning and its cargo of passengers are still divided by the conflict.

Scur takes control of the situation in the only way she knows the soldiers will understand, bringing about a tense sort of peace. Soon, she and her companion, Prad, a technician on the ship, discover more worrying truths. The ship is slowly degrading, losing its functions and memory yet, more importantly, is the fact that they have been adrift in space for centuries. Everything they knew is gone. Unachored, this transport full of soldiers and civilians, both good and bad, must find a way to survive but also save the history, knowledge and culture of their lost worlds.

Amidst all this, Scur finds her tormentor. And, it is here that the narrative begins to unravel, revealing differing perspectives against the backdrop of a dying spaceship, lost memories and a civilisation destroyed by an unimaginable enemy. Slow Bullets questions that which anchors identity, whether personal or cultural, producing an atmospheric consideration of the human condition. Once again, Alastair Reynolds has produced a fascinating work of fiction that grips the imagination.

Review copy
Published by Gollancz

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February has been a busy month with the added bonus of a serious ramp up in my grappling and fitness training. So, life equals hectic; reading equals slow progress. However, that has allowed me to thoroughly enjoy and consider the latest book for review.

Stephen Baxter clearly knows his way around the work of H.G. Wells. From the alliteration of the title to the structure of the novel, The Massacre of Mankind is a worthy and excellent sequel to The War of the Worlds. Expanding on that first novel, Baxter sets his narrative 14 years later, using the Walter Jenkins character as a way to introduce a new protagonist, accompanied by an ensemble cast of interesting actors.

It’s a seamless sequel in my opinion. Yet, it’s also a brilliant extension. Baxter builds an enthralling alternative reality; Germany is still expanding its empire but WW1 doesn’t, for obvious reasons, occur. England, equally, is similar yet irrevocably different due to the first invasion. The second Martian excursion is more of an armada this time, however, and, once again, England is the target.

What follows is an occupation. Though Britain has become a politically militarised society, obsessed with the idea of protecting itself from alien intrusion. Unfortunately, the Martians are equally prepared and have learnt from their first attempt to invade Earth. Humans are no match; the army and navy is smashed and England becomes the headquarters for a larger, approaching force.

Baxter takes his time here. The occupying Martians dig in for years before attacking the rest of the planet allowing for a large set piece, trench warfare type scene. Many peripheral characters are introduced as well, including Churchill, H.G. Wells and a young Hitler along with enslaved creatures from Venus. There’s a lot at play but it isn’t until the last quarter of the book that things really get going.

As every country and continent is invaded, humans galvanise together but it’s up to our protagonist, Julie Elphinstone, to find the solution. Appealing to the ancient Jovians for assistance changes the game and, suddenly, the Martians retreat. It’s a deux machina recognised in the narrative but that isn’t the end of the matter.

Baxter’s a brilliant writer, without a doubt. The atmosphere of early 1920’s England and America is fantastically reproduced with believable characters and an even more believable alternate history. Though a slow burn in the beginning, there’s many rich rewards to be had as the plot comes to it’s unsettling conclusion.

Review copy
Published by Gollancz

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I picked up this omnibus a while back and, though I’ve seen it recommended many times, it’s lingered in the ‘to be read’ pile too long. The Black Company gets bandied around a lot for being a precursor to the recent ‘grimdark’ movement in fantasy and it’s easy to make comparisons. Written in the 1980’s this isn’t your average tale of heroes and damsels in distress; it’s a morally ambiguous story of mercenaries told from the perspective of the boots on the ground.

Though there are still plot points regarding portents and sorcery, a chosen one and the battle of good versus evil, much of these tropes are flipped on their head. The main point being that the eponymous Black Company, a troop of sellswords, are potentially fighting for ‘evil’ in a conflict that has both huge consequences and, seemingly, no ‘good’ side.

Told by Croaker, the doctor and historian, and written as entries in the company’s Annals, we are introduced to an assortment of characters, giving flesh to the wider world as well as the battalion. After being forced to break a contract to a corrupt Lord, the company find themselves hired by a mysterious, leatherclad sorcerer called Soulcatcher, who, in turn, is one of the Taken, a group of powerful magical warriors controlled by the Lady (herself a kind of immortal wizard).

Battle after battle ensues; retreat after retreat eats away at the men of the Black Company. In all the slog and grunt the soldiers endure, Croaker is the perfect voice as he records and questions everyone, including the Taken. Written in clipped, terse tones, the scale of the plot becomes clearer as the war between the Lady and the Rebel escalates. Each chapter reads like a mini diorama in the larger campaign, drawing towards an inevitable and intense showdowns between the armies.

It’s an interesting format, created as a potted history of the Black Company, and (for the time it was written) a fresh perspective, taking the view of the soldier. Though the style is a little stilted, perhaps due to the voice of Croaker, this is a great introduction to a gang of mercenaries, each with a hidden past, all with nowhere else to go. As the start of the larger epic, it serves to set up a number of conflicts that I’ll explore very soon.

My copy
Published by Gollancz

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Returning with a sequel to Crashing Heaven, Al Robertson takes us deeper into his post-Earth ‘world’ with Waking Hell. Exploring the city of Station through the perspective of Leila, years after the events of Crashing Heaven, notions of digital past-life humanity, organic AI civillization and the importance of memory create a fascinating backdrop to the main plot.

Dieter, Leila’s brother, is both a talented programmer and a historical buff. But, he’s just been killed and, in the process, has somehow signed a deal that makes his sister extremely rich. However, Leila is a ‘fetch’; a digital personality made real via the virtual weave that pervades Station. Instantly the deal seems dodgy and Leila quickly discovers that Dieter has signed over his life – real, virtual and everything inbetween. If the money was worrying enough, losing his ability to return as a fetch is totally perplexing.

Setting out to find the truth, Leila finds both powerful allies and deadly enemies in abundance. The truth she uncovers is, indeed, truly frightening. Yet, through all of this, including some exceptionally cool examination of Station, it is the idea of memory that is so important. Memory both as personality and as signifier for the future self. When weapons can attack that data, rewrite the mind, memory becomes a vital commodity.

Waking Hell has its explosive moments but it is a considered and considerate observation into this idea of the mind. Leila as both a fetch and investigator is constantly caught up in memories and trying to untangle the past from the faked. Al Robertson delivers on worldbuilding once again, letting us go further and deeper into Station, the Totality, the Pantheon and its history. The complex weave of organic AI, virtual entities and post-human civillization is brilliant and this is another great story set in its cyberpunk-esque world.

Review copy
Published by Gollancz

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Obelisk, a short story taking the name of this collection, is a fascinating tale considering the efforts of colonisation on Mars. Whilst the practicalities of such an endeavour are always at the forefront, it is the people behind them, managing, pushing, exploring the limits which makes for success and failure. In Obelisk, the relationship between former pilot Wei Binglin and disgraced entrepreneur Bill Kendrick explores what cost progress asks. Both are seeking a form of redemption and yet both get caught in persuing growth, advancements and success. A thoughtful essay both for its backstory of Mars’ colonies and for its reflection of the pioneer spirit.

The next story, Escape from Eden, similarly deliberates on a kind of pioneering spirit but from the opposite side. And, again, partially fills in some backstory – this time for Yuri, one of the protagonists from Proxima. A young man, put in cyrogenic stasis for a century and awoken on Mars, Yuri is not a voluntary colonial. Trapped and bereft of any ties to his place and time, Yuri is a great lens through which we can see just how strange and alien this future has become.

This is a great anthology of work, one I’ll definitely return to. However, I’ve got a reading pile I’m excited to work through plus The walking Dead season 7 to catch up with and the new TV seriesWestworld to continue watching, so expect more rambling reviews soon.

Review copy
Published by Gollancz

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Another first for me as I review both the book and the audiobook of Revenger by Alastair Reynolds. Check out the blurb below..

The galaxy has seen great empires rise and fall. Planets have shattered and been remade. Amongst the ruins of alien civilisations, building our own from the rubble, humanity still thrives. And there are vast fortunes to be made, if you know where to find them…

Captain Rackamore and his crew do. It’s their business to find the tiny, enigmatic worlds which have been hidden away, booby-trapped, surrounded with layers of protection – and to crack them open for the ancient relics and barely-remembered technologies inside. But while they ply their risky trade with integrity, not everyone is so scrupulous.

Adrana and Fura Ness are the newest members of Rackamore’s crew, signed on to save their family from bankruptcy. Only Rackamore has enemies, and there might be more waiting for them in space than adventure and fortune…

This has been billed as a Young Adult science fiction novel and, whilst it isn’t the usual hard sci-fi of Alastair Reynolds, that takes nothing away from story. It’s still brilliant, big idea stuff and, as ever with Reynolds, the worldbuilding is wonderful, creating a universe both far futuristic and alien with equal measure. Hints and ideas come together to form a fantastical picture, mixing space ships and pirate lore to produce an engrossing setting.

Written as an account of events by the younger sister Fura Ness this is a tale that will engage readers of all ages. Signing on board the ‘Monetta’s Mourn’ in an attempt to change the fortunes of their family, the siblings are soon caught up in all manner of trouble. Whilst the crew they’ve joined are a hardened bunch, there’s a difference between expeditioners and pirates and Fura gets to see the truth of it first hand.

Her sister taken hostage and herself left on a broken ship with only dead crew mates for company, Fura begins a transformation that will see her put everything aside to seek her vengeance. There’s something that harks back to Treasure Island here but there’s also something darker and edgier at its heart.

The cadence of the story, the slang and colloquial language, the hints of a much greater conspiracy and the immediate threats all combine into a gripping page-turner. Fura is an uncompromising character but it isn’t until the final chapters that things really become clear. Revenger is a tale of retribution and in no short measure; the idea so cleverly woven into Fura’s narrative is how that desire for vengeance warps a person in ways that make them closer to their enemy, closer to the dark, than they ever expected to be.

Alastair Reynolds is a fantastic novelist and his first foray into YA fiction is nothing short of incredible.

Audio book review

This is the first audio book I’ve listened to and it was an interesting exercise. The narrator chosen is clearly skilled at acting as she gives voice to the numerous characters that Fura encounters. Though some sounded different to how I imagined them, I’m positive this is only an issue as I chose to read Revenger first.

Listening to the book offers a different perspective on the story – a slower, more considered one. The ensemble of actors come to the fore slightly more yet the pace of the tale remains, slowly dragging you deeper into Revenger with each chapter.

Personally, I felt that the audio version didn’t do enough justice to the change within Fura that felt so obvious in the book. This is a tale of revenge; of total and absolute vengeance. Fura does everything it takes to find her sister, including some fairly extreme measures. From the teenage girl she was, at the end of the story she has become furious, unhinged to some degree and unwilling to give any quarter, reshaped mentally and physically to the point that her own sister struggled to recognise her. That is what makes Revenger such a fantastic read. In the end, Fura is closer to her enemies than she’d like to admit yet it isn’t something she’d change. Audio version or book, the last chapter of Revenger is a bombshell of a conclusion.

Review copy
Published by Gollancz

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Joe Hill’s The Fireman is a real-world apocalyptic adventure. By ‘real-world’, I mean that it references pop culture and celebrities just as much as it builds up the fantastical disease (dragonscale) that is ravaging humankind and driving it to extinction. Reading about JK Rowling being executed by firing squad whilst the protagonist finds inspiration from Mary Poppins gives the novel an interesting grounding that only adds to the engrossing story.

Revolving around a dysfunctional ‘family’ of Harper Willowes, John Rookwood, and siblings Nick and elder sister Allie, The Fireman, hits a number of peaks along it’s way. Detailing the start of the dragonscale disease, Harper, our central character in this ensemble, is a school nurse enlisted to help those infected. Eventually she catches the disease and the true nature of both the dragonscale and her husband are slowly revealed.

Affected by the illness that causes it’s victims to combust, Harper’s husband shows his true colours and tries to kill her. In a way he symbolises the fear and hatred of the disease – spontaneously combusting and burning down swathes of civilisation will do that, I suppose. But, Harper doesn’t combust and soon meets others who can control the dragonscale as well.

Yet, here, another type of conflict arises within the camp of the affected between those embracing the illness with an almost religious zeal and those with a more practical outlook. Amongst those is John Rookwood, the eponymous Fireman; able to control and manipulate the fire, he helps the affected escape vigilante forces and murderous cremation crews.

Adding more friction to the plot, Harper is pregnant and as she comes to term so does the tension in camp. It’s a storm of antagonists as ex-husband, cremation crews and camp zealots all combine in a self-destructive showdown. Whilst the final part of the novel was a taut, gripping read, I was expecting a more brutal conclusion.

That’s not to say that the novel wasn’t both fantastic and satisfying because it definitely was. The characters are brilliantly written and highly relatable and the story flows along at a vibrant pace, whilst the dragonscale is cleverly developed. Featuring a number of conflicts, each of which could have made a story in itself, The Fireman is an exemplary apocalyptic thriller.

Review copy
Published by Gollancz

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A local guide is leading wealthy tourists through a forest in Peru when a strange, black, skittering mass engulfs him and most of the party. FBI Agent Mike Rich is on a routine stake-out in Minneapolis when he’s suddenly called by the Director himself to investigate a mysterious plane crash. A scientist studying earthquakes in India registers an unprecedented pattern in local seismic readings. The Chinese government “accidentally” drops a nuclear bomb in an isolated region of its own country. And all of these events are connected.

As panic begins to sweep the globe, a mysterious package from South America arrives at Melanie Guyer’s Washington laboratory. The unusual egg inside begins to crack…An ancient species, long dormant, is now very much awake. But this is only the beginning of our end…

Likened by the publisher as a mix between Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park and Max Brooks’s World War Z, and with film rights already sold at auction, The Hatching has summer blockbuster written all over it. A slick blend of horror and thriller told through an ensemble cast from around the world, many of whom don’t survive, Ezekiel Boone has created a highly polished, action packed novel.

A slow burner that keeps the tension ramped up all the way, once the “hatching” kicks off, it’s all-out, full-on, creepy-crawly time. It’s a sleek and well thought out story that hits all our spider based fears but, more importantly, one that hits all the essential notes a thriller needs. A tough, divorced Special Agent trying to do right by his daughter, an attractive but dedicated expert scientist, her equally smart but hard-nosed political ex-husband, and a pragmatic yet charming American President determined to protect her country over and above her own ambitions, all form the nucleus of the cast attempting to stop the arachnid apocalypse.

The inclusion of events and voices from around the world add to the growing suspense and excitement and, if you aren’t scared of spiders, the idea of a carnivorous swarm of eight-legged homicidal maniacs, is enough to keep you turning the pages. However, for me, it was the conclusion that really nailed The Hatching. It’s a consummate piece of writing and I hope it’s not butchered into something completely different (as happened with World War Z) when it’s made into a film. As I said at the start; it’s a summer blockbuster – exciting, thrilling and with enough edge to make it a unique and somewhat frightening read.

Review copy
Published by Gollancz

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Yesterday, Near a Village Called Barden details a bloody skirmish between the Union and a group of Northmen in the run up to the greater conflict at the heart of the novel The Heroes. Told from multiple perspectives on each side, as well as that of the farmer on whose land the fight takes place, Abercrombie once again captures all the tension, fear, expectations and, ultimately, the pointlessness of warfare brilliantly.

Though most of the bloodshed is caused by Bremer dan Gorst, that squeaky voiced Titan of violence, the other characters and their different points of view add a lot to this story. Cowardice, naive bravery and jaded acceptance all feature heavily as the chaos of combat sweeps up both sides. But, it’s Gorst’s interaction with the farmer that’s gives the real edge to this excellent snap shot.

Longer than most of the stories collected here, Three’s a Crowd features another of Shevediah and Javre’s escapades. Set after the events of Best Served Cold and fourteen years after the two friends first met, this is more than just an account of Shev setting out to rescue her lover from Horald the Finger. There’s plenty of banter between the two companions, a nice cameo amongst some drunken antics, and a plot full of treachery and intrigue. However, it’s the details of Shev and Javre’s friendship, their collective past, that make this one of the best of their tales yet. I don’t want to spoil anything but there is also a fairly large reveal in this story and an ending that begs to be turned into a book.

Created as a vanity piece for the rapacious Nicomo Cosca, Freedom is written with tongue firmly wedged in cheek. It’s superbly achieved as it manages to retain a straight face whilst staying in the style of the fictional author, Spillion Sworbeck. Displaying a great sense of fun whilst simultaneously illuminating more about Cosca, Freedom is about as true as every other claim by that notorious sell-sword.

Throughout this anthology, the spectre of many of the ‘First Law’ characters have loomed large as shadows or, occasionally, as extras in these superb short stories. Each tale adds to the larger canon and some, especially the ones involving Shevediah and Javre, offer a whole new perspective. Yet, like the opening account of Sand dan Glokta in A Beautiful Bastard, the final bookend is an exceptional insight into the enigmatic Logen Ninefingers.

Made a Monster is a kind of origin story for the Bloody Nine as told from Bethod’s standpoint. But, it is also a kind of confession from Bethod as well. Whilst the self-proclaimed Chief has used Logen to achieve much, he now realises that perhaps he can’t control that which he has unleashed. Made a Monster reveals a lot about the relationship between Bethod and his champion, showing completely different aspects to each man. Bethod merely wants peace and thinks he has found a way to achieve it; Logen (or, more accurately, the Bloody Nine) wants war and little else. In the end, this story shines a bright and unforgiving light on the monster that lives within Logen Ninefingers and makes him such a great character.

Sharp Ends is a truly fantastic companion piece to the larger novels of the First Law. From the insights into Glokta and Logen to the adrenaline fuelled action pieces, this is a must if you’re an Abercrombie fan.

Review copy
Published by Gollancz