Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Baxter’

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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 haven’t done a ‘books in the post’ entry for some time (usually because I’m too busy reading or destroying my body by “staying fit” and grappling). But, I’ve been sent a bunch of really interesting books lately and I wanted to showcase just how many cool titles I have in the review pipeline.

Rougue One has clearly been popular in the cinema, though I doubt my wife and I will get the opportunity to watch it there. This novelisation is high on my list not only because of the movie but as I really enjoy shared world books and Star Wars immensely.

Similarly, The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter is drawing my attention. A sequel to War of the Worlds that is set 14 years after the first book, this is the story of the next invasion.

James Barclay’s latest fantasy offering, Heart of Granite has been tucked away for a while but it’s definitely peaked my fantasy interest of late. Equally, Miles Cameron’s sequel to The Red Knight is making a good argument to jump to the top of the list.

Abaddon books have been kind enough to send my The El Sombra Trilogy, a weird pulp offering from Al Ewing. The cover alone has me excited and the blurb speaks of superheroes, nazi hunting and frightening monsters…sounds awesome!

On the flip side is the evocative and enigmatic sounding Invisible Planets by Hannu Rajaniemi. A collection of exploratory short stories and different types of writing, this anthology of work has all the potential to be great.

Alex Lamb’s Roboteer had me from the first press release. A debut novel, the ideas propounded in the blurb create an enthralling premise for a sci-fi book, one I’m eager to read. And, on a similar level is Escapology by Ren Waram. A cyberpunk thriller that paints a picture of a terrifying future – it’s been on my shelf too long and definitely deserves reviewing soon.

So, now to decide which book to read first. Where do you think I should start?

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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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A collection of short stories set in Stephen Baxter’s Ultima and Proxima novels, along with other works, Obelisk is testament to the author’s prowess.

I read Proxima not so long ago and so I was eager to jump in to the related short fiction presented in this book. On Chryse Plain is like a piece of impressive flash art; a self-contained, expressive snap shot of life (produced in Baxter’s universe). Two young Martian settlers are going about their duties, discussing the elder’s imminent arranged marriage. A tourist from Earth crashes into them, causing all three to be stranded out in the dusty plains of Mars. A story of survival that actually focuses on the relationships between these human, yet alien, characters, On Chryse Plain is a clever look at the wider world building at play.

From that very human story, the next in the collection is a frightening imagining of the very alien consciousness of Artificial Intelligence. As Earth struggles under the weight of climate collapse, the emerged AIs have shown just how far from human concerns they are, physically, intellectually and in terms of time scales.

Resurrected from data sources, former cop Philimus is tasked with trying to converse with Earthshine, the smallest of the AIs. Accompanied by a Vatican priest, Philimus must engage in both the real and virtual in an attempt to uncover the meaning behind some data clue. It’s a terrifying encounter.

In A Journey to Amasia, Stephen Baxter touches not only on a dark future of climate change and resource scarcity but also the very alien and different nature of artificial intelligence. A brilliant and considered story.

Review copy
Published by Gollancz

Gollancz have announced they will be publishing a sequel to The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells, first published in 1897. Massacre of Mankind will be written by the multi-award-winning co-author of The Long Earth novels with Terry Pratchett, Stephen Baxter and released in 2017.

Steve Baxter said: “HG Wells is the daddy of modern SF. He drew on deep traditions, for instance of scientific horror dating back to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and fantastic voyages such as Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726). And he had important near-contemporaries such as Jules Verne. But Wells did more than any other writer to shape the form and themes of modern science fiction, and indeed through his wider work exerted a profound influence on the history of the twentieth century. Now it’s an honour for me to celebrate his enduring imaginative legacy, more than a hundred and fifty years after his birth.”

The blurb from the press release sounds pretty interesting…

In Stephen Baxter’s terrifying sequel, set in late 1920s London, the Martians return, and the war begins again. But the aliens do not repeat the mistakes of their last invasion. They know how they lost last time. They target Britain first, since we resisted them last time. The massacre of mankind has begun.