I Have a Thing for Science Fiction

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Hey folks! Sorry I’ve been MIA – the flu in Australia has been horrible this year, and I’m finally getting back on my feet after being unwell for an unreasonably long time. Note to my US friends – make sure you get your flu shot this year! Apparently it’s heading your way!

I though I’d tell you about some of the amazing science fiction I’ve read over the last couple of months. I’ve always been a sci-fi fan – I remember loving the genre even when I was a kid. Spaceships and robots were way more interesting to me than girls mooching around in gardens and so forth. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy was the first adult book I read that really shaped my thinking. Let’s begin:

I know I mentioned this one in passing but want to come back to it. Kameron Hurley’s mind is amazing, and this book is a gigantic mind fuck. There are no male characters in this book. Societies live on big fleshy planetoids which are also ships and their worlds are devolving, so there is constanc battles between the groups. This story follows the main character’s journey as she tries to infiltrate a different ship/planet in order to kill the leader, and the different people and cultures she meets along the way. It is not an easy read, but is completely worth it.

This is another mind fuck of a book. The Kels are being sent into a battle which isn’t looking good for them. So Kel command revives General Jedao. He is known for slaughtering millions of people and for being completely mad, but Kel command revives him every now and then to assist with strategy. The bad news for Captain Kel Cheris is that she has to share her body with him while all this is going on. The world building in this book is amazing, and it throws you into combat with the Kel troops. Another difficult read, but worth it in the end.

This book is so freaking good. I am also completely in love with the cover. The book is set in South Africa in the distant future when everyone has their own robot helper. Our characters are Muzi, who starts the book totally stressed as he’s about to endure a centuries old tradition to become a man (including circumcision). He’s also got a thing for his best friend, who convinces him to try some of the lastest drug which has some interesting effects. Then there’s Nomvula, who has been looking after her traumatised mother for years. Then a new guy turns up in the village and offers to teach her amazing things – he doesn’t disappoint. There is also is Sydney – she’s working a dead end job in a nail salon and she’s a bit bummed because it seems that one of her co-workers has figured out she’s a Demi-goddess, which means she needs to move along. But she can have some fun before she goes, right? What are humans if not play things? Lastly we have Clever 4-1. He’s a service droid who has become sentient. He may also have accidentally set off an android uprising.

This book gave me a cracker of a book hangover so buyer beware.

This is a great piece of Chinese sci fi translated by Kevin Liu, who can do no wrong at the moment. The thing I love about reading sci-fi from different cultures is that you cannot have any expectations of the narrative. The Three Body Problem starts off in the People’s Revolution in 1962, and jumps back and forward between then and nowish.There’s a bit of police noir thrown in for good measure (I think that guy was my favourite character) plus a mind blowing computer game, which seems like more than a computer game. The story takes a little bit to get going and it’s going to demand some concentration, but definitely put this on your TBR.

Murderbot (to humans it’s a SecBot, but it refers to itself as Murderbot) has hacked its governor module, which means its basically free to do what it wants. It’s on contract with some humans, most of whom it quite likes. But it likes watching TV more. It is mostly worried that the humans will figure out that it doesn’t have a governor module and report it. It knows it has slipped up – one of the crew has tried to talk to it about it’s FEELINGS. This story of an introverted robot who just wants to be left alone to watch bad TV (which it definitely has feelings about!) is so endearing. I’m looking forward to the next in the series which is due out in 2018. Also, more amazing cover art amirite?

I’m very new to Scalzi and I’m just loving his stuff.

The Collapsing Empire is the first part of a new series. In this book the action moves back and forth between a planet imaginatively called “the End” – because it’s at the arse end of the Empire – and the middle of the change of Emperor. Cardenia is having a bad time. Her father has just died and she has to take the mantle to be the new Emperor. It should have been her half brother, but he inconveniently got himself killed. Even more inconveniently, someone keeps trying to kill her. Kiva is also having a bad time – she has arrived at End with a load of cargo to find that the planet is having a civil action and she not only has no market, but the government has banned her goods due to the last batch being ‘contaminated’. Kiva knows she has been set up, and sets about figuring out how she can turn a profit on the situation.

Collapsing Empire is fast moving and laugh out loud funny.Plus it is full of kick ass female characters.

Do you do sci fi? What’s your favourite recent read?

Review: Strangers Among Us

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Who are the strangers among us? The focus of this collection of short stories is the balance between mental health and mental illness, and the intense feelings of alienation that go along with this.

19 fantasy and science fiction authors have contributed stories to this amazing collection, exploring mental health and alienation through a great mix of worlds and characters.

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I don’t generally read short stories, but the premise of this collection drew me in. My biggest complaint about short stories (and this is all down to me, nothing to do with the writing or writers, if anything it shows their skill) is that they always leave me wanting more. Especially well written sci-fi or fantasy short stories like the ones that fill this collection.

I want to know more about the Dog, the one unaugmented human on his spaceship whose job it is to keep the ship safe while everyone else is unconscious during their jumps. I want to know more about the 70 year old rebel fighter. I want to know more about the society where the Culling takes place.

All the stories in this collection are excellent and I really enjoyed all the different angles that the authors approached the premise from. From schizophrenia to autism, to anxiety and depressive disorders, there is a wide range of mental health issues represented.  In most short story collections I find there are a couple of “fillers” – stories that aren’t great but are included to pad out the volume. There is no “filler” in this collection. The stories are wonderfully insightful, understanding and sympathetic. It is a great collection about a difficult topic.

4 out of 5 talking toasters.

Seriously, how are talking toasters not a thing yet?

 

With thanks to Netgalley for providing a copy for an honest review.

 

Review: A Closed and Common Orbit

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Sidra used to be Lovelace, a shipboard AI, but she has left her ship and is now in a body that looks human. She is trying to fit in to society as her kit is illegal and discovery could mean that it is shut down with her in it, and prison for her friends.

Jane 23 is a ten year old fixer. She lives with the Mothers and all the other Janes, and their job is to sort through the endless scrap that passes through their factory.  One day an explosion rips a hole in Jane 23’s world and nothing will ever be the same again.

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As with most of the books I review, this was provided for free by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. In the interests of full disclosure I loved Chambers’ first book in this series A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. When I spotted this on Netgalley and was then approved for it I couldn’t believe my luck.

This book is UH-MAY-ZING. While it is the second in the series you don’t need to have read Small Angry Planet in order for it to make sense.

I think it is the book that I was hoping Ancillary Justice would be when I attempted to read it earlier this year (I didn’t get far – it bored me rigid). How would an intelligence that is used to inhabiting a ship cope with inhabiting a body? How do you hide in plain site when you can’t relate to the body you inhabit as being you?

One of the things I love about Chambers’ writing is the way her characters come off the page at you. They are fully formed, and have their own opinions, wants and needs. Her attention to detail with the rituals and lifecycles of the various species as well as their different ways of looking at life are exactly what I want in my sci-fi. I feel as though Chambers has created her multiverse (like Pratchett did with Discworld) and is now populating it with great characters. Make no mistake, these  books are character driven. Sure, some things go bang, but only to advance the plot.

Add some social commentary about what it is to be a person, the difficulties of “fitting in” and of the importance of finding who you are, why people are horrible to each other and the importance of family and you have a wonderful, engaging read.

A Closed and Common Orbit is out on October  20. Read Small Angry Planet again in the meantime – you know you want to.

5 out of 5 distant planets.

Review: Spaceport West

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The year is 2025. The UK government has decided that it’s time for them to enter and establish themselves in the space race with a colony on Mars. Good news – the Mars colony is also a reality show.

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I wanted to enjoy this book – I really did. Instead I’m left with a feeling of “I can really see what he was trying to do …”

There are lots of comparisons on Goodreads between this book and the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. This is entirely unfair. This book is simply not that clever, although there are enough hints that HHGTTG was probably a major influence on the writing style. And the inclusion of the mice.

Chanot definitely had some clever ideas,and some laugh out loud turns of phrase, but they were far between and  poorly executed. The book moves between a wide cast of characters (a way too wide cast of characters for its 232 pages) and excerpts from The UK Guide to Space 2025 Edition.

Overall my impressions were:

  • Way too much dialogue – this would probably have read more cohesively as a script
  • Way too many characters for the size of the book
  • Rushed plotline
  • And frankly – I want more Mars reality TV! This subplot – mentioned in the Goodreads blurb – never finds its feet in the book. This could have been the golden opportunity for character development and social commentary that Chanot was trying to establish. Instead we got jibes about twitter.*Sigh*

I would really love to see this fleshed out to twice the size – this book had so much promise and just didn’t deliver.

2 out of 5 wasted opportunities.

Thanks to Netgalley for providing this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Truck Stop Earth

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Jimmo (James Ignatius Malachi Obadiah Osbourne) is an alien abduction survivor. Grays are everywhere – you can recognise them by certain bodily features, and if you listen closely you can hear the whir of the  servos in their leg gear (they can’t handle earth’s gravity with their spindly legs).

In an effort to get away from the Grays, Jimmo finds himself in Della, where he discovers the mother of all alien bases.This is the source of all the world’s problems. And he finally learns how to keep the little bastards at bay.

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Netgalley and Perseid Press provided this advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. And honestly, I really didn’t like this book. I don’t like bagging anything – writing is a hard job and takes a long time. But this one was honestly a stinker.

I think the description would have been better if it had been along the lines of “delusional rantings of paranoid schizophrenic including too many male focused/fantasy sex scenes”.

The book is ostensibly told by Jimmo to an award winning journalist, who has tried to keep Jimmo’s “unique voice”. Jimmo’s unique voice was simply rambling with lots of painfully bad grammar. (“Should of” being used rather than “should have” is one of my pet peeves, and it was included in spades). The plot was sadly lacking  – Jimmo travels around trying to avoid the Alien Occupation Government and gets laid by extending very little energy by a number of women who seem surprisingly out of his league. His lesbian fetish is particularly confusing.

Then there are the sex scenes – the first being so soon into the book I felt as though I hadn’t been sufficiently introduced to the character to see him with his pants off. And this book worships the male member. Everyone seems to want Jimmo’s – I’m not sure why, but he’s a big hit with the ladies.

This book will no doubt be enjoyed by the blokes. I’ve seen one review on Goodreads that likens it to “X-files meets Penthouse Forum”. I would agree with that – minus the X-Files. This is a male fantasy read and nothing more.

Incidentally boys – if bum scratching is a sign of the dreaded butt chip implant, you are all in a pile of trouble.

1 out of 5 itchy butt chips.