Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Review: Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories by China Miéville

London awakes one morning to find itself besieged by a sky full of floating icebergs. Destroyed oil rigs, mysteriously reborn, clamber from the sea and onto the land, driven by an obscure but violent purpose. An anatomy student cuts open a cadaver to discover impossibly intricate designs carved into a corpse's bones—designs clearly present from birth, bearing mute testimony to . . . what?

Of such concepts and unforgettable images are made the twenty-eight stories in this collection—many published here for the first time. By turns speculative, satirical, and heart-wrenching, fresh in form and language, and featuring a cast of damaged yet hopeful seekers who come face-to-face with the deep weirdness of the world—and at times the deeper weirdness of themselves—Three Moments of an Explosion is a fitting showcase for one of our most original voices.
Star rating: 4 stars

I received Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I was so excited to receive this book as China Mieville is one of my favourite authors.

That said, I am not a big fan of short stories. Just a couple months ago I finished reading my first book of short stories. Normally I start, then give up. I am pleased to say that I read every story in this book. There are well over 20 stories, some are very short while others are much longer. I have to say that I got on better with the longer ones.

As with all short story collections I've attempted to read, this one has a number of stories where you are left at the end wondering what that was all about and wondering if you missed something. I had this feeling on quite a few occasions. Despite this confusion, I was also often left with a feeling of enjoyment.

One of my GR friends who loves short stories said to me that she views a short story as a photograph, that it is just a snippet of a time, a person, a place or a situation and you can't see outside the frame of the photograph. But you don't have to in order to appreciate the photograph. I really liked this analogy and I have since been keeping it in mind while I read short stories and it helps me tremendously. (Thanks Camilla!)

Some of my favourites in this collection were Polynia in which Icebergs appeared in the skies of London; The Dowager of Bees in which special cards would appear mysteriously during games of Poker with very interesting consequences; In the Slopes was set at an Archeological dig site where some strange findings are discovered; The Crawl, a Zombie movie trailer which I would definitely go to see if it were ever actually made in to a movie; Watching God, a post apocalyptic island set story where ships sit off the coast just watching; The Buzzards Egg about a guy that I really felt for who had to look after a captured God; Dreaded Outcome about a therapist who will go to the extreme to ensure her patients get well; and After the Festival which was very grim and disturbing that it game me goosebumps and made me shiver upon recounting the story to my partner.

There was quite a mix of stories, all a little strange as one would expect with Mieville. He created some awesome worlds which I would love to spend more time in. I was left with lots of questions (which is not uncommon for me at the end of a short story) but I feel ok with that.

I will definitely be reading his older short story collection Looking for Jake and Other Stories (as well as future novels).

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Review: Lock In by John Scalzi

A novel of our near future, from one of the most popular authors in modern SF.

Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. Four percent suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And one percent find themselves “locked in”—fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus.

One per cent doesn't seem like a lot. But in the United States, that's 1.7 million people “locked in”...including the President's wife and daughter.

Spurred by grief and the sheer magnitude of the suffering, America undertakes a massive scientific initiative. Nothing can restore the ability to control their own bodies to the locked in. But then two new technologies emerge. One is a virtual-reality environment, “The Agora,” in which the locked-in can interact with other humans, both locked-in and not. The other is the discovery that a few rare individuals have brains that are receptive to being controlled by others, meaning that from time to time, those who are locked in can “ride” these people and use their bodies as if they were their own.

This skill is quickly regulated, licensed, bonded, and controlled. Nothing can go wrong. Certainly nobody would be tempted to misuse it, for murder, for political power, or worse....
Star rating: 4.5 stars

This is the first book by John Scalzi that I have read. Straight after I finished this book, I went and bought two more. I really liked the writing style.

This book combines three things I really like in fiction - viruses, cybernetics and neuroscience. Yes I'm weird. This book is set in the future, 20 years after a virus breaks out worldwide causing those infected to either die or develop Haden's Syndrome. While Haden's Syndrome is not a real condition in our world, it was based on the very real condition known as locked-in syndrome in which the sufferer remains consciously aware but the rest of them is paralysed, unresponsive and unable to communicate. It is very rare and very scary. But in this book, it's far from rare with millions of people suffering from Haden's in the US alone. This is the future, so companies funded by the Government have designed threeps, which are Personal Transport devices which I kind of imagined a little like cyborgs that could walk around. This threeps are connected wirelessly to the brains of the Haden's sufferers who are able to remotely control it by thinking so that they can continue to interact with the world and lead a more normal life.

We follow Agent Shane, who works for the Police Department's Haden's division (as he himself has Haden's). I have no idea whether this is a guy or a girl as it is not mentioned at all throughout the story. I had guy in my head but it's difficult to tell. This takes skill to pull this off as a writer.

I thought there was something missing from the ending. I liked the ending and things were wrapped up nicely but I wasn't completely satisfied. Perhaps it's because it is a stand alone book, maybe I'm getting used to endings which are slightly open ended because they are part of a series. Who knows?! I can't explain it. And because of this, I have given it 4.5 stars instead of 5 stars.

Review: Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi

Paolo Bacigalupi's debut collection demonstrates the power and reach of the science fiction short story. Social criticism, political parable, and environmental advocacy lie at the center of Paolo's work. Each of the stories herein is at once a warning, and a celebration of the tragic comedy of the human experience.

The eleven stories in Pump Six represent the best Paolo's work, including the Hugo nominee "Yellow Card Man," the nebula and Hugo nominated story "The People of Sand and Slag," and the Sturgeon Award-winning story "The Calorie Man."
Star rating: 4 stars

This is the first book of short stories that I have ever finished. Thank you Paolo Bacigalupi for showing me that short stories can be great and that I can enjoy them as much as other people seem to.

The stories in this book were fantastic; I liked all of them although there were some that were just ok while others were firm favourites. I really do like this author's writing style, the bleak worlds he creates, the messed up characters and the interesting technologies. I would love to see more of all of these that were featured in this book.

Three of the stories are set in the worlds of his main novels; "The Calorie Man" and "Yellow Card Man" are set in the world of The Windup Girl and "Tamarisk Hunter" is set in the world of The Water Knife. While I enjoyed being reacquainted with the Windup world again, I think I enjoyed the others stories more.

I liked the body modifications in "Fluted Twins"; the organic city in "Pocketful of Dharma"; the ability to loose and then instantly grow back limbs (plus the poor dog) in "People of the Sand and Slag"; the conflicting customs in "The Pasho"; the rejoo in "Pop Squad"; and the loss of intelligence in "Pump Six".

My favourites were "Pop Squad" and "Pump Six". Oh and I love the front cover of this book.

Review: Nexus by Ramez Naam

Mankind gets an upgrade

In the near future, the experimental nano-drug Nexus can link human together, mind to mind. There are some who want to improve it. There are some who want to eradicate it. And there are others who just want to exploit it.

When a young scientist is caught improving Nexus, he’s thrust over his head into a world of danger and international espionage – for there is far more at stake than anyone realizes.

From the halls of academe to the halls of power, from the headquarters of an elite US agency in Washington DC to a secret lab beneath a top university in Shanghai, from the underground parties of San Francisco to the illegal biotech markets of Bangkok, from an international neuroscience conference to a remote monastery in the mountains of Thailand – Nexus is a thrill ride through a future on the brink of explosion.
Star rating: 5 stars

This book was amazing!!! I love anything to do with cybernetics and neuroscience so this was a good pick for me. That combined with psychedallic drugs, (no I didn't take any while reading the book - the book is about them, one in particular, Nexus) made for one hell of a ride.

Set in the future (around 2040), firstly in the US and later in Thailand. We follow Kaden Lane, a young PhD student who has discovered how to maintain levels of Nexus 5 in his system so that he can communicate with other users via mind-to-mind interfacing. However, Nexus is illegal. The ERD, a US Government organisation a little like the CIA, are responsible for keeping Americans safe from upcoming technological developments, of which Nexus 5 is one of them. There are numerous advances in technology and science in this future world, the ability to regrow limbs with gecko genes, enhanced strength, and mind-to-mind communication to name but a few. So the ERD come down heavy on Kaden and blackmail him to do work for them. Off he sets to Thailand where he meets with like-minded scientists (and buddhist monks) and it's pretty much a fight for survival with everyone seemingly wanting him captured, out of the picture or dead.

I really liked the section at the back in which the author discusses the science behind the science fiction in this book and how some of the technology and advancements are not a million miles away from the fiction in this story. Having worked in the IT industry, this author knows his stuff and it comes across in his writing. That said, it's not too technical so you don't need to have a PhD in Computer Science or Cybernetics to understand what is going on. The writing style is very accessible and easy to read.

I could not stop reading this book. I have purchased the next in the series and I received the third, Apex, through NetGalley so I can't wait to continue on with the series.

Review: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Winner of the Hugo, Nebula, British Science Fiction, Locus and Arthur C. Clarke Awards.

On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.

Once, she was the Justice of Toren - a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.

Now, an act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with one fragile human body, unanswered questions, and a burning desire for vengeance.
Star rating: 4.5 stars

So our main character is a troop carrier... a space ship! Well I've never read a book from the POV of an object before, intelligent or not. It was an interesting idea and very well done. Not only was it a star ship, but it also had multiple representations of itself in the form of ancillaries - a collective consciousness (a little like the Borg in Star Trek). This allowed for multiple POVs but from the same person, if that makes sense, which gave us a broader sense of what was going on.

I really liked the writing style. Leckie throws you in to the middle of a story so I felt a little lost at the beginning of the book. The story is purposely ambiguous leaving the reader to draw conclusions on how they ended up at this point in time, technology, politics etc. The beginning was also split between the present time (not ours but theirs) and the past and this too was a little confusing at first. The switch often left me feeling a little disorientated, preferring the present timeline over the past one. But that soon switched as it started to bring clarity to the story. Understanding and clarity came slowly as I progressed through the book until everything clicked in to place and I could no longer remember being confused - it felt like I knew all along what was going on. But during the stage where I didn't always know what was going on, I still really enjoyed it and my enjoyment of it definitely increased as I progressed through the book.

While I've discussed the POV, I haven't discussed the story line as such as it's very difficult to sum up and I don't want to spoil things. This book just has to be read.

It was great to read a science fiction book by a female author - there doesn't seem to be many out there. But this book is more than just Science Fiction. It is very thought provoking especially when it comes to the subject of gender and how it affects how we see people and what we expect of them. There are some big reveals in this book which really made me think.

There are a lot of names to get used to, people, star systems, regions and spaceship names. I could have done with a list to help me at the start.

I found this book very difficult to rate. I was torn between 4 and 5 stars - it had some interesting plot devices but I guess the early confusion needed to be taken in to account however much it was planned for the reader. So I'm settling on 4.5 stars. Looking forward to book 2.

Review: Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds

From the author of the Revelation Space series comes an interstellar adventure of war, identity, betrayal, and the preservation of civilization itself.

A vast conflict, one that has encompassed hundreds of worlds and solar systems, appears to be finally at an end. A conscripted soldier is beginning to consider her life after the war and the family she has left behind. But for Scur—and for humanity—peace is not to be.

On the brink of the ceasefire, Scur is captured by a renegade war criminal, and left for dead in the ruins of a bunker. She revives aboard a prisoner transport vessel. Something has gone terribly wrong with the ship.

Passengers—combatants from both sides of the war—are waking up from hibernation far too soon. Their memories, embedded in bullets, are the only links to a world which is no longer recognizable. And Scur will be reacquainted with her old enemy, but with much higher stakes than just her own life.
Star rating: 3 stars

I received this book for free through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

There's not too much I can say about this book without giving away the story - it's such a short book. Despite it's length, the author does manage to cram a lot in and it's a well thought out story. I guess because it's a novella and therefore short, it doesn't build a vivid picture in the reader's mind of the environment or the characters.

The whole story takes place on a skipship, a ship which is both carrying soldiers from both sides of a war after the ceasefire, in addition to prisoners and civilians. The ship is malfunctioning and wakens everyone out of stasis and then all chaos breaks loose.

This is told in first person by Scur, a female (actually now I think about it I'm not sure it states her sex but I assumed she was female) soldier. She? tells the story as if she? was speaking directly to the reader which I often find a little annoying.

This is the first book I have read by the author Alastair Reynolds. Despite the "addressing the reader POV", I liked his writing style, so I would like to read more of his books in the future.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Review: The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

In a future hammered by climate change and drought, mountain snows have turned to rain, and rain evaporates before it hits the ground. In a fragmenting United States, the cities of Phoenix and Las Vegas skirmish for a dwindling share of the Colorado River. But it is the Las Vegas water knives - assassins, terrorists and spies - who are legendary for protecting Las Vegas' water supplies, and for ensuring Phoenix's ruin.

When rumours of a game-changing water source surface, Las Vegas dispatches elite water knife Angel Velasquez to Phoenix to investigate. There, he discovers hardened journalist Lucy Monroe, who holds the secret to the water source Angel seeks. But Angel isn't the only one hunting for water, Lucy is no pushover, and the death of a despised water knife is a small price to pay in return for the life-giving flow of a river.
Star Rating: 5 stars

I loved Paolo Bacigalupi’s last book, The Windup Girl, so when I saw The Water Knife available on NetGalley, I just had to put in a request for it. I am so pleased that my request was excepted and I received a kindle version for free in exchange for my honest review of the book.

Like with The Windup Girl, the beginning is a little complex. I know why it is and so I suppose I didn’t mind it so much. This book is set in the future and therefore, the world as it is then needs to be explained as does its technology, politics and problems. That said, I found that quite quickly I was able to understand what was going on, much quicker than what I had with The Windup Girl – I was well and truly hooked by the end of Chapter 2.

As I’ve already said, this book is set in the future in a world where Climate Change occurred well and truly, brought about a permanent drought and everyone is desperate for water. This book is scary and I said the same thing about The Windup Girl too. It’s scary because this could actually happen and so much of it is reminiscent with our current situation in this world.

I really liked the following two quotes – kind of sums up what is happening right now with the whole Climate Change debate.

“If I could put my finger on the moment we genuinely fucked ourselves, it was the moment we decided that data was something you could use words like believe or disbelieve around.”

“We knew it was all going to go to hell, and we just stood by and watched it happen anyway. There ought to be a prize for that kind of stupidity.”

The story is set in the Southern States of America, near the border with Mexico. Bacigalupi includes many local Spanish words and phrases (and the odd Chinese one too as there are some Corporations from China involved in the storyline). I really like it when an author does this.

So each chapter focuses on a different character at the beginning. We have Angel, who is a Water Knife for Catherine Case who owns the Archologies in Vegas in which many people live in; Lucy who is a Journalist living in struggling Phoenix; and Maria who has to do anything to make money to live in a city which is going down the pan. These character’s lives intertwine when Angel is sent to Phoenix to check out whether some important water deeds actually do exist.

Bacigalupi did a fantastic job creating believable, likeable (and dislikeable) characters.

I know that Bacigalupi has been likened to William Gibson in the past and I can see why for sure. Gibson coined a few words and I reckon we may see the term “collapse pornography” around after The Water Knife is published. I thought this was a great term for the articles produced by the media detailing everything going down the pan and what’s worse, people can’t get enough of it.

So in a world where there is limited water to go around, it goes the way of oil today: it’s sold by the litre, it fluctuates with the markets, companies drill for it and make a lot of money from it, pipeline deals, and fighting and wars over the reserves. I really liked this.

It’s amazing how many phrases we use that are water related (and boat related for that matter) – I only noticed recently when I bought my boat and I became really aware of when I use one of these phrases in conversation, for example, “we’re really pushing the boat out”. I like all the water references throughout the book, for example, people were described as being out of their depth or drowning (metaphorically). I’m glad that the author didn’t shy away from these phrases when the main focus of the book was on water (or lack of).

There was quite a raunchy, explicit sex scene about three quarters of the way in. I don't mind a bit of sex in a book as long as it's not the main focus of a story. I did find it interesting the words the author chose to use to describe this scene though, especially the use of the C word. I don't mind expletives – I use enough of them but I really wasn't expecting to see that one placed there. But upon reflection it does go with the style of the writing and the harshness of the world these people were in.

I whizzed through this book so quickly. I was hooked from the beginning and it was fast paced so I just had to keep reading to find out what would happen next. A 5 star read for sure. More books please Mr Paolo Bacigalupi!

Review: Endsinger by Jay Kristoff

The flames of civil war sweep across the Shima Imperium. With their plans to renew the Kazumitsu dynasty foiled, the Lotus Guild unleash their deadliest creation—a mechanical goliath known as the Earthcrusher, intended to unite the shattered Empire under a yoke of fear. With the Tiger Clan and their puppet Daimyo Hiro in tow, the Guild marches toward a battle for absolute dominion over the Isles.

Yukiko and Buruu are forced to take leadership of the Kagé rebellion, gathering new allies and old friends in an effort to unite the country against the chi-mongers. But the ghosts of Buruu’s past stand between them and the army they need, and Kin’s betrayal has destroyed all trust among their allies. When a new foe joins the war tearing the Imperium apart, it will be all the pair can do to muster the strength to fight, let alone win.

The traitor Kin walks the halls of Guild power, his destiny only a bloody knife-stroke away. Hana and Yoshi struggle to find their place in a world now looking to them as heroes. Secret cabals within the Lotus Guild claw and struggle; one toward darkness, the other toward light. And as the earth splits asunder, as armies destroy each other for rule over an empire of lifeless ash and the final secret about blood lotus is revealed, the people of Shima will learn one last, horrifying truth.

There is nothing a mother won't do to keep her children by her side.


Star rating: 5 stars
Izanagi's Balls, that was intense!

I'm not going to go in to the plot of this story as I really don't want to give anything away. This book is the conclusion of all conclusions. We get to understand what happened in Everstorm and why the female Arishtora doesn't like Buruu, why Hana has a rose tinted eye, Kin's motives, why the Guild is like it is, and a whole heap more. Everything is wrapped up nicely.

In many movies I've watched recently, in particular action films involving superheroes, I've felt that the director's have gone over the top with action and the number of baddies. I can't believe I'm actually saying that. I felt a little like that while reading this book. It's the final book in the Lotus Wars series so I suppose I was expecting a huge battle between good and evil as the other books had been building up to that but this was relentless. Enemies on all sides, the gaijin show up plus loads of new characters which took a little getting used to. It was very tense and I felt like I didn't breath throughout the whole of reading it.

While there was a lot of battling, it was written well and it kept me engaged and on the edge of my seat. This was mainly down to the fact that there were a lot of unexpected things happen. When I read a book, I usually get a feel for how things might end up, who gets together with whom and that they overcome a problem etc. but that was all blown out of the water with this book. I was shocked at some of the goings on and the deaths. And how could you, Mr Kristoff? The ending! What can I say?! You made me cry. And that doesn't happen very often when I read a book.

Throughout reading the book, I was thinking I was going to rate it 4 stars but then by the end I just had to give it 5 stars especially as it had me welling up.

This book was a fantastic end to a great series and I will miss these characters dearly. I look forward to seeing what future books this author brings out. I was lucky enough to receive this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.