the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘science fiction

regeneration_tpboRegeneration (®evolution, book 3) by Stephanie Saulter

published on Aug 6, 2015

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Jo Fletcher Books!)

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Ya’ll already know i’m a huge fan of Stephanie Saulter’s ®evolution series.  She pulls no punches, allows no escape from the way she portrays the “us vs them” attitude and keeps you from looking away for even one second.  If you’re looking for a political thrillers with modern relevance, you could do a lot worse than her debut novel, Gemsigns, the first in her ®evolution trilogy. I’ve tried to keep this review spoiler free, so for those of you who are just joining us, go check out my review of Gemsigns and Binary (in fact, after reading my review of Binary, take a nice close look at the blurbs on Regeneration).

 

Regeneration takes  place about ten years after Binary, and life in London is finally halfway decent for the gem population. They’ve integrated into society, norm families are (mostly) no longer afraid to let their children go to school with Gem children, Gem-run businesses are thriving. It’s almost as if the strife of the last 50 years never happened. Almost, but not quite.  The old guard doesn’t forget, and the new generation doesn’t quite understand what makes their parents so damn nervous.

 

The first novel in the series, Gemsigns, was a political powder-keg that revolved around a civil rights movement. It was followed by Binary, in which a society at large makes it’s first attempts to break down the barriers between “us” and “them’.  Regeneration is the next step in the process: Acceptance as a complete shift of the status quo, and how people react to it.  This novel doesn’t focus on the politics anywhere near as much as the previous two books in the series,  yet I couldn’t help but draw parallels to recent political issues that have made real life headlines. It’s scary how close these books come to reality.

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apex-world-sf-volume-4I’ve been following the Apex Book of World SF series for a while, and was thrilled when the fourth volume was announced.  The series had previously been edited by Lavie Tidhar, and now the editing reins have been passed to Mahvesh Murad. A new editor can mean a new direction, and a new style. No matter the direction, readers are guaranteed a mind bending taste of speculative fiction from around the world, including stories from Spain, Sweden, Kenya, Uganda, Taiwan, Japan, India, Israel, Greece, Iceland, Pakistan, Philippines, Czech Republic and more. The Apex Book of World SF Vol 4 hits bookstore shelves and e-readers on August 25th. Wanna pre-order? Click here to order direct from Apex Publications*.

If you’re looking to read beyond your geographic horizon, this anthology series is a great place to start. And yes, it’s an anthology series, but it’s not a series. You can start anywhere.

Mahvesh Murad was kind enough to give me a behind the scenes look into her editing process for this new volume.  And then we got on some tangents, and talked about radio, her new podcast Midnight in Karachi, and her Dragonlance reread over at tor.com. After the interview, I’ve got some links to reviews to previous volumes in the World SF series so you can see what others (including me) thought of this anthology.

let’s get to the interview!

mahvesh murad

Little Red Reviewer: Tell us a little about the behind the scenes selection process for this anthology. Were there open submissions? Did you solicit stories from authors you already knew? What if you wanted to purchase a story that didn’t yet have an English translation?

Mahvesh Murad: The Apex Book of World SF is primarily a reprint anthology so we looked at work already published in various anthologies or online all over the world. There weren’t open submissions as such, no, but we did reach out to editors we knew who had worked on or curated stories from writers outside of the US/UK mainstream to see if they had stories we could look at. There were some stories I knew I wanted as soon as we started because I’d read them recently and they had left their mark, so we reached out directly to those writers, specifically about certain stories.

We have a few translations in this volume but none were translated for the anthology. If a story didn’t have an English translation, chances are I wouldn’t be able to read it so wouldn’t know if I wanted it or not:). It would be fantastic for this anthology to grow to a point where we can commission translations though!

LRR: What are some of your favorite stories from the new anthology?

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falling in lovewith hominidsFalling In Love With Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

published Aug 11, 2015

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (thanks Tachyon!)

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Showcasing fiction from as far back as 2002, Falling in Love With Hominids is a vast and varied collection of Nalo Hopkinson’s short fiction. With a feeling of a retrospective art collection, the stories are everything from straight up science fiction to literary fiction to escapades of pure frolicsome imagination.  For an author you’ve never read before, short fiction might be the best way to get a taste of their fiction, to see if this is someone you want to make a 300 page investment in.  I also enjoy the reading freedom of single author collections. I can jump around in the table of contents, and guilt-free read the collection cover to cover in any order I please (I do this with all anthologies, actually. Even though I know editors put the TOC in a particular order for particular reasons).

also? Just look at that gorgeous cover art. Just look at it!

Hopkinson opens each story with a few sentences about where the idea for the story came from, and in a few cases a single sentence that acts more as a subtitle.  There is a lot of literary fiction in Falling in Love with Hominids, even a Shakespeare homage.  But my tastes lean towards the easier to digest, so my favorites included the  imaginative flights of fancy, the flirtations with science fiction, the fairy tale retellings.   And that’s probably the best thing about this collection: no matter what your particular tastes are, Hopkinson has probably written it.

The flights of fancy I keep mentioning include “Emily Breakfast”, the story of a farmer with a flying cat and  three fire-breathing chickens named Lunch, Dinner, and Emily Breakfast; and “Herbal”, in which an elephant suddenly appears in a woman’s high-rise apartment and when an elephant is suddenly thundering through your tiny apartment, what can you do?
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slow bulletsSlow Bullets, by Alastair Reynolds

published June 2015

where I got it: purchased new

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After a few sluggish, slow reads, it was such a pleasure to pick something up and be sucked in right away. At just shy of 200 pages, Slow Bullets is a fast read, and paced absolutely perfectly. Not a moment feels slow, nor does anything feel rushed.  Other than the first segment, Scur is telling her story to someone, someone who knows how her story ends. It’s as if she’s an aged grandmother telling the neighborhood kids about what happened once upon a time. The person she’s talking to knows the sordid details, but the reader will have to wait until Scur gets to those details in her own time. Don’t worry, she will. Eventually, she’ll tell you everything.

 

Scur was a soldier in an interstellar war, and just as a ceasefire is being announced she’s been captured by the opposing side. Captured by a sadist, he shoots a slow burrowing bullet into her leg. When it reaches her heart, she’ll die.

 

Instead, she wakes up on a prison ship. The situation is pretty bleak – one crew member is still alive, the ship’s AI has gone wonky, and no one seems to be in control.  Remember the cult sci-fi movie Cube?  The first half of Slow Bullets feels quite a bit like that – with people asking what they did to deserve being on the prison ship, trying to figure out where they’re going, trying to find out if they will ever see their families again, trying to understand how to fix the ship’s computer.

 

So, what are a few hundred bloodthirsty soldiers aboard a prison ship to do? This is a ship with no captain, no functioning navigation, and they planet they are orbiting doesn’t look familiar.

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this alien shoreThis Alien Shore by C.S. Friedman

published in 1998

where i got it: paperback swap

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I’ve been hearing about C.S. Friedman’s This Alien Shore for a number of years now. Thanks to paperback swap (which sadly is no longer free) I was able to get a copy.  At over 500 pages, this book is not a fast read. It’s not a fast read for other reasons, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

 

I loved the premise of the novel. Earth has developed deep space travel, allowing us to colonize as many planets as we can find. But there’s a price. The travel changes our DNA, causing certain genes to reassert themselves, giving entire colonies what many Terrans define as physical and or developmental birth defects. At a time when Earth glorified genes that were free of any type of defects, we learn our path to the stars is rife with them. Contact was cut off from the colonies, forcing the newly planetbound to survive if they could.

 

This Alien Shore takes place hundreds of years later.  Many of the colonies have thrived, turning genetic concerns to their own advantage. Called “variants”, the story is populated with “aliens” who are humanoid in shape, but physically, mentally, and socially completely alien to Terrans. It lets Friedman have fun aliens without having to worry about what an alien looks like. One such genetic defect allows humans to pilot through the dangerous subspace ainniq. Their secrets are held close, allowing their Guild to hold a monopoly over space travel.  Earth is seen as a backwards and ignorant backwater.  (maybe it’s just me, but I fould it impossible to avoid comparing this novel to Dune. I hear “space travel guild that holds a monopoly over travel and holds the secrets of their travel abilities secret”, and all I can think is Spacing Guild!)

 

There are two intertwining plot lines in This Alien Shore – a shiny loud one that thinks it is the main plot, and a quiet one that isn’t interested in your attention but in the end is the more interesting.  Let me unpack that a little, because my reaction to how these plotlines are treated was actually more interesting than the actual plots.

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Aurora KSRAurora, by Kim Stanley Robinson

On bookstore shelves: July 7 2015

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (thanks Orbit!)

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As science fiction fans, we can easily list novels, movies, or TV shows that focus on the design, building, and eventual launch of a colony or generation ship.  The unquantifiable hope that goes into such a project, the reasons it is being built and launched, the wonder around what we’ll find when it arrives where it’s going. The end of the movie or TV show is typically the launch of the ship, people’s tearful goodbyes, the successful launch.  There are also the stories of people on board such a ship, people who have no connection whatsoever to the families and scientists who left a blue planet. But what of the last chapter of this story? What happens when the ship gets where it’s going, and the people onboard say “ok, now what?”.  What happens when life has become a destination instead of a journey? Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora is that story.

 

By the tone of the opening chapters, it’s easy to assume that Devi will be our main character.  She is a head engineer of a generation ship hurtling towards the Tau Ceti system, possibly the only person who really understands how the ship works, how to fix what breaks, and why the farms are dying. Whoever built and supplied the ship couldn’t have known what challenges it would face hundreds of years down the line.  Early in the story, Devi demands that the ship’s interface, later known as “Ship”, write a narrative account of the colonist’s journey. Ship doesn’t understand that humans have a finite life span, and Devi only has so much time to teach Ship about how to write a story. Ship is never taught about characterization, subtlety, or romances that burn slowly.  One of my favorite things about Aurora was watching Ship evolve.

 

While Ship is recording everything it can think of (which is what you are reading, by the way), Devi’s daughter Freya comes of age.  She overhears a heartbreaking conversation about island genetics and potential, yet grows up to be a prophet of sorts. Prophet is a terrible word, but it seems to fit. Later in her life, everyone comes to Freya for answers, assuming that since she is Devi’s daughter, of course she knows everything Devi knew.  Freya does, after all, have access to Ship’s vocal interface.

 

And when the ship arrives at it’s destination, then what? What happens then is the big idea of Aurora, it is what readers will dissect and argue over. There is so much I want to say here, about genetics and bacteria, and central nervous systems, and evolution, and so much more, but I can’t, because it would be a spoiler. The big question that goes with that big idea is “Is this novel optimistic or pessimistic?”  Is this a hopeful novel or a sad one?

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superpositionSuperposition, by David Walton

published April 2015

Where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Pyr!)

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Imagine a fast paced thriller mashed up with a quantum physics book for a layperson. Now throw in family dynamics, a suspensful murder mystery/police procedural, and an unexplainable monster.  That’s Superposition. Ignore the terrible cover art, this is a pretty good book.

 

For such a short and ultra fast book, I liked how Walton developed the characters, especially Jacob and his family. Through conversations with Jacob’s wife Elena, and their kids, we immediately know a lot about the particulars of their family situation (one of these details becomes incredibly important later). As he spends more time with his daughter Alessandra, it was fascinating to watch him realize he might not be the amazingly perfect father he always thought he was. I won’t go as far to call the book heavy on “feels”, but Walton crams a ton character development into very little space. Other characters too, are quickly given depth – his friend Jean’s marital issues, his brother in-law Marek’s deep seated morals and loyalty. This is a science driven thriller, yet it read like a character driven novel. that’s a good thing.

 

To get the story off and running, Jacob’s old co-worker Brian randomly shows up at his house one night, terrified. Trying to prove a point, Brian shoots Elena, who suffers no ill effects.  The next thing Jacob knows, he’s on trial for Brian’s murder. Brian had been alive the evening he shot Elena, found dead the next morning in his lab, was seen alive that afternoon, and then was never seen again.  Jacob’s family has also disappeared, will he soon find himself on trial for their murders too?

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.