As COVID ground on, so I bought Kindle SF books – quite a LOT of Kindle books – and read them, and quite often reviewed them on the Amazon site. As I have now done a few times, I am gathering them here in case anyone is interested!
The Last Reef: And Other Stories 4*
I have recently started reading everything Gareth Powell has written, and these short stories are a welcome addition to my library. The quality is a little uneven – I think some of the stories end too abruptly, and/or the odd story mostly exists to explore something a little too transparently – but there are themes that link stories well (the Reef, eg), and the writing is largely excellent. I liked this collection. You should too 😁
by Gary Gibson
I think I confused it with another book I have had for years, so never investigated it – and now I have, after becoming acquainted with Gary Gibson via the Shoal Sequence, and I AM glad 😁
Oh, there’s the odd jarring bit – how DO you make humans essentially immortal, and then not be able to heal them of a disease? – but the level of universe creation at work here is such that you are effortlessly swept away. Gibson’s sense of plot is excellent; his characters generally accessible and understandable (thought there is that Vaughn fellow who is just a little TOO omnipotently evil…), and Huge Things vie with mere humans to sweep the story along briskly. Great stuff!!
by Gary Gibson
Travel to new planets! Meet interesting aliens!! And kill them…
This was an interesting book: a dystopic Earth, seed ships sent out with colonists’ minds encoded in hardware, a colonisation effort stuck in a loop, with sabotaged instructions hampering success…. Well written, exciting, interesting revelations at several places, and – it just ends!? I’ll be looking out for more Gibson: not quite the finished article as a future-noir writer, but great potential 🙂
Empire in Black and Gold (Shadows of the Apt Book 1) 5*
I have read a fair bit of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s SF by now, but only one of the fantasy books – so dived in and bought the whole Shadows series.
I am glad I did: this was RIVETTING, albeit seriously strange – humans in clans that mimic arthropods?? – but the storytelling sweeps you up and whirls you away, and….
Then the damn thing ended, but I have the rest of them to binge on. VERY good, and I do not say that often.
The Scarab Path (Shadows of the Apt Book 5) 4*
I am hopelessly enmired in Tchaikovsky’s creation, and have been for a while. Helplessly carried along, as he kills yet another of the folk I have become fond of, or even only used to, and he makes me feel the pathos and the sorrow.
Shadows of the Apt is a stupendous creation; a huge meshed set of stories that covers only part of a strange, magical world. I will soldier on, as Thalric does (I like Thalric), until the end. I will cavil only slightly at the revelation of the Slugs – a little too powerful for my liking, hence 4 and not 5 stars – and hope we see no more of them.
The Air War (Shadows of the Apt Book 8) 5*
What a book! Getting back to old friends, introducing new ones – and killing quite a few of them, in the midst of an impossibly well-detailed air war.
Really: the depth of detail, the extent to which even individual dogfights, let alone whole air wing strategies are described, is simply stunning. Adrian Tchaikovsky has outdone himself with this book, and it has been a pleasure to be in his hands as the long story unfolds further 😁
War Master’s Gate (Shadows of the Apt Book 9) 5*
But these are good things: Adrian Tchaikovsky has excelled himself here – which is pretty hard to do, given the level at which he is able to create worlds and people – with one of the most bleak descriptions of an all-out war, and its effects on people and places. And he killed some old friends, and introduced a horrific new adversary, that we will doubtless meet in the next book.
This series has been quite a ride: exquisitely created, impeccably crafted into interweaving threads of narrative, with real-seeming characters. That it is a wrench to lose, Adrian!!
Seal of the Worm (Shadows of the Apt Book 10) 4*
I have rushed through this series – OK, I read fast – because of the steady, inexorable build-up through the books of Something Dreadful This Way Comes.
And it did: The Worm. Nastiest community in the worlds of the Apt; isolated for over a thousand years in the dark, until a petulant Empress unleashes them inadvertently (not a spoiler; read the previous book!).
Adrian Tchaikovsky then proceeds to run his character list down ruthlessly, until he really does get to GRRM-level culling. Noooooooo, I would say to myself, as another bit the dust, got shot in one of several ways, fell out of the sky, was eaten by a centipede….
But a satisfactory ending to a monumental series – which I will remember forever. Sadly, which is why the 4 stars, and not 5.
A Time For Grief (Tales of the Apt Book 2) 5*
These stories – previous volume and this – fill out fascinating aspects of the back-stories of a number of characters that probably deserved some more print time. Rogues, miscreants, heroes – they are all here, sometimes more than once. If you’re a fan of SotA, you’ll need these 😁
As with everything Adrian, this is well worth a read. Strange in places, a sometimes disconcerting narration style, possibly not enough background…and reads like something out of the near-darkest depths of the Shadows of the Apt series, where he really does get the grinder out on your emotions, as he tortures his characters.
Verdict: good, but not up to Shadows of the Apt.
Back when you think this is a Victorian Gothic…and then it’s a HG Wells adventure…then a piece of 50s pulp SF…and then….
This is a wonderful, multifaceted novel, written in a variety of styles but with a strong POV element with a slightly archaic narrator – who is both more and less than he seems. The way the story bends to the shifting realities, and then you’re in the Real – whatever that is – and it isn’t like you thought it was, and what will happen to the Doctor and his Object of Affection now?
You won’t guess. Just go along with a very good ride, and marvel at how Reynolds manages to bring the train home. 😁
Ice. Cold. Forgotten and suppressed histories.
I wondered about this, at first, but then the sheer quality of the writing and the depth of inventiveness for the technical details grabbed me, and pulled me in.
This is a GOOD book. Possibly great, but I’ll let history judge 😁 A tale of the crews of two starships, separated by 200 years, interacting after the first has made a colony on a cold and desolate planet – and histories unremembered and hidden, and old conflicts still smouldering. The human angle is superbly well done; so too anything to do with the technical. I liked it – a LOT.
I bought this because I’d liked Ack-Ack Macaque, which gradually spiralled from being a passable jape with an ape, to being SO much more than that.
This too: the development of a story from the ashes of an atrocity committed during a war, to a galaxy-changing event that liberates an incredible fleet of ships from a hibernation to…do what?
That’s the next book. I’m looking forward to it B-)
Fleet of Knives: An Embers of War novel 5*
Good follow-up to the first novel: the Trouble Dog developing its personality; human crew (the ones that survive, anyway) doing human things, and showing initiative; the Druff—-reproducing, and the Fleet of Knives implacable and deadly. Good space opera! Let’s hope we hear the fat lady sing B-)
Light of Impossible Stars: An Embers of War novel 4*
This has been a very interesting series. Four stars for this one, because all of a sudden new factors were introduced that produced a Deus ex machina type of plot resolution – but it did tie together, and threads that were wandering were pulled together, and the Knives were blunted and turned into ploughshares, and…
Which is all one can ask for, right? A superb series, well written, very well characterised, and I will definitely be looking for more from Gareth Powell.
It’s the future, Jim, but not as we know it…
I like Gareth Powell. I am newly come to this author, but I have been making up for it – as I did for Adrian Tchaikovsky recently – by selectively buying stuff from him. So it’s fair to say I had high hopes coming in to reading this, and I was rewarded – largely….
Let me qualify this: I don’t TOO much mind the concept of a very large, non-corporeal alien entity saving Earth from self-sparked nuclear immolation, but…how? How did it do it?
There’s also a talking cat: OK, apparently all pet cats and dogs can now talk thanks to alien magic and high tech, but while Sam the cat is depicted as being as selfish as cats are known to be, he’s also just a bit too bright. However, he’s also pretty central to the plot, even if he does go mysteriously AWOL in an apocalyptic Big Alien encounter – because he comes BACK, and does Good Things.
A Dyson sphere also appears and becomes Very Important. However, and however…it has big holes in it, which is important because it is ALSO claimed to be able to hold onto atmosphere and water, and how would it do that? And where does the gravity come from, given that people are on the inside, and there isn’t that much mass under them, and it isn’t spinning?
OK, OK, I’m a pedant, but I think these are potential holes in the verisimilitude (if one can use the term for something that is purely imaginary), which result in the book not achieving a 5.
HOWEVER: Powell again displays an awesome grasp of storytelling that sweeps one up and away into some VERY unexpected territory, with a Game of Thrones-type of disregard for keeping folk one had become fond of actually alive – and delivers a story close to the calibre of the Ack-Ack Macaque, with an interesting and unexpected twist at the end.
A good book. Not his best, but that’s a high bar. I will continue to indulge my liking for his writing 😁
Light Chaser 2*
by Peter F. Hamilton and Gareth L Powell
I must preface this review with the fact that I like both these authors. Mostly. They both write really well, and I have nearly all of Hamilton’s books, and am starting to collect Powell’s, too. So why a negative review?
While I like Hamilton, this is tempered by a dislike of his invoking the supernatural unnecessarily. The whole Night’s Dawn trilogy was tainted by having resurrected folk popping up all over, so that even though the technology and the writing were superb, the premise was so flawed, in my opinion, that it just sat badly with me.
So too here: WHY does there have to be a supernatural element invoked, on top of what is an ingenious premise – Light Chasers circulating around known or settled space on thousand-year cycles, collecting memories and trading trinkets, with all of the technology described and undescribed, to make it happen? Like Night’s Dawn, I think it would have been SO much better without?!
Oh, you can see Powell’s influence too, with musings on what it is to be human, to be free – but there’s another problem here, and that’s that the book is too SHORT: novelette rather than novel, so that I killed it in a couple of hours. Also meaning that important plot elements get thrust at you complete and ready-wrapped, with no slow development and gradual revelation.
You’ll see what I mean. Great idea, badly developed. A pity!!
I bought this because it kept getting advertised to me by Amazon, and I thought ho, hum; another poor-bullied-patrician-orphan-makes-good-big-ship-drama. And…yes, it is all that, but it is VERY well written, impeccably constructed, and eminently readable. The saga very realistically (as far as I am concerned) delves into just what sort of training our deadly urchin needs to be a starship officer – possibly in TOO much detail sometimes; I was losing track of all of the command locations and functions after a while – and leads one through a LOT of build-up to actual combat. A bit like playing Wing Commander, then! 😁🚀
As for the deadly orphan bit: our hero really is pretty lethal, and well drawn as a person. The society, too – though WHY would a future star-travelling society that uses nanotech use ducats as a currency??
Oh, and as an aside, this is the first book I’ve read in a while that actually uses an imaginative pronoun – and not they, or them – for people known as androgynes. I wish more did!
Silver (Inverted Frontier Book 2) 5*
by Linda Nagata
Why have I not heard of this person before?!
I have kept being offered books by Linda Nagata by Amazon’s site, based on my other reading – and I eventually succumbed, and bought the first and and second books of the Inverted Frontier set. Of course, now I will have to fill in the back catalogue, as I have found these books to be absolutely enthralling.
Seriously: humanity as what amounts to disembodied intelligences, capable of instantiating as avatars, or splitting off multiple “ghosts” to do things in cyberspace, and then reintegrate. Berserker-type ships called the Chenzeme, which basically kill everyone and everything – except the humans that capture them. Evolved humans that make and then disintegrate Dyson spheres, and spin out gods who play with other human intelligences in vast and barely understood games.
I like Linda Nagata. I will read a lot more of her 😁
The Man In The Maze (Gateway Essentials Book 126) 4*
I remember being impressed by Robert Silverberg as a teenager, reading the pulp mags. I was impressed again as a young adult by Lord Valentine’s Castle and the Majipoor Chronicles, and Up the Line – the best time travel book I’d read to that point. Now, I read this, at a much more advanced age, and – it’s marvellous! 4 stars because there’s a faint element of woman as object, but this book has aged VERY well. There’s hardly an anachronistic element, and in fact his invented technologies are remarkably close to what we envision now as being future-feasible. I think it’s time for a re-read of the Old Master 😁
Far from the Light of Heaven: A triumphant return to science fiction from the Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning author 3*
You know when you like something, but there’s an element to it that grates? Like finding sand in your ice cream? This book is like that: really good overall, but with annoying elements. That you remember.
Speaking of which, one of the central elements of the story are just that: elements. Exotics, they get called, and they came from asteroids – yet don’t get named. They can also kill people, just by leaking out of someone who has been exposed, or accumulated them. Really?? This is completely unnecessary in an otherwise good book: the author could have made them rare earth elements that ARE known, and though they would not have the same effect on bystanders, could certainly kill miners.
Anyway: I liked the characterisations on the whole, although the one AI that causes all the problems seemed a bit high-powered compared to the ship AI that HAD to have been bigger / more complex…but that’s a spoiler, so let me just say that the story carries you along in a rollicking way albeit with the minor irritations.
And as someone from Africa, I liked the way that African culture and spirituality was woven into the story – even though it also sits a little awkwardly with the story in some respects, like resurrected Chicago gangsters in Peter Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn trilogy. I hope Tade Thompson writes some more hard SF: I would read that, because he writes WELL.
Wireless: The Essential Charles Stross 5*
I picked up on Charles Stross via short stories, I think – but then saw none, while I read all his novels. Reading this collection has been revelatory: they are VERY good, and I think his time traveller series is the best thing I’ve read in the genre since Up The Line by Robert Silverberg, temporal anomalies and all. Thanks, Charlie!!
Escape from Yokai Land (Laundry Files Book 12) 4*
Bob Howard, that is – anti-hero, host for an ancient evil known as the Eater of Souls, and employee of that famous British civil service organisation, The Laundry. There are shenanigans involving an animated Hello Kitty, subtle allusions TWICE to Harlan Ellison’s most grotesque short story AND more obviously to a famous old SF story….
And it’s too short. Charles Stross brings back Bob Howard, and puts him in an adventure that took me maybe 40 minutes to finish (I had ice cream in the middle to make it seem longer), and leaves me wanting MORE. I like the Laundry technocyber magic far more than I liked the two most recent books – Charles, please go back there? Please???
Never heard of this ezine before, but – I know about it now 🙂 It’s great: the stories were very good – OK,some of the editing was a a little iffy – and I throughly enjoyed all of them.
There needed to be more, though. Just saying.
Catalyst Gate (The Protectorate) 3*
Let me say up front that I am reviewing the series here, rather than just this book – and that there WILL be spoilers, so stop reading here if you don’t want any.
I liked these books: the writing is great, the characters are human enough to be interesting – even the ones that aren’t (human, that is) – the overall plot development is good, and the whole adventure resolves well, with some galaxy-spanning implications. Kudos for that, Megan, and I will be looking out for more from you!
Pedant and spoiler alerts, BTW 🙄
The stories describe the use of gates to travel between star systems, and we are told that communications in- and out-systems use gate technology – yet light speed does not seem to be a factor, although no ships are FTL, meaning characters literally have communications in real time across distances that MUST involve serious lag times before they even get to gates. I mean, communicating between Luna and Terra takes more than a second one way; how then can the book characters have chats across greater distances??
Another niggle was the lack of any idea of using a simple blood test to differentiate the nanite transformed folk or synthetic people from normals: if Campbell could do it in his legendary 60+ year-old tale of reawakened Antarctic monsters, why couldn’t it be done here? Sure, it would have obviating much confusion and shortened the books quite a lot, but if this civilisation can build androids and fix people with nanites, devising a rapid test for whether or not someone is transformed would be child’s play.
There’s also the mention – repeated several times in the second book and in the third – of our sun becoming a red dwarf as it ages. I hate to say it, but it’ll become a white dwarf if it goes along the main sequence, and there’s nothing to indicate it won’t!
All in all, then, a little flawed – but a damn good read. Even if Arden deserves a better pronoun than “they”.
The Quantum War (The Quantum Evolution Book 3) 5*
No! You can’t let that happen??
This is a review of the 3-book Quantum series, rather than of just this one final volume. And it is with a heavy heart that I…
No. No spoilers. This is an astonishingly good series, superbly written, with enough twists and turns to befuddle a Homo quantus (OK, tiny spoiler). I mean, any set of novels that can effortlessly meld quantum physics, theology, molecular biology and forced evolution ranks VERY high in my book – and this does all that. Did I say effortlessly?
Seriously, this is really, really well done: I am a molecular biologist with more than a passing interest in human evolution, who was Jesuit-educated and who has an amateur interest in physics and the quantum world, and this hit ALL the buttons. Con games too, as complicated as you might wish for; profane mermen who are star fighter pilots; time travel that is BELIEVABLE – it is all here, in these three volumes. The first drags a little – I read it twice at a year or so’s interval before starting the second – but it sets the stage for the second, which leads you into a third volume that blows everything you read before into a fine atomic mist, pretty much like what happens to [detail redacted].
I honestly and sincerely liked these books. I think Derek Kunsken is a superbly talented writer. I DO hope this is not the end of the series, though…😩