Because I have nothing else to do (ha ha!!), and I have done quite a lot of reading in the last year or two, I decided to collect my most recent reviews from the Amazon Kindle site. Enjoy!
A wonderful return: Berserker (Saberhagen’s Berserker Series Book 1) (5 *)
I started reading Berserker stories in collections and in magazines that I got second hand at a local store – and I was immediately assimilated. Seriously, the quality of the writing, the implacable hostility of the big killing machines and the characterisations just sucked me in – and that was 40-50 years ago.
Now I came back – and bought the collection I never had, and it was just as captivating as it was the first time around. Read it. It’s wonderful!
A culmination…of a sort: The Human (Rise of the Jain) by Neal Asher (5 *)
Any Asher book is a welcome addition to my (now complete) collection, and this one was eagerly awaited: after all, the last one left us hanging with not only one monstrous ship coming out of a black hole, but two – as well as a knot of unresolved storylines for the Jain-enhanced haiman Orlandine, not one but TWO Old Captains from Spatterjay, a resurrected alien who seems to be a Jain offshoot, and more rogue technology than you could shake a stick at.
This time, we get not only the Polity system-ruling AI Earth Central sticking its metaphorical nose in, but also the much mutated Emperor of the Prador, as well as another of this ilk. Mix it all together with the monstrous ships escaping a black hole, and the Jain tech in the accretion disk around said hole, and the galactic stage is set for a truly monstrous and epoch-ending multiple confrontation between huge powers, that can only end in…in…well, you’ll just have to see. There’s enormous devastation on the scale that only Asher can write; there’s despair and loss, and – redemption. The remaking of of not just one Human was great to see.
Oh, and I missed seeing Dragon again, and I STILL do not understand why the Polity uses Imperial measures. But this is a great book, and a very worthy addition to the Polity pantheon.
A most likable killer. Exit Strategy: The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells (5 *)
This is a great addition to the Murderbot pantheon: it rounds out the story of Murderbot itself very well indeed, in a white-knuckled fight fest that is as technological as anyone like me could want – and very human at the same time, and EXCELLENTLY written.
The ONLY thing wrong with the book is that, like its predecessors, IT IS TOO SHORT!! I really would like to see more B-)
Binge-watching cyborg returns! Network Effect: A Murderbot Novel (The Murderbot Diaries Book 5) by Martha Wells (5 *)
I like the Murderbot – I really do. I was eagerly awaiting the first full-length offering, and now it’s here! The same mixture of internal dialogue and terse interactions with the humans that was characteristic of the shorter stories is all here; so too the development of character in terms of the reader rather than ‘Bot becoming aware than ‘Bot really quite likes some its humans…this is good writing.
Idiosyncratic, but very good. I look forward to the sequels.
It’s a saga, Jim, but…Harbinger (First Colony Book 9) by Ken Lozito (2 *)
I have waited till I finished book 9 before writing this, because…because…because I was hoping I could be more positive, for someone who has obviously tried REALLY hard to write good SF, and has kept at it, and…hasn’t. Almost up there with Stephen Donaldson, then, who I followed through six books before deciding he was an idiot, and why had I bothered?
WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW.
Let me qualify that: I am pretty forgiving if a plot keeps me engaged, and I really do like me some good Space Opera. HOWEVER. Ken Lozito started with a reasonable premise (elite Black Ops squad, raiding a space station), BUT it got unreal pretty quickly (the whole thing dies? Really??), and then one general gets the whole squad on a colony ship, and…? Is there no security on these things??
And then the…whatevers…that kill humanity, that are a mixture of marine bacteria and some strange virus, FOLLOW them?? Sorry, I’m a microbiologist; that just does NOT work for me.
Worse still: the physics isn’t consistent or even realistic; they seem to have artificial gravity (really? How??) and fusion generators, but solar systems are BIG – and they seem to be able to flit 20-100 million kilometres in hours, rather than weeks!
Lozito is also FAR too fond of people sneering: they do it all the time, which is not too surprising seeing as they are in fact caricatures or cardboard cutouts rather than characters. Don’t get me started on the 1950s depiction of female characters and male characters’ reactions to them….
No. Sorry. The story has obviously not yet finished, but it should have, and I have spent enough money. Goodbye.
Rocket punk! The Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut Book 1) by Mary Robinette Kowal (4 *)
I know the author called it punch-card punk, but I couldn’t resist – because the rocket is so central to this, a story set in an an alternate timeline where the space race got going in the 1950s. If you can call it a race without the Soviet Union, that is, but they are peripheral to the story.
No, the race here is between the male-dominated astronaut corps and the expectation of women – mainly relegated to being “computers” – that they should be allowed to join them. It’s a great story, with a LOT of technical details about flying, rocketry and orbital dynamics – and told from the point of view of Jewish woman and former war-time delivery pilot, who has a near-crippling anxiety problem. This humanises a story that might otherwise be cliched in terms of terrible puns about rockets whenever she and her engineer husband want to get it off, and some pretty cheesy descriptions of that activity too – to the point that I think the author wrote them like that as a parody of 1950s-type writing.
Funny, I got into huge trouble when I tried that…
I was enthralled by it, I loved the detail and the cameo appearances of actual astronauts – and I think it would make a great TV series or major film.
Boy’s Own Magazine Adventure! The Belt: The Complete Trilogy by Gerald M. Kilby (3 *)
…is how I can best characterise this series of three books. It’s a banging good adventure, reasonably thrilling, begins and ends reasonably well – and is demonstrably and obviously a newbie’s effort at hard science fiction, that does not quite make the mark.
It’s hard to describe, but it’s as if there’s a layer or two just missing. Something you’d expect to be there, but…isn’t. There’s not enough description of the milieu of the story; no technology is satisfactorily described; characterisation is relatively shallow and unconvincing, and the story really is a whiz! bang! pow! type of Dan Dare adventure from 40 years ago.
OK, it grips one a bit; it’s reasonably if a bit simplistically premised, and it isn’t an awful read. But now that I’ve stuck it out, like anything by Stephen Donaldson, I won’t go back.
So much war…Jupiter War (Owner Trilogy Book 3) by Neal Asher (4 *)
I have read this series with mixed feelings – because, on the one hand, I really like Neal Asher’s Polity series, and on the other, this is so insanely violent as to verge on the pathological.
Oh, it’s good, make no mistake: the action is unremitting; the writing is taut; the characterization is…OK, I suppose – and the story gallops along.
My problem with it is that the WHOLE story – and I go back to the first two books here as well – is really rather depressing. The world that Asher creates is cruel and bleak; the characters are not remotely likeable, and one is never sure whether or not the whole thing will just collapse in a welter of blood. And sharp bits of metal.
Yet…it’s good. It holds your attention, it ends satisfactorily, and (dare I say it) almost everyone-lives-happily-ever-after. Or again, possibly. I think I’ll have to go and re-read the first one, just to brush up on what happened. Which means the second one too. By which time, I’ll have forgotten the third, so…B-)
I was not expecting this…Spin (Book 1) by Robert Charles Wilson (5 *)
This was an amazing roller-coaster of a book: OK, it jumps all over the place, but eventually you get hold of the narrative, and – it is great! Reasonably ordinary people, dumped into a strange existence that is still oddly ordinary, with time racing past outside a bubble created by an unknowable alien presence…what’s not to like??
Wilson’s characterisations are great, his premises feasible if awe-inspiringly strange (he and Charles Stross should write a book together), and the book is LONG, which always pleases me because I read distressingly fast. I look forward to more of this universe!
Another chapter…Axis (Spin Book 2) by Robert Charles Wilson (4 *)
This is a great follow-up to Spin: it covers a shorter time span, less breadth of the Spin Universe, but goes into depth about what the Hypotheticals are, and how they interact with the universe – and with humans.
Because that’s the centre of the story: the boy who is made to interact with Hypotheticals, and ends up doing so – spectacularly.
I liked this book a lot. I am now going to binge on Number 3.
42: Vortex (Spin Book 3) by Robert Charles Wilson (5 *)
This is a great book, as well-written as its predecessors, with flawed but real characters, some mundane and some enormous concepts, and a fitting end to a saga.
This volume is a logical follow-on from Axis, though not from an angle you might have expected. It also jumps backwards and forwards across 10 000 years, as two different sets of people tell their stories, until….
Until Wilson takes us on a journey that is staggeringly strange, hugely vast, and utterly fascinating – literally encompassing Life, The Universe and Everything. And the answer is not 42.
I liked the original: “For Want of a Nail” by Mary Robinette Kowal (4 *)
The author gives us a story premised on an old saying, that involves legacy AI, euthanasia, and – a not particularly well worked out scenario that involves having to kill the AI. Spoiler. Sorry.
But then the author provides *another* story, from which this one was ripped, apparently, which I actually liked better. So OK, two for the price of one…I’ll take it!
Too short! Auberon (Expanse) by James S. A. Corey (4 *)
Just when you’re getting into it…it stops!! It’s a worthy addition to The Expanse, but it’s just too short. As well written as you might expect, it was just building into something, and – I hope we meet the Governor and the rest of the cast again. Interesting folk!
Long-range terraforming: Building Harlequin’s Moon by Larry Niven (& Brenda Cooper?) (4 *)
I bought this out of curiosity, as a long-time Niven fan, to see if it was better than some of his other more recent offerings.
It was. Good, but…flawed. For a book this long, a bit less conversation and a bit more backstory would have worked well – although Brenda Cooper’s contribution may have been to make female protagonists more real. IF there are to be sequels, then we can see what happened to Ymir and to Sol system – because we certainly have no idea after this one.
Some of the mechanisms used to advance the plot were also a little contrived. Glass tubes, that are breakable, having to be carried by people? In an environment where there are tugs that can move moons, and nanotech? And surely ceramic would have been better?
But anyway. It’s a good, pretty long story, with the interesting juxtaposition of people who can plan a 60 000+-year project, be around to carry it out, and…OK, you’ll have to read it to find that out. A good book – just not a Ringworld.
By her bootstraps…Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds (5 *)
One can get very confused, jumping backwards and forwards in time. One can also, given insufficient introduction, not quite know what the hell is going on at all. But – and this is an important but – here Alastair Reynolds manages to spin sufficient of a sparse web to allow the reader to just about grasp what is happening.
And it is complex, and one has to make a lot of assumptions about what one understands, and it is here that knowing something about Heinlein’s By His Bootstraps becomes quite apposite. Someone is sent back to make an aircraft flight, that leaves wreckage and a message that informs where a major installation will be established….
It’s clever. It’s sad. It’s very well written. I enjoyed it. And it REALLY isn’t much like anything else I’ve read by Reynolds, which shows his range.
This is NOT The Expanse…Lost: Zulu Universe Book1 by Sam Renner (2 *)
…or even close to it. Oh, it has potential – but there are so many jarring elements that stop me enjoying this, I can tell I’ll be reading the next one just because I bought it.
OK, what’s wrong:
1. The book has a space station at the edge of the GALAXY, hundreds of years (not specified how many) into the future. Meaning they would have had MORE than enough time for people NOT to be using paper, watches, cigarette rollers….
2. It reads like something from the 1950s dressed up for the 2020s, with NOTHING in the way of detail for how it is that people GET to the edge of the galaxy, why they would need to get beyond the edge to mine anything – or why there seem to be two nations in the old US and why they should be fighting.
Basically, it is an ambitious but unsuccessful attempt at a space opera.
String us along: String City by Graham Edwards (4 *)
This was…unexpected. I thought I was reading something else (by Alastair Reynolds), then by the time I discovered I wasn’t, I was hooked!
This is string theory meets LA detective noir; classic Old Gods vs each other, and our embittered gumshoe. And a most interesting mechanical man.
It’s very hard to peg down, and you shouldn’t bother, because it bounds along and takes you with it in a most entertaining way.
I hope to see more of String City!
Babylon’s Grind: Babylon’s Ashes – Book Six of the Expanse by James S. A. Corey (4 *)
I hate to say it, because I like The Expanse series so much, but this is another one like Cibola Burn: essentially a potboiler, there to keep the series going while the long story arcs get to where they’re supposed to, with some technological woo-woo to keep the good crew of the Rocinante confused.
I’ll still give it 4 stars, because it’s as well written as the others; I did NOT like the all-conquering ex-Martians, however. I do hope the next one’s better…?!
Yes, but…Tiamat’s Wrath: Book 8 of the Expanse by James S. A. Corey (3 *)
I have been waiting for this book.
Waiting IMPATIENTLY for this book. And it came, and…
Yes. Well. I am left as I was by Cibola Burn, which is “ho, hum, the story needed a potboiler, I suppose…”.
They’re not really getting anywhere, are they? I mean, we’ve had the threat of the things-between-the-gates for quite some time now, and while they’re now slightly better realised, they’re STILL not real.
So now I wait impatiently for the NEXT one – because I’m a fan, and a junkie, and I will ride this damn story till the END!!
What? Spiders?! Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky (5 *)
This is an extremely gripping book. The way it’s written – alternating chapters give you a view of both sides of any plot development – is great; the plot development is quite startling (there’s a great twist at the end), and you will never feel the same way about spiders again. Or ants. Tchaikovsky invents a whole biotechnology-based arachnid civilisation that is both fascinating and plausible, that I really would like to see more of. Superb book!
Tour de force! Children of Ruin (The Children of Time Novels) by Adrian Tchaikovsky (5 *)
I thought Adrian’s last book was good – but he’s outdone himself here. Not only has he teamed up humans (sorry, Humans!) and Spiders, but they discover two totally different sets of aliens, and…make it work!
He seems to have an ability to put himself into the brain(s) of whatever species he has invented, in a way that is better than just about anyone else I have read. Larry Niven did it well; AE van Vogt did it well once – and Adrian Tchaikovsky does it superbly well.
This book is great; the series (of 2) is wonderful. I look forward to reading more of him!
It grows on you: Ack-Ack Macaque -The Complete Trilogy by Gareth L. Powell (5 *)
I started the first book with no expectation other than a rollicking good yarn, as the old critics would have it. That’s exactly what I got, and I shrugged off some of the annoying discrepancies (macaques are not big enough to do most of what Ack-Ack did), and ploughed on, deeper into the increasingly marvellous atom punk world.
And on. And on. And suddenly it was the end of the second book, and things were far more complex than they had been, and it more than just a good jape with a monkey, that was a satire of the Battle of Britain.
The end is quite breathtaking. The complexity ramped up until it was easily as good as similarly universe-spanning books I’ve read recently, and I was left with regret once I’d FINALLY closed it off. Cracking good stuff!
From the Deep South: Austral by Paul McAuley (4 *)
A good book. Not a great one – it’s too simple for that – but a good book. Simply told, good twist in the tale, well imagined future – right down to the sleaziness, short-sightedness and pettiness of people and politics.
New Space Opera: The Wrong Stars by Tim Pratt (4*)
OK, maybe Space Operetta, if you’re accustomed to the scale and grandeur of Neal Asher’s Polity series, or The Expanse – but an excellent start! It’s well written, humorous, Politikally Korrekt in the gender spectrum, clever – and has the obligatory Ancient Enemy, cyborgs….
The only thing that didn’t satisfy as much as other Operas was the use of weapons: these hadn’t been thought through well, but it didn’t detract too much.
I look forward to the next one!
Schrodinger’s Yawn: Schrodinger’s Gat by Robert Kroese (3 *)
What’s that wonderful old English expression? “Too clever by half”. Yes, I understand enough physics to actually read and understand the otherwise mind-numbingly tedious deviations into quantum indeterminacy; yes, I have grimly waded through arguments on the existence or not of free will. Did I want them in a supposedly SF book I paid actual money for?
Look, it was a well-written, reasonably entertaining story, but it’s not one that I would ever read again, or recommend to anyone but the most theological of my friends.
The rediscovery of Cordwainer Smith. The Instrumentality of Mankind by Cordwainer Smith (5 *)
It was an unalloyed pleasure to find Smith again, close on 50 years after I started reading those wonderful Instrumentality stories – to find he had written more, different stuff that I had never read. And now I have. Truly, a brilliant, sensitive writer.