…SF addict …

Monday, December 20, 2010

Bob Shaw goes vertical!

I had planned to finish this book earlier but I got the flu with a raging fever and it knocked me sideways. As a result it interfered with my reading (amongst other things like work, and the kids) so a short novel ended up taking flipping ages! (OK 12 days!)
Anyhoo its basically a story about how the invention of personal flight suits years ago has given everyone their own personal freedom of the skies (theyre called CG harnesses-Counter Gravity which sounds a little like the devices Neal Asher describes in his books!)
Due to the easy availability and cheapness of such devices airline travel has been abandoned as no longer cost effective and the sky is full of people, navigating by glowing lines called Bilasers. Some businesses use the bilaser technology to advertise their product in the form of huge glowing ethereal banners-sounds a bit Bladerunner-ish!
Amongst all this is Air Police Officer Rob Hasson (Bob Shaw?) who due to an accident years before has had to hand in his CG harness and badge and try to hide away from the public eye, changing his name slightly. He moves to Canada where he meets another Air Police Officer (Werry) who knows Hasson from years before, and who takes him under his wing. There are funny episodes where Hasson gets to meet Werry's family who are less than taken with Hasson's stiff British ways! Werry also has a blind son who loves to idea of flying and looks forward to seeing again after a 2 year long medical procedure.
It turns out some young dudes are having drug parties on the roof of one of the buildings and generally causing havoc-the locals are unhappy with the way things are being handled and blame Werry before taking things into their own hands. Things come to a head and Hasson must prepare himself to resume his former duties.....
Its a short little tale (158 pages) and if this were any other author I would say nothing much happens in the book but it seeems Shaw enjoys injecting humour into his books. So even in scenes where nothing much IS happening things are enlivened by Shaw's cheeky humour and joie de vivre. I have this image of him smiling constantly while writing this book- a happy chappy indeed! I also discovered that it has an alternative title of Terminal velocity, which does sound a better title for an SF novel!

This is only my 3rd Shaw read (previous being Palace of Eternity and Fire Pattern) but it certainly wont be the last!!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Happy Birthday Sir Arthur!

Arthur C. Clarke would be 93 today (day after my own birthday!)
Now, I had planned to start reading his novel Childhood's End today but due to getting a bout of flu I haven't finished Bob Shaw's Vertigo yet(report on that book coming soon)
So, Happy Birthday Sir Arthur, you still manage to inspire from your place amongst the stars!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

People are dying to visit Earth in this book!

Cemetery World is a short 1973 novel by Clifford D. Simak.
Simak was born in 1904 and came late to SF, working as a newspaperman for most of life. Upon retiring he turned to writing and soon amassed a wealth of stories and novels.
Simak's fiction has been described as 'pastoral', focussing on and driven by the natural world. Often it is the environment in which the conflict occurs that takes centre stage rather than the event itself, with more of a human element than a technological one, and although I've only read a few of his works this impression does come across! When you consider the area in which he lived, (Wisconsin and Minneapolis) surrounded by fantastic scenery it is no wonder really!

In Cemetery World we discover a future Earth which has become the cemetery of the title, the richest people having their remains interred there. Along comes Fletcher Carson, his giant robot companion Elmer and a huge robotic creation called Bronco with a plan to create a mulitmedia work of art based around non-Cemetery parts of Earth. Carson seeks to find out as much as he can about the forgotten aspect of the planet but is met with opposition from the corporate leaders of Cemetery, and soon finds himself pursued by strange ghost-like beings and robotic wolves, determined to discourage Carson from his pursuit.

I read this a few years ago but it didnt make much impression on me. However this second time around I found it very engaging and am glad I kept the book on my shelf!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

AIs and Runcibe spoons ahoy!

Gridlinked is my second Neal Asher read-earlier in the year I read 2006's Prador Moon, but this book, though similar, is somewhat different. While that other book deals with the nasty crab-like Prador and the military's attempts to deal with them, this book is about an agent with the Earth Central Security (ECS), name of Ian Cormac. It dates from 2001 and is the first Cormack novel. I enjoyed Prador Moon immensely-it was all fast action, kill the bugs, get home safely kind of stuff, but Gridlinked is a much slower paced read. Both books feature similar technologies, AIs, runcibles etc, but Gridlinked focusses on Cormack's mission, chasing mercenaries (and one mercenary in particular) half way around the galaxy. The book has been described as a far-future James Bond type story but the story deviates from different viewpoints-that of Cormack and that of Pelter and co., and is less focussed on the agent himself. Basically people in this time have AIs implanted in their skulls, which gives them an interactive live network allowing them to recieve information instantly and act upon it. Unfortunately Cormack is instructed to disconnect himself from the 'grid' and so although the book is called Gridlinked, Cormack spends most of the time out of it!
I didnt enjoy the book as much as Prador Moon and a lot of that is to do with size-the books is 521 pages long and my reading time is scarce, and while the beginning is promising, the middle section seems to ramble a bit-for me there wasnt enough focus on Cormack. I wanted to see him kick ass and do his stuff but it was much more subtle. The last 200 pages picked up and I'm glad I stuck with it as it got quite interesting and 'fighty'. The only thing is towards the very end I found myself scratching my head-I wasnt sure just who or what the Dragon was and the Maker wasnt described at all-was he defeated, I'm not sure! Overall though a fun romp through time and space-(I could use one of them runcibles!)-but I found it just a little too long-350 pages would have sufficed or more stuff for Cormack to do in the middle would have been nice!

The next book in the Cormack series, Line of Polity, sounds quite different-I just have to find it in my library.....

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sticks and Stones....

Strength of Stones is an early SF novel by Hard SF author Greg Bear, and one which I thought I'd read years ago. I have a paperback copy on my bookshelf so I thought I'd reacquaint myself with it. Only trouble is upon reading it I didnt recognise any of it! Now Bear is one of those authors I've enjoyed in the past-his 1985 novel Blood Music is a tour de force piece, real movie material if ever there was one! (some argue its an early example of cyber Punk but I 'm not sure).
Strength of Stones however is a different kettle of fish! It was written only 4 years before yet it couldnt be more different in style. Basically it concerns a planet that aeons ago was settled and colonised by various religious groups-Moslems, Christians, Catholics, etc. They named the planet God-Does-Battle and it features cities that are sentient and that can move around the planet. Years after they were created by the architect Robert Kahn, the cities kicked out the humans on the ground they were unclean,impure; humans engaged in procreation and the computers that controlled the cities considered that a weakness, a failing. It all sounds good but well I struggled halfway through. The book has no chapters in the normal sense-it is divided into 3 parts, Part One, called Mandala, 3451 A.D.,  introduces some of the characters. Then after  54 pages and 10 years Part One ends and Part Two begins, new characters with no real explanation as to what happened to what I thought was the main character! Then follows a long mission to find out what happened to the cities, why the people were thrown out etc, and just who this Robert Kahn was. Then the next part begins 100 years later and that first 'main character' returns. That kind of left me scratching my head and I had to check the timeline again to make sure I'd read the dates right! This was undoubtedly a good story, full of big ideas, but well, the religion got in the way for me and when the book ended I was left thinking, what just happened?!
As I said earlier I've read and enjoyed quite a few Greg Bear books-he's one of the most highly regarded authors in the field (he's the nephew of Poul Anderson no less!) But I guess every author has an off day, and this was his! Plus it does date from 1981 and is only his second novel -before this one there is 1979's Hegira, another rites-of-passage tale on a strange world-and the first Bear book I read. (Near the start I mentioned that I didnt recognise the events in the book-I must have borrowed it from the library, tried to read it and lost interest!)

So if you've not read this author but would like to discover him ( a worthy exploit) I would recommend the afore mentioned Blood Music or Beyond Heaven's River. Many will say the Eon series but as I've yet to read those I cant comment. Oh and any fans of the Halo games might be interested to know that Bear has a novellisation planned for 2011!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Something Wicked This Way Comes

I've had this Ray Bradbury book on my shelf for a few years now and it being the Halloween season and the book being set in October  I decided to give it a read.

A mysterious carnival appears in a sleepy town one night and 2 young boys become involved in some strange goings on, but are unable to tell anyone because, well, its that tiome of year and theyre just a couple of young impressionable kids right?

The story itself is a fantastic idea, such potential for a great novel. Unfortunately Bradbury decided to dress up this 1963 novel with fancy prose and long sentences without any kind of punctuation at all interspersed with odd made up words and phrases that dont make sense! You can take a breath now!
In some ways the story  resembles something Stephen King might write-unfortunately he didnt write it!
Many praise this novel but for me its a case of a good idea spoiled by dodgy writing!

Oh, Happy Halloween / Samhain everyone!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Shunned House by Lovecraft

I've only read a few HPL pieces but this one is the creepiest so far! The story is about a house which, though not haunted is plagued by a strange events caused by some presence. Most of the original family that lived there, the Harris family, died one by one under strange circumstances until it was decided not to rent the house any further. Then, years later, our narrator takes up the case and begins to investigate this shunned dwelling, unearthing the secrets therein and finally deciding to do something about it. The first chapter read like an Introduction to the story; on the edition I read there was no Chapter 1, so when the 'Introduction' ends, which mentions a discourse with Edgar Alan Poe on the said house, I come to Chapter 2 and realise my mistake!
So it seems that the story is going to read like a documentary and in some ways it does (there is virtually no dialogue), but even so it is a creepy tale, one I can definitely recommend as an introduction to Lovecraft's work.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

This short tale was written in 1764 and  is the earliest piece of fiction I've read so far. The tale, concerning the heritage of a castle and the owner's dire need to keep it within his family,  is reckoned to be the first gothic horror. Funny thing is, apart from a few odd incidents there's little that says horror in this tale. Still it was entertaining enough, and despite its age very easy to read!

Now onto The Shunned House, a short tale by H. P. Lovecraft.

Monday, October 11, 2010

More early stuff, but not SF....

I've long had a fascination with gothic horror, Poe being the main target (the only author of such works I've read, till now!)
Anyway I found a lot of classics from Project Gutenberg and Manybooks.net and so downloaded a few to my reader.

First off I read Carmilla by Irish author J. Sheridan Le Fanu, which is a vampire story written before Bram Stoker's Dracula, and which probably influenced that author, and others!
It is the tale of a young girl living in a town in which a number of people have fallen foul of some strange illness. Later a young lady comes into the care of her family home, her name is Camilla and she has a strange secret....
I then read a couple of his other stories, Green Tea about a strange psychological transformation bought on by the imbibement of said liquid-though not nearly as exciting as it sounds! I followed this with Mr Justice Harbottle, a rather dull story from this  author about a judge who seems to go inexplicably insane! The language and grammar in these early works takes some getting used to, and the stories tend to begin with a long prologue in which the narrator explains his becoming aware of the events depicted within after receiving some manuscript or other communicationg-a common device in early fiction.
I then read my first Clark Ashton Smith story, The City of the Singing Flame,  an odd story of travel through time and space to another dimension. Its kind of a dark fantasy although reading it I got the impression the author was interested in science fiction as well as horror (he was known as a follower of H.P. Lovecraft). I found that story on a site devoted to the man: Eldritch Dark,The Sanctum of Clark Ashton Smith

I'm now about to read a short story by Ambrose Bierce called An Occurance at Owl Creek. Set during the American Civil War it concerns itself with Peyton Farquhar, a Confederate sympathizer condemned to death by hanging upon the Owl Creek Bridge of the title. However all is not as it seems.....

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Master of the World! Jules Verne's swan song!

"Let no one attempt to seize or stop me. It is, and will be, utterly impossible. Whatever injury anyone attempts against me, I will return a hundredfold.As to the money which is offered me, I despise it! I have no need of it. Moreover, on the day when it pleases me to have millions, or billions, I have but to reach out my hand and take them. Let both the Old and the New World realize this: They can accomplish nothing against me; I can accomplish anything against them. I sign this letter: The Master of the World."

Another good read from Verne! This one was his final novel written in 1904 and is actually a sequel to an earlier novel called The Clipper of the Clouds (aka Robur the Conqueror). I only discovered this when part way through I found out the name of the antagonist-Robur! The great inventor Robur zooms across the Americas in first a car that can travel at least 150 miles per hour, putting the current speed of about 80 m.p.h to shame in a car race! Then an equally fast boat is seen; later still a submarine, and then an airplane! The protagonist of this story, Strock, a police investigator, soon gets the idea that these 3 vehicles are one and the same.
In the previous story, Robur determined to show to the world that heavier-than-air craft was the way forward, and during an exposition in which a great air balloon was shown to the world, Robur produced his offering, a dirigible type craft propelled not by lighter-than-air gas but by engines with propellers (air screws), and with this he overtook the balloon causing its occupants to crash to the ground. This event is alluded to in this later work as a kind of re-cap. Not having read the earlier book it was a bit of a surprise but having said that I didnt feel that I should need to have read that earlier work-the work stands alone!
Anyway I found the book quite entertaining and fast paced  and is my third Verne novel so far.

My review of 20,000 Leagues under the sea can be found here

Monday, September 20, 2010

The wonderful naiveté of early SF

Anyone coming to vintage SF for the first time, that is stories from way before golden age, may get a few surprises! With the odd exception of works like Wells's The War of the Worlds one may appear to see bad science or incredible naivete! For example it seems everyone in 1900 expects to find water and vegetation on the Moon-and Mars of course is quite breathable, just a bit cold! Reading these stories today raises a chuckle or two- I mean just how could they imagine such 'silly' scenarios? But then one must realise that back then science was in its infancy-especially astrophysics! They didn't know what the moon was made of-even Clarke in his 1961 book A Fall of Moondust had to make an educated guess and got it slightly wrong! (great book by the way!) Of course I've always maintained that its not SF's job to predict the future!

But even so when you read these really early works set in space you can't help smiling!
The book I'm reading now, George Griffith's A Honeymoon in Space (1901) is a joyous romp into outer space aboard the ingeniously powered Astronef, first landing on the moon for breakfast. They have spacesuits (called 'breathing dresses'-how wonderful!) But to check for air the captain lights a match!

Later, when approaching Mars they make ready their revolvers, while still in space, just in case! And once on the red planet  the captain removes his helmet for a sniff! Going by what we know today I have to stop myself thinking that surely, if they had the technology to venture into space, and are aware of celestial mechanics,orbits and such, as indeed many of the authors were, then surely they would also have an inkling of the atmospheric conditions  of at least the moon!

Garrett P Serviss follows up Wells's book by visiting a lushly vegetated Mars peopled by 15 foot giant humanoids-totally in contrast to Wells's original concept! And a little later we have Edgar Rice Burroughs's Barsoom books which presents an image of Mars which is even further from the truth! The funny thing is that at the time they were seen as SF-but nowadays they read as fantasy-like Conan on another world!

Its fascinating how time, and progress, changes our perception of SF! (Incidentally, reading these early works does prepare you for their modern equivalent-Steampunk!)
Enjoy these books and stories, but keep the salt pot handy

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A return to Mars!

But not by Wells!
Edison's Conquest of Mars (1898)
This 'sequel to The War of the Worlds' was written in the same year as Wells' marvellous tale but by another author-Garrett P. Serviss.

Serviss was an astronomer and scientist who wrote many non-fiction works on astronomy, both for beginners and the more advanced astronomer-think of him as an early Sir Patrick Moore! (who himself has written SF!)
Anyway the premise of this story is that an American contingent decide to make a trip to Mars before the Martians can return for a second attack, and needing the ships to make the trip they turn to inventor Thomas Edison to design the ships- also serving as a pilot. On the way they make an odd discovery on an asteroid that would surely have a great effect on Earth's economy! Also they discover a race of giants living on a well known asteroid-very bizarre!
Despite the subtitle 'the sequel to H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds' the two novels couldn't be more different! While Wells's martians were 'mere round bodies with no arms nor legs-quite repulsive', Serviss describes them as giant humanoids 15 feet in height with larger heads, 4 limbs like humans,  the heads having odd bumps depending on their role-warriors or scientists, a deliniation that reminded me of the lives of Bees!
Also his Mars is a watery place not much different to Earth, rather than the dry barren world of the former book-in Serviss's book it is somewhat reminiscent of Edgar Rice Burrough's Barsoom.

Despite such differences and a certain naivete (the crew have no radio, and the individual ships must communicate with each other via flags and lights!) it made for a good read with decent science, and at times it is amazing that it was written before 1900!
If you fancy reading it you can get it here, free:
The copy I downloaded though, with images, had a glitch in as much as some of the images overlaid the text making it hard to read where such an image appeared-the html-ePub conversion being done with errors. Of course it is possible to get it without the images.

Friday, September 10, 2010

No-one would have believed.....

Just finished The War of the Worlds by H.G.Wells-and enjoyed it very much, as I knew I would, though I was quite surprised by the brevity of the novel, 164 pages in the collection I have it in (H.G.Wells, the Complete Fiction volume I)-I always imagined it would be a doorstop of a book!

We all are familiar with this story from the movies but how many have actually read the book? I have to say that no movie thus far produced is close to the ideas and story set forth in this book. The aliens themselves are described briefly in  passing with little detail yet are truly alien (no body, just a large round head with a large eyed face and a single large auditory receptor at the back) but it is the machines in which they ravage London and its surrounds that take centre stage. In the book, unlike the movies, they are gargantuan tripods, setting the earth afire with Heat Rays and black dust, trampling all underfoot somewhat in the manner of the At-Ats in Star Wars, only much larger!

At one point later in the story it almost becomes a last-man-alive story as our hero makes his way across a ravaged and dead London, all about him death and decay and the prospect of a lost humanity-quite eerie at that point! There's also a degree of scientific scrutiny-Wells was not just a fantasist-he knew his stuff, or at least where to get the latest scientific  information from, and used it well here. For a novel written in 1898 the depictions of events and of mars itself are quite relevant and accurate, given the state of scientific progress at the time! Mars is no wild frontier as found in Edgar Rice Burrough's adventures, but a cold, dusty world.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Purple Cloud by M.P.Shiel

This is a 'last man alive' story written in 1901 by English author Matthew Phipps Shiel (1865 -1947) but is also a story of paranoia and what changes come over a person when faced with the reality of loneliness.
(This is an e-book, downloaded from Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/11229 )

After earning a place aboard an expedition to reach the north pole, Adam Jeffson becomes isolated when one by one his team mates die, not from the cold but from some strange purple-hued vapour, notable for its smell of peach blossoms. As our explorer makes his way alone across the frozen wastes he encounters many ships, each one drifting aimlessly with dead crew-he eventually realises he is all alone!
He takes his ship, the Boreal, further and further south encountering further devastation eventually reaching England and his own home, now empty and cold. The bodies, both human and animal, he encounters are notable for being strangely preserved-(tied to the the unusual smell perhaps?)-there is no decay, no disease, just inanimateness all around!
With various methods Jeffson makes his way around the world, his manner and attire changing  as he goes.

I found the writing quite accessible for such an early book -some of the usage was a bit odd compared to modern English and I had to make use of the dictionary on my phone a few times but on the whole it was easily digestible,somewhat reminding me of Jack London, and I quite enjoyed it!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A new way to read books!

I finally got myself a book reader, purchased used from C-EX for £95. Normal price is £140 or £99 from Waterstones, if you can find any in stock!
(Well actually this will be my Christmas present, come early) ;)

Its a Sony PRS-300, their base model so theres no Wi-Fi or 3G, not that I need any of that! Its a book reader, it reads books, what other features do you need??
I've never tried one before and having read e-books previously on my phone or the Nintendo DS I had no idea what to expect. Unlike phones and such the screen is matt,a bit like a LCD TV screen, and rather than being backlit its rather like an old digital watch readout only MUCH much better! I tested it by opening the curtain when the sun came out and, well, it was just like a paperback-rather than blotting out the image as it would do on a phone, forcing you to cover the screen to see what was there, it just kind of made it easier to read! The technology in those E-ink displays is fantastic!
Also the device is very lightweight-just like holding a small paperback really! Also unlike a certain other reader it supports Epub format, so there's lots of free books for me to read from Project Gutenberg!
It can hold 350 books (based on a 1MB ebook-many are much smaller files!) with 6800 page turns-thats 2 weeks of reading on one charge, or 10-15 books!!
Currently reading  The Purple Cloud by M.P.Shiel on it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

2010 a Clarke Odyssey continued

A while ago I planned to  read 2001 A Space Odyssey up to the point where something happens to one of the crew. (Spoiler evasion for those who havent read it),then I would  jump to 3001 the Final Odyssey to continue his story. When done I'd jump back to the rest of 2001 and then end the journey with 2010,Odyssey II-the year we make contact-marking this year's SF coincidence nicely! Well I'm part way through that journey now and its been fun, and even though I've read 2001 countless times I never tire of it!
Open the pod-bay doors HAL!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Tau Zero by Poul Anderson

I just read this novel and I can honsetly say  this is my kind of SF! Sure there are one or two head-scratching moments (SQR) I-v2/c2 where v=the ship's velocity and c=speed of light)  but you can let them ride over your head and enjoy what is essentially a human story; it sounds like a corny back-of-the-book blurb but it is a story of a voyage, a journey across time and space, a story of teamwork and the rewards it brings. But also it is, as a fellow Goodreads contributor, mindblowing!
Basically 50 men and women are chosen for a mission to find a new home around a star in Virgo, and to do so they must travel at as close to c as possible-they gradually get faster and faster but then the ship Leonora Christine, develops a fault meaning they will be  unable to decelerate should they reach their destination. They build up a huge velocity and see the universe around them evolving at a staggering rate-months pass on the ship while millenia pass by outside. When the fault is discovered they face a decision, keep speeding ahead in the hope they find a new home eventually or give up and commit mass suicide-it is essentuially a story of survival against the odds.

It is huge conceptually and yet it makes for compelling reading. Definitely a keeper and the kind of book to get you back into SF if you've been away from it!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Second Variety by Philip K Dick

Just read this as a webpage on my Blackberry (downloaded from Project Gutenberg) Second Variety at Project Gutenberg
Basically its kind of a cold war scenario story but set in the future with once again the Russians depicted as the bad guys (yawn)
The story itself is actually quite good and was published in May 1953, an early piece of PKD before he discovered drugs and messed his stories up.
 Basically its one of Dick's many stories in which nuclear war has left  the Earth's surface as an uninhabitable, gray ash pile, and the only things remaining are killer robots called 'Claws'.

The header of the story reads:
The claws were bad enough in the first place—nasty, crawling little death-robots. But when they began to imitate their creators, it was time for the human race to make peace—if it could!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Free book!!

Now this is cool! You buy issue 198 of SFX and there's a voucher inside. Take it to Waterstones and you can claim a free pb copy of House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds! That'll do me!

Free book with SFX #198

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Now onto a classic by English author Brian Aldiss. I read this book some years ago and I believe I enjoyed it. Written in 1960, originally as a magazine series it was re-issued by Penguin last year and so I bought a copy from Waterstones, and now its time for a re-read!
Basically its about the Earth a million years from now, when it has stopped spinning and is tidally locked with the moon, and in fact connected to the moon by giant spider webs.
The main group of organisms in the book are the plants-it is like being in a giant

greenhouse, with insects crawling all over it and humanity stuck in the middle, no longer the dominant species.

When you read about it it does sound like fantasy but when you actually read it you realise it is SF, just very out there SF! And who knows what the world will be like in a million years time!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Moon is Hell!

Not been reading much of late, got kind of bored with SF, and being rather busy and fed up of the heat,the World Cup and annoying  chavvy neighbours - I  needed a break, and it took me ages to re-read Rendezvous with Rama. I've also been busy with photography and other things, and have been working on a few other blogs.
But now I'm back on the horse as it were and am going to start on a slim paperback by the late great John W. Campbell Jr.
Who you may ask? Well some may know him as the editor of Astounding Science Fiction back in the 1930s and 40s and as promoter of  early SF in general, garnering the likes of Asimov and Heinlein. But he was also a damn good SF writer himself! He wrote a story called Who Goes There-many may be familiar with the 1981 John Carpenter film The Thing, which was based on that old story!
Anyway this book (awful cover pic!) concerns itself with a moon mission and was written in 1951, taking the form of a journal, with chapters being like diary entries. Could be fun....

Fun it wasnt-far from it in fact! I found it very dull and boring  as there is no dialogue or character interaction at all. I got halfway through and had had enough!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Discovered authors: 2009

Here is a list of authors that were new to me last year,in alphabetic order, quite a few actually, and many I want to revisit sometime! (See the links on the left of the homepage for websites pertaining to each author, a link added as I read an author.)

Iain M Banks-I always imagined that Consider Phlebas, his first SF novel, would be hard going and so put off reading it for years but you know what, it was quite easy reading and well, was rather superb! Will definitely revist this author-his space opera depiction is lavish with great characters!
Samuel R Delany- a classic author but not one I was familiar with, and I picked up The Jewels of Aptor from a second hand book store not knowing it was his first novel! I didnt know what to expect and well, I was a bit non plussed. It was an ok story but read very much like a fantasy author trying to do SF. Will look out for his later novel Nova though.
Joe Haldeman-this is an author I'd never heard of, but I read a review of  The forever War on the SFF Chronicles forum and tracked down a copy from the library. Many compare it to Starship Troopers but well I've never read that Heinlein book and the film was, well, OK I suppose. But Forever War is a superb example of Military SF.
Jack London-I'd heard things about this vintage author and I'm sure I'd seen a film of White Fang years ago but never came across any of his books anywhere! I got a copy on The 100 Classic Novels on the Nintendo DS and read it, finding his knowledge of dog behaviour to be enlightening! Great story telling too, in this and the novella Call of the Wild.
H P Lovecraft- a much hyped and oft talked about author of surreal horror-I'd been dying to find an example of his stuff for years and finally found a copy of Dagon and Other Macabre Tales to read. Not brilliant to be honest, probably because I was expecting the scary Chthulu stuff and this book was nothing of the sort. It was good, some neat stories but only one pearler (Herbert West-re-animator, a must read!)
Still hunting for some Chthulu!
E.E."Doc" Smith-Smith is a classic SF author, widely held as the father of space opera, without whom etc etc. I had a few of his Lensman books on my shelf but wanted to go to the start and so tracked down a copy of Triplanetary, and was rather disappointed! OK so its a book put together in the 1920s and so I can forgive the maybe sexist and puritanical attitude which was prevalent at the time but what I couldnt forgive was the lack of excitement! I was expecting so much and got so little. Oh well, I've been told things do pick up later in the series so onto the next Lensman book sometime....
Jack Vance-another author I'd heard lots of stuff about and so was interested in but never actuall read. I have a set of his  "Planet of Adventure" books on my shelf but wanted to read the widely lauded Emphyrio instead, and kind of got to wishing I hadnt bothered! The first half plods along,and reads very much like a fantasy, which put me right off as I was expecting SF! The second half gets going and some SF elements are introduced but for me it was too little too late.

Well thats my list from 2009;so far this year there's only been two new SF authors - Neal Asher and Ursula (K) Le Guin. Here's to more discoveries!
*Incidentally clicking on my Labels will take you to the work by the author mentioned, handy tool!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Rendezvous with Rama

Just began this last night-I've read it at least twice before but it remains a classic!
Basically a large body,presumed to be an asteroid, is discovered near Jupiter in 2131 and gven the designation 31/439 after the year of discovery and order of discovery.
However upon further probing by earth and space based telescopes it is discovered that the object is an unusal asteroid. For a start it is doesnt have a regular orbit, is about 40 kilometeres across and yet has a rotation period of about 4 days! The object is spinning very fast!
Soon it is given the name Rama after a Hindu god and an expedition is sent out to meet it and find out just what it is....
I first read this many years ago and although it was written in 1973 it remains compelling with good science and not bad characters.
There were 3 sequels to the book but really you don't need to bother (indeed some will say you shouldnt bother, as they're mostly written by Gentry Lee) but this fine book stands the test of time and deserves to be appreciated in its own right!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Exiled on a cold planet

Just finished reading Planet of Exile, a book by Ursula K Le Guin, and part of her 'Hainish Cycle' from the 1960s

This was my first encounter with Le Guin and although its a short book (126 pages) it was a struggle to finish to be honest!

Basically its set on a planet that has a strange cycle in which each year is sixty earth years and days are counted in Moonphases-the moon and the planet are locked in a strange cosmic dance and the whole system travels around the sun once in 60 years. The start of the year is a long springtime and at the end a harsh winter comes, the snow falling so heavily as to render the landscape a total white out.
There are snowghouls out there (which we never get to meet) and the mysterious Graal which, at the end of each year travel up from the south and invade the natives who form the focal point of the story. The people are divided into two groups; the natives (the hilfs) and the colonists from Earth (Farborn) who arrived at the planet aeons ago and are black skinned-not sure if that is meant to be significant but maybe it was some political statement from the 60s. When the Earth colonists first discovered the natives they named them HILF, an acronym of High Intelligent Life Form-it sounds very SF but the book is more like fantasy with magic and mindspeech rather than tech and telepathy.

It all sounds promising but her writing style in this book is somewhat clunky and odd in parts and the characters just not that interesting or engaging. Just not a lot happened really! This one will be going back on Bookmooch.

I have City of Illusions and Left Hand of Darkness on my shelf too-just hope things improve with those two.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Techno astronomy!

I took a photo of the Moon and Venus last night from the back garden, hand held, and then thought, hmm, a bit late for Venus surely.

So then having uploaded the image I remember I had Google Sky Maps on my G1 phone so booted it up, and sure enough....

Friday, April 9, 2010

Iain Banks's study

Just found this cool video on the tube of you-great stuff!

Monday, April 5, 2010

I got fooled!

I received a link to a cool and fun piece of 2001 memorabilia and I thought, hmmm I want that!
Today my other half checked it on the PC, looking to maybe getting it for me to discover it was an April Fools!


I love this from the site:

"Deep in the heart of Aisle 7 (the action figure aisle), all throughout the 70's, 80's, and 90's, something waited. No one knew it was there, until toy stores began their turn of the century renovations. Then the Monolith Action Figure was discovered (the first given the name "TRU-1"). What was it for? Where did it come from? Why wouldn't its barcode scan? No one knew. And no one knows to this day."

Sunday, March 21, 2010

2010 a Clarke Odyssey!

Continuing to mark the passing of my favourite author and science writer I'm reading his 2001 anthology The Space Trilogy. This contains 3 early novels, the first of which is 1952's Islands in the Sky which I read last year and you can read about Here

It also contains The Sands of Mars which is one of the few novels of Clarke's I've never read! I read somewhere that Jimi Hendrix really 'dug' this 1951 book! Martin Gibson is a science fiction writer and he decides to spend his money on a trip to the red planet which is now becoming colonised. Gibson seems lacking in knowledge of space travel and how things work up there and so Jimmy, a young apprentice, is assigned as Gibson's teacher as it were. The two become friends and soon Gibson is accepted as part of the group (at first he is looked down upon, as just another writer of space adventures). He is invited along on a mission across the planet in a jet and after an accident discovers something going on and decides to investigate. It seems there are plans afoot that could affect the future of both Earth and Mars.
 Sands is a great little story but you can really tell its an early Clarke! Apart from Mars's strange (to us) geology, sorry aerology, it was notable for me in using the old form of the word connection, with an x! I think the last time I saw the word 'connexion' was in a Dickens novel!
Still, all good stuff with drama (a sandstorm), adventure (young Jimmy being amazed by Mars's aerology) and humour, not to mention a bit of relationship controversy!

The final book is Earthlight from 1955 which I read a couple of years ago and which depicts an early space battle on the moon!
The volume itself contains some interesting side pieces-a general introduction written in 2001 and Forwards by Clarke and others.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A tour of Arthur C Clarke's office

I just came across this and thought I'd share it on this day, the second anniversary of the great man's passing-I will admit it brought a tear to my eye!

Arthur C Clarke's Office: Colombo,     Sri Lanka from Sam Coley on Vimeo.

Farewell Sir Arthur!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Time for some Aldiss stories

Last night I began reading The Canopy of Time, a collection of 11 stories from 1959 (previously known as Galaxies Like Grains of Sand). This NEL edition from the '70s has a rather nice Bruce Pennington cover.
To quote Aldiss "they are all slices off the enormous carcass of the future, arranged chronologically from a date a century or two ahead, right up to the end of the galaxy"
The stories tentatively chronicle the future of mankind, short pieces between each story forming a tenuous connection.
The first one, Three's A Cloud, didnt really impress me-I think it just went over my head. It seemed to be set in present time and was about a quiet,semi reclusive guy who uncharacteristically befriends a couple he sees in a pub, and it seems he and they are a gestalt entity-very strange!
The next one, All The World's Tears was much more satisfying, being about a far future time in which mankind has turned against Nature and now everything from the bee's pollination to the weather is minutely controlled, and people have become afraid of one another. Unable to breed normally they use a Mating Centre. One man rebels...
Who Can Replace a Man? portays a future of sentient serving machines in which man is dying out. It poses a question, if a machine fails it can be replaced, but if a man dies, well, who can replace a man?
The next story, Blighted Profile concerns Chun Hwa, an old man living in a post apocalyptic era longing for better,greener times. There are time machines but they can only take you to the past. Hwa is determined to visit the future at any cost…
Judas Danced was an odd one! I was scratching my head thru it until I neared the end and I had an 'Oh I see!' moment! Basically its about Alexander Abel Yo,a guy accused of murdering Parowen Scryban over and over, each time the victim is restored to life by using the time machines. Abel Yo's depiction is quite bizarre and I kept thinking, is he mad or was Aldiss on drugs or what? Very confusing until the very end.
The eponymous character in O Ishrail! tells of how he is witness to an alien race and how a war is being waged in a neighbouring galaxy. No-one believes his story and, considered insane he is taken aboard a Mental Hospital ship. Only one man, Davi Dael believes Ishrail, but how to prove the man's story?
Incentive follows on from where O Ishrail left off, albeit with different characters (and lemmings!)
Ferro Westerby is part of the Isolationists, a group fihting to keep Earth independant of the Multi-Planet Federation. An almost unpronounceable Jandanagger Laterobinson is the enigmatic leader of the Federation and he sets out to convince Westerby that it is in Earth's best interest to become a part of the Galactic group. Laterobinson's race speak a language called Galingula which is also a method of travelling thru the galaxy. Parts of this story are reminiscent of Asimov's Foundation unfortunately, with political rangling which goes over my head! And one scene reminded me of a scene from the Lawnmower Man or the Matrix-Laterobinson has a device that the user wears like a helmet and it allows the wearer to enter a different world-it is like an early description of Virtual Reality! Sounds great but this being an Aldiss story its all vague ideas with little substance. Nothing concrete.
Gene Hive is much better. A man is injured and a woman doctor comes to his aid. In doing so they meld into one another,and then begin absorbing other people (and animals) into a large amoeba-like entity. But only those humans who believe themselves to be part of nature can be absorbed;only those who know the language of Galingua. A very odd story that somewhat reminded me of Greg Bear's excellent novel Blood Music
Secret of a Mighty City was one of those neither here or there stories, rather like water-tasteless- only unlike water its not essential to life!
Basically it was about a 3D film-a Solid- being made about the city Nunion (in previous stories the city was called Union, then New Union) but nothing really happens and I was left feeling, What was the point of that?? Great title, pointless story!
The penultimate story, They Shall Inherit was one of the better ones! It concerns an age in which genetic modification is commonplace and presents two different characters. Tedden,on Earth is experimenting on enhancing humans, and Djjket, part of another faction off world experimenting on animals. Each finds the others work repulsive and morally wrong-Tedden shows the other a creche in which new born babies are able to stand upright, while Djjket has a 'portcase' which is like an automaton derived from camel genes. Each is shocked by what they see. The story builds until a very dramatic and disturbing conclusion, which reminded me of something from Tales of the Unexpected, or a story you might find in a horror compilation,perhaps by Ramsey Campbell or Ray Bradbury. The amazing part is that this story was writteen in the 50s and yet clearly Aldiss shows us the inner workings of genetic material with a hint of the DNA structure! All new and exciting back in the day! Very good that one!
The final Visiting Amoeba,is by far the longest and in fact is better described as a novella-it is divided up into 8 chapters! Basically a man comes across a strange planet between galaxies where space should be empty,and then dies. The new man then goes on a mission to warn the humans of an impending event-the only way to do this is to rally opposing forces to unite against a 'common enemy',which is really a trick to get both sides united in a common front to resolve this event. Its a hard story to review without giving too much away and is rather quite good- I felt that this one would have made a good novel.
The collection over all is quite uneven,some stories rather bland,some quite good,and insightful for 1959.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Another DNF!

That is, Did Not Finish!
This time I'm really annoyed with myself because its an Alastair Reynolds novel!
I picked up his 2007 novel The Prefect from the library as others had said good things about it, so I thought I'd give it a go. At first it sounded interesting but it soon became apparent that were was a lot of politicing in the novel, centred around the Panoply, which is kind of an ethical policing group. At first I thought, ah that sounds like Neal Asher's Polity, but in this case its all talk, no action.
I hate not being able to get into a book but at page 90, with the thought of another 300 odd pages to go, I just couldnt go any further, I'd had enough. Not only is there a lot of politics involved but also diverse threads that I just couldnt get a handle on.
I was looking forward to another AR book because,unlike many, I thought his 'Pushing Ice' was superb-must re-read that!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My first story!

An idea came to me one night while walking the dog. I've always loved trees and there is a long tradition of creepy stories concerning them,and I came up with my own....
I Don't Have a Wooden Heart

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Island life...

Next up, a book by Greg Egan, an Australian  author I've tried before but failed. (Permutation City, need to re-try that one)
This one, Teranesia, is about a tiny island and a 9 year old boy named Prabir Suresh, and his discoveries there. His parents are entomologists studying the buttterflies on the island but the boy, bored, begins to imagine his own creatures living there. Years later his younger sister Maddy returns with news of strange new insects and plants on the island, and Prabir, now an adult, must investigate...
Strange cover by Rebecca Devereux, not the best I've seen!
Cant quite pin this book down-its not SF even tho its set partly in 2012, but its not fantasy either, and yet its not quite a contemporary novel. I suppose one could categorise it with the likes of Empire of the Sun, I'm not sure.
It is an enjoyable story though, very much easy reading-so far...
One interesting thing about this book is it was originally published in 1995, before the internet was established (wasnt that 1997?), and yet the author describes the net, websites, message boards and laptops!
Well I'm just past halfway thru and I'm bored! Sure this one is easy reading but its just so well, dull! I find myself constantly waiting for something to happen!
Time to crack out a Alastair Reynolds book I borrowed from the library!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Watch out for flying Crab paste!

Finally, I get to read a Neal Asher book! I've been dying to get hold of one of these books for ages but my library never had any in, or if they did it was one novel and it didnt hang around, and I'd be already in the middle of a book so wouldnt get another book out. Yesterday though it all came together. Nothing reading and a trip to the town library. I'd checked on the library's website the night before and amazingly 3 novels were listed as On Shelf-could it be? Was my library actually going to prove useful?
Indeed  it was! The library had had a facelift with a new expanded SF section (listed as rack one:Science Fiction, rack two, Paranormal Fiction, rack 3 Fantasy etc, even though all the books were just listed alphabetically and by Dewey numbers.) Anyway, there at the start under A, was Aldiss, Asimov and Asher! Big bold hardbacks, 3 in a row (a third one was found on its own further down, the collection 'The Gabble and Other Stories' which I might just have to buy!) Eyeing up the weighty tomes I decided on the slimmest as an introduction to the man's work-reading time is precious and slim for me! And so I came out with Prador Moon, which as it turns out is the first in the Polity series, published in 2006!
I say I was tentative in choosing which one to read but having already read about Mr Asher's books in reviews on the SFF Chronicles forum, (he is a member there) as well as on Fantastic Fiction ,not to mention the author's blog, The Skinner, I felt pretty sure I wasnt gonna be disappointed, and after just one chapter I can happily report I was right! This is fast paced gripping stuff, very 'now', very big and very fun!
BTW, if you're wondering about the crab reference, well the Prador are described as large,crab like aliens, rather nasty in fact!
I believe things get a bit gory later on too-I shall report.....
Well, after 4 days I finished the book which is incredibly fast for me-just shows how un-put downable it is! Excellent story, will definitely be reading more by this author!
And yes, it got a bit gory ;)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

'My' town in print!

Earlier when reading a story in The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction (Solaris, 2007) called 'Third Person' by Tony Ballantyne I did a double take at the mention of my adopted town name:
"Hey!" he said, turning to the young couple at the next table. "Is that a north eastern accent?"
"Yes," said the young man delightedly. "We're from Darlington."
"What a coincidence! My grandparents were from Darlington. I used to go there as a child. Is that shop still there on the High Street? The one that sold all those nice sweets?"…
Well i'm not sure which shop is referred to but there is no High Street as such. There is a High Row however, which is like the open shopping arcade in the town centre with a row of shop, and steps leading to the road cum bus route. The author hails from Bolton which is not too far from here so maybe he visited the area some time!
Who else has fallen upon their town or village name in a story or book?

Monday, February 15, 2010

A change from SF and a Nazi surprise!

I'm nearly halfway thru The Keep The Keep by F. Paul Wilson. Its my first book by him (the author's first novel, writt in 1981) and its rather good sofar!
Basically its about a fort in Romania that is occupied by the German soldiers in 1941 under Captain Woermann, and is used as an outpost to keep an eye on the distribution of fuel; i.e. to make sure they get most of it! Anyway someone, or something is killing off the soldiers one at a time, at night, and so an S.S. officer is called in to investigate. Woermann is unhappy with the Nazi regime and despises the methods used by the S.S. to get information from the villagers, not to mention their treatment of the Jewish community! This creates tension between the two men as well as a nice conflict in the story as a background to the other nasty stuff going on. I'm kind of thinking, what's worse, this beast on the loose or the SS!
Apparently a movie was made of this book but I've never seen it and it seems it never got put onto DVD-the only DVD copies are bootlegs!

Monday, February 1, 2010

2001 on Blu Ray!

I'm really pleased to have this! Not only do I now have the film in Hi Def but also there's all the extras. There's the Making Of with contributions aplenty from Clarke, Kubrick, Trumbull, even Keir Dullea is in there sharing his thoughts on playing Dave!
Theres also features on how filmmakers have been inspired by the film, and Kubrick's vision, as well as an audio interview with Kubrick made in 1966! Superb!

Its about Time!

Next up 'The Masks of Time' by Robert Silverberg! Its been ages since I read any Silverberg, and this is a book from 1968, re-released in 2002 as part of Gollancz's Collector's Series with some neat Jim Burns artwork.
Basically its about a guy named Vornan 19 who appears out of nowehere in Rome on Christmas Day 1998-the book begins in 1999 on the eve of the Millenium and a little back story is explained. The visitor claims to be from a thousand years in the future and his arrival, stark naked, in Rome, near Christmas, causes quite a stir...

I didnt finish this book-just couldnt get into it,too much waffle!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A better SF mag!

OK so I'd read a bit of SFX but got fed up with all the vampire/werewolf and zombie references-It may be a one off duff issue but where's the SF guys?? Anyway I came across Sci-Fi Now in Smith's and bought a copy. Its early days yet but it looks much more like kind of thing. It has SF in it for a start and even references a well known SF classic-Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card which is on my wishlist. Its not as good as Deathray but its not bad!
I even joined the forum!
Sci-Fi Now Forum

Monday, January 25, 2010

Bring on the Deluge!

and so onto book three, which compared to the previous 2 books is nearly new- it says on the cover First UK edition and I was missing this final book for years-I managed to get this one  from Bookmooch.com!
This book begins by seeming a lot more SF than the previous two as it mentions other worlds in the Humanx Commonwealth including the planet Moth which features in one or more of his Pip and Flinx novels!

Well what a ride! This one is definitely more SF than the previous 2.

The Tran, the natives of the planet Tran ky-ky, are a race of cat/bearlike beings (they are referred to as being Felursine) living on a planet formed largely of ice, with virtually no metal so therefore seem rather medieval. They've never seen a space ship till Ethan Fortune and his crew crash land on the planet in the first book, so things move along very much how a fantasy series does-until this third book comes along! I wont reveal anymore so as not to spoil it but it was a great finish, with a nice surprise for Ethan!
Good one!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

End of Deathray magazine!

Oh man, just as I find a good SF magazine it folds! :

"British science fiction magazine Death Ray is to cease publication after its 21st issue (October 2009). The news broke today that due to the credit crunch and the separation of the magazine's publishers, Blackfish, from their parent company, Rebellion, it was no longer viable to carry on with either Death Ray or its sister magazine, Filmstar. However, there is a very slim ray of hope that another company may pick up the magazine, or the publishers may be able to remount publication at some point in the future.
Death Ray launched in May 2007, just one month after Imagine Publishing's SciFiNow. The near-simultaneous launch of two new SF magazines was a surprising move, since Future's SFX had been the sole science fiction glossy magazine on the shelves for some considerable time, whilst two older SF titles, TV Zone and Starburst, had both folded in 2008."

Friday, January 15, 2010

Moulokin Rouge

and book two is Mission to Moulokin, which I began last night. The original book was written in 1974 and this sequel was published 5 years later. Unlike the first volume there's a map which makes it look even more like a fantasy (was Foster thinking of 'Spellsinger' at the time?)
Another great adventure with Ethan From Fortune and friends. One thing about these books I've noticed is that the subject in the title, in this case the city of Moloukin, doesnt feature until we're well past the halfway mark, but even so the books are quickly paced and make for fun reading, especially if you dont mind fantasy-hard SF fans probably wont get as much out of the books as they might from say Alastair Reynolds or Stephen Baxter but theyre worth a read I think.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A slice of Ice

Next up the first of a trilogy by Alan Dean Foster. Icerigger has been on my shelf for ages now and I finally managed to find book 3 so now I'm going to delve into the world of Ethan Frone Fortune, and his sidekick Skua September on the planet called Tran-Ky-Ky which has a trading outpost called Brass Monkey! Sounds fun!
WellI finished the book yesterday (14th Jan), and it was another fun journey thanks to Mr Foster! The cover calls it 'space opera' but I wouldnt use that definition for this book-its more a planetary adventure, a voyage of discovery that reads rather like science fantasy a la Anne McCaffrey's Dragons Dawn (1988). In other words its like a fantasy adventure with SF elements. Overall, very good and now onto book two....