…SF addict …

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A big idea Elevated

It is the 22nd century,and high profile engineer Vannemar Morgan's latest project is a 24,000-mile-high space elevator to link Earth to the stars. But first he must solve a million technical, political, and economic problems... while allaying the wrath of God. For the only possible site on the planet for Morgan's Orbital Tower is the monastery atop the Sacred Mountain of Sri Kanda, home to buddhist monks for 500 years....

Clarke describes the location perfectly, but then we would expect that seeing as he based the location on his home Sri Lanka! The elevator itself is made possible by a technological breakthrough involving exotic materials based on carbon atoms arranged in a special lattice, rendering mere threads stronger than steel. And so over many years his project takes shape...

The interesting thing is, although this was penned in the 70s (based on a russian idea from the 60s) this is perfectly feasible due to the discovery of such a compound known as Buckminster-Fullerine, named after its discoverer, and there are scientists hoping to perfect this idea in the future!
The story evolves from a tale of monks and scientists and moves along smoothly into a kind of techo thriller,all the while providing snippets of ancient history- after all part of the story is based on real events!

The book itself I bought many years ago for £5 from a second hand book market somewhere, and is a first edition Gollancz with dust wrapper.

 Hope everyone has a merry christmas and a prosperous New Year!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Happy Birthday Sir Arthur C. Clarke!

It was my birthday yesterday, and today the man who woke me up to SF and the glories of space travel would be 95 ! May you continue to rest in peace Sir Arthur! I shall pick something of his to read today...

Sunday, December 9, 2012

RIP Sir Patrick Moore!

I just found out he has  died aged 89, peacefully  in his own home.

I've been watching The Sky At Night for as long as I can remember-he inspired me to go out even with just  binoculars, no matter how cold it was. Its like losing an old friend!
He will be sadly missed!

RIP Sir Patrick
Sir Patrick Alfred Caldwell-Moore, CBE, FRS, FRAS (4 March 1923 – 9 December 2012)

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Enemy Stars, Poul Anderson (1959)

4 men  are signed up for a mission aboard a ship destined for Alpha Crucis. The ship is already in deep space but there is a device to transport them instantly to wherever the ship is, kind of like Star Trek's Teleporters. There is an error in the ship's computer sending it to a dead star, long since gone nova, and so it becomes a tale of survival. In some ways this book, previously serialised in Astoundning magazine as 'We Have Fed Our Seas' (a line from a Kipling poem) is similar to his later Tau Zero, which I enjoyed.
Once again Anderson fails to disappoint with a gripping, if short piece of Hard SF!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days by Alastair Reynolds

This is a book containing two novellas by this author, set in his Revelation Space universe.
For those unfamiliar with Mr Reynolds he is a British former scientist, once part of the European Space Agency, who gave up scientific research to write SF full time.

In the first story, Diamond Dogs, we have two main characters, Richard and his lifelong friend Roland Childe. The two have enjoyed presenting each other with challenges all their life but Roland was assumed dead years age, but one day  Roland approaches Richard with a new challenge. At first Richard isnt interested, he's grown past all that but as Roland fills him in about this latest endeavour he finds it hard to resist and so accepts the challenge.
 The object of Roland's strange desire is an alien artifact called The Blood Spire, a vast tower floating about the surface of a planet they travel to from Chasm City. The tower consists of a series of rooms, each requiring a test to complete before allowing access. Roland assembles a team including Richard's former wife, chosen for her innate logical ability, who was also believed dead.
The puzzles get more and more difficult, each wrong move punishing the team harder and harder, until blood is spilt, and limbs are lost. One member of the team is Doctor Trintignant, an expert doctor and cyberneticist, infamous for conducting horrific medical experiments on allegedly unconsenting subjects, and he helps patch the team up as they are injured. Not only do the tests become harder but the doorways become narrower, forcing the team to remove their armour....

This is a kind of maze-of-death story but also very much cutting edge hard SF, somewhat akin to Iain M Banks or Neal Asher, but heavier on the science, and is my favourite of the two.

Turquoise Days is a different kettle of fish. Basically Naqi and her sister are part of a team conducting research on the Pattern Jugglers, strange etheral beings that live in the sea of the planet Turquoise in places called Nodes. Naqi loses her sister near the start as she swims with and is absorbed by them, and Naqi must continue without her. 2 years later a ship arrives bringing deligates from another world who have an interest in a moat that Naqi and her team are building around a Node. Naqi has not swam with the Pattern Jugglers since her sister's death but is suddenly forced to once more, to communicate with her absorbed sister...

An interesting story with a science fantasy feel, Naqi travelling about the world in dirigibles rather than rocket ships-it has a more 'earthy' feel about it, while still being very much future SF.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement (1954)

This is a book about a salvage operation on a very unusual planet.
Mesklin is a disc-shaped world, the disk bulging out at the poles, rather like ()
But also there's a strong gravity differential between the rim and the poles. At the world's edge the gravity is about 3 times that of Earth's- tough going but manageable to the human crew. But at the poles it is many hundreds times that of Earth, crushing to any human, literally. The native inhabitants are rather like large centipedes, with flattened bodies and multiple limbs-this helps them to cope with the strong gravity at the poles. These inhabitants are traders, and sail across their world in a ship called the Bree, trading goods with whatever races they happen across. At some point there was a mission from Earth, and one of the crew's rockets, containing expensive cargo and equipment, worth billions, crash landed at one of  the poles. Of course the humans are unable to go to the site as they would be crushed, and so they enlist the aliens they find there, whose bodies are designed to withstand the high gravity.

When the book opens the human crew have been at Mesklin for quite some time already and the language barrier has been crossed; the two races communicating via 'vision sets' provided by the humans. The Mesklinites continue with their trading operations, while also helping the humans to find their abandoned ship. The aliens, being so small, have a very low view of the world and have a strong sense of fear of things being above them. Quite understandable really because when at the poles a fall of a few inches could be catastrophic, and anything with any mass falling on them would be fatal. As such their homes have cloth roofs, and they have no concept of flying or even throwing.

The book is definitely hard SF, written by as scientist who makes the reader understand that throwing an object on a world of super high G, let alone flying, would be inconceivable. On such a world a bullet from a gun would arch down to the ground shortly after being fired, and at such a high G place even a pebble, if dropped, would create a huge crater. As such there is no war,no weapons. Also the 'geography' of the planet is quite different. The seas are composed of methane, not water. This is far less dense than water and so the aliens are able to float their ships and travel. For me it made fascinating reading and considering this was written in the 1950s it is quite cutting edge with its strong hard SF elements and, apart from the often wooden dialogue, it appears timeless.
On the whole  I found this to be a well laid out exploration of a truly alien world with an interesting collaboration between the humans and the planet's native race and how the barriers are broken down between them.


Monday, November 12, 2012

Deathworld by Harry Harrison

This is one of Harrison's first novels and is part of a series..

Jason DinAlt is a professional gambler who has psi powers that he can turn to his advantage. One night he is approached by a stranger with a unique proposition-gamble a huge amount of money to make a fortune worth billions. At first Jason is apprehensive but he can't refuse such a challenge!
The stranger identifies himself as Kerk Pyrrus, who also happens to be the ambassador to the planet that bears his name. Jason gets more and more curious as to why he is being hired-who is he to gamble for? What is the reason for the mission?
Kerk informs Jason that the planet Pyrrus is like no other planet in the galaxy, with ferocious plant and animal life and a very challenging climate, including a 2G atmosphere which makes even walking a struggle. Just to step out on the planet is suicide, he is informed, but Jason cannot be put off. Not only does he agree to gamble the money, risk being a planetwide outlaw, but also he decides he must visit this "Death World", against the better judgement of his companion.
And so begins Jason's adventure, first as a trainee, his peers being mere children, then as a serving soldier in the fight against this hostile planet. But there is far more to this Death World than meets the eye....

This book was written in 1960, a year before the first Stainless Steel Rat book, but is very much in that vein- one man caught up in a war against a seemingly unbeatable enemy. There are some interesting ideas in this book, including a weapons system that is attached to the wearer in such a way so that as soon as the person thinks about getting his gun out it is immediately in his hand; he is instantly armed for battle!

A fun little romp this! Bravo and RIP Mr Harrison!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Drowned World by J.G.Ballard

Just finished this 1962 book, one of Ballard's 'Beautiful Dystopias'
Basically sometime in the not-too distant future excessive solar radiation has caused th ice caps to melt, resulting in flooding and the world becoming a tropical wasteland. Now, it sounds a little far-fetched, certainly it would have seemed that way back in the 60s, but not so much nowadays! Yes its extreme, with crocodiles and iguanas emerging from the now-tropical boughs of London, but actually its not that far from what we could in fact be heading for! People reading this book may think, oh my god, he's on about global warming, back in the 60s! And unfortunately that phrase has become oh -oo familiar of late! Due to that label, global warming, people tend to get the wrong idea, because often the climate becomes cold in some places- which is why the correct term is climate change...Anyway I digress-this is a work of fiction and should be treated as such....
It becomes a one-man odyssey to escape the endless heat and verdure and decay all around him, at the same time it becomes a philosophical journey through what the author calls 'archeo-psychic time'. The book tends to dwell on that idea and such passages become heavy and tedious, and you wish to get on with the story. Thankfully it does, and after fighting various bureaucrats and dictatorships the main character Robert Kerans goes off on his own to find the answer to it all......

Its an odd book, but well written in parts full of the 60s New Wave vibe!
Enjoy but remember, science fiction doesn't predict the future, but serves as a warning against what could happen....

Thursday, August 16, 2012

RIP Harry Harrison-click for obituary

American SF author Harrison dies Wednesday, 15 August, aged 87!

I've read a lot of his Stainless Steel Rat books and a few others-he always wrote with a sense of humour and humanness, and he was also known for creating the book that would become immortalised in the 1973 film Soylent Green about overpopulation.

He was incredibly popular at SF conventions, known for being very open and friendly, and was named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

RIP Harry.....you will be missed!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Slan by A E van vogt

This is van Vogt's first novel, put down in the 1940s.
Basically the Slan are a race of mutants created by a scientist in the late 21st century. They have two hearts, psi powers and posses super strength compared to humans.
Sounds fantastic, and perhaps if written today it could be, but van Vogt's clumsy over-elaborate ramblings spoil the flow. Where a few words would have done the job he seems to have consulted a Thesaurus!

I'm sure it must have been groundbreaking back then but I just found it tedious and a bit boring! I was glad when the last page came to be honest!

Which is odd because the only other van Vogt book I read, The Voyage of the Space Beagle, was superb, and gave rise, much later, to a certain alien life form brought to the screen by Ridley Scott et all....

Oh well...cant win em all...

Monday, March 5, 2012

Another aborted Heinlein!

This time its 1980's door stop The Number of the Beast.
I was looking forward to reading this and it started off quite pleasantly, I was enjoying the story, such as it was, but then it got dull, quickly, that is about a third of the way in, and its a 500+ page book-drop this on your toe and you'll be hopping round the room!
Basically a scientist invents a dimension jumping machine cum time machine, based around an old Ford car, and he comes up with a theory of the number of universes based on the number 6 raised to the power of 6, 6 times - 6 6 6. A group is assembled, a kind of family group, off on their jollies, but I began to find the characters incredibly annoying and twee. I hate that word twee, its such a, well, twee word, but it is quite apt with this book, apart from its size! "Oh John I SO love you, youre such a remarkable man, my hero, Daddy will be happy to have you as a son" If thats not bad enough the young lady is known as DT, which I discover is short for Deja Thoris. Anyone who has read Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom books will know that name! But also her erstwhile husband just happens to be called John Carter. And guess what planet they land on-its red and ends in 'ars'! For Christ's sake, could it get any more twee? Its like eating a really sweet candy bar, so sweet it makes your teeth itch!
Enough was enough, life is too short etc
Moving on.....

Friday, March 2, 2012

Neal Asher on my shelf!

Got a copy of The Skinner, for free from Bookmooch.com. Its his second novel and sounds fun, with an AI with an attitude problem and an agent thats been dead for 700 years and a real nasty planet.

I've only read 2 of Asher's books, the excellent Prador Moon and the sometimes tedious and overlong Gridlinked.

This looks good!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Discovered Authors 2011

Not many new discoveries last year, but then I didnt get much reading done, slowly, towards the end of the year, going off SF altogether, with more and more books unfinished- I just seem to lose interest as the year progressed!
Hopefully things will pick up again (just started a big Heinlein book!) but in the meantime here's the list of newly discovered authors from 2011.

First up a very strange horror tale from William Hope Hodgson.
House on the Borderland is a very odd tale indeed, starting off reading like classic early 20th century horror, but soon taking an odd turn! Good stuff though!

Next up a couple of stories from adopted american Algis Budrys. I remember him for his lost-identity film Who? from the 70s but never found any of his SF works, till now! I found a couple of his stories available for free download online and gave them a read.
Algis Budrys stories
Interesting and thought provoking tales!

Many may be familiar with Walter M Miller for his seminal tale A Canticle for Leibowitz, which I've yet to read, but here is a short story, which I found quite touching!
Walter M Miller

A change of scene next with a classic haunted house story from I Am Legend author Richard Matheson. I never knew he wrote horror so when I found Hell House and read about it I had to give it a go, and it didnt dissapoint! Quality horror!

Finally another quite chilling horror story, this time with sexual themes.
The Entity is a story of demonic possesion in which a mother in her 30s is possesed repeatedly at night by someone, or something, who ritually rapes her and threatens to drive her insane! I was unsure of this book but it was on my partner's shelf for ages, and I thought I'd give it a read before it went on bookmooch. I quite enjoyed it actually, and i believe a movie was made of it in the 80s.

Thats it, here's for some prosperous reading in 2012!