Archives for posts with tag: science fiction

In a sea of humdrum books, this one stands out.

Martian

The story starts with Mark Watney, an astronaut who is part of the third ever Mars mission.The mission has just been aborted, with the astronauts forced to leave the red planet. Yet when we meet Watney he is still on Mars.

Clocked by a flying comms dish that punctured his space suit and sent him flying far from the rest of the crew, Watney’s odds of survival were slim to none. Reluctantly, they leave him for dead and rocket away.

In one of fate’s sick jokes, Watney is not dead. Or not yet. He’s been abandoned on an inhospitable ball with a perforated suit, no breathable air, no water source and freezing temperatures. As he so eloquently summarises, he’s fucked.

Luckily for the story, Watney’s not the type to give up. Immediately he begins to weigh his options in his head, coming up with solutions to help him survive for at least the next little while. At first his inner monologue seems a bit dry as he explains the science behind some of his improvisations. But soon the reader is sucked in, caught by curiosity at what Watney’s going to come up with next and awe that anyone could be so ingenious.

Meanwhile, Watney’s screwball sense of humour keeps inserting dry asides that are completely incongruous in the situation and have the reader in stitches. I really pity this guy’s children.

Does he make it? Given the book’s being made into a film to be released later this year, I’ll let you bet on it. But the suspense doesn’t come from whether he survives, rather how he does. What’s not to love about Macgyver on Mars?

The Martian is a story of innovation, of perseverance and of beating the odds. It’s brilliance condensed. I’m going to give it a 5/5.

AuroraCentralis BTFB

As part of the official Aurora Centralis blog tour, I was able to ask author Amanda Bridgeman some questions, which she was nice enough to answer.

Aurora: Centralis is the fourth in a Science fiction / Thriller/ Action series. It will be available for purchase on 26 March 2015. For those who haven’t read it, my review of the book can be found here.

Without further ado, let’s head straight to the interview.

Firstly, let’s say that I loved your first three books. Can we expect more of the same in Aurora: Centralis or do you think your readers will finish the book shocked and surprised?

Amanda bridgeman

I think readers will definitely be shocked and surprised with how I end Centralis. It’s the halfway point of the series, so a lot of questions are answered and secrets revealed, which sees part of the storyline come to an end, but another, much bigger, story arc take off…

If your book was being studied in an English class at school, what themes would you draw out?

I’ve always liked the whole ‘working together’ theme. The Aurora team pulling together to do what needs to be done, despite their sex, their race, their age, etc. They each have different skills that they bring to the table, and each one is important because together they make one whole strong entity.

Carrie Welles is a strong yet flawed character. What do you have in common with her? Which of her attributes would you like to have and which are you glad you don’t?

I’m a little fiery like Carrie, I have to admit. And we both swear too much… Although I can be stubborn at times, it’s not quite as bad as Carrie’s stubbornness. So that would be what I choose ‘not’ to have of hers… I would like to be as perfect as she is with her shooting. To be at the top of my game at something, would be awesome. I’ve always pretty much been an average at everything…

I read you based Saul Harris in part on Will Smith’s character in I am Legend. Is Smith who you would cast if your film was made into a movie? What about Carrie, Doc and McKinley?

I did picture Will Smith as Harris when I wrote it, and it was definitely inspired by how Will was in I Am Legend – and to be honest I still picture him as Harris when I’m writing it, so he would be good in the film. But I do also love Idris Elba and think he would make an awesome Harris! If Denzel was a little bit younger, he’d be great too. I’m still not sure about Carrie. I think an ‘unknown’ or relatively unknown actress might be the way to go for her – and she would definitely need to know how to do an Aussie accent!

I always pictured Doc as Colin Farrell (in his younger days), so someone like that with dark hair and dark eyes… With McKinley I’ve never pictured him as a particular actor, but I would very much welcome Chris Hemsworth playing the part. A lot of my friends would like to see Charlie Hunnam in the role, though!

On another blog you’ve detailed your love for sci fi and outlined some of your favourite films (I agree with most of them, but Pacific Rim? Really?). You also noted that a medieval fantasy is also on your list of future works. What fantasy novels have inspired you? Why?

Ha! I was trying to mix up the films a little in that blog by adding Pacific Rim – so they weren’t all straight alien films. I didn’t like it as much as the others on that list, but I didn’t mind it (hello it stars Idris Elba!). It was fun. 😉 With regards to the second part of the question, I haven’t read a great deal of medieval fantasy, so most of my inspiration comes from film. The kind of book I’m planning actually has less of a fantasy element in it now, and is probably more of a historical action/drama (?). It would be like a cross between Willow, Braveheart and The Last of The Mohicans… with a touch of real life Boudica inspiration thrown in. I love a good warrior tale with plenty of drama – particularly one with a romance threaded throughout…

How do you find your studies have helped your writing?

I studied film/tv and creative writing at university, so it certainly was a good foundation for which to build stories upon. It also made me appreciate just how hard it is to make a film and bring a story together! When editing novels you need to be analytical, so that background certainly came in handy!

You had five books written before the first was published. Now that you’re coming to the end of that stash, are you feeling stressed about keeping up your gruelling publishing schedule?

You know what, I’m actually looking forward to it! I feel like I’ve been on an editing cycle for ages now (although that was my choice and I thoroughly enjoy it). It’s been great to get the novels out quickly and allow readers to get hooked on the series, but I do feel as though I haven’t had time to sink my teeth into some real writing for a while, so I’m looking forward to the freedom of having that again – no deadlines! I’ve got a bunch of novels itching to be written, so I can’t wait to get them out onto the page and get them to readers!

What are the things you’ve had to give up to make time for your writing?

A social life? No, thankfully all my friends are married with kids so they don’t have social lives either. 😉 I suppose being single, the hardest thing is not having the time (or the patience) for dating! I literally don’t have time, nor care, for the game-playing. Seriously, he’s gotta be pretty worth it to entice me away from writing. I guess this is why I’m single… But hey, if the right one comes along, I’m sure I can find the time to put the books down for a while… 😉

AuroraCentralis BTFB

As part of the official Aurora: Centralis blog tour, I was lucky enough to be one of the first to read and review Amanda Bridgeman’s newest book.

Aurora: Centralis is the continuation of Bridgeman’s Aurora series. The series follows a crew of space marines as they track down a group of superhuman “Jumbos” who were created as part of a top-secret military project. (See my prior review of the second book in the series Aurora: Pegasus.)

At the end of the last book, we were left with Carrie agreeing to carry her unwanted, test-tube Jumbo twins long enough for the United National Forces (UNF) to study the foetuses. In return, the UNF would overlook the past indiscretions of Doc and the rest of the crew.

Aurora: Centralis opens with the heated tensions this decision causes.

Carrie has every intention of aborting the twins as soon as the time period the UNF has specified is over, yet the UNF doctors are working hard to change her mind. The twins’ fathers are split on the topic. McKinley wants nothing to do with his Jumbo baby and wants Carrie to abort immediately; damn the consequences. Doc on the other hand is forced to be there at every consultation Carrie has with the doctors and his attachment to his unborn child grows stronger with each visit.

Captain Harris finds it hard to keep the Aurora team operating given the emotional fallout, especially with the UNF breathing down his neck. To make things worse, his dead relatives won’t stop appearing in his dreams.

Meanwhile, the UNF aren’t the only ones interested in the twins, and if there’s anything Carrie’s enemies have shown in the prior books, it’s that any high security UNF installation can be broken into if you have the right connections….

Although the threat of violence is never far away, a lot of the action in Aurora: Centralis is interpersonal interaction and relationship building. This might put some readers off, but for those who have fallen in love with the colourful crew of the Aurora, it’s thoroughly enjoyable. There were also some serious curve-balls in the plot that are bound to please those who like to be surprised.

To this point in the series, I’d felt like the Aurora books had adhered to a well-known trope, enabling the reader to at least have a general idea of where the storyline was headed. Centralis ends this. Before starting the book, there were certain things I was sure were going to happen. I wasn’t looking forward some of them, but I saw it as inevitable that things would play out as I had foreseen.

Boy was I wrong. Totally totally wrong.

If you wanted a corny catchphrase for Aurora: Centralis, it could well be “there’s no such thing as a coincidence”. During the story, loose threads that had been left dangling in prior installments are neatly knotted into the fabric of the story, bringing new understanding that changes absolutely everything.

Because of these revelations, the book has a distinctly different flavour to the first three. There’s no more raising the stakes until the reader is almost falling off the edge of their chair. It’s more like all the bets are called and we see everyone’s cards and understand who has won, who has lost and how much the damage tallies up to be. To continue the gambling metaphor, everyone knows the game is over but that another hand is going to be played and no one’s exactly sure who will be playing and how much of their prior winnings they’re going to invest in the new round.

What I’m trying to convey is that by the end of Aurora: Centralis the storyline reaches a kind of conclusion, but we also see the seeds of a new beginning. I expect readers to be split on whether they like or hate the ending. I personally thought it was great.

In summary, although Aurora: Centralis was different from the books that preceded it, I devoured it just as voraciously. I enjoyed it so I’m going to give it a 4/5.

Aurora: Pegasus is the second in Amanda Bridgeman’s Aurora series.

Aurora:pegasus

Carrie Welles and Captain Harris have survived the attack of the superhuman “jumbos” on the Darwin. But Carrie’s still having nightmares, to the detriment of her new lover Doc. And Harris is starting to think he’s losing his mind as dead relatives dominate his thoughts, mouthing doom laden premonitions.

Harris soon discovers their fears are founded. The jumbos that the crew of the Aurora left incarcerated on the Darwin space station have broken free. The United National Forces (UNF) are blaming Harris for leaving them there in the first place and expect him to find them.

He hatches a plan to catch the jumbos. Use Carrie as bait. But Harris suspects there’s still a turncoat in the UNF and the jumbos always seem to be three steps ahead. Making things worse is the forbidden nature of Doc and Carrie’s relationship. Will their feelings for each other unravel the mission?

I couldn’t stop reading this book. I was rude to someone I regularly talk to on my daily commute because I couldn’t bear to waste the time speaking to them that I could use to read.

While Aurora: Darwin has an Alien feel to it because the marines head towards an unknown danger in the middle of space, Aurora: Pegasus has an Empire Strikes Back atmosphere. It’s got the romance – complete with a (sort of) love triangle. It has the surprise revelations. It has the same cliffhanger ending that leaves the reader gasping for more.

Yet what really made this book for me was Bridgeman’s ability to raise the stakes (completely lacking in the last book I reviewed). While it’s pretty obvious from the start that the plan to use Carrie as bait will not go smoothly, Bridgeman does more than simply deliver the disaster we expect. Instead, she creates a nightmare situation the reader is almost too horrified to read.

One by one, Bridgeman removes the stabilisers that keep Carrie on an even keel: Her trust in the plan; Her father’s devotion; Her bond with her fellow soldiers; Her relationship with Doc; Her self control; The support of Captain Harris; The Aurora.

When there is nothing left, what will she do?

I loved the book and I will be counting the days until the next one is released on 11 September. I am giving it a 4.5/5.

Babel-17 (from 1966) is basically about the effect of language on the human mind. The main character, Rydra Wong, is a poet who used to be a cryptographer. She gets a call from the military asking her to try and decrypt a transmission that is discovered at the site of a number of attacks in an intergalactic war.

Babel-17

Rydra recognises it’s a language and gets together a spaceship crew to go to the site of what she thinks will be the next attack in an attempt to figure out the puzzle. Assassinations, space battles, betrayals and love affairs occur before she finally discovers the language’s secret.

Many people thought the book was overwritten, but I enjoyed the imagery. I also enjoyed the world building, especially the idea of the discorporate spaceship crew and the body modifications. The characters I thought were well drawn, with the possible exception of the love interest. The central premise – language’s control over our mind – was also interesting.

Unfortunately, too many scenes seemed to me to have little function. I don’t like world building for the sake of world building or characterisation for the sake of characterisation. I like these elements to be built into scenes that have a real function in the plot. Many will disagree with me, but I felt the thread of plot was thin in a lot of scenes.

For example, why did we need to go through a drawn out discussion of how Rydra knew what people were thinking but not saying? Sure it’s necessary to know she has this ability, but did we need Rydra and her mentor to analyse her ability ad nauseam? Similarly, why did the reader need to know about the long process of selecting a spaceship crew? There were some great images and character revelations, but couldn’t these have been done in a more useful scene?

The other reason I’m not a big fan of this book is that I didn’t like central concepts being thrust piecemeal into discussions between two characters or into paragraphs of analysis inside the main character’s head. It feels too much like I’m being lectured.

That’s why I’m only going to give this book a 3/5. Before all you die-hard fans bring out the knives, I do have to admit that I’m not really a Science Fiction Masterwork kind of gal. So sue me.

 

20121025-204834.jpgChris Wooding’s tales of the Ketty Jay series makes me feel warm every time I dip into it. There are now three novels in the series, the last one being the Iron Jackal, which followed Retribution Falls and Black Lung Captain.

Anyone who is writing about this series must mention the similarities between it and Firefly. Ticking them off — both have a crew of misfits who are freebooters. Both fly a ship that’s probably past its best. Both have captains who are veterans of a war. Both have a deadly woman on board. Both have an aristocrat who has been forced by circumstances to travel with the ship. Both have a version of humans who somehow are no longer humans and prey on other humans. Both have a stupid idiot of a man who everyone just puts up with.

But the thing that made these books original for me was the very different level at which we are introduced to the crew.

When we meet the crew of Firefly, its members are competent, and proud of what they do. Their captain might give them tough love, but he’s still recognised as caring about his team and having his own honour code. We watch the series because we’re so in love with Captain Mal’s honour that we don’t want to see it dirtied, so bite our lip, hoping the crew will make it through the scrapes it gets itself into.

When we meet the crew of the Ketty Jay, it’s sunk so low that we wonder if it’s possible to go any lower without dying. It takes time to fall in love with the decidedly down at heel, somewhat incompetent and dishonourable characters, who as a norm just don’t give a stuff about anyone else. But we do eventually, because they’re so gritty and real and they make us laugh in the milkshake snorting out of your nose kind of way. In the end, we really read this series because we grow to care deeply about the ragtag band of characters and want to see their redemption.

As to whether they ever do get redeemed, I’ll have to tell you when I know. The last book in the series is yet to come.

While Wooding is good at painting people, customs and metropolises with his prose, he isn’t so great with creating a sense of place. All of the action seems to happen on disconnected islands of description. I thought pretty much throughout the whole series that they were travelling between planets, until I noticed at some point that captain Frey kept talking about countries, not worlds. I am a vague reader, but I do feel that Wooding could have spent a little more time on setting. It seems a shame to be so adrift when we understand so well the motivations of the groups of people living in his world.

I do enjoy his form of magic, however, which has its own in-built limit. You can’t practice it without a lot of expensive equipment, patience and a laboratory where you will not be disturbed.

Since none of these things are to be had in abundance on the Ketty Jay, our magician, or Daemonist as they are called in the book, is constantly making do. No mighty powers here.

I really enjoyed this series and am slightly sad that there will only be one more book. I’m giving it a 4.5/5.

I’m always awestruck by how Peter F. Hamilton manages to find so many alternate future universes for humanity, but make them all so plausible.

Peter F. Hamilton Fallen Dragon

(Credit: Jeroen Bouwens, Peter F. Hamilton)

This story is no different. Fallen Dragon describes our society a few hundred years into the future, when we’ve managed to colonise some planets. Unfortunately, we’ve discovered that doing so hasn’t fulfilled the commercial dream of creating financially lucrative products to ship back to Earth and make lots of money. Interstellar travel is just too expensive.  Instead, the starship companies that have footed the bill for creating colonies are shifting money around in funny accounting procedures and heading out to established colonies to conduct “asset realisation”, which basically adds up to piracy on a planetary scale.

Our main character is an idealistic boy who wants to see the stars. The only way for him to do this is to sign up to one of the companies that conducts “asset realisation”. As he realises his mistake, he forms a plan of how to get himself out of his predicament, but it might be more complicated than he thought, because the world from which he intends to pirate away the money to exit the game isn’t as helpless as other worlds have been.

What follows is an intense action sci-fi that has you waiting for the next page. I enjoyed the universe that Hamilton created, and the plot was not at all predictable, keeping me guessing all the way.  As always, I loved the complexities he built into his story and how he makes even minor characters seem real.

I also love how he manages to comment on society, quietly, without making us feel like we’re being lectured at. I really thought hard during this book about how we homogenise everything as we become more numerous and how the cultures of individual countries are taken over by a global culture, or to coin Hamilton’s term, the uniculture.

However, despite this enjoyment, I had a bit of a problem with the way that he’d set this novel up. It sprang between time in an erratic manner that was sometimes a hard to follow. I just couldn’t ascertain why he had made temporal leaps when he did. I think he wanted to start the novel with a bang, which would have necessitated the constant seesawing in time space, but somehow, I think I would have more enjoyed the journey of the main character, Lawrence,  if I’d followed the story with him in chronological order.

The killer issue necessitating the time play is perhaps that we don’t meet the other main viewpoint characters that have a role  in the book until the last chapter in Lawrence’s life plays out, which is probably why Hamilton wrote the novel in the way he did. Given this, I can’t really give a solution for how he should have done it, but I felt something was a bit skewiff.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the biggest issue I had with the novel. My biggest issue is that we, as people,  develop in real life. We mature. (Caution, slight spoiler.) Lawrence was not a spring chicken at the end of the novel. Yet, he decides to settle down with a teenage girl at the end of his travails. How on earth was that going to work? I felt like Hamilton just got tired and didn’t want to deal with what would happen if he brought Lawrence back to the world he’d been born on, years after Lawrence had left it. Perhaps Hamilton didn’t want to describe the changes in the world and what they meant for Lawrence, or perhaps Lawrence’s meeting with a sweetheart who might have married and had children and sagged in the wrong places sickened Hamilton. I had personally been looking forward to those changes. There is nothing more powerful than two lovers meeting after years apart and realising that, although they’ve changed, their attraction for each other is just as strong.

Hamilton robbed me of this in his male desire for his main character not to have wasted his life and have lost his vitality because of a bad life mistake. Boo, I say.

That’s why I’m giving this novel a 3.5/5, despite the fact that it could have scored much higher.

(Credit: Jason Tesar)

Tesar is god fearing man who has, unsurprisingly, decided to use scripture as a jumping off point for his first series of books. I have to admit, however, that I didn’t really get the feeling that it was biblical, probably because I didn’t read the first three pages of the book, which looked like an encyclopedia entry. I don’t like books that start with a long winded and cryptic explanation. So I skipped the beginning and started with the first action in the book. In hindsight, that wasn’t such a great idea as I missed the point of the story in many ways, but then I think Tesar probably could have introduced his concept better in a narrative fashion than using a dry, legal-looking list.

The (real) start of the books is set on our planet, with analysts talking about global warming and rising seawaters. We don’t know who they’re working for, but one of them has seen something strange happening in a country on the other side of the world, something which involves a lot of water appearing out of nowhere and a man escaping from some scuba divers.  The mysterious company decides to go and rescue the man.

When we see the person being rescued, it’s obvious he’s not part of our world. Then Tesar takes us back to the world that the man came from — a far flung empire still in the sword-wielding stage of technology. There we meet a new character who has a brush with mystery sailors, coming off the worse for the encounter. He dies trying to tell his story to the governor of a nearby city, Adair, who later turns out to be our mystery man rescued in the other world.

Unfortunately, we don’t meet the real main character of the story, Adair’s son Kael, until later. This to me was a fatal flaw in the books, because I’d already sided with Adair and couldn’t like Kael as much as I should. Adair disappeared mainly out of the books after the rescue situation is explained, leaving me feeling hollow.

However, once I became used to Kael as a main character I did warm to him. He is ostensibly “executed” after his father disappears (off to the alternate world), but in reality he’s whisked away to a monastery where he learns to fight with other boys.  He doesn’t feel right about the monastery’s god, for whom he’ll be fighting when the training is done. He fails a test set for him by the high priest of the order and goes his own way. Unfortunately for him, his time at the monastery comes back to haunt him as the boys start appearing while the empire comes under attack from the outside.

100,000 people have downloaded copies of Tesar’s first book, which he’s priced for free on Amazon and Smashwords. I  have to admit that somehow I managed to download the whole trilogy for free (it’s supposed to cost $4.99) , which was a bonus. The freebie did have an unforeseen drawback, however. I thought I’d only downloaded the first book. When I reached the end of the book, I thought I had two further volumes to go, but I had actually read all there was. The finale had more loose ends than in an unravelling sweater, the most important of which for me was, what happened to Adair?

After looking at Tesar’s blog, it seems that he will write another book to complete the story, but he intends to write a number of prequels first. That goes into my “how seriously to annoy your readership” category.

Still, I did enjoy the books. The fighting scenes flowed well and the characters were believable. There was also enough original content in the story for it to feel fresh. However, I really think Tesar should have rethought how he started the book. Clunky prologues are so last decade. It’s also necessary to address the central theme of your story in the story, not just in the beginning.

After all, he promises in his blog:

In book xx  of his debut series, Jason Tesar delves into the heart of an ancient legend, expanding an epic saga that will journey from earth’s mythological past to its post-apocalyptic future, blending the genres of fantasy, sci-fi, and military/political suspense.

I didn’t get the feeling at all that he’d delved into the heart of an ancient legend. It felt more like he attempted to build a good story on a clumsy background. I’m hoping that the books yet to come bring more of the mythological flavour he’s promised into his writing. But I don’t feel like reading the prequels and probably will have forgotten about Tesar by the time I he gets to complete the story he’s already started, so I may never know if they do.

I’m going to give this series a 3/5. If it had been finished properly, it would have had the potential to be a 4/5 or higher.