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In a similar vein to my recent post over on the Screen God, I thought it would be a good idea to do a quick round-up of the books I read since I last posted here on 30 July, so 4 months ago.

28677687The Silent Dead by Tetsuya Honda

Japans serial killer police procedural. I almost gave up on this because of the way the female main character was treated by her male colleagues. There was one senior policeman in particular who was SO odious that I almost gave up on the book, but I also really wanted to find out what the hell was going on, so I kept going. I’m glad I did because this was an interesting story.

 

225384Green River, Running Red by Ann Rule

Compellingly horrible but excellently written true crime book about the Green River Killer, thought to be America’s (if not the world’s) most prolific serial killer. I read Ann Rule’s book about Ted Bundy years ago and following a recommendation on Twitter I decided to give this one ago. As much as I enjoy fictional versions of this sort of theme, it’s good to be reminded just how awful the reality is for the victims’ families. Scary and compelling.

 

16065519Lost Girls by Robert Kolker

An investigation into the currently still at large (and let’s face it, unidentified) serial killer who has been dumping women’s bodies in Long Island. Incredibly sad as it focusses on the lives of the young women who were killed, and how their varying circumstances led them into prostitution which ultimately brought them into contact with their killer via the Internet. Grim.

 

17316519-_sy180_The Last Policeman by Ben H Winters

As the blurb says, what’s the point in solving murders if we’re all going to die soon anyway? This is “a mystery set on the brink of an apocalypse”, and it’s also a character study of the “last” policeman himself. Twisty and turny with a proper murder mystery at its heart, it allows us to look at a society waiting for the world to end, and how people cope (or not) with real impending doom. Enjoyed it so much I bought the rest of the trilogy.

25670162Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

I love short stories, and I love sci-fi short stories in particular but I’ll be honest and say that I picked this column up (if you can actually pick up an e-book) because I wanted to read the title story which is the basis for the recent (and IMHO) brilliant film Arrival. Not a duff story in here; all of them are dense and complex even when they appear to be simple on the surface. Although I adored the main story, my favourite is probably the one about angels, with a very simple idea – what if angels were real and whenever they appeared on earth they basically came as a natural disaster. Fascinating. I also loved that the author did a set of notes at the end about  what had triggered each story. Really very very good indeed.

27775591The Thing Itself by Adam Roberts

I really enjoyed this but please don’t ask me to explain it 🙂 Inspired in part by John Carpenter’s The Thing, this is a novel about, well, time travel and Kantian (is that a word?) philosophy and revenge and obsession and Fermi’s Paradox which I had to look up and apparently refers to

the apparent contradiction between the lack of evidence and high probability estimates, for the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations.

Thank you Wikipedia. The quickest read this year so far and the oddest since I read Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation and its sequels. Loved it. Brain still hurts a bit though.

So that’s it. Thankfully I’m now going to end the year in double figures, and hopefully will be able to finish a few more in December.

20518872What’s it all about?

Kicking off during the Cultural Revolution in 1960’s China and moving rapidly into the present day, The Three-Body Problem is a sci-fi novel which explores the impact of a major event on one individual and the repercussions that can have for the whole of mankind. A spate of suicides amongst scientists. A strange immersive online game. Conspiracies. And lots and lots of science.

Why did I want to read it?

It just sounded so intriguing. I love science fiction, especially when there’s lots of hard science in it, and (as this is translated from the Chinese) I was interested particulary in reading from a different cultural background. Plus it was of course the winner of the Hugo award for best sci-fi novel in 2015 (and rightly so IMHO)

What did I think of it?

Oh, this definitely delivered on its promise! I knew a little bit about the actual three-body problem because my first husband’s degree was in theoretical physics, so I understand enough to know that it’s about the mechanics of celestial bodies and how they move in relation to each other, especially under the influence of gravity (eg Sun + Earth + Moon) and how it can be unpredictable. That’s the extent of my knowledge though!

I liked the mystery element of the novel – what is the countdown that Wang Miao sees that no-one else can; is the Trisolaran system in the game based on reality; what really went on at the Red Coast Base over all those years and what was Ye Wenjie’s part in it?

Of course I’m a sucker for a good conspiracy (as long as it’s fiction; I get mildly cross with claims of huge conspiracies claimed for real life – see my last review for thoughts on that) and this one reveals itself gradually throughout the course of the novel. I was also interested in the idea (which I’ve come across elsewhere) that humanity is a disease or infection and some feel that removing us from the Earth is a Good Thing (I do not of course agree with that nihilistic view).

This is a really excellent novel, beautifully translated and giving me at least something fresh and different while still firmly within traditional sci-fi. If I tell you that I was so absorbed in the story that I didn’t realise I had reached the end of the line on my morning commute that should give you some idea of how good I thought this was. I’ve already downloaded book 2 in the trilogy. Highly recommended.

21128971What’s it all about?

We are in the future (a few hundred years or so) and the world has been overtaken by some form of ecological disaster which has apparently left most of the land covered in water. Osiris is a city of great towers and buildings full of the rich while surrounded by refugees living in squalid conditions. There are, of course, tensions between the two, and Osiris concentrates on two characters from opposite sides of this divide: Adelaide, estranged daughter of one of the wealthiest and most important families, and Vikram, former prisoner, protestor and someone who wants to change the lot of the poor outside the city’s limits.

Why did I want to read it?

As you will know by now, I love sci-fi, I love post-apocalyptic stuff, but I bought this mostly because I was lucky enough to hear EJ Swift read from one of the later books in this trilogy at an event earlier this year and met her briefly; I liked her a lot.

What did I think of this?

I’m still in a bit of a reading slump and also went on holiday in the middle of reading this novel so I read it more slowly than I perhaps would have otherwise, but I really enjoyed it. I thought the world-building was very strong, and I got a real sense of the society that Adelaide in particular was part of, the politics and social conventions and the way in which the young rich fill their time with excess and frivolity to escape the rigidity of the world they are part of; Vikram’s world is messier and less clear but that makes sense to me as I would expect it to be chaotic and unstructured with shifting alliances based on a different type of power. The way the two characters are brought together and who their perspectives begin to shift as they experience each others worlds (more Vikram than Adelaide as we spend the majority of the book within Osiris itself) was fascinating, and I came to like both characters very much.

The plot is in some ways very straightforward; Vikram needs a supporter within Osiris to help him achieve his aims, and Adelaide needs someone to help her break the wall of silence around the disappearance (and assumed suicide) of her twin brother, and they are brought together in an alliance born out of necessity. Of course, it doesn’t work out as planned but along the way we discover with them both that there is more going on than meets the eye, and this presumably forms the basis of the rest of the trilogy.

I liked Adelaide a great deal. I’ve seen a couple of reviews elsewhere that suggest that she just responds to the men in her life rather than taking action in her own right, but I didn’t get that sense at all. In particular, her drive to find out what’s happened to her brother seems very much her own and if one of my brothers went missing in such circumstances I would like to think I would focus on finding out what happened to him too. And the rest of her behaviour seems consistent with the society she lives in as it’s described to us.

I didn’t warm to Vikram quite so much until later in the book, as I couldn’t really understand what he thought he was going to be able to achieve.

So, a well-written and absorbing first novel, and I’ve already got a hold of the two sequels. Definitely worth your time.

IMG_0223What’s it all about?

Irregularity is an anthology of short stories which, as the blurb says

is a collaboration between the National Maritime Museum and award-winning publisher Jurassic London: a collection of original stories inspired by the Age of Reason. Using the Longitude Act as the jumping off point, IRREGULARITY is inspired by the great thinkers of the Age of Reason – those courageous men and women who set out to map, chart, name and classify the world around them. The great minds who brought order and discipline to the universe. Except where they didn’t.

I couldn’t have put it better myself and as you can see I didn’t even consider trying 🙂

Why did I want to read it?

I think I first came across this because I follow one of the authors on Twitter (I actually follow a few of them now) and she (pretty sure it was @kimecurran) mentioned that she had a story included in this volume, and then I looked at the other authors listed many of whom already were or were on the way to becoming favourites, and so downloaded it was.

What did I think of it?

I’ve said this ad nauseam but I’m going to repeat it, just because – anthologies are tricky to review because there are very few collections in which every story hits the spot. And I have to say that at first – and I will admit that I may possibly *ahem* have forgotten what the theme of the collection was when I started reading it – I wasn’t entirely sure where this was all going, but I can safely say that only a couple of the stories didn’t do it for me, and that’s not a bad hit rate out of 14.

It’s worth mentioning the following, which stood out:

  • The Spiders of Stockholm by EJ Swift – a writer new to me whom I was lucky enough to meet at a reading at the end of January, this is a story about spiders and dreams and categorisation and what happens when you put a name to something (and this story is up for the Sunday Times short story award)
  • The Assassination of Isaac Newton by the Coward Robert Boyle by Adam Roberts – (1) extraordinarily cool title (2) draws attention to Newton’s resemblance to (yes, that) Brian May (3) totally bonkers
  • The Voyage of the Basset by Claire North – Darwin + butterflies + coronation = wonderful story
  • A Woman out of Time by Kim Curran – things must happen as intended, ut who makes sure that it does?

As well as these the collection covers mapping the winds, understanding clocks, the hunt for impossible animals, dissection & art, animated dinosaurs and whether science can quantify love. Amongst lots of other stuff. Recommended.

20706317What’s it all about?

So Harry August is one of a relatively small group of people who live their lives, die, and are born again in exactly the same place and time, to live more or less the same life all over again. Unlike other forms of reincarnation individuals like Harry remember the details of all of their previous incarnations. While waiting to die at the end of his eleventh life he is visited by a young girl who tells him that the end of the world is coming, faster than expected, and that he is the only person who can do something about it. Cue lives twelve to fifteen.

Why did I want to read it?

I think I must have seen a review or two about The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August because I remember downloading it, but unfortunately can’t remember where I heard about it. I know it was a Richard and Judy book thingy choice but I’m pretty sure I found that out afterwards. I decided to read it now because I was due to attend a book event for the launch of Claire North’s new novel, Touch.

What did I think of it?

Quite simply I couldn’t put this down and have been recommending it all over the place since I finished it in the middle of the night last weekend. Harry is a complex character and not entirely likeable I think, though of course you become very attached to him as you live his various lives with him. Seeing how he makes use of his knowledge of the future (only partly to make money on which to live), how he connects with others like himself, the friendships he makes and how he deals with the problem with which he has been presented is just fascinating.

It’s beautifully written, more complex than the structure might suggest, and has a very satisfying conclusion. I don’t want to say too much more about the story than I already have because seeing how it all works out in his various lives is one of the great joys. I will say that to me it shares similar themes with Life After Life, All You Need is Kill and parts of The Bone Clocks, but only tangentially, and is very much it’s own book.

Claire North is really delightful in person, and I had the chance to ask her about the writing of the book and how she kept track of Harry’s lives and in particular what age he was at any particular time; I was thinking wall chart but delighted to find a spreadsheet was deployed. But all of that sits in the background and Harry’s journey is very immediate no matter which of his lives we happen to be visiting at any one time.

I loved this and would urge you to give it a try if you haven’t done so already.

2509832What’s it all about?

The Starry Rift: Tales of New Tomorrows is an original sci-fi anthology edited by Jonathan Strahan and winner of the Aurealis Award, which I had to look up and discovered it’s an annual award given for excellence in speculative fiction (covering sci-fi, fantasy and horror). As the blurb says, Strahan asked the contributors to “look past the horizon of the present day”.

Why did I want to read it?

Well, I didn’t actually know that I wanted to read it  as such, but last year I was lucky enough to get tickets to see Neil Gaiman’s performance/reading of The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains, and one of the other stories he read was the hugely entertaining Orange, which I wanted to hunt down and experience myself, and this is the collection it was written for (for which it was written?), (whatever). Of course it’s now been included in his new collection Trigger Warnings but I’m glad I found it here first because this is a really cool anthology.

What did I think of it?

Short story collections are always strange because they can’t help but be a bit uneven, whether they’re by a single author or a number of different writers; we have sixteen of them here. But I thought this was a really strong bunch of stories; a couple of them were definitely not to my taste in terms of theme but none of them were poor or badly written (IMHO at least) and I enjoyed dipping into this over several days. There is a wide range of futuristic subject matter covered, some set classically in space and others set here in contemporary (or near contemporary) Earth. Stand-outs for me (in addition to the aforementioned Orange, obvs) were:

  • Cheats by Ann Halam – immersive gaming, using code to travel between worlds
  • The Dismantled Invention of Fate by Jeffery Ford – love and fate in a tale inspired by the work of Michael Morrcock
  • Sundiver Day by Kathleen Ann Goonan- loss and grief and possibilities, with added cloning
  • The Star Surgeon’s Apprentice by Alistair Reynolds – cyborg space pirates!
  • Infestation by Garth Nix – alien space vampires and their hunters!

A really enjoyable collection, very much worth your time.

IMG_0216What’s it all about?

Well, what does the blurb say?

When the alien Mimics invade, Keiji Kiriya is just one of many recruits shoved into a suit of battle armor called a Jacket and sent out to kill. Keiji dies on the battlefield, only to be reborn each morning to fight and die again and again.

Live. Die. Repeat. As the movie poster has it.

Why did I want to read it?

Well. This is a bit embarrassing. I saw and loved the film Edge of Tomorrow which was an Americanised version of the story told in All You Need is Kill and which I reviewed here. I knew that it was based on a novel but I was more interested in the graphic version, which is what I thought I had downloaded (I think that’s an easy mistake given the cover), so imagine my surprise when I opened it up and there were no pictures. What an idiot.

What did I think of it?

I really didn’t think I was in the market for Japanese military sci-fi but how wrong was I? I was drawn very quickly into Keiji’s story which is told mostly in the first person and describes his bewilderment at his situation in the first, instance, then his growing skill as a warrior determined to defeat the alien invaders. I’m not sure if it was a help or a hindrance knowing the story in advance; although the core is the same, the film and book are very different in many respects, though the character of Rita, the Full Metal Bitch, is consistent and of course totally fabulous. I liked the structure of the novel and thought it was really gripping. So a happy accident. Though I still think I’m going to get my hands on the graphic novel at some point, just to compare.

As well as the reasons given above, I read this for the 2015 Sci-fi Experience.

8429687What’s it all about?

Deadline is the sequel to Feed which I read and loved some 3 years ago and am ashamed that I’ve only just got round round to picking this up. In order to avoid spoilers about the plot I’m going to lift from the blurb:

Shaun Mason is a man without a mission. Not even running the news organisation he built with his sister has the same urgency as it used to. […] But when a researcher from the Centre for Disease Control fakes her own death and appears on his doorstep with a revenues pack of zombies in tow, Shaun’s relieved to find a new purpose in life.

So the novel picks up from where the last one left off, but this time it’s mostly from Shaun’s perspective and the conspiracy uncovered in Feed is still alive and well. Just worse. Much worse.

Why did I want to read it?

The zombie kick which I’ve been experiencing all year continues. Plus as I said I really enjoyed the tone and pace of the first book and this looked like it was going to be more of the same. Science + conspiracy + zombies, what’s not to like?

What did I think of it?

I wasn’t sure if I would like the book quite as much with the shift in protagonist but I needn’t have worried, this is just as exciting as Feed and I came to like Shaun just as much. The thing that I can’t talk about without spoiling the first book was a concern as I thought it would become really annoying or at best a bit unbelievable but actually it works really well because everyone recognises that it isn’t normal (and I have either said too much already or been so cryptic that you’re all scratching your heads wondering what I’m on about).

And it has another cracking ending which makes me very keen to read the final book in the trilogy, already downloaded and being saved for the holidays.

Another fine entry in an excellent run of reads. Waiting for it all to crash and burn 🙂

IMG_0189What’s it all about?

I can’t do any better than the blurb on the back cover to explain what Lock In is all about:

Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. 4% suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And 1% find themselves ‘locked in’ – fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus.

Because one of the highest profile victims was the President’s wife a lot, and I mean a lot, of effort and money was put in to managing this. So those who are locked in, known as Hadens after the First Lady, have access to what are basically robot bodies to which they can connect their consciousnesses so they can move around an interact with the world and get jobs; a virtual reality space called the Agora which is dedicated to their needs; and some people who have survived the disease but have been left with the ability to allow Hadens to enter their minds and have access to their bodies for a fee (they are known as Integrators).

It’s against this background that our story plays out, a sci-fi murder mystery in which one of the FBI agents is a Haden, a very famous one too. Chris Shane became ill and locked in as a child and then a poster boy for the illness as his Dad, a famous sportsman, used him in his campaigning. His Dad’s a nice guy actually so not an exploitative thing at all, by the way.

And now he’s just joined the FBI and has a nasty Haden-adjacent murder to solve with his partner, Agent Vann.

Apologies for the info dump, but there’s a lot of backstory it’s worth getting your head around, and I’m not spoiling anything (I think).

Why did I want to read it?

John Scalzi is one of those authors whom I’ve heard a lot about (and follow on Twitter where he is very entertaining) but had never read, though I do have Redshirts downloaded and after this may add it to my Sci-Fi Experience reading list. I had picked up the companion short piece to this which gives an oral history of the disease and the technological advances made to support those who have been incapacitated by it. It’s a very good read and led directly to me picking up the novel.

What did I think of it?

This is the third of the novels that got me through my recent bout of illness and it was exactly what I needed, a really well written and interesting murder mystery set against the politics of disability. The murder itself is fascinating but what adds depth to it is the debate that goes on underneath, about whether the amount of money spent on helping survivors is justified, whether it goes beyond helping people cope and gets into the realms of giving them an advantage over those who have not been locked in. The prejudice, whether intentional or the result of ignorance, is overt and realistic.

But as I said, this is primarily an ingenious puzzle. I really liked both Shane and Vann, and there was a rich cast of supporting characters. The solution to the murder was clever and plausible and it was great fun to read.

I hope this becomes a series as I would definitely read more.

Recommended.

I really need to find a different way to say that as I seem to have been using it a lot recently 🙂 but I mean it!

13603362What’s it all about?

Shoggoths in Bloom is a collection of shorter fiction by Elizabeth Bear, must-award winning sci-fi and fantasy author. Includes a couple of tales that bagged her one or two Hugos.

Why did I want to read it?

I’ve read some of her work before in anthologies and her stories have always stuck out for me (she was probably my favourite from the recent Lovecraft themed collection which I read and reviewed here), particularly as she often writes tales related to the Cthulu mythos. So I wanted to get to know her work better.

Plus I loved the cover.

And the title.

What did I think of it?

A really strong collection showcasing the variety of her work. If I’m honest I was a tiny wee bit disappointed in the title story, which was good but not great IMHO. But there wasn’t a bad story in here and my particular favourites were:

  • Tideline – one of the Hugo winners, very moving. Loved Chalcedony.
  • In the House of Aryaman, A Lonely Signal Burns – a murder mystery in a futuristic India, with one of the characters being a genetically manufactured hyacinth parrot-cat
  • Cryptic Coloration – dealing with mythical beasties in the real world
  • Confessor – what’s really going on in that hidden lab up that mountain trail?

There are some themes that Bear is clearly interested in, mythical creatures and genetic modifications but two. I like the fact that she writes well across a range of genres and she is a genuine pleasure to read. I’ve already got my hands on more of her stories. Recommended.

Bride of the Book God

Follow brideofthebook on Twitter

Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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