Review: A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

9781473621435Becky Chambers blew me away with her amazing debut The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. It was science fiction at is best and was longlisted for literary as well as science fiction awards, and rightly so. So when her follow-up fell into my hands I was giddy with excitement and anticipation. Could it match the emotional resonance of the first book? Especially as it is a “stand-alone sequel” meaning the crew I fell in love with in the first book wouldn’t feature? The answer is YES and then some!

Sidra was an Artificial Intelligence on aboard a spaceship who has been transferred to a human “kit” body and must now learn to navigate the sentient world. She must keep her existence secret as it is highly illegal to transfer an AI and she will be shut down and her system wiped if she is discovered. Helping her navigate through this new life is Pepper, a highly skilled technician who can fix and rebuild almost any machine. Pepper has a vested interested in helping Sidra adjust to her new life in part due to her upbringing. Both Sidra and Pepper are searching for their place in this crazy universe and together they might just find it.

Becky Chambers once again sucks you into the world and universe of her two main characters. She alternates Sidra’s story with that of Pepper’s upbringing. We get the ups and downs of Sidra discovering her new life, her new capabilities and new limitations. And we learn about Pepper; who she is, where she came from and why she cares so deeply about what happens to Sidra. We live through both characters joys and heartbreaks, new experiences and frustrations. And I guarantee you will shed at least one tear by the end.

Once again Becky Chambers builds a world full of alien species, futuristic technology and space travel but truly amazes you with her characters and emotional resonance. A science fiction novel that isn’t battles and adventures but a wonderful exploration of humanity and belonging.

Buy the Book Here…

Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

9781447297574Brace yourself, dear reader. You’re about to be assailed with praise and hyperbole for Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter, which, at this moment, is on track to be my favourite thriller of the year. Right now, I can’t imagine anything toppling Dark Matter from its throne.

Dark Matter is an unabashed science fiction thriller. If the thought of multi-dimension travel – of our protagonist traversing alternate worlds – is too much of a leap from the grounded reality in which you prefer your fiction, okay, fair enough, perhaps this one’s not for you. But for everybody else, willing and able to suspend their disbelief, and accept the parameters of Crouch’s fiction, Dark Matter is a relentless and thrilling ride. What glues it together – what makes this novel work – is its heart.Dark Matter is a love story – punctuated with action and science fiction elements, certainly – but its romantic core, one man’s desire to reunite with his wife and son, is what makes the novel tick along.

Dark Matter is about the roads not taken. It’s about the choices we make – those large, momentous decisions we identify as important, and the smaller ones we barely recognise. Jason Dessen chose his family over his career as a physicist; so too his wife Daniela, who gave up her dream of being an artist. It’s not a decision they regret – they’re a content family unit, blessed with a teenage son – but inevitably there are moments when they wonder what might have been. And thanks to the Jason Dessen from an alternate reality – a world in which he focused on his career in science rather than his family, and created a multidimensional travel device – our Jason is about to discover what might’ve been.

Crouch sends Dessen to a range of close-but-not quite realities as he attempts to find his journey home, to his wife, to his son. In putting Dessen through such an emotional rollercoaster we bear witness to some truly gut-wrenching and poignant scenes. And just when you think the novel’s demonstrated all it’s got to offer – that Crouch is leading readers down a thrilling, but somewhat routine path as Dessen attempts to return to his world – he throws a curveball; an unforeseen plot twist that raises the states even higher, and propels the narrative through to its fitting climax.

Plenty of fiction has explored the idea of multidimensional travel, but rather than focus on the science, Dark Matter keeps the reader riveted because of its heart. How far is one man willing to go to reunite with his family? How much can he witness before he loses himself? You’ll tear through Dark Matter in one sitting to find out. Truly, it’s one of the best thrillers I’ve read in years.

Buy now!

The book or the movie? The Martian by Andy Weir or The Martian with Matt Damon?

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir by Andy Weir has a fabulous back story. Initially published chapter by chapter and made available for free on the author’s website, readers soon fell in love with the story. First, they asked him to make it available as an ebook, so they could enjoy it on their e-readers rather than having to read it from his website. Fans then asked Weir to make his novel available as a Kindle ebook on Amazon, and the rest is (as they say) history. The novel took off, and Weir sold the rights in 2013 for more than $100,000US.

The Martian is a science fiction novel inspired by the TV hero MacGyver and the fix-it scene in Apollo 13, and has now been adapted for the big screen in a film starring Matt Damon, directed by Ridley Scott. The movie is in cinemas now and having adored the book, I went to see the movie last week, hardly able to contain my excitement.

Matt Damon plays astronaut Mark Watney in the film The Martian, who is injured and left behind on planet Mars after a dust storm. He must overcome many obstacles in order to survive the harsh conditions and come up with a plan to ensure he doesn’t starve before help or supplies arrive.

The novel by Andy Weir is funny and clever, with complex science somehow made accessible to the average ‘layman’ reader, even for first time readers of science fiction. Sections of the novel are log entries recorded by Watney and are laugh out loud funny. Watney’s ingenuity and character really shine through in the book and Matt Damon did a magnificent job playing the character in the movie.TheMartian film poster

There were some marked differences in the movie adaptation that are worth noting though.
– The book contains quite a bit of scene-appropriate swearing, and without it in the movie, Watney’s character loses a little of his edge.
– One of my favourite scenes (where Watney spells out letters on the surface of mars with rocks) wasn’t included in the film and I couldn’t help but be disappointed.
– The names and nationality of several supporting characters were changed for the movie, and I have no idea why.
– The trip in the rover forms so much of the book (it’s over 3,000 miles) but in the movie, he seems to ‘arrive’ at his location without the audience being aware of the true perils of the journey.
– They changed the ending. I won’t elaborate so I don’t spoil it for anyone, but some of the changes in the movie improved on the original ending and some were a waste of time.

The Martian was one of my favourite books of 2015, and I knew it’d be hard to match on screen, but sadly the movie left me wanting more. At 141 minutes duration, the film is longer than the average block buster, but the time really flies. It was entertaining, and on its own, a very fine movie, I just thought the book was better. Such a cliche right?

So, what’s your opinion, which is better? The Martian movie or The Martian book? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Review: The End of All Things by John Scalzi

9781447290490John Scalzi returns to the Old Man’s War universe for his next fantastic installment. Following on from The Human Division, which was told over thirteen episodes, this time Scalzi tells his story over four novellas and once again demonstrates his total mastery in whatever form or perspective he chooses to tell his stories.

Have firming established his universe over four previous novels Scalzi has relished the chance to explore its complexities over the last two books through the world of high stakes, interstellar diplomacy. Things were not looking good for the human species at the end of The Human Division. Earth had split away from the Colonial Union which has drastic consequences for the Colonial Union’s defensive and colonizing capabilities. The Conclave, a coalition of alien species whose aim it is to bring peace and stability to the universe, has intentionally or unintentionally found itself as a wedge between Earth and The Colonial Union as each party scramble to form new allegiances. Enter a new shadow group whose intentions are to bring everything crashing down.

Scalzi tells the story from the point of view of a high ranking Conclave diplomat, a Colonial Union platoon lieutenant, a Colonial Union diplomat (Harry Wilson) and a brain in a box (yes you read that correctly). The brilliance of John Scalzi is that each story works perfectly well on it’s own but together slowly draws out the plot to bring so-called equilibrium to the universe.

I loved returning to this universe so much. John Scalzi is a dead set genius and I can’t wait for there to be more from this series wherever and whenever that may be.

Buy the book here…

Review: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

9781473619807I totally loved this book. This sucked me in from the opening sentence and still has not let me go. The moment I finished I started missing all the characters straight away and want to get back to this universe as quickly as possible. This is science fiction at its best; expansive, alien, full of worlds, peoples and technology to explore but at the same time containing an essence and humanity (not really the right word considering all the different types of life out there) that captures perfectly what we all strive for in our lives.

The book is set on The Wayfarer,a tunneling ship whose primary job is to dig holes through space to enable faster travel between points. It is dangerous but high paying work. Rosemary Harper has just been hired by the crew of the ship as their new clerk and it is through her we meet the motley crew; Ashby, Sissix, Kizzy, Jenks, Corbin, Dr Chef, The Ohan and Lovey. A mix of humans and aliens who all have vital roles aboard The Wayfarer. Rosemary has never left her home world so space and its politics, its settlements and its customs are all new, things she has read about but never actually experienced. As Rosemary gets to know her new crewmates she slowly learns their secrets but must remain protective of her own. But Rosemary must get to know all these things quickly as The Wayfarer is about to get a job of lifetime which might be the end of theirs.

The immediate comparison for this book is Firefly and while some of the crew dynamics do have a slight familiarity this is a completely different story and completely different types of people. Having said that this will definitely scratch a Firefly itch. What I really loved about the book was how well Becky Chambers creates each of the characters on board The Wayfarer. She reveals each character at different speeds and at different times and you end up forming a strong board with everyone aboard the spaceship. The other part I loved was that the book is not driven by the end destination, it is about the journey along the way. It is a long arduous journey and you are with them the whole way.

This was a completely satisfying novel that at the same time leaves you wanting more. Originally self-published after a kickstarter campaign it is now being published by Hodder & Stoughton. I really hope this means there will be more to come from The Wayfarer and her crew. I miss them already.

Buy the book here…

Review: Armada by Ernest Cline

9781780891897Ernest Cline set the nostalgia/nerd levels to stun in his debut novel Ready Player One. In his latest novel he turns it up to blast in a science fiction adventure story literally ripped straight out of your favourite video games and sci-fi movies. Have you ever thought you could take your video game skills out in the real world or imagined that your favourite science fiction movie was actually real? Well strap in to your starship and get ready to blast off in this action packed adventure.

Zack Lightman has spent his short life lost in video games. His whole life is centred around getting through school so he can get back to playing his favourite game, a combat flight simulator where players must take on an alien invasion force. He works after school at his local game shop before jumping into the next online mission at home. But when he sees one of the alien spacecrafts he does battle against on his way from school he starts to doubt his own sanity. A very real fear because his father, who died just after he was born, left behind some bizarre notebooks detailing a vast alien conspiracy between the US Government, Hollywood and the Video Game industry. A theory Zack thought was the ravings of a mad man who he might just be starting to believe!

Mixing an 80s soundtrack with some of the best sci-fi movies and video games of the last thirty years Ernest Cline has created an action-adventure story worthy of the movies he references, even down to the slightly cheesy ending. While this doesn’t reach the heights of Ready Player One it was still an immensely fun read that’ll have your gaming hands itching.

Buy the book here…

Launching LynC’s Nil by Mouth

NilByMouthIn June this year, at Continuum X (the 53rd Australian National Science Fiction Convention), I launched LynC’s debut science fiction novel Nil by Mouth. Today’s blog post (the third in a series of launch related posts) is an approximation of my launch speech. I say approximation, because although I had notes, I actually winged a fair bit of it. Be that as it may, here we go…

Being asked to launch a book is a nerve-racking experience. You give a tentative YES and then you go off and read the book. But what happens if you don’t like it? Will the publisher and author be offended? Will they ever speak to you again? The anxiety increases exponentially when the author is a friend. Needless to say, I was terrified when I finally sat down to read Nil By Mouth.

I’m sure you could have heard my sigh of relief from half way across the galaxy when I started reading Nil By Mouth. By the time I had finished the first page I knew I was going to like this book. A few pages later, I knew I would LOVE IT! It hooked me in, right from its mysterious title; past its opening scene; along its various twists and turns and changes of direction; through to its unexpected but very appropriate ending.

Nil By Mouth is a good, old-fashioned science fiction story. By that, I mean that it’s a story in which the science fiction elements are integral, rather than simply being window-dressing. The alien culture, the concept of human beings being used as incubators — these things are a fundamental part of the story. And yet, there is also a great deal of emotion, characters development and relationship drama. I defy anyone to read this book and not feel like they’ve been put through an emotional wringer.

Much as I like the way in which humanity is portrayed in this book, it is the alien society, its intricacies and interactions with humanity that I love most. It’s intriguing, it’s complex and it’s subtle. The layered alien characters, the subtlety of the relationships and the intricacies of the aliens’ motivations. My favourite moment is when the protagonist realises that the insulting term used by his alien master in addressing him, is actually meant as a term of endearment. It implies so much and is beautifully handled.

Nil By Mouth is a story of SF ideas, held together in a narrative context by relationships — between humans and aliens; between humans and other humans; between aliens and other aliens.

I read the eBook in preparation for today’s launch. But this is the sort of book that I will read again; the sort of book I’ll pass on to my wife to read; the sort of book I’ll stick under the nose of my daughter in a few years; the sort of book I’ll spruik to my friends; and thus, the sort of book I MUST get autographed. I’m now reserving my spot at the head of the queue so that I can purchase a print copy. Don’t get in my way! You have been warned.

Congratulations LynC, on writing an excellent book, a thought-provoking piece of science fiction and a believable and likeable set of flawed characters. And let me say here that even the antagonists are sympathetic and likeable in their own way… which is no mean feet to achieve as a writer.

So now, it is my great pleasure and honour to declare LynC’s Nil by Mouth launched. Long may it sail the literary seas.

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And that brings to a close a trilogy of launch related blog posts. Want to read the others? Check out “Launching a book” and “Launching Michael Pryor’s Machine Wars”.

I promise to be back before Christmas with at least one more post. Perhaps a post some Christmas reading recommendations?

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter

 

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Latest Post: DVD Review  — Land of the Giants: The Complete First Season

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Review – Lock In by John Scalzi

9780575134348I’ve been dying to read this since Scalzi published his oral history, teaser novella earlier this year. You don’t have to read the novella before this but I would highly recommend doing so because it shows the true depth of the world building Scalzi has imagined for our near future.

To set things up a flu like virus has ripped through the world infecting millions. Many died but there were also survivors, a small portion of whom became “Locked In”. Thier minds were perfectly fine but they became trapped inside their bodies. Billions of dollars was thrown at finding a cure for the virus but instead of a cure a different solution was discovered. “Locked In” people were able to transfer their consciousness to specially designed robots known as Hadens allowing them to rejoin the world. This lead to other discoveries and innovations that have had a fundamental impact on society and the world.

Scalzi tells the story like a classic detective mystery; two FBI agents, one a veteran the other new on the job. The twist being the new agent on the job is a Haden. Their first case together is a bizarre one. One man is dead and an “Integrator” (a human who can integrate their minds with Hadens) is found at the scene. As the FBI agents try to piece together what has happened they are quickly enveloped in a world of big business, politics and technology where nobody is who they seem.

This was a lot of fun and I don’t think Scalzi is finished with this world just yet. I can’t wait to see the stories he comes up with if he does return.

Buy the book here…

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

9780091956134This was of the funnest books I can remember reading in a long time. Gripping, funny and told in a totally original and authentic voice you can’t help but be hooked in by this part-Apollo 13, part-Castaway survival story.

Mark Watney is an astronaut, part of the third manned mission to Mars. Six days after landing on Mars a fierce dust storm forces Mark and his crew mates to abandon the planet. However during the evacuation Mark is left behind. Now he must work out how is going to survive on Mars until the next resupply mission. In two years time.

The majority of the book is told via Mark’s log entries detailing his survival. The log is written in a beautifully sarcastic tone where outright panic is only a hair’s breath away. There is plenty of self-deprecating humour and the log format works perfectly in detailing Mark’s day-to-day survival.

Mark is completely stranded. He has no way of communicating with his crew mates or NASA. He only has enough food and water to last half the time he needs. Mark puts to work his skills as an engineer and botanist to figure out if he can survive. The how is one of the most entertaining reads you will come across. Full of insane (but practical) problem solving you are glued to the book wanting to find out how Mark gets himself out of each new predicament he finds himself in. I defy anyone to be able to put this down once they start!

Buy the book here…

Review – Wool and Shift

9780099580485Wool

“Is seeing always believing?”

There are so many things to love about this book. It shares nothing in common with The Hungers Games, The Passage or The Matrix ( the first film not the dodgy sequels) but if you liked those stories you will go absolutely nuts for this book like I did.

“You’ve felt it, right? That we could be anywhere, living a lie?”

Originally self published as a short story that grew into five eBooks it is now available as one eBook together and will be published in December in paperback. I read an advanced print copy that had each part as a separate volume and I wish they were publishing the print book this way because having five distinct parts I think is essential to the overall reading experience of this extremely impressive novel.

“Something had happened. A great and powerful thing had fallen out of alignment.”

Part One is only 48 pages but it is more than enough to blow your mind. We meet Holston who is a Sheriff and is waiting in a holding cell to die. Holston lives in a gigantic underground silo which is over 130 stories deep. The outside world is full of toxic air and wastelands. The silo is organized and supplied so that people do not need to go outside. They have food and water and the population is kept in check. A couple cannot have a child until someone else dies and a lottery is held. There is a Mayor, a Sheriff and the laws of The Pact. If a law is broken the punishment is ‘The Cleaning’. ‘The Cleaning’ involves going outside in a specially designed suit and cleaning a gigantic lens which allows the inhabitants to view the outside world. It also involves certain death. Holston is waiting in a holding cell to do ‘The Cleaning’. A task he has volunteered for.

“A project to pull the wool back from everyone’s eyes. A favour to the next fool who slipped up or dared to hope aloud”

Holston is the catalyst. His actions set everything in motion. A new Sheriff must be found. As the next four parts unfold we learn more about life in the silo and how each level is divided up in order for everybody to survive. You also begin to piece together a bigger picture and a more complex world that will astonish you and leave you gasping for air as you read. What at first seems to be a great lie is in fact something else all together and discovering the truth is more dangerous that anyone can possibly imagine.

“This is how the uprising begins”

This is a story bursting with imagination and ideas. Thought-provoking seems an understatement. Howey does what all great speculative fiction should, he creates a world seemingly removed from our own, in an apocalyptic future, and slowly peels the differences away. There is a lot of hype around this book. This is one of those rare occasions where not only does the book live up to the hype, it exceeds it.

“It is not beyond us to kill to keep secrets.”

Buy the book here…

9781780891224Shift

Like Wool, which was originally published as five eBooks, Shift was originally published as three eBooks and is now available in one volume. Shift is the follow-up to Wool but it is actually the prequel. Set in Silo 1 it tells the story of how the silos came into being and why. The book is split into three shifts, each spaced decades apart, as we follow the work of Silo 1 monitoring the other silos as well as managing their own silo population.

Shift is as mind-blowing as Wool, maybe more so. I am totally amazed that the world Howey has created, which is so confined within a Silo, can have so many stories and is bursting with so many ideas. Howey slowly marries up the stories of Wool and Shift perfectly and leaves you itching to read the conclusion, Dust. The wool is well and truly lifted from our eyes but what this means for the survivors in the Silos is far from clear and I cannot wait to find out.

Buy the book here…