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Tag: science fiction

READING THE TBR, DAY 304: Two Tales of Korval (1995) by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

Over a decade ago, I fell completely in love with the Liaden Universe. The brainchild of married co-authors Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, this elaborately crafted science fiction series first came to me at the strong recommendation of my friend Kai, who knows whereof he speaks where elaborately crafted science fiction series, and won me over from the very first page.

There are now two dozen Liaden novels, and I am several behind in those series, but more than that, I am all of them behind in the self-published “chapbooks” that began to be produced by the series’ authors in the 90s, when their then-publisher went bankrupt.

Each featuring two (occasionally more) short stories set in the Liaden world, I have been collecting these chapbooks — some of which are now very, very rare — for years, but… well, I haven’t read them. Any of them. WHY? Eh. Who even knows at this point.

But this month, I will read them all! It has been decided! There are twenty-nine of them, and there are thirty days in November, so I am going to be all Liad all the time for the next several weeks. Yay!

This first one gets me off to a most excellent start, as its two tales of Korval are, in fact, two tales of Val Con yos’Phelium, probably my favourite Liaden, one showing him as a youngster learning to be a Scout and first meeting the sentient giant turtle, who would go on to become his best friend, Edger, and the other putting Val Con in a skimmer race with his cousin Shan in defiance of the punctilious Lady Kareen, whom I hate. I loved both of these stories — LOVED THEM — and can’t wait to read more of these snapshot tales from out of the unexplored areas of the Liaden canon.  


TBR DAY 304: Two Tales of Korval (Adventures in the Liaden Universe #1) by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
GENRE: Science Fiction, Space Opera
TIME ON THE TBR: ~10 years.  
KEEP: Of course.

READING THE TBR, DAY 298: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (2010) by Charles Yu

Surreal is the only word that can be applied to this mind-twisty, somewhat headache-inducing novel, which I bought long, long ago upon the recommendation of the Amazon algorithm that has, to date, found me most amenable to most of its suggestions of books I might like.

Once again, Amazon proves how well it knows me — even back then — because I liked this book a lot.

Especially when I understood it.  Which was… not always.

Because time travel. Ugh.

Our protagonist is also our author, Charles Yu, who is well-versed in the vagaries of said time travel, and the trappings thereof, with which his corner of the multiverse is well supplied. Yu’s father actually invented time travel, then disappeared, and it is the search for this visionary that takes up much of the narrative. But there is so much more going on here. There is profundity, and humour, and a deep understanding of the genre as a whole.

It’s an incredibly impressive work.

And I did like it a lot.

But now my head hurts.

Because time travel. Ugh.


TBR DAY 298: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
GENRE: Science Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: ~8 years.  
KEEP: Yep.

READING THE TBR, DAY 270: Planetside (2018) by Michael Mammay

I love it when genres merge, and here Military Science Fiction meets Mystery as Colonel Carl Butler, no nonsense, competent and honourable (if kind of an alcoholic, in the tradition of many detective types), is sent to investigate the disappearance of a well-connected lieutenant during a battle on a war ravaged occupied planet.

The war that ravages is conducted between the human invaders and the indigenous species, and it is very interesting to see us portrayed as the aggressors, and moreover ones that are generally accounted as justified, due to the mineral deposits on the planet and the fact that some of the locals appear to welcome human colonization. 

Butler finds himself stymied in his investigation for much of the novel, but his investigative work never gets dull, and neither do the secondary characters, many of whom are very well fleshed out, who populate both the space station on which he is mostly based and the planet around which they orbit.

A stunning debut, I was close to blown away by this book — that ending! Woah! — and am now very excited for the sequel.


TBR DAY 270: Planetside by Michael Mammy
GENRE: Science Fiction, Military Science Fiction, Mystery
TIME ON THE TBR: 1 year.  
KEEP: Sure.

READING THE TBR, DAY 266: To Say Nothing of the Dog (1998) by Connie Willis

This is so different to Doomsday Book, the first novel in the Oxford Time Travel series. For a start, this book is funny. It is all literary references and sly humour and irony and I did not expect that, given the pervasive, plague-based trauma of the previous novel. Not that there was no irony to be had in the last one, but this one takes it to extremes, and it is delightful.

The story centres around Coventry Cathedral, which was destroyed in the Blitz during World War II. While a new one was built right next to it during the ensuing peacetime, the ruins remain, and in the time travelly future of this novel, the masterful Lady Schrapnell is determined to restore the original edifice. She demands the assistance of time traveller Ned Henry, who was recently in the 1940s, but Ned is suffering from time lag, and so is sent to the idyllic near-pastoral surrounds of the late-nineteenth century Coventry to both retrieve a significant object and get some rest.

But when there he — and his junior colleague Verity — discover that they may have accidentally Butterfly Effected the future, and so they spend the next several hundred pages alternately trying to break up non-historical relationships, getting out of attending jumble sales, restoring order to the space time continuum and falling in love.

It is the best.

And I now have to go and read Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men and a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), to which this book appears to be something of an homage — Jerome himself, and his boat, make a cameo — and which has been on my shelves lo, these many years. (Of course.)

I really, really, really loved this book. Admittedly, it took me a while to get into its surreal and kind of nonsensey vibe, but once I was there, I never wanted to leave.


TBR DAY 266: To Say Nothing of the Dog (Oxford Time Travel #2) by Connie Willis
GENRE: Science Fiction, Historical Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: 5 years.  
KEEP: Yep.

READING THE TBR, DAY 265: Ark Royal (2014) by Christopher G. Nuttall

Christopher G. Nuttall is the real name of Jack Campbell, an author who wrote modern day pulpy space opera series The Lost Fleet, which I loved. Well, I loved the first five books. That series has seen multiple spinoffs and continuations, and I am a long way behind on those, because I kind of lost the thread of what was happening and have never managed to get back on track.

So I was pretty excited when Campbell/Nuttall brought out a new science fiction series and I could start all over again with another of his fast-paced and battle-heavy excursions into space.

In this one, spacefaring humanity has made contact with some hostile aliens who seem determined to wipe us all out for no discernible reason. The aliens’ tech is way ahead of ours, and wipes out all modern spacecraft, but it can’t seem to penetrate the hull of a mothballed, outdated carrier, the Ark Royal, helmed by a washed up, drunkard captain who becomes an unlikely hero.    

Okay, so it’s not exactly the most original of plots. But do we always need original? Sometimes all I want is a rollicking adventure through the stars featuring some carefully flawed characters, some definitely evil villains, an ongoing mystery and the aforementioned unlikely hero. And this book delivers all of that, and more! I had a blast pretty much the whole way through, and even the just-now discovery that there are already — gulp — no fewer than thirteen other books in this series is not enough to dampen my enthusiasm for it.

And now it is time for me to go and buy some more books, dammit.


TBR DAY 265: Ark Royal (Ark Royal #1) by Christopher G. Nuttall
GENRE: Science Fiction, Space Opera
TIME ON THE TBR: ~4 years.  
KEEP: Yep.

READING THE TBR, DAY 260: Doomsday Book (1992) by Connie Willis

Whole swathes of this book are about illness. Serious illness, like the plague and a vicious influenza, one in the distant past and another in the distant future. 

It’s a clever concept, this book. There is time travel, in that distant future, and historians attempt to infiltrate the past in order to better understand it. Into this program goes one Kivrin, a Middle Ages scholar who insists on a trip to the 1300s, and despite the fact that she is a single woman travelling alone, at a time when such a thing was just not done, and was dangerous as hell, she is permitted to do so by her besotted advisor, Dunworthy.

This is a long book. Oftentimes repetitive, and there is a lot of delirium brought about by assorted fevers, as well as a lot, lot, lot of death. I’m not sure I liked it for most of the time I was reading it, but looking back on it now that I am at last out of its harrowing grip, I can appreciate its many splendours. If nothing else, I can certainly see why it is accounted a modern-day classic of the genre (whatever genre it is: Historical Science Fiction?) and I will certainly be reading the other four books in this series. Most of which I — of course — already own.  


TBR DAY 277: Doomsday Book (Oxford Historians #1) by Connie Willis
GENRE: Science Fiction, Historical Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: 3 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Collins Booksellers.
KEEP: Yep. 

READING THE TBR, DAY 230: The Calculating Stars (2018) by Mary Robinette Kowal

The first in the newly minted Lady Astronaut series, this multi award-winning novel (it just won the Hugo for Best Novel yesterday) is set in an an alternate America, in which a huge impact event has affected the Earth to such an extent that it is likely to be an extinction event as well. Warning of this is Dr. Elma York, an astrophysicist who is also a math genius and an expert pilot and who must battle against institutionalised sexism — and, on behalf of others, racism, once she realises it’s happening — in order to join the ranks of those astronaut saviours who may well be humanity’s only hop.

But Elma has her frailties, for all her many talents. Most particularly, she suffers from anxiety. Her supportive husband, who happens to be the lead engineer of the colony project, was unaware of the extent of the issue, and it takes many, many chapters before Elma is able to forgive herself for this perfectly normal condition and seek help. But the help she gets could be the death knell to her astronaut aspirations.

There is a definite Hidden Figures vibe to the book, so anyone who enjoyed that film will surely like this one. Kowal writes wonderfully, evoking an alternate 1950s South with ease, and tackling social issues in a frank manner, through the lens of Elma — who belatedly comes to understand her privilege, and work against it. The maths and science are a lot, but seem legit, and Elma’s relationship with her husband, which perhaps relies a little too much on “we are go for launch” sex talk, is nevertheless sweet and romantic and absolutely charming.


TBR DAY 230: The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
GENRE: Science Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: ~1 year.  
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 202: Tears in Rain (2011) by Rosa Montero

For all my love of science fiction, I have never been particularly drawn to cyberpunk as a subgenre. Of course, I have read Neuromancer and Johnny MnemonicSnowcrash and Altered Carbon among other such, not to mention a bunch of applicable Philip K. Dick. I’ve seen every iteration of Blade Runner that exists on film (and that is a lot). But I think there is something about its generally bleak vision of the future — that technology and progress will overtake us so implacably that we will be powerless to prevent society’s inevitable descent into cybernetics, dehumanization and, above all, loneliness — that makes me unutterably sad.

This novel echoes those themes in spades, but also gives it all a Spanish flair — it is set in New Madrid in the too-near future — while also giving us a face-tattooed artificial life form as our detective heroine, who rejoices under the unlikely moniker of Bruna Husky.

Bruna — who is more usually referred to as “the detective” and “the rep”, which is kind of annoying, to be honest — is employed to get to the bottom of a suspicious death, and before long she gets drawn into a far-reaching conspiracy against her race (“rep” is short for “replicant”, and yes, the title is indeed a reference to Blade Runner; it is even mentioned in the text) and the very controlling government. There are aliens in this world, and a barely-sentient, very cute pet-type creature who speaks,  but all of this is thrown at us as though it’s really no big deal. Maybe it isn’t.

The book is perhaps a tad overlong, and Bruna’s investigative skills aren’t exactly top notch, her method being distinctly of the “crash around until someone tries to kill me” school of detection, but the book held my attention throughout, and I liked its contemplation of what makes us individuals, what makes us human, and how important our memories are to our sense of self. Despite myself, and her, I even liked Bruna, debilitating drug addiction and frank sexual encounters and all.

Bruna Husky #2 was translated into English and released in 2016, but the third in the series, released last year, does not yet have an English version. I’ll wait.


TBR DAY 202: Tears in Rain (Bruna Husky #1) by Rosa Montero
GENRE: Science Fiction, Cyberpunk, Spanish Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: 4 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Minotaur Melbourne.
KEEP: Yep!

READING THE TBR, DAY 181: Annihilation (2014) by Jeff VanderMeer

My friend Nate has been raving about this series for the past year or so, and since I bought its first book on a whim a while back — look at that hideous cover! Surely the book had to be good, I thought, with a cover so bad; it’s the same principle on which I often choose wine — I finally decided to dive in if for no other reason than to shut him the hell up. 

I can see why Nate likes it so much. He loves a complex, tortured and unlikable anti-hero, your Walter Whites, your Royal Tenenbaums, your… most every character ever played by Jesse Eisenberg. In this case, that role is played by the Biologist (jobs, not names, define people in this world), who keeps a journal of her experience as a member of the latest expedition into Area X, a mysterious and ultimately deadly zone into which the government keeps sending people for some reason, even though nothing good ever comes from it. 

The Biologist’s husband had been a member of the previous expedition, and it is as much to search out answers as to his bizarre fate, and about their long-fractured marriage, as it is scientific curiosity that leads her to join the Anthropologist, the Surveyor and the Psychologist, on the expedition, and it is a dreamlike experience to be inside her scattered head as her sanity is slowly sapped away by the oddity she everywhere encounters. There’s a conspiracy to uncover, of course, and nothing and no one are quite what it seems, and it is a deeply disconcerting and almost otherworldly experience, reading this dreary, yet somehow compelling, narrative.

I finished reading it hours ago, and I am still scratching my head over exactly what I just read. I certainly didn’t dislike it. I wasn’t bored. I wasn’t annoyed, or frustrated, or angry, or really anything. I just felt… disassociated. Like, I was somehow reading this through cotton wool, with everything dulled and hard to fathom and… kind of itchy. I don’t think I’m in a hurry to read the rest of the trilogy, exactly, but I do understand Nate’s fascination with it. Kind of.

Still, please read another book now, bud.


TBR DAY 181: Annihilation (Southern Reach #1) by Jeff VanderMeer
GENRE: Dark Fantasy, Science Fiction, Magical Realism, Alternate Reality
TIME ON THE TBR: 2 years.  
KEEP: Nope.

READING THE TBR, DAY 150: The Cosmic Computer (1963) by H. Beam Piper

I have a fondness for old SF paperbacks, and it is very hard for me to pass one by should I see it at a book sale or op shop or similar. This one came in a set of six vintage titles on which I successfully bid at filking convention’s silent auction in Atlanta — “filking” is, essentially, making music about nerd stuff, and I went to a convention of same because I was living in Atlanta at the time and Seanan MGuire told me to — and is the first one of them I have actually read.

Set on a world struggling to lift themselves out of economic collapse, it tells the story of the enterprising Conn Maxwell, who returns from a university stint on Earth and tells his compatriots that a long-rumoured super-computer known as MERLIN does, in fact, exist, and is buried along with much other disused weaponry in the planet’s wastes. He employs some people to help him dig, and more people dig, and all of a sudden the desolate planet with  no hope is buzzing with industry and purpose. It’s very pro-capitalism (there are a lot of ltd. companies created in this book, plus holding companies and shell companies and companies of every kind, really), and also very anti-worker’s rights — they get whipped, if you please — so that’s kind of problematic. I mean, I like capitalism as much as the next business owner, but come on.

Still, it’s a pretty inventive story from a stalwart of SF’s golden age, and as I have not read any of H. Beam Piper’s other works, and given that he wrote dozens of books and short stories, I am just glad to have, at last, sampled his offerings. I’m not sure I’ll be rushing out to read any more of them, however.

There are only so many board of directors’ meetings and formation of LLCs that a sci-fi fan can take, after all.   


TBR DAY 149: The Cosmic Computer by H. Beam Piper
GENRE: Classic SF, SF
TIME ON THE TBR: ~ 9 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: A filking convention…
KEEP: Yep.