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A selection of reviews from our monthly newsletter. These are sorted by the author's or editor's last name. Click on the name at the top of the page to take you to the section or just scroll down the page.

S

Paul M Sammon
Brandon Sanderson
Lynsay Sands
Andrzej Sapkowski
Stephanie Saulter
Robert J Sawyer
John Scalzi
Donna Scott
Rob Scott
Philip Segal with Gary Russell
Anna Sheehan
Lucius Shepard
Brian Sibley
Robert Silverberg
Clifford D Simak
Dan Simmons
Alison Sinclair
Nalini Singh
John Sladek
Angela Slatter
Gavin Smith
Jon Sprunk
Olaf Stapledon
Brian Staveley
Jon Steele
Bruce Sterling
Ian Stewart & Jack Cohen
Sam Stone
Whitley Strieber
Charles Stross
Arkady & Boris Strugatski
Theodore Sturgeon
M Suddain
Tricia Sullivan
David A Sutton
Steph Swainston
E J Swift

T

Adrian Tchaikovsky
Adrian Tchaikovsky and Friends
Breanna Teintze
Sheri S Tepper
Rhys Thomas
Douglas Thompson
Tade Thompson
Lavie Tidhar
G X Todd
J R R Tolkien
Tom Toner
Paul Tremblay
Harry Turtledove
Kyle Turton
Lisa Tuttle
John Twelve Hawks

INTERZONE issue 214 Feb 2008 by

INTERZONE isn’t the magazine it was when it started. It seems to have lost all of the literary pretensions and is now going for a younger market. It isn’t trying too hard to do so. There’s a Christopher Priest story that shows some signs of the old literary qualities. There’s a film review column that is either the worst of its kind I’ve ever seen or deliberately trying to alienate anyone who hasn’t spent a lifetime reading fantasy novels/comics. I would say that this is a magazine written for its subscribers that doesn’t really care about anyone else.
The best part of the magazine is the fiction. All of the stories are fairly good although the Christopher Priest and the Award Winner aren’t really up to the rest.
There’s an interview with Iain Banks that’s just the usual “I’ve got a new book out” plug. There are pictures that seem to be backgrounds or characters from the stories. Some look like they’d be good in colour but aren’t so good in black and white. None of them are anything special. There are book/DVD reviews and an old copy (December?) of Ansible.
So what does this magazine really need? It needs to sell the stories. They are its strong point and all that they give on the contents page is author and title.
The image presented with the story doesn’t really say anything about what’s in it.
They really need to put in a teaser for each and action rather than character/background pictures. If they’re not going to go for colour on the inner pages, they should probably consider line drawings for illustration.
If they want to attract a younger market, they should try harder on the media product. There’s no media news and the reviews are of product that has closed in the cinema or has just reached DVD. It should be possible to get interviews with relevant personalities if only by phone or email questionnaire. If they want to run a film review column they have to get reviews of films that won’t hit the cinema until after the magazine is on the shelves. It should be possible to get some idea of what is coming to UK TV and – in some cases – review from internet versions.

Reviewed by William McCabe Mar-2008

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(film review)

BIG FISH

(dir:Tim Burton) starring Ewan McGregor, Jessica Lange, Albert Finney, Helena Bonham Carter.
I had been feeling a bit let down by my favourite director. Burton had last been seen producing the rather scarily formulaic re-make of PLANET OF THE APES (which I still think was an OK film if you don’t consider who directed it, and worryingly bad if you do). So I needed to come and see something to reconfirm my feelings, and I was not let down.
BIG FISH bears rather a resemblance to SECONDHAND LIONS, as in old man tells tales (true or false) about his childhood, and it is up to the other characters (and audience) to work out if he is telling porkies. Another film this bears a strong resemblance to, with its flashbacks and strong tongue-in-cheek atmosphere, is PRINCESS BRIDE. Though in that latter film, the ‘real’ story interlapping the tale is not so strongly drawn - here Burton brings in the right amount of pathos to make the present-day stuff worth watching too, though nothing can beat the ta ll tales (or is it the truth) that Albert Finney tells of.
Basically it is about a father who after a long life is dying, though we are never told what of exactly. His son, after years of feeling resentful, decides to try to get to know his father, who has always seemed to hide away behind tales of magic and witches and big fish, tales that while wonderful in the telling, the straightforward son just cannot accept as truth. Thus through the father’s stories, we too have to decide for ourselves what is true and what isn’t.
This is a clever film. The stories are such th at, even if partly fabricated, you can see what might be the truth behind them. And th ey are never too far-fetched to believe, they just might be true. I was slightly disappointed by the ending, as it seemed to give rather too many answers - it would have been nice to be kept partly guessing. And as it is the obligatory happy ending, it is almost too slushy. But let this not detract - it is a heart-wanning, inspiring story, and Burton is back on form. Great performances from the leads - although the two main actors are so well known at tunes it is hard to be able to imagine one as the younger version of the other… Still despite its few and far between disadvantages this rates as one of the best films I have seen for the past few months.

Reviewed by Vicky Cook Apr-2004

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DISTRICT 9

An interesting film that is about a race of aliens who appear over South Africa and get forced to live in slum-like conditions. Many years later the munitions corporation, Multi-National United, is contracted to forcibly evict the population. The person in charge of this, Wikus van der Merwe is then exposed to a strange alien chemical. The film is gritty and realistic, and none of the actors particularly famous, which makes a refreshing change.
I remember the advertising being comprehensive for this film – posters all over the place, such as on phone boxes, and a rather good trailer, thus leading to quite a lot of hype. I expected a bigger budget film but this has been done on a relative ‘shoestring’ compared to most modern movies. The aliens are very realistic and believable with no bad CGI in sight. It starts off being shot as a documentary-style film then becomes more conventional later as the plot and action picks up. Wikus is a believable pathetic character as he is forced by circumstances to change his view towards the aliens and even come to rely on them.
Be warned, this is a gritty film which doesn’t shy away from violence, but it is nonetheless a very good film which leaves a strong impression in terms of the way it is filmed and the strong themes present throughout. Recommended.

Reviewed by Vicky Stock Jun-2010

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FORBIDDEN PLANET: 50TH ANNIVERSARY TWO DISC SPECIAL EDITION

Sometimes in life you see bargains and pass them by, later regretting your error, and sometimes there are bargains that you just *cannot* pass by and you go for. Seeing the DVD of the 1956 classic FORBIDDEN PLANET - one of my alltime favourite SF movies (there are only a handful of SF movies worth watching once let alone twice) - advertised on Amazon for the ridiculously low price of £3.97 post free was such a time. The 50th Anniversary two disc version with extras including ‘lost’ scenes cut from the released version! How could I resist? My VHS tape was looking very grainy and faded so a couple of clicks later I sat back, having ordered it and looked forward to sitting down in a few days time to rewatch a great movie though I puzzled somewhat over what was going to fill 2 discs.
The disc duly arrived 3 or 4 days later and I sat down about midnight with a bottle of Shiraz looking forward to enjoying the movie once more. Ah! Problem! Which disc has the movie and which one has the extras? Well, let’s just start with one of them. A black and white clip started off the disc – excerpts from THE INVISIBLE BOY, a movie made a year or so after FORBIDDEN PLANET that I’d heard of because they’d used Robbie the Robot in it. Oh, well, worth watching the bits with Robbie in it I suppose…. But, no, it was the complete movie based on a story by Edmund Cooper!!!. I hadn’t switched it off in disgust so it couldn’t have been that bad. To be perfectly honest, there were a few excruciatingly embarrassing bits. Next up was something called “Watch the Skies” which turned out to be a TCM Special on SF movies featuring George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron to name just three, talking about SF movies – surprisingly very sensibly!. A fascinating documentary that lasted an hour. Oops, still more ‘extras’ but it was now nearly 3am and time for sleep. And I still hadn’t seen FORBIDDEN PLANET!
Evening two, Shiraz 2 and disc 2 – good old Will Shakespeare’s only SF movie! Well, no, he didn’t actually write it – Irving Block and Allen Adler wrote the story but Will sometimes gets unwarranted credit for it despite the fact that he didn’t even know what a robot was.
Although the sound was mono, it is now remastered into 5.1 Dolby Digital and the picture was 2.40 widescreen – almost the way it was shown in cinemas (originally 2.55). Superb picture and how glad I was to throw out my VHS tape! One slight disappointment – the version originally shown in cinemas was 98 minutes long according to Imdb – this DVD is 94 minutes. What’s missing?
My third session at this DVD revealed a complete episode from the TV series THE THIN MAN. This episode, “Robot Client” from February 1958 also features our old friend Robbie the Robot but plotwise it was transparent and the whole thing was very dated. But it was nice to see it. Other extras were THE MGM PARADE TV series, “Exploring the Far Reaches of FORBIDDEN PLANET” plus several cinema trailers of THE TIME MCHINE and other SF movies of the 50s. And don’t forget the ‘lost’ scenes and extra footage!
All this for £3.97????? Go buy!!!

Reviewed by Rog Peyton Jun-2010

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HANCOCK

directed by Peter Berg, starring Will Smith, Charleze Theron, Jason Bateman.
This is an anti-superhero movie. From the start we see Hancock is a heavy-drinking, supremely strong layabout who doesn’t apparently care who he hurts or what he damages when chasing bad guys. A world away from cleanshaven, pants over trousers superheroes though, like them, he can fly, lift trains and all the other superhero stunts you would expect. The plot thickens though as he saves a businessman from impending danger, and soon his life is taken onboard by this guy who is determined to change his image and life… Hancock then meets his wife and son and his life is soon to be changed completely….
The first and second halves of the film are rather different in tone as Hancock discovers and reveals more about himself and his background, and whether he is the only one of his kind. There are plenty of action set-pieces in amongst the introspection. There’s no real bad guy, just a few rather stereotypical villains who I found were a bit too two-dimensional. Smith does a great job as Hancock though – at least in the early part of the film - he is vastly different to the joking, comic characters we see in his other films. Theron as the wife is ok, but doesn’t have a lot to do to begin with, and I found her rather bland.
Bateman is the only other actor with a lot to do as the businessman who takes a strong interest in Hancock’s image and he does a good job, being believable even as his own life irreparably changes.
CGI are prominent in this film (they do love tearing up famous American cities these days…) and there are some nice darkly humorous scenes. Pacing is good and the film not too long for the plot. Worth a watch.

Reviewed by Vicky Cook Oct-2009

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Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (2005) directed by Garth Jennings

This is, of course, the film version of the popular Douglas Adams books of the ‘70’s, brought a little more up to date and with just a little bit of poetic licence. It keeps the musical themes so memorable from the radio and TV series, keeps the quirky humour of the characters and set-pieces, and is quite an enjoyable journey. Arthur Dent’s ordinary life is thrown into disarray when first developers appear to tear down his house and secondly his best friend Ford appears to be an alien warning of impending doom. They escape and meet many colourful characters, including the incomparable President of the Universe, Zaphod Beeblebrox, and Arthur goes on a quest to find himself and true love, as well as the ‘meaning of life’.
Martin Freeman plays Arthur well. He is a bit younger than I had imagined Arthur – in slightly trendier pyjamas and not so much of a stereotypical Brit – hopeless and nerdy. The love triangle between Trillian, Arthur and Zaphod is padded out a bit more in this version. I was not sure about this - it worked ok but at times seemed about to turn the film into a bit of a romantic slush and probably won’t appeal to traditionalists. It also meant Zaphod was in effect reduced to a jealous love rival. Sam Beckett plays Zaphod well enough – zany and over the top, but I remember him being a stronger, more adventurous character in the books. The two heads were a bit odd, more like two faces so there was no interaction between them, and the fake one looked incredibly bad. I was also not too happy with Ford Prefect – he is thoroughly modernised in his look and behaviour here, and he becomes a bit hopeless and not as outgoing or with all that much to do. I enjoyed his carefree style from previously, and felt he was just not as strong a character here. There are lots of famous voices and cameos in this who are all rather amusing – the choice of Stephen Fry in particular to add his velvet tones to the narrator was inspired, and his part helps along those not so familiar with the premise.
Visually, I found the film excellent. The scene-changing mechanisms are good, the effects and characters work together well and make this overall an enjoyable film. There is a good sense of the magic that made the books and series so popular. Things do date over time so some might say that the modernising was necessary, for instance using so much CGI. I am a bit of a traditionalist myself in some things, but I can understand that, in these days of LORD OF THE RINGS/ Harry Potter, HGTTG had a lot to do to keep up within the genre.

Reviewed by Vicky Cook Mar-2006

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I AM LEGEND

(dir: Francis Lawrence) Starring Will Smith and Alice Braga This is the third adaptation from the 1954 Richard Matheson novel. This one stars Will Smith as Robert Neville, a scientist left alone when a disease-destroying drug turns every other person on the planet into crazed monsters. With an aversion to UV light, they hide away by day and come out at nightfall. The film follows his actions by day with the whole city to himself and follows his emotional journey as he faces loneliness, depression and internal as well as external demons. He also strives to discover a cure for the virus, using lab rats and later a captive. This leads the Alpha male of the other beings to seek him out, leading to a final stand-off.
The film leaves out much which made the book so memorable and different to the norm, which to my mind is a real shame. Matheson explored the idea of two types of ‘infected’ – depending whether they lived or died - and the former being more human and less ‘crazed’ are able to communicate and develop. It is a shame the film never delves into this idea. The ‘I Am Legend’ which refers to the scientist being a sort of ‘bogeyman’ himself to the more developed ‘infected’ is changed utterly. Smith is ‘legend’ due to his inexplicable immunity to the virus, which is airborne as well as through contact. The film, like the book, introduces a female protagonist but without giving too much away, she is dealt with completely differently here.
Overall though, I enjoyed the film. The latter part of the film, as the action picked up, did not affect me but I was really struck by the depiction of the main character in the middle of this world-changing event. He was not just a macho tough guy blasting zombies - you could really feel for him. I’d say purists of the book might not like the omissions and changes, and unfortunately some people did not like the film because it was too slow, but I, not usually a fan of this sort of film, appreciated the more thought-provoking aspects and that the monsters were not just plain zombies but evolved into a sort of semi-vampire, semi-monster. CGI being what it is nowadays, they were surprisingly less gruesome than I expected. Worth watching. In order to compare, we’ve just ordered THE OMEGA MAN and LAST MAN ON EARTH (the two other film versions of this book) to watch too.

Reviewed by Vicky Cook Feb-2009

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I, ROBOT (dir: Alex Proyas)

This was much better. I had heard various grumbles about this film nicking the three laws of robotics and the title of one of Asimov's books and not a lot else, but when I came to watch it, I was pleasantly surprised.
There is the decidedly techno-phobic hero with a little secret of his own.
There is the huge TERMINATOR-style cybernetics firm which wants to produce one robot per household, with the prim and proper female scientist who you just know is going to end up helping the hero out. And then the robots rebel…
Some scenes ended up looking suspiciously like TERMINATOR, as robots clambered effortlessly up buildings and chased vehicles. There are lots of big booms and action scenes, but amidst all this, there are some morals to be told too.
Robbie (sorry, Sonny) the Robot just wants to understand the human way of things, and the three laws are frequently called upon, as everyone struggles to understand how they can be apparently broken. The climax is well done and resolved, leading to an ultimate satisfaction with the film. Hit of the summer, definitely!

Reviewed by Vicky Cook Sep-2004

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IRON MAN

directed by Jon Favreau Starring Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow. Tony Stark is the heir to a weapons manufacturing dynasty. Handsome, suave, charming, he captures the public imagination and adds glamour to the industry. He enjoys his fame and lavish lifestyle. However on a promotional trip to Afghanistan, he is captured by enemy soldiers after suffering near-fatal injuries, who fix him up but in such a way that his life will never be the same again… The story takes a while to get going to the Iron Man bits – there is quite a slow build up before the action scenes get going. I found the film overall a little long and with too many storylines for one film – it seems to feature the story of him escaping from enemy hands, then launches into another plotline featuring enemies closer to home. It doesn’t take a genius to work out the bad guys either but then comic book stories can be predictable – that can be part of their appeal.
However, Robert Downey Jr. is great in the lead role, in one of his first major roles for a few years. Gwyneth Paltrow is also good if not given a tremendous amount to do as his loyal assistant, Ms Pepper Potts, and Jeff Bridges steals scenes as the partner in his business. There is a good amount of humour as well – the themes in the film are quite dark and the comedy therefore quite black, but it was kept light by, for instance, the banter between Stark and his assistant. The CGI is also good – it backs up the real armour suit made for the film, rather than replacing everything, which adds a good amount of realism and looks more impressive. I also felt emotionally for the characters – they had real feelings and seemed like real people. This was impressive for a film made from a comic book – Spider-man went along the same vein, trying to make the audience emote with the characters, and this is a factor I liked in both these films.
Interestingly, Marvel made this film themselves rather than farming their characters out to other studios. Despite the over-long plotline and the rather slow build-up, I think they’ve done a good job and would recommend the film.

Reviewed by Vicky Cook Apr-2009

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League of Gentlemen: Apocalypse (2005) directed by Steve Bendelack

The three series of this television comedy show, League of Gentlemen, have been a huge hit, and inevitably of course, the makers turned their thoughts to a film adaptation. With popular TV shows this sometimes works, sometimes falls flat on its face. LOG; APOCALYPSE is surprisingly quite successful. The novel plot of the characters taking their makers hostage is a plus point as their world starts to fall apart once the creators have turned their attention to other worlds, in this case a historical romp. Things gradually disintegrate into a war between characters from the relevant shows as the creators try to make sense of what is going on and resolve things.
The film has more of a constant structure than the TV series, which worked as a series of sketches, albeit with ongoing storylines, and the film also is at times darker, even more serious than its TV counterpart. The TV series did grow darker in tone as it progressed so this could be seen as a natural progression.
What was surprising to me was that they didn’t depend on the popular wellknown characters, such as Tubbs etc. The stars here are the not so well-known Geoff Tipps, Herr Lipp and Hilary Briss Still, they are ‘brought to life’ and their characters developed to good effect, which I appreciated – there are even quite poignant moments in the film such as Herr Lipp coming to terms with himself.
As I have found in later days of the TV series though, it is hard to distinguish whether it is comedy or horror, which means laughing feels uncomfortable!
The common problem of appealing to fans and non-fans is evident here.
There are plenty of references for the film fan to pick up on, such as THE SHINING, etc. While many films tend to put these references in, to get a cheap laugh for instance, it is done with considerably more style here and didn’t feel too cheesy. The film also does what plenty of others have done before - used lots of cameo appearances from various TV stars. These things would appeal to nonfans of the series, thus presumably widening the appeal of the film.
Overall then, as a fan I enjoyed it, but found it getting too dark to be laugh-out-loud. I am not sure a non-fan would enjoy it, though if they enjoy a film with lots of cameos and film-references, there will be no problem. I would recommend they try the TV series first to get a sense of the premise.

Reviewed by Vicky Cook Mar-2006

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Planet of the Apes quintet (’68-75-ish) - Franklin J. Schaffner etc

This is a classic series of films – every one has elements to be recommended in it, and none is a complete dud.
The first in the series is the original film, PLANET OF THE APES, in which Taylor (Charlton Heston) lands on a planet and gradually starts to realize that things are not all as they seem, with apes in charge and humans subordinate.
This is far superior to the modern version which came out a couple of years ago, if only for the greater emotions shown in this older film (wonder, anger, awe, all shown by Heston to great effect). The scene at the end is one of the most famous movie sequences in history, but watching it for the first time in its proper context means it lost none of its intended power.
The next film is BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES following on from the first film as the underground survivors fight back against the apes.
Things start to become more sinister now. A good film but I did not enjoy it as much as a couple of the others.
ESCAPE FROM… tells the tale of how the apes started their path to power as they travel back in time to when humans were the superior race, while CONQUEST OF… carries on this story as the apes (taking over from cats and dogs as pets) fight back against their masters. Intellectual and exciting, but again this was one of the weaker ones. I just got a bit bogged down by all the dark subject matter – not much light-heartedness here.
Everything gets more aggressive still in BATTLE FOR… where the apes battle each other as well.
It was interesting, in ESCAPE FROM…, to see the apes as the protagonists and the ones who capture the audience’s affections, which is rather different to the two films preceding. The constant excellent imagery in the films appealed to me. For instance in the second film, BENEATH…, the mutant humans are dwelling in the ruins of New York City which becomes slowly apparent to the watcher as well as the characters. The third film introduces the idea of a circular time line, where the apes Cornelius and Zira go back in time to set the stage for the ape conquest of Earth. By the end of the fifth film we have got back to how things were at the start of the first film - apes in charge, humans defeated.
Using the same actor Roddy MacDowell, as Cornelius and then Caesar his son, who leads the ape rebellion, lends a continuity effect to the series. He does a terrific job in the series, keeping the audience’s sympathies although he is destroying their race. I watched this series over a short space of time as I was interested in how the story develops, and I would definitely recommend it. The first is the famous one but they all have interesting elements.

Reviewed by Vicky Cook Nov-2006

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SPIDERMAN 2 (dir: Sam Raimi)

This follows the same sort of lines as the first one - Peter Parker is still beset by personal teenage-style problems as he fights various nasty criminals as his alter ego. Meanwhile this time the villain of the piece is one Doctor Octopus, i.e. a scientist whose disastrous attempt at a scientific breakthrough leaves him welded to four powerful steel arms. Also cropping up is the son of the Green Goblin, who is out for revenge for the death of his father.
All in all, however, I was mildly disappointed. While the action scenes are very well done, with the effects of Spidey swinging across the city far more believable than before, the scenes where he is trying to woo, and then not woo, Mary-Jane are far too long and drawn-out, and just detract from the rest of the film. The more interesting bad guy really has very little screen time in comparison, indeed he disappears from much of the middle section. Granted his story isn't all that long anyway, but maybe they could have had another bad guy, like the Green Goblin #2 to liven things up?
Worth catching if a fan, but if not, beware as this may put you off any more in the series.

Reviewed by Vicky Cook Sep-2004

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STAR TREK

Having grown up with the Star Trek franchise and various films, there’s always a little sense of excitement, rather like with a new Bond film, when they release another movie, and this looked to be a real refresh of the franchise.
It features the beginning of the story of the characters from the original Star Trek series - Kirk, Spock, Bones et al - how they met and ended up doing what they do. The film kicks off with the birth of Kirk set against the demise of his father, and then shows him entering Starfleet twenty years later and being known as a trouble maker. At this point he is under Spock’s command, and they are not on friendly terms, but as disaster strikes on Vulcan the film starts pulling itself together, with the help of a familiar face from the future.
The plotline was ok. I’ve read a few reports about gaping plot holes here, bad science there, but this *is* Star Trek, so who expects anything to be perfectly explained? What I liked about this film is the reimagining of the characters. I felt the young actors who played the famous roles (especially Chris Pine as Kirk, and Zachary Quinto as Spock) were outstanding. The movie’s visuals and CGI effects were well done, which was to be expected considering the rather huge budget – a big step away from the effects used for the original series (it does look odd when the SF bits look more futuristic in their younger years than when they are established). Abrams, the director, had a tough job on his hands having to please the hardcore fans, general public and the studio, but I think he has done well here with what is a watchable, even appealing film with well-drawn characters and good performances from the young actors, and plenty of visuals and action scenes to be getting along with.

Reviewed by Vicky Stock Jun-2010

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STAR WRECK: IN THE PIRKINNING (IMPERIAL EDITION)

Some of you who were at this year's Eastercon might well have seen this already, or at least seen the rather spectacular poster. If not – well, there are good reasons why you might well seek this out. This is a Star Trek spoof, started by two guys in a back bedroom somewhere in Finland. The first STAR WRECK was a home-made computer animation in the style of SOUTH PARK. It was posted on the Internet, and attracted enough attention to inspire the makers to repeat the exercise. By the time they reached this film, the sixth in the series, they had gathered enough support to make a live-action professional film, with CGI effects that are the equal of almost anything you have seen on television – and possibly on the cinema screen too.
The plot is a mad version of Trek's ‘mirror universe’ plot strand. Marooned in early 21st-century Finland, Captain Pirk, his loyal Plingon officer Commander Dwarf and his android companion Commander Info, force Russian scientists, anxious to rebuild the Soviet Union, into building a replacement space fleet with which to re-invent their future.
Yes, you read those names right. In an effort to avoid legal copyright complications, all the characters and some of the plot devices have been renamed with some of the stupidest alternative names you can think of.
But that is the real marvel of this film. Forget the names; look at the visuals. They are as good, and as inventive, as anything that Paramount has given us. Indeed, some of them look suspiciously as if they themselves were copied for the most recent Star Trek film: the building of the USS Enterprise – sorry, CPP Kickstart – and the ‘maggot hole’ anomaly appears almost unchanged in the ‘real’ Star Trek. There are few signs that this is an amateur production: the producers only built two main sets for the spaceship interiors, plus some generic corridors. The rest is filmed location work, clever CGI using stock footage, and even a short sequence of fake black-and-white newsreel which is delightful.
In the course of the film, Pirk and his crew invade an alternative universe which itself is a parody of Babylon 5; this takes longer than it ought to as the action has to stop at regular intervals for the station commander to make a pretentious speech. Watch out for the truth behind the mystery of the Vorlons!
This is no GALAXY QUEST. Sophisticated comedy it is not. The Finns are revealed in this film to have a similar sense of humour to the Germans; rather literal and unsophisticated, yet at the same time having a good sense of wordplay – though it loses quite a bit in the translation and some of the subtitles are less than grammatically perfect English. The visual style of comedy is also rather German, in that it owes more than a little to the overcranked style of the late Benny Hill.
There are some extras, including a Director's Commentary (the language of which is not specified; it'd better not be in Finnish!), a blooper reel, and perhaps the biggest disappointment of the whole package. This is a documentary called TOWARDS THE IRON SKY, and it consists of a series of interviews with the production team, and others, talking about their next production, IRON SKY. Unfortunately, that's all they do – talk about it, in considerable detail. This 30-minute (or possibly 45-minute) documentary was filmed, for some reason, in an anechoic chamber; and believe me, 30 minutes of talking Finnish heads can easily seem like 45 minutes. Or longer. Much longer.
Which is a shame, because IRON SKY will be well worth seeing.
The strapline for IRON SKY is: “In 1945, the Nazis fled to the Moon. In 2018, they're coming back.” The producers took a show-reel to Cannes in 2007; they remade it completely, using professional studio facilities and full-scale bluescreen techniques with live actors, to take back to Cannes in 2008 in their search for funding. The overall style is rather like Kerry Conran's SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW – sepia retro technology – but this is is extended to Albert Speer's GERMANIA ON THE MOON, complete with subsurface flying saucer hangars.
IRON SKY is in production now, with release dates variously quoted as 2010 or in the first quarter of 2011. But unless you research this on the Internet (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_Sky or the official site, www.ironsky.net), you won't see any of it as Revolver Pictures didn't bother to check what extras they were getting when they bought the rights to UK DVD distribution!
This DVD is now available in limited quantities through the UK retail trade and may well be available from major online retailers; or you can buy online direct from the producers via the address above – though in that case, you will be ordering the original Finnish DVD (with subtitles, fortunately).
If you can cope with the broad comedy, I can recommend this for the sheer, jawdropping chutzpah of the producers in making this film and punching way above their weight in the effects department. You will come away from this asking yourself “How have they avoided getting sued?” And they deserve support simply for what they are going to do next.

Reviewed by Robert Day Aug-2009

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STARDUST

When I was younger I loved the film called THE PRINCESS BRIDE. Irreverent, funny, firmly tongue-in-cheek, it was great. I still enjoy it today. STARDUST is along the same lines though maybe not with quite the same stroke of genius.
Tristan lives in a village by a wall leading to a fantasy world. He ventures through this one day to seek a fallen star for his one true love. Also featuring in the chase for the fallen star are three sons of a dead king, and the leader of a gang of witches hunting for eternal youth. He learns as he goes about his true heritage and what true love is.
This is one of those films where famous names appear throughout, which for the main part don’t distract too much, though it has to be said I didn’t think the scenes featuring the comedian Ricky Gervais were completely smooth and plot-relevant, and he did sound rather like his TV alter-egos, but other appearances were brilliant, particularly Robert De Niro, who sent himself up yet again as a pirate. The main actors did a sterling job – Michelle Pfeiffer as the lead witch, covered in make-up, hammed it up delightfully and was a pleasure to watch, as was Charlie Cox, not as famous but able to hold centre stage onscreen admirably. I wasn’t so convinced by the two female leads – Sienna Miller as his first love was a little bit too two-dimensional, and I found his second true love, Claire Danes, a little irritating which really probably wasn’t meant to be intentional, and not thoroughly convincing.

Reviewed by Vicky Cook Apr-2008

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THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED

Directed by Terence Gross (2001) Story by Brian King; teleplay by Max Enscoe & Annie deYoung
This low budget made-for-TV movie tries to combine some of the more traditional ideas of alien invasion/impregnation and telekinesis. Not a particularly well known cast either, apart from Randy Quaid who can be seen in films such as INDEPENDENCE DAY, KINGPIN and even DAYS OF THUNDER, who does a good job as the ‘special’ boy’s father. Not a remake of the 1958 film of the same name but named after it as the boy is seen watching it on video!
It starts off with a new face moving into a small ‘local town’ - a psychiatric doctor played by Nastassja Kinski who is coming in to work at the local school. One of the first discoveries the new doctor makes is of a boy who doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the locals. This is the son of the town’s medical doctor. The child shows some sign of having some powers that manifest when he is angry or upset - one of the bullies in the playground develops a nosebleed as he gives them a ‘look’.
As the film goes on, we learn more about the boy’s past and how his real mother mysteriously disappeared a few years before when he was just four years old. But not before she has managed to convince him that his real father is an alien who will return when he needs him most! This leads him to an unhealthy obsession with alien films and comics. As the boy’s turmoil rises, the alien descends and goes on a bloody killing spree. The film then goes towards a climax, which leads to the question of whether the alien is real or a figment of the boy’s imagination.
9 The film is quite entertaining in parts but lacks real creativity and is full of clichés. Not a movie to read much into but not too bad if you leave your brain at home.

Reviewed by Tim Stock Oct-2003

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THE HAPPENING

(dir: M Night Shymalan) Starring Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel THE HAPPENING is the latest offering from M.Night Shymalan and involves a family caught up in the midst of a strange spate of apparent suicides. As the number of casualties grow, we share the main character’s confusion and growing fear at this event they cannot comprehend, and as they try to work out why it keeps happening. Badly rated on first release, we found it an interesting film. It doesn’t easily slot into any particular genre, with elements from science fiction, horror and drama, which may confuse the more mainstream audience.

Reviewed by Vicky Cook Feb-2009

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THE ILLUSIONIST

(dir: Neil Burger) Starring Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti and Jessica Biel.
Now to a completely different film. Starring Edward Norton, THE ILLUSIONIST features a magician who can apparently summon up spirits of the dead, shocking the 19th century populace. The plot thickens when he falls in love with the fiancé of a prince. The film leaves you to consider whether or not these spirits are real. The ending implies not, but the question is never explained fully. Most of the film is from the viewpoint of Inspector Uhl - Paul Giamatti (excellent) as he learns more about the magician’s tricks and we share his surprise and shock at new developments. Quiet, interesting film leaving you with questions unanswered.

Reviewed by Vicky Cook Feb-2009

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THE INVASION

(dir: Oliver Hirschbiegel) Starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig THE INVASION is INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS brought up to date. Again we found it was better than critics would suggest; again it was badly panned on first release. It loses some of the older film’s originality and suspense but is still watchable. Nicole Kidman does a good job as usual and there are suitably poignant scenes as she battles with herself as well as the external aliens. The original film (1956) strongly referenced Communism and it would be hard to attract a modern audience in the same way but the change of method of infection to an alien flu-like virus was, if a bit predictable, a good way to do that.

Reviewed by Vicky Cook Feb-2009

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THE SWARM

Directed by Irwin Allen (1978) Story by William Herzog
Wow, I thought to myself, a Michael Caine movie! Must be good! And look at the other stars in it - Katherine Ross, Richard Chamberlain, Richard Widmark, Olivia DeHavilland, Henry Fonda, Slim Pickens AND Fred McMurray.
It had to be good! Now I rather enjoy good silly monster movies from time to time (I enjoyed JURASSIC PARK 3, silly but true), so happily settled down to this one while Tim was playing with his alien movies.
The plot is as follows: Huge swarms of killer bees seem to be randomly gathering and attacking people. When entomologist Brad Crane (Caine) discovers this he has his work cut out trying to stop them reaching Houston, and trying also to stop General Slater (Widmark) from using military tactics against them.
And that's it. Not exactly mind-bending stuff. The trouble is, this film just doesn’t do the idea justice. The acting is terribly wooden, even from th is batch of stars. The storyline is sloppy (though the idea that the survivors of the stings ‘see’ mammoth bees in front of them, is worth a giggle) and the script stilted. It doesn’t help that it all looks a bit dated, with the bees shot from afar in swarms and the train scenes especially, appearing incredibly unrealistic and faked. It is hard to warm to the characters, even Michael Caine, who usually injects a reasonable warmth into his characters.
The trouble is you are never entirely sure what category to put it in - 70’s disaster film, in which case it is a definite failure for reason of just being too silly, or SF monster flick, which it just about gets away with.
At the end of the day surely a big jar full of boiling water and some jam smeared around the rim would have sufficed. Hard to warm to and a bit of a struggle to believe.

Reviewed by Vicky Cook Oct-2003

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THE TIME MACHINE (2002 version)

If you ignore the title, have a couple of drinks first and suspend a lot of disbelief, you will probably enjoy this film. Set around about 1900, it is about a rich American teacher who, after witnessing the murder of his brand new fiancee, contacts his friend Albert Einstein and picks his brain about his forthcoming Theory of Special Relativity. He then commences to build a time machine out of bits of an old lighthouse, so that he can go back in time to save his fiancee.
He discovers that, unfortunately, the past cannot be materially changed.
He is unable to rescue his loved one. So he decides to go forward in time to find someone with the answer.
The film is advertised as being based on the novel by H G Wells. It isn’t - it’s lifted from the 1960s film starring Rod Taylor, which WAS based on Wells’ work. Just as a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy becomes progressively less like the original, so this film has less in common with its namesake. The Time Traveller is there, as is Mr Filby, Mrs Watchett the housekeeper, Weena, the good Eloi and the bad Morlocks; but what, where and how they do tilings are all different from the book. The 1960s film did it much better, keeping more or less to Wells’ plot although it did add a few things to appeal to the cinema-going public. Unfortunately, it’s these additions that the latest film has expanded at the expense of the original story.
You could do worse than spend a happy hour or so picking out the bits borrowed from other films and cringing at the occasional piece of PC. And it’s even more fun if you’ve both read the book and seen the original film. Just don’t expect Wells.

Reviewed by Vernon Brown Jul-2002

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THE VILLAGE (dir: M Night Shymalan)

This runs on the same lines as the director's previous efforts. I am a fan so I enjoyed it, but some may find it a bit slow and predictable. Basically it is a bit of a love story among some remote villagers, who live in fear of the mythical creatures living in their backwoods. The film is full of suspense and little jumpy bits, which works well - although it did not live up to the expectation of the mounting tension. The 'twist' wasn't quite as outstanding as I had been expecting.
Another 'like it or loathe it' film from this talented director.
Reviewed by Vicky Cook Sep-2004

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TRANSFORMERS

directed by Michael Bay Starring Shia LaBoeuf, Megan Fox. Now this is a film that far exceeded my expectations! I grew up around the same time as the cartoon series was showing on television, and the first animated film came out during my youth, but I was never completely entranced…I was not quite sure therefore how I would get on with this film… Teenager Sam Whitwicky lives in a remote American town, growing up like any normal lad, but little does he realise that his unreliable car is not quite what it seems. He is drawn into a battle between two extraterrestrial clans over a talisman called the Allspark.
The excellent cinematography (you can really feel the heat in the desert town they live in, and the scenery is gorgeous), and excellent CGI used to create the immense Transformers combine to create a film worth watching for visual effects alone. The acting is fairly standard (this sort of film is never going to make many demands on an actor, being for the most part full of car chases and CGI battles), and the robots are characterised for the most part well enough that by the end of the film you’ve got to know and can distinguish them well.
Don’t expect it to be a children’s movie – it was far more grown-up than I was expecting. Beware also – it is loud and with various car chases and battles throughout, so don’t watch if you are expecting a quiet, thoughtful film! But I’ve watched it twice now and it does grow on you. I think I appreciated the comic timing and the acting from the two leads the most – they stood up well against the CGI and portrayed their characters well, so you could sympathise with them.
Transformers fans may feel a little let down by the storyline – for the sake of the movie they’ve removed a lot of the back-story built up for many years by the Transformer cartoons, and changed some things (one example was that the humans are much more capable of defeating the bad guys than in the original cartoon where they were basically helpless and had to rely on the good guys). But, as a non-devotee of the original, this didn’t particularly affect me, and overall I enjoyed it as a good piece of escapism. Films number 2 and 3 are coming out soon, so I may watch to see how they progress the idea further.

Reviewed by Vicky Cook Apr-2009

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WESTWORLD and FUTUREWORLD (1973/1976) Michael Crichton / Richard T. Heffron

These films first came to my attention when mentioned in a BSFG meeting about a year ago, so I watched WESTWORLD to see what all the fuss was about. It features a ‘futuristic’ amusement park where people can choose to live in Roman World, Westworld or Medieval World, where they live in a kind of virtual reality, surrounded by other characters played by androids. They eat, sleep, fight, etc., as if the world was real. However, as tends to happen with anything involving robots, something goes wrong and the robots start to run amok… It is clear to see the influences on such films as JURASSIC PARK (another ‘theme park gone wrong’, and by the same author!) and TERMINATOR. The bad guy of the film is a gunslinger robot, played by the excellent Yul Brynner (of MAGNIFICENT SEVEN fame, and famously spoofing his character in that film here), who stalks his victim in a way just like TERMINATOR years later, with fixed gaze and determined walk. The two heroes of the film are interesting in the way they develop – the hopeless naïve newcomer (Richard Benjamin) really comes into himself during the course of the film as he learns how to evade the murderous robots.
FUTUREWORLD is set a few years later as the theme park (Delos) reopens to the public. Two reporters (played by Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner) are among the first in, to report on the park. But they find themselves playing detective to uncover the sinister secret plot going on, to work out what exactly is going on behind the scenes at Delos.
This film suffers slightly from the sequel syndrome – the pacing and tension of the first film are gone – it has changed from a sinister SF movie into more of a detective story. The two leads are fair enough, but the script is not that great, and they always look slightly bemused. Yul Brynner features again, but in a gratuitous cameo, seemingly designed more to appeal to his fans than to feature him in any real sense. Still, I did enjoy the film, it plays on the idea again of ‘a theme park gone wrong’, and the sort of theme of a conspiracy featuring a big corporation rears its head too. The idea of shooting and using robots as you wish to, is played on lots too.
These two films play on the attraction of escapism – you can escape form the real world for a bit, shoot everyone to our hearts content (real people cannot die in this world) and play cowboys and Indians or whatever appeals. The plots are a little loop-holey – it is best to ignore any obvious errors in the thinking behind the theme parks, and let the film carry you along. The suspense at the end of WESTWORLD is brilliant, as the gunslinger stalks his victim, and this is definitely the better overall of the two films. Both heartily recommended. Vicky Cook

Reviewed by Nov-2006

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Ben Aaronovitch

BROKEN HOMES by Ben Aaronovitch

The fourth volume in the acclaimed Rivers of London series continues the story of PC Peter Grant, apprentice wizard, as he becomes involved in a series of mysterious cases.
A death in an unexplained car crash leads to the discovery of a mutilated body ineptly hidden in nearby woods and there is an apparent suicide on the Underground which may not be as straightforward as it seems. Then the discovery of a stolen eighteenth-century German grimoire is followed by the obviously sorcerous death of the suspected thief. Investigations soon reveal that these cases are probably linked to each other and to the twisted magician known as the Faceless Man who has already played a major adversarial role in the previous books in the series. There is also a connection to a German architect who was responsible for a peculiar municipal housing development in Elephant and Castle which appears to be the focus of attention. Events build to a suitably near- apocalyptic climax with a surprising twist to finish.
On the way, a number of characters from the previous books show up from time to time, playing parts of greater or lesser importance. Chief amongst these is, of course, the Faceless Man. Although he suffers a serious setback here he is not finished yet and it is becoming confirmed as increasingly obvious that the series can only end with his downfall and the revealing of his identity. So this is very much an episode in an ongoing opus and the occasional references to people and incidents from previous episodes limit slightly the extent to which it can be viewed as a standalone story.
Whether deliberately or not, the writing style seems to have changed since the beginning of the series. Although the somewhat light-hearted turn of phrase, particularly when referring to police procedure, still remains, the overall style is less jokey as though a more serious style is intended to reflect the more serious turn which events are beginning to take. Be that as it may, it remains a readable and immensely entertaining book with a complex yet tidily constructed plot and no loose ends – well, perhaps one. Or even two.
Of course, anyone already familiar with the Rivers of London will need no encouragement to continue following events: others may find here an introduction to the whole series which will attract their attention to the preceding instalments. Michael Jones

Reviewed by Sep-2013 Published by Gollancz

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MOON OVER SOHO by Ben Aaronovitch

This is the second book of the series that began with RIVERS OF LONDON published in January of this year. Although it's not absolutely necessary to read the first book in the series before you start, it does help a great deal. Many of the characters that have carried over from that book are in situations as a result of that story that aren't explained here. That said, many of the new characters aren't very well developed here either. Taken as a classic police/detective novel with a fantasy twist, this works fairly well but there isn't any more to it.
Phillip Grant is a Detective Constable and apprentice wizard in the Metropolitan Police. He investigates cases that have supernatural causes and deals with incidents among the more magical citizens of London. His father was a famous jazz musician to those aficionados of the Soho scene of the 40s and 50s. He made a few records that are highly prized and hard to find nowadays: so when Philip investigates a series of deaths of jazz musicians that just stepped off stage, he can recognize the tune from the 40s that lingers in the air. The search through the jazz clubs of Soho also reveals a bizarre trade in hybrid people/animals that make Dr. Moreau look wholesome.
There's a lot that doesn't work properly here.
The characters that were built in the first book seem to have disappeared into a fog of background or just been left out altogether. Some of this is explained by injuries sustained but they are still trotted out to explain bits of plot or take Grant to somewhere he needs to go to keep the story running. The only attempt at a new character is Simone who seems to be there only to give Grant a sex life and ‘spice up’ the story in that way. There are many others, including Grant's parents, who seem to wander in and out of the story without really leaving a mark. It could be that these characters will persist and be expanded upon later. There's an evil wizard who, at the moment, is just someone in a mask but looks likely to become a series villain.
The odd thing is that there were so many functional characters in the first book that it makes this look like someone else wrote it. I hope the series picks up after this but, judging by this entry, I'm not going to count on it.

Reviewed by William McCabe Jul-2011 Published by Gollancz

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RIVERS OF LONDON by Ben Aaronovitch

This is the first novel of a series of fantasy/detective novels set in present day London. On one hand it has an apparently realistic version of the Metropolitan Police Force with its procedures and politics and on the other there is a view of London that drifts between the surreal and the fantastic. The author manages to pull this off mostly by having as little connection between the recognisable everyday members of the force and the weird stuff as possible.
This is the story of Peter Grant, a newly promoted Detective Constable, and Chief Inspector Nightingale his new boss. Nightingale is also a wizard. He deals with minor deities and monsters on a regular basis. Here he takes on some of the more surreal aspects of community policing including peace negotiations between Father and Mother Thames over who runs which part of the river. He is also teaching Grant the basics of magic. There are vampires and ghosts to deal with and, of course, since this is a detective novel, there are also a series of bizarre and grisly murders to solve.
It's not a matter of whodunnit so much as who made them do it and how and why. The answer comes in the form of an easily recognisable and generally unexpected figure.
On the whole this works. The pace is good enough but the various plot threads are a little too distracting. The river dispute plot doesn't really impact on the murders and vice versa. In such a short novel the central plot and the situation/character building should take up more of the story. It makes me wonder if the writer could manage more novels in this series without the plot becoming too fragmented.

Reviewed by William McCabe Jan-2011 Published by Gollancz

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THE HANGING TREE by Ben Aaronovitch

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this popular and wonderfully humorous series, it is an urban fantasy set in London. PC Peter Grant is a serving officer in the Metropolitan Police Force but he is also a trainee wizard, the first in fifty years. He and Inspector Nightingale (his mentor) are expected to deal with any crimes the Met reluctantly accepts may have a “supernatural” element. Some of the magical beings in London are incarnations of the various rivers of London (hence the series title).
In this book, a suspicious death of a rich young woman in an expensive apartment in Hyde Park would not normally concern PC Grant. However, he owes a favour to Lady Tyburn (one of the more powerful Rivers) and as her daughter was present, Lady Ty wants her daughter protected. As Peter digs further into the case it becomes clear that the death links back to an old enemy, the Faceless Man and Peter is in grave danger as he tries to solve the case.
After book 5, which took place in the countryside, this is a welcome return to London where PC Grant (and it seems also the author) is back in his comfort zone. PC Grant’s “voice” – his hilarious and wry observations of the supernatural Londoners and the conventional police who have to grudgingly accept and deal with them is one of the great joys of this series. In particular, the characters of DC Guleed and the long-suffering DCI Seawoll are excellent and amusing. The story rattles along at a fast pace and plot strands from previous novels are brought nicely back into this narrative, so the overall series story arc progresses as well as the individual case in this book. I also like that there are some interesting new characters introduced who are clearly going to be important in the future books and who nicely expand the possibilities for story development.
The author also has allowed Peter Grant to grow, both personally and magically. He has gained power and experience although he clearly is not strong enough to take down the Faceless Man by himself. That confrontation is clearly intended to ultimately involve his master, Inspector Nightingale. Here however, is the one niggle I had with this book as I definitely felt that the author kept contriving unlikely circumstances just to keep the Faceless Man and Nightingale apart. That being said, for the many fans of this series, this is an excellent addition. If you haven’t tried this series before, it is well worth trying. Fans of Jim Butcher or Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus novels will definitely find much to like.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Jan-2017 Published by Gollancz

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WHISPERS UNDERGROUND by Ben Aaronovitch

The latest instalment in the popular and successful series about police constable and apprentice wizard Peter Grant effectively begins with the discovery of the body of an American student on the platform of Baker Street Underground station. He had apparently been stabbed to death on the tracks somewhere between there and the next station along. And the fact that he is, or was, the son of a US Senator is not going to help matters, with an FBI Agent, sent over to keep an eye on things, who must be kept from discovering any inconvenient truths.
One thing leads inevitably to another, in this case to the discovery of a secret community living below the streets of London, in and around the tunnels of the Underground and Bazalgette’s sewers, and employing magic to stay hidden. The crime is solved and the murderer caught: meanwhile, there is a tantalising, brief, but significant contribution from the Big Bad Guy who first showed up in the previous book and will presumably provide a major ongoing story arc in subsequent volumes.
Like the previous books in the series, this one begins on a relatively light-hearted, almost jocular note.
Then, as things start to get serious and events look as though they might spiral out of control, there is less time for jokes although the irreverently humorous style never completely goes away.
The deployment of magic as an art with a firm scientific foundation is consistent and logical and is almost seamlessly integrated into the more conventional aspects of the murder investigation.
There is, however, a slight feeling that the overall planning of the story is on occasion somewhat forced. This, coupled with the fact that publication of this book was delayed some six months beyond the date originally announced, suggests that it ended up as a bit of a rush job. Also, it would have benefitted from better proofreading. However, neither of these solecisms need be allowed to detract from the overall success of what is definitely a Good Book and a worthwhile follow-up to the previous two. Further instalments are eagerly awaited.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Aug-2012 Published by Gollancz

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After the predominance of urban fantasy novels set in America, it is good to see a number emerging that use London as their background. Suzanne McLeod’s series about spellcracker Genny Taylor has a London populated with traditional mythical creatures such as dryads, witches and trolls and includes the ubiquitous vampires. Kate Griffin on the other hand looks at a more deep rooted magic with her protagonist Matthew Swift having become the Midnight Mayor and who has the safety of the City’s continued existence in his hands.
Swift inhabits a far grittier and violent London underworld than Genny Taylor does. Ben Aaronovitch takes a different approach. His series of novels, which started with THE RIVERS OF LONDON, is more of a police procedural with touches of added magic.
In WHISPERS UNDERGROUND (the third instalment of the series) the first person narrator, Peter Grant, is still a novice where magic is concerned but he is able to detect when it has been used. Brought up on a sink estate, he joined the police force but now belongs to a small, elite group of specialists brought in when the regular police think magic might be involved. In this case, it is when the corpse of an American art student is found on the platform of Baker Street Station. He has been killed by being stabbed in the back with a piece of pottery that holds a residue of magic. The investigation is complicated by the fact that the father of the dead youth is a US senator and the authorities are worried about a diplomatic incident, especially when an FBI agent turns up. She takes it upon herself to interfere with the investigation, showing no regard for the protocols of the country she is in.
Following the tentative line of clues, Grant and his colleagues are led down into the underground network. Not only does this bring Grant closer to solving the crime but teaches him more about the magical substrate that underlies London for although he has a talent for magic, he has to be taught spells and in that respect he is still very much a novice.
The approach and ambiance of this novel is very different from either McLeod’s or Griffin’s work and as such would probably appeal to a different kind of readership. Like many genre crime novels, this does not become too convoluted but unlike them, Grant, although having issues concerning magic, is not really a maverick loner kicking against authority. It is a good, light read that straddles the crime/fantasy boundary.
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Jan-2013 Published by Gollancz

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Joe Abercrombie

RED COUNTRY by Joe Abercrombie

RED COUNTRY is the 6th book by Joe Abercrombie that I have read and it confirms in my mind his eminent position as a writer of grungy, dirty, violent but compelling fantasy fiction. It may not be his best when compared with BEST SERVED COLD but is still a very enjoyable read. This tale is set in his Circle of the World universe and is an alternative take on ‘cowboys and Indians’. In it, Shy South returns home from selling her farm’s crops to find her farm burnt down and her young sister and brother stolen.
Together with her cowardly stepfather, Lamb, she sets off in pursuit. Lamb however is not all he seems, (being a character well known to readers of Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy) neither is Shy as she has a murky past of her own.
To facilitate their pursuit across the grasslands to the ‘Far Country’, to where it seems the kidnappers are heading, and for mutual protection from the Ghosts (Indians) they join a ‘Fellowship’ (wagon train) led by the legendary scout ‘Dab Sweet’.
The second major strand of this story follows the misadventures of Nicomo Cosca, the Captain General of the ‘Company of the Gracious Hand’ a company of so-called mercenaries, an ill disciplined bunch of cowardly parasitic jackals. They are infesting the ‘Near Country’ and move onto the ‘Far Country’ in the pursuit of rebels on the behalf of the ‘Midderland Inquisition’, and of course any loot that they can pick up along the way.
Other characters of note are: Temple who is a weak, ineffectual but multitalented drunkard refugee from the ‘Company of the Gracious Hand’ who meets up with Shy on her trek across the grasslands; The Mayor and Papa Ring, the leaders of the gangs who rule ‘Crease’ (a place named after a fold in a map) that is the Fellowship’s destination in the Far country; Cantliss, the dastardly kidnapper; and finally Sergeant Friendly, a compulsory counter and henchman of Nicomo Cosca (first met in BEST SERVED COLD) All these and many more collide violently at Crease with some expected and unexpected outcomes. All is explained by the end of the story. Lurking around the edges of the tale is Caul Shivers, another character from BEST SERVED COLD.
All in all a very enjoyable book well worth reading. I look forward eagerly to Joe Abercrombie’s next novel.

Reviewed by Jim Pearce Jan-2013 Published by Gollancz

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SHARP ENDS by Joe Abercrombie

One way to get a taste for an alien world, whether it is SF or Fantasy, instead of diving straight into a trilogy is to look for any short stories set against the same background. Often these will appear in magazines or anthologies but when enough have accumulated, the collection will appear. The stories in this collection all belong in the same setting as the World of the First Law and although some familiar characters may pass through these tales, mostly the purpose is to explore other aspects of the society. As such, being unfamiliar with the novels is not a hindrance to enjoying these for what they are, neatly formed, character-led stories. For those who know the trilogy, dates and places precede each so they can be placed within the body of the whole sequence. Although ‘A Beautiful Bastard’ gives an insight into the background of one of the principal characters of the first book in the trilogy, THE BLADE ITSELF, it has resonances with characters in other books; Colonel Glokta is not unique in being an arrogant, spoiled nobleman with a huge ego. Nor is that very arrogance the colour that inspires those that don’t know him well to follow him into a battle and potential disaster. Of more interest and ingenuity are the characters that first appear in ‘Small Kindness’ and several other stories. Shev is a retired (at twenty-one) thief and the owner of a Smoke House – a place where punters come to smoke drugs. One morning, she finds the beaten figure of Javre on her doorstep and instead of chucking her into the gutter, drags her inside. The result of this small kindness is of Javre coming to Shev’s aid when a theft goes wrong and she hasn’t got the object she was hired to steal and a fight breaks out. ‘Skipping Town’ is set a couple of years later and in a different town. Shev’s latest thieving hire is turning into a disaster, especially whilst in trying to get the money, she and Javre fall into a trap. This particular one is set by a warrior priestess of the Knights Templar of the Golden Order. She has been hunting Javre in order to kill her. They manage to escape and head north. Javre is still being pursued by agents of the Temple and Shev has thugs in the pay of Horald the Finger on her trail for killing his son. In ‘Two’s Company’ they meet Wirrun in the middle of a rickety rope bridge, where neither party will give way. We meet them again, eleven years later, in ‘Three’s a Crowd’ they watch from the wings as the boy king of Styria is crowned. For services rendered, Shev seems to have finally got Horald to forget his pursuit of her but the Temple has finally got Javre cornered. The duo makes a final appearance in cameo roles in ‘Tough Times All Over’ when a mysterious package passes from hand to hand, legitimately and by stealth. Overall, this pair make a contrasting couple but there are resonances between them and Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Grey Mouser stories. They are enjoyable but not spectacularly original. Several other characters recur in various stories. Before Wirrun meets up with Shev and Javre in ‘Two’s Company’ he has been travelling with a group of mercenaries who, in ‘The Fool Jobs’, have been sent to acquire a thing that the leader of the group, Craw, is told he will recognise it when he sees it. Craw and some of his company return in ‘Made A Monster’, the last story in the book. Here they are meant to be involved with a hostage exchange. While situations and characters in the other stories may be familiar to readers of the trilogy, here they represent stand- alone tales. Having not read the novels doesn’t take away from enjoyment of the stories in their own right and might encourage readers unfamiliar with them to seek them out. While I have reservations about the originality of the plot lines, the individual characters are well drawn and Abercrombie has worked hard at setting them within his timeframe.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Feb-2018 Published by Gollancz

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THE HEROES by Joe Abercrombie

This story describes the few days immediately before and afte, as well as the three days of the battle in the valley of Osrung between the Northmen and the Union. In it we meet again a number of the characters depicted in Joe Abercrombie’s first three books (THE BLADE ITSELF, BEFORE THEY ARE HANGED and THE LAST ARGUMENT OF KINGS) as well as a host of other characters.
THE HEROES is, as are the books named above, full of well defined characters and dirty, gritty violence all of which are an essential part of the storyline. Amongst these persons is ‘Black Dow’ the Protector (King) of the North who stole his throne from the ‘Bloody Nine’ who in turn won it by killing Bethod the first King of the Northmen.
Such is the ‘Bloody Nine’s reputation that in spite being dead (or ‘returned to the mud’ in the parlance of the North) he plays a pivotal role in the battle. Other key characters on the side of the North include Bethgod’s younger son, Prince Calder, who isn't interested in honour; all he wants is power, and he'll tell any lie, use any trick, and betray any friend to get it, just as long as he doesn't have to fight for it himself. Curnden Craw described as the last honest man in the North, who has gained nothing from a life of warfare but swollen knees and frayed nerves. He hardly even cares who wins any more, he just wants to do the right thing.
On the other side, key characters include ‘The Dogman’, an old companion of the Bloody Nine, who is the chief of the Northmen fighting for the Union; Bremer dan Gorst, a disgraced master swordsman and formally the Union’s King’s First Guard who, obsessed with redemption and addicted to violence, has sworn to reclaim his stolen honour on the battlefield, far past caring how much blood gets spilled in the attempt, even if it's his own; Marshal Kroy who is the Union’s commander in chief (when Bayaz, the ‘First of the Magi’ lets him) and three politically appointed and mainly incompetent divisional commanders.
Despite its title the book does not glory in war but rather shows its futility, demonstrating that it is often used as a political tool to gain a short term advantage which is frequently squandered, as it appears to be in this case. In fact the heroes of the title are not any of those fighting in the battle, although they could be, but are a ring of standing stones crowning a hill around and on which much of the action takes place.
THE HEROES is a dark tale, but strangely compelling, enjoyable and well written, progressing at a fast pace. I look forward to future books from this author.

Reviewed by Jim Pearce Feb-2011 Published by Gollancz

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Saladin Ahmed

THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON by Saladin Ahmed

This book has been nominated for a Hugo award, so there must be a lot of people out there who like it. It is an enjoyable romp and for a debut novel it is competently written. It has some idiosyncrasies that give it a different twist on the average fantasy format. Three of the main characters are elderly, reaching the ends of their adventuring lives. Adoulla Makhslood is the last of the ghul-hunters. Ghuls are magical constructs similar to golems conjured out of inanimate material for nefarious reasons. His friends are Litaz and Dawoud. Litaz is an alchemist, Dawoud, her husband, is a scholar and a mage. They have worked together in the past. To add youth to the mix, there is Raseed, a warrior-trained dervish and Zamia a shapechanging girl from the desert tribes.
When the niece of the woman Adoulla has loved for twenty years is killed by water ghuls, he promises to investigate. From the opponents he encounters, he deduces that there is a very powerful but evil sorcerer determined to destroy his city and take over the known world. With an unlikely ally in the person of a revolutionary aiming to lead a people’s uprising against the despotic Khalif, Adoulla and his friends have to find a way to thwart the evil.
Most of the characters and the social structure of the part of this fantasy world that we have been introduced to have a recognisably Arabic flavour. This is refreshing since most fantasies have an Anglo-centric slant but if this aspect was stripped away, the result would be that of a largely traditional format. This is a world where magic works and monsters lurk in the shadows. There are the heroes who have to solve the riddles and overcome the obstacles to save the day. The villain is totally evil with no redeeming features and seems to have no motive other than total destruction. It is not a narrative where subtlety reigns. These though are all symptoms of the inexperienced writer as is the lack of depth in both the descriptions and the action sequences. Everything happens a little too fast and although Ahmed tries to give depth to his main characters, and to differentiate them by their attitudes and philosophies it doesn’t go far enough.
On the whole this is a good effort but I would hope that the next novel will push the quality of style, plot and characterisation to a higher level.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Aug-2013 Published by Gollancz

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Brian Aldiss & Roger Penrose

WHITE MARS or THE MIND SET FREE: A 21st CENTURY UTOPIA by Brian Aldiss & Roger Penrose

There are two ways of writing a novel about a utopia: the more common is to demonstrate it as a going concern by having a native of it explain things to a visitor (as in Thomas More’s original). Almost unique is to show the utopia being set up, which is what Aldiss does.
The setting is a Mars lightly colonised by humans in the 2060s, when its 6000 inhabitants are suddenly cut off from Earth by Earth’s financial collapse. Quickly abandoning money, the colonists debate over how they should govern themselves, how their society should be structured, how lawbreakers should be treated, and similar problems. So the novel is partly an examination of what makes a utopia. Clearly, no form of government will satisfy all of the people all of the time, so part of the problem is deciding how dissenters should be treated.
The elderly Tom Jefferies is the main architect of these Utopian attempts, and also one of the novel’s two major narrators. The other is Cang Hai, a young Chinese woman who becomes Jefferies’ adopted daughter. (I must mention that the colonists include representatives o f just about every colour and culture on Earth, reminiscent of the old 1950s cliché o f a starship being sent out crewed by ten people from ten different nations. I didn’t believe it then and, despite Aldiss’s explanations, I don’t believe it now.) There are, alas, too many characters here, mostly minor, so it’s impossible for the reader to remember who’s who, and almost the only personalities, which come across, are those of the narrators.
An important thread of the novel (which provides its title) is the belief by most colonists and the authors that Mars must be protected from commercial exploitation and preserved for science, similar to Antarctica.
In particular, Mars must not be terraformed.
This is a novel containing clever plot twists, fascinating details of life in the domes, some drama, many references to that great utopian H.G. Wells and, unfortunately, too much impassioned argument about science and utopianism. It’s difficult to know how much influence Roger Penrose has had here, though he’s probably responsible for an extended section concerning the search for a subatomic particle called a smudge.
So WHITE MARS is a most worthwhile subject and a grand saga of Martian colonisation, which is extended, in summary form to cover the whole 21st century. It contains dozens of larger-than-life characters and a wonderful sub- plot concerning Olympus Mons. Without giving away too much I’ll tell you that utopia is eventually achieved, though in a very unexpected manner.

Reviewed by Chris Morgan Apr-2000 Published by Little Brown

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Alan F Alford

WHEN THE GODS CAME DOWN by Alan F Alford

Alan F Alford has joined a growing band of authors who are putting into doubt the basic message that religious organisations are trying to perpetuate. As people are becoming better educated and the flow of information is becoming more easily accessible, the dogmas of the church and some of the fundamental premises of Archaeology are coming under attack. To the modern reader it is obvious that civilisation did not spring into being fully formed as was taught in schools some fifty years ago but took a much longer process of evolution. Also that so-called pre civilised man had a much better understanding of the world about him than was given credence.
The modem bible, which has undergone many revisions since the Authorised King James version, has been edited and altered so that it is a long way from any source materiel. Many of the myths and legends in the old testament were recorded from much earlier oral traditions and have no doubt been corrupted through the telling, or as Alan F Alford would have believe, that the theology of the old testament was constructed on half-truths and in some cases outright lies.
When gods came down presents an interesting hypothesis that modern religion is a dumbed down version for the masses of a much older religious truth. Also that earth was seeded by meteorites from a celestial body that exploded, eventually giving rise to the legends of ancient mythological gods who fought battles in the skies and came down from Heaven to Earth. Where the real truth lies nobody really knows but as Archaeology uncovers finds that do not fit into the comfortable niche that has underpinned our understanding of the rise of the human race more and more speculative hypothesis with surface. Some of the present ‘outlandish’ claims of other authors may yet turn out to be the bedrock of our future understanding, and long forgotten knowledge that has been lost or suppressed may still surface and give support to these claims.
This book must join the growing volumes of well-researched theories that are well worth the time to read for the interested reader.

Reviewed by Chris Chivers Oct-2000 Published by Hodder & Stoughton

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Jim Al-Khalili

SUNFALL by Jim Al-Khalili

There have always been professional scientists and mathematicians who have, presumably in their spare time, turned their hands to writing SF -Smith, Bell, Sheffield, Vinge, Brin, Benford to name just a few. More recently, the likes of Carl Sagan, Brian Cox, Hannah Fry, and others whose names are omitted only because they do not immediately come to mind, are to be found fronting popular science programmes on radio and TV. Now, to tick all the boxes, physicist and successful broadcaster Professor Jim Al-Khalili has published his first SFnovel.
He posits an incipient collapse of the Earth's magnetic field which normally protects us from the devastatingeffect of Coronal Mass Ejections from the Sun. Without that protection, we can look forward to probably nothing less than the end of civilisation as we know it and perhaps even the extinction of life altogether.
Inevitably in this sort of situation it takes a group of maverick scientists to come up with an audacious solution - restarting the magnetic field with beams of dark matter! -and get it accepted by the powers-that-be so that it can be put into effect. It is of course inevitable in this kind of novel that they will be successful, but the story is as much about the obstacles that they have to overcome and their personal problems and struggles as it is about the scientific process. It has been suggested elsewhere that the characters involved lack depth and personality, but that does not in fact seem to be sufficiently the case to constitute a significant detraction.
Meanwhile the gravity of the situation has been made apparent by accounts of storms, tidal waves, plane crashes etc. much in the manner of a mainstream disaster movie. At the same time a quasi-religious group believing that the extinction of humanity is the true destiny of the Earth comes into being and plans to sabotage the plan to save the world and as one might have expected the true identity of the leader of this movement is onlyrevealed at the last possible moment, just in time for him to be thwarted. This kind of thing has, of course, been done several times before, there being a propensity for SFwriters to introducethe science-vs-religion dichotomy as a means of demonstrating the superiority of the rational point of view. The result is a tendency for SUNFALLto stray into the thriller area popularised by the likes of Michael Crichton or Dan Brown(Readers unable to see beyond the latter's association with THE DA VINCI CODE should perhaps try his latest, ORIGIN, an intriguing speculation on human evolution both past and future.) However,the science does take centre stage in the story and SUNFALLdoes not fail to be an enjoyable book,holding the reader's attention to the very end if only to see how the science and all the other complications are all worked out. (Needless to say, they are.) The author has taken great care to be sure that the science can be presumed to be faultless, however speculative, and any shortcomings of plotting or characterisation are not massive enough to worry about unduly.
It may not go down in history as one of the all-time great novels, but it may be summed up by that old cliché that if this is the sort of thing you like, you will like this. Your reviewer did. Michael Jones

Reviewed by Jun-2019 Published by Bantam Press

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Poul Anderson

TAU ZERO by Poul Anderson

One of the odder (and sometimes amazing) things about being an SF fan who started reading SF in the early eighties is the way you can be aware of a name like Poul Anderson for years, but due to the backlog of excellent SF novels to read, how one might not have ever actually gotten around to reading any of Poul’s novels until now. Which seems a shame, because if TAU ZERO is anything to go by, Poul Anderson is really rather special; Poul Anderson has won the Hugo seven times, and the Nebula three. And TAU ZERO is merely one of his Hugo ‘best novel’ nominees…
I have heard a few different definitions of ‘hard’ science fiction in the last 20 years; one common view is that hard SF realistically portrays characters as real human beings, with understandable human motives and frailties. This improves the believability of the story, as the reader can relate to the character’s actions – it all makes human sense, regardless of the SF situation the characters may be in. A different definition of hard SF might be that the technological fiction described in the story seems plausibly extrapolated from existing scientific knowledge, thus making the story seem more plausible in its own right (of course, this depends on the reader’s actual scientific understanding, but a fair proportion of SF readers have at least a passing interest in science as well, so I guess this helps). TAU ZERO satisfies both these definitions very well; I quote author James Blish “The ultimate hard science fiction novel.” The basic premise concerning a crew of 50 carefully selected humans in a spaceship built to survey and, if possible, colonise a nearby star system, is well handled in this novel. The characters know that ultimately they might need to pair off and start families, if the mission is successful, and the interplay between them is handled in colourful yet realistic fashion, giving the reader a great insight into the characters themselves. The spaceship itself, built to utilise interstellar hydrogen in a Bussard engine, constantly accelerating to a significant portion of the speed of light, seems realistically described, to the extent that the reader can easily believe that this might indeed be a way to the stars. The explanations of the relativistic effects of having such a high velocity feel plausible (to one with a basic understanding of Einstein’s theories, at any rate), allowing the crew to reach their destination within a reasonable human timescale. If it is all this well worked out one wonders, why haven’t we gone to the stars already??
And this novel does not stop giving there, either; in the best 70’s tradition, this is also a disaster novel! Without wanting to give too much away (the blurb reveals this at least) an unexpected incident in the voyage damages the engines such that the ship can never stop accelerating. The results are believably fantastic.
Goodness! If a `lesser’ Anderson novel is this good, what must his award winners be like? Or the competition for the Hugo back in 1971, for that matter?
Perhaps the best thing about being young enough to have started reading SF in the eighties is that I still have time to catch up on authors like Poul Anderson…
and it’s going to be a lot of fun!

Reviewed by Dave Corby May-2009 Published by Gollancz

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Gillian Anderson and Jeff Rovin

A VISION OF FIRE - BOOK ONE OF THE EARTHEND SAGA by Gillian Anderson and Jeff Rovin

Gillian Anderson will of course always be known for her role in The X-Files (yes, that Gillian Anderson!), but she has since moved on to become a quite highly regarded stage and screen actress. In collaboration with established writer Jeff Rovin she now makes what the publishers describe as her “thrilling science fiction debut” with the first volume in a Saga of as-yet unspecified length. In point of fact, it may well be that Rovin has provided the majority of the writing while Anderson's contribution is largely confined to providing her supposedly prestigious name to be put on the cover. (See Ansible #328.)
It tells the story of how child psychologist Caitlin O'Hara is called in when the teenage daughter of India's ambassador to the United Nations becomes severely disturbed after her father survives an assassination attempt. O'Hara discovers that other cases of disturbed teenagers have occurred in such unlikely places as Iran and Haiti, cases which appear at first glance to be different although certain points of similarity are to be found. Eventually a connection emerges in the form of a kind of possession by a spirit force seeking escape from a fiery cataclysm and O'Hara also becomes affected. This volume ends with her having discovered something of the nature of this mysterious influence which seems to arise from a civilisation of the remote past in the Antarctic, but a full understanding will, obviously, not emerge until it is explained in the later volume(s).
Meanwhile, a highly secret and very powerful Group hidden within something called the Global Explorer's Club is pursuing its own agenda and clearly knows already a lot more of what is involved than O'Hara has yet discovered.
This is all a lot less thrilling than they would have us believe. The writing is pedestrian and the overall style and structure of the book are strongly reminiscent of a mainstream novel where the general lack of originality might be less noticeable. The characters spend a lot of time just talking and thinking about things instead of actually doing anything and trips to Haiti and Iran are described in unnecessary detail which contributes to the sense that it has all been padded out beyond the length the story is naturally capable of supporting. Learning more of what the shadowy Group are seeking to achieve might have made it more interesting or even exciting, but again that may have to await later opportunities for revelation.
There is perhaps some scope for subsequent volumes in The Earthend Saga to redeem the shortcomings of this one, but the signs are not hopeful.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Jan-2015 Published by Simon & Schuster

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Rachel Armstrong

ORIGAMY by Rachel Armstrong

NewCon Press do publish some excellent books and are not afraid to take chances that larger publishers will not. ORIGAMY by new author Rachel Armstrong is an unconventional and avant-garde book that is clearly dividing opinion. Well-respected authors such as Adam Roberts, Justina Robson and Adrian Tchaikovsky have highly praised it but I must admit that I really struggled with it. Normally when writing a review, I like to give an idea of the main plot but discerning one is one of the major difficulties I have with this novel. The structure is not conventional, consisting of very short chapters, ranging from a couple of lines to a few pages and it jumps from one often unconnected scene to another. The reader is flung in at the deep end and spends a lot of time and effort trying to comprehend what is happening. After a lot of struggle, it appears to concern Mobius, a member of a strange family of circus acrobats/spacetime travellers. By pulling “threads” from spacetime they can weave them and jump to different parts of the galaxy as observers. Mobius is an unreliable narrator as her memory is patchy and events are not necessarily being shown in chronological order. As we jump from one scene to the next it gradually becomes apparent that something dark is affecting and threatening the universe and the weavers must unite to prevent catastrophe. The novel is a dizzying melange of ideas from crafts, poetry, biology, physics etc. While some readers may enjoy this deluge of information, I found the long digressions into things as diverse as the Philae spacecraft to the ecology of a “stomach garden” tiring and of little obvious relation to the plot. This patchwork of scenes is clearly intended to stitch together into a coherent whole but unlike the character in the book who urges “You don’t need to understand, Mobius. Sometimes too much rationalisation gets in the way” I am afraid that I do like to understand and felt that more explanation and less sheer unrelated details and exposition would have improved this book immensely for me. In addition, I could not feel any connection or interest in the characters – Mobius’ parents in particular seemed very remote and not fully rounded – existing mostly to talk in ambiguous maxims or enigmatic parables or stories. The reader does not really get into the characters’ heads and I felt they operated only on a cerebral level with little emotional depth. This meant that I had no great interest in what happened to them to keep me wanting to read. All of the above also meant that I found the pace of the book extremely slow and found myself suffering from a kind of “reader fatigue” where I could only read in short bursts at a time. Its Alice In Wonderland/Grand Tour of the Universe combination may appeal to some but is definitely is too literary and unconventional for me.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin May-2018 Published by NewCon Press

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Neal Asher

DARK INTELLIGENCE by Neal Asher

DARK INTELLIGENCE is the first volume in the new Transformation series of novels by Neal Asher and is a very welcome return to his popular Polity universe. In it we meet again a number of characters that featured in some of his previous novels. These include Amistad, a scorpion war drone who through extensive upgrades to its AI systems has become the warden of a Polity protectorate planet, Masada. This is the home of the Weaver, the only sentient Gabbleduck (or Atheter), one of the previously thought to be extinct ancient races who occupied the galaxy long before humans evolved. Much of the action in this book takes place there. Amistad had been given responsibility for the dark (evil) AI, Penny Royal, whom in the previous Polity novel THE TECHNICIAN it was believed he had rehabilitated by removing its eighth and evil state of consciousness, but is this true?
Penny Royal features strongly in this book and is feared and hunted by the other major characters for her past actions. Before capture by Amistad she was infamous for granting wishes, for a price, that not only met what was asked for but went far beyond. One thing though, Penny Royal always keeps her word.
The other major characters are:
The newly resurrected human, Thorvald Spear who was killed by Penny Royal during the Polity vs (alien) Prador war which ended over a century before the start of this novel.
Isobel Satomi who ran a successful crime syndicate in the Graveyard; the no man’s land between the Prador kingdom and the Polity before negotiating with Penny Royal for more power.
Sverl, a renegade Prador Captain Father, another of Penny Royal’s customers, who hides from both the Polity and his King in the Graveyard.
Blite, who is the owner and captain of a spaceship. He is duped into smuggling Penny Royal off Masada and chauffeuring her on her travels.
In addition there is a rich cast of supporting personnel.
In DARK INTELLIGENCE Neal Asher amply restates the excellence of his storytelling by skilfully entwining the story line of each of his characters into a very strong narrative that is set within a detailed and believable universe. This is an excellent book and an equally excellent start to a new series.

Reviewed by Jim Pearce Apr-2015 Published by Pan Macmillan Tor

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JUPITER WAR by Neal Asher

JUPITER WAR is the third volume in Neal Asher's Owner series of novels set in a world where a bureaucracy gone mad rules. Imagine a world where the EU has expanded to the nth degree and the 'Committee' delegates, especially the 'Chairman' have absolute power. One in which there is an enforcement Inspectorate that makes the Gestapo seem like the Salvation Army and that their actions and the excesses of the Chairman makes those of Pol Pot and Hitler seem to be teddy bear picnics.
The previous book in the trilogy, ZERO POINT, finished with Alan Saul the 'Owner' attempting to rescue his sister Varalin Delex from Mars where she and her colleagues have been abandoned by the Committee as a waste of resources. This is accomplished and the story continues seamlessly and as before there are two main strands. The first follows Alan Saul's attempts to repair the extensive damage caused to his 'ship' by the Committee Chair Serene Galahad's battleship The Scourge and then ensure his and his crew's safety. The second chronicles Serene Galahad's continuing efforts to eliminate him and by extreme means revitalise the Earth's ecology. In addition there are many subsidiary strands woven into the tapestry of this richly complex tale, each by itself vital to the story. For instance not only is Alan Saul threatened by Serene Galahad but there is a revolt brewing within his crew as many believe his self- assumed title of the 'Owner' means that they are his possessions. In one of the climaxes, as the title declaims, there is a battle close to Jupiter which is bitterly fought with the outcome not at all assured in the favour of Saul and his crew. As a minor strand there are a number of interesting observations concerning Enrico Fermi's paradox.
As with the previous books JUPITER WAR is pure space science fiction of the best possible kind, full of action and believable science with a great depth of terrific well-defined characters. As in the second book in the series, ZERO POINT it provides links in the form of brief flashbacks to the previous volumes. Due to these there is no feeling of loss or bewilderment to new readers that is true with many other series. Also like ZERO POINT, JUPITER WAR is more than good enough to stand by itself. However if you have not already read the other two books in the Owner Trilogy read them as soon as possible as you have missed two great books.
Reviewed by Jim Pearce Dec-2013 Published by Pan Macmillan Tor

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ORBUS by Neal Asher

There's been a resurgence of the space opera in the last decade or so. We've had Banks, Reynolds and Hamilton producing massive works that last 1,000 pages or are heavy enough going to make it feel like they do. In this book Neal Asher is working on a much smaller scale. Not only is the book smaller but the pace is strong enough to stop it seeming any longer. There is still the regular changing of viewpoints but there's much less switching of plotlines and jumping back and forward in time. This makes for a much easier read. The cast is also much smaller. Maybe the scale inflates if you take into account the whole of the series or add in all of the books set in the same universe, but this is just one book and it actually stand up on its own. There are characters, situations, and plot lines that appeared in previous novels but they have enough explanation here to cover that. It may help to know things like the exact nature of the ‘history’ between Vrell, Orbus, and Sniper but you can get by on what's here.
So here's the story… Orbus seems to be fighting off the spatterjay virus and is starting to feel much more human. He is now captain of the freighter Gurnard on a mission to the Graveyard – the no-man's land between the Polity and Prador regions of space. This may have something to do with clearing out various Prador spies in the area. Sniper is either cargo or a stowaway on board the Gurnard - depending on how you define an artificially intelligent war drone with enough weaponry to level a city or two. Vrell is also in the Graveyard taking his revenge on Vrost and taking over the ship that the Prador King sent to hunt him down. It is during the ensuing carnage of this revenge that the true nature of the spatterjay virus that infects the Prador King's Guard is revealed and the potential consequences for those on the ship and the rest of the universe.
So it's not a thrill-a-minute ride but that's only because there is a plot. It's a good easy read with no real dull moments. There are monsters and battles and explosions all making good summer reading.

Reviewed by William McCabe Oct-2009 Published by Tor

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THE DEPARTURE by Neal Asher

Neal Asher here begins what is promised to be a long-running series featuring “The Owner of the Worlds”. This first Owner novel is set mostly on a hugely over-populated Earth in the mid-22nd Century. A totalitarian world government calling itself The Committee has taken complete control and maintains and exercises its power through every cruelty and atrocity that can be imagined. Onto this scene comes Adam Saul, a genius with a head full of computer implants which enables him to bring down The Committee and destroy its powerbase. The background to this narrative is hardly original, portraying as it does an extrapolation of current world trends such as over-population, unequal distribution of resources and the kind of totalitarianism which leads to suppression of a majority of the world’s population. These ideas have been explored before by numerous contemporary writers, as well as others at least as far back as George Orwell’s NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR. Even the idea of mind/computer interfacing has been seen before, although Asher takes it to a new level, one so high as to seem at times barely plausible. On the whole, the book comes over as rather shallow and hastily contrived. Adam Saul had appeared from nowhere two years earlier, with no explanation either of where he came from or what he did during those years. Once he gets going as the proverbial one man wave of destruction the action is relentless and at times events are almost obscured in a fog of blood and body parts, but the overall structure is completely one-dimensional with no depth to it at all. The book ends with him having become the self-styled Owner and about to embark on whatever course of action subsequent volumes in the series will recount. Meanwhile a subsidiary plot concerning a Mars colony had seemed largely irrelevant until it becomes apparent at the very end that it might after all assume some importance in what is to follow. Asher has produced some excellent and highly-praised work in the past but it is hard not to feel that he has let himself down here. Later volumes may be better as the series beds in, and it may become possible to look back on this as an effective introduction to what is to follow. On its own though, not very satisfactory. Michael Jones

Reviewed by Nov-2010 Published by Tor

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THE WARSHIP by Neal Asher

This book, the second in a trilogy is set, as most of his novels are, in the Polity/Prador universe. As many BRUM Group members will be well aware the Polity is an AI-led human superpower and the Prador are an aggressive kingdom of massive crab-like beings. These co-exist in an armed cold-war situation inhabiting an area of the galaxy that was several million years ago occupied by at least three supposedly extinct star empires. One of these, the Jain, created a technology which is designed to destroy any intelligent life that it encounters; including the Jain themselves. Unfortunately for the Polity and the Prador, active nodes of this technology still exist creating the only situation were an uneasy alliance between these groups exists.
As with his earlier ‘Polity’ books, Neal has created a number of excellently detailed characters. Some of these feature in previous series, let alone the previous volume of this trilogy, THE SOLDIER. As I have recognised in an earlier review of one of his books, he amply demonstrates the excellence of his storytelling by skilfully entwining the story line of each of his characters into a very strong narrative that is set within a detailed and believable universe. One of these, the hairman Orlandine (a blend of AI and human) is charged by both the Prador and Polity AI rulers with maintaining a blockade around a ‘proto-star’ accretion disc. This is seeded with Jain technology nodes. In THE SOLDIER a ‘new’ alien, the last surviving member of its species and not featured in previous Polity series, has manoeuvred Orlandine to teleport, via a wormhole, a black hole into the accretion disc presumably to destroy these nodes. This action creates a crisis in Polity/Prador relationships which THE WARSHIP explores in exquisite detail through the experiences of each of the many protagonists. Are there too many of these? No, as each adds quality to the tale and it would be sorely diminished if any part of their story was cut out.
As with Neal Asher’s previous books THE WARSHIP is story-telling of the highest quality. I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to review it and look forward avidly to reading the third episode of this trilogy. However, to get the best out of reading this book I would strongly suggest that THE SOLDIER is read first.

Reviewed by Jim Pearce Aug-2019 Published by Pan Macmillan

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ZERO POINT by Neal Asher

ZERO POINT is the second volume in Neal Asher's 'Owner' series of novels set in a world where a bureaucracy gone mad rules. Imagine a world where the EU has expanded to the nth degree and the 'Committee' delegates, especially the 'Chairman' have absolute power and also there is an enforcement Inspectorate that makes the Gestapo seem like the Salvation Army. In this world all but those at the top live under the Committee's leaden bureaucratic oversight and plain incompetence. Everyone with a smidgen of power abuses it and grovels to those above them. Basically its Citizens are divided into two groups i.e., 'Zero Assets (Zas)' and 'Societal Assets (Sas)' with neither having any rights, even to life.
In ZERO POINT the 'Owner', Alan Saul, has hijacked the orbital space station Argus (see the first Owner novel - THE DEPARTURE) and is on his way to Mars leaving behind a planet in disarray. While capturing Argus he attempted to destroy the Committee and its Inspectorate by turning their own weapon systems against them. Unfortunately some survive and like a hydra grow more heads as with extreme rapidity 'Delegate' Serene Galahad grabs power and commences a reign that makes those of Pol Pot and Hitler seem to be teddy bear picnics. Her rise to power forms a powerful strand within this book.
While much of ZERO POINT describes the titanic struggles of Alan Saul and his subjects/friends aboard the Space Station against the attempts of Serene Galahad to recover the Argus; there is also a strong third strand which follows the fight of Technical Director Varalin Delex and her staff to survive in a Mars Base abandoned by the Committee as a waste of resources. However, with the overriding suspicion and treachery culture of Committee run Earth infecting most of her subordinates, Varalin not only has to fight against an inhospitable planet but also against those on her staff on whom she should be able to depend.
ZERO POINT is pure space science fiction of the best possible kind full of action and believable science with a great depth of terrific well defined characters. Often when one reads the second book in a series, as is ZERO POINT, without reading the first (THE DEPARTURE) there is a feeling of loss, however this is not true with this book. ZERO POINT is more than good enough to stand by itself. That said the author provides plenty of natural references to actions in THE DEPARTURE to ensure that all actions are natural and clear. However if you have not already read THE DEPARTURE read it as soon as possible as you have missed a great book.

Reviewed by Jim Pearce Jun-2013 Published by Tor

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Isaac Asimov

BUY JUPITER by Isaac Asimov

Originally published in 1975, this is a collection of Asimov’s lesser reprinted stories. Thus, within these pages you will find gems, not easily available elsewhere. Unfortunately, not all jewels are valuable. Over the period covered here, 1950-1973, Asimov was prolific. His work appeared in many, eclectic places - not all of it was fiction. Also, a story that was thought good in the 1950s would not necessarily stand up to modern competition. Of much more interest, are the biographical notes that accompany the stories themselves, detailing when and why each was written and also some o f the other events that were going on in Asimov's life at the time.
In general, these pieces are short in length containing just one idea and without the room to develop characters too any great depth. Some have been written, just to get a pun in the last line, such as "Shah Guido G" which tells o f the demise o f the space station inhabited by the rulers of Earth.
Very few o f the stories are memorable. I had read this collection many years ago, and only two were familiar. "Button, Button", a time experiment which, although successful, fails because the parchment the rare signature was written on, appeared too new. And the title story, "Buy Jupiter" in which the planets are used as galactic advertising hoardings.
This collection will only really appeal either to the Asimov completists, or to those interested in Asimov's biography.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Apr-2000 Published by Millennium

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Steve Aylett

ATOM by Steve Aylett

This is probably the latest trend. The next big thing after cyberpunk. Think of a more genre - oriented Jeff Noon and you're on the right track. OK so the genre is the gangster novel (think of a futuristic Damon Runyon) but definitely genre This thing positively reeks with style and flair. Pity it doesn't care much for plot and character.
The plot (such as it is): - Taffy Atom is a PI (probably stands for Private Investigator but could just be Private I). He has a goldfish that could scare off sharks (no matter what kind of heavy artillery they might be holding) and an outer office that could put the fear of God into a hardened criminal. He has been employed to find Kafka's brain by a local gang boss. Or is that a local gang boss's brain by Franz Kafka? Another gangster want's to find this brain simply because his rival wants it. There are more complications.
A bizarre comedy. Look out for the strange weaponry that look more like plot devices that mechanical ones ("Rather than actually stripping the subtext from the blast site it converted the wave range into a living Updike novel").

Reviewed by William McCabe Dec-2000 Published by Phoenix House

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KARLOFF'S CIRCUS by Steve Aylett

This is the fourth and, probably, last book of the Accomplice series.
Accomplice is a small town that is totally cut off from the rest of the world (if there is a world out there for it to be cut off from) by natural features (an ocean, a desert, a swamp, a great chasm). It does have easy access to several levels of hell through various inter-dimensional ‘creepchannels’. These channels vary in size from the sort you have to crawl through to something that will take a railway train without trouble and generally at the same time. This probably explains the sequence early in this book where the circus arrives by train through an inter-dimensional portal that occupies the same space as the mouth of Rod Jayrod, master of the bizarre religion known as the Cannon Sect. Accomplice is a version of Trumpton by way of a William Burroughs trip or a Freddie Krueger nightmare.
Demons walk the streets without drawing attention, surreal manifestations like the lobster-sized cockroaches that represent the corruption of the mayoral office infest the buildings.
The plot seems trivial. Each book in this series has just another variation on the same theme. The demon Sweeney uses some obscure artifice in an attempt at revenge on Barny Juno, but fails. Barny rescues another dangerous animal (this time it’s a poisonous snake) from demonic clutches. The mayor struggles to keep control of the town although he knows the real power comes from the Conglomerate. Gregor manages to get out of one more scrape (a boxing match with a heavily armoured demon). “Oh, and someone stole the Moral Fibre again, the new rubber version. ” Steve Aylett’s strength isn’t in his plots. There are usually several heavily twisted plotlines running through each story but these take a distant second place to the style and the imagination. This is grotesque comic fantasy that the likes of Rankin and Pratchett couldn’t attempt. There are funny lines and set pieces (like the Zombie Trapeze act with catches going wrong because a participant’s arm falls off) and a general tone that doesn’t belong anywhere else. It takes some getting used to but it’s worth the effort.

Reviewed by William McCabe Apr-2004 Published by Gollancz

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THE VELOCITY GOSPEL by Steve Aylett

So this isn’t such a great book. Steve Aylett had been writing a sort of comic SF but for this series he’s decided to do fantasy. Instead of exotic postcyberpunk devices and genetically-modified creatures, you get demons and bizarre religious sects - the sort that finish a funeral by firing the deceased from a cannon.
The big problem is the plot. The whole thing reads like an episode of some twisted soap opera - and not one of the early ones that introduces the characters. There are a few stories going on here - guy changes girlfriends, friend loses job, other friend gets proclaimed messiah, local elections, deciding what to call an anthology of poetry, demon plots revenge on the guy that stole his lunch … that sort of thing.
There’s nothing much resolved here, implying that the series has a lot more to it yet (the next volume is now out in hardcover). The language isn’t that clear either.
Aylett has been compared to P G Wodehouse and Damon Runyon for inventing his own dialect and it takes re- reading to get close to seeing through the style.
That said, this isn’t truly awful either. There are not many writing comic fantasy that aren’t Pratchett clones. This sort of thing needs someone to take risks to keep it interesting. The comedy is good - most of the time - although it’s often sick humour with grotesque characters in surreal situations.
Reviewed by William McCabe Jul-2003 Published by Gollancz

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TOXICOLOGY by Steve Aylett

A collection of short pieces extended from the book of the same title published in 1999. Not all of these would qualify as stories - "If Armstrong Was Interesting" is a list of the things the astronaut might have done rather than follow the script, "Bestiary" is a set of 26 definitions - one for each letter of the alphabet.
Aylett's regular style is something like Damon Runyon rewritten by William Burroughs in a world after cyberpunk. This collection of oddities includes other things that depart from that, but still show the overall style. There are still "Beerlight" stories but you will also find a couple of Wodehouse parodies (imagine Wooster as a bungling killer) and something else based on Kafka. The length (or lack of it) makes it difficult to get much out of these (only one of twenty-six pieces covers more than ten pages) but there is real style to the lack of substance.

Reviewed by William McCabe Dec-2001 Published by Gollancz

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Rachel Bach

FORTUNE’S PAWN by Rachel Bach

This is the first book in Rachel Bach’s Paradox series and was published in 2013 while the next two HONOUR’S KNIGHT and HEAVEN’S QUEEN are to be published this year (2014). The heroine, Devi (Deviana) Morris is an armoured mercenary living and fighting within the ‘Paradoxian’ stellar empire. She is good, very good at being an armoured warrior but this is not enough for her. After serving terms in the Royal Army and in Paradox’s top private armoured company where she has excelled, she has gone as far as she can go without becoming a ‘Devastator’. Devastators being the Sainted Kings’ best armoured warriors (with the best combat armour in the known galaxy). However membership is only by invitation, no applications please. In an attempt to become ‘noticed’ in the shortest possible time, Devi applies for and is appointed to the security team of The Glorious Fool, a tiny trade ship. Normally ship security would be far beneath her notice, but the Glorious Fool isn’t an ordinary trader, it’s a trouble magnet. So much so that a year’s security work under the Glorious Fool’s captain is the equivalent of at least five years anywhere else. And so it proves to be.
FORTUNE’S PAWN strikes me as an old fashioned SF novel with a dauntless hero(ine), sinister villains and scary aliens, but one written with a modern verve. It has a feisty, determined and outrageously courageous heroine in Devi Morris as well as a good cast of supporting characters in the Glorious Fool’s captain and crew. In addition Rachel Bach has developed an interesting cast of aliens (some friendly and many not) in the stork-like Aeon, the tyrannasoid Xith’cal and the jellyfish-like Lelgis. These creatures are all competing with, and raiding on each other, as well as on the Paradoxians and their human rivals, the Terran Republic. FORTUNE’S PAWN is a highly readable book; in fact it took me less than a day to finish it.
While making comparisons with other authors’ work is always problematical it is sometime part of a reviewer’s role in order to help possible readers. To me, whilst good, FORTUNE’S PAWN does not have the richness and depth of characters and settings as David Weber’s Honorverse books or Elizabeth Moon’s Serrano Legacy and Vatta’s War series. However that said, FORTUNE’S PAWN is well worth reading and if the following books in this series are to the same standard they will be too.
Reviewed by Jim Pearce Sep-2014 Published by Orbit

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Scott Bakker

NEUROPATH by Scott Bakker

This is the writer known as R. Scott Bakker but to show the change of style, he's dropped the ‘R’. This is more likely to sell as a crime thriller rather than SF.
There are a couple of elements here that would put it into the SF market but the overall style is one that would work best as a straight thriller. The least of the SF bits is that it is set in the near future after the effects of climate change have wrought havoc throughout Europe (including large parts of Russia) and consequently USA internal security has gained an even greater hold than it does now. The second element is that there is a secret project that applies electric charges to people's brains in order to change their personalities.
The real story is that Neil Cassidy, an employee of this secret project, has taken it upon himself to reveal its existence to the world by applying it to various people in sickeningly creative ways and posting the video on the internet. There's the ex porn star that he turns into a pain junkie until she slices herself to death; the multi-millionaire that can no longer remember faces and is now scared by his closest friends and family who all appear to be strangers; a politician forced to abuse children and a church minister who is given a divine revelation.
Since Cassidy isn't killing so many people and someone else is, the FBI have decided to recruit Thomas Bible, his old friend from college, in an attempt to capture him. There are complications in that several characters aren't what they seem and the odd bloodbath results.
Bakker is trying to use this as an expose on a certain kind of psychosurgery that may be used for various military/intelligence purposes. On occasions this is really shocking, over explanatory and misjudged.
This is definitely not for the squeamish and, towards the end, it seems to overdo the shock element - if you can't take the torture of small children, don't touch this.

Reviewed by William McCabe Oct-2008 Published by Orion

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Tony Ballantyne

TWISTED METAL by Tony Ballantyne

Tony Ballantyne is a nice man. It is a pity about this book. If you are a naïve twelve-year-old who likes robots, then fine; if not, this is a book to be avoided. The premise of having robots fighting wars over resources, especially metal, is fine, but in this book, every single robot is humanoid and they have sex.
Now this is not an impossible scenario as the robots in Charles Stross’s novel, SATURN’S CHILDREN, do that, but they were designed that way by humans (which have since disappeared). The android form robot is the least sensible, especially for fighting wars, especially when all the senses are concentrated in the head making them particularly vulnerable. To compound this, these metal-clad robots have emotions, form stable family relationships, produce children, feel and can smile. Even an AI would not do this. One of the most ludicrous suggestions is that a new robot can be created by the ‘female’ twisting together into a pattern special blue wire produced by the ‘male’. That then becomes the active ‘brain’ of the child – no mention of silicon chips, capacitors or resistors and certainly no motherboard.
The plot follows several robots as the metal poor state of Artemis tramples over all the other states without let or much hindrance, melting down all metal, including conquered robots, to expand the state.
Other aspects of this book are also suspect such as the chemistry and geology. I doubt that revelations in subsequent volumes of this proposed trilogy can rescue it.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan May-2009 Published by Tor

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J G Ballard

THE VOICES OF TIME / THE TERMINAL BEACH by J G Ballard

First published in 1962 and 1964 respectively, these are two collections of Ballard's early "inner space" stories.
These were stories that broke the mould of SF - as shocking and different in their way as cyberpunk was thirty years later. They show Ballard as a technophobe, concerned with the effects upon mankind of the runaway development of science and technology during his own formative years of 1940 to 1960, from nuclear tests to computers.
In compelling near future stories such as "The Voices of Time", "Deep End" and "The Terminal Beach", scientists or obsessives (much the same thing in Ballard's view) patrol a small section of an under- populated world, noting strange and possibly subjective effects upon themselves. Only occasionally is the setting truly science fictional - Mars in "The Cage of Sand", a world subject to alien invasion in "The Watch Towers", a future that has abandoned clocks in "Chronopolis".
Even the starship project in "Thirteen to Centaurus" is a multi-generation mock-up, firmly based in a hangar on Earth. My own favourite, "The Garden of Time", is a fantasy view of entropy.
Also in these collections are the exquisite "The Illuminated Man", an early version of THE CRYSTAL WORLD and "The Reptile Enclosure", which will put you off ever going to the beach again.
Ballard's clear, unemotional style is still startling and undated, forty years on. Required reading. And, for the bibliographically-minded amongst you, THE VOICES OF TIME was originally published in (he US in 1962 and then in the UK in 1963, with some story changes, as THE FOURDIMENSIONAL NIGHTMARE. Later in 1985, with a few more changes, it appeared in the UK under its original title. This is the 1985 version.

Reviewed by Chris Morgan Jun-2001 Published by Phoenix

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Iain M Banks

THE HYDROGEN SONATA by Iain M Banks

For his latest Culture novel Banks has eschewed the somewhat portentous over-elaboration of the most recent ones in favour of the somewhat lighter and more accessible tone of the earlier ones. It is also between ten and fifteen percent shorter, which is perhaps not such a bad thing. It mostly concerns a civilisation called the Gzilt who were around at the time the Culture first came into being some ten thousand years ago but chose not to join. Now they have decided to do what a lot of other races have done before them and Sublime, moving their individual downloaded personalities into a new and better form of existence in another dimension beyond the seven or eight that are generally known. Various shenanigans ensue as, during the last twenty-three days before this event ( Enfolding ) takes place, various factions seek to better their positions in the hope of future advantage. And one of the advantages being sought is continued concealment of a momentous secret which largely accounts for them having not joined the Culture all those years ago when they had the chance. A disparate group of Culture ships have got wind of all this and, naturally enough, decide to try and find out just what is going on, with a view to interfering if necessary. This involves locating and interrogating an individual who was there at the beginning, but unfortunately he has excised the relevant memory, placed it into secure storage and lost it. The story is mostly about their efforts to find it again while thwarting the efforts of those of the Gzilt who would prefer it to remain lost. Vyr Cossont, a young Gzilt musician, is called upon to play an important and risky part in this search. The Hydrogen Sonata of the title is an ancient and difficult piece of music and it is her life’s ambition to play it from beginning to end without unwonted pauses or mistakes. Her efforts to do so symbolise her part in the larger story: at the beginning of the book she is continuing to try and fail. At the end, having done her bit, she successfully completes the sonata, then chooses not to take part in the Enfolding but to go off on her own instead. This long and, it must be admitted, complex story provides ample opportunity for Banks to do what he does best, obviously enjoying himself as he explores his creation ( The Culture ) and giving free rein to his inventive imagination, with amazing advanced technology pervading almost every page while weird personalities both alien and human abound. At the same time, he explains more than has previously been given away about both the origin of the Culture and the ultimate aim of maturing civilisations, to Sublime. It is all written in the conversational, mostly light-hearted, style which he seems to use more in his Culture books than in some others he has written, never using one word where four or five or even more would do and constructing sentences of up to two hundred words ( depending on how you count hyphenated ones ). The argumentative chatter among the Ship Minds is particularly entertaining. It marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Culture and is every bit as good as one has come to expect, although a reader not already familiar with the Culture might find it a trifle difficult and fail to pick up on some of the less obvious nuances. The sheer inventiveness displayed and the writing style combine to make it a delight and one can but hope for more like it.
Reviewed by Michael Jones Oct-2012 Published by Orbit

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Andrew Bannister

CREATION MACHINE by Andrew Bannister

This book as well as being the first stand-alone volume in a trilogy, is the author’s debut novel. It is set in an area of space that is known as the ‘Spin’ which is described as being a thickly populated region containing 94 planets looped in complex orbits around 21 suns. It is about 30 light-days wide. In addition, it is split into 4 distinct and separately moving astro-geographic parts. While, as is indicated by the book’s title, the area is obviously a highly artificial construct, no suggestion is provided as to how its stability is maintained.
Throughout most of the book the action alternates between two apparently unconnected storylines. In fact, on reaching the end I did not find any strong connection between these strands. The first of these follows Fleare Hass, a fighter of a failed dissident group, ‘Society Otherwise’, which has been defeated by the brutal and oppressive industrial dominated ‘Hegemony’ in which her father is a leading figure. Her narrative starts with rescue from imprisonment in a desolate monastery on a remote and inhospitable planet by a friend who has been turned into a cloud of sentient nanites. After escaping they meet up with 2 other survivors from ‘Society Otherwise’ and flee across the ‘Spin’ to a cluster of fallen planets known as ‘the Catastrophe Curve’.
The other strand follows Alameche Ur-hive, a senior member of the government of the brutal and despotic empire of the ‘Fortunate’ which rules the 6 planets of the inner region of the ‘Spin’ known as the ‘Cordern’. What happens in this section covers a plot to control a mysterious object thought to be one of the machines used to create the ‘Spin’ and hence having the potential to become a highly destructive weapon. Nowhere in the book is there any contact between Fleare and Alameche.
What did I think of the book? I’m ambivalent; to me the story of Fleare has too many dislocations. I kept thinking how and why did they get to that point. In contrast the inhumane tale of Alameche was more coherent. Towards the end of the book, new characters existing in computer simulations are suddenly introduced and these are critical to the apparent resolution of the ‘Creation Machine’ problem, but in a way that left me unsatisfied.
Did I like and enjoy the book? Well it was readable and moderately enjoyable but did not, in my opinion, live up to the standard I expected from the endorsements made in the publisher’s press release. That said, Andrew Bannister clearly has great potential as he has very good ideas and has created interesting characters and settings. Perhaps this is one of those books that grow on you on rereading. Also perhaps the next book in the sequence will reveal more detail and all will be made clear.

Reviewed by Jim Pearce Jul-2016 Published by Bantam

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Dave Bara

IMPULSE by Dave Bara

IMPULSE is book one in The Lightship Chronicles and is set in a galaxy recovering from a civil war that finished a hundred and fifty years ago. This took place between the ‘First’ or ‘Corporate’ Empire and a group of secessionist planets that wanted to leave that Empire. A decade before the action described in this book ‘the Historians’ a ‘Church’ group arrived in Quantar and Carinthia, two planets that had been on opposite sides in the war. Offering the gift of lightships (interstellar craft) they persuaded these planets to join with Earth in a ‘Union’.
Just before the book starts a lightship, the Impulse one of three existing lightships, has just returned badly damaged from an exploratory trip to a neighbouring star, Levant. Lt. Peter Cochrane, son of the Quantarian Grand Admiral is quickly pulled off his planned first trip in the new lightship Starbound, promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander and transferred to the Impulse. The first problem to face him is that the Impulse is crewed by Carinthians and there is still some residual antagonism between them and Quantarans. After repair this ship is to return to Levant to investigate the circumstances of the attack. To further complicate things an historian accompanies all lightships and has overriding authority and access to technology that is not shared with the crews.
On return to the Levant system, the Impulse is attacked by both First Empire technology but also by something called ‘Founder’ technology. It appears that several hundred thousand years before the current period there was a human star empire that was destroyed by a mysterious enemy. Earth humans supposedly are the descendants of a lost colony of this empire. After surviving these attacks and while exploring this founder technology in one of the ship’s shuttles, Peter and his friends are stranded when the Historian on the Impulse shanghaies the ship and leaves the star system via a wormhole. It turns out that there is a schism in the ranks of the Historians. Fortunately the Levant system rulers are friendly and before you know it Peter is engaged to its co-ruler.
As you may gather the plot and characterisation is rather convoluted. I’m sorry to say that I did not find either the technology or plot believable. In addition the actions of the main characters especially Peter’s are, in my opinion, naïve, clumsy and do not meet the standards one would expect of persons in their position. A more experienced author may have produced a more satisfying tale.

Reviewed by Jim Pearce Apr-2015 Published by Del Rey

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James Barclay

ELVES ONCE WALKED WITH GODS by James Barclay

ELVES ONCE WALKED WITH GODS is the first of a trilogy by this prolific author. The many species of Elves (called Threads) have lived in an unnatural harmony for over a thousand years on both their original home world and Calius where this story is set. About 10 years before the present date they are forced to flee their home world to escape from the demonic Garonin leaving about 100,000 behind to be slaughtered. Takaar, the elf who created the harmony and lead the resistance to the Garonin, is blamed for the loss and has fled into the jungles of Calius.
Malcontents are working to destroy the harmony established by Takaar. On its formal repudiation, Elven society immediately and violently fractures with each Thread taking revenge for perceived slights and inequalities. Human mercenaries have been brought in to help re-establish the pre-harmony ruling Thread but, using magic, brutally take over and establish their own rule. In desperation, controversial steps are taken to recall Takaar from his exile; but will he be of help or a hindrance as in the 10 years since he was last seen he has gone mad?
As was to be expected of this author the book is competently written and moves along at a high pace with its many narrative strands being seamlessly woven together.
That said the plot did not grip nor the characters engage. I did not become interested in what was happening to the elves, either as a race or as individuals, until the end of the book when the story started to grow on me. Do I want to read the next part of the story, perhaps? Would I buy a copy? No.

Reviewed by Jim Pearce Aug-2010 Published by Gollancz

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RAVENSOUL by James Barclay

The Raven are back! The band of mercenaries for hire were last seen in DEMONSTORM and appeared to have fought for the last time, but Barclay resurrects them for this one last battle. The star of the show is the ‘Unknown Warrior’, also known as Sol, who is one of the last remaining members of the Raven left alive after the events of the last book. He is paid an unexpected visit one night after several years spent grieving for his lost friends, and has to overcome his disbelief to help reform the band and fight against the latest invaders, who appear to be even more dangerous than the demons from before. It becomes apparent that he must make the ultimate sacrifice to save the world as he knows it…
As far as the plot of this book goes, from what we know of what has gone before, all the characters sacrificed themselves so the re-appearance in this book seems to take away some of the impact of this sacrifice somewhat. However, one can really imagine the fans cheering as their heroes come back one by one, and reunite to face even bigger, better bad guys! The author has an obvious fondness for his characters which is appealing when reading the book. At the same time he does not lose complete sight of the plot and the reader is drawn along with this.
Barclay writes well, so non-regular readers of his work will find the humour entertaining and the sufficiently fast pace will keep them interested, even if it all starts getting a bit metaphysical and surreal towards the end.
I enjoyed the book but it is one for fans really. Those who, unlike me, have read some of the others in the series will get the references to what has gone before, but this is a bit of a problem for newer readers. Maybe a list of Raven members and a summary of what has gone before might have been more helpful.
It is worth a read though and tempted me to read some of the earlier books in the series.

Reviewed by Vicky Stock Jun-2010 Published by Gollancz

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Clive Barker

ABARAT II: DAYS OF MAGIC, NIGHTS OF WAR by Clive Barker

In the first book of the Abarat Quartet Candy Quackenbush was swept from her home in Chicken Town to the strange world of Abarat. In this world, time is a place. Imagine a sundial where, instead of numbers around the edge, there are islands. Each island is permanently at a particular time such as noon or two o’clock or midnight. All the people who live here are strange. None of them look human. Candy has made friends with Malingo, an orange-skinned geshrat who she freed from the slavery of the wizard Wolfswinkel. Candy has made enemies. She is also being pursued by the minions of Christopher Carrion, Lord of Midnight. In this volume, Candy makes new friends and discovers she has magical powers although she doesn’t know how they work. She also discovers that the reason why she has arrived in Abarat and is having problems, is because the soul of a beautiful princess was hidden next to her own soul on the night that she was born.
It is difficult to know who this book is aimed at. It is the kind of fantasy that youngsters would love, with all the weird characters. It is filled with over 125 full colour pictures created by Clive Barker. It would make a wonderful animated film. It is printed on thick, glossy paper so that the volume is heavier than expected. This and the price would probably put it out of range of many children, although it would make a superb present. At the same time, any adult prepared to get in touch with their inner child will also find a lot to delight them.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Dec-2005 Published by HarperCollins

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THE ESSENTIAL CLIVE BARKER by Clive Barker

I don't know how to classify this book. It's not a "best of' collection or a set of short stories. I wouldn't think of it as an adequate introduction to the writer's work. I'm not even sure why it was published.
What you have here is a set of short sections from several very large novels taken to illustrate how Clive Barker writes. There is only one complete story here and that (In the hills, the cities) is less than 40 pages long and available elsewhere. If anything this seems to be an attempt at a text book for literature students. There are pieces of autobiography and commentary on how and why this was written. The fiction itself seems to be there only as illustration of the point. One for the student or the fan.

Reviewed by William McCabe Jan-2000 Published by HarperCollins

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Jonathan Barnes

THE DOMINO MEN by Jonathan Barnes

This is Barnes' second novel. It could be called a sequel to the first – THE SOMNAMBULIST - in that the characters of this title also appeared in that book. There are other links too. As before, this is set in the early years of the century but this time it's the 21st not the 20th. Once again, there's a secret organisation but, this time, it's seen from the inside not the outside and it's trying to prevent a disaster not cause one. There is also a sense of style in the characters.
There are so many grotesques. There are Hawker and Boon, grown men dressed as schoolboys. They enjoy killing and do quite a lot of it. Strangely, they seem to be among the good guys this time around although it's hard to tell if they're really on anyone's side. There's Dedlock who's been living in a tank on one of the cars on the London Eye. He's been around for a century too. The most grotesque of all is Leviathan. It's been imprisoned inside someone for a century and is about to break out. When it does it will mean the end for all of London. Leviathan isn't really a character, more of a … but that would give too much away.
There's no way of deciding whether this is SF or Fantasy. Certainly Leviathan has a lot of similarity with all of the demons that you'd find in horror movies and the method of containment is done through rituals rather than technology but it's hard to believe that a fantasy/horror story would produce something that had a true nature anything like that.
At the same time, this is definitely someone's idea of comedy. It's not the simple sort that you'd find in Pratchett/Rankin/Holt and their clones. There's nothing that's laugh-outloud funny either. Think of it more as an adult version of some of the more grotesque scenes in Roald Dahl's children's books with a layer of Dickens or Fielding on top.
So on to the plot. Henry Lamb, one-time child comedy star and now civil service record clerk, is recruited into a branch of the secret service when his grandfather is hospitalised. It seems Grandpa was involved in something much bigger that just TV production. But, as an italicized voice tells us, Henry Lamb may not be telling the truth. A century earlier, Queen Victoria plotted to bring a creature called Leviathan to Earth but was thwarted by the Directorate - a secret organisation. Now certain members of the House of Windsor are involved in a plot to free Leviathan.

Reviewed by William McCabe Jun-2008 Published by Gollancz

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THE SOMNAMBULIST by Jonathan Barnes

There's a borderline between SF and other genre fiction that's often blurred. Think of the spy thrillers where the hero perpetually saves the world from some new technological marvel or the detective with (near) psychic abilities.
The plot of the story doesn't really have anything to do with SF but some will claim it is because of these minor frills. This is one of those. There are several characters that belong in a carnival freak-show (including at least one that *is* in one), a device that Dr. Frankenstein would have been jealous of, and a character that has a different view of the passage of time. Despite all this, the plot is an adventure story that isn't so different from John Buchan or Arthur Conan-Doyle.
The setting is London, soon after the death of the Queen. Although it is never said outright, this seems to have been Queen Victoria. This is not some obviously alternate world but it is an obvious fiction.
Once-great amateur detective and stage magician Edward Moon is drawn into a case of bizarre murders that are merely a ruse to get him into something much more sinister. He moves from Scotland Yard to ‘The Directorate’ (presumably the secret service of the day) to “Love, Love, Love & Love” who have their own (literally) underground organisation before everything explodes into a small war on the streets of the city.
The great feature and most of the mood of the novel, comes from its continuing array of freaks. From Moon’s constant companion,“The Somnambulist” , who has no problem with people sticking swords through various parts of his torso, through Cribb, who seems to live his life backwards remembering only the things that have yet to happen, to the secret of “Love” that seems to have stepped out of a famous SF/Horror story. For a little added spice there are also assassins, usually freakish, occasionally superhuman and psychopathic.
Although the story reads as easily as any thriller there are a few serious flaws. Too often there are teasers for plot and character points that are never resolved - most obviously the connection between Cribb and “The Somnambulist”. Many of the freaks have no reason to be such within their own story. It makes the story feel like it has been built on something much more ordinary and these extra parts are just stuck on to try to conform to something that doesn’t really belong there.

Reviewed by William McCabe Feb-2007 Published by Gollancz

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Stephen Baxter

COALESCENT ( ‘Destiny's Children' Book One) by Stephen Baxter

I must confess my heart sank a bit when I saw that this was the first part of a new trilogy - yet another enormous story from the hand that has given us several such already. In fact, COALESCENT works perfectly well as a stand-alone novel and there is only a partial sense th at it has come to an artificial stop only part-way through but remains an unfinished story. There are however one or two obvious openings for further developments There are at first two main narrative threads here: the contemporary story of George Poole who discovers after his father's death that he had a twin sister he never knew about and the story of Regina, a young Roman girl (from whom George is in fact distantly descended) struggling to survive in Britain in the fifth century as the Roman Empire collapses around her. She manages to make her way to Rome itself where she lays the foundation of a new kind of society comprised entirely of women and living in a warren of secret tunnels beneath the city - the eponymous Coalescents. George's sister is a member of this society and his reunion with her leads him into conflict with the group. He escapes them at the end, remaining unsure as to whether or not he has glimpsed the future of mankind.
I was drawn irresistibly into comparing this with Frank Herbert's HELLSTROM'S HIVE from 1973, which also tells of a secret organisation of humans living underground and not only evolving a new kind of society but also new kinds of human beings to people it. Baxter's approach is different from Herbert's in many ways, particularly in that he does away with the idea of a single controlling intelligence, th ereby probably coming closer to how hive societies of ants, say, or bees actually function. I would love to know how familiar Baxter was with the earlier book and how he worked out his different approach.
If I have a quarrel with this book it is the amount of it devoted to Regina's story. Perhaps it is essential for the reader to understand where she is coming from, but if I wanted to read a historical novel I would go and find one - it's not what I read SF for. For me, the book only came alive about two-thirds of the way through, when the SF ideas took over and one could begin to get a sense of grand concepts unfolding. Apart from the question of what the future will bring for the Coalescents themselves, there are hints of outside influences interfering with the formation of our solar system, and perhaps still around today, and there is a brief view of humanity colonising the Galaxy twenty thousand years in the future - so plenty of basis for the sequels which are to follow.
As is so often the case, therefore, there can be two judgements of COALESCENT: on its own or as part of a larger whole. On its own it is pretty good but the completed ‘Destiny's Children’ trilogy may well turn out to be great.
Or not. Michael Jones

Reviewed by Dec-2003 Published by Gollancz

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DEEP FUTURE by Stephen Baxter

In this book Stephen Baxter analyses the future of the human race and its place in the universe according to the most up-to- date scientific theories. He begins with our future development on this planet and then goes on to look at the development of the Moon and the possibilities of terraforming the other planets before we expand out of the Solar System altogether. Along the way he discusses the likelihood of other intelligences having got there before us and discusses the question “if they exist, why can’t 5 we see them?” (the Fermi Paradox).
Eventually, countless billions of years into the future, all the stars will have burned out and our unimaginably remote descendants will live by mining black holes for gravitational energy.
From that remote future our brief existence will be indistinguishable from the Big Bang with which the cosmos began.
In one sense, of course, this is all highly speculative, but it is the sort of informed speculation that we have learned to call ‘science fact’ and to regard as the basis for the SF we like to enjoy. There are a hundred SF stories hidden in this book and in fact Baxter himself has used many of them in his recent Manifold series, having employed the same research ideas as a basis for both fictional and factual writing.
However much SF one reads, one should always be able to find time to read a book like this in order to preserve a sense of perspective.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Mar-2002 Published by Gollancz

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EVOLUTION by Stephen Baxter

In this huge novel, Baxter traces the course of human evolution from the time of the comet impact which eliminated the dinosaurs to a time in the almost unimaginably distant future when there will (may) be scarcely any life at all left on Earth. Not just ‘The Ascent of Man’ but ‘The Descent of Man’ also.
The progress of evolution is displayed in a series of vignettes, widely spaced at first but becoming closer together as the present day is approached, each portraying a significant developmental stage in the DNA strand which purports to tie them all together as the progenitors of humanity are shaped by their changing ecological environment and, in turn, contribute by their own activities to changing it. Baxter himself makes it clear that most of this is highly speculative, but it COULD have happened that way and he includes nothing significantly contrary to at least one of the various conflicting theories of evolution which are currently in favour. (Except, of course, for the parts of the story set in the future, which are SF pure and simple. Science Fiction or Science Fantasy - take your pick!) An interesting detail of this process shows how the first emergence of modern man, some ten thousand years ago, already contained the seeds of his own future degeneration. In another stage of the story the latter days of a collapsing Roman civilisation are portrayed as displaying a number of alarming similarities to our own present-day situation.
Interesting for the most part, and never less than informative, this is nevertheless an unfortunately long book. In each of the ’vignettes’ to which I have referred the author goes into all the detail necessary to get his point across as well as making a little story out of it and at times he is in danger of descending into textbook mode. The result is very heavy going and I found that I did best by reading at most a chapter or so a day rather than trying to get through more at a sitting, although the sections set around the present day and the graphically physical description of that comet impact sixty-five million years ago were more exciting. Incidentally, a partial echo of the latter is seen in the form of a catastrophic seismic eruption in 2031 which virtually brings about the end of civilisation as we know it - an event which some authorities say is already overdue.
This is certainly a book to admire and is an impressive addition to Baxter's oeuvre. However, I visualise few readers who, having read it once, would foreseeably read it again in its entirety, as they might, had it been at least a third shorter.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Mar-2003 Published by Gollancz

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FLOOD by Stephen Baxter

In 2016 four hostages rescued from a group of religious terrorists arrive in London just in time to witness the onset of a flood which overwhelms the city. At first this is attributed to climate change hut as the flooding becomes worse all over the world another, better explanation has to be found and it seems that water locked in vast amounts in the deep rock of the Earth's mantle is being released causing the seas to rise at an ever-accelerating rate, (There is a scientific justification for the existence of this 'buried' water, but no explanation is forthcoming as to why it is being released, or why now).
Within twenty years Scafell Pike, the highest point of • England, is covered and in 2052 a straggly group of raft- dwellers watch as the peak of Everest disappears beneath the waves.
The story of those thirty-six years is told from the various and separate points of view of those four hostage survivors, who find themselves uniquely placed to watch the unfolding events as billions die, civilisation as we know it is destroyed forever and such humanity as survives is forced to adapt to life on a world covered by water. The reader recalls the catastrophe novels that were popular at one time, hut the world and SF have both moved on in the last fiftyphis years and this story is far removed from the relative cosiness of, say, John Wyndham's work. It is a bleak and at times horrific tale, with little to offer by way of a future for the human race, Except . . . Baxter seems to like writing in series: this cries out for a sequel and there are several obvious and not-so-obvious hints that there remains more to be told.
Interestingly, this proof copy of the book, contained in a sealed evidence bag to protect it from water damage, is presented as having been recovered from a collapsed tower block in central London under 1000 metres of water during an extra-planetary exploration mission in 2115. (So two hints that there may be more to come, before the book is even opened!) Stephen Baxter has obviously done his homework. Apart from the origin of the Hooding itself, he shows the progress of the waters creeping over the lowest land first, before rising remorselessly higher and higher and writes about how the inundated land will react to the weight of water lying on it, giving rise to earthquakes, tsunamis and the like:, and how even more radical climate change will arise from the redistribution of energy in the atmosphere. Plus, of course, the reaction of both populations and governments to the prospect of losing everything. It may not always make for pleasant reading, hut is intriguing, fascinating and perhaps even enjoyable nonetheless.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Jul-2008 Published by Gollancz

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ICEBONES by Stephen Baxter

This is Book Three of the Mammoth series, and the final volume.
This series has apparently been compared with WATERSHIP DOWN, but the only similarity really is that it is anthropomorphic - the animals talk to each other as if they are humans. But the culture of the woolly mammoth (for these are the animals in question) is quite different from that of humans, or ‘the Lost’ as they are known here, and Baxter has clearly done a great deal of research into the habits of their species, which must mainly be elephants, since mammoths became extinct some 11,000 years ago. Didn’t they? So why, in the first book, do we start coming across artifacts which are obviously not only human, but belong to advanced, technological humans? All is revealed as the books progress, and in this volume we reach the ultimate phase: the Sky Steppe. It is obviously best if readers have read the previous two, though if you happen to pick up this one in an auction, it is still a very fine read. But it would be interesting to know, if it were possible for him/her not to read the blurb on the back cover, how long it would take a new reader to realise that these mammoths are not on Earth but on Mars in the year 3000AD! (Of course, the front cover is a bit of a giveaway too - not by Fangorn this time, who was probably busy in Hollywood, but by Peter Barrett, whom I must admit I hadn’t heard of - but one might not notice the reddish landscape.
And those rocks are more marshmallow-like than anything I ever painted. . .) According to the Cycle - the mammoths’ handed-down story, which amounts to their Bible - the Sky Steppe is paradise. However, this world is very far from paradise. It is cold, the air is thin, there is dust everywhere and often little to eat, and the rest of the mammoths are starving because they are used to being fed by the Lost, who have deserted them and left them to fend for themselves.
Enter Icebones, the heroine of the title, who, although she often finds it hard to believe, is destined to become the saviour of all mammoths on Mars.
Why there are mammoths on Mars in the first place and how Icebones got there I’ll leave you to find out for yourself, because I strongly recommend that you do read this trilogy. It is quite different from anything else that Baxter has written and if you think of him just 7 in terms of ‘hard SF’ you’re in for a pleasant surprise.

Reviewed by David A Hardy Mar-2002 Published by Gollancz

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LONGTUSK by Stephen Baxter

This is book 2 in the Mammoth trilogy, and sequel to SILVERHAIR.
However, whereas that book was set in roughly the present day, this volume takes us back to 16,000 BG.
This series is very different from Stephen Baxter’s more usual space or time epics, but no less compelling. They have apparently been compared to WATERSHIP DOWN - presumably because the animals speak to each other (in English, for convenience!). But any such resemblance is surely superficial.
Baxter has always done his research and knows all about the mammoths’ natural methods of communi- cation too, such as contact rumbles and smell, as well as their interaction with other creatures and hominids. And about their mating habits, migration patterns, and all else necessary to make this another well-rounded novel.
The Fireheads (humans) are invading mammoth territory and, as we discover, have already ‘domesticated’ their cousins, the mastodons. Longtusk, as a mere youngster, gets separated from his Clan, and this book is about his adventures, which make him the greatest Bull hero in the Cycle. He befriends a young Dreamer (another type of human, presumably Neanderthal, being ruthlessly exterminated by the more intelligent and aggressive Fireheads), and is later captured by Fireheads, though he never fully capitulates to them, and makes an enemy of their Shaman.
I found it quite compulsive reading, but I wonder where the next in the series is going. We’ve had one book set in the present, one in the past - and the Epilogue to this book refers to Mars in AD 3,000.

Reviewed by David A Hardy Mar-2001 Published by Millennium

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ORIGIN by Stephen Baxter

Here at last is the long-awaited (by me at any rate) final volume in the Manifold trilogy which began two years ago with SPACE and continued last year with TIME. Actually, it is not a trilogy as such, but a set of linked novels describing the destiny of humanity in a series of histories taking place in the Manifold of an infinite number of alternative universes, as seen through the eyes of the same three lead characters. Consequently it is not at all necessary to be familiar with the earlier volumes to be able to appreciate this one, notwithstanding the fact that it ties the whole series together.
The series is informed by the question of alien life in the Universe and the Fermi Paradox - “ if they exist, why aren’t they here?” What we learn in the final chapters is that the ultimate descendants of humanity have ensured their own evolution by reaching back through time and seeding the universes of the Manifold with various versions of mankind’s early proto-human ancestors as they begin to evolve on different alternate Earths. As a result, no other intelligent life has had an opportunity to develop, although the previous story TIME showed what might have happened if it had.
It is a grandiose concept, and one which reinforces Baxter’s status as one of the foremost, and certainly one of the most audaciously imaginative, writers in the SF world today. He simply goes from strength to strength.
Unfortunately, the best of the book is all concentrated into about the last hundred pages. Remember the opening of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY: the tediously drawn-out section with the ape-men and how you long for it to finish so that the proper story can get going? Four-fifths of this book is like that, describing the lives of different species of primitive men and the struggles of a handful of human castaways to survive amongst them, not always successfully. I must confess to have been somewhat at a loss to understand the importance of all this and the justification for devoting quite so much time and effort to it. It has some relevance to the overall structure of the trilogy, but not that much.
It is because of this that I am only giving the book four stars instead of the five which it ought to deserve.
Nevertheless, that is a good mark and the book is well-written and worth reading, the more so if you pursue the whole Manifold series.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Sep-2001 Published by Voyager

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PHASE SPACE by Stephen Baxter

In 2001 Stephen Baxter completed his Manifold series, a collection of linked novels exploring some of the advanced scientific ideas he described in his non-fiction book DEEP FUTURE. Between 1997 and 2001 he had also published a number of short stories and these are collected here.
The phase space of the title refers to the space containing all the conceivable states of the Universe and one of the stories, featuring characters from the Manifold novels, describes how a failed experiment opens the Earth to Phase Space. Within this space we find included stories based on alternate histories - stories of what might have happened if this or that had gone wrong with the Apollo Programme for example - and stories linked in some degree to the Manifold novels, although not necessarily part of them.
As befits their previous independent publication, each story is able to stand alone, although they are now linked within a very loose framework based on the failed experiment story I have just mentioned which opens the Earth to the myriad possibilities of the Manifold where anything that can happen, will. Each is a gem in its own right, superbly crafted and polished. There are strange ideas aplenty here, emotion, pathos and flashes of a rare beauty which makes one want to reach out and touch the Universe, to be a part of it.
Like most of this author’s work it deserves not to be missed.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Jan-2003 Published by Voyager

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RESPLENDENT (Destiny’s Children Book Four) by Stephen Baxter

Baxter’s fourth short story collection is announced as the latest Destiny’s Children volume, thus concluding another massive four-part trilogy. More than that, it continues the process of tying the series to previous books including TIMELIKE INFINITY and VACUUM DIAGRAMS in a million-year history of mankind’s war for supremacy over the alien Xeelee – a war which ends with defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. Not, however, a complete history – it would surely require dozens, if not hundreds, of volumes to cover such an immense span of time. Instead, a series of snapshots is provided, briefly illuminating various events some of which seem more significant or important than others. The stories range from straightforward action to weird metaphysics and cover a wide range of themes such as contact with alien lifeforms, super-tech, epic space war, genetics, virtual reality and immortality - all subject to typical human weaknesses and failings.
However, the people involved seem for the most part to be lost, submerged beneath the technical requirements of the situations in which they find themselves. There is a sketchy framework of comments to link the stories together, ostensibly provided by one Luru Parz, an immortal who appears in the first and last stories but scarcely at all elsewhere, and it is hinted that she has guided the progress of human history throughout. Apart from her, however, there are hardly any memorable characters to stand out or to be recalled as the architects of great events. In fact, reading between the lines, it becomes apparent that in the far future individuality has had to be ruthlessly suppressed, human beings becoming little more than a resource to be used as required to promulgate the millennia-long wars which have to be won if humankind is to achieve anything resembling survival. And for what?
Taken as a whole, this Destiny’s Children series seems bitty and disjointed. In part, this may be due to the fact that such an enormous span of time cannot be covered other than by viewing little fragments here and there, but even so it lacks a sense of cohesion – there is no single continuous thread which one can readily follow from beginning to end. This lack of structure is also apparent in this volume: with the exception of the last story in the book, written to complete the collection, these stories were variously published over a six-year period and although they have been revised for this publication it still shows.
This is, nonetheless, quite an impressive collection, hard technical SF at its best, and I have no hesitation in recommending it.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Dec-2006 Published by Gollancz

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STONE SPRING by Stephen Baxter

‘Doggerland’ is the name semi-officially given to a stretch of land which once linked northern Britain to what is now the Netherlands. About 6-8000 years ago, it was inundated by rising sea levels, which may or may not have resulted in part from a comet impact, and it now lies beneath the North Sea. It is this land that Stephen Baxter has chosen as the setting for his latest book, the first volume of the Northland trilogy.
He draws a picture of a fertile land, largely forested, with plentiful game to be found both on land and in the sea, ideal to support a population of huntergatherers.
The story is told mainly from the point of view of a group living on the north coast of
Doggerland, showing signs of a nascent civilisation but one without domesticated animals or any form of agriculture. This first volume of the series shows them building defences against rising water levels and reclaiming land from the sea, using the kind of methods probably employed in the Netherlands before Roman times and employing solely human labour.
It is a well-told story of people leading a happy, uncomplicated existence, worshipping spirits but hardly slaves to superstition. Occasional inter-personal and inter-tribal rivalries sometimes have to be resolved by outbreaks of extreme violence, but their lives are otherwise peaceful, although short, and at times physically arduous - as one would expect. Nevertheless they are shown as employing fairly advanced language skills and an ability to grapple with abstract concepts, although one wonders if this part of the picture is entirely convincing.
It seems that in recent years Stephen Baxter is becoming increasingly inclined to explore past history as a source of inspiration. In this case, the result is a book almost totally devoid of science and technology as we now know them: he has hinted elsewhere that future volumes in the series may show the development of a different kind of advanced civilisation but the implication is that it may be non-technical. To some extent it may be interesting to explore a different kind of world in this way, but the idea that the series explores an ‘alternate history’ is a slender justification for calling it Science Fiction. If you are looking for SF don’t look for it here.
Reviewed by Michael Jones Jun-2010 Published by Gollancz

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THE MASSACRE OF MANKIND by Stephen Baxter

This novel is a sequel to H G Wells’ THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, and the new story revolves around the Martians return to Earth in the 1920’s. Whilst other authors have previously written sequels, this version is listed as “authorised by the H G Wells Estate” and I presume was timed to coincide with 2016 being the 150th anniversary of Wells’ birth. The author, Stephen Baxter has previously written another authorised H G Wells’ sequel, THE TIME SHIPS which was a follow-up to THE TIME MACHINE and marked the centenary of that book’s publication.
It is fourteen years since the Martians invaded England, and the world has changed considerably. Examination of wrecked and abandoned Martian machinery has led to significant advances in technology. History as we know it has changed as a consequence of the original invasion; most significantly, a recovering UK formed an alliance with Germany, and a “Schlieffen War” between Russia and Germany is still ongoing. The governments of Earth scan the skies, but as another close approach between Earth and Mars nears, they are confident that their progress and prior knowledge means that this time they are prepared for the Martians. But when another Martian fleet begins to land, it becomes obvious that the Martians have also learned lessons and adapted so that yet again mankind is in deadly peril.
Writing in another author’s world, especially one so well-known and iconic as this one, is always going to be a difficult task. What is done very well is the attention to the details of 1920’s geography, vocabulary and appropriate technology. It is clear that a considerable amount of research has gone into writing this novel, and I also enjoyed the little nods to other people or works connected to Mars, ranging from Schiaparelli through to Grover’s Mill.
The worldbuilding is excellent and like the original, there are some suitably gruesome accounts of the Martians’ treatment of captured humans. However, I found myself a little frustrated with the pacing. The first section of the book, which deals with the initial landing, consolidation and the flight of refugees is the most successful in my opinion. After that however, there is an interlude of a couple of years where the Martians in England spend a long time just consolidating this bridgehead, without any attempt to spread further, and I found the urgency and menace of the story evaporating in this section. Towards the later part of the book there are further landings around the world, and the pace picks up but it felt to me like there was then too little space left to give these invasions sufficient details and thus engage the reader.
Fans of Wells’ will appreciate that the narrative does link back and reference the original story. It also includes many of the characters from the Wells’ story, including the original narrator, Walter Jenkins and the artilleryman, although much of the tale is now told by Julie, the sister-in-law of Walter Jenkins. However, I felt that the major focus was on the plot and that thus the characters often seemed to lack depth and I often found it hard to care much about their struggles.
Finally, it was always going to be difficult to find an ending with equivalent impact to the original. Without giving away the conclusion, this story finishes with a resolution that feels a little too “easy” and hence unsatisfying, although there is a “epilogue” which leaves scope for future developments. To summarise, this is a “curate’s egg” of a book – there are some very good bits but other bits that didn’t work for me. Carol Goodwin

Reviewed by Mar-2017 Published by Gollancz

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THE SCIENCE OF AVATAR by Stephen Baxter

Purely by coincidence, immediately before starting this book I was reading the same author’s DEEP FUTURE. This was published in 2001, and it attempts to divine what will happen at various stages in the Earth’s future; will we have star travel, shall we make contact with alien races – are there any civilizations out there?
There is a chapter on the Fermi Paradox: if there are people out there, why can’t we see or hear evidence of them, e.g. by radio signals? Since more than a decade has passed since he wrote this, some of Baxter’s predictions have proved good, while others have not (at least as yet) worked out quite as he expected.
My point? I think that Steve used THE SCIENCE OF AVATAR to update that previous book. Certainly there are many references to the film, and some chapters deal with it almost exclusively, but others are more general musings on the possibilities of interstellar travel, on how we may change and ‘genetically engineer’ our own bodies and minds; even interfacing these with computers, on the chances of meeting with aliens, and what they might look like. There is also a section of illustrations, with scenes, colour sketches and development drawings.
I must admit that I probably would not have read this book were it not for this review copy, but I’m glad I did. AVATAR is the first and still the only film I’ve seen in a cinema in 3D, and it blew me away! I sat near the front of the stalls, and it wasn’t like watching a screen: there was this whole world stretching away in front of me, with strange ‘jellyfish’ floating in front of my face, or I was swooping down into a jungle-covered valley on the back of some dragon- like creature. I know everyone says “But it isn’t very original,” and I agree that the basic story seems pretty familiar: huge conglomerates literally riding roughshod over land that has belonged for millennia to indigenous people, cutting down ancient trees, destroying and desecrating virgin rainforests and ‘sacred’ ground, mining and polluting, etc., etc.
Trees are certainly important here, because ‘Hometree’ is central to the life, beliefs and culture of the Na’vi, connecting all to the Tree of Souls and thus to their mother goddess, Eywa. If you haven’t seen the movie (is there anyone who hasn’t?) you probably won’t be reading this, but it takes place in 2154, when we have star travel. James Cameron started working on AVATAR in 1994, but because the necessary technology (such as motion capture) was not then available work did not start seriously until 2006; although work on the Na’vi language started a year earlier. This is typical of Cameron’s attention to detail; what may to most appear just a very pretty fantasy has actually been worked out in the finest detail, as Baxter is at pains to point out in this book. The science behind avatar technology, the problems of travel to the planet (or in this case Pandora, the moon of a planet, Polyphemus) of another star (Alpha Centauri A), and the problems of the time taken (solved here by cryosleep), the ecology of this alien world, the orbital dynamics of the Alpha Centauri triple star system with its consequent gravitational and lighting effects, and much more, have been researched and incorporated into this film.
The reason for humans being on Pandora is a ‘new mineral’: unobtainium.
This sounds like a joke, and in a way it is, because the mineral was given the name simply because it is so rare and difficult to obtain. It has been found only on Pandora, but is seen as the solution to Earth’s energy crisis. It’s a superconductor, worth $40 million per kilogram, with unusual magnetic properties which enable it to levitate, and it is also used to contain the matter/antimatter propulsion of their starships. Although Baxter doesn’t mention this, it explains something that even SF fans found a little difficult to swallow: the ‘Hallelujah Mountains’, which float in the atmosphere. Many of us felt that Roger Dean should have received a credit for these, since they appear so similar to the flying mountains or islands that he painted in the 1970s as album sleeves for rock groups like Yes! But Baxter explains how the magnetic properties of unobtainium enable these rocks to levitate: the magnetic fields of Pandora also make navigation and weaponsguidance very difficult for the humans when it comes to the final battle, and they have to resort to more old-fashioned methods.
If you enjoyed the film, you’ll find this book explains and enhances a lot in it (I watched it again on Blu-Ray!). If you didn’t, you might just find that it makes the experience more enjoyable. Personally, science apart, I found it an extremely beautiful film and indeed, a work of art in its own right.

Reviewed by David A Hardy Jul-2012 Published by Victor Gollancz

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TIME by Stephen Baxter

This seems to me a more rambling novel than usual from Steve Baxter. Probably this is because it is not focused on one story-line, such as a mission to Titan, or a Moon-mission using old NASA hardware, or. . .
There are actually three threads here: Reid Malenfant, who has a mission to get humankind into space, with or without NASA's help; the 'Carter Prophecy' which forecasts that we have only a couple of centuries to live before we become extinct like the dinosaurs, or worse, and the efforts to confirm that by receiving messages from the future (rather as in Greg Benford's TIMESCAPE) and to see what we can do to avoid it; and the 'Blue Children' — a sudden epidemic of children who are 'strange', vastly more intelligent than their peers, and appear to have a secret mission of their own, regardless of the authorities' efforts to control or segregate them (often using pretty horrific and inhumane methods).
The latter theme is of course not new in SF. We all know John Wyndham's THE CHRYSALIDS (MIDWICH CUCKOOS), television's THE TOMORROW PEOPLE. And so on. But they are essential to the story, and indeed play an extremely important role in developments. Oh, and they all wear a blue circle. Malenfant plans a mission to an asteroid — piloted by an intelligent squid. The squids, too. Have their own story, so I suppose there are four threads really. The asteroid, Cruithne, is actually Earth's second moon, though it has a very complicated orbit, and it seems to have something to do with Earth's eventual fate, according to a message from the future. It turns out that there is some sort of alien artifact there, with a link to the blue circle which obsesses the children, and to time itself (hence the title). But I won't give any more away; read it and find out for yourself. Baxter is never afraid to take his ideas to the limit, and to encompass vast distances in time and space, and this book is no exception, while his grasp of modern scientific theories is quite spellbinding.
Steve has one habit (about which I must ask him next time I see him) which I find irritating. No, not writing as if he is an American, using words like 'gotten' — and not just in dialogue — though this is a bit odd. No: it is the fact that he capitalises the words "Earth' and 'Moon' (quite properly, in my opinion, since they are proper nouns, though may authors do use lower-case for them.) yet uses lower case for 'sun'. What is the logic of this? It brings me up short every time I see it, and distracts me from the text I am supposed to be reading. Earth is our planet; 'earth' is soil. The Moon is our natural satellite and important to us because it lights our night sky and influences the tides, while 'a moon' is a satellite. But the Sun, as opposed to 'a sun' which means any star, is the most vital object in our Solar System since without none of the planets, or ourselves, would exist. All of them surely deserve capital initial letters. But if one must use lower-case, then at least let's be consistent. (Does anyone disagree? If so, please explain!)

Reviewed by David A Hardy Nov-2000 Published by HarperCollins/Voyager

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TRANSCENDENT (Destiny’s Children Book Three) by Stephen Baxter

The triumphant conclusion to this latest massive trilogy sees humanity reaching its ultimate apotheosis some half- million years into the future. Having conquered space and time, the Transcendence is a coalition of selected human beings melded into a single intelligence with the avowed objective of redeeming itself by atoning for all the suffering that has ever taken place throughout the whole history of humanity. If the only way to achieve this is to go back to the beginning of time and arrange for humanity never to have existed at all – well, perhaps it will be for the best.
The explication of this problem and its resolution involve two people. In the far future lives Alia, a candidate for the Transcendence, and she is linked across time to Michael Poole, who appeared briefly as a child in Book One. In 2047 he is an engineer battling the onset of global warming and plagued by visions of his dead wife, visions which the astute reader will soon guess are a product of this link to Alia. The story unfolds through a sequence of alternating chapters told from the respective viewpoints of Alia and Michael: this is a legitimate writing technique, but one of which Baxter is over-fond and uses in all too many of his books – notably the first instalments of this trilogy. Eventually, they come together and Michael has to visit the future to argue for humanity being allowed to continue.
Viewing the Destiny’s Children trilogy as a whole, the second volume seems only loosely tied to the first and third. It seems to exist largely to tie the series into some of Baxter’s previous work such as TIMELIKE INFINITY and the stories in VACUUM DIAGRAMS, showing how humans won the war for the future and swept the Milky Way clean of alien opposition. This leaves the current volume as more of a direct sequel to Book One than a continuation of Book Two. However, this comment is not meant in any way to detract from the impressive accomplishment which the series represents.
Noted in the past as a hard-science writer of futurist SF, Baxter is now extending his reach to deal with more philosophical, metaphysical, or even spiritual matters. The Transcendence to which future humans aspire is little, if at all, distinguishable from Godhood, and there are cogent and persuasive arguments to be made as to whether this status is desirable and what use should, or should not, be made of the power it provides. And what is SF for if not to provide a forum for this kind of discussion?

Reviewed by Michael Jones Feb-2006 Published by Gollancz

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Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds

THE MEDUSA CHRONICLES by Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds

In one of his last stories – albeit one published some seventeen years before his death – Arthur C. Clarke told how dirigible captain Howard Falcon was left crippled by a crash and was rebuilt as a cyborg. This enabled him to make a voyage into the atmosphere of Jupiter where he encountered indigenous sentient lifeforms which he called Medusae.
That story ended with clear hints that one day there would be more to be told and now two of our leading SF writers have applied themselves to doing so in a story which spans several ensuing centuries.
As mankind begins to explore and develop the Solar System, increasing reliance comes to be placed on machines in which burgeoning artificial intelligence eventually moves on to completely autonomous self-awareness – aided and stimulated, it has to be said, by the intervention of Falcon.
The result is the machines uniting to constitute a mech civilisation (if that is the right word) which advances to the point of challenging human civilisation for ownership of the Solar System. Over the centuries Falcon observes this progressing, attempting to intervene here and there. Eventually, an ill-considered attempt is made to use an unwitting Falcon as a weapon against the machines which are now occupying Jupiter, but this backfires when Falcon discovers what has been done to him. Instead, he and a representative of the machines embark on an incredible and epic journey to the centre of Jupiter where they discover a gateway to a higher realm of organised intelligence.
This is indeed a worthy and successful continuation of what Clarke began. The earlier part of the book even captures some of the style of his writing, and a verbatim quotation from 2001 is just one of several oblique nods to his work. In due course scientific and technological wonders are deployed which in a present-day context are every bit as far-out as some of Clarke's ideas were in his own day in such books as CHILDHOOD'S END and THE CITY AND THE STARS – perhaps even more so.
Unfortunately, the final conclusion is somewhat open-ended, leaving one to speculate as to whether the intention is to make this the first in a series, or at least to leave open the possibility of a sequel. Be that as it may, it is a book well worth reading, and perhaps more than once in order to fully work out the timing and all the intricate and subtle nuances it contains.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Jun-2016 Published by Gollancz

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Elizabeth Bear

ANCESTRAL NIGHT by Elizabeth Bear

There have been many approaches to science fiction over the past decades. In the early years there was faith that scientists would discover ways of cheating the laws of physics and allow ships to travel swiftly between starts. Later, a reality set in and stories were set closer to home, yet authors continue to seek ways of imagining what is out there and inventive ways of getting there, though with the restrictions of not travelling faster than light, SF often explored concepts closer to home, including extrapolating the future on Earth.
One of the features of classic space operas was the presence of alien life forms, either living or having left traces of their civilisations. In the early days of SF there were many that proved hostile giving rise to a whole raft of novels which are basically wars in space. They are still popular. Rarer are the benign aliens which see humans as the fledglings who have to earn their place in the greater whole.
ANCESTRAL NIGHT is space opera set in a universe populated by a very diverse set of aliens. Humans are relative newcomers to the Synarche of Worlds even though their membership occurred centuries ago. Haimey Dz, the first- person narrator, and Connla are salvagers. Their ship is run by a sentient AI they call Singer. Their crewmates are two cats. They have picked up a tip about a possible derelict on the edges of the galaxy. When they find it, they decide that they can retrieve it but there is something odd about it. Haimey goes across to investigate, and finds the ship has gravity. Anywhere else, for gravity there has to be spin or be on a planet. This is technology from before the Synarche existed and is referred to as Korgoi. This ship has been retrofitted, but the crew, Jothari, are missing. Not that Haimey is concerned as an empty ship is salvage and she discovers that the crew had been killing and cutting up members of a very ancient star-faring species for their body parts. When she gets infected by a serum made from them, Haimey’s troubles really take off. They are attacked by pirates. She finds the serum has made her sensitive to gravitational anomalies and as the crew flee the pirates into the centre of the galaxy, they are led to the discovery of a Korgoi ship that has remained hidden inside the event horizon of the central black hole for millennia. This is the prize that everyone wants.
To try and give a brief description of the complexity of this novel is almost impossible. It has everything that a space opera fan could want while avoiding the all-out battles of military SF. There are aliens with complex needs who are mostly just trying to do their job. Haimey now has talents that the Synarche would find useful and enemies that want her dead. She finds out things about her childhood that the authorities had buried in the depths of her mind – to reduce trauma. Where she discovers that she has been manipulated, she finds that she is able to turn her new knowledge to advantage.
This a book that has everything a true SF reader wants – space ships, adventure, alien life-forms, danger, humour and great characters. And, there are cats.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Jul-2019 Published by Gollancz

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Greg Bear

BEYOND HEAVEN’S RIVER by Greg Bear

I have read quite a few Greg Bear books, and generally enjoy them as 'hard SF'. This will not become one of my favourites, and if you're looking for a fast-moving, all-action, adventure story, this is not for you either. It is however a thoughtful and well-researched novel and worth a read - especially if you are interested in Japanese history. Because it revolves around the discovery on a distant planet of an ex-Japanese air force pilot who was involved in Pearl Harbour, over 400 years after his birth in 1918. He links up with a rich female spaceship owner, who realises that he holds some secret and spends most of the book trying to find out what this is. (It is never fully explained.) There is also a tussle between three parties over the ownership of the barren planet on which he was found, now abandoned by an enigmatic alien race.
Reading a book like this, I often wonder why the author wrote it. Bear does not seem to have any great philosophical point to make in this one, except perhaps the futility of life even when you have lived for 400'years.
But he does show a great knowledge of the Japanese culture and history - so did he write this simply to make use of, and show off the results of a life-long interest? I have wondered this about some of Stephen Baxter's lengthier diatribes, too!
Oh, and as an artist, I can't resist a comment on the cover. As with most Millennium books by Bear, the art is by John Harris, though it bears little relation to the story and was probably done for something else. But someone in the Art department has decided to spice it up with a digital Photoshop lens flare - which really doesn't work, since Harris's work is very painterly, and flare needs a photographic image. Hey ho!

Reviewed by David A Hardy Jul-2000 Published by Millennium

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BLOOD MUSIC by Greg Bear

I picked up this review copy because, to my surprise, I didn’t think I had read it before. And I was right.
This is a volume in the ’SF Masterworks’ series of classic SF, and this certainly is a classic, in which even Bear excelled himself. It is also real, hard SF, so there’s no point in starting it unless you either know a fair bit about cell chemistry and DNA, or are ready and willing to learn quite a lot! I still find the concept highly unlikely: that human cells can become intelligent and can organise themselves and communicate with their hosts, at first being as bright as lab rats, but ultimately changing the whole face of the Earth. But having ’suspended disbelief’ to that extent (and Bear surely knows his stuff), the story is gripping and carries the reader to its stunning finale in a manner of which Clarke would be proud.
Vergil Ulam is a researcher who, when he is fired for his unorthodox methods, injects himself with his special lymphocytes as the only way of saving his experiment with biochips which he hopes will use DNA as a method of information processing.
He does not even really expect them to survive - but they not only do, but they go forth and multiply within his body, then spreading elsewhere, originally by means of sex (how else?). At this point it all seemed a bit familiar - didn't this happen in a movie? From here, we follow mainly three individuals: an old college friend of Vergil, Edward Milligan; an ex-employer, Dr Michael Bernard; and a girl who is seemingly unaffected by the new cells, Suzie McKenzie. If, like me, you missed this first time round in 1985, don't miss it this time!

Reviewed by David A Hardy Jul-2001 Published by Gollancz

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QUANTICO by Greg Bear

There seems to be a vogue at the moment for near future thrillers. Both Paul McAuley and Jon Courtenay Grimwood have moved to writing this kind of story. QUANTICO is Greg Bear’s contribution to this new sub-genre. The techno- thriller is a good way of speculating about the places new scientific developments may be leading us to. At the same time, there is an opportunity to write a good, fast-paced narrative that carries the story at speed.
The ‘Quantico’ of the title is the FBI training ground. At the same time as William Griffin and his class-mates are desperately trying to qualify for their badges, William’s father is staking out a farm in the mountain forests in Washington State. The man living on the farm is a religious fanatic of the Christian kind. Known as the Patriarch, he has a record of bombing such places as abortion clinics. He is also very cunning. The FBI has underestimated his ingenuity and the situation, literally, blows up in their faces.
One of the agents that survive the shambles is Rebecca Rose. She is convinced that the Patriarch was working with someone else to develop a potent way of spreading anthrax spores. Because of his family interest, she recruits William to help her track down the people supplying the Patriarch with his equipment.
Meanwhile, one of William’s classmates, an American Muslim named BuDark, has been recruited by the secretive wing of the FBI because of his ability with languages. They believe that the anthrax threat is not just a home-grown one as there is evidence that the major religious centres of Rome and Jerusalem have also been targeted. Those attempts have been foiled but imminent is the great Muslim exodus to Mecca for the annual Hajj. The Middle East is still a very unstable region and anything could set the factions at each other’s throats again.
The threat must be found and stopped.
Bear is far too intelligent a writer to have written a straight thriller. There are plenty of unexpected twists. He has also devised a very plausible method of generating his biological agent. It could be done, but as he says in the postscript, he has left out vital information. He has a wish to warn his readers of a potential danger but he has no intention of giving malefactors a means for putting his ideas into practice.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Sep-2006 Published by Harper/Collins

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WAR DOGS: ARES RISING by Greg Bear

First, a few words of explanation. At the November meeting I was surprised to see TWO science fiction books for review; for months there has been only fantasy, and any SF was taken before I saw it! So I grabbed both of them. The first one I started to read was ON THE STEEL BREEZE by Alastair Reynolds. I had no idea that it was the second in a series, or trilogy. It doesn’t say so, or even suggest this anywhere on the covers. So I kept coming across things that I didn’t understand. As a result I am handing it back, in the hope that someone else has read BLUE REMEMBERED EARTH, the first in the series.
The other book I took was WAR DOGS by Greg Bear. Again, there is no indication that this is anything but a standalone novel, but it turns out that it is the first in a trilogy. Still, at least it is the first, so I read it, and perhaps I’ll be lucky enough to get the second . . .
On a future Earth, an alien race known as the Gurus has appeared, and is virtually controlling the human race by bringing gifts. They landed in the Yemini desert and made contact with a group of camel herders. From there they went on to hack into telecoms and sat links, raised money by setting up anonymous trading accounts, then published online a series of puzzles which whet the appetite of the most curious and intelligent. Within these were lurking ‘Easter Eggs’ – puzzles which led logically to brilliant mathematical and scientific insights. At this point the Gurus revealed themselves, through a specially trained group of intermediaries. Few people ever saw them, but soon they had made themselves indispensable. They came in peace – of course – but then they revealed the fly in the ointment: they were being pursued by deadly enemies, from sun to sun, world to world. And they needed our help.
These hostile aliens had already started to establish a beachhead in our own Solar System, but not on Earth – on Mars. Humans were already living there, so the task of defeating what were known as the Antagonists, or Antags, fell to the Skyrines, ie. Space Marines. The story is taken up by one of these, Master Sergeant Michael Venn. The Skyrines travel to Mars in space frames, protected by Cosmoline. The frames carry ‘sticks’ holding squads of Skyrines, which are dropped onto Mars from orbit. They make a bad landing, and Venn’s group is separated from the rest of their platoon. They receive information and data via their ‘angels’, but the Antags keep bringing down their orbiting satellites and generally messing up communications. Then they drop the head of a comet onto Mars, almost obliterating the Skyrines ...
The rest of the story is concerned with their efforts to link up with other Skyrines, stay alive, and to shelter in and hold on to a strange geological formation (which may be an ancient alien ship?) known as ‘the Drifter’, which seems to take the shape of a giant buried figure. There is a unit of female special ops who seem to be working to a different set of order to the Skyrines, a mysterious girl called Teal who belongs to a group of original colonists known as Muskies who live on Mars and almost consider themselves as Martians; and the overwhelming Antags. Many times it seems that they must surely die, especially when the Antags attack on the ground, but somehow most of them survive.
This is not an easy read, as the text is full of ‘Skyrine slang’, which is also of course US-based, so one often has to work out what is meant. At intervals the term ‘SNKRAZ’ appears between paragraphs. I checked to see if it is explained, but couldn’t find anything. So I put a note on Greg’s Facebook page, and he replied to the effect of “Military jargon – think SNAFU.” I’ll leave you to work that one out! I’m not a big fan of military SF, but this book rewards the effort of reading it, and I look forward to its sequels.

Reviewed by David A Hardy Jan-2015 Published by Gollancz

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Bradley Beaulieu

OF SAND & MALICE MADE by Bradley Beaulieu

When an author writes a number of novels set in the same fantasy world, involving some of the same characters but which don’t actually follow on from each other, it is difficult to assess them from the perspective of continuity. Bradley Beaulieu’s first novel set in this world was TWELVE KINGS. It is set in and around the city of Sharakhai which is in the Great Shangazi Desert. Fortunately, there is a river running through the city, though there doesn’t seem to be much cultivation to supply the people with food. Presumably, the sand ships bring those in from elsewhere. One of the principal characters in TWELVE KINGS is Çeda. OF SAND AND MALICE is a book that makes her the central character. It is only reading the publicity material that reveals that this book is set before TWELVE KINGS. Therein lies one of the problems of continuity. Anyone who has read the novel will already have a fair idea of who she is and her skills. She is a pit fighter, very young and very good. What most readers would want from a prequel is more about her origins and how she managed to get as good as she is. They would like to see some of her early bouts that brought her the fame she clearly has. That is not here. She appears here as a fully-fledged fighter.
This book consists of three parts which are almost self-contained stories but are treated as a short novel. As the book opens, Çeda appears to be working as a courier for Osman. Unfortunately, the package is stolen. Although this is a test of her integrity, she suddenly finds herself embroiled in situation not of her making. Kadir is one of Osman’s clients and is employed by a very rich lady, Rümayesh who has taken an interest in Çeda for the stories she can tell. Rümayesh however intends to use a moth known as irindai to extract them. Fortunately, for Çeda she has some unexpected allies in the form of two brothers from the Kundhunese desert tribes. Rümayesh, though, is an ehrekh, a kind of demon that is almost indestructible. The second part sees Çeda trying to find a way of killing the demon. It doesn’t go quite as planned and the third part sees her trying again.
The three parts work neatly together to form a whole story arc. Each is a stand-alone story in its own right but each needs the preceding one to give context. What I doubt is calling this a prequel as it doesn’t do much to explain Çeda’s origins and, I suspect, most of the information about the society is already extant in TWELVE KINGS. Having said that, many readers who enjoy a novel will happily accept any story set in the world the author has generated.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Aug-2018 Published by Gollancz

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Chris Beckett

DARK EDEN by Chris Beckett

This novel was the winner of the 2013 Arthur C Clarke Award for SF published in the UK in the previous year. The story is set on a planet with no sunlight but which surprisingly has life. Small islands of light and warmth exist between cold, dark deserts. In these oases, fuelled by geothermal energy, plants and animals generate their own light. Warmth is provided by the tree-like plants. One hundred and sixty three years ago, five people with a damaged space-craft found this dark planet which they called Eden. Three chose to try and navigate the damaged vehicle back to Earth to mount a rescue whilst two, Tommy and Angela chose to remain.
Now the 500 descendants of their incestuous union huddle in one such haven, next to the remains of the ruined “Landing Veekle”, waiting for rescue from Earth. They have no technology and some of them suffer from genetic defects (“batfaces” and “clawfeet”). Trapped by the need to remain where they can be found and the extreme cold and dark beyond the edge of the plant life, they are starting to exhaust their resources.
A schism forms between some of the younger members, led by John Redlantern, who want change and the majority who insist on remaining. The split leads to violence and changes to the social structure.
John Redlantern’s group are developing ways to explore the dark but are forced to leave early in a hunt for other areas of light in which to live.
I liked that the science in this story seemed plausible to me. Dark planets (either a long distance from or without a star) do exist and some of these would be large enough (or orbit a gas giant) to maintain volcanic activity. Indeed only this month, astronomers have discovered a planet without a star. Also, the ecology of the world is convincing. There are micro-organisms on Earth which derive energy from inorganic compounds rather than light, and which produce oxygen as a waste product. These are found round volcanic vents (“black smokers”) deep in the ocean.
The plot is reasonably well-paced and the characters for the most part seem convincing. For example, the “hero”, John Redlantern is flawed and indeed is not the main factor in the breakaway group’s achievements. A different character narrates the story in each chapter so we get to see the point of view of both sides of the conflict. The story is easy to read and does come to a conclusion although there is plenty to still be explored and resolved. The author’s ability to create a convincing alien world reminded me of Brian Aldiss (Helliconia Trilogy) or Hal Clement (THE NITROGEN FIX in particular). I believe a sequel is planned and I would definitely read it.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Nov-2013 Published by Corvus

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DAUGHTER OF EDEN by Chris Beckett

In the previous two novels in this series, we saw a society evolve from two shipwrecked survivors on the strange world of Eden. This is a world with no sunlight but with a strange ecology of luminescent plants and animals sustained by geothermal energy. A schism in the early descendants has persisted and as the humans have spread and multiplied the ill-feeling between the two groups has festered. In this novel, we see this erupt into full blown war as the Johnfolk attack the settlements of the Davidfolk at a critical time when many of the latter’s warriors are away celebrating a significant anniversary. The story is told mainly by Angie Redlantern, a “batface” (one of the many colonists with facial deformities) as she joins the other non-combatants of the Davidfolk as they flee to Circle Valley (the revered original Landing site) hoping for protection from the missing warriors, and also in flashback as she considers her earlier life. Once there she is witness to an event which will change the Eden peoples’ view of both their past and their future. Whilst I don’t know that this is the last book in the Dark Eden series, there is certainly some sense in the narrative that the story has come full circle. The events take place at the original settlement of “Circle Valley” as people return there from the wider world and (without spoiling the plot) there is the challenge that new knowledge brings to the differing beliefs they have about their origin and their societies.
Chris Beckett is an author who writes with both great imagination and depth. His creation of Dark Eden, its biology and society is one I have greatly enjoyed. His books are multi-layered, telling a compelling story which is at the same time a metaphor for many contemporary issues. In particular, in this novel it is the role and value of belief systems to people and the variety of ways they react if these are challenged. All that being said, whilst I still enjoyed this novel and believe it is exceptional writing, it is my least favourite of the trilogy. The problem I found myself having is that for the first time it felt that the message was less subtle at the expense of characterisation to some extent. Also, there were so many threads left from the second novel in particular that had hooked me that weren’t explored here and I found myself thinking as I read when are we going to get to this issue and then being disappointed when I reached the end and they were not addressed. Even with these caveats however, this is still well worth reading as a significant piece of SF.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Nov-2016 Published by Corvus

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MOTHER OF EDEN (Dark Eden 2) by Chris Beckett

In the first novel in this series, DARK EDEN (winner of the 2013 Arthur C Clarke Award (review in #506 November 2013) the author introduced us to the planet of Eden. Eden is a dark planet where life exists in oases of light and warmth fuelled by geothermal energy. The first book told the story of a small human group descended from two marooned astronauts and the schism over remaining at the landing site versus attempting to explore the dark. MOTHER OF EDEN is set a substantial number of years after the events of DARK EDEN and the marooned humans have multiplied and spread into new areas. They have split into various factions (based on the original dispute in DARK EDEN) of which the two largest are known as Davidfolk and Johnfolk.
Starlight Brooking is a young girl from a small group who live traditionally. Seeking excitement, she persuades the group to organise a trading expedition to a distant settlement. Here she meets Greenstone Johnson, the guileless heir to the rich New Earth group. Smitten with each other, they agree to marry and she accompanies him back to his home with very little idea of the vastly different society she will find. New Earth is a very hierarchical and oppressive society with “Big People” and “Little People”. As the highest status woman, she wears Gela’s Ring (Angela, the original marooned astronaut) which is seen as a holy object by many. As she and Greenstone try to improve society, their naïve efforts are resisted by the vested interests of the powerful “Big” families and the “Teachers” (who control literacy and access to written knowledge). Matters come to a climax when Greenstone’s father dies and there is a resulting power struggle.
Chris Beckett is an excellent and intelligent writer who clearly understands the importance of “show not tell”. The strange, beautiful world of Eden is enchantingly portrayed and contrasts well with the ugliness of humanity’s behaviour. His characterisation is superb and I particularly liked that we see the flaws in the ostensible heroes of Starlight and Greenstone. However it is in the story-telling that this novel really excels. This multi-layered novel skilfully incorporates many issues into the narrative without heavy info-dumping or preaching. Whilst it looks carefully at discrimination in many forms, it is in its subtle consideration on how access to and interpretation of history shapes people and society that it is at its most masterful. I also loved that scattered throughout we see how small actions have the potential for large consequences over a long time scale. This is well-paced and eminently readable SF and heartily recommended.
Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Sep-2015 Published by Corvus

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Jacey Bedford

CROSSWAYS (Psi-Tech 2) by Jacey Bedford

In the first book in the series (EMPIRE OF DUST) the reader was introduced to an economy dependent on the “gates” (which control access to “fold space”) for most travel between solar systems. The gates need Platinum to work and this along with most other resources is controlled by the ruthless mega-corporations. When the planet of Olyanda is discovered to have substantial deposits of Platinum, the fledgling colony and the accompanying Psi-Techs (people with technologically enhanced mental abilities) are an inconvenience to be eliminated.
In the second book, the remaining survivors of Olyanda have outmanoeuvred the mega-corporation and have negotiated a deal for refuge on the crimelord-run station of Crossways. However, they are still in danger because of their control of Olyanda’s Platinum and their possession of evidence of mega-corporation corruption. The two most powerful mega-corporations co-operate in an attempt to eliminate both the Olyandans and the Crossways station, whose independence has become a major irritant. In their attempts to survive and also rescue missing colonists and family, the Psi-Techs are forced to take more risks in the strange world of foldspace. In doing so they uncover more about the nature of foldspace. This offers them a potential opportunity to outwit their persecutors but at the same time introduces new dangers.
The second book in a trilogy can be the most difficult to write well. The author has to balance having an interesting story with the necessity of setting things up for the final volume. In this book, Jacey Bedford has succeeded excellently and yet again I thoroughly enjoyed her storytelling. She is still exceptional at characterisation; the two main protagonists (Ben and Cara) are competent, likeable and credible. This ability also shows in the “villain”, Crowder as he is not just a cardboard baddie – we see some of his self-justifications for his actions so he does not regard himself as evil. The story development is logical given the events of the first book (something often lacking in sequels) and is well-paced building to an exciting confrontation at the climax. If you like intelligent space opera, I thoroughly recommend this series and look forward to the final book NIMBUS.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Aug-2016 Published by Daw

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EMPIRE OF DUST (Psi-Tech 1) by Jacey Bedford

I am sure we all know the saying that you should not judge a book by its cover and I think this is very true for this book. I know that the fashion in book covers is different in the US compared to the UK market (and this book is published by an US publisher) but the dull colours and too small details would not have attracted me to this book. Unfortunately, that does a great disservice to this book as the story within the cover is excellent.
In the future, humanity has spread to many solar systems. Huge unscrupulous mega-corporations, more powerful than individual governments, control and compete for resources. In particular, they hunt for Platinum which is used to power the “gates” which access “fold space” and allow interstellar travel. Each company uses “psi-tech” agents, implanted with technology to boost their natural mental abilities including telepathy. Viewed as expensive assets, any psi-tech who tries to leave is usually hunted down and their abilities and often their sanity are destroyed.
Cara is one such psi-tech. Escaping with damning evidence, she is on the run from Ari van Blaiden, a powerful executive and former lover. Cornered on a small spacestation, she escapes with the help of Ben, a psi-tech navigator for a rival mega-corporation. Masquerading as his wife, she joins an expedition to establish a new colony planet. Initially released for colonisation by a “back to basics” group, the discovery of resources coveted by the mega- corporations means she is in a far from safe haven. Added into that, tensions between some of the technophobic colonists and the psi-tech supporting crew erupt into violence. Ben, Cara and the small team of psi-techs have to use their wits and abilities to survive all these threats and protect the fledgling colony.
This is a superb adventure story with well-maintained pace and tension. The plot structure is excellent as the reader sees the various threats develop and converge to a thrilling climax. To balance this, a lot of thought has also clearly gone into the construction of the characters. In particular, I liked the development of Cara, as she struggles to escape (both physically and psychologically) from what has clearly been an abusive and controlling relationship with Ari van Blaiden. I also appreciated the considered and slower growth of the bond between Cara and Ben.
This is a book that yet again proves that women can and do write first-rate science fiction. Now all it needs is a British publisher to sit up and take notice! Carol Goodwin

Reviewed by May-2016 Published by Daw

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WINTERWOOD (Rowankind 1) by Jacey Bedford

The year is 1800. Mad King George is on the throne. Rossalinde returns to Plymouth after seven years of sailing the seas as a privateer. Her mother is dying, but even on her deathbed she still calls her daughter a pirate's whore, and won't forgive her for her elopement. But she does leave her one gift; a small box of ensorcelled Winterwood, alive with promise. And Rossalinde needs to keep it safe, as the only permitted magic is that licensed by the Mysterium.
Rossalinde is a strong female character, not because she wears men's clothes, fights or uses magic, though these are all an integral part of her character. She is strong because of her attitudes, her empathy for those abused or in need, her reliance and her fortitude.
Amidst the adventure is the story of the Rowankind, who are bonded to families for life, much like slavery. This analogy is explored in depth, so as well as getting pirates, magic and pulse-pounding adventure, you get lots of buckle for your swash and morality to boot!
Bedford is a gifted storyteller, an experienced Milford SF writers’ conference organiser and participant, who can turn her hand to multiple genres with skill and depth. Her expertise in writing is apparent throughout the novel, which is crisply written, easy to engage with and vibrant with its descriptions and environment. The end promises much for the future of the Rowankind and I can't wait to read what happens to everyone in book two; SILVER WOLF, out in 2017. Piratical Perfection!

Reviewed by Theresa Derwin May-2016 Published by DAW

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Alden Bell

THE REAPERS ARE THE ANGELS by Alden Bell

This may appear at first glance to be about zombies, but in fact, this is not the sense of the book at all. It is the story of a teenage girl calling herself Temple, although her real name is Sarah Mary Williams, and her quest to find meaning in her life and in the only world she has ever known. The zombie apocalypse is simply the setting in which the author has chosen to tell her story.
Within the first few pages we are shown both Temple’s capacity for finding beauty and wonder in the simplest things and her capacity for the savage ferocity which she needs to exercise if she is to survive. As she continues to travel across a fractured America, she is seen still managing to find pleasure in the little things, but occasional outbursts of violence continue to suggest she may not be a very nice person at all. Withal, when the opportunity to help someone less fortunate than herself comes, she takes responsibility for him, remembering a young boy she had previously tried to protect but was unable to save. For a while it seems that this selflessness may give her the chance of ultimate redemption, but in the end it all goes awry and comes to an ending which is as shattering as it is unexpected.
It has to be said that the book is not without its faults, not least of which is a degree of implausibility shared with some other post-apocalyptic stories in which an amount of left-over technology is made available to suit the needs of the plot rather than the needs of realism. Apart from that, the author has chosen to write it in the present tense, which can sometimes grate, and to eschew quotation marks, but one soon learns to ignore both these affectations as the sheer quality of the writing and imagery take hold.
These faults, if such they be, are easily forgiven as the reader becomes immersed in the narrative and the totality of Temple’s story becomes apparent. It is a powerful story with an ending which is positively heart-rending and wrenchingly emotional, although one is left wondering whether any other ending would have been possible. It is a wonderful, beautiful book and deserves to be read over and over again.
THE REAPERS ARE THE ANGELS has been widedy acclaimed and was nominated for the Philip K Dick Award which it should have won.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Sep-2011 Published by Tor

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The best way of describing this book is a cross between Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD and Richard Matheson’s I AM LEGEND but with zombies instead of vampires. Unfortunately, it doesn’t approach the quality of either of these two books and distinctly second rate for two important reasons. First is the layout. Experimental writing is not a problem. Neither is the use of present tense throughout. Since this is a third person narrative, the lack of punctuation for dialogue is an inexcusable affectation. It adds nothing and confuses the reader. The second major problem is the background. Twenty five years previously, the dead started coming back to life. It was apparently universal and simultaneous as civilisation rapidly collapsed. Nevertheless, there are survivors living in enclaves or, like Temple, the focal character, wandering the countryside. Temple is fifteen and has never known a different world. Most of the novel she is fleeing from the brother of a man she killed when he tried to rape her. The issue is that after a quarter of a century, cars found at the roadside still work, gas stations still have plenty of fuel to be pumped out and stores still have edible food. If we were watching the collapse of civilisation this would be acceptable but to still have electricity lighting the streets of America after this period of time is highly over optimistic. Although the plot line has merit, the novel is let down by everything else.
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Dec-2011 Published by Tor

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Alex Bell

JASMYN by Alex Bell

There's a story idea that's been doing the rounds lately that starts with a central character whose history is either unknown or falsified even to the character itself. Most of it comes in spy thrillers from THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE to THE BOURNE IDENTITY but there have been a spate of TV SF shows in the last few years (DOLLHOUSE has just arrived on cable here). This was a theme of Alex Bell's first novel in which his hero has no memory of his former life, has hints strewn through the first half of the book and the truth finally revealed in the last quarter. Here it is again in a slightly different variation.
Jasmyn's husband, Liam, has just died. Although they had only been married for a few months, they had known each since they were children. Strange things start happening at the funeral. A group of swans fall - dead - out of the sky just over the coffin.
Her face in their wedding album is somehow distorted in all the pictures. A friend of Liam comes looking for something and tells just enough to imply that Liam wasn't the man Jasmyn remembers. Liam's brother Ben turns up and Jasmyn is off around the world finding out about her husband, the Swan Knights of Bavaria, and why her life isn't the one she thinks she remembers.
It's difficult to explain the fantasy element of this novel without giving too much away. Once again, it explains the central character's situation around half to three quarters of the way through the book. This time it involves legends (Lohengrin) and fairies and ends with a scene in which an ice castle is sucked into fairyland. Surprisingly, there aren't any fairies in the book unless you count the one Jasmyn thinks she saw as a child. All of the fantastic characters are only briefly glimpsed, heard about through others or books, or just seem to be ordinary people. Most of the fantastic occurrences in the story consist of no more than appearing and disappearing swans and roses.
Once again, my only complaint with Alex Bell is with the timing. He has one major plot element that is hinted at for the first half of the book but is finally properly explained after I, for one, stopped caring. I find that irritating. Other than that, this is a good solid read.
Reviewed by William McCabe Jul-2009 Published by Gollancz

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THE NINTH CIRCLE by Alex Bell

Gabriel Antaeus wakes up one day not knowing who he is or how he has got where he is. He is alone in an apartment and there is a fortune in cash in there with him. He knows his name because there are identity documents with the money. There are also a lot of books on angels and demons. Within a day he has discovered where he is and two people who he either seems to recognise or seem to know him. He has also managed to beat off a group of muggers single handed which makes him think that he is something special and he soon discovers other ‘powers’.
One of the two people, Zadkiel Stephomi, claims to know Gabriel but has promised not to tell him anything he doesn't already know. So Gabriel has to work out his history by himself. He doesn't really get anywhere. Though someone is sending him mysterious clues. Every so often he gets a hint of something from Zadkiel but never that much.
This is being sold as fantasy's answer to the Bourne films. There is a fantasy element to the plot but it’s minimal. The same could be said for most of the plot. Despite the shortness of the book, when the revelation came, I'd stopped caring.

Reviewed by William McCabe Apr-2008 Published by Gollancz

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Mitch Benn

TERRA / TERRA'S WORLD by Mitch Benn

When Terra was only a few days old her parents were driving home, arguing as always, when a lemon-shaped spaceship appeared in front of them. In panic, they swerved off the road and ran away. It was some time later that they realised they had left the as-yet-unnamed Terra in the back of the car. Lbbp, driver of the afore-mentioned spaceship, believing that the parents had abandoned their baby, took her home with him to Fnrr (a planet, invisible from Earth, somewhere in Orion's belt). Despite initial complaints from his colleagues at home, he gives her the name Terra (although that is unpronounceable to his species). All this is accomplished in the first 30 pages of book 1.
Eleven years later, Terra is in her first year at the academy. She is generally accepted by her peers and has made friends with some. Things change. The first change is the interface. The interface is a new teaching device designed to plug in to your brain and feed you everything you need to know. Terra falls asleep using one. She dreams. On Fnrr only babies dream. Her dreams involve her and her friends flying through the air on large winged animals. That doesn't happen on Fnrr. Since she was plugged in to the interface all of this goes out live across Fnrr's equivalent of the internet. The next morning all kinds of people are calling and banging on the door to find out what has happened. The Fnrrns have no concept of fiction either. Soon Terra is writing her own stories and they are becoming very popular. This leads to the discovery that all of those films about the humans (called Ymns on Fnrr) destroying alien invaders from species no-one has heard of might not actually be real.
The last part of book 1 deals with an invasion from another race of Fnrrns who are generally thought of as more primitive by the group that Terra has come to know.
In book 2 Terra has returned to Earth and, now Fnrr has decided that the Ymns aren't so dangerous and uncivilised, all of Earth knows where she's been. After two years Terra and her (original) family have "disappeared" having moved and changed identities countless times to avoid the press.
Billy Dolphin is a 13 (or thereabouts) year old schoolboy who doesn't like the way the world has changed since Terra returned. Most of all he misses science fiction. Since everyone knows that there are aliens out there and what they look like and where they come from, people are less likely to invent different ones. At school he likes Lydia and the new girl Tracey because they have both read SF (William Gibson anyhow). Then he finds out that Lydia is really Terra and Tracey is an insectoid alien bounty hunter and before he really has time to process this he's off with Terra on an alien spaceship to find out what has happened on Fnrr and why she hasn't heard from them for months.
Fnrr hasn't actually got the concept of fiction properly yet. They know what it is but they can't really tell the difference between that and truth yet. So when a janitor at the academy tells people that he's the Gfjk-Hhh (a planetary hero that a prophecy from thousands of years ago said would return someday) just about everyone believes him. The planet is now in the grip of a new pseudo-religious frenzy with executions for dissidents on a daily basis … and that isn't all. There's a rogue black planet that is the stuff of legends. It wanders the galaxy and every time it passes a living planet that planet winds up black and dead and it's headed toward Fnrr.
Mitch Benn is well enough known for his work as a comedian and writer of comic songs for most people to guess at the light comic style that both of these books begin with. It's the sort of glib, simple tone that you might associate with Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams or the early Vonnegut - depending on your age. Rather than persist with it throughout, he does manage to pick up the pace and drop the jokes when there are action scenes or anything important to say and that lasts for the final half or third of each book. Despite the lack of notice to that effect, these are children's books. Benn wrote them in reaction to the lack of good appropriate material for his two young daughters. That means that the stories are generally simple with no real twists to the plot. There are also oddities that don't really stand up to scrutiny. For instance, the inhabitants of Fnrr don't appear to have vowels in their language and can't really pronounce them, yet her adopted parent still names her Terra although none of his race will be able to pronounce that name. These books are probably perfect for 12 year old girls but lose a little the further you get from that. Even so there are still some nice observations like the shorter your name for "Science Fiction" the more serious you are about the subject.

Reviewed by William McCabe Sep-2014 Published by Gollancz

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James Bennett

CHASING EMBERS by James Bennett

Once upon a time, a long time ago, Ben Garston didn't need to drink to forget. Known as Red Ben, he had lived for far too long. Ben is sitting in the bar drowning his sorrows, bemoaning his love life and the loss of his damsel Rose, when Fulk of the House Fitzwarren turns up, with vengeance in mind. He throws a tatty newspaper at Ben (who has lived for centuries) detailing the theft of the Star of Eebe, a jewel housed in a NY museum centre; a jewel that is supposedly an uncut gem which fell in a meteor striking the African continent over 3,000 years ago. Fulk tells Ben he's reading his own death warrant. The 'Pact' is null and void. Ben isn't the only one anymore.
A fight ensues, as it tends to in these books, then expectations are thrown out the window. Ben becomes something ... else. Part grizzled noir PI in the vein of Raymond Chandler and Jim Butcher, (but in a modern setting), part dangerous creature, part heartbroken man, Garston is resistant to magic and can kick arse with the best of them. You find out what type of ‘thing’ Ben is pretty quickly, but it's a nice surprise and it's been a while since I've encountered such a mythology in a modern Urban Fantasy. It can be done badly, or it can be done well. Here, it's bloody awesome. Ben, in his alternate identity can hear, see, smell and taste everything. This makes Red Ben an excellent investigator, ally or adversary.
The senses are alive and Bennett accurately captures this. His writing is gritty, well-paced, darkly humorous and somehow lyrical. Bennett also knows his classic literature throwing in a Dickensian reference early on.
Amidst the narrative style of the novel, there's a whole plethora of quirky characters; the 'Three Who Are One' Coven of witches, or CROWS, a cult reluctantly following the Lore (outlawing magic) laid down by the Guild. Dwarvish Babe Cathy is like something out of the ROCKY HORROR SHOW or Twin Peaks; exotic, enigmatic and wholly entertaining. The entire novel is filled with adventure, misadventure, magic, mayhem, humour and surprises. Having also met the author at FantasyCon, he is as bright a spark as Red Ben. This is a series I shall devour in flames, with each new instalment.

Reviewed by Theresa Derwin Nov-2016 Published by Orbit

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RAISING FIRE (Ben Garston Book 2) by James Bennett

So, here we are, at the second instalment of the Ben Garston trilogy, and without too many spoilers, here’s what happened.
Ben, a dragon when not in his human form, fought battles, got drunk and lost the love of his life - temporarily. There is, or was, a kind of accord, that so long as the beasts and magical kinds (“remnants”) didn’t meddle in human affairs, they’d be safe. Ben broke that rule. Or the Lore - said in serious Judge Dredd voice. Ben, an ‘awake’ Remnant - one of the chosen few - had been allowed to see and remain awake throughout history, and it had made him jaded, apart from how he saw his Rose, the love of his life. What with mummies, and dragons and dwarves, oh my, we had an action packed first book.
Now though, the adventure continues, and as with all second instalments in a trilogy, we have the building blocks to the finale, pieces in a puzzle partly answered, and a cliff-hanger to bounce us into BURNING ASHES, the third book out December 2018.
At the start of this one, RAISING FIRE, Ben’s currently, metaphorically flogging himself to death flying through the wintered, watery skies of Norway, reflecting on the delights of 1215. Yes, Red Ben is old, and cynical. But there is, just a short spell into this second book, a difference in authorial voice and tone. I’m wary about saying this, yet at the same time - need to say it - the author appears to have grown in style, techniques and cynicism. And that’s no critique. His writing is more fluid, and confident. This is a stronger voice here, as Ben goes into his second ‘adventure’.
That adventure starts when he is captured by a seven-foot female assassin as, apparently the new version of a magical government - think a grimmer Ministry of Mayhem in Hogwarts terms - has condemned him to death during his absence. But they want information first. So, he is shackled with a magical cuff that confines him in human form until he helps them find what they are looking for.
The novel blends Arthurian and ancient Chinese legend, religious mythology and fae elements in a contemporary setting. In particular, the scenes in Paris are written with a poetic love, much like Anne Rice writing of New Orleans in INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE; both texts embedded with lush visuals and passion. I happen to know Bennett enjoys travelling, but if I hadn’t known of his travels, it would be evident from the way he writes about the different cities and historical periods throughout the novel.
Other things I enjoyed are Ben’s jaded sense of humour, and the neo-noir vibe speckled with urban fantasy. Also, the character of Jia, her being “other” - and, as Bennett puts it, “she had committed the unpardonable sin of not being male;”, all work together to produce a fantastic story with modern sentiments.
Also, as Jia considers the past imprisonment and enforced sleep of the “remnants” or mythical creatures, their “Abandonment, loneliness, loss – these were the ghosts of all Remnants”, Bennett is clearly celebrating the disenfranchisement and experiences of the ‘other’ in this novel, Overall, this is a step above the first book in the trilogy and Bennett’s writing has grown considerably, which is normally the case with debut authors. The only issues I had with the book were the switching through time periods, but this is mostly due to my own cognitive function issues. However, I loved travelling through these historical periods with Ben.
And speaking of Ben, I kind of have a literary character crush on him. Ben is a grumpy, surly, yet strong and honest dragon.
What’s not to love?

Reviewed by Theresa Derwin Dec-2018 Published by Orbit Books

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Robert Jackson Bennett

FOUNDRYSIDE (The Founders 1) by Robert Jackson Bennett

As anyone who has read my previous reviews can probably easily work out, I do like things that are different and don’t fit neatly into standard tropes. FOUNDRYSIDE by Robert Jackson Bennett ticks those boxes for me and then some. It’s a crackingly good fantasy and one of those rare books that I didn’t want to put down until I had finished it. Set in the city of Tevanne, the plot starts with a burglary. Sancia is a thief with a unique ability to sense the nature of inanimate objects, which allows her to discern the best way to climb a wall or to open locks. When she steals a mysterious small box from a guarded warehouse she starts a chain of events which threaten to destroy not only the great merchant houses of the city but ultimately the world itself. Whilst that might sound like the start of many a standard fantasy, this is a unique book with a lot of depth and thought.
The city of Tevanne is one undergoing a magical “industrial revolution” after the discovery of magical “sigils” which when combined and inscribed onto objects can change their “reality”. Using these symbols and in particular a symbol for “meaning” or “equal to”, all kinds of objects can be crafted to have different properties, leading to great improvements in wealth and comfort. However, this is controlled by four great merchant houses and those not in their direct employ are left in poverty and squalor with no-one to protect or represent them.
The magical system in this book is one of the things I really enjoyed. Unlike many fantasies, the ability to use and manipulate the sigils is not based upon any innate ability but from study and creative combining of different symbols. I found myself constantly comparing it to a magical version of computer programming. There is no “chosen one” whose special genetics make them the best wizard/Jedi etc in this book.
The worldbuilding that follows from that set-up is inventive and imaginative. The disruptive effect of this new “technology” on various sections of society and the emergence of winners and losers is very credible and mirrors many of the problems of the real world’s industrial revolution and the rise of capitalism. The book does have serious themes which include slavery, empire building, and the morality of programming humans in the same way as objects, which I think add to its depth and enjoyment. That being said this is also a fast-paced and fun book with some very amusing dialogue.
The consequences of Sancia’s theft and the object she has stolen mean that she is chased by various deadly enemies and factions and she must use her wits and abilities to outwit her pursuers, all of which make for enjoyable reading. With her sometimes reluctant allies, Gregor (a high-ranking ex-soldier), Orso (chief sigil programme designer to one of the houses) and Berenice (Orso’s assistant and a practical engineer) they must break into a heavily guarded merchant compound to retrieve a missing magical artefact and to stop a ritual that threatens to destroy the world. To the reader this is a greatly entertaining and ingenious heist – a fantasy Ocean’s 11 – especially some of Sancia’s “re- programming” of the various security measures. The characters in the book are complex and have interesting back stories, the gradual uncovering of which feeds well into the development of the plot, particularly with Sancia and Gregor who have more in common than their very different backgrounds would initially indicate.
I could go on in more detail but essentially if you like your fantasy with great worldbuilding, characters and depth then go and read this book. I can’t wait for the next in the series.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Oct-2018 Published by Jo Fletcher Books

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Michael Bishop

NO ENEMY BUT TIME by Michael Bishop

Gollancz’s famous yellow book jackets were an automatic draw to Science fiction readers in the 50’s and 60’s, so the inclusion o f Michael Bishop’s 1982 story No Enemy But Time into Gollancz’s Collectors’ Editions comes as somewhat of a surprise.
When are dreams just imagination or when are they reality, these are the questions that a young Joshua Kampa has no answer for. But they finally lead him to a meeting with an eminent palaeontologist and the questioning of known facts and wisdom by Joshua. This meeting has far reaching consequences as Joshua is asked to join a secret project, which sends him back in time to the early Pleistocene period in Earth’s past. On the East African Savannah Joshua is to keep under surveillance and report back his findings of a group of hominids. Slowly the involvement of Joshua with this group of prehumans, Homo Habilis, goes beyond the bounds of his original remit. The consequences of his interaction with this band of prehumans is to have surprising results. The nitty gritty realities of a day to day existence and the long term survival of the group bring into focus Joshua’s troubled past. Through a series of flashbacks the troubles of Joshua's early life as an adopted child with the constant movement of his adopted family from military posting to military posting are brought into focus. The bigotry and racial abuse suffered by the child of a black father and Spanish mother start to fade and bring the harsh realities of the modern world into focus.
The Collectors’ Editions have some great titles in their list and No Enemy But Time is a worthy addition. A story that does not fall into the usual Science Fiction mould, it is a thought provoking book that shows that modern man and his ancient ancestors have more in common than most people think.

Reviewed by Chris Chivers Dec-2000 Published by GoIIancz

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Holly Black

RED GLOVE (The Curse Workers Book 2) by Holly Black

Cassel Sharpe is no ordinary senior.
Where most students spend their summer vacation on the beach, Cassel finds himself spending his summer with his ex-convict Mom running cons in Atlantic City. Cassel’s entire life he has been fighting his destiny as a Curse Worker. With just a slight touch of his hand, Cassel can transform anyone – into anything.
After his brother Philip is murdered by a mysterious lady wearing a red glove, Cassel is blackmailed into looking for the murderer by the FBI. They also offer him a job working in their Worker Unit. The only problem being he is also offered a rather lucrative job as an assassin working for Mobster Zacharov, his girlfriends’ dad.
Cassel’s world is an interesting world and an enjoyable place to visit. Curse Workers, regardless of persuasion or occupation, are treated as criminals, outcasts and thieves. Everyone has to wear gloves to avoid their bare hands accidentally cursing someone and Cassel’s friend Daneca runs the local Worker support group HEX. As part of the story we see many instances of Worker discrimination and bullying, which adds extra dimension to the novel.
However, running somewhat short at 262 pages for your money, there is a missed opportunity here for Black to have covered more of the discriminatory elements.
Apart from the short length, this is a surprisingly satisfying novel, and it is immensely refreshing to find the lead character is a criminal who takes part in morally questionable actions, whilst still being very likeable. Philip’s funeral and wake during which we encounter the Worker criminal underworld is particularly entertaining.
Definitely worth a look as a quick pleasant read

Reviewed by Theresa Derwin Jul-2011 Published by Gollancz

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WHITE CAT by Holly Black

The world in which WHITE CAT is set is one in which people can be cursed by the touch of a magic worker. Magic working is illegal and magic workers can have one of a limited number of abilities including being able to change someone’s memories, charm them or even kill them. Everyone, workers and nonworkers alike, wears gloves so as not to curse or be cursed. The ability to work magic doesn’t come without consequences, and workers suffer ‘blowback’ every time they work.
We learn early on that the lead character’s brother can change the memories of others but loses his own in the process; his grandfather is a death worker missing the fingers on one hand after working a death curse; and his mother can charm people into believing she is someone else but loses her touch on reality as she does so.
This is a world where a worker’s talents are both feared but desired by many, and are a valuable commodity. Magic working runs in families and some worker families are like the mafia, or alternatively are ‘for hire’- contracted by mobs who need a problem dealt with.
The lead character, Cassell, is a troubled teenager at a private school with his fair share of teen angst and problems, notably a bad relationship with siblings, his mother being in jail, not fitting in at his private school and killing a friend when he was 14. He begins to have strange dreams and sleepwalking episodes featuring a white cat. We then follow Cassell getting involved with a mob trying to uncover the truth about the murder of his friend.
All in all, this book has all the right ingredients to be an enjoyable and involving read– mobsters, magic, memory manipulation and con-artistry. It’s a straight forward quick read, and introduces an interesting world with plenty of conflict that the author can capitalise on. Unfortunately just shy of a third in, it was very clear what the plot was going to be. It was simply very predictable, and even though this is aimed at a teen audience, I think most teens will quickly pick up the plot too. The book in places reads like a script. With such appealing topics this could easily translate into a television series or a film and through the book the reader gets the sense that this is maybe one of the author’s objectives after the success of her SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES, along with a desire to join the current trend in supernatural fiction.
Key themes in this book are memories and misdirection, topics which have the potential to be engaging and intricate, but the reader is left feeling that the simplicity of the plot doesn’t match the nature of the topic. I finished the book somewhat disappointed that I hadn’t been hoodwinked, duped, conned or kept guessing as to what original memories would reveal.

Reviewed by Sam Fennell Jul-2010 Published by Gollancz

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Peter Blake & Paul S Blezard

THE ARCADIAN CIPHER by Peter Blake & Paul S Blezard

I still remember the first film I ever saw based on the ideas of Erich von Daniken: I was amazed and completely convinced. Since then I have learned to adopt a more sceptical outlook - just as well in view of the proliferation in recent years of books about Ancient Mysteries, of which this is just one more example. Like others it is based on the mystery surrounding the village of Rennes-le-Chateau in southern France. The authors now claim to have unravelled a coded message contained in several seventeenth-century paintings to discover an ancient tomb which is nothing less than the last resting-place of Christ.
Their conclusion centres round the message incorporated in the paintings, which are by several different artists, and depends on the application o f that message to modern maps, which must be better and more accurate than anything available then. If this is true, it represents a combination of draughtsmanship and cartography which would be a remarkable accomplishment for three hundred-plus years ago. Even so, it could be argued that the results are too good to be attributable to mere coincidence. Leaving that aside, however, one cannot help wondering why a message was compiled at all if the secret it contained was of such enormous importance that it should never be revealed. It became a futile exercise anyway, since the message was concealed so thoroughly that it has been lost until now.
The authors present a convincing argument and to be sure there is some hard evidence, including what is known of the Rennes-le-Chateau mystery, which defies any less controversial explanation. Something strange and inexplicable may have been going on in that area for two thousand years. Nevertheless, their case depends on their interpretation of that and other less definable evidence and some of that interpretation is speculative to say the least. The best way to deal with it is to regard it as entertainment and accept that it MAY be true, but only until a better theory comes along.
Viewed in that way the book is an interesting, even intriguing piece of work, and quite educational. It is full of fascinating history, although the presentation suffers rom a tendency for each chapter, like the whole thing, to start with a big bang and then to proceed somewhat anti-climatically. If anything, however, it is too crammed with detail and would perhaps have been better at the length of a Sunday supplement article.
I have not attempted to give it a star rating. You will like it if it is the sort of thing you like, but otherwise you may well think it unmitigated rubbish.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Dec-2000 Published by Sidgwick & Jackson

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James Blish

THE SEEDLING STARS by James Blish

James Blish was one of the stars of the nineteen fifties and probably couldn’t have written a bad book if he had tried. This is one of his most noted efforts, a collection of linked stories written around the theme of pantropy, the concept (not unique to him alone) that man will colonise the Universe by adapting his form to the alien and unfamiliar ecological structures of other worlds.
What this means is vividly shown in the long and frequently anthologized central story “ Surface Tension” with its dramatic scenes of water-breathing men a quarter of a millimetre tall navigating their tiny wooden “ spaceship” overland from one puddle to another on a distant world.
This was the first of the stories to be written and the remaining three provide some sort of a framing structure but fail to build a satisfactorily coherent novel. They are notably weaker and give somewhat the impression of being afterthoughts rather than important new ideas.
In fact, reading it again for the first time in quite a few years, I was struck by how very “ fifties” it seemed.
Half a century ago its impact must have been tremendous; today the concepts are less impressive and even the writing style has dated, albeit only slightly.
Nevertheless it remains an impressive accomplishment, well worth having been re-issued, and reading again.
Reviewed by Michael Jones Jul-2001 Published by Gollancz

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Cor Blok

A TOLKIEN TAPESTRY by Cor Blok

Cor Blok is a recognised Dutch artist with a long association with illustrating J.R.R Tolkien’s works, most recently seen providing the illustrations for the 2011 and 2012 Tolkien calendars. At first glance Cor’s artwork tends to draw criticism from an audience more familiar with the works of Alan Lee, John Howe, Ted Naismith and the brothers Hildebrandt. Cor’s illustrations of THE LORD OF THE RINGS (LOTR) are often described as childish and overly simplistic, which is an interesting comment given the artist’s process of producing the pictures. This book presents the complete collection of Cor’s LOTR pictures, and as such makes up a visual narrative of over 100 pictures not unlike a tapestry; hence the title. However, the first 40 pages or so present a series of essays by Cor written to give an insight into the artwork. Firstly, it is important to note that Cor alters his style for different projects, and to assume all his artwork has similar style to his LOTR illustrations is a grave error. Anyone who has seen the intricately detailed and astonishing images from his IRON PARACHUTE project might not recognise the artworks as being from the same artist! The prose describes both the physical process of producing the pictures and the historical context in which they were produced. The reader cannot help but feel greater warmth for the pictures when one knows that Tolkien himself purchased two of the LOTR illustrations, such was the author’s like for Cor’s works (Cor visited Tolkien in 1961, and subsequently Cor provided the covers for the Dutch translations of LOTR in 1965). Some of the text is given over to illuminating his inspiration by way of explaining the author’s fascination with LOTR. Any fan of Tolkien’s books can give a similar exposition, but each is personal to the reader, and insight into Cor’s interpretation is helpful in gaining a deeper understanding of his works. But the artistic interpretation goes deeper than simple fandom. Cor gives us an insight into his inspiration in Barbarusian art, an area Cor was exploring when he discovered LOTR. His studies in this area caused Cor to realise that an art style may be adopted consciously, for specific purpose, for many reasons (for example, when a comic artist might adopt style to match the limitations of mass printing processes). Cor goes on to give examples of Barbarusian artwork where the style is such to reduce the image to only the essentials necessary to convey the meaning, leaving the rest up to the viewer’s imagination to fill in. An analogy might be the design of signs at an airport, where an image must be simple and easily visible, yet must contain the meaning pictorially with the greatest clarity. And it is this approach that Cor brought to illustrating LOTR. Thus the pictures are not truly simplistic but instead the pictures follow a deliberate philosophy of representation. Indeed, the physical process for creating the pictures is exacting and complex; involving Japanese silk paper painted on both sides and then applied to coloured backgrounds when wet, an artwork process as technically demanding as it sounds, but which results in luminous colours. Once the viewer is enlightened to the meaning in the style the pictures become considerably more fascinating! Given the above, I approached the pictures with renewed interest; given that the pictures attempt to present the story at its barest essence, I resolved to try and interpret the story I know well from the pictures alone. True, some of the pictures were so reduced that I misunderstood the scene, but in most cases the meaning leapt out in a slightly wonderful way. Never again will I look at Cor Blok’s artwork quite the same way. It is hard to say whether the reader should buy this book; certainly those interested in the art styles may find a lot to enjoy, and maybe for the Tolkien fan who has found little to enjoy in the artist’s work might well discover something new to appreciate. I cannot help but feel that the book occupies something of an odd niche. However, if you have an appreciation for LOTR and fantasy artwork, this might be a niche of interest…

Reviewed by Dave Corby Nov-2011 Published by HarperCollins

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Jennifer Bosworth

STRUCK by Jennifer Bosworth

‘Only one girl can save the world …. Or destroy it’. And I don’t particularly care which at this stage! Mia Price is a lightning addict. She's survived countless strikes, but her craving to connect to the energy in storms endangers her life and the lives of those around her. Los Angeles, where lightning rarely strikes, is one of the few places Mia feels safe from her addiction. But when an earthquake devastates the city, her haven is transformed into a minefield of chaos and danger.
The beaches become massive tent cities. Downtown is a crumbling wasteland, where a travelling party moves to a different empty building each night, the revellers drawn to the destruction by a force they cannot deny.
Two warring cults rise to power, and both see Mia as the key to their opposing doomsday prophecies. They believe she has a connection to the freak electrical storm that caused the quake, and to the far more devastating storm that is yet to come. This dystopian novel for younger readers sees Mia Price attempting to hold her family together in the midst of this chaos.
Whilst the premise is promising, the novel itself is a letdown. The blurb made the book sound great, and whilst there was some potential to live up to the blurb, it was destroyed by prophecies and God botherers.
The cults are where it falls down. They are straight out of a bad 1970s flick rather than a modern novel. For instance, a number of religious cults are handled and portrayed far better in LAST DAYS by Adam Nevill. Granted, STRUCK is a YA novel, however, that doesn’t mean it has to be dumbed down.
It seems that Bosworth set up something that could have been so strong, yet she didn’t have the writing skills to follow through. Never mind the predictability of the plot, the budding romance is what drags the novel down. It is the Twilight-esque feel to the book that makes it difficult to read and enjoy. The writer is more concerned with Mia’s love life than with a potential apocalypse. I was struck dumb (ahem) at how mundane the book was considering what it could have been.

Reviewed by Theresa Derwin Sep-2012 Published by Doubleday

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Ben Bova

THE SAM GUNN OMNIBUS by Ben Bova

Sam Gunn is a freewheeling space entrepreneur, a little stubby loudmouthed guy with short wiry red hair, a wiseass, a cheating, conniving, womanizing rogue, who was kicked out of NASA as an astronaut.
Sam Gunn is a champion of the small guy, always fighting for justice, always battling with the big boys of powerful interplanetary corporations (like Rockwell - sorry, Rockledge - and Yamagata) and usually winning. For a while; he has made billions, and then lost them. Despite his short stature, moon face, small, shifty eyes which sometimes look blue and sometimes green, and gap-toothed grin, women apparently find him irresistible.
An unlikely hero for a whole series of short stories that date back from 1983 to the present day, you may think. And you'd be right, but it works. Ben Bova has, over the years, woven an alternative (alternate, US) universe, one which should have come into being by now but didn't, but which - just perhaps - one day might.
It's a universe in which we have space stations and even space hotels, where there are extensive bases on the Moon, and humans on Mars, where there are asteroid-miners, and habitats everywhere from the Earth/Moon L-5 points to the moons of Jupiter, Saturn, and expeditions out to Pluto and beyond. It's the same universe in which he set his epic and very readable 'The Grand Tour' series of novels: Mercury, Venus, The Silent War, and all the rest. (Rather oddly, but because these stories span such a long period, we get strange anomalies such as, for instance, the fact that space stations Freedom and Alpha exist in parallel, whereas in fact they are actually earlier incarnations of what is now the International Space Station, or ISS.) To link all of these stories Ben has introduced the slim, elfin Jane Avril Inconnu, who (coincidentally?) also has red hair and green eyes, and likes to be known as Jade, who started life as a foundling at the old original Moonbase, later to grow into the lunar city of Selene. Born with a congenital bone defect, Jade is bound forever to live in space or on the Moon, as her bones would snap in Earth's gravity. She becomes a truck driver, and over the years hears many stories about Sam Gunn. Gradually she realizes that a TV series about Sam Gunn could be very popular, and manages to get a job as an assistant video editor for the Solar News Network, and eventually a reporter and journalist.
The linking sections about Jade become an integral part of this omnibus (which includes all the stories ever written about Sam Gunn, plus a couple of new ones), making it read almost like one long novel. So, as she contrives to meet various people who have become involved with Sam during his lifetime, his story unfolds - not always in chronological fashion. We learn how he sets up the first honeymoon hotel in orbit, ruined by the fact that the newlyweds inevitably spend the first few days throwing up, despite there being a cure for space-sickness which Rockledge vindictively withhold from Sam. There are 50 stories, of various lengths, so I will not attempt to list them all; of his amorous exploits and how he evades marriage numerous times (especially to Senator Jill Meyers, who continues to pursue him to the end), of his encounter with the Porno Twins, who supply virtual sex to asteroid miners, of his (alleged) fall into a black hole and meeting with aliens out in the Kuiper Belt, and his involvement with a matter transmitter - or is it duplicator? And so on.
This is all great fun, and while not holding any great philosophical message (except that we really should be doing a lot more in space because there are huge opportunities out there . . . ) it's a good solid read which should keep you happy for quite a while. If you're into space stuff, don't miss this one.

Reviewed by David A Hardy Sep-2007 Published by Tor Books

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TITAN by Ben Bova

I was quite surprised when I was offered this book to review, as I had assumed that Ben Bova’s ‘Grand Tour of the Solar System’ series was complete, all major planets (and the asteroids) having been covered. But clearly he has not finished with it, as this shows.
Many of the old protagonists, such as Dan Randolph and Martin Humphries, are of course long-gone, and even the Yamagata Corporation doesn’t get a mention, although the insidious New Morality are still lurking in the background. But this is really a sequel to SATURN, and in fact it follows on directly from plans announced at the end of that novel: a huge L-5-style habitat, housing ten thousand people, has now been built and placed in orbit around Saturn, and in it we find Pancho Lane, her sister Susan (now called Holly), Malcolm Eberley, Professor Wilmott, Tavalera, Manuel Gaeta, and other familiar names.
At first this seems slower-paced and even less exciting than the previous books, as time is spent setting the scene inside this vast cylinder and the politics that are going on as a new Chief Administrator is due to be elected. Malcolm Eberly is confident of being re-elected, and wants to mine Saturn’s rings for ice, to be supplied to provide much- needed water for the rest of the Solar System. But Holly Lane has other ideas, as she wants the ban on having children to be lifted, and she takes advantage of Nadia Wunderly’s discovery of what appears to be life in the ring particles (or is it?) to prevent this from happening. Another main storyline is the Titan Alpha probe which has been placed on the surface of Titan, is roving around collecting data – but refuses to transmit it! This drives Eduoard Urbain to distraction as he and his team try to make contact.
The stuntman, Gaeta, finds himself under pressure to come out of retirement and first to bring back more samples from Saturn’s rings, then to go down to the surface of Titan in a dangerous attempt to solve its communication problems.
Oh, and then there’s Timoshenko, who wants to destroy the habitat and all within it. . . All in all, a satisfying read for fans of hard SF.

Reviewed by David A Hardy Mar-2006 Published by Hodder & Stoughton

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Ray Bradbury

FROM THE DUST RETURNED by Ray Bradbury

There is much wrong with the cover of this book but, fortunately, this does not continue inside. This probably isn't, as the cover says, "his new novel". Like several of Bradbury's previous works, this may not be a novel. Some of the chapters read like short stories and several of them have already been published as such (two in the collection "The Toynbee Convector"). The book is closer to a novel than, say, "The Illustrated Man" or even "The Martian Chronicles” but there is still an element of the collection here. Neither is this entirely new - some of the stories were published in the 40's. This isn't even proper science fiction, it's much closer to the fantasy/horror that Bradbury first became famous for.
This is the story of a "family". Not the ordinary sort or even the extended sort that used to be popular in places east of here. This is the sort of family that the Addamses would be proud to have as neighbours. There's the grandmother who is older than most of the ancient civilizations that people wonder about, the fly-by-night uncle who really does, the young girl who is a bit of a dreamer but still gets out a lot that way. Then there are cousins and other relations that bear even less resemblance to . . . Well. .. Anything.
Comparisons with the Addams family are further justified in the author's afterword in which he explains how the (Charles Addams) cover illustration came about and that the two families developed together. Unfortunately the UK publishers have decided to opt for a cover more in line with their corporate image.

Reviewed by William McCabe Feb-2002 Published by Earthlight

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NOW AND FOREVER by Ray Bradbury

When I was young, I was told there were 3 great SF writers: they were Asimov, Heinlein & Bradbury. As I grew older, I saw how mechanical Asimov was and the overwhelming ego that was Heinlein. I found those two almost unreadable after a while. Bradbury had his problems too.
There was a sort of over-romantic view of rural life that hung over so many stories. He didn't do that often enough to make it unreadable. They say he still writes. I wonder about that.
You could say that these two stories represent his best and worst. One of the high points of his career was working on the script of MOBY DICK with John Huston in 1956. He's already written a fictionalised account of his experience (GREEN SHADOWS, WHITE WHALE) and "Leviathan '99" is his SF version of MOBY DICK. This isn't the first appearance of the story. It's been written for the radio and was broadcast by the BBC with Christopher Lee. It was rewritten for the stage and played only once. Since then it's been heavily cut to produce the 89 page story included here.
It works well. It's as good as anything he wrote in the 50s and feels just like it was written then. If there are any complaints it's that the story has a dated feel and isn't original but these are just trivial.
"Somewhere a Band is Playing" is something else entirely. Although this, too, was written as a screenplay many years back, it has never been produced.
Bradbury says that he rewrote the script many times over the years to suit the age of the actress he had chosen to play in it (Katharine Hepburn). He does not say how much trouble he took to rewrite it for print. It still needs a good editor.
There are times when he reveals some point of plot more than once and expects surprise each time. He seems to repeat some things too much. The plot seems too predictable. At it's worst, it lays on the sentiment as much as he ever did.
Admittedly it's written as a romance with a twist that comes between SF and classical fantasy but he still lays it on too thick.
Here you have a great writer at his best and worst. Golden age pulp SF and sickly-sweet sloppily edited romantic fantasy.

Reviewed by William McCabe Dec-2008 Published by HarperCollins

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Marion Zimmer Bradley and Diana L. Paxson

PRIESTESS OF AVALON by Marion Zimmer Bradley and Diana L. Paxson

This volume was published after Bradley's death, with the aid of Diana Paxson. It is a collaboration, although Paxson had to finish it. It is a pity she does not gel a credit on the book’s cover. This book is part of the Avalon series of which THE MISTS OF AVALON was the first published volume. That involved the women associated with King Arthur’s court.
PRIESTESS OF AVALON is set at an earlier time, during the Roman Empire. The principal character is Helena who was the mother of the Emperor, Constantine the Great. Like many women of the time, relatively little is known about her, but she was canonised and some sources credit her with the discovery of fragments of the True Cross. It is certain that she travelled to the Holy Land and lived to an old age. In PRIESTESS OF AVALON, Helena is one of the priestesses that lives on the mystic Isle of Avalon until she meets Constantius.
Except for this element, historical facts are kept to wherever possible.
This is a relatively short book to encompass the whole of a long life and perforce touches it only at intervals. More than a quarter of the book is taken up with Helena's life on Avalon, before she leaves with Constantius, so that their relationship and characters, and the intricacies behind the events that follow, are only sketched in. The book disappoints because it is neither a fantasy novel or a historical one, but tries to be both and they do not mesh - it is almost two separate stories as very little of the mysticism bleeds into the known history. It will probably satisfy neither readers of fantasy or historical fiction. Pauline Morgan

Reviewed by May-2001 Published by HarperCollins

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Peter V Brett

THE DESERT SPEAR by Peter V Brett

In the world known as Ala by the desert dwelling Krasians, and as Thesa by the Chin who live in the verdant north, an ages old war is being waged.
Not between men, but between men and the ‘core’ dwelling demons that materialise on the surface as the sun sets and vanishes at sunrise. This war consists of active fighting in the south and passive resistance in the north where mankind cower behind ‘warded’ barriers. THE DESERT SPEAR is the story of two men, Ahmann Jardir living in Fort Krasia, a supreme warrior who declares himself the promised deliverer and Arlen Bales of Tibbets Brook (also known as the ‘Painted Man’), a wanderer declared to be the deliverer despite his wishes by others. These two were formally friends. The story is enhanced by five major secondary characters as well as a host of others. These major support actors being: Inevera a Dama’ting, - a Krasian holy woman and Ahmann Jardir’s first wife, who is not an invisible power behind the throne. Abban a Kaffit - a man who works at a craft instead of becoming a warrior or a holy man who was a boyhood friend of Ahmann Jardir and in later life an adviser despite being despised by the rank and file Krasian warriors. Leesha the ‘herb gatherer’ (healer) and de facto leader of the township of Deliver’s Hollow formally known as Cutter’s Hollow. She is a friend of Arlen Bales and is a powerful ‘ward witch’. Rojer - a jongleur and friend of both Leesha and Arlen Bales. His music has a unique magical effect on the demons. And finally, Reena, a childhood friend of Arlen Bales.
The first part of this story concentrates on the life of Ahmann Jardir following his rise from childhood obscurity to the absolute leader of the Krasians. Later on it covers his invasion of the north in pursuit of his holy war against the demons; a campaign during which he meets Leesha and Rojer. Meanwhile Arlen tries to make the leaders of the north aware of their danger from Ahmann Jardir and spreads his knowledge of aggressive warding; and while doing this he meets Reena again.
THE DESERT SPEAR is an excellent read, full of action and enjoyable engaging characters. While it is the second book of a series it is so strongly written that it can be read as a stand-alone novel without any detriment to the quality of the story. That said, the first, THE PAINTED MAN, is well worth reading. As is often the case, a taster of the next book, THE DAYLIGHT WAR, is provided. It too promises to be excellent and I look forward to reading it.

Reviewed by Jim Pearce Jul-2011 Published by Voyager

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Patricia Briggs

NIGHT BROKEN by Patricia Briggs

Mercy Thompson, coyote shapeshifter, VW mechanic, wife and mate of Adam the local werewolf pack’s alpha, is in trouble once again. Adam’s ex-wife, Christy is in peril and has turned to him for rescue and protection from her abusive new boyfriend. As Adam has an oversized sense of responsibility he cannot turn away the mother of his daughter. This is a nightmare for Mercy as not only is Christy in her home but she is also attempting to take over, trying both to recapture Adam and destroy Mercy’s relationship with the pack.
In a world that contains werewolves, vampires, the fae and other paranormal creatures it’s not surprising that Christy’s boyfriend turns out to be other than human and a major threat to the local population. To add to the stresses and strains on Mercy a character from one of Patricia Briggs’ Alpha and Omega novels, FAIR GAME comes calling in the middle of the night and places an onerous obligation on her. This leads Mercy to make contact with an unknown, to her, half-brother who proves vital to the unfolding situation. I hope that he sticks around to feature in subsequent novels.
NIGHT BROKEN is the 8th book in this series and is up to Patricia Brigg’s usual high standards. As with the previous books it is rich in well-described and believable characters most of whom have shared Mercy’s life and adventures throughout the series. Mercy herself is a terrific heroine, brave and compassionate and totally loyal to her family, friends and those who come to rely on her or need her help. It should not be confused with other ‘urban fantasy’ books which are written as ‘romance’ novels. Patricia Briggs’ books are urban fantasy adventures, not too gory but with a satisfying and appropriate amount of violence and interpersonal relationships.
I have read all the previous books in this series and own all but one of them - an omission I hope to rectify soon. In my mind this series is so good that any new Mercy Thompson novel is a must have (even though I dislike that phrase) worthy of space on my somewhat crowded bookshelves. As a PS anyone planning to spend time in the Canary Islands should perhaps keep a wary eye open for one of this book’s characters.
Reviewed by Jim Pearce Sep-2014 Published by Orbit

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James Brogden

EVOCATIONS by James Brogden

What factors help us to decide to try a new author? Reviews and recommendations from friends help but I have also found that hearing someone speak and enjoying what they say can be a good (albeit not infallible) pointer to a writer worth investigating. As some of you may remember, James Brogden is a local writer who was a guest at the BSFG in March 2013. Since that appearance he has published two further novels (TOURMALINE and THE REALT, both published by Snow Books) and this short story collection, EVOCATIONS (Alchemy Press). I must confess that I have not read his novels but have enjoyed some of his short stories in previous anthologies.
EVOCATIONS is a collection of sixteen of James’ short stories, most previously published elsewhere with a couple of new additions. The stories all contain an element of the fantastical but are also rooted in the real (and mostly modern) world. Some of the stories also verge into horror.
The first story “The Phantom Limb” concerns an amputee who finds his phantom arm can reach into another world and is a short but effective little horror story.
In “The Evoked” we see the author’s Australian background combined with a consideration of the old meaning of the Winter solstice and the festival of Yule. There are lots of ideas in this story and I felt that whilst good it would have benefited from more space to expand.
“The Last Dance of Humphrey Bear” is one of my favourites. A child’s favourite toy (Humphrey Bear is an Australian Children’s TV programme) holds the last breath of a dead child. It has emotional depth and deals very sensitively with some dark themes.
“How to Get Ahead in Avatising” is a nice little satire on the price people may have to pay for fame and combines mythological archetypes with clever swipes at “spin” and personality worship.
“Junk Male” is about a couple of students who create a fake identity to reply to unsolicited post and the unintended consequences. This is one of the stories which illustrate the author’s ability to deftly combine humour with horror.
“The Decorative Water Feature of Nameless Dread” is another story I really liked. It is an affectionate combination of Lovecraftian monsters and Middle England. It is written with a light touch and I found it very funny.
“The Gestalt Princess” is a charming but unconventional love story which I enjoyed, even with a steampunk setting (of which I am normally not the greatest fan).
“The Smith of Hockley” and “If Street” both show another one of this author’s strengths – exploring the intersections between local locations and ancient things and people.
“Mob Rule” is probably my least favourite in the collection. The idea behind the story is good (difficult to describe without giving away the premise) but I just didn’t like any of the characters or the conclusion.
By contrast, the short story “The Gas Street Octopus” is excellent and the one-liner ending will make you smile (or groan, depending on whether you like puns!)
“DIYary of the Dead” is a first-rate horror story where the mundane is slowly “peeled back” to reveal the macabre.
“The Curzon Street Horror” looks at the arcane rites that might have been involved in the start of the railways in Birmingham and again shows Brogden using a local location as the starting point to something weird.
“The Remover of Obstacles” is about dodgy car mechanics that again looks at ancient things concealed beneath a modern veneer.
“Made from Locally Sourced Ingredients” is a ghoulish look at trendy restaurants and the advisability of knowing where your food comes from. Whilst not for the faint-hearted this is still a very enjoyable and ingenious story.
The final story in the collection “The Pigeon Bride” is essentially a fairy tale but in a modern urban setting. As with the original fairy stories, there is a grim element and a price to be paid for the “happy” ending.
An extract from the author’s novel, TOURMALINE ends the collection. It introduces a mysterious girl but is too short to give much feel for the story. A better guide would be the review published in BSFG Newsletter #507 (December 2013).
Based on this collection, James Brogden has an impressive imagination. He is exceptional at taking small everyday elements and transforming them into the bizarre. I also like his use of Midlands locations and how he connects the mythological past with the more “rational” present. His stories also demonstrate a mischievous and satirical sense of humour (including some clever puns) and were one of the things I really relished in this collection. On a minor note, there are no SF stories but that is the only reservation I have about recommending this book to readers. Carol Goodwin

Reviewed by Jan-2016 Published by Alchemy

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THE HOLLOW TREE by James Brogden

Novice writers are often told, ‘write about what you know’. This might seem unhelpful if your chosen field is historical fiction or SF as both areas deal with scenarios that living authors didn’t or will not experience. The advice, though is a lot more subtle. All stories have characters with human traits, strengths and failings. Observing how people react is likely to produce more rounded characters. Setting a story against a familiar background, even if it has been moved in time or twisted in some way. Some of the best writers of horror, fantasy or the supernatural have done just that. Joel Lane set many of his stories in the Black Country, Ramsey Campbell explores the darker side of Liverpool. Add James Brogden to that company.
His best writing is set against a backdrop that he is familiar with – Birmingham.
Everyone has heard of the phenomenon of the phantom limb, the way that amputees still get a sense of the missing limb. After Rachel Cooper loses her left hand in an accident during a canal boating holiday with her husband, Tom, she experiences exactly that, especially as her physiotherapist encourages her to imagine the hand is still there to keep the unaffected muscles well-toned. Not only can she sense the missing limb but it can touch things that she cannot see. In the garden, the phantom fingers curl around dead leaves.
When her right had touches the ground where her left should be, the leaves appear. She invents a rational explanation for this, the first time. She begins to think something weird is going on when on a visit to Avoncroft Museum of Buildings, her phantom hand encounters an invisible cat. Grasping it with her right hand, she suddenly has a scrawny feline that wasn’t there before. She takes it home but later some fierce beast tries to get in to their home. She realises that if she takes something from the phantom world, there is a payback.
On a visit to the Lickey Hills with Tom, they discover a glade where the trees around it are festooned with ribbons and tokens.
Although there is nothing visible, Rachel can feel a dead oak at the centre. Asking in the visitor centre, they are told that there was a hollow tree there and during the war, the skeleton of a woman was found inside it. No-one found out who she was, but there were rumours that she was a Nazi spy, a gypsy or a prostitute. After some troubling dreams, Rachel returns to the oak and pulls through the woman whose body had been hidden there, even though she is aware that there will be consequences. She and Tom need to deal with those consequences while Rachel is desperate to convince her mother and Tom’s father that the trauma of losing her hand has not unhinged her.
This is a delightful novel balancing action and reaction between the real world and the phantom one that Rachel has discovered exists. It touches on a number of issues concerning the aftermath of death without getting too philosophical. Because he knows the area well, Brogden is able to paint convincing scenarios for the action to take place in. This is a novel of action and the supernatural that stands aside from the usual ghost story and becomes something fresh.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Dec-2018 Published by Titan Books

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THE NARROWS by James Brogden

THE NARROWS is James Brogden’s first book. This novel is best described as an urban fantasy with some light horror influences, and pitched at the generally mature reader due to some of the more emotional themes. The novel is set very recognisably in Birmingham, which this reviewer found irresistible (the lead character, Andy Sumner, lives in a flat in Northfield, the same suburb that I am sat in writing this review). Despite my obvious relish for the setting I think the book stands effectively on its merits for a non Brummie reader.
Andy is a University drop-out without any real clear view of which way to take his life. Engaged to marry Laura, a professional and organised young woman, Andy is casting about for purpose, employed in a dead-end job at a video- games store in the Pallasades shopping centre. One day he discovers, quite by accident, an odd back-alley shortcut off the Smallbrook Queensway. Following this alternative route takes him through an overgrown courtyard that he is dimly aware there should not be space for behind the buildings. After finding himself thoroughly lost, not being able to retrace his steps, he pushes on through and finds himself some five miles from his starting point, despite only walking for maybe ten minutes.
And so Andy finds himself curiously able to access `the narrows’, shortcuts through forgotten parts of the city which narrow the distance between two points (hence the name). But he would not find his way without a guide, so it is fortuitous that coincidence (?) throws in his lot with Bex, a fully-fledged member of the narrow-folk who choose to live their entire lives outside of the bright lights of mainstream life and inhabit the narrows full time. Soon it becomes apparent that a sinister figure named Barber is closing off the narrows one by one, and is quite happy to slay anyone who gets in his way by use of sub-human Skavags who hunt down and rip apart their prey. Ultimately Andy will discover his mysterious past and the reasons why he has a special affinity for the narrows and join the fight against the inhuman Barber and his terrifying schemes.
Brogden clearly knows his setting backwards; the usage of recognisable Birmingham landmarks and features is both very clever and pleasingly correct.
The author layers on top of this an almost Lovecraft like `from the depths that man is not meant to know’ paradigm. As the book progresses the narrows bloom out into layered multiple realities. Unlike Lovecraft, however, Brogden’s text does not drip with mind unhinging terror, but instead employs more comfortable fantasy tropes. The characters are easy to relate to, and many seem extremely believable every-day sorts. The moments of horror are mostly limited to the aforementioned skavags and certain other, darker creature called forth by unpleasant human sacrifice.
For a first novel this book is extremely accomplished. I have reviewed a number of first novels recently, and THE NARROWS does not seem to have so much in the way of rough edges or literary mistakes. In truth, I found some of Andy’s decision slightly hard to justify (spoiler alert: would he really be so ready to drop his relationship with his fiancé?) and maybe Brogden intended for the atmosphere to be more sinister and less comfortable. It is stylistically fairly neutral, using fairly straight forward language throughout. But that level of comfort provides for a very engaging read. The novelty of reading a book set in my home town had worn off by the middle of the book, but I can happily report that the text continued to grip me to the end.
Therefore I have little reservation in recommending this book. Overall it is of surprisingly high quality. If you happen to be resident in Birmingham, this is almost a must read, if only for the novelty factor. Committed horror fans might find it a little light on their brand of fun, but I think that fantasy fans would find it an enjoyable change of pace. Given how accomplished and professional this first book is, I certainly think that Mr Brogden will be worth watching for future output.

Reviewed by Dave Corby May-2013 Published by Snow

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THE REALT by James Brogden

Where do we go when we dream? How real are our dreams? Can we influence them? All questions that have exercised minds down the millennia. Scientists have studied sleep, psychologists and oneiromancers have tried to interpret dreams. Fiction has come up with a number of interesting ideas, including the suspicion that everything we think is real is actually a dream. Graham Joyce’s first published novel, DREAMSIDE focused on the idea of lucid dreaming, a technique by which dreams can be affected by the dreamer. That idea is also used by James Brogden in this novel. The biggest dream cop-out was probably in the TV series Dallas where in order to bring back a character by public demand, they had to make the whole of the previous series into a dream. Having the action ‘dreamed’ is not the best approach to convincing a reader that they have a legitimate story to tell. Fortunately, Brogden avoids this trap.
This is the second volume in a trilogy. In the first volume, TOURMALINE Bobby Jenkins finds himself on the other side of consciousness. There is another world, Tourmaline that some people can reach in their dreams. Those whose bodies lie in comas find a kind of freedom here despite being hunted by the authorities of this other place. Bobby, though, has physically passed through the membrane into the dreamworld. There he met Allie Owens and fell in love. At the end of TOURMALINE, the island-sized raft that Allie and the other coma victims have made their home is attacked by the authorities that want to rid themselves of these interlopers. Allie survives but Bobby is thrown back into the waking world, known here as the Realt. With him comes a monster which, initially takes up residence at the bottom of a Birmingham canal.
Back in the Tourmaline Archipelago, which is now embroiled in war, Allie’s concern is survival, especially as she finds that she is pregnant with Bobby’s child. Bobby’s intention is to get back to Tourmaline and Allie. Everyone has always been told that the two sides must be kept apart and nothing intrude in either direction or there will be dire consequences. Yet modern weapons have appeared on one side in the war. Bobby discovers that there are ways to cross over and that both sides – from Realt and Tourmaline – actually have a large chamber like an amphitheatre, where representatives from both sides meet and discuss issues. They are held apart by a dividing membrane. Bobby needs to get into the chamber to get back to Allie even though the division would be breached.
Meanwhile, the monster or araka, can manifest as several separate entities which take up residence in the brains of some of Birmingham’s criminal underworld and begin to create havoc, especially as their hosts now seem to be indestructible.
This is a novel which wanders in a number of directions before coming together as a complete whole and a grand finale. The most convincing aspects of it are the ones in the Realt, especially where the dark side of Birmingham comes to the fore. Without this, the novel would have much less impact. In a few places, the effects of subornation are described. These are events when a dreamer crosses over and brings with them the images of their nightmares. The novel would have been enhanced by more of these and their dramatic effects.
The concept of a dreamworld that has a reality of its own is an effective device for this fast-paced adventure that will provide a few hours of enjoyment to the majority of readers.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Dec-2015 Published by Snow

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TOURMALINE by James Brogden

Unfortunately I missed James’ visit to the Brum Group in March, as I was in Iceland! However, I did read his first novel THE NARROWS, set almost entirely in Birmingham, and thoroughly enjoyed it. This is not a review copy, but I am a Brummie, born and bred, so it is of course now a bonus to read another novel which includes among its settings the Barber Institute and the University, a martial arts centre on the Pershore Road in Stirchley, and even my home suburb of Hall Green etc., rather than London, Los Angeles or Paris. . .
But this is just peripheral. This second novel by James Brogden is even more readable than THE NARROWS. It is original, fast-paced and exciting. As you probably know I usually read SF, and while I'm sure the author is embraced by the SF fraternity, it is not SF; nor is it fantasy (in the sense of magic, wizards or dragons). It's the sort of indefinable novel that almost seems in a genre of its own; and in that Brogden joins a select list of luminaries like Christopher Priest and the late lamented Robert Holdstock. (Indeed, Priest has his 'Dream Archipelago' of imaginary islands, and Brogden's Tourmaline Archipelago is certainly the stuff of dreams – quite literally.) Here’s what James wrote in his own blog at http://jamesbrogden.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/its-all-gone-tourmaline-shaped.html ‘Its full name is the Tourmaline Archipelago, and it's only a small part of a much larger parallel world which we sometimes access when we dream too deeply, become comatose, or enter hallucinatory or psychotic states of mind. So far so standard fantasy trope. The problem comes for the people who live there because our dreams superimpose themselves on their reality, forcing them to become unwilling participants in our fantasies and nightmares. This process is called Subornation. The people of Tourmaline do not like this, and in the country of Oraille they have developed a specialised branch of the police called the Department for Counter Subornation, whose agents are tasked with exorcising us from their world.
This is complicated by the fact that sometimes people from their world get caught up in this exorcism and end up back in our world, trapped inside the bodies of the dreamers. A kind of possession, if you like. They too have an ability to impose their reality on ours – albeit to a much more limited degree. They in turn are hunted by an organisation called the Hegemony which wants to exploit them for their powers.
In a doldrum region of the Archipelago called the Flats, there is an island-sized raft called Stray, populated by people from our world who for one reason or another have never woken up. Bobby Jenkins finds himself there with no memory of who he is or how he got there - all he knows is that he's in love with a woman from Stray who can't leave, and somehow they have to defend themselves against forces in both worlds that want to do 'orrible things to them.’ If I had to say anything negative (as reviewers are required to do, if honest) I'd say that it is very complex, and one needs to concentrate! There are many characters, and when a name pops up after 50 or 70 pages you have to think "Now who is that? Where did they come in?" Especially if a surname is used and we are used to a first name. . . And it takes place in two worlds: our own, and the one of dreams – and nightmares – in which people also have different names, so again you need to keep track of these. But overall I strongly recommend this book.

Reviewed by David A Hardy Dec-2013 Published by Snowbooks

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Mike Brooks

DARK SKY by Mike Brooks

DARK SKY is the second book in what promises to be an extensive sequence by this author. I have not read the first one, DARK RUN. However, I am pleased to report that not having read it did not diminish my enjoyment of this book one jot. It did not have any effect on the plot whatsoever. Where pertinent to this book and only then was any reference made to what had gone before and this was no more than that which would be expected in any book.
In DARK SKY Captain Ichabod Drift of the star ship Keiko and his crew are enjoying some ‘R & R’ staying at the Grand House casino on the pleasure world, New Samara. Unfortunately, this does not last as the ‘crime lord’ who owns the casino, and also controls much of the government of New Samara, decides that their somewhat shady past makes them the perfect crew to carry out a small job for him. Receiving an offer they ‘cannot refuse’ Ichabod accepts, promising his crew that this side trip to the mining planet Uragan would be a quick in and out job and then they would be back at the tables with some welcome extra spending money. Naturally whatever can go wrong does go wrong and they find themselves stuck on the planet by a revolution and a horrendous dust storm. Cue for nonstop action with some interesting twists and turns.
I don’t want to say anything more about this book’s plot as this may diminish any reader’s enjoyment. But I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed it - something that I was not expecting when I first picked up DARK SKY, so much so that if I have the opportunity to read DARK RUN and any subsequent books in the series I will do so without hesitation. DARK SKY is good old-fashioned and thoroughly enjoyable space science fiction with a modern verve and an excellent cast of characters.

Reviewed by Jim Pearce Feb-2016 Published by Del Rey

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John Brosnan

MOTHERSHIP by John Brosnan

The concept of the generation ship has a long history in the Science Fiction field. As societies aboard them evolve, problems will inevitably arise within the populations, providing endless possibilities to drive the plot along.
Urba is a generation ship, constructed to carry the entire population of our Solar System away from a dying sun. Sufficient clues are given in early pages for the reader to appreciate the setting even though the majority of the inhabitants do not. The Elite have arranged the world into discrete territories. Warfare is allowed, but anyone likely to set up an empire is severely curtailed. The Elite are definitely in control, until the Day of Wonder when power fails and Elite aircars fall out of the sky. It seems an ideal opportunity to get one’s own back on the tyrants and hunt down anyone who might possibly be Elite.
In the kingdom of Capelia, the headstrong Prince Kendar decides to venture out on a self-imposed spying mission to find out what is happening in other areas. His father sends Jad, Kendar’s childhood friend with him to keep him out of trouble. More by luck than judgement, they rescue an Elite woman, Alucia, from those who are killing Elite. Kendar falls instantly in love with her. Together they travel to the Citadel, the power centre of the Elite only to find that Urba has been invaded.
This is pure adventure fiction and is entirely plot driven with virtually no depth to the characters. For some readers, this will be enough. The more discerning reader will be dissatisfied. When Alucia explains the true situation, Jad instantly believes her even though he doesn’t understand half of what she means about stars, planets and nuclear reactors, whereas Kendar thinks she is lying or mentally abnormal. Even in the face of evidence he still thinks it is an Elite trick, but as he loves her he is prepared to overlook it. Jad and Kendar are too much at opposite ends of the scale for their attitudes to be completely believable. For someone whose entire upbringing has been almost in a mediaeval framework, Jad is far too accepting of everything Alucia has to say, especially as her kind have always been regarded with suspicion.
Added to this, despite all the obstacles put in their way, they complete their mission comparatively easily. Jad, at one point, wonders why Alucia needs Kendar and himself tagging along. It is a good question, not fully answered, except to add interest to a plot that rushes past at a great rate. There are touches of humour but they are not enough to compensate for the lack of depth.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Apr-2004 Published by Gollancz

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Eric Brown

BINARY SYSTEM by Eric Brown

BINARY SYSTEM is the most recent of Eric Brown’s numerous novels, novellas and collections of short stories being published in this country on the 10th of August 2017. In it his heroine, Cordelia Kemp, is (she thinks) the only survivor of a catastrophic explosion that rips through the starship, Pride of Amsterdam as it starts its transit through the lunar wormhole on the way to 61 Cygni. By a fluke the section of the ship she was on was shunted at least 10,000 light-years away from Earth. This is far further than the 200-light-year limit of currently explored space. Luckily for her there is a nearby star system with an inhabitable planet. Again fortunately, although it has an extremely eccentric orbit, it is coming out of its long very cold winter into its short but very hot summer. When coming into land her life craft is shot down and she is captured by an extremely hostile insectoidal race, the Skelt. These turn out to be the degenerated descendants of a star faring race that invaded the planet in the distant past and are waging war on and enslaving and eating two indigenous sentient races, the Fahren and the Vo. Imprisoned by the Skelt and about to be tortured for her scientific knowledge she is rescued by Muhn, a Fahran slave. So starts an epic trek across the planet’s equatorial band to her rescuer’s home village. Then on to the mysterious valley of Mahkanda so that Muhn can give thanks and fulfil a lifetime ambition of observing the rising of his living god. On the way they rescue a Vo from a wolf like carnivore, who in turn out of gratitude and a sense of adventure decides to join them on their odyssey. Later they observe what they believe is the contrail of another life craft from the Pride of Amsterdam. Fortunately, this craft’s predicted landing point is on the way to Mahkanda. Despite his many books I have never previously read anything by Eric Brown and as I had heard that he was a good writer I was eagerly looking forward to reading this book. Unfortunately, I was rather disappointed; despite my liking of ‘Space Opera’ adventures. My concerns started with the title, the book I have states that this is ’BINARY SYSTEM’, but the publisher’s information sheet has it as ’BINARY / SYSTEM’ both in the text and in the illustration of the cover. A minor point to be true, but it caused initial unease. By the way the only reference to a binary system in the book is a very minor one near the start of the story, you could almost miss it. In addition, I found some of the technical/engineering aspects unconvincing and puzzling. Perhaps this was due to my technological and auditing background. There was one point when an enormous space laser used in action against the Skelt suddenly was referred to as a ground to air missile! In addition, while pleasant, I found the characters rather one dimensional and as such I could not relate to any of them. Overall the book did not ‘sing’ to me or entice me to read on. That said the writing was straight forward with the story flowing well following an unconvoluted narrative path. Perhaps the book was intended for a ‘younger’ audience. It may be worth noting that I have found many young person books to be very satisfying to read. As you can tell from the above ’BINARY SYSTEM’ regretfully was not to my taste although others may enjoy it more

Reviewed by Jim Pearce Nov-2017 Published by Rebellion

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NEW YORK DREAMS by Eric Brown

This is the third volume of the Virex trilogy. It is basically a detective thriller set in a future New York which lies at the cutting edge of technology. In the first Volume, New York Nights, we are introduced to Halliday and his partner. They are ex-cops and run the kind of detective agency you would expect in a 1950s novel. They are brought in to investigate a disappearance. In their world, VR technology is the up and coming thing. Public facilities are just opening in which you can immerse yourself in your fantasies.
In NEW YORK DREAMS, we rejoin Halliday, who is now rich and spends most of his time tanked in a VR world. He is offered large sums to find the technological genius who has gone missing. His heart is not in the investigation until his ex-lover also disappears. His old partner, Barney, reappears from the dead (literally). This is a fast paced, techno- thriller but there are problems. Brown is an excellent writer but some of the information needed to make sense of the plot lines are included in the previous volumes. A newcomer to this series is strongly recommended to begin with volume one. At the start of NEW YORK NIGHTS, the technology that is vital to the course of all three books is new. Although current developments have shown how fast changes and improvements can be made, the time scale seems a little too short for the universal acceptance and use suggested here. A degree of suspension of disbelief is required. It is probably worth waiting for an omnibus volume and reading all three volumes at one sitting.
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Mar-2005 Published by Gollancz

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SATAN’S REACH by Eric Brown

This is the second novel in the Weird Space series. It is intended to be a shared world project where different authors will contribute their own novels to the series (similar to Star Trek or Dr Who books for example). Both this book and the preceding book, THE DEVIL’S NEBULA have been written by Eric Brown.
In the Weird Space universe, humanity is spread across thousands of worlds, overseen by an autocratic government, The Expansion. There is at present an uneasy truce with the neighbouring aliens, the Vetch. The eponymous Devil’s Nebula and Satan’s Reach are areas in space not directly controlled by either the Vetch or the Expansion. In the first book we were introduced to the “Weird”, an alien race from another dimension who are invading the outer reaches of the human realm. The Weird exist in a number of different forms and in the first book we learned that this included small mind-parasites which could infect and control humans. Seven ships containing these mind- parasites had been sent to Expansion worlds in the past, with some also being sent to the Vetch planets. The only reliable way of detecting an infected human is scanning by a telepath.
The second book starts with a new set of characters than in the first book. We are introduced to Dan Harper, on the run from the Expansion authorities. Sold to them as a child slave, they used his telepathic abilities for espionage and scanning political dissidents. Sickened, he escaped with a valuable ship (which contains secrets he is unaware of) but is pursued by a bounty hunter. His rescue of a young girl from a horrific death by another alien species, the Ajantans generates another set of enemies. In the course of their flight from their various pursuers, they encounter another infected human/Weird colony and only by working with some of their erstwhile enemies can they hope to escape.
This is good old-fashioned space opera, which you don’t need a degree in physics to understand. It is fast-paced and fun with plenty of action and a quick read. I enjoyed this second volume better than the first, where I felt too much time was spent on establishing the various factions (Vetch, humans, Weird etc) at the expense of the characters. Although I enjoyed this book, it is not my favourite Eric Brown novel as it lacks some of the subtleties of his other work, and is a fairly straightforward plot. As a first introduction to Eric Brown, readers would be better directed towards the excellent NECROPATH, HELIX or ENGINEMAN (to name but a few). It will be interesting to see how the series progresses with other writers at the helm as I understand Eric Brown was only contracted to write these first two novels.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Feb-2014 Published by Abaddon

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THE MARTIAN SIMULACRA: A SHERLOCK HOLMES MYSTERY by Eric Brown

This novella is one in a series of four Martian themed books due to be published by NewCon Press. The others in the series are THE MARTIAN JOB by Jaine Fenn, PHOSPHORUS: A WINTERSTRIKE STORY by Liz Williams and THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD by Una McCormack.
This story is a mash-up of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and THE WAR OF THE WORLDS by H G Wells. In this story, the Martians learned from their defeat by Earth’s bacteria. They adapted, both in terms of immunity and in their strategy and a second less militaristic invasion was more successful. Claiming that the original, massively destructive incursion was by a defeated faction, the Martians now profess to rule the Earth more benignly. Set some ten years afterwards, much of humanity is apparently reconciled to this state of affairs. Holmes has learned the Martian language, and having helped them in a previous case, is called upon to help the Martians with an incident on their homeworld. When he and Dr Watson travel to Mars however, all is not what it seems and they become embroiled in a dangerous adventure which will uncover the Martian’s real intentions and plans for the people of planet Earth.
If you are a fan of this type of mash-up, there is much to enjoy here. It is a romp with lots of old-fashioned derring do and action. Although I am not a fan of the word steampunk, it has that feel of old-fashioned futuristic technology which feels appropriate to the Doyle/Wells influence. There are also some nods to modern sensibilities about how Empire is not completely advantageous to the colonised, and racial prejudice although these are kept light as this is not a “serious” book. There is also a welcome inclusion of a competent female character, indeed at times almost too competent, Freya Hadfield Bell.
Writing stories about Holmes however, is always a tricky proposition as you will never please everyone. If I have a criticism, it is that the plot of the story does not seem to offer much chance to showcase Holmes’ intellectual ability. I felt that most events happen to the Watson/Holmes pair, with the narrative being driven more by the actions of the Martians and the aforementioned Freya Hadfield Bell. That being said it is competently written and easy to read and many (though not all) fans of Wells and Doyle will enjoy this homage

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Dec-2017 Published by NewCon

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THE SERENE INVASION by Eric Brown

This is by no mean Eric Brown’s most original novel (and he has written some corkers). It starts with a transparent dome appearing in Uganda, covering the town of Kallani. It is perhaps unfortunate that the publication of this book coincided with Spielberg’s Under the Dome serial on TV, which has the same scenario. However, whereas the TV version remains only over Chester’s Mill, USA, in this book more domes appear over just about every town and city all over the world. However, these vanish, and vast craft shaped like manta-rays appear in our skies and hover over major cities. Again, one inevitably thinks of Clarke’s CHILDHOOD’S END, or the movie Independence Day (which the author does actually mention at one point). Finally, after briefly vanishing, the eight starships come together ‘like a giant snowflake’ over the Sahara, where, after a flash and a halo of light, they descend on to the sand – transforming the desert into an area of rolling meadows and lakes, dotted with low-level domes. This is duplicated elsewhere.
A fairly familiar sfnal scenario, then, so this novel depends mainly upon the story and characters. The main players are: Sally Walsh, a doctor at Kallani when the story opens; Geoff Allen, a freelance photographer sent to cover the story of the alien crafts’ arrival, who is romantically involved with Sally and who has a strange experience with the aliens whilst on an aircraft; billionaire businessman, James Morwell, Jnr., who has some rather unusual sexual preferences but who dispenses millions of dollars to charities and good causes annually; and Ana Devi, an orphan street kid who lives rough on Howrah Station near Delhi, is abused and raped by the gross Sanjeev Vanaputtram, and whose brother Bilal vanishes and later in the book reappears in the USA under a different name in the employ of James Morwell.
The most important theme of this book is the reason for the aliens’ arrival on Earth. Called the S’rene, and therefore known as the Serene, they are here to protect humanity from itself. All over the world, any attempt at violence is prevented; from boxing matches and Sanjeev’s attempt to beat Ani, to attempted bank raids and anything connected with weapons or war. Faceless golden figures appear and inform people that they are ‘wanted’, after which they spend a period of days a month apparently helping the Serene in some way of which they have no memory. These people include Sally and Ana, but not Morwell, who instead is later contacted by a different, blue figure who announces that he is a member of the Obterek race, who are opposed to the Serene and wish to give humanity back their free will (but actually have a different but more sinister agenda). While the Serene (or their representatives, some of who appear to be wholly human but live much longer) are physically present on Earth, the Obterek can only contact us briefly and with difficulty, but require humans in order to carry out their opposition. Meanwhile the Serene have set up enormous, kilometres-high black obelisks (2001, but much bigger?) in various places, which is where their human ‘helpers’ seem to go.
I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but basically after some resistance the human race seems to accept the Serene’s interference as mainly beneficial and lives in peace. The Moon, Mars and Venus are terraformed, and many people go to live on these worlds. Titan becomes the site of the biggest black obelisk, and again all the ‘chosen ones’ go there to carry out unknown tasks for the Serene. By now you will be thinking ‘There must be a ‘but?”. Well, the fly in the ointment is of course the Obterek, who do their best to disrupt the haven that Earth has become. And some people, like Morwell, do object to the fact that humans, in losing their aggressive and competitive tendencies, also seem to have lost the ability or desire to innovate, create, invent, explore. . . .True, we are now inhabiting many worlds in the Solar System – but we are not doing so under our own initiative; we cannot claim any credit for this. No spaceships designed and built by us; instead we are transported almost instantly, often to habitats which duplicate the homes we left on Earth.
Brown attempts the sort of grand finale, cosmic ending at which Clarke and Asimov, and later Baxter and Reynolds, do so well. But I can’t help feeling that in the hands of Clarke some method would have been found for the human race, while staying at peace, still to retain its independence and creativity, rather than mildly living like sheep! David A Hardy

Reviewed by Dec-2013 Published by Solaris

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Michael R Brush

MYCROFT AND THE NECROMANCER by Michael R Brush

His interest in SF (as in the Professor Challenger stories) and Spiritualism notwithstanding, Conan Doyle eschewed anything remotely fantastic in the Sherlock Holmes stories. Even “The Sussex Vampire” turned out not to be one. Now that many modern writers are turning their hands to creating additions to the Holmes canon, tales involving more outré events are beginning to appear, and Michael Brush has chosen in his first novel to delve into the supernatural with a story involving werewolves, shapeshifters, vampires and faeries, etc.
In point of fact, this is not a Sherlock Holmes story at all. He is mentioned in passing, scarcely more than that, and as the title of the book suggests, the principal protagonist, or one of them, is elder brother Mycroft. He is presented here as very much a man of action, far from the reclusive man of inaction who is described in his first, and only major appearance in an original story. (“The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter”) There is some suggestion that his withdrawal from an active role in criminology was a deliberate choice arising from the events recounted here.
Briefly, the story concerns the unmasking and eventual destruction of a sinister death cult operating from a disreputable private club in London called “The Grinning Skull” and controlled from the country residence of the Necromancer of the title. Mycroft, ably assisted by the narrator of the story, one Fox Hungerton, and a hitherto unheard-of younger Holmes brother, Carmel, together with various others, both human and supernatural, and all supported by the staff of the Diogenes Club, leads the campaign to expunge this evil.
For the kind of reader likely to encounter this review the book has the potential to be of interest. Unfortunately, it is quite badly, almost amateurishly, written. The general construction and plotting are confusing and illogical and moreover, errors of grammar and punctuation are not uncommon, phraseology can be clumsy and the choice of words is often infelicitous to say the least. Although it is supposed to have been written in 1887, the writing reflects neither the style of the period nor that of Conan Doyle himself.
These faults may or may not limit the appeal of this book in the horror/supernatural market at which it is presumably aimed. On the other hand, true dyed-in-the-wool Holmes aficionados will probably recoil aghast at everything in it.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Aug-2015 Published by KnightWatch

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Michael R Brush and S G Mulholland

CHALLENGER UNBOUND by Michael R Brush and S G Mulholland

There has been a tradition of writers, especially those honing their skills, to add to the adventures of their favourite characters. Children do it every time they play with the characters and other toys from films and TV programmes, such as Thunderbirds and FROZEN. Most stories either stay under the bed, or turn up in fanzines shared with others with the same enthusiasms. Some writers such as Storm Constantine, encourage such fan fiction and allow the best to be published in books, and others, such as Star Trek, develop a franchise of officially sanctioned novels by respected authors. When a favoured writer has been dead long enough for their work to be out of copyright, there is an opportunity for other enterprises such as PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES. CHALLENGER UNBOUND, with the blessing of Conan Doyle’s estate, has taken the irascible Professor Challenger as the centre of a series of short stories.
While the project is a worthwhile enterprise, I have some issues with this particular book. It is not the fault of the editors that no female writers submitted stories. The question is whether this is a reflection of the appeal of the character or whether enough publicity was done in the right places. What is less forgivable is the typesetting of the book. Anyone who opens a book, real or electronic will know that you do not leave a line-break between paragraphs. It makes the book very annoying to read, and encourages a reader picking it up to put it straight back on the shelf. Proof reading could have been a little more rigorous as well (Challenger’s daughter has different names in different stories).
Those familiar with the original Professor Challenger stories, especially THE LOST WORLD, will have some familiarity with many of the characters that appear in these pages. Anyone meeting them for the first time here may wonder who they are as there is an ingrained assumption that the reader is in the know. There is an added confusion in that there has been no attempt to put these stories in any kind of chronological sequence. There is also no kind of cohesion in the selection of the stories. Two, including the first in the volume (‘The Last Expedition’ by Simon Kurt Unsworth) feature the death of Challenger, and of these, the better written is the second, ‘The Death of Challenger’ by Steve Lockley. This story has some interesting features, but I wasn’t convinced that this could only be a Challenger story. This is a problem I had throughout. Too many of the stories could not honestly say that they could be nothing else but part of the Challenger sequence.
In one of the original Challenger stories, the Professor came up against an inventor, Theodore Nemor, who invents a disintegration machine which Challenger deems too dangerous to exist and so destroys it. Yet, three of these stories make use of this invention. I would be wary of one use of it, but this is too many and causes an internal conflict within the structure of the anthology as a whole. Challenger might have been disingenuous; his chroniclers should not be.
A dilemma that a book like this has is whether the stories should stylistically copy the original, or have narrative brought up to date with more modern approaches. One positive thing these stories have in common is they have all tried to keep to the vernacular that Conan Doyle used.
This could have been an interesting addition to the Challenger portfolio if it had had a tighter editorial control on the content of the stories. As it is, it doesn’t work for this reader.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Mar-2016 Published by KnightWatch

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Col Buchanan

FARLANDER by Col Buchanan

This is the first novel from a new author who is still learning. He’s got a few things right: the pace is fair and the characters aren’t entirely stereotypes but there are obvious good guys and obvious bad guys; the plot runs smoothly and doesn’t drag anywhere. The characterisation is reasonable but could do with more depth.
Let’s start with the good stuff…
Ash is a trained ninja assassin working for a sect that exacts retribution when any of its clients are murdered. He’s getting old and his even older master has decided he should take an apprentice.
Nico has been living on the streets of Bar-Khos since he ran away from home. It’s hard enough on the streets but Bar-Khos has been under siege for the last 10 years and many of the people are starving. Nico finally resorts to theft but in choosing Ash to steal from he has chosen the wrong person.
Suddenly he finds he has two options – go to jail or become the assassin’s apprentice.
Kirkus is the heir apparent to the Empire of Mann. His mother is the Matriarch of the religious order that controls most of the world. The order is based on some pseudo-Nietzchean ideal that actually encourages senseless casual violence and murder. He’s just become Ash’s next target.
The story takes Ash and Nico on a mission to kill Kirkus who is protected by the best that the empire can provide. Where the story fails is in the background which is a bit of a disaster. The siege on Bar-Khos takes up a great deal of the book even though it doesn’t merit it once the central characters have left. The siege is much like something from our Middle Ages. The city is protected by multiple large earthworks that would stop a frontal assault and keep all but the biggest guns far enough away to render them useless. Since there is some kind of restriction on supplies of gunpowder, no-one could build any gun powerful enough to be effective against that. There are enough details of the various attempts to undermine the walls to explain why these fail. When Ash and Nico leave the city it is by airship. This kind of airship appears to work like a 15th-18th century warship complete with cannon that flies.
During the voyage it is explained that the Empire of Mann has a whole fleet of these warships and that the strategic importance of Bar-Khos lies in it being both an active seaport and an active airport. There is no explanation at all as to how a city under siege manages to remain an open port or why an empire with a major air fleet should be bogged down in a ground assault on a city that has no protection from above.
This is far from the only detail that hasn’t been properly thought out. The story opens with something set in a frozen wasteland that is shown on the map as coastal and halfway up the map. Places further up and down are described as temperate so this seems wrong. Maybe some of this is to be explained in later volumes of the series but I can’t really see how.
This is an adequate novel if you don’t pay too much attention. Think about it too much and it falls apart.

Reviewed by William McCabe May-2010 Published by Tor

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Tobias S Bucknell

ARCTIC RISING by Tobias S Bucknell

This is a book that has good ideas and a well thought out future. With climate change and global warming, the Arctic icecap has melted with the exception of the area immediately around the pole. That is only kept frozen by artificial means and is largely a symbol of the past, a reminder of when the planet was in better shape. The fabled North West passage has long been opened up to shipping and is the most direct route between Europe and Asia as it runs along a great arc to the north of Canada.
Anika Duncan is a pilot. That is all that she has ever wanted to be. Her experience is varied but now she is working for the United Nations Polar Guard flying an airship. Airships use less fuel than conventional aircraft and are thus more economical in a world that restricts the uses to which petro-chemicals are put. She and her co-pilot, Tom Hutton, patrol the passage looking, in particular for rogues dumping industrial waste including radio-active materials. When one ship seems to be going a bit too fast and the instruments register radioactivity, they request it to stop for inspection. Instead of complying, the crew opens fire causing the airship to crash, killing Tom. Anika now finds herself part of an action-packed thriller where unknown parties are trying to kill her because she saw the ship and are afraid she will be able to identify the crew. With the aid of some new friends she has to take the fight for liberty and justice outside of the official channels.
There are many readers for whom this kind of fast paced adventure is exactly what they want to read after a difficult day at the workface; however, the discerning will find it flawed. Most of the defects are character driven. Anika is supposed to be a person who is passionate about flying. It is what her life has revolved about to the point that the story starts. As the story progresses, she seems to lose interest in it, regarding aircraft as just another means of getting to where she wants to be.
There is also the problem of Anika herself. She is described as a black lesbian, yet there is no feeling for these character traits, or at times that the character is actually female. If an author is going to write about someone who will stand out in the society they are portrayed against, is would make sense to use those qualities to develop the plot and advance the situations they find themselves in. Here, opportunities are lost almost as if they are forgotten in the course of the plot. A shame as this could have made the book outstanding.
Despite the well-structured future and the pace of the action, I am not sufficiently interested to seek out the next volume in this saga (There has to be one as this ends on a cliff-hanger.)

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Jan-2014 Published by DelRey

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Alan Campbell

GOD OF CLOCKS by Alan Campbell

GOD OF CLOCKS is Alan Campbell’s final book in The Deepgate Codex series following SCAR NIGHT and IRON ANGEL, reviewed by myself in the Brum Group News (issues 457 and 458 respectively).
SCAR NIGHT described a gothic horror setting which played host to a fantasy tale. IRON ANGEL widened Campbell’s fantasy world and showcased his ability to craft interesting characters with so much twist that there may be little left of anything else left. Through the first two volumes I found the author to be capable of inventive ideas and sometimes gripping action, but also often bogged down in over emphasised description.
This third book is much closer to the second than the first; indeed it feels as if they might have been written back to back. Rather than more wild creation, the vistas opened up in the second volume are here developed further. So, too, are the characters that were introduced in IRON ANGEL, all of whom gain greater depth here, making them rather more interesting. The story carries directly on where IRON ANGEL left off (the latter having been something of a cliff- hanger).
I think it is notable that the invention in this final volume is, perhaps a little less wild than in the previous volumes, but it is also seems considerably better conceived. One or two of the concepts in GOD OF CLOCKS are actually thought provoking (!) and satisfyingly complex. This is helped by this volume, being the final, providing all the answers and finally making sense (of sorts) of some of the more improbable seeming concepts introduced earlier.
Overall I feel that Campbell improves his writing throughout the trilogy; the third book feels tighter, with the description better balanced by the action (for anyone who missed my previous reviews I felt that the first book was so steeped in gothic horror imagery that the description overshadowed everything else, leading to an often rather turgid read).
GOD OF CLOCKS inherits its storyline directly from IRON ANGEL, and so does not meander like the former book. The plot winds pleasingly through battles in hell, personal journeys and an interesting quest through time to a reasonably satisfying conclusion. And the final question has to be: can I recommend the whole series? Well, I consider that the notably atmospheric setting and the highly curious characters will probably make it fairly memorable in comparison with many other fantasy `epics’, so I give this a tentative recommendation. Just be certain of what you are getting into – if you laugh in the face of high page counts, and fancy a trilogy steeped in blood and souls, this is quite possibly a pleasant diversion for you. Otherwise, I must suggest staying away…
P.S. I must note a particular personal criticism; if you are anything like me, you will expect that after some 1400 pages I expect a chapter or two at the end to show how the characters recover or otherwise live on after the grand climax; a 2 page epilogue following the very pages that resolve it all simply will not do to provide closure!

Reviewed by Dave Corby Jan-2010 Published by Tor

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IRON ANGEL by Alan Campbell

IRON ANGEL (also known as PENNY DEVIL) is Alan Campbell’s second book, being the second volume in The Deepgate Codex series. IRON ANGEL follows SCAR NIGHT, reviewed by myself in the Oct 2009 Brum Group News (issue 457). The recently published GOD OF CLOCKS completes the trilogy.
SCAR NIGHT described a gothic horror setting which played host to a fantasy tale. It was quite inventive, but seemed somehow limited in the scope it was willing to portray. With the second volume Campbell opens up the vistas on his world, and this volume is all the better for it. Giving the reader a view of a much wider world lends the book a more credible feel, although it does dilute the focussed Gothicism in the first volume.
My criticisms of the earlier book’s writing seem to hold true for this sequel, but reading more of Campbell’s text has given me a deeper insight into the same. In summary I felt the first book showed some promise, especially if the reader is after fantasy with gothic horror trappings, but that somehow not enough content seemed to fill up the 550 pages and I could not see where all the words went! Well, now I have figured it out – Campbell spends some time re- iterating his descriptions, presumably to hammer home the effect, but I started to find myself wishing I didn’t have to read the fourth or fifth description of a thing just to get on with the action.
At the beginning of the book the characters from SCAR NIGHT seem to be simply trying to survive, seeming to have little to do, and as such the story seems to meander without decisively going anywhere. However, in amongst all this I did find that Campbell has introduced an interesting selection of new characters, expanding on and deepening some of the ideas in the series. This aspect of the book showcased the author’s ability to craft interesting concept- characters who are almost thought-experiments in their divorcement from humanity.
After about the half-way mark the story seems to come together, and the book gains a measure of urgency, and even became quite exciting at points – and I did find myself getting that old ‘can’t put it down’ feeling, if only for a few chapters. This gives me hope – I am sure Campbell can, at least, be a dynamic writer, if he tightens the description up a bit.
IRON ANGEL is a worthy sequel to Scar Night, as far as that goes; and if you enjoyed the first you will probably enjoy Iron Angel more so; I feel Campbell has improved with the second volume, but only incrementally. Unfortunately the good stuff is rather swamped by the over-emphasised description, and therefore I cannot recommend IRON ANGEL unreservedly.

Reviewed by Dave Corby Dec-2009 Published by Tor

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SCAR NIGHT by Alan Campbell

SCAR NIGHT is Alan Campbell’s first book. Alan has a background in video game design, having worked as a designer for Rockstar Games on the popular Grand Theft Auto series. He left this industry several years ago to take up writing and SCAR NIGHT was published in 2007. Since then he has turned this book into a trilogy with IRON ANGEL (also known as PENNY DEVIL) and the recently published GOD OF CLOCKS.
The commendations accompanying the blurb gush the usual hyperbole as if this book was the greatest thing in fantasy to come along since THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Alas, I cannot really agree with that. Neal Asher writes “I haven’t read a fantasy this good in years” by which I can only assume he hasn’t read much fantasy.
From the blurb one might think this is a deeply gothic and dark tale, full of the promise to plumb your darkest nightmares. Except that really it isn’t.
Initially, at least, the prose invokes many a ‘dark’ description, drenching everything in blood. Furthermore, the setting, being a city hung by massive chains over a pit, in the depths of which reside the souls of the dead, at first seems improbably steeped in gothic-horror imagery.
However, after a while the description settles down and the book becomes more akin to a common fantasy novel. The characters are well described, and seem to have understandably human motivations, but often are slightly one dimensional, making the whole story sometimes seem over-simple.
And the story itself, while taking some pleasing twists (which surprised me at least once) would have fitted quite nicely into a book of half the page count. In fact, given the large number of pages I am not sure where all the words went…
The text is easy to read and only occasionally felt cluttered (increasing my mystery as to why so many words were necessary). One critic writes that Campbell “effortlessly channels… Mervyn Peake”. Having read Peake I find this praise to be poppycock. Peake could stop me on any given page with a word I needed to look up; none of Campbell’s text gave me pause for lexicographical thought. But this is not necessarily a criticism, as I sometimes enjoy a `light’ read that I don’t have to work at.
The book makes one or two mistakes; for example, it is set in a city, but character development outside of the 10 or 11 major characters necessary to the story is virtually non-existent. As a result the city feels rather empty; in 550 pages a little more could be set aside to give the city inhabitants some character, surely?
Overall I must say that I don’t think SCAR NIGHT is a bad book per se, but it is a first book and I think this shows in the lack of subtlety and occasional heavy-handedness apparent in the text. The twists in the story were pleasant though, and by the time you are halfway through the improbable-seeming setting has resolved itself in a fairly logical manner. If one is intrigued by the idea of a modern fantasy with gothic-horror scenery then this may be a book for you. And now I can look forward to reading IRON ANGEL, the first sequel (review to follow); who knows, maybe with the practice first volume out of the way, Campbell can iron out some of the faults…

Reviewed by Dave Corby Oct-2009 Published by Tor

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SEA OF GHOSTS by Alan Campbell

This book is the first part of The Gravedigger Chronicles a new series by the author of The Deepgate Codex trilogy. It is set in an ecologically damaged world that is slowly drowning after a genocidal war between mankind and their brutal oppressors the Unmer, a powerful civilization of sorcerers and dragon-mounted warriors.
Mankind only won the war with the aid of a sisterhood of telepaths, the Haurstaf, and an Unmer renegade. When the Unmer realised that they couldn’t win the war they distributed untold thousands of ‘ichusae’, little glass bottles that when opened release an unending flow of toxic brine. Immersion in this liquid turns unprotected skin into leathery ‘shark skin’; drowning in it turns people into the living dead who metamorphose into stone when they are exposed to dry air. In turn the Haurstaf hold the world to ransom.
Colonel Thomas Granger, one of the last of the Gravediggers, an erstwhile elite imperial infiltration unit, insults the emperor he once served and takes refuge by becoming a jailer in Ethugra - a city of brine flooded streets and gaols. After six years of this new grimy existence he takes possession of two new prisoners, one of whom, Ianthe, turns out to be the daughter he never knew he had. She has an extraordinary psychic talent which could be a threat to the Haurstaf and all the world’s power mongers.
SEA OF GHOSTS, as well as being written from the viewpoint of Tom Granger and Ianthe, tells the tales of Ethan Maskelyne the unappointed ruler of Ethugra, an amateur scientist and avid collector of Unmer esoterica and Sister Briana Marks head of the Haurstaf sisterhood.
SEA OF GHOSTS is a book worth persevering with. If I had not been reviewing the book I would have abandoned it after the first hundred pages or so.
However I am glad that I did not as the story improved immensely into a rich dark tale of ancient and current enmity, treachery and unshakeable loyalty. I’m now looking forward to reading the next episode in The Gravedigger Chronicles.

Reviewed by Jim Pearce Apr-2011 Published by Tor

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Orson Scott Card

CHILDREN OF THE MIND by Orson Scott Card

Regrettably, this is a "do not start from here" book. This is the fourth volume of the Ender saga, the others o f which will stand alone. Children of the Mind is a direct continuation from the third, Xenocide, and you need to be familiar with the characters and what has gone before to gain full understanding.
Ender's Game told the story o f a boy, Andrew Wiggan (the Ender of the title) who was tricked into destroying an entire alien species. He reappears in Speaker for the Dead centuries later, his life prolonged by interstellar travel on the world of Lusitania, invited there to Speak the life of one of the colonists. It is a planet which has a native sentient species but it is only during this book that the relationship between the alien species. It is here, that Ender finds a home for the only surviving Hive Queen (from the species he reputedly slaughtered).
Xenocide introduces new characters; Wang-mu whose planet is populated by a high percentage of people suffering from a genetic illness, and Jane a computer entity.
Children of the Mind follows the attempts o f Wang-mu and Peter (an Ender replica) to stop the fleet that is on the way to destroy Lusitania.
The other problem is to save Jane. The system that is her life-support system is to be shut down to purge her from the system. The solutions make fascinating reading.
The first two books in the series won Hugos and should therefore be on everyone's reading list, the quality o f the writing here does not disappoint either.
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Apr-2000 Published by Orbit

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Jacqueline Carey

NAAMAH’S KISS by Jacqueline Carey

This is the seventh book in the Kushiel’s Legacy series and the first following the life and adventures of Moirin mac Fainche born to the Maghuin Dhonn; the folk of the Brown Bear, the oldest tribe in Alba.
Once there were great magicians born to the Maghuin Dhonn but now, only small gifts remain to them. Moirin possesses such gifts - the ability to summon the twilight and conceal herself and the skill to coax plants to grow.
The book follows her life from childhood on being raised in the wilderness by her reclusive mother. When she is about ten she is taken on a visit to Clunderry for a Midsummer’s Day festival and Moirin learns how illustrious, if mixed, her heritage is. She is the great granddaughter of Alais the Wise, child of the Maghuin Donn, and a cousin of the Cruarch (Ruler) of Alba. She also learns her father was a D'Angeline priest dedicated to serving Naamah, goddess of desire. It is during this visit that she starts to sense the presence of unfamiliar gods in her life; the bright lady, and the man with a seedling cupped in his palm.
When Moirin undergoes the rites of adulthood, she finds divine acceptance, but her destiny lies somewhere beyond the ocean. Traveling to Terre d'Ange she finds her father, develops her talents, becomes an intimate of the Royal Court, being distantly related to the ruling family, and almost dies. Here she finds that her destiny requires her to travel with a visiting Ch’in philosopher who is summoned back to his homeland to save the life of a blindfolded warrior princess. When she arrives she finds that more is at stake, the fates of nations hang in the balance.
Moirin’s story will continue in NAAMAH’S CURSE to be published later in 2010.
For once I concur with the comments on the back of the book. I found it hard to put down, a most enjoyable read; the text flowed easily, leading the reader through the life of a likeable heroine, and all the characters were well described. The fact that this was a book of over 600 pages was no burden. In addition, the fact that this is the seventh book in a series is not a hindrance to enjoyment as stated earlier, this is the first book following the life of Moirin mac Fainche and as such easily stands alone. I highly recommend it to potential readers.

Reviewed by Jim Pearce Mar-2010 Published by Gollancz

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Amanda Carlson

FULL BLOODED (Jessica McClain 1) by Amanda Carlson

Jessica McClain is the only female werewolf in an all-male werewolf race. Except that Jessica has never changed - it's not supposed to happen. Yet one night she wakes up in body wrenching pain to find her body going through the change, so she tries to grab the serum left for her to halt the process by knocking her unconscious, the serum she wasn't meant to need. Through mind-tomind connection, Jessica is able to communicate with her twin brother, Tyler and her Dad, which is quite handy considering she wakes up naked and injured and unsure where she is after her first change.
Her new found status as a fullblooded wolf is about to rock the supernatural status quo with major ramifications, particularly as her father Callum is Pack Alpha. She wakes up again after passing out to find herself back at the Compound she had moved out of seven years before. In the real word she had built a life as Molly Hannon, working with Nick as part of a detective business. The Compound has a number of 'Essentials'; humans who know about the supernatural community but keep it quiet: doctors, nurses, lawyers and the like. It's up to Callum to protect his daughter and keep her change a secret from the Pack. According to the Cain Myth, Jessica’s change would bring the downfall of the Pack.
Carlson's debut novel is a rollicking read, fast-paced and immense fun. Her authorial voice, especially as wolf and woman is very strong, the whole piece having been written in first person, or what C E Murphy has referred to as "first person snark"; an accurate description. Carlson mixes more supernatural stuff into the novel, with Jessica's business partner Nick being a werefox and their secretary Marcy being a talented witch. The case she returns to work on also involves an imp that's a little too friendly with the local females.
As Jessica struggles with her new status she finds her appetite and senses increased as well as her interior wolf battling her for control. It all makes for an interesting supernatural novel fraught with tension and laced with plenty of humour. A nice addition to the werewolf sub-genre of modern Urban Fantasy.

Reviewed by Theresa Derwin Jul-2014 Published by Orbit

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Lee Carroll

BLACK SWAN RISING by Lee Carroll

In post-Buffy days, urban fantasy has been as common as, well, the common cold. And it is not always easy when choosing an urban fantasy to differentiate between the good, the average or the just plain poor.
Luckily for readers, we Reviewers (poor souls) encounter all sorts of examples from the genre to test our patience.
And luckily for this Reviewer, BLACK SWAN RISING is actually really rather good.
The surface plot is quite straight forward.
Twenty-something single girl Garet becomes embroiled in an investigation into a mysterious burglary at her father’s art gallery, aided by obligatory nice vampire Will Hughes.
She is on a mission to clear her father’s name; he is accused of organising the burglary to commit insurance fraud. Garet is also left holding a puzzling silver box bearing the swan emblem as its lock. The silver box opens a doorway to The Summer Country, home of the fey and Garet is the ‘Watchtower’, guardian to this doorway. And that really is just the surface plot.
I was pleasantly surprised at this easy read that had lots to offer in the way of character dimension (our heroine does not just swoon or have sex), plot development and a clear indication of the dual writers thorough research into its artistic and jewellery embedded background. There are plenty of cultural references for genre fans, including a scene in an antique store particularly reminiscent of a certain Peter Cushing film. There is also a post 9/11 atmosphere than embodies this novel, handled with both tact and poignant emotion. Better still, the sex that normally accompanies this sub-genre is for plot development and is suitably low key.
All in all, this novel was an enjoyable read, and I was actually pleased to learn it is part one of a trilogy.
Watch out for THE WATCHTOWER coming in August 2011.

Reviewed by Theresa Derwin Jun-2011 Published by Bantam

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THE WATCHTOWER by Lee Carroll

It didn’t surprise me to find that Lee Carroll is the pseudonym for two Americans. They have fallen into the trap that even highly respected writers encounter when trying to set novels in other countries and other times. They get it wrong. This book is written as two parallel sections. One deals with Garet James, a modern American woman who has fallen in love with a vampire only to discover that the original focus of his affections was her fourhundred year dead ancestress. Marguerite was an immortal fey who gave up her immortality to be with Will Hughes at the same time as he was trying to become immortal to be with her and was tricked into becoming a vampire by John Dee. One strand of the narrative relates Will’s original quest for immortality, the other follows Garet’s search for a way to make Will mortal again. Although the modern sections may well have been visited and recorded accurately by the authors, there are so many inaccuracies in the English Tudor sections to make the novel extremely irritating. To compound matters, one character, who has an extensive part, is referred to only as ‘the poet’ when patently this is supposed to be Shakespeare. Also, the only place that states that this is the second volume in a trilogy is in the acknowledgments, which most people do not read. Instead it drops you straight into the middle of the story with so many issues in the past lives of the characters that it is difficult to understand where they are coming from. Disappointing.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Dec-2011 Published by Bantam

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Rae Carson

THE CROWN OF EMBERS by Rae Carson

In the distant past, when I started reading SF, there was no such thing as Young Adult fiction.
Children’s books were divided into age categories but after sixteen, you put away childish books and joined the adult library. If you were adult enough to leave school and get a job, you were old enough to read any book. At the same time, the subject matter was different. There was less gore, sex stopped at the bedroom door and there were taboos regarding what could and could not be written about. William Burroughs was positively scandalous and D.H.
Lawrence’s LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER became a renowned court case. Young people did not have emotional crises. Then the teenager was invented and attitudes changed. These days Young Adult fiction is categorised by having protagonists in the sixteen to eighteen age group and who are beginning to explore their sexuality. Rae Carson writes in the YA category.
In the first volume of this trilogy, FIRE AND THORNS, seventeen yearold Elisa is married to the king of Joya d’Arena. She is a little too plump to be beautiful but she has one asset. She was born with a Godstone set in her navel.
This turns cold when she is in danger. By the end of the first novel, her husband is dead and she has been proclaimed Queen, partly because she was able to rally the army and defeat her sorcerous enemies.
At the start of THE CROWN OF EMBERS, instead of building on her strengths she had reverted to being an indecisive adolescent, doubting her capabilities and allowing the members of the Quorum of advisers to use her as a doormat, taking decisions from her hands. She accepts the suggestion that she should marry and is pushed to see a number of suitors. Of them, the only one she has any liking for, Tristán, turns out to prefer male companionship. The man she really fancies is the commander of the Royal Guard, her late husband’s best friend, Hector. After a couple of barely failed assassination attempts, the spark of the original Elise begins to resurface. To wrong-foot her enemies she announces that she is going to the Southern part of her kingdom in order to assess whether Tristán would make a suitable consort. Her real reasons are two-fold, to draw her enemies away from the city of Brisadulce and to find out more about the powers of the Godstone.
Being a YA novel, Elise has to pass through a further ‘rite of passage’ during the course of the book. She has to begin to reassert her true adult personality and she has to experience all the angst adolescents are prey to in the presence of someone they are sexually drawn to. Here it is the realisation that a relationship with Hector is what she wants but might be politically inadvisable.
(There is also the worry that he doesn’t actually like her but hangs around because of a sense of duty).
At the start of this volume, Elise is shaping up to be a tiresome pawn in other people’s plans but the plot gradually becomes more engaging. The friendship between Elise and her maid, Mara, is nicely handled as Mara is able to guide Elise along her route to potential maturity in ways that none of the others do.
The book is typical of its genre. Some older readers may find the plot a touch simplistic but it will appeal to those fourteen to eighteen year-olds that it is aimed at.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan May-2013 Published by Gollancz

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Kristin Cashore

GRACELING by Kristin Cashore

For a book which plunges headfirst into the plot, GRACELING takes quite a while to find its feet. Once it does hit its stride, it's a fast-paced story with an intriguing premise, some likable characters and villains you'd love to hiss. There are enough ideas here for a series too.
Katsa is the niece of one of seven squabbling kings. But that's not the reason she's valuable to her lord. She's a killer, fast and deadly.
Her talent, or ‘Grace’, develops in childhood and like all ‘Gracelings’, she has distinctive eyes. Now a young woman, she doesn't like murdering dissidents and torturing debtors but she has to obey her king … doesn't she? Feared, she has few friends, and with her odd eyes she can't even disguise herself. To salve her conscience she sets up the Council, a secret network that rescues victims of the kings’ greedy wars.
On a rescue mission, she literally bumps into one of a rival king’s sons. And he's almost as good a fighter as she is. Can she survive? Can he? By the end the reader really cares.
Once past the info dump, the tale rattles along in page-turning style. This is a fabulous and enjoyable world well worth a visit.

Reviewed by Anne Nicholls Jan-2009 Published by Gollancz

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Mark Chadbourn

JACK OF RAVENS by Mark Chadbourn

This odd mixture of present day and Celtic mythology has worked well for Chadbourn in his previous two trilogies. In JACK OF RAVENS he revisits some of the characters and ideas. Fans of the previous books are going to enjoy this volume, but there are too many elements from them that the reader needs to know about to understand what is happening. Therefore, do not read this book if you have not read at least the first trilogy.
And do not continue reading this review as it might give away too much.
Jack Churchill (Church), the hero of the first trilogy, has been thrown back in time to 100 BC. He knows he is out of time but cannot remember how he got there. He knows that Ruth, the woman he loves, is many centuries in the future.
In order to keep the balance between Existence and the Void, lines of power crisscross the Earth. When there is a need, five people, the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons, come together to combat the crisis and are able to draw on this power. After initiating the first of the five, Church falls in with Niamh, a queen of the Otherworld and is not there when the others of this five are murdered. He finds that he has been pursued from the future by Ryan Veitch. Once a Brother of Dragons, Veitch now wants revenge on Church who killed him in the first trilogy. Church has to travel through time to get back to where he belongs and save Ruth.
There are a series of short adventures in intervening time periods such as Roman Britain and Elizabethan London. It is suggested that the actions of Church and Veitch change recorded history. We are not shown what effects they actually have and the stops are too brief to fully appreciate what Chadbourn is trying to achieve. Each of these episodes probably deserves a short novel of their own so that there would be the opportunity to develop characters and explore the settings and effects of their supernatural interference. There are good set piece scenes but they are not enough to hold the book together as a coherent whole.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Jun-2007 Published by Gollancz

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THE DEVIL IN GREEN and THE QUEEN OF SINISTER by Mark Chadbourn

The blurb starts "Humanity has emerged blinking from the Age of Misrule", thus immediately indicating a sequel of sorts to Chadbourn's previous Age of Mistule series. In these series he paints a vision of our world, apparently ravaged, not by war, but by mythical creatures which now prowl the fields and towns, striking down anyone who stands in their path.
The two books here reviewed, THE DEVIL IN GREEN, and THE QUEEN OF SINISTER, approach this world in different ways. Presumably both are set some months after the Age of Misrule which Chadbourn focused on in his previous trilogy. In THE DEVIL IN GREEN, the attention is on Salisbury, where the cathedral is at the crux point of various ley lines, and thus the wrath of all sorts of nasty tilings comes down on it. Mallory is the 'hero' who joins the warrior- Christians who have set up camp in the cathedral, and soon realises the group's fundamentalist tendencies could prove catastrophic. Meanwhile he still manages to make friends, find love, and discover himself.
THE QUEEN OF SINISTER moves away from the characters of the first book, and focuses on a pleasant but somewhat complex young woman called Caitlin, who is a doctor in a town stricken with the plague. She soon learns however that there may be other forces at work behind this plague, and, sets off on a long journey to escape her past and find peace, happiness, and possibly a cure along the way. But of course things are not really that simple.
The two books are very different. The first book is set almost exclusively in and around Salisbury. For the most part the action sticks in the world as we know it. The characters are, in the main, male. The second features three very strong females, and suddenly introduces the idea of swapping dimensions, through the magic of one of the characters. There is a couple of long scenes which are not set on this world, but while they are in our dimension they travel a long distance, and there are scenes in various places such as Birmingham (it is very obvious that the author knows this city in depth). What is also different is that while the heroes are both similar in the fact that they are Brother/Sister of Dragons, the realisation of this seems to take longer in the first than the second book. THE DEVIL IN GREEN approaches this subject better, as once the protagonist realises the truth, there isn't an awful lot of self-discovery left to do, apart from, in Caitlin's case, recovering from her grief at the loss of her family. 1 sympathised a little more with Mallory who is rather less seemingly perfect an individual, and seems to suffer all the frailties of humanity, with no particular special powers. Caitlin we learn all of a sudden has MPD, a goddess living inside her, and can do all sorts of ferocious things when the mood takes her!
The best tiling about the second book was learning a bit more about the world as it is then. We meet more of these mythical characters, and not all of them are evil or out to extinguish mankind, as they seem to be in THE DEVIL IN GREEN. At the same time THE QUEEN OF SINISTER doesn't hold the same interest as far as issues and complexity goes. THE DEVIL IN GREEN has a whole host of religion-driven ideas and issues in it, and it makes very interesting reading.
Chadbourn has obviously done his research into prehistoric Britain and its Celtic culture, and this research really shows in the intensity and vividness of the books. Both are recommended reading, worthy for the sheer vivacity of the descriptions, the idea of hope in the face of desperation, and a rather cracking good adventure story!

Reviewed by Vicky Cook Sep-2004 Published by Gollancz

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THE QUEEN OF SINISTER / THE HOUNDS OF AVALON by Mark Chadbourn

These two books comprise the second and third volumes of The Dark Age series which in turn is a continuation of The Age of Misrule trilogy. In the first series, life in Britain radically changed overnight when all the myths became real and the countryside was overrun by the monsters of nightmare. Five people, the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons, were chosen by a higher power to fight for humankind. Although they triumphed in that the world was not completely destroyed, mythical creatures are still around and normality has not been restored. To counter the next threat, five more Brothers and Sisters of Dragons are chosen.
At the start of THE QUEEN OF SINISTER a plague has taken hold of the country. It resembles the Black Death but is actually supernatural in origin.
Dr Caitlin Shepherd is supremely efficient until the plague takes her husband and son. This event drives her over the edge and colours all her actions in the rest of the novel. At this time, the lament-brood, an army of the undead, begins to stalk the countryside. Some of them seem to be searching for Caitlin. Also arriving on the scene is the mysterious Crowther. He persuades Caitlin that the cure to the plague lies in the Otherworld where all the monsters have come from and that she has a chance of getting her son and husband back if she goes there. He also tells her she is a Sister of Dragons. Several others join them in their journey. At the end of it, Caitlin has to make a decision. She is not given all the information to make an informed choice, and her emotions get in the way of clear thinking.
In THE HOUNDS OF AVALON, we are introduced to a Brother and another Sister of Dragons, Mallory and Sophie. It is possible that volume one of this trilogy revolve around them as they seem to be well formed characters with a developed relationship. Caitlin is by now no longer a Sister of Dragons but desperately wants to get her status back. Much of the action revolves around Oxford where the remnants of government have retreated. Here we meet Hunter, a military assassin. He discovers he is also a Brother of Dragons. To stand any chance of defeating the forces that are rapidly approaching in the midst of an unusual July winter there must be five. It may be up to Hal, Hunter’s quiet, unassuming and bookish friend, to discover the answers.
Both these books are good, fast paced adventures and can be read together as a pair if the first is unavailable. It is probably better not to dwell too much on issues that are ignored. For example, we are told that Britain is isolated from the rest of the world, yet there are still helicopters and, in Oxford at least, electricity and a semblance of normality. Is the rest of the world in a similar turmoil or has Britain disappeared from the view of the Continent? Are they trying to break through? No mention is made of Ireland which shares the Celtic mythology that is overwhelming the island. And why only the Celtic mythos?
Unless, in India chaos has resulted from the return of the demons and such gods as Kali and Shiva. Is China ravaged by real dragons? Perhaps there are stories yet to be told about the return of the gods and demons of other cultures.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Jun-2006 Published by Gollancz

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WORLD’S END by Mark Chadbourn

I should first declare a slight bias - I’ve been a fan of Mr Chadbourn since I read his second novel NOCTURNE some years back. At the time I bored all my friends recommending and enthusing about it and published rave reviews every where I could.
WORLD’S END, subtitled “Book One of the Age of Misrule” is (amazingly) every bit as good as NOCTURNE. Not as atmospheric perhaps, but every bit as enthralling - and with more volumes to come!
Drawing heavily on Celtic myth and British folklore in general, and Arthurian legend in particular (I’d love to see Chadbourn and Robert Holdstock discuss their differing approaches to these topics on a con panel sometime!), Chadbourn tells a tale of the end of the Age of Reason.
As technology and science begin to fail Jack Churchill and Ruth Gallagher are forced to embark on a desperate quest for four “magickal” items from the previous Age of Magic. If they find these there is a chance that there might be a place for humanity as the old order returns - but there are no guarantees and the big question is can the ancient “gods” be trusted?
If you’re into dark, apocalyptic fantasy this is definitely for you, if not try it anyway - Chadbourn is a powerful storyteller and he might just convert you!
Reviewed by Martin Tudor Aug-2000 Published by Gollancz

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Becky Chambers

A CLOSED AND COMMON ORBIT by Becky Chambers

This is a sequel to the 2016 Clarke Award-nominated THE LONG WAY TO A SMALL, ANGRY PLANET (reviewed in March 2016 newsletter #534). The original novel was a fun space opera which followed the mixed human and alien crew of the Wayfarer on a long voyage to build a new hyperspace tunnel. It was full of both different alien species and personalities, all trying to live harmoniously in a galactic civilisation. Its major strengths were the detailed construction of the differing alien races and cultures and the many diverse, interesting characters. A CLOSED AND COMMON ORBIT is set in the same universe but wisely in my opinion, choses to move on from the crew of the Wayfarer. Instead it concentrates on two characters who, although appearing in the first book, were more minor characters. The story starts with the artificial intelligence, Sidra awakening in a synthetic body designed to pass as human. In her previous existence, she was a ship’s AI, her sole purpose monitoring and caring for a ship’s crew. Unfortunately, and unintentionally, during the transfer process, her personality was reset to the factory standard so she is totally unprepared for her new life and must rapidly learn and adapt to her new situation. This is further complicated as the galactic civilisation does not allow AI’s to exist independently and if her existence is revealed, she will be destroyed. However, Sidra is not alone. She is sheltered and guided by Pepper, one of the engineers who helped in the transfer process, who as we gradually learn knows quite a bit herself about starting over in a completely new world.
The title of A CLOSED AND COMMON ORBIT refers to two astronomical concepts. A closed orbit is an orbit that repeatedly returns to the same starting point. The common orbit of the title refers to two bodies sharing the same orbit. These are an elegant description of the structure and narrative of this story. It alternates between two stories, that of Sidra and also of Jane 23, a child slave who escapes from her enforced labour. As the reader swings between the two narratives, we see the parallels and common themes of their lives which eventually converge together.
This book is more reflective and focused than the previous novel, which might not suit everyone, especially those who may be disappointed that their favourite, more flamboyant characters are absent. However, I personally like that the author has the courage to produce something different rather than taking the perhaps safer option of sticking with the same characters and situation.
Despite this change, the writing still has many of the strengths of the original. The characters, whether alien, human or AI are credible and not clichéd. Again, whilst there is an enjoyable and interesting plot the novel is not solely focused upon action but also upon the value of caring and supportive inter-personal relationships as well. The author also retains the ability to craft characters that the reader deeply cares about, not only Pepper and Sidra, but the alien Tak and the AI, Owl among them. It subtly promotes the message that the best societies are those which value and respect all sapients equally whatever their differences. This second novel clearly shows a writer who is growing in confidence and ability from an already impressive debut. This is very good, stylish and character-driven SF with emotional depth from an author not content to rest on her laurels but to dare something different. Carol Goodwin

Reviewed by Dec-2016 Published by Hodder and Stoughton

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THE LONG WAY TO A SMALL, ANGRY PLANET by Becky Chambers

This entertaining space opera has an interesting route to publication. The author funded her writing time via a Kickstarter appeal. It was then successful enough in the highly competitive self-published field to be offered a publishing contract by Hodder (UK) and Harper Voyager (US).
The Wayfarer is a dilapidated old spaceship which builds hyperspace tunnels between solar systems. When young Rosemary Harper joins its mixed human and alien crew she is looking for a break from her privileged but troubled past and a chance to see more of space than the narrow confines of the Solar system. Soon after she joins, the admittance of a new species into the galactic alliance provides them with a unique and lucrative opportunity. The Wayfarer is hired to build a new high-speed tunnel to connect the new species’ system to the galactic network. The only catch is that the tunnel needs to be anchored from the new system, which means a long outward journey through war-torn and unstable systems. The challenges along the way uncover secrets from all the crew’s past as they work together to survive the threats along their route.
The main enjoyment for me in this book is the characters of the various crew-members and the development of their relationships. This is a crew that is diverse in the extreme, and has credible aliens with different morphology, biology and cultures from the human representatives in the crew. The alien crew-members include a six-legged chef and medic, Dr Chef; the reptiloid pilot, Sissix; a navigator infected with a symbiotic intelligent virus, Ohan and an intelligent AI running the ship’s systems, Lovelace. The human crew members also have very different personalities; the new member, Rosemary, at first quiet and over-awed but who grows in confidence; the reclusive and emotionally distant life-support technician, Corbin; the scatter-brained but brilliant engineer, Kizzy and her partner-in-crime, the smart-mouthed but friendly computer technician, Jenks and finally the long-suffering captain, Ashby struggling to keep them all in order and in business. Unlike many space operas, this is an optimistic story. Although there are hardships and losses, what is gratifying is the way that the crew do work together and support each other including, very importantly, emotionally as well as practically.
The world-building is excellent and the journey introduces us to other characters and civilisations than just the crew members. Although the main focus is on the crew, there are plenty of events which keep the story flowing at a satisfactory pace. It is evident that substantial effort has gone into planning the complex inter-relationships both within the crew and the differing galactic races. The author has exceptional imagination and as a debut novel this is extremely impressive. Although the word might not be quite appropriate given the aliens in the plot, it is the humanity and emotional depth of this novel which I really liked. Although an enjoyable space opera, it might not suit anyone who prefers an all-action type of narrative. And finally, in case it has got lost in all the above, it must be emphasised that this book is great fun and extremely readable.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Mar-2016 Published by Hodder

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Anne Charnock

A CALCULATED LIFE by Anne Charnock

This SF novel is set in the near future. Super-intelligent Jayna works for a big corporation sifting through vast amounts of data to predict future trends. Jayna is hardly ever wrong and the company has made large investment profits following her guidance. However there is something different about Jayna, which the reader only slowly discovers and thus she struggles to comprehend her fellow workers. When her forecasts start to go wrong she believes the data accessible through the company is too limited. She tries to gain a better knowledge of people and society around to help but this leads her into dangers and uncovers hidden unpleasant aspects of a society which had previously seemed benign and utopian.
I found this book difficult to get into at first, mainly because we are given little information at first about the society and Jayna. However it repaid perseverance and I found I thoroughly enjoyed the incremental, slow accumulation of details which fitted perfectly with Jayna’s pursuit of knowledge and emotional development. Although very intelligent, Jayna’s experience is very limited and she is socially awkward. This makes it hard to find her sympathetic at first but as she slowly builds information and begins to question society and her place in it she becomes a fuller and more interesting character. The book looks at the nature of what it is to be human and how much “genetic engineering” should be for the benefit of the individual or the state. I also liked that a lot of people in the society, especially the privileged, do not see the problems and are quite comfortable with the status quo as this seemed realistic.
This book is very well-written and constructed and is worthy of far more attention. Anne Charnock is a very successful journalist and foreign correspondent with articles published in The Guardian, New Scientist and the International Herald Tribune amongst others. This experience shows in the quality of this literary SF. Others obviously agree as it was nominated for the Philip K Dick and Kitschies Awards in 2013. It is not the type of science fiction which dwells on a lot of technical details so is possibly not for the hard SF fans. That said the development from today to the future in this book seems very believable.
I am not always a fan of literary SF but this book repaid persistence and was of a very high quality. Its slower pace is not for everyone but fit with the main character and her journey. As good SF books should do it speculates on the effects of future developments on humanity and gets you thinking.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Jan-2015 Published by 47 North

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THE ENCLAVE by Anne Charnock

In this novella, Anne Charnock returns to the near future United Kingdom of her first novel, A CALCULATED LIFE (which was a finalist for the Philip K Dick Award). In that novel genetic engineering was aiding the establishment of an elite, with access to upgrades for intelligence, antisocial behaviour etc. whilst the majority are denied these and form a struggling underclass. Whilst A CALCULATED LIFE looked mainly at the privileged through the eyes of a naïve “simulant” Jayna, this novella looks in more detail at the general population, living on minimal support and surviving on a mixture of wits and intimidation.
The story is told mainly from the viewpoint of two characters who live in an “enclave” outside the city, where like a shanty town most of the available jobs are menial or dirty, and people are constantly scrabbling to make a living. These two characters are Caleb, a bright and enterprising twelve-year old refugee and Ma Lexie, a young widow who is barely tolerated by her husband’s gang family and surviving by using young children without parents as child labour to recycle thrown-away clothes and scraps to eke out a living. Caleb was “recruited” by a scout for the gangs from a travelling refugee group after he lost his mother and he now works in Ma Lexie’s group. When Caleb manages to catch Ma Lexie’s attention with his designs for improving clothes, she promotes him and this allows him a little more freedom to plot an escape. Both characters are simultaneously victims and manipulators. Ma Lexie may control the children’s lives but she is in turn controlled by the gang who at any time could take away her “business”. She promotes Caleb for her own advantage but also in a desire for company and someone to look after her. This is a society where everyone uses everyone.
In a short 59 pages, Anne Charnock constructs a very believable world which could easily be extrapolated from current events. This is an excellent example of “show not tell” – it touches on many serious issues whilst still keeping the story paramount and is more effective for leaving the reader to think and draw their own parallels. The characterisation is superb – one is both sympathetic and repulsed by the actions of the characters. The prose is first- rate – precise and sharply accurate, building up a wealth of detail via small observations. It is not a work where the technology is at the forefront, or with a large amount of “action” (although events do happen and there is a very definite plot). and thus, may not suit fans of more traditional SF. However, in my opinion, Anne Charnock in this novella has shown yet again that she can write extremely intelligent and thought-provoking SF.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Sep-2017 Published by NewCon

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Mark Charon Newton

NIGHTS OF VILLJAMUR by Mark Charon Newton

A convoluted, confused plot, unlikeable characters and an aimless storyline makes this one of the less enjoyable books I have read.
The underlying story is of a world in chaos at the approach of an ice age. The old emperor dies and his daughter Rikka faces an attempted coup by her chancellor (shades of STAR WARS). Her loyal Captain of the Night guard must face the undead and thwart assassination attempts to keep her alive.
Subplots include a detective investigating the murder of one of the councillors in the capitol, while struggling with complications in his personal life, and the story of Kapp Brimir, a streetwise womaniser who kills a palace worker to steal his identity to enter the Palace with his own agenda.
The book lacks pace, and fails to engage the reader in the problems of the main characters, while the political intrigue, because of its lack of focus also falls short.
The concept of the world is interesting with its various races, especially the Garudas, an avian race used as sentries and scouts, but too little is made of them, and the many cultures and races really needed a glossary to make them more accessible. Also the sweep of action was confusing without a map to refer to.
This was a disappointing handling of an intriguing world and its potential.
Not recommended.
Reviewed by Graham Thorpe Oct-2009 Published by Tor

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Mike Chinn

GIVE ME THESE MOMENTS BACK by Mike Chinn

GIVE ME THESE MOMENTS BACK is an anthology of short stories by British Fantasy Award nominee, Mike Chinn who is also I believe a member of the Birmingham Science Fiction Group. This collection of eighteen stories covers a very wide range of subjects. Whilst most have a supernatural or horror theme, there are also a couple of contemporary stories and a couple which fall into the science fiction area.
The short story form is not everyone’s cup of tea as the limited length does tend to expose any flaws in a writer’s technique. With an experienced disciplined writer however they are a very effective method of storytelling. In this collection the author is excellent at establishing a sense of place and also atmosphere. The stories show a wide range of ideas and imagination. The story often arises from the location and is not using the lazy, standard tropes of many other writers.
I am not a fan of slasher-style horror and this collection demonstrates how unnecessary that is and how more disturbing it can be to leave some things to the readers’ imaginations. Instead the stories develop from an initial disquiet, with incremental revelations which build to the final often nasty conclusion without complying with a superfluous obligation to go into graphic detail.
As with any collection of stories, there will always be some which appeal to a reader more than others. All I can do to give you a bit of a flavour of the book is to briefly describe a few of the stories. Those which I most enjoyed were “Welcome to the Hotel Marianas” which is clearly influenced by the old TV show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (clearly acknowledged in the notes at the end of the book) but which takes a dark turn, “Harbour Lights” which looks at the disadvantaged in a Barsoomian-type society and my favourite, “Kami Ga Kikoemasu” about a Japanese whaling boat haunted by a spirit monster (with again nods to MOBY DICK). There were also a couple of stories which I also did not like. I feel that the author writes women characters less well and their portrayal in two stories in particular (“Brindley’s Place” and “All Under Hatches Stowed”) made me personally uncomfortable.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Apr-2015 Published by Alchemy

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RADIX OMNIUM MALUM & Other Incursions by Mike Chinn

Anyone who has heard of Mike Chinn will probably be familiar with either his steampunk versions of Sherlock Holmes or his Damian Paladin stories. Since the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are now out of copyright, there have been a number of stories and novels (of varying degrees of competence) using his character. Mike Chinn’s rank in the higher echelons of the sub-genre but there is a danger of them being lost. Damian Paladin has, so far, two collections devoted to his exploits and are well worth hunting down. Mike, though, has written and had published a wide range of other stories, some of which are included in this new volume. From a man who keeps guinea pigs they are often surprisingly dark. Devising ways to end the world, or at least human domination of it, is a favourite pastime of horror writers. ‘Radix Omnium Malus’ (loosely translates as ‘The Root of Evil’) is reminiscent of Brian Lumley’s ‘Fruiting Bodies’ but here the malicious growth has been magically invoked and is out of hand and is consuming everything. In ‘Blood Of Eden’ instead of an indestructible plant it is Dracula threatening world domination using corporate means. ‘Cheechee’s Out’ is the start of an alien invasion, with Cthulhu-type creatures taking over men in high positions. Inevitably, there will be collateral damage. Monsters of several varieties occur within a number of these stories. The trick is doing something new with them. In ‘Sons Of The Dragon’ the road builders in Romania encounter vampire worms and ‘Considering the Dead’ relates the history of Cthulhu, but the biggest monsters are human. ‘Kittens’ begins as an urban myth, this time the story of kittens being dumped in a glass recycling bin and morphs into serial killer nastiness. In ‘Only the Lonely’ the monster is a female sexual predator. Instead of being a warning for young girls it is the middle-aged man that needs to beware. One of the causes of people believing they have had supernatural encounters is anxiety. ‘Two Weeks From Saturday’ is one of those stories that anyone who has been reluctantly included in an event will understand. For Cliff it is the impossibility of writing a decent story for the writers’ meeting run by his boss’s son that creates nightmares. Grief, too, is an emotion that can affect the mind. ‘The Streets Of Crazy Cities’ demonstrates an extreme reaction that Martyn has after the death of wife, child and several other people that he knows. It is a story that initially misleads and shows the skill of the author in its construction. These and the others stories in this volume challenge the reader. They meld folklore and myth into, mostly, modern settings. There is one historical story there, ‘Suffer A Witch’ which demonstrates petty human jealousy and the danger of drawing conclusions. Like the characters it is unwise to assume that you have all the knowledge needed to understand the situation. In ‘The Pygmalion Conjuration’ both Dennis, who finds a conjuration to bring to life photographs of desirable women for sex, and Miss Grant, the librarian who pointed him towards the relevant book, find to their cost that they have missing information. Folklore doesn’t have to have an ancient pedigree. The urban myth behind ‘The Owl That Calls’ has a more recent genesis, but even these may have some reality behind them as Tomas Ullerden discovers when expecting to debunk the sighting of a Mothman on Bodmin Moor. While many myths have their roots in a pagan or superstitious past, the coming of the steam age has imbued trains with a degree of mysticism, often involving death. Two train stories are included here. ‘Rescheduled’ sees Graeme having to go home to fetch the office keys and having distinct problems with trains, while in ‘The Mercy Seat’ Jim catches up with two friends from his youth. The memories revolve around the railway bridge by the station and the trains that run over it. Some of the stories in this volume need to be read more than once to find the subtleties in the story telling, but for anyone who wants to spend time with the uncanny and horrific they will find this volume contains gems.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Apr-2018 Published by Parallel Universe Publications

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WRITING AND ILLUSTRATING THE GRAPHIC NOVEL by Mike Chinn

The title says it all, or almost all. Long-standing BSFG member Mike Chinn has put together a book of the A-Z of writing, illustrating and selling the graphic novel minus the basic technique of drawing, the assumption being that the reader can already do this although he does go into materials, colours, computer graphics, etc., and more of the tricks and techniques of presenting the material. He discusses the various sub-genres, the devices, such as framing, used to guide the reader (viewer) through the story, styles of artwork, writing, note taking and just about everything from conception to conclusion, all illustrated profusely. In fact the book could almost serve as a basic illustrated dictionary of the graphic novel.
Because Mike is not teaching drawing per se but its application, someone like me, whose drawing skills are very basic, can also learn from his book. I've always understood graphic novels to be comics for adults (?), a view reinforced by the covers seen in bookshops but they are more than that, having the characteristics of the written novel although with a different emphasis. And it's interesting to note how many of the techniques used depend on a knowledge of the interactions between the human brain, mind and eye, techniques used in advertising, particularly in posters. Which leads me to a slightly worrying conclusion.
The human mind cannot imagine what it has not experienced. If an author writes 'The alien had a head like an oozlum' the reader would be perplexed but if he wrote 'like an eagle' the reader would understand. It does not have to be firsthand experience either - a photograph or sketch will serve as experience. And experience is learning, and learning moulds the personality. Which means that, within limits, a written novel is only a recombination of experiences, although constant rereading will have some effect on the reader. Graphic novels on the other hand are stories set visually in pictures, which are effectively second-hand experiences. Although the reader 'knows' these do not reflect reality as does the sketch of an eagle's head, they will have more effect than just the written word.
This means that it's not impossible for an avid viewer to develop over time a perception of life that is distorted. This probably won't matter too much where pictures of elves are concerned but blood 'n' guts 'n' general mayhem is a different matter. I believe there was some form of legislation in the '50s regulating the content of comic books; nowadays with the much greater ease of production and distribution perhaps graphic novelists should consider the influence that they have on their viewers.
This review seems to have developed some way from its initial sentence so I'll conclude by saying that Mike's book is not only helpful and informative for the budding graphic novelist but its of interest to anyone interested in visual 'story telling'.
For the price of a couple of paperbacks you can't go wrong!

Reviewed by Vernon Brown Mar-2005 Published by A&C Black

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Mike Chinn and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

VALLIS TIMORIS by Mike Chinn and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Copyright is a tricky minefield to navigate. Different countries interpret it differently. Once an author dies, there is a period of time before their works become out of copyright. It means that the publications can be reprinted without any royalties paid or permission required from the estate. It also means that characters created by the out-of-copyright author become available for further adventures involving them to be penned. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is out of copyright and his most celebrated character, Sherlock Holmes, is in the public domain. As a result, the BBC have created a modern version of Holmes which worked brilliantly.
Adrian Middleton has taken advantage of the situation by creating a series of books under the general heading of the “Moriarty Paradigm”. The brief for his authors includes using the original Doyle text and not only adding to improve the flow for a modern reader but to place the story in a parallel universe. The basis for this treatment by Mike Chinn is THE VALLEY OF FEAR.
The first thing to note is that this alternative Holmes is set against a steampunk background with a network of aerostats (dirigibles) across the world. Man has also reached the moon. Otherwise, it sticks very closely to the original concept for the first two sections of the book.
In both VALLIS TIMORIS and THE VALLEY OF FEAR, Holmes receives a mysterious letter from one Porlock. This is a coded warning which actually arrives too late since Holmes and Watson are shortly summoned to investigate the death of John Douglas of Birlstone Manor House. In both books, this investigation takes up the first part of the book. Chinn, however, deviates from the original script by adding a race across the English countryside between a train and an aerostat.
The next section in both is an account of how Douglas made the enemies who pursued him from America to his English retreat in order to seek revenge for a perceived betrayal. While Doyle’s account is set in a god-forsaken corner of America, Chinn has transposed the action to the moon. Same story, different place. Doyle finished his short novel with an epilogue. Chinn takes that and folds inside it an expedition by Holmes to the moon to seek the missing pieces of the puzzle.
The question is not whether this book is well written – it is – but whether it enhances the body of work that already surrounds Doyle and Holmes. The steampunk development works well and since the movement has its roots in Victorian technology it is entirely possible to envisage Holmes and Watson inhabiting this universe. For those who are not intimately familiar with Doyle’s stories, then this version is enjoyable. The purists may wonder why, since almost the whole of Doyle’s text has been incorporated into this volume. I have yet to be convinced that this is a worthwhile approach. Having said that, I did enjoy Mike Chinn’s additions.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan May-2016 Published by Fringeworks

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Zen Cho

SORCERER TO THE CROWN by Zen Cho

The challenge in reviewing a book by the guest at a Brum Group meeting before the event is to say enough to encourage members to come along and hear what they have to say and ask questions but not too much that may pre- empt the discussion at the meeting itself.
In writing SORCERER TO THE CROWN, Zen Cho has set herself a number of formidable tasks. First, as she was born in Malaysia, she is writing in a second language. Most of us find holding a conversation in another language daunting enough, so to construct a novel in it would be a formidable task. This novel, though, shows a competency in English that many native speakers don’t have. The next hurdle Zen Cho set herself was in setting the novel in an historical period. There are many writers who set their books in the past thinking they can get away with minimal research in the area ‘because there is no-one alive to contradict them’ forgetting all the sources that are available to the historian. SORCERER TO THE CROWN is set during the Napoleonic wars with France but almost entirely amongst ‘society’. As the war was overseas, it didn’t have much impact on the daily life of the wealthier classes. The feeling that politics is best left to others comes across nicely, the characters being more interested in the behaviour of their peers (not the ones in the House of Lords). This book, though, is fantasy. This is a world in which magic is real and flows from Fairy across to the familiar world where it can be used by practitioners of thaumaturgy. These are exclusively male, since it is believed that the female mind would not be able to cope. The fact that female working class servants use spells is irrelevant. The society has immediately drawn distinctions of class and sex, prejudices that were common in the period. Add to this the fact that very few people were acquainted with people of other cultures other than as novelties or members of ambassadorial parties, some of the characters have a lot to contend with. Getting the flavour of the society right with all its mores is not an easy task. Add into this mix of magic and prejudice, Zacharias Wythe. Although undoubtedly the Sorcerer Royal by ownership of the Staff of Office there are those who believe that this should be taken from him. Their reasons? He is unsuitable, being only the adopted son of the previous Sorcerer Royal. It is indisputable that he can wield magic but he is really a manumitted slave. Then there are the rumours that he murdered his predecessor, nor does he have a familiar – a volunteer from Fairy who has willingly consented to be his companion. More importantly, he has done nothing to stop the magic running out as the flow from Fairy into Britain has stopped. Not content with having one character facing difficult odds, Zen Cho introduces us to Prunella Gentleman. She is living on sufferance at a school for Gentlewitches. They are not taught the skills of magic use but conversely, how to supress it. Prunella’s father had been a lodger of the school’s proprietor before his death, leaving her behind as a small child. She has to contend with being an orphan, having magical gifts and having a (missing) mother who was probably a native of India. In SORCERER TO THE CROWN, Zen Cho tackles the problems setting her tale in a historical culture alien to many of her readers and uses it to explore topics which are still very current in today’s society. The sequel to this novel, THE TRUE QUEEN has recently been released (21st March).

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Apr-2019 Published by Pan

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THE TRUE QUEEN by Zen Cho

As many writers will tell you, producing the second novel to the high standard of the first can be fraught with difficulty. With her first novel, SORCERER TO THE CROWN Zen Cho blended history with folklore from the cultures of both England and Malaysia, added social issues that are still relevant today and stirred the mix with sorcery. This second novel, THE TRUE QUEEN contains a similar mixture but with different flavours.
The setting for both these novels is the Regency Period. England is at war with France and the British Empire is already extensive. The former barely impinges on London society as the aristocratic classes know the navy will keep them safe. Their battles are closer to home, one of them being how to persuade the rulers of fairyland to allow the flow of magic back into Britain. This was an issue not resolved in SORCERER TO THE CROWN. Off the coast of Malacca (now part of Malaysia), the island of Janda Baik is rich in magic. It is the home of Mak Genggang, a powerful witch who influenced the action in the first book. After a great storm, two girls, sisters Muna and Sakti are washed up on the island. They are taken in by the witch as they have no memory of their past. They believe themselves to be cursed so Mak Genggang resolves to send them to England to consult the Sorceress Royal – Prunella Wythe a focal character from the first book. She sends the girls by the fast route, through Fairyland. Unfortunately, Sakti vanishes en route and only Muna makes it. In England, Rollo Threlfall, one of Prunella’s friends has his own problems. A true sorcerer has a familiar who willingly serves his sorcerer. Rollo is sorcerer Damerell’s familiar (in more ways than one) and although preferring the guise of a human, is actually a dragon whose family hold estates in fairyland. His family has been entrusted to guard an object known as the Virtu. Now the Queen of the Unseen Court wants it back and it has disappeared. The Queen believes Rollo has stolen it and sends the Duke of the Navel of the Seas to issue an ultimatum to the English that if it is not returned, the Queen will wipe out England and all who live there. Rollo’s problems are tied up with those of Muna. On one level, this novel is very much a Regency Romance with added magic. It also explores various other issues. In SORCERER TO THE CROWN prejudice was a predominant theme. Prunella was not only a woman wanting to practice thaumaturgy – a province for men only – but also an orphan, penniless and of mixed heritage (it was likely that her parents were unmarried as well). Her ally, and later her husband, was a manumitted slave with the effrontery to have inherited the staff of Sorcerer Royal. Although these issues are still present to a lesser degree in THE TRUE QUEEN, others come to the fore. Zen Cho explores the relationship between sisters who are very different from each other – two sides of the same coin. Prunella’s friend Henrietta is being persuaded into a marriage she doesn’t want – for the sake of the family and the relationship between Rollo and Damerell is one that isn’t talked about in polite society. Most characters have to walk the maze of social mores. Both these novels have at their centre a mystery. Here it is not just the origins of Muna and Sakti or the whereabouts of the Virtu but why the Fairy Queen is determined not to allow England a fair flow of magic. Zen Cho won the BFS Award for Best Debut Novel in 2016 for SORCERER TO THE CROWN. Will this book have the same success? Only time will tell.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan May-2019 Published by Macmillan

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Simon Clark

VAMPYRRHIC RITES by Simon Clark

When so few novels are being published under the horror banner these days, it is good to see the occasional one gracing the shelves. There is a market for them out there.
The problem is who are they aiming it at, and do they care?
This is the sequel to VAMPYRRHIC in which a group of people were brought together in the town of Leppington to either join or vanquish the vampires who had been waiting over a thousand years for the direct descendant of their original Viking leader to direct then in a war against humanity.
Now the threat is back. Beneath the waters of Lazarus Deep, the vampires are adding to their number and these modern recruits have retained their intelligence. Once they have the right person to lead them, they can begin their campaign to rid the world of warm, living creatures. This time they have a choice. Either David Leppington who rejected their proposal of supremacy last time, or the half brother he didn’t know he had.
This is almost a good book but it treads a well worn path. The nasty killings start and the main characters are brought together but it is the factors they are initially unaware of which will spell success or disaster and a high body count. If you are looking for a quick, filmic read, this is fine. It is slow to get going and the characters do not have quite enough depth for my taste. Also, I get put off a book when factual things are wrong. Here, a raven has a yellow beak and an albino has green eyes. Where a deviation from the norm is essential to the plot it is very easy to qualify. Not doing so is a sign of sloppy editing.
Other readers may not notice, or care. Someone always does.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Nov-2003 Published by Hodder & Stoughton

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Arthur C Clarke

GREETING CARBON-BASED BIPEDS by Arthur C Clarke

In the six decades that Arthur C. Clarke has been involved in Science Fiction the growth of the modern world has evolved beyond all recognition. Some of the changes have been down to Arthur C. Clarke himself.
This book is a collection of essays and short stories concerning the way that technology has evolved with an ever faster pace and the way that Science Fiction writers have tried to predict the future, not always correctly, in their writings. As one of the Grand Old Men of S.F. Arthur C. Clarke has been involved with both the fiction and the Science fact that at the turn of the 21st century invades more and more of our daily lives. His reminiscences of the way that cience treated S.F. in the 40’s and the early 50\s are a reminder of the ostrich head in the sand syndrome. Some of the essays on the early years are quite humorous as well as very revealing about the perceived wisdom of what the future would hold for the world. As technology changed the world so the way that ordinary people viewed Science Fiction changed, from an attitude of scorn and derision to one of wary respect. Some of the essays in the chapters dealing with the 60’s and 70’s show how the start of space exploration showed the ordinary public that the imagination of the Science Fiction writers in the 20’s and 30’s was now becoming an every day reality. Not all of the essays deal solely with technology but they encompass the attitudes o f ordinary people and the politics that shape peoples lives. The concerns of rising religious fundamentalism and the damage that it can cause by keeping people ignorant and in fear and poverty when their lives can be helped by technology is also touched upon.
Interspersed through the book are stories of Arthur C. Clarke’s love of Sri Lanka and his adventures of skin diving in the seas around the island. The range of topics discussed are wide ranging and varied from his work on screen adaptations o f his novels and television programs to his work with NASA and his drive to promote outer space. Arthur C. Clarke has been called the Prophet of the Space Age and is classed as the most visionary and versatile thinker of the 20th Century. It makes one wonder that if a person with such talents was in charge of the world were would the human race be today?
Greetings Carbon-Based Bipeds is a unique insight into the thinking behind a rare imagination and well worth a read.

Reviewed by Chris Chivers Dec-2000 Published by Voyager

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RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA by Arthur C Clarke

A classic indeed, this stands head and shoulders above everything else I have read recently. Rama is a mysterious vessel apparently heading towards the Sun, for what reason nobody seems able to answer. The populations of the civilized planets, and their chiefs have many a discussion about this, but eventually as it draws closer, a taskforce is dispatched to investigate and get inside it. What they find there is beyond their imaginations… Beautifully descriptive narrative, by the end of the book I really felt a rapport with this strange alien colossal vessel. Clarke, by way of his exploring astronauts, brings the world to life for the reader, and who can forget the soaring stairways and upside down oceans? I found the mysterious South Pole harder to envisage – with all the spikes and lightning conducting going on, but this was the obviously alien side to the world, and it is a shame this was not explored further in this book.
It is of course not just about description, the sudden action sequences (with storms, hurricanes, extreme heat as well as human interventions) are enthralling and exciting, and a welcome change from the descriptions. Clarke is a master of narrative, knowing when to give the reader a break and when to keep them enchanted. The characters are well drawn too, for the most part, without delving too much into their lives back at home, we are led to feel we know them and can thus empathise with them.
The world itself is never fully explained though hints ate given as to what it could be for. This maintains some mystery about it, but is ultimately frustrating – or maybe I just like loose ends to be tied up. I believe there is a sequel to this book which I have yet to read, so maybe it is a deliberate ploy on the writer’s part, who knows. An excellent book anyway, full of suspense, action, sadness, wonder.

Reviewed by Vicky Cook Oct-2006 Published by Gollancz SF Masterworks

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THE CITY AND THE STARS by Arthur C Clarke

Originally written in 1956 and expanded from AGAINST THE FALL OF NIGHT, THE CITY AND THE STARS must rank as one of the all-time great novels in SF. It has been classed as probably Clarke’s most perfect work, and it truly deserves this accolade. This classic deserves to be required reading for all new science fiction fans as it has all the elements of a story from the golden era of SF.
Many millennia in Earth's future, there remains little of the once-proud human race and its remnants have fallen back into the refuge of the city of Diaspar. Little changes in the city as its inhabitants wile away their lives secure in the knowledge that the world around them will remain unchanged as the matrix f their lives will be held forever in the memory of the city’s master computer.
The original designers of the city put a wild card into the construction of Diaspar in the form of a ‘unique’ individual who is born with no previous lives and is seeing the city for the very first time. The ‘unique’ Alvin, the latest person to be born in Diaspar, has a yearning to see beyond the city limits and, unlike his fellow citizens, who are content to live their lives within the city boundary, is frustrated by the claustrophobic environment.
In his exploration of the city, Alvin meets up with Khedron the Jester who befriends Alvin just as he has befriended other ‘uniques’ over the millennia. With Khedron” s help, Alvin learns that the past ‘uniques’ have disappeared from Diaspar in circumstances that his tutor and guardians cannot explain to him.
The story that unfolds on Alvin’s journey of discovery, is destined to rewrite the accepted history of the human race and man’s attempt to be more than human.
Clarke’s book is a testament to the enduring power of the SF genre. Even though THE CITY AND THE STARS is nearly fifty years old, it still has the power to hold the reader and is a worthwhile addition to the SF Masterworks series.

Reviewed by Chris Chivers Nov-2001 Published by Gollancz

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THE COLLECTED STORIES by Arthur C Clarke

As titled, this is a complete collection of Clarke’s short fiction spanning sixty-four years of his writing career and incorporating several pieces which have never before appeared in book form. (In fact, I discovered a couple of items which have been omitted, though probably for good reasons. I also spotted several typographical errors carried over from a previous book publication).
The collection is neatly framed by his earliest and somewhat undistinguished effort to his latest, a "collaboration” written by Stephen Baxter which constructs a new edifice from the same theme and events and takes it to levels of social extrapolation, emotional content and literary quality undreamed of half a century ago. In between the stories cover every aspect of SF, from amusingly ingenious to inventively prescient, and range from those which are, quite frankly, somewhat pedestrian to others which have the emotional content to stir the soul. It has to be said that Clarke was never a literary genius and his writing style always left something to be desired, particularly in his earlier years, but the never ending flow of ideas and invention always made up for his stylistic shortcomings and there are enough really special bits of writing - most notably but certainly not only “The Star” for example - to compensate for any amount of lesser work. In essence, therefore, the individual stories vary from good to near-miraculous.
What I was surprised to find was that 899 ( 93% ) of these pages come from the twenty-five years between 1946 and 1971, while a mere 37 pages cover the next thirty years to the present day.
Clarke now relies largely on other hands to convert his ideas into the written word and it is pretty unlikely that there will ever be much, if anything to add to this 5 collection. It will therefore remain as a fascinating study of the work of a man whose contribution to SF is impossible to overstate. It is interesting to see how his writing has always kept pace with contemporary science, with some ideas returning for further development and I was also intrigued to find several stories which later became the basis for fulllength novels.
The 93% which I mentioned earlier constituted the contents of several book collections published during the same period and frequently reprinted. There can therefore be few readers without some degree of familiarity with what is here and because of that it is difficult to give a star rating as so many people will be in a position to provide their own.
However, it is well worthwhile having it all together in one volume and in my case simply being stimulated to read the stories again was a rewarding exercise worth a top five stars.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Mar-2001 Published by Gollancz

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THE GHOST FROM THE GRAND BANKS by Arthur C Clarke

This tells the story of the race to raise the Titanic on the centennial of its sinking, and that about sums up the plot. The novel covers some fairly stereotyped characters ranging from a world-weary engineer to a married couple, and is very heavy on engineering and techno-babble. This did not unfortunately appeal to me particularly, and I did not warm to the characters either – I would have preferred better-created characters and a human story. The lack of characterisation has been said to be typical of Clarke, so perhaps this is not surprising, but this book just did not gel with me like some of his others have (RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA, for instance).
There is some improvement near the end when the action finally picks up and things move away from all the talking and engineering – for instance there are some excellent action scenes involving an octopus and a tsunami, but on the whole it was too little too late and just not convincing. The book is too slow with not enough human story. The fact it is set in the future, but too close to our own present, grates too, though his treatment of the then much-feared Y2K subject is interesting. The story idea of having a race to raise the Titanic is also an original and interesting one.
I enjoyed the Rama series so read this to expand my familiarity with the author. However, to be honest, I was left a little disappointed by this one.

Reviewed by Vicky Cook Apr-2007 Published by Gollancz

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THE SPACE TRILOGY by Arthur C Clarke

This is an omnibus edition of three of Clarke’s works from the 50s and contains new forewords from the great man himself, putting into context the separate stories with the knowledge of fifty years of hindsight.
The first novel, ISLANDS IN THE SKY, takes the reader into the world of 16-year-old Roy Malcolm as he prepares for the journey of a lifetime into space as the winner of a TV aviation quiz show. The inner orbital space stations of Earth are regarded as part of the planet and under Earth’s jurisdiction. To a youngster’s view of things the differences between Earth and the colonies on the Moon and Mars are immaterial as he enjoys the experience of being in orbit around his home world.
As a book written in the early 50s for the ‘juvenile’ market, it is fairly simplistic in its style and content but is worth the read for the nostalgia content alone.
THE SANDS OF MARS moves the reader to the outer colony of mankind and the friction that is growing between Earth and Mars. The famous SF author Martin Gibson is taking his first trip into space to see for himself the difference between the reality of space travel and the fiction that he has been writing about for years. From Earth’s orbiting space station he is destined to travel on the inaugural flight of the Aries, a new class of ship designed for the tourist industry rather than the utilitarian ships of an earlier generation. As Aries' first flight is also being used as a shakedown cruise, Gibson is the sole passenger on board apart from the crew, and part of his being on board is to write about the trip and relay it back to Earth to publicise the tourist potential of the ship.
With the trip over, Gibson’s arrival on Mars is somewhat of an anticlimax as the ‘famous author’ is treated with some indifference by the colonists who are more interested in taking their colony to a liveable standard rather than mere survival on another world. As Gibson adjusts to the colonists and the harsh landscape that surrounds them, he finds that his attitude to Earth gradually shifting, with surprising results.
4 This story is more like the vintage Clarke that has made him one of the most formidable writers of SF in the second half of the 20th century.
The final story, EARTHLIGHT, takes place on the Moon. Bertram Sadler has been sent by Earth to do a cost- analysis on the Plato observatory and he expects that his cover story will hold up, as his real mission is to find out what’s going on between the Moon and the federation of colonies on Mars and Venus. The federation is finally getting ready to cede from Earth and its stifling bureaucracy. Sadler settles into his role of cost-analysis while keeping his ears and eyes open for the person or persons who are passing information on to Mars. While he is plugging away at his assignment, events are moving faster than even he could have imagined. When he gets an offer to travel outside the lunar domes and across the barren surface of the Moon, he readily accepts in order to get away from the boredom of his assignment that seems to be going nowhere. The trip is uneventful until the crew of the lunar rover comes across an unknown installation that they are quickly warned away from. Sadler’s interest is piqued about the activity around what can only be a weapon, but a weapon against what?
EARTHLIGHT follows the thread of the earlier stories and brings to a conclusion the breakaway of the colonies from Earth.
Clarke has given fictional examples of man’s spirit to venture into the unknown of space and make a habitable world for himself away from his home planet.
The styles of the narratives have obvious flaws in them, which can only be seen with the hindsight of 40 years of practical space exploration. Even so, Clarke’s stories still make enjoyable reading 40 years on.

Reviewed by Chris Chivers Nov-2001 Published by Gollancz

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Arthur C Clarke & Stephen Baxter

SUNSTORM by Arthur C Clarke & Stephen Baxter

I enjoyed this one more than the previous volume, TIME’S EYE, mainly because although I do usually enjoy ‘alternate reality’ stories, I’m not a great fan of historical novels, and although I’m sure all the undoubtedly well- researched material about Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great is very interesting, I prefer my hard SF to be about science. Actually, although it is helpful to have read the first novel, it is really quite a separate story, so not essential.
In TIME’S EYE people from very different time-periods, including subhumans and Rudyard Kipling, are suddenly thrown together on a shattered Earth by what appears to be alien intervention, revealed only by the presence of gleaming, spherical ‘Eyes’. Of these people, only Bisesa Dutt, formerly working for the United Nations from within the British Army in Afghanistan, manages to return to her ‘own’ time on 9 June, 2037 – the day after she left, but having aged five years. And on the very day that an immense solar flare causes widespread damage to all types of electrical systems, traffic chaos, communications, and general alarm, injury and death.
The scene moves to the Moon, where a slightly dysfunctional genius called Eugene Mangles is the only person to predict a much more catastrophic solar event in April 2042, which will destroy the whole Earth, ejecting as much energy in a day as we normally receive in a year. Naturally, from this point onwards much of the action concerns attempts to convince the powers-that-be that this is a real danger, and deciding what, if anything, can be done about it. Here we meet Siobhan McGorran, the Astronomer Royal, to whom falls the task of coordinating this effort.
Two major computer AI systems run virtually all utilities systems, communications, etc. On Earth, it’s Aristotle; on the Moon, Thales. Both originated in the 20th century with something like Google. It is decided that the only way to even attempt to save Earth is to build a huge shield far out in space, creating a sort of artificial eclipse which will protect Earth from at least the worst of the radiation. To have any hope of making this work a new AI will be required: Athena. Now, remembering 2001 and Hal, you will probably be expecting these AI’s to spring some surprises. Well, maybe; I won’t spoil it for you. But certainly they are vital to the story, and the book is exciting and satisfying, with many touches which are recognizably the characteristic work of both authors. A real page-turner.
I have one small gripe. Clarke always capitalized Sun, Earth and Moon.
Quite rightly, since they are proper nouns, and all rather important to us! So by what logic does Baxter (who did all of the actual writing) do so with ‘Earth’ and ‘Moon’, but not ‘sun’? It jars every time I read it.

Reviewed by David A Hardy Jul-2005 Published by Gollancz

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THE LIGHT OF OTHER DAYS by Arthur C Clarke & Stephen Baxter

The title is taken from a story by the late Bob Shaw, to whom the book is dedicated, but it has little to do with Shaw's " slow glass ". The concept behind the book is a camera ( for want of a better word) which can be used to view any event anywhere in space or time at the will of the operator. This is not a new idea: a similar idea was used by Isaac Asimov in 1956 in a story entitled " The Dead Past " and before that in 1947 by the less well-known T.L.Sherred in a story called " E For Effort
Like Clarke's previous collaborative n ovel" The Trigger " which I reviewed in these pages about a year ago, this one takes a new science-fictional idea and looks at its likely effect on people and society. The writers have provided a pseudo-scientific explanation for the working of the device by basing it on the use of wormholes, a concept not available to the previous authors I have mentioned and as one would expect, the explanation sounds quite plausible, at least on a surface level. However, the main purpose is not to provide an account of the device itself but rather to describe the consequences of its introduction. It all takes place in a near-future world affected by social, political and physical deterioration, complicated by the advent of the "Wormwood ", a 400-kilometer astronomical body due to impact the Earth in five centuries' time. Society and people do adapt to the wholesale introduction of " WormCam " technology, but the Wormwood turns out to be something of a red herring having little effect on the eventual outcome.
Asimov's 1956 story ended with the frightening realisation that uncontrolled use of such a device would mean the end of all privacy. This book takes it from there to produce a penetrating and revealing insight into what might happen when everyone has to conduct their personal lives in a world made of glass, while open government becomes a reality, war becomes impossible and history, including the origin of all religious beliefs, is exposed to scrutiny. These developments are fascinating. Stories of history are given a new realism and there is a striking review of the four billion year story of human evolution with a new nd unexpected suggestion for the origin of life on Earth. Eventually, humanity itself becomes changed at the most fundamental level.
I feel sure that however the collaboration between the two writers may have taken place it was left largely to Baxter to wind it up and the ending has his authority stamped all over it, even though the sheer extravagance of the whole remains typical of the best of Clarke. Whether I am right or not, the result cannot be accounted as anything but a total success and is a book not to be missed.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Oct-2000 Published by Voyager

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Before you complain that this title has been used before, by Bob Shaw, the authors know this, and in fact dedicate the book to Bob, and in the Afterword refer to ‘Bob Shaw’s slow glass classic which shares our title.’ So that’s OK.
This is one of those hard SF books which relies entirely on one ‘new’ concept, and follows it through to its ultimate conclusion.
In this case, the concept is based on the ‘Casimir Engine’, which allows the creation of microscopic wormholes which allow one to connect from one point in space to another. This could be from one room to the next, from one country to another - or to another star system. At first this allows only light to pass (and speech has to be lip-read - though by a computer routine), but as it develops, sounds can be heard, and eventually it is possible for the viewer to so immerse him/herself as to appear to actually be in that other place. This technology is masterminded by megalomaniac Hiram Patterson, head of the giant media corporation OurWorld, aided and abetted (albeit often unwillingly) by his two sons, Bobby and David.
Naturally this has great implications and uses in the areas of security and crime prevention. Especially when it is realised that the wormholes allow access not only to other points in space, but can take the viewer back in time. So one can visit the scene of a crime and see exactly who committed it, and how. But inevitably the whole thing snowballs; soon the technology becomes available not just to governments but to the ‘man in the street’. Privacy becomes a thing of the past, and every family skeleton is dug up, the background of everyone, living or historical, is revealed (including the true life of Jesus), and the whole nature of civilisation, and indeed of humanity, is changed.
There is a sub-plot: ‘The Wormwood’ - a massive asteroid (too big to deflect or destroy) which is heading towards Earth, and which will destroy it in five hundred years time. The discovery and announcement of this means that many people simply give up; even though it is far in the future, there seems to be no reason to plan for or invest in a future which no longer exists. The invention of the ‘Worm- Cam’ has an impact on this, especially as the younger generations, with Worm- Cams imbedded in their brains, become almost a new species. . . Although this is not strictly a time-travel story (because no-one travels physically), towards the end we have the sort of unfolding of great vistas of time and space in which first Clarke and latterly Baxter excel, as we travel to the very origin of life on Earth. Mind- boggling stuff!
As usual, I cannot resist adding an artistic note. On page 137, the scene seemed oh so familiar. A huge red sun in a dark red sky, reflected in a lake or sea fringed by ice-crystals, eroded volcanic hills, the 'W' of Cassiopeia in the sky with an extra star at its left - our Sun. The WormCam had been sent to a planet of Proxima Centauri - but the description is surely of my painting on pages 48-49 of CHALLENGE OF THE STARS (1972 - it's in the 1978 edition too)?
So I emailed Stephen, who replied thus: “Actually I thought I was inventing that scene, especially the detail about Cassiopeia, a factoid that has always stuck in my mind, but then I remembered CHALLENGE, and looked at it again, and there it was - I'd reconstructed the scene unconsciously - so in the later drafts we made it more explicit.
. . Yes it was that painting!”
Reviewed by David A Hardy Oct-2001 Published by Voyager

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TIME’S EYE (Time Odyssey Book 1) by Arthur C Clarke & Stephen Baxter

TIME’S EYE is a story of Earth within an alternative universe of the past, the present and the possible future of humankind.
It is set against the occurrence of a global realignment of the fabric of space and time. This has resulted in selected times of human biological and social evolution being shifted from their rightful place within the historical timeline to coexist at one instance, resulting in a patchwork of eras situated across the earth.
These slices of time range from the beginning of man’s evolution from forest dweller to savannah dweller, through the periods of ancient and modern history and on forward to a proposed near future.
That this is something other than natural is evidenced by the appearance of the large hovering spheres within the individual time slices and the oddly geometric and obviously artificial boundaries.
The story concentrates on the coming together of two groups and the events they experience as they travel towards the proposed centre of the disturbance. The first consists of a helicopter crew from the near future; Rudyard Kipling and the British Army in the NW Frontier; and Alexander the Great and his army; the second consists of a group of cosmonauts and Genghis Khan and his army.
The plot runs smoothly through the reconstructed Earth, taking the reader to areas of the world that the two great war leaders knew in their time and postulates on their reactions to the changes. The leisurely journey through the world is broken by various faster-paced sections of the story.
One such interruption of the slower tempo of the story is the eventual coming together of the armies of Alexander and Genghis Khan in a battle for the possession of the central controlling sphere.
An enjoyable and exciting read postulating the effects of such an occurrence and the resulting social interaction between people of different time periods.

Reviewed by John Shields Mar-2006 Published by Gollancz

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Arthur C Clarke & Frederik Pohl

THE LAST THEOREM by Arthur C Clarke & Frederik Pohl

This may perhaps be worth treasuring as Clarke’s last book. It is typical of his chatty, informal style of writing, carrying the reader along while throwing in a plethora of fascinating ideas, and Fred Pohl shows himself as an able and appropriate collaborator. Between the two of them they have produced what seems on the surface to be a fascinating and thought-provoking SF novel - who cares if Clarke provided the ideas and Pohl did the writing, or might it have been the other way round?
There are two basic plots going on in parallel. In one of them the only really new thing is the ‘discovery’ of a new proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem, but although its discovery seems to provide the foundation of most of the story (as well as the title of the book) the proof is not actually explained and it provides only a weak foundation. The other plot concerns the decision of the Galactic powers-that-be to wipe out the human race which has just discovered atomic weapons and is therefore adjudged a danger to the well-being of the rest of the Milky Way - hardly a new concept. Anyway, humanity puts its house in order just in time and the sterilisation order is revoked. But so what - nobody on Earth knew what was coming anyway.
In the meantime plenty of subsidiary ideas are tossed in to help these plots along. Unfortunately an awful lot of these ideas are re-workings of previous stories and articles; in at least one case from as far back as 1956. One gets an impression of these two old codgers looking through their ‘back catalogues’ searching for bits and pieces to put in to help the story along and at the same time disguise the fact that there never was much of a story there in the first place. Not a very exciting, dramatic or even novel one anyway.
So there are two ways to look at this. On the one hand, it is an entertaining, albeit undemanding, read which any SF fan should have the capacity to enjoy. On the other, it is not a classic, such as both authors have always been associated with, and it never will be.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Jun-2009 Published by Gollancz

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Well, it’s a bit of a mess, really. Just as Heinlein repeated himself in his later, dreadful books, so Clarke returns to some of his old, wellworn ideas – the ‘Skyhook’ or space elevator on Ceylon, a solar sailing race with his ‘Sunjammer’, the wonders of deep-sea diving, and so on. I was ready for the scene in which someone has to go into vacuum without a spacesuit, and didn’t quite get it though the story came close.
But wait a minute, did I suggest that Clarke wrote this? No, he didn’t. The book has Fred Pohl’s trademarks all over it, his tongue-in-cheek, don’t-take-too-seriously depiction of human foibles and alien interventions, never mind the mathematical stuff which is his special forte, and the most interesting bit of the book. Unfortunately, despite a few digressions our protagonist has solved Fermat’s Last Theorem by Page 109, barely a third of the way through, and from then onwards it’s downhill all the way.
Did I say ‘story’ up there? You know, with believable characters, plot, suspense, tension & resolution, maybe a bit of mystery and excitement along the way? Sorry, you don’t get any of that stuff. The best they can manage is some between-chapters verbiage about squids-in-space who are going to destroy the Earth… except that for no particular reason they decide not to, in the end.
There was a report in Ansible two years ago that Clarke ‘is no longer writing, and has asked dynamic young author Frederik Pohl (born two years after ACC) to finish his new novel’. I suspect that’s a bit of an understatement; my guess is that Arthur gave Fred an idea, a few notes, and left him to it. I wonder why either of them bothered.
Reviewed by Peter Weston Sep-2008 Published by Voyager

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Dhonielle Clayton

THE BELLES by Dhonielle Clayton

Given the cover of this book I was in two minds as to whether I would like it or not. On the one hand, it is very “pink” and soft focus, which made me worry whether it was heading too much into “chick-lit” territory (a term which I detest). However, it also had a person of colour on the cover, which is still quite progressive even to this day. Not knowing quite what to expect, I actually loved this book and whizzed through it in one session as I really got hooked into the story and wanting to know what happened.
Orleans is a city where status is determined by beauty and appearance. Everyone is born grey-skinned and viewed as ugly, apart from the mysterious Belles. They are naturally “beautiful” and what is more, they have the magic to change other people’s appearance, at least temporarily. They are raised and managed by the DuBarry family, who regulate access to their services and also market Belle-sanctioned beauty products and cosmetics. As each new generation of Belles matures, they are sent to various “tea houses” where they will work at transforming the rich courtiers and merchants. These placements are determined in a grand spectacle, the Beauté Carnaval, where the Belles compete to show their abilities with the winner becoming the new “favourite” who will serve the Queen and her court at the royal Palace.
Camille is one of the newest Belles – she is ambitious but naïve. As she starts to treat the members of the royal court she discovers that her transformative powers have a negative side, both in the effect on herself but also in the pain the transformations cause her clients. Whilst the Queen tries to regulate and limit these procedures, the callous and selfish heir apparent Princess Sabine will clearly ruthlessly exploit the Belles’ abilities if she succeeds to the throne. Initially flattered and indulged, Camille tries at first to please the vain and cruel Princess Sabine. As she and her sister Belles start to discover more about the cost to themselves and to society as a whole of the use of their abilities, Camille comes to realise that the Princess is a monster who cannot be allowed to take the throne. As the Queen’s health starts to fail, Camille must try to find a way to escape from the control of the royal court and to learn more about the Belles’ unexplained abilities and origins.
What makes this well-paced and enjoyable YA fantasy really stand out is in its exploration of the many problems associated with modern-day society’s obsession with youth and physical “beauty”. From the constant pressure to emulate so-called “celebrities” and the extremes that people will go to in order to achieve so-called perfection through to the mental health effects on those who can’t meet impossible and arbitrary standards. Although there is a lot that can be read into the metaphors of the story, the touch is light and not heavy-handed and the story works well on its own merits. The story builds to an exciting climax but there is clearly much still to be resolved in future books. A great debut and it will be interesting to see how the author develops and improves in future books.
Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Aug-2018 Published by Gollancz

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Hal Clement

MISSION OF GRAVITY by Hal Clement

Has anyone in the group NOT read this one? MISSION OF GRAVITY is pure, concentrated science fiction as-it-used- to-be, a problem story on a fascinating alien world. The storyline takes us across the face of Mesklin, the ‘poached-egg’ planet where temperatures are below -100C and a day is only 18 minutes long. Our hero is Barlennan, a sort of giant centipede, who captains the sailing-ship Bree from the Rim, where gravity is ‘only’ 3G, across roiling seas of liquid methane and through many adventures to the remote pole, where gravity approaches a crushing 700G.
The point is to stay faithful to science as-we-know it, using as baseassumptions the astronomical data about the (then-recently discovered) superjovian companion of 61 Cygni, with no tricks, no dodges, and no super gadgets in the last chapter. “Playing the game”, Hal Clement called it, as he did the math and tried to make sure his physics and chemistry were scrupulously correct. You can’t have an alien environment much stranger than this!
But true ‘hard’ SF isn’t seen very often these days, too difficult when softer options seem more popular, cyberpunk and wide-screen baroque, not to mention telepathy and – dare I say it – all those bloody dragons. MISSION OF GRAVITY is over fifty years old now, Hal Clement’s action sequences and dialogue were never very dramatic even then, and maybe our field has moved on? It’s a classic of course, no doubt about it, but then so are BLEAK HOUSE and THE PICKWICK PAPERS and most of us don’t read them for fun any more, do we? So I’d be interested to know what newer readers make of this book.

Reviewed by Peter Weston Dec-2005 Published by Gollancz

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Lynn M Cochrane

SALVO edited by Lynn M Cochrane

People can write for many contrasting reasons and the intended audience can be very different for different pieces. This book evidences this very well; this is a showcase anthology of work by the Cannon Hill Writers’ Group, a local writers’ group and includes work by several Brum Group members including Theresa Derwin, Jan Edwards, Lynn Edwards (as Lynn Cochrane), Chris Morgan and Pauline Morgan (as Pauline Dungate. It is always difficult to review something which is so varied, both in themes and styles. This little book contains over 50 pieces of prose and poetry and obviously there will be some that suit some people more than others. It also needs to be borne in mind that the writers themselves have very differing levels of experience, ranging from some very new to writing to some who have been professionally published. That being said I did find many pieces which I enjoyed and although I have not enough space to
discuss every piece in detail I will try and provide an idea of the variety and highlight a few of the works which I liked.
The poems and prose here contain a mixture of pure fiction, some
clearly autobiographical pieces and some clearly very personal stories.
Although the majority of the work is in real world settings, there is some science fiction, fantasy and horror.
In the science fiction realm there is ‘Nanna’ by Margaret Miller which starts with an old lady telling children her story of the colonisation of
a new planet. Although using familiar themes it is still well-written and builds a believable and likeable character. ‘The Harrowing’ by Lynn Cochrane is a study of a disaster but observed subtly from the side-lines. It concentrates on ordinary characters slowly adjusting their lives due to civilisation collapse, and the actual detail of what has happened is only inferred from its effects.
There is also some horror and fantasy although for some of the
stories the boundaries are a bit blurred. Theresa Derwin has a funny little story called ‘Mikey’ which starts as an interview about discrimination, but with a twist. There is also ‘The Hag’s Piano’ which is very atmospheric but would benefit from expansion – although to be fair it is billed as an extract.
For fantasy fans there is ‘A Woodland Dream’ by Helena Hempstead, a
modern variation on the theme of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM.
Of the more mainstream work, I liked ‘September 1st 1939: Evacuation’ by Joyce Lancashire and ‘Memories of Trains’ by Z. Burszytn which both feel like very personal recollections of war memories. They may not be the most polished but the recall and recording of these memories is clearly important to the authors and does engage the emotions.
There were also various stories which used humour, of which the most amusing in my opinion was ‘The Start of the Habit’ by Chris Morgan, about two ladies with awful husbands.
Finally, this volume contains a number of poems in various styles,
including rhyming, non-rhyming and even a haiku. I have difficulty
assessing what is good or not with regards to poetry and am hesitant to offer an opinion. I can only say that some did not work for me but I certainly enjoyed some of the poems. I liked ‘The Vigil’ by Helena Hempstead and ‘Rook’ by Elaine Oakley for the emotions they captured which felt very real. Lastly, but by no means least, the collection ends with an excellent poem by the late Joel Lane called ‘The Chosen Woodlouse’ which in just three short verses contains a lot to think upon.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Mar-2015 Published by Cannon Hill Writers’ Group

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WEIRD ALES: LAST ORDERS edited by Lynn M Cochrane

The effect of alcohol, or more exactly the after effect of too much, often leaves the imbiber with the intention of never again. This might just be because the body rebels and the horrible feeling of systems shutting down. Alternatively, there is the horror of finding out what you did while you were out of your skull. These days you can view it on social media to the embarrassment of yourself and family. It is worse when the actual drink is the source of the nightmares.
This is the third anthology that has alcohol at the heart of all its stories. In some cases, it is the secret ingredient that makes it special. In ‘Tenebrae Dark’ by Josh Reynolds it is the blood of a creature out of nightmare that is distilled to make that sought-after spirit.
To get the best flavour the beast needs to be fed blood and human is best. (It is a pity that the title is spelt differently from the text of the story.) ‘The Master Brewer’ in Daniel Hall’s story uses the essence of young women as the magical ingredient for the brew they come for miles to sample. E M Eastick’s ‘Yeast Beast Bitter’ also uses bodies as an ingredient, but in this case, it is the yeast that does the work, and it is a useful way of disposing of obnoxious men.
Once you have made your brew, you need a place to consume it. Roger Harris frequents ‘The Queen’s Head’ described by Calum Chalmers in his story. Arrayed behind the bar are half-finished bottles of spirits, and Roger covets one of them. When he steals it, he gets more than he bargained for. In ‘Alcoholiches Anonymous’ by Marc Kadushin the bar in question is the Arcane Toddy. It is frequented by supernatural beings.
When a paladin is killed in the bar, Greg, the owner finds he is on the wrong side of an avenging angel.
A pub or bar is not the only place to find an unusual tipple. The narrator in ‘Uncle Bertie’s Liquor Cabinet’ by James Newman finds a strange bottle tucked at the back of his late uncle’s drinks cabinet. The effect of sampling it is to make visible the invisible. This story owes much to Lovecraft, as does ‘The Dunwich Cold One’ by Stuart Conover. Here, the bar owner makes the mistake of buying a brew made from ingredients growing along the Miskatonic River.
Once you have had your fill of alcohol, you can look forward to the hangover. Jonathan Butcher’s ‘The Last Hangover’ is the ultimate one, except the bigoted narrator has to live his last night alive over again, and again and for ever. Hell is a permanent hangover.
These aren’t the only stories in this volume but all point out the perils of imbibing too much, all have their own brand of nastiness. Lynn Cochrane (a Brum Group member) has done a good job of editing this book – any problems are the authors’ fault rather than hers. Praise too, to Theresa Derwin who concocted the idea and persuaded others to swallow these cocktails of lethal drinks.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Jul-2018 Published by Quantum Corsets

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Peter Coleborn & Jan Edwards

THE ALCHEMY PRESS BOOK OF HORRORS edited by Peter Coleborn & Jan Edwards

At a time when too many anthologies are limited to a theme, here’s an unthemed one containing twenty-five brilliant and far-ranging horror stories. I searched assiduously on your behalf for a dud amongst them but couldn’t find one. This is largely due to the fact that over 400 stories were submitted. That’s a huge, perhaps unprecedented response to a small press anthology.
I’m not going to tell you about every story, just about the sharper, stronger, more surprising ones that have stayed with me.
It’s easy to take Ramsey Campbell for granted as “Britain’s most respected living horror writer”. He’s been producing top quality horror stories for over fifty years and “Some Kind of a Laugh” is one of his best. A bistro waiter is the look-alike of a famous comedian; he’s pushed into using the comedian’s familiar catch-phrases to increase custom at the bistro. It’s all perfectly credible - and still surprising.
There’s a completely different type of story from Stan Nicholls, about a changing landscape: credible, very bleak, and not an Orc in sight. Credibility of setting and characters are important aspects of horror fiction and are common to almost all of the stories here. Debbie Bennett’s “The Fairest of them All” has Caitlin, in her mid-teens, with boyfriend trouble. James Brogden’s “The Trade-up” shows us a travelling salesman down on his luck. There are foreign settings. John Grant’s “Too Late” is a warning against Spanish holidays with one’s spouse. Madhvi Ramani sets her story in a small German town reminiscent of “Hotel California”. In “Along the Backroads” Jenny Barber portrays a dangerous landscape (I was reminded of Harry Harrison’s DEATHWORLD). Ray Cluley’s “Bluey” is set in an all too plausible English school of today, where Shaun is trying to control a class of 15-year-olds.
In the anthology you can find some quiet, atmospheric stories such as Storm Constantine’s “La Ténébreuse” and some extraordinary horrors, in particular “Peelers” by Ralph Robert Moore. So if you’re of a nervous disposition, stick with Mills & Boon romances, where a happy ending is guaranteed.
I must mention the illustrations. Renowned horror artist Jim Pitts has contributed a small headpiece for each story, terrifying and appropriate, the modern equivalent of Thomas Bewick’s engravings.
So this is a beautifully produced anthology of fine, satisfying horror stories. You may remember the editors, who spoke to the group in March 2015. If you buy a copy you won’t be disappointed and it may well become an annual series.

Reviewed by Chris Morgan Nov-2018 Published by The Alchemy Press

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James S A Corey

ABADDON’S GATE by James S A Corey

ABADDON’S GATE is the third novel in James S.A. Corey’s Expanse series and I regret that I have not read the previous two. This is not because I found this book difficult to follow as the author has provided sufficient information to adequately set the scene. In itself ABADDON’S GATE is strong enough so that reader’s enjoyment is not diminished even if the previous two instalments have not been read. It is an excellent book flowing well and welding together the storylines of the main characters in a masterful way creating a rich and enthralling tapestry. I expect that the first two books of this series will also be very good and certainly intend to read them as soon as possible and then enjoy rereading ABADDON’S GATE. I also eagerly await the fourth instalment CIBOLA BURN. Fans of Neal Asher and Gary Gibson should also enjoy this series.
In these books mankind has spread throughout the solar system and split into three political groupings: Earth, Mars and the Outer Planet Alliance (OPA). Sometime before the events taking place in ABADDON’S GATE an alien ‘protomolecule’ has been found dormant within the outer solar system where it has lain dormant for about two billion years. On discovery it was somehow activated resulting in havoc and the destruction of Ganymede before it fell into the atmosphere of Venus where it created a ring-like massive artefact/structure (the gate) which leads to a starless space and is now in an orbit outside that of Uranus. Fleets of the three political and antagonistic groups are speeding to the ring both to study it and prevent the others from gaining an advantage.
ABADDON’S GATE is told from the points of view of four pivotal characters. Firstly, Jim Holden and the crew of the private corvette ‘Rocinante’ who are reluctantly ferrying a documentary crew to the gate to cover the unfolding events. Secondly, Carlos c de Baca, Bull to his friends and acquaintances, who is security chief on the OPA battleship Behemoth allegedly the biggest and baddest weapon platform in the solar system. If he wasn’t an Earther he would have been at least the ship’s executive officer and possibly its captain. Thirdly there is Clarissa Melpomene Mao who is travelling on the Earth Fleet support ship Corisier, she’s there to destroy Jim Holden for ‘crimes’ against her family. Finally, Annushka Volovodov, Pastor Anna to her congregation, is on the Earth Navy battleship, Thomas Prince as part of the UN Secretary General’s humanitarian committee advisory group. Pastor Anna is to play an unexpectedly pivotal role in the inevitable conflict between all protagonists on both an individual and individual basis.
As I’ve said before in previous reviews I do not care much for the publicity term ‘must have’ but I’m afraid that James S. A. Corey and the Expanse series has well and truly crashed onto my list of must have authors and books.

Reviewed by Jim Pearce Sep-2014 Published by Orbit

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Paul Cornell

LONDON FALLING by Paul Cornell

There is a lot of what is called ‘cross-over’ fiction around these days. In some cases, it is claimed, that is just how the story turned out, that the author merely told the story they wanted to tell. The more cynical might suggest that it is a ploy to gain a larger share of the market, or that the author is dressing up what they really want to write my suggesting it is something else. This latter scenario has certainly been employed by horror writers unable to find a publisher for that genre label. Some crime can certainly be very gruesome.
At the outset, LONDON FALLING has all the hallmarks of being a crime thriller. Costain and Sefton are undercover cops planted in the gang of Toshack, a very successful underworld boss. Toshack has taken over a number of other firms in the last ten years but is very canny. No-one has been able to get any evidence against him. Now it is make or break time. Wired up, Costain has one last chance to get something out of Toshack before the heavy mob smash down the door and arrest the whole gang.
Then, in the interview, Toshack has an apparent seizure and dies. Immediately suspicion falls on the squad; that perhaps someone has managed to poison him. As a result, the four people that are above suspicion are hived off into a Portakabin with the brief to investigate the circumstances of the death, while the rest of the squad concentrate on clearing up behind Toshack’s gang.
Thus, Costain and Sefton are joined by Quill, their immediate boss and the witness to Toshack’s death, and Lisa Ross, a police analyst. Using Costain’s knowledge of Toshack’s movements in the last couple of days before his arrest they are plunged into a far deeper mystery.
This is the point where the nature of the book changes as supernatural horror elements begin to shape the rest of the plot. Searching the same houses Toshack did the night before his arrest, they discover the remains of three children in a cauldron switching the game to a murder hunt. They quickly find that their prey is a Mora Loseley who is a West Ham supporter and a witch. She is elusive but they do establish that any player who manages to score a hat- trick against her club is in danger of death. The race is on to catch her before that happens again.
The plot is far more complicated than that and has plenty of twists and surprises. The four principal characters are multi-layered each with their own motives, failings and insecurities but are able to meld as a team to reach out for their final objective. I would happily meet them again in another book.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Jun-2013 Published by Tor

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Stephen Cox

OUR CHILD OF THE STARS by Stephen Cox

Unlike ROSEWATER, this debut SF novel by author Stephen Cox is one that I had not read any pre-publicity so had no expectations either way. It is set in a small town in the USA in the late 60’s. Molly and Gene are a married couple who are struggling to rebuild their marriage after a series of crises. Then the Meteor crashes into their town of Amber Grove and changes their lives forever. Molly is a nurse at the local hospital and amid the disaster she has to take care of a desperately ill but alien child dragged from the wreckage. Amid the paranoia of a cold war, she and a small group of friends and family must nurture and protect the child from those who see it only as an asset to be interrogated and experimented upon. This is a novel that surprised me and in a very good way. From the description above it may sound very cliched but this is a novel full of charm and it certainly captivated this reader. This is a novel that I thoroughly enjoyed reading and really wanted to know what happened to the characters. The author cleverly opens the story two years after the Meteor crash, and we see a loving mother/child relationship as they prepare for the excitement of Halloween. It is only as the chapter unfolds that we realise that Cory, the child is not human but by then the reader is already enchanted by him. The story then goes back through Molly and Gene’s difficulties over the years leading up to the Meteor crash, which in part drive Molly’s decision to protect the alien after its mother dies during the crash. To protect him from cynical government scientists and military interests, Cory is smuggled out of the hospital and hidden in their house. As they help Cory heal both physically and mentally, they also heal their marriage It is a story all about characters, family and doing the right thing even when it is not the easiest path. However, as well as the domestic scenes there is also plenty of action, paranoia, pursuit and peril that adds pace and excitement to the narrative. This is an impressive debut novel and the characterisation is its absolute strength. Gene and Molly have both flaws and virtues but I loved their fierce love for their strange child. Cory is also delightful; his initial trauma, his loneliness and fear despite the security of his adoptive parents, his unique view and delight in our world. It is so refreshing to read a story about fundamentally decent people and in contrast to much of the grim, dark SF/Fantasy that is out there, this was an absolute joy to read. I also think that it will have a wider appeal than to just committed SF fans. A very satisfying, heart-warming book that I loved.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Jan-2019 Published by Jo Fletcher Books

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Michael Crichton & Richard Preston

MICRO by Michael Crichton & Richard Preston

I suppose with a title like MICRO, and with the discovery in the first few pages of a perfect tiny aircraft the size of a peanut, one should expect a story about miniaturization. But it still came as something of a surprise, in a book by Michael Crichton of JURASSIC PARK fame. We had the film THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN in 1957 (based on a Richard Matheson story), FANTASTIC VOYAGE in 1966, updated to INNERSPACE in 1987, both with a very similar theme to this novel (I wonder if the author had a movie in mind with this one – ?). We can also recall The Borrowers and Land of the Giants on TV, which is really the same idea in reverse; and, of course, HONEY I SHRUNK THE KIDS. OK, so the idea isn’t new, but is attractive to filmmakers!
Crichton was well into this novel when he died in 2008, and it was completed by Richard Preston, who is a ‘best- selling author of eight books’, which seem to be mainly non-fiction. Stories with this theme are usually regarded as SF, though if one takes the view that science fiction requires a known, accepted scientific principle, creating humans half- an-inch tall is not yet in that category!
In this novel the method is to subject just about anything to an immensely powerful magnetic field, thousands of times stronger than those in normal industrial use, and known here as a tensor field. This apparently produces a ‘phase change’, and the object – car, plane or human – is reduced to a centimeter or so in size, but everything working normally. (So presumably the very atoms in those objects must be reduced too, which I find most unlikely!) However, after a few days in this state humans become subject to ‘the Bends’; even slight wounds or bruises quickly become worse, and start to bleed profusely, so it is necessary to get back into the tensor field as soon as possible and reverse the effect.
As with other scenarios by this author the setting is in Hawaii; in this case the island of Honolulu. The new company of Nanigen MicroTechnologies has its headquarters and laboratories there, headed by despotic and probably psychopathic venture capitalist Vincent Drake. Seven graduate students are taken to the island as potential employees; one of these, Peter Jansen, has a brother who is a top executive with the company. But Eric Jansen dies in a mysterious boating accident, after sending a text to Peter saying ‘don’t come’. The seven students are shrunk, but become aware that they could also become victims, and escape. From then on it becomes quite an exciting adventure as they evade capture and find themselves in a strange world at the lowest level of the Hawaiian jungle where they are in danger of being attacked and eaten by ants, wasps, spiders and even birds many times larger than themselves, always with the deadline of the onset of the Bends. Some of them don’t make it.
Crichton obviously has a good knowledge of (or has done his research on) botany, zoology, entomology, along with physiology and quite a few other ‘ologies’, and he makes good use of this to produce a story which I enjoyed a lot more than I expected to at the start. Not very original, but still a good read.

Reviewed by David A Hardy Jun-2012 Published by Harper

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Bernadette Danaher

THE ANNUNCIATION OF THE STARBORN by Bernadette Danaher

The cover of this book proclaims its publisher’s name along with the slogan ‘Daring New Literature’ with more prominence than the title of the book. The mission statement on the first page follows this up with words like ‘fresh’, ‘innovative’ and ‘radical’. If I were to follow this with suggestions of Burroughs, you’d probably expect something that most would find unreadable. This would be misleading.
Most of the company’s adjectives do not belong here - although this is a new author - and the writer this calls to mind is Edgar Rice Burroughs (not William).
What we have here is good oldfashioned sword and sorcery with the emphasis on the latter. Our ‘hero’ is magically transported to another world where he is the only one who can stop the evil (?) from destroying everything.
How he is expected to do this is not explained - it seems to have more to do with being in the right place at the right time - and most of the time he seems to be just a viewpoint for the reader rather than taking any active part in the story.
The setting is a world with three sentient species. The first is all-female part-human part-lioness (in a centaurlike arrangement) religious / magical caste. The female lead is one of these and therefore, despite politicking and the odd treachery, these are the good guys. The second race is effectively people with bird’s heads. Their new leader has been taken over by something nasty in a meteor so they pretty much get to be the bad guys (except for the odd heroic resistance type). Race number three is generally butchered (out of shot) by the bad guys and seem to serve no other purpose.
This is a solid and unremarkable story, reasonably well written.
In accordance with its ‘Daring New’ philosophy the publisher sells its books on-line at bastardbooks. Com.

Reviewed by William McCabe Apr-2002 Published by Bastard Books

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Alex Davis

X7: A SEVEN DEADLY SINS ANTHOLOGY edited by Alex Davis

Putting together an anthology with a theme is not easy. The idea behind X7 is simple – a story for each of the seven deadly sins. Something like this cannot be an open anthology, authors have to be invited to take part and be assigned their sin. Then the editor has to keep all fingers crossed that not only does the story fit the sin, but the quality is of an acceptable standard – even the best authors can produce duffers sometimes.
There are good things and not so good things about this volume. The first thing a reader wants to know is who wrote the stories. This is missing from the contents page as is any indication of price from the back cover. Each story is frontispieced by a line drawing. Some of these are quite effective but are better reproduced smaller and in colour as cards on the front cover.
Lust is represented by Nicholas Royle’s “Dead End”. It begins with a man on holiday in France with his mistress. This could be a straight forward story of illicit sex, but in a horror anthology it is reasonable to expect something nasty to happen. Sin needs to be punished. Royle is a skilful writer and salts clues naturally into the story. It does, though, seem a little rushed towards the end.
Amelia Mangan introduces us to Envy in “If I Were You”. Edwin has discovered that he has a younger sister who was not given up for adoption as he was. He wants to be her, so much so that he is stalking her, observing everything that she does and copying it.
There have been a number of stories of dining clubs whose members seek the ultimate taste experience. None perhaps are quite as revolting as “Gravy Soup” by Simon Clark. This story represents Gluttony. It is the reluctance of some members of the Gymnasium Supper Club to share the secret of the best, most addictive food ever that has Gordon Clumsden sneaking around graveyards at night. This is the grossest story in this volume.
“The Devil In Red” by Alex Bell represents Wrath. Although this story is cleverly and skilfully written it is the most problematic in the context with its theme. Joshua Ackland is a defence lawyer. The client he sees on this day is obviously guilty - he was caught carrying a sack containing some of his wife’s body parts. He claims that the woman he killed was not his wife despite contrary evidence. I can’t quite equate deliberate acts with wrath. It is, though, an intriguing supernatural story that needs a bit more substance.
Simon Bestwick bases his tale of Greed, not on an individual person but the corporate greed of mankind. In “Stormcats” it is that vice and the disregard of the consequences that have led to the situation that Aaron and his family find themselves in. They flee rising floodwaters (caused by global warming) to a cottage which becomes an island. The fight for survival becomes surreal as Aaron reaps the effects of greed.
Pride can take many forms and seems a relatively innocuous sin. The problem comes when pride causes hurt to other people. In “Walls” by Gaie Sebold, Darren is proud of his beautiful wife. Most people would want to show off the things they take pride in. However, Darren keeps Chrys shut away, inventing excuses as to why she mustn’t go outside. From the start there are clues suggesting that all is not as it appears. According to the saying it seems reasonable to expect that Darren is heading for a fall. It’s a good story but the pride aspect of it could have been stronger.
“Seagull Island” by Tom Fletcher is a slothful story. It doesn’t do much but those in the grip of sloth don’t do much either. The narrator spends the whole story lying on a rock by the sea. Although I like a story that goes somewhere and has a bit more action, this offering is the epitome of sloth. Its shape totally encompasses that state.
Seven stories, seven sins. Some work better than others but in any anthology that is a given. All stories veer to the horrific side of life and for the most part the characters are exhibiting human frailty. There will be at least one story that all readers of horror fiction will
appreciate whether or not they feel it encompasses the sin it intends to depict.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Jul-2015 Published by KnightWatch

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Aliette de Bodard

THE HOUSE OF BINDING THORNS by Aliette de Bodard

THE HOUSE OF BINDING THORNS is the sequel to THE HOUSE OF SHATTERED WINGS. The reader is again returned to a ruined Paris, devastated and polluted after a magical war between opposing Houses of Fallen angels and their client magicians. In the first book, the House of Silverspires and the characters who lived there were the main focus. In this book, the attention is shifted to a rival house, Hawthorn and its leader, the Fallen Asmodeus. Whilst House Hawthorn was not as badly affected as House Silverspires, there were some significant consequences. Asmodeus’ long-term lover, Samariel was killed and Asmodeus has reclaimed the human alchemist, Madeleine from House Silverspires. Madeleine had hidden there for twenty years after escaping from a bloody coup within House Hawthorn which brought Asmodeus into power. Madeleine and Phillipe, another main character from the previous book, both have a pivotal role to play in this book.
During the first book, a hidden kingdom within the waters of the Seine was discovered. Ruled by shape-shifting water dragons (Rong), their magic is different in nature to the Fallen. House Hawthorn, seeing the opportunities, is trying to negotiate an alliance, which will be sealed with a dynastic marriage between Asmodeus and a royal prince. The water kingdom needs the alliance as they are weakened by various forces including magical pollution from the previous war but also by the prevalent use of smuggled angel essence (which corrupts the user) from the surface. When representatives of Hawthorn visit the Imperial Court to negotiate, they uncover opposition to the alliance from factions within the Kingdom and the Fallen, which ultimately threaten not only the alliance but the continued existence of the Kingdom and Hawthorn as well.
As good sequels do, this book expands from the narrow confines of one House to consider the wider environment of Paris. We see as a contrast to the Houses, the harsh life of the people who do not have their protection. They, the dragons and the Fallen all have a major role to play in the final outcome. In particular, the Annamite (Vietnamese) population who came as a result of France’s colonial occupation of their country feature strongly, both as the houseless but also as the magical, Imperial court beneath the river. This contrasting of Western and Eastern mythologies, magical and political systems is one of the refreshing and interesting aspects of this series. There is also a clear allusion to the Opium Wars between the British and the Chinese in the real world. As before the worldbuilding is unique, detailed and enthralling. If I have a criticism, it is similar to the last book in that I found myself far more interested in some characters than others, and felt there was more depth to them than the book had time to explore (in particular the interplay between the charismatic ruthless Asmodeus and the quiet but more moral Prince Thuan) but hopefully that will be in another book. If you like fantasy which is intelligent and definitely non-formulaic, then I would absolutely recommend this book.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Jun-2017 Published by Gollancz

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THE HOUSE OF SHATTERED WINGS by Aliette de Bodard

The HOUSE OF SHATTERED WINGS is set in a ruined Paris. This is a world where angels fall periodically to Earth, their wings removed and with no memory of why they have been cast out. These Fallen are suffused with magic and gangs of humans will kill them to gain temporary magical powers although like all drugs, eventually angel essence will kill the user. To protect themselves, the Fallen band together into Great Houses. These compete in ruthless and Machiavellian power games which resulted some years ago in a Great War. This has left Paris devastated, its river polluted and the humans forced into either scratching a living or if skilled, gaining protection from the diminished houses. At the start of the story, House Silverspires rescues a newly fallen and disoriented angel, Isabelle from a gang who want to kill her for her magical flesh. They also capture a strange man, Phillipe who seems more than human and who has a mysterious link to Isabelle from having ingested some of her flesh.
While under house arrest, Phillipe and Isabelle unwittingly unleash a malign entity that hides in shadows and progressively stalks and kills the members of House Silverspires one by one. Phillipe, as the activator of the “curse” now starts to have visions, which are clearly someone’s memories. These memories show the house in earlier times, its missing and charismatic leader, Morningstar and his betrayal of the originator of the curse. The shadow killer is clearly the revenge of this person and is meant to bring about the total destruction of House Silverspires. As the other houses manoeuvre to take advantage of the stricken House, Phillipe is forced reluctantly to try and unravel the nature of the creature and the identity of the betrayed Silverspires member.
I found this very much a novel of two halves. In the first half I thoroughly enjoyed the world-building which is superb and detailed – the crumbling and derelict Paris and the diminished but still warring Houses work very well. The organisation of the Houses and their human and Fallen members are interesting and the slow reveal of the absent Morningstar and the consequences of his actions keep you engaged. However once the initial threat is uncovered, it felt to me like there was a significant loss of menace and pace. There is still a threat to the House but as they have been “off-stage” for too long, their ultimate revelation feels anticlimactic. It also felt to me that the characters’ motivations and actions were less credible and inconsistent with their previous characters – for instance, Morningstar and the head of House Hawthorn, Asmodeus. Also several plot points feel either unresolved or incompatible with earlier established facts – especially the relationship between Isabelle and Phillipe. I have read some of Aliette De Bodard’s SF short stories which I have thoroughly enjoyed. This book again demonstrates her impressive imagination but sadly the ending did not live up to the promise of the beginning.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Dec-2015 Published by Gollancz

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THE HOUSE OF SUNDERING FLAMES (Dominion of the Fallen 3) by Aliette de Bodard

I first came across Aliette de Bodard’s writing in her SF short stories, which deal with intelligent “mindships” and I really liked her unique imagination. This quality, and many others of which more later, is also readily apparent in her fantasy works.
The Dominion of the Fallen series (of which THE HOUSE OF SUNDERING FLAMES is Book 3) is set in a ruined and polluted Paris, devastated by a war between warring magical groups (“houses”) of fallen angels and client magicians. Each house also has a number of “dependents” or servants who fulfil a range of roles from lowly domestics to high offices. Life as a dependent can be very risky and subject to the whims of the powerful, but to many it is far better than trying to survive on the ruined and lawless streets outside the protection of a House.
Whilst previous books have concentrated firstly on House Silverspires and then House Hawthorn, at the start of this book the focus is shifted to House Harrier. Whilst none of the Houses are particularly benevolent, House Harrier is shown as particularly ruthless in how it treats its dependents. When the House is devastated by a massive explosion, that cruelty, both in the present and in the past, will have serious consequences both for House Harrier and the other Houses. As the destruction from House Harrier threatens to spread throughout Paris, various factions seek to understand the source of the threat and to gather and preserve their resources (both magical and living). As well as individuals from different houses, this also includes the “houseless” (with their own magics) and Aurore, a brutalised exile from House Harrier. The contrasting methods and approaches they all take are reflective of their characters and circumstances and are an important part of the plot and the depth of the story. Essentially this is a story about Power; who has and does not have it, what people will do to keep or acquire it, and how they use it. An important part of that and what is missing from so many other books is that it shows how it affects and sometimes twists those who have little or no power and what choices and compromises they make in order to survive. It is also a story about consequences. Without spoiling anything, the source of the destruction of House Harrier traces back to essentially a war crime in the Anamite colony, of which many of those descendants now live in Paris. The misdeeds of the Houses past actions have led to the threat to their existence in the present.
This is a wonderful book that while telling a thrilling, emotional story also manages to make the reader think about so many real issues. It is diverse in the widest possible sense, including many groups not often seen in other fantasies: it has old people, children (both cherished and exploited), it has families, established and loving relationships, and different ethnic groups and People of Colour (both magical and human). It also has in two of the central characters, Asmodeus and Thuan, (a Fallen angel and a shapeshifting Vietnamese Water Dragon) an LGBTQ couple whose arranged marriage is developing into a realistic, spectacular, at times challenging and, from the reader’s point of view especially, a thoroughly fascinating romantic relationship.
I have enormously enjoyed this entire series, but I think this final book in particular is outstanding. The worldbuilding – a creepy, Gothic ruined Paris, the contrast between the differing magics of the Fallen and the Anamite Water Dragons, the whole structure of the Houses and the Houseless - is remarkable and unique. Aliette’s abilities to also write so many different subtle and nuanced characters is also superb and the reader is drawn in to their struggles. It is a large book but at no point did I feel it dragged. Indeed, and one of the many markers of a good book to me, is that I found myself not wanting it to end as I wanted to linger within the world and with the characters.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Sep-2019 Published by Gollancz

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Charles de Lint

THE ONION GIRL by Charles de Lint

Charles de Lint has built a world which he visits frequently in his novels and short stories. In the poorer areas of Newford you are as likely to see magical creatures as vagrants and bag ladies - if you know how to look. The characters that frequent these tales are such people. Often, as in any neighbourhood, old friends will be found. This is Jilly Coppercorn's story.
Jilly is an artist. She and two of her friends, Sophie and Wendy, call themselves 'The Small Fierce Women'. It characterises their outlook on life. At the start of the novel, Jilly is involved in an accident which lands her in hospital. For a while her survival is in doubt, and then her injuries are such that she may not be able to paint again. Newford, though, lies close to the borders with the Otherworld. Sophie has always been able to travel there in her dreams to the extent that she has a whole other life there. Now Jilly finds that her dreaming sell can also go there, and she can do all the things she currently cannot do in her real life, like sketch.
At about the same time as Jilly's accident, a pack of wolves, the personalities of other dreamers, appears in the Otherworld. These are hunting and killing unicorns.
The narrative of the present is interspersed with chapters from the point of view of Raylene, the sister J illy left behind when she escaped from an abusive father. Gradually, as the layers of Jilly's and Raylene's lives peel away we get a glimpse of the forces that shape a person. This is a powerful novel, drawing on emotion to paint the characters and myth to give it that extra magic.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Sep-2004 Published by Gollancz

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Stephen Deas

THE THIEF-TAKER’S APPRENTICE by Stephen Deas

This is the first of a series following the life of Berren, a fourteen-year-old boy living in the city of Deephaven. Berren is a thief who has the nerve to steal the purse of Deephaven’s most feared thief-taker, Syannis. Impressed by this, Syannis hunts down Berren and buys him from his vicious gang-master/owner Hatchet. The book then follows Berren’s first few months as the thief-takers apprentice. The book is well written and is easily read but is a linear depiction of Berren’s story, lacking the varied strands that often gives a book breadth and makes it come to life. For instance, although Syannis is a very successful and potentially interesting character, how he goes about his business, discovering vital information, is largely unreported. So overall, I found the book was somewhat bland and disappointing. At one stage I thought to myself that this book is more for young persons and not adults. It was therefore not surprising that when I finally read the press release, as I did not wish to be over influenced by it, I found that it was aimed at young adults. This was not apparent from the information on the jacket. Reassessing my conclusions, it is not a poor book and young persons (young teens) should gain a good deal of enjoyment from it. However, I still think that widening its scope to follow the lives and experiences of some of the other characters more closely would make it a much better and exciting read.
Reviewed by Jim Pearce Oct-2010 Published by Gollancz

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Theresa Derwin

ANDROMEDA’S CHILDREN edited by Theresa Derwin

ANDROMEDA’S CHILDREN is an anthology of SF stories with the theme of strong female protagonists who “challenge the tropes of female characters in the majority of science fiction”. Some of you may remember that a book launch for this book was also held at the October 2015 meeting of the Brum Group.
Perhaps the most glaring issue with this book lies not within its stories but in the many errors that are common throughout. It feels that the text has been put through a spell-checker but not proof read before final printing. This does the authors a grave dis-service as it is very distracting and pulls the reader out of the flow of the story. These numerous errors include missing words, missed or inappropriate punctuation (including apostrophes) and the wrong homophones (ie words which sound similar but have a different spelling and meaning) of which the most noticeable example is the first story “Desert Storm” which is listed as “Dessert Storm” in the header of each page.
The anthology contains thirteen stories, of which only five are by female authors. That is not to say that male writers cannot write good female protagonists – for example, the story “Golden Age” by James S Dorr in this anthology is a nice character study of an older woman looking back on her long life. Nevertheless, with this theme in particular, I would like to have seen a bit more of an equal ratio given that there are many excellent female writers out there.
Whilst some of the stories do feature interesting female protagonists, others do not feel like they live up to the remit of “challenging the tropes”. The stories that I liked included the following; “Desert Storm” by Pauline Dungate, in which we find that some things are universal, especially pompous individuals who need taking down a peg or two. “Being Ready” by Lynn M Cochrane, where the protagonist negotiates cleverly with her alien captors, and “To the Altar” where two women from opposing sides agonise over the ethics of whether to bomb a country into submission. What the four stories mentioned above understand, in my estimation is that strong should not just mean aggressive.
Unfortunately, some of the other stories in this collection miss this point, and feel that the definition of “strong” female character merely involves someone who beats somebody up (“Cut and Run” by David Perlmutter) or callously kills people (“Enlightened Soldier” by Matthew Sylvester and “Shelved Desires” by Damon Cavalchini). My least favourite story in the whole collection, “Electric You” by Damon Cavalchini, also suffers from this trope but in addition also dwells too much on a princess who distracts the “bad guys” with her attractive body and reads like bad E E ‘Doc’ Smith – not exactly “challenging the trope”.
The remaining stories in the collection all have some merit but I feel that they could have been more polished – some need a little more emotional depth whereas others are good ideas but would have benefitted from a little more attention to plot logic or research.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Feb-2016 Published by Fringeworks

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HER DARK VOICE edited by Theresa Derwin

It is always good to welcome new, independent publishers to the field, especially those prepared to produce anthologies of new stories. It is a pity they have to go through a steep learning curve before the product is right. Knightwatch Press is a relative newcomer to the playground and is still learning the rules. This is one of their early volumes and, as such, exhibits many elementary mistakes. It does, though get some things right. It is better to begin with the positive.
This book, subtitled AN ANTHOLOGY CELEBRATING THE FEMALE VOICE, was produced to raise money for the Breast Cancer Campaign, all profits going to that organisation. For that reason, all those involved gave their services without charge. There are twelve stories here (not ten as stated in the forward) and all but two are previously unpublished. They range from contributions from well-known authors such as Jaine Fenn and Liz Williams to the relatively unknown. Most of the stories are worthy of being included in almost any quality magazine and, unlike many anthologies these days, there is no particular theme, the only connection being that all the authors are female and the stories are of a sinister bent.
Normally, it is good practice to have the strongest story as the first in a volume, for the simple reason that this is what a potential reader will look at first (other than the cover) and decide whether or not to buy. The second strongest goes last. It is a shame that this convention was not used as the weakest story in the whole volume (“Honour Among Thieves” by Lynda Collins) kicks off the book. It doesn’t help that the final story “The Tenant Of Rosewood Abbey” is also by Lynda Collins. Although this is a far better story it could be further developed and there are other female writers who would have been happy to contribute to this volume.
It is not all bad news. There are some delightful stories here. “Fear Not Heaven’s Fire” by Jaine Fenn is not only powerfully written but the kind of story that I would expect in an anthology with this title. The narrator is a strong, female character; a blind nun who discovers a man hiding beneath the convent granary. In a mediaeval setting when the power of faith was stronger, still not all those who took the veil necessarily did so as a vocation.
The idea of these stories is to have a dark edge. That is certainly true of “The Clinic” by Jan Edwards. The sister of the narrator is in the last stages of Motor Neurone disease. Sarah wants the ordeal over and when she is made an offer to resolve the matter, she seriously considers it. This is a story with subtlety. Jacey Bedford’s story, “Kindling The Flame” is much less so but is still an entertaining piece of writing. The cover of the book is an illustration from the story – but more about that later.
The title character in Gaie Sebold’s “Ice-Cream Man” definitely has a demonic bent and is looking for an apprentice. This is a powerful story, and shows how low some youths can sink because they think that no-one cares. “Cyndy And The Demon Asmodeus” by Rhiannon Mills is almost another demonic recruitment story. Although not particularly sophisticated it still has a lightness of touch.
There are some writers who retell old tales in a different fashion, others who invent their own myths. Misa Buckley belongs to the former, as in her “Siren Shadows” a young man is lured to a night of lust with what he thinks are three beautiful women. Liz Williams belongs to the latter. Her “Blanchenoire” is a fable. Blanche is approaching adulthood, and lives in a world that is totally monochrome. Events change her perspective and allow colour to enter the world. Williams is a complex writer and even within a story this short there are themes that need teasing out. Nothing here is superficial. Lynn M. Cochrane’s “Leaf Green” also plays with myth but in a very different way to the other two. This story feels like a fragment of something longer.
So, this is a mixed bag of stories, some excellent, some enjoyable and a turkey. But readers don’t always agree with an editor’s choice. The downside of this book revolves around two factors, cover and layout. The cover illustration is amateurish, drawn by an artist who, in this instance, shows no skill in illustrating the human form. Covers sell books. This deserved better. The other big issue is inside. The content list fails to acknowledge the authors – a huge omission – and the author biographies at the end are too detailed. On a personal note, I find the actual layout of the text a little annoying. I prefer a larger indentation at the start of paragraphs, but it is consistent throughout.
Whatever the shortcomings of this volume, the important reason for buying it is that had been produced to aid a very worthwhile charity. You don’t have to read the book, just buy it as a contribution.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan May-2015 Published by Knightwatch

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SEASON’S CREEPINGS by Theresa Derwin

These days, when people talk about pocket books, they mean note books that tuck into a pocket or bag, or in the case of Americans, the publishing imprint that has given us popular series such as Buffy or Star Trek. They were made the right size for the pockets of coats, before fashion banished them. This is a pocket sized book, but you probably wouldn’t want to be seen reading it on a bus.
This slim volume was actually published before Christmas and would have made a good stocking filler for the horror fan in your family. It contains six pieces all with a creepy slant.
The first offering, “Fifty Hades of Grey”, is a short story with a topical slant. Most people will have heard of the Fifty Shades… books and film even if they have not admitted to reading or watching any of them. Many phenomena have corporations cashing in with merchandising. Four women, friends for nearly forty years, meet up to exchange Christmas presents. Ange presents the others with a small, naked male doll labelled, “Grow Your Own Mr Grey”. They giggle over it, as the instructions urge them to leave the object in water overnight. Once her friends have left, Jo submerges hers in the bath, just to see what will happen. Later that night, she wakes to find a six-foot, gorgeous naked man in her bathroom. Although she initially accepts the unexpected gift, the demon she has grown has underestimated the modern woman. The story itself is nicely told but its topical nature and some of the references in it might date it quickly and, even in five years’ time, the reader might not appreciate all the subtleties.
“Twas the Night” is a parody on the original verse but extremely topical. It was obviously written with passion and anger so it is possible to forgive its short-comings. It is the kind of thing that would appear in a newspaper at the time of the events. The shame is that it will date even more quickly than “Fifty Hades of Grey”.
In contrast, “The Red Queen” has an historical setting. Elizabeth Barton is enamoured with the stories of Charles Dickens. For some reason she determines to make his acquaintance and assist him in his writing. What he doesn’t know is that this is the vampire story in the book. The main problem is that this story is far too short. It lacks the space to exploit the richness of the setting. Dickens was a writer who had a talent for story-telling. This story should at least try to capture that. It would also have more impact if the final curtain had come at the time Dickens had embarked on his unfinished opus, EDWIN DROOD.
With this author, it would be unsurprising to have a collection without a zombie story. “Night of the Living Dead Turkey: Death From Beyond the Gravy” fulfils this role. The biggest pun is the title and gives an idea of the kind of story that follows. Basically, a mutation of avian flu causes a turkey, plucked and oven ready, to resurrect (one assumes it still had a head). The spread of the plague is fast and is told in emails and newspaper reports. It is a good attempt to be different but again suffers from its brevity.
“Last Christmas” uses another of the familiar horror tropes but to tell you which one would spoil the punch line. The male narrator is the one who usually cooks Christmas dinner and he and his wife, Alice, invite unattached friends. One of them, Dave, runs off with Alice, leaving her husband to plot revenge. This story works well at this length.
The final piece, “A Contemporary Christmas Carol” returns to the Dickens’ theme and is a short rant by Scrooge against his creator in modern idiom.
This little book is probably best read with a glass of Christmas cheer and an inclination to be amused. As with most humour it will not appeal to everyone. And if you are sensitive about the language children in your household read, keep it out of their reach.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Feb-2016 Published by KnightWatch

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WOLF AT THE DOOR by Theresa Derwin

Modern writers of horror have a difficult problem. Gone are the days of sitting around a real fire in a room lit by candlelight, with the wind howling outside and rats scratching in the walls. It is made harder by the authors who have taken the traditional scary monster such as the werewolf and the vampire and turned them into cuddly, misunderstood creatures. Not only does the present-day horror writer have to repossess some of the things which scare but to find new ways to send that frisson of fear racing up the spine. In WOLF AT THE DOOR, Theresa Derwin has tried to do that in these ten short stories.
As might be expected from the title, the eponymous ‘Wolf at the Door’ involves werewolves. Sam is a werewolf who hasn’t actually ‘changed’. He was infected while working for a facility that captures rogue super-naturals like vampires and werewolves. He is attracted to his councillor, Lesley, who is not what she seems. She tells him things about the research going on in the centre and together, they decide to put a stop to it. This is a romance that contains familiar tropes.
Anyone who knows Theresa will be aware that she has a ‘thing’ about zombies, so it is not surprising to find several in this volume.
‘Dirigible of the Dead’ has a steam-punk setting. The narrator and her small son are travelling from London to Birmingham by dirigible when passengers in economy class begin eating each other. ‘Ring And Rage’ is a more contemporary story. For those who know the Ring and Ride system, it is ideal for those who cannot use other means of transport to get to places like the supermarket. The disabled narrator is joined by a group from a sheltered housing complex. At the supermarket, they start turning into zombies. Here, there is a rationale for the change whereas in the former story, it goes unexplained. ‘Abuse of the Dead’ is a different take on zombies. Here, they are not flesh-eating monsters but dead members of the community with similar rights to the living. Some though, treat them as slaves or in the same way children were exploited in earlier eras. In this story, the narrator is a crusader for the betterment of the dead, working to expose those who would abuse them, for whatever reason.
There is a very thin line between a supernatural experience and being mentally ill. In ‘Muse’ it is left for the reader’s judgement as to whether Mark is actually being guided by a supernatural being, or it is a case that he has stopped taking his medication. ‘Pound of Flesh’ has the same kind of tone. This time it is a question of body image and the narrator is seeing how she would look if she carries out the self-mutilation that seems very logical to her. Whichever way it is read, both of these stories lead to the protagonist carrying out acts that a sane person would not contemplate.
Ghosts that appear in supernatural fiction can take many forms. Some are benign, some deadly. They have a purpose such as revenge, or may have lost their way to the next world. In ‘The Things I See’, the narrator sees the ghosts of murdered children. She always has, but has found that no-one believes her. They show themselves to her because she nearly became a victim like them, and they are trying to get a message across, through her.
Of these and the three other stories in this volume, ‘Pound of Flesh’ is the one that is the most satisfactory. Derwin has excellent ideas but in most cases, the stories are too short, needing a longer treatment to explore the idea more fully. As it is, the short scenes in several cases make the story line muddled. The other problem with this book is that the layout makes it frustrating to read, with, mostly, no indents to paragraphs. What makes it worse is that some stories start off being laid out conventionally, only to slip back into the annoying pattern. This is easy to spot if the final copy is checked. It spoils the appearance of the book and I know this publisher can do better.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Jul-2017 Published by Quantum Corsets

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Lauren DeStefano

FEVER by Lauren DeStefano

Sometimes it seems that the reason books are labelled Young Adult is that the author and/or editor believes that the readership at which it is aimed is only looking for a well-written tale and the inconsistencies and the flaws will be forgiven. The problem is that most reviewers are not the target market. Some YA books, like Janet Edward’s EARTH GIRL can be thoroughly enjoyed by readers of all ages no matter what label is put on it.
Lauren DeStefano’s FEVER and its predecessor WITHER should really only be read by those who just want an interesting story without having their credibility stretched too far.
In the future world of these books, longevity treatments were discovered and dispensed to all.
Unfortunately, proper tests were not made and the children have a greatly reduced life-span. Boys die at twenty- five, girls at twenty; a fact that cannot be escaped. Thus there is an urge to keep the teenagers breeding in the hope that a cure can be found. In WITHER Rhine was forcibly snatched from the streets and became one of three wives to Linden. In the basement of their home, Linden’s father, Vaughn, is prepared to commit all kinds of atrocities to find a cure for his son. At the end of the book, Rhine and Gabriel escape from the house. Rhine’s vague plan is to get back to Manhattan where she expects to find her twin brother.
At the beginning of FEVER the euphoria of escape quickly changes as they seek refuge with a motley band camped in the grounds of an old carnival and they realise that this is within the Scarlet District. The Madam of this particular tented brothel recognises Rhine’s quality and devises plans for her. Initially it is a peep show with the punters spying on Rhine and Gabriel as two captive love-birds, then as a commodity, selling her on to the highest bidder. As Rhine realises what Madam’s intentions are, she becomes determined to escape. With the help of Lilac, another of the girls, they head on to Manhattan accompanied by Lilac’s malformed child. Their eventual arrival is not what Rhine expects. Vaughn is also determined to find and bring Rhine back to the house. To make matters worse, Rhine’s health begins to deteriorate even though she should have a couple more years left before her inevitable demise.
The trouble with many second volumes in a trilogy is that they tend to be makeweights, being the bridge between the excitement of setting up the scenario and the climax of the resolution in volume three. Here the plot is very circular and if it had been omitted it is doubtful that it would have been missed. Having said that, the younger readers who are the target audience may well disagree.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Nov-2012 Published by HarperVoyager

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WITHER by Lauren DeStefano

This is a curate’s egg of a novel – good in parts. The image that we have of the future that Rhine Ellery lives in is coloured by what she has been told and since this is a first person narrative, the reader’s world view is inevitably the same. Some kind of war has destroyed the rest of the world leaving America isolated. The USA has its own problems, reaping the consequences of a eugenics programme. The first generation to benefit from the scheme are fit, healthy and long lived but their children are doomed to an early death, girls at twenty, boys at twentyfive.
One faction of the rich and wealthy want a cure, another faction wants nature to take its course and see the end of the human race.
Rhine’s story is a small capsule within the greater picture. She and her twin brother are sixteen and fending for themselves in Manhattan when she is kidnapped by Vaughn Ashby looking for wives for his son. Linden has five years left but his current wife, Rose, is dying. Rhine, Cecily and Jenna are her replacements. Each has a different attitude to the situation. Rhine only wants to escape but is effectively imprisoned in the Florida mansion. She also suspects that Vaughn is carrying out horrific experiments in the basements in the effort to find a cure.
Though the background is suspect, and we only get the one view, there are interesting aspects to this volume if read as a young adult novel. It is probably worth looking out for the second book in the sequence to see if any of the world view issues are resolved.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Oct-2011 Published by Voyager

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Philip K Dick

A MAZE OF DEATH by Philip K Dick

I remember classifying this as a problematical addition to Dick’s body of work when I first read it, newly in US paperback, almost thirty-five years ago. It is an exceptional novel with, at its core, a new religion which, as Dick says in a brief but very illuminating Foreword, “is not an analogue of any known religion.” This has a four-fold deity, comprising the Mentufacturer, the Intercessor, the Form Destroyer and the Walker-on-Earth, each with a well- developed role and explained in a non-supernatural text: A J Spectowsky’s HOW I ROSE FRON THE DEAD IN MY SPARE TIME AND SO CAN YOU.
To counteract the weight of this theology, Dick deliberately used one of his less plausible B-movie plots. There are more than fifteen main characters, almost all of whom have their thoughts used in places, almost as many violent deaths, a very strange alien setting, and more twists than one can keep track of.
So it all moves very fast, though none of the characterisation is particularly deep.
All characters are flawed obsessives: an alcoholic, a nymphomaniac, a pill addict, a cleaning fetishist and so on.
The planet they all arrive on (in one-way spaceships, all part of an unexplained new project) is Delmak-O (or Delmark-O if you believe the backcover blurb). It’s extremely odd, almost dreamlike, with a mixture of organic and electronic creatures. There’s a large building which moves away as you approach it, and miniature buildings, kept as pets. There’s an oracle, called The Grand Tench, in the shape of a huge cube of gelatin; ask it a question and it replies with an answer from the I CHING.
There are characters with funny names, like Ben Tallchief, Susie Smart (usually known as Susie Dumb) and Ignatz Thugg, though they are all to a certain extent contrivances or mouthpieces rather than people.
I hope none of the foregoing will put you off. Despite difficulties and seemingly contradictory passages, this is an amazing and entertaining short novel, one of Dick’s best. Just don’t expect too many answers or joyful conclusions.

Reviewed by Chris Morgan Feb-2006 Published by Gollancz SF Masterworks

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A SCANNER DARKLY by Philip K Dick

This book seems to be a piece of near-biography masquerading as science fiction. It seems to be the story of a group of people sharing a house somewhere in California. They all seem to be petty criminals and drug addicts. There is a lot here about the affects of various drugs (many of which might be fictional) on the mental state of the participants.
The great theme is that of dissociation. Many things are not what they appear to be. The central character is an undercover policeman searching for the source of a new drug. His main lead is through an addict living with several others in various states of dependence. Except that he is that addict. Either the drug that he is taking has produced this dissociative effect or maybe it has something to do with the working practice that means none of his co-workers know that he is this person. In losing touch with his other persona he becomes more suspicious of it hastening his own descent into (insanity?). A strong enough story but how much is life and how much is fiction?

Reviewed by William McCabe Jan-2000 Published by Millennium

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CANTATA-140 by Philip K Dick

I had not seen this title before I picked up this book. Although Gollancz have printed a reasonably complete list of other works in their previous Philip K Dick re-issues, this title isn’t on the list. It seems this is either an alternate title for, or an alternate version of THE CRACK IN SPACE which they have listed but not re-issued.
The book is set on a world so overcrowded that people are kept deep-frozen in large warehouses to make enough room for the rest. Despite all this the population is still rising. Jim Briskin, campaigning to become the first black US president wants to do something about this although there don’t seem to be any options. Then someone discovers a ‘hole’ in a defective ‘Jiffi-Scuttler’ that leads to an alternative, almost unpopulated earth. This seems to be the perfect solution, but it isn’t…
I don’t know whether this is an incomplete version or not but certain things seem to be missing or not sufficiently explained. For example, despite the ‘Jiffi-Scuttler’ being central to a large part of the plot there is no description of the thing or explanation of what it does in this book (these can be found in the short story “Prominent Author”). The device seems to have contradictions - it is small enough to be taken in for repair but large enough to have a hole big enough for someone to crawl through yet too small to be noticed without an hours-long examination.
This is the sort of thing I would expect from a book at the middle of a series. There are characters and plot lines that need expansion that can’t be found in this book. Although some of this can be found in other stories, there isn’t anything here to tell you what else there is or where it is to be found.

Reviewed by William McCabe May-2003 Published by GoIIancz

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FLOW MY TEARS, THE POLICEMAN SAID by Philip K Dick

This is one of Gollancz’s ‘SF Masterworks’ series, and turns out to be one of those books I missed when it was first published, back in 1974. Which is probably a pity, because I can imagine that it must have had quite an impact back then. But it covers a period from 1988 to 2047, in what was then a ‘future world’, very different from the world we now know in 2001.
Jason Taverner is a famous and popular TV presenter and singer, with his own prime-time show. He is also a ‘six’, one of only a few very bright and physically enhanced individuals who resulted from a government experiment forty years earlier. When an exgirlfriend with a grievance attacks him (with a Callisto cuddle sponge, which plunges its feeding tubes into his chest), he is taken to hospital - and wakes up in a seedy hotel room. From that point he discovers that his identity has been taken from him. No-one remembers him, or knows of his TV show, not even his agent or friends; gone are his records and all the identity cards that citizens are required to carry in order to avoid being sent to a forced-labour camp. He does, however, have a large roll of bank notes, which enables him to purchase forged ID cards from a girl called Kathy, with whom he goes on to have a relationship of sorts. Despite the excellent forgeries, he is picked up at a police checkpoint, and from this moment, first Inspector McNulty and then a more senior police office, Felix Buckman, start to take an interest in this person who apparently does not exist, because all of his records have been ‘wiped’ from their files. Eventually he is charged with the murder of Buckman’s sister, Alys, who has given Taverner a drug - possibly mescaline (or was it?) On this level it is all quite promising. But much of the book seems to be taken up with long, philosophical discussions between Taverner and (usually) various women whom he meets, discussing the nature of relationships and love and grief and such. Despite the fact that we have this 7 ‘futuristic’ world where cars fly and there is obviously space travel (remember the Callisto cuddle sponge?), where being a student is virtually a crime and America is a police state, there are still record players with a stylus, and big LP’s. (Well OK, there still are in 2001, but they’re not exactly the norm, are they?) Much hinges upon the question: did all this really happen, or was it all a drug-induced illusion?
And of course that’s for the reader to decide. Finally, it is all rounded off in a rather hasty three-and-a-half-page Eplilog(ue).
A note about the cover, by Chris Moore. We know, from his visit to the Brum Group, that this is a favourite of his, and certainly it is a very nice painting, especially of the girl in the foreground. But overall I feel that the whole mood is too bright and sunny, with its blue sky and fluffy white clouds. Dick’s world is much more smoggy and squalid.
Reviewed by David A Hardy Jan-2002 Published by Gollancz

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HUMAN IS? by Philip K Dick

This collection of 20 stories is subtitled “A Philip K. Dick Reader”, which suggest to me a selection of the most important essential texts plus some kind of commentary. But comment is wholly absent, and one pulp story, “The Variable Man,” is tediously long at 66 pages, so “Reader” is a somewhat pretentious description. Mind you, one has to pretend a bit! Re-reading remembered gems (and entire novels) of PKD after the passage of several decades can, alas, be a disenchanting experience. One problem with HUMAN IS? Is that most of the short stories are early and hasty even if they showcase interesting idiosyncratic obsessions, and even way back then writing about, say, sunlight blazing down on Callisto highlights a minimal understanding of the universe characteristic of, ahem, the mainstream writer Dick yearned, though lacked the skill, to be. No wonder he has now become the darling of the mainstream, his message being that you can write anything you please as SF so long as you throw in a moon or a galaxy or a robot, and then this can be finessed into cult-fiction. As such, one might say that Dick is unimaginatively hyperimaginative.
And it’s a great shame that the climatic mature story “The Pre-Persons” is deeply reactionary, basically pro- firebombing abortion clinics, such as only an American God-nut could be.
Still, some stories are aces, such as “The Father Thing” which brilliantly expresses Dick’s great hang-up about parental abandonment, or “The Electric Ant,” the ultimate unreliable reality story, a genuine philosophical masterpiece worthy of Greg Egan. And I was amazed to rediscover, in “Second Variety”, the original little robot boy David and his robot teddy bear, which Brian Aldiss either homaged or had forgotten about (as had I) in “Supertoys.” Meanwhile, inconsistencies and nonsense trip up the tales, radiation pools drift about, hydrogen missiles start hydrogen fires, giant bullfrogs come from Jupiter, and other bollocks. Sometimes it’s as if Dick isn’t even thinking as he writes. Of course, once he starts really thinking we’ll enter the world of Valis revelations.
If I sound a bit negative maybe that’s because I just re-read on the trot three PKD ‘classics’ which I once adored, and only one of them, THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH, still stood up; MAZE OF DEATH and UBIK seemed so crudely written and drab rather than visionary.

Reviewed by Ian Watson Jun-2007 Published by Gollancz

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IN MILTON LUMKY TERRITORY / MARY AND THE GIANT by Philip K Dick

Philip K Dick was one of the best SF writers. He produced some of the most inventive material in the genre. He had a wicked sense of humour and generally threw in the odd unexpected twist before the end of any story.
Sometime in the 50s he also wrote these mainstream novels. They remained unpublished until he died in the 80s. Where his SF was inventive, dark and comic, this is dull, grey and lifeless. This isn’t an attempt at literature, it’s mediocre 50s pulp fiction. This isn’t even up to the likes of Harold Robbins let alone any literary writer of the period.
There isn’t a great deal of difference between the two books. Themes recur, characters seem to be different versions of the same person, even large lumps of plot seem to be duplicated.
Our ‘hero’ (the strongest male character) has been travelling with his work for some years and is now settling down. He is buying all our part of a retail business. As a result of this he meets the ‘heroine’. She is either a business partner or an employee. There is a relationship there that never really seems to work properly. She has a lot of trouble making decisions and sticking to them. This proves financially costly to him. There is also an age gap that keeps them apart.
They seem to break up and things are settled in a final chapter that seems to be a clear break from the rest of the book.
In IN MILTON LUMKY TERRITORY our ‘hero’ is Bruce Stevens.
He’s been working as a buyer for a discount retail store in Reno driving up and down the country looking for goods that can be bought cheaply and in large quantities. He meets Susan Faine who was his school teacher years before and now owns half of a secretarial agency and typewriter supplies shop. She is divorced with a young daughter and wants to take more time at home. She wants him to buy out her business partner and build up the retail side of the business so that, in a few years, she can just do some of the secretarial work from home. They are soon married but it isn’t a terribly stable marriage. Then there are a lot of cheap typewriters that seem to be the way to make the retail business pay. Things are never that easy. Somewhere in all this is Milt Lumky - a seriously ill salesman who is the only one that can find the cut-rate typewriters and Peg Googer a onenight stand that Bruce kind-of regrets.
MARY & THE GIANT begins with the arrival of Joe Schilling. He’s been in the music business for years and he wants to open up a small record shop in a small town and retire. Things are complicated when Mary Anne Reynolds applies for the job of assistant in the shop. As soon as he offers her the job she changes her mind because she thinks he’s coming on to her. Their relationship is little more than a series of collisions. They have a dinner date. She works one day in the shop. They have a one-night stand. He rents her an apartment and they set about painting and decorating. The painting is never finished and she moves out without having spent a night there. She leaves town. In the background are Carleton Tweany a giant blues musician, various other downbeat would-be musicians and hangers on and an accidental death at a party.
It was once said that Phil Dick SF novels could never be filmed because too much of them were just people sitting around in rooms talking. Those stories had action sequences as well. These don’t. These are just back catalogue mediocrities published to cash in on a famous name.

Reviewed by William McCabe Aug-2005 Published by Gollancz

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NOW WAIT FOR LAST YEAR by Philip K Dick

This is volume 36 in the SF Masterworks series. I have to admit that I haven’t read many PKD books. No particular reason - I just haven’t. I have heard it said that the more you read his body of works, the more you enjoy each book. That could well be true. Certainly I enjoyed this one which was first published in 1975, so it’s relatively late. I must read more.
One thing that I always find distracts me in books of this era is not the presence of ‘futuristic’ technology, but its absence. This story takes place in only 50 to 60 years’ time - 2055 or so - and one can fly to cities on Mars in a matter of hours (if only!), yet they use ‘tape projectors’ for entertainment.
This is a story to make your brain hurt.
Our hero, Eric Sweetscent (yes, really), via his estranged wife, becomes involved with a new drug which has been developed for use on the enemy reegs. Or is it Lilistar and its ‘Starmen? Nothing is spelt out; you have to work out what is going on as you read. But the drug JJ-180 has the strange side-effect of taking the user backward or forward in time.
Which is where the brain-hurting comes in, as Eric flits back and forth in time, at one point meeting himself. Eric’s temporary boss, Gino Molinari - ‘The Mole’ - whom he is supposed to keep alive, seems to exist in several forms, one constantly sick and dying, one strong and fit, and one already assassinated. Are these persona from other timelines, or are they mere robants? Does it make any difference? In some futures he is regarded as a traitor, in others as a saviour.
But the future of the Solar System depends upon his survival, so Eric had better make the right decisions. Read this and find out for yourself if he does.
One minor quibble I’d like to make as an artist - the otherwise nice cover by Chris Moore is rather ‘killed’ by the bright magenta blob at the top of the cover, which attracts the eye away from the art itself

Reviewed by David A Hardy Apr-2001 Published by Millennium

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Second Variety by Philip K Dick

Another collection of short stories from the complete collection (Volume 2). It is all good solid stuff with all of PKD's usual tricks - the heavy sense of irony, the twist at the end of the tail... - but there's nothing that really stands out here. In some ways it loses from the lack of oddities as in the first and third volumes but if you can take this sort of thing and still be constantly surprised then that should not be a problem. It's all good stuff from one of the best writers of the genre but it can start to feel a little predictable after a while.
Reviewed by William McCabe May-2000 Published by Millennium

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SOLAR LOTTERY by Philip K Dick

This is Dick’s first published novel, and it is always interesting to read early works from authors who have been made more famous by their later novels.
This is an excellent story idea. The leader of the universe is elected by a random chance, by a lottery. When the bottle switches anybody at all can suddenly find themselves the ‘Quizmaster’. However there is a downside to this: the secondary game played by the rivals of the leader (previous Quizmasters, for instance), who try to get back in power by assassinating him. Ted Bentley is reluctantly drawn into this world and its inner politics, and whilst striving to reach his ideals he has to work out what his priorities are and where his loyalties lie.
It is a fairly short novel which has a good pace with quite a lot of action.
Unfortunately there is rath er a lack of any real insight into the world created by the author, other than what is immediately relevant to the plot.
I did warm to the characters - though it took a while. Ted seems grumpy and disorientated, his confusion not helping the reader to sympathise much with him. The girls are all (as well as topless) seemingly too perfect-looking - with the necessary twist beneath the surface. And the bad guys seem all too twodimensional.
If we were given more of an insight into their jobs and how they fitted into the world, this effect might have been reduced.
This is a fine SF story and an interesting insight into early Philip K Dick. Nothing spectacular but worth a read.
Reviewed by Vicky Cook Apr-2004 Published by Gollancz

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The collected stories Volume 1 - Beyond lies the Wub & Volume 3 - The Father-thing by Philip K Dick

So much is said about PKD and his novels, they talk about the darkness and the paranoia and how difficult things are. Add to that the recent films that owe more to Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett and it isn't terribly surprising that nobody's really paid attention to this stuff These are short stories published in the first half of the fifties. There isn't a great deal of difference in style and quality throughout (although there are inconsistencies) and the standard is pretty good.
The style that everyone called paranoia shows up very consistently here. Most of the stories have a plot that involves someone trying to take over the world / universe and usually the revelation that things aren't being run by the people you thought they were. The most surprising thing is the discovery of PKD's strong sense of humour. The heavy irony runs throughout, attempts to control the world are averted by the most unlikely candidates (small boys, stuffed toys). Some things resurface in other fiction (the one about the animal that says to the people about to eat it "the taste is good, very fatty but quite tender" (Beyond lies the wub - 1) and others are merely silly (The eyes have it -3) and there's always the twist at the end like something out of the old "Twilight Zone". Those who think comedy should be harmless could learn a lot here. The rest of us can just have a good laugh. William McCabe

Reviewed by Jan-2000 Published by Millennium

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THE COSMIC PUPPETS / CONFESSIONS OF A CRAP ARTIST by Philip K Dick

Back when I started to read science fiction, Philip K Dick was known for a handful of short stories – competently done; things like “The Defenders” and “The Golden Man”, but gimmicky and slight, little to distinguish him from dozens of other contributors to the 1950s’ magazines. Then he started to get more serious, his attention turned towards longer lengths, and in 1961 he wrote the justly-praised and Hugo-winning THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE. But the novels gradually grew more and more strange, with the big turning point probably being THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH, in 1965, which attracted a great deal of attention. Remember, this was at the height of the ‘New Wave’ controversy and Dick was hailed as one of its prophets.
I was editing SPECULATION magazine at the time, and didn’t care for the novel or the adulation with which I felt it had been greeted. So for the next few years we published reviews and other material that tried to take a more balanced, objective look at the Philip K Dick phenomenon. In the end we gave up, overwhelmed both by his volume of production and by the almost-universal critical acclaim.
THE COSMIC PUPPETS is Dick’s very first novel, published as half of an Ace Double in 1957. Expanded from an earlier magazine story from 1953 it is still very short (140 pp), and looked at analytically the setting doesn’t make sense, the plot-mechanics are rudimentary and characterisation is minimal.
However, the writing is oddly gripping and for the first couple of chapters we do genuinely wonder what is going on, until everything gets swept up – far too quickly - into a whirlwind resolution. The most interesting aspect of the book is the way in which it foreshadows the theme that came to completely dominate the author’s life; reality is not as it seems, and for that reason it has some historical interest for those interested in the evolution of Dick’s work.
CONFESSIONS OF A CRAP ARTIST is a longer (246 pp) and much better book. Dating from the mid-seventies, its tone is similar to Dick’s betterknown A SCANNER DARKLY (written in the same period), with multiperspectives on events and the same semi-autobiographical take on the craziness of Californian life. It compares with Vonnegut’s later novels though doesn’t go so directly for sardonic humour; instead, an air of gentle melancholy pervades the story of Jack Isidore – the ‘crap artist’ of the title – who believes in all sorts of nutty ideas, fills his apartment with rubbish (including old SF magazines) and in general doesn’t do very much with his life. Sound familiar? Neither book is marketed as genre ‘science fiction’ but those of us in the know will recognise the propeller beanie and the Hugo rocket on the cover of CRAP ARTIST. I found it oddly compelling.

Reviewed by Peter Weston Mar-2006 Published by Gollancz

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THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH by Philip K Dick

Philip K Dick wrote many stories with the same ideas presented in different ways.
Characters use drugs to enter some other reality in which they are not the same person.
That (and other effects) often leave them doubting whether their experience is real and if they are who they believe themselves to be. Sometimes a (usually false) messiah will present himself by connecting everyone’s experience. Sometimes people will join together in some other form of psychic sharing. All of these are present in this novel. Most of them are executed here better than in any other novel that Dick wrote.
You could say that this makes this novel clichéd. As this was one of his earlier novels, he hadn’t used the themes so much but, you may have read other, later stories as well so this is a good point. If nothing else, the clichés were his own and not copied from someone else.
There’s also the problem of the distortion of reality. Some readers may not be willing to read something that doesn’t tell them definitively whether this is real or just someone’s drugged dream. If you’re one of those, this book isn’t for you. If you can take a degree of uncertainty, this is a better choice than some of his other uses of that effect.
Once again the setting is an Earth after some great disaster. This time the sun is so powerful that most people live underground and rarely venture out in the daylight. There are now colonies on Mars. This is a place so depressing that almost all of the inhabitants are compelled to go there and everyone uses a drug to escape into a false world that they experience from the point of view of a Barbie doll. There is a great market in the production of the dolls and the accessories and a similar black market in the drug. All of these are controlled by one corporation. Then Palmer Eldritch returns from the stars with a new drug that doesn’t require the dolls to complete the escape. This threatens everything for the corporation. But is Palmer Eldritch still the man that left Earth all those years ago?
Is he even human? Is the new drug really what it seems to be? Maybe you will find answers to these questions. Probably not.

Reviewed by William McCabe Jul-2007 Published by Gollancz

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TIME OUT OF JOINT by Philip K Dick

This is another book in Gollancz’s ‘SF Masterworks’ series. It was written in 1959, and most of it takes place around then - or does it? Or is the world of the fifties just an illusion, maintained to convince the ‘hero’, Ragle Gumin, and ensure that he continues to enter a newspaper contest every day - and winning? For this is what he does, since he appears to have a knack for guessing “Where Will The Little Green Man Be Next?” in the Gazette, and the inhabitants of the small town of - what? The name is never actually given, and nor are its state or county. But anyway, they love him, as they would a movie star or anyone famous. And everyone seems to encourage him to continue doing the competition, and winning, almost as if their lives depended upon it. . .
But gradually, Ragle begins to wonder why this is, and what would happen if he stopped. And then his world begins to become untangled. Strange tilings happen. There are no radios in his town, only TVs. But Sammy, the son of his sister Margo, with whom he lives, obtains a crystal set, and on it they hear people talking, passing messages about something passing overhead. And they even mention Ragle’s name. He becomes involved with a local Civil Defence group; Sammy and his friends, exploring ‘The Ruins’, a mysterious area of old concrete foundations which Margo is campaigning to have cleared away and made safe, find some old telephone books and a copy of a magazine containing pictures and news stories about people they’ve never heard of, like Marilyn Monroe. Ragle digs out more, and finds a copy of Life magazine with a date of 1996. There are references to bases on the Moon, Mars and Venus. From then on, he is never sure whether he is living in a real world, or one of illusion.
It is only when Dick starts to reveal the reality behind all this that the book becomes less readable and more unbelievable. Indeed, it would probably have been better if he had not tried to explain it. A very informative Afterword by Lou Stasis (?) explains that at the time when Dick wrote this, he was churning out SF stories for Ace Books, whose editor was Donald Wollheim (who often used to 6 re-write authors’ work, without their knowledge until the story was published, to tit into his rather juvenile idea of science fiction). Dick desperately wanted to get off this treadmill, and considered Time Out of Joint to be the first of a new breed of novel - effectively, mainstream. He submitted it to Wollheim, knowing that it would not be accepted, and in fact it had already been accepted elsewhere. Of course, it didn’t really work, and the name of Philip K Dick is forever linked with SF. But a unique, mutant form of SF, full of strange, neurotic worlds which mirror his own, probably psychotic world.
Flawed, but very readable.

Reviewed by David A Hardy Oct-2003 Published by Gollancz

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Cory Doctorow

FOR THE WIN by Cory Doctorow

The genius of Doctorow’s writing is the way that he can convincingly inhabit the world
of the game-obsessed youngster. For most kids of today, having a job where you would be paid to play computer games all day would be some kind of heaven. In this near future world, they can do just that. On-line games are big business and experienced players are needed. If only it were that simple…
Leonard is a sixteen-year-old American. He calls himself Wei-Dong and hangs out in cyberspace with a gang of Chinese players. His father is not happy and tries to send him to a military school. Leonard runs away and gets a poorly paid job playing games. Mala and her army earn enough to get a better deal in the slums of Mumbai. One of their tasks is to help paying customers get their avatars up to higher levels where the in-game rewards are greater. They and Matthew’s gang in China are also gold-farmers. There are players out there who will pay real money to have virtual items credited to their in-game characters. The gold-farmers get them, their bosses sell them. It is big business. It is a commodity market. Real fortunes can be made or lost. The players like Mala and Matthew work in sweat-shop conditions.
Then they are approached, during battle, by Big Sister Nor, who plays out of Hong Kong. She wants better pay and conditions for the workers. She proposes a Trade Union, the IWWWW,
Much of the novel is the struggle to unionise the workers and get recognition. This is a realistic, gritty and at times, bloody novel. Just as the original workers’ unions had to fight for survival, so do these characters. Game-playing is not always fun.
Although this may look like a young adult book, it has some deeply disturbing passages involving brutality and exploitation. These things are probably going on right now, in the places Doctorow describes. He has changed the parameters but the message is the same. Act now.
Hidden inside a thoroughly enjoyable fast paced book is material that should make any civilised reader think.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Oct-2010 Published by HarperVoyager

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LITTLE BROTHER by Cory Doctorow

There was a time when SF stories were written so that young people would read them and develop some kind of enthusiasm about the science that was involved in the story. This is like that. It does that quite well. This time the science is all about computer data security, codes, and how to keep yourself anonymous on the internet. There is enough plot involved to make it interesting and the science is kept simple enough (although there are pointers for further reading) to prevent alienating the audience. All this is most important as this is a book for teenagers. The central characters are at high school, all of the bad guys are adults in a position of authority. The situation makes youthful rebellion into a very good thing.
Everything is tailored for a particular age group.
This is not entirely a good thing. There are times when the plot seems overly contrived. The necessary incompetence of adults who should be more capable brings a cartoonish quality that reduces the dramatic impact.
In the wake of a terrorist attack on San Francisco, more severe than anything the US has seen before, the Department of Homeland Security takes over making the city into something like a police state. People are arrested for keeping any kind of secret and imprisoned without trial. Marcus and his friends use all kinds of internet communications methods that were designed for people living under violent totalitarian regimes to raise group protests against the new society they live in. Can they stay ahead of the Keystone Kops DHS spies?
Supposedly the internet/cryptography science is all real and accurate and you can look it up on the internet. That and other things are explained in the 3 chapters of the afterword at the end. You can also find a list of recommended books on hacking, cryptography, hippies and the odd SF novel. There's even a recommendation for a record that was deleted 40 years ago and has never been reissued. Doctorow is a capable writer but I wonder if he really knows what he's doing.
Reviewed by William McCabe Dec-2008 Published by HarperCollins

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MAKERS by Cory Doctorow

Good science fiction writers are able to take present trends and extrapolate into a plausible near future. All of us can see that if certain companies are unable to innovate, they will disappear from the market place. Digital technology has tolled the death knell for film photography and power sources are moving away from the usage of chemical batteries. In MAKERS, Doctorow starts with the merger of Kodak and Duracell to make Kodacell. Landon Kettlewell, the CEO of the new company, calls a press conference not only to announce the new arrangement but also to outline a new method of doing things. Instead of one, unwieldy and vulnerable company, they are looking for innovators with perhaps one product idea that can, with sponsorship and guidance, be made developed into something commercial.
Suzanne Church, a local journalist, is invited to follow the progress of one of these new setups. Her move to Florida is meant to be short-term as she posts all the details of the work of two entrepreneurs, Lester Banks and Perry Gibbons. They are assigned a business manager to help with the financial side of the enterprise. The team is a success but with any new innovation there will be others who will try to copy the designs and flood the market with cheap versions.
To keep ahead, new concepts must be developed.
Moving a completely different direction, they run into a trademark battle with Disney.
With a near future setting, this is an excellent look at the way that big business conducts itself and the tricks the unscrupulous will get up to. It is also a demonstration of the power of the internet. There are villains, inside and out of the Disney Parks corporation, in particular a nasty, mean-minded journalist whose favourite pastime is to make inflammatory comments on the internet against his opponents. It is a pity that he is about the only English character. There are excellent cameo characters, like the Goth youth who calls himself Death Waits but the main characters tend to escape. They are too busy doing things and driving the plot to be fully fleshed out. On the whole, this is a good example of inventive science fiction.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Feb-2010 Published by HarperVoyager

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David Drake

Lord of the Isles by David Drake

David Drake has made the switch from straight Science Fiction to fantasy with remarkable ease. In this the first book of a trilogy? Quadrology? He has set the four main characters in a cosmic chess game, which takes them on a journey through a number a different planes of reality. Along with Tenoctris a female wizard, who has been moved a thousand years into the future, Garric or-Reise and his sister Sharina and his friend Cashel and his sister Ilna are forced to leave Barca’s Hamlet on the Island of Haft. As they leave the only home they have known for the outside world, they are initially pawns on a chessboard, in a cosmic game played by unseen players. But unlike pawns they come to realise slowly that they have more powers than anybody realises.
As an introduction to an epic fantasy, Lord o f the Isles, sets a cracking pace with a number of different strands well woven together. The characters are somewhat familiar in the fantasy mould, but even for all that they set the stage for the adventures that come their way. With some of the other principle characters such as Nonnus a solitary figure also from Barca’s Hamlet, the treacherous Queen and the Hooded One an evil wizard, they pull the cosmic powers that rule the destinies of the islands around the inland sea together in a tale of mystery and intrigue. Lord o f the Isles is a well-crafted book, which does not loose its way in telling an epic tale.
There is plenty of detail without getting bogged down and the story moves with a nicely feel of timing.
This is definitely one for all fantasy readers, with the promise of more to come in the following books.
Reviewed by Chris Chivers May-2000 Published by Orion

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Queen of Demons by David Drake

Queen of Demons continues the story of Game, Sharina, Cashel, ilna and the sorceress Tenoctris, started in the first book in the series Lord o f the Isles. After the defeat o f the ancient sorcerer the Hooded One in a great battle the game should have been won, but the cosmic chess game continues. Game, who know knows that he-is from the ancient bloodline of King Lorcan who hid the powerful Throne of Malkar, which is the prize that the players of the game want. King Carus the last of the rulers of all of the isles, before they split into warring kingdoms, and who’s ghost guides Garric towards re-uniting the isles into one coherent whole, but Garric has a long road to travel before this can pass. His friends Cashel and Ilna who are halflings also have powers that others want, and his sister Sharma are forced into different paths travelling through alternate realities before they are reunited. But in the background lurk the ever present forces of darkness that still want to use the main players in the saga as pawns in their own game.
With the second book in David Drake’s epic fantasy, Lord o f the Isles, the Oueen o f Demons manages to keep the pace set in the first novel going, without the usual drop off the second novels in a trilogy sometimes suffer from. Even though the plot line is somewhat predictable the characterisations do not suffer. The adversities that the main characters have to deal with are dealt with in a competent manner, along with several novel twists on the fantasy theme. David Drake is definitely making a mark for himself in the Fantasy field and he has moved himself up a notch from his straight Science Fiction novels.

Reviewed by Chris Chivers May-2000 Published by Millennium

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SERVANT OF THE DRAGON by David Drake

This third volume of the Lord of the Isles wraps up the story of Garric, Sharina, Ilna and the sorceress Tenoctris. Garric, now the power behind the throne and the real ruler of the Isles, faces his greatest challenge from the dark forces that sank the Isle of Yole. Woven into this background is the task of rebuilding a government and dealing with the shallow and vain characters from Barca’s Hamlet who now seek to ride on Garric’s rise to power. Add to this the court intrigues and other hangers on, and Garric has his work cut out. He has to rely on his old friends Sharina, Cashel, Ilna and Tenoctris to help him understand the dark forces that are gathering.
The appearance of a shimmering blue bridge across the river, on the site of an old kingdom bridge that had been destroyed many centuries earlier, is the start of the long drawn-out battle between the forces of Garric’s kingdom and the wizards that have moved through time from the demise of the old kingdom. When Sharina is pulled through into another dimension she starts her long quest that will have surprising results for her friends. She does not realise that Cashel has also gone after her with a view to her rescue. The independent journeys that both of them make add to the forces that Garric will have to call on to defeat the dark wizards that are arrayed against him.
This book keeps the pace going that Drake set in the previous volumes. The convoluted plot line has been somewhat straightened out and the main characters have lost a little of their colour. David Drake has produced three books that provide an entertaining fantasy story with plenty of twists and turns that will keep the reader happy for many hours.

Reviewed by Chris Chivers May-2001 Published by Millennium

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Dominic Dulley

SHATTERMOON (The Long Game) by Dominic Dulley

Orry and her family are space grifters, moving from one con to the next, targeting the rich aristocracy of the Ascendancy worlds. When the latest heist goes drastically wrong, Orry is left alone to try and pick up the pieces and rescue her brother and the family spaceship from the murderous Morven Dyas.
Pursued by the authorities, who blame her for a murder she didn’t commit, she has only the help of an old spacehand, an antiquated spaceship and a young, naïve noble. Together they must out-run and outwit all the forces pitted against them in a race to retrieve a mysterious pendant that in the wrong hands could destroy the fragile peace between the Ascendancy and the belligerent, alien Kadiran.
This is a very fast-paced novel as the heroes race from one crisis to another. While some will find this exciting, I found after a while that it became exhausting and felt that the story would benefit from more “breathing spaces” for both the reader and the characters. The breakneck pace to me felt that there was not enough time and space to concentrate on character development.
Because of this, I felt that although Orry, the main protagonist had some depth, other characters would have benefitted from more exploration and fleshing out. As it is, it feels that characters are often dropping in or out as required to drive the plot and the reader doesn’t get long enough to get to know them. This fast pace also means that the set-up of the society, which has some interesting potential, is also too much in the background for my liking and the reader doesn’t get a detailed sense of place from the various locations in the book.
As far as I am aware, the book is marketed for adults, but it read very much to me as an YA book, with its young, feisty heroine who consistently outwits the bad guys. Also, the clear division of people into either good or bad with little shading would be a better fit and my concerns about depth would be less of an issue. The couple of things that sway me away from that classification though are one scene of graphic violence (which to me felt that it didn’t fit with the more light-hearted tone of the book) and the use of “quim” by a character about and addressed to Orry. This is a very misogynistic and offensive, albeit archaic, term and given that it is used to describe a young girl, I felt that in this day and age, the author could have found a better alternative.
At the end of the day I am sure that many people will enjoy this cheerful space romp but it was not one that really suited my tastes.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Jul-2018 Published by Jo Fletcher Books

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Lord Dunsany

Time and the Gods by Lord Dunsany

This is the second in the series of "Fantasy Masterworks" (although there is no note of what number one was).
This is in fact a collection of 6 books of short stories published early in the last century (20th, that is). These vary between the mythological style of translated Greek and Roman myth and the traveller's tale but all of it seems to be original. This is one for those that think the modern fantasy writers are imaginative or inventive. There is not a great deal of detail here and you won't find any real depth to the characters but the story-telling has style and each story fits into it's allotted genre.

Reviewed by William McCabe May-2000 Published by Millennium

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Jan Edwards

FABLES AND FABRICATIONS by Jan Edwards

While being aware of Jan Edward’s considerable skills as an editor and co-publisher of Alchemy Press, I had not previously read much of her own writing. FABLES AND FABRICATIONS is a collection of fourteen short stories interspersed with poems. All of the stories have been previously published elsewhere although the haiku’s (three line poems with a 5-7-5 syllable structure) are all original.
One of the problems I often have with single author collections is that the stories often become very similar. That is most definitely not the case here. While most of the stories could be classed as fantasy (with a couple of exceptions) the stories are pleasingly varied in subject and style, ranging from light humorous pieces through to some dark and emotionally affecting tales. It is no easy task to write well over such a wide range, and is a good reflection of the author’s significant abilities and imagination. I also like the prose style which makes very effective use of similies and metaphors so that they are evocative without being cliched. Whilst every story is not equally enjoyable, I feel this is more a question of my individual taste than anything inherent to the crafting and quality of the story.
One of my favourites is the first story, “Drawing down the Moon” which looks at the high price which must be paid for communicating with the dead. I really liked the shift from the mundane setting of a seedy café to the high drama later in the story. It also amply demonstrates the author’s ability to write credible female (and male) protagonists. Other favourites include; “Midnight Twilight” about a journalist searching for a mysterious creature in the remote Arctic, which again is very atmospheric; “The Abused and Him” which is not fantasy but paints a realistic and unsettling picture of the after-effects of abuse on a victim; and “Princess Born” which is a very funny re-writing of the Princess and the Pea fairy story. The author is clearly familiar with a lot of folklore, both British and European and plays with these themes very effectively in many of the stories, which appealed to me personally.
Regarding the poetry, I am always hesitant commenting but I did enjoy the Haiku in particular as one can see the real skill in capturing an impression or emotion in very few words.
This is a collection of thoughtfully written, wide ranging stories which I thoroughly recommend with the only caveat being that it is not for those who want science fiction stories.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Jun-2016 Published by Penkhull

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LEINSTER GARDENS AND OTHER SUBTLETIES by Jan Edwards

The problem with reading a book of ghost stories is that you are always on the look-out for the ghost. It is harder to surprise the reader but a skilled writer can do it especially if they make use of the full use of range of ghosts that appear in literature. Many Victorian writers liked the idea of the vengeful ghost, the innocent who suffers at the hands of the wicked and wants justice. Other ghosts don’t realise they are dead and don’t know that they have to move on, while others are somehow trapped. Experiences that might be interpreted as ghosts may merely be a replay of events with no spirit involved or a lost spirit from another dimension may not understand the havoc they are causing. There are probably as many interpretations of the phenomena labelled ghosts as there are apparitions recorded. The challenge is to make the supernatural unexpected rather than unexplained.
In this volume of fourteen ghost stories, Jan Edwards explores the nature of the ghostly event and finds ways of reinterpreting it. Many of these stories have their roots in folklore and urban myth; many reportings of ghostly sightings have already entered into the mythology of the haunted place. The title story, “Concerning The Events In Leinster Gardens” has the authenticity of the 1930s in both language and attitudes. It also draws on the scams that were able to catch out the unwary. Archie buys a ticket to a masked ball in good faith. From the moment of his arrival in Leinster Gardens, the reader is aware that nothing is quite what it seems. Gullible Archie is not so fortunate. The challenge is to spot all the tropes that Edwards is playing with.
Whereas, the house itself in Leinster Gardens can be regarded as the ghost, “The Waiting” would be regarded as more traditional with a house being haunted. It is the approach that makes it different, cutting between past and present.
A good way of solving the ‘which is the ghost’ problem is a bit of misdirection. Titles well-chosen can provide it as in “Nanna Barrows” a story narrated by a young girl, now an invalid after having recovered from diphtheria.
“April Love” gives us a choice of possible ghosts. Some, often weak stories, don’t reveal that the narrator is a ghost until the very end, leaving the reader feeling cheated. This doesn’t happen here as the narrative is third person but seen from the points of view of April and her two suitors. It is very carefully plotted to keep the reader guessing.
By default, ghost stories have an element of the past within them. Often it is a contemporary figure interacting with a spectre that has their origin in history. In most of Edwards’ stories, the setting for the events is also historical. “The Ballad Of Lucy Lightfoot” is an exception because it crosses boundaries. Lucy has returned to the place of her birth on the Isle of Wight to finish what started nearly two hundred years previously. The story manages to combine paganism, folklore, time travel and immortality yet still contains ghosts – though this time they are much harder to spot. Because of this, and its longer length it is my favourite in this collection.
“Orbyting” is very different and a complete contrast to the stories on either side of it. It has a very modern high tech, SF feel to it. Kat is part of a team of ghost hunters. When she returns to the office to retrieve forgotten keys she gets locked in. On screen, she is hunting a ghost but is it also hunting her?
Two stories here are very much of the traditional type. In fact, the idea of “R For Roberta” has been used before. It is an elderly man at the end of his life who is remembering the time in the war when the plane he should have been on didn’t return from its war-time mission. While in “Wade’s Run” two lost women are taken to a hostel after an accident by a helpful motorist, after he runs them down. Like “R For Roberta”, “Redhill Residential” has its roots in WWII when many airmen failed to return. Again it is the past impinging on the present, but this is a much more unusual and subtle story. “Valkenswaard” is another war-time ghost story but where death is violent and loss is both dreaded and expected the frequency of ghostly events is intensified. In this story, though, the apparition is closer to the one who experiences it. It could be regarded as a spirit who doesn’t yet know that the body is dead, or a spirit determined to keep a promise no matter what.
Most ghosts are perceived to have the same appearance as when they died. Some, who believe in a happy afterlife, imagine their loved ones at the peak of their Earthly fitness, so when the lover dies young, the partner living to ripe old age will be rejuvenated when they meet again. There are obvious flaws on this arrangement but that is no reason to think that a spirit is identical to the body they left with all the traumas of injury or sickness. In “The Clinic” this is something Sarah gets to consider when her younger sister dies. Young men are always ready to laugh at the tall tales of their elders. Whether they are ready to believe them or not doesn’t stop them daring each other, especially after a few beers, which is why in “The Eve Watch” the two youths celebrating their last night of freedom before being called up, are lurking in the churchyard. According to Jem’s Granfer, watching there for three consecutive years will grant a vision of those about to die. Here, we have an example of a predictive ghost, a messenger from the spirit world where the future is known.
The final two stories both deal with transformations, but in very different ways. In “Otterburn” there is a question as to whether there is a ghost here, a transformation or even a death. There is certainly a disappearance. The skill of the writing allows the reader to make their own decisions as to what has taken place on the river bank. With “The Black Hound Of Newgate”, there is no doubt that sorcery has taken place. In folklore there are many tales of ghostly black dogs roaming the countryside, often portending bad luck for whoever sees it. This one haunts Newgate Gaol. It is often postulated that we all have an animal inside us and that out human form is merely a veneer. The question this story asks is whether both parts of a soul die at the same time, or can one form become a ghost leaving the alter ego having a material presence. After a riot in the gaol, one man may have the chance to find out.
This book can be read simply as a collection of ghost stories, but on another level it exploring the variety of ghostly phenomena and asking the reader to wonder why we are so fascinated by them. Many of these stories are set in the past and Jan Edwards is very good at evoking an earlier era in a minimum of words. It is perhaps a volume to be dipped in to rather than reading straight through.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Oct-2015 Published by Alchemy

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Janet Edwards

DEFENDER (Hive Mind 2) by Janet Edwards

I am not a fan of the term YA as I feel it creates an artificial separation and removes many excellent novels from the attention of “adult” readers. Indeed, many fondly remembered SF books from earlier years such as Andre Norton or much Robert Heinlein, would now probably be classified as YA. Janet’s novels to me have that same appeal to a very wide readership – indeed my son was fighting me to read this book first when he saw I had it which is not something he does with most of my reading material (Jim Butcher and Ben Aaronovitch being the other notable exceptions). In the first book, TELEPATH we saw Amber as she turns eighteen and enters the Lottery, the psychological testing that determines the future role and rank of every citizen based on their aptitudes and society’s needs. However, Amber is found to be a very rare and valuable telepath. Telepath’s are vital in detecting criminals and preventing crimes in the vast closed community of the Hive in which she lives. So valuable is this ability that unlike other citizens she will not be imprinted with relevant information (and attitudes) and she must be protected and her abilities kept secret from all but a handful of people. In the first book we saw Amber getting to know her team who both protect her and help her hunt. She had to come to terms with incidents from her childhood and adapt to her new circumstances. In this second book, set only a few months later, Amber is now working effectively with her team in identifying potential criminals and preventing incidents. However, finding a dead body of someone they knew without Amber having detected any warning signs of a crime precipitates a crisis. Someone with close knowledge of telepaths and how their teams work is clearly involved. As they try to uncover the traitor and their plans for massive destruction and disruption, Amber must also struggle within her mind as opening her thoughts to others brings its own threats to her sanity and identity. As with other books by this author, DEFENDER combines well a strong plot and narrative with interesting and fallible characters. The story is well paced and the reader wants to keep reading to see what happens next. Amber in particular is extremely likeable and shows development and growth as she deals with both professional and personal crises. As well as the plot strands of the traitor and Amber’s psychological health, there is clearly a larger arc plot developing around Hive Societies and the complexities of being a telepath as Amber starts to learn and importantly question her new circumstances. YA or crossover it may be but there is a lot of story and depth in these books while still appealing to that market. The author is not afraid to move to different characters and settings than her previous series and the world of the Hives is interesting and very different from that of the Earth Girl series. The style and SF settings remind me very much of Anne McCaffrey’s non-Pern series (eg The Talent, Crystal Singer and The Ship Who … series) and anyone who enjoyed those will find much to like here. Another thoroughly enjoyable SF novel that will appeal to many.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin May-2018 Published by CreateSpace

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EARTH FLIGHT by Janet Edwards

This is the third and final volume in the Earth Girl trilogy. For those of you unfamiliar with the previous books (EARTH GIRL and EARTH STAR) the series is set on a future Earth, where most of humanity has scattered to many stars via the portals which provide instant transport. The Earth’s economy now revolves around three main areas, History, Hospitals and the Handicapped (the triple H). The Handicapped are an unfortunate minority who are unable to exist away from Earth due to a fault in their immune systems. Babies born away from Earth with the problem are immediately “portalled” back to Earth and many parents abandon them to the impersonal foster centres. These “Handicapped” are often viewed as something shameful and there is a lot of prejudice against them.
In the first book, EARTH STAR we are introduced to Jarra, a teenage girl. Abandoned on Earth as a baby she has grown up hearing all the insults about the Handicapped being stupid, ugly throwbacks and is angry and determined to prove she is as good as any “norm”. She enrols on a University History course but pretends to all the offworld students that she is one of them. Towards the end of the novel, Jarra and her classmates rescue crashed military personnel from an archaeological dig site and in recognition she is given the military Artemis medal and becomes a positive role model for the Handicapped.
In the second book, EARTH STAR an alien Sphere approaches Earth and the Military conscript Jarra and her boyfriend into the Alien Contact team, partially for her history knowledge but also due to her celebrity status.
In this third book the plot concentrates on two main strands. Firstly Jarra’s formal adoption by her birth clan and the active prejudice this causes and secondly the quest to translate the alien data and find their home planet. Factions who fear alien contact join forces with those who wish to stop her adoption and Jarra’s life is endangered. Due to events in the previous book only Jarra can unlock access to the alien homeworld and the vital knowledge it contains. However due to her disability Jarra faces a life threatening decision.
I like these books immensely. It is clear that a lot of thought has gone into the plotting. Even when the reader is tempted to start thinking that an event is improbable, this has been recognised and there is a plausible explanation. In this book in particular I liked that Jarra’s character shows growth and maturity and starts to recognise her own prejudices and the chip on her shoulder. The themes of prejudice and difference are well managed and will clearly resonate with many teenagers. I also find it extremely refreshing to read young adult SF which is not a complete dystopia. These books remind me of Anne McCaffrey (especially her non-Pern books) in that they appeal to readers across a wide age range.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Nov-2014 Published by Harper Voyager

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EARTH GIRL by Janet Edwards

This is not just a debut novel from a talented new writer but Janet is also one of our own – a Brum Group member.
EARTH GIRL is the first of a trilogy narrated by Jarra Reeath, an eighteen-year-old brought up on Earth. This is not her choice and she is resentful of the circumstances that have forced this circumstance on her. Most of the population of Earth migrated to other planets once the ‘portal system had been developed and the planets’ okayed for colonisation by the Military. Unfortunately, a few children are born allergic to all other planets and have to be shipped to Earth almost instantly. These children are raised to know that they can never leave the planet, and most are rejected by their parents.
Jarra is one of these. To compound matters the ‘exos’ (those who live on other planets) tend to regard Earth children as inferior throwbacks. They are the bottom of society’s heap and the butt of racist taunts.
Jarra is a rebel. Although she knows she can never leave, she is determined to prove that she and her friends are as good as anyone else. As history is her passion (her friends are always telling her to shut up about it) she enrols in the University of Asgard as an archaeological student. This suits her fine as the Foundation course takes place entirely on Earth at various digs. She has already visited many of them and knows her way around, especially New York where they are based for the first section of the course. Her problem is that she doesn’t want the other students to know she is an Earth Girl so she manufactures a history for herself, claiming that she is Military born. As the Military move from place to place she doesn’t need to claim a planet of origin, and can pretend that the skills she has already acquired are the result of a Military upbringing.
Jarra begins her course with as many prejudices regarding her fellow students as they have about her kind. If anything, these come across as stereotypes.
Planets have been settled in sectors as the portal system has expanded. The oldest colonised, Alphas, are populated by the rich and the spoiled (or so Jarra thinks).
Beta planets allow a very louche lifestyle – skimpy clothes, uninhibited sexual mores while Gammas are up-tight puritans. Gradually, though, Jarra begins to understand that the stereotypes are just that and her fellow students are as fallible as she is, their attitudes relating to their up-bringing.
Jarra herself is a very likable teen who bounces onto the page and never stays still. She begins as a bit of a super woman, accomplishing tasks easily that her fellows have yet to learn. She has a lot of growing up to do throughout the course of the novel and there are surprises waiting for her.
The setting and situations are well thought out and the image of the crumbling ruins of New York five hundred years in the future is a powerful one. Despite the occasional plot convenience, this is a light, enjoyable romp but with deeper issues being considered in the undertow. An excellent start to what, hopefully, will be a productive writing career.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Aug-2012 Published by HarperVoyager

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EARTH STAR by Janet Edwards

BSFG Member and regular attendee Janet Edwards is the author of the EARTH GIRL trilogy, science fiction for adult and young adult readers, set in a distant future where humanity portals between hundreds of colony worlds . . . Except for the unfortunate few whose immune system can’t handle living anywhere else but Earth.
In the first book, EARTH GIRL, Jarra was sent to Earth at birth to save her life and abandoned by her parents. She can’t travel to other worlds, but she can watch their vids, and she knows all the jokes they make. She’s an “ape,” a “throwback,” but this is one ape girl who won’t give in.
Being an 'ape' Jarra is subject to continual discrimination despite being awarded the Artemis medal for her heroic actions in the first novel. The majority of norms have left earth to live on other colonized planets expanding into the universe. Jarra is isolated, trapped on planet Earth and unable to pursue the military career she so wants.
Edwards captures the essence of 18-year olds even creating her own future teen lingo/jargon, which resonates. The new academic term starts and Jarra's team are at Eden to begin an archaeological dig. Unable to leave the planet due to her immunity deficiency Jarra accepts that she can never enter the military. At least she does until she and her 'twoing' partner Fian are conscripted in an emergency to the military to help with what may be evidence of first contact. They are working for the Alien Contact Programme, which has been activated. Of course the worry sets in straight away, because Jarra will die if she goes offworld.
Edwards' SF elements are strong and speak of her knowledge of the genre, with portals between sectors and planets for transport, hover bags and food dispensers, which are common place and feel real. This novel is bursting with energy and it is refreshing to see a number of powerful, strong female characters particularly in the military. And Jarra is a great female representative too; although being an 'ape' she is the daughter of heroes and a Military Honour Child. A thoroughly enjoyable YA book that will appeal to adults too.

Reviewed by Theresa Derwin Nov-2013 Published by Harper Voyager

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HURRICANE (Hive Mind 3) by Janet Edwards

Of the various books Janet Edwards has written, I think the Hive Mind series are my favourites. For those who aren’t aware of them, they are set in a future where most people now live in giant self-contained cities or “hives”. At the age of 18, everyone is assessed and assigned to a job which most precisely matches their abilities and inclinations. To enable them to quickly become productive, their minds are imprinted with the necessary knowledge. The protagonist, Amber is one of the rare exceptions. She is a newly-identified telepath and vital to the stability of the hive society. Unlike others she is not imprinted as there is a risk it might interfere with her telepathic abilities. One of only five telepaths in the hive, she uses her abilities to identify and isolate criminals before they can commit crimes. In the previous books, Amber has been growing into her role and learning to deal with the problems of being a telepath. She is also slowly starting to discover and question things about the organisation and rules of the Hive city. In HURRICANE, Amber and her team move outside the city to investigate a series of crimes in the sea farm unit. This is an additional challenge as the small sea-farm community are more independently minded than the contented city dwellers she is used to scanning. Assessment and imprinting at 18 is not compulsory there, and any minor “policing” needed is normally handled by their own security without the need to involve telepaths. With a resentful population, the threat of an imminent hurricane and the escalating violence of the criminal, she faces probably her most daunting task yet. I think it was Isaac Asimov who famously scorned those doubters who said that you can’t write a good Science Fiction mystery. It may be more difficult but can be done as long as the author is “fair” with the reader (as is the case with any conventional mystery). In HURRICANE, Janet Edwards has written a very satisfying who-dunnit with plenty to keep the reader guessing. Although Amber has the ability to read minds, the author has clearly and cleverly included credible reasons and restrictions why identifying the “villain” takes time and effort. Another strength is that the characters in the book continue to be believable and relatable. Despite her abilities, Amber is not some “superwoman” and her doubts and insecurities make her more interesting to the reader and also what one would expect from an 18- year old girl having to suddenly cope with an unanticipated and extremely high-pressure role. As well as the main plot the author adds more depth to the story as she continues to explore and develop the arc plot about the Hive Societies and the role and abilities of telepaths. This is an eminently readable SF story that will appeal to a wide age range beyond just YA. I’m eagerly looking forward to the next instalment.
Reviewed by Carol Goodwin May-2019 Published by Janet Edwards

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SCAVENGER ALLIANCE (Exodus 1) by Janet Edwards

SCAVENGER ALLIANCE is the first in a new SF series by Janet Edwards. It is set in the same universe as her previous Earth Girl series but some four hundred years earlier so it is not necessary to have read Earth Girl to enjoy this story. This novel looks at the early years after the establishment of interstellar portal technology. Most of Earth’s population has left in a massive, rushed exodus to new unpolluted colony worlds. With so few people left on Earth, infrastructure and technology have collapsed. The remaining people have segregated into “respectable citizens” who have left the cities and founded settlements in the countryside, and the “undesirables” that neither the settlements or the extrasolar colonies will accept.
Blaze is a teenage girl in one such band. It is formed from an uneasy alliance between the remnants of an Earth Resistance group (who campaigned against the unplanned and hasty emigration of Earth) and four other divisions, named after their geographical origins. This group scavenge and hunt for a living amongst the ruins of New York. They are led by Blaze’s putative father, Donnell. However, his position (and the group’s in general) is weakened after disease and a hard winter have left the group low on resources. When three stranded off-worlders appear asking for shelter, Donnell’s decision to help them further undermines his status.
Blaze is assigned to supervise the youngest off-worlder, Tad; both to protect him and to try and uncover his secrets. Meanwhile Cage, a devious, unscrupulous bully from one of the other divisions sees marriage to Blaze as his path to overall control of the group. As the internal and external threats escalate, it is only Blaze and Tad’s complementary skills and knowledge that will be vital to the group and their own survival.
As with previous work by the author, this is well plotted and thoroughly enjoyable SF. Yet again, a major strength of Janet Edward’s work is her worldbuilding. Given the promise of long distance portal travel, the resultant cascade of consequences is extremely plausible and convincing. Also well done is the establishment of the societal structure of the groups and the internal politics within the storytelling so one absorbs this easily without any noticeable chunks of info-dumping that less skilled authors might have resorted to.
One thing which I always appreciate is that her characters are credible and their actions are consistent with their personality. Blaze, as a heroine is different from Jarra (the heroine in Earth Girl). The reader can see the influences of her childhood on her skills and confidence. I particularly like that she is not a “kick-ass” heroine, as in too many YA novels. Instead she is competent without being unrealistically strong. She makes mistakes but learns from her experiences and slowly gains confidence in her own abilities and place in the group.
This is a book which keeps the reader interested and involved in the story. It is well paced with a good mixture of action, menace and character development and one which I really enjoyed reading.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Oct-2017 Published by CreateSpace

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TELEPATH (Hive Mind 1) by Janet Edwards

There is now a new kind of author – the hybrid. These are writers who have been published by mainstream publishers but have later decided, for various reasons, to self-publish. Storm Constantine was one of the first, wanting to get her earlier books back into print before going on to develop the independent publishing house of Immanion Press. Brum Group member, Janet Edwards has joined this select band. After the success of her Earth Girl trilogy, she had a following wanting to know where they could get hold of the next book. Publishing schedules of the major publishers tend to put out only one book per author per year. Janet didn’t want her fans to wait that long, especially as she is a prolific writer, so decided to produce the next books herself. While some authors need the input of various editors and agents to make sure a high quality is maintained, it is pleasing to discover that Janet doesn’t. TELEPATH has the same excellent production qualities as the Earth Girl trilogy.
Janet writes very effectively for Young Adults, properly embracing the sub-genre and placing her characters in peril, keeping the action going throughout. TELEPATH has a number of parallels with the Earth Girl trilogy. Both are set in far future societies and each has an eighteen-year old female protagonist who finds herself in a situation where she is an outsider having to prove her worth. In TELEPATH, the human population of Earth is gathered into huge, largely underground, complexes known as Hives. Each of these is as self-contained as a country. The Hives trade with each other and may be suspicious of each other’s motives. As in EARTH GIRL, much of the teen age years of the young people are spent learning independence and living in areas that largely exclude adults.
Amber, the protagonist of TELEPATH, and Jarra, the protagonist of EARTH GIRL, each begin the narrative reaching a point where their lives will change for ever. For Jarra, it is choosing the university course that will shape her adult career. For Amber, it is the series of tests that make up Lottery in the year she is eighteen. From the results of these she will be assigned a job for life, one that she is suited for and will enjoy, and will have the information she needs to carry it out imprinted on her brain. She will be very unlikely to ever meet her teenage companions again. Amber, though, turns out to have a very rare quality. She is a true telepath. As such, and only one of five in her Hive, she must be protected at all costs as she is the one who effectively will keep order. She will be able to find and track criminals so that they can be apprehended and dealt with by the Enforcers.
Amber discovers that she has a vast area, including a park, that is part of her quarters but that she has to share it with a team of Enforcers that act as her bodyguards, as well as medics, tacticians, cooks, cleaners. And she has to learn to control her new-found abilities. She has to be able to pick out from amongst the myriads, the criminal mind and direct her team to find them. She has to be able to shut out the unwanted thoughts of the others around her.
From her Lottery testing, Amber’s elite enforcers have been selected to conform to the profile she would be attracted to. Since she won’t be allowed to freely socialise, any partners would have to be found amongst those in her coterie and a telepath’s desires are paramount in keeping her happy. Thus, amongst the group is Forge, the friend from her teenage years that she was obsessed with, though he was never a boyfriend. Now she finds herself more attracted to Lucas, her tactical team leader because his mind fizzes with energy. When they attend a situation when a three-year old goes missing, incidents from her childhood begin to make more sense and an unexpected threat is exposed.
In this novel, Amber has to cope not only with the dramatic change in status that the Lottery’s rite of passage throws at her and the awakening of her own physical needs, but an imminent danger to her and her Hive.
Janet has done a good job juggling the need to write something different from her first trilogy while also keeping the elements that have attracted her fan base. Anyone who enjoyed the Earth Girl trilogy will love this. Like Jarra, Amber dances across the page with all the hopes and neuroses of any eighteen-year old. A good job well done.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Feb-2017 Published by CreateSpace

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Patrick Edwards

RUIN’S WAKE by Patrick Edwards

This is the debut novel by Patrick Edwards. It’s set in a militaristic, totalitarian regime, where the state controls most things. The story is told through the alternating viewpoints of three protagonists; Cale; an old soldier living at the edge of civilisation; Kelbee, a young woman sold into an arranged, abusive marriage to a high-ranking military officer; and Professor Sulara, Song, a female scientist, marginalised and side-lined in the patriarchal society, who has discovered a strange relic from the past. These three people, for various personal reasons, converge on the site of the mysterious ancient artefact, which has the potential to have a profound effect on the future of the repressive regime.
In writing about a dystopia, there is always a danger in making it too unpleasant. The book has a pronounced “grimdark” feel and is quite graphic in some sections. There is an audience for this type of book but it’s not to my taste, so I am perhaps the wrong reader here. While the society is clearly written as misogynistic and male-dominated, I personally found the violence that Kelbee in particular endures repugnant. It also felt to me that the author was more comfortable and adept at writing male characters and I found the two female characters less convincing and almost stereotypical at times. While each character does have something to contribute to the final conflict, I felt that at times the pace in getting them there was a little slow. In particular, Cale’s journey felt overlong for the amount of character development that he underwent and would have benefitted from being shorter. One of the problems I have with a lack of pace in a story is that I start to pay more attention to little niggles that drop me out of the flow of the story. In particular, Dr Song’s sections are written in a different font, which is very distracting and I am not sure why it is necessary. As an SF story, I also felt that the story would have benefitted from more information about the previous more technological society. Whilst the protagonists could not be expected to know much, due to the regime’s suppression of information, there could have been more detail given to the reader. At times until near the end it felt to me that the story had very few science fiction elements to it. In short, while some SF readers may enjoy this book, it’s not one for me.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin May-2019 Published by Titan Books

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Greg Egan

OCEANIC by Greg Egan

Some while ago I reviewed a Greg Egan novel for this Group and I was rather put off him as a result. More recently I have discovered that his work can be both more varied and more accessible and in this collection of a dozen shorter pieces he displays both talent and versatility, although his predilection for highly advanced maths and physics concepts is still very much evident.
The title story of this collection and Hugowinning novella, is a satire on religious faith. “Dark Integers” would be better described as mathematics fiction rather than science fiction while the rest treat with a variety of subjects. One of the best is “Singleton” which discusses the use of quantum computing to explore the relevance of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics to the experience of an individual human being. Another, “Riding the Crocodile”, is the precursor story to his recent novel INCANDESCENCE. Altogether they range from the almost-now to a million years into the future and from here to the farthest reaches of the Galaxy. So there should be something for all tastes However, I found the majority of these stories vaguely disappointing. Mostly, despite or perhaps in some way because of, his cleverness, they tend towards dull, becoming ‘page-turners’ not in the spirit of wanting to find out what happens next but rather to find out how much longer it is to go on for. Worse still, some of them do not come to an end but simply stop with no proper resolution seeming to have been reached.
Perhaps this is deliberate, to allow readers to bring their own interpretation to the forming of a conclusion.
In short, this a very ‘intellectual’ kind of SF, requiring a serious level of input from the reader. Some, of course, might say this is what reading SF is for. If one is prepared to make the effort to understand it and is able to bring to it a reasonable degree of comprehension of mathematics and science, then these stories can be quite rewarding. If, on the other hand, reading is to be viewed as entertainment rather than an opportunity to ‘learn something’, then not so good.
Reviewed by Michael Jones Aug-2009 Published by Gollancz

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SCHILD’S LADDER by Greg Egan

Set in the far future, the story opens with an experiment to test laws of physics which have held good for twenty thousand years. The aim is the observable creation of a new kind of spacetime expected to last for sixtrillionths of a second; what actually happens is that the resulting novovacuum is stable and begins to expand at half the speed of light, swallowing everything in its path. Investigators come together from all over inhabited space to study the phenomenon and try to understand it well enough to solve the dilemma between the views of opposing factions - whether to destroy it ( if possible ) or to surrender to it.
Humans in this remote future are as highly advanced as one might expect.
Near-immortal and super-intelligent, they travel between worlds by sending their mentalities by radio to be impressed upon blank bodies which are then remodelled to suit. They leave their previous bodies behind as backups and make further back-up copies of themselves before going into danger.
In-built microprocessors broaden their powers of communication and provide perfect memory and total recall.
To be absolutely frank I found this book hard to read and difficult to understand. The advanced mathematical 7 theories are on that tantalising edge of comprehension where I was unsure whether my failure to understand was due to my own lack of mathematical ability or simply because it was madeup nonsense. Technical references quoted at the end of the book suggest that the former is more likely, but I cannot help feeling that the author has been a bit too clever and has produced a work which will be fully accessible to only a limited readership clever enough to follow it. Such might find it really enjoyable, but for the average reader like myself it is too much like hard work to be truly entertaining.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Apr-2002 Published by Gollancz

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ZENDEGI by Greg Egan

The opening third of this book is set in 2012 and recounts the visit of Martin, an Australian journalist, to Iran where he watches a revolution take place resulting in the overthrow of the present tyrannical government. In parallel, a young Iranian woman, Nasim, is exiled in America where she is engaged on a project aimed at working out how to transfer the processes of real brains into computer programmes.
Fifteen years later, Nasim has returned to Iran and works for a software company providing totally-immersive computer games. She hopes to be able to develop her previous project to provide a degree of authentic pseudo- human autonomy to virtual characters in these games. Meanwhile Martin has settled in Iran, married an Iranian woman and has a son. His wife dies in a car crash and when he discovers he has cancer and is likely to die also, he concocts a plan to use Nasim’s technology to transfer his personality into a character in the computer games to which his son is becoming addicted, thus being able to stay with him while he grows up.
Perhaps this could have been a dramatic, even moving, story, but it fails. The ending is inconclusive and, apart from that, there are several auxiliary storylines which have only tenuous relevance to the main theme and are not resolved either, and several lengthy descriptions of Martin’s participation with his son in computer simulations which serve as little more than padding. The resulting totality is rambling, disconnected and ultimately boring. Plus, of course, the necessity to set it at a fairly specific time in the nearfuture means that the background to the story is all too liable to be overtaken by events (or more likely non-events). Why choose Iran as a setting in the first place?
It is probably no exaggeration to say that Egan has produced some remarkable work in the past, but no way is this more of the same. Not recommended.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Jan-2011 Published by Gollancz

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Steven Erikson

FORGE OF DARKNESS: The First Book in the Kharkanas Trilogy by Steven Erikson

We all know that some reviewers can be very snobbish when it comes to genre fiction often complaining that there is no literary merit in such as Science Fiction, Fantasy or Romance.
Even crime fiction comes in for a battering.
When it comes to explaining exactly what literary fiction is, the definitions can become as complex and varied as trying to come up with a definition of Science Fiction. For readers of popular fiction, literary fiction is often interpreted as the unreadable. More likely they mean that to get the most out of it they are required to think. A reader does not always want to be made to dwell on each sentence to grasp what the writer is intending. It would equally be a mistake to believe that no writers of fantasy can produce work of a literary quality.
For me, good literature is produced by writers who take the time to consider the structure of their sentences and their plot, who can paint pictures with their prose. You can find it any section of bookshop or library. Steven Erikson it a literate writer, his books are of literary quality.
He also has a following amongst fantasy readers, especially those tired of the usual formula. That doesn’t mean that everything is perfect – nothing ever is.
FORGE OF DARKNESS is the first of a new fantasy trilogy (his last series ran to ten volumes). The world he has created is one on the verge of civil war. A problem with societies that are steeped in violence is that peace is not something they, especially the warriors, can easily settle to and accept. The ruler of the Tiste, the principal race, is known as Mother Dark. She is almost a goddess. Her consort is Draconus but some feel that she should take a husband and champion Urusander for the job. The Legion that he led against the Tiste’s enemies has been stood down, disbanded although they are all ready to take up arms again at Urusander’s request. That is not what he wants but events are being manipulated by others, including Hunn Raal, Urusander’s second in command, and the mysterious race known as the Azathanai. This is novel filled with bloodshed and betrayal and makes David Gemmell’s novels look tame.
Erikson is able to keep control of a vast landscape of characters and events but too many of these are introduced, too quickly. With the unfamiliar names that do not always trip easily off the tongue it becomes confusing. It is hard to remember who is allied to whom and whether the characters are on a side you would want to root for. This is not helped by the fact that all of the main characters, whatever their status or schooling, are prone to philosophising. While this can increase the depth of characterisation, not all of these people would have the knowledge or breadth of education to do this. It makes it hard to differentiate them.
Neither does it help matters that characters that you are beginning to enjoy the company of are sometimes suddenly and nastily killed.
Those who are already fans of Erikson’s writing will appreciate this new series. Newcomers need to be prepared to be initially confused by the plethora of characters, the concentrated, literary writing style and being made to think about the twists the plot throws up. Personally, I prefer the more relaxed style of George R.R. Martin who paints on an equally wide canvas with a larger personnel and twisted politics.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Apr-2013 Published by Bantam

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THE CRIPPLED GOD The Final Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson

This is the tenth and final Tale of The Malazan Book of The Fallen following on from THE DUST OF DREAMS. It tells the story of a battle-weary, exhausted and decimated army of Mazanian soldiers commanded by the Adjunct Tavore Paran whose apparent aim is to ‘rescue’ and defend the ‘Crippled God’. Ranged against the Malzanians and their allies are the Forkul Assail, who desire to cleanse the world of all humans and Gods, and their subject armies. The Malzanians and their supporters are definitely the underdogs in this dark and gritty epic saga.
By any stroke of the imagination this is an extremely long and complex novel consisting of a myriad of entangled strands following a huge company of characters, human, and inhuman, dead and alive as well as a smattering of gods. To help, or not depending on your point of view, Steven Erikson provides an eight page ‘Dramatis Personae’ list of characters appearing in both THE CRIPPLED GOD and THE DUST OF DREAMS. Personally I’m not sure if it was a help or not as I kept finding myself going to this list and spending considerable time trying, not always with success, to identify which group a character belongs to.
I must admit that I found the first 30 or so pages of THE CRIPPLED GOD extremely confusing and dispiriting and I felt like giving up. However I’m glad that I persevered.
This is not an easy book to read, but Steven Erikson’s prose is wickedly fascinating with an uncanny beauty, like quicksand it sucks you in and also like a scab on a wound it keeps you picking at it like an itch that you must satisfy. This vast and complex tale is not one to be read in one sitting, you need breaks to get your breath back, but it keeps drawing you back. One further comment, although THE CRIPPLED GOD is a great read by itself I feel that it may have been easier to comprehend if I had at least read THE DUST OF DREAMS or the other nine tales in order before attempting this book.

Reviewed by Jim Pearce Apr-2012 Published by Bantam

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Steven Erikson is a very fine writer. However, before embarking on this massive tome it would be an excellent strategy to refresh the memory about the characters and events in previous nine books in this epic. Without this it is very difficult to get a picture of who is on which side in this clash of armies, where they fit into the overall scheme of things and what the purpose of the war is.
There are plenty of things that will be appreciated by Erikson’s followers and the connoisseurs of the fantasy war genre. Many of the named characters are grunts, doing as they are told, fighting and dying wherever the army ends up. Women and men stand side by side as equals. It is a shame that all, officer and soldier alike, philosophise with coherent thoughts.
The living heart of the crippled god of the title is held in a well defended Spire on the coast. The purpose of the main army of this conflict is to capture it. To this end, the forces are split, one part heading north into the impassable Glass Desert, the other to skirt this area and come up to the Spire from the south west.
The book has all the hallmarks of a fine fantasy - intricate plot, magic, dragons, the undying dead, implacable foes – but is difficult to keep track of all the characters and their fates. The deprivations of the soldiers are outlined impeccably and they are still able to fight as well as a fresh soldier at the end. A book this size is a tremendous investment in time for any reader. Unfortunately I did not care enough about the characters or feel satisfied by the outcome. Pauline Morgan
Reviewed by Jun-2011 Published by Bantam

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THE FIRST COLLECTED TALES OF BAUCHELAIN & KORBAL BROACH by Steven Erikson

The three novellas reprinted in this volume first appeared as slim volumes from PS Publishing between 2002 and 2007 and are published together here, for the first time.
They form a trilogy of tales centred around the characters of the title. In most fantasy novels, the wizards tend either to be on the side of the heroes or are their evil nemeses.
Bauchelain and Korbal Broach are neither.
They are necromancers who the narrator is following around for a time. They are not nice people but they are not overtly wicked. They have a different outlook on life to ordinary people.
In “Blood Follows” the first of this trilogy, they are in the town of Lamentable Moll. There have been a number of bloody murders with body parts being taken.
Emancipor Reese has the misfortune of being the coachman to one of the dead meaning that he automatically loses his job. His wife Subly is not sympathetic, sending him out to look for another with the injunction not to come back without one. Drunkenly acting on a tip-off, he suddenly finds he has been hired by the necromancers as their manservant. He is delighted to find that the job entails travel and that the first job is to secure passage out of the town on the next ship. It means he has to leave his wife, and the town, behind.
The narrative continues almost immediately in “The Lees of Laughter’s End”. The ship the necromancers sail on is stolen, crewed mainly by deserting soldiers with little seamanship. The danger comes not from their ineptness but the fact the repairs have been carried out with nails from old burials in Lamentable Moll. They are imbued with the spirits of the dead and once the ship enters the red road – the lees - that leads to Laughter’s End, they begin to manifest. Also aboard is a lich and a child created from bits of people by Korbal Broach. He is a eunuch but is obsessed with procreation. His creation is a monster which escapes and adds to the mayhem.
The third story, “The Healthy Dead”, takes place a couple of years into their travels on dry land. The two necromancers and their manservant are approaching Quaint when they are asked to sort out a problem in the city. The present king has deposed his tyrant brother and set up a beneficent regime. Unfortunately, the effect is to restrain people even more as they are not allowed to do anything which is bad for them, such as drinking or fornicating or being noisy. Children who cry are taken away to the temple.
Each of these novellas descends into gory mayhem. The necromancers are amoral rather than evil; they follow the strictures of their chosen profession. The stories are packed with black humour, especially the third. Do not dismiss them just because they are fantasy. They transcend the genre.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Jan-2011 Published by Bantam

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THE TALES OF BAUCHELAIN AND KORBAL BROACH, VOL 1 by Steven Erikson

THE TALES OF BAUCHELAIN AND KORBAL BROACH consists of three short novels which are set in the author’s extensive Malzazan Empire series following the (mis)deeds of two sorcerers and their manservant. Bauchelain, whose principle hobby is described as the conjuring of demons, is the predominant of the two conjurers. His companion Korbal Broach is a shape shifting eunuch and is described as an explorer of the mysteries of life and death and all that lies beyond.
The first story, “Blood Follows”, is set in the city of Lamentable Moll, and describes how Emancipor Reese, a down-on-his-luck manservant, otherwise known as Mancy the Luckless, meets and is employed by Bauchelain. As turns out to be the case in all of the stories mayhem and murder abound and a swift departure from the city is required.
“The Lees of Laughter’s End” follows on from “Blood Follows” describing their voyage on the ship Suncurl. Unfortunately, unscrupulous persons in Lamentable Moll sold the captain a batch of iron nails that once resided in the wood of sarcophagi in the barrows of Lamentable Moll - the self same barrows that are well known for restless spirits. As the story relates, “even the dead can sing songs of freedom”. As the ship enters the blood-red seas off Laughter’s End the spirits of the dead awake. Fortunately (?) for the motley (very) crew, Korbal has created an homunculus which is used to fight the awakened litch. The story ends on a cliff-hanger.
“The Healthy Dead”, the third and last of the stories, is set approximately four years after the actions outlined above. This is rather unfortunate as I would have liked to know how they survived the predicament lurking at the end of “The Lees of Laughter’s End”. In this story the trio is approached by citizens of the city of Quaint to rescue them from a catastrophic plague of goodness brought about by the city’s King Macrotus after his overthrow of his brother Necrotus the Nilile. They are successful, but in an unexpected manner.
These stories are dark, grimy and murky and none of the characters is likable but they are strangely compelling. They are very well written being full of weird and colourful characters such as Ably Druther, Heck Urse, Gust Hubb, Bird Mottle and Storkul Purge the Paladin of Wellness. Overall I rather enjoyed them and would, if I had the opportunity, read more of the adventures of this unsavoury trio.

Reviewed by Jim Pearce Aug-2011 Published by Bantam

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THIS RIVER AWAKENS by Steven Erikson

This is Steven Erikson’s first novel, originally published in 1998 under the name of Steve Lundin. It is not science fiction or fantasy and the only horror is in the hand fate deals to the characters. What it is, is a suburb literary novel. The setting is Canada where twelve-year-old Owen Brand and his family have just moved into the poor white community on the banks of a river. Theirs is a tale of a downward spiral into poverty. On arrival he falls in with three boys of his own age. Though he doesn’t quite fit in with them – Owen reads voraciously and far above his age – they are camouflage. The event that holds them together, but at the same time separating them, is the discovery of a body washed down from the city with the spring thaw. It colours the way they regard each other.
The community holds a number of other lost or damaged members. Hodgson Fisk breeds mink. He has never fully got over his experiences during the war or come to terms with the loss of his beloved wife.
He rants at the boys as they cross his land to reach the river. Jennifer Louper is a disturbed thirteen-year-old. She smokes, takes drugs and generally runs wild. Her father is a violent drunk. She changes when she forms a friendship with Owen and is made welcome in their home by his mother. Against them is their teacher. Joanne Rhide comes with new ideas intending to use modern methods to educate her charges. She doesn’t understand the circumstances her pupils live in and thinks Jennifer and Owen are deliberately trying to thwart her.
Walter Gribbs is the old caretaker at the Yacht Club and sees in Owen the intelligence and loyalty others miss.
Over the course of a year, allegiances and friendships change and develop. Mostly this is a story about children old before their time but the behaviour of the adults greatly affects the outcome. This is an insightful if harrowing book. Take a break from genre fiction and give it a go.
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Mar-2012 Published by Bantam

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WILLFUL CHILD by Steven Erikson

The first thing to do about this book is to forget the hype as the intelligent reader will immediately become suspicious. Publicists only go overboard for one reason – they desperately want you to buy this book. The question to ask is why is the hype necessary?
Steven Erikson has gained a huge following during the publication of his ten volume epic fantasy series, The Malazan Book of the Fallen. He has written another novel and a selection of stores in the same world. His best book by far is THIS RIVER AWAKENS, an exquisitely written novel about young people at an age when the decisions they make reflect the rest of their life. It was his first novel and only recently republished. First time round it didn’t spark the interest his fantasy has.
It should have done.
The first clue that this book, WILLFUL CHILD, is not High Fantasy, is the space ship on the cover. For a publisher to issue a book very different from an author’s usual output is always a risk. Some fans will take a look at the packaging and put it back on the grounds that they ‘don’t read that space stuff’. The first danger is losing the readers expecting more of the same. They need to be supremely confident that more of the reading public will look further than the name – the most prominent thing on the cover – and at least read the blurb. This is another problem in that names get associated with types of books and thus alienating those who might enjoy it when a writer goes off in a different direction.
Most of us readers of SF, whatever our era, have something that defines the beginning of that interest. For the older generation, it may well have been Dan Dare in The Eagle, for others, Dr Who, Star Wars or Fireball XL5. Erikson’s early influences obviously included Star Trek.
WILLFUL CHILD is both a parody and an homage to the TV series
The technology that enabled humans to venture into space was delivered by accident. A century later, Captain Hadrian Sawbuck gets his first command, the ASF Willful Child. He is younger than most captains and his attitude is that of a kid with a new toy. His first mission is apparently simple – to catch a smuggler. He doesn’t make the same mistake others would, but identifies the right ship. However his victory is short-lived as the AI doing the smuggling proceeds to take over his ship and sends it straight into a war zone and a series of diplomatic incidents.
The result is mayhem.
Anyone who is familiar with Star Trek will know some of the decisions the captain makes would not be tolerated in a modern navy – space or otherwise. For example, having all the significant command crew members on a hostile planet at the same time would be a courts martial offence, but then Star Trek was modelled after the adventures of Horatio Hornblower where a captain was expected to lead. Erikson exaggerates this trait in the antics of his hero.
The important thing about this book is that it should not be taken
seriously. It will appeal to those who enjoy seeing their fictional heroes parodied and those who like the idea of farce with spaceships. Anyone who expects this to be an SF version of Erikson’s epic fantasy will very quickly get the rug pulled out from under their feet. It is always good to try something new, whether as a reader or a writer, though this might not have made it to the bookshelves if Erikson hadn’t already got a formidable reputation.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Mar-2015 Published by Bantam

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Christopher Evans

ICE TOWER by Christopher Evans

Or is it 'ICETOWER'? I think so, because although the (rather nice) cover clearly says ICE TOWER, inside it is always ICETOWER. While I’m at it, another couple of niggles about the cover. The front illo shows too young men standing back-to-back on the top of a tower on which they barely have room to stand. This never happens. Also — and this complaint applies not just to this cover, but one sees it everywhere (such as in Sad Café's 'Everyday Hurts'): it is not, as it says here, "It's the same everyday." It should be "It's the same every day". Think about it (the copywriter obviously didn't!)
OK, now to the book. I didn't know when I picked up this review copy that it is a juvenile. How would I? Only by reading the small print on the credits page can one find "a Dolphin paperback by Orion Children's Books". Surely children's books should advertise this fact on the cover, along with some guide as to age suitability? Notwithstanding, this is quite an entertaining, if short, read, and I was quite pleased with myself for working out the 'word puzzle' it contains, early on. Two boys, friends, but one having seemingly turned nasty, are on their way home on the school bus. It is snowing, and the driver leaves to make a 'phone call at the top of a steep hill. One of the boys fiddles with the hand rake, and they hurtle downwards. . . When Rhys awakes, his friend Jack is in some sort of coma, and he has to drag him around -- fortunately getting lighter and lighter — as he encounters a series of fantasy-type adventures in the Icetower, populated by animated paintings, a Shadowman, a Black Knight, a talking jackdaw who gives Rhys cryptic word clues, and various mythic beasts. Young teenagers should enjoy it.
Apparently this is one of the Dreamtime series, with other titles written by Stephen Bowkett, Jenny Jones and Colin Greenland. But each story is obviously quite separate and individual, except that, presumably, it takes place in this ’other’, dreamlike world.

Reviewed by David A Hardy Sep-2000 Published by Dolphin

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Raymond E Feist

A KINGDOM BESIEGED by Raymond E Feist

A KINGDOM BESIEGED takes place five years after the conclusion of AT THE GATES OF DARKNESS. In A KINGDOM BESIEGED Pug, the magician and his colleagues in the ‘Conclave of Shadows’ are still investigating the causes of the demon incursions into Midkemia and in this book a different aspect of the Midkemia saga is pursued.
There are two main strands to this story, one being the invasion of the Kingdom of the Isles by the Keshian Empire one of the other major nations in Midkemia. This is recounted by following separate investigations into rumours of something ominous happening in Kesh by James (Jim) Dasher Jameson and Sandreena, a Knight Adamant in the ‘Order of the Shield of the Weak’ the martial arm of the Temple of Dala.
The actual assault on the Kingdom’s western frontier is seen from the viewpoint of Martin conDoin the second son of the area’s Duke and a distant relative to the King of the Isles. Secondary to this, and no doubt to be enlarged upon in a subsequent book, the story follows Martin’s older brother Hal who is away from home at a ‘university’ for nobles on the Island of Roldem, the third of the major powers in this part of Midkemia. His experiences bring him into contact with Tal Hawkins (see the Talon of the Silver Hawk trilogy) and his son.
The second major strand concerns the two demons, Child and Belog, following the fall of the demon kingdom in which they live. Their part in this book concludes with a very interesting and unexpected development.
Minor strands involve Pug, the magician, Magnus his son, the Star Elves, Gulamendis and Laromendis, Amirantha and a number of other characters first seen in previous books.
In my review above I commented that the overall saga is becoming a bit tired and formulaic. Not so with this book – it is a welcome refreshing addition to the Midkemia chronicles.
Reviewed by Jim Pearce May-2011 Published by HarperCollins

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AT THE GATES OF DARKNESS by Raymond E Feist

AT THE GATES OF DARKNESS is the concluding volume in the two-part Demon War series which began with RIDES A DREAD LEGION. Actually the series started about 20 books earlier with MAGICIAN the first book set in the author’s Midkemia universe, with one of the main characters being Pug, the magician of the above title.
As with all of Raymond Feist’s books AT THE GATES OF DARKNESS is a multistrand adventure following a number of characters in their epic struggle against the forces of evil; in this case a horde of demons and a mad magician (not Pug, he is a hero leading a secret group known as the ‘Conclave of Shadows’). This adventure climaxes in a battle in the Valley of Lost Men. As in the previous books, the forces of good prevail, at least temporarily. Other members of the Conclave active in this story include two Star Elves, Gulamendis (a Demon Master) and Laromendis, his brother who is a master of illusion and the Star Elves (the Taredhel), having been hounded off their world by the demons in the first part of this saga. These two and a human Demon Master, Amirantha, provide Pug with ‘expert’ support and research into demonology.
Another strand follows Sandreena, a Knight Adamant in the ‘Order of the Shield of the Weak’, the martial arm of the Temple of Dala. She and Amirantha have a troublesome history.
Other significant characters include General Kasper (See TALON OF THE SILVER HAWK), Creegan a Father Bishop in Sandreena’s order, James (Jim) Dasher Jameson the Head of Intelligence for the Kingdom of the Isles (one of the major nations in Midkemia). In the background is the enduring influence of Marcos the Black, Pug’s dead father in law.
After 20 volumes the overall saga is becoming a bit tired and formulaic, particularly during the last few books. That said the book is an enjoyable gentle easy read with many interesting characters. The Midkemia chronicle continues with A KINGDOM BESIEGED.

Reviewed by Jim Pearce May-2011 Published by HarperCollins

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FLIGHT OF THE NIGHTHAWKS by Raymond E Feist

This is a complex book in some ways, full of ideas and characters – and it can take some thought to get your head around it. It features a powerful mage and his sons fighting to keep peace as their enemies seek to thwart this, especially the evil Leso Varen. Kaspa, Talwin and Amafi are three ordered by Magnus to find out the conspirators against the emperor. But as they soon discover, the royal house contains those already bound to Varen’s service.
The book revisits the land of Kesh, which the author has already described in books such as the Riftwar saga. This point was rather lost on me since I had never read a Feist book before. I liked the family theme – Magnus is shown sending his sons into danger and often regretting this although it is necessary. The family bonds are shown strong and clear and I appreciated the sense of realism this brings to the story. There is some good repartee and scripting, the book flows well and does not come across stilted. There is a lot to follow in this book, so I found it had to be read carefully, or I would miss an important bit of plot! This could work against the book as the number of action scenes and complex plotting could prove too demanding for the reader looking for some light entertainment. I was mostly fairly satisfied though with this. I did however find the characters ultimately were not very memorable – a couple of weeks after reading the book, I am finding it hard to remember some of the more important ones. This is my main criticism of the book, despite the excellent use of action sequences, and my favourite part, the family bonding.
Reviewed by Vicky Cook Oct-2006 Published by Voyager

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Jaine Fenn

BRINGER OF LIGHT by Jaine Fenn

In this, the fourth book in The Hidden Empire sequence, Jaine Fenn begins to bring together strands that she has been developing over the first three volumes. In the first, PRINCIPLES OF ANGELS, we were introduce to Taro, a boy existing on the underside of the flying city of Khesh, and Nual, an assassin employed by the same city. Nual is a female Sidhe, a dangerous race that was supposedly destroyed millennia ago. Khesh is operated by a male Sidhe and the sexes are deadly enemies.
Jarek, the third member of the team, spent volume two, CONSORTS OF HEAVEN, on the planet of Serenein, a world kept hidden from the rest of the inhabited universe. He has discovered that the female Sidhe are using it to breed boys whose brains are used to power the FTL ships.
Jarek, Taro and Nual connect in GUARDIANS OF PARADISE and flee in Jarek’s ship when the Sidhe send a hit squad to kill her. This novel is pure space opera with plenty of tension and action. BRINGER OF LIGHT belongs to the same stable.
The plan is to persuade the male Sidhe to give them a beacon which they can set up near Serenein. This should connect the planet to the rest of civilisation and effectively bring a halt to the trade in psychically talented boys. Naturally, it isn’t as easy as they anticipate especially as Khesh insists on sending an avatar with them to protect the location of the male Sidhe’s domain. In the meantime, the people Jarek left running things on Serenein are having their own problems trying to keep the status quo long enough for Jarek to return.
Fenn is very good at action and plotting but she does not spend the time developing the emotional side to her characters. Taro and Nual are lovers and have a mental link but the passion between them is subdued. Readers who have enjoyed the previous novels will like the way the plot is pushed along here. New readers will need to begin with volume one.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Jan-2012 Published by Gollancz

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CONSORTS OF HEAVEN by Jaine Fenn

Jaine Fenn’s first novel, PRINCIPLES OF ANGELS, was a fascinating, hard SF novel set on a floating city with an interestingly portrayed dichotomy of social mores with the focus being on the underclass.
CONSORTS OF HEAVEN is set in the same universe but you wouldn’t believe it. In fact, for much of its length it reads like fantasy.
Kerin is a young widow who is tolerated in her village because of her skill with herbs. This is a village without modern amenities like electricity or plumbing.
Her son, Damaru, gives all the appearances of being autistic but has a talent for telekinesis. Two factors are about to influence her life. The first is that Damaru finds a naked stranger in the marshes. This man, who Kerin names Sais, has lost all memory and in some ways, appears to be more of a simpleton than her son.
The other significant event is that Damaru is to be sent down onto the plains to, hopefully, serve the Skymothers. These are portrayed as goddesses, so his selection is an honour. She and Sais join the caravan that is to take them from her remote mountain village to the City of Light.
The connections with the previous novel are slight and do not become apparent until late in the story and unfortunately many of the plot elements are predictable. It does not have the complexity of PRINCIPLES OF ANGELS and would probably have been better told from a different perspective, to avoid the apparent fantasy aspects. That apart, this is a stand-alone novel and presages a lot more stories set in the same universe.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Aug-2009 Published by Gollancz

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GUARDIANS OF PARADISE by Jaine Fenn

Jaine Fenn has embarked on an ambitious potentially nine-volume series of which GUARDIANS OF PARADISE is the third. So far, each of them has a different flavour. The first of the series, PRINCIPLES OF ANGELS, was set in a highly technical environment. The city of Khesh floats above the atmosphere of a barren planet. In it, we are introduced to two characters. Nual is an angel.
This means she is a physically altered executioner. Taro lives in the undertow, the maze of walkways and hovels clinging to the underside of the city.
Volume two, CONSORTS OF HEAVEN, is very different in setting. It is an adventure on a low-tech world that has many of the trappings of a fantasy novel. It is only towards the end that it becomes clear that it has links with the universe of PRINCIPLES OF ANGELS. It also introduces the third character, Jarek, who is part of the triad that GUARDIANS OF PARADISE revolves around.
By the start of the third novel (providing you have read the other two) we know that Nual is Sidhe. This race was thought to have been wiped out a long time ago, to the great relief of humanity as they are extremely manipulative and have the power to bend minds to their will. Nual is young, in Sidhe terms and was little more than a child when Jarek found her aboard a derelict Sidhe mother ship, the only sane survivor of some kind of disaster – she didn’t know what. The Sidhe, however, want her either back in the fold or dead. They don’t care which. They have already, (in PRINCIPLES OF ANGELS) tried to use her friend and mentor as an assassin. Now they have sent a more blatant hit squad.
Jarek, by coincidence, arrives just in time for the shoot out. Once they have escaped, Jarek tells Nual and Taro that he has discovered the source of the ‘shift units’ that take space craft between systems instantaneously. They are the rewired brains of boys with a kinetic talent, bred for that trait on Serenein, the planet in CONSORTS OF HEAVEN. Despite the fact that it might eventually lead to the end of faster than light space travel, the three team up to find where these boys are processed and put a stop to their torture. If it also wipes out the Sidhe once and for all, they decide it is a price worth paying.
Whereas, volume one was an unusual, high tech setting with a deal of politics and volume two appeared superficially more like fantasy, this third volume is a more traditional space opera with a different kind of action and intrigue. Although Jaine hopes that each volume will stand alone, it is advisable to start with PRINCIPLES OF ANGELS in order to understand the full import of the series.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Oct-2010 Published by Gollancz

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HIDDEN SUN (Shadowlands 1) by Jaine Fenn

I was pleased to see the return of Jaine Fenn to writing novels after a long absence (although she has continued with other forms of writing, including winning a BSFA Award for her short story “Liberty Bird” in 2017). For those who don’t know her work, her previous excellent Hidden Empire series of SF novels was set seven thousand years in the future and were published by Gollancz. This new novel is with a different publisher (Angry Robot) and is described as a duology, with part 2 (BROKEN EMPIRE) available in 2019.
The story is set on a world divided into “shadowlands” and “skylands” regions. Only the skykin can live in the hot, sun-baked skylands due to their symbiotic relationship with a creature called an “animus” to which they are bonded as they reach adulthood. During childhood they are raised in the shadowlands in creche schools until old enough to bond. The story is told in alternating chapters by 3 main characters. These are Rhia, who as a privileged noblewoman living in the shadowland of Shen, is able to explore her interest in science and astronomy despite it being seen as unbecoming and inappropriate for a woman. Dej is a young girl who is with some trepidation and reluctance about to undergo her initiation into the skykin. Sadakh is the eparch (a religious leader) in the neighbouring shadowland of Zekt who is experimenting unethically on his flock in trying to duplicate the effects of the human/animus bond without a live animus.
The main story starts when Rhia decides to attach herself to a small covert military group sent by Shen’s ruler to bring back her missing, rebellious younger brother (and the last heir to her family’s considerable estate). There are complications with the rescue as various other parties are also interested in retrieving her brother. Both Rhia, used to a life of luxury and the new, inexperienced skykin, Dej will have to co-operate to get Rhia and her brother back safely to Shen.
The author has constructed a very different and intriguing world and society. The society appears to be that of a medieval level as in many fantasies but there are elements and hints that suggest there may be more scientific explanations for the shadow/sky land separations (perhaps some large geostationary orbital platforms?) and that the separation of skykin / shadowkin did not always exist.
I liked the character of Rhia in particular. She is well-nuanced – the reader admires her intellectual curiosity and determination to pursue an “inappropriate” interest in science, but she also has flaws and is forced to examine how much privilege and luxury has protected her from everyday hardships and realities. Dej is to some extent a reflection of Rhia, in that as a newly-formed skykin she also is having to adapt to unfamiliar and difficult circumstances as she tries to decide her place in a strange and very different culture than the one she has been raised in. In contrast to these two it felt that there was less exploration of Sadakh and my feeling was that there remained more to be uncovered about his activities and motivations (presumably in the sequel).
Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed this book I did feel at the end that for me personally that there were still a lot of things that had been hinted at that still remained unresolved. Now that may be just my science-inclined mind as I kept distracting myself by thinking about what the sources and back story of the geography and biology involved in the sky/shadow divisions were. There again that is also a compliment to the imagination of the author as she has created something unique that has clearly captured my interest. I look forward to seeing in the sequel how many of my guesses and speculations prove to be either right or hopelessly off-base. A welcome return to novel writing by a talented author.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Sep-2018 Published by Angry Robot

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PRINCIPLES OF ANGELS by Jaine Fenn

The Angels referred to in the novel’s title are revered female assassins, sanctioned by the state, whose role is the assassination of public figures. Welcome then to Chesh City: Topside; an opulent city afloat two kilometres above the surface of a planet.
The Angels are key to the story which begins with the murder of the Angel Malia despite her revered untouchable status in the society. Her nephew Taro was both her servant and inadvertently brought home with him her killer.
PRINCIPLES OF ANGELS is told in part from his perspective in the aftermath of the murder with his status revoked and he is forced into the city’s underworld. Hiding within an underworld gang, Taro must survive, act as a spy for the much feared Minister who controls the Angels and, for his own purpose track down and avenge his aunt’s murder.
Alternative chapters chart the progress of Elarn, an off-world singer of ancient choral works on an inter-planetary concert tour. Narrowly escaping being caught in the crossfire of an Angel’s assassination on aristocrat, Salik Vidoran, they befriend each other. The story charts their progress as lovers whilst we learn that Elarn’s choral tour serves as a front for a covert search for a past acquaintance. Taro and Elarn’s separate paths merge as they face the threat to the survival of the entire city their actions uncover.
Rather than widescreen large space opera, the novel reads as a thriller, short and punchy with a clear prose and authentic haracterisation. Whilst there is a strong sense of world building, it took me rather too long to appreciate that the city described was actually afloat, (although an earlier examination of the front cover would have helped me there).
The city is a portrayed as dark and foreboding and has a gothic vibe. Like all cities, Chesh City encompasses the vast array of society, from a wealthy upper class, to the criminal gangs within a large underclass. However, the actual cast of characters we follow is relatively small which made the conspiracy thread to the novel reasonably straightforward to second guess, although these are minor quibbles. This is an enjoyable debut novel and I look forward to Fenn’s future work. And yes, the Angels can fly.

Reviewed by Ian Allwyn Jun-2008 Published by Gollancz

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QUEEN OF NOWHERE by Jaine Fenn

When an author lovingly creates a universe, giving it a plausible background history and spreads it over a vast area of space, it seems a shame to waste it on one book. Jaine Fenn has set all five of her novels against the same background. The universe is recognisable because of certain features carried over from one to another but the overlap of characters and worlds, though present, is mostly incidental.
The main plot thrust is the idea that a race known as the Sidhe once dominated humanity as it spread throughout the universe, After a rebellion, it is generally believed that the Sidhe were all killed. A small group believe otherwise. In other novels in this series we have met three of them, Jarek, Taro and Nual. Nual is actually Sidhe but has turned against her kind. She is also an Angel – a physically and mentally enhanced assassin. Taro, her lover, is on his way to becoming an Angel, but his implants are new. Jarek owns a space ship. Between them, they have cut off the source of the kernels needed to pilot the translight space ships.
They are not the only ones engaged in the battle against the Sidhe.
QUEEN OF NOWHERE follows the efforts of Bez to bring down the Sidhe.
We first met her in GUARDIANS OF PARADISE, the third book in this sequence, when Jarek asked her to decipher information he had stolen from a wrecked Sidhe ship. She is a databreaker and probably the best hacker in known space. For a long time, Bez has known that the Sidhe are still around, influencing human activity from within. The information Jarek shared with her has given her a good idea of who and where they are. Her problem is how to expose them all, preferably simultaneously so they cannot alert each other, change their identities and hide. Bez has set up a network of people in positions to do small but significant acts which will have larger consequences and help her achieve her ends. She is aware that the Sidhe probably know what she is up to and she needs to stay one step ahead.
To this end she has spent years building up funds in various places and has a bank of identities to assume to help her physically navigate space.
As Bez closes in on the information she needs to put her plan into action, she feels the Sidhe network closing in around her. At one point, she enlists Jarek’s help to get her out of a sticky situation but pulls a disappearing trick when she discovers that Nual is Sidhe.
For much of the time she feels that she is fighting a lone battle – she dare not trust anyone - but on Tarset station, a space-hub and a way station between destinations, she encounters Imbarin Tierce. He becomes an unlikely ally in her life’s work.
In a situation as complex as the one that Fenn has set up, it would be impossible for a handful of adventurers, which is basically what Jarek and co. are, to bring about the downfall of a race that that has had centuries to embed itself into human society. The introduction of another prong of attack is a good move and Bez is an interesting character.
She is skilful and highly motivated.
In each of the novels in this series there is a different flavour depending on the setting for the segment of the tale. Bez, though, passes through the hubs where space traders congregate too quickly to fully appreciate the lives of those in the different echelons of the society within the complex structures (which are different from the floating cities of PRINCIPLES OF ANGELS but where the lives of the inhabitants were explored in greater depth). QUEEN OF NOWHERE does progress the story and there is enough left hanging to make the reader look forward to the next instalment.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Jul-2013 Published by Gollancz

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THE SHIPS OF ALEPH by Jaine Fenn

If you are going to start a new small publishing company, then it is vital to produce a quality product from the start and this novella is certainly that. Tower of Chaos Press are a small independent publisher, run by Dave Weddell (Jaine Fenn’s partner) and THE SHIPS OF ALEPH is its first publication. It aims to produce mainly short stories and novellas, initially mainly by Jaine Fenn. THE SHIPS OF ALEPH was originally published as a limited edition chapbook for Novacon 42, when Jaine Fenn was Guest of Honour. It is now being made available as an eBook by Tower of Chaos Press.
A natural phase for children is the “Why?” stage, when they want to know the answer to everything about the world and how it works. Most people grow out of it but some adults retain that curiosity, not least among them many SF writers and readers. THE SHIPS OF ALEPH is a tale of that sort of curiosity and how far you would be prepared to go in pursuit of knowledge and truth. It is a science fiction story although it may not seem so at first. The narrator, Lachin grows up in a small fishing village. His enquiring mind and a lame leg leave him isolated from his peers. When the Duke announces a project to build a ship to explore the seas, Lachin is eager to join despite the prevalent mood that it is ungodly and thus doomed to failure. Thrown into the sea when the ship founders at the edge of the world he wakes up seemingly back in his home village although he is the only inhabitant. From there he faces a series of choices all of which involve remaining in his current state of knowledge or risking the unknown and ultimately a chance at another exploratory journey unimaginable to his earlier self.
I really enjoyed this story. The pace is quite gentle but keeps the reader interested. The characterisation of Lachin, as one would expect of Jaine Fenn’s work is excellent and he is a very believable and sympathetic character. Considerable attention has been paid to the structure of the story with the theme of journeys both spatial and intellectual integrated really well without detracting from the actual narrative – not an easy thing and one many authors don’t always manage satisfactorily. Although the story fits into Jaine Fenn’s SF Hidden Empires series, the story still works even without an awareness of these. As a final incentive to buy it also has a superb piece of blue-toned cover art by David A Hardy.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin May-2015 Published by Tower of Chaos

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Jasper Fforde

THE EYRE AFFAIR by Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde’s first novel is an alternate world crime-fantasy that’s clever in places but too silly to be enjoyable. It's an example of an author putting every fantasy theme he can think of into the same novel. The result is a mish-mash of unrelated and conflicting elements which lurches from one bit of contrived humour to the next.
The main plot concerns Tuesday Next (this is the narrator's name, I kid you not; if it offends you deeply you’d better stop reading now, because there’s worse to come) who works for LiteraTec, the Special Operations branch that deals with literary crimes.
She is pitted against Acheron Hades, an international criminal and superhuman figure, who specialises in stealing original manuscripts and changing them, causing all editions to be altered. Martin Chuzzlewit is the first to go, then Jane Eyre. The sequence in which Tuesday goes inside Jane Eyre to protect its integrity is original, mostly well written and would have made a fine novelette.
Alas, Fforde clutters up the novel with the Crimean War (still in progress after 130 years), time travel, vampires, black holes and relativity, conspiracy theories, the genetic recreation of dodos as pets, a lot of ESP powers, violent literary disputes, bureaucracy and romance. His characters, many of whom suffer from ridiculous names like Paige Turner, Dr Runcible Spoon and Ossie Mandias, 7 have no substance, while his baddies (no redeeming features) seem to have stepped out of a comic book. The result is a novel that's unduly difficult and unrewarding for its first half, with too much bad humour.
Fforde is a promising writer but a clumsy and inexperienced one.
Apparently there will be a whole series of Tuesday Next adventures, but I won't be reading them.

Reviewed by Chris Morgan Jul-2001 Published by NEL

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THE WELL OF LOST PLOTS by Jasper Fforde

As a speaker, Jasper Fforde is entertaining and a good salesman for his books.
Whether you like his writing or not will depend much on your taste in written humour. As the title suggests, there is a degree of reliance on puns. There are a lot of lasting images and interesting throwaways.
Tills is the third of the series starring Thursday Next, a jurisfiction agent. Her job takes her into fictional worlds to solve crimes. This fictional world is a dimension which underlies our own. She is in the awkward situation that her husband was eliminated as a child, by time travelling criminals, so theoretically she should never have met him.
Although no-one else remembers him, she does, and she is pregnant. At the start of this novel, she is hiding out in an unpublished crime thriller, having done a swap with one of the characters. This means that at intervals she has to act out the scenes from the book which is so dreadful that it is likely to be demolished. Humour is added by the presence of the pet Dodo, which has laid an egg, and by having billeted on her two Generics - unformed characters who have to go to school to learn roles in order to get a job working as a character in a novel.
An added complication is that jurisfiction agents are being bumped off. Thursday has to find out why as she is likely to be next.
The plot is actually pretty thin and this novel relies on the readers’ knowledge of books and characters that are mentioned and the way they are manipulated. Fortunately, there is internal consistency or it could all get a bit too silly. One problem I had was with the character Harris Tweed. Despite being told that he is from the Outworld, like Thursday, and a real person, I kept seeing the fictional Harris Tweed - the rotund, monacled detective from THE EAGLE comic.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Nov-2003 Published by Hodder & Stoughton

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Jack Finney

TIME AND AGAIN by Jack Finney

In this long but tightly packed book Jack Finney brings to a climax the ideas he had been exploring for a few years previously in a number of short stories. The basic idea is to dress a man in ninety-year old clothes, fill his head with ninety-year old thoughts and put him in a ninety-year old building from which he will be able to step out into the New York of ninety years ago.
From this beginning the story branches out into three or four intertwined sub-plots with sufficient unexpected twists to keep the reader guessing until the last possible minute - the ending is inevitable (especially in relation to the previous stories already mentioned) but it remains in doubt even until the last chapter. If there were nothing more to it than that it would still be a good book, but to dismiss it in this way is to overlook the meticulous research and sincere enthusiasm with which the author writes of that bygone age, conveying an irresistible impression of a far better time in which to live and belong.
It is a pity that the illustrations, which are important to the story, have not been reproduced better, but that is only a minor fault which cannot spoil a wonderfully satisfying read. An excellent book by a sadly underrated author.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Sep-2001 Published by Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks

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Charlie Fletcher

THE OVERSIGHT by Charlie Fletcher

One of the major problems with modern fantasy is the over use of standard tropes. It is refreshing therefore to see a story which doesn’t rely on the almost default vampires and werewolves. Instead THE OVERSIGHT incorporates far less familiar figures from British and Irish folklore and this works extremely well in my opinion. From the sinister bone magic of the Sluagh, the disturbing breath-stealing Alp to even the Officers of the Oversight the author demonstrates a great deal of imagination.
THE OVERSIGHT is set in an alternative Victorian England, where humanity is largely unaware of the other “magical” creatures which share their world. These “supranatural” have interbred over the centuries leading to hybrid or “mongrel” humans who possess extra power or magical abilities above the norm. Some of these form “The Oversight”, a secret society who police the boundaries between normal humanity and the “supranatural” and defend against that portion of the “supranatural” who would prey on the “mundane”. Organised into “hands” of five, the members are volunteers, each with different abilities. However the Oversight are struggling, reduced to their last “hand” of five members and various factions are plotting to destroy them. When a drunkard brings a girl to their London House, they look to have finally found a new recruit. However the girl is an unwitting trap set by their enemies. Her actions lead to many complications and the girl herself must fight to regain her memories and free will. The action is set in two main locations, the urban landscape of London and a travelling carnival and the contrast between the two works well rather than just having a pure urban fantasy.
This is Charlie Fletcher’s first adult novel (after the successful and enjoyable children’s fantasy Stoneheart trilogy). He has also been a successful screenwriter and film editor for many years and I think this experience shows in his writing. Throughout the book there is a strong sense of both menace and the macabre without unnecessary graphic description. The various characters seem very believable and diverse. Dialogue in particular is well used and avoids the use of modern English idiom which often jars in other novels set in the past. Educated characters especially use more formal and wider vocabulary that you associate with earlier eras. Although the story uses a Victorian setting it is definitely not steampunk – no airships or weird science in sight. For those of you who like Fantasy, this is an excellent read and thoroughly recommended. The characters are well-drawn and I wanted to know more about them. The book reaches a conclusion but there is still a significant amount of back story and future developments to be explored. I am definitely looking forward to the sequel.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Oct-2014 Published by Orbit

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Bryn Fortey

MERRY-GO-ROUND and Other Words by Bryn Fortey

In choosing a book to purchase, a number of factors are taken into account, either consciously or subconsciously. The cover is always one.
Good ones draw the eye and give a hint of what kind of book will be found between the covers. An intriguing title may well cause the book to be taken off the shelf but in the age of the celebrity the name of the author may well be a deciding factor. So it is my job to help you decide if Bryn Fortey is a name worth watching out for. For some of you, the question uppermost in your minds will be ‘Who?’ For those of the older generation, brought up reading such volumes as the FONTANA BOOK OF HORROR, or the historians of horror fiction the name may be more familiar.
This collection can be regarded, not just as a tribute to the author but also to the enduring quality of horror fiction. Stories published early in the last century by greats such as M.R. James are still thought of with affection and still hold insights into human behaviour. So, too, do those printed more recently. A good story should not be judged by the era when it was written. Bryn Fortey’s fiction, as represented here, covers a period from the 1970s to the present time. Within these covers you will find twenty-one (or perhaps twenty- two) stories and six groups of poems.
The discrepancy in the number of stories relates to the first and last pieces. ‘Shrewhampton North-East’ is a ghoulish little story revolving around the nightmare of train travel. In this case the narrator and his mother are stranded at the eponymous station along with nine others, some of whom have been waiting for three days. ‘Shrewhampton North-West’ which resolves the situation owes much to Lovecraft.
Here the title story is second for aesthetic reasons. One thing I would like to have seen in this book is the first date of publication of each story. This is because ‘Merry-Go-Round’ has a number of familiar themes and knowing how they fitted into the history of the horror genre would give an indication of the degree of originality.
The collection also contains science fiction. ‘Ithica Or Bust’ belongs to the school of zany science fiction that only those with a good grasp of ancient Greek myth will fully appreciate.
‘Remnants’ is a very different kind of science fiction, dealing with the issues arising when a colony ship crashes on a planet. Instead of everyone pulling together for survival, nastier basic instincts have surfaced. To add to the unconventional approach, Fortey brings the reader in towards the end of the attempt to survive, allowing him to play with the unexpected. ‘The Oscar Project’ begins in a bleak, dystopian future, for which many blame Christianity. The main character is conscripted to work on a project to view the past, until an accident allows him to interact with it. Despite certain similarities to Moorcock’s ‘Behold the Man’ the approach, origins and motivations of the characters are different.
Music plays an important part in this collection, both the stories and poems. ‘Denton’s Delight’ follows jazz saxophonist Hal Denton, on the downward spiral after hitting the big time too young. Now without the creativity he once had – until he plays at a South Wales Jazz club.
Vampires who feed on things other than blood? This is the inspiration behind ‘The Pawnshop Window’. On the day they buried Louis Armstrong, another trumpeter remembers what might have been - a poignant story. Other musically themed stories include ‘First Words’ where Fortey is blending at least three disparate ideas into one brief story. It shouldn’t work, but somehow, it does.
Perhaps the stories with most impact are those that take a small idea and paint it in such a way to set the reader thinking about the possibilities. In ‘Wordsmith’ best-sellers are taken from the depths of the psyche of the insane. Another seemingly small idea drives the horror behind ‘Skulls’. Eric Brown’s superpower is the ability to recognise who will die soon; that person’s head appearing as a skull.
Poems are often far more personal than fiction. A good poet, and
Bryn Fortey is one, often expose more of themselves through poetry than any other kind of writing, including autobiography. They give an insight into the soul of a person. The poetry here is divided into six groups. The first, highly personal and poignant, are messages to his wife and son and as such, we are privileged to be able to share them. The second and fifth groups show Fortey’s passion for music. Science fiction images and ideas can sometimes be conveyed more powerfully in just a few words. The third group does this, especially ‘A Taxi Driver on Mars’. Those in the fourth group begin with two memories, the poet looking back from his autumn years before looking the other way, wistfulness followed by a trip into darkness with ‘Nightfall’ - a poem to produce shivers. The final ones provide a sense of dread a fitting group to be placed just before the final story.
If I have any criticism of the poetry, it is the layout. Where a poem goes onto more than one page, the other part would have been better on the facing page so that whole of the structure can be seen with one glance.
Often the structure of a poetic form adds to the appreciation of the word pattern.
Always with an author that a potential reader might not be familiar with, the question remains – why should I buy it? For anyone who values quality poetry, that is one good reason. For others – these stories have variety but the best of them show how a range of ideas can be meshed together to form small gems. Not everyone will like all the stories but it is worth savouring the best, and trying to figure out how Fortey manages to juxtapose the impossible and make it work.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Mar-2015 Published by Alchemy

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Naomi Foyle

ASTRA (The Gaia Chronicles 1) by Naomi Foyle

ASTRA is a science fiction novel set in the near future. It is the story of a young girl growing up in what appears, at least initially, to be an ideal society. After a worldwide collapse of civilisation precipitated by a fuel crisis and flooding due to global warming, the society of Is- Land is formed by the remnants of various “hippy”/ “low impact” communes whose low reliance on conventional fossilfuel based technologies meant they were among the first to recover. Their new society is built on a worship of Gaia with minimal reliance on technology. It is clear though that they do possess sophisticated technology with the use of genetically engineered plants and animals and computer “tablettes”. The society structure is also complicated as everyone has three types of parent (although one person may be more than one). These categories are Birth, Code (the person who provided the DNA) and Shelter (the parent who raises the child). Astra is being raised jointly by adoptive “Shelter” parents, married couple Nimma and Klor who she lives with and Hokma, an emotionally remote scientist.
We first meet the eponymous Astra as a seven year old girl, with following sections when she is 11 and 17. The story throughout is told from her viewpoint but in third person. Naomi Foyle is very good at showing how Astra’s perspective and understanding changes as she matures and I found the developing character of Astra very convincing. In particular her contrasting relationships with her difficult Shelter mother, Nimma and her more accepting Shelter father, Klor work very well. Initially like most of her peers, Astra dreams of defending Is-Land from wicked Non-Landers who want to infiltrate and destroy their sanctuary. This cohort of children are to be given a Security Shot to help them be better defenders. In a decision which will drastically affect her future the young Astra is persuaded by Hokma to fake having her injection as it will limit her intellect and her chance to fulfil her other dream of becoming a famous scientist.
In later sections we see the consequences of this decision as she becomes less like her peers and must constantly hide her differences. As this balancing act becomes harder (especially as she matures through adolescence to adulthood) we gradually uncover more of the controlling totalitarian nature of Is-Land society and that the portrayal of the outsider Non-Landers is far from accurate. There are some uncomfortable sections as we discover how society deals with non-conformists. I found them particularly effective as they have an Orwellian feel where they are justified as for the good of the individual or society.
The story is not fast-paced but progressively reveals more of the “utopian” society as something quite unpleasant. This subtle approach is one I very much liked but may not suit everybody. This is excellent Science Fiction and I heartily recommend it for anyone who likes their fiction thought-provoking and challenging. Its slower pace may not suit everyone especially if you prefer space opera/technology-heavy SF – more reminiscent of LeGuin than hard SF authors. It should also be noted that the Is-Lander society is very open about nudity and sexuality with children encouraged to know their bodies from an early age. Although this is not usually explicit it may make some readers uncomfortable.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Jul-2014 Published by Jo Fletcher

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ROOK SONG (The Gaia Chronicles 2) by Naomi Foyle

The first novel of this series, ASTRA (reviewed BSFG #514) was the story of a young girl growing up and gradually discovering that the perceived utopia of her country (Is-Land) is in fact a controlling, totalitarian society. As a child she is persuaded to avoid a gene-modifying “Security Shot”, which all the village children are to receive as she is told it will limit her intellect. The consequences of this decision ultimately lead to disaster for her and her foster parent, Hokma. At the end of the story she is exiled from her country, still suffering from the physical and mental effects of the “memory pacification” brainwashing to which she has been subjected. The first novel had given very little detail of the outside “Non-Land” other than as somewhere which was intent on destroying or infiltrating Is-Land.
At the beginning of ROOK SONG, the seventeen year old Astra is given shelter and citizenship by a multi- national UN-style organisation called CONC. Non-Land is revealed as a desert land extensively damaged by the pollution of the societal collapse which led to the formation of Is-Land. It is not a homogeneous society but consists of various factions. These include some of the original inhabitants of Is-Land who were expelled by the settlers who now run Is-Land. It is a land of poverty, disease and disability which is a huge contrast and shock to Astra. Is-Land here exists behind a heavily defended wall and despite its avowed ecological principles also controls a mine whose unadmitted uranium deposits are blamed for the high rate of genetic deformities in the native population. As Astra tries to concentrate on finding the exiled father she has never known, she becomes a focus for various factions (including the Is-Lander military arm, IMBOD) due to her resemblance to a prophesied saviour. We also see the full effects of the “Security Shot” on her maturing contemporaries who are becoming easily manipulated and savage “super-soldiers”.
The first story was told very much from Astra’s point of view. In this second novel, separate chapters concentrate on different characters’ viewpoints. With the only introduction to many new characters being a name as a chapter title, this was very confusing. I also felt that Astra, who had been a convincing character in the first book, was now inconsistent and did things purely to advance the plot at times. This book has clearly become a more obvious allegory about the Middle East and Israel and I feel it has sacrificed the subtlety that I liked in the first book. The Is-landers have become more caricatures than characters and there are some nasty violent scenes. The author then throws in religious, gender and disability politics and Astra’s story, which had potential becomes drowned beneath too many obvious metaphors. There is a long tradition of good SF novels as commentaries on politics (eg 1984 and THE HANDMAID’S TALE) but it still needs the balance between message and a strong story and unfortunately in my estimation, this has swung too far towards the former at the expense of the latter.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Jun-2015 Published by Jo Fletcher

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Max Frei

THE STRANGER by Max Frei

This book contains a series of Fantasy/Detective novellas set in a world where magic is widely practiced yet banned beyond a certain level. The ban was put in place several hundred years before the events of this book because the world was a chaotic and dangerous place. The setting seems similar to the beginning of the 20th century but the things that run on electricity or petrol here, run on magic there. The central character, Max, has come from our world after having visited this other world several times in dreams. He has been chosen before arrival for a job with the ‘Minor Secret Investigative Force of the city of Echo, Capital of the Unified Kingdom’ by Sir Juffin Hully, its Most Venerable Head. We follow him and the other members of the MSIF through investigations into a murder in a locked room where the only witnesses are inanimate objects - it's difficult trying to get a statement from a traumatised wooden box; the discovery of a cook who is found in his bed turned into a mound of pate; and an investigation into a city that may or may not still exist (although it still does well in the tourist trade).
The plots are effective. The Fantasy/Detective field is so small that it's possible that most of this hasn't been done before. The great failing is in the writing. I can't tell whether this is due to things that don't translate well from the original Russian or an attempt to translate the idiosyncrasies of the original writer or just that the translator's English isn't that good. Things do feel odd, as they should in a world of this sort, but there is also the sense of jokes that aren't funny or situations that would probably feel more natural if we were Russian. It's possible that the translator gets better as things go on but that could just be that the style of this takes a lot of getting used to. I can't help feeling that if they'd only let an English writer at it they'd have something much better.
This is billed as the first in a series and Russia's answer to Harry Potter. I would have said it was the first 7 in a series and the only similarity with Harry Potter is in the Russian sales which apparently are phenomenal.

Reviewed by William McCabe May-2009 Published by Gollancz

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C S Freidman

THIS ALIEN SHORE by C S Freidman

I hadn’t heard of C S Friedman. I wasn’t excited by the blurb, ‘ A cross between cyberpunk and Star Wars.’ But hell, it was SF and it was sitting among a box full of fantasy so I picked it up.
I instantly warmed to her acknowledgement of Cordwainer Smith’s inspiration. Almost immediately I realised that a comparison with Star Wars was an insult to this book, a book with a complex and fascinating background and intriguing characters.
The first faster than light drive, used to establish colonies on every planet in reach, also worked irreparable genetic damage on anyone making the journey. The resulting people, called Hausman variants, hate the Earth which cut them off without a lifeline in fear of infection of the human gene pool. This is the basic background, peopled with aliens and monsters that are human, Guildsmen who are the only beings capable of piloting ships through the ainniq, at huge cost to their sanity, a vast computer web and a proliferation of interconnected lives.
Against this background, Jamisia, a young woman with biological brain-ware more valuable and extensive than would seem reasonable and a cast of intrusive characters in her head, is fleeing assassination and attempting to understand herself. Kio Masada, Gueran, is also attempting to understand something, a computer virus infiltrating the web.
It really would be pointless to try to explain more. The story is too rich and complex for reasonable synopsis. Go out and buy it immediately.

Reviewed by Yvonne Rowse Feb-2000 Published by Voyager

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Mike French

BLUE FRIDAY by Mike French

Most of us have played those games with friends where a situation is taken and the conversation follows the line ‘what if’ and gets sillier and sillier as the night progresses. In the morning you cannot remember any of the details, only that at the time, it was hilarious. Mike French has been playing those games but he does remember what happened. The result is this book which can be best described as a surreal science fiction satire. While in INTRUSION Ken MacLeod took a serious and depressing view of the consequences of the Nanny State, Mike French has gone for the bizarre.
At the present time there is an emphasis on a work-life balance urging employers not to overload their staff so that they have very little time for their families and social life. The EEC Working Hours Directive only regulates time in the workplace but doesn’t account for working from home. What if…. The law insists family time is sacrosanct and there is vigorous enforcement. That is the scenario postulated in BLUE FRIDAY.
Overtime is not just banned, it is illegal. At five o’clock all nine-to-five married couples must begin to make their way home (shift workers must adhere to their shift patterns). Charlie Heart is part of the resistance. At 5.00 precisely on the Friday before Christmas he closes down his work station and induces the surveillance network to think he is leaving the building. Instead, he is signing on to an illegal overtime network. (It is never clear what they do when working illegally; perhaps it is the thought that they are breaking taboos that is the lure). Unfortunately, Charlie is caught by two enforcement agents, Mr Stone and Mr Brittle, whose job it is to eject lingering staff from the building. They enjoy their job a bit too much. The intention is to tranquilise Charlie and put him in a taxi home; however also in the building is a Family Protection Officer, Trent, who discovers tabs of AvodaOne in Charlie’s possession. These pills cause a mental breakdown and produce an obsession for work in those that take them. When Charlie escapes from custody he is shot trying to get back into his office. Trent then finds himself replacing Charlie as head of the underground overtime network. Why or how this happens is not clear. It doesn’t really matter.
This is a skewed and cynical look at a future that has taken things to extremes. It is not one that I could conceive of actually coming about, whereas MacLeod’s version is all too plausible. Mike French was having fun while writing BLUE FRIDAY and he loads bizarre on surreal on bizarre. It is witty with the wry humour that only satire can impart and all readers will find some resonance in it. To try pulling apart the structure and point out the ways that this scenario would not work would be very ungallant. This is a book that should be taken for what it is, a comment of the idiocy of law makers. The only thing that can be done with a book like this is to go along for the ride and enjoy the experience.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Feb-2013 Published by Elsewhen

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R J Frith

THE NEMESIS LIST by R J Frith

Already established as a short-story writer, Frith won a 2009 competition aimed at discovering new talent: this book is the result.
It tells the story of a boy taken from his family at age five to (unwillingly) take part in a secret and illegal project using drugs and mental conditioning to enhance its subjects’ mental abilities – “We’re going to make you clever” he is told. After eleven years the project is overrun by Government troops but he escapes, finding himself in possession of an enormous fund of knowledge which he hardly knows how to use; eidetic memory and a degree of telepathy, plus a burning desire for revenge. This much is recounted in a series of flashbacks, the main narrative being concerned with a period another five years hence when he has become a target for both a Government agency probably wanting to reproduce the experiments that created him and a rebel group wanting to use his powers for their own ends. With the help of an uncertain ally whose life he once saved, he escapes both, albeit perhaps only for the time being.
On the face of it then, a reasonably lively and exciting space-opera-science-fiction piece, with plenty of spaceships, space stations, guns and fighting. Look more closely however and you can start to see the joins – the main theme of an experimental child who grows into a disturbed young adult is far from original and in general one tends to feel one has heard it all before Fortunately, there are both enough action and enough originality to keep the reader interested in what will happen next.
Less fortunately, the book is not always that well-written, perhaps betraying the author’s limited experience; after all, it is his first full-length novel. The use of flash-backs has already been mentioned, but one quite important story element is effectively overlooked altogether. The storyline is confusing at times and there is a general impression that he has incorporated elements of explanation as and when the need arose instead of working the plot out in advance. Also there is a bit too much of people sitting around in rooms thinking about things or talking about what to do next, instead of getting on with it.
None of which is to say that this is any sense a bad book. It is well worth reading and holds the interest well and such parts as may seem derivative are drawn from the very best sources. As a new and up-and-coming author Frith will be certainly bear watching and the sequel this first book cries out for should be eagerly anticipated

Reviewed by Michael Jones Jan-2011 Published by Tor

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Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett

GOOD OMENS by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett

Originally published in 1990, this tells of the arrival on Earth of the Antichrist in the form of a human baby who will grow to fulfil his part in bringing about the last war between the forces of Good and Evil, or Heaven and Hell if you prefer. The basis of the plot may at first sound familiar to anyone who remembers a certain film, but unfortunate incompetence on the part of the nuns charged with carrying out the substitution results in the baby being given to the wrong family - in other words, lost.
Consequently, when the battle lines are drawn up and the Four Bikers of the Apocalypse ride out, the War nearly goes ahead without Him - and because he has not been brought up in the proper knowledge of his destiny, he chooses to prevent it from happening, having arrived in the nick of time.
The reason for this new edition appears to be centred on an introduction comprising comments from the writers about each other and how they came to write it (except that it is strangely dated 2003). This is actually rather slight, although it was interesting to learn that Neil Gaiman had most influence on the opening, which is arguably the most typically Pratchett-ish, while Terry Pratchett is said to have had most influence on the end.
It is much more of a fun story than its ominous theme might suggest.
There are some very amusing characters, including a demon and an angel who work together simply because they have no-one else of their own kind to associate with, an amazingly cack-handed Witchfinder Army and a weird occultist who possesses the only surviving copy of a book of prophecies written by an ancestor who makes Nostradamus look like a rank amateur. Plus the eleven-year-old Antichrist, who is about as normal as eleven-year-old boys ever get, and his school chums. They all come together in time for the end (or the End) and the world is saved, so a happy ending as well.
A collaboration between these two highly accomplished writers is an event unlikely to be repeated and should be savoured for that reason. That apart, any Terry Pratchett fan will like this book, but it can also be recommended to a wider audience.
Reviewed by Michael Jones Mar-2008 Published by Gollancz

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Daniel F Galouye

DARK UNIVERSE by Daniel F Galouye

The problem with classic science fiction is that it so often dates so very badly.
The greatest vision of the future can go desperately wrong when history takes a different turn. Nightmares of science become jokes when science decides that isn't how things are. What good is it to have a great futuristic novel when you need to look on it with nostalgia? This suffers from all of this and loses so much in the process. We have here a future where the 3rd world war between the great nuclear powers actually happened. A science that still believes evolution is accelerated by irradiation. Even more than this we have plot lines that have since become cliches.
This is the story. WW3 happened. People retreated to the deep bunkers (remember the coal mines of Dr Strangelove). In one of them something went wrong. The lights went out and people adapted to the dark. Some started to see in the infra-red, others lost any understanding of light. As "what if?" stories go, this is a good one but it carries to much baggage and one plot device that should be a surprise (the "monsters" that are taking people) is something I (at least) saw through much too soon.
Not really for the under-30's.

Reviewed by William McCabe Dec-2000 Published by Gollancz

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Mark Gatiss, Ian & Guy Bass

THE VESUVIUS CLUB - Graphic Edition by Mark Gatiss, Ian & Guy Bass

This is the comic book version of Mark Gatiss' period adventure novel.
The pictures are by Ian Bass and letters by Guy Bass (his name does not appear on the outer cover). The page count is complicated as the numbering starts on the fifth page of the comic and does not appear on every page. The count at the top includes all of the inside illustrated pages whether part of the story, fake advertisement, or additional illustration.
The plot is fairly simple in this version. Lucifer Box, artist and resident of 9 Downing Street, is a secret agent of the British Empire in the Edwardian Era. Here he investigates the death and/or disappearance of several leading vulcanologists (Volcanoes, not rubber) and strange events in Naples. The story also involves an orgy in a club, drugs, a plot to destroy a large part of Italy and ‘Purple Zombies’. There's no real subtlety, not many surprises, and the characters are paper thin.
It seems obvious that this was an attempt at a period ‘James Bond’ or ‘Avengers’ style spy thriller. The smart lines, the choreographed fight scenes, the immaculate costumes are all there. The problem is that it seems half-hearted in so much of what it does. There are names from obvious puns (Tom Bowler, Bella Pok) but only a couple of them. There's a deliberate attempt to put the book in a period (there's a ‘cover’ dated May 1939) but there are illustrations that wouldn't have passed a censor until the 1990s and subject matter that wouldn't have been acceptable until at least the 1970s. And the only way you know the zombies are purple is because it says so (only the cover is in colour).
This book is not particularly smart or funny. It doesn't even have that odd sense of humour from THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN (Gatiss was one of the writers/creators). As a pulp fiction style comic book it's OK but nothing more.

Reviewed by William McCabe Mar-2006 Published by Simon & Schuster

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Mary Gentle

1610: A SUNDIAL IN A GRAVE by Mary Gentle

Told from the viewpoint of Valentin Rochefort, swordsman and spy, this is in fact little more than a historical novel, set in the opening decades of the seventeenth century. Following his unwilling involvement in the assassination of King Henri IV of France in 1610, Rochefort flees to England where he is caught up in a series of events which will shape the destiny of the world for centuries to come. As the story develops he is gradually revealed as a complex and flawed character, forced into a role requiring him to assess his place in the world and his own part in influencing its history. He emerges as a man of principle, honest and true according to his own lights.
Like Mary Gentle’s previous ASH, her work here reflects her fascination with, and exhaustive knowledge of, historical times. No detail of dress, maimers, or, most especially, fighting is overlooked and this attention to the minutiae of life conveys a very convincing authenticity so that the reader is easily carried away into a world of the imagination. However, although th ere is a fair amount of action the book as a whole is rather long, drawn out at times to the point of becoming somewhat tedious.
The historical novel is overlaid with a veneer of science fantasy personified by one Doctor Robert Fludd who has learned how to predict the future by mathematical calculation. Early in the book his power is amply demonstrated and it becomes apparent that he is seeking to shape a future in which the most undesirable of his predictions can be averted. However, his plans are brought to naught by individuals - chiefly Rochefort - who, having been made aware of his calculated predictions, exert what freedom of choice is allowed to them in ways which invalidate those calculations. Thus the underlying theme becomes an illustration of the fundamental argument between destiny and free will. At the same time the reader is left to work out whether the book has been written in a ‘today’ which is not our own or in our own ‘today’ which has been changed from what might have been were it not for Fludd's involvement. In fact, publishers Gollancz would have us take this as a novel of alternate history.
On whatever basis it is to be judged, this can only be described as an impressive piece of work, well written and impressively researched. It will however appeal more to readers of fantasy in general and sword-and-sorcery in particular than to SF enthusiasts.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Feb-2004 Published by Gollancz

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ASH A SECRET HISTORY by Mary Gentle

I have always liked this author's work, although some of her books have been a bit strange, to say the least. She has taken a new direction several times and here she has surpassed herself to produce something entirely new and innovative.
There are two stories in this book. Nominally, the main one is that of Ash, who lived her brief life as a leader of mercenary soldiers in the second half of the fifteenth century. As her story unfolds it looks as though a supernatural element is creeping in, but this effect is subsequently found to arise from an unknown mediaeval technology. One suspects that it might even be extraterrestrial, but when the truth is revealed it is something entirely different, possibly worse, and the book is still only half way through.
The second story supplements this by including between the chapters correspondence exchanged between author and publisher as the writing of the book progresses. The author draws on previous versions of Ash's life, supplemented by translations of hitherto undiscovered manuscripts and illuminated by archaeological research. While this goes on, however, historical records are changing before his eyes and it becomes apparent that the history in which Ash lived may not be our history. In fact, it may be that the past itself has somehow been changed, with fragments of the ‘'lost" past lingering on or reappearing in our present. Even his book, the book we are reading, becomes affected so that only this one copy survives. It has become part of its own story.
Although the major part of the book, the story of Ash, appears to be Fantasy it would be wrong to dismiss the whole as such. The real story is actually the modern one, and that is very much Science Fiction. And what a story it turns out to be!
The only criticism I could make of ASH would be its inordinate length, as the writer displays an encyclopaedic knowledge of mediaeval dress, weaponry, warfare and way of life generally. This is highly instructive, and together with one feature I particularly liked - that instead of a stilted reproduction of mediaeval speech the characters' words are "translated” into twentieth century idiom complete with four-letter words - gives an amazingly authentic atmosphere, but the sheer amount of detail does slow up the narrative in places and some of the early parts of the book can be rather slow going. However, in the later chapters the pace picks up as the two stories, one Fantasy and the other Science Fiction, mesh to produce a staggering climax as alternate histories collapse together to produce one present day.
If you only buy one more book this year, make it this one.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Oct-2000 Published by Gollancz

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CARTOMANCY by Mary Gentle

From time immemorial, people have had a desire to know what the future holds for them Cartomancy is divination using maps. Here, the idea of cartomancy is used as a framing device for a collection of stories published between 1983 and 2004. The title story, originally published as a whole in 1991, is split into two with an introduction to the magical map that has been painted on the walls of a room in the Citadel of Virtue and a return to it in the final few pages of the volume. It is viewed by Elthyriel, the Knight-Patriarch of the Order of Virtue and the other stories represent what he sees. Unfortunately, this framing device does not enhance the volume, mainly because of the diversity of the other stories and the fact that there is nothing within them to link back to the idea ol cartomancy A high proportion of the stories involve physical conflict of some kind and many of Gentle's fighters are women. Several have links to her other works. "The Logistics of Carthage", for instance, is set in the same alternative history as ASH, and is a precursor by a decade or so for the novel. "The Road to Jerusalem" also has its roots in an alternative history. Whereas "The Logistics of Carthage" deals with a Europe where the country of Burgundy did not disappear from the maps in the 1477, "What God Abandoned" is another story that plays with history.
The military theme is continued in "Orc's Drift" (written with Dean Wayland and the only collaboration here). This story is pure fun. The desert outpost is occupied by orcs and the troops are bored. Then a fairy turns up "Anukazi's Daughter" and "A Shadow Under the Sea" are both set in the same fantasy world. Both feature betrayals and both have strong, female warriors as principal characters. "A Sun In The Attic" could also be regarded as fantasy but of a much gentler kind, with the emphasis on politics rather than warfare, but like so much of Mary Gentle's work, there is room for doubt. It could be science fiction Research into the applications of lenses that could lead to revelations best left uncovered and the question is a choice between the greater good of the people and scientific development.
"The Pits Beneath the World" is pure science fiction using the theme of a misunderstanding between ours and the alien's cultures to good effect.
These and the other stories in this volume are well crafted and are a fair representation of Mary Gentle's work. Most have female lead characters who are slightly out of kilter with the rest of their society and most of these women are willing to actually light, sometimes with actual swords. They are all strongly motivated. Don't expect softness or sentimentality from this writer.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Sep-2004 Published by Gollancz

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ILARIO: THE LION'S EYE by Mary Gentle

Mary Gentle has a fondness for very long books. In the cases of ASH and 1610: A SUNDIAL IN A GRAVE there was enough substance to sustain the length. ILARIO: THE LION'S EYE doesn’t.
This book is set in the same skewed universe as ASH. In this fifteenth century, Carthage is still a considerable power though it lies under the Penitence. The city is permanently dark. No-one knows why except that it is a curse in more ways than one. The city of Rome is referred to as The Empty Chair because there is currently no Pope. That is also believed cursed, as anyone unlucky enough to be elected to the papacy dies shortly afterwards. The cardinals gave up trying to elect a new Pope several centuries earlier as they do not want to be victim of the curse. The Egyptian Pharaohonic dynasty continues but in exile based in Constantinople. In Iberia, modern Spain, Taraconensis is a seat of power.
Ilario is a true hermaphrodite having fully functional male and female parts.
Abandoned at birth, Ilario was raised by foster parents then sold to the king as the court freak. Ilario’s ambition is to be a painter and after being given his freedom, flees to Carthage after his true mother tries to kill him. There he falls prey to an opportunist who sells him as a slave. Fortunately, Ilario is sold to an Egyptian eunuch collecting books for his Pharaoh-Queen and needs a scribe. The relationship that develops between Rekhmire’ and Ilario is more that of friendship than master and slave. Due to the interference of Ilario’s mother, Rosamunde, they have to leave Carthage and go to Rome where Ilario is apprenticed to a master painter to learn the skills of New Art. After the painter’s death, Ilario and Rekhmire’ go on to Venice. Ilario is now being hunted by both the Carthaginians and his mother’s husband. Ilario’s true father is a successful Iberian general, Honorius who is very happy to discover the existence of a son-daughter. Ilario, however, has just discovered that he is pregnant.
During the rest of the novel, Ilario escapes various assassination attempts, marries twice – once as groom, once as bride, visits the Egyptian court in exile and meets some lost Chinese seamen. Ilario doesn’t come across as a hermaphrodite. The ambiguity of dual sexuality is not convincing, yet the depiction of Ilario as a painter is. He is constantly sketching and has the same itchy fingers that a writer has when the ideas are flowing.
The entire story takes place over a year and although there is a lot crammed into this as a time period, the overall effect of the narrative is lassitude with bursts of action.
There is too much of the day to day existence such as the problems of giving Ilario’s daughter her feeds.
Overall, while this is a well written book, internally consistent and well researched, it is far too long and could have been improved by judicial pruning

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Jun-2007 Published by Gollancz

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WHITE CROW by Mary Gentle

This is good value for money. Between the covers are three short stories and three novels. The connection is the world in which they are set. Though the publisher has labelled the book fantasy, Gentle herself claims they are science fiction but that it is the science that is different from ours. In the 17th century there was a belief in Hermetic science which said that the world worked on magical patterns and resonances, but predictably, scientifically.
Valentine White Crow is a Scholar-Soldier and a member of the Invisible College. She first appears in “Beggars in Satin”, when the Miracle Garden being constructed by Lord Architect Casaubon keeps becoming corrupted - the patterns it is based on are twisted and discordant. Casaubon is a gross figure - immensely fat and slovenly but likeable and accompanies Valentine in the other parts of this volume. In “The Knot Garden” the pattern opens a way into another dimension from which emerge gods on Earth, setting the scene for RATS AND GARGOYLES. The third of the stories, “Black Motley” , introduces the other element for RATS AND GARGOYLES, the man-sized intelligent rats that actually run the country. The balance between humans, rats and gods is being upset by one of the gods intent 011 undoing the world.
LEFT TO HIS OWN DEVICES brings the scientific system into the near future. Hermetic science is still extant but has been overtaken by computer technology. Valentine’s magic is in writing software and Casaubon constructs hypermedia architecture - modern equivalents of their old roles. Set in a closed London - too many asylum seekers so no-one can come in - and with civil war in Germany, the system they have created together is certain to upset the balance. It is interesting here, to look for the equivalents in term of characters between this and RATS AND GARGOYLES but here all the rats are human.
THE ARCHITECTURE OF DESIRE is back in the London of Cromwell’s Commonwealth, except that the queen, Carola, and General Olivia exist together in disharmony. Olivia wants to build a temple but it keeps falling down and expects Casaubon to solve the problem.
To try and put the complicated contexts underlying these novels and stories into a few words is impossible. Instead, read them for yourself. They are clever, brilliantly characterised but need the reader to concentrate and think about what is going on. This volume is not a holiday read for the beach. It deserves better than that and to get the best out of it, it really needs to be read twice. Be prepared to spend time and there is great satisfaction to be had.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Jul-2003 Published by Gollancz

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Gary Gibson

EXTINCTION GAME by Gary Gibson

Jerry Beche should be dead. Instead, he’s rescued from a desolate Earth where he was the last man alive. He’s then trained for the toughest conditions imaginable and placed with a crack team of specialists on an isolated island. Every one of them is a survivor, as each has withstood the violent ending of their own alternative Earth. Their new specialism? To retrieve weapons and data in missions to other apocalyptic versions of our world. But why?
EXTINCTION GAME is another excellent book from an outstanding novelist who is, in my opinion, fast becoming one of the great modern British writers of Science Fiction. I fully agree with the jacket quote from The Guardian that he is to be considered alongside the leading triumvirate of British hard SF writers: Alistair Reynolds, Peter F Hamilton and Neal Asher. All of whom are authors that I really enjoy reading.
To me EXTINCTION GAME is a masterful blend of two SF sub-genres, Post Armageddon and Alternative Reality. Written as a murder mystery and not Space Opera, it is very different from his excellent Shoal Sequence trilogy and its spin-off MARAUDER. There is nothing ‘flashy’ about the storyline just solid high class writing which leave the reader quietly satisfied and eager for the next book by this author.
EXTINCTION GAME is written from the point of view of the main character which is a departure from the Shoal Sequence in which he wove several story lines into a rich tapestry. This was not needed as it was basically one person’s story and as such worked very well indeed. That said, the ‘hero’ Jerry Beche, was ably supported by a reasonable number of other characters to provide context to the tale. In doing so Gary Gibson wisely only used one ‘flash back’ in the narrative and this was very appropriate in providing background at an apposite moment. Don’t get me wrong I enjoy flash backs as long as they are not overdone and are fitting to help the reader understand and enjoy the storyline.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading EXTINCTION GAME, look forward to rereading it and can wholeheartedly recommend it to others.
Reviewed by Jim Pearce Oct-2014 Published by Pan Macmillan Tor

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FINAL DAYS by Gary Gibson

It is no exaggeration to say that British writers such as Reynolds, Hamilton, Asher and Banks are coming to lead the world in the production of far-future space fiction and with his latest book Gary Gibson continues his bid to stake his place in this illustrious company.
He has set it in 2235 when, through the advent of wormhole technology, more than a dozen interstellar colonies have been linked to Earth. Most writers employing this kind of scenario either overlook or choose to ignore the fact that, according to the rules of Minkowski Spacetime, two points separated in space by, say, ten light-years are also separated in time by ten years. Gibson however has exploited this principle to enable the wormholes to be used for time-travel into the future; however, the idea that two-way travel will be possible is rather less plausible. Be that as it may, he has here employed the concept in its own terms to good effect in this story.
As well as the colonisation effort, explorations in space have uncovered a huge network of wormholes left by some other intelligent race or races and some investigation has taken place. A site one hundred trillion years in the future has been visited and some future technology recovered. However, it has been discovered that both the Earth and the Moon-based terminal of the local wormhole network will be totally destroyed within ten years. Both things may be connected, but how? And will it be possible to prevent or reverse this course of events?
Leaving aside these exciting and dramatic aspects, the book is generally well-written and provides a convincing and fascinating portrayal of life in a world filled with futuristic communications, transport and weapons. Less happily, the story is told in alternating segments from the point of view of at least four leading characters, one of whom is present in two versions of himself including one from ten years in the future. Keeping track of them all, seeing how they interact and anticipating how they will continue doing so, is not always easy. Each individual story comes to some kind of conclusion by the end of the book, but which of those conclusions will best serve the interests of humanity as a whole remains unclear.
Fortunately, author Gibson is already hard at work on the necessary sequel and hopefully all will be explained. In the meantime, this first part of the story can be recommended as well worth reading.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Oct-2011 Published by Tor

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MARAUDER by Gary Gibson

MARAUDER is a worthy sequel to Gary Gibson's brilliant Shoal trilogy (STEALING LIGHT, NOVA WAR and EMPIRE OF LIGHT) being set approximately two hundred years after its conclusion. As in the Shoal trilogy the lead character is a strong feisty woman spacecraft pilot, Megan Jacinth, who displays many of the characteristics so strongly exhibited by Gibson's previous heroine, Dakota Merrick. As in his previous novels there is a strong cast of 'supporting' characters whose actions display both the best and worst of human nature all bound up in a smoothly depicted and gripping tale.
There are three strands to this story which are effortlessly blended together in this gripping tale. The first follows Megan and the consequences of her attempt to rescue her friend Imtiaz Bashir (Bash) who she thought was dead. At the start of the story she has found out he is a captive in the hands of her once lover but now greatest enemy, Gregor Tarrant. The second strand takes place 12 years earlier when she and Bash are persuaded to steal a Nova drive ship, by Tarrant and his truly despicable colleague Sifra, and take it halfway across the galaxy to intercept an alien vessel known as the Wanderer/Marauder.
In the course of this trip she discovers the inhumane motives of her new colleagues and their employer, General Schelling and Bash loses his mind. This voyage ends in a disaster from which she barely escapes leaving her companions for dead. The final strand of MARAUDER covers the fate of a young woman, Gabrielle who is the Speaker Elect of the Domarchy, a state on the planet Redstone. She is expected to enter a semi-derelict Magi starship that is the source of the Demarchy's dominance of the planet after which she will swiftly rise to 'heaven'! She is rescued from this fate during a planet wide disaster by her bodyguard and lover Karl Petrova and as a consequence her, Megan's and the other characters’ paths collide.
Readers of the Shoal Trilogy will recall that Magi starships are the remnant of a culture of starfaring peoples originating in the Large Magellanic Cloud about 2 million years ago. This civilization was destroyed as the result of the discovery of Maker caches containing faster than light nova drive technology and the consequent nova wars. One good consequence of this story is the discovery of the Maker's objectives and the possibility that there may be yet another book in this 'universe' resolving this problem. If so I eagerly look forward to reading it.

Reviewed by Jim Pearce Nov-2013 Published by Pan Macmillan Tor

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STEALING LIGHT /NOVA WAR The first and second books of The Shoal Sequence by Gary Gibson

The original intention was that I would deal only with the second of these - something I would normally try to avoid doing. In fact, by the time I had got through eighty pages or so I had come to realise two things: that events had already happened that I wanted to know about, and that the first book would be well worth reading. So I took steps to get hold of it and started from the beginning.
The “Shoal” is an aquatic race, seemingly the only one in this arm of the Milky Way in possession of ftl technology which enables them to control the activities of humans and various other so-called client races. However, a predecessor race, the Magi, have left derelict starships scattered about and two humans come into possession of one of these and learn that the Shoal did not actually invent their advanced technology for themselves - they have in fact been engaged in a millenia-long war with another ftl-capable alien race calling themselves The Emissaries of God. Both are aware that their ftl technology can be used to destroy any star in a nova explosion and in the second book hostilities escalate with both sides demonstrating this capability. It is left to our two humans to initiate the settingup of a peacekeeping force which will use the technology left behind by the Magi to bring things under control and prevent the eradication of life in the Milky Way.
The foregoing few words can scarcely begin to convey the intricacies of a story, complex and full of incident, spread through eight hundred-plus pages.
Unfortunately, the first book begins in a very piecemeal fashion with successive chapters dodging about in both place and time, leaving the reader (me, anyway) quite confused as to what actually happened when and to whom. It does not always add up and at least twice I had to turn back to try to find how it was that some character was actually not dead after all. About halfway through, the story takes on a more linear narrative, although the author still cannot resist the occasional flashback. The inventiveness and excitement never let up as the elaborations of the plot continue to unfold.
Gibson is not quite a new writer, these being respectively his third and fourth published books. On this evidence he is more than able to stand comparison with the leading names in contemporary British SF writing. There may be the odd occasion when he has followed other people’s ideas, but his sources are always the very best and he brings more than enough of his own originality to make up for it.
I shall look forward to the next book in this series, which I hope will bring it to a triumphant conclusion. In the meantime, these are highly recommended.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Dec-2009 Published by Gollancz

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John Gilbert

FEAR Issue #38 edited by John Gilbert

After a hiatus of 27 years John Gilbert has relaunched his horror magazine as a bi-monthly, with the first (called Issue 37) out in August 2016. It's a good-looking 50-page glossy with stories from Ramsey Campbell and Johnny Mains & Simon Bestwick, interviews with Campbell, Mains, Gary McMahon, Jonathan Maberry and artist Jim Pitts. There's a tribute to film director Robin Hardy, lots of film news and some reviews of books and films.
The whole thing is well printed and published with plenty of pictures (Ramsey Campbell smiles out from the front cover), very professional and a snip at £3.99. For my taste there's rather too much film and interview material, not enough fiction. The stories are well worth reading and the interviews are well conducted. John Gilbert is in the process of appointing a fiction editor and intends to have a higher proportion of fiction in future issues. Recommended.

Reviewed by Chris Morgan Nov-2011

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Daniel Godfrey

THE SYNAPSE SEQUENCE by Daniel Godfrey

Whilst I was aware that a lot of good things were being said about Daniel Godfrey’s work. I hadn’t read any of his books before. Based on reading THE SYNAPSE SEQUENCE I will definitely be looking for his other books. For a relatively short book it packs in a lot of ideas and action, all set in a near-future UK which feels depressingly likely. Jobs are being increasingly performed by bots and managed by AI’s, with fewer and fewer jobs available to humans. Most people subsist on a basic Universal Income (UI) and there is a growing resentment that is moving up the class ladder. The synapse sequencer of the title is a machine which allows someone to directly experience the memories of another person. At the start of the book it is still in the early development stages but has a number of potentially very lucrative uses. Anna Glover is an ex-accident investigator, now virtually unemployable after her conclusions about an aircraft crash were used as justification to start an unpopular and nasty war in Tanzania. She is now testing the synapse sequencer’s potential to investigate crime based on directly accessing the memories of witnesses. Much criminal investigation is now computerised and heavily reliant on data from closed circuit cameras, electronic purchases and social media. Prioritisation of which crimes to investigate is decided by algorithms supposedly based on the likelihood of success versus the resources needed but clearly also considers political factors such as notoriety and the public’s interest in a case.
When the daughter of a high-profile couple is kidnapped, Anna (and the company) are approached by a PI as the only potential witness is her foster brother, who has been badly beaten and is now in a coma. Despite the girl’s high status, the police investigation has been given a low priority. As Anna delves into the young man (N’Golo’s) memories she starts to uncover evidence that this is not just a simple ransom kidnapping. It has ramifications linked to the political landscape and the conflicts over how much should machines be allowed to watch and control society, and she faces increasing obstacles and dangers as she progresses. As I said at the beginning, there is a lot packed into this book. The setting of the story feels very credible and convincing and shows a lot of thought. Anna, the main protagonist, is interesting as someone who has to make some morally dubious choices due to her circumstances. At times the book reminds me of some of Philip K Dick’s themes, considering things such as how much can one trust the memories of one person and how much do Anna’s own assumptions and prejudices affect her analysis and conclusions. It also has some of the feel of Michael Crichton’s work; combining SF ideas with exciting action to appeal to a broader audience. In short, it works really well as a tense, complex thriller and I can see it also being enjoyed by readers outside the SF field.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin May-2019 Published by Titan Books

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Alison Goodman

THE NECKLACE OF THE GODS by Alison Goodman

This young adult fantasy is the second by the author set in a Chinese Empire-type world. The first book, THE TWO PEARLS OF WISDOM, describes how a young girl, Eona, becomes a Dragoneye, able to manipulate wind and water to nurture and protect the land. As females are not allowed to be Dragoneyes, Eona has to masquerades as a boy, Eon.
In THE NECKLACE OF THE GODS Eon’s gender has been revealed and as the Lady Eona, the first female Dragoneye in hundreds of years, she is a major player in a counter rebellion against the usurper High Lord Sethon. Full of well defined characters the book describes how, along with fellow rebels Ryko and Lady Dela and others, she finds Kygo, the young Pearl Emperor. As his forces are greatly outnumbered he needs Eona's powers to help him recover his throne. Unfortunately for him, Eona has little idea of how to use her powers requiring tuition from the treacherous Lord Ido (the only other surviving Dragoneye). Her attempts to use her power, although well intentioned, often have disastrous consequences for others. This results in those whom she is trying to help doubting her motivation. As a further complication she is attracted to both the Emperor and Ido. The final battle is well described with some interesting twists and turns.
Although this is a second book in a series the characters and the situation are well enough described so someone who has not read THE TWO PEARLS OF WISDOM can easily follow the story. It is full of action, passion, evil and treachery including some from an unexpected source. It is well written although in a somewhat ‘soft focus’ style. This is probably because it is aimed at the young adult market.
It should be noted that these both books have alternate titles. THE NECKLACE OF THE GODS also being published as EONA: THE LAST DRAGONEYE and THE TWO PEARLS OF WISDOM as EON: RISE OF THE DRAGONEYE

Reviewed by Jim Pearce Sep-2011 Published by Bantam

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Steven Gould

JUMPER by Steven Gould

I first read this back in 1992 when it was published in the USA. I loved it and could not understand why a British publisher didn’t pick up the rights. But Andromeda imported several hundred copies and I never heard anyone expressing disappointment with it. It was Steven Gould’s first novel and he went on to produce several fine novels.
Now it finally gets a British edition due entirely to the release of the new movie JUMPER, based on this book. But be warned – the movie is only ‘based’ on this novel. The movie is so different that a movie novelisation has now been released as well. Also written by Steven Gould, it’s called JUMPER: GRIFFIN’S STORY and hopefully will be reviewed next month. Is this a first – the original author also writing the movie novelisation? I can’t think of a single instance of this happening before.
The novel opens with David Rice, a teenager, about to be beaten with the buckle end of a belt by his abusive, drunken father. He suddenly finds himself in his favourite place, the local library, and realises he has ‘jumped’. When he is about to be gang-raped by a group of men, the same thing happens – back to the library, the place he has escaped to since his mother walked out on his father and him many years before..
Leaving his father and deciding to make his own way in life, David discovers the joys and perils of teleportation.
It’s been many years since teleportation was a reasonably common theme in SF but it’s been very scarce in recent years. Here we have a first-class novel with good characterisation, wellpaced action and a wonderful noir quality. There’s a lovely tribute in there when, after not meeting any other ‘jumpers’, he realises that his only blueprint for his position is remembering when he read Alfred Bester’s THE STARS MY DESTINATION. That novel, of course, is *the* classic novel of teleportation.
JUMPER is far and away better than any other book in that genre. Read it and enjoy!

Reviewed by Rog Peyton Apr-2008 Published by Voyager

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JUMPER: GRIFFIN’S STORY by Steven Gould

This novelisation of the JUMPER movie has little to do with JUMPER itself as far as characters and plot are concerned. Only the idea of teleportation remains. Whoever decided to buy the rights of the original novel obviously simply wanted to do a movie on teleportation.
Having purchased the rights, the first problem was how to get over the whole idea of teleportation with its advantages and disadvantages, to the general non-SF reading public within the first section of the movie. This is done by having young Griffin being taught how to ‘jump’ (or teleport) by his parents. Are there other teleports? Why do they appear to be the only ones? None of this is explained and strangely, I found this of little importance having already read JUMPER itself..
It reads like a slow juvenile through this first section but when the real story kicks in, the novel reads much like JUMPER itself – fast and quite dark., and certainly not like a juvenile.
JUMPER had a direct sequel, REFLEX, that was published in 2004.
GRIFFIN’S STORY reads like a third book in a trilogy telling the story of a spinoff character, though Griffin does not appear in the other two books. Having Steven Gould himself to write this novelisation certainly helps to connect this to the other two books and it is sufficiently different to make it appear like a third book in a series and not to be a ‘distorted’ version of JUMPER itself.
It’s impossible to describe the rest of this novel without spoiling the plot and I’m certainly not going to do that. There are too many ‘spoilers’ in the blurb on the back cover as it is. If you buy this book, and I strongly suggest it’s well worth reading, please try to avoid reading the blurb.

Reviewed by Rog Peyton May-2008 Published by Voyager

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Iain Grant

THE GEARS OF MADNESS by Iain Grant

Steampunk is a strange phenomenon. It is a combination of nostalgia and alternative science. While some exponents of the sub-genre want to take science back to the Victorian Era, some use it as a jumping off place for another direction of development. A few turn it into a genuine alternative history along with a different physics. Iain Grant is one of the latter.
This collection of seven stories started life as a series of adventures only available on the internet. This book brings them all together to form an ongoing narrative. The sub-title is “The Collected Sedgewick Papers”. This is not quite an accurate description even though there are links between them. Many, though not all, are purported to be from the memoires of Mr J Cadwallander and mostly concern the situations he was dragged into by Professor Erskine Sedgewick at the start of the twentieth century. There is enough in the basic relationship between the two men to wonder if the initial inspiration was Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.
In this world, as is consistent with some of the beliefs of Victorian natural philosophers, the space between planets is not a vacuum but stratified layers of aether. To get between the layers there are a series of locks through which ships can travel. The first story in the book, set in 1902 is “The Angels of the Abyss”. When something strange seems to have occurred in one of these space-locks, Sedgewick inveigles himself and Cadwallander onto the expedition to find out what is going on. They find that the cylindrical structure has been invaded by alien beings which manifest as angels but are deadly to whoever touches them. It is during the events here that Cadwallander loses an arm, which is replaced later by a very efficient mechanical one.
“The Pearl of Tharsis” set a year later introduces the adventuress, Mina Saxena, who has a place in several other of these stories. Sedgewick and Cadwallander are on Mars when a sandstorm downs their flying machine. They and the passengers and pilot take shelter in a labyrinth of caves. Mina has suffered the same fate, but sees an opportunity to hold the professor to ransom. Music, though lures them deeper into the caverns where they encounter Chioa Khan (an alias of Aleister Crowley). Here a god-like being has summoned people by supernatural means to a perpetual party where no debauchery is forbidden.
Mina tells the next story. In “The Well of Shambala” she has attached herself to a British expeditionary force in Tibet, which sets out to investigate a temple in the mountains. They have a limited time as by a certain date, the artillery on a space platform will shell the Russian forces in the area. What they find is literally, out of this world.
“The Bridge to Lemuria” uses several meanings of the word bridge in its execution. There is an actual bridge across the North Sea that is being built to link Britain with Belgium. It is almost complete when a murder sends Sedgewick to Yarmouth to investigate Edward Klein, the architect of the project. Where the two halves join in the centre he has constructed an arch of chthonic design. The finished construction is intended, not just as a bridge between countries, but between eldritch worlds. It is worth noting that Mina Saxena is initially accused of the murder that sets the events in train.
At first “The Shadow Under London” seems unconnected with the rest of the stories other than the narrator, Inspector Wilmarth who was the arresting officer in “The Bridge to Lemuria”. He is called in when his cousin is accused of the murder of a doctor working in the tunnels that will become a deep underground railway. The only connection with Sedgewick is that the nurse working there is his niece. Like several other stories in this collection the resolution involves eldritch gods.
“The Herald of the Ancients” and the title story, “The Gears of Madness”, are actually two parts of the same, longer story but written separately due to the original format. They bring together a number of characters from other stories, including Mina Saxena and Chioa Khan and rearrange the alliances seen earlier. It is a tale of gods and aliens.
While these stories belong to the steampunk genre, they also have a Lovecraftian influence as each contains monsters or monstrous beings masquerading as gods. Grant has obviously had a lot of fun creating this world and playing with history and historical characters. While not overtly humorous, the breakneck pace makes them highly enjoyable.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Mar-2016 Published by Pigeon Park

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John Grant

TELL NO LIES by John Grant

Story-tellers are good at lies. It is their stock in trade. A good story-teller is able to be convincing while being a master of misdirection. The reader is sucked in to the power of the tale before realising that everything is not how they expected it to be. In some cases this leads to a “groan effect” as a twist is revealed that, although unexpected is provided without the clues that on looking back were present. A subtle bard leaves the reader with a feeling of satisfaction. John Grant belongs to the latter school. Thus it is often difficult to discuss the themes and tropes within his stories without the game away. From this selection of his work it is clear that he is a clever writer. These twelve stories, from a period of ten years from 2004, provide a good showcase for his skill.
A common factor with many of these stories is the first person narrator. In “Q” the narrator is Cello, the Deputy Director of the CIA. She is in post because the president and her boss have been killed in a “terrorist” attack. That background is just there to put her in the right place for the rest of the story. Part of that is to examine a project her predecessor was involved with; the other part is philosophical concerning the nature of God. It is a lot to unpick in a short story and a reader might well be frustrated by all the things left unsaid.
There is scope here to build the background and make a longer story with more pace. As it stands, it is in stasis.
“Baited Breath” is a total contrast and full of humour. Again there is a first person narrator but the voice is very different. He and his wife, Natalie, discover that they have an infestation of dragons. These are small, mouse-sized dragons but they do breathe fire and they leave fluorescent droppings about the place. They have exactly the same problem as if they were mice – how to get rid of them.
Artists and poets use “found” objects in their work. A glimpse of the unusual can spark off ideas in a story-teller’s mind. “Two-Stroke Toilets” is an example that has generated a science fiction, time-slip story. When the narrator and his wife come to live in a small English village they discover that it has a gateway to the past. Although the narration is straightforward it generates;9 other issues, suggesting that the nature of time is more complex than most think.
Even Grant’s seemingly frivolous stories have a serious vein running through them which is not always apparent until the end is reached. Children have wild imaginations and the ability to invent imaginary situations which they enter in a way that becomes alien to most adults. “Commander Ginfalcio Beeswax And The Menace From Deneb” is one of these scenarios in which young Harold believes implicitly and the adults humour him – up to a point. A well- crafted story has a turning point at which all our preconceptions change. It may come at any point in the story and in the best ones, it sneaks up on us without us realising it. Grant does it here, and in many of the others included in this volume.
This volume ends with tongue-in-cheek humour. All the title character of “Benjy’s Birthday” birthday wants for his thirteenth, is a universe – the latest must-have for all the kids on the block.
Summing up, Grant likes to use the first person as he can play with the idea of the unreliable witness. It is easier to surprise the reader if the narrator is discovering things at the same time giving the stories a subtlety that using third person might not have. Many contain an element of the supernatural but the concepts are not too wild for the non- genre reader to appreciate. Not all the stories here will suit all tastes as in some Grant has a tendency to philosophise slowing down the pace with exposition. A volume worth dipping into.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Sep-2015 Published by Alchemy

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Mira Grant

PARASITE by Mira Grant

After a horrific car accident Sally Mitchell wakes up remembering nothing of who she was. Lucky to be alive, she has only survived because her Dad is high up on the SymboGen company ladder and arranged for her to have an Intestinal Bodyguard inserted before the accident; a tapeworm that enhances the human immune system and literally helped to save her life, but at the same time wiped away her old, previously spoilt personality. This has left her as a SymboGen guinea pig for six years, plagued by therapists and scientists prodding and poking her.
She's just starting to rebuild her life, gets on with her sister Joyce and has a cute boyfriend Nathan, who she loves. But just as she's coming to terms with her new life, people are starting to behave strangely. In the mall with her sister she spots a number of people randomly swarm towards each other with blank faces, victims of the apparent 'sleeping sickness'. And her parents seem to know something about this.
With all of that going on, and the stress of the investigations as well as relearning how to speak, read and react in a so called 'normal' way, Sally, now Sal, is having a hard time adjusting.
It's refreshing that in all of Mira/Seanan McGuire's books the regular protagonists reflect the multicultural and diverse world we live in.
Mostly written in the first person, we experience the events through Sal's eyes, however, chapters are interspersed with medical texts and journals mapping the history of the tapeworm and the scientists involved. There's a shady government/conspiracy theory vibe to the novel and the science feels incredibly accurate and believable suggesting a thorough amount of research.
There are plenty of surprises throughout the novel and the writing is especially entertaining, the science made accessible to the reader. All in all a brilliant start to a brand new trilogy and one that has been nominated for a Hugo. If it wins, it will be well deserved. Simply a brilliant book.

Reviewed by Theresa Derwin Jul-2014 Published by Orbit

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Rob Grant

INCOMPETENCE by Rob Grant

Rob Grant is, of course, best known for his work with Doug Naylor on RED DWARF. They have written for both the TV and book markets, but he has also written several books on his own, including a RED DWARF book, and a couple of science fiction novels entitled COLONY and COLONY 11.
The basic premise of INCOMPETENCE is that the EU have issued a directive that makes it illegal for anyone to be sacked from their job for incompetence. In the middle of all the chaos this causes, one detective has to solve a series of murders committed by a chillingly competent serial murderer.
Along the way he has to deal with such occurrences as planes landing at the wrong airport, hotel rooms with no bed, and shoes made out of vegetables, as leather is rather scarce. He meets many interesting characters, including a police officer with an extreme anger management problem, a male octogenarian bunny girl, and a woman whose husband is hiding from the authorities, as he has been declared officially dead, and no matter how many times he has tried to prove that he is alive it has done no good.
When the story begins, our hero, Harry Salt, is on his way to meet a friend and colleague by the name of Dick Klingferm. When he gets to where he is supposed to meet him, he discovers that what looks like a freak accident has occurred. One of the neo-classical external glass elevators crashed through the roof and then, as all things that go up must do, it came down again. There were seven people in the lift, including Klingferm.
When Harry goes to look at one of the other lifts, he discovers that although the building has seventeen floors, there are thirty-three buttons.
Normally, buttons eighteen to thirty-three would not be wired up. But upon examination of the elevator cars, the thirty-third floor has been wired up to try and go to a non-existent thirty-third floor, thus causing the crash. This, of course, looks like perfectly ordinary human incompetence, some repair work done badly by a clumsy repairman. Harry knows that it is murder, however, and realises that he will have a very hard time proving that it is murder.
This book is very clever and extremely funny, but then again you wouldn't expect any less from a man who is half of the team who brought you RED DWARF. It gets four-and-a-half out of five, it would have got full marks were there a few more laugh-out-loud moments as opposed to grinning maniacally moments.
One of the things I especially liked was that despite being a humorous detective-novel-come-near-future-science- fiction it is realistic in the sense that the book is not entirely full of things going hilariously wrong. As a contrast tilings sometimes go well for Harry, as when the woman with the aforementioned officially dead husband takes him in and gives him aid and succour in the shape of a bowl of soup and some fairly miraculous herbal poultices to help heal the many scrapes and bruises he has picked up by this point in the narrative.
Another scene that particularly stuck in my mind was when he tries to catch a train from a station that unfortunately, trains don't stop at. Ever. And so he performs a James Bond-style leap between two carriages, so he can hold on to them. Now, if James Bond performed this stunt he would succeed with only a couple of smudges of dirt and possibly a slight amount of hair mussing. However, in this book the sheer difficulty of the stunt is emphasised. The hero gets bumped and bruised and nearly sliced in two and all sorts of things.
In conclusion, this is a very funny book, and if you are a fan of detective stories, near-future stories, or humorous science fiction, 1 sincerely recommend it.

Reviewed by Jinnie Cracknell Jul-2004 Published by Victor GoIIancz

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Simon R. Green

HAWK & FISHER 2: FEAR AND LOATHING by Simon R. Green

Reprinted as a collection this is three stories about two cops Hawk and Fisher a husband and wife team that would give Dirty Harry a good name. Written in classic “city cop” crime style the back drop is pure fantasy. While this is the second collection of stories about Hawk and Fisher they are self-contained and it is not necessary to have read the first collection. A good read for the beach or train this holiday.

Reviewed by Anne Woodford Aug-2000 Published by Millennium

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THE SPY WHO HAUNTED ME by Simon R. Green

Simon Green has been publishing science fiction and fantasy since the late 1970s, and has produced several series (Hawk and Fisher, Deathstalker, Nightside) as well as several stand alone novels from then to date. Despite this, THE SPY WHO HAUNTED ME is the first of his books I have ever read. It is actually the third book in the Secret Histories series (following THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN TORC and DAEMONS ARE FOREVER). It does not take the astute reader long to notice a distinctly `James Bond’ theme in the titles, along with an obvious fantasy/horror slant. The blurb plays up the Bond ‘n’ Ghoulies approach, while stressing the action and humour of the story. Alas, this, along with starting reading the series at the end lead me to expect not to enjoy it, and I did not approach the volume with great enthusiasm.
The general setting and background of Simon’s Secret Histories does indeed feel humorous in a Terry Pratchett/Neil Gaiman kind of way. Those who have enjoyed GOOD OMENS by the aforementioned authors may find much to enjoy in this book. However, despite my early misgivings, I found that Simon treats his characters and setting with a great deal more respect than you would perhaps expect from the preamble. And I very quickly realised that Simon Green has some seriously fresh ideas. In my time reading fantasy I have come across quite a few takes on the supernatural, so it is to Simon’s credit that I find his creations to be really quite original.
Simon imbues his characters with both this exciting freshness and a kind of comfortable familiarity at the same time, and so I found the text both comfortable to read and oddly compelling. Looks like I might be building up to enjoying this after all…
After an entertaining `pre-credits’ first chapter, which may seem unconnected with the main part of the book in best Bond-movie style (at least until the end, anyway) the story proper starts up. Essentially setting up a kind of super- game of supernatural spy craft for which the prize is a legendary hoard of secrets, our hero Shamen Bond (real name Eddie Drood) is pitched against a colourful group of super-agents in solving a series of increasingly dangerous and fantastic mysteries. As the spies progress through the increasingly impressive mysteries it gradually emerges that not all is as it should be. The story is pleasingly paced and plotted; Simon seems to effortlessly build the tension, giving the book real momentum and eventually feeling really quite evocative of its cinematic inspiration.
So in conclusion I can heartily recommend this to anyone who enjoys contemporary horror in the Sandman/Buffy mould, or anyone who likes the idea of a Bond style adventure with fantasy, or just anyone who wants a nice, fun, exciting story to read.
Oh darn, there I go. I really meant not to like this at the start, but despite my best efforts I ended up enjoying it immensely… Oh well, off I go to find the first two books in the series.

Reviewed by Dave Corby Jul-2009 Published by Gollancz

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Nick Griffiths

DALEK I LOVED YOU by Nick Griffiths

This book has nothing to do with the recent radio shows chronicling the life of a Dr. Who fan entitled DALEK I LOVE YOU and DALEK I LOVE YOU TOO. Neither they nor this have anything to do with the 80s synth pop group named Dalek I Love You either. This is the autobiography of Nick Griffiths, reviewer, journalist, and Dr. Who Fan.
All of these terms are his own and he has probably been paid in all 3 capacities.
Other things about the author:- He is a Tottenham Hotspur Fan. He once worked in a record shop (Our Price). He makes lists of all kinds of things including his 10 favourite/least favourite… just about anything. He has heard of pop groups that most people haven't. He is not Nick Hornby The last of these is probably most significant. Apart from the ‘Dr. Who Fan’ bit, this could just be someone trying to write a Nick Hornby knock-off. Maybe he's just trying to be Nick Hornby for Dr. Who Fans. I don't think he's very good at it and I even wonder about his status as a Dr. Who fan.
He first saw the show when Jon Pertwee starred and managed to stick with it until his parents sent him off to public school. At this point he watched the show only if not playing rugby that day. He doesn't really seem to like the show after Tom Baker leaves and probably didn't watch it that much until the McGann version by which time he is a regular writer for Radio Times on the subject. He has a lot of the videos and watches them often but no-one he knows likes it so he rarely does so in company. He collects all kinds of memorabilia including various toys from cereal packets in the mid 70s. His most expensive purchase was a sign that wasn't actually seen in the film WITHNAIL & I. He has been to Dr Who conventions but he gets paid to do so by Radio Times and spends all his time in the Green Room.
This would probably make a great present for a Dr Who Fan who doesn't pay too much attention and thinks Nick Hornby is so great that they'd settle for 3rd best. Other than that, disappointing.

Reviewed by William McCabe Jun-2008 Published by Gollancz

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Jon Courtenay Grimwood

9TAIL FOX by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

Sergeant Bobby Zha is a policeman in San Francisco. He is investigating the murder of a supposed burglar by a young girl who couldn’t even hold the gun steady. He is also looking into the story of a dead baby told to him by a crazy homeless man. Then he is shot dead. After a dream of a celestial fox Bobby wakes to find that he is now Bobby Van Berg, just woken from a coma after more than a decade with a fortune in compensation. He acquires fake ID that says he’s working for various government agencies and in very little time he is investigating his own murder. Is it connected to the shooting or the dead baby or both? Why does his partner deny he was there?
This is really a detective thriller. There’s a central plot point that is definitely fantasy and the final revelation involves the sort of SF that you’d find in James Bond but, as a whole, this is a detective novel.
Grimwood is a pretty good detective/thriller writer. His plots are solid although sometimes convoluted with plotlines that just appear out of nowhere. As such, this is probably his best to date. On the other hand this is the least SF/Fantasy yet. If you haven’t read any of his books yet and you’re not worried about it being anything more than a good thriller, this is a good place to start.
And for the fans… there’s always the fox.
Reviewed by William McCabe Sep-2005 Published by Gollancz

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Grimwood is a widely travelled man. Each of his books has a different location which, to an outsider, seems as authentic as if he had been brought up in the place. This novel takes us to San Francisco. Bobby Zha is a quarter Chinese.
He is also a cop. He was brought up, largely by his Chinese grandfather and has absorbed the tales he used to tell about their culture. One of Bobby’s talents is that children, animals and the homeless seem to trust him so that often he can get information where others fail.
The 9-tail fox is a celestial creature from Chinese mythology. When Bobby meets it, he knows he is in deep trouble. In fact, he is dead. This is not the whole story as Bobby wakes up in the body of a man who has been in a coma for twenty years. The settlement after the accident that left Robert Vanberg in a coma has become substantial. Bobby finds he suddenly has this wealth at his disposal. His immediate action is to fly to San Francisco and attend his body’s funeral. Next he wants to find out why he was killed – all the evidence suggests to him that he was set up even if the SFPD don’t think so. There seems to be a connection with the dead baby with a tail that Colonel Billy, one of the homeless, says he has found, and the apparent shooting of an intruder by a young girl at the home of a Russian émigré.
Bobby knows that he does not have much time to solve the riddles before the 9-tail fox returns to claim his soul permanently.
This is an excellent fantasy thriller. The characters are well drawn, especially the quirky minor ones and the plot hangs together well. A thoroughly enjoyable read.
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Sep-2006 Published by Gollancz

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END OF THE WORLD BLUES by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

Grimwood has settled down to be a good writer of near future thrillers.
Admittedly, this volume and his earlier STAMPING BUTTERFLIES have elements that are very far future but in both, most of the action is firmly based ofnan Earth that with very little imagination looks like a probable tomorrow.
What is exotic is his choice of arena. Kit Nouveau is an ex-rock band member. At the start of the novel he is living in Japan with his artist wife, running an Irish bar.
Most of his patrons are exiles, many of them bikers. He ambles through life.
Everything begins to fall apart when someone tries to kill him. The attempt is thwarted by a street entertainer/beggar, a young girl who calls herself Lady Neku. Kit’s bar is bombed and his wife is killed in the ensuing fire. He discovers that she had never registered the marriage in Japan so the property he thought he owned is not legally his and also that his wife’s sister has married into a family that is the Japanese equivalent of the Mafia. To compound his troubles, his ex-girlfriend’s mother seeks him out. Mary is thought to have committed suicide six months earlier but her parents believe she may be alive and they want Kit to find her.
Kate O’Mally has built up an extensive underworld network. Kit finds himself in the unenviable position of working for one set of gangsters while another set wants to kill him. Following him, first to England, then Holland, is Neku who has her own reasons for wanting to protect him.
And the end of the World? Woven between chapters is the story that Neku tells us, about her flight from the future where the Earth is dying, her family is dying and she is fleeing from a marriage of convenience. The world Kit has known in Japan has ended with the destruction of his bar and the death of his wife. All the principal characters experience an element of World’s end in their lives. For some of them there may be an opportunity for rebirth.
This is an excellent, fast paced thriller and well worth reading.
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Sep-2006 Published by Gollancz

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FELAHEEN by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

I've heard it said that a science fiction novel can be a thriller, romance, comedy or any other genre you care to name. If that's true, then any other genre can be science fiction if it wants to. This is a good case in point. The cover says this is a 'mystery'. The quotes on the back include one from CRIME TIME and mention 'Inspector Rebus'. They make it clear that this is a detective novel rather than anything else. They're right.
It still has an alternate history, but not so much that most of the readers would pay attention to. There's also the genetic manipulation plot, but it's the sort of thing you'd see in James Bond or Frederick Forsyth without thinking of it as SF. More than all of these you have the plot to kill the Emir and the story of Raf's conception (in flashback). This even reads like a detective novel with the revelations at the end.
The worst of it is that this isn't that good as a detective novel. There are parts that make no sense - Raf travels to Tunis to discover who is responsible for an attack on the Emir and starts by getting a job in a small restaurant with no apparent connection to anything. There are other parts that just seem silly - like how Raf can be related to someone yet have no common DNA. Even keeping so much to the end of the book seems clumsy. All of this is a pity because it's such an easy read.

Reviewed by William McCabe Jun-2004 Published by Pocket

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LUCIFER'S DRAGON by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

This book was actually the author’s second published novel (Hodder Headline 1998) reprinted here in the same format and cover design as his later books. They make a nice matching set.
LUCIFER’S DRAGON suffers from some of the problems encountered by many writers trying to deal with a lot of ideas unfamiliar to the reader. The selling is a far future, high-tech Earth. Somehow, the extrapolations that are taken for granted by the inhabitants but are unfamiliar to a early 21sl century reader, have to be conveyed. There are a lot of jargon words and sections providing information without taking the plot onwards, especially in the beginning of the book. Initially, they get in the way. Later, the novel settles down as the story unfolds.
Angeli is a policeman in neoVenice, who was briefly called in to investigate the death of a security guard at the Doge’s palace. He knows he is not expected to solve the crime, but intends to anyway. It is rumoured that the Doge has been kidnapped and Angeli suspects that the two incidents are connected. This is why he is interested in Karo who he recognises as a rich kid, slumming it. He wants to know how she gets to the ‘levels’ as a sonic barrier very effectively prevents travel between the levels and the privileged sector. As part of his investigation he reviews the history of how Passion diOrclii created the city.
Bound up with the events Angeli wants to unravel is Razz. She is an enhanced, silver-skinned bodyguard to the young Doge. She is killed at the start of the novel and awakens in Zurich in a younger, unaltered body without any notion as to what is going on.
The three sections of the novel are intimately linked and there is a lot of subtlety within it although it is sometimes difficult to see exactly how Razz’s story and Angeli’s section fit together. There is an explanation but it isn’t entirely convincing. Razz’s latter story line is surreal, but insufficient. Once the initial scene-setting is overcome, the details of life in the levels and the interactions between the characters and the events they set in motion is exciting and well plotted. However, there are questions that are hinted at but are not resolved, loose ends that have become entangled in the action and forgotten. This is a promising early novel, and a good indication of the reasons for the large following of readers Grimwood has accrued with his later novels.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Mar-2004 Published by Pocket

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STAMPING BUTTERFLIES by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

There is a theory that if a butterfly stamps it’s foot in the Amazon, a hurricane will develop a world away. The idea is that even the smallest of actions can have a profound effect. Similarly, so can inaction. Each decision we take, however small, can have greater consequences for other people. This is a concept worth keeping in mind while reading this book.
The story is told as three separate narratives – past, present and future.
In the period from 1969 into the mid seventies, a young Arab boy struggling to survive in Marrakech becomes involved with musician Jake Razor. When we first meet him, he appears to have only one arm, though it transpires that it is tied behind his back to prevent him using it. In Muslim society, using the left hand is unclean. Many of the things he does are in order to protect Malika, the girl who lives in the rooms below those rented by his mother.
The present is either near future, or a slightly alternative one. They revolve around Prisoner Zero. He made a rather feeble attempt to assassinate the president of the United States. At first, the question is whether the man is sane.
He refuses to speak so they have no idea who he is. Then it is noticed that the symbols he has daubed on his cell wall are of mathematical importance.
Unfortunately, someone washed them off before they can be fully recorded.
In the far future, the Chinese have colonised a complex of planets orbiting one central star in the form of an unfinished Dyson sphere. On one of them, the Forbidden City has been meticulously recreated. The current Emperor, who seems to be selected in a similar way to the Dalai Lama, has decided that he is the only real person and that everyone else is computer generated. However, a young woman by the name of Tris, is on her way to assassinate him.
At first, these three intercut stories seem to be disparate. As the novel progresses, the links between them begin to emerge. It is a cleverly constructed novel and well worth reading.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Jul-2006 Published by Gollancz

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David Gullen

ONCE UPON A PARSEC: The Book of Alien Fairy Tales edited by David Gullen

I must admit to not being sure on reading the subtitle of this book, “The Book of Alien Fairy Tales” if and how this was going to work. In actuality, I think it works really well, mainly I think because of the very broad interpretation of what exactly constitutes a fairy tale. In ONCE UPON A PARSEC the stories also encompass what I would call legends (where there is a grain of truth distorted over time), fables which like those of Aesop have a moral message, and as parables which convey a forgotten or forbidden message. Indeed, the blurb on the back of this book gives a more accurate representation of the scope of this anthology when it says “just as our world is steeped in legends and lore and half-remembered truths of the mystical and the magical, so are theirs”.
There are seventeen stories in the anthology, including some by well-respected science fiction and fantasy authors. Whilst as usual I have my favourites, I think they are all of a high standard even if the occasional story doesn’t suit my tastes.
The first story in the collection is the excellent “The Little People” by Una McCormack. It’s an SF story which in a short space leaves the reader with plenty to think about. It’s set on a new colony where the adults in desperation have committed a massive war-crime. They believe that they have covered it up so their children won’t have to bear the guilt. However, nothing is completely hidden and as the children find fragments of evidence, they begin to construct their own haunting mythology.
The next story “Lost in the Rewilding” by Paul Di Filipo is also an SF story but like some traditional stories it’s also an origin story, where a pair of genetically-engineered intelligent creatures escape and are the “Adam and Eve” of their race. It’s told as a story handed down orally for generations, so the objective truth of what “happened” is obscured by later embellishments of the narrative.
The next story is “Goblin Autumn” by Adrian Tchaikovsky and is one where the cause of an impending catastrophe has to be puzzled out from clues left in ancient ruins and old warning rhymes. Despite its title it is an SF tale, with the resolution of the tale depending on alien biology and a long-orbit planet such as in Brian Aldiss’ Helliconia trilogy. As I’ve come to expect from this author, this is a superb tale which cleverly also examines the treatment of “other” and the personal impact of large-scale changes.
“Myths of Sisyphus” by Allen Ashley has a scientific observer talking to intelligent species on the planet Sisyphus, where the they each think they have been expelled from the “paradise” that the other now inhabits. In my opinion the story then loses focus by introducing another species and the new “theme” felt as though it diluted and distracted from the original focus of the narrative.
Chris Beckett in “The Land of Grunts and Squeaks” has written a splendid “fairy story”. It’s a cautionary fairy tale of a telepathic race who are cursed by a witch to only hear their own thoughts. As the hive race struggles to communicate, one person begins to develop a replacement verbal “language” that helps them to co-operate but they are still to be forever pitied for their loneliness and isolation. It’s a clever little tale and is another “fall from grace” type of story.
I also liked Susan Oke’s “The Blood Rose” in which a nursemaid uses a fairy story to impart a “suppressed” history to her young charge. She sees her race as true protectors of a “magical” crystal and whose place has been usurped. But as with many legends, the truth has been distorted over time and all is not as it seemed.
“Starfish” by Liz Williams I found a little confusing, but perhaps that’s the point as it’s about the difficulties of trying to communicate between a human and an alien who has multiple conversations simultaneously.
The next two stories, by Neil Williamson and Aliya Whiteley are both thoughtful tales about being careful what you wish for, though with very different styles, of which I prefer the former. Gaie Sebold and Kim Lakin-Smith both have another SF-style “origin” story; each has a rebellious younger generation forging a new and different life separate from the older generation. By contrast, Jaine Fenn’s “Pale Sister” has an older, altruistic alien passing on a precious heritage to newly arrived humans, and is well-crafted as I would expect from an accomplished author.
The next two stories, “Alpha42 and the Space Hermits” by Stephen Oram and “The Teller and the Starborn” by Peter Sutton puzzled me somewhat as to the point they were trying to make, though I’m sure others will enjoy them.
Ian Whates’ “The Winternet”, which although the people aren’t quite human, still captures the feel of many old stories; ones told around a warm fire sheltering from the cold winter and the threats it holds, but it’s also about the problems and responsibilities of growing up.
The final story in the anthology, “The Awakening” by Bryony Pearce is again an origin story; this time of a machine intelligence helped or “midwifed” by the last two remaining humans.
All in all, this is a first-rate set of stories, and the authors have produced some very readable tales based on an unusual theme. Whilst as usual I have my preferences, I think they are all of high quality even if the occasional story doesn’t suit my tastes. NewCon has yet again shown the superior writing that some small presses are publishing at the moment.

Reviewed by NewCon Press Oct-2019 Published by Carol Goodwin

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Joe HaIdeman

ALL MY SINS REMEMBERED by Joe HaIdeman

This is a reissue - a fix-up of three previously-published tales of the exploits of an interplanetary secret agent, embedded in an added background story describing his recruitment, his subsequent disillusionment and his progress to an eventual early retirement.
The last (and last-published) of the three possesses elements of novelty and points of interest but the other two are quite undistinguished. The best parts of the book are the added material used to link these stories into a fairly cohesive whole, although more could have been made of this. The overall story shows the turning of a fundamentally decent and idealistic young man by advanced techniques of brainwashing, deep mental conditioning and personality overlay into an amoral operative performing multiple assassinations as required by his political masters, followed by his eventual mental and physical destruction. This, of course, has been seen elsewhere, although I would be reluctant to stick my neck out and say that Haldeman was (or was not) among the first to write about this kind of thing.
Thus the overall story is the oft-heard theme of the subjugation of honesty, decency and the rights of the individual to political expediency as far as the power and ability to do it are available. It might have been a better book if it had been reconstructed to make more of this aspect, de-emphasising the actual ‘adventures’. As it is, it adds up to something no more than ordinary; well and competently written but displaying no especial distinction.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Feb-2004 Published by Gollancz

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FOREVER FREE by Joe HaIdeman

In 1974 Joe Haldeman accomplished the rare feat of scooping both Hugo and Nebula awards with his first novel THE FOREVER WAR. It was a story of war in a relativistic universe where soldiers are sent out to fight battles which will take place so far in the future that they hardly know what they will find and return to a world in which the family and friends they knew are now long dead.
In this long-delayed sequel William Mandela and his partner Marygay, who survived the Forever War together against all the odds, are living with a handful of other veterans on a remote colony of an Earth changed beyond recognition. In the centuries during and since the war the human race has evolved into Man, a group mind like mankind’s former enemy the Taurans with whom they are now at peace, the war having turned out to be merely a misunderstanding. William and the other ex-soldiers discover that they are being kept and supported as a kind of genetic reserve in case Man has to change the direction of its evolution, a situation from which they determine to escape.
Their attempt becomes a disaster and they are forced to change their plans completely and head for Earth. There they make a discovery about the Universe and their place in it which overthrows everything they ever knew or believed right down to the most fundamental concepts of understanding.
Although well-written and based on an amazing idea this book left me surprisingly disappointed. The revelation with which it is finally wound up is over-contrived and the eventual conclusion is inadequately worked-out. It is a long time since I read THE FOREVER WAR but my recollection is first that it did not need a sequel and second that it exhibited a freshness, a novelty, which gave it a dramatic impact which is lacking here. I wanted to read it because it is a sequel to an earlier book which mightily impressed me, but that on its own is not enough

Reviewed by Michael Jones Mar-2001 Published by Millenium

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In this the long awaited finale to The Forever War and its sequel Forever Peace Joe Haldeman has once again stated that he is in the forefront of Science Fiction writers.
The story continues with the veterans of the Human Tauran war living on a planet called MF (Middle Finger). A planet that seemed to have no geological history, and that was in a part of space that had been inhabited by an earlier race that the Taurans simply referred to as the Boloor “the lost”. The veterans of the Human Tauran war have stayed still due to the time differentials associated with warp ships, while the human race back home has evolved into a collective mind and simply used the term Man for themselves rather than Human for the non-collective mind “Vets” . Man is keeping an eye on the “Vets” as they are useful as a genetic backup if anything goes wrong with the genetic makeup of the evolved Man. A number of “Vets” decide that enough is enough and they are no longer willing to act as a genetic base line for the human race. They decide to steal a mothballed starship and head 40,000 light years into unknown space to create a new life for themselves and their families so that they will be away from Man and the Taurans. The consequences of their actions to themselves and the other races is something that 110 one could foresee but is revealed as the story unfolds.
Forever Free is an absorbing finale to the other two books and Joe Haldeman is a craftsman at his trade. The plot line unfolds with several twist and turns and the reader is drawn in to feeling a great deal of sympathy for the out of place veterans from the Human Tauran war. Their struggles to get out from under and not to be dominated by what they see, as the cold blooded evolution of the human animal strikes a chord with the reader. The first 200 pages of the book deals with an all to familiar problem of people returning to normal life after fighting in a major conflict and with the problems of the “Vets” just trying to be themselves when the society that they left has changed so dramatically. The only sour note in the whole story was the final conclusion that seemed to be a let down after such a good build up through the bulk of the book, but Forever Free will I'm sure be well received by those who love Joe Haldeman 's work.
Reviewed by Chris Chivers May-2000 Published by GoIIancz

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Laurell K Hamilton

SKIN TRADE by Laurell K Hamilton

SKIN TRADE is the latest (17th) of the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter novels. These are set in a world where vampires and were-animals exist and are part of society.
That said there is a love/hate relationship with them being thought of as monsters by some ordinary humans.
Consequently they have second class legal and ‘human’ rights and can be executed for minor as well as major offences, as long as a warrant has been issued by a court.
Anita, currently a US Federal Marshal, hunts transgressors and executes warrants, so successfully that she is known as the Executioner by these supernatural species.
At the start of the series Anita is convinced that these creatures, especially vampires, are monsters but this viewpoint gradually changes and by the start of this book believes they, like humans, are mainly responsible citizens but also, like humans, some are monsters. The reason for this change of view lies in her, initially very much against her will, becoming involved with Jean-Claude the vampire Master of the City of St. Louis and becoming his human servant.
This has developed her psychic powers, physical strength and powers of recovery from harm, but has also cursed her with Jean-Claude’s ardeur which has turned her into a succubus needing to feed on sexual energy. Consequently she does not believe that she is human anymore and at one stage in SKIN TRADE she requests two vampire brothers (sent as body guards by Jean-Claude along with others to protect her and act as psychic food) to kill her if the ardeur overcomes her and she becomes evil.
SKIN TRADE opens with a bang when Anita receives a parcel containing the head of a Las Vegas cop. It has been sent by Vittorio, a very powerful vampire serial killer, who she first came across in the novel INCUBUS DREAMS. Only stopping to get her vampire hunting kit, she flies off to Las Vegas where she meets up with three other Federal Marshals who have featured in previous novels. There she is immediately embroiled in local police politics when the Las Vegas SWAT team psychically tests her ability to work with them and not put them in danger. In addition she is interrogated by detectives as if she is a suspect/accomplice of the killer. Fuelling this attitude are rumours about her morals and that she is a publicity hound. It does not help that she is petite and cleans up well. She wins around the SWAT team, but the local under-sheriff and detectives continue to treat her as a suspect.
The case is complicated by her discovery that one of Vittorio’s cohorts is a weretiger and is also married to Bibiana a were-tiger queen who has her own agenda regarding Anita. In addition, Anita has previously been infected by were-tiger lycanthropy which makes he sensitive to Bibiana’s powers. This also makes her vulnerable to Marmee Noir the Mother of All Vampires, a very ancient vampire imprisoned somewhere in Europe, who coverts her body as a means of resurrection and is prone to attack when Anita’s defences are weakened.
Overall the book is highly readable and full of action from start to finish. It is amazing how much can be crammed into a very short timeframe. As has been identified by other reviewers Anita is a complex and well developed character.
While it is strongly recommended that whole series be read in chronological order, this and the other novels are good stand alone reads.

Reviewed by Jim Pearce Jan-2010 Published by Headline

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This is Hamilton’s seventeenth novel featuring vampire hunter Anita Blake. As a Federal Marshal in a world where vampires and were-animals are an accepted part of society, she hunts down and kills the bad ones. To the supernatural species, she is known as the Executioner.
SKIN TRADE begins with a bang. Anita opens a parcel in her office to find a severed head of a cop inside. It has been sent to her by a powerful serial killer who is also a vampire. It is an invitation for her to come and get him - if she dare. Flying to Las Vegas, she is joined by three other marshals, all of whom have joined Anita on cases in previous volumes. This vampire is taken very seriously.
During her career, Anita’s character has developed. So too, have her powers, so much so that she cannot be completely regarded as human any more. She is a succubus, which means that she feeds on sexual energy and must do so regularly. To this end, one of her boyfriends (and she has a habit of collecting them) the vampire Jean-Claude and Master of the City of St. Louis, sends a group of his own bodyguards with her. The search for Vittorio, the killer vampire, is hampered by the fact that one of his henchmen appears to be a were-tiger. This makes the situation sensitive as not only is Max, the vampire Master of Las Vegas, married to Bibiana, a were-tiger queen. Anita has developed an affinity for were-tigers, something Bibiana does not like. It doesn’t help that a very ancient vampire imprisoned in Europe, known as Mama Noir, is trying to usurp Anita’s body and is prone to attack when Anita is most vulnerable.
The book is a highly enjoyable romp. It is full of sex and gore. Although Anita is a complex, well-developed character, some of the others are more sketchily portrayed. This is partly because they have appeared in earlier books. It is worth reading this series from the beginning, but equally, this volume can be read alone.
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Oct-2009 Published by Headline

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Peter F Hamilton

GREAT NORTH ROAD by Peter F Hamilton

For many readers, being faced with a book this size is daunting. Fans of Peter Hamilton’s work will expect it and often two more of similar dimensions to come. GREAT NORTH ROAD though is a singleton.
Hamilton is a writer whose breadth of imagination can scarcely be contained within the tomes he produces. That flair is evident all through the book. It is, however, three intertwined novels (of reasonable length) that only completely make sense within this structure and the background of all three is complex.
By the time of the action (2143), there has been an exodus to other planets via Gateways, a device Hamilton has used in other novels. One of the Gateways is sited in Newcastle and leads to a planet orbiting Sirius known as St Libra. The planet has been developed to produce bioil, a commodity which is used to fuel transport and homes but also processed into “raw”, the substance that manufactory units use to produce almost every other kind of commodity. The bioil coming from St Libra is controlled by the Norths. Descended from Kane North’s three sons, the North family are all clones. There are a lot of them around.
Sid Hurst is a member of the Newcastle crime squad and he is called in when a naked body is found floating in the Tyne. The corpse is a North. He is landed with the job of identifying the clone and tracking down the murderer. With the political and financial stranglehold the Norths have on the country, this becomes top priority and all the resources regardless of cost are thrown at the situation. One problem is that all Norths are accounted for and those who dumped the body have gone to elaborate lengths to hide their trail. Complicating matters further is the mode of death. Five thin sharp blades inserted into the chest to shred the heart is exactly the same as the method used to kill Bartram, one of the original brothers and his household twenty years previously.
Angela Tramelo has so far spent twenty years in prison, convicted of Bartram North’s murder. She has always maintained that there was an alien in the house that night and that was responsible for the deaths. Now it looks as if she might have been right. Just one problem – no sentient life has ever been discovered on any of the planets humans have colonised and no animal life has been found on St Libra, the site of the original killings.
As a result, an expeditionary force is mounted to go deep into the interior in search of this alien. Angela goes with them.
These two plot concepts unfold in tandem. The third revolves around Angela and is told largely through her memories. It tells of the events that lead up to the point at which she now finds herself. This is the strand that allows the reader insight into the societies, technologies and problems that this future world has had to face.
With a book this size, the question that is often asked is, ‘is it necessary?’ Could cuts have been made? While the answer here is that yes, doing so too drastically would have reduced the richness of the writing.
Could the three narratives be untangled to make a trilogy? No. While the detective ‘novel’ centred around Newcastle would have made a perfectly adequate book on its own, Angela’s story is very much tied in with the way the plot is resolved. For some readers, the expedition to search for the alien, being under the aegis of the military, would be exciting. It is not a straight forward hunt but told on its own it would become tedious. It needs the other strands to strengthen the complexities. Personally, this is where I would have preferred some compaction, though this may be because there are so many characters that it is difficult to get to know those other than the principles who we are introduced to before they set off.
Those who like Hamilton’s work will have an enjoyable journey through this book. Science Fiction fans will gain pleasure in wallowing in the creation of a master of the genre.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Mar-2013 Published by Macmillan

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MANHATTAN IN REVERSE by Peter F Hamilton

This new book brings together a number of stories published since Hamilton’s first collection A SECOND CHANCE AT EDEN, although several earlier pieces, including the Novacon 27 Special “Softlight Sins” remain uncollected. The first, and longest, story “Watching Trees Grow” is set in an alternate history where Rome rules the world, albeit in a much more enlightened fashion than in Keith Roberts’ PAVANE. Here we find electric cars on the streets by 1830, the Solar System explored by 1920 and interstellar colonies established by the end of the 20th Century. The world is effectively run by a handful of great families for whose members rejuvenation brings near-immortality and the story follows the efforts of one family member over two centuries to solve a murder and to bring the perpetrator to a justice which is at the same time humane and devastating. Two other long stories feature the detective Paula Myo who played a significant part in the Commonwealth Saga comprised of PANDORA’S STAR and JUDAS UNCHAINED. In “The Demon Trap” she is instrumental in bringing an unpleasant, though well-deserved, retribution to a multiple murderer, while in the title story “Manhattan In Reverse”, written specifically for this collection, she becomes involved in a case in which familiar themes of First Contact and Uplift both come into play. The remaining four stories are all much shorter and explore a variety of issues, albeit in what at first sight appears to be a relentlessly downbeat fashion. There are no happy endings and the protagonists do not always get the conclusions they might think they deserve, although the reader may think differently. To say that “Watching Trees Grow” is the stand-out story in this collection, worth the price of the book on its own, would be less than fair to the rest of the collection. It comprises a varied and well-balanced selection of stories, showing both severally and collectively that Hamilton is as accomplished a writer of shorter work as he is of his blockbuster novels and series. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Nov-2011 Published by Macmillan

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PANDORA'S STAR / JUDAS UNCHAINED by Peter F Hamilton

PANDORA’S STAR is part one of The Commonwealth Saga a vast undertaking in two huge volumes, the second being JUDAS UNCHAINED. The saga combines a lot of elements, not just from science fiction but from other genres as well. It begins with the discovery of a revolutionary technological development. Just as the first manned mission lands on Mars, Nigel Sheldon and Ozzie Isaacs build a prototype wormhole generator which takes them almost instantaneously to Mars. Space travel becomes obsolete overnight as humankind spreads out from Earth stepping from planet to planet via the manufactured wormholes. There is no need to control the population, surplus people can just move on to another world. There is no need for war. If you don’t get on with your neighbour you can settle a new planet along with those who think the same way as you do. You can live on one planet and commute to work, via a wormhole, to a job light years away. Rejuvenation, too, becomes commonplace.
When your body begins to fail, the clock can be turned back and youth can be restored but with all the experience of age retained. Death holds no fear. With a regular memory download a new body can be cloned and the memories restored to it, should the old one become too damaged for revival.
This sounds like a recipe for Utopia. The problem is that people are still human. They still have the same ambitions, jealousies, obsessive behaviours they always have had. There is still interpersonal conflict. So, one element of the novel is a detective story. Paula Myo is the best detective in known space. She has always caught the perpetrator of any case she has handled, with one exception.
She has been obsessively pursuing Bradley Johansson and Adam Elvin for well over a century. They are terrorists who believe that an alien known as the Starflyer has infiltrated the highest echelons of government and is manipulating humankind for its own nefarious ends. Johansson, she believes, is paranoid. He is also cunning. She suspects that someone is tipping them off as they always seem to be able to slip past her.
It is also a political thriller as the Burnelli family vie for influence. There is adventure as Ozzie Isaacs sets off to explore the Silfen paths. The Silfen are an alien race which seem simple and peace loving. Electronic gadgets tend not to work on the worlds they occupy and there are rumours that they have ways of moving from planet to planet without the use of wormholes.
This is a society that has become dependent on wormholes. Then Dudley Bose, an astronomer at a backwater university makes an alarming discovery. It has been known for a long time that a pair of star systems has been surrounded by an impenetrable shield. At first it was thought that these were Dyson spheres so the systems have been generally known as the Dyson pair. Bose discovers that the shields around the systems appeared instantly and simultaneously. The question is, are these force fields? And have they been erected to keep something in, or something out? Because of the distance the only way to investigate is to build a space ship and visit. The expedition is commanded by Wilson Kime who was on the only manned space flight to Mars. What he and his crew discover is not good news.
This is a very complex plot, and by the end of the first volume, the strands are only just beginning to come together. Some, as yet, seem unconnected from the whole. Hamilton does not introduce random factors without a very good reason and in JUDAS UNCHAINED the final links are made. Although there is a tendency to lose sight of characters during the narrative, they are strongly enough portrayed to be quickly remembered. It becomes more of a problem if the books are read with a time lapse between them These are very large books and require a lot of investment of time to read them. On the plus side, reading Peter Hamilton is enjoyable.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Oct-2005 Published by Pan Macmillan

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THE TEMPORAL VOID by Peter F Hamilton

The best advice that can be given is, don’t start from here! This is the second of two enormous books, the first being THE DREAMING VOID.
The universe is a vast and extraordinary place.
With development of wormhole technology, longevity and re-life processes, the human race has expanded well beyond the solar system, encountering strange celestial objects as well as aliens. Some of the characters have also been encountered in Hamilton’s previous duology, PANDORA’S STAR and JUDAS UNCHAINED. Although it is not necessary to have read these two volumes, to have does help to understand some of the references which otherwise go unexplained.
The focus of these novels, and a projected third, is the Void. It has been observed for centuries but so far it hasn’t revealed its exact nature. Inigo has been dreaming, in detail, about a young man called Edeard who lives on a planet where electronic technology is impossible, but all have psychic powers of some kind. The dreams pass to other people via the gaianet - linked to the enhancements that most people have to exchange information. The belief is that the dreams come from within the Void. A faction called Living Dream has grown up around the Dreamer and their leader, Ethan, plans to take the followers into the Void to find enlightenment. To help them, they need to find the Second Dreamer and will go to any lengths in their search. The Second Dreamer is Araminta who spends much of the novel trying to keep ahead of the invading snatch squad.
As with all of Hamilton’s novels, it is not as simple as this. In the midst of the mayhem, Paula Myo is trying to track down Troblum who says he has important information for him but who, in a firefight with the Cat (a resurrected opponent of Paula’s), disappears.
In many ways there are two novels here; the story of Edeard and his attempts to clear his city of criminals, and the problems the Commonwealth has in trying to stop Living Dream’s pilgrimage which, it is feared will cause the Void to expand and swallow the galaxy. And there is a hostile force of invading aliens on the way. Although some strands of the plot seem to be tied up by the end of this volume, there are a lot more loose ends hanging about for volume three.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Mar-2010 Published by Pan

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Tim Hamilton

RAY BRADBURY'S FAHRENHEIT 451 - THE AUTHORIZED ADAPTATION by Tim Hamilton

On the back cover, along with the price, you will find the notation ‘Graphic Novel’. This is the only time this term is used on this book. There are many reasons for such adaptations of famous or worthy novels. There are the versions that make things easier for those who have trouble reading or do not like to read. Since this book is the same length as the print version, I don't suppose this is one. Similarly there are those that have great (or at least good) artwork but the images here are drab and uninspiring - certainly nothing worthy of a poster.
This is a workmanlike adaptation of the original with nothing added and very little taken out. That is all.
For the (hopefully) very few who have never read this book, this is the story of a future America that has banned books and restricted all forms of entertainment to the merely trivial. TV has become all-encompassing and filled with soap opera and faked news. Our Hero, Montag, is a fireman in a world where everything is fireproof and the fireman's job is to burn books and, occasionally, anyone else who gets in the way. This is the story of his personal discovery of books and how they are preserved for future generations.
This is a classic of the SF genre that has crossed over into the general consciousness. You should have read it. To be more precise, you should have read the original novel, not this version. William McCabe

Reviewed by Nov-2009 Published by Voyager

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Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: A READER’S COMPANION by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull

As most Tolkien fans are aware Douglas A. Anderson’s ANNOTATED HOBBIT (1988) is a very well thought of and much appreciated book, and many of Tolkien’s readers have often wished that the weightier sequel could get a similar treatment. Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull have undertaken the task to provide almost exactly that, although it soon became apparent that, due to the length of TLOTR and the enormous amount of annotation that could be applied, such a project would require a tome coming to many thousands of pages.
Therefore instead we have the READER’S COMPANION, which is essentially the annotations published on their own, to be read alongside the main text.
As the authors explain in the introduction the popularity and depth of TLOTR have lead to an enormous number of related references to mythology, academic works, books, essays, films, music and websites, amongst other more obscure links. The purpose of a reader’s guide such as this one is to highlight interesting or explanatory facts and links as they are encountered as one reads TLOTR. In fact, so great is the wealth of related detail that the book, by necessity, can be considered a `boiled down’ distillation of the available material.
Given that this alone runs to 894 pages, one can only try to imagine how large a complete set of references could be, assuming that such a work could actually be possible in the first place… The entries themselves are clearly and concisely written, even if sometimes the actual links are quite obscure. By way of example, the first annotation, concerning the word `Hobbit’, naturally arises from the first line of “Concerning Hobbits” at the beginning of TLOTR, and gives us potential etymologies of the word hobbit, making reference to English (and Old English) folklore, Tolkien’s own remarks on the subject, the Oxford English Dictionary, Christopher Tolkien’s History of Middle Earth, folklore in older Germanic languages such as Gothic, and a wide variety of other works, as well as the authors’ own, not inconsiderable, investigations and speculations upon Tolkien’s writings. If this is the `boiled down’ version the thought of the full material scares the willies out of me!
So, why exactly have I given this a 5 star rating? The magnitude of the achievement cannot be overestimated, and the book certainly lives up to its aims.
For a true Tolkien fan (such as I), this is an almost indispensable volume, filled with fascinating insight. But I must append a warning to my recommendation; the casual Tolkien fan may find this a step too far, being perhaps a bit too intense to read `casually’ alongside TLOTR. Indeed, the READER’S COMPANION deliberately assumes that the readers has already read TLOTR, and, due to the complexity and extra detail of this work, it is not recommended that a first time reader of TLOTR attempt to use this at the same time. There is quite enough depth and detail to enjoy in TLOTR the first time around without trying to add more! Nonetheless, for anyone looking for more, especially in terms of understanding much of Tolkien’s process of creation, or for those who are just fascinated by TLOTR and all to do with it, I cannot recommend this enough.

Reviewed by Dave Corby Feb-2006 Published by Harper Collins

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David A Hardy

AURORA by David A Hardy

Another member of the BSFG joins the ranks of published novelists…
well-known for his artwork, non-fiction, space and art related books, Dave has achieved another long-standing ambition with the publication of AURORA from Cosmos Books.
It starts in the Blitz one night over London or maybe not… depending on how you look at it. The main story is written in th ree sections: 1940, 1970’s and the near-future of 2018 with another underlying story thread.
It deals with the attempt of a doomed civilisation to save humanity from its own mistakes as well as the uncontrollable external forces of a careless universe.
If the attempts are successful then those who initiate the rescue will never know of the success for it will either change history so they never existed or cause a new branch of the timeline and possibly bring a happier, parallel Earth into existence.
Dave neatly sidesteps the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of time travel by the simple expedient of pointing out that it makes absolutely no difference to the originators of the attempt to change history… they either continue as they are if time branches or they never exist if history changes.
In the Blitz, a few lives change to no effect but a new life is started to great effect while the 70's will bring fond memories to those of us who were old enough to appreciate the times. The near future brings hope for the space exploration aficionado with a real Martian exploration attempt… and discoveries of tilings that can't possibly be, but are! Finally the underlying th read helps explain and link everything together especially with its multiplicity of views from different participants concerning the same events.
Dave has produced an entertaining first novel with an interesting slant on time travel combined with some serious ethical and moral views and questions. For those of us who know him, it is also clear that he has followed the classic advice for a new novelist… “Write about what you know…” and you can find evidence for this in many places. If it has a noticeable flaw then maybe he is a little too expositional in a couple of places.
An enjoyable read and a creditable first novel… available from Andromeda in the very near future.

Reviewed by Laurence Miller Oct-2003 Published by Cosmos

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AURORA: A CHILD OF TWO WORLDS by David A Hardy

There are many authors whose artistic skills are practically zero – though they may think otherwise. Some artists are unable to write coherently. There is however, a small band of people who can do both. One of these is Freda Warrington; another is David Hardy.
While Freda concentrates more on her writing and employs her artistic talents secondarily, David Hardy is better known as an astronomical artist. The cover of AURORA, with its limited colour palate is an excellent example of his work.
The novel itself is a revised version of the volume originally published in 2003. It opens in dramatic fashion during a German air raid on London during the Second World War where baby Aurora is a miraculous survivor of a direct hit. Since the book takes place over eighty years Hardy does not fall into the trap of trying to relate the whole of Aurora’s life and only describes the highlights. This includes an episode when she is briefly the star of a rock group. (This section of the book was originally published as a short story in Orbit in 1986). At this time, she is beginning to believe that there is something weird about her. She never gets ill – in fact she was an unexpected survivor of the crash that killed her mother – and she appears much younger than her chronological age.
Most of the answers to the mysteries in the first fifty pages are resolved in the final two-hundred. By 2028, Aurora has changed her name, adjusted her credentials and got herself onto the first manned mission to Mars. Although actually seventy-eight she passes for thirty-five and is accepted for what her credentials say she is – a geologist with an interest in astronomical art. Two important story arcs are played out in the confined circumstances of the expedition. The first concerns Aurora’s abilities which are not confined to her longevity; the second, the discovery of artefacts of an advanced technology. These two arcs come together at the end of the book.
Hardy can probably best be described as a traditional exponent of hard science fiction – the emphasis is on the technology and the scientific discoveries that come from the hard graft of exploration. He doesn’t neglect other areas, hinting at developments in biology and certainly does not dismiss what others might call pseudo-sciences such as dowsing and telepathy giving them roles within his projected future. While many authors would have taken a plot outline similar to this and padded it out to doorstop thickness with detailed angst and emotional upsets between the principal characters, Hardy prefers to keep this mostly offstage.
Like Arthur C. Clarke his focus is on the technology and the sense of wonder to be found by looking outwards and exploring the universe rather than inwards and following others in an exploration of the psyche.
In this revised volume, Hardy has updated the text in line with developments and discoveries since first publication. With a renewed interest in the exploration of Mars, this book will be worth looking at by readers who like the spare style of such old masters as Clarke.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Nov-2012 Published by Borgo

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David A Hardy & Patrick Moore

FUTURES: 50 YEARS OF SPACE ART by David A Hardy & Patrick Moore

2004 is the 50th Anniversary of David's first collaboration (THE CHALLENGE OF THE STARS) with Sir Patrick Moore which was published to great success in 1972 and revised in 1978. Now, in a unique project, they have collaborated again on this volume with a look at the ways in which our views of the universe and space exploration have changed in that fifty years as well as the amazing new discoveries made by various space probes and the Hubble. It has a few of the original 1970s paintings but contains many brand new paintings dealing with things whose existence was unknown in 1954 or even 1972… pulsars, neutron stars, black holes and jetting galaxies. A superb look at the universe as we now know it, both in print and the artwork of David.
The text provides information about the sights and meaning of the universe in Patrick's inimitable style but the heart of the book is contained in the pictures which show what is believed to be a realistic view of the universe as we currently understand it… of course, it may change again next week but if it does then David will be up to the challenge of representing it with his artwork.
A fascinating book for anyone interested not only in astronomy but in the look of things from a closer viewpoint to show what it's probably like if we ever get out there.

Reviewed by Laurence Miller Aug-2004 Published by AAPP

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David A Hardy and Chris Morgan

HARDYWARE: THE ART OF DAVID A HARDY by David A Hardy and Chris Morgan

(includes a foreword by Stephen Baxter) I became aware of David Hardy’s space art in 1972 when I obtained my first copy of CHALLENGE OF THE STARS, the book Hardy produced in collaboration with Patrick Moore. I had just begun experimenting with astronomical illustration and until then the only work I’d been exposed to was that of Chesley Bonestell, whose work I’d sought out since I’d been in grade school, and Ludek Pesek, whose paintings I knew only through his appearance in a 1970 issue of National Geographic. While all three approached their subjects with the same integrity and respect for scientific accuracy, as artists they could hardly have been more different.
Bonestell’s hyper-realism was so intensely compelling that it seemed to set the standard for the solar system itself. When the lunar landscape did not turn out to be as spectacularly Alpine as Bonestell had depicted it, it really seemed as though it was the Moon that was at fault, not the artist.
Pesek, on the other hand, never tried to pretend that his paintings were anything other than the product of his hand. This gave his astronomical art the appearance of plein air paintings - they possessed a casual naturalism made them look for all the world as though they were painted from life.
Hardy’s artwork is a little harder to pigeonhole. Their brilliant colors and simple, bold designs have a decorative quality that irresistibly reminds me of the landscapes of Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood. They have a vigor and immediacy that is enormously appealing.
Occasionally, this simplicity works against Hardy and a few of his paintings appear cartoonish . . . Looking rather like the backgrounds for an animated cartoon.
Fortunately, these are very much in the minority and the book contains not only some very fine paintings, but some of the best astronomical art done in the latter half of the twentieth century. There is for instance his beautifully- colored image of a terraformed Mars, a Dante-esque hydrogen volcano on Titan, his cover art for VISIONS OF SPACE, which in some ways a definitive space painting, ‘The Way It Should Have Been’, Hardy’s homage to hero Chesley Bonestell, ‘Proxima’s Planet’ and the absolutely exquisite Tapetus: A World in a Rock’. Unfortunately, one of my favourites is missing from the book - other than as a small reproduction of its appearance on a German SF magazine cover: the painting of the seismic exploration of Saturn’s moon Titan that may be one of the best paintings of Titan since Bonestell’s classic 1944 depiction.
It is hard to realize that David Hardy is one of the senior members of the space art community . . . Perhaps the senior member if we limit ourselves to astronomical art (his youthful appearance - he looks a decade younger - may perhaps be due to his passionate interest in rock music. Then again, perhaps not). Bom in 1936 he has been working as a professional astronomical artist for nearly fifty years, making his first sale when he was 18 years old when he contributed eight black and white illustrations to Patrick Moore’s SUN, MYTHS AND MEN . . . At the same time beginning a life-long relationship with the famed astronomer. There appears to have been no aspect of commercial art in which Hardy has not worked. After a stint in the RAF, he worked in the Design Office of Cadbury’s where he created packaging and advertising art for the company’s candies (working in a space theme whenever he could). He went freelance in the mid-60s and has since contributed artwork to virtually every imaginable medium, from book and magazine covers to record album sleeves and video games. He has made his name, however, not so much from his commercial work but from the nearly twenty books that he has illustrated - many of them of his own devising. The most outstanding of these undoubtedly being CHALLENGE OF THE STARS, a book that was created with the conscious intent of being an homage to the 1949 Chesley Bonestell-Willy Ley classic, THE CONQUEST OF SPACE.
This, as I said, was my introduction to Hardy’s work and was very much a major influence on my early attempts at space art.
Looking through the book again vividly recalls the excitement I felt the first time I saw them. This is perhaps one of the uniquely special qualities of his work: its ability to excite and inspire even after years of familiarity.
The subjects of Hardy’s books have not been limited to astronomy. There has been DINOSAURS and ANIMALS FROM THE DAWN OF TIME and a series that included ROCKETS AND SATELLITES, LIGHT AND SIGHT, AIR AND WEATHER and ENERGY AND THE FUTURE. THE FIRES WITHIN, a 1991 book about volcanoes, may be one of his very best works and includes some of the finest renderings of volcanoes and volcanic events I’ve ever seen. In 1990, Hardy created VISIONS OF SPACE for Paper Tiger, a pictorial history of astronomical and space art. This oversize volume featured the work of virtually everyone who has worked in the genre for the past century, all accompanied by literate, meticulously- researched, highly-readable text. It, more than anything else, underscored Hardy’s passionate devotion not only to his art but to the entire genre of astronomical painting.
HARDYWARE is a handsome volume, typical of Paper Tiger’s fine work, attention to detail and exquisite color reproduction.
The selection of art is profuse - perhaps too profuse, since neither animals nor humans appear to be Hardy’s forte. The text especially is fine, combining extensive excerpts from interviews with the artist along with a comprehensive commentary by Chris Morgan that together succeed in bringing Hardy vividly to life. If there is any serious fault it is in the almost useless index, which lists only the titles of Hardy’s paintings. With such a rich, extensive text, it’s frustrating not to be able to look up names, events or places.

Reviewed by Ron Miller Oct-2001 Published by Paper Tiger

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Charlaine Harris

ALL TOGETHER DEAD / FROM DEAD TO WORSE by Charlaine Harris

These two books form part of the continuing narrative of Sookie Stackhouse. And follow directly from DEFINITELY DEAD (see review in last month’s newsletter).
Sookie is a barmaid in the small Louisiana town of Bon Temps. For centuries, supernatural beings have been secretly living amongst us. Five years previously, the vampires came out. Legally, they have to be regarded like any ethnic minority bit naturally, there is prejudice – would you want your daughter to sleep with one? There are fundamentalist groups who want to see the vampires wiped out and will resort to violence.
What these groups are unaware of is that there are also weres (wolves, panthers, foxes), shifters (who can become any animal) and fairies. Sookie is a telepath and has recently discovered that she has fairy somewhere in her ancestry. Her boss at the bar is a shifter and two of her ex-lovers are vampires. Her current boyfriend is a weretiger and her lodger is a witch. It is unsurprising that she is unfazed by supernatural creatures.
ALL TOGETHER DEAD, is set in the months after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Many of Louisiana’s vampires are missing but that is not going to prevent the big vampire summit from taking place in Rhodes. The vampire queen of Louisiana, Sophie-Anne Leclerq, has insisted that Sookie goes with the party, partly because a telepath will be useful as she negotiates with non-vampires (Sookie cannot read vampire minds) and also because she is a witness to the death of the vampire king of Arkansas. Sophie–Anne is to be tried at the summit, accused of killing her husband – an alliance of convenience. Unfortunately, almost as soon as Sookie arrives, three of the Arkansas party are found murdered, then Sookie finds a bomb by the lift. While the manoeuvring and infighting is going on between the vampires, the fundamentalist ant-vampire group Fellowship of the Sun have been temporarily and disastrously been forgotten.
FROM DEAD TO WORSE continues directly from ALL TOGETHER DEAD. It begins positively, with a double wedding which has been anticipated in the last two books. Sookie is there in her role of barmaid when she is pressganged into being a bridesmaid. Among the guests are a smattering of the supernatural groups, vampires, weres, shifters. One guest who catches her eye, an older man with intense charisma, who she later meets and he identifies himself as her fairy great, great grandfather. This is all setting up the background for the gritty heart of the novel. This is the fall-out from Hurricane Katrina and the events of the previous novel. A displaced pack of werewolves makes a move on the local group and the Vegas vampires intend to fill the power vacuum left by these events.
The style is chatty, often seeming inconsequential but the end of these books the reader is sucked into Sookie’s world. These are not deep, books, rather, light, fluffy, enjoyable entertainment.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Sep-2008 Published by Gollancz

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AN ICE COLD GRAVE by Charlaine Harris

Harris is the creator of off-beat heroines. In this series, of which this is the third, Harper \Connelly has become able to find dead bodies. The corpses can tell her who they are and how they died, but not, if they were murder victims, who killed them. She works with her step-brother, Tolliver Lang, who acts as her manager and driver. Sometimes she is just asked to find out if someone died peacefully, perhaps to confirm that death was from natural causes. Occasionally, the corpse is a murder victim.
In AN ICE COLD GRAVE, Harper is invited to Doraville in mid-winter to look for a missing boy. His grandmother and the local sheriff have exhausted the usual methods and now Twyla Cotton, the grandmother, is prepared to explore psychic avenues. Despite the problems of not knowing where to begin searching, Harper is far too successful and finds the grisly remains of eight boys, all tortured to death and buried in an isolated spot.
As the weather closes in, Harper becomes the target of the killer trying to cover his tracks, thinking she knows more than she does.
As in all of Harris’s novels, she does not only tell an excellent story, but also allows her characters to develop and moves their lives along. In AN ICE COLD GRAVE, the relationship between Harper and Tolliver undergoes a dramatic change, which will colour how she deals with them in future novels.
This is light, enjoyable reading which sucks you into the lives of the characters.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Feb-2009 Published by Gollancz

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DEAD IN THE FAMILY by Charlaine Harris

This is the tenth novel in the Sookie Stackhouse series and follows on directly from the events chronicled in the previous book DEAD AND GONE. In DEAD IN THE FAMILY Sookie is still recovering from being tortured during the Fairy War when her home arrangements are disrupted by her housemates leaving. No sooner have they left than she succumbs to a request from her surviving fairy cousin who then moves in. As if that was not enough her lover’s vampire sire arrives out of the blue with a major problem in tow.
Further complicating the situation is an unforeseen outcome of her granting a favour for the Shreveport werewolf pack and the local ramifications of the two natured (werewolves, etc) revealing their existence to the ‘normal’ human population.
On the positive side her brother Jason seems to be growing up at last and acting responsibly.
The book is a good, straightforward, enjoyable read covering the complicated life of a likable heroine whose helpful good nature, determination and occasional pragmatism sees her and those she loves through the difficulties depicted in this book. It certainly will not disappoint fans of the series and should encourage those who have not read any of the previous books to try them.

Reviewed by Jim Pearce Jun-2010 Published by Gollancz

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DEFINITELY DEAD by Charlaine Harris

This novel is part of a continuing narrative as told by Sookie Stackhouse. Sookie is a telepath. She only knows one other person like her and he does not feature in this particular volume (though he gets mentioned). The book is set five years after vampires came out. Not everyone is happy to find that vampires have been in their midst for centuries and that they must now be considered as an ethnic minority. What humans do not realise is that there are also enclaves of weres (wolves, panthers, tigers) and fairies.
Sookie is a barmaid in the Louisiana town of Bon Temps. The bar in which she works is frequented by supes (the supernatural races).
The main thrust of the story is Sookie’s visit to New Orleans to sort out her cousin’s effects. Hadley was a vampire and the lover of Louisiana’s vampire queen. The queen has recently married the king of the Arkansas vampires.
Unfortunately, Hadley stole a bracelet, a wedding gift, from the queen, in a fit of pique. The queen needs it back and hopes Sookie will find it amongst Hadley’s possessions. This is not Sookie’s only problem as a family of werewolves have unfinished business with her about the death of their daughter.
As a result of their vendetta, Sookie and her new boyfriend, a weretiger, find themselves pursued through the Louisiana swamps.
The big problem with this novel is that it doesn’t get on with the real story until about half way through. It is light, a little frothy and reads more like a diary with the dates taken out and includes a lot of things that do not add to the thrust of the action, even though they might seem important to Sookie as a person. This book will while away an hour or so on a long train journey.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Aug-2008 Published by Gollancz

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GRAVE SECRET by Charlaine Harris

Charlaine Harris has a big following and it is easy to see why. Her books are easy to read page turners told as a straightforward, first person narrative. GRAVE SECRET continues the adventures of Harper Connelly and there is not a vampire in sight. (Her other series featuring Sookie Stackhouse features vampires strongly).
This novel is basically a crime thriller, with added extras. At fifteen, Harper was struck by lightning. This has left her with the ability to find bodies. The dead are eager to tell her how they died. The body she cannot find is that of her sister, Cameron, who disappeared eight years previously. Harper is sure she is dead because she would not have left her sisters. At the time Cameron disappeared, they were living in a rundown trailer. Harpers mother and her new husband were both junkies, out of their skulls most of the time and incapable of looking after their children, especially the two babies.
At the start of GRAVE SECRET, Harper and her stepbrother, Tolliver Lang, are on their way to Dallas after a difficult job in North Carolina (see AN ICE COLD GRAVE). Although they have grown up together and work together - Tolliver is Harper’s manager - they are not related by blood and have become lovers, something their relatives cannot get their heads around. Their purpose for going to Dallas is two-fold. Harper has been asked to do a grave reading for a wealthy rancher family and to visit their younger sisters who have been adopted by Harper’s aunt, Iona.
During the reading in the graveyard, Harper not only discovers that the grandfather of the Joyce family died of an induced heart attack, but that his caregiver died in childbirth. Then three things happen: first, Tolliver’s father, recently released from jail, turns up wanting a reconciliation with his son and to see his daughters (something everyone concerned is sceptical of); then Tolliver is shot; the third thing is that an anonymous caller claims to have seen Cameron.
Harper has to try and cope with the things that bring back bad memories as mayhem escalates around her.
This is a light, enjoyable book that stands up well without having to read the others in the series, though you will probably want to afterwards.
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan May-2010 Published by Gollancz

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Joanne M Harris

RUNEMARKS by Joanne M Harris

There are cynics who like to claim that mainstream writers are using SFF and Fantasy tropes who know nothing about the genre and are intent on reinventing the wheel. To accuse Joanne Harris of this would be a grave mistake. General readers will know her for such books as CHOCOLAT and BLACKBERRY WINE but many will not realise that her first two books (SLEEP, PALE SISTER and THE EVIL SEED) were contemporary novels with a mythological theme threading through them. With RUNEMARKS, she is returning to her roots. Most people will have an idea of Norse Mythology and the culmination that is Ragnorak. What isn’t told is what happens afterwards, especially to the ordinary people of The Middle Worlds. In RUNEMARKS, Harris explores the fate of the surviving gods. In the five hundred years since Ragnorak The Order has become the religious focus. They worship The Nameless and each village has its Parson who is in charge of the Good Book. Inside are all the rules people
have to live by. One of these rules stipulates that anyone with a “ruinmark” (runemark) will be Cleansed (i.e. killed). Maddy Smith has one in the palm of her hand, so whenever anything goes wrong, it is obviously her fault. Seven years before, she’d met an Outlander who called himself One-Eye. He knew plenty of stories and she persuaded him to teach her magic. Now fourteen, One-Eye persuades her that in return for his teaching, she can do something for him. He wants her to go into the World Below and fetch an artefact called the Whisperer, for him. The World Below is the place where goblins live. She persuades one of them, Sugar-and-Sack, to lead her because she had forced him to give him his true name. When she reaches the place where the Whisperer is, she meets a youth who calls himself Lucky. She quickly discovers that that he is really Loki, the trickster god. As the plot twists and turns, Maddy and Loki find that they need to go to the Netherworld to release Thor if the balance between Order and Chaos is to be restored. It would be difficult to call this a teen book, even though Maddy is only fourteen, or YA despite this being a kind of Rite of Passage tale. Maddy learns a lot about herself and discovers more about the reality of the world that she lives in than most would want to know, including who she really is. As a mythical fantasy, it deals with a number of issues including identity, loyalty and the dangers of religious tyranny. It is an adventure, and it is fast-paced and fun. An enjoyable read

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Nov-2017 Published by Gollancz

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Joe Harris and Stuart Moore

THE NIGHTMARE FACTORY VOLUME 2 by Joe Harris and Stuart Moore

Art by Vasilis Lolos, Bill Sienkiewicz, Toby Cypress and Nick Stakal .
Thomas Ligotti is a cult writer of horror stories in the tradition of the modern followers of H P Lovecraft. He rarely refers explicitly to the mythos but there is usually a common style there. Here you will find the odd sect of notquite- human worshippers of some creature forgotten by time (see “The Sect of the Idiot”), carnival freaks that seem to have connections to unexplained powerful forces (“Gas Station Carnivals”) and the psychopathic killer that believes he is becoming something more than natural (“The Chymist”). Ligotti’s record with publishers in his own right has been unlucky so far.
This book is published by Fox Atomic Comics the teenage comics publishing imprint connected to 20th Century Fox. They are best known for the comic version of 28 DAYS LATER. This volume and the preceding one are based on the stories of Thomas Ligotti and the title is taken from one of his old collections. The company intend to publish one volume in this series every year and hope to develop a movie based on some of the stories in the same mould as CREEPSHOW or the movie of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. Future volumes may not be based on Ligotti’s work.
The writers and illustrators here have a solid record in the US comics market. They have worked on the big names like X-men (Moore & Harris) , Spiderman (Harris), and Batman (Harris & Cypress) and critically acclaimed titles (Sienkiewicz on Elektra:Assassin). The styles of illustration here drift from cartoonish (Cypress) to near-photographic (Sienkiewicz) on occasions. Only Sienkiewicz shows any real artistic worth here and not really enough to sell the book.
Despite the quoted intent of the publishers, I can’t see anything here working on film. The stories are much too thin. There is little more than a character study in each. As an example, “The Chymist” is told as a monologue by the title character. There is only one other character in shot for more than a couple of frames and she is the victim. Although she does speak, we only know that she has done so from the reaction of the chymist. She is only there so that we can see what it is that the chymist does. This might work as the storyteller bit at the end of the film but not for a whole segment. None of the other stories are any more complex.

Reviewed by William McCabe Mar-2009 Published by Fox Atomic Comics

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Harry Harrison

THE STAINLESS STEEL RAT JOINS THE CIRCUS by Harry Harrison

The first Stainless Steel Rat story was published in 1957 and was a fresh and original tale featuring the eponymous hero, also known as 'Slippery Jim’ DiGriz, a professional criminal who was forced to turn interstellar law enforcer to escape the consequences of his misdeeds. It became a book, followed over the years by half a dozen more and now, after a hiatus of about twelve years, here is another instalment in the saga - presumably the last, since it concludes with Slippery Jim’s avowed intention to retire and concentrate on writing his memoirs (!). Before that he has taken on and defeated a master criminal who begins by ostensibly employing to solve a series of mysterious robberies but turns out to be a con artist intending to avail himself of the Rat’s talents and use him to perpetrate a monumental interplanetary swindle.
I must confess to having been somewhat disappointed. Tastes have changed in thirty-odd years and SF has perhaps become more sophisticated (I certainly hope I have). Thirty years ago the stories had something new to say and Slippery Jim DiGriz was a worthy addition to the pantheon of great SF heroes. By contrast, this latest one seemed short on originality and lacking in excitement. Obviously the ending was never in doubt and on the way the hero’s smug cleverness became a trifle boring. Even the jokey style has lost its lightly amusing touch and become heavy- handed. I seized this book in eager remembrance of past glories, but living on past glories is not enough and without something new to say an ongoing series is in danger of becoming too formulaic.
That said, it is not all bad. Harry probably couldn’t write a really bad book if he tried and there is still plenty here to satisfy. Wait for the paperback though.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Apr-2000 Published by Gollancz

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THE STAINLESS STEEL RAT OMNIBUS by Harry Harrison

Harry Harrison’s The Stainless Steel Rat: probably the most famous SF hero I had never previously read. Somehow I have spent 20+ years reading SF without ever reading a single Stainless Steel Rat book – but I have many glowing references. So I approached this volume of the first three books (in published order, if not chronologically for the hero) with both great anticipation and not a small amount of trepidation; can these stories live up to the enormous hype?
This volume consists of THE STAINLESS STEEL RAT (1961), THE STAINLESS STEEL RAT’S REVENGE (1970) and THE STAINLESS STEEL RAT SAVES THE WORLD (1972). Being the first three S.S.R. novels published they are an excellent place to start reading about Slippery Jim diGriz, the outstandingly clever, quickwitted master criminal protagonist. After a lifetime of successful criminal activity in an almost crime-free system some 32,500 years into our future, James Bolivar deGriz is finally captured by the Special Corps and immediately put to work fighting the galaxy’s greatest threats.
And so starts a series of terrific adventures so astonishing that they can only be equalled by the brilliance of the Stainless Steel Rat himself.
The blurb on the back of the volume implies that the books are packed with surreal humour; but I disagree. Where the books are indeed sometimes humorous they can be quite subtle, and always clever. If one is after ‘The Monty Python of the spaceways’ (quoted from the Daily Telegraph) I would recommend the reader rather to Bill, the Galactic Hero, Harry Harrison’s other humorous series, and much more surreal and slapstick than the S.S.R.
I am unashamed to admit to having enjoyed these books enormously.
Harry Harrison writes with such energy and momentum that the reader hardly has time to sit down and think, which is probably a good thing as some of the amazing situations (and equally amazing escapes) may not stand up to serious examination. Nonetheless the writing is beautifully balanced, with descriptions that evoke the maximum colour while failing to interrupt the break-neck speed action. And being written from a first-person perspective the reader can take great pleasure in identifying closely with the hero; he is so roguishly charming it is impossible to dislike him. If one had to pick a character from SF to actually be, then The Stainless Steel Rat has to be somewhere near the top of the list, surely?
If forced to criticise the books then I would have to admit that the stories sometimes jump about a bit too much, taking sudden right-angle turns (and ending the books sometimes as well) based on the deux ex machina; a sudden plot- device where an unexpected event or, literally, device overcomes the insurmountable difficulties faced by the characters. Given the clever way in which the S.S.R. beats all his other problems these sudden `get out of jail free’ cards are slightly disappointing. Still, at least they don’t allow the books to get bogged down in one scene at any point, so they probably serve an important function.
Anyway, that is enough negative – these books are great! In conclusion I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending them, and, if you are like me and have somehow missed out on them for ages, now is an ideal time to correct that oversight – you are in for a treat!

Reviewed by Dave Corby Mar-2009 Published by Gollancz

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Kim Harrison

A FISTFUL OF CHARMS by Kim Harrison

Looking at the number of Urban Fantasy books on the shelves these days it would seem that our city streets are crawling with vampires, that werewolves run rampant every full moon and that witches dwell down every street. This must be so, in the same way that Colin Dexter’s Oxford has potential serial killers in every college or that murder is a hobby amongst the inhabitants of the sleepy country villages of Midsomer. So many of these books put the emphasis on the supernatural inhabitants at the expense of us ordinary humans. Sometimes this can be excused if the plot is exciting and the characters are vivid and this is necessary to stand out in an increasingly crowded market. A series needs to grab the reader if they are to want to read other books with the same setting.
Kim Harrison’s series is set in Cincinnati, a minor problem to readers who don’t have a good foundation in American geography. It features Rachel Morgan, a witch. She lives in a deconsecrated church with a screwed up vampire as a housemate and with pixies in the garden. Her ex-boyfriend is human but her current one is another vampire. As A FISTFUL OF CHARMS is the fourth book in a series that currently runs to nine there is a lot of history between the characters that is important to them but unknown to anyone starting from here. It makes full comprehension of the nuances difficult.
At the start of this novel, Rachel is acting as back-up for David, a werewolf.
She is registered as the alpha female (and only member) of his pack. Her position is challenged by a jealous were-female from another pack. As Rachel cannot shapechange she is in a dangerous situation and has to resort to trickery. This is a minor skirmish but sets in motion a useful set of events to counter the real mess that is the thrust of this novel. Rachel needs to shape-change to prove that she is a legitimate pack member. To this end, she asks her friend Ceri to help her cook up a spell from a book of demon curses. This is not going to be a real problem – except perhaps in later volumes as characters in this kind of book tend to accumulate problems. The situation she has to solve that is at the heart of this book concerns her pixie partner, Jenks. His eldest son has been lured into a life of crime by Rachel’s human ex, Nick. As pixies are only four inches tall, she needs another spell to temporarily make Jenks big or he won’t be able to cope with the lower temperatures further north. Simple job you might think, except Nick has stolen a powerful artefact that was thought to have been destroyed centuries ago.
Now he has several werewolf packs desperately trying to get their paws on it and some vampires that are not too happy either. Rachel and Jenks land in a situation that could result in an all-out bloody war between werewolves and vampires unless they can find the artefact before anyone else does.
Once the action gets going, the pace picks up, carrying the reader along.
However, at the start there are a lot of domestic issues that circle around the central situation. Although well written and, in places, fun, there is nothing that really makes it stand out on the shelf. It is well written and largely enjoyable. The characters are well drawn but I didn’t feel emotionally connected to any of them.
On another note, the titles of the books in this series are all cute parodies of Clint Eastwood film titles.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Jul-2012 Published by Harper Voyager

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BLACK MAGIC SANCTION by Kim Harrison

This is the latest episode in the continuing saga of Rachel Morgan who is feisty, totally loyal to friends, honourable and merciful to enemies…. and is a witch. As with the previous novels in the series, this book is full of fast-paced, nonstop action from start to finish.
At the close of the previous book she was ‘shunned’ by the witch community for allegedly being a black witch and dealing with demons. In this story she is under attack by the coven of moral and ethical standards, the group who legalized her shunning (they also use ‘legal’ lethal white magic). This tale also chronicles her running battle with Trent Kalamack, a closet elf and mega rich businessman/ criminal/politician and the demon Algaliarept. An ex- boyfriend turned thief is also involved.
After a number of kidnap and arrest attempts the coven is successful and she is sentenced without trial to imprisonment in Alcatraz (a good prison for witches as it is surrounded by salt water which destroys spells).
Here, prisoners are drugged to prevent them attempting to cast spells with the more dangerous ones being lobotomized. Rachel is also threatened with genetic slavery as coven members covet the magic potential of her unborn children. Fortunately for her
she has very good friends to rescue her quickly.
As with all the previous books in this series BLACK MAGIC SANCTION is highly readable with well-defined and enjoyable characters and can be enjoyed if read out of sequence. That said, it would be better to read it in chronological order as this will provide useful background information and further flesh out all of the characters. I eagerly look forward to the next episode.

Reviewed by Jim Pearce Jun-2010 Published by HarperCollins

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PALE DEMON by Kim Harrison

This is the latest episode in the continuing saga of Rachel Morgan set in a world where witches, werewolves, pixies, vampires, fairies exist alongside humans, all fear the demons. She is feisty, totally loyal to friends, honorable and merciful to enemies and is also a witch. The book follows on from the events chronicled in BLACK MAGIC SANCTION (reviewed in June 2010).
Required to travel from Cincinnati to San Francisco to have her ‘shunning’ by the witch community for allegedly being a black witch and dealing with demons, formally lifted and forced to travel overland instead of by plane as she would of course prefer. To make things more fun she is persuaded to take with her, Trent Kalamack, a closet elf and mega-rich businessman/criminal/politician whom she loathes but is at the same time strangely attracted to. Her other companions on this trip are her partners, the pixie Jinx and the live vampire, Ivy. To further complicate things along the way they pick up Vivian, a member of the witches governing coven, who spies on her and reports back to her coven colleagues. As with the previous novels in the series, this book is full of fast paced non-stop action from start to finish with mayhem dogging her journey across America. This takes the form of elf assassins, and a daylight-walking, soul- eating demon who has just escaped his 2000 year old prison. As usual, while she does not instigate the violence and only tries to defend herself, her friends and bystanders, she is blamed for it. However, when it comes down to it, who is called upon to save the world from this monster? Yes, Rachel.
As with all the previous books in this series, I found PALE DEMON to be very well written, highly readable and full of well defined and enjoyable characters. Like its predecessors, it was a joy to read and I look forward to rereading it many times. I hope that there will be another book in this series
Reviewed by Jim Pearce Aug-2011 Published by Hapercollins

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M John Harrison

ANIMA by M John Harrison

Two novels, previously published five years apart, are here collected in one volume. They are described on the back cover as ‘his two classic love stories’, but apart from this somewhat tenuous thematic link they share little or nothing of incident, characters or even setting.
THE COURSE OF THE HEART purports to tell the story of three students who were led by an older man in some act – scientific experiment, secret ritual or arcane rite - that is never made clear what, which affects their future lives in unspecified ways. Two of them marry, then divorce, the woman dies of cancer while the man suffers a breakdown. Only the narrator seems able to keep his life in any sort of order, but he has forgotten where they all started from. One is left wondering what it has all been about.
SIGNS OF LIFE manages to be more accessible and is a better book. The firstperson narrator, Mick ‘China’ Rose, and a mate start a business dumping illegal medical waste. He meets and falls in love with Isobel and as their relationship flourishes so also does the company, becoming legitimate and successful. Then he loses Isobel to a business client who will help her to realise her childhood dreams of flight. The firm collapses in bankruptcy and Isobel returns but the renewal of their relationship cannot survive the changes in her and the book ends on an uncertain note with the best of China's life now behind him. He has lost Isobel, his mate and his business, but maybe he has found himself.
Both stories, but especially the first, are written in a curious, choppy style, flitting to-and-fro between various past and present narrative threads which sometimes makes it difficult to pin down the precise order of events or even to determine the time frame in which they are set. In THE COURSE OF THE HEART one encounters passages repeated almost word-for-word in different places, and I also felt I recognised bits taken from earlier short stories although I no longer have that book so I was unable to check it out. Harrison’s writing here is at its best in passages of, at times, almost lyrical description, but the narratives are not strong and both stories suffer from this – the first one more so.
Harrison is not exclusively a Science Fiction writer and in ANIMA he is about as far from SF as he gets. It is worth reading as a work of ‘Literature’, but the true SF aficionado will find it of limited interest.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Jun-2005 Published by Gollancz

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EMPTY SPACE: A HAUNTING by M John Harrison

This is the third book of a series that began with LIGHT and continued with NOVA SWING. Although I have not read the preceding volumes, I believe this book can stand on its own and may even provide explanations to things unexplained previously. The book is divided into three separate strands. Two of them are contemporary with each other and the third seems to occur (mostly) a long time before them. I understand that several characters and situations continue from previous volumes. Anna Waterman who, as Anna Kearney, has appeared in previous volumes takes up a third or more of this one and some of that time also includes a computer drive filled with data that belonged to her dead husband, Michael Kearney. The "Nova Swing" (from the second book) and its crew take up another third. The first of the three streams seems to take place on a near-present Earth. There are no real signs of advanced or unusual technology. The country seems to be much the same as the one we know. I wouldn't be surprised to find the scenery between Carshalton and Central London looked exactly as it would have when I was there last. The latter two streams seem to be set in a distant future. Interstellar travel is common as evidenced by the "Nova Swing's” travels although there's nothing much said about the science behind it except for the toll it takes on a pilot. There is a great deal about the supposed effects of the Kefahuchi tract (a region in space) on the universe in general. Although no-one understands how it affects anything they do not seem terribly surprised by the results. The "Nova Swing" is engaged in ferrying some of the human results of its effects into a quarantine orbit. One of the more grisly results involves a governess and child that started to occupy the same space at the time when one of the child's parents came home and tried to separate them and became entangled in a single part-living organism. The tract is described as a place where physics breaks its own rules but its rule-breaking isn't confined to the place that it seems to be. In the first strand, Anna Waterman has discovered a computer drive full of her husband’s files. She believes it to be important and that she should deliver it somewhere although she is uncertain where. As is often the case with such things, the files are inaccessible to any device she has access to. In addition she is seeing strange phenomena that aren't really there. Things burst into flames and, moments later, the flames disappear without any damage. Several things seem to be warnings about the summer house. Despite all this, she seems to spend her time wandering between Carshalton, London, and the south coast. Meanwhile, the character of the assistant (most of the time she is only known as that) is investigating two strange deaths at a warehouse. Two people (Enka Mercury and Toni Reno) have been shot and the bodies are floating in mid air and slowly rising. There is also the image of a woman that has trouble communicating her name and who claims to come from the future. Do all these mysterious phenomena have anything to do with the cargo that surrounded the bodies and has just been taken on board by the "Nova Swing" headed for the Kefahuchi Tract? The crew of the “Nova Swing”, too, will be faced with a ghost that is having trouble communicating. Also, on board the "Nova Swing", the cargo is starting to escape into the hold. Considering this is quarantined material that could be very dangerous. Elsewhere, there are other related situations including a
minor war in "The Beach" (the systems closest to the Tract) and something called “The Aleph” which seems more complex and inexplicable than the Tract. It is hard to describe the plot accurately as the great flaw with this novel is that so much seems to just wander aimlessly for most of the story. As a whole, there is a lot going on here and some would want to read it just to find the odd explanation to pieces from the earlier books or for a kind of ending to the whole thing. There are some explanations and characters do advance to some kind of conclusion. The problem is that all of the major plot seems to happen in the background while the foreground concentrates on people not communicating with others and, more importantly, themselves. That last statement may seem nonsensical but there is a good explanation that will become crystal clear by the end of the book. This book is more for the imagination than for anyone that wants a solid plot although Harrison's imagination is remarkable. Maybe there is still another book to be got out of this that can tie up the explanations for the explanations

Reviewed by William McCabe Dec-2012 Published by Gollancz

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NOVA SWING by M John Harrison

To say that this book has already been nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award is merely to state that Harrison is a critically acclaimed writer who writes original science fiction. For some, this accolade is the SF equivalent of the Man- Booker prize. In some minds, nominated books for both these awards are unreadable. They would be wrong. Any book that gets onto such a short list has to be well written, original and to excite the critics. This latter is the hardest thing to do. Harrison does it on a regular basis. His books are never easy to read. They have dimensions that often need to be teased out; ideas that have to be actively pursued through the text but reading thoughtfully can be very rewarding.
The setting is a seedy area on a distant planet. With its bars and rundown apartments it has a Chandleresque feel. Vic Seratonin, though, is not a private eye. He is a tourist guide. The place the tourists want to go is into the event site.
At some time in the past, part of the Kefahuchi Tract fell onto the planet’s surface. This is an area of distorting space where the usual laws of physics do not apply. Venturing into the event site is to enter a surreal landscape where nothing can be trusted. Vic claims to have been in many times. Elizabeth is a client who wants Vic to take her in. More often those who go in do not return or do so after a very long time. Emil Bonaventure claims to have maps showing the way to the centre of the event site. Now close to dying, he resists revealing his notebooks in which he claims the secret is written. Vic would like those diaries.
Bringing anything out of the affected area is strictly forbidden, though every evening a steam of black and white cats leave, and return each dawn.
Aschemann is a policeman whose job is to stop artefacts being removed from the area as they can be extremely dangerous in unexpected ways. He has also set himself up to explore the strange phenomenon at the Café Surf. Here people emerge from the toilets in a steady stream over an evening g, yet hardly anyone seems to go it.
All these aspects of life in Saudade are skilfully interwoven. This is a difficult book to understand fully but at the same time it is worth persevering with. Do not expect a quick, easy read but a volume with a lot of depth packed with characters and ideas

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan May-2007 Published by Gollancz

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Eric L Harry

INVASION by Eric L Harry

I must admit I ’d never heard of Eric L. Harry before, nor if I had would his previous “military epics” (ARC LIGHT and PROTECT & DEFEND) have appealed to me. (The term “military epic” when describing an SF novel, perhaps unfairly, always reminds me of the appalling David Drake series “Hammer’s Slammers” ) But as I frequently enjoy “alternate history/world” stories I decided to give it a go - I’m glad I did, this is a rattling good yarn.
The increasing political and economic strength of China force the West to make a number of seemingly innocuous concessions, including the dismantling o f the West’s comprehensive Spy Satellite network. As the Chinese expand throughout South East Asia the West, naturally, turn a blind eye - the Chinese provide a welcome stabilising effect in these previously worrisome areas. The West continue their policy of defence cuts in this increasingly war free world.
It is only when China turns its attention to the Middle East and swiftly conquers the precious oil field that the West suddenly becomes concerned. But, reduced to stone age, ground level, intelligence gathering, the West finds that the Chinese have the advantage of total surprise. When China brutally conquers Israel and Tel Aviv is razed by nuclear power the EC mobilises.
It is now that the lack of reliable military intelligence proves decisive - when the massed naval forces of Europe are destroyed by the sudden appearance o f a totally unknown Chinese fleet. The EC swiftly capitulates and China is free to turn its attention to the US. Within weeks the continental US has been invaded and America finds herself fighting for survival.
It is a testament to the writing ability of Harry (a descendant of Mark Twain according to the cover blurb) that this unlikely scenario comes across as eminently believable in this novel. (It would be interesting to hear the views of someone who knows China quite well, such as Brian Aldiss, on the plausibility of the events depicted …) It takes a lot these days to get me cheering on the Yanks (sick as I am of Hollywood’s apparently concerted effort to re-write all recent history in a pro-American/anti-British manner - “special relationship” indeed!) but I did here. This is ideal holiday reading, perfect for long train journeys or on the beach - I may even check out his earlier works.
Reviewed by Martin Tudor Aug-2000 Published by Hodder & Stoughton;

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Tyler Hayes

THE IMAGINARY CORPSE by Tyler Hayes

This debut novel by Tyler Hayes is hard to categorise. The main protagonist, Tippy is a yellow triceratops. He was once the treasured toy and best friend of a young girl, and together, in her imagination at least, they were detectives who solved crimes and put the world to rights. However, when something traumatic happened to her world that could not be reversed or punished, she lost faith in Tippy. However, the broken-hearted and abandoned Tippy now has an existence in the StillReal, a place where ideas that are no longer needed, but that were once “Real” or Important to the person who imagined them, end up. As in his former “life”, he is a detective, and he now helps the other inhabitants of the StillReal to solve their problems. The concept is similar to THE VELVETEEN RABBIT or perhaps TOY STORY, and in THE IMAGINARY CORPSE the concept is expanded to also include fictional creations, imaginary friends and recurrent nightmares etc.
One of Tippy’s jobs as a detective is to help new “arrivals” including finding the right area for them to live. The toys etc tend to congregate in Playtime Town, superheroes and villains go to Avatar City, SF types to Chrometown etc. When a new “nightmare”, Spindleman arrives in the Playtime town, Tippy tries to help him adjust and find where he fits in. However, Spindleman is brutally murdered by a mysterious Man in the Coat and Tippy is shocked to discover that this time the death is permanent, which does not happen in the StillReal. The Man in the Coat then continues on a spree of murder, each time gaining strength as he gets closer to Tippy and his friends. Tippy must race against time and form alliances with both friends and “villains” in the quest to unravel the origin and the means to defeat this stranger before it destroys all of the StillReal.
The author clearly has an impressive imagination and the various characters and areas of the world are distinctive and engaging. The plot moves along at quite a rapid pace, which for the most part I enjoyed although occasionally I felt like it needed to pause a little to give the reader time to digest the various revelations or consequences. The juxtaposition of detective-noir and serial killers with mostly toytown/child-friendly characters was unusual and although it worked well most of the time, it occasionally jarred. As I said at the beginning, this is a novel that doesn’t fit easily into a neat grouping and I wonder if this might limit its appeal. However, I like that it is bold and not afraid to take a chance. It will be interesting to see how it works for other readers and what the author writes next.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Dec-2019 Published by Angry Robot

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William Heaney

MEMOIRS OF A MASTER FORGER by William Heaney

The word ‘memoirs’ in the title and the first-person narrative suggest that this is a work of autobiography, but it is actually a novel pure and simple (although in truth it is neither pure nor simple). Graham Joyce has told us that he wrote it in reaction to an increasing current trend in the publishing world to make big profits from fake memoirs and celebrity fake novelists. He has produced a novel which looks on the surface like one of these fake memoirs, with no mention of his own name.
The titular William Heaney lives a life of chicanery and double-dealing, organising illicit activities by other people, one of whom produces superb forgeries of rare first edition novels worth tens of thousands of pounds (although it is to Heaney’s credit that the profits of this activity are funnelled into a shelter for homeless people). And he sees demons – not the traditional horns-and-wings variety but manifestations of the negative aspects of his own and other people’s lives. These visions of the supernatural influence how he deals with the events recounted in the book.
It becomes apparent however that he is a charlatan and his life is all smoke and mirrors. He appears at first not to be at all the Master Forger he claims until one realises (helped by a hint dropped by Graham to the BSFG) that Heaney himself is probably a forgery. To have forged himself he must be a Master Forger indeed! So nothing can be depended upon and perhaps the demons are mere delusions along with much else. One or two others can see the demons, but can they be believed?
Thus the supernatural element of the story remains somewhat ambiguous and the book remains on an uncertain boundary between fantasy and realism.
Even the ending, while seeming to provide a resolution for both Heaney and his story, fails to provide an answer. This is a complex and multi-layered work to which everyone must bring his or her own interpretation. Excellent. Michael Jones

Reviewed by Dec-2008 Published by Gollancz

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There are occasions when I wonder where people think SF/fantasy stops and the mainstream begins. This is a case in point. If there's a genre here, I'd say it was soap opera. There's nothing here that you wouldn't see on soaps or chat shows.
There are even suggestions that this is to be published as autobiography.
That is taking it a bit too far as this is obviously written as fiction. There is a fantasy element here but it doesn't really make any impact on the plot.
The central character and at least two others see demons. One of these is a severe alcoholic, another is a veteran of the first Gulf War and has been in contact with ‘depleted uranium’ weapons, and the third has just written a book about the subject.
You might think that this puts the book well into the fantasy bracket although there's nothing else here that would. So you have to ask yourself, "Is this really mainstream fiction?" So on to the plot. The main character, William Heaney, is one of those people who finds funding for various charities either from public agencies or private donors. Sometimes he will even contribute himself. He is also a secondhand book dealer. He also has a friend who forges first edition classic novels. At the time of this novel he is working on a copy of a Jane Austen novel. Actually he's working on two copies since he damaged the original. One of these will be sold for a 6 figure sum. There is a delay on this because the forger's girlfriend has just walked out on him. Heaney has already spent his part of this money on a local shelter for the homeless which means that money is going to be a little tight for a while. This doesn't please Heaney's son who, possibly because of this, is being sent to a state school rather than his usual public school. There's also a poet who's just been exposed as a fraud by the papers, an ex-wife who's living with a TV chef, and a daughter who's got a new boyfriend with pierced bits that Heaney doesn't want to think about.
The real oddity is in the promotion of the book. So much is slightly false and not properly thought out. There's an internet diary at http:// butforthegrape.livejournal.com that is supposedly written this year but, from the character of the writer, seems to be set before the beginning of the book which is set at the end of last year. There's the fact that the central character is supposedly the author of the book and this is his autobiography yet this seems to be written as a novel (incidents that should have been in newspapers don't have dates, celebrities don't have names). If nothing else, the ‘Master Forger’ of the title isn't even a forger.
The writing is fairly good and occasionally very visual. Though there are too many characters to get any real feel of any one of them.
Reviewed by William McCabe Oct-2008 Published by Gollancz

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Robert Heinlein

THE DOOR INTO SUMMER by Robert Heinlein

This is one of my favourite Heinlein books (along with The Puppet Masters).
Unlike Stranger in a Strange Land or Time Enough for Love, this is still quite readable. It’s a nicely constructed time-travel, wish-fulfilmerit novel, like Time Enough fo r Love, but without the icky quality of that book.
Dan Davis is one of Heinlein’s hero-engineers, and he’d certainly be my hero for inventing Flexible Frank, the perfect house-keeping machine. According to Heinlein all women want a slave to do the cleaning for them. I certainly do.
Jilted and defrauded of his business by Belle, his erstwhile fiancee, he investigates the possibility of the Long Sleep as a subtle revenge. Being a red blooded Heinlein sort of guy, though, he changes his mind and decides to fight for his rights. Belle has other ideas and forces him into the Long Sleep. He wakes thirty years later to find a number of his inventions in common use but with a mystery surrounding their ownership.
This is an unusually sunny book for Heinlein with little of the right-wing paranoia so common. The women are either low-down rats or splendid competent women with blind spots. And there’s a cat. Reading Heinlein I’m tempted to say, ' To hell with the allergies, I need a character like this in my life.’
This is a great summer feel-good novel. Give it a go.

Reviewed by Yvonne Rowse Oct-2000 Published by Gollancz

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THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS by Robert Heinlein

First published in 1966, this is one of Heinlein’s several Hugo Award winning novels. It is set on the Moon where what began as a penal colony is now a thriving community of some three million inhabitants. The main theme is the successful move by this colony to break away from Earth control and become independent, an idea having an obvious resonance in the USA which fought its own War of Independence a couple of centuries ago. A secondary theme describes how a computer system on the Moon achieves spontaneous Artificial Intelligence leading to self-awareness and this computer entity becomes an ally of the rebels – it is safe to say that without its help their rebellion would have been quite impossible.
It is typical of Heinlein’s writing that life in the Lunar Colony is fully realised and conveyed to the reader in total detail virtually by inference alone, with no lengthy pauses for explanation, in the same way that a mainstream writer finds no need to explain the function of a street lamp, say, or a bus stop. Having said that, it must be admitted that be veers into the polemical at times to express his belief in the freedom of the individual as opposed to a heavy-handed system of government, a proposition which a science fiction story of this kind is well-suited to display.
For all that, the story mostly rattles along at a tremendous pace, with incidents of excitement and emotion, and one finds oneself rooting for the Loonies all the way even if they are a bunch of scruffy rebels.
One has to bear in mind that this was written over forty years ago. There are incipient signs of the strangeness which infused.Heinlein’s later work (having perhaps begun with STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND a few years earlier ) but apart from that SF readers have probably become more sophisticated since then. It is easy to look back from our present-day perspective and decry much of this book but to do so is to belittle its many good points. To be sure there are faults to be found if you really want to seek for them, but this nevertheless represents one of the all-time greatest SF writers at his cracking best.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Feb-2009 Published by Gollancz SF Masterworks

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Amanda Hemingway

THE POISONED CROWN by Amanda Hemingway

This third volume of the Sangreal trilogy features a young boy who has disturbing dreams that transport him to other worlds. As time goes on it is apparent that these dreams are not make-believe but reality and he has to use these dreams to fulfil a purpose. He is aided by his mother and ‘uncle’ Bartlemy as well as his friend Hazel who is a witch-in- training.
This book sounds like a children’s book but as an adult I found it quite gripping. The heroes are indeed children but they are on the verge of adulthood and there are enough adult themes to keep me interested – young love, powerhunger, deities trying to take over the world, etc. The book is too long really for younger people, so it has to keep a good balance so that adults would enjoy it too, and for the most part here it seems to work well. Much of the action in other worlds is set on a world full of water with no land, and the book starts here through the eyes of an albatross which makes for an interesting viewpoint.
If I had one criticism it is that I found Nathan hard to warm to. I warmed to his mother and enigmatic uncle Bartlemy and some other characters but couldn’t quite get to grips with him. The book is the third in a trilogy and I wonder if it suffers from a common fate – that by this point the author ‘expects’ people to be familiar with the characters – I felt I had missed out on a few events which had taken place previously and this meant some elements of the book were closed off to me. References are made to earlier events but without a proper prologue I could not catch up.
So, an entertaining original idea but one which did not quite grab my attention, possibly due to the trilogy element.

Reviewed by Vicky Cook Apr-2007 Published by Harpercollins

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Frank Herbert

DUNE (new illustrated edition) by Frank Herbert

There can be few fans who do not know of DUNE, which has been around now for some thirty-five years. The raison d ’etre of this latest edition is the addition of the dozen illustrations created by John Schoenherr for the original magazine serialisation, illustrations which author Herbert is said to have preferred over all others. As to whether it is now enhanced as a reading experience by their inclusion, I have reservations. Although artistically attractive, they are impressionist rather than representational and do little to provide the reader with a believable visualisation of how people and places looked (or will look!) in that faroff future world. For that one must look to the De Laurentiis/Lynch movie of 1984 which, whatever its other faults, constituted what can only be described as a stunning visual experience.
The story of DUNE is immense in scope, dealing as it does with the emergence of a Messiah to lead the human race to a new future, his existence the result of a deliberate, though covert, programme of selective breeding over many generations. His story is set thousands o f years from now against a complex background o f religious manoeuvring, political intrigue, commercial machinations, inter-family rivalry and planetary war. However it is not an easy book to read. It is incredibly detailed, with appendices and a glossary to explain what may not be immediately obvious, and the reader dare leave no sentence unremarked in case some seeming trivial fact or casual remark may assume later significance.
Nevertheless, anyone prepared to put in the effort to understand it fully will find it a rewarding experience. Although it might not quite justify the claim on the front cover that it is the greatest science fiction novel o f all time, it should certainly be on everybody’s list of the top ten.
However, this review must chiefly consider it in the form of this new illustrated edition. It is probably not worth buying it for the illustrations alone but, what I said earlier notwithstanding, it is adorned by Schoenherr’s paintings and if you have not already read it - and you should! - this version is the one to have.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Apr-2000 Published by Gollancz

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DUNE TRILOGY by Frank Herbert

I read this a while back now, but I found this fascinating and involving. It took me a long time to read, being a complex world (and a huge book!) but I was drawn in and quickly forgot the ‘80’s film which was the first time I came across the Dune world. The plotline is known to many, it features the aristocratic Duke Atreides and his family moving out to the desert planet Arrakis, and the development of his son Paul into a mystical and mythical figure followed by many. Politics and organised religion seem to be the target themes of the author, and these are well handled. The spice which is so much a part of Arrakis is what causes political friction, and leads to many of the major events of the books. The world is well drawn and one of seeming decadence – the richer barons etc become quickly addicted to this substance, and use it to excess, but Paul finds it is a necessary part of the indigenous Fremens’ existence, and comes to discover its powers for himself. There are other groups who play a big part in the story – the mysterious Bene Gesserit who appear to hold such power and control.
I myself was particularly fascinated by the descriptions of Paul and his mother learning to live with the harsh conditions of the planet, and the worms which live out in the desert wastes. These massive creatures are beautifully brought to life and do not merely seem big 2-dimensional monsters. I did however find some of the bad guys a little two-dimensional such as the baron. You never really see into his character and background sufficiently, nor his henchmen who are out to corrupt and kill the Duke. The main characters Paul and his mother, and the Fremen they run into, are for the most part living, real characters and I could really empathise with them. Some of the descriptions really convey the pain and anger or whatever emotion is prevalent at the time – for instance when Paul has to go through a ritual to determine his worth near the start of the tale.
For anyone who has not yet read the book (and many of my generation will know the tale only from the film made many years ago) it is definitely worth a look. I found it far more absorbing than the film, with better representations of the planet and its inhabitants. I was not too daunted by the sheer size of the tome, though the descriptions did sometimes slow the pace down a bit too much. Loved it, thoroughly recommended.

Reviewed by Vicky Cook Nov-2007 Published by Gollancz

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James Herbert

ASH by James Herbert

The eponymous David Ash, detective of the paranormal, is hired through his employers the Psychical Research Institute to investigate strange goings-on at a place called Comraich Castle. This, he learns, is a “Retreat” where the sufficiently wealthy ( and they need to be very wealthy indeed ) can withdraw from the world at large – as often as not to escape the consequences of their past misdeeds – and live out their lives in luxury, comfort and safety without anyone knowing where they are. It also transpires that the wealthy can be provided with a hiding place for relatives whom they wish, or need, to conceal: the mad, the bad and the just plain embarrassing. The castle is run by a secret cabal allegedly set up a couple of centuries ago with the connivance of the Royal Family of the time. Since then it has grown in power and influence and, being privy to the guilty secrets of the highest in the land, is effectively outside the law. It even arranges political assassinations on behalf of the Government. Unfortunately, it is becoming apparent that the Castle is haunted, although that is scarcely an adequate word to describe the situation. A brutal incident in its history resulted in a curse being placed upon it and the resulting evil influence has grown and festered through the years and is now being magnified and channelled through some of its less sane inhabitants. There have been one or two strange incidents, but it is the unpleasantly bloody death of one of the paying guests that has led to outside help being sought. As Ash arrives, it all begins to escalate. During dinner one evening the food on everyone’s plate turns to maggots halfway through the meal, causing widespread panic as those who have already eaten them find flies hatching in their stomachs. Things then go from bad to worse, with people being dismembered, torn to pieces by wild animals, blown to smithereens, burned alive, etcetera, etcetera, all described in graphic detail. Ash’s encounters with rats and quite large spiders en route to his escape from the castle almost pale in comparison. The unpleasantness of these various set pieces is an essential constituent of this kind of modern horror novel. It is almost a pleasure to see so many thoroughly nasty individuals receiving their just desserts, which provides a kind of rationale for the more horrific aspects of the story. At the same time, there is a conspiracy theory side to it which is highly intriguing, providing as it does contrived explanations for a number of the mysteries and unexplained disappearances of recent and, in some cases, not-so-recent history. It should be said however that the inclusion of at least some of these subsidiary plot elements, referring to real people, may be of questionable taste. Be that as it may, this aspect certainly makes the book into something more than a mere tale of horror or the supernatural. It is, in all honesty, not the best-written book ever. It is over-elaborate, chunks of exposition are almost forced in here and there, the dialogue can be suspect and some situations and subsidiary characters are clearly shoehorned in just to provide further opportunities to disgust the susceptible reader. Thus it is longer than it needed to be. If, however, one can overlook these faults, it is possible to be quite enthralled by the story and the way it all works out, which may broadly speaking be predictable, although the ending includes a couple of unexpected twists. A reader with a broader range of interest than merely the most rigorous SF will find much of interest.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Oct-2012 Published by Macmillan

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Brian Herbert & Kevin J Anderson

HOUSE CORRINO by Brian Herbert & Kevin J Anderson

This is the final volume in the “ prequel trilogy” to DUNE, the first two volumes of which I have already reviewed in these pages. What can I add to what I have said before - that it is written well enough but not as well as the late Frank Herbert would have written it, and probably different from what he would have written anyway.
As it is, what we have is a tediously long (about 1800 pages in all) account of how several people got to where we already knew they were going to be anyway. There is, of course, a lot of new material, but whether any of it is necessary or worthwhile remains open to argument. Personally, I have found it fairly interesting, but I doubt that I shall attempt to remember it all, or to reread these books, next time I feel like reading DUNE again.
I have also managed to put my finger on one fault that has made me uneasy throughout: that the books are divided into chapters of, on average, about six or so pages, each successive chapter dealing with a different character or narrative thread.
Since there are about ten of these running concurrently it makes for an irritatingly choppy style and one is tempted to dodge back and forth in search of a decent degree of continuity. One does in fact feel a distinct lack of a coherent narrative thread or a significant underlying message.
To sum up: if you really want to read this you may not be too disappointed, but if you need someone else to decide for you - don't bother.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Nov-2001 Published by Hodder

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PRELUDE TO DUNE: HOUSE ATREIDES by Brian Herbert & Kevin J Anderson

When Frank Herbert died in 1986 he had already started work on a seventh novel in his Dune series. Now Brian Herbert, in collaboration with Kevin J. Anderson, has taken on the continuation of his father’s work, but instead of that seventh book they have chosen to write a prequel trilogy beginning some forty years before that first epochal novel. (There is a hint that the seventh book may be completed also at some later date.)
Brian Herbert has obviously immersed himself totally in the saga of Dune and this new volume dovetails perfectly with those already published. The original Dune gave a sense of historical background and from one point of view it is interesting to see where in this background the characters are coming from and how the alliances and rivalries that shaped events in that book came to be.
The earlier lives of several characters who become major players in Dune (Duke Leto, Baron Harkonnen, Liet Kynes, Duncan Idaho, Emperor Shaddam, etc.) are followed and doubtless subsequent volumes will fill in the gaps still remaining. However, it must never be forgotten that it is not Frank Herbert recounting these events and there is no guarantee that they are exactly what was in his subconscious over thirty-five years ago. One has to wonder whether it is right for another hand to take up the pen that he was forced to lay down, however high the motives with which it is done.
I have to say that neither Brian Herbert nor Kevin Anderson seems to be a writer of the calibre of the late Frank Herbert. The book is put together very well and the actual writing is competent and very readable, but the sheer depth which made Dune a milestone in SF, a ground-breaking novel which won both Hugo and Nebula awards, is not there. Nevertheless, despite the reservations I have expressed, it is an interesting and worthwhile addition to the Dune saga.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Sep-2000 Published by NEL

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PRELUDE TO DUNE: HOUSE HARKONNEN by Brian Herbert & Kevin J Anderson

Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson here continue the work they began in HOUSE ATREIDES and will conclude in a third volume still to come - the prehistory of Frank Herbert’s DUNE saga. I said when I reviewed the earlier volume that it was “an interesting and worthwhile addition to the Dune saga “, but on reflection, and having waded through another six hundred pages, I find I am not so sure.
The point is, after all, that DUNE was begun with the characters and situations already in existence and fully- formed. One never wondered why characters in the book were the way they were or how they got there, but simply took everything as a given. It is now moderately interesting to read about events in the preceding years but, as I hinted before, there must be doubts as to how close this back story is to what Frank Herbert would have written himself if he had lived long enough and ever wanted to do it.
Having said that, this book, like its predecessor, is well enough written, but lo-o-ong. I found it somewhat tedious as the various characters progressed their lives without actually seeming to get anywhere. The trouble is of course that one has already read DUNE and one knows where and how they are going to end up anyway. Why, then, is it necessary to go through such an excruciatingly lengthy account of events which turn out to be of only moderate importance?
If you are desperate to have every scrap of writing connected in any way with the Dune story, or if you want a good long book to read and are not too bothered what it is, maybe this is for you. Not otherwise.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Jun-2001 Published by NEL

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THE BUTLERIAN JIHAD by Brian Herbert & Kevin J Anderson

Having completed the ‘Prelude to Dune’ trilogy these two writers now embark on a ‘Legends of Dune’ trilogy of which this is Volume 1. Set ten thousand years earlier it begins the story of the overthrow of the sentient and self-aware Artificial Intelligence which sought to dominate the known universe, enslaving or destroying all humanity in the process. Clearly Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics had been forgotten.
Although, once started, the story rattles along at a reasonable pace and just about manages to hold the interest, it is not really all that good and the book suffers from an inconclusive ending obviously intended to induce us to buy the succeeding volumes - the story is not finished and various issues remain unresolved. Meanwhile armadas of spaceships have done battle, huge fighting machines have wrought vast swathes of destruction and millions of people have come to a painful and messy end as whole planets (including Earth ) are destroyed.
In fact, as I read the first few chapters I almost thought ‘Doc’ Smith had come to life again.
I find it hard to escape the impression that Herbert and Anderson, not to mention their publishers, are riding the gravy train, trading on the ‘Dune’ name and getting words on paper as quickly as possible before it hits the buffers.
The very first sentence in the book says that history has no beginning and there are always earlier heroes. But are these histories, these heroes, Frank Herbert's own? I could never really feel that they are and it does not seem right for someone else to attempt to create them, particularly when that someone else is unable to reproduce the depth and power of his original work.
The main trouble with this book is that it lacks depth, it is all surface and no substance. To paraphrase what I have said before about these efforts - if you really want to read every word you can find about the ‘Dune’ saga you may enjoy this, but if you need someone to decide for you whether to read it or not my advice is: don't bother.

Reviewed by Michael Jones May-2003 Published by NEL

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THE ROAD TO DUNE by Brian Herbert & Kevin J Anderson

The late, great Frank Herbert seems to have been one of those people who never throw away any piece of paper with any form of words on it and when he died in 1986 he left an enormous archive of letters, notes, drafts, chapters, outlines etc., much of it concerned with his DUNE novels. His son Brian has devoted himself to studying all this material and has, as well as a biography of his father, produced two trilogies of prequel novels co-written with Kevin J. Anderson. I have reviewed several of them in these pages and found myself less than overwhelmed, so much so that I made a point of avoiding the last couple.
Now they have come up with this, which is for the most part more specifically based upon the material left behind by Frank. It divides fairly simply into four sections: starting from the back of the book, these are – Firstly (or lastly, I should perhaps say ) four of their own short stories. One of these is the first story they wrote together based on the DUNE saga; it is connected to the events in the original book and is quite a good tale. The remainder are connected to their own later novels and I found them to contain little of either interest or merit.
Secondly, a baker’s dozen of scenes and chapters written by Frank but omitted from the novel as finally published, together with a further four deleted from the first sequel DUNE MESSIAH. It is explained that these scenes were trimmed from DUNE for the original magazine publication to make it fit better into the editor’s requirements for the lengths of the instalments, but were never reinstated for the subsequent book publication. Presumably, Frank would have had the opportunity to do so but decided against it, and his decision must be accorded some significance. Indeed, one can sometimes see why he chose not to bother bringing them back. Some clearly do not fit and would have had to be extensively revised; nevertheless they are on the whole illuminating and helpful if read in conjunction with the original book(s). Here on their own, however, they are somewhat out-of-place.
Next, a series of letters and notes recounting the original conception of DUNE and the processes of getting it published, first as a serial in ANALOG and then, after many unsuccessful attempts, in book form. This part is perhaps of some interest to an SF historian, but the ordinary day-to-day reader (even an SF reader ) will probably find it less than fascinating.
Last, but not least, a full-length (220 pages) novel entitled SPICE PLANET put together from outlines and drafts left by Frank Herbert himself. I did wonder whether it was in fact the mythical ‘seventh DUNE novel’ which has previously been mentioned elsewhere, but this is not made clear and may not be the case.
What it is, is a preliminary version of DUNE, abandoned by the author while still far from complete. He then started all over again with a radically different concept. Reading it, I was constantly comparing it in my mind with the infinitely better real thing of which this is a pale shadow, looking for familiar characters and events and mentally correlating them with what ‘really’ happened. In comparison it seemed a trivial work, shorter and lacking the depth and subtlety of the final version, and not nearly so complex, engrossing and well-written.
All-in-all, this book stands in relation to the original novel like the bonus disc you get with the ‘Director’s Cut’ of a movie on DVD. There are the deleted scenes, the production notes, the ‘making of’ documentary and even the original release version. Nobody would want the bonus disc without the feature, many would not want it at all, and few would bother with it more than once – all of which comments I feel apply equally to THE ROAD TO DUNE. I hope I have explained enough to enable you to decide which category you fall into – I will only add that rather than a book to be enjoyed in its own right by a casual reader this is more one to be studied by a dedicated DUNE enthusiast who may find something worthwhile in it.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Oct-2005 Published by Hodder & Stoughton

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Adam Higginbotham

MIDNIGHT AT CHERNOBYL The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham

(also includes CHERNOBYL: A Sky TV Series, now available on DVD/Blu-ray. Approximately 5 hours)
There can be few who have not heard of Chernobyl, but how many have heard of Chelyabinsk, an installation so secret that it appeared on no maps? So, clearly, the massive explosion that took place there on September 29th 1957, producing fallout over fifty kilometres of Northern Russia and exposing half a million people to dangerous levels of radioactivity, never happened. (Coincidentally this was just a month before a fire at Windscale in northwest England had similar though less catastrophic results.) Dozens of dangerous incidents occurred inside Soviet nuclear facilities over the decades that followed, not one of which was ever publicly admitted by the authorities.
This is the background against which the Soviets embarked upon a massive programme of reactor building. The story told in this book essentially begins with the establishment of an entirely new settlement – an atomgrad, or “atomic city” - in Ukraine, with accommodation for the thousands of workers to build and operate a massive power station with four huge nuclear reactors. This was the Chernobyl plant, and the nearby city was Pripyat. A tale then unfolds of faulty design, shoddy and inadequate materials, slipshod construction, corner-cutting and careless operating procedures, all concealed by typical Soviet secrecy and obfuscation. In other words, an accident waiting to happen. And if it had not happened there, it would have been in one of the many other plants where the same reactor design was employed – indeed, there had been several occurrences already, although all were typically classed as state secrets and none fortunately were as serious as what happened to Reactor Number Four at Chernobyl on April 26th 1986. (Was it really so long ago?)
Higginbotham's book is a scholarly account of what happened, before and after, built up from a combination of personal interviews with the people involved and an incredible amount of research through documentation which until recently was secret. (There is a lot more which still remains unseen.) In fact, just over a hundred pages of the book are devoted to a list giving the source of virtually every statement or assertion made, guaranteeing an authenticity which until recently would have been impossible to achieve, backed up by an eighteen-page bibliography.
The core of Reactor Number Four had been destroyed by a catastrophic explosion. At first the authorities refused to admit that any such thing had happened, then attempted to conceal its magnitude, then claimed that it was under control. In fact fire was still raging uncontrollably, while within two days radioactive fallout had been detected in Sweden, the fire had been photographed by a US satellite and within a week it was known worldwide that something serious had occurred. Despite this the authorities continued to play it down before finally being forced to admit that it was too big to conceal. Orders were given to evacuate a 30-kilometre danger zone which included the city of Pripyat and the surrounding area and a massive operation to bring the situation under some sort of control and clean up after it was begun. Eventually the remains of the reactor were enclosed and the area around became a permanent exclusion zone. The whole process, including the apportioning of blame and the punishing of the guilty, is described in some detail and various fascinating facts emerge, one of the most striking of which is the estimated cost to date - $128 billion. Also, that this event contributed in no small measure to the collapse of the Soviet Union as it had existed hitherto.
In parallel, as it were, with the book is the Sky TV series which presents a visual interpretation of the same events. The same basic story is there, although some things have probably been adjusted and dramatised to suit the different medium of presentation. The production is truly remarkable: it is hard to believe that it was not actually filmed on the spot so good are the reconstructions of the exploding reactor and the surrounding devastation. Where it does excel of course is in presenting to the viewer scenes which might otherwise be left to the imagination – an unwitting fireman picking up a chunk of radioactive burning graphite ejected from the exploding core; local people standing watching the fire from the town and being showered in radioactive dust falling like snow; three volunteers wading waist deep in contaminated water to open a sluice valve under the reactor building; the luckless citizens of Pripyat queueing with what they could carry to sustain them for an absence which they were told would only be for a few days and boarding a fleets of buses, not knowing where they were going or that they would never return home; the burial of bodies sealed in lead coffins and encased in concrete and above all the sight of people suffering the agony and death of radiation sickness.
Perhaps the most telling image is however a photograph in the book of a mass of what came to be known as corium: a solidified lump containing tonnes of silicon dioxide, titanium, zirconium, magnesium and uranium from the melted core, a mass so dangerous that to stand looking at it for five minutes would lead to an inescapable and agonising death. And this is only part of 1000 or so tonnes of core material, including 135 tonnes of uranium, which is now lying about at the bottom of where the reactor used to be. Fortunately, it is sufficiently spread out to hold no danger of becoming active again. Probably. But it will remain dangerously unapproachable for years, or centuries, to come.
It is difficult to recommend which is better – the book or the TV series. Probably it comes down in the end to personal preference, although each may have its part to play in providing an understanding of what a disaster this was. It is interesting to speculate as to what extent the story of Chernobyl might fuel the objections of the anti-nuclear brigade: what is certain is that it could in fact have been much, much worse, almost on a global scale. That it was ultimately brought under some sort of control is to a degree the result of a profligate use of machinery, materials and resources, especially including manpower, which was possible in Soviet Russia but might not be so easy elsewhere – perhaps even here in the UK. What is not in doubt is that everybody should either read or watch the story of what happened once and might happen again in a place less able to deploy the resources to cope with it. (Fukushima anyone?) Michael Jones

Reviewed by Dec-2019 Published by Bantam Press

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Joe Hill

HEART-SHAPED BOX by Joe Hill

The novel is supernatural horror but the themes running through it are music, guilt and redemption. The main character, Jude Coyne is an ageing rock musician who has had a string of young girlfriends, all of which he names after the state they come from. His current one is Georgia who was a performer in a sleazy nightclub. His band spit up after the deaths of two of the members though he still writes music. He feels guilty that they die and not him.
Jude is a known collector of occult ephemera. When he is offered a ghost via an internet auction site he cannot resist, even though he thinks it is probably a scam. In exchange for his money, he is sent a suit of clothes purported to be haunted by the ghost of the previous owner. It arrives in a heart-shaped box reminiscent of the ones containing chocolates his father used to buy his mother and in which she kept her sewing stuff. When it arrives, Georgia pricks her thumb on a pin hidden in it. Later, strange things start to happen. Danny, Jude's personal assistant, discovers that the woman who sold the haunted suit is the sister of Jude's previous girlfriend. A depressive, Florida killed herself after Jude had sent her back to her sister because he felt it was the best thing for her and he couldn't cope with her mood swings any longer. The ghost is Craddock, Florida's step-father, who is determined to kill Jude and anyone who offers him help. He proves it by persuading Danny to hang himself. Florida's sister, Jessica, claims that Craddock's motive is retribution, saying that it was Jude's treatment of her sister that caused her suicide. This gives Jude another reason to feel guilty and at the same time increases his vulnerability to Craddock's influence.
Driven from their home, Jude and Georgia embark on a wild drive to try and survive and find a way of laying the malevolent spirit.
Music pervades the whole novel. It is not just that Jude is a musician; he also hinds that the best way to banish the influence of the ghost from his mind is to fill the space with music. Florida had once told him that Craddock never allowed music to be played in the car when they travelled. Music was obviously a significant factor in Hill's approach to writing this book. It is of note that the 'Heart-Shaped Box' is a track from Nirvana. Kurt Cobain was an influence in Jude's early career. He also played with Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. The titles of the first two sections in the novel, 'Black Dog' and 'Ride On' are tracks from these two bands. One wonders what Hill had on his turntable when he was writing the book.
This is an excellent debut novel. The characters are well developed, with believable backgrounds which influence their actions. From the start, the tempo is fast, the plot consistent and the tension builds to a crescendo in the third section. If he continues to write this well, Hill has a high-profile future ahead of him.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Sep-2007 Published by Gollancz

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It is an open secret that Joe Hill is the son of acclaimed horror writer Stephen King. Here he sets out in his father's footsteps with the story of Jude Coyne, an aging and largely retired rock star who has survived the deaths of fellow hand members and now lives quietly with a young Goth girlfriend, two big dogs and a collection of macabre relics. When the opportunity presents itself to buy an actual ghost to add to his collection of the weird and occult he does not hesitate and soon finds himself the owner of a dead man's Sunday suit, to which his spirit is supposedly attached, delivered in the heart-shaped box of the title.
As it turns out, this is a set-up, deliberately contrived by the owner of the suit before he died. He was the step- father of a previous girlfriend who killed herself after being parted from Jude, and the sale of the suit and attached ghost has been arranged by the girl's older sister. The object is to wreak vengeance on Jude by destroying him and anyone close to him. The book therefore relates the story of how nearly this plot succeeds and how desperately Jude and his girl have to fight back, eventually discovering the final unexpected perversion which will stand the whole situation on its head and ensure their survival. The escalating tension has built so well that at times it has been genuinely hard to believe that the main protagonists really will survive and even knowing (or assuming) that they must, the reader is still concerned how much they will be damaged by the end - quite a lot as it turns out.
The difficulty with this kind of story is defining how the paranormal world is to be able to interact with the real world without transgressing the limits of the plausible and that is where I felt this book fell down at times. A reader has to be able to accept that everything that happens is logical and consistent or it all begins to unravel, and there are several things which to me just did not make believable sense (although this may be a curious claim from an enthusiastic reader of books about a flat world supported on the backs of four giant eleph… - well, you get the idea;. The impression is that Hill invented scenes with more concern for appearance and effect than for progressing the plot.
That aside, there is no doubt this is an excellently constructed story, with well-drawn characters and well- developed situations, and the rock music background gives an impression of authenticity. If one can accept it on its own terms it is very good, although I felt it was longer than it needed to be.
Reviewed by Michael Jones Jul-2008 Published by Gollancz

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HORNS by Joe Hill

There are not many books that are exquisite in conception and execution. HORNS is a rare one.
A year after the rape and murder of his girlfriend Merrin, Ig Perrish spends the night drunk and doing unspeakable things. He wakes up to find that he has grown horns. He discovers that not only do people seem unaware of the horns but they confess all the wicked things they would like to do and ask him if it is okay to do a particular sinful thing. His current girlfriend tells him she wants to get fat so that he will leave her, then asks permission to eat a whole box of doughnuts. Looking for help, the receptionist at the hospital tells him all the things she would like to do to the mother of a screaming child, and asks his permission. He gives it and stands back to watch the mayhem.
He learns unpleasant truths from his family, the people he thought were supportive when Merrin was killed. Most of them think he did it. Then he discovers that skin contact with others transfers their darkest secrets to him. In this way he discovers what really happened on the night Merrin died. Then he wants revenge.
Superficially, this could be described as a horror-fantasy novel. It is also a very poignant, character-driven novel about the effects the death of the woman he loves can have on a man. Horns have different meanings in different cultures, so does the concept of the devil. Many of these are explored here. Just as life has many different facets, so does this novel. There is humour and betrayal, the joys of young love as well as a certain amount of grue. What it is not, is predictable.
There are unexpected twists in the structure of the plot as the truth is revealed.
Whatever you normally like reading, give HORNS a go. If nothing else, you will enjoy the sheer quality of the writing.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Mar-2010 Published by Gollancz

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Robin Hobb

CITY OF DRAGONS by Robin Hobb

There are times when a book that you know is probably the second of a trilogy ends with a feeling of satisfaction, of ideas achieved. Similarly, there are third volumes of a trilogy that leave so many threads hanging that there has to be another. Robin Hobb usually writes trilogies though many of them are set in the same fantasy world and may contain overlapping characters. The Rain Wild Chronicles began with THE DRAGON KEEPER. The dragon Tintaglia had steered the sea serpents to the cocooning grounds but instead of fully fledged dragons emerging from them, the resulting hatchlings were deformed and unable to fend for themselves. As a result young people were chosen to look after them and accompany them up the Rain Wild River a suitable place to settle. In the sequel, DRAGON HAVEN, the dragons and their keepers arrived at the ruined but mythical city of Kelsingra where once upon a time dragons and Elderlings had dwelt side by side. Their goal was achieved, characters had discovered their strengths; some had found love. Life was going to be hard, but together they could make it work. A good end for a book. CITY OF DRAGONS is the third in the series. Kelsingra is on the other side of a raging river and it never seems to stop raining. The dragons are permanently hungry, and grumpy. They have developed on their journey up river but only one can fly. Rapskal’s dragon, Heeby, is willing to carry Alise across so that she can explore and record the dead city. She is a woman fascinated by anything to do with dragons and used them as an excuse to flee her abusive sodomite of a husband but she is also aware that as soon as the wider world find out that Kelsingra has been discovered, vultures will descend and strip its treasures. Any Elderling artefact, because of its rarity, fetches a high price. This, she is sure, 7
will happen all too soon, especially as Leftrin, captain of the liveship Tarman and Alise’s lover has to go back down stream to collect the pay of the dragon keepers and buy supplies to make their new life a little more comfortable. The city, however, has surprises for everyone. Hobb’s novels are never straightforward. The main narrative thrust (what happens to the dragons and their keepers) is entangled with the lives of others. The dying Duke of Chalced believes dragon parts will cure him and the tentacles of his empire are far reaching. In fear of his life, Alise’s husband is forced to travel upriver in search of the dragons. Tintaglia’s three Elderlings are in danger; Seldon is being exhibited as a freak in a carnival show and because he exhibits dragon scaling on his skin the unscrupulous want to pass off parts of him as true dragon parts to earn the Duke’s reward. The other two, Malta and Reyn, and their expected child face the same kind of dangers. All the threads of this novel are heading in one direction – towards Kelsingra. The frustrating part is that there has to be a further novel to complete the cycle. Hobb is a fine writer who builds detailed worlds and characters and weaves compelling plots, the kind who makes you wish for more. For a newcomer to her work, it would be better to start with the first volume of this set so that all the nuances of the plot become clear.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Dec-2012 Published by HarperVoyager

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DRAGON HAVEN by Robin Hobb

The best of Robin Hobb’s fantasy novels are internally consistent: they have an internal logic that makes sense within the parameters that she sets. There is magic but it is subtle, not some powerful force that can be wielded by a practitioner of the dark arts. The magic contained here is possessed by dragons. These dragons are effectively sentient aliens that can have a symbiotic relationship with humans. There is a sense, though, that the world belonged to dragons before there were humans around. But that was a very, very long time ago.
There is a lot that humans do not know about their world, that they are only just beginning to discover: the life cycle of dragons for example. They hatch on islands and the juvenile state of the creature is a semi-aware sea serpent.
Then, travelling up the Rain Wild River, they make cocoons on particular beaches and emerge fully formed dragons. At least, that is what is supposed to happen.
In THE DRAGON KEEPER, the first book of this particular series, the last dragon, Tintaglia, has rounded up the last sea-serpents and led them to the cocooning grounds. Unfortunately, those that do emerge are deformed, unable to fly or care for themselves. The local people attempt to feed them but they are a burden on the small provincial town. A group of misfits has been detailed to look after the dragons on their way up river in search of the legendary city of Kelsingra, which some of the dragons remember from their ancestral memories.
When DRAGON HAVEN opens, they are well on their way and the tensions between the mixed group of travellers is already present. City-bred Sedric wants to gather some dragon parts and head back downriver to make his fortune and elope with Alise’s husband. Alise is falling in love with the river barge captain and is torn between her duty and her heart. Greft, one of the dragon keepers is trying to claim leadership of the party. Jess, a hunter is not above blackmail to achieve his ends.
The stresses are compounded when a surge in the river’s water sweeps all away. While most of the dragons manage to wedge themselves amongst the trees until the waters subside, dragons and keepers are separated or lost. For several characters, this is a turning point, discovering what they really want. As they travel onwards it becomes clear that not only have attitudes changed, but so have the dragons and their keepers, not just mentally but physically as well.
This is an excellent, fast-paced novel with characters that exist on many levels. It is not just an adventure in a fantasy world, but adds to the knowledge of this world that Hobb has visited many times before – in nine other novels.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Jul-2010 Published by Voyager

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RENEGADE’S MAGIC by Robin Hobb

This is the third volume of a trilogy which started with SHAMAN’S CROSSING and continued in THE FOREST MAGE. It is the story of Nevare Burrvelle. As a second son he is destined by law to be a soldier. The first volume follows his training and his first encounters with magic, the second with his fall from grace.
The Eastern boundary of the country of Gernia is a range of mountains inhabited by a people commonly known as Specks. The Great Ones of the Specks are literally that. The fatter you are, the more magic your body can hold. On death they are absorbed into trees and can still communicate with living Great Ones. To build a road through the mountains, the Gernians are cutting down these trees. The magic of the land objects to this so has turned Nevare into a Great One with the expectation that he will find a solution to the problem. To this end, Nevare’s soul was divided so that he was able to learn both Gernian and Speck ways. By the start of Renegade’s Magic, the two parts of him have been reunited in one body, but have not merged into one mind. The fight for control of the body by the two parts of him – Nevare the Gernian and Soldier’s boy, the Speck - mirrors the conflict between the two peoples. A resolution of either does not seem possible.
Robin Hobb has written some superb, long trilogies in the past. This is not her finest. There are some interesting ideas about magic and the rights and wrongs of conflict but there is too much of the philosophy. The book would have benefited from a good prune. This book, however, should not be read in isolation. It is essential that the prvious two volumes are read first.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Jun-2009 Published by Voyager

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SHAMAN’S CROSSING Book One of The Soldier Son Trilogy by Robin Hobb

Robin Hobb has made her reputation in writing large, complex fantasy novels. This is the first of her latest series and is set in a completely different world from any of the others. She has taken the old concept that the first born son inherited, the second entered the army and the third entered the Church, and hardwired it into her society.
After a successful war, the king of Gernia elevated some of his soldier officers to the nobility, granting them land, titles and equal status with their elder brothers. In some areas, particularly the capital, this is an immediate recipe for tension. Nevare Burvelle, the second or soldier son of one of the new nobles, is the narrator of this volume. He grows up out in the countryside, well away from the politics of state. At one point, in order to teach Nevare the ways of the enemy, his father puts him into the hands a defeated native shaman. The shaman agrees to train the boy but has his own agenda. Although the results are not exactly what his father expected, Nevare does learn some useful survival skills but is also introduced to some of the native mysteries.
Later, Nevare is sent to the academy to learn the skills required of a cavalry officer. It is here that he discovers the penalties of being part of the new nobility. The life at the academy is not meant to be easy but he and the cadets from similar backgrounds find they are targeted for punishment more frequently than the old nobles sons.
The novel has limitations because it is being narrated by a youth who has never been involved in politics and has been brought up well away from them. The background to his situation is given to us in large chunks as he would have learnt as history in the school room. He is the butt of the situation rather than being in the centre of the intrigues. The section in the desert with the shaman is the most interesting part of the volume as it introduces the element of magic that doesn’t come to the forefront of the action until much later. We are given hints that this episode in Nevare’s life is important but until the end it’s relevance is obscure.
It is unfortunate that much of this volume is spent within the academy as this is a very familiar plot element with all the stereotypes one would expect from a boarding school situation. The writing, though, is confident and mostly the reader is carried along by the plot. It does not, however, come up to the standard expected of a Hobb novel.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan May-2006 Published by HarperCollins

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THE DRAGON KEEPER by Robin Hobb

This is the first of a new trilogy set in the world of the Farseer, Live Ships and Tawney Man trilogies. It is set in the Rain Wild River where a tangle of sea serpents have made a perilous journey to the cocooning grounds, the first in generations.
Many have died along the way. But the creatures which emerge from the cocoons are not the powerful, shining dragons of old. Stunted and deformed, they cannot fly and become an intolerable burden to the Rain Wilder River inhabitants.
Not only are the dragons changed by the hostile conditions of the area, so too are many of the human inhabitants. One of which is Thymara who should have been exposed at birth and left to die.
She is fascinated by the return of dragons and when there is a call for Dragon Keepers to aid them to find their lost ancestral home, she and a group of other mutant misfits volunteer.
The other main character is Alise Finbok who due to an unhappy childhood and even more unhappy marriage has devoted herself to the study of artifacts relating to dragons. Invoking a clause in her marriage contract, she journeys upriver to study and talk to the dragons arriving just in time to join their expedition. Accompanying her as an aid, companion and chaperon is Sedric, a longtime friend and now secretary to her husband. He has his own agenda.
Supporting the travellers is the liveship Tarman, and its captain, Leftrin who is developing an amorous interest in Alise.
While the book is a completely new and standalone adventure, and as such it is unnecessary to read the previous books, it does follow on from events in the previous series and as such knowledge of these could add to the reader’s enjoyment. However, that said, the book is very enjoyable and I look forward to reading the next part of their stories in volume 2.
Reviewed by Jim Pearce May-2010 Published by HarperCollins

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After an excursion, Robin Hobb has returned to the world in which she set the Farseer, Live Ships and Tawny Man series. Although there are familiar elements, such as the live ships (which are constructed from wizardwood and have sentience) and the dragon Tintaglia (who found a mate at the end of the Tawny Man trilogy) THE DRAGON KEEPER is the start of a separate trilogy, making it unnecessary to read the other books first.
As part of her payment for defending the town against Chalcedian raiders, Tintaglia struck a bargain with the Traders of Bingtown. What had not previously been known was that dragon eggs hatched into sea serpents. These, when fully grown, should have made their way up the Rain Wild River to the cocooning grounds. Inside the cocoons, the serpents changed into dragons. The cocoons were the wizardwood that the liveships were constructed from. In making the ships, thousands of dragons were unknowingly destroyed. With Tintaglia’s help, the last sea serpents are rounded up and led to the cocooning grounds by Cassarick. However, they do not have enough time to develop properly and when they emerge they all have some degree of deformity. They need constant feeding.
Alise Kincarron once resigned herself to spinsterhood but when she is courted by Hest
Finbok, a rich eligible bachelor, she agrees to marry him. All her dreams of a romantic marriage die as he spends very little time with her. Instead, she devotes her time to studying dragons and the Elderlings that used to share their cities with the intelligent beasts. Finally, in despair over her neglect by her husband, she invokes a clause in the marriage contract to go upriver to see and talk to the dragons. She arrives just as they are being moved out, up-river in search of the mythical city of Kelsingra, a place of which the dragons have vague ancestral memories.
This novel is an excellent beginning for a trilogy that has the makings of a worthy companion set to the other novels set in this world. Already there are tensions and misunderstandings. The dragons are arrogant and their keepers hard pressed to keep up with them. Alise and Thymara, a Rain Wilds girl and one of the dragon keepers, are both beginning to shake off the shackles of their respective upbringings and develop the characters that have hitherto been suppressed. All the characters find themselves in a situation that brings out the best and the worst in each of them. The only downside is the obvious reason why Hest only wanted a show wife. Nevertheless, I look forward to reading volume two.
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Apr-2010 Published by Harper/Voyager

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Robin Hobb & Megan Lindholm

THE INHERITANCE by Robin Hobb & Megan Lindholm

THE INHERITANCE is a collection of short fantasy stories and novellas by Robin Hobb (RH) and Megan Lindholm (ML) who are, for those of us who were unaware, one and the same person. The stories have been written in two very different styles both in length and content. Those from ML are much shorter and set within widely different backgrounds, while those from RH are of novella length and take place in her Six Duchies world in which she has set three trilogies plus the Rain Wild Chronicles of which only two volumes are currently available.
Of ML’s stories I particularly like “Silver Lady and the Fortyish Man” in which an aspiring but failing writer reduced to working in a Sears department store meets a pleasant looking, somewhat tubby, balding, fortyish man who introduces himself as Merlin and changes her life.
“Finis” is a vampire story but with an interesting difference; while “Strays” is the tale of how a neglected and put- upon warrior princess metamorphoses into a queen and hopefully a much better life.
The RL novellas include the “Inheritance” from which the volume is named and relates the manner in which a ‘wizardwood’ pendant contrives to enable a young woman to gain revenge for her grandmother on the man who destroyed her life and fortune; but not in the way she expected: wizardwood being the cocoon in which sea serpents change into dragons. Over a long period of time, because of the magic of the dragons, this wood becomes sentient. See the Liveship Traders trilogy and the Rain Wild Chronicles. Also by RH is my favorite story, which is “Homecoming” and describes the desperate trials and tribulations of the first settlers in the Rain Wild Valley which tear apart many relationships while building some unlikely ones.
While I am not a great fan of short stories, THE INHERITANCE is a collection I greatly enjoyed as I have all of Robin Hobb’s work that I have read.

Reviewed by Jim Pearce Jun-2011 Published by HarperCollins

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Mark Hodder

A RED SUN ALSO RISES by Mark Hodder

I really enjoyed this book. Not at first. I'm not terrifically keen on Steam Punk, the Victorian style of writing, or Jack the Ripper and I didn't warm to the point of view character, which usually signals the end of my interest in a book. A reminder email from the newsletter editor caused me to plunge back into the book and a combination of excellent writing, a fascinating planet and a steady improvement in the PoV kept me reading, with increasing urgency to the satisfying end at which point I was ignoring my friends in a very rude manner in order to reach the conclusion.
I guess this book could be characterised as a blend of Steam Punk and Planetary Romance with fascinating aliens and a strong ecological message. The point of view character, Aiden Fleischer, followed his father into the church and made a really poor job of it. A weak, ineffectual man, he has none of the abilities necessary to enter the ministry, not even faith.
When we meet him he is stumbling towards an embarrassing infatuation with a young woman that is manipulated by her father into blackmail.
In truth, I had no desire to get to know this man any better or any sympathy for his predicament.
What kept me interested was the entrance onto the stage of Clarissa Stark, crippled, intellectually superior and ultimately Aiden's salvation. His small act of charity, to employ her as his sexton, changes both of their lives.
Aiden's lack of judgement in his parish results in him 'running away' to become a missionary. Thus, a man who could not enthuse already convinced Christians, goes forth to try to convince the natives of a small tropical island, in particular its witch doctor, to turn to Christ.
Without success. Iriputiz, the witch doctor, surreptitiously infects Aiden with a tropical fever. Iriputiz persuades Clarissa that a cure is possible in the hills where he performs a 'heathen ritual' that actually opens a portal into an alien world. At the last minute Clarissa flings herself through with Aiden.
This is the point where the book really comes to life for me. What a world! Two small yellow suns hang in the sky and monsters in the shape of giant molluscs speak of potential dissonance, the dissonance of Clarissa Stark. From this point on we become familiar with the Yatsill, the monsters, who turn out to be jolly fine chaps, especially once they learn English. Clarissa is recognised as an 'aristocrat' by the Yatsill and Aiden as one of the working class. To describe the rest of the action would be to spoil the book but as well as the joy of the Planetary Romance there is the fascination of some ecological/biological detective work, the building of a version of Victorian London, its fall, a battle and a satisfactory if open ending. And a red sun also rose. I will keep my eyes open in the hope of a sequel.

Reviewed by Yvonne Rowse Sep-2013 Published by Del Rey

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Robert Holdstock

AVILION by Robert Holdstock

AVILION is Robert Holdstock’s official sequel to MYTHAGO WOOD, which was published in 1984 and won the 1985 World Fantasy Best Novel award. The book is described as the `official’ sequel to MYTHAGO WOOD, despite the fact that Robert has written some 5 other novels, all considered part of the Mythago Wood cycle. AVILION does provide a brief overview of what has come before, so it is not absolutely crucial to have read the earlier text first, but I would suggest that it is best to do so.
I reviewed MYTHAGO WOOD last year and found it to be an enjoyable novel, more fairy tale than fantasy, with a pleasant grounding in recognisable English countryside and yet a pleasing otherworldly-ness shared by the best fairytale. As a direct sequel AVILION shares these characteristics, giving the book a comfortably familiar demeanour to anyone who has read the first one.
Not having read the intervening 5 novels I cannot comment on their stories and their relationship to AVILION; nonetheless, AVILION’s story takes place continuing directly on from MYTHAGO WOOD, so it does seem to be a direct sequel, and I did not find any lack of understanding for not having read the other novels. Central characters from the first novel take a slightly more background, but important, role in this story; instead the text focuses on the children of MYTHAGO WOOD’s main protagonist, Stephen Huxley, and his mythago partner Guiwenneth. Thus their children Jack and Yssobel are half human and half mythago, a fact which is central to AVILION’s story.
The book tells two coming-of-age tales that draw together into one story; along the way Jack will discover the real world outside of the wood, and Yssobel will meet various recognisable characters from more traditional myth. The writing itself is clean, with short, well-focussed chapters. At 342 pages one might be tempted to imagine there is some filler, but in general the story keeps up a good pace, and the text is concise without sacrificing narrative or description.
The story itself is inventive and fills its invention with solidity and depth, but sometimes feels arbitrary. The nature of the setting allows for the story to spring forth aspects out of the minds of the characters, and this can sometimes feel mildly disconnecting, although it does reinforce the fairy-tale feel. In particular, the motivations of some of the characters seem like casual whim, even when those same characters are deadly earnest about the importance of their concerns; Yssobel especially seems almost randomly flighty, and yet the most dedicated to the importance of carrying out her impulses.
In the end I found AVILION reasonably satisfying and quite enjoyable, and would be happy to recommend it to readers who enjoy a more fairy-tale style of fantasy. This series strikes me as being unlike anything else I have read, and so at least offer an original read. I would certainly recommend this book if you liked the first novel and are looking for more. That way you can see if your taste runs to this brand of fantasy, and, if so, AVILION will provide more of the same.

Reviewed by Dave Corby Oct-2009 Published by Gollancz

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MERLIN CODEX 1: CELTIKA by Robert Holdstock

What Holdstock is very good at is taking the familiar and twisting it, putting a slant all of his own on it. He did this to very effectively in the Mythago Wood series. He also has a great feeling for the misty periods in time when legends were being formed.
The narrator, Merlin, is a ‘wandering Jew’ figure, continually walking the Earth, unageing. He is nearly immortal, but not god-like. He is magic, but each time he uses his powers, he ages a little. This Merlin is very mean with his skills - he wants to stay young. He also has a strong streak of loyalty.
Merlin arrives at an ice-bound lake towards the end of the long Arctic night. From its depths, he calls the fabulous ship, Argo, and resurrects her captain, Jason. Most people are familiar with the tale of Jason's quest for the Golden fleece, though not everyone knows how his wife, Medea, killed their sons as retribution for Jason's adultery. Merlin has discovered that not only did Medea trick Jason into thinking the boys were dead but that she had hidden them well by sending them seven hundred years into their future.
Grown to manhood, they are alive now.
With the Argo rebuilt, and with a new crew, Jason is prepared anew to search for them.
5 This novel not only adds a new dimension to the classic Greek Myth, but it offers a new slant to the Merlin story. Well paced and enjoyable.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Apr-2002 Published by Earthlight

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MERLIN CODEX 1: CELTIKA / MERLIN CODEX 2: THE IRON GRAIL by Robert Holdstock

What Holdstock is very good at is taking the familiar and twisting it, putting a slant all of his own on it. He did this to very effectively in the Mythago Wood series. He also has a great feeling for the misty periods in time when legends were being formed. To understand fully what he is doing in these novels it is important for the reader to have a good grounding in mythology, especially Greek, but also that of Britain and other regions.
The narrator, Merlin, is a ‘wandering Jew’ figure, continually walking the Earth.
He is nearly immortal, but not god-like. He has magic, but each time he uses his powers, he ages a little. This Merlin is very mean with his skills - he wants to stay young. He also has a strong streak of loyalty. Merlin arrives at an ice-bound lake towards the end of the long Arctic night. From its depths, he calls the fabulous ship, Argo, and resurrects her captain, Jason.
Medea, who is one of Merlin’s kind was understandably upset when Jason’s affections turned to another woman. The legend tells us that she killed their two sons.
Jason believed this but Merlin tells us that Medea staged that scene and actually spirited the boys away, hiding them in the future. Now, seven centuries have passed and Jason is told the truth.
In CELTIKA, the first of these two novels, Jason goes in search of the first of his sons. The boy, however, now grown to manhood, hates his father and nearly kills him.
THE IRON GRAIL is Jason’s quest for his younger son. Aboard Argo, he sails into the heartland of Alba – ancient Britain. On one side of the river Nantosuelta is the territory held by Urtha, a Celtic king, on the other is the Ghostland, the home of the Dead and the Unborn. For some reason, they have banded together and invaded Urtha’s land, driving his people from their fortress. Trying to find the answers to many questions, including, Where has Medea hidden Jason’s son, Merlin, Argo and her crew have to travel deep into the Shadow lands.
These are well written, thoughtful books which blend myth as we remember it with a complex system of ideas from various sources. Both are very satisfying books to read.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Jun-2007 Published by Gollancz

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MYTHAGO WOOD by Robert Holdstock

What has not been written about a book published in 1984 that has been so well regarded and critically acclaimed, having won the 1986 World Fantasy Award and the Grand Prix de L’Imaginaire? Well, this new edition of MYTHAGO WOOD may well be familiar to many, but this reviewer, despite his not inconsiderable knowledge of fantasy, is almost embarrassed to admit to never having read this one before. So I opened it up with no small anticipation… Initially the book seemed to come across to me a bit like THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, but as written by H P Lovecraft. The hero’s wartime experience as backdrop and mysterious discovery of another world, which may not be entirely easy to enter, recall C. S. Lewis, but the altogether more sinister feeling of dark secrets leans it curiously in the Cthulhu Mythos direction. The book establishes a very strong narration; our hero has witnessed his own father’s fascination with the wood sitting on the borders of their home, and returns from WWII to find his own brother mixed up in the same obsession. It soon transpires that Ryhope Wood is clearly more than it seems and it maintains a sense of mystery throughout.
Holdstock just about has the knack of parcelling out the bits of mystical knowledge in just the right trickle to keep the reader interested, although I occasionally found it mildly frustrating to have elements that seemed as if they should be simple kept tantalisingly out of my imaginative grasp. Nonetheless the writers of the popular, but drawn-out, TV series Lost and Heroes could learn much from Holdstock’s pacing.
As the book develops, it deepens almost constantly, eventually opening up into grand vistas of hidden worlds. However, it never devolves into a genre piece; despite, or perhaps because of, the use of so many conventions of mythical stories, it remains very original, although the reader will occasionally feel as if it all should be familiar. Many of the devices employed are drawn from Celtic English myth, but the central core to the idea is far more unusual.
Some may find the book downbeat as Holdstock believes in real, sensible characters – these are human beings, with all the foibles they should have, and not typical fantasy heroes. There are no Catholic definitions of good and evil here, only nature and the inscrutable id to guide us. And this is also a strength of the writing; the hero is easily identified with – he could be any of us.
In all I found MYTHAGO WOOD to be refreshing, enjoyable, occasionally exciting and impressive by turns, but not wholly satisfying.
MYTHAGO WOOD has several `sequels’ set in the same setting, LAVONDYS (1988) and THE HOLLOWING (1993) being chief. Like MYTHAGO WOOD’s hero, I find myself thinking about delving deeper in order to uncover the core secret, but knowing secretly that the ultimate truth may possibly be forever hidden deeper

Reviewed by Dave Corby Apr-2007 Published by Gollancz

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THE BROKEN KINGS by Robert Holdstock

Robert Holdstock understands the process of myth-making, whether it is in contemporary writing or behind the tales that have passed to us from classical times. In this 3rd novel in the Merlin Codex series, as well as the previous two in the series, he is interweaving accepted myths from different cultures with constructs of his own. Most people know of the stories of Jason and the Argonauts even if they are not sure of the details. They probably know that Medea, Jason’s wife, killed their two sons when he went off with another woman. Merlin, too, is a familiar figure, though normally associated with Arthurian myth. The setting here is before Arthur’s birth but seven hundred years after Jason’s time. The common factor is the man Arthur will know as Merlin. He is a wanderer who ages only slowly and only when he uses his magic. He sailed with Jason and is now advisor to Urtha, a king of Albion. Across the river from Urtha’s fortress is the Otherworld, a place of both the dead and the unborn. Both these groups are threatening the world of the living.
At the heart of the problem is the wedding gift that Jason gave Medea. After seven hundred years, Jason and his ship, Argo, have been resurrected. In the previous two volumes Jason sought his sons who, he discovered Medea had actually hidden in the future. The effects of their relationship are still reverberating. To solve the situation, the principle characters need to voyage to Crete.
Three themes reoccurring in Holdstock’s work permeate this novel. Along the river hostels appear as the first sign of trouble. These are portals between the worlds of the living and the Otherworld. Normally, the dead pass one way, the unborn the other. The living are not supposed to be able to cross over but the rules are breaking down. Masks are also a common phenomenon. Merlin masks himself, often as a bird when he wants to spy on others, he uses disguises to travel in the otherworld. Intentions and feelings are hidden and in the heart of Argo is the fragment of the boat Merlin first built as a child. Argo’s origins and loyalties are masked. She has deliberately hidden a betrayal to one of her past captains which has helped worsen the current situation.
Throughout the novel there are mazes and labyrinths. The most overt ones are on Crete itself where the physical maze of tunnels beneath the ground is overlaid by the twists and turns of time. The same is true in the Otherworld and Merlin needs to walk the mazes to unravel the cause from effect and gain a greater understanding of his own nature before he can help Urtha , Argo or Jason.
It is not absolutely necessary to read the other two books in the series to appreciate this one but it helps. It is the kind of book that needs to be read carefully and thoughtfully to understand even part of the contexts within it. However, there is sufficient action and pace to satisfy most readers.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Jul-2007 Published by Gollancz

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Tom Holt

WHEN IT’S A JAR by Tom Holt

Humour is a very difficult thing to write successfully. One of the problems is that not everyone finds the same things funny. Personally, if someone claims a book made them laugh out loud, I usually find it far too silly. Then I don’t go for slap-stick comedy movies either. I don’t object to the absurd because it is how the characters react that provides the interest and humour. The witty line can be appreciated. Too much, so-called humour is forced as if the author has decided that the characters haven’t done anything laddish for a while and invents a daft action for them. I suppose it is the smugness of both author and characters who seem to think they have done something clever that I object to. True humour doesn’t work like that. It should seem almost incidental.
Tom Holt is one of the few authors that can put his characters into absurd situations and allow them to deal with it with wit. In WHEN IT’S A JAR, the main character Maurice Katz is a man hoping to keep his job when redundancies loom. His life begins to go weird when, travelling home on the underground, he overhears a conversation between three women who are knitting. It sounds as if they are talking about him. The knowledgeable reader will recognise them as the three Fates. When, later, he wakes up to find a nine-headed snake on the foot of the bed he is understandably annoyed. He doesn’t mean to kill it, though. He hopes this is a dream but when the corpse doesn’t disappear, he calls Stephanie/Steve, a friend from school who joined the army. She calls a clean-up squad and sometime during the removal, Steve disappears. In trying to find her, he gives up trying to keep his job and eventually turns to another person from school, George, who is now very wealthy for a loan to pay the rent.
The weirdness around Maurice escalates. The new job he acquires after an interview conducted under the influence of a truth drug, involves finding boxes in a basement and leaving them to be collected. Curious, he hangs around until the collectors of the boxes arrive and finds they are the same guys who removed the creature from his bedroom when Steve disappeared. From here, the plot begins to get surreal, involving spatial interdimensions, alternative realities and a man in a glass bottle. Woven through it are mythical figures, doughnuts and the question ‘Where is Theo Bernstein?’ Maurice has been delegated hero of this particular situation but constantly feels that he is floundering against the warped forces of the universe, and doughnuts.
Tom Holt’s plots really defy description and this is a book that just needs to be enjoyed. Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Oct-2014 Published by Orbit

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Nalo Hopkinson

MIDNIGHT ROBBER by Nalo Hopkinson

A second novel from the winner of the Locus / John W Campbell award for best new writer and one that is on the final ballot for this year’s Hugo Awards.
This seems to be an attempt to make a solid science fiction story out of versions of old Caribbean legends. More than likely the ‘legends’ themselves are only stories told in a particular style.
This is the story of a young girl taken by her father, the mayor of a small colony on a distant planet, into exile on a prison colony in a separate dimension when he is convicted of murder. Once there he abuses and rapes her until, on reaching majority, she kills him. She escapes into the forest full of dangerous beasts to live with the other sentient species on this world.
Once she moves into the forest she quickly becomes a legendary character (something like Robin Hood) and there are pieces inserted here and there from this supposed mythology.
While the general story and the legends are fairly well-written there are some flaws. The frequent use of patois can make some things difficult to understand, and there are some oddities to the grammar that I can’t explain either. The legendary status is achieved in a matter of a few months (and only a quarter of the book) on a world of small settlements separated by dense and dangerous forest and seems prepared for a radical change in nature should the story continue.

Reviewed by William McCabe Aug-2001 Published by Warner

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Michel Houellebecq

H P LOVECRAFT: AGAINST THE WORLD, AGAINST LIFE by Michel Houellebecq

Michel Houellebecq is a controversial French novelist. This book presents an essay of his, together with two Lovecraft stories (“The Call of Cthulhu” and “The Whisperer in Darkness”). The essay is not an overview of Lovecraft’s work: it’s an interpretation of what his stories mean.
Houellebecq calls Lovecraft’s work ‘a supreme antidote against all kinds of realism’. But, he argues, it is not escapism either: each story is ‘an open slice of howling fear’. There is no psychological ambiguity: the horrors that Lovecraft describes are absolutely physical. But at the same time, they are unknowable: there is no way of assimilating them into our cognitive or moral framework.
The essay describes Lovecraft’s shortlived marriage and his stay in New York, where he underwent a nervous breakdown.
Houellebecq, like China Mieville, rejects the idea that Lovecraft’s racism was merely ‘of its time’. He states: “It was in New York that [Lovecraft’s] racist opinions turned into a full-fledged racist neurosis.” The violent emotions born of that crisis, he argues, fuelled Lovecraft’s intense creativity in his immediate post-New York years: his major stories were the means by which he worked out a reverse existentialism, a war against life.
This forceful essay is a valuable addition to the secondary literature on Lovecraft – and in particular, on the pivotal story “The Call of Cthulhu”.
However, it has little to say about the more reflective Lovecraft of later stories such as “The Shadow out of Time”. This book is worthwhile, but it’s not the whole story.

Reviewed by Joel Lane May-2009 Published by Orion

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Lucy Hounsom

STARBORN (Worldmaker 1) by Lucy Hounsom

On the day Kyndra is set to be welcomed into adulthood, her village’s celebration is ruined when she accidentally breaks the relic at the heart of the ceremony. When the same day a disastrous storm causes havoc, Kyndra is made the scapegoat and only escapes with her life due to the magical intervention of two mysterious travellers. However, their aid comes with a cost and reluctantly, Kyndra has to agree to leave the village with them.
The strangers wield powers drawn from the sun and the moon and come from a hidden citadel called Naris. They are investigating a magical phenomenon, the Breaking that is destroying places across the land. Believing Kyndra’s visions may be connected to the Breaking and that she has the potential to become another Sun or Moon wielder, they take her back to their hidden city. In a city divided into rival factions who want to either use or destroy her, Kyndra must struggle to access her latent power and to determine the truth behind the dangers facing her world. Epic fantasy can, to me at least, feel an overcrowded field and it can be difficult to produce something original which still pleases fans of the genre. This author does seem to have managed well with this tricky balancing act. In particular, the believability and depth of the characters is excellent. The main character, Kyndra shows a pleasing growth in maturity from someone being pulled along to someone who actively makes her own decisions. The other characters are also well-delineated and have their own issues which makes them more rounded and interesting.
The story builds well as Kyndra and the reader gradually reveal more about the history and politics of Naris. The climax reaches a satisfactory conclusion whilst still setting up future possibilities for a sequel. This book has been compared with Trudi Canavan’s Black Magician trilogy. Whilst fans of that should certainly find much to like, I think this book is superior and an impressive debut.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Mar-2016 Published by Pan Macmillan

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Jonathan L Howard

JOHANNES CABAL THE DETECTIVE by Jonathan L Howard

This is a book that cannot make up its mind what it is. It appears to be set in a late Victorian version of Eastern Europe populated with a variety of small fictitious Balkan-type states. The three involved here are Mirkarvia, Senza and Katamenia, though Ruritania (the setting for Anthony Hope’s THE PRISONER OF ZENDA) gets a mention in passing. These places, though antagonistic towards each other seem to have hybrid cultural roots as both Spanish and German honorifics are used randomly and names include Russian patronymics. No-one has difficulty communicating, even the English members of the cast.
There is an element of the steampunk tradition (but without the steam) as aerial transport is provided by four- winged insectile entomopters and a levitating aeroship resembling a flying aircraft carrier.
(It would have been a good idea for the cover artist to consult the book before drawing a gas-filled airship). Although distinctly an adventure of the Englishman Abroad type, the style of writing fits with chronicles of the turn of the 19th century, it is spoilt by too many modern colloquialisms. This is clearly envisioned as an alternative history. It could also have done with intelligent editing as there are factual mistakes and undisciplined changes of viewpoint.
While the presence of the machines indicates retro-fantasy, the main character, Johannes Cabal, pushes it towards horror as he is a necromancer. He claims to be searching for a cure for death, hence his grotesque experiments and ability to bring the dead back to life if only for a short while. It is his hunt for a particular book, the Principia Necromantica, that sees him beginning this adventure in a Mirkarvian dungeon awaiting execution for the theft of it. After Count Marechel offers him a reprieve in order to further his own nefarious plans, Cabal manages to escape, disguised as a minor civil servant, aboard the aeroship, The Princess Hortense. There he meets an old adversary and becomes embroiled in a murder mystery before the real mayhem recommences. So from a ‘boy’s adventure story’ it changes to an ‘Agatha Christie’ and evolves into a ‘James Bond’ adventure (there are spies all over the place). There is an added short story at the end which parodies Indiana Jones.
This novel is billed as ‘comic’; unfortunately, although it is witty in places and contains a degree of farce this is not particularly humorous. The previous book featuring Johannes Cabal had a much more original plot. This one is tired.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Mar-2011 Published by Headline

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JOHANNES CABAL THE NECROMANCER by Jonathan L Howard

Jonathan L Howard’s debut novel is the first of what promises to be a successful series of black comedy fantasy novels.
The protagonist, necromancer and brilliant scientist Johannes Cabal, has made a Faustian pact with the devil but wishes his soul returned. His lack of soul has been impeding further progress in his scientific work and research. The Devil, delighted at the prospect of a new deal with Cabal that might provide him with sufficient amusement to alleviate his eternal boredom, agrees to a new deal; the return of Cabal’s soul in exchange for 100 others within a year. Gleefully the Devil throws an infernal travelling carnival and a ration of black magic into the pact to ‘help’ Cabal in meeting his end of the bargain. Cabal uses this black magic to create some unnatural and peculiar characters as the carnival’s attractions. Cabal also enlists his charismatic and crowd-charming vampire brother to assist in the promotion of the carnival to entice unsuspecting carnival-goers from which Cabal endeavours to recruit his quota of souls.
Cabal is not a hero. He is driven to obsession for necromancy, lacks morality and is an exceptional snob. There are one or two moments in the book where the reader begins to think that Cabal may be empathizing with another character, but these end in chillingly nefarious deeds and conduct. This not only reinforces the reader’s perception of Cabal, but rather satisfyingly ensures that any ‘he’ll-turn-good-by-the-end’ clichés are avoided. However, although occasionally alternating between liking and loathing him, the reader somehow ends up rooting for Cabal by the end of the book.
Howard makes clear that his inspiration for this novel is Ray Bradbury’s SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, the early sixties fantasy horror set in a town visited by an evil carnival. Lovers of this cross-genre classic would no doubt find Howard’s comic response to the question ‘where would an evil carnival come from, anyway?’ a fun tale.
This is not laugh-out-loud comic fantasy akin to Pratchett’s Discworld series or Butcher’s Dresden Files. More fittingly it is witty, dry and somewhat clever. If there is a criticism it is that sometimes the comedy is too clever, or that the occasional scene seems to have been constructed purely to place a clever gag into the book.
Another criticism is that there is a large gap after the first third of the book. The carnival goes from having gained 3 souls in one chapter, to only having two more to collect in the next chapter with just a paragraph to summarise the best part of a year. This was a little disappointing, and when coupled with an ending that came a little too quickly, the reader could be easily forgiven for wishing that there had been another 100 pages or so to this book.
Despite any criticisms, the book is a swift, peculiar and entertaining read which is well resolved at the end. The reader is left with enough of an interest in the characters and the hint of a plot that will arc over subsequent novels to leave them looking forward to reading the next one. JOHANNES CABAL THE DETECTIVE will be released in July this year and I for one shall look forward to the next instalment of this most quirky and macabre of comedies.

Reviewed by Sam Fennell Apr-2010 Published by Headline

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Robert E Howard

THE COMPLETE CHRONICLES OF CONAN by Robert E Howard

I originally thought that this would be a nice simple review until I heard Rog saying that he'd had a customer ring up and ask if this was the same as the two volume omnibus edition of Robert Jordan's Conan stories!!
So rather than just review the book, I decided to also place it in context… The book itself is a collection of REH's 21 Conan stories as well as three drafts, a synopsis, two verses and a fragment together with an article on the Hyborian Age, notes on the people of the Hyborian Age and Stephen Jones' Afterword on REH and Conan… and is also one of the best book bargains of recent publications at £18.99 For a writer who died at the age of thirty (by his own hand), Howard had an incredible influence on the world of fantasy writing. He has probably influenced most non- Tolkienesque fantasy by virtually originating the ‘Swords and Sorcery’ genre. He started writing as a child and tried to turn professional at fifteen although it would be another three years before his first story was accepted by the influential pulp magazine WEIRD TALES… and that was what Howard was… a pulp writer paid by the word, no great literature here but he could tell a story, and he quickly became very popular over the twelve years before his death with his best work transcending its pulp origins.
During his short career he wrote almost every type of pulp fiction: Horror, Sports, Western, Historical and Detective but it's his fantasy and Conan in particular, that ensured his memory will endure. Over the years since he died, his work has been reprinted so many times in hardcover, paperback and comic format that he's probably only outsold by Tolkien.
For anyone who reads Sword and Sorcery or any form of heroic fantasy, you must read this collection of Conan stories… and for anyone familiar with Howard's work, get this volume to replace your mouldering paperbacks or to read instead of damaging your expensive collectable reprints. Heroic warriors, magic, evil sorcerers, beautiful slave girls to rescue, kingdoms to seize, dark gods and civilizations from beyond the dawn of history… Conan has it all. And don't be fooled by the movies, the real Conan is Howard's in these stories… other media versions are pale imitations and so are most of the third party Conans written by other authors since Howard's untimely death.
This volume celebrates the Centenary of Howard’s birth and is bound in imitation leather and beautifully illustrated by our guest speaker this month – Les Edwards.

Reviewed by Laurence Miller Apr-2006 Published by Gollancz

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Stephen Hunt

FROM THE DEEP OF THE DARK by Stephen Hunt

The political manoeuvrings in Stephen Hunt’s latest steampunk novel get ever more complex and the focus this time is under the ocean (the previous novel JACK CLOUDIE was set within the airships of the Aerostatical Navy).
With his fondness for submersibles it can only be expected that Jared Black will become involved, this time without his usual crew. Instead, he is inveigled into action by Charlotte Shades, a magician-thief who has been persuaded to steal King Jude’s sceptre, the last remaining item of the crown jewels, from its vault beneath the Parliament building. Dick Tull is a member of the secret service of assigned to watching out for Royalists who, it is rumoured, are planning to overthrow Parliament. It is tracking one suspect that leads him to Black’s door.
Also ending up in the same place are two characters from the fourth novel, SECRETS OF THE FIRE SEA. Jethro Daunt is an ex-cleric working as a detective along with this companion, an ostracised steamman, Boxiron.
For those not familiar with the setting for Hunt’s novels the important thing to be aware of is that the technology is based on steam power. The hints which sneak into the text on occasion suggest that this is a world that has gone through a number of evolutionary upheavals leaving behind remnants of an earlier, more sophisticated, age. Many of the races appear as genetically modified humans and one country breeds organic machines using human slaves. At this point in history, an underwater race, referred to as gill-necks, seem to be moving towards war with the land-bound humans. As Black and his ill-assorted friends discover, they are being manipulated by another race which has come out of the deeps with conquest in mind. On their side, as advisor, is Gemma Dark, a staunch royalist and Black’s estranged sister.
While some elements of the plot are hauntingly familiar, the manipulation of Victorian-level technology is ingenious, the characters are engaging and as an action-packed adventure it works very well. Though it would be better to start with the first volume, THE COURT OF THE AIR, to fully understand the structure of Hunt’s creation it is not absolutely necessary, as long as you are prepared to suspend your disbelief and engage your sense of wonder
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan May-2012 Published by HarperVoyager

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JACK CLOUDIE by Stephen Hunt

This is the fifth novel set in a world where steam reigns supreme. At least it does in the Jackelian Kingdom. A Jack Cloudie is a sailor on one of the country’s airships. When Jack Keats is condemned to death for nearly pulling off the greatest bank robbery in history, he finds his sentence commuted to service in the Royal Aerostatical Navy. His ship is the Iron Partridge, regarded as the worst and unluckiest ship in the fleet. The ship’s mission: to fly into enemy airspace and find out where they are getting their lifting gas for a new fleet of airships.
The basic difference between Jackels and the Cassarabian Empire is their attitude to technology. While the former have embraced the steam age and welcome members of the race of sentient steam men for their skills, the latter’s technology is biological in nature. Womb mages create strange animals to fulfil the roles machinery would normally take. They are obviously skilled at manipulating DNA. In this novel we begin to get a clearer idea of the history of this world. It has seen, and lost, far more sophisticated civilisations than are currently warring with each other. These are remnants of something long gone.
There have been hints in previous novels but here it is rising to the surface.
Although having the same setting as other novels, this one can easily be read without prior knowledge. One familiar character, Jared Black (here introduced as John Oldcastle) stalks these pages, running, as usual, straight into mayhem. Written in the tradition of pulp fiction the plot twists can get a little silly at times but ultimately is a fast, furious romp.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Oct-2011 Published by Voyager

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SECRETS OF THE FIRE SEA by Stephen Hunt

Love it or loathe it, the term ‘steampunk’ now defines a category of science fiction. Anyone who was at the last Eastercon would have seen the wonderful costumes worn at the Steampunk Ball on Sunday night and seen the inventive accoutrements. Victorian SF such as that written by Verne would have been classed as steampunk as exponents of the genre write with a level of technology roughly equivalent to mid-Victorian.
This is the fourth of Stephen Hunt’s novels set in a world where steam is the principal motive force and electricity is a wild, dangerous beast.
There are clues that once, millennia ago, there was a highly technological civilisation that tore itself apart. Very little evidence of it remains.
One familiar character plays a part in this novel: Commodore Jared Black.
He is captain of a u-boat hired to take passengers to the island of Jago in the Fire Sea: Ortin urs Ortin is the new ambassador from Pericur, a nation of bear-like sentients; Nandi Tibar-Wellking is a student going to Jago to consult the archives; Jethro Daunt is an ex-parson turned detective going to pay respects to the Archbishop of the Circlist church (they deny the existence of gods) and Boxiron is a steamman, a sentient humanoid being whose body runs on steam. They arrive at a crucial time. Trade with the island is declining because there are easier trade passages that involve not crossing the Fire Sea, the First Senator appears to be becoming unhinged and the Archbishop has been murdered. Caught up in these events are Hannah Conquest and Chalph urs Chalph. Hannah is the ward of the Archbishop, left behind when her parents were killed. It is their work in the archives that Nandi particularly wants to complete. Chalph is Hannah’s friend.
Both are shocked when Hannah is drafted to the turbine halls, a place where emanations from the machines cause deformations in the workers.
Jago is a disputed island. All the settlements have been at the fringes, near the warmth of the surrounding magma sea. The ursine Pericurians claim it is holy land while the humans claim it by right of occupation and have the defences to assert that.
It would be easy to pick holes in some of the concepts and to find familiar elements in the text but the overall effect is a good solid adventure in an unusual setting.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan May-2010 Published by Harper Voyager

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THE KINGDOM BEYOND THE WAVES by Stephen Hunt

It is very difficult to know whether this hook should he regarded as science fiction or fantasy. Certainly it would fit with the Wellsian idea of a scientific romance. It contains elements that have distinct Victorian flavour and ideas that could respectably grace Swiftian chronicles or be included in the Adventures of Baron Munchausen.
THE KINGDOM BEYOND THE WAVES is set in the same world as the author's previous work, THE COURT OF THE AIR. Hut takes place a few years later - there is a very slight overlap of characters. The world is one in which electricity never came to prominence but there is a great reliance on steam power. In fact one race of sentient beings are the steamen who are metallic rather than organic.
Amelia Harsh is a professor of archaeology with an obsession to find the city of Camlantis. This semi-mythical place was supposed to be one of peace and vanished thousands of years before in a 'floatquake'. A 'floatquake' is a seismic event that results in part of the earth becoming an aerial floating island.
Abraham Quest is a wealthy industrialist and self made man. He, too. Wants to find Camlantis. He also wants to see the world living in peace arid harmony hut his future has a rather different slant to Amelia's. However, Quest hank- rolls an expedition into the dangerous Liongeli jungle to find artefacts left behind when the city left. Amelia leads the expedition, to find the lake deep in the jungle, aboard a submarine filled with ex-slavers as crew, Cartosian warrior women as security and a handful of renegades who are hoping that the trip will pay them enough to retire. Many obstacles will he placed across their path.
The quest itself is much of the same order as Alan Quatermain in that each time progress is made, another appears. The main protagonists, Amelia Harsh and Abraham Quest are, in themselves, archetypes the obsessive adventurer and the evil genius. What is interesting about the novel are the subordinate characters, the misfits like Billy Snow, the blind sonar operator who is revealed to have hidden talents. Underused and fascinating are Cornelius fortune, a face changer who does daring deeds as Furnace=breath Nick and his sidekick, Septimoth, a lashlite (basic ally a flying reptile). These two, plus their mysterious housekeeper, make the foundation of an interesting story in their own right.
Whether you enjoy this hook will depend on the kind of fiction you prefer.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Jul-2008 Published by Voyager

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THE RISE OF THE IRON MOON by Stephen Hunt

by / 455pgs / paperback £7.99 ISBN: 978-0007232239 Reviewed by This the third book set in a strange world where science seemed to have got stuck in the steam age. Electricity is a dangerous substance better not toyed with. At the beginning we rejoin old friends; Molly, a writer of popular celestial fiction, Commodore Black, an under-sea mariner, and Coppertracks, a sentient metal man whose body also seems to run on steam.
There are new characters such as Purity Drake, a runaway from the Royal Breeding House and Duncan Connor, a retired soldier who will go nowhere without his travel case.
Disturbing rumours are reaching the Jackelian city of Middlesteel of neighbouring states being overrun by barbarians from the Northern wastes.
Kyorin, who has befriended Purity, warns Molly and her friends that the invaders are actually from his home world, Kaliban. This planet which shares an orbit with their own is a wasteland, destroyed by the masters of the stats – biomechanical creatures that destroy and devour everything in their path. The only hope of saving their planet is for Molly and friends to make a hazardous journey to Kaliban to consult a sage of Kyorin’s people.
The setting gives a feel of kind of the fantastical tales of the Victorian era but as it progresses, it provides hints that there is a lot more going on in this universe than has yet been divulged. This leaves an intriguing sense of “what next?” by the end of the book. There are excellent ideas but the juxtaposition of steam-powered civilisation alongside advanced technology and gene manipulation does not always sit easily. Also, some of the more interesting characters do not have enough space to be developed fully. Ultimately, it is high adventure of the old-fashioned kind.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Oct-2009 Published by Voyager

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Kameron Hurley

GOD’S WAR by Kameron Hurley

One of the things an SF writer in particular must be good at is building strange but consistent worlds. In GOD’S WAR, Kameron Hurley has succeeded admirably in my opinion. The novel is set on a future world populated by successive waves of religious refugees. Similarly to Frank Herbert’s Dune series, the nations of Chenja and Nasheen are clearly based on Arabic/ Islamic models. However, the alien ecology and the centuries-old war between the two nations have led to profound changes. Tailored viruses and bugs (derived from the native fauna) are used as weapons in the war and to a lesser extent beneficially in the civilian society. Indeed much of the technology is organically based. The radiation and plagues from the frontline also decimate the home population. These factors mean that vast numbers are constantly killed or maimed in the war and has led to societies where women are in the majority. The two nations have adapted very differently to this.
In addition, a small number of the population appear to have magical abilities (although this may also be due to genetic mutation/manipulation – I was not completely clear on the origins). Depending on the level of their ability they can manipulate organic tissue and detect or heal diseases.
In addition they can control the native insects using them for spying, defence etc. Other people can also shapeshift their form into animals Nyxnissa, referred to mainly as Nyx, is a disgraced Bel Dame. The Bel Dames are female Nasheenian state-sanctioned assassins sent to kill deserters from the war. After being expelled for doing illegal bounty work, Nyx now survives doing black market smuggling and assassinations with a small team of mercenaries, including a fugitive Chenjan magician, Rhys and a shapeshifter, Khos. When a member of a visiting alien embassy goes missing, the Queen wants her found unofficially so Nyx is given a chance to improve her situation. To do this she must smuggle her team into hostile Chenja. However, there are many factions with reasons to try and stop her.
The novel has received nominations for many awards and there is much I enjoyed. Be warned however, this book is not for the faint-hearted. Nyx’s world is harsh, bloody and brutal and Kameron does not shy away from showing us this. The characters themselves are shaped by their environment and this did make it hard sometimes to find their redeeming qualities. In particular although I found Nyx a convincing character she is not one I liked. Personally I will be reading the sequel but this series will not be to everyone’s taste.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Jun-2014 Published by Del Rey

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Dave Hutchinson

EUROPE AT MIDNIGHT by Dave Hutchinson

When a book has been well-received by readers and critics, there is always the temptation to produce a sequel, even if the original intention was a stand-alone novel. In the best cases, there are enough intriguing ambiguities to form a second volume. It doesn’t mean that the same characters will be present (though the readership may want them) but the story will be set against the same background.
At the end of EUROPE IN AUTUMN, Hutchinson’s first novel, there were enough opportunities to create something new – some authors feel a need to produce a similar plot but this is not what Dave Hutchinson does. In EUROPE IN AUTUMN, the focus was on Rudi, an Estonian chef working in Poland. Across the continent, society has been breaking up into smaller and smaller countries and polities making travel inconvenient. Rudi is also a Coureur, moving information and/or people from one state to another. Rudi is not the focus of EUROPE AT MIDNIGHT.
This begins with an innocent seeming scenario on a university campus. One of the lecturers, who introduces himself as Rupert of Hentsau, is fishing when a woman paddles past in a kayak. Slowly, it becomes apparent that this is not an ordinary campus, but a huge, city-sized place and there is no way out. Some think that there must be an escape route but there is no evidence that anyone has ever escaped. Then the woman, Araminta, reveals that she knows a way out, because she has come from the outside. A number of things happen simultaneously. The Science Department plans a coup and Rupert heads out along the river to prove or not, Araminta’s claims.
This is a novel seem from two perspectives. Rupert’s is first person, but there is also a third person narrative from the point of view of Jim Baines, a detective who is sent to Nottingha