Birmingham Science Fiction Group

Reviews - Authors S-T

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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.


Paul M Sammon
Brandon Sanderson
Lynsay Sands
Andrzej Sapkowski
Patrice Sarath
Stephanie Saulter
Robert J Sawyer
John Scalzi
Donna Scott
Rob Scott
Philip Segal with Gary Russell
Bob Shaw
Lisa Shearin
Anna Sheehan
Lucius Shepard
Brian Sibley
Robert Silverberg
Clifford D Simak
Dan Simmons
Alison Sinclair
Nalini Singh
John Sladek
A. G. Slatter
Angela Slatter
Gavin Smith
Ginger 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
Jeremy Szal


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
Claire Tomalin
Tom Toner
Paul Tremblay
Harry Turtledove
Kyle Turton
Lisa Tuttle
John Twelve Hawks

Paul M Sammon


In 1980, when this film project began, Paul Sammon was a journalist working for CINEFANTASTIQUE magazine. The film already had Ridley Scott fresh from his success with ALIEN and Harrison Ford who, after the STAR WARS and INDIANA JONES, was one of the biggest earners in movies. Sammon kept coming back to the set and interviewing everyone involved time and time again. The interviews and reports formed the basis of many articles for film magazines over a period of years during the making and re-making of this film. In 1992 all of this was compiled into the first version of this book. At the end of last year a new version of the book was prepared for the 25th anniversary of the movie. New material was added including a long interview with Harrison Ford and here we have the result.
This is a detailed account of the making of the film BLADE RUNNER from it’s early days and masses of script changes to the chaos at the end of filming and the various re-cuts of the movie. This is intended to tie in with the release of yet another version of the film (the 7th to date).
For a fan of the movie or a film student this is probably a really useful book. There’s an awful lot about the inner workings of the creation of a movie and several of the ways that it can go disastrously wrong. There are stories of the conflicts with the original author and between the director and the producers.
There are stories of what was cut and why. This should be everything you ever wanted to know about BLADE RUNNER.
That said, the text is remarkably underplayed and uncritical. The stories that produced waves of enmity between the people involved seem really trivial here. The cuts and recuts that produce inconsistencies in the story are dismissed out of hand and even ignored. The writer believes that this movie is the best thing there is and seems to avoid anything against that. There is surprisingly little context here. Late in the book there is a list of films ‘influenced’ by BLADE RUNNER – there is no list of influences within the film.
The great failing of the book is in the pictures. The old version was a glossy coffee-table book with sharp images. This is a regular hardback with standard paper. There are many black and white pictures on these pages and most of them seem to be indistinguishable lumps of grey. There are suggestions that this will be fixed if there is a paperback edition of this book. There is a chapter of errors from the first edition – wouldn’t it have been better to just correct them?
The new boxed edition of the DVD is also available. This comes with multiple commentaries and a massive documentary. It is probably a better reference source on this subject. If you would rather have a book, then this is the best you’ll find.

Reviewed by William McCabe Mar-2008 Published by Gollancz

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Brandon Sanderson

ELANTRIS by Brandon Sanderson

Although written in 2005 this is the first ever publication of ELANTRIS in the UK. Brandon Sanderson is well known within the UK as the author completing the late Robert Jordan’s epic Wheel of Time saga as well as for a string of his own novels. Elantris is a city once gleaming and pristine, the home of a godlike people who are the protectors of the country of Arelon. Now it is a stinking, crumbling wreck covered with dark slime and inhabited by pitiful wretches. Once you became an inhabitant of Elantris by succumbing to the ‘Shoal’ which turned your skin silver, your hair white and gave you the power to perform magic. Now the Shoal has been contaminated and its ‘victims’ have black patches on their skins and have been turned into the living dead who continually suffer pain and hunger. For the last 10 years it has made gods into beasts. This is the background to and a continuing thread of the story of Prince Raoden of Arelon and his promised bride, Princess Sarene of Teod, who arrives in the country to find that he has just ‘died’. But we the readers know that he has succumbed to the Shoal and has been banished to Elantris. Arelon and Teod have a common enemy - the Fjordell Empire - a fanatic religious hegemony that intends to rule the whole world. To further its aims now that Elantris has fallen, the Fjordell high priest Hrathen has been sent to the court of King Iadon of relon. Much of the book is taken up by his machinations and the efforts of Sarene to counter them as well as her efforts to make a place for herself in her new home now that her husband is ‘dead’. Although he is dead to the people of Arelon, Raoden strives mightily to improve the lot of the inhabitants of Elantris and to find out why the magic failed. As with all of his books Brandon Sanderson has populated Elantris with a rich and varied band of characters none of whom are surplus to the tale. Elantris started slowly and I was not impressed, but it quickly picked up and turned into a very enjoyable tale indeed.

Reviewed by Jim Pearce Dec-2011 Published by Gollancz

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MITOSIS by Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson is a former winner of the David Gemmell Award for Best Fantasy Novel. That book, THE WAY OF KINGS was a brilliant, well-deserved winner. It would certainly have increased his popularity amongst readers. One can only suppose that that success is part of the reason behind this book.
MITOSIS is a beautifully produced little hardcover. The question remains, is it worth the money. Maybe to a collector. A general reader may feel cheated. MITOSIS is a 44 page novella. It is set in the same world as the novel STEELHEART. The idea behind it is that a number of people, called Epics are mutants with super-powers. Most of them use their talents the wrong way. Steelheart’s touch turned things to steel, resulting in a steel city. In the novel, he was overthrown by the Reckoners. In this short story, an Epic called Mitosis arrives in the city and has to be dealt with by the Reckoners.
His talent is that he is able to subdivide himself into an infinite number of clones. Kill one and there were plenty more to deal with.
The following pages in this book are very good drawings of three of the Epics that do not feature in ‘Mitosis’ the story, but along with their characteristics give a good idea what the Reckoners are up against. The final 25 pages of this slim volume are the beginning of FIREFIGHT, the sequel to STEELHEART.
At one point, samplers like this were given away at conventions, though marketed with an original short story, it could have become valuable that way. This will look good on the shelf. It is up you to decide if it is worth the money.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Mar-2015 Published by Gollancz

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SNAPSHOT by Brandon Sanderson

SNAPSHOT is all about the discovery of dark secrets. If a crime has been committed and there is not enough evidence for a conviction or there is doubt about the facts of the case, detectives Anthony Davis and his partner Chaz are sent into a Snapshot by the city police. But what is a Snapshot? Under the vast city of New Clipperton the American government first built then abandoned an installation that can recreate in minute detail the whole city, including its inhabitants, on a specific day. On the day in question, Davis and Chaz have two assigned tasks. The only problem for them is boredom as there are many hours between the two events and switching off the Snapshot and going home is not possible. To fill in the time Davis decides that they should, off their own bat, investigate a mystery that is bothering him.
SNAPSHOT follows our two protagonists through their day to a surprising conclusion. There is an unexpected twist right at the end. However, looking back as with all good mystery/detective yarns there were clues for the alert reader!
All in all this was a quietly satisfying story which I am glad that I had the opportunity to read. The characters had heft and if we accept that the Snapshot technology exists we have a believable tale set in a world in which readers will feel at home. The only problem, if it is a problem which I had, is the date in which the story is set and that Snapshot technology is too advanced for the rest of the environmental technology. Reading the postscript the author and his editors are fully aware of this potential hang-up and decided that it did not detract from the interactions that he was exploring. I must say that I agree with their conclusions as it did not interfere with my enjoyment of the book, I wholeheartedly recommend this novella to potential readers.

Reviewed by Jim Pearce Nov-2018 Published by Gollancz

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STEELHEART by Brandon Sanderson

STEELHEART is a Marvel Comic type novel, but with a difference. In this world there are persons with superpowers known collectively as Epics. However these are not heroes but are without exception, 'ubervillains' enslaving and preying on the normal mortals that make up the general population. There are no good Epics. This was not always so and until about ten years ago there were no Epics. Then a strange light, now called Calamity, burst into the sky, randomly gifting extraordinary powers to some persons. Not all Epics are equally powerful - some have only minor gifts – so while the most powerful rule cities like old fashioned gangsters or terrorist dictators, those of lesser strength act as their minions. Steelheart who is said to be invincible is one of (if not the) strongest Epics in the world.
At the time that the story is set only one group resists, fights and kills Epics and they are known as the Reckoners. David, the story's young hero wants to join them as he wants to kill Steelheart, the Epic who murdered his father 10 years ago. Fortunately like 'Superman' each Epic has a weakness, which if you can discover it could, if you were fortunate or cunning enough, help you overcome them. Both David and the Reckoners have, independently, spent years studying the Epics in order to discover their weaknesses. While David wants to join the Reckoners, they at first don't want him, but he has something they need, not an object like Kryptonite but an experience. He has seen Steelheart bleed!
Describing STEELHEART as a Marvel Comic type story does not do it full justice, as there is far more depth to the characters than one would see in a graphic novel, but that flavour is certainly there. This is definitely deliberate by Brandon Sanderson and does not detract one iota from the book's quality. It is very well-written, creating a coherent and believable post-apocalyptic 'world' and interesting participants, both Epics and Reckoners. After starting STEELHEART I had some doubts as to whether I had made a mistake and would not enjoy reading it. But I was wrong and am glad that I persisted and I look forward to reading its sequel FIREFIGHT.
Reviewed by Jim Pearce Dec-2013 Published by Gollancz

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THE RITHMATIST by Brandon Sanderson

There is a knack for writing books in the category often referred to as Young Adult. Ideally, they should appeal to the younger reader but also be enjoyable for those who would never admit to reading children’s books. Often the thing that separates a YA book from a normal book is the age of the principal characters. These need to be on the cusp of adulthood with all the conflicting emotions that stage of development entails. Adult characters such as parents take a back seat for a variety of reasons although it is unwise to neglect their presence as they will shape the actions of the protagonists. Having a problem that only the young people can solve because of their talents, expertise or flexibility of mind can be a useful strategy. All this is wrapped up in a pacey narrative and skilful story-telling. THE RITHMATIST succeeds at all these criteria, admirably.
The setting for the action is an alternative world where America is a series of island states. Joel is a student at the Armedius Academy on New Britannia. His passion is Rithmatics. He really wants to be a Rithmatist but missed the ceremony that might have led to him being chosen when he was eight. The only reason he is allowed to study there is because his father was the chalk maker until his death. His mother is a cleaner. The other students who are not studying Rithmatics come from important or wealthy families. Joel is an exception, which immediately sets him up as an outsider and a member of the despised class.
Rithmatics is a science and phenomenon peculiar to this world. Practitioners are able to animate two dimensional figures on any surface by drawing them with chalk. There are attack and defensive shapes and lines. The better the drawings, the greater the ability to survive or retaliate in a duel. While most of it appears to be harmless fun, there is one island, Nebrask, which is infested with feral chalklings which can actually kill. Every Rithmatist has to spend time there keeping the world safe.
Joel is a Rithmatic nerd, spending his spare time reading about classic duels. He knows how draw the lines even though they don’t come alive for him. He sneaks into lectures that only Rithmatists are supposed to attend. This particular summer, he has to choose an area to study. He manages to get himself assigned as research assistant to Professor Fitch who has been given the task of trying to find out why some students have disappeared. Also assigned to the Professor is Melody, an annoying girl who is brilliant at sketching but rubbish at drawing the circles and lines a Rithmatist must draw accurately. Naturally, they start off by despising each other. Their relationship has its ups and downs but as might be expected in a YA book, it is the flexibility of young minds that looks at the problem from a different angle and it able to guide the adults in the right direction.
This is a book which oozes enthusiasm. Joel and Melody are complementary characters who spark off each other. Yes, they have their spats but at their age, that is to be expected. Not only do we have two beautifully drawn teenagers but the idea of Rithmatics is original and feels as if it could exist. A lot of thought and care has been taken in developing the science behind the discipline. This adds to the enjoyment of the book as it is peppered with the diagrams and illustrations that Joel and Melody spend their days with. This is a book that has to be highly recommended to anyone who wants a fast paced adventure novel. It will fascinate readers of all ages, not just the ones it was aimed at.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Nov-2015 Published by Tor

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THE WAY OF KINGS by Brandon Sanderson

THE WAY OF KINGS is set in the storm lashed world of Roshar where millennia ago mankind landed up after they and the Almighty were thrown out of the Tranquiline Halls (aka Heaven) by the Voidbringers who then followed them.
Many wars were fought before the Voidbringers were finally defeated, or so it was alleged, by men supported by ten angelic Heralds and ten orders of knights known as Radiants. Other than a few vague legends only a number of powerful suits of armour and terrible swords, known as shardplate and shardblades remain.
Six years before the ‘current date’ the King of Alethakar, one of Roshar’s many kingdoms, is assassinated at the behest of the Parshendi and a war of revenge is being fought by his son supported by his ten barely subordinated ‘Highprince’ vassals.
THE WAY OF KINGS is mainly the story of three widely different characters. The first is Dalinar, the assassinated king's brother and uncle of the new king, who is a legendry soldier with a strong sense of honour trying to follow the principles set out in the codex ‘The Way of Kings’. He is increasingly weary of fighting, especially the current war which due to the rivalry between the ‘Highprinces’ has ground to a stalemate. He is plagued by dreams of ancient times and legendary wars, visions that lead many to believe he is going mad. The second is Kaladin, a young man who originally was training to be a surgeon and by circumstances turned into a brilliant spearman and then by treachery condemned to the most miserable level of military slavery. Due to his sense of honour and caring for the weak he must suffer and struggle to survive and rise again. The third, Shallan, is a naïve but brave and brilliant young woman. She seeks to train under the eminent scholar and heretic Jasnah, the King’s sister, in order to plan a daring theft to save her impoverished noble house from ruin.
The story of these three is supported by a number of other well constructed characters such as Szeth-son-son- Vallano, the assassin; Syl an elemental sprite attached to Kaladin; Adolin, Dalinar’s eldest son and heir; the current King Elhokar and his mother the enigmatic Navini and sister Jasnah; Kabsal an ardent (priest) and Sadeas one of Dalinar’s fellow ‘Highprinces’, once a friend and now a rival/enemy.
This massive but very enjoyable book is the first part of a sequence to be known as the Stormlight Archive, which is purported to be as important to the genre as Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time odyssey, and it might well be. As long as it is I did not find any of it unnecessary; it flowed well and was full of engaging characters. I look forward to the next part of this epic tale.

Reviewed by Jim Pearce Apr-2011 Published by Gollancz

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Lynsay Sands

LOVE BITES by Lynsay Sands

With so many books having been written about vampires it seems difficult to come up with a new idea. This one has. LOVE BITES is the first in a new series about the Argeneau family. The whole family are vampires. This is explained to the female lead, Rachel Garrett, as being due to nano-technology developed by the Atlantean people thousands of years ago. The nanos repair all the body’s damaged tissues, rejuvenating, preventing aging, producing longevity and increasing sexual performance. Unfortunately they use blood to do their work. Nice theory, pity it is seriously flawed. These vampires can have children.
The nanos as described would not allow that, and why would they produce hollow fangs in a ‘turned’ human?
The plot is simple. A man called Pudge is trying to kill Etienne. We are not exactly sure why he has a vendetta against the vampire, but twice within a week Etienne’s apparently lifeless body turns up in Rachel’s morgue. The second time, Pudge also arrives swinging an axe, intending to decapitate Etienne. Rachel gets in the way. Etienne saves her life by giving her his blood, starting the change of human to vampire. When his family comes to rescue him, they take Rachel away as well. Much of the rest of the book is about Rachel coming to terms with being a vampire, falling in love with Etienne and sex romps – until Pudge shows up again near the end.
Many of the aspects of the plot that would bring the novel up a level from just being an erotic fantasy are sidelined for the developing relationship between Etienne and Rachel. Even the family politics could have easily been strengthened without too much trouble. Although there are a lot of readers who like this kind of material, this author does not yet have the flair of Charlaine Harris or Laurell K. Hamilton which makes their work exciting to read.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Apr-2010 Published by Gollancz

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Andrzej Sapkowski

BLOOD OF ELVES by Andrzej Sapkowski

BLOOD OF ELVES, by Andrezej Sapkowski, has been translated by Danusia Stok from the original Polish. I must admit to not having read too many fantasies not originally written in English, so this comes as something of a change. I understand that Sapkowski is somewhat popular as a fantasy writer in Poland; BLOOD OF ELVES was originally published in 1994, and forms the first volume in a series of some 5 books. Beware, however, that the sequels remain published in Polish only at the present time.
On first impression the text is unintentionally hard going, mostly due to an almost total lack of character description. This may be because the series concerns certain characters who have previously turned up in Sapkowski’s short story collection THE LAST WISH (Gollancz, 2007). Anyone unfamiliar with the short stories, however, will find their imagination working overtime at the start to form mental impressions of these characters merely from their names and actions. Once this is established, however, the text settles down into a comfortable, familiar feeling fantasy mode.
The background and setting seem almost stereotypically Tolkieninspired; the setting would not seem out of place in a Dungeon & Dragons game, replete with clichéd elves, dwarves, etc., and many of the main characters seem to fit comfortable-feeling stereotypes as well. It may be that Sapkowski is skilfully tapping into well-liked examples of popular fantasy, but the book also feels a little redundant as a result – what is BLOOD OF ELVES doing that you have not read before?
Thankfully the story seems to have a bit more bite to it, weaving, as it does, quite an interesting and encouraging first part to a saga. Sapkowski seems to have a knack for parcelling out bits of the plot in a way that keeps the reader guessing without irritating, while hinting at greater depths and ominous deeds yet to come. So neatly is this done that it reminded me of Terry Pratchett’s writings, which is surely no mean feat.
In fact, the story being rather nice and the plot seeming so promising has heightened my anticipation for the sequels (assuming they ever arrive). In part this distresses me, as in trying to conclude I can only describe the book as fun, yet redundant. It is an enjoyable romp, yet a total waste of time; it will not challenge the reader, nor introduce any new ideas into fantasy (yet?), but it is written well enough to be enjoyable. If you want a well written piece of stereotyped Tolkienesque `high fantasy’ then you could well get some enjoyment out of this.
However, if you are looking for something new, then you may want to look elsewhere.

Reviewed by Dave Corby Dec-2008 Published by Gollancz

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Patrice Sarath

FOG SEASON (Tales of Port Saint Frey 2) by Patrice Sarath

In the first book in this series, THE SISTERS MEDEROS the reader is introduced to two sisters, Yvienne and Tesara. Their family were once wealthy merchants in the trading city of Port Saint Frey but by a mixture of treachery and ill fortune, they are now impoverished and shunned by most of the other influential families. The sisters are determined to investigate who was responsible for their downfall and restore the family’s fortune and reputation and they independently embark upon risky schemes. Yvienne masquerades as the Gentleman Bandit, searching for evidence by robbing the same Merchant families. Tesara obtains both information and money at the card game salons frequented by the younger adults of the Merchant Guild. In the end, they uncover the chief perpetrator and he is forced to flee the city and their reputation is restored. The main fantasy element is that Tesara has to keep secret her magical abilities, which are not accepted in society.
In this second book, the magical part of the world building becomes more central to the plot. In the town of Port Saint Frey there is still gossip and rumours about some of the events in the first book. Although their reputation and some of their fortunes have been restored, the family is still not completely welcomed back into the fold. Yvienne and Tesara’s attempts to downplay things and keep their previous roles quiet is made harder when the Merchant’s Guild hires a detective to find some answers. Unfortunately for the sisters, he has his own magical abilities which makes it doubly hard to evade his investigation. Things get even more complicated when a previous enemy returns to seek revenge, and the detective is revealed to have a hidden agenda aimed at exploiting Tesara’s growing magical abilities.
There is a popular subset of fantasy books using a faux Regency style setting, similar to that in Jane Austen/Georgette Heyer novels. Notable examples include The Glamourist Histories by Mary Robinette Kowal and Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown series to name but a few. Patrice Sarath’s books fall in my opinion firmly in that category. I thoroughly enjoyed FOG SEASON (and its predecessor). In particular, the maturing and changing personalities of the two sisters is one of the strengths of these books. Whilst as expected there is much verbal sparring and some humour, there is also plenty of action and the plot moves along at a good pace, keeping this reader happily reading. If I have a criticism it is that some of the secondary characters are a little stereotypical at times but the second novel is an improvement on the first. Despite a few reservations, this was a fun, enjoyable read.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Mar-2020 Published by Angry Robot

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Stephanie Saulter

BINARY (®evolution 2) by Stephanie Saulter

This sequel is set some months after the dramatic events at the end of the first book in the series, GEMSIGNS. The GEM’s (Genetically Modified Humans) now have full legal protection and they are starting to integrate and become more accepted by “norm” society. All human DNA genestock has been removed from the gemtech companies and is held in supposedly secure government quarantine. However, many of the Gems still face health and reproductive problems from the specialised and sometimes experimental gene manipulation they have undergone.
Zackva Klist, the ruthless gemtech company executive appears to be trying to rehabilitate her image and announces a shift from genetic engineering back towards information technology, which had been neglected during the disastrous Syndrome years. To do this, she needs the abilities of some of the gems and the propaganda value of their approval. Although reluctant, Aryel Morningstar, the winged leader of the gems must cooperate in order to gain their expertise to help the sick gems, particularly as one is her younger stepbrother, Rhys. However can this new Zackva be trusted?
Against these apparently positive developments, a theft of genestock from the government storage raises the spectre of possible black market genetic engineering. As DI Sharon Varsi, a “normal” human married to a gem, attempts to find the thief and their motive the trail starts to uncover secrets from both Aryel and Zackva’s past which have consequences in the present.
Having enjoyed immensely the first book in this series, there was some trepidation as to whether the sequel would maintain the quality. I need not have worried. Having done some excellent world building in the first novel, this book has more space to explore the characters in detail. In particular, in uncovering more of the past of Aryel Morningstar and Zackva we get a better understanding of their personalities and fragilities. In particular, one even finds some sympathy for the villain, Zackva despite some of her monstrous acts.
I also liked that minor characters eg Herran and Sharon from the previous book were given bigger roles and the introduction of new interesting characters. My favourites included the relationship between Callan and Rhys and I also think the autistic savant, Herran has potential to be developed even further in subsequent books. Yet again the pacing was good and the story kept me gripped as I tried to work out the significance of various acts and discoveries. Ms Saulter is expert at keeping you speculating, teasing you with breadcrumbs which hint at but don’t obviously telegraph the exciting climax and conclusion. The author has produced an excellent sequel, with improved character development whilst maintaining great storytelling and lots of plausible speculative SF ideas. Definitely recommended.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Apr-2014 Published by Jo Fletcher

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GEMSIGNS by Stephanie Saulter

In the near future humanity was nearly destroyed by the Syndrome. A degenerative neurological disease which emerges in puberty, victims of the Syndrome required constant care for 10 to 15 years until their eventual death around 30 years old. The severe emotional and economic strains caused by losing almost an entire generation radically alter society. Money and resources were poured into research and amidst the hysteria, ethical considerations are a very low priority. The only “cure” was to genetically engineer resistance into all embryos. Facing massive labour shortages (whilst the new generation of resistant babies grow and mature) the genetic engineering companies (“gemtechs”) use their newfound techniques to produce specialised Genetically Modified Humans (GEM’s) to fill this gap. A desperate public initially turn a blind eye to the gemtech experiments and the GEM’s are slaves in all but name.
At the start of this book, things have started to improve slightly for the GEM’s. They have been freed from the control of the gemtech companies and a European conference is about to report on what should be done to give the GEM’s legal protection and rights. However all is not well. Various factions oppose the GEM’s. These include the gemtech companies who want the lucrative gem’s back under their control, the religious godgangs who see them as abominations and much of the general public who resent and fear them. Also the Gems have their own problems caused by decades of physical deprivation and genetic experimentation.
Dr Eli Walker is the scientist charged with deciding whether gems should be considered human. Trying to be objective he must resist the manipulative gemtech executive, Zackva Klist as he gets to know the gem’s including their deformed, brilliant spokeswoman, Aryel Morningstar and the young boy, Gabriel whose hidden past and abilities will prove pivotal to the story. Over the period of a week before his vital report, the manipulations of the various parties escalate into violence.
Now if this sounds a bit dry, it is far from it. For what I believe is a first novel , this book is very impressive and I loved it – to me it does exactly what SF should do – take that “What If?” idea and then consider the various consequences and developments. The characters are sympathetic yet believable. The book is very readable with a good pace and it builds to a very exciting climax. It left me wanting to know more about the next developments in the characters’ lives. To be even-handed there are a few minor niggles such as a slightly heavy information dump at the beginning of the book but hopefully as the author gains experience this will improve and I am looking forward to the sequel.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Mar-2014 Published by Jo Fletcher

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REGENERATION (®evolution 3) by Stephanie Saulter

This third novel in the ®evolution series takes place nearly a decade after the events of the first two books (GEMSIGNS and BINARY). The genetically modified humans (GEM’s) freed from control of the gemtech companies, are recovering from their institutionalised lives, establishing families and forging new independent lives financed by using their unique specialised abilities commercially. This story focuses in particular on one GEM-controlled project, the building of a new tidal power station in the river Thames. This is run mainly by a group of amphibious GEMs called “gillungs” who are combining their ability to work underwater and a new Gem-developed method of energy storage (quantum batteries). However there are conservative factions who have ideological and financial reasons to not want the project to succeed and try both legal and illegal methods to achieve their aims. In addition, the gems’ old antagonist Zackva Klist is being released to house arrest – is this a coincidence and is she involved in this latest attempt to attack the gems?
As I have come to expect from Stephanie Saulter, in this third book she continues to write a well-paced story with lots of action. The future developments in technology and biology in particular are clever and believable and well integrated into the story. As with BINARY the author is not afraid to move focus from the main protagonists of the previous stories. Although the leaders of the opposing factions, Aryel and Zackva still have significant roles, the story concentrates to a large extent on characters from the first novel (GEMSIGNS). In particular, the gem couple Bal and Gaela and their family of two adopted children. These are the now nearly adult, Gabriel (whose mind-reading abilities were pivotal in GEMSIGNS) and his eight year old sister, Eve. It is their background and abilities which will be vital in uncovering and defeating the opposition. Some fans might be a bit disappointed that their favourite characters have a lesser role but I think that the emotional heart and depth of this novel is the consideration of the upcoming generation and the difference that being raised in a family rather than an institution will make to the gems. This is an excellent and thoroughly recommended story which examines regeneration on many levels. My only disappointment is that this might be the last I see of this world as there are so many characters and themes I loved and want to follow further.
Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Jun-2015 Published by Jo Fletcher

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Robert J Sawyer

FLASHFORWARD by Robert J Sawyer

This novel was originally published in 1999 but set initially in April 2009 when the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) was due for its first run in the search of the Higgs boson. Most of us can remember what happened.
In Sawyer’s novel everyone in the world experienced a vision of themselves twenty-one years on, at the moment the LHC was activated. The vision lasted for two minutes and the obvious culprit for the phenomenon was the LHC.
There were a number of deaths from people falling off ladders, down stairs and cars going out of control. The emphasis of the novel was the way in which people directly involved with the experiment coped with the after effects.
Michiko Komura’s daughter was killed by a runaway car in her school playground. She had been due to marry Lloyd Simcoe but in her vision she saw herself in Japan with a young daughter. Lloyd had been in bed with another woman to whom he was married.
They have to decide whether to go ahead with the marriage in the knowledge that it will fail. Theo Procopides does not have a vision. Detective work shows that he was murdered the previous day. While Lloyd believes the future is fixed, Theo desperately wants to believe that it can be changed and he will not die.
The problem with setting a novel so close to the time of writing is that the author is likely to get things wrong. Sawyer extrapolates but there are differences he couldn’t foresee. As a result the technical background dates the book. It perhaps should have been revised before reprinting.
The TV programme FLASHFORWARD claims to be based on this novel. The only obvious connection is that everyone in the world experiences a two minute glimpse of the future and one of the characters is called Lloyd Simcoe. There the resemblance ends.
The TV series is set in America rather than Geneva, the flashforward is six months rather than twenty-one years. There is a crime, but it involves a blue hand gang and lots of bodies and policemen. There are suggestions that terrorists or the Chinese are responsible.
Basically, the American producers have taken the one central idea and turned it into an American style cop show.
Although the book is dated, it has a scientifically plausible rationale at its heart and is internally consistent. The TV programme can be taken as a completely separate entity.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Jan-2010 Published by Gollancz

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TRIGGERS by Robert J Sawyer

Robert Sawyer is an author who likes to play games with the minds of his characters. In FLASHFORWARD (the novel on which the TV series was loosely based), it was the switching of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN which caused the effect of those present seeing images from their future lives. Sadly this was a brilliant idea that had a short life as time and technology quickly overtook the events of the novel.
TRIGGERS is likely to be equally ephemeral as it is set only a few years in our future. The idea that forms the basis of the plot seems slight and slightly silly, yet the execution is absorbing. This is why plot summaries should always be taken with a pinch of salt.
The setting is the United States in about five years time. A Republican, Seth Jerrison, is the occupant of the White House. There have been a series of terrorist bomb attacks in major cities. They cause localised devastation but also send out an electromagnetic pulse that scrambles electronics. As TRIGGERS opens, Jerrison is planning a massive counterstrike against the terrorists. Giving a speech at the base of the Lincoln memorial, Jerrison is shot. He is rushed to the nearest hospital where surgery saves his life. During that surgery, a bomb goes off in the White House, reducing it to rubble.
In the same part of the hospital, though on a different floor, Professor Ranjip Singh is using experimental equipment to try and alleviate the traumatic memories of a veteran of the Iraq war. As the bomb goes off, the electromagnetic pulse screws with the apparatus. The result is that twenty-one people in range of the machine suddenly have access to one other person in the group. For some this is a relatively benign effect, for others it is more problematic. As our own memories are often triggered by smell or sight or factors of circumstance, so access to these new memories is obtained by a trigger. One of the affected people has access to the President’s memories. Susan Dawson, who is now reading the memories of Ranjip Singh, is the head of the President’s security. It is her primary job, now, to find who that person is because having the President’s memories is a potentially catastrophic breach of National Security.
The situation he has set up allows Sawyer to explore the ways people think and the things that trigger different kinds of memory and the way this can impact on a person’s beliefs and behaviour. As might be expected from a skilled writer, Sawyer doesn’t stop with just a simple connection between members of the group but pushes the idea much further.
Perhaps the ending is a little idealistic but maybe this is what the world need at the moment – a bit of faith that the impossible might happen. Packed full of very believable characters, there is nontheless a tendency to try and get every ethnic and religious group into this mix – a representative of every aspect of American society. That said, this is the kind of book that should be read and enjoyed now before time overtakes it and we know that it was all a pipedream.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Jan-2013 Published by Gollancz

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WAKE by Robert J Sawyer

This is the first book in Robert J. Sawyer’s ‘WWW’ trilogy. It was originally published as a series of instalments in Analog SF from November 2008 to March 2009.
The book is set in the present, and Caitlin Decter is a blogging teenager and a maths genius who has been blind since birth. She is invited to test a new visual implant which could give her full sight.
However, her visual cortex is so used to navigating paths on-line, that when her ‘eye-pod’ is implanted, instead of seeing the real world she sees a visual impression of the internet being streamed to her.
Slowly, she begins to detect a presence in the background – an intelligence that grows throughout the book naming itself ‘Webmind’.
There are two subplots to this book: a captive hybrid chimpanzee that begins to paint representations of his keeper, and a bird ‘flu pandemic in China which has caused China to shut itself off from non-Chinese websites.
Somewhat frustratingly none of the story arcs join up in this first part of the trilogy, which leaves the reader wondering if the main premise of the second volume will simply be joining up these story arcs, leaving the ‘Webmind’ plot itself rather lacking.
Overall, the themes of the book are emerging intelligence, consciousness and self-awareness. Caitlin’s increasing visual awareness and emergence into the ‘seeing’ world is mirrored by events in the other plots. Sawyer handles this well and throughout the book there are references to the theory of consciousness to make the story really credible.
The characters are likeable, although Sawyer’s portrayal of a teenage girl who has just been gained sight, is not wholly convincing, and the book is a little lacklustre in some places leading me to wonder if this is perhaps a trilogy that would have been a tighter and better paced single, larger novel. Webmind’s apparently self-selected Occam’s razor logic gives rise to some concerns that the trilogy might contain some all too familiar ‘Hal’ moments.
I must also echo Pauline’s comments from her review of Sawyer’s FLASHFORWARD in January’s Brum Group News that when books are set so close to the time of writing the author can get it wrong. WAKE already sounds a little out of date, especially in terms of its references to bird ‘flu and some of the ‘blogspeak’ and emoticons used.
The theme of the book is well presented and the book is a good page turner of a sufficient pace to keep the reader interested. The consciousness and mathematical theories are presented well so as not to alienate anyone not too familiar with those topics and avoid giving the reader that sense of reading a textbook. This book has been compared with SNOWCRASH by Stephenson and some of Gibson’s work, and although it has its appeal I don’t feel it is in that league. Finally, for me the ‘Webmind’ plot was not massively attention-grabbing, I was far more interested in the loveable painting chimp…

Reviewed by Sam Fennell Feb-2010 Published by Gollancz

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WATCH by Robert J Sawyer

WATCH is the second book in Robert J. Sawyers ‘WWW’ trilogy. The first novel, WAKE, sets the scene of a blind teenage girl, Caitlin, being implanted with new technology which enables her to see. Inadvertently, this technology also means that she can ‘see’ the internet and she soon detects an emerging, internet intelligence (‘Webmind’) and communicates with it, supporting its development. There are two subplots; a chimpanzee that appears to be gaining intelligence, and a bird flu pandemic in China which caused China to close itself to non-Chinese websites.
WATCH continues with the themes of emerging intelligence, although frustratingly, the subplots do not move forward a great deal. The idea of Webmind, and the way in which Sawyer describes its emerging intelligence is credible although remains lacklustre.
The first part of the trilogy, introduced a number of fairly likeable albeit flat characters, however in WATCH they begin to become spectacularly unbelievable, particularly Caitlin and her parents. I don’t think many parents would keep their teenagers home from school so that they could stay at home to talk to an emergent, internet intelligence. I didn’t find Caitlin’s witty and clever remarks to federal agents credible. Caitlin frequently refers to how much she loves her parents and how she understands when she doesn’t get something she wants, it is for her own good. Any readers with experience of teenage children will find Caitlin very odd indeed, as might teenage readers find her mother, (“Mum can you look after Webmind when I go to school?”). All in all, it seems that the authenticity of the characters has been lost at the cost of moving the plot forward.
Other characters in the novel have not really developed, in particular Shoshanna, the painting chimpanzee’s carer. Sawyer seems to treat her character as an opportunity to make a couple of points, firstly that ‘girls can do things that boys can’ (which has been done too often and badly enough to be a cliché in itself) and that gay relationships are okay, even inter-racial ones! His depiction of the relationship is poor, and I was offended at being needlessly lectured on gay and black rights for four pages! Most people who will pick up this book would probably consider these debates well past their sell-by date.
Webmind itself, having now been identified by WATCH, the secret government agency (‘Web Activity Threat Containment Headquarters), seems to be making one too many ‘oops, I’m a robot so I don’t understand humans’ moments.
I groaned frequently as I read this book. One particularly groan-worthy moment was where Sawyer refers to another of his books via Caitlin making a comment on FLASHFORWARD.
The overall concept of this trilogy is not a bad one. One redeeming feature of this book is a scene relating to teenage on-line suicide, which was handled quite well, but I think most readers would find this a frustrating read. The book does have good pace and occasional humour. However, it lacks in too many areas. Due to the large number of positive reviews on-line about this book, I’ve come to the conclusion that Robert J. Sawyer must be the Dan Brown of SF… personally I can’t recommend it at all.

Reviewed by Sam Fennell Feb-2011 Published by Gollancz

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WONDER (WWW Trilogy part 3) by Robert J Sawyer

Previous parts of this three-volume story have described the spontaneous emergence of a self-aware Artificial Intelligence arising from the complexity of the World Wide Web and this final part picks up shortly after a failed attempt by a US Government agency to neutralize it. Fortunately, Caitlin Decter, the blind teenage maths genius who discovered and bonded with ‘Webmind’ is on hand to help protect and guide her new friend. With her help, supported by her family and a few friends, he (or should that be ‘it’?) is able to avoid further attacks and eventually to ‘go public’, addressing the General Assembly of the UN and pointing out that his survival is dependent on the future survival and well-being of humanity so that there is no way he could possibly constitute a threat – in fact, quite the reverse. The climactic point is the award of the Nobel peace Prize jointly to Webmind and to Tim Berners-Lee, the original creator of the Web.
Sawyer writes in an engagingly readable style and tells a good story, keeping the reader interested and keen to discover what happens next. The narrative progresses in a tidy and logical fashion and the various characters play their parts well. There is just sufficient explanation, without it becoming tedious, of what has already taken place in the two previous volumes, although some prior knowledge of their contents was a help, and it becomes clear that the various subsidiary characters all have their parts to play in bringing about the final conclusion.
However, it must be said that the story is comprised of a chain of events which for the most part are individually quite mundane and unexciting. Also, characterisation is in general stereotypical and shallow and Webmind him/it/self is represented as nothing more than an entity of merely average intelligence albeit with a superhumanly broad attention span and a superhuman memory. But of course, perhaps that is how the first true Artificial Intelligence will be – who knows?
There have been artificial intelligences before, of course – Colossus, Hal, Mike, AM, Harlie, Valentina, to name but a few. Some have been supremely bad for mankind, others reasonably good; Sawyer’s new contribution may be to show human and artificial intelligences coming together in a state of mutual interdependence to the benefit of both.
As such, this volume stands to be a worth-while addition to the body of work on this kind of theme, but whether there has been sufficient new to say to justify a three-volume work is debatable. With, perhaps, a few minor additions to clarify references to the backstory covered in the first two parts, WONDER could have been sufficient on its own to make the point.
On that basis, it is just about worth reading, while not necessarily standing alongside the greatest works of SF.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Jul-2011 Published by Gollancz

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John Scalzi

LOCK IN by John Scalzi

LOCK IN is a great blend of two of my favourite genres, speculative or science fiction and crime mysteries and is written by a master of his craft.
In about fifteen years from now the world is beset by a new pandemic virus (known as Haden’s syndrome) affecting about 2.5 billion people and resulting in around 400 million deaths. Most of these fatalities are from the initial flu- like symptoms but a significant number are from the second and third stages. These are meningitis-like with cerebral and spinal inflammation and in a significant number result in complete paralysis of the voluntary nervous system resulting in the ‘lock in’ of its victims. In the US alone this amounts to about 4.35 million persons. There is another effect, a very few of those infected suffer no physical or mental decline despite significant changes to their brain structure. Some of these persons go on to become ‘integrators’.
Large scale research has led to the development of ‘embedded neural nets’ for ‘lock in’ victims via which they can control android-like ‘Personal Transports’ or PTs commonly known as ‘threeps’ or more derogatively as ‘clanks’. Via these the ‘locked in’ can interact with normal society and lead a productive life. However by borrowing an integrator’s body they can more intimately and anonymously experience life.
The action in LOCK IN is set about 20 years after the first outbreak of the disease. Written in the first person it follows a Haden’s victim, Chris Shane a rookie FBI agent, during his first week on the job. Naturally his first case is Haden’s related. As with all of the John Scalzi books that I have read LOCK IN is very well written with a highly likeable and humane hero ably supported by a cast of friends, colleagues and enemies. Readers are provided with a clear picture of the world in which Chris lives and works. In this book like most detective novels there are useful coincidences which are central to the solving of the mystery; otherwise the story would not flow. These for instance include the skills of one of Chris’s new house mates and the experiences of his FBI partner.
In LOCK IN, John Scalzi has cemented his position as one of today’s best SF writers, like all of his previous books this one is worth reading more than once.

Reviewed by Jim Pearce Oct-2014 Published by Gollancz

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REDSHIRTS by John Scalzi

John Scalzi is the author of a number of SF novels including his OLD MAN’S WAR sequence which are well crafted mainline space odyssey masterpieces. In addition he has published a number of books with a more off beat but still highly entertaining SF bent, e.g.
THE ANDROID’S DREAM. REDSHIRTS is in the latter sub-genre.
This story starts as its hero Ensign Andrew Dahl joins the Universal Union (called the DubU in most of the book) Capital Ship and fleet flagship Intrepid. He and the other members of his intake group soon find out that there is something very strange going on aboard the Intrepid. For instance why: Do the staff take such drastic steps to avoid the ship’s senior officers?
Is the ship involved in so many ‘Away Missions?’ Does every Away Mission involve lethal confrontation with alien forces?
Do Away Mission personnel make out of character and illogical decision?
Is at least one low ranked mission member (a redshirt) always killed while the ship’s captain, the science officer and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive?
Can the ship’s scientific breakthroughs never be replicated back at Fleet Headquarters?
I am sure that any resemblance to ‘Star Trek’ is not coincidental.
After suffering through a number of away missions Ensign Dahl and his intake cohort investigate these phenomena resulting in them taking an extraordinary and risky away mission of their own which appears to bring the story to a definite end. However there is still about a third of the book to go! John Scalzi cleverly fills this with three codas focussing on the aftermath of the away mission on three seemingly minor characters. The outcome of these codas and especially the final one makes one think that perhaps they were the real objective of the narrative.
The strong storytelling and characters in REDSHIRTS and his previous books makes them a pleasure to read confirming my strong opinion that John Scalzi is a writer of great imagination and skill. I eagerly look forward to reading any book he produces in the future.
Reviewed by Jim Pearce Mar-2013 Published by Gollancz

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THE HUMAN DIVISION (Old Man’s War 5) by John Scalzi

The structure of a novel is often more important than the reader realises. Choosing the wrong approach can be a minefield. The reader has to be absorbed by the plot that the framework supports but at the same time, the out of the ordinary can add a dimension. Many novels, especially those written in first person, are linear starting at the beginning and ending… with maybe a flashback or two. Others have complex formats. Experimenting with structure can produce startling effects. THE HUMAN DIVISION doesn’t quite do this but the unconventional structure fits the book well.
In the first book in this series, OLD MAN’S WAR, we were introduced to an interesting concept. At the age of seventy-five, you could join the army. So, after having a good life on Earth and whatever the state of your health, you were promised a brand new, young body. The only set-backs were that it was green and you had to fight aliens. Most recruits died. If you survived ten years you got the chance to become a colonist. It was a tempting offer that many took. Since then, things have changed. Many of the alien races have got together to form the Conclave and put a stop to colonisation and human expansionism. The Colonial Union, made up of the human colonised planets, isn’t happy with this development. Earth is not happy either. Having discovered that the Union has deliberately kept advanced technology from the home planet, they are not going to allow the Union to recruit any more soldiers or colonists. As a result, the weapon in the arsenal is diplomacy.
THE HUMAN DIVISION is structured as thirteen separate episodes, each one of which can be read as a separate short story but need to be taken in the order laid out in the book. The whole has the feel of a novel as each episode progresses the story. The main human characters are Harry Wilson, who, although a technician is one of the Union’s green-skinned soldiers. He is assigned to the Clarke, a ‘civilian’ ship that is transport to the team of Ambassador Abumwe. Her deputy and Harry’s friend is Hart Schmidt. This team are regarded as a B-team, usually given low-priority ambassadorial missions but when another negotiating team is unexpectedly destroyed, they are drafted in to a crisis that could become a severe diplomatic incident. Failure to solve the problem could mean war.
Not all the episodes are from the point of view of members of this team, who prove themselves increasingly adept at getting results under pressure, but each one adds something to the overall picture. Even if the characters do know the exact nature of the climactic events, the reader will have a better notion, having gained an overview.
The book is cleverly drafted and each episode would easily fit within an anthology or magazine. The whole is an enjoyable read.
It should perhaps be noted that the book also contains two short stories, one of which takes place before the start of the novel.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Aug-2016 Published by Tor

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ZOE’S TALE by John Scalzi

“I was hoping you’d review this book,” said Rog, with a malicious grin.
“And not just because it says this!” He indicated the words on the cover: ‘An Old Man’s War Novel’. Yeah, right. But I took it anyway, and actually it does help to be able to read these books from the perspective of, let’s just say, someone of advanced years. . .
I say ‘these books’ because it quickly became clear that I needed to know more about the background of this one, which is actually the story of a teenager who is the daughter of John Perry, who was 75 years old in the first book. . .
So, to start at the beginning: on their 75th birthday, men and women can choose to join the army, aka the Colonial Defense Force (sic) or CDF for two years (which will really be ten) and be rejuvenated - indeed reborn, in a new body, or rather an enhanced, young version of themselves. The downside is that they are then likely to die shortly anyway, by being shot or meeting some other violent end. But there is always the possibility that they will make it through the next ten years, when they will have the option of continuing as they are or becoming a colonist on another planet - which is what the CDF is all about: protecting colonists from alien races who want their worlds and will stop at nothing to get them. Real estate, it seems, is in short supply in the galaxy.
It turns out that Zoë Boutin-Perry is actually the adopted daughter of John Perry and Jane Sagan (who is his superior office in OLD MAN’S WAR, though she actually belongs to an even more élite force and looks like his dead wife; but that’s another story), now ‘retired’ and become colonists. As a result of the rejuvenation process, CDF members are sterile. Zoë’s real father was Charles Boutin, a scientist whose story is told in another book in the series, THE GHOST BRIGADES. To their eternal gratitude he has given consciousness and self-awareness to a weird race called the Obin, as a result of which, and because they believe that he is dead, Zoë is revered almost as a god. The responsibilities of this and the effects of them on her young life form a large part of this story. Her parents are administrators on the colony world of Roanoke, and for a while Zoë is allowed to find her place among her peers; making a best friend of Gretchen, establishing a relationship with Enzo, falling out, making up, and all the girly things that one would expect. But all this is not helped by the fact that she is shadowed everywhere by a pair of giant, frightening Obin ‘bodyguards’ – who actually provide comic relief for a lot of the time, though their presence becomes much more serious later.
I was very impressed by the way in which, in the first book, the author gets inside the head of an old (?!) man and describes his experiences as he sees and feels them, and in this book quite successfully does the same from the viewpoint of a teenaged girl. Quite an achievement!
From the quotes inside from various reviewers it is clear that a lot of people compare Scalzi with Heinlein, and in particular Heinlein’s ‘juvenile’ novels, like TUNNEL/FARMER IN THE SKY. I can see why, and although these are not marketed as juveniles (and aren’t), with a little judicious editing they would make an excellent introduction for younger readers, especially girls who think SF is not for them… But in Zoë, Scalzi succeeds in creating a young character with a lot of life and warmth, and who reacts to the situations in which she is placed in a believable manner. Matters come to a head when a Conclave fleet appears in the sky above Roanoke with the intent to destroy the colony completely, and it is down to her adoptive parents – and to Zoë herself – to attempt to save their planet, and help humanity escape the greater implications that would ensue.
On one level this is a coming-of-age novel; on another it is almost a galaxy-wide space opera. On both levels I think it succeeds, and I’m now getting Scalzi’s other books, one of which, THE LAST COLONY, apparently parallels this one, but from quite a different viewpoint. Definitely recommended.

Reviewed by David A Hardy Oct-2009 Published by Tor

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Donna Scott

BEST OF BRITISH SCIENCE FICTION 2016 edited by Donna Scott

The rise in popularity of SF in the early 20th century was mainly led by short fiction in magazines. Short stories have thus always been a larger part of SF than other areas of writing and continue to be an excellent way to sample and discover authors and their work. Anyone attempting to produce a “best of” anthology is undertaking a thankless task as you’re never going to please everyone. That being said there are a lot of first-rate stories in this bumper collection of 25 stories. With that many stories I don’t intend to review every story but will try and give a snapshot of some that worked for me and some that didn’t. One thing that I did appreciate is that all the stories are science fiction, as opposed to fantasy although some have a bit more realistic science than others. The first story in the anthology is one I definitely liked, “Arrested Development” which is about the lengths one young woman must go to, to escape her destitute and harsh existence. The characterisation of the desperate but determined Kai is splendid and made me want to read more writing by Joanne Hall. Other favourites included; the wonderful “Liberty Bird” by Jaine Fenn (which won a BSFA Award); “Between Nine and Eleven” by Adam Roberts which has a very clever idea about the consequences when a superweapon removes the number 10 temporarily from the fabric of the universe; “People, Places and Things” by Den Patrick where things and people are gradually disappearing from reality and the only record of them is in peoples’ memories. In addition to a well-executed scenario, it also has emotional heart and the best part for me is in examining grief; “The Apologists” by Tade Thompson about the last five humans living in an alien facsimile of Earth. In trying to recreate Earth society, only one of them wants to include all its faults. It is a credit to the author’s skill that such an angry, violent person as the protagonist is the one that the reader most sympathises with. Other great stories include a rare and atypical short piece from Peter F Hamilton “Ten Love Songs to Change the World”, EJ Swift’s “Front Row Seat to the End of the World” and “Foreign Bodies” from the always worth reading Neil Williamson which looks at the dislocation of human emigrants who can’t go home and is both beautiful, metaphorical and has an emotional heart. Some of the authors in this volume were familiar to me whereas others I had not heard of before. One thing I would have liked was some short biographies for the authors. This would have been especially useful for ones who I am not familiar with in helping to find more of their work and also to give the reader an idea of how new or experienced they were. Overall, this book it is good value, working out at just over 50 pence a story. There is certainly plenty of variety in both themes and writing styles so there should be something to please most SF fans here.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Mar-2018 Published by NewCon Press

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Rob Scott

15 MILES by Rob Scott

The blurb on the front cover reads “A dead Marine captain, a forty year old secret, revenge from beyond the grave.” Of these three items one is true, one nearly irrelevant and one false. Elsewhere this is described as a horror story. If that makes you think of something fantastical or supernatural, you're probably wrong. This qualifies as horror in the same way as PSYCHO or SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Some might call this a detective or crime novel but I'd debate that too. The crime here is in an unreported death and defrauding the welfare system and the detective isn't really detecting anything most of the time. The best description I can come up with here is ‘Thriller’. It's not a great one but it's a creditable try. Sam ‘Sailor’ Doyle is a police detective. He drinks a lot. He has a drug problem - pills he acquired in bulk some time before. He is on his first case as lead detective on a homicide. The case is gruesome. There are two mutilated and mummified corpses, a lot of feral cats and several dead farm animals. It looks bad but it will get a whole lot worse. By the end of the story he will have been badly scratched by cats, infected with bubonic plague and bitten by several poisonous snakes. There's also a 40 year old woman with the mind of a 6-year-old that could bring the plague to a major city and beyond. There are also sub-plots involving suggestions of biological warfare and a plot to murder a senior politician that don't really work. There are two real failures here. The first smacks a little too much of a Stephen Donaldson character. Fairly early on you realise that Sailor likes his beer and has a pill problem. That isn't really enough for him to keep reminding us exactly how much beer he has had and how many pills he has taken along with all the other medication that he's been shot up with. The second item seems to be a teaser for some kind of supernatural element that may develop into something in a sequel. Sailor feels responsible for the death of his sister years before. He didn't pick her up from the airport. She got a lift with friends and they were involved in an accident with a snowplough that killed them all. Throughout the book he hears voices and sees messages saying that his sister forgives him and that he should ‘find the girl’. They could be messages from beyond the grave but considering his physical state it's never suggested that they're anything more than delusions. If that's the truth, why are they there? All in all this is a good solid thriller that is probably the first of a series - the website is not something from the author's name. It could improve if Sailor gets over his substance abuse problems and they don't get sued by the people responsible for THE FRENCH CONNECTION.

Reviewed by William McCabe Oct-2010 Published by Gollancz

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Philip Segal with Gary Russell

DOCTOR WHO REGENERATION by Philip Segal with Gary Russell

The clever title refers both to the regeneration of the seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy, as the eighth doctor, Paul McCann, and to the regeneration of the series after an absence from the small screen of over six years. This is the story of how both came about.
In fact Philip Segal had approached the BBC with a view to developing Doctor Who for American TV some months before the last broadcast in 1989. It took four-and-ahalf years of discussions and negotiations before he got the go-ahead to make a television film which might or might not be the pilot for a TV series which might or might not get made. That was in January 1994 and it was another two years before shooting started, during which a script was prepared, scrapped, rewritten and finally abandoned and replaced by something completely different. The result was screened in May 1996 and flopped in the US where it appears to have sunk without trace, nothing having been heard of any follow-up by way of either a series or further movies.
However it was much better received here, forcing the Beeb to go on record as saying that the possibility of more Doctor in the future could not be ruled out.
Who-writer Russell and Executive Producer Segal have provided a detailed account of all these events, beautifully presented and superbly illustrated. The fascination of an account like this is that it provides insights into why things turned out the way they did as well as into what got left out and what might have been. How about a regiment of Daleks with greatly enhanced capabilities (no more problems with stairs!) controlled by Roger Daltrey as the Master, with Billy Connolly as the Doctor fighting to save the universe? Segal says in the book “ I truly hope that reading this book will give some of you a newly found appreciation of the craft of film making in general, as well as an awareness of what went into our film in particular.” Well, he and Russell have certainly accomplished that and the book is well worthwhile even if, like me, you are not especially enthusiastic about Dr Who.
(In fact, having read it I found I was motivated to watch the video again with renewed and enhanced interest.)

Reviewed by Michael Jones Oct-2001 Published by HarperCollins

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Bob Shaw

NIGHT WALK by Bob Shaw

Bob Shaw seems to have been rather forgotten as an author, which is a pity as he was brilliant! He was of course a President of the Brum Group, and always in demand at cons for his ‘Serious Scientific Lectures’ - which were anything but. And in 1981 we worked together on our book GALACTIC TOURS.
I have been re-reading his books, and have just finished NIGHT WALK. I believe this was his first published novel, from 1967, and the Corgi paperback edition I read was from 1977. I have to say that it is the most brilliant SF story that I’ve read for years! Many of his early covers have no connection at all with the story inside, and seem to have been picked at random by the Art Editor. This one actually makes a good attempt to depict the story of Earth’s secret agent Sam Tallon, blinded as a punishment, who escapes from a prison in a swamp on the planet Emm Luther, from which nobody has ever got away before.
It shows him wearing the ‘eyeset' which enables him to see through the eyes of other people, animals, birds etc. But Emm Luther is described as ‘a planet with no moons’ — yet the cover (by an unnamed artist as usual) shows several large moons in the sky (one with its dark side darker than the sky around it, which is hard to explain. . .) This is definitely ‘hard SF’, and Bob shows off his extensive scientific and technical knowledge to good effect. But it also shows a lot of humanity, and could even, in part, be called a ‘love story’. Tallon falls in love with Helen, the sister of Carl Juste, inventor of the electronic eyes, and searches for her towards the end of the book. I won’t spoil the ending by telling you if he succeeds, as I hope you will read this for yourself — if you can find it. On Amazon I found only a Kindle edition, or one paperback @ £39.95. This is a great pity, for his work still stands up against anything available today.

Reviewed by David A Hardy Jul-2021 Published by Corgi

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Lisa Shearin

THE SOLSTICE COUNTDOWN (SPI Files 7) by Lisa Shearin

This top-notch urban fantasy will appeal to fans of Buffy and author Seanan McGuire.
Makenna (Mac) Fraser, a seer for SPI (Supernatural Protection and Investigations), had proved her worth so far in many battles, but taking her boyfriend - goblin dark mage, Rake Danescu - home for Christmas to meet the family, could be the biggest battle of all. Rake, now governor of Earth’s goblin colony is literally a reformed rake; a deliciously dashing bad boy gone good. But he still has that dark mage, sexy edge and an air of danger about him, never mind the ability to heat up the page. He’s just the kind of man Mac’s mom had warned her against (and her mom should know).
At the moment Mac’s SPI partner, Ian Byrne and his girlfriend Kylie O’Hara are away recovering from the last battle, in Bora Bora. Meanwhile Mac and Rake are headed to Weird Sisters for the Winter Solstice. The town is occupied by werewolves, oracles, witches and all sorts. Of course, anyone with family knows that seasonal plans can sometimes go awry; there’s going awry, then there’s going bang.
As soon as Mac and Rake have reached her hometown, it’s danger, adventure, mysteries to solve and lives to save; all whilst Rake has to pass the in-law tests.
I love the larger settings of the previous books, but making this more insular and introducing the townsfolk of Weird Sisters and Mac’s extended family gifts the series an extra dimension and we see how much Rake actually cares for her as well. Her family is a hoot, especially the Grandma, and some family members are much more intriguing than you’d have thought possible.
All manner of supernatural creatures inhabit this Hallmark picture-perfect town and it adds to the charm of this book. In fact, surprisingly, it brims with the magic of Christmas despite the death and mayhem. I love the inhabitants so much it would be great to see a Weird Sister’s spin off.
Shearin is adept at building tension and moving the story along, whilst also creating believable characters. As normal, there’s a respectable amount of violence and blood, lots of humour and a fight against a ‘big bad’, twists, turns, magic, romance and so much more. Once you turn the page, you’ll be hooked.

Reviewed by Theresa Derwin Apr-2021 Published by Murwood Media LLC

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Anna Sheehan

A LONG, LONG SLEEP by Anna Sheehan

A LONG, LONG SLEEP by Anna Sheehan is, as far as I can tell, the first book by a new author. Based on the evident skill in writing displayed in this novel Sheehan might be worth watching to see what her future output could be like. The books by-line describes an enduring fairytale (Sleeping Beauty) given a new SF twist. This reader remains, perhaps, unconvinced of the SF value in the novel (more on that later), and I expected to point the finger of literary criticism within this review, but did find the story a rather riveting yarn, nonetheless.
Firstly, the writing is extremely approachable, as befits a book aimed at the Young Adult category. Naturally, by ensuring a lightness of touch Sheehan does lose something in terms of depth, but that tends to come with the territory. I found this book an excellent way to refresh my pallet of imagination between other tomes - a sort of literary cheese between the fullbodied reds, as it were.
The basic premise of a young and naïve female character thrust by improbable circumstance into a position of power and celebrity, and to whom only the most strangely obscure can threaten, is not new in fantastic writing. The reader is tempted to recall Anne McCaffrey’s Lessa, of DRAGONFLIGHT.
Usually the basic premise is more Cinderella than Sleeping Beauty though, so this novel feels slightly fresher for that. The problem with this kind of story is that the protagonist is then isolated from common threat, and any antagonism must come from oddly esoteric sources. The book is told in first person, but the reader can find it hard to identify with a narrator who lives under privilege that most will never experience.
However, the SF approach is relatively unusual; mostly this sort of story is told as straight fantasy. And therein lie the book’s strengths – older ideas presented in a more contemporary fashion.
At times the science fiction is distinctly hokey (the apocalypse of humankind brought on by a combination of Bubonic Plague and GM foods, anyone?) but Sheehan’s usage of the clichés of near-future SF (for example, net communication) are utilised in an appropriate and thoughtful way, not heavy handed, but with clear application to the story (although her references to nanotechnology are frustratingly ill-explored). Alas, the lack of scientific verisimilitude makes the book feel more like the fairytale than the SF twist.
The book varies by over-usage of character sole-searching between principles in a teenage-angst mode and quite riveting exposition in action sequences, and especially the climax. I suppose that the former is to be expected in a YA book, and some exposition is always necessary to develop the characters, but this reader laments that the balance was not more even.
Overall, this novel feels like a first book; rough in a number of areas, but showing a respectable degree of promise. Despite my numerous criticisms, I find myself having rather enjoyed the book; as if it were more than the sum of its parts. If the writing skill can be applied to more solidly SF ideas then I would be quite interested to read more. But I can, alas, more easily see a (more lucrative?) route for the author in production of angst-ridden fairytale for `young adults’. I hope for the former.

Reviewed by Dave Corby Jan-2012 Published by Gollancz

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Lucius Shepard


LIFE DURING WARTIME has been reissued as part of the Gollancz SF Masterworks series (#66) and was originally published in 1987. The first part, “R & R” won the Nebula Award for best novella in 1986. It was a deserving winner. The story is a powerful, anti-war piece of writing. David Mingolla and two of his fellow soldiers are on a brief leave from their base in Guatemala. This part of Central America is the focus of ferocious fighting at some time in the not too far future. Like many people in stressful situations, they have developed rituals. If they deviate from the sequence, dire things will happen. If the rituals are adhered to then they will survive. Mingolla, Gilbey and Baylor arrive in a small town for a spell of R and R. At first they follow their usual patterns but the strains of being in constant battle readiness undermine the resolve to stick to the ritual of survival. Mingolla watches the foundations of his superstitions unravel.
By the end of their leave the pattern is broken. One of Mingolla’s comrades has gone berserk and been hauled away into detention and the other has deserted, heading for Panama. This section achieves its power from watching the effects of war on the ordinary soldier. None of these three are older than about twenty.
They are conscripts. They have no choice and no care is taken for their mental welfare. Seeing the skilful way that Shepard portrays the mindset of young combatants it is easier to appreciate some of the reasons behind the worst stories that have come out of battlefield Iraq.
The rest of the novel is written in a much less intense style. On returning to base, Mingolla volunteers for Psicorps training. It gets him out of front line combat. His first assignment, though, is to go after Debora, the woman he had met briefly on R and R. It was his encounter with her that persuaded him to join Psicorps. He is expected to kill her, but he has already fallen in love with her.
Renewing the association they head towards Panama. En route, he discovers the centuries-long background to the conflict.
The plot is complex and the characters well developed. It is a book well worth reading and probably more than once to appreciate all the subtleties within it.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Jan-2007 Published by Gollancz

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Brian Sibley


Illustrated by John Howe
Brian Sibley is one of the foremost Tolkien scholars and has many renowned works published, inspired by or about Tolkien, not least being the script for the award winning BBC radio adaptation of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. This new edition of his essays about the map of Middle-earth (originally published in 1994) is a beautiful cloth-bound A5 size book, with one of John Howe’s gorgeous paintings adorning its cover.
Two essays are included, the first giving an insight into the creation of the map of Middle-earth and how that process was integral to the creation of the story in THE LORD OF THE RINGS, and the second being on overview of the features of the map itself. Of these the former is the more scholarly, but is really only a superficial overview; the reader wanting a detailed look at the process of the creation of the map should refer instead to THE HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH VOL VII: THE TREASON OF ISENGARD edited by Christopher Tolkien, which gives a much more in- depth account.
The second essay is a rather nostalgic read for veterans of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, being an overview of the places in the map and the events that occurred there.
However, it does not give any new insight or add anything in particular; it merely celebrates the well-liked story.
The remaining pages are given over to a gazetteer of the map, giving a brief description and notable events occurring at every location named on the map. This is potentially useful, perhaps, for the first-time reader of THE LORD OF THE RINGS wishing to relate the story to the map. However, a much more complete map and companion to THE LORD OF THE RINGS is Barbara Strachey’s JOURNEYS OF FRODO.
The package is rounded off with John Howe’s map of Middle-earth. This is beautifully illustrated with John’s wonderfully evocative pictures (I think John Howe may be my favourite Tolkien illustrator), and the map itself is pleasingly rendered in a pictorial fashion. The detail is clear and all the pertinent detail at this scale is included without getting cluttered. This is an item of beauty (it makes the official film maps look extremely gaudy and ugly by comparison) and every self-respecting Tolkien fan should consider owning it.
However, as this map has been around for some time I am not sure how many self-respecting Tolkien fans will not already own a copy of this map. Furthermore, the MAPS OF TOLKIEN’S MIDDLE-EARTH: SPECIAL EDITION, which is still in print, includes this map, the other maps relating to THE SILMARILLION and THE HOBBIT, as well as the exclusive map of Numenor, all for a recommended price of £20. Therefore it is hard to recommend the single map over the set.
In conclusion I find it hard to see exactly who this is aimed at. The Tolkien completist may desire this new edition with its wonderful production values, but for almost anyone else it seems to offer too little detail to be worth buying. Maybe if you just want the map of Middle-earth as it relates to THE LORD OF THE RINGS then this is for you, but otherwise there are better equipped, or just plain better value options for mapping Middle-earth.

Reviewed by Dave Corby Aug-2009 Published by Harper Collins

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Robert Silverberg

DOWNWARD TO THE EARTH by Robert Silverberg

This is a stunning book. In terms of mere beauty of description and vivid intensity it excels any book I have read, or certainly any I have read for a long time. It is full of sumptuous description of the gorgeous but wild planet of Belzagor. You can hear the creatures indigenous to it, smell the sickly sweet floral aromas, just picture it in your mind.
Our hero (for once a nice hero, not one of the currently fashionable two-dimensional unlikeable anti-heroes) has returned to Belzagor after eight years, bewitched by his memories of this peaceful planet. Eight years ago the planet was under humans’ control. But their attempts to civilise it and its two sentient species ended in failure, and they ‘relinquished’ the planet, leaving about 100 people behind and the planet in peace. Now Edmund Gunderson is back to settle tilings, and prove (to himself or the nildoror?) that he is sorry for what happened.
The story really consists of Edmund revisiting the places he once frequented, and then making a long journey - ultimately to self-discovery. This journey, under the guise of him wanting to explore a part of the planet he never dared to go to, is obviously about far more than that, as 011 the way he sees the two species in ways he never thought possible, and finds some old friends so different to how he used to know them.
A strong sense of dreaminess haunts the book. The hero too often feels he can’t comprehend what is going on, he feels drained, woozy, literally and emotionally. A recurrent theme of Silverberg’s, this comes up again and again, as his characters are made to feel as if hallucinating. Even the central religion on the planet is based around a hallucinatory drug. This all helps us realise the planet, though very similar to Earth with its similar atmosphere and nildoror (very like our elephants), is actually a different planet, not built for humans, and with things there they can not begin to understand. This is an important process for Gunderson to go through. He, like the tourists and so many others, is patronising towards the alien culture he doesn’t understand, and can’t help but think of the elephant-like nildoror as mere animals. Silverberg reminds us of what it is like to trespass and try to change another’s territory and what problems can arise.
There is a lot to think about in this book, and I recommend it highly.

Reviewed by Vicky Cook Apr-2004 Published by Gollancz

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DYING INSIDE by Robert Silverberg

At the May meeting of the Brum Group, one of the topics under discussion was, in effect: “How do you define SF and fantasy, and what is the difference?” This book (first published in 1972) is an excellent example of how difficult this question can be. It’s marketed under Gollancz’s ‘SF Masterworks’ banner, so it must be SF, right? Well, it certainly isn’t fantasy, because there are no dragons, wizards or elves. But then again, there is no technology in it either; no spaceships, or robots, not even time travel or an alternat(iv)e world – no science, in fact. But it is about telepathy.
A very literate and well-written book, as one would expect from Silverberg, this is entirely about the life of one man, David Selig, who can read minds (sometimes), but not transmit. The author explores, in great detail, what this would be like. You wonder if a girl fancies you? Just enter her mind and find out how she sees you. You can make a fortune out of the money market by anticipating what others are going to buy or sell – as his one-time best friend Tom Nyquist, who also has the power, does. The difference is that Tom embraces, enjoys and uses his powers to his advantage, while David constantly agonises about them. Oh, often he does enjoy them, especially when he is younger (who wouldn’t!), but he finds one girl who is completely blank to him, which puzzles and worries him, and indeed he has several sexual relationships which eventually end in disaster. And, of course, as in the old adage, by eavesdropping you may learn more about how others see you than you really want to know. . .
The problem, and the reason for the title, is that as he approaches middle age, David’s powers begin to become erratic, and fade. Since he has always felt an outsider, should he welcome ‘becoming normal’? Judith has always hated him because he could enter her mind and know what she was thinking; would their relationship improve now? A very unusual book, and well worth reading, especially if you are looking for something different.

Reviewed by David A Hardy Jun-2005 Published by Gollancz

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LION TIME IN TIMBUCTOO by Robert Silverberg

This is the sixth volume of the collected stories of Robert Silverberg and covers a period between 1989 and 1995. It doesn't claim to be all of his stories from that period, just the best of them, but since he has been published in such a wide range of magazines, it is unlikely that anyone will have stumbled across all of these. They are all excellent and cover a wide range of themes.
The title novella, “Lion Time in Timbuctoo”, is an alternate history story, in which Islam is the main religion and Africa and America have not been colonised by Europeans. The relatively simple story of waiting for an African king to die, allows members of the different powers to gather, and subtly develop the differences in this world.T here are also stories of prescience, time travel, alien occupation and a War of the Worlds, as told by Henry James. All the stories contain surprises. Well worth reading.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Apr-2001 Published by Voyager

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ROMA ETERNA by Robert Silverberg

Imagine 2003 with the Roman Empire still the most important power in the known world. Not easy. Silverberg has done just that in this book. And shown us how we got there.
ROMA ETERNA is a series of short stories, previously published elsewhere but now collected in chronological order, tracing two thousand years of Empire. To do so, Silverberg has had to decide on the turning points that moved history in a different direction.
It begins with a speculation between two researchers. What, they argue, might have happened if the Exodus of the Hebrews from Aegyptus had succeeded.
The result is that the cult of Christianity did not occur and spread throughout the Empire. Instead, the worship of Jupiter remained the principle religion through the centuries.
In another of the stories, an ambassador, alarmed by the views of an Arab, Mahmud of Mecca, arranges for him to quietly disappear, thus preventing the rise of Islam. In another century, the Emperor expends a vast amount of money and men trying to conquer the Americas, and failing, so that there is no United States of America populated by the descendants of immigrant Europeans.
As time passes, it is interesting to look for the analogues with prominent parts of European history, displaced to the environs of Rome. The events of “The Reign of Terror” involve purges of the aristocracy similar to th ose in Napoleonic France, though here the Republic is not restored. That has to wait for the massacre of the entire Imperial family in “Via Roma” which resembles the events in Russia before the rise of communism.
The dates of each story, given at the start of each are reckoned from the founding of Rome, making it a little difficult to place the parallels with our own history without a calculation. The main problem with the book is that, in order to appreciate the continuity of the Empire, there are frequent history lessons within the stories which otherwise interrupt the flow of the narrative. For some readers 7 this might be off-putting. It does however show the tremendous attention to detail needed for a work of this scope and for this Silverberg has to be admired.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Oct-2003 Published by Gollancz

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This is one of the most unusual and original books 1 have read in a long time. It isn't strictly a novel, but a collection of 11 short stories; however, these are linked, and follow the Roman Empire from 1203 to 2723 by their reckoning.
This is an 'alternate history' in which the Roman Empire never fell and Christianity and Islam never developed in the way that we know. As explained by a scholar in the first section, the Hebrew exodus from Egypt failed, and is all but unknown.
However, it is not the sort of world I expected from the cover. Beautifully painted by Chris Moore, this shows a streamlined spaceship rising, watched by a solitary figure leaning against the column of what could be a temple. For one thing, this never happened (a cover not accurately depicting the contents'? Horror!) since the ship took off from open desert. But this also gives the impression that this is how the Empire developed; perhaps taking Roman rule out to other worlds?
That's what I would expect, at any rate. . .
Not so. Apart from the fact that it oscillates between Roman and Greek rulers, the empire apparently continues for century after century much as before.
Sometimes the Emperor is strong and builds up well-trained armies to repel the barbarian hordes of Huns, Goths and Vandals who constantly try to invade at the borders; sometimes he is a simpering ninny who wastes all of the money in the imperial coffers on frivolities and new palaces for himself and his cronies.
Whoever he is, heredity rules (literally) and no-one dares to go against an Emperor's wishes. One of them sends a massive armada in an attempt to conquer the 'New Worlds' of Peru and Mexico, but they are repelled by half-naked savages. Enraged, he tries again, and again, bankrupting the empire and killing off its best armies. Eventually, one of his successors settles for merely trading with these countries.
Inevitably, language changes, and pure Latin is replaced by an assortment of dialects and hybrid tongues. But all the time they ride in horse-drawn carriages, send messages by runner, and fight with spears and arrows. Not until halfway through, in 2543, do we start to find an occasion reference to the telegraph, to trains, to bicycles, to steam- driven road vehicles, and eventually to 'sky ships'.
The spaceship of the cover, in the very last few pages, is a one-off. Eventually there is a rebellion and the Empire is replaced by a Republic, but it seems to make little difference to the man in the via.
Having said that, this is sensitively written and (as one would expect from Silverberg), erudite, and clearly shows the author's interest in and deep knowledge of the subject. Each story is well worth reading in its own right, and offers insights into human nature and a world that just could have been.
Still, 1 can't help thinking that an opportunity has been missed for another kind of alternate universe. Another writer, perhaps?
Reviewed by David A Hardy Sep-2004 Published by Gollancz

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SON OF MAN by Robert Silverberg

As SF emerged from the gutter in the 70s, there was, among some writers a deliberate attempt to give the genre respectability by moving away from the school-boyish excitement of the pulps into highly-crafted literary works. At the same time there was a desire to be at the cutting edge of both Science Fiction and literature. Sometimes the results were magnificent; at other times, the question that remained was Why? Silverberg’s SON OF MAN could belong to either category, depending on who is reading it.
Originally published in 1971, the novel’s central figure is Clay, a man of now, caught up in a time-flux and deposited in a very distant future. Here, the human race has passed through many incarnations, some of which may seem devolution rather than evolution, to arrive as a race that has diverged into five distinct groups. Clay falls in with a group of green-skinned Skimmers who are the dilettantes of the future able to change sex at will. Separated from the Skimmer group, Clay undertakes a journey of discovery in which he meets members of the other ‘human’ groups, all of which seem to have some aspect of the humans he shared his original world with, but distilled. He also meets examples of the intermediate stages who, like himself have been caught up in the time flux. And he passes through weird areas where his body becomes aged, or heavy or slow.
This is not the most accessible of Silverberg’s novels and is a curiosity rather than a classic. Most readers would probably prefer something a little lighter, faster and less deep.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Jun-2003 Published by Gollancz

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THE BOOK OF SKULLS by Robert Silverberg

A strange book this, and strangely compelling. I picked it up because it was a book in the Masterworks series that I hadn’t read. I read the plot synopsis with a certain lack of enthusiasm. Four students discover a manuscript, The Book Of Skulls, which reveals the existence of a sect offering immortality to those who can complete its initiation rite They discover the sect is now based in Arizona and set out with the intention of seeking eternal life. People are only accepted in groups of four, and of those four, two must die for the others to succeed.
'Ho hum,’ I thought, and yet the first page yanked me in and I couldn’t put the book down. The viewpoints of all four students, Eli, Ned, Oliver and Timothy, tell the story. Almost immediately I knew which of the four I wanted to live and I spent the rest of the book in dread for the fate of my favourites.
The first half of the book tells the journey to Arizona, the second half tells of the sect and the initiation, but much more, the whole book is full of the passions, reasons, souls of the four students. In a field where characters are often subservient to ideas, this is a wonderfully balanced book, beautifully and subtly written, full of the ambiguity of life. At the end you wonder if it is immortality they have achieved and, if so, if it is really worth it.
Well, well worth reading and re-reading.

Reviewed by Yvonne Rowse Feb-2000 Published by Millennium

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THE KING OF DREAMS by Robert Silverberg

This (fairly) massive volume follows two others, equally substantial, to constitute a trilogy set in Silverberg’s continuing Majipoor series. However, it works quite well as a stand-alone book: knowing that the previous two volumes exist it is easy to pick up references to events in them, but these are never awkward or obtrusive and there is no sense of needing to be familiar with the whole trilogy in order to understand what is going on.
I find this series to be an uneasy blend of SF and fantasy. The giant world of Majipoor, with a diameter at least ten times as great as that of our own planet, was settled in the distant past by colonists from Earth. They seem to exist now in a form of civilisation which is basically non-technical, although underpinned by machinery which nevertheless we never really see.
However, there are no telecommunication systems and it remains unclear how the inhabitants overcome the time factor involved in travelling the huge distances involved in moving about the surface of this vast world, not to mention overcoming a surface gravity about ten times Earth-normal. In fact, the size of the place is of little real importance - it could just as well have been about Earth-sized without materially affecting the plot or anything else - and the technology is only introduced as and when required instead of being fundamentally integrated into the construction of the imaginary world.
Thus it becomes merely an exotic setting in which themes of rivalry and jealousy, love and hate can be played out.
The purpose of inventing such a world is, of course, that it provides scope for the telling of any number of stories and THE KING OF DREAMS is the seventh book set on Majipoor.
Regrettably, it fails to do justice to the opportunity. Although quite a lot happens, it is not enough to support the book’s considerable length with the result that it is long drawn-out and verges on the tedious. Worse, there is little change of pace: the narrative just plods along from one incident to another and when it should build up to a climax the final resolution, if it can be called that, seems to be over in an anticlimactic flash - there is little sense of the great events one had been led to expect having actually occurred.
Robert Silverberg has in the past been an author of great importance and prodigious output, with numerous awards to his name during the years when he was producing his best work.
Unfortunately, on this (and perhaps other) evidence it seems that his best years are now behind him. His undoubted skill and experience prevent this book from being as indifferent as it might have been in lesser hands, but it remains one with which to while away the tome rather than one to give everything else up for. Michael Jones

Reviewed by Jun-2001 Published by Voyager

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THE LONGEST WAY HOME by Robert Silverberg

With such a wealth of material produced by Silverberg over the years, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish reprint novels from new work. While some authors vary in their quality - some improving, some deteriorating - Silverberg has been consistently good. THE LONGEST WAY HOME appears to be a new novel but it already has the feel of a classic; i.e. something that will stand the test of time and will be enjoyed by generations.
This is a rite of passage novel; both from child to manhood as well as into enlightenment. A status quo has existed for a thousand years. The history that Joseph was taught said that the planet was colonised by the Folk, even though there was already an indigenous race living there. The Folk had problems and invited the Masters to take over. They did and the Folk have served the Masters ever since.
Joseph is staying at the Great House of a Master family in the Northern continent when he is awoken by sounds of battle. By luck, and the intervention of a Folkish woman, he escapes and discovers that not only have the Folk revolted, but all the Masters are dead. His problem is not only to survive, but also to make his way back home and to safety, a trek of ten thousand miles. He does find help on his way, although he doesn’t always understand why he has been given it, by the indigenous people who have a deeper culture than he suspected. Inevitably, he learns a lot about himself, and a different truth about the history of the planet during the journey.
There are familiar themes here, which is one reason why it already feels like a classic, but it is pleasantly readable.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Sep-2003 Published by GoIIancz

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THE STOCHASTIC MAN by Robert Silverberg

There are very few science fiction stories based on the science of statistical analysis. The best known by far is the Foundation series. This novel sets out down the same road, describing how it might be possible to predict the future by refining the art of statistical prediction to an extreme degree. Then it drifts into fantasy.
Lew Nichols is ‘The Stochastic Man’. He is a statistical analyst who has taken his ‘science’ as far as he can. He can tell you how long this year’s fashion trend will last, whether your new product will sell, and what to say so that these people will vote for you in the next election and, most of the time, he’ll be right. He’s the perfect man for a political campaign team and so he is recruited to help a candidate for Mayor of New York. Then someone introduces him to Martin Carvajal. Carvajal can see the future. To be precise, he has seen his own future. All of it. He knows how he will die, what people will tell him, what he will see on television. The problem is that he can’t change anything. Whether this is from some personal compulsion or just because it can’t be done simply isn’t explained, but he has lived his life since he discovered this ‘gift’ according to a script. He has done well out of it, investments have made him rich, but he wouldn’t deviate from the script even though he knows it will kill him.
This is the story of Nichols learning how to see the future.
I’ve already had arguments about whether this is science fiction or fantasy. The idea of using statistics to predict how large blocks of people will react is nothing new. It was common practice even when FOUNDATION came out. The question that remains is whether or not being able to see the future is the domain of psychics and fantasy or if there is some science there.
The novel itself is well written but, like so many with a futuristic setting, loses a lot when the future it deals with (the setting is last year) conflicts with the real world of the same period.

Reviewed by William McCabe Sep-2001 Published by Gollancz

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Clifford D Simak

WAY STATION by Clifford D Simak

On re-reading this reprint of Clifford D Simak’s 1963 classic it is interesting to realise how far Science Fiction has come since early sixties. It also gives the reader a chance to revisit an old friend and go back to the style of writing that got people interested in S. F. in the first place. Even though this story is nearly forty years old it’s theme still holds up well against contemporary styles of modern S F. authors.
Set in sixties America in the poor rural area of the southwestern corner of Wisconsin it shows a lifestyle that has hardly changed since it was first settled by the white man. With the local people clannish and distrustful of outsiders Enoch Wallace is peculiar to say the least. For a man who fought in the American Civil War he still looks as though he is only middle aged. What few provisions he requires for his simple needs are brought out from the town by the local postman Winslowe Grant. His father built the farm that he lives in and it looks like any other poor rural dwelling in that neck of the woods. But Enoch is being watched by a person from the Federal Government who has unearthed some surprising facts about him. Not only is Enoch unusual, as is the farmhouse that he lives in. But what the watcher finds in the Wallace family graveyard is even more intriguing. Into this scenario comes a local deaf mute girl Lucy Fisher who seems to have extraordinary powers and rapport with the local wild animals. When Enoch Wallace helps the girl to hide from her abusive father things start to come apart at the seams and local attention is focused on Enoch, something he had been trying hard to avoid.
Way Station is one of the jewels in Gollancz's collector’s edition and ranks highly in the top 100 best novels of Science Fiction. This is definitely worth a re-read for older fans and well worth reading for the first time for younger members of the S.F. fraternity.

Reviewed by Chris Chivers Dec-2000 Published by Gollancz

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Dan Simmons

ILIUM by Dan Simmons

At the commencement of the book there are three separate narrative strands, beginning with the Siege of Troy (“Ilium”). This is narrated by Thomas Hockenberry, a classical scholar brought from the 21st century as part of a team put in place by the actual Greek Gods of the time to observe what actually happens, and compare it with Homer’s version of events as told in THE ILIAD, of which the author displays an encyclopaedic knowledge.
The second storyline follows some of the few remaining inhabitants of Earth as they lead an idle, hedonistic and largely ignorant existence on a world from which most humans have emigrated to rings of orbiting habitats. Meanwhile, among the moons of Jupiter, a group of sentient, self-aware biomechanical constructs prepares an exploratory expedition to Mars which they have found not only to have been recently terraformed but also to have suddenly begun to exhibit an unwontedly high level of quantum-shift activity.
It soon becomes apparent that the three seemingly disparate stories are actually contemporaneous: there seem to be contradictory indications of the actual time when it is all happening but it is certainly at least two thousand years in our future and could be much more. And, being contemporaneous, the stories eventually impinge on each oth er, coming together in a glorious conflation of classical mythology, futuristic super-science and obscure literary references, with an avatar of the Earth's self-aware biosphere and invaders from outside (maybe) the 5 solar system, including honest-to-god Little Green Men, all thrown in for good measure.
This is the Simmons of HYPERION back on top form, leading us into the twenty-first century of SF. Although it is a very long book the interest never flags, even when there is a feeling that passages could have done with a little trimming.
Unfortunately, it seems to end with a lot of unresolved loose ends: however the next-to-last sentence has Hockenberry saying “'But it's going to be damned interesting to find out what happens next.' ” There could be no plainer indication of a sequel to follow and it will indeed be damned interesting.
Reviewed by Michael Jones Oct-2003 Published by Gollancz

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OLYMPOS by Dan Simmons

Dan Simmons begins his tale in ILIUM and continues it in OLYMPOS. He uses the text of Homer as a starting point but by the start of the second book it is beginning to deviate considerably. The enactment of the Trojan Wars is a symptom of the problem that is escalating within the solar system. Superficially, Earth is a utopia: the million people still living there have an idyllic life, faxing themselves from one party to another. Orbiting above the planet are two orbital rings where they believe they are faxed for rejuvenation every twenty years, and after five rejuvenations will go permanently to paradise. One form of entertainment (reading and TV are things of the past) is the turin cloth. Placed over the face, it enables the viewer to live the Trojan Wars in real time. As might be expected, there are worms in paradise. Partly due to the activities of Harman and his friends in ILIUM, the voynix, who hitherto have been regarded at mute, harmless servants, begin a campaign of human extermination. No-one is safe anywhere.
Simmons is drawing on a number of sources for his inspiration. The Homeric Troy set on a terra-formed Mars with the gods at home on Mount Olympos provides an excellent vehicle for those posing as gods. They certainly have godlike powers even though these come from manipulating advanced technologies.
Closer to Earth the Tempest is played out with not only Caliban but Prospero and Ariel having roles in the events.
Significant to the unravelling of the situation are the moravecs. These were biologically adapted centuries before to survive in the harsh environments of the outer solar system. Mahnmut is at home in the methane seas under the crust of Europa and Orphu, his friend, is able to survive in hard vacuum. Mahnmut has a fascination for Shakespearean sonnets, so much so that his submersible is called The Dark Lady. Orphu has a predilection for the subtleties of Proust. They are sent to discover the source of the anomalies that have apparently changed Mars in an impossibly short space of time and the fluctuations in quantum fields that are in danger of destroying the whole system. It is by applying their knowledge of literature that the sense of the science is worked out. The book is extremely complex with the various disparate groups significantly affecting the others.
There are so many different elements in the two books that it has taken an exceptional writer to visualise them and bring them together into a coherent whole. Simmons plays with literature, language, science and drama, winding them together into an exciting adventure. Take nothing here at face value.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Nov-2005 Published by Gollancz

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SONG OF KALI by Dan Simmons

Originally published in 1985, this was Dan Simmons first published novel. Here it is reprinted under the Fantasy Masterworks banner. Perhaps it should be labelled horror. It is, however a fine and evocative book which gave a good indication of the quality Simmons continued to achieve in later books.
From the start it paints a dark, claustrophobic picture of Calcutta. The streets are crowded, the people poor. Robert Luczak arrives with his Indian wife and small daughter at midnight. His visit is intended to be short. He expects to meet with and acquire a manuscript by a poet who was thought to have died eight years previously. Things do not go exactly as planned. He is taken to clandestine meetings in his effort to meet the poet, M. Das, and is told stories about the cult of Kali, the goddess of Destruction. The tales are horrific but could be the product of a fertile imagination. Luszac is sceptical. He is abducted. His experiences in captivity could be real or the result of hallucinations conjured by the drugs he is forced to drink. When he manages to escape he returns to his holtel to discover his daughter has been stolen. Then the real nightmare begins.
Like Luszac, the reader can take the fantastic elements as either reality, in the context of the story, or hallucination. The city, the events and the atmosphere are horrific whichever way you look at it. Without the label, this could easily have been a mainstream thriller. It is definitely a fine early novel of a master storyteller.
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Aug-2005 Published by Gollancz

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Alison Sinclair

Cavalcade by Alison Sinclair

“Cavalcade” is a First Contact novel: I’ve always enjoyed First Contact stories, from “The Mote In God’s Eye” to “To Serve Man”, possibly because the event might conceivably happen at any time, rather than waiting for (say) the discovery of FTL drives, time machine technology, force field projectors or the turning all of the spare minerals in the Solar System into a whopping big Dyson Sphere. So how does “Cavalcade”, nominated for the Arthur C Clarke Award, bear up?
Well, Alison Sinclair’s writing style is a bit of a bugger to get your head round, for a start. It’s a bit like J G Ballard’s, very dry, laconic and somehow faintly odd, and also reminded me of Ramsay Campbell, in that something important is often casually slipped into the middle of a sentence and you don’t notice the implications until you think “hang on a minute...” and go back and re-read it. Also, the paperback is quite a thick one and when I opened it they’ve set it in a pretty small font, so the novel is, TARDIS-like, bigger than it looks on the outside. Having said all that, though...
An extra-terrestrial ship enters Earth’s orbit. After weeks of Mankind trying all sorts of ways to communicate, the aliens finally reply, in the form of an invitation. They are, they say, representatives of a mixed community of sentient species which have been exploring the galaxy for millennia and any humans who wish to join them are welcome: after which nothing more is heard from them. A wide variety of people take up the aliens’ offer and, on the night, all of the thousands of volunteers are transported to a huge organic chamber within the ship, edged by caves and tunnels, including scientist Stan Morgan and an official NASA/Army Team. All digital watches have stopped, whereas someone’s clockwork watch shows that two and a quarter hours have been lost in transit. It soon becomes apparent that nothing electronic works - palmtop computers, torches, radios, even a man’s pacemaker and the resus kit which fails to save him and although no food has been provided, their alien hosts are nowhere to be seen.
Much like the characters themselves, you are very much dropped in at the deep end of the book - within the first three chapters a dozen characters have been presented, with hardly any background detail, leaving you to find out even the most basic things about them as you go. The volunteer humans find themselves left with just their own supplies and little of the trappings of civilisation, and since they have all chosen themselves, and as such haven’t been screened for any kind of suitability, they are of wide and differing backgrounds and social strata: so you have organisational and military types, criminals, pregnant girls, on-the-run murderers, medical and scientific specialists, cat owners, anarchists and a growing, exclusively female society, all having to deal with apparent comfortable imprisonment, and implied hidden alien captors, in their own ways.
However, their hosts are testing their human guests: with experimentation, the walls of the caves can be drawn upon, moulded or tunnelled through, and it is found that more chambers exist, each housing more volunteers. Each chamber’s occupants have been grouped together so all the principal English speakers are all together, as are all speakers of Spanish, or Arabic... which leads to historic enemies having to live closely together. The alien environment begins to produce food for the guests, and as people explore, they start to discover more about, and how they must learn to communicate with, their mysterious alien hosts...
“Cavalcade” has few in the way of new First Contact ideas to present, but did I find myself warming to, and being drawn by the interesting predicament the volunteer humans find themselves in, so I sort of liked and enjoyed it. Alison Sinclair’s style of writing doesn’t have an easy or appealing rhythm, and I assume that her Laptop has a Thesaurus Generator which is occasionally turned on as she writes - infrequently, what reading momentum has been built up is shattered as (I hope for her sake) without her knowing, her PC replaces a five word phrase with an obscure multi- syllabic word, forcing a hasty grope for the dictionary.
Also, having been abruptly dropped in the story at the beginning, 1 found the novel accelerating in pace as all sorts of things start to go pear-shaped on the ship, only to have everything all of a sudden go all right again in the space of one page and a postscript - so a swift and sketched-over finish too. Still, I’m a Fake Fan, so what do I know? Give “Cavalcade” a try if you fancy filling in the gaps yourself, pondering on a few new ideas and learning the occasional new word that you’ll never use again.

Reviewed by Malcolm Jefferies Feb-2000 Published by Millennium

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Nalini Singh

ANGEL’S BLOOD by Nalini Singh

This is one of Gollancz’s new line of erotic fantasy romances. Americans at the present have twin fascinations with vampires and angels.
ANGEL’S BLOOD manages to combine both.
Elena Deveraux is a vampire hunter. She doesn’t stake them but captures them and returns them to the angel that is their owner. In this world, there is a symbiosis between angel and vampire. Only angels can Make vampires. In return they serve a hundred year indenture to the angel, unless sold on. Angels are possessive and do not like their property running away.
Elena is hunter-born. She can scent and track her quarry and has gained a high reputation. As a result, when Raphael, the archangel of New York, needs a hunter, he demands her services. Her task is to hunt down the archangel of Eastern Europe who has gone rogue. Angels are not human: Raphael is powerful and arrogant but is fascinated by the human hunter who seems to have a death wish, refusing to be submissive in the presence of creatures that could crush the life out of her in an instant.
This would be enough to form the basis of a good supernatural thriller, but as the purpose of this line of books it titillation, the archangel Raphael is portrayed as an exceptionally beautiful specimen of maleness so every so often the action has to pause so that Elena has the opportunity to try and resist his sexual charms. Later, the novel becomes sexually explicit.
By preference I would have liked to see this as a second or third book in the series in order to understand better the work of the Hunter’s Guild and build Elena’s character before her meeting with Raphael. Also there is a sense of “stop the action, we haven’t had any sex for xxx pages”. The action and romance do not always dovetail neatly enough.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan May-2010 Published by Gollancz

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KISS OF SNOW by Nalini Singh

KISS OF SNOW and the previous nine books in the Psy-Changeling series are set about fifty years in an alternative future. As psi powers developed in the population, it was realised that those with them were likely to go insane or otherwise self-destruct. A condition known as Silence was imposed. No Psi was allowed to have or show any kind of emotion. Intellect was all. Another segment of the population is the Changelings. The wolves and the leopards hold territory in the environs of Los Angeles. Their outlook is extremely sensual, the complete opposite to the Psi. From the start of this series there has been tension between the Psi and the Changelings especially as a handful of Psi have broken Silence and joined the Changelings, rediscovering ways of interacting with others that they had never experienced before. All these books are romances with a high sexual content, each focusing on different members of the groups.
In KISS OF SNOW Hawke, the wolf alpha, is strongly attracted to Sienna, a cardinal X-Psi. This means that she has a very high level of psi powers but that her talent is to channel energy in the form of fire. The problem is that no X-Psi has survived beyond young adulthood as they have immolated themselves, and anyone in the vicinity. Thus, if Hawke takes Sienna as his mate, he is likely to lose her soon afterwards. The other romantically entwined couple are Lara, the Changeling wolf healer, and Walker, a Psi empath who is also Sienna’s uncle.
Although most of the novel focuses on the way these two couples sort out their relationships, there is also a bigger picture to consider – an ongoing war between the Psi and the Changelings in which the Psi are the aggressors. More attention needs to be paid to the Psi-Changeling politics if further books in this series are not to become predictable and merely vehicles to describe explicit sex.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Jan-2012 Published by Gollancz

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TANGLE OF NEED by Nalini Singh

One of the issues that some readers have against the Mills & Boon romantic novels is that they are written to a formula and that the outcome is predictable. Certain things will happen, others won’t. Yet to some degree there are a lot of fantasy novels that the same thing could be said about. Readers of both tend to come back for more of the same. Perhaps we ought to admit that there are a lot of people who do not like being turfed out of their comfort zone and this applies to what we read as well as real life. I was once told that science fiction was Mills & Boon for boys and in the 1950s this was a criticism that could be levelled at Space Opera. (How many volumes did Perry Rodan reach?) While I can hear the sound of teeth grating in the back ground it is worth remembering that not everyone is open to experimental or cutting edge writing.
Nalini Singh writes in a comfort zone niche of science fiction. Her novels are formulaic but there are enough readers out there (probably the majority are female) for TANGLE OF NEED to be the eleventh in the Psy-Changeling series. The setting is 2081. While there are many aspects of this world that feel contemporary, the biggest difference is that we humans share our planet with two other sub-species. The Psy have, as their name suggests, mental powers. They are linked in the PsyNet which stabilises their personalities. For decades they have lived behind the wall of the Silence, a discipline that trains them to reject emotion in all its forms. Initially, this was a survival strategy. Among the Psy there are empaths, teleporters, healers, foreseers and mind-readers. The other group are the changelings who can morph into the shape of an animal. They are highly emotional, the complete opposite of the Psy.
The main story arc to the whole series is a war between Henry Scott who is Pure Psy. He will countenance no deviation from the condition of Silence. Some of the Psy have broken Silence and got back in touch with their emotions. They have come under the protection of a wolf-changeling pack led by Hawke Snow. Thus Scott is at war with the Changelings. Hawke and his allies inflicted a crushing blow to Scott’s troops at the end of KISS OF SNOW, the previous book in the series.
Each individual part in the saga, though, is the erotic dance between two of the characters. In KISS OF SNOW it was between Hawke and Sienna, a Cardinal-X Psy. She has the ability to release a cold, consuming fire and this was the turning point in the climax of the novel. In TANGLE OF NEED the couple in romantic conflict are Adria and Riaz. Both are dominant wolves. (There is no space to go into the intricacies of pack structure here.) She is emotionally bruised as she has recently broken up from her partner, partly because his neediness was sucking the life out of the relationship. Riaz has a different problem. Wolves mate for life. The woman who should be his mate was already happily married to another before he met her. As a result he knows that he will never know the complete bonding that mates share. Going with another is not something he wants to contemplate as he sees it as betrayal yet he is drawn to Adria. Wolves need to touch. Adria offers him that without strings. Or so it seems. This novel explores their developing understanding of each other’s needs. Expect hiccups.
Like Mills & Boon books, this series satisfies a need in the market. For those who like their romance very spicy – the sex is explicit – and don’t mind a good sprinkling of emotion, then they will enjoy this series. At the same time this is a blend of SF (the Psy element) and fantasy (the Changelings) with an added dimension of a political thriller threaded through it. Characters and plot lines are developed and not all threads are completely tied up by the end. This is not for every reader but Singh does grab those in favour by the scruff of the neck and drag them deep into the story she is telling.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Feb-2013 Published by Gollancz

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John Sladek


Sometimes I wonder whether Sladek has written more on robots than Asimov has.
Sladek certainly takes Asimov's ideas to task frequently. Here he takes on the "three laws" again and throws in the odd trivial jibe about the title of a collection (Roderick can't find a robot called "I" in the collection "I, Robot"). I suspect there are more than a few points intended about the traditional whodunit thrown in. The great flaw here is that a book with so much parody and satire should be a whole lot funnier. In some cases it is necessary to read the notes at the end of each novel to understand that there was a joke. For instance there is a list of book titles, all of which are presumably meant as ridiculous but only some of them made up — I understand the "The real Garbo ; Marxism and Menstruation" is bizarre but "Strange Encounters"?
The story itself revolves around the robot Roderick who grows and learns much as a normal child would do. There are the families (functional and not) that adopt him, the schools and (generally awful) teachers, and finally there are the low-paid menial jobs. Always in the background is the major corporation that wants his "secrets" and the secret government agency that wants him destroyed (and fails miserably). Surprisingly, the characters seem to re-occur throughout the story in various guises - his first "parents" show up again as the writers of popular books on the subject of robot rights, a college professor reoccurs as a tramp accused of murder.
There are a lot of good ideas here but somehow it seems to lose something in the delivery

Reviewed by William McCabe Feb-2002 Published by Gollancz

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TIK-TOK by John Sladek

Sladek’s approach to robots was always going to be different to Asimov’s. From the parody, written as ‘I-click as I move’, to the ‘asimov circuits’ in this book, that are probably no more than a scam perpetrated by the makers robots to convince buyers that the machine they just bought is going to do as it’s told and not go on some kind of killing spree, it becomes quite obvious that this is the other side of the coin. This is the story of a robot that decides to find out what it is capable of. It goes from the killing of a blind girl to bank robbery and general slaughter, with real problems.
The story shifts between the present, with Tik-Tok discovering his artistic and criminal genius; to his previous life as a slave, to being part of an eccentric family (one of whom blows the family fortune on a full-sized replica of the great pyramid in gold); to a nanny to two brattish children in the suburbs. The human characters all veer between the slightly eccentric to the outright lunatic, with the harmless being there to be exploited by the psychopathic. The other robots, convinced that they are performing well within their imposed limits, assume that Tik-Tok is really relaying instructions from some human. They have no problem with armed robbery, or planting the odd bomb on a passenger aircraft..
Of course this is a mad world and, when it all comes down to it, who else would they want to run the show?
Good, solid black comedy.

Reviewed by William McCabe Apr-2001 Published by Gollancz

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A. G. Slatter


For those new to AG Slatter, she writes horror, fantasy and urban fantasy - I particularly recommend the Vigil trilogy - under her full name, Angela Slatter. She is not new to this writing business. And the thing that I’ve noticed throughout her work, is her inventive use of mythology and fairy tale to create something new and exciting.
In All the Murmuring Bones, she tackles the mer-folk, selkies and well-known fairy tales surrounding those myths. In this novel, the O’Malley’s are a family who have dealt with the sea including associated industries for centuries. They are intimidating and powerful and always get their way. At the start, they took ownership of the land by Hob’s Head, near Breakwater, built a tower which soon became a large estate and called it Hob’s Hallow. They were making lots of money, ‘grew rich from the seas’ but never drowned and ‘swam like seals’. Until their fortunes changed and their family stopped growing.
Aoife is the remaining “omega” and matriarch of the family; Miren her granddaughter. And Miren is trapped. She is expected to marry well within the extended family and bear three children. She has no choice in their future, but Miren wants more.
This is predominantly Miren’s story, about her desire to escape destiny and it rattles along, beside the fairy tales in the family history volumes where secrets are revealed. We never quite know when this is set, but clues such as whalebone corsets and meerschaum pipes plus a travelling acting troupe suggests an early Regency period but certainly darker than you would find in any Austen novel. It also feels distinctly Irish given the character names. And more importantly, it’s incredibly authentic, lending more strength to the theme of feminine power, fighting expected roles and craving independence. Certainly Aidan Fitzpatrick, a character we meet partway through, fits the stereotype of the early Nineteenth century villainous fop. Also, the character of Delphine who is an automaton in an acting troupe can be seen as a metaphor for the lack of ‘autonomy’ – pun intended - of Miren and the other women in the narrative.
The prose is wonderful, and it almost feels like you are floating languorously amidst a sea of watery imagery and metaphor, enjoying the poetry of the language until you are sucked under, into the depths with a jolt.
This is a truly magical and beautiful book that tells a meaningful tale whilst still being thoroughly entertaining.
In her reimagined fairy tales, Slatter is becoming adept at weaving new stories within this mythology, and her name will inevitably become synonymous with fairy tales in the way that Angela Carter has become known. Interesting fact: A meerschaum pipe is made from the mineral sepiolite, also known as meerschaum. Meerschaum ... German for "sea foam") is sometimes found floating on the Black Sea and is rather suggestive of sea foam.

Reviewed by Theresa Derwin Apr-2021 Published by Titan Books

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Angela Slatter

CORPSE LIGHT by Angela Slatter

CORPSE LIGHT Is the second of Angela Slatter’s Verity Fassbinder series and the first that I have read. The action takes place in and around Brisbane, often referred to as ‘Brisnyland’.
Verity is a halfbreed with a ‘Weryd’ father and a ‘Normal’ mother. She has gained no special powers from her father, apart from abnormal strength which is of no real use to her in this book as she is 8 months pregnant. However, despite this she is still required to solve problems (the less exciting ones) for the Weyrd Council. The case on which this book revolves around is an insurance claim. This sounds pretty harmless, but it is the third one in three months and for ‘Unusual Happenstance’. This covers all purpose hauntings, angry genii loci, ectoplasmic home invasion, etc and is not the sort of thing that a Normal would claim for. Despite the claimant’s house being inundated in mud she insists that she does not need or want help. Then just to keep Verity busy she is required to investigate a spate of dry land drownings, no connection to the mud problem, but what do you think!
Verity’s investigation leads her to Chinatown where she is confronted on a number of occasions by kitsune assassins. One 10
of these clashes sends Verity into premature labour. Fortunately, she is rescued by a mystery woman with a very sharp sword and extremely fast reflexes. You would think that giving birth and consequently having a very young daughter to look after would put an end to her investigating. Oh no, she has an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and continues on. Thank goodness that her partner is more than willing to step in and look after the child (and for breast pumps!). The above could sound a bit OTT and yucky, but it’s not, the storyline works. One thing in its favour is that it is not an all action romp, but a tale involving people defending their everyday lives.
There is a strong list of supporting characters mainly Weyrd but with a leavening of Normals. As with many books which are later in a series there are several references to previous activities, which Verity probably dealt with in the first book, VIGIL. Thankfully Angela Slatter’s storytelling is strong enough that these events do not confuse or frustrate the reader, in fact they add to the richness of the tale. While this book is good enough to be read as a stand-alone story, it is more than clear from the ending that there is another book to follow. This is RESTORATION due in 2018.
I quietly enjoyed this book and based on that I want to read both the first and the next in the series. For your information VIGIL was shortlisted for the Locus Best First Novel Award and in addition Angela Slatter is the award- winning author of eight short-story collections.

Reviewed by Jim Pearce Sep-2017 Published by Jo Fletcher

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RESTORATION (Verity Fassbinder 3) by Angela Slatter

Urban fantasy, with its juxtaposition of the contemporary world and the magical, has become an increasingly popular category of fantasy in recent years. Many of the books written are centred around US or UK (particularly London) locations. Angela Slatter’s Verity Fassbinder series is different and refreshing in that it is based around a version of Brisbane (Australia) which the heroine jokingly refers to as Brisneyland.
The main protagonist is Verity, who with half “normal” and half “Weyrd” parentage, does not quite fit with either the magical (Weyrd) or non-magical community. The only power she has is abnormal strength which is not much defence against her many powerful enemies. In this book, in order to protect her family, including her new-born child, she has had to give up her work as an investigator/problem solver/police liaison for the Weyrd council. Instead she has been forced to work for a mentally unstable fallen angel to help him find a lost treasure – a mysterious grail to help him heal. As if that wasn’t hard enough she has to avoid a vengeful and powerful Weyrd member, Dusana Nadasy, try to outwit both the angel and the murderous spy fox-spirit assassin, Joyce that the angel has insisted accompany her, and solve the mystery of Normal women who disappeared decades ago now turning up as dead bodies apparently affected by Weyrd magics.
While in lesser hands all these complicated plot strands could become confusing and not tie together, with this author it all works well and comes to a satisfying and credible conclusion. Verity, as in previous books is a believable and very entertaining character. She is sarcastic, funny and despite her strength succeeds mainly due to her brains and her refusal to be cowed by people with vastly more power and potential to cause harm. On the emotional side, the reader is also moved by the real distress and pain she feels from her enforced separation from her family. As before, the various strange, diverse (and pleasingly non-standard “creatures”) of the Weyrd community with their politics and prejudices work well and add more substance and motivation to the narrative. The story rattles along at quite a pace and packs in a lot and is thoroughly enjoyable. Any fans of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files will find much to like here.
Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Oct-2018 Published by Jo Fletcher Books

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VIGIL by Angela Slatter

Jo Fletcher books (an imprint of Quercus) is fast becoming the publisher to go to for high quality, award level genre fiction. So, team up multi-award winner author Angela Slatter with her first full length novel, and you have pure gold.
Verity Fassbinder has her feet in two worlds; daughter of a human and a Weyrd, she can walk in both worlds. Though she doesn't have much power herself, her ability to walk between worlds is a valuable asset. This lands her the job of keeping the peace between both races and ensuring the Weyrd stay hidden.
The Council of Five act as a sort of government for the Weyrd now living in this analogue city of Brisbane. Most of the Weyrd (often fleeing persecution) have arrived over in the past from whatever old country they came from and established themselves. Verity's ex- 'Bela' (full name of Zvezdomir 'Bela' Vlad Tepes (you may recognise the name)) turns up at Verity's door one eve, looking drop-dead gorgeous as usual, if a little bit goth. He's arrived in a distinctive purple taxi cab driven by Ziggi, her usual chauffeur (Verity was injured during her last job for Bela and now sports a limp hence the transport). Verity clambers into the car, complete with shrunken head Gris-Gris in the window, to find one of the Council of Five sitting there. Over twenty children have gone missing, some normal, some Weyrd, and the Council of Five and Bela, who is there as chief spy/cop/enforcer want to hire her to find out where the children have gone and who has taken them.
This is a solid Urban Fantasy set in an 'other' Brisbane where the Weyrd blend in as the homeless, the drunk, the disenfranchised and the alternative community. Angela Slatter's voice, though distinctively unique and hers, reminds me a little of Jim Butcher (Dresden Files) and Seanan McGuire (The Incryptid and October Daye books). Predominantly because Slatter combines high-octane, fast-paced action with PI Procedural, a whole host of wonderful creatures (not just bog standard vampires and werewolves), a cracking sense of humour and a deeper thread running through it. That thread? Racism, prejudice and treatment of other. Slatter isn't afraid to veer towards the issue of how 'other' is often treated and her cast of characters is wonderfully diverse. Add to this the ongoing tension between Bela and Verity (how can he really be her ex when she blooming well works with him?) and how this affects her, and you have a great addition to the genre, and one I predict will last the long haul.
A smashing book which kept me reading through the night, as in, couldn't put down! Splendidly written too.

Reviewed by Theresa Derwin Oct-2016 Published by Jo Fletcher

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Gavin Smith


The activities in this book take place about 400 years after the war with ‘Them’ described in Gavin Smith’s first 2 books: VETERAN and WAR IN HEAVEN. In this future the most extremely dangerous criminals, after conviction, serve their sentences in suspended animation aboard massive prison ships travelling from planet to planet.
Miska Corbin, a black-ops agent and hacker owns i.e. has stolen one of these prison ships, the Hangman’s Daughter. The inmates are kept under control by means of explosive collars that she can set off with a thought and as a backup automatically if and when she dies. She is setting up her own mercenary army. Training is carried out in virtual reality by the electronic ghost of a dead marine gunnery sergeant, her Dad. Is she just setting up a new business or does she have another motive? Read the book and all is revealed.
In THE BASTARD LEGION (Book one – there are more promised) Gavin Smith introduces readers to a brutal universe dominated by ruthless corporations and graphically describes their impact on and the suffering of their minions. In doing so he has brilliantly created an outstanding, if flawed, heroine. There is an excellently defined cast of supporting characters, especially her Dad. Even some of the Hangman’s Daughter’s inmates are becoming somewhat ‘likable’ but you would not want to turn your back on any of them. Believable action takes place in well- crafted environments involving creditable technology.
All in all, THE BASTARD LEGION is a terrific book and an excellent start to a series. The author ensures that we know how and why Miska acquires the Hangman’s Daughter and how the Legion got its name. I’m really, really looking forward to reading subsequent books in this series. Jim Pearce

Reviewed by Dec-2017 Published by Gollancz

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The activities in this book take place immediately following those described in THE BASTARD LEGION (see review in issue 555 of the Brum Group News, December 2017) in which Gavin Smith introduced readers to a brutal universe dominated by ruthless corporations, criminal predators and competing governmental agencies. Key to these action- filled tomes is the rivalry between Miska Corbin, who is an ex-marine, CIA black-ops agent and hacker, and her older but even more deadly sister, Angela who works for the FBI. As described in THE BASTARD LEGION Miska has stolen a prison ship, the Hangman’s Daughter, in which humanity’s most extremely dangerous convicted criminals serve their sentences in suspended animation while travelling from planet to planet. She keeps the inmates under control by means of explosive collars that she can set off with a thought and as a backup automatically if and when she dies.
In Miska Corbin, Gavin Smith has created an outstanding and definitely flawed heroine who is a rash adrenaline junkie whose mission planning is mainly reactionary and always ends in a high body count. In FRIENDLY FIRE Miska is described by one of her inmate legionnaires/slaves as a fucking virus as everything she touches becomes corrupted, just more pain, suffering and death. As in the prior episode there is an excellently defined cast of supporting characters, criminals and others some of whom are becoming somewhat ‘likable’ but you would not want to turn your back on any of them. In this novel Miska is hired to recover an alien artifact located on the home world of several of her ‘legionnaires’. This creates several high-level action diversions/complications. I particularly liked the mother of one of the inmates.
In preparation to writing this review I decided to first re-read THE BASTARD LEGION as I really liked it; and I did again. However, when reading FRIENDLY FIRE towards the end I felt exhausted and overwhelmed by the somewhat OTT action which, resembling that of a violent video game, affected my level of enjoyment. So after finishing it I put it away for a few weeks and then re-read it and this time I enjoyed it more. In my mind both books are worth reading, but as I found out not one immediately after the other.
Episode 3 THE BASTARD LEGION – WAR CRIMMINALS is already available on Kindle (cost £5.99) and as a paperback on the 10th June 2019 (costing £10.99). If I get the opportunity I would like to read it.

Reviewed by Jim Pearce Sep-2018 Published by Gollancz

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I almost did not finish reading this book; after 30 to 40 pages I thought that it was not for me, being too odd and confusing. Then I thought again, I had obtained the book from Carol as I had previously reviewed Gavin Smith’s first book VETERAN for the BRUM Group back in March 2011 and rather enjoyed it. So I decided that I had a responsibility to both Carol and Gollancz, who had kindly provided the book for review, and should persevere with it. That said I’m glad that I did as the more I read the more compelling and enjoyable it became.
THE BEAUTY OF DESTRUCTION follows three distinct strands. The first is set in ‘Ancient Britain’ actually the Iron Age pre-Roman invasion and describes the fight of a disparate group of warriors and ‘druids’ against the ‘Dark Man’, Crom Dhubh and his magically enslaved minions. The second describes apocalyptic action taking place ‘Now’ i.e. 20th/21st century and follows the fight by two humans augmented with alien technology (tech) against another dark man (Mr. Brown) and his augmented minions in an increasingly dystopian world being turned into a Lovecraftian nightmare. Thirdly, there is the also dystopian far-future strand entitled ‘A Long Time After The Loss’; presumably the Loss is that of Earth described in the ‘Now’ section. Not unexpectedly, there is also a ‘Dark Man’ in this strand, called the ‘Patron’. The story proceeds in cyclic tranches; strand 1, strand 2, strand 3 then back to 1 again. While it is still compelling there are some disjoints in the narrative, however these tend to be resolved as the story progresses. There is fast and furious violence throughout, but without this there would be no story. I am pleased to note that unlike some stories there is a definite ending to the three tales as the strands come together at the end of the book.
In THE BEAUTY OF DESTRUCTION Gavin Smith has demonstrated an exceptional and febrile imagination and talent and after a shaky start I thoroughly enjoyed this book and can recommend it to others.
Reviewed by Jim Pearce Apr-2016 Published by Gollancz

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VETERAN by Gavin Smith

Violent from the start, but not excessively so, this is the author’s debut novel and is set approximately 250 years after the Final Human Conflict which is referred to throughout the book as FHC (the author regularly uses acronyms, one or two of which were unclear). It is a badly damaged world in which sea levels have significantly risen part drowning coastal cities and, in addition, there are some large radioactive areas. Some cities are completely controlled by criminal gangs.
The main character, Jakob Douglas, is a special services (augmented) veteran of the war against Them, the genocidal aliens locked in a 60-year-old conflict with humanity. He is forcibly reactivated by Major Rolleston, his former boss on Dog (Sirius) 4, whom he hates, to investigate and resolve a code eleven xenomorphic infiltration.
Tracking the injured and dying alien, Jakob finds out that it calls itself Ambassador and is possibly on a peace mission. Chased by Rolleston and his pet assassin extraordinaire, Josephine Bram, aka the Grey Lady, Jakob flees with a teenage hooker turned hacker.
During his travels he meets and teams up with a hacker trying to create God in the internet, a cyborg pirate king metamorphosed into a sea demon, and various special services veterans some of whom are old friends. On the way he learns that a friend who he last saw on Dog 4 is still alive and is a captive of Rolleston. The rescue mission takes him and his team to the bottom of the sea and the top of the sky, then beyond.
An interesting cameo is the battle and subsequent destruction of a space warship ‘Warchilde’ that bears a resemblance to that of ‘Thunderchilde’ in H G Wells’s WAR OF THE WORLDS.
This is an enjoyable SF tale featuring well developed and, yes, likable (but damaged) cast of characters and is highly recommended. The only downside, if it is one, is that the book does not resolve Jakob’s mission. It would be a shame if the author did not write a sequel, especially as Rolleston and the Grey Lady are still at large.

Reviewed by Jim Pearce Jun-2010 Published by Gollancz

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Ginger Smith

THE RUSH’S EDGE by Ginger Smith

The idea of the genetically engineered super-soldier is not new to Science Fiction, but told well there is still life in the idea. Halvor Cullen is one such soldier. As a “Vat” he was born into service, with genetic and technological enhancements intended to make him “fight hard and die young”. Significantly, Vats are engineered to have a stronger reaction to adrenaline – actively seeking out the rush of the book’s title. Whilst on the battlefield this has obvious advantages, it takes a toll on their bodies and most don’t survive beyond 35 years. After seven years of service, they are discharged and left to try and live in a civilian world which doesn’t want them and which they are ill-equipped to handle. Many end up as beggars, drug addicts or dead from risk-taking behaviours or brawling in the search for an elusive adrenaline rush.
Halvor however is relatively lucky. With his ex-commander and friend, Tyce (a “natural” born) they make a reasonable living by salvaging technology and materials from crashed spaceships left along the borders of a war with the alien “Mudar”. Their routine is disrupted when a new member joins their crew (Vivi) and they uncover a mysterious alien sphere. The ramifications of these actions pit them against the military and corporate interests which control the “Vats” as they start to uncover more about the history of the war and the truth about what has been done to the “vats”.
This is an easy, quick read and one I enjoyed. While there are no particular surprises in where the plot is going, it is well-paced and there are some entertaining action scenes. The character of Hal is perhaps the most developed and nuanced. Unlike some SF space operas, we really see not only the advantages but also the disabling side of his upbringing: the nightmares, flashbacks, hypervigilance and the struggle to control his violent impulses. It did read to me very much (although I’m no expert) like the PTSD reported by many contemporary ex-military veterans. Where the story could perhaps be criticised by some, is that the other crew members are all decent and supportive, rather than having a whole ship-load of misfits, but too me that was quite restful. That being said, I did find myself wishing there was more detail about the personalities and back story of the characters apart from Hal. There is a romance for him, and the emotional difficulties that entails, although personally I didn’t feel the chemistry quite worked. Be aware also that the story does end with a lot of things unresolved, so I presume that a sequel is planned.
All in all, this is an enjoyable if not particularly profound read. As a debut novel, I think it shows some talent, and I think is one that many readers might enjoy

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Dec-2020 Published by Angry Robot

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Jon Sprunk

SHADOW’S LURE by Jon Sprunk

SHADOW’S LURE by Jon Sprunk is his second novel, the first being SHADOW’S SON, which I reviewed in a previous newsletter. Both books are set in a low-fantasy world (no elves with healing magic here) in a setting that feels slightly pre-renaissance, with sophisticated city life, an all-powerful church rule, but no gunpowder or more modern technology. The story itself focuses on Caim, the main protagonist, and also details the continuing, but completely separate, story of Josie, the young noblewoman from the first book.
This second volume has over 100 more pages than the first, but the book does not feel any longer in narrative. This is largely because of the break-neck speed with which Sprunk races through the scenes; he has crammed quite a bit more into the second book.
In my review of the first book, I noted that the first text hinted at supernatural elements which only come to the fore at the climax. From the first book’s resolution, this reviewer suspected that the supernatural will be a much stronger theme in the sequel, and that this would be beneficial to the story.
SHADOW’S LURE does indeed expound greatly on those supernatural elements; but I find it is debatable whether this is actually an improvement. In general, Sprunk has turned everything up to eleven in this book, as if he was testing the water in the first book, and feels free to let rip with every weapon in the second. Unfortunately this means that the text loses a lot of the subtlety that I can now appreciate the first book having! The almost historical novel feeling has given way to a much more garish genre fantasy feeling, and this reviewer finds that to lessen the experience.
For example we need look no further than the action sequences. Sprunk is able to write violence with a fairly visceral feeling; used sparingly in the first novel it felt punchy, kind of like an evenly used spice to enliven the prose. In the sequel, five of the first seven chapters feel liberally soaked in bloody gore. Before long, this reader tired a little and longed for a slow down! Similarly, the supernatural element has been ramped up so as to be almost ubiquitous; suddenly there are magical adepts and evil sorceresses peering out of every corner. Bang goes the realistic verisimilitude.
I will admit that I enjoyed seeing some of the questions from the first book answered; alas, this second book asks as many questions as it answers, as Sprunk clearly intends to add at least one more volume. But I am increasingly of the opinion that Sprunk needs to learn some restraint, as his writing was clearly more balanced in the first book. The first one also had a better story, with more mystery to reveal; this sequel is a more straightforward hack and slash through the bad guys until the resolution.
I can but hope (with ever decreasing expectation) that in the third volume Sprunk will find a way to return some of the subtlety with still being able to deliver a climax worthy of a trilogy

Reviewed by Dave Corby Jun-2012 Published by Gollancz

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SHADOW’S MASTER by Jon Sprunk is the third and presumably final novel in a trilogy, the first being SHADOW’S SON, which I reviewed in a previous Newsletter and the second being SHADOW’S LURE, reviewed in issue 489.
This series is set in a low-fantasy world that started off feeling slightly pre-renaissance. The original setting, the realm of Nimea, sported sophisticated city life, an all-powerful church rule, but no gunpowder or more modern technology. In the later volumes the rest of the world seems more of a standard medieval sword and sorcery setting.
In the first book we met Caim, the main protagonist, a mercenary assassin with a mysterious control over shadows. We also met Josie, a young noblewoman at threat from the church state due to her heritage.
Also detailed is Kit, a young ethereal fae woman in love with Caim, but whom no-one but Caim can perceive. The story concerned Caim’s protection of Josie and eventually her crowning as Empress of Nimea at the end of the first book In the second volume Caim searched to the north to determine the origin of his powers and what happened to his family. Separately we also read the story of Josie dealing with her new existence as Empress Josephine, dealing with duplicitous courtly intrigue and assassination attempts on her life. At the end of the second volume Caim discovers his heritage from the dark shadow folk who fled from a dark dimension to enslave the peoples of the north.
The first volume hinted at the supernatural, and spared overuse of the admittedly well written violence. In the second book I noted that Sprunk felt able to indulge, ramping the supernatural and violence up to high levels, and I concluded with regret that less was probably more.
Happily SHADOW’S MASTER settles down a bit and scales back the violence while using the mystical shadows plotline far more deftly.
Throughout all three volumes I have found Sprunk’s text to be easily read and pleasingly paced. The better balance of the third book ensures the series goes out on a high; I had worried that the overuse of blood and guts would build to a shattering crescendo, but the final book seems well judged and better considered.
The story nicely answers all of Caim’s questions about his parentage and family. It finishes off his tale in a nice final fashion. It also makes the antagonists more than one-dimensional horrors, having a pleasing roundness that seemed to give them understandable motives. The story also resolves the relationships between Caim and Josie, and Caim and Kit. Josie’s story deals with her fully growing into her role as empress, but interestingly leaves certain political matters unresolved. The reader cannot help but wonder if there is more to tell of the Nimean empress and her travails.
Of course, any review of a final book in a series cannot help but view the series as a whole and I find myself happy to recommend them.
This series is not without faults; although not Sprunk’s first published works, they were his first novels. Occasionally clumsy, yet fairly engaging, I nonetheless found them very enjoyable. The books are good because Sprunk makes the setting and story, which could be very familiar and even boring, feel fresh and unfamiliar. The characters, which could be stereotypical, seem vibrant and curious. This is an entertaining sword and sorcery series, if not one you will necessarily take much from in years to come. Ideal reading between other epics, if you will. Furthermore, these books make me anticipate what else Sprunk might produce. I wonder what he might be like writing SF?

Reviewed by Dave Corby Mar-2013 Published by Orion

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SHADOW’S SON by Jon Sprunk

SHADOW’S SON is Jon Sprunk’s first novel, following half a dozen published short stories. It is a low-fantasy tale (no elves with healing magic here) in an urban setting that feels slightly pre-renaissance, with sophisticated city life, an all-powerful church rule, but no gunpowder or more modern technology.
The story itself concerns Caim, the main protagonist, an assassin by trade, and Josie, the young daughter of a nobleman, around whom the plot develops.
It is quite a short book (in a modern context); 279 pages (and a reasonable font size) make for more of a pleasant diversion than a weighty volume, and I think this is well judged. Sprunk does not overcomplicate the story with a cast of thousands and keeps it mostly to the six or seven main characters.
Nor does Sprunk bludgeon the reader with infinite detail derived from the thoroughly fleshed out fantasy world he has created. In a time when most fantasy authors seem to think everything must come in, at least, three volumes and each volume should not be less than five hundred pages, this brevity seems quite refreshing. However, this reviewer notes that he has yet to dive into Sprunk’s sequel, SHADOW’S LURE (Gollancz, published last July), so there is plenty of time for things to change – review pending.
Given Caim’s occupation, the book occasionally waxes violent or bloodthirsty, but is by no means the most gore- filled fantasy I have read. The action, which is reasonably frequent, is written with a pleasing pace and the fights are clearly described, giving an almost cinematic feel. The characters are colourful and clearly characterised, descriptions reasonably vivid, and overall I found the book easy to read. Sprunk unfortunately falls into the modern habit of ending chapters on a compelling cliff-hanger; as a reader I like to break at chapter ends, so when this happens it irritates me! I’m sure this is a device to compel the reader to read on, and maybe most folk don’t mind this.
However, this book doesn’t do much that the average fantasy reader won’t have encountered before. The lack of high-fantastic elements makes the book feel slightly pedestrian; substituting Sprunk’s setting for any renaissance European country would give a straightforward historical novel. The text does hint at supernatural elements, quite literally in the shadows, which come more to the fore at the climax, but for the most part this story is very down to earth. From the book’s resolution, this reviewer suspects that the supernatural will be a much stronger theme in the sequel. I suspect this will be beneficial to the story.
I feel like I should be criticising this book more than I want to but I did find it fun to read. This reviewer is just not convinced that Sprunk does anything new or innovative with the genre. Nonetheless, it does feel like quite a promising opening chapter, so I shall be optimistic and hope that increased fantastic elements combined with Sprunk’s writing style bodes well for the future of this series…

Reviewed by Dave Corby Mar-2012 Published by Gollancz

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Olaf Stapledon

STAR MAKER by Olaf Stapledon

With an introduction by Brian Aldiss and rave reviews by various literary luminaries, this book is considered to be one of the most influential works of SF ever written. William Olaf Stapledon (1886-1950) was a pacifist and philosopher whose first published work of fiction was Last and First Man, another seminal SF novel, although Stapledon never knew he was even writing SF.
Written in 1937 Star Maker is an astonishing work o f imagination: a man stands on a hill in England, looking at the stars, and then finds himself leaving his body and flying outwards from Earth through the cosmos. No explanation is given for this and none is needed; we don’t even know his name. Eventually he discovers alien life on another planet and comes to reside in the mind of one of them. When he leaves this world, several years later, he takes the mind with him on his travels, and so they go, linking with more minds and growing in power, until this huge force, maybe thousands strong, ranges up and down the whole o f space and time. The book flags a little here, as one set of strange aliens and their society is described and then another, and then another. Impressively inventive, yes, but get on with it already. Eventually, o f course, they decide to go and find the Creator and say hello. On the way, as the groupmind becomes ever more attuned, they discover that not only are the planets intelligent, but the stars, nebulae and even entire galaxies are sentient. Bloody hell. This is where Stapledon’s truly cosmic imagination goes into overdrive, and it’s easy to see how he has influenced so many other writers. I ’ll let you find out what happens when they finally confront the Star Maker and his works.
The wealth of ideas in this book is really too much to take in on one reading. I first came across it when I was quite young and found it pretty baffling. Not surprising really. Although limited by 1930s understanding of cosmology, it is still a remarkable work and well ahead of its time (at one point Stapledon describes interplanetary war where entire races are destroyed with atomic energy, and this was written years before the Manhattan Project). Even today it is still up there with the best. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Tony Berry Apr-2000 Published by Millennium

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Brian Staveley

THE EMPEROR’S BLADES by Brian Staveley

Within Fantasy books there is a strongly recurring, almost ubiquitous, sub-genre which starts with a fallen King/Emperor killed either in battle or by treachery and very rarely by old age. The story that follows depicts the struggle of his heir/s to hold onto or win back their heritage. THE EMPEROR’S BLADES is one such book, the blades in the title being his two sons and daughter. In it the Emperor has been murdered, leaving his empire in turmoil. Now his children must fight for their lives. His second son Valyn is training to join the empire’s deadliest fighting force. After a dying soldier’s warning which is swiftly followed by several accidents he realizes that his life is in danger. Unaware of his father’s death, Kaden the heir studies in a remote monastery where the Blank God’s disciples teach him their harsh ways. Meanwhile back in the capital, the Emperor’s daughter Adare seeks justice.
In THE EMPEROR’S BLADES Brian Staveley has created a well-crafted situation populated by realistic characters both ‘good’ and ‘evil’. Progress is a struggle for the siblings there being many twists and turns in their tales. Within this book there are tragic deaths, including that of some characters that one would have expected to live a lot longer in the chronicle, unexpected treachery and the finding of surprising allies. Overall Brian has created a masterful and rich tapestry blending the action into a compelling story, which is the type I like best. There is also a good ending to this part of the tale with a clear and definite pause and the scene is set for the next volume.
Thank goodness there is nothing ordinary or flash about this story instead it is a profoundly satisfying read. When I finished it I sat back and sighed with pleasure as if I had just completed an excellent meal. I look forward to the two follow-up volumes the first of which, THE PROVIDENCE OF FIRE is to be published in January 2015 and expect that they will be equally enjoyable.
In this his first published book Brian Staveley has proved that he is already a master of his craft so much so that this is one of the best books I have read this year.
Reviewed by Jim Pearce Nov-2014 Published by Pan Macmillan Tor

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This is the second book in Brian Staveley’s excellent Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne. In October 2014 I had the pleasure of reviewing THE EMPEROR’S BLADES the first book in this series (see Brum Group News Issue 518). In my review I stated that “In this his first published book Brian Staveley has proved that he is already a master of his craft so much so that this is one of the best books I have read this year.” THE PROVIDENCE OF FIRE confirms my opinion of the quality of his storytelling and leads me to favourably compare him to Robert Jordan and his seminal Wheel of Time series. Although, as I understand from information available to me when writing my 2014 review, there are to be three volumes in this chronicle there should be little chance of reader fatigue when the story concludes in the next volume.
In THE PROVIDENCE OF FIRE the story continues seamlessly from where THE EMPEROR’S BLADES concluded; following each of the Emperor’s Blades’ i.e. his two sons and daughter as they each in their own way fight to find out why he was murdered leaving his empire in turmoil. Kaden, the reluctant heir tries to find aid firstly with a group of warrior monks and then from the Empire’s nobles but only to find damaged fanatics and weak querulous reeds. The warrior second son, Valyn is harried across the windswept steppes beyond the Empire’s northern boundary where he is captured by the nomadic Urghul and their blood-mad leader. Meanwhile the Emperor’s daughter Adare first of all flees the Empire’s capital city and his murderer to gain an army with which she hopes to bring the murderer to justice.
As in the previous volume Brian Staveley has created a well-crafted situation populated by realistic characters both ‘good’ and ‘evil’ introducing some intriguing new characters creating surprising allies. In these he shows that in some instances ‘evil’ may have at least temporarily a ‘good’ objective. But can their help be trusted as the providers certainly have their own agendas? Ominously the gods are stirring. Again progress is a struggle for the siblings, there being many twists and turns in their tales.
As with THE EMPEROR’S BLADES Brian has created a masterful and rich tapestry blending the action into a compelling story, which as I previously stated is the type I like best. I look forward to the follow-up and expect that it will be as equally enjoyable as the previous two books in the series

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

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Jon Steele

THE WATCHERS by Jon Steele

The biggest problem with any review of this book is going to be in spoiling the plot. This is almost unavoidable since the plot, as it is, doesn't really become apparent until well into the second half of the book. Even when it does start, it isn't particularly fast. There are flashes of extreme violence in the first half but they are delivered second-hand and somehow seem less essential because of it. That sort of thing would usually imply that this is going to be a thriller. If that was the intent, it fails miserably. It's simplest to say that this book does have a plot but there isn't much of it and you have to plough through 400 pages of filler to get to it.
There are characters here too. The three principles are:- Marc Rochat, a French-Canadian of ‘independent means’ (an inheritance) who works a ‘le guet’ at Lausanne Cathedral. The job seems to be more to do with tradition than any kind of skilled work which is a good thing because Marc seems to have very limited intelligence. He spends most of the book in the belfry of the cathedral talking to the bells or watching the world through binoculars. He has been told that one day an angel will come to the cathedral and that he should help the angel.
Katherine Taylor, a high-class, extremely expensive prostitute from the USA who is living in Switzerland to escape the heavy taxes that she owes the US government. She is employed by the 100 club who have the sort of clientele that are rich enough not to be mentioned in the press.
Jay Michael Harper, a private eye who cannot remember a moment of his life prior to arriving in Switzerland at the beginning of the book. He is, apparently working for the International Olympic Committee on the case of a former athlete and trainer who wanted to tell the details of a psychedelic substance but has been killed in a car wreck.
None of these three know that they are the major players in a plot that has been planned since the beginning of time or that they are not really who or what they think they are. Sounds like a good mystery doesn't it? It's just a pity that it takes so long for the author to tell us what this is all about.
The plot isn't too complex. It takes the story of the Nephilim from the apocrypha as a starting point. Some time before the birth of Christ, angels came to Earth and bred with human women. The offspring are known as the Nephilim.
They are evil and corrupt and close to immortal. In this book they are behind corrupt governments, white slavery, prostitution and a whole lot of nastier stuff.
There are also forces of good in the world. Every so often they can call up a warrior archangel to deal with some of the nastier bad guys. The problem with this is that these archangels come with no knowledge of who or what they are and what they are supposed to do. If they have children with human women in this state, the children are different and have some kind of special powers. Once you know this, you just need to work out who is the archangel, who the child and who is the potential mother of another one. One of the three principal characters dies and it all ends in a big fight in the cathedral.

Reviewed by William McCabe Sep-2011 Published by Bantam

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Bruce Sterling

DISTRACTION by Bruce Sterling

The world of American politics, along with an economy that makes the 1930’s depression seem like a mere blip in one’s bank statement, join forces to give a view of our possible future. The high-fliers of today’s society have become a footnote in the pages of history and the bulk of humanity gets by on its wits and scrounging, and even federal buildings have been occupied by the homeless and dispossessed.
But the semblance of normality is carried on by a government that has not caught up with the realities of the modern world.
Set forty-three years into the future, Bruce Sterling has set this novel in a world that is coming apart. In America, central government is a joke as IT and cheap transport have made the certain world of the ordinary citizen meaningless. Wars are fought over the internet and intellectual property has become freely available to anyone who wishes to download it. Into this world of a bankrupt American economy Oscar Valpariso is looking for his next project. Oscar, the chief political consultant for Senator elect Alcott Bambakias, is on a fact-finding mission for the Senator to the Buna National Col laboratory, a cloning establishment. The Buna National Collaboratory gives Oscar a weapon to fight the corruption within the American political establishment as federal funding for various projects is siphoned off into the politicians’ pockets. After an inspection tour of the facility Oscar realises that the cloning lab is a goldmine that can once again give America a leading position in the world economy. As the story unfolds, Oscar’s new aim in life becomes the clearing out of the political hacks along with a state governor who has virtually made his home state independent, and the uncovering of the projects that have been bought out to protect what is left of American industry.
Bruce Sterling still has the power to surprise the reader, and in this latest offering he takes a journey into a world that could become all too real, as the speed of technology’s impact on ordinary lives becomes faster and faster. The future’s out there. Welcome to the middle of the 21st century. {Editor's note: DISTRACTION was, of course, winner of the Arthur C Clarke Award 2000 for Best Novel)

Reviewed by Chris Chivers Apr-2001 Published by Millennium

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Ian Stewart & Jack Cohen

WHEELERS by Ian Stewart & Jack Cohen

Let’s get a few ‘incidentals’ out of the way first. If one didn’t know these authors, one might be forgiven for thinking this novel is by Stewart Cohen; on the cover the first names are so small and thin! (Is this intentional?) Then, on the back of the jacket, far too much information is given away - stuff which we should be allowed to discover for ourselves (often as a surprise) when we get to it. (So what’s new?) OK. This is my kind of science fiction.
Well thought out, scientifically literate (of course!), introducing new ideas and making good use of old ones, and with a fine attempt at getting under the skin of the main characters. These being Charlie (later Sir Charles) Dunsmore, archeologist, who ‘steals’ the discovery of an immensely important tablet under the Sphinx at Giza from Prudence Odingo, who goes on to discover wheeled artifacts on Jupiter’s volcanic moon Io but is accused of faking them; her twin sister Charity, and Charity’s son Moses, who has an extraordinary affinity with animals. The Moon and many asteroids are controlled by Tibetan Zen Buddhists, who also play a vital part in the proceedings, and there are many other players.
The novel starts in 2194 and ends around 2231, during which time a comet is discovered heading towards Earth (that’s one of the old ideas I mentioned). But this time it is casually directed there by the blimp-like creatures living in Jupiter’s atmosphere, whose metabolism is so alien that they cannot even conceive of intelligent beings living on the third planet with its poisonous oxygen atmosphere… The scenes on Jupiter, in which Jack’s hand is of course very evident, are particularly original and wellwritten, and the authors succeed in creating 5 an original alien civilisation - with some odd and amusing undertones of our human bureaucracy and opposition to change!
One of this book’s few weaknesses is that there are almost as many coincidences as in a Hardy novel (Thomas, that is). Isn’t it a bit suspicious that Moses, a four-yearold black boy who gets separated from his frantic mother when Charity is arrested for assisting her sister with fraud, is kidnapped by a hunter of endangered species and taken to ‘Free China’ and from there, after many adventures, to The Village’, finally to be reunited with his mother, turns out to be the only human able to communicate with the Jovian aliens?
Occasionally, the authors are tempted to display their erudition, but being Ian and Jack I suppose most of us will forgive them.
I have often been impressed by their grasp of sciences far beyond their own specialties; however, I did feel that on pages 36-37 they may have allowed their desire to write some spectacular prose to override astronomical accuracy. They refer to a comet approaching the inner Solar System: “Its water-ice will start to liquefy, then turn to steam…” and later: “boiling and exploding in a percussion of superheated steam, spitting droplets of molten rock.” Sorry, guys! A comet’s ices sublime into the near-vacuum of space, and never become liquid; and its rocks (if there are any) never become molten. Still, that’s a minor transgression, and I strongly recommend this book to all our members.

Reviewed by David A Hardy Nov-2001 Published by Earthlight

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Sam Stone


It was with some trepidation that I started to read this book. As some of you know I am not the greatest fan of horror and the cover picture did not fill me with confidence. However I have read and enjoyed some of Sam Stone’s other books so was willing to give this a try.
THE DARKNESS WITHIN is a short novel billed as a science fiction/horror mixture. Earth is dying and can only sustain human life for about 30 more years. A small fraction of the population are lucky enough to have been chosen to board the Colony ships which are being despatched to a new habitable planet, New Earth. The action takes place on the second of these ships to depart. Although all the inhabitants have been selected for intelligence, skills and fertility they are divided socially into passengers and crew. The privileged passengers, mainly from rich families, enjoy every luxury whilst the crew (who are generally from a lower social class) do all the work and lead a more Spartan existence.
One year into the voyage one of the crew is contaminated by an alien organism on salvaged space debris. Initially the infected appear normal which allows them to spread the disease to others. With time most of the victims are consumed from within and appear rotten and decaying. As more people become infected it becomes obvious something terrible is wrong. Desperately trying to identify who is still uninfected, the remaining passengers and crew must overcome their previous antipathies and work together to save themselves.
Despite my misgivings I actually found this novel relatively easy to read. It rattles along fairly easily and builds up tension well. The horror elements were not too disturbing for me and I did feel they fitted within the plot and were not just gratuitous. Perhaps it is that I am not a horror fan and so do not understand the genre but I actually enjoyed the first half of the novel (where the danger is insidious and unrecognised) far more than the latter half (where the crisis is obvious and more visually horrific). This novel was initially written as an audio play which was later expanded into a short novel and I think the book would have benefited from more expansion. I liked the set up and there are lots of ideas in here that the length of the book does not allow to be fully explored. The author established some good characters and tensions that got me interested. In particular there were a couple of female characters that I particularly appreciated. However I wanted to know more about the various individuals and how the crew/passenger tensions had changed from departure until the start of the crisis. This would have helped me feel more empathy for their plight. If you like horror then you will probably enjoy this book as it feels that this rather than the sf element is its main focus.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Aug-2014 Published by Telos Publishing

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Whitley Strieber

THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW by Whitley Strieber

This is the novelisation of a disaster movie and it reads like one. Its basic premise is that Earth's climate keeps changing, as evinced by ice ages and interglacial periods, and we're not helping.
The book opens with paleoclimatologist Jack Hall taking core samples of Antarctic ice when a fissure opens up and threatens to swallow him. Then follow his efforts to convince the President of the USA to accept his warnings of the need to take action. Human interest is provided by a variety of minor characters experiencing tornadoes, murderous hail, tidal waves and blizzards, and the plot is stitched together by Hall's attempts to be reunited with his family who are stuck in killer ice-storms in different parts of the USA.
This novelisation is workmanlike rather than well-crafted, and that's not helped by the way Strieber follows the script cuts from scene to scene. It's not Strieber's fault: it's a problem inherent in the structure of disaster movies, but it would have helped if he'd had greater wordage to play with. I don't have enough science to say whether director Roland Emmerich's premise of super-cell ice-storms has a credible basis but Strieber's explanation is both accessible and plausible enough to carry the story along. There are some pluses: he makes the point that fictionalising a potentially real problem could invite politicians not to take global warming seriously. He explains the characters' background slightly more clearly man the film does, but where SFX give the film its narrative drive, the book lacks the same punch. Nevertheless the ending, while contrived, is still moving and that's to Strieber's credit. It does the job but by and large the film is far scarier.

Reviewed by Anne Gay Aug-2004 Published by Gollancz

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Charles Stross

HALTING STATE by Charles Stross

If Charles Stross is capable of writing a dull word, it can only have been on his tax return. I have to admit to being a fan, but enjoyed this book even more than I had expected - it is a real page turner. Suffice to say he is so willing to toss ideas out like firecrackers which others would spend a novella worth of space developing that he is in danger of his name becoming a verb to describe this.
HALTING STATE is based in a near future setting (recognisably connected to our own world, in a newly independent Scotland) which features a bank robbery by a group of orcs with a dragon for firepower. Not that even this removes us from our own world (it all depends on where the bank is….) and the chapters alternate between the viewpoints of three main protagonists, a police sergeant, a game developer and an accountant specialising in fraud investigation. Each of these have roots which give them much more depth, including civil partnership, family secrets, and an interest in swords, and they converge on what becomes a complex mess in which online gaming (the bank is situated in Avalon Four, online gamespace, and the items stolen include magical artifacts) and fraud lead on to attempted murder, spooks and then real bodies start to pile up.
The pace is unrelenting, and though the use of second person narrative is a little unexpected, total immersion is easy. As the strands weave, a series of unsettling revelations, including an all too real use of current technology for very different purposes than intended (how would you recruit to invisible conspiracies?), build to a gripping finale which reveals…….. Well, I won’t spoil this, but the conspiracy/cockup ratio is realistic. Along the way Stross gives you zombie mobs, vorpal blades and gun-toting ursines, only two of which are restricted to online action. None of this is written to require deep knowledge of how game design and accounting actually work, but it is clear from the cover quotes that even those having this knowledge (including John Carmack, creator of DOOM) find the book enthralling. There is also a peppering of humour which adds to the fun – the book is a standalone, and certainly makes a good job of it as a standout. Buy, enjoy, recommend, but you may be too wary to lend - can you really trust your friends to return it?.

Reviewed by Phil Noyes Jun-2008 Published by Orbit

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THE BLOODLINE FEUD by Charles Stross

For those who do not look closely enough, buying this book could be a mistake especially for fans of Stross’s writing. The reason? This is not a new book.
When Stross originally conceived the idea it was for this volume. The powers of publishing prevailed, said it was too long and cut it in two. If you have read THE FAMILY TRADE and THE HIDDEN FAMILY you have also read THE BLOODLINE FEUD. This is how Stross intended it.
So if you already have, or have read the first two books in this series, you may skip the rest of this review.
THE BLOODLINE FEUD begins with investigative journalist Miriam Beckstein having a very bad day. She and her researcher Paulette have got what they think is the scoop of the decade, having the data to prove that a couple of high profile firms are laundering drugs money. When the editor in chief pulls the plug on the story and has both women escorted from the building she realises that the company that owns the newspaper must also be involved. This is also the day that her adoptive mother, Iris, decides to give her the newspaper cuttings and few items that belonged to her biological mother, an unnamed woman who was found dead. Amongst the items is a locket. Inside is a strange pattern. As she stares at it, Miriam suddenly finds herself in virgin woodland with a splitting headache. Initially excited about her discovery, Miriam’s outlook changes when she first discovers a very poor village, and then is kidnapped from her bed.
As she quickly discovers, she is the long-believed-dead member of a feudal Clan in this parallel world and an heiress. At the time when her mother was found dead, there was a nasty internecine war going on. Currently, there is a truce but her reappearance as an adult triggers a recommencement of hostilities, with Miriam the target of several assassination attempts. She finds it difficult to know who she should trust. She also finds out that the reason for the wealth of the Clans is drug smuggling.
This new world, the one she was actually born in, is very mediaeval in its attitudes, particularly towards women. That, Miriam is not going to accept. As a result, when she finds a different locket on one of her attackers and a way to a third world she decides she is going to set up an alternative trade, one that does not involve drugs and one that allows more autonomy to women.
A complaint often levelled at part works is that one volume often appears to end half-way through a sentence. This is more likely to be the publisher’s decision than the author’s. In THE BLOODLINE FEUD, Stross has had the opportunity to reunite the orphan volumes. The result is a far more satisfactory read and a wise decision. If you haven’t read any of this series, this is the place to start.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Nov-2013 Published by Tor

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Arkady & Boris Strugatski

ROADSIDE PICNIC by Arkady & Boris Strugatski

This is particular, enigmatic type of science fiction, and one that I like; in some respects it reminds me of ROGUE MOON by Algis Budrys. At some unspecified time aliens have landed on Earth and then left – it’s known as the Visitation – at six Zones, regularly spaced around Earth’s globe. The story takes place 30 years later, in a place called Harmont. The International Institute is responsible for making trips into the dangerous Zones, which seem to be full of traps for the unwary (or even the wary), but thieves known as stalkers also risk their lives in an attempt to bring back mysterious artifacts or technological wonders worth massive amounts of money. The most common of these are known as ‘empties’: two copper discs the size of a saucer, about a quarter-inch thick, with a space of 18 inches between them; nothing else, but you can’t press them together, or pull them apart. Nobody knows what they’re for or what they do, but everyone wants to know. Someone likens the Visitation to a party of picnickers, who get out of their cars, spread their belongings on the grass, and depart, leaving their litter behind; hence the title.
Red Schuhart is a stalker, and he knows where to find a ‘full empty’, known as Object 77b, which has some sort of blue material between the plates.
The Zone somehow affects the genes of anyone who enters or gets too close, and Red’s daughter, known as Monkey, is a mutant, covered in soft fur. His life is dominated by the Zone, the thriving black market which supports him and his daughter, but he resolves to stop endangering his life by entering the Zone – after one last foray. . .
The writing is brilliant, the descriptions vivid, and the overall sense of alien weirdness well evoked. Only the ending disappointed me slightly, because I turned the page expecting to find more, and there wasn’t any! I can see now why the authors did this, but I generally prefer a somewhat neater ending than this, which leaves too much unsaid that I wanted to know. But nonetheless, a very worthwhile read

Reviewed by David A Hardy May-2007 Published by Gollancz SF Masterworks

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Theodore Sturgeon

THE DREAMING JEWELS by Theodore Sturgeon

Theodore Sturgeon was one of the star authors of the so-called “ Golden Age “ of the forties and fifties, although he often wrote on controversial themes, such as homosexuality for example, and this tended to prevent his work from being as widely accepted at the time as it deserved. Nevertheless, some of it bears comparison with the greatest. Unfortunately, the selection of The Dreaming Jewels from among his handful of novels for inclusion in Gollancz’s “ Sf Collector’s” Series was not a good choice. I had never read it before, although I was familiar with a fair amount of his other work. I was now disappointed, to say the least.
The story is that of a boy, Horty, who has been affected as a child by the eponymous jewels, an alien lifeform apparently common on Earth but generally unrecognised. He runs away from his adoptive home and joins a travelling freak show where he unknowingly comes into contact with an adult who has discovered the jewels and would use their powers, and Horty, for his own wicked ends. Horty escapes, learns about himself and the jewels and with some help from his former freak friends kills the bad guy and exacts revenge for his cruel upbringing.
So far, so good - this has the potential to be a nice little coming-of-age story with an s f element in the form of contact with aliens. Unfortunately, there is no explanation of the Dreaming Jewels - neither their origin, their nature nor even their purpose - they are merely a device introduced to allow the construction of a story about psi powers. Moreover, it is carelessly plotted and casually written, with lame characters and ill-described scenes and events. Sturgeon did much better than this with similar basic themes and I cannot recommend this as an example o f what he was capable of.

Reviewed by Michael Jones Dec-2000 Published by Gollancz

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M Suddain


Matt Suddain could be this generation's answer to Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett. He's not quite there yet but, given a few more books and a good editor, he could make it in a few years.
Considering the commercial potential there, it's no wonder that there seems to be a real attempt to package this right. The book is presented as the work of a separate character (V.V.S Volcannon) who does not appear within the book although he does make comments in the narrative and gets a short introduction to himself between that of the "publisher" (Suddain) and the novel proper. The book is presented as part of the Blacklist imprint with the slogan "The forbidden, the forgotten, the condemned" and the Blacklist website shows covers of half a dozen books in that series. The actual publisher is Jonathan Cape but it is likely that Jonathan Cape may not be mentioned on the copy that appears in the shops. Blacklist is fictional and may not continue beyond this book. All of this could make it difficult to order copies.
The book itself is a whole lot of fun. It takes a little while to get into and it does drift into other stories at times but, once you get the hang of it, it's a very easy read. There are more characters in the central cast than usual and the plot has more than the usual number of twists and turns but it is not really too much for the size of the book.
M Francisco Fabrigas claims to have invented a device that will open a path into a different universe. He claims to be from another universe that is almost identical to the one he is in. Actually, he isn't really sure about any of that but he isn't telling people that. He now has money from the Queen of one of the two largest empires in this universe to lead an invasion into another one. He is being supplied with information by the Dark Hand (a secret organisation from the other empire). His pilot is "The Necronaut" who can escape an entire army and defeat a space fleet. The ship has a full crew along with hangers on and a couple of very important stowaways. Although they seem to be small children, one is being pursued for the information he carries in his head and the other by a half dozen of the greatest assassins in the universe. Add to this The Pope (the most powerful person in the universe), The Man in the Shadows (representative of a conspiracy that stretches across more than one universe), Carrofax (a "demon" that only Fabrigas can see) and a couple of monsters bigger than planets. That's not all but it's a fair sample.
The story follows the cast across several universes to a moon covered with plant life that will eat almost anything (they have trouble eating whole spaceships), a planet in the belly of a monster, a city under assault from the Pope's fleet, and a few more space battles. Surprisingly, almost everything is tied up at the end. If there's a sequel they'll be dealing with minor cast members and new situations.
The characters aren’t so much shallow as just thin. So much of the book seems to be designed this way so that the writer can pull some kind of switch to reveal that this character isn’t really who you thought they were and is really so much more/less significant. The Necronaut isn’t The Necronaut (but only in a Dread Pirate Roberts way). The Vengeance isn’t really who all of those assassins were lined up to slaughter but you’ve probably figured that out right at the beginning.
There’s even an assassin who is masquerading as something else among the crew of the ship. Fabrigas eventually reveals that his real reason for trying to get to another universe is just to find an alternate of his family who seem to have died or disappeared in the two universes he’s been in so far. I suppose this should make the characters inconsistent somehow but the effect is more to prevent too much understanding. This doesn’t really matter too much. Parts of the book include the dreams and journals of many of the significant characters – and not necessarily the ones mentioned here. You can get to know them no matter how unreliable their history. The writer (in one of his appearances as Volcannon) believes that his greatest failing is in trying to put in too many characters and different plot lines.
So what's wrong with this? Not much really. There are things that seem like they've been stuck on as running jokes that don't really run that far like the sea shanties that are just re-hashes of pop songs except that there aren't that many of them. I don't think the whole "steampunk" idea really works here. I found the whole thing works better if you just ignore the vague suggestion that they're going into space on something that looks like a 15th century galleon or that this character is a wizard and that a demon. It's not like they really make anything of it. And those times when they forget and put "sea" instead of "space". Those were just mistakes that they ought to correct by the time the book comes out. Oh, and the "homunculus" bit didn't need to be there at all.

Reviewed by William McCabe Sep-2013 Published by Jonathan Cape

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This strange volume purports to come from Blacklist Publishing, an organisation dedicated to “the printing of lost or banished books: the Forbidden, the Forgotten, the Condemned”: an organisation moreover which has nothing at all to do with Random House whatsoever.
Blacklist Publishing has its own website which seems an impressively professional affair giving information as to this and other, forthcoming, publications together with brief details of their writers. The site has, in fact, been created by M. Suddain, the present author, and is presumably aimed at lending an illusion of substance to this product of his imagination. One can only guess that whether any of these further books ever appear is dependent on whether this one is a success and whether he is willing and able to write them.
THEATRE OF THE GODS is obviously set in the unimaginably far future, or maybe in a different reality altogether. It begins with a confusing collection of seemingly disparate and disconnected descriptions, but gradually a narrative emerges. Rambling, disjointed and at times verging on the incoherent, it is supposedly the story of M. Francisco Fabrigas, philosopher, heretical physicist and perhaps the greatest human explorer of all ages. He claims to have visited a different universe and returned and, having escaped execution for his heretical claims, he embarks on a further voyage of inter-dimensional exploration. He is accompanied by a teenage captain, a brave deaf boy, a cunning blind girl and a sultry botanist. Together they undergo a series of adventures, each more unbelievable than the last, all the while pursued by a mysterious telepathic assassin and the homicidal Pope of the Universe. Having somehow survived all dangers, he eventually returns home to a welcome exile while the others go their separate ways.
In fact, there is more here than the story of Fabrigas alone, as what happens to some of the other characters is almost as important. Some of them find their problems resolved and it becomes apparent that the whole story might have been about something else entirely. Or perhaps not.
On the whole THEATRE OF THE GODS can best be described as a phantasmagoria. Matching its curious and imaginary origin, its complex and fantastical contents transcend belief and are at times barely comprehensible. It can only be thought of as having a limited audience – a reader who likes it will like it very much but those of a more practical or downto- earth mindset may well find little to admire.
Reviewed by Michael Jones Aug-2013 Published by Random House

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Tricia Sullivan

OCCUPY ME by Tricia Sullivan

Tricia Sullivan is an Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning author. Unlike some awards that are decided by popular vote, this one choses the winner by a panel of peers, reviewers and enthusiasts, people who know something about good writing. They don’t only look for books that are well written, they also want to find books that push at the boundaries of Science Fiction. Any genre that does not do this either stagnates or dies; the western is a thing of the past and the traditional romance is predictable. To keep a genre vibrant, authors need to work at the cutting edge. That doesn’t mean that everyone will like or understand what they do.
To encapsulate the plot will make it sound mundane. This book is anything but. It begins with an appendix to the instructions for an HD waveform launcher. Instantly, the reader is wrong-footed because it is unclear what this device is though it turns out to be integral to everything else that happens. Don’t, however, expect clear explanations. Writing in the second person is rare though some novelists have done so to great effect. Sullivan uses it to good effect when Kisi Sorle is the viewpoint character. He is an orthopaedic surgeon who has been persuaded to care for the very wealthy Austin Stevens during his dying days. He is hoping the remuneration will enable him to build clinics in his home country of Kuè. Except that his body has been hijacked. There are spaces in his memory when another persona takes control. So he doesn’t know where the briefcase that he suddenly finds in his possession comes from.
First person passages are from the point of view of Pearl. Her first recollection of arriving on Earth is the inside of a derelict fridge. She, though, is an angel. Well she has wings which are mostly not in this dimension. Pearl is not what most people would expect an angel to be like. She becomes part of the Resistance. What they are resisting is entropy and they do it with small kindnesses. A brush of her invisible feathers can soothe, which makes her an ideal air steward. Except for the time when Kisi is on her flight and she recognises his briefcase as hers. There are also third person passages. And a pteranadon.
Confused? Don’t despair. The central plot concerns the briefcase, what it is, what it does, who owns it and who can open it. There is also an element of corporate greed.
This is the kind of book that will cause many readers to give up but it is well worth persevering with. It doesn’t quite matter if you don’t understand everything, it is more a case of following the drift. This is a book for the discerning reader who likes a challenge.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Aug-2016 Published by Gollancz

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David A Sutton

DEAD WATER And Other Weird Tales by David A Sutton

David Sutton may be a local author but he has an impressive pedigree as a writer and editor (one I must admit that I was not aware of until I read this book). Based on these stories I have been missing some very accomplished storytelling. David Sutton is the recipient of the World Fantasy Award, the International Horror Guild Award and twelve British Fantasy Awards. He has been writing since the 1960’s and also owns the small press company, Shadow Publishing.
This collection contains eighteen stories dating from 1976 to 2015, including two completely new stories. The stories display an impressive imagination and vary extensively in theme although all contain some element of the fantastical or weird. This is a very strong collection and although some of the stories are horrific they are usually subtle and build tension very effectively. Refreshingly they also do not rely upon nasty things happening to young women (or men for that matter) which is one of my pet aversions. Unusually I don’t think I could name one story that I didn’t feel of some merit.
With eighteen stories I can only describe some of my favourites to give you a flavour of the book. The first story in the book, “The Fisherman” is set in a remote Welsh village and revolves around the mysterious disappearance of a fisherman’s wife and what he might be obsessively fishing for in the remote bay at night. The author’s use of metaphor and vocabulary is lovely; short but precise and has a Bradbury-esque feel to it at times.
“Mind-Forged Manacles” is a science fiction story set in a future Australia and the confrontation between a “polluter” - an aboriginal woman protecting a nature reserve, and the company man sent to clear her land for industrial exploitation. This story is multi-layered with physical and ideological conflicts between the protagonists which leaves you thinking even after the conclusion.
On a lighter note, there is also “Innsmouth Gold” which is an homage to H P Lovecraft’s Cthulhu stories. Whilst the story of an adventurer after bootleggers’ gold who discovers the macabre inhabitants of the abandoned town works well without an awareness of Lovecraft, the little “Easter eggs” for those readers familiar with his work add to the fun of this eerie story.
Finally, there is the eponymous “Dead Water” which is set in the salt marshes of the Camargue in France. It concerns two bird watchers who get lost at dusk amid the narrow causeways and salt pools and stray into a prohibited area, much to their regret. The story starts with a light tone and gradually very effectively builds menace.
This is my favourite anthology for quite some time and I would emphatically recommend it if you like speculative fiction.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin May-2015 Published by Alchemy

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Steph Swainston

ABOVE THE SNOWLINE by Steph Swainston

This is Swainston's fourth novel and is a prequel to the previous trilogy. It is set around a century before the start of her first novel. It is still a first person narrative but it is now split between multiple narrators instead of the same one throughout. This manages to give a stronger sense of the different characters than she had managed previously although her usual voice, Jant, is still by far the strongest. This also helps to cover the fact that there seems to be a lot less going on this time around
The story begins with the death of a Rhydanne hunter at the hands of a farmer. The farmer is only protecting his stock but that is not how the Rhydanne see it. There are no farmers in their territories and the concept is alien to them. So Dellin, the dead hunter's partner, takes the matter to ‘the silver man’ (the emperor) who assigns Jant, his messenger, to negotiate with the new force that has arrived in their lands. The story expands to include political intrigue, an attempted coup, guerilla warfare and even a love story. There are complicated relationships, commercial negotiations and a suicide. All of these plot lines are built up slowly and any more detail than this could be taken as spoiling the plot. Even some of the things I have mentioned, aren't fully realised until very late on.
The writing is up to Swainston's usual, fairly high, standard and adds some depth to one or two of the regular characters. There are a few times where the background could do with more explanation for new readers but, since this was issued at the same time as the omnibus of the previous trilogy, that probably isn't an issue.
The thing most likely to put off fantasy/science fiction readers is that there is nothing new to the background. In fact, the SF/Fantasy elements here are all but irrelevant. Change a few details here and there and you could have an historical novel or something very like it. The series' regular genre ingredients are all but absent. The insect war is mentioned once but plays no part. There is a little more about the nature of the immortals but nothing that hasn't been in the previous books. This is still a very good book but not the place to start and the one least likely to appeal to the SF reader.

Reviewed by William McCabe May-2010 Published by Gollancz

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NO PRESENT LIKE TIME by Steph Swainston

It's unusual that a sequel or second part of a trilogy will improve on the first book. This is no exception. The things that were different and innovative in book one are just a little older here. Many of the characters and settings are the same. Things that were explained in book one aren't gone over again. This saves time but it means the book doesn't hold up so well if you haven’t read the earlier volume. The biggest problem is that there isn't anything new here that lives up to the first book. All of the best ideas here were done better in book one. All that's really new here are a couple of points of plot that look like a set-up for something in the next book.
Once again, our focus is on Jant, the immortal messenger of the Circle and the only man on his world that can fly. Now the war with the insects is over, life returns to normal. Competition for a place among the immortals returns. This results in the defeat of the swordsman Gio, but he will not take his defeat gracefully. He raises an army and attacks the Circle. Meanwhile, Jant is sent with a ship to start up relations with a newly-discovered island 3 months distant. On his failure and return, the failed rebellion takes to the sea in the hope that they can take this new island for themselves.
Although the book is well-enough written and a fair story, so much of this reflects back to the earlier story (THE YEAR OF OUR WAR) that it loses in comparison. Plot points like Jant's addiction and the resolution to the story are so close to the original that I wonder if it was worth doing again. Maybe it's just the filler in the middle of a trilogy.
Reviewed by William McCabe Apr-2005 Published by Gollancz/Orion

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The Modern World by Steph Swainston

The series of which this is the third part has managed to present a pseudo-historical world of the kind you’d usually find in fantasy novels without any of the usual trappings. There’s no magic here, no elves or fairies and everything is presented as if there might be some kind of science behind it. There are giant insects (size of carthorses) but they generally behave like insects. There’s a multi-verse that you can get to through hidden passages, with alien beings or, in spirit, through taking the right kind of mind altering drug. The books are all well-written and, apparently, researched. Each one stands up as a story on its own without the others. The only thing that’s wrong is that once you’ve read one, so much of the rest is predictable soap opera. This time there is another great plan to defeat the insect horde that almost goes terribly wrong. This time it’s an idea from the great architect. There’s another visit to “the Shift” to see a world destroyed by the insects and another group of strange creatures. There’s also the story of the 1,000 year old “Immortal” learning to cope with his first daughter approaching her teenage years and having to rely on his “young” friend who still has dreams of a terrible battle he almost died in a century ago. There are also things going on somewhere in the background that imply that there will be some great revelation about the Emperor, the war, and the nature of “Immortality” before the series is over. The author has recently been giving interviews that say book four will be the last in this series.

Reviewed by William McCabe Aug-2007 Published by Orion

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THE YEAR OF OUR WAR by Steph Swainston

I suppose the best description of this kind of novel is a ‘page-turner’. It’s not the sort of thing you feel compelled to finish in just one sitting but if you start there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll finish. It’s an easy read with no real distractions or diversions. You follow one character through a perfectly linear story of the turning point of a war. The story isn’t so long that you’ll get bored with it or cliched enough to make you skip the obvious parts.
It’s Fantasy. There are no pretensions here to either literature or science.
There’s even the obligatory map on the first page. There are creatures that are people with animal attributes, typified by the lead character who has wings and the speed of some mountain predator. Then again there is no great evil to be defeated, no quest to find the divine macguffin. The only real worry here is that this is just the first volume of a trilogy or (even worse) an endless series that was thought up while still in junior school.
The plot is simple. There are some really big insects (often described as ‘Big as a pony’), they eat just about anything, they breed and there are an awful lot of them. The humans have a lot of trouble keeping their numbers down. They’ve had this running war for the last couple of millennia. Part of their problem is that their development is still at a mediaeval level. There is no overall government which means that if one local lord wants to pull his troops out of the field, there’s nothing they can do about it. The armaments available (arrows aren’t much good against these insect shells) mean that most of the fighting is hand-to-hand. On the positive side, they have the emperor (almost as old as God) and the immortals (some of whom have been around for almost as long) acting as advisors and attempting to co-ordinate a response. On the negative side, a new feudal lord has taken his troops out of the field and the rest of the country is starting to follow suit. On top of that, there’s a whole lot more bugs coming from somewhere. Can they find out where before the insects take over?
There are some minor irritations. The worst is that the immortals seem to have a born name, a family name, a nickname, and a title - all of which they are called by at times and mostly only one at a time. It makes things very confusing if you haven’t realised that a particular character is also called by one of his other names.

Reviewed by William McCabe May-2004 Published by Gollancz

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E J Swift

TAMARUQ (The Osiris Project 3) by E J Swift

TAMARUQ is the third book in The Osiris Project trilogy. As this is the third book in a series, some description of the preceding two books is necessary although it is always difficult to try and do this without giving away too much to those who have not read them.
In the first novel, OSIRIS we were introduced to the sea city of Osiris. Osiris was built as a technological showcase and a living place for the elite. However then there was a devastating war and the refugees fled to Osiris and now the city is brutally divided into the opulent East, where the original settlers live and the poverty stricken West where the refugees have been permanently quarantined for decades, with only a few “uplifts” ever able to cross over to the East. The Osirians believe they are the only humans left alive. Continental land is thought un-inhabitable after being scourged by bio-engineered diseases and the sea is un-navigable because of immense hyperstorms. Adelaide Rechnov, spoilt granddaughter of one of the founders and Vikram Bai, from the slums of the West both become advocates for change but the fledgling rebellion ends in disaster.
In the second book, CATAVEIRO we learn more about the fate of the rest of the world and the after-effects of the war. A boat from Osiris is ship-wrecked on the South American coast with only a single survivor. This arrival disrupts the fragile détente between the surviving regimes and the survivor becomes a pawn that everyone has an interest in controlling. Osiris is not alone and in this book we uncover some of the reasons why Osiris had remained isolated and out of communication.
In this third book TAMARUQ Osiris is revealed to all the world and various continental powers compete for control of its resources. However it is the returning shipwrecked refugee and the secrets uncovered by a Patagonian pilot, Ramona that hold the key to saving both Osiris and the rest of the world.
E J Swift is a relatively new writer. Her previous work, before this trilogy, was short fiction (published in Interzone magazine and anthologies from Jurassic London and NewCon Press). Her short story “Saga’s Children” was shortlisted for a BSFA Award. What E J Swift does very well in these books is establish a well-thought out and believable world and the effects on the people who live there seems realistic. The closed, small world of Osiris is contrasted very well with the vast, lonely continent of South America.
Although I enjoyed this third book, in attempting to re-connect these two contrasting scenarios, it felt like there were too many story strands and some did not get the attention that I felt they deserved. My favourite of the trilogy was the first as I found the complex society of Osiris and the characters more appealing and was less engaged when they were not the only focus. That being said, this is a very ambitious and well-written SF trilogy by a talented writer who I would happily read more of.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Jul-2015 Published by Del Rey

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Jeremy Szal

STORMBLOOD by Jeremy Szal

Vakov Fukusawa is a retired “supersoldier”. During the recent war against a brutal invading empire, he volunteered to become a Reaper; created by altering their body chemistry using DNA from an extinct alien race, they have super- strength and enhanced healing abilities. The downside is that the DNA (called “stormtech”) is addictive and the more a soldier draws upon its abilities, the more it spreads through his body and affects their judgement. This “stormtech” leads them to escalating risky and aggressive behaviour and loosens their civilised inhibitions
After the war, Vakov undergoes extensive treatment (psychological and with chemical suppressors) to try and fit back into society, though the stormtech is too incorporated into his own system to be completely eradicated. He scrapes a living while trying to control the aggression and adrenaline which feed his stormtech. But the stormtech is now appearing on the streets as a drug, creating thousands of addicts, without any training or control over their violent impulses. When someone starts murdering his fellow Reapers, he is called back to investigate by the Harmony government which created him. When his search leads him to the drug suppliers and his own estranged brother appears to be involved, he has even more motive to uncover the who and why. But the nearer he gets to the truth, the more he is forced to use the stormtech that threatens his health and sanity
This book starts with a very BLADERUNNER feel to it. The level of Compass city (built within an asteroid) where Vakov lives has that same sleazy, black-market, corrupt atmosphere to it. It is a place where you can buy anything if you have money; drugs, weapons, people etc. At the beginning the story has very much of a film noir vibe, with Vakov as a down-on-his-luck, shady character, and at the first does appear that it might work quite well
However, it later shifts into an action-hero type of narrative and this is where I no longer enjoyed it. Whilst there could have been some interesting things to say about toxic masculinity, estranged and found families, Vakov’s inner conflicts etc, these seemed to get lost to a large extent and it became more about Vakov charging into situations and using his super abilities. I found myself annoyed as the hero keeps making the stupid move to yet again go in on his own without waiting for backup (which he has) and unsurprisingly getting into trouble. Part of that might be excused by the story being written in first person, but was not consistent with a character who is supposed to be trying to avoid violence. Also, talking about violence, there are some scenes which I found quite graphic and uncomfortable to read
The latter half of the book in particular felt to me at times like a videogame, where a single or small number of protagonists have to wade through multiple opponents to get to the “boss” at the end, with no real recognition of them as people or real regret at their deaths. The author even includes a minor character called Saren; the same name as a villain in the popular SF videogame, MASS EFFECT which tends to support a suspicion of them as an influence
I am a bit saddened by the shift in direction, as I feel there were some good ideas here which got a bit lost as the narrative got side-tracked into gung-ho heroics. That being said, I am sure it will appeal to some fans of military SF, but it felt too derivative to me and the characters (especially the supporting ones) needed to be given more depth and nuance.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Jul-2020 Published by Gollancz

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Adrian Tchaikovsky

A TIME FOR GRIEF (Tales of the Apt 2) by Adrian Tchaikovsky

This is the second companion volume of short stories set in the world of the kinden; humans who possess aspects or abilities related to a particular arthropod. As well as these abilities, much thought has clearly gone into other aspects of the structure of the world. Like a real world, there are people with different physiologies and cultures which provide a rich foundation for diverse characters and conflicts. All of this I think gives it a unique flexibility for expansion and variety when writing further works within the setting.
The first collection focused on stories set mainly before the events in his novels (the Shadows of the Apt series), specifically the twelve-year invasion of the lands of the Dragonfly Commonweal. In this collection, the stories are set later, in the peace that followed – although peace is a relative term and certainly does not necessarily equate to prosperity or contentment for many. Indeed, a lot of the stories deal with the ongoing consequences and effects of that war on individuals. The move to a later time period does mean however that if people have not read the novels there are a few “spoilers” although with the exception of one story, “A Time for Grief” these are minor and the stories stand on their own for any reader who has not read the novels.
As in the previous volume, the tone and themes are varied, unlike many collections which become too similar. There are studies of ordinary characters who may be heroic but are also human with many faults and impure motives. One example is the first story “Loyalties”, where an exiled and rejected ant-kinden, Balkus finds he is a better man than he realises when he wrestles with the possibility and consequences of revenge. In a similar vein, but a very different story (“The Last Ironclad”) sees a once valued and proud warrior brought low by obsolescence and defeat finally regain pride and purpose when his back is to the wall. Both show the author’s ability to write flawed but relatable characters. Another favourite “Queen of the Night” is completely different in style. This starts off as a very funny story of an amateur dramatic group producing a rediscovered uncut version of a famous opera, but shifts well into a re-awakening of something darker from the past. As hinted at in the title, the parallels with Mozart’s THE MAGIC FLUTE are intentional and add to the amusement. The author rings the changes again in a couple of other stories (“The Naturalist” and “Bones”) that both look at the pragmatic and ruthless spider-kinden and their willingness to suppress knowledge for their perception of the greater good. Here the protagonists are not heroic or even sympathetic but they are believable and intriguing. Although I have listed some favourites, I did not find one story without something to enjoy. The prose is precise and effective, so that the characters and scenes are very effectively established within the tight word limits of a short story. The author is also a true storyteller, with proper plotting and structure to the stories. As before I find these tales reminiscent of David Gemmell, with credible and three-dimensional characters with both faults and virtues. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Jun-2017 Published by NewCon

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BEAR HEAD (Dogs of War 2) by Adrian Tchaikovsky

It’s probably no secret to readers of this newsletter that I am a fan of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s work but in BEAR HEAD I think he has excelled himself. It is brimming with science fiction ideas, but is also clearly driven by the current state of world politics. In particular it hits out against the rise of populism and authoritarianism, so depending on your politics this may not be for you. Personally, reading this while watching Trump deny the US election result and incite the invasion of the US Capitol, I could see so many parallels and almost wonder if the author is prescient! BEAR HEAD is a sequel to DOGS OF WAR though it could easily be read as a stand-alone. In the first book the story centred around “bioforms”; genetically engineered, sapient hybrids bred for use in war. Thus, we had Rex, a dog bioform; Honey, an intelligent bear; and Bees, a self-aware bee colony. They start to question their blind obedience to their “masters” resulting in a long struggle ending with legal rights for “bioforms”. BEAR HEAD is set some years later, and the public mood has changed from sympathy to distrust and fear, as the bioforms take on civilian jobs and are more visible in society. Jumping on this bandwagon is a populist American politician, who pushes for “collaring” (implanted behaviour controls”) of all bioforms to “protect” humans.
Meanwhile on Mars, there is a major project to build a permanent colony. Recruited workers have been gene modified to protect them against the Martian conditions, a procedure which they have been told will be reversible. This modification also allows data to be uploaded into their brains (think JOHNNY MNEMONIC) which the workers mainly use for smuggling pornography etc. When Jimmy Martin accepts an illegal download for the local smuggler, he doesn’t expect it to start talking back to him. The artificial personality is a copy of Honey, now a respected academic and civil rights campaigner and she needs to talk to Bees, now hiding on Mars from persecution. She has vital information about Senator Thompson’s plans and his illegal research. These not only threaten the free will of bioforms but of humanity as a whole. Now she just has to convince Jimmy and his friends to help before Thompson implements his deadly schemes.
The story manages to combine a fast-paced and thrilling story with more philosophical ideas about free will and civil rights (the arguments against the bioforms parallel those used in the real world against ethnic, LBGT+, and disabled groups to name but a few). There is at times anger and a bleak view of a humanity perhaps doomed by those with power who resist necessary economic and environmental change purely because it would impact them financially. Adrian Tchaikovsky’s talent in creating imperfect, believable characters has always been one of his strengths and this continues here. Even the character of Senator Thompson who is an absolute villain, is still convincing. Before the past few years, I would have perhaps found him implausible but this is an excoriating examination of a narcissistic, self- absorbed parasite of a man without any empathy or conscience who sees people (and bioforms) merely as tools to achieve his agenda. I should also warn that there are some upsetting scenes of sexual and physical violence associated with this character but they are in my view integral to the plot and not gratuitous.
This is a book which I think a lot of people will be talking about and should be on forthcoming awards lists. It combines superb storytelling, emotion and leaves the reader thinking long after finishing. If you like intelligent SF, I can’t recommend this enough.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Feb-2021 Published by Head of Zeus

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CHILDREN OF RUIN (Children of Time 2) by Adrian Tchaikovsky

In writing this review, I find myself desperately trying to avoid spoilers so as not to give away some of the surprises and plot twists that certainly added to my enjoyment of this book. CHILDREN OF RUIN is the sequel to the Clarke-Award winning CHILDREN OF TIME, which followed the development of an uplifted spider civilisation and its conflict with the remnants of humanity. The sequel is set a couple of generations later. With the help of the AI/uploaded personality of Avrana Kern, spiders and humans are now working together co-operatively, albeit with imperfect understanding at times. When faint radio signals that appear to be human are detected, a spaceship is despatched to investigate. The joint expedition of spiders, humans and a copy of Avrana Kern find far more than they bargained for. Their first encounter is with another spacefaring species (one as yet confined to this solar system), another product of Avrana Kern’s uplift virus used by the original human settlers they came to find. However, their initial attempts at contact are unsuccessful and factions of the new species turn hostile when an image of a human is beamed to them. Some of the crew are captured whilst others flee towards the nearby planet of Nod, where they start to discover what happened to the small group of humans who first arrived in the system thousands of year ago. But Nod holds a deadly secret, one which explains the hostility they have faced and it is a threat to all the Earth-descended species. It becomes a race against time, as the captured crew struggle to devise a means of exchanging information with their captors, a species that has no spoken language, quickly enough to prevent the remaining crew orbiting Nod from a disastrous mistake. The scale of imagination and world-building in this novel is superb. It is a book full of scientific ideas and questions about how we as humans might approach and adapt to communicating and living with new species, especially ones who don’t primarily use verbal methods. The author has clearly done his research in this area, and it is refreshing to see science fiction which doesn’t just assume aliens will think or communicate like us. It brought to my mind the film, ARRIVAL where similarly computers are used to help handle the complexity of the information exchange with a non-verbally oriented species. As one expects of this author, the biology of his creatures is also incorporated into their behaviour and attitudes; these are not just humans “under the skin”. There is a lot to think about in this novel, and I thoroughly enjoyed that, though it may not be to everyone’s taste. On the other hand, this is also an exciting and at times action-packed adventure as well. There is real tension and menace and some scenes which are scary enough to belong in a horror novel. I also applaud that unlike many writers, violence and aggression are not seen as the only possible solution to problems. As I have come to expect, the characters are nuanced; all have their own viewpoints and justifications, each with some merit. All in all, this is a worthy sequel to CHILDREN OF TIME and I can see this also being nominated for many awards. If you like intelligent and superior science fiction, I definitely recommend this book.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Apr-2019 Published by Tor

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CHILDREN OF TIME by Adrian Tchaikovsky

For those of you who are unfamiliar with his work, Adrian Tchaikovsky has written, amongst other things the well- regarded 10-volume Shadows of the Apt series which is a fantasy where different races of people have the aspects/abilities of real insects. His new book CHILDREN OF TIME is Science Fiction but the author’s fascination with arthropods clearly was the inspiration behind this story as well.
Two thousand years after human civilisation tore itself apart in civil war, the ark ship Gilgamesh and its cargo of hibernating humans is desperately trying to find a new home. Earth is poisoned, damaged and dying. Patched together from bits and pieces of salvaged old technology that present humanity cannot replicate, the ship is heading for Kern’s World. This planet was terraformed and seeded with life in the final days of the old civilisation. What they do not know is that the Kern’s World project was also an attempt at species uplift. The world has been seeded with a nanovirus which was designed to accelerate the evolution of intelligence in the offspring of infected individuals. The original aim had been to work with monkeys but in the chaos of the civil war, the launch was sabotaged and only the virus is safely deployed. On the planet the virus infects the available fauna. In particular, the hunting spider, Portia labiata has the mental capacity and flexible behaviour that allows the virus to work most effectively.
The story then alternates between the humans on the failing ship and the developing spider civilisation as both species head towards a confrontation which will decide which of the “Children of Earth” will inherit this new world. The story rattles along at a good place and kept my interest all the way through.
I enjoyed this book immensely. The spiders are well devised so that although they are clearly “alien” (ie not human) they are still sympathetic. I particularly liked that their approach to problems and their technology is clearly influenced by their non-human biology so it is different to humans. The author has succeeded admirably in a difficult task of making what many people see as scary into something fascinating instead. It is very refreshing to see them not just as the monster in a story. The story of their progression reminded me of an old favourite of mine, John Brunner’s THE CRUCIBLE OF TIME in which an alien race evolves from primitives into starfarers.
The other main strand of the story, of the humans confined to the decaying spaceship is also well written, as we see them divide into factions as their resources dwindle and the technology fails. As with the spiders, they are interesting as characters and the plot feels credible. The author cleverly shows the similarities and differences between the two species so that towards the end I found myself wanting both species to “win” even as they head towards an inevitable confrontation. Unless you are an arachnophobe, I would definitely recommend this book.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Nov-2015 Published by Tor

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DOGS OF WAR by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Having started as a fantasy author, Adrian Tchaikovsky has moved very successfully into also writing some excellent Science Fiction, including the Clarke-Award winning CHILDREN OF TIME and IRONCLADS. In this near future novel, genetically engineered “bioforms” are being trialled in war zones as specialised attack troops. Rex is the leader of a small pack of these bioforms. A chimera of dog and human genes, he is seven-foot-tall, bullet resistant and equipped with heavy weaponry and a voice designed to inspire fear. Conditioned to obey his Pack leader, the human Murray, all Rex wants is to be told he is a good dog and to follow his “Master’s” orders. However, when someone comes to investigate Murray and the private company, Redmark for possible war crimes, Rex and his small squad of bioforms find themselves on the run and operating without orders. As they struggle to survive and make sense of their world, they begin to question what exactly it means to be good and to wonder about the rightness of and responsibility for what they have done. If that wasn’t enough, in the latter part of the book, the narrative expands and positively fizzes with ideas such as considering the fate of all bioforms, the various possible directions of bioform development, their rights to freedom and self-direction and whether humanity can live with and accept them. Despite all these high concept SF themes, it still retains an excellent and well-paced plot. Also, as I have come to expect with this author’s work, the characterisation and emotional complexity of the characters is first-rate. The author’s creativity and imagination are clearly illustrated in the various bioforms especially perhaps in the character of “Bees” – a distributed intelligence (or hive mind) composed of individual bees. Also, the members of Rex’s squad work well as a team both in their different tactical abilities and their personalities The concept of “upifted” animals is a concept that has been addressed previously in SF (David Brin) comes to mind, but this book really examines in detail the moral issues associated with the creation of intelligent “animals”. In the 200th-year anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN, it is worth noting that this novel examines similar themes such as who should bear the onus for harmful actions – the created or the creator. However, on reading, I also found myself comparing it to Richard Adams work, in particular THE PLAGUE DOGS. Apart from the obviously similar themes, it also has that same high level of emotional impact that elevates this story to something that really stays with the reader. As always, an excellent story that works on many levels.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Apr-2018 Published by Head of Zeus

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FIREWALKERS by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Taking a rest from his successful space operas, Adrian Tchaikovsky returns to Earth for this latest novel. It is set in a not too distant future, where the rising temperatures of climate change have exacerbated the divide between the rich and the poor.
The township of Ankara Achouka lies on the Equator (in an unspecified African country). Most of the surrounding countryside is now red-hot desert with little water, and the growing of any crops is near impossible. Many of the original inhabitants have either fled to cooler latitudes or due to lack of resources just died. The township of Ankara only survives to service the space elevator cable that the rich of the world are using to reach the luxury spaceliner, Grand Celeste which is being outfitted to leave a doomed Earth.
Life for most people there is short and brutal. Money, food and water are always in short supply and the sun will kill most people eventually – whether quickly by heatstroke, dehydration or slowly by skin cancers. To survive you need to be tough and resourceful.
Nguyen Sun Mao is a Firewalker – a young person who in their desperate need for money are prepared to risk all the dangers outside the minimal shelter of Anakara. They are “necessary” to maintain the power and water systems, of which most goes directly to supporting the opulent transit hotel for the wealthy passengers waiting to travel skywards. Mao’s latest job is to head out and fix whatever is causing a decline in the electricity flowing into Ankara. To help him he recruits Lupé, for her mechanical skills and ability to fix anything broken, and Hotep (or Cory Dello), for her hacking abilities and computer knowledge. Hotep grew up on the spaceship (although she was banished as her being neuro- atypical made her “difficult” and an embarrassment). Not only does this mean she has an expensive technical education but she still has access to many of the sophisticated electronic equipment on the Celeste.
Even discounting all the known hazards, this trip will be even more perilous than expected. With few people remaining outside the town, strange projects and experiments have been easily concealed and the outcomes of those will endanger not only the small team but will have dire consequences for the whole township itself.
As with an earlier SF novel by this author, IRONCLADS, this book manages to be an entertaining and pacy story whilst also providing plenty of food for thought on the current world situation. As with IRONCLADS there is a sympathy for those who bear the brunt of the effects of political and economic changes, but the author shows this almost in passing, so it doesn’t feel like a lecture or slows down the plot, and thus is to my mind more effective and powerful. Like most of his work, he writes characters with credibility and depth. They are not heroes and have their own faults, quirks and agendas. Ultimately some of their actions may be viewed as heroic, but the downsides to those decisions are also shown. That being said this is also a fun book, with (as expected from Adrian) some peculiar “wildlife” thrown into the mix, as well as a very SF-based antagonist. For a short book, it packs a lot in and I thoroughly recommend it.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Jun-2020 Published by Solaris

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FOR LOVE OF DISTANT SHORES (Tales of the Apt 3) by Adrian Tchaikovsky

This collection of four novella length stories concerns the adventures of the scientist and explorer, Dr Ludweg Phinagler as recorded by his faithful-ish (!) chronicler and assistant, Fosse.
They are set in the world of the Kinden established in the author’s Shadows of the Apt novels, but again other than understanding the central concept of different types of people with abilities related to a particular animal (usually, but not exclusively, insects) no other knowledge of those books is necessary to enjoy these stories.
They are written in a style that is an obvious allusion to late 19th/early 20th century SFF classics and will be recognisable to anyone who has read for instance, Jules Verne or Arthur Conan Doyle. As Doctor Phinagler searches for the elusive archaeological/historical find that will earn him respect from his less colourful academic colleagues, his singlemindedness and unwillingness to acknowledge danger signs leads him and his unfortunate amanuensis into four perilous, thrilling and utterly entertaining adventures – the latter from the reader’s point of view at least! The four novellas all have their own strong individual and often humorous identities and also incorporate the author’s inventiveness in designing new “kinden” based on his love and knowledge of biology In the first novella, CITIES OF SILVER the intrepid pair find themselves in an underwater dystopia, complete with technologically superior overlords and an oppressed underclass who help the interlopers in their attempts to escape. Anyone who has seen the 1978 film WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS will recognise the plot but it is skilfully reworked and given its own unique flair to make an excellent story that is great fun to read.
The second novella, WRITTEN IN SAND sees the protagonists explore ancient ruins in the desert, rumoured to be protected by shadowy forces. I found myself thinking of this story as “He Who Must be Obeyed” (to misquote from H Rider Haggard’s SHE) crossed with THE MUMMY films.
The third novella, MASTERS OF THE SPIRE is probably my favourite. In this we see the Doctor and Fosse encountering lost tribes in the jungle (as beloved of many earlier writers such as Edgar Rice Burroughs etc) where the story hinges on a very effective use of the particular abilities/biology of the insects that the tribes are based upon (to say more would be a spoiler) and there are some nice macabre scenes and “body horror” in this story which works really well. Add in an Indiana Jones style rival to the Doctor (and potential love interest for Fosse) and I found a lot to like in this story in particular.
The final story, FOR LOVE OF DISTANT SHORES sees the pair embark upon a voyage into uncharted waters. This has three major events including an exciting and gripping battle with a sea-monster (shades of MOBY DICK or JAWS spring to mind) but also tangentially examines some more serious themes such as slavery and the disastrous ramifications of badly handled first contact between indigenous and outsider cultures. For those readers who have read more of the author’s work, this story also links with his Echoes of the Fall series.
As with much of the author’s work, a major strength throughout is in characterisation. The pompous, vainglorious but often charming beetle-kinden, Dr Phinagler and his long-suffering, pragmatic and occasionally manipulative fly- kinden companion, Fosse both have many faults but are also in their own individual ways often admirable as well. The author is clearly relishing the chance to explore aspects of the world on a smaller scale than the grand, world- changing events of the novels. The tone is for the most part much lighter and often tongue in cheek and the prose and comedy are a delight. Like Pratchett, the author excels at the art of effective but affectionate character assassination in a single sentence. Finally, as an unashamed homage to early pulps, a great part of the fun in reading these novellas is in trying to identify and enjoy all the influences and references that have shaped them. An absolute pleasure to read from start to finish!

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Jul-2018 Published by NewCon Press

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IRONCLADS by Adrian Tchaikovsky

After the success of CHILDREN OF TIME, Adrian Tchaikovsky shows once again that he can write excellent Science Fiction. On one level, this near future SF story can be read as an entertaining, straightforward war story of a small band of soldiers sent to rescue the VIP captured by the enemy – think WHERE EAGLES DARE or SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. However, for such a short story, the author also manages to incorporate some biting and very funny commentary on current European and US politics which significantly added to my enjoyment of the tale.
In the aftermath of drastic climate change and the consequent economic and political upheaval, the UK is now a territory of the USA. The US, led by large corporations, is waging a war against what remains of Europe, for ostensibly ideological reasons but also to plunder any remaining resources. The “Ironclads” of the title are “Scions” – owners and heirs of the huge corporations. Much like the rich knights in medieval wars, they are given the best of everything for equipment. They wage war from the safety of heavily armoured mechanical suits, whilst the ordinary soldier gets the minimum of equipment and is viewed as easily expendable cannon fodder. At the start of the story, one of the proverbially unstoppable Scions has disappeared behind enemy lines and a small team of ordinary soldiers is assigned to covertly infiltrate and recover the missing VIP.
The story is told from the viewpoint of Sergeant Regan, the leader of the team, with a wonderfully cynical, world- weary tone. The other members of his usual team are Franken, physically large but not too clever and committed via his religion to the US viewpoint and Sturgeon, who constantly challenges the propaganda they have been fed. They are also assigned Cormoran, a black female drone and electronics operator and Lawes, a sneaky and unappealing British covert ops specialist as local liaison. As they progress across Europe, they gradually discover more about the missing scion and the true nature of their mission.
This book was a delight to read. Given that apparently it was written before Brexit and the election of Trump, it contains some wonderful, almost prescient barbs and really showcases the author’s ability to write humorously. As with his other works, it also has superb characterisation and a plot that rattles along at a substantial pace. There are exciting combat scenes, more reflective moments, moral dilemmas and superb imaginative worldbuilding. Getting that level of detail and depth into something the short length of a novella is incredibly rare and impressive. This is an author who is getting better and better and heartily recommended.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Dec-2017 Published by Solaris

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ONE DAY ALL THIS WILL BE YOURS by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Time travel stories in SF go back a long way eg the iconic THE TIME MACHINE by H G Wells was published in 1895. They are not easy to write well, with the fundamental problem of causality tripping up too many writers ie if I change the past then I might erase myself or my own present time. Adrian Tchaikovsky has deftly circumvented that by casually (pun intended) breaking causality at the beginning of the story! He then proceeds to write a laugh-out-loud gambol through historical figures and events which is a delight to read.
This is a story of a time war – or rather the aftermath of a time war. When various time “soldiers” have so thoroughly interfered with time that they broke causality, one disenchanted veteran made it his mission to end it and eliminate all the other “time warriors”. Time now exists as unconnected fragments and many unrelated histories. Now he apparently enjoys his peaceful retirement at the “end of it all” on his carefully constructed robot-run farm. In reality, this is a “bottleneck” where anyone who manages to reinvent a time machine ends up, and the soldier is waiting for them – along with his pet, feathered allosaurus Miffly! Things plod along for him in much the same manner, until one time-traveller proves his match and their attempts to eliminate each other using all the resources of the fractured past make for a hilarious, clever and entertaining romp. It is shot through with dark humour, puns and satire and reminded me very much of Harry Harrison’s writing, in particular the early Stainless Steel Rat titles.
The book is short, a novella in length but packs in a lot. Written in first person, Adrian Tchaikovsky shows again his talent with prose and characterisation. Not for him an outright villain or hero. Instead, the narrator is a tired, curmudgeonly veteran who just wants to be left in peace. He is also quite happy to kill those who threaten to re-ignite the horror and destruction of the time war! I love the balance of the contrasting aspects of his misanthropic pragmatism and his ethical justification. To say much more about the plot would be to spoil the fun of the various twists and turns the narrative takes but suffice it to say you won’t want to put it down. Brilliant and heartily recommended.
PS Those of you who know Dave Hutchinson’s Europe SF series will recognise an amusing call-out reference in the text.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Apr-2021 Published by Solaris

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REDEMPTION’S BLADE (After the Wars 1) by Adrian Tchaikovsky

This fantasy novel by Adrian Tchaikovsky begins where many traditional epic fantasies finish – the Dark Lord is defeated and they all “live happily after”. The author recognises that much like Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings trilogy with his Harrowing of the Shire (and incidentally one which the films missed out – presumably as it spoiled the feel-good ending) that after such grand conflicts there will be consequential damage (both physical and emotional) that remains.
The story looks at the journey of a small group who were involved in killing the powerful, evil Kinslayer and how they try to find a way of repairing at least some of the damage done by him. The group consists of Celestaine, a human warrior and two of the feared and “monstrous-looking” Yorughan from the Kinslayer’s army, Heno and Nedlam (a mage and a soldier) who rebelled and helped Celestaine to defeat the villainous Kinslayer. They are joined by Amkulyah, a prince of the Aethani and journey across the decimated land in a quest to find a powerful magical object to heal the wings of Amkulyah’s people, which were mutilated in a war atrocity.
While their quest has many of the features of a standard fantasy in the exciting and entertaining adventures the team have as they travel searching for a powerful magical object, the author also adds extra depth to the world and the characters. As expected with this author, he recognises stereotypes and tropes and challenges them. In particular, we see a world that is damaged but trying to rebuild itself and that the Kinslayer’s troops were individuals and to a large extent his slaves and that they also want to forge a place for themselves in the aftermath. There is prejudice, people looking to exploit others and resentments arising from events in the war but in Celestaine’s group in particular there is co-operation and respect that grows despite their differences.
The depth and differentiation of characters is as always excellent – each one has their own faults and doubts which add to their verisimilitude and interest. From the wonderfully verbose and devious collector of magical objects, Dr Catt to the more taciturn, but snarky Heno and the impetuous juggernaut, Nedlam these are characters that thoroughly entertain and captivate the reader and I really want to see more adventures with them. There is also a well-structured plot with contrasts between some high energy confrontations to more reflective moments. There are messages and metaphors in the text but these are subtle so that whilst effective they do not come across as “lecturing”. Some of the themes and humorous dialogue reminded me of Stan Nicholl’s Orcs series and I think any fans of those will like this book. Yet again, another excellent book from an author who is one of my firm favourites.
NB This is a shared world series and the next book (written by Justina Robson) SALVATION’S FIRE with a different set of characters but set in this same world is available from September 6th.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Sep-2018 Published by Solaris

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SHARDS OF EARTH (The Final Architecture 1) by Adrian Tchaikovsky

As readers of this newsletter no doubt know, I am a huge fan of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s work and his willingness to try new things, rather than rest on his laurels. SHARDS OF EARTH is the start of a new trilogy unrelated to any previous works. The author said he views it as “space opera, whereas CHILDREN OF TIME/RUIN was always intended as more of a hard SF”.
In a distant future, humanity had successfully spread to many systems and encountered other intelligent life forms. But then came the Architects; mysterious moon-sized structures which destroyed planets, shaping them into strange artistic sculptures. For nearly a 100-years they hounded humanity, and other alien species until finally a new weapon was found. A human weapon – with their brains surgically altered, human Intermediaries could make mental contact with the Architects. With this contact, the Architects simply went away and galactic civilisation has had nearly fifty years to rebuild, squabble and drift away from erstwhile allies.
Idris is one of the few remaining original volunteer Intermediaries. Subsequent generations have been developed using criminal prisoners and don’t have the independence and freedom of the originals. The story starts when Solace, one of a genetically-engineered group of female warriors, is sent to try and “recruit” Idris, as Intermediaries are still valuable as they can navigate the voids of “unspace” (thus being of huge economic and military value). She finds Idris working with a rag-tag salvage crew, whose current job is to recover a missing ship from “unspace”. What they find there then leads them to a series of significant discoveries about the Architects, all while trying to dodge the attentions of several factions including gangster aliens, slave-owners and their own governments.
While this author has yet to write a bad book in my opinion, I must admit I struggled with this one at first although it did improve. So why did I struggle? While I applaud that the author has not gone for a simplistic, straight-line ‘good versus evil’ plot, this means there are many “parties” to establish. I definitely felt this affected the pacing at the beginning and could have been edited to be shorter. To be fair, the pace and the story did pick about 40% into the book.
Also, I guess one of the hazards of reading and watching SF for a long time is you inevitably notice similarities to older works. Space Opera in particular has many film, game and book iterations, and certainly at the start of SHARDS OF EARTH, I was reminded of some of these. For instance, the Architects could be read as a Star Wars Death Star, some of the aliens recalled the game trilogy, Mass Effect or TV’s Star Gate, particularly with the Hivers (his AI/hive species) which resemble the Geth or Replicators respectively. As the story progresses, and the need for worldbuilding and set-up lessens, the novel progresses to something more individual and interesting. Towards the end of the book, I was really enjoying the story and think Book 2 has the potential to be an intriguing and unique tale.
While this review may sound negative, SHARDS OF EARTH is still an entertaining read with much to like and I expect it to be popular, especially among fans of epic-scale space operas such as The Expanse or Gareth Powell’s Embers of War series.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Jun-2021 Published by Tor

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SPOILS OF WAR by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Every reader has their favourite authors and Adrian Tchaikovsky is one of mine. He recently won this year’s Clarke Award for his SF novel, THE CHILDREN OF TIME. Before that though, he is most well-known for his 10-volume Shadows of the Apt fantasy series,
This collection of short stories is a companion (using the same background) to that series. For those unfamiliar with his work, in the original series the world is populated by different races of humans, called kinden who have aspects/abilities based on a particular insect; Wasp-kinden can “sting”, Fly-kinden are small but can fly rapidly etc. It is set in a time when the Apt, those able to think scientifically and use machines are in the ascendant against the more traditional rulers, the Inapt who have more mystical abilities. In particular, the militaristic Wasp Empire is on a campaign of invasion and conquest.
In this first volume of Tales of the Apt, the stories focus on the experiences of individuals set mainly against the backdrop of one of the major events of the novels, the twelve-year invasion and conquest of the Dragonfly Commonweal by the Wasp Empire. Whilst having read the novels adds some extra background, the stories work well as stand-alone pieces and the only thing the new reader really needs to understand is the central concept of the different kinden races.
Not all successful novel writers have the ability to write good short stories, but here the author demonstrates that he excels in both fields. The stories feature a range of characters, ranging from rich to poor, the noble of heart to the self-centred and amoral yet all feel real and complex. The characterisation is exceptional and there is always some aspect of a character that the reader sympathises or identifies with whatever their faults in a way that reminds me very much of David Gemmell. Adrian Tchaikovsky also avoids the trap of too many collections/anthologies in that the stories here are varied both in tone and theme, from dark through to wry humour. For example, in “Ironclads” we see elite soldier Sergeant Varmen’s heroic defence of his crashed aircrew and of the growth of respect between enemies whereas in “Camouflage” the story is of Cari, one of the Pioneers, the lowest group in the Wasp army, who perform all the dishonourable, despised but necessary tasks of war. Doubly isolated by her job and her disfigured, ugly appearance, her patient and delayed vengeance earn her the admiration of the lieutenant who narrates the tale. In another change of tone, I thoroughly enjoyed “An Old Man in A Harsh Season” which reads very much like a Spaghetti Western, where an old warrior is challenged to a duel but is aided by an unlikely group of allies all for their own selfish reasons. All in all, a very entertaining and unusual collection which I thoroughly recommend.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Oct-2016 Published by NewCon

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THE BEAR AND THE SERPENT (Echoes of the Fall 2) by Adrian Tchaikovsky

In the first novel in this series THE TIGER AND THE WOLF we were introduced to a world where individual tribes could “shift” into the shape of their totemic animal. That story concentrated on Maniye, a young girl with dual heritage and her struggle to reconcile the warring animal spirits (tiger and wolf) within her and also to escape from the political ambitions of her wolf father and tiger mother.
In this second novel, Maniye and a group of other misfits from the tribes travel back to the lands of the River Lords, to help Asmander support his friend, Tecuman’s bid for the throne against his sister, Tecumet.
There are two main plot strands in this novel. The first is the battle for control of the throne between the twins. Normally the priests of the snake clan would determine the succession, but the priests are also split into factions. The second thread stays with events in the North, where Loud Thunder (from the Bear tribe) cajoles and manipulates the bickering tribes into forming a common army against strange invaders. These have a mysterious ability to strip the human spirit from people, leaving them trapped as unreasoning animals. These invaders are an enemy from the past, one which the people of this continent clearly fled from many years ago.
As I expect in an Adrian Tchaikovsky book, both the characters and the unfolding plot keep the reader engaged and absorbed. His combat sections are also again excellent. The tactical advantages and adaptations to fighting style for differing “shifting” abilities are well-thought out and integrated into the action. There is necessarily a wider focus in this sequel and the different, more advanced civilisation of the River Lords, which is explored in more detail, is a fascinating contrast to the Northern tribes. That said, I preferred the sections dealing with Loud Thunder. This is probably as his character has a lot of emotional development. I enjoyed seeing his doubt in his abilities and yet how he still brings the tribes together through thoughtfulness, consulting others and forming alliances, not just with brute strength. Depth of characterisation is one of this author’s great gifts and we see it also in other characters such as Maniye, who grows in confidence and ability and with Asmander who must deal with his internal conflicts about the changing relationships with his father and his two childhood friends, the rival claimants to the throne. Another aspect of this is that people are never just ‘black or white’ heroes or villains. “Good” characters sometimes do nasty things, allies may be dangerous and even the “villains” may not necessarily see themselves as wicked, although the invaders’ motivations and origins are still to be fully explored in the third volume. While the series can be enjoyed without having read his previous Shadows of the Apt series, those who have will start to see little hints and links back to that series, which add to the experience. Once again, an intelligent, entertaining book with depth.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin May-2017 Published by Macmillan

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THE DOORS OF EDEN by Adrian Tchaikovsky

For an author with such a prolific output, Adrian Tchaikovsky still manages to find new themes and ideas to explore. This latest SF novel is entirely separate from his Children of Time series. Instead of in space it is set on Earth, or to be precise, as the reader soon discovers, on multiple Earths. The story starts when a young woman, Mal disappears inside a stone circle on Bodmin Moor, when she and her girlfriend, Lee were pursuing their cryptozoology hobby (searching for mysterious and mostly non-existent monsters). Four years later, she reappears in London. As Lee and Mal re- connect it soon becomes apparent that Mal has been somewhere very strange and is now connected to a mysterious and violent altercation which prevented the kidnapping of an eminent physicist, Dr Kay Amal Khan. From this starting point, more characters are introduced including MI5 officials, a racist millionaire and various “aliens” from alternative timelines.
The gateway or crack through which Mal disappeared is a doorway to another Earth, one on which life developed differently to our own. As the story develops it becomes clear that the number of these cracks are proliferating. As the number of cross-over events increases, it becomes harder to hide them from the public and the reader begins to see the many different forms that intelligent life has formed.
Two competing groups are trying to use Dr Khan and her research to rapidly try and establish the cause and devise a solution before the whole elaborate structure of multiple Earths collapses. Collaboration and pooling of expertise from all the different species will be necessary but there are power struggles over the direction of the solution, with rivalries and sabotage threatening to wipe out everyone. As before, the author demonstrates a magnificent and impressive imagination, particularly with the various alternative Terrans. To reveal them all would be to spoil things but they are unexpected, vary widely from “human” forms and are consistent with branchpoints in evolutionary history when things might easily have taken a different form. The author also takes some chances with the structure of this novel which a lesser writer might not have been able to do successfully. The earlier chapters are interspersed with extracts from “Other Edens: Speculative Evolution and Intelligence” which is purportedly an academic book. This could have been a little dry to read at first but it builds into a poignant comment on the potential fragility of all lifeforms, especially some who are the architects of their own destruction and also cleverly links back and elucidates the main narrative. Towards the end of the novel, the author also plays again with the structure of the narrative, which is at first a little confusing but is revealed later as absolutely essential to the plot.
This is a story with a lot of big ideas and things to think about. As expected with this author, as well as a superb SF story there are also lots of metaphors which the reader can choose to ignore but which to my mind enhance the book. If I have a caveat and it is minor, it is that in such a wide-ranging, packed story with multiple viewpoints, I sometimes felt that the characters could have done with a little more time to develop. That being said, I loved this book and one final thing I should mention is the continued delight I get from this author’s prose. He has a talent for simile and humour which reminds me of Terry Pratchett, as well as some of that author’s righteous anger and sympathy for “ordinary people”. This is another of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s works which I foresee being nominated for awards.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Mar-2020 Published by Tor

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THE HYENA AND THE HAWK (Echoes of the Fall 3) by Adrian Tchaikovsky

This is the third book in a trilogy set in a world where individual tribes can shift into the form of their totemic animal. As the books have unfolded, the focus has broadened from Maniye and her troubled coming of age in a northern Wolf tribe, passing through the people of the grasslands and then to the river lands where another character, Asmander dealt with the civil war between his two best friends for control of the kingdom. Overarching all this is the invasion of the land by strange people whose very existence is enough to strip the dual souls from the tribes leaving them merely human or a mindless animal depending on their form at the time. Only the Champions, those who have earned a third and stronger form have any resistance to this fear. Now as the invaders move southwards all the fractious tribes from across the land must unite together to repel the invader who threatens them and their gods with utter destruction. As most of you know, I am a huge fan of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s work. There is always a depth to his work that stops to consider the consequences of conflict for individuals rather than just relishing in “glorious” battle scenes. Here we see the fear and doubt of the invaded and we also see that the mysterious invaders are not just black and white villains. For the most part they do not understand the dual nature of the people, and the effect they have of “stripping” their souls is not a conscious act. That being said they do have dreadful and destructive weapons which they have no compunction in using. Unlike many authors Adrian Tchaikovsky also includes attempts at rapprochement and the avoidance of war, though this does not prevent a climactic and thrilling final conflict towards the end of the book. The author continues to show his skill in writing action scenes, which whether small or large scale, are well done and exciting to read. Necessarily with a concluding book where all the participants and plot strands are drawn together, there is less time to focus on individuals but the author still manages to resolve the personal dilemmas of most of the principal characters even if these are not always perfect “happy ever after” endings (again adding to the realistic feel of the narrative). For those readers who have also read the Shadows of the Apt series, there is also a clear link back to those stories and one which illuminates a previously hinted at aspect of the history of the Apt peoples. Furthermore, while it is not belaboured there are clear comparisons and thus comment on the real world’s history of violent colonisation (such as America and Africa). There are also metaphors for the prejudice and treatment of minorities. All of this adds profundity and strength to this series whilst still being a fabulously entertaining read. Yet again, this book is highly recommended to fantasy readers especially those who want something which makes a superb effort to rise above the laziness of standard tropes and stereotypes.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Jun-2018 Published by Macmillan

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THE TIGER AND THE WOLF (Echoes of the Fall 1) by Adrian Tchaikovsky

For someone who is so prolific, producing thirteen novels and numerous short stories in around 8 years, Adrian Tchaikovsky is never content to rest on his laurels. Whenever I read an Adrian Tchaikovsky book I know that I am going to find something unique that is never just a clone of a popular trend.
However, when I read the blurb for this, his latest novel and that it was about a tribe of wolf shapeshifters I was momentarily worried. Shapeshifters, particularly wolves have become a popular and in my opinion, over-used trope, particularly in the romantic end of the urban fantasy genre. Thankfully that is not what this novel is about and I found something which, true to his record, was extremely enjoyable.
In the world of this novel, clans have a totemic animal whose shape they can assume and whose spirit they attempt to emulate and please. Maniye is the daughter of a Wolf clan chieftain, but she is an outsider in her tribe and tolerated purely as a pawn in the political ambitions of her father. She also hides the secret that due to her unique heritage, she can take on both wolf and tiger shapes. Refusing to follow her father’s plans, she escapes with the help of a prisoner, the snake priest, Hesprec. Pursued by her tribe and also fighting the tiger and wolf parts of her which vie for dominance, she must try and find her place in the world and freedom from her father.
One of the major strengths of this book is in the characters. Nobody does everything right and even with the antagonistic characters, such as Maniye’s father, Akrit, the reader sees the credible emotions and motivations which have led him to his present position, whilst still disagreeing with them. As with his other novels, the author’s love of biology is used to inform the animal side of the characters. Although a fantasy, the integration of animal and human abilities and behaviours feels natural and credible.
Another thing that has clearly had a lot of thought behind it is the fighting sequences, and the way in which characters rapidly switch or “step” between their different forms for tactical advantage.
I also liked that as previously mentioned, the author avoids a lot of clichés. There is no great romance or complete ‘happy ever after’ ending, even though there is a satisfactory resolution to the book. The story has excellent pacing and succeeds admirably in the tricky task of combining emotional depth with an exciting action-packed plot. Thoroughly recommended, even to those of you who are normally allergic to most fantasy!

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Apr-2016 Published by Macmillan

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Adrian Tchaikovsky and Friends

THE SCENT OF TEARS (Tales of the Apt 4) by Adrian Tchaikovsky and Friends

In this latest collection of short stories set in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadow of the Apt world, the author has taken the brave and potentially risky step of including stories written by other authors.
The shared world anthology has a long history in SF/Fantasy writing. According to the SCIENCE FICTION ENCYCLOPEDIA, an early example was MUGBY JUNCTION (1866) which included six stories by different authors, following instructions from, and also featuring a story by, Charles Dickens with all of the stories set at an eponymous railway station. Other well-known examples include Robert Aspirin’s Thieves’ World and Andre Norton’s Witch World series. However, there is always a risk when the author allows others to play in their world that the stories will not fit or feel true to the already established “universe” and will disappoint fans of the original. Thankfully however in this collection, both the avid reader and the newcomer to the Apt world will find much to enjoy. Much of that success I feel is by the judicious inclusion of some excellent and well-regarded authors. While there will always be some stories which suit my tastes more than others, all the stories work well and I did feel that they fitted with the already established places and events of the Apt world.
The first and last stories in the collection are by Adrian Tchaikovsky himself. The first “Old Blood” concerns a major character in the main series, and shows the origins of some of his actions and motivations. Despite that, the story still works well as a stand-alone, but definitely will have more resonance and significance for readers familiar with the Apt novels. The last story “The God of Profound Things” is set in the undersea society first encountered in THE SEA WATCH (Book 6). It concerns an obsessed woman driven to search out strange and dangerous deep-sea creatures, told from the viewpoint of the captain of the vessel she is travelling on.
Like many of his stories, it is the characters that are interesting and compelling and this is one of my favourite stories in the book.
Other favourites include the title story “The Scent of Tears” by Keris McDonald (who also writes as Janine Ashbless) which is the story of how a woman who has been betrayed and abused as the result of a feud between two families manages to plot an elegant revenge. The characterisation of Dagmar is very good and the reader sympathises with her endurance and inner strength. Frances Hardinge (“Wonder”) and Juliet McKenna (“The Unforeseen Path) both have similar themes about the difficulties and consolations of building relationships between different types of kinden (specifically ants who are telepathic, but only with people from their home town, and other non-telepathic kinden). Both stories work well and have an excellent depth of characterisation that I as a reader expect and appreciate in an Apt story. “The Poor Little Earwig Girl” by Tom Lloyd is also another enjoyable character study, looking at a despised and persecuted girl who is flattered by an unaccustomed respect for her abilities and who then dares to dream of a better life.
Other stories in the anthology are more action-focused. “The Promise of a Threat” by David Tallerman, expands the back story of a minor character, and “The Mantis Way” by Peter Newman looks at a mantis-kinden survivor attempting a revenge and rescue mission against invading wasp soldiers. John Gwynne’s “The Message” is a superb if decidedly creepy story about a small group sent to deliver a message from a despised artificer to his weird and reclusive relative.
There are definitely shades of the Dr’s Frankenstein and Moreau here!
The final two stories, “Forwards” by Joff Leader and “Recipes for Good Living” by Justina Robson whilst still being excellently written have a certain “strangeness” to them which makes them harder to categorise.
All together this is an outstanding collection of stories and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who appreciates wellcrafted, insightful and reflective stories.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Dec-2018 Published by NewCon Press

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Breanna Teintze

LADY OF SHADOWS (The Empty Gods 2) by Breanna Teintze

The first book in this series (THE LORD OF SECRETS) was an enjoyable sword-and-sorcery style book set in a secondary world where performing magic is painful and toxic for the user. The main protagonists were an unregistered young wizard, Corcoran Gray; Brix, a runaway slave who can absorb the toxic effects of magic; and Jaern, an ancient “god” who they release from imprisonment and who is really a powerful wizard. The three become reluctant allies until Jaern reveals his true motives and only Gray is in a position to defeat him. At the start of the second series, Gray is now trying to cope with his nightmares and the consequences of being resurrected into Jaern’s body, one which has magical scripts hidden just under the skin. When a visit to an old friend results in Brix being infected with a magical plague that kills in a number of days, he is forced to aid the Mages Guild, an organisation that wants him dead, in finding the source of the mysterious disease in time to save his beloved Brix.
Although this is the second volume of a series, it is perfectly possible to follow most of the story with very minimal information from the previous volume. Although I missed the sarcastic comments and dialogue with Jaern, Gray now has a new foil in his reluctant ally and captor, the Mage Guild Examiner, Dace. The verbal sparring between the two as they are forced to rely on each other is entertaining especially as Dace has his own agenda and secrets to protect. Their search leads them to Brix’s home town where they must confront another old and powerful “god”, one who has a previous history with Jaern, whose body Gray now wears.
Like its predecessor, this book has great pace and some fun action and peril scenes. Gray also continues to be a likeable and fallible character, one who is prepared to take risks and endure pain to help others. Dace is not just a carbon copy replacement for Jaern’s role in the plot and adds some interesting twists of his own to the overall narrative. LADY OF SHADOWS is easy to read with an entertaining plot and an interesting villain, and while the story reaches a satisfying conclusion, there are also enough developments to allow the series to continue. While there is still plenty of action and some casualties, I found it refreshing to read something that isn’t all grimdark or requires the reader to keep track of a cast of thousands. This is a high-spirited and thoroughly enjoyable book. Much like Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser or Jen Williams Copper Cat series it has heroes who are closer to true human nature than the overpowered supermen of some fantasy writing. If you like those books, you will probably find much to enjoy in this series.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Sep-2020 Published by Jo Fletcher Books

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LORD OF SECRETS (The Empty Gods 1) by Breanna Teintze

The LORD OF SECRETS is an utterly enjoyable sword-and-sorcery style novel by debut author, Breanna Teintze. The reader is dropped straight into the action when an outlawed, and currently invisible, wizard is bumped into by a woman fleeing from slavery to a sadistic priest. From that inauspicious meeting they are forced to co-operate to escape from jail. When the wizard Gray realises her knowledge can help him rescue his beloved grandfather from a corrupt and powerful necromancer, he bargains for her help in exchange for removing a magical tracker (and also initially the promise of money). What then follows is an entertaining and thrilling quest to recover a magical artefact from an underground temple, one that his grandfather wanted him to protect and hide but which he intends to use as a bargaining piece. Along the way they encounter many obstacles, including a sarcastic and untrustworthy “god”, slavers, monsters etc. Added into the mix are characters whose secrets, hidden motives and unclear loyalties mean that Gray’s straightforward plan proves to be the exact opposite.
This is a thoroughly refreshing and light-hearted romp of a novel. The story is told from the point of view of the young wizard, Corcoran Gray and his voice is a large part of the enjoyment of this book. He is a prickly, defensive but ultimately likeable and honourable character. His interactions and verbal sparring with the rescued slave, Brix are entertaining as they move from (very) reluctant allies to more trusting and co-operative companions as their journey progresses. I also really enjoyed the character of Jaern, the mocking and cynical “god” that they rescue along the way and who has his own agenda. Once added to the mix of Brix and Gray, he really adds to the fun snark and comments that are a large part of the pleasure in reading this book. The story rattles along at a great pace and is easy to read. Whilst the story is fairly linear it is well plotted with a couple of twists along the way to keep the reader engaged. The characters do face perils and setbacks but the tone remains relatively light-hearted and far more pleasurable to read than many of the currently popular “grimdark” novels out there. The magic system is interesting and I like that it has a cost and thus limits. Gray’s refusal to pass the toxic harm and damage of his magic onto others, unlike many of his fellow wizards, is also an integral part of his appeal, both to the reader and to his companion, Brix. In short, if you want an exuberant and upbeat fantasy, then this is definitely recommended.

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

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Sheri S Tepper

A PLAGUE OF ANGELS by Sheri S Tepper

Every book that Sheri Tepper writes is different. While all have SF themes, the approach is as likely to be near-future Earth as light-years away in time and place. A PLAGUE OF ANGELS is set in the far future in an area of the USA to the north of Mexico (Mesiko) and east of a mountain range. The population is sparse - the remnants of those left behind when most mankind departed the Earth many generations ago. In this strip of habitable land there are the low- tech farms scattered through the countryside supplying the Edges - walled townships where the rich still live with the luxury of electricity and other technology. The cities are largely lawless, gangs fight each other on the streets with ever more sophisticated weapons, and relax with designer drugs. Those that don’t die in the street fighting may well succumb to the immune deficiency diseases that are endemic.
The plot involves Abasio, a farm boy who goes to the city and joins one of the gangs. He is haunted by a child he met on his way north and whom he meets again as a grown woman in an Archetypal Village. She is the village’s Orphan and grows up amongst other archetypes from fairy tales and mythology such as Oracle, Hero, Fool, Bastard and Drowned Woman. To the south, in the Place of Power, Ellel sends out walkers (androids) to seek a girl child she believes has been hidden to spite her and who will be the guidance system for the shuttle that will take her to the space station to salvage weapons that her ancestors left behind. Abasio flees the city, and Orphan her village, and they travel towards the Place of Power.
It would be easy to witter on about destinies, and to do so would demean the skill and complexity of this novel. Tepper uses a number of approaches, that by themselves would seem old hat but instead weaves an excellent story full of surprises.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Mar-2003 Published by Gollancz

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SIDESHOW by Sheri S Tepper

Sometimes very small tilings can start a chain of thoughts or events. This butterfly effect is the start of this novel, originally published in 1992. The clue conies in the very first line - “Humanity was saved from certain destruction when, on their wedding night, Lek Korsyzczy informed his wife that their first child was to be a son.” The children that are eventually born, are conjoined twins who share sufficient organs to make it impractical to separate them. As they are of indeterminate sex, one is brought up as a boy, the other as a girl so th at they develop different personalities. It is this decision that leads them to end up in the far future on a planet called Elsewhere by falling through an Arbai door. These doors, spread throughout the galaxy by a now extinct race have appeared in some of Tepper’s other novels.
Elsewhere is the home of all th at remains of pure human stock. The people who fled here through Arbai doors are of what they call Hobbs Land Gods.
These are explained to the populace as a fungus-like growth that enslaves people.
Elsewhere is also the home to diversity. It is believed that only th rough diversity will the Great Question be answered - ‘What is the destiny of Man?’. People are not permitted the freedom to move from area to area. Enforcers ensure th is. But the diverse cultures also include regimes of diverse cruelty. Danivon Lutz and Fringe Owldark are Enforcers sent to investigate manifestations of dragons in the interior and an imaginary god that seems to be coming corporate. The arrival of the twins gets them included in the party, because no-one knows what to do with them.
The twist and turns of the story hold the interest with plenty of surprises along the way. If you have never read any Tepper this would be a good place to start.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Mar-2003 Published by Gollancz

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THE COMPANIONS by Sheri S Tepper

Many authors in the past have envisioned the human race going out and discovering the aliens - an extension of imperialism that has not been confined to British writers. Members of the humans think th ey are important. The rest of the universe is inclined to disagree. Tepper also looks at our mistakes and failings and these tend to come to the fore in her novels. She also takes the approach of asking ‘why should they look like us?’ and ‘why should we be able to understand them?’ In THE COMPANIONS, although the human race has spread out into the galaxy, it is only a recently sentient species. The other races are very different in appearance and communication can be a problem.
Jewel’s brother, Paul, is an exceptional linguist but he has the arrogance that is still a predominant human characteristic. Jewel, who travels with him in the guise of his organiser is actually the more observant and considerably more diplomatic. She acts as a spy, gathering information for a small group who believe that mutual co-operation is the best way to get along with other species and that knowing their customs and mores is a vital part of this.
Earth itself, however, is in deep trouble. Most of it has been covered by huge, towering conurbations resembling termite hills. Food is manufactured from algae. Just before Jewel and Paul leave for the planet known as Moss, a decree is announced banning all animal life from Earth in order to make more food, air and space available for people. As Jewel is also involved with the arkists, a group dedicated to preserving biodiversity and settling Earth animals on other planets, she takes the opportunity to take with her six genetically enhanced dogs and their handlers.
On Moss, Jewel and her friends not only have the problem of deciding if some of the life there is sentient, but of unravelling the language - which is based on smell. Then there is the mystery of local disappearances, and the build up of Derac forces on the planet (the Derac are a warlike reptilian race that no-one really trusts). Gradually the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place.
Tepper always tells a good story. She gives the reader plenty to think about. Usually, she has a message for those who care to take note of it. One of the functions of early Science Fiction was to warn the readers of the dangers lurking in our future if we followed certain paths. Tepper is treading in the foot-marks of her predecessors. Perhaps it is time the world started to listen.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Mar-2004 Published by Gollancz

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THE FRESCO by Sheri S Tepper

Everything Sheri Tepper writes is different and there seems to be no end to the variety of science fiction forms 4 that she explores. They can be read as enjoyable stories, or delve beneath for the subtler influences. THE FRESCO takes a look at belief in its various forms.
For Benita Alvarez Shipton, it is self-belief. Her meeting with a pair of aliens who wish her to deliver a message to the American government, gives her the opportunity to escape the belief that she is worthless and find a way out of a violent marriage.
For some, belief is shaken - Benita's husband’s belief, for example, that she will always bail him out is proved wrong, and on a larger scale, the belief by politicians and large corporations that they are always right, comes unstuck.
The aliens have a belief in the story of their Fresco, the painting that dominates their lives. They study the images recorded from times past as the Fresco itself is now invisible behind layers of smoke from votive candles.
Superstitiously, it must not be cleaned, though Chiddy, Benita's alien friend once accidentally saw a fragment of the original. It is the visit of Benita and other human's to Chiddy's planet that challenges their beliefs. Thus all the main characters are forced to reassess their beliefs and the majority gain from the process. Read and enjoy.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Apr-2002 Published by Gollancz

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THE MARGARETS by Sheri S Tepper

At the end of this century Margaret Bain is living with her parents in a Research Station on Phobos. The only child there, she entertains herself by inventing imaginary personalities but as the years pass these alter egos become real and spin off to various other worlds where they experience at first hand interaction with various alien races. Some of these are quite inimical and even malevolent, others less so, and it becomes apparent that the Earth, over-populated and depleted, and its people are seen by many as targets for an exploitation which will lead eventually to the destruction of the human race.
At first I thought it was all a bit silly. The action alternates confusingly between the various imaginary “Margarets” (and one presumably real one) and the varied situations in which they find themselves. There is no clear understanding of how the imaginary personalities became real and there was altogether too much mysticism and shamanism, not to say outright magic, going on for my taste, the prevalence of alien races and spacefaring technology notwithstanding. However, I persevered and found that about three-quarters of the way through it all started to come together. The reason for the existence of the multiple Margarets becomes apparent and every mysterious detail of what has happened in their lives is found to be significant. They have been created for a purpose and the future of humanity depends on the fulfilling of that purpose.
The whole plot has been engineered by a Great Elder Race who has gone on to higher things, the implication being that there may be something special about humanity that is worth saving. So it all reverts to near-religious mysticism in the end.
It is undoubtedly a well-written book, cleverly plotted and meticulously worked out but the structure leads to a degree of over-complication and my personal preference is for a more linear narrative. I repeatedly found myself looking back to rediscover incidents whose significance had only just become apparent, but really the best way would be to re-read it almost immediately on finishing, just to see how everything falls into place. If you can put that sort of effort into it you may find it a rewarding experience, or you may think that life is too short. I feel almost tempted to do so for the sake of being able to appreciate how good it is, but I have to say that its thematic content does not hold enough appeal for me to think that to do so would be sufficiently rewarding.

Reviewed by Michael Jones May-2009 Published by Gollancz

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THE VISITOR by Sheri S Tepper

This science fiction novel reprises some of the themes that Tepper has explored in other novels, but with a different slant from any of them.
Like A PLAGUE OF ANGELS, this novel is set on a future Earth where the population, level of civilisation and amount of human inhabited land has been restricted by a catastrophe. In THE VISITOR, the diary of Nell Latimer, the ancestor of Disme Latimer still exists. Disme’s story is interspersed with Nell’s, telling how a dark asteroid appeared from the edge of the solar system and collided with Earth. Also, like A PLAGUE OF ANGELS, there are remnants of high technology surviving from pre-catastrophe times but whereas in the former, the protagonists have little understanding of how it works, here, Nell and some of her colleagues have survived by using cryogenics and by waking shifts, have survived the subsequent thousand years.
The Visitor of the title is a god-like being from space. THE FRESCO also saw alien visitors, although the powers of these would only be regarded as god-like because humans did not understand how they worked.
Dism6 lives in an enclave of the Saved - descendants of the religious sects that survived the catastrophe - and has been taught that there are no Saved, and therefore no people outside the area she lives in. As in many of Tepper’s other novels, the solutions to the mysteries posed in the opening chapters are unravelled slowly, the readers knowledge keeping pace with that of the principle characters.
Tepper is one of those writers that it doesn’t matter which of her body of work you begin with, they all have merit and if you have never tried one, do so.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Jun-2003 Published by Gollancz

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Rhys Thomas

ON THE THIRD DAY by Rhys Thomas

This is a post-apocalyptical novel set in present day London and Cornwall, published on the back of the resurgence of horror novels actively being marketed as such after a decade of inertia from the publishing industry. However, the review copy is the only real evidence I’ve found for its publication apart from its standard Amazon presence. Perhaps the cheaper paperback will be better promoted in bookshops. Its cover and title appear throwbacks to similar recent postapocalypse stories such as 28 DAYS LATER and its title refers to the slightly melodramatic statement that on the third day…they die.
Miriam is a twenty something mother living in London when her husband develops a contagious psychological disorder called the Sadness. This involves him sitting in a chair seemingly having established that his life, the world, and the people he knows, is all meaningless. After three days he dies, and as the illness spreads, so do most of the population. The Sadness strikes at random with few immune and a small minority become violent which provides the backdrop for her escape from London and the first third of the novel.
The remainder of the novel takes place on a Cornish headland where she and her family hole up with her elderly father-in-law. It is a narrative of survival as the country’s infrastructure crumbles around them and food becomes scarce, as well as having to cope with illness and a lack of utilities. The novel changes tract when a large container ship sinks close to their house and other survivors are drawn to the beach beneath their house where a make-shift community is built.
Miriam becomes an irritating character, seemingly present at times as a set-up for other characters to save her in dramatic ways; it’s remarkable she makes it past the opening few pages as she makes so many basic mistakes. Like much in the genre, the main tension becomes less about the initial threat from those infected by the illness and more with the ruthlessness of bandits adapting to a lawless society. However, there is much to admire in the novel, the basic image of the Cornish landscape will stay with me for a long time although the last few pages seem more like an editorial compromise than a satisfying pay-off.
The best of this sub-genre I’ve read continues to be Simon Clark’s excellent second novel BLOOD CRAZY and there are better recent horror novels such as John Ajvide Lindqvist’s LET THE RIGHT ONE IN

Reviewed by Ian Allwyn Jan-2011 Published by Doubleday

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Douglas Thompson


I am in favour of writers taking risks and trying experiments with their writing. One of the best is Stephen Hall’s THE RAW SHARK TEXTS in which he plays with words and concepts as well as presentation. It is a delightful book. It is also good that there are publishers that are willing to take the risk and publish experimental work. Douglas Thompson’s THE RHYMER is an experimental work.
There is a folk tale of a Thomas Learmont in the thirteenth century who was taken away by the Queen of the Fairies. Though he stayed in her realm for seven years, no time has passed in the real world. When he returns, he is given the gift of prophecy but can only deliver his predictions in rhyme. This is the story that forms the basis of this novel and many of the elements that are featured in ballads written about Thomas’s adventures are woven into this text. The cover, and the incidental images at the start of each section make it clear that the narrator’s journey is a mental one with the trappings of reality.
The novel opens with the narrator, having travelled on foot for some time, finding a deer on the road that has been recently killed by a car. He carries into the centre of the next town along the road and lays it at the foot of a war memorial. In a nearby pub he meets Weasel, the first of characters that recur in various sections. Weasel calls the narrator Nadith and says he has a brother, Zenir, a successful artist who passed through the town a few weeks ago. Thus, begins the narrator’s journey as he attempts to catch up with his brother, only to find him moving ahead of him each time he thinks they are about to meet. In each place, their names, appearances and histories are slightly different. Nadith claims to wear a different face in each place he passes through. Only slowly are the clues given as to the true nature of the whole situation, some of which relates to the device he has taped to his chest.
The novel itself has a surreal quality to it and will not be to everyone’s taste. My issues are more with the style rather than the concept woven within the text. Dialogue is produced only as italics and without the accepted punctuation. The result is long paragraphs and pages exhibiting the denseness of a text book. It is an uninviting format. In keeping with the theme of Thomas the Rhymer, there are a lot of rhymes within the text. This is not poetry – far from it – but at times the technique becomes overwhelming and annoying. I would have preferred it if the style had been kept for the narrator’s speech and that of other characters to have been contrastingly normal. The plethora of, often nonsensical, rhymes gets in the way of the story and inhibits character development.
The structure of the novel itself is problematical. While some of the effects, and the understanding the reader ultimately has of the shape and reason for the pattern of Thompson’s story, there are opportunities missed. The illustrations indicate a journey through the various cognitive and reflexive parts of the brain, something that would be difficult to put in the narrative as Nadith is unaware of the structure. He visits regions known as Suburbia, Industria, Oceania, Sylvia, and Urbis in turn though the diagrams don’t have the regions next to each other as he passes across the borders. The parts of the brain have different functions and although there are differences in the landscapes, it would have been nice to have these correlating with those of the brain. If the author intended there to be a relationship, it is not obvious to the reader.
While there will be readers who appreciate this book more than I do, I still applaud Thompson for trying something new, and the publisher for taking a chance with it.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Mar-2017 Published by Elsewhen

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Tade Thompson

ROSEWATER (The Wormwood Trilogy 1) by Tade Thompson

When a novel has won many plaudits and even awards, I sometimes feel that it is more difficult to review than with something I have read with no preconceptions. There is almost a pressure to not go against the flow and disagreeing with more “eminent” voices by writing something that is not a completely glowing review can seem a bit presumptuous. However I feel it important to give my own honest opinion. ROSEWATER was originally published in the USA by a small press and has now been re-issued by Orbit, with a further two novels in the trilogy planned. It was a finalist for the John W Campbell Memorial Award and won the inaugural Nommo Award (for African writers) for Best Speculative Fiction Novel. A few alien “meteors” have landed on Earth, London is destroyed and the USA has gone silent with no-one aware of its fate. In Nigeria, an alien “biodome” has appeared and over about twenty years, the town of Rosewater has grown up around it. Mostly the dome appears inactive with few noticeable effects here of the “invasion”. One effect is the release of microscopic fungal spores into the air to create a “xenosphere”. A few people are able to use this and can mind-read, psychically find things/people and communicate telepathically with each other. Once a year the alien biodome also opens and anyone nearby will be healed, although this is not perfect leading to badly mis-shapen, insane, violent or even “empty” re-animated bodies, which the local police force then has to brutally destroy. The story is told by Kaaro, a very gifted sensitive. Initially using his new abilities to enhance his career as a thief and petty criminal he is latter conscripted by a secret government agency to find people and objects and to telepathically interrogate “terrorists”. Over the space of the novel he gradually comes to realise that sensitives like him are dying off and out of self-interest starts to investigate the origins of his gift and the disease that is threatening him. The writer clearly has talent and the novel is ambitious and I can to an extent see why other people are so enamoured of this book. The worldbuilding is very detailed and presents a very believable, if not particularly pleasant society. The alien invasion story also works on two levels and is clearly also a metaphor about the effects of colonialism, much as the 1956 film THE INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, played upon fears of communist invasion and takeover. Some reviewers have commented that the slow, microscopic invasion and alteration of humans is also a new departure but I disagree. For example, John Carpenter’s THE THING and the 2005 TV series, Threshold have also used the concept to a degree. The narrative structure is also quite challenging. Everything is told from Kaaro’s point of view, but subsequent chapters jump back and forth across about twenty years, in no particular order and the reader has to work hard to piece together the exact chronology of events and their significance and at times I found this very confusing. Also, Kaaro himself is not written to be a pleasant character. He is violent, misogynistic, narcissistic and extremely self-centred. In particular I found his treatment of women hard to read. Although the character is consistent with the society he has sprung from, as he is the narrator this means there is little or no relief for the reader and I found this book a very depressing read with many disturbing elements such as “necklacing” of people etc. In essence, this book is a kind of “grimdark” SF (ie dystopian, violent and with characters who possess few redeeming qualities). Fans of that kind of SF/Fantasy may well enjoy this book but it was one I really struggled with despite the obvious abilities of the author.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Jan-2019 Published by Orbit

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Lavie Tidhar


When a book is nominated for an award, it is worth looking at, even if only to find out why others think it is exceptional. Admittedly, no-one will ever agree what is the best book of the year. This is as it should be, since if we all liked the same thing, life would become boring as there would be no dissention, no discussions and no debates and however a prize winner is decided, there will always be the voices that declare the wrong decision has been made. So, what has made this book float to the surface for consideration for a 2015 BFS award?
The start of the novel encapsulates the seedy PI scenario beloved of US crime writers of pulp fiction, such as Dashiell Hammett. This down at heel investigator lives in London in 1939. It soon becomes clear that this is an alternative 1939. Hitler did not become the chancellor of Germany and we are not on the verge of World War II. In fact, Communist Russia has invaded Germany and the fascists have joined the Jews in Exodus, many ending up in England. This PI goes by the name of Wolf, but it is soon clear that the once potential dictator has sunk to following adulterous husbands and finding missing people. Then a hated (by him) Jewish woman turns up willing to pay over the odds for him to find her sister. People smuggling is not a new phenomenon. Jewish families paid large sums to be smuggled out of Germany as the Communists despise them as much as the Fascists do.
If this was just a novel about Wolf’s investigation, then it would merely be a well-paced action thriller. It isn’t. There is much more to it.
Many of us, at some time or another have created stories in our heads. Children do it all the time in play. Many grow out of it as work and responsibility take over. Authors don’t. Only by imagining what characters are doing and how they will react in particular situations can the story take shape. Scenes are plotted mentally, long before they appear on the page.
In the 1939 more familiar to the reader from history books or TV documentaries, Shomer is incarcerated in a Concentration Camp. Before this he had been the writer of pulp detective stories, now he is just another Jew. At night, when others sleep, he creates stories in his head. In one, Hitler didn’t rise to power but fled to London along with his henchmen. Familiar names such as Hess, Goebbels and Goering lurk in this new society which is watching the rise of Oswald Moseley, the potential next Prime Minister. It is elements like this that remind the reader of the works of Philip K. Dick, especially THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, where in an alternative world scenario, the Nazis overran the world and an author is writing a story in which Hitler was defeated.
To call this a delightful book, would do it a disservice. None of Shomer’s imagined characters are likeable. He has all kinds of misfortunes befall them, especially Wolf. At the start, a reader might wonder why these men who tried to exterminate Jews, have been given a relatively easy exile compared to the life which Shomer and his fellows are experiencing. Shomer, though, has a very devious fate awaiting Wolf. What is totally unnecessary, though, are the end notes which make the book appear to be a primer for school children.
This is a book that fully deserves to be on an awards shortlist.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Oct-2015 Published by Hodder & Stoughton

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G X Todd


DEFENDER is set in a post-apocalyptic America which will be familiar to any reader of this type of novel. Anyone who is acquainted with Stephen King’s THE STAND, THE WALKING DEAD or the FALLOUT computer games will recognise the setting. Where it does differ is in the reason for the collapse of society. In this novel, it began when people suddenly started hearing voices in their head. In many cases, the voices persuaded them into acts of violence – to others or against themselves. Now some years later, society has collapsed and the population has been decimated.
The story starts with a meeting between the two main protagonists, Lacey and Pilgrim. Lacey is a teenager who has been living a sheltered life in an isolated farmhouse, protected by her grandmother. Now that her grandmother has died, she needs to move and try to contact her older sister and young niece. When Pilgrim, an older drifter passes by the farmhouse, she persuades him to escort her to Vicksburg where her relatives lived. Pilgrim has a traumatic past, large parts of which he does not remember in detail and also has a Voice companion, although in his case the voice seems to be benign. As they travel, they fall foul of an organised group of misogynistic and brutal thugs who are collecting anyone who hears a voice on behalf of the mysterious Flitting Man.
This is the debut novel by a local author and is competently written and readable, although in my opinion it does not quite live up to the high praise on the cover (from John Connolly and Lee Child). I also found it a little strange that a UK author would choose such a US setting. That being said, I enjoyed the story enough that I would be willing to read the sequel and hope that the story will develop into something more individual and unique. There are enough allusions and foreshadowing to hint at a larger story to be uncovered in the next volumes (this is the first in a four-part series) whilst still coming to a definite conclusion at the end of this volume. The nature and origin of the voices is not revealed (presumably this will be in later volumes) so it is still not clear whether they will have a SF or Fantasy based origin. From my personal point of view, I hope it is not a supernatural one as this would make it too similar to THE STAND etc. Worth a try if you like post-apocalyptic fiction.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Jan-2017 Published by Headline

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HUNTED (The Voices 2) by G X Todd

The first book in this series, DEFENDER (reviewed in BSFG newsletter #544 January 2017) showed a post-apocalyptic America which collapsed in violence and self-harm prompted by a mass outbreak of people hearing voices in their head. In this ruined world, we followed Lacey and Pilgrim as they tried to find Lacey’s niece, Addison and were threatened by a group of misogynistic thugs who were collecting anyone who hears a “voice” on behalf of a mysterious and menacing “Flitting Man”. In this second novel, Lacey, Addison and Alex (a woman they rescued in book 1) are still fleeing from that group. However, things are starting to change with the Voices – both Lacey and Posy, the new leader of their enemies have gained “voices” which “jumped” when the previous host died. Whilst Lacey’s “voice” appears benign, Posy’s “voice” is anything but and pursues Lacey’s party for many reasons – revenge, a bargaining chip for the “Flitting Man” and to understand more of how voice transfer works. However, another group led by Albus, and guided by the voice of his dead sister, Ruby are also racing to try and reach the three women in time as they believe one of them is crucial to the future. DEFENDER was the debut novel for this author and I commented at the time that it felt very similar to many other post-apocalyptic stories but that there was enough to hope that it would develop into something more individual and unique. Thankfully, that is exactly what I feel has happened in this second volume. The mystery and nature of the Voices is further explored (though still not fully explained) and it becomes clear that they are something separate with their own personalities and motivations and not just delusions. The story is well-told and the inclusion of Albus’ group adds welcome new viewpoints and characters that add depth to the plot. The writing is in a style that is easy to read but still establishes the locations and characters very effectively. It pulls the reader along and builds to an exciting and dangerous climax and I enjoyed this book far more than the first one. The author has clearly gained in confidence and competence and her depiction of characters – their inner motivations and struggles in particular – is excellent. As a caveat, there are a few violent or disturbing scenes but these are minimal and only necessary and relevant to the plot. As a bit of a wuss and a non-horror reader, there was nothing that I found too nasty or unreadable. The author has delivered a satisfying and substantial sequel but left enough to be explored and resolved in the next book, which I am looking forward to reading.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin May-2018 Published by Headline

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SURVIVORS (The Voices 3) by G X Todd

SURVIVORS is the third book in The Voices series. The preceding two volumes were reviewed in the BSFG newsletter (DEFENDER in #544, HUNTED in #560). The series is set in the USA in the aftermath of a massive societal collapse and bloodbath, following the apparent mass insanity of the majority, driven by “voices” to acts of violence. The first volume, set some years later, introduces two of the main protagonists; Lacey, a teenager searching for a lost relative; and Pilgrim, an older drifter who becomes her guide and protector. The story then progresses as they encounter a brutal group who are collecting anyone who hears voices on behalf of a mysterious Flitting Man.
At the end of Book 1, they are separated and much of Book 2 concentrates on Lacey’s progress without Pilgrim. It also expands the cast of characters, with another group racing to find Lacey before the agents of the Flitting Man reach her, as they believe she is crucial to the future.
And so to the third book that, unlike many SFF series, is not the last book in the story, as The Voices is listed as a four- book series. SURVIVORS concentrates mainly on Pilgrim’s experiences. The story opens with a flashback to a mental hospital unit, before the violence and by implication, is part of Pilgrim’s back story, of which the reader knows very little to date. It has already been established that there are gaps in his memory and now, having been badly injured and left for dead at the end of Book 1, he clearly also has other cognitive issues, having lost his ability to read amongst others. This makes him a very unreliable narrator, with him having strange visions every so often, and both he and the reader unsure sometimes what is real and what is not. I found this frustrating at times and the book seemed to me to be very unevenly paced. There is a long section in the middle where not much happens as Pilgrim meanders around the countryside. It is not till around 280 pages into the book that the action picks up, when he encounters a group, based at the old hospital from the beginning of the story, who are trying to remove Voices from people’s heads by brutal experimentation. The confrontation and escape of Pilgrim and his new companions from this group is much more interesting and faster paced. It also sets up another plot thread which will obviously be a significant part of Book 4. Finally, very near the end of the book, Pilgrim and Lacey are re-united (as at the end of Book 2).
I enjoyed this book much less than HUNTED (Book 2) which I thought was excellent. It felt to me that the book would have benefitted from being much shorter, and might have been better as the standard trilogy. As well as the issues mentioned above, the exact nature of the “Voices” is still not clear – at one point in this book they are described as something that evolved alongside humanity, and at another they appear to be some type of aliens who are performing a “necessary” purge of humanity to protect the planet! At least by now I expected to know whether they are something “supernatural” or something with a more “rational” explanation. Also, after three books, the mysterious “Flitting Man” who is clearly meant to be the “Big Bad” is still off the scene (until a short scene near the end of the book which reveals their identity) Overall, it all felt a little confusing and I wanted more information having invested this much time.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Dec-2019 Published by Headline

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J R R Tolkien


Being a recognised Tolkien fan I am occasionally asked “What other books has Tolkien written, then, besides THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS?”, and the correct answer is “Many!”, but this needs explaining. Usually the easiest answer is to mention the TALES FROM THE PERILOUS REALM. This is a collection of Tolkien’s `other works’ (as usually termed), some written as adult fairytale, some for his children, some as poetry and one as his most autobiographical work.These stories have been collected in the past, but normally without “Roverandom”, which opens this volume.
“Roverandom” was written to comfort J.R.R.’s second son, Michael, who lost his toy dog, Rover, on holiday while aged 5. The tale is a whimsical adventure story describing exactly what the vanished Rover got up to, explaining that Rover was, in fact, a real dog, and not just the lost toy. It is an interesting look at the way fairy tale and imaginative storytelling was integral to J.R.R.’s life in a more personal way than the production of toweringly successful epics. Of course, Tolkien’s talent in writing is chiefly that in the way he writes the fantastic seems solidly real to the reader.
“Farmer Giles of Ham” is maybe the best known of the other works, being an enjoyable tale, seemingly set in a believable historic medieval England, populated by larger than life village characters, cowardly Kings and humorous dragons and giants. It is the kind tale that amuses child and adult alike, having both slapstick humour to amuse the younger audience and more subtle innuendo in the portrayal of the characters for adults. Paradoxically, although I suspect this tale has the widest appeal for the more casual fantasy reader, to myself this tale is, perhaps, the lesser work in the collection, having less commitment to the fairy tale nature that the other stories possess.
“The Adventures of Tom Bombadil” is likely to interest any keen TLOTR reader, delivering, as it does, considerable extra detail for that rather enigmatic character. In fact this tale gives insight into the fact that Tom Bombadil was created quite separately from TLOTR, and he is indeed something of a guest appearance in that book… if this whets your appetite, then I should inform the reader that this `tale’ is comprised of a number of Tolkien’s poems. The experienced Tolkien reader will be aware how complete and informative J.R.R.’ poetry can be, but these are much less weighty than “The Lays of Leithian” or “Turin”. The poems also cover other, related aspects of Tolkien’s creation (“The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon” is included). Overall they have a strong feeling of other- worldly fairy presence.
“Smith of Wootton Major” is probably the strongest adult fairy-tale in the collection, and my personal favourite in this volume. This is an evocative tale of Smith and his encounters with the world of fairy, and like the best fairy tales it follows it’s own, internally consistent and somehow familiar, yet slightly alien rules. In writing this a previously unnoticed parallel has leapt to mind; considering the sense of another world, alongside our own and only accessible with the correct mystical key, I recall to mind Guillermo del Toro’s film “Pan’s Labyrinth”. Interestingly, of course, it is del Toro who has the job of directing the new film based on THE HOBBIT… As I have written, this is my favourite of the stories here, and I thoroughly recommend it to all.
“Leaf by Niggle” is often considered Tolkien’s self-portrait. It concerns the central character, Niggle, a painter who starts by painting a leaf which gradually grows into a much larger tree. The story imparts a strong feeling of an initially simple creation, which grows to become vastly larger and more complex, with a sense that perhaps the act of creation will never be finished, and with sinister forces of criticism and motivation ever bringing the creator to task. The story reportedly came to Tolkien in a dream, and could well represent his own fears: a quite personal story and one that can illuminate the reader with a deeper understanding into Tolkien’s creative acts.
Throughout are a series of new black and white illustrations by Alan Lee, as well as the pretty cover depicting farmer Giles and Chrysophylax Dives. I personally find that Alan Lee’s illustrations, while being fine and atmospheric, are often a little too grittily realistic, and so I usually prefer the illustrations of John Howe or Ted Naismith. However, the pictures for this volume seem to possess the requisite `other-worldly’ feel, and so seem to compliment the text well.
A recommendation (or not) on buying this book tends to depend on the proposed reader’s sense of fantasy; if you like your fantasy to seem to have a solid base in a dependable medieval world, full of practical characters, then this may not be the book for you. I think this is fantasy writing of the highest calibre, but this review must carry the caveat that this volume contains quite a variety of pieces, not all of which may appeal to all readers. But if you want your fantasy to have that indefinable quantity that makes it a genuine fairy tale, or think that perhaps you might want to discover the appeal of a seemingly lost form of writing, then I can heartily recommend the book.

Reviewed by Dave Corby Nov-2008 Published by HarperCollins

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Claire Tomalin

THE YOUNG H G WELLS by Claire Tomalin

I believe that Claire Tomalin, even at the advanced age of 88, is the best of all literary biographers (with great books on Mary Wollstonecraft, Dickens and his mistress, Samuel Pepys, Thomas Hardy, etc). This one concentrates on the first half of Wells’ life (up to the age of 40). Thus it covers his two marriages, all of his best writing including the scientific romances and stories, his ardent socialism, his friendships with other writers and with politicians and his many sexual liaisons with women.
Born in 1866, Wells was part of the lower middle class. His father was a talented cricketer (playing for Kent) and a professional gardener; his mother was (eventually) the housekeeper at Uppark stately home in West Sussex. Wells had a patchy education but was a voracious reader. He might have been stuck working in a draper's shop all his life, or a schoolteacher. By intelligence and hard work (and a certain amount of luck) he recovered from injury and illness, attended a technical college (on a scholarship) and struggled to write publishable short stories and articles.
In 1891, at the age of 25, he married his cousin Isabel, though this was not a sexually successful marriage. He began to have affairs almost at once and left her after two and a half years to live with and eventually marry Amy, whom he found much more sexually attractive, and whom he always called Jane. Not only did he insist on this name change but he got her to agree that he needed to have affairs with other women though he would always return to her.
At this time, the mid to late 1890s, Wells became noticed as a writer for his early stories, THE TIME MACHINE and THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (among other titles). He was always very hard-working as a writer, producing up to 7000 words a day and, according to various experts, failing to do enough polishing of his work.
One thing not mentioned by Tomalin is that Wells’ short stories are in many cases thematically similar to those of Edward Page Mitchell, whose stories were published anonymously during the 1870s in US weekly newspapers with some reprinted in UK newspapers. Did Wells read these stories? Was he influenced by them? Sam Moskowitz, in his lengthy biographical introduction to THE CRYSTAL MAN, the collected stories of Mitchell (1973) believes that Wells was influenced.
Wells was always a socialist, frequently lecturing and writing about socialism, at one time joining the Fabian Society and maintaining a long friendship with Beatrice Webb. In those days people wrote letters, and Tomalin has many written by and to Wells to draw upon for this book. He exchanged letters with most of the literary figures of the day, including George Bernard Shaw, Arnold Bennett, Henry James, Thomas Hardy, D H Lawrence, Joseph Conrad and many others; also with Winston Churchill.
The women Wells had affairs with were mostly intelligent writers. He made several of them pregnant in addition to his two sons with his second wife, Jane.
I found this to be a wonderful read, very well researched and full of surprises and entertaining circumstances. I recommend it highly.
(I bought my copy new in the week of its publication from Blackwells on line, who heavily discounted it and shipped it free. I was delighted to find that it was signed by Claire Tomalin. I'd like to acknowledge the help of bibliophile and retired bookseller, Brian Ameringen in pointing out the similarity between stories by Wells and Mitchell.)

Reviewed by Chris Morgan Dec-2021 Published by Penguin Viking

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Tom Toner


I suspect the reception for this novel will be very clearly split into two camps – those who love it and those who hate it. It is a space opera set in 14,647 AD. Humans have spread across the galaxy, now occupying a 1300 light year diameter sector. They have never found any sentient aliens. Instead humanity is now divided (or “prismed”) into various sub-species with different adaptations. At the apex of power are the Amaranthine “Immortals”, kept alive and un-aging by some kind of drug/medical development. Their Emperor is the oldest of them who is still sane and their extended lives have allowed them to develop significant mental powers such as teleportation etc.
The story is told mainly from the viewpoint of three different characters. Firstly, Lycaste, a beautiful young man who has inherited a rich estate and lives a bored and unfocused life until an unintended crime forces him to go on the run. Secondly, there is Sotiris, a high status immortal who becomes involved in complicated politics (by someone called Aaron Long-Life) to replace the present Emperor. Finally, there is Corphuso, an inventor who has designed a mysterious, powerful device called the “Shell” or “Soul Engine”. This machine and its hapless inventor are fought over and passed between different factions.
However just extracting this much sense from the story takes a lot of effort and it takes a long time before the three strands start to come together and we finally begin to see the connections. The author has a good vocabulary and there is some excellent prose. However, the pace is almost glacial with a lot of dwelling on small scenes which do not always appear relevant to the plot development. While some will love this slow unravelling, others will find it exasperating and often perplexing (and I tend to fall into the latter camp as I prefer more structure and energy in the fiction I enjoy). Also I personally found the characters lacking in emotional depth and it was difficult to really care what happened to them. For a SF novel it is also very light on actual scientific detail and it felt like something which will appeal to those who appreciate style over action and emotional involvement. The author is clearly talented but this book takes significant time and effort to read and will not be to a majority of people’s taste.

Reviewed by Carol Goodwin Dec-2015 Published by Gollancz

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Paul Tremblay

SURVIVOR SONG by Paul Tremblay

It's often been said that writers are almost psychic when it comes to the horrors they imagine, and they have predicted remarkable inventions, wars, discoveries or, in this case, viruses. I'm writing this review amidst lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic 2020. Rather ironic then, that this novel, first talked about by the publisher well over a year ago, brings us on a journey with Paul and Natalie during a virus curfew. Natalie is heavily pregnant and reliant on best friend Ramola, a doctor, to ensure she gets support for the impending birth. When staying inside is the only safety, Ramola embarks on a desperate race to get Natalie and her unborn child to hospital in time to save their lives.
Though the people in the journey might change, swap over or start other stories, it is the connections between them and the sense of growth that pervades throughout the novel. Epistolary in nature and set/written in real time - think the Keifer Sutherland show '24' - it includes social media comments, which reflect the innate stupidity of some people, with risqué jokes - if this were real, but in the context of fiction they are actually light relief - anti-vaxxer commentary, real human concerns and a great sense of humanity. Much like now, we are aware of a virus but at first that belongs to other people.
The worries start with quiet rumbles. The author’s use of scattered dialogue or comments on social media is very effective in portraying the rapidly evolving situation and some are scarily prescient; For example, via a group message between paediatrician Ramola and her group she says “I realise it’s an emergency but we should have proper PPE regardless as a safeguard.” Others are
“—the quarantine will help get the spread of the illness under control—”
“—and it ... dove right at my front tire.”
“—everyone will be all right as long as we don’t . . .”
I don't know to what extent, if at all, Tremblay edited in aspects of the current pandemic, but it contributes to the escalating horror. Amidst that though, and some very visceral scenes, are the poignant and harrowing moments that are beautifully written.
“--After shared, restrained laughter, they drive in silence, passing through this new ghost town, where the ghosts are reflections of what was and projections of what might never be again."
This, more than anything, encapsulates the burgeoning tension that Ramola and Natalie experience as they're on their road trip to help Nat give birth safely. Terrifyingly, it also feels very much like 'now'; the now of the pandemic, the feeling of fear mixed with cold shock at the drastic changes to the world we live in.
Without spoiling the end, it is a good ending in so far as it can be, in a fictional world of a vicious strain of rabies. It's not always an easy read, but it's timely, poetic and brilliant.

Reviewed by Theresa Derwin Nov-2020 Published by Titan Books

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Award winning author Paul Tremblay’s latest novel, narrated by multi points-of-view, starts with Wen, a young Chinese girl, seven years old, about to turn eight, who has been adopted whilst very young by Daddy Andrew and Daddy Eric. We find out early that she has gone through multiple surgeries to repair a cleft lip and is conscious of her own smile. Whilst her Daddies are relaxing on the back porch of their cabin in New Hampshire close to a lake, Wen is playing a favourite game of chasing and catching grasshoppers. Her game is interrupted by a man in his mid-twenties, Leonard, who is big, burly and tall, but doesn’t speak like most adults. Intentionally or not, I was reminded of Lenny in OF MICE AND MEN. Though Leonard does not have the learning difficulties or challenges of that character, his voice, his words, his mannerisms are distinctly off kilter. She’s wary of him, but even more so when he says he needs to talk to her daddies because she is vitally important to the future. It isn’t long before Wen is ensconced in the Cabin with her Dads, and Leonard, Redmond, Sabrina and Adriane are attempting to break into the home to start the most awful ‘game’ of ‘Would You Rather?’ than the reader will ever have encountered. Andrew and Eric are given a choice they must make, whilst held hostage by these four people- in a perverse reimagining of the ‘home invasion’ subgenre of horror. And I refuse to say any more about the plot elements. Spoilers Darling!
Lyrical, funny, and horrific in parts, this novel is a masterclass in writing horror, and the heart of horror; shock and awe. I gasped at least four times in genuine shock, or realisation as the jigsaw pieces clicked together. I also really liked the realistic relationship between two gay men, the natural inclusion of diverse characters and settings, and the switch between viewpoints. And the ending, which I won’t talk about, was - satisfying. A magnificent piece of horror, which I’m sure will be read by millions and studied in schools and colleges across the globe. If it doesn’t win this year’s flurry of genre awards, I’ll be very surprised.

Reviewed by Theresa Derwin Aug-2018 Published by Titan Books

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Harry Turtledove

HOMEWARD BOUND by Harry Turtledove

Has anyone else in the group read this one yet? I bought the American hardcover edition from Amazon, but then I’m a fan of Turtledove’s various alternate-world series. Oh yes, he pads them out unashamedly and every time he finishes three in a row he changes the title and starts a new – but continuous – trilogy. So this is actually the eighth book in the ‘Worldwar’ sequence, if you’ve been following it, in which those uppity Earthmen manage to go from V2 to STL interstellar travel in about sixty years, and then spring an even bigger surprise on the poor, dumb alien Lizards – though we see it coming about 100 pages before they do.
I think this is the weakest in the set, mainly because it has moved a long way from all those fascinating juxtapositions of the earlier books. There’s little action, endless talking, and the Lizard’s planet isn’t a very interesting place.
Despite the cover blurb on the paperback I doubt if this is really the “enthralling climax” to the series; the last chapter is left completely open. A tip for new readers - the title “Homeward Bound” is a play on words - the human spaceship is bound for the ‘Home’ world of the alien Empire!

Reviewed by Peter Weston Dec-2005 Published by Hodder

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WALK IN HELL by Harry Turtledove

In this the second book in the Great War series Harry Turtledove has continued his excellent alternate history of the First World War. In the first book ‘American Front’ the stage is set as a divided America, (read How Few Remain) with the Union and the Confederacy still at odds with each other, are drawn into the fighting between Germany and the Allies in Europe.
With the Union on the German side and the Confederacy supporting the French and British cause, North America is set to fight the civil war all over again.
With British help the Confederacy has managed to stave of a naval blockade by the Union forces and stalemated the Unionist push to recapture the Confederate South and so bring to a conclusion a long and painful history of a nation divided. The South has a sad lack of manufacturing facilities while the heavy industries of the North can out produce the South at every turn. However the North is fighting on two fronts with the British in Canada threatening to invade and head south as well as the dash and elan of the Southern troops. Throw into this melting pot the internal war against the Mormons in Utah for the North and the Slave uprising under the Communist banner in the South and the outcome is as the First World War became a bloody killing ground. With the advent of mechanisation the means for death and destruction become even more impersonal, with poison gas, aircraft and tanks appearing on the battle lines.
Harry Turtledove has continued his well-written first book in the series, interweaving individuals from all backgrounds into an extremely strong narrative. The characters take on a life of their own with an individual’s story developing as the circumstances of war around them change. From humble slaves caught up in rebellion to pompous generals who have little or no grasp of modern warfare Harry Turtledove captures the essence of the individual superbly well. It is with no wonder that Harry Turtledove has built a large following of readers interested in alternative history. Walk in Hell is a definite must read.

Reviewed by Chris Chivers Oct-2000 Published by Earthlight

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Kyle Turton

INFECTION by Kyle Turton

In the days before DVDs were common and eBooks were yet to be a figment of the imagination the only way to recapture the film you’d just seen and enjoyed was to hope that someone produced a book of the film. Many of these were written by contracted writers who were given the script and a deadline. The manuscript had to be finished for when the film came out and the author had to guess about the visuals that would eventually be seen. The deadline didn’t allow for deep character development. The rationale of these slim volumes was to remind the reader of what they had seen and act as an aide memoire to a pleasurable evening out. This book, INFECTION, reminds me of these books. Unfortunately, these days, readers want much more from their reading matter and in order to compete with the likes of Netflix and Kindle a richness and authenticity of setting, plot and characterisation is needed.
INFECTION is basically a zombie movie script. Four newly qualified medics go on an archaeological dig and one of them, Chris, discovers a box in a cave. As in all the best horror films, he opens the box and takes out the stone inside. Back home, while the four are preparing to head off to their new jobs, Chris becomes ill. The others leave him at home while go out to celebrate their futures. By the time they return, he has bitten the landlord, attacked a cop and been shot. The landlord is taken to hospital and begins the chain of infection that turns the population of New York into ravenous zombies and sets the others on path to put an end to the situation. As this is a horror novel, more casualties amongst the group of ‘heroes’ can be expected.
If Infection was a 90-minute film, the issues I have with it as a book would fade in to the background. With print, there needs to be far more substance. Much of the time I was wondering who the actual view-point character was, and whether the story was being told from the correct perspective. Although it is not called that, the initial prologue says too much about the mechanism that the plot revolves around. Exactly half-way through the book, two new characters turn up who not only know the history of the artefact causing the problem, but how to resolve the situation. Not only is it too late to bring in these crucial characters but they are the ones that need to impart the knowledge so that the reader keeps pace with the remaining medics rather than knowing the rationale from the start. This removes the mystery that should have been at the heart of the story. I would also have liked to see the artefacts that the newcomers, David and Charlie, need to collect for the final solution, and more of the issues acquiring them threw up.
The kick-off point of the novel is when the four (Chris, Hannah, Kayleigh and Johnny) all go on an archaeological dig. I found myself with a huge credibility gap at this point; not about the finding of the artefact but the dig itself. It was a plot convenience rather than a researched reality. This is where more description would have been welcomed. Everything before this point was slow, domestic background which would have been better served interspersed within the rest of the text. There is, at the beginning in particular, too much of the author telling us the situation rather than showing it. Having said that, much of the banter between characters is enjoyable, even if it was insufficient to differentiate between them.
An irritating aspect of this book was the lack of proof-reading as punctuation, in particular, was not up to the standard I would expect from the literate. As a personal thing, I dislike books that leave a line between paragraphs. It is clumsy and looks unprofessional, though this might be due to an inexperienced type-setter rather than the intention of either author or editor. And a question for the author – why are the surnames of the characters so rarely given?
I wanted to like this book, as I believe that independent publishers need to be encouraged. If it had been twice the length, the author would have had the space to develop his characters and settings to a greater depth.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Mar-2017 Published by Quantum Corsets

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Lisa Tuttle


The Victorian era has a fascination for many writers, and readers. Like now, it was a period of great change, when a different kind of technology was spreading at an enormous rate through society. Then, as now, some embraced it in its totality, others thought the reshaping of the world was going too fast, and were reluctant to consider the implications. Looking back can be a means of making sense of the present. Some mainstream authors travel into the dark underworld of crime, whereas genre writers have invented a whole new scenario, that of Steampunk, where Victorian era science and technology is taken to the ultimate extremes.
Lisa Tuttle’s THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE SOMNAMBULIST AND THE PSYCHIC THIEF has elements of the former but adds touches of fantasy. The novel begins with Aphrodite Lane making a hurried exit from Scotland. She had been there with a friend at the behest of the Society for Psychical Research (a real and continuing organisation), to investigate a haunted house. She leaves because she discovers that her friend is faking evidence. Arriving back in London, she had a dilemma. In 1893, a lone woman with little money would be in need of a job and lodgings. She had neither but by chance she comes on an advertisement in a newsagents of a detective requiring an assistant. To her surprise and delight, she not only gets the job but a room and board in the house of her employer, Jasper Jesperson.
Their big break comes almost by accident. The household is running short of money so Jesperson goes to talk with the landlord who agrees to give them more time to pay the rent if they will solve the problem of his sleep-walking son- in-law. In the meantime, there have been some inexplicable burglaries and then, Gabrielle Fox, the woman whose behaviour caused Miss Lane to leave Scotland, arrives to hire them. She is concerned that several genuine mediums have disappeared. Yes, there are people with genuine psychic powers in this version of Victorian London, unfortunately, there are more fakes than the genuine article. Gabrielle dos not want her new protégé to suffer the same fate.
Tuttle has caught the manners and ideals of the era of her setting but her characters are all from the middle and higher echelons of society. There is no attempt to delve into the dark underbelly of the city. This is a genteel novel as crime is just as rife amongst the privileged though their motives are different. Jesperson and Lane are very likeable characters who are well counterpointed by Miss Fox and friends.
This is a welcome addition to the historical crime genre and the inclusion of mesmerism and stage magic add the touch of fantasy that Tuttle’s readers have come to expect. It is not overdone so should keep the general crime aficionado on board for the climax. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan Sep-2016 Published by Jo Fletcher

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John Twelve Hawks

THE GOLDEN CITY by John Twelve Hawks

Have you ever wondered what has happened to Dan Brown lately? Fear not. I am about to reveal all . . .
The publicity sheet that came with my review copy declares “John Twelve Hawks lives off the grid, and only his agent knows who he really is. He speaks through a digital voice changer so as not to reveal his true identity!” Well, sorry to disappoint Corgi, but I think I know the mysterious identity of the writer. I’d be tempted to put my life savings on it that Mr Twelve Hawks is in fact Dan Brown of THE DA VINCI CODE fame.
Apparently, THE GOLDEN CITY is the long awaited conclusion to the Fourth Realm trilogy. In John Hawks’ creation, there are six realms, or worlds. A Traveller can cross over these worlds unaided by the technology required by us mere mortals. Tagged as “a riveting blend of high tech thriller and fast paced adventure”, the novel finds Traveller Gabriel attempting to find his beloved Maya, a Harlequin, or assassin, who has become trapped in a deadly alternative reality. At the same time, his brother and fellow Traveller Michael, aligned with the shadowy Brethren, follows his own path to power. It smacks a little of Charles Stross’ Merchant Princess series meets THE DA VINCI CODE with a dash of KANE AND ABEL. Which brings me to my earlier point. We have; A sinister religion – Check Globe trotting adventure – Check Freaky assassins – Check Hidden rooms – Check, and; Lots of French that it is assumed the reader automatically understands – Check.
Now here’s the clincher; excessive and unnecessary info dumping. This has long been a technique employed by Mr Brown, and not always to good effect.
Unfortunately Mr Twelve Hawks uses the same technique far too much and in the strangest instances, to the extent that it almost feels that there are two writers at work here, making the novel disjointed. Whilst I accept the novel does rattle away at a rapid pace, I had intense difficulty connecting with the characters. The only character that really breathes is Mr Hollis, who is somewhat intriguing, with the rest of the ensemble cast coming across like bland bit players. As such, this is a tricky book to rate, but I will say this. It isn’t a particularly bad book, and if you’re a fan of the trilogy or Dan Brown it’s worth a look. But not for me – sorry.

Reviewed by Theresa Derwin Apr-2011 Published by Corgi

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