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science fiction

Station Zero : Philip Reeve

… singing trains, strange worlds …

robot love trains

Once again we follow Zen Starling as he travels across the galaxy with Nova, the almost human Motorik, trying to work out their relationship – (How does that even work, a human and a Moto? Zen is asked.) – whilst fighting the Guardians for control of the Great Network. Continue reading “Station Zero : Philip Reeve”

From Darkest Skies : Sam Peters

… absorbing SF/crime thriller …
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An absorbing SF/crime thriller with strong characterisation surfing above some inventive and intricate world building.

Government Agent Rouse returns to the distant planet of Magenta to continue his duties whilst secretly investigating the murder of fellow agent and wife, Alysha.  He has brought with him an illegal AI shell of her, built from her data footprint.  Can Rouse find out what really happened on that train whilst tackling corporate crime and the drugs trade on Magenta?

I enjoyed Sam‘s characterisation, Rangesh in particular, and his sure way with dialogue.   He uses the contrast between Rouse’s grief and the team banter to great effect; and the novel also explores a human’s personal and intense relationship with AI.   It reads as though it was great fun to write and there’s clearly room for a sequel.

Recommended.

Cover design moment: Unfortunately, as this is an ARC, there’s no trace of a designer credit on the copy but – huzzah! – it has a WHITE background and strong, clear image.  UPDATE: Thanks to a heads up from Carole Heidi the design company is the brilliant Black Sheep.  Their website is here.

Sam’s biog reads: a mathematician, part-time gentle-person adventurer and occasional screenwriter who has seen faces glaze over at the words ‘science fiction’ once too often. … Has more hopes than regrets, more cats than children, watches a lot of violent contact sport and is an unrepentant closet goth.

This book is the second review in my British Books Challenge 2017.

From Darkest Skies by Sam Peters will be published by Orion on 20 April 2017.  Emily at Emily’s Bookshop lent me her review copy.  Thanks, Em!

Black Light Express : Philip Reeve

... high adventure and dazzling inventiveness …

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Philip’s second book in this Railhead series continues to follow Zen Starling and Nova, the  almost human Motorvik.  His nuanced cast include Chandni Hansa, a “Popsicle Girl” because she was deep frozen in prison; the reluctant empress, Threnody; and the broken hearted Kobi Chen-Tulsi.  His individual style of storytelling builds sympathy and curiosity as they perform unexpected heroic acts amidst their bewilderment and wonder travelling across the New Worlds.  They  encounter terrifying aliens such as the deliciously feline Kraitt whilst all the time riding trains and running through Gates towards the mysterious Black Light Zone.

There’s a continuation of the gentle love story between Zen and Nova and the constant allure of the  Rail Network singing out across the galaxies but, perhaps what will stay with me the most, is the dazzlingly  inventiveness of his world.   He conjures visions of the mysterious Guardians constructed out of virtual code;  Uncle Bugs with his smiley face; and, as always, the sentient, singing trains of the Network Empire.

Highly recommended.

Cover design moment: A sequel to the first Rail Head design – again with the fore edge decoration – put together by designer Jo Cameron and her colleagues at OUP, using work by the brilliant Ian McQue.  You can see more of his work here.

Black Light Express was published on 6 October 2016 by Oxford University Press.  I bought my copy from Emily’s Bookshop. YAY.

Revenger : Alastair Reynolds

… perfect escapism …

An entertaining adventure about the sisters, Adrana and Arafura, who escape a genteel bankruptcy by signing up on Captain Rackamore’s sunjammer, travelling through space scavenging ancient technology from highly protected planets.

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The girls are both “bone readers,” who can pick up traces of spacecraft communication using skulls from an ancient civilisation and so are valuable members of his hard-bitten crew.  Experienced writer, Alastair Reynolds has developed a beautifully constructed universe with plenty of room for sequels and introduced a likable protagonist in Fura as she grows up fast amidst treachery and bravery, robots and alien artefacts.  He uses a fair bit of Victorian slang to suggest a pirate/sea dog atmosphere which I found slightly irritating but the story romps along to a satisfying climax.  A perfect escapist read.

Alastair Reynolds is the award-winning author and astrophysicist best known for his Revelation Space and his Poseidon’s Children series.

Cover design moment: The UK cover is a stylish update on the standard and old fashioned hard boiled SciFi design with a stand-out spine in contrasting red.  The designer has not been credited in the ARC and I couldn’t find any reference to them – even in the Cover Reveal GollanczBlog post … UPDATE : Thanks to a heads up from Carole Heidi the design company is the brilliant Black Sheep.  Their website is here.

Revenger will be published by Gollancz on 15 September 2016.  I read a copy lent to me by Emily at A Festival of Books.  Thanks, Em!

Chasing the Stars : Malorie Blackman

… love story, whodunit, psychological thriller in space …

This is a great read.  It’s a love story, a whodunit and a psychological thriller set on a space ship fleeing across28693621 enemy territory.  The narrative races away from the start with a splendid jeopardy piece showing the protagonist, Vee, as a very determined and compassionate girl – and the pace rarely slackens.   Sudden “accidents” and personal tensions amongst the desperate crew grow to a satisfying conclusion – and the hint of a sequel.

The story is told through the entwined narratives of the main characters, Vee and Nathan.  This approach gives the reader delicious insights, and humour, into the many misunderstandings  of their love affair.

I also enjoyed Malorie’s light referencing of multi-ethnicity, the class divisions and her take on marriage!

NB: There are some sex scenes – not too graphically  biological …but definitely a Young Adult book.

 

Down Station : Simon Morden

Down-Station-by-Simon-Morden-Cover

“an intriguing world of fascinating surprises and inescapable consequences”

Escaping from an underground fire and certain death, Mary, Dalip and Stanislav are thrown together into another place.   With its uncanny skies, weird beasts and barely touched landscape, they find themselves in a lush green country sparsely populated by people who are carving their own rules.

The door they came through has disappeared and they have to make their own way in this strange land and, perhaps, create new futures for themselves: Dalip, the honourable Sikh engineer; Mary, the belligerent East End girl; and Stanislav, the workman with his murky, military past.

In “Down,” information is power and can be withheld or even stolen.  Can they trust the Wolfman’s directions ?  Who is the imperious Geomancer?  Will the mysterious man called Crows help them?

The story is told through Dalip and Mary’s eyes and I particularly enjoyed their characters’ evolution through the book from bewildered strangers to certain heroes.  But the star of the book is “Down” itself.  Morden gradually builds an intriguing world full of fascinating surprises and inescapable consequences; the drumbeat of danger gets louder when, like the landscape, events start to creep up and multiply.  Revelations start slow and get faster as the plot twists the narrative awry to end in a tense and thrilling conclusion.  Recommended.

Simon won the Philip K Dick Award in 2012 for  The Samuil Petrovitch Trilogy.

Published in February 2016 by Gollancz.

The Goblin Emperor : Katherine Addison

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….  absorbing and thoughtful with court intrigue

Fourth in line to the throne and teenage, Maia is suddenly pulled out of a bleak exile to become the new Emperor.  Naive, bewildered and embarrassed, Maia stubbornly and painfully carves out his new role surrounded by court intrigue and distant servants.   There is little action, magic or sword play.   Doesn’t sound much of a sell … and yet, the decency and loneliness of this half-goblin amidst a fabulously rich and self-assured Elven Court makes for an absorbing, thoughtful read.  The world building and naming, though dazzlingly imaginative and well built, can be slightly too rich but stick with it for the ear signals, the Court Rituals and the gradual development of Maia’s character from gauche teenager to young and outward looking Emperor.

It won the Locus Award for Best Fantasy novel in 2015.

RailHead : Philip Reeve

latestbookimagethe romance of the steam age with interplanetary travel : what’s not to like?

A really pleasurable action adventure story following Zen Starling, petty thief and marked man, helter-skelter through a series of dazzling different worlds with an intriguing array of characters.  Reeve translates the romance of train travel into interplanetary voyaging: refashioning the evocative noises of steam, rails, arrivals and departures into futuristic living machines, Station Angels, and the beautifully realised “un-bang”.  He balances the sheer exhilaration of dashing through a high tech universe with the 1930s vibe of plush double deckered carriages of a private, sentient train.  His satisfyingly solid and well thought world is populated with a dazzling collection of characters including a freckled Motorik called Nova; a very memorable Uncle Bugs; Flex, the graffiti artist; and the enigmatic Raven.  Read it.

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