Category Archives: Sci Fi

Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Rock the Boat | 2018 (13 March) | 615p | Review copy | Buy the book

Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay KristoffBefore I go on to review a book that is guaranteed a place in my top books of 2018 post, a word of caution! Obsidio completes the Illuminae trilogy and, if you haven’t read Illuminae or it’s successor Gemina, then you must take not a step further! Everything that happens here is a direct result of what has happened before and every character has been changed by what they have endured and who they have loved and who they have killed. But you must begin with Illuminae for another very straightforward reason – it is quite simply one of the most extraordinary, ingenious, compelling, obsessive reads I have ever had and you do not want to deprive yourself of the pleasure. And then there’s Gemina, the middle book, which is every bit as good. The fabulous news is that Obsidio, the conclusion, is BRILLIANT! Not many books make me want to shout about them in caps, but this one’s managed it.

So, having assured myself that you have indeed read the previous two books, let me tell you just a little about why I love Obsidio and why this is a landmark trilogy in Young Adult science fiction. Actually, I say Young Adult but I can see no reason at all why anyone of all ages wouldn’t love these books. I’m a Slightly Less Young Adult and they could have been written for me so maybe we’ll ignore that label from here on.

I’m going to tell you next to nothing about the plot as that is something to discover for yourself. But you can rest assured that it’s every bit as thrilling as everything we’ve experienced so far. But there is a sense of things coming full circle as the structure divides between life (such as it is) on the occupied planet of Kerenza, where it all began, and on the spaceship Mao which is hastening to its rescue or to share in its demise. There is simply nowhere else to go. We meet new characters but we also spend good time with old friends. I’m not saying who because survival odds have never been lower. But I soon loved the new people every bit as much as the old, and the relationships between them are as rewarding as they are fraught at times.

This is quite simply brilliant storytelling by two masters of the craft. I cannot praise them enough. This is no straightforward story. There are multiple layers of meaning and feeling. There are characters we think might be bad but then we see another side of them and we realise that they are just people. And fear can make good people act in bad ways whereas sometimes even those who want to be seen as bad, who have committed atrocities, still worry about their cat back at home. This is sophisticated stuff. Many of the characters here are youngsters but they’re growing up fast, having adult relationships and swearing like tomcats (swear words are amusingly blacked out or censored!), dealing with very real danger as well as grief.

Obsidio is all about war and we are spared none of the horror of it. There are moments here that left me shocked and really rather upset. Innocence is no guarantee of survival in this world. Some of it is truly heartbreaking, heroic and utterly tragic and brutal. But this is offset by the humour. These are people who could be dead at any moment, almost before they’ve lived. Better to joke about it. And then there’s Aidan, but we’re not going to talk about him here…

Obsidio continues the wonderful narrative technique of the previous books. The tale is told through surveillance footage summaries, emails, notes, messages on noticeboards, pictograms, cartoons, drawings, forum posts. And this is absolutely captivating. It brings these people alive. There are a couple of sketches that reduced me to tears. But you never know what’s going to be on the next page – the way in which dogfights are portrayed is inspired! There is one page in particular that made me almost shout out loud in triumph!

The Illuminae trilogy is an incredible achievement – for its brilliant plot, for its superb characterisation, for its ingenious style, for the quality of the writing, for the humour and the tragedy, but perhaps most of all for its sheer emotional impact. This is powerful.

The sadness at finishing is, thank the stars, offset by the joy at reading in the extremely entertaining acknowledgements at the end that a new series is in the works – The Andromeda Cycle. What a relief…

I’d be hard pressed to think of another science fiction trilogy that I’ve loved as much as this. These are books to keep and treasure and encourage others to read. So that’s what I’m doing – read it! You will not regret it!

Other reviews


‘The Recent Boom in Space Opera’ – guest post by Gareth L. Powell, author of Embers of War

Embers of War by Gareth L PowellOn 20 February, Titan Books published Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell, a brand new space opera that ticks all of the right boxes. You can read my review here and buy it here. To celebrate the publication, I’m delighted to host a guest post from Gareth in which he discusses the recent boom in space opera. As someone who loves space opera more than chips (how I need my books on spaceships and alien artefacts…), I couldn’t be more thrilled by the prospect of a boom and the next novel in Gareth’s series can’t come soon enough for me.

The Recent Boom In Space Opera

Like it or loathe it, space opera’s always been an important part of science fiction. Maybe even the heart of the genre. Whatever else may be going on, there have always been books about big spaceships, colossal alien artifacts, and vast interstellar wars.

As a sub-genre, space opera went through a bit of a renaissance in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with books by Alastair Reynolds, M. John Harrison, Stephen Baxter, Gwyneth Jones and others. Now, as we approach 2020 (itself an almost unbelievably futuristic-sounding date to those of us raised in the 1980s), it seems to be undergoing another dramatic resurgence.

In 2014, Ann Leckie’s debut novel, Ancillary Justice, won the Hugo, Nebula, Arthur C. Clarke, Locus and BSFA awards—the only novel ever to have achieved such a clean sweep. The sequels Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy, and the related novel Provenance have followed it. The fact these books feature dark-skinned main characters in a gender-neutral society seems to have touched a nerve in ways not seen since Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels brought left wing politics into space opera back in the 1980s and 1990s, and opened the way for more diversity in the genre, both in term of subjects and authors.

Becky Chambers’ delightful 2014 novel, The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet, explores the complex relationships between a diverse human and non-human starship crew, including love between man and computer, an interspecies lesbian fling, and a creature caught in a symbiotic relationship with a parasitical virus. The sequel A Closed And Common Orbit continues to expand on these themes, and a new book is on its way.

In 2016, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children Of Time won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for its portrayal of the struggle between a starship carrying the last survivors of the human race and a civilisation of uplifted, intelligent spiders. Spanning thousands of years and following the development of spider civilisation, and the rise-and-fall of various human societies, the book has the epic feel of the very best space opera coupled with a visionary examination of what it means to be truly civilised.

Kameron Hurley’s dark and disturbing 2017 novel, The Stars Are Legion, has been jokingly described by its author as, ‘lesbians in space.’ In reality, it’s a savage, epic tale of tragic love, brutal war and revenge set amid a cloud of decaying organic world-ships, in which an amnesiac soldier sets out on a desperate mission that will either save or destroy the fleet.

Mathematician Yoon Ha Lee received the 2017 Locus Award, as well as Hugo, Nebula and Clarke nominations for his novel Ninefox Gambit, which follows the fortunes of a young military officer and the ghost of a disgraced, long-dead commander as they participate in inter-factional conflict in an Empire whose technologies and tactics are determined by consensual acceptance of the Imperial Calendar.

Since the publication in 2011 of Leviathan Wakes, James SA Corey’s ‘Expanse’ series — now on its seventh volume, Persepolis Rising (2017) — has been charting humanity’s rocky progress from being an interplanetary society centered on Earth, Mars and the asteroid belt, to an interstellar society of colonies scattered among fifteen hundred worlds. We see the upheaval through the eyes of the crew of the independent frigate Rocinante. They are drawn from various squabbling planets and ethnicities, but stay together because of the love they have for each other and the ship on which they live.

Taken together, these excellent books show that we’re currently living in something of a golden age for progressive, inclusive space opera. And it’s against this background that I launch my own series, starting with Embers of War, which was published by Titan Books on 20 February.

Embers follows the adventures of the former warship Trouble Dog, and her misfit crew of war veterans and cadets, as they race to rescue a liner that’s been downed in a politically sensitive star system. Featuring strong female leads, ancient alien mysteries, and some full-on space combat, I hope Embers of War can take its place alongside the books I’ve listed above, as part of the recent boom in space opera.

Embers of War by Gareth L Powell is published by Titan Books. You can find Gareth on Twitter @garethlpowell.

For further stops on the blog tour, please do take a look at the poster below.

Embers of War blog tour_Final

Embers of War by Gareth L Powell

Titan Books | 2018 (20 February) | 411p | Review copy | Buy the book

Embers of War by Gareth L PowellTrouble Dog was once a warship but this sentient vessel made a choice and turned her back on violence, choosing to work instead for the House of Reclamation, an organisation that rescues ships in distress. This can be a lethal business as Sal Konstanz, the captain of Trouble Dog and her small crew, knows only too well. But when a mayday comes across from an extraordinary region of space called the Gallery, Trouble Dog is the nearest ship. A tourist cruise vessel has been fired upon by an unknown enemy, an attack that might not be an isolated incident. Trouble Dog‘s sibling vessels warn her not to go but Trouble Dog is driven by a need to atone for past sins and will not be held back.

The war might have ended but the peace is uneasy, violence still flaring in quiet pockets of human space. On one remote planet Ashton Childe and Laura Petrushka, two spies from opposing sides, work together. Their mission is to rescue the poet Ona Sudak who was on the ship attacked in the Gallery. The rescue will be far from easy and soon Trouble Dog and her crew as well as Childe realise that the consequences of the attack could have repercussions for the entire Galaxy.

I am a huge fan of space opera but most especially when it’s a space opera as well written and gripping as Gareth L Powell’s Embers of War. There’s an explosive opening and that sets the scene and mood for the entire novel but there is far more to this book than warfare and fighting. We’re also given all the other things that I would wish for – fascinating worlds, intriguing characters and relationships, sentient starships, curious aliens and their artefacts, the promise of something huge threatening from the shadows.

I loved the Gallery and Powell describes it beautifully. I need wonder in my space-based science fiction reads and the Gallery supplies me with an awful lot of it. I want to know every detail about the planets in this system as well as all that they suggest about the other life forms, past and present, in the universe. I enjoyed the way in which we learn about humanity’s entry into interstellar travel. I loved the back stories that we learn about some of the characters, particularly about Sal’s past. This is a rich universe for Gareth L Powell to explore, in Embers of War and in future books.

Trouble Dog is an appealing character in her own right, a mixture of dog, human and machine. And we learn a little about the way she thinks thanks to the wonderful structure of the novel which moves between the main characters. I love science fiction novels that do this. I don’t want to be confined, I want to explore it all. And the heads we pop into are varied, from the ship herself to the non-human engineer Nod, and to Ona Sudak marooned on one of the Gallery’s planets. There are some great female characters in Embers of War and they fit perfectly into their distinct roles. Trouble Dog inevitably reminds us of the sentient starships of Iain M Banks but she doesn’t suffer from the comparison.

There is plenty of action in Embers of War and it’s thrilling stuff – moments of real peril as well as violence. But these scenes don’t get in the way of us getting to fall for the characters. Embers of War is a thoroughly exciting pageturner, full of characters and personalities I couldn’t get enough of, and it sets up the next novel in the series beautifully. There are themes and ideas here that I can’t wait to see explored further as we’re taken deeper into space, into a universe that could prove to be very frightening indeed.

Semiosis by Sue Burke

Tor | 2018 (US: 6 February; UK: 8 March) | 336p | Review copy (US edn) | Buy the book: UK/US

Semiosis by Sue BurkeWhen a group of men and women leave Earth to start afresh on a new planet, they are alarmed to discover that the new planet is not the one they were aiming for. And other disasters follow as they attempt to land on the surface. But land they do and they name the planet Pax, almost immediately establishing a constitution that upholds peace and harmony with nature, and trust and support for each other. This will be a utopia in the making. There will be obstacles to face but they will endeavour to meet them with hope.

But, of course, they can have had no idea what they would face on a world so far away to the one that they had left. And a perfect society is no easy thing to achieve. In Semiosis we view the struggles of the settlers over a hundred years of so, moving from one generation to another. Each generation is clearly defined and apart from the others – one may have green hair, another may wear beads, and no sexual relationships are allowed between them. The result of this distinction and definition is an absorbing portrait of a society as a whole from members of it who have purposefully limited their perspective. It’s appealingly complex and unusual.

My favourite element of Semiosis, though, is its depiction of the animals and plants of Pax. Both have certain characteristics that are reminiscent of animals and plants on Earth – cats, lions, eagles, bamboo, oranges and so on – but, in other and more fundamental ways, they are entirely different, alien. All are sentient to varying degrees. The utopian aim of Pax is aided by the playful and trusting nature of some of the animals (some are adorably fluffy and friendly) and there are some stunning concepts – plants that swim through the seas or fly high in the skies. But one of the main challenges of life on Pax will be deciding how to evolve a new and equal society when the plant life wants to take an active part. The relationship between humans is difficult enough but how much more difficult life becomes when one must learn to decipher signals and signs from an entirely different alien species.

There are more discoveries to be made on Pax and some are shocking. Misunderstandings are rife and can have lethal consequences. Each section focuses on a different generation and so our perception of events and people shifts and there are moments when we realise that something may well have happened entirely differently to the way in which it’s presented. And it also means that we draw close to certain key individuals in each generation but then we’re almost forcefully taken away from them.

Sue Burke is a sophisticated storyteller and Semiosis intrigues from start to finish. It’s fundamentally a first contact story but it’s largely character-driven, complemented by the beautiful descriptions of the other life forms on Pax. The human settlers – Pacifists – constantly remind each other that it is they who are the aliens and it is up to them to try and make peace with the exotic life around them but everything in this wonderful novel is strangely curious, occasionally terrifying and often gorgeous. The themes are huge! There’s a great deal going on to think about and, as the clever novel continues, one character in particular tests everybody’s ability to understand the signs and symbols around them – the semiosis that is so crucial on Pax if society is to evolve. It is all absolutely fascinating and thoroughly engaging.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Raven Books | 2018 (8 February) | 528p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart TurtonWhen Aiden Bishop comes to his senses, he is standing in a wood, wearing a dinner jacket splattered with mud and wine, and he has absolutely no idea who he is or where he is. All he knows is that he must save Anna, a girl he can hear running in panic through the trees. But this is the story of Evelyn Hardcastle. Tonight she will die and the night after that she will die again, and the one after that. Until Aiden Bishop can break the cycle. But on each of those days Aidan will inhabit the body of a different person, each a guest at a weekend party being held at the isolated and unhappy house of Blackheath. But somebody is determined that Aiden will never be successful, that he shall never leave, and Evelyn will be doomed to die every night forever more.

And that, which is what you can also learn from the book’s cover and blurb, is all I will reveal about the astonishing plot of The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. In fact, it barely does it justice because this is one of the most deliciously complex, multi-layered and clever plots that I have ever read. How the author Stuart Turton managed to knot this all together is a feat beyond all comprehension. Not an end – and there are countless ends – is left loose. The author’s powers of imagination, which are substantial, are equalled by his confident and self-assured handling of a plot and structure that must at times have felt like juggling cats. I am in awe of Stuart Turton’s genius.

As befitting one of the finest novels that I have ever read, there are so many elements to it. In some ways, it is science fiction – its premise is undoubtedly mindbending, its mood at times fantastical; but it is also historical fiction. We’re trapped in the English countryside of the elite in the years immediately following the First World War. As we move above and below stairs, there is most definitely a feel of Gosford Park about it. But it is also a murder mystery and its setting and elegance, as well as the confined setting and limited cast of suspects, immediately reminds the reader (at least this one) of Agatha Christie. And it is also accompanied by wit, deceit, ugliness, horror, blood.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a substantial novel and not a page of it is wasted. Every page moves on this stunning plot in some manner and, as the novel continues, everything cross references. We move around the story in ingenious ways, we meet characters from a multitude of perspectives. And hanging over it all is a mood of dread and intensity, as well as of hope and of dashed hopes.

I was glued to this incredible, beautifully-written book, reading it all over one glorious weekend. This is a novel that expects you to keep your wits about you. You might have to flick back through the pages on occasion. It makes demands. But all of them are rewarded. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a debut novel – how extraordinary is that?! Surely there can be few better. Stuart Turton is about to make a very big name for himself. What on earth will he write next? I cannot wait to find out. In the meantime, make sure you don’t miss The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle.

Iron Gold by Pierce Brown

Hodder & Stoughton | 2018 (16 January) | 624p | Gifted copy | Buy the book

Iron Gold marks the beginning of a new trilogy by Pierce Brown but it follows on from the Red Rising trilogy. You can read Iron Gold on its own but you will find in it revelations about what has happened before, as well as a return to many familiar characters. For the full impact of events, I’d definitely recommend that you read the Red Rising trilogy first. This review assumes you’ve had the pleasure.

Ten years have passed since the Rising, a revolution that transformed our solar system, levelling the caste system that saw so many enslaved to the Golds. Darrow, a man of Red, turned the worlds upside down, liberating his fellow slaves, rising to the very pinnacle of this new society. But these ten years have not brought peace. The solar system continues to be divided, old prejudices remain, the caste system of colours survives, and war has brought violence and grief to the worlds and it will not end.

Three lives have such different experiences in this new world gone bad – there is Darrow himself, more determined than ever to win the war once and for all, whatever the personal cost; there are two Golds, travelling between planets and moons, striving to do right for the oppressed, but now caught at the very centre of the solar system’s pain; and a young freed Red woman who learns the hard way that slavery is not the worst state to befall a human being. All three stories thread their way through Iron Gold, each with the force and power to spellbind the reader. Countless lives are caught up in each, countless emotions and struggles, desperate battles to survive, to love and to do the right thing, or to hate and to kill, to tear down walls.

Pierce Brown is quite possibly the finest writer of tension and dramatic crisis that I have read. All of his books are epic, in the true sense of the word, their stories heroic, their characters gods and slaves. Morning Star, the third of the Red Rising novels was an extraordinary feat, almost exhausting to read due to the intensity and stress of its situations and characters. How could that book be outdone? The answer is with Iron Gold.

Iron Gold presents a new phase in this epic adventure. Time has exerted its pressure on everyone found in these pages. The ten years since the Rising have been difficult. The strain is about to snap. Pierce Brown is once more a hugely confident and gifted storyteller, putting drama and significance onto almost every page. And the story he tells here is fantastic, to put it very mildly indeed. It is richly layered, complex and engrossing and, above all else, it is full of colour and emotion, conflicting beliefs and perspectives. There are a host of characters here and yet every one of them has a believable past, a fully-rounded personality and a significance for the story. We move between them and look forward to the chapters in which we will return to each one. And the storylines are full of surprises. They come together at times but blink and you might miss the clues.

Pierce Brown is a master of worldbuilding. Whatever planet, moon, city or spaceship we find ourselves on, it feels real. Each is so vividly described. At times we’re presented with scenes of especial drama and action, and they are riveting.

Iron Gold is also a novel with big themes – about one form of government pitted against another, good versus evil, the responsibility of leadership, the duty of the citizen, independence and control, the tragedy of man, the hope of innocence. This is science fiction that has relevance to the present day and our own world, as perhaps the best science fiction should. Iron Gold is an exhilarating and immensely rich read. Its tension is extraordinary, the pain it inflicts at times on characters and readers is real. Pierce Brown has done something remarkable – he has surpassed Morning Star and set an incredibly high standard for his new trilogy. I am in awe of this author. We’re lucky to have him and Darrow’s world.

Other reviews
Red Rising
Golden Son
Morning Star

Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds

Gollancz | 2018 (25 January) | c.460p | Review copy | Buy the book

Elysium Fire by Alastair ReynoldsI’m sure I’m not the only Alastair Reynolds fan to be thrilled that Prefect Tom Dreyfus has returned to duty, policing the polling democracy of the Glittering Band colonies that ride the orbit of the planet Yellowstone. Elysium Fire is the second so-called ‘Prefect Dreyfus Emergency’ following on from The Prefect, which was first published in 2007 and recently reissued as Aurora Rising in November 2017. It’s a fair few years since I read The Prefect but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of Elysium Fire. There are hints in this book of what went before, as well as returning characters, but I think Elysium Fire can be enjoyed as a stand alone with no trouble at all.

I’m a huge fan of Alastair Reynolds’ novels that take us into Revelation Space and the Prefect emergencies take us back into the history of the Yellowstone system, before the melding plague turned the Glitter Band into the Rust Belt. The countless democracies of the Glitter Band are controlled by the ability of their citizens, through their brain implants, to vote in limitless polls. Unfortunately, those implants are now causing the brains of some of these citizens to melt and the Prefects have worked out that, at this rate of increase, in a few months or years not a soul will be left alive.

This alarming news coincides with the emergence of Devon Garlin, an evangelical speaker who is touring the Glitter Band, preaching against the Prefects and urging the settlements to break away from their control. It’s working. Dreyfus takes it personally, especially as Garlin seems to keep popping up wherever Dreyfus is, and he’s determined to silence him, even if it interferes with his duties to discover the truth behind the malfunctioning or sabotaged implants. He has two proteges, though – Thalia Ng and the hyper-pig Spaver, both of whom are soon deeply immersed in fighting arguably the greatest threat ever to face the Prefect world. The dangers are immense and the path they are taken on is twisty, surprising and dark.

Elysium Rising is a pleasingly complex novel, with several storylines co-existing and affecting the others. It moves between two tales in particular – one as it affects the Prefects and the other, which involves the upbringing of two extraordinary boys within an isolated geodome. All we know for sure is that the two stories will coincide at some point.

For me, though, there are two highlight of this novel and one is its characters. Dreyfus is a fascinating figure. There’s something rather dark about him. History has not been kind to Dreyfus. But this novel doesn’t, for me, have a ‘space noir’ mood about it, despite the cloud that follows Dreyfus about. And that’s probably because of the other Prefects Ng and Spaver. I loved them both – their heroism and bravery as well as their quirkiness.

The other aspect of the novel I loved is its technology. The Prefects are armed with whiphounds, incredible, almost sinister snake-like robotic truncheons or whips that assist with policing, especially crowd control, even surgery. You would not want to get on the wrong side of one of these, especially if you value your limbs at all. They have a life of their own in this novel and are so vividly described. I was also intrigued by the beta-level simulations of the dead that don’t quite understand what happened to their living bodies. And all of this exists within the Glitter Band. I’d have liked to have seen more of it but this is largely a character- and action-led novel. Having read most of the other Revelation Space novels, I know what is to come for Yellowstone and the Glitter Band. That sense of foreboding adds a certain something…

The list of reviews below suggest what a thrill a new Alastair Reynolds novel is for me and Elysium Fire started my new reading year off in fine form (this was the first novel I read in 2018). I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Dreyfus and his other Prefects again in the future facing another emergency, not least because of the tantalising glimpses we’re given of something else, much larger, that threatens from the shadows.

Other reviews
Blue Remembered Earth (Poseidon’s Children 1)
On the Steel Breeze (Poseidon’s Children 2)
Poseidon’s Wake (Poseidon’s Children 3)
Revelation Space
Redemption Ark
Absolution Gap
Pushing Ice
Slow Bullets
With Stephen Baxter – The Medusa Chronicles
Beyond the Aquila Rift