Category Archives: Sci Fi

Noumenon Infinity by Marina J. Lostetter

Harper Voyager | 2018 (23 August) | 561p | Bought copy | Buy the book

Noumenon Infinity by Marina J LostetterA few days ago I read, devoured and absolutely adored Noumenon by Marina J Lostetter. I immediately went out and bought its sequel, Noumenon Infinity. Hours of spellbound reading ensued. So I can now report that Infinity is not only every bit as good as Noumenon, it is even better. It takes all of those elements of the first book that I loved so much and gives them that extra twist, that extra push – enhancing its sense of wonder to such a degree that I could not put Infinity down. Having said all that, Infinity completes the two-part story begun with Noumenon and so you most certainly won’t want to read it without having read Noumenon first. This review assumes that you’ve had the pleasure and that you don’t mind hearing a little about what has gone on before. If you haven’t read Noumenon yet then STOP what you’re doing and read it right now!

Noumenon Infinity begins where Noumenon left off, with the start of a new voyage by Convoy Seven, still crewed by our familiar set of clones but now with a few new faces to get to know. As they head back to the Web and the Seed, they will learn more about these enigmatic and immense artifacts. And they will be tested to the very limit of what they can endure as the legacy of the past and their responsibility for the future threaten to overwhelm them.

But now we have a second convoy to follow – the mysterious Convoy Twelve, which, launched around the same time as Convoy Seven on its original voyage, disappeared without trace. Now we will learn the truth about what happened to this crew which was never intended to stray far from Earth. And what they have discovered will change everything.

I’m saying no more than that but how I want to because we are taken here into unknown starry distant space territory that cries out for me to shout about it. Both storylines, which alternate throughout this thankfully praise the stars substantial book, are equally brilliant and brilliantly different from one another. Two perspectives of wondrous things and I couldn’t have been more gripped if I tried.

We know some of these characters very well by now, even though we have met them in their different incarnations. We’re so fond of the AI who now is so ancient she is the repository of almost everything in human history. As the personalities evolve, the significance of their past lives grows more important than ever. This is a novel about legacy and identity. But above all else, in my opinion, it is about being an explorer. What drives people to explore the unknown at immense risk to themselves? What drives humanity on? Where are we all heading? What is the alternative to exploration? And if we do explore, where are we actually going? Does it matter if we don’t get there ourselves if our hundred times removed descendent does instead? And what do we do when we get there? So many questions and they’re the biggest questions.

And then you can throw in all those other things I love about science fiction set among the stars – spaceships, distant planets, alien artefacts, AIs, people adapting to life aboard a generation starship, bloodcurdling terror, love, the unknown. All of it described so beautifully and evocatively, with humour and sensitivity, by Marina J. Lostetter, an author who can do no wrong in my eyes.

So now that this mini-series of two books is complete and on the shop shelves, do yourselves a favour and read it. Just like the best of Peter F. Hamilton, these are novels to which I’ll return and I can’t wait to see where Marina J. Lostetter’s imagination will take her – and us – next.

Other review
Noumenon

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The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi

Tor | 2018 (18 October) | 316p | Bought copy | Buy the book

The Consuming Fire by John ScalziIt’s time to return to the Interdependency… thank the stars for that. The Consuming Fire follows directly on from The Collapsing Empire and is the middle book in what I believe will be a trilogy. You really wouldn’t want to read it without having read the opening book and so this review assumes that you’ve done just that and don’t mind learning a little of what has gone before.

Humanity’s vast empire, the Interdependency, is connected by the Flow, rivers through space that link random planets. Starships that are able to generate a protective bubble can travel through the Flow at unbelievable and erratic speeds. But should that bubble fail or if the Flow should collapse, then that ship and its crew would be cast out into the vast void of empty space, never to have contact with any other life again. It’s a terrible fate and now it is one that everyone in the Interdependency must face. There are signs that the Flow is beginning to fail. When it does, colonies that have no means to support self-sustained life will be cut off. This happened over a thousand years ago to Earth, the homeland that is now forever unreachable and barely a memory. The ruler of the empire, Emperox Grayland II, has a mighty struggle on her hands to hold everything together as rivalries amongst the empire’s mighty industrial families raise their ugly heads. War threatens just as the Flow begins to change.

I am a huge fan of John Scalzi, such a witty, clever author with an incredible imagination, and I absolutely adored The Collapsing Empire (as I did Lock In and Head On). I couldn’t wait to read The Consuming Fire and it really delivers on what went before. It’s a relatively short novel of just over 300 pages and it’s fast, sharp, fun and packed with thrills as well as characters who stand out a mile, not least because some of them are a little bit naughty, especially the women.

The Consuming Fire picks up a fantastic plot, set against the most brilliantly developed backdrop – the whole future of humanity is under threat and it’s making everybody go wild, especially the rich families that dominate this universe along with the powerful, yet secular church. Despite the role of religion – the Emperox role has its origins in a figure known for her visions sparking off this new faith – this is a society built on solid ground – trade, industry, money, ambition, greed. When Grayland II announces that she’s had visions which predict the calamitous collapse of the Flow, nobody knows how to deal with it. Except with violence and intrigue. I loved this mix of the practical and the spiritual, or the way in which religion has been adapted to fit a greedy society and vice versa. It is an aristocratic society. Everybody seems to be a lord or a lady but there’s nothing that honourable about the majority of them. Yet there is still a nobility here, especially in the figures of the Emperox and the scientist Marce.

And then there’s Kiva. Kiva was the dominating personality of The Collapsing Empire and she does the same here, although she does have competition. But Kiva is outrageous, hilarious and horny. She’s also dangerous. Although could it be possible that there are signs of a heart beating underneath all of that bravado?

The novel is too fast and furious to allow much time to develop our sense of wonder at some of the elements that have the potential to stun in this universe, but there are little glimmers of it, particularly during the second half when we see beyond the Interdependency. These sections are especially brilliant.

I am so desperate to know what is going to happen and there are some enticing hints of it here. The Consuming Fire does have a bit of a middle novel feel about it. It prepares ground for book three – and in such a way that I cannot wait for it! – but it also moves the story along in such thrilling, page-turning fashion. I have to say that I wish it were longer but what there is is golden. Roll on book three!

Other reviews
Lock In
Head On
The Collapsing Empire

Red Moon by Kim Stanley Robinson

Orbit | 2018 (25 October) | 464p | Review copy | Buy the book

Red Moon by Kim Stanley RobinsonIt is the mid 21st century and the Moon has been colonised. Although individual nations are not allowed to ‘own’ territories on the Moon, China has made the south pole its own while a much smaller American colony has settled at the north pole. This lunar divide is reflected on Earth as relations between these two superpowers grow increasingly tense. Both countries also have their own problems. China is facing a rebellion, its billion poorest people are finding their voice while its most senior ministers compete for supreme leadership, while America is in the grip of a financial crisis, fed, it is suspected, by China.

The Moon seems such a long way away from the troubles on Earth but it really isn’t. Three people in particular are about to find this out – Fred Fredericks, who is there to install a new communications device in the Chinese colony; Chan Qi, the heavily pregnant daughter of one of China’s most important ministers and also an activist; Ta Shu, a celebrity travel reporter who discovers that befriending Fred on their arrival to this new and strange place might be something he’ll live to regret. After Fred witnesses a murder on the Moon, for which he is suspected, it’s not long before all three are on the run, across the Moon and in China – pawns in power struggles beyond their control. Chan Qi might have more power, though, that she’s been given credit for.

A new novel by Kim Stanley Robinson is always such a cause for excitement and I was thrilled to read Red Moon. Each of his stand alone novels are so different, their vision is enormous, not just for the future of our planet but also for our neighbours in the solar system. Politics also usually plays its role, as it does here, as Kim Stanley Robinson turns his attention to the Moon in our near and possible future.

The story is built around the murder that Fred witnesses at the beginning of the book but the novel is about so much more than that. It essentially tells the tale of journeys, for Fred and Chen Qi and for Ta Shu, and along the way, while running from peril to peril, each will take some time to reflect on the philosophical, social and political state of the world around them, their hopes for its future, and the differences between East and West. They must also contend with personal worries, not least of which is Chen Qi’s pregnancy and Fred’s developing feelings for this young, charismatic woman.

The novel moves between the Moon and Earth with poor Ta Shu in particular making frequent trips between the two. But, for me, the very best bits of Red Moon are those set on the wonderfully described Moon. I loved the descriptions of some of its unusual habitats built into its enormous lava tunnels and caves. You must discover these for yourself as I love the joy with which they’re painted for us.

I did find some of the lengthy exchanges between Fred and Chen Qi a little too wearying. There are times when they go on and on and everything stops around them until they’re suddenly warned that they must move on immediately if they’re to escape the latest attack on them. So at times the novel felt like moments of intense action with very weighty sections of quite dispassionate discussion in between. This did make it quite difficult for me to warm to Chen Qi and Fred, while I had no such trouble with Ta Shu, I would also have liked much more of American agent Valerie Tong – her thread of the story was a favourite of mine. Other characters who come and go throughout the book are the mysterious ‘analyst’ and the AI that he’s developing under cover of the all-seeing Great Eyeball of the Chinese government. There is so much here that intrigues and could fill countless extra pages.

Kim Stanley Robinson’s novels always make me think while making me feel wonder at some of the places and worlds they describe. They are ambitious, at times challenging, and hugely intriguing, with something to say, and Red Moon is all of that, plus some fantastic visions of the Moon’s habitats in which, for a time, one can escape the worries of the outside world. And, just like all of Kim Stanley Robinson’s books, what a brilliant cover!

Other reviews
2312
Aurora
New York 2140

Noumenon by Marina J. Lostetter

Harper Voyager | 2017, Pb 2018 (I read the Hb) | 420p | Bought copy | Buy the book

Noumenon by Marina J LostetterIt is 2088 and much of Earth is relatively prosperous and at peace, looking for humanity’s next adventure, to escape the bounds of the solar system. It will send a number of enormous starship convoys out into space, each carrying more than 100,000 people. But where to send them? Astrophysicist Reggie Straifer might just have an answer for one of them. He has discovered an unusual star that defies the laws of physics. Its name is LQ Pyx.

Convoy Nine is given the mission, designated Noumenon, to travel to the star to discover whether it is natural or alien-made. The journey will take generations, a hundred years or so. The convoy will stay at the star for twenty years and then it will return to Earth to share whatever knowledge it’s discovered. Due to the variations of time on such a journey, a period of centuries for the convoy will be thousands of years for Earth, so who knows what the travellers will find on their return. But these are no ordinary astronauts – each will be a clone. The same sets of donated genes will live their lives over and over again.

If I were to write a recipe of everything that I like in a science fiction novel then Noumenon would be the resulting delicious dish. Astonishing and awe-inspiring objects in space, giant spaceships travelling into the unknown, a mystifying Earth in the distant future, the evolution of society on a generation ship, clones, an intriguing and unusual ship AI. I loved everything about it. The novel makes leaps through the years so in each sizeable chunk we follow a new set of personalities, some familiar to us from previous lives as clones are reborn. The legacy of these past lives is one of the novel’s big themes – are future clones guilty of the crimes of their ancestors because they share the same DNA?

There is such a sense of wonder – something that I crave in science fiction, especially the kind that deals with new worlds and space exploration. Reggie Straifer is driven by this wonder. The first generation of clones unleashed for the first time on their ships are almost giddy with it. But how to maintain that over the decades? And how to deal with the practicalities of living a sustainable existence aboard a starship when space and resources are limited? The way that they do this is agonising. And so the question remains – what do you do when the wonder is gone?

For me, the wonder remained and I was gripped by every stage of this novel. I would have liked more time spent at the anomalous star but there will, I believe, be more answers (as well as more questions, no doubt) in the sequel Noumenon Infinity. What we learn here, though, deeply intrigues and puzzles. But there are other things here just as fascinating as the star and they are wondrous to discover. Noumenon is a complete novel in its own right, sweeping through centuries of time. It sets the stage for the second book but it ends well. It did, though, make me want to read Infinity as soon as I can – I bought it immediately. I love it when a book urges me to buy everything else an author has written.

Noumenon is a rewarding and thrilling space adventure which overflows with big themes and questions about life and what drives people on, whether they’re a human being, an AI or a clone. Our sympathies are engaged repeatedly as we get to know these people, even though many of them are only passing through the story. The descriptions of the star are fantastic! I cannot wait to return in Noumenon Infinity.

Rosewater by Tade Thompson

Orbit | 2018 (20 September) | 390p | Review copy | Buy the book

Rosewater by Tade ThompsonNigeria, 2066, and the new town of Rosewater is a place like none other. The shape of a doughnut, its centre is occupied by an astonishing alien biodome. Its contents are mysterious and unknown but people are drawn to it because, each year when it opens, everyone within the area is healed of all physical and mental disorders. Nobody wants to miss the Opening. Of course, it isn’t perfect. The reanimated dead must be avoided and destroyed at all cost. There is another side effect of the dome’s presence. Some people have become telepaths who can link through to the Xenosphere and there they can read people’s minds, find out things, hunt out secrets. S45, a government agency, was established to use the psychics to stop crime, including those committed by other telepaths. Their best agent is Kaaro. He can find things better than anyone. He is their best interrogator. Now he has a new case and it is the worst kind – someone or something is killing his fellow agents.

Rosewater is an extraordinary piece of science fiction and there is much about it that I really enjoyed and admired. Most of all, I loved the environment of Rosewater, ironically named for its stench. All humanity is drawn to this town, in all of its ugliness, greed and desperation. The setting, in our not too far off future, is really compelling. There are hints about the rest of the world – America has gone silent but nobody knows why – and there are memories of Nigeria’s colonial past overshadowing Rosewater’s perception of itself. Rosewater is vividly evoked, complete with the traffic problem that ensues when a place is shaped like a doughnut, and, at times, when the reanimates walk the streets, it can be a dark and frightening place, locked down by curfews. The premise of the alien biodome and the superhuman powers that is has bestowed on some and the healing it has gifted to others are so intriguing.

The novel combines science fiction with a crime thriller and it is the character of Kaaro who links the two. I didn’t find him a likeable character in the least. He was a thief and now he doesn’t steal objects but people’s secrets and identities. His relationships with women are not healthy but now he is challenged by the new woman in his life who is one of the most enigmatic characters in the book, as is her strange brother. Kaaro is being swept away and he’s not quite sure if he likes it or not. I did have my issues with Kaaro and his rather unpleasant sexuality and sporadic cruelty but, throughout the book we’re given glimpses into Kaaro’s past life, to help explain why he is the man he is and how he is so interconnected with the biodome.

These flashbacks did, I must admit, cause me trouble. They actually carry as much weight, plot-wise and action-wise, as the main thread set in the ‘Now’ and that means that I couldn’t help muddling them up. It doesn’t help that they’re not really in much of an order, we jump around all over the place and adding further confusion are the interludes. There are links between the trails but I’m not sure I spotted them well and I particularly grew confused about the nature of the revolutionary ‘Bicycle Girl’.

This is the first book in a trilogy, I believe, and so you don’t expect all the questions to be answered here but it does have the benefit of potentially leaving you wanting more. However, while most reviewers really love Rosewater, I did struggle to finish it, having been left behind by the challenging structure with its multiple plot-lines, and also by my dislike of Kaaro. But the premise, its Nigerian setting, and the enigmatic dome are very hard to resist.

For other opinions, do take a look at reviews by Curiosity Killed the Bookworm and Blue Book Balloon.

The Secret Deep by Lindsay Galvin

Chicken House | 2018 (2 August) | 276p | Bought copy | Buy the book

The Secret Deep by Lindsay GalvinSisters Aster and Poppy are having such a hard time of it. Their mother has recently died and neither of them are dealing with it well, particularly the elder sister Aster, and, with their father long dead, they are sent to the other side of the world to live in New Zealand with their mother’s sister, Iona. On arrival Iona takes them deep along the remote coast, to the ecovillage that she has created for a group of orphaned teenagers – and there they can run wild by the sea, learning skills such as boatbuilding and rope making. But both Aster and Poppy are uneasy. And then, one day, Aster wakes up alone on a tropical island, with no idea of how she got there, and Poppy is gone. With increasing dread, she realises that there is just her and the sea, with its impossible secrets.

I’ve always loved books for children and youngsters about the sea. Helen Dunmore’s Ingo novels and the later Stormswept, are among my favourite novels. And so, when I was in need of a comfort read late one night, I turned to The Secret Deep by Lindsay Galvin, a novel that I’ve heard so many good things about. I’m so glad I did! I read it in one addicted sitting.

The Secret Deep begins with such sadness, with the loss of a dearly loved mother, and there is a darkness that shadows over much of the novel, a reminder of how fragile life is, what people will do to preserve it. But set against that we have the warmth of the relationship between the two sisters and also between them and the friends that they make. Adults in this world are not to be trusted. It is better for these youngsters to look out for themselves. They manage it in the most extraordinary circumstances.

This is above all else, though, an adventure! And it’s an exciting one. Set almost entirely on, in or under the sea, it is filled with the wonder of the oceans, but also their danger. The sea here is both an escape and a deathly trap. It’s described fabulously. Aster occupies the heart of The Secret Deep and how I loved her. She’s beautifully written by Lindsay Galvin. She’s both vulnerable and strong, deeply damaged by what has happened but she’s resilient, too.

I did find some of the science a little unbelievable and implausible but, nevertheless, it doesn’t pay to think about that. Instead, I thoroughly enjoyed this thrilling adventure with its glorious setting, yet with more than a hint of true danger and darkness. There is much enjoyment to be found here for both youngsters and oldies alike.

Salvation by Peter F. Hamilton

Macmillan | 2018 (6 September) | 532p | Review copy | Buy the book

Salvation by Peter F HamiltonA crashed alien spaceship, emitting a beacon signal, has been located on the distant planet of Nkya, a world with no life. Nkya might be many light years from Earth but the investigative team should need no more than forty-eight hours to reach it, thanks to portal technology which has made travel to and between stars a reality. Humanity is now settled widely across the Galaxy on planets in various stages of terraforming, helped along by the technology of the Olyix, an alien civilisation whose arkship Salvation of Life is now anchored a lightyear from Earth for a lengthy pause on its journey to the end of the universe.

The Nkya investigative team of five specialists is not a happy one. Some knew others from before and can only wonder why they have been placed together – for there is hatred here, suspicion and fear. But there is more for them to dread than they might think. One of their number is believed to be a hostile alien. It is imperative that they are not allowed to discover the secrets of the crashed spaceship. It is only by getting to know each other that the truth might be revealed and so they tell each other stories about their past, revealing their tangled histories.

On another world, far in the future, a small group of young people are being trained in the art of war. Their ultimate mission, their destiny, is to take on the greatest fight. Their task is to defeat the greatest enemy of humanity. But before they can do that they must grow and learn the skills that they will need if they have any hope of triumph at all. The odds could hardly be worse.

A new novel by the science fiction master Peter F. Hamilton is cause indeed for celebration and when a copy of Salvation arrived there could be no doubt that it would go straight to the top of my reading mountain. I love Hamilton’s books. Pandora’s Star is quite possibly my favourite novel, while his Night’s Dawn trilogy is my favourite series. I couldn’t wait to read Salvation – the start of a new trilogy in a whole new world – and it is nigh on perfect and sets up the next book in the series brilliantly.

The structure of Salvation works so well. Our eyes and ears on the unpleasant planet of Nkya is security officer Feriton Kayne. It’s through him that we observe the histories of our specialists, including those of Yuri Alster and Callum Hepburn, two men whose hatred for one another knows no bounds. So how are they supposed to work together now on this crucial mission? We will learn both sides of their extraordinary story. It’s through these narratives that we learn about this future world set about 200 years from now. The ability to divide and settle new planets has divided humanity. New religions and politics have developed. There are utopian societies, there are militaristic governments, there is secrecy and suspicion everywhere. The differences between genders might have been blurred but the age-old problems of being human are as apparent as ever. And the presence of the Olyix hasn’t helped even if these benign aliens have given people the technology to enhance and improve the lives of humans.

The stories we hear are so intriguing and immersive. I did wonder how I would settle to a long novel that shifts its narrative so often and so entirely but such is the power of Peter F. Hamilton’s storytelling that this didn’t become an issue. It reminded me in such a good way of the Night’s Dawn trilogy where we spend extended periods on one world and then must adjust to another. Likewise, in Pandora’s Star, Hamilton showed himself to be the master of the extended anecdote or aside. The universe we are given is huge and inviting, dangerous and exciting, warm and compassionate, hostile and alien. I love where we are taken. There are some absolutely fascinating ideas presented here, especially concerning portals. Imagine a house in which every room can be on a different continent, a different planet, each with extraordinary views.

I was seduced by the chapters set in the far distant future. There is a scene here that took my breath away and left me in tears. These people are so different from us, their bodies altered, their concerns and aspirations changed, and yet they feel the same fears, the same desolation. The descriptions of their planet are so compelling. It all feels so real and yet so extraordinary. And the mood of foreboding and menace is so intense.

It does take a while to become familiar with the main characters because there are quite a few of them and there is a fair bit of moving backwards and forwards in time and across places. But the reader’s attention is rewarded many times over. I liked these people. The changing perspectives means that our feelings can change as we see the bad and the good in the same person. It makes the story so rich but also extremely exciting as we are given murder mysteries, love stories, mythologies, science fiction – how I loved our tour of the Olyix starship – and the main story, which only slowly emerges, is utterly compelling and mysterious. I am desperate to know how it will be continued.

Salvation might be part one of a trilogy but it is an enormous achievement in its own right. I loved every page. As usual with Peter F. Hamilton, his books can never be long enough for me. I read it slowly, savouring all of its many directions and flavours, always finding myself back on course after following one of its many divergent trails. This is science fiction at its best and knowing that there are more Salvation books to come makes me very happy indeed.

Other reviews
Pandora’s Star
Judas Unchained
Great North Road
The Reality Dysfunction (Night’s Dawn 1)
The Neutronium Alchemist (Night’s Dawn 2)
The Naked God (Night’s Dawn 3)
The Dreaming Void (Void Trilogy 1)
The Abyss Beyond Dreams (Chronicle of the Fallers 1)
Night Without Stars (Chronicle of the Fallers 2)

I couldn’t be more delighted to post my review as part of the blog tour, and on publication day, too! For other stops on the tour, please take a look at the poster below.

Salvation blog tour