Category Archives: Sci Fi

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

Hodder & Stoughton | 2021 (18 February) | 325p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky ChambersThe planet Gora is unremarkable in every way and, with no air, no water and no indigenous life, it would seem a strange place to settle. But its proximity to a number of popular planets makes Gora the perfect rest stop on long haul journeys across the Galaxy, especially when the place to stop is as welcoming as the Five-Hop One-Stop. Oulo, with her teenager Tupo, welcome three visitors to their Five-Hop One-Stop. Each intend to stay no longer than a few hours and all have important appointments to keep on other, far more interesting worlds, but they cannot fail to be charmed by their friendly hosts who provide as much cake as they can eat as well as wonderful baths. But the visitors are marooned by a fluke technological disaster, which halts all traffic on or off the planet for what might be days. The visitors and their hosts are thrown together and there is nothing to do but wait and rely on each other to help pass the time. And each of these visitors couldn’t be more different from each other and their hosts.

The premise of The Galaxy, and the Ground Within sounds simple, albeit enticing, and it hides the true nature of this absolutely gorgeous, enchanting novel, which presents us with four alien species all trying to get along on a world that isn’t so much hostile, although it is deadly, as entirely uncaring for life. This story is all about these five characters and anyone who has read any of the other books in Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series will know just how intoxicating this tale will be, how much we will fall in love with its people. This is so sadly the last of the four novels. Each stands alone, although there are references to characters from other books as there are here, but as a group of novels they are perfect in their creation and depiction of this universe called the Galactic Commons. You can definitely read this without having read the others first but you’ll certainly want to read them afterwards.

The four species represented here are so different from each other, in appearance, in nature, in their methods of communication and perception, in their relationships and in their desires. I don’t want to say much at all about these characters because it is such a joy learning about them but I must say that the Laru have to be the most loveable alien species I have ever encountered in fiction. Oolou and Turpo, the Laru owners of the pit stop, are furry, bendy, floppy four-legged people, very similar to alpacas and every bit as delightful in nature as you’d expect from such a fluffy alien. Turpo, still waiting to select a gender, is absolutely adorable and unites the novel and its characters. Nobody brings people together like Turpo. Because of Turpo, guests confide in each other about their worries and concerns, their past and their loves, while they play games or feast together or irritate each other.

Through these characters we learn so much about this fantastic universe that Becky Chambers has created – its wealth of traditions and customs, its hostilities and unions, its loneliness and its companionship. I adored every page of The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, only wishing it were longer. This is such a good series, one of the very best in science fiction, but this book, its glorious finale, is my favourite. I now want to go back and read or listen to the others again. I’m not ready to let the Wayfarers go. A very definite contender for my top book of 2021.

I must also mention that I absolutely love the title of The Galaxy, and the Ground Within. It speaks so well to the message and feeling of the novel.

Other reviews
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet
A Closed and Common Orbit

Record of a Spaceborn Few
To Be Taught, If Fortunate (a stand alone novella)

Purgatory Mount by Adam Roberts

Gollancz | 2021 (4 February) | 336p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book

Purgatory Mount by Adam RobertsIn the far future, a spaceship carrying a crew of five human entities, the type that can live for thousands of years and regard themselves with godlike eyes, arrives at a distant planet and discovers an enormous artificial mountain, a tower that soars into the sky. For everyone on the vessel, whether human or divine or something else, is this the end of their journey?

In the near future, America is falling apart. Chemical warfare has robbed many of its people of their memories. Memories, essentially identities, are stored on phones. Without their phones, these people will sit and let themselves die, not even remembering that they need to drink a glass of water. The country has become the United States of Amnesia and it is about to get even worse. 16-year-old Otty and her friends have created their own private internet network, a support network, using a technology that isn’t controlled by the eSpires that tower over the land. Agencies want this technology and Otty and her friends must endure a dystopian hell.

Adam Roberts is a master of intriguing science fiction with big ideas and themes. His books also have the most beautiful covers! Purgatory Mount is no different. The novel is in three parts, with the central and longer story of Otty and her friends sandwiched between the far-future story set in space. I loved the opening on an alien world and then we moved to the near-future USA and I was completely captivated by the young Otty. She is a marvellous creation, a living, breathing teenager who is essentially vanished by the authorities. All she has to do is remove their phones, disconnect these bullies from their memories, but it’s almost as if she doesn’t want to do that. There is a decency about Otty that I loved. I really felt for her in her moments of fear and isolation but she is so clever and resilient. The world around her is in such a terrible state but with Otty around it’s difficult to give up hope entirely.

The dystopian American world is vividly imagined and portrayed. It’s recognisable. It’s only a step or two away from where we are, which makes it all the more believable and frightening. The end of the world seems so close and yet, when we are with Otty, it feels like this can be avoided.

One of the things I absolutely love about science fiction is that I can thoroughly enjoy a story, be amazed by its vision and wonder, without necessarily having to understand all of its ideas. I don’t need to understand it entirely to be in awe of it. This is the case with Purgatory Mount. Its two threads do join together and I like very much the ways in which they do. The past influences the future. It moves it forward, or in other directions. In the afterword, we are reminded of paradise lost and paradise found, the circles of purgatory and hell. I have read Dante but that certainly isn’t necessary to find oneself immersed in this tale of sin and atonement, humanity and the divine, identity and confusion.

Adam Roberts has always been so good at creating female characters and Otty is one of my favourite fictional characters in a fair old while. I adored her while fearing the world she lives in. I did prefer her part of the novel despite imagining, at the beginning, that I would love most the far future story in space. This is possibly because Otty is far easier to relate to than the entities of the future, however intriguing they are. The best science fiction entertains and dazzles me while also making me think. I’m reminded of the author’s The Thing Itself (I loved that book!) and I’m going to be thinking of Purgatory Mount for quite some time. And that cover!

Other reviews
The Thing Itself
The Real-Town Murders

The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson

Orbit | 2020 (8 October) | 576p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book | Buy the audiobook

The Ministry for the Future was established in 2025 ‘To advocate for the world’s future generations and to protect all living creatures, present and future’. Based in Zurich, the Ministry is a type of United Nations and within it are rivalries, conflicts of interest, on local and global levels. The question is, is it up for the job? And when a cataclysmic heatwave hits India in the 2020s, it is proven that it fundamentally does not. Why should countries like India buy into it when the country is faced with catastrophe again at any time and for any number of times and needs immediate action, not committees?

The Ministry for the Future tells the Ministry’s story during the years following its creation. Many lives and perspectives are presented but the narrative is dominated by two voices – that of Mary Murphy, its head based in the relatively temperate Switzerland, and Frank May, a volunteer aid worker who is caught up in the Indian heatwave and is forever changed by it.

Kim Stanley Robinson is a master of science fiction and whose thoughts are very much on the environmental and climate crisis that is facing us now and will have devastating consequences for the future he portrays. In New York 2140, he gave us a more straightforward and very effective account of the consequences of climate change. The Ministry for the Future is a far more ambitious, less straightforward novel that looks at ways in which the world is being changed and considers ways in which they might be tackled in the future – whether by global cooperation or by ‘Black Ops’. Mary Murphy’s job is to rally government and business leaders to the cause, working though compromise and promises, trying to keep her sense of purpose. Frank, on the other hand, has experienced first hand the devastation of the changing climate and his call for immediate action, his support of ulterior methods, is a powerful voice in Mary’s ear.

The beginning of the novel is one of the most powerful sequences I’ve ever read. We witness the Indian heatwave and Frank’s suffering. It is horrific and Kim Stanley Robinson’s superb writing makes it very clear to us how many millions of people have died. You can feel the heat. Almost. I think that this beginning is very difficult to follow and, for the rest of the novel, although there are other extraordinary sequences, I became less involved. The many chapters take different forms, there are lists, essays, speeches and ideas. I must admit to skimming some of these as they were quite dry, at least for my non-scientific brain, and I enjoyed most the sections which we spend with people, either experiencing the reality of climate change or trying to fix it to the best of their ability. Frank is a figure who pops up intermittently and points Mary, or us, in new directions, and makes the story feel human. Mary Murphy, though, is the principle character for me. She feels more realistic, more there as an individual and not to represent a point of view. I really felt for her

I cannot deny that I found The Ministry for the Future a challenging read. I listened to the audiobook, which had the appeal of having numerous actors narrate the many different roles. It was a bit confusing trying to keep up with who was whom, but I liked this. But it still felt difficult at times. Kim Stanley Robinson is one of those authors that I admire and respect enormously, whose books I often love but sometimes I don’t, usually when the message takes over the storytelling. Unfortunately, this is one of those books for me. But, nevertheless, I loved sections of it and it’s clearly impressive and preaches an essential message. I think, perhaps, my brain in these difficult times wasn’t up to this one!

If you want to read another review from a reviewer who clearly ‘got’ what this book is about and writes about it beautifully, please see David’s review at Blue Book Balloon.

Other reviews
New York 2140

Red Moon

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

Tor | 2020 (15 October) | 880p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book | Listen to the book

Kira Navárez is a Xenobiologist – her job is to explore alien life on other worlds and she loves it but she dreams of making that once in a lifetime discovery that would change the way in which people look at the universe. Unfortunately, when she discovers an alien relic on the uncolonised planet of Adrasteia, she does just that. The black dust surrounding the relic begins to move and it will have devastating consequences for Kira, for her crew and for the Galaxy.

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is a mighty volume – at about 900 pages – and it tells Kira’s story in her own words. It’s an epic tale, full of tension, conflict, mystery and self-exploration as Kira learns to understand what it means to be a human when she is so intricately and intimately connected with another being. It’s fascinating watching her relationship with this new part of herself develop, just as it’s thrilling to witness the interactions of Kira and her crew aboard the Wallfish with two alien species – the Jellies and the Nightmares. These species are wonderfully described, especially the mysterious and curious Jellies.

I loved the Wallfish crew, especially Trig, but my favourite character, possibly in the whole book, is the ship’s mind Gregorovich who, its fair to say, is quite possibly insane and has an interesting turn of phrase.

I’m in two minds about To Sleep in a Sea of Stars. I love Kira – we get to know her so well and she is vividly and fully portrayed by the author. I also love the crew of the Wallfish and loved spending time with them. But this book is far too long, which dilutes everything that is so good about it. Too much time is spent on interludes that seem to offer little except to give Kira the chance to self-reflect. I enjoyed the development of Kira’s relationship with the Wallfish captain but there are some painfully slow scenes between them. But what kept me with it, quite apart from Kira, was the outstanding audiobook narration (all 32 hours of it) by Jennifer Hale. What a superb narrator! She brought Kira (and Gregorovitch) alive for me. I also really admire the author’s ambition and commitment to his characters. This book is clearly a labour of love and that shines throughout.

The Saints of Salvation by Peter F Hamilton

Macmillan | 2020, Pb 2021 | 528p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Saints of Salvation by Peter F HamiltonIt’s always a special day when a new novel by the Space Opera Master, Peter F Hamilton, arrives on the shelves and yesterday Macmillan published The Saints of Salvation, the final novel in the excellent Salvation sequence. I’m delighted to post this review as part of the blog tour. I rarely do blog tours these days but an exception had to be made for a novel by one of my very favourite authors, whose Pandora Star remains my all-time top science fiction novel. The Saints of Salvation completes the journey begun in Salvation and continued in Salvation Lost. You wouldn’t really want to start a trilogy with its conclusion so I do recommend you read the first two books beforehand. This review assumes you’ve had the pleasure.

Time has passed – in the near future and the far distant future – and the Olyix plot to cocoon all of humanity to offer up every human soul to their god at the end of times is revealed. The astonishing plan by the saints to foil this plot is now underway and the two timelines are coming together as they converge on the Olyix. This is thoroughly exciting stuff especially as the few remaining cities of Earth are on their knees, their shields failing, sabotaged by Olyix agents. No longer can people step through a portal to new worlds and safety, now they are stuck where they are, separated from their families, while, in the skies above, fighter ships must make terrible decisions about whether to destroy enemy vessels, crammed full with human hostages. Stakes have never been higher.

The Saints of Salvation is, arguably, the most exciting of the three novels as events reach their climax. Less time is spent on character interaction. We know who these people are now and we know how driven they are. It’s good to see them again. I particularly enjoy the far future thread with Dellian and Yirella and this contrasts well with the continued tale of Ollie who is scrambling to stay alive in what remains of London in the near future.

The story widens even further in The Saints of Salvation. We emerge into a universe that is even bigger than before, a time scale that is even more immense, and plans and conspiracies that stretch beyond the understanding of our characters, our heroes, and our saints.

Peter F Hamilton is a genius in creating jawdropping concepts, strange beings and astonishing worlds and ships. He shows this yet again and the result is another all-consuming and involving story. Each of the novels is different, the scope widening with each, the sinister menace, insanity even, of the Olyix increasing. This is a novel of apocalypse and salvation and it could not be more engrossing or thrilling. I can’t wait to see where we’re taken next.

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)

Salvation Lost

For other stops on the tour, do take a look at the poster below.

Cage of Souls by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Head of Zeus | 2019 | 624p | Review copy and bought copy | Listen to the book | Buy the book

Cage of Souls by Adrian TchaikovskyThe city of Shadrapar is all that is left of humanity on Earth. It’s built on the remains of countless civilisations, it contains no more than 100,000 souls. It is all there is and, because the sun is dying, soon there won’t even be that. But people have lost the ability to care. They’ve turned their backs on the past, there isn’t a future. Shadrapar is more prison than home. Once people might have regarded it as a kind of utopia, with an ideal government, but no more. Now that government consigns dissenters and free thinkers (those, for instance, who fantasise about fixing this world) to the Island, a prison set within a jungled swamp and inhabited by the real dregs of this society, including murderers, the insane, sadistic psychopaths, misfits (and that’s just the guards). It is to this dreadful place that academic Stefan Advani has been consigned. He reminds us continually that he isn’t brave, that he isn’t special in any way, but he is a true survivor and rebel. He’ll need to be. Cage of Souls is Stefan Advani’s testimony. In it he tells his story – the events that led up to his imprisonment as well as life within the Island, where nothing is more valued or more rare than a glimpse of the sky.

I am a huge fan of Adrian Tchaikovsky and his fabulous imagination, which once more carries us to a strange, dangerous and alien world, so vividly and evocatively described, filling our senses. It’s hard to imagine anyone who can conjure up strange worlds as well as this author and he outdoes even himself here. We’re not on another planet this time but instead on Earth a long way into the future. Nature has reclaimed most of the planet in this, its dying days, but it has transformed. This wouldn’t be an Adrian Tchaikovsky novel without weird and really quite frightening creatures and there are plenty of them to be found here in the swamps, rivers and jungles, and even in Shadrapar. This planet is now the home of scavengers. But there are also mutations and these fascinate and terrify Stefan in equal measure, as he becomes increasingly absorbed in the works of the famous, and now missing, ecologist Trethowan.

Cage of Souls is a testimony told in Stefan’s own words and it isn’t so much of a plotted adventure as an autobiography filled with adventures. We get to know Stefan very well indeed as he is prone to self-analysis as well as modesty. But it is the characters that he must deal with that absolutely fascinate, as well as the the locations that confine them – boats, prisons, jungles, underworlds, the city. The people are incredible. The absolutely terrifying Island Marshall isn’t easy to forget, nor are the other guards and overlords, male and female. Stefan develops a friendship with one of the guards, Peter, whose own story adds some incredible set pieces to the narrative. Other memorable figures include the repulsively horrible Transforming Man and the truly evil Gaki. I listened to the audiobook and the narrator David Thorpe does a tremendous job of bringing the voices of these people to life – I swear I shivered every time these people entered the stage. And then there are the web children and the monsters that can speak. All within the steaming, wet, claustrophobic jungle and underworld.

Cage of Souls is a substantial read – the audiobook is about 25 hours – and I found it thoroughly immersive and also obsessive. I found it so hard to pull myself away from it. You never know what’s going to happen next, because it could be anything. There are moments that are truly horrifying and so dark, especially when it’s brought home what has happened to Shadrapar. The references to past civilisations are fascinating. These are desolate lives in so many ways but Stefan finds life in himself and others, even hope through his friendships, difficult though they can be. It’s a tale of survival, it’s a history of Shadrapar, it’s a prison tale, and it’s a tale of exploration as Stefan heads deep into the jungles and must find it within himself to survive while holding on to his humanity. It’s thoroughly engrossing and gorgeously written.

Other reviews
Children of Time
Children of Ruin
The Doors of EdenWith C.B. Harvey and Malcolm Cross – Journal of the Plague Year

The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Tor | 2020 (20 August) | 608p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Doors of Eden by Adrian TchaikovskySome time ago girlfriends Mal and Lee headed to Bodmin Moor in search of the Birdman. They are cryptid hunters, searching for the creatures, the monsters, of myth and legend. They discover far more than they bargained for and only Mal returned. Four years later, Mal sees Lee in London. Lee is on the run, something terrible is happening. Mal pursues her determined to discover the truth but she isn’t alone. There are others on her trail. Meanwhile, physicist Kay Amal Khan is attacked in her lab and M15 agent Julian Sabreur is put in charge of the investigation. He finds himself up against agents that he can’t identify. There’s something not quite right about them. And then he discovers grainy footage of a young woman who is believed to have died on Bodmin Moor.

I am a huge fan of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s science fiction – Children of Time is one of my very favourite novels (please read it if you haven’t already!) – and so I read The Doors of Eden as soon as I could. It has a stunning cover and it’s every bit as good on the inside. It’s a substantial epic read, which is just how I like my science fiction, which perfectly suits its plot and ideas, which are magnificently ambitious and mind bending.

There is so much going on in The Doors of Eden, there are several storylines and characters to follow, as various people try and work out what is going on, find out what is broken with the world. We move between them but we also fall within the fractures of the world, where we come across incredible sights – intelligent and really rather revolting rat creatures (I imagined them as meerkats), enormous insects, bird men, Neanderthals and more. The fear that characters feel on encountering these extraordinary beings is palpable. These alternate worlds are ridiculous in some ways and absolutely chilling in others. We are regularly given extracts from Other Edens: Speculative Evolution and Intelligence by Professor Ruth Emerson (University of California), which makes it all seem plausible, backed up by the work of Dr Kay Amal Khan. It’s a fantastic weaving of fantasy, myth, science, evolution and… something else.

The novel is extremely entertaining and thrilling but it is also driven by the most wonderful characters whose feelings for one another are tenderly treated. The love affair between Mal and Lee is so beautifully portrayed. Soon they are nothing like the daft girls we meet at the beginning as they are changed forever by what they find in the mist. Kay Amal Khan is transgender and that adds another layer as this is used against her by the evil forces at work. These are people that we grow to care about.

As you’d expect from Adrian Tchaikovsky, The Doors of Eden is a beautifully written novel. Its descriptions of places and creatures are hugely atmospheric, frightening and, when needed, humorous. This is a book to immerse oneself in fully. The language is gorgeous, the characters are varied and intriguing, the story is immensely appealing and thought-provoking, and there are moments to make you shiver and others to make you laugh. One of the top books of the year for sure.

I’m currently listening to the audiobook of Adrian’s Cage of Souls – it is fabulous.

I can heartily recommend you read David’s excellent review of The Doors of Eden over at Blue Book Balloon.

Other reviews
Children of Time
Children of Ruin
With C.B. Harvey and Malcolm Cross – Journal of the Plague Year

The Human Son by Adrian J Walker

Solaris | 2020 (ebook and audiobook: 28 April, Pb: 17 September) | 380p | Review copy and bought audiobook | Listen to it | Buy the book

The Human Son by Adrian J WalkerIt is 500 years in the future and the last human has died (in Sweden). Humanity has been replaced by the engineered species it created. The Erta were designed to restore the Earth to how it once was, to repair its environmental and ecological damage. It seemed only natural that they should also remove the human race which did all of the harm. But now that the planet is healthy once more, the Erta decide on a project. A human child will be born that will be raised by Ima, the scientist who worked to heal the skies. If the child proves worthy then the Erta will consider restoring humans to the planet. It will be a climicial experiment. No feelings will be involved. If the child falls short, it can be eliminated at any time.

This is the fantastic starting premise of The Human Son by Adrian J Walker, the author of the wonderful The End of the World Running Club. Once more the author returns to the end of the world, at least for humans, but now the story of humanity’s possible reintroduction to the world is set upon a beautifully restored planet, naturally balanced, healthy and full of life, and watched over by the extraordinary Erta. I loved this novel from start to finish, not just because it’s a fabulous story but also because of its portrayal of Ima, which is magnificent.

Ima tells her story, and that of the child, Reed, in her own words, as if she were reading it to the boy. This immediately connects us to Ima as she faithfully recounts in every detail what it was like for her to raise a human baby, child and teenager. At the beginning, Ima is clinical as she describes (this can be so funny!) the details of putting food in an infant and dealing with what comes out the other end. She also doesn’t know how to communicate with the child or whether he can be left alone or not. And then it all begins to change, as Reed is finally named and he becomes Ima’s human son, a son she would die for.

This portrayal of love, selfless and relentless, is beautifully written. I was spellbound by it and grew to love Ima deeply, as well as the Erta (and human) closest to her as we learn more about this strange society and these even stranger beings. There is much more to the Erta than we might think from the initial pages and it’s fascinating learning about their family structures, their drive for transcendence, their zeal, their science, and their memories of humans and human things. At times it is absolutely chilling. There are occasional glimpses of what it must have been like for mankind to know it was being removed from life. As you’d expect, we’re reminded through Ima’s experiment that there are aspects of a human’s character that make it a species worth resurrecting – music, drawing and so on – but it’s much more complex than that, especially when we learn more about the Erta. There is a great deal of mystery about the Erta and this drives on the pace even while we are engrossed with the gorgeous writing.

I listened to the audiobook of The Human Son and its narration by Alison O’Donnell is enchanting. I was spellbound.

I have no doubt that this will be among my top books of the year.

Other review
The End of the World Running Club

The Last Emperox by John Scalzi

Tor | 2020 (16 April) | 320p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Last Emperox by John ScalziThe Last Emperox concludes John Scalzi’s clever, witty and thoroughly entertaining space opera trilogy, the Interdependency. Under no circumstances should you read this final book without having read the other two first – The Collapsing Empire and The Consuming Fire. If you haven’t read them yet, you’re in for an absolute treat. This review assumes you’ve already had the pleasure.

The Flows that connect the planets and space habitats of the Interdependency are closer than ever to failing. All hope lies at End, the only planet among all of them that can actually sustain human life. But there’s a very real problem, quite apart from getting everyone there in the first place and in time, which is in real doubt, and that is that transporting billions of people to one small planet will doom it every bit as much as all of the other planets. It’s a huge dilemma for the Emperox Grayland II and it doesn’t make matters any easier that her very life is in peril as assassination attempt after assassination attempt fails, but only just, and for how long? The great families of the Interdependency are fighting for power but they’re also fighting for their survival, which makes them even nastier than normal. The Emperox knows from where the greatest danger threatens. She must play her own game to outwit her rival and keep the hopes of humanity alive. But the Emperox has one advantage and she is called Kiva Lagos.

It’s hard to imagine a more entertaining and plot-filled space opera trilogy than this one. There is so much going on! The world building is superb and played out against it is the incredible story of a federation of planets that is facing its demise, and soon. As time runs out there is a scramble amongst the most powerful while the Emperox, a thoroughly intriguing and likeable, conflicted figure, must try and deal with the ethics of it all, which means confronting her own ancestors in the enigmatic ‘Memory Room’. By this stage of the trilogy, masks have largely been dropped and the true nature of the main characters revealed. Many of them aren’t pretty but they’re certainly entertaining.

Favourites have to be the foul-mouthed Kiva Lagos and the appallingly ruthless Nadashe. Both women are scene stealers and huge amounts of fun to read. They are worthy opponents and the reader can expect surprises along the way. Jaw-dropping moments can be found in abundance among these pages. But we also see characters ‘outside the office’, in their relationships, and this adds something human to this story of the approaching apocalypse.

The Last Emperox is packed with action and intrigue. The pace doesn’t let up for a moment. But what makes this book, and the trilogy, stand out is the genius of John Scalzi’s imagination, writing skill and wit. There is so much to resolve in this novel but it’s all pulled together so cleverly and with sharp humour. I loved the Prologue, which reminds us of previous events in such an original and funny way. Some characters are almost like clowns, such as the Acting Duke of End, and we can’t wait to see them get a custard pie in the face. The idea of The Flow is fabulous, as is the backhistory of the Interdependency, which we learn through the Emperox’s encounters with her ancestors.

I have loved every book by John Scalzi I’ve read (I urge you all to read Lock In and Head On) and The Last Emperox is no exception. Now that the trilogy is done, I can’t wait to see where he takes us next!

Other reviews
Lock In
Head On
The Collapsing Empire
The Consuming Fire

Light of Impossible Stars by Gareth L. Powell

Light of Impossible Stars by Gareth L PowellTitan Books | 2020 (18 February) | 367p | Review coy | Buy the book

Light of Impossible Stars completes Gareth L. Powell’s Embers of War, an excellent space opera series, if ever there was one. That means you need to have read the previous two books first: Embers of War and Fleet of Knives. This review assumes you’ve had the pleasure.

The threat to the human race increases, not just from the determined and terrifying Fleet of Knives, but also from whatever it is that the Fleet of Knives seeks to prevent. The sentient starship Trouble Dog knows better than most the danger that lies ahead and the sacrifices that will have to be made. A miracle is needed and Trouble Dog must seek it out, either with or without other members of her pack. For Trouble Dog is an unusual vessel. She was once a Carnivore-class war ship, part human, part dog and part machine. She is loyal, faithful, obedient, but now she has a mind of her own, partly due to her captain Sal Konstanz.

Meanwhile, Cordelia and her brother live on a distant world that is made of giant plates that keep their distance, physical and social, from each other. It’s a place with an alien past and Cordelia is inexplicably drawn to its ancient artefacts, which she sells to keep alive. Until the day that a spaceship arrives and snatches her away. Aboard the Gigolo Aunt, Cordelia will learn about her past and the mysterious space called The Intrusion.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the Embers of War trilogy, not just because it’s exciting and filled with adventure, battles and unfamiliar, strange worlds – and it has all of these things in abundance – but also because of its characters, especially Trouble Dog and her crew, including its engineer, the extraordinary Nod, a Druff, a creature of many legs, faces and offspring, and my favourite crew member. The relationship between Nod and its offspring is brilliantly portrayed. Do read the extract from the second novel that I posted for a taste of how wonderful this is. Trouble Dog herself is one of the most interesting space ships that I’ve read in science fiction. She evolves constantly and her relationship with her captain is integral to the novels, but the ship still retains her canine characteristics and I love that. I particularly like the scenes in which the starship personas gather together as avatars, conscious that they are more canine than human but trying to be as human as possible.

As always with these novels, there are multiple story strands weaving their way through and we move between them, driving the pace and the adventure along. I will also love the times we spend aboard Trouble Dog the most but I did like getting to know Cordelia Pa and her father.

Gareth L Powell is a compassionate writer. He writes about people with feeling and this extends to the non-human characters of the novel, whether they’re an alien or a starship. But there are also monsters in the universe, with big teeth, and they’re a lot of fun to read about. I do love a good space opera and this trilogy is a fine example and, now it’s complete (and you may have some time on your hands), I can heartily recommend it. This may well be, after all, a very good time to venture off-planet.

Other reviews and features
Embers of War
Fleet of Knives
Guest post: ‘The Recent Boom in Space Opera’
Fleet of Knives – an extract