Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Tiamat’s Wrath by James S.A. Corey

Orbit | 2019 (28 March) | 534p | Review copy | Buy the book

Tiamat's Wrath by James SA CoreyTiamat’s Wrath is the eighth novel in the Expanse series and surely there can be no science fiction series being written today that I love half as much as I do this one. I love it so much I don’t watch the TV series. I may do one day, when the books are done, but for now I have my own idea of what Holden, Naomi, Alex, Amos and Bobbie look like and behave and I’m leaving that picture untouched. Because I love them all. James S.A. Corey, two authors writing as one, has created a universe among the stars that is thrilling, intense and vast, but is also emotional and warm, driven by sacrifice and courage, and that’s largely due to the crew of the Rocinante. Clearly, Tiamat’s Wrath shouldn’t be read out of sequence and so this review assumes that you’ve been on board from the beginning. Consider yourself warned!

I’m going to keep the details about what happens here to the bare minimum because one of the many things that I’ve always loved about this series is that each book is different from those that went before. The last novel, Persepolis Rising, was set thirty years after the events of the book before (Babylon’s Ashes), adding a whole new dynamic to the series and now we have another jump in time.

Laconia is now the dominating force in the Galaxy, ruled by High Consul Duarte. The Laconians control the alien gates which give access to hundreds of solar systems. Alien technology has given the Laconians the most fearful spaceships humanity has ever developed. Will Holden is a captive on Laconia while his crew is dispersed. They fight for the underground now. Each is prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice to free the colonies, including Sol, the original inhabited solar system and home of Earth. But something alien is now tired of being a mere observer. It is about to fight back and humanity will have much more than the Laconians and their fearful manipulation of the protomolecule to dread.

Tiamat’s Wrath is such a thrilling novel and it wastes no time in throwing the reader into the midst of it. We’re used to having to find our feet again at the start of these novels – everything has shifts as it usually does – but it’s not long before we’re up to speed. And it’s terrifying and exhilarating in equal measure. There are lots of questions to be answered, mostly about what has happened to the Roci crew, but the pieces come together as chapters move between the perspective of each crew member in turn, with one exception, and soon we’re in no doubt about the task at hand as humankind once more faces war, against each other and against something far more dreadful.

There are one or two new voices here, too, as there always is in these books, and they are wonderful, giving us more background on Laconia, a place that you sense could so easily have become a paradise. It’s now thoroughly infected.

There are moments of such intense feeling. You only have to read the very first sentence of the novel to see the direction in which events are heading. I’m not going to repeat it but it’s quite likely it’ll give you the same jolt it gave me. And that’s not the only shock you’ll get.

All of this is set against such a brilliant backdrop of planets, spaceships, moons, gates and space stations. It’s rich and vibrant and fascinating. But that’s as nothing compared to the people here. We love them. We are deeply invested in their story – not to mention their survival. Tiamat’s Wrath is one of the very best of the series. It’s engrossing, disturbing and troubling, full of heart and sacrifice, packed with action, and with an alien threat that is as thoroughly terrifying as it is mysterious. Bravo! I wish this series would never end but I suspect that the end is approaching.

Other reviews
Leviathan Wakes (Expanse 1)
Caliban’s War (Expanse 2)
Cibola Burn (Expanse 4)
Nemesis Games (Expanse 5)
Babylon’s Ashes (Expanse 6)
Persepolis Rising (Expanse 7)

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Luna: Moon Rising by Ian McDonald (Luna 3)

Gollancz | 2019 (21 March) | 437p | Review copy | Buy the book

Luna: Moon Rising by Ian McDonaldMoon Rising completes Ian McDonald’s Luna trilogy and you certainly wouldn’t want to read it without having first read New Moon and Wolf Moon. This review assumes you’ve done just that.

About a hundred years from now, the Moon is the home of several massive industries which help fuel Earth, giving the diminished homeworld a reprieve. Until recently that industry, and the Moon itself, was controlled by five families, each headed by a Dragon, with the Eagle, drawn from one of these families, the nominal head of them all. But civil war has changed all of that. For this is a society that has separated itself from Earth’s laws. Despite its veneer of civilisation and legal niceties, on Luna a legal conflict can be decided by combat. This is a place in which the workers must pay for every breath of air they take, for every drop of water they drink. If they cannot pay, then these ‘benefits’ are taken away at a mortal cost. Some on Luna have become like wolves, living in a pack and, whenever the Earth is full in the sky, they run naked and howl into the darkness. War between the Dragons has had catastrophic repercussions.

Lucas Corte is now the Eagle of the Moon, having survived against all expectations. But the remaining Dragons want vengeance. Any member of the Corte family is now a potential and valuable hostage. Some are more vulnerable than others – the young Lucashino is particularly tempting. The families want control of the Moon’s future. There is nothing more lucrative and nothing will stand in their way. Or so they believe.

The Luna trilogy is a masterpiece of worldbuilding. Ian McDonald has created an incredibly developed, complex and astonishingly plausible future for the Moon. The scramble for the Moon’s priceless resources has resulted in a society that is almost a blend of the Wild West and 1930s’ gangsters, with technology thrown in as well as the most staggering descriptions of the Moon itself. What a setting for this tale of feuding families, greedy industrialists, clever lawyers and innocent children!

The story in Moon Rising picks up where Wolf Moon left off and I am grateful for the brief synopsis that begins this third novel. Despite the useful summary and the dramatis personae at the end, I do think that Moon Rising ideally should be read very soon after Wolf Moon. This is a complicated story, with a cast of many, and I did have some difficulties remembering what’s what. There were some elements of the story that were so easy to pick up, especially those involving Lucasinho, Luna, Ariel and Marina (my favourites), but there were other strands that did lose me a little. This, though, is entirely my fault as I have a dreadful memory.

What stands out, though, are its threads of gorgeous storytelling. I loved Alexia and her efforts to help the poorest of the Moon by ‘stealing’ rain for them. I love Wagner Corta, the moon-wolf, and the boy he protects, Robson. Luncasinho has enchanted since the beginning and he continues to do that here. No matter what happens to him, he will never lose his love for cake! And his relationship with Luna is very special. I also enjoyed the chapters spent with Marina back on Earth. She looks up and can see a Moon shining with lights. Half glad to be away from it, half wishing she’d never left.

While I did prefer the two earlier books – their story of war and conflict was more immediately accessible with some truly wonderful scenes as well as intense thrills – as a whole, this is an extraordinary trilogy. Ian McDonald always writes beautifully. I love what he has to say. I’ll always remember his vision of the Moon, which at times is horrifying and violent and yet at others is so heartwarming and wondrous.

Other reviews
Luna: New Moon
Luna: Wolf Moon
Time Was

Fleet of Knives by Gareth L. Powell

Titan Books | 2019 (19 February) | 405p | Review copy | Buy the book

Fleet of Knives by Gareth L PowellFleet of Knives follows on from the excellent Embers of War but it stands alone very well indeed. This is such a great series, developing into something very special, that I still recommend that you read both books. This review assumes that you don’t mind knowing a little of what happened before.

Trouble Dog was a warship. It took part in an act that many see as a war crime. It’s trying to atone, working now for an agency that seeks to help those who are lost or in danger, to bring them back safely within the fold. Some memories, though, cannot be forgotten. Part machine, part human, part dog Trouble Dog is unable to escape its impulse for loyalty, to protect its crew. This is about to get tested. The ship has detected a distress signal from Lucy’s Ghost, a spaceship that took a pounding, its crew seeking shelter on an enormous abandoned alien spaceship. Trouble Dog, captained by Sal Konstanz, rushes to their aid, even though it knows that things have got very tricky indeed. The Marble Amarda, a formidable alien fleet of knives, has a mission and it is merciless – it must destroy any vessel capable of war. It sees only the bigger picture. And that means Trouble Dog must be annihilated. But, considering what the ship discovers aboard the alien vessel, this might be the least of Trouble Dog‘s problems.

I loved Embers of War! Such a tense, action-packed thriller of a space opera, brilliantly executed, with thoroughly entertaining and varied characters. Fleet of Knives picks up the action and is, if anything, even better than its predecessor. This is fantastic science fiction! One element that stands out from it instantly is its spaceships. Rarely since reading Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels have I enjoyed spaceships as much as these. Some of the ships are piloted by AIs, others have more disturbing links to humans or other species. They can all think, feel fear, feel guilt. Trouble Dog knows all about guilt. It has lost its pack. It must find another in the family of its crew. The ships play such a crucial role here. Their personalities are made solid and there is one in particular who becomes especially real. It’s all rather poignant. The ships are every bit as important as their crew.

Not all of the crew members are human. I love how this universe is presented, how species work together. There’s almost a Star Trek vibe to this cooperation and optimism, although we are regularly reminded that this is a universe in turmoil, with dangerous aliens. Each ship carries an engineer from the Druff species – Nod, the Druff engineer aboard Trouble Dog is quite possibly my favourite character, not least because of the rather unexpected repercussions of its recent shore leave (do read the extract here) – but these kind and amiable, if odd, aliens are no match for the other terrifying aliens, monsters even, that we encounter in the novel. Some might explain their actions with reason but there are others for whom reason doesn’t exist at all. There are aliens here that will make your skin crawl. Excellent!

Fleet of Knives has a wonderful, thrilling plot and every bit as good as that is Gareth L. Powell’s writing. We have complex characters, stunning set sequences in the vacuum of space, horrible aliens, enormous mysterious spaceships, enigmatic and menacing aliens, great characters, the dread of human extinction, fantastic descriptions of space, ships and aliens, moments of extreme tension. I couldn’t read this fast enough. I hung on to every word and I can’t wait for more.

Other reviews and features
Embers of War
The recent boom in space opera – guest post by Gareth L. Powell
An extract from Fleet of Knives

Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh

Simon & Schuster | 2019 (7 March) | 528p | Review copy | Buy the book

Do You Dream of Terra-Two by Temi OhWith time running out for Earth, humanity has been sent a lifeline for its future. Another planet just like Earth but without intelligent life has been discovered, Terra-Two. A new 21st-century space race is underway to reach it first. The best chance lies with the United Kingdom and, after decades of planning, the launch date has arrived and it all seems serendipitous because the year is 2012 and Britain is also hosting the Olympic Games. It’s a time for celebration. An unusual crew will leave Earth on the Damocles for the 23-year journey to Terra-Two – four are decorated veterans of the previous century’s space race, the other six are teenagers, each uniquely skilled, having been trained for years in the famous Dalton Academy.

Each crew member knows that they will never return to Earth. They’ll never see their families and loved ones again. And for 23 years they won’t see the sky, eat tasty food or feel the ground under their feet. There are some big personalities, some are dealing with powerful emotions, a strong sense of loss and, trapped within the confines of a spacecraft for such a long journey, it will not all be plain sailing. One or two of them dream of Terra-Two, with its beautiful coral seas and ancient forests, while others resent it and see nothing but a nightmare ahead.

Do You Dream of Terra-Two? begins with the days leading up to the launch of the Damocles and it’s during these pages, before the voyage begins, that we get to know our young crew members, all in their late teens, on the very edge of adulthood. The decisions they have made are life-changing and affect everything, including whether they will become parents. It’s a mighty burden for such young shoulders to bear and we see how each of them copes with it. For some there is a real sense of destiny about the voyage and this adds such a purpose to their lives. It’s not so straightforward for others. There is real conflict between the characters, particularly between the boys. Harry, the commander in training, dominates, while Poppy, the communications officer, steals attention. Among the others is a set of twin girls and this adds more tension while also continuing the theme of family which plays such a strong part in the novel.

The focus of the book is actually not on Terra-Two, or even really the voyage. It’s on the dynamic of the young crew – their dreams and aspirations, their fears and doubts, their youth. The launch itself happens a quarter of the way into the book but by then much has happened to our young crew. I must admit that I was expecting more science fiction than I was given but I was nevertheless drawn into the story of these young lives, with their squabbles and affections, rivalries and brave deeds. The narrative moves between them, which means that we’re brought into their small circle. We see different perspectives on the same event. It helps us understand a little more about how they behave.

I did find the premise a little unlikely, that teenagers would be given such stress, such a burden to carry and would be left to prepare a planet for the next arrivals, having spent so many years in such a confined social space. It seems unlikely to succeed. But, as I mentioned, the voyage isn’t what really matters here, it’s the teenagers who count. The novel also takes place in a slightly adjusted reality – we learn that rockets were first used during the Napoleonic Wars, Mars and the Moon have been colonised, there are other ships travelling in the solar system. Countries are more competitive than ever. But while the UK, China and Russia are prominent, the USA barely gets a mention. I did find this alternate history slightly under developed and a bit strange. I wondered why the story couldn’t have been set a little into the future instead, avoiding the need for it. Also, the adult crew members receive very little attention and are very much fixed in the schoolteacher mode. This is because the author’s focus is elsewhere, but it did contribute to my feeling that this is a novel mostly intended for young readers.

However, I found Do You Dream of Terra-Two? an engrossing and, at times, exciting read. Despite my issues with the novel I did get carried along by its tension and pace and there are moments of real emotion. The character portraits of the teenagers are very fine and I definitely cared for them. There is also some great writing here, the descriptions of the launch, of space and of the Damocles are very well done and the mood, a good mix of despair and hope, is maintained throughout.

Fleet of Knives by Gareth L. Powell – an extract (and it’s one of my favourite bits!)

Fleet of Knives by Gareth L PowellEmbers of War by Gareth L. Powell was one of the science fiction highlights of 2018 and the good news is that Fleet of Knives, the follow up, was published by Titan Books earlier this month. I’ve read it and it is fantastic – spaceships as much dog as they are machine, aliens (some of whom are the stuff of nightmares), battles, crew members we care about fighting to stay alive, and an enigmatic lethal force in the Galaxy that threatens billions. All this and more and I couldn’t read it fast enough. My review will follow shortly but, in the meantime, I’m delighted to post here an extract from early on in Fleet of Knives. And it’s one of my favourite bits! Sal Konstanz, Captain of the Trouble Dog, has discovered that she has more crew members than she might have thought, thanks to her multi-legged engineer Nod.

Extract

“What the hell was that?”
“What was what?” The Trouble Dog spoke via the bead in my ear. “Are you all right, Captain? Your pulse and respiration are spiking.”
“You’re damn right they’re spiking!” My mouth was dry. I could almost hear my pulse. I took a couple of wary steps back towards the exit, keeping my attention rigidly fixed on the hole into which the creature had disappeared. “There’s something loose down here.”
“Could you be more specific?”
“I only caught a glimpse.” I paused and swallowed, wishing I had some sort of weapon. “But it looked kind of like a spider.”
“Ah.”
“A big spider. Tarantula-sized.”
The ship was silent for a moment.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I should have told you they were aboard.”
At her words, I felt a cold prickle run the length of my spine. “They? There’s more than one of those things down here?”
“There are eleven of them in your immediate vicinity. Two more elsewhere on that deck.”
I heard skittering footsteps and whirled around, just in time to see another of the creatures dart through the door, into the access way beyond. Now, if I wanted to retreat, I’d have to do so knowing there was at least one of them blocking my path.
“What are they? Where did they come from?”
“I think you should speak to Nod.”
“It brought them aboard?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes. I’ve signalled it, and it should be here momentarily.”
I was trying to look in every direction at once, hands raised defensively in case one of the critters leapt at my face.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Nod should be the one to explain.”
“But—”
A limb appeared over the wiry rim of Nod’s nest, and I swallowed back a surge of panic. I’d never been particularly susceptible to arachnophobia—but then, I’d never previously been stuck in a hot, noisy and cramped engine room with eleven tarantulas.
“Ship…”
“It’s all right. It’s nearly with you.”
“But there’s one climbing out of the nest. It’s—” I stopped speaking as the little creature heaved itself up onto the lip, and I got my first proper look at it.
The thing stood on five limbs. A sixth was raised in my direction, the fingers splayed like the petals of a flower. Leaning close, I could just about make out tiny, coal-black eyes regarding me from the centre of the palm. A little slit of a mouth opened and closed soundlessly.
“It’s a baby Druff!”
The youngster flinched at the sound of my voice. Its scales glistened like oil on water. It looked me up and down several times, as if trying to decide whether to investigate further or flee.
I spoke quietly, so as not to startle it. “Where did we get thirteen baby Druff?”
When she replied, the Trouble Dog managed to sound both amused and embarrassed. “Nod gave birth last night.”
“Gave birth?” I shook my head, feeling absurd. “You’re telling me our engineer got itself knocked up, and popped out thirteen little copies of itself?”
“I believe it happened the last time we were on Camrose.”
A grating swung aside on well-oiled hinges, and Nod slunk into the room. At the sight of it, the little one squeaked, and ran over to wrap four of its arms around one of its parent’s ankles.
“Captain.” Keeping its head low, it looked up at me.
I crossed my arms. “I think you’ve got some explaining to do.”

Other posts
Embers of War – a review
The recent boom in space opera – a guest post by Gareth L. Powell

I’m delighted to post this extract as part of the blog tour. For more stops on the tour, please do take a look at the poster below.

Winter World by A.G. Riddle

Head of Zeus | 2019 (Hb: 7 February; ebook: 26 February) | 389p | Review copy | Buy the book

Winter World by AG RiddleEarth should be getting warmer. All of the scientists are agreed. But the unexpected is happening and it’s happening very fast. Earth is getting very cold indeed. Glaciers are reclaiming the planet, pushing people into just a few enclaves where conditions are still survivable – for now. There isn’t enough space. War seems inevitable. But it will be brief because the evidence is clear – Earth will be covered in ice in a matter of weeks and most life, including humans, will face extinction. The crew aboard the International Space Station is working on experiments to find out what is going on and to try and put a halt to it. But then an object is spotted against the backdrop of the Sun. It’s a cataclysmic moment for the Space Station and is of great significance for all Earth – we are not alone in the universe. And whatever, whoever it is out there did not come in peace.

As soon as I read the premise of Winter World I was desperate to read it! I love apocalyptic thrillers and even more so when they’re combined with science fiction, especially first contact stories. As soon as this arrived, I read it and it is such an exciting read. There’s a Gravity feel to the opening chapters as ISS Commander Emma Matthews struggles for survival. Meanwhile, on Earth, scientist James Sinclair has his own battles to fight and we follow them both as their stories weave together into a thrilling science fiction apocalyptic adventure.

Half of the novel is set in space while the other half is on a frozen Earth and I enjoyed both of these. The Earth sections focus mostly on people as they try and do the best they can to survive while maintaining their relationships and humanity. I’m glad to say that conflict between nations doesn’t play as large a role as I feared. Instead it just adds tension. Mostly this is a novel about survival on a more personal scale. And it’s in these sections that we get to know Emma, James and their friends and family better.

The space sections are the most exciting. In fact, the action gets so intense at times that it does all get rather confusing and I found those pages a little hard to follow. But the intrigue of what has been discovered in space is absolutely spellbinding. I love this kind of thing.

There’s some science, there’s a little bit of romance, plenty of danger, and there are spaceships, alien artefacts and extreme weather – if I had to put together a recipe for a book I want to read then that would be about it. I do enjoy A.G. Riddle’s books. Some I’ve had trouble with but there are others I’ve loved. I always look forward to them. If you’re after a fun apocalyptic science fiction thriller to take your mind off some of the reality of life on Earth then you’re in the right place with Winter World.

Other reviews
The Atlantis Gene
Pandemic

Broken Stars edited and translated by Ken Liu

Head of Zeus | 2019 (19 February) | 464p | Review copy | Buy the book

Broken Stars ed and trans by Ken LiuBroken Stars presents sixteen short stories by fourteen Chinese science fiction writers. Seven of the stories haven’t been available in English before and almost all of them were first published during the 2010s. The book closes with three essays on the history and rise of Chinese science fiction, which has been receiving so much attention outside China in recent years, largely due, one would think, to the brilliant Cixin Liu (who is represented in this volume) and Ken Liu himself.

Ken Liu’s criterion for selecting the stories is made clear in his introduction: ‘I enjoyed the story and thought it memorable’, a sound basis if ever there was one. The stories, each of which has a brief introduction, vary greatly as you’d hope but the majority are Earth-bound. I must admit that I prefer to escape the limits of Earth for much of the science fiction that I read, whether long or short, but there are some intriguing themes here and quite often they reflect philosophical and political ideas that help to make Chinese science fiction so distinct and fascinating. Another frequent theme, and one I particularly enjoy, is time.

The stories that I particularly enjoyed include a poignant discussion, a growth of understanding, between an AI and Turing (‘Goodnight, Melancholy’ by Xia Jia) and ‘What Has Passed Shall in Kinder Light Appear’ by Baoshu. This story, one of the two longest, presents China’s history in reverse so that a man living today must travel forwards into a time that is really China’s history in reverse, going back through Tiananmen Square, the Cultural Revolution and so on, with all of the loss and pain that this entails. It’s an intriguing idea – how would a modern man or woman cope with the tragedies of recent Chinese history? ‘The New Year Train’ by Hao Jingfang is a favourite of mine in the collection, although it was one of those, like ‘Submarines’ by Han Song, that I wished were longer. A train can journey almost in an instant through a ‘space-time curve’. But one day a train doesn’t arrive. It is lost. But where?

Cixin Liu is a favourite author of mine of any genre and I’ve enjoyed his long novels (the incredible The Three-Body Problem trilogy and Ball Lightning) and short stories (The Wandering Earth). His story in this collection is ‘Moonlight’ and it could well be my favourite of the anthology. A man receives three phone calls, each from a future version of himself and each with instructions for how he can change the future of the planet.

The more I read of Chinese science fiction, the more I want to read and Broken Stars, and Ken Liu, has introduced me to more authors writing today as well as confirmed by deep admiration for the astonishing Cixin Liu.

Other reviews (Cixin Liu)
The Three-Body Problem
The Dark Forest
Death’s End
The Wandering Earth
Ball Lightning