Category Archives: Books

The Wonder by James Devo

The Wonder Blood Red-AdvertI just finished this book on a long train journey, which is a perfect place to read it. The Wonder by James Devo is the sort of book you should, and probably will, read in big chunks. A primary reason for this is that it is pretty damned exciting and it is therefore annoyingly hard to find a spot to pause and do things necessary sustain your existence. Another reason is that it has a pretty large cast, and there is a tiny risk you will become confused with some of them. I say ‘tiny’ because the characters are strong and memorable and if I can remember who is who then most people should. Also a train feels pretty steampunk (especially in Thailand where I live and trains are old), so barring a handy nearby steam fair it was a good setting to read uninterrupted. But before I get ahead of myself, I had better mention what the book is about.

The Wonder is set in a fantasy/steampunk kind of world and it is a very believable and well thought-out one. People travel using huge vessels that glide along artificial ice. Ancient technologies abide, alongside new adapted versions of old school tech. Warriors fight with swords and magically enhanced guns, while science types create strange and wonderful new ways of killing people en masse. There are elves fighting giant steam powered robot/mechanoids and mind-controlled soldiers that self immolate when cornered. There are… a ton of pretty cool things. I really enjoyed the world that was created and it never becomes too much info to take on. I’ve read fantasy and scifi books where you can be halfway into it and still aren’t quite sure what the balls is happening. Then there are others that info-dump at the start and prove tedious. That doesn’t happen here, you learn in mid-action.

The eponymous ‘Wonder’ is what underpins everything in Devo’s world. It is basically like magic, except that it is a substance. It can be used for weapons or making entire cities work. (A bit like Uranium but without all the cancer.) I’m being simplistic though, it is actually a quite well thought out magic system with different types of wonder doing different functions, which is quite a refreshing take on these sorts of things. Red wonder powers everyday stuff like lights, transport, and handheld weaponry. Green affects the mind and the flesh. Blue is powerful and rare and does all sort of powerful and mystical stuff.

As I said earlier, the characters are great and varied. From gentleman adventurers to psychopaths – and those are the heroes – I found the people in the story great fun and occasionally slightly disturbing. Often at the same time. There were moments when there almost started to be a couple too many but it is handled well, the characters are great, and they all have a function and satisfying story arc. And I love a good arc. Also, Devo isn’t averse to killing a couple off every now and then, so you never feel too overwhelmed. Backstories, and most information, are told as the story goes on and they are normally a welcome pause in the action – although quite a few get pretty exciting themselves.

I feel I should stop here as I have gone on a bit. I tend to stick to straight fantasy or straight science fiction and rarely veer off into cyber/steam/diesel/bio/spunk- punk genres. (Ok, I made the last one up, but it sounds like a fun sub-genre.) I get sent a lot of things to review and normally stick to what I know. But I’m glad I gave The Wonder a go as it was truly great read. A rip-roaring one, even. To summarise all the above – I liked The Wonder a lot and you probably will too. Give it a go.

The Wonder: Book 1 – Blood Red by James Devo will be out on the 21st November, swiftly followed by Book 2 – Deep Blue. Keep an eye out.

Here is the trailer:

 

 

Bryan Singer to direct 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

20,000 leagues under the sea

20,000 leagues under the sea

A new film version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea has been talked about for a while. I’m a bit shocked they haven’t ‘reimagined’ a gritty version for TV already, let alone spent a wad of cash on a CGI-filled summer spectacular action flick. Well, it looks like it might finally happen with Bryan Singer at the helm. (Like my nautical-speak there?)

This should be a good thing as Singer is generally pretty decent. The news came out on Twitter:

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I remember watching the James Mason version from the 50s when I was a kid and I loved it. I also reread the book by Jules Verne recently, so I am something of a fan. I am a bit curious about how they will do it. Will they stick to the original novel where Nemo is an Indian and is a kind of terrorist/scientist/angry-man-of-the-sea? He’s an awesome character in 20,000 Leagues and Mysterious Island.

Personally, I think they should keep it in the period of the book. I nearly always think that though as I I like the settings of Scifi classics and don’t see the need for modern updates (apart from budgetary needs I guess). I’m looking at you, War of the Worlds.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is one of the books I can’t believe hasn’t been redone. I think Jules Verne and HG Wells need to be looked at again (Hollywood I’m talking to you). Stephen Baxter’s The Time Ships would be good too (official sequel to Time Machine and absolutely brilliant). Actually I could list books that need doing for pages. If any major Hollywood studios want suggestions my email is Scifiward@gmail.com. My fee is surprisingly cheap.

 

 

The Martian book review

The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian by Andy Weir

I have had The Martian by Andy Weir on my kindle for a while now. I had heard it was good and that it was about an astronaut stranded on Mars but for some reason that hadn’t sounded as appealing as it should and was on my ‘I will eventually get round to that’ list. I don’t know why, I love science but I am incredibly complex. Then the first trailer came out for the movie and I thought it looked amazing. I put that out on this very website and a lot of friends I respect mentioned how great the book was.

So I gave it a go. The next day I was done and if I didn’t have a job, I would have been done sooner. The Martian is a brilliant  book. Absolutely superb. It has probably leapt onto my list of favourite books ever and I feel a bit of a dick for not having read it before.

Ok, here is a synopsis. A short one. Mark Watney is an astronaut and he gets stranded on Mars. That is all you need to know.

The characterisation is superb and the story is told in a mixture of 1st and 3rd person.

The Martian is one of the few books where you feel confident that the science is spot on, and shows you how important and incredible it can be. It is also one of the very few books that genuinely made me laugh out loud.

As you can tell, I loved it. The Martian by Andy Weir.

The future as predicted by science fiction authors

Apart from things like Alternate History, Star Wars, and science fiction written in the past about a date that was the future then, but in the past now, (like 1984,) and a ton of other exceptions, most scifi is set in the future. Sometimes the deep future. I saw this infographic the other day and it is plotted and designed well enough that I thought I would share. It also includes a surprising amount of stuff that I haven’t read.

There are quite a few things that I would include but maybe they are problematic. SPOILERS FOR TONS OF THINGS AHEAD… Obvious inclusions to me would be start with Battlestar Galactica (recent version) or some Stargate related mythology (there are books, so it counts). I would then end with Restaurant at the End of the Universe or even better, Moorcock’s Dancers at the End of Time (which kind of finishes beyond the end of the Universe). Also, some of Stephen Baxter‘s work ends with intelligences mining the last black holes after the end of stars and in Star Trek, Q has taken people to the extremes of time, although maybe not in books. Now I think about it, James Blish’s Cities in Flight ends with immortal humans checking out the end of the universe. Even Dune isn’t mentioned. But having nerded out on all that, the infographic is interesting.

So having complained a lot, enjoy…

futureevents_giorgialupi_large1

Fastest spaceship in the galaxy

Fastest ship in the Universe

Fastest ship in the Universe

Han Solo claimed the Millennium Falcon could do the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs. Which is presumably a speed race with the winner being the spaceship that can go the furthest distance in a specific time, as a parsec is a measurement of distance. But Han Solo lived ages ago. Plus, it is possible that he and the Falcon are fictional.

What about other space going vessels that may or may not be real? Which one of them is the fastest spaceship in the universe? I have literally fallen asleep pondering this.

The good people at Fat Wallet have come up with a handy chart, rating tons of known fiction/non-fiction space ships for speed. The first half are rated by how much G they pull on acceleration. Once the speeds go past that of light (at which point we are talking probable fiction), then they are rated by light seconds.

I should point out I disagree with a few of these. What about when navigators in Dune fold space, or popping into another dimension, or using wormholes? I’m thinking Skylark of Space, Babylon 5, DS9, Stargate (when a shuttle goes through a gate) and many more.

However, the fastest spaceship is unlikely but totally correct – you’ll see what I mean. I found this fun, so thought I would share.

(Thanks Fat Wallet http://www.fatwallet.com/blog/fastest-ship-in-the-universe/)

Fastest-Ship-in-the-Universe_IG

 

2015 British Fantasy Awards Shortlists

This may not be of interest to everyone but I have found that Scifi fans are frequently fantasy fans. I know I am. So if you are looking for something new read, then what better way than a shortlist of the best British Fantasy? (Apart from perhaps a world shortlist.) Without further ado:

Best Anthology

  • The Alchemy Press Book of Urban Mythic 2, ed. Jan Edwards and Jenny Barber (The Alchemy Press)
  • Horror Uncut: Tales of Social Insecurity and Economic Unease, ed. by Joel Lane and Tom Johnstone (Gray Friar Press)
  • Lightspeed: Women Destroy Science Fiction Special Issue, ed. Christie Yant (Lightspeed Magazine)
  • The Spectral Book of Horror Stories, ed. Mark Morris (Spectral Press)
  • Terror Tales of Wales, ed. Paul Finch (Gray Friar Press)

Best Artist

  • Ben Baldwin
  • Vincent Chong
  • Les Edwards
  • Sarah Anne Langton
  • Karla Ortiz
  • Daniele Serra

Best Collection

  • Black Gods Kiss, Lavie Tidhar (PS Publishing)
  • The Bright Day Is Done, Carole Johnstone (Gray Friar Press)
  • Gifts for the One Who Comes After, Helen Marshall (ChiZine Publications)
  • Nick Nightmare Investigates, Adrian Cole (The Alchemy Press and Airgedlámh Publications)
  • Scruffians! Stories of Better Sodomites, Hal Duncan (Lethe Press)

Best Comic/Graphic Novel

  • Cemetery Girl, Charlaine Harris, Christopher Golden and Don Kramer (Jo Fletcher Books)
  • Grandville Noël, Bryan Talbot (Jonathan Cape)
  • Saga, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
  • Seconds, Bryan Lee O’Malley (SelfMadeHero)
  • Through the Woods, Emily Carroll (Margaret K. McElderry Books)
  • The Wicked + The Divine, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie (Image Comics)

The Robert Holdstock Award for Best Fantasy Novel

  • Breed, KT Davies (Fox Spirit Books)
  • City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett (Jo Fletcher Books)
  • Cuckoo Song, Frances Hardinge (Macmillan Children’s Books)
  • A Man Lies Dreaming, Lavie Tidhar (Hodder & Stoughton)
  • The Moon King, Neil Williamson (NewCon Press)
  • The Relic Guild, Edward Cox (Gollancz)

Best Film/Television Episode

  • Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Alejandro González Iñárritu (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
  • Black Mirror: White Christmas, Charlie Brooker (Channel 4)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy, James Gunn and Nicole Perlman (Marvel Studios)
  • Interstellar, Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan (Paramount Pictures)
  • Under the Skin, Walter Campbell and Jonathan Glazer (Film4 et al)

The August Derleth Award for Best Horror Novel

  • The End, Gary McMahon (NewCon Press)
  • The Girl With All the Gifts, M.R. Carey (Orbit)
  • The Last Plague, Rich Hawkins (Crowded Quarantine Publications)
  • No One Gets Out Alive, Adam Nevill (Macmillan)
  • Station Eleven, Emily St John Mandel (Knopf)
  • The Unquiet House, Alison Littlewood (Jo Fletcher Books)

Best Independent Press

  • The Alchemy Press (Peter Coleborn)
  • Fox Spirit Books (Adele Wearing)
  • NewCon Press (Ian Whates)
  • Spectral Press (Simon Marshall-Jones)

Best Magazine/Periodical

  • Black Static, ed. Andy Cox (TTA Press)
  • Holdfast Magazine, ed. Laurel Sills and Lucy Smee (Laurel Sills and Lucy Smee)
  • Interzone, ed. by Andy Cox (TTA Press)
  • Lightspeed, ed. John Joseph Adams (Lightspeed Magazine)
  • Sein und Werden, ed. Rachel Kendall (ISMs Press)

The Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer

  • Edward Cox, for The Relic Guild (Gollancz)
  • Sarah Lotz, for The Three (Hodder & Stoughton)
  • Laura Mauro, for “Ptichka” (Horror Uncut: Tales of Social Insecurity and Economic Unease)
  • Den Patrick, for The Boy with the Porcelain Blade (Gollancz)
  • Jen Williams, for The Copper Promise (Headline)

Best Non-Fiction

  • D.F. Lewis Dreamcatcher Real-Time Reviews, D.F. Lewis (D.F. Lewis)
  • Ginger Nuts of Horror, ed. Jim McLeod (Jim McLeod)
  • Letters to Arkham: The Letters of Ramsey Campbell and August Derleth, 1961–1971, ed. S.T. Joshi (PS Publishing)
  • Rhapsody: Notes on Strange Fictions, Hal Duncan (Lethe Press)
  • Sibilant Fricative: Essays & Reviews, Adam Roberts (Steel Quill Books )
  • Touchstones: Essays on the Fantastic, John Howard (The Alchemy Press)
  • You Are the Hero: A History of Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks, Jonathan Green (Snowbooks)

Best Novella

  • Cold Turkey, Carole Johnstone (TTA Press)
  • Drive, Mark West (Pendragon Press)
  • Newspaper Heart, Stephen Volk (The Spectral Book of Horror Stories)
  • Water For Drowning, Ray Cluley (This Is Horror)

Best Short Story

  • “A Change of Heart”, Gaie Sebold (Wicked Women)
  • “The Girl on the Suicide Bridge”, J.A. Mains (Beside the Seaside)
  • “Ptichka”, Laura Mauro (Horror Uncut: Tales of Social Insecurity and Economic Unease)
  • “A Woman’s Place”, Emma Newman (Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets)

Syfy and Amblin to make Brave New World TV show

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

The Syfy channel and Spielberg’s Amblin Television have just announced that they are going to make a TV show based on Aldous Huxley’s superb Brave New World. I have to admit, I have mixed emotions about this – and most of those emotions are negative.

On the one hand, I can’t help but get excited when a novel I like is being turned into a film or TV show. On the other hand, I have been disappointed the vast majority of the time. I know I recently got fairly excited by the prospect of The Expanse coming to TV, but the books are written so visually that I can almost see the TV show in my head. On the third hand, Brave New World is pretty much a novella and short stories can make great TV/films as they can go with the idea and not be too beholden to the source material. On the fourth – alright, bollocks to the whole ‘hand’ thing – another point is the fact that the best novellas are the length they are because they have a precise story in mind that is longer than a short story but has a definite end. A Brave New World has a definite end.

I’m a huge Orwell fan. Animal Farm and 1984  were perfectly complete stories that were far too long for a short story, but not quite book length.  They were the length they needed to be for the finite tale they told. The same goes for the perfectly written The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. (All of these have actually translated quite well into films as the novella is perfect film length.)

I just don’t think a Brave New World will translate into great TV. They should make it a movie or fixed-length mini-series. I guess we shall see.

The Expanse TV series trailer

TheExpanseLogoThe Expanse books are coming to Syfy and I’m incredibly excited. The trailer looks pretty good and they’re managed to show a lot of the characters without showing much of the action. According to Syfy it’s their most expensive product to date and if you’ve seen Sharknado 2 that’s no small boast. To be fair they are trying to get away from the Sharknado bollocks and make more science fiction so I should be more supportive.

I’ve written about every book in The Expanse series and raved about them but if you haven’t yet, give them a read starting with Leviathan Wakes. Each book feels like it’s a slightly different genre:
Leviathan Wakes – Noir detective / zombies.
Caliban’s War – Political / military
Abbadon’s Gate – Exploration / Arthur Clarke’s Rama
Cibola Burn – A bit like a Western

They are all great though and the recurring characters are awesome. The TV series seems to be just the first book but they have also included a character called Avasarala from the second, who is a brilliant character and is brilliantly cast. In fact the whole cast seems great and I knew the characters just by looking at them, so I that’s a positive sign.

Anyway, that’s enough waffle. Here is The Expanse TV series trailer:

Dune by Frank Herbert

dune_frank_herbertTo my colossal shame I only just got round to reading Frank Herbert’s classic this year. I’ve owned about four copies of the paperback over the years and I finally read it on a kindle. To be fair, the book version is quite a hefty tome and the kindle version isn’t.

A quick summary in case you somehow don’t know the plot of the book or film or TV show or comic or computer games. Set over 10,000 years in the future humanity has spread among the planets and continues to be warlike arsewits to one another. At some point there had been a war with the machines and so nobody uses computers any more. Instead humans have been adapted, bred and trained to be human computers, soldiers, partial psychics, seers and more. One powerful group has been blending the bloodlines to create a mega powerful being called a Kwisatz Haderach . Dune follows the story of a young lad called Paul Atreides (who may or may not be the Kwisatz Haderach) as his family takes of control of the planet Arrakis – also known as Dune.

Arrakis is a pretty special place as it is the only source of the ‘spice melange’ – a drug like substance that expands consciousness and life as well as allowing space travel through the melange addicted Guild Navigators. Chuck in a power balance between the Emperor and the Ducal Houses and there is a whole lot that can go wrong. So when the Atreides are attacked by their enemy, the absolutely psychopathic Harkonnen, things come to a head. Oh, there are also mega hard desert warriors, huge worms, psychic sisterhoods, plots, assassinations and war. It’s pretty awesome.

Dune by Frank Herbert was published in 1965 but frankly, it could have come out yesterday. I agree with many who have described Dune as being to Science Fiction what Lord of the Rings is to fantasy – probably not a great entry point to the genre but once you have read a few things it is a masterpiece that absolutely needs to be read. My quick summary ended being quite long because it is one hell of tale.

If you haven’t gotten round to reading Dune yet – you should! What the hell have you been doing with your time? Highly recommended.

By it on Kindle here:

 

Sand by Hugh Howey

Sand by Hugh Howey

Sand by Hugh Howey

After the success of Wool, Hugh Howey was facing a lot of pressure to come up with something even vaguely as good. With Sand, Howey stuck with the always fun theme of gritty post-apocalypse but reversed the world. As opposed to Wool, the poor bastard survivors of humanity now live on top of the sandy soil and spend a lot of their time trying to reach the old world that lies beneath. Principally by diving through the sand with tanks and a device that hardens the sand around them to form a kind of tunnel thing – it doesn’t matter, they dive ok?

The story in the Sand Omnibus kicks off with the discovery of the legendary buried city of Danvar. Everyone wants in on this and as society is pretty lawless, there are a lot of pirates/bandits/ne’er-do-wells all fighting for a bit of the action. The plot is told from the point of view of a family – two of which are “sand divers”, and the others are all likeable and pretty smart. The characters of each are fleshed out nicely and you really empathise with their situation and this in turn makes the world more believable.

Like with Wool, Sand by Hugh Howey has a great cast of characters, is well written, and has an intriguing premise with lots of word-building and mystery. In my opinion the end felt a tiny bit rushed, but it didn’t really impact on the story itself or create any dissatisfaction. I guess I just wanted a bit more. I liked Sand a lot and have no hesitation in recommending it. Howey is a good writer and I look forward to his next book. Which will presumably be a post-apocalyptic tale set in floating sky-ballon communities as the Earth has been poisoned for some mysterious reason – but a plucky group reckon that we can actually live on the surface and against all odds unearth a huge secret. And so on.

I digress. Conclusion: Sand is great. Read it.