Tag Archives: Books

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

The Circuit: Executor Rising by Rhett C. Bruno

circuit-cover-final-versionFive hundred years after Earth has become a barren, unpleasant wasteland, humanity is scattered throughout the solar system. A religious sect known as the New Earth Tribunal is pretty much in charge and it reigns from New Earth – which is on Mars. There are a few voices of dissent however, most notably from the mining colonies near Ceres. When several Tribune ships are hijacked and their precious cargo of Gravitum are stolen, the Tribune is forced to call in the genius ex-Tribune Cassius Vale. Unfortunately for them, it is Vale who is responsible for the hijackings (along with a double-hard android). The Tribune also has highly trained assassins at their disposal, so they dispatch one of them – a hot female assassin called Sage Volus – to infiltrate the Ceresians and see if she can find anything out. She soon finds herself as part of a crew led by a charismatic ex-mercenary called Talon Rayne.

I won’t lie, I was a bit nervous about reading The Circuit: Executor Rising by Rhett C. Bruno. I always am with new authors that I have never previously heard of. Thankfully, the anxiety was misplaced. It was a thoroughly enjoyable read. If you read a lot of science fiction then there will be nothing all that new but there are still some pretty cool ideas and it is well executed. The story moves at a cracking pace with some great set action pieces. When things kick off, Bruno writes excitingly with plenty of bullets, bloodshed and bad-assery.

The characters in The Circuit: Executor Rising are particularly good in a slightly morally ambiguous kind of way. Cassius Vale and his robot ADIM are the antagonists but they are believable. Vale is an advocate of ‘the ends justify the means’ and he wants to take down the Tribune no matter how many people die. He also has a strange father/son thing going on with ADIM which adds an extra element to the story. Sage Volus is a pretty awesome hot female assassin with a bionic arm. At first she is a bit too religious to be fully likeable but she develops throughout the novel and has her own set of issues. Talon Rayne is immediately likeable even though a slightly murkier past is hinted at. Think the characters of Firefly and you will be pretty close. Likeable-rogue type of fellows.

There are enough fun ideas and well executed settings to make Rhett C Bruno’s book a highly entertaining read. Couple that with a fast paced plot and some great characters and you have thoroughly enjoyable space opera on your hands. I look forward to more in the series.

You can buy The Circuit: Executor Rising by Rhett C. Bruno for your shiny kindle here:

Blood Song: Book 1 of Raven’s Shadow by Anthony Ryan


I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy recently as I am, like thousands of others, writing a fantasy novel. Fantasy was one of my favourite genres throughout my teens (science fiction predictably being another). It was all sparked by a mixture of reading Conan the Barbarian books and comics and also by the fact that I grew up in the 80s and played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons. My childhood was awesome.

Apart from A Game of Thrones and Joe Abercrombie I haven’t really read many new fantasy authors as I have been reading a lot more scifi and historical fiction. So after perusing Amazon (sorry bookshops but your fantasy sections are usually lacking), I came across a new author that seemed to have ridiculously good reviews. His name is Anthony Ryan and the book was his debut novel Blood Song: Book 1 of Raven’s Shadow.

Blood Song revolves around a character called Vaelin al Sorna. The book begins with his dad dropping him off at a school that turns out to be the military wing of the Order. These guys are more than just soldiers though – they are the SAS of their particular Kingdom and Vaelin is the best of them.

The first half of Blood Song is basically just Vaelin and his mates at school. Kind of like a violent Harry Potter. It well enough written that you want to keep going with it and by the second half it really starts to pay off. There are a lot of hints that there is more going on. Politically, the King might not be so great and his daughter might also be up to something (as she is hot and therefore suspicious). The Order itself might not be so great ethically and keeps its fair share of secrets. The element of magic is also slowly weaved into the narrative and there are hints of destiny and things going on that I can’t explain without giving too much away.

These added elements make what was feeling a bit of a ‘been there seen that before’ fantasy tale into something a bit deeper. I’m not necessarily saying deep, but by the end I was sufficiently satisfied that interesting things are afoot.

The characters are great and believable with a variety of individual needs and character arcs. The story is well told and written. The fact that the Faith of the Order is one that worships the spirits of the dead and believes that they are being guided and supported by them is an interesting twist because this allows them to justify killing infidels who believe in a deity.

If you like fantasy books you will very probably enjoy Blood Song. Anthony Ryan spins a good yarn which, although at first feels pretty similar and unoriginal slowly evolves into a pretty damn good story. It certainly had me hooked and I have preordered the sequel. Recommended.
Anthony Ryan’s Amazon US page
Anthony Ryan’s Amazon UK link
 

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

I’m a huge Vonnegut fan. I’m an even bigger Douglas Adams fan. So when Mrs Scifiward read The Sirens of Titan and asked me why I hadn’t read it if I like Vonnegut, I just replied that I hadn’t quite got round to it as I’d heard it wasn’t one of his best. (Which is a crap reason, I’ll admit.) When she mentioned it was in a similar mood to Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, my interest was finally peaked enough to give it a go. And I’m glad I did.

Here’s the story:

An incredibly rich man called Winston Niles Rumfoord builds his own spaceship and, with his dog Kazak, flies into space. Unfortunately he flies into something called a “chrono-synclastic infundibulum” which converts him and his hound into pure energy. This energy is in the form of a spiral that stretches from the Sun to the star Betelguese. The Earth intersects this spiral every 59 days and consequently Rumfoord and Kazak materialise for 1 hour every couple of months. They also appear on Mars and Titan. While this sucks for Rumfoord, he does have the added bonus of knowing everything that has ever happened and will happen.

Cue the protagonist – one Malachi Constant. Constant is the world’s richest and luckiest man. He is also a massively shallow hedonist. Rumfoord manipulates Constant into an epic journey from the Earth to Mars to the caves of Mercury and finally to the moon Titan. It’s a pretty shitty journey but it changes Constant and helps make the world a better place.

As I had heard The Sirens of Titan isn’t one of Vonnegut’s best books but it is still a bloody good one. Much, much better than I thought would be. It is, as Mrs Scifiward said, reminiscent of Hitchhiker’s – albeit a precursor to it. There are a ton of brilliant ideas and funny asides. The invention of a religion that follows God the Utterly Indifferent is a good example of the sort of humour coupled with heavy doses of nihilism that pervade the novel. The bleak theme that everything is pointless and merely ‘a series of accidents’ is counterbalanced by wit, inventiveness and Vonnegut’s spare but brilliant prose.

If you are a fan of Vonnegut and Adams I would be very surprised if you didn’t enjoy this book as much as I did. I felt kind of bad constantly linking the two until I consulted Wikepedia and found the following quote. With which I shall leave you. To conclude: I thoroughly enjoyed The Sirens of Titan. Now over to Mr Adams.

Sirens of Titan is just one of those books – you read it through the first time and you think it’s very loosely, casually written. You think the fact that everything suddenly makes such good sense at the end is almost accidental. And then you read it a few more times, simultaneously finding out more about writing yourself, and you realize what an absolute tour de force it was, making something as beautifully honed as that appear so casual.”
The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke

The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke

The City and the Stars is a rewrite of Arthur C. Clarke’s first ever book – Against the Fall of Night. And it’s bloody good.

The story revolves a city called Diaspar that has been around for a billion years. Which is a bugger of a long time. Diaspar has hardly changed at all in that period and its populace, who all live for 1000 year chunks before going back into storage for a bit, all frolic and play games, create art, and shag each other. Sounds pretty awesome right?

Enter Alvin. Alvin’s a young lad just out of his teens and like all of his ilk throughout history, he feels a little out of place. Diaspar has no outward facing windows and everyone in the city seems to suffer from massive agoraphobia. It turns out Alvin really is a bit different from others and once he finds out a little about himself and Diaspora he realizes he wants more. He wants to explore the desert wastelands that seem to cover the Earth. Is Diaspar really all there is?

Spoiler: No. There’s a ton of exciting stuff.

Arthur C. Clarke wrote The City and the Stars in 1956. At the start of the book the young types are all playing a game that is uncannily like Virtual Reality Dungeons and Dragons. When they finish playing they are all just in their room and they start texting and chatting to each other all over the city. That’s pretty damn prescient.

The whole city is run and managed by a computer that has no moving parts. It’s walls are adorned with screens that show artwork that people vote on to decide if it is liked enough. This was written before Sputnik went up and computers were the size of Iceland. It’s like Clarke is just showing off. Quite frankly the book could have been written last week, it has aged that well.

Many have described it as Clarke’s greatest book. I would definitely have to disagree with that. It’s a great read and would feature in my top 10 of his work but not the best, or even top 3. (Check Childhood’s End, 2001, Rendezvous with Rama, and more.)

The story and ideas within are superb, but for some reason the pace seemed a bit off to me. The characters aren’t fully developed either, but this is a novel of exploration and ideas and so those aspects are a bit more peripheral. These are just minor niggles that I feel obliged to make in a review.

The City and the Stars is a great book, with great ideas, and is great fun. Arthur C. Clarke is brilliant. Recommended.

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

Robopocalypse

You’ll never guess what happens in Robopocalypse! Robots rise up and start killing everyone in a robot apocalypse type scenario. Actually, the title may have been a clue.

Robopocalypse (surely Robocalypse reads better?) is set slightly in the future when it is more common to have robots wandering about doing robot-type stuff. Going shopping for rich people, unsuccessfully pacifying Afghanistan, sexbots in Japan, and so on. But then an Artificial Intelligence gets pissed off and starts to take over, making the robots break their programming and start killing us pesky humans.

To be fair, homo sapiens suck. The robots kind of respect us and they want to kill most of us off just to preserve the planet’s biodiversity.Which is fair enough if you’re a robot.

The book is structured a bit like World War Z but instead of a guy going all over the world interviewing people, this is told from a variety of sources recorded by the AI and transcribed by a human soldier after the war. (Not a spoiler: the war ends in the first line.) So there is CCTV video, robot footage, recordings, eyewitness reports, straightforward interviews, and more. At first I was worried that this would be annoying as I would have no-one to root for, but happily a lot of the main characters keep appearing and keep being damned heroic throughout.

Daniel H. Wilson has a doctorate in robotics so if anyone is going to know about the future of the killer robot, it will be someone like him. The book isn’t written as a dry premise though, it is written as a rip-roaring shoot ’em up which would make a good film. Herein lies the clue as to whether you the reader will like this book. The film rights were sold soon after Mr Wilson had started writing it. At times, especially when it is say, CCTV, it feels like Wilson is instructing the future director exactly how the film should look. It also means, however, that the narrative is very visual and very exciting. Some will like this, some won’t. Basically, it is an airport page turner which isn’t destined to be a thoughtful scifi classic but is entertaining in a Michael Crichton sort of way.

Personally, I loved it. Robopocalypse is what it is – a fun scifi romp that isn’t deep but is a good read. Next year it will be a Spielberg movie starring Anne Hathaway, so others seem to like it too. Enjoy.

For the US:

For the UK:

 

The Stars my Destination by Alfred Bester

The Stars my Destination by Alfred Bester

When Gulliver ‘Gully’ Foyle is first introduced he is adrift in a crippled spaceship and although he has been there for 6 months, ‘he is not quite dead’. He’s described as having lots of potential but is generally too lethargic to actually do anything. He is also, clearly, a mega survivor. Then a spaceship called Volga flies by and sees him. He rejoices thinking he is saved. But when the Volga ignores him and sails off we start to see some of that potential being realised because Gully Foyle becomes a transformed man. A raging, driven, unstoppable, mental bastard, to be precise. Foyle vows revenge on the Volga, fixes his spaceship enough to get it moving, and sets about destroying his enemies.
This is the start of a personal journey for him and he grows and develops into a more cultured and educated man. He is still a raging nutter though.

The Stars my Destination is essentially The Count of Monte Cristo in space. Gully Foyle has to be one of the most single minded anti-heroes of all time.

The joys of the book are in its inventiveness, ideas, and ultimately a sense of wonder. Some of the characters, scenes and events are a joy to read. While Gully Foyle isn’t particularly likeable, you can’t help admiring his sense of purpose – his willingness to utterly screw someone over if they stand between him and his goal.

My only criticism would be that the story feels a bit disjointed. It feels a bit episodic, which is understandable as this was how the book was originally released.

The Stars my Destination is a classic of the genre. Chock full of cool ideas from the start, it just gets better and better as the book continues and the ideas flow. If you are a fan of Science Fiction you have probably already read it. If not, you damn well should. Volga!
For the UK: The Stars My Destination (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
To buy in the US: The Stars My Destination

 

 

Harry Harrison

Harry Harrison

It’s a sad day. Harry Harrison, a legend of Science Fiction, has passed away. R.I.P Mr H.

I’ve always been meaning to write about a couple of Science Fiction writers that I loved when growing up and who should be a million times more famous. The first was Edmund Cooper (about whom I will write one day) and the second was Harry Harrison. In respect I will write about some of his work that I loved and you might enjoy. Like I did with J.G. Ballard. Hopefully you will feel intrigued to read more.

Harrison is quite well known mostly due to The Stainless Steel Rat series and Make Room! Make Room! which eventually became the movie Soylent Green. And we all know what that is.

The Stainless Steel Rat series

The Stainless Steel Rat

 

The Stainless Steel Rat is an epic series that follows career criminal ‘Slippery’ Jim DiGriz. There aren’t many humorous Science Fiction authors for some reason but these books are great. In a future where criminal behaviour is usually detected at birth very few bad guys slip through the gaps. Jim DiGriz is one such guy and he is roguish and generally cool. He then starts to meet others of his ilk… Highly recommended space romp fun.
Click here to buy in US
Click here to buy in the UK

 

Bill the Galactic Hero

Bill the Galactic Hero

The first book is a classic and another example funny space adventure. Instead of a quick witted criminal the protagonist here is the slightly dim, but highly determined ex-farmhand Bill. He enlists in the space marines and has a ton of adventures. Usually funny ones that frequently end with him losing a limb which, due to army supply problems, means he often has  mismatched anatonomy – two right arms and an animal foot for example. Most of the follow ups (with other authors) weren’t too great, but the original is superb.
Click here to buy in the US
Click here to buy in the UK
Make Room! Make Room!

Make Room! Make Room!

As mentioned, this was became the classic Soylent Green. This is most definitely not a comedy but it is a classic dystopian tale of planetary overcrowding. The novel is great and the writing is superb. You should give it a go.
Click here to buy in US
UK – Make Room! Make Room! (Penguin Modern Classics)

 

 

The Deathworld series

Deathworld

I will stop saying “I loved this” but I really did. Maybe because I first read it when I was 12, the main character is called Jason, and everything is pretty cool. It was either this or Stainless Steel Rat that I read first and they both sealed my admiration for Harrison.

The story features a guy called Jason dinAlt who is a professional gambler. He is also psionic which means he can cheat at dice. Which is exactly the sort of life I should lead. When he gets hired by a guy to win a load of money he becomes intrigued by the guy’s home planet. Which is seriously deadly. There are earthquakes, volcanoes, huge tidal disruptions massive storms and so on. All life is predatory: huge animals can crush vehicles and eat you whole, smaller animals are vicious and/or poisonous, even the plants are carnivorous and deadly. dinAlt is intrigued and ends up there and has awesome adventures.
Click here to buy in the US
Click here to buy in UK

The Eden series

Here is the premise. The massive asteroid that killed the dinosaurs never hit. Dinosaurs continued to evolve until some became clever, developed speech, weapons, war, houses, mail order porn and so forth. (Maybe not the latter, it has been a while.) Unfortunately an ice age is coming which means there are increasing amounts of dinosaurs being pushed into colder areas. And there be humans… They don’t get on and it is all tremendously exciting.
Click here to buy in the US
Click here to buy in the UK

Captive Universe

A standalone novel that is just awesome. If you like some of Brian Aldiss’ work, you will love this. Two Aztec-like tribes live on either side of a river. No one, as far as they know, can ever cross as there is a monster in the river. I can’t reveal more as it will give things away but things aren’t what they seem. A great read.
Click here to buy in the US
Click here to buy in the UK

The Hammer and the Cross series

Historical fiction as violent vikings cross the north sea and have massive bloody battles with the Brits. Tremendously exciting and awesomely violent fun.
Click here to buy in US
Click here to buy in the UK

Homeworld trilogy

It is the future and it is paradise. Except it isn’t really, it is pretty dystopian.
Click here to buy in the US
Click here to buy in UK

Harry Harrison wrote over 80 books. They range from comic, dystopian, historical, alternate history, to space adventure and more. Some are just light fun, some have a bit more bite. There is something for everyone. I read nearly all his stuff when I was in my teens and am now going to read lots of them again. If you haven’t read his stuff, I recommend you try.

 

The Forge of God by Greg Bear

The Forge of God by Greg Bear

The Forge of God is an acknowledged ‘classic’ of the science fiction genre. It tells the story of aliens arriving and they have a spectacularly miserable message.

The story begins with scientists noticing that Jupiter’s moon Europa has suddenly disappeared. Then three geologists in Death Valley find a dying alien who says, ‘I’m sorry I have some bad news.’ Apparently the Earth is doomed, DOOMED! Meanwhile in Australia some other aliens arrive and say that everything is great, let’s have a BBQ (the latter part isn’t true but that’s what Australians would probably do if they heard this news). What the balls is going on?

The Forge of God starts superbly. It grabs you and makes you eager to find out what is happening and how things will work out. Unfortunately, in my reasonably humble opinion, it then slows down and becomes a trifle plodding. Which is a shame. There are a few intriguing moments but generally I just wanted stuff to happen. Thankfully, at the end, stuff then happens in a BIG way.

The Forge of God has one of the most memorable endings ever. I can’t tell you about it without giving away a huge chunk of the novel but it is awe inspiring, beautifully written, and shocking. I can still remember all the scenes in vivid detail and I have read six other books in the month since reading it (I’ve been on holiday and they were mostly quite short, I’m not boasting).

So there you go. A great start and a great end with a mostly slow centre. Would I recommend The Forge of God to you? Yes. It is worth it for the end alone. Plus there is a sequel that is supposed to be pretty good and you can’t very well read that first. Hell, you might even enjoy the middle and I just have a short attention span. It is also a classic and you should always read classics. Enjoy.

 

Scifi in Chiangmai

Greetings fellow Scifi fans. Huge apologies for not having written much but I am currently in Laos – a place that is very far from the futuristic realms I always dream about. In fact it distinctly feels like the past.

Consequently, I don’t have a whole lot of Scifi related news. I am reading an awesome Scifi book though called Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Very heavily into the geek stuff, so it may not appeal to all. It seems to be aimed at someone exactly my age (nearly 40) who has grown up obsessed with computer games, Scifi, movies, comics, books, etc. The main character that causes this obsession in the book (although he isn’t the protagonist) has a birthday two weeks from mine in 1972. Spooky. Anyway, I will do a full review later.

I realised that a lot of people travel these days and my blatherings on this site get a surprising number of hits. So, and this may seem a bit random, I will give you a travel tip if you happen to be passing through Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Statistically, it is bound to happen (Chiang Mai gets millions of visitors a year and so will this site soon).

Near the Thapae gate just outside of the old city walls you will see a sign pointing to Gecko books. Go there. On that road are several sizeable second hand bookshops that have surprisingly good Scifi book sections. You can get old editions with the original cool artwork (which is a minor obsession of mine).

I bought ‘The number of the beast’ by Heinlein and ‘Empire Earth’ by Arthur C. Clarke and they both have awesome covers. Especially Empire Earth as it has a double cover thingy.

If you aren’t in Chiang Mai when you read this, you should definitely go there. I bet it’s warmer than where you are for a start.