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What would make a society burn all its books? Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury June 5, 2010

Posted by taryn in best books ever, good covers, sci fi.
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“Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which book paper catches fire and burns.”

Book cover of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray BradburyGuy Montag knows this only too well. He’s a fireman, tasked with burning any books that Americans are hiding in this alternative future, for the good of humanity.  In this America, books are forbidden, learning is looked down on and they’re perpetually at war.

Fahrenheit 451 considers what kind of society would allow this to happen. Montag’s America is one full of violence and hate. Stories have no meaning. People are glued to their screens, but can’t articulate what they’ve involved in with their “family” of screens. Children are spoon-fed facts; they’re not allowed to ask why, to question the facts or history. They’re encouraged to drive fast  and murder seems to go unpunished.

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a quality sf novel February 11, 2008

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Iain M Banks Matter“In a world renowned even within a galaxy full of wonders, a crime within a war. For one brother it means a desperate flight, and a search for the one – maybe two – people who could clear his name. For his brother it means a life lived under constant threat of treachery and murder. And for their sister, even without knowing the full truth, it means returning to a place she’d thought abandoned forever.”

Matter is a slow burn (plot-wise). It’s set in his familiar Culture universe, but manages to mix in medieval fantasy with the sci fi that Banks does so well. The extract publicised by Orbit is actually the whole first chapter, so will give you an idea of the pace. It takes a fair amount of back story/ scene setting before the plot really gets moving. For detail hounds like me though, it’s not really a problem and the subsequent race to the finish gets your blood moving.

Prepare yourself for some lengthly discussions of ‘Shellworlds’. I had to re-read one section a few times where Banks is describing the Sursamen Shellworld. But the artificial planet/Shellworld is fascinating and deserving of much scene setting. Worlds within a world, built by some mysterious and extinct race.

The Ship names are as hilarious as ever, my favourite being Lightly Seared on the Reality Grill. The scenes in the Culture are full of Culture gadgets, environments, Culture versions of holosuites, glanding and AI.

The feudalism of the Eighth [level] on Sursamen is a refreshing counter to the Culture ‘verse. The Sarl are a blood thirsty war race, determined to conquer nearby levels/worlds. They use gunpowder, flying beasts, horses, swords, chariots and pistols.

The dialogue, in usual Banks style, is fabulous. The Sarl are, unsurprisingly, old English in style, while The Oct, a species who are supposed to mentor The Sarl and believe they are descended from the original creators of Shellworlds, speak in a lyrical, philoshophical extreme Yoda style. Confusing, bizarre and completely alien.

I liked Steven Poole’s review in this weekend’s Guardian – cheeky and critical. I didn’t notice the links to Lord of the Rings, 2001 or Raiders of the Lost Ark. But I do agree that the ending leaves a bit to be desired and seems unbalanced compared to the first few acts.

However, Matter is well worth reading and persevering with, this is satisfyingly good sf.

Iain M Banks, Matter, Orbit, Jan 2008

Gridlinked – Neal Asher September 26, 2007

Posted by taryn in best books ever, sci fi.
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Gridlinked - Neal AsherI picked up this book after reading Pmarc’s list of the top ten sci fi books of the noughties. Its well worth a try. This is another one that I couldn’t put down – I’ve had a great month of reading :)

In this world, AI’s run the universe and honestly, why would you trust any one else to?

Ian Cormac, Special Agent, has been ‘gridlinked’ for thirty years, ten over the max, and is going through serious withdrawal. He has been sent to investigate the destruction of the AI, city and ‘runcible’ on a far off way world. He is being chased by a terrorist hell bent on revenge and his team of mercenaries cum robot golems.

It’s classic spy mystery pumping action.

And the good news is – there are loads more to come.

Check out this review over at Sci Fi site.

Saturn Returns – Sean Williams July 28, 2007

Posted by taryn in best books ever, sci fi, space opera.
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Saturn Returns - Sean WilliamsThis is great – go out and get a copy now, I couldn’t put it down :)

Orbit describes it as a “space opera balancing cosmic-level threats with a very human murder mystery”. I think its a fast paced guns-a-blazing-mystery dealing with questions of identity PLUS a central character with partial amnesia, what more could you want?

Sean Williams has created a fascinating gothic galaxy recovering from a galactic-wide disaster. Humans have spread far and wide across the galaxy, some remaining in one body, Primes, living and dying others, Singletons, opt for having many clones and absorbing and sharing memories and then there are the group minds.

The hero, Imre Bergamasc, is a Singleton and has been resurrected with half of his memories wondering who tried to kill him. He is driven to reunite with his old comrades from the ‘Corps’, find ‘Himself’ and discover what kind of person this Imre Bergamasc really is.

Williams uses the idea of Tempo and being able to manage the rate of time passing with relish in car chases, starship clashes and travel.

PLUS there is a character who speaks only in Gary Numan lyrics (what the? you think) …but it works.

This is the blurb from Sean Williams’ site

Dark experiments, dangerous ruins, fleeting ghosts and deadly conspiracies…

On the edge of the galaxy in a distant and terrible future, Imre Bergamasc reborn into a pieced-together body with the certain knowledge that he was the victim of an elaborate murder plot. But neither his mind nor the history of his former life are as easily reassembled, so he sets out to follow the fragments of his memories and discover the reason for his elimination. Through interstellar graveyards megacities and bizarre star systems, he pursues whispers connecting the death of the worlds he once knew to his own murdersp. Tracked by forces determined to thwart his efforts, Imre combs the wreckage of the future for the truth about himself–no matter how unbearable it may be.

Here’s another good review from Graeme. You can also visit Sean’s blog.

Q> What the heck is gothic-noir? I’m not even sure the difference between space opera and sci-fi… but I like it!

UDPATE – Sean Willians has just completed Book 2 – and a book 1.5 is coming out in October in the UK. I’m looking forward.

Top ten sci fi of the noughties July 27, 2007

Posted by taryn in best books ever, cyber punk, sci fi.
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Check out this great post by Marc Andreessen on the top ten books of the noughties. Its a great list. Some of them I’ve read, some I was thinking of reading. In fact I went out and bought Gridlinked by Neal Asher and I am completely loving it!

Thanks, Marc.

Lord of Light – Roger Zelazny June 24, 2007

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Lord of Light - Roger ZelaznyAgain, like Light I found the first few chapters a challenge, but once I got a bit deeper into the story I was hooked. What’s not to like about a scenario where humans have colonised a new planet with their own offsrpring and exert control by being Hindu Gods and quashing any new technology? Enter Sam…

“His followers called him Mahasamatman and said he was a god. He preferred to drop the Maha- and the -atman, however, and called himself Sam. He never claimed to be a god. But then, he never claimed not to be a god.”

(George RR Martin wrote the intro for this reprint and says that this short para drew him into the book. Another reason I liked the idea of Lord of Light – if George RR likes it… it must be good.)

Sam is one of the ‘Firsts’ who doesn’t agree with the status quo, wants to bring heaven down as it were and you are drawn into his struggle, a karmic society with reincarnation, prayer machines, ‘sky’ chariots and a raft of mad aliens – all written in a semi religious buddhist/hindu context.

I like Diary of a Phanatique’s review and synopsis of the plot. Another interesting review from SFsite too.

Now I need help, I started the book knowing that there is a massive pun . I’m rather embarassed to say I missed it. If anyone would like to illuminate me that would be fab.

I love the cover, the illustration of the lotus is fantastic. The Gollancz crew did a great job on the covers of this series.

Light – M. John Harrison June 23, 2007

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Light - M John HarrisonThis book was recommended to me by some great spec fic lovers and has been widely touted as the best thing to hit spec fic in years. I hate to disagree but in my opinion Harrison hasn’t outdone Iain M Banks, who is still my favourite author in terms of mind blowing science fiction. However, Light was a riveting and challenging read. My favourite character was the seriously derranged Michael Kearney, an astrophysisct and serial killer obsessed by numbers and a fractal/alien/figment of his imagination that stalks him. Jump forward a few thousand years and the story follows a K-ship captain, the captain-ship relationhsip takes on new meaning here when you’re part of the ship, and down on the planets a crazy ‘twinker’ who is addicted to living his life in a holographic story (sounds pretty fun to me). It is all set under the wacthful eye of the Kerfulci Tract – a bizarre galaxy with no event horizon.

I loved the threads of the story, the merchant-corp world that Harrison creates in the future and – having moved to London recently myself – Harrison’s modern London.

Definitely worth a read. Check out these much more articulate and imaginative reviews – SF Site which delves into the Harrisons style and another at Bookslut – I do have to agree here the first few chapters were a bit hard going but its well worth it in the end.

I was v dissapointed to find that I missed out on this fabulous cover (Thanks VanderWorld).Light M John Harrison - Trade Paperback


The Dispossessed – Ursula Le Guin June 11, 2007

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the dispossessedThis was fantastic, although I found some of the physics a bit hard going.

I loved the style, structure and ethics of the book. I have seen a range of Ursula Le Guin’s books in stores but had never been convinced enough to pick one up. This book is a great intro to her writing.

I really like the world she created, the possibility of a section of humanity splitting from the capitalist and creating a quasi communistic lifestyle on a planet so harsh that it is a struggle to survive and luxury is considered a fruit juice or a room to share with a partner. The society is certainly not simple, not farmers and still corrupt, unfair and unjust but decidly human and decidly anartchistic. I found it interesting as an exploration of of their anarchistic society. The details, social norms and the structures that the society has had to create after a few hundred years being anarchistic, isolated and to survive in a barren wasteland. Very believable, very intricate and logical.

I like the untraditional story style, the flashback style chapters. Definitely worth a read. Another one of Gollancz’s top ten.

I was suprised to read this comment (Review by Nicholas Whyte) that Ursula Le Guin described it as “a heavy, argumentative book”, I’d struggle to find it either. Yes for the time probably a radical critique on someone from the West writing against capitalism, but apart from some of the physics I wouldn’t call it heavy. I found it pretty fast paced and easy to read myself. Certainly compared with the massive tomes that are the norm for spec fic today.

Gradisil – Adam Roberts June 1, 2007

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9780575076310.jpg‘Revenge needs to space to grow’ is the hook for this book. And it certainly does grow throughout the book as we follow a family through three generations of obssession with the ‘Uplands’, a belt of space above the atmosphere where the rich or technically able can live without interference from those down below.

The plot follows the characters in their efforts to become Uplanders, make the Uplands a political force or avenge their beloved leader, it is also like a mini history of the Uplands search for independence.

Politically, the people seem isolated, ethnocentric, disconnected and involved at the same time.

I kept going away and coming back to this book. The world is interesting, some characters are great, others awful. I couldn’t stand old Gradi and felt quite sorry for them all at the end.

I loved Salt but I’m not sure whether I would recommend it straight away… but you can read an extract here.

Scott Westerfield – The Risen Empire January 8, 2007

Posted by taryn in best books ever, fantasy, sci fi.
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The Risen EMpire

I know this wasn’t on the list to read, but I picked it up at Dymocks before I left and really enjoyed it! Read it, I command you.

The book has a host of things I liked: A love story (I’m a sucker, yes, but when you’re parted from your loved one its much more intense) between two likeable, strong and complex characters, a great female character battling with her empathic abilities and her job as Senator, awesome AIs who have character and finesse, battleships, honour and action and of course the old political subertfuge, rebellion and betrayal.

This is a fast paced book, with a lot going on on the different planets. The world itself is great medieval yet sci-fi – and I love a personlity cult dictatorship. Facsinatingly evil.

Anyways, if you haven’t read it, do and let me know what you think.

Scott Westerfield’s Blog

pandora’s star and judas unchained November 15, 2006

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A storm of words has been created for us nerds who enjoy reading speculative fiction (sci-fi and fantasy) and hopefully will provide a forum to discuss books that we are reading.

Thanks to george rr for the name.

Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained by Peter F Hamilton

I loved this story – great characters, great conflict, great conspiracy, backstabbing politics, murder, mayhem and cool technologies. I especially like the universe that Peter has created. I was a bit doubtful after reading Misspent Youth which I loathed. The main character was despicable to me, his betrayal and selfishness and arrogance! But Pandora’s Star was a winner and I will definetely be on the lookout for any other books from this author.

According to Hamilton’s website The Void Trilogy is set in the same universe but 1000 years on, will be out in early 2007.

David says:
I loved this duology. Once again Hamilton paints a convincing picture of human society in the future. I am always impressed with how he does this so well, but differently, in each of his settings. What happens in rejuve, stays in rejuve.

While only two books, in terms of words, this series is longer than many trilogies. Peter Hamilton doesn’t succumb to the plague of multiple points of view that certain other authors use to increase their wordcount, which only blurs the storyline and confuses the reader. The characters here are tightly defined, and you’ll quickly grow to care about them, or at least want to know what happens to them next.
It’s not necessary to have read any of Peter F Hamilton’s work to enjoy this. Get reading! (for the record, I enjoyed Misspent Youth).