Roadside Picnic

By Arkady Strugatsky

Rating: 3 stars

It’s a future earth that has been Visited by aliens who left several Zones full of ‘stuff’ and then disappeared. The zones are dangerous places, but full of riches and ‘stalkers’ often go into them illegally to scavenge objects that they sell on. One such stalker is Red Schuhart, who goes in to support his wife and mutant daughter, searching for the legandary Golden Ball, which is rumoured to grant the wishes of men.

This was an interesting book although I dunno how much I enjoyed it. The main characters are mostly sympathetic and believable, but the ending was a bit weird, and fairly sudden.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575070530
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 1972

The Eye of the Queen

By Phillip Mann

Rating: 4 stars

This was a great book of first contact between a humanity well versed in first contact with primitive races and their first ultra-advanced alien race. The aliens ask for the planet’s leading contact linguist — Marius Thorndyke — by name and he willingly goes to their world to learn about them and their mysterious society.

The book is in the form of Thorndyke’s diary entries, with commentary by a fellow linguist who came with him and it worked well. The aliens were strange enough to deserve the name and the first contact situation worked very well. Well worth reading.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575072381
Publisher: Victor Gollancz
Year of publication: 1982

The Five Fists of Science

By Matt Fraction

Rating: 3 stars

This is a great fun graphic novel which pits Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla against the evil forces of JP Morgan and Thomas Edison, with only the forces of Science at their disposal. Oh, and giant robots (well, one giant robot, anyway). It’s good fun and I liked the artwork, although the story never quite gelled for me.

Book details

ISBN: 9781582406053
Publisher: Image Comics, Inc.
Year of publication: 2006

Tau Zero

By Poul Anderson

Rating: 5 stars

I loved this book. The starship ‘Leonara Christine’, crewed by fifty of Earth’s finest, sets of at near the speed of light for a star about thirty light years away in the hope of colonisation. Less than half-way there, an accident disables its deceleration system forcing it to continue to accelerate in order to survive. This is the story of the crew as they accelerate their way out of the galaxy and into the distant future.

This was a real hard SF book, to the point of having equations (well, one equation). I don’t know if the notion of ‘tau’ in terms of close to lightspeed travel exists in relativity but if it doesn’t, Anderson certainly made me believe it :-). The story was tightly told and the characters all sympathetic. And the conclusion took my breath away somewhat. An excellent read.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575070998
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 1970

Pig Ignorant

By Nicholas Fisk

Rating: 3 stars

This is a short memoir of Fisk’s early life between leaving school in the late ’30s and his being called up for the war in ’44 or ’45 (not actually made clear). I quite like Fisk’s work and I enjoyed this broad-brush picture of life before and during the war.

Book details

ISBN: 9780744523515
Publisher: Walker
Year of publication: 1992


By Cordwainer Smith

Rating: 4 stars

This is Smith’s only SF novel, although he wrote some short stories set in the same universe (mostly collected in The Rediscovery of Man which I read some time ago and may now have to re-read in light of this book). The planet of Old North Australia (Norstralia) is the only place in the universe that stroon can be found — the immortality drug. This is the story of how one Nostrilian boy (just reaching manhood) buys the earth. And gets away with it.

This is a fun story, with lots of little bits thrown in to suggest a rich universe. It’s a shame that Smith didn’t get to explore more of it, since this combined with The Rediscovery of Man suggests that there’s an awful lot there. Oh, and he seems almost as fond of songs and poetry as Tolkien.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575070189
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 1975

Earth Factor X

By A.E. van Vogt

Rating: 2 stars

Supposedly about multiple alien races attempting to invade earth, this book was really about sex and the role of women. The book makes for uncomfortable reading, with its very misogynistic views on the roles and positions of women — mainly as sex objects and things for men to worry about. What story there was was also disjointed and difficult to read. Not recommended.

Book details

ISBN: 9780879974121
Publisher: DAW
Year of publication: 1974

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman

By Richard P. Feynman

Rating: 4 stars

This collection of writing and lectures by Richard Feynman really shows his delight in science as a means of understanding the world around us. Certain themes crop up again and again: knowledge for its own sake; his distaste of philosophy; the dangers of pseudoscience. His style is assured and draws you in. Well worth the read.

And it also taught me how to calculate square numbers around 50 in my head :-).

Book details

Publisher: Basic Books
Year of publication: 1999

The Stars’ Tennis Balls

By Stephen Fry

Rating: 2 stars

I didn’t really enjoy this book an awful lot. It started off in that awfully upper-class public schoolboy way that The Liar did, then turned into The Prisoner and ended up as a revenge tale. The revenge tale was the most interesting, but I didn’t think that it gelled hugely well and the protagonist never quite worked as he shifted between the three parts of the story. I wouldn’t really recommend this as an introduction to the novels of Stephen Fry.

Book details

ISBN: 9780099471554
Publisher: Arrow Books
Year of publication: 2000

Rule Golden and Other Stories

By Damon Knight

Rating: 3 stars

This was a collection of 5 short(ish) stories, all but one with the general theme of man’s violent nature. The most depressing of the lot was The Earth Quarter since the other stories generally had a light at the end of the tunnel; man might change, but it would be for the better, while this one had no such hope.

This is the first Knight that I’ve read, and I enjoyed his work so will look out for more in future.

Book details

ISBN: 9780380436460
Publisher: Avon Books
Year of publication: 1979

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