Keeping It Real (Quantum Gravity, #1)

By Justina Robson

Rating: 4 stars

I decided to get this after seeing Ms Robson at EasterCon in Glasgow a couple of years ago and deciding that she sounded cool. It’s 2021, 6 years after an accident in a particle accelerator broke down walls between dimensions (the “quantum bomb”), letting elves, demons and magic into our world. Our heroine, Lila Black, is a young special agent who was almost killed on a diplomatic mission to the Elf lands and has been rebuilt better, stronger, faster than before. She now works for the National Security Agency and her current assignment is to protect the world’s first Elven rock star.

I think I probably fell in love with this book when we were told that Agent Black has a mini nuclear fusion reactor powering her :-D. This lady has enough weaponry in her rebuilt body to take on a small army, an AI backing her up and rockets in her legs to let her fly! In saying that, although we are told fairly often how much weaponry that Lila packs, thinking back over the book, I don’t think that she fired a single shot in anger, which is a nice way of indicating how resourceful that Lila is.

A great fun book with some intriguing politics between Elves, Demons and humans, although I’d love to find out more about how human society has changed since the quantum bomb. Despite hearing that future books in the series aren’t as good, I’ll probably still pick them up.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575079076
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2006

Hawksbill Station

By Robert Silverberg

Rating: 3 stars

This was a fairly enjoyable story about a group of political activists who were considered so dangerous by their government that there were exiled to the far past and left to survive or not. While I don’t know enough about the geology of the world ~2 billion years ago to know if there was an oxygen atmosphere yet or whether survival at this era was remotely possible, the story itself was pretty engaging, although it did have Silverberg’s usual problem with women. The only female character was only described by her physical appearance and never given any depth. Although, to be fair, this was from the point of view of a 16 year old boy, so it’s sort of excusable.

The main problem with the book is its very rushed conclusion — even a couple of pages from the end I was wondering if this was part of a trilogy or something and I hadn’t noticed. He did actually wrap it up in one book but it felt rather unnatural, as if he’d just got bored and wanted to finish the story, leaving me feeling somewhat cheated.

Book details

ISBN: 9780425036792
Publisher: Berkley (NYC)
Year of publication: 1967

Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective

By Carl Sagan

Rating: 4 stars

Although nominal pop science, this certainly isn’t a primer for the general layman, since it seems to already assume a decent amount of knowledge on the part of the reader. It does provide, however, a very lucid description of the origins of the solar system, the development of life and its progression and wider place in the universe (at least as understood up to the early 1970s when it was written).

Our space probes are discussed, including the Pioneer probes which Sagan himself worked on — I hadn’t realised that there was such controversy over the plaques that were mounted on Pioneers 10 and 11 — and he describes how they were used to develop and test theories about the planets of the solar system.

Sagan isn’t afraid to speculate about the possibility of life on other worlds and the possible means of listening for them, and maybe even communicating with them. This willingness to delve into what a lot of scientists may consider unsavoury territory is part of what makes Sagan’s work so charming.

The only issue that I had with the book is its age. Some of his more optimistic predictions have already been proven wrong (like his suggestion of a permanent moonbase by now). I would love to read a contemporary piece that discusses the history of human spaceflight the way that Sagan has, but brings it up to date, charting all the successes and failures since Sagan’s day.

In total, a charming and well-written description of man and his relationship with the universe.

Book details

ISBN: 9780521783033
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Year of publication: 1973

River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life

By Richard Dawkins

Rating: 4 stars

I’ve said before about Dawkins’ work that no matter what you think of the man and his opinions, he’s an excellent communicator, as proved yet again by this compact volume. Part of the Science Masters series, it is a description of Darwinism and evolution from a genetic point of view, that of DNA and the ‘selfish gene’. It’s well written, easy to read and very lucid and understand. Biology’s always been the science that I’ve been least interested in, but Dawkins broaches complicated topics with ease. Highly recommended.

Book details

ISBN: 9780465069903
Publisher: HarperCollinsPublishers
Year of publication: 1994

The Small Assassin

By Ray Bradbury

Rating: 3 stars

This is a collection of short horror-themed stories and despite the fact that I’m not normally a horror person, I really rather enjoyed it. Bradbury’s horror isn’t that of blood and guts, it’s the horror of the mundane with a twist, the familiar suddenly made horribly strange. From a mother whose fear of her baby may be well-founded or may be post-natal depression to the man who believes he’s dead, but falls in love.

Written with Bradbury’s trademark flair and thoughtfulness this isn’t a book that will cause nightmares but it will make you think.

Book details

ISBN: 9780450015625
Publisher: New English Library
Year of publication: 1962

In the Problem Pit

By Frederik Pohl

Rating: 3 stars

This is a collection of short stories a couple of essays by one of the classic writers of the 50s and 60s. I’ve not really read much Pohl before and I had hoped that this collection would give me a feel for his work. However, I found that while I enjoyed the stories and it was good SF, it perhaps didn’t have a huge amount of ‘character’. When you read a Gaiman, Asimov or Clarke story, you know you’ve read a story by one of those authors but this felt rather, um, generic.

Read it for good SF but not necessarily to get an idea of Pohl as a writer.

Book details

ISBN: 9780553088571
Publisher: Bantam
Year of publication: 1976

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