The City and the Stars

By Arthur C. Clarke

Rating: 5 stars

The city of Diaspar has stood for a thousand million years, its eternity circuits protecting it against the ravages of time and entropy as the city itself nourishes and protects its immortal citizens. In this changelessness Alvin is Unique, the first person to be ‘born’ in millions of years. Although Diaspar is all that remains on a dying Earth, Alvin is determined to get outside and see the world for himself.

I first read this when I was an impressionable youth, and goodness me did it leave an impression. This is Clarke at the height of his powers, effortlessly creating vistas of space and time on a truly awe-inspiring scale. Diaspar is a wonderful creation and is a character in itself, not just a setting and Alvin’s exploration of it reveal the city organically. The protagonist is sympathetic and you feel for him on his journey of self-discovery. Sometimes I felt that he was taking the changes that were happening in his life a little too much in his stride, but I can’t apply the standards of my civilisation to one that’s had megayears to refine both body and mind.

This is space opera at its best, with huge backgrounds but still focussed on the individuals at the centre of the story.

Book details

Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 1956

The Ship Who Searched (Brainship, #3)

By Anne McCaffrey

Rating: 4 stars

Tia is a precocious daughter of archaeologists who take her with them on digs. On one, she is infected with a disease that destroys control of her body, leaving her dependent on life-support. Tia is eventually transferred to the ‘shellperson’ programme where her body is encased in a shell and her brainstem attached to a spaceship. She now has a mission: to understand whatever it was that laid her low and make sure it never attacks anyone again.

This is an old favourite, not demanding reading at all but the team of Tia and her ‘brawn’ Alex is a fun one and their adventures make for enjoyable light reading. Like a lot of McCaffrey, it’s unambitious (more thought could certainly have been given to the setting) but enjoyable.

Book details

ISBN: 9781857232059
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 1992

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

By Cory Doctorow

Rating: 3 stars

Julius is a young man barely past his first century of life in the post-scarcity, post-death Bitchun Society. He’s now settled down in Disney World in an ad-hoc looking after some of the classic attractions, but there’s a new ad-hoc in the Magic Kingdom, and they’re trying to muscle in on the Haunted Mansion…

The scope of this story is pretty narrow, amounting to little more than an administrative dispute over a few rides at Disney World, but the world that the story is set in is the real draw. Doctorow posits a post-scarcity economy, where the only currency of note is “wuffie”, a measure of reputation which is interesting. In a society saturated with electronics and ubiquitous personal network access, this can change from moment to moment as your actions cause ripples in those around you and beyond, depending on the scope of the actions.

Maybe not a riveting plot, but certainly good world-building.

Book details

ISBN: 9780765309532
Publisher: Tor Books
Year of publication: 2003

The Seeds of Time

By John Wyndham

Rating: 4 stars

According to Wyndham in the introduction to this collection of short stories, he’s trying to experiment with the form and bring science fiction to people who wouldn’t necessarily otherwise read it. There are stories here in the pastoral vein, Gothic horror, satire, traditional English short stories, ‘new form’ English short stories and a few others. While I perhaps haven’t read widely enough to judge how well he succeeds in writing to these different genres, the stories themselves are cracking reads.

To name but a few: Time to Rest has an almost Bradbury-esque country gentleness and sadness about it, which is sort of echoed in Wild Flower. Pawley’s Peepholes (about an English town besieged by incorporeal time-tourists) is downright hilarious while Survival (disaster strikes on a ship bound for Mars) is just creepy.

An excellent collection by a master of the genre.

Book details

ISBN: 9780140013856
Publisher: Penguin Books
Year of publication: 1956

The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastard, #1)

By Scott Lynch

Rating: 3 stars

Locke Lamora is the Thorn of Camorr, leader of the Gentlemen Bastards, a master thief who robs the nobility of that city-state with grand breath-taking plans. He and his gang hide not only from the police but from the leader of the underworld who knows hims as just another garrista of a small, unimportant gang. But a private war that erupts suddenly in the city’s underworld has Locke and his band fighting for their lives.

This book has a wonderful setting, crossing an Italian renaissance city with aspects of The Godfather and the grimier scenes from Dickens. Locke and his Gentlemen Bastards are great characters, carrying out their schemes with wonderful flair, and when the excrement starts hitting the rotating ceiling-mounted air-circulation device, you really care about them. Especially when the ‘bondsmage’, the Falconer starts to get his hands on them.

Lynch dropped several hints about the background to the city-state of Camorr and the long-vanished race that created the towering edifices that mankind has inherited. While curious to find out more about this, I recognise that sometimes backstory is just treated as such and left alone.

A great story, well-told with a wonderfully vivid setting. And although it’s the first in a sequence, the story is wrapped up neatly so you aren’t left hanging.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575079755
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2006

The Robert Sheckley Omnibus

By Robert Sheckley

Rating: 0 stars

It’s been a while since I read any and I’m glad to say that it’s as good as I remember. Sheckley’s promised presence at WorldCon 2005 was a major draw for me, and I’m sorry that ill health meant that he had to withdraw, just months before his death, meaning that I never got to meet him.

This volume is effectively two books in one, containing one novel, Immortality Inc. and enough short stories to form a book in their own right. I’ve always thought that Sheckley is at his strongest in short stories, so I skipped the novel and went straight there.

I don’t think I found anything that I hadn’t read before, but familiar stories like Specialist (Humanity finds its place in the co-operative community of the galaxy), Ask A Foolish Question (a device is built that can answer any question, but only if framed correctly), Pilgrimage to Earth (a colonist travels to Earth in search of true love) and many more are a joy to read and re-read.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575016774
Publisher: GOLLANCZ

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