Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present

By Cory Doctorow

Rating: 3 stars

This is a short collection of just six stories by Doctorow, including the flash piece Printcrime, about a man with a printer and a dream; the quite excellent I, Row-Boat about a sentient row-boat who follows the creed of Asimovism getting along on a post-Singularity Earth with hardly any humans left; and the moving After the Siege about a city under siege in more ways than one.

I enjoyed most of these stories, but Doctorow’s politics were always present, and some of them could feel a bit preachy. My favourites were I, Row-Boat and Anda’s Game, an examination of MMORPGs and the companies that set up sweatshops in the third world to repeatedly ‘grind’ characters, building them up so they can be sold to Westerners who don’t want to have to play up through the ‘dull’ stuff. That one is probably the most grounded story in the collection, throwing up a lot of issues which are currently having to be dealt with by the online gaming community.

Mostly a fun collection, but only a couple of the stories have the staying power that might make me want to read them again.

Book details

ISBN: 9781560259817
Publisher: Running Press
Year of publication: 2007

It Just Occurred to Me . . .: The Reminiscences Thoughts of Chairman Humph

By Humphrey Lyttelton

Rating: 4 stars

This is a wonderful book that has jazz legend and broadcaster Humphrey Lyttleton letting loose in full raconteur mode. There is no real theme or structure to this book, it’s just Humph writing about things that occur to him so he jumps from his days as a cartoonist and restaurant critic to talking about his mother’s time as a VAD in the Great War to an anecdote about Louis Armstrong’s obsession with herbal laxatives. It’s makes for wonderful reading, and Lyttleton’s distinctive dry tones seem to rise out of each page with occasional comments from Lyttleton’s alter-ego, Chairman Humph, long-standing (and much missed) chair of the great I’m Sorry, I Haven’t a Clue.

A very enjoyable book with lots of great anecdotes, ranging from his upbringing and schooldays at Eton right through to his jazz career and Clue.

Book details

ISBN: 9781905798179
Publisher: Robson Books
Year of publication: 2006

Selling Out (Quantum Gravity, #2)

By Justina Robson

Rating: 4 stars

The second in the Quantum Gravity sequence, six years after the Quantum Bomb has broken down the walls between realities, special agent Lila Black has returned from her first assignment to the Elven lands and is immediately sent to Hell, in more ways than one.

What I loved about the first book in this series, Keeping It Real, was the heroine. Lila is a wonderful character, and not just because she’s a one-woman nuclear-powered army. She’s a fully rounded person, trying to come to terms with the accident that almost killed her, with the fact that the people who rebuilt her aren’t perhaps as trustworthy as she thought and that she’s just started a civil war amongst the Elves. The title of this book refers to selling yourself out – not being true to yourself is what the demons here consider as “being in Hell” and Lila is certainly there, with no immediate way out. The fact that she’s also starting to question her AI and whether her body is actually under her control also does nothing to ease her state of mind.

In some ways, this book felt quite confused – there was a lot going on in it, and it was expanding the mythology of the series rapidly, but it has a strong heart. Even if Lila does seems sort of emo at times, she’s coping with what’s happening to her a hell of a lot better than I could. The growing cast is fun, and the Elven necromancer who ended up sharing her body at the tail end of the first book counterbalances Lila and helps ground her.

Because there are so many different plot strands in this one, I found it harder to keep track of what’s going on than in Keeping It Real, but I still enjoyed it immensely.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575078659
Year of publication: 2007

The Fabulous Riverboat (Riverworld, #2)


Rating: 3 stars

After being completely captivated by To Your Scattered Bodies Go, it took me ages to find the rest of the series (in fact, I managed to acquire the books in reverse order, only getting The Fabulous Riverboat at Christmas). This book leaves the protagonist of volume one, Sir Richard Burton, and follows Samuel Clemens and his dream of building a magnificent riverboat in which he will travel to the headwaters of the River and find the mysterious Ethicals who resurrected Humanity on this world.

Most of the book is taken up with the various struggles involved in building the boat on a mineral-poor planet (a fallen meteorite solves this) and the machinations of his uneasy alliance with King John, with the riverboat itself not making an appearance until the final chapter. I must confess that I’m not entirely sure what made people follow Sam Clemens with such loyalty since he seems to mope a lot and doesn’t have the magnetic personality of Burton.

An enjoyable novel although perhaps not as strong as the first. The quest to build the riverboat didn’t grip me and the fantastically quick development of technology once they had acquired raw materials never really felt right to me. Not that that’s going to stop me from finishing the series.

Book details

ISBN: 9780586039892
Publisher: Panther Books
Year of publication: 1971

The Tough Guide To Fantasyland

By Diana Wynne Jones

Rating: 4 stars

This is Jones’ step-by-step guide to surviving if you find yourself in a fantasy world with nothing but a magic sword. Written like a cross between a guide book and a glossary, complete with little icons in the margins and Official Management Terms for the perils you might find in your journey, this is a delightfully witty book that takes a dig at fantasy stereotypes but in a fond sort of way. Good for browsing.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575601062
Publisher: Vista Publishing (MN)
Year of publication: 1996

Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives

By David Eagleman

Rating: 5 stars

This is a collection of forty very short stories (usually no more than two to three pages) each outlining a different vision of the afterlife, ranging from one where you relive your life with all the moments of your life that share a quality grouped together (so you spend thirty years sleeping, twenty hours clipping your toenails etc) to the idea that there is no afterlife but that at some point the universe will start to contract and time will go backwards so you’ll live your life again in reverse.

I loved this book, each story is a vignette that really packs a punch. They’re poignant, sad or funny but just about each one makes an impression. Although there is the occasional duff one (does the one that suggests that the Earth and everything on it is a giant computer ring any bells?) this is a wonderful book to be dipped into slowly, just one or a couple of stories at a time to avoid getting overloaded.

I got this book because it sounded intriguing and it had received good reviews from both Stephen Fry and John Humphreys and I’ve got a feeling that this could well end up on my post in the ‘favourite books of 2010’ thread at the end of the year.

Book details

ISBN: 9780307377340
Publisher: Pantheon
Year of publication: 2009

Eon (The Way, #1)

By Greg Bear

Rating: 4 stars

The Stone is a vast hollowed-out asteroid that appears in Earth orbit from outside the solar system. Inside are six chambers filled with fabulous technology – but that’s not the greatest wonder: the seventh chamber goes on forever.

This is a book that very ably balances fabulous high technology and Big Ideas with petty politics and humans being humans. The fact that the main antagonists are Soviets dates the book a little but even with that, the motivations behind all the politicking seems very believable, and the ideas behind the infinitely long corridor of the seventh chamber and what the explorers from Earth find up there – not to mention what finds them – is fantastic.

Brilliant science fiction and a great look at politics in a tense situation.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575073166
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 1985

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