Cart and Cwidder (The Dalemark Quartet, #1)

By Diana Wynne Jones

Rating: 4 stars

Moril is a young boy who plays a stringed instrument called the cwidder in a family of travelling musicians, but when he is caught in a web of politics and murder he must discover the secret of his family’s ancient cwidder passed down the generations and his own magic.

This is a fairly slow book to get going and the action happens mostly in the last quarter but it’s also enjoyable, sketching a world in more detail than you would expect from this slim children’s volume. The characters, including Moril, his sister Brid and Kialan, the young man the family picks up to take north with them, are all interesting characters and the whole story has more depth than I’d really expect in what appears, at first glance, to be a simple children’s book. An enjoyable read but it doesn’t immediately make me jump up and down to find the sequels.

Book details

ISBN: 9780192752796
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Year of publication: 1975


By Frederik Pohl

Rating: 4 stars

Gateway is an asteroid found in an odd orbit in the solar system that contains a multitude of ships left behind by the departed Heechee. The ships are easy to pilot but impossible to control. Their pilots may find things that make them rich or their remains may be barely identifiable, if they make it back at all.

Robinette Broadhead is one such pilot who has made it rich but feels the need to see an AI therapist that he calls Sigfrid von Shrink and the book is alternates between Rob’s session’s with Sigfrid and telling his story, and is sprinkled with mission reports from other pilots returning to Gateway, notes about the Heechee and classified adverts.

It’s a great story and solidly told. The flashbacks work well and Sigfrid is a great character for an AI shrink. The world is well-built with the Gateway Corporation that runs Gateway, the food mines (fossil fuels are used as substrates broken down to grow food on) and shortages and the terrible sense of a desperate search for solutions while time is running out for a world creaking under its own weight.

A deserving entry in the SF Masterworks library.

Book details

ISBN: 9781857988185
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 1977

Tales From Planet Earth

By Arthur C. Clarke

Rating: 4 stars

This is a collection of Clarke’s short stories mostly from the 1950s and ’60s, but with forays into the ’80s and even ’90s as well. There are a good mix of stories, from very short and playful (such as Publicity Campaign) to almost novella-sized, deep and emotional (such as The Road to the Sea) and many in-between things. As a fan of Clarke I really enjoyed just about all the stories, few of which have aged in any significant way (although, of course, they will have in lesser ways). A great collection to dip into.

Book details

ISBN: 9780099690801
Year of publication: 1989

Nausica of the Valley of the Wind, Vol. 2 (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, #2)

By Hayao Miyazaki

Rating: 4 stars

The second volume of the story of Princess Nausicaa, this widens and deepens the canvas of the story, showing us some more history of the world and more of the politics and factions that populate it. Nausicaa and the supporting characters are wonderfully drawn (metaphorically and literally) and the story keep hinting at more in an organic way that draws you in.

Miyazaki’s tale of the dangers of ravaging the earth is poignant but never overbearing and I look forward to reading more of it.

Book details

ISBN: 9781417654307
Publisher: Turtleback Books
Year of publication: 1983

Going Under: Quantum Gravity Bk. 3 (Gollancz)

By Justina Robson

Rating: 3 stars

The third in the Quantum Gravity series, this one starts nuclear-powered cyborg Lila Black married to an elf and a demon and enjoying a honeymoon in Daemonia. This starts to go sour as more and more demons try to duel Lila for her power and prestige in having married a scion of one of the most powerful families in the land. Although with her AI-assisted reflexes and battle-technology she is easily able to defeat these challengers, the senseless waste of it is getting to her, so it’s a relief when she is recalled to her own world for a new mission. A type of faerie called Mothkin are infesting Otopia (what Earth became after the Quantum Bomb broke the barriers between realities) and the Agency is sending her to Faery to try and find a solution.

There’s a lot to this book but I found the first half somewhat hard going, mainly due to Lila. In previous books, Lila has been a sassy, fun and kick-ass character, in this one she seems to mope a lot. The last third of the book, when she and her gang eventually get to Faery, the pace picks up. This isn’t the Faery of fairy tales or even of courts and intrigues, but a deeper, scarier place which Robson describes wonderfully.

By the end, Lila has been stripped of almost everything she had, her friends, her lovers, her place in the world, even her sense of self, as her magically charged machine components slowly start encroaching on her organic parts.

The final twist is a bit harsh, considering everything else that’s gone on and I’m not entirely sure if it’s a good decision on Robson’s part, but that won’t stop me from getting the fourth book anyway.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575078673
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2008

Nausica of the Valley of the Wind, Vol. 1 (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, #1)

By Hayao Miyazaki

Rating: 4 stars

The inspiration for Miyazaki’s film of the same name this is a beautifully drawn, if fairly short, graphic novel that follow the eponymous Nausicaä, princess of the Valley of the Wind as she is sent to war for the Emperor that ancient treaties have bound her kingdom to.

Nausicaä’s world is beautifully realised, and focuses on many themes that Miyazaki would return to in his anime films, including the role of man in nature, the destruction of the world and awesome giant robots. It’s initially hard to get used to reading right-to-left but it becomes second nature remarkably quickly.

The graphic novel is short, I read it in about an hour, but the series is also cheap, with each one available for under £5 on Amazon so getting hold of the entire set shouldn’t be as sore on the wallet as other graphic novel series.

Book details

ISBN: 9781591164081
Publisher: VIZ Media
Year of publication: 1982

The Day Watch (Watch, #2)

By Sergei Lukyanenko

Rating: 4 stars

The second book in the Night Watch series, this continues the struggles of the forces of Light against Dark through the agencies of Moscow’s Night and Day Watches respectively, headed by their Great Magicians as they continue the battle with more subtle means than all-out war. I really rather enjoyed this book, split into three separate stories, each building on what came before to a rather startling climax as we see just how deep and far ahead the plans of the heads of the Watches go.

Two of the three stories in this book are told in the first person by Dark Ones while the third is told in the third person and uses both a Dark and Light One as the protagonists, only to show at the end just how little they knew of the plans they were part of.

As I said when talking about The Night Watch, I like the way that the ancient war between Light and Dark has taken the form of Police actions and with the Treaty has been codified. This causes the leaders of the forces into much more subtle paths, and the war becomes a game – something which both Light and Dark Others speak of more than once in the course of the book, seeing themselves as playing pieces to be moved and maybe sacrificed by the players, the leaders of the Watches, with only the Inquisition to adjudicate. A solid book and certainly one that makes me want to continue the series.

Book details

ISBN: 9780099489931
Publisher: Arrow
Year of publication: 2000

The Preserving Machine

By Philip K. Dick

Rating: 4 stars

I’ve got to admit that PKD is a large gap in my science fictional life. I’ve read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep but before this collection of short stories, that was it, and I’ve got to say that I didn’t hugely enjoy that. However, I’ve been very impressed with this collection and will probably look out for more Dick short stories.

As the state of reality and mental illness were recurring aspects of Dick’s own life, it’s natural that they would occur in his fiction as well, and those themes do crop up in this collection but it’s also got a lot of other acute observations on life and nature. Highlights probably include We can remember it for you wholesale, War Game and Pay for the Printer.

There’s also a mischievous sense of humour, albeit quite a dark one at times, running through these stories which made them fun to read. Certainly a collection that has made me look again at Philip K. Dick again.

Book details

ISBN: 9780586069387
Publisher: Grafton
Year of publication: 1969

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