By Elizabeth A. Hull

Rating: 4 stars

I heard about this anthology, which was conceived as a present from his wife for his 90th birthday, on Fred Pohl’s (rather excellent) blog, The Way The Future Blogs. I was taken with the number of quality authors involved in the project and was delighted to receive it as a present. I haven’t been disappointed with the book at all either. The stories are all new, written specially for this anthology and they are interspersed with a number of appreciations of Pohl from yet more big names in the genre.

Trying to pick out favourites in this collection is difficult, as the stories are mostly all very strong. Cory Doctorow’s Chicken Little and Jody Lynn Nye’s Virtually, A Cat stand out though, with the former being an interesting longer story about power and its use and abuse while the latter is a fun little story about how a software engineer copes without his precious pet cats for two years in space.

There were only a couple of mis-hits for me. While I was initially delighted that Harry Harrison’s contribution was a new Stainless Steel Rat story, I found the story itself uninspiring, with forced humour that just didn’t work for me. And Brian Aldiss’ story about miscarriage and (implied) incest on Mars left me cold as well. But beyond that the stories were of uniformly high quality and the appreciations of Pohl were heartwarming, and I’ll definitely be looking out for more of his fiction.

Book details

ISBN: 9780765326638
Publisher: Tor Books
Year of publication: 2010

Zoo City

By Lauren Beukes

Rating: 4 stars

Zinzi December is one of the ‘animalled’, she did something bad in her life and a sloth materialised and became psychically linked to her. It isn’t all bad, the animalled also get a gift (or curse) to go with their animal, and in Zinzi’s case that is the gift of finding lost things. With her latest client murdered, Zinzi is forced to take on her least favourite type of case: missing persons.

Having not particularly enjoyed Beukes’ previous novel, Moxyland, I wasn’t going to pick this one up, but it came highly recommended by someone whose judgement in books I trust, and I’m very glad I did. I don’t normally go for urban fantasy, but there’s a lot to recommend in this book. The world is very skilfully drawn and just slightly squint to our own. It’s a mark of Beukes’ skill that the addition of the animals seems an almost natural addition to our own. Normally, it’s not something I notice, but I very much admired Beukes’ use of ‘show, don’t tell’ in her writing. We are never infodumped with information about the animals or the world, but the facts we need are woven skilfully into the narrative, and we never feel at sea in jargon.

Zinzi is a flawed protagonist, a recovering drug addict paying off debts to gangs by writing 419-style scam emails, but she holds our sympathy and as our guide to the world is definitely sympathetic as she tries to rebuild her life, even when you find out what she did to deserve her sloth.

The story started to accelerate in pace towards the end and, to me, got slightly confusing. I think that a re-read would help with this and it certainly didn’t spoil the book for me. I would recommend this novel, even to people who wouldn’t normally read fantasy; Beukes certainly deserves the Arthur C. Clarke Award that she received for it.

Book details

ISBN: 9780857660541
Publisher: Angry Robot (Osprey Publishing)
Year of publication: 2010

The Enormous Crocodile

By Roald Dahl

Rating: 4 stars

A fun little romp about an enormous crocodile who wants to eat little children and the other animals who thwart him. One for the younger reader.

Book details

ISBN: 9780141311524
Publisher: Puffin
Year of publication: 1978


By Dan Abnett

Rating: 3 stars

Lex Falk is a cynical, world-weary journalist. He’s got a shelf full of Pulitzers, has been everywhere and seen everything. His latest assignment is to find out what the military are so concerned to keep secret on colony world Eighty Six (turns out it can take some time for worlds to decide on a name for themselves). Although initially uninterested, he is annoyed enough when the military liaison people try to play him for a fool to get more involved. And you can’t get much more deeply involved than covertly hitching a ride in the skull of a friendly soldier. When it all goes horribly wrong, Falk finds himself in the middle of something bigger than he could have dreamed. Now he just needs to keep himself, and his host, alive long enough for him to report it.

I acquired this book because it was part of the free goodie bag at Eastercon 2012, earlier this month. I picked it up not expecting a huge amount from it, but ended up pretty much enjoying it. Although Falk is initially dislikeable, his armour of worn cynicism making it difficult to warm to him, as the book progresses, and after he becomes embedded with his host, Nestor Bloom, I found myself warming to him more.

The book is most certainly part of the subgenre ‘military SF’, with loving descriptions of hardware and different types of weaponry (hardware porn is an appropriate term), and people die in fairly gruesome ways. But beyond that, there is a core mystery that keeps Falk and the reader going throughout the book, always striving for the final clue that will fill in the blanks.

While I found some of the language in the book annoying (for example, when asked how they are, characters will invariably reply that they’re “wealthy”), I found the explanation for using “freekĀ®” as a swearword clever and sort of funny. Likewise, the fact that the “Central Bloc” is the hinted enemy throughout seemed incongruous given that the book was only released in 2011, although there’s a throwaway comment near the end that suggests an explanation for this.

An enjoyable enough way to while away a few hours, then, as long as you don’t mind lots of descriptions of military hardware.

Book details

ISBN: 9780857660909
Publisher: Angry Robot Books
Year of publication: 2010

The Other Wind (Earthsea Cycle, #6)

By Ursula K. Le Guin

Rating: 5 stars

The final novel in the Earthsea sequence takes the series out on a high for me. I came to Earthsea fairly late, only reading the original trilogy a few years ago, followed fairly swiftly by Tehanu, which it’s safe to say I didn’t enjoy that much, at least, not for its story. I have no such reservations about The Other Wind. I think that this is the book that I wanted Tehanu to be, as it continues the story of the adopted daughter of Sparrowhawk and Tenar and brings it to a denouement, if not conclusion.

This felt like a good blend of traditional fantasy, in that it begins with a quest (albeit, the quest of the sorcerer Alder to find peace from dreams that are tormenting him) but you also gain the full benefit of Le Guin’s years of honing her art and philosophy.

Sparrowhawk, whose story is told in the original Earthsea trilogy, is a minor character in this novel, appearing only in the opening section and at the very end but he is someone who has finally found peace and is able to offer the benefit of his wisdom, if not his magic. We see much more of Tenar, Tehanu and king Lebannen but these characters are much more active than they were in Tehanu, ‘doing’ rather than just ‘being’, the opposite of which was a complaint I made about the previous novel.

The story itself is about beginnings and endings. About lost history and the circle of life; about life and death and the righting of ancient wrongs. This could quickly get very hard going, but Le Guin maintains a deftness of touch throughout and injects humour into unexpected places which both kept me on my toes and made me smile and sometimes laugh out loud.

A marvellous way to end the Earthsea sequence.

Book details

ISBN: 9781842552117
Publisher: Orion Children's Books
Year of publication: 2001

Monsters And Medics

By James White

Rating: 4 stars

I am a fan of James White and his brand of mostly violence-free space opera and enjoyed this collection. The meat of the collection was the novella Second Ending about the last man on Earth and the robots who keep him alive. This was a poignant and well-told piece, showing the loneliness of the position with realistic cracks in the protagonist’s sanity, and the sort of petty and pointless revenges that he would take out on the robots who wouldn’t let him die.

Of the other stories, Counter Security was a humorous tale of a sci-fi loving night-watchman who gets handed a very strange mystery in the dead of night; Dogfight is one of White’s very few war-stories, into which he injects his own particular brand of humanism; Nuisance Value involves a world rebuilding itself after the apocalypse and one man’s battle to clear his father’s name long after he has died; and finally, we have In Loving Memory, a story that he describes in the introduction as being formed while he was courting his future wife. It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting from the story, and although I might disagree with the premise of a second wave of human space colonisation striving to undo the genetic differences that have arisen since the first to avoid war, it was quite hard hitting in its own way.

A good collection then, both for established White fans and for those who want a bit more thought and a bit less violence in their space opera.

Book details

ISBN: 9780552104623
Publisher: Corgi
Year of publication: 1977

Sci-Fi Private Eye: Amazing Tales of Cosmic Crime

By Charles G. Waugh

Rating: 4 stars

I rather enjoyed this anthology of crime-related SF stories. I was curious to see just how ‘science fictional’ these stories would be – i.e. would they just be traditional stories transplanted into space or would the crimes and/or their solutions genuinely require science fiction. Happily, for more than half the stories this is the case. Of the ones for which it isn’t, I’ll happily forgive The Scarletin Study because its protagonist is a talking dog while The Martian Crown Jewels is a classic locked room mystery with a twist. Of the others, the one that was probably creepiest was The Winner, about a prison with no walls, but a device embedded into the prisoners’ bodies ensures that the the further they get from the prison, the more pain they endure… Philip K. Dick’s War Game about psychological warfare with toys and games deserves a mention as does Wilson Tucker’s Time Exposures whose police photographer captures not so much the ‘now’ as the ‘then’ with photographs of the past.

All in all this is a strong collection which I’d be happy to dip into again, even though I now know how all the crimes are solved and loose ends tied up.

Book details

ISBN: 9780451455925
Publisher: Roc
Year of publication: 1993

Impugned By A Peasant & Other Stories

By Frank Key

Rating: 4 stars

This is a collection of very short vignettes by Frank Key, culled from his website Hooting Yard. I first encountered Mr Key as a reader on the Drabblecast podcast and when his new volume was published, a few of the stories were read on that podcast which I enjoyed so looked up the complete collection.

The vignettes are very short, no more than 2-3 pages each, surreal and not really about anything. You can’t read many in one go or they completely blur, but they are enjoyable in a wry way. There are recurring characters who you start to look out for, such as the bestselling paperbackist Pebblehead, the vertically-challenged adventurer Tiny Enid, and, of course, the perpetually out of print pamphleteer, Dobson.

Having heard Key as a reader, I hear these stories in his voice, a rather dry, somewhat sarcastic English tone which completely suits the stories.

Book details

Publisher: Lulu
Year of publication: 2010

Powered by WordPress