Rainbow Mars

By Larry Niven

Rating: 3 stars

Hanville Svetz travels in time to bring back long-extinct animals to his time period, and so what if they’re somewhat different to those described in the history books: maybe horses did have a single silver horn and maybe snakes did have feathers and wings. But the Secretary General has died and his successor isn’t interested in retrieving animals from history, but in exploring space. This leads to an interesting collaboration between the Institute of Temporal Research and the Bureau of Space which discovers life on Mars in the past, and a beanstalk that is, er, a beanstalk.

This was a rather odd book, and it took me a while to get into its mesh of sci-fi and fantasy, as the human travellers find various mythological Martians, from Burroughs through Bradbury and Heinlein to Wells, but once I got past that I found it quite enjoyable, even if I did need the author’s afterword to recognise all the various Mars references. Time travel usually gives me a headache, but it was handled quite well here and I found the central characters interesting and well-written, people I was quite happy to spend a few hours in the company of.

There are other stories in this “atomic era” universe which detail some of Svetz’s adventures in bringing back historical/mythological animals and I would quite like to read some of those now that I know what to expect from this universe.

Book details

ISBN: 9783404242900
Year of publication: 1999

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner

By James Hogg

Rating: 2 stars

This book is a satirical deconstruction of an extreme religious pre-deterministic position. The protagonist firmly believes himself to be saved by the Grace of god and so feels free to indulge his religious position to engage in some mightily unchristian behaviour. It’s difficult to say more without spoilers.

I think this book has problems with its structure. I nearly gave up with it several times before I had even got to the confession. The editor’s narrative is very slow to start with and the whole grammar feels awfully convoluted at times. The structure of a framing narrative, with a “found manuscript” in the middle didn’t work for me at all, and the whole book did rather feel ‘backwards’ in that I would probably have swapped the preceding and following portions of the editor’s narrative.

Without giving away spoilers, once we got into Robert’s (the titular sinner’s) narrative, I feel that the plot device used to get him to start sinning was not only somewhat obvious, but it also detracted from the strength of the argument and the philosophical underpinnings of the absolute pre-deterministic position.

An interesting idea, perhaps, but I’d be more interested to read a more contemporary take on the same issue.

Book details

ISBN: 9781853261886
Publisher: Wordsworth Classics
Year of publication: 1824

A Different Light

By Elizabeth A. Lynn

Rating: 3 stars

In a world where most diseases are curable, the artist Jimson Alleca has incurable cancer. He has the choice to stay on his homeworld, receiving constant medical attention and live a roughly normal lifespan, or fulfil his dream and go out into the galaxy and be dead within the year. He chooses the latter and eventually finds himself on a dangerous journey with his former lover Russell, now a starship captain.

The plot in this book feels like a framework for Lynn to hang her characters from. We see the world through the eyes of a dying artist and this is what Lynn really wants to explore. The plot to recover the artefact from a dangerous world is one lens through which to see Jimson, and sort of fizzles out, although there is a twist to Jimson’s inevitable death that was quite nice.

So lots of good bits, I thought, but they didn’t fully gel into a whole for me.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575026629
Year of publication: 1978

Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction

By Ian Whates

Rating: 4 stars

Of the 19 stories in this collection, I loved some, liked most of them and only disliked two or three. That’s a pretty good hit rate for the collection. Unfortunately, the misses for me were some of the big names: I completely failed to get Tricia Sullivan’s The One That Got Away and Pat Catigan’s You Never Know just perplexed me. But on the up side, I adored Keith Brooke and Eric Brown’s Eternity’s Children about a man wracked with guilt as he goes to destroy a colony’s entire way of life; Alistair Reynolds For the Ages, telling of possibly the most audacious plan in the history of Humanity; and Peter F. Hamilton’s very playful, and metafictional, Return of the Mutant Worms about a former SF author whose past comes back to haunt him.

As as well as these gems, Ian McDonald’s A Smart Well-Mannered Uprising of the Dead, Paul de Fillippo’s Sweet Spots and Jaine Fenn’s Dreaming Towers, Silent Mansions are all worthy of more than just namechecks (which is, due to terminal laziness on the part of the reviewer, all they’re getting).

A rather fine collection with a lot of stories worth dipping into.

Book details

ISBN: 9781907992087
Publisher: Solaris
Year of publication: 2011

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