Citizen In Space

By Robert Sheckley

Rating: 5 stars

I’ve been a fan of Robert Sheckley for some years, since a friend spent a whole summer forcing as many people as he could to read Sheckley stories. I’m really glad that he did, because I’ve found the man to be consistently funny, thoughtful, weird and creepy, sometimes in the same story. It’s in the short story where Sheckley’s skills stand out, and this volume collects twelve of them. I’ve actually read almost all of them before in other books, but it’s nice to have them collected in one place.

It’s difficult to pick out highlights as the book has not a single mis-step, but amongst the gems we find The Accountant, about a family of wizards whose son is determined to become an accountant; Hands Off tells the story of some ruffians who have an encounter with an unknown alien and the perils of the unknown; while The Battle tells the story of Armageddon and the armies that fight against the legions of Hell. My favourite story in the collection is probably Skulking Permit, about a long-lost Earth colony whose single interstellar radio one day sparks back into life and the colonists suddenly have to learn to be civilised and have things like police, racism and murderers in a few short weeks. This story is funny, thought-provoking and quite sweet as it describes an interruption in Utopia in a few short, concise pages, following the village’s newly licensed Official Criminal.

Finding a book of short stories by Robert Sheckley is always an event worth celebrating and this collection shows an author at the height of his powers.

Book details

Publisher: Ballantine Books
Year of publication: 1955

The Gods of Mars (Barsoom #2)

By Edgar Rice Burroughs

Rating: 3 stars

The second of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ ‘Mars’ books is a good old-fashioned adventure. The hero, John Carter, is rarely not stabbing or slicing someone most of the way through. Removed from Earth by the same mysterious process that took him before, he is deposited in Mars’ equivalent of Eden. But it is an Eden that is far from peaceful. Soon reunited with old friend and comrade in arms Tars Tarkas, John Carter must fight his way out back to his beloved princess Dejah Thoris.

I think what I noticed most about this book was how easy it was for John Carter. His superior Earth-muscles and training make him an invincible warrior and he seems to have an aura that persuades other people to just fall in line with him and throw their swords at his feet, not to mention having very good luck. So even if captured or facing innumerable odds, you never really feel that our hero is in any danger.

A fun book that’s easy to pick up and put down at frequent intervals as it doesn’t require a huge amount of mental effort (making it good lunch time reading).

Book details

ISBN: 9780345324399
Publisher: Random House Ballantine Del Rey
Year of publication: 1913


By Karl Schroeder

Rating: 5 stars

I got this book on the recommendation of Charles Stross, and although I downloaded the free ebook to my smartphone I wasn’t expecting to get to it any time soon. It was only because I finished my paper book while on holiday sooner than I expected that I turned to this. And I was gripped within the first chapter. It starts off very much as a typical fantasy story where the young protagonist is stolen away and ends up on a quest to discover himself, but as the world widens, we discover a very hard SF story.

The world of Ventus was seeded about a thousand years ago by a nanotech seed pod to terraform it. Powerful AIs called Winds oversee this process, but when the settlers finally arrive, they find the Winds refusing to communicate with them. Worse, seeing them as a threat to their ecosystem, they wipe out their technology, reducing them to a pre-industrial civilisation. Fast-forward to the present day, and young Jordan Mason finds himself kidnapped by off-worlders because in his head is a remote sensor placed there by a former slave of the destroyed evil AI “3340” who wants to take control of the Winds and recreate his former master.

The scope of the world building is tremendous, from the Archipelago of human worlds to the immensely intricate world of Ventus itself. The idea of a completely artificial world, where nanotechnology is in everything but where everything could also be out to get you is a powerful one. Jordan is a good everyman character through whose eyes it’s fascinating to see the world, and to see him grow as the story progresses.

The other really interesting character for me, is Queen Galas – a monarch with remarkably progressive views, who tries to make radical changes in her nation, thus sparking off a civil war with the establishment. Her experimentation and struggle in such a staid civilisation felt remarkably fresh, if somewhat doomed to failure.

There’s also a strong philosophical thread running through a lot of the book about intelligence and narcissism which I enjoyed. There’s an awful lot to like in this book. It’s grounded and has an almost space-opera feel to it which is unusual but which I sometimes see in Iain M. Banks’ work (definitely a compliment, I love Banks’ Culture novels).

Although an option to buy the book (through PayPal) is available on the author’s website, I didn’t pay for it at the time since I didn’t know if I’d like it or not. As soon as I finished it, I went back and left a donation via the PayPal button. This is definitely an author I’d encourage to keep writing, and this is my little way of doing that. I’ll definitely look out for more of his work in future.

Book details

ISBN: 9781429983945
Publisher: Tor Books
Year of publication: 2000

Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others

By Anonymous

Rating: 3 stars

This is an interesting series of myths from ancient Mesopotamia, which were probably the origins of the tropes and archetypes that appear again and again in western mythology and narrative. The introduction to each one is interesting, but the actual myths themselves can be difficult, as they have been reconstructed from fragments of recovered clay tablets, and many fragments are still missing. This can be a single missing word, or entire sections of the text.

Also, to modern sensibilities the tales are awfully bare, with little embellishment. The introduction suggests that this is because these were only notes that would be mnemonics to the storytellers of the time who would fill in the details and make the stories come to life. This is interesting, but it does make reading these sometimes a bit of a chore.

Book details

ISBN: 9780199538362
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Year of publication: -1750

Doom Patrol, Vol. 4: Musclebound

By Grant Morrison

Rating: 4 stars

I’m really not sure where to even begin with this. Volume 4 of Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol takes us through the secret origin of a muscle-bound superhero from previous volumes, the appearance of someone who may or may not be Satan, the reappearance of a new new Brotherhood of Dada and, possibly best of all, a lone vigilante who is the best at what he does. And what he does is hunt beards.

Bizarre, funny, sometimes feeling a little like it’s being weird for its own sake, like other stories in this series, this volume does, however, still very much entertain.

Book details

ISBN: 9781401209995
Publisher: Vertigo
Year of publication: 2006

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