The Bohr Maker (The Nanotech Succession, #1)

By Linda Nagata

Rating: 4 stars

Nikko is effectively the first post-human, designed to be able to live in the vacuum of space. But the world into which he is born is conservative in the extreme and the licence that allowed his creation enforced an ‘expiry’ of thirty years, and Nikko’s time is running out. Only an illegal nanotechnological machine known as the Bohr Maker can save his life. Of course, it’s not as simple as that, and a poor illiterate girl called Phousita ends up being infected by the Maker and they must both go on the run for their lives.

Nikko’s world is full of nanotechnology but very tightly regulated by the Commonwealth Police, led by Kirstin Adair, the ecological-fundamentalist chief who fears what nanotech would do to Mother Earth. The parts of the book seen through her eyes paint a picture of an ultra-focussed, driven and terrifying woman who will stop at nothing, including the law, to stop Nikko.

Nagata has created a dystopian world with very stark differences between the haves and the have-nots and the technology is very interesting. The technology in the book is rarely discussed and exists merely to push the plot forward, and although the ‘ghosts’ of the book, uploaded copies of a person that can go and speak to others over the ever-present network, are important, there isn’t much in the way of discussion of what that could lead to (a la Altered Carbon).

At times, the book can be confusing and I did sometimes lose track of who was in what state and where and why, but it doesn’t matter that much as there’ll be another big set-piece along in a moment that changes the state of play anyway.

A frenetic, exciting book with a decent adventure at its heart, bringing change to a conservative society and highlighting the force for change that inequality can be.

Book details

ISBN: 9781937197025
Publisher: Mythic Island Press LLC
Year of publication: 1995

Worm: The First Digital World War

By Mark Bowden

Rating: 2 stars

This book sets out to tell the story of the Conficker worm that spread around the Internet in 2008 and 2009. It does this through the eyes of the group of security researchers and professionals that coalesced from around the web to deal with it.

I had a lot of problems with the book. The tone feels patronising throughout, and the author always seems, to me, at least, to be condescending to the “Tribe” of geeks (as he refers to them throughout) who are the main characters in this story, and to the wider community. There was a degree of padding, which didn’t help either (yet another retelling of the birth of the Internet, for one), and the impression that his understanding of the technology was limited, which led me to distrust what he was telling me. On top of that, there was an awful lot of hyperbole, from the title (first digital world war? Really?) onwards, which felt out of place in a book of this kind.

The later chapters, including the politics within the Conficker Working Group (or ‘Cabal’) and the attempts to get the various branches of government interested in the problem were more interesting, but the central problem of the tone and unreliable narrator spoiled an awful lot.

Oh, and the constant capitalising of “Port 445” throughout was really irritating.

Book details

ISBN: 9781611856064
Publisher: Grove
Year of publication: 2011

West of Eden (West of Eden, #1)

By Harry Harrison

Rating: 3 stars

This book posits the question: what would have happened if the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs had never occurred. It answers that a sentient species, the Yilanè would have appeared. It further posits that a North America that was isolated from the rest of the world (the land bridge of central America being submerged for some time) would have harboured mammals that would eventually have evolved into humans. This book tells of the first Yilanè attempt to colonise the new world and the clash of cultures that occurred when they encountered sentient mammals.

The Yilanè of this book in some ways reminded me a lot of ‘the folk’ of John Brunner’s The Crucible of Time: they are a believable alien race, with advanced biotechnology and an inability to lie, albeit with a huge side-order of xenophobia. Although to be fair, this is very much reciprocated by the (hunter-gatherer) humans they encounter. The first instinct of the hunter was to kill them all and stomp the young underfoot. This sets up the pattern for what follows: you killed us, so we must kill you because you killed us because…

Our protagonist through the story is a young boy named Kerrick. With him, we follow the familiar story of a boy kidnapped at a young age, raised with his captors in their language, believing himself to be one of them until he rediscovers his roots, kills the Yilanè around him and returns to his people. In this case, to be their advisor on all things Yilanè and how to kill them. Oh, and with some added inter-species sex (consent uncertain) before enlightenment.

In a lot of ways, this is a frustrating book. At no time do the two species ever attempt to negotiate or to talk to one another. They are both convinced that they other must be wiped off the face of the earth (or, at least the continent). In a tribe of hunter-gatherers, I can almost understand this, but the Yilanè have been civilised for millennia, and should really know better.

Still, there’s a core of a fun adventure story in this book, even if attempts at genocide, with varying degrees of success, do leave a bit of a sour taste in the mouth.

Book details

ISBN: 9780586057810
Publisher: Panther Books Limited
Year of publication: 1984

Imperial Earth

By Arthur C. Clarke

Rating: 4 stars

The ruling family of Titan are invited to Earth for the 500th anniversary of the American republic and the youngest scion, Duncan, is sent. As we follow his journey, we encounter politics, singularity-driven spaceships, zero-gravity sex, the wonder of seeing Earth with fresh eyes and more.

Starting on Titan, we get Clarke’s famously precise and yet poetic descriptions of the landscape and the technology needed to maintain life on that harsh, forbidding world. As Duncan travels to Earth we see some of his history and an old love affair as well as rivalry with an old friend. On Earth itself, as Duncan slowly adjusts to life at the bottom of a harsh gravity well he has the once in a lifetime opportunity to see the mother world with his own eyes, dabble in local politics and get try and figure out what his old friend/enemy Karl is up to.

Despite being written in the 1970s, at times this book has a real Golden Age optimistic feel to it. From the suggestion that nation states are outmoded and the few that remain are tolerated as eccentrics rather than any threat, to the tubes that link major cities in North America (something finally being seriously discussed) and the removal of the profit motive as the driving force behind much of Humanity, Clarke’s world is one that is infinitely better than our own. Throw in casual acceptance towards sexuality and relationships and this world of 2276 is sounding more and more appealing.

Duncan’s final speech in Congress, the speech that he’s travelled so far to make, is also tinged with Clarke’s trademark awe-inspiring wonder. Kilometre-long space-based radio telescopes beyond the solar ionosphere, speculation as to the sorts of things such telescopes might pick up and, above all, optimism for the future of Humanity.

I love this sort of stuff and Imperial Earth ends up being a very satisfying read.

Book details

ISBN: 9780330250047
Publisher: Pan
Year of publication: 1975

Manhattan In Reverse

By Peter F. Hamilton

Rating: 4 stars

As the author himself admits in the introduction, he’s not the quickest writer of short stories, nor are the stories themselves particularly short, but the quality evident within these pages is not to be sniffed at. There are seven stories in total, three of them set in the Intersolar Commonwealth universe, two featuring Paula Myo, the detective and popular figure in other Hamilton books.

Of the non-Commonwealth stories, Watching Trees Grow is an alternative history starting in a steampunk London, with a murder, and following rapid development and longevity as the agent charged with solving the murder persists throughout the decades, and eventually centuries that it takes. Footvote is an alternative-present story, where a maverick opened a wormhole to another planet in 2010, setting the other end in England and offering transport out to his world, but only under his rules. This brings up themes that Hamilton raised in the Night’s Dawn series, of monoculture worlds, with only a certain ethnic or religious group being allowed to settle a world. If at First… is a fun time-travel story while The Forever Kitten is possibly the most poignant story in the collection, and it is certainly the shortest, coming it at under 1000 words.

The last three stories are set in the Commonwealth universe, the first, Blessed by an Angel being set several hundred years after the Starflyer war described in the Commonwealth Saga following the attempt by an agent of a society that favours high-technology and human-Biononic integration to infiltrate a society that has rejected that technology. The Demon Trap is a Paula Myo story set in the decades before the Starflyer war involving terrorism and politics while the title story, Manhattan in Reverse is set just after the Starflyer war and the discovery of a possibly sentient creature on a world that has already been colonised.

There’s a wide range of stories here, but the underlying theme seems to me to be how technology, particularly technology that we can possibly see coming down the line, will affect people, societies and crime. Recommended for fans of thoughtful space opera, not just fans of Peter F. Hamilton.

Book details

ISBN: 9780230750302
Publisher: MacMillan
Year of publication: 2011

The Fractal Prince (Jean le Flambeur, #2)

By Hannu Rajaniemi

Rating: 4 stars

The sequel to Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief, this novel continues the story of master thief Jean le Flambeur and his quest for a great heist in exchange for his freedom, accompanied by a sardonic spaceship and a mistrustful Oortian assassin.

The Quantum Thief was the set-up, introducing us to le Flambeur’s post-Singularity world through the relatively sedate city of the Oubliette on Mars. This time the action takes place on the ancient homeworld itself, Earth. This book has a very Arabian Nights feel to it, particularly the segments following a woman called Tawwadud in the city of Sirr on Earth. With djinn, flying carpets and stories within stories, those segments are a marvellously energetic collision of old and new, of the technology within the ancient names, of stories and the meaning and value of stories.

Le Flambeur is as charming and ruthless as before, willing to use other people to get what he wants, but with a conscience and his own code of ethics. He wants to be redeemed, but he wants his freedom more, and is willing to do anything to win it.

Like its predecessor, this book doesn’t pander to the reader, with a show-don’t-tell approach that can leave you floundering at times. Stick with it and it will pay off, although after I read the final volume in the trilogy, I’m going to have to go back and read them all in quick succession to get a better feel for it.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575088924
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2012

Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs, #1)

By Richard K. Morgan

Rating: 4 stars

Takeshi Kovacs is a former Envoy, an elite military unit set up to maintain an interstellar empire run from Earth. At the beginning of the novel, Kovacs is killed on his homeworld, but this doesn’t stop many people in a world where everyone has a cortical stack implanted from birth which records their personality and memories. Kovacs wakes up to find himself in an unfamiliar body (sleeve) in the employ of one of the ultra-rich on Earth to solve the mystery of the “suicide” of his employer (who was re-sleeved immediately, but missing some of his most recent memories).

The world that Richard Morgan paints is pretty disturbing. Most people can’t afford to be resleeved during their lifetimes, but have insurance to resleeve them after they die. However, the experience of growing old, dying and then being reborn eventually puts people off, and only the ultra-rich can afford to be resleeved as they go along, accentuating the differences between the rich and poor.

The everyday folk resent the “Methuselahs” and so the police force takes only a cursory interest in the death of Kovacs’ employer, Bancroft. And we see evidence of corruption throughout the force, as well as the techniques that the Envoys used to enforce the rule of the Protectorate of Earth throughout the colony worlds.

There are some quite graphic scenes in the book as well, both of sex and of torture. The latter is particularly nasty because the same technology that allows human “souls” to be transferred between sleeves, can be used to download them into a virtual environment and torture them until they die. And then bring them back and do it all over again. That whole section left a nasty taste in my mouth, as it seemed to be there to just show how nasty and corrupt that the society was, and not for any plot reasons.

The mystery at the core of the book was interesting and kept me reading, along with Takeshi Kovacs himself. He proved to be a very interesting anti-hero, struggling with what he has done in the past and what he continues to do in order to get by in the world.

However, despite the relatively interesting plot, it was the backstory of the world and the few hints we got of Kovacs’ homeworld that were the most interesting, and something that I hope gets expanded in the sequels.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575081246
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2002

Sherlock Holmes: The complete illustrated novels

By Arthur Conan Doyle

Rating: 4 stars

This omnibus volume contains all four Sherlock Holmes novels by Arthur Conan Doyle. It’s a companion volume to Sherlock Holmes The Complete Illustrated Short Stories and is as beautifully illustrated as the other with the illustrations from the original serial publication in Punch and the other magazines of the day.

The four novels contained within are all well known, possibly excepting the last one. Holmes’ first appearance is in A Study in Scarlet, which sees Holmes and Watson take up residence at 221B Baker St; The Sign of Four isn’t really all that memorable a story of betrayal and revenge; The Hound of the Baskervilles is probably his most famous story; and The Valley of Fear is the only story, other than The Adventure of the Final Problem to mention Professor Moriarty (it was set before the latter, although written after).

The Valley of Fear resurrects the successful formula from A Study in Scarlet by having the mystery solved about half way through the book, and then a historical narrative to show how we got there in the first place.

The last one is the only one of the novels that I hadn’t read before, but you can’t really go that far wrong with a Holmes novel and I’ve enjoyed dipping back into Conan Doyle’s world to watch the master at work.

Book details

ISBN: 9781851520589
Publisher: Chancellor Press
Year of publication: 1966

A Time of Changes

By Robert Silverberg

Rating: 3 stars

I think it may be time to give up on Robert Silverberg. I didn’t dislike this book. It’s just that I didn’t hugely enjoy it either. Glancing back other the other Silverberg books that I’ve read and reviewed on GoodReads, it seems that for me, he’s a solid three-star author.

The idea behind this one (and, indeed, most other Silverberg books that I’ve read) has been interesting: a society where sharing, self and ego are so reviled that even using the first person (“I”, “me” etc) is one of the strongest cultural taboos they have. It was this that drew me in, and in some ways, Silverberg takes a good stab and describing such a society. But the loneliness of the society is told rather than shown, which I felt let the book down.

I also think the first portion of the book, spent describing the early life of Kinnall, our narrator, was too long. The book starts with Kinnall in exile in a harsh desert, waiting to be found and punished for his crime of “self-baring” (exploring self, ego and love), and introducing others to the same. What follows is a classic riches to rags story as Kinnall must flee for his life from his privileged childhood, endure hardships, build a new life for himself, and lose that in pursuit of his new awareness.

Some of the religious conversations were interesting, especially the motivation of the Earthman Schweiz (who tempts Kinnall down this path to begin with), who is searching for faith but can’t find it in his rationalist mind. Interesting, and could have been explored further.

Towards the end, I could see what was happening and got a bit bored. I did skip a few pages here and there, and skim others. So, like other Silverberg that I’ve read, a solid set of ideas, but the execution didn’t entirely work for me.

Book details

ISBN: 9780586039953
Publisher: Panther
Year of publication: 1971

Powered by WordPress