There Will Be Time

By Poul Anderson

Rating: 4 stars

Jack Havig is a most unusual man. He is a man who can travel through time, without any artificial aid. At first content to just satisfy his own curiosity, he eventually discovers a great threat to Earth’s future and must band together with others of his kind to save the future of civilisation.

I enjoyed this book quite a lot. The rules of time travel are quite well defined and the author uses them effectively, for example the fact that anything touching the traveller will go with him, but he can only “lift” so much with him through time, so a piece of wire attached to a wall and looped around his ankle is enough to stop him time travelling.

The story is told through a third party, Jack’s family doctor and childhood friend to whom Jack returns every so often to relate the next part of his adventures, and the old sawbones is a likeable narrator and doctor of the Bones McCoy variety.

Jack’s emotional trauma in Constantinople is believable and well-related, making him a very human hero. His relationship with the Eyrie is interesting and the story keeps you guessing where it’s going all the way through.

A fun story of time travel, with some meat on the bones and decent characterisation.

Book details

ISBN: 9780722111482
Publisher: Sphere
Year of publication: 1972


By Terry Pratchett

Rating: 4 stars

Dodger is a tosher, someone who scavenges in the sewers beneath Victorian London to make a living, and he’s a good one. Not only is he a tosher, but he’s a geezer. He knows everyone and everyone knows him. His world changes entirely when he helps a young woman in need during a storm and gets involved in politics, intrigue and international espionage for his troubles.

I thoroughly enjoyed this historical novel by Terry Pratchett, (although the author decries that title in the afterword, as he moved some historical figures around in time and space so that they would all encounter each other during the novel) and Dodger is as engaging a character as ever emerged from the Disc. His friend and mentor, Solomon Cohen is also fantastic. His dry wit and imagined conversations with God make him a joy to read (and I would have loved to read about the adventures that he had in his youth, before he settled in London).

I’m always fond of a book where someone uses brains to solve problems, rather than hitting people with sharp implements until the problems go away (it’s one reason I’m so fond of Doctor Who), and although Dodger is good in a scrap, it’s his wits that keep him alive in the depths of London’s less salubrious areas and also what he uses to ultimately solve the problem in front of him.

Coming up from the sewer, Dodger meets a number of historical figures, including Charles Dickens, who helps him throughout the book. Benjamin Disraeli, Joseph Bazalgette, Robert Peel and Charles Babbage all show up, even if some are just extended (or not so extended) cameos. There are also a couple of lesser known figures, including Henry Mayhew, who, like Dickens, tried to publicise the plight of the poor in London (although he did it through facts and figures, rather than prose) and Angela Burdett-Coutts, an heiress and philanthropist and one of the richest women in the world. None of these seemed forced into the novel and they add to the richness of the story by interweaving it with the real London of the time.

While this book doesn’t have the laugh out loud humour of Pratchett at what I regard his best, there’s a vein of humour running through it, even if it is at quite a low level. An entertaining and, at times educational (it didn’t occur to me to wonder about the dog’s name until it was brought up at the end of the book) book, definitely worth the time of a fan of Pratchett, Dickens or London.

Book details

ISBN: 9780552563147
Publisher: Corgi Childrens
Year of publication: 2012

The Atrocity Archives (Laundry Files, #1)

By Charles Stross

Rating: 4 stars

Imagine a world where Lovecraftian nasties are real and the only thing standing between us and having our brains eaten is a top-secret government department ridden with bureaucratic in-fighting and politics. Reassured? Me neither. Welcome to the world of the Laundry, a secret British agency assigned to clean up incursions from other realities, in which Bob Howard is a lowly techy, who got some field duty and more than he bargained for.

Stross mingles up to the minute modern technology with the supernatural effortlessly in this fun novel (well, it’s more two novellas featuring the same protagonist). He manages to showcase the horror all around us, and the thin thread that our sanity hangs by, along with the mundanity of the bureaucracy that Bob has to fight (the Laundry is ISO 9001 certified and he takes a grim pleasure in describing the various forms that have to be filled out in triplicate). Even Milton Keynes takes on a sinister tone in the second story!

Casual discussions of basilisks, medusas and incantations sit side by side with the Internet, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and flatshares (you think you have odd flatmates, Bob comes home one day to find one of his flatmates trying to scramble an egg without breaking the shell). It’s an odd combination, all told in the first person, but it works remarkably well.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841495699
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2004

Caledonia Dreamin – Strange Fiction of Scottish Descent

By Hal Duncan

Rating: 3 stars

I sort of wish I’d liked this more than I did. It’s a short story collection, some genre, some not, all themed around Scots words. The idea for the collection is great, but I just failed to get on with many of the stories themselves. Several were horror stories, which I’m just not a fan of, and many just left me scratching my head. The most memorable story for me was probably the very horrific (in many senses of the word) Maw which left me feeling icky and really needing mind-bleach. My favourite story was the somewhat more whimsical Fallen Through a Giant’s Eyes about a miner who’s tunnelling, searching for his lost love.

A book that take a vaguely similar theme (that of Scottish writers, or people associated with Scotland) that I enjoyed much more was Nova Scotia: New Scottish Speculative Fiction from a few years ago. That had its moments of darkness, but was more balanced than this book. I think a good word to describe this collection is possibly dreich. There was very little cheer amongst the gloom. There are those who might say that this reflects the Scottish character and landscape, but this is unfair. Scotland is a wonderful country full of warm and welcoming people. It’s a shame that that’s not reflected in this collection.

Book details

ISBN: 9781908125309
Publisher: Eibonvale Press
Year of publication: 2013


By Nnedi Okorafor

Rating: 3 stars

Three strangers find themselves drawn to Bay Beach in Lagos to make first contact with an alien race and find themselves, their city and their world changed forever.

This was an enjoyable first contact story set in the Nigerian city of Lagos. It’s not immediately obvious what a marine biologist, a soldier with a conscience and a rapper have in common, what brings them to the beach to become ambassadors for the Human race, but we learn more as the story goes on.

As it transpires, this isn’t a straightforward SF first contact story, as it adds some fantasy elements. At some points, various African mythological figures/gods appear and there’s a rather creepy road that literally kills and eats people travelling on it. These work oddly well, as you can imagine these things not being out of place in Lagos, a city whose energy and life spring from the pages of the book.

The aliens are a catalyst, and a bit of a deus ex machina, in the story. Their aims aren’t really all that clear, other than possibly wanting to settle on Earth, but they bring change with them, as their ambassador, the woman named Ayodele, repeats several times. Some of these changes are to bring the potential of our three protagonists to the surface and others seem like they could affect the world.

There are many threads left dangling at the end of the book, the narrator explicitly points this out, but this appears to be deliberate. I had wondered throughout what the rest of the world is making of the giant alien spaceship hanging over Lagos and the aliens entering it, and the narrator at the end implies that some people are going to be very unhappy about this and that the story must wait as it goes to join the fight…

This was an interesting and original (not to mention very Nigerian) take on first contact. The pidgin English was difficult to read at times, and I did have to make extensive use of the glossary at the back, but I found it a worthwhile read.

Book details

ISBN: 9781444762754
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Year of publication: 2014

Maskerade (Discworld, #18)

By Terry Pratchett

Rating: 4 stars

Granny Weatherwax is bored, and Nanny Ogg knows just what she needs: a third member of their coven to replace Magrat, who’s gone off to be a queen. But the perfect choice, Agnes Nitt, has gone off to Ankh-Morpork to join the opera. But there’s something odd going on there too, with ghosts, dead bodies and troublesome artistes all creating the sort of problem that Granny loves to get her teeth into.

I hadn’t read this book in years, until the sad death of Sir Terry put me in mind of the Discworld again. It reminded me just how funny the man could be. Despite the fact that I went off his later books, at this stage, he was still making me giggle like a schoolboy. Frequently. Out loud.

Twisting The Phantom of the Opera in the way that Pratchett did best and using it to observe and make cutting remarks about human nature. Agnes/Perdita is a very sympathetic character and Granny and Nanny make their usual incredibly readable double act. A marvellous book for anyone who loves music, opera, comedy and human nature.

Book details

ISBN: 9780552142366
Publisher: Corgi
Year of publication: 1995

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