BooksOfTheMoon

Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen

By James Goss

Rating: 2 stars

This is based on a Douglas Adams unmade script treatment, which Adams himself then recycled into the third Hitch-hikers’ book, book: Life, The Universe and Everything. The plot involves killer robots, xenophobic aliens, cosmic plots and cricket. I didn’t particularly enjoy the book, mostly because it felt very much like fanfic of The Hitch-hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy. It doesn’t really feel like a Who story, and the characterisation of both the Doctor and Romana feels off, particularly their internal monologues. There are loads of asides that felt much more like some of Adams’ wild asides in Hitch-hikers’ than anything that fits into the Doctor Who universe.

There are several sections that deal with invasions, massacres and tyrants, and they all have a jolly, slightly ironic tone to them which doesn’t really sit well with me at all. There’s also references to another unmade Douglas Adams story, Shada, which seems like a lot for the casual reader to take in (although I’m not sure how many casual readers would pick this up).

Not awful – there were bits that made me laugh out loud, almost despite myself – but definitely not one that I’d recommend to anyone except completists.

Book details

ISBN: 9781785941054
Publisher: BBC Books
Year of publication: 2018

Touchstone (Glass Thorns, #1)

By Melanie Rawn

Rating: 2 stars

Cayden Silversun is a tregetour – part magician, part playwright, who infuses his magic into wands that his troupe can then use to perform plays. He’s also got Fae ancestry, which gives him a power of foresight – a power he can’t control. He has to fight to keep his troupe – Touchstone – together, while also fighting with himself about what futures he can change and what he must leave alone.

This is primarily a story about a group of young men finding sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, and that’s a story that has never really touched me. A group of arrogant young men who think they’re going to live forever arguing about their art, while bedding a succession of nameless women and getting high. No thanks.

I didn’t particularly care for Cade, nor for the other major protagonist, Mieka, the “glisker” of the group, who uses the magic that Cade provides to create the backdrops and effects for the plays. While seventeen or eighteen isn’t that young, I mostly just thought of these people as children and their squabbles as they fight for a place on their nation’s theatrical grand tour, as profoundly boring.

The other two members of Touchstone, Jeska and Rafe get very little in the way of character development: the former is poor, good looking and sleeps with as many women as he can; the latter has a childhood sweetheart that he’s determined to marry when they make enough money on the tour. I imagine that they will get more development later in the series, but for the moment, they’re just rough sketches.

The central idea of Cade’s prophetic visions and his internal turmoil on whether he should tell the people involved has the potential to be interesting, but he just sticks to this idea that people have the right not to be affected by him, even when it’s obviously bad for them, and I’ve got little time for that these days.

The book spends the first half or so with Cade as the PoV character, and then suddenly switches to Mieka. I’m not sure if this was to let us see how frustrating that Cade could be without the benefit of being in his head to get his point of view, or if the author just didn’t want to spend time there, but it was an odd shift. And then it shifts back to Cade just before the end of the book, again without explanation.

The book ends on a cliffhanger, but I don’t care enough about these characters to find out how it’s resolved. I’m afraid that I’ll not be following Touchstone’s future career with any interest.

Book details

ISBN: 9781781166604
Publisher: Titan Publishing Company
Year of publication: 2012

Triplanetary (Lensman, #1)

By E.E. "Doc" Smith

Rating: 2 stars

I picked this up because I saw it on Project Gutenberg for free, and I needed something to pad out my e-reader for a holiday. It’s been about twenty years since I last read any Doc Smith, and, good grief, I should have left it that way. I was only just out of my teens when I read the Skylark series and I quite enjoyed that at the time. But since then I’ve developed a taste for things like plot, character development and moral consideration.

The writing here is fast-paced and breathless in its descriptions, edging on purple – with everything being “indescribable”, and “unbelievable”. There are lots of rays as well, for everything except, well, light. Relativity would be quite new at this point, but still fairly well known, but there’s no mention of the speed of light or any indication that there’s a problem in travelling between star systems (which happens at, of course, “indescribable speed…”).

The book has an odd structure, with the first three short sections describing the fall of Atlantis, Rome and our civilisation, according to the plan of the powerful Arisians, as they try to create a race that can face the evil Eddorians in a battle across time and space. The main body of the book is a space opera set in a future civilisation when the inner planets of the solar system are united under a single “Triplanetary” government. It’s full of the sort of lantern-jawed super super-scientists that Heinlein would go on to make famous. Surprisingly, there is a female character, and although she’s mostly there to provide motivation to one of the aforementioned lantern-jawed scientist secret service men, she does actually get to fight at one point.

The story was pretty slight, with lots of cycles of fighting, being captured, escaping, rinse and repeat, and there were a few casual city-wide slaughters that were casually swept under the rug at the end. I might have enjoyed this more as a teenager, but I think I’ll skip the rest of the books and just look up the plot summary on Wikipedia.

Book details

ISBN: 9781882968091

Cage of Souls

By Adrian Tchaikovsky

Rating: 2 stars

Shadrapar is the last remaining city on Earth, with the remnants of humanity having retreated behind its walls. Stefan Advani wears many hats, but the most important one when we meet him is that of prisoner. Taken away from Shadrapar, to the Island, the brutal prison where all the city’s outcasts are exiled.

The most immediate comparison that came to mind when I read the blurb for this book was Clarke‘s The City and the Stars, but Shadrapar is no Diaspar. A more fitting comparison might be to Jack Vance‘s Dying Earth series. It’s got that sort of vaguely mythological feel to it, a mix of high and low technology, and a grime embedded by building on countless previous civilisations that have risen and fallen on the planet since our day – so long past that even myths of our time have been lost.

But Tchaikovsky’s world is far more depressing than that of either Clarke or Vance. Stafan’s world is just the Island, where the Marshal rules with a rod of iron, under the mostly absent Governor. He rules through fear, killing merely as an example; throughout the whole book we never see him betray any emotion other than hatred. Alongside him, is Gaki. A fellow prisoner, but one that Stefan fears as much as the Marshal. He doesn’t do much beyond scare Stefan for most of the book, until the end when his true psychopathy becomes clear.

Amongst the pain and grime of the Island, there are little elements of hope. Stefan befriends a warden named Peter, who is kind to him throughout his life on the Island, and he makes a few friends amongst fellow prisoners, but these are pinpricks in the misery and hopelessness that the book is steeped in for much of its length.

The book offers flashbacks to Stefan’s life prior to the island, and we get to see both Shadrapar and its Underworld. The city is corrupt, with the elite chasing each other’s debt and mutilating themselves for fashion. And the Underworld has its factions and its poverty, but it seems to have a sort of energy to it that the city proper hasn’t.

And then there’s the ending.

Spoiler

I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book that ends with the vast majority of the remaining human race killed off, and off-screen, at that! The book is vague about the remaining number, but seems to come down on the side of it not being a viable population to recover from. So Tchaikovsky basically makes the Human race extinct. And yet… it’s not entirely hopeless. The web-children may not be a direct genetic successor, but they are our inheritors, the ones who will use Stefan’s mind-power knowledge and maybe create something better.

I mean, that’s bare scratchings of hope – basically burn it all down and start again from scratch, in the hope that it’ll be better. Humanity has had its chance, and it’s been found wanting. Not my idea of hope, but not as bitter an ending as I’d feared.

So yeah, Tchaikovsky is an accomplished writer, very capable of creating vivid characters, worlds and scenes. But he also seems to be a pretty dark writer. Between this and Bear Head, I think I’m putting his books down and walking away.

Book details

New Horizons: The Gollancz Book of South Asian Science Fiction

By Tarun K. Saint

Rating: 2 stars

I kind of wish I’d enjoyed this collection of short speculative fiction from the Indian subcontinent more than I did. The omens weren’t good when then footnotes for the introduction were almost longer than the introduction itself. And it was long and dry, feeling very much like someone wanted to be able to repurpose it at some point into an academic paper.

There was a mix of old and new stories, with some historical ones, although most were modern. It would have been nice to have some clue as to to the age of each story, actually, since the copyright page listing the stories was incomplete, and some of the ones that were present lacked dates.

The stories themselves were a mixed bag. The editor notes in the introduction that SF isn’t a genre that’s been historically popular in south Asia, but he includes some in here anyway. The opening story, Planet of Terror feels very “Golden Age”, and that’s followed by a satire in which a police inspector goes to the moon, to teach the people of the moon the ways of a modern, efficient police force (i.e. corruption and bribery). A lot of the stories are quite dystopian, which isn’t really my cup of tea, and many of the others feel quite experimental, and what can I say, I prefer more traditional styling in my fiction.

It’s a mixed bag, of course, and I did enjoy some of the stories. These included The Man Who Turned Into Gandhi, a diary of a man who, er, turns into Gandhi, and how he tries to continue living his life; Flexi-time is a gently humorous story about the perils of living your life too regimented and a paean to “Indian time”; and the last story Reunion is a cli-fi piece about the importance of change and adaptability. My favourite story is probably S. B. Divya’s Look Up, about a broken family, one of whom is trying to put her past life behind her with a new start on Mars.

So, an uneven collection, not to my taste, but I still think it’s important and that there should be more like it. I’ll certainly keep looking out for them, hoping that a different editor has tastes closer to mine.

Book details

ISBN: 9781473228689
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2020

Bear Head

By Adrian Tchaikovsky

Rating: 2 stars

Jimmy Martin is a construction worker on Mars. He’s used to doing a bit of data smuggling in his head to feed his drugs habit, but he’s not used to the data talking back. Jimmy has a fully fledged bear in his mind, and one that wants to talk to the other colonisation effort on Mars. The one nobody wants to admit is there. And Jimmy’s got to along for the ride, whether he likes it or not.

I enjoyed Dogs of War a lot, but I struggled with its sequel. The themes of sanctity of thought and slavery are fully front and centre in this one even more so than its predecessor, this time with added rape. I really hated Jonas Murry, from the first book, but Warner Thomson leaves Murry in his dust. I mean, Tchaikovsky isn’t exactly being subtle here about Thomson’s model here: the empathy-less, narcissistic businessman turned politician, who jumps on whatever right-wing bandwagon is rolling. Every time he turned up, I felt my stress level go up in anticipation of what horror was going to happen to Carole, his PA (and whose PoV we see through in chapters featuring Thomson) and I just wanted to scrub my skin.

This book certainly doesn’t feel as fun as its predecessor. Partly it’s that we don’t get as many bioforms, most of the PoV characters are human (or, at least, humaniform, since the people sent to Mars have been heavily modded to help them survive). Honey, the bear from Dogs of War, is the only Bioform PoV that we get, and she’s older and more worn down than the young, idealistic bear of yesteryear. Jimmy, whose head Honey ends up living in, isn’t exactly a bundle of laughs either. He’s a washed-out, drug-addicted construction worker, mostly there to let other people spout exposition at him.

It’s a depressing, dystopian future that Tchaikovsky has created here, where hard-won freedoms are being eroded, and the Bioforms are finding themselves new targets of old racisms. But it’s the casual way that “Collaring” (basically slavery that makes you permanently loyal to a person or company) is being being promoted by the corporates of this world that depresses me the most. Sure, I can very much believe that rich and powerful people and corporations would jump at a return to slavery, but seeing such an imagined future spelled out is difficult to stomach.

I appreciate the writing and the plot, and the very clever use of the Prisoners’ Dilemma, but despite all that, I felt that this was a slog to read, and didn’t really enjoy the experience.

Book details

ISBN: 9781800241565

The Revisionists

By Thomas Mullen

Rating: 2 stars

Zed, going by the alias Troy Jones, is a time traveller, sent back to ensure that dissidents from his own time don’t save civilisation now, thereby preventing his own “Perfect Present” from being formed. But what is Zed keeping from himself, and how are a corporate lawyer, a washed-out spook and a foreign diplomat’s maid involved?

While the book zipped along at a reasonable pace, I’m afraid that I didn’t enjoy reading it very much. I didn’t like either Zed or Leo, the former spy. The former doesn’t question either his society or his mission until very late in the book, and the later seems to just get off on leveraging what little power he has left against people who are just trying to make a stand against corruption.

Neither the lawyer, Tasha, nor the maid, Sari, have much in the way of power, and they’re manipulated, threatened and attacked by others, primarily men. It’s ugly but the book seems to just shrug its shoulders and say that that’s the way of things. It made me pretty angry at times, it wasn’t hugely subtle, well, about anything, really. The parallels between the present and the (really obviously dystopian) future were pretty clear from the get-go.

Towards the end of the book, when the book really starts pushing the idea of Zed as an unreliable narrator it gets a bit more interesting, especially as the threads start to come together a bit, but for me it wasn’t worth the effort.

Book details

ISBN: 9781444727654
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Year of publication: 2011

Random Sh*t Flying Through The Air

By Jackson Ford

Rating: 2 stars

Warning: although I try to avoid spoilers in my reviews (or at least hide them), the stuff that is worth talking about in this book is all spoiler, from the second paragraph onwards. The executive summary is that it’s a fast-paced thriller with a likeable protagonist, but has Problems that mean that I’m done with the series.

The biggest problem for me in this book is that it made me want a child to die. Literally – I wanted a four-year old child to be killed. The child in this case is Matthew, the antagonist for our protagonist Teagan and her team, who can not only create earthquakes with his own telekinetic powers, but positively relishes doing so. He is lacking in any empathy whatsoever, has no self-control and hurts people (and kills them) for fun.

And what he wants to do is set off earthquakes. In California. He’s also a genius and after learning about tectonics, he deliberately triggers the San Andreas Fault, and then goes after an even bigger fault called Cascadia (which I’d never heard of, but Wiki says is A Thing). His mother is completely unable to control him – he’s never been told ‘no’ by anyone around him and has, as a result, learned to be sociopathic and compassionless.

Yes, a horrible person – but a four year child. And the author made me want him dead, and be disappointed when Teagan prevented this from happening. And I’m not sure I like that.

Also, is the moral of the series that unless you’re held in indentured servitude by the government, with the threat of vivisection hanging over you, any superpowered person will automatically be awful? Every powered person we’ve encountered so far in the series, other than Teagan (who just wants to be a chef), is a monster – an impression not lessened when we find out about the Director of the “school” that created Matthew right at the end.

Also, Teagan seems to be losing members of her team at the rate of one a book. While Carlos’s betrayal and demise in the first book was well-done, and a good twist, Paul was killed off just to show that Matthew is a Bad Person.

The book was well-written and is a good thriller, in that it keeps you engaged and keeps you turning the page. But I’m not engaged in the world any more at all.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356510460

The Kingdom of Copper (The Daevabad Trilogy, #2)

By S.A. Chakraborty

Rating: 2 stars

Sometimes a book stays in the mind after it’s over for the wrong reasons. Not for the cool action scenes, or the way the characters grow and develop but for the frustration at the book and the pain the characters cause each other. This, unfortunately, was the case with this book. I enjoyed the big action sequence at the end (the only memorable one in the book, really), I could see various characters developing and changing, but the overriding impression that I was left with was one of harm and unkindness.

So many of the characters in this book choose to cause harm to others. Whether to grasp or hold on to power, or because they’re in pain themselves, they lash out at others, and that wasn’t something I enjoyed reading. I enjoyed The City of Brass because of Nahri’s outsider’s view, and her wonder at Daevabad. Five years later (when this one is set), all that wonder is gone, replaced by fear, entrapment, and loneliness. Ali is still a zealot, unbending and unwilling to compromise, while Dara comes across as powerless (ironic, given his huge new powers) and just a tool in the hands of people willing to wield him to destruction.

I struggle in cases like this to give a rating. The book is well-written and tells a compelling story. It’s just that it’s a story I didn’t care for. I don’t think I care enough to read the final book in the trilogy, not unless I can get it in the library or from a friend.

Book details

ISBN: 9780008239473

The Glass Woman

By Caroline Lea

Rating: 2 stars

In 17th century Iceland Rósa marries the wealthy Jon, a chief in a distant village, so that her elderly and ill mother will get the food and warmth she needs. In her new husband’s home, she finds no love, only fear and distrust, and something lurking in the attic.

The comparisons in this book to Jane Eyre (the locked attic) and Rebecca (the mysterious first wife) are clear, but I didn’t find The Glass Woman nearly as compelling as the other two. There’s a relentless misery to Rósa’s life with Jon, and her fear, rising to terror at times, of him is painful to read. His isolation of her and his insistence that she be an obedient wife just make make angry. It may be accurate for the period, but it’s still infuriating.

What’s also really infuriating, is that so much of that could have been resolved simply through trust and conversation. Not all of it, perhaps. Jon’s apprentice Pétur is a troubled young man, and Egill, the priest, is greedy and small-minded. Trouble would be inevitable, but it needn’t have been so between Jon and Rósa, if he’d been able to trust her enough that she felt able to come to him with her fears. And that’s frustrating.

Also, from the time that she marries Jon, Rósa’s life is unrelentingly grim. There’s no bright points in their marriage at all, which makes it unpleasant to read, for my taste, at least. In saying that, it’s a very readable book, with the mystery drawing me ever onwards.

The Icelandic landscape and climate is very vividly drawn, becoming a character in its own right, as it draws the characters in, ever more claustrophobic. The clash between the new religion of Christianity and the old, Nordic, gods is interesting and feels real. The new religion needs to stamp itself to the land and so any reference to the old is forbidden, on pain of exclusion or death, but the roots aren’t so easily expunged.

I was promised a modern gothic novel and I suppose I got one. But one that felt too unrelenting to my taste.

Book details

ISBN: 9781405934619
Publisher: Penguin
Year of publication: 2019

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