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Archive for the ‘Science Fiction’ Category

First published in 2009 by Gollancz

You can’t go far wrong if you pick up a SF book published by Gollancz. Patient Zero is yet another satisfying print from the SF publisher, an imprint of Orion books. Whether its a classic or a new find, trust these guys to deliver you everything you need for a day snuggled up on the sofa with hot tea and chocolate biscuits. Although as SF is a male-dominated readership perhaps I’m in the minority of SF readers who does so in this fashion.

Patient Zero is a fast-paced novel heavily dominated with military action. Maberry’s style reminded me of Robert Ludlum’s Bourne series. The main character had a finesse for combat and stategy which flavoured the narrative throughout. A delicious injection of zombies kept me on the edge of my seat, not literally as I don’t actually sit upright whilst I read, and I could not stop turning the pages. That made for a few late nights whilst I was meant to be settling into a new home and redecorating etc.

The medical and scientific depth of the plot gave Maberry’s zombies a unique place in the modern world. Zombies as a terrorist weapon holds significant importance to the reader who will have experienced much of the Western paranoia about what manufacturing exists in other countries. Maberry’s unusual take on a stock horror figure gives his book an ambiguous genre placement. This is not simply horror or sci-fi. It is comparable to the best of high-action thrillers with enough reality to give readers who don’t read sci-fi an exciting read too.

Maberry has given the Zombie genre a kick and raised the bar for all future novels. Maybe its time for the vampire fad to take a step backwards and try out Zombies again?

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Gollancz never fail to disappoint. I have yet to read a book from their S.F Masterworks collection that I did not enjoy even a little bit. The collection is expertly chosen by people who know their Science Fiction inside and out. Flowers for Algernon appeared in their top ten list: http://www.orionbooks.co.uk/genres/sf-fantasy/gollancz-blog/the-results-are-in!.

I bought the title from Amazon and it sat on my shelf for an undue length of time. When I finally got down to reading it last week I pretty much stayed in one place the whole weekend till I was done. Bad for your eyes …

I don’t usually go for an epistolary style novel; however this seemed the only logical way to tell Charlie Gordon’s story. His character was deeply thought out and explored during the novel with ample time given to the science behind the fiction. The psychological reasoning behind the success of Charlie was as interesting as his failure. Each moment of the process was mapped out in intimate detail giving the whole novel a deeply human feel. I would recommend this to a reader who has not read a lot of Sci-Fi and wants a gentle way in to the genre. You don’t need a vast knowledge of science to read this book (as with The Quantum Thief).

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Speaker For The Dead is the sequel to Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. It begins about three thousand years after the first book finished when human colonisation of the universe was well under way. It differs from its predecessor in that it deviates from the heavily militarial theme and focuses on the anthropological.

The narrative centres around the planet of Lusitania where humans have discovered an alien race. Instead of fighting the aliens the inter-planetary human society have decided to study the aliens to determine whether they are as sentient as humans (like the buggers were before they were all destroyed) or if they are a lesser being (i.e. an alien beast specie). The influence of the “piggies” on the lives of the Lusitanians reverberates throughout the colonised Hundred Worlds and draws into question who has the right to the stars. Is holding back technology simply to preserve the alien nature of the “piggies” or is it to prevent them from developing to a point whereby they would become a threat to human survival?

This novel is filled with plenty of hooks to keep the reader turning the page until the very last moment. Ender’s own struggle with his guilt over the annihilation of the Buggers fills each chapter with resounding emotion whilst the intricate lives of the Ribeira family drip intrigue into every situation. The character development in this novel supports a strongly fascinating plot that can’t easily be put down.

I think I managed to read this book in about a week. I could barely put it down over the weekend, my eyes are very strained today! Can’t wait to begin on Xenocide but feel like I have to do something other than read for a while! Then again Flowers for Algernon came in the post the other day …

(Reading Challenge: Book 10 of 20)

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Please be aware this article will give away some of the plotline of Ender’s Game.

Card depicts the character of Ender as a victim. He is bullied at school, at home and in Battle School. Though he is small in stature and resented for his powers of intellect, Ender is by no means a pushover. Though he is represented as weak and compassionate, when backed into a corner he viciously defends himself to the end. It is this quality that gains him the admiration of the adults and the respect of his peers.

Ender demonstrates his will to survive in the non-dangerous environment of the games in the Battle School. However outside of the games when the pain is very much real, Ender’s will to survive develops into a monstrous streak, belying his hitherto placid nature.

Within the first few scenes Ender has already taken down his school bully and asserted himself in the shuttle by breaking Bernard’s arm. Both acts seem outside of Ender’s nature and can be attributed to the change of situation he is suffering. Graff encourages the other boys to pick on Ender in the shuttle and so his reaction can be empathised with. The difference in gravity accounting for the unforeseen strength of his action.

The scene with Bonzo is a key scene. Ender is a few years older and is more or less settled at Battle School. The teachers continue to make his life difficult and his constant success has earned the jealous hatred of some of the other students. Ender’s violence in this scene depicts how far he will go to ensure his own survival despite the odds. He is dragged away by another student and sobs that he did not want to fight. Ender’s repentance demonstrates the compassion he still houses in his soul but the monstrosity within him is just as clear.

Ender often repeats his fear that he is more like Peter than Valentine. At first he is adamant that he will never become like his brother, however by the age of twelve he has already committed two murders, two more than his brother has. Squirrelcide not included. Ender is also preparing for Genocide, he is being trained to kill an entire species in order to preserve his own race. The fact that the Buggers are not attacking seems irrelevant.

Peter and Valentina represent the two extremes of Ender’s personality. Whilst Peter is strong he is also malicious, Valentina on the other hand is extremely intelligent but too placid. We are led at first to believe that Ender’s temperament is closer to that of Valentina’s, he himself certainly thinks that is the case. However, backed into a corner Ender is vicious with only survival on his mind. At these points his temperament swings to the complete opposite and he aligns himself closer to Peter.

Aside from his personal conflicts, Ender moves to completely and utterly destroy the buggers in a manner he knows is immoral. That he is tricked into believing it is a simulation is beside the point. He was willing to cast off what he knew to be unfair about conflict in order to succeed in his “examination”. Ender’s level of intelligence also raises the question: did he honestly not know he was being set up?

The fact that Ender is a child is his final advocation. Childish innocence and naivety explain away the monstrous side of his nature. When he is allowed to grow up, free of Battle School he chooses to educate the humans about their late enemy, the buggers. He feels repentence for his military actions.

Can repentence truly undo all of the monstrosity in his nature? And is it genetic or has it been manifested through the manipulation of the teachers?

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The title appealed to me as it had been used in Futurama for a title of one of the episodes: “Bender’s Game”. It had also been used in Dummies Guide to Writing Fiction as various examples in how books should be written. When it appeared on a list of must-read sci-fi I decided to add it to my pile.

It began with a writer’s introduction as it has been revised since it was first published in the 80’s. I always find writer’s introductions interesting particularly if they refer to the process of writing or publishing. Orson Scott Card, however, focused on how his book was received by his readers. It becomes clear that different types of people read different meanings into his book.

His response to this is

The “true” story is not the one that exists in my mind; it is certainly not the written words on the bound paper that you hold in your hands. The story in my mind is nothing but a hope; the text of the story is the tool I created in order to try to make that hope a reality. The story itself, the true story, is the one that the audience members create in their minds, guided and shaped by my text, but then transformed, elucidated, expanded, edited, and clarified by their own experience, their own desires, their own hopes and fears.

Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game, 1991

This is a very interesting idea on the interaction between writer and reader. Without a reader is there still a story? Card provides the framework for our ideas which we fill in, weaving layers of meaning upon characters and their experience of the fictional world that plays out their plotline.

Ender is a gifted, intelligent child. Far surpassing his peers he is rejected, ridiculed and bullied by the very people he wishes to connect with. He is set apart from the others both by his own abilities and the interference of adults. At home his brother rejects him for retaining his monitor and threatening to be accepted by the I.F. for military training. At school Ender is rejected for being a ‘Third’. In Battle school where he should finally be amongst people he perceives as equals he is singled out by Graff and made to look as though he shows more promise than the other students. Isolation is a key part to Ender’s psyche and it is a tool the teachers exploit in order to extract from Ender the qualities they believe will make him a leader.

In the end, is Ender a respectable militant leader or a monster? I’ve explored monstrosity and power in more detail in a separate article. Please note they will contain spoilers on the plot of the story. I strongly recommend you read the book for yourself first and create your own meaning as to what Ender’s Game is about.

(Reading Challenge: Book 7 of 20)

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The Quantum Thief does not give the reader an easy ride. This is science fiction for the truly hardened or the highly educated.

The novel opens in the virutal unreality of the Dilemna Prison. The prisoner is playing a game: a complicated and hopeless effort to escape. Then, the illusion is shattered leaving the reader suspended, not knowing in which direction the novel will turn next. This is not unusual within the first few pages of the novel however the theme of not quite knowing what is real seems to reside throughout the plot.

The brief snapshots of each character’s life build up a larger picture made of tiny, ambigious fragments. Jean le Flambeur has a fragmented vision of his own life and the first person perspective makes the story hard to decipher at times. However as layers slot over layers sense finally begins to dawn, with the help of a in-story character with impressive deductive skills. The detective provides respite from the chaotic, technology ridden story of Flambeur and eventually helps the reader to solve the riddle of the Thief.

Through depth and detail of the technology used in the Oubliette along with the political and social structures, Rajaniemi has created an astounding, original world. A must-read for any who claim to love science-fiction (a passing interest may not be enough!) – this is one to test how hard you can concentrate!

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A patchwork of cleverly crafted short stories glued together with intrigue, action and suspense.

Simmons opens with a staggering visual scene in keeping with the convention of filmmakers. Although this passage is slightly off-putting and difficult to follow, especially if like me your experience with sci-fi jargon is limited, the novel that follows is a fascinating read.

The protagonist chops and changes depending on who is telling the story. Each character on board the pilgrimage have their own history and a voice in which to tell it. Flashbacks can detract from the story but in Hyperion the character’s reason for being conscripted or signing up for the pilgrimmage is as compelling as the current action of the pilgrimmage itself.

The varying narrative points reminded me briefly of Italo Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller, where it is difficult to enjoy the story as it finishes just as you start to get into the meat of it. I admit it is a little frustrating not to see how the story pans out from one perspective but the next story is (usually) interesting enough to help you forget the awkwardness.

As the layers of mystery is peeled away from each character in turn after you have ‘listened’ to their story so it is piled on else where in the current action.

If you have the patience for a long read and fancy a bit of interstellar travel this book is well worth a look!

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A hauntingly emotional read from start to finish. Never Let Me Go is narrated by an ex-Hailsham student now working as a carer for various ‘donors’. Kathy relives her past in the knowledge that she only has a few months left as a carer. Through her story she paints a vivid picture of futile hopes and the beauty of relationships.

In the beautiful setting of Hailsham Kathy develops a close friendship with Ruth, a neurotic and harsh character whom Kathy loves regardless. Aside to this, Kathy begins a more tentative friendship with Tommy, the bad-tempered odd boy the others decide to pick on. As Tommy and Ruth grow closer Kathy gradually finds both relationships become more difficult to maintain though she retains many sentimental memories of both.

When Kathy comes to leave the Cottages, a more grown-up take on the idea of Hailsham where the students are more independent, she is estranged from her childhood and relishes the new challenge of being a carer. When she encounters the old faces once more she is forced to face up to her past and everything her memories meant to her.

Never Let Me Go reminded me of A Time Traveller’s Wife in how it combined romance and drama with elements of science fiction. Though the mechanics of the science part was not dealt with in detail, the moral implications and the consequences make for very interesting and emotional reading.

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A Scanner Darkly follows the legally ambiguous assignment of Bob Arctor. In a world where the government has lost the fight against narcotics, the law must turn to more and more radical ways to regain the control it has lost. Bob Arctor is a nark; a cop who masquerades as a user in order to infiltrate the paranoid hierarchy of the drug world and reach the dealers and distributors.

Philip K. Dick sets the book up to be part of the crime writing genre, undercover cop uncovers a dark conspiracy and moves towards a solution, but this gets lost within the first few chapters. The longer Arctor spends undercover, the more he loses his identity. His true identity seems even less real than his created one.

When Arctor is hauled in for questioning about his health and habits the pace of the book changes entirely. Soon Arctor is suveilling himself as well as the other suspects and loses sight of his assignment and his true self entirely. A whirlwind tour of the mixed up world of drugs and the people it attracts. When everyone else goes mad around you how long is it before you are forced to fall in line with them?

Or if you are the only sane person left, how do you know that you are not the only mad person in the room and everyone else is fine?

Dick weaves an incredibly dark narrative, drawing the reader into a world of addiction, paranoia and sin. The characters come alive from the instant they appear on the page and the world they are painted in is frighteningly not too far removed from our own.

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After the last book I read (The Time Traveller’s Wife) I felt I needed to expand my horizon regarding Science Fiction. I’d like to say I chose H. G. Wells because I knew he had a profounding impact on the genre with his novels but it happened by accident.

I recently acquired one of the new smartphone things and after downloading various ‘apps’ that I’ll likely never use I downloaded an eReader called Aldiko (for Android as far as I know). This allows you to download books that are out of copyright for free and then read them on your phone. The screen is a little small for this but it is nice to be able to read inconspicuously without worrying that people are judging you based on what you are reading!

Aldiko came with two stock titles, one being The Invisible Man. I read the first few pages expecting it to be tiresome and difficult but it is quite interesting. Various takes on the story have been adapted over time, or perhaps Wells’ is an adaptation itself? It is interesting, then, to read the originality of many stories with all of the difficulties that invisibility entails.

The narrator of the story is wholly separate from the characters or events that he describes. Whilst he is omnipresent to the details he is limited in his understanding of the characters’ internal thoughts and reactions. What results is a journalistic-type narrative where all of the stories and events feel as though they are repetitions of someone else’s account.

This makes for a past-paced reading. The details are uncomplicated and often returned to from another perspective. The ‘stranger’ is at first glimpsed from several perspectives and his strange behaviours recounted in different ways so that the picture of the main protagonist is built up slowly through the chapters rather than being one, long internal monologue that reveals the most part of the character before the story has even begun.

The haphazard depiction of the ‘stranger’ and the initial lack of name gives him an inhuman quality though all of the clues point towards him being very much human, though perhaps my experience of the later adaptations of this story may be guiding my detective skills. The narrative is disjointed, not following the action in a clear linear line, giving the events surrounding the ‘stranger’ a quality of panic. In combination, though the exclusion of the narrator from the events and characters in the story is uncomfortable to read at first, The Invisible Man is an early indicator of post-modernism within media. This style has been developed over the years until it is now difficult to watch or read a sensible, structured plot.

I will definitely invest in a paper copy of this novel, however, as I miss being able to turn pages and see how far I’ve got left to read!

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