Friday, 21 June 2013

'Redemption Ark' by Alastair Reynolds

Redemption Ark is the sequel to 'Revelation Space' and the second book in the Revelation Space trilogy. There are actually five books in the Revelation Space universe, but the other two are standalone novels that don't add substantially to the overall story arc. So if you haven't already, start with Revelation Space. You could read this book on its own, but you'll get a lot more from it if you read them in order.

Humanity is teetering on the brink. The Inhibitors have been awoken, and their cold machine sentience starts the process of wiping out the human race. They've sanitized the galaxy of intelligent life countless times before in the billions of years since their creation, and they will do it countless times again. Can anything stop them?

This book, as with Reynolds other books, is part space opera and part Hard SF. It is set a few years after the events of Revelation Space; there are some overlapping characters, but a cast of new characters as well. The story starts slowly, and the first quarter of the book takes time setting the scene, introducing new characters and backplot. The last 10-15% of the book is also quite rushed, almost as much happens in the epilogue as in the rest of the book. Still, these are minor points in what was an extremely good book. It's got great characters it is easy to care about, a cracking plot and a real sense of wonder about it.

I'm really starting to like Alastair Reynolds stuff, after just two books and one short story. Inevitable comparisons can be made to Peter F Hamilton's epic space operas. Reynolds books, so far at least, are darker and a bit stranger along with being more tightly focused. Each book seems to be focused on at most several sets of characters. Peter F Hamilton, in contrast, fills his books with countless different groups of characters on many diverse worlds. Given the effective lack of faster than light travel/communication in Reynolds book, it is always going to be this way. It does make Alastair Reynolds books easier to keep up with and remember what is going on!

Overall I'm giving this book 8/10. Not perfect by any means, but pretty damn good nonetheless. Roll on Absolution Gap (book 3/3 in the trilogy).

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Kindle Daily Deal

I've been getting the 'Kindle Daily Deal' email for about six months now. One book each day is 99p. Most of them aren't much to get excited about, but this week they've had an SF & Fantasy Daily deal as well. Too bad I didn't realise this until day 6 of 7, but I've now bought the book two days in a row. First there's the 'Mammoth Book of SF Wars' by Ian Watson & Ian Whates. Military SF isn't really my thing, but for 99p I thought I might as well give it a try - I got the Mammoth Book of Apocalyptic Fiction on a similar deal a few months ago, and read quite a few good stories from that one so far. Will keep you posted.

The other book I bought is 'Dark Eden' by Chris Beckett. It's the story of a group of people on an alien world - the descendents of two survivors of a ship sent from Earth. It's a planet that is completely dark, the only light comes from luminous trees in one valley which all the colonists huddle together. They're all waiting and hoping that Earth will send a ship to rescue them, but it's been 160 years and there's still no sign of anyone. One young man, John Redlantern is determined to stop just surviving and actual make this alien world a home, and wants to set off to explore.

It sounds a really interesting book, so on the basis of the 99p price, some good Amazon/Goodreads reviews and the description I decided to go for it. I'll post the review when I'm done.

I'm also going to try and keep more of an eye on SF & Fantasy deals on Kindle UK, and post them on here when I find them.

'Way Station' by Clifford D Simak

I read this while on holiday in Shropshire. Pastoral SF is the ideal book to read while staying in a country holiday cottage on a farm in rural Shropshire, England! Anyway, here's the review.

"They don't make 'em like they used to" is an apt phrasing fitting many different things, not the least of which is science fiction. Way Station was written in the 1960s, and I can't imagine a book anything like it being written today. I don't think we have anyone like Clifford D Simak writing science fiction today though.

Simak writes 'pastoral sf', a heady mix of technology, philosophy, and a love of backwoods America. He is equally at home describing the beautiful countryside, or the sound of skylarks on a spring day as he is imagining strange aliens, advanced technology and weird science.

Way Station centres around Enoch Wallace, an American Civil War veteran, living in backwoods America, who meets an alien one day and is asked to be the keeper of a Galactic 'waystation' for travellers journeying between the stars. As it is not a part of the Galactic community, Earth is off-limits but is a necessary stopping place (like a rest area service station on the motorway or interstate I guess!) Enoch meets many strange creatures and wonderful things, but keeps his feet firmly on the ground of mother Earth. Things stay this way for more than a century with Enoch barely aging. Eventually though, someone's bound to notice...

Way Station isn't a long book, but fits quite a lot in. We learn a bit about the strange - and some not so strange - aliens that Enoch Wallace meets as they travel through his station, and find out something of what he has learned about the galactic community. We get a bit of philosophical musings, and Enoch's worries about the state of humankind, as Earth teeters on the brink of nuclear war (this was written in the 1960s, so at that time nuclear war was a very real and dangerous threat). Slowly though, Enoch's century of peace and quiet is shattered as a crisis builds both on Earth and out in the galaxy too.

Not everyone will love this book. If you like your science fiction full of nasty aliens with big guns, or hot bosom babes with lots of sex in it, you are going to be sorely disappointed and very bored! But if you like experiencing a sense of wonder, a little adventure and aren't a bit put off by the slightly dated historical backdrop and old fashioned technology, you might just enjoy this. It is a classic of golden age science fiction and well worth the reading. I'm giving this 9/10, and will be reading more by Clifford D. Simak soon.