Posted in 2021, Chris Beckett, Contemporary Fiction, library book, Novel, Science Fiction, Top Books

The Holy Machine by @chriszbeckett

George Simling has grown up in the city-state of Illyria, an enclave of logic and reason founded as a refuge from the Reaction, a wave of religious fundamentalism that swept away the nations of the twenty-first century. Yet to George, Illyria’s militant rationalism is as stifling as the faith-based superstition that dominates the world outside its walls.

For George has fallen in love with Lucy. A prostitute. A robot. She might be a machine, but the semblance of life is perfect. To the city authorities, robot sentience is a malfunction, curable by erasing and resetting silicon minds. But George knows that Lucy is something more.

His only alternative is to flee Illyria, taking Lucy deep into the religious Outlands where she must pass as human because robots are seen as mockeries of God, burned at the stake, dismembered, crucified. Their odyssey leads them through betrayal, war and madness, ending only at the monastery of the Holy Machine…

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Perhaps I should start this story with my escape across the border in the company of a beautiful woman?

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(@CorvusBooks, 1 July 2010, ebook, 289 pages, borrowed from @GlasgowLib via @OverDriveLibs)

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AMAZON

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I came across the author’s work recently because I liked the covers of his books and have become quite a fan. Like other books I’ve read by the author, The Holy Machine is not what you expect from science fiction. It’s a brilliantly written, dazzling and original book. I loved everything about it. I loved the way the book explores the development of AI. I look forward to reading more of this author’s work.

Posted in Adrian Tchaikovsky, Contemporary Fiction, First Read, Novel, Prime Reading, Science Fiction

Cage of Souls by @aptshadow

Humanity clings to life on a dying Earth in an epic, far-future science fiction novel from an award-winning author.

The sun is bloated, diseased, dying perhaps. Beneath its baneful light, Shadrapar, last of all cities, harbours fewer than 100,000 human souls. Built on the ruins of countless civilisations, Shadrapar is a museum, a midden, an asylum, a prison on a world that is ever more alien to humanity.

Bearing witness to the desperate struggle for existence between life old and new is Stefan Advani: rebel, outlaw, prisoner, survivor. This is his testament, an account of the journey that took him into the blazing desolation of the western deserts; that transported him east down the river and imprisoned him in the verdant hell of the jungle’s darkest heart; that led him deep into the labyrinths and caverns of the underworld. He will meet with monsters, madman, and mutants.

The question is which one of them will inherit this Earth?

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Where to begin?

A GAME OF CHESS

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(@HoZ_Books, 4 April 2019, ebook, 559 pages, borrowed from @AmazonKindle, #PrimeReading)

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AMAZON

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I’ve heard of the author but never got round to reading his work before. Cage of Souls sounded like a terrific read so I decided to give it a shot. I had a great time reading it. I don’t often read science fiction but have started to read more in recent years, expanding my tastes. I was impressed by the world-building in the book and the way the author brings Shadrapar to life, making it so real. The book is narrated by Stefan and I enjoyed being inside his head as he goes through life altering events. This is a very definition of ‘epic’.

Posted in 2021, Becky Chambers, Contemporary Fiction, Novella, Science Fiction

A Psalm For The Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

In A Psalm for the Wild-Built, Hugo Award-winner Becky Chambers’s delightful new Monk & Robot series gives us hope for the future.

It’s been centuries since the robots of Panga gained self-awareness and laid down their tools; centuries since they wandered, en masse, into the wilderness, never to be seen again; centuries since they faded into myth and urban legend.

One day, the life of a tea monk is upended by the arrival of a robot, there to honour the old promise of checking in. The robot cannot go back until the question of “what do people need?” is answered.

But the answer to that question depends on who you ask, and how.

They’re going to need to ask it a lot.

Becky Chambers’s new series asks: in a world where people have what they want, does having more matter?

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If you ask six different monks the question of which godly domain robot consciousness belongs to, you’ll get seven different answers.

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(@torbooks, 13 July 2021, ebook, 160 pages, bought from @AmazonKindle)

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I’ve become a rabid fan of the author thanks to her Wayfarers series so couldn’t wait to read this, the first book in a new series. I enjoyed this so much and didn’t want the book to end. It feels much longer than a scant 160 pages. What makes the author’s work stand out from other writers of her genre is the humanity in the pages, the ability to make readers connect with characters and place, even those very different from human beings. The Wayfarers series made me emphasis with very alien species, something no science fiction author has been able to pull off before.  A Psalm For The Wild-Built is a remarkable book. I loved the way the relationship between the two characters develops. I can’t wait for the next book.

Posted in 2021, Becky Chambers, Contemporary Fiction, Novella, Science Fiction, Top Books

To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers

At the turn of the twenty-second century, scientists make a breakthrough in human spaceflight. Through a revolutionary method known as somaforming, astronauts can survive in hostile environments off Earth using synthetic biological supplementations. They can produce antifreeze in sub-zero temperatures, absorb radiation and convert it for food, and conveniently adjust to the pull of different gravitational forces. With the fragility of the body no longer a limiting factor, human beings are at last able to explore neighbouring exoplanets long suspected to harbour life.

Ariadne is one such explorer. On a mission to ecologically survey four habitable worlds fifteen light-years from Earth, she and her fellow crewmates sleep while in transit, and wake each time with different features. But as they shift through both form and time, life back on Earth has also changed. Faced with the possibility of returning to a planet that has forgotten those who have left, Ariadne begins to chronicle the wonders and dangers of her journey, in the hope that someone back home might still be listening.

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If you read nothing else we’ve sent home, please at least read this.

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(@HodderBooks, 8 August 2019, ebook, 136 pages, bought from @AmazonKindle)

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I’m a huge fan of the author since reading her Wayfarers series so I was really looking forward to this. I really loved To Be Taught, If Fortunate. I don’t read a lot of science fiction and tend to prefer books set on earth featuring human-like characters rather than distant planets people by creatures very different than humans. I find it hard to connect with the story and characters. The author is skilled at writing science fiction in such a way that I can make a connection to other worlds and creatures. This book is split into different sections narrated by Ariadne who recounts her experiences and the experiences of her crew on four vastly different planets while learning that the earth they left might not be there anymore or might be vasty different. I didn’t want the book to end.

Posted in 2021, Becky Chambers, Contemporary Fiction, Novel, Science Fiction

The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

The stunning finale to the award-winning Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers, author of the beloved The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.

When a freak technological failure halts traffic to and from the planet Gora, three strangers are thrown together unexpectedly, with seemingly nothing to do but wait.

Pei is a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, torn between her duty to her people, and her duty to herself.

Roveg is an exiled artist, with a deeply urgent, and longed for, family appointment to keep.

Speaker has never been far from her twin but now must endure the unendurable: separation.

Under the care of Ouloo, an enterprising alien, and Tupo, her occasionally helpful child, the trio are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they might be to one another.

Together they will discover that even in the vastness of space, they’re not alone. 

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This is an update from the Goran Orbital Cooperative regarding satellite network coverage between the hours of 06:00 and 18:00 today, 236/307.

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(@HodderBooks, 18 February 2021, ebook, 290 pages, bought from @AmazonKindle)

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I’ve enjoyed the other books in the Wayfarers series though none were quite as amazing as the first book and I was looking forward to seeing how it all ended. I enjoyed this book. It’s very different from the other books but each entry in the series has been unique in many ways while exploring similar concepts and ideas. The author has made be a fan of science fiction, something I rarely read and now want to read more of. What impresses me about her writing is that they feature alien worlds and alien creatures who are very un-human in a way that makes me completely believe them and empathise. Usually books set solely in alien worlds with most characters not being human would leave me cold. I found this an engrossing read. I’ve pre-ordered her next book and can’t wait.

Posted in 2021, Contemporary Fiction, First Read, Kim Bo-Young, NetGalley, Science Fiction, Short Fiction

I’m Waiting For You by Kim Bo-Young

THE TIMES SCIENCE FICTION BOOK OF THE MONTH

‘Her fiction is a breath-taking piece of a cinematic art … powerful and graceful’ – Bong Joon-ho, Oscar-winning director of Parasite

’Dazzling’ – The Times

A stunning collection of short fiction by one of South Korea’s most treasured writers, available in English for the first time.

In the title story, an engaged couple working in distant corners of the galaxy plan to arrive on Earth simultaneously and walk down the aisle together. But small incidents wreak havoc on their vast journeys, pushing the date of their wedding far into the future. As centuries pass on Earth and the land and climate change, one thing is constant: the desire of the lovers to be together.

Through two pairs of interlinked stories, Kim explores the driving forces of humanity – love, hope, creation, destruction, and the very meaning of existence.

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I SAID GOODBYE TO THE GUYS, AS THEY WON’T BE SEEING ME until the wedding.

HIS FIRST LETTER (I’M WAITING FOR YOU)

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(@HarperCollimsUK, 15 April 2021, 336 pages, ebook, copy from the publisher via #NetGalley and voluntarily reviewed)

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This is a new author for me. This collection of four long-ish stories is worth reading for the title story and its companion piece, On My Way to You alone. The two stories are among the best pieces of short fiction I’ve ever read. I didn’t want either to end. The stories focus on a man and woman travelling in different corners of the galaxy and at different speeds who plan to reach Earth at the same time to get married and the various catastrophes that seem determined to get in the way. These were funny, sad, delightful stories. I loved them both very much. The other two stories were good but I struggled to make the human connection I did with the title story and On My Way to You. I really enjoyed this collection.

Posted in 2021, Fantasy Fiction, First Read, historical fiction, literary fiction, LRB Book Subscription, Novel, Russell Hoban, Science Fiction, Top Books

Pilgermann by Russell Hoban

‘Superb … Pilgermann is history, metaphysics, a tangle of mysteries, profound and simple’ Guardian

It is 1097 and a traveller arrives in the great, walled city of Antioch with a vision of a beautiful and mysterious geometric design that will change the lives of all those who see it. Pilgermann is a mesmerising recreation of the world of the Crusades, following its unlikely hero and those he meets on a journey of picaresque horror across a Europe of hatreds, visions and a desperate wish for salvation.

‘A dark treatise on the mysterious nature of things … The world according to Pilgermann is a brutish place borrowing from Hieronymus Bosch, pilgrimage narrative, allegory and the historical novel’ The New York Times Book Review

‘A strange and beautiful work’ Evening Standard

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Pilgermann here.

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(@PenguinUKBooks, 25 March 2021, paperback, 288 pages, bought from @LRBbookshop via a Subscription Box)

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This is a new author for me. Pilgermann blew me away and I’ve already identified a few other titles by the author that I find strangely appealing. This is an astonishing book. It’s not like anything I’ve read before. I also said that recently about The Starless Sea and the same can be said of both even though they are very different. Pilgermann is an unusual book and hard to describe. Think of the book as a sort of re-telling of the Crusades with lots of religious overtimes and some science fiction and fantasy elements. There are even black and white sketches of the strange geometrical patterns that capture and fundamentally change the world in the book (you need to read it to understand what I mean). Pilgermann is beautifully written and mesmerising. It completely absorbed me. I thought it was amazing.   

Posted in 2021, Contemporary Fiction, Dean Koontz, mystery, Novel, Science Fiction, suspense, thriller, Top Books

The Other Emily by @DeanKoontz

Number one New York Times bestselling master of suspense Dean Koontz takes readers on a twisting journey of lost love, impossible second chances, and terrifying promises.

A decade ago, Emily Carlino vanished after her car broke down on a California highway. She was presumed to be one of serial killer Ronny Lee Jessup’s victims whose remains were never found.

Writer David Thorne still hasn’t recovered from losing the love of his life, or from the guilt of not being there to save her. Since then, he’s sought closure any way he can. He even visits regularly with Jessup in prison, desperate for answers about Emily’s final hours so he may finally lay her body to rest. Then David meets Maddison Sutton, beguiling, playful, and keenly aware of all David has lost. But what really takes his breath away is that everything about Maddison, down to her kisses, is just like Emily. As the fantastic becomes credible, David’s obsession grows, Maddison’s mysterious past deepens—and terror escalates.

Is she Emily? Or an irresistible dead ringer? Either way, the ultimate question is the same: What game is she playing? Whatever the risk in finding out, David’s willing to take it for this precious second chance. It’s been ten years since he’s felt this inspired, this hopeful, this much in love…and he’s afraid.

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She is lost, and he must find her.

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(Thomas & Mercer, 23 March 2021, ebook, 363 pages, bought from @AmazonKindle)

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I’ve been a fan of the author, on and off since my teens so for more than thirty years. I’ve really enjoyed his last couple of books so had high hopes for The Other Emily. This is the kind of twisted, bizarre suspense novel with science-fiction elements Koontz is brilliant at writing. I love the short chapters and how quickly this helps to build suspense. I was hooked on the book within a few pages and didn’t want to stop reading until I reached the end. I had so many questions as I read. What happened to Emily? Is Maddison actually Emily? If she is, why does she seem unaware of this? If she’s not who is she and why is she Emily’s double? I loved the fact the truth isn’t revealed until the final few chapters. This is a corker.

NB: This is supposed to be a kindle-in-motion book with interactive elements but despite having media enabled and set to auto-play no interactive elements materialised.

Posted in 2021, ARC, Contemporary Fiction, Elly Bangs, First Read, Novel, Science Fiction

#Unity by @elly_bangs

Evoking the gritty cyberpunk of Mad Max and the fluid idealism of Sense8Unity is a spectacular new re-envisioning of humanity. Breakout author Elly Bangs has created an expressive, philosophical, science-fiction thriller that expands upon consciousness itself.

Danae is not only herself. She is concealing a connection to a grieving collective inside of her body. But while she labours as a tech servant in the dangerous underwater enclave of Bloom City, her fractured self cannot mend. In a desperate escape, Danae and her lover Naoto hire the enigmatic ex-mercenary Alexei to guide them out of the imploding city.

But for Danae to reunify, the three new fugitives will have to flee across the otherworldly beauty of the post-apocalyptic Southwest. Meanwhile, Danae’s warlord enemy, the Duke, and a strange new foe, the Borrower, already seek them at any price.

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THIS IS THE FIRST THING I remember when I begin to cohere in unity; a woman standing at a railing, peering down into the vats at the final bottom of Bloom City – and a man in a cramped air transport lavatory, watching his reflection in the scuffed plastic mirror point a wave pistol at its own head.

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(@TachyonPub, 13 April 2021, 463 pages, ebook, #ARC from the publisher and voluntarily reviewed)

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This is the author’s debut. I really enjoyed it and look forward to seeing what the author comes up with next. I wasn’t sure I was going to like Unity at first; it’s so far outside my comfort zone, even for science fiction. It took a few chapters for me to really settle into the story and get to know the characters. I found the shared consciousness premise at first a little far out there and it took a while to get used to. However, I ended up really liking the book and characters. The best way to describe it is to think of Danae’s consciousness as a soul which moves between different bodies and lifelines across time and space making her ancient. Unity is original and hugely enjoyable.

Posted in 2021, Brian Aldiss, Contemporary Fiction, First Read, Science Fiction, Short Fiction

Three Types of Solitude by Brian Aldiss

Faber Stories, a landmark series of individual volumes, presents masters of the short story form at work in a range of genres and styles.

Brian Aldiss, who died in 2017, was best known for his science fiction – and in particular for a short story optioned by Stanley Kubrick, which would, under the direction of Steven Spielberg, become the film A.I. Artificial Intelligence.

Aldiss’s first book was published by Faber in 1955.

This brief, late trilogy contains much of his lively humour, one improbable invention, and a pervasive sense of loneliness and longing. ‘Sadness is just happiness in reverse,’ says someone in a story within the story, ‘We humans have to put up with it.’

Bringing together past, present and future in our ninetieth year, Faber Stories is a celebratory compendium of collectable work. 

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Judge Beauregard Peach was writing to his estranged wife, Gertrude.

1: HAPPINESS IN REVERSE

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(@FaberBooks, 7 March 2019, ebook, 23 pages, bought from @AmazonKindle)

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This is a new author for me. I don’t read a lot of science fiction but I really enjoyed these stories and might read more of the author’s work at some point. The first story, Happiness in Reverse is the best and the most ‘sci-fi’ tale on offer. There’s something I really liked about it. It’s a ‘story-within-a-story’ as a woman receives letters from her ex-husband which detail a bizarre case at work and they exchange back and forth. The three stories are well-written and entertaining.