Mother of Eden – Chris Beckett

Mother of Eden follows on from Dark Eden, but the characters in the former have now passed into mythology. Instead we are facing another round of social change and world development as different communities via for resources, space and ownership of their creator history.

Its set with a young woman who has barely been exposed to this wider world moving out to become part of a less innocent community, and the change this triggers across all of humanity.

Without revealing what happens, it is a story of politics, intrigue, dreams and sexism. It explores what we know against what we think we know, and how myths can be started and spread. Plus there is suspense and a battle between different factions.

Well worth reading if you enjoy far-future science fiction.

Wool – Hugh Howey, read by Susannah Harker

I picked out Wool as a knitter, but instead it scratched my dystopian future needs. There is wool, and knitting, mentioned in the text, but neither to the extent that it is what I associate with the story.

Instead I think of cleaning and silos, and law and politics. A detective story is interwoven with this dystopia, making this into a deeply compelling listen.

I enjoyed how Howey choose to reveal the truths of this place, and change viewpoints to good effect to unwrap the twisting story beautifully. And then how he tied everything together to a satisfying ending was not in a way I expected, having accepted that all the remaining “good” characters were doomed. I did find that after part 1 I was just expecting everyone to die as soon as I decided I liked them.

Harker is a good reader for this, and the pacing of her descriptions allowed me to absorb far more than I often do when reading from a paper book.

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This was a “playaway” audiobook from the library, essentially a preloaded MP3 player to borrow. It worked better than I expected, although I did find myself wishing for a record of total chapters/overall time listened, as I had no feel for how far through the story I was.

Have you listened to an Audiobook recently?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Philip K. Dick

The title of this is a classic. But I had always interpreted it as the sort of dream that happens when asleep, so the reality of this was a surprise to me. I didn’t expect an actual electric sheep, more an abstract concept.

As I went through though, the gradual reveal of the reality of android, or “andy” life on earth actually led me to sympathise with them a great deal, although the ending was what it had to be.

This is not only a key work in science fiction, but also well-written and executed. It is of course of its time, but that is manageable. The only thing to be worked past is that it is set in 1992. And of course, we have all sorts of high tech, but no mobile phones.

I struggle to say more about this than has already been said, but it is a good read.

The Other Side of Silence – Natasha Mostert

The power of noise over the human mind, in terms of how music can affect us, or noise pollution blight lives, is a known fact in modern life. In The Other Side of Silence, Mostert focuses on this, and on where that power could be played with.

Mostert has picked up the concept of a Pythagorean comma, and the stated aim of the book is to derive a musical scale in which this does not exist. But despite three of the main characters being mathematicians, there is little information on the problem that they are trying to solve or how they are solving it (which makes little sense to me: a perfect musical scale should be easy, making it acoustically pleasing is of course very complex and could arguably benefit from the approach taken, but this is never mentioned.

This may be due to the central character being a woman who does not understand mathematics, and definitely doesn’t understand computers. Whilst the reader does require someone to whom things need explaining at a lay level, Tia’s level of ignorance goes beyond that.

Despite the flaws of such an unaware main character as the only serious female, this is a good exploration of human nature, and the world around us.

The Ghost Brigades – John Scalzi

Now its time to learn to fight like Special Forces…

The Ghost Brigades is the next part of the Old Man’s War series. But it feels different, the universe and the characters have moved on and the universe is a more complex place. I love how the “world”-building is so gradual here, smoothly adding depth and complexity at a manageable pace.

But the story is distinct here, not just a continuation of more of the same, but taking the end point and running off with it in a different direction. The writing is strong, and there are links there to bring it back to Old Man’s War, but it stands on its own. There is of course (given the setting) more soldiers and war, but also plotting, intrigue, Science! and politics.

The moral twist in this is then just perfect, although difficult to give more details without serious spoilers!

 

Old Man’s War – John Scalzi

“The colonies are saving their best technology for the military… I think you’re right, Harry. We have no idea what we’ve gotten ourselves into”

This is Scalzi’s first published novel, but is a strong opening to this series. I want to hear more about this setting and how characters develop, so will be picking up the rest in some form or other.

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The premise is interesting as a starting point, people are given the opportunity to become young again through joining the Colonial Defence Force (aka, off-planet army). Scalzi then, as always, handles the emotional and social considerations of this as well as he does the practical side.

Then we have some planetary wars, making friends and all the other fun stuff one could hope for.

I quite like the later plot development as well, although it does stretch suspension of disbelief a bit too far! There are only so many incredibly unlikely things that can happen to one character, even in a novel.

Rouges – George R. R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

I hesitate to call this a short story collection as at 21 stories across over 900 pages, the average length of these stories is over 40 pages. Rather it’s a collection of novellas, shuffled together from different worlds.

The list of contributing authors alone was enough for me to pick this up, it reads as a list of the best current sci-fi and fantasy authors. Of course it includes a new tale from Westeros, but also something from London Below, a a whole set of stories from worlds that only exist inside this book. From a world where thieves have their souls trapped in statues as a warning to others, to a mystery set in a  multiplex cinema  through a club in the roaring twenties where possibly not everyone is human.

It is impossible to pick a favourite from this set, but the contribution from George R. R. Martin was a definite disappointment. Dry, dull and only explained that there had been a whole heap of infighting and grudges in the past. So don’t get it for that story, but it was just a bit of a damp squid at the end of a generally fabulous collection.

The Fractal Prince – Hannu Rajaniemi

I’d forgotten what a colourful romp The Quantum Thief was until I spotted The Fractal Prince in a bookshop and remembered I’d planned to look out for the sequel.

This is the sequel Quantum Thief deserves. Fast-paced, complex and laden with future tech. It did require a careful reread of both together to understand what was going on and catch up with the contexts again. There are all the twists and setups that can be expected, with characters delighting in their own cleverness.

In addition a new race (or species?) is introduced with their own history, culture and practices to preserve themselves. This adds new intricacies to the dance for power, and a refreshing narrative to weave throughout this book.

Lexicon – Max Barry

Its a bank holiday weekend and the sun is shining. So what could be better than to lie in the garden and read a book.

I had picked this one up because for a while I played Nation States, so I recognised Max Barry’s name on the cover.

Lexicon is immediately obviously a book about the power of words. But beyond that, things unfold gradually, so the themes of the book are horrifically spoilery. But I found it fascinating, with all the pieces not falling together until very near the end, and enough hints to keep me putting most of the picture together and such that nothing felt out of place.