The Seventh Sword Trilogy – Dave Duncan

Another trilogy lent to me during recuperation, this one is one I’d read before. This trilogy brilliantly subverts genre tropes, with a modern chemist catapulted into another world during the Age of Legends. Wallie Smith has to understand both how this world works and what is happening to fulfil a mysterious quest set to him by a god.

We have the trials, the faith and the work to drive the world to a better place. But we also have “magic” and strategy and leadership. Of course there is a culture clash, as Wallie has to get used to social norms in the World.  How it ends is inspired, and I love that the big picture the gods view includes the purpose for souls, and the need for that soul to be the right age at the right time.

The characters are both strong and flawed, just how I like them! And the world-building is brilliant as we understand the geography and what the Age of Legends means in this world.

Looking for other work by Dave Duncan I am torn to discover that he has added a fourth book to this series. Unlike the existing books, which happen in swift succession, this one is set 15 years into the future. Such a distant epilogue feels like cashing in on a successful trilogy rather than having anything interesting to say

Daughter of Eden – Chris Beckett

The third, and feels like the final, book in Beckett’s Eden series. Daughter of Eden takes place so far into Eden’s future that the earlier characters have firmly passed into mythology. He also still has something to say about human nature,and our need to believe in something. Through the characters he introduces he frames religious wars as the ridiculous ideas that they are,

But no one else looked at it that way. How can you ask if the story is true or not, if you’re in the story yourself?

I find it interesting that for the last two books he has focussed on female characters, with the surrounding male characters being two-dimensional at best. The women avoid the nurturing trap as well, and instead are powerful characters who have ambitions and leadership skills, despite the way that the society created on Eden has limited them. And the importance of the relationships between those women is central to this world.

I liked how the story was brought full circle without taking the easy escape. Of course Earth would eventually return, but how that was resolved was imaginative.

The Power – Naomi Alderman

Alderman’s The Power well-deserves its place in the Bailey’s Shorlist. An Atwood-style utopian/dystopian future. I did though have a little less respect for the Atwood quote on the front cover when the acknowledgements make it clear that she mentored Alderman. I’m very keen for writers in a genre to mentor upcoming writers, but then providing public feedback seems misleading.

Onto the book though: I like the concept, a reversal of all gender-based power. It places misogyny into context, whilst questioning just how much is due to essential shared human nature, with the flipping of the power merely changing who abused it.

I found the introductory letters confusing, until I read the epilogue letters as well, at which point the whole story clicked into much clearer context. The setting of the main book is a near-future science fiction, in which all women have gained a new life and death power. We follow four characters, and see how the changing world shapes them. Each central character is given depth, and has their own voice throughout. Their stories twist together and apart through this, done perfectly smoothly.

A must-read, and my favourite so far to win the Baileys, although as a science fiction fan I may be biased!

Is anyone else reading from the shortlist?

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.