Monday, 19 August 2013

Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

Excellent sci fi story that starts with the Earth being suddenly enclosed in a membrane which slows down time for the planet. It isn't clear whether the creators of this membrane are malignant or benign. The membrane appears to protect the planet and it's inhabitants while it cocoons them. Strong storyline and interesting characters make for a novel that surely spawns a series.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Poison Eaters and Other Stories by Holly Black

A collection of dark fantasy stories featuring elves and magic's and endings that are rarely happy ever after. The quality of the writing is uniformly good although the stories are so varies it is hard to sum the collection up in a few lines.

Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories about People Who Know How They Will Die by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo and David Malki

A collection of short stories contributed by many writers in response to this comic by Ryan North. They explore the consequences of what happens if a simple machine existed which could tell people how they would die. Not when, just how and often in an ambiguous way.

This first collection seems to have a lot of entries submitted by geek celebrities from the worlds of blogging, web comics and video gaming but surprise surprise it turns out they can write and write very well. The stories have been selected to show a  broad range of implications such a death prediction machine could have. There are some common themes of course and a lot of them focus on damaging it would be for people to know in advance what will kill them. There are a lot of other clever ideas in there too though. I particularly liked the last story "Cassandra" by T. J.  Radcliffe who manages to drag in quantum mechanics and collapsing probability functions in his tale of one woman's attempt to save the world from her future.

A Case of Exploding Mangos by Mohammed Hanif

Highly entertaining comic novel that gives a highly fictionalised account of events leading up to the real life plane crash that killed the President of Pakistan General Zia in 1988. The crash which also killed the leader of Pakistan's military as well as the US ambassador to Pakistan has long attracted conspiracy theories  but Hanif sidesteps the old chestnuts and throws together his own humorous collection of plots and motivations.

As I said before the book is well written and highly entertaining but I have to be wary about recommending a book that plays fast and loose with historical events. I did not remember the plane crash or the circumstances surrounding it before reading this book so there was always a danger of artistic license being accepted for fact, particularly as time dims the memory of what parts of the tale came from where.  Happily this novel is sufficiently absurd that I am unlikely to forget it was fiction.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Just a Geek by Will Wheaton

As a teenager Wheaton was a child star with an award winning film (Stand by Me) and a cult series (Star Trek The Next Generation) in his credits. At the height of his fame he left Star Trek to become a "serious actor". Sadly things didn't quite work out and fifteen years later Wheaton is an out of work actor struggling to pay the bills and support a family while constantly grappling with the thought that maybe quitting  Star Trek wasn't such a good idea. This entertainingly honest memoir details his struggles on the path to reinventing himself as a writer and blogger. Indeed the memoir borrows heavily on entries from his blog.

In addition to providing searingly honest insights into Wheaton's own struggles the book is an important record of an internet which may no longer exist. A time when geeks were still a major force on the web and blogging was a route to fame an possibly even fortune.

The Ascendant Stars by Michael Cobley

This final chapter of Cobley's Humanities Fire trilogy does an admirable job of tying up the many plot threads introduced in the first two novels. It even manages to produce an overall context which explains how the diverse stands tie together. I still think there are too many strands and too many characters crammed in to this short series however. Three volumes is just not enough space to adequately deal with all of the characters and their stories. The abbreviation required to fit everything in ensures the books retain a cracking pace but it also causes confusion and makes the tale less satisfying than it should have been.

I will certainly look out for more books by this author but next time Mr. Cobley please drop a few characters or add a few volumes.

The Fade by Chris Wooding

Intriguing world where the population has been forced underground by changes which made the light from their planetoids suns deadly. The heroine of this tale is a member of the cadre, an elite agent bonded to one of the ruling families of her faction. Her world view is shaken when her husband is killed in battle and she is taken prisoner nevertheless her unique skills ensure that she won't be out of the action for long.

I enjoyed this well written tale but I found the ending to be far from satisfactory. The outcome of the tale was not only obvious but to me also disappointing.

I don't know if this is the start of a series but it could be and perhaps we would get a more satisfactory ending in further episodes.