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SF and Fantasy wot I ave been reeding

Started by Alberon, April 19, 2020, 12:05:14 AM

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All Surrogate

I've just finished re-reading Peter Watts' Firefall duology, which are great if thoroughly terrifying books. Now I've started reading his Rifters trilogy, which I've not read before, but are already shaping up to be pretty bleak in their own abyssal way.

Famous Mortimer

10 Works of Literary Fantasy You Should Read

Some interesting suggestions? Reminds me I've never read "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell", should probably give it a go.


Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. Now, I quite like The Martian. A lot, in fact. But I read Artemis but can remember nothing about it. His latest though seems like a step backwards, in that it reverts to his chatty first-person style - Artemis may also have been 1P, but this is explicitly in the same style as TM. And it gets a bit grating after a while. Plus it's all about a resourceful scientist in his own, solving problems. I enjoyed it, it's a whizzing yarn, but it can't help but feel derivative of what he's done before.


You could tell in Artemis that it had been written with the anticipation of being picked up as a screenplay, but I have no idea what he was going for with Project Hail Mary. The dynamic between him and Rocky was...odd. Was he trying to evoke the same sense as of Watney's struggles to communicate with Earth in The Martian but without the lag in message time? Now that I think of it, the final scene/chapter is a bit of a lift from TM as well.

I do like Weir, but he seems like he's increasingly struggling to stop his background research from landing unaltered in his books. I seem to recall a lot of bits where the protagonist thought things like "OK, what was it we learned from Mr White in high school science? Come on, think! It is vitally important that you remember this in great deal and then write it down in your diary or you may die."


Artifact Space by Miles Cameron. This one I quite liked, but I wouldn't recommend it.

It's written by an author who has just done fantasy up till now, I've not read any of it so I've no idea how good it is. The story concerns Marca Nbaro, an orphan from a formerly powerful patrician line. Patricians are the rich, basically. In an otherwise fairly socialist world they have privileges beyond normal people. She wants to join the merchant navy, but her path has been wrecked by another patrician.

The story opens as she forges her qualifications and gets on board one of the ten or so greatships that trade through human space before visiting a very alien race with which communication hasn't been possible, but a trade has grown up that swaps gold for Xenoglass upon which a lot of the trading universe depends.

Nbaro starts as a Midshipman pilot and as the long voyage begins shock spreads through human space at the destruction of two other greatships by an unknown agressor.

Despite hints of Star Trek the books owe more to a long line of military SF books going back to sea-going naval fiction. Our hero starts at the lowest rank and the novels follow them to Captain or beyond. The only difference is the greater racial and gender diversity that you simply expect in a novel written in the third decade of the 21st century.

So none of this is particularly new or original and a lot of the first three quarters of the novel has Nbaro worrying about her forged documents being discovered and detecting a series of subtle, and not so subtle, attacks against the greatship making friends and opening up as she goes. But there's not a great deal of real action.

This comes to the heart of why I can't recommend it. Nbaro is a total Mary Sue (probably in the newer sense of being perfect rather than the old description of being an extension of the author). Her only failing is a lack of faith in herself. Apart from that she excels at everything. She's a great pilot, her hand to hand combat skills are magnificent and she proves very adapt at routing out saboteurs when recruited by the intelligence services on the ship. Everyone loves her, up to and including the ship's captain and the highly advanced AI that runs the ship. The few that don't (and this isn't much of a spoiler) turn out to be wrong-uns. She detects each attempt to harm the greatship and is instrumental in almost immediately averting disaster almost each time. I think there's just one attack in the entire book that she is not at least in part responsible for defusing. It's only towards the end that you get any sense of real danger.

So it's not a great book, but something of a comfortable easy read. It's the first of a duology (shocking to see something that isn't a trilogy) but I'd expect to see more novels further on if this and its sequel prove popular enough.


Finished Animal Money by Michael Cisco this morning. Kind of indescribable. I think I liked it.

Famous Mortimer

Harrow The Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

I don't think Harrow is that good a central character, and it felt like it leapt into the wider conflict a bit quickly, so perhaps the first book in the series was a fluke. It's not bad, necessarily, but it feels like you've walked into the room while someone is telling a story, but you missed an important bit at the beginning that tells you why you should care.


Quoteit feels like you've walked into the room while someone is telling a story, but you missed an important bit at the beginning
I think that's mostly very deliberate - it's aggressively disorientating plot and tone-wise compared with Gideon the Ninth, in line with Harrow's ongoing experience.

Having said that, I've no idea if the following sequels are going to be any good.

All Surrogate

Quote from: All Surrogate on December 01, 2021, 05:03:57 PMI've just finished re-reading Peter Watts' Firefall duology, which are great if thoroughly terrifying books. Now I've started reading his Rifters trilogy, which I've not read before, but are already shaping up to be pretty bleak in their own abyssal way.

Well, I've finished the trilogy. I definitely prefer the Firefall books; the Rifters books are just so bleak and occasionally downright unpleasant to read, with most characters steeped in horribleness, though the premise and settings are interesting.


Just finished the final book of The Expanse - "Leviathan Falls".  Overall I've really enjoyed them, they have helped me to get back into reading during lockdown so that is something.  Mostly I found they were each a little slow to start but by about 150-200 pages in they really pick up.  I think the series ended pretty well, which is all you can ask of something 9 books long really.  Looking forward to the collected novellas in March now, I know they are available separately but I think I'll wait for the set.

I think the last 3 books could make 2 good movies, would be a bit much to squeeze into 1 I think.  Here's hoping.

Now, do I go back to reading Bosch or stay with SF and into the Culture novels...?


I've started on Never Let Me Go having recently polished off Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day in a couple of days and enjoying it a lot.

I'm not too far in, but I read a lot of Atwood's speculative/dystopian SF in 2021, and it reminds me a lot of Oryx and Crake so far, which is no bad thing at all. Both authors seem to enjoy starting their books very vaguely and take the "show, don't tell" maxim to its extremes so that the full horror of the characters' situations only reveal themselves slowly.


I moved on to The Three Body Problem in the end.  Then I saw the reviews of it on here, oh dear... I'm actually enjoying it so far, I find it pretty easy to read once getting past the Chinese names, so hopefully I'll be able to burn through all 3.


I can't remember if I reviewed it here, but I enjoyed it a lot. You should race through!


Didn't read too much over the Christmas break. Having said that, I've just finished a novella and a book.

First up is Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky. It's set on an alien world where the fourth daughter of a Queen seeks aid from a terrifying wizard. Except the wizard is an anthropologist from Earth sent to study a colony that slipped back into feudalism. The novella alternates chapters from the viewpoint of the Queen's daughter and the stranded anthropologist. Earth has fallen silent and he's slept in suspended animation for centuries in the vain hope that he'll hear from them again. The Queen's daughter (IIRC the term princess isn't used) asks him for help against a demon. The anthopologist is certain it's just another old colony machine or device that has gone haywire or is being misued, but he may be wrong.

That's main point of the story is the scientist struggling with the fact that he could be the last of his civilisation. Interesting, but not fantastic.

Following that was The Etched City by K. J. Bishop, a first, and so far only, novel published back in 2004. Set in an alternate world at about Victorian levels of technology it tells the story of two people who escape to Ashamoil after leading a failed revolution back home. One drifts into the service of a local crimelord and the other a doctor at a hospital for the poor.

At this point the narrative thrust of the novel dies away and we're left with a series of vignettes into their lives in the city. As the novel progresses one character gets sidelined as the other takes centre stage and fantastical elements creep towards the front. Though it is possible to read the latter quarter of a book as a drug induced hallucination. It is very rich in describing the city and the life of the people in it and has been compared to China Mieville's Bas-Lag stories, but it is very much its own thing.

I can't say I fully understood it but I did enjoy this one.

Ron Maels Moustache

Currently re-reading the collected version of Jack Vance's Tales Of The Dying Earth stories. Vance is one of those authors who was incredibly influential on the genre as a whole yet rarely gets name-checked, and it's interesting to see how many modern fantasy tropes first appeared when he started writing these back in the forties.

The earliest tales in particular have a delightfully weird, pulpy quality with a macabre edge that I find really appealing, although the later stories that make up Cudjel's Saga are at times properly laugh out loud funny. His influence on Terry Pratchett is very clear in certain places.

This old Guardian review sums it incredibly well:


Quantum of Nightmares, by Charles Stross. The second of The Laundry Files, a spin-off from his Laundry series.

Now, I've no preconceptions about where this saga is going; there have been enough indications along the way that CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN is unlikely to have a happy ending.

But recent books in the main sequence have left me increasingly bemused...

Spoiler alert
First you have the emergence of superheroes in the Laundryverse, culminating in some sort of necromantic bloodbath during the last night of the Proms. Then an extradimensional invasion of Leeds by elves. Then the wholesale takeover of the US Government by Cthulhu cultists. And finally, those same cultists making inroads into the British Government, leading to the Laundry choosing the lesser of two evils, and helping install Nyarlathotep as prime minister in the guise of Fabian Everyman, an administration that comes to be known as the New Management.

In theory, all is not lost; the Laundry (our heroes) are working as a fifth column within the New Management, presumably to reinstate proper rule once NIGHTMARE GREEN passes, the stars are no longer aligned etc.

But. Stross has said these new stories are set AFTER the main sequence has concluded. Therefore whatever the Laundry hoped to do may not have worked. And I'm finding that thought a bit of a downer.

As I say, I have no preconceptions. This feeling may represent a slight dissatisfaction with how the series has changed. I think I enjoyed it more when it was about a world that could be our own, with a secret underworld and history.

And it's also telling that the books I cited above marked the point when it moved away from a single narrator, oft-hapless field officer and IT guru "Bob Howard" and instead uses different viewpoints - his wife Mo, his ex who's now a vampire, etc. It felt like too jarring a transition, even if I have continued to enjoy the books.

Anyway, all of the above spoiled section plays into how I feel about these new side stories. They feel like some overly-heavy-handed Brexit metaphor. New Management Britain is a shithole, where people can lose their rights, the death penalty is applied to almost any crime, and people just accept it.

The point about the death penalty makes me think of Larry Niven's Known Space books, where the death penalty is used to feed the organ banks which keep people alive. Niven's frequent collaborator Jerry Pournelle was on record and not buying into the sociology of Known Space, and that's kind of how I feel about these New Management Laundry spin-offs. It just feels childishly over-pessimistic about human nature - even to me!

I guess... I want escapism. I know what is going on in the world right now. I don't need a fantastical grin dark allegory to educate me about it (I'm looking at you, too, Star Trek: Picard).


To Be Taught, if Fortunate or Mortal Engines are next for me. Anyone read either?


if mortal engines is the Philip Reeve series, they're great...kind of a simpler Gormenghast feeling IMO and very dark and grim


Quote from: willbo on January 17, 2022, 12:16:21 PMif mortal engines is the Philip Reeve series, they're great...kind of a simpler Gormenghast feeling IMO and very dark and grim

It's the first book in the series, aye. I've gone with To Be Taught... just cos it's shorter, but I'll move onto that next!



The Trouble With Peace by Joe Abercrombie is the second of his Age of Madness trilogy and the eighth First Law book overall. While it's a series with two trilogies and three standalone books it feels more and more like a proper nine book series. A series that seems to be heading to a proper conclusion.

The Union is in trouble. Threatened in the west by a resurgent Old Empire, a united Styria in the east and the usual convulsions in the war-torn north. The book mainly follows our characters as they get dragged into two sides of a civil war.

As usual, long running characters are no more likely to survive than new ones. I've been through pretty much the entire series in under a year, and that's with trying to space them out. I strongly recommend the whole series.

The first trilogy ends on a
Spoiler alert
very downbeat note.
It'll be interesting to see where the second trilogy (and end of the series?) finishes and I plan to start the next book as soon as I can.


I picked up some classic Sci Fi books in a charity shop the other week, I Am Legend and The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson. I love speculative fiction where you have an out there scenario described so vividly you can imagine what it would really be like. Like being a man slowly shrinking away –

Spoiler alert
it would be shit

It's clever how he depicts the anxieties of a 1950's American male, as his place in the world is, err, diminishing.