#BookReview: Forgotten Suns By Judith Tarr

Fogotten Suns by Judith Tarrr

For five thousand Earthyears, the planet called Nevermore has been empty. Its cities are deserted, with every trace of their inhabitants erased. Only a handful of nomadic tribes remain, none of whom remember the ones who went before.

An expedition from Earth has been excavating one of the planet’s many ruins, and attempting without success to find the cause of its people’s disappearance. Now the expedition is in trouble, its funding cut; unless it makes a major discovery, and soon, it will be shut down. Then the United Planets will invade Nevermore and strip it of its resources, and destroy its ancient and enigmatic treasures.

Aisha, the daughter of the chief archaeologists, tries to save the expedition by opening a sealed tomb or treasury-and manages instead to destroy it. But one treasure survives, which may be the key to the planet’s mystery. That treasure is alive, and deeply dangerous: a long-forgotten king and conqueror, sentenced to be preserved in stasis centuries before his world was abandoned.

Khalida is a Military Intelligence officer with a quarter-million deaths on her conscience. She has retreated to the near-solitude of Nevermore to try to come to terms with what she has done, but her past will not let her go. The war she thought she had ended still rages, and is about to destroy one planet and spread chaos through a hundred more. Her superiors force her back into service, and dispatch her to a world that may also offer a clue to the mystery of Nevermore.

With the alien king, the sentient starship he liberates from an unholy alliance of Military Intelligence and the Interstellar Institute for Psychic Research, and a crew of scientists, explorers, and renegades, Aisha and Khalida set off on a journey to the end of the universe and beyond. What they find will change not only the future of Nevermore, but that of all the United Planets

From the publishers via Librarything’s April 2015 Early Reviewers batch, this was sitting on my ereader for over a year – my 2016 reading challenge is to clear some of the older books off my TBR.

This begins with Aisha – an impulsive teenager, who lives on the near-deserted planet Nevermore, with a small number of xenoarchaeologists – uses too much explosive and tears the top off the local mountain. In doing this, she awakens a strange character, who appears to be an inhabitant of the world from 6000 years previously. Nicknamed Rama, it appears that he was seen as a threat by his people, but that his return was foretold in myth by the few remaining aboriginal people on Nevermore.

Khalida is from MI, on the planet to recover from what she’s done (think extreme, psychic version of PTSD), but still doesn’t feel fixed. She senses a threat in Rama, but doesn’t know what that threat is and how it will materialise. She knows he is off the scale with Psi powers and wonders what he will do if the Psychic people ever find out what his powers are.

Khalida gets called back to active service, to return to the scene of her “crime” and Rama leaves with her. Aisha joins the ship as a stowaway, wanting to follow Rama in the belief that she can protect him from the modern world he doesn’t know and maybe protect the world from him somehow.

Soon the trio travel different worlds, pick up a living Ship that feeds off the stars and find the only way for Rama to repay the horror that he inflicted 6000 years before. Finally, it’s an entire world full of people who have to confront the common enemy that they have been waiting for Rama to destroy.

This is a complex novel, both in terms of the story itself and the characters that are involved in telling it. Tarr has produced a world that is the same but different enough from our own, where sexual relationships can be fluid and definately not defined/definable. Most (if not all) of the characters are PoC – something I believe is fairly rare in Sci Fi and kudos to Tarr for making it Not That Big A Deal, in the story at least!  In reading other people’s reviews, it seems some people have taken offence to the characters being PoC, as a case of Political Correctness Gone Mad (yes you guessed it, from a White Middle Aged Man).

 

I’m not going to go into all the threads and plot points here, mainly because it’s too long, and not the point of a review. It’s certainly a recommend for those who like their sci-fi to have loads of interstellar travel, worlds to be just different enough, and complicated/big enough for someone to sink their teeth into.

#BookReview: The Centauri Device by M. John Harrison

the centauri device

John Truck was to outward appearances just another lowlife spaceship captain. He peddled drugs when they were available, carried cargo when they weren’t. But he was also the last of the Centaurans – or at least, half of him was – which meant that he was the only person who could operate the Centauri Device, a sentient bomb which might hold the key to settling a vicious space war.

Paper Copy from my bookgroup. First published in 1974, this copy was printed in 2000.

This is not the clean, sanitized version of the future presented by Star Trek and Andromeda (the latter being darker than the former, but ultimately still …. you felt they’d washed recently). You come out of each session with this book feeling the grime and dirt, where it even feels dirty to breath, no matter what planet you’re on.  Truck has been identified as the offspring of the last pure-bred Centauri and is being chased across the universe by various Earth based factions wanting to use him to control “the device”, which every one assumes to be a weapon of some sort.

The Openers are a religious sect, who believe that their worship of their deity is best done by replacing more and more of their skin with see through plastic, so that you can see their insides. One of their number (Grishkin) is in fact an archaeologist, and it is his team that have come closest to the Device.

Truck is first approached (kidnapped) by General Gaw, female leader of the Israeli World Government, a squat, one-eyed, sexually provocative woman, who attempts to get Truck to retrieve the device. Truck manages to escapes her clutches, only to land in the arms of the Openers, who manage to make him “invisible” (albeit briefly) by performing unexpected and unwanted surgery. Finally  he lands in with an offshoot of the UASR  led by Gadaffi ben Barka (and therefore Gaw’s opposite number), who in turn tries to convert him to the cause.  During his running and hiding, Truck spends a few days with his wife in their/her hovel, and tries to hide out at the never-ending party held by the King of the Moment (which comes to an end – finally – after a massive drugs raid). He also gets involved in some interstellar dog-fights with some of the most cutting edge and stolen spacecraft.  Finally he gets delivered to Earth and gets the device, setting things in motion that noone really could have predicted.

It is definitely a pulp fiction form of SciFi….it’s sleazy andscummy, where the lead is a drifter and a coward who lets stuff happen to him rather than take control. He knows he’s a pawn and is being played by everyone with a slight interest but doesn’t have the will or the wherewithal to get away completely.  It’s a hard book to read, with so much dirt, grime, and an anti-hero that you can’t tune to because of everything.

About the Author

M. John Harrison has a still-active blog. He has subsequently declared that he doesn’t particularly like or care for this book, as referenced on the blog

 

Book Review: Saga (Volume #1) by Brian K. Vaughan (Writer), Fiona Staples (Artist)

saga graphic novelStar Wars-style action collides with Game of Thrones-esque drama in this original sci-fi/fantasy epic for mature readers, as new parents Marko and Alana risk everything to raise their child amidst a never-ending galactic war.

This has been on my shelves for a while, as have Volumes 2 and 3….

It starts with Alana (from the planet Landfall) giving birth to her daughter conceived with Marko (he from the moon Wreath) – they are from two opposing sides on a long running war, that noone really knows why the war is still going on. Both are soldiers, though Marko is really a vegetarian pacifist, who has a good line in healing powers.

They have to go onto the move almost immediately as they are being chased by their enemies, including Prince IV (a humanoid with TV for a head); The Stalk and The Will, the latter two being mercenaries who have been hired to track the two of them down. Alana and Marko are to be killed but their child (now being called Hazel) is to be brought in alive.

Alana, Marko and Hazel are guided to an escape point by Izabel, a ghost – a young girl who is presented as being cut off at the waist, her entrails hanging neatly below her torso.

This is the beginning of the story (there are another three volumes, with more likely) so there are plenty of threads being kicked off and none of them really being resolved. The story is narrated by Hazel whose voice is portrayed as writing in the cell, foreshadowing what’s coming.

The artwork is thankfully away from that of the main houses, which allows for a more individualistic look, and where you rarely remember the wings or the horns of the two main characters. It has all the makings of a decent space opera and I can see why this, and subsequent volumes, are award winning. Certainly a set of books to keep an eye on.

Book Review: Downside Girls by Jaine Fenn

downsidegirlsThe floating city of Kesh rests above the uninhabitable planet of Vellern. For the Topsiders life is about luxury and opulence, while for those of the Undertow day to day survival takes precedence. Kesh City is a democracy by assassination, where the Angels – deadly state-sponsored killers – remove those unworthy to hold office.

When Vanna Agriet accidentally spills her drink over an Angel it could spell death, but instead it leads to a rather peculiar friendship. The downsider Geal hopes for a better life topside, only to find herself embroiled in a ‘removal’ by the Angel Thiera. Downside, Isha’s brother Rakul brings a little black box home with him, and sets Isha on a journey that takes her to a meeting with the most powerful man in Kesh City. Larnia Mier, a talented topside musician and instructor, is injured after witnessing a removal first-hand. As her abilities diminish, new possibilities open up. ‘Downside Girls’ is a standalone collection of interlinked stories by Jaine Fenn, that also shines new light on characters from ‘Principles of Angels’, Jaine’s first novel in the ‘Hidden Empire’ series. (‘Principles of Angels’, ‘Consorts of Heaven’, Guardians of Paradise’, ‘Bringer of Light’, and ‘Queen of Nowhere’)

Provided by the publishers as part of the LibraryThing‘s early reviewers.

The book is a set of 4 short stories, 3 of which have been published previously and which are linked with Angels – state sponsored assassins – as some of the primary characters.

The 4th story is set in the same world, touches briefly on Angels, but is about a musician and follower of one of the planet’s religions.

One of the questions I ask myself when reading short stories is: would this story have made it in a full novel length? Of the four stories, I think the last one was marginally weaker than the others, in that it was, perhaps a little too short (better at Novella length perhaps?).

The other stories however were much stronger at their presented length and I dont think they would have made it to novel length.

Whilst the stories here are perhaps at the right length as short stories, I think this is a very strong world to build upon, and I would be interested to see if Jaine can/will/has already built a set of stories set in this world.

Book Review: Sleepers of Mars by John Wyndham

sleepersmarsSleepers Of Mars by John Wyndham

My rating: 3 of 5 stars;

5 novellas dating back from the mid 1930s (judging from copyright) from the writer of “Day of the Triffids”.

“Sleepers of Mars” – the Russians and the British have landed on Mars, and encountered a dying race. The British escape, but the Russian rocket fails, stranding them there. The Martians help build the ship, and whilst the Russians are waiting, they explore the remnants of the civilization, and stumble onto a secret. An accident and a poor decision by the doctor releases a catastrophic chain of events. This one hasnt specifically dated – designs of things arent hard and fast (except the one difference between the Russian and English rockets – 3 vs 4 fins) and the story itself is sound – it doesnt matter what nation you come from on earth, when you make a mistake that big on another planet, you have to face the consequences)

“Worlds to barter” It’s 1945, and a scientist with his assistant is performing some experiments when they are rudely interrupted by a crash next door. It’s the scientist’s decendant from 2145, telling a story of time travel, and deformed himans from the 53rd century who have travelled back to 2145 to demand that the current inhabitants swap places. Typos aside (the future traveller keeps changing his name, and his girlfriend keeps changing sex from “he” to “she”!) this is still a little flat in the narrative, though principal was good.

“Invisible Monster”. The crash landing of a spaceship returning from Venus is witnessed by 3 friends out on a fishing trip. They got to investigate and hopefully rescue any survivors. However there is something invisible inhabiting the ship and one of the three friends is killed. The two remaining men head to the nearest town and there soon arrives an increasing number of people in an attempt to address the issue, through increasingly violent means. Finally the beast is blown up, but there are unpredicted consequences that only makes the situation worse. However, help is on the way, finding out not only how to make the alien(s) visible but how to kill them. Whilst some of the detail is gruesome, there is still a lack of tension and emotional depth in this story – there seems to be little reaction to the fact that one friend is dead, and the other has apparently disappeared forever.

“The Man from Earth”. We’re back on Venus, with a human being kept in a cage, with a stark warning of his fellow humans to the people of Venus. Again, it’s a single person narration of how he’s come to be there, and this time it’s about how people use each other and the things people are prepared to do to get what they think they want. In the end Gatz realises that he’s the last human, and his fate is the same as that experienced in “Sleepers of Mars”.

“The Third Vibrator” another story told after the event from one person to another. By this point this technique has become boring and repetitive. I suppose Wyndham uses it to keep the stories short, but when it all 5 stories are collected together and use the same format it shows a weakness. David is a scientist who has been sent to a psychiatric unit after smashing up his work, and he tells a story of believing he’s invented this “vibrator” before and has destroyed two worlds with it, and needed to destroy the vibrator before it destroyed this world too.

Book Review: The Eighty-Minute Hour: A Space Opera by Brian Aldiss

eightyminutehourThe Eighty-Minute Hour: A Space Opera by Brian W. Aldiss

Brian Aldiss’ highly inventive space opera is a mind-expanding range of songs and science that takes us, twisting and turning, through a cornucopia of intergalactic merriment and melodrama. Eccentric characters burst into full-throated song with each meandering plot.

I found this book to be really poor and was a “Did not complete”. Overwhelming in the attempt to make the world so different it seemed to be an exercise in “how to alienate your reader”. Few words seemed to be proper non-made-up word in English and all I took away from the book before I abandoned it was a need to put as many made up words down on page as possible, whether the resulting mess made any sense or not.

Aldiss did not present the reader with anything they can grasp hold to in order to follow the narrative – in fact I’m still not entirely sure what the narrative was supposed to be.

Not worth my time in continuing, so I abandoned quite early on.  Have looked at some other reviews, and most are pretty much of a like mind (although some have given it a higher, 3 star rating).  There is some concern that Aldiss was on his own personal “trip” at the time of writing….

Reading summary – August 2013

Not as successful a month in the reading stakes, with only the following read:

Time Will Tell by Donald Greig

Second Chance by David D Levine

My Notorious Life by Kate Manning (review to come out nearer publication date)

Deeds of Men by Marie Brennan

The King’s Exile by Andrew Swanston

The Returned by Jason Mott

For those of you paying attention, these are all from my current “outstanding books that need reviewing” as mentioned in a previous post, and goes some way in reducing that number down.