Sunday, August 20, 2017

Lament for the Fallen - Gavin Chait

The Man Fell to Earth was the Silver Surfer, but that’s being a bit facetious. I found this slow going at first with its focus on a future African/Nigerian culture, but I cannot fault the world-building here. Another thing that slows this down is that habit Gene Wolfe has of getting characters to tell stories which, to me, adds nothing and is merely a page filler. But as I persevered, and the far-future human turned up occupied by a symbiotic semi-AI, it did engage me. You got the ‘cruelty of Africa’ here and the sense of a future of environmental disaster combined with space elevators, cities in orbit and matter printing. All SF readers are after that sensawunda and this story certainly has it. I noted in comments about this story that the bad guys were too one-dimensionally bad but didn’t think that the case. To me the good guys were too good, too angelic, with too much in the way of hugging and moral probity. It also suffered from the kryptonite factor: I never felt the protagonist was in any danger because he was just too powerful. Also, the high-note terminal conflict then progressed into the kind of wind-down you get at the end of LoTR, which was a little wearing.

However, this is a big book and I read it from cover to cover so there’s that. The writing is engaging and you do care about the characters. It may well be that it simply wasn’t to my taste. I tend to grimace at environmental disaster SF in a future where ‘advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’.  It may will be to your taste so why not give it a try? Here's what some others think:

"Refreshingly different . . . exhilarating . . . a compulsively readable, life-affirming tale told in direct, lambent prose, and Chait does a masterful job of juxtaposing a traditional African setting with a convincing depiction of a far-future alien society." (Eric Brown GUARDIAN)

"Lyrical prose and imaginative world-building . . . the book is gripping, powerful and frequently impressive . . . an ambitious and intelligent work that marks out Chait as a writer worthy of further attention." (Saxon Bullock SFX magazine)

"Richly drawn . . . a smart, ideas-driven novel . . . a promising and ambitious debut." (SCiFiNOW)

"Loved the whole experience as Gavin brought solid world building into the mix alongside cracking pace as well as dialogue that just tripped off the page . . . a great read . . . Magic." (FALCATA TIMES)

"Highly readable . . . Chait should be applauded for managing that all important trick of getting you to keep turning that page until there aren't any left . . . smart, ideas-led science fiction with a literary fiction bent." (STARBURST magazine)

Saturday, August 19, 2017

All People.

I’ve been really enjoying these ‘Who Reads my Books’ posts and I hope that you have too. It brings home to me some thoughts about the anonymity and disconnection from personal interaction on the internet. Very often people don’t use their names or their faces when they post, but that is almost irrelevant. Even when they have a photograph and a name they either are, or are perceived to be, their internet personae. It’s a little bit like Orlandine splitting off her sub-personae – subminds of herself – so assign to discrete tasks.
The internet persona is often a bit of a caricature in which anger, virtue, sarcasm, politics and many other traits predominate. It’s not a real person but a sketch, a presentation, a fa├žade. So much of what is real about them is excluded. Therefore, it’s nice to read these ‘Who Reads my Books’ short autobiographies, with pictures, because I’m seeing more of the real person.
They are people who have lived and are living. They have their worries (or not) about money, health, their partners and children. Some like to stomp up mountains, practise Jiu Jitsu or sit and smoke a good cigar. One is laboring around his new house, another is studying marine biology. A retired school teacher is here and we have a couple who work or have worked in aerospace, while a third is teaching people how not to be fat! One designs gardens and runs marathons, while another races motorbikes and flies drones. Many, I have discovered, work in IT. They are all interesting because, in the end, once you get to know people, they generally are. Though, I’ll be conceited here and say that’s especially the case with my readers!

They are all people; not a name, picture and a line of text to be dismissed. So, if you want to join them, DM me through either my Facebook or Twitter account, and get your autobiography started.    

Friday, August 18, 2017

Who Reads my Books: Subrata Sen

Hi, I’m Subrata (Sub) Sen, and I’m a unrepentant Other Worlds, Other Times addict. I have a strong imaginary internal life. Once invested in an author’s creation, I am reluctant to let go. My dislikes include stories based on real life in current times. I feel I know as much as I need about real life. It all started with my exploits as Superman and The Lone Ranger. Being Indian I nonetheless declined the role of Tonto. I’m no side-kick.

Neal Asher is my current favorite world-builder. I have worn out others in the past. Zelazny, PJ Farmer, Sherri Tepper, Dan Simmons, Glen Cook, Steven Brust - they all abandoned their creations and moved on to new worlds, some where I could not follow, but the dislocations have been difficult. Other excellent story-tellers seem to flit about with new creations in every incarnation. I still enjoy them, but as my focus and attention span has declined greatly since I took care of my dad for his last 5 years (while working full time - but that’s another real life story), and since then acting as my mom’s aug, well, I read less than I used to and stick to a few authors. I look for new worlds mainly by sampling Fantasy & Science Fiction and Asimov’s. As Neal is younger and fitter than most, I expect he will outlast me. Neal, Jack Vance worked till he was 95.  I do love the fast action, intricate plotting, quirky characters, hard science, gadgets, AIs, weapons and most of the the really big explosions in his Polity. The entire world, galaxy and sometimes all existence is at stake. Waiting for the Jain train is painful (any link to the ancient Jain religion?). I’ve started The Destroyer series (enthralling) on Kindle while I wait.

1952: The accession of Queen Elizabeth II, the birth of Mr.Potato Head, the first hydrogen bomb, the Mau-Mau rebellion in Kenya, Mother Teresa’s first home for the dying in Calcutta and my birth in the city’s military hospital on the very day a certain Emperor faced pointed criticism from the Republicans with fatal results two millennia ago. And St. Xavier’s High School is established in Hazaribagh, India by a certain Australian Jesuit priest. Coincidence? I think not.

Ten years later I’m at a Jesuit boarding school in the jungle. I hide in the library reading all the books flowing from the over-supplied Outback to avoid Jesuit supervision and compulsory sports. Mysteries first, Agatha Christie, Edgar Wallace, G.K.Chesterton, then Charles Dickens ... eventually HG Wells and in desperation, the collected works of Shakespeare. In 1963, JFK is shot and the school is abuzz. And Andre Norton’s Witch World arrives - other worlds! What a revelation!! The Day of the Triffids becomes the subject for my English Lit class, supervised by an Irish priest partial to whiskey. A year later I find a Penguin edition of The Hobbit in a bookstore in Calcutta. Years of hunting in used bookstores for science fiction and fantasy follow. Van Vogt, Heinlein, Anderson, De Camp, Le Guin. So many worlds. Some are one-off creations, but some, like Norton’s Witch World, Tolkien's middle-earth, Jack Vance’s Old Earth and his space-faring series created entire universes that I could inhabit. Zelazny’s Jack of Shadows opened other worlds, followed by the Chronicles of Amber and many new mixed mythologies.

By 1973 I have an M.Sc. in Physics and an in the States; five more years of study and 2 degrees follow.  A year after I arrived In Austin, Texas my college roommate handed me a Marlin 30-30 lever action and said I was an honorary Texan, and so I am. Trained as a physicist I chose to join an international  oil company and spent the first year in No Trees, West Texas. They let me move on once I can say “Awl Bidness” correctly.

 It’s 1983. I spend the month of January on the Arctic ice shelf testing a well. The sun never breaks the horizon and the Aurora blazes over the entire night sky. I lie on my back with my arms out on the ice to absorb it all for an hour. I am stuck to ice by the time I decide to move. I know I’ve made the right career choice.

Over the years I live in 4 continents, travel in all seven and photograph in over 70 countries. I hike, bike, ski, scuba, play the guitar and compose. I try jumping out of planes and off bridges on bungee cords. After talk by Ray Bradbury I am inspired to write everyday - for a month. However, typing is like playing Battleships. It is only my 4th favorite daily activity, so that is that.

Travel and photography are now my main hobbies. I’ve given up my teaching and consulting. But I have a home in the Olympic Peninsula overlooking the San Juan Straits. I spend a couple of months a year there, a couple of months traveling and the rest in Bangalore where all movement is virtual as the traffic is at a standstill. My photographs end up on eventually.

Picture attached is of my last major hike in 2010 - to the base of Kanchenjunga.

Shattered Minds - Laura Lam

A little while ago I read an article about neural dust and when posting it I quipped, ‘Coming to an SF book near you sometime soon’. Well, it seems Laura Lam was well ahead of me on that one! I really enjoyed Shattered Minds (up to a point I’ll get to in a moment). Here we have hackers vs the nasty corporation, mind control, a morally ambivalent heroine and designer drugs, which had me thinking ‘modern day Neuromancer’. The setting is Pacifica after the Upheaval. Pacifica is California and it’s not clear what the Upheaval was – it could be some political upheaval akin to the kind of stuff that is being talked about now with California seceding from the USA, or it could be that the San Andreas Fault split it off from the mainland, or a combination of both. I would have liked to have read more about that.

Throughout this book Lam had me ‘suspend disbelief’ so I was okay with floating buildings and hover cars. Of course I was – I love writing about weird way-out tech myself. I was enjoying the book immensely and devouring it. But it’s strange what kills that suspension of disbelief for me. Current science tells us FTL travel is impossible, but I’m okay with it. But what I’m not okay with is a silly mistake about science. When, in a Stephen Donaldson Gap book, a spaceship slowed down upon its drive being cut I tossed it aside. Just a couple of sentences in this book killed it for me. Near the end the heroine uses liquid nitrogen as a weapon. That’s fine, it will cause cold burns and certainly could make body armour frangible. However this liquid nitrogen was a corrosive acid, apparently, and a doctor sprayed on a medication to neutralize it. I can only think that liquid nitrogen here has been confused with nitric acid.

Shame, and such a silly easily corrected mistake. However, if you want a taste of a noir cyberpunk thriller along the lines of Neuromancer, and can read past an error like the above, I recommend this. I’ll certainly try more of her books. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Who Reads my Books: Clayton Kreitlow

I started reading science fiction at an early age after raiding my grandfather’s bookshelf and finding many books by Jack Vance and John Jakes; When The Star Kings Die is still one of my favorites. Throw in some Edgar Rice Burroughs and you have the start of my love affair with science fiction. I was fortunate to have viewed Star Wars 7 times when it first came out and affirmed my infatuation with SF. In my early teens I was reading a lot of Anne McCaffrey and Stephen R. Donaldson, slipping into fantasy along with the odd SF books. After joining the military straight out of high school I discovered David Drake and his Slammers series. His writing style and damaged protagonists struck a chord with me and I eagerly devoured anything I could find with his name attached. His works with Steven White (Starfire Universe) remain favorites of mine and I seem to re-read them every few years. Same for his collaboration with S. M. Stirling.

After 8 years of  military service I went straight into civilian law enforcement. I found myself reading more and more space opera and military science fiction to go with my preference of cheesy science fiction movies. I read a lot of Battletech and Warhammer 40K novels and was not afraid to try new authors. I found myself with several bookshelves full and storing others in plastic tubs. My wife has tried several times to talk me into donating books to the local library but found I am very book-selfish and cannot bear to let them go (those I have let go I found myself later re-buying). #bookhoarder

With receiving the gift of a Kindle Fire I found my first Neal Asher book The Skinner. This led me to devouring everything I could find from him and eagerly waiting for the latest novel. I have noticed that a lot of readers favor Sniper and I count myself as one of them. The Polity Universe actually led me to other authors (Ian Banks Culture Universe primarily) and also gave me a new appreciation for A.I. and the possibilities it might present, both positive and negative.

I recently retired as a Captain and moved to sunny Southern California to be closer to my son and his family. I work part time and spend plenty of time reading and enjoying the weather. I enjoy being involved with car cruises/shows and am a MMA enthusiast with a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. My wife is incredibly tolerant of my antics and is herself a reader of mystery and intrigue.
Clayton B.                               

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Who Reads my Book: Caspian Windrich

I can still clearly recall my first childhood experiences with science fiction. I was nine years old when my father sought to broaden my literally horizons beyond graphic novels and fantasy series such as the Belgariad or The Lord of the Rings. He bought me an old cassette tape containing a BBC radio play adaptation of Arthur C. Clark's 'Childhood's End'. I was already deeply infatuated with the timeless Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy radio play, which is still the best adaptation of Douglas Adam's work in my opinion. But I digress, taking the cassette I asked him what it was about, and he replied: “It’s similar to the Hitchhikers Guide, or Star Wars, except much more serious. It’s called Hardcore Science Fiction. I think you'll like it.”

And thus it was that my young mind, weaned on the humorous and witty works of Douglas Adams, tasted the fountain of imagination that is science fiction, and found it spectacular.
However my literary fascination was not to last. During the age of 15 to18 I started dabbling in many different areas. Some of which I still hold dear, while others I now find unsavory. Heavy video gaming, street graffiti and other more exhilarating, or carnal pastimes began to turn my attention away from the page into the wider world.

Now, while every teenager should be allowed to express and vent their passions during this period of life. It should be done within reason, and without losing a sense of yourself. I certainly don't intend to waffle on about how to, or not, live your life. All I will say is that I made some bad decisions that caused me to lose faith in myself, and my aspirations in general. It was only my voracious obsession with exotic pet-keeping that kept my love and interest of the sciences and natural world alive.

During this period I kept numerous species of reptiles, invertebrates and tropical fish (the whole list I won't bore you with) although I will gabble (just a little) about my favourites. The Atlantic Mudskippers, Terrestrial Hermit Crabs, Colorado River Toads and my heavily planted Neocaridina Shrimp tank. Not to mention my beloved kitties Jez and Luna. Although an old favourite must still be “Hooder” a spear-limbed Mantis Shrimp whose intelligence and viciousness kept me perplexed throughout our time together. These animals gave my life purpose in more ways than I knew at the time, forcing me to continuously learn, adapt and improve my animal husbandry and knowledge, as they were both emotional investments and engaging research projects.

And this is where the Polity comes in. I remember picking up the newly released Orbus in 2009 when I was 15. I was trying to get back into reading but had found no books that would grip my imagination as they used to. Orbus changed all of that within the space of a year. I did not read that book. I consumed it. Quickly recommending it to one of my closest friends. He too became hooked, and we spent the next few years taking turns in acquiring the rest of the Polity universe, having discussions long into the night about cannibalistic crabs, gallivanting gabbleducks, broken brass men, and the delphically dangerous desires of Dragon. These stories blew apart my perception of “light reading” as I found myself eager to feast on them. Hungry for more exotic tech; ravenous to put together the pieces of the Atheter's suicide of sentience; intrigued by the moral impunity of the Prador; endlessly contemplating the 4th dimensional mind of sector AI's. The list does indeed go on.

These stories invigorated a new type of scientific thought in me, one that was not content to sit at home and passively study my pets. But to go out and confidently seek, to experiment, to test both established and assumed knowledge of zoology and the biosphere.

Asher's combination of compelling narrative, well researched and plausible alien worlds, and the style of writing that allows the reader to understand the story from multiple, often inhuman perspectives, caused a bit of a scientific Renaissance within me. And for that I am deeply grateful.

Not long after, I managed to land a job at a bespoke aquarium store in London, and have just kept walking my path from there.

Right now I’m studying Marine & Freshwater Biology at Aberystwyth University. It may not be the oceans of Spatterjay but it suits me just fine. Keep that keyboard typing Neal, at least until an aug comes along.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Who Reads my Books: Ian Packman

Hi, my name is Ian Packman, although a lot of people call me E because Ian is such a long and difficult name to say. Originally I was from the sunny South East but now I have settled in the somewhat more rural county of Shropshire.

 Everyone seems to be starting with their jobs so I suppose I should start with that as well.

I spent the first 20 years of my working life serving Queen and Country as an Airframe Tech in the RAF. I served all over the UK (and occasionally abroad) working on Buccaneer, Jaguar, and Tornado. The last few years were spent back where I started, at the Defence College of Aeronautical Engineering. This time however, I was the one standing at the front of the class doing the chalking and talking. A cyclical ending which appealed to me.

Eventually budget cuts and redundancy saw me return to Civvy Street and job hunting. One wet Thursday lunchtime I saw an ad in the paper for Train Drivers. I applied, got it, and now spend my days trundling up and down the Welsh border. It was never a schoolboy dream, and trains don’t really interest me outside of work but it is certainly a job that I love.

My father was a keen science fiction fan when I was growing up so all the books in the house had names like Asimov, Clarke, and Niven printed on the spine. That seems to be a theme around here! I stumbled across Neal Asher’s work whilst reading an article on Iain Banks. The (article) author said that people who liked the Culture often couldn’t get on with the Polity, and vice versa, although he himself loved both. I thought I’d give it a try and tracked down a copy of Gridlinked, along with Neal’s blog.

Gridlinked I loved. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the Polity AIs were not the omnipotent Gods of Banks’s Culture. There was actually stuff they couldn’t do just by employing field tech and advanced magic. Penny Royal has somewhat broken this idea but I think I read Neal saying that there was too much deus ex machina going on so that may change (no spoilers, I haven’t read Infinity Engine!).

In my free time I like to mess around with music. I used to play guitar in bands, nothing special, just a few gigs in local pubs, but the very unsociable shifts that I now work mean that had to go. Instead, along with a friend, I write and record songs at home for my own amusement. Strictly a hobby but sometimes other people like them as well. Once in a blue moon we will go out and play an acoustic set somewhere.

You can listen to our music here (you can listen for free, no need to buy): and there are a few videos here:



Friday, August 11, 2017

Who Reads my Books: David Nelson

I'm 51, from Australia, currently doing all things you need to with a newly built house; driveways, erecting sheds, landscaping etc. I have been an avid reader of all things weird and wonderful from an early age. Starting with the classic Golden Age era of Heinlein, Asimov, Silverberg, Clarke, etc, etc, and then onto the next generations.

That lasted until I turned 18 and I ventured into the world of cars, girls and all night partying...oh, and work, mainly construction and sheet metal work. Once that particular novelty wore off...around 25, I dived back into the worlds of the fantastic with such a voracious appetite I even conceived of the idea that I had something to offer the genre itself. All I can say about that effort, in typical social media vernacular

Me on the left, Alastair Reynolds on the right.

I do write stories, and have written a few books, but they're more within my, shall I say, abilities? Though, as I write this, you won't find any of my work published. Writing is a harsh mistress.
I discovered Mr. Asher around the time Britain was exploding again with talent. With such works by Alastair Reynolds, Peter F. Hamilton, Baxter, China Mieville, Iain Banks, Justina Robson, Ken McKleod, Richard Morgan...the list seems endless, and to my delight, going back and finding the previous greats like Ian McDonald, M. John Harrison, John Brunner, and that list seems endless too.

Anyway, I decided to give Neal's Gridlinked a go, and found it quite palatable, but not quite mind blowing compared to the works that would come later from him. And yet, he has pretty much leap-frogged over most to become one of my all time favorite authors, period!!

Anyway, that's about it.