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Showing posts with the label science fiction

The Empty Quarter (a short story)

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A science fiction short story about personal and ecological loss. What if your colony's glorious history was a lie? Two young surveyors travel into the desert dunes. It's been 500 hundred years since human colonists terraformed their planet. No signs of alien life have surfaced in all that time. But now, a tragic accident in the sands uncovers a long-buried secret. The early settlers lied, and the future is changed forever. A 2200 word short story. First published in 2018 in the Australian science fiction and fantasy magazine  Aurealis edition 115 , edited by Dirk Strasser. Newly published as an ebook.  BUY ebook   

Reading journal: Exile by Glynn Stewart

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Genre: Science Fiction Published: 2018 Date read: August 2018 Competent science fiction tale from a solid professional writer. Isaac Gallant and a bunch of revolutionaries are exiled through a one-way wormhole to a distant galaxy, and must establish themselves on a new planet. But of course there are aliens, lots of them, and deadly dangers. Not a bad yarn. I’ll read any sequels. Great cover.

Reading journal: Ishmael by Barbara Hambly

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Genre: Science fiction Published: 1985 Series: Star Trek novels Date read: November 2018 Lovely book, almost worn out due to multiple reads. This is a cross-over book that cleverly meshes two TV series, the original Star Trek with Kirk and Spock, and Here Come the Brides , set in frontier Seattle. It has everything—evil Klingons, time travel, amnesia, gambling scenes set in old San Francisco, and romance. Barbara Hambly is a great writer and did a wonderful job with this book. Highly recommended for action, adventure, and scifi lovers and old 1960s TV tragics like me.

Reading journal: The Afterlife of Alice Watkins by Matilda Scotney

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Genre: Science fiction Published: 2018 Series: Books 1 and 2 Date read: December 2018 Two-book story of reincarnation, space travel, aliens, and new beginnings, with a thread of romance. Alice, an old lady, dies, but wakes up in the future, in someone else’s body. Or does she? Not much happens plot-wise, but the writing style has plenty of pace. I found most of the characters annoying, didn’t like the world the author built, and was hoping for a more exciting ending. On the other hand, I did read both books through to the end. Perhaps this one just wasn’t for me.

Reading journal: Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig

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Genre: Science Fiction Published: 2013 Series: Heartland Trilogy Date read: October 2018 Awesome! The setting is a future where a lucky few live in floating satellite stations while everyone else toils in miserable conditions on the planet below, battling poverty, disease, oppression, and corn so aggressive it cuts your skin. Cael McAvoy is a young man, a troublemaker, and this is his story. There are hidden currents, a resistance movement, and nasty people, as well as good friends and a beloved girlfriend lost to him. Cael goes on the offensive, and his enemies had better watch their backs. I didn’t enjoy Wendig’s Miriam Black stories, but this one is genius. Pace, suspense, strong characters, brilliantly evoked settings and an overall sense of impending doom; what’s not to like? Highly recommended, as is Book 2 in the series, Blightborn.

Reading journal: The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

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Genre: Science Fiction Published: 2018 Date read: October 2018 A mindship, The Shadow’s Child is hiding from the world after a traumatic event, and ekes out a living blending teas to allow people to travel safely in space. A detective, Long Chau, asks for help. As these things go, the ship must brave space again to save the detective. Lyrically written, a lovely story with layers and complexity and beautiful imagery that leaves the reader wanting much more. Highly recommended.

Reading journal: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

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Genre: Science Fiction Published: 2018 Date read: August 2018 Well-written and imaginative, but rather doom-laden story. In a post-plague future, humanity have survived and moved on, but underlying characteristics of duplicity and self-interest remain. A scientific project involving time travel to observe early Mesopotamian civilisation goes wrong when one of the party sabotages the mission. The story is told from two viewpoints, scientist Minh and ancient king Shulgi, and jumps around in time, so that nothing that happens is really a surprise. I would have liked it to be. I was interested in Minh’s perspective. Minh is a plague baby, and must manage a range of physical ailments as a result of early damage. She has bio-prosthetic limbs and a bad case of depression. Her greatest wish is to be a recluse, living a quiet life pruning peach trees, but financial obligations intrude and she is forced to interact with others and to participate in the time travel project. The moti

Reading journal: The Flowers of Vashnoi by Lois McMaster Bujold

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Genre: Science Fiction Published: 2018 Series: Vorkosigan saga Date read: May 2018 This novella is quite a dark little tale, set on Barrayar. Ekaterin, Lady Vorkosigan, a botanist and ecologist, is working on a project to rehabilitate areas of high radiation left over from the last war. The site is the city of Vashnoi, ground zero for enemy bombing. Her team finds children living in the radiation zone, and the story explores how they got there. Ekaterin has to face down danger and find a solution for them. I don’t think any of the author’s books set on Barrayar fail to mention Vashnoi, or the after-effects of radiation and the cultural implications of a society forced to deal with high levels of mutation. Very thought-provoking.

Reading journal: The Rain Never Came by Lachlan Walter

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Genre: Science Fiction Published: 2017 Date read: June 2018 A story of a future Australia where the inland is in permanent drought and the inhabitants have been forcefully relocated or herded into camps. But there are hold-outs, people who hide from the Creeps and eke out a precarious living. The story begins with a football match against a passing First People caravan, and the return of Bill’s friend Tobe from his wanderings. Bill and Tobe are close, and share a tragic past. Bill’s loyalty is tested when Tobe insists on an exploratory trip into the badlands, but he follows Tobe faithfully, even when they must abandon their bolthole, only to be betrayed in the end. (I hope this isn’t too much of a spoiler). This is an interesting book. I enjoyed it as a writer, seeing how Walter has varied the pace to create atmosphere. The structure of the book is interesting too, a classic story structure with a strong inciting incident which I didn’t identify until the very end, even tho

Reading journal: Flight 404 by Simon Petrie

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Genre: Science Fiction Published: 2018 Date read: June 2018 An engaging novella from a Canberra author. Charmain is a pilot en route to a rescue mission in the vicinity of the arid home planet she abandoned long ago. It takes a long time to get anywhere in space, and brief spurts of action are interspersed with long periods of reflection on the past. Charmain explores the relationships she abandoned when she changed gender and left home through the means of conversations with her AI, K@rine, an interesting idea. The stakes rise when she discovers that her sister’s family is on the lost ship, and the actions of the other rescuers pose threats or add to the general confusion. I enjoyed the story. It’s low key; space is filled with people with normal human issues like regret, fear and greed, rather than high adventure, although there is some of that too. It reminds me of Nathan Lowell’s Traders’ Tales . And there are some lovely ideas — the arid planet has underground habi

Reading journal: Suicide Run by Nathan Lowell

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Genre: Science fiction Published: 2018 Series: Smugglers Tales Date read: April 2018 Natalya and Zoya, travelling in the Deep Dark in their old scout ship, take on a job as test pilots for a new courier vessel being developed at the Pulaski Yards. The ship as designed is a death trap, and they face many dangers in unravelling plots and exposing the criminal enterprises that lie behind its existence. The book is competent enough, and there are moments of sheer terror when an airlock comes open in space, but I do have trouble getting inside the heads of the two main characters. They don’t seem to have enough passion, somehow. A larger design is hinted at, but I don’t think I’ve learned any more about it than I did in the first book in the series. The author needs to up the stakes a little to reach the standard of his earlier Traders Tales series.

Reading journal: Pashazade by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

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Genre: Science Fiction (alternate history/crime) Published: 2001 Series: Arabesk Trilogy Date read: March 2018 An extraordinary story, wonderfully written. Ashraf al-Mansur, known to his friends as ZeeZee, travels to the free city of El Iskandryia, part of the Ottoman Empire in this alternate future where power lies in the hands of Berlin, Istanbul and Moscow. He’s lived most of his life in institutions, boarding schools, hospitals and prisons, with a brief career working for Chinese triads in Seattle. So it’s a surprise to be broken out of prison and given a passport and ticket for Africa, where an aunt he didn’t know he had has brokered a marriage for him. The story weaves together crimes, culture clashes, and a cast of fascinating characters. The other books in the trilogy are Effendi , a brilliant and terrifying story about child soldiers and artificial intelligence, and Felaheen , in which Raf explores his biological heritage. Grimwood (who also writes under

Reading journal: Aurora Darwin by Angela Bridgeman

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Genre: Science Fiction Published: 2013 Series: Aurora Date read: March 2018 Solid science fiction story about a female marine, Corporal Carrie Wells, who finally achieves her dream of assignment to a space vessel. She embarks on Captain Saul Harris’s ship, Aurora, on a rescue mission to Darwin Station, which has fallen out of radio contact. Carrie faces resentment from the previously all-male crew, and on arrival at Darwin the danger to all is extreme. The story has a strong military dimension, and some excellent descriptions of attacks, ambushes and fights. Not entirely my cup of tea, but this is a popular series with wonderful titles, including Aurora Pegasus , Aurora Meridian , Aurora Eden , Aurora Centralis and Aurora Decima .

Reading journal: Seeing Red by Patty Jansen

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Genre: Science fiction Published: 2013 Series: Ambassador Date read: April 2018 Great space opera. This first book in the long-running Ambassador series is strong on world-building. The various aliens and their cultural attributes are done very well, as is the complex plot. The descriptions of refugees trying to escape through a crowded spaceport are particularly wrenching. Cory Wilson is Earth’s ambassador to the gamra , an interplanetary organisation that controls trade in space. Earth isn’t quite ready, and assassinations, riots and general mayhem ensue. Cory has to negotiate a path through conflicting plots, schemes and motivations to save Earth from attack. As a sub-plot, he must also resolve a personal romantic issue—this is the weakest part of the story, as his betrothed is feeble and annoying, but fortunately is not over-emphasised. Recommended for space opera lovers.

Reading journal: A Kill in the Morning by Graeme Shimmin

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Genre: Science fiction/thriller/alternate history Published: 2014 Date read: April 2018 The story starts in 1955, with an assassination. OK, this is a cold war spy thriller. The German Reich still rules over Europe. Hmm. Not only a spy thriller, then, but an alternate time line. Flashbacks into the protagonist’s involvement in destroying a Norwegian heavy water plant. OK, also a WW2 war story. Later, a mysterious experiment involving an ultimate weapon, time travel. I give in! It’s science fiction as well. A great story told at tremendous pace. It’s mostly told in the first person and the present tense, something I usually find tedious, but Shimmin is a master. You really want the protagonists to succeed and every setback is terrible. The author said he was inspired by Robert Harris’s Fatherland but many other influences can be identified. However, this book is all Graeme Shimmin’s, and it’s a keeper. If you like thrillers spiced with flavours of other genres, this one is

Reading journal: Storm Front by Jim Butcher

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Genre: Fantasy Published: 2000 Series: Dresden Files Date read: April 2018 Great first book in a long series. Harry Dresden is a wizard in Chicago. In this story he takes on a black wizard while fending off destitution, a persistent reporter/girl friend, a fed-up police lieutenant, a crime boss, a hostile vampire, deadly magical scorpions and the enforcer from the wizards’ White Council. Harry’s story is told effectively in the first person with lots of humour and masses of wizardry action. I loved the first few books in this series, although the later ones dropped off in intensity a little. The books are better than the television series. Recommended.

Reading journal: Binti, The Night Masquerade, by Nnedi Okorafor

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Genre: Science fiction Published: 2018 Series: Binti Read: February 2018 Binti is a young woman with a foot in many worlds. In the first book in the series, Binti , she leaves her home world to travel through space to university, and becomes the only survivor of a deadly attack on the space vessel. In Home , she returns for a coming of age ceremony, bringing an alien friend with her, and discovers unexpected secrets about her family background. In The Night Masquerade Binti tries to prevent a war and to reconcile her cultural threads and new experiences into her adult persona. In the end she chooses her own path. I love these novellas. They blend a science fiction plot with African folklore and Binti’s coming of age story to create a wonderful whole. Binti’s commitment to her Himba culture, symbolised by her application of otjize to protect her skin, persists even as she is changed for ever by her extraordinary encounters with aliens and her personal growth into

Reading journal: Foundation and Earth by Isaac Asimov

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Genre: Speculative fiction Published: 1986 Series: Foundation Read: December 2017 I read this as part of a clean-up of my bookshelves. This one is for discard. Dreadful. Tedious tale of two men, a “girl” (woman), and, briefly, a child, who travel to the ends of the galaxy, to the Sirius sector, in search of the legendary home planet of humanity. Why is not very clear. Extremely boring descriptions of how to find your way between stars. Don’t waste your time.

Reading journal: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin

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Genre: Speculative fiction Published: 1969 Read: January 2018 Part of my re-reading program, made especially sad by the death of the author just this month. I read this in 1973 as a young woman. Now, 45 years later, I’m not the same person, and this is not the same book. Back then I raced through the story, desperate to find out what would happen. This time, I knew what would happen, and instead saw layers and depths to the work that I missed first time around. Genly Ai is the first Envoy to the planet Winter, come there to start the process of bringing the planet into humanity’s Ekumen, an organisation that coordinates trade and cultural exchange between 80 human planets. But the people of Winter are not like the rest of humanity. Instead of two genders, each person is both male and female within themselves. Genly, a male, struggles to adapt to this difference. Only after great hardship and sorrow can he find love and friendship, and succeed in his mission, but he is c

Reading journal: Ashen Stars by Glynn Stewart

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Genre: Speculative fiction Published: 2018 Series: Exile Read: February 2018 This novella, made available free to Stewart’s newsletter subscribers (subscribe here ), is a taster for a new series, Exile , coming later in 2018. Captain Isaac Gallant is in the unenviable position of being the son of the ruling dictator, and has to prove himself to his crew. A planned training exercise unexpectedly becomes a frightening combat situation when his ship, Scorpion, is the only defence for a mining station threatened by rebels. The book has a great tag line: The rebels didn’t expect to fight anyone. The Confederacy didn’t expect Isaac Gallant to fight at all. They were both wrong. Canadian author Glynn Stewart has a solid list of space opera titles under his belt. I most enjoyed the Star Mage series, but the Exile  series has promise. Recommended for space opera lovers.