Uncategorized

Semiosis

cover

Title: Semiosis

Author:  Sue Burke

Publisher: Harper Voyager (Kindle Edition)

Pages: 336

Format Read: Kindle

In ‘Semiosis’ a group of settlers leave Earth for a faraway planet to start a new life. But then they overshoot their original destination and are forced to land on a different world, one they call Pax.

Pax is alien and strange and at first glance, devoid of intelligent life. Until the settlers, trying to integrate with their new world and discovering an abandoned city, discover that the intelligence of Pax lies in its plants. Or in particular, one sentient, ever aware bamboo they call Stevland.

‘Semiosis’ is an episodic novel and each long chapter is devoted to a different character from a different generation of settlers. Each generation has its own quirks and customs and those were fascinating to read about.

As for characters in ‘Semiosis’ – I had trouble tracking them and remembering their names. I am not sure if that is because their voices were similar, or because there were so many to deal with at the same time.

Stevland, though, is an utterly unique creation. As a plant who has lived long, he seeks balance and integration with nature. He is in turns philosophical and superior and humble. Contradictory traits that make him a strange force to reckon with.

Exposure to humans allows a wider perspective on the events around him, but the humans are forced to adapt too. Plants, it seems, have their own ways of dealing with new neighbours.

As the episodic chapters go on, the settlers move, resettle, come in contact with another race of alien settlers. Through it all is Stevland – guiding them and giving them food and medicine and occasionally misleading them. The humans resist and rebel and persist, and the novel does not shy away from depicting the brutality of it all. There are murders and intrigue and disturbing scenes of violence.

You are left with questions though, because some of what the human settlers do is strange and unpredictable. Also, why was the abandoned city abandoned in the first place? That wasn’t made clear.

‘Semiosis’ has plenty of unusual, intriguing ideas and the episodic format was a good choice. I liked it, and I wonder where the story will go next.

Uncategorized

Red Sister

cover

Title: Red Sister

Author:  Mark Lawrence

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Pages: 499

Format Read: Paperback

This was a dark and engrossing read. Young Nona Grey lives in a harsh, unforgiving world, and at eight she is accused of murder. Children are not spared punishment and she finds herself condemned…until a strange abbess turns up and enrols her in the Convent of Sweet Mercy. There, Nona begins her training to become a nun – but not one dedicated to the scriptures. Red Sisters are trained to become exceptional assassins.

The story is unsettling and violent, and the children of the Convent of Sweet Mercy aren’t exactly allowed to be children. They are rigorously trained and they speak a lot like adults. A little immersion breaking, maybe, but not wholly unexpected given the environment they live in.

Nona Grey, the protagonist, manages to seem both childlike and precocious. She is also exceptionally skilled and an enigma to her peers. She is wildly unpredictable and holds friendship in high regard – but not all her friends are as she believes them to be. A strange character to be sure, and her emotions run raw and visceral as she discovers her abilities and navigates her new life in the Convent. This isn’t a life of luxury…learning alchemical poisons might just mean getting poisoned yourself. By the teacher.

And of course, she has been accused of murder. That is an event that follows her throughout the story, because she has made enemies at eight. They stalk her and try to seize her. Nona, child as she is, is not without her nightmares and moments of doubt. She does not run away from her inner conflicts and is forced to confront them. Also, strange things are happening around her and she finds herself drawn into conflict.

There is also some science fiction here that I enjoyed. The world of Abeth, for example, and its peculiar moon. Stories of how the current inhabitants arrived. I’m not going into spoilers, but these bits were fascinating to read about.

Red Sister is part of a series and you do get the feeling that there is a lot more to be said as the story continues in the next book. I’m looking forward to reading it.

Uncategorized

Mockingbird

cover

Title: Mockingbird  

Author:  Walter Tevis

Publisher: Gollancz (S.F. Masterworks)

Pages: 278

Format Read: Paperback

“Mockingbird” is set in an indeterminate future – a near future though, I think, not one removed from the present by a thousand years. This future is a world of drug haze and maddening languidness. There is no art, no cinema, no creativity and imagination, and no books.

There are no children either, except for robotic copies that mimic childlike antics without really realizing what they’re doing.

At the heart of “Mockingbird” is a robot, Spofforth, a machine that is described as perfect. He is more intelligent, better looking, and more self-aware than his human contemporaries. And that self-awareness leads him to contemplate deactivation, or suicide, if only those safety protocols programmed into him would let him.

There is also Bentley, a human born in that eerie world. Amidst the peculiarity of existence everybody else is trapped in, Bentley teaches himself to read. It is a skill that is forbidden and dangerous, a skill that will lead to imprisonment. But reading gives him insights into a world gone by. One with beauty and imagination and the joys of family.

And then there’s Mary-Lou, who is something of a vagrant. She spends her time at the zoo with robotic animals. Despite her wandering, Mary-Lou never goes hungry, and she always finds shelter. With Bentley, she learns to read.

The strange world of “Mockingbird” focuses on these three. Each of them learns something from the other. The art of reading helps them rediscover lost ideas such as friendship. And for Mary-Lou and Bentley, something like romance.

“Mockingbird” is a novel about reading and, in spite of the bleak world it presents, it is not about bleakness. It is a novel of hope, an emotion that gives even the melancholy Spofforth something to hold on to.

Overall, for me, this was a thought-provoking novel.

Uncategorized

Revelation Space

cover

Title: Revelation Space  

Author:  Alastair Reynolds

Publisher:  Gollancz (S.F. Masterworks)

Pages:  598

Format Read: Paperback

I’ve always been fascinated by space operas and the idea of lost civilizations in science fiction. The possibility of vanished alien civilizations in deep space are even more fascinating. As is the question of the possibility of life on other worlds…and why they haven’t made contact with the human race.

Revelation Space is remarkable in that sense. Here, the human race has reached the point of lighthugging spacecraft and interstellar travel – but the aliens are, for some reason, still missing. The galaxy is eerily silent. Except for the Jugglers, and those aren’t aliens in the way humanity had come to expect. They are strange, unreachable, and utterly incomprehensible.

Dan Sylveste, though, is curious about the remnants of the bird-like Amarantin race. The ruins are vast, and they are cryptic – because somewhere, somehow, they seem to suggest that the galaxy did have aliens at some point in the distant past, and they all vanished when they become spacefaring civilizations. The Amarantin themselves succumbed to that odd galactic mystery and disappeared nine hundred thousand years ago. It occurs to Sylveste that something out there has been targeting fledgling civilizations. And perhaps eradicating them.

Ana Khouri has been hired by the mysterious Mademoiselle to assassinate Sylveste. She boards the lighthugger Infinity and meets Volyova, one of the de-facto captains of the ship. And as she nears her target, Khouri finds that the Infinity has been hijacked by a peculiar entity called Sun-Stealer, the Mademoiselle has kept secrets from her, and perhaps assassinating Sylveste needs a rethink.

This novel starts out slow and takes its time with worldbuilding and setting the stage for something larger. It does appear to meander a bit with new characters introduced…the cast is very large. I found them a little flat, for they seem to sound alike for a great deal of the novel. And, Revelation Space being a hard science fiction novel is crammed full of detail.

This is a very slow read – but I found it fascinating nonetheless. It was scientific, and creative, and very imaginative, and it managed to keep that shadowy, frightening sense of loneliness in deep space throughout its narrative.

Uncategorized

The Loom of Thessaly

cover

Title: The Loom of Thessaly  

Author:  David Brin

Publisher:  N/A

Pages:  48

Format Read:  Kindle

“The Loom of Thessaly” is a novella about a loom. To be more precise, it is a sci-fi novella that blends Greek myth and science and maybe a touch of fantasy (and it’s difficult to go into too much detail without spoiling the story). And, humanity, with its hopes and ideals and creativity, may actually be ‘guided’ by…well. That is part of the suspense.

Basically, the novella refers to the Greek Fates – Clotho, who created the threads of human fate, Lachesis, who dispersed the threads, and Atropos, who determined death by cutting the threads of fate.

The protagonist Pavlos discovers that not all myths are inherently mythical when he finds a certain Doric, or Minoan, or Cretan style structure. He is also called a hero by a mysterious stranger and given a bronze suit of armour whose design seems ancient. But it can’t be old, because it looks new. Besides, it fits him perfectly. And from there on, the story gets really, really strange.

“The Loom of Thessaly” is a fascinating and an extremely innovative story, and I found that I read through this one really quickly. It is strikingly original and a lot of fun to follow Pavlos into that bizarre and peculiar adventure.

Overall I thought this novella unexpected and delightful.