Jesse Hudson (GUEST)

JESSE HUDSON, one of our guest reviewers, reads in most fields. He lives in Poland where he works for a big corporation by day and escapes into reading by night. He posts a blog which acts as a healthy vent for not only his bibliophilia, but also his love of culture and travel: Speculiction.

The Wasp Factory: A flash piece of entertainment

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The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

Perusing bookshops in Poland one finds fiction is categorized along the same genre lines as America or Britain. They have horror, fantastyka, science fiction, kryminalny — all of which are readily recognizable to the English speaker. There is one additional category, however, that I’d never seen before: sensacyjny. Neither ‘sensual’ or ‘sensation,’ the word, in this context, translates to ‘sensational.’ Not in the ‘amazing’ or ‘magnificent’ sense of the word, rather ‘sensationalist’ or ‘suddenness’, and it’s in that section one finds books that have certainly taken readers by storm, but less certainly are in possession of layers beyond outright popularity. It’s here one finds Dan Brown, Stephanie Meyer, Read More

The Fall of the Towers: Early Delany shows promise

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The Fall of the Towers by Samuel R. Delany

Not yet out of his teens, Samuel Delany had his first short stories published in science fiction magazines around 1962. Moving on to works of greater length, he shortly thereafter published two novellas, the second of which was called Captives of the Flame. Seeing the story’s greater potential, he expanded the novella (to Out of the Dead City) and tacked on two additional novels, The Towers of Toron and City of a Thousand Suns to create a series. Strongly hinting at the unique books he would later write, these three novels are collected in an omnibus called The Fall of the Towers and are the subject of this review.

The Fall of the Towers is centered around Jon Koshar, the rebelli... Read More

Fifty Degrees Below: KSR wades in hip-deep

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Fifty Degrees Below by Kim Stanley Robinson

Forty Signs of Rain identified the themes and mode for Kim Stanley Robinson’s SCIENCE IN THE CAPITOL series. As is expected for the middle novel of a trilogy, Fifty Degrees Below (2006) further unpacks the ideas while escalating the story to new heights of excitement. Salting what was a rather tasteless opening, the second novel improves upon the first while launching the story into the third and conclusory volume, Sixty Days and Counting.

Working with the same cast of characters, Fifty Degrees Below opens with Frank Vanderwal having to leave the apartment where he was staying and search for a new home. The flood ... Read More

The Penelopiad: Turns The Odyssey on its head

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The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

It is Alicia Ostriker, in her wonderful collection of essays Dancing at the Devil’s Party, who writes “the true poet is necessarily the partisan of energy, rebellion, and desire, and is opposed to passivity, obedience, and the authority of reasons, laws and institutions.” Daring to deconstruct one of the most dearly held myths of the Western world, Margaret Atwood’s 2005 The Penelopiad is certainly a tango step or two with the one with the pitchfork tail. Taking The Odyssey and turning it on its head, from comedy to tragedy, Atwood gives readers Penelope’s side of the story.

Narrated from Hades, The Penelopiad is a recounting of Penelope’s life from beyond the gra... Read More

Forty Signs of Rain: A realistic look at environmentalism and politics

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Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson

With the quality of special effects improved exponentially, the blockbuster disaster movie appeared in the 90s and hasn’t looked back. Tornadoes (Twister), meteors (Deep Impact and Armageddon), seismic activity (The Core), volcanoes (Dante’s Peak), massive weather events (The Perfect Storm), and, who can forget, Sharknado, have in one way or another tried to capitalize on the potential power of nature to earn a dollar. Opening with a reasonably plausible scientific premise (except in the case of the latter, of course), then quickly cutting to the melodrama and special effects, these films have done nothing to make people aware of the physical laws governing the actualities of our world and the true potential for catastrophe. In writing the SCIENCE IN THE CAPITOL trilogy, ... Read More

Blood Music: One of the first novels about nanotechnology

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Blood Music by Greg Bear

Blood Music (1985) by Greg Bear is a novel that, in its day, was well lauded, but has since had its profile reduced by books which have taken its central premise further. One of, if not the first, major novel to utilize the idea of nanotechnology, the wave of related sci-fi digging deeper into the potential for nanotech that has followed has perhaps drowned out the book, leaving it to be found by those looking back into the history of the genre. While the classic comic book opening does not endear the story, the concept it evolves into stands as an abstract extrapolation — at least, not of the superhero variety.

Blood Music is not the story of a single character, but rather many; if looked at from another perspective, it h... Read More

Against a Dark Background: A fun story that lacks depth

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Against a Dark Background by Iain Banks

Despite being Iain M. Banks’ fifth published work of science fiction, Against a Dark Background has all the feel of being the author’s fledgling effort in the genre. Overwritten, narrative fragmented in inconsistent fashion, and plot devices and storytelling all rather overt, the book is good if you’re looking for a light read that doesn’t require too much thought. Otherwise, it leaves a lot to be desired when compared to much of the author’s other sci-fi.

Against a Dark Background is the story of Sharrow, the displaced daughter of a noble whose life choices have not endeared her to the aristocracy of their planet Golter. And what a character she is. On the run from the Huhsz, a strange religious group which has a l... Read More

The Urth of the New Sun: An imaginative continuation of The Book of the New Sun

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The Urth of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe

Many are the reviews declaring Gene Wolfe’s THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN to be incomprehensible rubbish. Certainly not a series (or a book, depending how you look at it) for everybody, it does often require a puzzling out of the scenes and thoughts that the main character, Severian, experiences and expresses — and knowledge of mythology, paganism, anthropology, and other historical and cultural elements doesn’t hurt. Far from entertainment-lite, it’s definitely for readers who prefer the more thought-provoking side of the SFF genre. Perhaps in response to comments about this perceived opacity, Wolfe published The Urth of the New Sun in 1987 (four years after Read More

The Sky Road: A sublimely satisfying conclusion to the FALL REVOLUTION

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The Sky Road by Ken MacLeod

For those who have read the first three books in Ken MacLeod’s Fall Revolution series, The Sky Road will be a sublimely satisfying last bow. None of the books are connected linearly in a strong sense of the expression (in other words, it’s not necessary to read them in order, but it goes a long way toward manifesting the overall vision); The Sky Road offers yet another perspective on the future of humanity through the splintered lens of politics and technology. This novel is a delicately pointed end to the series, and while it is certainly the most subdued, it may be the best of the four.

Like The Stone Canal, The Sky Road is divided into two stories told in alternating chapters. The first focuses on a young man named Co... Read More

The Cassini Division: Action-packed

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The Cassini Division by Ken MacLeod

The Stone Canal, predecessor to The Cassini Division, saw a flurry of technical, and as a result, social developments, moving one part of humanity to post-human status. And so while Wilde and Reid’s personal matters were resolved, larger matters, that is, an agreement between standard and post-humans was left hanging, with a peaceful resolution far from certain. Focusing precisely on this schism, The Cassini Division, Ken MacLeod’s third novel in the FALL REVOLUTION sequence, brings the implications of Singularity to a full head.

Set 350 years after the events of The Star Fraction, The Cassini Division is told thr... Read More

The Stone Canal: The ideas fly fast and furious

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The Stone Canal by Ken MacLeod

The Stone Canal, second in Ken MacLeod’s Fall Revolution series, is a difficult book to write a review of. The reason is the story’s structure: the book is broken in half, chapters alternating to tell the first and second halves separately, with the ending joining the two together at the middle into a single whole. The details at the end of one half reveal important information about the beginning of the other, and vice versa. It’s quite easy to wander into spoiler territory while writing a summary. (Be warned, the majority of reviews I have read spoiled large portions and some of the major surprises in the novel.) It’s best to start with MacLeod’s introduction and leave the rest to instinct and hope.

In classic sci... Read More

The Star Fraction: A unique work of political science fiction

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The Star Fraction by Ken Macleod

The back cover copy claims Ken Macleod’s debut The Star Fraction (1995) is like “modern-day George Orwell”, and there is some truth in it. But rather than an examination of totalitarianism, the novel is a thought experiment on technology in an environment as rife with subtly variegated politics as the scene Orwell covered in WWII Spain in Homage to Catalonia. Given the dry wit and experimental mode, however, I would say that Macleod is more Heinleinian. Regardless of classic parallels, though, the first of the four books which comprises the FALL REVOLUTION, The Star Fraction, is an astonishingly confident debut which examines poly-sci in a way neither author did: the Singularity.

Before jumping to the review, I think it is necessary to position the Read More

Stranger in a Strange Land: Authorial politics override the story. DNF

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Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

Robert Heinlein was one of the most influential writers of sci-fi in the 20th century. He published more than thirty novels, several of which won awards, and many more received nominations. Considered one of the ‘big three’ alongside Asimov and Clarke — the American perspective, that is — Heinlein’s agenda included independence, personal responsibility, freedom, and the influence of religion and government on society. Stranger in a Strange Land, arguably his most famous book — and perhaps most controversial — is the subject of this review.

Stranger i... Read More

Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology: An examination of what defines the genre

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Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology edited by Bruce Sterling

There are a handful of people who have/had their finger on the pulse of cyberpunk. Love him or hate him, Bruce Sterling has perhaps two. In 1986 he decided to pull together a collection of stories he felt were representative of the sub-genre. Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology is both broad in scope yet largely encompasses the idea of what the average sci-fi fan's expectations are for the form. Though Sterling’s agenda is his own, some stories will be immediately recognizable for their mood and voice, while others will require more thought toward determining just how they fit into the sub-genre, if at all. The following is a brief introduction to each.

"The Gernsback Continuum" by Read More

Inheritor: Characters and drama reign supreme

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Inheritor by C.J. Cherryh

Something must be done about the art decorating the covers of C. J. Cherryh’s unheralded FOREIGNER series. No offence to Michael Whelan, Dorian Vallejo, or any other of the artists who’ve been chosen to provide cover art, but their Golden Age depictions of alien life simply do not suit the temper of the books. Shame on DAW. Cherryh writes with subtlety and sensitivity regarding intercultural relations that the comic book renderings of guns and fantasy animals simply fail to parallel. Making matters worse, the crowd willing to buy the books based on such art will more than likely end up disappointed. The books’ focus on character and societal development toward peace and cultural understanding is far from scene after scene of gun fights and explosions. Like placing a scantily clad B... Read More

Invader: Builds upon the foundation laid by Foreigner

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Invader by C.J. Cherryh

While the first book in C. J. Cherryh’s FOREIGNER series, also titled Foreigner, took its time in establishing Bren Cameron’s character and the dilemmas he faced attempting to adapt to a culture entirely foreign to him, Invader wastes no time. Picking up precisely where Foreigner left off, Bren is in the hospital suffering from injuries he sustained in the previous book. Though he goes on the mend, life does not get any easier. The spaceship which suddenly appeared at the end of Foreigner threatens to disrupt the tentative peace which the treaty between the atevi and humans had created.

Pushing the ball up-court, Cherry winds Cameron’s tension even tighter in  Read More

Foreigner: A familiar culture with outstanding characters

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Foreigner by C.J. Cherryh

“Sometimes the clothes do not make the man…” sang George Michael. Fortunately the cover of C.J. Cherryh’s literary sci-fi offering Foreigner can boast the same. The story contained within is (pun intended) light years from the throwback sci-fi cover. And the back cover is only slightly better than the front. The Publisher’s Weekly quote reads: “Cherryh’s gift for conjuring believable alien cultures is in full force here, and her characters… are brought to life with a sure, convincing hand.” Copy which is often overstated, and this statement is only partially true. The first part is a twisted untruth (or an insult to traditional Japanese culture), while the second part strikes the truth square on the head. In other words, ignore the publisher’s contribution t... Read More

The Cadwal Chronicles: The first two books are some of Vance’s best

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THE CADWAL CHRONICLES by Jack Vance

The 1980s found Jack Vance moving into his sixth decade of life. Imagination still sharp, he produced such works as the LYONESSE trilogy, the second half of the DYING EARTH saga, as well as began THE CADWAL CHRONICLES with Araminta Station published in 1989. The novel is on par with the best of Vance’s oeuvre. The second novel in the series, Ecce and Old Earth, sees only a slight decline in quality, the story furthered in fine fashion. However, Throy, the third and concluding volume, is like a different writer took hold of the script. It is dry and bland and does not come close to the bar set by the first two, but it is fortunately not bad enough to destroy the integrity of the series. THE CADWAL CHRONICLES contain all of the tro... Read More

The Rise of Endymion: Great science fiction for the 21st century

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The Rise of Endymion by Dan Simmons

After busting through the door with a whole new Hyperion story in Endymion, Simmons returns with The Rise of Endymion to close it. Answering all of the questions and satisfying all the plot build up of the first half, Rise concludes the story in grand fashion, living up to expectations. It does, however, leave a little wanting thematically.

The Rise of Endymion opens where Endymion left off. Aenea, Endymion, and the others are in the American West recovering from the attack by the church and learning architecture from a cybrid of Frank Lloyd Wright. They are quickly separated, however, and Endymion goes on a perilous mission of which he knows not the end. Simmons upping the ante imaginatively, the dangerous and exotic events ... Read More

Endymion: More fabulous storytelling in the Hyperion universe

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Endymion by Dan Simmons

The original HYPERION duology was a great success for Dan Simmons. It won him numerous awards and accolades, not to mention rave reviews and huge sales figures. The setting so fertile, Simmons indulged further, producing additional books typically called the ENDYMION duology. No less imaginative and visual, the pair, Endymion and The Rise of Endymion, nevertheless take Simmons’ universe in a new direction: where Hyperion focused on mythological quests for power from a base of Keats' poetry, Endymion is honed to spirituality from a personal view. The following review is for the first half of the duology.

Endymion opens by introducing the man who becomes the main protagonist of the story. The eponymous ... Read More

The Fall of Hyperion: A grand finale

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The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Having carefully woven each strand in Hyperion, in The Fall of Hyperion Dan Simmons braids them together into a singular narrative that fantastically concludes the tale. With whip-crackling energy throughout, the fate of the Hegemony, Ousters, and the Shrike are revealed. All of the questions Simmons created — what will happen to Sol’s daughter? Will Kassad get his revenge on the Shrike? Will the Consul be able to open the time tombs? And ultimately, what is the Shrike? — are answered in more than satisfying fashion. Moreover, the mysterious disappearance of the tree-ship captain, Het Masteen, is not only explained, but fits perfectly within the framework of Hyperion to affect things as no reader could foresee. With this and other details, Simmons shows the subtlety of his story’s d... Read More

Hyperion: A real treat for the imagination

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Hyperion by Dan Simmons

There is space opera, and then there is Space Opera. Dan Simmon’s 1989 Hyperion is S.P.A.C.E. O.P.E.R.A. From grand schemes to the most minute of details, vivid character portrayal to imaginative and original future technology, gorgeous scenery to a multi-dimensional, motivated plot, everything works. Weaving his tale, Simmons proves a master storyteller, each of the seven tableaus presented begging to be devoured. As a result, it is virtually impossible to read Hyperion and not want to follow up with the sequel, The Fall of Hyperion. Thus, potential buyers be warned: this is only the first half of a highly engaging story.

Hyperion’s success begins with world building. Simmons put hours and hours of thought and planning into the background details of his uni... Read More

Veniss Underground: Jeff VanderMeer’s debut novel

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Veniss Underground by Jeff VanderMeer

Avoiding the trappings of fragile motifs, Jeff VanderMeer’s debut novella — err, novel — Veniss Underground shows every sign of a writer who is confident in his ability to put a fresh perspective on well-worn tropes. The framework of Veniss Underground is based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, but the setting and imagery remain wholly original. Scenery twisted like cyberpunk on acid, its details macabre to the bone — a surreal dream — VanderMeer seems poised to make a place for himself in fantasy of the 21st century.

Veniss Underground is a window of time in the lives of three characters: the twins Nicholas and Nicola, and Nicola’s ex-boyfriend, Shadrach. A far-future, unnamed city — called Veniss by Nicholas — is the setting, and technology, including g... Read More

The Affirmation: Literary science fiction does not get much better

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The Affirmation by Christopher Priest

I’ve heard Christopher Priest’s 1981 novel The Affirmation described as regressive, an ouroboros eating its own tail, a Moeibus strip. While there is undoubtedly an M.C. Escher quality to the book — a blurring of reality — the beginning and end are simply too different to form a contiguous whole reverting back on itself. They’re opposite ends of a spectrum in fact, and the appeal of the novel is immersing one’s self in the subjective reality Priest slowly unwraps and getting lost in the world of memories as a result.

The true nature of The Affirmation requires thought; the easy part is relaxing throughout the journey. Priest patiently and precisely lays down the text — words like railroad ties on a Sunday train ride to the country — the story moving effortlessly along. The sublime pr... Read More

Excession: Does anyone do far future better than Banks?

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Excession by Iain M. Banks

Let’s skip the highty-flighty, atmospheric float of intros and get right to the point. Iain M. Banks’ 1996 Excession is gosh-wow, sense-wunda science fiction that pushes the limits of the genre as far into the imagination — and future — as any book has. The AI ship-minds, post-human world-is-your-oyster humanity, and incredible roster of engine speeds, galaxies, drones, weaponry, biological possibilities, planets, orbitals, etc., etc. of previous books have been topped. Banks took a look at the savory milieu of the Culture, cocked his head and asked: “How can I up the ante?” The titular ‘excession’ is the answer.

Arthur C. Clarke’s brilliant Rendezvous with Rama sees humanity attempting to quantify and understand a... Read More

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