BSFA Award


Rendezvous with Rama: Multi-award winner with controversial ending

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Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

In 2131, humans are minding their own business when a large object thought to be an asteroid is detected at the edge of our solar system. As it gets closer to Earth it is photographed and found to be unnatural — obviously an alien spaceship. A team of scientists is sent to meet the ship dubbed “Rama” and to make our first contact with an alien species. When they get there, they find Rama uninhabited and they set out to discover all they can about the aliens who must have launched it. What are they like and what do they want with us?

As Robert J. Sawyer mentions in the introduction the audio version I listened to, Arthur C. Clarke’s strength is not his characterization — ... Read More

The Shadow of the Torturer: SFF’s greatest and most challenging epic

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The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

For those of you enjoy audiobooks, this is the perfect time to finally read (or to re-read) Gene Wolfe's The Shadow of the Torturer. Audible Frontiers recently put it on audio and the excellent Jonathan Davis is the reader.

The Shadow of the Torturer introduces Severian, an orphan who grew up in the torturer's guild. Severian is now sitting on a throne, but in this first installment of The Book of the New Sun, he tells us of key events in his boyhood and young adulthood.... Read More

Mythago Wood: Dreamy and strange

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Reposting to include Sandy's new review.

Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock

After his post-WWII convalescence in France, Steven Huxley is returning to his family's home on the edge of Ryhope Wood, a patch of ancient forest, in Britain. For as long as Steven remembers, his father, who recently died, had been so obsessed with the forest that it destroyed their family.

Upon returning home, Steven finds that his brother Christian is quickly following in their father's footsteps — both figuratively and literally — for he has also discovered that this is no ordinary forest! It resists intrusion from Outsiders, time and distance are skewed there (so it is much larger inside than the 6 miles it covers in modern Britain should allow, and time seems to expand), and strange energy fields interact with human minds to create mythagos — the idealized forms of ancient mythic... Read More

Helliconia Winter: Deserves the BSFA award it won

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Helliconia Winter by Brian W. Aldiss

Like an architect seeing a cathedral they’ve designed have the steeple raised, or an engineer watching the bowsprit attached to a ship they’ve built, so too must Aldiss have felt writing the final chapter of Helliconia Winter (1985). The orbits within orbits, themes revolving around themes, and characters caught in the cycle of life, come to an end. But only on the page.

The series has covered millennia. The third and final book, Helliconia Winter, continues to tell a human-scale tale in harmony with the larger forces at play — geology, astrophysics, and biology all heavily influencing the narrative. This time around, however, Aldiss wields a heavier thematic hammer. The understated Gaian theme of Helliconia Spring and Helliconia Summer i... Read More

Helliconia Spring: A battle for survival on a fantastic planet

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Helliconia Spring by Brian W. Aldiss

What if the planets orbited not only the sun, but the whole solar system orbited another, even larger sun? Cycles within cycles is the basic premise of Brian Aldiss’s HELLICONIA trilogy, of which the first installment is Helliconia Spring (1983). A planet of the fantastic, Helliconia is home to a diverse variety of imaginative flora and fauna a la Jack Vance. The sentient life, however, bears comparison to our own. Struggling Darwinian style, humans and a species called Phagors inhabit the planet, the latter forming a group which thrives in the ice ages that cover Helliconia in the millennia its meta-orbit moves through aphelion. Humans likewise having their moment in the sun (forgive the pun) in perihelion, this ongoing cycle highlights ... Read More

Ash: A Secret History: One of the most important books in the genre

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Ash: A Secret History by Mary Gentle

I have long had a debate in my mind about the place of the woman warrior in fiction, particularly the type most often presented in epic fantasy/sword & sorcery. Robert E. HowardJoe AbercrombieGeorge R.R. MartinDavid Gemmell, and Tobias Buckell, for example, have all included the undaunted, sword-wielding, occasionally bra-defying warrioresses in their tales of adventure and battle. But in these stories, the women are most often just men with breasts. A distracting veneer i... Read More

Timescape: Intimate but slow-moving story about scientists

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Timescape by Gregory Benford

Timescape (1980) has been on my TBR list for 35+ years, I've long wanted to read physicist Gregory Benford, the book won the Nebula Award, and it deals with time paradoxes, which I find fascinating but invariably unconvincing. First off, most of the book’s considerable length is devoted to a slow-moving and detailed portrait of scientists (mostly physicists, but also some biologists and astronomers) at work in the lab as well as their personal relationships with colleagues and wives/girlfriends. So to describe this as a “techno-thriller” would be inaccurate. At the same time, Benford spends a lot more time on character development than most “hard science fiction.” In the end I had mixed feeling about this book. It was interesting at times but too slow-moving to generate much excitement.

The book is set in ... Read More

Feersum Endjinn: An eclectic far-future science fantasy

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Feersum Endjinn by Iain M. Banks

Sometimes a book has so many incredible elements that it defies easy summary. Compound that with the fact that it shares themes with some of your favorite genre classics, and that it is written by the incredibly-talented Iain M. Banks, and you have the recipe for a very unique reading experience. As I read the story, I was forcibly reminded of some classic books in the genre, particularly Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars, Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, Read More

Red Mars: This is where we start again

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Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

When the First Hundred arrive on Mars, they find a beautiful red planet that’s all but untouched by humanity. What should they paint on this amazing canvas?

The question turns out to be very political, and the discussion of politics in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars perhaps begins with ecology. The relationship between people and their environment is introduced when the Martian settlers consider whether they should change the red planet to suit human needs. Ann Clayborne maintains that they should change Mars as little as possible. After all, science is about observation. Sax Russell, on the other hand, argues that “science is creation” and that they should begin terraforming Mars as rapidly as possible because it “adds life, the most... Read More

Ancillary Sword: Mixed opinions

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Reposted to include Stuart's new review:

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

In Ancillary Justice, Leckie’s award-sweeping 2013 novel, we met Breq. Breq was a soldier, but before she was a soldier, she had been a ship, the Justice of Toren. Specifically, Breq was an ancillary, a human body whose personality has been erased, so that she could be a node of awareness for the ship’s AI. Justice of Toren comprised the ship itself and 2,000 human ancillaries in a distributed network. When Justice of Toren was destroyed in an act of treachery, only one ancillary, who was offline, survived: Breq. Ancillary Sword, which continues Breq’s adventures, hits a solid home run.

Breq’s search for vengeance in Ancillary Justice led her to the ruler of the vast, millennia-old R... Read More

Ancillary Justice: Doesn’t read like a first novel at all

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review:

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Breq used to be a spaceship, or at least a fragment of the spaceship known as Justice of Toren. The ship controlled innumerable human bodies, known variously as “ancillaries” to the people of the interstellar Radchaai Empire and as “corpse soldiers” to the cultures and planets the Empire has conquered. Those soldiers used to be regular, innocent human beings who, if sufficiently healthy, were slaved to one of the Radchaai ships, their personalities more or less overwritten to become part of one of the Empire’s many-bodied artificial intelligences.

But note: Breq “used” to be a spaceship. Now, she is just Breq, a single person with one body, but with memories of being both an immensely powerful artificial intelligence and its army of soldiers. When we meet Breq, at the start of ... 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 Time Ships: The Time Machine was just the beginning…

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The Time Ships by Stephen Baxter

Stephen Baxter's The Time Ships is a sequel to HG Wells' classic The Time Machine. Where Wells was crisp, haunting and poignant, Baxter is deep and broad, and offers his usual blend of hard-core sci-fi philosophy and science.

The Time Ships picks up where The Time Machine left off. The Time Traveler (TTT), after getting nothing more than a tepid response to the story of his first trip to the future, rushes headlong back into the future to find and rescue his Eloi friend Weena. Instead of returning to fix the wrongs of his previous time travel experiences, TTT finds himself in a diff... Read More

A Scanner Darkly: The harsh and trippy 1970s California drug scene

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review of the book and film.

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

Whether unjustly or not, no other science fiction author has been as closely linked to the 1960s drug culture — at least in the public eye — as Philip K. Dick … and understandably so. From the San Francisco bar in The World Jones Made (1956) that dispensed pot and heroin, to the Bureau of Psychedelic Research in The Ganymede Takeover (1966); from the amphetamine and LSD use in Ubik (1969) to the afterlife description in A Maze of Death (1970) that Dick mentions was based on one of his own LSD trips; from the time travel narcotic JJ-180 in Now Wait For Last Year... Read More

The Sparrow: A deep space exploration of new worlds and the meaning of religion

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The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. ~Matthew 10:29

I thoroughly enjoyed this expansive story of space travel and first contact. The Sparrow (1996), a multiple award-winning novel from Mary Doria Russell and the first book in THE SPARROW duology, is wonderfully deep in its exploration of culture clash and how individual experiences, both spiritual and physical, shape those interactions. Russell is at her best in bringing her characters to life and deftly creating three dimensional imagery that are at once understandable, real, and relatable.

The story revolves around a Jesuit priest, Sandoz, who returns from a Mission to a far planet, alone, barely alive, and deeply changed from the man that left. Russell bounces back and forth between ... Read More

The Neil Gaiman Audio Collection: Four delightful stories read by the author

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The Neil Gaiman Audio Collection (The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, The Wolves in the Walls, Cinnamon, Crazy Hair) by Neil Gaiman

The only thing better than one of Neil Gaiman’s children’s stories is one of Neil Gaiman’s children’s stories read to you by Neil Gaiman. Do not pass these up when you see them. I found these four stories in audio format at my library, both individually and as the cleverly titled The Neil Gaiman Audio Collection. If your library doesn’t have them, you can purchase them separately for less than $2 each at Audible, or you can purchase the entire collection, which was released by HarperAudio in January 2015, for $9. (Ummmm.... let’s do the math here... purchasing them separately seems like a better deal, however, the complete collect... 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

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

Ack-Ack Macaque: In which our reviewer finds herself in an adventure

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Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth L Powell

“Let me get this straight. You’re a World War II fighter pilot,” I say to Ack-Ack, the one-eyed, cigar-chomping macaque as he leads me through the corridor of the airship.

“Right.”

“But it’s 2059.”

“What’s your question?” He glares, a daiquiri glass clenched in his left paw.

“How do you fit in, exactly?”

He spins to face me. “I’m the main character, aren’t I? Ack-Ack Macaque, that’s the book’s name. See? ‘By Gareth L Powell’ and everything.”

“No offense, but I’m not sure you are the main character. You’re certainly the title character, but you aren’t even the first one we meet.”

A woman with a sultry, French accented voice interrupts us. “Move it along, Monkey-Man. No time for ... Read More

Magic for Beginners: Impressive and strange

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Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link

Kelly Link's short story collection, Magic for Beginners, is a great piece of work. In a bit of a departure from her earlier collection Stranger Things Happen, the stories in it don't follow normative narrative structures; they draw from sources as various as fairy tales, kitchen sink realism, heist stories, TV fandom, and Link's own surrealist vision.  These nine stories don't share overt connections, but they do provide a window into modern American life, complete with bland marriages, mortgages, and random zombie sightings. I listened to Random House Audio's version of this book which is almost 11 hours long and is read by various actors such as Cassandra Campbell, Lorna Raver, Marc Bramhall, and others.

The first story, "The Faery Handbag," was my favorite. It was the most straightforward, which pr... Read More

Pyramids: A stomach-jiggling delight

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Pyramids by Terry Pratchett

It seems there is no subject too big or too small, too esoteric or too familiar, that Terry Pratchett won’t tackle in DISCWORLD. His 1989 Pyramids, seventh in the series, sees the author exploring Egypt and just entering the groove that would become more than forty novels in the DISCWORLD setting. The humor in Pyramids is some of Pratchett’s best, but the book still leaves something to be desired for plot. As such, I’m guessing it won the 1989 British Science Fiction Award for historical grounding, wordplay, stabs at theme, and accomplishments to date, rather than consistent storytelling or characterization.

Pyramids is the tale of Teppic, son of Teppicymon XXVII who is king of the desert land Djelibeybi. Teppic was sent to the Assassin’s Gui... Read More

ARABESK: How to get the reader to suspend disbelief

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ARABESK: Pashazade, Effendi and Felaheen
In this review, I’m going to write about the willing suspension of disbelief. Perhaps more precisely, I’m writing about the intersection of world-building and the willing suspension of disbelief. Enter Jon Courtenay Grimwood and the ARABESK trilogy: Pashazade, Effendi and Felaheen.

In Grimwood’s world, the Ottoman Empire never collapsed. Woodrow Wilson brokered peace between London and Berlin in 1915, World War II never happened, and the major world powers seem to be Germany, France, the USA and the Empire. This alternate timeline stretches a few decades beyond current time, but in terms of fashion and technology, there’s nothing the science fiction reader won’t recognize. It’s the social, political ... Read More

River of Gods: A complex, foreign, unique world

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River of Gods by Ian McDonald

Ian McDonald’s River of Gods is a complex, multi-threaded tale that takes place in near-future India which has been split into somewhat warring states. There is a water shortage as the monsoon hasn’t come in three years, a rigid caste system is in place, and political and economic strife is tearing cities apart at the seams. While the rich get richer and designer babies are common among the elite, there is a gross gender imbalance where men outnumber women by two thirds. It’s a complex, foreign, and unique world.

McDonald’s writing at times reminded me of a mixture of K.J. Parker’s dry, cynical humor and a dash of Peter F. Hamilton’s science fiction. McDonald is incredibly descriptive, and he seems to purposefully take a “no holds ... Read More

Deathbird Stories: This 35 year-old collection has aged well

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Deathbird Stories by Harlan Ellison®

If Harlan Ellison’s afterword from 2010 is to be believed, Deathbird Stories is a short story collection about the merits of religion and the religious. Given that Ellison is perhaps as confrontational as he is influential in sci-fi circles, we can expect him to crush eggshells as he goes. However, with a few exceptions (“Bleeding Stone,” for example) these stories tend to examine the values and ideas that we have placed at the forefront of our society. In short, Ellison explores the West’s changing values and the new deities of the 20th century.

New gods? Some readers may already be thinking of Neil Gaiman’s popular novel American Gods. Deathbird Stories was originally publ... Read More

The Dervish House: The rise of nanotechnology in Istanbul

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The Dervish House by Ian McDonald

Necdet, a troubled young man, is witness to what looks like a botched suicide bombing on a crowded city tram; afterwards, he starts seeing djinn and other supernatural creatures. Can, a nine year old boy with an amazing robotic toy — and a heart condition that confines him to a silent world — accidentally becomes involved in the intrigue. Ayse, a gallery owner, is contracted to find a mysterious and elusive relic, while her boyfriend Adnan, a successful trader, works on his own scheme to become rich. A retired Greek economist, Georgios, is recruited into a secret government think tank, and Leyla, a young social climber, tries to get involved with a promising nanotech startup.

These six narratives all take place in Istanbul, less than 20 years into the future. The city, historically a crossroads and now also the capital of the newest EU member nation,... Read More