21 September 2018


I haven't gone away or anything.

I've gots lots of reviews to write. But for now, I'm uploading all kinds of old reviews from this blog onto Good Reads. I'm actually surprised that there are so many. I have this (correct) self-image of reader who sneakily reads the next 10 books before sighing and sitting down to review, but there's a good number.

Sigh. All that it actually means is that I probably read a lot more than I remember.

The next set of reviews will be of short stories I read on Smashwords. Promise with fingers crossed!

11 September 2018

A fallen sun, a whodunit and mindbending world-building

What more could you want? I’ve read several short stories by David Grigg and his short novel A Twist of Fate. I thought he had set high standards.

The Fallen Sun has just raised those standards further. It’s going to be difficult to avoid spoilers, because I’m so keen to share the wow moments in this book’s plot, but I shall control myself.

Three young people come of age (we’d call them older teens, but in the world of Sunfall, they are about ‘7 or 8 millends old’) and are faced with having their comfortable if unexciting worlds turned upside down, in a civilisation that is thousands of years old and has totally fossilised its working and culture. Candens and Campana of the Clan of Bellringers are brought up very differently. Only boys like Candens get taught the work of the high-class Clans, and girls like Campana have to content themselves with make-work like embroidery. Because, hey, they will get married and leak the Clan secrets. (Not that Candens, as a second son, has much joy of it either, bitterly watching his elder twin become an addict and wastrel.)

Campana’s friend and Candens' pledge, Adura, will have none of it. She is not keen to be traded as a pawn in clan politics, and joins a secret group. Which has an even more secret agenda.

Things go from bad to worse for our trio, as they get accused of murderous intent, get enmeshed in kidnapping, and get thoroughly framed by the real villains.

This is not a fantasy story, as you’d think at first, fallen sun and so on, but a well plotted sci fi with a fast pace, mindbending world-building, a carefully realised culture, wicked but human villains, a plot with plenty of twists, and whatever else you could want in a sci fi adventure of the very far future. All the while, David Grigg slowly pulls the world itself into sharper and sharper focus. Like any good sci fi, the world itself is a character. (Okay, okay, I promised no spoilers). There are plenty of wow moments as you realise what is really going on. The familiar becomes strange, and the strange becomes familiar as the book goes on. The characters grow upon you, and their flaws become endearing. By the time they are fully tangled in the web of deceit, you’re rooting for them all the way, and turning pages frantically to find out: what next??

The motives and methods of the villains are difficult to imagine until they slowly become revealed and perfectly logical after all. Like any good mystery, you go ‘of course!’ once you know the answer, and yet, like any good mystery, you can guess and guess and mostly guess all wrong.

This is sci fi of very high quality. You won’t be disappointed.

Read The Fallen Sun if you like... Terry Pratchett, especially if you liked Strata better than the Discworld books; M John Harrison’s The Pastel City; Jack Vance’s Dying Earth books, but you didn’t like that much callousness; historical mysteries and alternative history sci fi of the far past; sci fi that borders on fantasy; epic fantasy which makes sense (no magic); JRR Tolkein, but you would have preferred a faster read with real humans and less Destiny; YA; or sci fi with horses. It’s difficult to say more without spoilers, but this is hard sci fi though it initially reads closer to fantasy.

Disclaimer: I was a beta reader for the book (too greedy to wait for a David Grigg book to be officially released). Let me tell you, the draft version was compelling, but the final version had me spellbound--it blew my socks off, and I grudged my eating and sleeping time.

04 August 2018

Stories of Futures to be Cautious in, and Pasts that Don’t Let Go

It’s been exactly five months since I posted a review. That mainly means laziness in writing reviews, not lack of stories to review.

Last year, when Smashwords had its annual sale in July, I picked up a lot of stories for free. The year before, I had done the same, but this time I was more cautious. I read the reviews and looked at the ratings. It wasn’t just the cover (ha ha, mostly I ignore covers of self-published books if they aren’t much to look at; a poor cover does not dissuade, though a good cover certainly attracts). It wasn’t just the blurb. It was the average rating, the number of ratings, and the actual reviews.

A good review certainly made me consider a download.

So, it’s time to pay back.

Each of these reviews will also be posted on smashwords. I’ve got about 37 to write, and I won’t necessarily remember all the stories from their names, so I might just reread all of them (heh heh). This means I need to have a quick way to do the reviews, while still doing justice. So here’s how I plan to do it:

Star rating. 1 to 5 stars, which mean: Awful, avoid; mediocre; tolerable; liked, enjoyable; terrific, recommended.

Synopsis: sub-categorisation and a wee bit about the story itself, so you can decide if it’s the kind of thing you like.

What’s good: I’ll mention plot, novelty, characterisation, lesson learned (if any), writing style.

What’s not good: Only if relevant, but things like poor grammar, weak plots, cliched language or plots will show up here.

So, let’s get to it. It’s in reverse order; the stories I read most recently first. The covers I found attractive are included here.

Science Fiction | Expressions of Freedom | Gareth Lewis

Star rating: 4 (enjoyable) ⭐⭐⭐⭐☆

Category: Will AI take over the world?

Synopsis: A curious journalist investigates rumours that all is not well with the foundations of democracy in a near-future world where everyone votes for everything, since it’s all technology-enabled via your personal AI.

What’s good: The protagonist is quirky and likeable. The villains are villainous without being demonic. The personal AIs and new tech are woven in neatly. Smooth writing, no hiccups.

What’s not good, if anything: A wee bit predictable.

You can find the story here. There is also a detailed review by Francis W Porretto there, which will tell you all you want to know about the story. Hat tip!

Science Fiction | Back Again (the short story) | Susan May

Star category: 5 (recommended) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Category: Time travel, fate

Synopsis: A taut, breathless-speed story about a woman stuck in a time loop, reliving the death of her little boy, trying with all her soul to change the outcome. There are three main characters, the mother, the woman who runs over the boy while focused on texting rather than driving, and the presence of the boy which the reader and the other two are keenly aware of, but who remains oblivious through it all.

What’s good: Everything. Plot, characterisation, plot twists, writing quality, high emotion, suspense.

What’s not good, if anything: -

You can find the story here. It has many good reviews, and was subsequently expanded into a book (like Nightfall and Flowers for Algernon and other classics, it probably did equally well in a longer format, but I haven’t read that version).

Science Fiction | Beware the Well Fed Man | Chris Capps

Star category: 5 (recommended) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Category: Post-apocalypse

Synopsis: In a world of municipal darwinism, where walking cities populated by the lucky are trailed by less-lucky camp-followers, and those who aren’t even camp-followers are preyed upon by bloodthirsty tribes of killers, a Mall falls from the sky and prepares to take in customers.

Ebon and his curious brother Crassus join a group of the most disadvantaged in converting the Plexis Shopping Centre to Home. Except that it’s not so simple. The nearest City wants to take over. Crassus learns more about how the mall works. Along with Thunfir (elected chief) and Euclid (a mathematical man whom only Crassus can barely keep up with) and other less savoury allies, they prepare to take the City on.

What’s good: A novel and thoroughly entertaining plot, high-tech post-apocalypse, weird social structures, weirder world views, nanotech, 3D printing, evil villains, cruel killers, friends and loyalty, heartbreaking choices, extreme capitalism. Crackling good SF, and the title is spot on.

What’s not good, if anything: I don’t have the next book! Waa!

Hat tip to Zachary Seibert’s excellent review. You can find it here.


Enjoy! More soon.
More soon.

04 March 2018

Irony and time travel

Science Fiction | Time Travelers | Gary Kuyper

I like this set of five stories better than the other Gary Kuyper book I read. Gary Kuyper has a fine appreciation of irony as applied to time travel stories, and this comes out beautifully in the five short stories that comprise this book.

In What Goes Around, an angry inventor tries to outdo the villain who stole his concept and tech. Made to Order has a military R&D team trying to beat the enemy by grabbing tech from the future, and an equally desperate enemy. Latent Images has an inventor make version 2 of a technology for 3D movie spectacles, or is it? What's the man really up to?  A Mammoth Error has both mammoths and errors, and the tech team blissfully unaware. Frozen Assets is a macabre look at the super rich who just want to freeze themselves into a future where their investments will pay for medical cures for their present health issues.

All in all, a very enjoyable read. You can get it here, for free.

Detecting in the crimefree far future

Science Fiction | Grey Enigmas | Gareth Lewis

An excellent mystery, with proper clues, a sci fi world in which a detective is resurrected (from death? incarceration? virtuality?) and tasked with solving a murder which should not have been possible. Alex takes up the task with a cheerful and endearing lack of penitence which not only disarms us but the stubbornly pro-law and order Theresa Patel, the closest the crimeless future has to a detective. The introduction of mind-bending tech is done so deftly, you don't even mind when 'ghosts' come in. The tech is far-out but the motivations for murder are everyday and human.

The pace is excellent, the suspects plausible, the backstories clear enough, and the climax and ending sufficiently unpredictable to keep our interest.

Recommended for people who liked Altered Carbon more for its concepts than the violence and sex. You can get it here. Unbelievably, this excellent story comes for free!

Why do alien abductions happen? Is Govt involved?

Science fiction | Volition: An Extra-Terrestrial Incident | JD Lowes

A fairly standard alien abduction story. Actually, it's more about the interactions between two of the four friends involved in the first abduction (the youngest one, physically challenged, was abducted). There is lots of dialogue between them, much of which could be cheerfully cut in half, but which actually makes them into more than cardboard characters. There are also aliens, govt officials who ought to know better, a number of characters who appear and then don't do much, a dog and a grumpy cat (who is there just for lulz).

The aliens are in contact with govt agencies, and exchange tech in place of being allowed to abduct people. It's not clear why that is expected to make sense.

There is a lot of whee-magic! in the story. References to pop culture movies abound. The alien is a mix of omnipotence and ineptitude. The various agencies indulge in a lot of jargon-speak. The motivations of the bad guys are never clear. The motivations of the good guys are a bit better placed. There are astounding amounts of naivete, and very little plot tension, which makes for a fairly shallow story, though with TV-level special effects.

There are also spelling mistakes, I regret to say. Rappelling is not repelling.

However it gets 3 stars because, while not great, it's not a bad book and probably better than some of the potboilers that actually see the light of paperback sales. All in all, a reasonable lazy Sunday read when you have nothing better to do.

You can get it here.