Tag Archives: sci-fi

23Feb/18

Beneath The Surface (The Outsider Book 1) by Rebecca Langham

The beauty of science fiction is there no real rules other than the science has to stand up, and it has to sound plausible, even if it isn’t. I’ve read more varied books under the “science fiction” label over the last few months than I ever have with romance, which is why I love it.

Beneath The Surface is a meaty read, an involved novel with a plethora of secondary characters surrounding the two main protagonists, privileged Lydia and sharp Alessia, her Outsider counterpart.

This story could have been written in a simpler style, and it still would have been a good read, possibly a little easier to get through. There seems to be quite a bit of set-up, when really, the story just needed to get on with it. Having said that, the author has done a great job in lovingly creating the world inhabited by the humans and Outsiders, and whilst doing so, keeping relevant with various issues troubling the world today. The refugee crisis and alienation of races seem horribly familiar, with the aliens being almost too human so at times. It didn’t seem too preachy, but if you’re looking for escapism rather than realism, this may not be the book for you.

There is a lot to pick over, and it would take me a couple of readings to pick up all the subtleties. Like I said at the start, it is a substantial read. At times I felt it seemed longer than it should have been, and it took me a while to warm to the characters but the last third of the book was definitely worth waiting for.

Finally, I thought the book was well-written, a serious sci-fi novel for far less frivolous readers than myself. I stand in awe of the world the author has built and the gravitas of the overall book. It will be very interesting to see where the series goes from here.

BLURB

When a change in collective conscious sends the Outsiders, a group of aliens, to the shadows below the city, humans reason that the demonization of their peers is simply more “humane.” There’s no question, nor doubt. Just acceptance.

Lydia had embraced that sense of “truth” for as long as she can remember. The daughter of a powerful governor, she has been able to live her life with more comforts than most. Comforts can be suffocating, though, and when the opportunity to teach Outsider children in their private, “humane” community becomes available, she takes it.

What she finds beneath the city is far from the truth she had grown to know. There she meets Alessia, an Outsider with the knowledge and will to shake the foundation of all those who walk above ground. The two find a new and unexpected connection despite a complete disconnect from the technological world. Or perhaps in spite of it.

Still, it takes a lot more than an immutable connection to change the world. Lydia, Alessia, and a small group of Outsiders must navigate a system of corruption, falsehoods, and twists none of them ever saw coming, all while holding on to the hope to come out alive in the end. But it’s a risk worth taking, and a future worth fighting for.

16Feb/18

Lander by J. Scott Coatsworth

The scene was set in Book 1: Skythane, and the danger with second books is that the plot can fall a little flat, but that is not the case here. Wisely, the author has created another world out of the old one, with the occupants of Oberon and Titania having to get used to their new reality.

Not everyone is happy with this new world order, and conflicts from the last book rear their ugly heads. The good news is that Quince makes a discovery laced with tragedy, and Xander and Jameson’s fledging relationship suffers a knock when an old flame arrives on the scene. Amidst all the fantasy elements, there is a good old human story of love, of struggle and torn loyalties.

I loved how human these characters are. Having got to know them in the first book, I really cared about their various predicaments. There is an element of fairy tale as well as sci-fi, which stops the plot from being too tech-heavy, with panoramic scenes to enable the characters to spread their wings. And it had a very welcome dash of corporate intrigue which was a great foil to the fantasy element. It is a very visual book, as the last one was, and painted in vivid colours. I could definitely see the climax being directed by Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium) It had that kind of cinematic feel.

The story lagged slightly in the middle of the book, but soon picked up again when Jessa, Jameson’s former fiancee, is thrown into the mix. She could have been given a bigger role, as she was a strong character, but I loved her kick-ass feistiness. The big message of this novel seems to be “seize the day” although it never actually says that. It was done beautifully and it’s hard to say which book I enjoyed more, the first one or this one. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to the next in the series.

BLURB

Sometimes the world needs saving twice.

Xander and Jameson thought they’d fulfilled their destiny when they brought the worlds of Oberon and Titania back together, but their short-lived moment of triumph is over.

Reunification has thrown the world into chaos. A great storm ravaged Xander’s kingdom of Gaelan, leaving the winged skythane people struggling to survive. Their old enemy, Obercorp, is biding its time, waiting to strike. And to the north, a dangerous new adversary gathers strength, while an unexpected ally awaits them.

In the midst of it all, Xander’s ex Alix returns, and Xander and Jameson discover that their love for each other may have been drug-induced.

Are they truly destined for each other, or is what they feel artificial? And can they face an even greater challenge when their world needs them most.

08Feb/18

Skythane by J. Scott Coatsworth

Having read The Stark Divide, I was already confident in this author’s world-building technique and ability to tell a rip-roaring tale. Skythane is the story of Xander and Jameson, ostensibly on a mission to find supplies of pith (a mind-altering drug) but they find themselves at the centre of a race to save the planet from destruction.

First of all, a quibble, albeit a small one. As ever, the essential and comprehensive glossary is at the back of the book, where I only discovered it at the end, where it would have been useful at the beginning.  Also, some of the names could be confusing for some. Xander is a skythane (winged being) and Jameson is a Lander (without wings.) Tander is a mining colony where Jameson used to work, and Slander refers to a city slum area.

Having said that, most of those names only appear a few times, and the important ones are Xander and his Lander companion, Jameson, who are both ADORABLE, and have such chemistry, I was willing them to get together. Also high on my love list was Quince, the capable skythane who hides the pain of a lost love behind a brusque exterior as she tries to keep the boys on track to focus on what truly matters, the prevention of Armageddon.

There are a lot of characters to get one’s head around, but whether you will enjoy this is purely down to how much you trust the author to keep everyone in check and give them enough to do. And the author does. He makes sure they all have stories of their own to tell in future books, keeps them all in check and steers the reader safely through a complex and alien environment.

I loved the way the way every creature, every fruit, plant, the technology, the weather,  food cooking methods, the weaponry, the transport, the cities, religious structure, every little thing has been carefully crafted and molded into a truly believable, fantastical, terrifying world, full of conflict but at the same time, alien and beautiful. Add in divided loyalties, a burgeoning romance and peril from sinister pursuers, and you have science fiction in its purest sense. I loved it.

BLURB

Jameson Havercamp, a psych from a conservative religious colony, has come to Oberon—unique among the Common Worlds—in search of a rare substance called pith. He’s guided through the wilds on his quest by Xander Kinnson, a handsome, cocky skythane with a troubled past.
Neither knows that Oberon is facing imminent destruction. Even as the world starts to fall apart around them, they have no idea what’s coming—or the bond that will develop between them as they race to avert a cataclysm.

Together, they will journey to uncover the secrets of this strange and singular world, even as it takes them beyond the bounds of reality itself to discover what truly binds them together.

27Dec/17

Brobots by Trevor Barton

This is an extremely likeable book, with two engaging leads and a host of affectionately-written, secondary characters. At first, Jared seems a little nondescript, but soon grows in strength after he finds Byron in a dumpster and begins the quest to find a replacement battery to switch him back on.

The book was fairly slow to get going, but there is a lot of corporate intrigue to set up first, plus the familiarisation with Brobots (the company’s) AI technology.

The book gained in purpose as it went along, developing into an interesting story about how the humanoid robots fair when they are unleashed from human bondage to set out on their own. Their first stop is to a “farm” set up by the mysterious Susan, where they begin to learn about what it is to be human. In doing so, the humans teaching them learn more about themselves as well.

It was a clever plot, and one that I can see easily developing over the next two stories. It mainly deals with Jared and Byron, their burgeoning love, and the problems that an AI/human relationship come up against. In the background, Byron’s AI friends are also adjusting to life as free sentient beings, making mistakes along the way.

I guess at first I was slightly uncomfortable at the way the sentients seemed almost too human. It seemed a bit of a cop-out, but the author was at pains to describe the feelings they experienced though the medium of technology and science, and it was well done without being too technical. Also, the author has a style of writing that I haven’t seen since the 80’s, that of varying points of view within the same chapter, sometimes even the same paragraph.

Done badly, this can be catastrophic, but done well, it can really immerse the reader into the minds of the characters, all of which are experiencing new sensations. On the whole, it worked, and after the initial shock, I got over it and wasn’t jolted out of the story.

The love scenes between Byron and Jared were also convincing, although some poetic licence had been taken, especially with regard to … er … dousing electrical components with liquid, for example. Their love was sweet, Byron being a big lunk still learning the niceties (or otherwise) of human behaviour. There was some humour and some tension and not too much sentiment. The romance element was pitched just right, and didn’t get in the way of the other aspects of the plot. The author answered all my questions as they came up, and didn’t leave anything dangling. This is a carefully thought-out book, with a highly creative plot and characters to root for.

Without spoilers, I can say the ending was interesting, satisfying, and led neatly into the next book. If it’s as good as this one, readers will be in for a treat.

BLURB

Brobots is substantial science fiction with gay characters told across three continuous books.

Rod burners. Scaff dawgs. Laggers. Bucket dumpers. Lerps. Duct monkeys. Tin knockers. Lumbergs. Artificial big guys. Product of a troubled firm. Brobots.

They’re easy to treat like trash. But they’re not so easy to ignore; especially the ones experiencing “the wake up.” The idea was that they could work hidden in society’s plain sight, allowing humanity time to get used to the fact of sentient machines.

But it’s all too easy for others to take advantage of those who live on the edge. What they, and their allies, must do is work out who, and why, before it gets too late.

Plug them in. Wish they never end.

Brobots Book 1:
Jared takes home a cute man he finds in a dumpster and then gets drawn into a world of robots, parenting and conspiracy.

Artificial intelligence can’t be programmed. It has to be grown. Some machines are learning who they are, and humans could do with a bit of that, too.

01Aug/17

Shax’s War (Brimstone Book 3) by Angel Martinez (Audiobook)

REVIEW

For the purpose of review, this is the second series I’ve started in the middle, and as such, I have to make the assumption that most readers will have already read the first books.

I’m reviewing this because it is the audio version, narrated by Vance Bastian. It doesn’t take long to realise that I have to give this audiobook my full attention. NB: It isn’t a book to be listening to with your kids. The voices of Shax and Ness are immediately captivating, so much so that even driving is probably inadvisable, especially during the love scenes which, though infrequent, are S-T-E-A-M-Y.

Martinez writes good sex, that’s for sure, but she also creates memorable characters, cracking dialogue and fantastic story-telling, bought to life by Vance’s narration. A cocktail of caramel, cream and tequila, garnished with jalapeño is probably the nearest you will get to tasting the audio delight of this book. As a novella, it is a fairly quick read, but as an audiobook it is a fat n’ juicy 3 hours plus.

The story is basically a rescue. Shax the demon and Ness the angel are an established, loving couple, despite their obvious differences. When Shax plays dirty during a Trauma Ball game, it sets in motion a chain of events that leads Ness into danger and Shax on a desperate mission to rescue him from bad humans who want to harvest various angelic parts for their own purposes (eternal youth, etc.) Meanwhile, Ness is getting through his ordeal with the aid of a friend called Leopold, a sweet, pink hedgehog….

Anyone who loves Vance Bastian’s voice may find it hard to concentrate on what he’s saying, as opposed to how he is saying it. The audio quality is excellent and his narration first class, but because his voice is like a duvet made of honey and gossamer, seducing your ears, it almost upstages the book.

Almost, but not quite, because Martinez’s observations and comedic timing are pin-sharp and brilliant, as well as hilarious. I loved curmudgeonly Shax, angelic Ness and queenly Ivana, as well as Leopold, who may or may not be a figment of Ness’s vivid imagination. There are a few too many characters for me to follow properly, making the plot a little more convoluted than it probably needed to be. The problem with an audiobook is, it isn’t as easy to re-read if there is confusion, as you can with an e-reader or novel. But it’s a small quibble, because there is so much to enjoy here, it is almost an embarrassment of riches.

I recommend you listen at least twice, because you’ll find a lot to enjoy, not only from the sci-fi-tastic plot, action, adventure and colourful characters, but to wallow in the audial delights of the US’s male answer to the Cadbury’s Caramel Bunny. When a dream-weaver meets a cunning linguist, the result will always be a smorgesbord for the ears.

BLURB

Brimstone Series: Book 3
Next Book: Beside a Black Tarn
Preceded by: Fear of Frogs

The boys desperately need a vacation. With the not-quite-ill-gotten gains from the Frog incident, Shax takes the Brimstone’s crew to the exclusive resort planet, Opal, for some much needed rest and relaxation. The resort has everything a demon prince and his crew could want, but an incident on the Trauma Ball court sends Ness stalking off in anger and sends events swiftly spiraling out of control.

Shax will need every bit of his cunning and his legendary luck to save his Ness as he’s drawn into a web of criminal experiments and…pink hedgehogs?

Novella: 40,500 words/178 pages

THE BRIMSTONE SERIES
Potato Surprise: A Brimstone Prequel
Hell for the Company
Fear of Frogs
Shax’s War
Beside a Black Tarn

25Jun/17

Review of Ardulum: First Don by J.S. Fields

Out-of-this-world guest J.S. Fields joined us very recently on our show! To hear more about her and get links to her work, click on Episode 117: And She Really Liked Ladies!

REVIEW

I’m a bit of a lightweight when it comes to science fiction. I like familiarity, something to grasp at like a life buoy when the science becomes a little too … sciency. I like names I can pronounce, characters with Earth-like problems, and a setting I can almost identify with. Not quite, but almost.

Ardulum has none of these things, and as a result, I struggled with it. Names like Ggllyll and Mmnnuggl kept cropping up, as well as the occasional use of non-binary pronouns (zir/ze) and this made it a challenging read, especially for a novice science-fiction reader.

Having said that, the quality of the writing shines through. The author’s ability to keep the reigns of a complex plot, packed full of technical detail and vulnerable, believable characters, is testament to how much skill she has. Neek is an (other-)worldly wise, legally paid pirate, travelling through space, delivering goods across the galaxies. Exiled from her people by daring to voice her scepticism over the existence of the Ardulum, ancient people who enriched the lives of her ancestors before vanishing into legend, she is destined to roam the star-systems as a disgraced non-believer. Enter slave child Emn, who could be the one person to bring her peace, or is she?

There is a lot to take in, from the complicated relationships between the protagonists to the large cast of secondary characters. The author knows what she is doing. That much is obvious. The plot is sure-footed, lifted up by confident writing with sure knowledge of the science involved. As I said, I’m a novice, and this book scares me to death and makes me feel just a bit stupid for not fully grasping it. This isn’t intentional on part of the author. Her intellectual approach to the story is just way above my pay grade. The hardened sci-fi readers will lap it up. It has everything they need, from slick gadgetry to crunchy violence, a strong main character and enough tech-talk for buffs to argue over for years. I said before that I struggled with the occasional appearance of non-binary pronouns, but that’s a personal thing. If they work anywhere, they should work best in a sci-fi setting. It shouldn’t put readers off, but it’s worth mentioning.

So I wish I was able to “get” this more. The time, love and craftwork put into constructing the book is obvious and I appreciate it. I hope seasoned sci-fi readers give it the attention and praise it no doubt deserves.

 

BLURB

Ardulum. The planet that vanishes. The planet that sleeps.

Neek makes a living piloting the dilapidated tramp transport, Mercy’s Pledge, and smuggling questionable goods across systems blessed with peace and prosperity. She gets by—but only just. In her dreams, she is still haunted by thoughts of Ardulum, the traveling planet that, long ago, visited her homeworld. The Ardulans brought with them agriculture, art, interstellar technology…and then disappeared without a trace, leaving Neek’s people to worship them as gods.

Neek does not believe—and has paid dearly for it with an exile from her home for her heretical views.

Yet, when the crew stumbles into an armed confrontation between the sheriffs of the Charted Systems and an unknown species, fate deals Neek an unexpected hand in the form of a slave girl—a child whose ability to telepathically manipulate cellulose is reminiscent of that of an Ardulan god. Forced to reconcile her beliefs, Neek chooses to protect her, but is the child the key to her salvation, or will she lead them all to their deaths?

 

03Feb/17

Book review: ZENITH The Interscission Project: Book 1 by Arshad Ahsanuddin

REVIEW

Here is a man who knows and loves his sci-fi. I’m guessing (and this is a pure guess) that the author has ingested Star Trek and Deep Space Nine and Stargate and any other space-related series on both telly box and the big screen by osmosis since he was out of diapers. Which is why, when I came across phrases like “it became obvious the mobile device was designed to lock out navigation control and retarget the foldspace drive to jump the ship to a specific set of coordinates – that’s if it survived the gravitic torsion of opening a foldspace gateway inside a planetary well,” I could nod my head and say, ‘yeah, that makes total sense.’

Of course, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, but the point is that the author knows his subject so well, that it came across in a way that didn’t make me feel like a dumb schmuck for not totally getting it. There were a lot of instances like this. A lot of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff barely concealing a boiling undercurrent of emotions. And this book has a whole lot of it. Corporate intrigue, revenge, complicated love stories. This is as much a drama of human conflictions as well as a rip-roaring, time-warping adventure.

And it is an adventure on the high and stormy seas of deep space, elevating my heart rate when the tension is ratcheted up. Will they make the jump successfully? Will they ever see their loved-ones again? Who is the saboteur who seems determined to destroy the teleport project in its infancy? I found I was speed-reading just to see what was going to happen next – not because I’d had it with the geeky stuff, but because the book was so gripping. There were a few cornpone phrases (“no-one dies tonight” or something like that…) but I love all that gung-ho stuff. It made the characters human and familiar, in deeply unfamiliar surroundings.

And damn it all, if the author didn’t make his characters so likeable, and cunningly gave them great back stories. The brilliant and mysterious twins, Stella and Edward, Marty, the all-American pilot hero, Charles, his equally capable best friend, the slippery CEO, Henry and taut-jawed Trevor. I loved them all because of their vulnerabilities. And the author cleverly built relationship between them with actions was well as words. It wasn’t so much what they said, as what they didn’t say. There wasn’t a wasted word between them.

And finally, the love element, so heartbreaking, so subtly done. The characters’ sexual identity was dealt with then that was it. I didn’t notice the words, “gay” or “queer” or any of those other adjectives throughout the whole book. There was no feeling of “look, LGBT characters and everyones’ okay with it! Isn’t that great! Love is love!” There was no angst about being gay. No issues that I picked up at all. Everyone just got on with it. People were professional, and more concerned about inter-company relationships affecting their job performance rather than who they wanted to sleep with. I only noticed it because most books do seem to be about the issues surrounding being LGBT, or at least touch on them, because to ignore them isn’t right either. I didn’t feel the book was ignoring the issues, but that in this instance, they really didn’t matter. People are being murdered whilst they try to jump through space and time, for God’s sake! Let’s concentrate on that!

This book is the first part of The Interscission Project trilogy, so there are some unanswered questions, hopefully addressed in the next two books. If you want something science-y and genuinely moving, about humans wrestling with the convoluted mysteries of space and time, as well as those of head and heart, I really recommend this.

Please, Harvey Weinstein, pick this up and make it a movie. Put LGBT characters in the major roles, distribute it all over the world and watch your bank balance go interstellar.

It’s a sure thing.

Arshad Ahsanuddin, March 2014
ISBN:
9781927528402
Language:
English
Pages/Words:
245 pages/71k words

BLURB

Grounded after a rescue attempt in Earth orbit goes bad, Commander Martin Atkins of the Confederation Navy is approached by the Interscission Project, a consortium of civilian corporations on the verge of perfecting the technology to travel to another star. Despite his misgivings, the chance to get back in the pilot’s seat is too much to pass up, and he convinces his best friend and crewmate, Charles Davenport, to leave the military temporarily and join him as part of the crew of the Zenith, humanity’s first starship.

Edward Harlen is a brilliant young engineer, and a key player in the construction of the Zenith to take advantage of the untested technology of foldspace drive. But Edward has his own agenda in joining the project, and a bitterly personal score to settle with his boss, Trevor Sutton, a vendetta of which Trevor is entirely ignorant. But when Edward’s sister Stella enters the picture and manages to secure a position on the project, all of Edward’s careful plotting is upset, and she might spell the downfall not only of his plans for revenge, but of the entire Zenith mission.

The spark of attraction between Edward and Martin is a complication that Edward can’t afford, but of which he can’t let go. For Edward knows the secret at the heart of the Interscission Project, the hidden potential of the technology that in the wrong hands could become the ultimate assassin’s weapon: the ability to rewrite history, not just once, but many times. As an unseen enemy moves to destroy them, and the body count multiplies in their wake, Martin and Edward must choose whether they will allow the possibility of love to challenge their destinies, or will they instead take up arms in a war to control the most ancient and terrible power in the universe.

Time, itself.

30Dec/16

Review of Uncommonly Tidy Poltergeists by Angel Martinez

The heavenly Angel Martinez is a regular visitor to the WROTE Podcast, and a prolific writer of sci-fi fiction. To find out more about Angel and get links to her work, check out her latest interview with us. Episode 079: Flash Fiction Takes Flight!

REVIEW

Taro has recently won the lottery, and with his winnings has invested in several properties around the world. As he travels, familiarising himself with his new circumstances, he becomes aware of strange happenings in the night. Every morning, the mess he has made during the day is conveniently tidied away. When these events follow him from property to property, he is driven to enlist a ghost hunter to help him either solve the mystery, or prove that he needs psychiatric help.

When Jack Montrose appears, he isn’t the hero Taro hopes for, but a gangly eccentric who is just as strange as the turn Taro’s life has taken. Their awkward friendship is hilariously realised as Jack becomes Taro’s travelling companion, and attempts to understand why these strange events keep happening.

This book was a treat from start to finish. I instantly liked Taro, whose unexpected good fortune leads him way out of his comfort zone. And Jack, the eccentric genius, was a memorable character; sweet, awkward and brilliant, bruised from an abruptly ended relationship and wary of being hurt again.

Everything was unpredictable, including the story taking me to some very unexpected places. The author has obviously researched each destination, but has not fallen into the trap of sounding like a travel blog. The answer, when it is discovered, is delightful. I can’t say any more than that without massive spoilers.

This was a highly entertaining and intelligent read, with enough science to satisfy geeks and a sparkle of magic and a dash of folklore. Chemistry fizzed between the two MC’s, but it wasn’t laboured at all, and Taro’s sexuality was dealt with, subtly and sensitively. The whole thing just worked from start to finish. It wasn’t a long read (36,000 words) but for me it was just the right length. A fun-packed read that punches way above its weight. 

19Aug/16

Prisoner 374215 by Angel Martinez

PRISONER

Angel Martinez is one busy bunny, being being a chief collaborator with Mischief Corner Books, a prolific writer of sci-fi novels and having time to visit us on more than one occasion! Find out more about Angel and her work on her latest episode with us. Episode 069 – Now With Bonus Content!

REVIEW

What an unusual gem of a book this is. Set in a bleak future, it is the story of an unnamed prisoner, kept in solitary confinement and treated with nothing but contempt. His only companion is a prison guard he has called Scar, but this man barely speaks. Sometimes he offers a tiny bit of comfort, but the prisoner thinks he is imagining it. He dare not hope otherwise.

As we gradually discover who the the prisoner is and why he is being treated so badly, a chink in the granite armour of Scar seems to be widening. This story is so beautifully told, not flinching away from the brutality of the situation, but crafting a gradual relationship forming between prisoner and guard. I did not dare to hope that this story would end well. I was not disappointed with the ending. It is well worth checking this story out. Amidst the grey cells and hideous cruelty, hope dares to flourish. I cannot say more without ruining the surprise.

A very rewarding and cleverly told tale.