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Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro – 4/5 Stars

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro - Front Cover

Klara and the Sun (KATS) is a book about artificial friend Klara’s experience of the world in a futuristic society where … well, much of it is a mystery for the reader to fathom. Instead of the focus being on natural disaster, space exploration, pandemic, war, alien invasion, or anything else we may fear the future holds, KATS is much more personal – about the intimate connections and their importance in a society that has a different emphasis to ours.

A big part of KATS was Atlas Brookings, but I’m not going to tell you what that is. What I will say is that KATS reminded me of the curiosity apparent in The Hare With Amber Eyes, the initial innocence of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials books, and the oddness of The Antpod Faction by Alex James (self-plug).

KATS exceeded the non-existent expectations I had, with a richly detailed world, but the last quarter of the book did feel rushed. I’d hoped for more mystery surrounding main character Josie and her situation (not Rick’s) and I felt disappointed there wasn’t more. That being said, it was a great thing the author didn’t spell everything out, and overall KATS was an enriching read.

Author Website

Geomancer by Ian Irvine – 4/5 Stars

Geomancer by Ian Irvine - Front Cover

When I first read Geomancer, new to science fiction and fantasy, I got the impression it was a complex and structured fantasy novel with worldbuilding taken seriously. That impression has remained on second reading. The first way to describe it was that it was ‘creepy’, in good ways and bad ways.

On the good side of creepiness, the world of Santhenar was one populated by humans under siege by mutated feline creatures, the Lyrinx, who once came out of a void and attacked but have now evolved – or de-evolved in some cases – into formidable clans that wage war against human settlements, having the upper hand. I found the way the idea was developed was sinister, and interesting: the reader, as with the protagonists, doesn’t know exactly which secret arts are used by the enemy or how they live. There were other fascinating concepts, such as main protagonist Tiaan’s job as an artisan using crystals and finding their power source so that they can be used as energy for the war’s machine-like clankers.

On the bad side of creepiness, Tiaan was a target of jealousy for her dedication to her work, though this meant she couldn’t find a partner, which was an increasing concern in the war-time conditions they lived in where reproduction had taken on great importance. She’s often pushed or threatened into joining a ‘breeding factory’ where she would spend her life ‘doing her duty’, indentured, not being allowed outside, so that they right qualities could be put together for future generations. There were few examples of these qualities or how they were nurtured alongside what we know of the existing energy-harnessing families.

The story almost ventured into a love affair between a human and a Lyrinx at one point, which I felt was a step too far, even if it was known Tiaan was desperate to find love.

Overall, there was a lot of explaining in Geomancer, but if you persevere and can tolerate the bad creepiness and the unintentional humour of everything going wrong in every adventure for the characters, there are super interesting morally grey characters and a fantasy world that wouldn’t be far from steampunk.

Author Website

The Game-Players of Titan by Philip K Dick – 4/5 Stars

The Game-Players of Titan by Philip K Dick - Front Cover

The Game-Players of Titan (TGPOT) by Philip K Dick is purportedly a story about a game (not unlike Monopoly), played by humans to acquire property deeds and match with new partners in the hope of finding the right partner who has the ‘luck’: the right combination that would allow reproduction in a world we can only assume has a dwindling population after international accidents and a war against the telepathic slug-like vugs.

Pete Garden is one such Bindman, a status of game-player/property owner, who has lost his wife Freya and his important deed Berkeley to master game-player Luckman. And Pete’s not going to let his defeat go easily; he wants a rematch and it’s a question of whether to play alongside potential new wife Carol or old hand game-player Joe Schilling who also lost to Luckman in the past and may have a motive to get even.

TGPOT was more about the vugs themselves. Some of them were police officers, and we’re made aware there is a moderate faction that co-operates with humans while the extremist faction wants humanity’s population kept low and controlled so that it can be wiped out in a potential second war. One feature of the vugs and the game itself was the ban of telepathic powers that the vugs themselves possess alongside certain humans; otherwise the game could be weighed heavily on one side.

Some of the great things about TGPOT were the flying cars, talking machines (including cars) afflicted by the Rushmore Effect that caused them to talk, but not always to co-operate with owners in the way they’d hope. It’s a world of talking elevators, and kettles, but sometimes automation gets it wrong or disagrees, causing half a bucket of inconvenience, and stress, for every one of convenience.

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K Dick – 4/5 Stars

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K Dick - Front Cover

A Scanner Darkly (ASD) by Philip K Dick is a book primarily about Substance D, its effects on those who take it and on those who wish to spy on and hunt down those who trade it. Substance D is a drug that causes brain damage and hallucinations, and according to the authorities, a set of thinking that’s not lateral between the two hemispheres of the brain – a view not shared from the perspective of those who take it.

The reader didn’t have the opportunity to get a good look at Substance D – may different drugs were referenced and consumed. The way the story was angled around it was superb, bringing out the role of the different characters: the under-cover Fred/Bob Arctor wearing a special scramble suit to hide his real identity, Donna his love interest and his key to the drug’s contacts, the untrusted and wily Barris, and the special case study of Jerry Fabin. First impressions had been that the characters were without personality and there was too much paranoia, when taken literally, but keep reading and you’re in for a rewarding, thoughtful read about the damage done to people’s lives by the drug, and the authorities.

This Road I Ride by Juliana Buhring – 5/5 Stars

This Road I Ride by Juliana Buhring - Front Cover

‘On a bicycle, you are inside the movie, an essential part of it. Completely reliant upon your environment, you observe and absorb every sensation around you. You feel every change in terrain, the texture of the road, the direction of the wind, every ascent and descent, the constantly shifting weather. You smell every plant and flower, every rotting roadkill carcass. You hear every bird call, every insect and animal. You take in the country and the country takes in you.’

‘If you really want to experience the world, get on a bicycle.’

This Road I Ride (TRIR) by author Juliana Buhring is about a solo expedition to circumnavigate the world by bicycle to set the women’s record. The author set herself this challenge after difficult circumstances, and perhaps to prove the naysayers wrong. The book was an enlightening and wondrous read of her memories cycling many countries, human kindnesses, and trials. Ultimately, TRIR shows us exactly what someone is capable of, once their mind is on it.

Author Website

Warlord of the Lonely Fortress – Preorder

Warlord of the Lonely Fortress by Alex James - Front Cover

On Majesty, the world of fortresses, floating platforms, and walkways, ages have passed of mana-wielding heroes and heroines fighting monsters and sorcerers, and of barbaric male warriors.

Warlord Aerol trained his best into organised soldiers, founded the Lonely Fortress, and fell in love with a half-monster like him, Inde. Then … Inde separated from him.

Now, Aerol feels the Lonely Fortress is no longer his. Assassination has reared its ugly head, in the form of snakes in a jar, and he suspects Inde is a traitor. On top of this, his old friend is bewitched. Everything points towards a dreaded sorcerer he refuses to believe is real. The mega-fortress, he’s determined, is the be-all and end-all of his hopes, his salvation. Only, no-one has ever entered it.

Now available to preorder on:
Amazon UK
US stores:
Apple
Barnes and Noble
Kobo
Smashwords

 

I Am by Michelle Scally-Clarke – 5/5 Stars

I Am by Michelle Scally-Clarke - Front Cover

‘Until that point I could not separate my patterns of self and allocate the lessons I learnt to me. I needed to know what had to be addressed, forgiven, and let go.’

‘It took me a long while for me to realise everything is politics and an even longer time to realise I have a choice.’

‘My spirit as a watcher has now joined with her owners, and I feel my times are at one, fitted, connected for me to grasp, walk forward.’

I Am, is, as the title suggests, a book about identity, yes, but it’s also so much more. Michelle rebuilds the picture of ‘self’ that allows her to transcend adversity and move forward to become the woman she was born to be.

My impression was that I Am was sharp with feeling: adoption files discovered, family, poetry, coming of age, marriage, and family reunion. There were lessons on this curve, espoused through passionate poetry, focusing on different times of Michelle’s life, bringing forward to the page those feelings from within, liberating them.

I liked how the personal linked with the creative journey. There were gaps, as the book was written from fragments of memories, which only serve to inspire the reader to think on what led to personal transformation.

For any upcoming or established poet, author Michelle Scally-Clarke’s book is a ray of light and meaning, showing us what a poet is made of and how words can laser through injustice; provide a platform for raw feeling, being grounded, and protest.

I Am on Amazon

Wine Dark Deep by R Peter Keith – 4/5 Stars

Wine Dark Deep b R Peter Keith - Front Cover

‘Shock swept through the interplanetary spacecraft’s crew. Mission Commander Scott stared out into empty space. Empty space where refuelling tankers should have been.’

Wine Dark Deep (WDD) is a near-future space adventure based in the Solar System, so it’s close to home. Earth has reached out with its space programs and missions, likely funded by big companies, to the extent that colonisation on other planets and moons has become possible. WDD focuses on Jupiter’s moon, Ceres, at a time when Captain Cal Scott is on a standard voyage, but we’re not sure what the mission is; only that they expected to be refuelled, and weren’t!

It sounds like nothing, no big deal, at first, until you realise what this means for the crew’s survival, politically between Earth and Ceres, and for Cal Scott’s ego. The crew of Cal’s ship can speculate all they want, but in the end they need that fuel to make it home. Anything could happen at this stage, and it’s with humour and a certain amount of endearment for the character Cal Scott and those who interact with him that it did happen.

Praise

I loved Cal’s quick-thinking in times of crisis. He wasn’t as confident as I expected him to be, but he was bold and prepared to do what it took, even if went alone. I liked the combination between rich description of Ceres and lighthearted characterisation – putting aside character psychologist and Cal Scott’s old ‘friend’ Helen Donovan’s ambitions.

Description-wise, there was a lot of regolith, and I like regolith!

Criticism

The chapters were varying lengths. We’d get going, and then we’d stop for a chapter or two, and so on. Perhaps there could have been more about Cal and his crew, and the same for Helen and her Ceres’ cohorts, as in my mind they were jumbled.

Overall

WDD was better than I thought it was going to be, having received it as a gift rather than a recommendation. Thought had gone into its creation, and I felt that the joy the author had put into the writing and the care with its presentation led to an entertaining and speculative read.

Author Website
Wine Dark Deep on Amazon

The Eye of Minds by James Dashner – 4/5 Stars

The Eye of Minds by James Dashner - Front Cover

‘The VirtNet was a funny thing. It was so real that sometimes Michael wished it wasn’t as high-tech. Like when he was hot and sweaty or when he tripped and stubbed a toe or when a girl smacked him in the face. The coffin made him feel every last bit of it — the only other option was to adjust for less sensory input, but then why bother playing if you didn’t go all the way?’

Introduction

The Eye Minds (TEOM) is the first book in acclaimed author James Dashner’s Mortality Doctrine series about the VirtNet, a game-based internet with unlimited freedom for players, especially, those with hacking skills like Michael and his friends Bryson and Sarah. They plug themselves into a coffin, and wake up in a game that has all the hallmarks of reality – all the sensations and suffering – for serious gamers.

The problem is that an adept hacker is taking people hostage in the VirtNet, pushing them towards the brink of suicide, or otherwise maliciously manipulating for their own ends. The VirtNet already looks less like the haven Michael has come to expect with real-world perils.

Praise, criticism, and comments

I was unsure what the message in the Mortality Doctrine’s TEOM was, if there was one. Don’t let your children get sucked into games or they’ll lose sense of reality, may even die?

On the plus side, TEOM had me flipping the pages. There was always something happening. And my goodness, that first scene with the tangent gave me the spooks. Indeed, there were a number of horror-esque scenes, puzzling for their oddness, not conforming to the reality we know, showing how scary the virtual world could be, given a chance.

One the negative, the scenes were really stop and start. You just get to the action, and then have to stop again, almost bitesize chunks for scenes, suited for more impulsive or younger readers, maybe, with it being YA. Part of the identity behind the main antagonist was predictable.

The ending was not predictable, however. And I felt it was worth my while to reach it after I feared it would end on a cliffhanger. One of the better sci-fi YA reads, reminiscent of Ender’s World!

Author’s Official Website

 

The Unholy Consult by R Scott Bakker – 5/5 Stars

The Unholy Consult by R Scott Bakker - Front Cover

‘Some souls are broken in such a way as to think themselves whole,’ he said. ‘The more they are flawed, the more they presumed their own perfection.’

‘And he wondered why it seemed all the same, lies and confession.’

‘To match a wicked foe abomination for abomination was to whisper in his ear while he slumbered – for the righteous were no more potent than when they were ruthless also.’

The Unholy Consult (TUC) is the final book in author R Scott Bakker’s series about the second apocalypse, which came after the first, strangely, if it came at all. My goodness, will it come? It’s a series I’ve been reading since I first ventured into libraries to search for new reads, and stumbled upon the first book, The Darkness That Comes Before. It’s grittier and darker than most fantasy reads you’ll come across, reminiscent of ancient times fused with religious portent that’ll put you in mind of prophets, war, pestilence, and this thing called ‘Men’.

Many readers may well find parallels between R Scott Bakker’s work and other great works such as JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Frank Herbert’s Dune. Readers familiar with the series will be no strangers to the tone, themes, characters, and writing style that are author R Scott Bakker’s marvel weapons cast against our helpless minds, causing fits and jerks of reading ecstasy. Just reading the first few chapters again was enough to get me into a frenzy of reading addiction. Holding the book, hours on end, absorbing my attention, would give me a bad back. Eventually, common sense prevailed and I sat this biblical tome on a stool, in the absence of a podium.

The Aspect Emperor series

TUC compares well with other books in the series. There are two series in the larger ‘series’ of works: The Prince of Nothing trilogy, comprising three books, and following it, covering a period of time about twenty years later, The Aspect Emperor series. Much of the overarching story is character focused, but sometimes it’s about the tribulations of Men, a military ordeal, or historical feats of glory. There is the oft-ridiculed philosophical sorcerer Drusas Achamian, who at one point in the series became an outcast wizard after everything was taken from him by the real mystery of a character, Anasurimbor Kellhus, whose skills at reading into human intention and motive make mere children of people. Endowed with numerous sorcery powers, Kellhus also formed the Great Ordeal, a huge host of men soldiers of many lands, to invade the Consult, those who caused the First Apocalypse. In TUC it’s hard to know whether the Consult is only an assortment of leftover technologies, sorcerers, and monsters, or if it really poses a danger to Kellhus.

The Unholy Consult

At numerous times during the story, we’re shown that Kellhus is walking on thin ice: many want him dead. The gods themselves rail against him. Yet it’s hard to believe after what we’ve seen of his abilities that he’ll ever be killed.

Fans of the original Prince of Nothing trilogy will love this book. There is that feeling of a war camp with all kinds of personalities in it: desperate sorcerers, wretched children, suffering families, prophets, kings, and traitors.

This series is not for the faint hearted, and TUC is no exception. It’s arguably the most depraved book in the series/you may ever read!

The conclusion was fantastic, in depth, and brimming with atmosphere and action. It answered many, but perhaps not all, questions about the significance of characters, institutions, and past events.

Official Author Website