Europe in Autumn (2014) by Dave Hutchinson

He heard glass crunch, behind him. He turned and saw a dark figure detach itself from the shadows of the doorway opposite. By the light from his phone he saw that it was wearing tight-fitting clothing and carrying what appeared to be a pistol with a very long barrel.


I hadn’t heard of the author Dave Hutchinson before this book. He describes himself on his blog as
“A journalist, once upon a time. A science fiction writer, occasionally. Will write for food. Or even the odd kind word.” [Link to his homepage.]

Art by Clint Langley

Fortunately for me, Europe in Autumn was recommended by some fellow bloggers who had been singing its praises on their ‘Best Books of 2014’ posts. It’s a great story full of some brilliant ideas and well-realised characters. It reads a bit like a cold-war spy thriller which has had some of its technology amped up to an innovative level. The atmosphere is one of intrigue and espionage, trust and betrayal, and its setting is a fragmented, near-future Europe split by ever-increasing numbers of borders. It tells Rudi’s story.

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Pyramids (1989) by Terry Pratchett

“In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.” – Terry Pratchett

 

Art by Josh Kirby

Terry Pratchett’s seventh Discworld novel Pyramids won the BSFA Best Novel award in 1989. I re-read it as part of my BSFA Reading Challenge. It is the first book in the Discworld series that can be read as a standalone story. That is, there aren’t any recurring characters in this book, but it is set in the Discword universe. (If you are new to the Discworld experience then here is a link to the Wikipedia page.)

Pyramids tells the story of Teppic, a young man who is heir to the throne of “Djelibaybi”, a kingdom which is a caricature of ancient Egypt. At the beginning of the story, we join Teppic as a trainee assassin attending the Assassin’s Guild in the city of Ankh-Morpork.

 

“All assassins had a full-length mirror in their rooms, because it would be a terrible insult to anyone to kill them when you were badly dressed.”

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Radio Free Albemuth (1976) by Philip K. Dick

 

‘As his eyes adjusted to the gloom he saw the floating patches of colour, but they were receding from him faster and faster as his thoughts – manic, the psychiatrist had said – matched their velocity. They’re escaping, he thought, and so is my head; my mind is going along with them.’

 

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Cover art by Tony Roberts

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Back cover

Radio Free Albemuth was written in 1976 and published posthumously in 1985. It has been suggested that this was only a first draft which Dick abandoned before going on to write VALIS (published in 1981). He wrote it between A Scanner Darkly and VALIS during what is referred to as his ‘mature period’. It’s a short novel, one which I found easy to read. I enjoyed its simple, autobiographical style and fairly simple plot, especially after the bizarre reading experience of Ubik, which I loved.

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‘2016 Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge’

 

(c) Worlds Without End.com

Here are the rules: read 12 books by 12 new-to-you women authors in 12 months. One of your author choices should be totally random. Have a friend pick one for you and you pick one for your friend.”

On the wonderful Worlds Without End website they offer a number of Reading Challenges each year. This year, I am joining three of them. The one I am looking forward to the most is the ‘Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge’. The main reason for this is my unintended neglect of reading female authors up until now. I have only read a few works by authors including Ursula K. LeGuin, Hope Mirrlees, Margo Lanagan, Virginia Woolf, Susanna Clarke and Mary Shelley. Compared with the number of works by male authors that I’ve read, it’s pretty paltry.

There are a number of lists of recommended books by “women of genre fiction” available on the net, but I decided I’d rather ask my fellow speculative fiction bloggers for their suggestions. I put the word out on Twitter and got enough responses for two years of the challenge. Thank you! Continue reading

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) by Philip K. Dick

“We live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups. I ask, in my writing, ‘What is real?’ Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms.” – Philip K. Dick

 

Philip K. Dick was almost always questioning “reality” in his works. His stories often have the effect of making the reader question “What is real?” There is a brilliant scene in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? where Dick has his main character grasping at the edges of his own reality as his everyday life seems about to be pulled from under him.
 *(spoiler warning)*   Imagine if you are taken, suddenly, to a different branch of your workplace. It’s in the same city but you have never heard of it until now. There is no record of you on the company files and no one has ever heard of you there.*(spoiler end)*  How would you feel? Perhaps you would feel a bit like Dick himself who began to question whether he was writing his stories or his stories were writing him. “Sometimes it feels like I’m living in a PKD novel.” (Thanks to The Exegesis of PKD and nikki@bookpunks for organising the read-a-long!).

This is not quite a five-star classic but there is something about it that I just love. Continue reading