The Ginger Star (1974) by Leigh Brackett

“The man who doesn’t fear, doesn’t live long. I fear everything.” (p.32)

 

‘Mercury-born Earthman’ Eric John Stark is back! I last encountered him in Brackett’s 1951 short story “Black Amazon of Mars.” That was a very entertaining pulpy space-fantasy adventure which surprised me with its quality of writing and depiction of characters, especially for a short story. (You can read my review here.)

The Ginger Star is the first part of the ‘Book of Skaith’ series. It is followed by The Hounds of Skaith (1974) and The Reavers of Skaith (1976). The story opens with Stark arriving on the planet Skaith, “a lawless sphere at the edge of the known universe.” He is searching for his friend and mentor, Simon Ashton, who was last heard of visiting Skaith on a diplomatic mission for the Galactic Union. Stark is determined not to rest until he finds him.

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1976 Sphere edition; (Artist not credited)

Skaith is an old planet which used to house a thriving culture, but generations of exploitation have left it a dying shadow of its former glory. Its sun, the Ginger Star of the title, is also dying. Stark begins his search in the market city of Skeg, a dangerous place filled with a plethora of unfriendly and distrustful beings. Continue reading

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Bearly a Lady (2017) by Cassandra Khaw

Last year I read and reviewed Cassandra Khaw’s Hammers on Bone and Rupert Wong novellas. Both works really impressed me, putting Khaw on my must-read author list. Bearly a Lady was released in July 2017 and I bought it on release day – the first time I’ve done so with a new book for quite a while. Unfortunately, my tbr pile and lifeTM have delayed my reading of it until this month.

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Bearly a Lady is a very funny story about modern relationships. It’s set in present-day London and introduces us to Zelda, a young woman working for a fashion magazine. She shares a flat with her roommate Zora. But these two twenty-somethings are no ordinary flat mates; Zelda is a werebear and Zora a vampire. Continue reading

Dawn (1987) by Octavia E. Butler

“Your people contain incredible potential, but they die without using much of it.”

 

Dawn is the first book in Octavia E. Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy. It was nominated for the 1988 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. I read her 1979 classic Kindred a couple of years ago and it totally blew me away. (You can find my review here.) I was so impressed with Butler’s storytelling that I wanted to read anything and everything written by her. I regret it has taken me this long to get around to this novel because it is a riveting and powerful story, one which I couldn’t put down.

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Cover Art by John Jude Palencar

One of my aims with this blog is to write spoiler-free reviews. With this book, I am going to have to reveal some of the main plot details but I won’t go beyond the published synopsis. Unfortunately, the synopsis reveals important events which occur at the beginning of the story. If you would rather not know these details then stop reading now. Continue reading

The Dispossessed (1974) by Ursula K. Le Guin

‘Time did not pass. There was no time. He was time: he only. He was the river, the arrow, the stone.’ (p.9)

 

Winner of the Nebula, Hugo and Locus awards for Best Novel, The Dispossessed is a book that demands reading. I first read it some years ago, but for some reason it left me cold. I think I got a bit lost in its many themes as Le Guin explores the ways in which an anarchist utopian society might be made to work. The level of detail in her world building as she constructs this society is very impressive, but it could put some readers off. At times, it reads more like a work of anthropology than a “science fiction” novel. Continue reading

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980) by Douglas Adams

DON’T PANIC

This is the sequel to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I originally read the first four books in this “trilogy” when I was a teenager. (I haven’t read book five Mostly Harmless yet, but it’s on its way to me as I type this.) I’ve seen the BBC TV adaptation as well as the 2005 movie version; I enjoyed them both. I decided to re-read this book because I wanted some “light” reading. I remembered the comedy and general bonkers-ness of this series and approached it from that perspective. What surprised me on this re-read was how profound it is, as well as how moving in places.

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Pan Books 1981 Cover Art by Chris Moore

The story picks up where Hitchhiker’s leaves off. Aboard the stolen spaceship ‘Heart of Gold’, Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Trillian and Marvin the paranoid android are about to have a Vogon encounter of the worst kind. Resistance will no doubt be useless. But their ship has powerful defenses, so everything should be fine, right? Well, theoretically yes, except Arthur has tied up 99% of the ship computer’s processing power with his request for a cup of tea. Continue reading

End of the World Blues (2006) by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

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End of the World Blues opens in a Tokyo subway station where a young woman, Nijie, is stashing a suitcase full of money into a coin-locker. It then jumps to Roppongi Hills, a popular drinking area in Japan’s capital where Kit Nouveau owns and runs a bar with his wife, Yoshi. Kit’s bar, ‘Pirate Mary’s’, is frequented by a mix of regular drinkers, art students, foreigners, and bosozoku bikers. One night, Kit is walking back to his bar when a stranger attempts to rob him. As the robbery looks to be turning deadly, a good samaritan’s sudden and shocking intervention turns Kit’s world on its head.

Kit stared drunkenly at the man’s Colt automatic, then at his own watch. ‘Okay,’ said Kit, ‘it’s yours.’
This was not the response his mugger had been expecting.  (p.27)

Continue reading

The Thing Itself (2015) by Adam Roberts

How to begin to review this book?

‘Start here: how do we know there’s anything out there?’
‘What – in space?’
‘No: outside our own brains. […] We see things, and think we’re seeing things out there. We hear things, likewise. […] But maybe all that is a lie.’ (p.18)

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The Thing Itself is a science fiction thriller about two men working for SETI on an Antarctic research base in the 1980s. It tells the fascinating story of what happens to them one long south-polar night, and the repercussions of this event. It does this through the intertextual lens of Immanuel Kant’s ‘Critique of Pure Reason’, the Fermi Paradox, a dash of James Joyce, some H.G. Wells, a sliver of John Carpenter, and more. (A lot more references than I was able to pick out on a first reading.) Continue reading