Retrospective for Year 2 – Nov. ’16 ~ Nov. ’17

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Daisen Temple, Mt. Daisen (near where I live).

Happy Autumn everyone! It’s the best time of the year for reading (according to Japanese people). What books or comics are you enjoying at the moment?…

I’m in the middle of reading Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust. So far, it has been a very comfortable read and I’m nicely into it.

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Now that Hallowe’en is over for another year, I think it’s time for a retrospective post about my second year of blogging about books. Two years, eh? Where did the time go?… I spent some of it reading, but not enough really. I was too often tempted by some of the quality TV drama appearing on Netflix and Amazon Prime, notably Stranger Things, Mister Robot, Fargo, Jessica Jones, American Gods, Luke Cage, and Star Trek Discovery. How about you? Does TV still tempt you, or are you only in it for the books?! Continue reading

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Austral (2017) by Paul McAuley

“If the planet had been run by a world government able to ruthlessly mobilize people and resources, global warming and climate change might have been reversed.” (Loc 3156)

 

In the very near future, global warming is a fact. Rising sea levels have changed the map of the world. Coastal cities have been lost to the water, but in some places new land has been uncovered. Much of Antarctica’s ice has melted revealing this untouched land, which quickly becomes both habitable and exploitable. The cold temperatures make it a challenging place to live for most people unless they are born a “husky”.

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Austral Morales Ferrado is a child of the new Antarctic nation. She is also a “husky,” an “edited person” whose genes have been “customized” to withstand the severe cold of Antarctica. She is working as a corrections officer in an Antarctic labour camp when we first meet her. But she’s looking for a way out. When an unexpected and dangerous opportunity presents itself, Austral must decide whether to risk everything to take it. Continue reading

The Ballad of Black Tom (2016) by Victor LaValle

“The more I read, the more I listened, the more sure I became that a great and secret show had been playing throughout my life, throughout all our lives, but the mass of us were too ignorant, or too frightened, to raise our eyes and watch.” (p.41)

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As a prelude to reading this novella, I sought out and read H.P. Lovecraft’s 1926 short story The Horror at Red Hook. It isn’t essential to read this story first, but it does add background to LaValle’s novella. It is also pretty shocking for the sentiments its author so blatantly reveals. Here’s what I wrote about it on Goodreads:

The Horror at Red Hook is infamous for being Lovecraft’s most racist tale. It’s a short story of black magic, human sacrifice, and a policeman chasing after his sanity. Dosed with some cringe-worthy xenophobia and the usual Lovecraftian purple-prose, it’s a forgettable story that doesn’t compare to his later, more famous tales.”

 

The Ballad of Black Tom is Victor LaValle’s re-imagining of the events depicted in Lovecraft’s short story. LaValle brings in some new characters, notably Tommy Tester, a young, black bluesman who shares an apartment in Red Hook with his father. When the story opens, Tommy is mixed up in the illegal ferrying of rare books, specifically books of an occult nature. His meeting with the mysterious Ma Att, a buyer of such books, foreshadows the strange and dangerous path Tommy’s life will follow from here.  Continue reading

The Ragged Astronauts (1986) by Bob Shaw

“The background was a familiar one to anybody who lived in those longitudes of Land – flawless indigo sea, a sky of pale blue feathered with white, and the misty vastness of the sister world, Overland, hanging motionless near the zenith,” (Loc 42)

 

Bob Shaw’s The Ragged Astronauts won the BSFA Best Novel Award in 1986. The Northern-Irish author also won the award in 1975 for his novel Orbitsville. Interestingly, he picked up the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer in 1979 and 1980. The British author Christopher Priest described Shaw’s fan writing as being “fluent, amusing, intelligent, personal and pertinent.” Despite these accolades, I wasn’t aware of Bob Shaw’s work until I found his name on the BSFA winners’ list.

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The Ragged Astronauts is the first book in the ‘Land & Overland’ trilogy, followed by The Wooden Spaceships (1988) and The Fugitive Worlds (1989). The story opens on a world called Land. A feudal system is in place, with the people being ruled by King Prad and his royal family. There is a second world, Overland, orbiting only a few thousand miles away. Both worlds share the same atmosphere. As the author builds his world, we learn that the inhabitants of Land are struggling with the planet’s dwindling resources.

What resources they have are limited. Land is a world without any kind of metal, which makes for some engaging ideas and descriptions of the technology, transport and weapons of the world. The people are also plagued by a strange enemy called “ptertha”. These are small, airborne spheres that release a toxic dust when they burst. Unable to communicate with the ptertha, it is assumed they are not sentient. But when the attacks appear to lose their randomness, the Landians must make some tough decisions regarding their future. Continue reading

Acadie (2017) by Dave Hutchinson

“What if I were to offer you a way off this howling nightmare of a planet? Right now?”
     “You have some kind of magic spaceship that takes off through seven-hundred-kilometer-an-hour blizzards?”
     She wrinkled her nose and grinned coquettishly. “Oh, I have something better than that.” (Loc 219)

 

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Art by Stephen Youll

Back cover blurb: “The first humans still hunt their children across the stars.

The Colony left Earth to find utopia, a home on a new planet where their leader could fully explore their genetic potential, unfettered by their homeworld’s restrictions. They settled a new paradise, and have been evolving and adapting for centuries. Earth has other plans.

The original humans have been tracking their descendants across the stars, bent on their annihilation. They won’t stop until the new humans have been destroyed, their experimentation wiped out of the human gene pool.

Can’t anyone let go of a grudge anymore?


John Wayne “Duke” Faraday, president of “the Colony”, is recovering from his 150th birthday celebrations when he is rudely awakened. An unidentified probe has been picked up on the scanners; a probe which could be from Earth. This is not good news for the Colony as they have no intention of being found. Will they shoot first and ask questions later? Or is the probe’s technology too valuable to simply destroy?

Part of Tor’s “Summer of Space Opera”, Dave Hutchinson’s new novella “Acadie” explores themes including genetic modification, artificial intelligence, and the colonization of new worlds. Being a Dave Hutchinson story, it is replete with crisp, flowing dialogue and a biting sense of humour. Continue reading

What happened to Summer Reading?

Hello September! Where did the summer go? It’s finally cooling down at night over here on the west side of Japan. Which means autumn is just around the corner, I’m happy to say. I love the heat of the summer over here, but you can take the humidity, please, no really, please take it away! Can you imagine working at a school in 35+ degree-heat with over 70% humidity, without air conditioning? It’s like working in a sauna.

But enough moaning from me. I hope your summer was fantastic. Did you get a lot of summer reading done?..

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I didn’t. Continue reading

Fairyland (1995) by Paul McAuley

“The man runs in a desperate zig-zag scramble, waving his arms as if trying to swat something. People scatter – they know what’s about to happen. The man has been targeted by a hornet, a small, self-powered micro-missile guided by scent to a specific target.” (p.267) 

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Paul McAuley’s 1995 novel Fairyland had been on my radar for a while until a laudatory tweet by author Adam Roberts convinced me to buy a copy. It is the 150th title to join Gollancz’s SF Masterworks collection. It was also the first novel published by Gollancz to win the Arthur C. Clarke Award, back in 1996. Here is the author talking about the book in an interview posted on the SF Gateway website’s blog:  Continue reading