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

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Black Amazon of Mars (1951) by Leigh Brackett

“My name is Stark. Eric John Stark, Earthman, out of Mercury.”

 

From 1949 to 1951, Leigh Brackett wrote three short stories set on Mars: “Queen of the Martian Catacombs”, “Enchantress of Venus” and “Black Amazon of Mars”. They each featured her Mercury-born hero, Eric John Stark, and were published in the pulp magazine Planet Stories. Pulp adventure or space fantasy, “Black Amazon of Mars” is an entertaining adventure story that both tips its hat to, and outshines, the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard.

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At the beginning of the story, Stark is travelling across the cold “Norlands” of Mars with Camar, his Martian friend. They are being pursued and Camar has been mortally wounded. He has stolen something of great value, a “talisman”, which Stark promises to return to his friend’s city of birth, “Kushat”. Camar is pleased but fears for Stark’s safety if he continues on alone. 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

Dreams Before the Start of Time (2017) by Anne Charnock

‘Dr. Christophe smiles. “It seems quiet to us, but it’s noisier for the foetuses. We record the mothers’ and fathers’ voices and feed the sound into the foetus flasks during gestation. We follow a natural daily rhythm—no voices during the night, just the sound of a parental heartbeat.”’ (Loc. 1110)

Anne Charnock’s latest novel, Dreams Before the Start of Time, begins in London in 2034. Two friends discover they are pregnant, one by choice, one by accident. The narrative follows the lives of these women and their offspring through successive generations. As the characters age, developments in technology allow for new ways of conceiving, carrying, and giving birth to babies. This includes such procedures as remote gestation in an artificial womb, natural gestation from carefully selected donor sperm, and genetic engineering as a way of preventing birth defects.

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Charnock asks questions about what such advanced and varied fertility techniques could mean to our conceptions of child-rearing, family, and identity. She focuses on the families rather than the technology, making this a character-driven, human story. The sci-fi is kept in the background; Charnock using it as a springboard to explore the effects such technology might have on people and society. Continue reading

White Time (2000) by Margo Lanagan

“One night he woke and it was spread around the moonlit room like oil dribbled on water; its bare organs leaned in a clump near the door, swaying very gently.” –The Night Lily (p.130)

 

7bd5896a57-c7ec-43a4-bf47-3c534d6b08c07dimg400Margo Lanagan is an Australian writer of short stories and Young Adult fiction. Her 2004 book of short stories, Black Juice, won the World Fantasy Award for Best Collection in 2005. White Time is Lanagan’s first short story collection, and was published in Australia in 2000 and America in 2006. It contains ten short stories of speculative fiction.

It was Neil Gaiman’s glowing recommendation of Lanagan’s Black Juice which first brought the author to my attention. Black Juice’s opening story, “Singing my Sister Down”, is a mesmerizing piece of short fiction which left a deep impression on me when I first read it. So, I was looking forward to reading this, her first collection, and comparing the two books. (Which means a re-read of Black Juice is in order!) Continue reading

Europe at Midnight (2015) by Dave Hutchinson

“I still wasn’t sure whether England was in Europe or not; I had the impression that the English would have quite liked to be in Europe so long as they were running it, but weren’t particularly bothered otherwise.” (Loc 4053)

 

51lf7hhe8gl-_sx321_bo1204203200_This is the second book in the Fractured Europe series. The first book, Europe in Autumn, is a terrific read. I was led to it by blogger friends; one of the great things about the book blogosphere. It reads like a cold war spy thriller set in a near-future Europe filled with weapons that could’ve dropped out of a William Gibson Sprawl story. It’s also a very smart book that is peppered with moments of dry humor as well as containing some wonderful descriptions of food.

Europe at Midnight is not a direct sequel to Autumn; it can be read as a standalone story. But if you have read the first Europe book, Midnight will expand your understanding of it. It will also provide background to some of the events and places mentioned in Autumn. This was a bold move by Hutchinson, as he could easily have written a second book that picked up where the first one left off, continuing the adventures of Rudi the chef. Instead, he has opted for originality by broadening his fragmented Europe universe and bringing in new characters. Continue reading

The Snow (2004) by Adam Roberts

“The snow started falling on September 6th, […] And at the beginning people were happy.” (p.1)

 

691923Imagine if it started snowing in September and didn’t stop. As the snow piled up deeper and deeper, how would the World governments react? How long would it take before society collapsed? Adam Roberts explores this scenario in his 2004 novel The Snow, a book which starts well but seems to lose its way around halfway through.

Roberts sets his story in present-day London. The main character is Tira, a Londoner who initially reacts the same way as everybody else. She stays at home waiting for it to stop. But when it doesn’t, she decides to go looking for help rather than waiting for help to find her. From here we follow her journey as she attempts to survive the snow. Continue reading