“No Way Back” (2006) by Chi Hui

Listen to this review

English Translation by John Chu (2020)

(Read in Clarkesworld Magazine #171, December 2020. Link to the story.)


“When I’m online, Aksha keeps me company. Anyone who says cats can’t go online is an idiot. Twenty years ago, people said humanity couldn’t go to Mars. Ten years ago, people solemnly swore that there was no way to connect a human mind to the network. Five years ago, people said that cats and dogs couldn’t speak.”

My Thoughts

Xuejiao is a “Master Hacker”. She lives in a small apartment with a cat called Aksha. The cat joins Xuejiao online as backup guarding her against “government surveillance programs.” Master Hackers dive into the Net, searching for “ancient abysses” to “excavate data from and turn them into cash.” The author likens it to “spelunking” and makes it clear there are dangers involved in the process:

“Some abysses absolutely must not be tested. Hiding there are vast existences beyond our comprehension. All the jackholes who go there are drawn into a vortex of data, forever gone. They leave behind stiff bodies, lying comatose in hospital ICUs.” 

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Mockingbird (1980) by Walter Tevis

‘Only the mockingbird sings at the edge of the woods.’

-Walter Tevis

Did you watch the recent Netflix series about a brilliant female chess player: The Queen’s Gambit? I watched it and really enjoyed it. It is based on the book of the same name by the American author Walter Tevis. I’d never heard of Tevis before the series, but I did know the title of his most famous science fiction story: The Man Who Fell to Earth (1963). I’ve seen the film starring David Bowie but I haven’t read the book. After reading Tevis’s novel Mockingbird (1980), I now want to read all of his books including The Hustler (1959) and The Color of Money (1984)–made famous by the Paul Newman-starring movies.

Synopsis

Mockingbird is a powerful novel of a future world where humans are dying. Those that survive spend their days in a narcotic bliss or choose a quick suicide rather than slow extinction. Humanity’s salvation rests with an android who has no desire to live, and a man and a woman who must discover love, hope, and dreams of a world reborn.


My Review

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Dune Messiah (1969) by Frank Herbert

‘The flesh surrenders itself, he thought. Eternity takes back its own. Our bodies stirred these waters briefly, danced with a certain intoxication before the love of life and self, dealt with a few strange ideas, then submitted to the instruments of Time. What can we say of this? I occurred. I am not . . . yet, I occurred.’

I recently read and reviewed Frank Herbert’s Dune. It was my second time to read it and the reread confirmed my opinion that Dune is a masterpiece. I believe it can stand on its own as a single story, a one-and-done work of incredible imagination. But like most readers of Dune, I wanted more. Imagine trying to write a sequel to such a book. How do you follow up a story like Dune? Where do you go next?

Art by Sean Francis O’Connell, 2017 Hodder & Stoughton edition
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Rosewater (2016) by Tade Thompson

‘I calm down. I do not know where I am, but I am not afraid of being lost. I am a finder, and the most basic skill of a finder is getting home.’

Tade Thompson’s Rosewater is the first book in his Wormwood Trilogy. It is set in near-future Nigeria where an alien biodome has appeared. The aliens remain a mystery but once a year the biodome opens. When this happens, some kind of energy is released which is rumoured to contain healing properties. People come from far and wide to visit the biodome hoping they will experience some of its benefits. Rosewater is the name of the town which has slowly formed around the biodome.

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Our guide to Rosewater is Kaaro. At the beginning of the story he is working for a bank. It is quickly revealed that Kaaro is gifted with extra-sensory abilities. He is labeled “a sensitive” and can read people to such an extent that he is able to find things they are hiding. Intrigued yet? To say more would be to reveal too much of the story so I will end my brief summary here. Continue reading

Europe in Winter (2016) by Dave Hutchinson

Imagine a train line which grew out of a pocket universe and spread across a fractured Europe. Now imagine this “Line” being its own state with borders and so on. Are you still with me?

‘The Line had been decades in the building. It had originally aspired to being a straight line drawn across Europe and Asia, […] Geography and simple pragmatism meant that this was never achievable,’

 

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Background

The third book in Dave Hutchinson’s Fractured Europe series, Europe in Winter continues the adventures of Rudi, ‘the former chef-turned-spy.’ It begins with a deadly terrorist attack on a train and ends with a staggering “sleight of hand” at a major international airport. In between, the author takes us on a snaking journey around Eastern Europe as we meet a motley cast of characters who could be working for any side. Confused yet? You will be! 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 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

Oh, to Be a Blobel! (1964) by Philip K. Dick

“Pete, I can’t go on. I’ve got a gelatinous blob for a child.” (p.11)

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First published in the February 1964 issue of Galaxy magazine, Oh, to Be a Blobel! is a satirical short story about interplanetary war veteran George Munster. The Blobels, large amoeba-like aliens, arrived from another star system prompting the Human-Blobel War.

“I fought three years in that war, […] I hated the Blobels and I volunteered; I was only nineteen.” (p.1)

George became a spy, which required him to be medically altered into the jelly-like Blobel form. The problem was, when he returned from the war he was unable to fully relinquish this ‘repellent form.’ Despite his doctor’s best efforts, every twelve hours George reverts to a Blobel. 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

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