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

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Hammers on Bone (2016) by Cassandra Khaw

“My face is older than I remember, the lines longer, more entrenched in coarse brown skin. Puckered flesh details a history in bullet wounds, knife scars, burns. Ugly but human.” (p.75)

 

Hammers on Bone is a 2016 novella by Cassandra Khaw, the creator of Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef. It’s her first story to feature John Persons, a private investigator based in Croydon, South London. You could describe Persons as a Transformer-detective because there’s more to him than meets the eye. To say any more would be to spoil a fascinating plot device that Khaw uses. His latest client is a ten-year-old boy who has an unusual job for the PI. Continue reading

Mightier than the Sword (2017) by K.J. Parker

“Speaking as a military man, I despise fighting against lunatics. I’ve done it once or twice, and it sets your teeth on edge. You can’t predict what they’ll do, …” (Loc 570)

 

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Cover by Vincent Chong

When the Empress is your aunt, you’ve got to do what she says, even if you don’t like it. K.J. Parker’s latest novella pits an unnamed narrator against “the Land and Sea Raiders”, a group of mysterious pirates who have been attacking the land’s monasteries. We are told a brief history of encounters with the raiders, but until now, no-one has been able to discover exactly who they are or where they’re from.

“Our first experience of them was seventy long, high-castled warships suddenly appearing off Vica Bay. The governor […] sent a message to their leader inviting him to lunch. He came, and brought some friends; it was sixty years before Vica was rebuilt,” (Loc 129)

Continue reading

Way Down Dark (2015) by J.P. Smythe

“And then the lights go dim. Every day, fifteen hours they’re bright, then nine hours they’re dim. That’s how we know day from night; how we know it’s time to sleep. It’s also how the worst parts of the ship know to come alive.” (Loc 572)

 

The first part of J.P. Smythe’s Australia trilogy, Way Down Dark, tells the story of Chan, a teenage girl living on board a spaceship called “Australia”. The ship, we are told, left a dying Earth many years before and is searching for a new home for its large crew of “inhabitants”. Over time, the people on Australia have split into four separate groups: the Bells, the Pale Women, the Free People, and the Lows.

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Each group lives together in their own segregated zones on the ship. The Bells are descended from genetically engineered soldiers. The Pale Women are a religious group who keep themselves apart from the other groups. Chan is a member of the Free People, the most democratic of the groups; her mother is its leader.  The Lows are brutal fighters who care little for the rest of the crew, and are looking to expand by any means necessary. Continue reading

Food of the Gods (Gods and Monsters) (2017) by Cassandra Khaw

“I used to wonder if death kills your sense of humour. It does.” (Loc 72)

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Rupert Wong, “cannibal chef,” prepares food for gods and ghouls. Sometimes he is the food. He used to be a triad and has a dark past he’s not proud of. These days, he’s just trying to make enough for him and his girlfriend to get by, as well as keep the right gods and monsters happy enough to keep him out of hell. That’s hell with a capital “D” or “Diyu”, the Chinese realm of the dead.

“The holy man didn’t tell me anything I wasn’t already expecting. He said I had an express pass to all Ten Courts of Hell. I would be there for a thousand years, if I was lucky.” (Loc 198)

In an effort to work off some of his bad karma, Rupert agrees to investigate the murder of the Dragon King of the South’s daughter. The only clue is a couple of feathers rumoured to have belonged to one of the Greek Furies. Press-ganged private investigator or chef to gods and monsters, Rupert Wong could be the hero we’ve all been waiting for. Continue reading

The Arrival of Missives (2016) by Aliya Whiteley

“There are deep roots to May Day, stretching back through the centuries. I find I have a taste for power in all its forms, […] and what is more powerful than a Queen?” (p.76)

This is the second novella by Aliya Whiteley that I’ve read this year. The first one was her stunning story The Beauty (2014) which left me in awe of its invention, its beautiful prose, and its genuine strangeness. The Arrival of Missives is not quite as strange as The Beauty, but it is equally as fascinating once it draws you in.

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Set in a small village in England just after the First World War, this is the story of Shirley Fearn, the teenage daughter of a successful land-owning farmer. She attends the village school and has a crush on its teacher, the injured war veteran Mr. Tiller. Shirley dreams of escaping the traditional, sleepy village life and is exploring the possibility of training to become a teacher in a school in the next town. Continue reading

What’s Your Choice for World Book Day ’17?

This is my physical TBR pile going into March. If you had to choose 1 book to read next, what would it be? Please post your answer in the comments section below:)

(Adam Roberts’ Adam Robots and Brian Aldiss’s The Secret of this Book are short story collections.)