The Fandom of the Opera by Robert
Rankin. Published by Doubleday at £16.99. HB
It is, of course, a well-known charter or tradition that any
book by Robert Rankin is weird. This book is weird. But only in the same way as
other Rankin books are weird. The usuals are present in best charter and
tradition style - sprouts are served this time with custard, Brentford takes
centre stage and Gary Cheese, 22, gets a job with BT lightbulb watching. In a
little known technology breakthrough which would solve all the problems of over
borrowing to fund WAP licences, BT has developed a way to phone the dead and
have a bit of a chat with them - not only useful for familial 'where is the
will hidden?' sorts of conversations but also - and this is what has given
Great Britain the edge in war for the last fifty years - you can call up a
recently dead enemy pretending to be a general and get all the secret plans.
If you like RR you will like this, which is more of the same far fetched
fiction two pints of large as any RR story. My son said it had no plot. I
thought it had more plot than most RRs, since usually they have very little.
But then he is the younger generation.
Beyond Pluto by John Davies.
Published by Cambridge University Press at £17.95. Hardback.
This slimmish volume tells all about the gravel of our own
solar system. While many astronomers and even the lay public concentrate on the
big picture - planets and stuff, John Davies and some of his more
minutae-interested colleagues have been contemplating the shrapnel, the tiny
bits left over and never included in all that accretion. This is the Kuiper
Belt, beyond Neptune, home to lots of stuff which only a few years ago was
unknown. Lots of weird-shaped small bodies, with weird compositions lurk here,
occasionally mooching in towards the sun (should we be ready to duck?)
John describes the technology of peering at these bodies, much more obscure
than trying to thread a needle by remote control when the needle is on the moon
and you are on the earth. These guys are pushing the limits and juggling the
data to make sense in a way I only partly understand, We are in the realm of
okay, if I accept that this guy knows what he is talking about then I accept
this manipulation of the raw data to produce this result is okay. If you want
to know about this stuff then you either already know it and the small band of
people who are doing it, or you will buy the book, and start to know what they
Next of Kin by Eric Frank
Recently issued in the Gollancz SF Collectors' Editions,
this is a classic tale of daring-do with an Earthman alone against the might of
an alien invasion.
The tale opens with Scout Officer John Leeming's open disdain for authority and
bureaucrats leading to an offer to undertake a suicide mission to reconnoitre
alien planets in an untried long-range spaceship. The inevitable happens and
the antihero crashlands on an unknown planet, is captured by the enemy ands
sets out to escape using only his wits (and a wire coil !). Leeming manages to
outwit first his gaolers and later the leader of the alien race, the Zebs, to
release him and even to declare peace !
The tale is told in an irreverent style, almost jokey, but for me this just did
not work. More importantly, some of the science in the science fiction novel
was incorrect and I found this a major distraction and in effect lost interest.
As a period piece, the short book might deserve a place on your bookshelf, but
if a serious thought provoking novel is required then I would suggest that the
reader looks elsewhere. IT
Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds.
Published by Gollancz at £10.99. PB.
When Alastair Reynolds sends a book to his publisher I am
sure the trees of the forest weep. For this is another biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig
booooooooook. Large format paperback and coming in at 524 pages, it has to be
value for money in terms of pence per word alone - so it makes a great book to
take with you on the summer hols - or to have with you to read while
invigilating exams, as I did. It impressed the students no end that Miss was
reading such a chunk of SF.
Chasm City is set in the same universe as Revelation Space but only loosely -
this time the story is about security specialist Tanner Mirabel and his
vengeful chase of the murderer of a women in his care.
Flatterland, by Ian Stewart.
Published by Macmillan at £14.99. HB
Remember Flatland and hero A.Square. Well, it turns out that
Albert (for so it turns out that he was pre-named) has a granddaughter,
Victoria Line. And she is a bit of a chip off the old two-dimensional block.
Perhaps even more so, for she teams up with the pan-dimensional space hopper to
travel the mathiverse in search of new life forms and strange dimensions (and
really bad puns), before returning home, older, wiser and enriched with a
perception of her own shadow matter supersymetricity.
Flatterland is a true science and fiction book, in that Stewart throws all
manner of complex dimensional theories at the reader, making them accessible by
wrapping them up in a gentle little tale of Vikki's developing awareness of
women's dimensionality. All camouflaged in a narrative so peppered with puns
that I probably missed at least half while engrossed in trying to get my O
level maths brain round the fact stuff. Contemplate, for example, the Moobius
cow, the Space girls, the Doughmouse, visit the fractal forest, or the domain
of the Hawk King, or even that rather humdrum space known at Planetearth.
Connoisseurs of previous Stewart will be pleased to hear that a vendor of rat
on a stick also makes an appearance.
During these plane adventures Vikki meets such characters as herself, the
Charming Construction Entity, the Harsh Mare and the Mud Hutter (at a tea party
of course) as well as the five Space girls.
As with Wheelers, the characters sometimes take second or even third place to
the plot and the need to work in the science stuff - but this is perhaps more
forgivable in a book which does not purport to be only a work of fiction. But
it is a failing of what I might call masculine SF - all science and not so much
fiction. Vikki and the Space Hopper, while characters, are not really fleshed
out..err, not three dimensional, dare I say.
But Flatterland is definitely something to get your brain around - but be
warned, you will have to read it a few times to get the best of it, I suspect
New York Nights by Eric Brown,
Published by Millennium, £6.99, PB.
Apparently this is the first book of 'The Virex Trilogy'. Clearly written in
the aftermath of 'The Matrix', it tells the story of two ex-policemen now
working as private detectives. Their search for a woman missing from the New
York lesbian scene is supposedly a simple case, but they discover her absence
may be more sinister. In the tradition of all gritty, world-weary detectives
they trace the movements of the missing woman, find unexpected links to their
own lives and come across the true explanation in the nick of time. In the
process they help to save New York - and possibly the world - from the
intelligence behind the scenes, who turns out not to be what they expected.
Well, it passed the time. The characters are believable. and the technology
seems a logical next step from today's reality. Unfortunately, too many of the
situations appear to have been borrowed from SF classics (Bladerunner being an
obvious example) and events are somewhat predictable. Perhaps the sequels will
be able to devote more time to the story rather than the setting. IH
Paradox by John Meaney, Published by
Bantam, £6.99, PB.
Buy this book. Borrow it. Steal it from a friend's library if necessary.
This fascinating, epic story kept me up reading long after I should have given
in to sleep. In fact, it sent me out of the house a few days later to look for
more by the author, even though I have stacks of books laying around unread.
The book is essentially a biography of Tom Corcorigan, orphaned young and left
to survive almost alone on one of the lower levels of Nulapeiron. His world is
home to the Logic Lords, to Oracles who can predict the future - as well as to
slums and great cruelty. Only the info-crystal he was given by a disguised
Pilot, a figure from legend, offers him a way out. But to escape his situation,
he must change his entire planet as he changes himself
The world described is detailed and realistic; the characters varied and
colourful. The author's research and experience were obviously valuable, mixing
logical extrapolations with wild leaps of intuition. Even the climbing scene in
the book is accurate! I strongly recommend this book yo anyone who enjoys good
science fiction. IH
The Foreigners by James Lovegrove,
Published by Victor Gollancz, £16.99, HB.
The premise for this book is a simple one: aliens come to Earth. Rather than
seeking medical samples or food, however, these 'Foreigners' appeared
peacefully and seem to be here simply to listen to human music. The payment
they offer - crystech, a revolutionary building material, and comp-res, an
apparently unlimited energy source - have changed the face of the planet in the
few years since the Debut. Jack Parry was a British policeman and now lives on
New Venice, a Resort city where Foreigners come to find Sirens, humans who sing
to them. His job is to safeguard Foreigners, to help with any
misunderstandings. This means that the recent deaths are his problem
I have to admit, I was disappointed by this book. There's just a bit too much
mystery about the Foreigners, too much theoretical worrying and not enough
revelation. Maybe this was intentional, deliberately leaving them as enigmatic
figures. I also found the repeated use of so many musical metaphors a little
overwhelming. In all, this was a bit of a let-down after the excellent Days. IH
Finity by John Barnes, Published by
Gollancz, £6.99, PB.
Lyle Peripart, a mathematician, has a problem. The main point is that every
now and again he seems to slip from his world - where Germany won the Second
World War a century ago and the planet is dominated by the Reichs - into
others, of all kinds and variations. Compared to this, the facts that his
girlfriend seems to be from another world at least some of the time and that
no-one has spoken to anybody in the United States for forty years seem
positively minor. Until his new employer, Geoffrey Iphwin, hires him to find
out why all these seem to be part of the same problem.
The good news is that this is a fun, exciting story. The characters are
interesting and the situations innovative. The bad news, if you think of it
that way, is that you finish the book with a raging sense of paranoia and a
new, wide-eyed look at the world outside. Simply put, this book messes with
your head. If you've read and enjoyed Phillip K Dick's work, or perhaps some of
Frank Herbert's stranger efforts, you'll love this one. If you haven't come
across those authors, then this might put you on the right track. Have fun. IH
Soul of the Fire by Terry Goodkind,
£6.99 Victor Gollancz.
An interesting read. It follows the exploits of some fascinating characters
and some not so fascinating. Unfortunately, to follow these characters, the
book jumps all over the place. I found this irritating, having to leave the
characters I cared about to keep up with the ones I didn't. The plot develops
slowly so that near the end you begin to wonder how the author will wrap it all
up. Well, simple put he doesn't. The plot fades to an end with no climax. All
the loose ends, and there are many, are concluded in what I can only describe
as a series of epilogues. That said, I have to say I enjoyed reading this. I
wouldn't pay money for it, so borrow it from the library. IJ
Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett. Published by Doubleday at
This time Discworld reporter Terry Pratchett has turned his
attention to the fighting monks of the monastery of Oi Dong, also known as the
History Monks. This rather Tibetan/Shangri-La based order (with a Lobsang and a
Rinpo it has to be) is charged with making sure tomorrow actually happens (you
cannot be sure of anything 100% on Discworld after all).
There are usual characters a-plenty - ranging from DEATH (and of course his
sidekick DEATH OF RATS) and granddaughter Susan, to an Igor, Nanny Ogg, as well
as the fifth Horseman of the apocalypse (left before they became famous) and
the aforementioned various monks. As always Pratchett's book works on all sorts
of levels from the simply a good tale and a cracking read, to something for
longtime fans who will catch the throwaway references and asides to the deeper
intimations of philosophy and physics.
The story kicks off - as most stories do - in the naked city (sorry) in
beautiful downtown Ankh Morpork when an obsessive clockmaker is tasked to
created the ultimate clock, the perfect timepiece by a woman who is not what
she seems (perhaps floating off the ground should give a clue here). The
ever-practical Susan has to abandon her students once more to aid her
grandfather and the monks and, by-and-by prevent the end of history (from a
schoolteacher's point of view what else would you teach on a Thursday
Thief of Time is the 26th Discworld novel. It will probably be ignored or
sneered at by proper critics and reviewers (I once heard one such sneer that it
cannot be a proper book because it does not have chapters) Unlike most books
published however, it will delight millions all round the world. A much greater
accomplishment than creating something turgid and gloomy and no doubt
(And only the witches ride on broomsticks, not wizards like that young upstart
Harry Something). WG
Mindplayers by Pat
Cadigan. Published by Gollancz, £9.99, PB.
Allie Haas was just out for a thrill when she put on the
illegal madcap. Unfortunately, the paranoia didn't go away when she took it off
and she found herself training as a mindplayer herself to escape a sentence
I enjoyed this one. It's mostly based on a simple idea: that by plugging
directly into the brain, we might be able to observe and alter the thoughts we
have. 'Deadpan Allie' trains as a pathosfinder, investigating artists of all
kinds whose minds are in need of a little help. I'd recommend this one to
anybody intrigued by a world where you can go to a neurosis peddler when things
get bad or franchise your personality - for a price. IH
Wild Seed by Octavia
Butler. Published by Gollancz, £9.99, PB.
Immortality. Living forever. It's not a new idea that
humanity might develop so far that death need not be permanent. This story -
apparently the first in a sequence - raises some very interesting questions
about the implications of people who do not die.
At least, not permanently. Doro and Anyanwu both seem to be human. However,
Anyanwu is a shapechanger living in an African village in the last years of the
seventeenth century, able to heal herself from any wound, able to appear any
age she wishes. She encounters a slaver, Doro, who takes over the nearest human
body when he dies, possessing it completely. He is determined to refine her
talent, adding her to his family and ruling her children. Anyanwu has other
Again, an interesting story. The only problem, for me at least, was that the
story pauses rather than ends, in 1840. Presumably the sequels continue the
narrative but I suspect finding them would be difficult. Still, well worth
Beasts by John
Crowley. Published by Gollancz, £9.99, PB.
America has dissolved into separate nation-states,
individual territories. Genetic engineering has created a new race, the leos,
part human, part lion. Another creation, Reynard, advises all who come to him,
including Painter, first among the leos. For Reynard is part-Fox - and a
Well, I finished it, but I didn't find it that great. In some ways the author
seemed to find it hard to decide whether this should be a broad ecological
criticism, or a close look at a species both partly human and completely alien.
Little detail about the genetic engineering itself, although those concepts
were no doubt new at the time. Some of the ideas about authority and
responsibility were interesting, especially when a group of vegetarians try to
explain to a leo 'pride' that they must not hunt, discovering the hard way that
there is no way to enforce pacifism. But I didn't, in the end, think those bits
made it worth reading the whole thing. IH
Thorns by Robert
Silverberg. Published by Gollancz, £9.99, PB.
Duncan Chalk is a media magnate, the kind of person Rupert
Murdoch wants to be when he grows up. To feed the public, ever demanding more
tragedy, more pain (sound familiar?) he brings together two damaged people.
Minner Burris was a spacer before the aliens took him apart and put him back
together again. Differently. Lona Kelvin donated her eggs for a scientific
project and is now a sixteen-year-old absent mother to a hundred children. And
the public watches as the romance blossoms
This story made me wince, at times. It's written well, no doubt, but the author
clearly has a very low opinion of humanity. Unfortunately, you can't help
thinking, as you read, that it's almost plausible. That it would not be too
great a step from the media today. It is hard to feel much empathy for the
characters, but it is equally hard not to feel pity. And, in the end, grudging
respect. Finding that Chalk has taken their own tragedies and used them for his
own gain, Minner and Lona choose to take their own, unique form of justice. IH
Frederick Pohl & C. M. Kornbluth. Published by Golancz, £9.99, PB.
The Earth has been stolen from the solar system, for reasons
nobody understands. Resources are dwindling, the few remaining people depending
on a Moon turned into a tiny sun by alien power, and almost everyone adheres to
customs and traditions for reasons long forgotten. Anyone who ignores these,
taking more than their fair share, is declared a 'Wolf'. But these Wolves are
perhaps the only ones able to fight the Pyramids, silent and apparently
Interesting ideas, even if I found some of the science more than a little
dubious. The story focuses on Glenn Tropile, a recent convert to the
free-living and thinking humans, and changes he goes through - some
predictable, some not.
The story draws out the tension well, slowly explaining the origin and presence
of the Pyramids. One of the most fascinating concepts, unfortunately, is
treated as a side-issue, when Glenn is made part of a living, thinking
computer. How he and the other 'components' turn the very advantages of the
Pyramids against them brings the story to a satisfying conclusion. IH
Profiles of the
Future by Arthur C. Clarke. Published by Indigo at £7.99.PB
This is unarguably Arthur C.Clarke's year. Well, it has to
be, doesn't it? And this is a collection of his past writings about the future.
Sometimes the writings are so past that the future, like 2001, is upon us now.
So ACC has come back to the writings and added little notes and asides as he
I wanted to enjoy this but I have to confess that it has irritated me, like a
scratchy label in a shirt, skritching away quietly subconsciously until you
have to take the shirt off and cut out the label. It just was so smug. Not smug
in the way that Isaac Asimov always blew his own trumpet, which at the same
time did usually manage to send himself up, but just simply smug.
Of course he did score a hit with geostationary orbits (which he could never
have patented in spite of all that is said) but since then, while he has been
an okay writer and extrapolator, he has done nothing particularly stupendous to
merit all the plaudits. As I decided I could not persuade myself to finish the
book I was reminded finally of Douglas Adams v Terry Pratchett. For some reason
Douglas Adams, for all that he had a good idea some many years ago now, has
produced nothing of huge renown or profit for quite a few yet continues to
attract huge attention to anything he says or does, literary or dot.com, while
Terry Pratchett, who sells squillions of very good books which delight millions
around the world, seems to attract nothing but sneering from the literati
(although who particularly cares about the literati).
Doubtless this opinion makes me a total philistine, but I don't care! WG
The Centauri Device
by M. John Harrison. Published by Millennium at £6.99, PB.
Possibly I was missing the subtext, but I have to admit that
this one didn't quite live up to the accolade 'SF Masterwork'. The story
describes the progress of John Truck, a half-Centauri space captain who seems
to hold the key to an ancient bomb. As you might expect, things are not quite
as they appear and Truck becomes the pawn in a struggle between several
different factions, each with their own agenda for the device.
I didn't really enjoy the story that much. It reads, in some ways, like a short
story drawn out by many adjectives and pointless scenes. If written as a
novella, the points made - how the means often define the ends, and how
organised government fails the individual - might have had more impact. As it
was, I found myself longing for the end, and not in a good way. IH
The Dreaming Jewels
by Theodore Sturgeon. Published by Gollancz at £9.99, PB.
Horty Bluett has always felt different, but runs away at
eight after being discovered doing something disgusting under the bleachers at
the stadium. All he takes with him is Junky, the jack-in-the-box with the
glittering eyes, jewels that fascinate him. In the travelling carnival, he
finds a new home and, in time, the truth about the jewels. This truth will
finally explain his alienation from humanity.
Another of the 'SF Classics' that Gollancz have brought out for no obvious
reason; the story isn't bad, although it's not one of Sturgeon's best. Do
please bear in mind his best includes the superb More Than Human, however. This
novel has its moments, but it's a shame the blurb gives away the point of the
story. And, as with others in the series, it's difficult to see why a yellow
cover and oversize pages make a paperback worth so much. It's worth reading,
but I'd recommend trying to find an old copy instead of buying this new one. IH
Bios by Robert
Charles Wilson. Published by Millenium at £5.99, PB.
The Families, somewhere between clans and vast business
empires, control Earth. And now they are beginning to extend their influence to
Isis, the only nearby Earth-like world. Unfortunately Isis is a world filled
with life that has evolved much more competitively than on Earth, and life
there is deadly to humans.
Most humans, anyway. Zoe Fisher is a clone, genetically engineered and
regulated by technology to ensure her absolute loyalty to the Devices and
Personnel Branch, to allow her to survive on Isis. What she is to find there
will change how we think about life forever.
I enjoyed this one, especially some of the ideas about humanity, how we think
and react under pressure. The technology described is innovative but
understandable, enhancing rather than distracting from the story. The broader
science, I have to admit, is slightly shaky in places, but it's worth ignoring
that to enjoy the novel. IH
Way Station by
Clifford D. Simak. Published by Gollancz at £9.99, PB.
Better than average for the sequence, this book is about the
attendant of a way station on a quiet, remote transportation line. The station
keeper is Enoch Wallace, a survivor of the American Civil War and apparently
still young a hundred years later. The station is, from the outside, a farm in
Wisconsin; the interior is filled with marvels and wonders, science and
technology beyond your wildest dreams. And the line is part of a teleportation
network crossing the galaxy, travelled by aliens and creatures every day.
Enoch Wallace is a wonderful character, troubled by the distance he now feels
between the human race and the aliens he now considers his friends. It doesn't
help that both the American government and the galactic council see his way
station as the cause, and the answer, to their problems
Starting at a slow pace, this varies from tense to reflective, urgent to calm.
How Enoch finds his place, between Earth and the stars, is a story I think you
will enjoy more than once. IH
Fury by Henry
Kuttner. Published by Gollancz at £9.99, PB.
Atomic bombs destroyed the Earth; humanity has retreated to
Venus. Immortals, genetic mutants with exceptional lifespans, have become the
rulers of vast underwater cities. One of them, Sam Reed, does not know of his
Immortality. Mutilated at birth by a deranged father, he grows up with the
subconscious imperatives of the long-lived. When he finally discovers that
those he thought of an enemies are his own kind, things will never be the same,
for him or anyone else. For Sam Reed has promised to lead humanity on to the
land, no matter who tries to stop him.
You will not like Sam Reed, but his struggle to make himself a place, to build
himself an empire, is fascinating. The novel shows how those who push the
boundaries, extend the borders, are rarely likeable. But they are sometimes
The Fountains Of
Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke. Published by Millennium at £6.99, PB.
A bridge around the world. That idea is the driving force
behind Vannevar Morgan, a scientist and engineer of the 22nd Century. He seeks
to build a space elevator, 36000 kilometres high, linking a satellite orbiting
the Earth to an island in the Indian Ocean. A way to move anything from the
surface to orbit, to dispense with rockets completely. And then, he dreams,
more elevators, more satellites, linked in a ring that encircles the globe.
Unfortunately, the only suitable location for the elevator is a sacred mountain
guarded by Buddhist monks. As always with Clarke's stories, the science is
impeccable and the technology clearly and concisely explained. The engineering
solutions to what seem insurmountable problems are superbly illustrated, the
people well-drawn, realistic in their strengths and failings. This is an
amazing story, an old favourite that deserves to be read by a new audience. It
does what science fiction can and should do. It makes you step outside on a
clear night, look up at the stars
and wonder. IH
Teranesia by Greg
Egan. Published by Millennium at £5.99, PB.
Anyone who has read Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear or been
interested by the ideas of memes and the selfish gene will enjoy this book. The
butterflies on a remote island in the Indonesian Ocean seem to be evolving in
strange ways, much faster than Darwin's theories can explain. Prabir Suresh
lives there until he is nine, when his parents, entomologists studying the
butterflies, are killed. He is to return, twenty years later, with his sister
Maddy, when biologists start to investigate more unexplainable species.
Another good one. I would have enjoyed it more, I think, if some of the ideas
had been explained slightly more carefully, but with a little thought I was
able to follow the arguments. Most of the book flows well, but be warned; a
couple of chapters require concentration. It is, however, worth the effort.
Evolution is, as many people fail to understand, a working theory. Events like
those described in the book are unlikely. And yet
Rhapsody by Kathleen Ann Goonan. Published by Millennium at £6.99, PB.
All over the world, computers crash, electronic devices fail
and communications are blacked out. In that moment of silence following an
electromagnetic pulse high in the atmosphere, an astronomer using obsolete
equipment records a message. He cannot understand it. But he knows where it
came from. Space.
Over the following years the Silence, as it is known, happens again and again.
Although nobody understands its purpose, the effects change society beyond all
recognition. Banding together in small communities, people learn how to use
nanotechnology and biological engineering to replace the now-unreliable
electronics. And in New Orleans Marie Laveau, a mob boss resurrected by
nanotechnology, starts to bring together a group of people who could save the
world from itself - but only by changing it once more.
My opinion is simple; buy, beg, borrow or steal this book. Introducing theories
of biotechnology that may be nearer than you think, weaving together people and
places, technology and societies, this is a book to race through and then begin
The Descent by Jeff
Long. Published by Orbit at £6.99, PB.
It's an old theory. Under the surface, there is a world we
never see, out of reach of sunlight. This book takes this world and extends it,
a vast network of caves and tunnels that join Africa and Asia, Europe and
America. An undiscovered labyrinth, inhabited. Just not by humans.
This book is, if you'll excuse the pun, not quite as deep as it thinks it is.
The science has gaps, to say the least. Human growth and development have been
adapted to fit a story, medical details completely invented. Despite this, the
story is enjoyable. I read it quickly, seeking answers to the questions raised
at the very beginning. Some are there, some conveniently dismissed. In all, I'd
have to say that it's a book worth trying. If it catches your imagination,
great. Just don't be surprised if you finish it and find yourself unsated. A
great book for a 'plane journey, but I'm not sure if there's a place for it on
my shelf. IH
The Witches of
Karres by James Schmitz. Published by Gollancz in the Collector's edition
series. £10.99 PB.
This is another of those very yellow special edition books.
The novel dates from 1966 and shows it in the writing style and construction,
which are perhaps more simple than anything published today. This is not to
criticise or condemn it, for simply being what it is, anymore than one would
condemn an episode of original Star Trek when viewed against an episode of DS9
or Voyager. In context still superb but wanting if assessed against today's
production values in many ways. Even styles of acting have changed.
Okay, that being said and passed to you the readers, there is a fault with this
book which seems to be exhibited by many works of fiction. The
too-neat-tidy-and-quickly-arrived-at-ending. The story chugs along at quite a
good pace, for most of the story, then within a very few pages everything gets
sorted out perfectly and everyone lives happily ever after. The reader is left
feeling vaguely cheated - 'I have read all this book, stayed with you, Mr
Author, and what happened? Did you run out of pages and have to condense
everything?' So, most of this was okay. The end was irritating. WG
The Truth by Terry
Pratchett. Published by Doubleday at £16.99. HB
Every journalist comes to a moment in their lives when they
realise that whatever is happening around them, be it plane crash, fire, flower
show or wedding, is news. And must be reported. By them. The shyest person is
transformed into the hungry newshound, hiding behind their notebook and pen,
into an observing rottweiler, able to ask anyone the most intrusive questions,
stride unchallenged into forbidden places and - scariest of all - watch
unemotionally as events of the most catastrophic unfold.
That sense of being a disinterested observer, once acquired never leaves you.
Terry Pratchett started out as a newspaperman. And at the end of The Truth his
hero William de Worde sees Captain Carrot heroically (naturally) rescue
'he'd watched it happening. And he'd reached for his notebook.
That was a worrying thought
Perhaps there was too much journalism in this book, the story of the accidental
first journalist on the Discworld, for me to be objective, but I think that
this may well be the best TP ever. Probably simply because there were so many
touches which perhaps only fellow reporters might relish - the tedium of a
flower show with its endless lists of winners, the scent of an investigation
where there might be awards or at least the opportunity to beat the Watch to
As to the story: set in the never dull city of Ankh-Morpork, it revolves around
the founding of Discworld's first newspaper, The Truth, and the struggles of
its first editor, William de Worde and his Lois Lane, Sacharrisa, as they
discover what journalism is, and investigate a dastardly plot to unseat the
The TP fan in me loved this. The journalist in me adored it. WG
Minority Report by
Philip K Dick. Volume four of the collected stories. Published by Millenium at
It had been many years since I had read any Philip K. I have
become something of a fan since getting stuck into this series of
re-publications. This volume features some intriguing stuff from within the
genre, including a couple featuring stories set at a convention and featuring
fellow authors. Enough to make any fan who ever went to any convention purr
with insider joy. Dick is technically very much an author himself, which can be
a bit of a rarity in SF, where plots can be long on technology and general
SFishness but short of character (When did a character in an SF story you read
have sex for example
exactly. But they do in most other genres, even Mills
and Boon these days, I gather.) Dick does not quite manage to get that far, but
his people are people and I love him for it. Most anthologies are not really
worth having. These are. All of them. Buy them. WG
The Zone magazine
published by Pigasus Press,Subscription for four issues £12.
When a magazine which looks like a fat fanzine solicits a
review in FTL and when it charges a subscription then in the editor's view, it
must compete with the pros. But, right from the first page they are in trouble
with me, when the editor talks about getting a computer and then calls Terry
Pratchett a genre funster. Now I refuse to get grim about SF, unlike some. It
is stories. But TP is genre funster, like he was wacky on the first edition of
Colour of Magic. Then that got dropped. Happily. That said and the bitchery out
of the way, there are assembled within some good pieces of writing (interviews
with authors, critical analysis, reviews and letters) If the magazine ever
makes the quantum jump from amateur - and it still looks too amateur (vide the
webaddress - cheap) it has the makings of a good publication. It just isn't
sure yet quite which it is.
Also see letter in Communications Bank
Far Horizons edited
by Robert Silverberg, Orbit, PB, £7.99.
This is a collection of short stories by well-known authors,
set in worlds that you probably already know. The idea is the same as New
Legends, except that these tales are science fiction rather than fantasy. Even
some of the authors are the same.
If you know the worlds and characters you'll find here, then I think you'll
enjoy, as I did, revisiting them. As you'd expect from these writers, the
stories are well-written and interesting, casting new light on older fiction -
not simple stories, but epics or sequences. If, on the other hand, you haven't
come across the likes of Joe Haldeman, Orson Scott Card, Gregory Benford and
friends, this might be a good introduction. The problem is that because you
don't have the background information about them, you might not enjoy what are,
in fact, excellent stories. My recommendation: if you've already visited a
majority of the worlds, then go for it. If not, you'll probably leave
Mindbridge by Joe
Haldeman, Gollancz, PB, £9.99.
In this story, the use of a 'stargate' has allowed the
colonisation of many distant worlds. The lead character, Jacque LeFavre, is a
'tamer', a member of one of the teams sent to explore new worlds. His first
mission brings contact with an organism that promotes telepathy - and the
consequences for the human race are unimaginable.
An interesting story with, in fact, too many fascinating ideas. Although I
enjoyed most of the book - especially the included reports and quotes that
showed all sides of the situation - it felt like there was more than one novel
here. Imagine a trilogy squeezed into one book. None of the ideas are
completely explored and I felt there were too many unanswered questions, which
was a shame. IH
Tau Zero by Poul
Anderson, Gollancz, PB, £9.99.
The title refers to that point at which the speed of an
object - in this case, a starship - is equal to the speed of light. Anyone even
vaguely familiar with physics will be aware that this is very fast. Due to the
way (we think) the universe works, an object travelling close to this velocity
would be cut off from time, centuries passing in the universe for every minute
on board. The crew could never go home.
The Leonora Christine was never intended to go that quickly. Sent on a routine
survey mission, an unlikely accident means the ship is unable to decelerate.
This story describes a voyage far different to the crew's expectations. The
science is superb, balanced at every point by the people on board. Fifty men
and fifty women, improvising solutions to problems never before encountered.
And as the ship approaches tau zero, they watch as the universe grows steadily
older around them
If you enjoy 'hard' SF, then read this book. If not,
then read this book and find out what you've been missing. IH
This Immortal by
Roger Zelazny, Gollancz, PB, £9.99.
Earth has been shattered by nuclear conflict.
A few humans remain, but most have emigrated to the stars while tourists visit
what remains of our planet. Conrad Nomikos, Arts Commissioner, is leading a
guided tour of the ruins and trying to avoid personal questions. For Conrad is
older than he seems. He remembers the war. He remembers the arrival of the
aliens. And he remembers Ancient Greece. He doesn't know, however, what he can
do about the visiting Vegan who will decide the fate of what remains of the
Well, I enjoyed this one. The writing is fluid, the characters are believable
and the plot twists unexpected. I won't give any of them away, but I do suggest
you read this one yourself to see what I mean. Conrad, in particular, tells his
story particularly well. I'd love to meet him. Who knows; perhaps I already
Tower Of Glass by
Robert Silverberg, Gollancz, PB, £9.99.
Androids, synthetic humans, are building a tower in the
Arctic. When it is complete, it will allow Simeon Krug to answer the message
received from another galaxy. But the androids believe that Krug is their god.
They believe that he will lead them out of bondage. They believe that one day
they will be human. But Krug believes they are things.
This novel plays around with definitions of humanity, of slavery and of
freedom. The androids are manufactured to specification, but biologically they
are human, with a few improvements. They are conditioned to be obedient to
their owners, but they have also taught themselves that Krug will free them. I
really liked the way complex social concerns were illustrated by simple
situations, by the antipathy between ectogenes (humans born by IVF and
synthetic wombs, granted full rights) and the androids. In some ways, the
smaller the differences, the greater the divisions caused.
This book is an interesting contrast to others involving synthetic humans - Do
Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K. Dick and the Robot stories by
Isaac Asimov, to give two obvious examples - and I recommend it strongly. IH
Queen Of Angels by
Greg Bear. Published by Millennium, £6.99, PB.
In this future world, the majority of the world's population
is 'therapied', there is enough food to eat and no-one need work. Therapy,
however, is rejected by a few, who claim that suffering is necessary. One of
their number, a famous poet, commits murder. And nobody can understand why.
I enjoyed this book, although it was a little hard to get into. I get the idea
that it was originally meant to be longer, as some of the questions are not
really answered. The story is told from two opposing points of view; the
policewoman assigned to investigate the crime and pursue the murderer, and a
scientist who enters the poet's mind to find out what - and who - is really
there. I intend to return to the book in the near future and see if the
unanswered questions have more subtle explanations. Well worth reading. IH
Man Plus by
Frederick Pohl. Published by Millennium, £6.99, PB.
An SF Masterwork by any measure, this story describes the
preparation of a man who can live on Mars. This is not simply a matter of
training and equipment; this astronaut, Roger Torraway, is to be a cyborg.
Computers predict that only by colonising Mars can the race survive, but as
Roger is altered more and more by biological engineering, the definition of
humanity becomes a matter of opinion.
I read this years ago and thoroughly enjoyed revisiting an old favourite. The
descriptions of technology and scientific advances seem frighteningly
plausible, while Torraway's thoughts and feelings keep him human to the reader
as he becomes a monster by everyone else's standards.
A Nebula Award winner and a wonderful science fiction novel, mixing people and
ideas in just the right proportions. Enjoy. IH
Salt by Adam
Roberts. Published by Gollancz, £9.99, PB.
It's strange; I feel that I should have liked this book more
than I did. The story is told by two characters from groups in a new colony.
The world is more hazardous than they had expected, but the true dangers come
from the people, rather than the environment. Tensions, already high after a
long voyage, worsen as old differences between the two communities are
exaggerated by misunderstanding and personal greed.
The images of desolation are extremely powerful, but neither of the narrators
is particularly likeable and I found it hard to care about them. On the whole,
I found the book interesting, but not as deep as it thinks. The flowery
language in particular annoyed me more than it impressed me. I'm glad I read it
and perhaps would have enjoyed it more if I'd seen more of the Biblical
overtones that are certainly there. The blurb compares it to Dune, but I didn't
think it was in the same school, let alone the same class. IH
Orbitsville by Bob
Shaw. Published by Gollancz, £9.99, PB.
Classic SF with a yellow cover. Orbitsville tells of Vance
Garamond, a spaceship captain fleeing his employer, following the accidental
death of her young son. His haste is completely understandable; as the head of
Starflight and effective commander of Earth's space fleet, the autocratic - not
to mention neurotic - Elizabeth Lindstrom has punished many lesser offences
with death in the past. So he runs.
Much to his surprise, he runs to something amazing; a sun surrounded by a
sphere, a few centimetres thick. A sphere with an inner surface equivalent to
billions of Earths.
This book is pretty good. Some of the science is a little shaky (hands up
everyone who spots the massive flaw in the physics) and I have to disagree with
some of his conclusions about the effect of that much space, but it's still fun
to read. I remember reading the sequel, years ago, and now want to find it
again. Verdict: a book that you'll probably enjoy reading with some ideas that
stagger the imagination when you really start thinking about the implications.
Godalming, by Robert Rankin. Published by Doubleday at £16.99. HB
This time detective Lazlo Woodbine (the greatest detective
of them all) and his covert partner Barry the sprout get to investigate the
greatest crime of them all - God is murdered and Mrs God hires them to solve
In other words mayhem again visits Brentford and its environs, along with the
usual characters and vegetables. It would be a trite cliché to say that
Rankin is on form, because he always is.
He does seem to have caught footnote-itis (I liked the Barbie doll joke). The
action is as London borough'd as usual, which means that overseas readers will
be suitably perplexed by references to Richard and Judy, for example, or Carol
Vorderman (surely not a demon?) but beyond that this is indeed vintage stuff
and well worth the investment. Rankin has become one of the rare band of
authors who take over the day as soon as the book arrives.
Snow White and The
Seven Samurai by Tom Holt, Orbit, PB, £5.99.
To be honest, this is a little disappointing. If you're a
fan of Tom Holt, then be warned; this just doesn't measure up to the brilliance
of Flying Dutch or Ye Gods! If you're new to the author, then I'd recommend
starting some of his earlier ones rather than this. There are some interesting
ideas and some very funny moments, but not quite as biting as his previous
work. Passes the time quite well, just don't expect miracles. IH