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Before the Storm – Review

Title: Before the Storm
Author: Sean McMullen

Publisher: Ford Street Publishing
Edition: Kindle
Pages: 262
Originally published: 2007

Genre: Science fiction, Time travel
The dice landed on: 5
Did I finish?: Yes.
Do I like the cover?: It’s OK

Fox and BC travel through time from the distant future to 1901. Elite cadets in the Imperial Army, they are young, handsome, well-mannered … and now, mutineers. They have journeyed into the past to save the opening ceremony of Australia s first parliament from being bombed. If the cadets fail, thousands will die, sparking a century of total war. However, to change the destiny of the world, the young warriors will need the help of three ordinary teenagers …

Well, this was fun!

The three ordinary teenagers are: Emily, bright, very proper, and quite bossy. Daniel, her younger brother, bossed by his sister and very easily distracted by both real girls and those in “French postcards”…..sold by Barry the Bag, street-wise, enterprising and Daniel’s good friend. Meeting Fox, and the injured BC, changes their lives in many ways. They must all do things they’ve never done before, and Emily must challenge all the restraints on a girl from a proper family in 1901. The soldiers from the future also turn out to have some unexpected sides to their personalities.

Even though the situation they all find themselves in is quite serious, this is a fun book. I love the way you get to know what goes on in Emily’s and David’s heads, and sometimes the things going on in there are very funny. Barry the Bag is also a very entertaining figure, and turns out to be much more important to the outcome than one might expect.

So, if you want an easily read book with great characters, funny dialogue, and some unexpected twists…. This is it.

Book Beginnings on Friday – Before the Storm

Book Beginnings on Friday is a bookish meme sponsored by Katy at A Few More Pages.

Here’s what you do: share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments section . Include the title and author so we know what you’re reading. Then, if you are so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and if you liked or did not like that sentence. Link-up each week at Katy’s place.

This week I’m enjoying myself with Before the Storm by Sean McMullen. It begins like this:

FoxS3 cowered in the darkness, and there was such silence around him that he believed he had lost his hearing. It was as if someone had slammed a door on the battle where he had been only a moment earlier. The air had the reek of rotting things, and even this was beyond his experience. The smell of charred bodies was nothing unusual to a warrior cadet like Fox, but in all of his short life he had never smelled rotting vegetables. He was still holding his wounded commander, BC, and had a plasma lance rifle slung over his shoulder. He removed his sunglasses, and as his eyes adjusted to the gloom he saw that he was in a narrow alleyway.

Embassytown – Review

Title: Embassytown
Author: China Miéville

Publisher: Del Rey
Edition: Kindle
Pages: 369
Originally published: 2011

Genre: Science fiction
The dice landed on: 5
Did I finish?: Yes.
Do I like the cover?: I’m not wild about any of the ones I’ve seen online.

Short summary:

In the far future, humans have colonized a distant planet, home to the enigmatic Ariekei, sentient beings famed for a language unique in the universe, one that only a few altered human ambassadors can speak. Avice Benner Cho, a human colonist, has returned to Embassytown after years of deep-space adventure. She cannot speak the Ariekei tongue, but she is an indelible part of it, having long ago been made a figure of speech, a living simile in their language. When distant political machinations deliver a new ambassador to Arieka, the fragile equilibrium between humans and aliens is violently upset. Catastrophe looms, and Avice is torn between competing loyalties: to a husband she no longer loves, to a system she no longer trusts, and to her place in a language she cannot speak—but which speaks through her, whether she likes it or not.

This was a really interesting book. For me, good science fiction has always been books that grapples with ideas that challenge my mind, and Embassytown is not for people who don’t want to be challenged. Neither is it for people who don’t want to face new words and familiar words used in unfamiliar ways.

The Ariekei and humanity not only speaks different languages, but their whole thinking process is different. So, while the Ariekei cannot lie in their own language, but desperately wants to learn, the human ambassadors that speak Language can both speak truth and lies in it. China Miéville is exploring how language shapes societies, and what happens when the language stops being useful, and maybe even becomes harmful, the way it is. On Arieka this happens suddenly and with dire consequences.

The reason I’m not giving Embassytown full marks is that there’s a few characters in it that I’d have liked to know better. They are central enough to what’s going on for me to want to know a little more about their motivations. But this is only a small reservation. Embassytown is a seriously good novel of ideas with a bit of planetary romance thrown in. And I really, really like the ending.

Surface Detail – Review

Title: Surface Detail
Author: Iain M. Banks

Publisher: Orbit
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 627
Originally published: 2010

Genre: Science Fiction
The dice landed on: 5
Did I finish?: Yes.
Do I like the cover?: It’s OK.

Short summary: Some societies have hells while others are very much against keeping those kinds of afterlives. To settle the matter a virtual war has been going on for a long time. But now, one side is loosing, and the war is moving into the Real.

The short summary isn’t even close to describing all the things that goes on in this novel. The war of the hells are the framework, but in it we have the academics who’s entered a hell intending to get back out again and testify about it, the young woman who is murdered by her owner/rapist only to come back to life on a Culture ship far away, the soldier in the virtual war who keeps getting killed, the Culture agent, the evil businessman, the sweet looking and scheeming against everyone aliens, and a bunch of Culture ships with vastly different personalities.

This book has a wide scope, from galaxy wide politics to individual misery. As all Culture books I’ve ever read this one too is wildly complicated with lots of characters, both pan-human, alien and ship AIs. So, it requires a bit of concentration to keep them all straight in your head. But, if you manage to do that this is both a very entertaining and thought provoking read. The need some cultures have to maintain hellish afterlifes (yes, they are virtual) as treats for their citizens, are of course abhorrent to the Culture, and to most of us I should think. I certainly find their reasons awful and is firmly on the anti-hell side.

I think it’s an advantage to have read several other Culture books, as I would probably find the universe a lot harder to grasp if I wasn’t already familiar with it.  But I really enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to anyone already familiar with and enjoying the Culture or anyone who likes science fiction with big ideas, complicated stories and the odd space battle. At times it’s also a very funny book.

If you want to familiarize yourself with the Culture I would recommend starting with Consider Phlebas, that’s were I started.

Book Beginnings on Friday – Surface Detail

Book Beginnings on Friday is a bookish meme sponsored by Katy at A Few More Pages.

Here’s what you do: share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments section . Include the title and author so we know what you’re reading. Then, if you are so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and if you liked or did not like that sentence. Link-up each week at Katy’s place.

Iain M. Banks write long science fiction novels, so it’s always a bit daunting to start a new one by him. Surface Detail has been sitting in Mount TBR for a while, but I joined a few reading challenges for 2012, put it on the list so I should get my act together and start reading it. I’m just about halfway through and enjoying myself, like I’ve always done when reading one of his books.

It begins thusly (Sorry, I’ve overdosed on Big Bang Theory and couldn’t resist. Thusly is now a part of my vocabulary.):

“This one might be trouble.”

She heard one of them say this, only ten or so metres away in the darkness. Even over her fear, the sheer naked terror of being hunted, she felt a shiver of excitement, of something like triumph, when she realised they were talking about her. Yes, she thought, she would be trouble, she already was trouble.

Good beginning. Don’t you think?

Pastworld – Review

Title: Pastworld
Author: Ian Beck

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 355
First published: 2009

Genre: Science fiction
The dice landed on: 5
Did I finish?: Yes.
Do I like the cover?: Yes.

Short summary: In 2048 London has been transformed into a recreation of itself in the Victorian era. But it’s not all fun and games, a murderer is loose in the theme park. For Eve it’s all real, she doesn’t even know she’s living in a theme park, but she knows that her guardian is afraid for her. When Eve runs away from home a whole chain of dramatic events are set in motion.

I like the setting, a victorian London almost restored to it’s authentic past. The victorian London is so authentic that visitors (gawkers) aren’t allowed to bring anything modern with them and victorian law also apply. While most people living in Pastworld know what it is Eve doesn’t. I also like Eve, the two other young protagonists and the Jack the Ripper idea.

This story is very unpredictable. With many books I can guess what’s going to happen fairly soon, but this one kept me guessing all the way.

My only big complaint is that it’s too short. I wish the story was fleshed out more. I needed more time to get to know both the characters and victorian London.

So far it’s a standalone novel, but the author doesn’t rule out a sequel. I’d like a sequel.

Brainjack – Review

Title: Brainjack (or Brain Jack, I’ve seen both.)BrainJack by Brian Falkner
Author: Brian Falkner

Publisher: Random House
Edition: Kindle
Pages: 368 s.
Originally published: 2010

Genre: Science fiction
The dice landed on: 5
Did I finish?: Yes
Do I like the cover?: So, so…

One-sentence summary: Sam Wilson is a hacker who hacks into The White House and get involved in a world of cybercrime and danger of war.

We are a few years in the future. Las Vegas is a radioactive waste land, destroyed in a terrorist attack. Technology has moved forward and neuro-headsets have replaced computer keyboards. Now you don’t have to wait for your slow fingers when you are online. Sam Wilson is a teen hacker, he can’t afford a neuro-headset, but he wants one dearly and uses his hacking abilities to get one. The hack brings him to the attention of some powerful people and the US’ cyberdefense authorities. He’s also starting to worry about the neuro-headsets. If  any computer system can be hacked, what happens when people’s minds are linked to the system?

This is a fast moving and exciting story. There’s lots of action, both in “real life” and online. For example, when Sam is working online and hacking into something he’s creeping, running, hiding… In parts there’s so much tecno-babble that I get a bit lost, but this is not a big problem as the author is careful to use anologies to make it understandable to non-hackers too.

I could have wished to know a few of the other characters than Sam a bit better, and sometimes I’d liked the whole story to slow down a bit. Also, I’m not really sure that I like the ending, but I sort of like that I don’t know if I like it. That sounds weird I guess, but I don’t feel that ambiguity is necessarily a bad thing.

All in all BrainJack is a good book for anyone who likes to read a full on action book, and I was caught up enough in it to give it a 5.

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