Centry Rain is a mystery science fiction novel. Don’t read the back, it gives the mystery away. Two storylines develop: a twenty-second century archaeologist who has just made a career-ending (and possibly life-ending) mistake, and a private detective in Paris in the nineteen-fifties asked to take on the case of a suicide that the police won’t believe could have been a murder.
The storylines seemingly have nothing in common, then suddenly everything clicks into place. A fascinating and well-paced read.
This is a book I read in a couple of days, and then spent a couple of months thinking about. Then I read it again.
It starts off, as many SF stories do, with humanity exploring the galaxy, colonising planets, and then coming into contact with an implacable alien force bent on humanity’s destruction.
Humanity is reduced to a few colonists sent off in a desperate last-ditch effort to re-establish the species, and stay low-tech and out of sight until humanity is ready to face the aliens and win. Instead, the colony directors brainwash the colonists into believing them to be angels, sent by god to rule over them. The military directors argue against this, there is a fight, and the ‘angels’ manage to wipe themselves out.
Nine Hundred years later, a robotic body is activated, complete with the memories of a young ship’s officer. Her task, given via recorded message, is to go out into a society ruled over by a rigid church that has banned technology, and prepare the way for the second coming of humanity.
Her name is Nimue Alban and hers is one hell of a story.
I liked this book a lot. An intelligent novel about a nanotechnology-driven disaster needed to be written, after the neo-Luddite nonsense that was Prey.
Short version; medical nanobots run amok and render every part of Earth below 6,000 metres uninhabitable. Traumatised survivors squat on a mountaintop in the Sierra Ranges. When food runs low, they begin eating one another.
That is just the introduction, mind you. The actual tale of Plague Year begins right after this. It’s a good one.
I read pulp fiction. It’s something I do every so often. I don’t watch CSI: Miami or what have you, I do this.
In retrospect, reading pulp fiction like this straight after going through the four books of A Song of Ice and Fire was a mistake. This book was always going to look bad in comparison with what I’d just read.
Sadly, this book is the second weakest of the 8 so-far published in the Horus Heresy series. The other books, especially the first five, did a good job of re-creating an alternative Imperium, in it’s formative years, 10,000 years before the “present day”. That all falls down in Battle for the Abyss.
In previous books, it’s made clear that the Imperium has no idea of the true nature of the ‘immaterium’ that they travel through, and any thought of chaos gods is met is atheistic disbelief. Other books also managed to create organisations unknown to us, such as the Remembrancers of the early books, and the secret cabal served by John Grammaticus in Legion.
In this book the marines seem suddenly fully aware of the nature of the warp, of the existence of daemons and chaos gods. This makes some of the conversation jarring. It’s jarring already since much of the dialogue here is woeful, but the ‘out of time’ knowledge implicit among the various characters does not help.
Battle for the Abyss forms a weak link in the series. It’s not ‘bad’ like Descent of Angels, the story is actually advanced here, but this book is simply not as good as the others as it does not remain to its supposed time period.
When I saw the premise for this book I knew I had to read it. London is a mobile city, and other cities are its prey. It moves around the countryside, hunting.
Mortal Engines is set in the far future, where the earth’s resources are depleted, oceans and seas dried out. Mobile cities prowl the wrecked landscape, hunting one another for precious resources. The city that stops moving, dies. Municipal Darwinism is the rule of the day.
One of London’s inhabitants finds himself cast out of the city after stumbling across a dangerous secret. Left behind the city with only a would-be assassin for company, he must come to terms with the truth about the world, and his beloved city’s place in it.
Mortal Engines is a YA book, but this 35 year-old found it thoroughly enjoyable.
I’ve mentioned before how I have little use for genre labels. This isn’t about that. The only use such labels have is to group books into sections convenient for discussion. Like Science Fiction.
Today science fiction is a thriving genre. The ‘adventure sf’ of the 1950s has given way to a ‘hard sf’ today. Instead of space cowboys fighting space monster before heading back to the space ranch for some space food, we now have intelligent books written by authors fully cognisant of the scientific realities of space travel. Words for me. Five of my favourite such books follow.
1. Pandora’s Star by Peter F. Hamilton
This book and its sequel Judas Unchained are my favourite Hamilton books and I’ve read a few. In this series, humanity has spread to other planets through the use of stabilised wormholes, when an alien race is encountered, a race so violent that it was sealed off eons ago. Naturally curious humanity trips the lock and unleashes something terrible. This book also features investigator Paula Myo, one of my favourite characters from any book.
2. Space by Stephen Baxter
I’ve mentioned Space before, talking about the Fermi Paradox. This is not the only hard science tackled in the book. In fact the whole book revolves around a scientific and philosophical investigation, spanning thousands of years. The book is also inhabited by characters to care about, which turns it from text into classic sf.
3. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
Unwilling soldiers return from their war to a society they no longer recognise, and which doesn’t sympathise with their experiences. Sound familiar? The Forever War was written in the 1970s, and is still not dated. A great achievement.
4. Ilium/Olympos by Dan Simmons
It was a close call between this and Hyperion/The Fall of Hyperion by the same author. Dan Simmons writes fantastic two-part series. I tip my hat to robots who study Shakespeare, and revived Homeric scholars acting as war correspondents for Greek gods.
5. The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
Nanotechnology, a retro-Victorian society, a dilemma concerning education, all these add up to a fascinating look at a near future that may never be.
Reading the second Hitchhikers book leads me to a conclusion – Douglas Adams is the master of the anti-climax. Climactic events are something he goes out of his way to avoid. If they have to happen, then everyone just ignores it anyway, or orders another round of drinks.
It took, the possible answer to the ultimate question, combined with a meeting with the man who secretly runs the universe, for me to come to this conclusion, but there it is. No climax. You may draw whatever conclusion you wish from this observation, I stand by it. In fact it makes the other Douglas Adams books I have read make more sense.
Restaurant… is a direct continuation of the story from the first book, and sets up the beginning of the thirds book, at least. We also get to encounter Disaster Area, the galaxy’s greatest rock band. Who could ask for more?