Archive for the ‘science fiction’ Category

San Francisco, 2017.

In an alternate time track, Hillary Clinton won the election and Donald Trump’s political ambitions were thwarted.

London, 22nd century. Decades of cataclysmic events have killed 80 per cent of humanity. A shadowy start-up hires a young woman named Verity to test a new product: a ‘cross-platform personal avatar’ that was developed by the military as a form of artificial intelligence.

Meanwhile, characters in the distant future are using technological time travel to interfere with the election unfolding in 2017. . .

Agency

William Gibson

Viking

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Stephen Litten

San Francisco, 2017: Clinton’s in the White House, Brexit never happened, and Verity Jones (the app whisperer) has got a new job. The pay means she could stop couch surfing at a friend’s apartment. But within seconds of opening the app, it has decided that Verity is in danger and takes steps to ensure her safety. Meanwhile, approximately 100 years in the future, Wilf Netherton has been drawn back into the orbit of London’s Police fixer Ainsley Lowbeer to assess the threat level of a new timeline stub. Will they need to shut it down? The very one initiated by Verity and her new app, Eunice.

This is a novel told in two timelines. The chapters alternate. Mercifully, the list of characters is quite small, with Verity and Will being the point of view characters. There is an intercept, and Gibson handles it well – time travel is not invoked. Verity and Eunice try to survive the attempts to wrest control of Eunice, who turns out to be a piece of repurposed military programming. Will and Ainsley, once they’ve assessed the potential of the new timeline, have a bigger question – Who benefits? London, and what survives of the United Kingdom, is run by the Klept, a shadowy group of oligarchs who stole power after a disaster.

0I enjoyed this read. I’ve been a fan of Gibson for quite a while and he has not disappointed. It is well paced, and the two strands, action thriller (sort of) and spy-fi (sort of), mix well. It is comfortably paced, with the action scenes not overly described. Gibson, despite a tendency toward hard SF, doesn’t wallow in techno-babble. My one complaint would be the length of some of the chapters. Some are barely two pages. But then again, chapters should be as long as they need to be and no longer.

Buy this book. It’s good. The stories are resolved well, and there are no glaring plot holes. I thank Penguin for the review copy.

Jacob just wanted to have a good time with his friend Samantha and fellow geeks at the fan convention. But when dead bodies start turning up, Jacob has to start a little early on his hoped-for detective career. After all, the police are out of their depth in a world where nearly everyone wears a costume or uses an alias. But Jacob has a secret of his own, and it looks like someone is bent on revealing him to the entire con. If Jacob’s history comes out, his police career will end before it begins, even if he can find the killer. And if he can’t, more fans will die.

Con Job

Laura Vanarendonk Baugh

AEclipse Press

Purchased at Geysercon

Reviewed by Jacqui Smith

I’ve played the Con Game. By which I mean that convention simulation game where pretty much anything that can go wrong, does go wrong. But none of the scenarios I’ve come across ever included a series of dead bodies… Which is what is going down at Con Job. Yes, the name of the book is indeed a pun on multiple levels. Honestly, I’m not sure what I’d do, beyond the obvious – like call the police.

The murder mystery is interesting enough, though not terribly complex. An experienced reader of murder mysteries will figure out who done it reasonably easily. But it’s the characters, in several senses of the word, that make this book entertaining. It’s about the people who make the story, many of whom are ‘characters’ in the own right, and the characters that they cosplay as.

It’s a very American book, full of US geek culture references, and I’m quite sure I missed a number of them, partly because of the different background, and partly because I’m not that immersed in anime. And there’s plainly a lot involved in US SF conventions that I’ve never had to deal with. Consequently, I suspect this book may have a somewhat limited audience – but if you happen to be part of that audience, I think you’d enjoy it a lot.

“Exceptional” is the sequel to the Sir Julius Vogel Awards finalist “Watched”, and continues the story of super-powered Prodigies Jason and Rory in their battle against the all-seeing Watchers.

While Rory pursues their leader, Chaos, in the Dark universe, Jason is forced into an uneasy alliance with AEGIS, a militarised intelligence agency that seems to know more about Prodigies than it should. A storm is coming.

Jason will determine its course, but there are truths waiting for Rory in the dark that will change everything. Both must decide where they stand before the storm breaks.

Exceptional: The Watchers Trilogy #2

Tihema Baker

Huia Press

Supplied by author

Reviewed by Jacqui Smith

This is the long-awaited sequel to Baker’s 2015 novel “Watched”. So, it’s superheroes again, and very much again. I’m not sure that there’s much new and interesting here. Baker introduces a second organisation, AEGIS, connected to the Five Eyes Network, and just as determined to control prodigies (his name for super-powered individuals) as the Watchers from book one, but run by secret government agencies. Which takes away some of the charm, I think. Bureaucrats are just no fun.
Meanwhile, our heroes just want to be free and to rescue their friends. Which is not going to be a simple exercise, because one of them is stuck in another universe, an upside-down where dark energy and dark matter dominate. Baker tosses a lot of physics technobabble around in this book, and I’m not convinced he understands the subject well enough to be convincing.

Maybe it’s just that I’ve had quite enough of super-heroes and comic book bad science, but I really did not enjoy this book. The action kept me reading, and I did finish it, but maybe I’m just too far removed from the target audience, because it was tough going.

The waters rose, submerging New York City.

But the residents adapted and it remained the bustling, vibrant metropolis it had always been. Though changed forever.

Every street became a canal. Every skyscraper an island.

Through the eyes of the varied inhabitants of one building Kim Stanley Robinson shows us how one of our great cities will change with the rising tides.

And how we too will change.

New York 2140

Kim Stanley Robinson

Orbit

Supplied by Hatchette New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui Smith

After “Aurora” which I had found a difficult and somewhat depressing read, I wasn’t looking forward to “New York 2140”, but I should not have worried; this is an altogether lighter and very timely novel. Extremely well-timed in my case… Just as I was reading the chapters where Hurricane Fyodor was battering the Venice-like New York of 2140, the news was full of Hurricane Harvey hammering into Houston. The parallels were astonishingly accurate.

Which might lead you to assume that this novel is all about climate change and its consequences, and so it is. But it’s also about the economic causes of climate change, and what might be done to reclaim the world for democracy. It’s also about a group of people connected simply by where they live; by the Met, aka the Met Life Tower on Madison Square. Which is a point – a map would have been extremely useful, along with drawings of buildings, for those of us who are unfamiliar with New York.

Those characters are disparate enough to be interesting – the big black woman cop was one of my favourites, along with the “assisted migration” cloud star, the hackers, and the orphan boys. Each has their part in the story – that of the orphan boys and their elderly friend is more important than it might seem, and adds an important sense of adventure and levity to what might otherwise be a damp and dismal scenario. Relationships evolve and develop as stuff most definitely happens in the world around them.

For me, the climax was a little too soon, and the denouement a little too long, but overall I rather enjoyed this novel. I suspect that it helps that I share some of the views on matters economic and political that are being propounded here. There is no doubt that there is a message here; more than one, in fact. I confess that I really have little understanding of economics on this level, but Robinson blocks most of the lecturing into separate chapters headed “the citizen” which the reader can easily skim without losing the plot. It may be about New York of 2140, but it’s also very much about 2019.

Can we do something about these issues now? Or will the human race continue to stick its collective head in the sand as the waters rise around us? Unfortunately, it’s probable that the people who really need to read this book are unlikely to do so. And that is a pity.

From the bestselling author of I Am Number Four, United As One is the final, hugely thrilling novel in the utterly gripping Lorien Legacies series by Pittacus Lore . . .

It is the end.

And the final battle will commence . . . with Earth as the battlefield.

If they stand together, if they are united, if they are one . . . there will be a slim chance of victory.

The Mogadorian invasion has come to Earth, and they have all but won the battle for our planet. Their warships loom over our most populous cities-like New York City, Tokyo, Moscow, Beijing, and New Delhi-and no army will risk making a move against them. The Garde are all that stand in their way . . . but they are no longer alone in this fight. Human teens from across the globe, like John Smith’s best friend, Sam Goode, have begun to develop Legacies of their own.

The Garde have always known there is power in numbers. If they can find these new allies and join forces with them, they just might be able to win this war. The time has come for the Garde to make their final stand.

True power lies in the numbers . . .

United as One (Lorien Legacies #7

Pittacus Lore aka James Frey and Jobie Hughes

Penguin

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

It’s never easy to get into the seventh (and apparently last) book of a long-running serial, and in this case the authors seem to be almost deliberately making it difficult for the new reader. There is absolutely no introduction, and not much explanation of what is going on until page 50, where there is a conference with some military personnel who get to clarify the situation. It doesn’t help that the writers have chosen to narrate the story in first-person present; indicating a change of narrator only by changing the font. There is nothing to inform the reader who is talking, or where and when. It may be stylish, but this is one majorly confusing literary style that desperately needs to go out of fashion.

Another problem is the writers’ scientific illiteracy. If you’re going to write science fiction of any sort, you need to know enough astronomy not to make statements like “the fleet isn’t capable of another intergalactic trip”; using the word ‘intergalactic’ when you really mean ‘interstellar”. Or at least employ a proof-reader who does know some basic astronomy.

On the positive side, I did like the character of General Lawson. Nice change to see military officials who aren’t totally unsympathetic in a story like this. Only he gets very little screen time; most of that is centred on our more-or-less interchangeable gang of teenagers. The underlying premise of the Lorien Legacies is essentially Aliens v. Teenage Superheroes (who are also aliens or alien-afflicted). This results in a great deal of somewhat implausible and overblown action beginning around p200 when the big attack on the alien base commences. It rapidly becomes extraordinarily violent, and quite gruesome. Yet another reason I would not recommend this series to actual teenagers.

There is a surfeit of teenage angst, and that never fails to irritate me – why can’t it be old people that get the superpowers for a change? Honestly, it’s all been done before and done far better. The kids seem to have gone nuts over this series, it’s very popular, and I’m inclined to wonder if that’s partly because for them these ideas might seem new and exciting. But I’m old enough to have grown up with psionics done right, with Anne McCaffrey, Andre Norton, and Larry Niven (remember “The Long Arm of Gil Hamilton”?). I’d suggest to anyone interested in this sort of thing that they chuck the “Lorien Legacies”, and pick up something like McCaffrey’s “Talents” series. Far superior.

With the Prime Destinations body bank destroyed, Callie no longer has to rent herself out to creepy Enders. But Enders can still get inside her mind and make her do things she doesn’t want to do. Like hurt someone she loves.

Having the chip removed could save Callie’s life – but it could also silence the voice in her head that might belong to her father. Callie has flashes of her ex-renter Helena’s memories, too . . . and the Old Man is back, filling her with fear. Who is real and who is masquerading in a teen body?

With the Prime Destinations body bank destroyed, Callie no longer has to rent herself out to creepy Enders. But Enders can still get inside her mind and make her do things she doesn’t want to do. Like hurt someone she loves.

Having the chip removed could save Callie’s life – but it could also silence the voice in her head that might belong to her father. Callie has flashes of her ex-renter Helena’s memories, too . . . and the Old Man is back, filling her with fear. Who is real and who is masquerading in a teen body?

Enders: Starters #2

Lissa Price

Random House

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Maree

There has been a horrible war where the US has fell victim to a terrible biological attack, where only the elderly and young have been vaccinated. Callie is forced to make some tough decisions when an offer to rent her young body to an elderly person for a short time comes across the table. This money could save her little brother’s life.

In the sequel the body bank, Prime Destinations, has been destroyed but the chip inside Callie’s head can still be used to manipulate her. Someone doesn’t want Starters and Enders to work together.

Having to protect her brother Tyler and with time running out to find her Father, Callie doesn’t know who she can trust. Especially when anyone could be acting with another’s body, seeing through their eyes.

An interesting read that is well-written and chilling creepy.  I’m not sure I want to read the previous book though, as I am a wuss.

A futuristic action-adventure novel about a teenager caught in the middle of a centuries old war between wizards and robots, who finds the world’s destiny is suddenly in her hands.

When a young man breaks into her home claiming her life is in danger, Ada Luring’s world changes forever. Geller is a wizard, on the run from his father’s hidden clan who want to kill Ada and her mother. Sara Luring is the scientist who will create the first robot, the wizards’ age-old foes.

But a robot has travelled back in time to find Ada, and will lay everything on the line to protect her, as she may just be the key to preventing the earth’s destruction in the future.

Ada, Geller and the robots must learn to work together to change the past and secure the future. But they don’t have much time before a mysterious enemy launches its attack on Earth . . .

WAR: Wizards and Robots

Will.i.am & Brian David Johnson

Penguin Books

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui Smith

I’m always suspicious when I see a celebrity’s name in the by-line of a novel, and when it’s that of a popular hip-hop artist, it seems fairly certain that this book was published on the strength of that name’s ability to sell books. And after reading it, I don’t think that I was far wrong.

The writing itself wasn’t too bad, it’s more the story I have issues with, or more properly the setting. It feels like the authors took the grab-bag of science fiction and fantasy tropes, emptied it on the floor, picked out a handful of unrelated ideas not normally found in the same novel and decided to make a book out of it. So, you have wizards and robots, that’s obvious from the title. And then you add in time travel and invading aliens from another dimension…. It’s a mess, never totally resolved. If wizardry is dependent on a technological device in the form of a ring, then where and when did these rings come from? Perhaps some amphibians know?

The primary characters; a computer genius girl and a boy wizard are obviously designed to meet and form some sort of relationship, but why call the girl Ada Luring (rhymes with Turing)? I can see why her mother might name her Ada, but… It’s all a wee bit twee… and a bit silly. So, I’m afraid, is the plot. Time travel is almost guaranteed to create plot-holes and here they’re all over the place. There is a resolution of sorts, and evil is defeated, but it really is way too complicated for its own good. You may want to leave this one and its shiny silver cover on the shelf.