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All things related to science fiction books

Destination Star Trek London: 19 – 21 October 2012

I’m not sure my love of all things sci-fi began with Star Trek, but since that very first time I saw Captain Kirk on the bridge of the Enterprise when I was a child, I was totally and utterly in love with it and all that the Star Trek universe represents. So, I’m counting down the days until this event, and I was super excited to see this photo, tweeted by Trek News, of all five Star Trek captains together for the first time at Wizard World’s Philadelphia Comic Con, I actually didn’t know that they had never been pictured together before.

It looks like you can book tickets now on the website, www.startreklondon.com, with guests on the website being listed as: Dominic Keating (Malcolm Reed), Connor Trinneer (Trip Tucker), Walter Koenig (Chekov), Arlene Martel (T’Pring), Robert O’Reilly (Gowron), J-G Hertzler (Martok), Gwynyth Walsh (B’Etor), William Shatner (Captain Kirk), Patrick Stewart (Captain Picard), Avery Brooks (Captain Sisko), Kate Mulgrew (Captain Janeway) and Scott Bakula (Captain  Archer).

It looks like it’s going to be a great event. Parties, Photo Shoots, Autograph signings and Talks means that I don’t think there will be a dull moment. I’m going to be keeping a close eye on this one, dust off my Spock ears and I hope to see you there.

Filed under: Events, , , , , ,

Machine of Death Edited by North, Bennardo and Malki

I heard about this particular book by trawling other science fiction sites and looking at what was considered to be the ‘must read’ science fiction books, at the time I was quite intrigued by the idea of a machine that could tell how you were going to die from a sample of your blood. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect, I think I was expecting a novel, but instead this book is a collection of stories which take the same idea ‘the machine of death’ and interpret it in many different ways; it’s a really refreshing take on science fiction. The editors of this book received 675 submissions and had a challenge picking the ones that would make it into the book, they found that they were always reading stories with a new way of seeing the dilemna… do you choose to know or not to know, the stories had unique twists and reprensent the diversity that can be achieved from a single statement…. powerful stuff. At first I approached this thinking that I would like to know, after all, we all would like knowledge of the future wouldn’t we? But by the time I’d finished  was singing a different tune, many of the stories do end badly for those who did find out, the knowing changed the way that they lived their lives; it was like their lives ended the day that they found out the result and they were just waiting for death.

The main premise of the book is that a) there is a machine that can tell you how you are going to die using a blood sample, and b) the result it gives you is extremely ambiguous, no dates or specifics. This leads to the main problem with finding out, it’s left up to you to decipher what the result actually means… enter human error. To give you an idea of some of the results represented by stories in the book we have: Flaming Marshmallow; Almond; Murder and Suicide, Respectively; Not Waving but Drowning; and Heat Death of the Universe. Often the stories deal with the characters finding out and then follows them as their lives are undoubtably altered, often the end of the story is not the death of the character in question, but is that open ended question about what is still to come. For example, one of the stories ‘Shot by Sniper’ tells the story of Lieutenant Grale who finds himself pinned down in a firefight, separated from his men. He needs to get across a street to them, but a week before this encounter he found out that his death would be ‘shot by sniper’, and on this day there happens to be a sniper between his position and his men on the other side of the street. He knew in that scenario that he needed to move, but knowing his own death kept him from moving across, the lieutenant had to reconcile his fate with himself and believed that he was destined to die. His men made a move, they were going to defy fate and rescue him, Grale resigned himself to his fate…. imagine their surprise when the sniper was taken out and Grale was safely reunited with his men – this sniper wasn’t the one that was going to kill him.

This is a really different approach, the first book like this that I think I’ve ever read. I can’t say that I was disappointed, and I don’t think you will be either.

Filed under: The Future, , , ,

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams

While shopping for Christmas presents in Waterstones… looking back I think anyone could see how this could be considered a bad idea, lets just say that I came across several books that I decided I must definitely own. Somehow, by some miracle I managed to muster up all my will-power, avoid the temptations neatly arranged and tastefully displayed in my path and come away with only one book, ‘The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul’ by Douglas Adams. Having already read the first in the ‘Dirk Gently’ series, ‘Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency’, I didn’t see how I could pass up the opportunity to read it over the holidays. Although I say ‘in the series’, I think I’m correct in saying that there were only two books published, the third was going to be ‘The Salmon of Doubt’ but Adams’ ideas were better suited to a sixth book in the Hitchhiker series rather than being part of Dirk’s world, unfortunately he never got to finish this work and the book ‘The Salmon of Doubt’ was published after his death in 2001 which comprises previously published and unpublished material from Adams on a variety of subjects and also includes the material he was working on at the time of his death.

For any readers who are unfamiliar with Dirk Gently, aka Svlad Cjelli, he is an absolutely wonderful character in a way that is uniquely identifiable to Douglas Adams; describing himself as a ‘holistic’ private detective Dirk uses the ‘fundamental interconnectedness of all things’ to solve his cases. With his trademark leather coat and jaunty hat Dirk’s investigations involve some weird and wonderful practices, but stick with him and it will all ‘mostly’ become clear in the end. The story begins, as such (I say ‘as such’ because Adams’ stories never seem to begin, they just ‘are’), with a rather irate woman, Kate Schechter, trying to fly to Oslo; the reason she happens to be irate is because she has just crossed paths with Thor, the God of thunder, who also happens to be trying to fly to Oslo. This meeting ends with both Kate and Thor lying under a pile of rubble, and subsequently both residing in the local hospital. Meanwhile, Dirk has managed to land himself a big job with a wealthy client who insists that he is being stalked by a ‘seven-foot-tall, green-eyed, scythe-wielding monster’, and is talking about hot potatoes and contracts signed in blood; Dirk is really only thinking that for once he might actually get paid until his client winds up dead, his head’s final resting place atop a record player which is stuck on a line from a song called hot potato. Through guilt Dirk then starts taking his clients claims more seriously. Through his investigations and a long-running battle with his cleaner regarding his refrigerator, Dirk comes across the case of the exploding check-in desk at the airport, which ties into the discovery that Kings Cross station is actually the entrance to Valhalla, where the immortal Gods that are no longer worshiped by man reside like down and outs, and that Odin (assisted by an odd creature known as Toe Rag, whose minion just so happens to be a seven-foot-tall, green-eyed, scythe-wielding monster), the father of the Gods, has sold his powers to a lawyer and an advertiser in return for clean linen. It just so happens that Dirk’s fridge somehow creates a new God of Guilt which prevents Toe Rag and the seven-foot-tall, green-eyed, scythe-wielding monster from stopping Thor getting the contract signed by Odin, Thor then goes to Valhalla, assisted by Kate, where Thor confronts Odin and rips up the contract.

So, are you following? No? Well, I’m not surprised. You definitely need to read the book to appreciate the way that everything that happens is a small part of something much bigger because there is so much that I haven’t covered including: a fighter jet; a murderous eagle; two hairs; zen navigation; an ex-secretary and a Coca-Cola vending machine; it’s all part of the ‘holistic’ approach taken by Dirk Gently in solving the mysteries put before him. Adams’ is a master at tying up the loose ends and I’m the first to admit that only after I’d finished the book did I realize some of the subtle tie-ins that I’d missed on my first reading. For example, I was so engrossed in the interaction between Dirk and his late client’s son, that I failed to connect the advert that he was watching with the references to the Coca-Cola vending machine and advertising later on. I think that like all Adams’ books, a second reading only brings more insight into the story and new ways of interpretation, this is such a clever work of fiction I’m sure that I’ve overlooked so many things. I still have a feeling of things being drawn to a close but never truly finished, it’s as if I’ve been given a puzzle that someone has explained, but they’ve missed out certain parts; these parts are not necessarily integral to solving the puzzle, but they remain elusive and just out of reach. Rather than making the story frustrating, for me it just adds to my love of it.

Just as a side-note to this, if you are familiar with the Kings Cross area in London and can remember back ten or so years ago, you’ll most definitely identify with the description in this book where it is portrayed as a seedy hotbed of depravity frequented by all types of undesirables, indeed there was a time when this description was true and you couldn’t go ten feet without being propositioned by a ‘lady of the night’ shall we say or an interesting looking fellow who wanted to sell you illegal substances or something that fell of the back of a lorry, all on your way into work (as long as the entrance wasn’t blocked by some such undesirable as previously described). But now Kings Cross has been regenerated and has become a vibrant business district with trendy cafes and hotels along York Way and is home to the new St Pancras station which hosts the Eurostar. Not only that, the old Gothic hotel mentioned in the book, the ‘Midland Grand’, has also been revived. It’s amazing how in such a seemingly short period of time things have changed so much.

Filed under: Humour, , ,

Night of the Living Trekkies by Kevin David Anderson and Sam Stall

While waiting for my next book to arrive, I was browsing through my library and came across a couple of my favourite quirky science fiction books, at some point I’ll have to share my thoughts on ‘How to Survive a Robot Uprising’ by Daniel H. Wilson, but I remembered how much I enjoyed Night of the Living Trekkies and so here we are! Now I have to come clean, the thing you have to know about me is that I am a total Star Trek fanatic (you’ll notice I’m carefully avoiding the whole Trekkie/Trekker debate here) and so of course when I saw this book I had to read it and hands up; I’ll be the first to admit my review on this may therefore be slightly biased. It’s not likely to blow your mind but it’s a good fun read that will give you a few laughs with minimum effort and if you’re a Star Trek fan, I would say that this is essential reading, there’s nothing like a good Star Trek/Zombie mashup!

From the very beginning I immediately identified with the main character ‘Jim Pike’ (my inner geek really wants to launch into a detailed explanation of this name, suffice to say it’s one of the many Star Trek references you’ll come across in the book), a former soldier, who after returning from Afghanistan took up a position at The Botany Bay hotel in Houston, Texas, which just so happens to be hosting a Star Trek convention. Jim is content in his work, he enjoys the lack of responsibility after his time in the military and is looking forward to seeing his sister who is coming into town for the convention. But when the guests at the hotel start turning into Zombies Jim needs to step up and lead a group of ardent Star Trek fans as they battle to escape from the hotel and avoid assimilation. The authors really know their stuff and this book is full of humorous Star Trek references and one-liners that will have the inner geek in you rolling in the aisles, and even if you know relatively little or nothing about Star Trek it’s not difficult to get the gist. They also get the zombie aspect of the story spot on, the Star Trek theme works like a smoke-screen and belies the truly creepy subtext; where the zombie infection came from, how it is transmitted, and it’s ultimate purpose. I’d highly recommend this one to any sci-fi fan, it does exactly what it says on the tin.

Filed under: Humour, Mashup

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

I cannot believe that I have not read this book before, it’s absolutely magnificent and I am thoroughly ashamed of myself. Actually, I think this just spurs me on to broaden my horizons and to remember not to just stick with my tried and trusted authors, such is my vice. I was entangled in the story of the time machine from the start, H. G. Wells manages to expertly grab the readers attention and keep them following like a horse with a carrot. His explanation of the world he found in the future with evolution of two different humanoid species; the Morlocks and the Eloi, was simply magnificent, and gradually he let you in to the whole picture of the world which he had found. I felt like I was actually exploring this strange new world with the Time Traveller and I was constantly surprised by the twists in the story, which you did sometimes see coming, but you didn’t know exactly what they would be. For example, when the Time Traveller first gets to the future world he immediately ventures off to explore, sensibly he disables the time machine but in the back of your mind you are thinking ‘what if something happened to the machine, the Time Traveller would be stuck there’, and then something does happen… the time machine has disappeared. But wait, the plot thickens, it has not just activated itself and disappeared from the current point in time, no it has been taken, as deduced from the track marks on the ground.

Gradually you come to equate the Morlocks with a repressed working class and the Eloi with a privileged upper class, but their differences have diverged to a point where the Morlocks are light-fearing creatures with a dark nature, yet they are still industrious and are the providers of all habitation for themselves and the Eloi above ground. The Eloi are the exact opposite, and live a perfectly simple existence of leisure and have lost the ability to do all but the simplest of tasks. It’s a wonderful concept, I felt reading this story that there could not possibly be any more revelations, but I found that the book is in fact a journey of revelations which is why makes it such an enticing story. Although the two species live side by side, there is a dark synergistic relationship between them – the Morlocks give the Eloi everything they need to survive, they do not need to lift a finger… but what to the Morlocks get from the Eloi in return? What could the Eloi possibly provide? They provide the one thing that the Morlocks need, food. This draws wonderful parallels to the way we understand evolution today, we know that it was the consumption of meat that provided the human race with the potential to become the dominant species on the planet.

The story progresses through a series of further twists and turns culminating in the Time Traveller retrieving the time machine and making the journey home, although not before taking a trip further into the future and seeing the probable end of all things. And just when you think that they story has neatly drawn to a close, the story of the Time Traveller successfully taking a journey through time and returning home to tell the story, H. G. Wells has a final twist to the tale; I can honestly say I wasn’t expecting it, the Time Traveller tells his guests that he is taking another journey and will be back shortly; but the Time Traveller never returns.

Filed under: Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic, Time travel

International Book Fair List 2012

Vilnius International Book Fair / Baltic Book Fair, Vilnius, Lithuania: 23 – 26 February 2012
New Delhi World Book Fair
, New Delhi, India: 25 February – 4 March 2012
Jerusalem International Book Fair
, Jerusalem, Israel: February 2012
Dublin Book Festival
, Dublin, Ireland: March 2012
Abu Dhabi International Book Fair
, Abu Dhabi, UAE: 20 – 25 March 2012
Paris Book Fair,
Paris, France: 16 – 19 March 2012
Bangkok International Book Fair
, Bangkok, Thailand: 29 March – 8 April 2012
Bologna Children’s Book Fair
, Bologna, Italy: 27 – 30 March 2012
London Book Fair
, London, UK: 16 – 18 April 2012
Budapest International Book Festival
, Budapest, Hungary: 19 – 22 April 2012
Buenos Aires Book Fair
, Buenos Aires, Argentina: 17 April – 7 May 2012
Thessaloniki Book Fair
, Thessaloniki, Greece: April 2012
Geneva Book Fair
, Geneva, Switzerland: 25 – 29 April 2012
Bogota International Book Fair
, Bogota, Colombia: 18 April – 1 May 2012
Prague International Book Fair
, Prague, Czech Republic: 17 – 20 May 2012
Warsaw International Book Fair
, Warsaw, Poland: 10 – 13 May 2012
BookExpo America
, New York City, USA: 5 – 7 June 2012
Seoul International Book Fair
, Seoul, Korea: 20 – 24 June 2012
Tokyo International Book Fair
, Tokyo, Japan: 5 -8 July 2012
Beijing International Book Fair
, Beijing, China: 29 August – 2 September 2012
Rio de Janeiro International Book Fair
, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: September 2012
Moscow International Book Fair
, Moscow, Russia: September 2012
Colombo International Book Fair
, Colombo, Sri Lanka: September 2012
Nairobi International Book Fair
, Nairobi, Kenya: October 2012
Goteborg Book Fair
, Goteborg, Sweden: September 2012
Frankfurt Book Fair
, Frankfurt, Germany: 10 – 14 October 2012

Filed under: Events

At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft

I cannot argue with the first few lines on the back cover of this book “Few writers can evoke such nightmarish visions as H.P. Lovecraft”. These stories seem to come to life as you read them, after a page or so you are most definitely hooked. The first, main, story was also my favourite, At the mountains of madness. The story is told from the perspective of a geologist from a previous Antarctic expedition who finds his team dead except for one missing member and a dog, he then subsequently uncovers a strangely fossilized and disturbingly alien city within the mountains which has an inexplicable draw. In the mountains something beyond human imagination lurks deep, which was once sleeping but has now been awakened, our narrator is joined by fellow expedition member Danforth and together they investigate the alien fossil city, moving deeper into the structure – partly driven by curiosity, partly searching for the missing expedition member from the camp, but never looking back. The story is set as a warning to others aiming to venture to the Antarctic in the future as expeditions become increasingly popular and attempts to explain what happened, where they had not dared to speak before.

As a reader you are willing them to turn back and not to go any further, but secretly want to know what is going to happen next, what the next part of the journey holds. In particularly, I loved the references to adventurers Shakleton, Amundsen, Scott and Byrd who I greatly admire and it gave the story a real life connection and an eerily scary aspect.

The other stories in the book are equally as good, The Shunned House, The Dreams in the Witch-House and The Statement of Randolph Carter. They follow Lovecraft’s inimitable style and as short stories are absolutely wonderful reads, often drifting towards ideas fromthe fictional Necronomicon of Abdul Alhazred.

As a last word all I can say is that this is a definite must read for science-fiction enthusiasts and has pride of place on my all time hit list.

Filed under: Horror

Chase by Dean Koontz

I’m a big fan of Dean Koontz’s writing and so when I noticed this short novel I picked it up immediately. From some of the synopses that I read I must admit that I was a little disappointed that there would be nothing supernatural about this one, but with unwavering dedication I pushed ahead. I’m so glad that I did; best described as a psychological thriller the story captured me from the start and the reader forms an immediate connection to the main character Ben Chase. I think it’s because of all Ben’s flaws, yet innate goodness, that the reader finds him so easy to identify with. Ben has returned from the Vietnam war, a decorated war hero, but with terrible guilt over choices he had to make in the line of duty, he had been ordered to clear a blockade by his lieutenant knowing that he would be killing women and children on the other side. The story follows Ben as he comes to terms with the fact that no-one can possibly know what it is like in the midst of a war to face such decisions, the body’s fight or flight mechanism working overtime trying to keep a person alive through the stresses that come with war, compounded by fear and exhaustion. Knowing all this about Ben, when he happens to save a girl’s life from serial killer, the story takes on a new dimension where the reader is no longer sure what is fantasy and what is reality; has Ben finally cracked and the phone calls he thinks he is getting from the killer are only projections of his inner demons? Or is there a real killer on the loose and now has Ben in his sights? This is one story where you will have to decide for yourself.

Filed under: Psychological Thriller

The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King

When I heard that this new installment to the Dark Tower series was in the making I was extremely excited and knew that I needed write a short piece on the momentous occasion. The Dark Tower epic is one of my all time favorites and gripped me from the start to the end of every book. After reading the last book I was still hungry for more and have since embarked into the realm of the graphic novel to follow the separate sub-stories which came out of the book series. This particular upcoming installment will not continue the series, even though it is the eighth book it will follow what happened to Roland, Jake, Eddie, Susannah, and Oy from when they leave the Emerald City in Wizard and Glass, to where we find them again in Calla Bryn Sturgis in the beginning of Wolves of the Calla. The projected release date for the new novel is 3rd April 2012 and I for one can’t wait.

Filed under: Dark Tower Series, Fantasy

Pandaemonium by Christopher Brookmyre

Pandaemonium follows two seemingly different themes at the outset; the first tracks a group of pupils from St. Peter’s High School who, after the murder of one of their friends and fellow pupils, have gone on a spiritual retreat to help them come to terms with the tragedy. Of course, being teenagers the retreat is an opportunity for more than just prayer and contemplation and is frought with sex, drugs, alcohol and the occasional foray into the minds of young people and the struggles they face on the journey to adulthood. At the same time the story follows a top-secret military experiment conducted deep in the Scottish highlands which has the military worried that they might have actually opened a portal to hell; with that in mind they call in the church under the watchful eye of Cardinal Tullian and form a tenuous alliance. The cardinal convinces everyone that the creatures who have come through the portal, complete with textbook horns and tail, are indeed demons and will go to any lengths to prove he is right and validate the churches doctrine. Unknown to the pupils of St. Peter’s the retreat is on the military base’s doorstep, and when science is challenged and overruled by the church the scientists are told to shut the experiment down. Lead scientist Lucius Steinmeyer takes extreme action and sabotages the project, suddenly all hell breaks loose, the creatures break free and consequences are literally mind-blowing.

This was the first book I’ve read by Christopher Brookmyre, as a recommendation by a friend, and I was intrigued by his foray into the science fiction genre since I’m reliably informed that he hasn’t done so in his past novels, concentrating on black comedies. Here he cleverly intertwines the two themes within an underlying basis of religion, science and the supernatural, of course the fact that teenagers are often drawn to the supernatural to provide a sense of excitement and danger also helps mesh the two themes together. Reading the back cover the story seems wild and verging on the ludicrous, but if you persist and delve into the narrative the story touches upon the nature of human emotion and will resonate with all readers which is part of it’s magic. The portrayal of the demon-like creatures mirrors how we as humans deal with the unknown, the fear coupled with exquisite curiousity and how we look for answers to explain what we cannot understand. For my part I was very much impressed with this novel and would highly recommend it, don’t be put off by the outline, you get much more than you would have imagined.

Filed under: Science Fantasy,

The science fiction bookshelf

Next Read: R is for Rocket by Ray Bradbury. A collection of short stories published in 1962. There doesn't seem to be much around regarding the stories themselves but lots of reviews, it seems to be like Marmite where people either love them or hate them, this should be interesting.

The TBR List

The Hertford Manuscript (1976) by Richard Cowper
R is for Rocket (1962), by Ray Bradbury
The Man in the High Castle (1962), by Dick K. Philip
The Dispossessed (1974), by Ursula LeGuin
Consider Phlebas (1987), by Iain M. Banks
The Sparrow (1996), by Mary Doria Russell
Cryptonomicon (2000), by Neal Stephenson
Perdido Street Station (2002), by China Mieville
Glasshouse (2006), by Charles Stross

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