C-This Space Home

READ OUT


 

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.
WG


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 know.
So there.
WG


Next of Kin by Eric Frank Russell.PB

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.
WG


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
WG


New York Nights

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

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

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

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

Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett. Published by Doubleday at £16.99. HB.

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 afternoon?)
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 critically acclaimed.
(And only the witches ride on broomsticks, not wizards like that young upstart Harry Something). WG


Mindplayers

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

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 ideas.
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 reading. IH


Beasts by John Crowley

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 kingmaker.
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

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


Wolfbane by 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 all-powerful.
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

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 goes along.
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

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

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

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

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

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 necessary. IH


The Fountains Of Paradise

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

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… IH


Crescent City Rhapsody

Crescent City 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 again. IH


The Descent

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

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

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 someone…'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 the story.
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 Patrician (again).
The TP fan in me loved this. The journalist in me adored it. WG


Minority Report

Minority Report by Philip K Dick. Volume four of the collected stories. Published by Millenium at £7.99. PB.

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.
Website http://freespace.virgin.net/pigasus.press/index.htm

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

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 unsatisfied. IH


Mindbridge

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

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

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 Earth.
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 have… IH


Tower Of Glass

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

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

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

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

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. IH


Waiting for Godalming

Waiting for 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 it.
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

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


Reviewers:

WG Wendy Graham
IJ Ian Jeffery
DS Darren Sanderson
MD Michael Dodd
AS Andy Sawyer
IH Ian Horsewell

Home | Editor's Diary | Data Bank | Picture Gallery | Read Out | Features | Products | Events | Communications Bank | Archive