Book Review : Doorways in the Sand – weird, fun sci-fi

Doorways in the Sand by Roger Zelazny

Why I read:  humorous sci-fi.  Looks fun!

Book blurb: “Humanity is not alone in the cosmos. The aliens have given a precious relic to the people of Earth: star-stone. The harmony of the galaxy is at stake when they discover the disappearance of their star-stone.


Likeable Fred Cassidy is an eternal undergraduate. All he thinks he knows about the star-stone is that it came to Earth in an interplanetary trade for the Mona Lisa and the British Crown jewels.


Then Fred is accused of stealing the cosmic artifact, and he is pursued from Australia to Greenwich Village and beyond, by telepathic psychologists, extraterrestrial hoodlums and galactic police in disguise; as he enters multiple realities, flipping in and out of alien perspectives, through doorways in the sand.

 

“Time means a lot to me, paperwork wastes it, and I have always been a firm believer in my right to do anything I cannot be stopped from doing. Which sometimes entails not getting caught at it. This is not quite so bad as it sounds, as I am a decent, civilized, likable guy. So, shading my eyes against the blue and fiery afternoon, I began searching for ways to convince the authorities of this. Lying, I decided, was probably best.” ― Roger ZelaznyDoorways in the Sand

My review

A wacky, playful,  sci-fi book that doesn’t take itself too seriously.   Fred has been a perpetual student supported by funds from his cryogenic-frozen uncle.    An alien artefact “the starstone gem” goes missing and everyone thinks Fred has it, including the aliens.  What ensues is an adventure through multiple realities as we follow Fred’s quest to find the starstone and stay alive.

The main character Fred is amusingly eccentric and we are treated to the zany banter that goes on through his head.  But even he seems normal when you are introduced to aliens undercover on earth as a wombat and a kangaroo, a telepathic donkey and overgrown houseplant. There are a whole host of entertaining characters thrown into the mix but it stood out that there was a real lack of female characters in the book.

A good mix of sci-fi, sillyness and detective  novel.  Its a nicely quick and entertaining read with plenty of action and packed full of weird ideas and references.   There’s a lot of references to Lewis Carole’s works including Alice in Wonderland which made me smile: “Curiouser and curiouser.”  Zalazny has an entertainingly intelligent and  bizarre writing style that keeps you engaged throughout.  Each chapter starts at the end and then you jump back and forth before resolving the previous chapter and getting a new cliff-hanger.   It can get confusing but its all great fun.       I really enjoyed the book but found it  delightfully silly rather than funny.    Its a book to sit down with when you just want an up-beat sci-fi adventure  that’s truly weird and wonderful.

I’d recommend to fans of: sci-fi, wacky humour, aliens, weird stories.

****

I received a free copy via Netgallery in return for an honest review.  

EDITION
ISBN
PRICE
 (first published March 1976)
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Book Review – Tomorrow’s Kin – Hard sci-fi

Tomorrow’s Kin by Nancy Kres, Book 1 of the Yesterday’s Kin Trilogy

Why I read:  Aliens and intriguing biology based sci-fi in the blurb.

Book blurb: “Tomorrow’s Kin is the first volume in and all new hard SF trilogy by Nancy Kress based on the Nebula Award-winning Yesterday’s Kin.

The aliens have arrived… they’ve landed their Embassy ship on a platform in New York Harbor, and will only speak with the United Nations. They say that their world is so different from Earth, in terms of gravity and atmosphere, that they cannot leave their ship. The population of Earth has erupted in fear and speculation.

One day Dr. Marianne Jenner, an obscure scientist working with the human genome, receives an invitation that she cannot refuse. The Secret Service arrives at her college to escort her to New York, for she has been invited, along with the Secretary General of the UN and a few other ambassadors, to visit the alien Embassy.

The truth is about to be revealed. Earth s most elite scientists have ten months to prevent a disaster and not everyone is willing to wait.”

My review

A first encounter sci-fi story.  Dr Marianne Jenner discovers something unusual in the human genome and receives an invite to visit an alien Embassy ship which is floating over New York Harbour.  Here she discovers how her work relates to the aliens and an imminent disaster that is threatening the planet.

There was plenty of science in this book to keep me entertained, from genetics, physics, ecology etc. and aliens with possibly shady motives to give me the conspiracy theory thrill.  I loved that this book didn’t just focus on the action of the first encounter, it explores the after-effects and unexpected changes to the eco-system and the planet afterwards and humans reactions to this. Its a bit of a slow-burn but very well thought out. There are some large time leaps which can be a bit dis-orientating but they are needed to cover the timescale and show the impact within the book. An enjoyable read with some interesting ideas about the effects of aliens coming to earth and  reactions towards it.

I enjoyed that the star of this book is not a “hero”. Dr Marianne Jenner is a scientist, a mother, an “average” person with no spectacular super-hero traits to set her apart. She makes mistakes, loves, works hard and is a believable character. Not all the characters are as well thought out and some of the lesser characters feel a little stereo-typical.  The main story is told through Marianne’s perspective but there are sections seen through other people such as her children and others involved in the story.  This adds some variety and a depth of views to the story.

Even though there was plenty of science I still found it an easy read and read it over two days.  I’m intrigued to see what the next book in the trilogy brings.

Recommended to: fans of stories based on science, hard sci-fi, ecological, aliens and alternative futures.

I received a free advanced reader copy via Netgallery in return for an honest review.

****

Hardcover, 288 pages  (I read an ARC PDF)
Expected publication: July 11th 2017 by Tor Books
ISBN0765390299

I used my furry friend as a book rest to read most of this out in the sunshine:

Book Review – Lagoon – Nigerian alien tale

Lagoon – Nnedi Okorafor

Why I read:  Book club pick for June

Book Quote “A star falls from the sky.  A woman rises from the sea.  The world will never be the same.”

Book blurb: “When a massive object crashes into the ocean off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous and legendary city, three people wandering along Bar Beach (Adaora, the marine biologist- Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa- Agu, the troubled soldier) find themselves running a race against time to save the country they love and the world itself… from itself.

Told from multiple points of view and crisscrossing narratives, combining everything from superhero comics to Nigerian mythology to tie together a story about a city consuming itself.

‘There was no time to flee. No time to turn. No time to shriek. And there was no pain. It was like being thrown into the stars.’

Lagoon book review. #book #booknerd #tattoo #scifi #bookblogger #reading #fantasy #ilovebooks #bookstagram

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My review

This was an unusual book which played with the normal first encounter tropes.  Shapeshifting water-loving aliens land in the waters of Lagos. The main alien  is able to switch into varying shapes and gets named Ayodele.   The book is filled with vivid and evocative imagery such as tentacled sea monsters.  ” ..a three-tentacled sea beast leaped over them, spiralling wildly through the air.  It splayed all its think purple fifty-foot tentacles wide for full effect, splashing loudly into the water.

The story is told from a wide range of different viewpoints.  With more of a folk tale/history vibe than that of a story.  Unfortunately all these viewpoints come across as a mishmash of confusing views some of which seem to have no relevance to the plot and there was a lot crammed into the book that did not help the story along.  Some parts were written in dialect and I did not discover the glossary at the end until I reached it (this would have made sections more coherent).  That said I particularly enjoyed the perspectives of the creatures that gave short almost morality tales woven through the book.

I wanted to like this more than I did.  Aliens are coming out of the ocean in contemporary Lagos, feminist women, the blend of folk law, sci-fi, eco-science, and speculative fiction are all right up my street.  But unfortunately the entire story did not gel together for me.  I’d have loved to have more featuring the main alien as she was a fascinating character.

I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys the combination of African fiction and sci-fi.

***

 

 

Book Review – Borne by Jeff VanderMeer – Weirdly delightful fiction

Borne  by Jeff VanderMeer

Why I read: Weird fiction and I enjoyed  the Southern Reach trilogy by this author.

Select Sentence “.”

Book blurb: “”Am I a person?” Borne asked me.

“Yes, you are a person,” I told him. “But like a person, you can be a weapon, too.”

In Borne, a young woman named Rachel survives as a scavenger in a ruined city half destroyed by drought and conflict. The city is dangerous, littered with discarded experiments from the Company—a biotech firm now derelict—and punished by the unpredictable predations of a giant bear. Rachel ekes out an existence in the shelter of a run-down sanctuary she shares with her partner, Wick, who deals his own homegrown psychoactive biotech.

One day, Rachel finds Borne during a scavenging mission and takes him home. Borne as salvage is little more than a green lump—plant or animal?—but exudes a strange charisma. Borne reminds Rachel of the marine life from the island nation of her birth, now lost to rising seas. There is an attachment she resents: in this world any weakness can kill you. Yet, against her instincts—and definitely against Wick’s wishes—Rachel keeps Borne. She cannot help herself. Borne, learning to speak, learning about the world, is fun to be with, and in a world so broken that innocence is a precious thing. For Borne makes Rachel see beauty in the desolation around her. She begins to feel a protectiveness she can ill afford.

“He was born, but I had borne him.”

But as Borne grows, he begins to threaten the balance of power in the city and to put the security of her sanctuary with Wick at risk. For the Company, it seems, may not be truly dead, and new enemies are creeping in. What Borne will lay bare to Rachel as he changes is how precarious her existence has been, and how dependent on subterfuge and secrets. In the aftermath, nothing may ever be the same. “

My review

Borne is set in a wonderfully weird and creepy dystopian future.   Rachel lives in an abandoned apartment with her lover Wick.  Here she survives in a surreal city filled with strange biotech, alien creatures, giant flying bears and scavengers.  During a scavenging mission Rachel finds Borne,  a strange green lump, and takes him home.  Rachel teaches Borne what she can and this relationship is the heart of the book.   The world building is dark and amazing.  I loved the relationship between Rachel and Borne, the exploration of motherhood and teacher that is described.  Rachel is a well written character, strong, capable and complex.  Borne is totally fascinating, weirdly complex yet still a believable alien.

This book is disorientating, Vandermeer does not explain but rather paints a picture for you to imagine.  And that picture is a vivid complex otherworldness, dark and frightening, filled with destruction but also love.   If you like plots to be all nicely tied up give this one a miss.  But if like me you love to explore strange new worlds, unique concepts and don’t mind being left with some mystery you will find this a satisfying read.

I’d recommend to fans of weird fiction, X-files, strong women and sci-fi.

****

I read an ARC in exchange for an honest review

EDITION Hardcover  325 pages

ISBN 9780008159177

PRICE£12.99 (GBP)

 

 

Book Review: An Oath of Dogs – A Thrilling Ecological Sci-Fi

An Oath of Dogs – Wendy N. Wagner

Why I read:  I was intrigued by the description of eco-sci fi.  Biology fascinates me and the blurb mentioned conspiracies and  sentient dogs.  This sounded different to anything I had read lately.

Book blurb: “Kate Standish has been on Huginn less than a week and she s already pretty sure her new company murdered her boss. But extractions corporations dominate the communities of the forest world, and few are willing to threaten their meal tickets to look too closely at corporate misbehaviour. The little town of mill workers and farmers is more worried about the threat of eco-terrorism and a series of attacks by the bizarre, sentient dogs of this planet, than a death most people would like to believe is an accident. When Standish connects a secret chemical test site to a nearly forgotten disaster in Huginn s history, she reveals a conspiracy that threatens Standish and everyone she s come to care about.”

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My review

An Oath of Dogs is a wonderfully unusual sci-fi thriller that fuels your imagination. Kate Standish arrives on Hugin and discovers a town threatened by eco-terroism, killer sentient dogs and suspects her old boss has been murdered by the corporation she works for.

I loved the world building, the unusual biome filled with fungi and strange alien creatures and the dogs. The book had a good pace throughout to keep the pages turning as you discover more about the planet of Hugin, its inhabitants and the corporation Songheuser. Vivid descriptions bring the world to life. Diary excerpts from the first settlers and book passages add an additional layer of history and intrigue.

The Songheuser corporation came across as a sterotypical greedy firm with no care for the destruction it causes in order for them to achieve maximum profit. But the book explores questions of how corporation, environment and government interact and what balance is right for the planet and the people on it. How humans impact on the environment and how the strange alien world effects them.

The characters are an interesting mix including members of the Believers of the Word Made Flesh (a cult of New Age Mystics who focus around farming), Corporation Staff, and a whole wide range of different personalities. Peter Bajowski, an inquisitive biologist made observations of the alien species which fascinated me. But Kate Standish especially is a brilliantly thought-out character and a relatable heroine. She battles her anxiety with the help of her therapy dog as she unearths the conspiracy giving her a balance of weakness against strengths. I really liked this positive portrayal of someone battling with their mental health. I found myself cheering her on and really cared about what happened to her throughout the book.

An enjoyable eco-sci-fi read I’d recommend to any one who enjoys sci-fi, biology and thrillers.

I received a free advanced reader copy via Netgallery in return for an honest review.

****

 
432 pages
Expected publication: July 4th 2017 by Angry Robot
ISBN

Waking Gods – Giant Robot Sci-Fi

Waking Gods (Themis Files #2) by Sylvain Neuvel

Why I read: Giant robots….. that’s all that was needed to convince me that I had to read this book. Enjoying the first book in the series and the UK setting also helped sway me to pull this one to the top of the pile.

NB: This is a sequel – I recommend reading Sleeping Giants first.

Book quote: ” Scientists are like children: They always want to know everything, they all ask too many questions, and they never follow orders to the letter.
That, people, is the EDC. A big robot, one soldier, a linguist, and a whole bunch of disobedient children.”

Book blurb:  “As a child, Rose Franklin made an astonishing discovery: a giant metallic hand, buried deep within the earth. As an adult, she’s dedicated her brilliant scientific career to solving the mystery that began that fateful day: Why was a titanic robot of unknown origin buried in pieces around the world? Years of investigation have produced intriguing answers—and even more perplexing questions. But the truth is closer than ever before when a second robot, more massive than the first, materialises and lashes out with deadly force.

Now humankind faces a nightmare invasion scenario made real, as more colossal machines touch down across the globe. But Rose and her team at the Earth Defense Corps refuse to surrender. They can turn the tide if they can unlock the last secrets of an advanced alien technology. The greatest weapon humanity wields is knowledge in a do-or-die battle to inherit the Earth . . . and maybe even the stars.

My review

An exhilarating ride filled with robots and aliens, escapism at its best. There is plenty of action and a dystopian end-of the world bleakness as the plot unravels. Some questions from the first book are answered but this book intriguingly creates many more. A healthy dose of science, genetics and conspiracy theories are mixed in as well.

The story is told through a variety of documents. I especially loved the interviews.   There is a great sense of humour running through them:

“-And if we felt the aliens were superior? What was the plan? 

-Pray that they do not see us as food.”   

Waking Gods also features the mystical interviewer from the first book. I could not help but imagine him as the chain smoking FBI agent straight out of the X-files and even though we learn more about him in this book I could not get that image out of my head.   The news like presentation does lead to a bit of distance from the characters and events. However a few personal letters and transcripts are scatted throughout the book which gives the characters more personality and feeling.

I would have loved more descriptions of the robots and settings.  Perhaps articles from blogs or entertainment news that gave a imaginative viewpoint alongside the other reports.  Occasionally  it was hard to follow who was talking to who – I sometimes had to go back and check the start of the section to see who was being interviewed.  I was racing through the story quickly as I could not wait to read what happened next.

The book shines a light on society, its values in war and the tendency towards violence to counteract situations but also shows us that there are alternative actions and solutions.

I’m looking forward to the 3rd book in the series.

Who should read:  Anyone who enjoys sci-fi, aliens and robots.

****

I was provided an ARC via Netgallery in return for an honest review.

If you want to get a taste of the series there is a “lost file” on the publishers website:  and you can read the first section of the book there for free.

Kindle Edition, 320 pages
Published April 6th 2017 by Penguin (UK) (first published April 4th 2017)

 

 

The Humans – Lighthearted sci-fi to brighten your day

The Humans by Matt Haig

Select Sentence “Make sure, as often as possible, you are doing something you’d be happy to die doing.”

Book blurb: “It’s hardest to belong when you’re closest to home . . .

One wet Friday evening, Professor Andrew Martin of Cambridge University solves the world’s greatest mathematical riddle. Then he disappears.

When he is found walking naked along the motorway, Professor Martin seems different. Besides the lack of clothes, he now finds normal life pointless. His loving wife and teenage son seem repulsive to him. In fact, he hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton. And he’s a dog.

Can a bit of Debussy and Emily Dickinson keep him from murder? Can the species which invented cheap white wine and peanut butter sandwiches be all that bad? And what is the warm feeling he gets when he looks into his wife’s eyes?”

My review

Wonderfully entertaining story about an alien from the planet Vonnadori who takes over a Professor Andrew Martin’s body and life. His aim to destroy all evidence that Andrew solved a major mathematical problem that could change the course of human history including any one that might know.

The beginning is filled with humour although in some places it feels like the author is trying to hard to be funny but as the story progresses this becomes more insightful into human nature. With the alien learning how pain and sorrow are part of life and how humans are flawed but also kind.

There is a 97 point list entitled Advice for a Human towards the end of the book which is brilliant.  They are points to live by , interspersed with humour.   I’m tempted to print it out and put on the fridge!

This is a book that I’m sure I will turn to in my darker days when depression clouds the mind to remind me we are all flawed and to carry on.  It is a book  I will read again.  Because even though it had predictable plotting and some of the humour got on my nerves, something about it  just resonated with me.

A tale filled with humour and philosophy. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants a lighthearted tale to brighten their day.

****

Kindle Edition, 304 pages
Published May 9th 2013 by Canongate Books

You can read an extract of the book on Matt Haig’s website.