Category Archives: Science Fiction

Aliens Stink

Isn’t it odd how two of the books I’ve read this week, to make up for my non-attendance at the Manchester Children’s Book Festival, are about aliens? Being one myself, I feel drawn to them. (In moderation, obviously.)

Steve Cole, Aliens Stink

Let’s face it. The cover of Aliens Stink would not tempt me to pick up the book. (But then it’s a while since I was ten years old.) What does, is that it’s got *Steve Cole’s name on the cover, and that is always a recommendation and counterbalances ugly aliens and the word ‘stink.’

In this case I only had to pick it up off the Grandmother’s doormat, because Steve sent it to Daughter as a thank you for her help (so her name is in it). She told him astrophysical facts and he ignored them. That’s how they cooperated. I didn’t feel I needed to read the book. I’m glad I did, though, and even the Grandmother read a couple of chapters before I removed it from her hands.

It’s great! It’s fun. It’s pure entertainment. It’s the kind of book I look at and think it’d be both fun and easy to write, except I suspect it’s much harder than it looks. Luxembourg has disappeared under a blanket. Parts of Russia is covered in a yellow substance. The world is strange. Better than before, but no one knows why.

Poor Tim and his goldfish Herbert are not having a good time, however. Tim’s father is a weird scientist and he is needed to save the world. Hah. Herbert listens patiently to Tim’s woes, but what can a goldfish do?

Things come to a head and Tim and his dad and the goldfish suddenly find themselves somewhere else. All of them need to adjust to this new situation.

This is a book about good aliens and bad ones. It’s about clever children (not Tim) and aliens, and stupid adults, and aliens. You just have to love it. (And your pets. Always love your pets.)

* Steve was at mcbf on Wednesday. I’m sure everyone had a great time. Sniff…

Destination Earth

Wow! I forgot to eat my peach as I was finishing Destination Earth by Ali Sparkes. Those last twenty pages, or so, really had me in their grip. (Not that the preceding 320 pages were exactly lacking in fun and excitement.) Very Ace of Bass. (So to speak.)

This was my very first Ali Sparkes. Are they all this good? I can’t believe I’ve not tried her before. Anyway, Ali was at the Manchester Children’s Book Festival yesterday, and this was my way of making up for missing her. Phew. What a book! Or did I just say that?

Ali Sparkes, Destination Earth

The blurb is nowhere near as persuasive as it needs to be. Lucy is the lone survivor from another planet, who has journeyed to Earth for ten years after killer aliens wiped out her whole home planet. And one of those aliens has hitched a lift on her spaceship…

But instead of the cold science fiction nightmare I was expecting, I found a warm and funny early teen adventure. Masses of humour, and full of nice, intelligent people.

OK, so Lucy is an alien, and even to her the killer alien is an alien, and it might just wipe out all of Earth in a week or so. But we have time for ‘killer’ hairdressers with a fondness for purple and there is a nice grown-up romance (sort of; it’s yucky when parents do that kind of thing) and there is space technology and space ships and weapons and Motokola mobiles. Not to mention Nipe trainers. Brad Pitt.

All the usual misunderstandings aliens suffer when they land on Earth. That’s fun. You can prepare for a lot, but you can’t prepare for everything. ‘The Sarah Jane Adventures meet E.T.’ is actually a much more apt description than most.

It’s funny. It’s exciting. I even found myself wanting to discover more about Level 42 (a real band, I understand).

George and the Unbreakable Code

Civilisation as we know it does not necessarily take much to break down. Give people what they ‘want,’ like unlimited cash or free plane tickets, and all hell could break lose. Lucy Hawking is playing around with how the world works in her and dad Stephen’s fourth George book, George and the Unbreakable Code. And it is surprising how scary that is.

So is finding old allies having a ‘funny turn’ and ending up so unreliable that you need to use all your skills on solving problems without them. George and his best friend Annie’s relationship with super computer Cosmos suffers rather. What’s got into Cosmos?

And what about the robot who arrives on Annie’s doorstep looking just like her dad? Friend or foe? That’s apart from this ebot dad-look-alike behaving in embarrassing ways, like parents do.

Lucy and Stephen Hawking, George and the Unbreakable Code

With the world gone mad, and seemingly Cosmos as well, what do you need? Well, parents to depend on, maybe. But Annie’s dad Eric is needed elsewhere in this crisis, which leaves George’s family, and their self-sufficient life style. And the woman from Bletchley Park.

Needless to say, this book is as exciting as the other three, and you can’t wait to see how George and Annie will save the world. There is no question as to whether they will. We know our cool heroes, and Cosmos or no Cosmos, they have the brains and the courage.

This story touches on disability and on understanding how society works, as well as what is most important in life. As always there are essays written by Lucy’s friends in the academic world, including one by her father. They are roughly on my level, so should suit young readers well. And there are the usual ‘pretty pictures’ from space. (Me, I want to be like Annie in her spacesuit. Cool.)

Science fiction as it should be.

Bookwitch bites #121

I was a bit busy last week, so will have to join the rest of you in catching up on my favourite physics teacher, Lucy Hawking (here). You get a whole forty minutes of Lucy talking interesting stuff, courtesy of the Scottish Book Trust. Lucy has a new George book out – George and the Unbreakable Code – and you will hear more about that a little later. (My copy has had a close encounter with a black hole, mainly filled with water. Not of my doing!)

Lucy Hawking

More online fun for a new book can be found on various blogs this week, as Helen Grant spreads herself out with guest posts and things, to celebrate the publication of The Demons of Ghent on Thursday. Needless to say I bagged the 5th of June itself.

Helen Grant blog tourThe water-filled hole apart, the holiday reading chez Bookwitch Vacations is going well. Yeah, OK, so Birdie read complicated textbooks, but Daughter was wanting to prove my prediction on the likelihood of non-reading wrong, so has read several recent box office titles. She went to see the films and then decided to read the books (possibly to see what they got ‘wrong’).

The Resident IT Consultant, on the other hand, reads what he finds. I sometimes have to forbid him to go for what I need to read next, and he has been reasonably obedient. He did go looking for the charging cable for his Kindle, and was a little surprised when I said it was in the flower pot (I thought that was a good place for it). His main concern was whether it had been watered (like George, I suppose), but you don’t water artificial plants.

At least, I hope you don’t.

OxCrimes

Pop down to your local Oxfam and buy a copy of OxCrimes: 27 Killer Stories from the Cream of Crime Writers and support the work of Oxfam while giving yourself something good to read for the next few hours.

It’s got ‘practically every crime writer’ contributing. Even the ones I’d not heard of, as I had to confess to yesterday. But especially the ones I do know. Foreword by that Rankin chap who always pops up and takes part in every worthwhile venture going. (All right, not everyone. But 27 isn’t bad. Plus Ian Rankin.)

OxCrimes: 27 Killer Stories from the Cream of Crime Writers

The stories were of every imaginable kind, including a pretty scary sci-fi thriller crime tale from Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. There’s war crimes and ghostly crimes, sexy ones and the usual crime-y crimes. How Anthony Horowitz could be allowed to say what I’ve always suspected about public toilets (you know the kind…) is beyond my comprehension. Now none of us will want to go.

My favourite – if I’m allowed one – has to be Stuart Neville’s, which was brilliant in all its period simplicity. Not to mention chilling.

As for the rest, I think I’ve listed them all. You will know some better than others, just like me. You might find a new favourite, or even one you wouldn’t mind killing slowly and painfully. What do I know?

It’s all in a good cause, even if the blood flows fairly freely in places.

‘With previous books OxTravels and OxTales having raised over a quarter of a million pounds since their 2009 publication, Oxfam is hoping OxCrimes will raise even more, helping to tackle poverty and suffering around the world. Visit Oxfam’s Emergency Response pages to find out more about how you can help.’

Conquest

Science Fiction set at Edinburgh Castle and in the Scottish Highlands? If it didn’t actually have aliens, I’d say that Conquest is like any other – fabulous – story about invasion and resistance movements. Written by John Connolly (does that man never sleep?) and Jennifer Ridyard, Conquest is the first in their mature YA sci-fi series The Chronicles of the Invaders.

Despite the aliens I’d have felt it was more civil war story than sci-fi, except it looks like we are heading out into space for the next instalment.

Set in the not too distant future, Earth has been invaded by the Illyri, from a very long way away, arriving via multiple wormholes. They were pleased to find a race so similar to themselves, but shocked at the crude behaviour exhibited by us humans. As with many invasions, it seemed at first as if the Illyri were more civilised, but we’re all the same; good and bad and ‘human.’

John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard, Conquest

16-year-old Syl lives with her father at Edinburgh Castle, and like most teenagers she likes to disobey the adults occasionally, which is how she meets Paul Kerr, a 17-year-old member of the resistance. At first he doesn’t realise she’s Illyri, and he saves her life and then she saves his, and after that both of them are in danger.

This is a fantastic tale of deception and intrigue, politics and love. (Star Trek meets Braveheart?) There are witches and spies; some with special abilities. Conquest is very pacy and exciting. You just don’t know who to trust. The Illyri have brought with them people from other planets, and some of them you’d rather not think about too much.

Gruesome in places, but also lots of food for thought regarding what we – in reality – are doing to this planet.

You’re never too young to write a book

And then they all turned around and looked at me.

Yes, you!

(That should teach me to sit by the emergency exit.)

I had just enough time to leave the Royal Exchange on Monday and make my way to the People’s History Museum for an afternoon with Eoin Colfer. It was for schools only, so don’t fret if you feel you’ve missed it. Well, you obviously have missed it, but unlike me you are not a school. Just outside Kendals (House of Fraser) I encountered the Waterstones team bound for the same place. The boxes of books almost fell off their trolley, but righted themselves at the last moment.

At the museum a very nice helper asked me to pick a stool (adults had to rough it, as it was fully booked) and to sit at the back (like by the emergency exit), and then as I went to look at the book display I returned to find my stool almost walking away. (You’ll be pleased to hear I wrestled it back.) Left my stool again for ‘other business’ and was rewarded by meeting Eoin’s publicist Adele. (I know her. I don’t have to ask stupid questions like I did the other day.)

Eoin Colfer

In case any of the children were upset to miss an afternoon of school, Eoin mentioned that as a teacher he is legally qualified to hand out homework. He sounded very Irish when he said that.

So, WARP, the new book, is about time travel, and the reason Eoin picked this ‘original’ subject is all to do with Ireland in the 1970s. They had nothing (although Eoin had – still has – three younger brothers, and he hates younger brothers). Television offered only the bible channel and the farming channel, until a friend got BBC, which had wonderful things like Doctor Who, which they could watch through the window…

Eoin Colfer

There were more tall stories about how Eoin came to watch BBC and Doctor Who, which had to do with semi-nudity, a fierce dog and an air rifle. But anyway, this confirmed his determination to write about time travel one day.

Then he told us some rubbish about trying to scare his sons with his writing, but they have watched the Powerpuff Girls, so don’t scare easily. His eldest son is a cruel teenager who flicks his hair and no longer tells his father, who is in charge of all the money, that he loves him. Or whatever.

(For that kind of money I’d be more than willing to tell Eoin I love him.)

The younger one has a wrestler’s death move he uses on his defenseless dad, and there was a long story about the little one’s toilet habits. It sort of makes you want to go, but you can’t very well amidst all the peepee and poopoo and old Frenchmen.

Eoin Colfer

When Eoin returned to his teen disco experience, I knew I’d heard it before and recently. But where? I remembered after a while only to forget it almost immediately. (Preston.) Then remembered again.

There were more dancing memories. Someone very sweetly asked how he met his wife. At a ceilidh, at a very young age. His wife was also responsible for getting Eoin writing, because he was forever saying things like ‘he could do it better’ until she snapped and told him to do it then. Thank you, Mrs C.

His goal is to write fifty books. Current tally is 24. Eoin loves books, but has no plans to marry one. The second WARP instalment will be Hangman’s Revolution which will be published in April.

Kaye Tew for mcbf

Eoin Colfer

Eoin Colfer

Before Eoin went over to the signing table, he signed some books standing up. They were prizes for the winners of the various categories of the Postcards from the Past competition, launched a year ago. I rather liked the one from the iceberg that did for the Titanic. I didn’t know icebergs could write postcards.

Eoin Colfer with Adele Minchin

This time I almost succeeded in being last in the signing queue, and I’d brought my adult Eoin Colfer books along, seeing as I missed him a few weeks ago. I hope none of the short ten-year-olds in the audience has even an inkling as to what they are about. But they’ll grow up one day, and then they will be allowed to read them, and they will be taller than they are now, and Eoin will be forced to hate them. (I am very short, btw.)

Eoin Colfer