Category Archives: Science Fiction

Sci-fi v fantasy

Yes, what’s the difference? That was one question at the event with Roy Gill and Paul Magrs yesterday. According to Paul sci-fi is something that could happen, given certain technical circumstances, while fantasy just couldn’t.

I have never seen the Imagination Lab so full before. They had to keep carry in more chairs for people to sit on. I’d been hoping to learn how on earth you should pronounce the name Magrs, and from what my elderly ears picked up, it sounded rather like the title of Paul’s book, Lost on Mars. So, Mars by Magrs.

Paul Magrs and Roy Gill

Paul was there to talk about his Space Opera, set on Mars (and no, it couldn’t be moved to Venus just because the publisher already had one Martian book on the go). He’d been inspired by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books, as well as by Ray Bradbury’s sci-fi.

Apparently many authors treat writing like going to school, although I’ve never heard this before. So Paul started writing Lost on Mars on September 1st and sat at his kitchen table with his newly sharpened pencils until before Christmas, occasionally standing up.

Roy conveniently dreamed the Daemon Parallel. He’s someone who puts his ideas in a notebook, and this sat there for several years until he got desperate. The dream gave him the weird grandma, and to make her truly odd he decided she was going to want to bring her son back from the dead.

As the chair for the evening said, the two books seem quite different, but actually have a lot in common, like the grandmas. She asked them if the main characters could have been a different age than Paul and Roy made them, but they felt not. There is something about that age where they are old enough to be able to do what they need to do, but also young enough that they don’t act like adults.

According to his old diaries, Paul has wanted to be a writer since he was ten. When his school was closed due to snow, he spent the mornings writing a novel, and the afternoons writing Doctor Who episodes.

Writing was a less obvious choice for Roy, who didn’t really get it until he was about thirty. His PhD supevisor pointed out his writing was so good ‘you can get away with very little content.’

Paul read chapter five, which is where the grandma in his story has to have her artificial leg seen to. It almost seemed creepier than when reading it in the book. Roy read the meeting between the teenagers and the weird lawyer from Werewolf Parallel, and I’m not even going to mention the odd chin. (I didn’t mention it!) His daemons are all very random, and the Jenners episode stems from him getting lost in this posh shop as a small boy.

When they were young(er) Paul read and liked Doctor Who. Roy liked Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising, and he’s a big fan of Diana Wynne Jones. Paul, on the other hand, was quite old when he discovered these books. And I didn’t totally grasp his tale of exchanging letters in verse with some dinner ladies…

But it’s all fine, and I made it out nice and early to have my copy of Lost on Mars signed. My Daemons had already been done.

Lost on Mars

I have never been this fond of a sunbed ever before. And I just know that either something bad will happen to Toaster, or he will be turned rogue.

The story of Lost on Mars could be straight out of Doctor Who, without the Doctor. This is not so strange, really, as Paul Magrs has written some Whovian books as well. The first in a trilogy, Lost on Mars left me feeling very scared, but determined to find out what happens next. I’m quite certain I know more than Lora, the main character, even though she’s excellent heroine material. And that makes me more scared still.

Paul Magrs, Lost on Mars

Life on Mars is harsh, and we meet third generation Lora and her family – and Toaster – as they try to survive as settlers on the Martian prairie. The setting is very American West, and mixed with the science fiction aspect of space travel it also reminded me of Chaos Walking.

When too many people have Disappeared, and Lora suspects the Martians (yes, they exist) will come for her and the others as well, she takes her family on a journey to find somewhere new and safer to live. She’s only 14, but she shoulders her duties like an adult.

The travelling is hard, and often bad, but arriving is worse. What is the City Inside? There is no way you can guess the direction this will go. I simply hope for good after the bad.

Best of 2014

I was about to say that whereas I had told myself I’d go for fewer books on my best list of the year (best books, not best list) this time, it has proved too hard to do. But then I discovered I managed to slim the list last year, so I have a bit of credit and I can let the list swell. Because I must.

Can’t even offer you a photogenic pile of best books, with most of them still hiding in boxes. Besides, one of the best comes on Kindle, and the Resident IT Consultant’s e-reader isn’t the prettiest of things to take a picture of.

2014 was a good year for series of books coming to an end, be it the two-pack type or the trilogy or the ten-pack. I decided not to put those on The List, but I am happy to mention them.

They are Timothée de Fombelle with Vango 2, Caroline Lawrence with the fourth book about Detective Pinkerton, Derek Landy at the end of his ten book Skulduggery Pleasant marathon, Lucy Hawking and the fourth book about George in space, Gennifer Choldenko and the last Al Capone story, Deborah Ellis about Parvana again, Teri Terry’s dystopia had as satisfying an end as you could hope for, Gillian Philip finally finished her faeries in Icefall, and Che Golden sorted her fairies out too.

Helen Grant and Eoin Colfer did beautifully with their second books from Belgium and time travel London, so there is more to look forward to there.

Two authors are standing shoulder to shoulder on my awards stand this year; Michelle Magorian and Nick Green. Michelle for Impossible! and Nick with his Firebird ebook trilogy.

The runners-up are – in no particular order – Ali Sparkes and Destination Earth, Sally Nicholls and Shadow Girl, Cliff McNish and Going Home, Tanya Landman and Buffalo Soldier, Ellen Renner and Tribute, Simon Mason and Running Girl, Carl Hiaasen and Skink No Surrender, Robin Talley and Lies We tell Ourselves.

Thank you everyone, for hours and hours of good company, and please keep up the good work!

BZRK Apocalypse

When you approach Michael Grant’s third BZRK novel, Apocalypse, it’s worth remembering what happened at the start of the first one. People died. They seemed nice, but they still died before you really got to know them. To think that the third book is likely to be sweeter and less violent than the first is plain ridiculous.

It won’t be. Can’t be. But how many deaths is Michael prepared to ’cause?’

Quite a few. You know what Apocalypse means, don’t you? That.

Michael Grant, BZRK Apocalypse

At the beginning there were the evil Armstrong Twins, and the slightly better BZRK, fighting them. The twins might be weakening, but not so BZRK. Although, that’s not as good a thing as you’d want it to be.

‘Excuse me. I believe I’m about to go mad. You may want to move away.’ That’s about as polite and collected as it gets, in this book where very many people go mad. It’s not a pretty sight, and it will not end well. Michael has a go at many people we ‘know’ and it would be wrong if he let characters miraculously survive, because they were on the same side as us.

After the first book I could see that someone like Bug Man would change and do things differently. Well, it wasn’t this kind of different I had in mind!

We learn who the main players behind our diminishing group of fighters are; the ones we’ve come to rely on, who will lead wisely, and make sure the world is all right. Hah!

This might be based on games, but there is still a strong feeling that it wouldn’t take much to make this reality. And while I believe that, I’m not so sure that the knowledge and bravery displayed by the ‘good guys’ is terribly likely to be there to help us.

A thrill all the way to the end.

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.