Category Archives: Science Fiction

George and the Ship of Time

The sixth and last book about George, and I’d been on tenterhooks ever since Lucy Hawking had him jump aboard a spacecraft heading into outer space at the end of the fifth book. It’s a good cliffhanger, but I was sure George would soon be back on Earth again, among his friends.

I was right. Sort of.

George and Boltzmann, the robot, return to Earth after first having failed to turn the ship around. But it’s not exactly the place they left; it’s hot, dusty and deserted. But Boltzmann assures him they are ‘in Foxbridge’ where George lives. Lived.

Lucy Hawking, George and the Ship of Time

After a slow start, where I kept expecting things to become clear and a bit more normal, this story turns into a fully fledged time travel dystopia. Where the earlier books have featured criticism of aspects of modern life and the way science and the environment are ignored by the government, this is much more serious.

The duo do meet up with humans, and other creatures, odd robots, but they live in the future. George is seen as strange, if not downright dangerous. They’re in Eden, which is paradise. In a way, at least.

There is much that is dysfunctional in this place, ruled over by a tangerine coloured man by the name of Trellis Dump. The second Trellis Dump. I’ll leave you to interpret that as you see fit.

The reader keeps thinking that this can’t really have happened. If this is the future, then George’s family and friends must be dead. But if this Dump era can be reversed, then the people alive now would cease to exist. It’s quite a conundrum, and I won’t tell you how it ends.

I would like to think that those who read this book will have, or adopt, sensible opinions regarding war and destructive weapons, and climate change, and possibly even oddly coloured politicians.

The really shocking aspect about all this is how long the war lasted.

(As always, illustrated by Garry Parsons, and at the back of the book there are scientific papers aimed at its young audience. But I missed one by Stephen, as he used to sign off.)

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The Word for World is Forest

I have at long last read my first Ursula Le Guin. It was the novella The Word for World is Forest, and it was in translation, arriving as it did from a friend’s garage, where it had also been a bit unexpected.

It was all right. The sentiments are ones I obviously identify with. Don’t use violence. Don’t burst in on someone else’s world and start telling them what they must do, enslaving them in the process. First published in the early 1970s, it’s clear where this was coming from.

Ursula Le Guin, Där världen heter skog

But I didn’t enjoy it. Not really. I suspect my garage-owning friend felt much the same, but we both had a curiosity that needed satisfying. Like why had we not read Ursula’s books when we were young? And why had we not even heard of her?

The trouble is, I was under the impression this was a children’s book, due to its size and design. I stopped believing it was for children after about a page. But it still looked like a children’s book. At least this translated version did.

Basically it is about a faraway planet invaded by Earth, and where the hitherto peaceful inhabitants are forced to become cruel and violent like the invaders in order to get rid of them, which mostly involves a lot of killing.

I think I would have liked to see ideas like these executed with a bit more thought through science fiction elements.

Ursula Le Guin

Luckily, there are some really great authors in this world; great both as authors, and as persons. I understand that Ursula Le Guin was one of them.

When the news of her death broke earlier this week, I noted two things. One was that everyone had something to say about her. The other was a question to myself, ‘why did I never read any of her books?’

Because I’m afraid I didn’t. I had to look her up to see when her first books were published, in an effort to work out why they didn’t cross my path earlier. I only heard of Tolkien when I was about 16. Everyone read him, but I still haven’t. The odd thing was that he’d never been mentioned, until I was the sort of age when it was the done thing to read Lord of the Rings.

And I would have thought the same would go for Ursula Le Guin. I could have read her in English, but for that I’d have needed to know about her. And I see that only one book had been translated by the time I left school, which presumably explains why no one much talked about her books.

Then, I sensibly married a man who liked Ursula’s books. I thought they looked slightly weird, had no wish to read them, but discovered they were not books I was allowed to take to Oxfam… And the no-Oxfam rule has remained in place all these years.

But my thought this week was why I never tried them later on. I have a dreadful feeling I had catalogued them as ‘those books that sit on the shelf but are not for me.’

I was pleased to discover this article in the Irish Times, by her long-standing fan Adrian McKinty. I like his memories of Ursula and her books. I already knew she had been a fine author and person, but Adrian just proves it.

Places in the Darkness

This is pure Heinlein Noir. Do those two words not fill you with happy (-ish) expectations?

When I heard that Chris Brookmyre’s latest novel was crime in a science fiction setting, I thought it sounded like a wonderful marriage of two great genres. It is. I was also indiscreet enough to say so out loud, and before I knew it Daughter had magicked us a copy to arrive practically overnight.

I never find myself awake at night, sifting through all I’ve read in a crime novel, looking for clues, remembering almost everything, trying to work out who did it, and how, and maybe why. With Places in the Darkness I simply had to. I did suspect who was behind things, and maybe one other fact, the spoiler-ish aspect of which, means I can’t elaborate. But the rest, no. Quite good, really, because I wanted to be surprised.

Chris Brookmyre, Places in the Darkness

Towards the end of this American style noir, set in a man-made world up in space, some time in the future, I couldn’t see how there was going to be time to end it properly, let alone in a good way. But I was ready for a bad ending if that’s what it took.

There is no serious crime on Ciudad de Cielo. At least no murders. But when Dr Alice Blake arrives on CdC, one has just happened, and Alice just happens to be the next head of ‘police’ up there. And when she starts looking into things, Alice chooses to work with Sergeant Nikki Freeman of the Seguridad (I love all the Spanish words up in this cielo).

Nikki refers to the place as Seedee, and it certainly is. And no one knows the seedier side of her place in life better than she does. Nikki runs protection rackets, drinks too much, has lots of lovers, but no friends. You get the picture.

After the first gruesome murder, there are plenty more. The question is whether Alice and Nikki can stay alive to solve them. There’s also the question of AI. How can you be sure you’re not talking to a robot?

Chris has clearly spent a lot of effort on building his City in the Sky, and it is so interesting, and anyone who loves Heinlein will feel right at home. It’s not the same, but it feels right. If you love noir, there is more to enjoy. And as a girl I approve of there being so many important women characters; strong women, whether a Goody Two Shoes or a bent cop.

I could return to CdC.

My Side of the Diamond

Aliens. Inexplicable happenings, with more than a hint of Roswell. And it’s written by Sally Gardner. What more could you want?

This isn’t Sally’s first science fiction novel. It could be her best, but when I say that I don’t have the others in such fresh memory that I can swear to it. She is a woman who can tell stories. Yes, it’s sort of not original, but it is. I’ve not read anything like it.

Sally Gardner, My Side of the Diamond

It’s short. I was almost worried Sally wouldn’t have time to reach the conclusion by the end, but of course she does. There are no wasted words. And it’s all so normal, too, apart from the abnormal, and the little futuristic view of London, which seems so likely when you think of it.

Weird stuff has happened. Jazmin’s best friend Becky jumped off a tall building and disappeared. She didn’t die. Or she probably didn’t. There was no body. But the authorities don’t like this kind of thing so it’s all blamed on Jazmin, the poor working-class girl.

Told mostly from Jazmin’s point of view – but occasionally by various other characters as and when their input is needed – she appears to be talking to someone about what happened. If there really is someone there? Maybe she’s gone crazy and sees things?

Absolutely wonderful, with likeable and sensible adults (well, there is the odd exception), and a genuine mystery as to what might have happened; both this time and the strange goings-on in the past. There’s not enough intelligent science fiction in YA, especially with romance.

Those murdering Scots

How I love them!

It’s Monday morning, and it’s Book Week Scotland. And here at Bookwitch Towers, I am most likely to spend it reading, rather than being out and about, despite all the events on offer. I feel as if I’ve finally got into the swing of reading again, after far too much travelling, or agonising over things, and it does my mental state a lot of good.

And you really don’t want me too mental.

Scottish Book Trust have looked into what everyone else in Scotland is doing, and it appears that Scots are into crime, in a big way; ‘crime/thriller books are the single most popular type of fiction in Scotland.

In a recent Ipsos MORI Scotland survey of 1,000 adults, just over 1 in 4 Scots (27%) who read for enjoyment said that books which fictionalise crimes, their detection, criminals and their motives topped their choice of reading or listening genres. — While the crime genre was the most popular among readers of all ages, the second most popular genre among young readers (aged 16-34) was science fiction/fantasy (15%). — Eight in ten Scots (79%) read or listen to books for enjoyment and 39% do so either every day or most days. Additionally, among those —  50% read or listen to more than 10 books per year.’

Well, that’s good to know; both that people read, and that they like what I like. (If I hadn’t given up ironing, I’d be listening to more audio books as well.)

I suppose that with their fondness for a good murder, the Scots really are – almost – Nordic. It’s dark up here, although possibly more cheerful than ‘over there.’

And, on that cheery note I will dive back into my waiting book mountains, before the January books arrive. There tends to be this brief lull for a couple of weeks, or three, as one year [in the publishing world] comes to an end and the new one begins. When the publicists go off on their Christmas holidays, they might fire off the ‘first’ 2017 books. (That’s apart from the ones I’ve already received and filed away because 2017 was such a long way off…)

Space Team

This is Galaxy Quest as though it had been written by one of ‘my’ many crime writing Irish boys; Eoin, John, Declan. Except it wasn’t them, but their crazy cousin from across the water, Barry J Hutchison. Barry has been tinkering with some adult writing for a while, and he is under the impression that adding a J to his name will mean his littlest fans won’t accidentally find themselves in space with a ‘cannibal’ who swears a lot.

Space Team is very funny, and not too sweary, as there is some kind of translation system set up between the different species of aliens which not only translates but cleans up the worst four-letter words. Just as well, since that lone J is not going to fool anyone. Us fans can tell it’s Barry.

I had a lot of fun reading this. Galaxy Quest, Star Trek, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Take your pick. There are bits of everything in here, and you find you don’t mind too much that Earth is no more and neither are we. Cal Carver survives, and what an ambassador for humankind he is! Teaming up with a group of criminally minded aliens, it becomes his job to save the universe. Or some such thing.

Barry J Hutchison, Space Team

Setting off on a junky spaceship, the team have a task, at which they must succeed. Or die. The question is, do they have the right skills? Are we in safe hands? Actually, it doesn’t matter, since we are all dead. At least I think we are.

The lesson here is that it’s good to be cheerful and to try and do your best, for the team and for the universe. There are a lot of bad aliens out there. This is hardboiled space humour at its best.