Wednesday, 31 October 2018

On The Surface by Robert J Sawyer

This is a sequel to H G Wells, The Time Machine.

Having never read that book I can only relate to this story on its own terms.

This one did not work for me.  It was so violent, I felt I was reading about cavemen.

It certainly wasn't the writing that didn't work for me.  It was the brutality I found unappealing.

I love reading about smart people trying to outsmart their situations.  As I age I am far less interested in the gun, the club or the fist.  Humans are so cruel to each other it is a wonder we’ve survived this long.

I found the story ultimately depressing.

Robert J Sawyer's website -

Story first published here.

Monday, 29 October 2018

Runtime by S B Divya - Book Review #246

Mary Margaret Guinto, better known as Marmeg is a poor girl, living in the ghettos of Los Angeles and trying to make a better life for herself.

She is an augmented woman who uses an exoskeleton to get around and do her job as a bouncer.  But the gear and chip implants are expensive.  She has managed to cobble together her gear from cast-offs, used goods and some creative dumpster diving.

In order to fast track her desire to make a better life for herself, go to university, get a decent job and help her family, she enters the Minerva Sierra Challenge.  This is an annual cross-country endurance race for augments.  The prize money would get her out of her situation.

One of the joys of this book was the contrast of hightech against the rugged backwoods mountainscape.

The only quibble I have was the gender neutral pronouns - I still find words like Zir and Zie awkward and they tend to take me out of the story.  But that is exactly what is good about science fiction; it attempts to normalize the things we are just coming to terms with today and show us a possible future and nomenclature that may be a new normal.

Other than that I was very happy with the story and enjoyed how believable and natural the characters were written.  The author has a perfect touch at depicting the human impact of the situations.

I also have to give credit to Tor for publishing short novels like this one, it came it at 116 pages.  It's a nice throwback to the paperback days when novels seldom passed the 200 page mark.  It makes the storytelling crisp and keeps the plot moving along.  This is a very enjoyable length.

S B Divya's website -

S B Divya

Sunday, 28 October 2018

The Stanley Cup Caper by Robert J Sawyer

Being only three pages long this is best described as flash fiction.

It was commissioned by the Toronto Star which asked Sawyer to imagine Toronto 30
Years in the future.

I liked what it did to normalize the present tech trends and to move past today’s political and social hand-wringing.

Somebody stole the Stanley Cup right out of the arena on the night the Toronto Maple Leafs won the cup.

It was campy and fun. But if you’re not Canadian, well, it won’t mean much to you.

Once again this collection does it’s job of exposing the reader to stories they could have easily missed.

A good one.

Robert J Sawyer's website -

Saturday, 27 October 2018

James Bond 007: Vargr by Warren Ellis

I loved the opening sequence in this collection.  Action packed, cold and darkly funny.

In the main story the bad guys are supremely creepy, violent and icky.

Bond is on the trail of a new strain of cocaine that has a nasty way of killing people.  Along the way he has his life threatened many times.

I found the violence in this story excessive.  Hey, I know; it's Bond.  It comes with the territory but there was a lot of nasty, nasty killing going on here.

These books are without a doubt "R" rated.  Do no let your kids read this stuff.

To be honest, I rather liked Eidolon better.  Vargr was meaner, colder and bloodier.

Once again the art by Jason Masters conveys the story amazingly well.

Warren Ellis' website -

Warren Ellis

Friday, 26 October 2018

Shed Skin by Robert J Sawer

Oh.  Wow!

This story did not go where I thought it would.  How surprising.  Perfect.  Dark.

It's the old trope -  human consciousness uploaded to a robot body.  As always the question arises as to what to do with the original?

In this story the consciousness is copied, not transferred, once done there are essentially two of the same person, one machine the other biological.

This brings up the idea of legality - who is the "person" under the law?  What must it be like to be the one with no rights, no future, other than existence.

This was a tremendous story no wonder it was under consideration for many prizes.

A spectacular read.

Highly, highly recommended.

The original book this story was published in.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Immortality by Robert J Sawer

This is what I love about Sawyer - he can write anything and get to the human heart of things.

This is not science fiction, although you could make a case of it to say it’s a time travel story.

At a 60th high school reunion, a woman remembers her past, comes to terms with her present and perhaps discovers a future.

Heart strings pulled.

First published here.

Monday, 22 October 2018

Escape Plus, A Short Story Collection by Ben Bova - Book Review #245

I've always had trouble dealing with collections.  I review each story individually thinking that if a reader of this blog wants to know more about the anthology itself he or she would find the label of the title, click on it and - voila! the entire book reviewed on one page.

But that seems like a lot of trouble and not always very intuitive.  So I've decided that with this book and going forward, once I've reviewed every story, I will publish a collection of links.


All in all this was a very enjoyable read.  Most of the stories worked for me and I am glad I spent time with it.

I am always thankful for collections like this, as it is often difficult to follow an author's work in the short story field.

Escape! -

A Slight Miscalculation -

Vince's Dragon -

The Last Decision -

Men of Goodwill -

Blood of Tyrants -

The Next Logical Step -

The Shining Ones -

Sword Play -

A Long Way Back -

Stars, Won't You Hide Me?

Ben Bova's website -

Ben Bova

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Rites by John Jackson Miller

These are the events leading up to the attack on Luke Skywalker by the Tusken Raiders.

Who’s were those raiders?  What was their story? What led them to that same canyon?

I wasn’t captivated by this story as I have been by the others. I think it’s because, as characters, I was never very interested by the Tuskens.  In all of these stories we know how the scene will end but, instead of adding something to the drama, the story behind the Raiders was pretty much what we had gleaned from the movie.

There was no real surprise here.  Perhaps that’s what was lacking for me; I didn't learn anything new about the Raiders.

John Jackson Miller's website -

John Jackson Miller

Saturday, 20 October 2018

James Bond 007: Eidolon by Warren Ellis - Graphic Novel Review

Okay, its Bond, James Bond, 007, what elses do I need to say?

Eidolon was a terrific story of revenge and clandestine attempts to undermine MI5 and MI6.

The action was sudden and sometimes unexpected and the bad guy was brutal.  Oh, my!  This was a mean dude.

As graphic as the violence was it was never gratuitous but it was heart-thumpingly cold.

Warren Ellis did a very good job of pacing and keeping the politicians an important part of the story.

Jason Masters' art was clean and cinematic wich lent itself to the grit of the story.

I wouldn't let younger readers at this book, it's pretty brutal.  But if you're looking for a strong, gritty and scary story you can't go wrong with this one.

Warren Ellis' website -

The art of Jason Masters
Warren Ellis

Friday, 19 October 2018

Loss of Signal by S.B. Divya

Oh, such a good story.

I loved how it took the idea of transferring consciousness to a computer and wedged it into our current lack of ability to fly beyond earth orbit. 

But it’s not about that.  No.  It’s about a boy.  A nineteen year old boy, who was once dying then reborn into the space program, on his way to the far side of the moon. 

Sure there are countdowns and rocket burns and delta V’s but, more importantly, there is a human experiencing all the emotions you’d imagin being so far from anybody else.

Terrific stuff. 

S B Divya’s website -

S B Divya

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

The Red One by Rae Carson

I continue to be impressed at how enriching these stories are to the original 1977 movie.

This is the story of the little red droid, you know the one.  The one who had a bad motivator.

How did R5-D4 come to be on that sandcrawler with R2-D2?

Perhaps things would have been very different without R5-D4’s involvement. 

On of the themes running through this collection is that there are no unimportant parts. No matter how small or brief, parts are played to allow the story to continue.

I also like reading about the wants and desires of all of these characters.  Everybody has a plan to improve their lives.  Everybody has hope, perhaps that's a requirement for this collection, that everybody embody A New Hope.

A good lesson to remember in all of our lives. 

Rae Carson's website -

Rae Carson

Monday, 15 October 2018

All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells - Book Review #244

Remember Peter Weller in Robocop?  Part man, part machine?

Murderbot is a bit like that; the central core of the "product" is biological, a cloned human being, but with only rudimentary free will - he can make decisions within a task but cannot decide between tasks.  Unless he has managed to hack into and subvert his governor module.

This is the big secret, he may be a security unit, known as a SecUnit, assigned to a small team of planetary explorers but he is not under their complete control.

The drama gets rolling when it is discovered that another nearby base has lost communications.  The team goes to investigate.

The story is narrated by Murderbot himself.  I’ve got to admit “Murderbot” is a pretty compelling name and I wanted to know why he called himself that. Only glimpses of his past are revealed.

Martha Wells has done a nice job of delivering a tense thriller and gave the protagonist unexpected depth.  The story is layered and I was happy to be introduced to the larger universe this one story occupies.  This is a perfect way to dive into a Space Opera; start with a small group of characters in a small place, in this case a far off planet, and then return them to their homes and you get a natural way to introduce the reader to a larger world.

I am certainly looking forward to reading the second instalment. 

Martha Wells' website -

Martha Wells

Hawkeye: My Life As A Weapon by Matt Fraction - A Graphic Novel Review

This character is pretty cool.  Sure, Clint Barton is rich and fit but he has no super powers, just very good skills with a bow.

I certainly loved the humor of the first three stories and the art of David Aja lent itself to the tone of the book.

Hawkeye has an equal in Kate Bishop, who is also Hawkeye.  Like Clint, she's conveniently rich and fit.  Hey, it's comics - so it's complicated - but it's still a different approach; to have a hero occupied by two different people. 

I enjoyed the stories.  Oh my, the neighbourhood bad guys were terrific and funny.  Any normal person would be scared of Russian Mafia types.  In these stories Clint is not just fighting the big picture "injustice" but he is fighting it on a personal level - protecting the other tenants of his building.

Best of all Clint makes mistakes.  He is not the all-knowing, never-makes-mistakes hero.  It makes the tension a little bit more real, when you know he can really get hurt.  That said, I think he has a super power - being able to get knocked to the head all the time without a concussion.

This made for a good time and a nice change in form.  Reading a comic book can feel a little bit like watching TV but it's still reading.  Honestly, I often wish there were illustrations in the books and stories I read.  Blending the art of writing with visual arts can be very satisfying.

The art of David Aja
Matt Fraction

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Come All Ye Faithful by Robert J Sawyer

What would life be like for the only priest on Mars?

For the most part he is tolerated but, being surrounded by secular scientist, he does the best he can to help those around him. 

One day he gets an unexpected call from Cardinal Pirandello and a new path presents itself. 

The end was interesting and unexpected.  To say more would give away too much.

I liked it a lot.

Robert J. Sawyer's website -

Originally published in this book.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Reirin by Sabaa Tahir

This is the first story that did not have a direct connection to the plot of the movie.  Instead it is an independent scene that happens in the background while Luke and his uncle trade R2 units after their first choice malfunctions.

Reirin is a young, female who dreams of leaving Tatooine and her clan of Tusken Raiders for a life among the stars.

While the two humans negotiate for a new droid she sneaks on board the sandcrawler.

I found it to be a bit similar to the previous story of Jot the Jawa, but still, it goes to expand the desperation on Tatooine.

I just love how much richer these stories are making the movie.  What a terrific idea.

Sabaa Tahir's website -

Sabaa Tahir

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Stories in the Sand by Griffin McElroy

I am finding this collection of stories to be an absolute delight.

The author of this one gives a charming, gentle voice to the Jawas.

Jot is a bit of a loner and outsider of the community that resides in the sandcrawler that ultimately discovers R2-D2.  He is an outcast, because of his size.  He is small, a runt, by the standards of Jawas.  He spends much of his time alone in his little corner of the roving junkyard.

One of his responsibilities is to perform a memory wipe on the droids before they are sold.  But before he does so he watches these memories, thinking of them as stories, and through these viewings he realizes there is a larger galaxy out there.

McElroy wrote a sad, touching and ultimately hopeful story in showing us one of the lives on board this giant scavenger of the desert.  The author has given us a view from the inside of Jawa culture that has not been explored in the movies.

I love thinking that Jot is out there in that galaxy far, far away and experiencing stories of his own making.

Lovely.  Just lovely.

Griffin McElroy's website -

Griffin McElroy

Monday, 8 October 2018

The Space Barons by Christian Davenport - Book Report #243

This was a terrific read.

Best of all, the book was published this year, making the information very current.

I’ve been frustrated over the years at the lack of information to be found on the websites of SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin.  But with this book, Mr. Davenport was able to connect many of the dots and to clearly show where these three companies are headed.

Having grown up with Apollo, I was four years old when Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the moon, I feel an entire generation (mine) has missed the promise and wonder of space.  The shuttle never lived up to increasing access to space and we have not left Low Earth Orbit (LEO) since Apollo 17.

In these pages we learn that we are witnessing the birth of a new golden age of human space flight.  But, instead of building on the legacy of the Saturn V, rockets have been reinvented from the ground up.  They are a very different type of craft, being designed on reusability.

I couldn’t help thinking that if it wasn’t for the International Space Station being a government funded destination in space, we’d not be as far along as we are.  Thank goodness it is there.

You couldn’t ask for a better book to learn about space in the hands of the next generation.

It is an accessible read and will open the door to many Google searches to dive deeper into the subjects covered here.

Highly recommended. 

Ad Astra.

Christian Davenport

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Identity Theft by Robert J Sawyer

Oh boy!  This is the stuff.

Sawyer uses all the good science fiction ideas and it’s makes them part of the background, no big deal.

Alexander Lomax is a private eye - on Mars no less.  His client is a lovely woman who is looking for her lost husband.  She’s a robot by the way.  A transfer as they are called in the story.  The technology exists where one can transfer his or her consciousness to an artificial body and continue on living indefinitely.

What a great idea!  It’s just an everyday thing here.  Love that.

Somewhere along the line somebody did something illegal to the husband and Lomax takes over where the police stopped caring.

The story is pretty much a straight-up mystery but the uniqueness of the setting keeps coming up to add flavour to the drama.

The dialogue was clean and crisp.  Any exposition needed was dealt with in the plot.  To me, this is the real trick of writing fiction; not allowing any kind of explanation to take away from the story.  How do you show instead of tell?  Sawyer is a master of this.

It’s a story of people being people, even if they are in robot bodies.

Excellent stuff!  Highly recommended.

Robert J. Sawyer's website -

Originally published in this book.

Robert J Sawyer

Friday, 5 October 2018

The Sith of Datawork by Ken Liu


Remember the scene where C-3PO and R2-D2 are in the escape pod and the gunners on the Star Destroyer, let it go after detecting no life signs aboard?

What if the gunner had second thought about not firing on it?

How can he save himself if his inaction is called into question?

Paperwork!  Or datawork as it’s called here.  Enter Arvira, fleet logistics liaison (grade 4) who knows the forms to fill.

Lots of fun, especially because you just know that running an empire requires quite a lot of forms.  All bureaucracies need a datatrail.

Ken Liu's website -

Ken Liu