Tag Archives: book

Friday Photo Blogging: Welcome to The North

This is the view I can see through the window just beyond my monitor in my new office (albeit taken from the far side of the glass, stood out on the cold back step while smoking a cigarette in the sharp chill of dusk):

welcome-to-the-north

So, yeah – I’ve moved. 🙂

I’m afraid this won’t be a full-blown FPB of the old school, because there’s still a whole raft of stuff for me to do – not only with setting up housekeeping (and officekeeping) here in Stockport, but with catching up on my freelance work as well. And then there’s the other blogs: Futurismic has, of necessity, been quiet all week; likewise The Dreaded Press.

So much to do, so much to do… and Xmas is bearing down on us like an office Romeo on the drunk secretary at the annual piss-up, so time is not exactly going to be plentiful. Well, OK, that’s not strictly true: I’ve enough time to do my work, and some time to spend with my lady and our respective families, and with our friends. My personal blog? Not quite so much… but then I’m guessing most of you are pretty busy at this time of year, too, and I hope you’ll overlook any slackness on my part. 🙂

But as a hint of things to come, here’s a “books received” entry: after seeing it mentioned at Chairman Bruce’s Beyond the Beyond, I just had to seek out a copy of Technomad by Graham St John:

Technomad - Graham St John

Basically it’s a cultural history of post-rave movements across the planet. Some of you may not know I spent a fair period as a DJ, clubber and small-time promoter on the dance music scene between 1994 and 2003; the countercultural philosophies (and fallacies) that inform that world still intrigue me hugely today. Should be a good read, I’m thinking.

But my good lady is about to return from Ikea with two large bookcases to assemble, so I’d better sign off. Have a great weekend, ladies and gents. 🙂

Book review: Ehsan Masood – Science & Islam, a History

Science & Islam, a HistoryEhsan Masood

Science and Islam: A History - Ehsan MasoodIcon Books, HBK £14.99 RRP; 8th January 2009

ISBN-13: 9781848310407

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Accompanying a BBC television series that I’ve not seen, Ehsan Masood‘s Science & Islam, a History is a readable pop-sci-history book and a great introduction to what lies behind the veil of the mythical Dark Ages, which I remember being taught were a period of scientific and philosophical vacuum. Behind the curtain of Western Europe’s descent into superstition and ignorance lies a largely untold story – that of the scientific achievements of the Islamic peoples. Continue reading Book review: Ehsan Masood – Science & Islam, a History

Holding a Wolfe by the ears

Oh yeah – in all the excitement*, I forgot to mention that my review of Gene Wolfe’s Severian Of The GuildSF Site omnibus went up at a few days back**. I haven’t dared re-read it yet, to be honest. The review, I mean. Though I haven’t re-read the book, either. I might one day, though. Maybe.

And hey – new fiction at Futurismic! “Veritas Nos Liberabit” by Kristin Janz, in fact – please go read, leave feedback, and let me know what you think. Lots of new blogger action over there, also. Good times!

And finally, your headline-of-the-day:

Zombie caterpillars controlled by voodoo wasps

Ribofunk meets the Hammer House Of Horror. Ain’t nature awesome?


[ * By ‘excitement’ I quite obviously mean the gripping twelve hours a day I spend sat at a computer keyboard. Just by way of clarification, you see. ]

[ ** I’ve had no emails from angry theists, so I guess I didn’t offend anyone; this is the result I was aiming for. ]

Book review: Implied Spaces by Walter Jon Williams

IMPLIED SPACES by WALTER JON WILLIAMS

Implied Spaces by Walter Jon Williams

Night Shade Books hardback, 256pp, RRP US$24.95, ISBN 978-1-59780-125-6 – June 2008


Night Shade Books must know that people like myself – despite believing ourselves to be sophisticated and resistant to slick marketing and simple sub-genre categorisation – are actually easy marks. I caught sight of the gorgeous Dan Dos Santos cover of Walter Jon Williams‘s Implied Spaces, noticed it was described as a “novel of the Singularity”, and I just had to read it. Thankfully, this swift little novel is rewarding in proportion to its promise.

The upfront marketing makes more sense once you start reading, because Implied Spaces starts off reading more like a Middle Eastern fantasy, and stays that way for a good three chapters. Our hero Aristide is a travelling warrior-poet with a talking cat who gets mixed up in a conflict with a notorious and fanatical gang of caravan bandits in a sort of remixed Arabian Nights scenario.

While there are subtle clues for the experienced reader of sf that all is not as it may initially seem, it’s some time before the setting is revealed to be the immersive simulation that it actually is. It’s a brave move on Williams’s part – one that an author of lesser reputation could probably not risk taking – and it has the desired effect of bonding us to Aristide and his complex fighting-philosopher persona.

It transpires that Midgarth, the region where Aristide was roaming, is one of many “pocket universes”, created by posthumanity through wormhole-related jiggery-pokery as part of a civilisation-wide reaction to the Existential Crisis – the question of what-to-do when you’re functionally immortal and technologically omnipotent. Williams manages to humanise posthumans with this neat and believable philosophical sleight-of-hand, while simultaneously retaining all the aspects that make them fun to read about, resulting in a civilisation that resembles Iain M Banks’s Culture in some respects.

The big difference is that in the Culture, conflicts begin at the fringes; in Implied Spaces, Williams has the rot setting in at the core. Williams has a faster pace and sparser style than Banks, too – once we’re out of Midgarth and Aristide is revealed to be a much bigger player than was initially apparent, we move rapidly through escalations of crisis that bring posthumanity to the brink of extinction in pretty short order.

Despite the setting, Implied Spaces has a familiar sf-nal plot shape, and Aristide has more than a hint of the Heinleinian Capable Man about him. But this is where the value of those early chapters comes into play; we’ve already learned that there’s some genuine contradiction and compassion beyond the adaptable have-a-go hero, and we’re less tempted to dismiss him as a Mary Sue as a result.

Williams also invokes Golden Age sf in his battle scenes and their dispassionate mega-deaths, which are ludicrously (and enjoyably) immense; many reviewers have already compared Implied Spaces to Doc. Smith’s output, and while I’ve not read the Lensman books I know enough of them to see it’s a point well made.

I suspect there’s more than simple homage at play, however. In fact, to be blunt, I think Williams succeeds in having his cake and eating it, delivering sly winks all the while. After all, what’s the fun in painting a huge canvas if you can’t play games in the details?

Though Draeger was centuries old, her biological age was never more than sixteen: she wore her hair in ponytails that dropped from high on her head nearly to her waist, and she had equipped herself with eyes twice the size of the human norm. All the humans in her division were industrial designers from New Penang, and they had equipped their fighters with picturesque but non-functional innovations: weird frills, decorative antennae, brilliantly-coloured camouflage projections, and full sets of teeth.

“Death For Art’s Sake!” Draeger cried, the divisional motto, and her division kicked its way through piles of wrecked robots and swung over to the attack. [pp189]

You can picture the grin Williams must have worn as he typed some of these passages – because unless you’re a more cynical reader than myself, it’ll be the same one that’s plastered on your own face. This is another commonality Williams shares with Banks, these nudges and wry subtexts; their styles are very different, but they play the same game. Other examples include Williams’s deft posthuman spin on the hoary B-movie zombie trope; enjoyably schlocky, but a convincing threat within the framework of the fictional space.

As should be expected from a “novel of the Singularity”, Implied Spaces is knowingly postmodern. Williams reappropriates old riffs and gags, takes humour seriously and seriousness flippantly, tacitly acknowledges the book’s status as a fictional text within a universe of other fictional texts (naked in-genre references ahoy!) but never entirely steps outside of the pact with the reader – although he more than occasionally taps on the glass of the fourth wall and winks.

Williams isn’t just writing the disposable pulp that you could easily treat it as. The book is shot through with some surprisingly rich philosophical issues that show he’s gotten to grips with the real human implications of a post-Singularity civilisation in a way that few writers achieve, as well as working in contemporary themes like religious extremism and the surveillance-society panopticon.

There’s genuine food for thought behind most of the plot twists, and plenty of good old-fashioned sensawunda – in fact, given the recent rush for that particular bandwagon, I’m very surprised that Night Shade didn’t think to push Implied Spaces as a Young Adult novel. It’s got all the flash-bang gosh-wow and clear plotting that the YA market demands, but also contains deeper layers to reward the older (or simply closer) reader. It’s fast, fun and smart – and you can’t ask for much more than that from a posthuman space opera.

Book review: Ben Bova – The Sam Gunn Omnibus

The Sam Gunn Omnibus by Ben Bova

Ben Bova - The Sam Gunn Omnibus

Tor Books, 704 pp; $29.95 HBK (US RRP); ISBN 978-0765316172; pub. Feb 2007


As the title suggests, the The Sam Gunn Omnibus is a fix-up novel that collects all of Ben Bova‘s stories about the eponymous hero, written for and published in the US science fiction magazines of the late 1980s and early ’90s.

So, who is Sam Gunn? He’s the boom-bust entrepreneur incarnate, an embodiment of laissez faire capitalism in space exploration who names spaceships after free-market economists and sees a profit in every problem, large or small. He’s also a reincarnated Huck Finn in a space suit; a tireless braggart and womaniser; the natural enemy of rules, regulations and corporate methodology. If it wasn’t for his redeeming habit of helping out his friends en route to his next pile of riches, you’d have to hate him on principle — and most people already do.

And that’s as far as it goes for character development. Gunn is an avatar, a plot device through which Bova explores and exploits the solar system using scientifically plausible methods that governments and corporations have so far refused to use, for various reasons. As such, these tales of the first businesses, hotels and habitats in orbit should be hugely relevant in this era of nascent space tourism operations, inspiring grandiose dreams of a brighter bolder future for our species.

And they might still have been, if the stage wasn’t hogged by the overbearing and improbable Gunn. The other characters are no better – a roster of crude geopolitical stereotypes and caricatures – and it is probably the attitudes implicit in these characterisations that most clearly date these stories as relics of a bygone era. The life of Sam Gunn reads like an apologia for greed and misogyny, and even readers sympathetic with Bova‘s yearnings for the human race to escape the gravity well may find themselves tiring of the same successful-underdog plot continually reiterated against a slightly different backdrop.

Perhaps I’ve just missed the point, even though Bova‘s introduction suggests that there is no point to miss. As pure escapist wish-fulfilment, the Omnibus succeeds, but the reader in search of true sensawunda may wish to search elsewhere.


[This review was originally published in Interzone some time early in 2007; the precise issue number currently escapes me. It is offered in lieu of more substantial and original content during this particularly busy week.]