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Mark Chitty (North Wales)

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Jupiter War: An Owner Novel (Owner Trilogy 3)
Jupiter War: An Owner Novel (Owner Trilogy 3)
by Neal Asher
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 12.72

4.0 out of 5 stars A great finish to this trilogy, 20 Feb 2014
Jupiter War is the third novel in Asher’s Owner series, following on from The Departure and Zero Point. While the series took a while to really find its feet in The Departure, Zero Point managed to continue the story to great effect while adding some rather interesting concepts to the mix. Jupiter War takes all that has gone before and brings us to the end-game of the Owner’s beginnings, taking all aspects laid down in the previous volumes to deliver a satisfying and entertaining conclusion.

As with Zero Point, Asher doesn’t hang around in getting us into the action, with Jupiter War jumping straight into the meat of the story. Alan Saul, the Owner, is on Mars to rescue his sister, Var Delex, and while there he plans on utilising the Antares base to his own ends: turning Argus from asteroid station to interstellar spaceship. On Earth Serene Gallahad is dictator, implementing her justice as and when she sees fit, taking no prisoners in the process. But she still doesn’t possess the gene bank needed to kick start the biosphere into life again, with her dream of rebuilding the planet reliant on getting her hands on it. With events unfolding on Argus and Earth, and both parties focused on what they must do to meet their goals, it is only a matter of time before the final deciding battle takes place.

What works in Jupiter War is the way Asher has pulled together all elements from the previous novels into a coherent whole, answering questions that are raised and continuing the character development nicely and without any unwarranted changes. Saul continues on the path to godhood, combining ever more with technology and moving away from his human side. This is particularly evident in his dealings with those on board Argus, even with his sister, Var. Galahad is truly the villain, and is everything you could ask for in a character. Her conviction that she’s doing what is right for the planet doesn’t waiver, but her confidence and arrogance push her to megalomania. She’s fascinating to read, perhaps more so than the Owner, and seeing her in action often brings a smile even when that’s not the intention. Of course, with two personalities such as these present in the story there is bound to be conflict, and when it comes the outcome never seems to be certain, despite everything we know.

Asher also has a way with technology, as anyone that has read his Polity novels may know. Jupiter War is no different, with the Owner implementing memory back-ups and clone bodies, effectively offering immortality to the humans on Argus, but it’s his advancements in robotics that take the centre stage here. After the introduction of the AI Proctors in Zero Point, as well as the interstellar Rhine Drive, there is a solid foundation ready for the imminent conflict, and with the creation of legions of robots to engineer and build the spaceship, the pieces are slowly moved into place. Asher uses the Owner’s ever-evolving status to show just how efficient this aspect can become, and just how frightening the prospect could really be.

Ultimately, Jupiter War is successful in everything it set out to do. The story is, more or less, good versus bad, though the grey areas start to trickle in more than in the previous novels. He raises many questions about what it is to be human, and just how far down the path of becoming one with machines is possible while still keeping that fundamental humanity. It’s a question that is not entirely answered, but it opens up plenty of room for any (potential) future volumes to investigate.

If you like your sci-fi packed with believable – and often scary – scenarios of the path humanity could walk down, and looking at more than just the surface implications of such a path, all the while jam-packed with action, invention, and just downright, in-your-face, balls-to-the-wall action, then Jupiter War will more than satisfy you. But do yourself a favour: start at the beginning and enjoy the ride that Asher takes you on.

The Serene Invasion
The Serene Invasion
by Eric Brown
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First contact done well, 20 Feb 2014
This review is from: The Serene Invasion (Paperback)
The Serene Invasion by Eric Brown is the author's return to the topic of first contact, much like his linked Kethani stories. The arrival of the Serene brings about a quick and decisive end to violence on Earth, with humans no longer able to commit any acts of aggresion towards each other. With this stark forced change in behaviour, many of the human race praise the intervention, while others simply cannot accept such a massive and unwelcome intrusion. What follows is a look at the changes wrought on humanity, how the representatives of the Serene help guide those around them, and how some simply cannot accept the gift they have given.

Brown manages to tell a gripping and very detailed account of such a change. Not only does he look at the immediate effects fo such an act, but he also shows the longer term effects of the coming of the Serene. While the transition is not entirely without problems, Brown is able to present both sides through various characters, their personal attachements, and just what they want for the future. The Serene Invasion is a quick and compelling read with big ideas and comments on societal change that will stay with you past the story's conclusion. Recommended.

Grave Descend
Grave Descend
by Michael Crichton writing as John Lange
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

3.0 out of 5 stars A quick and entertaining read, 20 Feb 2014
This review is from: Grave Descend (Paperback)
Grave Descend by Michael Crichton was originally written and released under his pen name of John Lange, though is now back on the shelves from Hard Case Crime under his real name. Telling a tale of mystery on the Caribbean island of Jamaica, McGregor is hired to salvage and lift a sunken yacht, with details presented to him that are all too tidy for his liking. Not one to simply do as he's told, McGregor starts to look into the account of the sinking, and the stories he hears don't match up. With questions at every turn, McGregor knows that there is much more to the apparent sinking than he's being told.

What Grave Descend does is deliver a quick, highly readable, and thoroughly light mystery where the reader is merely along for the ride. Other than McGregor most characters are there to serve a purpose rather than let us get to know them, and they suit the style and story well. Speaking of which, the story is interesting and very much has that 'one-more-chapter' feel, begging you to rush on to the ending. You won't find a deep and meaningful story here, but for a short and entertaining read you could do a lot worse.

Borderlands #2: Unconquered
Borderlands #2: Unconquered
Price: 4.41

3.0 out of 5 stars One for Borderlands fans, 20 Feb 2014
Borderlands: Unconquered by John Shirley takes the main characters from the immensely popular Borderlands video game and brings their exploits to the page. Looking mainly at Roland and Mordecai, Unconquered throws everything into the mix that you'd expect after playing the source material. Guns, violence, guns, psychotic enemies, guns, loot, and guns. Oh, and did I mention guns?

Lets be honest, the only reason to read Borderlands: Unconquered is if you're a fan of the game, otherwise there is little here that you'd care for. Unconquered reads as a side mission from the game with perhaps a little less of the dark humour I expected. The characters are fine, the plot okay, and the resolution not entirely unexpected. It's enjoyable, but this one won't win any awards, nor bring new fans to the franchise. What it does, it does well, though it's strictly for those familiar with Borderlands.

Phoenicia's Worlds
Phoenicia's Worlds
by Ben Jeapes
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.39

5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly enjoyable and solid storytelling, 5 Nov 2013
This review is from: Phoenicia's Worlds (Paperback)
Finding new and exciting authors is one of the things I love most about reading. Often I'll go into bookshops or browse online, and all I see are the same names with new books. When something new pops up - like Phoenicia's Worlds by Ben Jeapes - my interest is always piqued, especially as new sci-fi authors seem to be much fewer than their fantasy counterparts. Picking up Phoenicia's Worlds was a no-brainer, though what it delivered was so much more than I expected.

The premise for Phoenicia's Worlds is fairly simple: when the wormhole is destroyed, La Nueva Temporada is cut of from Earth and they must send the Phoenicia back via slower than light travel to re-establish the connection. Easy, right? What could possibly go wrong?! Actually, probably not what you're thinking. And despite this coming across as a fairly simple and straight-forward premise, there is so much more depth to the story.

Told in stages over decades, Phoenicia's Worlds is the story of one family: the Mateo's. Quin has the most focus, being born just as the wormhole collapses and never knowing of a world that doesn't have to strive hard to survive in an increasingly hostile climate. The early chapters that look at his life up to his late teens are fascinating, and despite the jumps forward in time they read in a completely coherent and easily followed way. At no point do you have to stop and think, trying to figure out where you are or what has been happening. However, while I expected this to narrow the focus, it does nothing of the sort. We see how the population as a whole struggle, how political issues effect everything, how different views clash and bring about change on so many levels.

While the trials and tribulations on La Nueva Temporada are the main focus, the aspects that look at the other side - Earth and the re-establishment of the wormhole connection - are more set into the story than early events would have you believe. A lot of this comes into play later in the narrative, and it answers many questions that are asked in the opening chapters. It also shows how Earth's society and governments have evolved, giving that depth and history without blatantly doing so.

The way that Jeapes presents his characters over a period of decades is masterfully done. Quin, in particular, is fascinating to read, seeing him grow and change over the period of the novel and understanding his motivations is an integral part of what makes Phoenicia's Worlds such a success. And while he may take the spotlight, the secondary characters shine no less, each bringing something different to the table and giving the novel that special something to make it rise above the crowd.

Phoenicia's Worlds is perhaps the best science fiction I've read this year. Not only does it present an interesting story, it does so with characters that bring it to life in many ways, and it doesn't waste a page in the telling. There was nothing here that I didn't enjoy and it ticked pretty much every box I could hope for. To say I recommend Phoenicia's Worlds is an understatement: go read it!

The Human Division (Old Man's War)
The Human Division (Old Man's War)
Price: 4.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amusing and enjoyable, 1 Nov 2013
Originally digitally released as serial fiction, The Human Division is John Scalzi's latest foray into his hugely popular Old Man's War setting, and tackles the events following the end of The Last Colony/Zoe's Tale. While previous novels have focused on the Perry family, this one comes from a fresh, if not entirely different, angle. Focusing on the crew of the Clarke, with emphasis on Harry Wilson and Hart Schmidt, The Human Division is a collection of linked stories set within an overall story arc.

Often taking the diplomatic viewpoint rather than the militaristic stance previous volumes offered, The Human Division is a refreshing change of pace that breathes new life into the series. Scalzi's flair for amusing and enjoyable dialogue mixed in with some genuinely interesting plot points mean that the high points of this novel show him at the top of his game. While not all stories meet the same lofty heights as the best on offer, The Human Division is certainly a successful return - and continuation - to one of my favourite SF series.

Dream London
Dream London
Price: 3.08

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Weird, wonderful, and completely different, 1 Nov 2013
This review is from: Dream London (Kindle Edition)
Until fairly recently I hadn't realised that Tony Ballantyne was releasing a new novel. I'd read Twisted Metal a few years back on its release and very much enjoyed his depiction of a robot only society and its workings. I never did get around to the sequel, Blood and Iron, instead deciding to patiently await the completion of the Penrose trilogy before diving in further. However, due to a variety of personal factors the final novel was delayed, and news on his next novel - whatever it was - dried up. And then I saw the cover for Dream London, done by the unmistakable hand of Joey Hi-Fi - that in itself was enough to draw me in. And then I read the synopsis...

First off let me say that Dream London is one of those books that just gets hold of you and drags you into its world. There isn't any other way to describe it, and even that barely communicates just how involved you become once you start turning the pages and walking the streets of this - quite frankly - unique and wondrous city. Above all else, that's the one thing that has stuck with me after coming away from Dream London. Yes, the story, characters, and general weirdness of this novel all add up to make it one hell of a read, but it's the setting that is its greatest achievement.

Ballantyne makes many references to London's landmarks throughout the novel, but whether you know them or not hardly matters as they're far from normal in the streets of Dream London. Things are all over the show - and that's very much part of the charm. While initially this seems to be complete fantasy, there is a hint underneath it all to suggest that isn't quite the case. In fact, one of the characters says as much during the course of events, and it's these odd comments here and there that gives Dream London its depth, taking it from being a straight urban fantasy to something more.

Much like the geography employed in Dream London, the characters too are weird and wonderful. Jim 'James' Wedderburn is our main protagonist, and the person who we follow throughout. He's not so much a hero - or anti-hero - he just is who he is. While it's clear he's fleshed out when we first meet him, the nature of Dream London means that we just don't know quite whether he'll do what's expected - after all, Dream London changes people.The secondary characters are all well portrayed, fitting their roles nicely, with some - like the dandy, Alan - more memorable than others. Either way, the cast Ballantyne has on show really do work well together to bring the novel to life.

I thoroughly enjoyed Dream London, with the plot taking twists and turns in unexpected and strange ways. I often found my head hurting with all the changes and general weirdness that is abound within the pages, but by allowing myself to be carried along on the ride it all just worked. Dream London is a most refreshing and different novel, and one I heartily recommend.

Treecat Wars (Honor Harrington - Star Kingdom)
Treecat Wars (Honor Harrington - Star Kingdom)
Price: 5.49

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A step up for the series, but still not quite enough, 26 Sep 2013
Set in the same universe as Weber's Honor Harington series, Treecat Wars is the third novel in the prequel Star Kingdom series, one which is being co-written by Jane Lindskold. This series is aimed straight at the YA market, and focuses on a teenage Stephanie Harrington and the events following her discovery of the treecats on the planet of Sphinx. The first novel in this series, A Beautiful Friendship, was a massive hit for me, setting everything up nicely and delivering a thoroughly enjoyable read. Fire Season didn't manage to meet the lofty expectations I had, and ultimately fell flat on many fronts. It was with great trepidation that I picked up Treecat Wars, and I was pleasantly surprised with what I found with its pages.

One of the biggest problems I had with Fire Season was that it just wasn't sure what it wanted to be. Was it aimed at the older YA crowd, as the more adult themes and discussions suggested? Or was it aimed at a younger audience, with details of relationships and unsure pacing on the treecat front present? Fortunately Weber and Lindskold seem to have combined their writing much better this time, with Treecat Wars having a much more stable and even narrative. Yes, the anthropologists are still around, and discussion about sentience and treecat behaviour is still present, but it's easier to read, not as full on. The same goes for the relationships between our characters - it's not as young as it was previously. Don't get me wrong, both aspects are far from perfect, but they are at least consistent this time around. And let me tell you, that makes the world of difference.

Treecat Wars picks up in the aftermath of Fire Season, and while the human population of Sphinx is carrying on as normal, it's not the same for the treecats. This is perhaps the biggest focus of the novel, looking at a couple of treecat clans and examining the effect the fires had on them. It's done very well, with Weber and Lindskold expanding the treecats further, allowing us to see them as a society and their interactions with each other. Yes, this has been done in the earlier novels, but the events of Treecat Wars adds a depth that wasn't present before.

The relationships are also a large part of the story. With Stephanie and Karl off-planet, Stephanie's relationship with Anders is put to the test. Although he's only a planet away, it's clear that they both find it hard with only video messages to keep in touch. And Anders also has a friend in Jessica, and her treecat Valiant, that is around more often for the xenoanthopologists to talk to and see the human/treecat bond. While at times it comes across as simple teenager problems, at others there is a much better portrayal given which allows more empathy with the characters.

One of the more surprising things I found with Treecat Wars is the relative lack of focus on Stephanie and Lionheart. Instead, Weber and Lindskold have chosen to follow other characters, which is a departure from the previous novels. One of the big appeals of this series is the fact that we're following a Harrington, and especially the first to meet and bond with a treecat. Removing that from much of the story doesn't do itself many favours, though it does give the benefit of multiple viewpoints and opens up different avenues to explore.

For all its improvements over Fire Season, Treecat Wars is still a simple novel. The issues faced within by the characters are not overly challenging, and certainly not as action-orientated and exciting as I would have expected with such a rich and diverse environment to play with. It's a shame, because this series is starting to come together with a narrative that flows rather than stumbles. Now, if the issues and challenges faced by our characters could be have some more depth, and - let's be honest - more appeal and interest, things could get very interesting. All I hope is that the next entry doesn't simply meander along, but instead provides a meatier storyline.

by Eric Brown
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars A good collection of linked short stories, 20 Aug 2013
This review is from: Salvage (Paperback)
Salvage is a new collection of short stories from Eric Brown, one of my favourite authors writing today. It is very much in the tradition of some of his previous collections (The Fall of Tartarus, Kethani) in that it is a chronological look at events, this time befalling the crew of the salvage ship A Long Way From Home. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to this book, that since I heard about the possibility of it a year or two back it was one I just knew I had to read, and that as a fan of Brown I may have rose-tinted glasses on when it comes to his novels. Be that as it may, Salvage is just what the doctor ordered, with stories delivering exactly what I expected, and others not quite hitting the mark.

So, without further ado, let's get into the nitty-gritty of Salvage: the stories themselves.

Dissimulation Procedure
Dissimulation Procedure is the short opening story, introducing us to Ed and Ella. Ed, a starship pilot and owner of the salvage ship A Long Way From Home, meets Ella in a restaurant as she tries to hide from spider-drones that are following her, and promptly hires her as his co-pilot. This starts the ongoing linked stories of Salvage, and while a good introduction, this story is a little too short with very little explanation. The way Ed interacts with Ella doesn't feel right, seemingly trusting her straight away without question, and allowing her to brush aside his questions when he does finally raise them.

The Soul of the Machine
Following on immediately from Dissimulation Procedure, Karrie, the third crew-member, is untrusting of Ella, especially given her status as an AI construct. It is here that Brown starts to flesh out the characters some more, and my initial reservations from the first story were put to rest. With Ella's knowledge of wrecked and abandoned starships throughout human colonised space, the direction of the stories becomes clearer, opening up many possibilities.

Three's A Crowd
After the slow-ish start in the first two stories, things are starting to move along nicely. Now the introductions are made we're getting deeper into the relationships between Ed, Ella, and Karrie. With A Long Way From Home responding to a distress beacon, Three's A Crowd gives a better look at how the three main characters interact, their thoughts towards one another, and how they work together. It's self-contained, but a good step in the right direction.

The Manexan Exodus
Focusing on a mystery that many have pondered over for centuries, The Manexan Exodus is a nice little story much like I'm used to with Brown's work. It's nice in that it expands on Karrie's character from that of the third wheel, giving some more depth to her, while Ed and Ella take more of a back seat.

To All Appearances
Another story more to my liking, and more like I expected from this collection, and Brown. To All Appearances deals with exactly that, what appearances mean, and in this story it approaches it from two angles. While there is the bigger picture, there is also the more intimate and character focused aspect of appearances that allows Brown to look a little deeper into Ella's character.

Cold Testing
Cold Testing is one of the Eric Brown stories that I love. It's got character, humanity, and emotion. Ed, Ella, and Karrie all play a large role in the story, and it helps in developing the relationship between the three, and plays on the friction too. Ella's status as an AI is one of the focal points, and the way that affects both Ed and Karrie is explored. It's interesting and heart-wrenching in equal measure, and one of the highlights of Salvage.

Salvaging Pride
This story follows on almost directly from Cold Testing, with Ed, Ella, and Karrie making their way to the Shlocken system on a salvage mission. Examining the tenuous relationship between humans and the alien Shlocken, this is a good one, especially as it relates directly to salvaging, which is what I think I expected more of from the collection.

Incident on Oblomov
Now this is another one of those stories that I like, perhaps because of the subject matter rather than anything else. With religion playing a large role in the story, Incident on Oblomov is another story dealing with appearances and humanity. It's a good story with a very nice - if not entirely unexpected - twist at the end. Definitely one of my favourites here.

Laying the Ghost
This is a very heartfelt tale, the story of Katerina, one of the few survivors of an attack on the planet Serimion 25 years previous. I was unsure where Brown was taking the tale as it unfolded, and aspects of it started to raise questions - my need for more details, I suppose - but ultimately Laying The Ghost didn't need anything else. It was, to be fair, pretty perfect.

Salvage Rites
Salvage Rites is not so much a self-contained story, more like an opportunity for us to learn more of Ed and his past, and his decades long obsession with finding a particular ship. When the ship reappears in human space it opens the door for Ed to reveal more about himself, and in doing so puts the focus squarely on him, something that has been lacking in the stories. I'm not sure what I thought of Salvage Rites as there is no real conclusion to the story, and it's one of the weaker ones because of it.

End Game
End Game is exactly that, the end of our story. It's also a continuation of Salvage Rites, and both stories probably would have benefited from being combined into one, but that's just semantics. Suffice to say that it wraps up the story of Ed, Ella, and Karrie nicely, and in a way that suits. There is also a small Coda at the end, an opportunity for Brown to tie up the final loose ends and give full closure to Ed, Ella, and Karrie's story.

Salvage examines what it is to be human, and how an AI construct can fit in and be accepted. It's got some emotional stories wrapped up in sci-fi clothing, but ultimately it's character focused and delivers exactly what I expected from Eric Brown. Some are more successful than others, with only a couple - Dissimulation Procedure and Salvage Rites - that felt a little too weak for my liking. Ultimately, Salvage is a very good collection of stories that work even better as a whole, and is highly recommended.

Caliban's War: Book 2 of the Expanse
Caliban's War: Book 2 of the Expanse
by James S. A. Corey
Edition: Paperback
Price: 11.97

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The story I wanted, and the story I didn't..., 12 Aug 2013
When I picked up Leviathan Wakes late in the game I knew that the general consensus of the novel was pretty good, that it was a well portrayed near-future science fiction, and that it lived up to the initial hype surrounding it. My opinion was pretty much along those lines too, and I ranked it right up there with the best novels I'd read that year. To say I was eager to read Caliban's War is somewhat of an understatement, but history does have a habit of repeating itself and here I am over a year after its release finally getting around to it. What I found within the pages of Caliban's War is both the story I wanted, and the story I didn't...

Caliban's War is set against the backdrop of the aftermath of events from Leviathan Wakes, and picks up the story a few short months later. With the protomolecule doing all sorts of strange things on Venus, tensions are high between Earth and the outer planets, with fighting breaking out on Ganymede after a horrifyingly familiar creature attacks both sides. As events continue to unfold, the bigger picture of the solar system becomes clearer, though it is far from straight forward.

While Leviathan Wakes focused on two points of view - starship pilot Holden, and detective Miller - this time it's expanded to that of four: Holden; Earth UN politician Avasarala; Ganymede botanist Prax; and Martian marine Bobbie. Holden is the only returning point of view, and his ship and crew are still very much a part of the picture. Of the new viewpoints, Avasarala is my favourite. She's a straight-talking, no-nonsense politician that, perhaps unintentionally, brings a smile to my face when she's on the page, despite the seriousness of the situation. Bobbie is interesting being the sole survivor of the opening attack. She doesn't play the political game, instead being completely frustrated at those that dance around issues rather than discussing them outright. Prax is the odd one out, if you could call him that. His daughter went missing during the events of the opening chapter, and he's desperate to find her. He hasn't got many resources at his disposal, and it's not until later on that his story starts to really build up speed as he becomes further integrated into the wider plot.

The plot to Caliban's War is good, but it doesn't have the focus I thought it would have on Venus and the protomolecule. There is plenty of action, intrigue, and entertainment to be had in Caliban's War, so it's unfair to say it's not enjoyable, but I was a little disappointed. There is no doubt that Corey is delivering some very good science fiction here, and the promise that the series holds is huge. Suffice to say, if you enjoyed Leviathan Wakes you'll find plenty here to keep you entertained. However, I'll be stepping into the third book, Abaddon's Gate, with a little more caution.

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