I think this story might have been where it started: my love of all tales apocalyptic. As a kid, I remember watching both the 1962 movie (Not in 1962I think this story might have been where it started: my love of all tales apocalyptic. As a kid, I remember watching both the 1962 movie (Not in 1962 I hasten to add!) and the 1980s TV series. I was totally gripped by both, but until a couple of weeks ago, I'd never actually read the book. Shameful!
So, it goes like this: there's a dazzling 'meteor shower'; almost the whole world goes blind as a result; society collapses; carnivorous plants literally stalk the land; plagues spread like the plague, and a handful of survivors have to ... well ... survive.
I love this book for so many reasons. It's very much of its time. It was written in 1951, and you can feel the Cold War breathing down your neck as you read. The changing gender roles of the period are also discussed - overtly and covertly. The narrative voice is very 1950s British; it put me in mind of Ian Flemming's James Bond books. But what I really love is the whole 'Do the ends justify the means?' choices the characters have to make, because, for me, that's what apocalyptic stories are about. They're about maintaining our humanity (the good parts at any rate) in the face of extreme adversity. When the rules and norms of society are stripped away, what do we become? Who do we protect? Who do we save? How do we decide who is 'them' and who is 'us'? And should we? And then of course there are the titular Triffids, which are basically plant zombies. Attracted by sound, they trudge relentlessly toward their blind victims, dispatching them with their venomous stingers and then waiting for their bodies to decompose so they can digest them. You could write a whole PhD thesis on the symbolism of triffids/zombies (In the 1950s they pretty much represented the Soviet Union.), and I'm sure someone has, but when I read about them the one thought that goes through my mind over and over again is that, today, triffids/zombies = consumerism. As a race, we're mindlessly chomping our way through this planet's resources (and people), and most of the world seems blind to it.
Fans of The Walking Dead might enjoy this book - there is a lot (and I mean a lot) of similarity between the plots, but that's not a bad thing; 1950s Britain and 2010s USA are very different places, the people who inhabit them, however, are not ...
"Zombies are all the things that will not lie down and die, the truth we cannot repress, the thing that will rise up until it overwhelms us all. Whatever you want to forget is stumbling, dead-eyed and open-mouthed towards you." Naomi Alderman...more
I’m no expert on the concept of time travel (I gave up physics after GCSE, and I only got a grade C in A-Level Maths.), but I admire anyone who can geI’m no expert on the concept of time travel (I gave up physics after GCSE, and I only got a grade C in A-Level Maths.), but I admire anyone who can get their head around it (and its pitfalls) as well as Calum Kerr has done in this flash-fiction collection.
In Time, we are treated to 31 very short stories all connected by the aforementioned concept. Some stand alone, while some follow on from others. Either way, we get to meet a wide variety of characters, some of whom invent (and un-invent) time travel and some of whom, for all sorts of reasons, simply make use of the facility – although ‘simply’ is probably completely the wrong word!
Even though, these stories are pure science fiction, they are still rooted in concrete human experience; they still brim with those universal human desires and capacities: love, hate, loss, friendship, life, death etc. And while the stalwart plots of time travel fiction – such a killing Hitler – are definitely present, Calum puts his own spin on them so that they read as fresh as if they were completely new ideas.
It’s really hard to pick a favourite from this collection, but the story that has stuck most firmly in my mind is Why Do Fools? which is the tale of a man who goes to extremely precise lengths to ensure his past happens the way it needs to to ensure he gets the future he desires. After reading it, I was left thinking about how our lives are so susceptible to the fluttering of butterfly wings.
One of the things I love about all of Calum’s writing is the confidence with which his different narrative voices speak. It doesn’t matter whether the story is being told by a traditional third-person, completely in dialogue or as an excerpt from an auction catalogue, it only takes the length of an opening sentence to make you realise you’re in very capable hands.
So, if you’re a fan of time travel fiction, I’m sure you’ll be a fan of this book, and if you’re not a fan of time travel fiction, after reading this book, you probably will be. Whichever you are though, once you’ve read Time, you might, like me, be left hoping that no one ever, ever, ever invents a time travel machine …
If you enjoyed Calum Kerr's Breaking Distance, the odds are you'll enjoy his recent book, Lunch Hour. The premises of both books are the same: every fIf you enjoyed Calum Kerr's Breaking Distance, the odds are you'll enjoy his recent book, Lunch Hour. The premises of both books are the same: every flash-fiction-length chapter is set in the same place, at the same time. In Breaking Distance, every story occurred in a motorway service station at the moment someone dropped a tray. In Lunch Hour, every story revolves around the population of a single office during a single hour - the titular 'lunch hour'.
This book has everything: romance and unrequited love, murder and mayhem, fraud, fantasy and philosophy, assassination, ambition and alien invasion. It's a kind-of Torchwood meets Groundhog Day meets Sliding Doors meets The Office.
As it's a flash-fiction collection, it's a super-quick read. I raced through it in about 40 minutes. I say 'raced' because it's a proper page-turner. Don't let me give you the impression that it's a superficial read though. Calum has a way of exposing his characters' innermost conflicts that makes you feel as if you've known them all their lives, and he deals with some pretty big topics too: sexuality, prejudice, office politics, isolation, the daily grind and even the meaning of life.
I bought 'Wings of Retribution' by Sara King as part of my quest to find books to fill the Firefly-shaped hole that Fox’s cancellation of the show lefI bought 'Wings of Retribution' by Sara King as part of my quest to find books to fill the Firefly-shaped hole that Fox’s cancellation of the show left in my life. Alas, I’ve yet to find anything that’s even remotely the right size or shape. This book started off really, REALLY well. The opening pages were well-written: the scenes were intricately and evocatively described, the characters seemed interesting, and the dialogue was sharp, but as the story progressed everything descended into cliche, and character development was soundly sacrificed on the alter of plot. Bit of a disappointment. 2/5...more
I've given this book two stars because it's the average of one and three. There were some aspects of this book that I enjoyed and**CONTAINS SPOILERS**
I've given this book two stars because it's the average of one and three. There were some aspects of this book that I enjoyed and would give three stars to, and some aspects of this book that I didn't like at all and to which I'd give one star.
First off, I admit that I am a massive fan of Firefly and the reason I bought this book was because I'd seen it recommended as a story that would be enjoyed by Browncoats. So it had a lot to live up to. Perhaps it's no surprise then that I didn't like it as much as I'd hoped.
I'll start with the things I liked about it:
I enjoyed the plot; I'm a sucker for the Mal Reynolds, Jack Sparrow, Han Solo types - captains of ships, who are both pirates and good men and who set off on adventures with nothing but personal gain in mind, but who, by the end of the story, realise that there's more to life than money. Darien Frey certainly goes on that journey, although at the start of the book he's far, far more pirate (and unpleasantly so) than any of the aforementioned captains. As plots go, it was fairly straightforward and the conspiracy wasn't overly convoluted, but that wasn't a bad thing. Thumbs-up for easy reading!
I thought the actions scenes were gripping, some of the best writing in the book.
I liked the world - airships that could fly like X-wing fighters, enchanted weapons and 'technology'. It was fairly sparsely described, there was enough to give a taste of the setting without slowing down the action.
I liked Jez. She was the most interesting character, self-motivated, intelligent, strong.
On to the things I didn't like:
Ironically, the thing I liked least about this book was its similarity to Firefly. It was too similar. Some of the plot points, characters and scenes had been transplanted straight from the TV show, for example:
*Crake and Bess seemed to be based on Simon and River - posh bloke on the run with a girl in a box *Pinn was Jayne Cobb - stupid thug/bully *Quail was Badger - the petty criminal who sets people up with jobs. Note the animal name. *The Coalition was The Alliance *The Manes were Reavers - merciless, terrifying marauders. (Reavers ain't men. Or they forgot how to be. Now they're just nothing. They got out to the edge of the galaxy, to that place of nothing, and that's what they became - Mal, Bushwacked.)
There's a scene where two of Frey's crew go to a ball in disguise - "Shindig", anyone? And there's the scene where Frey is tortured with some form of electrical muscle cramper ... That'll be from "War Stories".
And then there's the very last line of the book, which is almost word-for-word the same as Mal's last line in the episode "Serenity". I couldn't quite believe it when I read it. Gobsmacked doesn't cover it!
I also noted some similarities to Pirates of the Caribbean. Malvery reminded me very much of Mr. Gibbs, there's a hidden pirate stronghold (Retribution Falls = Shipwreck Cove) and a magic compass. The Manes also reminded me of Barbossa's undead crew in Curse of the Black Pearl. ("We are not among the living, and so we cannot die, but neither are we dead. For too long I've been parched with thirst and unable to quench it. Too long I've been starving to death and haven't died. I feel nothing, not the wind on my face nor the spray of the sea, nor the warmth of a woman's flesh." Barbossa, CotBP.) Haven't you heard the stories?
To be honest I felt cheated. I wanted something that was reminiscent of Firefly and my other favourite piratey adventures, not a complete ripoff. The sense of déjà vu was overwhelmingly disappointing at times.
Another thing I didn't like were all the flashbacks which were used to tell the characters backstories. I felt they slowed the narrative down too much. I wasn't entirely convinced by Frey's change in attitude toward life and his crew either. There didn't seem to be any particular catalyst for this and I thought his introspection had to work too hard to cover for it. And then there was the wobbly point of view and the disagreement in tenses, sometimes within the same sentence. Rookie mistakes. I also thought it was odd that we never really got to meet the real baddies of the book, the people behind the attempted coup, the Awakeners.
The final thing that really turned me off this book was its portrayal of its female characters. When I first started feeling uncomfortable with this, I shrugged it off as just being down to the characters' attitudes (i.e. part of the plot) but by the end, I found myself googling 'retribution falls sexism' because I wondered if I was the only person feeling uneasy. I could write reams about this but, to my unpleasant surprise, I found lots of reviews by people who felt the same way as me. Here are a few:
It wouldn't have been so bad had the characters' sexism been tempered by the presence of some balancing narrative or the presence of at least one female character who wasn't either beautiful and therefore solely an object of male sexual desire or who wasn't unattractive and therefore not an object of male sexual desire.
Well, that's it. Overall 'Retribution Falls' was a very derivative work (I can't believe Joss Whedon hasn't sued Wooding!) with some redeeming features. I think that if I wasn't so familiar with Firefly I would have enjoyed it a lot more. And let's face it: nothing, no nothing is ever going to be as good as Firefly!
Now, I have a dilema. I've already borrowed the next book in the series from the library. Part of me wants to read it; I've got the feeling that now the crew of the 'Ketty Jay' is all set up, they might have some fun adventures of there own, but the other part of me thinks that the déjà vu will disappoint me all over again. Maybe I'll give the first chapter a go. Just call me a sucker for punishment!...more
Gave up after about 60 pages. The premise is fascinating, but the execution just confused me. Too many times I had to reread a sentence just to figureGave up after about 60 pages. The premise is fascinating, but the execution just confused me. Too many times I had to reread a sentence just to figure out what was going on, what it meant, and to whom it was referring. It's a shame because the story sounds like it would be right up my street, but the writing is just too opaque for me....more
One Saturday afternoon, when I was about twelve years old, my dad put a tape in our VCR and pressed play. After the pounding of the 20th Ce4.5/5 stars
One Saturday afternoon, when I was about twelve years old, my dad put a tape in our VCR and pressed play. After the pounding of the 20th Century Fox drums had faded, there was a quiet pause followed by a second dramatic fanfare. (Even now, nearly thirty years later, the sound of it makes my insides tickle with anticipation!) As the trumpets trumpeted, little blue words appeared on a space-blackened screen: A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away … And thus began my love affair with Space Opera.
Star Wars led me to Star Trek, which, if we we'd been good, we were allowed to watch on the black-and-white telly in the dining room while we ate our dinner on a Friday night. After that came, Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, Blake Seven, Stargate, Farscape, Andromeda and Firefly. I haven't just watched Space Opera, though, I've read it too: Anne McCaffrey, Iain M. Banks, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Frank Herbert, Larry Niven, M. John Harrison to name but a few of the authors who have graced my shelves over the years. There's just something about the adventure of it all, the battles of good against evil, the people, the places, the romance …
Which brings me to how I came to read this book. I wanted to read a Space Opera that had a good measure of romance in it. Something epic and solidly sciency, but in which the characters fall in and out of love like normal people do. If you google 'science fiction romance' you are presented with lists of books where the SF is just a backdrop for sex. The covers depict strong, bare-chested men holding impossibly-curvy, swooning women in their bulgingly-bicepy arms. Not my cup of klah. I wanted a story where the romance was a subplot … you know, like Han and Leia's, Malcolm Reynolds and Inara Serra's, John Crichton and Aeryn Sun's. Anyway, after a lot more googling, I came up with a recommendation for this book by Ursula K. Le Guin. I've read and enjoyed a few of hers, but hadn't come across this one. I'm so glad I did, though, because not only is it packed with solid science, and not only is there a hefty dose of … I wouldn't call it romance; maybe 'relationships' is a better term, like all good SF it holds a mirror up to humanity and makes it take a long, hard look at itself.
The Birthday of the World and Other Stories is a collection of eight short stories set in Le Guin's Hainish Cycle universe. The individual stories are each set in a different society within that universe and explore the cultural norms and issues relating mainly to relationships, sex, sexuality and gender.
Coming of Age in Karhide is about a young Gethenian who is approaching puberty. Gethenians are hermaphroditic and androgynous for most of the time, except during periods called Kemmer, when they morph into either males or females in order to mate. A fascinating (and graphic) look at how we view people though the lens of gender.
The Matter of Seggri is set on a world where the number of women in six-times greater than the number of men. Women live in medieval-style villages, while the men live in garrison-like castles. At first it appears as if the men have the better life – the women do all the work and provide the castles with all that they need; the men entertain themselves with games and competition and leave their castles only to have sex – but it soon emerges that things are, as they say, not quite as they seem. Again, a fascinating look at gender roles.
Unchosen Love starts with the words “Sex, for everybody, on every world, is a complicated business, but nobody seems to have complicated marriage quite as much as my people have.” On Planet O, there are four types of people: Morning women, Morning men, Evening women and Evening men, and a marriage is made up of all four. This story and the next, Mountain Ways, shine a light on love and marriage by showing us it's intricacies, issues and how it does and doesn't work on Planet O.
In Solitude we meet the daughter of a scientist who takes her children to live amongst the people of Eleven-Soro in order to observe their culture. Women live in villages called 'auntrings' and keep themselves to themselves, while men live hermit-like in the forests around the auntrings, the two only coming together to mate. The world is post-apocalyptic and you get the feeling that this segregation is society's way of avoiding the critical population mass and magic (technology) that they believe caused the disaster, a belief which the daughter comes to adhere to as she grows up amongst the people her mother is observing.
Old Music and the Slave Woman is a sad story about freedom and justice in a world divided by civil war.
The Birthday of the World tells of a ruling family who believe they are Gods, but who end up questioning that belief when a prophecy appears to come true.
Paradise Lost is the tale of the fifth generation of passengers born aboard a long-range spaceship who eventually discover that they are going to reach their destination (an earth-like planet) forty years ahead of schedule. Over the years they've been travelling, a new mythology has evolved aboard the ship which comes into conflict with the ship's original purpose. It makes the reader ask, “What's more important, the journey or the destination?”
It was a bit of a mixed bag as far as holding my interest goes. I couldn't put down Coming of Age in Karhide, The Matter of Seggri, Unchosen Love, Mountain Ways or Solitude, but I had to force myself to finish Old Music and the Slave Woman and The Birthday of the World. They were a bit slow and trudgy. By far the best (and longest) story, though, was Paradise Lost. Utterly gripping.
So, this book has got it all - solid science, adventure and alien societies, space-age ships and technologies, romance, relationships and religions - and it's all written in Le Guin's confident, intelligent style that forces you to think beyond the words on the page, but the stories in this book have not satisfied my hunger for Space Opera; they have just increased it.
On a side note, perhaps the most inspiring part of this book for me as a writer, was the foreword written by Le Guin herself, in which she shares her writing process. It seems that for her, writing a story is a voyage of discovery. Sometimes she doesn't understand where a story is going. Sometimes bits of myth and legend pop into her head. Sometimes she just listens to the people who populate her worlds and lets their voices take over. I've often wondered if I should plan out my longer stories more, but reading about how Le Guin writes has given me a bit more confidence to follow my instincts and carry on writing by the seat of my pants....more
Firefly and Serenity are my all-time favourite Sci-Fi tv show & movie, so I was hoping the novelisation of the film might at least be an enjoyableFirefly and Serenity are my all-time favourite Sci-Fi tv show & movie, so I was hoping the novelisation of the film might at least be an enjoyable read. Disappointed isn't the word for it. I gave up on page 82. I know it's probably tough to weave backstory from a tv show into the novelisation of a movie, but it was so stilted and drawn-out that it arrested the flow of the story. Although the dialogue was brilliant - well it would be as it was from the film - the attempt to mimic it in the narrative was painful to read. Not to mention the actual bad grammar in places where there was no call for it. What really spoiled it for me, though, was the lack of emotional depth or any exploration of character. I've read better fan fiction. This read like a book aimed at preteens. When will someone write a novelisation for grownups? They should have asked Steven Brust to write this book. His Firefly novel (My Own Kind of Freedom) is perfect!...more
There are some stories in the collection that I just didn't understand, but they were few and far between. The rest cleverly and subtly illustrate theThere are some stories in the collection that I just didn't understand, but they were few and far between. The rest cleverly and subtly illustrate the idea that we are all freaks to some extent, and that we all have a 'superpower'. We might not be able to fly, but if you squint, you'll see there is something 'super' about the most ordinary of us; it's all about perception. That might sound a bit fluffy, but that's not the way this collection is written. It's more gritty than fluffy. It doesn't shy away from uncomfortable subjects. To coin a phrase: 'it pulls no punches'. The subject matter, the language and even the illustrations (which are breathtaking) are rather adult in nature. Best read with an open-minded....more
It took me longer to read this little book than I expected it would because I found it hard to concentrate on the story. There's an odd superficialityIt took me longer to read this little book than I expected it would because I found it hard to concentrate on the story. There's an odd superficiality and matter-of-factness to the writing which made it difficult for me to connect with the characters - especially Meg, who I found quite disagreeable at times. Overall, I found the book interesting, but I'm left wondering what it was all about. There seem to be a lot of themes in this book! I also found the use of bible quotes a bit heavy-handed and rather strange; they seemed to come out of nowhere and then disappeared again....more
A thoroughly enjoyable page-turner. Although it was slightly predictable in places, the confidence of the narrative voice completely made up for it. AA thoroughly enjoyable page-turner. Although it was slightly predictable in places, the confidence of the narrative voice completely made up for it. At times it reminded me of Star Wars, at other times, Stardust (by Neil Gaiman) and all the way through I kept thinking 'This would make a great movie!' I thought the main characters were interesting, likeable and well-rounded, and some of the writing was inspirational, especially the use of metaphor and simile in the descriptions of places and actions. As a story, it mesmerised me, exploring some big themes (such as love, terrorism/freedom fighting and environmental issues) without bashing me over the head with the author's opinions. My children are too young for this book at the moment, but I will be keeping it so that I can pass it on to them when they're ready. Oh ... and I've ordered the other three books in the series. I know this are classified as YA (and there's no way I could be described as young anymore), but I'll never be too old for good writing and storytelling....more
I remember reading this in my teens because I had a huge crush on Han Solo. Having recently spotted it on a shelf in a second-hand bookshop I decidedI remember reading this in my teens because I had a huge crush on Han Solo. Having recently spotted it on a shelf in a second-hand bookshop I decided to buy it and reread it, just to relive those heady teenage days. What a disappointment. I ended up putting it in the recycling after only 150 pages. What the author did to Leia and Han's characters was unforgivable!...more
I first read this book in my teens, and remember thinking it was wonderful. I've decided to re-read it again (twenty-something years later) to see whaI first read this book in my teens, and remember thinking it was wonderful. I've decided to re-read it again (twenty-something years later) to see what I make of it now. Review to follow.
Update: I've just finished this re-read and, once more, I am blown away. There's so much to praise about this book - the story, the writing, the characters, the themes of nature vs. nurture, femininity vs. masculinity etc - but it's the irony that's sticking with me at the moment: In an attempt to breed out violence and the (supposed) male tendency to wage war, the (morally corrupt?) women end up sending their men to war.
It's the kind of book that fills my head with questions and leaves me pondering the answers....more