Haldeman's The Forever War has garnered a lot of praise and awards over the years, and is particularly lauded for it's anti-war themes.
The parrallelsHaldeman's The Forever War has garnered a lot of praise and awards over the years, and is particularly lauded for it's anti-war themes.
The parrallels with the Vietnam War situation are obvious and there are quite a few points made about the stupidity of war, 'military intelligence', the dehumanising effects of battle, the dislocation felt by returning soldiers (made even more so by time dilation), and the difficulties of fitting back into a society that doesn't understand where you've been and what you've seen.
But for all that the tone of the novel is eminenetly readable, told from the laconic first person viewpoint of William Mandella, never preachy, and despite the fact it appears to come from a diametrically opposed political base, it reads like a modernised Golden Age Heinlein military SF romp. ...more
A good, solid military SF tale, OMW doesn't break any new ground but entertains with humour, incident and not too much sentimentality, though it bordeA good, solid military SF tale, OMW doesn't break any new ground but entertains with humour, incident and not too much sentimentality, though it borders on that near the end....more
The years have not been kind to the stories in this collection. Published in 1975, the book opens with a 'caveat lector' warning us not to read the stThe years have not been kind to the stories in this collection. Published in 1975, the book opens with a 'caveat lector' warning us not to read the stories one after the other without a break as the emotional content 'may be extremely upsetting'. No doubt some of the concepts dealt with were confronting at the time, now the writing style in the stories comes across as overwrought, preachy and full of telling, telling telling. Not to mention the overt misogeny, and the lack in variation of tone: each story told in an all-consuming didactic 'Twilight Zone-style' voiceover that pounds at the poor reader again and again. Caveat lector indeed. There are a couple of good stories in here, but the rest is really hard to trudge through. ...more
The shoutline on the cover proclaims, ‘F**king brilliant. I’m as jealous as all hell – it’s a beauty’, the quote attributed to SF Master Richard MorgaThe shoutline on the cover proclaims, ‘F**king brilliant. I’m as jealous as all hell – it’s a beauty’, the quote attributed to SF Master Richard Morgan. And Brasyl is certainly a beauty to look at, wrapped in an iridescent stencil-cut cover with a colourful kaleidoscope of images beneath. But the flashes and explosions don’t end there. From line one we are thrown mercilessly into a heady, crazy country and drenched in its own rich cultural references, lifestyles, mores and indifferences. It’s hard to keep up. Brasyl dazzles, Brasyl titillates, Brasyl delights. Or rather, charms you with a succession of gewgaws and an episodic three-strand story that runs from the eighteenth century to the mid twenty-first.
In 1732, Jesuit priest Luis Quinn arrives in the Portuguese colony charged with seeking out a rogue priest who has ‘gone native’ in the best Colonel Kurtz/ Heart of Darkness traditions. In 2006, Marcelina Hoffman is an executive for surely the trashiest reality show TV station ever. And in 2033 Edson, small-time entrepreneur and spandex sex-toy/ superhero, gets involved with some heavy quantum computing dudes and falls for Fia who, due to her facility with the multiverse, appears marked for death. Because you see, all is not well in any of these time-periods. There is a shadowy organisation called the Order who are all about maintaining the status quo and stepping hard on anyone who approaches some understanding of the true nature of reality.
I’m in awe of the sheer volume of research and art that MacDonald has put into creating the world of Brasyl. If I didn’t know he grew up in Northern Ireland, I’d swear he spent his youth playing ‘futebol’ on the dusty streets of Cidade de Luz. The world he portrays is as disorientating as any alien landscape and I found myself initially enchanted by it’s idiosyncrasies, aided – to some extent – by a glossary (maddeningly incomplete) of Brazilian terms in the endmatter. But as the novel progressed, it started to get just a bit too much. I began to suffer, particularly in the second half, ‘shiny thing fatigue’ as each new chapter opened with some startling image, a trick that McDonald uses too often to remain effective. And then I began to look below the sparkle and the breakneck pace and consider the actual plot… ‘F**king brilliant’? Well, it’s a good story, but it didn’t blow my mind. And I did wonder at why the Order would charge a Marcelina doppelganger from another universe with the task of discrediting our universe’s Marcelina – and so tipping her off that some weird shit was going on – when it would have been more effective just to assassinate and replace her right off and infiltrate the Order’s main opposition. The story also suffered from not allowing us to see the Order’s side of things, resulting in their portrayal as one-dimensional black-hats, and I wonder if this was the reason for a jarring, but all too brief, point of view shift into the mind of Yanzon, Order Admonitory, in the last thirty page of the book. Look, if it’s a masterpiece, it’s a flawed one. But having said that, the voice is strong, the writing is accomplished, the story is entertaining – a good one for a rainy weekend when you want to be transported to the sun-drenched beaches of the copa....more
Michael Kearny is a particle physicist working on developing quantum computing. He’s also a serial killer haunted by a horse-headed apparition he calls the Shrander. Ed Chianese is a washed-up space pilot, a ‘twink’ in 2400-AD New Venusport who’s addicted to simulated reality tanks. Seria Mau is captain of the K-Ship White Cat, irreversibly plugged into her ship and controlled just as much as the ship is by the ‘mathematics’ that allow it to traverse the shoals of the Kefahuchi Tract — a black hole without an event horizon. The fate of these three lost souls is woven together in British SF author M John Harrison’s novel Light, Book One of the Kefahuchi Tract trilogy.*
If Light sounds deliriously disorienting, it is at first. But don’t be put off. The best science fiction thrusts readers into worlds that defy mundane understanding, but the skilful writer feeds readers enough to enable them to make sense of this fictional reality. That’s exactly what Harrison does here, and the Michael Kearney chapters, set in London in 1999, provide early relief from the more outlandish episodes of Ed Chianese lying in his rented reality and Seria Mau moving through dimensions we don’t have a name for yet.
There’s a quiet desperation that suffuses Light. Kearney is desperate to avoid the Shrander, constantly on the move and killing to buy himself time whenever he feels the frighteningly strange life-form moving closer. Ed Chianese and Seria Mau inhabit a future where the initial exuberance of space flight has been all but spent on the shores of the Kefahuchi Tract. All progress seems to have halted. Humanity is content to trawl through the detritus of long-dead space-going civilisations hoping to profit from the technology it finds — or at least not obliterate itself. And all the while the Tract gleams above them, a deadly place that no one has yet been able to penetrate. This is the same kind of desperation Frederik Pohl portrayed in his award-winning novel Gateway, where ‘pilots’ played the Heechee Lottery by boarding fully automated alien ships hoping they’d be taken to untold riches, or at the very least a short round trip to nowhere before the air ran out.
It sounds like an uninspiring narrative, but desperate as they are, the characters in Light are not defeated. They still strive. In that respect Harrison’s work shares a lot with the novels of Phillip K Dick, illuminating humanity in the face of the dehumanising, and downright alien. And, as with Dick, the future Light shows us, while strange and nightmarish at times, is one that still contains hope: the Tract may not be as impenetrable as it seems.
The connection between Kearney, Chianese and Mau is also central to the story, and Harrison deftly weaves linking references through the different narrative strands in a dreamlike way, enabling readers, almost subconsciously at times, to make and reorder connections as we move towards the novel’s revelatory climax.
Winning the Tiptree Award and making the shortlist for the Arthur C Clarke and British Science Fiction awards, Light isn’t a typical space-opera narrative which, at the lower end of the science fiction scale, tends to concern itself with alien threats and blowing stuff up. Harrison’s writing is by turns worldly and hallucinogenic and consistently entertaining. Time and memory shift and change. People are not who or what they appear to be. Intentions are misinterpreted with far-reaching consequences. Dead-end jobs are anything but.
Light is a story of reversal and redemption, with more to say about the human condition than a lot of modern speculative fiction. In a sense it’s a throwback to the more psychological speculative fiction of the 1970s, but as it’s written with a modern sensibility it’s far more accessible to the mainstream reader....more
This is an odd initiative by Orbit: not a novel, not a collection of short stories but two novellas and an essay by Charles Stross. Looking at the impThis is an odd initiative by Orbit: not a novel, not a collection of short stories but two novellas and an essay by Charles Stross. Looking at the imprint page, I approached the work with some degree of trepidation. This is the pre-Iron Sunrise Stross. If the aforementioned Dan Brown has taught me anything it’s to be very wary of the so called ‘back-catalogue’.
Bob Howard is the IT go-to guy in the Laundry, an organisation where you have to sign the Official Secrets Act before you can even know of its existence. Like most of the employees, Bob was press-ganged into service when his studentish dabblings with polynomial theory threatened to unleash enough dark energy to flatten Leeds. After months of boredom, his request for active duty is accepted and he finds himself in the type of situation that switches from uncomfortable tedium to underpant-staining terror in the firing of a synapse. The back story to the Laundry neatly marries real-life WWII events such as Bletchley Park’s code breaking efforts, Alan Turing’s work and SOE operations in Europe with a secret battle to stop squamous things From Beyond invading our realm and possessing and/ or eating us. In ‘The Atrocity Archive’ Bob is drawn deeper into the Laundry’s machinations as he goes up against a plot to assert pan-dimensional Nazi supremacy. In ‘The Concrete Jungle’, the use of Gorgonism as a national security tool goes horribly wrong.
The mix of Lovecraftian themes, dimension-hopping Nazis, bureaucratically hidebound yet super-secret government departments and high-tech computer geekdom married with unspeakable eldritch powers is an infectious one. And the ‘truth’ behind the Jewish holocaust in ‘The Atrocity Archive’ is both gruesome and effectively realised. The jokes are so-so and some of the situations predictable, most notably Bob’s ongoing rubber-stamp battle with sometime supervisor Harriet. Stross is still flexing his writerly muscles here looking for a more definitive voice. The essay at the end makes some interesting points about the nature of horror, but seems by inference to accord more weight to the stories in The Atrocity Archives than they really deserve. They’re just not that profound. What they are however is a fast-paced romp, and an enjoyable one at that. The Atrocity Archives is followed by another Bob Howard book, The Jennifer Morgue....more