I loved the Manifold series when I first came across it. It was the first Stephen Baxter work I ever read and it hit all my buttons: space and aliens and science (ish) and outrageous ideas. The characters were fine and the pacing felt great.
I read those books many years ago. I decided to go back and read Space to check if it held up, and because I needed a not-too-taxing book. I was a bit trepidatious because I haven’t loved all the other Baxter books I’ve read – which isn’t all of them, because his really far out ones don’t appeal – but there’s sometimes been a lack of character development that annoys even me (not something I always notice), and just something that has felt… not ideal in terms of narrative.
The first thing to note is that I still loved this book, and I’ll probably go back and read the other ones now, too, although not immediately. I remembered very little aside from Reid and Nemoto existing; events felt familiar but it wasn’t like I knew what was going to happen on every page. I still enjoyed the outrageous science and the gleefully complex way of confronting Fermi’s paradox. The pacing did still feel fine – although the last chapter or so are a bit off, for my tastes.
The characters are, though, not the highlight. I remembered thinking that Reid Malenfant (terrible child!) was terribly arrogant, and that is definitely the case – and the book plays to that, too. To my surprise he does not play quite as enormous a role as I recalled – perhaps he’s more involved in one of the other two books, or maybe I’m utterly misremembering. But the other characters aren’t much developed, and some of them (hello Nemoto) very poorly served. In the latter case I think this is deliberate, because no one gets to know her and that’s part of her deal. With the others, though – Madeleine in particular – it was a bit frustrating, and her narrative ultimately unfulfilling.
For me, though, the characters are not a breaking point. I won’t read characters who make no sense or have zero development, but written as Baxter does in a narrative like this one, I’m happy enough to read along and I definitely enjoyed the ride.
This is an outrageous exploration of humanity’s potential movement out into the solar system, when confronted by an alien presence already here. It’s fun and a little silly in its ultimate ideas and occasionally confronting. Very enjoyable.
As a rule, I am excited about new Kim Stanley Robinson. I mostly enjoyed Aurora, and utterly adored New York 2140 and 2312. I know that not everyone loved those last two as much as I did… and I think a lot of people enjoyed Aurora more than me. Which tells you that Robinson meets different readers in different places, and that’s ok.
For me, Red Moon is closer to being like Aurora. I mostly enjoyed it, and it’s certainly exploring some interesting ideas, but I did not get giddy with joy in reading it. I have no hesitation in recommending it to other people who enjoy near-future SF, and for those who got bored by 2312 etc then this is likely to be more up their alley. Which is great! Cater to a range of preferences!
It’s also a bit hilarious to me that I read this so soon after finishing Ian McDonald’s Luna trilogy, given a few similarities but mostly differences.
Red Moon is set three decades into the future. Our moon has a lot of people living on it, mostly Chinese. Which, given the current state of the Chinese space programme and their lunar intentions, is not ridiculous. Other nations are represented there, too, but the bulk of the mining and such are being undertaken at a Chinese installation at the southern pole. The book is largely focused on Chinese characters, too, so it’s important to point out right now that I’m Anglo-Australian, and have no sense of whether Robinson has made any cultural missteps. It doesn’t feel like he has, to me, but it’s entirely possible that I’ve missed some offensive things. There are a couple of points where one of the main characters rails against some Chinese stereotypes, which gives me hope that Robinson is really aware of what he’s doing; but there’s also a point at which he says black swans are more rare than rhinos, and… (from here, of all places)
Yeh, we have a lot of black swans in Australia.
Anyway. Fred goes to the moon to deliver a quantum phone, and the person he is to meet dies when they meet. It’s clear to the reader that Fred isn’t responsible, but not to everyone around him. Fred then basically ends up being shuttled around the place, and sometimes used a political football. He ends up, through odd circumstances, traveling with Chan Qi: a young woman, daughter of a very senior politician in the Chinese Communist Party, vocal in a social change movement, and herself being sought by a variety of groups for their own political purposes. While Fred often seems to have little volition, and is tossed by the vagaries of those around him, and isn’t sure what to do in those circumstances, Qi rails against the structures around her – even when she too is able to do little about the problems that beset her. Qi definitely seems to be be the more active, in all ways, of the two; their companionship is an interesting comparison. Also interesting therefore is that while Fred is frequently a narrator throughout the novel, we rarely get any insight into Qi’s mindset.
Along with the novel being about Fred’s attempts to not get done for a murder he didn’t commit, Robinson is exploring a bunch of other ideas. China seems to be in a place ready for political turmoil, which Qi is contributing to; Robinson explores some of the reasons that might create this situation – most of which exist today – and some possible solutions. So it’s political, and social, and economic commentary; I’d be fascinated to know what Americans think, since it doesn’t paint the US in the best of capitalist lights; China also isn’t a utopia, but it’s also not a nightmarish dystopia.
And then there’s an AI, learning to learn and utilising surveillance systems, and the analyst enabling that; and Ta Shu, celebrity traveller and documentary maker, who gets dragged into the Fred/Qi mess, who is much older than them and has greater historical context and spends a lot of time reflecting on his own and China’s history. Also, an American Secret Service agent (female) on the moon, with a very annoying superior.
There’s a lot going on in this novel, and as a way of thinking about how people might live on the moon and struggle with the social changes of the coming decades, and what China might achieve as an increasingly dominant superpower, and how individuals act when constrained – it’s a very good way of exploring issues. As with Aurora, my main issue is actually with the ending. It was unexpected, and while I think I understand the reason for it, I found it unsatisfying. However, your mileage may vary! I still have no hesitation in recommending it.
This book should be read by anyone making policy, collecting data, or using data, about humans. Politicians, business people, public servants, medical researchers: all of them.
This book made me angry. That’s important to know. It’s also important to know that it was, mostly, good angry: it was appropriate and it makes me want to do something, although I’m not sure what.
I came across this book thanks to two Galactic Suburbia listeners, which is hilarious all by itself – that they both thought this book should be brought to our attention, and acted on that. It is, of course, exactly up our alley, and so I bought it.
The subtitle to the book is “Exposing data bias in a world designed for men,” and together with the title this does tell you exactly what the book is about. It’s about showing both how women are invisible – if data is not sex-disaggregated, if only men are tested or questioned or used – and data bias: men are assumed to be representative of humanity, men’s opinions are assumed to be representative (because they’re not thought of as men’s opinions), and so on.
The results are devastating.
The results in the book itself are devastating, for me – the extent to which women’s experiences are ignored, sex differences are ignored where they do actually matter (eg medication – the typical fat/muscle ratio in men and women is different, which means differences in how medications affect them), and so on. The results in real life are also devastating: only using male crash-test dummies in cars means cars aren’t safety tested for women, and cars aren’t safety designed for women (smaller on average, different bodies, etc); safety vests not fitting over boobs; building relief housing after disasters with no kitchens.
So, yes, I got angry.
I also got angry when Perez pointed out the areas where the data does exist, but it’s been ignored: mandating paid parental leave is good for the economy; how about anatomy diagrams that only show male bodies? And the areas where, because it’s a female-only issue (like PMS, or endometriosis) the research just hasn’t been done.
Perez, I imagine, also got angry when she was doing the exhaustive research needed for this book. There’s a lot of data, and a lot of footnotes. She’s also making firm, reasonable, and clear demands for change, and pointing out some ways that those changes could happen. Many of the changes will be hard: can you imagine what it would take to mandate political parties having genuine female representation? However, her data on what happens in countries that have increased female political representation is, to my mind, compelling; increased expenditure on education, for instance, and – unsurprisingly – issues that specifically affect women more than men: family planning, for instance, and policies around care. And anyone who thinks that these issues don’t need to be political ones, when they affect 50% of the population, needs to have a good hard think about whether they’re a misogynist. Perez also suggests some ways in which more, better, and new data can be collected… but it’s going to be a long hard slog to make the necessary changes, in the vast areas of data collection that exist now, before those changes are fully realised.
This is a brilliant book.
I don’t remember how I came across this book – could have been through Gastropod? – but I thought it sounded like just my thing. Time as an ingredient makes a lot of sense, when you consider it! And overall, Linford does look at some interesting points in connecting food with time; I learned a few things and was encouraged in my love of cooking and food.
However, this book turned out to be not quite what I expected. On reflection, I think I was expecting something more like Michael Pollan’s Cooked, where he meditates on particular ways in which fire or air or whatever have an impact on cooking and food at length. This is not that. Instead, this is a long series of vignettes. Some of them do go over pages – there’s a good few pages on pickles, and on smoking, and the wonders of freezing., among others. But in general each topic within each timeframe (seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years) is relatively short, addressing the connection between the topic and time – the seconds between different stages of caramel, the time it takes to make true traditional Modena balsamic vinegar – and usually not going into the depth that my heart really wanted. (And sometimes the topics chosen in each chapter seem to be tangential to the concept of time as an ingredient, but maybe I missed the point.)
If what you’re interested in is a series of short stories about time and cooking, that you can easily dip into and out of, that are sometimes amusing and sometimes poignant and that remind you that cooking and good food are good things, then you will probably enjoy this book.
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Hachette, at no cost. It’s out now.
This is the third and final book in Ian McDonald’s Luna series, and it really doesn’t stand alone. New Moon and Wolf Moon (which apparently I didn’t review? must have been when I was stressed out) are both outstanding and terrifying and if you are interested in near-future, near-Earth speculation, with intensely human characters and scheming dynasties, you really want to read the whole series, so off you go.
There are spoilers for those first books, kinda be default, in what follows…
One of the awesome (and, ahem, anti-Ian McEwan) things about this series (and it’s not unique to it, of course) is the way that McDonald uses this alien, will-kill-you-in-a-moment place to work through human issues of greed, family, ambition, hope, friendship, pride… all of those things that storytellers have been mining for millennia. You’ve got battles happening with rovers and spacesuits in vacuum, and parkour in 0.6g (ETA: which is actually 1/6th gravity, not 0.6, ARGH thank you Scott), and as wide a range of marital and familial ties as can be imagined… and brutal corporate takeovers and arguments over inheritances and burgeoning romance. It’s so full.
Perhaps the most intriguing speculation of a near-future type is the way that McDonald imagines the Moon being regarded by Earth. The Moon is not a political entity; it’s a technological colony, for want of a better word, dominated by families who happen to come from different nations on Earth but who have little in the way of political or emotional ties to those places. But the Earth needs the resources of the Moon… but the families don’t want Earth interference… So Lucas Corta’s deal, to use Earth mercenaries and involve Earth politicians in the dealings of the Moon… that’s really quite problematic. I LOVE IT.
A few characters I really enjoyed:
Wagner Corta, the wolf, and his sort-of-bipolar playing out differently on the moon from how it might on earth. I like that McDonald refuses to ‘diagnose’ him fully, although I would be very interested to hear what those with a better understanding of mental health descriptions and experiences think of this. I also greatly appreciated the enormous dilemmas and sacrifices he goes through in the series, in terms of conflicting priorities.
Luna Corta: I kept forgetting just how young she was because of how much she had gone through, escaping with Lucasinho and so on, and she continues to be buffeted by issues beyond her control in this book… although she begins to show that she can take some control.
Ariel Corta: continues to be one of the weirder and least predictable of all of the main characters. Ignoring family on the one hand and working hard for them on the other, never an easy person to get on with, driven by astonishing determination and stubbornness… I’m not saying I’d like to be friends with her, because I think she’d terrify me in person because she’d see all my weaknesses. But she’s definitely someone to admire.
That makes it look like I’m all Team Corta, and I’m not really, it’s just that they feel like they dominate the book, and indeed the trilogy, more than I expected from the events of the first book.
If you’ve read the first two books you know the issues that need to be resolved in the book. If you’re anything like me, you won’t anticipate how it will play out. I was surprised by most of what happened. I will admit that the very ending was… really not what I expected. I’ve had to think about it a bit, but I think I see what McDonald was doing. And I’ve decided I like it.
This is a magnificent series and I’m so glad it exists. Now I can’t wait to see what else McDonald does.
It’s just such a winning combination.
And the thing is, this is the author who as far as I can remember refuses to use FTL in his stories. So for him to write a time travel story means that there won’t be any Delorean zipping around. Instead, there’s a short but relatively serious discussion about WHAT, exactly, can be ‘sent back’ through time, and a very clever example of what it might mean to change things in the past – what impact that might have on the future.
The story, naturally enough, dips in and out of the time stream. It starts in the past and goes to the future and moves between them beautifully, gradually building up a picture of what has happened for the future to be as it is, and the choices that people make that have an impact ‘upstream’. The slow unfolding is horrific and brilliant.
I liked the characters, I was horrified by the world, and I was intrigued by the method of time travel. This is a fabulous novella.
This book was sent to me at no cost by the publisher, Hachette. The trade paperback (which is lovely) is out now; smaller paperback in September.
I mean. HELLO. New Alastair Reynolds! I was so happy to get this to review. So hi, if you don’t know me I’m a massive fangirl, keep that in mind as you read I guess?
This is the sequel to Revenger, from about three years ago. You probably want to read that before reading this because it sets up the sister relationship that’s at the heart of the story, between Adrana and Arafura (now Fura), as well as the horror in which Bosa Sennen is held throughout the… well, world is the wrong word, but you know what I mean. The area in which the book is set. And that’s the other thing that the first book sets up: that these books are set many, many thousands of years in our future, and they live in the Congregation – which is our solar system having been dismantled and the stuff of the planets used to construct an uncounted number of smaller worlds. Also, civilisation has not been continuous throughout that time; humanity has swelled and fallen over that time, inhabiting more or fewer world, having more or less connections between the worlds, and with technology progressing or lapsing. Which is what allows for the many ships who travel between the worlds to visit the now-uninhabited ones and find ‘treasures’ which may or may not work for them, dating back to previous civilisations.
I guess it’s like modern Britons or Libyans trying to make the Roman aqueducts work.
Anyway, if you haven’t read Revenger I highly recommend it – clearly – as a space opera with deep roots in nautical adventures (including in the language, it’s all coves and sails and broadsides), starring a defiant young woman having mad adventures.
Spoilers for Revenger below this…
This novella was sent to me by the publisher, Tor.com, at no cost. It will be available from 21 May.
Vylar Kaftan’s novella opens with Bee scrambling through darkness, which is pretty much all she can remember doing. The official blurb reads:
All Bee has ever known is darkness.
She doesn’t remember the crime she committed that landed her in the cold, twisting caverns of the prison planet Colel-Cab with only fellow prisoner Chela for company. Chela says that they’re telepaths and mass-murderers; that they belong here, too dangerous to ever be free. Bee has no reason to doubt her—until she hears the voice of another telepath, one who has answers, and can open her eyes to an entirely different truth.
You can guess from the blurb that things are not as they seem, but you can’t guess the twists and turns of the plot – well, I couldn’t anyway.
The attitudes towards telepaths are a very interesting part of the story; as someone who grew up reading McCaffrey’s Tower& the Hive series (every. single. one), I’m always fascinated by whether ESP stuff ends up being celebrated, abused, shunned, or whatever. So that was something I enjoyed here.
Overall, though, I did not love this story, and I can’t put my finger on why not – which is a deeply unsatisfying thing to say in this review, I know, and I’m sorry. I think it’s partly around the pacing. For all that I am a big fan of fast-paced stories, I think this was a bit too fast; I didn’t feel like I got to know Bee before things changed, and then they changed again, and I was left feeling a bit cold towards her fate. There was also a lack of world-building that meant I didn’t quite get some of the actions of the characters other than Bee.
For all that, though, Kaftan has written a story with heart that confronts the issue of how humans react to difference. I did like Bee, and felt that her reactions – especially when feeling lost in the world – were beautifully realistic.
Things to keep in mind:
1. I’m a total Leckie fangirl
2. Like, seriously.
3. This is nothing like the Ancillary books at all.
4. Not even genre, let alone anything else.
I received this book from the publisher, Hachette, at no cost. It’s out now WHICH IS EXCELLENT NEWS FOR EVERYONE LET THERE BE REJOICING.
I’ll admit that when I heard Ann Leckie was doing a fantasy novel I was… discombobulated. I do like fantasy but I’ve read a lot less of it recently for various reasons, and when I thought of how the author of the Ancillary books might translate to fantasy I started thinking of lush epic fantasy which is fine but not what I’m enjoying at the moment.
HOW WRONG I WAS. I mean, seriously. What was I thinking.
For starters: this is a standalone book. That’s right folks, you can read this book and not have to wait for a sequel. Which is great.
Ok, look, I actually read this without reading the blurb or knowing anything about it, just going on trust. And I really truly believe that this was the best option – having now read the blurb, it kinda gives you an idea of what’s going on but as so often happens, I think it sets up the wrong ideas in the reader’s mind. So if you trust me, and you trust Ann Leckie, just go find this and read it without reading anything else about it.
But if not, you can keep reading.
This trilogy isn’t quite your standard trilogy because it doesn’t follow the same main characters throughout. Although the focal character is in the next two, she moves to the background; and the same happens between the second and third books. I really like this as a tactic because it means Dyer gets to explore the world of Titan’s Forest in much more complexity than might otherwise be possible – the three characters have such different roles in the Forest societies, and different motivations and personalities and so on. They interact with other characters in utterly different ways. But I also like that the three characters are all connected to each other, so we get to see family dynamics at play, and understand people from multiple perspectives.
I also like that none of the three main characters are particularly likeable; certainly not all the time. Don’t get me wrong – they’re compelling characters, and I generally understand why they think they have to do what they’re doing. But I frequently got exasperated with them for being selfish, or narrow-minded, or blinded by anger, or… other reasons. And this is a good thing, because it really is a fine line to walk to make me have a reaction like that but still be enjoying the character and the story overall. Dyer walks that line beautifully.
If you haven’t read the series yet, stop right here and go and do so: you really want to if you like complex societies and gods who aren’t that great really and live among humans, and quandongs and Australian trees getting even bigger than we let them get here, quests and revenge and family drama. Spoilers ahead for the first two books!