BOOK REVIEW: Double Star, by Robert Heinlein

Rating: 5 out of 5.
  • A Standalone Novel
  • First Published in 1956
  • Reprinted under the Gollancz SF Masterworks banner
  • A Political Thriller
  • 208 pages

When a stranger in a bar offers him a job, down-on-his-luck actor Lorenzo expects to make a little money. But when that job turns out to involve impersonating the most famous politician in the solar system, Lorenzo can’t help but wonder if this will be the last job he ever takes . . .

When I pick up a book, the last thing I want to be thinking about is the politics of the author. Whatever their beliefs are, it’s none of my business. I’m just here to enjoy the book. With some authors, this is easier than others. Most of the time, I know very little about the author beyond what is written in their ‘about the author’ section. In the case of Robert A. Heinlein, it’s difficult to be in the SF community and not here about his politics. Stranger in a Strange Land is full of free love and sexual abandon. Starship Troopers glorifies a fascist regime. Double Star is all about the power of democracy. Any one of these paints a different picture of the man who wrote them, and all of them have been used as attempts to identify the ‘real’ political opinion of Heinlein. Just read Ken McLeod’s introduction to this very book and you’ll see what I mean. Personally, I think this variety shows one of two things. maybe both. The first option is that people are too complicated to boil down to a political position, and that you can pick and choose which parts of their character to celebrate. The second is, and hear me out on this, maybe authors can write stories about things they personally don’t agree with. In either case, the politics of an author and the politics of a book are two different beasts, and should be treated as such.

My personal experience with Heinlein is very limited. I’ve previously read his ‘Big Three’ – the three novels that won him the Hugo Award for Best Novel, a feat not replicated until N.K. Jemisin. I very much enjoyed Starship Troopers, though not as much as the film, and The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress had some great ideas. Stranger In A Strange Land, however, was bad enough to put me off Heinlein for some time. Reading the extended version, which essentially has first draft material stuffed back in, probably didn’t help in this regard. With varying quality so far, I didn’t expect too much from Double Star. It’s short, so I gave him another chance. What I got was one of my favourite SF Masterworks novels so far.

For a political thriller, the plot is refreshingly simple. Lorenzo must pretend to be a high-ranking politician (who has been kidnapped) and avoid identification while running a high-profile publicity event. He has to fool not only humans, but Martians. The action of the book is not so much assassination attempts, but everyday incidents that could expose Lorenzo. In an early example, a young girl asks for his autograph, but how can he fake the signature of a man he’s never met? Each incident is wrapped up fairly quickly, but there are enough to keep the book skipping along. And they get more and more serious as the book goes on.

The other interesting component to this book is Lorenzo’s method acting. Insisting on maintaining character at all times, Lorenzo soon finds himself reacting as the role would, rather than how is best. Watching a professional actor dissolve into a role is a joy on television, and it’s oddly gripping to read in prose. Lorenzo has an air of the con-artist about him, man archetype I will always have time for, and Heinlein imbues him with plenty of wit and wiles. With a low page count, there’s not a whole lot of depth to the surrounding cast, but Lorenzo’s narration pulls it off.

It may not be his most famous work, but Double Star is the best Heinlein novel I’ve yet come across. It’s also the reason I’m going to buy more.

If you enjoyed this book, you might also like:
Moonrise, by Ben Bova
The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert A. Heinlein
Starship Troopers, by Robert A. Heinlein

BOOK REVIEW: Nova, by Samuel R. Delany

Rating: 4 out of 5.
  • A Standalone Novel
  • First Published in 1968
  • Reprinted under the Gollancz SF Masterworks banner
  • Space Opera
  • 241 pages

Lorq Von Ray is man with a singular goal: To fly his ship through the heart of a supernova. To achieve this dream he must gather a crew of unlikely allies, and fight an old enemy. But even among the stars, no man can escape his past . . .

I primarily knew of Samuel R. Delany as one of the possible influences for the character of Benny Russel in Deep Space Nine‘s ‘Far Beyond The Stars.’ A cursory glance at commentary on his work will bring up mentions of sexuality and eroticism. It was enough to put me off reading him for a very long time. Yet there are several authors I respect who cite him as an influence. Always eager to track things back to the source, I found myself holding a copy of Nova, a book that, much to my surprise, sounded like a fairly standard space opera. That’s not a problem, by the way. I love fairly standard space opera. Happily, Delany’s space opera stands out, reaffirming my decision to read not only Delany, but the SF Masterworks series as a whole. After a month filled with somewhat disappointing classics, Nova finally raised the bar to where I expected it to be.

Nova sits in the roots of the tree that has given us that nice little corner of space opera in which a crew of ne’er-do-wells fly a spaceship around and cause havoc. We’ve got a misanthrope, a musician, a captain with a shady past, and even some corrupt royalty of dubious inheritance in the mix. These are the roots that gave birth to Blake’s 7, Firefly, and Killjoys, though none of the formulas had yet been established. Though it’s fairly character focused, there is a great universe being built in the background, with the great nations of Draco and the Pleiades informing the action even if the political landscape does not feature directly. It’s a universe that these days would spawn an entire series, but in this single volume is a set dressing that adds flair to events.

For better and for worse, Delany is one of those authors whose prose you can’t help but notice. He has a very distinct style, with an even split between description and dialogue. Dialogue is short and punchy, with a heavy use of slang that might take a while to get used to. Descriptive passages, meanwhile, flow on across the pages. Delany’s writing is great, I won’t dispute that. But there are times when the writing is so noticeable that it pulls me out of the story. I know there are some readers who will love to study a sentence they admire. Me? I prefer to let the story carry me through. Writing is just the means to that end. Not to say that writing should not have effort put into it, of course, but simply that I don’t want to be interrupted during a tense scene by a particularly vivid metaphor. There are also some questionable structural choices, with the chapters seemingly being broken at random, though this may be an artefact of early serialisation.

There’s one other feature of Nova that bugs me. You see, I prefer my science fiction to come with a sense of crunch. It doesn’t have to be rock-hard (I enjoy hyperdrives as much as the next man), but I want a scientific basis. That is, after all, the name of the genre. In space opera, I can allow things a little looser. telepathy, for example. Or creatures composed of pure thought. Where I draw the line is Delany treating Tarot decks as a plausible means of determining the future. They’re not. They’re just cards. Had it been a character proclaiming their validity, I would have no problem with Tarot’s inclusion, but the entire cast acts as if Tarot is as real as oxygen, and the narrative supports this theory. It’s a distractingly fantastical element that irritated me throughout. I can forgive outdated science. Superstition, however, I really can’t be having. It’s a personal thing, but those are the only things a reader can bring to the table.

Nova is a very good book, in spite of a few minor quibbles, and is a worthy starting point for anyone looking to dive into the SF Masterworks range.

If you enjoyed this book, you might also like:
The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury
Stars and Bones, by Gareth L. Powell
The Stars Now Unclaimed, by Drew Williams

TBR & BEYOND: September 2022

Autumn has rolled around quickly, bringing us kicking and screaming into the last third of the year. But while the months continue to rush by, there’s still a lot to look forward to. It’s time to dive into this month’s reading schedule.

TBR

My TBR stack has grown so rapidly that I can no longer fit it all in a single picture. Not shown above are all the Star Trek books I still have tucked away elsewhere. As I said last month, I can’t really get to those until renovations are complete, so while I’m looking forward to Prometheus, it will have to wait a little while yet. I do however intend to complete my final Star Trek reread as I go back to that battered omnibus edition of The Captain’s Table. It’s the last of the Trek books I read prior to setting up At Boundary’s Edge, and will clear the way for a dive back into the Litverse for the coming months.

That’s not the only tie-in fiction I intend to read in September however. I’m opening the month with another omnibus, this time coming to you from the grim darkness of the future. Defender of the Imperium is the second Ciaphas Cain omnibus, and will let me finally get back to a series I started around five years ago. In other Warhammer 40,000 news, I’m planning to squeeze Peter Fehervari’s Requiem Infernal into my schedule later in the month. I’ve also got my hands on the chronological beginning of the Halo literary universe. I’ve been looking for another big series to start reading, so if I enjoy Greg Bear’s Cryptum, I will likely be embarking on a lengthy journey to that franchise. Fingers crossed.

Turning my attention to original fiction, my priority is to stay on top of series I’ve already started. That puts Jack Campbell’s Resolute and George Mann’s The Albion Initiative squarely in my sights. The latter book completes a series that started way back in 2008. While Newbury & Hobbes isn’t the most epic saga out there, its nice to see a long-running series come to a close. This little slice of steampunk should also break up my future-based reading quite nicely too.

After that, my TBR becomes something of a lucky dip. There are lots of books available, none of them in series I’m currently reading, and most of them on the shorter side. For September, I’m going to mostly stick with authors I’ve read before as I work my way through the stacks. That gives me Keith Laumer’s End As A Hero, Henry Kuttner’s The Best of Kuttner 1, Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man, David Brin’s Sundiver, and William C. Dietz’ Andromeda’s Fall. Though there’s nothing massive on that list, it should be enough books to see me comfortably through to the end of the month.

With all that taken into consideration, my reading schedule for September looks something like this:

  • Defenders of the Imperium, by Sandy Mitchell
  • Requiem Infernal, by Peter Fehervari
  • Cryptum, by Greg Bear
  • The Captain’s Table, by various authors
  • Resolute, by Jack Campbell
  • The Albion Initiative, by George Mann
  • The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury
  • Sundiver, by David Brin
  • Andromeda’s Fall, by William C. Dietz
  • The Best of Kuttner 1, by Henry Kuttner
  • End As A Hero, by Keith Laumer

AND BEYOND

In terms of television, most of the month will be spend catching up with things. I’m nearly at the end of the current season of For All Mankind, and plan to head into Foundation straight after. Invasion and Severance also appeal from AppleTV+’s offerings, but will likely have to wait. Likewise, while I very much plan to watch Strange New Worlds, I’m holding off on Paramount+ for the time being. Happily, I have the third season of Lower Decks to keep me going. The hyperactive reference-fest does get stale at times, but it’s always good to have Star Trek on the screen. In Star Trek related news, Una McCormack’s second Picard novel Second Self releases on the 15th. I’m hoping it’s more in keeping with season 1 than season 2, but I’ll have to read it to find out.

The only other book confirmed for a September release is the new Warhammer Crime anthology The Vorbis Conspiracy. This one looks like it will have a single overarching story, with each author approaching from a different angle. It’s an intriguing concept, and the strength of the range so far has set my expectations rather high.

There’s only one other release on my radar for September, but it’s a big one. Star Wars: Andor continues Disney’s trend of blandly naming shows after the main character, but this is the Star Wars show I’ve been most looking forward to. It looks a little grimier than the other offerings and (so far) there’s not a Jedi in sight. Even if it is a prequel to Rogue One, I’m hoping this shows a willingness for the franchise to try new things.

If nothing else, the slow release schedule should help me stay on top of my TBR tower. Hopefully the same goes for you as well. Be sure to let me know what you think of my TBR, and what science fiction you’re looking forward to this coming month.

MONTHLY ROUNDUP: August 2022

August has raced by in a blur, bringing an end to a summer of reading. House renovations are ongoing, but it’s all looking good for an expanded library. With any luck I’ll be ready to restock the shelves by the end of September, though nothing is set in stone. Anyway, on with roundup.

BOOK HAUL

For thirty days of the month things were going very well. Alec Worley and Black Library were kind enough to send me a review copy of The Wraithbone Phoenix, and though I missed out on nabbing some of the other Warhammer 40,000 releases, I wasn’t too fussed. There’s always paperback, after all, and I was finally getting on top of my TBR stack. In fact, I only bought two new books.

  • Resolute, by Jack Campbell
  • The Albion Initiative, by George Mann

Then I made a mistake. This morning, August 31st, I made a trip to Hay-on-Wye, used book capital of the world. While not too costly in terms of cash, as used books are cheaper than new, this has resulted in my TBR tower exploding. I mean, just look at this list:

  • Conquests, by Poul Anderson
  • Cryptum, by Greg Bear
  • The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury
  • Sundiver, by David Brin
  • Interstellar Empire, by John Brunner
  • Earth Unaware, by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston
  • Andromeda’s Fall, by William C. Dietz
  • Requiem Infernal, by Peter Fehervari
  • Isaac’s Universe Volumes I,II, and II, edited by Martin H. Greenberg
  • The Best of Kuttner 1, a collection of Henry Kuttner shorts
  • End as a Hero, by Keith Laumer
  • The Space Merchants, by Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth
  • Roderick, by John Sladek
  • Jump Gate Twist, by Mark L. Van Name
  • Monsters & Medics, by James White
  • The Outward Urge, by John Wyndham

IN TRANSIT

But wait, there’s more! A combination of warehouse issues, late orders, and postal strikes means I have a few more books still scheduled to arrive. One I ordered last month, and a few Star Trek books that fill much-unwanted gaps in my collection.

  • Sideways in Time, by Murray Leinster
  • Terok Nor: Day of the Vipers, by James Swallow
  • Prey: The Jackal’s Trick, by John Jackson Miller
  • Prey: The Hall of Heroes, by John Jackson Miller

READING

With all these new books landing in my lap, it’s a good thing I had a productive month of reading. It was one of those rare months where I followed my TBR schedule to the letter, though I did squeeze in a review copy too. You can find more detailed thoughts on the books by clicking on the titles below.

AUDIO

It’s been a fairly quiet month on the audio front, which has helpfully allowed me to start catching up with podcasts. Last week Muse released their latest album The Will of the People. Given the genre interest, I might post a review of that soon, but as yet I’m undecided. I was also lucky enough to be granted a review copy of Kalah’s debut album Descent Into Human Weakness, which proves the metal scene is still capable of giving us new surprises.

TV

The Orville came to a close with a potential final ever episode. I’m hopeful it gets renewed again, but if not it’s hard to think of a finer send-off than the one we got. I’ve decided not to write a full review, but if you like your science fiction with thoughtfulness and optimism, then The Orville is something you should definitely look into. Also in thoughtful and optimistic sci-fi, For All Mankind continues to astound me with how good it is. It’s like a highlights reel of everything I love about space exploration. Truly an amazing show.

ARTICLES

Three articles from me this month, each offering something very different. First was an introduction to one of my favourite subgenres in MILITARY SF: Is It Worth A Shot? It hasn’t proven too successful, so I’ll likely not do another genre guide for a while. More successful were my two collaborative efforts. Complete Darkness author Matt Adcock was kind enough to drop by for my first ever interview, while Athena over at One Reading Nurse tagged me in the Ray Bradbury Birthday Tag.

SPSFC

SPSFC2 has officially begun. I’m a little behind on my reading for that already, but you can read my introductions to both The Team and The Contestants by clicking on those nice juicy links.

WRITING

Say it quietly, but things are actually going well. I’m at over 30,000 words written this month, which is the most I’ve stuck with a project since last September. It’s far from the best thing I’ve ever written, but it’s getting me back into the habit. Which is handy, as I’m already thinking of the next thing.

SITE UPDATES

Though I’ve built up a small review backlog again, August has been great for At Boundary’s Edge. I’ve hit a solid average of over a hundred views a day, which is exactly where I want to be at this stage. I’m still waiting for my moment in the sun, so to speak, but if things keep going the way they are, I’ll be a very happy little blogger indeed.

BOOK REVIEW: The Rediscovery of Man, by Cordwainer Smith

Rating: 2 out of 5.
  • A Collection of 11 Short Stories
  • Gollancz SF Masterworks edition published in 1999
  • Deeply Weird Space Opera
  • 365 pages

What is the future of Man? Will it be a glorious era of enlightenment and immortality, or will it be an untold horror of slavery and oppression. The answer lies somewhere between the two, and is certainly far stranger than you might imagine . . .

As I continue my delve into Gollancz SF Masterworks series, I am confronted by a worrisome possibility. Maybe I don’t actually enjoy classic SF all that much. Certainly I have a different definition of what constitutes a masterwork than the good people at Gollancz. There are plenty of books I would consider landmarks of the genre that have not (yet) been reprinted under the banner, and even leaving aside the obvious issues of rights, there are inevitably oversights. On the flip side, there have been many Masterworks that I have not enjoyed. Now, a classic of the genre is not determined by my enjoyment alone, and many are the books that, while not enjoyable, I recognise for their position in the canon of science fiction. Take Dune for example. It absolutely deserves the pedestal it is put on, but there are numerous holes to be poked in the actual writing of the book. And then there are books like The Rediscovery of Man. Books that not only did I find deeply unenjoyable, but that I struggle to find canonical merit it.

Almost all my issues stem from one glaring problem, and that is the writing itself. As the introduction and afterword go to great lengths to say, Smith was heavily influenced by Chinese narratives. Now, I’ve read some modern Chinese SF and largely enjoyed it, and while there are some elements of it that are very different to what I am used to as an Anglophone reader, nothing is quite as bizarre as what Smith does in this collection. He has a fascination with shoving invented words into sentences. Ideas are flung around at random with no effort made to explain them. The writing itself is dense, but the stylistic choices make these stories all but impenetrable. Only two days after finishing the book, I’m struggling to recall any details. I cannot visualise anything that occurs in this book, no matter how poetic the prose declares itself to be. That, in case it wasn’t apparent, is a massive problem.

Not everything is about the writing itself, however. The stories take place over several thousand years (and I am grateful for the included timeline). The glimpses and hints we get of the wider world are tantalising. But that’s all we get. Glimpses. For actual stories, what we have are bizarre Joan of Arc retellings, and far too many stories about cats. Seriously, Smith has a thing for putting cats and cat people in his stories. As someone who would happily orchestrate the execution of every animal companion in science fiction, this was never going to go down well with me. Less cats and more structure would have made these stories so much better.

It’s inevitable that a book won’t work for every reader, and here is one that absolutely did not work for me.

Did you enjoy this book? If so, you might also like:
Space Chantey, by R. A. Lafferty
Stars and Bones, by Gareth L. Powell
Sinopticon, edited by Xueting Christine Ni

BOOK REVIEW: Skyward Flight, by Brandon Sanderson and Janci Patterson

Rating: 3 out of 5.
  • An Omnibus of SunReach, ReDawn, and Evershore
  • First Published in 2022
  • Published by Gollancz
  • Young Adult Space Opera
  • 579 pages

Spensa may be missing in action, but the fight goes on without her. The young pilots of Skyward Flight risk all in their battle against the Superiority. At stake, nothing less than the survival of the human race . . .

Brandon Sanderson may be a big name in the realms of epic fantasy, but the man best known for his scientific approach to magic is unsurprisingly equally at home in the worlds of science fiction. His Skyward series is ongoing, but now has a series of spin-off novellas to go alongside it. Originally released digitally and on audio, their first physical appearance is this omnibus edition of the three. Yet while Sanderson may be the brains behind the universe, and it’s his name writ large on the cover, his is not the only pen involved in the writing of this tale. For this is equally (and likely more) the work of Janci Patterson. Patterson is no stranger to fiction, and more crucially is a veteran of the young adult scene. Though we’ll likely never know for certain who put what into this story, the result is a collection that stands out from other ‘Sanderson’ works.

In terms of chronology, this omnibus takes place alongside Sanderson’s third Skyward novel Cytonic, though the plots barely cross over. The three novellas making up this collection tell a single story, but from a different point of view in each. FM, Alanik, and Jorgen each get a turn. Splitting the perspectives in this manner allows Patterson to flesh out the characters who were largely left to one side after the first Skyward novel. At least in theory. In practice, while we do get a deeper look into Jorgen’s upbringing (and a new angle on his relationship with Spensa), the many pilots of Skyward Flight do feel quite similar to one another. Even the alien Alanik isn’t all that different, though perhaps that is the point. Those condemned to remain as supporting cast obviously don’t get a whole lot of development, but do round out the team, making it feel larger than just a few pivotal characters.

One thought I did have while reading Skyward Flight, and this is true for the series as a whole, is that I don’t really know how old the characters are supposed to be. I would assume in the 18 to 25 bracket, as this is the general audience for young adult fiction, but the text doesn’t give a whole lot to go on. The behaviour is often quite juvenile, whereas the actions are more adult. This is a disconnect that crops up a lot in young adult works, and is among the reasons I don’t read a whole lot of it anymore. In fact, Skyward is the only YA science fiction I’m still keeping up to date with.

Clearly, with Sanderson’s involvement, this all ties in with the larger series (called the Cytoverse by some), and while the overall thrust of this trilogy of novels is resolved by the end, there is a lot left unanswered that I expect will come up either in Sanderson’s fourth novel, or else in future Patterson novellas. On a stylistic note, the prose fits in very well with the younger end of the YA spectrum that the novels likely appeal to. The only element that stands out is the humour. Sanderson’s humour is, for better and worse, very visible in his writing, particularly that geared for a younger audience. But it’s a humour that is absent here. there are jokes, and comedy, but the tone is markedly different. It’s this that makes me think Patterson is the sole author for much, if not all, of these stories.

A fun little diversion, this omnibus is a quick read that fills in gaps in the Skyward series, while opening new ones for future exploration.

If you enjoyed this book, you might also like:
The Lost Puzzler, by Eyal Kless
Skyward, by Brandon Sanderson
Rogue Squadron, by Michael A. Stackpole

BOOK REVIEW: Helliconia, by Brian Aldiss

Rating: 3 out of 5.
  • An omnibus of Helliconia Spring, Helliconia Spring and Helliconia Winter
  • First Published in 2010
  • A Gollancz SF Masterwork
  • An epoch-spanning Social SF
  • 1303 pages

Helliconia. A world where a single orbit lasts for thousands of Earth years. A world where civilisations rise and fall under the watchful eye of the suns. But there is another eye. The satellite Avernus relays its observations to distant Earth. But what lessons will humanity learn from this world of wonders . . ?

Though I can’t be one hundred percent certain, I think this omnibus edition of the Helliconia trilogy might be the longest book I’ve ever read. What I do know, is that it felt like the longest. Right off the bat I’ll say it: this book was a slog. While it’s great to hold such a weighty tome in your hands, this book is dense in more than just physical terms. If I were to have read this series in single volumes, I doubt I’d have made it past Helliconia Spring. It was only the odd moment of interest and my determination to finish every book I start that carried me through to the end. All of that might make it sound like I hated the book. And yes, at times I did. But not because it’s a bad book. There’s a lot here that’s worth exploring, but there’s also a lot that infuriated me. The main problem I had was the disconnect between the concept and the execution.

The concept was what drew me to Helliconia. I love stories that take place over long periods of time. I love Foundation, I love The Dark Forest, and I love For All Mankind. When I found out that Helliconia takes place over the course of three thousand years, I fully expected to love it too. But the story Aldiss tells doesn’t do all that much with those three thousand years. Each of the novels in this omnibus follows a single small community over the course of a few years. There’s also a prelude which uses the same approach. But while these stories are set thousands of years apart, the transition is wholly glossed over. We see first a Palaeolithic society, then a mediaeval one, then an industrial one. But there’s no connective tissue. More than that, each story is depressingly small in scope, more concerned with the characters who will soon be swept away by history than with the history itself.

Aldiss does one thing very well, and that is worldbuilding. Though the setting sometimes has the feel of an epic fantasy about it, the science behind it all is immaculately developed. There is an entire appendix relating to orbital mechanics. The life cycle of every animal and bacteria is fully realised. Even the ‘human’ inhabitants follow a cycle affected by their environment. The exception to this is the fact that the spirits of the dead continue to linger on Helliconia. There’s only the thinnest of scientific explanations for this, and it sows the seeds for the element of the novel that really failed to grab me.

The idea is called Gaia. Put simply, it’s a philosophy that suggests all living things on a planet are part of one larger being. It turns up in real life theories, and in fiction such as Foundation’s Edge. Quite frankly, I think it’s a load of nonsense. But Aldiss takes it as gospel, and spends hundreds of pages trying to convert the reader. If this had been a living planet as sci fi concept, I could have handled it. Long live Zonama Sekot, for those who get the reference. But no, Aldiss insists on bringing Earth into the Gaia Principle too. It’s the sort of philosophical moralising that I’ve never had any time now. It’s annoying, and gets in the way of the rest of the story.

I can respect Helliconia for its scale and its ambition, but I can’t say I enjoyed it all that much. If you’re going to read it, I suggest you set aside quite a few days to do so.

If you enjoyed this book, you might also like:
The Redemption of Time, by Baoshu
Last and First Men, by Olaf Stapledon
The Shape of Things to Come, by H.G. Wells

Happy Birthday Ray Bradbury: Book Tag

The Happy Birthday Ray Bradbury book tag was created by Athena over at One Reading Nurse. You can find her original post HERE. This being a book tag, I am a day late to the celebrations, but hopefully a not a dollar short. If you’re reading tis, consider yourself tagged.

The Illustrated Man – A Sci-fi character you would love to cosplay ?

My cosplays tend to be recycled bits of LARP kit, but if money and time were no issue, I would love to do a full Neelix (Star Trek: Voyager) cosplay, latex mask, mohawk, muttonchops and all.

Fahrenheit 451 – A sci-fi book that you think everyone should read?

Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio. It is everything I love about space opera and science fiction in general, all within a single book. The rest of the series is great too.

A Medicine for Melancholy – your comfort read or a Sci-Fi book that made you happy?

I don’t have a single book that I consider a comfort read, but there is something incredibly soothing about Ben Bova’s Grand Tour series.

The Martian Chronicles – Your favourite sci-fi involving first contact or aliens in general

First contact? It’s hard to do better than H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. It’s a classic for a reason, and still the best alien invasion story I’ve come across.

Death Has Lost It’s Charm For Me – A Sci-fi book that makes you nostalgic

Scott G. Gier’s Genellan novels. They were among the first adult science fiction I ever read, and even though the series was never completed, it’s one I keep wanting to revisit.

Dandelion Wine – a food or drink you were inspired to try because a character loved it

I don’t think I’ve ever done this, but, if I may circle back to Voyager, I do wonder what leola root stew tastes like.

There Will Come Soft Rains – A Sci-fi that made either helped you through or made you hopeful in a rough time

When I was first diagnosed with collitis, I had to spend two days in hospital. Luckily I had a stack of Isaac Asimov’s Space Ranger books to keep me entertained.

One Timeless Spring – A Sci-fi you wish you could read again for the first time?

Again, not a single book. But if I could read the Star Trek Litverse again (in order this time), I think it would really reframe the stories.

Something Wicked This Way Comes – your best-loved sci-fi villain?

Probably Marco Inaros, from The Expanse by James S. A. Corey. In the books, I loved him as the warlord who took on Earth and Mars. In the show, Keon Alexander imbued him with such charisma I was almost on his side.

Bradbury Speaks – A Sci-fi Author that you would like to sit down and talk to?

If I can bring back the dead, I’d love to hear one of Asimov’s after-dinner speeches. If not, then Christopher Ruocchio would definitely be an interesting conversational partner about the canon of science fiction.

Where Robot Mice & Robot Men Run Round In Robot Town – with nothing else considered, your favourite title of a sci-fi book?

Adrian Tchaikovsky’s One Day All This Will Be Yours is a wonderfully evocative title, so I’ll pick that one.

From the Dust Returned – A sci-fi character you would bring back from the afterlife?

Generally, I think the dead should stay dead. But I will make an exception for Charles ‘Trip’ Tucker III from Star Trek: Enterprise. (And yes, this does count as a book, because the Enterprise relaunch does just this.)

Kaleidoscope – your favourite sci-fi book that has been adapted into something else?

I’m going to have to pick The War of the Worlds again. Both films are great in their own way, but Jeff Wayne’s musical version might just be the best adaptation ever made.

The Love Affair – your absolute favourite sci-fi book of all time 

Even after all these years, and some strong competition from the likes of Christopher Ruocchio and Cixin Liu, it has to be Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. An oldie, but a goodie.

Yes, some names crop up more than I expected, but that’s because they’re good. Trust me, I have excellent taste. Now if you’ll excuse me, it seems I have some Ray Bradbury to catch up on.

SPSFC2 At Boundary’s Edge: Meet the Contestants

Welcome back to the SPSFC. No, not space-fic. No, not spuss-fic. No, not specific. Here At Boundary’s Edge we say it like it’s written. S. P. S. F. C. SPSFC2, to be precise. I my previous post, we introduced ourselves as a team. Now it’s time for the books to take to the stage. So, without further ado, here are the 28 novels we’ll be judging in our initial allocation.

Webley and the World Machine, by Zachary Chopchinski

Trials on the Hard Way Home, by Lilith Frost

Between Mountain and Sea, by Louisa Locke

Black Table, by Anttimatti Pennanen

Dangerous Thoughts, by James L. Steele

Earth Warden, by Tyler Aston

Earthship, by John Triptych with Michael Lamontagne

The Elitist Supremacy, by Niranjan

Arkhangelsk, by Elizabeth H. Bonesteel

Empire of Ash and Blood, by Matthew Thompson

Empire Reborn, by A K DuBoff

Data Mine, by Lou Iovino

Innish Carraig, by Jo Zebedee

First of Their Kind, by C. D. Tavenor

Mercuryville, by Tara Summerville

Inquisitor, by Mitchell Hogan

Political Nightmare, by Rainbow Macabre

Pulse, by B. A. Bellec

Rim City Blues, by Elliott Scott

Rise of Ahrik, by Nathan W. Toronto

Road to Juneau, by Liam Quayne

Sugar Plum Tea, by Sinnamon Carnelian

The Diamond Device, by M. H. Thuang

The Ceph: Reborn, by Matthew Poehler

The Emerald Princess, by J. D. Richards

The Cult Shadow, by Peter Lamb

The Empyrean, by Katherine Franklin

Unknown Horizons, by Casey White

And that’s your lot. At Boundary’s Edge will be using the same slush pile system as last year. For those who don’t know what that means, it’s fairly simple. We will each read approximately 20% of a book before voting ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ on continuing. A book that receives more positive reactions than negative will enter the quarterfinals, where it will be read to completion by the team ad given a rating out of 10. The three highest scoring books will then become semi-finalists, and be passed to other teams for further judging.

I’ll be keeping you up to date with both my personal reading of the competition, as well as any team updates, as we go along. So stay tuned to At Boundary’s Edge for more SPSFC goodness as we tuck in to our banquet of self published science fiction.

BOOK REVIEW: The Wraithbone Phoenix, by Alec Worley

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Rating: 5 out of 5.
  • The first Baggit and Clodde novel
  • Part of the Warhammer Crime range
  • Published by Black Library
  • Released on 20/08/2022
  • A Crime Caper
  • 404 pages

Baggit and Clodde are in hiding, with a bounty on their heads. Whiel working to pay off the bounty, Baggit learns of a treasure known as the Wraithbone Phoenix. But while this artefact could clear their names, Baggit and Clodde are not the only ones hunting for it . . .

As well as being one of the last audio dramas put out by Black Library, Dredge Runners was also one of the best. It took some of the noir out of the Warhammer Crime setting and injected a hearty dose of lovable rogues. I’d been hoping for a second outing for Baggit and Clodde ever since, be it in audio or in print. When I found out about The Wraithbone Phoenix, I was thrilled. And I was even more thrilled when author Alec Worley offered me a copy to review. Review copies can sometimes feel a little awkward, when you get something for free and end up not liking it, but happily that’s not the case here. The Wraithbone Phoenix captures lightning for a second time, and continues to grow the Warhammer Crime setting at the same time.

The big question hanging over the book is one of style. Dredge Runners made the most of its audio format by including Imperial voxcasts, in a combination of advertisement and propaganda. With The Wraithbone Phoenix in print, I assumed these elements would be left by the wayside, though I did harbour hopes for newspaper clippings. As it turns out, you can put radio broadcasts in print. How? Transcripts, my friend. Transcripts written with such a strong voice that you can hear them in your head. Mixed in with a couple of internal memos and other found documents, these transcripts pull you right into the over-the-top grim darkness of Varangantua with extracts that genuinely had me laughing out loud. Ranging from the consequences of locking ogryns in a shipping container to definitely false rumours regarding the destruction of a housing block, these inserts elevate the book to another level.

Not that it needs elevating. Whereas the rest of Warhammer Crime is focused on the keepers of the law, The Wraithbone Phoenix is unashamedly criminal. Not just Baggit and Clodde, but a whole host of others muscle in. Between bounty hunters, corrupt officials, assassins, thieves and cultists, I was initially concerned that our lead duo would be lost amid all the new names. Happily, the high death toll stops this from becoming a problem. With betrayals, unlikely alliances, murder, and explosions, there’s more than a hint of The Cannonball Run to the book as the various factions close in on their target. It does end up being a bit chaotic at times, but that’s half the fun of a heist story like this. And unlike some books that are this heavy on deception and bluffs, it all comes together in the end.

Between Baggit’s self-centred search for plunder and Clodde’s philosophising, The Wraithbone Phoenix offers something a little different from the grim and stony-faced probators the rest of the Crime range has centred on so far. While the unified identity of Varangantua is one of the range’s greatest assets, Worley proves that you can flex a theme without breaking it. Hopefully Varangantua continues to grow in depth, and hopefully Baggit and Clodde will return once again.

If you enjoyed this book, you might also like:
Dark Run, by Mike Brooks
Flesh and Steel, by Guy Haley
Dredge Runners, by Alec Worley