BOOK REVIEW: Mark of Faith, by Rachel Harrison

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Publisher: Black Library

Genre: Military SF/Space Opera

Pages: 310

Publication Date: 2019

Verdict: 4/5

One of the few survivors of a devastating attack by the forces of Chaos, there is no rest for Sister Evangeline. Forced to work alongside a secretive Inquisitor, Evangeline is sent to the far side of the Galaxy in search of a holy relic. But with the motives of her allies uncertain, what hope for success can she have . . ?

With her debut novel Honourbound and the audio drama No Way Out, Rachel Harrison established herself as one of Black Library’s rising stars. That reputation is well-earned, and Mark of Faith cements her position in the field. It also continues Black Library’s current trend of putting out strong, standalone novels that explore some of the more obscure regions of the forty-first millennium. Even with Battle Sisters and Inquisitors on board, this is a far from traditional tale, delving deep into the more mystical side of the setting.

Mark of Faith  is rooted in the more fantastical side of the grim dark future, and Harrison captures the unknowable as few other authors do. The pervasive horror of the universe is ever-present, but the reader never becomes numb to it. In any book based on a game, it can be hard to fear creatures when you can easily look up score sheets for them, but Warhammer has always been good at keeping its lore mysterious to the characters within, and Harrison is among the best in the game. No pun intended. When demons appear, which they do rather frequently, each occasion is as horrifying as the last, albeit in new and unpredictable ways. While this magical element of the setting is not what draws me to it, there is no denying that harrison makes it as engaging as her mortal main characters.

Though the roles of the characters are fairly stock and standard for Warhammer 40,000, Mark of Faith continues Black Library’s strong trend of making characters who are more than just their abilities. Sister Evangeline is a role model for the Sisters of Battle, even if she is uncomfortable in such a role. Her personal struggle is an echo of the larger conflict, with the zealous Sisterhood forging a new path in the wake of the Galaxy-shattering events of the present overarching Warhammer storyline. Her counterpart, Inquisitor Ravara is a unique creation, incomparable to those who have gone before. For a character who only takes up half if a fairly short book, she is remarkably well-developed, and I would happily read an entire series from her perspective.

What Mark of Faith does best is to convey the sense of a universe in despair. As with all the best Warhammer fiction, success is not guaranteed, and a happy ending is something only a fool would expect. Not for a single page is the threat of peril lifted, and it’s clear from the outset that not everyone is going to make it out alive. The darkness is palpable, and it’s always good to see consequences for the actions of characters. For better or worse, usually worse, these characters do have an effect on their world, and vice versa.

Though not without faults, Mark of Faith is another strong entry in Black Library’s catalogue, and a fine example of what the setting can be.

BOOK REVIEW: The Naked Sun, by Isaac Asimov

-Spoilers for the entire Foundation universe-

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Publisher: Panther

Genre: Crime

Series: Robot (2)

Pages: 188

Publication Date: 1958

Rating: 5/5

 

Elijah Baley is back at it again. Reunited with R. Daneel Olivaw, he is tasked by the Earth government with solving a most unusual murder. But his investigation will take him far from home, to the planet Solaria, where robots outnumber humans, and even the people are strange beyond reckoning . . .

The Naked Sun builds on both The Caves of Steel and the short stories of I, Robot and other anthologies to deliver an Asimov classic. Whereas in the first novel in this series was a fairly traditional murder mystery which used robots as set pieces and side plots, here is where robots take front and centre stage. R. Daneel Olivaw remains the only android-style robot, but the Solarian models are sophisticated nonetheless. Indeed, large parts of the novel are given over to detailed discussion on the science of robotics, both on a technical and a social level.

This book is also where we see the real differences between Earthmen and spacers. Though some of the spacers’ germaphobia was obvious in The Caves of Steel, the Solarians take it to the next level, living alone on massive estates tended to by legions of automated staff. Such is their isolation that the mere thought of human contact triggers anxiety attacks. Living through the present Coronavirus pandemic, it’s all too easy to see how a society could reach such a point. Not that this would be a bad thing. As ever, Asimov merely shows a world as it could be without passing judgement. The lengths to which Solarians go to avoid contact with one another are as inventive as they are incredible.

Though barely longer than a novella by modern standards, The Naked Sun is a triumph of worldbuilding. From the opening pages, there is little that is said or done that does not develop the setting further. Yet this is never plain exposition. As an investigation, everything Baley learns is woven naturally into the dialogue. And it is not simply worldbuilding for its own sake, as every piece of information uncovered proves to be crucial to understanding the murder in question. On this reread, I remembered many of the elements that make up the mystery, as well as the fate of one of the characters, but even so there were just as many aspects I had forgotten. In particular, the wide-ranging social impact of the murder was as surprising to me now as it was the first time around.

Baley and Olivaw spend much of the novel apart, and with the narrative tightly focused on Baley, his robotic partner’s doings are largely left off the page. The new characters introduced here are standard murder mystery archetypes, all with a science fictional twist. All serve their purpose in the narrative elegantly, but none are particularly memorable. The most remarkable is Gladia, who will play a significant role in the rest of this series.

All told, The Naked Sun is a cosy mystery to challenge the mind, well wrapped up ans setting the stage for larger events ahead.

AUDIO REVIEW: Katy Shaw and the Search for the Stolen Secret, by Paul Shapera

-Thanks to Paul and his team for sending me a free copy (and all the lyrics)-

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Genre: Noir/Dieselpunk

Runtime: 1hr 7mins

Cast: Paul Shapera, Lauren Osborn, Candice Price, Kerttu Aarnipuu, Hayley Warner, Marjolein Nijsten

Verdict: 5/5

Having tackled every punk suffix from steam- to cyber- to atom- to fairy-, and written everything from transgender cyborgs to time travelling AI and posthuman narratives, where do you go next? Well, if you’re Paul Shapera, the answer is obviously dieselpunk lesbian jazz. Because why not?

Katy Shaw and the Search for the Stolen Secret takes us back to the glory days of New Albion, a time around that of The New Albion Radio Hour album. A time of oppressive governments, junkies in the streets, jazz clubs and robberies. The actual punk element is somewhat reduced this time around, with the focus on the seedier side of life in the titular city. All those seeds sown in the long-ago Radio Hour ‘New Albion’ tracks have their payoff here. The sketchy clubs, the daring thieves, the addictive drugs. It all comes together nicely. And then, because this is a Shaperaverse album, time travel gets thrown into the mix too.

As a narrative – itself a concept the album plays with – this is undoubtedly one of Shapera’s strongest works to date. The plot, in spite of all its twists and turns, is fairly easy to make sense of. The alternating song/dialogue structure works well, with Michael being a handy posthuman guide to the story of Katy Shaw. Fair warning though, Katy’s story is bleak. Really, really bleak. Shapera has always been a fan of heartbreak, and that is on full display here. If you’re the emotional sort, best have some tissues ready.

While there are some familair voices, with Kerrtu Aarnipuu (the Meme) and Lauren Osborn (pretty much everyone) making a return, the latter as Constance O’Brien herself and the former in a new role, the star is of course the vocal talent behind Katy Shaw, Candice Price. Swinging easily from heartbroken despair to vitriolic fury, with just a sprinkling of sweetness in between, hers is a voice I would love to hear more of. And if the open ending of the album is anything to go by, there’s at least another album to enjoy in that regard.

Usually, not just with Shapera but with any artist, an album has a few songs that I’ll take and listen to on a loop. Whether it’s the Blood Red Dogs or ‘Put on a Show,’ Shapera has always had a knack for standout pieces. But that is not the case here. Katy Shaw and the Search for the Stolen Secret is, as well as being a bit of a mouthful, an album best listened to in its uninterrupted entirety. Only then can you fully appreciate the strength of the narrative, the long instrumentals and punchy spoken word intervals. The anger of the finale is lessened in isolation, and the rambling hilarity of ‘Mark’ makes little enough sense in context. ‘Christmas in the City’ and ‘The Heist’ are both brilliant in their own very different ways, but better listened to in their right place. Varied as it is, this is an album that walks in tight balance between the absurd and the sublime.

This is perhaps not the best place to start your Shaperaverse journey, but’s an excellent story with catchy tunes and heartbreak aplenty. What more could you ask for?

BOOK REVIEW: The Caves of Steel, by Isaac Asimov

-Spoilers for the entire Foundation universe-

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Publisher: Harper Voyager

Genre: Crime

Series: Robot (1)

Pages: 206

Publication Date: 1950

Rating: 5/5

Elijah Baley is just another policeman in the sprawling supercity of New York. But when a visitor from the Spacer colonies is murdered, he finds himself thrust into the spotlight. As he uncovers a deadly conspiracy, he must also work to overcome his own prejudices. Thankfully, his new partner R. Daneel Olivaw, is on hand to assist . . .

The Caves of Steel is one of Isaac Asimov’s most famous novels, and deservedly so. The first novel that truly fits into the larger Foundation universe, it serves as a perfect opening to the wider future history, while also being a perfect standalone story in its own right. That is, of course, an artefact of its creation. Not originally part of any series, but slotting in neatly to both its direct sequels and the wider narrative into which it was later patched.

As a standalone, then, this is the perfect synthesis of social science fiction and murder mystery. Asimov deftly weaves his two loves together, creating a crime that is wholly reliant on imagined technology, while not being utterly impenetrable to the new reader. On a reread, the murder itself is obviously less of a mystery, but the lining up of Chekov’s guns is as fascinating as when they are fired. As with all of Asimov’s work, you can see the cogs grinding away if you look closely, but this never detracts from the enjoyment of the story. Watching Baley set up argument after argument only to have the straw men fall back down is never anything less than fun, even if you know it’s inevitable that he’ll fail many times before reaching the correct solution.

Elijah Baley is a typical Asimov protagonist. Intellectual and capable, but not a superman. With his ingrained prejudice against robots and spacers alike, he’s a flawed and rounded individual. But while Baley is our protagonist and has a long journey ahead of him, he is not the most notable character introduced here. That honour falls to R. Daneel Olivaw. The R standing for robot. A robot as unnervingly human as the Bicentennial Man Andrew Martin became, yet still bound by the Three Laws of Robotics. The interplay and dialogue between partners alternates between jovial banter and owner/master relations, but there is no denying that he is a unique individual.

Reading Daneel’s early interactions with human beings, as he attempts to understand them, is interesting enough on its own, but is seen through a new lens when you know of the crucial role he has to play in future novels. Daneel here is a far cry from what he will one day become, and his infancy is echoed by the early development of the spacer civilisation.  Earth sits overpopulated and stagnant while the spacers have colonised fifty worlds, closing off the stars to the homeworld of the human race. Neither side has the right of it, and both are deeply flawed, but neither are they overwhelmingly dystopian. Even when the systems are flawed, they still work better than nothing at all.

One of the true classics of science fiction, The caves of Steel is great both alone, and as a precursor to what comes next.

WHERE NEXT?: Another Novel Trunked

As of Tuesday, I completed my third novel. 92,316 words in 84 days is pretty good going, though this is of course a first draft and there is a lot of editing yet to do. But that’s what I’m happiest about. It’s messy, yes, but this third work is easily my strongest to date. For the first time I feel like I have something that can be fixed with only editing, not a scrap and rewrite like the last two. So what’s changed?

The Fury is easily the most character-driven piece I’ve written, and that alone is a major shift from the plot- and world-focus I’ve had in previous works. writing with such a tight focus on a single character for such a sustained period was certainly challenging. I tend not to write particularly emotional scenes, but here that became necessary. It was, after all, a tale of love and betrayal. The main problem I found was that in these emotional scenes I kept treading the same ground time after time. Often, it felt as though I was simply wheelspinning. The biggest lesson learned here is that I still have a lot to improve on.

As part of my ongoing practice of pushing my own boundaries with each book I write, this one was in the present tense. I’m not generally a fan of reading in the present tense, but – a few slips aside – I found it remarkable easy to employ. What I like about this method most is that it allows for a more dispassionate approach to description. There’s a sense of real distance between writer and reader, but there’s also a closeness between reader and action. I was surprised to find how easy it was to alternate between the immediacy of conflict and the slower, more matter-of-fact description that can be done in the present tense. While I’m likely to revert to past tense for whatever I write next, I’m fairly sure I’ll continue to use present tense in shorter works.

One thing I still find myself doing is describing every movement of a character in a scene. Yes, this breaks up dialogue nicely, but it also becomes quite a mess as I track the individual steps of each characters. I firmly believe this is a hangover from my time running RPGs, where movement must be tracked, but as a writer it’s a frustrating tic to have to work around or be rid of. writing the dialogue itself remains my favourite part of the endeavour, but I need a nother way to frame it instead of endless – ‘he stepped to the left’ etc. I also need to find action scenes that are not shootouts in warehouses, but that’s a discussion for another day.

So what comes next? Well, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure. The Fury is currently sitting with a beta reader, and I want to get another first draft of a new project complete before I come back and edit this one. I have a few ideas floating around, but nothing concrete at the moment. Perhaps I should ease back from the pure SF and give that steampunk idea a go? Or do I plunge headlong into some of my more ambitious ideas, now that I have the practise? One way or another, I’m hoping to be back to writing very soon.

BOOK REVIEW: The Last Day, by Andrew Hunter Murray

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Publisher: Hutchinson

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic/Dystopian

Pages: 424

Publication Date: 06/02/2019

Verdict: 5/5

The year is 2059, and the Earth has stopped spinning. Half the world freezes in perpetual night while the other burns in never-ending sunlight. In the thin strip of survivable land, Britain languishes under a draconian new government. Coming home to visit a dying friend, scientist Ellen Hopper uncovers a conspiracy that could change everything she believes to be true . . .

Perhaps best known for his work behind the scenes on TV panel show QI and as one of the hosts of the related (and brilliant) podcast No Such Thing As A Fish, Andrew Hunter Murray now adds novelist to his resume. As a book, it’s strong. As a debut, it’s simply phenomenal.

The Last Day straddles the line between end-of-the-world drama and contemporary thriller. Neither of these is a genre that I’m terribly familiar with, but regardless of that I enjoyed it very much. After a slow start, the pace quickens in the middle section and then breaks into a sprint for the final hundred pages. It has the pacing of a thriller, told across a large scope. It’s one of those books I can easily see being adapted for television, and that’s an adaptation I would happily watch .

While the plot, with its shoot-outs, government conspiracies and tense investigations, is firmly rooted in the world of thrillers, the setting is apocalyptic SF at its finest. The Waterstones edition (and possibly others) contains an afterword from the author describing the science behind the Stop – as the future inhabitants of Earth refer to the pause in rotation. As he notes, it’s extremely unlikely, but not entirely out of the question. It’s a nice little nod to science, and makes the rest of the worldbuilding seem even more plausible. the burning hole in the ozone, the icebound wastes of America, the redistributed climate of Britain, all of it is perfectly believable.

Even more believable, however unfortunate the fact may be, is the social aspect of the worldbuilding. I’m not a fan of words like ‘timely’ or ‘relevant’ in reviews, but there’s no denying that there are certain parallels between The Last Day and the world we currently face. It’s all too easy to see how we could slip into the oppressive regime seen within the novel, perhaps even without needing a global cataclysm to spur us on. While Prime Minster Davenport and his party keep britain running, it’s certainly not a Britain I’d choose to live in. With newspapers reduced to propaganda and armed bandits roaming the countryside, it’s far from the salvation of the human race that Davenport claims.

Make no mistake about it. This is an incredibly bleak book. There is a very tangible sense that the end of the world has not been survived, but that humanity is slowly slipping away into oblivion. And that’s before Ellen learns the secrets that the government is ready to kill to protect. Even with the small moments of kindness and hope, it’s hard to feel any optimism while reading The Last Day. Despite this, it never quite treads into overwhelming the reader. If anything, it makes you want to read faster. Once you’ve got into the meat of the story, this is a book you won’t want to put down.

A book as chilling and brutal as this is one you should definitely read, but perhaps have something more cheery to follow it up with.

BOOK REVIEW: Torch of Freedom, by David Weber & Eric Flint

-Major spoilers abound for previous books in the Honorverse. Click here for a full index of reviews-

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Publisher: Baen

Series: Crown of Slaves (#2)

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 826

Publication Date: 2009

Verdict: 4/5

Erewhon has broken from the Manticoran Alliance. Even within its borders, division is rife. As spies and operatives from across the Galaxy rush to take advantage of the chaos, the locals look to their own defences. And in the shadows, the Solarian League is watching, and waiting . . .

Like Crown of Slaves before it, Torch of Freedom is lighter fare than the increasingly complicated main Honorverse series. I’d even say that you could read this series without having read any of the Honor Harrington novels, though you would of course miss out on some of the context. For those who have been following the Honorverse as it develops, this will offer all the usual excitement and action that you’ve come to expect.

Nevertheless, this is a more complex work than its immediate predecessor. As experienced readers will be expecting, Weber seems unable to resist adding in dozens of new characters. I must confess, it’s been a little over a week since I read the book, and already I’ve forgotten most of them. I know I enjoyed the book while reading it, but looking back I’m finding it hard to recall the details of what happened.

This, I think, is the largest problem, not just with the Honorverse, but with any series of this length. Each installment is strong on its own, but the total is somehow less than the sum of its parts. While the older generation of characters are as familiar as old friends, the newer ones cannot compete. You can see this issue cropping up in longer series like the Honorverse, David Drake’s RCN series and also franchises such as the Star Trek and Star Wars expanded universes. There’s so much going on that it’s hard to pick out memorable moments. The expanding world of the Honorverse continues to impress, but the storyline is rapidly becoming dragged thin. In all honesty, I’m not sure how much longer the exponential growth can be sustained.

Unlike Crown of Slaves, this book fits in closely with the other Honorverse books more closely in terms of grammar and language. Perhaps Weber wrote more, or perhaps it’s the result of firmer editing. My money’s on the latter, but it certainly feels more like a Weber book than the first spin-off did. In particular, the climactic naval action is as strong as any conflict from the main series. While Flint’s distinctiveness is till there, this change does mak ethe Honorverse feel a more cohesive piece of fiction.

Overall, this is a strong book, but it leaves me wondering about the future of the Honorverse, and the future is not as bright as it once was.

BOOK REVIEW: The Macharian Crusade, by William King

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Publisher: Black Library

Series: The Macharian Crusade (#1-3)

Genre: Military SF

Pages: 878

Publication Date: 09/02/2017

Verdict: 5/5

Solar Macharius has begun his conquest of the heretical parts of the Galaxy. A war that could outlive him, yet driven by his force of personality alone. But the greatest enemy may not be the heretics, nor the traitors in his own ranks, but Macharius himself. . .

This is the Warhammer 40,000 that I signed up for. William King may be more famous for his Gotrek and Felix series, but is here that he writes his best work. everything you’d expect to see in the grim darkness of the forty-first millennium is on show here. Millions of men laying down their lives for unknown goals, devious eldar, vicious orks, vile heretics, and blood, guts and grimy action on an unparalleled scale.

Told in the first person by guardsman Leo, this trilogy gets into the head space of the average human soldier with an authenticity that few other Black Library novels manage. In a universe of larger-than-life Space marines and immortal demons, it’s always the little men that shine. At least it is for me. Maybe it’s the lingering legacy of Starship Troopers, but there’s something about the brutal warfare and gallows humour that has always appealed to me, and King excels at it.

By focusing on a single soldier, King is able to show the chaos of battle, especially when the humans are outnumbered or outgunned by xenos and heretic threats. You can feel the roar of the guns and the claustrophobic confines of the tanks on every page. Captured too is the cosmic horror of having to face literal demons when all you have is a rifle. Leo is no superhuman, just a man. It’s hard not to feel sorry for him as he is put through yet another life-or-more-likely-death situation.

interspersed throughout the book are notes and memos regarding an investigation into whether Macharius should be canonised as a saint, while also hinting at traitors within the crusade. Serving to show some of the larger universe, these also tease betrayals in the future. reading through the trilogy in one go, they serve as the perfect appetizer for the next chapter, making this book one you won’t want to put down despite its size. the only real stumble is in the second volume, which inserts a second first-person narrative centred on an eldar corsair. Though not a major hurdle, there is little to distinguish who is speaking at any given time.

With all the thunder and fury of warfare, this book also takes time to show the quieter moments of a long-term campaign. the soldiers camp and laugh and joke with one another, even in the bleakest of surroundings. People go to bard, get drunk and have sex with locals. It’s this extra level of realism that separates this book from many others of the same breed. Though not as long, or as intricate, as Dan Abnett’s Gaunt’s Ghosts, it has a similar feel. The soldiers have a real tangibility to them, making them more than just another name. Not all of them are going to make it to the end, but by that end, you’ll have come to know them as well as anyone. Fully fleshed and likable, Leo and his colleagues ar ethe perfect protagonists for a military SF of this nature.

In short, this is the very best of what Black Library has to offer. perfect for both Warhammer veterans, and those new to the setting.

 

BOOK REVIEW: Light of Impossible Stars, by Gareth L. Powell

-Major spoilers for Embers of War and Fleet of Knives

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Publisher: Titan

Series: Embers of War (#3)

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 364

Publication Date: 18/02/2020

Verdict: 5/5

With a seemingly unstoppable armada of alien vessels tearing through civilised space, thins are looking pretty bleak for Trouble Dog and her crew. Heading for the one safe haven remaining, the battered and broken crew put everything on the line for one last throw of the dice . . .

One of my top discoveries of 2019, Gareth L. Powell’s epic yet intimate space opera trilogy comes to a close with Light of Impossible Stars. For one last time we join the sentient ex-warship Trouble Dog and her crew of broken humans. because that’s what this series is about, broken people trying to be whole again. Easily the most optimistic space opera I’ve ever read, warm friendly, inclusive, but never losing the sense of the epic that draws me to the genre.

When we last saw Trouble Dog, the ancient armada she had awoken were in the process of destroying anything that could lead to another war. A list of things that includes humanity and Trouble Dog herself. In this third volume we see the aftermath of these early efforts. A universe as broken as our characters. It’s set up early on that direct confrontation is an impossibility. Yes there are fights, and even a few Pyrrhic victories, but this isn’t a space opera where might makes right, or where great fleets clash over the fate of worlds. There is an element of that, but it’s largely off-page. When we do get a proper look at battles, it’s through the tight focus of Powell’s first-person narration, and the narrative is far more interested in the human consequences than a blow-by-blow account.

It’s the narration that is the main strength of the series. Way back in book one, I remarked that having multiple first-person perspectives was always risky, and that characters sometimes sounded the same. After three books, each voice now seems perfectly distinct. Even the new characters who’ve joined along the way are easily identifiable, and just as relatable. Yes, it’s a gamble, but for Powell it pays off in spades. Another gamble that pays of is having our usual protagonists absent for the first act of the book, favouring a new pair of protagonists. I have to admit, I was less than convinced by this sudden jump in narrative, but by the time this storyline connects with the journey of Trouble Dog, you can see how everything fits together.

The thing that sets this series apart from other crew dynamics is the sheer joy our heroes take in each other’s company. yes, it’s close to that Found Families trope that I hate so much, but it’s a nice break from the angst and distrust-driven crews that seem to fill the genre these days. In a way it reminds me of Star Trek. Yes, there is darkness and people don’t always agree, but when push comes to shove they are there for each other. For once it’s nice to see a crew that doesn’t splinter under pressure.

Light of Impossible Stars wraps everything up nicely, while still leaving room for more stories with the characters and setting. Easily the best British Space Opera of recent years, and a delight from start to finish.

BOOK REVIEW: Nemesis, by Isaac Asimov

-Spoilers for the entire Foundation universe-

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Publisher: Guild Publishing

Genre: Tomorrow Fiction/Social SF

Pages: 364

Publication Date: 1989

Rating: 4/5

Nemesis. The twin star to our own sun, now on a collision course with the Earth. With the apocalypse looming, humanity must search out a new home. But the Galaxy is still beyond our reach, and the only option is a small, barren world in orbit around Nemesis itself . . .

The author’s foreword states in no uncertain terms that this book is not part of the Foundation universe, making it one of his rare standalone novels. However, the release of Forward the Foundation only a few years later would bring this novel into the fold along with so many others. While it conflicts with much of universe, it exists as a sort of fairy-tale within the canon. That, coupled with the similarity of ideas, means I am happy to include it in my reread of Foundation.

Nemesis is set across two time periods. The main story deals with the young Marlene Fisher in the year 2236, as she struggles with daily life aboard a space station called Rotor. This is the weakest of the story strands, as young, female characters are one of the few things Asimov wasn’t terribly good at. In contrast to Andrew the Bicentennial Man, Elijah Bailey or Hari Seldon, Marlene comes across as rather flat. Some of this is clearly deliberate, as Marlene’s unique personality drives much of the novel’s conflict.

The second strand begins a decade and a half earlier, shortly after Rotor was launched. Here we meet Crile Fisher, father to Marlene and someone who was left behind by the departing station. This strand follows Crile over the course of the next sixteen years as he tries to find a way to be reunited with his daughter. This is the stronger of the strands, for Asimov was at his best when chronicling the advancement of human society. The future history posited here is an intriguing alternative look at the Spacer/Settler dichotomy we will be seeing more of soon enough.

In fact, much of this book sets up later parts of the Foundation series. Dealing directly with the first settlement of an alien world, the colonisation of the Galaxy, the development of hyperdrives, everything here is building toward a future not seen in the novel itself. Even the idea of an irradiated future Earth with humans taking to the stars for refuge serves as a prequel for what is to come.

As the two storylines converge, the book strays far from Asimov’s usual Hard SF. This is one of Asimov’s few ventures into the realm of the truly alien. The intelligence in Nemesis is genuinely alien, but to be honest, is not all that interesting. This is a novel without any real sense of conflict. While a fun journey, it ultimately lacks a satisfying resolution. Even the final paragraph is yet more hinting at the Foundation’s possible future existence. It’s all a lot of set-up with no actual reward.

In short then, Nemesis is undoubtedly one of Asimov’s weaker works. But for the rereader, there is enough to maintain interest. More interesting for what it adds to Foundation than as the standalone it purports to be.