Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Book Launch: Sentient

In 2120, the human species has been relegated to minority status. A century of rampant unchecked climate and technological change and subsequent catastrophic global pandemics, has laid claim to the very young, accelerating post-human development. With the help of biots, ironically the human race’s finest creation, post-humans’ fulfil their aspiration, colonisation of the galactic, led by the largest post-human corporation on Earth, Apollo Corporation. 

Gaea, a preeminent human organisation is tasked with returning Earth’s climate to preindustrial conditions and developing new off-planet habitable zones. One such zone is run by Dr. Zi Walker, who’s extracting a rare, highly prized natural resource (Elithium), that fuels nuclear fusion reactors to drive the terraforming process. But, there’s one last piece of the puzzle to make terraforming of the whole planet a reality. The development of a multiverse quantum computer (Trojan), a Gaea funded project, overseen by her brother, Dane. 

Dane is compelled to leave those he loves, to help Zi terraform Mars. He and his biot assistant, Hali, accompany the smuggled Trojan computer on a shipment of terraforming equipment bound for Mars, but enroute, the project is infiltrated by Apollo secret operatives assigned to stop them and take the Trojan computer. An epic battle ensues, that will prove to become a flash point in human, post-human relations and the evolutionary fate of mankind.

The reconnaissance soldier, Harvey, was the first to walk into the cave, his adversary not just Draven, but to his shock, four Dravens. The soldier attempted to fire his pulse gun, but it failed to activate, causing him to back away to com Jarvis, when it too failed. 
Draven was unarmed except for a single dagger, which he removed from his sheath and pointed his assailant’s way, inviting him to battle. Harvey, like all military biots, was a robotised killer, programmed to fight in the fires of hades if there commander required it. He welcomed Draven’s challenge, exchanging a steel salute with his blade.
In that moment between standoff and battle, both combatants exchanged an inscrutable glance that signalled the opening gesture, acceptance that what they now started would only end with one standing. War-like adrenaline saturated the cave like the Martian dust as they began a dance they’d spent their lives honing. Both were masters of the blade. 
The soldier relished rather than feared Draven’s advantage as he rotated 360 degrees to confront the four assailants that encircled him. It was a Russian roulette encounter, with only one holding the real weapon of death. But which? The soldier flicked his handle, extending his knife to a sword, showing he too brought tricks to the arena. Masterfully, he swept the sword in a Samurai-like movement of grace and skill glancing all four assailants, clicking real metal on only one, establishing his real target.
He attacked Draven, slicing, carving and driving his sword in every possible direction and angle but each time Draven evaded his assault untouched, toying with him. The soldier grew bolder with every exchange as if the challenge was all that mattered. Ever faster, he launched attacks that ultimately pushed Draven into the rock wall. Cornering Draven, he felt emboldened to make a devastating but risky assault, successfully finding the small opening in his defence allowing Harvey to plunge his sword deep into Draven’s core. 
The sound of steel driving through Draven’s body echoed through the cathedral signalling victory, but to the soldier’s shock, Draven stood tall, before the flickering of his holograph gave way to the cold rock where he stood.
“You’re fast, soldier. But I’m as quick as light,” he said, pulling his knife from the soldiers back, spilling his blood to the Martian dust, decommissioning the young soldier with a single decisive incision. 

Author and Links
Michael Leon has published three novels: Cubeball; Emissary and Phantoms and is launching his fourth, Sentient. His work ranges from speculative fiction  to fantasy romance. Prior to that, Michael worked as a business analyst and published international agribusiness books.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Hugo Awards

The 2020 Hugo Awards are fast approaching. A favourite annual literary award for the best SFF works and considered the premier award in science fiction. It has been operating since 1955. A good database to see all the winners of the Hugo’s, as well as all other major SFF awards, is at science fiction awards database

CoNZealand will hold the event in 2020, which due to the Coronavirus pandemic will only be viewed online from July 29 to August 2.

I’ve been reading some of the recent previous winners of the award in preparation for the upcoming event. The author, N K Jemisin has dominated the awards with her trilogy: The Fifth Season; The Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky, winning the last three Hugo’s in a row. Prior to that, Mary R Kowal’s novel, The Calculating Stars and Cixin Liu’s The Three Body Problem took the award. 

There’s an interesting bunch this year, so I hope to read all of the 2020 nominations before the award night. The nominations for the major award are:
The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Sanders;
Middle Game by Seanan McGuire;
The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley; and 
Gideon the Ninth by Tasman Muir.

Review: The Obelisk Gate

The key protagonist, Essun, remains the hero in The Obelisk Gate, as she settles into the underground community of Castrima. The surprise element of the previous book where all three POV characters are Essun at different stages of her life, is replaced with two main protagonists, Essun and her daughter Nassun, as they struggle to survive in a deteriorating world. 

Nassun flees her hometown of Tirimo with her dangerously unpredictable father to the community of Found Moon where she is ultimately guided by the Guardian, Schaffa, who once guided her mother. Essun, with the help of Alabaster, further develops her orogene skills to prepare for the increasingly violent battle, raged by Father Earth against reckless human activity that led to the loss of its Moon.

Somewhere along the way, I lost interest in both protagonist’s, not really caring for either of them. I’ll put it down to the excessive descriptions used, no doubt setting up for the final instalment, but it read like two separate stories. I’d have given up on this book all together if not for Jemisin’s undoubted writing skills and the fact I so enjoyed book one. I suspect the third instalment will be as enjoyable as book one, as Essun’s and Nassun’s lives finally come together for the story’s resolution. Despite the trilogy’s slow middle, it remains a truly unique fantasy world told by a talented writer. 

Review: The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season is an epic story of survival in an unstable planet, oppressed by nature - Father Earth, and human against human. Earth is the main antagonist where seasons are separated between simmering volcanic, seismic, atmospheric and geomagnetic disturbances and utter devastation. Human mutants, orogenes, are used to subdue the violent earth, delaying the inevitable tide of cataclysmic extinction. The controlled environment known as the stillness allows a temporary beleaguered civility for its citizens,  but still the orogene’s power is feared and hated by the humans they protect and exploited by an elite ruling group known as the guardians. 

The Fifth Season spans three seemingly disparate times on Earth. All three protagonists are orogene women: the child, Damaya, being trained to properly develop her orogene powers; Syenite, a 4 ring orogene, who is sent on a mission with the experienced 10 ring orogene, Alabaster; and Essun, the older mother who leaves home to find her husband who murdered her son and took her daughter. There’s a secret in this multiple point-of-view story that surprises and enhances this epic story. Told in the second-person narrative, Jemisin effectively submerges the reader into her imagined future Earth that sits atop our own civilisation, long ago buried. Life barely survives a genocidal Father Nature where memories of honouring the once revered Mother Nature are long forgotten.

This bleak, savage world is akin to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, where humanity is assaulting its own, even though life on Earth borders on extinction. However, unlike The Road, Jemisin offers a glimmer of hope for civilisation that nature can be changed.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Review: The Calculating Stars

Mary R Kowal’s novel - The Calculating Stars - takes place in an alternate history where the USA’s scientists are not driven by the Soviet Union space race, rather by a global disaster that may end the human race. A destructive meteorite has destroyed many major cities in the USA, initiating a similar climate change pattern that led to the extinction of the dinosaur. The world’s scientists unite to fast-track space exploration so that the human race can survive the pending green house disaster.

The 1950s is not my favourite time period for story telling, yet despite my preconceived bias, I couldn’t stop reading this book. This in no small part, is due to Kowal’s word craft, but also her engaging main character, Elma York. It’s Elma’s enduring hope that strikes a chord and carries the reader through the hurdles and triumphs in her life, from barely surviving the meteorite strike to becoming an astronaut.

I also liked the way Kowal balanced the societal impact with the technological challenges, eliciting the human struggle that would be faced attempting to colonise other worlds. Racism, sexism and the stigma of mental health are rife in the 1950’s, yet despite these hurdles, Elma maintains a strong sense of hope and empathy for the many characters that come into her life.

The personal narrative accentuates Elma’s struggle - a woman in a male dominated industry determined to follow her dream. She never loses faith, even while facing harrowing personal and technical challenges. I particularly enjoyed the seamless way in which Kowal blended the technical craft of flying with Elma’s personal feelings as she took on those challenges. This brought a raw realism to many memorable scenes, creating a believability that made you me to read more.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Review: The Three Body Problem

Where Cixin Liu’s characters fall short, his world building shines, as does his take on theoretical physics, which dazzles like a noon day sky filled with three suns!

In the vein of A C Clark, Liu imagines the history changing event of first contact with extraterrestrials, while setting it against the tumultuous latter 20th century political history of China.

The story opens in the cultural revolution of the late 1960’s where Ye Wenjie’s father, a well known physicist is beaten to death by Red Guard fanatics, leaving a permanent scar on her faith in the world. She is ultimately conscripted to a secret Red Coast base, a telecommunications centre where she discovers proof of extraterrestrials. 

Fast forward to the not too distant future where prominent scientists are being murdered. Shi Quian, a quirky and wily police officer is investigating these events. A scientist, Wang Maio, a nano materials researcher is drawn into Shi’s world, soon witnessing inexplicable and disturbing events, including playing a strange VR game, ‘Three Body’, which simulates an unstable and declining world in another star system. This ultimately ties into an actual world, Trisolaris and their inhabitant’s own desperate plans for survival.

Character development is the weakest link in this otherwise dazzling world envisaged by Cixin Liu. Even more extraordinary is Lui’s bold take on theoretical physics, seemingly challenging the boundaries of scientific investigation with his inspiring imagination, a prerequisite for great ‘hard’ science fiction. He achieves this in spades, making his work shine with the intensity of three suns!

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Review Tour: Bulb

Bulb by Bradley Wind builds a unique and imaginative tale where immersive technology of the future infiltrates all areas where light penetrates, allowing entire lives to be visible to all and recorded in every detail in the ‘Grand Archive’, a technological miracle designed by the antagonist, Dr Mamon. Ben, the protagonist, takes the reader on his journey, from the life-changing events of the ‘accident’, to the myriad of experiences he has, real and surreal, as he tries to come to terms with loss. 

Mr Wind ambitiously delivers a multi-faceted view of a future, impacted by exponential technology advances, and its impact on what are considered cultural norms. How does one act in a world where there is no privacy? This is no mean feat, but his writing style allows him to tackle the challenging subject matter in a unique and imaginative way. 

Descriptive prose and quirky characters such as the twins, Ed and Francis and Ben’s friends, Laurel and Lenny, allow us a foothold into the writer’s psychedelic world, as seemingly normal events are turned into mind bending experiences. Convincing world building enhances that experience with the use of futuristic technology such as computer hover screens, ‘whigs’ containing life memories and the ‘Tornado’ games room enhancing believability, as does infrastructure settings such as shopping mall homes and cities built in the sky.

I admire Mr Wind’s boldness, but at times, I felt pacing was an issue. For example, the introduction stretched almost halfway into the novel. Overly long dialogue bordering on information download also unnecessarily slowed the story down.

That said, I highly recommend BULB to sci-fi buffs, particularly for fans of cyberpunk writers like William Gibson (Neuromancer).

If light records everything we do, can even shadows hide our secrets?

Imagine your entire life is available for review.

Imagine each day any event can be watched over and over again - your birth, your first kiss, your recent shower, that private itch - all replayable from any angle. Now imagine these can be viewed by anyone at any time. 

In a world where there is far less ego, little crime, and even the smallest moments are recorded and available publicly through the ‘Grand Archive’ a Utopia or Dystopia? Traumatised by memories he does not want to recall, artist Ben Tinthawin is recruited by the enigmatic, Grand Archive creator, Dr. Mamon, who seeks help for his nextgen designs to enhance the world. Ben stumbles across a secret revealing the doctor’s true scheme in all its surreal splendour and questions whether the doctor really is the benevolent soul he claims to be. As the paths of the paths of the broken man and a brilliant revolutionary cross, the world shifts and cracks start to appear. Even our most fundamental codes can be encrypted- or corrupted. If the wrong information is discovered, more than Ben’s life will be in danger of total shutdown.

Prepare yourself for full exposure.

“There must have been some of that freakweather going on here. There’s a whole damn forest on the highway. Take the next exit, or I will.”

“Bah, it’s only threatening to rain. Why does everything have to be freakweather? A few branches won’t kill us,” Dad said.

This was more than a few branches. Something ahead looked like piles of dir as if there had been a small rockslide off to the side. The streetlamp shone directly above it, and when we got closer, you could see it was two little dead deer. They faced each other heads to tails like some kind of strange yin-yang symbol.

“Oh, look at those poor baby deer,” Mom said with her fingers pressed to the window. Their eyes, glazed and open, appeared almost alive.

“Look up there,” Dad said, pointing off to our left.

A considerable deer herd speckled the hillside, small points of glowing yellow eyes reflected the headlights. In the past, our family made deer spotting a competition. Dad liked to say this region was “infested” with them. I watched his face in the rearview mirror, a smile on his lips from his big score with the deer game, but it melted away as the rain started hitting the windshield. The fading grin was the second last thing I saw before it happened. The fear in the profile of Mom’s face was the last.

Mom shouted something unrecognisable as our headlights brought the deer standing in the road to bright view. The first deer looked like an albino, all white from the side - head turned to us, eyes blank and SLAM!

Author Bio and Links
Bradley Wind was born and raised in Pennsylvania. He is a prolific visual artist whose work has exhibited in the 20th century wing of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

He worked as a toy designer for K’nex Industries, a manager of IT for Pearl S. Buck International and is currently a director of IT for a child focused non-profit. He raises chickens and two lovely girls with his wife in Chester County, Pennsylvania.BULB is his latest novel

Author Website: 

Bradley Wind will be awarding a $15 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.  

Enter to win a $15 Amazon/BN GC - a Rafflecopter giveaway