Thursday, 11 June 2015

Review: Lock In by John Scalzi

A novel of our near future, from one of the most popular authors in modern SF.

Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. Four percent suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And one percent find themselves “locked in”—fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus.

One per cent doesn't seem like a lot. But in the United States, that's 1.7 million people “locked in”...including the President's wife and daughter.

Spurred by grief and the sheer magnitude of the suffering, America undertakes a massive scientific initiative. Nothing can restore the ability to control their own bodies to the locked in. But then two new technologies emerge. One is a virtual-reality environment, “The Agora,” in which the locked-in can interact with other humans, both locked-in and not. The other is the discovery that a few rare individuals have brains that are receptive to being controlled by others, meaning that from time to time, those who are locked in can “ride” these people and use their bodies as if they were their own.

This skill is quickly regulated, licensed, bonded, and controlled. Nothing can go wrong. Certainly nobody would be tempted to misuse it, for murder, for political power, or worse....
Star rating: 4.5 stars

This is the first book by John Scalzi that I have read. Straight after I finished this book, I went and bought two more. I really liked the writing style.

This book combines three things I really like in fiction - viruses, cybernetics and neuroscience. Yes I'm weird. This book is set in the future, 20 years after a virus breaks out worldwide causing those infected to either die or develop Haden's Syndrome. While Haden's Syndrome is not a real condition in our world, it was based on the very real condition known as locked-in syndrome in which the sufferer remains consciously aware but the rest of them is paralysed, unresponsive and unable to communicate. It is very rare and very scary. But in this book, it's far from rare with millions of people suffering from Haden's in the US alone. This is the future, so companies funded by the Government have designed threeps, which are Personal Transport devices which I kind of imagined a little like cyborgs that could walk around. This threeps are connected wirelessly to the brains of the Haden's sufferers who are able to remotely control it by thinking so that they can continue to interact with the world and lead a more normal life.

We follow Agent Shane, who works for the Police Department's Haden's division (as he himself has Haden's). I have no idea whether this is a guy or a girl as it is not mentioned at all throughout the story. I had guy in my head but it's difficult to tell. This takes skill to pull this off as a writer.

I thought there was something missing from the ending. I liked the ending and things were wrapped up nicely but I wasn't completely satisfied. Perhaps it's because it is a stand alone book, maybe I'm getting used to endings which are slightly open ended because they are part of a series. Who knows?! I can't explain it. And because of this, I have given it 4.5 stars instead of 5 stars.

Review: Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi

Paolo Bacigalupi's debut collection demonstrates the power and reach of the science fiction short story. Social criticism, political parable, and environmental advocacy lie at the center of Paolo's work. Each of the stories herein is at once a warning, and a celebration of the tragic comedy of the human experience.

The eleven stories in Pump Six represent the best Paolo's work, including the Hugo nominee "Yellow Card Man," the nebula and Hugo nominated story "The People of Sand and Slag," and the Sturgeon Award-winning story "The Calorie Man."
Star rating: 4 stars

This is the first book of short stories that I have ever finished. Thank you Paolo Bacigalupi for showing me that short stories can be great and that I can enjoy them as much as other people seem to.

The stories in this book were fantastic; I liked all of them although there were some that were just ok while others were firm favourites. I really do like this author's writing style, the bleak worlds he creates, the messed up characters and the interesting technologies. I would love to see more of all of these that were featured in this book.

Three of the stories are set in the worlds of his main novels; "The Calorie Man" and "Yellow Card Man" are set in the world of The Windup Girl and "Tamarisk Hunter" is set in the world of The Water Knife. While I enjoyed being reacquainted with the Windup world again, I think I enjoyed the others stories more.

I liked the body modifications in "Fluted Twins"; the organic city in "Pocketful of Dharma"; the ability to loose and then instantly grow back limbs (plus the poor dog) in "People of the Sand and Slag"; the conflicting customs in "The Pasho"; the rejoo in "Pop Squad"; and the loss of intelligence in "Pump Six".

My favourites were "Pop Squad" and "Pump Six". Oh and I love the front cover of this book.

Review: Nexus by Ramez Naam

Mankind gets an upgrade

In the near future, the experimental nano-drug Nexus can link human together, mind to mind. There are some who want to improve it. There are some who want to eradicate it. And there are others who just want to exploit it.

When a young scientist is caught improving Nexus, he’s thrust over his head into a world of danger and international espionage – for there is far more at stake than anyone realizes.

From the halls of academe to the halls of power, from the headquarters of an elite US agency in Washington DC to a secret lab beneath a top university in Shanghai, from the underground parties of San Francisco to the illegal biotech markets of Bangkok, from an international neuroscience conference to a remote monastery in the mountains of Thailand – Nexus is a thrill ride through a future on the brink of explosion.
Star rating: 5 stars

This book was amazing!!! I love anything to do with cybernetics and neuroscience so this was a good pick for me. That combined with psychedallic drugs, (no I didn't take any while reading the book - the book is about them, one in particular, Nexus) made for one hell of a ride.

Set in the future (around 2040), firstly in the US and later in Thailand. We follow Kaden Lane, a young PhD student who has discovered how to maintain levels of Nexus 5 in his system so that he can communicate with other users via mind-to-mind interfacing. However, Nexus is illegal. The ERD, a US Government organisation a little like the CIA, are responsible for keeping Americans safe from upcoming technological developments, of which Nexus 5 is one of them. There are numerous advances in technology and science in this future world, the ability to regrow limbs with gecko genes, enhanced strength, and mind-to-mind communication to name but a few. So the ERD come down heavy on Kaden and blackmail him to do work for them. Off he sets to Thailand where he meets with like-minded scientists (and buddhist monks) and it's pretty much a fight for survival with everyone seemingly wanting him captured, out of the picture or dead.

I really liked the section at the back in which the author discusses the science behind the science fiction in this book and how some of the technology and advancements are not a million miles away from the fiction in this story. Having worked in the IT industry, this author knows his stuff and it comes across in his writing. That said, it's not too technical so you don't need to have a PhD in Computer Science or Cybernetics to understand what is going on. The writing style is very accessible and easy to read.

I could not stop reading this book. I have purchased the next in the series and I received the third, Apex, through NetGalley so I can't wait to continue on with the series.

Review: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Winner of the Hugo, Nebula, British Science Fiction, Locus and Arthur C. Clarke Awards.

On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.

Once, she was the Justice of Toren - a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.

Now, an act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with one fragile human body, unanswered questions, and a burning desire for vengeance.
Star rating: 4.5 stars

So our main character is a troop carrier... a space ship! Well I've never read a book from the POV of an object before, intelligent or not. It was an interesting idea and very well done. Not only was it a star ship, but it also had multiple representations of itself in the form of ancillaries - a collective consciousness (a little like the Borg in Star Trek). This allowed for multiple POVs but from the same person, if that makes sense, which gave us a broader sense of what was going on.

I really liked the writing style. Leckie throws you in to the middle of a story so I felt a little lost at the beginning of the book. The story is purposely ambiguous leaving the reader to draw conclusions on how they ended up at this point in time, technology, politics etc. The beginning was also split between the present time (not ours but theirs) and the past and this too was a little confusing at first. The switch often left me feeling a little disorientated, preferring the present timeline over the past one. But that soon switched as it started to bring clarity to the story. Understanding and clarity came slowly as I progressed through the book until everything clicked in to place and I could no longer remember being confused - it felt like I knew all along what was going on. But during the stage where I didn't always know what was going on, I still really enjoyed it and my enjoyment of it definitely increased as I progressed through the book.

While I've discussed the POV, I haven't discussed the story line as such as it's very difficult to sum up and I don't want to spoil things. This book just has to be read.

It was great to read a science fiction book by a female author - there doesn't seem to be many out there. But this book is more than just Science Fiction. It is very thought provoking especially when it comes to the subject of gender and how it affects how we see people and what we expect of them. There are some big reveals in this book which really made me think.

There are a lot of names to get used to, people, star systems, regions and spaceship names. I could have done with a list to help me at the start.

I found this book very difficult to rate. I was torn between 4 and 5 stars - it had some interesting plot devices but I guess the early confusion needed to be taken in to account however much it was planned for the reader. So I'm settling on 4.5 stars. Looking forward to book 2.

Review: Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds

From the author of the Revelation Space series comes an interstellar adventure of war, identity, betrayal, and the preservation of civilization itself.

A vast conflict, one that has encompassed hundreds of worlds and solar systems, appears to be finally at an end. A conscripted soldier is beginning to consider her life after the war and the family she has left behind. But for Scur—and for humanity—peace is not to be.

On the brink of the ceasefire, Scur is captured by a renegade war criminal, and left for dead in the ruins of a bunker. She revives aboard a prisoner transport vessel. Something has gone terribly wrong with the ship.

Passengers—combatants from both sides of the war—are waking up from hibernation far too soon. Their memories, embedded in bullets, are the only links to a world which is no longer recognizable. And Scur will be reacquainted with her old enemy, but with much higher stakes than just her own life.
Star rating: 3 stars

I received this book for free through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

There's not too much I can say about this book without giving away the story - it's such a short book. Despite it's length, the author does manage to cram a lot in and it's a well thought out story. I guess because it's a novella and therefore short, it doesn't build a vivid picture in the reader's mind of the environment or the characters.

The whole story takes place on a skipship, a ship which is both carrying soldiers from both sides of a war after the ceasefire, in addition to prisoners and civilians. The ship is malfunctioning and wakens everyone out of stasis and then all chaos breaks loose.

This is told in first person by Scur, a female (actually now I think about it I'm not sure it states her sex but I assumed she was female) soldier. She? tells the story as if she? was speaking directly to the reader which I often find a little annoying.

This is the first book I have read by the author Alastair Reynolds. Despite the "addressing the reader POV", I liked his writing style, so I would like to read more of his books in the future.