Why Andy Weir’s The Martian?

This is a really popular book. Why?

This question isn’t intended as a slight to the book, I am just genuinely interested. Why this particular book? Whether it’s good press or bad press, I can’t stop hearing the name of both book and author being thrown around. People are crazy over it. I have been meaning to review this book for a while but it’s taking me longer than usual to read. I must have had it on the go for a good few months now but it’s taking me so long to finish. At the beginning I was hooked. Any of you had this problem? I enjoyed the darkly comedic part of the Mark Watney guy’s character, although I feel that Matt Damon – who is to play the character in the upcoming film (we’ll get to that briefly in a second) – is a bit too ‘nice guy’ for the role. We’ll see. I enjoyed Weir’s writing too, I couldn’t see a downside.

The film. Just a quick note on that. It’s due to be out this year, so get your ticket money ready, which nowadays you may need to take out a loan for as they’re so expensive. Ridley Scott is directing which is great, I’ve always been a fan of his (I need say no more than, simply, Alien). Of course, the book’s plot caters to popular culture’s love of science fiction, particularly the psychological element that is popular within science fiction blockbusters. I’m inevitably going to enjoy it. The main difference I find with reading a book versus watching a film is that if you’re not motivated to finish a book it won’t carry on sharing itself with you. A film will just carry on playing until you exasperatedly turn it off. I have watched some pretty dire films that way. But still, there is something about the book of The Martian that just isn’t holding my attention. As Red Dwarf’s Lister said, “…can’t you see that the story is not gripping me? I’m in a state of nongripness. I’m completely smegging ungripped.”

I think my main stumbling block is that I was expecting a little more mental strain on the character of Mark Watney, something that I anticipate Ridley Scott will embellish on. I wasn’t expecting any big action events in the book, as I realised early on that the story was more about the character’s development. But to me he just hasn’t developed. Perhaps the blasé dark comedy is masking something that will happen very late in the book. As I haven’t finished the book yet, I can’t comment on it as a whole but I’m not that far from the end now and I’m feeling the guy is still mentally the same person as he was when he landed there with his fellow humans at the beginning. Guaranteed, I’ll finish the book tonight and it will turn out that the Watney has had some kind of break down in the last few pages.

It’s a strange book with a lot of conflicting reviews. I think when I have finished the book I’ll put it back on my shelf with a slightly puzzled “hmm”.

Diving for pearls with a reviewer

I hadn’t really had much chance to read expansively into science fiction over the past three years. I was up to my eyeballs in Toni Morrison, Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Sylvia Plath, F. Scott Fitzgerald… The whole classic crew, who (somewhat miraculously) I still have a soft spot for, despite a lifetime of picking apart and over-analysis. A chance meeting, however, with a book by J. G. Ballard and a copy of I Am Legend being lent by a friend would begin my shift of interest over to the side of SF and apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic fiction. I am particularly partial to a bit of hard SF.

I wanted to write a short, quick post about the past year, roughly when I started reviewing and getting deeper into SF. If there are any pearls of wisdom you can take then that’s a happy bonus. Let’s dive:

1. Trying to keep up with review requests is impossible but that’s okay.

I put my details up on a site called http://www.tweetyourbooks.com (Twitter @TweetYourBooks) and it was an incredibly successful way of putting myself out there. I get a lot of traffic from it. When I first began receiving requests, I was rather panicked at the thought of having to reply to every single email. I didn’t want to offend anyone. As I went on, I realised the authors are understanding and there’s nothing to worry about. They get it. And I really appreciate everyone’s requests, it’s encouraging to know there is so much creative writing talent out there. To those authors I have not been able to get back to I’m very sorry, keep on writing and sharing your creativity. To those whose books I am still nursing for review, I apologise. I am getting there. The best tip I can give to help reviewers starting out is to make sure you categorise your email mailbox from the very beginning. This may seem obvious in hindsight but at the time of starting I had no idea how many emails I would get. Keep to a simple method that works for you, don’t over-complicate things. This can be even worse than an unorganised mailbox. Another lesson I learned the hard way.

2. I have enjoyed reviewing!

This may seem like an obvious observation but as I hadn’t done it before who knew what could have happened? I especially enjoyed talking to many authors about their work. I’ve made firm friends through the medium of SF. Twitter is a great platform to get chatting.

3. Have a game plan for fitting in creative moments.

Then again, it’s virtually impossible to ‘plan’ when you’re going to be creatively inspired. I often write at 5am before I go to work, as that’s when I happen to be most spurred on to be creative, just figure out what works for you. For everyone things always happen unexpectedly: meetings; cleaning; laundry; a flat on your car; just life in general. Then, when you have a few minutes you never have the right gear with you (yes, sometimes we all need some particular stationary or notebook we are attached to before we can really let the flow go). My key to mastering this unpredictability of life is an application called Evernote. If you haven’t heard of this, it’s brilliant. Easy to download to all your tech. If I have a spare half an hour on a train, I can write notes on my iPhone then get home, open up my laptop and the notes will be there too. No sending files or waiting ages for each piece of tech to catch up with the sync (which takes seconds, if that). Evernote is useful for everything, no more needing to worry if you brought this list or that list with you, it’ll be with you everywhere. I’m firmly a paper and pen kind of person but Evernote is an indispensable addition. Frankly, I’m not the most high tech of people, there may be better out there than Evernote but it works perfectly for me. Side note: if you’re on O2 you get a year’s free Premium of Evernote. Yes! So you lot on O2 like me, no excuses.

4. Green tea is awesome.

I can’t drink coffee without it sending me to sleep – go figure – so my introduction to green tea was a life saver.

5. Life sometimes gets in the way.

I suppose this depends on the person. A perfectly organised person who quickly settles into routines or had more life experience probably could have handled it better. Me, I was just starting out living alone in my first flat far from home and beginning my first full-time position post-university. I had a lot to prove to myself and I think I was trying to do too much all at once. I had always dreamed of living alone and living life dictated at my own pace. I just hit the ground running a bit faster than I could handle! Saying that, I’ve now found my rhythm and reviewing only adds to this sense of achievement.

An aim that I am putting out there (so you can pull me up on it if I don’t fulfill it!) is that I am going to up my game with the original purpose of this blog: The SF Masterworks collection. I keep looking at the wealth of SF Masterworks copies on my bookshelves and they are just crying out to be read. Those people who have reviewed SF Masterworks, I would love to hear what you thought, add your pearls to the mix. It will add fuel to the reading fire.

Here’s to diving for pearls.

Pearl divers

REVIEW: Katrina Mountfort: Future Perfect

The storyline of Future Perfect is heart-breaking in its truthfulness. It is a realistic storyline of life in a government collapse-and-realignment constructed dystopian setting, where life is hard and decisions are harder. I treasured Future Perfect‘s closeness to reality, the nearest to realistic that you can get for a futuristic dystopian world. The book explores the effects of oppression on humanity’s natural instincts. Society has narrowed everyone’s horizons into Citidomes, a proposed perfect world where everyone’s goals are the same: superficial physical alterations and materialistic social climbing with a search for “perfect” being the materialistic basis for life. 




A few Citidome dwellers during the years have managed to escape and lead a harsh but free life outside the Citidomes. This small scale life continues in the old towns and villages that were abandoned in the transition into Citidome living. Within the morally skewed world of the Citidome we follow the lives of odd-one-out Caia and the rebellious Mac. 


Mac’s loyalties are clear; to a free life on the outside. Mac is a born rebel for the cause. He believes in a better world outside, living in the colonies. He is meant for a world with no oppression or materialistic values and because of these principles, he constantly openly challenges the laws of the Citidome


Caia simply doesn’t fit in with the others around her, physically or mentally. She cannot find their materialistic values important, or find the reason to try. When she meets Mac, her thoughts are able to take wing and be voiced. Caia is torn, between escaping to a new life with Mac on the outside and fear-tainted loyalty to the only life she’s ever known in the Citidome. Actively going against the laws of the Citidome in pursuit of brighter horizons may be one step too far for them both.




In these divided perspectives one person’s perfection is another’s oppression. As we learn from Caia and Mac, perfection stands in the eye of the beholder. As we learn more about both Citidome life and outside life, we have to decide what definition of “perfect” we choose to live by. As the corruption of the Citidomes begins to show so does the harshness of life outside the walls. I enjoyed the questioning nature of the divided, yet co-existing lives of the Citidomes and the outside. They are ran by completely different ideas of happiness, healthiness, working; of just living. I couldn’t agree more with the synopsis that Future Perfect “will appeal to both an adult and young adult audience,” I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend to all.

The book is available from:

US Amazon:
UK Amazon:

REVIEW: J.S. von Dacre: A Guy Like Me

“What goes around, comes around,” was the phrase that sprung to mind when reading “A Guy Like Me” by J.S. von Dacre. A phrase that isn’t quite fair on the main character, as I will attempt to explain… Or perhaps you will disagree. The controversial perspectives of this book forms the beauty of it.

We are introduced to our main character (nameless) who, from his own admissions, describes himself as a womaniser and he is quite happy with this lifestyle. In fact, some of his comments I almost wanted to poke him in the eye for. But as we get further into the story we are given glimpses that all is not a deliciously corrupted lifestyle any longer. His womanising ways have dwindled to almost nothing over recent years and he has turned into something of a lone wolf, haunted by a ghost of the past, present and future all rolled up into one; Caroline.

We are pulled deeper into the knowledge that this one woman alone occupies his thoughts. He wonders if Caroline has “found herself a guy like me”. I am fairly sure this dominating thought is why his womanising ways have slowed, as it has occupied his thoughts increasingly for the past few years. Which is where my own thought occurred, “What goes around, comes around,” as I reached the end of the story.

I couldn’t help sympathising with his character. As much as some of his narration had the same effect on me as waving a red rag at a bull – as is the intention – there is a vulnerability that he doesn’t want to admit. He has been pulled into a situation his character is not familiar with, or ever expected to be immersed in. Suddenly, the morality of being womaniser might not be the worst outcome of a man…

This book is a provoking address of a controversial situation. I know there will be many conflicted points of view by readers over good and bad here with many opposing opinions about the characters. It is a hard hitting and emotional topic, preying on the reader’s own experiences with this personal situation. For a short story, J.S. von Dacre has packed in a lot of moral turmoil to deal with and shows a talented skill. I enjoyed the depth that was achieved in “A Guy Like Me” and I can heartily recommend this book.

Get J.S. von Dacre “A Guy Like Me” here:

US link


UK link


REVIEW: John Houlihan: The Seraph Chronicles, Volume One: Tales of the White Witchman

When I begin to describe John Houlihan’s The Seraph Chronicles Volume One: Tales of the White Witchman, the combination of themes will seem bizarre to most. I went through precisely this same train of thought and started reading The Seraph Chronicles with a sceptical mind but came out converted; proven previously cynical.

THE TRELLBORG MONSTROSITIES (Book One of The Seraph Chronicles)

The simple breakdown of this three-book-volume is made up of Nazi agendas, gods, supernatural occurrences, monsters and historical inspiration. John Houlihan’s first book The Trellborg Monstrosities, of The Seraph Chronicles Volume One: Tales of the White Witchman, threw me headlong into this uniquely varied genre. A major plus of this book I think; there is no faffing about with getting stuck in, I was pitched into the suspense and action from the first page and it keeps up the pace as it goes.

The plot follows The Chronicles’ namesake, the eclectic character Seraph – the White Witchman himself – and the more normalised Major Powell, plus a few of his men from a mysteriously named “the Section”. Together they oppose the SS and other Nazi associated groups. These Nazi groups are concerned with getting their hands on an artefact that will make their cause stronger and ultimately invincible. In the pursuit for this artefact, plans go awry (naturally) and we see the effects this has on the mind of one powerful man Ludwig von Obertorff, the lives of the local villagers and the company of men from “the Section”.

When I began to read The Trellborg Monstrosities I felt I could not connect with the dialogue. When I read a book I go into a nice little bubble of just myself and the story, oblivious to anything else around. When starting to read The Chronicles, I found I could not quite get into my bubble at first. I also thought on the first read that Major Powell – who is our guide and the point of view throughout the book – was conflicted on his feelings about the whole supernatural aspect of the plot. The abrupt changes between disbelief and acceptance in his character during the exposure to supernatural occurrences was just a touch odd for me. Although, perhaps that is just my sceptical side rearing its head there, for when I had finished The Trellborg Monstrosities I re-read it, particularly focusing on the beginning of the book to see if I still had these reservations concerning the dialogue. I actually found they were not as noticeable. Paradoxically to my first impressions of the dialogue, the writing style and language was beautiful to me from the outset, a reader’s dream. I could imagine everything Houlihan described in complete clarity. Setting and action enticed me to read paragraphs multiple times, just to soak up the atmosphere that Houlihan had created.

I believe that my momentary reservations about the dialogue stemmed from my reluctance to immerse myself unconditionally in such an unfamiliar topic. I have learned my lesson! Once I understood the pace of the book and got into the mind set of undead Nazi soldiers allied with beasts of ice being the general theme, I realised that perhaps what I perceived as a blasé attitude in Major Powell could actually be seen as an author-intended coping characteristic. I particularly enjoyed Seraph’s character. He made me think of a science fiction Sherlock Holmes character; a cut above the rest in intelligence and with a flair for dramatic deliverance, with Major Powell serving as a characterful Watson.

As we are following the The Chronicles’ namesake, Seraph, it is only fair to mention that despite reading my way through the three books, his character remains cocooned in a shroud of mystery. I cannot say that I felt I got to know his character any better as the series progressed. Although, I think if we got to know him too well he would lose the mysterious quality that forms the basis of his character. After all, the mystery of something is what pushes you on to the discovery is it not?

THE CRYSTAL VOID (Book Two of The Seraph Chronicles)

The second book in The Seraph Chronicles, The Crystal Void starts with a dialogue, almost a – here comes an over-used phrase – continuous stream of consciousness. If you studied an English related subject at any point you will now be cringing to see me use this phrase in a sentence of my own free will, under no exam conditions. Despite the over-used associations this term has with literature analysis, I still like it. For times like these, there is no better description. What with my previous comments about the dialogue you may fairly assume I found the same issue here too. The opposite is in fact true, I could not get enough of this man Gaston d’Bois and his story. I was instantly hooked by this book.

Despite the name of this series being a bit of a giveaway in hindsight (The Seraph Chronicles) it took me by surprise when Seraph appeared as the fateful rescuer. I was so captured by possibilities for the fate of Mademoiselle Odette d’Hiver and pondering on how Lieutenant Gaston d’Bois would save her from the clutches of Marquis Phillipe de Figueira da Foz (what fantastic names), that I forgot that I was waiting for Seraph’s appearance at all. That was how gripping I found the story line.

I was so enjoying the story line of the second book, that to an extent I didn’t want Seraph to come and eclipse any importance that the current characters may hold. I felt this happened a little between Seraph and Major Powell in The Trellborg Monstrosities. The only reason why it was noticeable to me is because our point of view comes from the secondary characters in The Chronicles; the secondary characters in each of the three books being Major Powell, Gaston d’Bois and the Kommandeur. I call them secondary characters only in terms of the primary character being Seraph. Once I thought about it and understood the importance of Seraph being our true focal character even if he is not our voice, it was a much clearer journey. In fact, I began to see Seraph’s actions as having a mothering quality towards our secondary characters and so once again the Sherlock and Watson duo comparisons were at full whack.

In short, this second book in The Chronicles was my favourite. Everything about The Crystal Void was a credit to Houlihan.

TOMB OF THE AEONS (Book Three of The Seraph Chronicles)

And so we come to the third and final book in The Seraph Chronicles Volume One: Tales of the White Witchman. The rules of the series still apply, Seraph saves the day and we follow a lesser mortal through various chasms of hell. In this case, the mortal in question I simply knew as Kommandeur Siegfried. We are introduced to the Kommandeur during his active service and we can see from his actions towards the enemy that he is not afraid of breaking the rules to get results. I think this character was a little more hardened and capable in his personality than the other two. Well, he was at least far more sensible about diving headfirst in to a tomb steadily piling up with ever increasing amounts of bodies. Despite my fondness for Lieutenant Gaston d’Bois’ quirky manner I did appreciate this display of realistic humanity in the Kommandeur.

This book had a very cult-like feeling. All books had elements of cult-like behaviour but Tomb of the Aeons had the robed figures, blood sacrifice and the calling-up-of-a-monster-from-the-deep vibe. Very fitting with how Seraph’s magic appears to develop over the series. I am still not sure how to peg Seraph’s magic, along the lines of the mystery that comes with Seraph. If I found out the secrets behind the sorcerer I think it would spoil the effect. Some may disagree.

So, summing up the topics in this book: cults, snake men, soldiers, monsters and Seraph. Also, there is a kitten, Little Hans, involved in this book. An instant winning quality if ever there was one. I was sold.


If consistency in plot and character profiles are a must in your reading material list then I really recommend. If you prefer to be kept guessing in plot lines then perhaps not. The books are reassuring in their consistency of deliverance. I did find the second book The Crystal Void was my favourite, the nature of d’Bois’ character I enjoyed. He is quirky and intriguing and the style of writing in the book matches the character’s quirky nature.

If you have a liking for the first book, then I would say that you are guaranteed to enjoy them all. After a little perseverance of faith and understanding of the topics I enjoyed them very much. I hope and assume that there will be a The Seraph Chronicles Volume Two, in which case I am looking forward to how the White Witchman and his companions progress in some structural twists and turns and of course, a return of the Sherlock/Watson qualities!

Happy reading…

Joe Haldeman: The Forever War

Private William Mandella is a reluctant hero in an interstellar war against an unknowable and unconquerable alien enemy, but his greatest test will come when he returns home. Relativity means that for every few months’ tour of duty centuries have passed on Earth, isolating the combatants ever more from the world for whose future they are fighting.

I also thought I would include the blurb comment by British author Peter F. Hamilton as I cannot improve on his apt summary.

Only a writer as skilful as Haldeman could use war’s dark glamour to lure the reader in and then deploy that same fascination to show the effect of this orchestrated barbarism on the human soul. A book about corruption, atrocity, hope, stupidity, and triumph. Throw in faultless advanced military technology, fascinating aliens, and a dangerously believable future Earth, and you have a book that’s near perfect.

First off, an apology. Whilst trying to write about this book I had drawn a complete blank whenever it came to facing my Evernote screen. It could be due to the technical knowledge escaping me a little but this has not been an issue before. My knowledge behind the military background of the plot was and still is distinctly lacking but despite this it somehow did not stop the inexorable pull to read the book cover to cover in the space of a weekend. It is a wonderfully paced book. I am finding the space and time element of this book fascinating. To the point where I am collecting scientific journals from anywhere and everywhere to try and wrap my non-scientifically-apt brain around the concepts, theories and hypotheses. To read it is one thing; to apply what you read is completely another.

In the beginning, I did think “Easy, I’ll write about a series of 73 books I have not read yet” and didn’t anticipate that I am no longer a happy-go-lucky student with acres of time to spare anymore. There goes the days of extensive research you could always find me doing. For this reason I will not be uploading the SF Masterworks books exactly in order, as the book I had planned to read for my next update – Cities In Flight by James Blish – was far chunkier than I was anticipating, so that will be more of an ongoing read. I also want to include some chatter about other books too. As well as keeping up to speed with my ever growing list of review requests; after all, how can you say “no” to reading predominantly brilliant books for free in exchange for a review?

Also, just a note to potential readers of The Forever War; despite my lack of comprehensive knowledge of the subject, I really enjoyed this book. It did not mar the experience in any way. I still very much recommend reading it even if it’s not exactly your usual cup of tea.

I digress.

Where to start with The Forever War? I hadn’t done much background research into the plot of this book before reading (in fact, very little) so I was unknowingly thrown headlong into the life of Private William Mandella, caught in the throes of a complex war-torn interstellar world. The plot starts by following Private William Mandella in the year 1997 during his training with other men and women with IQs over 150 and a certain aptitude for survival. Mandella is a cynical character, making it particularly entertaining to follow his life. I think The Forever War and Andy Weir’s The Martian (a book I am currently in the middle of, I recommend) have the protagonist’s character in common. This character formula in a fantasy based book works so well for me. Sometimes in an unbelievable scenario, a little bit of cynicism and humour can make it more believable in my opinion. It lends the topic stability and honesty, making me as a reader feel like the protagonist is on my side.

Mandella’s particular outlook on life is our guideline for the tone of The Forever War. A cynical attitude to the war by the partakers seems only appropriate as the reasonings for initiating the war seem entirely dictatorial and devoid of sensible reason to me. Do not fear, sense is found later on in the progression of the war, thousands of years later. In exact words, the war is seen as an example of “human stupidity. And shame.” Despite the storyline being rather tragic – it is war after all – the regular snippets of gallows humour more than make up for it.

By following Mandella through the time and space oddity that is the setting of this book, we get to see the span of the entire war despite it taking…hmm…a long time. If somebody would like to supply me with the mathematics of it then you are welcome to do so. My overview will be woefully lacking in the technical. To explain simply, as I understand it, the war is spread through the duration of generations but because of the combination of time, space and speed of travel, Mandella has in fact only aged through one lifetime. It also means that because of a time warp so to speak – those people who have experienced their fair share of live shows, don’t start dancing – when the enemy, the Taurans, pops out of one of these jumps, known as collapsars, they could be from any time period of the war; from highly evolved weapons and tactics of the war’s future, or tragically under-equipped as they were when they first began fighting in the past. Still with me? I had to do a lot of rereading through this time warp explanation section.

Mary-gay Potter is part of this group of elite soldiers we meet in 1997. Incidentally, she is the soldier pictured on the cover of the Gollancz SF Masterworks edition. As the plot develops she becomes Mandella’s hope, the only link he has with any kind of familiarity. The space and time realities in The Forever War result in Mandella returning from missions after generations have gone by on Earth, even though it has only been months for him. When he returns his world is not a familiar one. Mandella arrives to a new world system, with opposing values and laws each time he completes a mission. Mary-gay provides the only stability in his life. Although this book has a strong affiliation with war and conflict and it seems that much of the plot is set in some sort of war zone, the book’s focus is in fact more about the limbo in between duties and the relationship Mandella has with this every changing society. Personal values, laws, sexual orientation, family planning and lifestyle all take a beating with every tour of duty. The small nuances of daily life that cause these lifestyle changes to make sense for the common man are lost on the soldiers as they are left wondering what was wrong with the original system of living. I think for me the strangest changes throughout the book was the change of perception towards sexual orientation. Not for the reason of what they believed but because of the changeable nature of their decisions.

I wouldn’t call this a romantic novel by any stretch of the imagination but there is enough humanity in there among this world of clones, war and aliens to make the plot relate to the reader – the secret of great SF in my opinion. I also won’t give away the ending…but it did make me burn my toast in my focused concentration of scrabbling to turn the next page.

Happy reading…

REVIEW: Hillel F. Damron, Sex War One

I received a copy of the book from the author in exchange for a fair review. Here it is.

I was drawn to the topic of Hillel F. Damron’s Sex War One because a merge of a gender war within science fiction seemed like an intriguing and unusual subject to explore so exclusively together. Sex War One caught my attention and kept it. I was not disappointed. It turned out to be the kind of novel I rave about to all.

Sex War One takes place in the aftermath of a nuclear war, where all life is divided into perfect uniform colonies. These colonies are constantly seeking to improve in all things flawed, to the extent that they go against nature. They are aware that good and evil have not yet been eliminated in human nature and they recognise this as a flaw. We follow Underground-Colony B/365 and the Colony-Citizens within. In this world, the emotions and passions that humans naturally hold are gone right along with their individuality; they are qualities that are not understood in this world. There is no concept of love and gone is the natural conceiving of children or natural pregnancy. All babies are produced in labs and selectively bred. Men and women look alike even. So of course all hell breaks loose when our main man D.L. decides to keep and nurture the anomalous baby, Z.Z. who acts differently, thinks differently and looks contrary to the citizens. D.L. takes it upon himself to care for her personally, we can see from early on that this is a decision set up for failure. Z.Z. is nicknamed “the Monster” because of her nonconformity to colony life. D.L. quickly becomes questioned by the Colony-Citizens as soon as he starts treating Z.Z. as anything other than an experiment, the excuse he used to keep her. At the time of course he did believe it was an experiment even in his own thoughts but he quickly realises he has an attachment for the child. I found D.L.’s motivation for keeping the child in the very first place a little confusing considering the rigid and oppressive attitude of the colony and the attitude that has to be kept to by the Colony-Citizen individuals. I do understand that the attachment grew over time and perhaps just morbid curiosity is enough, as it is for most people in reality. This little display of human curiosity by D.L. shows that the Colony is not quite out of the grip of true human nature and warns of events to come. In fact, as soon as Damron described there being no individuality shown in society, alarm bells started ringing. You can’t stifle human individuality without consequences eventually showing themselves.

The depth and appropriateness of this gender conflict theme struck me. With feminism taking off in new directions, equality being an ever questioned premise and sexism debates between both genders being laced into media everywhere, I found this book to be a timely and futuristic epiphany. In our current society the future of gender equality is being questioned, just as it is addressed in this novel. There are so many opinions and arguments for every side of what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in the subject of gender and it was refreshing for this topic to be explored in a science fiction novel as the purely main topic. In science fiction there is usually some kind of reference to the differences in society, sex and gender because there are an important aspect of human life and so it has to be included. It is what the reader wants to read about, needing a futuristic take in fiction just as there are futuristic takes on weaponry, technology and gadgets.

I found it provoking that the dictatorship, stemmed from this eruption of personal feelings in a stifled society, came from a gender separation. Particularly as we are trying to move away from both matriarchal and patriarchal dominated societies, it really makes you question how equality will be achieved in our own future. Individuality makes all our opinions different. One person’s genius is another person’s fool. Despite best intentions, human nature – complete with human flaws and emotions – means that any search for perfection depends on the perspective of perfection. Damron questions the definition of perfection and where humanity stands in that definition. In Damron’s example of our future, is it the flaws that make us such a powerful species? Z.Z. seems to prove this. The search for the answer to this question, “what is humanity?” in Sex War One leads to matriarchal dictatorship. The maintenance of this ‘perfect’ society was only achieved by each becoming an emotionless being with no individual spirit. There is no passion, no emotion. It is an almost mechanical living.

There are few aspects of the book that smack of dramatised versions of real historical dictatorial events and periods in history. The novel addresses new directions and uses of historical dilemmas and problems; ethnic cleansing, cloning, gender inequality. I thought this was rather clever as the emotions of the reader are transferred from the real historical events to the appropriate similar fictional event in Sex War One. There is also a link back to historical feminist oppression throughout the book that I found interesting. This historical oppression is essentially why N.R. – the antagonist we love to hate – makes the move towards matriarchy that she does. This is her flaw. The description of certain female characters being ‘hysterical’ – an old term that in its original meaning applied only to women showing any displays of emotion. Women who were described as ‘hysterical’ were usually found in a mental asylum very shortly after being told they were emotionally unstable. An element of the book also along the lines of a resurrection of historical female oppression is S.O’s rape. Showing that even in this apparently more advanced matriarchal society, rape is used as a weapon in war. There is a conformity still to the old ways despite the ‘new era’. So, how sustainable is a ‘perfect’ society if the human flaw is still within us?

One theme of the novel that I found unexpectedly rang true was the insistence of the colony that they needed to get away from nature. When I thought about that it occurred to me that yes, the more successful the human race becomes in reality, the further we take ourselves from nature. The more successful we become in almost anything, the more man-made our life that we isolate ourselves with. For me this seems a shame – I do love the bracing outdoors – but it actually worked as a realistic concept for the future in this book through this reasoning. This was the method behind their ‘perfect’ society. Although, this concept was created in the extreme when N.R. takes control. N.R. desires what she calls an “anti-nature”.

I think my only criticism for the book is more of a false expectation, the expectation being that there would be more of a follow up on Z.Z., the outsider child. Z.Z. is an anomaly, different from all the others. She began all of the turmoil, creating the question that follows throughout the book, who is in fact the “Monster”? After the first chapter we don’t hear from her until the last pages of the book. I enjoyed the link from beginning to end and I can see that the mystery of her life is part of the illusion of her ‘outsiderness’. We are only meant to be concerned with the lives of the Colony and the developments there.

So, if you like disruption of the status quo through revolution with futuristic spins on real time issues this is the book for you. Throw in a few characters you love to hate and love to pity and you have Sex War One. For me at least, the overall message gleaned was that reading this book makes you appreciate the individuality we have around today. Without it, we get the plot of Sex War One.

Hugh Howey: Silo Series | Wool Trilogy

I am indeed in the process of finishing a post of The Forever War by Joe Haldeman which was meant to be scheduled next on the list. If you have read it, you will know it is an interesting topic to wrap the brain around let alone write about responsively if – like me – you’re relatively new to true classic sci fi and you have very little military knowledge. So here is another brief post while you wait. The lift music, if you will.
I don’t give away major plot lines but don’t read this if you want to be completely surprised when reading the series. But just a note to take away; the only description of a book you will find that doesn’t give away at even a little something will be the painstakingly selected blurbs on the back of a book.
Three novels: Wool. Shift. Dust.
Although originally nine novellas: [Wool. Proper Gauge. Casting Off. The Unravelling. The Stranded.] [Legacy. Order. Pact.] [Dust.]
I discovered this series by chance as I was trawling through some suggested reading. They spent a couple of months pushed to the back of my mind, gathering dust. I originally didn’t want to commit to a series whilst at the time my concentration was meant to be focused elsewhere. Especially when I saw how satisfactorily chunky the books were.
Eventually, as always, I caved.
To start with, if I was to give a brief description of how these three books worked together for me, I would say this: Wool – at the risk of stating the obvious – is the introduction to Silo life and characters, triggering so many questions that it leaves you scrambling to pick up Shift for answers; Shift is the context and the history for the series, taking its place as a prequel to Wool and Dust; finally Dust, back in the present time, is the action taken from the revelations of Wool and Shift. Not action in the sense of punch ups and wars (although yes these are involved, plus guns, love, blood, betrayal and more) but action meaning the forward progression they make. For living and of how they counter the totalitarian, stifling life that they have been living to create their own future with their own horizons. From the perspective of the men and women being kept in the dark – metaphorically and literally – having a life outside is the ultimate fear and the unrealised dream, stemming from a fear of the unknown and a dream of whispered stories long gone. The outside is poisoned air and dead earth with the only people seeing it for ‘real’ (let’s not get into that can of worms) being so called cleaners who are prisoners locked away for crimes (we won’t open that can either) and are sent out into the dead wilderness outside the Silo in sealed suits (another can), that the poisoned air slowly eats away, to clean the lenses of the video cameras stationed outside. The view from these cameras can be seen from the top floor of the Silo where everyone gathers to watch the cleanings. This is a death sentence for the person sent out there. The ultimate question pondered constantly in the Silo is, “Why do they always clean the lenses?” Even those who swear and scream that they won’t always do in the end, instead of trying to make it away and find any shelter they can to save themselves. These stories and questions are voiced at one’s peril. These whispered stories of the past passed on carefully by word of mouth (words on paper or electronic cost a lot of money for reasons you will find out) are all that remain of their previous lives and society; a previous life that is unveiled throughout the series and eventually answers why they are there.
I recently found out that Wool was first designed be read as a stand-alone story. I can see how the structure reflects a stand-alone more so than the others but I know that if I’d have bought Wool without a follow up being at least in the pipeline, I would have been knocking on Hugh Howey’s door with something to say about that. Wool wastes no time in letting you get attached to the characters and then finding ways to uproot their place in the novel. I must admit, it took me a while to figure out who the main character was finally going to be because there were so many changes happening in a short space of time. It didn’t deter me though. It was interesting to get so many points of view. Which actually worked, I wouldn’t have previously thought that swapping between so many characters so early would work for a reader connection. Turns out it did and well, too. The setting of the novel is an enclosed Silo (admittedly a huge Silo) but with no access to the outside which for obvious reasons doesn’t give much freedom to work with setting-wise, but this also succeeded. It made the idea of ‘outside’ all the more fearful and then once the story progressed, more arcane.
I think out of the three novels I found Shift the hardest to get into and this is in no way a slight of the novel to discourage others. I am an impatient reader-for-pleasure. I dislike not having the whole plot to read at my fingertips, so if I know it is going to be a series I usually wait until all the books are out before I begin reading. When I finished Wool I didn’t pause for a cup of tea even before picking up Shift. So when I was confronted with no immediate explanation of the loose ends in Wool, I (at first) was impatient with it. But the series has more finesse to it than just neatly giving the reader all the answers. Once you adapt from the fast-paced, who-is-going-to-be-attacked-next? style of plot in the dark Silo of Wool to Shift‘s more subtle beginning in the familiar ‘real world’, it is easy to see that the information you get from Shift truly makes the series what it is. Once I had finished the series I realised just how important the content was; it took the story deeper.
Dust is the moment when the many characters’ stories from the different Silos are brought together, their pasts having had influence over each other without realising. Rise of the masses style. This is the culmination of all the conspiracies that have been spoken of in the series, where the answers are given. There is some mystery throughout the series as to whether the outside is poison or not, living or not, even if it is real or not. Perhaps that was just me but I was definitely swinging one way then the other in terms of what I believed from one book to the next.
I haven’t talked about specific characters or events in the books and I might decide to upload something more concise later on. I just want to encourage people to read this series; it’s a little bit special.

Richard Matheson: I Am Legend

An SF novel about vampires…

Robert Neville is the last living man on Earth…but he is not alone. Every other man, woman and child on the planet has become a vampire, and they are hungry for Neville’s blood.

By day he is the hunter, stalking the undead through the ruins of civilisation. By night, he barricades himself in his home and prays for the dawn. How long can one man survive like this?

A quick note to the reader: if you have not yet read I Am Legend and you are hoping to in the future, I would give this post a wide berth. I have not been particularly coy about plot giveaways and such. I warn you here because there is nothing worse than finding a spoiler whilst trying to use others’ experiences to gauge whether to buy the book or not.

I will try to keep this brief as I am writing this on a train with no mains connection for charging my laptop.

With this first book, Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, I had one of my very rare occurrences of seeing the film version before I read the book. To be honest, when I first saw the film in 2007 I was not aware that it was a book to begin with, let alone a 1950’s novel. As I mentioned in the previous post, I am a big J. G. Ballard fan and I was surprised that reading-by-association hadn’t led me to I Am Legend sooner. A friend introduced me to the book, years later, after he had read it. He recommended it and I, I am sad to say, promptly forgot about it; mainly because I had seen the film and was not particularly enthralled.

To use a new twist on an old standard, never judge a book by its film! I found the protagonist Robert Neville much more realistically flawed and human in the book, more in keeping with the ‘average guy wins out’ theme (or doesn’t ultimately, as is ironically the case) that Matheson seemed to have been going for. I am going to try and not keep referring to the film because the book and the film are in completely different territories. Their medium, aims, audiences and eras were completely different, among many other things, so there would be little point doing so in my eyes.

Addressing the ‘vampire’ description of the story, recent popularity of the vampire character in popular fiction has rendered this once classic gothic horror character into a romanticised ideal. I am not saying I am not guilty of reading the romanticised novels myself. I also at the time of reading enjoyed them. Nevertheless, I am happy to say that this novel conforms to the traditional perception of a vampire, meaning that they are a gothic horror genre character, not a heartthrob.

I know I did say I wouldn’t be comparing the book to the film and vice versa, I just want to point out that during the film I was not aware that the infected creatures were intended to be vampires. I can only assume it was an active choice to disassociate the film creatures from being characterised the same as the creatures were in the book.

For this reason, when I was confronted with the blurb beginning “An SF novel about vampires…” I was a little taken aback to say the least. I must admit I rolled my eyes at the idea of combining vampires and apocalypse, thinking, “how could this possibly work in classic sci fi”? But then again I was still labouring under the illusion that the topical heartthrob character would be used. More fool me!

Matheson puts this gothic character in a new setting for my experience; post-apocalypse. It somehow works as a fitting new setting, bringing the character crashing out of gothic castles and Whitby and into 20th century fiction set in the post-apocalyptic 1970s. Matheson seems to be able to pretty much get away with using the vampire character without too much of a stretch of the imagination by associating them with the apocalyptic classic method of a mass pandemic infection.

By following the day-to-day life of Neville, the reader can find a relatable anchor in amongst the vampire-infection-apocalyptic world. I mostly find that the best sci fi and fantasy novels have something to keep the reader grounded, something that the reader can associate with. It just helps the author connect with their readers; making the least believable (and usually the more creatively imagined) features of the novel more believable by association.

We always wonder how we would react in an apocalyptic situation and I think we would all hope we would have at least half the success that Neville has. He is a typical human being, not some almost super human that we would have envied in the pre-apocalyptic life, just happening to have a mastery of combat, inbuilt knowledge of medicine and, naturally, is a survival genius. I think my favourite part of his character is his ability to learn what he needs to know as and when he needs it, not just have the knowledge conveniently previously ingrained as many characters handily do in any genre of novel. This maybe my librarian side coming out but I particularly loved his aptitude for using the library to learn how to firstly do DIY around his house and then to do the some might say more in depth task of curing the world of the infection.

So concludes my chat. My laptop battery is low, I am near my destination and so I must leave.

I am next chatting (I am not calling it reviewing as I am more just letting out my thoughts onto paper at the moment) about The Forever War by Joe Haldeman, which I would particularly welcome thoughts on as my knowledge on war is not extensive, a personal problem I found whilst reading the novel!

Until then…

Happy reading!

The SF Masterworks Collection: Introduction


For those fellow book lovers out there…

I recently decided to read the complete SF Masterworks collection, published by Millennium, a division of the Orion Publishing Group. This decision was spurred on by a fellow book lover lending me the SF Masterworks edition of I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. After reading this I knew that I wanted to read more of the mid-to-late-20th century science fiction, in keeping with the style of Matheson, so I followed the Google trail to the SF Masterworks collection listing. With there being quite a number of books in the collection (73 to be exact, although more included in different editions to be pedantic) I thought it would be an interesting pastime to not just read them mindlessly but share what I thought, get a little science fiction discussion ball rolling. I know from experience that this genre, chiefly this period of science fiction, has a bit of a love-or-hate reaction and I am not quite sure why.

My typical reading genres are apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, dystopian and totalitarian fiction, stemming from an enthusiasm for general geography (closet volcanologist wannabe) but particularly for the power of natural hazards and their place in our past, present and future. You won’t find me stereotypically hiding out in a campervan in crazy isolation, making my own radio station just yet, but let’s never say never. Many of the books I read in my usual genres include science fiction in some form or other, they often come hand in hand, so it was inevitable that I would be eventually drawn into the world of science fiction.

When I was reading I Am Legend, this 1954 novel drew me back nostalgically to that time period of science fiction, back to a certain style (that mysterious love-or-hate style) that was also included in J. G. Ballard’s work; I am already a huge Ballard fan – I included his work in my dissertation – and this is where I discovered the mass divided reaction to that style. I also enjoy H. G. Wells’ work. More recently I had been encouraged to read work by Philip K. Dick. When I took a look at the listing of the SF Masterworks and saw all three of these authors already included plus George R. Stewart, John Wyndham, Kurt Vonnegut and Mary Shelley I knew I was on to a winner.

Some will be probably thinking that John Wyndham and Mary Shelley are not included in the classic numbered paperback title listing that I am working from and that is correct. However, they are included in later editions of the collection and I thought I would prefer to read more than less, it’s just the way I am. With myself and books I am go hard or go home.

I will be attempting to follow the numbered structure in which they were published but there may be a few discrepancies due to which ones I can get hold of for when and also I have already read I Am Legend so it makes sense to write the review whilst it is still in my mind. The next book The Forever War by Joe Haldeman is currently on its way to me and will be written up just as soon as I have read it.

So concludes the overview and the purpose of this blog. I will be firstly writing up Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, which will follow in the next few days.


Until then…

Happy reading!