New cover hilldiggers

I’ve already mentioned elsewhere that Neal Asher is one of my favourite authors but as with any well-loved writer (especially if you are me) then you can approach the next book of theirs that you pick up with a little trepidation.

Not that I worry about Asher over any other author, actually I worry about him less as the main body of work revolves around the Polity universe, which pretty much means that I know that I’m going to be in for a good ride as the Polity is a wonderful playground.

The Skinner was set on the fringes of the Polity’s reach. Hilldiggers has no Polity interaction at all until that is an ambassador is sent whose arrival restarts a conflict between two worlds that have recently been at peace after the death of millions.

One of Asher’s strengths is how he invests time and imagination into the biology of the worlds he creates and the two warring planets, whose inhabitants have their origins as humans (and Polity history) but have both adapted to individual unique environments. And it’s fascinating to read the evolutions of those races.

The other thing that Asher does is set different world views against each other. Like the insect Prador’s society vs the Polity humans in books like Prador Moon. And the conflict between the two planets and their races is fully exploited here.

Hilldiggers shares a connections with later books such as The Skinner as the ambassador they sent is infected by the splatterjay virus, which allows him to adapt to the extreme environments he surprisingly finds himself in.

Cleverly Asher finds a way to neuter the Polity agents both the obvious (the ambassador) and its hidden observer drone. This does make the story more interesting as a result. They still have influence but it means they don’t interfere with events in the way that stop the conflict reaching genocide.

But for all that this is a story of four children who as born following their mother’s pregancy near an alien artifact. One that one planet has put a lot of research into and gained scientific and military advantages from in the process.

We also follow the view points of several of the main characters, which rather than fragments makes it easier to see the whole jigsaw rather than trying to figure out why one piece won’t fit.

I did however have issues with one of the characters and their motivations, which is always the downside of a multi-view story. You want to get back to the characters you like and can’t see why some of the action can’t take place offstage. Though I didn’t mind seeing from their view. It’s hard to explain who it was or why it didn’t seem quite right without giving away some pivotal plot points.

Not that it spoiled the overall effect but it felt more like the story needs this than the need of the character. However that could just be me comparing threads and finding not as enjoyable as the others.

Hilldiggers is a stand-alone title in the Polity universe but I think reading something like Prador Moon or The Gabble would be better introduction to Neal’s work but for fans this is well worth reading.

This list may sound familiar if you’ve listened to this week’s edition of The Readers (to be fair it’s probably only just gone up) and enjoyed Simon and I sharing our lists after talking about book based New Year’s resolutions.

It’s not quite the same list as I thought that 12 books was a better number than 15* we mentioned but it’s ended up as 13 as I can’t cut this list back any more than I have. I hope you find some books in here that you’re going to look forward to:

January

Dark Eden

Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

“You live in Eden. You are a member of the Family, one of 532 descendants of Angela and Tommy. You shelter beneath the light and warmth of the Forest’s lantern trees, hunting woollybuck and harvesting tree candy. Beyond the forest lie the treeless mountains of the Snowy Dark and a cold so bitter and a night so profound that no man has ever crossed it. The Oldest among you recount legends of a world where light came from the sky, where men and women made boats that could cross between worlds. One day, the Oldest say, they will come back for you. You live in Eden. You are a member of the Family, one of 532 descendants of two marooned explorers. You huddle, slowly starving, beneath the light and warmth of geothermal trees, confined to one barely habitable valley of a startlingly alien, sunless world. After 163 years and six generations of incestuous inbreeding, the Family is riddled with deformity and feeblemindedness. Your culture is a infantile stew of half-remembered fact and devolved ritual that stifles innovation and punishes independent thought. You are John Redlantern. You will break the laws of Eden, shatter the Family and change history. You will be the first to abandon hope, the first to abandon the old ways, the first to kill another, the first to venture in to the Dark, and the first to discover the truth about Eden.”

 

Diving Belles cover

Diving Belles by Lucy Wood

Straying husbands lured into the sea can be fetched back, for a fee. Magpies whisper to lonely drivers late at night. Trees can make wishes come true – provided you know how to wish properly first. Houses creak, fill with water and keep a fretful watch on their inhabitants, straightening shower curtains and worrying about frayed carpets. A teenager’s growing pains are sometimes even bigger than him. And, on a windy beach, a small boy and his grandmother keep despair at bay with an old white door. In these stories, Cornish folklore slips into everyday life. Hopes, regrets and memories are entangled with catfish, wrecker’s lamps, standing stones and baying hounds, and relationships wax and wane in the glow of a moonlit sea. This luminous, startling and utterly spellbinding debut collection introduces in Lucy Wood a spectacular new voice in contemporary British fiction.

February

9781843545798

The Secret Book of Sacred Things by Torsten Krol

The coming of the Great Stone to Earth has erased almost everything that used to be. But in one isolated valley, the Church of Selene has found its way back from destruction. Sister Luka and her female converts offer sacrifices to the scarred (and very close) moon that hangs over their convent. It has been this way since the meteor hit. Among the Little Sisters of Selene is twelve year-old Aurora, respected Scribe of the church. She endlessly writes down the name of the moon to keep her in the sky where she belongs. But Rory has a secret book she keeps hidden in her Scribe’s chamber and into this diary she pours out her hopes and desires. Upsetting this fragile equilibrium is Willa, a young tomboy whose flamboyant arrival threatens the hard-won status quo of the sisters’ community. As Rory and Willa inch toward friendship, insurrection grows. But when an unexpected marvel occurs in the sky, it is clear that Rory’s work as the Scribe has failed. The moon is threatening to remake the world all over again…This is The Secret Book of Sacred Things, this is Rory’s story.

Advent

Advent by James Treadwell

Warded from earth, air, water, fire, spirits, thought and sight.

But now magic is rising to the world once more.

And a boy called Gavin, who thinks only that he is a city kid with parents who hate him, and knows only that he sees things no one else will believe, is boarding a train, alone, to Cornwall. No one will be there to meet him.

March

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Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovitch’s

Peter Grant is learning magic fast. And its just as well – he’s already had run ins with the deadly supernatural children of the Thames and a terrifying killer in Soho. Progression in the Police Force is less easy. Especially when you work in a department of two. A department that doesn’t even officially exist. A department that if you did describe it to most people would get you laughed at. And then there’s his love life. The last person he fell for ended up seriously dead. It wasn’t his fault, but still. Now something horrible is happening in the labyrinth of tunnels that make up the tube system that honeycombs the ancient foundations of London. And delays on the Northern line is the very least of it. Time to call in the Met’s Economic and Specialist Crime Unit 9, aka ‘The Folly’. Time to call in PC Peter Grant, Britains Last Wizard.

 

Hide Me Among The Graves

Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers

“An ancient evil patrols the skies above the Thames, the Romantic poets unite in battle against the Muses, and a parallel world of magic exists in the London streets…Awoken by the poet Christina Rosetti, the vampire Polidori is awake once more. Fiercely protective of his beloved Christina, he bestows upon her the gift of divine poetry…but ensures the violent death of any potential rival for his affections. Trapped by her connection to the undead creature – poised between love, and horror for her immortal soul – Rosetti shuts herself away from the world. But Polidori’s abduction of another young girl compels her to join forces against him. With the aid of her brothers, Gabriel and William, and her sister Maria, she enters London’s unseen underworld. It is a realm of magically protected human familiars, jealous supernatural beings, and hungry ghosts.”

Fated by Benedict Jacka

Fated: An Alex Verus Novel by Benedict Jacka

Camden, North London. A tangled, mangled junction of train lines, roads and the canal. Where minor celebrities hang out with minor criminals, where tourists and moody teenagers mingle, and where you can get your ears pierced and your shoulder tattooed while eating sushi washed down with a can of super strength beer. In the heart of Camden, where rail meets road meets leyline, you might find the Arcana Emporium, run by one Alex Verus. He won’t sell you a wand or mix you a potion, but if you know what you’re looking for, he might just be able to help. That’s if he’s not too busy avoiding his apprentice, foiling the Dark, outwitting the Light, and investigating a highly toxic Relic that has just turned up at the British Museum.

April


TheAlchemistOfSoulsThe Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle

When Tudor explorers returned from the New World, they brought back a name out of half-forgotten Viking legend: skraylings. Red-sailed ships followed in the explorers’ wake, bringing Native American goods–and a skrayling ambassador–to London. But what do these seemingly magical beings really want in Elizabeth I’s capital?

Mal Catlyn, a down-at-heel swordsman, is seconded to the ambassador’s bodyguard, but assassination attempts are the least of his problems. What he learns about the skraylings and their unholy powers could cost England her new ally–and Mal his soul.

May


QuestionmarkRailsea by China Mieville

Sham Yes ap Soorap, young doctor’s assistant, is in search of life’s purpose aboard a diesel locomotive on the hunt for the great elusive moldywarpe, Mocker-Jack. But on an old train wreck at the outskirts of the world, Sham discovers an astonishing secret that changes everything: evidence of an impossible journey. A journey left unfinished…which Sham takes it on himself to complete. It’s a decision that might cost him his life.

BlackbirdsBlackbirds by Chuck Wendig

Miriam Black knows when you will die. Still in her early twenties, she’s foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, suicides, and slow deaths by cancer. But when Miriam hitches a ride with truck driver Louis Darling and shakes his hand, she sees that in thirty days Louis will be gruesomely murdered while he calls her name. Miriam has given up trying to save people; that only makes their deaths happen. But Louis will die because he met her, and she will be the next victim. No matter what she does she can’t save Louis. But if she wants to stay alive, she’ll have to try.

2312

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

The year is 2312. Scientific advances have opened gateways to an extraordinary future. Earth is no longer our only home; new habitats have been created throughout the solar system, on moons, planets, and in between. But in 2312, a sequence of events will force humanity to confront our past, present, and future. The first event takes place on Mercury, in the city of Terminator, itself a miracle of engineering on an unprecedented scale. For Swan Er Hong, it will change her life. Once a designer of worlds, now Swan will be led into a plot to destroy them. 2312 is a bold vision of humanity’s future and a compelling portrait of those individuals who will shape its events.

June

Questionmark

The City’s Son (The Skyscraper Throne) by Tom Pollock

Expelled from school, betrayed by her best friend and virtually ignored by her dad, who’s never recovered from the death of her mum, Beth Bradley retreats to the sanctuary of the streets, looking for a new home. What she finds is Filius Viae, the ragged and cocky crown prince of London, who opens her eyes to the place she’s never truly seen. But the hidden London is on the brink of destruction. Reach, the King of the Cranes, is a malign god of demolition, and he wants Filius dead. In the absence of the Lady of the Streets, Filius’ goddess mother, Beth rouses Filius to raise an alleyway army, to reclaim London’s skyscraper throne for the mother he’s never known. Beth has almost forgotten her old life – until her best friend and her father come searching for her, and she must choose between the streets and the life she left behind. This is the first of a series, an urban fable about friends, family and monsters, and how you can’t always tell which is which.

Questionmark

The Long Earth by Sir Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

2015: Madison, Wisconsin. Junior cop Sally Jansson is called out to the house of Willis Lynsey, a reclusive scientist, for an animal-cruelty complaint: the man was seen forcing a horse in through the door of his home. Inside there is no horse. But Sally finds a kind of home-made utility belt. She straps this on – and ‘steps’ sideways into an America covered with virgin forest. Willis came here with equipment and animals, meaning to explore and colonise. And when Sally gets back, she finds Willis has put the secret of the belt on the internet. The great migration has begun…

The Long Earth: our Earth is but one of a chain of parallel worlds, lying side by side in a higher space of possibilities, each differing from its neighbours by a little (or a lot): an infinite landscape of infinite possibilities. And the further away you travel, the stranger the worlds get. The sun and moon always shine, the basic laws of physics are the same. However, the chance events which have shaped our particular version of Earth, such as the dinosaur-killer asteroid impact, might not have happened and things may well have turned out rather differently.

On reflection this is a very SFF-centric list. I guess under pressure of selection I go back to familiar territory. Though in my notes I have 50-odd books that I’d love to read that are coming out in the next six-months from all sections. Maybe I just wasn’t confident enough to list them here I was I wasn’t sure of them myself…

What would you have chosen? Have you got any books that you are forthcoming that you can’t wait to read?

 

*The two missing books compared with “The Readers” are “The Devil’s Beat” by Robert Edric &  “Half Sick Of Shadows” by David Logan

Bookoftransformations

Now I’m not saying the original cover was bad but what a difference a new cover makes to the impression of a book. It’s not quite the finished thing but nothing looks wrong to me. What this really shows is that art and design plays a big big big part in setting the scene for a novel. It’s more in keeping with the paperback UK cover for City of Ruin, which was a great second novel. I’m ashamed to say that The Book of Transformations is on my pile of ‘why haven’t I got to that books’ of 2011.

Thousand emperors

Blurb:

“Archivist Luc Gabion has finally achieved his life’s goal — of bringing down Winchell Antonov, head of the Black Lotus terrorist organisation, and the scourge of the Tian Di’s stellar empire for countless years.
But instead of feeling victorious, the encounter has left him scarred. Forcibly implanted with a technology far in advance of anything he’s encountered before, Luc sees and hears things he knows he’s not supposed to. Worse, the technology is killing him, slowly. So when he finds himself investigating the murder of one of the Tian Di’s ruling clique, the Thousand Emperors, he knows he’s in real trouble. Any one of them could be the killer, and any one of them could have him put to death on a whim.

Worse, the dead man is the architect of the coming Reunification: two great civilisations, separated for centuries by old enmities, are about to reunite in a new age of peace and prosperity. But it soon becomes clear that someone out there is willing to do anything to make sure that day never comes…”

Author comment:

Those two civilisations, as anyone who’s read Final Days will guess, being those colonies originally controlled either by the Western Coalition or the Pan-Asian Congress (now the Tian Di). As I’ve said before, it’s really a stand-alone set in the future of Final Days, than a direct continuation of FD, which means you don’t have to have read the first (or so I believe) in order to read the second.

Shamelessly taken from Gary’s blog

Bugger that I’m definitely reading Final Days first! But great cover as a tease. :D

Final Days and is out now in Hardback/Kindle

Empire of light

Empire of Light concludes events started in Stealing Light and continued in Nova War. I say concludes but more it draws an arc to a definitive end but leaving the door open for more stories in this world.

I’ve given high praise to the series so far with phrases  like, ‘clever, intelligent, thoughtful, and gripping’ and ‘Gibson has a devious imagination, a sense of bigger picture and a more twists than a corkscrew’. So not a lot to live up to there then.

And does Empire of Light continue that tradition. Yes and no. It’s gripping and I really felt for Dakota in places; I really wanted her to succeed. But we are drawing to the end and all the preparation that has taken place up to now has been leading to this point. So we don’t get a meander through more of Gibson’s mind. Instead we have a gripping race to the finish.

The double-crossing and scheming Trader is shown in a new light, as is Corso and so are the human-piloted Magi ships.

It’s a case of if you’ve read enjoyed Stealing Light and Nova War you’re going to enjoy 
Empire of Light. It’s still filled with some nice twists and turns but it’s more focused and narrowed than I remember the earlier books being with less exposure to new things.

Not sure what to add beyond that. If you enjoy a SF series with a lot of energy the Shoal Sequence is one for you.

Gary Gibson’s latest novel is Final Days is out now in hardback/kindle and Empire of Light is out now in paperback/kindle

Voyage of the sable  298B5D  1

Following on from the events in The Skinner (see my review) we are back again on Splatterjay. Now the last book left a few loose ends and even though Splatterjay has moved on in the last ten years those ends are immediately obvious. But we are here to follow the construction and the inaugural voyage of the Sable Keech, which, unsurprisingly, brings together the cast of The Skinner as well as a few interesting additions.

Now Asher is kind and clever writer as you don’t need to have read The Skinner in order to understand or enjoy this, but I think you should, so I’m not going to spoil it for you by revealing too much of the background to The Voyage of the Sable Keech. Suffice to say Splatterjay is a very dangerous place to be in that book and it focuses on unfinished business.

This time we focus on Taylor Bloc, a reification, who sets sail on a voyage of resurrection for himself and his fellow Kladite followers. As this is happening Janer is working for a hornet hive mind to stop another hive mind agent from obtaining deadly sprine. And to top it off Erlin upsets a whelkus titanicus causing it to rise from the deep. And that’s not all as the prador, Vrell, turns up in the Prologue and sticks around becoming a target for a much bigger threat.

The wonder in Asher’s writing is how he lays down several threads, like the ones above (though there are more revealing ones), and starts twisting them all together. Even the seemingly superfluous but educationally insightful chapter openings on Splatterjay’s flora and fauna are important pieces in the puzzle.

And Splatterjay and the changes in biology caused by its virus to its evolution is very much an overriding personality in this connected series. On first sight it is a backwards place that doesn’t allow the technology of the Polity to have become widespread, which is why the Sable Keech has to rely on sails, both fabric and living, rather than turbines and grav-motors. But by having world that doesn’t have all the Polity’s technology it makes for a much more exciting and primal tale.

This is every much a tale of survival in a brutal and unforgiving environment. Most of the inhabitants are infected with the Splatterjay virus which bestows long-life and resilience on its host but it will also make dramatic mutations on them if they are injured or near death like morphing a tongue into that of a leaches or replacing a lost head with a leaches mouth.

The theme of life, death and survival are explored from several angles in individual stories that come together on the Sable Keech’s voyage. The hive mind agent that Janar is chasing mission is seemingly to obtain sprine, the only thing that can kill Hoopers, the name of Splatterjay’s humanoid inhabitants, outright. Sprine is also an important part of the world’s burgeoning economy. Erlin continues her struggle with having a long, and maybe immortal life. And the prador, Vrell’s, immediate survival is under-threat from a much bigger enemy.

You can tell that biology, its implications and evolutions, are a passion of Asher’s (and if they aren’t he does a great job of faking it) and what makes this stand out from a run-of-the-mill SF novel to one of mastery is that his characters are dense and weighty, his environment feels like a scientific possibilities and  his storytelling skills keeps everything tight, flowing and gripping.

I’m curious about where he’s going to take the next one, Orbus as I’ve got no idea what he has planned (and no I don’t want to read the blurb to find out ;))

Now, so far, I’ve not mentioned the audio side, which isn’t in anyway any comment on William Gaminara’s reading. In fact it should be seen as a ringing endorsement as he really brought everything to life. He gives all the characters their own voice and inflection. With my favourite the personalities of Sniper when played off against the Warden. Gaminara has in some ways spoiled this series as I’m fixated on listening to him read Orbus to me rather than read it myself. He has definitely added another dimension to Asher’s work and one I greatly enjoy.

The Voyage of Sable Keech is not all plain sailing by any means. You don’t need sickbags, unless you’ve got a weak stomach, just hold on tight and enjoy the ride.

Neal Asher’s new [non Polity]  novelThe Departure (Owner Novel 1) is out on 5 September 2011

Skinnerafc thumb

Review in a sentence:

Sci-fi on the high seas exploring long lives, betrayals and sentient sails.

The trouble with having a wide circle of tastes in reading can sometimes feel like working through that moving belt in sushi bar. It’s hard sometimes to resist the new foods right in front of you in order wait for what you’ve had before and loved to come around. Especially when you trust the chef to serve only foods that you’ll like.

Or at least that’s my current excuse for why I’ve been filling my time with new to me authors rather than working my way through author back catalogues. That and last year I got into the silly habit of reading more than one book at a time. It really doesn’t work.

And The Skinner became a victim of that failed multi tasking and in some ways it’s also the solution. This is the first audiobook review I’ve done. But The Skinner isn’t my first audiobook.

What got me into audiobooks was joining the gym last year and needing something to listen to. Music just doesn’t do it for me. But audiobooks fill my mind and keep my going on treadmills and weight machines. Or they did now I’m more likely to listen on breaks and whilst relaxing in the bath.

Anyway, after two goes at getting into The Skinner on paper and failing to get past 149 pages on the second go I found it on Audible a couple of months ago. Now I always have to listen to them and decide if the narrator is absorbing or annoying and William Gaminara is absorbing and perfect for this book.

Partly why he worked for me because of not only the voices he uses but he also gives them accents – the sea captains remind me of gruff Scotts, the mercenaries as Africans – which you may feel is stereotyping but it’s more about encompassing character and attitude. And it adds texture.

But an absorbing reader needs material is what Gaminara has to read at that really makes something worth listening to or not. And the story of The Skinner is multifaceted to say the list. To start with you have Erlin, searching for an ancient sea captain who can teach her a meaning to life, Janer, bringing hornets and their Hive mind to Spatterjay, and Sable Keech, on a vendetta to avenge the events of the past.

Each of these three character are distinct in their backgrounds and their reasons for being on Spatterjay and their connections to the Polity universe.  The Polity is an AI led technologically advanced society. Spatterjay is not part of the Polity but does fall under it’s protection and has it’s own warden AI, which is handy as the alien Prador are about to interfere in Spatterjay affairs.

I can’t decide my favourite thread but I’m torn between that of the warden and Sable Keech but only because the bits that contain the warden and his subminds were fun to listen to especially the fighting banter. Keech being the investigator of the tale is the most active and his explorations give the context to not only the origins of the skinner (as a character) but also the current state of Spatterjay that has remained the same for several hundred years.

Though this story is all about changing the status quo on this brutal world. Asher is clever how he shows this brutality from showing a character having his guts spilled out from a wound opening his stomach only to be walking around as if nothing happened a short time later as well and from de-fleshed fish that swims away quite happily afterwards.

Splatterjay contains a complex virus that not only repairs it’s hosts but also converts them into leech like creatures if they aren’t careful and all the creatures of Splatterjay are susceptible in some way with most carrying the virus.

Now a world filled with character that hard to kill and a character called the skinner you might be able to imagine what could happen. But whatever has happened is in the past but is part of the reaons for Sable Keech’s arrival.

This is very much a book of transformation and survival. And through each of the threads all the main and several of the secondary characters go through their own transformations as they try to survive.

Asher’s skill is not only in creation but using those ideas, even in a book that’s mostly about boats to look into the meaning of life and the potential for humanity as well as using some awesome weapons and technology.

Luckily this only the beginning as The Voyage of the Stable Keech (again read by William Gaminara) carries on from where this one finishes but I have no idea where that ship is sailing mostly because Erlin, Janer and Keech are internally and in some cases external changed by their journey so far and I think Asher has a few more secrets as well as tricks up his sleeve.

dragonflyfalling

 Dragonfly Falling by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Tor) Published 6th February 2009

Two young companions, Totho and Salma, arrive at Tark to spy on the menacing Wasp army, but are there mistakenly apprehended as enemy agents. By the time they are freed, the city is already under siege. Over in the imperial capital the young emperor, Alvdan, is becoming captivated by a remarkable slave, the vampiric Uctebri, who claims he knows of magic that can grant eternal life. In Collegium, meanwhile, Stenwold is still trying to persuade the city magnates to take seriously the Wasp Empire’s imminent threat to their survival. In a colourful drama involving mass warfare and personal combat, a small group of heroes must stand up against what seems like an unstoppable force. This volume continues the story that so brilliantly unfolded in Empire in Black and Gold – and the action is still non-stop.

Adrian Tchaikovsky burst onto the SFF scene with his well received, Empire in Black and Gold. Now he’s back with a sequel, Dragonfly Falling.

Comment:

I’ve been umming and ahhing on this one. It’s had great reviews but looks a little thick (as in high page count) so inline with a new years resolution I’m going to read more longer books and Empire in Black and Gold is going to be my first one. I am going to cheat slightly and read the ebook edition, which, BTW, has extras. I think it has four additional short stories and some line art. but I could be wrong.

Anyway, the thing I’m really looking forward to is seeing how the different races of insects are drawn.

The next book after Dragonfly Falling is Blood of the Mantis which is out in August 2009

Links:

Graeme’s Fantasy Book Reviewreview of Empire in Black and Gold

Fantasy Book Criticreview of Empire in Black and Gold

Dark Wolf’s Fantasy Review – review of Empire in Black and Gold

Dark Wolf’s Fantasy Reviewinterview

The First Book – interview

Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist – interview

SFX – interview

Well I made it through a year of blogging under the banner of NextRead and I’m quite proud of myself for that. I’ve just done a quick count and I’ve reviewed 29 books this year (with two reviews still to be written), which ain’t bad either.

And seeing as I’ve just found all the books I’ve reviewed I thought I’d present The Reads 2008 (all books read but not necessarily first published in 2008):

Best Series: The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (Orbit)

Best start to a series: The Painted Man by Peter V. Brett (HarperVoyager)

Best penultimate book in a series: The Burning Man by Mark Chadbourn (Gollancz)

Most surprising read: The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason (Vintage)

Best Debut: Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill (Gollancz)

Runner-Up: The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi (Tor)

Book of the Year: Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan (Orbit)

It’s really hard to choose “Best of” lists but these are the ones that stick out right now.

I wonder what 2009 will bring…

Title: The Ghost Brigades
Author: John Scalzi
Publisher: Tor
Published: 01 February 2008
Review Copy

If you have the mind of a traitor but not the body and want to know what he, Charles Boutin, knows what do you do? If you’re the Colonial Defence Forces (CDF) you make a body for the job. And the good news is if the mind doesn’t take you have a genetically enhanced new solider. It’s a win/win situation or so you’d think.

The opening description has got to be one of the best and most misleading openings to novel ever. If it’s designed to drag you in then well it did it for me.

It’s misleading as it uses a level of poetic and flowery language that doesn’t appear from then on in, which is actually a good thing. It shows that Scalzi can write but also shows that he’s using it for effect. The rest of the novel is told more functional but no less effective prose.

I tend to think of military sci-fi as grand and sweeping but the battle in The Ghost Brigades is more internal as Jared Dirac, the solider created from the seemingly failed attempt to join mind and body, has memories that aren’t his start to surface, that changes everything.

There are so many good things about this novel. The world building and the alien races. The hidden conspiracy. The evolution of Jared Dirac. The relationships between Jared and everyone around him. The technology. I could go on.

Suffice to say The Ghost Brigades is amongst the best sci-fi novels I’ve read in ages and Scalzi deserves a lot of success.

*This review doesn’t have a rating. I’m putting ratings on hold as I’m going to try to let the review speak for itself and you can decide whether you should read it or not.