Category: science fiction

Review Minis: The Library Edition

I’ve been on a bit of a library kick lately. Every time I go back to return my books, I decide to “just have a look” to see if there’s anything in that I like the look of and then I leave with at least three books to read. Contrary to my normal behaviour, I’ve actually been reading these books lately. Often I’ll get books out, pile them up, forget, renew them 5 times and then return them unread. I think the last time that I returned a batch, I’d actually read them all. Ludicrous behaviour. 

The Ship by Antonia Honeywell

The Ship was one that I’d seen Ellie (of Curiosity Killed the Bookworm fame) talk about and had a pretty stunning cover. The book was…ok. I think it would have made an excellent short story or novella but it felt a bit laboured as a full length novel. The novel opens on a gloomy and tragic London, with citizens huddling together in its once great buildings and hiding from the authorities, who will shoot anyone who can’t produce an identity card or commits some other minor infraction of the terrifying ‘Nazareth Act’. The environment as we know it is destroyed and civilisation seems to be following. Lalla’s father has been secretly hoarding food aboard the Ship, to save a pre-chosen group of people and sail away from the devastation. The opening third or so is outstanding. The set-up is solid and the plot moves quickly and in ways that I didn’t always expect despite having read my fair share of dystopian novels. I really liked the writing too and some of the haunting passages about the final moments of certain aspects of our world have really stuck with me, like this incredibly sad image of a lonely polar bear that just gets me every time I see it:

…I remembered the film of the last polar bear, swimming and swimming in the empty ocean, in search of a mass of ice that had finally melted away

Out on the open sea, however, I found my interest waning. The writing still has some great moments but I felt as though the narrative became a bit repetitive and Lalla started driving me crazy. She becomes petulant and ungrateful. I understand that circumstances aren’t ideal and there are some decisions that other people are taking that were pretty damn creepy but it seemed that there could have been far better ways to address them. Like trying to have a conversation with her father, for example. I really wasn’t a fan of the ending, either. I think I can see the point that the author was trying to make but I just didn’t buy into it. 

3 out of 5 stars for the concept and the cautionary tale about what we’re doing to the world, the philosophical meanderings on who should be saved and what it even means to be saved in the first place and the writing

Buy a copy: Wordery | Amazon

Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman

Illuminae was a bit of a punt. I’m not usually a fan of science fiction but this one was billed as playing around with format and I’d seen a few positive reviews so I ordered it in. It was brilliant. Not ‘brilliant compared to my expectations’ or ‘brilliant for science fiction’. Just brilliant. The story starts with a bang and the destruction of the tiny ice-covered speck of an island where hapless young former lovers Ezra and Kady live. A lot of people die and small groups of survivors flee on a few ill-equipped spaceships. Families are split up and it isn’t clear who has survived or, if they have, whether they will continue to survive between being chased by their attackers who want to finish the job they started and the lack of resources on the hastily boarded escape vehicles. So far, so standard. What had lured me in in the first place is that it’s told through screenshots from computers, messages sent between residents of different ships, security debriefings and other confidential records. The story is pieced together through ‘evidence’ and it’s so much fun. It makes reading the story feel like something unique, like more an experience, and it doesn’t feel as gimmicky as it sounds as though it will. I cried at least once. Probably twice. Despite it being over 500 pages, I read it over a couple of days and if I hadn’t been busy, I’d have finished it in a day or so. I’ll probably be buying a copy of this one along with Gemina (the next instalment that was published recently) soon.

4.5 out of 5 stars for putting together scraps of text and making something that I was completely tangled up in. Absolutely recommended if you’re looking for a super quick, gripping read.

Buy a copy: Wordery | Amazon

Leviathan’s Wake by James S. A. Corey

Buoyed up on the science fiction success of Illuminae, I was emboldened into thinking that I actually might like science fiction after all and went all out with a “proper” science fiction novel. I did sort of like Leviathan’s Wake but it was hard going. It’s the first book in an epic space opera series and is just over 600 pages of politics, spaceships, shoot-outs and impending disaster. It felt like it took me forever to read and if I hadn’t had a return train journey to London while I was reading it, goodness knows how long it would have taken. 
 The story centres around a few characters that end up at the centre of a war between Mars, Earth and the ‘Belts’, most of whom I liked but only a couple of which were really developed properly. Chapters alternated between the perspective of Jim, a former Earth resident turned astronaut who’s a sort of technician-turned-captain down to earth type of chap, and Detective Miller, a Belter policeman fallen on difficult times (who was hands down my favourite). There are a couple of female characters but only one who I’d class as a main character and even though she is a respected engineer (yey), she is repeatedly described by reference to how attractive she is and ends up with a hugely unnecessary romantic side-plot, which I was not a fan of (boo). The characters and the action are engaging enough but I found a lot of the detail really hard to follow for some reason. I think I’d have hated this book if it hadn’t eventually stopped confusing me with its political ramblings and started freaking me out with zombie-based chemical warfare. Admittedly even that ended up being confusing by the end but it livened up the middle no end!

3.5 out of 5 stars for the appearance of the zombies. Cautiously recommended if you’re patient and don’t feel the need to always follow what’s going on in a book that you’re reading…

Buy a copy: Wordery | Amazon

Review: ‘The Day of the Triffids’ by John Wyndham

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

When a freak cosmic event renders most of the Earth’s population blind, Bill Masen is one of the lucky few to retain his sight. The London he walks is crammed with groups of men and women needing help, some ready to prey on those who can still see. But another menace stalks blind and sighted alike. With nobody to stop their spread the Triffids, mobile plants with lethal stingers and carnivorous appetites, seem set to take control.

I’d always imagined that The Day of the Triffids would be kind of frivolous; a faintly comical post-apocalyptic jaunt in which the world is under threat from lumbering plants.  I think perhaps because I couldn’t see myself finding a story about sentient topiary particularly threatening.  But oh, it so is. It’s threatening and it’s haunting.  I finished the book in January and there are some moments that still bring a shudder to my bones when I think about them.  Growing potatoes is all good and well until you read a book that makes you wonder if they’re going to get up and flail menacingly at you…

From the moment Bill wakes up with bandages over his eyes and braves the streets of London to find that the streets are empty and everybody else has seemingly gone blind, the tension starts to build (with one of my favourite quotes:  “When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere“).  What unravels in the following pages is a glorious blend of action and peril, tragedy and humour.

What’s worrying about The Day of the Triffids is that it’s one of those stories that was written decades ago (in the 1950s in this case) but that has become more and more relevant as the years go by.  We meddle with genetics and we test the boundaries of modern science and who’s to say that one day a plant that we think of as perfectly harmless but with physical quirks that we can’t fathom out won’t turn out to be utterly destructive?  Ok, so perhaps they won’t start walking around and maybe there won’t be a huge comet shower that renders all but a few humans sightless and at the plants’ mercy but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t something we can take from the dark message behind Wyndham’s witty writing.
Speaking of which, the writing itself is understated and quiet and has a distinctly classic British feel that I just don’t feel you find in much modern fiction with the increasing melding of British and American cultures.  I’d expected flailing and action in the face of an onslaught of murderous vegetation and instead what I got was moral wrangling and political musings.  If almost the entire country has gone blind and no longer find food or other supplies, is it the duty of the few who can still see to save as many people as possible for as long as the resources left last or to sacrifice the many to enable the few to focus on rebuilding communities who can work on creating a sustainable future?  
That makes the story sound cumbersome and dreary or as though the invasion of the triffids is just a flimsy veneer to give Wyndham the excuse to wax lyrical on the virtues of democracy or of the perils of unbridled experimentation.  It isn’t at all.  Bill Masen, the main character is a reluctant kind of hero; he stumbles upon Josella while wandering around and trying to understand the new world and is jarred into action.  Their friendship is borne of necessity, almost, but it’s sweet and…simple against the complexities of their new world.  Their fight to find something like a life gives The Day of the Triffids heart and it takes a cautionary tale and makes it a story that you want to keep on reading.

And we danced, on the brink of an unknown future, to an echo from a vanished past” 

Overall:  A science fiction classic that is as relevant now as it must surely have ever been.  I started The Day of the Triffids because it’s iconic and because I have an enduring memory of my Nan trying to compel me to read her worn hardback copy years ago when I was a teenager.  I don’t know that I would have enjoyed it all those years ago but I do know that I really enjoyed it as an adult.  

Date finished: 26 January 2016
Format: eBook
Source: Bought
Genre: Science fiction; Dystopian fiction
Originally published: in 1951
Pictured Edition Published: in August 2008 by Penguin Books

Help me out: what Wyndham do I need to hunt down next?

Review: ‘Ready Player One’ by Ernest Cline

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

It’s the year 2044, and the real world has become an ugly place. We’re out of oil. We’ve wrecked the climate. Famine, poverty, and disease are widespread. Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes this depressing reality by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia where you can be anything you want to be, where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. And like most of humanity, Wade is obsessed by the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this alternate reality: OASIS founder James Halliday, who dies with no heir, has promised that control of the OASIS – and his massive fortune – will go to the person who can solve the riddles he has left scattered throughout his creation. 

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that the riddles are based in the culture of the late twentieth century. And then Wade stumbles onto the key to the first puzzle. Suddenly, he finds himself pitted against thousands of competitors in a desperate race to claim the ultimate prize, a chase that soon takes on terrifying real-world dimensions – and that will leave both Wade and his world profoundly changed 

A world at stake. 
A quest for the ultimate prize. 

Are you ready?


I don’t even know where to start with this.  Maybe with the reason I even picked up Ready Player One?  I’d heard of it maybe a couple of years ago when everybody started reading it, mentally noted it as something to pick up one day if I happened across it and then forgot all about it.  I was reminded every now and then when I saw it on the occasional list of favourites but it was never something I felt like I had to go out and buy.  Until Hanna texted me in January at nearly midnight on a Sunday with much upper case enthusiasm and said that I HAD TO READ READY PLAYER ONE.  So I did.  Because I am nothing if not easily led by Hanna into reading pretty much anything.

I was promised that it would be amazing.  And it is.  Absolutely, unrelentingly, unputdownably amazing.  Reading it was the most fun I’ve had reading a book in years and I didn’t ever want it to stop.  It manages to be both completely niche in its unashamed geekiness but also completely accessible.  I was born in the late 80s (ok, fine, 1986 is probably “mid-80s” but whatever) so I’m really more au fait with 90s popular culture and missed a few of the computer game references but I knew enough about the music and films of the time that I could still feel connected.  Even if I hadn’t got those references, I honestly believe that I would still have loved it because Cline just writes with such an obvious love for all things “nerdy” that it’s infectious.

The text is quite small and there’s a lot on a page so when I opened it on the 10th of January, I thought it would maybe take a couple of weeks.  I finished it on the 12th.  I was travelling quite a lot in that couple of days, sure, but I was obsessed with it.  And not in a general “oh, this is a good book” way.  The kind of all-encompassing obsession with a book that means that you eat reading it, read it when you’re stood waiting for anything that will take any longer than 2 minutes and just generally ignore everybody else in your life until you’ve finished and can look to them for consolation over the gaping hole the book has left.

Ready Player One may well be an homage to 80s pop culture but it’s also a gripping science fiction adventure story that’s grounded just well enough in reality that it doesn’t take long to lose yourself in.  I don’t read a lot of science fiction because I don’t like reading long descriptions of technological advance or political background or, heaven forbid, actual science.  Cline has managed to write something that is both undeniably science fiction but without the tedium.  Somehow, you completely understand both the real and virtual world that Wade lives in without having to suffer through any dry explanations.  It’s impeccable and not really all that much of a stretch of imagination.  I remember when Second Life was launched about 10 years ago and the media was filled with tales of women leaving their husbands for men they’d met while building their perfect life.  You don’t have to read the news for too long to see endless stories about bankruptcy, environmental disaster and how badly we’re damaging the world.  Is it really that much of a stretch to imagine a world where everybody is crowded into small spaces without any money or natural resources, seeking refuge online?  Add in an adventure story and you’ve got something golden.

The online contest and the bedlam that ensues when Wade happens across the first clue is so, so much fun.  Like everything else about this book.  The pace is pretty hectic but not so much that it seem rushed or overwhelming.  When I could feel that the story was starting to wrap up, I was genuinely sad.  I could still be reading about Wade and about his friends two months later and I’m pretty sure I’d still be happy.

The story is amazing.  The characters are amazing.  The writing is amazing.  The whole damn thing from start to finish is AMAZING.  Consider this your midnight text.

Overall:  My biggest problem with Ready Player One is that finishing it and knowing that I’d read one of the best books I was going to read all year.  Nothing since has even been close to being as good.  Just read it, already.

Date finished: 12 January 2015
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Bought
Genre: Science fiction
Pictured Edition Published:  in June 2012 by Broadway Books

Ernest Cline’s next book, Armada is out on the 16th of July this year and I’ll be reading it as soon as I physically can (you can pre-order too HERE).  I never pre-order books but there’s no way I can do anything but pre-order this.  If it’s as good as Ready Plater One, I’ve got myself a new favourite author.

Review: ‘Echo Boy’ by Matt Haig

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Audrey’s father taught her that to stay human in the modern world, she had to build a moat around herself; a moat of books and music, philosophy and dreams. A moat that makes Audrey different from the echoes: sophisticated, emotionless machines, built to resemble humans and to work for human masters. Daniel is an echo – but he’s not like the others. He feels a connection with Audrey; a feeling Daniel knows he was never designed to have, and cannot explain. And when Audrey is placed in terrible danger, he’s determined to save her. The Echo Boy is a powerful story about love, loss and what makes us truly human.


At the end of 2013, I rambled and raved about how much I loved The Humans and then posted an adoring review of it earlier this year.  It was easily one of my favourite books last year so I was extremely excited to be approved for Haig’s first foray into the world of YA fiction on NetGalley.

When I read books like Echo Boy, I kind of wish that they’d been around when I was younger.  Maybe they were and I just missed them but my early teen years were populated by Point Horror, Sweet Valley High and a miscellany of random sleuthing novels.  Although I was as much of a sucker for the Point Horror novels as many other teens of the 90s, I sort of skipped “YA” and went from Goosebumps to the adult section.  What I think there seems to be much more of being done particularly well these days (over a decade later) are genre books that tackle more adult themes, such as grief, love that doesn’t revolve around the cutest boy in school and mental health issues in a more accessible way.  Echo Boy takes a version of the future (that is actually worryingly believable) where technology has been developed in sort of an I, Robot type way, with families relying on computers and robots for education, travel (or the virtual variety), as well as for housework and for generally tackling the grungier side of life.  Audrey’s father is out-spoken in his belief that humanity should be getting back to being more self-sufficient, warning of the dangers he sees in a world where robots are everywhere. 
It’s a tried and tested premise and I enjoyed Echo Boy. It was well-paced and kept me entertained on a good few nights while I was facing down a sleep-defying bout of sciatica earlier this year but it didn’t stack up against The Humans.  I was going to try to avoid the comparison but there were a lot of similarities in the themes.  Both have a non-human learning more about what humanity is and what it can mean and both have a pressing risk of danger borne out of a protaganist’s difference (weaving in a bit of dealing with prejudice for good measure).  Echo Boy was a perfectly adequate (good, even) sci-fi tale but it wasn’t outstanding.
I think that what my disappointment really came down to was that everything was just a little bit too predictable or a little bit too light (albeit with a couple of notable exceptions).  It’s tricky to explain because the blurb doesn’t give away a lot so I’m reluctant to either but Audrey deals with grief and depression; patches have been developed that can suppress negative emotions but the benefits (or otherwise) of using them is dealt with neatly and sensitively.  Much of Audrey’s decisions and actions, though, are either obvious or a bit…stupid.  She’s remarkably slow on the uptake, particularly when it comes to who she should or shouldn’t trust, and it’s more than a bit frustrating.

Daniel is a stronger character and much more interesting but isn’t exactly perfect.  I loved how he was an echo (the name used for robots) but so irrepressibly human, an individual experiment designed to imitate emotion.  It’s all well done; is it our feelings and desires and flaws that make us human or is it our flesh and bones?  The only point I wasn’t sold on was Daniel and Audrey’s relationship.  I know that Haig can write believable, meaningful love but this wasn’t it.  I was ready to buy into Daniel being more than a robot and I would have bought into his being able to love but, as ever, I just can’t get on board with InstaLove.

I sound like I’m moaning.  I’m not trying to, I’m just trying to say that this is a good book and that how much you enjoy it will probably depend upon what you’re expecting (i.e. whether or not you’ve read and loved that book that I’ll try not to mention again until I wrap up…).  I like the ideas and Haig is a great writer so they’re done well, just in a way that I felt lacked depth.  I wanted more of Daniel, more of his background and more on the world and the background.  There was a bit set in a zoo that featured creatures (including some Neanderthals) brought back from extinction that was both fascinating and kind of heart-breaking and it was over too soon.  So this is a good, light touch sort-of moral book with plenty of action and some classic bad guy behaviour but it wasn’t the tear-jerking, twisty science fiction tale that it I really felt like it could have been.

Overall:  Although Echo Boy won’t be one of the best books of the year for me, it is one of the considerably better shifts from adult to YA by an author that I’ve read.  I wouldn’t think twice about recommending it to young adults or to the more dedicated YA fans but if I were to be recommending a book that looks at inter-species relations, loss or really what it means to be a human, it would be The Humans every time.

Date finished: 04 March 2014
Format: eBook
Source: Received from the publisher via NetGalley – thanks, Bodley Head Children’s Books!
Genre: Science fiction; YA fiction
Pictured edition published: by Bodley Head Children’s Books in February 2014

Review: ‘The Humans’ by Matt Haig

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
When an extra-terrestrial visitor arrives on Earth, his first impressions of the human species are less than positive. Taking the form of Professor Andrew Martin, a leading mathematician at Cambridge University, the visitor wants to complete his task and go back home, to the planet he comes from and a utopian society of immortality and infinite knowledge.
He is disgusted by the way humans look, what they eat, the wars they witness on the news and totally baffled by such concepts of love and family. But as time goes on, he starts to realise there may be more to this weird species than he has been led to believe
This book, this actual book, is set right here, on Earth. It is about the meaning of life and nothing at all. It is about what it takes to kill somebody and save them. It is about love and dead poets and peanut butter. It’s about matter and anti-matter, everything and nothing, hope and hate. It’s about a forty-one year old female historian called Isobel and her fifteen year old son called Gulliver and the cleverest mathematician in the world. It is, in short, about how to become a human” [Page 13 of eARC]
This will be another of those nearly impossible reviews to write and I’m so tempted just to fill a page with all of the quotes that I scribbled down while I was reading it. I don’t remember the last time that I read a book that was so quotable or at which I was more grateful for the highlight feature on my eReader. The bottom line is obvious if you even half communicated with me when I got back from my holiday earlier in the year or read my responses to the End of 2013 Book Survey: I completely and utterly fell for The Humans in all of its gut-wrenching glory. Telling you why you’ll love it in a way that doesn’t include an excessive volume of exclamation marks will be difficult.
On the face of it, this is a quirky science-fiction story of an alien who has come to Earth for a specific (somewhat malevolent) purpose, taken up residence in the body of a human and is settling down to wreak some havoc. There are the inevitable “alien observing humans” chapters to kick things off but with The Humans, it didn’t feel awkward or as though it was trying too hard to be funny. Reading the first few chapters was like listening to a really good observational comedian making jibes at how hilarious humans would look to an outsider. Books that have me cracking a smile are relatively frequent but actual laughter is less easy to come by; The Humans had me chuckling on the train, on the plane and wherever I happened to be when I was reading.
The race that the narrator comes prizes knowledge above all else and believe that emotions do nothing but get in the way so, for all of the entertaining anecdotes, there are plenty of poignant moments as “Andrew” learns more about his adopted family that turn this book from something entertaining into something really kind of special. The relationship that develops between “Andrew” and Isobel is lovely to read about, particularly given how far apart her and Andrew have grown and how sceptical she is of his apparent return to being interested in his family and the world and people around him. It was his strained and fragile fledgling relationship with Gulliver that I really loved, though. I think teenage boys are widely regarded as slightly incomprehensible generally and reading about “Andrew” getting to grips with being a father to a surly young person that has spent his youth being ignored and failing to live up to the standards set by his genius parent was just one of the best bits of the whole great book.
There are a few abstract chapters with various reflections on different perceptions on being human throughout but the later parts of the book do have a little more action. I obviously won’t say why or how or what happens but there’s a little more of a science fiction edge as the story progresses. Not in a way that is too much or doesn’t fit with the earlier tone (which I’ve found can be a problem with some science fiction when the ground work is deemed done) but in a way that is sympathetic to the characters, develops subtly and is very well judged.
If you don’t get at least a tear in your eye during the chapter ‘Advice for humans’, your heart is made of stone and I am worried about you emotionally. I received an eBook review copy and will, without a shadow of a doubt, be buying my own copy one of these days. It was easily one of my favourites of 2013. As it is, all I have at the moment are the scraps of quotes that I scribbled out in my notebook to remind me of how truly wonderful this book really is…
She said being human is being a young child on Christmas day who receives an absolutely magnificent castle. And then there is a perfect photograph of this castle on the box and you want more than anything to play with the castle and the knights and the princesses because it looks like such a perfectly human world, but the only problem is that the castle isn’t built. It’s in tiny intricate pieces and, although there’s a book of instructions, you don’t understand it. And nor can your parents or Aunt Sylvie. So you are just left, crying at the ideal castle on the box which no one would ever be able to build” [Page 241 of eARC]
Overall: If you’re ever feeling a bit blue or like the human race generally is going to pot, please, PLEASE read The Humans. It’s genuinely funny, so well observed and the ending is perfect and I can’t imagine anything better for cheering you up on a miserable day or just making you feel a little bit better about being a human at the start of the new year.
Date finished: 22 August 2013
Format: eBook
Source: Received from the publisher via NetGalley – thank you very much indeed, Canongate Books!
Genre: Science fiction
Pictured Edition Published: by Canongate Books in January 2013

Review: ‘The Uninvited’ by Liz Jensen

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

A seven-year-old girl puts a nail-gun to her grandmother’s neck and fires. An isolated incident, say the experts. The experts are wrong. Across the world, children are killing their families. Is violence contagious?

As chilling murders by children grip the country, anthropologist Hesketh Lock has his own mystery to solve: a bizarre scandal in the Taiwan timber industry. He has never been good at relationships. Asperger’s Syndrome has seen to that. But he does have a talent for spotting behavioural patterns, and an outsider’s fascination with group dynamics.

Nothing obvious connects Hesketh’s Southeast Asian case with the atrocities back home. Or with the increasingly odd behaviour of his beloved step-son, Freddy. But when his Taiwan contact dies shockingly, and more acts of sabotage and child violence sweep the globe, Hesketh is forced to make connections that defy the rational principles on which he has staked his life, his career and – most devastatingly of all – his role as a father.


I wasn’t at all convinced by this book when I first started it.  The summary was so dynamic and shocking sounding that I expected to be thrown straight into child-killer horror early on.  I think because I was expecting fireworks, I was a bit frustrated when it became clear that the story was going to take its time warming up but, as with so many slow-burners, I appreciated it by the end.  The characters are given time to slowly make links between seemingly unrelated tragedies and the gradual deterioration of culture, morals and society ultimately felt much more sinister than a huge IMPLOSION followed by lots of scrabbling around can feel.

The initial chapters see Hesketh going about his random-sounding day job and investigating apparent acts of sabotage within businesses, interspersed with news reports of killer kids.  It felt quite disconnected, even though there were hints that something was tying everything together.  When Hesketh and Professor Whybray start to make connections between the incidents, the pace cranks up to a satisfying level.  It’s never quite edge-of-the-seat stuff but it does manage to be captivating, letting the more science-fiction-y  elements shine through.  Because Hesketh has Asperger’s Syndrome, he is mostly quite a detached narrator and removes a lot of the sensationalism from even the more grim incidents of mass juvenile violence. His love of behavioural patterns and logic gives the story a clinical edge that I mostly found intriguing, even though it does make the story difficult to connect to at times. I wanted to get behind Hesketh and Freddy but it wasn’t easy and I almost always felt one step removed.  There are some moments where Hesketh’s attachment to Freddy dragged me in but overall, it was a strangely emotionless reading experience.  Fascinating in many ways, sure, but emotionless.

As always, it’s hard to talk about my favourite part of The Uninvited without spoiling it.  What I will say, though, is that in amongst the child violence and general apocalyptic trauma, there are some interesting human rights/humanitarian questions about how to deal with toddlers that are trying to kill adults on mass. Written out that way, I realise that it looks as though there’s going to be some clumsy and/or boring hypothesising by one or more of the characters but it’s actually quite well done.  You have plenty of time to get used to the way Hesketh and Professor Whybray think and communicate so it doesn’t seem jarring when they start spouting biological or sociological theories about what is happening or how to deal with the fact that children have become more likely to turn on you with a nail gun or push you down the stairs than they are to do anything else.

The ending was pretty much perfect and fitted so well with the rest of the story.  When I was reading the final few pages, it actually occurred to me how nice it was to be reading stand-alone books for a while.  Nice not to ‘turn’ the last page on my eReader and be filled with more questions than I had to start with.  Well, actually, I did mull over this one for a little while after finishing, although instead of trying to plot out the next instalment, I was just pondering the final chapters.  

Overall:  The Uninvited felt to me like the perfect blend of dystopian fiction and science fiction.  A bit of a mixed bag but the intelligent pay-off worth the effort of paying attention through the dawdling early chapters.  Recommended to anyone looking for a less melodramatic dystopian read (so much as there is such a thing!) who is happy with a little deferred gratification.

Date finished:  02 February 2013
Format:  eBook
Source:  Received from the publisher via NetGalley – thank you Bloomsbury!
Genre:  Dystopian; Science fiction
Pictured Edition Published: by Bloomsbury in July 2012

Review: ‘11.22.63’ by Stephen King

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

WHAT IF you could go back in time and change the course of history?
WHAT IF the watershed moment you could change was the JFK assassination? 

11/22/63, the date that Kennedy was shot – unless . . .

King takes his protagonist Jake Epping, a high school English teacher, on a fascinating journey back to the world of 1958 – from a world in 2011 of mobile phones and iPods to a new world of Elvis and JFK, of Plymouth Fury cars and Lindy Hopping, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake’s life – a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time.


I bought this eBook quite some time ago when I got a Waterstones gift card for my birthday – I do love a bit of time-travel so I was convinced that I would eventually get to it.  But then one day when I was at work, I got a text from Hanna telling me that I HAD to read this book!  Inevitably, I started reading not long after.

I’m not sure what I expected.  I don’t have a lot of experience of King’s work, largely because I imagine his to be the kind of books that would leave me shaking in a corner and gibbering to myself.  Whatever I was expecting, I wasn’t prepared for 11.22.63 to be so…sensitive.  Sure, there was action and a fair dose of the sinister but there were also devastatingly believable romance and genuinely heart-warming friendships.  Clearly there is a lot more to Stephen King as a writer than I had been giving him credit for.  

As with much historical fiction, I was wary about straying into a period – you either find yourself learning about a whole new period or you end up bemused.  Thankfully, King has assumed no prior knowledge.  His research has obviously been painstakingly carried out and the detail is astounding.  Woven skilfully into Jake’s story are a plethora of historical and political points and anecdotes that enhance the story, rather than diverting from it.  I genuinely feel as though I know a lot more about the period leading up to President Kennedy’s assassination.  It would have been easy to have Jake feign ignorance on the basis that he isn’t from the 50s or 60s but King doesn’t once take the easy road and I have a great deal more respect for him as an author than I did before.

With all the detail floating around, you might think that you’re in for a bit of a stodgy ride.  Not so.  Jake’s story and the stories of those he meets are very personal, moving and gripping and I came to care very much what happened to each and every one of them.  Even the prologue-type section made my heart hurt and brought tears to my eyes. Jake meets a heck of a lot of people on his sojourn into the past and every single one has a place in the overall story.  The kind of characters that you miss when you’ve finished the book.

I think what I was aware of most when I started reading 11.22.63 was how time-travel stories are difficult ones to get right – there are countless things that can go horribly wrong and/or seem ridiculous.  As much time as went into researching the history must have gone into thinking through the implications of Jake’s time travelling.  It’s hard to gush openly about why I thought it was so clever and how much I loved reading about it without getting spoilery so I’ll just say that it’s smart and well done and I didn’t do any eye rolling or thinking of “Pfft – how silly”.

Incidentally, little experience though I have, I’m fairly sure that there are some “rewards” for King’s more loyal fan base.  Some way through the story, Jake finds himself in Derry, a town that has been plagued by a spate of murders seemingly perpetrated by someone or something lurking in the sewers.  I am not (nor will I ever be) an expert on King’s horror novels but I’m fairly sure that there are quite a few references to events from It.  So if you like King and like books where you get to feel like part of the in-crowd, you’ll like this.  But actually, if you like King that much, you’ll probably already have read this…so really this is just to prove that I was awake enough to spot the neat blending than anything else…*shrugs*

Overall:  There is nothing in this book that is out of place.  Nothing at all.  I can only imagine how much work must have gone into writing it but the effect is something really quite extraordinary.  740 pages without one moment where I wanted to hurry things along or one detail that I wasn’t convinced fit?  Masterful.

Date finished:  20 December 2012
Format:  eBook (740 pages are HEAVY!)
Source:  Bought
Genre:  Science fiction/fantasy; historical fiction
Published (in the UK): by Hodder & Stoughton Limited in November 2011

YA Science Fiction Review: ‘0.4’ by Mike Lancaster

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Synopsis courtesy of GoodReads

It’s a brave new world. 

‘My name is Kyle Straker. And I don’t exist anymore.’ 

So begins the story of Kyle Straker, recorded on to old audio tapes. You might think these tapes are a hoax. But perhaps they contain the history of a past world…If what the tapes say are true, it means that everything we think we know is a lie. And if everything we know is a lie does that mean that we are, too?

After reading Ellie at Musing of a Bookshop Girl‘s review, this book went straight onto my wishlist.  And stayed there.  I kind of forgot about it, to be honest, until I was clearing out my wishlist one day and spotted it loitering towards the end.  A few clickety-clicks on my Waterstones app later (that is one dangerous app, readers!) and it was on its way.

I had just finished a detailed historical fiction novel and was feeling in the mood for a quicker fix.  I could not have chosen better!  Despite starting it in the middle of my working week, I read it in less than 24 hours.  When I wasn’t working/performing necessary human functions, I was reading 0.4.  Trying to just read one chapter of this book is like trying to eat one Pringle.  It can not be done!  Every time I picked it up, I was completely stuck to it until I was forced to do something else and poor Boyfriend got more than one stern look for interrupting me while I was reading it.

The story starts with a suitably cryptic introduction but really gets going when Kyle and three other residents of a small village in Cambridgeshire volunteer to take part in a display of hypnotism during a village talent contest and wake up to find all of their fellow residents frozen in place.  Left with nobody to turn to, the four “lucky” ones clamber to work out what has happened to their friends and families and where their future lies…

Although on the face of it, this is very much a YA novel, there are some sneaky little twists in there to keep the older ones among us interested too.  A little bit like some of the modern animated films that include plenty of jokes for the adult audience in amongst the colourful frippery.  Events are recounted by Kyle using a discarded cassette tape recorder.  It’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into setting up this story, right down to there being some gaps in Kyle’s story where he fails to allow for the few seconds at the beginning and end of a cassette tape where no sound is recorded, a quirk that will probably only be familiar to those of us who are better acquainted with the peculiar charms of cassettes.

What made this novel stand out for me were the comments of those listening to Kyle’s story in the future.  The prologue, the editor’s notes and the afterword all transformed an exciting YA story into something really…unsettling.  The speculations over idioms that have become defunct were my particular favourites:

“NOTE – ‘eel of jealousy’
This is quite a bizarre phrase, because an eel was a snakelike fish of the type we now refer to as an Anguilleform. How this related to jealousy is unknown, although Kenton argues for being a kind of metaphor for the feeling the primitive emotion caused within the individual.  LeGar, however, points to a fragment of text called Stargate SG-1 which suggests that a parisitic creature of this type may have been present within certain individuals”
[Page 90]

The only real casualty of the break-neck pace is characterisation.  With the exception of Kyle, the characters aren’t particularly well developed and their relationships are fairly superficial.  This is one of those retrospective criticisms, though, since the plot and pacing were so strong that I didn’t even really have time to notice that the characters were a bit one-dimensional.  

Overall:  Don’t be deceived by the YA tone – 0.4 has plenty for everyone to enjoy and will leave you just a little bit less secure in your surroundings than you were before you read it.  If you haven’t read any science fiction before, this is a great place to start – it has plenty of the mind-bending that you would expect from the genre without being completely technologically baffling.

Review: ‘Infernal Devices’ by K. W. Jeter

Rating:  2.5 out of 5 stars

The Synopsis

When George’s father died, he left George his watchmaker’s shop – and more.  

But George has little talent for watches and other infernal devices.  When someone tries to steal an old device from the premises, George finds himself embroiled in a mystery of time travel, music and sexual intrigue.  The classic steampunk tale from the master of the genre.  

The Review

Without question, this book is the strangest book that I have ever read.  And not in a good, unpredicatable kind of way.  More of a “What the…?” kind of way.  Everything was so surreal and seemingly unconnected and unexplained that I became weary.  I just wanted something, anything, to be explained so that I could latch back onto the story.  I guess that in that way Jeter does a good job of letting readers experience George’s confusion and does keep the promise of answers hovering in the distance but, for me, it was a bit too much.

The characters are, on the whole, extremely unlikeable.  I did feel for George, spending every day of his life on a trade that he has neither chosen nor is any good at and living constantly in his father’s shadow.  As a result, he comes across as rather wet and defeated.  No matter what opportunities present themselves, however, and no matter how strange things get, he plods.  Even after apparently having been kicked into action by a theft, George is reluctant and always a victim.  Early on, I wanted to shake him.  Later on, I’d lost the will to even do that.  The unfortunately named ‘Brown Leather Man’ (and yes, that is because that’s George’s perception of his appearance…) is sufficiently intriguing but not particularly pleasant.  He also happens to meet a pair of hustlers that use jarringly futuristic.  The male half of the pair is only mildly irritating.  The female half appears to think that the solution to every situation is seducing George…and she’s supposed to be liberated…

Whether or not you enjoy this book will most probably come down to one thing: whether or not you are happy with retrospective enjoyment.  Once I’d finished the book and all of its secrets had been revealed, I could appreciate that it really was quite clever and was quirky in a reasonably good way.  While I was reading it, however, I came close to putting it to one side plenty of times because I didn’t have a single clue what on earth was going on, never mind why.  Unfortunately, me and retrospective enjoyment aren’t great friends; call me crazy but I actually want to enjoy something while I’m reading it, not after.  

The problem with being hailed as the forefather of a popular sub-genre is that people go into it expecting it to be the finest example of that genre, rather than a seed of an idea.  This is to steampunk what Bram Stoker’s Dracula is to modern vampire/paranormal fiction; the same elements are there, just not in the way readers have come to expect.  Where Dracula and Infernal Devices certainly differ is that the former is a fantastic example of a genre that has been distilled over time while the latter is a mediocre example of a genre that has been enhanced over time.

Overall:  If you’re already a well-inducted steampunk fan, this book is interesting and the edition I read has a brilliant introduction by the author written some 20 years after this was published and after ‘steampunk’ had really taken off.  If you’re thinking of reading steampunk and are looking around for where to start, don’t start here.  You’ll come away feeling perturbed and I can’t imagine you would be eager to try anything else.  

Alternative reads:  Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series; Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series.  


Date finished:  22 November 2011
Format:  eBook
Source:  NetGalley
Genre:  Steampunk/Science fiction (Adult)
Re-Published: by Angry Robot Books in April 2011

Review: ‘The Knife of Never Letting Go’ by Patrick Ness

Date finished:
11 May 2011

Rating: 4 stars

Source: Bought – WH Smith

Genre: Science fiction; Fantasy fiction; Dystopian fiction

Published: by Walker Books in May 2008

The Synopsis (taken from

Imagine you’re the only boy in a town of men.

And you can hear everything they think.

And they can hear everything you think.

Imagine you don’t fit in with their plans…Todd Hewitt is just one month away from the birthday that will make him a man. But his town has been keeping secrets from him. Secrets that are going to force him to run…

The Review

I thought I knew what to expect from this novel, having read many a glowing review (and the occasional bad one too!). It turns out I was wrong. I was frequently surprised and had almost no clue where the story was going after each of the revelations and twists that this book has to offer.

I realise that I’m probably re-treading ground here but, in case there are just a couple of you who are as behind as me: the story is told from the perspective of Todd Hewitt who is just a month away from becoming an adult on his thirteenth birthday. Living in Prentisstown with The Noise (the constant sound of other men’s thoughts) and where there are no surviving women means that growing up hasn’t been easy for Todd.

The Noise is a man unfiltered, and without a filter, a man is just chaos walking

Todd’s experiences are reflected in the fact that Todd isn’t a perfect character. He loses his temper (in a realistic way), makes mistakes and struggles in certain social situations. I didn’t always like him but I was always rooting for him, which is the mark of a great central character, I think. His relationship with Manchee, his dog, is particularly touching, and I am extremely surprised to write that as not really an ‘animal person’ myself.

The intrigue surrounding Prentisstown itself is genuine and, although I occasionally thought I was getting close to working it out, I then found myself thrown off again by another event or revelation. The interesting plot was upheld well by a range of superb characters, evil, good and all the blurs in between: Viola features heavily and is heart-warmingly vulnerable while also fiercely loyal and brave; Ben and Cillian are such wonderful father figures and Aaron was one of the more disturbingly unhinged ‘bad guys’ I’ve read recently.

I found the combination of Todd’s voice, the science-fiction elements and the distinctive characters utterly unique and was enthralled. There were many times I wanted to tear my eyes away but I just couldn’t. ‘Car crash’ literature you might say, if you wanted to use a rather unpleasant but effective phrase…

Overall: A refreshingly offbeat novel that blends the better elements of fantasy with a rather mild brand of science-fiction, I would definitely recommend this book to fantasy fiction fans looking to branch out. It’s action-packed, emotional and pensive in turn and I will absolutely be seeking out the remaining two books of the Chaos Walking trilogy.