The Stargazer’s Embassy by Eleanor Lerman

cover108526-mediumAliens are trying to make contact with Julia Glazer; they have been since her mother died. In an effort to escape them she has left her childhood home, a bar called The Stargazer’s Embassy, and moved to New York. It’s easiest to be safe surrounded by lots of people and plugged into a Walkman so you can’t hear them calling.

There she meets and falls in love with a man who turns out to be completely wrong for her – not in personality, just in occupation. He is a psychiatrist studying people who claim to have been abducted by aliens. Julia at once knows that if she tells him her secret she could move from lover to patient in the blink of an eye. But keeping her secret proves impossible as she begins to meet his patients, and finds amongst them people who describe exactly the aliens she sees. And who recognise the tattoo on her wrist that her mother had scribed there.

I am not the resident Sci-Fi guru here but I found the premise of the book intriguing… and the fact that it was written by someone who’d won an award for a previous Sci-Fi novel reassured me immensely too. But I have to admit that the cover made me think I was making a mistake.

Thankfully you can’t see the cover when you’re reading it! Also thankfully, my copy was on Kindle so no one on the train could see the cover either as I read it on my commute! And thrice thankfully you really shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover… I really will learn that one day!

Because I really enjoyed this book. It’s a totally different take on the alien abduction genre with a unique, memorable and relatable set of characters. It’s set sometime in the late 90’s but with flashbacks to Julia’s childhood in the 70’s which just adds that cult Sci-Fi feel to it that we all love so well. I don’t want to give too much away so I’ll shut up now but get yourself a copy of this even if you have to slip it inside a different cover to be seen with it!

4 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviewse

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

He, She and It by Marge Piercy

he-she-itI was thrilled to discover Marge Pierce when Woman on the Edge of Time was recently re-issued. I loved it (read more here) so when I saw that Ebury was re-publishing Body of Glass as He, She and It I jumped at the chance of getting a review copy!
This is another dystopian novel, originally published in 1993 it is once again a little scary how many of the things predicted in this already exist. Marge Pierce was clearly keeping on top of the latest tech when she wrote this!

She writes about the middle of the twenty-first century. Life has changed dramatically after climate change and a two week war that utilised nuclear weapons. The population is much smaller and concentrated mainly in a few domed hubs. But some things don’t change and Shira Shipman is a young woman whose marriage has broken up, on top of that her young son has been awarded to her ex-husband by the corporation that runs her zone. Despairing she has returned to her grandmother’s house in Tikva, the Jewish town where she grew up. There she is employed to work on socialising a cyborg implanted with intelligence, emotions – and the ability to kill.

This is quite a different book from Woman on the Edge of Time, in some ways it’s a mirror image of it. Here the whole book is set in the future but there is reference to the distant past through a story told to the cyborg, whereas the other book has a woman travelling from now to the future. The futures are also mirrored – this is truly a dystopian vision whereas the other was utopian. But what doesn’t change is the quality of writing which creates an envelope around you so you feel completely immersed in the world.

Although this is a deeply moral tale, asking us to question what makes us human and how we treat others, it is also a cracking good story! Full of tension, corporate intrigue, blackmail, badass modified humans, bombs, and of course a mother desperate to be reunited with her toddler son.
Back when it was first released it won the Arthur C Clark Award. Definitely worth reading!

5 Bites!

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

cover97841-mediumTom Barron will never measure up to his genius dad. If he’s honest with himself he’ll probably never measure up to his self-sacrificing mother either. It’s always annoyed him that she does so much for his dad and had so little appreciation but now she’s just died it annoys him even more.

Still, at least his dad seems to be trying to do something for him now by giving him a job. He’s to be an understudy chrononaut.

His father has developed a time machine and plans to test it by sending someone back to the moment the world got unlimited power in 1965. The 2016 Tom lives in is very different from ours.

But even though Tom is only the understudy and not supposed to be traveling, events somehow unravel and he accidentally changes the past and ends up in our 2016. Can he put things right? And when he realises his own life is so much better in our 2016 will he be selfless enough to do so? After all in his 2016 there is no poverty and no climate change, but in our 2016 Tom has love.

This book is incredible! I LOVED IT! The cleverness doesn’t stop for a second but Tom Barron is such an ordinary (slightly disappointing) bloke that it never feels too complicated or cloying. The characters and their dilemmas are in turn fascinating and mundane and they react both rationally and irrationally just like we all do.

But beyond the great characters, fabulous plot and terrific writing is something more. This is a book that makes you ponder! And there is nothing I love more than a book that makes me do that!

5 Bites … and if I was handing out awards this book would be getting them!

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Black History Month: A Resource Guide To Black Science Fiction & Fantasy

This month is Black History Month. A very important celebration that looks back at the contributions made by black people all over the world. A chance to remember their struggles for acceptance and the need be treated equally, to learn of their stories and to understand how their lives were affected by indifference and hatred.

But I am a white man, living in a white culture with little experience of the struggles they have experienced over the decades. To my mind, that disqualifies me from spouting any further on that side of things. Though I do have an opinion and that is to say, it’s an unjust World we live in and change is well overdue.

I could talk about black Sci-Fi authors of the past, people like Octavia E. Butler, Nalo Hopkinson and Charles W. Chesnutt. There are many black authors who have contributed to the fine body of literature that is Science Fiction.

Instead, I’m going to give you a list of resources where you can find out more about past, current and future black authors. You will learn an awful lot more by discovering for yourself the contributions made than by revealing my own inadequate knowledge.

For Black History Information

Posts About Black Science Fiction Authors

Websites For Black Science Fiction

Black Science Fiction Authors

Black Science Fiction and the Media

Until I started doing the research for the links above, I had no idea what colour skin Samuel R. Delany had. In fact, that’s true for the majority of the authors that I read, I have no idea what colour they are. Besides it doesn’t matter to me and it shouldn’t matter to you. All that is important is that you read, buy books and support new and current authors. Go to it!

Bob Toovey
I started reading Sci Fi at around age 8, I've never looked back since. I was highly influenced by my father's reading choices at the beginning. I soon branched out to many different authors and Sci Fi genre's. Early influences include Asimov, Clark, Simak, PKD and other 'golden age' authors. On occasion, I like a good spy book and currently finding early religious history a fascinating subject – despite being an atheist.

The Gradual by Christopher Priest

cover88297-mediumChristopher Priest is apparently one of the UK’s greatest writers – on the cover just there you can see that the Sunday Times considers him a ‘Novelist of Distinction’! I’d never heard of him before this book let alone read him. When I looked him up when I was about halfway through this I found he’d written over 15 books including one which was turned into the award winning film The Prestige. It just goes to show how easy it is to miss even best- selling authors!

Anyway this book is starts in a country called Glaund, a cold and controlled country locked in a permanent war. It follows the life of Alesandro Sussken, a composer whose older brother is sent off to fight, leaving his family bereft.

Alesandro is inspired by the Dream Archipelago, a string of islands that no one can map or explain.  He creates symphonies named for them, a somewhat subversive act as  all knowledge of the  islands is forbidden by the junta. Then he is invited on a cultural tour of them, an opportunity too good to miss but one that will not only change his perceptions of his country, but will lead to him losing years of his life too.

This book is written in first person, so Alesandro is telling us his story directly. It feels like he is telling it at a bit of a distance, not as if he’s overthe pain of his brother leaving and never coming back, more as if he’s perpetually distracting himself from it. Often this muffling of the main characters pain would make a book less exciting and harder for the reader to connect to, but in this case it reflects the dream-like quality of the mysterious islands.

This was an interesting read, it plays with time and travel in an unusual way, what made this really special though was the music, I’m no musician but like most people I recognise its expressive power. This book pays homage to that.

4 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Roofworld by Christopher Fowler

imageLondon in the 1980’s has a secret people never see. A refuge for the misfits and outcasts of society that towers above the dirty city. But Roofworld, with its complex laws and codes and decaying system of cables and wires is at war. And if evil wins it will take possession of the city below next.

Robert is looking for the author of a little known book to try and buy the film rights from her, sadly he is a little too late, she was murdered during a robbery the week before. But he does meet Rose, who tells him about her daughter who she thinks has been kidnapped and is being held in Roofworld. They get pulled into events up above – not always the perfect scenario for Robert as he  discovers he’s not good with heights!

This was Christopher Fowler’s first book – he’s gone on to become quite the prolific author having written more than 40 books including the ‘Bryant & May’ series. He specialises in unusual plots and peculiar happenings set in the real world so he’s a good bet for fans of Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch.

And this is certainly an unusual plot full or peculiar happenings! If I was rating this on plot alone it would definitely get 5 bites! If I was rating it  on writing alone it would probably get  bites too – even though he’s written so much this book was still peppered with lovely lines and fresh metaphors that made me feel like I was there.

The only thing this falls down on is the characters, they’re not awful, but they feel a bit lazy. Robert seems like a slightly less interesting version of Richard Mayhew – the protagonist of Neverwhere (written by Neil Gaiman in 1996 – though I’m not suggesting there was any plagiarism going on), Rose is cool but we never get beneath the surface and the police characters are very formulaic. The two dominant characters fighting it out on the roof tops could be fascinating but we don’t really get to learn much about them until too late.

I have to say that this would make a cracking movie though, or a graphic novel, but as a novel I can only give it 3.5 bites – readable, and fairly enjoyable but not earth-shattering. I’m interested to read some of his more recent works though now.

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy

cover87393-mediumWoman on the Edge of Time was first published 40-years ago, it became a classic, painting a picture of two possible futures and how even the most downtrodden could fight for the happier one. Connie Ramos, a Mexican American woman living in New York. Connie was once ambitious and determined, she started college, but then she had her dignity, her husband, and her child stolen. Finally they want to take her sanity – but does she still have it to steal?

Connie has recently been contacted by an envoy from the year 2137 who introduces her to a time where men and women are equal, the words he and she are obsolete having been replaced by the word per (short for person). All forms of sexuality are celebrated as are all racial genetics. It isn’t quite a perfect world, there are minor jealousies and tensions between lovers and a war still being fought on the outer boundaries, but to Connie it’s a revelation. Now she’s been unjustly committed to a mental institution, and they’re putting electrodes into her brain, when she tries to reach the future next it’s entirely different, a horrific place for women to live. Does Connie hold they key to which becomes our future and if so does she have the strength to turn it?

Today Ebury Publishing have released a 40th anniversary addition, a new generation get to meet Connie. I have to applaud them, they’re having a great month for feminist literature, just a couple of weeks ago they also released Shappi Khorshandi’s Nina is Not Ok and now this!

To my shame I missed this first time round, I don’t know how, I’ve read a lot of feminist literature but this passed me by. I’m so glad to have read it. I have to admit that when I first started it I was in a dark place and the first few pages with their bleak portrait of exploitation was more than I could take. I had to set it aside for a couple of weeks. If I’d known where it was going I wouldn’t have, just a few pages later it blossomed and it would have lifted me right out of the funk I was in.

I can’t express how much I loved this book – it’s definitely one I’ll re-read and one I want passionately for you to read too. This isn’t just a ‘feminist book’, it’s also a brilliantly written sci-fi classic. It’s interesting to read this with fresh eyes in 2016, still over a hundred years away from the two possible predicted futures, and see our progress towards them. When Marge Piercy wrote this the idea of wearing computers as watches or using gender neutral pronouns was pie-in-the-sky as was the thought of the majority of women having plastic surgery. Reading it now it seems like it could’ve been written just yesterday. We’ve still all got choices to make – which future will you fight for?

5 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Book to Film (Part 3): Even More Sci-fi Titles That Made It to the Big Screen

It’s time for another look at Sci Fi stories that have made it to the big screen. For this edition of Book To Film,  a couple of classics that everyone should be aware of!  Click for my previous posts, part one  and part two

2,000 leagues under the sea

20000 leagues under the seaFuturistic submarines, monsters and amazing adventures filled the original story. It has become a recommended read for anyone getting in to the genre. It was turned in to a film in 1956 and was personally produced by Walt Disney and directed by Richard Fleischer. The big stars featured in the film include Kirk Douglas, James Mason and Paul Lukas.

It’s a fun classic despite it’s age. Do the special effects stand up after all this time? With a great story and such a fine cast, does it really matter?

Battlefield Earth

Battlefield earthIf you are already in to Sci Fi films in a big way or perhaps appreciate the older and slightly off kilter authors, then you may have come across ‘Battlefield Earth’. It is considered be one of the most massive flops of all time. The book it’s based on (book and film share the same name) was written by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. Therefore, knowing that John Travolta was the lead actor and major force behind the film should be no surprise!

The film was criticised for just about everything, the acting, the dialog, the way it was filmed and so on! It has now become a bit of a cult, in a ‘so bad that it’s really good’ kind of way.

Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy

Hitchhikers_guide_to_the_galaxyDon’t panic! Those are the reassuring words that are printed on the front cover the Hitch Hikers Guide. A guide carried by Ford Prefect and given to Arthur Dent. The original set of books about the guide and the adventures of Ford and Arthur was written by the late Douglas Adams. It was first turned into a radio series which became a cult hit.

Later the BBC turned it in to a TV series. In my personal view, the best version for the screen so far. Far better than the 2005 version featuring Martin Freeman, Sam Rockwell and the late Alan Rickman. For me, the voice of the guide will always be Peter Jones, sorry Steven Fry!

The story has proved so popular it has made it on to vinyl LP’s, comic books and even stage plays. It is one of those classics that can be enjoyed over and over.

Logan’s Run

Logans_run_movieThe original idea for Logan’s Run came from the book of the same name  by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. A dystopian future where population growth is controlled and the city is where you were born, lived and died. Going outside was strictly forbidden.

The stars of the 1976 film include Michael York, Jenny Agutter and Richard Jordon. We must not forget Peter Ustinov and Farrah Fawcett also starred – quite a cast!

It’s a fine film and acted well but sadly someone has decided a remake is required. I can’t understand why anyone feels it needs one!

Ender’s Game

Ender's_GameI really enjoyed the original book by Orson Scott Card, and also its sequel, Speaker For The Dead. It was a good story that I have re-read a few times now.

When the 2013 film version came out, I was excited and looked forward to seeing how it would look on the big screen. Sadly I was disappointed. Like many others, I felt the plot was lacking far too many aspects of the original story. I’ve no problem with the acting and special effects, just let down by the adaptation.

Bob Toovey
I started reading Sci Fi at around age 8, I've never looked back since. I was highly influenced by my father's reading choices at the beginning. I soon branched out to many different authors and Sci Fi genre's. Early influences include Asimov, Clark, Simak, PKD and other 'golden age' authors. On occasion, I like a good spy book and currently finding early religious history a fascinating subject – despite being an atheist.

The Fictional Man by Al Ewing

61fGw0eg-AL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Set in a parallel present where ‘Fictionals’ (clones created to play specific movie and TV characters)  are a part of daily life in LA. Niles Golan, a pulp fiction author, has been hired to write a big-budget reboot of a classic movie.

His life is a mess, he’s divorced, alcoholic and only has Fictionals for friends. If he does a good job here though, the studio might bring one of his Kurt Power novels to the screen, and create a Fictional Kurt Power. Luckily the movie they want him to reboot is his favourite, a naff, sexist, guilty pleasure. He starts to investigate the inspiration of the original movie to create a modern retro version but can he do it before his life completely falls apart.

I was intrigued by this concept and I have to admit the cover did help draw me in, but when I first started reading I was a little unsure about it. Niles Golan is not a nice man. He only really has 1 friend and he doesn’t treat him very well. He also has a bloody annoying habit of narrating his life as it would be if he really was his own fictional character Kurt Power.

However, as it went on I started to warm to this clever little book. The subplots and thematic explorations are fascinating, and slowly we see more of Nile’s insecurities and that he is well aware of his own loathsomeness, and does genuinely want to change.

In some ways this is a modern-day, grown-up Pinnochio. It explores what it means to be a ‘real boy’ and to some extent what it means to be a ‘real man’. Kurt Power is hyper masculine but Niles Golan isn’t.

There are other themes running through this as well, but I want spoil it for you by telling them all here! Grab a copy for yourself, it’s worth a read.

4 Bites

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Helium by Tim Earnshaw

2888525Gary has been drifting for a while, since his wife left him he’s been floating around the house he grew up in. The only thing keeping him rooted to the world is his shop. Once his love of music had been channeled in his band – ‘Gary Wilder and the Hi-Tones ‘, now he sells instruments to people that don’t remember his heyday.

Then he has a bad hair day, and strange things start happening. First he gets a date with the receptionist at his father’s nursing home, then Kent Treacy, acid casualty guitarist from the days when the Hi-Tones mutated into The High, turns up wanting to get the band back together for a reunion tour.

As the gravity of Gary’s situation deepens, or to be more accurate weakens, he sends a videotape to NASA. But will they believe their eyes?

This slim, lighthearted novel reads like a cross between Nick Hornby and an episode of the X Files. Although Gary is a bit of a loser these days, he’s someone who is still likeable enough that you want to follow him on his ridiculous journey. All the characters are more than a bit damaged actually, but believably so. That’s important because the plot is utterly unbelievable, without well-drawn characters reacting authentically this would have been too absurd to cope with.

But British authour Tim Earnshaw knows how to write, the setting descriptions are spot on – you really feel like you are right next to Gary, not just seeing what he sees but feeling the sun on the back of your neck too. So much so I was surprised at finding out the author is British!

There’s nothing life-changing in this book, but it’s a great little hollday or weekend read. Very entertaining! Pick it up and lighten up for a while!

4 Bites

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.