Bloody Rose – Nicholas Eames

Live fast, die young.

Tam Hashford is tired of working at her local pub, slinging drinks for world-famous mercenaries and listening to the bards sing of adventure and glory in the world beyond her sleepy hometown.

When the biggest mercenary band of all rolls into town, led by the infamous Bloody Rose, Tam jumps at the chance to sign on as their bard. It’s adventure she wants – and adventure she gets as the crew embark on a quest that will end in one of two ways: glory or death.

It’s time to take a walk on the wyld side.

Bloody Rose. Bloody brilliant.

Last year I read Nicholas Eames’ first book, Kings of the Wyld, which ended up on my Books of 2017 list, despite the ‘Wyld’ made me think of the terrible fantasy epics of my youth and Wyld Stallyns from Bill & Ted. Luckily I had David (@bluebookballoon) to encourage me, and I found that Kings was (and indeed is) a splendid rollercoaster of the most rollicking kind, with a veritable smörgåsbord of beasts and monsters, evil villians, ex-girlfriends, former managers, relentless bounty hunters and what will soon become your favourite wizard since Gandalf (or Rincewind, depending on your literary tastes), Moog.

So then to Bloody Rose. This time there was no such prevarication, and no encouragement needed to jump right in. We follow the adventures of Tam Hashford, a barmaid working at a pub serving the city’s mercenaries. She quickly falls in with the titular Bloody Rose and Fable, her band of mercs. Except they’re not heading off to fight the Horde along with all the other mercenaries. For some reason they’re heading in the opposite direction, and Rose has something to prove…

Nicholas Eames showed us in Kings that he can tell a great story, with some properly brilliant characters. In Bloody Rose he builds on the world in the first book and delivers another cracking tale of high adventure, with yet more beasts, monsters and hijinks.

The music references again come thick and fast, but never at the expense of story. They’re lovely little nods throughout the book – a town called Coverdale, a purple-veined prince, and at one point a namecheck for a character in Final Fantasy VII (the best one of the series, don’t @ me).

The story is so much more than your standard ‘bunch of people go fight some monsters’ that you see so often in fantasy. It’s an exploration of family, both the biological kind and the kind you make yourself. It explores what it means to be a monster, and what they might think when all these shiny-armoured, sword-laden Bands come rampaging for their hides.

It’s also very funny in places, and incredibly sad in others. The characters are, once again, utterly brilliant, from the young Tam growing from dreaming barmaid to daring Bard with Fable, to Rose herself – daughter of Golden Gabe from the original Kings, who wants to step out from the shadow of her father’s considerable, legendary shadow and prove herself in this world. The supporting cast are also great – Brune the vargyr, Cura the Inkwitch summoner (one of my favourites of the band), Freecloud the Druin (and Rose’s partner), and not forgetting their booker, Roderick.

Kings of the Wyld was fantastic, and a very worthy winner of the Gemmell Morningstar Award, and that was against a frankly brilliant field of books.

Bloody Rose is a worthy successor, and deserves to do just as well, if not better. Highly recommended.

Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames is published by Orbit and is out now. Thanks to Nazia for the advance copy.

Blog tour: 35 Deaths by Mason Ball

Delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Mason Ball’s The Thirty Five Timely and Untimely Deaths of Cumberland County. More on that later.

Mason has dropped by to let us know ‘Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Me’.

Over to you, Mason

#1 A painted fool
When not writing, I am a cabaret performer and award-winning emcee. As ‘Benjamin Louche’ I’ve hosted and appeared in shows up and down the UK, as well as in Europe and America. For the last nine years, along with my wife Rose Thorne, I have co-produced and hosted monthly cabaret show The Double R Club (inspired by the world of David Lynch).

#2 An explosive debut
I wrote my first poem, entitled Fireworks, Fireworks, Bang, Bang, Bang at the age of six: (transcribed from original)

Fireworks Fireworks bang bang bang.
They are pretty.
They Sparkle in the night.
Thhey spray some colours
They light the sky.
They are golden.
Whizz whizz they go.
The Catherine wheel gose round.
They spray a rash of stars in The dark.

#3 Cheers
I first tried gin when, at the bar, I ordered a beer and my friend Kris ordered a G&T. I ridiculed him good-naturedly for the next half an hour, then when we returned to the bar he suggested I try one; It’s been my drink ever since. For this, and for many, many other reasons, #35Deaths is dedicated, in part, to Kris. My favourite gin at the moment is probably Tanqueray Ten (gifts are always welcome).

#4 What’s the opposite of hagiography?
While at London Metropolitan University as a mature student, I won the Sandra Ashman Prize for my poem Mother Teresa in the Winner’s Enclosure. This was the first time I’d received money for something I’d written and as such it somewhat blew my tiny mind.

#5 Banana Man
Until the crowdfunding campaign for #35Deaths I had never eaten a banana. Yes, I know it’s weird. I promised when I reached a certain percentage that not only would I eat one, but that I would film it, in full cabaret garb, for people’s ‘entertainment’; which I did. The verdict was that I am not a fan of the banana.

#6 Like fingernails on a blackboard
The over-amplified sound of the pouring of carbonated drinks in TV adverts set my teeth on edge and drives me mad!

#7 Fleeing the scene of the crime…?
I was born in Essex, but I escaped.

#8 Hot chocolate
I once dressed up as a bar of chocolate to promote Walker’s crisps. Another performer dressed as a chili and together we represented the Chili Choc flavour on the Walker’s website. Our slogan was “where sweet meats heat!” The guy playing chili was a street dancer however and when we attempted a humorous ‘chest bump’ I went flying and cracked my head on the concrete floor, thus screwing up ex-footballer Gary Lineker’s dialogue to camera.

#9 Who am I?
As a child at playschool / kindergarten, I would wear a different hat every day: fireman’s hat, crash helmet, baseball cap, gangster’s trilby, army officer’s cap etc. I think these days they call that multiple personality disorder…

#10 “May the force be with you”
I appeared in Star Wars, episode VII: The Force Awakens, and Star Wars, episode VIII: The Last Jedi as a creature performer; in the former as Praster Ommlen, and in the latter as Sosear Latta -as Sosear Latta I was photographed by Annie Leibovitz! I was also a Vogon in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy and a mummy in The Mummy and The Mummy returns.

The Thirty Five Timely and Untimely Deaths of Cumberland County, by Mason Ball is published by Unbound. You can find Mason on twitter @MasonBallAuthor.

Many thanks to Anne Cater and Mason Ball for inviting me onto the blog tour.

The dying years of the great depression; John Bischoffberger is a Pennsylvanian doctor adrift in Naples, Maine, struggling with his loss of religious faith and retreating from painful memories of The Great War.

As Medical Examiner John must document deaths that occur under unusual or suspicious circumstances. Yet as he goes about his work, he begins to suspect that the deaths he is called upon to deal with are in fact far from routine.

He becomes convinced that three itinerants are going about the county, killing. An old woman, a little girl, and a thin man are fulfilling some strange and unspoken duty, brutally murdering men, women and children; and the deaths seem to be drawing closer to John: others who may suspect foul play, then acquaintances of his, then perhaps friends, even family members.

As the storm clouds of a new world war gather in Europe, and John’s rationality slowly unravels, he must find a way to disprove what he has reluctantly come to believe, or to confirm his worst fears and take steps to end the killing spree of the three in the woods, whatever the cost.

Following his poem Fireworks Fireworks Bang Bang Bang at the age of six, Mason eventually took the whole writing thing a little more seriously, graduating in 2009 from London Metropolitan University, having received first class honours in Creative Writing. In his second year, he won the Sandra Ashman award for his poem Mother Theresa in the Winner’s Enclosure. He has subsequently had work published in Succour magazine and Brand magazine.
Mason is currently working on a number of writing projects, as well as developing his next novel. In addition to this, he writes, co-produces and hosts the award-winning monthly cabaret night The Double R Club (as Benjamin Louche, winner of “Best Host” at the London Cabaret Awards). He also worked as a performer on Star Wars: The Force Awakens & The Last Jedi.
Mason is a trustee of East London charity Cabaret vs Cancer. He lives in East London with his wife, a cat called Monkey, and a collection of antique medical equipment.

Rob Boffard: Be The Story competition

What if you could be a character in a book?
Not just your name – your personality and appearance, as a unique character in fictional world? Walking around, spouting one-liners, murdering people, saving the day…generally kicking ass, in a book that will be on the shelves of thousands of people. Sounds cool, yes?

Today I’m featuring a competition for Rob Boffard – author of some of my favourite kick-ass sci-fi  Tracer and Adrift (go clicky on the links to see my reviews – in short, they’re fantastic) is giving you the chance to appear as a character in one of his upcoming books.

It’s the works: name, physical characteristics, likes and dislikes, mannerisms, pet preferences, choice of weapons, the songs you like to hum in the bath, all of it. It can be exactly like the real you – OR you can switch things up and create a fictional version that is completely different. Your call!

Anyone can enter. Absolutely anyone. Any city, any country, any planet, any solar system.

Details on how you can win are over here on Rob’s website: HOW TO WIN, but it’s pretty simple.

Leave a review of Rob’s new book, Adrift, on your favorite store.

Send proof (a link or a screenshot) to adriftcompetition@gmail.com.

You MUST include the following declaration within the body of your email:

My name is [insert your real name here]. I confirm I am freely agreeing to the use of my name in one of Rob Boffard’s upcoming books, subject to being selected as the winner of this contest, and subject to the signing of a contract explicitly laying out the terms of this arrangement. I agree I will receive no compensation for the use of my name. I agree that until the contest winner has been decided and the contract signed, neither Rob Boffard nor any publisher is obligated or entitled to make any use of my name in such a way. I agree the author and publisher are not obligated to make any corrections or changes to my name in reprints.

SUPER IMPORTANT: You have to do this by MONDAY 15 OCTOBER 2018 to have a chance of winning the contest.

What are you waiting for? GO!

Spellslinger – Sebastien de Castell

Hot Key Books, May 2017
Source: own copy
There are three things that earn you a man’s name among the Jan’Tep. The first is to demonstrate the strength to defend your family. The second is to prove you can perform the high magic that defines our people. The third is simply to reach the age of sixteen. I was a few weeks shy of my birthday when I learned that I wouldn’t be doing any of those things.

Magic is a con game.

Kellen is moments away from facing his first mage’s duel and the start of four trials that will make him a spellcaster. There’s just one problem: his magic is gone. As his sixteenth birthday approaches, Kellen falls back on his cunning in a bid to avoid total disgrace. But when a daring stranger arrives in town, she challenges Kellen to take a different path. Ferius Parfax is one of the mysterious Argosi – a traveller who lives by her wits and the three decks of cards she carries. She’s difficult and unpredictable, but she may be Kellen’s only hope…

I picked Spellslinger up at the recommendation of Nazia from Orbit Books, who mentioned something called ‘squirrel cats’.

I was intrigued. I was already reading half a dozen other books for reviews, but discovered it was crazy cheap on Amazon (I’m a sucker for a good deal on kindle books) so bought it.

And promptly devoured it over the course of  a day or two. The story has everything – brilliant characters, pacy plot, superb worldbuilding and a new take on magic. Oh, and a feisty, snarky squirrel cat called Reichis who might just remind you a little of Rocket Raccoon from Guardians of the Galaxy.

We’ve all read fantasy stories where the young protagonist comes into their powers and go off to fulfill their destiny. This is the story of what happens when those powers don’t, but you’re left to get on with the whole destiny thing. It’s a YA fantasy with a wild west twist, a magic system which is intriguingly different, and some fantastic (and funny) banter between the characters.

So, thanks Nazia for pointing me in the direction of Spellslinger. I’ve now got a few more books in the series to catch up on before book 4 comes out in October.

 

Book Month: Dystopian fiction

Today I’ll be looking at some of my favourite dystopian futures in fiction.

Kicking off with Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, which I’m fairly sure most of you will have heard of, even if only for the movies.

I’ve only read the first book in the series, but thought was fantastic. I picked it up on Kindle, , and found myself grabbing ten minutes here, 15 minutes there to just get through a little more.

I got the book a few years before the film came out, and whilst they did a pretty good job (J-Law kicking ass as Katniss), the book is much, much better. Of course.

 

 

Next up is a more recent read. Claire North’s stunningly good 84K (Orbit)

What if your life were defined by a number?
What if any crime could be committed without punishment, so long as you could afford to pay the fee assigned to that crime?
Theo works in the Criminal Audit Office. He assesses each crime that crosses his desk and makes sure the correct debt to society is paid in full.
But when Theo’s ex-lover Dani is killed, it’s different. This is one death he can’t let become merely an entry on a balance sheet.
Because when the richest in the world are getting away with murder, sometimes the numbers just don’t add up.

84K is not an easy read, and at times I had to put it down to give my brain a rest from the complex interweaving of narratives – the now and the then melt into each other as sentences melt into paragraphs. This is a book which demands your attention, but rewards you oh so richly for it. I found myself struggling to find the words to try and convey just how good this book is.

Defender & Hunted, by GX Todd (Headline)

Look, I talked about these two books in my favourite sci-fi post the other day. The post-apocalyptic dystopia here is beautifully realised. It’s dark and brutal, and definitely not for the faint-hearted, but if you give it a chance, it’ll grab you by the hand and take you on a dust-soaked ride across the wilderness to some places you’ll not soon forget.

Everything About You, by Heather Child (Orbit)

Freya has a new virtual assistant. It knows what she likes, knows what she wants and knows whose voice she most needs to hear: her missing sister’s. 
It adopts her sister’s personality, recreating her through a life lived online. But this virtual version of her knows things it shouldn’t be possible to know. 
It’s almost as if the missing girl is still out there somewhere, feeding fresh updates into the cloud. But that’s impossible. Isn’t it?

Another book that went on the favourite sci-fi list, but also one which is just as at home here. The near-future setting of Everything About You definitely has dystopian written all over it. Chillingly plausible.

The Girl With All The Gifts, by MR Carey (Orbit)

Melanie is a very special girl. Dr. Caldwell calls her “our little genius.”
Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.
Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children’s cells. She tells her favorite teacher all the things she’ll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn’t know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.

It’s the characters which make this book so special. Melanie is wonderfully drawn and we see the crumbling world through her eyes. The ending is spectacular. There’s a good reason it made my books of 2017 list. The sequel, The Boy on the Bridge is just as good, but very different. It’s one of those books that you just inhale in a single sitting, then fall back and marvel at what you’ve just read. The Girl was good, The Boy was astonishing, and together they make one hell of a team.

The Feed, by Nick Clark Windo (Headline)

The Feed is everywhere. It can be accessed by anyone, at any time. Every interaction, every emotion, every image can be shared through it.
Tom and Kate use The Feed, but they have resisted addiction to it. And this will serve them well when The Feed collapses.
Until their six-year-old daughter, Bea, goes missing.
Because how do you find someone in a world devoid of technology? And what happens when you can no longer trust that your loved ones are really who they claim to be?

Another book which made my books of 2017 list. Splendid concept, beautifully and horrifyingly realised. Imagine having Twitter/Facebook/everything implanted in your head where every fact is mere nanoseconds away, where books are obsolete and society is addicted the ever-present rush of knowledge and has been for years. Now, imagine what happens when the Feed goes down. Superb. The opening chapters are a horrifyingly credible view of a future not too far away.

Saving the very best for last, we’ve got The Wolf Road, by Beth Lewis
Everything Elka knows of the world she learned from the man she calls Trapper, the solitary hunter who took her under his wing when she was just seven years old.
But when Elka sees the Wanted poster in town, her simple existence is shattered. Her Trapper – Kreagar Hallet – is wanted for murder. Even worse, Magistrate Lyon is hot on his trail, and she wants to talk to Elka.
Elka flees into the vast wilderness, determined to find her true parents. But Lyon is never far behind – and she’s not the only one following Elka’s every move. There will be a reckoning, one that will push friendships to the limit and force Elka to confront the dark memories of her past.

The Wolf Road is, quite simply, brilliant. Wonderfully written, with a superbly strong female lead the like of which I’ve not seen for a very long time. The story is told through her eyes, and she has a quite distinctive way of telling it – this takes a little getting used to, but you quickly come to love her tough talking, no-nonsense approach to life and the situations she finds herself in.

We follow Elka on her journey across the post-apocalyptic landscape of Canada and the Yukon, where the ‘Big Stupid’ has pushed what’s left of society into the days of the Western and the Gold Rush. Beth Lewis shows a deft hand with turning up the tension as the hunt progresses and we find out more about our young heroine. I loved the way that her life with Trapper is revealed an inch at a time, each one providing a glimpse into what made her the fearless young woman she has become.

I found it incredibly hard to put down. It’s one of those books where you close it and just know that you’re going to be pestering others to read it.

This is me, pestering you. So, go read it.

There we go, some of my favourite dystopian books.  Have I missed any of your favourites? Have you read any of these?

As ever, I’d love to know what you think.

Book month: Sci-fi from the TBR pile

Right, yesterday we had some of my favourite sci-fi for Book Month on espresso coco. Today I want to share some of the sci-fi that’s sat on my TBR pile. Here are just a few of the books that I’m looking forward to reading soon. In no particular order, may I present for your consideration:


Autonomous, by Annalee Newitz
(Orbit Books, May 2018)
Paperback, review copy

Earth, 2144. Jack is an anti-patent scientist turned drug pirate, traversing the world in a submarine as a pharmaceutical Robin Hood, fabricating cheap medicines for those who can’t otherwise afford them. But her latest drug hack has left a trail of lethal overdoses as people become addicted to their work, doing repetitive tasks until they become unsafe or insane.
Hot on her trail is an unlikely pair: Eliasz, a brooding military agent, and his indentured robotic partner, Paladin. As they race to stop information about the sinister origins of Jack’s drug from getting out, they begin to form an uncommonly close bond that neither of them fully understands.
And underlying it all is one fundamental question: is freedom possible in a culture where everything, even people, can be owned?

Iron Gold, by Pierce Brown
(Hodder & Stoughton, January 2018)
Hardback (signed!), own copy

A decade ago, Darrow was the hero of the revolution he believed would break the chains of the Society. But the Rising has shattered everything: Instead of peace and freedom, it has brought endless war. Now he must risk everything he has fought for on one last desperate mission. Darrow still believes he can save everyone, but can he save himself?
And throughout the worlds, other destinies entwine with Darrow’s to change his fate forever: 
A young Red girl flees tragedy in her refugee camp and achieves for herself a new life she could never have imagined.
An ex-soldier broken by grief is forced to steal the most valuable thing in the galaxy—or pay with his life.
And Lysander au Lune, the heir in exile to the sovereign, wanders the stars with his mentor, Cassius, haunted by the loss of the world that Darrow transformed, and dreaming of what will rise from its ashes.

Places in the Darkness, by Chris Brookmyre
(Orbit Books, September 2017)
Hardback, review copy

Hundreds of miles above Earth, the space station Ciudad de Cielo – The City in the Sky – is a beacon of hope for humanity’s expansion into the stars. But not everyone aboard shares such noble ideals. 
Bootlegging, booze, and prostitution form a lucrative underground economy for rival gangs, which the authorities are happy to turn a blind eye to until a disassembled corpse is found dancing in the micro-gravity. 
In charge of the murder investigation is Nikki “Fix” Freeman, who is not thrilled to have Alice Blake, an uptight government goody-two-shoes, riding shotgun. As the bodies pile up, and the partners are forced to question their own memories, Nikki and Alice begin to realize that gang warfare may not be the only cause for the violence.


Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers
(Hodder, July 2018)
Hardback (signed!), own copy

Centuries after the last humans left Earth, the Exodus Fleet is a living relic, a place many are from but few outsiders have seen. Humanity has finally been accepted into the galactic community, but while this has opened doors for many, those who have not yet left for alien cities fear that their carefully cultivated way of life is under threat.
Tessa chose to stay home when her brother Ashby left for the stars, but has to question that decision when her position in the Fleet is threatened.
Kip, a reluctant young apprentice, itches for change but doesn’t know where to find it.
Sawyer, a lost and lonely newcomer, is just looking for a place to belong.
When a disaster rocks this already fragile community, those Exodans who still call the Fleet their home can no longer avoid the inescapable question:
What is the purpose of a ship that has reached its destination?

Red Moon, by Kim Stanley Robinson
(Orbit Books)
Paperback, review copy

IT IS THIRTY YEARS FROM NOW, AND WE HAVE COLONIZED THE MOON. 
American Fred Fredericks is making his first trip, his purpose to install a communications system for China’s Lunar Science Foundation. But hours after his arrival he witnesses a murder and is forced into hiding.
It is also the first visit for celebrity travel reporter Ta Shu. He has contacts and influence, but he too will find that the moon can be a perilous place for any traveler.
Finally, there is Chan Qi. She is the daughter of the Minister of Finance, and without doubt a person of interest to those in power. She is on the moon for reasons of her own, but when she attempts to return to China, in secret, the events that unfold will change everything – on the moon, and on Earth.

Gnomon, by Nick Harkaway
(William Heinemann, October 2017)
Hardback (signed), own copy

In the world of Gnomon, citizens are constantly observed and democracy has reached a pinnacle of ‘transparency.’ Every action is seen, every word is recorded, and the System has access to its citizens’ thoughts and memories–all in the name of providing the safest society in history.
When suspected dissident Diana Hunter dies in government custody, it marks the first time a citizen has been killed during an interrogation. The System doesn’t make mistakes, but something isn’t right about the circumstances surrounding Hunter’s death. Mielikki Neith, a trusted state inspector and a true believer in the System, is assigned to find out what went wrong. Immersing herself in neural recordings of the interrogation, what she finds isn’t Hunter but rather a panorama of characters within Hunter’s psyche: a lovelorn financier in Athens who has a mystical experience with a shark; a brilliant alchemist in ancient Carthage confronting the unexpected outcome of her invention; an expat Ethiopian painter in London designing a controversial new video game, and a sociopathic disembodied intelligence from the distant future.
Embedded in the memories of these impossible lives lies a code which Neith must decipher to find out what Hunter is hiding. In the static between these stories, Neith begins to catch glimpses of the real Diana Hunter–and, alarmingly, of herself. The staggering consequences of what she finds will reverberate throughout the world.

The Lives of Tao, by Wesley Chu
(Angry Robot, April 2013)
paperback, review copy

When out-of-shape IT technician Roen woke up and started hearing voices in his head, he naturally assumed he was losing it. He wasn’t. He now has a passenger in his brain – an ancient alien life-form called Tao, whose race crash-landed on Earth before the first fish crawled out of the oceans. Now split into two opposing factions – the peace-loving, but under-represented Prophus, and the savage, powerful Genjix – the aliens have been in a state of civil war for centuries. Both sides are searching for a way off-planet, and the Genjix will sacrifice the entire human race, if that’s what it takes. Meanwhile, Roen is having to train to be the ultimate secret agent. Like that’s going to end up well…

Illuminae, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
(Allen & Unwin, November 2015)
Paperback, own copy

This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded.
The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.
But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.

The TBR pile contains far more than these eight, but they’re the ones I’m most looking forward to. Have you read any of them? Thoughts, as always, welcome.
Which sci-fi books are *you* looking forward to?

Book month: Favourite sci-fi

Day 3 of Book Month and we turn our attention to the wonderful world of science fiction. I love sci-fi. Some of the first ‘grown-up’ books I read were science fiction – my dad was a huge fan and had a small stash by his bedside table and on a tiny bookshelf in his office at work.

I picked up Harry Harrison’s The Stainless Steel Rat and was hooked. It’s a corking read which zips along without pausing for breath. The thing I love about old sci-fi books is that they’re short, skinny little paperbacks that you can get through in a couple of hours, but packed with excitement, adventure and really wild stuff. This is the story of Slippery Jim DiGriz, ace con-man, and titular Stainless Steel Rat, and his recruitment into the Special Corps, run by criminals to catch criminals. Who better to catch a thief than another thief? Brilliant.

Then there was The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, which ought to need no introduction. If you haven’t read it, what have you been doing with your life?

I read a *lot* of sci-fi in my teenage years. Dune was (and indeed is) fabulous (and possibly Dune Messiah and maybe Children of Dune, but please stop after that and especially before you get to Heretics of Dune which is just batshit crazy).

Then  in the late eighties (yes, I am that old) I discovered one Iain M. Banks, and Consider Phlebas Oh my. It introduced the term ‘space opera’ into my vocabulary and science fiction was never quite the same. I love all of his books, but if I had to pick a favourite it would have to be Against a Dark Background which is oh so very dark, and has the Lazy Guns, which are just completely brilliant. Excession is also a favourite, if only for the Ships squabbling.

Moving onto the mid-nineties and I came across a book marketed as ‘a cross between Blade Runner and The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’. It’s neither one nor the other, but Michael Marshall Smith’s Only Forward is an entirely original blend of smart-talking protagonist, weird & wonderful situations and locations, holding together a dark, funny, unforgettable story. This is the book I’m most likely to recommend to you on any given day. You should also go read his other books too (including his latest, The Anomaly, written as Michael Rutger. Huge fun.) Spares is a very close second behind Only Forward in my book, and some of his short stories are utterly superb, very dark, scary, thought-provoking and funny. If you happen to come across a copy of his collected short stories, More Tomorrow & Other Stories, snap it up. It was only a short print run, but is a great collection. Failing that, go for What You Make It: Selected Short Stories, a shorter collection in paperback.

This post could easily turn into a series broken down by decade if I’m not careful, so let’s move quickly along.

Recently loved sci-fi, a short (hah!) list, in no particular order (other than that which I probably read them)

The Gone-Away World, and Angelmaker, by Nick Harkaway. Just stunningly good. Angelmaker is:

“gangster noir meets howling absurdist comedy as the forces of good square off against the forces of evil, and only an unassuming clockwork repairman and an octogenarian former superspy can save the world from total destruction.”

The Red Rising trilogy (Red Rising, Golden Son and Morning Star), by Pierce Brown. I love these books, and have recommended them to more people than I could comfortably count, the vast majority of whom have gone ‘cor, they were a bit good, eh?’ I also met Pierce at the Hodder HQ Howler Party (namedrop) and he’s thoroughly awesome as well as being a bloody good writer. I hate him.

The Martian, by Andy Weir. Huge amount of fun,  I loved Mark Watney’s adventures on Mars, MacGyvering his way out of being stranded a long, long way from home. (Wasn’t so keen on Artemis, mind you, though it’ll probably make a cracking film if they get the casting right).

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers, and the sequel, A Closed and Common Orbit. Utterly lovely, heartwarming, heartbreaking science fiction of the finest kind.

Here’s Becky talking about her book. If you don’t want to read it after this…

Tracer, by Rob Boffard (plus books 2 and 3 of his Outer Earth trilogy, Zero-G and Impact).  Another author I’ve met in person! A very sunny day in Leeds, where I interrupted Rob and his publicist having lunch to get my book signed 🙂

Top bloke, fantastic writer and possibly the only author who does book reviews in rap form.

and launching a book into space to be the first author reading in space. SPACE!

Defender and Hunted, by GX Todd. Now then. I struggled with whether to include these in the science fiction section. As Gem herself will tell you, they’re pretty hard to classify – part horror, part dystopia, part this, part that. They are both brilliant though, but be warned, Hunted turns you inside out along the way. The plotting is intricately woven through multiple viewpoints, multiple strands and the characters, oh the characters we meet. They’re complex, layered, always fascinating, often frustrating, and sometimes infuriating, but so utterly believable, facing down challenge after challenge, and when you think they can’t possibly take any more…, and you are *not* ready for that ending.

Oh, and I also met Gem at Edge-Lit, and she’s also lovely. What is it with authors who write such dark stories being so utterly nice? There’s a blog post in there somewhere. Sadly I didn’t get a photo with her. Maybe next time…

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi (Redshirts is also brilliant). I just loved this from the first page. Fast-paced, with funny dialogue which fizzes with snark and a glorious cast of characters. We’ve got grand Houses battling for influence with the Emperox, wormholes, sarcastic space captains, pirates, dukes and a glorious cast of minor players in the empire-spanning game of power.

Killing Gravity by Corey J. White (and Void Black Shadow). Dark. Oh so very dark. Bloody and brilliant, and bloody brilliant, these two novellas pack a mean little punch. Very highly recommended.

Killing Gravity is a kick-ass, whip-smart sci-fi short story/novella/novellette(?) which is a pure joy to read. It’s short, sharp and stunningly bloody, with a fiercely independent, void-damned spacewitch as the main protagonist. Echoes of Firefly abound, with a close-knit (albeit smaller) crew on a series of adventures as Mariam ‘Mars’ Xi goes on the hunt for vengeance. For such a short book, a *lot* gets crammed into the narrative.

The cast is refreshingly diverse and interesting, and it features what Warren Ellis described as ‘a cute space ferret of death’. Tell me you’re not intrigued!

Everything About You, by Heather Child. Last on the list, and by no means least. I met Heather at Edge-Lit for her dystopian futures workshop which was brilliant and fascinating, and not a little scary.

Everything About You is an unsettling, creepy techno-thriller which feels all too plausible. Echoes of Black Mirror abound as we follow the story of Freya and her new ‘Smartface’ virtual assistant. Technology has advanced to the point where you can have any personality installed you like, built up from the thousands of interactions that person had with others – emails, texts, voice. Except Freya has a new, bleeding-edge prototype and the voice of her missing sister, who vanished when they were teenagers.

The Smartface knows everything about you, everything you want, everything you need. It feels alive, it feels real. All of which is eerie enough, except that this AI seems to know things that her sister couldn’t possibly know…

 

Right, there we go. That got a bit on the long side, but hey, we’re all book lovers here together, right? What’s your favourite sci-fi book? Have you read any of my favourites? As ever, I’d love to hear what you think.