Atlas Alone (Planetfall #4) by Emma Newman

Atlas Alone Cover

Six months after she left Earth, Dee is struggling to manage her rage toward the people who ordered the nuclear strike that destroyed the world. She’s trying to find those responsible and to understand why the ship is keeping everyone divided into small groups, but she’s not getting very far alone.

A dedicated gamer, she throws herself into mersives to escape and is approached by a designer who asks her to play test his new game. It isn’t like any game she’s played before. Then a character she kills in the climax of the game turns out to bear a striking resemblance to a man who dies suddenly in the real world at exactly the same time. A man she discovers was one of those responsible for the death of millions on Earth.

Disturbed, but thinking it must be a coincidence, Dee pulls back from gaming and continues the hunt for information. But when she finds out the true plans for the future colony, she realizes that to save what is left of humanity, she may have to do something that risks losing her own.

My Thoughts

4 / 5 stars

Atlas Alone is a dark and kinda twisted story with a sting in the tail and an endlessly debatable ending.

Dee is an independent person with a lot of trauma from her past life. She is used to surviving on her own and struggles to connect or open up to people. She is one of the few witnesses of the life-changing event at the end of After Atlas and she feels helpless and lost. She is stuck on a ship with people she doesn’t know and power structures that she doesn’t understand and is finding it very difficult to cope with.

When a mysterious person invades her VR space and offers her the opportunity to take revenge she finds herself forced to face up to the trauma of her past at the same time as her morals and her personality are being tested.

I’m loving Emma Newman’s Planetfall series. I like how each book is its own story, with connections to the others but its own characters and its own story to tell. Atlas Alone follows straight on from the ending of After Atlas but because it’s about a different character it feels like its own, separate story. The setting is still rich in AI and lovely tech details but this one goes much more into the online immersive gaming and social world. It gives this book much more of a cyberpunk feel than the other books in the series.

I had fun trying to guess the identity of Dee’s helper. I did guess it in the end but honestly not that much sooner than Dee did herself and it was an enjoyable bit of mystery mixed in with the sci-fi. I always love a good mystery!

The story is full of suspense and excitement and has a lot of depth to it. There are a lot of parallels in the book with modern slavery, the issues around workers rights and the fears about AI and the way technology is going. Dee finds herself questioning her morals and how far she will go for revenge and to stop the new world society from mistreating their workers. I feel like this would be a good one for a book club discussion! It gets very dark along the way and there are a lot of moral questions.

I loved and hated the ending at the same time. Loved because it worked so well and like I mentioned it raised a lot of moral issues. Hated because I generally like a good happy ending with issues resolved and this was the exact opposite. I got very frustrated with Dee and some of the choices she made, but it all fit the story so I can’t complain too much. You don’t always need a main character that you admire to enjoy or appreciate the story.

Another good entry in the Planetfall series, I’m hoping that the story continues!

I received a free copy in return for an honest review.

Atlas Alone
Planetfall
Emma Newman
Sci-Fi
April 16th 2019
Kindle
320

Before Mars (Planetfall #3) by Emma Newman

Before Mars Cover

After months of travel, Anna Kubrin finally arrives on Mars for her new job as a geologist and de facto artist-in-residence. Already she feels like she is losing the connection with her husband and baby at home on Earth–and she’ll be on Mars for over a year. Throwing herself into her work, she tries her best to fit in with the team.

But in her new room on the base, Anna finds a mysterious note written in her own handwriting, warning her not to trust the colony psychologist. A note she can’t remember writing. She unpacks her wedding ring, only to find it has been replaced by a fake.

Finding a footprint in a place the colony AI claims has never been visited by humans, Anna begins to suspect that her assignment isn’t as simple as she was led to believe. Is she caught up in an elaborate corporate conspiracy, or is she actually losing her mind? Regardless of what horrors she might discover, or what they might do to her sanity, Anna has find the truth before her own mind destroys her.

My Thoughts

Before Mars (Planetfall, #3)Before Mars by Emma Newman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anna Kubrin is newly arrived on Mars, ready to join the team as a geologist. She has been travelling in a spaceship on her own for 6 months, spending most of her lonely time in mersives – VR memories that are recorded by the chip in a person’s brain, that they can go back and relive any time they want.

When Anna gets to Mars though, things aren’t what she expected them to be. She has instinctive emotions towards the other members of the team she meets on Mars that she doesn’t understand. Little, odd things seem out of place and she starts to think that the base’s AI is lying to her, that it is trying to keep her away from one specific location on the Mars surface.

Anna knows that something is wrong but sometimes she doubts her own sanity, not helped by the base’s resident psychiatrist telling her that she is suffering from too much time spent in mersives.

Anna never wanted children, she feels her husband forced the decision on her and now she appears to be suffering from postnatal depression. Unable to form a connection with her daughter she took the opportunity to travel to Mars as a geologist and artist. Now, she feels guilty for her decision at the same time as feeling glad that she has left the claustrophobic atmosphere of her family.

It’s good to have a main character who is a mother struggling with motherhood. Anna is a flawed, struggling woman who is often hard to like but compelling to read about. Her honesty to us and herself about her issues with her child and her husband are refreshing. They are much needed in a world that likes to present motherhood as a mythical state of enlightenment, something that is inbuilt into a woman’s psyche, as though it’s not difficult and as much a trial and error experience as everything else in this world. We need more women characters like this in fiction.

It’s a very clever, twisty plot, is Anna right or is she imagining things? Should she trust the other team members or is she right to be suspicious of them? It took me back and forth between believing Anna and thinking that she is wrong about it all. It kept me guessing as it built up the suspense.

I loved the tech in the book, it takes what we have now and pushes it and expands on it making the setting fell very realistic. It mixes in a mystery, which I also love, and throws in a fair bit of a thriller atmosphere and then mixes it all perfectly. This has to be one of my favourite sci-fi books of the last few years.

Emma Newman is a very versatile author. I never would have imagined after reading the Split Worlds fantasy series that she could be such a good sci-fi author. Each book in this series focuses on different events in the same universe and has different themes and a different feel to them. It’s all very cleverly done, I wish more series were built up like this. For me, she is up there with China Mieville in her refusal to being categorised as an author of a specific genre.

Before Mars follows quite closely the second book in the series, the two tales intertwine at points but I don’t think you will need to have read that to read this. I recommend that you do read that though, and the first one as they are both brilliant and will add a lot to the backstory of this one. Like I said though, no specific need to, if you think this sounds like one you really want to read then you won’t have much of an issue if you start here.

I all around enjoyed this one, I sped through it in a few days and I’ve already started on After Atlas, the next book in the series. I highly recommend this series if you like sci-fi.

Before Mars
Planetfall
Emma Newman
Sci-Fi
April 17th 2018
Kindle
352

Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams by Philip K. Dick

Electric Dreams Cover

The stories that inspired the original dramatic series, premiered January 12, 2018.

Though perhaps most famous as a novelist, Philip K. Dick wrote more than one hundred short stories over the course of his career, each as mind-bending and genre-defining as his longer works. Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams collects ten of the best. In “Autofac,” Dick shows us one of the earliest examples (and warnings) in science fiction of self-replicating machines. “Exhibit Piece” and “The Commuter” feature Dick exploring favourite themes: the shifting nature of reality and whether it is even possible to perceive the world as it truly exists. And “The Hanging Stranger” provides a thrilling, dark political allegory as relevant today as it was when Dick wrote it at the height of the Cold War.

Strange, funny, and powerful, the stories in this collection highlight a master at work, encapsulating his boundless imagination and deep understanding of the human condition.

My Review of Electric Dreams

Philip K. Dick's Electric DreamsPhilip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Electric Dreams is a collection of short stories that were the influence for the episodes in the recent tv series based on Philip K. Dick’s work.

The social and cultural side of a lot of them make the stories feel dated. A lot of the sci-fi is the standard stuff that was doing the rounds in the 50s / 60s – human style service robots etc. I don’t mind this, I love Arthur C. Clarke and Issac Asimov but I found it irritating here. Maybe because he’s touted as super modern and way ahead of his time? Also annoying is that the women are treated like daft bits of fluff that get in the men’s way.

He does have some very interesting ideas though and some of the stories I liked a lot. Autofac is one of my favourites, the idea of AI that runs away with itself due to thoughtless programming is so relevant to tech today that it’s chilling to read.

The Hanging Stranger is another one I liked. The suspense and the feeling of confusion the main character feels are spot on.

So some I liked and some I didn’t. Overall it’s an interesting read, especially to see where a lot of modern stories get their influences from.

Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams
Philip K. Dick
Sci-Fi
November 14th 2017
Paperback
224

Everything About You by Heather Child

everything about you cover

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?

Everything About YouEverything About You by Heather Child
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I loved the idea behind the story and the way that it takes the tech we have today and extrapolates it all just that little bit into what we might have tomorrow!

It made it feel very realistic and relatable, like a world I’m excited to see. If anyone remembers Tomorrow’s World on the BBC, it made me think of that a lot while I was reading it (spaghetti plants aside).

Part of the story is that Freya is struggling to find her own space in the world and I get that, it just felt like she didn’t understand, and didn’t care to understand, basic things about how society works. She was so clueless it was hard to fully grasp the world and how it worked. It was like she’d just been dumped there and was a stranger herself. As the reader we learn the world through the characters and because Freya didn’t understand her world it made me feel lost, like basic parts of the plotline were passing me by.

As an example, Freya goes on a date she’s arranged online and 8 men turn up. She is confused and scared by it but after discussions with her virtual assistant appears to eventually grasp the situation – I never did.

But the more I think about the book after I’ve read it the more I like it. It makes important points about living in an echo chamber, how we need to be careful about passing off control of our own lives, and how much authority we give to artificial voices programmed to guess at what we might want.

I loved the storyline and the tech and I had a lot of sympathy for Freya but I felt like it was hard to get a grasp on the world. It stopped it from being a truly immersive book for me.

Everything About You
Heather Child
Sci-Fi
April 26th 2018
Hardback
352

Salvation by Peter F. Hamilton

Salvation Cover

In 2204, humanity is expanding into the wider galaxy in leaps and bounds. A new technology of linked jump gates has rendered most forms of transporation–including starships–virtually obsolete. Every place on earth, every distant planet mankind has settled, is now merely a step away from any other. And all seems wonderful…until a crashed alien spaceship is found on a newly-located world 89 light years from Earth, harboring seventeen human victims. And of the high-powered team dispatched to investigate the mystery, one is an alien spy…

Bursting with tension and big ideas, this standalone series highlights the inventiveness of an author at the top of his game, as the interweaving story lines tell us not only how humanity arrived at this moment, but also the far-future consequences that spin off from it.

My Review of Salvation

SalvationSalvation by Peter F. Hamilton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, this took me a really long time to read! It starts out with a very interesting story about a crashed alien spaceship. Unfortunately, this story barely gets any page time until right at the end because most of the book is bogged down in not very interesting background stories for all of the characters. It introduces us to a cast of potentially interesting people but then doesn’t give enough time to get to know them to care really what their past stories are.

The back stories were very bog standard action thriller style, lots of heroic, smarter than everyone else manly men running around with guns fighting bad guys. It felt a lot like I imagine a Clive Cussler novel is like but with a sci-fi background to make it more souped up.

It also made me very sad to see the fight for gender equality hasn’t moved on from where we are now in all those years. The best female character in the book, an intelligent and resourceful spy, was there only to get into trouble and be saved by her hero husband.

When the story about the crashed alien ship did get going I actually enjoyed it and then the ending set the next book up to be potentially quite exciting.

There’s a lot that I liked and there are some very interesting ideas but it’s overwhelmed by the ‘black ops’ superhero backstories. It’s potential to be a good series is saved by the ending and I am interested in how the story continues, I’m just not sure if I’m interested enough to actively seek out the next book.

I received a free copy in return for an honest review.

Salvation
Peter F. Hamilton
Sci-Fi
September 6th 2018
Paperback
576

The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod

The Night Sessions Cover

The first Enlightenment separated church from state – now the second Enlightenment has separated religion from politics. In this enlightened age there’s no persecution. But the millions who still believe and worship are a marginal and mistrusted minority – and now someone is killing them.

My Review of The Night Sessions

The Night SessionsThe Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A detective story set in Scotland in the near future where religion has been marginalised and robots have started to become self-aware. A priest is murdered and Detective Inspector Adam Ferguson has to solve the crime before the killer strikes again.

I enjoyed this a lot, it has a lot of my favourite things in – a near future setting, self-aware robots and a murder mystery. I loved the setting of a near future Edinburgh. There was a lot of thought put into the tech and the politics and how everything worked and it built a very realistic, familiar but futuristic world.

The mystery and the big reveal weren’t all that amazing but it’s quite dark and it had enough surprises and twists to keep it interesting. All the fun was really in the investigation and all the future tech they were using.

Very readable, The Night Sessions is gritty and dark and it had me hooked. I couldn’t put it down!

The Night Sessions
Ken MacLeod
Sci-Fi
August 7th 2008
324

Jem and the Holograms Vol. 1: Showtime (Jem and the Holograms #1)

Jem Cover

Meet Jerrica Benton—a girl with a secret. She and her sisters team up with to become… JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS! But what does it mean to be JEM today? Fashion, art, action, and style collide in Jem and the Holograms: Showtime! Collects issues #1-6.

My Review of Jem and the Holograms Vol.1: Showtime


Jem and the Holograms Vol. 1: Showtime
by Kelly Thompson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved Jem and the Holograms back in the 80’s. My sister and I had a few of the dolls and Jem’s backstage dressing room – one of my favourite toys!

Its good to see that even though it’s all been brought up to date (massive use of social media and very modern attitudes to life) this is still recognisably Jem. The friendships are front and centre – even more than the original. There is conflict with The Misfits and between Jerrica and Rio but it’s the relations between the women in the two bands that get the most focus.

The art and the colours are absolutely stunning. It’s such a visual treat that I kept flipping back and forwards just to admire it. The fab clothes and hairstyles are still very present, modern but with a very visible 80’s influence. At the risk of sounding shallow, and as much as I love the friendships and the stories, the outfit changes are probably my favourite thing about Jem.

The story in the first volume is about a battle of the bands. How Jerrica becomes Jem is covered very quickly in the first issue. I think that’s my only gripe with this, there’s not much backstory or any information about the characters lives outside of the band. It would be nice to know a bit more about them, so far that’s been sidelined in favour of the more exciting battle of the bands.

If there wasn’t a decent plot behind it all though even the outfits would get boring after a while so I guess it’s still the fun story that kept me interested enough to order the next volume.

Jem is a bright and fun mix of fashion and music and it’s packed full of wonderful female characters. I’m looking forward to reading the next one!

Jem and the Holograms Vol. 1: Showtime
Jem and the Holograms
Kelly Thompson, Ross Campbell, Sophie Campbell
Graphic Novel
March 1st 2015
Paperback
152

The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia

the alchemy of stone cover

Mattie, an intelligent automaton skilled in the use of alchemy, finds herself caught in the middle of a conflict between gargoyles, the Mechanics, and the Alchemists. With the old order quickly giving way to the new, Mattie discovers powerful and dangerous secrets — secrets that can completely alter the balance of power in the city of Ayona.

However, this doesn’t sit well with Loharri, the Mechanic who created Mattie and still has the key to her heart — literally!

A steampunk novel of romance, political intrigue, and alchemy, The Alchemy of Stone represents a new and intriguing direction by the author of the critically-acclaimed The Secret History of Moscow.

My Review of The Alchemy of Stone

The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“She could never quite bring herself to hate him – she teetered on the brink often, never crossing over. She had learned resentment and annoyance while being with him, and cold gloating joy; but there was also contentment and sympathy, and pity and gratitude.”

“This city watches you always,” he murmured. He pulled Mattie closer, his arms wrapping about her waist and his face buried in her skirts. Mattie thought then that it was rather sad that he sought comfort by embracing a machine-the construct that was not built to give it. But she tried, and the trying threatened to rend her heart in half.

The Alchemy of Stone is a beautifully written and haunting tale about a wind-up woman who just wants to be in control of her own life.

Mattie is an automaton created by a mechanic called Loharri. He just wanted a companion to care for him and ease his loneliness but instead, he found that he had created an intelligent, self-aware and independent woman. When Mattie becomes an alchemist Loharri reluctantly allows her to leave to live her own life but he refuses to relinquish control of the key to Mattie’s heart – a literal key the automaton needs to wind herself to life.

In the world around Mattie and Loharri, the Mechanics and the Alchemists are at loggerheads with each other as they compete for control of the city. The mechanics are bringing progress, steam-powered machines and analytical computers, upsetting the balance of power between them and the alchemists and pressing the poor and the farmers into working the mines. Stone gargoyles watch over the city as the tensions escalate into bombings and rebellion.

Through all this Mattie is just trying to keep safe her little part of the world and most importantly get her key from Loharri so she can be free from being dependant on him.

“What do you want?”

“My key” Mattie answered. “All I ever wanted was my key and he has it. You can’t steal it, it is bound to him. But he can give it to you, and he won’t give it to me.”

Iolanda touched Mattie’s hand. “You poor thing,” she whispered. “I had no idea.”

“Do you understand then?”

Iolanda nodded. “Show me a woman who wouldn’t.”

The author has created a beautifully imagined gothic tinged steampunk world. The alchemist’s potions and the mechanic’s creations bring a wonderful mix of old vs new and all the tensions that come along with it. The gargoyles sit watching all the events and their commentary provides an extra layer of understanding for the readers.

I would have liked a bit more depth in the gargoyles and in exploring Mattie’s relationships with the friends that she attempts to make. I feel like these were skimmed over a bit, the story of the gargoyles especially. But what it does explore is the issue of Mattie’s independence – what it means to be a woman in control of her own life and this I think is done very well.

It’s an engaging and deeply moving read and I loved the steampunk world with the gargoyles and the mechanic’s creations and the alchemist’s potions. I already want to re-read it just to experience the beautiful writing again!

The Alchemy of Stone
Ekaterina Sedia
Steampunk
November 10th 2009
Paperback
344

Ensnared by Rita Stradling

Ensnared Cover

Ensnared Blurb

A Near-Future Retelling of Beauty and the Beast

Alainn’s father is not a bad man. He’s a genius and an inventor. When he’s hired to create the robot Rose, Alainn knows taking the money is a mistake.

Rose acts like a human. She looks exactly like Alainn. But, something in her comes out wrong.

To save her father from a five year prison sentence, Alainn takes Rose’s place. She says goodbye to the sun and goes to live in a tower no human is allowed to enter. She becomes the prisoner of a man no human is allowed to see.

Believing that a life of servitude lies ahead, Alainn finds a very different fate awaits her in the company of the strange, scarred recluse.

This novel contains adult situations and is only suitable for readers who are 18+.

My Review of Ensnared

EnsnaredEnsnared by Rita Stradling
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ensnared is based on Beauty and the Beast, but it takes the basic idea and runs with it, throwing in sci-fi elements with automatons, AI, and self-aware robots.

I was expecting a young adult story from the blurb, but it’s aimed at adults.

If I’m being honest the story is daft, there’s not a lot of world building, and there are plot holes you can drive a truck through. But it’s also a lot of fun, with likeable characters.

I liked Alainn, she’s independent and not afraid to speak her mind, but she’s not perfect. She’s not overly intelligent and is prone to taking risks that endanger her life. It’s this daredevil impulse that leads her to agree to impersonate the robot Lorccan has ordered to save her father from going to jail. It (kind of) makes sense in context.

Lorccan is a recluse who is scared of germs and has little to no experience of other people. I can almost believe he doesn’t realise that he got a real person instead of a robot, even though Alainn is very, very bad at pretending to be a robot. She doesn’t even think about how she is going to eat, so almost starves herself at first. I think about food all the time, so if I was going to have to pretend to be a robot somewhere it’s probably the first thing I would worry about.

I liked that Lorcann’s problems aren’t magically fixed by the power of lurve. At the end of the book, he still can’t leave his home for fear of germs. It’s clear that it’s a bigger, ongoing issue that Alainn can’t fix for him.

My favourite character in this has to be Shelley. She has anxiety, and battles with herself when she pushes herself way out of her comfort zone to help Alainn when things go wrong. She reaches a point where she can’t force herself any further and leaves with the police instead of escaping with Alainn. I loved that she wasn’t treated as a coward for this, instead, Alainn thanks her and calls her a badass.

If you want something that’s not going to tax your brain and you can just enjoy reading it, then this is a good choice. I read it in a day, I didn’t want to put it down. I even had to have it propped up in front of me while I was brushing my teeth!

I received a free copy from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Ensnared
Rita Stradling
Sci-Fi
May 23rd 2017
Kindle
419

House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds

House of Suns

Book Description

Six million years ago, at the dawn of the starfaring era, Abigail Gentian fractured herself into a thousand male and female clones, which she called shatterlings. But now, someone is eliminating the Gentian line. Campion and Purslane, two shatterlings who have fallen in love and shared forbidden experiences, must determine exactly who, or what, their enemy is, before they are wiped out of existence.

My Review of House of Suns

House of SunsHouse of Suns by Alastair Reynolds

The clones of the Gentian line, known as shatterlings, have spent millions of years travelling the galaxy with the aim of seeing as much as they can and reuniting after every journey to share the knowledge amongst themselves. They are eternal tourists, long lived with deep sleep technology, and time does not mean the same thing to them as it does to us.

One tour of the galaxy can take hundreds of thousands of years, by the time one of them returns to a previously visited planet whole civilisations can have risen and fallen!

To be able to travel this way they have some truly amazing spaceships and technology that allows them to extend their lifetimes or sleep in suspended animation for the journeys between planets.

Alistair Reynolds has a talent for writing massive tales of galaxy and time spanning proportions, and House of Suns does not disappoint. But he also manages to ground these space operas with human and relatable characters. Here we have Campion and Purslane, two Gentian clones that have fallen in love with each other and now risk being shunned by the rest of the shatterlings in their line.

Through their eyes we experience the wonders of the galaxy, and the people they meet on their travels. Campion is a bit of a wild card, prone to risky decisions and ill-advised schemes, and Purslane is a much more sensible and sophisticated character, she is thoughtful and compassionate.

Along the way they pick up Hesperus, a ‘Machine Person’ they rescue from a con-man, almost by mistake. Hesperus is a self-aware robot that is far smarter, stronger and much more adaptable than humans are, but he has lost his memory.

Their spaceships are almost characters in their own right. Intelligent and unique, when one of the characters almost looses her spaceship she reacts as though she is losing a loved friend.

So this has everything I would want in a book, spaceships, robots, amazing tech, I basically loved it from the first page! Then the Gentian line’s reunion is ambushed and the Gentians are almost wiped out, and the story becomes almost a murder mystery.

There are some bigger themes in there too, questioning if the use of torture can ever be justified, and the treatment of less advanced or less powerful cultures

I can’t really be objective about this book so I’m not going to even try. I loved it and I think it’s a must read for anyone that enjoys sci-fi.

View all my reviews on GoodReads

House of Suns
Alastair Reynolds
Sci-Fi
April 17th 2008
502