Railsea by China Miéville

Railsea cover

The Blurb

On board the moletrain Medes, Sham Yes ap Soorap watches in awe as he witnesses his first moldywarpe hunt. The giant mole bursting from the earth, the harpoonists targeting their prey, the battle resulting in one’s death & the other’s glory are extraordinary. But no matter how spectacular it is, travelling the endless rails of the railsea, Sham senses that there’s more to life. Even if his captain can think only of her obsessive hunt for one savage mole.

When they find a wrecked train, it’s a welcome distraction. But the impossible salvage Sham finds there leads to trouble. Soon he’s hunted on all sides: by pirates, trainsfolk, monsters & salvage-scrabblers. & it might not be just Sham’s life that’s about to change. It could be the whole of the railsea.

My Thoughts

4 / 5 stars

Railsea is a young adult adventure story with a steampunk vibe, a Moby Dick retelling set in a dystopian future. The sea has been replaced with railway lines, ships with trains, and whales with giant moles that burrow through the ground.

China Mieville has reigned in his darker, grittier side, but not by as much as you might have imagined. I feel he strikes just the right balance for a young adult audience – they’re not daft and they don’t need to be sheltered from the realities of life but also the more twisted side of his writing has been left out. The book makes sense and is easy to follow without having to think too hard about it.

His sense of humour is front and centre though, he uses Moby Dick as an influence but also pokes fun at it at the same time. Each train captain has their nemesis mole, the one they feel compelled to hunt down and destroy, but what happens when two captains claim the same nemesis?

The story follows Sham, a teenager / young man who is looking for his purpose in life. He can’t settle to anything but sees joining a moler train as a way to feed his need for adventure.

I loved reading about life on the moler trains and I found it easy to lose myself in the world of Railsea. The Moby Dick influence is used as a starting point but it doesn’t feel like it confines or directs the story, it quickly breaks out into a tale of its own. There are a lot of other references to stories like Robinson Crusoe dropped in along the way too, picking them out is half the fun of the book!

My favourite characters: the Shaokes, twin inventors who are building their own train in a determined bid to go out and search for their lost parents. Meeting these two kicks Sham off on the adventure he’s always wanted as he joins them on their search. They also bring a lot more of the steampunk vibe in, which I love! In an alternate reality, I could imagine myself as a Shoake.

I read this on my honeymoon and finished it in less than a day. There’s a lot in here for adults too, it has youngish characters but it could just have easily been filed in the adult category. I was super excited to read it and I wasn’t disappointed at all.

Railsea is as odd, inventive and strange as I’ve come to expect from China Mieville and I recommend to anyone who likes adventures, steampunk and a bit of weirdness.

Railsea
China Miéville
Young Adult Sci-Fi
April 25th 2013
Paperback
376

Stronger, Faster, And More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton

stronger faster and more beautiful cover

The Blurb

For fans of television shows Black Mirror and Westworld, this compelling, mind-bending novel is a twisted look into the future, exploring how far we will go to remake ourselves into the perfect human specimen and what it means to be human at all.

Set in our world, spanning the near to distant futures, Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful is a novel made up of six interconnected stories that ask how far we will go to remake ourselves into the perfect human specimens, and how hard that will push the definition of “human.”

This extraordinary work explores the amazing possibilities of genetic manipulation and life extension, as well as the ethical quandaries that will arise with these advances. The results range from the heavenly to the monstrous. Deeply thoughtful, poignant, horrifying, and action-packed, Arwen Elys Dayton’s Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful is groundbreaking in both form and substance.

My Thoughts

Speculative fiction focusing on the future of body mods – how might humans enhance themselves and the ethical issues and inequalities that this enhancement raises.

The book is laid out in 6 short stories, each one leading us further into a distant future. The stories are self-contained and focus on a different person in each time that has to face the ethics and issues raised by body mods and genetic engineering. Some of the characters I connected with more than others, funnily enough, even though the first story with the bullying and the mistreatment a girl faces at her school is the most relatable, I didn’t care for it at all. Some of the later stories though, especially terminally ill Jake who is modified against his will into a cyborg used by a big corporation for mining work, I found very moving.

I also really like the final story which concerns a group of people with no mods who are treated as research fodder for the more technically advanced majority. Forced to live in isolation they must not be allowed any tech or outside help to ensure that they stay as ‘pure’ as possible so they can be studied and kept as potential genetic material.

The author has a great imagination but has managed to keep a laser focus on the story she set out to tell. Even though she takes us to a distant future with some fancy tech and asks some big questions, the human side of the issues are kept front and centre. Even in the most distant of futures, the author is raising questions about things that affect people today.

This might be considered young adult fiction, and the characters are all teenagers, but there is issues here that everyone can relate to and ideas that challenge all of us. And best of both worlds because it’s entertaining to just read as a story too!

Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful
Arwen Elys Dayton
Young Adult Sci-Fi
December 4th 2018
Paperback
384

The Power by Naomi Alderman

The Power Cover

What if the power to hurt were in women’s hands?

Suddenly – tomorrow or the day after – teenage girls find that with a flick of their fingers, they can inflict agonizing pain and even death. With this single twist, the four lives at the heart of Naomi Alderman’s extraordinary, visceral novel are utterly transformed.

My Thoughts

I enjoyed The Power, it’s very readable, but not nearly as original or groundbreaking as I was hoping for.

It tries for a very serious style, jumping between people and events in a way similar to World War Z but some of the events come off a little too far fetched and daft to make it really work. It’s not as gritty as it wants to be and sometimes I caught myself thinking ‘that’s so silly how would that work’. It jumps around a lot too, it doesn’t stay with any one person long enough to get to know them so the human side of the story and the emotional impact is almost lost.

It’s a story with a premise that the author could have gone anywhere with, there was so much she could have said in this book but she just wrote about a straight role reversal, the women end up just like the men. I don’t know if maybe she was trying to say something about how power corrupts or how deep down we’re all really the same but if so it didn’t come across very well.

For a speculative sci-fi book it would be ok and an interesting read but it’s got such an attention-grabbing blurb and it’s been so massively hyped that it ends up being disappointing.

The Power
Naomi Alderman
Sci-Fi
April 6th 2017
Paperback
341

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

The Poison Song (The Winnowing Flame Trilogy #3) by Jen Williams

poison song cover

From Jen Williams, three-time British Fantasy Award finalist comes the electrifying conclusion to the Winnowing Flame trilogy. Exhilarating epic fantasy for fans of Robin Hobb.

Jump on board a war beast or two with Vintage, Noon and Tor and return to Sarn for the last instalment of this epic series where the trio must gather their forces and make a final stand against the invading Jure’lia.

My Thoughts

The Poison Song (The Winnowing Flame Trilogy, #3)The Poison Song by Jen Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was so excited to get my hands on The Poison Song, the last book in The Winnowing Flame trilogy! I’ve been waiting for this for two years now. And happily, it didn’t disappoint.

It shows how much I’ve enjoyed this series that I could remember what happened in the last two books. Normally I forget everything and have to keep checking back, especially if it’s been a while, but the storyline of this series has stayed with me.

And there’s a lot of story that’s been crammed into these three books! It works and it never felt overwhelming or like it was moving too fast but there’s a lot going on. So much so that right up until the last third of the book I couldn’t see how the story could come to a conclusion by the last page. Jen Williams has very cleverly made this intertwined story come together and wrap everything up neatly, but without feeling forced. I don’t know how she’s managed it, the woman is a genius!

So, the storyline I don’t want to talk about too much because I don’t want to give anything away if you haven’t read the first two books. But it starts with an event that I’ve been waiting for since the first book when Noon goes back with her warbeast to where she was imprisoned for so long and makes them see the error of their ways (to put it nicely). Aside from that though things are looking bad for the warbeasts and their riders. They are damaged and battered from their fights in the last book and they have lost one of their own but despite all that, they have become a team. They now trust each other and are working together.

The Jure’lia, who I still think are some of the creepiest and scariest villains, are also battered and their Queen is distracted trying to fix the crystal. Hestillion won’t let them give in though and uses her knowledge of her world to give them strategy and make them attack with a purpose, something the Jure’lia have been lacking.

There are some epic battles in this book! Hestillion is scarily clever and the warbeasts and their riders have to pull out all the stops to fight her. Noon and Vintage have their own adventures – I loved Vintage’s storyline in this one. She is by far my favourite character and she was already kinda awesome but I enjoyed watching her out on her own without Noon and Tor to back her up.

I’m still not sure how I feel about the ending. I admire authors that make brave decisions but I also kinda hate it at the same time and I wish it hadn’t ended like that. This is one I need time to recover from.

The Winnowing Flame is modern and fresh fantasy and it’s one of my favourite series of the last few years and it ended super strong with The Poison Song. I hope Jen Williams style starts to influence other fantasy authors.

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

The Poison Song
The Winnowing Flame Trilogy
Jen Williams
Fantasy
May 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

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas

psychology of time travel cover

1967: Four female scientists invent a time-travel machine. They are on the cusp of fame: the pioneers who opened the world to new possibilities. But then one of them suffers a breakdown and puts the whole project in peril.

2017: Ruby knows her beloved Granny Bee was a pioneer, but they never talk about the past. Though time travel is now big business, Bee has never been part of it. Then they receive a message from the future–a newspaper clipping reporting the mysterious death of an elderly lady.

2018: When Odette discovered the body, she went into shock. Blood everywhere, bullet wounds, flesh. But when the inquest fails to answer any of her questions, Odette is frustrated. Who is this dead woman that haunts her dreams? And why is everyone determined to cover up her murder?

My Thoughts

The Psychology of Time TravelThe Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“We’ve done it,” Babara said, “You bloody brilliant women. We’ve done it.”

They hugged, their voices mingling as they spoke over each other, and Babara’s vision blurred with tears. She was so grateful – for Lucielle’s superluminal research, and Grace’s thermodynamics, and Margaret’s utter, unshakeable conviction that they would succeed. The team were pioneers. They were going to be the first people to travel through time.

I loved that it involved a murder mystery – one of my favourite things – and then combined it with a sci-fi story – another of my favourite things! But it kinda disappointingly didn’t go anywhere. Also, it confused me. Maybe I missed something reading it but I didn’t get the whole candy box thing and didn’t get why it was left there and why they knew when to go back.

Another thing I love is that the majority of the scientists and important people were women, as though it was just a normal thing. I didn’t like any of the characters though. As people go these were pretty miserable, selfish group. There were also so many storylines and different themes running that it made it hard to keep track of what was happening to who. I think that contributed massively to my confused feelings reading it.

It’s well written though, there’s enough in this one book to fill three or four different books and I think that if the author had trimmed this back a bit I would have really loved it.

The time travel company was interesting and well thought out – it created its own rules and morals and basically, it’s own eco-system. It set itself apart from the rest of the world as something special because it owned time travel. As another book club member pointed out (hi Mum!) the book seemed to be trying to create a parallel with the Google’s and the Facebook’s of the world – an entity with so much control and power that it thinks itself above the laws.

On the psychology side, the book delves into the ways in which time travel might affect a person. How they become hardened to death and how they deal with romantic relationships and meeting oneself in the future or the past. This was the most interesting aspect of the book for me, I liked seeing the ways the people, and the company itself, dealt with the issues.

I enjoyed reading it and I loved some of the ideas and themes running through it but overall I thought it too messy with too many characters, none of them likeable enough to make me care for them.

The Psychology of Time Travel
Kate Mascarenhas
Sci-Fi
August 9th 2018
Paperback
320

When the Floods Came by Clare Morrall

When the floods came cover

A taut, gripping novel set in the future, when the lives of a family existing on the margins of a dramatically changed society are upset by a mysterious stranger.
In a world prone to violent flooding, Britain, ravaged 20 years earlier by a deadly virus, has been largely cut off from the rest of the world. Survivors are few and far between, most of them infertile. Children, the only hope for the future, are a rare commodity.

For 22-year-old Roza Polanski, life with her family in their isolated tower block is relatively comfortable. She’s safe, happy enough. But when a stranger called Aashay Kent arrives, everything changes. At first he’s a welcome addition, his magnetism drawing the Polanskis out of their shells, promising an alternative to a lonely existence. But Roza can’t shake the feeling that there’s more to Aashay than he’s letting on. Is there more to life beyond their isolated bubble? Is it true that children are being kidnapped? And what will it cost to find out?

My Thoughts

When the Floods CameWhen the Floods Came by Clare Morrall
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When the Floods Came felt very realistic – both the tech and the world. The UK population has been desolated by a virus. Most people have flocked together to create a community in Brighton but there are still people like Roza’s family who live isolated but still in contact through the online world. They are very secretive about their home and where they live which makes sense because they are isolated and quite vulnerable. Roza works remotely for a company overseas – the virus never crossed the seas so the rest of the countries in the world survived and now send aid to the UK.

I loved the first part of the book, finding out about the world and what has happened to leave this family so isolated. But when Aashay turns up it moves away into more of a psychological thing. Though I can’t understand why they were so taken in – Aashay’s charming personality does not come across on paper at all and neither does his scary, dark side.

The part about the missing children and the way the family had “adopted” a child never went anywhere. It always seemed like it was building up to something sinister but by the end, this thread had been dropped. It’s a shame because this was more interesting than the story about

If this had stayed a story about a family trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world where children are in danger of being kidnapped I probably would have loved it but I wasn’t sold on the addition of Aashay.

When the Floods Came
Clare Morrall
Sci-Fi
February 11th 2016
Paperback
352

Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh

do you dream of terra-two cover

A century ago, scientists theorised that a habitable planet existed in a nearby solar system. Today, ten astronauts will leave a dying Earth to find it. Four are decorated veterans of the 20th century’s space-race. And six are teenagers, graduates of the exclusive Dalton Academy, who’ve been in training for this mission for most of their lives.

It will take the team 23 years to reach Terra-Two. Twenty-three years spent in close quarters. Twenty-three years with no one to rely on but each other. Twenty-three years with no rescue possible, should something go wrong. And something always goes wrong.

My Thoughts

Do You Dream of Terra-Two?Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Do you Dream of Terra-Two? gets off to a slow start taking it’s time to introduce all the different characters and the relationships between them. It sounds like a bad thing but it’s really not because it’s so well done. There is a large cast but they’re not hard to follow and all of them have something to like about them.

I was hooked right from the start when these young wannabe astronauts have to deal with the suicide of one of their number. One minute they are bright young things featuring on the front of magazines and being envied by most of the teenagers in Britain; the next they are having to deal with grief and loss whilst leaving behind their homes (and the plant!) to spend 25 years in close confinement with only about 10 other people. They don’t know what they will find when they get to Terra-Two or even if the planet is habitable and they all deal with the stress in different ways.
The language is beautiful – read slowly for full enjoyment – and I loved all the science in it. The balance between science and human emotions is perfectly right, a note that is often hard to hit in a sci-fi novel.

I got used to it being about people and the way they might deal with leaving their homes and families and everything they know behind. So the turn of events near the end surprised me.

I thought it was just going to be a character drama – and there’s nothing wrong with that, only the blurb made me expect an action-adventure – and the author lands a hit from out of nowhere with a drama filled ending. It shakes things up just when the story felt a bit like it was treading and retreading the same ground. It gets a little bit predictable but it also makes the story a lot more exciting.

I was debating between rating this 4 or 5 stars – the events at the end are a bit too convenient but you know what? I really loved it and that tips it over into 5 stars for me even if it’s not completely perfect.

Do you Dream of Terra-Two? is beautifully written and a perfect blend of sci-fi and humanness. I highly recommend adding this to your to-read list.

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

Do You Dream of Terra-Two?
Temi Oh
Sci-Fi
March 7th 2019
Kindle
528

The Last Children of Tokyo by Yōko Tawada, Margaret Mitsutani (Translator)

Last Children of Tokyo Cover

Yoshiro celebrated his hundredth birthday many years ago, but every morning before work he still goes running in the park with his rent-a-dog. He is one of the many aged-elderly in Japan and he might, he thinks, live forever. Life for Yoshiro isn’t as simple as it used to be. Pollution and natural disasters have scarred the face of the Earth, and even common foods are hard to come by. Still, Yoshiro’s only real worry is the future of his great-grandson Mumei, who, like other children of his generation, was born frail and grey-haired, old before he was ever young.

As daily life in Tokyo grows harder, a secretive organisation embarks on an audacious plan to find a cure for the children of Japan – might Yoshiro’s great-grandson, Mumei, be the key?

A dreamlike story of filial love and glimmering hope, The Last Children of Tokyo is a delicate glimpse of our future from one of Japan’s most celebrated writers.

My Thoughts

The Last Children of TokyoThe Last Children of Tokyo by Yōko Tawada
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nothing much really happens in this little novella but it felt like it packed more into its few pages than most manage to get into three books.

It’s set in Japan in the near future where older people are living longer lives and enjoying great health. But the children being born are old before their time, they have problems eating and walking and can’t play properly. Their bodies decay quickly and they die young but the children seem wiser and more accepting of their status then the adults do.

I like the slow, contemplative pace. The lives of Yoshiro and his grandson Mumei are examined minutely and laid bare for us to see. As sad and difficult as Yoshiro finds the situation, Mumei just accepts his lot in life and carries on as if it’s normal. And for him, it is.

The message of the book seems to be to encourage us to think about what we are doing now: living it large and using up all the resources and polluting the environment is going to leave future generations with a trashed planet and serious health issues.

I’m not sure that much happens but it feels like it does and it’s all very sad.

The language and the writing is beautiful and encourages a slow contemplation of the world. I read slowly because I was trying to take it all in but I still don’t think I understood everything in it – this is one I think will benefit from rereads. I’m sure I missed things in it.

A beautifully written sad and moving look at a scarily possible future.

The Last Children of Tokyo by
Yōko Tawada
Sci-Fi
June 7th 2018
Paperback
144