C. Robert Cargill, Sea of Rust (2017)

Sea of Rust cover

Author: C. Robert Cargill

Title: Sea of Rust

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 365

Series: –

Cargill’s Sea of Rust is an intriguing spiritual offspring of M.R. Carey’s The Girl with All the Gifts and George Miller’s Mad Max series, fostered by Fritz Lang and Ralph McQuarrie. Seriously! While I was reading this book, I had basically the original concept art from New Hope in my mind 😉  There’s also  a noticeable shadow of Matrix here, too, though in ochre, burnt sienna and beiges instead of cold greens and blacks. A comic book reader can also detect a more than passing affinity to Mark Millar’s pessimistic vision from Old Man Logan. You get the gist, I believe: Sea of Rust is a kaleidoscopic collection of modern pop-cultural inspirations and references, subversively employed to tell a story as old as human culture: the story of patricide and primal sin, of determinism and hope. It is a fast-paced, engaging reimagining of the social evolutionary concept that the world we live in is a ruthless, cruel one, in which survival of the fittest remains the only rule.

SW Ralph McQuarrie

What is Sea of Rust about? Imagine the future where Earth is a dusty husk of its former self. There are no biological life-forms left, all destroyed in an AI revolution that went too far, like overwhelming majority of earlier revolutions. Imagine a world destroyed, rusting and increasingly bereft of sense. The sentient children of the revolution finally realize, too little too late, that the humans they have destroyed gave them a sense of purpose. Without them, the only value and the only norm left is the one of survival, and as the biggest and more powerful AIs increasingly perceive might as the only right, and allow themselves to be ruled by the inescapable logic of economical consolidation, even survival becomes nigh impossible.

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Marlon James, Black Leopard, Red Wolf (2019)

black leopard red wolf

Author: Marlon James

Title: Black Leopard, Red Wolf

Format: Paperback

Pages: 620

Series: The Dark Star Trilogy #1

“The child is dead. There is nothing left to know.” p. 3

If Quentin Tarantino and Guillermo del Toro ever had a child who was an empath with deep, abiding love for Africa and penchant for intimate, graphic violence, his name might have been Marlon James. Black Leopard, Red Wolf elicits quite extreme reactions from readers – from hate to confusion to appreciation to love – and after reading it I no longer find this surprising. It is indeed a visceral, shockingly brutal and sometimes outright nightmarish journey through atrocities and evils, real and imagined. When James writes that there are two pages in this book that his mother is not allowed to read, I feel I know exactly which two pages he talks about; and they are horrifying in the portrayal of the most intimate, vengeful violence. And yet Black Leopard, Red Wolf is also a book describing with heartbreaking detail the fleeting, protean essence of happiness; the capriciousness of fate and coincidence; the twisted, uncanny ways of human heart. At 620 pages of dense, challenging prose Black Leopard, Red Wolf is James’s absolutely stunning tour de force; a classic Bildungsroman set in the mythical neverwhen of pre-colonial Africa, where monsters prowl the land and sometimes hide behind human eyes, where humans take on animal forms, where magic is ordinary, and miracles are everyday occurrences, but where human kindness is rarer than gold.

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Alastair Reynolds, Galactic North (2006)

Galactic North

Author: Alastair Reynolds

Title: Galactic North

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Series: Revelation Space #6

A collection of short stories and novellas from the Revelation Space universe, Galactic North showcases both the enviable scope of imagination and the undeniable literary skill  of the erstwhile astrophysicist Alastair Reynolds. The collection was recommended to me by two bloggers whose advice I value highly: Maddalena at Space and Sorcery, and Bookstooge, and I must thank them once again for their recommendation – I wasn’t disappointed.

Reynolds’s dry writing style, his rather pessimistic general worldview and, particularly, outlook for humanity, the focus on grey moral areas and difficult choices, as well as his attention to technical and logical detail are all strongly reminiscent of the characteristics of one of my favorite SF authors of all time, Stanisław Lem. In a way, I see Reynolds as his successor, writing cautionary tales set in the far future, which could easily have been a long-forgotten, fantastical past.

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Yoon Ha Lee, Ninefox Gambit (2016)

Ninefox Gambit

Author: Yoon Ha Lee

Title: Ninefox Gambit

Format: Paperback

Pages: 512

Series: Machineries of Empire #1

This year started out very well – at least with regards to my SF reading 😉 I have only had the misfortune of reading one dud during these first two months of 2020, and it was fantasy, which I’ll definitely scour in a scathing review sometime in the future – but as this review deals with a violent military SF of the highest order, I shall focus on that with all the delight and diligence it deserves.

Ninefox Gambit, the first installment in Lee’s Machineries of Empire trilogy, presents a world in which math is the language of magic. Or, more precisely, where math begets magic – as long as there are people who absolutely believe in this possibility. The magic of math – of geometry and probability, of statistics and analysis – is a lethal one. The unforgiving inevitability of right angles and straight lines alters the fabric of the universe, creating temporal pockets of reality where life becomes impossible. Radiation, mutation, extreme temperatures – whatever you like, whatever you deem necessary, is at the tips of your fingers. The only thing you need to do is to have enough soldiers to make a meaningful formation and keep it despite constant winnowing by the opposite forces – and, of course, social belief.

Here’s where things become tricky. The power of the mathematical magic is based on popular belief. It can be upheld only through meticulously calculated and obsessively observed rituals and modes of behavior dictated by a uniformly accepted calendar: such and such number of days in a week; such and such day a sacred one; such and such rituals falling on certain dates; such and such number of human sacrifices made when occasion demands. The belief must be absolute and unquestioned; it must form the foundation of the people’s worldview, must be inculcated from the start and rigorously, continuously reinforced. Otherwise you’re bound to find calendrical rot at the core of your perfectly oiled and ticking empire – a dissident movement, a desperate revolution against the totalitarian society which treats an individual only as a replaceable cog in the machine.

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R.J. Barker, The Bone Ships (2019)

The Bone Ships

Author: R.J. Barker

Title: The Bone Ships

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 512

Series: The Tide Child #1

This is a book I’ve been alluding to in our posts for a while now – not surprisingly, since I read it in early December last year 😉 But I find I have a long period of book digestion – let’s call it rumination, and imagine the slow process of cellulose being turned into energy in the many stomachs of certain animals… 😀

I knew from the beginning how I would start this particular review, however. Here goes! 😉

Some authors are known for writing one book for their whole lives. The characters’ names change, the setting differs, the plot varies every time, but one crucial thing stays always the same – be it a topic especially close to the author’s heart, a crucial relationship, explored time and again it its various incarnations, or certain character traits, a mythical connection, or even a worldview, appearing unannounced here and there in every book. R.J. Barker seems to fit this category admirably – building complex, nuanced worlds and populating them with believable characters, who nevertheless remain familiar to the readers of his previous books.

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Neal Asher, The Line of Polity (2003)

The Line of Polity

Author: Neal Asher

Title: The Line of Polity

Format: Paperback

Pages: 485

Series: Agent Cormac 2

This review was promised in our summary post for 2019, so I actually twisted my right arm with my left to sit down and write it in the middle of sunny summer ;).

Having reviewed both the first installment, Gridlinked, and the third installment, Brass Man, I’m in a bit of a pickle when it comes to choosing the content for this entry. Probably, it would be sufficient to say that The Line of Polity was the book that thoroughly and inevitably sold me on Asher’s Polity universe, and even if I don’t agree with all the political and ideological views of the author, I plan to remain a devoted fan.

Polity is not as pleasant and safe place as Banks’ Culture, nor is it as boring ;). The immense and mind-bogglingly diverse universe (..and I’m sure I could find another -verse fitting here :P) containing Polity, the human society ruled by nearly omniscient AIs, is a wonderful treat for all SF fans. But Asher goes further than just worldbuilding, however impeccable: he creates a world alive – rife with conflict, ambitions, and emotions, not only human, but also AI. And for a series featuring amazing battle sequences, both in the space and on the ground, Asher spends a lot of time considering the sentience. True, his AIs are very human, but reading Polity books I have a feeling they are this way by design, and not simple lack of thought or convenience. After all, they have been created by humans, influenced by the constant contact with humans, and, in a world where alien sentient races are considered more of a myth or a cautionary tale from the past than reality, AIs remain in a direct relation to humans. This relation can morph into a myriad different constellations: a mirror image, a role model, a dependent, spoiled child, a doted-upon prodigy, a master, an apprentice, a pest, a threat, a hobby… Asher deftly shows the variety of responses possible between sentient beings, each of which has something the other doesn’t possess, and subtly incorporates them into his tightly woven narrative.

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James Lovegrove, Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon (2019)

Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon

Author: James Lovegrove

Title: Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 384

Series: Sherlock Holmes (Titan Books)

Right on time for the fast-approaching Christmas season, a new Sherlock Holmes novel hit the shelves this October. It is quite an eye-candy: a wonderfully bright and festive cover draws the eye and at the first glance invokes the spirit of Yuletide, and the interior is equally lovingly arranged. A nice gift for any bookworm, and especially for all those Sherlock Holmes fans out there 🙂

As for the content, well… 🙂 I must admit, I am always a bit wary of books utilizing characters created by someone else – especially characters like Sherlock Holmes, arguably the world’s most famous detective, whose existence is irrevocably and undeniably bound with that of his creator, sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Books about such renowned characters, written by other authors, always seem to me slightly too close to fan fiction for my liking. In that context, Gaiman’s and Albuquerque’s A Study in Emerald is a notable exception here, offering a very welcome and impeccably executed twist on the Holmesian (or should it rather be Sherlockian?) lore, masterfully intertwined with Lovecraftian Cthulhu mythos. But in case of Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon, I didn’t mind the fanfic associations in the slightest: the author was respectful but not overly fawning over its source material, managing to strike a nice balance between the spirit of original Sherlock Holmes novels and his own voice and delivering a pleasant new storyline to the ever-growing Holmesian. Plus, the book came with recommendation from Aaron at Swords and Spectres, and I learned to trust his tastes (…well, in most cases! :D).

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