You know the theorem that an infinite number of monkeys, randomly hitting keys on typewriters, would eventually over an infinite period produce, for example, the collected works of William Shakespeare, yes? Well, here is the book with the most self-deprecating title, ever - who would, in their right mind and the light of the above, call their book Ten Monkeys, Ten Minutes? It’s a rhetorical question, I know.
Ten Monkeys, Ten Minutes is the first short story collection by Peter Watts, published on the heel of the critically acclaimed novel Starfish, and prior to the (differently marvelous) Maelstrom. Overall Peter now has 5-7 novels (it depends a bit on how you count) and two collections to his name, most of which he also makes available via his website for free. And if that makes you think he might have strong opinions about publishers, and about IP, then you would very much be right… A number of the stories in this collection have since been re-released as part of the more recent ‘Beyond the Rift’ collection. I have not checked if these are 100% identical, or if some minor editing or re/writing has taken place. It’s not relevant, I feel - all of them bear re-reading, and completists will want both books anyway.
Below I provide a short overview of the stories in this slim volume, and a capsule review of what they are about and what I thought of them; if you’d rather avoid such spoilers then I’d like to leave you with the recommendation that this is a rather splendid and clever collection, and well worth your time.
Voting for the 2015 Hugo Awards, to be presented at this year's Worldcon, Sasquan, has started. Now, this year's Hugos have caused a bit of a stir, albeit one long in the making. There is much to be read about it on the Interwebs, but, in a nutshell - a group group of SF fans (shall we call them that) felt that 'their' kind of SF was being ignored, underrepresented at the Hugos, for which I have some sympathy (hey, the shortlists would look different if _I_ got to pick them, too). They called themselves Sad Puppies, and organised a voting slate of works they would have preferred to see on the shortlists. Now, this might be within the letter of the law (or the Hugo rules), but violates the spirit of the award and it's administration. But it got worse - a second, affiliated group, calling themselves Rabid Puppies, also issued a slate, which came to dominate the nominations and thus shortlists. Given that their political/ideological orientation is, in my opinion, beyond the pale (this is the "No women, no blacks, no gays" brigade) we all of a sudden have a misogynist, reactionary, racist dominated Hugo shortlist. And this I object to, and will thus vote tactically/politically. Should you have avoided any exposure to the above mess, and planned to vote by the strength of the works on offer only, then be aware - this is also a political vote, and potentially not for something you meant to vote for.
Colin Pillinger, CBE, who died earlier this year, was a planetary scientist best known as the instigator behind the Beagle 2 Mars lander project, and a key figure behind the Philae Lander which was (is?) part of the current Rosetta mission to the comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Besides his scientific publications he has, including the one at hand, 3 further books to his name.
Beagle (that’s the book) describes the back-story to Beagle 2 (that’s the spacecraft), which flew with the 2003 ESA Mars Express mission, to land on Mars on Christmas Day 2003. It was named in honour of the ship, captained by Robert FitzRoy, which took Charles Darwin around the world in the 1830s and led to the writing of On the Origin of Species. Talk about big shoes to fill… The book was written whilst the mission was on its way to Mars, and the outcome was not known yet...
It starts with a Preface by Colin, giving some background on the conception of the mission, how the name was chosen, and how the book came to be (essentially: there was an exhibition on the topic in the Maritime Museum in Greenwich, at which it was suggested that he collect the material and publish it).
This is followed by a page of Acknowledgments - or rather not, as he essentially refuses to make any to avoid the risk of omitting and thus offending someone from the team… I guess that’s one way of dealing with this problem!
The next part of the book is titled On the Origin of Beagle. It expands a bit on the naming story, and introduces the first parallels to HMS Beagle and its famous voyage. Overall this feels like an abstract for the book (no surprise, given the academical background of the author), or a scene-setter.
Justina Robson is a British writer of Science Fiction like the magnificent Natural History, and of the less easily categorisable but hugely entertaining Quantum Gravity series (multi-dimensional urban magic police procedural - ?). Fantastic Fiction lists 10 novels and a collection of short stories under her name – this includes the book at hand, The Glorious Angels, where she attempts to walk the narrow line between SF and Fantasy.
The story plays in the city of Glimshard – a former Sircene Mage City, but now part of the Golden Empire; ruled by an Empress (each of the 8 cities has one, they are mentally linked). Glimshard is at war, due to an expedition into the Southern Fragment, for what is called an 'Excavation'. The army is over-stretched, and the losses are huge and unsustainable. And the dig is in the Karoo forest – the Karoo being one of the decidedly non-human species on this world (although there is a huge amount of snobbery on what is considered human and what not - they definitely are not), and apparently a formidable enemy. I was not sure, for most of the book, what the reason for this was – why this was so important, worth that war, worth risking everything including the Empire. Are they really that desperate? Or that jaded? Or is this only the Empress' doing?
But now a Karoo from the North has arrived, and joined the ranks of the mercenaries propping up the army and the war effort, and things are spinning quickly out of control. There is conflict between the Empresses, someone is plotting against Torada (Glimshard's Empress), the Infomancers are spying on everyone, and Aline, the Minister of Defense, is blackmailing Tralane, a crystallomancer and Matriarch of one of the old Sircene mage families for materials for his (forbidden?) magic weapon projects...
It talks about a society coming out of a (civil) war, about what people do during such a time, even if not directly involved, and what his means you have to live with afterwards, when times and the situation have changed, when you're older, and when your aims and desires have evolved.
Haunting, fascinating, and nominated for the 2014 Nebula Award (which is for stories published in 2014, and will be awarded in 2015).
Warren Ellis is UK based writer of comics (Transmetropolitan, Freakangels, amongst others), books, and is dabbling in film work, too (RED was based on one of his stories, and had his involvement). Note to those not familiar with him (yet, you should be!) – this is not the Warren Ellis playing the violin in Nick Cave's The Bad Seeds, although he sports a similarly impressive beard...
The album at hand, called Trees, Volume One: In Shadow is a collection of the first 8 issues of the on-going series Trees; written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Jason Howard. Number 1 was published in spring 2014, number 8 in January 2015, with this collection hard on its heels.
The setting is simple – this is a world which has been invaded by aliens, and has ever so slightly come apart at the seams as a result of that. Not completely, you see, as this is not your vanilla alien invasion, but out of whack with a slightly post-apocalyptic feel, nevertheless.
As the opening sequence, overlaid over a brutal police raid in Rio against a group flying smart phones on a kite (the rationale is not explained, but I'm sure you can come up with a number of scenarios for what this could be useful for!) states: