Monday, 24 October 2016

Book Review | Dark Made Dawn by J. P. Smythe

There was one truth on Australia, the derelict ship on which Chan was born and raised: you fight or you die. Usually both.

But everything on Australia was a lie. Abandoned and alone, Chan was forced to live a terrible existence on the fringes of society, Australia's only survivor after a terrible crash-landing on Earth.

But Chan discovered she was not alone. Together with the unlikeliest of allies, Chan carved out a place for herself on Earth. And now the time has come: she's finally found a reason to keep going. But friends have become enemies, and enemies have become something worse. It's time for Chan to create her own truths, and discover a life beyond fighting and death: a life beyond Australia.


The Girl Who Fell to Earth finds her feet in Dark Made Dawn, the vital concluding volume of the Arthur C. Clarke Award nominated Australia Trilogy by J. P. Smythe.

It's been a long road for Chan, who murdered her mother mere moments after we met her, crash-landed the prison ship she'd lived on her whole life a little later, and has had to do a whole host of other awful things simply to survive since—but her hellish journey is almost at an end. She's been reunited with her former frenemy, Rex; they've found employment, of a sort, amongst the automatons of walled-off Washington; and the nearby nomads have offered them a home away from home. In short, Chan's dreamed-of destination—a world in which she can be with Mae, come what may—is finally in sight, and I'll be damned if it doesn't look bright!

Then again, it's always darkest before the dawn, and as liveable as her life has been of late, Chan hasn't forgotten how horrible it was as of the offing. She remembers, especially, losing everything after she gave so much of herself to get off the Australia:
I was scared, living in a hovel, subsisting on whatever I could find or whatever Ziegler gave me. I had nothing. Now I can bury those memories, mostly. Those feelings. I've got something that feels like control over my life these days. I have a place in this city. A job. A role. A purpose. 
And so does Rex. 
It doesn't matter that our job is doing what they don't want others to do, or what the others won't. It's still ours. (pp.28-29)
Through their heavily-augmented handler, Hoyle—who just so happens to be sleeping with Chan—she and Rex have blackmailed and intimidated their way through the worst that Washington has to offer.

The job has hardly been a joy, obviously, but it has been a necessary evil. It's helped our poor pair fit in in a city that values obedience over everything else. Chan, for her part, has needed the leeway that being a good citizen has allowed her in order to find some trace of Mae, who was almost a daughter to her on the Australia. But when she and Rex are asked to outright assassinate their next target, they both know that the time has come to either poop or get off the pot...

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Book Review | A City Dreaming by Daniel Polansky

M is a drifter with a sharp tongue, few scruples, and limited magical ability, who would prefer drinking artisanal beer to involving himself in the politics of the city. Alas, in the infinite nexus of the universe which is New York, trouble is a hard thing to avoid, and now a rivalry between the city's two queens threatens to make the Big Apple go the way of Atlantis. To stop it, M will have to call in every favor, waste every charm, and blow every spell he's ever acquired - he might even have to get out of bed before noon.

Enter a world of wall street wolves, slumming scenesters, desperate artists, drug-induced divinities, pocket steam-punk universes, and hipster zombies. Because the city never sleeps, but is always dreaming.


He gave grimdark fantasy a knee in the rear with the wickedly witty Low Town trilogy. He tackled epic fantasy to tremendous effect across Those Above and Those Below. Now, as he turns his attention to urban fantasy by way of his brilliantly bold new book, one wonders: can Daniel Polansky no wrong?

That remains to be seen, I suppose, but he's certainly never done anything as resoundingly right as A City Dreaming. An assemblage of loosely-connected vignettes as opposed to a work of longform fiction—although it's also that, at the last—A City Dreaming takes some getting into, but once you're in, it's a win-win. Hand on heart, I haven't read anything like it in my life.

The first couple of chapters serve to introduce M, a rogueish reprobate who straddles "the line between curmudgeonly cute and outright prickish" (p.246) and can do magic, as it happens. "It would help if you did not think of it as magic," however, as our "incandescently arrogant" (p.149) narrator notes:
M had certainly long since ceased to do so. He thought of it as being in good with the Management, like a regular at a neighborhood bar. You come to a place long enough, talk up the chick behind the counter, after a while she'll look the other way if you have a smoke inside, let you run up your tab, maybe even send over some free nuts on occasion. Magic was like that, except the bar was existence and the laws being bent regarded thermodynamics and weak nuclear force. (p.1)
When M is finally called upon to pay the tab that he's run up (and up and up) in the pub that is the entirety of Paris, he decides, after some serious soul-searching over several such snacks, that "it might be time to toddle off" (p.6) to his old stomping ground in the States, because he believes he's been gone for long enough that the many enemies he made there have probably forgotten him.

He's wrong on that count, of course. But M's enemies aren't his most immediate problem. On the contrary, his most immediate problem, as he sees it, is how popular he seems to be.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Book Review | The Warren by Brian Evenson

X doesn't have a name. He thought he had one or many but that might be the result of the failing memories of the personalities imprinted within him. Or maybe he really is called X.

He's also not as human as he believes himself to be.

But when he discovers the existence of another—above ground, outside the protection of the Warren—X must learn what it means to be human, or face the destruction of their two species.


Area X meets Duncan Jones' first and finest movie Moon in a marvellously mystifying novella that wants to know what it means to be human in a world where people can be constructed like sculptures shaped from clay.

X is one such person; the last in a line of such people, even, although almost all of his predecessors, helpfully arranged alphabetically, persist within him. "X was the most recent, the closest to the surface; there was nobody beyond him. And yet he was folded in on himself, damaged." (p.55) Being more metaphysical than physiological, that damage is on display from word one of The Warren, which purports to be a record—though it is far from reliable—of X's pitiable existence:
I am writing on paper because I have seen the way that sectors of the monitor and other recording devices can become corrupted and whole selves, as a result, are lost. I am trying to leave behind a record that will survive. Apparently, judging from the passages that I do not remember but which are nonetheless written, I am not the only part of me writing this. (p.18)
Never mind for the moment our protagonist's matter of fact manner. Clearly, "something is quite wrong," (p.62) and that something has to do with the many competing personalities X carries, at least one of which is unwilling to lie back and think of Britain. "I am working against myself," it dawns on X on the day when he wakes halfway out of the Warren. "There are parts of me ready to betray me, and I no longer have clear control over them, particularly when I sleep." (p.38)

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Book Review | Death's End by Cixin Liu

Half a century after the Doomsday Battle, the uneasy balance of Dark Forest Deterrence keeps the Trisolaran invaders at bay. Earth enjoys unprecedented prosperity due to the infusion of Trisolaran knowledge. With human science advancing and the Trisolarans adopting Earth culture, it seems that the two civilizations can co-exist peacefully as equals without the terrible threat of mutually assured annihilation. But peace has also made humanity complacent.

Cheng Xin, an aerospace engineer from the 21st century, awakens from hiber­nation in this new age. She brings knowledge of a long-forgotten program dating from the start of the Trisolar Crisis, and her presence may upset the delicate balance between two worlds. Will humanity reach for the stars or die in its cradle?


The translation and publication of Cixin Liu's Three-Body books has been a singular highlight of the science fiction scene in recent years. The Hugo Award-winning opening salvo of said saga took in physics, farming, philosophy and first contact, and that was just for starters. The world was wondrous, the science startling, and although the author's choice of "a man named 'humanity'" as that narrative's central character led to a slight lack of life, The Three-Body Problem promised profundity.

A year later, The Dark Forest delivered. Bolstered by "a complex protagonist, an engrossing, high-stakes story and a truly transcendent setting, The Dark Forest [was] by every measure a better book" than The Three-Body Problem. Not only did it account for its predecessor's every oversight, it also embiggened the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy brilliantly and explored a series of ideas that astonished even seasoned science fiction readers.

But "no banquet was eternal. Everything had an end. Everything." (p.27) And when something you care about does approach that point, all you can do is hope it ends well.

Death's End does.