Ali B and the Forty Spaceships — Part the Tenth [Sept 2015]
“Heatstroke is rare but, since it is caused by the sun and not by bacteria, it can happen. Expect to be smitten by it in the DESERT. It will cause you only a day or so of acute discomfort.”
—The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, Diana Wynne Jones
FOR MANY, THE Holidays are a time to catch up with family, take family trips, do family-related things, and generally try to assimilate with the rest of those who share your home… for others – and I include myself in this select group – it’s a time to be selfish and catch up with some quality reading… mwah hah hah…
So… first on your list should be the alarmingly friendly-sounding Gestapo Mars (Titan Books, Sept 2015) by Victor Gischler – the author is a new name to me, but my-oh-my was this a fantastically enjoyable read. Dubbed “An unapologetic science fiction novel of sex, violence, and Nazis”, I’m sure I don’t need to add that this is politically incorrect on so many levels, but nonetheless still proved a marvellously uproarious affair (pun intended). You see, Carter Sloan is an old-school deadly assassin who has been woken up some 258 years too late, and brought into a future in which ‘conventional’ assassins are too easily identified, and thus his unique ‘skillset of yore’ makes him somewhat uniquely placed to do his duty for the New Reich. Screwing women, swearing a lot, and leaving a trail of destruction are all part and parcel of this barmy adventure tale, and our hero does have a handy knack of always putting his finger on the right button so to speak… read into that what you will, but do treat yourself to this amusing read, it really is laugh-out-loud funny, and even includes a scientific breakdown of the Kardassian effect. The ice cream man cometh…
Adrian Tchaikovsky is an author I am more familiar with, and you may be too if you’ve read any of his massive Shadows of the Apt decalogy (Tor UK, 2008-2014 and yes, that’s a 10-volume series of big fat fantasy books). His latest work, and very first standalone historical fantasy novel is called Guns of the Dawn (Tor UK, 2015), and is an amazing fantasy epic in which what is ostensibly a doomed war — and by that, I mean one that is already lost — is made very real, very personal and very tragic. The story follows one Emily Marshwic, a privileged, well-off ‘lady of society’ who is called up to fight for her country when a shortage of men means families are obliged to send their women to the frontline ‘for the cause’. In this brutal environment: the claustrophobic swamps, the closet soldier lifestyle, the circus of war and the terrifyingly genuine risk of death are all brought to the fore, and as we follow Emily’s rise through the ranks, we are forced to respect both her and her wartime associates. This is a real doorstop of a book, but it’s also an excellent one, and made somewhat uncomfortable reading due to my constant need to scratch the back of my neck just to be sure there weren’t any stray ticks and other flying bugs taking a snack out of me. A vividly descriptive book this, so consider yourself warned.
On a slightly different note, Ian Sales has finally released the fourth book in his Apollo Quartet series, it’s called All That Outer Space Allows (Whippleshield Books, 2015) and features war of a slightly different nature, this time revolving around the conflicting goals and inhibitive lifestyle of that rather select group of women: the Astronaut Wives Club. There is a central conflict between the narrator (astronaut wife, Ginny Eckhardt) and her fellow astronaut wives, but there is also an undercurrent of internal conflict with her astronaut husband, Walden J Eckhardt, and the fact that she is also a female science fiction writer in the male-orientated world of 1960s SF magazines gives rise to yet further complications in the telling. There is a core theme here, but surprisingly it’s not ‘conflict’ — the author is telling a well-crafted story about inhibition and the tactful propriety of the times, and telling it with an occasional interjection of his own (he frequently intercedes as ‘the voice of god’, deliberately so); as jarring as this is the first time you encounter it, soon enough it becomes totally immersive and I stopped registering it after a while. It’s a relatively short read, but there is a swathe of reference material cited at the end, and although this is a recurring feature throughout the series, it still helps to make this a distinctively impressive feat of alternative history done well. I’ve been fortunate enough to read the rest of the AQ books, and all of them are unique both in the telling and the reading. A highly recommended series, and although I look forward to seeing them assembled into one volume sometime soon, I am really proud of my collection of signed, numbered, limited edition hardbacks – they’ve proved quite a find.
As always, space is short, so we’ll round things off this time with a short burst of Happy Holidays: “While the merry bells keep ringing, may your every wish come true…”
My Best Wishes To You All
* This column originally appeared in the
November/December 2015 issue of BTS Book Reviews