Tag: Alastair Reynolds

Review – Permafrost

Posted February 23, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Permafrost


by Alastair Reynolds

Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 182
Rating: three-stars

Fix the past. Save the present. Stop the future.

2080: at a remote site on the edge of the Arctic Circle, a group of scientists, engineers and physicians gather to gamble humanity’s future on one last-ditch experiment. Their goal: to make a tiny alteration to the past, averting a global catastrophe while at the same time leaving recorded history intact. To make the experiment work, they just need one last recruit: an ageing schoolteacher whose late mother was the foremost expert on the mathematics of paradox.

2028: a young woman goes into surgery for routine brain surgery. In the days following her operation, she begins to hear another voice in her head... an unwanted presence which seems to have a will, and a purpose, all of its own – one that will disrupt her life entirely. The only choice left to her is a simple one.

Does she resist... or become a collaborator?

Alastair Reynolds’ Permafrost took a while to get going for me: the structure does make sense, in retrospect, but at the same time it felt like quite the barrier to understanding what exactly was happening. A conventional start would’ve been less memorable, of course, but this one definitely doesn’t hold your hand.

That’s pretty much a theme with this one: there’s a complicated plot which involves time travel of a kind, and that can make it difficult to follow. There were one or two points where I was thinking… you’re a time traveller, you know about paradoxes, why are you doing this? Also another where I wondered, hang on, isn’t everything going to be undone in just a moment by you telling him to — ?

I’m not 100% certain, still, whether that actually all made sense to me in the end. It felt like it did, but looking back at it I want to pick gaps into it (as often happens with anything time travel related). It’s an entertaining idea, all the same, a striking hard SF novella, and I enjoyed it while I was reading it.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Diamond Dogs

Posted February 25, 2017 by Nicky in Reviews / 5 Comments

Cover of Diamond Dogs by Alastair ReynoldsDiamond Dogs, Alastair Reynolds

Diamond Dogs is a really effective novella, for my money. I reread it recently, but I remembered the key points from the first time I’d read it — a twisty story that got under my skin. There’s lots of little references and clues to point you to what the story is going to do, and there’s plenty of worldbuilding and detail to keep you wondering. It helps to know a little bit about the larger universe of Reynolds’ books, just for background… but it’s not necessary.

It’s creepy and psychological and well structured. It’s just one of those novellas which perfectly gets under the skin, scratches that itch, etc, etc. I won’t give away anything else…

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Century Rain

Posted April 26, 2016 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Century Rain by Alastair ReynoldsCentury Rain, Alastair Reynolds

I reread this with my sister for the first time in about ten years. It’s a book I’ve always thought fondly of; I enjoyed it, as a teen, but my sister adored it. It’s actually the book that got her back into reading after years of not caring for it at all. I enjoyed several of Reynolds’ other books, too, but haven’t read any of them for… actually, far too long. So how did it measure up?

Pretty darn well. The hard SF aspect I enjoyed less than I used to (though I also grasp it better than I used to, I think), but the politics I enjoyed more, and followed a lot better. I was still lamentably slow about a couple of points (let’s just say that close reading is a good idea before you ask the author about something which turns out to be incredibly obvious), but I’m more politically engaged now, so that aspect was more interesting to me than before.

I expected it to be mostly about Verity Auger for me; I remembered her as badass, and I didn’t remember much about Floyd at all. But despite myself, I found myself drawn into both stories, and hooked by the way the two stories converged; at one point I had to go grab my sister and yelp about how badly I needed a happier ending. And while there’s plenty of space for more story, at the end of Century Rain — there’s a whole complex past and present sketched out that Reynolds could play with, not to mention the future of the characters — it’s also a satisfying end, if bittersweet. The characters are ready for a new stage of their lives, while their immediate arcs have come to an end.

And can I still see the world going the way it does in Century Rain — the climate change, the increasingly desperate solutions, the loss of information because digital libraries are so vulnerable? Yes; those aspects remain perfectly relevant. It doesn’t seem to have aged badly, which sometimes hard SF can because of the science and the predictions it makes about the future.

Definitely enjoyed it — and more than I expected to, I think!

Rating: 4/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted January 26, 2016 by Nicky in General / 4 Comments

This week’s theme from The Broke and the Bookish is a freebie, so I took a while to think of a theme I liked… But you’ll be relieved (or not) to discover that I did eventually make my mind up: the theme for me this week is “top ten books I picked up at random that were a really good idea”. All of these books I just grabbed in a bookstore or library, without checking reviews or being recommended them. I’ve linked my reviews in cases where I’ve posted them here, though!

Cover of A Taste of Blood Wine by Freda Warrington Cover of The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams Cover of A Sorcerer's Treason by Sarah Zettel 11806282 Cover of The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

  1. A Taste of Blood WineFreda Warrington. I thought this might be a silly vampire story, but I was in the mood for that. I didn’t expect it to be as well written and absorbing as it was — nor to have LGBT+ characters, female scientists pre-WWII, and a rich mythic background.
  2. The Dragonbone Chair, Tad Williams. I actually bought this whole series in one go, plus his Otherland books, and enjoyed them all greatly. Time for a reread, soon!
  3. A Sorcerer’s Treason, Sarah Zettel. It’s been a while since I read this series, so I just remember picking it up in Borders and getting quite absorbed.
  4. Dead HarvestChris F. Holm. And that whole series, in fact. I really loved the pulp pastiche covers, and loving the story was a good bonus.
  5. The Invisible LibraryGenevieve Cogman. Granted, I didn’t read it until rather later, but just the summary was enough to make me grab this one.
  6. The Gate to Women’s CountrySheri S. Tepper. I liked this so much more than I expected. I’d been more or less anti-recommended Tepper’s work, and just picked this one up because it was in the SF Masterworks list.
  7. The Universe Versus Alex WoodsGavin Extence. I picked this up in Belgium — I can’t remember if it was the time my ereader broke and I just had to get my hands on some books, any books, to fill the void. Anyway, I ended up loving it, but I hadn’t read anything about it beforehand and I was quite surprised by the depth of the subject matter.
  8. The Rose GardenSusanna Kearsley. On the face of it, this didn’t even look like my thing. But I ended up giving it four stars, so not bad, right?
  9. On Basilisk Station, David Weber. I loved this — and my sister loved it even more. Yet I remember just being mildly curious when I picked it up at the library…
  10. Century Rain, Alastair Reynolds. Even if I hadn’t loved the book, it’d be worth the price of entry because it was the book that got my sister back into reading, after years of not being interested. And it’s still her favourite.

Cover of The Gate to Women's Country by Sherri S. Tepper Cover of The Universe Versus Alex Woods, by Gavin Extence Cover of The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley Cover of On Basilisk Station by David Weber Cover of Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds

I really need to jot down ideas for freebie weeks in advance. Any suggestions, people?!

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted January 27, 2015 by in Reviews / 20 Comments

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is ‘ten books I’d love to read with my book club’. I am a member of an awesome group for SF/F, so that’s easy — except that we’re quite particular about the sorts of books we end up reading for discussion. So hmmmm.

  1. The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison. This is kind of cheating, because we are discussing it. And actually, I’m supposed to be leading it.
  2. Mélusine, Sarah Monette. Because it’s so different to The Goblin Emperor! (It’s the same author under a pen name.) And it’s a bit more dark than I’d normally go for; I need some impetus to get on and read it.
  3. Century Rain, Alastair Reynolds. Or really anything by Reynolds; I used to like his work a lot, though I haven’t read any in a long time, and Century Rain was my favourite.
  4. Lock In, John Scalzi. We’re planning to read this anyway, but it does sound fascinating. We normally enjoy Scalzi, and this sounds like there’s a fair amount to chew over here.
  5. Captain Marvel: In Pursuit of Flight, Kelly Sue DeConnick. Because hey, I love this series and I want to share it. And talk about how it could be even better and all the places we wanna see Carol go.
  6. Just about anything by Octavia Butler. I think we’ve probably already discussed some of Butler’s work, but it’s all great to talk about (and sometimes problematic, too, in ways that would make it even more interesting to bat it back and forth).
  7. The Unreal and the Real: Collected Stories, Ursula Le Guin. It’s most often Le Guin’s short stories that I find I want to discuss and pick apart to make sure I really understand them.
  8. The Just City, Jo Walton. And we probably will, since we’re big fans of Jo.
  9. Under the Skin, Michael Faber. I’ve been convinced to buy it, so let’s discuss it. I think someone in the group actually suggested this one, too.
  10. Anything by Ian McDonald. I think they might’ve discussed one of his books without me at some point, but I’ve read a couple of his older ones that’re really interesting too.

What about you guys? Any reading groups online to recommend?

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Stacking the Shelves – The Holy Crap Edition

Posted December 27, 2014 by in General / 24 Comments

Or, Stacking the Shelves: The Christmas Edition! I think I’ve probably had similarly large hauls before, but still… I had a very good Christmas, and if I could just tear myself away from my new game (Final Fantasy Theatrhythm: Curtain Call), I’ll show you all the details. Plus my giant literary giraffe, a gift from my dad.

Photo of me wearing a paper party hat, next to my five foot tall giraffe
His name is Charles Parker, after Lord Peter’s best friend.
He turns up when you least expect it.
Turn around…

So yeah, that was a Christmas. And this is a haul…


Cover of Batgirl: Silent Running by Kelley Puckett Cover of Batgirl: A Knight Alone by Kelley Puckett Cover of Batgirl: Death in the Family by Gail Simone

Cover of She-Hulk vol. 1 by Dan Slott Cover of Saga vol 3 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples Cover of Saga vol 4 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

The first four are from Mum and Dad — and don’t worry, I know it’s the first two feature Cassandra Cain as Batgirl, and the third Barbara Gordon — and the two Saga volumes are from my little sis. <3


Cover of Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay by Simon Napier-Bell Cover of Sex & Punishment by Eric Berkowitz Cover of The Reluctant Yogi by Carla McKay

Cover of Lucy: The Beginnings of Mankind Cover of The Trouble with Physics by Lee Smolin

One of you lot recommended me The Trouble with Physics, and Dad got me that and the book on Lucy. The other three came from the Kindle sale.

Pure geekery

Maps of Tolkien's Middle-Earth Cover of Tolkien: A Dictionary by David Day

Little sister knows me well! Or, you know, remembered what I did some of my master’s work on.


Cover of The Sea Road by Margaret Elphinstone Cover of Sold for Endless Rue by Madeleine E. Robins Cover of The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

Cover of Mitosis by Brandon Sanderson Cover of Heraclix and Pomp by Forrest Agguire Cover of The Wild Ways by Tanya Huff

Cover of The Future Falls by Tanya Huff Cover of Mélusine by Sarah Monette Cover of Mindscape by Andrea Hairston

Cover of Those Who Hunt the Night by Barbara Hambly Cover of Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone Cover of Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone

Cover of Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch Cover of The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman Cover of Blue Remembered Earth by Alistair Reynolds

That’s a real mix of gifts, sales and randomness.


Cover of Swordspoint audiobook by Ellen Kushner Cover of The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (audiobook)

I had credits to spend.

I also got a £20 Waterstones gift card, which I’ll be spending today, so watch out for next week’s haul, too… What’s everyone else been getting?!

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Thursday Thoughts: Novellas

Posted September 25, 2014 by in General / 1 Comment

This week’s prompt from Ok, Let’s Read is about novellas.

What are your general opinions on novellas or short stories in a series or otherwise? Have you read any novellas? Do you always make sure to read the novellas in a series? Do you read them where they belong (i.e. between the correct two books) or are you not too bothered about that sort of thing?

They can be interesting. Sometimes they drive me mad because they’re in some obscure anthology, which I only want for that one story. Or they’re just not available anymore. Still, they can add something interesting to a series, and I do try to read them where they belong in a chronological order. Sometimes, that really doesn’t work — I read The Assassin and the Pirate Lord, by Sarah J. Maas, for example, back before the first novel was released, and I didn’t really care enough. It’s an interesting method of trying to whet people’s appetites, but you have to make it really good if you’re going to do that.

I have a lot of opinions about short stories because I like to write them. You can’t just think of them as a watered down novel; they’ve got to have all the elements of a good novel, but concentrated. You’ve got to tighten up the writing until every word is important, every paragraph advances something. I don’t mean just plot-wise; a good paragraph could help build up the world, the characters, or yeah, the plot.

For sci-fi fans, I’d definitely recommend Alastair Reynolds. I loved Troikawhich is a 100 page-ish novella, and I remember being very enthusiastic about Diamond Dogs, as well. Reynolds has that knack of taking an idea that could fill a whole novel and focusing in on it, staying with it without getting distracted, and delivering something really powerful.

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Throwback Thursday

Posted June 13, 2014 by Nicky in General / 4 Comments

Since I liked doing this last week, here it is again — a little highlight of some books that have been lurking on my shelves for a while.

  Cover of The Adamantine Palace by Stephen DeasThe Adamantine Palace, Stephen Deas

The Adamantine Palace lies at the centre of an empire that grew out of ashes. Once dragons ruled the world and man was little more than prey. Then a way of subduing the dragons alchemically was discovered and now the dragons are bred to be little more than mounts for knights and highly valued tokens in the diplomatic power-plays that underpin the rule of the competing aristocratic houses.

Dragons! Dangerous dragons! I’ve read some less than glowing reviews since I impulsively bought this book, but I’m still pretty hopeful. If nothing else, it’ll be interesting to see how this take on dragons works out.

Century Rain, Alastair Reynolds

Three hundred years from now, Earth has been rendered uninhabitable due to a technological catastrophe known as the Nanocaust. Archaeologist Verity Auger specializes in the exploration of its surviving landCover of Century Rain by Alastair Reynoldsscape. Now, her expertise is required for a far greater purpose. Something astonishing has been discovered at the far end of a wormhole: mid-twentieth century Earth, preserved like a fly in amber. Somewhere on this alternate planet is a device capable of destroying both worlds at either end of the wormhole. And Verity must find the device, and the man who plans to activate it, before it is too late – for the past and the future of two worlds.

I’ve actually read this before, but something like eight years ago. Eep. Now I feel old. Anyway, I picked this up again when I went to a signing by Alastair Reynolds, and it’s high time I got round to rereading it. It is, after all, the book that got my sister back into reading.

A Sudden Wild Magic, Diana Wynne Jones

Our world has long been protected by “The Ring” – a benevolent secret society of witches and conjurers Cover of A Sudden Wild Magic by Diana Wynne Jonesdedicated to the continuance and well-being of humankind. Now, in the face of impending climatic disaster, the Ring has uncovered a conspiracy potentially more destructive than any it has ever had to contend with. For eons, the mages of a neighboring universe have been looting the Earth of ideas, innovations and technologies – all the while manipulating events and creating devastating catastrophes for their own edification. And unless the brazen piracy is halted, our planet is certainly doomed.

It’s the words “kamikaze sex” later in the blurb that really get my attention. Diana Wynne Jones does a more adult novel, which sounds like a sexier version of her usual quirky worlds. It’s not gonna beat Fire and Hemlock, but it should be fun.

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Review – Troika

Posted November 25, 2013 by Nicky in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Troika, by Alastair ReynoldsTroika, Alastair Reynolds

I love the “Big Dumb Object” trope that Reynolds uses here. It just seems so… possible. That something we don’t understand is out there, waiting for us to find it. Some almost unfathomable relic of an alien civilisation. I think Reynolds uses that trope pretty well in Troika: it’s a neatly executed little novella, with a good twist at the end. It may not seem much to look at — it’s quite a slim volume — but Alastair Reynolds writes well, and the structure is well-executed (much as I usually dislike stories where you go back and forth between past and present).

I’m not sure why Reynolds chose the idea of a Second Soviet to frame the story, but it worked well for me. It was a bit of a shock to go from the vague idea that this was Soviet Russia — the first Soviet Russia — to realising that this is a later Russia, post-internet, post-freedom.

I didn’t get the strongly pro-space travel vibes from this that other reviewers seem to have done. To me, the situation in Russia overshadowed the possible touches of commentary on that. If anything, there was maybe a criticism of using space as a means to an end (political, to show superiority, etc) rather than as an end in itself.

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Nothing says I love you like a book

Posted November 22, 2013 by Nicky in General / 10 Comments

No matter what the occasion, I try to buy people a book. It means some adaptation, and buying books I don’t normally buy — paranormal romance for my sister, certain types of non-fiction for my dad, violent crime fiction for one of my ex-housemates — but I do like to think about it, to pick out something that just fits. (I have one major failure: my best friend since childhood, Laura. Craft books, yes, but anything you could settle down and read… she doesn’t have the time/patience for it unless she’s on holiday, and then her taste is for chick lit type stuff. Hm, an idea strikes…) Luckily, a lot of people around me share my taste: Amy, my partner, my mum, to a great extent my sister.

So yeah, you know I love you when I come home from the charity shop glowing with glee and a stack of books carefully picked out just to suit your taste. My former housemates should be pretty familiar with this situation.

Anyway, I thought I’d share a couple of my happily united book couple successes — and then, if you like, you can comment with a book and some facts about someone, and see whether I can think of something.

For Dad: You Are Not So Smart, by David McRaney. Because whether he likes it or not, some of it is very relevant to things he believes about himself. Granted, he probably didn’t see it that way, but he did carry the book around with him from Christmas to the New Year. He’s a non-fiction reader, gave up on fiction a long time ago, but his knowledge tends to be widespread and general, so I always try to aim for something like this, rather than something super-technical.

For Mum: The Lions of Al-Rassan, by Guy Gavriel Kay. The Fionavar Tapestry and Tigana came first, I think, but it was Lions that had her texting me at three in the morning from Italy or Spain or whatever fancy conference she was at. (This is reciprocal more than any other book-giving relationship I have: she introduced me to Isaac Asimov, Robin Hobb and Dorothy L. Sayers, among others.)

For Squirt (my sister): The most memorable occasion was when I handed over her first Alastair Reynolds book, Century Rain. She’s been a fan ever since, and it actually kickstarted her into doing a lot more reading. I think her trust for my taste began at that moment. We actually went to a reading/signing by Alastair Reynolds, and her knees were practically knocking with nerves — my fierce little sister’s knees were knocking!

For the girlfriend: Occasionally I try and break her heart with stuff like Civil War: Iron Man, but mostly I’m nice and push books like The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern) and A Face Like Glass (Frances Hardinge) her way. One of our oldest literary successes was The Dark is Rising (Susan Cooper). There was also Robin McKinley’s Sunshine and Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Fionavar Tapestry, and more recently Jo Walton’s work you can see we share very similar taste in books. On the other hand, Cherie Priest’s Bloodshot and Hellbent bored her to death, where I love love love loved them, so it’s not all perfect.

For Amy (former housemate): The biggest hit was Garth Nix’s work. It’s now become a yearly Christmas tradition: a Garth Nix book or series, every year. He’ll need to write more, soon, or I’m doomed. Given that Amy’s dyslexic, Spellwright by Blake Charlton could’ve gone either way, but she ended up liking it.

For Ruth (former housemate): This was a lucky one. She mentioned being interested in the Tudors and particularly Lady Jane Grey. I found Alison Weir’s Innocent Traitor a couple of days later in a charity shop.

For Lynn E. O’Connacht: I can’t actually remember anything specific here, but we’ve traded books fairly frequently, starting with her sending me King Arthur’s Death (trans. Brian Stone), which contains the alliterative and stanzaic Morte Arthure poems. Anna Elliott’s Twilight of Avalon is another Lynn sent me.

So… yeah. If I love you, expect a book this Christmas (if I can get you anything at all, which is a different matter).

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