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Full title The City and the Stars [permalink]
Language English
Author Arthur C. Clarke (author)
Publisher Victor Gollancz Ltd
Categories Novel and science fiction
Publisher series SF Masterworks
Publication year 2001
Original publication year 1956
ISBN 978-1-857-98763-8 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 255
Synopsis

The story takes place on Earth several billion years in the future. It revolves around the huge city of Diaspar, which has cloistered itself under an artificial roof. No one can leave the city, and no one even wants to. People are no longer born naturally, but emerge from the Hall of Creation. They live for centuries, and when they decide it's time to "die" they simply choose which memories they wish to keep, and are then stored in the Memory Banks, to return centuries later from the Hall of Creation. These Memory Banks also house the patterns for everything in the city (buildings, furniture, what have you) so that when one wishes something (a chair, for instance), one simply asks for it and it will materialize. As a by-product, nothing ever wears down; the city (and its inhabitants) are practically immortal.

Into this mix emerges Alvin, a Unique (meaning it's his first life). These aren't unheard of, but they're very rare. The story is really about Alvin and his adventures to unravel the secrets of the city's (and Earth's) mysterious and myth-laden past.

Review

I thorougly enjoyed it. If I have one complaint it's that I wish we learned more about the Invaders, but this doesn't detract from the story (for reasons which I won't go into due to the spoiler potential).

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Full title The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke [permalink]
Language English
Author Arthur C. Clarke (author)
Publisher Victor Gollancz Ltd
Categories Anthology, science fiction and short stories
Publication year 2001
ISBN 978-1-85798-323-4 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 966
Synopsis

A collection of virtually every short story of Arthur C. Clarke. See Structure for links to some of them.

Review

The stories are of varying quality, although most are very good (and some are truly excellent). As this is a compilation, it's hard to give a verdict, but I definitely recommend it to you if you're a Clarke fan.

Images Back of The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke.Spine of The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke.Front of The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Travel by Wire!
  • How We Went to Mars
  • Retreat from Earth
  • Reverie
  • The Awakening
  • Whacky
  • Loophole
  • Rescue Party
  • Technical Error
  • Castaway
  • The Fires Within
  • Inheritance
  • Nightfall
  • History Lesson
  • Transience
  • The Wall of Darkness
  • The Lion of Comarre
  • The Forgotten Enemy
  • Hide-and-Seek
  • Breaking Strain
  • Nemesis
  • Guardian Angel
  • Time's Arrow
  • A Walk in the Dark
  • Silence Please
  • Trouble with the Natives
  • The Road to the Sea
  • The Sentinel
  • Holiday On the Moon
  • Earthlight
  • Second Dawn
  • Superiority
  • 'If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth...'
  • All the Time in the World
  • The Nine Billion Names of God
  • The Possessed
  • The Parasite
  • Jupiter Five
  • Encounter In the Dawn
  • The Other Tiger
  • Publicity Campaign
  • Armaments Race
  • The Deep Range
  • No Morning After
  • Big Game Hunt
  • Patent Pending
  • Refugee
  • The Star
  • What Goes Up
  • Venture to the Moon
  • The Pacifist
  • The Reluctant Orchid
  • Moving Spirit
  • The Defenestration of Ermintrude Inch
  • The Ultimate Melody
  • The Next Tenants
  • Cold War
  • Sleeping Beauty
  • Security Check
  • The Man Who Ploughed the Sea
  • Critical Mass
  • The Other Side of the Sky
  • Let There Be Light
  • Out of the Sun
  • Cosmic Casanova
  • The Songs of Distant Earth
  • A Slight Case of Sunstroke
  • Who's There?
  • Out of the Cradle, Endlessly Orbiting...
  • I Remember Babylon
  • Trouble With Time
  • Into the Comet
  • Summertime on Icarus
  • Saturn Rising
  • Death and the Senator
  • Before Eden
  • Hate
  • Love That Universe
  • Dog Star
  • Maelstrom II
  • An Ape About the House
  • The Shining Ones
  • The Secret
  • Dial F for Frankenstein
  • The Wind from the Sun
  • The Food of the Gods
  • The Last Command
  • The Light of Darkness
  • The Longest Science-Fiction Story Ever Told
  • Playback
  • The Cruel Sky
  • Herbert George Morley Roberts Wells, Esq.
  • Crusade
  • Neutron Tide
  • Reunion
  • Transit of Earth
  • A Meeting With Medusa
  • Quarantine
  • siseneG
  • The Steam-Powered Word Processor
  • On Golden Seas
  • The Hammer of God
  • The Wire Continuum (with Stephen Baxter)
  • Improving the Neighbourhood
Full title Discoveries [permalink]
Language English
Authors Alan Lothian (introduction), Arthur C. Clarke, Bob Shaw, Greg Bear, Ian McDonald, Ian Watson, Mike McQuay, Paul J. McAuley, Robert Holdstock and Tricia Sullivan
Publisher Victor Gollancz Ltd
Categories Anthology, science fiction and short stories
Publication year 1995
ISBN 0-575-06258-4 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 190
Synopsis

I can't remember where I got this book, but I reckon it's pretty rare to come across as it's not normally sold, but was given away free with the October 1995 issue of BBC Focus. It's an anthology of short science fiction stories from budding British authors.

Review

A few of the stories fell flat, but some are good (I really enjoyed Blood Music). If you happen to come across it, you might want to buy it, if only for its rarity.

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Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Introduction
  • Prison Dreams
    Paul J. McAuley
  • Blood Music
    Greg Bear
  • The Charisma Trees
    Robert Holdstock
  • Dark Night in Toyland
    Bob Shaw
  • Virtually Lucid Lucy
    Ian Watson
  • Morpheus
    Tricia Sullivan
  • Winning
    Ian McDonald
  • extract from Richter 10
    Arthur C. Clarke and Mike McQuay
Full title A Fall of Moondust [permalink]
Language English
Author Arthur C. Clarke (author)
Publisher Victor Gollancz Ltd
Categories Novel and science fiction
Publisher series SF Masterworks
Publication year 2002
Original publication year 1961
ISBN 978-0-575-07317-3 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 224
Synopsis

It's the near future, and the Moon is a place for tourism. The novel opens with Pat Harris, skipper of the boat Selene, enjoying a cruise with his two-dozen-or-so passengers across the (fictional) Sea of Thirst. At the time of the novel's writing in 1960 it was reasonably assumed that the so-called "seas" of the Moon consisted of very fine dust. Selene, therefore, was imagined as a ship capable of crossing these seas. However, like an ant falling into an antlion's trap (the analogy is one of the character's), Selene sinks into the Sea of Thirst, and the rest of the novel is concerned with, alternately, the people aboard, the search party above, and the various other interested parties (TV crews, overseers, and what have you).

Review

An immensely gripping novel! To call it science fiction is technically correct, but the SF serves merely as the backdrop for the human drama. And what a drama it is! Go pick this up!

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Full title Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future [permalink]
Language English
Authors Olaf Stapledon (author), Gregory Benford (foreword) and Doris Lessing (afterword)
Publisher Victor Gollancz Ltd
Categories Novel and science fiction
Publisher series SF Masterworks
Publication year 1999
Original publication year 1930
ISBN 978-1-85798-806-2 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 312
Images Back of Last and First Men.Spine of Last and First Men.Front of Last and First Men.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Foreword by Gregory Benford
  • Preface
  • Introduction by One of the Last Men

Chapter I: Balkan Europe

  1. The European War and AFter
  2. The Anglo-French War
  3. Europe after the Anglo-French War
  4. The Russo-German War

Chapter II: Europe's Downfall

  1. Europe and America
  2. The Origins of a Mystery
  3. Europe Murdered

Chapter III: America and China

  1. The Rivals
  2. The Conflict
  3. On an Island in the Pacific

Chapter IV: An Americanized Planet

  1. The Foundation of the First World State
  2. The Dominance of Science
  3. Material Achievement
  4. The Culture of the First World State
  5. Downfall

Chapter V: The Fall of the First Men

  1. The First Dark Age
  2. The Rise of Patagonia
  3. The Cult of Youth
  4. The Catastrophe

Chapter VI: Transition

  1. The First Men at Bay
  2. The Second Dark Age

Chapter VII: The Rise of the Second Men

  1. The Appearance of a New Species
  2. The Intercourse of Three Species
  3. The Zenith of the Second Men

Chapter VIII: The Martians

  1. The First Martian Invasion
  2. Life on Mars
  3. The Martian Mind
  4. Delusions of the Martians

Chapter IX: Earth and Mars

  1. The Second Men at Bay
  2. The Ruin of Two Worlds
  3. The Third Dark Age

Chapter X: The Third Men in the Wilderness

  1. The Third Human Species
  2. Digressions of the Third Men
  3. The Vital Art
  4. Conflicting Policies

Chapter XI: Man Remakes Himself

  1. The First of the Great Brains
  2. The Tragedy of the Fourth Men
  3. The Fifth Men
  4. The Culture of the Fifth Men

Chapter XII: The Last Terrestrials

  1. The Cult of Evanescence
  2. Exploration of Time
  3. Voyaging in Space
  4. Preparing a New World

Chapter XIII: Humanity on Venus

  1. Taking Root Again
  2. The Flying Men
  3. A Minor Astronomical Event

Chapter XIV: Neptune

  1. Bird's-Eye View
  2. Da Capo
  3. Slow Conquest

Chapter XV: The Last Men

  1. Introduction to the Last Human Species
  2. Childhood and Maturity
  3. A Racial Awakening
  4. Cosmology

Chapter XVI: The Last of Man

  1. Sentence of Death
  2. Behaviour of the Condemned
  3. Epilogue
  • Afterword by Doris Lessing
  • Time Scales
Full title Odd John: A Story Between Jest and Earnest [permalink]
Language English
Authors Olaf Stapledon (author) and Adam Roberts (introduction)
Publisher Victor Gollancz Ltd
Categories Novel and science fiction
Publisher series SF Masterworks
Publication year 2012
Original publication year 1935
ISBN 978-0-575-07224-4 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 208
Synopsis

John Wainwright is born several months late, a seemingly normal child who, it's quickly discovered, is anything but. His mental powers are off the charts, and he learns at a tremendous rate. As a consequence of all this accelerated mentation, his physical body's maturation is severely hampered such that by age 16 he looks like a ten-year-old.

As John learns quickly, he very soon becomes bored with whatever object is holding his attention. For instance, he soon tires of language:

It had ceased to be a new art, and had become merely a useful means of communication, to be extended and refined only as new spheres of experience came within his ken and demanded expression.

The novel follows him throughout his life, narrated by a free-lance journalist friend of his. The book proposes to be published long after the events contained in it. In fact, the end of the novel is flatly stated in the first chapter (but not to worry, I won't spoil it; I'll let Stapledon do that).

Much of the novel is spent ruminating on what it means to be superhuman (they call themselves supernormals and Homo superior). From our narrator's perspective, many of Odd John's actions seem flat out amoral, and even though John can't properly explain the situation to the narrator (for the simple reason that John's logic is superior to his), one nevertheless is left with a feeling that maybe John is right.

Review

I immensely enjoyed this novel. It's really interesting to follow John through his life, and Stapledon does a wonderful job of conveying the various parts of John's life to us, through a sympathetic and competent narrator. I have only one complaint: The latter parts of the book are about John's voyages around the world to find fellow-supernormals to populate and keep his Colony running. I wish this part comprised more of the book, as I think those chapters were the most interesting. Nevertheless, I can thoroughly recommend it!

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Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Introduction
  • I John and the Author
  • II The First Phase
  • III Enfant Terrible
  • IV John and his Elders
  • V Thought and Action
  • VI Many Inventions
  • VII Financial Ventures
  • VIII Scandalous Adolescence
  • IX Methods of a Young Anthropologist
  • X The World's Plight
  • XI Strange Encounters
  • XII John in the Wilderness
  • XIII John Seeks his Kind
  • XIV Engineering Problems
  • XV Jacqueline
  • XVI Adlan
  • XVII Ng-Gunko and Lo
  • XVIII The Skid's First Voyage
  • XIX The Colony is Founded
  • XX The Colony in Being
  • XXI The Beginning of the End
  • XXII The End
Full title Sirius: A Fantasy of Love and Discord [permalink]
Language English
Authors Olaf Stapledon (author) and Graham Sleight (introduction)
Publisher Victor Gollancz Ltd
Categories Novel and science fiction
Publisher series SF Masterworks
Publication year 2010
Original publication year 1944
ISBN 978-0-575-09942-5 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Online version Link
Pages 194
Images Back of Sirius.Spine of Sirius.Front of Sirius.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Introduction
  1. First Meeting
  2. The Making of Sirius
  3. Infancy
  4. Youth
  5. Sheep-Dog Apprentice
  6. Birth-Pangs of A Personality
  7. Wolf Sirius
  8. Sirius At Cambridge
  9. Sirius And Religion
  10. Experiences in London
  11. Man As Tyrant
  12. Farmer Sirius
  13. The Effects of War
  14. Tan-Y-Voel
  15. Strange Triangle
  16. Plaxy Constripted
  17. Outlaw
Full title Ubik [permalink]
Language English
Author Philip K. Dick (author)
Publisher Victor Gollancz Ltd
Categories Novel and science fiction
Publisher series SF Masterworks
Publication year 2004
Original publication year 1969
ISBN 978-1-8579-8853-6 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 224
Images Back of Ubik.Spine of Ubik.Front of Ubik.
Full title Zima Blue and Other Stories [permalink]
Language English
Authors Alastair Reynolds (author) and Paul J. McAuley (introduction)
Publisher Victor Gollancz Ltd
Categories Anthology, science fiction and short stories
Publication year 2010
ISBN 978-0-575-08455-1 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 455
Synopsis

A short story (and novella-length) anthology from Alastair Reynolds.

The Real Story is about a journalist's quest to unravel the real story behind the first Mars landing.

Beyond the Aquila Rift is about what it means to be lost. Really lost.

Enola is about a little nomad girl's affinity for a machine (and mutatis mutandis for the machine), and what that implies.

Signal to Noise and Cardiff Afterlife are two connected stories about what happens when you make contact with parallel universes.

The next three stories, Hideaway, Minla's Flowers, and Merlin's Gun, are the longest in the anthology and form a chronological trilogy (despite being written out of order). The first one is about a so-called swallowship (huge spaceship) on the run from an alien enemy known as the Huskers. The other two are a continuation of the first, but I won't say anything about them except that all three concern the same protagonist, Merlin, and his quest for his Gun.

Angels of Ashes is a weird piece about religion and statistics (ehr, more or less)

Spirey and the Queen is about a faux war over a planetary accretion disk.

Understanding Space and Time is about one man's quest to, well, understand space and time.

Digital to Analogue is a conspiracy/thriller tale set on Earth in the nineties, and is the least science fictional (not to mention the least space operatic) one in the collection, and is about a memetic virus spreading through the club scene.

Everlasting is about the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum physics. Specifically, one man's (pretty weird) take on it.

And finally, the eponymous Zima Blue is about a pretty eccentric and long-lived artist's quest to connect with his roots.

Review

I enjoyed almost all the stories in this collection, and before I praise this collection any further, I have to get it out of the way: Angels of Ashes and Digital to Analogue fell entirely flat for me! The ones that stood out, however, more than made up for it. In particular I immensely enjoyed the Merlin trilogy (Hideaway, Minla's Flowers, and Merlin's Gun). They are truly epic in scale, and brilliantly captures the sense of the lone ranger on a quest. Understanding Space and Time, another wonderful story, is also epic, but in its own way. I hope I'm not spoiling anything by saying that it reminded me of Asimov's The Last Question, both in form and content. (Read them both and you'll understand.) The last two items, Everlasting and Zima Blue, also had me hooked, the former for its weird speculations (and the experimental testing of said speculation...), the latter for its musings on time and memory, and the sympathy you get for the protagonist, the eccentric artist Zima.

All in all, if you enjoy pointed SF vignettes or space opera novellas, go buy this book!

Images Back of Zima Blue and Other Stories.Spine of Zima Blue and Other Stories.Front of Zima Blue and Other Stories.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Introduction by Paul J. McAuley
  • The Real Story
  • Beyond the Aquila Rift
  • Enola
  • Signal to Noise
  • Cardiff Afterlife
  • Hideaway
  • Minla's Flowers
  • Merlin's Gun
  • Angels of Ashes
  • Spirey and the Queen
  • Understanding Space and Time
  • Digital to Analogue
  • Everlasting
  • Zima Blue
Full title Flood [permalink]
Language English
Author Stephen Baxter (author)
Publisher Victor Gollancz Ltd
Categories Novel and science fiction
Series Flood/Ark (1/2)
Publication year 2009
Original publication year 2008
ISBN 978-0-575-08482-7 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 538
Synopsis

The book's first two chapters are over briefly, describing how a group of four hostages (Lily Brooke, Piers Michaelmas, Helen Gray, and Gary Boyle) are rescued by AxysCorp after five years of imprisonment in various cellars in Barcelona by a Christian extremist group called the Fathers of the Elect (who don't play a prominent part in the story). Lily, Piers, Helen, and Gary vow to stay in touch after their long imprisonment, and the rest of the book is about a world-wide flood which seems to be rising inexorably, and without an end in sight. The chapters alternate between the characters and events haphazardly.

Interspersed between some of the chapters are small vignettes, excerpts from Kristie's journal, describing how the situation looks on the ground in various parts of the world as it floods. At some points in the book there are edited world maps showing the effects of a sea-level rise of a certain magnitude above the 2010 datum.

Review

This is a long novel, with lots of space to really flesh out the characters and paint a picture of how a world-wide flood in the not-too-distant future would look. And what a picture Baxter paints! This really is more of a thriller/drama than science fiction, although the SF is there in the form of speculations about what causes the sea too rise so drastically, but it's really the human drama that is the main driving force of the novel.

Go read it!

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Full title Ark [permalink]
Language English
Author Stephen Baxter (author)
Publisher Victor Gollancz Ltd
Categories Novel and science fiction
Series Flood/Ark (2/2)
Publication year 2010
Original publication year 2009
ISBN 978-0-575-09413-0 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 537
Synopsis

Ark picks up where Flood left off. Unfortunately, the cover art sort of gives the ending of Flood away (although it's not that much of a spoiler, really). It follows the exploits of the survivors of the world wide flood, both on Earth and on the spaceship.

Review

Like the previous book, this one is excellent. It's thick, and uses the space well to flesh out the characters and describe the drama. If you liked Flood, then you'll like the sequel. The ending was particularly satisfying.

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