Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

When a very dear friend told me I had to read this book because it’s the best sci-fi book she’s ever read, I didn’t muck around. I bought Project Hail Mary immediately and, as soon as I finished the book I was reading (and enjoying), commenced reading it. Nevertheless, I was a little apprehensive in case I didn’t rate it as highly as my darling friend. My fears were completely unnecessary.

From the opening page, the story of Dr Ryland Grace, who wakes up millions of miles from earth in a cobbled together spaceship with only two corpses for company and no memory of why he’s there, who he is or what he’s meant to be doing, grabs you by the scruff of the neck and doesn’t let you go. Gradually, Grace’s memory returns and when he comprehends he’s on a mission to save the earth from imminent destruction (or rather, save humanity from being wiped out), he also understands he’s in a race against time and that this mission to the outer reaches of the galaxy is a one-way ticket. But it’s when he encounters an unexpected ally, that his mission takes on a fresher urgency – one that promises life, for earth and beyond.

The narrative segues between Grace aboard the ship hurtling through space, and the months leading up to his departure, revealing aspects of his life, various professions, and how he was recruited for the mission. His voice is compelling, honest and often really funny. The narrative skips along and I laughed often, but was also deeply moved. But what I really loved about it was how plausible and real the entire scenario felt. The science made sense and is explained in ways that don’t baffle or lose non-scientific reader interest – on the contrary, its utterly compelling and completely believable.

While Weir has used the notion of a sole survivor working against incredible odds to secure some kind of future in The Martian, this is a very different story, even though it tackles many similar themes – resilience, embracing and acknowledging one’s flaws and working to overcome them. How people can thrive in adversity; rise to face seemingly insurmountable challenges by reaching within themselves to find courage. It’s also about trust, friendship and sacrifice. In fact, it deals with so many ideas, arouses so many emotions.

This is a brilliant story that will reside with me for a long time. Like my girlfriend, I am now telling people to read this book, because it’s the best science-fiction book I have read in a long, long time.

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The Winter World by A.G. Riddle

Winter World (The Long Winter #1)

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed A.G. Riddle’s Pandemic series, I couldn’t wait to read his latest, Winter World. Not  only do I love the visceral thrill of eschatological narratives and their exploration of geo-political machinations as well as emotional and psychological trauma and challenges of facing the end of the world as we know it and how people react, but the notion of the earth becoming a winter wasteland (and the reasons behind this) were fascinating to me – very Day After Tomorrow-esque.

This tale of the earth’s rapid change from varied climate and where power is concentrated in familiar regions to one where mass immigration from First World centres to formerly third world countries is told from two points of view. The first is that of an astronaut/scientist and commander, Emma, and a brilliant doctor and roboticist (among other things) James, who commences the book in a federal prison. The way Riddle tells the story of earth’s epic struggle to survive an attack that will destroy all life is at once personalized through these two characters and the relationships they form with their families, colleagues and each other, but also far-reaching. He cleverly keeps the pace moving by leaping the story forward and avoiding what some sci-fi narratives do (albeit some do it very well), bogging the reader down in extraneous scientific detail that show the author’s grasp of technical complexities as opposed to serving the story. We are given some of the science and for this Luddite, it appears to work. But it is the story that captures you – as well as demands you suspend your disbelief – as James and Emma and the brilliant people they work with fight to battle an alien enemy no-one predicted and who is ruthless in the extreme. 

My only mild reservations are that James and Emma are so damn courageous and amazing. James is like the nerd’s James Bond personified but with the ability to grow and change – for the better (even when he’s practically perfect in every way). Emma, through great tragedy and personal hardship is also a geek Mary Poppins – intelligent, focused, self-sacrificing and lovely. I just wish there were more people Iike Emma and James in real life. As it is, I’ll have to wait for the sequel to find out where their battle and the dangerous adventures that ensue lead. Looking forward to it!

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Mosaic, by Michael C. Grumley.

Mosaic is the fifth book in Michael C Grumley’s fabulous Breakthrough series, a tale that keeps getting wilder, more intense and utterly immersive with each book. Grumley’s imagination, grounded in science, knows no bounds but also respects them as his tale of a group of ex-Navy seals, scientists, ethical politicians (yes, they exist in Grumley’s world) as power-hungry despots, conspirators and unscrupulous folk well as dolphins, primates and an assortment of others, gets taken to the next level.

Having rescued the young Chinese woman, Li Na Wei, John Clay and Steve Cesare as well as Alison and Neely cannot rest on their laurels. While international interest in not only the bacterium they’ve discovered and its implications for Earth’s future but where it’s come from intensifies, it’s the attention they’ve attracted from their own that poses the greatest threat to their mission. 

Once again, the wide cast of characters are expanded upon revealing their strengths and vulnerabilities. Readers who have invested in this series need to be prepared to lose a few favourites as well for surprises. Just when you think you know where the narrative might be heading, it explodes in a different direction.

Some old faces and new also make appearances and then, of course, there’s the endearing mammals – Dirk, Sally, the dolphin Elders, the gorgeous primates – all of whom have secrets to tell and wonders to share with their human companions. It’s so evident that Grumley really cares about this story and those he’s created to help him tell it – you cannot help but care as well and forgive the narrative if it sometimes slips or slides into over-telling or didactics (which he mostly avoids).

I was describing this series to a friend and while I don’t think this does it justice, it’s sort of Avatar meets Indiana Jones, meets James Bond meets Dr Doolittle. I am just astonished that a major publisher or production company hasn’t picked them up. James Cameron? Where are you? Grumley’s series is waiting for your treatment.

My only disappointment is that I have to wait so long for the next book. 

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A Superior Spectre by Angela Meyer

What a marvellous and original book. In blending history and science fiction, Angela Meyer has created a work of literary prowess that lingers in the imagination long after the last page.

Told from two viewpoints (mainly), this is the story of Australian Jeff who, longing to escape not merely his past, but his secret, hidden self, flees Melbourne for the Scottish Highlands and, eventually, an island. But Jeff carries more baggage than simply what he regards as his shameful desires. He also has a device that allows him to escape his deteriorating corporeal frame and enter the mind and soul of someone from the past. That someone is young Leonora. Warned he can only use it three times, Jeff ignores the advice, and uses the equipment to escape his own life and experience Leonora’s at will.

Motherless Leonora lives in the Scottish Highlands in the 1860s with her father, tending the land and animals of the local laird. Content with her lot, loving the knowledge passed onto her by Mr Anderson who manages the laird’s many animals, Leonora is inquisitive, kind and keen to learn as much as she can. When she not only befriends the young laird but starts to have strange visions and yearnings which she cannot reconcile, she wonders what is happening to her.

When her father sends her to join her aunt in sooty, noisy Edinburgh, Leonora is inconsolable. Torn from her old life, the only constant is the man she senses lurking behind her eyes, on the periphery of her mind and the strange, impossible visions and strong, sensual urges his presence arouses. Uncertain what is happening to her, fearful she is going mad, possessed or both, Leonora’s life begins to unravel. There is only one way she can be saved, but selfish, indulgent Jeff is no hero.

Two lives are at stake, but only one can survive…

Exquisitely written, this book evokes both a distant future where human contact and companionship can be replaced by life-like devices and technology gives us entrée to the past and others that is both dangerous and exhilarating. It also plunges readers into history and Scotland post-enlightenment. This was a time when women and science were pushing boundaries and the mind was a new territory, ripe for exploration and exploitation.

Unique, rich and incredibly sensual and sexual, this novel takes us to the edges of desire and beyond, exploring issues such as loss, regret, choices, shame, sexual fantasy and reality, and the depths and heights to which human nature can both plume and strive. It also examines boundaries – those imposed by our sex and sexual desires, social constraints and culture and how, even we’re free, we create our own cages and then rail against them.

What also makes this novel so very different is the way it not only segues between male and female point of view but how, at times, these either blur or become so distinct as to appear as if they’re alternate species.

Clever, convincing and unputdownable, Meyer’s debut novel is sensational. My sincere thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for a copy. What a ride. What a read.

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Dust by Hugh Howey

18866705Riddle me this… why oh why have I taken so long to read the final instalment in this marvellous Silo trilogy, Dust? Why, after being utterly captivated by book 1, Wool, loving book 2, Shift, did it take me over three years to reach for this epic conclusion? Yeah, I don’t know either. Too many great books and not enough time, maybe? Finally, I made the time. What I do know is the wait was well worth it.

I don’t want to allow any spoilers to slip into this review except to say that in this final book, the world as the inhabitants of the various Silo’s know it is about to be torn apart. While the reader has been privy to internal politics and, in book 2, the over-arching or macro-politics and history that led to the silos and the hot-housing of humanity in the first place, in this final novel, the splintering of loyalties, of what’s always seemed to be the truth, of just who are allies and enemies, of how perceptions are created and distorted, reaches a climax.

The sense of imprisonment, of claustrophobia, not just within the dark confines of these enormous cement holdings, but psychically and emotionally, plunges towards the only possible shocking conclusion. Yearning for freedom and having it within your grasp, however, comes at a cost… are the inhabitants of the silos willing to pay the price and what charges might be extracted from them if they do?

Tense, utterly believable, with cracking dialogue and wonderful descriptions that make the reader feel as entrapped as those we read about, this is a terrific conclusion to a stunning trilogy. Only, I get the feeling it isn’t really a conclusion either… I certainly hope not.

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