Nightflyers by George R R Martin

Banner by imyril of There’s Always Room for One More; image by Sebastien Decoret from

Originally published back in 1980, Nightflyers is a novella-length story that was recently repackaged and turned up on the shelves at work. I wouldn’t have picked it up but for the fact that this new edition is illustrated by David Palumbo (the man responsible for those gorgeous painterly Binti novella covers *all the hearts*) and I really love his stuff. And, yeah, it’s a short, quick scifi read and my month is going to hell in a handcart so I’ve had to restack a couple of bigger tomes I intended to read. Ugh, life gets in the way sometimes, you know?


A group of scientists have been drawn together by Karoly d’Branin, a man obsessed with the as yet unseen alien volcryn, who is determined to intercept this mythical race out in deep space and study them. For this purpose d’Branin has chartered a Nightflyer and her captain Royd Eris, an eccentric individual who will only interact with the group via his hologrammatic self. Things go south quickly. The powerful telepath d’Branin has employed is convinced that the crew are in danger from the get-go and only becomes more distressed as the journey continues …

This is a horror story in space (did you guess?). I’d have paid good money to read more of the secondary story about the mythical volcryn, but the plot mostly concerns itself with the extermination of the small academic crew aboard the Nightflyer and the mysterious Royd Eris. A couple of the deaths are pretty spectacular, but I suspect that may be all I take away from this book.

Martin certainly has a talent for writing compelling, if not necessarily likeable, characters though, and he puts it to good use here. Of the ten characters in this story, only one is anywhere near pleasant, but they are all interesting. For a future in which the “Academy of Human Knowledge” appears to be the highest power, this motley group aren’t very Star Trek and they fall prey to suspicion and paranoia in record time, (because humanity will always be its own worst enemy, I guess). That just made watching them die one by one more fun than scary, however.

It’s definitely something that would translate to the screen well (all that blood!), or so I thought while I was reading it. Then I found out that it had already been made into a TV series for the SyFy channel, and the general consensus on the interweb was that it wasn’t very good. Which is a shame because I feel that it was written very much with an eye to the visual, something Palumbo is able to take full advantage of in his gorgeous full-page illustrations. I really like Palumbo’s style anyway, but here he does a great job of creating dark, moody images that made me feel almost claustrophobic. (As an added bonus, the artist’s Instagram account was mentioned at the end of the book and there you can find an extra handful of paintings that didn’t make the cut for the book – very cool).

There were a couple of things I didn’t like so much in the story. There were some weird manners of speech that I found a bit jarring, particularly d’Branin’s oddly old-fashioned chatter and his frequent use of the term “my friend” (‘friend’, ‘love’ and ‘mate’ from people who are not any of those things to me is a pet hate of mine); and Melantha’s need to repeatedly remind everyone that she is an “improved model” also grated a bit.

And there was quite a lot that I’d have liked Martin to expand on: Royd and Melantha’s relationship was quite interesting and had either one been in the slightest bit sympathetic I’d have enjoyed more of that; Royd’s backstory, too, was fascinating and could have made a book on it’s own especially if his mother had been given a bit more room. The volcryn were awesome too (I particularly loved Palumbo’s illustration of them), and I felt they were another potentially much richer storyline given too little room. In fact, I think that may be my main complaint with Nightflyers: there were a ton of great ideas in here, enough for three books, but none of them were explored in any great depth because, in the end, only the body count really seemed to matter.

So, yeah, a bit of a mixed bag this one. With a bit more space and one or two redeeming features in the cast I think this would have been a much cooler novel. As it is, it was a fairly satisfying series of deaths and some interesting ideas. Must try harder. (which, of course, Martin did, didn’t he?!)







Fun for Monday: 6 Degrees of SFnal Separation

Banner by imyril of There’s Always Room for One More; image by Sebastien Decoret from

Another Monday, another tag! (Tag? Meme? … Whatever). I first saw this one done in this deliciously SciFiMonth way by imyril of There’s Always Room for One More who took her cue from Kate of Books Are My Favourite and Best.

Imyril made it look easy, but this took me most of the week to put together because, gosh darn it, I know that two books have themes in common, but all my brain can do for me is shout “both greeeeeeeen!” … which is, yeah, not useful.


So while not as inspired as imyril’s list, for sure, here’s my contribution:



The Explorer by James Smythe 

With the strap line “There is no turning back” you don’t need to be told that this is about a fated space voyage, in which multiple deaths, the claustrophobic atmosphere and duplicates all play a role. It’s scary.

(My synesthete brain would like to add that this book is dark purple).



Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

One of my favourite reads of 2018, VanderMeer presents us with the weirdest first contact situation ever. Transformation is the name of the game and among other things we witness duplicates and biology run riot in another claustrophobic environment.

(My brain insists this book is a green one).



The Search for Wondla by Tony DiTerlizzi

I will never tire of plugging this trilogy – they are simply the best kids’ scifi I’ve read as an adult and that’s that. DiTerlizzi creates a whole new world in which biology runs riot. This world is peopled by some frigging awesome aliens, and one of the key relationships in the story is a human-alien friendship that gives me all the warm and fuzzy feels.

(Another green book).


25667918. sy475

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Another wonderful human-alien friendship is depicted here, one that survives against the odds. Okorafor also treats her readers to some crazy beautiful ideas, a far-future I absolutely want to live in, and the Miri-12 spaceship, Third Fish, which is a living ship!

(My brain says it’s not enough to tell you that this is a blue book – it is that particular blue of the top of the sky on a cloudless summer day).



Alien Earth by Megan Lindholm

In this far-future humanity has undergone a transformation and is under the watchful eye of the alien Arthroplana after the mess we made of our home planet. A living ship Evangeline completely steals the show in this book however, and her beautiful alien-human friendship is beautiful to behold.

(Another that particular blue book).


28962996. sy475

Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

And so we come full circle to a second fated space voyage. Humanity has undergone a transformation here too, and both duplicates and multiple deaths raise their ugly heads again.

(And finally, a dark purple book if ever there was one).



This may have been hard for me, but it was also very satisfying to find that final book that linked both forwards and backwards. And I’m sure you can all do far better than I’ve done here, so I’m looking forward to seeing other Six Degrees of SFnal Separation posts very soon!






Changing Vision by Julie E Czerneda

Banner by imyril of There’s Always Room for One More; photo by Sebastien Decoret from

Changing Vision is book two in Czerneda’s Web Shifters trilogy. Book one was Beholder’s Eye, which I first read for SciFi Month last year – thoughts here if you’re interested – which I find a very pleasing; there’s a symmetry in that. Nothing I have to say here is going to overtly spoil the first story for you, but if you’re thinking of reading them my advice would be to read these books in order. A lot of what happens in Changing Vision is directly related to events and characters from Beholder’s Eye and you really don’t want to miss any of it.

Because it’s awesome.


I loved Beholder’s Eye. In it we met 500-years-young shape-shifting alien Esen-alit-Quar and got to see a Star-Trek-esque universe of fabulous variety from her unique (and adorable) perspective. We also met Paul Ragem, a Commonwealth alien communication specialist, and Esen’s first true friend outside of her small Web-family. A lot of shit went down in that first book: murder, mystery, family secrets, an unstoppable force tearing its way through the universe killing everything in its path. And Esen and Paul did an awesome job of handling it all, together. So my only real worry at the end of Beholder’s Eye was that Paul wouldn’t be around for the rest of this trilogy, being as Esen is so long lived in comparison. Thankfully, while fifty years has certainly aged our ephemeral Human somewhat, he’s nowhere near done with life yet (I can’t find it now I want it, but there was mention of the Human lifespan being quite a bit longer than what we have now to explain why Paul is such a bad-ass septuagenarian in this story).

Changing Vision picks up the story of Esen and Paul – now business partners running the Cameron and Ki Freight Company and living under assumed identities – in a backwater corner of space. Right off the bat I loved that their friendship had still not gone heart shaped, and as the story unfolded I loved too that it had become appreciably richer after fifty years and was still grounded in a shared curiosity about and compassion for life in all its forms. As I settled into reading this on the sofa one evening I actually felt that weird happy-sad feeling you get when you finally spend time with someone you’ve not seen for ages and realise you’ve just picked right up where you left off.

So this won’t be objective at all. Ha!

If anything, I found this episode in the adventures of Esen and Paul even more exciting than the first one: A series of increasingly suspicious coincidences, first contact with a race Esen has no knowledge of, three characters with troubling (to say the least) obsessions, a fascinating communication problem between two sentient species, more threats to Paul and Esen’s safety than you can shake a stick at, and some of the political, social and emotional ramifications of the events in Beholder’s Eye thrown in for good measure, made this the least relaxing read of the year. I spent a fair amount of time gasping, shouting at bad guys and chewing my fingernails as our heroic duo bounced out of one scrape and into another with increasing rapidity. But that was only when I wasn’t feeling all the feelings about the guilt and loss that haunts a number of characters in the story.

For Esen fifty years is nowhere near enough time to come to terms with the losses she sustained in Beholder’s Eye and while she keeps making the point that she is now the eldest of her Web, it’s interesting that her real vulnerability is that she is still the youngest. Just because she is considerably older than everyone she knows doesn’t mean she has yet reached maturity and a couple of the most touching moments here were when Paul comforted her as a parent would a child, underlining how much he has become family for her.

Then there is what happened to Garson’s World, and the guilt assumed by the Tly; Esen’s friendship with Joel Largas; Lefebvre’s loss; and Esen’s Ersh memories of the Fenedens and the time before the Web. How each species deals with loss and guilt makes for a fascinating undertow even as the story gathers momentum. The impact that Esen and her kind have had on the populated areas of space is far-reaching, and while she has Paul, Esen is still alone as the representative of her species – with all that that could entail if she were discovered.

Fortunately, she is still her impulsive, earnest, well-intentioned self, so there were as many laughs as gasps (and supressed sobs). There’s a lot of fun to be had with her Lishcyn form (as pictured in the cover art by Luis Royo) in which Es is beautifully clumsy – particularly in the Circle Club restaurant, a scene that had me howling with laughter – and has to give much more thought to the condition of her five stomachs and, ahem, associated functions. Not to mention her inclination to decorate herself with leaves when upset. As an unfamiliar, but stunningly beautiful Feneden Es is a lot more restrained, but there is still a laugh out loud moment when she finally has something to eat in that form, much to the horror or her attendant medic. Then there’s her irrepressible mischievousness even in the face of real danger: stuck on an enemy ship and trying to find the captured Paul, she takes advantage of the Tly crew’s superstitious nature by posing as the ghost of a blood-encrusted child to move about unchallenged; and in trying to find a parking/hiding place for a herd of Ganthor and their armoured vehicle she reframes their recent attack of the Iftsen’s art gallery as performance art. And gets away with it.

There’s another wonderful array of alien species for us to meet and muse over in this book, (I’d love to know what Czerneda’s notes for some of them must have looked like). I was delighted to see Esen’s Quebit self again, if only briefly (I identify with these little obsessive fixer-organisers) and the fabulously smelly, noisy Ganthor. I was also pleased to make the acquaintance of the party loving Iftsen, the attractive, nervous Feneden and a young Erkickian hustler. And I just loved Es as the Lishcyn Esolesy Ki. Czerneda’s got the gift for making all of these various beings both fascinating and relatable in some way, but when Esen becomes them they often turn out to be terribly adorable. Which has a lot to do with Esen’s own affectionate and cheeky nature shining through her various disguises, I think. Certainly, I am as much in love with Esen as a Lishcyn as I was with her in her Ket and Lanivarian forms in Beholder’s Eye. What I picked up this time round that I perhaps missed in that first book was the interesting way in which each different form impacts on her personality just a little – she is more relaxed or more aggressive, more able to concentrate or more flighty depending on some of the evolutionary aspects of her chosen species. I thought this was pretty darn cool, now that I’ve noticed it.

Changing Vision is a tightly plotted adventure and a festival of fun rolled into one. It is also a celebration of friendship, something that I applaud long and loud, (because, sure, romances are great and they have their place, but how often do you read about a friendship that isn’t just a reason for some sort of heroic effort on the part of the protagonist?). There’s a lot to be said for optimism, heart and humour, so if you feel the need for some, or you already love Lois McMaster Bujold’s or Becky Chambers’ books, or Star Trek, or the Mass Effect games, then I heartily recommend you give these books a go.






Fun for Monday: 5-Star Books in 5 Words

Banner by imyril of There’s Always Room for One More; photo by Sebastien Decoret from


Lisa over at Dear Geek Place did this fun feature post the other day and I want in! A tag originally created by Matthew Sciarappa (it’s a great video) and which Lisa found by way of Lauren over at Always Me.

The rules are simple: pick five books you’ve rated as five-star reads, then sum them up in five words only. Fun!!

As it’s SciFi Month I decided to go back in time and pick some of the first scifi books I ever read, when I was a highly impressionable teenager. I’ve used my five words to create imaginary news headlines for these books (yeah, I’m that kind of annoying person):


32045957. sy475

Humans escape alien city experiment!




Computer games for the win!




First contact: thing of wonder!




Post-apocalyptic plants will kill!




Spaceship powered by human brain!



Anyone else fancy having a go?

If you do, please send me a link to your post in the comments if you do so I can see your awesomeness!






The Electric State by Simon Stålenhag

Banner by imyril of There’s Always Room for One More; photo by Sebastien Decoret from


A young girl and her little bobble-headed robot travel across a dystopian America, heading for the coast.

Doesn’t sound too worrying, does it? Might even be adorable.

Don’t be fooled. This is an infectiously spooky, creep-inducing story told in sparse prose and stunning digital paintings. The mounting unease I felt while reading this was unexpected, but, man, did I enjoy myself.


In Stålenhag’s America, circa 1997, the country (perhaps the world? We never find out) has fought some sort of massive war using technology that has allowed humans to pilot giant warships and battle-robots remotely. The scars and detritus of this war litter the landscape: craters, huge abandoned shooting ranges, and the carcases of incredible weapons left where they fell like discarded toys and picked over by scavengers. It’s not a lifeless world, however. We see evidence of other travellers in their parked cars and headlights on the road, we see lights on in suburban homes as the girl drives by, and as she moves into more populated areas, we see … far more unsettling things.

The technology used in the war has bled out into the entertainment market. A company called Sentre has created the neurocaster, a VR helmet that looks like a plague mask as designed by Apple. But neurocasters are proving to be fatally addictive, amongst other things. As for the drones leftover from the conflict, many have undergone strange makeovers and now, oddly cobbled together and trailing vine-like cables, they appear to have a life of their own.

Stalenhag Shooting Range

Visually, a big part of the appeal of Stålenhag’s work in The Electric State is that it echoes so much of my childhood – a childhood spent watching and re-watching Hanna Barbera cartoons and movies like Flight of the Navigator, Robocop and Blade Runner, and playing games such as Pacman and Flashback. There’s almost a George Lucas/Steven Spielberg vibe to this alternative America, but with fewer adorable robots and undertones that are a whole lot more disconcerting.

That’s not to downplay Stålenhag’s writing though. It’s sparse, yes, but without it there’s only half a story. In the written part we learn the girl Michelle’s backstory, and, ever so slowly, her reasons for the journey she’s on. Through her we learn a little about how the world got the way it did and what’s she’s been through to survive. Her story is a human one of loss, followed by loss, followed by loss, and it’s heart-breaking in its brevity. Then there is the second voice. At first it seems to be giving us a more factual account of the war and the technology behind it, but it becomes clear later that it is the voice driving the man who is tailing Michelle.

One of the things I loved most about this book was that Stålenhag chooses, at two critical moments in the story, to forgo words and tell us what happens in a series of much more closely related images. Both these moments occur near the end, and I won’t say too much so as not to give anything away accidentally, but there is a movie-feeling to both episodes, they are utterly absorbing, and I swear I could almost hear what was happening, as if my brain took the lack of descriptive writing as a sign to fill in the blanks for itself.

This was a far more successful marriage of word and image than I expected it to be. It’s also a book I’m really looking forward to reading again, because I feel like there’s more to be gleaned from some of those incredible digital spreads than I got first time round. And, yes, it’s left me with a lot of questions: who were the Americans fighting? How far has the Convergence spread? And what is its goal? Who was the man following Michelle and who did he work for? Who was it giving him orders? But I think some of the allure of The Electric State is in these unanswered questions.




Simon Stålenhag? Now most firmly on my radar.







Implanted by Lauren C Teffeau

Banner by imyril of There’s Always Room for One More; Photo by Sebastien Decoret from

It seems appropriate for me to kick off this year’s participation in Scifi Month by reading the book I won during last year’s Scifi Month: Implanted by Lauren C Teffeau – the first thing I have ever won, and which I am still very excited about one year later (it’s even signed by the author – squeee).


I have a soft spot for stories set in enclosed societies. I don’t know quite what it is that appeals to me about these worlds in miniature, but if the planet’s gone to hell in a handcart and survivors are living underground or in an orbiting space station, or under a glass dome as in Implanted, then I’m already halfway to loving the story that follows. And Teffeau’s creation is pretty cool. The city of New Worth, instead of sprawling outwards across a damaged, poisoned Earth, extends upwards as far as its glass dome will allow, and its class structure follows suit. The Echelon and the Canopy, the highest levels of the city, are where the government operates from and where the wealthy make their homes. The Understory is the middle-class layer and the gloomy Terrestrial District at the bottom of the pile houses the working class. Later we learn that there is also an Underground, where the malcontents make their homes. All that said, this class structure is not rigid – people can ascend and descend because of money, smarts and tech. There is a thriving economy, there is tourism, crime, entertainment arcades, competing news channels, designer clothes and rip-off copies. Teffeau creates a satisfyingly realistic city that feels city-sized, with all the variety that that entails.

Emery Driscoll, our POV and kick-ass heroine, grew up in the Terrestrial District, but thanks to her parents’ hard work and her own smarts she is, at the start of the story, a final year student at the College of New Worth in the Canopy. She’s chosen a safe degree that will guarantee her work so that she can get her parents out of the Terrestrial District too, she has a cute and bubbly bestie and just maybe she has a boyfriend lined up. Everything is looking promising, almost rosy, until Emery gets blackmailed into becoming a super-secret courier for the possibly sinister company Aventine.

Let’s take a moment, shall we?

So, yeah, this is all pretty standard fare so far. I can think of a bunch of books on the library shelves (looking at you Young Adult section) that have virtually this same set-up, give or take a detail. And I have to admit that when the potential boyfriend showed up in Chapter 2, I rolled my eyes and settled down to be unimpressed. But … amidst some fairly predictable (but still very exciting) thriller stuff, Teffeau also examines where our love of smartphones may take us. And this is what I’d really like to talk about, instead of just giving you a run down of characters and events and reactions.

Most people in New Worth have an implant. It’s received around the age of eleven and it’s essentially like having your smartphone in your head. With your implant you are connected to your family and your friends as much or as little as you want to be. You can communicate telepathically (for want of a better word), with or without emotional bleed as you choose. There is a visual overlay so you can bring up maps when you’re lost and can see the news as it happens. You can augment your vision if it’s dark, you can turn down the sound of the world around you, you can live entirely in your own head. So instead of everyone walking around with their heads bowed over their phones, we have a city full of people doing weird things with their eyes (implants are controlled with eye movement), which at least means a lot less bumping into one another.

Some people, called Disconnects, choose (or have been forced) to have their implants removed. They live in the Terrestrial District and the Underground because not being connected to the network means that they cannot apply for a lot of jobs, won’t be considered for a lot of housing, and are invisible to a lot of people. They are distrusted by most of the city’s inhabitants, as minorities often are and are given risky, low-paid work.

The thing is, being implanted is only an advantage within the dome. And everyone in the city, implanted or not, knows that they are only living in New Worth until their regeneration efforts outside reach tipping point and the day of Emergence arrives, when everyone can live outside in the fresh air again. And, sure, it’s been a long hard slog, but it looks like Emergence is within reach.

Which makes me think of where we’re at right now. Computer illiteracy is something I come across every single day. Local councils like the one I work for, for example, are pushing people to use online services instead of face-to-face or telephone services as they cut back on staff in response (at least in part) to severe budget cuts. In the library we deal with many frustrated people who now can’t access services they have a right to because of their lack of knowledge. These people didn’t choose to be ‘disconnected’ and they have many different attitudes. Some are belligerent and feel they shouldn’t have to learn something new and difficult in order to do something they used to be able to do with ease. Some are terrified and feel out of their depth, confused and unable to catch up. We’re in a weird place in time where people with little or no computer knowledge are becoming second-class citizens and I am afraid for them.

On the other hand, the people who are hyper-tech-literate are becoming a different class in and of themselves. And then there are the people who can navigate a smart phone or a tablet with ease, but are utterly stumped when faced with a PC or laptop.

We’re in a weird place in time.

Me? I love my smartphone. I love that I can check my emails with it, can take photos with it and post them on Instagram, can read blogs during my lunch break, or search for pictures, or find out what’s on at the cinema and what’s on the menu at the nearest place to eat. (I don’t love Twitter yet, but it’s possible I will in time). And sure, it’s good to be able to text or phone friends and family as and when too.

But I also love turning it off or leaving it at home.


Anyhow, back to Implanted. This is a good scifi thriller. It’s a smidge predictable in places, and the potential boyfriend was a sulky, scowling sort (I will never understand what’s attractive about grumpy men), but the big conspiracy thing at the heart of it was satisfyingly meaty. And there is always plenty to love about shadowy organisations that blackmail people into working for them and then fake the deaths of said people and give them new identities and cool kit and train them to kick ass even better than they did before. In twelve words or less: A fun read with some interesting and non-judgemental things to say.




Mini rant, unconnected to Teffeau’s book: I wrote this in the newest update of Microsoft Word and got mighty pissed off with the new ‘conciseness’ feature. I write like I speak (without all the ums and ahs) because I find it easier to get my thoughts down that way, because I love the sound of my own voice, and because I’m not writing an essay or an article here. If I had followed all the little conciseness advisories I got while writing this, it’d be the flattest, saddest thing I’d ever written. On the upside, it’d be a heck of a lot shorter. Concise, even.

Technology, eh?