The Memory Hacker by JT Lawrence

Format: Kindle
Rating:  5 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

This is the second novella in the futuristic visionary collection “2054” from a diverse quartet of authors.

It’s the year 2054 and Talia lives a quiet, mundane life. Required to go for a standard medical checkup, she does so. Everything is fine until the AI examining her indicates that she has had children. The problem is, she has no recollection of ever having had a baby. Vacillating between believing the AI is malfunctioning and wanting to uncover the truth, Talia must follow the trail of breadcrumbs. But where will it lead her?

No, I don’t give spoilers, but I will say that I loved this vision of a future South Africa. Already a dab-hand at creating a grungy dystopic hi-tec future vision for the region, Lawrence adds a new twist to her repertoire with this story. And it’s good. There were surprises around many corners in this story, and a whole load of heart. A lot of fun was had here.

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Deep Ocean Blues by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne

Format: Kindle
Rating:  5 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

This is the first novella in the futuristic visionary collection “2054” from a diverse quartet of authors.

It’s the year 2054 and fossil fuels are scarce. So the world turned to thorium, an atomic fuel that is non-weaponisable. Below the waters of the Bay of Bengal, some four kilometres down, are the rigs of the Bay of Bengal Corporation, an Indo-China concern, busily mining the thorium-containing monazite deposits. Unfortunately, an automated system above a certain size requires a human presence. Enter Parul Anand, human operator of Rig #443. 3D-printed on the rig while her real body is put on ice Topside (or is it?), with brain patterns transferred, and extra mechanical arms installed. Speaking of which, I never uncovered the reason for the extra mechanical arms, except their role as stabilisers after a hard night’s drinking was clearly illustrated. Maintaining the rig along with her is an army of cephalopods – octopuses, to be precise – called OctoPods and given unit numbers as businesses are wont to do, who have been bioengineered for their maintenance role – able to receive and follow instructions, and carry out basic repair and maintenance tasks.

In this cyberpunk vision of the near future, Wijeratne explores the relationship between humanity and nature, as well as that between humans and AI. I really liked the underwater setting, and the envisioned technologies used in the story. Especially the way in which current technologies are utilised and extended within the setting. In some ways, the underwater setting of this story reminded me of The Abyss. A lot of fun, with some dark elements too. And a very endearing octopod.

The Martian by Andy Weir

Format: Paperback
Rating:  5 stars
Reviewer: Laurel

Six days ago, the first team of astronauts landed on Mars. A dust storm forces the team to evacuate and return to Earth. In the confusion and drama of the evacuation, Mark Watney is injured and left behind for dead. Discovering he is alone and without any communications, and no hope of retrieval, Watney must come up with a plan to survive until the next team arrives on Mars. But it isn’t going to be easy.

After watching the movie, I had to read the book, so I acquired it and settled in. And was I in for a treat. Yes, the book is technical (and gives a whole load more information than the movie ever could), given that most of it’s format is log entries from a stranded astronaut, but astronaut Mark Watney’s take on life, innate sense of humour and can-do attitude make for a thoroughly enjoyable read.

This book is an outstanding offering from Weir, and is very well written. The level of detail (and the research that surely backs it up) is immaculate and he kept me engaged from start to finish. That’s actually quite a feat – to be able to be detailed with technical stuff AND keep an audience engaged, and not all writers (or speakers) manage it. Weir pulls it off with aplomb – and a flourish to follow it up.

Bad Timing by Molly Brown

Format: Hardcover
Rating:  4 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

Alan Strong works in the Archives Department at the Colson Time Studies Institute some three hundred years in the future. One day, when he arrives at work, his friend Joe Twofingers draws his attention to a fiction story in a magazine from the 20th century called Woman’s Secrets. The story is about a man called Alan Strong from the 24th century who travels back in time because he sees a photo of a lady called Cecily Walker, falls in love with her. And apparently this man works at the Archives Department at the Colson Time Studies Institute…

What ensues is a humorous account of Alan’s attempt to find Cecily. Time travel gets tough when you don’t have all the instructions.

I enjoyed reading this story. Brown’s writing is vivid and concise, and the story tickles the time travel paradox nicely. Definitely a thumbs’ up from me.

In the Tube by EF Benson

Format: Hardcover
Rating:  3 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

In this story, the narrator is visiting an Anthony Carling. After dinner, all the other guests leave, and the narrator remains as an overnight guest. Anthony is quite a philosophical character, and the discussion turns to time and eternity, how time is an invention, whereas eternity is outside of time. Then Carling goes on to describe some events he’s experienced that he believes prove that eternity does not follow the same conventions as time.

I felt it a bit of a stretch to include this story in a book about time travel, but there you go, that decision was not mine. As a story, yes. I quite enjoyed it. Pretty much a narration of supernatural events is my assessment – some events of which had not occurred at the time they were witnessed by Carling. So he saw a foreshadow of them, basically. Or precogged them. The story is well-written and easily accessible.