The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

Format: Paperback
Rating:  4 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

I’ve known of this book for many years, and though people have recommended me, I just never got around to reading it – until now.

Bill Masen, a biologist who works with triffids, is in hospital, recovering from an accident with a triffid. On the day he is due to have bandages removed from his eyes and find out if his sight has survived the attack, he awakens to silence. Certainly, the whole world is different to how it was when he went to sleep the night before. Discovering that he is one of the fortunate ones to have not been blinded when green lights appeared in the night sky, he soon ventures out into the new world.

This story is of how Bill acclimatises to the new world, the people he meets and how he survives. It is also a story of the menace of the triffids.

I really enjoyed this tale. Although it may appear gentle and somewhat primitive relative to more contemporary post-apocalyptic tales, the menace of the triffids is especially chilling, and Masen’s assessment of life is, I felt, quite spot on. I really appreciated how Wyndham really got into Masen’s head and asked (and perhaps answered) genuine questions about how life would be following an apocalypse.

A very good read. Why did it take me so long to pick it up?

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Palimpsest by Charles Stross

Format: Hardcover
Rating:  5 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

Palimpsest. Noun. a parchment or the like from which writing has been partially or completely erased to make room for another text. (link)

Stasis. Noun. a state or condition in which there is no action or progress. (link)

Agent Pierce is a member of Stasis, an organisation of time travellers who have tasked themselves with the preservation of humanity and the recording of humanity’s history. His initiation into Stasis was to murder his grandfather – effectively writing himself out of the history books. When he survives an ambush, he is contacted by a doctoral researcher he eventually marries. But things fall apart when he travels through time to the Final Library and finds no record of the time line in which he marries the researcher.

I really really enjoyed this story. It certainly was a great way to end off my travels through The Time Traveller’s Almanac. In Palimpsest Stross creates an explosive cocktail of some of the themes I love best from scifi: deep time, time travel and the time travel paradox. While this novella is somewhat complex, at the same time it’s relatively simple. I could definitely see scope for it being expanded considerably, but I also like that Stross leaves some of the story to my imagination to fill in.

Definitely a huge thumbs up to this story from this scifi fan.

If Ever I Should Leave You by Pamela Sargent

Format: Hardcover
Rating:  4 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

The narrator of this story remains nameless. Her husband is Yuri Malenkov, and when we meet them, Yuri is dying – having cheated death for around three hundred years – apparently that’s what people do. In the last six months Yuri has made many time travel trips, and he dies the night after he returns from his final trip.

The reason Yuri made those many trips was so his wife could travel to meet him again after he has left her. And eventually she does make use of the time slots he logged and visits with him as time passes.

It isn’t explained how people in this setting cheat death, but apparently they can rejuvenate – but only for so long. Then they age rather rapidly.

This was a really lovely, gentle story of timeless love, and I enjoyed it very much. And there’s a bit of a plot twist that just put the cherry on top of the cake.

The Coelura by Anne McCaffrey

Format: Hardcover
Rating:  5 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

This is the tale of the Lady Caissa, body-heir to Baythan (who has too many titles to repeat here), and her coming of age on the planet of Demeathorn. It depicts a very stylised, stilted society bound by rigid rules – especially when it comes to procreation. Body-heir contracts can be extensive and have clauses that can reverberate down the years.

When Baythan demands that Caissa consider a body-heir contract with a certain man, Caissa is determined to find out why. Her search – and frustrations – lead her to unwittingly discover Demeathorn’s greatest secret, something that’s never been mentioned in her presence, and love.

This is one of my favourite McCaffrey stories, and gets reread with regularity. Definitely one of my comfort reads, or a palate cleanser when I feel the need for one. Though the society depicted is stylised and artificial, Caissa is a break from that mold, and the coelura are creatures second to none. Definitely one of the most intriguing, imaginative conceptions I’ve come across in all my years of reading science fiction.

The Snow Queen by Joan D Vinge

Format: Paperback
Rating:  5 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

Where to start? This story is so immense that to find that single strand to start unravelling it from is almost impossible.

This is a space opera story. But it is so much, oh so much more than that. The first of a four-book series, The Snow Queen is based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale of the same name. Several things need to be considered here.

The Hegemony

Millennia after the fall of a galactic empire, people continued to live on worlds spread around the galaxy. The people of one world, Kharemough, discover space travel, and learn of other populated planets. And so they form the Hegemony, with a largely ceremonial government travelling constantly between the worlds. A Hegemonic police force is placed on each world, ensuring that Hegemonic law is enforced and adhered to. Space travel is through black gates. While the traverse is instantaneous, years pass for those left behind.

Tiamat

Tiamat is one of the worlds in the Hegemony. It has twin suns that orbit a black hole. Because of its proximity to the black hole, the world is only accessible to the Hegemony for 150 years at a time.

The people of Tiamat are split into two groups: the Winters and the Summers. The Winters live in the northern hemisphere. During the 150 years that the Hegemony has access to Tiamat, a Winter queen rules from Carbuncle, the world’s only city, while the Summers live in the tropical islands farther south. When the orbit of the twin suns draws them nearer to the black hole, Tiamat becomes hot, forcing the Summers north to Carbuncle. As the Hegemony pulls out of the planet, the Winter queen is sacrificed in a ritual death to the sea. A Summer queen then reigns from Carbuncle until the time when the orbit draws the planet away and it cools again.

The Hegemony’s specific interest in Tiamat, it’s sole interest, is the Water of Life, an extract made from the blood of the Mers, gentle sea creatures that populate the world’s oceans. The only way to extract the blood is to slaughter the creatures, and this must be done in massive quantities to meet demand.

The Story

Against this backdrop, we meet Moon Dawntreader Summer and Sparks Dawntreader Summer, merrybegot children who have grown up on the islands. Cousins, they are lovers, permissible by the Summer customs. One day the pair go to a place of choosing to find out if one of them might become a sybil. The sybils are revered by the Summers as speakers for the Sea Mother. They make a pact that if one of them doesn’t get chosen, neither of them will go through with becoming a sybil, but when Moon is chosen and Sparks is not, Moon finds she cannot, and does not want to, pull out. And so Moon becomes a sybil, and Sparks, feeling betrayed, leaves the islands for Carbuncle. The son of an offworlder, he has always been interested in technology, so Carbuncle is a logical choice.

Distressed, Moon seeks to follow him to Carbuncle to declare her love for him, but along the way, her plans get derailed.

Meanwhile, in Carbuncle, the Snow Queen, Arienrhod, is coming to the end of her reign. She has reigned for the full 150 years, her life prolonged by the Water of Life that Starbuck, her consort, slaughters the Mers for. Determined to lift Tiamat out of the technological dark ages the Hegemony enforces on them – technology is permitted during the Winter reign, but when the Hegemony pulls out, it destroys all electronics – she has been stockpiling equipment. But she has also cloned herself, determined that, despite her impending death, she will live on beyond her death and achieve her goal.

My thoughts

I first read this book as a teen, and loved it. Now I’ve read it again as an adult, and I still love it. The world-building is magnificent, and the potential for a bigger story is woven through the book. I just love a complex story, and this one’s right up there. Which is making it extremely difficult for me to review it without releasing any spoilers from their pens. For me, the concept of a little Hegemony scraping itself together using the remnants of a fallen galactic empire, the whole concept of Tiamat and it’s location around a black hole and the implications of that, and the Mers… it’s all wrapped up in a bundle that just satiates my desire for great science fiction and a great story.

Vinge’s writing is meticulous in its detail, and yet she doesn’t get bogged down. The story flows (straight from the pages to my mind), and is engaging and fun. I cannot recommend this book enough, to those who like a good space opera and some visionary scifi.