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Hell Divers V: Captives by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Format: Kindle
Rating:  5 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

I’ll be honest: I was nervous to pick up this book. Given how HD4 ended, followed up by the title and cover of this book, I was hesitant to learn what happens next. This made it difficult to get into the book to start off with. Don’t get me wrong. My issues had nothing to do with either the quality of the writing or… or perhaps they had everything to do with it. In the Hell Divers series, Nick has created a cast of characters who have become dear friends. I feel I’ve been with them through their ups and downs, thick and thin, disappointments, losses, wins. And because of this and the direction of the story – for me, at least – it became increasingly difficult to contemplate more bad stuff happening to any of them. About the only thing that gave me the courage to plough on was reports I was hearing from others who had read it.

And was that faith well rewarded! I should perhaps have trusted Smith more… Don’t be silly. I do trust him. I’m just not so sure I trust some of those monsters he invents quite as much, though! And as is to be expected, this book is packed full of all types of monsters. But it’s also chock full of good people.

Given the self-induced rocky start, once I really got into the story, it settled right down into being a classic addition to the Hell Divers’ story – aforementioned monsters and all. I’m not sure if this is one of the shorter stories in the series, but it certainly went down a treat in the end. I’m glad to have read it, and I look forward to reading more about the further adventures of the Hell Divers.

PS: The dog’s fine!

Pebble in the Sky by Isaac Asimov

Format: Paperback
Rating:  5 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

I clearly wasn’t paying attention when I picked up this book to read, as I hadn’t realised it was a GE tale. So I was delighted to discover I was in a corner of the Foundation empire, albeit a very distant, small corner. Nonetheless, this book, while focussed on Earth, retains the vastness of the GE, and so it was perfect for me.

Joseph Schwartz, in the 20th century, picks up his foot and puts it down in GE 827. Disoriented and confused, he finds himself at a farmstead among people who speak a language incomprehensible to him – as his is to them. Soon he finds himself the subject of a scientific experiment, the Synapsifier, purported to make people very, VERY clever.

Meanwhile, Bel Arvardan, an archaeologist from Sirius, arrives on Earth, intent on proving once and for all that it is the planet origin of the human race. He has his suspicions, but proof would be appreciated.

It doesn’t take any kind of degree to realise that, in Joseph Schwartz, Arvardan has the proof he’s searching for, but more problematic is the Society of Ancients, the rulers of Earth and their hide-bound prejudices – not to mention their intent on wiping out the rest of the Galactic Empire with some nasty bug they’ve developed – and other obstacles that stand in the way of Arvardan even knowing of Schwartz’s existence.

I always love a good story from Asimov, and this is no exception. I didn’t see the resolution coming, and to that I doff my proverbial cap to this master of deception and storytelling.

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.

The Camille by Colby R Rice

Format: Kindle
Rating:  4 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

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

In 2054, tech genius and AI mogul Andrea Daanik Ramoni has decided to step down as CEO of DeFTek because her husband has divorced her for one of her own creations, a sex-bot. But when the sex-bot asks for her assistance, then proceeds to do away with both Ramoni and Andrea in a murder-suicide, everything is over. But is it? Unknown to Andrea, some, known as The Camille, have taken her work and improved on it. But there’s a storm coming, and who will fight it?

I just loved Colby’s vision in this story. From the AI and robot advancements to sentient nanobots with a will to live (that really made me chuckle), there’s a whole lot of science fiction in here. And a very real story with danger lurking around many corners. A real roller-coaster ride, and clearly a lot more where it came from. Excellent stuff.

Melting Shlemiel by Jason Werbeloff

Format: Kindle
Rating:  5 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

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

In the year 2054, Shlomo “Shlemiel” Menachem, resident of Jerusalem and member of a conservative Jewish sect, lives inside a shell, a personalised safety Bubble and something all humans in Jerusalem have (from what I could tell), that he was put into following his bar mitzvah. Being a clumsy individual, this transformation came as something of a blessing to his parents, but it still causes problems to Shlemiel. Communication is via some type of morse code that is either thrummed through thrummers located in the knee region, or by tapping on the other person’s carapace. Food – energy – is obtained by firing weapons of various types at the carapace – which presumably then converts the kinetic energy into energy the body can utilise. The only place the shell recedes is in the synagogue, when the devout step into a pool of water.

One night at Shabbos, a stranger enters an overflow pool at the mikvah – Shlemiel is the only other person in that pool – and Shlemiel is drawn to the “otherness” of this person. Some days later, Shlemiel comes across the stranger again, and follows them to a red door. What lies behind the red door?

Oh, there is so much to this story. From finding a solution to the “bubble-wrap” generation’s issues to taking current life in Jerusalem and fast-forwarding some decades, Werbeloff has created a really inventive future. His portrayal of the vulnerability created when one does something one perceives to be wrong was spot-on, and I appreciated his sensitivity to diversity and the need to bring together rather than divide. Shlemiel is a very endearing character, and this story was a delight – both from the human perspective as well as the technological advances envisioned.