Book review: The Queen of Sidonia by Richard Fox

This one was from the ‘random grab and read a few pages’ list. I’ve got a lot of these books sitting in what I laughingly call a ‘short queue’, and a lot of them stay there for years. Every so often, I’ll pick one out, read a few pages, and if I carry on reading then we have a … Oh my god … is that … a slush pile?

Queen of Sidonia was up next, and after page ten, I realised it was the just kind of book I was in the mood for: an unpretentious middleweight sci-fi story with plenty of action and a nice tidy ending.

And it wasn’t advertising itself as anything else. I mean, the cover is basically telling you this isn’t Shakespeare, but you’ll have a damn good time all the same.

And yes, I really did enjoy it. The story is nothing that you haven’t seen before, and the characters will be exactly who you expect them to be: we’ve got an idealistic, straight-laced hero; a feisty princess; a ruthless villain and a fop. Still, they all have their quirks so you’ll have no difficulty remembering who’s doing what to who, and the dialogue is distinctive and punchy. Fox doesn’t waste time having his characters chatting about stuff you don’t need to know.

But back to the story. Yes, it’s nothing too original, but as I’m always saying, it’s not what you tell, it’s how you tell it, and this is told with flair, humour and without wasting a single word. The world-building is one of the best I’ve ever come acros, weaving the structure and politics of the future civilization into the story with leaving a seam. Great stuff. The plot thunders along without straining the reader too much, building to a climax that is perhaps a little too predictable aside from one nice touch which, if I’m honest, I didn’t see coming.

So, after taxing myself with something a bit more heavyweight (and probably far less fun), I’ll be back for the sequel: The King of Sidonia.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

It’s a bit of everything this book: part dystopian sci-fi, part urban fantasy, and part social commentary. You’d think that trying to blend all this together into a single novel would turn into a hot mess.

Well, no it doesn’t.

Set in a future Africa after a global disaster, Who Fears Death is the story – the long and harrowing story – of Onyesonwu Ubaid-Ogundimu, a child born of rape who undertakes a journey to become a sorcerer so that she can avenge the rape of her mother.

That alone is a lot to unwrap, but as I mentioned, this book is very much a social commentary wrapped in a fantasy novel, so along the way we also take a good, long, graphic look at incest, child abuse, female circumcision, weaponised rape, war, mutilation and my personal bugbear this year: the caste system. This is some bold writing: Okorafor doesn’t spare anyone’s fragility and that’s a good thing because it makes the book realistic, gritty, compelling and thought-provoking, stark and unsanitized. Some of it makes for uncomfortable reading, but don’t skip it.

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Book review: The Bionic Man

Ah, the seventies: flared trousers, flammable nylon, in-your-face racism and school custard with the consistency of skimmed milk. But you know what; it wasn’t all bad, because on Saturday nights (having spend the day bouncing off the walls after Tiswas) we had the Six Million Dollar Man: the story of Steve Austin, astronaut and test pilot, horrifically injured in a plane crash and rebuilt as a cyborg to be better than he was before; better, faster, stron—anyway, even if you don’t remember it I’m sure you get the idea. As entertaining as it was ridiculous, the Six Million Dollar Man ran for five seasons and spawned a reasonably successful spinoff (The Bionic Woman) that ran for another three. It was also the forerunner for just about every cyborg-related super-hero/villain you’ll see today; some we love (Inspector Gadget), and some we hate (The Terminator). Over the years, there’s been talk of a movie revival (I think Will Smith was mooted to play Austin one point), but nothing every came of it.

Well, actually it did: not a movie, but a comic series – and I had no idea. It’s been out for a couple of years, and I only found out when I stumbled across a picture from one of the comics on the interweb:

And on the strength of that, I bought the first omnibus, and I can tell you, it’s been an absolute treat. Kevin Smith (is that the same guy with the baseball cap?) deserves a comic oscar or something for this.

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