Review: Alice in Borderland

Netflix been a blessing during the pandemic. It’s brought us a huge variety of entertainment. When it ran out of Western shows to feed our ever-present need for distraction, there was an entire realm of foreign-language fiction to discover.

Among the more recently-released series was Alice in Borderland, a parallel-reality science fiction series of Japanese origin, set in a dystopian Tokyo in which everyone’s a contestant in games designed to bring about their rapid demise.

Based on a Japanese manga that dates back to 2010, the series is a mind-bending nightmare with lots of triggering scenes for the more sensitive among us – be aware.

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Cover of Stormblood

Review: Stormblood by Jeremy Szal

After the fumbling, fraught and frustrating exercise of launching my own book, I really wanted to immerse myself in someone else’s work.

To find something to read, I did what I often do and turned to the Guardian Newspaper’s ‘Best Recent Science Fiction’ column. Flicking through the various months, I came upon Stormblood by Jeremy Szal.

I didn’t want anything too cerebral, and I wanted something with a bit of pace. I got what I asked for, but perhaps misjudged slightly what I actually wanted.

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Re-Read: Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

I’m an Alastair Reynolds fan.

Not ashamed to admit it, he writes crunchy science fiction that sits well with my critical mind. You know – the bit that competes with your enjoyment of a novel by whispering, “that’s not very realistic, is it?” in the back of your mind.

I’m not a very good fan though.

I found his books by accident, trawling the shelves of a local bookstore many years a in search of good science fiction, something which can be very hard to come by when you don’t know the genre well.

In the intervening years, I’ve read Reynolds intermittently, chancing upon one novel or another, and getting that spark of author recognition when I saw his name. I’ve enjoyed every single one, to a greater or lesser degree.

I recharged my kindle for the first time in about two years when the coronavirus-related confinement limited my entertainment options, and while flicking through books I’ve read and know well, I chanced upon Revenger. I remembered the title, recognized Alastair Reynolds’ name on the cover, which seemed familiar.

But I couldn’t remember anything about it.

Brilliant! A second run at a novel I’ve already bought, courtesy of a faulty transfer from short- to long-term memory.

The downside of reading a book you already know is that you read it much faster than the first time around, as your memory starts to fill in ever larger bits of the story for you. The upside is you get to rediscover work you enjoyed enough not to delete, which in my case is a sure measure of quality. I’m not short of memory on my kindle, but I’m still picky about what gets to fester there.

After I finished, I looked up the Wikipedia entry for Revenger and found that it’s referred to as “hard” science fiction. That I have to object to. Although much of Reynolds’ oeuvre is hard science fiction, this isn’t. The “glowy”, the “ghosty” and the “quoins” are anything but, and they’re central to the story. That said, his departure from the strict confines of hard science fiction poses no problem for me.

Fura Ness, as a protagonist, gets most of her character development out of the way in the first third of the book, and spends the rest of it coming to terms with the person she’s developed into. The world-building is, while not on a par with Seveneves, absolutely top notch. Reynolds’ willingness to kill off significant characters keeps you on your toes, but he doesn’t forego the character development of each of his victims for all that, which gives you the shock that a death in a novel ought to.

Finally, the moral complexity the book hints at is refreshing (at least to me), in a context where the real world seems ever more defined in absolutes. Even the protagonist and the anatgonist have, as we finally discover, a side to them that mitigates the obvious judgement their behaviour draws. It’s possible, in fact, that the most evil characters are on the periphery of the story, looking in.

I’d forgotten about Revenger, and I really enjoyed rediscovering it. I also discovered that there are two sequels, which I will now have to read, and other books by Reynolds that had passed unnoticed, and which will find their way onto a list that informs future reading decisions.

Short Fiction : Snow

The Ortholan’s crew barely survive their crash on an icy moon, and they owe their narrow escape to the least popular member of their crew, the Navigator, whom they call Blue. But they will need him again if they are to survive, because he is the only person aboard capable of flying the ship back to civilization. Unfortunately, without access to their medication, Navigators become somewhat unstable, and the crew’s only hope of salvation may well be the one who kills them all.

Available on Amazon by clicking here .

Film Review: Ready Player One

When I first picked up the book by Ernest Cline, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. It looked like a slightly nostalgic young adult yarn spun around an overwrought nostalgia for the 80s.

Once I got into it, I was very happily surprised. It wasn’t nostalgia, it was obsession tempered by affection. It used its subject matter as a metaphor for a time when things were perhaps less overwrought, and a little more genuine. All this in the least genuine setting of all – virtual reality. Read More