James L Cambias

Review: A Darkling Sea by James L Cambias

DarklingPresenting another SF novel review! I just tore through 2014’s A Darkling Sea by James L Cambias in a handful of days, and very much enjoyed it. Here’s an Amazon link if you want to read the blurb, or other reviews, otherwise read on to find out what I thought of it!

This standalone alien contact novel is a fast-moving and fun read. It takes place on an icy moon called Ilmatar (which is very much like Europa) in a far off star-system, where a gruesome first contact accident leads to a multi-species diplomatic incident.

I can’t help but think of this as Vernor-Vinge-lite, in a good way. In half the page-count of a sprawling novel like A Deepness in the Sky or A Fire Upon the Deep, Cambias tells a story similar to both (but far less complex) about human and alien interaction on a distant planet. However, instead of orbiting above the alien planet like in Deepness, the humans in this novel are in undersea scientific habitats like those in Michael Crichton’s Sphere and other novels with a similar setting. There, the humans are conducting research on the biota of Ilmatar, while being careful not to overstep interplanetary contact laws. Policing those laws are another alien race, the Sholen, who act as the main antagonists in the novel, but who aren’t necessarily the “baddies”. The narrative is told from the perspective of all three races, and I found I sympathised with all the main characters equally.

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My 2015 reading, so far… Reviews and mid-book thoughts!

I don’t get around to writing many full-length book reviews for this blog. But this year, I’ve decided that I’m at least going to write semi-regularly about what I’m reading, and what I’ve read so far.

My pace was abysmal in 2014, and it’s slightly better in the first month and a bit of 2015 — but I still catch my attention wandering a lot whenever I sit down to read almost anything. I’m sure I have some kind of attention span issue, and the fact that I’m currently reading 5 books simultaneously is testament to that possibility. I’ll list those books shortly, but first I’ll talk about what I’ve successfully finished since the year began.

(Note: I thought about listing comics and graphic novels in this post as well, but I might save them for separate posts.)

BOOKS I’VE FINISHED

pandoras-star-by-peter-f-hamiltonPandora’s Star by Peter F Hamilton – ★★★★

First up this year I finished this absolute monster of a tome. I actually started it in October last year, and it took me that long to get through the 1100+ pages. But it was pretty good! The real star of the book was the incredibly detailed world, which Hamilton attended to with the eye of a documentarian. It’s a fundamentally fantastical future universe (what with FTL and wormholes, not to mention the magic elf-like aliens) but thanks to Hamilton’s skill it feels plausible, and that’s an amazing achievement.

There were tons of characters too, and I can’t honestly say I was equally enthralled in all the different plotlines. When some characters showed up and took center stage for 50 pages or more, I could barely scrape through to the next chapter. But other characters’ stories were absolutely compelling, and I tore through those sections. I’ve seen a lot of dislike out there for Ozzie’s chapters, but his adventures were some of the best parts for me.

I’m really looking forward to Judas Unchained and the end of the saga, but before I begin that journey, I need to get some shorter SF novels under my belt.

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My 2015 SF/F reading resolutions

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It’s not too early to post a New Year’s resolutions post, is it? Oh, it is? Well, I’m going to do one anyway, because currently I’m neck-deep in books that will take me until the end of this year to finish — so whenever I think of books I want to read in the future, I know I’ll be starting them in January 2015 at the earliest.

2014 hasn’t been a very bookish year for me. I’ve been busy with (or just distracted by) quite a lot of other things, and my reading has fallen by the wayside. In previous years I’ve read anywhere from 40 to 52 books (that perfect one-per-week goal, sigh) but this year I’ve finished just 23; and I know for a fact that I won’t hit 30 by the end of December. So it’s been pretty slow year.

Next year I want to aim high again. I don’t know if I’ll reach 52, but I’m going to do my best, hopefully by limiting distractions from Youtube and other places! Of course, when other things arise that are actually worthy of my attention (most notably my university studies) I will probably have to sacrifice reading time.

Here’s a list of some of the books I want to read next year. I’ve talked a little about each one and why I want to read it. I’ve excluded non-genre and non-fiction works because they’re not the focus of this blog, but I intend to read a smattering of those as well (particularly some books about history). Most of the following I already have in my possession, but some won’t be released until 2015. Of course, there will be some not-yet-announced 2015 releases that I’ll want to read as well, and I may discover new obsessions that will rocket other titles to the top of my reading list. All added together, here’s hoping I can reach 52 books next year!

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SF & fantasy books I can’t wait to read in 2014

I have a staggeringly huge to-read list, yet thanks to my slowish reading speed, other things competing for my attention, and the fact that I’m in the second year of a PhD, I know I won’t get through too many books this year. In the last few years I managed around 45-50 books per year. Anyway, I thought it would be fun to list off some of the SF&F fiction I can’t wait to get stuck into this year. It’s not a comprehensive list, and I’ve left off non-genre fiction and nonfiction because that’s not what this blog is about. Here are my “can’t wait to read” genre fiction titles for 2014:

NEW BOOKS

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Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer – I have, shamefully, never read a Jeff VanderMeer novel, so I intend to start with this new book before making my way through his back catalogue. He is often compared with China Miéville, and I find myself having a hankering for some New-Weirdness. This book sounds like an expedition into VanderMeer’s version of Miéville’s Cacotopic Stain: nightmarish and bizarre, and I am down for the ride!

A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias – A debut novel with hard-sf, alien contact and galactic politics? I’m there! This does sound rather similar to City of Pearl by Karen Traviss, only set underwater, but I’m a sucker for first contact stories (or any stories with well-realised alien races).

The Burning Dark by Adam Christopher – I haven’t read any Adam Christopher but the synopsis of this book (creepiness and suspense on a space station) makes it sound like he wrote it specifically for me!

Echopraxia by Peter Watts – Sequel to Blindsight, one of the scariest and smartest SF books I’ve ever read. Cannot wait.

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