The Peripheral, by William Gibson


The Peripheral, by William Gibson

Published October 2014 by GP Putnam’s Sons

Things have been rough for Flynne and Burton since the end of the war. Fortunately, Burton gets benefits from the VA, so he and his sister can still make ends meet, but it hasn’t been easy for them. So when what seems like a simple job comes up – fly a drone around in the beta for some new game – it seems like a perfect opportunity. What they don’t realize, though, is that playing this “game” is going to suck them into a world of time travel, alternate realities, and remote-piloted automatons.

At its core, The Peripheral is classic Gibson – as always, he approaches sci-fi and technology from an immersive, street level perspective. There’s no hand-holding for the reader, and Gibson discusses concepts like haptic feedback, automata, and nanotechnology with the understanding that the audience will already be familiar with them. In the hands of a less competent author, this might become confusing, but Gibson tells his story well enough that the audience remains intrigued until they’ve become fully familiar with them. It’s not necessarily an easy novel to get into from page one, but the payoff is absolutely there for readers that stick with it.

The future Gibson presents in The Peripheral is a terrifying dystopia, but a fascinating one as well. Climate change and other disasters have decimated the global population, with only the wealthiest and most corrupt surviving it. At the same time, it doesn’t really present as a dystopia for those living in it, which creates a unique moral tension when reading the scenes set in that time period. History might be written by the victors, but the future is determined by them.

While Gibson is often known as being a concept-driven author, one of the most enjoyable aspects of The Peripheral is the character-driven focus. Many readers have commented on how engaging of a protagonist Flynne is, and Netherton provides a fun straight-man to her while being an intriguing, empathetic character in his own right.

Smart, challenging, and engaging, The Peripheral is a wonderfully put-together piece of science fiction.


A Play of Shadow


A Play of Shadow, by Julie E Czernada

Published November 2014 by DAW

A Play of Shadow continues the story of Marrowdell that began in A Turn of Light, Czerneda’s last work. In it, we see Jenn and Bannan’s relationship continue to develop, until some unexpected visitors force them to go on an unexpected journey to help rescue Bannan’s sister from peril.

One of the most intriguing things about the first part of this series was how it inverted the story of the hero’s journey through the magical world that Czerneda established. Central to that was the fact that Jenn couldn’t leave the village of Marrowdell. Her ability to now do so is explained neatly enough, but it initially feels like a difficult idea to accept. It’s a testament to Czerneda’s ability that in the opening act she manages to convince the reader that not only is the journey possible, but that it’s one that Jenn must take.

The characters remain a strong selling point for the book – Jenn and Bannan remain their noble, likeable selves, and the new additions of Bannan’s family provide an interesting context to help us better understand the man himself. The other Marrowdell residents take more of a backseat this time around, but they’re almost all still there and remain their naive-yet-complex selves.

One particularly interesting part of the text is the role that mirrors and reflections play throughout it. This is explicitly true in the plot, with a magic mirror playing a role at one part, but also in the contrasting images of Marrowdell and Channen on opposing sides of the Verge. It will be interesting to see how this affects any later parts of the story – the two books published so far work wonderfully as counterparts to each other, and it seems like there would be little i f any space for another book to fit.

Echopraxia, by Peter Watts

Echopraxia, by Peter Wattsechopraxia_FC

Published August, 2014 by Tor Books

Horror and science fiction have a long history beside each other – one that stretches back as far Mary Shelley defining the modern science fiction novel with her Frankenstein. Often, though, when the two genres mix the horror is formed from taking the science fiction a step too far – we make contact with aliens, but they’re parasites that burst through your chest, or we perfect cloning technology, and create dinosaurs that kill us all. In Echopraxia Peter Watts manages to merge these two worlds in a very different manner, instead taking his usual penchant for hard, fact based science fiction and trying to understand concepts such as vampires, zombies, and alien blobs through that lens.

Continue reading “Echopraxia, by Peter Watts”

The Future Falls

future fallsThe Future Falls, by Tanya Huff
Published November 2014 by DAW

It’s the end of the world as we know it. Only we don’t know it. The Gales, a Calgary-based coven, do know that the end is nigh, and they might do something about it if Charlie, a wild and young member of the family, can convince them that that’s be something worth doing.

Reading this book was an experience of clear, unadulterated joy. The plot was filled with dynamic, powerful characters who played off each other in interesting ways. The “main” storyline – of a giant asteroid hurtling toward Earth – grounded the conflicts the characters had with each other in a way that heightened the stakes for all involved.  At times it was a little difficult to keep track of who was who in the family, and what their pecking order was, but if you’ve ever spent time in a large family, that feeling will be absolutely familiar.

Huff’s writing throughout the story is impeccable, as well – the Gales’ conversations and full of banter and quips, and her liberal use of pop culture references give the conversations a sense of immediate familiarity and intimacy. It never feels forced – given how Charlie’s magic works, if anything it feels necessary – and it no doubt will make the story a favourite among genre fans.

A final point worth mentioning to readers is that this book is the last part of a trilogy featuring the women of the Gale family. It can still be enjoyed as a stand-alone story, but there are a lot of references to the events of the first two books, and a lot of the emotional groundwork for the interpersonal drama was established in those as well. Readers newer to Huff’s series may want to dive into those stories (Enchantment Emporium and The Wild Ways) before tackling this one.

Overall, The Future Falls is a fun look at an interesting set of characters set against the end of the world. That might seem like an odd backdrop for a story that feels light-hearted throughout, but Huff tells it well enough that it never feels odd.

My Real Children

My Real Children by Jo Walton

Published May 2014 by Tor BooksMyRealChildren_Jo-Walton

My Real Children is the story of Patricia Cowan, a British woman that in 2015 is a patient in an old folks’ home, suffering from dementia and spending her days “very confused” in the words of her nurses. We soon come to learn the reason for Patricia’s confusion – she’s experiencing two different sets of memories. In one set, she married Mark, her university paramour, and settled down in the life of a housewife. In the other, she ended the relationship with Mark, embarking on a career as a teacher that eventually leads her to Beatrice, a scientist and fellow educator.

My Real Children is marketed as a story of alternate timelines and history, and it is, but on a more essential level it’s a story of the pursuit of a meaningful life, and the wildly variant forms that that pursuit might take. In both timelines there is a background of international events and news, with the characters’ lives intertwining and influenced by them, but those events are ultimately unimportant to the story – this is a story very clearly centered on Patricia’s life.

Alternate history novels often fall into a simple dialectic of presenting either a utopia or dystopia, presented to contrast against elements of our own society. Walton manages to avoid that with this work, instead presenting two different realities that are significantly different from ours. In both timelines, we see moments of joy and heartbreak; a strong reminder that life is made up both, and often in equal measures. The lives that both versions of Patricia live are wildly different from each other, but in each one we see the same core of a character: a woman of quiet dignity and grace, who does her best to live a meaningful life.

This novel was an incredible work of literature. Walton creates characters that live and breathe beyond the page, and her prose is subtly beautiful and poetic. Patricia’s lives are filled with easily recognizable moments of everyday life, which makes them all the more tragic as we experience them along with her. Throughout Patricia’s lives, Walton creates emotional connections that will stay with the reader long after they’ve turned the last page.

Aurora Month

The Aurora Awards, Canada’s annual awards for excellence in science fiction and fantasy, are being awarded at SFContario 6 / Canvention 35 on the weekend of November 20-22, 2015. In preparation for the Awards, for the next five weeks Northern Tomorrows will be publishing on a weekly schedule, with a special look at all of the nominees for Best Novel (English).

People interested in voting for the Auroras can do so by signing up for a membership with the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association. Voting is currently opening, and will continue until October 17, 2015. A full list of all the nominees, in all categories, can be seen here.

Irona 700, by David Duncan

Irona 700 by David DuncanDuncan_Irona700-P942

Published August 2015 by Open Road Integrated Media

At the centre of this novel is the titular Irona, a young woman who comes of age in the seven hundredth year after the founding of the kingdom of Benign. As the novel progresses, the reader follows Irona throughout her life as she advances into the political and military leadership of Benign’s government. It takes a longitudinal approach to life, which is a refreshing change from many YA novels; instead of focusing on a moment of intergenerational conflict, or a key turning point in history, it follows a single individual from childhood. In doing so, we get to become familiar with the character of Irona, and how the internal and external conflicts that surround her shape her from a young innocent to a mature, complex hero.

One of the most interesting aspects of the story deals with the world of Benign that Duncan has created. Benign is ruled by a council of what could best be called philosopher kings, with one 16-year-old being chosen into a lifetime of rulership every year. The council of 70, as they’re called, can exercise complete control over the economic and military life of Benign, but like the senate of the ancient Rome that inspired the novel’s setting, it’s a viper’s nest of competing political interests and cliques that can only be navigated by the deftest of political warriors. While the more traditional fantasy elements of the book (and there definitely are many) provide an interesting backdrop to the story, Irona’s attempts to navigate the world of intrigue and backstabbing provide much of the most interesting elements of the story.

The main challenge of reading a book like Irona 700 is that the strengths of it are often the weaknesses. The political world established by Duncan is absolutely fascinating, and at times it feels like the main plot takes away from it – a more interesting story could be told there than maintaining such a singular focus on Irona herself. Likewise, the look at Irona’s life takes an interesting, long-term and objective approach, but Duncan’s commitment to that objectivity prevents us from gaining a truly intimate or familiar understanding of her as a person. At times the book feels like it’s more of an after-the-fact biography of the protagonist, rather than her actual story (an admittedly fine distinction). These minor quibbles hold the story back from being truly great, but themselves remain an intricate part of how the story unfolds.

Worth noting, as well, is one specific incident in the plot that some readers may take issue with – the use of the “rape as plot device” trope that far too many novels with female protagonists feel it necessary to include. It’s there, and it sticks out as an odd moment in the events of the plot, but the rest of the story is told strongly enough that it manages to overcome cliché.

At first glance, Irona 700 appears to be a fairly straightforward and familiar tale of a young hero born into obscurity, only to be given an opportunity for greatness due to an unlikely turn of events. However, the characterization of the protagonist and the interesting world-building manage to create a story that is interesting and thought-provoking.

(Note: the publisher of this novel graciously provided an ARC of it for review purposes via Netgalley).