Classic Review: The Invincible by Stanislaw Lem

The Invincible is a truly revolutionary work. It makes bold predictions that have become the norm in later science fiction (and partially in science), serves as one of the best examples of classic idea-driven sci-fi works, and yet it still maintains its humanity. It layers meanings on top of each other, and it slowly grows on the reader. Even though you may feel detached at the beginning, you’ll very slowly and gradually begin to care about the characters. This book may not be as well known as other Lem’s works, due to the relatively recent translation, but it should definitely not be ignored.

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Modern classic: Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds

There are two kinds of time travel novels. Those that… Ah, scratch that. There are all sorts of time travel stories, but the only ones I find interesting are those that focus on the time travel paradox. Not some kind of butterfly effect that drastically changes the present, but truly convoluted ways time streams can be messed with. In this regard, All You Zombies by Robert A. Heinlein is the golden standard that all stories look up to. Permafrost is just as fascinating, even though it tackles the issue from a very different perspective: from the accepted scientific explanation of spacetime.

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Book review: The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky

The Doors of Eden is a high concept book with great build-up, which still falls short due to the human element. Some of the passages are fascinating and the entire concept is intriguing, but the protagonists fall flat and are largely unrelatable. While other books (including Tchaikovsky’s own works like Children of Time) may get away with this, a narrative where the impact of a global catastrophe directly and very strongly affects the main characters, suffers from such one-dimensional protagonists. I’d rank this story as one of the weaker works of this prolific author.

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Book review: Existence by David Brin

What a bargain! Two and a half books for the price of one! But wait; there is more! You get three different sub-genres of science fiction, biting commentary on current social issues, environmentalism, uplift of species, first contact with aliens, space battles, disposable protagonists and so much more. Existence is an intriguing mess that drags on for way too long and has a myriad of problems especially with how it handles its characters. Thanks to these issues the book may never reach the cult status of John Brunner’s Stand On Zanzibar, which it tries so hard to emulate, but it still may offer something to everyone, and disappointing all at the same time.

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Classic Review: Gateway (Heechee Saga 1) by Frederik Pohl

Very few books manage to win the triple crown of Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards, and Gateway is one of the most deserving ones.  It features compelling worldbuilding, a very imperfect yet relatable narrator, a mystery that manages to remain mysterious till the end, and a setting that didn’t age at all since the novel’s publication nearly half a century ago.  Gateway is the thinking man’s science fiction, with very little action, and yet riveting thanks to a tight, fast-flowing plot.  It should be the required reading for any serious science fiction fan.

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Book review: The Quantum Magician by Derek Künsken

A fast-paced heist on a galactic scale, a universe full of wildly imaginative human variants, and a narrative with a tight internal logic all combine to form a very entertaining book, which almost reaches my imaginary rank of a modern classic. Almost. There are a few elements that hint that this is the author’s debut novel, but they are completely understandable. I still recommend this wild ride to anyone, but in particular (and perhaps surprisingly) to fans of the quintessential heist-in-space novel, William Gibson’s Neuromancer.

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Flash review: Quandary Aminu vs The Butterfly Man by Rich Larson

Sometimes I don’t even realize I need a change of pace until it happens. After months of science fiction that was either slow and ponderous, or fast on a galactic scale (where everything is slow anyway), a story that takes place in a single city, on a single day, choke-full of action, biohacking, collateral damage and unapologetically awful characters was just the kind of a wild ride I’ve been missing. Quandary is an irreverent, fun, and fast-paced novelette that I couldn’t drop until I finished it.

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Book review: Ninefox Gambit (The Machineries of Empire 1) by Yoon Ha Lee

This short and relatively inoffensive book has become quite polarizing in the SF circles. Some fans loved the novel enough to nominate it for the Hugo award. Others were dismayed by the needlessly difficult writing style. I see it as an object lesson on how not to write a book, and a point of comparison on what makes similar books work much better.

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Modern classic: Seven Surrenders (Terra Ignota 2) by Ada Palmer

A book of the caliber of Too Like the Lighting is difficult to emulate, especially with a sequel that is designed to be a direct continuation of the first book. Palmer manages to do just that with yet another exceptional novel, which succeeds to seamlessly integrate the continuing narrative, new and fresh spins, and a prose that is more approachable to the readers. Seven Surrenders is yet another gem of the 21st century.

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Book review: VALIS by Philip K. Dick

Let me begin by saying that VALIS is not science fiction. It is not a good book, either. It barely holds a plot, and instead contains little less than incoherent ramblings and conspiracy theories from a very disturbed mind, which goes off tangent even before a narrative line is established. And yet, the book has an almost hypnotic quality for the average reader, and as I’m told (I’m no expert), it provides for a great insight into certain mental illnesses.

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