First up, a quick declaration of interest. I am (slowly) working on a novel which looks at the possibilities of life extension.

I almost didn’t read Suicide Club for that reason.

But, I am really glad I did choose to read the novel. Heng can certainly write. Her prose is a thing of beauty and she can really hit the emotional high and low notes when she chooses to.

The narrative carries you along from a 100th birthday party at the outset through the ongoing investigation following a minor road traffic accident, covering off some family history, which is revealed later, with a massive emotional impact, to not be quite what we were led to think it was.

Heng creates a world which is believable, the descriptions of the crowded streets of New York are suitably claustrophobic. But, an area which could have been improved upon is the wider world building. I was not totally clear about the social structures in this near future world. Exactly what difference there is between the lives of those who have longer life and those who do not? At one point the narrative makes reference to the general population “wouldn’t touch a lifer” but it is not really clear why this might be the case. Where would this level of fear come from?

There is reference to the areas outside New York being unpopulated due to low birth rates, but it is unclear why this is the case. While I do believe writers should show rather than tell, I think Heng could have painted the wider world around her narrative in a richer way and this would have enhanced what is already an excellent narrative.

There were also a couple of instances where I was not clear why people with the potential to live forever might not want to. I guess everyone has their own reasons, but if Heng could have made it much more apparent why someone would go to the lengths required in her imagined world of healthcare, I think this would have strengthened the narrative.

Overall, the minor issues I have with the story, do not deter from the narrative enough to make it anything less than a good novel. Heng is a good writer, her style brings you along and the emotional ups and downs are enjoyable.

Her vision of life extension is based in the world of medicine and health care improvements, while my part written novel is very much not in this vein (I was worried this book would be too close to my creation, which is why I was considering not reading Suicide Club).

If you are looking for a novel which is sci-fi light, but depicts a future world with a deep emotional story, Suicide Club could be just what you are looking for.

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In celebration of the life and work of Douglas Adams, writer of the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, today is Towel Day.

His works of fiction are enjoyed across the world and it is fitting to his sense of irreverent fun the world remembers him in this way.

More: towelday.org

To say Reynolds latest novel is a procedural detective novel is, while technically true, a vast under selling of Elysium Fire.

The novel is set in a cluster of habitats known as the Glitter Band and follows a number of Panoply operatives who are entrusted with protecting the participatory democracy which sees every citizen voting on every issue which faces their society.

Each habitat, it turns out, can leave the democratic union if they choose. And a rabble rouser, who is not exactly open about how much a part of the establishment he is, is stirring up dissent and encouraging breakaways.

So the set up feels a lot like brexit – Glit-xit, in this scenario. I was worried about where this was going to take us.

On the plus side, after the set up Reynolds leaves the Brexit analogy alone (unless he continues it and i am too uninformed / he is too subtle, for me to know it’s there).

In parallel to the politics is a story about brain implants going wrong and melting their hosts. This is starting to reach the levels where citizens might panic if the media made the links between the deaths.

Reynolds creates a narrative which is at once compelling and totally immersive.

His creation has shadows of the Culture novels of Iain M Banks. But any well written future set society is bound to have parallels with the Culture. And observing the similarities should be seen as a compliment to Reynolds.

There follows an imaginative narrative as the operatives unravel the deaths and find links to the politics of their age.

This is a great read for any sci fi lovers and if you have enjoyed any of Reynolds work before, this will in no way disappoint.

For some reason no one has made movies of the following sci fi source material (books or graphic novels) and in my humble opinion they really should as the material has hit movie written all over it.

Special effects have moved on so far, the difficulties of any of these could be overcome to make a spectacular film:

Tiger, Tiger by Alfred Bester – one of my favourite sci fi books of all time. A rip roaring rampage of revenge. Gully Foyle is left for dead in the opening salvos of a war between the inner and outer planets of the solar system. Oh and people can self teleport, which is a genius idea well used in this narrative. His path for revenge takes him across the solar system.

On the Flip Side by Nicholas Fisk – a story about people being able to step across to another dimension by the power of thought – and what the world left behind is like.

Neuromancer by Gibson – the novel which launched cyber punk is a delightful read from start to finish. And a cracking thriller which would make an epic cinematic experience.

Look to Windward by Iain M Banks – a simply beautiful novel with so much scope for some beautiful cinematography as the broad canvas of the Culture painted by Banks is played out across this enigmatic book. There is also a fabulous thriller plot which bounds along at a perfect pace for the narrative.

The Ballad of Halo Jones by Alan Moore – if you could skip over most of book one in the intro (like the first harry potter film skips half the book in about the opening 10 mins) and then cover book 2 and 3 in the actual movie. Book 2 of this graphic novel series is an interstellar cruise from the point of view of the waiting staff while book 3 is a sad tale of life in a universe where the only way to make money is join the army and wage war across the stars, a severally depressing view of war (which in the closing chapters borrows significantly from The Forever War by Joe Haldeman). Halo is also a feminist icon and a trailblazer in the representation of women in comic books.

If you can think of any other sci fi novels or graphic novels which should become movies please comment.

Literature literally loves lovers.

Of all ages – from those first flushes of Romeo and Juliet to middle aged lovers such as Antony and Cleopatra – love across human life has always been a focus of plays, poetry and novels.

There is an entire genre of, in my opinion, trashy romantic novels which seem to still sell.

At the more literary end of this genre is Bridgett Jones and her diary (I only made it about 2/3 of the way through the first one before I had to put it down) which appeal to so many.

There is also the slightly darker end of the market, popularised by 50 Shades of Grey.

There is love in many areas of literature, including unrequited love, The Great Gatsby being a tour de force in the lengths some will go to for their unrequited love.

Well, whatever type of literary love you love, today is the annual day of love, so think about those literary lovers and show your real lover just how you feel about them (maybe with the gift of a book about love)…

How do you follow up one of the greatest sci fi debuts in recent years?

Andy Weir’s debut The Martian was originally self published, before going on to be picked up by a major publisher and later turned into a movie starring Matt Damon.

His follow up, Artemis, was released late in 2017.

So how did he approach what could have been a difficult second novel in the shadow of such previous success?

Weir has produced Artemis, which more than stands up as a good novel in its own right and is not overshadowed by its predecessor.

Artemis is set on the moon, in and around the city of that name, the only city on the moon.

The main character, Jazz, is a young woman. But she shares enough personality traits with Mark Watney, the hero of The Martian, to keep things interesting.

Watney was alone on Mars for several hundred pages so he needed a bucket load of personality.

Jazz is not alone, but has enough of Watney’s brand of humour to keep the plot running along while interacting with a host of other characters.

Sample line: “on a scale of one to ‘invade Russia in winter’ how stupid is this plan?.”

The only area I felt The Martian could have been improved was through more descriptive sections around the plot.

Artemis has more descriptive parts than The Martian and this works well.

While The Martian didn’t lend itself to an obvious sequel, Artemis could easily be the first in a series.

Whether this is what Weir has in mind, or not, I have no idea.

Whether he chooses to visit Jazz again or do something else with his next novel, I will certainly be happy to read it.

This is a solid novel, with enough twists and turns to keep you interested. There is enough world building going on for the novel to work in its own logic, without the back story being overbearing.

I had hoped for a knowing reference to The Martian somewhere in the narrative, but didn’t spot one (please use the comments to tell me if there is one I haven’t picked up on).

Expect to see a big Hollywood movie version in the near future.

As usual I have read quite a few books this year.

Here are some highlights of books I read this year:

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham – love this author (The Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos are two of my all time favourite sci fi books) and this book, while taking a while to get going, ended up un-put down able. A great exploration of unfounded intolerance, and relevant today as when it was written.

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher – which I wrote about before, is a tour de force in modern teen fiction. Better than SE Hinton – and my teenage self is properly upset I have written that statement. Highly recommended.

Archangel by Robert Harris – any novel which can make me interested in post WW2 Russian history must be doing something right. This is a real page turner from the opening right up to its fabulous, if ambiguous, conclusion. Some of Harris other works I have found slow, or the world building more attention grabbing than the plot (Fatherland), but this has it all going on.

House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds – in a future where faster than light travel is impossible a house of long living clones travel the galaxy in cycles, spending vast aeons of time in suspended animation, holding reunions every few millennia. The scope of this novel is breathtaking and while it feels like it wanders off from the plot towards the end, maybe the real point of the novel is how even hideous events lose their horror after 17,000 years or so. Up for debate, which only adds to the positive feelings I have towards the book – still deciphering meaning long after reading is always a good sign about a book.

Please feel free to share your views on these books in the comments and also any novels you read this year, either ones published this year or otherwise.

Happy reading in 2018.

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