Waterstone's Liverpool One Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club

Waterstones Liverpool One Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club

"This is space. It's sometimes called the final frontier. (Except that of course you can't have a *final* frontier, because there'd be nothing for it to be a frontier *to*, but as frontiers go, it's pretty penultimate...)"
- Terry Pratchett, Moving Pictures

About Us

This is the official blog for the book club held in the book lounge of Waterstones Liverpool One.

The group meet at 6pm on the first Monday of the month to discuss their thoughts and opinions on the books selected. The books range from classic fantasy to brand new science fiction short story collections.

It's a fun and friendly atmosphere and all are welcome: from those who have never read any science fiction or fantasy before, to those who don't read anything else.

The group, and this blog, are administered by Glyn Morgan, the Bookseller responsible for the Science Fiction section of the store and an avid reader of SF who is currently studying for his PhD at the University of Liverpool.

If you would like to comment on any of the books we've read, this month or in the distant past, please feel free to contribute to the comments section of the relevant posts.

Visit this club's little sister: Coffee and Comics

Friday, 13 November 2009

Review: The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

Our first piece of member-submitted content, Anthony has sent me a review of the The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. The book has been a strong seller since it came out at the end of October. It marks the 12th book in the epic Wheel of Time series and was originally going to be a single volume entitled A Memory of Light , however Robert Jordan sadly passed away before completing the work and Sanderson, who was picked by Jordan's wife to complete the series, decided it was better to split the manuscript into three novels. But that's enough from me, here are Anthony's thoughts on the book:-

Although a long awaited continuation, due in some small part by the author's death, it was worth the wait.

The story is much like the typical template, young boy, ignorant of his destiny grows up to save the world, with the help of his friends. Lord of the Rings, Belgariad and Baker's Boy to mention some. A tried and tested format admittedly but one which Jordan takes to extremes with friends and allies aplenty, with enough characters to have a phonebook of its own.

As much as the preceding series was long and in some volumes, very long, this addition to the Wheel of Time is more like the start of the series and tells the story. As much as it pains me to say, Jordan did like to copy and paste a large portion of material into all his books repeating many asides on an almost character basis, I think to help those who could not maintain the characters identity throughout the series; this often left little room for actual progress within the story.

Sanderson appears to have returned to the actual story and moving it along at an improved pace. He has maintained, and rightly so, the basic characters own identity and allowed them to move on quicker than they had been previously.

Admittedly, it takes a lot to write a series 12 volumes long though, like Adams, the 12th book has become a trilogy, but if you can follow the one or two characters that inhabit the wheel of time and follow the story paths, a thoroughly worthwhile story to read.

- Anthony

Thanks for that Anthony, I'll catch up with the series some day (I bailed out at book 10 when my Uni work started to mount), from the sounds of it theres plenty to look forward to. If anyone else would like to contribute a review of a book, an essay, or simply spark a debate, please get in touch. If you've read The Gathering Storm and would like to add your own review, or comment on Anthony's please do so in the comment boxes below. Many thanks, and apologies to Anthony for the time it took me to post this up.

The Gathering Storm is out now, and the 13th bookin the series, Towers of Midnight, is due next year.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Preamble for A Voyage to Arcturus but David Lindsay

I've just started reading December's book, David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus, so I thought I'd post up some preliminary material for anyone interested in digging a little deeper.

As with my previous pre-amble, this is purely for those who are interested and it's not required reading for discussion in the club. Some may prefer to read it before the novel, some afterwards and some not at all. Regardless, here it is.

Warning! A lot of the material I found is in the form of essays and so can contain some spoilers. If you're sensitive to this kind of thing maybe leave off checking these links until after reading the novel.

Published in 1920 and only recognised as a classic in later years, there is a lot of different material available online and in print. This is just a selection of what I've found and if I come across anything else of interest at a later date I'll add that on too.

Famed science fiction critic John Clute (co-author of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction which has been my bible for the last year) wrote an introduction to the Bison Press edition (no longer available for me to order into store) which you can read here courtesy of Google books. Just click on "preview this book".

This essay on Science Fiction and Gnosticism refers to Lindsay's book in the context of Philip K. Dick (who was massively influenced by Gnosticism - amongst other things), and is quite an interesting read in its own right.

We've mentioned Narnia before, but have any of you read C.S. Lewis's science fiction? It's not as easy to get hold of (though I've made a mental note to try and get some into the shop), but worth a look. This essay relates it to Lindsay. The C.S. Lewis connection is also mentioned in this article by Ted Hamilton on why the book is a Classic worthy of our bookcases.

Three different, and interesting, reviews can be found on Strange Horizons, Sfsite.com, and SciFi Dimensions. An interesting website, which pointed me in the direction of some of the most fascinating of the above links, is Violet Apple, a site dedicated to the Life and Works of David Lindsay and certainly a good port of call if you're interested in the man himself or any of his other books.

Finally, the ever reliable (1) Wikipedia has an interesting table detailing the importance of names in the novel, as well as links to student films and an audio version.

- Hope that's of some interest to someone. Let me know what you think but as always - save the best discussions for the book club.

(1) Disclaimer: reliable for having an article, not necessarily reliable in the authenticity of content! ;-)

Monday, 2 November 2009

The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan

Plot Synopsis

Ringil, the hero of the bloody slaughter at Gallows Gap is a legend to all who don't know him and a twisted degenerate to those that do. A veteran of the wars against the lizards he makes a living from telling credulous travellers of his exploits. Until one day he is pulled away from his life and into the depths of the Empire's slave trade. Where he will discover a secret infinitely more frightening than the trade in lives. Archeth - pragmatist, cynic and engineer, the last of her race - is called from her work at the whim of the most powerful man in the Empire and sent to its farthest reaches to investigate a demonic incursion against the Empire's borders. Egar Dragonbane, steppe-nomad, one-time fighter for the Empire finds himself entangled in a small-town battle between common sense and religious fervour. But out in the wider world there is something on the move far more alien than any of his tribe's petty gods. Anti-social, anti-heroic, and decidedly irritated, all three of them are about to be sent unwillingly forth into a vicious, vigorous and thoroughly unsuspecting fantasy world. Called upon by an Empire that owes them everything and gave them nothing.

What did we think?

A novel far more controversial and modern in feel than its predecessor in the book club. The Steel Remains caused some interesting discussions.

The group were impressed by Morgan's vibrant language and the lively imagery employed which ranged from explicit sex scenes to more domestic fare. Tonally, however, the blackly humorous beginning was felt to hint at a book that wasn't there, the humour quickly ebbing away as the novel became very bleak. Whilst this in itself is not necessarily a negative comment, it will be interesting to see how this tonal "evolution" affects the following books in Morgan's fantasy sequence.

The realism of the novel was striking, it almost seemed as much a War novel with dressings of the Fantastic as a Fantasy novel in its own right. Indeed, the idea of soldiers being tossed aside and forgotten by a society who, feeling safe, no longer needs them was felt to be very close to the bone. Another point which gained much praise was Morgan's challenging of the heterosexual norm in Fantasy, and the respect with which he incorporated these elements into the plot, making the sex scenes graphic but significant.

There was much praise garnered by the impressive backstory which Morgan has clearly cultivated. The world felt fully realised and "already lived in", and the sense that the characters and societies had genuine histories, rather than ones grafted on, was definite. Ringil was described as someone 'you might want to go for a pint with... so long as he doesn't kill you in the process' (Al). At the same time, the sheer volume of names and locations bombarding the reader in the initial phases of the novel, particularly with multiple plot-strings to follow, could get confusing. All said, the backstory was so fascinating that it contributes strongly to our desire to revisit the world in future novels, even to the point where it was more interesting in The Steel Remains than the plot.

The quasi-science fiction element of the novel was fascinating and had clear allusions to Arthur C. Clarke's Third Law ("Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic"). This aspect of the book reminded some of us of Jack Vance's Dying Earth series, as well as Michael Moorcock's Dancers at the End of Time. Given the potential of the backstory, and the superb handling of the science-fantasy material, the Dwenda were felt to be disapointing by some. They lacked the threat the novel seemed to bestow upon them, and seemed to diminish as the novel went on (though for some this was a positive rather than negative quality). Comparisons with the Elves in Terry Pratchett's Lords and Ladies were made, not only because they are both "bat-shit crazy" but also because of their intra-dimensional existence.

On the whole the novel was enjoyed for its feel, and its style. If the plot suffered from "first in a series-blues" then those problems were small enough that they didn't hinder the agreement that this is a series worth watching out for in the future.

The average score given to Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains was 8/10

Votes: Abstain, 7, 7.5, 8, 8.5, 8.5

Wow that was a long summation. Agree with the points? Disagree? Care to add some more, or continue a debate from the session. Post below for all that and more. Also: The book's author has kindly agreed to set aside some time to answer any questions you may have regarding the novel, so just send them to me on the usual address and I'll pass them along en-mass. Thanks guys.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Preamble for The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan

November's book in The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan and I thought I'd post up a couple of interesting links relating to it which you can read before or after the novel (or not at all) and offer some interesting insights into the movement which the book has become a part of - as well as the author himself.

All three of these articles are from my new favourite website io9.com.

Richard Morgan talks "noir fantasy".

Richard Morgan on the failures of capitalism and the success of science fiction

Noir Fantasy and Magical Cities

This link - here - takes you the author's official website. Once I've read a bit of the novel and won't feel like a complete fool, I'll contact the author and see if he can add any comments to our discussion.

Enjoy reading these, but maybe we should save discussion on the book until the meeting (which I work out to be November 2nd)...

UPDATE: Click here for a review of the book by fellow Fantasy author Joe Abercrombie. I would of course not encourage you to allow your opinions to be coloured by the reviews of others (no matter how eminent) but they do offer interesting insights and encourage you to think about the book.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Eon by Greg Bear

Plot Synopsis

Above our planet hangs a hollow Stone, vast as the imagination of Man. The inner dimensions are at odds with the outer: there are different chambers to be breached, some even containing deserted cities. The furthest chamber contains the greatest mystery ever to confront the Stone's scientists. But tombstone or milestone, the Stone is not an alien structure: it comes from the future of our humanity. And the war that breaks out on Earth seems to bear witness to the Stone's prowess as oracle ...

What did we think?

My first book as "chair" of the Book Club and my initial worried about no one being t
here were dispelled by an impressive turnout.

Whilst the novel seemed to be big on ideas, and good ones at that, it was generally agreed that it fell down on characters. Many of the characters in the novel seems to be little more than cardboard-cutout stereotypes with bland or (in the case of the sex scenes) poorly handled emotions. Much, if not all, of their emotional story was deemed to be superfluous and to distract from the much more interesting concept of the intergalactic, interdimensional asteroid.

As an example of Hard SF, as well as containing an example of a "Big Dumb Object", it drew comparisons with Larry Niven's Ringworld and Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama, both of which were written earlier 1970 and '73 respectively (Eon was '85). The politics of the nove
l, steeped in Cold War pessimism about human co-operation, was found to be interesting if, obviously, dated. I would draw attention to Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars which handles multiple plots and politics better than Eon.

On the whole, the novel was enjoyed but not loved, frustrating but not hated. It was seen as an example of an author's earlier work where the author was big on concept and the scientific propping up of said concept, but let down by the human aspect. It could be said that in Eon, Bear lacks the emotional maturity that comes both with age and experience as a writer (he was 34 when Eon was published).

The average score given to Greg Bear's Eon was 5/10

Votes: 4, 4, 5, 5, 5, 5.5, 6, 6

So. Do you agree with my summary of the meeting? Did I miss out a major point or do you just want to continue the discussion on these themes. Either way is fine, this was written largely from memory (next time I'll take better notes). Post your comments below:

Here we go!

Welcome to the first post on the brand new blog for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club held at Waterstone's Liverpool One.

I'm Glyn, Blogger-in-chief, and also the Bookseller in charge of the Science Fiction/ Fantasy/ Horror/ Graphic Novels/ Manga section of the store (so if you have any suggestions for books you'd like to see on our shelves just let me know and I'll do what I can).

A brief description of what this blog is and what it plans to do:-

  • It's a friendly place where we can go to carry on the discussions of the Book Club itself.
  • It's the first stop to get information on the club, if you miss a session and need to know what to read next, or you didn't write down that other book I recommended, it should all be on here.
  • It's the place to share other knowledge, reviews of books, and opinions which may otherwise not get shared in the brief time we have together once a month.

Hopefully, it goes without saying that this blog aims to create an atmosphere conducive to the friendly discussion of books and science fiction/fantasy-related topics and behaviour detrimental to this cause will not be tolerated.

Finally, whilst I am a Waterstone's employee and this blog is being run by me on the group's behalf, the views expressed by both myself and the blog are not representative of Waterstone's as a company, nor do they represent the opinions of Waterstone's or the HMV group of which the company is a part.


That's all the formal introductory matter out of the way, on with the discussion!

P.S. - If anyone wants to post an article of their own (rather than simply comment on one) then please feel free to e-mail it to send it to me and I'll post it up on your behalf ASAP. This is probably the best way to share your reviews if you want to put any online.