Wednesday 23 May 2018

Larry Niven's A World Out of Time, Greg Bear's Anvil of Stars, Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers, et al: Recent Science Fiction Reading and Book Collecting

I'd like to blame the distinct lack of activity chez Existential Ennui so far this year on the demands of work, but that wouldn't be entirely accurate. It's true that I have been busy with work – primarily editing Star Trek Magazine and its various spin-offs – but I've also succumbed to a prolonged bout of blogging can't-be-arsed-itis. Other committed bloggers – which, after over a dozen years of blogging on one platform or another, I suppose is what I am, god help me – will surely recognise this malaise as something that just happens to us from time to time, and that there's nothing to be done: either the muse (pffft!) returns on its own, or it doesn't and the blogger shuts up shop. We can but fervently hope that in my case, it'll turn out to be the latter.

But while we await that happy day, I can report that my blogging absence hasn't been matched by a concurrent lack of book collecting and reading. The science fiction odyssey I embarked on last year has proceeded apace, with quite a lot of local charity shop and bookshop scores (plus some online purchases), some of which I've even found time to read. I finished off Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space series – or at least the three novels that comprise the main part of it, plus Chasm City, plus the various short stories and novellas – which I thoroughly enjoyed, especially Redemption Ark – with its brilliant relativistic interstellar pursuit sequence – and the memorably nasty novella Diamond Dogs. I made a start on Stephen Baxter's Xeelee Sequence, and got a little further along in John Varley's Eight Worlds and Gregory Benford's Galactic Centre series. And I read Joe Haldeman's Forever Free, the belated and slightly bewildering sequel to The Forever War; Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers, which I picked up in a 1975 British NEL hardback first edition at the Lewes Book Fair (jacket by Gordon C. Davies), and which was much more about the training of the troopers than I was expecting; and Greg Bear's The Forge of God and its sequel, Anvil of Stars, the latter of which I really liked – a smart, sombre take on interstellar vengeance and warfare.

I read Anvil of Stars in a signed 1992 Century first edition (jacket illustration by Nick Rodgers), one of numerous signed SF books I've bought over the past few months, many of them novels and short story collections by Larry Niven, who I've got bang into. I've started working my way through his Known Space stories, and I read and loved the first in his The State series, A World Out of Time, a signed copy of the very scarce 1977 Macdonald edition of which – with its fine Tony Roberts wrapper – I found online for a very reasonable price. The story of a modern-day terminal cancer case who's frozen, reawakened in the late 22nd century, then dispatched on a mission to the galactic centre before returning to Earth three million years later, it's stuffed full of mind-bending ideas imparted in Niven's winningly freewheeling manner. If my blogging mojo makes a more sustained return, I expect I'll write some more about Niven – and the other signed SF books I've acquired – in due course.

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