I’ve done it again. I’ve stumbled on to a book with a premise that really intrigues me and then leaves me floundering with more questions than answers. This drives me crazy. Other people love this book. I love answers. Fully committed though, I launched myself upon the movie when it turned up on Netflix.

More confusion as the writers took another turn with the story. My frustration now consumes me, but at least there was some resolution in the movie. But what is this story that managed to evoke such a range of emotions? Read on…


Annihilation is the first book in Jeff VanderMeer’s  Southern Reach trilogy. Southern Reach has control of Area X. This is an area of land that has apparently inexplicable changes happening to the environment, people and animals that live or have lived within it. Southern Reach has been sending teams into Area X for 30 years and up to this point, there has been a very high failure rate. One by one the teams either go crazy, kill themselves or return a shell of their former selves. Nothing stays untouched by the environment inside Area X. I say ‘inside’ but in reality there is no visible barrier that separates the real world and the one that is evolving inside Area X.

Southern Reach have decided that for their 12th mission it is time to send forth an all-female team consisting of an anthropologist, a psychologist, a surveyor and a biologist. They remain nameless for the duration and the chasm that exists between each of them is palpable and one wonders if it is deliberate. The very experiences that should bring them together are ripping them further apart due to an underlying distrust. Encounters with the inexplicable and alien continues the downward spiral as they search for answers.

Then my mind wanders and I can’t help but wonder, “Only 12 expeditions in 30 years?” That doesn’t sound quite right to me. History dictates that in our desperate need to find reason where there is none, we would have bombarded the area with specialists and most of all, military. Certainly not fluffed around so that there was more than 2 years between missions while Area X steadily grows larger! And the questions continue.

Hopefully you do better than me in your search for answers. Maybe you don’t need any and are happy to just immerse yourself in the possibilities alone. More than likely I gave up far too easily and just need to get stuck into VanderMeer’s next two books in the Southern Reach series, Authority and Acceptance and keep searching for those elusive answers.

Cover Cover

Alternatively try something completely different, if you gave up like I did:



War of the Worlds: The Massacre of Mankind

“Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.” H. G. Wells (1898), The War of the Worlds.

The year is 1921. Britain has recovered from the Martian Attacks of 1907. Yet it is a Britain much changed.

Highly acclaimed hard Science Fiction novellist Stephen Baxter (The Long Earth, Manifold: Time, Voyage, The Time Ships) was head hunted by H.G. Wells’ estate to write The Massacre of Mankind : THE official sequel to War of the Worlds.

Cover of The Massacre of mankind

Immortalised in Wells’ narrative (1898), Orson Welles’ radio show (1938), Jeff Wayne’s stage show (1978) and several movies, these are big boots to fill with high expectations from purists of the genre. Easy when you’re the next Arthur C. Clarke?

I think Stephen Baxter does an incredible job. He switches things up using a several personal accounts; all minor characters from the original. His text reflects Wells’ Victorian idiom and his story of a second invasion connects seamlessly with the original narrative.

Baxter has fun messing with history in this story. He credibly suggests how the Martian incident could have changed Britain forever. In Baxter’s world Lloyd George and Churchill play second fiddle to a Martian War hero named Marvin. England has discomfortingly aligned itself with Germany and adapted Martian technology to protect itself from the possibility of a second attack.

Has Britain learned enough to repel a second invasion? Or have the Martians learned enough to succeed this time?

This is so good that at times I could hear the voice of the narrator from the Jeff Wayne version while reading it.

Weeooo weeooo wee ooooh….

“We seem to be young, in a very old Galaxy. We’re like kids tiptoeing through a ruined mansion.”   Stephen Baxter

The Massacre of Mankind
by Stephen Baxter
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781473629158

Further reading

The carnival of November fantasy

It’s fantasy newsletter time again and this time as well as the new titles there is a focus on carnivals and circuses.

Cover of Shifting Shadows Cover of The Beautiful Ashes Cover of The Hawley Book of the Dead Cover of Hang Wire Cover of The Shifting Price of Prey Cover of Carnival of Souls

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Science fiction newsletter – April 2014

Here’s a selection of titles from our bi-monthly science fiction newsletter for April.

Cover of Red Rising Cover of Archetype by M D Walters Cover of The Martian by Andy Weir Cover of Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear Cover of Dust by Elizabeth Bear Cover of Orbus by Neal Asher

Subscribe to this and our other regular newsletters online to receive them direct to your email inbox every month (n.b. some titles are bi-monthly).

Science Fiction newsletter

Here are a few of the covers from our August Science Fiction newsletter:

Cover of The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes Cover of Earth Afire by Orson Scott Card Cover of Abadon's Gate by James S. A. Corey Cover of the Humans by Matt Haig Cover of The Humand Division by John Scalzi Cover of Neptune's Blood by Charles Stross

Subscribe to get this newsletter delivered to your email inbox every other month.

“It’s nice to believe in Flying Saucers” according to the Picture Post!

Flying saucers? I found this comment in the December 17th, 1955,  issue of  Picture Post, an iconic British newspaper published between 1938 and 1957. This particular issue includes a report that a “Saturnian space ship which landed in America had seven decks and was manned by a mixed planetary crew”! The reporter felt that our belief in flying saucers stemmed from the need for grown ups to have their own fairy tales in “unromantic” times…Logo

The Picture Post Historical Archive is a fascinating read: from Florence White setting up the National Spinsters Association in 1938, to Mrs Hudson’s advertisements for a miracle cure for “superfluous hair”.  It does also cover the more serious issues of the time including:

  • history and culture – the everyday lives of all levels of society in the mid-20th century are chronicled;
  • politics – the paper was liberal and staunchly anti-fascist, revealing much about prevailing political attitudes of the time.

You can access this at your local community library or at home with your library card number and PIN. Have a flick through this and many other  historical newspapers in the Source!

Is your teacher an alien?

Do your teachers speak in a really weird language when they think you’re not looking? Do they wear a brass wrist band that they use to communicate with someone in another galaxy? Do their eyes flash blue when you annoy them?  If you answered yes to all of these questions it is very likely that your teachers are aliens from another planet and you should get as far away from them as possible.

In Mark Haddon’s new book, Boom!, Jim and Charlie do exactly the opposite when they discover something weird is going on.  When Jim overhears a conversation between his teachers, he believes that they are trying to get him sent to a new school and so with the help of his best friend Charlie, they bug the staff room.  However, what they actually hear is two of their teachers speaking in a strange language and so they set out to find some answers to these strange goings-on.  This story has everything – action, adventure, aliens, mysterious men in gray suits, cool alien technology, a strange language and lots of laughs.

You may know of Mark Haddon as the author of the hugely popular Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.  Boom! is a completely different sort of story for a different age group but it’s an out-of-this-world read.

Argenta Needs to be Saved

the aliens have arrived

In Argenta by Stephanie Hills Anquin the bird boy lives on an inhospitable planet called Argenta. He hasn’t seen his parents for years and he is sick of collecting tuskerweed to feed the Clan. As if that isn’t enough to ruin his day, Grandmother Cormar has given him very bad news – because he is a special hatchling he won’t be going on a Mission, like his parents and the other adult birds. He must stay and guard the eggs and pass on special knowledge to the new generation. Anquin doesn’t want to be special, he wants to have adventures. So he takes an adventurous and totally prohibited step and flies towards the Forbidden Zone. What he finds there changes his life for ever, in ways he never expected…

Meanwhile, on Earth, Martin dreams of saving the Earth from the Gorgozoids and being a hero. The summer holidays are pending and the most exciting thing in his life is his mother’s protest to save some local bush from mining. But things change when a casual walk among the trees brings him face to face with a real life alien…Before he knows where he is,the alien is his friend and they’re working together to save both their planets from the evil Dorgazoids.

This is a fun story that will appeal to boys and girls of about 8 to 12 years. It mixes science fiction and fantasy and both main characters are lively and engaging. It has themes of rebellion and the dangers of conformity, but isn’t preachy about it. A good read for chilly winter nights