This is another of those books that I stumbled upon in a charity shop which had long been on my list to read. Written by co-authors Chris Bunch and Allan Cole in 1982, Sten is a military sci-fi adventure set far in the future and full to the brim with action.

Considering when it was produced, the novel does a great job at subverting the premise of a benevolent empire, focusing on a factory planet named Vulcan. Within, migrant workers (or Migs), are trapped in never ending contracts, forcing them and their children into a life of servitude. The company that owns the planet is a ruthless hierarchy of elitist capitalists who care for nothing other than profit. The Eternal Emperor, for whom the company works, turns a blind eye so long as the company remains loyal.

The company, and Vulcan, is run by one Baron Thoresen, a man of epic ambitions and absolutely no morals. When he carelessly murders hundreds of Migs, he sets in motion his own demise. One of the families he jettisons into space belongs to a young boy called Sten. Smart and capable, Sten, however, finds himself under the grindstone of the company and in short order begins to rebel. Soon, he tries to escape Vulcan, bringing himself to the attention of the Empire’s military when he joins a group of likeminded youngsters living in the tunnels and vents of the factory planet.

What ensues is a story of rebellion and revenge peppered with classic military sci-fi boot camp episodes, guerilla warfare and pitched battles as Sten makes his way back to Vulcan to end Thoresen’s reign of terror. The book is a fast, no-frills read and all the better for it. Sten is action packed and great fun. As the start of a series, this is a must for pulpy military action enthusiasts.

My copy

Published by Orbit

Advertisements

The Expanse (TV series)

Posted: April 6, 2018 in Sci-Fi, TV show
Tags: ,

I read the first few books when initially published and enjoyed them immensely. So, it was a no-brainier that when I saw this series available on Netflix, I put it on my list to watch. Unfortunately (or not depending on your perspective) my reading time has been limited. Due to life, work and training, I’ve instead found myself glued to the sofa in a state of exhaustion taking the easy route of watching television. Thankfully, series such as The Expanse, are excellent.

The quality of the production is truly top shelf and the script has a brilliant story to base itself upon. The multiple players in the political landscape are all portrayed fantastically – even the weird psuedo-London patois accent of the ‘Belters’. Caught in the middle of it all are the mismatched crew run, reluctantly, by Jim Holden. It’s an interesting focal point to take between the Earth and Mars power struggle and the oppression of the population living in the outer belt, as each member represents a different aspect of the conflict.

Thomas Jane absolutely owns the character of detective Miller, a kind of corporate owned police officer. It’s his investigation into the disappearance of an OPA sympathiser that uncovers a very scary plot using an alien virus. Whilst the book made more of the firightening and disturbing nature of this viral life form, the changes made for the series make sense. Most of the actors fit my reading of the novels but I did feel that one crew member, Amos, wasn’t as well cast as could be.

Never-the-less, this is an excellent and awesomely filmed series. If you’re into your big space sci-fi, it’s well worth the time.

I’ve read a number of Alastair Reynolds’ novels and what astounds me is his ability to create such different stories within his own universe from hard sci-fi epics to this crime thriller. Obviously, Reynolds is technically brilliant but the diversity of his themes is refreshing. Elysium Fire is sci-fi, make no mistake, but the bones of the novel are more concerned with acts of vengeance, threaded through with other twisting narratives that, in the end, converge to make a completed jigsaw puzzle.

Set inside Reynolds ‘Chasm City’ universe and featuring the excellent Prefect Dreyfus, Elysium Fire begins as the Glitter Band finds itself dealing with a frightening crisis as seemingly normal people are dropping dead. But, dead in a cruel way as their implants boil their own brains, cooking them from the inside out. At the same time a most charming (yet noxious) figure is pushing for settlements to secede from the Panopoly. As the number of deaths rise and the social dissent builds, the Prefects come under more pressure and more scrutiny, forcing Dreyfus into positions he’s far from comfortable with.

The novel keeps a pace that builds and builds and Reynolds cleverly seeds enough information throughout to make you think you can see the answers. Yet, the twist and turns of the narratives mirror some of the themes in the book and the conclusion climbs to a satisfying reveal and an epic showdown. Featuring some truly nefarious characters and a world building of stunning proportions, Elysium Fire is another excellent addition to Reynolds’ library of work.

Review copy

Published by Gollancz

If I’ve said it to my wife once, I’ve said it a thousand times; Netflix is crushing it with their original sci-fi series. The Punisher is an excellent example. As a kid, I read some Spider-Man/Punisher crossover comics and, as a teen, I read more Punisher comic books. He’s a great character who populates a space in the superhero landscape that is unique. An anti-hero of sorts but one driven by the most pure albeit tragic of reasons.

The series does an amazing job of bringing that backstory to life, rebooted yet losing none of its power. In fact, it probably adds a layer of moral ambiguity to the character of Frank Castle that firmly places the series at the gritty end of dark. Jon Bernthal fills out the army issue boots of The Punisher in epic fashion with an intensity that is relentless and terrifying.

After dispatching a host of gangsters, drug dealers and mafiosa, who Castle blames for the murder of his wife and children, he is drifting under the radar having faked his own death. But a message from a certain ‘Micro’ brings everything back and uncovers the real power behind the killing of his family.

The dynamic between Frank and Micro is intriguing and complex, moving from enemies to friends and everything in between. The duo are, however, the perfect package to take on an enemy who has all the assets and all the power. Frank’s psychotic drive and ability to rain down death paired with Micro’s technological wizardry is an unstoppable force.

Yet, there are other players in the game such as Homeland Security Agent Madani. A woman compelled to find the truth and very much a white-hat in the story. It complicates Castle’s plans entirely as Madani is determined to bring The Punisher in, thinking he is responsible for all manner of crimes. As things begin to untangle, Madani and Castle begin to co-operate.

The Punisher is a brilliant series. Dark, violent and uncompromising. It also cleverly touches on some serious modern themes around the recent conflicts in the Middle East. But, the finale is one of the most brutal conclusions I’ve seen in screen. One which cleverly leaves an opening for a second series and I can’t wait.

Whilst re-organising my bookshelves, I spied this title nestled in amongst some older fantasy works. In the two brief steps it took to place it with my horror section on the opposite wall, I’d begun to read the opening chapter. I couldn’t remember if I’d read it before or not (I get hit in the head a lot while sparring), but it was intriguing enough that I keep in turning the pages.

It’s an excellent zombie apocalypse novel told through the eyes of an ensemble of characters divided between two locations. The leader of each group is military: General Sherman, an experienced soldier tasked with operations in Africa; and Lieutenant Colonel Anna Demilio, part of the US medical research institute for infections disease stationed in America. Demilio catches wind of the ‘Morningstar Strain’ early on before it begins to really spread, trying, helplessly, to urge her higher-ups to act. Soon enough, however, the infection is taking hold across the African continent, forcing military action to try and quarantine certain countries.

Sherman is at the forefront of this conflict, witnessing the horror of the initial effects of the virus and the consequent reanimation of its victims. Double the zombie, double the mayhem as Recht has mixed ‘sprinters’ and ‘shamblers’ into a nightmarish blend of death. It’s as great as it sounds. Sherman is the reader’s eyes into pitched battles, breathless escapes and brutal violence. Demilio portrays the political side of the problem as she tries to get the truth out only to find herself imprisoned for treason by a very scary NSA trio.

The opening book in a series, it’s a solid, action-packed read. Just the kind of thing I was looking for to accompany my morning coffee.

Published by Permutated Press

After the amazing debut, Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee has built on that success with the exceptional Raven Stratagem. Further exploring the larger universe, including the complicated political landscape of the hexarchate, this series is space opera at its finest. Battles large and small, both physical and intellectual abound in a story peopled by gripping cast of characters.

Following the protagonist Cheris/Jedao as they embark on what seems to be a madness induced campaign of warfare, Raven Stratagem drives forward with a thrilling story while setting up a number of ideas for the next book. Turning the hexarchate’s calendrical mathematics against them, Jedao/Cheris is able to take over a huge fleet of Kel ships yet continues to pursue the enemies of the ruling hegemony instead of attacking it. Whilst one Lieutenant is able to resist Jedao’s commands, the fleet is soon gaining popularity and traction in a universe desperate to find hope and freedom from the stifling rule of the hexarchate.

But, nothing is as it seems. The various factions and their leaders are simultaneously at each other’s throats whilst pursuing similar goals. Equally, Jedao/Cheris isn’t trying to murder innocent populations on undefended planets but is, instead, looking to protect those people and maintain a sense of order within the greater culture.

Raven Stratagem is full of intrigue, covert agendas, space battles and wonderful, intoxicating world-building. Yoon Ha Lee has a unique vision and voice and this is definitely a fantastic series for fans of sci-fi.

Review copy

Published by Solaris Books

I watched something..

Posted: January 19, 2018 in Random, Uncategorized

Well, actually, I watched two short films but it took me about four days to view the collective forty minutes. It doesn’t really explain my six month absence from blogging however..

Things have been hectic, as life goes, and training has gotten manic recently (trying to keep up with training partners 20 years younger isn’t a great plan). I’m teaching more wrestling at the gym and on top of looking after my son and getting work done, the blog ended up being left by the wayside.

However, in amongst it all I saw some talk about Neill Blomkamp’s latest project. More to the point, his latest decision to start a film company to explore lots of different ideas and projects; an incubator of sorts for film directors and editors. Searching for Oats Studios will reveal all. It’s a fantastic idea, in my opinion, especially with the current reboot mania the major studios seem taken with.

I’ve also started watching The Punisher, which is proving to be very enjoyable; Luke Cage, a show that has some great moments and some slightly stilted ones; and I finished watching the season seven of The Walking Dead. More on all of that later.

Honestly, this post is just a marker for me; a way to push me back into blogging and recording the books I read and the films I watch. So, whilst I’ve been bouncing around like Sam Beckett, desperately trying to make the leap home, I’m back and will, hopefully, be blogging once again more regularly.

IMG_6237.JPG

Aside from reading my son his collection of The Little Red Train books by Benedict Blaithwayt (which are excellent for toddlers), the Dark Cities anthology has me equally enthralled.

Grit by Jonathan Maberry features that city within a city; the housing estates of the UK or the projects of the USA. The kind of places that have their own ecosystems and rules, where the locals implicitly understand the unique laws they live by. Working amongst that grim collective of hustlers, addicts, survivors and criminals is the protagonist; ostensibly a bounty hunter for two enigmatic bondsmen yet also a man who deals in things on the other side, both of the law and the natural.

Big, ugly and covered in tattoos, he’s a man who is capable of reaching through the veil. Communicating with ghosts and uncovering the identities of their murderers, he can understand the pain of the lost and wandering souls. Tasked with just such a job, Grit is a rough and violent episode into a place best avoided.

The horror contained in Simon R. Green’s Happy Forever is an enigmatic one. A thief of unusual and exceptional items is contacted by the father of his ex-girlfriend a decade after her disappearance. Though he claims to be free of any attachments, even to his own name, this request immediately draws him in as he seeks to save her and thereby show his true feelings.

Her ‘prison’ is an unassuming suburban house where time has stopped. The thief appears to be in control and on route to fulfilling his task. The darkness of this tale comes in the last few paragraphs and leaves and unsettling feeling.

Paul Tremblay does an amazing trade in dealing out dualities; stories full of more questions than answers and answers with no clear meanings. The Society of The Monsterhood is told from the perspective of a neighbourhood regular, witnessing events from his front porch. Four kid are given the opportunity to attend a good school on a scholarship. This immediately makes them a target for the other residents in the hood where they live.

Verbal and physical abuse ensues. The kids become teens and then something changes. They issue a threat, one which has dire consequences for those who don’t leave the four of them alone. It’s here that Paul Tremblay interjects uncertainty, giving the story numerous facets and a heavy degree of weirdness.

Review copy

Published by Titan books

IMG_6237.JPG

Helen Marshall’s The Way She Is With Strangers is a wonderfully poetic, musically written short story. It’s a strange but engaging tale of Mercy, a women who has moved away from her place of birth to a new city and a new existence where her daughter regularly visits and where she seems to have found happiness amidst the difference. But, as the story progresses the rhythm alters. Oddities occur and suddenly strange clues are left to be unthreaded.

The Way She is With Strangers is strangely beautiful. Pathways and boundaries, maps and geographies all hint at something beyond as Mercy tries to help those looking to find a way out of the city; a way only ghosts can walk. It’s a wonderful story.

Coming at the idea of a ghost story from the polar opposite direction, Good Night, Prison Kings by Cherie Priest is a grim and gritty tale of vengeance. The story is a slowly revealed by the protagonist, Holly, as she finds herself remembering the circumstances of her current existence. Sat in a mundane interview, Holly realises that she is dead and that her interviewer is offering her the chance to conclude some unfinished business.

That ‘business’ turns out to be the opportunity to avenge her own death. To bring retribution to those who have wronged her and the elderly family members she was looking after. Holly turns out to be a violent conduit for justice but it’s the targets of her anger that add such a grim taint to the tale.

What I’ve Always Done by Amber Benson is an engaging yet odd snap shot of a strange life. Told with few details but in with exceptional style, this is one of those short stories that has the immense ability to pull the reader into a world using but a few sentences. It’s violent and dark, hitting the brief perfectly.

Review copy
Published by Titan Books

IMG_6237.JPG

The strap line for this anthology reads ‘all-new masterpieces of urban terror’ and with an impressive list of authors to boot, it’s a collection I’ve been keen to read. Premised on the idea of the city, each writer has scraped back the veneer of metropolitan living to reveal the horror lying beneath.

First up and making an immediate impression was Scott Smith’s The Dogs. A mix of supernatural and bizzare properties, it’s the kind of tale where once it’s stall has been laid out you kind of know where it’s going. But, that doesn’t diminish its power or ability to unsettle. A young women who enjoys meeting men on Craigslist, suddenly finds herself in a situation that is
only ever going to end badly. However, it’s not the normal ‘met a guy who turned out to be a serial killer’ type bad; somehow it’s worse yet also pleasantly mundane. A mysteriously magical flat; murderous, talking canines; and the choice between killing or being killed. Superbly written and brilliantly paced, The Dogs is understated horror at its finest.

In Stone by Tim Lebbon definitely added some welcome chills to this week’s epic heatwave. It’s a story that manages to do so much with mere suggestions and hints rather than outright horror but the effect is exceptional. An insomniac narrator, troubled by the death of his closest friend, begins walking the streets of his home city in the early morning hours. During these meandering wanderings, he sees a woman strolling down alleyways and sidestreets, and he follows her. Curiosity peeked because she seems so out of place, so elsewhere, the woman disappears.

It’s a mystery that leaves the narrator unsettled and he investigates the spot again the next day. However, what he finds inexplicably intrigues yet deeply frightens him. Soon he begins seeing signs of further offkilter happenings around the city and can’t help but look for more. In Stone never explicitly shocks but the creeping sensation it produces is impressive.

Both stories have found intriguing interpretations of the brief for this anthology and I’m definitely hooked. Featuring so many good writers, such as Jonathon Maberry, Paul Tremblay, Ramsey Campbell and others, I’ll be posting up more reviews soon.

Review copy
Published by Titan Books