Archive for May, 2015

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Alex Lamb sounds like a guy with a lot on his plate. Part of it is writing sci-fi; the other part is being a Research Scholar at Princeton University specialising in AI and robotics. Blend them together and you have an interesting premise for a novel: Roboteer.

Straight from the press release: “From computer scientist Alex Lamb comes a unique thought-provoking debut novel that asks a single big question: how do we, as a species, survive the impact of our own intelligence?”

And if you needed more to peak your interest before the release in July, here’s the blurb…

Set in a future in which the colonization of the stars has turned out to be anything but easy, and civilization on Earth has collapsed under the pressure of relentless mutual terrorism, small human settlements cling to barely habitable planets. Without support from a home-world they have had to develop ways of life heavily dependent on robotics and genetic engineering.

Then out of the ruins of Earth’s once great empire, a new force arises – a world-spanning religion bent on the conversion of all mankind to its creed. It sends fleets of starships to reclaim the colonies. But the colonies don’t want to be reclaimed. Mankind’s first interstellar war begins. It is dirty, dangerous and hideously costly.

The Earthers have deployed a devastating new weapon. Only one outworlder ship can be spared to investigate this new threat. And on board, his mind linked to the ship’s drones and weaponry, is their brand new Roboteer.

All I can add is a ‘hell,yes!’

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After my recent movie splurge, I looked around at what 2015 will offer in cinematic sci-fi/fantasy goodness. Low and behold a new Terminator film is set to hit the screens in June. That news got me stupidly excited so I immediately started reading Timothy Zahn’s Terminator: Trial by Fire.

Set just weeks after the Terminator Salvation movie, Zahn’s story brilliantly fills in some gaps the film overlooked whilst creating two twin plots that are both as gripping as the other. Recovering from his near death escape at Skynet central, John Conner is a peripheral but (as ever) centrally important character, albeit in the background. Instead, Trial by Fire focuses on Kyle Reese on one hand and on Blair Williams and Barnes on the other.

Now with the Resistance, Kyle (and Star) are helping the clean up process after the bombing of Skynet. Sent off with a crew on an ammunition scavenge, Kyle is soon caught up in a deadly game of hide and seek as his team investigate a tunnel. After their leader sustains an injury and subsequently sacrifices himself to ensure the others escape, Kyle realises the tunnel is a Skynet plot to dug under the Resistance camp and launch a fatal attack on John Conner.

Barnes wants to bury his brother whose body lays out in the desert (where the opening battle in Salvation took place). Conner only agrees if he takes Blair. The bad blood between the two, based on the hybrid Terminator Marcus Wright, is still simmering and Connor insists they work it out. During their excursion the pair investigate a small mountain town only to become embroiled in a Skynet plot with frightening consequences.

Of the two plots, Blair and Barnes is the more complex yet both intertwine to show just how tricky Skynet really is. Zahn does an excellent job of covering over some story issues from the film (such as why Conner was only attacked by one Terminator in a complex full of the machines) as well as illuminating Skynet’s constant calculating and far-sighted plans. Kyle Reese is shown developing on his path to become the man we saw in the original Terminator film and it’s great to see him make mistakes and learn along the way, fulfilling that excellent time loop premise of the franchise.

However, it’s the twist in the end of the novel that really nails it for me. It paints the whole world of the Terminator story and it shows Zahn’s creativity. An effortlessly written story and a true page turner, Trial by Fire is just that for its protagonists and it’s sheer entertainment for the reader.

Review copy
Published by Titan Books

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Following in the vain of my movie catch-up I got to watch another fantastic sci-fi film (albeit in three sittings). Directed by the talented Neill Blomkamp and featuring his signature style of design, Elysium takes on a fairly big moral dilemma by focusing the drama around a small cast of brilliant characters.

Max, played by Matt Damon, is a former gangster and criminal trying to make his way on an Earth ravaged by pollution, poverty and disease. Forced to try to fix a malfunction on the factory line where he works, he is blasted by deadly radiation. His only hope for survival is a trip to the habitat Elysium where the rich live in absolute utopia. However, getting there is nigh on impossible…unless done illegally.

And this is the crux of the movie. Max and his childhood friend, Frey (Alice Braga) were both orphans together, growing up in a destitute Las Angeles and dreaming of a life in the heavenly habitat in the stars. But, with Max on deaths door and Frey’s daughter dying of leukemia both have a desperate desire to reach Elysium and be cured.

What the film speaks to is that divide between the haves and have-nots; the growing gap between rich and poor; the political paranoia of borders and the disparity of culture between the entitled and the the heaving masses.
Something Blomkamp has undoubtedly seen in South Africa – a place where a wonderful life can be had in the most beautiful country or where abject poverty can drive a person to crime, begging and desperation.

That said, Blomkamp does an amazing job by couching all those ideas in a thrilling and entertaining story. Matt Damon is at his best playing a desperate and dangerous anti-hero against the foil of Kruger, the ultimate near-future psychotic. Sharlto Copley is a ridiculously good actor portraying this most vile mercenary whilst Jodie Foster turns in a great performance as the uber Right Wing protector of Elysium’s borders, hell bent on keeping out the illegals and taking political control of the habitat.

All this and more is delivered as the conceptual design of Elysium and it’s technology immerses the viewer in a strange utopian/distopian future. The habitat itself is a marvel whilst the contrast between the sleek robots and the dirt smeared people of Earth only adds to the atmosphere of the movie.

Elysium has the potential of all those great films to be watched again and again. Blomkamp’s direction is engaging, and his vision and concepts are truly original. I can’t wait to see Chappie as well as his take on the Alien franchise… Hopefully just not years after their release dates.

Set for release in June of this year, Gollancz are marketing Steeple as a blend between the movie RAID and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep . Being a fan of both, this sounds like it has some serious potential.

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After checking out the praise for his debut, Barricade, I’m not sure how I missed Jon Wallace’s first novel. But, I will definitely be trying to catch up, especially after reading the blurb for Steeple.

The Steeple looms over the barren wasteland of London. A one thousand story tower, The Steeple is all that remains of humanity’s failed civilisation, feared and revered by all, and haunted by broken remnants of the society now lost. For Kenstibec, The Steeple might be his only chance at survival.

Kenstibec is a Ficial – a genetically engineered artificial life form. Tough, highly skilled and difficult to kill, Kenstibec is used to the luxuries that he possesses. That is, until he loses the nanotech that constantly repaired him. More mortal than ever, Kenstibec is no better than the few remaining humans clinging to life in the blighted, devastated world. Now called ‘The Reals’, these humans are locked in a long-standing conflict with their own creations.

Rumours of The Steeple’s secrets are the only hope that Kenstibec has left. With one thousand stories to climb and a ticking clock, for Kenstibec the only way is up.

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My wife wanted to watch a comedy. I voted for gritty, post-apocalyptic sci-fi. We ended up watching the wham-bam-tongue in cheek- awesomeness that is Guardians of the Galaxy. It had the soundtrack, the brilliantly casted characters, amazing effects and a pumping storyline. Plus, it made my wife cry over the opening scene…in essence, it had it all.

Another Marvel comic adaptation, this movie was a whole lot of fun. Directed by James Gunn and featuring the talents of Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Guardians of the Galaxy revolves around Peter Quill (Pratt) and his attempts to sell a powerful artefact that he acquired on a savaging hunt on a desolate, destroyed planet. However, not only are his old interstellar, piratical shipmates after a piece the action, a slightly worrying demi-god-esque being called Ronan is also after the orb. Sending the deranged Korath (played brilliantly by Lee Pace) after the object, an ambush is set by one of his underlings, Gamora (Saldana). The ensuing melee attracts the attention of two bounty hunters, Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and his sentient tree bodyguard, Groot.

All four end up in a prison called the Kyln where they meet the charismatic Drax under less than polite circumstances. However, the five of them form an uneasy alliance to escape the prison, re acquire the orb, sell it and make lots of money. Unfortunately, the object in question is tantamount to a pocket sized apocalypse making machine and Korath is eager to put it to the test and lay waste to billions of innocent lives. It’s a classic morally grey bunch of misfits versus completely bonkers, fanatical villians.

The adventure that takes place brings the gang together in epic style. Battling against all the odds, they manage to save the day and learn a lot about each other and themselves on the way. Yet, it is the way the story is told that makes this such a fantastic Marvel movie. The interaction between the characters and the ability to find the humour was priceless. Both Bradley as Rocket and Dave Bautista as Drax stole the show for me, putting in great performances. And then there is Groot and his nuanced one-liner.

Though nothing prepared me for the dance off distraction given by Pratt.

A fantastic film full of top notch acting and fuelled by a superb script. Quality viewing should you need some high energy, action adventure fun amongst the stars.

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I don’t watch a film if I haven’t read the book but this is an exception to the rule (and one that has made me really want to get hold of a copy of All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka). Edge of Tomorrow has been on my wish list for a while and the rare chance to watch a film saw me take it with little pause. There’s a number of great sci-fi movies out there that I’ve not had an opportunity to see, and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to keep crossing films off the list (I’m looking at you Snowpiercer).

Directed by Doug Liman and starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, Edge of Tomorrow is awesome high-spec, future tech, alien invasion sci-fi at its most rip-roaring best. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is a charismatic media relations officer in the United Defence Force (UDF) who is forced to join in an invasive battle against humanities foe. His cowardice, brilliantly portrayed by Cruise, gives him an uncanny ability to survive the onslaught awaiting the human troops. However when cornered by one of the higher forms of alien, Cage decides to die with honour and use a claymore to destroy himself and the monster.

This is where the film takes a turn, blending Groundhog Day with Starship Troopers. Killing the alien, Cage unwittingly links with the hive mind of the aliens and begins to experience the same day over and over as he is killed again and again in the invasion. Like a video game, he begins to learn and adapt, becoming a better warrior. Finally he he mets Special Forces soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) who, it turns out, experienced the same weird time loop.

With Cage on repeat, the two form a bond, battling to get further through the battle in the hope of defeating the ‘mind’ and securing victory for humanity. The training sequences are sadistic as every time Cage fails or is injured, Vrataski kills him to restart the loop. Cruise does an excellent job of showing his character’s decline into despair as he sees his comrades killed over and over whilst the weight of his repetitive deaths begin to crush him.

It’s a fantastic story and the inevitable blockbuster ending is a set piece worth waiting for. A huge shout out has to go to the design team behind the armour and weaponry of the UDF but also to the creators of the alien force. Scary, innovative and unique, the aliens give credence to the visual excellence that is Edge of Tomorrow. A great story, brilliant acting and cast with the special effects to truly make it all believable, this is definitely up there as one of my sci-fi favourites.

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A book that went from classic, high school odd to very weird and then full on creepy with little let up, Harrison Squared is a brilliant mix of supernatural strangeness and page turning mystery. Check out the blurb whilst I unpack my thoughts..

Harrison Harrison—H2 to his mom—is a lonely teenager who’s been terrified of the water ever since he was a toddler in California, when a huge sea creature capsized their boat, and his father vanished. One of the “sensitives” who are attuned to the supernatural world, Harrison and his mother have just moved to the worst possible place for a boy like him: Dunnsmouth, a Lovecraftian town perched on rocks above the Atlantic, where strange things go on by night, monsters lurk under the waves, and creepy teachers run the local high school.

On Harrison’s first day at school, his mother, a marine biologist, disappears at sea. Harrison must attempt to solve the mystery of her accident, which puts him in conflict with a strange church, a knife-wielding killer, and the Dwellers, fish-human hybrids that live in the bay. It will take all his resources—and an unusual host of allies—to defeat the danger and find his mother.

Positively leaking with atmosphere, Daryl Gregory manages to ratchet up the tension by degrees with an effortless turn of phrase. Secrets are discovered and weird goings-on reveal hidden horrors as the protagonist, Harrison Harrison, comes ever closer to the truth about his father’s death, his mother’s disappearance, and why the town of Dunnsmouth is so completely odd.

Gregory has created an exception cast of characters that inhabit a world of wonderful creativity. The humour and dialogue keeps the attention firmly planted in the story and little (like backstory) feels forced. The creepy monster is definitely just that and the bit players all have distinct parts. It’s a great book and one that looks set to produce an enthralling series. Harrison Harrison and his gang of misfits may fit a certain mold of story but Harrison Squared is an ingenious and original read.

Review copy
Titan books

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A novelisation of the film by the same name, Robot Overlords is a fun, YA sci-fi read. The premise is simple, the plot is straightforward but the execution is exemplary making for an interesting and engaging story.

After a gigantic force of alien robots conquers Earth in a matter of days, humanity is confined to the indoors as the invaders go about learning everything humans have to offer. As the years roll by, one boy, Sean Flynn, never a gives up hope that his RAF pilot father is still alive and leading the resistance. Once Sean and his friends stumble upon a way to evade the robots and all their surveillance, the gang embark on a journey that leads them into an epic battle against the enemy.

The story is brilliantly paced and the cast never feels forced. Funny teenage expletives abound but the tension remains in place as the gang attempt to locate Sean’s father and find freedom. In a way it capitalises on the internet comment ‘I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords’ and it does so brilliantly. The human antagonist is creepy and self-indulged, the robots are bent on total domination whilst Sean, his friends and family offer all the hope and strength that makes humanity such a force to be reckoned with.

In short, Robot Overlords was an entertaining, well produced read.

Review copy
Published by Gollancz