Archive for May, 2016

IMG_4283.PNG

Kristof led a simple life with a simple problem: Terminal cancer. The problem is, his life isn’t simple anymore. He’s just discovered he has superpowers, and only has sixteen sunsets left to live.

Taken in by the cover and the short blurb, I was expecting some kind of crazy, superhero populated pulp fiction. Unfortunately, this book did not live up to those presumptions. Now, I don’t like to give unfavourable reviews but I do have to be honest with my posts.

Kristof, after being told his cancer is so terminal he only has “sixteen sunsets” left to live, suddenly discovers he possesses super powers after a confrontation with a mugger. That same thief then also, inexplicably, develops powers. Both are being tracked by two secret and opposed organisations. This leads to the larger plot that humans are a type of defect and that super-humans, or those with powers, were the first of our species.

It’s an interesting premise with one character doling out some pretty cool backstory. However, many of the other characters are confused; motivations contradict previous actions as they flip-flop one way then the other around the moral compass, never really becoming full actors or properly expressed beings. Similarly, the dialogue is slightly off with colloquial phrases (and spellings) thrown around without being a fixed property of a character. Along with some grammatical and spelling errors and the odd continuation mistake, 16 Sunsets ended up being a frustrating read.

At the heart of the book is a clever idea that could have a lot of legs. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the manuscript needed an editor’s eye and the writing needed some polishing. Clearly, the author is a passionate writer and it showed; it just required a little more work to really give the central story the expression it needed.

Review copy
Published by Pikko’s House

Advertisements

IMG_4281.JPG

The Dead Letters Office: the final repository of the undelivered. Love missives unread, gifts unreceived, lost in postal limbo.

The premise for this anthology is that each author was sent an anonymous letter, all containing an artefact which functioned as the prompt for their story. It’s a fantastic concept with a number of authors I’ve been looking to read (especially as I’ve been seeking out new horror novels of late) such as Joanne Harris, China Miéville, Michael Marshall Smith and Ramsey Campbell.

The opening story by Steven Hall does not disappoint when it comes to capturing the notion and atmosphere of dead and lost letters, finally finding a reader. The Green Letter is a sparse yet riveting account of a letter that has bizarre, and mainly dire consequences for the recipient. Written up as a report of some sort, detailing the letter (or letters, as it has occurred hundreds of times) as well as an experiment gone wrong, this is a wonderfully creepy and brilliantly crafted tale that expresses the dread of the ‘dead letter’.

Michael Marshall Smith’s Over To You continues that sense of dread but lets it meander into a suburban setting. An odd package in the wrong mail box; a weird note and a chess piece contained within. It equates to a small yet uninteresting mystery for the protagonist until his mother calls to let him know his deceased father’s chess set is missing a piece – the exact piece he has found. The jarring occurrences add up and the conclusion to the tale is clever and harsh all at once, making for an enjoyably dark read.

After reading Nod by Adrian Barnes, I’m definitely looking forward to reading more quality horror, and Dead Letters already seems like it’s going to be a great collection of suitably chilling stories.

Review copy
Published by Titan Books

IMG_4266.JPG

A local guide is leading wealthy tourists through a forest in Peru when a strange, black, skittering mass engulfs him and most of the party. FBI Agent Mike Rich is on a routine stake-out in Minneapolis when he’s suddenly called by the Director himself to investigate a mysterious plane crash. A scientist studying earthquakes in India registers an unprecedented pattern in local seismic readings. The Chinese government “accidentally” drops a nuclear bomb in an isolated region of its own country. And all of these events are connected.

As panic begins to sweep the globe, a mysterious package from South America arrives at Melanie Guyer’s Washington laboratory. The unusual egg inside begins to crack…An ancient species, long dormant, is now very much awake. But this is only the beginning of our end…

Likened by the publisher as a mix between Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park and Max Brooks’s World War Z, and with film rights already sold at auction, The Hatching has summer blockbuster written all over it. A slick blend of horror and thriller told through an ensemble cast from around the world, many of whom don’t survive, Ezekiel Boone has created a highly polished, action packed novel.

A slow burner that keeps the tension ramped up all the way, once the “hatching” kicks off, it’s all-out, full-on, creepy-crawly time. It’s a sleek and well thought out story that hits all our spider based fears but, more importantly, one that hits all the essential notes a thriller needs. A tough, divorced Special Agent trying to do right by his daughter, an attractive but dedicated expert scientist, her equally smart but hard-nosed political ex-husband, and a pragmatic yet charming American President determined to protect her country over and above her own ambitions, all form the nucleus of the cast attempting to stop the arachnid apocalypse.

The inclusion of events and voices from around the world add to the growing suspense and excitement and, if you aren’t scared of spiders, the idea of a carnivorous swarm of eight-legged homicidal maniacs, is enough to keep you turning the pages. However, for me, it was the conclusion that really nailed The Hatching. It’s a consummate piece of writing and I hope it’s not butchered into something completely different (as happened with World War Z) when it’s made into a film. As I said at the start; it’s a summer blockbuster – exciting, thrilling and with enough edge to make it a unique and somewhat frightening read.

Review copy
Published by Gollancz

IMG_4054.JPG

What happens when you get a group of disaffected, disgruntled, genetically engineered dog/humans suddenly ’emancipated’ into a world that doesn’t want them to be the soldiers they were created to be? Dog Country is what happens.

Check out the blurb here.

Opening with a powerful, visceral chapter, Dog Country is a novel that grips your imagination from the start and doesn’t let go. Told through two arcs, one in reverse, we are offered a unique perspective both on an intriguing near-future Earth but also on what it means to be a Dog soldier. Edane, wounded in a conflict years prior, is struggling to understand his place in society. Built for combat and hardwired to operate as part of a pack, with objectives and goals in the theatre of war, he can’t adjust to a culture that finds him obsolete even though it created him.

Likewise, his brothers (all clones of the same production line) are cast adrift; unable to find employment because of their nature yet forced not to be themselves. The idea to market their skills is attractive to many of the Dogs and soon a crowd funded revolution is underway.

Against the background of a growing mercenary coup in Azerbaijan, Edane finds that his wounds, though healing physically, have left a mark on him. The prospect of combat, of trying to rediscover whatever it was he lost, is impossible to ignore. And this is where the book really takes off. Whilst in one storyline we see Edane struggling with his nature, almost touching on ideas of PTSD in veterans, in the other we see a wider consideration of warfare.

Dog Country is very relevant to a number of current conflicts in this regard and Cross has brilliantly crafted a complex and intriguing political landscape in the Azerbaijan revolution. Positing the notion of crowd funding as a democratic revolution is a fascinating idea and simultaneously dealing with all the political machinations of elections, corruption, factions and idealism, adds to the intrigue. Yet Dog Country doesn’t shy from the equally gritty, adrenaline fuelled fire fights the clone soldiers undertake as they dispose of the dictator they were hired to remove.

However, it is Edane’s story and character that is so engaging. Through hints and small comments, the author has built a believable future world and, likewise, does the same with the genetically engineered soldiers, imbuing them with traits and instincts. For, though Edane is not strictly human, he is a character you identify with as he comes to terms with his own nature, awareness of his production parameters and, ultimately, his own free will.

This is a book packed full of awesome ideas that have been excellently executed. Both in terms of the larger, fractured political situation as well as the immediate, intense military action, Cross has created a remarkable novel.

Review copy
Self-published at Amazon Kindle

IMG_4042.PNG

Yesterday, Near a Village Called Barden details a bloody skirmish between the Union and a group of Northmen in the run up to the greater conflict at the heart of the novel The Heroes. Told from multiple perspectives on each side, as well as that of the farmer on whose land the fight takes place, Abercrombie once again captures all the tension, fear, expectations and, ultimately, the pointlessness of warfare brilliantly.

Though most of the bloodshed is caused by Bremer dan Gorst, that squeaky voiced Titan of violence, the other characters and their different points of view add a lot to this story. Cowardice, naive bravery and jaded acceptance all feature heavily as the chaos of combat sweeps up both sides. But, it’s Gorst’s interaction with the farmer that’s gives the real edge to this excellent snap shot.

Longer than most of the stories collected here, Three’s a Crowd features another of Shevediah and Javre’s escapades. Set after the events of Best Served Cold and fourteen years after the two friends first met, this is more than just an account of Shev setting out to rescue her lover from Horald the Finger. There’s plenty of banter between the two companions, a nice cameo amongst some drunken antics, and a plot full of treachery and intrigue. However, it’s the details of Shev and Javre’s friendship, their collective past, that make this one of the best of their tales yet. I don’t want to spoil anything but there is also a fairly large reveal in this story and an ending that begs to be turned into a book.

Created as a vanity piece for the rapacious Nicomo Cosca, Freedom is written with tongue firmly wedged in cheek. It’s superbly achieved as it manages to retain a straight face whilst staying in the style of the fictional author, Spillion Sworbeck. Displaying a great sense of fun whilst simultaneously illuminating more about Cosca, Freedom is about as true as every other claim by that notorious sell-sword.

Throughout this anthology, the spectre of many of the ‘First Law’ characters have loomed large as shadows or, occasionally, as extras in these superb short stories. Each tale adds to the larger canon and some, especially the ones involving Shevediah and Javre, offer a whole new perspective. Yet, like the opening account of Sand dan Glokta in A Beautiful Bastard, the final bookend is an exceptional insight into the enigmatic Logen Ninefingers.

Made a Monster is a kind of origin story for the Bloody Nine as told from Bethod’s standpoint. But, it is also a kind of confession from Bethod as well. Whilst the self-proclaimed Chief has used Logen to achieve much, he now realises that perhaps he can’t control that which he has unleashed. Made a Monster reveals a lot about the relationship between Bethod and his champion, showing completely different aspects to each man. Bethod merely wants peace and thinks he has found a way to achieve it; Logen (or, more accurately, the Bloody Nine) wants war and little else. In the end, this story shines a bright and unforgiving light on the monster that lives within Logen Ninefingers and makes him such a great character.

Sharp Ends is a truly fantastic companion piece to the larger novels of the First Law. From the insights into Glokta and Logen to the adrenaline fuelled action pieces, this is a must if you’re an Abercrombie fan.

Review copy
Published by Gollancz

IMG_4211.JPG

A worldwide diaspora has left a quarter of a million people at the foot of a space station. Cultures collide in real life and virtual reality. Life is cheap, and data is cheaper. But at Central Station, humans and machines continue to adapt, thrive, and even evolve.

Whilst the blurb for Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station reads like a cyberpunk thriller, the book is complex, engaging and full of wonder. It’s a novel of dichotomies, divergences and bifurcations; it’s about life and death, evolution and creation, the virtual and the corporeal, about vast space and local neighbourhoods, and strange, new technologies and ancient, human emotions.

At the heart of the book lies the eponymous Central Station, a huge hub for sub-orbital flights, religion, virtual gaming suites and more. Based in Tel Aviv it is the nucleus around which all manner of cultures and beings revolve, and is the main character around which Lavie Tidhar weaves the various stories. Across generations, Central Station has been home to the Chong family, a sprawling collection of cousins, aunts and siblings, each of whom has been touched by and affected the social and physical space of the station.

Against an awe inspiring background of interplanetary colonisation, the evolution of digital intelligences and strange technologies, is a collection of interweaving and diverging stories about a father losing his mind under the weight of shared memories; a data vampire seeking more than satisfaction for her hunger; a robotic priest contemplating existence; a strange child birthed from hacked digital elements; a returning son and his lost teenage love; the creation of virtual life; the love between a women and an ancient cyborg soldier.

Each tale weaves complexly into the next but each has it’s own trajectory and, though the epic scope of Tidhar’s story is huge, it’s real concern is with the details that make up the human condition. Each is a personal account of thoughts and ideas, relationships and changes. Yet, and importantly, these ideas also intersect with the other major concern in Central Staion; what is consciousness or self or identity. A concept brilliantly handled by the inclusions of virtual networks, digital entities and robot minds.

This is a novel that captures the heart of human experience (in all it’s odd ways) whilst simultaneously building a world full of wonderful and far-reaching ideas. It’s beautiful, considered and complex in equal measure.

Review copy
Published by Tachyon Publications

IMG_4193-0.JPG

Re-watching The Walking Dead has been an interesting exercise for me. Not just from a pure entertainment point of view but also for all the nuances and details that I missed the first time around. Perhaps, with some of the shock and horror taken out of the series, I’ve been allowed to peek over the metaphorical cushion a little more, to watch a bit more observantly. And so, with great mental fortitude, I revisited season five..

This is, in my opinion, one of the most brutal seasons of the series so far. Not only are we confronted from the outset by some truly hideous scenarios, we also see a number of great characters lose their lives. Season five is one of change; almost a paradigm shift from ‘what was’ to ‘what is’. By that I mean, it’s a move away from the last vestiges of civilised society to one that is explicitly premised on survival, and one that all but removes any ideas of hope.

The opening episode sets the tone for much of the fifth season. Terminus, that beacon the group strived so hard to reach, hides a secret more horrifying than anything encountered in the series. Confronting a group so warped that they’ve resorted to cannibalism displays in stark relief how possible it is to give in to the insanity of this new, post-apocalyptic world.

On the other hand, Beth is trapped in an equally bizarre camp where humans are commodities, kept to be used or abused as those in power see fit. Both Terminus and the hospital exhibit an exterior of safety and sanctuary but, underneath, each is a twisted reflection of people’s degeneration (a lesson that will stay with the group, affecting their reactions to Atlantis).

These story arcs both culminate in a number of losses for the group as Beth, Bob and Tyresse are all killed. But these deaths aren’t just used for shock value. All these characters embodied hope, positivity and the possibility of a future and each death serves to reinforce that idea of hopelessness that this season is so concerned with.

These factors all bleed over into the Atlantis portion of the season. The group have become wild, almost feral due to their experiences. But, and this is the heart of it, only the strong are left now and whether they are cannibals, psychos or a group like Rick’s, they are all steeped in violence. There is no room for weakness or softness or compromise or hope. They trust no-one as evidenced by their reaction to Gabriel. They leave no threat able to act against them.

Atlantis poses a different but no less dangerous threat. The people are weak, scared and inexperienced fighting against both zombies and survivors. In The Walking Dead cowardice and fear get people killed, as we see with Noah. It’s another example of lost hopes and also the first time we see Glenn crack.

Season five has forged Rick and his group into battle-hardened survivors. It has wrought irrevocable changes on them all and the question of whether they can find themselves again or start afresh remains at the forefront. The fact remains, however, that to survive you must be prepared to do whatever it takes.

Season five is no-holds-barred and the finale is the nail in the coffin for any notion of returning to life as it was. My wife and I are currently halfway through the sixth season and it seems like there’s little let up. I’ll admit, I’m obsessed with the show but it is amazing viewing.