Archive for the ‘Military sci-fi’ Category

The Takeshi Kovacs series by Richard K Morgan are among some of my favourite books. The world building and vision is astounding whilst the gritty and cynical protagonist, coupled with the hectic action, combines to form a top notch cyberpunk novel. Thankfully, the Netflix produced T.V series captured all of this in full technicolour.

For those not in the know (unlikely), Altered Carbon is a crime thriller set in a far future where humanity has achieved the ability to download one’s personality and, in theory, live forever by using different ‘sleeves’ or bodies. Space travel is possible by needlecasting; sending your personality data to be downloaded into another body. The possibilities of the tech are far-reaching, creating a fecund and fascinating culture as a background to an intriguing story.

Takeshi Kovacs is one of those used to being resleeved. An Envoy with special training he is tasked with unravelling the mystery of why an obnoxiously wealthy man, who is basically immortal, would kill himself. The man in question has, himself, resleeved and questions abound; was he killed or did he commit suicide.

The resulting merry-go-round that Kovacs finds himself upon is both brutal and eye-opening. He uncovers all manner of disturbing truths about the unobtainably rich, called Meths, such as his employer’s predilection for rape/murder. There are worlds within worlds and layers upon layers of deceptions and double backs as people scrabble for power and status.

The T.V. Series is a visual riot grasping the world Richard K Morgan has created with a brilliance that dazzles. Equally, Kovacs, played by Joel Kinnaman, is wonderfully jaded yet excellently threatening. The weirdness of the ‘sleeves’ is captured amazingly well, causing a considered disturbance to much of the story whilst the action is violent and breathtaking. The series even got the A.I. hotel down too.

Whilst there might be a few niggles ( why they changed Kovacs backstory as an Envoy from the original book version), this is a thoroughly enjoyable, sumptuously created piece of visual entertainment. I’m really looking forward to the next season because, if it’s anything like the books, it should be awesome.

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Following on from An Ancient Peace, Tanya Huff’s next novel in the series is, to put it mildly, awesome. Still trying to find her place as a Warden, ex- Gunnery Sargeant Kerr and her motley crew continue to work to keep the peace in a universe recovering from decades of war and the knowledge that it was a manufactured experiment by a bizarrely alien species.

After stopping a shipment of weapons from being sold illegally, Kerr and her team begin to uncover a plot designed to destabilise the peace between the ‘Elder’ races and newer members of the Confederation (such as Humans) as well as their old enemies, the Primacy. But, things are complicated. Not only is Kerr restricted by her new position as a Warden (and the Elder races obsession against the use of force) but she and her team must strive to keep the fragile treaties in place between the Confederation and Primacy.

All of that is made more difficult with the next mission handed to Kerr and her squad. When scientists discover plastic on a world where civilisation has disappeared en masse, a third party of mercenaries take the scientists hostage thinking the discovery of a plastic alien destroying weapon has been made. Adding even more complexity to the situation, Kerr is assigned a team of Primacy counterparts to accompany the rescue attempt.

Tanya Huff uses the set piece of the rescue mission to unpack and explore all the political intrigue and machinations of her universe. Old enemies are forced to work together, former soldiers broken by war and abandoned by their governments struggle to find peace, and bigoted extremists justify their racist ideologies as they seek revenge in all the wrong places. The boundaries are constantly blurred and redrawn as the hostages, mercenaries, Wardens and Primacy agents struggle to achieve their aims all against the backdrop of the plastic aliens’ troubling presence.

A Peace Divided, manages to be both action packed and thrilling whilst also considering some interesting ideas about post-war politics and cultural divides (as well as showing the total idiocy and pointlessness of racism). Behind the rescue mission stands a nefarious yet powerful antagonist, one who will no doubt appear later in the series, as Kerr and her strike team manage to overcome the odds and, once more, display what makes them such an elite force.

Huff continues her amazing world building, delving deeper into the politics of the situation whilst producing a fantastic, fun and frantic read. Personally, I can’t wait for more.

Review copy

Published by Titan Books

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

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

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Alex Lamb’s debut novel, Roboteer, is a fascinating read; big worldbuilding, big ideas and what feels to be the start of a new voice in space opera/hard science fiction. Set in a far future where Earth has been united under a pseudo-religious, political dictatorship whose aim is to subjugate humanities colonies on other planets and in other star systems, the conflict rests on Earth’s scarcity against the colonies technological superiority. It’s a manufactured war: the colonies are defending themselves whilst Earth promotes bizzare, almost racist ideologies.

Told through the eyes of three different characters, we get to see much of Earth’s political elite as well as the colony homeworld Galatea. Will Kuno-Monet is the eponymous Roboteer, a genetically modified human, designed to control and understand robots and computer systems; Ira Baron-Lecke is a Galatean starship captain who heads up covert missions into enemy territory; Gustav Ulanu is an Earther, a general but a scientist first, and one who has discovered ancient alien technologies. It is with Gustav that the story hinges for his discovery unlocks a set of parameters that will change the whole of humanity’s fate.

Soon both factions are vying for control of the alien relics but it is Will who makes the first meaningful contact. The revelations he is exposed to change everything he knows about his race, the universe and humanity’s place within it all. Yet, these aliens (or rather those behind the ruins) are testing humans and the consequences are dire. So begins an epic journey as Will must convince not only his crew mates but also his enemies that the ancient artefacts they have discovered are lures; the survival of humanity rests on how they proceed to use that technology – whether for warfare or for advancement.

It’s a great concept and there are some interesting discussions about what makes us human, what those limits might be where technology and modification is concerned, and how blind, unquestioning ideology does not constitute knowledge. There’s really little concern that Will and his crew won’t succeed but the journey there is fascinating. Amazing ancient alien ruins, complex political landscapes and intense space warfare abound, along with some unreliable yet semi-altruistic extraterrestrial intelligence. Alex Lamb achieves both good science and good fiction, creating big, believable sci-fi.

A brilliant cast of actors and a superbly crafted set of futuristic ideas makes Roboteer a highly enjoyable read. The worldbuilding and creations the author explores are exceptional and my only caveat was that we didn’t get to look further into the Earth he sketches out nor some of the more interesting concepts behind the colonies. But, as the start of a trilogy, here’s hoping.

Review copy
Published by Gollancz

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If you’ve ever read any of Gavin G. Smith’s work before, you’ll understand why his latest offering jumped to the top of the reading pile. First, I’m going to give you the blurb that hooked me and then try to review the book without giving too much away..

1987, THE HEIGHT OF THE COLD WAR. For Captain Vadim Scorlenski and the rest of the 15th Spetsnaz Brigade, being scrambled to unfamiliar territory at no notice, without a brief or proper equipment, is more or less expected; but even by his standards, their mission to one of the United States’ busiest cities stinks…

World War III was over in a matter of hours, and Vadim and most of his squad are dead, but not done. What’s happened to them, and to millions of civilians around the world, goes beyond any war crime; and Vadim and his team – Skull, Mongol, Farm Boy, Princess, Gulag, the Fräulein and New Boy – won’t rest until they’ve seen justice done.

Reading the synopsis reminded me of all those 1980s survivalist/post-apocalyptic pulp novels I read as a kid. I’m not going to lie, it excited me and the opening gambit certainly lived up to expectations. Gavin G. Smith knows his way around the fast paced, ballet of violence that an action novel requires. Special Purposes: First Strike Weapon is wild. Adrenaline fuelled fire fights against gut wrenching odds are packed into a story that manages to remain grounded and considered despite the full-bore craziness of a post-apocalyptic background.

The squad led by the protagonist Vadim are a fantastic cast and the banter and comraderie is brilliantly wrought. The fact that Smith is able to include some moral philosophising amongst the blood bath battles is impressive, adding yet another layer. It’s the best of survivalist pulp fiction added to a strong plot and exceptional writing.

Special Purposes: First Strike Weapon is pure, unapologetic, full-throttle, action packed awesomeness. Beginning to end, the atmospheric ride is an absolute firestorm. There’s so much more to say but I don’t want to spoil anything too much. Safe to say, Vadim and his squad end up as both enemy and protector in a world gone mad. Plus, there’s the all out slaughter of a group of racist, neo-nazi, war re-enactors which is just the icing on a brutal cake of an exceptional book. Obviously, the author had too much fun and I hope, somehow, he revisits this world again.

Review copy
Published by Abaddon Books

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Alastair Reynolds’ Slow Bullets is a novella of epic proportions. Though his earlier books were hard sci-fi in every sense, this work has a fairly simple premise and is written using a straightforward first-person narrative. However, in no way does this stop the novella from being full of intriguing ideas or a setting both sublime and awe inspiring. It’s as though Reynolds’ writing prowess is such that he is able to delineate his work, sketching complex worlds without resorting to complicated machinations.

Because, what begins as a tale of revenge, albeit in a setting discombobulating for our protagonists, evolves into something disconcertingly tangled. After a ceasefire is announced, bringing a halt to a vast and terrible war, Scur (our narrator) is captured and subjected to a terrible torture. Left for dead, she continues to fight for survival. Yet, when she wakes it is on a huge spaceship; she doesn’t know how she got there or why. But, quickly, it becomes apparent that the ship is malfunctioning and its cargo of passengers are still divided by the conflict.

Scur takes control of the situation in the only way she knows the soldiers will understand, bringing about a tense sort of peace. Soon, she and her companion, Prad, a technician on the ship, discover more worrying truths. The ship is slowly degrading, losing its functions and memory yet, more importantly, is the fact that they have been adrift in space for centuries. Everything they knew is gone. Unachored, this transport full of soldiers and civilians, both good and bad, must find a way to survive but also save the history, knowledge and culture of their lost worlds.

Amidst all this, Scur finds her tormentor. And, it is here that the narrative begins to unravel, revealing differing perspectives against the backdrop of a dying spaceship, lost memories and a civilisation destroyed by an unimaginable enemy. Slow Bullets questions that which anchors identity, whether personal or cultural, producing an atmospheric consideration of the human condition. Once again, Alastair Reynolds has produced a fascinating work of fiction that grips the imagination.

Review copy
Published by Gollancz

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I was pleasantly surprised by Rogue One for a number of reasons. Set a decade or so after the events of Catalyst, this latest offering in the Star Wars universe is, somehow, unique whilst simultaneously dovetailing into the events of A New Hope (what we older folk would know as Star Wars). It’s exceptionally well put together and, in no way, feels contrived. What it does is create a brilliant ensemble cast of characters all the while detailing their struggles against the threat of the Empire.

When I say struggles, I mean truly terrible hardships, crushing personal loss and unflinching sacrifice. And when I say threat, I mean a vast, cruelly efficient machine prepared to destroy all opposition. Whilst Star Wars may be considered as a simple dichotomy between good and evil, Rogue One looks into the implications of this conflict, throwing up some interesting reflections on an insurgent rebellion trying to combat a larger, better supplied and politically homogenous force.

I digress though. Rogue One continues the story of the manipulated genius Galen Erso and his tormentor, Orson Krennic. Recaptured and widowed, Galen is forced into completing his work on Krennic’s super weapon. However, the scientist had the foresight to set in place safety procedures for his daughter Jyn. It is through Jyn that we discover more about the universe at large, the rebellion and those fighting against the Empire. Effectively orphaned, she is saved by Saw Gerrera, an uncompromising freedom fighter; its an upbringing that leaves her a fierce, hardened survivor.

Yet, though she has tried to lose herself, hiding away from her past and the rebellion, her importance sets her on a course straight to the heart of the Death Star. Saved from prison, Jyn is sent on a mission to talk to Saw in the hope that he will help the rebels locate Galen Erso. Accompanying her is Cassian Andor, a spy and ardent rebel, along with K-2, a reprogrammed Imperial droid. As soon as the companions reach Saw’s home world, Jedha, things really kick off.

Erso had sent a young pilot, an Imperial deserter, to Saw with a message that he had sabotaged the Death Star. But, Saw has fallen out with the rebel leaders whilst Jyn is no fan of either parties. However, the Empire is hot on their heels and soon Jyn, Cassian along with the pilot, Bohdi, as well as two Guardiams of the Whills, Chirrut and Baze, are fighting for their lives. It is this nucleus that forms Rogue One; from faith, hatred, need and vengeance, hope for a better future is forged.

Jyn and her allies are unable to convince the fractured and complex union of the rebellion that her father has secreted a way for them to defeat the Death Star amongst its schematics and plans. They take fate into their own hands and embark on mission to retrieve the plans and give the universe a chance to free itself from the tyranny of the Empire. Each character has their own motivations, each makes their own choices and it’s a frantic conclusion to an accomplished story.

This isn’t simple sci-fi in my book; it’s gritty and heartfelt. Rogue One shows just how brave the rebels were and just what the Death Star meant for the universe. It’s about sacrifice, redemption and belief against all odds, and it’s a brilliant slice of Star Wars action adventure.

Review copy
Published by Century

Continuing the tradition of rounding up my best reads of the year, I’m going to do my utmost to pick some of the top books from a heap of excellent work I’ve had the pleasure to review. It’s taken some serious beard stroking and moustache twiddling but here goes…

I’ve read some great horror stories this year, two of which really stood out – Nod by Adrian Barnes and A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. Though very different both were psychological thrillers that picked away at the fabric of reality, personality and what grounds us in truth. Pleasingly, the shock and terror of each novel was produced alongside excellent writing and superb characters, making them both very memeorable books.

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu was one of my top fantasy novel reads, in close contention with Brian McClellan’s The Crimson Campaign. A brilliant setting made even more enjoyable by the distinct and well defined protagonists, The Grace of Kings managed to mix political intrigue, epic battles and an original, atmospheric world. It’s quality fantasy in every sense.

When it comes to top notch, awesome fantasy, Joe Abercrombie consistently serves up some of the very best. His short story collection, Sharp Ends, set in his First Law universe was, without a doubt, sheer brilliance. New characters were introduced, older actors had their origin stories told and the whole world he’s built is weaved together with exceptional skill. Hugely enjoyable, Sharp Ends is a big, bold barnburner.

Whilst I admit I’m a fan of action, adventure and gritty battle based fiction, I’ve had the chance to read some intelligent and mindful science fiction this year. Savant by Vik Abnett epitomised that. Unique worldbuilding, a slightly retro yet original tone and an engaging story revolving around mathematics and companionship, this was a standout novel in my year.

Featuring a very different yet equally enthralling maths based concept, Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit is an amazing novel. Distinctive and innovative, Yoon Ha Lee’s inspired setting brings a new vibe to sci-fi. As I said in my review, ‘It’s a stunning piece of creativity that melds futuristic ideas of technology and the feel of an epic space opera with the ephemeral and magical vibe of pure fantasy’.

Finally, the self-published novel from Malcolm F Cross, Dog Country, proved to be another highlight. A thought provoking look at geo-political warfare, Dog Country is a brilliantly written piece of military sci-fi. Genetically modified, humanoid, dog soldiers fighting in a crowdfunded revolution whilst, simultaneously, trying to find their place in a society that created yet rejected them. Great characters, a clever concept and an even better plot.

I’ve also watched a few decent films but hats off to Mad Max:Fury Road. Though time has been a precious commodity this year (my wife and I still haven’t started season 7 of TWD) I did manage to catch Westworld and the sixth series of The Walking Dead – I will have some posts on that very soon.

I’m whittling my way through my reading pile and have some interesting books lined up. It’s been a good year for reading and I’m looking forward to more reviews and interviews.
Happy reading!

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Set firmly between the films Revenge Of The Sith and A New Hope, James Luceno’s Catalyst features as a prequel to the latest movie in the Star Wars franchise, Rogue One. While some of the finer details may have been lost on me, a casual Star Wars fan, those more invested in the universe will, no doubt, find much to explore.

And, this is what I enjoy so much about shared world, tie-in works of fiction; they can be enjoyed by nearly everyone. Catalyst (much like The Force Awakens) captures the essence of the original trilogy of films released in the late 1970’s. A healthy dose of political intrigue mixed with a massive, far reaching universe, all tied together with the fight between good and evil.

Catalyst focuses on the emergence of the Death Star and the machinations behind its inception, much of it revolving around Galen Erso. Though trying to remain neutral in the war between Separatists and Republic, his genius and its value makes him a pawn in the growing conflict as the Empire begins to emerge. Ostensibly rescued from imprisonment by Orson Krennic, a driven and determined member of the Empire, Erso, along with his wife Lyra and daughter Jyn, swap one prison for another.

Krennic is ruthless in his pursuit for success in the new order of things. Erso is a mere cog, albeit an important one, in realising a weapon so powerful that Emperor Palpatine won’t be able to deny Krennic’s significance. What follows is a compelling game of strategy as Krennic attempts to manoeuvre players to his whim, especially keeping the pacifist Erso working on his energy project while using the data to construct the Death Star’s massive laser system.

The novel really picks up the pace in the last quarter as Moff Tarkin discovers that he is also being played by Krennic and begins his own campaign. Similarly Lyra, with the help of Has Obitt, another pawn, go off script. It is here that so many threads begin to coalesce into the bigger Star Wars picture. Rebel alliances form, the faceless Empire, epitomised by the Death Star, takes shape whilst the battle lines between good and evil are drawn on both a personal and intergalactic level.

Though the idea of the Force and the Dark side are writ large throughout Star Wars, it’s also the individual decisions that are so important and James Luceno does a great job of putting such obstacles in the way of his characters. Erso must choose between his family and his research; Krennic between his desire for status and honesty; Has Obitt between smuggling and selfishness, and rebellion and selflessness.

Catalyst is an absorbing novel that manages to consider both the intergalactic universe of Star Wars as well as the individual, all rendered against the background of the imposing Death Star. Whatever type of Star Wars fan you may be, Catalyst is a great read.

Review copy
Published by Century