Archive for the ‘Sci-Fi’ Category

It’s easy to use terms such as interesting or intriguing when discussing a book; sci-fi lends itself to these type of ideas that explore and consider the human condition. However, what M.T. Hill has done in Zero Bomb is produce a very thought-provoking work that deals in issues which are extremely relevant to the social situation prevelant in Britain today.

Of course, these concepts and concerns are extrapolated into a near future, though one built on the problems of today; Brexit, social mobility, economic welfare and the rapid expansion of technology. It is here that the author runs free, building a Britain divided and fractured, brimming with automation and mechanisation alongside an overarching obligation to be part of the social network. Told in three parts, each connected and explaining the wider plot, Zero Bomb takes all these issues to task and explores what happens when a minority of dissidents disrupts the status-quo.

In the opening part, we meet Remi, a man so confused and at odds with the world in which he lives that he tries to become a ghost, leaving his family and everything else behind. Yet, so lost is he that even his own memories are unreliable. His aversion to technology has left him adrift in a world ever automated, making him a perfect target for minds much more nefarious than his. As the book gathers pace so do the stakes. In the second stanza, a book within the book explores the idea of a robotic revolution; of the end of human worth under the weight of technological advances but also the strength to fight back and overcome, to destroy and rebuild. A mystic and magical fantasy that strikes at the heart of Remi’s delusion.

It’s an excellent vehicle that portrays the mind of a person willing to undo society, a person so obsessed and driven by an idea that they feel they have the authority to destroy a whole population’s way of life because they know better. It’s frighteningly close to reality; zealotry and elitist thinking balled up in an insane idea capable of collapsing society.

The final part deals with those it would affect and the effects a revolution of this kind, as unasked for as it is, would have. Zero Bomb asks so many questions and does it with wonderful prose and considerable acumen. It’s as unsettling as it is fascinating,the characters blindly groping their way through what is happening around them, striking, once more, at the heart of the human existence. The resonance of cause and effects, of being products of an environment, of being shaped by forces and being forced into situations echoes throughout the book.

Zero Bomb is a unique read both in terms of how it is written and what it deals with. It’s great science fiction, full of all the worldbuilding and ideas that make the genre great. But, it’s something else as well, something a little more special as it digs a bit deeper and pushes a little harder at the boundaries.

Review copy

Published by Titan Books

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Continuing from yesterday, here’s one more awesome thing I’ve watched in a stupor of post-training fatigue..

I saw the trailer, more than once, but I wasn’t wholly convinced. I initially felt like this mini-series would be one of those melancholic, navel-gazing type shows where little would happen but much would be discussed. How wrong I was.

Maniac is anything but. Instead, it was a journey out of despondency and depression, spiralling upwards toward a kaleidoscopic expression of wholesome emotion. In a retro-futuristic world of robots and weird science, there’s an off-key, off-centre feel to its sci-fi background that is as intriguing as it is tricky to hold on to. Following the entwined stories of Owen (Jonah Hill) and Annie (Emma Stone) the narrative simultaneously converges and fractures around a bizarre pharmaceutical trial. Owen needs the money to strike out and find his dependence from his domineering and overly successful family; Annie is chasing the drug on trial and it’s particular effects.

Whilst Owen is anxious and withdrawn, Annie is brash and bold, and the pair are soon thrust together in the same group testing the drug. Adding more unique layers to the already unusual worldbuilding, the pharma Company is itself a story that unfolds in fits and starts, revealing a scientist exiled from his own research only to be brought back at a crucial time and a computer that is so self aware it’s sabataging it’s own experiment.

The drug works by dropping the user into old memories and visions, helping them realise a healthier and happy conclusion. However, each time Owen and Annie find themselves in each other’s visions, as different people, in different lives but always thrown together. Eventually both do escape their most negative aspects and find inner peace yet the journey there is a winding and fantastical path.

As a vehicle for the actors it’s a chance to play multiple characters within a narrative framework. This is where the uniqueness works, ebbing and flowing forward and rising ever upwards. It was surprising and fulfilling and hopeful, all couched in a thoroughly distinct and inventive worldbuilding. It’s odd, hard to categorise but excellent it’s own special and quirky way.

I was recently looking for something to watch (in a state of post-training exhaustion) and it made me think about all the great things I’ve watched but not blogged about (because I’ve been training a lot and “recovering” on the sofa). It also made me think of all the things I stopped watching, though I’ll save that for another post. So, without further ado, and with thanks to Netflix and it’s great programming – The Umbrella Company.

Adapted from a comic book, this series was an instant hit with my wife and I. Drawing you in with great characters and a number of unanswered questions that are slowly and cleverly explained, The Umberlla Company is a bright, engaging piece of fantasy. Similar in style and feel to the Marc Caro/ Jean-Pierre Jeunet films, such as City of the Lost Children, there’s a mix of seriousness and comedy that seemlessly entertains whilst never losing sight of the story.

The ensemble cast of characters, each with their own deep, and sometimes dark, background are brilliant. Their wild abilities, their shared history of adoption and their sense of being cast adrift from any sense of purpose is thread through the narrative. Adopted as babies by an eccentric millionaire (himself a strange character) and nurtured to manage and develop their super powers, the children become poster boys and girls for the eponymous Umbrella Company. Saving the day and going on missions being all part of the fun.

However, little is normal here and when your name is a number and your surrogate mother is a robot, it’s no wonder things get weird. After one of the gang disappears only to return decades later looking just as he did, a twelve-year old, but acting like a fifty-year old, the mystery begins. It’s a wonderfully, tangly mix of time travel, apocalyptic prophesy and crime caper as secrets are unearthed and the bigger picture is slowly revealed.

The Umbrella Company does a lot of things right from it’s stylised worldbuilding to its witty and engaging characters. Fantastical and fun but with an edge.

Richard K Morgan’s latest novel is, without a doubt, an amazing read. His special blend of cyberpunk, crime thriller, sci-fi action is as unique as his voice and is put together so well, so seamlessly, that there was a point where I had to stop reading and acknowledge, out loud, just how great the author is at his trade.

Set on a colonised Mars, Thin Air is, however, more than the sum of its parts. Whilst the plot weaves and wends and the story grips from the opening gambit right up until the last sentence, there’s much to read within it about the human condition and all our meat-wrapped foibles. Yet, and yet again, it is the story that powers it all and Thin Air is a tour de force.

Following Hak Veil, a bio-engineered corporate soldier, we are shown a Mars decades into its colonisation, with a society largely separated from Earth, living under a massive atmospheric dome and etching out hard lives at the frontier of humanities technological expansion. There’s a neo-western edge to the whole premise and Veil is the perfect morally grey protagonist that stalks throughout. Corruption and cut-throat business prevail and, as a skilled and dangerous enforcer, Veil has seen it all since being dumped on Mars by his former employer.

Yet, though business and tech is booming in that wild and lawless ecosphere, Earth wants to keep a handle on its fractious brethren. An audit team is sent to investigate the rampant corruption all caught up in a lottery scheme that seems to be disappearing its lucky winners instead of giving them their prize of a trip back to Earth. And Veil is tasked with helping out a second string Earth official who very quickly finds herself in deep trouble. It’s the thread that unravels the whole mess but Veil has to work blind, against all manner of obstacles as he tries to run down the truth. The more he digs, the deeper the rot goes.

Hak Veil is a brilliant character; hardbitten, hardwired for combat and hard to kill. Gritty and mission driven ( due to his engineering) there’s no stopping the “Black Hatch man” once he’s unleashed and it’s a theme that powers the story along. Yet, this isn’t a fast read. There’s so much given in the prose and such amazing detail offered as the world is revealed around the cast of actors. Like his Takeshi Kovacs novels or his Land Fit for Heroes series, Thin Air manages, and succeeds, to create a stunning combination of elements into a book that will transport you to another place.

Truly remarkable, I sincerely hope Hak Veil makes another appearance.

Review copy

Published by Gollancz

Review – Life

Posted: March 5, 2019 in Film, Horror, Sci-Fi
Tags: , ,

I caught this film on Netflix recently and, as a sucker for space horror, loaded it up and went in blind, not knowing what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised. The cast were headed up by two very talented actors with Ryan Reynolds doing his patented brand of goofy yet heroic and Jake Gyllenhaal giving another solid, emotional performance. The rest of the ensemble were equally restrained and believable in their roles as scientist/astronauts tasked with researching samples taken from Mars that showed signs of life.

From the tense opening scene where the samples might’ve been lost if not for Reynolds bravery to the consequential astonishment at the discovery of an alien organism, albeit a very simple cell, the film had an undeniable quality. The research and its consequences are astounding yet, as the scientists continue their observations, that simple cell begins to transform, displaying an intelligence beyond anything they’ve ever seen before.

The film captures the tension and claustrophobia of a space station brilliantly, and the special effects are on point. As things take a turn and the cell (miraculously and suddenly) begins to evolve into a creature, that sense of knife-edge existence which comes from living inside a space station comes to the fore. The fragility of the human body, the desperation to survive is, in Life, viscerally portrayed – none more so than with Reynolds’ self- sacrifice.

As the cell turned creature turned monster begins to pick off the crew and desperation replaces logic, the true horror of the astronauts choices are revealed; there is no exit strategy. The last ‘firewall’ is for the station to be ejected into outer space. The scientists try everything but the creature is smarter, more suited to the environment and, basically, unkillable.

It’s solid horror. The atmosphere was well wrought and the acting well done. For me the annoyance came in how the creature managed to evolve from a single cell into a fully-fledged vampiric octopus so quickly. But, accepting the suspension of disbelief, it is a badass monster. Yes, the ending was predictable. However, it was an entertaining movie that hit all the right space horror tropes and made for a fun watch.

I’ve categorically failed to post a best of 2018 and I’m still struggling with all manner of other time consuming activities which have made a real dent into my reading/blogging time. But, I’m nothing if not stubborn, and with a number of great books on the shelves waiting to be read, I’m adamant that I’ll keep this blog alive.

The first book in Scott Reintgen’s series was thoroughly enjoyable, hitting all those satisfying tropes like the sci-fi military boot camp and the big-bad shadowy corporation behind everything. The cast of characters was novel for their diversity and their real-world problems but also very easy to empathise with as they fought and competed to ‘win’ their opportunity to visit an alien planet and make their fortune.

In Unleashed, the group have landed amongst the alien Adamites to a surprisingly warm reception. But, as ever with Babel, nothing is as it seems as the company continue to pull strings behind the scenes for their own nefarious purposes. However, unlike the opening novel, the tension here loses some of its power and the author is forced to rely on repetitive emotional confrontations to pull the story along. Don’t get me wrong, Unleashed is still chock full of excellent world-building and intriguing prose, and the author doesn’t shy away from treating his actors with the very real characteristics of the current, teenage generation’s attitudes and ideas. Where things seemed, to me at least, to stall was in the need to bridge the gap between the first book and the third, setting up a scenario that will clearly pay fruit but which felt a little too drawn out. It is perhaps a difficult ‘second album’ issue.

Unleashed is still a great read, especially for those invested in the characters and world (of which I am sure there are plenty). We see the protagonists grow and mature, dealing with difficult circumstances and relationships all the while navigating an alien world. Trust and truth are tested to the extreme as the group try to understand where they stand, though, in the end, they realise it is only together that they will survive the various honey traps set for them by Babel. The last quarter of the book explodes with potential, setting up the next novel perfectly.

Unleashed is a title that could refer to all manner of ideas explored in the book, from the substance the crew are sent to mine, to their own anger and frustration at Babel, or the plans of the Adamites themselves. Nyxia continues to be an intriguing series and the story of the teenage crew remains as gripping and fraught as ever.

Review copy

Published by Penguin

If you haven’t read the first book in Gavin Smith’s The Bastard Legion series, then beware of spoilers ahead….

In The Hangman’s Daughter, the first in the series, we met Miska Corbin and her army of prisoners, enslaved and forced to do her bidding as mercenaries via explosive collars and the threat of immediate death. As that book unfolded we learnt the real reason behind her piracy of the prison barge and what was behind her motives. The murder of her father and her subsequent deep, deep black op mission set her on a course of undeniable mayhem. Her father’s killers were on board the barge and her cover as a merc gone crazy was a ruse.

However, running that cover story requires her to take on contracts and, in Friendly Fire, Miska and her team are tasked with recovering an alien artifact. By recover, read steal using any means necessary. It’s another undercover mission given by her, frankly, misguided CIA handler yet the stakes are extremely high.

All manner of obstacles lay in Miska’s path not least being that the world on which the artifact has been found is home to a number of her prisoners. People whose family (and criminal fraternity) would very much like them set free. The mission, understandably, turns into a horror show as enemies come out of the woodwork from all directions, some who want Miska dead whilst others want her captured, not least of those her own sister. Added to that is the fact that the object isn’t what they thought it was and the people in possession of it are much more prepared than Miska was led to believe. Hunted and hated from all sides, Miska must try to balance it all whilst staying alive so that she can discover who killed her father and why it was covered up.

Smith weaves the story with his normal, casual brilliance blending action shootouts, weird technology, human problems and fantastic world building into one awesome package. His ability to add flavours from different genres – such as Italian mobsters, Yakuza gangs, alien tech and crime heists- into the mix, displays a clear sense of fun, something which oozes from the pages. Military sci-fi is in capable hands when Gavin Smith opens up the throttle of his imagination and Friendly Fire is an exceptional example of his skill as a storyteller.

Review copy

Published by Gollancz

So, once again, I’m back. It’s starting to sound a little repetitive, like an overly used catchphrase, but..I’m back reviewing. Suffice it to say, life gets in the way. Having said that, let’s get started.

The Bastard Legion is a fantastic way to fire this blog back up. It’s a fast paced, high action, blood and guts thriller of a ride. Like a lot of Gavin Smith’s (aka Gavin G Smith) books, the characters are brilliant, the dialogue tight and the world building epic.

Set four hundred years in the future, in the aftermath of an alien war, humanity has spread far into space. But, humans being humans, little has changed about our inner nature. Corporations rule, capitalism remains king and politics is still a subject best avoided. Smith’s novel opens with his protagonist, Miska Corbin, taking her enslaved penal legion on a mission both morally ambiguous and dangerous. As the action unfolds, we learn a much about the future world and Miska; a former space marine with a furious temper, an equally intimidating sister, and a father whose legend as one of the toughest sergeants in the force still holds true, all of which informs much of her decisions.

After stealing a huge prison barge full of some of the worst criminals, Miska sets about becoming a mercenary for hire. Slaved to her every whim by explosive collars, the prisoners are trained in virtual reality by the ghost of Corbin’s father and drilled into something resembling a fighting force. What happens next is a tale of deceit, double crosses and brutal action.

Underneath it all, we begin to discover the motive behind Miska’s decision to go from black ops marine to mercenary and, with Smith’s usual skill, the truths underlying it all reveal a greater, even more thrilling prospect for the series. It’s like the Dirty Dozen on steriods. In space. And it is awesome.

The Bastard Legion is a brilliantly fun read. Action, adventure, space battles and close quarter combat in equal measure all underpinned by a bigger mystery as prisoners become soldiers, lines are blurred between right and wrong, and Miska shows just how prepared she is to find the truth. This military-esque sci-fi at its finest.

Review copy

Published by Gollancz

Sometimes I feel guilty for reading a book so fast considering how much effort the author must have put into the novel. But, it’s also a testament to just how enjoyable it was to read, and that goes doubly for Nyxia. Billed as a YA novel, Nyxia definitely hits all the right notes for a coming-of-age adventure yet it is also a brilliantly written, gripping tale of a young man struggling against the odds to ensure that his family and his future are more than his social status would dictate.

Emmett is a thoughtful, brave, complicated teenager who, as the protagonist, carries the story on broad shoulders. Plucked from poverty along with nine other hopefuls, he is whisked away on a journey that will change his life forever, though only if he can survive. In a near-future, Emmett and the others are contracted to travel to a distant planet by a company with technology far beyond his wildest imagination.

However (and there’s always one), whilst the explorers will be made exceptionally rich, they must compete with each other to secure their place with the company. It’s a competition of ruthless rules, changing goalposts and huge rewards; for a group of impoverished teenagers, the stakes are massive. Nyxia captures all of the emotionally charged games, the tentative alliances and the brutal struggle to succeed brilliantly, keeping the pace high and the action engaging.

The company, Babel Communications, and more importantly the man in charge, Marcus Defoe, is both alluring yet dangerous though even Emmett’s street smarts can’t give him the edge he needs to take control of the situation. Constantly on the back foot, desperate to succeed and being forced to make choices designed to break even the toughest, mentally and physically. Yet, looming behind the competition is the planet Eden, it’s humanoid population and, more importantly the substance they are all travelling for – Nyxia. It’s something no-one really understands containing power and ability of epic proportions and a history that Babel is trying to hide.

Nyxia is a gripping, engaging and fun read. Scott Reintgen has created an amazing cast of characters with a protagonist who is captivating in his honest struggle to survive yet succeed along with worldbuilding that holds the promise of amazing sequels.

Review copy

Published by Penguin Books/Michael Joseph

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.