Posts Tagged ‘Titan books’

Where Would You Be Now by Carrie Vaughn is an extremely well written and considered look at life a few years after an apocalyptic event. The title is a repeating question, asked and answered by the main character and her immediate companions. Meditating on how life pushes on, Vaughn captures the essence of loss; loss of what could have been as well as what was. As the survivors slowly come to terms with their new reality, the issue of what the future holds becomes paramount. It’s an interesting essay on how the apocalypse bifurcated the paths of their lives comparing where they are to where they would be had it never occurred. A meditative, somewhat melancholy, story that digs into what the reality of a post-apocalypse existence would be.

As Good As New is as different from the other stories as could be. Author Charlie Jane Anders has taken a wonderful idea and runs with it. Whilst her protagonist, Marisol, survived the end of the world inside an impenetrable bunker, it isn’t until she explores outside that this story takes a massive swerve. Marisol finds a bottle, within which is a very sarcastic and pedeantic genie. What follows is a clever consideration of how genies (or any other wishing machination) contain within both potentially fantastic and catastrophic results. As Good As New is thoroughly enjoyable in its take on the genre and the tools it uses to convey its ideas.

Hugh Howey’s Bones of Gossamer is another quiet and contemplative look at what the ‘end of the world’ would mean. Yet, Howey takes the perspective of an isolated culture, far from the western world. A culture used to separation and disconnection; a man who grew up with distant parents who’d travelled to the ‘big island’ and who, once older, left to find work. Now even older, his children also gone to earn money, he watches as the silence stretches. Where a steam boat would make the harsh journey to deliver supplies once a month, the horizon remains empty. Where a new satellite phone would connect them, silence has returned. When a starving European washes up on the shore, talking of disaster, the old man realises he must somehow make the journey to find his children. It’s a journey both physical and cultural as he embarks on remembering what his ancestors knew before steamboats and satellite phones. Howey captures something here; something well worth reading.

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Published by Titan Books

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Aside from the frighteningly accurate and realistic introduction by editor John Joseph Adams, I do enjoy a good tale of the apocalypse and this collection contains stories from a number of highly regarded authors. I’ll be doing a series of reviews as I read the anthology.

First up, Elizabeth Bear’s Bullet Point. How the author manages to pack so much into the short story just goes to show her skill at the craft. After an unknown event, where the entire population of Las Vegas simply disappears, Isabella is left wondering and wandering in the desert heat. Ticking off lists off what is left and what has gone, never to return, Isabella finds solace in a future free from the troubles that plagued her past.

That is, until she meets a fellow survivor. What follows is a tense yet intriguing and, to be fair, unexpected. It’s a wonderful window into a weird scenario that captures a feeling with impressive ability.

Red Thread by Sofia Samatar is told through the eyes of a teenager, leaving messages on some sort of virtual notice board to her friend Fox. Each note tells of her travels as she and her mother find sanctuary and shelter at different ‘centres’. And, with each note we learn more about the world they live within; one populated with isolation zones and ‘centres’ and something described as the Movement. Between the lines and behind the personal story there is the greater concerns of climate change and war and violence, and in its subtle way, Red Thread draws a somber tale of humanity scrambling to survive.

I skipped ahead in the collection to read Jonathan Maberry’s Not This War, Not This World, because, well, it’s Jonathan Maberry. As the author explains, this short is a sequel to some of his other work, connecting other stories together and acting as a prequel to George A. Romero’s films. It is a no-holds-barred look into the life of a DELTA sniper, unravelling in the face of a zombie apocalypse. Maberry pulls no punches as his protagonist is faced with the most awful of choices. As the sniper, Sam Imura, breaks under the pressure, his world shrinks down to one of two decisions; to match forward and protect the innocent or to take himself out and end the nightmare. Under the stars, on a cold night, facing down a hungry, undead horde, neither is an easy road.

Published by Titan Books

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Comparisons to World War Z by Max Brooks might be apt but only in so much as this is a complete, and I do mean complete, history of a supernatural change in (fictional) human history. Where Brooks uses verbal accounts and different perspectives, A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising goes further and deeper into what it would mean for vampires to appear in modern society. The author does a great job at looking at how law enforcement, the press, politics, religion and all the institutes in between would address such a person; a person who is suddenly more powerful physically and psychologically; who is now capable of living for hundreds of years; a person whose moral and ethical compass is drastically different.

Whilst the book is a history, and an exhaustive one at that, it is a narrative; a story told from numerous perspectives that overlap and, eventually, dovetail into each other. Told through the eyes of an FBI agent, a research doctor, a priest in the Catholic Church and a political campaign manager, the novel manages to iron out so many details that the ‘history’ takes on the feel of being real. Political wrangling and amendments to the law sit neatly next to creepy house raids and the worrying spread of vampire fandom. What starts with a body disappearing from a small town morgue turns into numerous threads, all chasing the idea of a vampire in its various forms: as a blood-sucking drifter, as a disease, as a supernatural force, as an ideal.

For some it’s an issue of law; clearly draining people of their blood is a crime but where is the line drawn when it comes to turning another person into a vampire? Ethically, what rights do these people have as citizens and active members of society. For others, what and how does vampirism occur; is it a disease that’s controlable or reversible? Are any of those things right to pursue? All the while the author poses and explores these questions, the book is also considering the darker side of vampirism and what a new species of superhuman wants. Heists and strange kidnappings, underground networks and nefarious doings abound. Not only on the vampire side but also from humans. Humans who morally or otherwise decide to take the fight to the vampires.

A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising is intriguing. It’s not an apocalyptic event but rather a slow, steady burn as society is infiltrated and changed from within. The depth of consideration into all aspects of the idea is impressive in itself, but how the author has woven it all together into a bizarre tapestry of a story is even more admirable. There’s a creeping darkness underneath it all, lurking under the surface, making all the machinations above seem off centre and, in that sense, truly capturing the essence of human history.

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Published by Titan Books

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.

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Published by Titan Books

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.

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Published by Titan Books

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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.

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Published by Titan books

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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.

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Published by Titan Books

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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.

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Published by Titan Books

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I read Kieran Shea’s debut and it was a definite hit. Similarly, Off Rock has all the panache, creativity and excitement but this time packaged up as a classic crime caper set in a far future, space mining facility. There’s a good natured vibe to the book that keeps the fun ratcheted up high even when the action truly kicks off.

Jaded and complacent, Jimmy Vik, is fairly set in his ways, working for various mining companies that exploit the material rich outer reaches of space. He’s bounced around, lived the maxim of ‘work hard, play hard’ and is now getting to that stage in life where he’s stuck with his lot and doesn’t care one way or the other. That is until he discovers a seam of gold, missed by the company scans and ripe for the taking. To Jimmy, it’s the chance to start everything afresh regardless of the very severe and life threatening punishment that comes with appropriating the mining company’s property.

It sets in motion a series of events, bluffs and double crosses as Jimmy is stiffed by his accomplice, Jock. An indebted gambler with a huge criminal cartel on his case, Jock takes little time stitching up Jimmy. Off Rock has, to my mind, the feel of the Ocean’s Eleven movie as each actor brings to the story another complication. Setting up the main heist story for the first half of the book, things quickly unravel as Jock puts his own plan in motion. Sure enough, Jock the fixer is greasing wheels and doing deals. But, the cartel have eyes on him and are determined to get the account settled or, more accurately, terminated. Add in to the mix Jimmy’s ex-girlfriend and supervisor, who is far from stupid and tough to boot, the gold has gone from a sure thing to a hard sell.

Off Rock is, from start to finish, a brilliantly fun read. It hits all the right notes of a caper as everyone scrambles to get their slice of the pie. Jimmy, as hard as he tries, continues to blunder into obstacles, and it looks like he’ll be lucky to get out alive. Off Rock is a strikingly impressive feat of writing from the characters and banter to the plot and conclusion. When all is said and done, this is a book that will keep you thoroughly entertained and leave you with a smile on your face.

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Published by Titan Books

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I’m a fan of all different flavours of science fiction and fantasy but there is something to be said for plausibility that truly gives a novel weight. Worldbuilding that recognises an internal logic is a praiseworthy quality and, though there might be aliens and space travel and all things fantastic, plausible actions and actors can often take a book from being good to being great. Netherspace by Andrew Lane and Nigel Foster does exactly that.

A ensemble cast of characters set in a future where multiple alien species have made contact with Earth and traded unimaginably sophisticated technology, Netherspace never relinquishes the very human characteristics that gives this book its depth. The two main protagonists, ex-army sniper and current assassin Kara and celebrated, rebellious artist Marc, make an interesting duo as they are coerced into a mission of epic proportions. Their bond, produced through a kind of mind-share technology, allows each to understand the other intricately and work together in unison; an important ability when dealing with aliens with whom communication is basically impossible.

Trade has occurred and humans have been gifted the means to travel huge distances across the universe by using Netherspace. It’s a way of slipping through realspace but it comes at a cost – the aliens demand a human life for every Netherspace drive. Kara and Marc, though ostensibly sent out to rescue a kidnapped group of colonists, are there to find out why. Why a human life for a drive? Where does the technology really derive from? And, most importantly, what is happening in Netherspace?

The story is set between the two groups, the colonists and the rescue team, led by Marc, Kara and pre-cog psychic Tse. Both groups must struggle to understand the aliens and Netherspace whilst simultaneously trying not to impose human ideas, emotions and motivations upon them. It’s a concept reiterated throughout the book: an alien is completely unknowable and there is no common ground upon which to base communications. Bizarre and frustrating, each group must still find their way towards comprehending the situation.

Separated by time and space, as the two groups near each other, I suddenly realised there was a tension growing in the plot that I hadn’t truly recognised. It grows into a mystery that has far reaching implications and, as the start of a new series, sets up some very interesting problems for the next book to resolve. Netherspace is a complex and considered book which has, at its core, a believable logic, sensible and real actors, and a mystery that will leave you waiting for the sequel.

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Published by Titan Books

The authors of Netherspace will post a guest blog on the 26th May all about space travel, so be sure to check it out.