Archive for September, 2012

The Long Earth

September 28, 2012 - 9:45 am No Comments

Meet Steve Jones, my new reviewer – he says;
“Zombies ate my bio”

The Long Earth
Author: Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
Publisher: Doubleday
Release date: 21 June 2012
Page Count: 344 pages hardback.
Reviewer: Steve Jones

In 1987 I shared a pizza with Terry Pratchett and we talked about the books he was writing. One became “Truckers”, and the other took twenty five years to see print. He told me about “hypedrive” (not “hyperdrive”) which only works because people believe it does, and hominids with a matriarchal society. I think some of this went into “Lords and Ladies” where the extremely unpleasant elves are extradimensional invaders with a hive society.

This year “The Long Earth” appears in collaboration with Stephen Baxter, who has considerable experience with science fiction and variant hominids. The hypedrive has become the Stepper, which can be made by anyone from simple household supplies. The protagonists are Joshua, who was the first child born away from Datum Earth (our world), and Lobsang, an intelligent computer that claims to be a reincarnated Tibetan. Together they explore some of the mysteries of the Long Earth. The story is compelling, but not as humorous as you might expect for a Pratchett where the humble potato is the essential power source for the Stepper.

One problem I had was peoples’ willingness to go homesteading in far off dimensions away from modern medicine and the Internet. I might go “next door” for peace and quiet, but it would be nice to know the modern world is just one step away. There are some similarities with Charlie Stross’s “Merchant Princes” books, such as how do they stop robbers from stepping into bank vaults.

This is probably the first in a series as the dust jacket mentions on the inside, but don’t worry this is a complete story. I can see several elements that could get more exposure in later books, such as the mysterious town where humans and trolls live in peace, and the growing resentment of the minority who cannot use a Stepper at all.

Overall, a good read.

Mockingbird

September 17, 2012 - 2:05 pm No Comments

Mockingbird
Author: Chuck Wendig
Publisher: Angry Robot books:
Release date: 6 Sept 2012
Page Count: 335pp
Reviewer: Theresa Derwin

This second outing for Miriam Black (last seen in Blackbird) finds Miriam working in a New Jersey seaside resort supermarket, fed up with her job and the constraints of life with Louis in a trailer park, when she ‘sees’ the death of her boss and a number of customers at the hands of a serial killer. Because Miriam Black touches a person’s skin and sees the exact moment and method of their death in full flashback colour. Pardon the pun, but she can make a killing from her ‘gift’ if she sees the death of a person with money, follows them to their point of death and runs off with their cash and credit cards.

But Miriam is trying to go straight, which is why she is there at the supermarket, having just been sacked, three minutes before all hell breaks loose. Trying to help her, Louise arranges a reading with a teacher, Katey, who thinks she is dying. It is at the school for delinquents where Katey works, that Miriam accidentally touches young Lauren, who is doomed to die at the age of eighteen at the hands of a brutal killer. Only Lauren isn’t the only future victim, and Miriam becomes intent on saving them all and finding the killer.

Bursting with black comedy, and social commentary, Mockingbird is a tour-de-force of horror fantasy. Miriam, as always, is a strong and compelling lead character and through Katey’s voice, Wendig pursues interesting debates about women’s place in society. This is an excellent book, with plenty of character interaction, brutal murders and laughs aplenty despite the grim material. Wendig never fails to deliver. He is a name to be watched.

Seven Wonders

September 17, 2012 - 1:26 pm No Comments

Seven Wonders
Author: Adam Christopher
Publisher: Angry Robot books:
Release date: 6 Sept 2012
Page Count: 416pp
Reviewer: Adrian Middleton

In the wake of his debut novel, Empire State, Adam Christopher steps sideways from the noir city to the shining superhero city of San Ventura to bring us a trip into the four colour world of the Seven Wonders, the last great superhero team, protecting the world and, in particular, the West Coast of America, from the last supervillain team up, The black-clad Cowl and his girl-wonder sidekick, Blackbird.

The pulp style of the novel gets the story off to a cracking start, with a touch that made me believe the book started life as a comic script rather than a novel. Each paragraph feels as if it’s describing an individual comic-book panel which, while giving the feel of authenticity to the piece, made me feel bereft of the depth that the prose of a novel, rather than a graphic novel, can bring.

More influenced by the superhero universes of DC and Wildstorm comics – particularly Batman, Superman and The Authority – Christopher’s world is filled with shades of grey, enthusiastically raising questions about the morality of its heroes and villains, making the reader question who are the real heroes and villains throughout the story.

The story follows the lives of the Cowl, San Ventura’s greatest billionnaire-supervillain, as his powers are mysteriously on the wane, the city’s newest hero, Tony Prosdocimi, and Blackbird, whose own motivations drive the story forward at a speed more like that of a cancelled soap opera than a speeding bullet.

Ultimately is the soap element – the relationships between the characters and their interactions with the San Ventura police and the Seven Wonders themselves – which drives the story forward. Unfortunately, the promised depth isn’t forthcoming, and the story dwells more on set-pieces like the protagonist’s fight to come to terms first with the emergence of his superman-like powers (clearly inspired by Larry Niven’s seminal essay ‘Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex’) and on the TV-style police procedural investigation by Sam Millar and Joe Milano, cops from a SuperCrime department responsible for dealing with the city’s super-powered community on zero budget. These are nice vignettes, but they don’t make up for weak characters who go through the motions with tenuous motives.

The book has some great moments, but they pass quickly, stopping short of what could have been comic-book gold had they been explored in the four-colour medium. Take an early scene where the Cowl touches upon the question: who is acting in the best interests of the city? Aloof heroes with no connection to the people, or career criminals who know every corner of the neighbourhoods they grew up in, protecting their territory while perpetrating crimes in other parts of the city. Unfortunately, when moments like this appear, they fade quickly and are not returned to, making potentially great thematic story elements into little more than passing thoughts.

Ultimately this brings me to the conclusion that as pulp prose, Seven Wonders should have been a comic book, and not a novel. Yes, it is light, action paced and entertaining, with lots of twists and turns as the story progresses, but ultimately without pictures to add depth to some fairly weak characterisation, the book leaves me just a little too under-whelmed.

The Departure

September 11, 2012 - 11:56 am No Comments

Biography

Hi! My name’s Chris Stocks and I’m a SF addict…
I started young, having already developed a serious reading habit by the time I left school.
At university, I got heavily into psychedelics (Philip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard, Michael Moorcock etc.), though I’ve since moved onto the hard stuff. Give me a Peter Hamilton or Neal Stephenson trilogy and it still won’t satisfy the cravings.
I’ve tried going straight, but “normal” literature just doesn’t do it for me. Even Iain Banks isn’t quite the same without that added M.
I’ll occasionally go to support groups (aka conventions) to meet fellow addicts, but these places are always swarming with dealers…
As a result, I’ve now got a house full to bursting with books and a 1000 page a week habit.
However I don’t want your sympathy or your help. Like an SF Oliver Twist, I just want MORE…
…And the flying car and personal jetpack that SF promised me all those years ago would be nice too!

The Departure
Author: Neal Asher
Publisher: Tor/Pan Macmillan
Page count/Size: 498pp
Release date: 12th April 2012 (Paperback edition)
Reviewer: Chris Stocks
Alan Saul wakes up in a garbage pod, en route to an incinerator. Even worse, he has no memory of his former life, except that he has been savagely interrogated and tortured. He is helped to escape by Janus, a mysterious AI, which he can communicate with via a set of experimental neural implants and that can seemingly infiltrate any computer system.

The novel is set on a dystopian Earth a few centuries hence. Resource depletion and overpopulation means that the planet can barely support the seething mass of humanity. Technology, unable to solve Earth’s problems, is used instead as an instrument of surveillance and oppression. Earth is ruled by The Committee, which hoards all material and power to itself, killing any who oppose it and leaving the rest of humanity to starve.

Saul sets out to exact revenge on Salem Smith, the Committee member who tortured and then mind-wiped him. He will stop at nothing, even if he has to bring down the Committee itself…

The Departure, the first volume in the Owner trilogy, is a fast-paced and engaging techno-thriller, with the usual assortment of augmented humans, hi-tech weaponry and high body-count for which Neal Asher is known. However, although Smith and the Committee are satisfyingly nasty villains, Saul is a ruthless, totally amoral killer, interested only in revenge and little better than those he is fighting. Given his name, I was awaiting a Damascene conversion, but to no avail. Thus, while cheering him on as he cut a swathe through the Committee and their cronies, I found it difficult, if not impossible, to empathise with him. But despite my misgivings over its amoral anti-hero, I enjoyed The Departure enough to want to read the next book.

Dead of Winter

September 6, 2012 - 9:20 pm 1 Comment

The Dead of Winter
Author: by Lee Collins
Publisher: Angry Robot books:
Release date: 1 Nov 2012
Page Count: 416pp

Reviewer: Phil Andorra (International Man of Mystery)
Lee Collins grew up and lives within sight of the Rocky Mountains but prefers, so his publicity tells us, to spend most of his time indoors reading or playing video games? A bit like the story of the Irishman who didn’t like Guinness, this is guaranteed to raise a few eyebrows. However, he successfully introduces local knowledge and history of his environment into his first novel.

The reader is introduced to Cora Oglesby and her husband Ben following the discovery of the remains of two hunters by the local sheriff. But why did the hunter’s trusty wolfhounds flee the scene without any attempt to protect their masters? The Marshall of Leadville, a rootin- tootin wild-West mining town has never seen anything like it, and neither has Cora when she first encounters the culprit. Fortunately she has friends back East who can help her. But will she receive the weapons needed to defeat her adversary before it turns its attention to the residents of Leadville?

I visualise Cora as somewhere between Annie Oakley and Buffy the Vampire Slayer with the lilt of agent Starling from Silence of the Lambs. She is one of many intriguing characters in this novel and the struggle initiated by the arrival of the creature expounds their hopes and fears. The suspense created when our hero faces the creature is a page turner but the real interest for me is the relationship between Cora and Ben. What dark and desperate secret led the couple into this wandering life of constant battle against evil?

I would recommend this book if you like a bit more from vampire stories than pouting teenagers. There is a sequel: She Returns From War, arrives in 2013.