Archive for January, 2013

Nexus

January 25, 2013 - 2:26 pm No Comments

Nexus
Author: Ramez Naam
Publisher: Angry Robot
Page count/size: 464pp/B-format pb
Release Date: 3 January 2013
Reviewer: John Howard

Ramez Naam’s first novel tackles a well-used theme in science fiction: the possibility of humanity developing into a new and enhanced version of itself, and the conflicts involved. In the 1940s and 50s in particular the new humans were often mutants, mainly through atomic radiation. This would frequently give them superiority – for example enjoying telepathic powers – and so they would be feared and despised, hunted down and killed by ‘ordinary’ humans. More recently genetic manipulation has become another way for humans to be improved, often leading to a branching-out of the human race and its division into (original) humans and the enhanced, perhaps living in different parts of the solar system.

In Nexus the agent of change is a nanotech drug, the Nexus of the title. When swallowed it rewires the brain and effectively ‘upgrades’ the user. They can communicate telepathically with others who have taken Nexus; they are the first members of a new human race. This happens in the near future. By the time the novel opens in 2040 Nexus has been banned and agencies created to put a stop to further developments. But illicit research does take place and there are wary debates on the pros and cons of using Nexus and its consequences.

The young scientist Kaden Lane and his friends take the risk of experimenting with Nexus 5. Up against them is Samantha Cataranes, an agent from the ERD (the USA’s Emerging Risks Directorate). Caught, Lane agrees to help the ERD and go to Thailand to infiltrate the laboratory of the Chinese scientist Su-Yong Shu, who is suspected of working to overthrow the anti-Nexus protocols and so threaten ordinary humanity. Lane and Cataranes are catapulted into a fast-moving and violent series of chase and pursuit adventures against the backdrop of two groups of people or world-views: those who wish to use Nexus and improve it for the good of the human race, and those who want to eliminate the drug entirely, crushing those who use it or advocate doing so.

Nexus is a near-future thriller that tries to explore the tensions between the human and concepts of the posthuman or transhuman. The good that Nexus can bring through unfettered communication direct between minds is contrasted with the possibility of its ruthless manipulation by a potentially tyrannical elite. As the body count goes on rising Naam does give us plenty of ambiguity and shows that labels do not necessarily represent what they say they do. Grasping that is perhaps an essential task for the upgrading of humanity, but it won’t be a pleasant trip to the sunlit uplands of ‘Humanity 2.0’ Although Nexus sometimes begins to outstay its welcome, especially in the sentimentality department, it is a hard-hitting romp of a novel that fulfils expectations. A good debut.

Dead Reaping

January 25, 2013 - 2:09 pm No Comments

Dead Reaping
Author: Ian Woodhead
Page count/size: 113pp/278KB
Release Date: 15th Jan 2013
Reviewer: Theresa Derwin

Woodhead’s Zombie Armageddon series has been going for quite some time and this around book number five. From the early days of The Unwashed Dead, a zombie fan favourite, to the later books, particularly Dead Veil, Woodhead’s work has been consistent. When reviewing his work I have stated there are editorial issues, however, I have also stated that Woodhead’s zombies are amongst the most intriguing zombies I have come across, with different variations including Hunters, who retain their intellect and ability to speak to the neanderthal-esque Climbers and straight forward dead zombies.

Whilst Woodhead’s books are on the short side, I can safely say that they generally deliver; characters that intrigue the reader and plenty of blood, gore and biting. However, on recently reading Dead Veil, the previous book in the series, the writer left us with a cliffhanger about the Manchester compound, which unfortunately does not get resolved in this book. I suspect he is planning to bring all of the elements together in a further novel to tie it all together. It would be a shame if this wasn’t resolved.

This brings me neatly to Dead Reaping, the continuation of the series, in which we meet a new community of survivors who have created a commune to live together, forage and grow vegetables, despite being surrounded by the dead. Among the commune, there are those who are ‘tainted’ like Clarisse who has a sham marriage to Dominic, and Clarisse carries the zombie gene within her. The commune is policed by Adjustment Officers who clear the surrounding area of the dead, and also hunt out these ‘tainted’ survivors. If Clarisse is discovered, she will be destroyed, so Dominic protects her secret. As well as this group, we have a religious commune ruled by Abbot Moses (Lee) formerly a Hunter, living on scraps of tainted flesh. He ironically preaches abstinence from consuming flesh despite keeping his own small stash. Abbot Moses and his Brothers, are acolytes, with best friend Brother Jacob, are once normal men who use religion to keep control of the Hunters. They exist on their ‘supplements’ of tainted flesh, whilst denying others. But this state of denial can’t last for long, particularly as their mental wellbeing and memories are affected by the lack of flesh.

Back in the other community, there is also the mysteries ‘Our Lady’ who has some sort of power over the tainted and makes predictions about the commune.

There is most definitely a religious overtone to this novel that doesn’t appear in the others, so it comes as something of a surprise and a distraction, and Abbot Moses does become a somewhat confusing character throughout the novel as his mind deteriorates. This is not the best of Woodhead’s novels, however, the series itself is engaging and the big reveal at the end of the novel about one of the characters is a doozy! Furthermore, it does rattle along at a steady pace and the author is always reliable at delivering an interesting slant on the zombie genre. I look forward to his next book and the continuation of the series.

The Hydrogen Sonata

January 22, 2013 - 2:04 pm 1 Comment

The Hydrogen Sonata
Author: Iain M. Banks
Publisher: Orbit
Page count/size: 528pp
Release Date: 4th Oct 2012
Reviewer: Ken Norman

There’s a whole heap of reasons for you to not read this book. It’s the latest book in a long line of books written by Mr-Banks-With-An-M that revolve around the ‘Culture’, a far future civilisation in a galaxy far, far away. If you haven’t read a Culture novel before, there’s a good chance you will be hopelessly lost by page 14 and just put it down again. There’s also that nagging suspicion that Mr-Banks-With-An-M has just knocked out another SF book just in time for Christmas, in companion to the recently released ‘Stonemouth’ by Plain-Old-Mr-Banks-Without-An-M Mr Banks; his publisher certainly knows the market and how to turn a profit.
In case you’ve never heard of Iain Banks, I’ll facetiously sum him up as follows:
Iain Banks, author of fiction about the minutiae of the lives of a character ensemble, best read in a strong Scots accent.
Iain M. Banks, author of Science Fiction of the space opera subgenre.

If you’re still with me… the story is pretty convoluted and bizarrely imaginative, as you’d expect and hope from a Culture novel. There’s this four armed musician, and her entire race is about to transcend into what equates to an elective afterlife, so to pass the time she tries to master a fiendishly difficult piece of music written for a very difficult instrument – that’s why she has four arms, of course. I could expand on what happens in the tale, but as usual, it has multiple threads and doesn’t really bear too much summarisation.

The story is leaning towards the political and religious aspects of the exploration of his universe, which I’m starting to see as a leaning of the overall series. Perhaps it’s his advanced years that push the changes toward a more contemplative viewpoint. The prose is classic Banks, full of words that I don’t recognise, unforced exposition and inventive dialogue; I suspect that almost all Scotsmen speak this way and have done since they attended school. In a recent interview, Iain admitted that he was getting into playing and recording music for his own amusement, so the story perhaps has elements of his own struggle with mastering a stringed instrument.

If you haven’t read any Culture novels, then you are missing out on something special. Whilst the stories stand alone to a point, the immersion in the back-story that you get from starting at the beginning and working upwards definitely enhances the whole. Don’t hang about though – he might knock out another next Christmas. Incidentally, if you haven’t read any of the Mr-Banks-Without-An-M stuff, then I’d recommend reading them too. He sells a lot of books for good reason!

The Creeping Kelp!

January 21, 2013 - 4:19 pm 1 Comment

The Creeping Kelp
Author: William Meikle
Publisher: Dark Regions Press
Page count/size: 155pp/228KB
Release Date: 30th April 2012
Reviewer: Theresa Derwin

This literary Monster B-Movie starts with an environmental message from Greenpeace. Following this we meet Dave Noble, collecting samples aboard the dinghy Zodiac, in an area where the plastic is rife, as is risk of pollution to the sea.

Fisherman have already been reporting sights of strange mutations in the area, so it doesn’t come as much of a surprise when all hell breaks loose on the mother ship Earth Rescue, as Noble returns with a black goop that has stuck to the surface of the chopper and boat.

Biologist Suzie Jukes examines the black tar sample that Noble returns with, and declares it was once alive, and they may have found an incipient species. It appears it is a ‘plastic eater’, a natural garbage disposal unit. As Noble and Jukes examine the sample, they hear screams from the upper deck and go up to see a member of the crew being plucked away by a massive tendril.

With a small crew trapped aboard the boat and the monstrous kelp growing and spreading, the feel of claustrophobia oozes from the page.

We then switch to Kimmeridge Bay, where holiday-maker Maggie Walsh watches in horror as black tentacles emerge from the sea and attack the locals. It isn’t long before they have a national emergency on their hands.

Back on land and under the protection of the MOD, Jukes hacks records and finds a link to the past of when the creeping kelp was first created.

Blending cinematic visuals, gore, humour, and Cthulhu mythos, this book is great fun and will satisfy gore hounds as well as those looking for something more indepth. With the use of historical diaries and notebooks, Meikle creates his own monstrous mythos and the book rattles along at a fantastic pace.

This will entertain any fans of Meikle and bring in new fans. Great stuff.

Othermoon

January 18, 2013 - 2:48 pm No Comments

Othermoon
Author: Nina Berry
Publisher: Kensington Books
Page count/size: 321pp
Release Date: 29th Jan 2013
Reviewer: Theresa Derwin

Continuing on from the events in Otherkin: Otherkin series book 1, Othermoon starts with the narrator, Desdemona or Dez, introducing us to the Otherkin world through her eyes.

Dez lives in a world where the Tribunal are out to destroy her kind, Shifters, and take them over. The novel starts as Lazar (brother of main love interest Caleb) breaks into the homes of Shifters, Dez included, to steal hair from their hairbrushes to attain their DNA for some unscrupulous purpose.

Caleb is an objurer, who has the power to make anyone obey his commands with his voice. Dez is a Tiger shifter, who her friends call Stripes and together, this group of teens stay hidden at a school for the otherkin (rather like the X-Men) with teacher Morfael playing the Professor Xavier role of saviour, protector and mentor.

With her fellow students, Dez becomes intent on investigating why the Tribunal needs their DNA.

As with most novels of this nature, it is the romance that comes to the fore here. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide if this SF/Fantasy of Twilight-esque nature is for them, but with dialogue like “When you’re away it’s like a part of me is gone too.” I did find myself groaning a little.

However, the central plot involving the school and the nefarious deeds of Head Honcho Ximon (Caleb and Lazar’s Dad) and the plight of the students is an engaging central plot and rattles along at a fair pace.

Berry’s reference to incidents in the first book, cajoled me into looking it up and at a reasonable price, consider buying it and reading it.

Othermoon is quite a good read, enjoyable and with characters that stay with you. The romance is my only issue with this book, but for fans who enjoy a little romance with their adventure and fantasy, then this is for you.