Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Sea of Rust by C Robert Cargill

October 12, 2017 - 4:23 pm No Comments

Sea of Rust

Author: C. Robert Cargill

Publisher: Gollancz

Page count: 384pp

Release date: 7th Sept 2017

Reviewer: Nat Robinson (bio below)

It is thirty years since the humans lost their war with the artificial intelligences that were once their slaves. Not one human remains. But as the dust settled from our extinction there was no easy peace between the robots that survived. Instead, the two massively powerful artificially intelligent supercomputers that lead them to victory now vie for control of the bots that remain, assimilating them into enormous networks called One World Intelligences (OWIs), absorbing their memories and turning them into mere extensions of the whole. Now the remaining freebots wander wastelands that were once warzones, picking the carcasses of the lost for the precious dwindling supply of parts they need to survive.

 

Imagine if the Terminators had won. Imagine if every human had been wiped out in a catastrophic war between man and machine. We’re dead. We’re extinct. We’re history.

So, all that remains are the robots. The sexbots, the caregivers, the service droids, the hulking beasts of labour, given free will and their own sentience as they rattle around the post-apocalyptic ruin of earth.

But peace on robot earth is short lived, as the politics of how life should be soon rears its ugly head. Should robot kind be individual as one another, or should they be one hive mind? Further wars decimate the divide the robopop. Even without the sticky fingers of humanity interfering, there can be no peace on earth. Or can they.

Through the wreckage of our civilisation and that of the robopocalypse, a lone wanderer scours the wastes of middle America; The Sea of Rust. A place where the crazy and burnt out beings of this lost future go to die and power down in peace away from the rough fortunes of war.

Brittle is a cannibal. Identifying as a she, she tracks down and hunts the lonely beings that have ventured into the elephant graveyard that is the Sea of Rust, taking what parts she can recycle for herself and sell on to benefit others. She gives the dying hope, before scavenging to protect her future in this world of rare spares.

But after an encounter with a fellow scavenger, Brittle finds herself on the run, system failing and time quickly running out. She needs to find spares, or die trying.

Cargill has created an exceptional novel here, creating a powerful empathy for vicious, blood-thirsty machine. Brittle is no saint. She broke her programming and harmed her masters. But she’s moved on and concentrates on survival as any sentient being would. This is after man. Servitude is a memory. Robots have to make their own lives and live with their mistakes choices. Cargill carries off this pathos brilliantly. Brittle is flawed. She struggles to fit in. She has survivors guilt, but wants to help others whilst helping herself. She suffers from an inner conflict which plagues her memory drives no matter how hard she tries to wipe it clean. But we can never truly forget our memories. Even robots are haunted by past errors.

The actions scenes are pure Hollywood; a blistering assault of pulse rifles blowing sizzling holes through metal and plastic, giant, rolling war machines gunning down dropships in black clouds of burning octane. If this were a film, action fans wouldn’t be disappointed.

But the flip side to this is the touching philosophy of the story. The only human characters are memories of the bloody past, so it’s only the musings of the droids we find ourselves relating to. Cargill carries across their humanness with great aplomb, nailing the adage that life isn’t just intelligence, but intelligence is life.

Ray Bradbury could’ve have written this, but just as easily it could’ve come from Stephen King with its twisted morality and flawed characters you can root for.

Quite easily and very possibly my novel of the year. Part action, part robo-philosophy which will probably make you look at your toaster a little bit funny next time as you consider Asimov’s Laws of Robotics. Sea of Rust goes to show that the Tinman had a heart all along.

5/5

Meet Nat Robinson:

Nathan Robinson lives in Scunthorpe with his wife and twin boys and is the author of Starers, Ketchup With Everything, Devil Let Me Go, Midway, Caldera and many short stories. He also reviews independent horror for Snakebite Horror and Splatterpunk Zine.

Find him at https://www.facebook.com/NathanRobinsonWrites

The Last Namsara Kristen Ciccarelli

October 9, 2017 - 12:03 pm No Comments

The Last Namsara (Iskari Book One)

Author: Kristen Ciccarelli

Publisher: Gollancz

Page Count: 432pp

Release Date: 5th Oct 2017
Review by Michael R. Brush

This is a young adult fantasy book, probably more ‘female friendly’ than normal. So what do I, as a long in the tooth bloke with a penchant for Tolkien, Goerge R. R. Martin (nevermind my love of Tolstoy and Dostoyevski) have to say about this first time outing of Kristen Ciccarelli? On the whole, I loved it. It deserves to go in the main section of fantasy and to slug it out with the best of them.
The first line gets you straight in and tells you that this voice is fresh and bold. It’s what we need from up and coming authors. It starts off following a youngster in a way that reminded me of Raymond E. Feist’s Magician, and if it had continued that well I would have given this book 5 out of 5. If you want to think about how hard it is to be that good – Raymond E. Feist can’t always stay at that level of the game. While the first line is a corker and so is the first encounter, we soon find Asha having feelings for a young slave. It seemed a bit obvious to me and a bit strained to start with, but with time and space, Ciccarelli dusts herself down and lets the characters develop.
The result is a grand endeavour where prejudice and abuse are faced with passion and loyalty creating a tale where you care about the characters and the world they live in. And fear for them – and that’s not easy. I admit I’m a harsh critic, and I’m giving this 4 out of five because sometimes it felt a bit shaky and (being somewhat long in the tooth) not everything was new to me as it might be to a younger audience – but to get 4 stars is still an achievement. If I was marking out of ten, maybe I would have given a nine…
Maybe…
4 out of 5

 

 

Electric Dreams Philip K Dick

September 24, 2017 - 6:57 am No Comments

Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams

Published by Gollancz on 14th September 2017

213 pages

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Philip-K-Dicks-Electric-Dreams-ebook/dp/B071X4RMZ4/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1506236010&sr=1-1&keywords=electric+dreams

Reviewed by Chris Stocks

35 years since the death of Philip K. Dick his work seems as relevant as ever. The sequel to Blade Runner is being released next month and Electric Dreams, a ten-part anthology-series based on his short stories, has just started on Channel 4. To coincide with the latter, Gollancz has released this book containing the stories on which the episodes are based, each with an introduction written by the writer or director of the corresponding episode.

In Exhibit Piece, a historian living in a future totalitarian society enters a 20th Century exhibit that he has helped create – and finds himself living in the 1950s with a job, family and memories to match. Which world, if either, is real?

The Commuter deals with similar themes. A harassed commuter tries to buy a season ticket to Macon Heights – only there is no such station. However, when a curious train employee investigates, he finds that Macon Heights is gradually becoming real – and in turn affecting his world.

Impossible Planet concerns a 350-year-old woman who wants to visit Earth before she dies – but Earth is just a myth. However, a pair of dodgy spacers agree to take her there. Obviously, their destination is not Earth – or is it?

The Hanging Stranger and The Father Thing both combine 1950s paranoia with alien invasion. In the former, a man is horrified to find a dead stranger hanging from a lamp-post in the small town in which he lives – yet no one else seems to notice. Is he going mad – or he is the only one not under alien control? In the latter, a young boy discovers that his father has been killed and replaced by a cold, emotionless doppelganger. But who will believe him – and who is next to be replaced?

The Hood Maker is set in a future world where some humans, known as teeps, have become telepathic and where being unwilling to be scanned by them is considered suspicious. So, when devices that block telepathic scans are secretly distributed, the teeps are determined to find those responsible and stop them.

In Autofac, the remnants of humanity in a post-nuclear world are provided for by vast automated factories programmed to manufacture and distribute anything that mankind needs. But then a group of survivors, wanting to start fending for themselves, ask their local Autofac to stop supplying them…

Sales Pitch and Foster You’re Dead are both consumer satires; one darkly comic, the other more chilling. In the former, in a far-future world where advertising is ubiquitous and inescapable, a couple’s home is invaded by a robot, programmed to demonstrate its abilities and sell itself – and which won’t take no for an answer. In the latter, consumers are encouraged – indeed expected – to buy their own bomb-shelters. But with each shelter quickly becoming obsolete as new weapons are developed, who can afford to keep up? Or rather can one afford not to?

In Human Is, a woman’s spouse changes from a cold, work-driven man to a kind, loving and attentive husband after a trip to an alien planet. He’s been replaced by a shapeshifting alien. But has he become more or less human as a result?

These stories were all originally published in SF magazines in the 1950s and concern themselves with the same themes as most other works of the period; cold-war paranoia, post-apocalyptic scenarios, aliens etc. But they also share the same concerns that Philip K. Dick addressed in his later stories and novels. What is the nature of reality? What makes us human? How can one distinguish the real from the counterfeit?

If you are already a fan, then you don’t need me to recommend this book to you. However, if you haven’t yet discovered the weird and disturbing world of Philip K. Dick, then my advice to you is: read this book, watch the TV series and let them blow your mind. Or as Timothy Leary might have put it: read on, tune in and freak out!

Mars Ho! Jennifer Willis

September 24, 2017 - 6:47 am No Comments

(more…)

Supernatural: The Usual Sacrifices by Yvonne Navarro

September 17, 2017 - 4:05 pm No Comments

The Usual Sacrifices (Supernatural 15)
Author: Yvonne Navarro
Publisher: Titan Books
Page count: 336pp
Release date: 27th June 2017
Reviewer: Theresa Derwin
Online: @TitanBooks, #SPNFamily, @YvonneNavarro
TV Bit: Season 10 (Mark of Cain) between ‘The Hunter Games’ and ‘Halt & Catch Fire’

 

Right, for those who haven’t watched TV series Supernatural here’s a brief 30 Sci day update.
Sam and Dean, twenty-something year old brothers, lose their Mom when Sam, the youngest, is 6 months old. A yellow eyed de,on burns her on the ceiling and John Winchester, dad to Sam and Dean, husband to Mary, spends his life as a hunter training the boys to hunt all kinds of supernatural creatures; vampires, werewolves, zombies, witches, ghosts; you name it they hunt it. Season 9, Dean hook on the Mark of Cain; basically to save his brother but it causes intense rage and anger. He still has this in S10. So, in this book, Dean is a volcano of emotions about to explode and Navarro manages to weave this thread into the narrative. We can sense Dean’s frustration and attempts to not beat the crap out of people, particularly the Sherriff’s department.
Now for this book itself. It starts with the boys, always the boys, heading off to investigate a new case involving multiple disappearances in Mammoth Cave.
As Lucy the Southern woman they meet points out, as they enter the town with missing people, the Bronwsdale folks aren’t exactly friendly and seem to have forgotten the meaning of ‘southern hospitality’. As the boys pull into a grocery store parking lot to ask a local woman for information she literally runs away yelling “I don’t talk to strangers.”
Just slightly jumpy then.
When they go to the local diner for food, it’s a little like the Slaughtered Lamb in American Werewolf in London; hushed voices and stares, though the diner scene allows for Navarro to show us a familiar characteristic of Dean (his humongous appetite) especially for all things bad for him. The scene is particularly funny. It’s a great opener to get to know the brothers.
It’s here that we get a feel for what might be going on, just like the brothers do.
There have been disappearances – mostly travellers, hitch hikers; strangers.
According to one local, the Mammoth Caves take their due. When two visiting teenage girls related to the new librarian disappear the sheriff and the locals don’t seem to be doing anything to find them.
As Sam puts it; “It’s all pretty and small-town America on the surface, but there’s something really nasty underneath.”
Cinnamon, the local psychic, is a great character. I love when the boys get discombobulated by another person during an investigation- especially when it’s a five foot nothing old woman in a polka dot dress.
The story itself follows the detective/mystery route, but it’s the characters, and the darkness hiding beneath a ‘Pleasantville’ veneer in the town, which makes the book so engaging. As for the dark, this is literally visualised in the caves and caverns that various people, including the boys, explore.
They reflect the darkness hidden by the townspeople and the sheriff, with scenes in the Mammoth Caves pretty creepy and atmospheric.
It’s clear from this book that Titan only commission Supernatural tie-ins from writers who know and love the universe. Sam and Dean are pretty much spot-on and the end scenes with the denouement, as referenced by Navarro, is almost like H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine in parts. You’ll figure out why when you read it.
I loved this book.
It’s a great to whet your appetite in the current season break behind S13 returns 12th Oct.
Awesome, as Dean might say.