Posts Tagged ‘SF’

Something Coming Through

February 3, 2016 - 4:05 pm No Comments

Something Coming Through
Author: Paul McAuley
Publisher: Gollancz
Page count: 383pp (paperback)
Release date: 14th Jan 2016
reviewed by Chris Amies

Paul McAuley’s latest novel tells of an Earth that has been contacted by aliens called the Jackaroo. Chloe, working for an organisation called Disruption Theory in London, is tracking weird phenomena relating to the aliens and happens upon a young boy who is drawing strangely hypnotic structures. Meanwhile on the planet Mangala, detective Vic Gayle is investigating a murder.

Although the two converging strands of this novel involve murder on a distant world, gangsters and dangerous robotic lifeforms, there is a slowness to this narrative that allows us to admire the scenery. The story starts in a London that feels like the present day only a present day with alien coral reefs and avatars. Change has come in the wake of a briefcase nuke detonated in Trafalgar Square. Now there are people who appear to be conduits for the aliens, but what the aliens want is another matter. As McAuley says, “… the way that technology has become a cargo cult that is changing us in ways we can neither predict nor, as yet, fully understand.” Not everyone is happy with the new order: an organisation called the Human Decency League – something like UKIP – is ranged against the Jackaroo and has Disruption Theory in their sights.

Chloe is an intriguing character – streetwise and almost too cynical for her young age but no cliche. The second story set on Mangala infuriated me by its setting – I made a note ‘How redshifted was my valley’ and this stuck with me: McAuley describes the planet as like ‘an alternate Earth or the kind of fictional country where action films … were staged’, with alien avatars and biochines (biological+machines). Investigator Gayle comes across as something like Jack Regan from ‘The Sweeney’ and the whole is reminiscent of a Western both set and made in the 1970s and with gangsters, bent cops, poverty and drugs – because they can just pile through a wormhole along with the builders of fast food restaurants and supermarkets. There are alien drugs and dealing with their effects is a full-time job for the cops on Mangala. If Cormac McCarthy were to set a novel in space it could resemble this. The alien entity that seems to be influencing young Farhad and his sister Rana is called Ugly Chicken – a reference to Howard Waldrop’s story? The phrase “Easy Travel to Other Planets” also gets used a few times and is the title of a novel by American novelist Ted Mooney and which isn’t really about space travel. The Jackaroo themselves are enigmatic and their gifts to humankind ambivalent.

There is a sequel named “Into Everywhere.” It will be interesting to see how the mystery of the Jackaroo and what they want – and what happened to the races they contacted before they got to Earth – develops.

Drone

February 2, 2016 - 1:20 pm No Comments

Drone by Jackson Dean Chase
Published on 10th April 2015
Publisher: Jackson Dean Chase Inc
Page count: 202 page.

I was given this book in exchange for a honest review.
As soon as you start reading this book you are transported into a dystopian world. Vikka, a teenage girl is a Drone ( lower class). The drones are bred to work for the elite in their factories, wearing drab clothing, struggling to find enough food and always worrying about the oxygen wither by being able to pay for it in their apartments or by wearing a tank whilst out and about.
To get extra money Drones are able to sell limbs or organs to the elite. Vikka’s mom had to do this her dad lost his legs due to a bomb planted by the revolution.
At the start of the story Vikka is on her way to sell her organs to get some money to pay their oxygen bill, but travelling in the worse area of the city gets her in to trouble. Enter elite boy Zan who father is the leader of the government who just happened to be cruising round this area for fun. He sees Vikka in trouble and comes to the rescue.
After rescuing her he takes her to a clinic in the posher end of town to donate her organs, but unbeknown to both of them she ends up involved in a secret genetic experiment to turn her into a super human.
The decision she makes results in her joining up with the most unlikely characters to get to the bottom of the trouble.
The city reminds me of the colony in Total Recall, and although both stories have the revolution that is were the comparison stops. This is a story about love, betrayal and survival. The character’s have their own identity and Vikka is your typical teenage and at times you are wondering why she did not think through her actions,but you can feel that she has a heart of gold and wants to protect her family and friends. Whilst you are reading this book you will have your favourite one of the group.
The book will keep you interested and I was surprised when I finished this book so quickly. It does finish on a cliffhanger but there is a book 2.
A nice finish is that there is also a short story entitled Hard times in Dronetown, which tells the story of Rylee who has a small part in Drone

The Sand Men

January 27, 2016 - 2:00 pm No Comments

The Sand Men
Author: Christopher Fowler
Publisher: Solaris
Page count: 334pp
Release date: 2015
reviewed by Chris Amies

Lea follows her husband Roy from Chiswick to Dubai, where Roy is working on a building project designed to bring in wealthy holidaymakers. With their 15-year-old daughter Cara they move to a gated community, where there is little for journalist Lea to actually do. Determined to write about things other than shopping and celebrity she begins to confront the nature of the place she must now call home. Sure enough, there have been mysterious deaths. People vanish.

If it sounds like something written by JG Ballard, the resemblance is intentional. Fowler has referred to this novel as his Ballard tribute and the epigraph is from Ballard’s “Super-Cannes.” If you wanted a symbol of first-world alienation this would be your first port of call: a wealthy elite rich on oil revenues, a servant class of expatriate experts, wives kept at home (because practically everyone is straight, and married), and a shadow army of underpaid workers mostly from India and the Philippines, whose lives and deaths are largely unreported – “the pleasures of the few, built on the burdens of the many”. It is possible that his protagonist is an unreliable narrator, finding a conspiracy where there isn’t one – but then if someone says ‘there is no conspiracy,’ is this because they are part of it? Or because there really isn’t one? The refrain “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you” is aired at least once. That I didn’t buy her perception of the conspiracy (despite the suspiciously gendered nature – for the 21st century – of the project) doesn’t mean it didn’t exist, either. Appropriately, Dreamworld is already a white elephant, there is doubt that it will be completed or be a commercial success and it might exist “one day only as a memory,” the desert reclaiming it rather than the other way about.

‘The Sand Men’ reads like part JG Ballard, part Brave New World. Then there are the hints at a further darkness underlying: “there were dark corners here” and a need to appease the land. It could in fairness have done with a bit of editing – 46 missing people plus the three you already knew about is 49, not 46 – and the nature of the Sand Men is unexplored, deliberate ambiguity left at the end. In a way if he’d stuck closer to what actually goes on in the Middle East it might have come across as angrier, but would that necessarily be a good thing? This would bear comparison with Le Carre’s ‘Constant Gardener’ about the iniquities of drug companies in Africa, and Torday’s ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ which stitched up the venality of Western interests in the Gulf (the film however missed the point entirely). As it is ‘The Sand Men’ is a departure for Fowler who normally writes about London – and I suspect he will return there.