Category Archives: gaming

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Atlas Alone – Book 4 of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman #Brainfluffbookreview #AtlasAlonebookreview

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I was thrilled to get the opportunity to read and review this one – After Atlas was my outstanding book of 2017. In order to get the best out of this book, you don’t have to have read all four books of this fabulous series, but my firm advice is to at least get hold of After Atlas, given that Atlas Alone takes up the story after that amazing ending and features at least a couple of the main characters who appear in After Atlas.

Six months after she left Earth, Dee is struggling to manage her rage toward the people who perpetrated a terrible crime on Earth as they were leaving. She’s trying to find those responsible, and to understand why the ship is keeping everyone divided into small groups, but she’s not getting very far alone. A dedicated gamer, she throws herself into mersives to escape and is approached by a designer who asks her to play test his new game. It isn’t like any game she’s played before. Then a character she kills in the climax of the game turns out to bear a striking resemblance to a man who dies suddenly in the real world at exactly the same time…

I have tweaked and truncated the rather chatty blurb, but you get the idea… This is one of those atmospheric, twitchy narratives where the main character in first person viewpoint is driven by a sense of wrongness after witnessing a terrible crime. Seeing such horror has taken its toll on her and her two closest friends – Travis and Carl. What now drives her is a desire to discover who was responsible, because she knows they are on the ship.

What Newman excels at is writing difficult characters who don’t immediately appeal. I am aware that if I encountered Dee in real life, I would be repelled by her formidable reserve and the social mask she hides behind. That said, it’s made very clear exactly why she is as she is – to her fury. Because while immersed in a game, she finds herself confronted with aspects of her terrible past – and a scarily powerful entity she calls ‘the beast’ is intent on getting her to come to terms with what happened to her. While Dee is equally determined that she’ll do no such thing – over the years as an indentured employee (more like a slave) she has managed to throw up mental defences which she is reluctant to drop. Particularly when feeling so threatened…

And with good reason. When a sudden death in a game is mirrored in real life and Carl’s remarkable investigative skills are let loose on the case, Dee realises she is at risk of being arrested for murder with only the beast’s assurance that she won’t be caught. I found Dee a compelling protagonist, who I loved. So that ending… well – I can’t say much about it – but I didn’t see THAT one coming!

Yet another amazing climactic cliffhanger that leaves me desperate for the next slice in this amazing adventure. This is one of my favourite series at present and Atlas Alone is every bit as good as I’d hoped it would be. Very highly recommended for fans of well-written, character-driven science fiction. The ebook arc copy of Atlas Alone was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
10/10

Review of Synners by Pat Cadigan

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I’ve been reading a number of novellas and some children’s books, so suddenly felt like getting my teeth into something a bit more meaty and this alluring, dark cover beckoned to me from my teetering To Be Read pile. So I scooped it up and dived in…

synnersIn Synners, the line between humanity and technology is hopelessly slim. The human mind and the external landscape have fused to the point where any encounter with ‘reality’ is incidental. Now you can change yourself to suit the machines – and all it will cost you is your freedom. And your humanity.

This cyberpunk winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award takes a while to get going as the group of disparate characters are established amongst a tech-heavy world in a near-future where everyone is increasingly reliant on their technology. Given that this was written and published back in 1992, before many of our current technological gismos were in current use, Cadigan’s world is eerily prescient. I felt very at home with much of her near-future predictions, which is a tad worrying when considering how it all ends.

When there is a number of main characters, there are always the one or two who particularly chime – for me, these were Gina, who hooked up with the video star Visual Mark twenty-something years ago and is still drifting in his wake as he becomes increasingly lost to his videos and drug-taking. Though she is still a name to contend with, as her daredevil stunts in Mark’s videos have earned her respect throughout the industry. She sings off the page with her cynical, acidic asides and her gritted passion for what she believes in. The other character I really loved is poor old Gabe, the typical artist-turned-corporate-wage-slave, who makes advertisements, while wishing he did almost anything else. To allay his boredom and sense of futility, he regularly escapes into a classic game using a hotsuit to enable him to virtually interact with the two main characters in the game.

This is one of the main attributes of cyberpunk – not only to pull the reader into a high-tech, near-future world, but also into cyberspace where reality exists in the interface between humanity and machines. And the best of this genre takes you there, immersing you into an altered landscape, where memes and symbols take on different meanings that the reader completely accepts.

Therefore when it all starts kicking off, two-thirds of the way through this one, Cadigan’s virtual world sings off the page in a blend of poetry and prose as she depicts her characters’ rich inscapes with complete conviction. This is why I am prepared to slow down my normal reading rate for this particular genre and pay attention – because the rewards are so very satisfying when it is done well. Needless to say, the climax is beautifully handled, and the final third of the book was difficult to put down as the plot continues gathering momentum during the ongoing crisis and humanity attempts to fight back. And in this genre, there is no guarantee of a ‘happy ever after’ ending.

I finally put the book down, aware of coming back to the present from a long way away – always the mark of a master worldbuilder. So while Synners takes time to get going, my advice with this one is to persevere – it’s worth it.
9/10

Review of Bedlam by Christopher Brookmyre

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Christopher Brookmyre is one of those authors whose writing has been labelled ‘Scottish noir’ due to his bleak and very funny crime bedlamseries featuring investigative journalist Jack Parlabane – see my review of Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks here. So when I saw that he had written a science fiction book, it was a no-brainer I would be checking out Bedlam.

Ross Baker is an over-worked scientist developing medical technology for corporate giant Neurosphere, but he’d rather be playing computer games than dealing with his nightmare boss or slacker co-workers. He volunteers as a test candidate for the new tech – anything to get out of the office for a few hours. But when the experiment is over he discovers he’s not only escaped the office but possibly real life for good. He’s trapped in Starfire – a video game he played as a child – with no explanation, no backup and, most terrifyingly, no way out.

Well, this book took me back – no, I’ve never been a gamer, apart from dabbling with Pacman back in the 1970’s – but I had a son who was… While visiting the familiar trope of a human-trapped-inside-a-computer-game (cue Daft Punk’s Tron soundtrack), Brookmyre attempts to cover several other bases with this book.

Ross grapples to adjust to his new surroundings, however he is fortunate in being very familiar with the landscape as he used Starfire as an escape from his parents’ quarrelling as a teenager. This allows him to quickly get used to the inevitable fights with which he regularly gets embroiled – while he is desperate to return to reality, he also throws himself into the fight games with enthusiasm, recalling how to heal himself and where various weapons caches are. Unlike poor Bob, an accountant, who falls asleep one day and wakes up in the middle of the virtual battle without a clue about what to do and how to survive.

As Ross finds himself having to flee the Nazi-type police force who are chasing him through a variety of worlds, he finds himself revisiting a number of games from his past and the book turns into something of a nostalgic journey for all keen gamers. There is a fair dollop of humour – although I did feel the sweary phrases are more effective in his Scottish underworld, rather than dropping out of the thoughts/mouth of his geeky scientist.

What distinguishes this book, however, is Brookmyre’s examination of the probability of ‘ancestor simulations’ based around Nick Bostrom’s theory that in the unlikely event of humanity managing to survive until it reaches posthuman status, it is probable that we are living in a computer simulation. As part of the storyline, Brookmyre touches on the issue of downloaded characters – what are their intrinsic rights? Should they have any consideration, given they have no bodies and are able to be killed continuously? Or given they are capable of feeling pain, hope, love and hate just as their real life counterparts, should they also be given some legal protections so they don’t end up being used in medical experiments, or military tactical exercises against their will?

Brookmyre has attempted to cover a lot of ground in this book – part nostalgic homage to past games now long gone; part adventure thriller; part discussion and examination of issues that we will surely need to address, if we manage to survive the plethora of environmental challenges that confront us over the next couple of centuries. Does he pull it off? Mostly… although the execution is somewhat uneven and Ross is not as much the trapped victim Brookmyre initially paints him – he relishes killing the opposition far too much in some of the games to completely convince as the put-upon protagonist. For all that, this is a novel that is worth reading because in the best tradition of science fiction, it raises issues we should all be considering for the future.
8/10