Tag Archives: dystopian near-future

Review of The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

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Anyone who has spent any time on this site will know that I’m a huge fan of Mitchell – Cloud Atlas is one of my alltime favourite books. So would I enjoy this offering?

theboneclocksRun away, one drowsy summer’s afternoon, with Holly Sykes: wayward teenager, broken-hearted rebel and unwitting pawn in a titanic, hidden conflict. Over six decades, the consequences of a moment’s impulse unfold, drawing an ordinary woman into a world far beyond her imagining.

Right from the first page, I was drawn into this episodic narrative. Holly has run away after discovering her best friend in bed with her boyfriend. Though I was reading it on an autumn night, I was whisked away to the blistering heat as Holly has an emotional meltdown. And during this starting point, events unspool during that particular afternoon that go on having consequences for decades to come. The next five episodes that comprise the whole narrative all circle around that primary event, in one way or another as we also chart Holly’s life. It’s a difficult life. Being singled out doesn’t make for an easy time of it. But Mitchell does what he does best – provide a series of sharply written, beautifully crafted slices of action that allow us to join up the dots and provide the overarching narrative. My personal favourites are the first one – ‘A Hot Spell’, ‘The Wedding Bash’ and the chilling final ‘Sheep’s Head’.

However, it is a masterpiece of storytelling and the themes are around the notion of good and evil and what makes someone a survivor. As well what the cost of survival may be. If you enjoyed Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August – see my review here – you may have a clue about the narrative, but as Mitchell slowly reveals the heart of the story in careful stages, only revealing the whole enormity of the plot by the end of the fifth section, I’m not going to venture into Spoiler territory.

While you won’t find Mitchell on the shelves marked Sci F and Fantasy – he is regarded as a Literary writer – there is a fantasy/science fiction mash-up at the heart of this story. He is always worth reading and the fact that in this book, he ventures yet again into one of my favourite genres is a major bonus. And if you like your fantasy with a quality label on it, then give this a go. No one writes his particular brand of fiction better…
10/10

Review of Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Thomas Sweterlitsch

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I loved the look of the cover and having all the depth of a pavement puddle, the book was off the shelves and into my hands before you could blink. In addition, the writer wasn’t a name I recognised – and as one of my targets this year is to read more books by authors I don’t know, I came away very pleased with myself…

tomorrowandtomorrowTen years after the attack that reduced Pittsburgh to ashes, all that remains is the Archive: an interactive digital record of the city and its people. John Dominic Blaxton is a ‘lucky one’. He survived the blast, but, crippled by the loss of his wife and unborn daughter, his days are spent immersed in the Archive with the ghosts of yesterday. It is there that he finds the record of a forgotten body. Who was this woman? And why is someone hacking the system to delete her seemingly unremarkable life? The hunt for the truth will drag Dominic from the darkest corners of the past into a deadly and very present nightmare.

The tone and pacing is more at the literary end of the genre, so don’t start this book expecting to be immediately whisked into a breathless whirl of action. After the initial shock, Sweterlitsch gives Dominic plenty of time to establish his daily routine, rambling through the digitised streets of Pittsburgh and haunting his longlost home with his wife. The prose is beautiful – shot through with yearning and loss.

This is the overarching theme of this book – what happens to the griefstricken when they can revisit events from their past, still have conversations with their dead partners and interact with them? The answer Sweterlitsch gives, is that there are some who are unable to move on – who spend all their time and resources stuck in the past. And Dominic is one of these lost souls…

The first person, present tense viewpoint gives us a ringside seat into his life and character. In order for this story to really work, we need to care about him and his predicament – which means that while we sympathise with his dogged determination not to move on from the life he built with his young wife in Pittsburgh, we also admire his inability to let the unknown young woman fade into obscurity. As we journey with Dominic on his travels, the constant pornography and gratuitous sexual content to sell everything and everyone – from celebrities to cars – is shocking. Sweterlitsch doesn’t hold back – think of the worst excesses committed on Facebook and Twitter, multiply it by a factor of ten and then normalise it – and you have the world Dominic inhabits.

As the story progresses Sweterlitsch handles the rising tension very well. While the pace is on the leisurely side, the sense of wrongness steadily increases, so that once the action really picks up, this book is difficult to put down. I stayed awake far too long once I got within touching distance of the denouement to discover what happens.

While this is flagged as Sweterlitsch’s debut novel, he is clearly no raw beginner. The prose is accomplished, the characterisation detailed and complex, the world vividly depicted and the unfolding situation handled with a sure deftness that means the climax doesn’t fall flat. The ending ties up all the loose plotpoints and gives each character within the story a reasonable journey. Any niggles? I did feel the villain at the heart of the conspiracy was rather two-dimensional and if he had been the only antagonist, this would have been a real problem. However there was another far more plausible antagonist, so this wasn’t a dealbreaker.

And if your taste runs to well depicted, science fiction thrillers, then go looking for this book – you won’t be disappointed.
9/10

Review of The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

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The year is 2059. Nineteen-year-old Paige Mahoney is working in the criminal underworld of Scion London, based at Seven Dials, employed by a man named Jaxon Hall. Her job: to scout for information by breaking into people’s minds. For Paige is a dreamwalker, a clairvoyant – and in her world, the world of Scion, she commits treason by breathing.

bone seasonAnd that is the first half of the rather chatty blurb about this intriguing world of Shannon’s. She has landed an eye-bulging amount of money for this seven-book series, apparently. Paige is definitely another gutsy heroine out of the same mould as Katniss Everdeen, although clearly looking for a strong father-figure as she takes far more nonsense from Jaxon than she should… I liked her spikiness and the glimpses of this alternate future England, where the memory of Edward VII is reviled as the wicked Jack the Ripper for feeding his unnatural voyant talents with murder and mayhem. The current despotic republic has frozen fashions, so that everyone is wearing Victorian garb and while there are some techie gismos, Paige doesn’t have access to them. She is busy using her unusual talents to give her crimegang family access to ill-gotten gains. Until everything changes…

Shannon has an eye for a striking turn of phrase and gives us occasional vivid pictures of her world. I also enjoyed her underworld slang, which was a pleasing mesh of invented words and historical phrases and – in my opinion – worked well enough without the thoughtfully provided glossary.

However there is a but lurking… While I did enjoy the book, the pacing is very uneven. There are periods where I was almost skimming, as Paige internally wrestles with the forces ranged against her, but when the action suddenly kicks off, it continues accelerating, adding a series of major revelations about the world in amongst all the chases and violence, so that I ended up rereading a couple of sections, to make sure I knew what was happening.

I also found the worldbuilding a tad frustrating. I get that this is a layered, intricate place with a lot going on. But far too much was withheld initially – I had no clear idea about the overall political structure. And as for the Warden and exactly who was whom in that setup later in the novel – again, I found the lack of information starting to interfere with my enjoyment of the story. The Enims felt too much like an additional menace that had to be added to keep everyone sufficiently penned up, rather than an integral part of the world, for instance. With the first person viewpoint, we got a very blinkered slice of the world and while I generally am quite happy to go with the flow, I did find there were far too many unanswered questions at the conclusion of this book for it to be a truly satisfying read.

However I’ve reviewed it, because despite my reservations, I enjoyed the story and found Shannon’s voice sufficiently compelling to want to track down the second book, The Mime Order, when it becomes available. If only to answer one or three of those unanswered questions about exactly what is going on…
7/10