Tag Archives: near-future dystopian science fiction

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Afterland by Lauren Beukes #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Afterlandbookreview


I loved Zoo City – it’s one of my all-time favourite reads – see my review. And when I saw this one right at the beginning of the COVID lockdown, I requested it despite the pandemic theme. My heart goes out to Beukes as the timing for this one is dire.

BLURB: They’ll call her a bad mother. Cole can live with that. Because when she breaks her son Miles out of the Male Protection Facility – designed to prevent him joining the 99% of men wiped off the face of the Earth – she’s not just taking him back.
She’s setting him free. Leaving Miles in America would leave him as a lab experiment; a pawn in the hands of people who now see him as a treasure to be guarded, traded, and used. What kind of mother would stand by and watch her child suffer? But as their journey to freedom takes them across a hostile and changed country, freedom seems ever more impossible.
It’s time for Cole to prove just how far she’ll go to protect her son.

REVIEW: The way the apparently innocent flu mutates into something far more lethal is both scary and plausible – particularly now. I thought the worldbuilding was particularly good, but then that’s Beukes’ superpower, anyway. A post-apocalyptic America where many are reeling from their losses and trying to do deal with the situation as best they could was well depicted and, for me, one of the more enjoyable parts of the book.

My main problem was that I don’t much like Cole and I loathe Billie and as these are the protagonists, with a few sections in Miles’ head, it meant I spent most of the book tolerating, rather than sympathising with main characters. I found Cole’s stubborn, stupid idea to get Miles “away” almost as dumb as Billie’s nasty scheme, while some of the action scenes descended into a horrible kind of farce. Both sisters weren’t good at listening to others and I was profoundly sorry for poor Miles, who was being dragged around the country on the rather scattered whim of his mother and daily exposed to all sorts of unnecessary dangers. She wasn’t a particularly effective mother who’d bonded well with her son. A lot of the banter between them seemed to be Cole trying to coerce Miles into doing what she wanted, without being too heavy-handed about it. And most of the novel seemed to revolve around the toxic relationship between Cole and Billie, rather than an examination of how a society without men would really function.

As for the ending – what was that about? This pandemic was portrayed as a worldwide problem, so that simply didn’t make sense. That said, this one won’t leave me alone. The ugly muddled scenes of violence… the series of run-down places they stayed and some of the pathetic survivors, who’d lost husbands and sons… I’ve dreamt of these. Which proves that while it isn’t a book I necessarily always enjoyed, nonetheless it has sunk its hooks into my inscape with the powerful worldbuilding and vivid writing. Recommended for fans of post-apocalyptic, dystopian scenarios. While I obtained an arc of Afterland from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Body Tourists by Jane Rogers #Brainfluffbookreview #BodyTouristsbookreview #SciFiMonth2019


I’ve only ever heard good things about this author, so was delighted when I saw this arc available on Netgalley – and even more delighted to be approved to read it. I am also linking this one to @SciFiMonth2019.

BLURB: In this version of London, there is a small, private clinic. Behind its layers of security, procedures are taking place on poor, robust teenagers from northern Estates in exchange for thousands of pounds – procedures that will bring the wealthy dead back to life in these young supple bodies for fourteen days. It’s an opportunity for wrongs to be righted, for fathers to meet grandsons, for scientists to see their work completed. Old wine in new bottles. But at what cost?

This story is told in multiple viewpoints, as we are introduced to a number of characters who become involved in this experiment. Inevitably, there are some who stick in the mind more than others. Paula is stranded on one of the thousand estates where the working class forced into unemployment as their jobs are now automated, are housed. Many retreat into VR worlds as an escape, while existing on sub-standard food, sub-standard education and sub-standard opportunities. She uses the money she gets for renting out her body to open a dance studio for the youngsters who don’t want to live in a virtual world and inevitably, it is her students – unusually fit and healthy – who are targeted for Luke’s experimental process. I loved her struggles, both practically and ethically, to live the life she wants against a background of poverty and deprivation.

I also enjoyed the storyline of Elsa and Lindy, another memorable subplot that particularly chimed with me, as I’m also a teacher. I felt their story was poignantly portrayed and the passages when they were able to fully express their love for one another were beautiful. There is also the tale of Richard K, successful pop musician who made it after his dad died and now he’s well into his middle age, would like to have the chance to reconnect with his father again.

Rogers could so easily have made this a far more polemic read, but I liked the fact that this wasn’t a completely dark tale of the haves preying on the have-nots – until it suddenly was… That ending packed a real punch and was all the more devastating because it seemed all too plausible – although thankfully, I think the actual science behind this premise is a very long way down the line.

This very readable story is both engrossing and thought provoking – I always love it when science fiction does that. And while the overall premise isn’t a particularly original one, I thoroughly enjoyed Rogers’ treatment. Highly recommended for readers who might like to sample a strong science fiction read, but are nervous of the techie bits.

The ebook arc copy of Body Tourists was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of NETGALLEY arc The Warehouse by Rob Hart #Brainfluffbookreview #TheWarehousebookreview


I found this a really, really uncomfortable read – and have been thinking about it a lot since I finished this one. Those of us who have increasingly got into the habit of shopping online in the comfort of our own homes need to think long and hard about the ongoing consequences on not just our local High Street – but the power we are ceding to powerful multi-national companies. This cautionary tale brought that home to me…

Paxton never thought he’d be working for Cloud, the giant tech company that’s eaten much of the American economy. Much less that he’d be moving into one of the company’s sprawling live-work facilities. But compared to what’s left outside, Cloud’s bland chainstore life of gleaming entertainment halls, open-plan offices, and vast warehouses…well, it doesn’t seem so bad. It’s more than anyone else is offering. Zinnia never thought she’d be infiltrating Cloud. But now she’s undercover, inside the walls, risking it all to ferret out the company’s darkest secrets. And Paxton, with his ordinary little hopes and fears? He just might make the perfect pawn. If she can bear to sacrifice him.

In this dystopian world, there has been a widespread collapse of the economy, taking all Government services and a lot of jobs with it. Cloud is still thriving, however – so its employees are hugely grateful for the accommodation, medical services and meals that go with the job. Surely working hard in return makes it a reasonable bargain…

Hart uses three protagonists to demonstrate just how the system works – Paxton, whose own small firm was squeezed out of existence by Cloud, who also took over his own nifty invention for a pittance; Zinnia, who has been employed as an undercover agent; and Gibson, founder and figurehead of Cloud, who has his own reasons for reflecting upon his life’s work.

As I continued to read, I felt a chilly recognition. I happen to be a historian by training and one of my study areas had been the early Industrial Revolution when runaway capitalism stripped workers of any rights and turned them into foundry-fodder. It took years of grinding poverty and degradation before workers in this country were able to band together and win back the dignity of a fair day’s wage in return for a fair day’s work.

Without any kind of political spin or widening the scope of this story, Hart skilfully depicts what happens when there aren’t any checks and balances on any large conglomerate where the profit margin is the sole goal. I couldn’t put this one down as the plausible chain of events led to a state of affairs that seems unstoppably to be just over the horizon. And neither can I forget it. I find myself less enthusiastic about online shopping, these days. The ebook arc copy of The Warehouse was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 25th October, 2017


40276268 – vintage old pocket watch and book

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t Wait offering – Dogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky

#science fiction #military

Rex is a Good Dog. He loves humans. He hates enemies. He’s utterly obedient to Master.

He’s also seven foot tall at the shoulder, bulletproof, bristling with heavy calibre weaponry and his voice resonates with subsonics especially designed to instil fear. With Dragon, Honey and Bees, he’s part of a Multi-form Assault Pack operating in the lawless anarchy of Campeche, Southeastern Mexico.

Rex is a genetically engineered bioform, a deadly weapon in a dirty war. He has the intelligence to carry out his orders and feedback implants to reward him when he does. All he wants to be is a Good Dog. And to do that he must do exactly what Master says and Master says he’s got to kill a lot of enemies. But who, exactly, are the enemies?

I’m a fan of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s writing as he writes cracking adventures that also has you thinking about the issues he raises long after you’ve closed the book and walked away. I’m guessing this one will be no different and that poor Rex will be caught in a very difficult situation. Fortunately, I shan’t have to wait too long as this one is being published on 2nd November.




Laura at Fuonlyknew reviews Running Out of Space…

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Autonomy by Jude Houghton


I was offered the opportunity to read this Autonomy by Grimbold Books, in return for an honest review should I enjoy it. I’m so grateful they did…

autonomyBalmoral Murraine works in a Battery, assembling devices she doesn’t understand for starvation pay. Pasco Eborgersen is the pampered son of an Elite, trying to navigate the temptations of the Pleasure Houses, the self-sacrifice of the Faith, and the high-octane excitement of Steel Ball. They never should have met, and now they will rip the world apart.

What happens when ninety percent of the world lives on skaatch – a jellyfish and insect composite? What happens when mankind spends more time in alternative life sims instead of in the “real” world? What happens when economic interest is the sole determinant of global decision making? What happens when a single secret is discovered that calls into question everything we have ever believed? Welcome to the Autonomy. Welcome to your future.

And yes, folks, this really could be your future… In Houghton’s dystopian vision, our civilisation implodes in 2020 during a welter of environmental and political upheavals that sweeps away the old order. Autonomy emerges from the ruins after the death of millions, while the rest of the population are battling lawlessness and famine. And Autonomy’s solution is runaway capitalism to provide the bare necessities for the bulk of humanity and a far better standard of living for the chosen few. So, in essence, nothing really changes – I just love the ironic title…

I’m not sure if Houghton has ever studied the Industrial Revolution, or read The condition of the working class in England in 1844 by Friedrich Engels, but some of the details he produces about the wretched lives of Balmoral’s family were scarily reminiscent. However, this isn’t some polemic rant about how awful it’s going to be if we don’t get our act in gear and I wouldn’t have bothered reading it if it was. It’s a strong story crackling with narrative tension, vivid characters and a snaking plot that drew me in.

Structured as an epic, with a variety of third person viewpoints, Houghton isn’t afraid to kill off a number of his characters along the way – with some of them I saw their imminent demise coming, but there are several that pulled me up short. The plot spans the two worlds represented by Balmoral and Pasco. Initially, my sympathy was all with Balmoral and I rather despised Pasco – but as the book wore on, I found myself warming to Pasco despite the fact that he isn’t our classic lantern-jawed, action hero, which is a slot taken by his twin brother.

In amongst all the mayhem, Houghton raises some interesting questions – if you are enmeshed in a truly undemocratic, brutal regime, are you justified in inflicting violence on passing innocent bystanders in the struggle to overthrow said brutal regime? If by inflicting a brutal undemocratic regime you can keep millions alive on subsistence level, is it justified, given that without that skimped, grudging infra-structure they’ll all die anyhow?

However, in the end, it was all about the story. The climactic finale had to have plenty of action and drama, given the heightened tone throughout – I was wondering whether Houghton would be able to ramp this up another notch, and I pleased that he managed to pull it off, tying up and bringing together all the elements in the narrative in a satisfying ending. All in all, this is an entertaining near-future thriller with a thought-provoking message embedded amongst all the action. It’s what science fiction does best.

Weekly Wrap-Up – 27th March 2016


Given I am now reading and reviewing more frequently, I thought I’d follow Hayley’s suggestion over at RatherTooFondofBooks – check it out, it’s a really good book blog – and write a short summary of my week to share with other bloggers, inspired by the Sunday Post meme from the Caffeinated Book Reviewer.

This week I completed and wrote reviews for three books:-

Luna: New Moon – Book 1 of the Luna series by Ian McDonaldluna
This was a vivid, entertaining read about runaway development in a viciously capitalist structure that has the Five Dragon ruling family battling for ascendancy. I’ve already posted the review here.

The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen
manyselvesofkatherineThis Netgalley arc is a remarkable read about a young girl who jumps into premade animal bodies – Ressies – in order to better understand the habits and lives of the wildlife around us against a backdrop of climactic change. As a YA dystopian science fiction adventure, this book has far more science content than the average YA read, and the character is complex and nuanced. I featured this book in this week’s Teaser Tuesday. My review will not be appearing until June, however, when the book is due to be released.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik
This is another storming read – I LOVED this fantasy offering. The magic system is great, the uprootedprotagonist punchy and spirited, but what for me sets this book apart is the nature of the Wood, whose implacable opposition to humanity blights the lives of all who have to live near it. I shall be posting the review in due course.

I posted a blog every day, with one reblog from the marvellous Lizzie Baldwin’s entertaining book blog. My most popular post was this week’s Teaser Tuesday, as Emma Geen’s book attracted a lot of attention, with the next most visited post this week being my article Favourite Space Operas – Part 1.

I’m grateful to everyone who popped in and an especial thanks goes to those of you who took the trouble to comment – I still get a thrill at being able to share my reading passion with like-minded souls. Happy Easter to you all!

Teaser Tuesday – 22nd March 2016



Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Books and a Beat.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
This is my choice of the day:

The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen

45%: Readjusting to a human colour palette after a week of being a snake means that I’m finding instances of the forgotten colours everywhere. Rubbing my eyes doesn’t help, though alternating the manyselvesofkatherineshower between cold and hot at least makes me feel a little more real.

BLURB: Kit has been projecting into other species for seven years. Longer than anyone else at ShenCorp. Longer than any of the scientists thought possible. But lately she has the feeling that when she jumps she isn’t alone… Since she was twelve, Kit has been a phenomenaut, her consciousness projected into the bodies of lab-grown animals for the purpose of research. Kit experiences a multitude of other lives – fighting and fleeing, predator and prey – always hoping, but never quite believing, that her work will help humans better understand the other species living alongside them. But after a jump as an urban fox ends in disaster, Kit begins to suspect that those she has trusted for her entire working life may be out to cause her harm. And, as she delves deeper into the events of that night, her world begins to shift in ways she had never thought possible.

This YA sci fi Netgalley offering is a blast – the writing is a real exploration of how to write about senses we don’t have and Geen’s depiction is extraordinary. I’ll be reviewing it in due course…

* NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Kindle EBOOK Rook Song – Book 2 of The Gaia Chronicles by Naomi Foyle


I loved Astra, the first book in this series – see my review here – so was delighted when I had the opportunity to acquire the sequel.

rook songAstra has found work in an ancient fortress in Non-Land: headquarters of the Council of New Continents, the global body charged with providing humanitarian aid to the inhabitants of this toxic refugee camp. Recovering from a disorienting course of Memory Pacification Treatment, Astra struggles to focus on her overriding goals – to find her Code father. But can the CONC compound director, the ambiguous Major Thames, protect her from the hawk-eyed attentions of her old enemies? And who in this world of competing agendas can she trust? The deeper Astra ventures into this new world, the more she realises her true quest may be to find herself.

The first book left Astra in a hard place – I was shocked at the speed at which events overtook her, so was eager to dive back into this detailed, complicated world. But initially I struggled and needed to really focus on what was going on with whom as this story is told in multiple viewpoint, with Astra being one of a group of protagonists. But I’m so glad I persevered – it is worth it.

Once I worked out the cast of characters, the tension steadily builds up, as the bubbling dissatisfaction amongst the landless refugees finds a new focus. Foyle is certainly a gutsy writer, who is unafraid of dealing with subjects not often discussed in science fiction. A number of her characters are born with deformities due to the environmental pollution and she describes how they cope in the camp where they live with inadequate medical assistance. Given the issue of the Syrian refugees, a lot of events and settings in Rook Song are scaldingly topical. Foyle’s sure-footed, vivid writing takes this story into another, slightly mystical level and I enjoy the fact that some of the people and happenings are left ambiguous – I still cannot make up my mind which side Lil is on… But, then Astra hasn’t a clue, either, as various political groups decide to make her a pawn for their own ends.

Astra lingered with me, despite the fact that I read it several months ago and since have been engrossed in a number of other great books – so far 2016 has been a golden year for the sheer quality of my reading choices. Although I only recently completed Rook Song, I’m guessing this one will have scored similar inroads upon my inscape and I recommend this challenging, well written series for anyone interested in complex and immersive stories.

All the views I have expressed are my honest opinion, in exchange for an ARC copy of the book via Netgalley

Review of Intrusion by Ken MacLeod


Imagine a near-future London where advances in medical science have led to the development of a single-dose pill which, taken when pregnant, eradicates many common genetic defects from an unborn baby. Hope Morrison, mother of a hyperactive four-year-old, is expecting her second child. She refuses to take The Fix, as the pill is known. Her refusal divides her family and friends and puts her and her husband in danger of imprisonment or worse. Is Hope’s decision a private matter of individual choice, or is it tantamount to wilful neglect of her unborn child?

This is a chillingly plausible take on our near future and MacLeod has beautifully depicted a very recognisable world with all sorts of intrusionenjoyable touches. I love the climate change – while the rest of the world is growing warmer, the British Isles will be significantly colder and wetter without the warming ocean currents. I also like the genetically enhanced trees and the fact that wind farms are now obsolete. The fact that they are installed in the Highlands, away from the sensibilities of irate nimbys residing in populous England was also a fine irony.

Pregnant women forced to wear monitor rings and effectively barred from working in the public sphere for fear of pollutants causing any problems for their unborn babies was also a scenario I could see as all too realistic, in a society increasingly risk averse. But having a strong, believable backdrop isn’t going to rescue a book if I don’t care about the characters. Hope and her husband, Hugh were both well drawn, with their everyday domestic routines nicely juxtaposed against all those jarring details. I liked their edges and although initially I was concerned about Hugh’s ‘issues’ I decided to just go with the flow, so long as I enjoyed reading about the world. I’m so glad I did.  His backstory proved to be engrossing and the resulting consequences an intriguing scientific explanation for second sight

The story is a real gem. I found Hope’s gut feeling that she didn’t want The Fix all too believable – and the fact because she cannot exactly put her finger on why she doesn’t want to the treatment for her unborn child causes a lot of trouble. Once she refuses to use religion as protective camouflage, she is attacked on all sides. Even other women who decide not to take The Fix are critical of her, on the grounds that her stand is pure selfishness. Without lurching into spoiler territory, I cannot discuss too much more about the storyline – except to say that the pressure doesn’t ease up on this family anytime, soon. Even more worrying is the treatment handed out to British subjects of a different ethnic origin under the guise of trying to control the potential terrorist threat. Continual surveillance, constant stop and search sessions in the back of police vans are the least of their worries – all in the name of keeping Britain safe from a nihilistic terrorist threat.

The story reaches a shocking climax – with the ending packing a memorable punch that raised the hair on the nape of my neck. I haven’t always found MacLeod a totally satisfying read – but this is right up there with the best he’s ever written.

Review of Sound Mind by Tricia Sullivan


I came across a copy of Sound Mind at the local library, did a happy jig and snagged it off the shelves on the grounds that Tricia Sullivan’s shopping lists probably make an interesting read…

When Cassidy Walker stumbles into the middle of the highway, bloodied and bruised, Bard College in flames behind her, and manages to flag down a ride, she thinks the worst is over. Arriving in the nearby town of Red Hook, Cassidy tries to call her parents but the phone lines are down. Later she will discover that no radio or television signals are being received. The town, it seems, is cut off from the rest of the world – no one can get in and no one can get out. But that’s not the strangest thing by a long shot…  There is more – but it ventures into Spoiler Country and I’ve views on ruining the reader’s experience by giving too much away in blurting blurbs.

This story starts with a bang as Sullivan’s books generally do. And Cassidy is a wholly convincing, entertaining protagonist whose terrifying experiences are vividly portrayed. Although it gradually becomes clear that she isn’t exactly what she initially seems. Sullivan is a highly intelligent writer who isn’t afraid to push the envelope. As with all such artists, this means that the results can be variable.

soundmindThe overall story is full of tension and adventure and – mostly – moves along at a good clip. It was only about halfway through that I realised that Sound Mind is a sequel to Double Vision, which I’d read before I was organised enough to make a note of every book I read, on account of my chronically awful memory. Despite the fact that I couldn’t recall much about Double Vision, I didn’t have too much difficulty grasping what was going on in Sound Mind, so it certainly ticks the box of not relying on the first book in the duology to make it a viable read.

One of Sullivan’s trademarks is to start with a credible problem set in a recognisable primary world setting, always portrayed with pin-sharp clarity. And as the story advances, she steadily pushes the borders of normality until we are confronted with something that is right on the edge of the fantastical – while still within the science fiction genre. Unlike a number of science fiction writers, Sullivan has no problem keeping her protagonists vulnerable and sympathetic as they are subjected to a series of increasingly bizarre ordeals. I really enjoyed the ending, which after the fantastic, multi-layered plot, could so easily have sold the reader short. It doesn’t.

The role of music is thoroughly explored within this novel. Cassidy is a music student and comes to believe that it is one of her taped compositions that has brought into being the destruction that has sealed off Red Hook. She explains to the reader exactly what she was trying to achieve and why – and goes into a lot of fairly academic detail about her feelings about music as a personal anchor for her. As ever, Sullivan’s work is layered and clever, with constant touches of humour to help leaven the chaos and violence – and her discussions about music throughout the book are often enlightening and entertaining. However, there are also a few places where I think some judicious editing would have improved the pace of what is – essentially – an adventure story. I love the fact that science fiction is a genre where the story is often not only an entertaining escapist read, but a vehicle to explore ideas and themes, although this is something of a balancing act. At times, the discussions/explanations about the role of music silt up the pace and I found myself skimming across these sections, particularly in the second half of the book.

But this is a minor quibble about a book that once more establishes Sullivan as a major voice in the genre, who deserves a great deal more exposure than she gets. And if you also are fortunate enough to find a copy of the book in your local library or secondhand bookshop – scoop it up. You’ll thank me if you do…