Tag Archives: near-future thriller

Sunday Post – 24th September 2017

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

Not a good week. Stuff was going on that completely cut the ground out from under me. Though there were drops of brightness in the middle of the dross – the major one being that I started back at Northbrook College teaching my Creative Writing courses. It was lovely to catch up on my regular students and meet up with the new ones – I’m sure it’s very uncool to miss them so much during the loooong summer break, but there it is… The other piece of good news is that the Heart Clinic gave my sister the allclear and once more we were impressed at the care and kindness she has received at Worthing Hospital.

Other than that, I felt I was slowly drowning – and on Wednesday and Thursday admitted defeat and retired to my bed, beaten and overwhelmed. And then as suddenly as everything went wrong, it was resolved. I’m still waiting for that boring middle-age I was promised.

On Friday afternoon we picked up the grandchildren. Frances and I spent most of Saturday rehearsing Tim’s film and in the evening my sister joined us for an evening meal. Afterwards we played several noisy games of Dobble and Uno. Today, we are once again rehearsing for the film – we actually start filming this coming Wednesday – a deadline that’s approaching at the speed of a closing train…

This week I have read:

Sweet Dreams by Tricia Sullivan
Charlie is a dreamhacker, able to enter your dreams and mould their direction. Forget that recurring nightmare about being naked at an exam – Charlie will step in to your dream, bring you a dressing gown and give you the answers. As far as she knows, she’s the only person who can do this. Unfortunately, her power comes with one drawback – Charlie also has narcolepsy, and may fall asleep at the most inopportune moment. But in London 2022, her skill is in demand – until it all starts to go horribly wrong…
This near-future thriller about a girl struggling to cope with both a gift and a curse is engrossing and enjoyable – just the kind of clever, page-turning tale I love getting lost in.

 

Empire of Dust – Book 1 of The Psi-Tech novels by Jacey Bedford
Mega corporations, more powerful than any one planetary government, use their agents to race each other for resources across the galaxy. The agents, or psi-techs, are implanted with telepath technology. The psi-techs are bound to the mega-corps — that is, if they want to retain their sanity. Cara Carlinni is an impossible thing – a runaway psi-tech. She knows Alphacorp can find its implant-augmented telepaths, anywhere, anytime, mind-to-mind. So even though it’s driving her half-crazy, she’s powered down and has been surviving on tranqs and willpower. So far, so good. It’s been almost a year, and her mind is still her own. For now…
I loved this one – a believable world, lots of tension and character-driven action, a colony struggling against the odds and a climactic conclusion that left me wanting lots more psi-tech goodness.

 

Select by Marit Wiesenberg
Coming from a race of highly-evolved humans, Julia Jaynes has the perfect life. The perfect family. The perfect destiny. But there’s something rotten beneath the surface—dangerous secrets her father is keeping; abilities she was never meant to have; and an elite society of people determined to keep their talents hidden and who care nothing for the rest of humanity.
This YA dystopian science fiction offering features an enjoyable sympathetic protagonist struggling to achieve the impossible – to be just ordinary and unremarkable. I really liked the writing and the first person viewpoint of a character being clearly manipulated without becoming whiny or victimised.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 17h September

Review of Spellslinger – Book 1 of the Spellslinger series by Sebastien de Castell

Teaser Tuesday featuring Empire of Dust – Book 1 of the Psi-Tech series by Jacey Bedford

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Sweet Dreams by Tricia Sullivan

Friday Face-off – The color purple… featuring Mendoza in Hollywood – Book 3 of The Company novels by Kage Baker

Review of Smoke by Dan Vyleta

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week and a bit, in no particular order:

Beautiful Writing: Part 2: William Shakespeare https://charlesfrenchonwordsreadingandwriting.wordpress.com/2017/09/23/beautiful-writing-part-2-william-shakespeare/ It was a no-brainer for me when I spotted Sonnet 116 which is one of my all-time favourite poems.

How Reading Rewires Your Brain https://mctuggle.com/2017/09/18/how-reading-rewires-your-brain/ Those of us who are avid readers know that opening the pages brings a sense of calm and clarity when all around are losing it and you don’t want it to be you, too – but now they’ve scientifically proved it.

7 Types of Book Bloggers We’ve All Seen https://thisislitblog.wordpress.com/2017/08/06/7-types-of-book-bloggers-weve-all-seen/ This article manages to be funny and revealing – question is… which blogger are you?

The Psychology Behind Good Cover Design http://writerunboxed.com/2017/09/17/the-psychology-behind-good-book-cover-design/ Regular visitors will know that I am very intrigued by what makes a good cover and this article by someone who knows what they are talking about sheds further light on the subject.

Authors… yer book’s a what kinda seller? https://seumasgallacher.com/2017/09/23/authors-yer-books-a-what-kinda-seller/ Successful Indie author Seumas Gallacher reflects on the increasing trend for books to be labelled ‘best seller’ and what that means.

Guest Post: Sherwym Jellico https://thetattooedbookgeek.wordpress.com/2017/09/22/guest-post-sherwyn-jellico/ Drew from The Tattooed Book Geek hosted this amazing article by Sherwyn which will contribute towards the effort to lift the stigma and ignorance surrounding mental illness.

Thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site and may you have a great week.

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Sweet Dreams by Tricia Sullivan

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I’m a real fan of Sullivan’s writing – see my reviews of Occupy Me, Lightborn and Sound Mind. She is a highly talented writer with a penchant for pushing the envelope with her fiction in a way that I love. So I was delighted to see this offering on Netgalley.

Charlie is a dreamhacker, able to enter your dreams and mould their direction. Forget that recurring nightmare about being naked at an exam – Charlie will step in to your dream, bring you a dressing gown and give you the answers. As far as she knows, she’s the only person who can do this. Unfortunately, her power comes with one drawback – Charlie also has narcolepsy, and may fall asleep at the most inopportune moment. But in London 2022, her skill is in demand – until it all starts to go horribly wrong…

As you can see, this is set in the very near future where virtual reality is being taken into some disturbing areas… I happen to know someone who suffers from narcolepsy – where the sufferer will fall fast asleep anywhere at any time, particularly when stressed. It doesn’t take much imagination to realise that this sleep disorder drives a tank through any attempt to lead a normal life. Charlie’s ability to hack dreams starts after her drugs trial with BigSky, when she also starts to suffer from narcolepsy, lose her job and a lot of her hair through stress. Unfortunately, due to the small print on the contract she signed when she took part in the trial, she has no recourse to any form of compensation. So she also ends up homeless. However, she is lucky to have a loyal friend in Shandy and find herself living as a companion to a cranky old lady in a wheelchair, known as O, by cooking and cleaning her pigeons for her. O is also very supportive of her new job as a dreamhacker.

I very much enjoyed Charlie’s character. She could so easily have moaned her way through the novel and although she is often depressed and undermined by her misfortunes, she is also feisty, with a nice line in sardonic humour. I also liked her impulsiveness and occasional lapse of judgement – it can be rather wearing to read of a protagonist who invariably takes the sensible option.

As for the crime aspect – it was really creepy to experience the way the Creeper infiltrated Charlie’s dreams and as I hadn’t read the rather chatty blurb, which I’ve tweaked, I hadn’t realised there was a suspicious death. Unravelling the murder mystery was enjoyable with plenty of suspects and though I guessed part of it, I didn’t appreciate the final part of the puzzle. This was a thoroughly enjoyable, engrossing read and recommended for fans of near future whodunits. While I obtained the arc of Sweet Dreams from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Dazzling Heights Book 2 of The Thousandth Floor series by Katherine McGee

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When I saw this one on Netgalley, I immediately requested it, having read the first book, The Thousandth Floor – see my review here – and really enjoying it.

New York City, 2118. A glittering vision of the future, where anything is possible – if you want it enough.

Manhattan is home to a thousand-story supertower, a beacon of futuristic glamour and high-tech luxury… and to millions of people living scandalous, secretive lives. Leda is haunted by nightmares of what happened on the worst night of her life. She’s afraid the truth will get out – which is why she hires Watt, her very own hacker, to keep an eye on all of the witnesses for her. But what happens when their business relationship turns personal? When Rylin receives a scholarship to an elite upper-floor school, her life transforms overnight. But being here also means seeing the boy she loves: the one whose heart she broke, and who broke hers in return. Avery is grappling with the reality of her forbidden romance – is there anywhere in the world that’s safe for them to be together? And then there’s Calliope, the mysterious, bohemian beauty who’s arrived in New York with a devious goal in mind – and too many secrets to count. Here in the Tower, no one is safe – because someone is watching their every move, someone with revenge in mind. After all, in a world of such dazzling heights, you’re always only one step away from a devastating fall…

This YA near-future thriller bristles with intrigue, including an intended con, a guilt-ridden girl desperate to cover her tracks and prepared to go to any lengths to do so and a young couple who have it all – except each other. Most of these characters are materially pampered, living as they do in the lap of luxury with all sorts of extra add-ons gifted by near-future technology that we don’t yet possess. I really like these futuristic nifty touches McGee includes throughout the story without impeding the pace in any way.

I also enjoyed the fact that McGee isn’t content to merely present us with an ensemble of privileged youngsters, who inevitably are saddled with entitled attitudes – she takes us into their lives to the extent that even if we don’t like them, we do understand what drives them. As it happens, there was no one among the cast who I didn’t like. While initially, it took me a little while to recall who was doing what to whom, once I rebonded with all the protagonists, I found myself caring about all of them. After that, the pages turned themselves as the storyline advances through the alternating viewpoints of each one of the characters trying to make their way in a glittering world where they are the object of a lot of jealous scrutiny.

There is a nice moral lurking within this story that McGee keeps downplayed, making it all the more effective. Happiness doesn’t equal the next designer dress, beautiful piece of jewellery or wonderful party – instead it is about friendship, trust and love, both within and outside families.

Any grizzles? Hm. There is a dramatic incident near the end of the story that radically shifts the dynamic and the person responsible apparently comes out of nowhere. Of course, if you have read the first book, you will instantly recognise the name and understand what is powering her actions. I did feel that it wouldn’t have unduly lengthened the book to have a couple of chapters featuring this particular character, giving us more of her backstory. Having said that, it certainly isn’t a dealbreaker and is more of an observation as someone who habitually picks up book series halfway through.

Once more, the story ends with a dramatic climax, so that I shall be eagerly looking out for the next slice of this adventure. Recommended for those who like their YA with plenty of tension in a very cool futuristic setting. While I obtained the arc of The Dazzling Heights from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
8/10

Sunday Post – 3rd September 2017

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

It’s been a good week. I’ve managed to get lots of writing done – now 24,000 words into my major rewrite of Miranda’s Tempest, I am really delighted at how well it’s going. The weather continues warm and fine, though the evenings are drawing in fast, berries are appearing and autumn is knocking on the door.

Unfortunately, I ran into big problems with my knitting project – with all the typing I’m doing, my left hand got very upset about the knitting as well, so my sister stepped up and has taken it over, bless her. It should be ready for the film rehearsals next week.

I now have sorted out a release date for Running Out of Space, the first novel in my space opera series The Sunblinded – 11th October. I’ve decided to finally go for it now and get this series self published. Wish me luck!

The grandchildren are now staying over for their last stay with us before they return to school for a new academic year. They asked for a ‘lazy day’ time, so we didn’t go out and about with them yesterday. Today we’re going to have breakfast and the Look and Sea Centre with my sister and visiting the beach before taking them back home in the afternoon.

This week I have read:

The Uploaded by Ferrett Steinmetz

In the near future, the elderly have moved online and now live within the computer network. But that doesn’t stop them interfering in the lives of the living, whose sole real purpose now is to maintain the vast servers which support digital Heaven. For one orphan that just isn’t enough – he wants more for himself and his sister than a life slaving away for the dead. It turns out that he’s not the only one who wants to reset the world…
This one is fun. Lots of action set in a dystopian world with a really intriguing premise – I loved how the dead ended up running the lives of the living.

 

Just Off the Path by Weston Sullivan
Hansel never asked to be a hero. He never wanted to fall in love with Rapunzel, Queen of the East. He didn’t ask to be raised by Gothel the Wretch, and he certainly never wanted to be credited for her arrest. But more than any of that, Hansel never wanted to lie: but he did. He lied about everything. He thought that he was done with it all when he and his sister Gretel retreated into the woods to reclaim their land, but he should have known better. Years later, Rapunzel’s guards knock at his door, and they say the words he hoped that he would never hear: Gothel has escaped. As he and Gretel take refuge inside Rapunzel’s castle in the eastern capitol of Hildebrand, Hansel is thrust back into everything he never wanted in the first place: his lies, his legend, and his lust.
This is a really interesting idea – a real mash-up of a number of Grimm fairytales told by one of the child victims – Hansel. It goes in unexpected directions and it is huge fun waiting to see who next turns up.

 

Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill
BRITTLE started out his life playing nurse to a dying man, purchased in truth instead to look after the man’s widow upon his death. But then war came and Brittle was forced to choose between the woman he swore to protect and potential oblivion at the hands of rising anti-AI sentiment. Thirty years later, his choice still haunts him. Now he spends his days in the harshest of the wastelands, known as the Sea of Rust, cannibalizing the walking dead – robots only hours away from total shutdown – looking for parts to trade for those he needs to keep going.
I loved this one. Brittle’s strong first person narrative took me right into this shattered, dystopian world where the robots are locked in a final battle for survival. Beautiful writing and plenty of action – great fun.

 

The Dazzling Heights – Book 2 of The Thousandth Floor series by Katherine McGee
New York City, 2118. A glittering vision of the future, where anything is possible – if you want it enough.
Manhattan is home to a thousand-story supertower, a beacon of futuristic glamour and high-tech luxury… and to millions of people living scandalous, secretive lives. Leda is haunted by nightmares of what happened on the worst night of her life. She’s afraid the truth will get out – which is why she hires Watt, her very own hacker, to keep an eye on all of the witnesses for her. But what happens when their business relationship turns personal? When Rylin receives a scholarship to an elite upper-floor school, her life transforms overnight. But being here also means seeing the boy she loves: the one whose heart she broke, and who broke hers in return.
Avery is grappling with the reality of her forbidden romance – is there anywhere in the world that’s safe for them to be together? And then there’s Calliope, the mysterious, bohemian beauty who’s arrived in New York with a devious goal in mind – and too many secrets to count.
Here in the Tower, no one is safe – because someone is watching their every move, someone with revenge in mind. After all, in a world of such dazzling heights, you’re always only one step away from a devastating fall….
I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series and was delighted when I saw this one pop up on Netgalley. We get to follow the tortuous lives of these youngsters who have it all – including a hatful of knee-buckling problems… A real page-turner with another cracking climax.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 27th August

Review of The Cold – Book 5 of Star Wars: Adventures in Wild Sapce by Scott Cavan

Teaser Tuesday featuring Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill

Tough Travelling – Strongholds featuring The Just City by Jo Walton

Review of The Heir to the North – Book 1 of Malessar’s Curse by Steven Poore

Friday Face-off – Thunder is the sound of hoofbeats in heaven… featuring Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Death Shall Come – Book 3 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week and a bit, in no particular order:

SPRAOI – Source to the Sea https://inesemjphotography.com/2017/08/26/spraoi-source-to-sea/ This wonderful series of photos of this amazing parade is yet another slice of life by this amazingly talented photographer

Riders of the Storm – Hurricane Harvey Rising Water https://familytravelhostusa.com/2017/08/27/riders-of-the-storm-hurricane-harvey-rising-water/ Sad pictures this time – family photos no one wants to take…

Space Features of the Week http://earthianhivemind.net/2017/08/26/space-features-week-26-july/ This invaluable, enjoyable weekly roundup is becoming a regular feature on this blog – with good reason

Sex Scenes: How Did it Happen http://melfka.com/archives/2438 This enjoyable article made me realise this isn’t a subject much discussed by readers – and yet we all read them, don’t we?

Jo Walton Interview – 2017 Edinburgh International Book Festival  http://fantasy-faction.com/2017/jo-walton-interview-2017-edinburgh-international-book-festival I was thrilled to read this extensive interview where this highly talented, versatile author discusses her canon of work.

Thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site and may you have a great week.

Sunday Post – 30th April 2017

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

Looking back, I feel glad that I was sympathetic and concerned about poor little Oscar’s cold last week, because I went down with the wretched thing like a sack of spanners and have been absolutely flattened. I’ve spent most of the week in bed reading and sleeping, hence the rather ridiculously long list below… And I’m still feeling like a piece of chewed string.

 

This week I have read:

Snared – Book 16 of the Elemental Assassins series by Jennifer Estep
My search for the girl begins on the mean streets of Ashland, but with all the killers and crooks in this city, I’m not holding out much hope that she’s still alive. A series of clues leads me down an increasingly dark, dangerous path, and I realize that the missing girl is really just the first thread in this web of evil. As an assassin, I’m used to facing down the worst of the worst, but nothing prepares me for this new, terrifying enemy—one who strikes from the shadows and is determined to make me the next victim.
I really enjoyed this slice in the ongoing adventure of Gin Blanco’s life as she battles to find a kidnapped girl and uncover more about the shadowy organisation that were responsible for her mother and sister’s death. An engrossing urban fantasy murder mystery.

Dancing with Death – Book 1 of the Nell Drury series by Amy Myers
1925. The fashionable Bright Young Things from London have descended on Wychbourne Court, the Kentish stately home of Lord and Lady Ansley, for an extravagant fancy dress ball followed by a midnight Ghost Hunt – and Chef Nell Drury knows she’s in for a busy weekend. What she doesn’t expect to encounter is sudden, violent death.
A houseful of likely suspects with plenty of above and below stairs motivations and suspicious behaviour… This 1920’s historical cosy mystery was a cracking read and took me away from my bed of pain.

 

Reaper – Book 1 from the End Game series by Janet Edwards
In the year 2519, people on Earth don’t grow old and die any longer, their bodies are frozen and they start a new life in the virtual reality of the Game. Jex is almost eighteen, working twelve hour shifts, and dreaming of when she’ll be legally adult and begin her long-planned idyllic life in Game. When a bomber attacks a Game server complex, one of the virtual worlds of Game crashes, and eleven thousand immortal players die during emergency defrost. Death has struck Game for the first time in centuries, and Jex is questioned as a suspect in the bombing.
I really enjoyed this depiction of a stripped, monochrome world where all the adults have disappeared into virtual reality, while children’s childhood have also gone. Jex, on the cusp of being able to slough her actual body and become her virtual persona, finds herself a suspect for a bombing. This is a murder mystery with a difference – clever, inventive and enjoyable.

Fool’s Gold – Book 8 of the Liberty Lane series by Caro Peacock
September, 1841. A new arrival has taken London society by storm. Lord Byron’s handsome illegitimate son, George, recently arrived from the exotic island of Cephalonia in the company of his guardian, the mysterious Mr Vickery, has been setting female hearts aflutter. But not all the attention George attracts is welcome. Mr Vickery has been receiving disturbing letters from a woman who calls herself Helena, and he hires Liberty Lane to find out who Helena is and what she wants.
Yes… I know there is something of a theme going on here – yet another murder mystery. But they are all quite different – really. And this one features determined and observant Liberty Lane, trying to work out exactly what is the secret behind George and who he is. Another one that took me right away from my thick-headed misery and into another world.

Scavenger Alliance – Book 1 of the Exodus series by Janet Edwards
In the year 2408, a century after the invention of interstellar portals, seven hundred people scavenge a living in abandoned New York. The respectable citizens have either withdrawn to new settlements in the countryside, or joined the great exodus of humanity to new, unpolluted colony worlds, but eighteen-year-old Blaze is one of the undesirables that neither the citizen settlements nor the new colony worlds will accept.
This adventure is set in the same world as Edwards’ best-selling Earthgirl series, but much earlier. A survivor colony is scratching out a living in the ruins of New York, when they are confronted with a small group from another world. I loved this one, having been a solid fan of the Earthgirl books and couldn’t put it down until I got to the dramatic end.

A Tyranny of Queens – Book 2 of the Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows
Saffron Coulter has returned from the fantasy kingdom of Kena. Threatened with a stay in psychiatric care, Saffron has to make a choice: to forget about Kena and fit back into the life she’s outgrown, or pit herself against everything she’s ever known and everyone she loves. Meanwhile in Kena, Gwen is increasingly troubled by the absence of Leoden, cruel ruler of the kingdom, and his plans for the captive worldwalkers, while Yena, still in Veksh, must confront the deposed Kadeja. What is their endgame? Who can they trust? And what will happen when Leoden returns?
I was thrilled when I saw this sequel to the fantastic An Accident of Stars – see my review here – which was one of my outstanding reads of last year. It was a real treat to catch up on Saffron after her shock return home. This was another engrossing, vivid world full of adventure and excitement that took me away from my hacking cough and aching limbs.

Cold Welcome – Book 1 of Vatta’s Peace by Elizabeth Moon
Summoned to the home planet of her family’s business empire, space-fleet commander Kylara Vatta is told to expect a hero’s welcome. But instead she is thrown into danger unlike any other she has faced and finds herself isolated, unable to communicate with the outside world, commanding a motley group of unfamiliar troops, and struggling day by day to survive in a deadly environment with sabotaged gear. Only her undeniable talent for command can give her ragtag band a fighting chance.
I loved the Vatta’s War series and was delighted when Himself made me a present of this one for Easter. It is Moon at her tense, thrilling best and I found this particular military sci fi adventure impossible to put down until I got to the dramatic end.

The Broken Bridge by Philip Pullman
The Broken Bridge is the tale of Ginny, a sixteen-year-old half-Haitian girl living with her father in a small seaside village in Wales. She’s becoming a brilliant artist, just like her mother, who died when Ginny was a baby. Despite the isolation she sometimes feels, her life is turning out OK. Then her social worker cracks open her files and her world falls apart. Ginny’s father has kept a devastating secret from her all her life. In fact, everything she thought she knew about her family and her identity is a lie. And now, to find out who she really is, Ginny must relive the dark tragedies in her past.
This is a beautiful book – Pullman brilliantly evokes a particular time and place with precise, well-crafted prose that drew me right into the middle of Ginny’s world. This one is all about families – both the best and worst of what they have to offer. Pullman’s perceptive, sympathetic depiction is both engrossing and thought provoking – and a joy to read.

The One by John Marrs
How far would you go to find THE ONE?
One simple mouth swab is all it takes. A quick DNA test to find your perfect partner – the one you’re genetically made for. A decade after scientists discover everyone has a gene they share with just one other person, millions have taken the test, desperate to find true love. Now, five more people meet their Match. But even soul mates have secrets. And some are more shocking – and deadlier – than others…
This ensemble piece, where we follow the fortunes of an unrelated number of protagonists who are looking for love, gradually builds up into a gripping adventure where all is not as it seems. I loved this one – it is definitely a slow-burn read, but by the end, I was blown away by the twisting plot.

Running on the Cracks by Julia Donaldson
Leo’s running from her past. Finlay’s running into trouble. Together, they stumble into a crazy new world of secrets, lies, and Chinese food. But someone is on Leo’s trail . . . Eccentric, unforgettable characters and genuine, heart-pounding suspense make for a stunning combination as celebrated author Julia Donaldson expands her talents in her first novel for young adults.
This is a great read. You realise just how fragile some people’s lives are when it all goes wrong. Unlike many YA reads, although the protagonists are both youngsters, this one also explores what happens to older people who fall through the cracks. A warm-hearted and thoughtful look at our society.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 23rd April 2017

Review of Saven Deception – Book 1 of the Saven series by Siobhan Davis

Friday Face-off – Burning my bridges… featuring The Bridge by Janine Ellen Young

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of Snared – Book 16 of Elemental Assassins series by Jennifer Estep

This week, due to being ill, I haven’t been online long enough to be able to compile a list of interesting articles. Thank you for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

Review of Lock In by John Scalzi

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This science fiction crime thriller is set in a really intriguing world with a fascinating premise.

Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. Most of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. A few suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And 1 per cent find themselves ‘locked in’ – fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. It may not seem like a lot. But in the US alone that’s 1.7 million people ‘locked in’… including the President’s wife and daughter.

lockinSpurred by grief and the sheer magnitude of the suffering. America undertakes a massive scientific initiative. Nothing can fully restore the locked in, but two new technologies emerge to help. One is a virtual-reality environment, ‘The Agora’, where the locked in can interact with other humans. The second is the discovery that a few rare individuals have minds that are receptive to being controlled by others, allowing the locked in to occasionally use their bodies as if they were their own. This skill is quickly regulated, licensed, bonded and controlled. Nothing can go wrong. Certainly nobody would be tempted to misuse it, for murder, for political power, or worse…

Yes, yes – I know… The blurb goes on forever. But you need to know this stuff to fully appreciate and understand the world, because Scalzi doesn’t hang about giving long-winded explanations. This book hits the ground running in first person viewpoint, as Chris Shane walks into the FBI building on his first day as a fully-fledged agent. He is coping with more than the usual first day nerves – Chris Shane is a Haden, whose helpless body is back in his parents’ home being cared for, while his consciousness is uploaded into a threep – a robotic body that allows him to talk, hear, see and move. And on his second day at work, Chris and his partner, Agent Vann, are called to an incident where a car has been crushed when a love seat was flung out of a hotel window, and on further investigation, they discover a dead body in the hotel room.

The odd circumstances of this case go on becoming increasingly bizarre as Scalzi ramps up the tension in this cracking whodunit, where this single incident is the start of a string of violent crimes involving Hadens. Next to science fiction and fantasy, crime is my favourite genre, and I’m a real sucker for those whodunits where the plot weaves into a complicated conspiracy theory that has the capacity to undermine society itself… Of course, in order to be able to pull off such a plot, the case needs to lead off in unexpected directions involving some of the political and industrial game-changers in society. Scalzi has brilliantly laid the framework for this in his world struggling to cope with the aftereffects of a virus that has burned through the population, leaving swathes of people coping with terrible symptoms. The resources of our near future technologies have been aimed at alleviating the consequences of the virus. But there is a price to pay and Scalzi also fully explores the tensions between sufferers and non-sufferers as the Government attempts to start withdrawing some of the expensive support it offers.

For those who claim that near future crime thrillers cannot work in a world where everyone is linked up to social media, I advise you to read Lock In. Scalzi has set up a fascinating world where his likeable FBI agent and world-weary partner attempt to unravel a series of crimes that simply couldn’t be committed now – we don’t have the technology or circumstances. I was caught up in the mystery from the first page and whirled away into Scalzi’s world until the successful denouement. This is Scalzi at his very best.
10/10

Review of Indie KINDLE ebook Othella – Book 1 of the Arcadian Heights series by Therin Knite

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This near-future cyber-thriller starts with a bang, and then just gets more full-on from there…

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Georgette McClain can’t resist a juicy tip. So when a rumored crazy ex-CEO gifts herothella evidence of a vast conspiracy involving the world’s premier scientific community, Arcadian Heights, she sets her sights on the story of a lifetime. And all she has to do to grab it by the reins is sneak into the most secure facility in the world—and expose it for the slaughterhouse it is. Tech company CEO Marco Salt has it all. Fame. Fortune. Family. But not long after Marco’s beloved genius daughter is invited to join Arcadian Heights, a rogue agent reveals to him the horrifying truth about the revered scientific community. Forced to flee for his life, Marco finds himself on the run with a deadly secret in his grasp and a single goal in mind: destroy Arcadian Heights.

Georgette and Marco are the two main protagonists and we are in their viewpoint most often, along with the major antagonist, Quentin. And when Marco discovers exactly what has been going on at Arcadian Heights, he hires Georgette to start digging for further information, as he struggles to come to terms with what has been done to his beloved daughter – along with hundreds of other bright, creative people.

Knite has a punchy, readable writing style that scooped me up and swept me along from the first page. Action-packed and full of incident, there is nevertheless an interesting conundrum he poses regarding the moral dilemmas in such an extreme situation. Quentin – the main antagonist – is not just some two-dimensional hate figure. In many ways, he is something of a mirror figure to Marco, who is also capable of ruthlessly using other people to achieve his own objectives. He is also utterly convinced that Arcadian Heights is Humanity’s only hope for survival – and if he is right, then surely securing this single bulwark against our species’ impending doom, even if the cost is heartbreakingly high.

The narrative timeline dots around, often jumping back to fill in the background in the viewpoint of the main characters so you do need to pay attention. But as Knite clearly indicates the changes in viewpoint and time, it isn’t too difficult to follow. While the overall story arc soon became apparent, there are all sorts of twisty little surprises that kept me engrossed and engaged in the book.

Any niggles? All the main characters seem to have an insanely high tolerance to shock, pain and major injuries – to the extent that I found myself wondering in the middle of the action whether it was credible to keep functioning with the level of damage they sustain. However, the same can be said for many other action adventures so it isn’t a dealbreaker – and I could visualise this book being made into a successful and entertaining film. If you like your action fast and furious, set in an intriguing if bleak future scenario, then give this one a go. I’ll guarantee an incident-packed ride that raises some interesting moral issues along the way.
9/10

Review of The Red Men by Matthew de Abaitua

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Being a shallow sort, I was lured into picking this book off the shelves by the sheer elegance of the cover (kudos to Snow Books for this outstanding effort, by the way…) and was rewarded by discovering an unexpectedly thought provoking treatment that will – I feel – be with me for longer than usual.  This near-future literary thriller is remarkably prescient, given its attack on corporate aspirations and thinking, as it was published in 2007, well before the series of grubby scandals that rocked the banking world.

A police helicopter hovers above Hackney. Snipers surround the siege house. Fascinated, Nelson edges forward to watch the advanceredmen of the negotiator: a robot, uncannily tall and serene, designed to empathise with the despair that has turned a bitter executive into a cornered gunman. But the robot is too late; an explosion engulfs the house. As Nelson watches the burning machine burst out onto his street, he realises that the world has shifted beneath his feet; a strange and unexpected future has arrived on his doorstep.

Welcome to the adventures of young father Nelson Millar and his friend and manic poet Raymond Chase in the imminent technologies of tomorrow. Nelson unwillingly works on a project that threatens the nature of democracy, the simulation of a town and its citizens to create the ultimate focus group. Meanwhile, Raymond is hired to assist the mysterious Red Men, digital copies of the rich and powerful whose vile appetites and hatred for real life soon lead to murder.

Firstly a health warning – the initial chirpy tone and thread of black humour running through this book gets steadily darker. It is compelling, clever and terrifyingly plausible. It is also savagely violent. As a sharp and accomplished writer, de Abaitua is completely capable of delivering a nuanced, satirical take on the subject. For instance, it is Nelson Millar’s determination to provide a steady income for his young family that sucks him into working for Monad – not his earlier freewheeling ‘creative’ days working as editor for the magazine Drug Porn… While the technological details, such as the robots, Dr Easy and Dr Hard, are enjoyable – it is de Abaitua’s pinsharp observations of human nature that make this an uncomfortably standout read for me.

The impact on Nelson of being subsumed into corporate life, while forced to spend long periods apart from his wife and child, rings all too true in a world where families have to face these dilemmas on a daily basis. He has the stunning misfortune to have to deal with a number of executives who could all be labelled as ‘the boss from Hell’, from the charismatic figurehead, Hermes Spence, to Stoker Senior whose testicle transplant is an attempt to keep himself ever-young and virile – and his immediate superior, and the bullying Morton Eakins. Not to mention the unspeakably horrible Red Man, Morty…

Any grumbles? I’m not a fan of the limited omniscient viewpoint and there were times that I felt hopping between viewpoints in the same scene compromised the degree to which I identified with the characters. While I fully concede that Nelson managed to still bounce off the pages, Raymond’s character seemed particularly undermined by this treatment and at times, I found myself skimming the scenes which featured him to get back to Nelson… Given de Abaitua’s evident skill, I do think that this is an avoidable glitch.

Other than that, though, I think this book is a powerful glimpse into some of the possible dangers that our children may face. And as a cautionary tale about how the corporate ethos can pervert and twist the best-intentioned objectives, it is chillingly accurate. It should be required reading for all Bob Diamond and all his cronies…
8/10

Review of The Fourth Wall – Book 3 of the Dagmar Shaw series by Walter Jon Williams

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This book is told in first person present tense and this time, we are not in Dagmar’s viewpoint. The protagonist in this story is Sean Makin, ex-child star who at the height of his acting career was a household name and earned millions – which his parents have all taken. So as a failed adult actor, he is reduced to humiliating himself in shows like Celebrity Pitfight – think of Gladiators crossed with I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here

4thwallWhen he meets Dagmar Shaw and is considered for the lead part in her latest film project, he thinks his dreams have come true. However, what Sean doesn’t know is that people often have a shortened life expectancy around Dagmar. Perhaps he should have paid more attention to the SUV that nearly knocked him down…

I’ve read all three books in this series. One of its strengths is that you don’t have to read any of the others to fully enjoy this particular book, where we have moved on. However, having read the first two, one of the pleasures was to see Dagmar through the lens of someone else – someone so essentially self-absorbed that she wasn’t particularly important to him. Until the end, that is…

So, change of protagonist; change of viewpoint and tense; complete change of scenario – gone are the politics and world-awareness of the first two books. Sean is only vaguely conscious there is a vicious war going on, as all his attention and energy is focused on Hollywood and events unfolding around him. Does it work?

Oh yes – this is an absolute joy. This is the book where Williams really hits his stride – and confirms for me just how uncomfortable he was with Dagmar as the main protagonist. Because Sean is inspired – there are layers in his characterisation that are wonderful, both tragic and hilarious. There were always occasional shafts of dark humour lancing through Williams’ other two books in the series – but in the character of Sean, Williams has given his readers an intimate and unforgiving insight into the life of a Hollywood actor. It is pathetic, funny and shocking by turns – all delivered in Sean’s pinpoint-sharp voice. The whodunit running through the filming is entertainingly twisty – I enjoyed the unexpectedness of the deaths and trying to work out who was the perpetrator.  And the fourth wall of the title?  This is the invisible barrier that the actors have to reach through in order to reach their audience.

There has been some criticism that the final denouement was something of an anti-climax. Which had me scratching my head, wondering whether we’d been reading the same book. I thought the ultimate twist provided by Dagmar was an amazing conclusion to the story – although I’ll concede that the whodunit discovery was slightly workaday. But surely, isn’t that the point? Isn’t that Williams playing a game with his readers – giving them a relatively bland payoff, as a caricature of a Hollywood-type ending? If he’d left it at that, then I think they have some cause for grumbling – but he doesn’t. He goes on to produce the real ending, which delivers an almighty punch.

All in all, this is one of the best books I’ve read in 2012. Sean is a wonderful creation and I’m hoping that Williams hasn’t done with him – I’d love another slice of Sean’s life. Please?
10/10

Review of Deep State by Walter Jon Williams

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This is the second book in the Dagmar Shaw series, exploring the cyberworld and its potential to change reality. This Is Not A Game started the trilogy off with a bang, when Dagmar, an alternate reality games designer, found herself in the middle of a violent revolution in Jakata which was the start of a series of brutal events that sucked her into a world of violence every bit as frightening as anything she has ever designed…

So – the question is, does Deep State deliver the same smart, cyber-cool storyline and enjoyable slices of humour?

deepstateDagmar Shaw is one of the world’s hottest designers of alternate reality games. She is the Puppetmaster and thousands of gamers are dancing on her strings. But when the campaign she is running in Turkey comes into conflict with the new, brutal regime, she realises that games can have very real consequences.

When an old friend approaches Dagmar with a project so insane, so ambitious, she can’t possibly say no, she is plunged into a world of spies and soldiers. As a nation hangs in the balance, the bullets become real and gamers start dying. In this world of intrigue and betrayal, the master player must face the possibility that she has, herself, been played…

Williams has certainly fixed the slight wobbles in Dagmar’s characterisation apparent in This Is Not A Game – I found her a much stronger, more believable protagonist this time around. I particularly liked the fact that despite her evident skills and charisma, she has been left with post-traumatic stress syndrome after events in This Is Not A Game. A pleasant change to find violence causing such believable mayhem in a fictional character…

As for the storyline – there were some clear parallels to the way social media was used during the Arab Spring and how Williams’ fictional characters decide to harness the likes of Twitter and Facebook to attempt to overthrow the brutal regime. However, this is a work of fiction and the fact that those similarities quickly break down under closer examination doesn’t particularly detract from the book, as far as I’m concerned. As long as Williams’ world persuaded me to suspend my disbelief for the duration of the novel, then I was more than happy to go along with the proposition that various staged gaming events could pose significant problems for a military regime unaccustomed to dealing with flash mobs.

I also found the violent response all too believable – along with the evident ramping of tension, consequences and costs. Another feature of this book I thoroughly approve of – is that when people die, it is treated as a major event that leaves everyone shaken and upset. There are still the gamers and their response to what is going on – although it did occur to me that if you hadn’t first read This Is Not A Game, you may be slightly scratching your head at their appearance, which is a lot more piecemeal and less coherent in this novel. However, unlike many series, I do think that you could comfortably read Deep State without having read the first Dagmar Shaw adventure.

All in all, this is an entertaining slice of near-future action that may have some similarities with totalitarian regimes and their reluctant populations. However, I don’t recommend it on the grounds that it has any political significance – I’m not convinced enough that Williams’ has sufficiently nailed the underlying tensions and sheer complexity of Turkish society for that to be the case. But as an enjoyable piece of fiction, it is certainly worth reading – and is far more than a placeholder that second volumes all too frequently end up being.
9/10