Tag Archives: post-apocalytic world

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The List by Patricia Forde

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Being something of a word nerd, I liked the sound of this one, so requested it from Netgalley and was delighted when my request was accepted.

In the city of Ark, speech is constrained to five hundred sanctioned words. Speak outside the approved lexicon and face banishment. The exceptions are the Wordsmith and his apprentice Letta, the keepers and archivists of all language in their post-apocalyptic, neo-medieval world. But when events take a darker turn, Letta realises that her responsibilities extend to more than the words in this fragile community…

I’ve paraphrased the rather chatty blurb and my firm advice would be not to read it if you intend to get hold of the book – it gives far too much of the story arc away. I really liked Letta – she gets wrapped up in the words she records for when times get easier and takes great care to copy out The List for the children to learn. But as her job isolates her from most of the rest of the community, she has the opportunity to look and wonder about some of the older words – and make comparisons to their current existence. I also very much like the fact that she is short-fused with a quick temper and cannot abide to see suffering and injustice. Otherwise her actions simply don’t make sense.

In order to believe in this dystopian world, the reader has to go along with the premise that the founder of the Ark, John Noa, has decided that language and words were the cause of humanity’s downfall. He feels that if only humanity is limited to the most basic of communication, they will be nearer the state of animals. He thinks is a great idea – for animals do not harm the planet, or plot and deceive each other. Only mankind is capable of that – because of the lies he can spin with his words. Initially I wasn’t sure this was going to work, but overall I think that Forde has built a convincing case for Noa’s beliefs. Like many charismatic leaders, Noa becomes caught up in his own rhetoric and needs to continue to push the community to make ever more extreme changes as everyone falls short of his grandiose schemes to return humanity to a pristine state.

Forde effectively raises the stakes and it doesn’t take much for this fragile, brutalised community to be tipped into unrest, as events drive Letta ever forward with some plot twists along the way. The climax of the story works very well, though for the more experienced reader, there aren’t a lot of major surprises as the overall story arc follows a well-trodden path. That said, this is aimed at children who haven’t necessarily read much in this genre and it raises some interesting issues regarding the role of language in the development and organisation of human society. If you enjoy dystopian, post-apocalyptic worlds, then this one is worth tracking down.

While I obtained the arc of The List from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

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I spotted this offering on Netgalley and really loved the sound of it, so requested it and was delighted to be approved, given that VanderMeer is a talented author with a gift for writing the disturbing – see my review of Annihilation.

Rachel survives as a scavenger in a ruined city half destroyed by drought and conflict. The city is dangerous, littered with discarded experiments from the Company—a biotech firm now derelict—and punished by the unpredictable predations of a giant bear. Rachel ekes out an existence in the shelter of a run-down sanctuary she shares with her partner, Wick, who deals his own homegrown psychoactive biotech. One day, Rachel finds Borne during a scavenging mission and takes him home. Borne as salvage is little more than a green lump—plant or animal?—but exudes a strange charisma. However, in a world where any kind of weakness is lethal, can Rachel afford to bond with this odd creature?

VanderMeer’s atmospheric writing spins a stunningly vivid evocation of this wrecked landscape where Mord, the gigantic bear, stalks through the city peopled by knots of scavengers – some of whom have been altered and twisted by the biotech that has escaped into the environment. The river is poisoned, the rain toxic and people eke out a subsistence existence.

Rachel’s story is one that is probably heartbreakingly familiar in any refugee camp throughout the world. She recalls a happy family life with her parents, both with solid jobs and plenty of love for their only daughter, but as the sea levels rose and law and order broke down, they ended up in camps. She is unsure how exactly she has arrived in the city, scavenging and teaming up with Wick, a former employee of the Company with dark secrets of his own, but they are holed up in a defensible apartment block and coping reasonably well.

It is into this scenario that Borne enters her life as a scrap of biotech she picks out of the fur of the sleeping Mord. There is something about this unusual thing that attracts her – for starters, it smells of her childhood – of the sea. It is always hungry and empties out their accommodation of lizards and insects – and is clearly intelligent. So she teaches it to speak…

This is a tale of loss and change. And of the resilience of the human spirit when confronted with terrible circumstances. Given the backdrop and context, it ought to be a completely bleak read – but although there is violence and death – how could there not be in such a hard-scrabbled environment? – there is also is a fair amount of humour and a lot of tenderness. I found it very moving that Rachel, alone and childless, nurtures this creature and calls it Borne. They play games, and tell each other jokes. But Borne isn’t human and was never intended to mix with humanity. Borne is something else…

Rachel is a striking protagonist. It is always a tricky business writing a character where a defining aspect of the protagonist is left to the climactic final scene of the book – and to be honest, about halfway through I was feeling a bit fed up that she didn’t ring completely true. By the end, the reason why becomes clear. VanderMeer’s writing always burrows beneath the surface and often finds the darkness lurking there – this time around, he has also celebrated what defines us as humans. If you are a fan of interesting, post-apocalyptic reads, then give this one go. I’ll guarantee it will stay with you.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Aveline – Book 1 of the Lost Vegas novella series by Lizzy Ford

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I was attracted by the blurb and fortunately didn’t pay too much attention to the cover, or I would never have picked up this enjoyable science fiction/fantasy mashup.

avelineIn post-apocalyptic America, five hundred years in the future, famine, war, and chaos have created a hell on earth. Outside the isolated city of Lost Vegas, violent skirmishes among the Native Americans – who have retaken their ancestral homes – claim lives by day, while ancient predators awakened during the Age of Darkness hunt humans by night. Inside the city, criminals, the impoverished, and the deformed are burned at the stake weekly. Among those ruthless enough to survive is seventeen-year-old Aveline, a street rat skilled in fighting whose father runs the criminal underworld. On the night of her father’s unexpected death, a stranger offers to pay off her father’s debts, if she agrees to become the guardian of Tiana Hanover, the daughter of the most powerful man in Lost Vegas. Aveline’s skills as an assassin may have kept her alive to date – but she’ll need every ounce of ingenuity and grit to keep herself safe once she enters the household of the most powerful man in Lost Vegas…

Ignore the misleading cover – this is no soft-focused lurve story, this is a gritted battle for survival by a gutsy heroine who had me hooked from the first page. Aveline, shocked after her father’s sudden death, has no time to grieve. His enemies are howling for vengeance and are keen to capture and sell her on for what they can get. Ford immediately sucks us into her plight, so despite her violent tendencies, I immediately cared for her. The world is a savage one, which Ford manages to depict with shocking details that nevertheless don’t veer into the gratuitously violent or graphic, which is a balancing trick many modern authors don’t pull off.

While it was clear early on that Aveline and Tiana were going to meet up, after their initial encounter the story started shooting off into all sorts of directions I didn’t see coming. The characterisation of Tiana was also skilfully handled – she could easily been merely annoying and I really enjoyed the fact that Aveline frankly thinks she’s wet so the gradual progression of their relationship is both realistic and fascinating. The antagonists are also satisfyingly horrible – there is a real sense of claustrophobic menace created in the Hanover household that had me turning the pages long after I should have been doing other things.

In fact, that is my main complaint – I flew through this entertaining read far too quickly and the ending was left on a real cliffhanger. That said, I’m far less grumpy than I was when researching this author. She is a veritable writing machine and plans to have the next novella released in mid-October. Am I going to buy it? Oh yes – Aveline is currently free on Amazon UK and all Ford’s books are very reasonably priced, so I’ll definitely be getting the next in the series. I want to know what happens next…

My copy of Aveline was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Indie KINDLE Ebook Children of the Different by S.C. Flynn

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Unusually, Children of the Different was directly offered to me for review by the author to coincide with its publication date. Would I enjoy it as much as the stream of Netgalley arcs I normally read?

childrenofthedifferentNineteen years ago, a brain disease known as the Great Madness killed most of the world’s population. The survivors all had something different about their minds. Now, at the start of adolescence, their children enter a trance-like state known as the Changeland and either emerge with special mental powers or as cannibalistic Ferals. In the great forest of south-western Australia, thirteen year-old Arika and her twin brother Narrah go through the Changeland. They encounter an enemy known as the Anteater who feeds on human life. He exists both in the Changeland and in the outside world, and he wants the twins dead.

This post-apocalyptic science fiction/fantasy mash-up immediately feels different in that Flynn vividly depicts the Australian landscape, which features throughout, helping to define the mood and frame the action. I quickly bonded with the main protagonists, especially Arika, but I can imagine any teenage boy would equally enjoy reading and identifying with Narrah’s adventures. It is a relief to read a YA book that is absolutely age-appropriate – I’ll have no qualms in offering this read to my granddaughter in another year or so, when she is old enough to appreciate it. The unfolding love stories – which are a minor aspect of this adventure – are sensitively and sweetly handled.

However, don’t go away with the impression that this is some soft-edged, cosy take on a post-apocalyptic world. Life is a gritted struggle for survival and I love the way that Flynn manages to convey the hardship of everyday life in the Settlement without going into undue detail. One of the strengths of this book is the pace as the narrative drives forward, often taking abrupt turns in a different direction. There are a number of twists – a couple I saw coming, but the big surprise near the end caught me completely unaware, bringing this book to a satisfying end although there is definitely scope for a sequel.

I enjoyed the magic running through this book with its uniquely Australian flavour. The Changing sequences are very well done and especially Arika’s power once she’s changed is beautifully described. All in all, I was charmed by this engrossing, genuinely exciting book. The inevitable violence manages to be scary and horrifying without being too graphic, while the sense of threat is palpable as both children encounter a number of formidable characters throughout their adventures without knowing who is a friend, or part of the Anteater’s army trying to destroy them.

I often have to zone out irritating formatting errors and mis-spellings while reading arcs. It’s part of the deal. However, given this book is produced by an indie writer, I feel it’s worth mentioning that I didn’t notice a single mistake and the formatting was spot on throughout. I may not be the target audience, but I have no hesitation in recommending this entertaining adventure for fantasy fans, young and old, who would like something different.
9/10

Teaser Tuesday – 13th September, 2016

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Teaser

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:
Children of the Different by S.C. Flynn
55% She lowered the container and tried to focus on Toura’s face but found it difficult. Arika’s eyes werechildrenofthedifferent blurring and she felt herself swaying. The water! Toura put something in the water. She’s always gathered herbs for the Settlement. So, Toura’s a Sleeper Feral after all.

BLURB: Nineteen years ago, a brain disease known as the Great Madness killed most of the world’s population. The survivors all had something different about their minds. Now, at the start of adolescence, their children enter a trance-like state known as the Changeland and either emerge with special mental powers or as cannibalistic Ferals.

In the great forest of south-western Australia, thirteen year-old Arika and her twin brother Narrah go through the Changeland. They encounter an enemy known as the Anteater who feeds on human life. He exists both in the Changeland and in the outside world, and he wants the twins dead.

This post-apocalyptic fantasy certainly has a different feel. I very much like the setting – Flynn’s vivid descriptions of the Australian landscape mean it is almost a character in its own right. I really care about the twins, particularly Arika, as she is coming to terms with what has happened to her in Changeland. The sense of mystery in this story has me wanting to know more.

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

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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.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Fifth Season – Book 1 of The Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin

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I generally have the memory of a goldfish regarding books I’ve read, though it has dramatically improved since I started reviewing/logging every book on completion. But there are a handful I recall with pinsharp detail years later. One of those is the first time I encountered Jemisin’s writing. I was sitting in Victoria Station, having just bought the book at Waterstones and waiting for the train home. Himself was seated next to me, also engrossed in a book, so Life was pretty much perfect. Especially as the opening passage of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms hit me with the force of a sledgehammer – see my review here.

thefifthseasonSo I’m still scratching my head as to why it took me quite so long to get around to reading The Fifth Season which has been patiently waiting on my Kindle. Thanks to Sara Letourneau’s nagging, I bumped it up my TBR queue and I’m very glad I did…

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries. Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

I’m conscious this sounds like yet another gritted struggle for survival in a land where civilisation has suddenly broken – an abiding staple of science fiction that has reached new heights of popularity, recently – but as with most really successful books, Jemisin has scooped up the basic concept and turned it into something uniquely her own. For starters, there’s the viewpoint. As a Creative Writing tutor, I spend a great deal of time telling new writers that addressing the reader in a magnificently detached authorial voice might have worked for Charles Dickens, but modern tastes dictate that it’s now a no-no. Unless you’re Jemisin, of course… She then launches her main protagonist at us in second person viewpoint, so we are experiencing Essun’s trauma as ‘you’. Frankly, my jaw was grazing the ground at this point and I did wonder if I’d manage to put this character voice on the backburner sufficiently to become engrossed enough that it simply didn’t matter, or better still – added to my enjoyment of the story.

And, along with almost everyone I’ve met, I can report that by the time I was a quarter of the way into the story, it simply didn’t matter. I was so caught up in the story and the unfolding situation, I would have persevered if Jemisin had taken it into her head to omit every sixth word. Furthermore, there is a solidly good technical reason why Essun’s story is relayed in second person pov which I’m not going to elaborate further, as it would also be a thumping great big Spoiler. Suffice to say, it isn’t just some idle whim but matters to the narrative structure of the book.

Along with Essun, there are a raft of vivid characters I really cared about – my favourite being the prickly, tormented Alabaster. The narrative arc of this story isn’t straightforward. There are regular flashbacks, that initially appear to be random interruptions to the ongoing storyline, as well as those omniscient intervals. It all comes together at the end in the shocking twist that still has me humming with pleasure at the symmetry of it all. And desperate to get my hands on The Obelisk Gate – which definitely won’t be hanging around for months on my TBR pile.
10/10

Review of The Waters Rising by Sheri S. Tepper

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Sherri S. Tepper is one of my all-time favourite authors – A Plague of Angels and Beauty are books I recall with great fondness and a couple of years ago, I reviewed The Margarets here.

The waters are rising. Rivers have become fjords, swamps have become lakes, towns along the shore have been moved up, and up, the waters risingand up again. Within the century, there will be only a few mountaintop islands above a world-wide ocean, and all land life, including mankind, will have ceased to be.

If this were not enough, a monster from the days of The Big Kill has awakened, a slaughterer out of time determined to eradicate all thinking beings. Arrayed against the monster are a dying woman, a fearful child and her two guardians, and a travelling peddler and his horse.

The blurb burbles on a bit longer, but the section I’ve included gives a reasonable idea of the main plotline. Once again, Tepper takes the idea of post-apocalyptic, dystopian world where a degraded remnant have survived a major crash in human civilisation – only to now face probable extinction. All that can save them now is the generosity of the Sea King, a formidable sea creature, and the genetic wizardry from a lost past. Tepper fuses fantasy and science fiction together more elegantly and convincingly than anyone else.

I loved the start of this story with the frightened little girl finding herself prompted to act in ways that don’t make sense – this beguiling protagonist sucked me into the story as the gathering threat surrounding this child is scarily powerful. Just as I settled down to read a particular story, it then jumps sideways into something else. And then, once more, shifts gear into something far more mythical, with the language and pace also altering accordingly.

In a genre where many authors are content to produce a series of books in a particular world, reprising the same characters and narrative voice, Tepper’s continual insistence on pushing herself right to the outer edges of her comfort zone is both admirable and risky. In this book she attempts to use a small number of relatively humble main characters to relate a world-changing epic tale – and I think she mainly succeeds. However, there is a section about seven eighths through the book where the pace suddenly drops away and the narrative drifts. It doesn’t last too long, before the story once more gathers momentum and we re-engage with the narrative with renewed urgency, but I do feel that at least some of that section could have done with being slaughtered in the interests of keeping up the narrative tension.

However, as ever, Tepper provides us with a layered, fascinating world provoking all sorts of hard questions about the direction of our current civilisation. And the book should be required reading for all politicians for that reason alone. At her best, Tepper is in a class of her own, and while I don’t think this book falls into that category, it will stay with me long after most of the books I’ve read this year slide into forgetfulness.
8/10