Dark Sky by Mike Brooks

Dark SkyThe crew of the Keiko are back, Mike Brooks hammers out the sequel to his epic, sci-fi adventure, Dark Run; Dark Sky, and it truly is an incredible adventure. It continues the rapid-fire wit from the first harkens back to the space opera/western of Firefly and blends two different perspectives on this rising revolution plot that will have you hooked from start to finish.

The plot picks up where Dark Run left off. After stealing a ton of money from the multiple bank accounts of Ichabod Drift’s former employer and all-round bad guy, the crew takes a much needed vacation in Russian space. Ichabod, determined to remind his crew of the good old days, takes a simple contract on a nearby mining planet. What unfolds is a high risk game of cat and mouse when a revolution breaks out and the crew are left separated and trapped. Their only hope is to get off the planet before the revolution swallows them whole.

The book starts off strong, immersing us in a high risk game of cards in a Russian casino with Ichabod Drift at the helm. Brooks once again uses internal narration and description to give us an idea of the setting, mentions key point of interest and then leaves it at that. However, whilst this approach doesn’t leave you with pages of description, it can leave the reader confused at times where all the characters are in the setting. However, Brook’s talents lie in his ability to create well developed and likeable characters. He works with five characters that all drive the story forwards and never gives you a second to catch your breath so it always feels like you never know something ahead of the characters. It all blends to make an unforgettable story and leave you wanting more.

In the first book, Dark Run, the change of perspective, at times, felt out of place because we followed the perspective of one character since the beginning and having that change felt off. However, in Dark Sky, the perspective change happens right from the get-go, making it feel much easier to follow.
However, whilst it may sound that Dark Sky is superior to Dark Run, Mike Brooks is writing these books as part of a series, one that you cannot get into halfway. You need to start with the first book, Dark Run. Brooks doesn’t waste his words, meaning information on aspects of the book’s world, like the Free Systems, Gabriel Drake and The Laughing Man, are not touched on at all in the second book.

Secondly, similar to the lack of world building, the entire plot takes place on a single mining planet and most of it is set underground. Combine that with Brook’s three different characters and you soon find yourself struggling to picture where the characters are. It leaves the reader confused and at times, more clarity was needed.

Opinion:

Four star
Four Stars
Finally, because the plot follows the characters and their role in the revolution rather than the actual revolution, when the character’s finally escape, it leaves the revolution behind and we don’t know what happens after. This is a similar problem I encountered with the ending of Dark Run; loose ends not being resolved and they never did get explained in Dark Sky; the characters just move on, not bothering to answer any questions we had. It is likely that Brooks will reveal the aftermath of the event in the third book he baits us with.
All in all, however, Dark Sky is fantastic. It blends character and humor in an expansive and enjoyable space adventure that leaves you wanting more. It is definitely worth of space on your bookshelf and is a quality read for lazy weekends in the park or at the copy shop.

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Dark Run by Mike Brooks

Dark RunFrom the opening chapter I knew this was going to be good. Dark Run launches the reader into a shady future where bickering governments are working to extend their reach across space while criminals and outlaws try to make a quick buck under their noses and out on the frontiers. Fans of Firefly will be instantly at home on the Keiko, captained by the roguish Ichabod Drift and his crew of misfits. Right down to the rattling engine in need of need parts, the book has a definite atmosphere about it.

The crew is the usual mix of specialist roles, featuring an egomaniac pilot, a hulking thug, and a nervous tech-head. Brooks manages to make them archetypal without being stereotypical, we get the chance to drop into some of their heads throughout the book and find out more of their background. None of them come across so well as Captain Drift though, his chapters show a lot more personality in the writing and he comes across as a very engaging character.

The reader follows this motley crew along a desperate adventure taking them across space, deep underground half terraformed worlds, and into the heart of asteroid bases. Nerve racking smuggling runs, shadowy meetings and audacious cons are the order of business as the crew is challenged like never before, relationships are put to the test and more than one crew member’s hidden past is pulled into the light. The book has its share of action and gunfights but the best moments of the story are the times when the crew is working to pull something off and you’re rooting for them to succeed.

Opinion:

Four star
Four Stars
The writing has some witty dialogue and really sells the crew of the Keiko with their banter and arguing. All the characters have their own personality, though some of them could have been developed a bit more. The plot is well laid out and set across a variety of locations that show the time and thought that has been put into them, even if we don’t get to explore any for long. Dark Run is a fast paced smuggler story that delivers all the crooked and devious action you could ask for. This is definitely a must-read for any space adventure fan is perfect for a lazy Saturday and/or Sunday morning read on your favorite park bench or at your local coffee shop.

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The Medusa Chronicles by Alastair Reynolds

The Medusa ChroniclesA collaboration between Science Fiction greats, Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds, The Medusa Chronicles picks up the story of Arthur C. Clarke’s A Meeting with Medusa a Nebula Award winning novella published in Playboy in 1971. It takes the story of Howard Falcon, from his shattered aftermath into a new era of humanity, where artificial intelligence, sentient primates and further discoveries of alien indigenous life on Jupiter gradually shape the ideologies of human society over the next thousand years.

Baxter and Reynolds make use of Falcon and the lumbering Jovian cloud dwelling Medusae of Clarke’s story to develop this century spanning narrative. Falcon’s status, unique perspective and physiology as a repaired human, contained within a changing machine body provides a viewpoint that sits alongside others, occasionally in alliance with humans, or machines, or aliens, but always with his own position on the developing political events.
But Falcon is not just an observer. His actions lead to the crises faced across the solar system. These validate the title of the work. This is truly a set of chronicles, as each crucial moment is encapsulated in a mini-book of its own. Falcon understands his role and guilt in this circumstance and this guilt works to shape and change his character over the centuries of his life. The relationships that he clings to and memories of his extended past are selectively used by the authors to motivate his further actions.

Baxter and Reynolds manage to weave in a snapshot of incredible solar system locations. Falcon’s Mars invokes images of Kim Stanley Robinson’s incredible trilogy, you can almost see the footprints of Frank Chalmers and the other Red Mars explorers. Additionally, the scenes in the outer regions of the solar system feel like they might be straight from a seventies science fiction magazine.

However, it is in joining all these elements together that The Medusa Chronicles shows it’s worth. This is classic science fiction in its wrapping, but very modern in relating the complicated consequences. We reach the final crises with little hope of a resolution between the machines and the harsh dictatorship that rules humanity in this war torn future.

Throughout the story, Falcon’s understanding of his extended life and rumination on becoming world weary with such matters over the centuries offers a differentiated perspective to our own condition. What would you give to see the wonders of humanity’s far future as colonies are established across the different planets of our star system? But also, what would it be to witness such things when you also had memories of Earth before its adventures into space colonisation?

The perceived antagonist of the piece is the machine intelligence, Adam. We first meet him as a troubled friend and throughout the story, Adam alternates from invoking the spectre of HAL 9000, to being a protective and advisory presence, much like Asimov’s Giskard or Daneel Olivaw. Amidst this juxtaposition, there is a Matrix quality about Adam’s people – the machines. From one perspective they appear to be a singular mind, with singular purpose, but we learn things are not as simple for them as they appear to be.

Eventually, Baxter and Reynolds resolve the story by invoking themes from Clarke’s other classic work. Howard Falcon’s final ride into the heart of Jupiter with the artificial intelligence, Adam, is comparable Bowman’s journey to the Obelisk in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the subsequent resolutions of novels as Clarke continued that series. This final ride has some of the same strengths and weaknesses. We have the same sense of wonder and discovery invoked this time by the vivid and speculative description of what might exist in the heart of our solar system’s greatest gas giant. In a sense, this is a speculation on an inaccessible inner space that we will never likely know as intimately during our lives.

However, the weakness of this ending comes in its resolution of the established politics. Our new discoveries empower a truce through playing bigger cards than everyone else, which feels convenient to the reader. This is something that Clarke did, but has less resonance in today’s complex political landscape. Baxter and Reynolds seem to understand this and try not to tie up every element of the crisis, but the wish fulfillment of Falcon at the end is a similar transition state into higher power and intelligence that we have seen before and since

Opinion:
The Medusa Chronicles is an excellent read, continuing where Clarke left its principle character and expanding his ideas in a way that pays homage but also expresses the gift of the two writers who have chosen to take their pens to this future fiction world.

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Barricade by Jon Wallace

BarricadeThe future vision in Barricade shows a world torn apart by a war fought against humanity and if it’s own artificially created super-humans, known as “Ficials”. In the UK (seemingly along with the rest of the World) the results are pretty catastrophic.

As you can probably imagine once humanity has created these superior beings they’ve looked at the world and the human race and realized that the only way to prevent the complete destruction of the Earth would be to get rid of the plague of people that populate the Planet. Many people object to this mass “culling” and decide they’d rather fight instead.

As a result, most of Britain is a wasteland and the Ficials control the crumbling big cities, Barricaded against the “Reals” – human survivors who live in tribes in the wasteland between cities. Kenstibec is one such Ficial, originally engineered to help build a new world but now a taxi driver in what’s left of the old. We join Kenstibec as he is tasked with delivering a fellow Ficial (one of the “pleasure models”) from Scotland to London, challenging journey by car at the best of times, not to mention after roads are in ruins and the path is largely populated by 10 foot long rats and savage Reals.

I love the way this book has been constructed. Rather than take the obvious route of showing how humans struggle against this stronger, faster and less emotional race we are treated to viewing the book from the perspective of those superhumans. This first person perspective from the anti-hero role is refreshing, contemplative and a great deal of fun.

Fun? actually yes. While suitably dark by its very nature and not hiding the brutality of a post-apocalyptic Britain, Barricade never takes itself too seriously and throughout the novel there is an air of dark comedy about it. I loved this feeling the author imparts and it means reading the book a breeze. When you tie in a fast pace, flawed characters and a quality to the prose you end up with a book that you can fly through without pause for breath.
Action is frequent, frantic and well choreographed – always kept along the edge of realism rather than gung-ho heroics. There are messages to be gained too, like Pratchett though the author is saying these through the medium of comedy and calamity rather than mortality and morbidity.

This perspective works fantastically well, the cold, clinical, emotionless viewpoint a stark contrast to the highly emotional and often disturbed “Reals”. It helps to show how much we rely on our socially defined definitions for everything we do. More importantly it questions what we perceive as “normal” – both emotionally and physically – and how we react when presented with something that is aberrant to our socially constructed definition of the same.

Opinion:

5 Star rating
Four Stars
Barricade is like one of those clever teachers that manage to educate through fun and amusement, more than that though it’s a book that can be enjoyed on many levels. You can just enjoy the ride; the crazily constructed story and crafty characters or you can enjoy the messages it subtly imparts.
Either way it’s a darkly funny journey and one not to be missed.

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School’s Out Forever by Scott K Andrews

schools out foreverSometimes I feel that reading post-apocalyptic tales are less an escape and more training for the future, after all as a race we aren’t doing a great job of preventing this self-destructive outcome. Luckily there is no shortage of literature to teach us about survival in a future wasteland and School’s Out Forever is a Omnibus of such tales which collects School’s out, Operation Motherland and Children’s Crusade along with a short story and extra material – all witnessed through the eyes of children and young adults and centred around St. Marks School for Boys and Girls. These stories are set within the shared universe of the Afterblight Chronicles which at the time of writing includes 10 novels from author who include Simon Spurrier, Rebecca Levene, Jasper Bark, Paul Kane and Al Ewing.

Don’t be mislead though, these aren’t some young adult novels aimed at teenagers, these are adult novels and are written as such (although young adults can enjoy them) that offer a post-disaster story reminiscent of Lord of the Flies – but in my opinion a vastly superior tale and one that offers a much greater sense of immersion. The book also offers a more complete rebellion against authority, the series expanding on this “children survival” idea in the second and third novels. It’s much more grim too, a harsher more realistic vision which doesn’t portray adults in an unrealistic, idyllic manner but those who could be blamed for causing the whole mess in the first place.
In this grim future a virus has devastated the world’s population (an event known as “The Cull”), only those with “o-negative” blood type being immune and it’s these survivors who roam the wastelands, trying to stay alive in small pockets of civilization, while others roam the land taking advantage of this lawless society.

Whenever I hear the words “Shool’s out Forever” I always think of the Alice Cooper classic and the song is pretty apt although the Pink Floyd “Another Brick in the Wall” would equally suit, in fact they both fit perfectly and describe some of the main themes running through the book.

As far as the story goes, relentless would be an understatement, the book doesn’t let up at all, right from the start the action begins and around every corner there is another danger; another life-threatening situation that appears to hold no hope of survival. This energetic pace combines with an inspired story that allows us to examine the mistakes that adults make, and the evils they perpitrate, often with the excuses “for the greater good” or “following orders” – through the eyes of children. This is a harsh world, survival of the fittest or more accurately survival of the most violent often reigns supreme and mercy has been wiped from the post “Cull” vocabulary.

One of the major themes is that of the inevitable changes to a person’s psyche as they are forced (or encouraged) to kill to survive, or indeed to protect loved ones and rather than shrug off these acts as we so often see in many heroic figures. We are given a much more realistic view and the effects that such acts would take. Of course we also have the theme of war and violence itself, which rather than the naïve (and in this situation fatalistic) view “war, what is good for?”, takes a much more pragmatic approach; that sometimes it’s necessary to protect oneself and others, kill or be killed but also where does one then draw that faint line between fighting to protect and fighting for revenge or even fighting “because you can”.

There is a gritty realism to the story, each character is drawn in shades of grey with rich personalities and it’s the decisions they make that drive the story forward. Andrews manages to sucker the reader in completely and it’s impossible not to feel connected to this rag-tag band of children, which makes it all the more shocking when one of them dies. This is something which happens with an alarming regularity, including some of the major characters and often in an abrupt, realistic and heart-stopping fashion. The principal protagonists are teenager Lee and young adult Jane, the majority of the series is narrated in the first person from their perspectives and I loved this close, personal feeling that the style imparts. It really does feel like these characters are speaking directly to the reader. The switch between the perspectives of these two characters is handled very well and helps to break up the plot.

Opinion:

5 Star rating
Five Stars

It’s been a long time since I was so hooked into a book as I have been with School’s out Forever, I really haven’t been able to put it down and read through all three novels and the extra material in little time at all (over the course of 3 evenings). I can honestly say that the end of the book is very emotional, I’d defy anyone not to be moved and although the ending was somewhat inevitable it still shocked; I couldn’t have imagined a more powerful finale. There is also a rather brilliant introduction by the editor David Moore and I agree with everything he says.
School’s Out Forever is one of the most memorable, most impressively written pieces of fiction I have ever had the fortune to read, simply inspired.

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The Fireman by Joe Hill

The firemanJoe Hill is one of those authors who improves with each new book and The Fireman is nothing short of spectacular.

A highly contagious spore has begun to spread across the World, a pandemic that see’s people break out in beautiful gold and black marks before spontaneously self-combusting. Draco Incendia Trychophyton, more commonly known as Dragonscale infects millions in a short space of time with blazes breaking out everywhere. No one is safe; there is no antidote and seemingly no cure.

School nurse Harper Grayson see’s the virus first-hand when someone combusts right outside her window in the school yard. She begins working at the local hospital however before too long she finds out that not only is she pregnant but also she’s infected. She’s also just met the Fireman. Harpers greatest threat however comes not from the infection but from those who are not infected and will do anything they can to remain that way. Society becomes split into those who are (Burners) and those who are not (yet) infected.

The Fireman has already been picked up by Fox to be turned into a blockbuster film and I can see why, it’s as infectious as Dragonscale. I was hooked by the time I’d finished the first chapter. The characters are interesting with realistic imperfections and foibles while also making reasonable decisions about the situations they find themselves in. This is a book that takes its role seriously and yet lifts itself above the morbid atmosphere of many post-apocalyptic tales with a wry humor and a stoicism of human spirit. Some people react badly as we would expect them to but they don’t quite descend into the depths of eating each other (though a few come close to acts as bad). There is however the ever impending sense of doom and a wonderfully dark atmosphere.

While many books follow the big picture of the apocalypse, The Fireman is all about the microcosmic struggle of Harper and those around her, it’s a focused, individual view and much more gripping and personable as a result.
There are enough pop culture references to ground the book in reality which further heightens the sense of dread but again acts of kindness and healthier relationships between some of the characters manage to avoid tipping the balance. The story itself is gripping, intelligent and thoughtful, never gratuitous. Dealing with fear and the abuse of power with acts of kindness is one of the big messages of the book, as is human resilience in the face of adversity. It’s also about love, life, loss and grief along with how people can do the worst things with the best, misguided intentions and how others will blindly follow and trust someone else so they don’t have to make the hard decisions themselves. The idea of using a tool such as religion as a method of guiding or coercing others also features prominently towards the end of the book as does the effect of religious fever and the human ability to overcome sensible restraint or reliable decision-making.

Opinion:

5 Star rating

Five Stars
The Fireman is an exceptional novel, it’s moving and thoughtful, drawing you in and not letting you go right up to the superb ending. It’s an engaging, emotional journey written by a master of their craft.

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Creation Machine by Andrew Bannister

Creation Machine by Andrew BannisterThe far future tale is one of redemption, of the futility of rebelling against the system, and the nature of power. It’s told through two main perspectives: Fleare is an (ex) soldier of the anti-establishment Society other, and the heavily augmented scion of a corporation forming that establishment.

Alameche is the second, the devious, despicable right hand man to The Patriarch, the overambitious dictator of a upstart inner system empire named The People’s Democratic Republic of Taussich. Alameche isn’t even an anti-hero, and by all accounts should be utterly unlikeable. However Bannister somehow infuses him with enough pathos and gallows humour to make his chapters some of the most gripping. Imaginative torture and Machiavellian scheming are Alameche’s modus operandi as he attempts to negotiate the complex power-play of the increasingly ambitious Patriarch.

Fleare enjoys the company of a motley band of supporting characters that definitely stand on their own merits too. Without giving too much away, one of the highlights of the novel is her relationship with Muz, who is introduced very enigmatically as a borderline psychotic collection of floating nanobots. Obviously there’s more to it, and him, and the drip feed of information on his and Fleare’s origin story, told through a number of flashback sequences, is wonderfully, tragically original. The same is true for Alameche’s associates, the rotund, jocular, giant-fighting-eel breeder Garamande in particular being a highlight and a wonderful counterpoint to Alameche’s savage puritanism.

Both his and Fleare’s perspectives orbit an ancient macguffin that has some kind of connection to the creation of The Spin, which means it likely has the power to destroy it too. The central conceit is interesting enough but it’s the issue that spawn from it – the power struggle on Taussich, Fleare’s tracking down of her old buddies, and more – that really propel the action and pages forward. The chronology leaps around too, with flashback chapters dealing with the two main characters’ turbulent pasts and filling in the context behind the forces flexing their wings in the Spin. As with any good space opera there are plenty of nebulous and intersectional politics in play, but The Creation Machine is really a very personal story, the characters flirting with events that influence the macrocosm.

Although it has no voice, the aforementioned Spin is a brilliant character in its own right. The enigmatic, man-made galaxy is a fascinating setting, full of improbable but plausible phenomena, such as a mess of elaborate orbits described as showing their creators sense of humour. The innermost group of planets is The Cordern, then the Inner Spin ‘which wrapped most of the way round the Cordern like a thick skin’. Up against the exposed side of the spin is the Rotate, and encircling the whole lot is the Outer Spin. The system is filled with inventive details like the Highway, a star-lane that intersects it all when the elaborate orbits occasionally slot into place, and the Catastrophe Curve, formed when two planes collided and ‘competing gravity fields smeared the debris out over an arched tendril half a million kilometers long’. Bannister orients the reader briefly at the beginning of each chapter, with evocative, brief descriptions of the current setting’s improbable features, leaving plenty to the imagination without distracting from the following action.

Towards the end of the book, things also take a rather cyberpunk twist which adds a pleasantly unexpected layer. Initially it’s a jarring change of pace, but the way the character known as Rudi and his ‘world’ becomes reintegrated into the grander scheme of things is a fascinating tie up. His sections do however feel slightly underdeveloped, as though Bannister didn’t quite have the time or confidence to let his exploits truly blossom, but they’re welcome segments and give a tantalizing look at the possible breadth to Bannister’s new universe, and his writing.

Opinion:

Four star
Four Stars
By focusing on some very specific elements such as the mechanics of the Spin and blending in some cyberpunk influences, the novel carves enough space for itself in an increasingly self-referential genre. There are small lore and background gaps in The Creation Machine that does not overly detract but will need to be address in the apparently stand-alone sequel. With the creation of the Spin, Taussich’s proto-empire and the position it finds itself in at the close of the book, the stage is set for an incendiary follow up, so it’ll be interesting to see if a sequel that doesn’t follow on directly can capitalize on that, either way, there’s enough great action, surprisingly morbid humor and great characters to make The Creation Machine an enjoyable and accessible ‘soft’ sci-fi come space opera.

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The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry AugustThe novel deals with the ideas of Time Travel, causality, reincarnation and time as a non-linear construct in an entirely original manner. It’s an astounding piece of fiction that really makes you think. What’s more though is that it’s a great story too with one hell of a protagonist in the form of Harry. Harry you see is a rare individual indeed, he is a Kalachakra. Rather than live one life, each time he dies he is reborn again back where he was born before BUT with the memories of having lived. These memories are cumulative and so with each “loop” he remembers all his pastimes and future events he has witnessed.

There are few individuals on the planet given such a gift and these immortals form an informal “Cronus Club” who help find and fund others like them. They also try and prevent other Kalachakra (also known as Ouroborans) seriously screwing up the Earth. As you can imagine there are a few who try and one who seems a lot better at it than others. I’ll not give anything further away than that as it’s worth finding out for yourself.

Rather than deal with the technical minutiae of time travel, the novel examines the question of just what someone would do and how it would change them were they given the chance of immortality. The book is simply a joy to read, Harry an almost perfect companion to take the journey with.

Opinion:

5 Star rating
Five Stars
The result is one of those books that comes along once in a blue moon, it’s thought provoking, clever and wonderfully refreshing with some big concepts and yet remains accessible and fun to read. It’s got a twisty story that will satisfy even the shortest 21st century post-internet, post-smartphone attention span. Just as importantly it has a great deal of charm, enough that it has managed to be one of those few books that pretend they aren’t really science fiction – it’s got enough mainstream appeal to hoodwink the literary readers (Like Richard and Judy).
If this doesn’t get the recognition it deserves I’ll be changing events on my next time around.

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The Thing Itself by Adam Roberts

The thing itselfAdam Roberts is a gifted author and this is increasingly evident with each new book he writes. His work overflows with ideas and at the same time he seems to delight in using different structures, to experiment in forming his narrative. This time he’s turned his attention to the Fermi Paradox, told through the workings of Kant along with that classic tale by John Carpenter — The Thing, and a host of other ideas.

It begins on an Antarctic research base that is manned by two scientists. Charles Gardner is practical, easy-going, and friendly even, while Roy Curtius is surly, secretive and obsessed with reading the works of the philosopher Kant. Over the months they debate Kant, reality and the possibility of an empty Universe. They begin to despise each other and then learn that they may not actually be alone.

So for those who don’t know, Kant was an 18th century German philosopher whose works are often considered the cornerstone of modern philosophy. Kant argued that concepts of the mind structure experience, that reason is the source of morality. He also argued that space and time are forms of our understanding and as such anything that dwells “within” the Universe we know can never truly understand it.

The Fermi Paradox is the apparent contradiction between the Drake equation that predicts many alien civilizations and the lack of any evidence that such civilizations exist. The points of the argument were made by physicists Enrico Fermi and Michael H. Hart. They go like this:

The Sun is a fairly typical star, of which there are many billions in the galaxy, many much older than our own star.

Many of these stars will have Earth-like planets and if the Earth isn’t a fluke, some of these should develop life. Of those some may develop intelligent life.
Some of these planets with intelligent life might develop interstellar travel. Even at a slow pace our entire galaxy could be traversed in a million years or so.
According to these points, our planet should have been visited by now. However there appears to be no hard evidence of any such visit — if you discount the many, many sightings of UFO’s and transcripts of people who believe they have seen such things, that is. If we discount these accounts, where are all the aliens? There have been no decisive argument provided to prove or disprove the Fermi Paradox.

Robert argues that if Kant is right and we can never really understand the Universe because we are a part of it, then only an intelligence that isn’t human could ever hope to provide some understanding. Artificial Intelligence could prove the answer, should a sufficiently advanced intelligence ever be created.
The story itself is only related to John Carpenter’s work on a surface level, although there is a persistent feel of horror that mirror’s that classic. Charles makes a wonderfully inept antagonist, completely out of his depth, fumbling along from one mishap to the next — along with a generous dose of self-pity over his disfigurements brought about due to events at the beginning of the book.

Roberts uses a number of different narrative styles during the course of the story with a few interludes from other places and times — travelling from the arctic base, back to the turn of the 20th century then forward to an older Charles and at one point jumping into a far future where it’s fashionable to catch old-fashioned illnesses just to experience them. There are also a number of published sources used through the book — I especially loved the nod to Will Wiles “Way Inn”.

Opinion:

5 Star rating
Five Stars!!
Like most of Robert’s novels, The Thing Itself is a book you need to take your time with, it has so many ideas, written in so many different ways that it would be quite easy to lose your way should your attention falter for just one moment. It is also however a masterpiece of science fiction, the writing is superb and the ideas simply inspired. Once again Robert’s has surpassed himself.

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Escape from Baghdad! by Saad Hossain

EscapeEscape from Baghdad! Is a novel riding the wave of modern, alternative fiction that provides a fresh and marked difference to the over-subscribed European / American setting? As the title implies the story is set in Baghdad during the US invasion. With the American military, religious fanatics, Mercenaries and Occultists all vying for power it’s almost impossible for regular people such as Dagr and Kinza to get by.
Dagr is a former economics professor and the unlikely friend of streetwise hoodlum and sometime dealer Kinza. They are used to acquiring items under the radar but inheriting the former torturer of Hussein’s regime is by far their strangest acquisition. Captain Hamid promises untold riches if they can carry out the simple task of smuggling him out the country (preferably in one intact piece). Helped by their US Marine friend Private Hoffman things quickly turn complicated after the discovery of a watch that doesn’t tell the time and a vigilante with seemingly super-human powers.
Escape from Baghdad! (Not to be confused with the James Ashcroft novel without the exclamation mark) is a daring, modern novel that pulls no punches but manages to describe the horror, futility and incompetence of war. Offset with humor that is at times bat-shit crazy while at other times has a dry, sarcastic, satirical edge – emphasizes the effects of a war-torn Baghdad. There is real power to the prose, describing the effects of war on the people who have to live surrounded by all this death and destruction. At times it’s genuinely touching and really tugs at the old heart strings.
The characters are suitably insensible, imperfect people cracked further by environment and thrown into increasingly surreal situations – inter-spaced with a multitude of action sequences. I loved the way the story develops, it starts of as a fairly contemporary tale that slowly melts into a surreal fantasy — a journey that feels entirely natural. The quality of the prose is good and the pacing set just right while the characters feel genuine and react realistically to the many perilous situations they face.

Opinion:

Four star
Four Stars!
Crazier than a crate full of cats and more surreal than a Salvador Dali canvas — modern absurdity meets alternative adventure, Escape from Baghdad! Is the perfect counterpoint to the gungo-ho American propaganda stories such as American Sniper.
It paints a much more realistic, and more humorous picture of war in the Middle East and how those who have to live through it survive (or don’t as the case may be) but it avoids the trap of blaming any one side — each are equally inept.
Escape from Baghdad! Is a unique blending of mythology, fantasy, satire and war — an experience not to be missed.

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