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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Medusa’s Web by Tim Powers

MedusaMedusa’s Web by Tim Powers follows the story of siblings, Scott and Madeline, required to stay for a week in their aunt’s house, Their cousins Claimayne and Ariel, who live in the house are less than pleased by this requirement.
The story has a creepy atmosphere, Scott and Madeline don’t know what is going to happen next or why they have been told to stay there, which keeps the reader guessing also. As the story unfolds it is hard to know who is aiming to help our protagonists and who to is out to exploit them, everyone is keeping their cards close to their chest, trusting nobody and assuming the worst from everyone else. They don’t trust their cousins, their aunt has left cryptic instructions and they are sure they can’t trust her and when Scott’s ex girlfriend turns up, they really know not to trust her.

Eventually, as the characters scheming come to light, you get to see that the stakes on the table are higher than who inherits a crumbling house, but who gets to escape their own body, live forever in other peoples’ lives and who gets to be trapped, powerless and forgotten.

The book explores the theme of addiction, the need to escape your own life even if only for a few moments, the desire to lose accountability for your own actions and let someone else take the blame. It shows the desperate pull of just one more hit for someone who is trying to stay clean and the crashing sense of failure when they slip.

As well as physical addiction the book explores the escapism of the mind, strong themes of films, filmmakers and Hollywood actors represent a more apparently benign escapism. The story is set geographically in the Hollywood area, the flashbacks into history show glamorous characters and when offered a possibility of living back in that time it is tempting to some characters, but the cost could be their life.

The story is told through Scott and Madeline’s experiences as they moves through time, via various means, witnessing or taking part in actions which all influence the current day situation they are in. This jumping about in time can be confusing, but all comes together by the end of the book.

Claimayne is in a wheelchair and jealous of the mobility that his sister and cousins have. It is unfortunate, but perhaps believable, that the only character with a disability allows his situation to make him bitter and resent the options that the able bodied characters have that he feels are denied to him.

Opinion:

Four star
Four Stars
The main characters are convincing and have a great depth to their motivations, some of the periphery characters are a little two dimensional and feel like they were added to increase the creep factor by having shadowy organizations and individuals lurking in corners, rather than any need to have these to further the plot.
Overall the book is very readable and the strengths outweigh the weaknesses. This book is definitely unique and worth a read, particularly on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

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Artificial by Jadah McCoy

ArtificialArtificial by Jadah McCoy is the author’s debut and the first book in a planned series called The Kepler Chronicles. Set in 2256, the story unfolds on Earth’s first colony amongst the stars, the aforementioned Kepler.

As humanity traversed through the deep dark of space, they decided to entrust their well-being to artificial life they’d created to endure the vast loneliness of the journey, androids. Unfortunately, they didn’t take into consideration how their creations might feel about being left alone for such a long period of time, or anything that came after for that matter.

The colony thrives for a while, with shining cities built to the testament of the greatness of humanity, all on the back of android exploitation. No longer willing to tolerate their lack of rights and the disposable way in which they’re treated, the synthetic life forms unsurprisingly rise up. This rebellion gives way to the Android War, a horrifying conflict between humanity and android-kind, a brutal struggle ending in the almost complete decimation of human life by android creations, genetically engineered human-insects: The Cull.

Initially we follow Syl (short for Sylvia) as she struggles to understand what being human is, or once was, trying to survive in the inhospitable ruins of a city devastated by a long-past war and reclaimed by nature, and more terrifyingly, the Cull. By day she scavenges with a group, tracking down ever dwindling supplies in the carcass of the dead city known as Elite, trying to support the few remaining terrified humans in their corner of the colony. By night they hide deep within the crumbling sewers, fearful of the certain death that lurks above ground from the seemingly never-ending supply of the nocturnal genetic horrors.

Syl is capable but has the kind of short temper that comes with youth and little guidance, plagued by guilt and weighed down by the expectations of her fellow survivors, it’s only a matter of time before the mix gets her in trouble. She discovers that the Androids didn’t fall foul of the Cull as they’d always thought, they’re very much alive.

As things unfold we’re then given the viewpoint of ‘Bastion’, or model BA-5T10N, an android not quite on the bottom rungs of his society, trying to stay out of trouble. The former nanobot junkie pedals in pleasure for those of his kind that can afford it, though his profession is nothing to hide, he has other things about himself he doesn’t make public. He’s what’s known amongst his kind as a “Glitch”, an Android that experiences feelings and they’re almost as reviled as humans and come with the distinct possibility of permanent death with no back-up.

Artificial sits quite firmly in the realms of Science Fiction, though it’s also sits firmly in the Romance camp too. The relationship between Syl and Bastion is established and subsequently crystallized by events and the secrets revealed about their respective worlds. The android that feels and the girl that doesn’t know what to feel sounds a bit twee but it’s handled deftly; though I do hope that both get a little more individual character development down the line.

Opinion:

Four star
Four Stars

Romance titles aren’t typically my cup of tea, but I found the relationship between the protagonists considerably believable despite the setting. What did grate was Syl’s constant petulance in the face of basically everything. I suspect she was supposed to come across as spirited, where as I simply found her stroppy and it was a struggle to warm to her character despite the horrors and hardships she faces.
It was a perfectly enjoyable light read, but it’s the setting and set-up for the next in the series that holds the most interest and promise for me. In McCoy’s world humanity has built its legacy and fuelled its expansion with slavery not for the first time in its history, which has backfired severely. With humanity laid so low for so long, something surely has to change? I look forward to finding out.

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All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

All Birds in The SkyAll the Birds in the Sky follows the paths of two very different people who find each other as children. Patricia seems to have some unusual gifts, a knack with nature and powers others don’t have. Laurence is an inventor, mad scientist and one of the talented few who have managed to build a two-second time machine. Both find friendship in the shared weirdness but eventually their lives take different paths and they lose touch with each other. Sometime later as adults with careers they once again find each other, Laurence a genius engineer trying to save the world with somewhat of a celebrity status in San Francisco. Patricia graduated the secret academy for the magically gifted and works with fellow magicians to repair the earth’s increasing ailments both trying to make the world a better place but each from opposite ends.

There is so much to like about All the Birds in the Sky, it’s got heaps of big ideas and examines the big far reaching questions such as the fate of the planet and the fate of humanity (related but not identical subjects) and more immediately relevant questions such as social acceptance, friendship and emerging artificial intelligence.

Then there is the prose, it’s easy to read, accessible and entirely irresistible — it draws you into this near future version of our planet that just happens to have people who can use magic and yet blended with this is a 21st century idea of near-future technology that is really only a small step from where we are now. The characters are credible, likeable and as real as it gets, Anders makes you really care about the lives of Patricia and Laurence and their relationship.
It’s very easy to fall down by mixing up high technology with magic and earth power and nature and things, many authors attempt this feat and get it wrong enough to make you shiver. Anders totally nails it though and there was no part of the story that didn’t work. It’s perfectly modern with a seriously impressive narrative flair and is decidedly post-millennial. It’s got that easy reading feeling that could make you believe it’s a Young Adult novel and perhaps it is, although I haven’t seen it marketed as such. That is perhaps another insight that Anders provides — does a book become a Young Adult one purely based on marketing (some are for sure).

Opinion:5 Star rating
Five Stars

All the Birds in the Sky is a wonderful, modern story that celebrates people’s differences while also providing a running commentary on some of the problems people, society and our dear battered Earth face along with how the road to hell is indeed paved with the Best intentions. Science fiction at its finest, Charlie Jane Anders has just become an author to watch!

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Nod by Adrian Barnes

NodLike all the best novels, Nod develops from a simple premise. Imagine that the vast majority of people around the world suddenly stopped being able to sleep. No deep sleep, no cat-naps and no snoozing at all. It’s only a matter of time before society collapses. How many times have we had a bad night sleep and felt tired the following day, or even a series of poor night’s (any parents will understand this).

The human body needs sleep, it needs to switch off from all the myriad sensual inputs the world throws at our bodies. Even brief sleep deprivation is a big danger to ourselves and others, lowering concentration, making us clumsy and affecting our judgment. Some of the world’s major disasters have thought to have been influenced by a lack of sleep including Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. It can cause huge health problems and ultimately if continued for long enough will eventually kill you.

After just a few days the hallucinations begin and then people can begin to have waking dreams, entering into a form of psychosis and become paranoid. By the end of a week people will lose their orientation in time and space, have severe muscle fatigue and be one big sandwich short of a picnic. Eventually after a few weeks if you don’t succumb to an accident your body will eventually give up.

A world-wide sleep deprivation event is a leveler, almost everyone in the same boat regardless of gender, race, wealth or religion. The ever so thin veneer of civility is stripped away and the world of Nod becomes separated into those that don’t sleep and a select few people who still do. Those lucky few seem to share the same dream and are considered outsiders by “the awakened”. A larger proportion of children seem to sleep but those that do are changed and stop talking, becoming a feral creature and Shum the company of adults.
We take this journey through such a nightmare post-apocalypse world through the eyes of John, who is one of the rare individuals who still sleeps. It’s a clever, insightful journey into the human condition. The prose is sharp and intelligent and easy to follow while the story is engaging in it’s depiction of society unraveling which focuses not so much on the macroscopic but offering a much more a personal view. A small corner of a Canadian city and a few individuals — the protagonist John, his sleep deprived girlfriend and others he meets along the way. The tone and feel of the book is wonderfully dark and worrisome, a growing feeling of horror as the story progresses.

Opinion:Four star
Four Stars
Nod is a critique on humanity, our relationships and duality that is the fragility and resilience of the mind, an impressive, thoughtful, clever book. The story will definitely make you think about your relationships and your interactions with the world on a daily basis. Not to mention the dichotomy of your humanity this book is definitely worth the space on your bookshelf.

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Azanian Bridges by Nick Wood

AzanianThis science fiction set in the near future, Azanian Bridges is a rough diamond, drawing on a variety of influences to deliver a real and wrenching story.
Our setting is an alternative South Africa, where Mandela was never released and Apartheid didn’t end. We follow two characters, Martin and Sibusiso as they narrate their perspective of the events in their lives leading up to and after the moment they meet.

The read can be a bumpy one at times, with a little repetition and rhythm that isn’t quite polished, but this is quickly forgotten as the powerful narration takes hold. Wood makes use of a variety of devices. The use of two first person narratives, one from each side of the prejudice fence creates interesting contrasts when both experience similar circumstances, but are reacted to in different ways. The ‘EE’ machine is a similar concept to the Baker-lite box from Simon Ings’ Painkillers, but here, its careful placement and usage serve as something to fight over, particularly as it might provide a way to end the vicious institutional racism of the times.

There is something of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four about the story. Wood regime seems less austere, but rapidly demonstrates itself to be more vicious and cruel. Sibusiso makes friends, but rapidly loses them in the struggle to survive amidst the circumstances that engulf him. Whilst Winston finds hope and a sense of power from his rebellion, only to have this taken away, Sibusiso is less fortunate. The moments of peace and calm in his life are fleeting and even when he is free, the price, cost and obligations of his liberty drive him into more danger and more risk.

By contrast, Martin’s plight highlights the passive restrictions of this binary society. Whilst both characters fear the outcomes of their circumstances, the way in which Martin is able to change his situation, where Sibusiso is not demonstrates clearly how the culture of fear and institutionalized prejudice works. Indeed, there is no place for Martin to hide from his own racism, particularly when wired up to a box that allows others to read his mind.
White privilege resolves a perilous situation and whilst risk brings little reward, you get a sense that Martin might not have been in as much danger as he believed he was; certainly not by comparison to Sibusiso and it’s here that Wood shows his skill as a writer and his ability to translate and reform experiences, the comparisons inside and outside of the book highlight the dramatized reality of the context, sibusiso to Martin, Sibusiso to Orwell’s Winston, etc.

Room 619 is a direct parallel to Room 101, but where the latter has lost its ability to terrify us, having been neutered by British TV comedy, Wood quickly builds his equivalent into a chilling myth. We are told there is no hope for anyone sent there, but we still try and hope as characters strive to escape. There is some abstraction towards the end of this, perhaps the way in which a prisoner handles such a situation, but this does soften the punch to the reader, particularly when drawing a direct Orwellian comparison.

Four star
Opinion:

Four Stars
Azanian Bridges is the kind of science fiction story we need, a reflection and re-imagining of a shameful moment in world history resurrected and thrust into a new context, making those who might never have realized just how horrific the circumstances of 1980s South Africa truly were and could have become if left unchecked. The humanity of the story is stark, particularly in laying out the little choices people might make to unconsciously reinforce such a regime. It is a book to make you think and consider yourself alongside those caught up in these events. Something we all need to do at times.

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The Human Division by John Scalzi

The Human DivisionJohn Scalzi is a household name as character-driven sci-fi goes. The Human Division, 5th in his Old Man’s War series detailing the fate of the Colonial Union and its increasingly tenuous relationship with the Earth, is actually the first I’ve read. This sequel to Zoe’s Tale concerns the new diplomatic priorities of the Colonial Union as they try and stabilize their fractured alliance with Earth and stay on the right side of the alien federation known as The Conclave.

Out-gunned, out-‘manned’ and undermined by shadowy agent provocateurs, THD is very much a book about stoically making the best of a terrible situation.
The book is well plotted, written and paced, but it was something else that really sold me on it. It’s always testament to the quality of a writer when they can orient a reader half way through without them feeling like they’re missing out. No doubt there were subtle references and callbacks I missed for not having started at the very beginning, but I never felt I was punished for it or lacking the context necessary to enjoy the action.

So newcomer or Scalzi-fanatic, there’s a lot to recommend. Easily THD’s (and perhaps the Colonial Union’s) strongest assets is Colonial Defense Force Colonel Wilson, and the potentially disastrous — but hilarious — diplomatic incidents he inevitably, inadvertently engenders. Without spoiling too much, envision Wilson being somewhat under-utilised as a minder to anther human diplomat’s pet dog whilst visiting a crucial alien planet. Only, he accidentally allows it to get swallowed by a giant, semi-sacred plant, and in his usual implacable fashion volunteers to be similarly ingested to save it before the ambassadors return and negotiations become rather strained. Wilson is a capable, unusual protagonist committed more to the joy of finding a perverse solution to a seemingly insurmountable problem than any heroic impulse. His usual crew, the ‘B-Team’ of galactic diplomats sent in as last-minute troubleshooters are an eminently likeable ensemble cast. From the hard-bitten Ambassador Abumwe to Hart Schmidt, her rich-kid turned diplomatic aide happily slumming it along side her, Wilson’s co-workers are diverse and three-dimensional.

Under the surface of the fun and realpolitik games is a pertinent satire on xenophobia and expansionism. The space-bound Colonial Union brand themselves as protectors and pioneers of humanity, but in order to do so they ‘farm’ the septuagenarians of Earth, repurposing their bodies with tech into colonists and soldiers, while keeping Earth in a kind of techno-dark age. The denouement of the previous book sees this secret essentially outed by The Conclave, who represent to humanity’s home planet a viable alternative to the Colonial yoke. It’s this central diplomatic tension that makes so the action compelling, even when it almost veers into farce. The stakes are high, visible, and sufficiently infused with real-world parallels. The idea of an organisation keeping its citizens in the dark with clever rhetoric is hardly a reach. The general atmosphere of xenophobia and bureaucracy, along with plenty of references to the inanity of political grandstanding cleverly roots the galaxy hopping narrative in very real, relatable concerns.

One of my only real complaints about Scalzi’s prose is his over-fondness for the wry aside. He, and his characters are often surprisingly witty but eventually the end-of-paragraph-punchline becomes formulaic. Scalzi is a confident, extremely capable writer, and never gets bogged down in unnecessary exposition, letting the characters and action very speak for themselves. He’s witty, imaginative, and though his sci-fi is far from ‘hard’, bordering on whimsical, the overall premise, specifically that of humanity’s place in the galaxy is refreshing. In fact, it’s closer to the universe of hit video game series Mass Effect than most contemporary novels. Also, a few side storylines are underdeveloped, but it keeps the central action fizzing along so it’s hardly a deal breaker.

Opinion:Four star
Four Stars
The Human Division is great fun with some clever twists. It doesn’t over-reach or shy away from lightening the mood. The dialogue and wry asides do tend to stereotype but it’s a minor quibble in the face of things. Despite my penchant for the harder side of sci-fi, I quickly became invested in the fate of the Colonial Union and its unsung heroes of the lowest diplomatic rungs, fighting minute-to-minute to keep themselves, and the Union’s dreams of long-term survival, alive. I’ll definitely be checking out the rest of the series and happily recommending THD as both a jumping in point and a great, light-hearted sci-fi novel in its own right.

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