Review: Everything Belongs To The Future by Laurie Penny

Review:

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For me, science fiction is at its best when it tells an allegorical story reflecting on issues of the present day, and this is what makes Laurie Penny’s Everything Belongs To The Future such a strong work.

In 2098, scientists have created a Fountain of Youth in a little blue pill. This creates a gerotocracy that only further divides the haves from the have-nots, as the pill is marketed to the rich, and priced so only the wealthy have access. A small group of idealistic youths with aspirations of political revolution attempt to undermine this disparity and create a modified version of the drug, appropriately named a Time Bomb, to undermine the quest for longevity.

A writer on social justice, feminism, and gender issues, journalist Laurie Penny brings all of these topics to bear in her science fiction debut (Penny has written several non-fiction titles, including 2014’s Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies, and Revolution). Her vision of England at the turn of the next century is highly recognizable, but subtly shaded with the repercussions of present-day issues (certain segments of England, for instance, are underwater thanks to many of our Old White Man politicians ignoring climate change and its now-unstoppable effects on future generations). There’s plenty of justifiable anger simmering in this book’s plot, as well, and while the character’s motives are nicely gray their final solution is anything but.

Everything Belongs To The Future is richly political and frighteningly dark, but there’s also a certain honesty to it’s ‘what if’ nature that I appreciate. It’s better to have a bitter truth than a comforting lie, in my opinion, and this title certainly hits on several unsavory truths about mankind, ambition, and greed.

[I received an advanced copy of this title for review from the publisher via NetGalley.]

 

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Review: Everything Belongs To The Future by Laurie Penny

Review: Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw

Review:

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With Hammers on Bone, Cassandra Khaw gives an old-school PI story a cool Lovecraftian update. There’s plenty of old-school gumshoe narration (although the story is firmly present-day), along with a heaping dose of ancient gods and gritty mysticism. If this turns out to be the first in a series it is one I’ll happily return to.

PI Joe Persons takes on what should be a simple job from an eleven-year-old client: kill the boy’s abusive step-father, McKinsey. The appropriately-named Persons (you’ll find out why!), naturally, gets more than he bargains for. McKinsey is a meat-suit for something ancient, see, and Persons is being warned off the case by some dame, but he’s a dog with a bone now and serious things are afoot, see?

Mostly, I dug the heck out of Hammers on Bone and the way Khaw played with classic private eye tropes in a way that felt fresh with its sleek infusion of horror. Khaw has a terrific voice and can turn a phrase rather nicely, and her writing and cool style have me eager to check out her other stories, notably Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef, but also whatever else she publishes along the way. Joe Person’s is a neatly complicated sort, for multiple reasons that I should not actually discuss, and the climax was solidly creepy, gross, and violent. And, jeez, check out that cover illustration by Jeffrey Alan Love – it’s beautiful and speaks wonderfully toward the story within.

My only real complaint concerns the novella’s brevity. There’s a lot of story brewing under the surface of Persons narration that, since this is first person point of view, neither he nor readers are privy to. Khaw nails the sense of epic scope surrounding Persons’ case, and I wanted more. By book’s end, the plot grew a bit muddied and obscured with some last-minute dangling threads – but, again, if this turns out to not be a standalone title, this niggling detail could resolve itself. Given the nature of Persons and Khaw’s impressive writing, I’m certainly game for more and she’s definitely an author to watch out for.

[I received an advanced copy of this title for review from the publisher via NetGalley.]

 

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Review: Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw

Review: Stranded by Bracken MacLeod

Review:

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Stranded is the type of book that made me glad to be reading it indoors, in the known security and confines of my home, where I was nice and warm and comfortable, and had a nip of whiskey or Irish Mist to help keep the chills Bracken MacLeod was generating at bay.

Caught in an arctic storm, the ship Arctic Promise is thrown off-course from its destination and lost in the fog. Soon enough, the ship finds itself embedded in ice. In the distance, the flat horizon is broken only by the hump of an odd, indiscernible shape. The crew are sick with a mysterious illness, except for Noah, who finds himself constantly at odds with most of the crew. And the sick are seeing…something.

Right from the outset, MacLeod throws readers into the thick of things. His writing of the violent storm Noah and his shipmates find themselves in is phenomenally hair-raising and chaotic, and the unique threats of the arctic landscape itself are well posed and chillingly executed.

Much of the horror in Stranded is derived from the environment itself, as much as the crazed crewmen Noah is forced to contend with, and there’s a heavy, freezing atmosphere that permeates MacLeod’s writing. It’s strong stuff, and reminded me a bit of another arctic powerhouse horror-thriller in Dan Simmon’s The Terror. (If you want to know why I love arctic horror, this and The Terror are two books to check out for prime examples of environmental scares done right.)

MacLeod also does some great work with the characters here, although it is a bit of slow-boil to learn why Noah is so despised by so many of his shipmates. Noah catches a lot of flack, for various reasons, and I personally would not have minded getting a bit more information up front rather than having details parceled out piecemeal over the course of the book’s first half. This is a minor complaint in an otherwise strong work, though, but the motivations behind the firmly anti-Noah characters make for rich conflict, particularly in the book’s later segments.

Stranded is an impressive and visceral work of achingly cold environmental horror with a nifty sci-fi twist, and a work that has ensured Bracken MacLeod is an author whose releases I will be watching out for.

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title for review from the publisher via NetGalley.]

 

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Review: Stranded by Bracken MacLeod

Review: Livia Lone by Barry Eisler

Review:

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Livia Lone may be the darkest, and most accomplished, book from Barry Eisler yet. I’ve been a long-time reader of Eisler’s work, and a big fan of his series character, John Rain, but early on into his latest I found myself already needing more Livia Lone books. It may be heretical, but as much as I love Eisler’s mournful assassin, if, for whatever reason, we never hear from John Rain again, I’ll be OK as long as there’s plenty more of Livia Lone to fill the gap.

Livia is a tragic, tortured, and psychologically fascinating character. She’s also incredibly strong and capable, both mentally and physically, and is a protector at heart. Sold into slavery alongside her sister by her parents, Livia and Nason are shipped across the ocean from Thaliand to the USA, and separated along the way. Although Livia was rescued and adopted, the whereabouts of her sister are a mystery that has driven her for more than a decade, and she now works a police detective in the sex crimes division of Seattle PD. She also has some less than legal extracurricular activities targeting rapists.

Right from the get-go, Eisler tackles rape culture and male privilege with an appropriately seedy and disturbing examination of a would-be rapists mindset, and had me instantly rooting for Livia.

Although Lone metes out some incredibly satisfying vigilante justice, Eisler never fails to shy away from the grotesqueness of the world she inhabits. This is not a feel good read, and much of the book made me downright uncomfortable and disgusted. Livia Lone is absolutely brutal, and oftentimes quite graphic, in its depictions of human trafficking, violence, child abuse, and rape. The streaks of hope that do sparingly exist herein are fueled by revenge, and Livia’s willingness to overcome whatever obstacles are put in her way. While she may get beaten down, she refuses to be defeated, even at a young age. A dragon resides within her, and when she lets it loose, woe be to anyone stupid enough to get in her way.

Livia Lone is stark and uncompromising, bleak but rewarding. Like his titular heroine, Eisler does not pull any punches here, and although it often left me despairing for humanity I think it’s a better book for it. And Livia, herself, is a heroine that I need much more of.

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this for review from the publisher via NetGalley.]

 

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Review: Livia Lone by Barry Eisler

Review: The Warren by Brian Evenson

Review:

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Although The Warren is short – less than a hundred pages and compelling enough to read in a single sitting – I needed some time to digest its content and figure out what I wanted to say about it. Ultimately, I think the less said about it the better. (And I do mean this in all seriousness, and in the best way possible.)

I went into this book blind, knowing very little about it other than it had a snazzy cover and was another release in Tor’s strong line of novellas. I think this is about all you should know about it, as well. It’s a good, twisty read and you should probably check it out so long as you can stand not having everything perfectly resolved and all questions neatly answered.

Not enough? OK, fine. Imagine taking some science fiction heavy weights, like Blade Runner and The Martian and tossing them in a heavy-duty blender with Memento for added flavor. The Warren, however, is far from simply a pastiche of these other works, even if I found their influences to be strong. What you end up with, though, is a short work that calls into question the nature of self and self-perception with an utterly unreliable narrator in what is, basically, a locked-room drama.

This warped and fairly grim narrative cares not a whit about delivering the goods in a linear fashion, so readers should go in with scrutinizing eyes and pay keen attention to the details. Brian Evenson raises a lot of questions within his story, most of which are either answered ambiguously at best, or left to the reader to suss out the clues. I enjoyed connecting the various puzzle pieces presented in The Warren, and I suspect that a second read-through would be both deeply rewarding and quite different than the initial journey. This is certainly a story that demands a focused reading, and the closer you inspect Evenson’s writing the more satisfying it becomes.

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title for review from the publisher via NetGalley.]

 

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Review: The Warren by Brian Evenson

Review: Chills by Mary SanGiovanni

Review:

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I feel like I’ve been in a bit of a slump with my horror reads of late, with the last few titles being more misses than hits, the bad outweighing the good. Chills is a title that I’ve been looking forward to, ever since it was previously released as a signed, limited edition hardcover from Thunderstorm under the title The Blue People. I secured a copy of that edition earlier this year, but opted to keep it pristine and instead read an advanced copy of the Kensington Books edition on Kindle.

I’ve openly admitted in the past to being a sucker for winter-based horror thrills, and am always on the lookout for titles in this niche. Many thanks to John Carpenter and The Thing for this particular affectation. There’s something about blood-stained snow and monsters running wild that just really does it for me.

All of this is to say that I had certain hopes and expectations for Chills – it needed to satisfy some particular sweet spots I have for this corner of the horror genre, but it also needed to get me over that hump of disappointment I’ve been feeling lately after a couple less-than-stellar readings.

Well, Mary SanGiovanni delivered in spades. I flat-out loved Chills, and it grabbed me in a way that the last few horror books I’ve read failed to do. I did not want to put this book down, and I looked forward to my time with Colby, CT police detectives Jack Glazier, Reece Teagan, and occultist Kathy Ryan. Ryan in particular was an easy favorite in SanGiovanni’s cast of characters, and I’m hoping we get more of her in the future.

Set in a small, isolated town blanketed in a furious storm of snow and ice, unearthly monsters lurk and strike out with surprising viciousness, and a handful of dead bodies turning up around town are branded with strange, occult markings. Suffice to say, there’s a lot of bad stuff going on in Colby, and SanGiovanni not only crafts a wicked little creature feature, but one heck of a sharp cosmic horror thriller to boot. The Lovecraftian elements in Chills are very well rendered and help give a nice epic feel to this story of small-town terror. This is the type of stuff I good and truly dig.

Chills was my first title from SanGiovanni, and it most definitely will not be the last. I caught reference throughout the work to some of her other titles, most notably The Hollower, which has made its way onto my must-purchase list come payday.

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title for review from the publisher via NetGalley.]

 

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Review: Chills by Mary SanGiovanni

Review: Devils In Dark Houses by B.E. Scully

Review:

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Devils In Dark Houses by B.E. Scully is a collection of four interrelated crime novellas, linked together by the appearances of Detectives Shirdon and Martinez.

The first of these novellas, The Eye That Blinds, was released as a stand-alone title by DarkFuse last year. Although I gave that one three stars at the time, I’d be hard-pressed to tell you much about it more than a year later. Having already read it, and despite not recalling anything about it, I opted to not reread it but do believe that this collection suffers from the same problems I’m presently having in drumming up any recollections of The Eye That Blinds. The stories here may be good, but none of them strike me as being particularly memorable.

Even just days after starting in on this book, I’m already forgetting what the second book was supposed to be about. Maybe this is just because of life stuff getting in the way and making my reading experience choppy and piecemeal, so take this review as you will. Thankfully, the book’s description tells me this story is named Each Castle Its King, and I do remember the couple at the story’s heart bought a disheveled home they dubbed The Blood House. I think it was kind of a haunted house but not really sort of story.

The third story, Nostri, was centered around a brilliant premise but tried a little to hard to create a Fight Club mystique that ultimately did not work for me at all. I did greatly appreciate the concept of holding big-mouthed politicians accountable and forcing them to put their money where there mouth is. The story kicks off with a right-to-life politicians being surprised to find an abandoned baby on her doorstep and forced into either providing the child with a chance at life, or proving herself a hypocrite and abandoning the kid into a state home. It’s good stuff, and the plot slowly escalated to build on this premise.

The final story revolves around a homeless schizophrenic and the investigation into a missing cop in Devils In Dark Houses. By the time I reached the three-quarter mark of this one, though, I was already deeply bored with the collection as a whole and ready to move onto new reading material. I mustered through what I could, but eventually found myself skimming through to the finale to find out the answers behind the story’s whodunnit.

And I can almost hear the screeching and gnashing of teeth at my admission that I skimmed. I know, I know. But let me explain here. Again, I was bored. And much of this boredom stemmed from Scully’s insistence to shoehorn in pages upon pages of infodumping atop flashbacks galore. This really began to grate on my nerves with Nostri, where I read about a tertiary character’s entire upbringing by her old-school parents and life under their thumb in the 1960s almost up through the present, and her years at college, and her meeting of her husband, and on and on and on. By the time the third flashback rolled around in the the final story, I’d completely had it.

So yeah, unfortunately Devils In Dark Houses just was not my cup of tea at all. The stories had promise, but fell flat in their execution, and just when things began to heat up and draw me in, Scully would insist on disrupting the narrative to tell me all about this whole other thing that happened to somebody way back when before jumping back to the present. It frustrated the hell out of me, frankly.

[Note: As a member of the DarkFuse Book Club, I received this title for review from the publisher via NetGalley.]

 

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Review: Devils In Dark Houses by B.E. Scully