Review: Everything Belongs To The Future by Laurie Penny

Review:

everything-belongs-to-the-future

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:

hammers-on-bone

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:

stranded

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: The Warren by Brian Evenson

Review:

thewarren-brian-evenson

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: Return of Souls by Andy Remic

Review:

return of souls

We are now two books into Andy Remic’s ongoing A Song For No Man’s Land series, and I have to admit that I’ll be taking a pass on the rest. I’m just simply not connecting to the material and will have to chalk it up to the old ‘it’s not you, Mr. Remic, it’s me’ excuse.

You see, I’m not much for traditional fantasy. I slogged my way through Tolkein’s Lord of the Ring series and felt rather unrewarded (the movies are better, as far as I’m concerned), and forced myself to make it through Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon because of all the praise that Malazan series has garnered. There are exceptions of course – I’m a giddy sucker for George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, and am always on the lookout for new R. Scott Bakker books. I have a much easier time with urban fantasy series, like Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black novels.

All of this is a long-winded way of my trying to explain that I thought Andy Remic’s latest novellas would be up my alley, with their heavy on World War I and light on fantasy elements approach. Alas, it’s not meant to be…

Although Return of Souls, and it’s predecessor, A Song For No Man’s Land, are novella length stories, I’ve felt they were both too long and unnecessarily plodding. Each book has been divided into four parts, with the first 3/4 devoted to Jones and his time on the frontlines fighting German soldiers and beastly creatures known as walriders. The last quarter, though, is when Remic decides to take a sharp and sudden turn, introducing new characters to eat up the page count, hopping back and forth in his narrative between newbie cast and the old-hands, in order to set up the next book. This is a pet peeve of mine.

When I finished the prior entry in this series, I was curious to see where the story would go. Unfortunately, I found myself hitting a wall before the half-way mark into this latest entry and was ready to move onto some other book instead. Remic introduces a new love interest for Jones to pine after, and it mostly serves to grind an already slow narrative to a near halt. I finished it, merely because these are short books (even if they subjectively feel much longer to me), but can’t muster up the enthusiasm to rate it any higher than a 3-star read – it’s an OK story, and while I certainly didn’t hate it, Return of Souls failed to connect with me in any way past a bit of a time killer.

Fantasy fiends may have a better time with it, or those who don’t mind a war story with rather languid pacing. This book, and this series taken as a whole thus far, just isn’t for me.

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

 

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Review: Return of Souls by Andy Remic

Review: A Song For No Man’s Land by Andy Remic

Review:

nomansland

I’ve spent a while trying to gather my thoughts on this book and what to say about, but I can’t help but surmise that it’s a story with more pages than content. Quite a lot of it feels like a song stuck on repeat, but one that occasionally and magically teases you with bits of other important and interesting notes before returning to the same-old, same-old.

Set during World War I, we get plenty of combat scenes as our lead protagonist, Robert Jones, fights in the trenches, alongside his friend and fellow soldier, a big man with a big personality named Bainbridge. They have an easy friendship that becomes strained as the war goes on, each man seeing their share of injuries and…other things. Strange things. Monstrous thing. There’s…something…lurking in the woods and haunting the battlefields, although too often this feels like a minor footnote in Remic’s narrative until the big finale and a resolution that leads neatly into the larger auspices of this series.

While there are plenty of great depictions of life on the front-lines of The Great War, I couldn’t help but feel like there was something missing. The focus on the battles, too, began to feel a bit stale by book’s end, and I can’t hep but wonder if Remic was stalling a bit to fill a word count requirement.

That said, the final chapter provides a nice bit of illumination and meat to the mythological structure underpinning the nature of the war in Remic’s hands, and sets the stage for the next book. A Song For No Man’s Land, in its resolution, feels more like an appetizer for Return of Souls, which I’ll be diving into shortly. I suspect there’s a promising series to be had here, but at the moment I’m enjoying the ideas (dark but intermittent bits of fantasy set against the front-lines of WWI) more than the execution.

 

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Review: A Song For No Man’s Land by Andy Remic

Review: Company Town by Madeline Ashby

Review:

Company Town

…and just like that, Madeline Ashby has instantly made it onto my list of must-read authors.

Company Town has all the trimmings of things I love. There’s a good dash of sci-fi with some near-future razzle dazzle cybernetic augmentation, genetic engineering, Singularity conspiracy, and a nice heaping of serial killer mayhem to round it all off. The setting is wonderfully impressive (and forms the basis of that kick-ass cover!) – the titular Company Town is a city-sized oil rig off Newfoundland that has just been bought by the Lynch Corporation.

Hwa, a body-guard for the city’s sex workers, has been brought on board to protect the youngest of the Lynch heirs after a series of death threats are made toward the boy. Hwa is a wonderful character in her own right, and deeply layered. Afflicted with Sturge-Weber, half her body is stained red; this genetic abnormality perfectly reflects and informs her personality. She’s an outsider in Company Town both because of her physical imperfections and her choices. She’s one of the ultra-rare denizens of Company Town to have absolutely no genetic modifications or cybernetic upgrades, which makes her an outcast. Her employment with Lynch only serves to further separate her from those she was once close to. She refers to her physical affliction as a stain, but it’s a stain that runs bone-deep and straight up into her psyche as she struggles against being an outcast and fighting to remain at arm’s length from the world around her. In Ashby’s hands, Hwa is perfectly defined, as interesting and she is engaging.

Company Town is a great read, but primarily because of the characters. There’s plenty of great ideas on display here, and plenty of room for future installments should Ashby be planning a series of this, but it’s the cast and their relationships to one another that, first and foremost, make this book truly compelling.

[Note: I received an ARC of this title from the publisher via NetGalley.]

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Review: Company Town by Madeline Ashby