Sequence by Wearmouth & Barnes

Sequence by Wearmouth & Barnes

I liked this cover. The elements of this book that lay the foundations for how a cyberpunk world could be created are subtly portrayed without taking away from the fact that this is first and foremost a thriller. This book starts out slowly. I expected a bit more of a bang. Stick with it though. Everything at the beginning is there for a reason. The pace picks up and doesn’t let up until the inevitable climax.

Jacob Miller is a conspiracy theorist obsessed with the theory that a prominent scientist is doing something shady and illegal. Of course the scientist in question has plans that would be shunned by any ethical committee in the west. I really enjoyed how the personal morals of the NSA director allowed him to completely ignore ethics to trial genetically enhanced soldiers. After all it would be for the greater good. At what cost though? That was where things start to get interesting. A genetically altered human is one thing but what about a cloned and programmed from scratched autonomous shell?

Colin Barnes has a real gift for taking complex technical concepts and presenting them in a way that a layman can understand them without somebody more technical feeling patronized. This really came through well in this book. I do wonder if Wearmouth and Barnes are starting to think alike as there was only one voice in this story and it was loud and clear.

There is always a twist at the end of a thriller like this. As usual I saw the obvious foreshadowing way before the end of the book. Oh hang on, that wasn’t the twist. Oh crap. I didn’t see that coming. Well played chaps that was subtle and unexpected without seeming contrived. I will be looking out for the second book in this series.

 

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Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth L. Powell

A cigar chewing, gun toting talking money laying waste to nazi ninjas. More cheese than cheddar gorge right? Surprisingly not. The exciting and energetic opening to this book goes well with the retro pulp cover. More importantly it sets the scene nicely. All is not what it seems and the author somehow manages to twist the fanciful aspects through the plot in such an accomplished manner that somehow a monkey with a grenade launcher doesn’t seem at all strange.

Putting the monkey aside for a minute (not an easy thing to do) there is a lot more to this book. The alternate history aspects of this book really caught my imagination. What if Britain and France joined together in the post-war ear to become a European super power. The EU because the European Commonwealth under the rule of the crown. There are also cyberpunk some unusual elements to this book. Usually there is a mature technology base but in this story the cybernetic implants are a new and secret experiment used for nefarious means.

I tried not to but I need to mention the monkey some more. If you want to sum up his character try shouting his name out loud. Somehow for me it evokes a simian treetop battle. There is more to Ack-Ack than a violent monkey. How would enhanced language and reasoning abilities impact a monkey? Would it become more human or would the natural inclinations of a monkey just be more effectively carried out? These are the questions I couldn’t help thinking about as I read this book. I loved the way the author portrayed this character.

This book sounds silly but isn’t. It is character driven and this is backed up in the extras at the end of the book. I’ll be buying more books by Mr Powell and you should too.

Apex Cypher by Colin F. Barnes

Mr Barnes has rapidly become one of my favourite authors and his Techxorcist series is in my opinion his finest work. This novella is a prequel to the series and adds some extra back story for Gabe and Petal. This is good for me because I love the character Gabe. Not only is he intelligent and able to kick ass in many ways, but that isn’t what I like the most about him. I can hear every line of Gabe’s dialogue as if he’s standing next to me and the depth of his character has kept me interested throughout the series.

This story is set before Gabe and Petal get to the dome. Instead of a mission to free thousands of people this is a story about the less than pleasant things that are required to survive in a harsh and unforgiving world. Gabe and Petal take on a simple mission to get paid in food and water. Or course nothing is that simple, especially when even the rain can kill.  There has been a lot of thought in to how a nuclear holocaust would impact everything and everybody even fifty years in the future. Nothing is nice and nothing is easy. Every choice is difficult and comes with consequences.

I really enjoyed this book and am really hoping that Mr Barnes isn’t making this his last Techxorcist story. Please buy this book so I can read another one.

Annihilation Point (Book 3 of The Techxorcist) by Colin F. Barnes

This is the third part of the Techxorcist series. If you haven’t read the first two yet (you really should) then I strongly suggest you do before reading this book. Although this story does stand alone as a story you lose some of the richness of character that only comes from knowing the characters. The story carries on from where Assembly Code finished. Unlike some trilogies I didn’t find myself skimming through the final one just to get to the end. If anything this book was more gripping than the first two. There is a definite feeling of hopelessness and despair through much of this book. Thankfully the author didn’t spoil the book with a joyous ending. The end of the book works perfectly. It wraps things up without getting all sweetness and light. There are a few unanswered questions at the end but for me the major one is what will happen to Gerry? I don’t think things have ended as they seem where Gerry is concerned and I can’t help thinking there will be some kind of Gerry spin-off to follow at some point (pretty please Mr Barnes).

My favourite part of this story is when Petal finds a book. A real book. A novel. She had not heard such a thing existed. A story for the sake of entertainment. That scene pretty much sums up how much of a dystopia the world has become in this story. The fact that the book in question is a seminal (not that type you weirdo) work in the cyberpunk genre only adds to it. The way that scene makes certain choices about how things work in this series click in to place. I’m not going to spoil the fun by saying any more but that scene stands out for me as a really talented piece of writing.

I think I’ve read all of Colin’s published works and this is his best work so far. I would highly recommend buying and reading this series. At the moment you can get the electronic versions of the whole series for under £5 so why delay. Go buy them all now. Start your 2014 by reading some excellent cyberpunk.

End Of Year Review 2013

First things first. There is no best of from me this year. No lists of particular books you should buy. This year I’m going to write about people. Those amazing people that have inspired me to pick up a book and sink in to another world. It is not a complete list and is based solely on those people that have impacted me personally.

First off I’m going to start with Colin F. Barnes. One particularly bad day at work I typed in to Amazon “Killing My Boss”. I didn’t really expect to find anything. What I got was the most cathartic book I have ever read. I posted my review and I got a thank you from the author. I didn’t know it at the time but Colin recently told me that was the first review he’d ever had (excluding all those beta readers and editors of course). Since then I’ve been lucky enough to receive quite a few advance copies of his work. I’m a huge fan. I would like to see a follow-up to Killing My Boss called Killing My Ex though. That would be awesome. I don’t know if I prefer Colin’s cyberpunk or horror stories. At the moment I’d probably say his Techxorcist series, but he does have a new horror story called Dead Five’s Pass being published by Darkfuse soon.

Next I’m going to talk about Ian Sales. In twenty or thirty years people are going to look back and wonder why people were more interested in sparkly vampires than thoughtful and well written science fiction. When they do I’m pretty sure he will be one of the authors being lauded. I regularly read his blog and am constantly amazed by both the depth and breadth of his reading and literary knowledge. I have also been really impressed with his reaction to SF Masterworks. It was really eye-opening to read the sfmistressworks site and see just how many little known high quality female science fiction authors there are out there. Ian’s Apollo quartet is well worth reading and I for one am eagerly awaiting the fourth part.

After praising Ian Sales and his drive towards gender equality I am going to mention a woman next. Not an author this time though. Adele Wearing is the owner and driving force behind Fox Spirit. I’ve met Adele and I can confirm she is just as lovely as she seems online.  There is a certain enthusiasm and excitement to everything she does and that is reflected in the books she produces. I particularly like the idea of the Fox Pocket anthologies. These are the perfect size to fit in a pair of cargo pants or a handbag (man bag in my case).  The covers are fantastically vibrant and easy to spot in a pile too. If you are looking for quirky speculative fiction by excellent and often little known authors you really should check them out.

The final person I’m going to mention is David Cranmer from Beat To A Pulp (BTAP). I owe a lot to David. He changed my reading habits more than anybody has for many years. I barely had a clue what crime noir was let alone hardboiled before I started reading BTAP. Without David I would not have enjoyed reading amazing stories by authors such as Patricia Abbott and Thomas Pluck. Probably the biggest surprise for me though was how much I have enjoyed reading stories set in the old west. Westerns are dead in modern fiction, right? It turns out that I was wrong. From David’s Marshal Cash Larmie to Heath Lowrence’s dark and weird western fiction there is a wealth of great stories out there. It was because of this that I decided that every so often I’ll read something completely out of my comfort zone. Which is why I read an erotic fiction story by K.A.Laity called Chastity Flame. I literally blushed whilst reading it.

As you can probably see I like it when I’m made to think about different things on occasion and all of the above do that. In my mind great art should be beautiful but also challenge the audience. Each of the people mentioned above are worth spending a few hours and a couple of quid on (more than that but you get my gist). There are plenty more people I could have mentioned but these are the ones who have impacted on my way of thinking the most this year.

I am already looking forward to reading loads more emotive and insightful stories next year.

Have fun one and all.

Ecko Burning by Danie Ware

This is the second Ecko book and I’ve been waiting to read it for a while. This is a strange book to classify as in the main it is a fantasy novel with a single cyberpunk character, but then it switches and is about a single fantasy character in a cyberpunk London. This is done in a fresh and fascinating way. I am still not sure which is the real world and which is the construct. It could even be that they are overlapping layers of a program designed to test the psychology of a patient. My personal theory is that the whole thing is a construct to hack the brain of Ecko. You can probably tell I’ve thought about this a bit.

I have to talk about Ecko. I love him as a main character. A big part of that is his dialogue. His speech patterns and his sarcasm really resonate with me. It wasn’t until about a quarter of the way through the second book that I realised that Ecko reminded me of Rorschach from Watchmen. The protective shield of being a sociopath that somehow never gets in the way of helping people. OK so Rorschach is very different in some ways but for me there is something there.

Parts of this book feel like an epic fantasy and others like a near future cyberpunk story. Not just in the content. There is a different feel and pace to the writing as the world changes. I really enjoyed this.

I was drawn in and swept along with this story. I enjoyed it from start to finish and will definitely be buying the third one. Unusually for me these days I bought these in paperback rather than as an ebook. I have two reasons for this. Firstly that I wanted signed copies and secondly that I want to lend these to a couple of friends that I think I can convince to appreciate these stories.

Assembly Code by Colin F. Barnes

This is the second book in the Techxorcist series. I recently read the first book Artificial Evil again. The author has re-worked the second half of the book so if you were an early reader you might want to download it again. For instance if you have a Kindle head to the ‘Manage Your Kindle’ page and find the book and choose on the download option in the actions list. The new ending makes much more sense moving on to the second book.

This is a Cyberpunk series but it is less about fancy avatars and showy battles and more about traversing networks and overloading nodes with data. In short it is more realistic but without being too obviously rooted in modern technology. There are lots of different  kinds of post-humans in this book. From those with a simple interface system to advanced artificial intelligences.

Poor Gerry and Petal don’t get a break in this book. Everything I thought could go wrong ended up being a much worse situation. Despite all the pain and suffering in this dystopian setting it somehow manages to exude a desperate hope that thins can and will get better for all. Not just the haves but everyone, well most people anyway.

The story starts with a bang and then is quite slow with a lot to take in during the first half of this book. The second half just flies by those. The final quarter was so punchy and gripping that I had to read it all in one sitting. I cried at the end. I don’t normally do that but the fate of Petal and Gerry hit me quite hard. This is a really good read and is one of a clutch of modern cyberpunk books to revive what I thought was becoming a tired and clichéd  genre. Not so.