Piracy edited by Adele Wearing

I normally start a review by talking about the cover, but this time I am going to step back and mention the format. Fox Spirit are marketing this as the first of their Fox Pockets. Unsurprisingly it is pocket sized. It easily fits in to a cargo pants pocket or a handbag or in my case a man bag (handbags don’t have Captain Caveman on them). It is a great size and length of story for a tea break read. A nice cup of Earl Grey and a piece of short form fiction is always a good thing.

I love the cover by Sarah Anne Langton, I’ve seen a picture of the next few covers in this series. They look like a series and will look great on a shelf. Being a small cover the hard-hitting simplicity of this cover really works. Reading this book on a coach the over day at least a couple of people asked to see the whole cover. It really is that striking. The only thing I don’t like about the cover is the lack of any identification of the book on the spine.

The title of this anthology is Piracy and although they all have a common connection through the title there is a huge array of different styles and genres represented in this book. From steampunk to cyberpunk, and from fantasy to science fiction. Every story is different and enjoyable in a different way. My favourite part in the whole book is when the space pirates start singing. It was hilarious. I was giggling away to myself at that point. More importantly it means that like several of the other authors in this book that I’d not heard of before I will be looking for something else to read by Asher Wismer.

As I’d expect from a Fox book there is a definite feminist touch without making anything seem overly feminine. If you are a traditionalist who believes all stories about pirates should be about men and rape then you should probably read this book. It shows you how powerful people can be without taking the shortcut of using rape as a trope. This book has strong characters of both genders portrayed in a manner that demeans neither. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am looking forward to the next one.

At the request of Vincent Holland-Keen here is a picture on the man bag mentioned above.

Captain Caveman man bag

My favourite bag.

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Ecko Rising by Danie Ware

The main reason that I picked up this book was that I read the Anarchy Books anthology Vivisepulture and really enjoyed the story by Danie Ware (there are other great stories in that anthology). The first thing that surprised me when I got the book was how big it is. At over five hundred pages it is a meaty tome so don’t expect to read it in an afternoon. ¬†This is a cyberpunk book, no actually it is an epic fantasy novel. Hang on, this is an epic fantasy inside a cyberpunk story. Or at least I think it is. The next book could quite easily turn and twist that further and really boggle my mind. I don’t want to give you any spoilers so it is easier to say that this is a fantasy story inside a cyberpunk tale.

Although this is a long book it doesn’t seem to drag at all. I didn’t find myself skim reading it at all which can happen during long expositions. I really like the main character Ecko. He’s sarcastic, piss-taking and generally a bit of a fool. Wrap that up inside a child bullied so much that he endures painful adaptation after painful adaptation to become a silent and deadly killing machine and you have a fun character. A lot of Ecko’s sniping comments are very familiar and I particularly enjoyed the reference to Wembley Stadium. I’m not going to directly quote anything because each one is a gem and will make you smile.

I expected to be saying that this book is too long before I even started reading it, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it felt a lot shorter than it was. The ending left me wondering whether it was the fantasy or the cyberpunk portion that is real. It could be either or in fact both. I want to read the second part of this story and I want to read it now. This is a great debut novel and well worth a read.

Artificial Evil by Colin F. Barnes

Gerry has won the lottery. That shouldn’t be possible given that he was the writer of the algorithm that chooses the winners. Unfortunately for him the prize is less monetary and more Logan’s Run type death sentence. Gerry gets saved by a couple of Techxorcists called Gabe and Petal. Of course the term save turns out to be a little bit strong as Gerry jumps from the frying pan in to the volcano. There is a lot more at stake than just his own health.

My love of Cyberpunk goes back to my earliest days on the Net reading Usenet group fiction. I always get excited about new Cyberpunk novels but unfortunately most of them seem to lack something. I had already read the first few chapters of this novel and was itching to find out what happened next.

Getting the balance between technical computer terms that add realism and making a book readable for a layperson is not an easy task but this book does a good job of including just enough not to put off people that have worked in IT all their lives and at the same time not getting bogged down in technicalities. There are themes and characters in this book that I could liken to some really great stories such as Burning Chrome, The Matrix and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep without being a simple re-hash. I felt connected to several of the characters but by far my favourite was Gabe. In my head Gabe is like Maxim from The Prodigy in both tone and ability to captivate people with his powerful voice.

Although this book has an ending there are enough unanswered questions to make a reader want to read the second novel in this series. In particular I want to know what happens to Gabe. I think this book is ahead of the curve. With the film release of Gibson’s Neuromancer on the horizon I can see the number of Cyberpunk stories released increasing substantially over the next year. If they are all as good as this one then I am in for a good year.

Crime Net edited by Colin F. Barnes

This book takes me back to the 1990s. I’d just started working and had enough money to pay for the phone calls to the single Compuserve London based phone number to access the internet. I used to love looking at the alt.cyberpunk Usenet group and reading the stories. Some were just bizarre but amongst them were some real gems. There were even a couple of book anthologies based on them. These days the nearest comparison to Usenet stories would be a site like Flash Fiction Friday. These stories are not remnants from a forgotten halcyon time though. They are modern and progressive stories that were interesting and exciting in equal measure. They are not all Burning Chrome cyberspace type stories.

The story by Russell A. Smith in particular is a very creeper stalker story. The technology aspects of this story are very cleverly done. There are absolutely no technical details and yet my brain automatically started filling in those details as I was going along. The final story in this book is a story by the editor Colin F. Barnes that fans of his may already have read so be wary of that. I’d already read Techxorcist 0.5 but I enjoyed reading it again. I particularly like the priest character who seems to try and exorcise evil AI in a manner that reminds me of Maxim from The Prodigy. Not just the implied accent but the patterns too.

There is one major failing in this collection of stories though. It is way too short. I wanted at least a couple more stories. It has been so long since I have read a decent cyberpunk anthology that this felt a little like giving a starving man a canapé. So tonight I will be badgering the editor in to releasing a follow-up as soon as possible.

If you are a fan of the cyberpunk genre then you really should read this. If you think you are not a fan then all I will say is that this collection builds on films such as Bladerunner and The Matrix. It is a thoroughly enjoyable read.