Stephen Baker, The Boost. Tor Books, 2014. Pp. 336. ISBN 978-0-7653-3437-4. $24.99.
Reviewed by RJ Blain
The Boost by Stephen Baker is a science fiction thriller, delving into how society could change if everyone was always connected to the internet—or something similar to the internet: an intricate network accessed by brain-implanted chips. In this world, ‘wilds’ are those who have chosen—or have been forced—to live outside of the network. The boost offers individuals non-stop access to information and virtual reality, augmenting their real lives with a super-enhanced version of the internet. But underneath the veneer of a technological utopia is a risk few expect: The Chinese have included special code in the Americans’ boost code, which could leave the world without any privacy—and worse. When Ralf, a software developing prodigy, tries to protect society from the new code being uploaded into boosts all around the world, he’s caught and his boost is ripped out of his head. Forced to live as a wild, he must join with those who share his dilemma, not only for his sake, but for the freedom of everyone using the boost. The boost is an interesting take on a thriller novel, marrying dramatic excitement with social and political issues relevant to a world dominated by virtual reality. Read more
Robert Earl Sutter III, Hobo Fires. Self-published, 2014. Pp 336. ISBN 978-0-692-20603-4. $30.00.
Reviewed by Nino Cipri
The universe began when a flood burst thru a dam. Matter flowed forth. It was darkness. As the flood matter it also coalesced & became the stars & planets & galaxies. You can still see the flow today in the way that galaxies are strung together across the universe. Or in the flowers on a tangled vine.
In 2137, hobos have evolved, just like the rest of the world. The characters in Robert Earl Sutter III’s graphic novel Hobo Fires have hacked a system that is made to entrap them into a life of drudgery and unquestioned consumption. The main character, Poenee, hitches rides on robotic freight trains with a smartphone-like technology that seems almost as good as a sonic screwdriver. Railroad bulls and many police officers have been replaced by androids. Surveillance technology has been fully incorporated into society. She meets a number of people on the road, most importantly Raukkus, a fellow hobo who becomes her companion. Read more
Susan Dworkin, The Commons. Self-published, 2014. Pp. 208. ISBN 978-0-9892-8484-4. $14.99/$5.15.
Reviewed by Kate Onyett
In an authoritarian-controlled future, a fight against disaster is being fought on many fronts, on a grossly depopulated Earth. Thanks to wars, environmental damage and sickness, a scattered and paranoid humanity, broken into separate geopolitical blocs is facing an insidious new menace. A wheat-blight, long thought gone, stirs and is reborn in high-altitude experimental farm fields, and the remaining population’s food supply is now under serious threat. A band of very disparate individuals from across boarders and political affiliations will work together for the sake of the common good: for survival, against powerful, all too human forces that would seek to own and control every last need. Read more
John Lauricella, 2094. Irving Place Editions, 2014. Pp. 390. ISBN 978-0-6158-6881-3. $14.00.
Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad
This self-published novel is a none-too-subtle pastiche of 1984, also riddled with internal references to Brave New World and other classic dystopias. Featuring a prodigious cast of characters and range of subplots, some of which impact directly on the core story, others contribute to the tone and themes on through flavor and imagery, and some apparently neither. Set less than one hundred years in our own future, the world has become a labor-free, immortal utopia—for the very few. And at a great cost. Although the novel contains patchy writing and characterization, and sometimes unconscionable stereotyping, it is an ambitious vision from a promising new writer who will no doubt continue to produce interesting work. Read more
Douglas Thompson, The Brahan Seer. Acair Books, 2014. Pp. 164. ISBN 978-0-86152-562-1. £9.99.
Reviewed by Kate Onyett
Sandwiched between Events of Note: the euphoria of the Commonwealth Games and the political wind-up to the Scottish independence vote, here comes a simple and humble tale of a minor Scots prophet. Subject to lurid visions of frightening colour and intensity, Coinneach Odhar is credited, in such tales as still exist, with foreseeing major events up to and even beyond WWII—four hundred years in his future. This subject is ladled in myth and legend. Remaining sources are themselves suspect writings: more amazement than actuality. However, this is not a Scot driving his people to independence; this is no angry, bloody warlord. Indeed, he is a simple peasant, and Thompson’s angle is of a man a victim to his visions. Saved by a blinding flash of insight from a nasty case of poisoning when just a lad, the seer’s life is informed with these demanding, effortful mental experiences that break through an otherwise unremarkable labouring life. Transposed by a gathering number of amazed followers, he becomes a wandering prophet, drawing crowds of amazed villagers at each place he lands up. However, a compulsion to truth, which cost his mother her life, leads him to an inevitable, terrible end. Read more
Bascomb James (ed.), Far Orbit: Speculative Space Adventures. World Weaver Press, 2014. Pp. 280. ISBN: 978-0-6159-5924-5. $13.19.
Reviewed by Margrét Helgadóttir
The anthology, edited by Bascomb James and published by World Weaver Press in April 2014, is a well-crafted collection of thirteen stories, each with elements from Grand Tradition—science fiction usually associated with the 1940s-1960s, optimism, wonder, adventure and respect for science. Space and space adventure is the dominant frame of this book, but it has a broad range of themes and plots. In addition to asteroid hunting and crashing space ships, the characters in this book deal with issues like alien bunnies, walking plants, a spaceship landing behind your trailer when your ex-wife stands at your front door, war-traumatized alien babysitters who associate microwave sound with sonic weapons, space pirates at Saturn, a poker game with high stakes and something old awakening in the alien graveyard at Necropolis. These tales are grand, terrifying, dark, beautiful, disturbing and funny. I recommend the book for lovers of science fiction set in the far orbit and for all who want to read fiction filled with enthusiasm, adventure and exploring of new worlds. Read more
Brendan Connell, The Galaxy Club. Chômu Press, 2014. Pp. 202. ISBN 978-1-907681-25-7. £10.00.
Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad
The latest short novel by inventive and experimental fantasy author Connell, published by the rather wonderful, weird Chômu Press, is typically hard to categorize. Billed as “noir” in the press pack, the book does indeed involve downbeat, not terribly sympathetic characters in various degrees of chronic struggle or desperation and whose conflict in the story is between letting their lives get even worse or scrabbling to hold on with their fingernails for another day, set in a mid-twentieth century American locale. But on the other hand it is also a road novel, with hitchhikers, car chases, lonely towns to pass through and creepy strangers to pass through them, and even elements of the beatnik, with trippy images, multiple characters popping legal or illegal drugs and drinking excessively, and a sense of reality that verges between magical realist and mythological. Above all these, it boasts unmistakably literary features, including unreliable narrators, multiple irrational and inanimate points-of-view, language deployed to disorient the reader, character and imagery overriding plot, and an unclear, barely satisfying dénouement. Read more
Rhys Hughes, More Than a Feline: Cat Tales and Poems. Gloomy Seahorse Press, 2013. ISBN 978-1-291-61927-0. £3.99/£4.99.
Reviewed by Kathryn Allan
Touted as “an illustrated volume of cat stories and poems by cult author Rhys Hughes written over the past two decades and collected together for the very first time,” More Than a Feline is a sometimes irreverent, mostly fun book about cats. If you really like cats and have a generous sense of humour, then you will probably enjoy at least a few of the stories in this short collection (27 stories and poems, totalling 103 pages). I had brought More Than a Feline along with me while attending a conference in Orlando, Florida. The home-spun image on the front cover and a quick skim of its contents told me that this is the kind of book best meant for vacation reading. Read more
Stephen Jones (ed.), Psycho Mania. Skyhorse Publishing, 2013. 978-1-628-73816-2. $14.95.
Reviewed by Rachel Verkade
The shadow behind the shower curtain. The figure in the alley. The face behind the mask. The psycho, or homicidal maniac, has been a staple of horror ever since it awakened as a genre. From Norman Bates to Michael Myers and all of their ilk, the “psycho killer” has become one of horror’s most popular tropes. Add one of horror literature’s most celebrated editors and some of its most popular authors (including the original author of Psycho, Robert Bloch) to the mix, and it seems like a match made in heaven. So, does the book live up to the hype? Read more
Peter Tieryas Liu, Bald New World. Perfect Edge, 2014. Pp. 229. ISBN 978-1-7827-9508-7. $16.95.
Reviewed by Kate Onyett
Opening this treasure of a book up, and you are dropped into a decidedly dystopian future, where an unknown global event leaves the entire human population without hair; not even lashes or eyebrows are spared. Overnight the world descends into confusion, recrimination, panic and violence; Liu’s vision is of a futuristic civilisation living on a thin knife-edge of sanity, now fallen into bleak selfishness and depravity. Our guide is Nick, a Chinese-American from a painfully, gods-awful childhood, who yet has grown up into a thoughtful and feeling narrator, hidden behind what could be construed as an instinctive frontage of unengaged existence. When wearing the best type of wig comes with an elevated sense of social position, the lack of hair, the rendering of the bald self, naked and exposed, has sent humanity scuttling to hide behind a million constructed images. Read more
Melissa Unger, Gag. Roundfire Books, 2014. Pp. 150. ISBN 978-1-78279-564-3. $13.95/£7.99.
Reviewed by Kate Onyett
This is, effectively, a story of two halves. In the first, we meet Peter, a rich New York drifter, who one day stopped eating and has managed to get along perfectly healthily for fifteen years. Having finally decided to try again, he travels to Paris, as a centre of gourmand delights, to tempt his body back into eating. On the plane he meets Dallas, a hugely fat Southern state gentleman, and then bumps into him again, singing in a queerly feminine voice at a seedy night club. Now for part two: Dallas, knocked down in a hit-and-run, is revealed in hospital to be Claire. Recuperating from her injuries, Claire joins Peter in his apartment, and from here we plunge into an emotional drama as two dysfunctional people try to grasp a sense of normalcy and meaning from the very people that know least about it: each other. Read more
Rasheedah Phillips, Recurrence Plot (and Other Time Travel Tales). The AfroFuturist Affair/House of Future Sciences Books, 2014. Pp. 230. ISBN 978-0-9960050-0-5. $12.95.
Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad
Recurrence Plot achieves the delightful symmetry of being a novel about experiencing time out of sequence, with a main character who has faulty memory and incomplete information, and about the discovery and reading of a self-published, postmodern, pseudoscientific, multimedia and multi-genre, portmanteau book, which is told out of sequence, leaving the reader confused and with incomplete information, and in a portmanteau, postmodern and pseudoscientific style. The novel (or mish-mash of related stories, whichever it is) really wants to be interactive fiction, and is slightly unsatisfactory for not quite embracing the possibilities of that medium, but is nevertheless an impressive debut and first installment in what promises to be an interesting ongoing series. Read more
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