Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel
Review , Science Fiction / 19/04/2018

Sylvain Neuvel returns to his world of giant robots in the third and final of the Themis Files series Only Human. Like the second book in the series, Waking Gods, this volume jumps forward ten years from the cliffhanger ending at the end of the previous entry. That cliffhanger saw the giant robot Themis and the four people inside whisked away to the planet of the robot builders. This volume starts with their return to a very changed Earth but also, in flashbacks charts their ten year stay on an alien planet. Following the massive destruction of Waking Gods, the Earth is a changed place. America has managed to restore the last remaining giant robot and uses it as a tool of aggressive expansion. During the events of Waking Gods, the world learned that many people were genetic descendants of aliens who arrived thousands of years ago. Those with high levels of genetic traces of alien DNA are being persecuted and put in camps. Many of those persecuted are Muslim, although the connection between the alien DNA and Muslims feels like a stretch by Neuvel put in to bring his allegory home to readers who do not do allegory well….

America City by Chris Beckett

Multi-award winning UK science fiction author Chris Beckett turns his eyes to the  issue of climate change in his latest stand alone America City. The book casts forward one hundred years to an America affected by drought in the Southwest and superstorms along its eastern seaboard. This has created a movement of people – otherwise known as “barreduras” – an internal refugee problem within the United States that is threatening to tear the country apart.   Holly Peacock is an expat-British PR guru, comfortably living with her academic husband in Seattle when she is given the chance to work for conservative senator Stephen Slaymaker. Slaymaker has a plan to build America by resettling the internal refugees in the northern states, a plan that makes him unpopular not only with his base constituency but with his party. But he rides a wave to the presidency when, with the help of Holly, he manages to turn the eyes of the country further north, towards the largely unsettled Canadian provinces.   Much like Omar el Akkad’s recent American War, Beckett is interested in how America might behave when problems it has been ignoring in other parts of the world become internalised. In this case how America might deal with climate refugees when they are coming from inside the country itself. In doing so, Beckett focuses on politics…

Dyschronia by Jennifer Mills
Review , Science Fiction / 16/04/2018

Climate fiction has been sneaking into the Australian mainstream. Recent books like Clade by James Bradley and last year’s Closing Down by Sally Abbott looked at a world riven by climate change. Jennifer Mills’ new novel Dyschronia is not as in-your-face. While there is a defining, almost apocalyptic event (the sea permanently retreating from the shoreline) Mills’ is not an apocalypse so much as a gradual descent into a new normal. Much in the way of other recent clifi books, this is less an exploration of how things might be and more a warning about what we might be losing.  The title and plot of Dyschronia do not invoke climate fiction but another branch of science fiction, referring as it does to a condition with a temporal element. Sam, the main character of the book has been able to see glimpses of the future since she was a young girl. A possibly invented malady connected to “pain and the perception of time” and one which causes Sam to experience nausea and have severe migraines but also to have visions. The townsfolk of the Australian coastal town of Clapstone start to act on her predictions. But it is hard to know throughout the story, which flicks from Sam’s childhood to a first person plural narrated present day, whether she is actually seeing the future…

Blind Defence by John Fairfax
Crime , Review / 13/04/2018

John Fairfax is a pen name of William Broderick, a crime novelist who won a Golden Dagger for his first novel The Sixth Lamentation, the first of his Father Anselm crime fiction series. Whether to differentiate that series from his new one or just because he could, Broderick has taken a pen name for his new series, the first of which was Summary Justice. That book started the story of William Benson, imprisoned for murder, now released and at the English bar, defending murderers in the Old Bailey. Blind Defence opens a couple of years after Summary Justice. Benson’s practice has not flourished since his first case. Even Tess de Vere, the solicitor who briefed him and, as a law student, encouraged him in prison to study law, has been pressured by her firm not to send him cases. But then comes a case where the accused asks for Benson by name and he has a chance to try and defend his second murder. Diane Heybridge was found hanging in her flat. All of the evidence points to her ex-boyfriend Brent Stainsby but Stainsby is maintaining his innocence. Neither Benson not Tess like Stainsby but they are committed to the…

Find You in the Dark by Nathan Ripley
Crime , Review / 12/04/2018

Find You In the Dark has an intriguing premise.  Martin Reese is a retired tech billionaire with a wife and teenage daughter. But Martin has a secret hobby. He follows the careers of arrested serial killers and uses the clues they leave behind to find where they buried their victims. He then goes out, uncovers the body, takes his own series of macabre photos and then anonymously calls the police to reveal the location of the body and brag about the fact that they failed to find it. But his activities have caught the attention of a real serial killer who decides that it is time for Martin to experience the real thing. Find You in the Dark tries to play it both ways. Martin is not a serial killer but his character is based on the premise that he has all the psychopathic and sociopathic tendencies to be one, just never the will to carry it through. The assumption is that his obsession with actual killers is his proxy way of dealing with his desires. So much so that he started following and then married Ellen, the sister of serial killer victim Tinsley back when he was in college….

The Fighter by Michael Farris Smith
Crime , Literature , Recommended , Review / 10/04/2018

The Fighter is the follow-up to Michael Farris Smith’s debut Desperation Road, which was longlisted for the UK Crime Writers’ Association 2017 Gold Dagger Award. And it could well have been given the same title as it charts the build-up to the final fight of ageing cage fighter Jack Boucher. It may well also find itself on long and shortlists itself when award season rolls around. Set in a depressed American South, from the opening Smith perfectly captures an air of desperation tinged with hope that somehow always seems to go awry, because life just does not work like that. When the book opens Boucher has just had a big win at the casino and is finally heading to pay off a debt to local loanshark Big Mama Sweet. But that is not his only problem. He also needs to find a much larger amount to pay off the bank and stop his foster mother’s house being sold. But he never gets to Big Mama Sweet and the money goes missing. So Jack has to contemplate going back into the cage. Through all this Jack is self-medicating his constant pain and using a notebook to try and keep track of…

Taste of Marrow by Sarah Gailey
Review , Science Fiction / 09/04/2018

Sarah Gailey burst onto the speculative fiction scene with her spectacularly original debut novella River of Teeth. In alternative late 19th Century America that Gailey built, hippos that had been imported to the country in the 1850s have become a source of food and a means of transport in the swampy American South. That book was a heist caper involving a group of outlaws and miscreants up against a bigger bad guy and ended, literally with a bang. Gailey takes up the narrative with protagonists scattered and thinking each other dead. Being the second book in the series, she does not need to bother with much of the world building which allows Taste of Marrow, still a novella and not much longer than River of Teeth, to be a slightly richer experience that can  deepen the story that began in the earlier volume. Taste of Marrow is, like its predecessor, a lot of fun. There is not a lot that is deep and meaningful here and it still not long enough to really dig into the characters. But at novella length, it is a quick, tasty morsel of a book. A Wild West adventure full of killers and ne’er do…

The Coincidence Makers by Yoav Blum
Fantasy , Review / 05/04/2018

Israeli author Yoav Blum’s debut novel (published in 2011) and first novel to be translated into English is a metaphysical love story. It takes as its premise the forces behind the every day. But it imbeds these forces with a deep humanity. Guy is a coincidence maker. His job is to arrange the world so that certain events take place. He is given missions to produce certain outcomes. He has the ability then to map out exactly how small and large events are going to happen and then nudge the variables to produce results. Missions come as an envelope under his door and he plans all of the interconnecting strands of his mission as a map on the wall of his apartment. Guy’s expertise is in bringing two people together, creating relationships out of a web of seeming coincidence and happenstance. But he is part of a much bigger and deeper organisation and it is possible that these missions are just small parts of a much bigger plan. Guy works with two other new coincidence makers – Emily and Eric. Emily is in love with Guy but cannot make him see her. Guy is still mourning the loss of his…

Restless Souls by Dan Sheehan
Historical , Literature , Review / 03/04/2018

The venn diagram on the cover of Dan Sheehan’s debut novel Restless Souls suggests that it falls in the sweet spot between comedy, road trip and tragedy. The novel definitely has all of these elements, but they are not always as balanced as the cover suggests. And while it might complicate the diagram a little, Sheehan includes a number of other elements including philosophy, family drama, historical drama and war film. All that said, Restless Souls does, for the most part, hit a narrative sweet spot. It is the early 1990s and Tom has returned to Ireland from war-torn Sarajevo shattered by his experiences there during the siege. His old friends Karl and Baz have hatched a plan to help him recover from a debilitating PTSD. They have found a clinic in California which specialises in treating war veterans and they have pooled their dwindling money to take Tom. While they are three, hanging over all of them, particularly foster brother Karl is the suicide of their fourth, Gabriel. Slotted within Karl’s first person narration of the trip are excerpts from Tom’s diary of his time in Sarajevo during the siege. He had no reason for being there except an…

Stranger by David Bergen
Literature , Recommended , Review / 28/03/2018

Award winning Canadian author David Bergen’s new novel Stranger takes readers on an odyssey from Guatemala across borders into the United States. Along the way he looks at issues of Western exploitation, illegal immigration into the US and global inequality. But he does this in the frame of what is often a heartbreaking, beautifully observed tale of a mother’s quest to regain her child. Iso Perdido works at a fertility clinic in Guatemala. Women come from the West for treatment there based on the lake’s supposed powers to promote conception. The clinic is also used as a way of providing unwanted Guatemalan children to wealthy couples who cannot conceive. Iso starts an affair with Eric, one of the (married) doctors at the clinic and becomes pregnant. But before she can do anything about the pregnancy, Eric has a serious accident and is taken by his wife back to the US to recouperate. When her baby is born, the clinic tricks her into selling the baby to the doctor and his family and sends the baby to the US, The rest of the tale is Iso’s journey to the US to infiltrate the gated community in which the doctor and his…

Autonomous by Analee Newitz
Review , Science Fiction / 26/03/2018

Before the release of her debut novel, Annalee Newitz was better known as one of the founders of io9 and wrote about new technologies. So she is well placed to craft a futuristic scifi novel that even set one hundred and twenty odd years from now, still feels like a natural extrapolation of where we are today. Judith “Jack” Chen is a biological pirate. She takes drugs manufactured by the big pharma companies, reverse engineers them and produces cheaper copies for those in need. She operates from a submarine that moves her between manufacturing centres in Northern Africa and her home base of northern Canada. But Jack has a problem. Her latest batch of reengineered drugs designed to improve focus on work is killing people by making them overly addicted to those tasks. It turns out, though that this is not due to any mistake of hers but because the drug’s big pharma manufacturer had been lying about its potential side effects. Even so, she sets out to make amends. Meanwhile the corporation has hired some muscle to clean up the mess. Artificially intelligent battle robot Paladin is paired with a human Eliasz and they are sent to hunt Jack…

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Fantasy , Review , Young Adult / 22/03/2018

Children of Blood and Bone is one of the most anticipated YA books of 2018. Movie rights have already been sold and YA blogger sites have been singing its praises. And there is a lot to like here. Tomi Adeyemi has constructed a fast paced, roller-coaster quest-based fantasy book set in a well realised West-African-inspired setting and delivers the kind of thrills and characters that her YA readership craves. Zélie, is a Diviner, part of a subgroup of people in the kingdom of Orisha subjugated and feared for their former ability to use magic. Magic was banished from the world by the moustache-twirlingly evil King Sanara thirteen years before. Those with white hair, who carry the mark of magic users, are reviled and repressed. But an encounter between Zélie and runaway princess Amari changes the equation. Amari has stolen a relic that can respark magic in individuals and, together with Zélie and her brother Tzain, embarks on a quest to unite three sacred artefacts and bring magic back to the world. While Children of Blood and Bone has a unique and fascinating African setting and mythology, the plot and characters owe as much to recent YA-fan favourite series like The…

Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi
Fantasy , Historical , Literature , Review / 20/03/2018

In 2014, Iraqi author Ahmed Saadawi won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, commonly known as the Arabic Booker Prize, for Frankenstein in Baghdad. Four years later, the English translation has become available and it reveals a novel worthy of an award. Frankenstein in Baghdad takes Mary Shelley’s familiar horror trope and transplants it to the streets of Baghdad not long after the American invasion and the fall of Saddam in 2003. In doing so, it manages not only to illuminate that period but to create a new, compelling version of a longstanding myth. Unsurprisingly for this era, the book starts with a car bomb: No one saw it coming; it all happened in a fraction of a second. The people who weren’t injured – because they were too far away, or screened by other people’s bodies or behind parked cars, or because they were coming down the side lanes and hadn’t reached the main street when the explosion went off… witnessed the explosion as it engulfed the vehicles and the bodies of the people around them. It cut the electricity and killed birds. Windows were shattered and doors blown in. Cracks appeared in the walls of nearby houses, and…

Obsidio by Kaufman and Kristoff

Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff bring their Illuminae trilogy to an action packed, emotionally charged, edge-of-your-seat conclusion in Obsidio. Of course these are, essentially, all of the ingredients that readers of this series have come to expect. As with the previous books in this series, Obsidio is told through a collection of found documents, graphics and text, and this style continues to work well to create a very visual, cinematic feel. In a nutshell – the survivors of the previous books have no choice but to retrace their steps to Kerenza IV. Meanwhile, on Kerenza, the Beitech invaders have become an occupying force, using the remaining population to mine the resources they need to repair their ships and leave. One of the occupying force is Rhys Lindstrom, ex-boyfriend of invasion survivor and insurgent Asha Grant, cousin of Kady, one of the heroes of Illuminae. Putting yet another, troubled romance at the centre of the action. But all of the surviving characters from previous books also have a part to play in Obsidio. This time, more than before, the young protagonists have to deal with a world where the adults just won’t take them seriously (but have to save the day…

City Without Stars by Tim Baker
Crime , Historical , Review / 14/03/2018

Tim Baker’s debut novel, Fever City, was a fantasia on the assassination of John F Kennedy. His follow up, City Without Stars, takes a very different tack and while still historical to a degree is a little more contemporary. Set in 2000, on the Mexican side of the US/Mexican border, Baker’s new novel takes on the drug trade and all of the attendant misery and corruption that surrounds it. Baker’s novel opens with a murder. This is the latest in what turns out to be an extremely long term pattern of women abducted, raped and murdered around the town Cuidad Real. And there are plenty of women around as they come to the town to work in the cheap sweatshops called maquiladoras. These sweatshops, often owned by foreign interests are the exploitative underbelly of NAFTA. Cuidad Real is a border town so it is also a centre for drug smuggling into the United states. Baker tells the story of this town through a number of main point of view characters who circle around each other. Fuentes, seemingly one of the only non-corrupt policemen in town, desperate to stop the murders. Pilar, working to unionise the workers in the factories and…

This I Would Kill for by Anne Buist
Crime , Review / 12/03/2018

Anne Buist is determined to put the psychology back into psychological thrillers. There has always been a ring of truth around her character Natalie King’s work as a psychologist and no more so than here, where much of the action takes place in her consulting rooms and in the courtroom. King is drawn into a custody dispute involving five year-old Chris, the son of Jenna and Malik and eight year-old Chelsea, Jenna’s daughter by another man. King starts as a consultant providing evidence on Jenna’s fitness as a mother but the case quickly spirals out of control as Jenna accuses Malik of sexual abuse of Chelsea. With little to no evidence, King is then asked by the Court to explore the possibility that this is the case. Meanwhile, King herself is pregnant and unsure who the father is – police detective Damien or prosecutor Liam, now separated from his own wife after his earlier affair with Natalie. Besides providing the romantic and sexual tension into the mix, these two characters also shine a different light on the issues that Buist is exploring. Liam’s perspective comes from his new job as a prosecutor with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to…

Bloody January by Alan Parks
Crime , Historical / 07/03/2018

Readers looking for gritty crime can always find their fix on the mean (fictional) streets of Glasgow. To make things a little grittier, Alan Parks, sets his debut novel Bloody January in 1973. Drugs and criminal gangs are rife, most of the police (sorry, polis) are on the take, and while there are plenty of shady no-go areas in town the whiff of development is in the air. Bloody January has an intriguing open. A prisoner with a long record asks to meet with Detective McCoy to warn him that a young woman will be killed. McCoy only half believes the tale and when he does follow up he is too late. The woman is shot, her attacker turns the gun on himself and the informant is killed in the prison. This book is not called Bloody January for nothing. The rest is what can only be described as corrupt police procedural where all roads lead to the ultra-rich and untouchable Dunlop family with whom McCoy has had run-ins in the past. McCoy himself is a complex character but one with most of the attributes readers have come to expect from Scottish crime. He has a damaging history, having been…

Lightning Men by Thomas Mullen
Crime , Historical , Recommended , Review / 05/03/2018

In 2016, Thomas Mullen delivered one of the crime novels of the year with Darktown. That book told the story of the first Black policemen in Atlanta, a force established in the years following World War II. Darktown showed the institutionalised racism that sat behind and around that decision. The group of eight policemen were set up in a basement of the YMCA with no vehicles and if they wanted to arrest someone they had to call the white police to do it. They were only allowed to patrol the predominantly black areas of town and while they were feted for the steps they were taking they were also feared in their own community. Darktown was in other respects a straight down the line procedural in which two of the black policemen and one white policeman work a murder case from different angles. Lightning Men picks up a couple of years after the events of Darktown. Like its predecessor it focusses mainly on the black police partners of Boggs and Smith and their former co-conspirator Deny Rakestraw but it also ranges across a broader cross section of characters. Each of the three main characters have their own problems to work…

Savages: The Wedding by Sabri Louatah
Crime , Literature , Review , Thriller / 02/03/2018

Savages – The Wedding is the first book in French author Sabri Louatah’s Saint-Etienne Quartet.  Originally written in 2011, the subject matter is if anything more relevant now than it was then, given the terrorist attacks in France over the last few years. Savages opens on the campaign trail for an Algerian candidate for the French presidency. Idder Chaouch has brought in American campaign advisors to help him turn around a campaign that is potentially sinking. The extended prologue focuses on Chaouch, his family and in particular, his daughter’s tv-star boyfriend Fouad Nerrouche, who is using his star power to boost the campaign. The book then jumps forward to the day before the election and the marriage of Fouad’s brother Slim and charts a growing collision between the personal and the political. Taking his cue from tv programs like The Wire, Louatah ranges across a number of likeable and unsavoury characters, with the real tension building in the background of what is already a fairly heightened situation. But the narrative focus of Savages, if it has one, is Fouad’s cousin Krim. Krim has fallen in with a bad crowd and has found himself out of a job and on the wrong…

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
Crime , Review , Science Fiction / 01/03/2018

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, the debut novel by Stuart Turton has so many influences it is hard to know where to begin. It is designed to appeal to lovers of speculative fiction and classic crime fiction in equal measure and should succeed in satisfying everyone to some degree. Seven Deaths starts in cliché territory. A man comes to in a forest, he has no memory of who he is or why is there, a name is on his lips. He thinks he sees a murder taking place but before he can find any evidence of it, a mysterious stranger has pressed a compass into his hand and pointed him East. He walks through woodland until he comes to a crumbling English manor house, Blackheath where, it turns out his name is Simon Bell and he is a guest for a ball to be held that evening. The ball itself is being held to commemorate the murder of the Hardcastles’ son Thomas twenty years before. Their two other children, Michael and Evelyn have come for the event as has everyone connected with that fateful day. Before long the narrator learns that he is not Dr Simon Bell after all,…