Review: “A Canticle For Liebowitz” By Walter M. Miller Jr (Novel)

Well, since I was still in the mood for sci-fi, I thought that I’d take a look at a rather interesting dystopian novel from 1959 called “A Canticle For Liebowitz” By Walter M. Miller Jr. I first heard about this novel after watching this fascinating “Extra Sci-fi” video about it (SPOILERS) on Youtube and was intrigued enough to track down a second-hand copy of it a couple of days later.

So, let’s take a look at “A Canticle For Liebowitz”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1984 Black Swan (UK) paperback edition of “A Canticle For Liebowitz” that I read.

“A Canticle For Liebowitz” is a three-part novel, following life in a remote American desert monastery during three different time periods following a devastating nuclear war during the 1960s. The novel begins with a young novice called Francis performing a Lenten vigil in the desert, when he is greeted by a mysterious old pilgrim.

Whilst the two don’t get along very well at first, the old pilgrim finds him a stone for his improvised shelter – which happens to be the capstone of a fallout shelter containing some of the pre-apocalyptic “memorabilia” that the monastery strives to copy, hide and preserve in the violently anti-intellectual climate following the war. Of course, there are questions and doubts about the authenticity of these relics…

The second part of the novel takes place centuries later in a renaissance-like period of history, where America is split into several kingdoms (who are on the brink of war) and it focuses on a brilliant – but arrogant- scholar and scientist called Thon Thaddeo who reluctantly travels to the monastery after they refuse to send their “memorabilia” to him. Whilst there, he discovers that one of the monks has managed to build some primitive electrical technology and also ends up arguing with the abbot about matters of religion and science.

The third part of the novel is set in a more conventional science fiction future, with spaceships, voice-controlled computers etc… The monastery is still standing and now also carries out scientific research too. Yet, political tensions between east and west are gradually building in the background after a series of illegal nuclear tests. Will humanity once again repeat the mistakes of its past?

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a well-written, intelligent and creative sci-fi novel that not only rightly deserves its status as an influential classic of the genre, but is also surprisingly timeless too. However, it is also an even more slow-paced novel than I’d initially expected. So, be sure to set aside some time if you want to read it. It’s worth the time, but don’t expect it to be “easy reading” in any sense of the term.

In terms of the novel’s science fiction elements, they’re really creative 🙂 For the most part, this is a literal science fiction novel – in other words, a novel about science itself. By focusing on humanity gradually rediscovering all of their lost scientific knowledge, this novel is not only able to capture the thrill and awe that this knowledge first evoked (seriously, the scene with the arc lamp is epic!), but also the fear that it evoked too.

One of the novel’s many running themes is that of scientific hubris, often shown in the novel’s many conflicts between scientific progress and religious tradition. Yet, in a brilliantly creative twist, the monks are responsible for preserving and interpreting the knowledge – yet find themselves worried when the secular scholars they have been preserving it for finally reach the level of intelligence needed to understand it.

This is also one of the earliest post-apocalyptic novels and it includes many tropes that would later become mainstays of the genre – such as violent bands of survivors, the ruins of civilisation and widespread genetic mutations. Interestingly, whilst the novel does include a few other dystopian features (eg: the harsh desert, the harshness of the monastery etc…), the most chillingly dystopian element of this novel is probably its main theme of cyclical history – of civilisation destroying and rebuilding itself over and over again. Although this is shown through large-scale events, it is also hinted at through a recurring character in all three segments of the story, similar tragic endings for all three parts and occasional references to characters from previous parts of the story.

It is also one of the few novels – the only other one I can think of is James Herbert’s “Domain” – that really shows the bleakness, horrors and consequences of nuclear war. Given that this novel was written during the early-middle part of the cold war, and just three years before the Cuban missile crisis, I’m guessing that it would have been even more chillingly topical back then. Even so, the novel is still one of the most powerful and harrowing anti-nuclear novels that you’ll read (it isn’t quite as bleak as an old TV show like “Threads“, but it certainly comes close at times).

This is also a novel about history too, with most of the novel’s backstory being deliberately vague, unreliable or ambiguous. Not only does this add a lot to the post-apocalyptic atmosphere, but it also helps to emphasise how far humanity has fallen when the only remnants of the past are things like incomprehensible document fragments, wildly exaggerated mythology, rumours and local folklore. It also shows how history is distorted, forgotten and/or re-interpreted over time too – such as when a drunken character’s glass eye becomes a revered relic several hundred years later or how the story of Francis’ unceremonious meeting with the pilgrim quickly morphs into a novel-sized tome, thanks to embellished re-tellings and speculation.

Another cool thing about this novel is how it manages to be both a large-scale and a small-scale drama at the same time. By focusing on life in the monastery during various time periods, the novel achieves a “close-up” level of intensity and humanity that really makes you care about all of the large-scale stuff that is relayed to the reader in a few short scenes, extracts from letters, dialogue segments etc… This blending of small and large-scale drama works really well and helps to add a lot of realism to the story.

Another main theme of this novel is religion. Although I’m guessing that you’ll probably get more out of this novel if you are a Christian (especially if you are Catholic), the novel uses religion not only to add atmosphere to the story but also to ask questions about humanity, science etc.. and to debate various topics. The novel’s presentation of religion is fairly nuanced with, for example, some of the monks’ questions and thoughts seeming valid and others seeming either dogmatic or cruel (such as Abbot Zerchi’s objections to euthanasia during one especially bleak part of the novel).

Likewise, despite the emphasis on tradition and the frequent use of Latin (not all of which is translated), one of the fascinating things about this novel is how a lot of the novel’s events end up being incorporated into the monks’ religious beliefs over time. With, for example, the patron saint of their abbey being a scientist from before the apocalypse, history being translated into religious stories etc…. This is either a nuanced comment about how people use religion to make sense of the world or perhaps an amusingly irreverent critique of things like religious traditions etc…

And, yes, despite the bleakness, this novel has a surprising amount of subtle and/or quirky humour in it too. Not only does this make the post-apocalpytic elements seem harsher by contrast, but it also adds a level of realism and humanity to the story in a way that you don’t always see in post-apocalyptic stories too.

As for the characters, this novel is really good. Although it covers a large sweep of history and therefore contains a fairly large cast of characters, all of them seem like flawed and realistic people who have a reasonable amount of emotional and psychological depth.

The writing in this novel is excellent, but challenging. As you would expect with a slightly older novel, this novel’s third-person narration is written in a slightly more formal and descriptive way than a modern novel. Whilst this allows for a lot of extra atmosphere, complexity and personality (seriously, this novel has a brilliant narrative voice), it will make the novel feel very slow-paced if you’re used to more streamlined modern fiction.

Another cool thing about this novel is that the early parts of the “futuristic” third segment of the novel are written in a vaguely beat literature/ modernist literature kind of style (vaguely reminiscent of parts of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World“, James Joyce, William Burroughs etc..) – although this is only a short segment, this really helps to add a “retro future” atmosphere to these parts of the story.

However, this novel also assumes that the reader understands Latin – and, although I was still able get the basic meaning of many of these parts of the novel from the context, there are probably some subtle elements of the story I missed out on because I don’t know that much Latin.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good when you get used to it. At 356 pages in length, it may seem relatively short, but the slow pacing will mean that it’ll take you as long to read as a 500-700 page modern novel. Still, the slow pacing is a good fit with the story and it allows for a lot of extra depth and complexity too. Likewise, the novel’s three-part structure is absolutely genius and it really helps to add a sense of grand historical scale to the story.

As for how this sixty-one year old novel has aged, it is pretty much timeless 🙂 Not only are the futuristic post-apocalyptic settings pretty much timeless (evoking both the middle ages and classic sci-fi), but the novel’s characters, atmosphere, themes etc.. are almost all handled in a very timeless way too.

Plus, not only does this novel include a critique of some of the attitudes of the age (eg: with regard to genetics and racism) that seems slightly ahead of it’s time, but the novel has also been influential on several later sci-fi works (eg: a later episode of “Babylon 5”, the ‘all of this has happened before…’ saying in the modern remake of “Battlestar Galactica” etc..) and was also one of the first sci-fi novels to get mainstream recognition/respectability. Pretty much the only clue that this novel was written in 1959 is the slightly more formal writing style (and maybe some slightly dated/stylised dialogue from a vaguely Native American-style warrior character during a brief part of the novel’s second segment).

All in all, this novel deserves its reputation as a classic. Yes, it is very slow-paced and rather gloomy/pessimistic but, if you can get over this, then you’ll be richly rewarded with an atmospheric, complex and intelligent novel that has stood the test of time extremely well and had a major impact on the sci-fi genre as a whole.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half.

Review: “Stargate Atlantis – Reliquary” By Martha Wells (Novel)

Well, since I was in the mood for both sci-fi and thriller fiction, I thought that I’d take a look at Martha Wells’ 2006 novel “Stargate Atlantis – Reliquary”.

Although I hadn’t planned to read another “Stargate” novel after my slightly lukewarm reaction to a couple of “SG-1” novels I read last year, I ended up getting a second-hand copy of this novel after seeing it highly recommended in a comment below an online article about books. Plus, I was also feeling a bit nostalgic about the time when I watched “Stargate Atlantis” on DVD back in 2014/15 too.

Although this novel tells a stand-alone “Stargate Atlantis” story, I would strongly recommend watching the TV show before reading it – both to get to know the characters and, more importantly, to understand some of the series’ jargon, backstory etc… too. Some parts of this novel probably won’t make sense if you don’t at least have some vague memories of the TV show.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Stargate Atlantis – Reliquary”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2006 Fandemonium (UK) paperback edition of “Stargate Atlantis – Reliquary” that I read.

The novel begins on Atlantis, with McKay and Zelenka arguing with Ford and John Sheppard about what to do with a large new room that they’ve found on the ancient extraterrestrial floating city. John and Ford want to turn it into a sports pitch of some kind, but McKay and Zelenka are fascinated by a pillar-like device that they’ve found in the middle of the room. And, after some tinkering, it suddenly displays a glitchy hologram that contains a gate address.

After some discussion with Weir, they send a MALP probe through the stargate to the address – which shows an empty coastal region and some kind of building that looks a bit like one of the Ancients’ repositories. Thinking that it might contain technical information and/or some much-need zero-point energy modules, Weir authorises an exploratory mission to the planet.

When the team get there, they find that the repository is long-since deserted and notice signs of both vandalism and bomb damage. Although there don’t seem to be any life signs in the area, John begins to feel uneasy – as if there is something there. This feeling only gets worse when the team accidentally open the entrance to a gloomy underground bunker and John smells a mysterious odour of decay…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, although it wasn’t always as fast-paced as I’d hoped for, it’s a really good “Stargate: Atlantis” novel 🙂 Not only is it in keeping with the style and tone of the TV show, but it also contains the series’ classic mixture of sci-fi, humour, thrilling suspense/action and horror 🙂 In other words, this novel is kind of like a really good two-part episode of the TV show.

In terms of the novel’s sci-fi elements, not only does it contain all of the technology from the TV show but it is also a novel about the risks and misuse of genetic engineering and the dangers of bio-weapons. Although this is handled in a slightly stylised way, it allows for some interesting plot elements (such as John slowly mutating into a reptilian creature) and a few brilliantly creepy moments of horror too.

These horror elements include a really good mixture of creepily atmospheric moments, tragic horror, psychological horror, the macabre, monster horror, moral horror/scientific horror, character-based horror and body horror – which really help to add a bit of extra intensity to the story 🙂

But, more than all of this, this novel is a thriller novel. And, although it is sometimes a little slower-paced (due to descriptions, scientific explanations etc…) than a traditional action-thriller novel, these elements of the story work really well here. In short, if you’ve seen the TV show, then you’ll know what to expect. Not only is there a decent amount of suspense, a few fight scenes and a plot twist or two, but the story also includes numerous moments when the characters find themselves in dangerous situations and have to rely on their wits (rather than just brute force) in order to come up with a clever way of dealing with whatever is threatening them.

The novel’s thriller elements are probably at their very best in the mid-late parts of the story, which are a little bit like a version of “Die Hard” set on Atlantis. These parts of the story contain a really compelling mixture of suspense, action and clever planning/teamwork. Still, although the earlier parts of the story are a little slower at times, this does help to build atmosphere and suspense – not to mention that it makes the later parts of the story seem even more dramatic by contrast.

Plus, one cool thing about this novel is that it absolutely nails the TV show’s sense of humour too 🙂 This mostly consists of amusing dialogue and the occasional descriptive moment, but the novel also goes a step further and also includes a few well-placed pop culture references (eg: to “Alien”, H.P.Lovecraft, Monty Python etc…) which really fit in well with the events of the story.

Although this novel isn’t really “laugh out loud” funny most of the time – except for Teyla’s “World war two?” comment, which did make me laugh out loud – this subtle humour really helps to add a lot of personality to the story and also helps to prevent the horror elements from becoming too bleak too.

In terms of the characters, they’re fairly accurate to the TV show – the point where reading this book almost feels like watching an extra episode or two of it. But, although you shouldn’t expect too much extra character development, the novel’s focus on John’s slow transformation into a mutant creature is handled in the kind of immersive way that only novels can do 🙂 This novel is also mostly focused on John and McKay, which also allows for a lot of amusing dialogue exchanges and/or arguments between them too 🙂 Plus, although the novel’s villain can be a bit cartoonishly evil at times, he actually has a reasonably well-written backstory and is also a suitably intelligent foe for the team to battle against too 🙂

As for the writing, it’s fairly good. The novel’s third-person narration is kind of a blend between more informal/”matter of fact” thriller narration and the kind of descriptive, formal narration that you’d expect from a sci-fi novel. It’s very readable, although the descriptive elements do mean that some of the more thrilling moments don’t always feel quite as fast-paced as you might expect from a traditional action-thriller novel or an episode of the TV show. Still, the writing is fairly good overall and these descriptive elements also add atmosphere to the story.

As for length and pacing, this novel is reasonably good. At an efficient 220 pages in length, there isn’t a single wasted page here 🙂 The novel is moderately-fast paced most of the time, with the pacing being a bit slower in the more suspenseful and atmospheric earlier parts, before increasing slightly in speed and intensity as the story progresses. But, whilst it isn’t exactly a “slow paced” novel, it may seem very slightly slower than you’d expect if you’re used to ultra-fast action-thriller novels (by authors like S.D. Perry, Matthew Reilly etc..).

All in all, this is a really good “Stargate Atlantis” novel 🙂 It really does feel like an extra two-part episode of the TV show, complete with amusing dialogue, creepy sci-fi horror and a good amount of gripping suspense/action. Yes, it wasn’t always as fast-paced as I’d expected, but it’s still a good novel and is also probably the best “Stargate”-related novel that I’ve read so far 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least a four.

Review: “The Affair” By Lee Child (Novel)

Well, although I’d planned to review another hardboiled sci-fi novel next, the one I’d chosen didn’t seem to be anywhere near as good as I’d hoped it would be – and I ended up abandoning it after about ten pages. So, I needed to read another novel, a better novel. Quick!

And, since I was still in the mood for thriller fiction, I thought that it’d be the perfect time to take a look at one of the few Lee Child novels I hadn’t read before. I am, of course, talking about Lee Child’s 2011 novel “The Affair” (which I’ve been meaning to read ever since a family member gave me a copy of it several years ago).

Although this novel is both a prequel and part of a large series, it is – like almost every Lee Child novel – designed be read as a stand-alone novel. So, you can enjoy it if you haven’t read any other “Jack Reacher” novels before this one. But, if you have, then there might be a few familiar names and references that you’ll enjoy.

So, let’s take a look at “The Affair”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2011 Bantam (UK) paperback edition of “The Affair” that I read.

The novel begins on the 11th March 1997, with a US military policeman called Jack Reacher arriving at the Pentagon for a meeting with a colonel called Frazer. As he goes through security, he expects to be arrested. No-one arrests him. But, as he heads towards Frazer’s office, he’s certain that there is a team of people following him. He has expected something like this. But, no-one follows him and he arrives at the office ten minutes late. Frazer asks Reacher for the name of the suspect he has found.

Reacher says that he has nothing. That the meeting was nothing but an elaborate ruse to draw the culprit out into the open. That he’d hoped someone would have tried to make a move against him before he arrived. Frazer asks if he’s a suspect. Reacher lies about the answer. Frazer laughs and points out that Reacher looks a bit dishevelled. Reacher says that he is supposed to look like this.

Then we flash back to five days earlier. Reacher has been summoned by his CO, Leon Garber, who criticises him for not meeting uniform regulations before pointing out that his scruffy hair is probably a good thing. A woman called Janice May Chapman has been murdered in a small town in Mississipi called Carter Crossing, a small town with a large army ranger base nearby. Although Reacher expects to be lead investigator on the case, the job goes to another officer called Munro.

Reacher’s role in the case is to enter the town undercover and keep tabs on the local police, in the hope of pre-empting or averting any kind of army-related scandal before it happens. So, he hitchhikes to the town, but the local sheriff – Elizabeth Devereaux – is a former military police officer and guesses why he’s there shortly after meeting him. Still, with only two deputies – and no trained detectives- in the town, she reluctantly agrees to let him help her investigate the case…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that this is a really compelling historical detective novel, with some thriller elements too. In other words, it’s probably closer in style to one of the more understated modern Reacher novels, like “The Midnight Line“, rather than the older novels in the series. And, as long as you don’t expect an action-fest or anything like that, then there’s a rather gripping mystery to be enjoyed here.

So, I’ll start by talking about the novel’s detective elements. This novel is a bit like a blend between a thriller, a police procedural and a hardboiled novel. Not only does the case quickly expand in size and scope, but there are a good variety of investigative elements too – including examining physical evidence, making deductions from clues, interviewing people and coming up with several clever ruses and schemes to catch the criminal.

In addition to one or two smaller side-mysteries, another thing that really helps to keep the story’s detective elements compelling is the fact that – right up until the late parts of the book – the reader is never entirely sure which one of the two main suspects are guilty, thanks to lots of red herrings and contradictory pieces of evidence (all of which are, of course, explained later). So, it’s one of those stories that will keep you guessing 🙂

Plus, there are also a few hardboiled elements too. Whether it is a clever twist on the idea of a “femme fatale” character, the fact that Reacher is a semi-official investigator (who is breaking orders and technically doesn’t have jurisdiction) or the fact that – instead of arresting anyone – he unflinchingly metes out rough justice to anyone he finds to be guilty of a serious crime, this novel definitely takes a few hints from the classic American crime fiction of the 1920s-50s. Even so, it isn’t really a “film noir” story.

As for the novel’s thriller elements, they’re fairly compelling too 🙂 In addition to a larger-scale sub-plot about Reacher trying to deal with a possible military cover-up, the novel also includes quite a few suspenseful moments and even a couple of fight scenes too. Still, this novel is more of a traditional-style crime/suspense thriller than the kind of action-thriller novel you’d traditionally expect from Lee Child. But, thanks to things like shorter chapters and a fast-paced writing style, this novel moves along as quickly as you’d expect from a modern thriller novel 🙂

The novel’s historical elements are a bit of a mixed bag though. When they are at their best, they reminded me of other modern 1990s-based crime/suspense novels (such as Laura Lippman’s excellent “Sunburn) which keep their 1990s setting fairly understated – with only the absence of things like smartphones etc.. – helping to create the historical atmosphere. This helps to lend the story a feeling of realism, in addition to allowing for more suspense too (thanks to the lack of modern technology etc…).

However, unlike many modern 1990s-set novels, there are a few moments where Reacher “breaks the fourth wall” and talks directly about the 1990s in the past tense, as if he was re-telling the story in the present day. Although these moments help to clarify the historical setting, they will probably break your immersion in the story slightly at the same time. Yes, the idea of an older Reacher reminiscing about his younger days is an interesting narrative device, but this puts a certain amount of distance between the reader and the story.

As for the characters, they’re really good 🙂 Although you shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation, there is enough here to make you care about the characters. Not only is it really interesting to see a slightly younger version of Reacher (and one or two other long-running characters too), but Elizabeth is also a fairly complex and interesting character too.

The relationship between Reacher and Elizabeth is quite well-handled, and it manages to be both realistic and stylised at the same time (not to mention that, for a Reacher novel, it is probably one of the steamier books in the series too). Plus, the US military – with all of it’s foibles, rivalries, contradictions and complexities – is also pretty much a main character in this novel too.

In terms of the writing, it is really good too 🙂 Like with a couple of other Reacher novels, this one is written from a first-person perspective – which allows for a bit of extra characterisation and suspense. And, although Reacher’s occasional asides about the 1990s can be a little immersion-breaking, I cannot fault the actual writing itself. If you’ve ever read a Lee Child novel, then you’ll know that he’s an expert at writing fast-paced, precisely-engineered and streamlined narration that is kind of like a modern version of the hardboiled fiction of the 1920s-50s, and this novel is no exception 🙂

As for length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. The edition I read (which had slightly larger pages) was 427 pages long, and this length seemed to be a good fit for the story. Although this isn’t the fastest-paced Reacher novel I’ve read, the story still moves along at a fairly decent pace – with lots of well-placed plot twists, mini-cliffhangers and suspenseful moments that help to keep everything compelling. Another cool thing about this novel’s pacing is the TV-style “cold open” scene, which adds instant intrigue to the story by giving the reader a tantalising glimpse of events that happen about three-quarters of the way through the novel.

All in all, this is a really good detective novel that also contains some gripping thriller elements too. Although I’d have liked to have seen more of an action-thriller story, this novel was still very enjoyable to read – with a (mostly) well-handled historical setting and a good mixture between investigation and suspense.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.

Review: “Tangled Up In Blue” by Joan D. Vinge (Novel)

Well, after planning to read three other books and then abandoning each of them after a couple of pages for different reasons, I needed to find something to read. And, when looking through one of my book piles, I stumbled across the second-hand copy of Joan D. Vinge’s 2000 novel “Tangled Up In Blue” that I bought shortly after reading Vinge’s “World’s End” and then somehow forgot about.

Interestingly, although this novel is part of Vinge’s “Snow Queen” series, it can be read as a stand-alone story. Still, if you’ve read any of the other novels (and I’ve only read “World’s End”), then you’ll notice a few familiar characters, background elements, places etc…

So, let’s take a look at “Tangled Up In Blue”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2000 Tor (US) hardback edition of “Tangled Up In Blue” that I read.

On the planet Tiamat, two Hegemonic police officers – Nyx LaisTree and his half-brother Staun LaisNion – are just finishing their shift, when they are accosted by a rather uptight “by the book” technican called BZ Gundhalinu who wants them to go to the royal palace for guard duty at a party held by the Snow Queen, celebrating a sucessful hunt of sea-creatures called mers that are used in a longevity serum available only to the ultra-rich.

After the guard duty, the cops go out drinking before slipping away to visit a warehouse. As part of the uneasy relationship between Tiamat’s monarchy and the Hegemony, Tiamat natives are not permitted to own advanced technology. Of course, smuggling is rampant and the Queen uses her political influence to keep it that way. So, both Nyx and Staun are members of an unofficial vigilante group who breaks into smugglers’ warehouses and smashes up the illicit technology.

But, during this latest raid, they stumble across a group of armed men who kill most of them. Barely alive, Nyx recognises one of the men as a fellow police officer. But, before the man can kill Nyx, he is distracted by a commotion. Gundhalinu, having picked up something suspicious on the police frequencies has shown up at the warehouse with his superior officer, Jerusha, to investigate the illegal vigilante activity. Soon, they both get involved in a frantic fight with the mysterious armed cops.

In the aftermath, Nyx is interrogated by a cruel internal affairs officer called Jashari before being suddenly released from hospital and suspended from duty. Racked with grief by his brother’s death and suffering from partial amnesia about the events in the warehouse, he decides to go out and get some answers and some revenge. Meanwhile, Gundhalinu begins to investigate unofficially until he is called in by Chief Aranne and told that Nyx is under suspicion of stealing a valuable artefact and that Gundhalinu will be responsible for following him and finding out more…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was much more of a thriller than I’d initially expected 🙂 Not only does it have all of the atmosphere that you’d expect from a novel in this series, but it’s also a reasonably-paced gritty film noir-influenced police thriller too. It is also a really cool blend of the sci-fi and fantasy genres too – think “Blade Runner” meets “Game Of Thrones” 🙂 Seriously, this is one of those books that just gets better and better as it goes along.

So, I should start by talking about the novel’s thriller elements. It’s slightly more of a traditional-style thriller, with a really good blend of suspense, mystery, mini-cliffhangers, secret societies, political/criminal scheming, spy stuff and a couple of dramatic combat sequences too. Although you shouldn’t expect an ultra-fast paced action-thriller novel, this novel reads a bit like a cross between a more focused harboiled “film noir” novel, a gritty drama novel and a vaguely “Game Of Thrones”-style political intrigue thriller 🙂

The novel’s “film noir” elements are interesting too, with the story including the kind of complicated web of criminal intrigue that you’d expect from the genre, not to mention a grizzled detective protagonist (who has been suspended from duty and wants both answers and revenge), a certain level of moral ambiguity, a “Maltese Falcon“-style focus on several people trying to get hold of something, grim/gritty depictions of violence and a complicated love interest character (Devony).

Yet, at the same time, this novel feels a bit more focused than most classic 1920s-50s hardboiled crime novels do, with the story having enough complexity to fit into the genre without ever really becoming confusing (if you’re paying attention). Plus, it also includes a few elements from the buddy cop genre too, which are handled really well 🙂

Not only that, this novel is also at least slightly evocative of “Blade Runner“, whilst also being it’s own thing too 🙂 In addition to the noir elements and the gritty futuristic police-based drama, one of the coolest ways that this novel riffs on “Blade Runner” is probably how the novel’s setting is this wonderfully atmospheric mixture of fantasy-genre style ancient buildings and futuristic tech. Although this gives the novel it’s own unique atmosphere, it’s also a really cool and creative homage to the “used future” elements of “Blade Runner” too 🙂

In terms of the novel’s sci-fi elements, they’re really brilliant 🙂 In addition to lots of backstory and vivid worldbuilding that is delivered in a relatively concise way, the novel’s futuristic technology is both a background thing and a central part of both the story’s main plot and the political drama sub-plot in the background. In short, this novel is as much about not having technology as it is about all of the cool things that technology can do. A lot of the novel’s background revolves around people being motivated by being denied technology for one reason or another (eg: political policy, history etc…).

Plus, although this novel is more sci-fi than fantasy, one of the cool things about it is how it blends both genres. In short, it is a sci-fi story that is set in a fantasy-influenced world, where things like monarchies, traditions, feudalism etc… still play a role. Not only is this reflected in the story’s slightly fantasy-influenced setting, but also in the novel’s political intrigue elements – which are wonderfully evocative of something like “Game Of Thrones” 🙂

Thematically, this is both a novel about death and also a novel about loyalty and honour too. Both Gunhalinu and Nyx are both mourning the loss of important relatives, and this has an effect on their actions and characters as the story progresses. The novel also focuses on how loyalty and honour can come into conflict with each other (eg: A secret society, a vigilante group, smuggling gangs, Devony’s torn loyalties, LaisTree’s loyalty to his brother, Gundhalinu’s “by the book” attitudes etc..). This topic is handled in a brilliantly nuanced way, with the story’s eventual conclusion being that the two things aren’t necessarily polar opposites of each other.

In terms of the characters, this novel is superb 🙂 Not only do all of the main characters (Gundhalinu, Nyx and Devony) experience a surprising amount of character development as the story progresses, but they also have a level of personal and emotional complexity that really helps to make them feel like realistic, flawed people too 🙂 In addition to all of this, the conflict and contrast between many of the characters is also a major source of drama and depth for the story too 🙂

As for the writing, it is stellar 🙂 This novel’s third-person narration is a lot more focused, faster, slightly more informal and more “matter of fact” than the formal narration in Vinge’s “World’s End” was, but without losing any of the atmosphere or depth that you’d expect from this series 🙂 This more focused narration is evocative of the hardboiled crime genre, but never turns into just a typical Chandler/Hammett pastiche. In other words, this novel has it’s own distinctive narrative style 🙂

As for length and pacing, this novel is better than I’d expected 🙂 At an efficient 235 pages in the hardback edition, it never really feels like a page is wasted. Likewise, thanks to both the thriller-style structure and the slightly more “matter of fact” writing style, this novel feels a lot more energetic and faster-paced than “World’s End” did 🙂

All in all, this was an even better novel than I’d expected 🙂 Not only is it a cool and creative blend of the sci-fi, film noir and fantasy genres, but it was also much more of a thriller than I’d expected 🙂 If you like films like “Blade Runner” or just want an imaginative thriller that also includes depth, atmosphere and interesting characters, then this one is well worth reading 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

Review: “Area 7” By Matthew Reilly (Novel)

Well, I was in the mood for another thriller. And, after enjoying Matthew Reilly’s “Ice Station” a few weeks ago, I thought that I’d take a look at the other Reilly novel I happened to spot in a second-hand bookshop in Petersfield last year. I am, of course talking about Reilly’s 2001 thriller novel “Area 7”.

Although this novel is technically a sequel to “Ice Station”, it’s a fairly self-contained novel that can be enjoyed without reading “Ice Station” first. But, if you’ve read “Ice Station” first, then you’ll see a few familiar faces again and get slightly more out of a couple of moments and small sub-plots.

So, let’s take a look at “Area 7”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2002 Pan Books (UK) paperback edition of “Area 7” that I read.

The novel begins with a lecture transcript that discusses the role and history of the office of the US president, before showing an extract from a conspiracy theory magazine about the mysterious death of a US senator called Jerry Woolf.

Then, the story jumps over to Fort Leavenworth military prison in Kansas. A former general called “Caesar” Russell is due to be executed for murder and treason. His last request is to watch the inauguration of the new president on TV and whilst he watches it, he muses about a scheme to secretly implant microchips into the hearts of important people. After this, he is taken to another prison and executed via lethal injection. However, a few minutes after his body is taken away, he is secretly revived using a defribrillator and hyper-oxygenated blood.

A few months later, several experimental plasma warheads are found hidden and fully armed in several major airports. Meanwhile, in the Utah desert, Marine Captain Shane “Scarecrow” Schofield is accompanying the president on a helicopter tour of several secret underground military bases in the desert. When the group arrive at Area 7, they are greeted by the elite masked commandos of the Air Force’s 7th Special Operations Squadron.

As the President descends into the base, Schofield and the other marines wait around in the hangar above. Schofield then notices that the troops from the 7th have suddenly taken up offensive – rather than defensive- positions around all exits from the hangar. Seconds later, they open fire on the marines and a battle ensues. Meanwhile, the President watches a demonstration of a new vaccine designed to protect against a bio-weapon. But the demonstration is suddenly interrupted by a video broadcast by Caesar, saying that he has taken command of the base…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was a hell of a lot of fun to read 🙂 Yes, it is little slower to really get started than “Ice Station” was but – after about the first 80-90 pages or so – it’s nothing but grippingly thrilling non-stop spectacular ultra-fast paced action 🙂 Like with Clive Cussler & Graham Brown’s “Zero Hour“, this novel is one of the best action movies that you’ll ever read 🙂 Yes, it probably isn’t going to win any literary awards, but if you want a book that is like an incredibly fun 1980s-90s action movie “turned up to eleven”, then this one is well worth reading 🙂

As action-thriller novels go, this one is really well-constructed – with a brilliant mixture of suspenseful mini-cliffhangers, cool gadgets, tense time-limits, claustrophobic underground scenes, several competing groups of villains, multiple plot threads, acrobatic stunts, large and small-scale drama, spectacular open-air chase scenes, numerous fast-paced combat sequences (including gladiatorial combat, helicopter duels etc… in addition to the usual gun and fist fights), spectacular set pieces and one of the best uses of Chekhov’s Gun that I’ve seen in a while too (seriously, when you see everything on the fourth floor of the facility, you’ll know what I mean).

Thanks to this immense variety of thriller elements, this is one of those rare thriller novels that can function at full intensity for most of the story without ever getting dull. And, in classic Reilly fashion, this novel is ludicrously and gloriously “over the top” in so many ways 🙂 The best way to describe this is to imagine a Michael Bay movie with absolutely no budgetary or practical limits whatsoever. Leaving aside the numerous spectacular explosions and gunfights, this also includes brilliantly clever location designs and numerous awesome set pieces that take place on land, air, water and… well, I won’t spoil it.

Whether you enjoy all of this or not will depend on how much you can suspend your disbelief. If you take a more “rational” or “realistic” view of this story, then it will seem extremely silly. But, if you can suspend your disbelief, then you’ll be rewarded with the kind of amazingly spectacular action-fest that, even almost two decades after it was written, can still easily surpass even the highest-budget Hollywood films. Seriously, if you want to see an example of how books can be better than films, then read this one!

And, continuing with the action movie theme, one of the cool things about this novel is that – although it was published in 2001 – it is actually more like a gloriously fun 1980s-90s action movie (think “Broken Arrow” meets “Die Hard”, but on steroids) than a more serious, topical and gritty 2000s one. A lot of this has to do with the fact that it was clearly written (and is set) before 9/11 happened.

Not only does this mean that there are a lot of spectacular aircraft-based scenes that would have probably been considered “too soon” if the novel was written a bit later that year, but the novel also deals with the topic of terrorism in a very pre-9/11 kind of way too – with the villains being various evil secret societies, fanatical right-wing groups etc… (with incredibly contrived evil schemes) rather than the religious extremist villains that would become more common in the genre later in the decade.

So, this novel is also a glimpse into the later parts of the more innocent age between the end of the cold war and 9/11 – where thriller writers couldn’t just use the news for inspiration and, instead, had to come up with unpredictable and creative plots for their stories. All of this results in a much more fun and “feel-good” thriller story than the gloomier, grittier and more “topical” thrillers that would characterise most of the 2000s.

In terms of the characters, they are the kind of stylised characters you’d expect in a story like this. Although there is a bit of characterisation for a few main characters and some of the villains, this is more of a plot-focused novel than a character-based one. In fact, in the author interview at the end of the edition I read, Reilly actually states: “I want to write about action and thrills and adventure, and if developing characters slow down the action, then developing characters get the chop!

Still, there is just about enough characterisation here to make you care about what happens to the main characters. Plus, one amusing thing about this novel is that – although the US President is never explicitly named – from a couple of physical descriptions, the publication date and some references to the time period the story takes place in (eg: mention of a Playstation 2 and Jar Jar Binks, and the most recent other president mentioned in the opening segment being Bill Clinton), he is most likely based on G. W. Bush – which makes the parts of the novel where he gets to be a bit of an action hero absolutely hilarious to read in a cynically ironic way.

As for the writing, it is a Matthew Reilly novel from the 2000s. In other words, the third-person narration is written in a fairly informal and “matter of fact” style that – whilst it probably breaks numerous stylistic rules and is unlikely to win any literary awards – adds a lot of extra speed and intensity to the novel. Yes, if you’re new to this author, then you might find his writing style to be a bit corny, awkward and/or immature at times, but it works. Don’t ask me how, but it works! Like with Reilly’s later novel “Seven Ancient Wonders”, this novel is one of the most well-written “badly written” books that you’ll ever read.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good 🙂 Although it is a fairly hefty 565 pages in length, these pages flash past at incredible speed – meaning it’ll take you as long to read as a 250-300 page book usually would. And, although the story takes a little while longer to really pick up speed than “Ice Station” does, most of this book feels even faster-paced and more gripping than that novel did. Seriously, if you want a lesson in good, consistently fast action-thriller novel pacing, then read most of this one 🙂

All in all, this novel was a hell of a lot of fun to read 🙂 If you want to read something that is even more spectacular than even the highest-budget action movie, then you’ll enjoy “Area 7”. Yes, it takes a little longer to really get started than I’d expected (and the writing style may put some readers off) but, if you stick with it, then you’ll be rewarded with a gloriously intense and over-the-top 1990s-style action-fest of a story 🙂 Just remember to suspend your disbelief before reading it though.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half.

Review: “Fringe: The Zodiac Paradox” By Christa Faust (Novel)

Well, I was still in the mood for sci-fi, so I thought that I’d take a look at a rather interesting second-hand novel I found online a few days earlier. At the time, I was looking for film novelisations when I happened to notice that there were three spin-off novels based on a brilliant sci-fi/detective/horror/thriller TV series called “Fringe” that I watched on DVD in 2012. Surprised that I hadn’t heard of this novel series before, I decided to get the first one in the trilogy – Christa Faust’s 2013 novel “Fringe: The Zodiac Paradox”.

Although it is theoretically possible to enjoy this novel without having watched “Fringe” (since it is a prequel to the TV show), I’d strongly recommend watching at least a couple of seasons of the show first. Several references, concepts and moments throughout the novel will probably make less sense if you don’t have any knowledge about the show. Likewise, if you aren’t used to the style and atmosphere of the TV show, this novel will probably seem very, very weird.

So, that said, let’s take a look at “Fringe: The Zodiac Paradox”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2013 Titan Books (UK) paperback edition of “Fringe: The Zodiac Paradox” that I read.

The novel begins in America in 1968, with a feared serial killer called Allan Mather lurking in the woods near Reiden Lake. He has set his sights on a young couple making out in a nearby car and is already anticipating the shocked headlines when their bodies will be found. On another shore of Reiden Lake, two twentysomething scientists called Walter Bishop and William Bell are preparing to experiment with a hallucinogenic chemical that they have developed.

Allan approaches the car, so confident in his plan that he has even taken a tab of acid beforehand. But, when he gets close, something is wrong. The young couple in the car are actually undercover detectives. Soon, a police airship appears out of nowhere and Allan is fleeing through the woods, chased by cops and search dogs. Meanwhile, beside another Reiden Lake, both Walter and Bell experience some kind of psychic connection with each other before having a shared hallucination of a tear in the fabric of reality hovering above the lake.

When Allan makes it to the lake, the cops catch him and try to drown him. He breaks away and suddenly sees some kind of portal ahead of him. With nothing to lose, he jumps through it and lands in a parallel universe – our universe – and collides with Walter and Bell. Suddenly, Walter is assailed by psychic visions of death and horror. But, by the time the drug wears off, the mysterious man has fled and both scientists write the whole experience off as a vivid hallucination.

Meanwhile, Allan steals a car and decides to return home, unsure of what has happened to him. When he gets home, everything is different. Another version of himself is living there. He kills his doppelganger and begins to work out what has happened to him. He is in another world where the cops know nothing about him. He begins to plan another killing spree.

The story then flashes forwards to 1974. Walter and Bell are at a scientific conference in San Francisco, when Walter happens to overhear two women talking about a newspaper article. They tell him that it is about someone called the “Zodiac Killer” who has been terrorising the city. It doesn’t take Walter long to realise who that is…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was a lot of fun to read 🙂 Not only is it a really interesting blend of the thriller, horror, sci-fi and detective genres, but it also captures the general atmosphere and quirky tone of the TV show absolutely perfectly too – whilst, thanks to the historical setting, also being it’s own thing too.

In terms of the novel’s sci-fi elements, they are the kind of weird “fringe science” that you’d expect from the TV show – with a lot of these parts of the story revolving around hallucinogens, psychic phenomena, unusual types of radioactivity, biofeedback machines and parallel universes. These elements are left mysterious enough to be intriguing, whilst also relying enough on the reader’s knowledge of the TV show to feel concrete and realistic. Combined with the historical setting, this gives the novel a vaguely old-school atmosphere reminiscent of “weird fiction” by early 20th century authors like H. P. Lovecraft, but with more emphasis on the scientific method, ethical dilemmas and 1960s/70s counterculture.

As for the novel’s horror elements, they’re really good too. They mostly consist of a chilling blend of suspense, psychological horror, the paranormal/unexplained, character-based horror and a few moments of gory horror. Although the novel is probably more of a quirky historical thriller than a horror novel, these horror moments are brilliantly effective and really help to add an extra sense of atmosphere, intensity and urgency to the events of the novel.

Likewise, this novel works very well as a thriller too. Although it is probably slightly more of a traditional suspense/ amateur detective thriller than an action-thriller novel, there’s a really good blend of suspenseful moments, chase sequences, fights, time limits, mini-cliffhangers, mysteries and spy stuff that really helps to keep this novel compelling 🙂 All of this is complemented by a slightly faster-paced writing style and a quirky historical atmosphere that really helps to set the story apart from a typical “catch the serial killer” thriller story.

And, yes, I really loved the historical atmosphere of this novel. It is often understated enough to make you feel like you’re watching some kind of low-budget film from the 1960s/70s. And, like in a lot of US TV shows/films from this time period, the 1970s setting really does feel like a slightly faded and more muted version of 1960s America. In fact, there’s even a moment – evocative of the “wave speech” from Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas” – where Walter laments the death of the idealism of the 1960s. And, in a lot of ways, this is a novel about the lingering remnants of the 1960s hippie counterculture in 1970s America.

Plus, this is one of those spin-off novels that contains familiar references – but sometimes in brilliantly unexpected ways. I’m wary of spoiling some of the later ones but a good early example is the police airship in the early parts of the story. Just a brief mention of this is enough to make any fan of the TV show suddenly understand where the scene in question is taking place. Not only is it a really cool moment, but it’s a way of referencing the TV show that doesn’t feel distracting in the context of the story.

In terms of the characters, this novel is excellent 🙂 Not only are the younger versions of Walter and Bell very accurate to the older versions of them on the TV show, but the novel also includes a younger version of Nina Sharp too – who probably has slightly better characterisation/ character development compared to the TV show. She’s less of a mysterious and powerful CEO and much more of an intelligent “action hero” kind of character here. Plus, the novel also reveals a bit more about the complicated relationship between Bell and Nina too.

Not only that, Allan is also a brilliantly chilling villain too – we get to see enough of his mind, personality and backstory for him to feel like a credible threat to the characters but he is also kept mysterious enough to make him feel like a chilling, unexplainable monster too. Seriously, as “realistic” sources of horror go, he’s one of the creepiest villains I’ve seen since I read Tess Gerritsen’s “The Apprentice“.

As for the writing, this novel’s third-person narration is really good 🙂 It is “matter of fact” enough to keep the story flowing at a decent pace, whilst also being descriptive and quirky enough to add atmosphere and humour to some scenes and chilling horror to others. Plus, although this novel isn’t experimental beat literature, this genre was probably a mild tonal influence, given how well-written and fascinating the counterculture and hallucination-based scenes are 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good too. At 355 pages in length, this novel feels a little on the longer side of things, but not too much so. This is probably thanks to the excellent pacing, with lots of clever uses of suspense, a fast-paced writing style and a gradually rising sense of drama and tension that really helps to make this novel gripping 🙂

All in all, this novel was a lot of fun to read 🙂 If you’re a fan of the TV show, then this is like a really awesome extended “lost episode” that gives you an intriguing glimpse into the backstories of several characters. Not only does it work well as a thriller novel and a horror novel, but it really sets itself apart from the crowd thanks to it’s wonderfully quirky and countercultural 1960s/70s setting too 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half.

Review: “All Tomorrow’s Parties” By William Gibson (Novel)

Well, after enjoying the first two novels in William Gibson’s “Bridge” trilogy (Virtual Light” and “Idoru) several months ago, I’ve been meaning to read the third one – “All Tomorrow’s Parties” (1999) for a while.

After all, I ended up finding the entire trilogy in various second-hand bookshops in Brighton and Aberystwyth during the late 2000s and didn’t get round to reading them back then (despite enjoying Gibson’s “Sprawl” trilogy at the time). So, this review has been a long time coming.

Although “All Tomorrow’s Parties” can theoretically be read as a stand-alone novel (thanks to several recaps), I wouldn’t recommend starting with it. Some parts of this novel won’t fully make sense and you’ll miss out on some of the story’s depth unless you’ve read both “Virtual Light” and “Idoru” beforehand. So, unlike those two books (which can be read as stand-alones), this one should be read in the correct order.

So, let’s take a look at “All Tomorrow’s Parties”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2000 Penguin (UK) paperback edition of “All Tomorrow’s Parties” that I read.

Set in the near future, the novel begins with a sociologist called Yamazaki descending into an underground train station and finding an elaborate homeless encampment made from cardboard boxes. He is there to meet a chemically-enhanced data analyst called Laney, who lives in the backroom of a model-painter’s studio and is suffering both a respiratory infection and the obsessive side-effects of the experimental drugs he was dosed with during his childhood. Laney has called for Yamazaki because he needs to get in touch with their mutual friend Rydell and send him to San Francisco because something important is going to happen.

Rydell is now working as a security guard for a convenience store called the Lucky Dragon when he gets the call. And, after getting fired, he takes a car-share to San Francisco with an alcoholic country musician called Buell Creedmore. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, a heavily-armed and nameless man decides to take a cab towards the autonomous city-state that lives on the city’s bridge.

A mute boy called Silencio lives on the bridge with his two older criminal friends, Raton and Playboy. When they go out for the evening, both of Silencio’s friends make the foolish mistake of trying to rob the nameless man. It does not end well for either of them.

Meanwhile, Chevette is now house-sitting in a beach-side villa with her documentary-maker friend Tessa and several media students. However, after one of Tessa’s cameras spots a car belonging to Chevette’s violent ex-boyfriend Carson, both of them decide to sneak away to San Francisco before he can find them. Needless to say, they find their way to the bridge too…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, although it takes a while to really get started, it is a really good conclusion to the trilogy. In a lot of ways, this novel is more like a mixture of “Virtual Light” and “Idoru” than it’s own unique thing in the way that those novels were.

This novel is probably closer in atmosphere and tone to “Virtual Light” – with a bit more grittiness, lots of scenes set on the bridge and a more thriller-style plot. But, several familiar characters from “Idoru” show up here and there are also a few cool cyberpunk moments too (including another glimpse or two of the Walled City). But, although it is really awesome to see more “Virtual Light”, I was a little surprised that this novel didn’t really have it’s own different personality in the way the previous two books did.

As for the novel’s sci-fi elements, they carry over from the previous two books too – with the novel being set in a gritty, cyberpunk-influenced near future version of America. Since the novel is focused on the ramshackle free city on the bridge, there is slightly more of a focus on interesting antiques and makeshift stuff than on science fiction. Even so, the novel still includes it’s fair share of futuristic gadgets/weapons, holograms, nanotech, a few cyberspace-based scenes and a few parts that are just as surprisingly ahead of their time as “Idoru” is.

In the scenes set in Chevette and Tessa’s house, the media students are obsessed with recording their lives in a surprisingly similar way to modern social media, selfies etc… Not to mention that there’s also a segment about online privacy, where Chevette realises that her evil ex-boyfriend tracked her down because she appeared in a party photo that was posted online. Plus, Tessa also uses something very similar to a modern camera drone during several parts of the story too.

Although “life logging” was a niche tech pursuit in 1999, the fact that this novel shows such things in pretty much the same mundane, ordinary way that they exist in 2020 is truly mind-blowing! Even so, this novel has less of these “Wow! Is this really from the 1990s?” moments than “Idoru” does. Even so, it’s still amazing to see them here 🙂

Thematically, this is a novel about history and anarchy. Not only is there a lot of focus on antiques and on how the past affects the present, but the central conflict of the story revolves around the status of the bridge itself. Like the virtual recreation of Kowloon Walled City that appears in this series, the bridge is a free anarchist mini-state that actually functions reasonably well as a society – however, outside forces want to commercialise, standardise etc… for their own ends. When read today, it is almost impossible not to see this as a metaphor for the internet and how it went from a free, utopian, home-made thing to being the tightly-regulated commercial and social thing it is today. And, again, this novel was published in 1999!

It’s also a bit of a novel about gentrification, hipsterism etc.. too, with a sub-plot about Tessa wanting to make a documentary about the bridge because she considers it to be an “interstitial society” or something like that. Her distanced academic curiosity about this “edgy” place is expertly contrasted with lots of scenes showing people who actually live on the bridge and just see it as ordinary.

In terms of the novel’s thriller elements, they’re reasonably good too. Although you should expect more of a traditional-style thriller than an ultra-fast paced one, this novel does a really good job of gradually building suspense and adding intriguingly mysterious things to it’s intricately-planned plot.

Plus, although it’s slightly less of an action-thriller story than “Virtual Light”, there are certainly a few dramatic fight scenes here – that manage to blend futuristic tech/weapons with gritty realism (eg: every injury, death etc.. has lingering consequences) in a way that really helps to add extra suspense and intensity to these moments. Still, this novel’s thriller elements are probably slightly more focused on mysterious large-scale drama and conflict than on smaller-scale fight scenes.

As for the characters, they’re as good as ever. If you’ve read the previous two books, then there will be a lot of familiar faces here 🙂 Still, the novel manages to introduce a few interesting new characters who have their own story arcs, backstories, flaws, quirks personalities etc.. Whether it is Silencio, Tessa, an antique dealer called Fontaine, Buell Creedmore, a businessman called Harwood or the mysterious armed man, all of the new characters feel like reasonably realistic people.

In terms of the writing, it is a William Gibson novel 🙂 In other words, the novel’s third-person narration is written in a way that manages to be simultaneously “matter of fact” and filled with atmospheric and poetic descriptions. It is hardboiled literary fiction or literary hardboiled fiction. It is simultaneously fast-paced and slow-paced, both complex and simple at the same time. It is atmospheric and unique. Yes, Gibson’s writing style will probably take you a while to get used to if you haven’t read any of his books before, but it is well worth doing so 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is reasonably good. At a fairly efficient 277 pages in length, it never really feels like there is a wasted page here 🙂 Likewise, although this novel is probably fairly slow-paced by modern standards and the early parts feel a little unfocused, everything comes together in a really brilliant way as the story progresses. Not only does the novel’s suspense and drama gradually ramp up as the story progresses, but the “slow paced” aspects of the novel are mitigated with several mini-cliffhangers, mysterious events, shorter chapters, atmospheric moments and Gibson’s distinctive writing style 🙂

As for how this twenty-one year old novel has aged, it has aged reasonably well. Yes, there are a few slightly dated and/or “politically incorrect” moments, but the story’s atmospheric near-future setting still feels reasonably convincing, the plot is still compelling and the characters are still interesting. Likewise, although this novel isn’t quite as ahead of it’s time as “Idoru” was, there are at least a couple of “modern” moments that will make you wonder how the hell someone thought of them in 1999.

All in all, this is a really good conclusion to the “Bridge” trilogy 🙂 Yes, the story takes a while to get started and it is more like a mixture of the previous two novels than it’s own unique thing but, given how good those two books were, this is hardly a bad thing 🙂 So, if you enjoyed “Virtual Light” and/or “Idoru”, then this novel is well worth reading.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.