Review: “Blade Runner 3: Replicant Night” By K. W. Jeter (Novel)

Well, although I’d originally planned to read a thriller novel next, I was more in the mood for sci-fi (and for reading slowly too). So, I thought that I’d re-read a book that I’d originally planned to review last November. I am, of course talking about K. W. Jeter’s 1996 novel “Blade Runner 3: Replicant Night”.

This was a novel that I first read in 2011. However, I lost my copy of it and didn’t remember that much about it. So, when l I happened to find a copy of both this novel and K. W. Jeter’s “Blade Runner 2: The Edge Of Human” in a second-hand bookshop in Petersfield in 2018, I was eager to re-read both of them with the hope of posting reviews of them in November 2019 (for reasons any fan of “Blade Runner” will understand).

Of course, I only got round to reviewing the previous novel and Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?” back then. So, this review is long overdue.

But, before I begin, I should probably point out that you need to have watched the first “Blade Runner” film at least a couple of times – in addition to having read P.K.D’s “Electric Sheep” and also Jeter’s “Blade Runner 2: The Edge Of Human” too before reading this novel in order to get the most out of it.

Even then, you’ll probably still need to pay attention and take notes whilst reading. So, yes, this is very much a novel for die-hard fans rather than people new to the franchise. Likewise, ever since the release of “Blade Runner 2049” in 2017, this novel is no longer considered canonical.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Blade Runner 3: Replicant Night”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1997 Orion (UK) paperback edition of “Blade Runner 3: Replicant Night” that I read.

The novel is set several weeks or months after the ending of “Blade Runner 2: The Edge Of Human”. Rick Deckard and Sarah Tyrell are living in a hovel on Mars under assumed names. Although there are rumours that the U.N. will resume transport to the outer colonies, the colonists are stuck on the planet and are slowly deteriorating psychologically from stimulus deprivation (something only staved off by either an expensive cable TV subscription or illicit religion-based hallucinogens called “dehydrated deities”).

Running low on cash, Deckard has agreed to be a consultant for a film adaptation of his career. Filming is taking place on a space station near Mars. The novel begins with a re-creation of his encounter with Leon, performed by an actor who looks identical to him (thanks to the wonders of CGI). However, when “Rachel” shows up and shoots Leon, Deckard happens to spot that the Leon replicant has actually been killed. Furious about this, he goes to find the director to get some answers. Or at least to beat some answers out of him.

Meanwhile, Dave Holden shows up at the station with a talking briefcase. He sneaks around for a while, trying to find a way to approach Deckard without getting noticed. One of the production crew mistakes him for the actor playing Dave Holden and insists on a rehearsal. Dave goes along with it, only to be shot and killed by another Leon replicant. A man called Marley then shoots the replicant just as Deckard arrives. After a scuffle and an argument, Deckard quits the job and storms off of the station. But, just as he’s leaving, a production assistant hands him the briefcase. It has his initials on it.

Back on the surface of Mars, Sarah Tyrell is alone at home. With the events of the past weighing on her mind and only a talking clock and calendar (both of whom are probably distant relatives of Talkie Toaster) to keep her company, she isn’t in a good place psychologically. She has recently bought an illegal gun and two bullets. One for Deckard and one for herself…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was an absolute joy to read 🙂 Yes, the plot does get a little convoluted but – as a whole – it is very true to the tone and style of the original film whilst also adding lots of interesting new stuff too 🙂 In fact, some moments are even “More ‘Blade Runner’ than ‘Blade Runner’“, if this makes sense 🙂 Seriously, if you love the atmosphere of the film, then you’ll love this book. Plus, although this novel is non-canonical these days, it goes into a lot more depth about some of the stuff that eventually appeared in “Blade Runner 2049” too 🙂

So, I should probably start by talking about the novel’s sci-fi elements. Although this novel includes a few things which you probably wouldn’t expect to see in anything “Blade Runner”-related (like time distortions, “dehydrated deities”, morphogenic fields, memetic idea-weapons etc..), all of this “out there” stuff is very much in keeping with the weird 1960s science fiction of Philip K. Dick. Not to mention that all of this weird stuff is also there for important plot-related reasons and to add a bit more depth to the “world” of the story – even if it might seem a bit out of place at first.

As you’d expect from anything “Blade Runner” related, this novel is absolutely brimming with intellectual depth too 🙂 In addition to further exploring some of the central themes of the original film (eg: authority, humanity, moral complexity etc…), the novel also adds a few interesting themes of it’s own. In addition to further exploring the P.K.D-inspired concepts of simulacra and artificiality through several meta-fictional scenes that reference the original film and the idea of people becoming addicted to cable TV and religion-based hallucinogens, the novel is also a much more introspective story than you might expect.

Although this novel does have a complex and gritty “film noir”/conspiracy thriller-style plot, the main focus is on introspection and personal discovery. Both Deckard and Sarah go on weird inner journeys via hallucinogens or time travel. These are often heavily focused on their memories, which not only allows the novel to explore how the past affects the present day, but also to explore the concept of unreliable memory too. Not to mention that this also links in with the theme of memories from the original film too.

And, talking of the films, “Blade Runner 2049” probably took a lot of inspiration from this book. Whether it is the “rep-symps”, pro-replicant rebels who are only glimpsed in “Blade Runner 2049” but play a very large “off screen” role in this novel or the dusty desert landscapes or even the idea of replicants being able to reproduce, it’s fairly obvious that someone involved with the second film has probably read this book 🙂 Yet, at the same time, this novel is also very different from the second film 🙂

Plus, like with Jeter’s “Blade Runner 2: The Edge Of Human”, this novel also includes a few creepy horror elements that are in keeping with the style of the series. In addition to a few moments of gory horror and some creepy locations, this story focuses quite heavily on psychological and character-based horror too – which really helps to add a bit of unsettling darkness to the story 🙂

As for the characters, they are excellent 🙂 Not only is Deckard very true to the grizzled, rough and morally-ambiguous character that you’ll know from the films, but Sarah Tyrell also gets a lot of extra characterisation too. She’s this wonderfully complicated character who is both very sympathetic and extremely unsympathetic at the same time. In addition to the return of a few familiar faces (eg: Roy Batty, J.F. Sebastian etc..), the malevolent ghost of Eldon Tyrell also seems to lurk in the background (via his past actions and effects on the characters) too. Seriously, I cannot praise the characterisation in this novel highly enough 🙂

The writing in this novel is absolutely stellar too 🙂 Jeter’s third-person narration is written in a style that is both hardboiled and highly-descriptive at the same time. Whilst this slows down the pacing of the story a bit, it means that many scenes – especially those that reference the original film – are actually more “Blade Runner” than the original film. Although the main plot may be set on the dusty colonies of Mars, there’s still plenty of time for lots of beautiful, poetic descriptions of the “neon-veined” streets of future L.A and they are blissful to read 🙂 Seriously, the writing in this novel is an absolutely perfect fit with the film that inspired it 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is interesting. Although it is a fairly efficient 309 pages in length, the highly-descriptive writing style, ultra-complex plot, very tiny print and heavy focus on introspection mean that this will be a much slower-paced novel than you might expect. But, surprisingly, this isn’t a bad thing here.

Slow pacing is one of the strengths of the original films, giving the audience time to think and to drink in the amazing atmosphere and lavish visual details. It’s also an antidote to the rapidly-edited ultra-fast films that are so common these days. And it is great to see that the novel recognises this and uses it to full advantage – even if it means that this novel will take you longer to read than you might expect (and you’ll also have to pay attention and take a few notes to make sense of the plot too).

As for how this twenty-four year old novel has aged, it both has and hasn’t aged well. On the one hand, the novel’s descriptions of things like CGI and the opioid epidemic feel eerily prescient, not to mention the fact that the characters and writing are timelessly exquisite too. Plus, given how much of an inspiration this novel seems to have been on the modern film sequel to “Blade Runner”, it’s also ahead of its time in this regard too. On the other hand, you should also expect to see a few slightly dated and/or “politically incorrect” descriptions or moments every now and then.

All in all, although this novel’s plot can get a bit convoluted and also contains a few fairly “out there” sci-fi elements, it is a worthy sequel to “Blade Runner” 🙂 It is dripping with atmosphere, is true to the tone of the original film and is just an absolute joy to read 🙂 If you’ve seen the films and you want to learn more about their intriguingly mysterious futuristic “world” and the characters who live within it, then you absolutely need to read Jeter’s spin-off novels.

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

Review: “Doctor Who – The Feast Of The Drowned” By Stephen Cole (Novel)

Well, due to the hot weather when I was preparing this review, I was still in the mood for an easy-reading “feel good” sci-fi novel. So, I thought that I’d finally take a look at the other “Doctor Who” novel (than this one) that I found in a second-hand bookshop in Petersfield several months earlier. I am, of course, talking about Stephen Cole’s 2006 novel “Doctor Who – The Feast Of The Drowned”.

Although this novel tells a new story that is set during the second series of the modern version of “Doctor Who” (which starred David Tennant and Billie Piper), it can still pretty much be read as a stand-alone novel if you haven’t seen series two of the TV show.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Doctor Who – The Feast Of The Drowned”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2006 BBC Books (UK) hardback edition of “Doctor Who – The Feast Of The Drowned” that I read.

The novel begins on board a navy ship called H.M.S Ascendant which has suddenly and mysteriously started sinking in the middle of the North Sea. A sailor from the ship’s stores, Jay Selby, tries to save another sailor called Barker before he is suddenly swept overboard and dragged underwater by something.

In London, Rose Tyler is visiting her friend Keisha after spending a year travelling through time and space with The Doctor. Keisha is in floods of tears, mourning her brother Jay – who has recently been listed as missing in action by the navy. When The Doctor shows up a little while later, he suggests getting fish and chips. But, shortly after he leaves, Jay’s ghost suddenly appears in Keisha’s flat and gives Rose and Keisha a cryptic warning…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was quite enjoyable to read 🙂 It’s kind of like an extended, high-budget “lost episode” from series two of the show and, best of all, it is also a horror-themed “episode” too 🙂 Since the show is often at it’s very best when it includes a bit of horror, it was great to see this here 🙂

So, I should probably start by talking about this novel’s horror elements. It contains a really good mixture of monster horror, ghost horror, body horror, psychological horror, disaster horror, drowning-based horror, suspense, death-based horror and even a few hints of the zombie genre too 🙂

Although this novel probably won’t be that scary to experienced horror novel readers, these elements certainly add a lot of extra drama and atmosphere to the story. Not to mention that, being a novel rather than a TV show episode, not only do the creatures look a lot more “realistic”, but this book can also include a slightly more intense level of horror than is probably allowed on early-evening television too 🙂

The novel’s monster design is brilliantly inventive and very well thought out too 🙂 The “monster of the week” here is a giant collective of microscopic alien creatures called The Waterhive, who can travel through and manipulate water, can influence people and can also affect everything at the atomic level too.

In addition to turning people into zombie-like creatures, they can also drain the body-water of surrounding people in order to create ghost-like hallucinations that will lure their victim’s loved ones into a watery grave. They can also turn into wonderfully Lovecraftian slime monsters and/or pearl-eyed walking corpses too. Seriously, as “Doctor Who” monsters go, these are one of the creepiest and most formidable that I’ve seen in a while.

Not only that, the monsters are given a realistic motivation for their actions and they also follow a series of “rules” which are used to great effect, which brings me on to the novel’s sci-fi elements. These are excellent as ever, with every “paranormal” event in the story having a scientific explanation which the main characters have to learn about. This focus on solving an ominous scientific mystery also helps to keep the novel fairly compelling too.

Which brings me on to this novel’s thriller elements 🙂 It’s kind of like a fast-paced episode of the TV show, with a really good mixture between suspenseful sneaking, large-scale set-pieces, chilling disaster drama (as London slowly succumbs to The Waterhive’s brainwashing), fast-paced survival drama scenes and even a couple of brief fight scenes too. One of the cool things about novels is that they don’t have the budgetary or practical restrictions that films or TV do and the “special effects” tend to seem a lot more realistic too, and this novel uses this fact to full advantage here 🙂

Plus, another cool thing about this novel is it’s mid-2000s atmosphere too 🙂 This is mostly achieved through a lot of subtle moments – such as mentions of “Disk Doctors” in computer shops, no mentions of social media, comments about fish and chips no longer being wrapped in newspaper etc… and it really helps to add a little bit of nostalgia to the story when it is read today.

In terms of the characters, this novel is fairly good. Although you shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation, there is enough here to make you care about the characters. For the most part, Rose, The Doctor and Mickey also seem fairly close to their TV show counterparts, with the only possible difference being a couple of jokes that seem very mildly “out of character” for The Doctor.

A lot of this novel’s characterisation also comes from the interactions between the characters and this mostly works well. However, there is a vaguely soap-opera style sub-plot involving a past affair between two characters, which almost gets annoying. Thankfully though, every time the novel begins to feel a bit more like “Eastenders” than “Doctor Who”, the arguing characters are usually interrupted by ghosts and/or a zombie pirate 🙂 Did I mention there was a zombie pirate in this novel? 🙂

In terms of the writing, this novel is fairly good 🙂 The novel’s third-person narration is written in a reasonably fast-paced, informal and “matter of fact” style that fits in well with the atmosphere of the TV show, in addition to allowing for a few humourous moments and a very readable story too 🙂 Even so, whilst the novel’s fast-paced narration keeps everything moving at a decent speed, it comes at the slight cost of the extra atmosphere that you get from having more moments of formal/slow narration. Still, this is a small criticism – especially given that the novel’s locations, “special effects” etc… all seem a bit more impressive than those in the TV show.

As for length and pacing, this novel is also really good too 🙂 At an efficient 249 pages in length, this novel never really feels bloated. Likewise, the novel moves at a reasonably similar pace to a good episode of the TV show, with relatively short chapters and a decent amount of of mystery, action, horror and/or drama to keep everything compelling 🙂

All in all, this is a really fun “Doctor Who” novel that is kind of like an extended, high-budget “horror” episode of the TV show 🙂 If you want an enjoyably relaxing and readable sci-fi horror mystery or are just feeling nostalgic about the mid-2000s, then this novel might be worth taking a look at.

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

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: “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: “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.

Review: “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Ghost Ship” By Diane Carey (Novel)

Well, I was in the mood for sci-fi again and since it’s been a while since I last read a “Star Trek” novel, I thought that I’d take a look at Diane Carey’s 1988 novel “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Ghost Ship”. This was a novel that I found in a second-hand bookshop in Petersfield last year and, after noticing that it was the very first original spin-off novel based on “Star Trek: TNG”, I was intrigued enough to take a closer look.

Interestingly, you can probably enjoy this novel if you haven’t seen the TV show. I’ll talk about this more in the review, but this novel is based on the earlier seasons of the TV show and also does some other stuff that the show doesn’t really do. So, it’ll probably still “work” as a story if you haven’t seen the show.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Ghost Ship”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1988 Titan (UK) paperback edition of “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Ghost Ship” that I read.

The novel begins in the near-future year of 1995, on a Soviet aircraft carrier called the Sergei G. Gorshkov. The ship’s captain and crew are preparing a demonstration of some new technology, including an EMP-based missile defence system, for several visiting officers and/or politicians. Things go reasonably well until something mysterious appears on the radar. Some kind of bizarre energy-based being appears on the sea and heads directly for the ship. Everyone on board disappears seconds before the ship suddenly explodes, leaving the ship’s fighter planes stranded in the air with fuel running low. Luckily, a US ship is nearby to rescue them.

After this, Counselor Troi of the starship USS Enterprise wakes up after a nightmare about the Sergei G. Gorshkov’s destruction. Since Troi is half-human and half-Betazoid (and, as such, has telepathic/empathetic abilities), she senses that this was more than just a dream. Meanwhile, on the bridge, Captain Picard is overseeing scientific tests on a nearby gas giant planet. After one of these tests, the ship picks up a mysterious energy pulse from outside of the galaxy.

Troi tries to investigate her dream, searching the ship’s holographic database for information about old naval ships. Commander Riker visits her quarters to check on her and, when he leaves, he sees a mysterious ghostly man in the lift. Initially, he thinks that it is a leak from Troi’s hologram unit, but soon learns that the unit was turned off at the time….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a fairly compelling sci-fi drama and thriller story that also contains some mild elements from the horror genre too 🙂 Yes, it is a little different from the TV show in some ways (which is actually a good thing) and “Star Trek: TNG” purists might not like this, but – as a novel – it works really well 🙂 Plus, this novel is also a fascinating glimpse into an early stage of the show’s history, where no-one knew exactly how this spin-off from the original “Star Trek” would turn out.

The main themes here are life and death, or more specifically what constitutes life and when it is ethical to end a life. This is explored in a lot of different ways, such as a sub-plot about Lt. Data wondering whether or not he is actually alive or a rather long and plot-relevant ethical debate about euthanasia amongst several characters (which is, in part, resolved with a scientific experiment). This is one of those novels that respects the reader’s intelligence and capacity for nuance and, unlike some other sci-fi TV show spin-off novels, never really feels like it is preaching at the reader. The novel also covers the familiar “Star Trek” theme of how differences and variety can be a strength, which is again handled in a fairly nuanced way.

Earlier, I mentioned that the novel included thriller and horror elements, and these work quite well 🙂 For the most part, the thriller elements consist of suspenseful and perilous situations and, although this is more of a moderately-paced thriller, these scenes really help to add some extra energy to the novel. Likewise, although this novel isn’t exactly frightening – the horror elements really help to add some atmosphere and, in a creative touch, the “ghosts” aren’t the main source of horror. If anything, the novel’s horror elements mostly consist of a mixture of subtle psychological horror, monster horror and dsytopian/cruel/claustrophobic horror.

In terms of the characters, they’re extremely well-written – but slightly different to the TV show. Unlike the more cheerful TV show, almost all of the main characters have things like inner conflict, flaws, motivations, angst, backstories, interpersonal conflicts and actual character development/character arcs 🙂 They actually feel like complex realistic people 🙂 Needless to say, this adds a lot of drama and realism to the novel and, even if the characters may not act exactly like you’d expect in the TV show, these moments still “work” because of the excellent characterisation 🙂 Plus, since it’s an early spin-off novel, Tasha Yar also appears in it too.

Yes, all of this extra characterisation might put “Star Trek: TNG” purists off of the novel. But, I prefer to see it as an alternative version of the TV show – what could have happened if the show had gone in the slightly grittier and more realistic direction that sci-fi TV shows wouldn’t regularly take until the early-mid 2000s. After all, the TV show was still in it’s infancy when the novel was written and it’s fascinating to see the road not taken. Plus, on their own merits, the versions of the main characters in this novel are compelling, dramatic and well-written characters.

In terms of the writing, the novel’s third-person narration is really good 🙂 As you’d expect from a sci-fi novel of this vintage, it’s a little more on the formal/ descriptive side of things – but it remains focused and “matter of fact”enough to keep the plot moving, whilst also adding atmosphere and depth too. Seriously, the writing in this novel is really good – especially given the amount of story and characterisation Carey manages to cram into a relatively short novel.

As for length and pacing, this novel is really good too. At an efficient 258 pages, the novel never feels bloated or unfocused. Likewise, whilst you shouldn’t expect an ultra-fast paced novel, the story moves at a decent enough speed, with a good mixture of suspense, tension, character-based drama and mystery keeping everything compelling throughout.

As for how this thirty-two year old novel has aged, it has mostly aged reasonably well – whilst also offering us an interesting lesson about modern history too. It shows us that, in 1988, people still thought that the Soviet Union would be around during the mid-1990s (seriously, I did a double-take during a later scene which pointed out that the prologue took place in 1995). It really hammers home how sudden and unexpected the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 (and the dissolution of the USSR over the next year or two) really was.

This aside, the novel is pretty much timeless. The characters are still compelling, the setting still feels futuristic and – whilst it contains a couple of mildly dated descriptions and uses a mildly more formal style – the writing still holds up surprisingly well when read today.

All in all, this is a really good “Star Trek: TNG” novel 🙂 Yes, series purists might not like it – but not only does it contain well-written narration, complex characters and a compelling plot, it is also a fascinating glimpse into an alternate past/future too – one where the Berlin Wall never fell and where “Star Trek: TNG” went in the more “realistic” direction that sci-fi TV shows didn’t really start doing until the early-mid 2000s.

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

Review: “World’s End” By Joan D. Vinge (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d take a look at a sci-fi novel that I’ve been meaning to read for about a decade or so. I am, of course, talking about Joan D. Vinge’s 1984 novel “World’s End”.

If I remember rightly, I found a copy of this book in a charity shop in Aberystwyth during the late 2000s/early 2010s and bought it purely on the strength of the cool-looking cover art (seriously, I miss the days when painted cover art was standard for sci-fi, horror and fantasy novels) – and I’ve been vaguely meaning to read it since then, but never got round to it until now.

However, I should probably point out that this novel is the second in a series. Although I haven’t read the first one (“The Snow Queen”), this novel contains enough recaps to just about work as a stand-alone novel. Even so, be sure to read the blurb carefully and expect the earlier parts to be a bit more confusing (since the best and most useful recaps don’t appear until a little way into the novel) if you haven’t read the previous novel.

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

This is the 1985 Orbit (UK) paperback edition of “World’s End” that I read.

The novel begins on a planet called Number Four, with a scarred police commander called BZ Gundhalinu getting ready for a formal ceremony. He has become famous, but isn’t too happy about it. So, whilst he waits, he opens his audio recorder and goes over his diary of the past few weeks and months.

We then flash back to some time earlier. BZ, a member of a poor, dishonoured family and recently suspended from the police force, arrives in an inhospitable region of the planet called “World’s End”. This area is run by a single mega-corporations that also allows prospectors to look for valuable minerals in the more barren areas – for a cut of the profits.

After BZ brought his family into poverty and disrepute, his brothers travelled to World’s End to try and make the family fortune back. BZ hasn’t heard from them since then and, worried, wants to find them….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, whilst it takes a while to really get going (and may be mildly confusing at first if you haven’t read “The Snow Queen”), it is this really cool mixture of dystopian sci-fi, “grimdark” fantasy, old-school adventure stories, horror fiction and trippy/weird 1920s-1960s style sci-fi 🙂

Imagine a cross between something like Frank Herbert’s “Dune”, Harry Harrison’s “Deathworld”, the old “Star Wars” films, Jim Theis’ “The Eye Of Argon”, an old “Fighting Fantasy” gamebook, Tanith Lee’s “Kill The Dead“, Joseph Conrad’s “Heart Of Darkness” and S. K. Dunstall’s “Linesman” and this might give you a very vague idea of what to expect 🙂

In terms of the novel’s sci-fi elements, they’re very well-developed – although the story spends quite a while setting everything up. This novel is one of those fantasy-style sci-fi stories that is set on an almost feudalistic world, but one with technology instead of magic. The technology feels well-developed and includes things like FTL travel/communication, laser weapons, a virus that turns people into computer-like beings called “Sibyls” and numerous other things.

Although this novel contains some elements that appear to be fantastical, they always have a scientific explanation of some kind. Still, it feels like a really cool blend between olde worlde fantasy (with the politics, traditions, the grim lawlessness of the wasteland etc..) and old school sci-fi 🙂

Thematically, this novel is a lot closer to fantasy fiction though – with the main themes being stuff like guilt, redemption, honour, power, tradition, otherworldly forces, long-lost love, lost worlds, faded glory etc… It’s really interesting to see this stuff mixed in with the sci-fi genre and it helps to lend the story a fairly unique atmosphere 🙂 Plus, the “used future” elements of some parts of the story also help to add a wonderfully 1980s “Star Wars”/”Blade Runner”-style atmosphere to some moments too 🙂

This novel is also really atmospheric too 🙂 Although the writing borders on melodramatic and over-descriptive at times (hence my comparison to “The Eye Of Argon”), it just about stays on the right side of unintentional comedy, and actually adds a lot of atmosphere to the story. A lot of this story has a wonderfully dystopian atmosphere that also reminded me a bit of “grimdark” fantasy fiction too 🙂 Seriously, this is cynical 1980s-style fantasy at it’s best 🙂 If you enjoyed Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone’s “Fighting Fantasy” gamebooks and want a slightly grittier linear novel, you’ll be in your element here 🙂

World’s End is a hostile place and a lot of the novel’s drama comes from both Gundhalinu’s struggle to survive there but also from his various inner struggles with his past. And, as a thriller, this novel isn’t really that fast-paced by modern standards, but the constant suspense, dystopian stuff and struggles for survival really keep the story compelling. In addition to this, there’s also a lot of claustrophobic character-based suspense in the earlier parts of the story and some more typical adventure/fantasy-style stuff in the gripping later chapters too 🙂

Plus, although this isn’t a horror novel, there are some well-written horror elements (eg: bleak horror, psychological horror, dystopian horror, insect-based horror, macabre horror etc…) here that really help to add some extra darkness, grittiness and atmosphere to the story too 🙂 Not to mention that the disintegration of Gundhalinu’s mind in some parts of the novel and the generally bleak atmosphere also reminded me a little bit of H.P.Lovecraft’s horror fiction too 🙂

In terms of the characters, Gunhalinu gets a lot of characterisation and really comes across as a realistic, flawed person who is trying to find some kind of redemption for his past sins in the harsh wasteland. This level of characterisation also means that you’ll probably end up caring a lot about his struggle for survival too. Although the other characters don’t get quite as much characterisation as him, they all also feel like realistic flawed people who vary from sympathetic to downright scary.

As for the writing, I’ve already mentioned that it’s very descriptive and can border on melodramatic- yet, it works! It adds a lot of drama and atmosphere to the story, whilst also giving it a wonderfully “old school” kind of atmosphere too. The narration is also formal enough to lend weight to the story, whilst also “matter of fact” enough to add realism and immediacy. Most of the novel consists of first-person perspective diary entries, although there are a few third-person segments too (for the frame story). This focus on one perspective and the clear use of an in-story document (Gunhalinu’s diary) means that the few perspective changes never really get confusing.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At an efficient 230 pages, this novel might look short but – thanks to the pacing and formal narration- it’ll probably take you as long to read as a 400-500 page modern novel will. And, yes, whilst this novel is a bit slow-paced, the story speeds up a little bit and becomes more compelling as it goes along. Plus, it’s kind of cool how this novel starts out as a small-scale survival drama and gradually becomes slightly more of a large-scale adventure story too 🙂

As for how this thirty-six year old novel has aged, it has aged fairly well. Yes, it is written in a slightly old-fashioned way and there are a few “gritty”/rough moments that would probably be portrayed slightly differently in a modern story, but thanks to the fantastical setting, the novel has aged surprisingly well. It’s as atmospheric and compelling as ever and it feels very “80s” in a way that isn’t too stylised or “nostalgic” (think “Star Wars” or “Blade Runner” or something like that).

All in all, whilst this novel might take you a while to get into (especially if, like me, you haven’t read the previous book in the series), it is well worth sticking with 🙂 It’s a gritty, dramatic, dark, atmospheric and brilliantly compelling piece of retro sci-fi 🙂 Yes, it’s a bit melodramatic and cheesy at times, but this just adds to the charm. If you like Harry Harrison’s “Deathworld” or the old “Fighting Fantasy” gamebooks or you just want a gritty “grimdark” fantasy-inspired piece of dystopian sci-fi adventure fiction, then this book is worth taking a look at 🙂

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

Review: “The Rosewater Insurrection” By Tade Thompson (Novel)

Well, I was in the mood for some sci-fi. So, I thought that I’d take a look at Tade Thompson’s 2019 novel “The Rosewater Insurrection” (the sequel to Thompson’s excellent “Rosewater) since a relative pre-ordered a copy of it for me as a gift a few weeks before I prepared this review. And, yes, I write these reviews quite far in advance.

Before I begin the review, I should probably also point out that “The Rosewater Insurrection” is a direct sequel to “Rosewater” (and is the second book in a trilogy). Although it contains a few recaps, the story probably won’t make that much sense if you haven’t already read “Rosewater” first. So, this is a series that should probably be read in order.

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

This is the 2019 Orbit (UK) paperback edition of “The Rosewater Insurrection” that I read.

The novel begins in Nigeria with a flashback scene set in 2055. Eric is a sensitive (someone with psychic-like abilities, due to alien spores) working as a field agent for Section 45. He has been sent to Camp Rosewater, the settlement surrounding a mysterious alien bio-dome that has recently arrived on Earth, with orders to track down and kill a local revolutionary called Jack Jacques.

Eric infiltrates Jack’s camp and spends quite a while working as a labourer there, waiting for a chance to get close to Jack. But, when he eventually does, he gets a message from Kaaro telling him to get the hell out of there, because Section 45 consider him expendable and are going to use him as a human targeting beacon for an air-strike. Eric flees and is demoted to a desk job.

And, after Molara delivers a short lecture about the symbiotic history of humans and aliens to the reader, we flash forwards to the city of Rosewater in 2067, where a woman called Alyssa wakes up and finds that she has no memory whatsoever…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, like “Rosewater”, it was a lot of fun to read 🙂 As you might expect, this sequel tells a larger and more epic story than “Rosewater” does. Although this means that the story doesn’t feel quite as focused during the earlier parts, if you stick with it then you’ll be rewarded with a gripping, spectacular sci-fi thriller that could probably put even the largest-budget modern movies to shame 🙂 Seriously, why hasn’t this series been turned into a film or TV series yet?

In terms of this novel’s sci-fi elements, it expands a lot on some of the stuff introduced in “Rosewater”. Not only do we get to learn a lot more about the aliens’ backstory, motivations and plans for Earth (including a novel twist on the familiar “alien invasion” trope) but the novel also includes all of the intriguing background details that you’d expect from a biopunk/cyberpunk novel too 🙂 The world-building is as good as ever, and the novel’s technology, alien fauna etc… also plays a role in the story in all sorts of dramatic, and occasionally surprising ways, too. Even so, this novel is very slightly more focused on it’s thriller elements than it’s sci-fi elements.

In terms of the novel’s thriller elements, it contains a really good mixture of suspenseful scenes, fast-paced action set pieces, tech/sci-fi based scenes and political/military/war drama too. All of these things also exist in both large and small scale versions too, adding even more thrilling variety and depth to the novel too. Although the novel takes a while to set up all of it’s many plot threads (which can make the story feel mildly confusing or unfocused at first), everything comes together in a really spectacular way and the mid-late parts of the story. Reading this novel feels like watching a much more intelligent, complex, creative and immersive version of a large-budget CGI blockbuster film 🙂

As you might expect if you’ve read “Rosewater”, the novel also contains some elements from the horror genre too 🙂 Although these are less prominent than they were in “Rosewater”, they turn up in a few wonderfully creepy moments (eg: the scene with Bewon and the plant growing in his apartment) – but their main purpose here is to add more atmosphere/realism to the setting and also to add extra impact, creativity and epic-ness to some of the novel’s action scenes. Even though this is less of a horror novel than it’s predecessor, these horror genre elements (eg: body horror, gory horror, zombies and psychological horror) really add a lot to the novel 🙂

Thematically, this novel is fairly interesting. Not only is this a novel about how power corrupts (shown through both Jack’s character arc and a few references to “Macbeth”, amongst other things) but it is also a novel about the environment, politics, warfare, how history is recorded etc… too. Most of this thematic stuff is more of a subtle background thing, but it plays a fairly major role in the events of the novel and also helps to add extra depth and realism to the story too.

As for the characters, this novel is as good as ever 🙂 Unlike “Rosewater”, this novel focuses a lot less on Kaaro (although he still gets some character development and a few really cool moments) and instead focuses a lot more on Aminat, Alyssa and Jack. All three of these characters have a decent amount of characterisation and character development – with Aminat going from being a slightly squeamish mid-level agent to a much more tough and heroic character, with Alyssa coming to terms with what is happening to her and with Jack slowly becoming corrupted by power. Yet, in an interesting twist, Jack isn’t the novel’s villain – but someone that the other characters have to reluctantly work with for the sake of their collective survival.

In terms of the writing, this novel is both similar and different to “Rosewater”. For the most part, this novel uses present-tense third-person narration that is informal enough to add personality to the story and keep things moving at a decent pace, but also descriptive and/or informative enough to add a lot of atmosphere to the story and make everything feel solid enough. The third-person narration also allows for a more complex and large-scale story. There are also a few mildly experimental flourishes too – such as random “extracts” from an in-universe historical novel (written by a character called Walter) that appear occasionally and provide extra backstory.

The novel also includes several first-person perspective segments and, although the jump from one perspective to another is a little surprising, the narrative voice is consistent enough and these segments are signposted well enough (each chapter title tells you which character it focuses on, and the infrequent chapters focusing on Eric and Walter are in first-person perspective) that this didn’t really become too confusing. Still, I’m kind of puzzled by this aspect of the novel – although, at a guess, Eric’s segments are in first-person because his opening segment is similar to the first-person narration used throughout “Rosewater” (and it provides a good bridge between the two books) and Walter’s segment is in first-person because it focuses a lot more on his thoughts, reactions etc…

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is reasonably good. At 374 pages, it is shorter than “Rosewater”, yet manages to tell a much larger story 🙂 And, although the story’s plot may feel a little less focused at first, all of the novel’s plot threads blend together well and provide a lot of payoff. The novel also contains a really good mixture of fast-paced action and moderately-paced drama/suspense, whilst still being as compelling as you’d expect from a thriller novel. Plus, although this novel is the middle part of a trilogy, the ending contains as much drama and resolution as you would expect from a stand-alone novel 🙂

All in all, this is a really enjoyable and compelling novel 🙂 Yes, it takes a little bit longer to really get started than “Rosewater” did (and the perspective/focus changes might take you a while to get used to), but it tells an even more spectacular story 🙂 This novel is a sequel in the truest sense of the word, taking everything good about the first novel and turning it up to eleven 🙂

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

Review: “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?” By Philip K. Dick (Novel)

Woo hoo! It’s November 2019! So, it seemed like the perfect time to re-read Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?” 🙂

For those of you not in the know, this sci-fi novel was later adapted into the cinematic masterpiece “Blade Runner” (which is set in the distant future of November 2019). And, yes, there are some fairly major differences between the book and the film. But, more about those later.

Although I first saw “Blade Runner” on VHS at least a year or two before I discovered the novel, I read it at least twice during my mid-late teens (and even ended up getting two different editions of the book, one of which I can’t find). So, I was curious to see whether it was as good as I remember.

So, let’s take a look at “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1986 Grafton Books (UK) paperback edition of “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?” that I read.

Set in the dystopian future of 1992, most of the Earth’s population have emigrated to other planets following the nuclear devastation of World War Terminus. Even so, some people still live in the habitable parts of Earth. One of those people is Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter for the San Francisco police who tracks down and kills android labourers who have illegally returned to Earth.

Rick is having a bad day. After having arguments with both his wife and his neighbour in the first hour after he wakes up, he goes into work and learns that the police’s top bounty hunter, Dave Holden, is in hospital. Holden had been tracking an escaped android called Polokov, who had got the drop on him and let rip with a laser tube.

But, whilst Rick is eager to collect on all of Holden’s outstanding bounties, Chief Bryant wants him to go to the offices of the Rosen Association and run some tests on their latest android model – the Nexus Six – to see if they can still be detected by the police’s testing equipment.

Meanwhile, in a run-down block of flats in one of the abandoned parts of the city, a driver for an artificial pet repair company called J.R. Isidore is getting ready for work. Isidore is stuck on Earth because he didn’t pass the IQ requirements for emigration. Stigmatised as a “chickenhead”, he finds solace in the empathy box – a virtual reality device central to the new religion of Mercerism. But, just before he is about to leave his apartment, he hears someone else in the building….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s even better than I remembered 🙂 It’s an atmospheric, quirky, hilarious and thoroughly imaginative retro sci-fi novel that has stood the test of time surprisingly well 🙂 It is a novel that has a lot of personality and manages to cram a surprisingly large amount of detail, story and worldbuilding into what, by modern standards, is a fairly short novel.

I should probably start by talking about how this novel differs from the film adaptation. Basically, although a few character names, several themes, a couple of plot elements and a few lines of dialogue are the same, everything else is different. Yet, at the same time, you can see where the inspiration for pretty much everything in the film came from. In fact, even the Las Vegas locations in the recent “Blade Runner 2049” film take heavy inspiration from this novel’s dusty, kipple-filled, decaying locations.

Yet, despite all of these major differences, the novel and the film adaptation are pretty much as good as each other. Both have very detailed fictional “worlds”, both have a lot of intellectual depth, both are wonderfully unique things etc… Seriously, don’t let the numerous differences put you off of reading this book.

In terms of the novel’s sci-fi elements, they’re really brilliant. In addition to the laser guns and flying cars that you’d expect, this novel has a lot of brilliant worldbuilding. With Earth being a semi-apocalyptic irradiated planet, almost everything in the novel’s world is defined by this.

Whether it is the lead codpieces men wear to stave off infertility, whether it’s the more prosperous off-world colonies, the much higher (financial, legal and emotional) value placed on the few surviving animals, the prejudice towards those born with radiation-induced brain damage, the empathy-based religion of Mercerism etc… Everything in this novel feels like a logical extension of the story’s dystopian premise.

Another awesome thing about this novel is it’s atmosphere 🙂 Although the novel is set in a realistic semi-apocalyptic version of Earth, all of this bleakness is balanced out with lots of subtle moments of comedy and brilliantly quirky background details. If you’ve read any other Philip K. Dick novels, you’ll know what I’m talking about here. Seriously, this is a story that has a lot of personality to it 🙂

Thematically, this novel is really interesting too. In addition to being an exploration of the value of empathy and how it makes us human, this novel is also a critique of nuclear war, a psychological tale where reality is never an entirely certain thing, a humanist exploration of the emotional/social nature of religion, a tale about old evils still existing in the future (eg: slavery, jealousy, violence etc..), an exploration of nihilism and a tale about how ideals and reality often come into conflict.

Not to mention that some of the novel’s other themes feel more relevant than ever. Whether it is the unprincipled tech company owners who always try to stay one step ahead of any official oversight, the scenes involving emotions being manipulated by technology (which are somehow more ethical than their real equivalent) or the possible implication that human androids aren’t allowed on Earth because of fears that they may replace humanity, this novel still feels surprisingly relevant at times.

In terms of the characters, they’re fairly interesting. Rick Deckard is the sardonic, morally-ambiguous main character than you might recognise from the film. However, he gets a bit more depth in this novel and is also portrayed as much more of a middle-class suburban “everyman” than the “film noir” detective you might expect if you’ve only seen “Blade Runner”. In addition to this, the novel clearly states that Deckard is a human rather than an android.

Like in the film, the novel’s android characters are presented as being fairly “human”. However, they are presented in a much less sympathetic way than in the film, with their lack of empathy meaning that they act in a much colder, crueller and more selfish way than most of the novel’s human characters. In fact, this in itself is a really interesting plot point – since, when Rick meets a cynical and cold-hearted guy called Phil Resch, he can’t be entirely certain whether Resch is human or not.

The novel’s other main character, John Isidore, is really well-written too. He’s a really sympathetic, if slightly naive, guy who gets a decent amount of characterisation and is also designed to evoke empathy in the reader too. Plus, although many of the novel’s other characters don’t get a huge amount of characterisation, they get enough to come across as interesting and/or realistic people.

In terms of the writing, it is really good 🙂 The novel’s third-person narration is written in a descriptive and atmospheric way which, whilst slightly more formal than most modern novels, has a lot of personality to it 🙂 Seriously, I cannot praise the narration in this novel highly enough 🙂 Yes, it’s a bit more slow-paced than you might expect but it’s good enough to justify this 🙂

As for length and pacing, this novel is really good. At a gloriously efficient 183 pages in length, this novel tells a story that most other sci-fi writers would struggle to tell in 300-400 pages. But, due to all of this detail and worldbuilding, this novel is a bit more slow-paced than you might expect. Even so, this isn’t a bad thing. Thanks to a compelling story and lots of fascinating background details, you’ll probably want to spend more time with this novel 🙂

In terms of how this fifty-one year old novel has aged, it has aged surprisingly well. Yes, the novel’s gender politics are a bit dated at times, there are a couple of references to the Soviet Union and the writing style is a little bit more formal than most modern sci-fi novels, but the novel as a whole has stood the test of time really well 🙂 It’s atmospheric, the settings feel believable, the quirky humour still works and the story still remains compelling too.

One other interesting thing about reading this novel these days are the novel’s references to the old sci-fi novels of the 1930s/40s. In the book, these are presented as artefacts of a more imaginative and optimistic age. Of course, now that this novel is also an old sci-fi novel too, this adds a whole new dimension to these parts of the story.

All in all, this novel is brilliant 🙂 If you love the movie “Blade Runner” or if you just want an imaginative and quirky dystopian sci-fi novel, then this one is well worth reading 🙂

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