Friday, 31 May 2013

Book Review | Abaddon's Gate by James S. A. Corey

For generations, the solar system — Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt — was humanity's great frontier. Until now. The alien artifact working through its program under the clouds of Venus has now appeared in Uranus's orbit, where it has built a massive gate that leads to a starless space beyond. 

Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are part of a vast flotilla of scientific and military ships charged with studying the artifact. But behind the scenes, a complex plot is unfolding, with Holden's destruction at its core. As the emissaries of the human race try to decide whether the gate is an opportunity or a threat, the greatest danger is the one they brought with them.


Having plumbed the depths of the known solar system, explored the various ramifications of the existence of aliens, and exploded a whole bunch of stuff in the interim, James S. A. Corey — a collective pseudonym for co-authors Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham — shows no sign of slowing down in Abaddon's Gate, the third volume of the fantastic Expanse saga.

If anything, this is the best book in the series so far, and it's been a superb series: an accessible, spectacle-heavy space opera with an expanding cast of characters and a massively ambitious narrative. And this time, the depths are even deeper. The ramifications are far grander. And the explosions? There are oh so many more of those.

Abaddon's Gate picks up a couple of months after the events of Caliban's War, with the human race in disarray after the recent crisis on Ganymede:
Between Protogen and Mao-Kwikowski, the order and stability of the solar system had pretty much been dropped in a blender. Eros Station was gone, taken over by an alien technology and crashed into Venus. Ganymede was producing less than a quarter of its previous food output, leaving every population center in the outer planets relying on backup agricultural sources. The Earth-Mars alliance was a kind of quaint memory someone's grandpa might talk about after too much beer. The good old days, before it all went to hell. (pp.22-23)
Times have thus been tough for some. Not, however, for James Holden and the close-knit crew of the salvaged shingle Rocinante. Since cutting ties with the Outer Planets Alliance, he and Naomi — alongside Amos and Alex — have been operating as space-faring freelancers, the upshot of which is they're now ridiculously rich. Their ship has been refitted from bow to stern, upgraded according to a wish list of sweet new weapons and tech; they've gone on an all expenses paid galactic gambling break; and even then, "they still had more money in their general account than they knew what to do with." (p.13)

But money isn't everything, is it? You've got to have a place to lay down a heavy head at the end of the day, a home to harbour your heart, and when Mars initiates legal proceedings in order to take back the Rocinante, the possibility that they could lose everything they've gained of late becomes very real indeed. The only available way through the rising red tape is to take a documentary team out to the Ring, the self-assembled alien artefact around which Abaddon's Gate revolves, and which Holden and his crew had resolved to stay as far away from as possible.
The structure itself was eerie. The surface was a series of twisting ridges that spiraled around its body. At first they appeared uneven, almost messy. The mathematicians, architects, and physicists assured them all that there was a deep regularity there: the height of the ridges in a complex harmony with the width and the spacing between the peaks and valleys. The reports were breathless, finding one layer of complexity after another, the intimations of intention and design all laid bare without any hint of what it all might mean. (pp.136-137)
Before you know it, the Rocinante is leading a shaky coalition of ships from Earth, Mars and the Outer Planets right into the Ring... into one side, and out the other, by way of a strange region of space where the rules of physics and relativity are evidently no more important than notes passed back and forth in class in the past.

Stuck in the so-called Slow Zone with Holden and his, a number of new narrators, including Pastor Anna, an ambassador interested in how the Ring might affect the religion she represents, and Bull, an Earther aligned with the OPA, acting as security chief on the Behemoth, "a marvel of human optimism and engineering [...] with mass accelerators strapped to her side that would do more damage to herself than to an enemy." (pp.52-53)

Most notably, though, we meet Melba, a terrorist:
She had been Clarissa Melpomene Mao. Her family had controlled the fates of cities, colonies, and planets. And now Father sat in an anonymous prison, living out his days in disgrace. Her mother lived in a private compound on Luna slowly medicating herself to death. The siblings — the one that were still alive — had scattered to whatever shelter they could find from the hatred of two worlds. Once, her family's name had been written in starlight and blood, and now they'd been made to seem like villains. They'd been destroyed. 
She could make it right, though. It hadn't been easy, and it wouldn't be now. Some night, the sacrifices felt almost unbearable, but she would do it. She could make them all see the injustice in what James Holden had done to her family. She would expose him. Humiliate him. 
And then she would destroy him. (pp.39-40)
With that, the many pieces of Abaddon's Gate are in place, but as limitlessly ambitious as this book is, the well-oiled machine known as James S. A. Corey makes it all seem simple, somehow. I'd still advise newcomers to start at the start of the saga, but if you have either or both of the previous books in the series behind you, you're as good as guaranteed to have a hell of a time with The Expanse's first-class third act. In fact, looking back, Leviathan's Wake and Caliban's War feel — for all that I enjoyed them — like building blocks, paving the way to this pivotal place in time and space.

The decision to yet again expand The Expanse's cast of characters is slightly off-putting, initially, but the ends almost immediately justify the means: between the calculated physical and political action of Bull's chapters and Pastor Anna's nicely measured perspective on the interorganisational stand-off that informs the bulk of this book, Corey cannily counterbalances the potential problems of a story more focussed on gung-ho, know-it-all Holden — though he too is changed by the end of Abaddon's Gate.

Melba, meanwhile, makes for a neat interweaving of protagonist and antagonist. She does something truly terrible early on, outright rejecting the reader's developing affections at the outset, and falls further and further down the old rabbit hole as Abaddon's Gate goes and goes. The co-authors walk a fine line with respect to Melba, certainly, but they walk it very well. It's almost as if they do this sort of thing for a living!

In any case, these new names and faces bring an array of fresh elements to the table, helping to enliven an otherwise familiar framework. That said, what has become familiar over the course of The Expanse saga remains appealing, if inevitably less than it was once, leaving the story's original elements to steal the spotlight, which they indubitably do.
"The problem with living with miracles was that they made everything seem possible. An alien weapon had been lurking in orbit around Saturn for billions of years. It had eaten thousands of people, hijacking the mechanisms of their bodies for its own ends. It had built a wormhole gate into a kind of haunted sphere. [...] If all that was possible, everything was." (p.223)
Speaking of the story, Abaddon's Gate surprised me — pleasantly, I should stress — by closing out aspects of the overall arc begun in book one. Indeed, Corey answers enough questions that I finished this second sequel feeling like the series could very easily, and very pleasingly, end here.

It won't, of course. Certain doors are literally left open for further adventures in the supersized galaxy of The Expanse — adventures I'll happily have, because Abaddon's Gate is absolutely great. Courageous and audacious, with short chapters, smart characters, and a snappy narrative, it's leaps and bounds bigger and better than the vast majority of space opera.

And the fun is undoubtedly far from done.


Abaddon's Gate
by James S. A. Corey

UK & US Publication: June 2013, Orbit

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Thursday, 30 May 2013

News | Not the End of Alabaster

Never mind for a moment the surprise bashing I got on her blog for being glib about Blood Oranges whilst trying to raise readers' awareness of it in some small way: Caitlin R. Kiernan has been a font of fantastic fiction my entire adult life, and I admire her work immensely.

Silk was a formative reading experience for me, and over the years, Kiernan gotten better and better. With The Drowning Girl: A Memoir in early 2012, she hit yet another new high, and though her current prose projects aren't up my alley, exactly, I can't wait for her to get back to writing the dark fantasy I desire in my heart of hearts.

In her own time, obviously. I'm not even the boss of me; I wouldn't presume to tell anyone else what they should do!

Anyway, oddly enough, I'd read a whole lot of Kiernan's work without even realising it. I speak here of The Dreaming, DC Comics' superb Sandman spin-off, which she scripted from 1996, which I bought from that point on. I've followed her work with particular interest ever since I put two and two together a few years later.

Long story short, Kiernan's return to comic books last year was a dream come true for yours truly, and I've adored Alabaster so far. I own the hardcover collection of Wolves, and I've been buying single issues of Dark Horse Presents solely to keep up to speed with the further adventures of Dancy Flammarion in Boxcar Tales.

Alas, the dream looks to be over for the moment. According to a post on Aunt Beast's blog:
"Last week I spoke with my editor at Dark Horse and told him that it was time for me to step back from both Dancy and comics for the foreseeable future. That, after almost two years of pretty heavy involvement on this project, it was time to refocus my attention on my prose work. It felt a lot like I was tendering my resignation, like quitting a job, though it doesn't truly amount to quite that. It just means that, for the time being, I'm choosing to concentrate on other projects. In a lot of ways, working in comics is far more stressful than prose publishing, and, right now, I've got to decrease the stress in my life. 
"That said, working with Dark Horse has been a marvelous experience, and I thank everyone I've worked with – Rachel, Jemiah, Daniel, Shantel, Mike, Steve, Greg, Rachelle, Augie, and Spencer – for making Alabaster: Wolves and Alabaster: Boxcar Tales happen. I'm not an easy person to work with, and you've all shown admirable patience. I especially thank the many readers and reviewers who've believed in the books. Thank you. And if you are a fan, don't be sad.  
"There will be additional Dancy material from Dark Horse, but I'm not yet at liberty to announce what it will be or when it will be released. I'll make those announcements when I'm told that I can."
I take heart in the suggestion that this is not necessarily the end, however much it sounds like one. Still, I'll miss dear Dancy in the months or years between the forthcoming conclusion of Boxcar Tales and the beginning of whatever's next.

If you haven't already read an Alabaster book, I'm sure you know what to do.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Book Review | Red Moon by Benjamin Percy

Every teenage girl thinks she's different. When government agents kick down Claire Forrester's front door and murder her parents, Claire realises just how different she is.

Patrick Gamble was nothing special until the day he got on a plane and, hours later, stepped off it, the only passenger left alive. A hero.

Presidential candidate Chase Williams has vowed to eradicate the menace. Unknown to the electorate, however, he is becoming the very thing he has sworn to destroy.

Each of them is caught up in a war that so far has been controlled with laws and violence and drugs. But an uprising is about to leave them damaged, lost, and tied to one another for ever.

The night of the red moon is coming, when an unrecognisable world will emerge, and the battle for humanity will begin.


At the outset of Red Moon, Patrick Gamble, the teenage son of a single soldier, is having one of those mornings. You know:
"A what the hell morning. His father is leaving his son, is leaving his job at Anchor Steam, is leaving to fight a war, his unit activated. And Patrick is leaving his father, is leaving California, his friends, his high school, leaving behind everything that defined his life, that made him him." (p.11)
It's enough to inspire violent fantasies in the mind's eye of our protagonist, already unbalanced on the flight towards his new life in Portland, but though Patrick might feel "like punching through windows, torching a building, crashing a car into a brick wall, he has to stay relatively cool. He has to say what the hell. Because his father asked him to." (p.11) So he sucks it up. Lets his worries wash over him while he waits, as patiently as he's able, for his turn in the toilet a few aisles back.

But the man who went into the bathroom a few moments ago doesn't come out. Or rather, he doesn't emerge a man, but a monster.
"Of course he knows what the thing is. A lycan. He has heard about them his whole life, has read about them in novels, history books, newspapers, watched them in movies, television shows. But he has never seen one, not in person. Transformation is forbidden. 
"The lycan moves so quickly it is difficult for Patrick to make sense of it—to secure an image of it—except that it looks like a man, only covered in downy gray hair, like the hair of the possum. Teeth flash. Foam rips from a seat cushion like a strip of fat. Blood spatters, decorating the porthole windows, dripping from the ceiling. It is sometimes on all fours and sometimes balanced on its hind legs. Its back is hunched. Its face is marked by a pronounced blunt snout that flashes teeth as long and sharp as bony fingers, a skeleton's fist of a smile. And its hands—oversize and pouched and decorated with long nails—are greedily outstretched and slashing in the air. A woman's face tears away like a mask. Ropes of intestine are yanked out of a belly. A neck is chewed through in a terrible kiss. A little boy is snatched up and thrown against the wall, his screams silenced." (pp.13-14)
Patrick and the pilots are the only survivors. The pilots were locked up in the cockpit, unable to do anything to help, but at the very least protected. Patrick, however, had to play dead under a dead person while the lycan raged a hair's breadth away.

When the plane touches down and the terrorist is taken care of, Patrick emerges a wreck. The media immediately declare him a hero, but he doesn't feel like one. He feels... like fighting back.

In the aftermath of this ghastly attack—one of three staged simultaneously—Claire Forrester's future hangs in the balance. She's a lycan too, like so many Americans are in the milleu of Red Moon, but till now she's taken her meds. Till now she's voluntarily repressed the animal urge that rises inside her in times of stress. But when men in black storm her home and shoot her daddy dead because of long-since severed connections to pro-lycan protests, she can't help herself. She changes... escapes... takes refuge with her militant Aunt Miriam.

Miriam, however, has problems of her own. She fears her estranged husband may be one of the monsters responsible for what the President calls "a coordinated terror attack directed at the heart of America." (p.24) She can't be sure, but it's certainly true that he's fallen in with a bad lot: a cell of violent lycans who believe Miriam knows enough about their organisation to represent a real threat.

Together, then, Claire and Miriam work day and night to prepare themselves for whatever's on the way. Making the most of the bad lot they've got, they practice transforming. They learn to carry weapons with them at all times. They board up the windows and doors with two-by-fours. They have a sense that something's coming, you see. And something is. Something wicked.

Not unrelatedly, presidential candidate Chase Williams sees the lycan uprising as a powerful platform from which to ram home his campaign. He wants nothing more than to obliterate the lycan menace. If he has his way—and he very well may—everything will be different:
"With the new year, all IDs will note lycan status. The lycan no-fly will remain in effect indefinitely. A database, accessible to anyone online, will list every registered lycan, along with their addresses and photos. Antidiscrimination laws will be lifted: it will be legal for a business to deny service and employment to a lycan [...] in light of recent and repeated attacks." (p.348)
Luckily, there are other, less repulsive perspectives. As the outgoing President stresses:
"This is not the time to lash out at our lycan neighbors, who live peacefully among us and who are registered and monitored and, with the help of strictly prescribed medication, have forgone their ability to transform. Remember that to be a lycan is not to be an extremist, and I would encourage patience among the public while the government practices its due diligence in pursuing those responsible for this terrible, unforgivable catastrophe." (p.73)
At the end of the day, of course, it'll come down to the people. And what does America want more? War? Or peace?

Take a wild guess.

Red Moon is a real beast of a book: epic, ambitious, and unafraid to ruffle a few feathers—or hairs, I dare say. You have to admire Benjamin Percy's earnestness, if nothing else. But never mind how crestfallen I felt at the end of the day... at this early stage, that's hardly fair. Indeed, there are fair few reasons to recommend this long and admirably involved novel. Percy invests heavily in setting, builds out his world reasonably believably, and though I would have appreciated a more global focus from the first, eventually Red Moon does move to pastures new.

Again to his credit, Percy takes his tale to some very dark places, turning in a number of truly terrifying sequences, the first of which—let's call it Werewolves on a Plane—seems to set the scene for a potentially thoughtful and provocative novel. But it doesn't, ultimately. This, we realise, isn't that. There are several such set-pieces yet ahead, and some surprisingly graphic violence, but these fail to feed into the fiction, especially as regards the characters, in a meaningful manner. They serve solely to shock and awe, which indeed they do, at least until we see how isolated they are from the entire.

That said, the author's willingness to lay waste to the world the book begins with pleased me a great deal. All too often authors, particularly authors of successful series, appear afraid of change: they become so attached to their creations that they simply hit reset at the end of any given text, reinstating some status quo. This is not true of Red Moon. Not by a long shot. Come the conclusion, almost everything is up for grabs, and I can get behind a little unpredictability.

Sadly, that's exactly what the central characters lack. Unpredictability, spontaneousness—any real signs of life, aside some angst and a smattering of uglies being bumped. Claire and Patrick just didn't convince me. From the former's practically random changes of heart to the latter's lack of reaction to the horrific thing he's a part of in the first chapter, Red Moon's protagonists struck me as comprehensively constructed. Made to order, one imagines, for the target audience.

It's easier to buy into Percy's adult characters, most notably Miriam, but the young leads are undeniably lacklustre.

What really ruined Red Moon for me, though, was the characterisation of the lycans as every bogeyman ever. Percy alternately casts them as terrorists, sex offenders, thugs ready to rape or mug or murder anyone who offends them; meanwhile there are white pride parallels and allusions to any number of real accidents, attacks and tragedies, not least 9/11, which Red Moon essentially retcons. It's just too much.

Also not enough. But what there is, in whatever quantity it exists, is very much a mixed bag of good and bad. Red Moon begins with one of the most devastating sequences in recent memory, but by the end of the first section, it's lost almost all of this early momentum. The one-size-fits-all apocalypse Benjamin Percy presents is ultimately too interested in endearing itself to readers from this part of the market and that to wholly win over a single segment of said.


Red Moon
by Benjamin Percy

UK Publication: May 2013, Hodder & Stoughton
US Publication: May 2013, Grand Central Publishing

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Friday, 24 May 2013

Book Review | Black Feathers by Joseph D'Lacey

It is the Black Dawn, a time of environmental apocalypse.

It is the Bright Day, a time generations hence, when a peace has descended across the world.

In each era, a child undertakes a perilous journey to find a dark messiah known as the Crowman. But is he our saviour... or the final incarnation of evil?


There can be no question that the world we live in is a very different one than that of our ancestors.

I dare say we'll debate the whys and the wherefores of this issue till we're blue in the face, but the fact of the matter is obscenely simple: our world has seen better days than these. As have we as a people—according to Joseph D'Lacey, at least. Look at "the weather, the economy, the self-serving government, the crooked legal system, the diseases and food shortages [...] If only we'd cared a little more for each other and a little less for ourselves." (p.324)

Well, if wishes were horses—why, we'd be riding gleefully into the future, wouldn't we?

And perhaps we will, one day... but not today, eh? Today, as they say, is unsustainable. Today cannot last.

So what of tomorrow? What of the world of our children, and our children's children? Tomorrow's world, I warrant, will be different again from ours, whether for better... or for worse. There are startling extrapolations of both futures in Black Feathers, the first part of a darkly fantastic duology by the man the British Fantasy Society named Best Newcomer in 2009.

Before D'Lacey looks ahead, however, he casts his eye back a ways, to the birth of a baby boy:
"A freak gust had sucked open a window. Unexpected winter breathed into the room. Snowflakes twirled in and fell to the carpet. A fleeting impression of black wings beating their way into the night was interrupted by the curtains billowing inward. [...] Louis shut his eyes, committing the scene to memory. It was sacred and extreme, both beautiful and base. A smell from the room lingered in his nostrils; the dry, almost Alpine chilld of the air and the moist scent of Sophie's sweat and blood." (pp.15-16)
So it is that Gordon Black comes into the world, causing as much fuss in his first flush as he does later in life, and accompanied—as ever—by a murder of black-feathered birds. Thus, from day one, his parents realise that there's something... different about their son; a problem which only becomes more pressing as Gordon grows older. We all fall to wondering who we really are from time to time, but some questions are not so easily answered. Some questions don't even have answers.

Yet time marches on regardless.

Fast forward to a period resembling the present day, in which Gordon approaches his adolescence, ever more aware that he doesn't fit in amongst all the other kids with, yes, their pumped-up kicks. Gordon however has other interests than new shoes. Sure, he'd like a few friends of his own, but he's more interested in a safe place to call home. Above all else, Gordon wants his family to be happy, and whole.

He should be so lucky. He really should be; that's not a lot to ask, after all. Alas, "the world is descending into chaos and there's a simple reason for it. We've abused it. We've drained it. We've mined it. We've cut down its forests. We've over-farmed its land and turned it into a desert. There's no part of the world untainted by the touch of humanity," (p.167) and Mother Earth has finally declared an endgame: the Black Dawn is coming. And unless Gordon does something about it—he's the only person in a position to, for reasons that will become clear—every living thing will be lost.
"This is the beginning of a story. A true story. One greater and more far-reaching than the story of a pale, gentle boy; it is the story of the Black Dawn and the Bright Day, the story of the world's rebirth. And she must learn it." (p.150)
She is Megan Maurice, apprentice to an old storyteller come medicine man—called a Keeper by the people of this period—and in her world, a Bright Day beckons: a time of peace, and love, and longed-for light. But the way there is shrouded in shadow. Lies and snakes and spiders lurk between the moment she submits to her master and the era of spiritual wealth ahead.

Like Gordon, Megan too has a duty. Meanwhile she is haunted by horrible dreams, as is he. And though untold generations separate them, they dream, sometimes, of one another. In this way the past and the future are entwined: a divide, and indeed an interdependence, which Joseph D'Lacey makes much of over the course of Black Feathers.

D'Lacey has been writing steadily since making waves with the publication of his wonderfully disgusting debut in early 2008. Garbage Man, Snake Eyes, The Kill Crew and Blood Fugue all followed in the mould of Meat, to a certain extent, but Black Feathers is something different, I think. Gone are the grotesque excesses of yesteryear—torture porn this is not. The latest from D'Lacey is as bleak as ever his work has been, but it's sweeter as well, and ultimately much more meaningful.

I'd go so far as to say that Black Feathers represents the maturation of his practised craft.

Which isn't to say it's perfect by any stretch. To begin with, it's pretty preachy. Given the preceding quotes, I hardly need note that if you aren't into the idea of the world as a living, breathing being, you should steer clear... but beyond that, D'Lacey sometimes comes on too strong, surfacing the green politics of the premise every time the opportunity to do so presents itself. I'm in complete agreement with the author on most of the points he makes, but even I was rolling my eyes the tenth time he iterated on the population problem.

There's also some dodgy dialogue. Some confusion at the outset as to what was happening when—and to who, too. And the convenient appearance of several peripheral perspectives took me out of the story rather than drawing me deeper into its weave.

In every other respect, however, Black Feathers is something special. Equal parts a novel of the apocalypse and a powerful coming of age tale—as much The Stand as Stand By Me, if I may—D'Lacey's latest grabbed me from the potent prologue, and let go only when the new had become old, and the story told.

No longer a boy but not yet a man, Gordon is a fascinating character from the first, and he develops a great deal before Black Feathers is over. His journey of self-discovery is punctuated by painful realisation, awful responsibility, feelings of inadequacy... and the clamouring carrion call of something called the Crowman:
"In every depiction of cataclysm, sometimes in the foreground, sometimes a tiny representation watching from afar, stood the same figure. Long dark hair hanging over his features, arms stretched wide and upwards as if in summoning, a long coat covering most of his body, and at his cuffs and ankles something like black straw or black lightning instead of fingers. Some sketches were portraits in close-up. A beak for a face, grey eyes fixed on the artist or viewer, hair like skeins of black silk and everywhere black feathers falling like snow. A few of the pictures weren't of a man at all but were merely studies of crows, some in flight, some sitting in high branches, some lying dead in the deserted streets." (p.230)
Visions of this figure assault Megan as well, and though she is certainly of secondary interest in the beginning of Black Feathers, her half of the narrative—which D'Lacey uses to illuminate elements of Gordon's desperate perspective—builds to a tremendous crescendo at the end. I look forward to finding out what's next for her in the latter volume of this duology.

In lieu of book two of The Black Dawn, let me stress that Black Feathers is perfectly satisfying on its own. Hugely approachable, and immensely readable, it represents an effective narrative with rewarding characters, rich imagery and an atmosphere so stark that you really feel the horror of it all. Of course this isn't the first time that the end of the world has meant something, but whether you buy into its author's politics or not, Black Feathers is a deftly rendered realisation of a reckoning that seems, by all accounts, almost inevitable.


Black Feathers
by Joseph D'Lacey

UK Publication: April 2013, Angry Robot Books
US Publication: March 2013, Angry Robot Books

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Tuesday, 21 May 2013

You Tell Me | To Infinity... and Beyond!

So hey.

Today's the day! The day we hear what the next Xbox will be all about — or at least what it'll be called. I'm excited. How about you?

In case you weren't aware, in a few short hours — only four more from the time of this post — Microsoft are going to hold a press event where "A New Generation Will Be Revealed," or so the email I got this morning insists.

We already know about the PS4, and though I could honestly care less until there's a new Zelda to worry my bank balance further, I'll admit the Wii U exists, thus this is the last of the last crop of consoles in line for a generational refresh.

I have very high hopes for the Xbox Next, or the Xbox 365, or the Xbox Infinity, or whatever they end up calling the thing, because this generation, I played most of my go-to video games on the 360. I've enjoyed achievements a great deal in recent years, and the seamlessness of the online experience is still second to none. A steady stream of Halos haven't hurt the Xbox's cause either.

But there's still so much to play for. Sony look to have ratcheted back their arrogance, leaving Microsoft to inherit their hubris. If they get too big for their boots — and we'll get an indication of whether or not that's actually the case later today — I'll be buying a PS4 before the next Xbox.

Fingers firmly crossed Microsoft have taken to heart some of the criticism that's come their way since we heard tell of all this online only nonsense. And as a renter rather than a buyer, if I'm unable to play used games on the next-gen Xbox without paying for an additional user license or some such rubbish, I'm done.

For the moment, though, we just don't know.

That said, we will in a bit... so now's the time to speculate. :)

What do you want from the next Xbox? Please do tell.

For my part, this Illumiroom technology really appeals to me:

Make that a pack-in and I'll be happy.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Book Review | Climbers by M. John Harrison

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One of M. John Harrison's most acclaimed novels in a career of near universal acclaim, Climbers is, perhaps, the least fantastical of his novels. Yet it carries life-changing moments, descriptions of landscape bordering on the hallucinogenic and flights of pure fictive power that leave any notion of the divide between realistic and unrealistic fiction far behind. First published in 1989, Climbers has remained a strong favourite with fans and reviewers alike.

A young man seeks to get a grip on his life by taking up rock-climbing. He hopes that by engaging with the hard realities of the rock and the fall he can grasp what is important about life. But as he is drawn into the obsessive world of climbing he learns that taking things to the edge comes with its own price.

Retreating from his failed marriage to Pauline, Mike leaves London for the Yorkshire moors, where he meets Normal and his entourage, busy pursuing their own dreams of escape. Travelling from crag to crag throughout the country, they are searching for the unattainable: the perfect climb. Through rock-climbing, Mike discovers an intensity of experience - a wash of pain, fear and excitement - that obliterates the rest of his world. Increasingly addicted to the adrenaline, folklore and camaraderie of the sport, he finds, for a time, a genuine escape. But it is gained at a price...

This dark, witty and poetic novel is full of the rugged beauty of nature, of the human drive to test oneself against extremes, and of the elation such escape can bring


I've often heard Climbers described as the least fantastical of M. John Harrison's novels, and so it is, looked at in a particularly literal light — I espied no spaceships, I'm afraid, and there isn't a single sentient bomb in sight — yet this reading is as wrong as it is right.

Climbers is certainly less overtly otherworldly than the Kefahuchi Tract trilogy, and it has none of The Centauri Device's spare spacefaring. Indeed, it takes place almost entirely in the north of England in the eighties, but do not be so easily deceived: Climbers is far from absent alien environs.
"The Andean landscapes [...] had a curious central equivocality: black ignimbrite plains above Ollague like spill from some vast recently abandoned mine: the refurbished pre-Inca irrigation canals near Machu Picchu, indistinguishable from mountain streams. Half-seen outlines, half-glimpsed possibilities; and to set against them, a desperate clarity of the air." (p.34)
This is the work of a bona fide stylist, reminiscent of recent Christopher Priest, or China Mieville at his most memorable, and even here in his most mainstream text to date Harrison imbues his landscapes — though they are real rather than imagined — with such bizarre and startling qualities that you'd be forgiven for thinking Climbers is science fiction.

At bottom, it's about a man — readers, meet Mike — who leaves his life in London behind after the failure of his first marriage. Disillusioned and disconnected, he moves to the Yorkshire moors, falls in with a clique of climbers, and slowly but surely insinuates himself in their increasingly extreme endeavours.
"To climbers, climbing was less a sport than an obsession. It was a metaphor by which they hoped to demonstrate something to themselves. And if this something was only the scale of their emotional or social isolation, they needed — I believed then — nothing else. A growing familiarity with their language, which I had picked up by listening to them as they practised on the indoor wall in Holloway, and their litter, spread out on a Saturday afternoon like a glittering picnic in the deep soft sand at the foot of Harrison's Rocks, had already made me seem quite different to myself." (pp.77-78)
In climbing, Mike finds a way... not to escape, exactly, but to be a part of something greater. Something purer, or at least less muddy than the life he's lost. His pursuit of the present, of mastery over the moment — by way of puzzles and problems solved on chalky rock walls — is, I think, a fundamentally powerful thing, and in time it takes precedence over every other aspect of his existence.

He does, however, have cause to recall what brought him to this point: namely the end of something hardly begun — a death, yes — which we only ever glimpse in shattered fragments, reflected in shards of mirrored glass. It falls to us to put the pieces of Mike's memories together, and I dare say your willingness do this — to work towards a passing grasp of character and narrative that the author obfuscates at every stage — will determine what you ultimately take from this tale.

The story, such as it is, does not unfold chronologically. Though Climbers' structure implies a year in the life, from Winter through Spring to Summer followed by Fall, and there is a linear element — a single thread that wends its bewildering way through the text in toto — in truth Harrison's 1989 novel is more memoirish, replete with recollections and ramblings such that we only learn about Mike's separation from his wife and the circumstances of said perhaps halfway through the whole.

To be sure, Climbers can seem inscrutable, but to a greater or lesser extent this is true of Harrison's entire oeuvre. As the similarly inclined nature writer Robert Macfarlane asserts in his insightful introduction to the new British edition:
"Harrison's [books] explore confusion without dispelling it, have no ambitions to clarification, and are characterised in their telling by arrhythmia and imbalance. Nothing in Climbers seems quite to signify in the way it ought to, events that should be crucial flit past in a few sentences, barely registered. The many deaths and injuries that occur are particularly shocking for the distracted scarcity of their narration." (p.xvii)
And so to the characters Mike meets: to Normal and Bob Almanac, Mick and Gaz and Sankey; isolated individuals who become comrades in climbing whilst flitting in and out of the fiction whenever real life intervenes. They come and go, and they're hard folks to know... but people aren't easy. We are complicated, contradictory creatures, and Mike's new mates struck me as more human than most. As right and as wrong as us all.

Its parts are undeniably abstracted, and there will be those who take issue with this, understandably perhaps, but cumulatively, Climbers is as complete and pristine as any of the SF classics Harrison has composed. Nor is it any less revelatory. Indeed, some say it is his piece de resistance. I don't know that I'd agree with that assessment — however mesmeric the landscapes, however impeccably crafted the narrative and characters are, I don't know that Climbers has the scope or the manifest imagination of Light and the like — nevertheless, Harrison imbues the ordinary of this novel with such extraordinary qualities that it is not, after all, so dissimilar in effect to the best of the speculative fiction this remarkable author has written.


by M. John Harrison

UK Publication: May 2013, Gollancz

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Thursday, 16 May 2013

Book Review | The Humans by Matt Haig

It's hardest to belong when you're closest to home...

One wet Friday evening, Professor Andrew Martin of Cambridge University solves the world's greatest mathematical riddle. Then he disappears.

When he is found walking naked along the motorway, Professor Martin seems different. Besides the lack of clothes, he now finds normal life pointless. His loving wife and teenage son seem repulsive to him. In fact, he hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton. And he's a dog.

Can a bit of Debussy and Emily Dickinson keep him from murder? Can the species which invented cheap white wine and peanut butter sandwiches be all that bad? And what is the warm feeling he gets when he looks into his wife's eyes?


You ask me, we spend an inordinate amount of our lives wondering what the meaning of life might be.

Yes, it's a crucial question, and I'm as ready as the next person to find the answer at last. But I do wonder if we aren't wasting our time thinking along these lines, because the meaning of life must be different for every living thing. Better to ask, instead, what it means to be human; to consider what makes us different from the primates we were, and everything else on Earth in turn.

Being human is all we know, of course, so it's hard to tell... to guess what sets us apart from (if not necessarily above) all creatures great and small. Love is a lovely answer, but other animals clearly have that capacity. Our ability to appreciate beauty is another easy idea, but who can say with anything resembling certainty that sheep aren't also in awe of this wonderful world?

Feel free to disagree, but I've seen them staring... sheep with eyes that could burn holes in souls.

I may be in no position to unpick these mysteries, yet I'd suggest that a large part what makes us us is our eternal quest to discover thus. That wondering what it means to be human, as Matt Haig does in his first narrative since The Radleys, may indeed be what makes the human experience unique.
"This book, this actual book, is set right here, on Earth. It is about the meaning of life and nothing at all. It is about what it takes to kill somebody, and save them. It is about love and dead poets and wholenut peanut butter. It's about matter and anti-matter, everything and nothing, hope and hate. It's about a forty-one-year-old female historian called Isobel and her fifteen-year-old son called Gulliver and the cleverest mathematician in the world. It is, in short, about how to become a human. 
"But let me state the obvious. I was not one." (p.3)
So begins The Humans. With an unnamed alien invader assuming the identity of Professor Andrew Martin, a mathematician whose study of prime numbers has attracted the unwelcome attention of a faraway race in possession of intellect and technology leaps and bounds beyond our own.

That said, the doppelganger—who we'll call Professor Andrew Martin for the sake of simplicity—still spends the first 50 pages of Haig's latest butt-naked and bingeing on stolen Pringles. He doesn't even get away with his ill-gotten gains: when he refuses to reveal his reasons, knowing that ignorance of human culture and customs is the very sort of excuse that'll land him in an insane asylum, the police arrest him with their usual elegance. Which would be no big thing, except Martin isn't simply visiting. He has work to do.

He's been embedded, we learn, because the Professor—before he was summarily replaced by an alien—made a discovery that could potentially change everything: he solved the Riemann Hypothesis; acquired a mathematical formula others have decided we lack the enlightenment to wield wisely. Martin himself is no longer a problem, obviously, but what about his family? What do they know? What then about his friends, and his colleagues at Cambridge? The visitors do not want to wipe us all out, but they need this knowledge—in whatever form—gone.
"Where we are from there is no love and no hate. There is the purity of reason. 
"Where we are from there are no crimes of passion because there is no passion. 
"Where we are from there is no remorse because action has a logical motive and always results in the best outcome for the given situation. 
"Where we are from there are no names, no families living together, no husbands and wives, no sulky teenagers, no madness. 
"Where we are from we have solved the problem of fear because we have solved the problem of death. We will not die. Which means we can't just let the universe do what it wants to do, because we will be inside it for eternity." (p.95)
Easier said than done, I dare say. Because in order to determine the extent of humanity's exposure to the aforementioned forbidden fruit, the replacement Professor will have to figure out what makes people tick... but in trying to pass for a person, he basically becomes one. And as a person, he starts to question his mission, which is to destroy everything that could lead back to the problematic primes, and everyone—up to and including Martin's wife and son.

Though its specifics are assuredly absurd, The Humans' general premise is if anything all too human. Born, as the author acknowledges in an inspiring afterword, from a "dark well" of depressive tendencies, Haig's latest examines a fear I warrant we've all felt to a greater or lesser extent: the thought that we are alone in the world; that what makes us who we are also serves to makes us unlike anyone else.

Then again, no-one in the milieu of The Humans is more set apart from humanity than an assassin from another planet, and even he finds something to hold on to—something vibrant and violent that describes what makes each of our lives worthwhile. He develops feelings for the family he has accidentally inherited: for Isobel, Martin's long-suffering love, and Gulliver, their teenage tearaway.

I had a harder time caring for these puny humans than I ever did our extra-terrestrial narrator, I'm afraid. The Professor's wife and child fill their roles, but little more. Right down to their quirks, they're just too typical to buy into entirely. In all honesty I was more interested in Newton—a markedly more convincing character, also a dog.

Martin, however, develops in a very real way, going from the unwitting idiot at the heart of the first act's protracted farce to a sinister figure before becoming a real boy before our eyes, and taking on all the good and bad that decision denotes. His speech patterns may be stilted, his emotional awareness basic at best, yet his outsider's perspective gives him a refreshing lack of expectations. With "no reference points [and no notion] of how things were, at least here," (p.59) some of the insights resulting are remarkable.

Contemplating a Mars bars, he concludes that "This was [...] a planet of things wrapped inside things. Food inside wrappers. Bodies inside clothes. Contempt inside smiles. Everything was hidden away." (p.13) Later on, courtesy a copy of Cosmopolitan, he ruminates about belief:
"Even before I had fully discovered the concepts of astrology, homeopathy, organised religion and probiotic yoghurts I was able to work out that what humans may have lacked in physical attractiveness, they made up for in gullibility. You could tell them anything in a convincing enough voice and they would believe it. Anything, of course, except the truth." (p.87)
The Humans is as serious a story as it is endearing, as ordinary as it appears aberrant. It's thoughtful rather than provocative, funnier than anything else I've read in 2013, and truly touching, ultimately. The introductory silliness goes on a little long, and I do wish Matt Haig had invested more meaningfully in a number of the narrative's more contrived characters, but in every other respect this is a book that will remind you of what it means to be human.

And that's a beautiful thing, I think.


The Humans
by Matt Haig

UK Publication: May 2013, Canongate
US Publication: July 2013, Simon & Schuster

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Tuesday, 14 May 2013

But I Digress | The Life and Death of Dial H

Regular readers will recall that I came back to comic books a couple of years ago, after entirely abandoning what had become a bad habit at best: a pull list of single issues that broke the bank each and every week, and hardly interested me beyond satisfying my not-so-secret completionist streak.

It was something I needed to do, in truth, but I realised, relatively recently, that I'd thrown the baby out with the bathwater; that I'd gotten shot of a bunch of good comics along with all the bad books that had driven me away from the form in the first place. So I resolved to give the whole rigmarole another go.

And I'm glad I did. I'm glad because I've read some stonking good comic books since I made the decision discussed above. Denise Mina and Andy Diggle have hooked me on Hellblazer; I'm midway through Y: The Last Man, and it's getting better and better; Global Frequency was a bunch of fun; American Vampire and The Unwritten are pretty brilliant; and I enjoy a bunch of the Batman books.

But as it happens, everyone isn't a winner, so of course I've read some utter rubbish in the interim. I won't name names.

In any case, Dial H. As a devout scholar of the school of Mieville, Dial H excited me immensely. I followed the news of its conception and development with baited breath. Though I tend to consume my comics as and when they're collected, I bought the first issue as soon as I could.

On reflection, that wasn't the best introduction to what is a rather byzantine book. Afterwards, I resolved to wait for the first trade, to give Dial H a proper second shot. Into You finally came out in April, and I had a bit of fun with it, I admit. But on the whole? I'd have to say no. Or else, not yet.

I'll read the next collection when it's published, I guess — I do like to see a thing through, and knowing Mieville the book will get better as it goes — but if I'm honest, yesterday's news, that Dial H had been cancelled, was rather a relief. I'm truly sorry that the audience wasn't interested in something so different and ambitious, but let's face it: Mieville didn't make it easy. I've read almost everything he's written, and even I had a hard time figuring out whether or not Dial H was decent.

On the one hand, it's a shame that Dial H didn't work out. On the other — the glass half full hand — this frees up the esteemed author to refocus on the prose fiction I fell for in the first place, because I don't think it's a coincidence that this is the first year since 2008 that he hasn't published a new novel.

So roll on news of whatever Mieville's been working on since the release of Railsea. I still hold out hope that he'll go back to Bas-Lag, but I'll take whatever I can get... up to and including the second Dial H trade. In my heart of hearts, however, I can't help but feel relieved rather than bereaved by this news.

Is that mean-spirited of me?

Have you ever been perversely pleased to see something end, and if so, when?

Monday, 13 May 2013

Book Review | Raven Girl by Audrey Niffenegger

"Once there was a Postman who fell in love with a Raven."

So begins the tale of a postman who encounters a fledgling raven while on the edge of his route and decides to take her home. The unlikely couple falls in love and conceives a child - an extraordinary raven girl trapped in a human body. The raven girl feels imprisoned by her arms and legs and covets wings and the ability to fly. Betwixt and between, she reluctantly grows into a young woman, until one day she meets an unorthodox doctor who is willing to change her.

One of the world's most beloved storytellers has created a dark fairytale full of wonderment and longing. Illustrated with Audrey Niffenegger's bewitching etchings and paintings, Raven Girl explores the bounds of transformation and possibility.


As oddly modern as Audrey Niffenegger's third novel-in-pictures is in many respects, the story at its core is as old as the 17th century aquatint technique she uses to illustrate it. Older, even. In the beginning, boy meets girl. They become friends... their relationship strengthens... and in due course, a strange babe is made. 

I say strange because it so happens that the girl the boy falls for is a bird: a fledgling raven who has fallen out of the nest. Seeing her, a caring mailman worries that she's broken, so he takes her home, cares for her as best he can. What develops between them then seems straight out of a wonderfully weird take on Aesop's Fables
“The postman was amazed by the intelligence and grace of the Raven. As she grew and lived in his house and watched him, she began to perform little tasks for him; she might stir the soup, or finish a jigsaw puzzle; she could find his keys (or hide them, for the fun of watching him hunt for them). She was like a wife to him, solicitous of his moods, patient with his stories of postal triump and tragedy. She grew large and sleek, and he wondered how he would live without her when the time came for her to fly away.” (pp.18-19) 
But when the time comes, the raven remains. As a matter of fact, she was hardly hurt in the first place; she stayed with the lonely postman for her own reasons. 

Time passes. Magic happens. 

In short, a child is born: a young human woman with the heart of a bird. Her parents love her utterly, give her everything they're able. Still, she longs to share her life with others like her. But there are none... she's the only Raven Girl in whole wide world! 
"The Raven Girl went to school, but she never quite fit in with the other children. Instead of speaking, she wrote notes; when she laughed she made a harsh sound that startled even the teachers. The games the children played did not make sense to her, and no one wanted to play at flying or nest building or road kill for very long.  
"Years passed, and the Raven Girl grew. Her parents worried about her; no boys asked her out, she had no friends." (p.36) 
So far, so fairy tale. But Niffenegger does ultimately capitalise on the aspects of the uncanny at the heart of her narrative. Later in life, the Raven Girl goes to university and learns about chimeras from a visiting lecturer, who says the very thing she's needed to hear for years. "We have the power to improve ourselves, if we wish to do so. We can become anything we wish to be. Behold [...] a man with a forked lizard tongue. A woman with horns. A man with long claws," (p.43) and so on. It only takes a little leap for us to foresee a girl with working wings. 

And so Raven Girl goes: right down the rabbit hole of body horror. 

It's a somewhat discomfiting turn for the tale to take, but soon one senses this is what the author hopes to explore: the book's beatific beginnings are just a way of getting there. Thus, they feel slightly superfluous—an assertion evidenced by the lack of artwork illustrating the opening act. At 80 pages, Raven Girl is the longest of the three picture books Niffenegger has created to date, but not out of narrative necessity. 

When Raven Girl finally takes flight, half its length has elapsed, but the half ahead is certainly superb. This may not be a fable for the faint-hearted, yet it stands a strangely beautiful tale all the same... of light glimpsed in the night, of hope when all looks to be lost. As the author attests:
"Fairy tales have their own remorseless logic and their own rules. Raven Girl, like many much older tales, is about the education and transformation of a young girl. It also concerns unlikely lovers, metamorphoses, dark justice, and a prince, as well as the modern magic of technology and medicine." (p.78) 
It is this last which sets off the plot of Niffenegger’s new novel-in-pictures: the idea of science as supernatural after a fashion. Together with the muted elements of the macabre aforementioned, Raven Girl feels like kid-friendly Cronenberg, and the artist’s moody aquatints very much feed into this reading. 

No doubt Audrey Niffenegger is most known as the mind behind The Time Traveler's Wife, but her latest emerges instead from the manifest imagination of the artist who produced The Three Incestuous Sisters, for instance. Like that dark objet d'art, Raven Girl is an insidious intermingling of words and pictures to be treasured: a beautifully produced, lavishly, lovingly illustrated fairy tale for the modern day—and very much of it, also.


The Raven Girl
by Audrey Niffenegger

UK Publication: May 2013, Jonathan Cape
US Publication: May 2013, Abrams ComicArts

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Friday, 10 May 2013

Book Review | The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

The 1st Wave took out half a million people.

The 2nd Wave put that number to shame.

The 3rd Wave lasted a little longer. Twelve weeks... four billion dead.

In the 4th Wave, you can't trust that people are still people.

And the 5th Wave? No one knows. But it's coming.

On a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs. Runs from the beings that only look human, who have scattered Earth's last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive... until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, he may be Cassie's only hope.


When they came, everything changed. 

But the Arrival did not happen in the blink of an eye. It took weeks for the mothership first glimpsed at the outer reaches of our solar system—as yet a speck among faraway stars—to glide its way to its intended destination: Earth. 

Humanity spent this time speculating. Watching endlessly looped footage of an alien eye in the sky until we knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that we were not alone in the universe. What had brought these unexpected guests to our corner of the cosmos? No one knew. All too soon, they would. In the intervening period, a lot of pointless posturing, a surplus of purposeless panic. But in truth, nobody had a clue what to do. 
"We figured the government sort of did. The government had a plan for everything, so we assumed they had a plan for E.T. showing up uninvited and unannounced, like the weird cousin nobody in the family likes to talk about.  
"Some people nested. Some people ran. Some got married. Some got divorced. Some made babies. Some killed themselves. We walked around like zombies, blank-faced and robotic, unable to absorb the magnitude of what was happening." (p.19-20) 
Would it have mattered, at the end of the day, if people had been better prepared? Who's to say? What happened next would probably have happened anyway. 

Long story less long, the aliens waged war. Their first strike took out our electronics, and to them, the half a million casualties that came of this incident was simply a happy coincidence. After all, billions more would be dead within days. 

Cassie and her family got off lightly: they survived. For a little while, at least. Seeking safety in numbers, they hole up in a camp commanded by an old soldier, but when his buddies from the army arrive, they come bearing Others. Cassie's dad dies violently before her eyes, and she has no choice but to hide when her baby brother is taken away in a repurposed school bus. 

An experience like this is apt to do one of two things to you. It may break you—make you more afraid, make you an easier target—or it might make you. Cassie comes into her own as a part that latter category. The awful things she's seen harden her: 
"When I first came to the camp, I heard a story about a mom who took out her three kids and then did herself rather than face the Fourth Horseman. I couldn't decide whether she was brave or stupid. And then I stopped worrying about it. Who cares what she was when what she is now is dead?" (p.108) 
Having resolved not to be some little lost girl in the world, our lonesome leading lady learns how to fight, how to shoot, how to kill. She means to use these skills to save her missing sibling Sammy, assuming he's still alive. Sadly, a sniper with other ideas spots her, putting paid to Cassie’s plan. But she does not die. She wakes up in the care of a beguiling farm boy called Evan Walker. A fellow survivor... or so he says. 

I'm sure I need not add that there's more to this young man than meets the eye. 

The subsequent sequence seems straight out of Stephen King's Misery—neither the first nor the last narrative that Rick Yancey's new novel recalls. At points, I was reminded of The Passage; there are some very I Am Number Four moments in store; an entire section inspired by Ender's Game; and—inescapably I dare say—The Hunger Games comes up. Cassie is not quite Katniss, but to begin with, they're certainly similar. 

The 5th Wave is a hodgepodge, in short: an amalgamation—however canny—of bits and pieces borrowed from other books. But somehow, it works. Somehow, it makes for an exhilarating reading experience, as relentless and harrowing and inspiring as any of the fictions aforementioned. 

I'd ascribe its success to character and narrative in equal part. The plot is perhaps a little predictable, but it moves like a man on fire, allowing us truly few opportunities to dwell on what's next; even when we see something coming, there's another twist waiting in the wings. The nature of the titular fifth wave, for instance, is far from the revelation intended, but when the hammer finally falls, it's still shocking. As Cassie concludes, "There's an old saying about the truth setting you free. Don't buy it. Sometimes the truth slams the cell door shut and throws a thousand bolts." (p.310) 

Yancey isn't afraid to take his tale to some dark places, either. In fact, in the first chapter, Cassie murders a man by accident, which sets the scene for a procession of tragedies both unimaginably massive and indescribably minor. The effect these have on our protagonist is tangible. She may begin an innocent, but she becomes something far less simple than this, and her development, though accelerated, is never less than credible. I dare say I'd take Cassie's complexities over the meandering of the Mockingjay any day. 

The 5th Wave is primarily Cassie's narrative, but there are other characters, of course. First and foremost, let me introduce you to Zombie: 
"There is the snow, tiny pinpricks of white, spinning down.  
"There is the river reeking of human waste and human remains, black and swift and silent beneath the clouds that hide the glowing green eye of the mothership.  
"And there's the seventeen-year-old high school football jock dressed up like a soldier with a high-powered semiautomatic rifle [...] crouching by the statue of a real soldier who fought and died with clear mind and clean heart, uncorrupted by the lies of an enemy who knows how he thinks, who twists everything good in him to evil, who uses his hope and trust to turn him into a weapon against his own kind." (pp.318-319) 
I'll let you find out how this happens first-hand, but Zombie is a fine counterpoint to Cassie. He doesn't have her depth, however his perspective proves crucial, offering an alternate angle on the alien invasion—plus he's better supported than our central character, by Ringer and Dumbo and Teacup among others... including a little boy known as Nugget. 

Whenever there's a lull in the principle plotline, Zombie's part of the overall arc is more than able to take the strain, and it's insidious stuff, ultimately; as discomfiting in its way as Cassie's strained relationship with her so-called saviour. Meanwhile waiting for these disparate perspectives to meet somewhere in the middle is obscenely appealing. 

Without giving anything else away, let me say I love how Yancey resolves it all. The 5th Wave is the beginning of a trilogy, so spanners are surely in the works, but the finale is so satisfying that I'd be perfectly happy if the series ended here. 

The 5th Wave is a fair way from original, admittedly. If you're looking for new ideas, you're not likely to find them here, I fear. That said, this is no ignominious knock-off, more a fearless fusion of initially familiar futures, bolstered by smart, commanding characters and an admirably alarming narrative that chills as often as it thrills. 

I say roll on the next wave of Rick Yancey's YA invasion, because the first phase is tremendously entertaining.


The 5th Wave
by Rick Yancey

UK Publication: May 2013, Penguin
US Publication: May 2013, Putnam

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