Europe in Winter (2016) by Dave Hutchinson

Imagine a train line which grew out of a pocket universe and spread across a fractured Europe. Now imagine this “Line” being its own state with borders and so on. Are you still with me?

‘The Line had been decades in the building. It had originally aspired to being a straight line drawn across Europe and Asia, […] Geography and simple pragmatism meant that this was never achievable,’

 

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Background

The third book in Dave Hutchinson’s Fractured Europe series, Europe in Winter continues the adventures of Rudi, ‘the former chef-turned-spy.’ It begins with a deadly terrorist attack on a train and ends with a staggering “sleight of hand” at a major international airport. In between, the author takes us on a snaking journey around Eastern Europe as we meet a motley cast of characters who could be working for any side. Confused yet? You will be! Continue reading

Exit West (2017) by Mohsin Hamid

Imagine the city you lived in became embroiled in a civil war. What would you do? Would you stay or leave? Would you continue with your daily life, your job, your schooling? How long do you think it would take you to stop noticing the sound of gunfire?

I have been lucky not to have undergone such an experience so far. I hope I never do.

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In Exit West, author Mohsin Hamid uses the growing friendship of Nadia and Saeed to centre his story of migration and refugees. It is a story which charts the course of an intimate relationship in a city succumbing to civil war. It is also a story about portals, whether they are physical doors which may lead to another country or technological “doors” that offer instant communication and information via access to the internet. Continue reading

Paris Adrift (2018) by E.J. Swift

‘What we were feeds into the things that will become, and after the last memory of us has faded from the world, it is stone that remains to tell what stories it can.’

 

Imagine if you were able to visit Paris at different points in time. And what if your actions could change the future, either for the better or the worse…

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The story opens with a glimpse of a dark dystopian future where survivors of a devastating war are discussing the possibilities of changing the past. Following this, we shift to the present-day where we are introduced to main character Hallie. She is a British university student spending a gap-year living and working in present-day Paris. As we get to know her via her friends and surroundings, a strange encounter with a Japanese woman changes Hallie’s life. Continue reading

Ack-Ack Macaque (2012) by Gareth L. Powell

I want to start this review with the book’s synopsis because it is a cracker!

 

‘In 1944, as waves of German ninjas parachute into Kent, Britain’s best hopes for victory lie with a Spitfire pilot codenamed ‘Ack-Ack Macaque’. The trouble is, Ack-Ack Macaque is a cynical, one-eyed, cigar-chomping monkey, and he’s starting to doubt everything, including his own existence. A century later, in a world where France and Great Britain merged in the late 1950s and nuclear-powered Zeppelins encircle the globe, ex-journalist Victoria Valois finds herself drawn into a deadly game of cat and mouse with the man who butchered her husband and stole her electronic soul. Meanwhile, in Paris, after taking part in an illegal break-in at a research laboratory, the heir to the British throne goes on the run. And all the while, the doomsday clock ticks towards Armageddon.’

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Ack-Ack Macaque was the joint winner of the 2013 BSFA Best Novel Award along with Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Justice. It is British author Gareth L. Powell’s third novel and is a much-expanded version of his 2007 Interzone reader’s poll-winning short story of the same name. Powell has since penned two highly-rated sequels: Hive Monkey (2014) and Macaque Attack (2015). His latest novel is Embers of War (2018), a space opera which has also been garnering very positive reviews. Continue reading

Lovecraft Unbound (2009) Edited by Ellen Datlow

“Something was there.”
Bishop said nothing. He lifted the magazine again, but his eyes were still.
“Something was down there,” Garner said.
“The Crevasse” by Dale Bailey & Nathan Ballingrud

Lovecraft Unbound is a collection of twenty short stories inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s weird fiction. In her introduction, Ellen Datlow writes that she was looking for stories that were “subtly Lovecraftian” rather than the more obvious “pastiches” that make up a lot of Lovecraft-themed anthologies:

I asked for stories inspired—thematically and possibly—by plot points in Lovecraft’s mythos. What I wanted was variety: in tone, setting, point of view, time.

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This volume includes stories by Laird Barron, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Lavie Tidhar, Michael Chabon, Joyce Carrol Oates, Michael Cisco, Michael Shea and more. Out of the twenty, the following six stories stood out for me: Continue reading

Bearly a Lady (2017) by Cassandra Khaw

Last year I read and reviewed Cassandra Khaw’s Hammers on Bone and Rupert Wong novellas. Both works really impressed me, putting Khaw on my must-read author list. Bearly a Lady was released in July 2017 and I bought it on release day – the first time I’ve done so with a new book for quite a while. Unfortunately, my tbr pile and lifeTM have delayed my reading of it until this month.

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Bearly a Lady is a very funny story about modern relationships. It’s set in present-day London and introduces us to Zelda, a young woman working for a fashion magazine. She shares a flat with her roommate Zora. But these two twenty-somethings are no ordinary flat mates; Zelda is a werebear and Zora a vampire. Continue reading

Dawn (1987) by Octavia E. Butler

“Your people contain incredible potential, but they die without using much of it.”

 

Dawn is the first book in Octavia E. Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy. It was nominated for the 1988 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. I read her 1979 classic Kindred a couple of years ago and it totally blew me away. (You can find my review here.) I was so impressed with Butler’s storytelling that I wanted to read anything and everything written by her. I regret it has taken me this long to get around to this novel because it is a riveting and powerful story, one which I couldn’t put down.

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Cover Art by John Jude Palencar

One of my aims with this blog is to write spoiler-free reviews. With this book, I am going to have to reveal some of the main plot details but I won’t go beyond the published synopsis. Unfortunately, the synopsis reveals important events which occur at the beginning of the story. If you would rather not know these details then stop reading now. Continue reading

The Dispossessed (1974) by Ursula K. Le Guin

‘Time did not pass. There was no time. He was time: he only. He was the river, the arrow, the stone.’ (p.9)

 

Winner of the Nebula, Hugo and Locus awards for Best Novel, The Dispossessed is a book that demands reading. I first read it some years ago, but for some reason it left me cold. I think I got a bit lost in its many themes as Le Guin explores the ways in which an anarchist utopian society might be made to work. The level of detail in her world building as she constructs this society is very impressive, but it could put some readers off. At times, it reads more like a work of anthropology than a “science fiction” novel. Continue reading

End of the World Blues (2006) by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

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End of the World Blues opens in a Tokyo subway station where a young woman, Nijie, is stashing a suitcase full of money into a coin-locker. It then jumps to Roppongi Hills, a popular drinking area in Japan’s capital where Kit Nouveau owns and runs a bar with his wife, Yoshi. Kit’s bar, ‘Pirate Mary’s’, is frequented by a mix of regular drinkers, art students, foreigners, and bosozoku bikers. One night, Kit is walking back to his bar when a stranger attempts to rob him. As the robbery looks to be turning deadly, a good samaritan’s sudden and shocking intervention turns Kit’s world on its head.

Kit stared drunkenly at the man’s Colt automatic, then at his own watch. ‘Okay,’ said Kit, ‘it’s yours.’
This was not the response his mugger had been expecting.  (p.27)

Continue reading

Ironclads (2017) by Adrian Tchaikovsky

In the near future, giant corporations run the world. Britain is now part of America, and is at war with the Nords, (basically Scandanavia). The technology of war has advanced, enabling the sons of the rich to be equipped with ‘Ironclads’. These are giant Gundam-style battle suits which make the fortunate operators close to invincible. Lucky for the haves but what about the have-nots?

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For ordinary soldiers such as Sergeant Ted Regan, there is no such protection. They are the ground troops, the cannon fodder, the expendables. They are the ones who must take the biggest risks. Their chances of coming back in one piece are pretty slim. And if they are expecting thanks for their efforts, then they’re in the wrong job. Continue reading