Squid’s Grief by D.K. Mok

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A fast-paced thriller filled with humor, intrigue and palpable smoke-screens.

Set in the near future, Squids Grief is a crime thriller with some cyberpunk elements. Squid is a thief with morals who has ‘one last job’ before she goes clean, but everything goes wrong when she finds Grief, a man with no memories, inside the boot of a car she steals. Meanwhile, the gangs are in upheaval as they are restructured and gang-war begins to break out and Police officer Casey is trying to tackle the rising gang violence in the city of Baltus; but the harder she fights, the more intricate the web of corruption ensnaring the city and it’s officials becomes.

D.K. Mok’s third novel, Squid’s Grief is thoughtfully written; fast-paced with excellent action and consistent humor throughout, it also manages to deal with strong themes without being preachy. Both villains and heroes are seeking new beginnings; the gangs, the police department, Casey, Squid, Grief and even the city itself – everyone is seeking a figurative rebirth and a fresh start. The secondary theme of redemption is also strong in this book. Both heroes and villains alike are three dimensional characters full of regret and desire; they are well written, likable characters who all walk in that moral grey zone. There is no clear-cut good or bad. Everyone is a hero, or a villain, to someone depending on their situation or point of view.

The thriller aspect of the story was well done. I fell for many of the distractions and got distracted by the smokescreens and I was wholly surprised by the twists as they appeared. In all, this was a very enjoyable read that I recommend to anyone that enjoys the show Gotham or authors like John le Carre or Lee Child. 8/10.

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Ad Infinitum by William Fripp

71j6qqjmpllWilliam Fripp has created a dark universe that blends the style of Stephen King with the cosmic nihilism of Lovecraft. The idea is intriguing and the imagery is superb. Fripp has written characters that are engaging and has crafted a villain that grips you by the throat and refuses to let you go until the book is finished.

Ad Infinitum is a retelling of the basic core mythos of Christianity; where instead of Christ or Angels we have the Sojourners. They are an ancient entity that seeds life across the universe – until the one known as The Other becomes a dark and twisted force of evil.

Through thousands of years of reincarnations the Sojourners have watched and subtly guided life on Earth; and for thousands of years, so has The Other. But now it has found it does not need to be reborn, but can pass between bodies at the moment of death. With this knowledge it starts killing its way through humanity, leapfrogging between bodies. Soon, its destination is in sight and once it is in Washington it will have enough influence over the course of mankind that it will set the world aflame.

William Fripp has written a multi-layered and complex story with colorful characters. Like a spiritual superhero origin story, individuals discover and learn how to use their latent psychic abilities in the war against evil, complete with melodramatic backstories and tragic love stories.

Ad Infinitum boils down to a selection of main characters: Kimberly Holly who must survive the physical and spiritual assault of being hostage to The Other; Aaron Stiles, a college graduate who’s sudden development of strange and powerful abilities find him medicated and isolated in a mental health institution; Detective Anne Richards, investigating the gruesome murders which are somehow all connected, and Indirah Singh and Mwele Botu – two powerful incarnations of Sojourners who are connected to everyone and involved in everything, who are fighting against time to save teach Aaron to control his abilities, help Detective Richards find Kimberly before she is killed by The Other, and confront the ancient enemy and defeat him.

William Fripp doesn’t leave you time to catch your breath as he takes you for a ride through a world where entities that birthed stories of Angels and Demons walk among us, and where the human soul is the most powerful force in the universe. Ad infinitum is his first published book and can be bought from Amazon here. He has also written a sequel called Ad Perpetuam, which can also be bought from Amazon.

I give Ad Infinitum 4/5.

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Batman Unmasked: Analysing a Cultural Icon by Will Brooker

51hy3ljls0l-_sy344_bo1204203200_Many people are Batman Fans, and some are Batman fanatics. Will Brooker firmly places himself somewhere in the middle of the spectrum with Unmasked. It is a look at the development throughout the generations of the mythos of Batman and what he means.

The book discusses social and political parables, sexual innuendo, satire and comedy, war propaganda in the forties and even the varying art styles. It is by no means a ‘comprehensive’ look at The Dark Knight, but it is an interesting and illuminating read at a complex and often misinterpreted multi-facet hero.

Will Brooker is an academic. At the time of writing He was Professor of Film and Cultural Studies at Kingston University. Currently he is Director of Research of Kingston’s Film and Television Department. Though he has has published several books on cultural studies, Batman Unmasked (2001) is his first. As an expansion of his PhD thesis, it is essentially a series of essays on different aspects of the Batman.

The book starts off with a lengthy introduction which comes off as self-indulgent and more of a defensive statement against those who disregard his research than of surmising or hyping up the following texts contained within. But once you have waded through these arrogant first pages and he stops talking about himself and starts talking about Batman, then the book becomes truly interesting.

The book is broken down into five major sections: Origins and Wartime (1939-1945), 1954 Censorship and queer Readings, Pop and Camp (1961-1969), Fandom and Authorship (1986-1997), Conclusion (1999).

The first section is the backstory of Batman. We explore his creation and the dynamics between his creators, watch as his mythos was developed and experimented with and we see how the writers, in the spirit of Batman, resisted pressures to fill the comics with war propaganda. Interestingly, they managed to keep Batman in America fighting crime, while most other superheroes were drafted by government or industry as spokespersons for war bonds or other propaganda.

Censorship and Queer Readings is a topic which thematically runs through each other section from this point. It is an interesting look at the duality of Batman and Robins relationship, the duality of their personalities, and even of the duality of the villains and the very city of Gotham itself. Ultimately, the genius of Batman, is that in these dualities, rather than being blatant around sexuality or creed, it is left ambiguous (and to the storylines, irrelevant) so that anybody, irrespective of their own personal lifestyle or beliefs, can relate to the character and his struggles.

Rather than isolating or excluding minorities, Batman welcomes them to join him in an open-world approach to story telling. This is an integral part of his mythos, and is reiterated in many films and stories: Batman is a just a mask; Batman is just a symbol; Batman could be any body, and of course within the comics has had half a dozen different people take his place when he has become incapacitated, further reinforcing that ideal of symbolism: Batman is not a man, he is an idea.

Pop and Camp explores the sixties. No analysis of Batman would be complete without bringing up the Adam West era. In this section Brooker is, remarkably like Batman, able to walk the line of duality: it’s hard to say where disapproval becomes adulation as it is a subject as multi-faceted as Batman himself. There are some interesting revelations in this chapter about the Dynamic Duo and even the opinions of the actors themselves.

Fandom and Authorship explores the growing relationship between authors and fans and studios: an interesting discussion on the way the writers create fans, the fans make celebrities out of the writers, the writers embrace the mainstream and forsake their celebrity status and reputation, which makes celebrities out of the studios and their actors, and viciously makes the fans antagonists to their own franchise. It is a fascinating and bipartisan view of the ownership fans take on source material, and the way society creates cultures and fandom.

For any fan of Batman or of comic books, or anyone who is interested in cultural studies, this book gets a very high recommendation. Informative and interesting.

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Cerberus: A Wolf in The Fold by Jack L. Chalker

2012516Qwin is an agent of the Confederacy; a master spy and assassin. He is sent to the penal colony of Cerberus to infiltrate the crime lord’s syndicate and stop the alien subterfuge that threatens all of mankind. But there is a catch – the planets in the Warden system have a symbiotic microbe that infects everything living and inorganic. This microbe dies along with it’s host if it ever leaves the system. This is Qwin’s last mission – once he is on Cerberus, he can never leave.

Cerberus is the second installment of The Four Lords Of The Diamond quadtrilogy. The Warden Diamond is a star system with four worlds that are equally hostile and habital. The system is infected with a symbiotic virus that permeates all living things. If the virus leaves the system it dies, and it’s host with it. For this reason the four worlds in the system are set up as penal colonies – there is simply no leaving.

Cerberus is an engaging read which has many surprising twists and turns. It has elements of post-cyberpunk and technoir to it, while being set on a fantastically unique alien world. Cerberus is an ocean planet where giant trees grow up out of the oceans, and the dense woody foliage rests above the surface of the water. These tree tops serve as the islands on which colonists live, forced to eke out livings through fishing or agriculture, while maintaining a sensitive balance with the tree. If the tree becomes sick or dies, then their whole island could collapse or sink.

The story is an intellectual read, as the main character plots and schemes his way through a strange society where people can swap bodies at will, or by accidentally, or by force. Themes like love and sexuality and gender, or even ethnicity or identity, become irrelevant as the only thing that truly matters on this world is what’s is inside. The only real defining characteristic trait is your individuality and your consciousness.

Published in 1982 this book almost predicts the way modern society will start to overcome it’s fixation with categorizing and labeling people and start focusing on the individual as what is important.

Amazing world building and socio-political structuring aside, this book has really great characters. You immediately connect to them and invest heavily in them, and experience all the highs and lows that they do through the course of the story. The spy/detective element makes this book even more enjoyable, as the deductions are logical and surprising and it keeps you guessing and trying to beat the characters to the punch.

This was my first foray into the writings of Jack L. Chalker (1944-2005) and it was thoroughly addictive. He has written many well received science fiction series and has been an instrumental figure in the genre of science fiction, through his stories and lectures. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has or has yet to read Chalker.

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An Interview with Neal Asher

blogger-image-122741601I have recently had the honor and pleasure of interviewing Neal Asher, one of the UK’s top Science Fiction authors. His works are gritty and violent and (the vast majority) of his works set in the distant future are often labeled as post-cyberpunk due to the themes in his stories. His work is highly imaginative and can be found in stores and on bookshelves all around the world.

1) Will the Yellow Tower series ever be published? The synopses sound great and the readers report is positive. Does the Neal Asher brand suffer from type-classing, or does the UK market have an overabundance of fantasy novels at the moment which is holding these back?

Neal: I don’t know if it will ever be published. My problem is that now I could get the thing published easily. If Macmillan did not want to take it on there are other big publishers that would definitely take a long hard look at it, and there are smaller publishers who would take it without a second thought just to have something with my name on it to sell. I have to be careful. I am not satisfied with it at all. It is about the first thing I wrote, the fantasy that took me up the first stretch of the learning curve. It is also something I wrote 2 million published words ago and I have learned a great deal since then. If I published it as it stands readers would grab it expecting the kind of stuff I’m writing now, but find something simply not very good. The only way it will ever be published is if I have the time and inclination to sit down and rewrite it completely. I don’t at the moment. I prefer writing my next science fiction book.

2) What is the book you are most proud of? Is there a book you could wish you had written different?

Neal: I am proud of them all for different reasons and in different ways. I love The Skinner because it was one I took the most pleasure in writing and it is the one most well received, and I’m proud of that. I’m proud of the raw start that was Gridlinked, and how I developed the story in the ensuing books. I’m proud of Cowl and how I dealt with time travel. I’m proud of The Departure because of the risk I took there. It is difficult to say … I think it is probably Brass Man. I had the pleasure in writing it that I had with The Skinner but it was hard enjoyable work to do what I wanted to do, and set the course of the rest of the series. But ask me this question in a few weeks and I will probably have changed my mind.

3) The publishing industry is at a crossroads with digital and paper-based publications; Do you think the accessibility of self-publishing will dilute talent by allowing anyone to publish, or do you think it will foster a movement of growth and inspiration?

Neal: Yes, with the ease of self-publishing a lot of crap will be out there, but a lot of talent that gets ignored by the publishing industry has a chance to get noticed. What will happen, as time goes on, is that new filtering mechanisms will come into play. A publisher pays money out to put a hard copy on the shelf of a book shop and this is a guarantor of some degree of quality. That is not available in the electronic world. People will rely on reviews, rankings on places like Amazon, trusted websites, and their own discernment if they are able to read a few pages.

4) Your novels are full of highly complicated plots, creatures, characters and technology – How do you organize all your ideas and how do you maintain continuity? Are there visual elements in your planning stages, like brainstorms or maps etc?

Neal: Heh, if there was an easy explanation for that then everyone would to it. My brain is a chaos of ideas and images when I write a book and somehow it gets organised throughout the writing process. Anyway, it’s the nature of the human brain to organise stuff and look for patterns and that’s what I do – usually after I’ve first written a bunch of stuff. I do of course check for continuity errors by reading preceding books again and/or running searches through them. I do occasionally sketch out diagrams like the ship the Sable Keech or the space station Argus in The Departure.

12570973_10153933248568223_483142410_n5) I often find myself getting bogged down in the context of the story, getting lost behind so many good ideas that are irrelevant to what I’m writing. How do you avoid getting lost in your inspiration?

Neal: I’m writing as a reader so if something is meandering along for too long it is time for people to speak or, alternatively, try to kill each other. Story is all, so if I have a good idea but it is or becomes irrelevant to the story I cut it out. It can always be used elsewhere. However, I do sometimes waffle on a bit too much about something that fascinates me and that’s where a good editor comes in to tell me to cut it out, to get to the point.

6) How much of yourself do you put into your characters and worlds?

Neal: It comes from me and is therefore everything of myself. If I am writing a psychopath then I will of course ask myself how I would behave if I were that person. How would I behave if I was made of metal, loaded with weapons and shaped like a scorpion? It is all from within. If I am describing an alien world or environment then I am writing about the stuff that interests me. You will, for example, see a lot about parasites and mycology in my books, which have been long time interests of mine.

7) How many times does one of your manuscripts get edited (on average) before the publisher is satisfied enough to put it into print?

Neal: Beside my own editing, and there is a lot of that, it can go through two or three stages with the publisher. The editor goes over it, may pass it on to another editor to go over, and then the copy editor goes over it for detail and house style. I then also have a look at the final version and can make more changes if I wish. I don’t. by then I’m bored out of my skull by it.

8) I believe, based on your comment on your own blog, that I am owed an explanation of Gabbleducks? I don’t know how you came up with the idea, or were able to execute it so well, but it was simultaneously one of the strangest, quirkiest and most terrifying things I had read. Congratulations. Just what on earth (or, rather – what off earth) inspired these creatures?

Neal: I believe I’ve been asked this question before and thought about it before. My parents called me a gabbleduck when I was young because I would not shut up talking nonsense. I then recollect early on in junior school, in an art class, making a papier mache model. It looked a bit like a duck, but a sinister misshapen one. Somehow, out of that lot, arose the creatures you see on the planet Masada.

9) New Zealand is, geographically, similar in size to the UK but we only have just over 4 million population. It is almost a cultural sin to not ask a foreigner about NZ so I find myself obligated to ask: Have you ever been to New Zealand? What are your opinions of NZ (real or imagined)?

Neal: My deceased wife had relatives over there and we went for a visit once. Lovely countryside that reminded me of Scotland, but a stretched out version with seemingly more open space. It was a great looking place, but it’s an awful long way to go to see what appeared to be little different from parts of the UK. Then again, I was there a month so there is no way I could see all it has to offer. I was also there when the weather wasn’t great. Particular recollections for me? The high points? I enjoyed the hot springs of Hanmer, and I loved a lengthy meal of New Zealand mussels, bread and white wine!

Are you familiar with any NZ films or books?

Neal: Not particularly, but then how often is any distinction made? Is Lord of the Rings a New Zealand film?

10) What do you foresee for yourself for 2016? What predictions do you make for the world for 2016?

Neal: My life is up in the air at the moment and what shape it will land in over the next year I have no idea. I’m moving from my current location in the UK to a place called Hastings because I want to try out living in a town, which I’ve never done before. Yet, I have a place on the island of Crete and may, because of a romantic interest, end up just staying there. Meanwhile I will endeavour to write more Polity books. Who knows? Perhaps I should ask someone who writes about the future… Oops.

As for the world of 2016. One summer I took my last look at BBC news before I left England for Crete and didn’t read a news story or look at one on the TV for 7 months. When I got back to England and turned on the TV it was as if I had never gone away. For 2016 I predict: same shit, different year.

11) The Wikipedia entry on you has very little information, despite your biographical details being on your site. One thing that isn’t mentioned is your family. Do you have any children?

Neal: I married late in life and neither Caroline or I wanted children.

12) If your life story was being told as a big-budget film, who would portray you best? I see Michael Cane doing a bang-up job.

Neal: Hell I don’t know. I often get asked who should play characters in my books if they ever get turned into films. I cannot answer because I don’t really know who is who in the acting world.

13) Have you seen The Force Awakens? Ignoring the fan response and the critics, what was your opinion of the story in the film?

Neal: Not seen it yet. I may slope off down the cinema sometime soon or get it on DVD. Other concerns occupy my time too intensively at the moment.

You can learn more about Neal Asher and his works by visiting his blog The Skinner or visiting his website here. You can find his novels at any decent book stores worldwide or order directly from PanMacmillan. You can read the second part of my interview with Neal Asher on my blog about depression here.

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Mortal Gods by Jonathan Fast (part one)

2271892Her skin was sea-blue, so fine as to be almost transparent. The scintillation of light across it seemed to be caused by some sparkling oil, possibly cosmetic or else an effusion of the flesh. Her neck was long, thin and graceful; her face, surrounded by a halo of fleecy white hair, was dominated by huge almond eyes. Nose and mouth combined in a pliant beak, giving her the profile of a hawk.

And thus are we introduced to the strange and reclusive Alta-Tyberians: a species destined to extinction unless the scientists at MutaGen Corporation can find the fault in Alta-Ty DNA and prevent further generations of deformities and sterility.

Nicholas Harmon – a failed genetic engineer now working as public relations officer – is chosen to accompany Hali, the Alta-Ty emissary who brought the frozen samples of sperms and ova to MutaGen. While she is on Sifra-Mesa Spaceport (cloning and genetic engineering being outlawed sciences on Earth) she witnesses the murders of two Lifestylers – God-like genetic constructs that are worshipped across the galaxy.

It is at this point that the story starts taking twists and turns in unexpected directions. It becomes an inter-dimensional murder mystery layered with political intrigue, social rhetoric, decent action scenes and some crazy adventures that give it a 50’s pulp science fiction vibe.

Nick Harmon is bigoted and chauvinistic and makes no effort to disguise the fact. His attitude towards women and aliens, the casual use of strong swear words in some scenes and the numerous sex scenes (a mix of equally erotic and uncomfortable to read,) make this book a futuristic blaxploitation story but with an updated colour pallet.

This feel is further fuelled by the almost-African features of Hali on the cover and the constant retrofuturistic language and technology used throughout the book. And yet, these elements are redeemed; the science is, still to this day, relatively accurate, the political environment surprisingly close to post 9-11 America (this book being written in 1978), and Nicholas Harmon actually has a deep and thorough character arc.

Pepper this with a mixture of hard-science, biopunk and some technoir elements (imagine The Matrix and Blade Runner and the Alien franchise had a bastard child), and add some intriguing ideas and compelling plot, and you get an incredibly unique and entertaining story.

See Mortal Gods (part two) for an interview with Jonathan Fast.

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The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

0141John Campbell (editor of Astounding Science Fiction, later called Analog Science Fiction and Fact) once commented that Science Fiction was incompatible with Mystery. In response to this, Asimov wrote The Caves of Steel – A Science Fiction murder mystery which, to this day, is still one of the best technoir books I have read.

It is set in a distant dystopian future where Earth’s population explosion and limited resources have seen humanity cluster together in self-contained megacities. As humanity dwells in these ‘steel caves’, they become more agoraphobic and xenophobic with each passing generation as people forget about the outdoors and forget about open spaces, the concepts becoming archaic and almost mythical.

Because of lacking resources, these megacities are designed to be efficient in various ways: there is no longer a fiscal currency, only a privilege-based caste system, designed to encourage people to work harder for perks instead of abstract wealth; and amenities are shared to reduce maintenance and energy costs (unless your caste provides you with individual amenities,) and to more efficiently utilise available floor-space.

The story is about detective Elijah Baley who is tasked to solve the murder of a robotics expert who lives outside in a “Spacer Outpost”. The Spacers are Earth emigrants that have colonised many other worlds. They maintain low population densities and use extensive robot labour and as a result they live comfortable lives of wealth and excess.

Elijah, with all his inherited prejudices and biases, is partnered with a robot detective, R. Daneel Olivaw, from the Spacer Outpost. Together they must investigate the murder while trying to remain inconspicuous in an environment of fear; riots and hate-crimes against robots within the city being standard. Not only must he be discrete, but Elijah must succeed in order to preserve his social privileges and prevent being declassified into a lower caste.

The characters are likeable – Elijah’s concerns are actually valid and thought-out, and Daneel is just the right mix of computer and personality. They each have decent character arcs, and their relationship is realistic and sometimes down-right funny.

The settings are incredibly unique (and are the precursors to Asimovs Foundation series, with Daneel Olivaw a recurring character) and are well described, and as with any Asimov fiction, the world is logical and makes sense.

The murder mystery is superb. There are so many suspects, so many dead-ends, red-herrings and false trails, that up until the last chapter I had wrongly deduced the murderer at least half a dozen times, and anytime I came close to the truth, Asimov would throw misleading information at me and I would be just as confused as the characters.

This book is of prime dualities – it is an excellent example of how to write a detective murder mystery, and it is also a great example of how to write intelligent science fiction that takes into account technology and civism and politics and how they change over time.

If you love Asimov then you will enjoy this book. If you have never read Asimov, then this is a great introduction for you, and a great introduction to the Laws of Robotics that define almost all his writings, and influenced generations of writers and film makers.

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