Iron Truth: An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


Next on our semi-finalist roster for the SPSFC was Iron Truth, Book 1 (of 4) of the Primaterre, by S.A. Tholin.

Let me divert before I even start by saying that this book was unique in a lot of ways, but the most noticeable at first glance was its sheer size. This was an epic-fantasy-level chonker in sci-fi form. A unit among the slim and slinky space operas and dystopian spec fics. A real pagey boi.

And I loved it!

Yes, it was a job of work to read through. And I relished it. I would have relished it more, taken it slower, and delved right into the next one were it not for my other reading commitments. There are books where you can tell the word count is all padding, pointless description and messing around, but this wasn’t that. This was the big bastard book where the mass amounts to substance. It’s possible to provide a similar level (but I would argue not equal) of reality and granularity and foundation to a world in a smaller package, but I am all for the philosophy of here is my story. It’s fucking large. Get busy.

So, with that being said up front, the story itself was a whole lot of fun. When Joy, a noble but naïve would-be colonist in storage aboard a starship, is awakened to find her ship has crashed and over a hundred years has passed while her stasis pod lay in the wreck, she’s flung face-first into the deep end of a collapsing interstellar empire and more spiders than one could reasonably expect.

Nothing is what it seems and every new layer of complexity in the story brings everything that’s come before it into a new light.

It kept me turning the pages and while I wasn’t necessarily super-hooked by the opening, the immediate plot twists and dramatic development was so much fun. When you put a character out of time in the context of a hostile alien world, immediate immersion in what is essentially a post-apocalyptic frontier environment with Starship Troopers-esque[1] fascist autocracies behind the scenes … and then you throw in space marines of the Church of the Papal Mainframe … what you get is a whole lot of fun and I thoroughly recommend it.

My immediate guess was that the demons the Primaterre troops considered the great enemy of humanity were just part of the space marine training program – perhaps implanted memories for propaganda purposes. But there was way more to it than that, and there’s none of the neat-and-tidy classifying and resolving of plot points and mysteries that would be (to me at least) incredibly annoying in a story of this scope. No, things are not simple and what we end up with is a messed-up world that the reader struggles to understand just as Joy does. While we’ve been sheltered by an endless progression of simplified and homogenously-packaged narratives where arcs have endings and everything has a purpose, Joy was sheltered from reality by her brother. And we are all in for a rude awakening.

As the story went on, there were more and more layers, more and more details, and only the very skilled writing and very readable storytelling style kept it from becoming an overwhelming brick o’ words. Like I say, it’s possible for smaller books to achieve this but that sort of intricacy usually requires exponential complexity from the author and concentration from the reader. A big thumper can just lay it all out and let the audience become immersed. And that’s what Iron Truth did. Tholin told the story right, and did justice to its context.

From the deep dark history witnessed through an assortment of technology and storytelling techniques, to the quasi-religious concept of purity and the reverence with which the denizens of the Primaterre view Earth-born people … every part of this is stunning. Extra points, my Nordic associate, for slipping the Finnish Väinämöinen (okay, Tholin wrote Vainamoinen, needs the correct letters but I’ll let it pass) and the Kalevala into the story as planets and regions in the interstellar empire. Gave me a happy little Suomi mainittu feeling, and lent a real sense of human legacy to the future we see in the book.

Sex-o-meter

Tholin is tasteful and smart about it, but we know what the demons are doing when the really gut-wrenching grossness slides in and things go all Event Horizon. We know. Beyond those subtle but disturbing hints, some rapey Cato hillbillies and a sweet (dare I say, pure?) love affair between our two main protagonists, there’s a suitable amount of sauce on this 244,350-decker burger. Let’s award it a proper Swedish or Finnish sauna out of a possible that sauna from Goldeneye where Xenia Onatopp tries to crush James Bond between her thighs like a smarmy British walnut. It’s not actually a very high score, in case you were still uncertain about how saunas actually work. But it’s fine.

Gore-o-meter

The demons, especially once we start getting into their origins and possible explanations, are solid Firefly-reaver nasty. And don’t even get me started on the space marines and their combat injuries – and the injuries their armour preserves them through! That shit was haunting, and so well done. Add in some more classic body horror with ‘the red’ and a whole lot of gross spiders, and you end up with four-and-a-half flesh-gobbets out of a possible five on the gore-o-meter.

WTF-o-meter

I enjoyed some of the more psychedelic inner journeys and confrontations in this story, even though I tend to roll my eyes and skim that stuff under normal circumstances. But all in all, there wasn’t a lot of WTF in this – so much as unexplained and unseen depths and details that are gradually revealed and explained. And while there is still a whole lot left untold by the end of this book, that’s what the rest of the books are for. I frankly don’t count a question I haven’t had answered yet as a WTF, so Iron Truth gets a great big pile of red lichen out of a possible … that Goldeneye sauna again? I don’t get it, but the point is there was plenty of mystery and intriguing construction here, but not much actual WTF.

My Final Verdict

I know I’ve listed and referenced a lot of ways in which elements of this story are reminiscent of sci-fi tropes and other creations, but there is nothing derivative in it. I only mentioned the things I was reminded of because I like them so much and was happy to see them so well handled in an interpretation this expansive and in-depth. Wonderful stuff. This was a grand story, on a worldbuilding scale you don’t often see in sci-fi. Four stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale!

 


[1] The movie, not the book. Although the perpetual-war and other sociocultural elements of currency-according-to-contribution was cleverly similar.


A Touch of Death: An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


I’m launching into the semi-finals of the SPSFC with gusto, and I started with A Touch of Death, Book 1 of the Outlands Pentalogy, by Rebecca Crunden.

Crunden made it to the semi-finals but you know what didn’t? The Oxford comma. Hee hee, I’m sorry but I couldn’t resist. Anyway moving on.

A Touch of Death is the first book in the Outlands Pentalogy. Which is great to see. Love a pentalogy. The story introduces us to the Kingdom, a dystopian post-apocalyptic dictatorship where mind-boggling luxury and technology conceal a multitude of scars. Literally and socioculturally. Freedom and history are explicitly banned by royal decree, and the waning human population (those who survived to crawl out from underground and begin to reclaim the surface world after “the Devastation”) is shored up by grotesque authoritarianism and breeding incentives that more than border on atrocity.

Still, you’ve got to laugh, am I right? Tag yourself, I’m Muntenia.

We’re treated to a harrowing but very nicely-constructed hook at the start, an insight into the fate of dissidents and the existence of decent and empathetic people amidst the broken sheep of the Kingdom’s population, all wrapped up in a tight two-and-a-half-character prologue that we circle back to very satisfyingly by the end of the book. Prison life, the brutality of it and the realities of one law for the rich and another for the poor, the overall political and geographic setup, is done well and served to draw me into the story.

This was good because I have to say, I was unconvinced by our main protagonists Nate and Catherine. However! The prologue served its purpose and by the time that magic started to wear off, our heroes’ plight had taken up the slack and I was back on board. Nate and Catherine flail off into the main body of the story, sniping at one another all the while and bouncing from one fuck-up to the next like a pair of pinballs where all the bumpers and paddles are fuck-ups, and it’s great.

My immediate theory, that Nate was definitely the king’s bastard son and that he and Catherine were taking part in a novel-length Only One Bed trope, didn’t quite pan out at least in this book, but I’m ultimately going to have to stand by it. Their “infection” seemed mega contrived and I had a really hard time relating or getting behind it, or any of their actions or motivations. Fortunately, Crunden avoided the bear traps and turned the setup into an … I won’t say satisfying ending, but an ending that made sense and encouraged me to sleep on it. Yes, I went to sleep mad, but I’m glad I slept.

Look, I’m making this seem really bad. It absolutely wasn’t bad, it was good. If I’m mad, it’s because a) I personally prefer a setting-and-action based story to a character-and-situation based one (at least within this story-type), and b) the characters and situation here were at once infuriating, and so well written. I’m just going to say this and let the chips fall where they may, but Crunden is better than Robin Hobb[1] at this. And judging by the reviews I read of the next four books in the pentalogy (as I tried to figure out whether I wanted to read on), it seems like she improves still further and does something truly great here. And I could not be more happy about that.

It’s just that, for me, and this is my review … I will need to know way more details about what happens in the next books before I read them. Like, way more. Because a story that has a female protagonist forced into a gross arranged marriage to save the lives of her friends? That story needs to end on a fucking killing spree, or I’m out. And this book … didn’t end on a killing spree. Simple as.

What else? Oh yeah, Thom isn’t dead and I was annoyed that any of the characters thought he was. Part of my problem was that I didn’t buy Catherine’s naïveté. I get that her belief in the official propaganda that Thom was dead, her rash remarks about why nobody’s managed to kill the king if he’s so evil (how hard can it be?), and her stubborn refusal to admit that a relationship where you’re constantly challenged and enraged and stressed is better than one where you’re in love and at peace (Jesus fucking Christ are you serious), are probably meant to be a sign of her childlike blindness … but I’ve got to say the only one of her traits I really saw as naïve was that first one. She was simply too strongly written, too bright and fierce and wonderful, for me to believe even for a second that there was a trace of sheep in her. Her belief in the broadcast read, to me, like the only way to get her moving on the rest of the quest – because if she hadn’t believed it, as in my opinion her character demands, then she would have stayed in Anais and tried to rescue him. The author had to get her out of there, and this was the solution. I’m sorry but that’s how I read it – and I am fine with that. Some readers might grumble about narrative convenience taking them out of a story – not me. It’s a story. And a good one.

But sure, let’s say that she was supposed to have some simplistic notions and she learned and grew as the story progressed. Good. Excellent. It doesn’t explain why Nate, certain of Thom’s survival, also didn’t seem to want to save him, but let’s chalk that up to a combination of not knowing where to start, feeling it was absolutely futile (and he would know, unlike Catherine), and wanting to bang Catherine. And no, I will not say that in a more dignified way. I just plain did not particularly care for these protagonists. And that’s all to the good, really it is. That’s some complex shit right there.

I loved the worldbuilding and the backstory. I want to know the full and real story of the apparent divergence of humanity that led to the emerged-from-underground “humans” and the above-ground-all-along “mutants”. Because we’re not being told everything, not by a long shot. Catherine’s story of her first kiss was unbearably cute and I adored it, an absolute highlight. The technology and culture on display was fascinating. Really well done. I was unable to shake the Victorian feel of it, and yet there was stunning technology at every turn to show us what sort of world we were really visiting. And I liked it.

Just … needed a killing spree. Sorry.

Sex-o-meter

Beyond some fairly distasteful allusions to rape, forced breeding with a lesbian character, and a lot of spreading warmth that made me squint at my kindle every time Catherine and Nate touched, this was a relatively sexless affair. Zero children out of a possible certificate of nobility and a free house.

Gore-o-meter

Some nasty flaying of backs in the prison flogging scene, a bit of up-close and personal cutting and bleeding, and a whole lot of social violence and executions and such. Add to that a downright prison-camp-experiment sequence of doctor’s notes about wartime testing and mutilation, and the burns that Nate and Catherine experienced on the regular as a symptom of their malady, and you end up with quite the grotesque offering. Four flesh-gobbets out of a possible five for A Touch of Death. Man, if only there’d been some sort of … spree at the end, it might have made it to a perfect five. Oh well.

WTF-o-meter

There’s a lot more going on here, with the worldbuilding and the politics, than meets the eye. Not for nothing is freedom and history outlawed in the Kingdom. We get tantalising little glimpses of larger mysteries, but all in all I wouldn’t call this a WTF-heavy outing. Let’s give it a Bart Simpson holding out his hand with thumb and pinkie extended, going “nyaaaaaaa…” out of a possible actual touch of death.

My Final Verdict

It really feels like I came down hard on this book when that absolutely wasn’t my intention. It made me feel things that I generally don’t want when I read a book, but a lot of people are going to love it for exactly that reason. The very fact that I’m even thinking about reading the next four books in the pentalogy means it hit what is, for me subjectively and specifically, a really small target from a considerable distance. Four stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale. Thanks for a good read!

 


[1] Okay, so I guess we’re going to talk about Hobb.

Robin Hobb is an outstanding author. You don’t need my take on this: she is immensely popular and successful and you will find a half-dozen people willing to sing her praises right here on this blog (I mean they’re unlikely to speak up, but they are here; I’ve seen them subscribe). Read her books and make up your own mind.

I, however, read the Farseer trilogy at a really low point in my life when I was already cataclysmically unhappy, and the relentless mistreatment of the main character and the seeming shitting-on-him-for-the-sake-of-shitting-on-him of it was not only life-draining, it felt artless and tacky. I will never like those books, I will never read any more of Hobb’s work no matter how many people whose opinions I trust assure me it gets better (and many have tried), and Hobb’s very name is usually enough to take me instantly back to that dark place where a shitty thing a person wrote in three shitty books made me want to kill myself. So no. Fuck those books and fuck any book that makes me feel that way ever again. Fuck it utterly and methodically and categorically.

This is, it goes without saying, my own personal opinion and should be taken as the opinion of one reader under very specific and difficult circumstances and with lingering and ongoing trauma, and not as a recommendation of any sort. I am not a psychiatrist and so cannot even warn people with depression to avoid these books. They may find them uplifting. Many, many people do. All I can really say is that if you are me, don’t go there. And you’re not me. I am. And I’m already exercising my own damage control. This is just to explain my own mental landscape a little, so you know where I’m coming from when I compare an author to Hobb. It may or may not mean that I hate them, but it definitely means that they’re really, really good. Probably. If they can grow the fuck out of the “burning dolls with a magnifying glass while masturbating” phase of authorial teenagerhood. And now I’ve used up all of my diplomatic words and am going to end this sidebar before I start saying what I really think.


The Chaos Job: An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


This week I also read The Chaos Job, Jackpot Drift Book 1, by T. M. Baumgartner.

All I really expected and hoped for from this book, based on the cover, was that it had something mildly amusing involving sheep in it. Never have my expectations been so thoroughly met, and exceeded.

I was intrigued, like I say, from the quirky title and cover of the book, and the opening hook was also neat – so I was on board from the start. This is reader-capture done exactly right. The Chaos Job introduces us to a very wild wild variant on the space western subgenre, and it’s very nicely done.

Sil – it’s short for Silver, and the prevailing neo-feudal culture of the story’s setting places great store in names denoting precious metals and minerals – is a Space Civil War veteran with a badly-tuned artificial leg, living in a run-down settlement on the frontier planet of Jackpot Drift, out in the middle of space nowhere. Rather than accept the shackles of civilisation and being beholden to The (Space) Man once again, she opted for a simple life of farming, trading her milk and cheese for the bare necessities down in the town near the farmland she was granted as a retirement right.

Sadly, milk and cheese require sheep and goats, and Sil’s sheep are fuckwits and her goats are … well, actually just goats. There are also mini-cows in this story but they’re presumably a bit too expensive for her, and there are horses but they’re definitely too expensive and also, have you ever tried to milk a horse? There’s a reason only Genghis Khan did that shit. But anyway. Even more sadly, Sil’s new homeworld is barely terraformed and is host to native wildlife and even plants that just completely fuck up any but the toughest livestock, and her mid-to-long-term plan to acquire genetically altered sheep sperm in order to breed some hardier stock is foiled by the local bully and quasi-noble, Glass.

Yes, this story is ultimately all about a tub of sheep jizz. Let’s just be clear on that.

Oh, and also Sil has some sort of parasite inside her – a “godlet of chaos”. We’re just casually introduced to this and expected to roll with it. I, for one, did. Because the whole story was just fucking fascinating.

Struggling to get by on a crappy patch of land on a crappy planet, her every attempt to improve her station shat upon by Glass who wants her to work for him as a nanotech repair mechanic, living in constant fear that her “godlet” will wind up getting her tracked down and taken away by chaos bounty hunters, and assisted on the farm by a deeply troubled AI named Stuck in the Mud, Sil is what you might characterise as a gorram mess (if one was of a mind to acknowledge the classics). She befriends a fellow war veteran – a “mech head” from the enemy side of the war, whose lot in life is even worse than hers – and together they just try to get to the end of the fucking book in one piece.

I was captivated, and amused, by this story from the start. Glass and his douchebaggery was infuriating, but his whole plot arc (especially with the horses) was hilarious and satisfying. The AIs scattered around town, conversation between which we are just randomly shown from time to time, were absolutely brilliant. The inevitable sheep-jizz heist, at least before the whole thing spiralled out of control and turned into something else entirely, was clean and simple. While we could ultimately have had a few less moving parts, the motivations of each character remained clear and the geometrically-escalating fuckedness of the whole situation was breathtaking … but never confusing.

And the payoff for the cover and title, specifically Mud’s sheep, was amazing. I laughed out loud. What a well-earned punchline after all the setup and technological worldbuilding. Every time we went back to the sheep, I laughed. That sheep was comedy gold. I don’t know if it was necessarily a load-bearing bit, but it was a fucking quality bit and I doff my hat to it.

All in all this was a fun, exciting, clever, page-turning little space western, with wonderful characters and a tight, intriguing plot. The villains were real shits, the heroes were also kind of grimy, and just when I was getting ready to roar in frustration it all concluded perfectly. In fact, I wasn’t really about to roar at any point, because I trusted Baumgartner and the narrative not to let me down. And I was not let down.

Sex-o-meter

With a certain amount of classily expressed but entertainingly frequent sex, and some hot albeit anecdotal ghost moose on mini-cow action, this story has some raunch on its ranch. It doesn’t go overboard, but it’s solid. I give it a Yul Brynner’s head photoshopped to look like the knob-end of a penis out of a possible HBO’s version of Westworld.

Gore-o-meter

There isn’t too much violence here, it’s not that sort of story – but it’s also a space western, so there’s a certain rough-and-tumble vibe to the whole thing. One-and-a-half flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

I was very happy with the amount and quality of WTF in this story. I still have no idea what the godlets are and how they relate to the other “gods” introduced into the book’s wider mythos. Is it pure fantasy somehow, or is it deep-electronic science-fantasy? What are the AIs up to? What’s happening out there in the universe beyond Jackpot Drift’s skies? What does any of it mean? Just have to read and find out, I guess. I give The Chaos Job a River Tam out of a possible River Song.

My Final Verdict

I was left a little uncertain as to why the book title was what it was, since it didn’t quite relate to the story – but sure, there was a job, and there was chaos, so fine. And given the wider context of the series and the other titles coming in, I can squint and call it justified. This book was really excellent. We get some good mystery and setup for the series, but marvellous closure on the book level. Four stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale.


The One: A Cruise Through the Solar System: An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


This week’s #SPSFC allocation included The One: A Cruise Through the Solar System, by Eric Klein.

Join Armstrong on his all-expenses-paid 30-day cruise through the solar system on board the maiden voyage of the latest pleasure ship (complete with a beauty pageant and scientific symposium), as he tries to unravel an assassination plot and foil the biggest heist in history, the blurb for this story says. My immediate hope was that the beauty pageant and the scientific symposium be combined somehow, and I was ultimately not disappointed – even if the heist was a bit oversold.

Anyway, where were we? This story was a real classic piece of work and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a good hard-sci-fi look at the planets and moons of the solar system, a treatise on terraforming and colonisation, a look at space travel and technology, a solid weaving of past and future history, all stuffed into the framework of – well, like the blurb says, the framework of a dude named BJ Armstrong going on a luxury cruise like Corbin Dallas in The Fifth Element. Almost exactly like him, in fact, right down to the suspiciously convenient raffle prize and the adorable redhead. But I digress.

The story was also peppered with references to pop culture and golden age sci-fi, and sorry (not sorry) to say my notes while reading this book basically consisted of nothing more than me spotting references:

Helium, nice John Carter reference.
And a little Star Wars reference.
And a Torchwood / Doctor Who vortex manipulator reference.
Cute reference to Long Earth by Pratchett and Baxter.
The Mended Drum – Pratchett again? Wow there’s some references in this (but wait, it’s Callahans too?).
And a 2001 reference.
Aaaaand a TANSTAAFL reference, Heinlein.
Mildly disappointed Mimas was all about Star Wars and not Red Dwarf.
And an Invincibles reference.

It went on. You get the idea. It was very enjoyable to read, although I accept that this is probably going to be a matter of taste. I thoroughly enjoy a bit of referencing, although I generally appreciate them a bit more obscure or hidden in the story, these were fun. I also enjoy info-dump-style deep dives into the facts and figures of various planets and other concepts, so this was fun to me. I liked the illustrations and other stand-out texts and additions, turning this into a bit more of a multi-media experience. Really nice. However, someone in it for the space adventure or other storytelling elements may be let down by the depth of the raw information. I don’t know. I can’t speak for those idiots. I liked it.

The chapter openings, playing on the trope of quotations or other texts to introduce a chapter that can sometimes be annoying or otherwise skippable in many books, were great in this one. The little sequence of “one small step” quotations, and the way Klein blended history with fictional future-history, put a smile on my face (especially the Ganymede one). Really well done.

To move briefly away from the sciencey data stuff and the geeky-arse references for a moment, I will say that I enjoyed the plot itself. The characters were simple but entertaining, the ultimate villain was clearly broadcast very early in the story (I made a note of it, then another note that said simply LOL nailed it), and overall it was just a fun little adventure. I was not only struck by the unavoidable comparison to The Fifth Element which probably should have been lampshaded (maybe in the form of actual lampshades in the shape of alien relic-stones!), but I’d also just watched Avenue 5 so was unable to prevent the Captain from being Hugh Laurie and this inevitably led to BJ becoming Josh Gad and those comparisons do not hold up even slightly but it made it that much funnier, and frankly the characters in the book could have done worse. Anyway, the Avenue 5 one is on me, it was just amusing is all.

We even got a clever little meta-commentary on how modern sci-fi has changed from the golden age, particularly in the area of female character agency and attitudes in general, and the series of attempted-Captain-murders were funny right from the start. For the most part, though, the thinking this story requires is higher-level scientific and technology stuff, rather than the cultural impact of fiction and gender roles therein. Still, it did make me think. And I like a bit of that in my goofy space-cruise beauty pageant whodunnit.

Sex-o-meter

We get some sex in this one, but it’s all very tasteful. We also get your typical rapey space pirates but it’s more … well I can do no better than to read off the sex-o-meter, which gives The One: A Cruise Through the Solar System a single Wild West goldrush mail-order bride out of a possible Piers Anthony Space Tyrant book.

Gore-o-meter

Not really much gore here, most of the killings were prevented and what we ended up with was fairly civilised. One flesh-gobbet out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

There was some WTFery thrown in here even though most of it was well-explained and solid. What WTF there was, then, was mostly in the form of throw-away lines. Stuff like the Titanic arriving, and the Empire State Building being moved, were tantalising but I didn’t need a story about them. We have Clarke for that. The deep Sharia law colony out in the solar system boondocks was amusing and gave the opportunity to show more commentary on women’s rights without getting too preachy and bigoted. I’ll give this story an earth, air, fire and water stone out of a possible Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich making out on an altar while Chris Tucker screams really, really piercingly in the background.

My Final Verdict

The One: A Cruise Through the Solar System is a love letter to the solar system we call home, and the creative giants who terraformed the science fiction landscape we currently live in. It was just plain nice. Four stars!


Elijah’s Chariot: An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


This week I read Elijah’s Chariot, first book of The Forgotten Children series, by Andrew Griffard.

I’ll level with you and get the worst of it out of the way right up-front: I was a little put off by the title here. It just … look, Elijah just isn’t an interesting name. It isn’t. When you see a book with Elijah in the title, it makes you feel like you’re about to get preached at by an Amish dude. And I’m here to read some goddamn sci-fi. I know Elijah Bailey was named Elijah but the thing you need to know about that is, that was the worst thing about Asimov’s Robot books and it still bores me enough to make me not want to read them even though I already read them when I was like ten. The name Elijah is so boring – if you’ll continue to indulge me for just a minute – it makes me want to travel back in time thirty-odd years and beat up a small Australian boy and take away his Asimov books. For his own good.

Okay, phew. That was harsh but we got through it. Elijah’s Chariot is a really pretty fucking good book and I wholeheartedly recommend it. Maybe I should have led with that. Oh well, too late now.

I was drawn in by the little nicely-done interactions between the kids and their families, there was some excellent character-building right off the bat which made this really engaging. Irina was a real piece of work. Viktor seemed like a nice kid and it was super interesting to see a protagonist with cerebral palsy, even if that ultimately wasn’t really the point it was a fascinating intro and a nice bit of setting and atmosphere work. I was concerned that something gross was going to happen with Svyeta, but it was another good piece of buildup. Her big ol’ vodka chugging drunk dad was a classic. All in all, really nice. From there, it was easy to get pulled along by the story, which begins to unfold good and fast and oh boy, what happened? What was that? Why was that?

What am I talking about?

Well, since the blurb in Amazon and other product descriptions already basically spoil this, I guess Griffard will be okay with me going there. This book begins as a nicely subdued, slow-burn low-key-menace story about a meteorite (Jerry, named Ilya in Russia and thence came the titular Elijah – no wait come back, I won’t say that name again, don’t beat up ten-year-old me anymore, I was a very frail child) about to hit Earth. Not an extinction-level meteorite, but a this-is-cool-let’s-study-it-yay-science-level meteorite. Sean and his dad travel to Russia where the rock is projected to hit, and we watch it all unfold from there. Will the meteorite be full of killer alien wossnames? Goop that turns everyone into shambling green slime-monsters? This was my guess.

So, the meteorite strikes, and it slows down before landing so we know it’s not natural, but then suddenly people just start to die. Headaches, then death. Boom. It was mildly amusing to see a book written in 2015 dealing with a “pandemic”, incidentally. Interesting. But again, the pandemic and the deaths weren’t really the point, although as far as I’m concerned they could have been. I was perfectly content seeing a new look at an alien invasion through the clever method of spaceborne kill-rocks, and a global collapse like we see in The Stand.

Of course, like The Stand, this book had to go and get weird. Only the adults die, and the surviving kids suddenly get superpowers. That was unnecessary to the story. It’s always unnecessary to the story! But okay, fine, this is where we’re going with this one. I see. Okay. Viktor’s ailments go away and he becomes some kind of genius. And the main protagonist seems to have “everything powers”. Alright. At this point in the story I made a review note for myself that read simply, “what the absolute fuck is going on.”

It was that kind of story! It turned into a New Mutants reboot and it absolutely didn’t have to, but damn it, it was still interesting and so I read on. And you know what?

It checked out. Griffard, you mad crazy sonofabitch, you actually tied it together and explained what was happening in a way that made sense. Un-fucking-believable. I was not expecting that. I was all ready to roll my eyes and call this a superhero novel that was 85% origin story. Which … okay, in one way it kind of is, but damn it, it works.

Sex-o-meter

The book’s mostly about kids, so. You know. I mean there’s a bit of creepiness at the start and obviously once you end up with all the adults dying and the streets getting taken over by a bunch of Russian gangbangers there’s going to be a bit of hankski pankski, but it was ultimately fairly sanitary. It certainly could have been a lot worse and I was bracing myself. I’ll give it an Amish dude out of a possible Amish dude with an ice-cream smooshed in his face, uh, in a sexy way. What, are they going to read this? It’s on a fucking computer.

Gore-o-meter

Not much gore here, although the body-count may be in the top five body-counts for the #SPSFC so far. A whole fucking ton of people die, but it’s pretty bloodless. One flesh-gobbet out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

This story’s WTF curve was like an exponential sequence graph. It started slow and then went vertical, fast. And just when you think there’s no way you’re ever going to understand what’s going on, that’s when Griffard yanks the tablecloth away and not only does everything on the table remain more or less upright and untouched, the tablecloth turns into a flock of pigeons that fly out of a possible now I actually look at this properly, I realise I’m just reading out the feedback I got from the WTF-o-meter. And I’m okay with that.

My Final Verdict

A really enjoyable read, even if we’re left lacking a little bit of closure on some of the plot threads – that’s why it’s part one of a series. This one gets four stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale.


The Threat Below: An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


Team Space Lasagna’s Week 8 reading round threw The Threat Below, first book of the Brathius Legacy series, by J. S. Latshaw, to the literary wolves next.

The opening chapters of this book will either put you off or draw you in, I think. In my case, I was drawn in. And I wasn’t expecting to be! The style of storytelling and characterisation somehow reminded me of Jane Eyre, with a dash of Bridget Jones’ Diary, and all of it taking place on top of a mountain like if the soccer team from Alive had just stayed up there and built a village and leaned into the class divide for like three hundred years. And if that has either put you off or drawn you in, then I guess I’ve accurately summarised what the start of this story was like.

But yeah, I really quite enjoyed it and found that I liked the characters and cared about their strange, vaguely unsettling little lives. The use of Latin, starting with the labelling of the Before Times people as the Apriori, was very neat. It gave a sort of intellectual timelessness to the setting, which made sense given the way society had been divided into the upper-class Cognates (the intellectuals) and the essentially slave-class Veritas (the muscle). And no, that doesn’t go the way you’re thinking and it’s actually really well thought-out and constructed. The Latin also subconsciously planted the idea that modern civilisation as we know it is a fleeting and doomed thing, and that this is what the future holds. Full circle. Kind of. It’s weird. And it gets weirder.


“I’d rather something else, but this had to be.”

– hilarious yet very meaningful Brathius family motto

So I was drawn in, and with every new chapter came a new and slightly disturbing piece of information, all nicely woven into an almost joyously tropey “sheltered princess forbidden love set against backdrop of post-apocalyptic world gone mad” story. We find out that the average lifespan is little over forty years. We are left uncertain as to whether “ultralions” and “ultrabears” are terrifying new genetic hybrid monsters or something else (I won’t spoil it but it’s fucking great). We’re introduced to this broken-arse mountaintop community living in fear behind a log wall and weird mist-ring, telling stories about the horrors that destroyed the word that was.

And then of course our protagonists go down there because that’s the story. By that stage, I was already invested. I cared about Ice and Ad, and even (God help me) Rainy towards the final act. That’ll fucking teach me, I guess.

But yeah, it was a good read! I was not expecting any of what happened, and that’s super cool. When (again, not to spoil but) you start seeing point of view sections from characters you would not have expected to get any kind of point of view, it gets interesting. And then it continues to get more and more interesting from then on. And, as a brief aside, “mountain madness” (the Threat Below cannot get to the people on the mountaintop because of the lack of oxygen, that’s all you need to know) is the best name for altitude sickness ever. I’m going to call it that from now on, although admittedly my day-to-day life does not typically include much mountain climbing so it’s going to be an effort to slip it into conversations.


“In order to survive, you may someday be forced to take the form of a worm. But at least try to be an eagle first.”

– this book is very quotable

I had my doubts. When I found out the mountaintop folks didn’t even know what a hammer was, I had to wonder how they’d managed to last three hundred years. When the story seems to Shyamalan on us at the 45% mark, I groaned a little but kept reading. When Adorane desperately needed to get his head pulled off and shoved up his arse to symbolise the way he lived, but that didn’t happen, I clenched my teeth and fantasised about it until the end of the page, and then the next, and then the next. Sometimes you just have to do that, okay? It’s fine.

The love triangle was silly but oddly compelling, and at least there wasn’t a clear OH MY FUCKING GOD ARE YOU BLIND YOU DEFINITELY NEED TO GO WITH THAT ONE in there. I mean, like most love triangles the answer was “feed the male / males into a wood chipper and just go off and be awesome,” but while the uncertainty existed it was at least readable uncertainty. What was even more uncertain was whether that kiss that happened was actually a fuck, and I guess we can debate that until the next book and the arrival of the baby because it was definitely a fuck. But whatever.

Now, following the not-exactly-Shyamalan (or Shyamalanalike) at 45%, by the 70% mark this book kind of becomes fucking amazing, and the whole backstory and setting falls into place. This, of course, sets us up for a heartbreaking ending I really should have been ready for but wasn’t. It was gut-wrenching, but at the same time strangely liberating. I have to know more! Fortunately, there is more.

Sex-o-meter

Well like I said, there was a kiss in it that I think a case can definitely be made for actually being a fuck, but aside from that there was a bit of teenage canoodling and a bit of fun non-human “ah, this is the thing we call the mating grapple” style clinical deconstruction. I’ll give this a “mountain madness” out of a possible “ocean madness … aqua dementia … the deep-down crazies … the wet willies … the screaming moist…”

Gore-o-meter

Considering this is a post-apocalyptic survivor-story featuring biogen-hybrid killing-machine beasties that have wiped out most of humanity, there wasn’t a huge amount of gore in here. Just enough, really. Two-and-a-half flesh-gobbets out of a possible five for The Threat Below.

WTF-o-meter

Look, I said the same thing during Waterworld and I’ll say it here. Three hundred years is not long enough for sharks to have gotten bigger. They’ve been pretty much the same for a decent chunk of a quarter-billion, they’re not about to change now. But I’m just saying that because I couldn’t think of anywhere else to put it. This was a deliciously WTFfy story and I really enjoyed it. At every turn, the reader will at once think they know what’s happening but also know there’s more to it. Frequently, when I read a story and feel this way, I know I’m going to be disappointed and there will turn out not to be anything going on under the surface, so I’ll have to make shit up. Not so this time! I’ll give this a furrythief out of a possible ultrabear. If you know, you know.

My Final Verdict

This story was actually amazing, but you do have to be drawn in by the small-scale and slow-burn social / personal stuff at the start, because it takes a while for that pay-off. It was different enough not to be boring, and even though it had a lot of clichés in there, it was self-aware and showed some solid chops. Also, since I already referenced Futurama, I’m with Bender. Kill all humans. For fuck’s sake. Four stars!


Earthweeds: An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


This week also brought me into the strange world of Earthweeds, first book of the Sons of Neptune series, by Rod Little.

This book was a lot, so let’s get started.

We begin our adventure up in a forested mountain national parky type area, where brothers Sam and Shane are enjoying a hiking / camping vacation to escape their woes for a time. Things go awry when they find a man who has committed suicide by gunshot sitting dead against a tree. He’s left a suicide note in his other hand that really got me intrigued, even if the couple of lines of Sam’s and Shane’s dialogue immediately following said note over-explained it all and kind of spoiled the effect. Less is more, people!

Anyway. Sam, who is six feet one inch tall and has been ever since he was a kid in high school when it was weird but isn’t so weird now he’s a college freshman, and his older brother Shane who is five feet eleven and more athletic, are distressed by the discovery of the dead body and return to town – and that’s where everything starts to go really crazy.

I admit, at the outset I got a bit of a Supernatural vibe from the two brothers, but that was only because one of them was named Sam and was quite tall (6’1″, as stressed a couple of times in the opening chapters) and his older brother is less tall but a bit of a tough guy who says “awesome” and calls his car “sweetheart” and doesn’t let Sammy drive it and their parents are dead. But these moderately amusing similarities took a back seat, if you will, to the fact that Sam can also summon electricity from his hands.

Why do we learn that Sam is a prematurely 6’1″ freakazoid before we find out about the lightning hands? One of life’s mysteries. And speaking of one of life’s mysteries, Sam and Shane are about to get all the rest of life’s mysteries thrown in their faces, one and two at a time, some of them wrapped in enigmas and some of them just damp and balls-out naked, so strap the fuck in.

The result is a highly entertaining, action-packed, twist-and-turn-filled adventure of a truly boggling scope and intensity. I may make light, but I was genuinely entertained and who can really ask for more than that? There were legitimately creepy moments (like the suicide and the things in the basement) and interesting premonitions (a narrator telling us what’s to come) and a whole lot of craziness (too much to do parenthetical justice to) folded into an apocalyptic monster thriller that keeps the beats coming.

We have a horde of flesh-eating lizards. We have monster spiders. We have a band of heavily-armed doomsday preppers and some creepy scientist-types. We have a guy who communicates with animals. We have electric powers. We have flying saucers from Neptune (this might constitute a spoiler but come on, look at the name of the series and try to keep your eye on the ball here). We have a lot. And this is just the beginning!

A few things didn’t add up, but they were mostly little things. The way a … certain event … occurred “over a millennium ago” and yet predated the dino-killer asteroid is one of those things that’s technically true but still sounds odd. It took them way too long to realise putting on Tina’s perfume was a good solution to the scent issue they were facing, rendering them “invisible” to the lizards. And once they did figure it out, it stopped being a plot point shortly afterwards. There was comedy gold to be dredged out of that … but I get it. There was too much else going on, no time to stop to pick up loose nuggets. I also didn’t get why words like Earth and Neptune were part of the lexicon when their etymology … gah, never mind. There’s a few little nits to pick but they’re not a big deal. What’s the odd nit when we have so much going on?

Sex-o-meter

There’s a lot of lingering and insistent description of the … three? … female characters, two of whom need to be rescued from a doom prepper rape cage at the start, but there’s no actual rape and not really any sex. It’s all about the action, not the action, you know? It’s kind of charming in its own way. One perfectly normal attractive step-sibling who just does normal stuff out of a possible set of attractive step-sibling triplets who get themselves trapped in implausible sexually vulnerable positions all the time because the plot demands it.

Gore-o-meter

Y’know, for a violent apocalyptic horror action story with killer lizards, there’s surprisingly little gore. A bunch of people and a whole fuck-ton of lizards get killed in an assortment of ways, some of them reasonably bloody, but we can’t get the gore-o-meter to go above two-and-a-half flesh-gobbets out of a possible five no matter how hard we whack it.

WTF-o-meter

Overall this book was an amazing, dizzying festival of WTFery. What a trip. At every point Little had a chance to say “this is it, this is what the story’s about, let’s continue,” Little instead said “fuck it, that happened, now something even more balls-to-the-wall crazy is going to happen.” I don’t know if the WTF-o-meter could handle the rest of the books in this series. As it is, it’s giving Earthweeds a Percy Jackson out of a possible Samuel L Jackson. I think … I think you broke it. Yep, it’s broken. Well that’s not going to be cheap.

My Final Verdict

The words Earthians from the Earthian Empire moved to Earthus should be absolutely stupid … but I really like it. And I don’t know why. I’m sitting here covered in smoking pieces of WTF-o-meter, and I don’t know why. What a wild ride. Lot of fun. Four stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale.


Children of Vale: An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


The next book on my #SPSFC list was Children of Vale, by D. A. Anderson.

Reading this book was like having sex right down in the back corner of a Sean Connery video library. Yes, it’s fucking close to Zardoz. But that’s a good thing! No wait, hear me out. Come baaack…

Look, it really was just nailed into my head the moment our protagonist, Tyana, is born in a Matrixian artificial womb field and then spat out of a giant Goddess-head into a compellingly agendered future world where advanced and enlightened people (living in a city with another big giant carved head motif) are struggling with their own stagnation and the incursions of “barbarians” outside. It just immediately struck me as a kind of homage, and that’s actually part of why I liked it all so much.

The story itself is fascinating, as we follow Tyana’s point of view literally from before birth and learn – as she does – about the strange world she lives in.

Tyana’s culture is divided into castes, from the lowly worker-class Artificers to the holy order of the Vestals. Each person is assigned a caste on a genetic level, and it is expressed in the colour of her hair. Tyana is a rare dual-class  anomaly – and unlike various other combinations that have popped out in the past, she is a blend of two castes that has never before occurred.

What follows is an exploration of the concepts of acceptance, respect, tradition, tribalism and one’s place in a world that abhors the not-readily-categorisable. And really a very interesting one. Each caste among the androgynous, female-pronoun-adopting higher race is given strengths and weaknesses – blessings and burdens, gifts and sins – but it swiftly becomes clear that not all burdens are equal. And not all sins are necessarily evil. And that some practices have been set in place entirely as a means of controlling a potentially dangerous population.

This was a philosophy that … definitely resonated with me.


“Our burden is to work. If we don’t, our muse – our madness, as she puts it – will take over. The work is meant to stave that off, to keep us busy and distracted.”


As Tyana learns more about her world and the shaky foundations on which it is built, her surroundings and her dreams become steadily more disturbing. There’s enough metaphor and symbolism in it to make the most coked-up, mushroom-addled Zardoz analyst throw away his red mankini, put some pants on and take a good long look at himself in the mirror. Presumably for the first time since he put on the mankini. But I digress. And I don’t know why. Stop me next time, I have regrets.

Tyana’s dream of a bleached and homogenised humanity, drained and safe, is unsettling to read. The action and events taking place in the narrative ultimately fail to live up to the imagery occurring on the higher plane of Vale’s and Thea’s ideological battleground … but isn’t that so often the way, with dreams?

This story combines fascinating sci-fi visuals and worlds with a delightful surreal aesthetic, and a compelling series of moral and sociological questions that really stayed with me after reading. It drew me in, and it kept me turning the pages as Anderson revealed the world a little bit at a time, in all its complex and often disturbing glory. Its solid sci-fi world and plot will appeal to some, while its out-there premise and artistry will appeal to others. It was all rather seamless and well-structured as far as I’m concerned, only a couple of little things really jumping off the page and yanking my moustache.

I loved the way the Artificers were introduced and discussed, the almost literal morlocks in this weird hypnopunk future, and the way they studied and synthesised the hallowed goddess-goo to the ultimate conclusion (which I won’t spoil, but it was very cool). Creativity and industry live on, even among a perfect theocratic utopia someone needs to keep the plumbing operational, and woe betide the theocrats when those poor grubby fucks finally look up from their labour and go “hang on.”

There was a throw-away reference to a “warp-capable” ship right at the very end, when the rest of the discussion of space travel had been either kept interestingly vague, or else seemed to use different terminology altogether. This abrupt bounce to (forgivable in its ubiquity) Star Trek lingo was jarring, but since it was basically the end of the story by that point it was easy enough to let it slide. Still, odd. But honestly, that was it.

Sex-o-meter

We’re confronted with a swift and furtive bit of androgynous self-touchy – oh, the wicked burdens of those pallid, slender Vestal hands! – but this is a pretty cerebral and asexual affair. And that’s fine. The sex-o-meter is detecting trace elements of whatever was going on in Zardoz, but not enough for me to give Children of Vale more than one-tenth of a whatever was going on in Zardoz out of a possible whatever was going on in Zardoz.

Gore-o-meter

There’s plenty of Warrior-caste violence and fight scenes, some pitched battles, the strange gryphons and the brutality with which the Artificers are treated, but all in all it’s fairly bloodless. Unless you count the ichor and the assorted black and white fluids of the Vale and Thea dreamscapes. And I don’t. And neither does the gore-o-meter. So there. One flesh-gobbet out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

Downright psychedelic, this one. Really cool, almost pure high-grade WTF from cover to cover. Children of Vale gets a great big bowl of slimy black ichor dribbling out of the face-holes of a tormented Vestal godpuppet out of a possible … I don’t even know what this thing is trying to show me. The same thing only a slightly larger bowl? Yeah. Yeah, that’s what it is.

My Final Verdict

I thoroughly enjoyed this story, a really artistic piece of work that left me feeling thoughtful and slightly detached for some time afterwards. Four stars for Children of Vale.


Watson and Holmes: An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


Next up we have Watson and Holmes, by E. B. Dawson.

I was honestly at a loss to review this story in my usual way, because I have been thoroughly immersed in the Sherlock Holmes universe (ie. London) for so long. While movies like the one with Robert Downey Jr. and TV series like the Cumberbatch one or The Irregulars aren’t exactly my cup of tea, I did enjoy them all in their own ways, and the original books as well as the Enola Holmes stories have long been favourites of mine.

Now please don’t misunderstand, I’m getting to the point here and the point isn’t that Watson and Holmes is unoriginal. It’s anything but. However, it is stretched very cleverly over the framework of Conan Doyle’s characters, settings and mysteries, and as such most of the “review” I could give boils down (or … Doyles down? No Edpool, don’t force it) to either listing the Sherlock Holmes references (Linden is London! That Leemex character is the pygmy! Lestrade is Lestrade!) or else listing the variations (Sherlock and Watson are women! Sharlotte’s violin is purple! Watson fought in a space war against shapeshifting [SPOILERS REDACTED] monsters instead of in Afghanistan which absolutely isn’t timely right now anyway so move on!) and that doesn’t do the story justice.

Because I really enjoyed the parallels, the divergences, and the Watson and Holmes narrative purely on its own merits. The sheer mass of human and alien cultures in Linden set the mega-city up as a character in its own right just as (see, here I go again) it is in the best Sherlock Holmes tales. The focus on Watson, who I (like many I’m sure) have always considered the more relatable and sympathetic character and therefore have always rather liked more than Holmes, was well done. I loved seeing Watson re-assume her army persona and resume the war she had previously left in turmoil and trauma. The plot twists and the action, all woven around a clever series of mysteries, were very enjoyable. The Falls, and Moriarty … it’s quite inescapable but damn it, it’s well done.

If you hate Sherlock Holmes with a passion, this book isn’t for you. Why would you even be looking at it? If you love Sherlock Holmes, or are otherwise kind of meh about the whole sub-genre but you like a good science fiction yarn with strong world-building, excellent characters and a rolling, highly entertaining plot, this is well worth a look. There’s just not much more I can say.

So let’s consult the meters, shall we?

Sex-o-meter

There’s a little bit of match-making, and you can always depend on Watson to have a relationship befuddlement or two, but Watson and Holmes generally doesn’t have time for that sort of bullplop. There are mysteries to solve, dastardly plots to unravel and, in short, the game being afoot to worry about. A Mrs. Hudson out of a possible Irene Adler (the saucy adaptations version of Irene Adler) for Watson and Holmes.

Gore-o-meter

Some solid battlefield, jungle and street mayhem in this story, a few grisly murders and such, as one would expect. But overall it’s not such a gory outing. Two flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

Again, it’s hard for the WTF-o-meter to quantify the raw WTFs per million in this book because of the interference we’re getting from the high levels of Doylian radiation coming off the source material. *whangs the WTF-o-meter a couple of times with a violin bow* Yeah … nah, it’s just giving a consistent reading of “Basil Rathbone out of a possible Rathil Basbone” and that’s – to be honest that’s just not a thing.

My Final Verdict

Watson and Holmes was a very enjoyable read. What else can one say? I had a lot of fun recognising the references and geeking out over the sci-fi construct they were slathered over. Cool setting and backstory, great aliens and tech, this has everything I like in a sci-fi combined with a lot of what I like in a mystery. And Dawson’s next trick was apparently doing the same for Moby Dick, so fuck it all. Four stars.


The Invisible City: An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


What was next on our list of books for the #SPSFC? The Invisible City by Brian K. Lowe, that’s what.

The moment I started reading this story I was reminded on John Carter of Mars. As the plot progressed, I felt the way I had when reading The Time Machine. Both of these things were certainly by design, and I salute Lowe for such dedication to the atmosphere.

We open on our protagonist, a fascinatingly written bloke named Clee who is in the middle of trench battle in World War 1, stumbling upon an anomaly that flings him into a crazy colourful adventure in space and time. Language throughout the story is really wonderfully used, easily passing for one of those old-school stories. Lowe walks the delicate line of giving our protagonist a readably and relatably modern sensibility, while still acknowledging that a dude who had been a kid in the 19th Century would definitely have some views about race and gender that make us flinch. Clee is unabashedly backwards without being gross, charmingly elemental without being Flash Gordon, and un-horn-tootingly progressive without making me go oh come the fuck on.

Indeed, I can remember only one point in the story where I was taken out of this very deliberate mind-set, and that was a scene where Clee says something about women being more emotionally prone to upset (or something of the sort) and a local character says “what century are you from?” And it wasn’t because of any flaw in the attitudes, rather a purely narrative / worldbuilding issue. I just couldn’t see that particular formulation being used to voice an objection. It was almost more anachronistic than “women be hysterical”. Clee’s statement, in my opinion, ought to have been interpreted more as a culture or species thing, or even a failure of his language ability, than as a statement out of time. But that was one little scene in the whole book, so that’s fine. It just shows how well done the rest was, is my point.

With such an interesting premise and complex, well-imagined setting, the action and overarching revolutionary plot almost seemed surplus to requirements. The under-plot, of the time travellers and their authority centre somewhere in the Twenty-Somethingth Century, even more so. But they added depth to a story that otherwise might only have been enjoyed by weirdos like me, who loved Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets and think The Silmarillion is the best Tolkien book (come at me, I fought you about Dune and I’ll fight you again). The evolved animals are brilliant, the breen are great, and there is a fascinating new take on the idea of time travellers being susceptible to new or old viruses and bacteria that I won’t spoil, but it was really clever. The references to the Fifth and Sixth Age are just plain tantalising, slotted in amongst the rest of the deep history and years and dates.

I had a couple of moments where I was thrown by plot developments, or what looked like plot developments, that had already been revealed earlier in the story. Towards the end, the idea of a person without a datasphere presence being a “ghost” was explained in revelatory terms, as was Clee’s astonishment at the transparency-tech of Dure, and yet both of these concepts seemed like they were shown, and explored, quite a bit at the start of the story. If those were establishing instances and the latter mentions were the pay-off, it didn’t quite hit home for me. But overall that was a minor thing.

We were rewarded with a bittersweet ending and a John Carter-esque opening to possible sequels – I know there are more books in the series, but whether they follow Clee or some other facet of the story, I have not checked. I look forward to finding out!

Sex-o-meter

Our boy gets his time-Kirk on with impressive promptness with his Weena-esque sweetheart (but it’s not as creepy as a thing with Weena would have been), then all of the various relationships grow and develop in interesting ways. A little bit of potential pirate-rape but otherwise this is a fairly decorous outing, as one would expect given the style. One crisply-starched and uncomfortably-restrictive old pair of trousers, firmly buckled and belted and yet with a definite bulge, out of a possible pair of acid-washed jeans crumpled on the kitchen floor because when the horny strikes, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the middle of making a bowl of noodles. Anyway what I’m saying is there wasn’t a huge amount of sex but there was some.

Gore-o-meter

Plenty of action and gore here, from the World War 1 weaponry face-shootings to the 900,000 AD monster gougings. Highly enjoyable but not overdone, and not to the point where it was really a defining trait of the story. I’ll award The Invisible City two flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

We were through the roof on WTF in this story. I’m heartily glad there are more books in the series, because unlike The Time Machine (which did end up getting a sequel, and it was actually great, but really didn’t need one), The Invisible City introduces such a series of worlds, and so much more than “and then the working and leisure classes split into two subspecies” into its near-million-year timescale, that it absolutely demands expansion. From practically the first page, the WTFs are just flying at us. The cultures, the technology, the creatures, all of it. The WTF is relentless. I give it a 2001: A Space Odyssey where the entire movie is just an endless loop of the Jupiter arrival sequence out of a possible just 2001: A Space Odyssey.

My Final Verdict

The Invisible City offers good old fashioned adventure, monster fights and plenty of action. This is one of those cases where I would happily have sat and read a thousand pages of Clee chatting with the Librarian and learning about the world of the 9,000th Century and all the shit that has happened and how it all fits together, though, with no plot or stakes really needed. The fact that there were plot and stakes was a bonus. I’m giving this one a very solid four stars.