Lifeboat at the End of the Universe, Simon Brading

Lifeboat at the End of the Universe, Simon Brading

Lifeboat at the End of the Universe

Simon Brading’s Lifeboat at the End of the Universe offers humanity its last and only hope for survival as the cycle of the universe approaches its end; the Big Crunch threatens the security and apathy that humanity has known for countless generations. The Lifeboats will take millions of humans, enough for a viable gene pool, and ship them in stasis towards the edge of the universe, hoping to escape the all-devouring black holes sucking all matter in towards the universe core. The humans aboard each will serve three-month watches at widely spaced intervals, just enough to keep their brains from succumbing to the effects of the stasis, under the care of Artificial Humans – and an Adam.

Lifeboat at the End of the Universe offers the ultimate in locked-room mystery, wrapped in a slick science-fiction environment and spiced with tantalising hints of questions aimed at the roots of AI and human psychology. The current Lifeboat crew, a group of ten, showcases the minutiae of stress on relationships, contrasting with the unchanging calm and positivity of their Adam to create a very convincing level of tension in a deliberately calming environment. Focussing on Tom, the group’s Astrophysicist, and the personality clashes he experiences with their Adam, this story accelerates into a twist that will set you back on your heels.

Ghosts of Innocence, Ian S. Bott

Ghosts of Innocence, Ian S. Bott

Ghosts of Innocence

In Ghosts of Innocence, Ian S. Bott brings us aboard Imperial starhopper Chantry Bay, inbound to the Imperial seat of government, moments before its unscheduled, flaming entry into planetary atmosphere draws all eyes away from the covert insertion through the defenses of Shayla Carver, an assassin aimed at the best-protected target of all: Emperor Julian Flavio Skamensis. Sent off-course with a damaged suit, Shayla has an unenviable slog through jungle, under the watchful eyes of a security force on full alert, to reach her rendezvous with the local Insurrection and hit the fast-closing time-window that offers her only hope of infiltrating the Emperor’s heavily fortressed compound.

Ghosts of Innocence opens with a deadly starship crash, and the heavy menace of Imperial security hemming the storyline on all sides. The world-building is detailed and intricate, with fascinating threads drawn from many cultures to draw you in. The tension is a constant through the book, expertly evoked by small touches in every scene, and spiked by Shayla’s flashbacks and gut-wrenching nightmares. Ian S. Bott has done a great job of creating a character who is impossible not to relate to, and whose self-doubt will strike resonances in everyone. Shayla makes a strong protagonist, and even if her streak of luck seems incredible at times, you’ll forget it at the next page and the next challenge.

Devils of Black and Gold, F.A.R.

Devils of Black and Gold, F.A.R.

Devils of Black and Gold

A tale of devils and monsters and high-school heroes, F.A.R.’s Devils of Black and Gold introduces us to Lucas, the class loner, and Brian, his best friend, as Lucas struggles for control in the face of the impossible: he believes he’s become a werewolf. Dealing with shape-shifts he can’t always control, and increasingly wild mood-swings, Lucas is afraid that he’s a danger to all that he holds dear, including his best friend. Brian’s complete faith in his friend becomes Lucas’s only point of reference for faith in himself, and that’s before they find out about the string of gruesome murders that the police are calling the Beast Attacks – brutally mangled corpses that have no apparent connection.

Devils of Black and Gold is a fast-paced urban fantasy novella offering an eclectic mix of shape-shifters, possession, and a crime thriller that doesn’t let up on the tension. F.A.R. writes convincingly from the teenage viewpoint of the characters, contrasting them with a surprisingly intuitive and flexible authority figure in the form of Eliot Guthrie, a homicide detective on the local police force. The action is set against an economically evoked background of school, parents, and high-school tensions, carefully hidden from the attention of parents and teachers. A worth-while read for fans of urban fantasy and YA.

The Girl at the Bar, Nicholas Nash

The Girl at the Bar, Nicholas Nash

The Girl at the Bar

Rebecca is a high-flying cancer research scientist, one of the most sought-after minds in the field. Ragnar is a down-on-his-luck ex-trader battling bipolar disorder, hanging out in bars in between job searches. When Rebecca goes missing shortly after their one-night stand, Ragnar becomes a person of interest overnight – and determined to find Rebecca, even if it gets him arrested. However, when the body count starts growing and the press gets involved, the stakes only get higher…

The Girl at the Bar is a police thriller, where the evidence is deceptive at best and the origins of the crime are buried and forgotten in decades-old events. The plot is plausible and twisty, and although those who like to try and follow the breadcrumbs of evidence through the plot and figure out the criminal themselves are going to find slim pickings, the final revelation is nicely handled. The pacing is also largely good, and the characters are refreshingly original, with perfectly imperfect motivations. The things keeping this book from a higher rating were mostly technical; there are editing errors apparent throughout, and a critique to polish some occasional awkwardnesses out of the delivery would have made this story a top-rank read. Definitely something that crime fiction fans will enjoy.

The Final Death, Andrew Mowere

The Final Death, Andrew Mowere

The Final Death

Entry to Heaven is only granted to those strong enough to fight their way out of Hell. Accordingly, Normals, as they are known, with no extra abilities or Guild training, are at an immense disadvantage. Azrael is the fourth Unchained, a necromancer of nearly unlimited power, and his ambition is to end death. Accompanied by the warrior Glint, who shares his unlikely care for the weaker, Normal humans, Azrael gathers the artifacts and the spells he will need to enter the realm of Death – and, if he is very fortunate, to defeat Death himself.

The Final Death was an interesting read, with a pantheon that showed an interesting mix of religious mythologies, including the scythe-wielding, incarnate Death common to Western Judaeo-Christian representations. The range of magical abilities woven into the plot was also well-thought out, and mostly consistent. The reason I principally found myself straying from this read was that while the major plot arc is to do with Azrael’s plan to overthrow Death, the vast majority of the actual story time rests with Glint, and the variety of special effects he and his Guild mates can apply to a fight. The relevance of these scenes to the plot didn’t really come clear for me. However, the writing was very imaginative, and the story was by and large enjoyable. I think with a little pruning, this could be a very strong fantasy read indeed.