Alexandria, Gregory Ness

Alexandria, Gregory Ness

Alexandria (The Sword of Agrippa Book 2)

Following their momentous discovery of the mysterious temple, Agrippa and Samia are working to unlock its mysteries, hampered by a series of elaborate mechanical lockouts. Their prize may well be worth any cost; the wisdom of the legendary Library of the Ages may be among the treasures. Two thousand years and more into the future, Roy Swanson’s research into dreams is attracting more and more attention, even as the world descends further into religious mania and a deep-rooted fear of science. Whether or not Roy will be able to solve the mysteries his research is throwing up before American money closes it down for good is another question entirely.

This second in the Sword of Agrippa series, Alexandria, follows the protagonists from the first novel, Agrippa and Samia, in the heyday of Roman Egypt, along with cameos of Roy Swanson and his research into dreams in an increasingly anti-science close-present. While I found that the proposed link between survivors of Atlantis and several of the ancient pantheons was an interesting twist on the story, I didn’t find that there was a great deal of movement, or resolution, in this book. Most of the questions lying open in the plotlines from the first novel are still open at the close of the second, so while the story was in itself quite enjoyable, there was no real feeling of closure of any of the story arcs. In addition, as with the first novel, I can’t help but feel that a strong copy-edit would help this book do justice to the originality of its plot. Overall, while this series is certainly worth the read, it would benefit hugely from some judicious tuning.

Circuit Trilogy, Rhett C Bruno

Circuit Trilogy, Rhett C Bruno

The Complete Circuit Trilogy (Omnibus Edition)

Executor Rising
Progeny of Vale
Earthfall

Talon Rayne, ex-enforcer to one of the overlords of the Ceresian clans, is dying. The element that provides gravity to the stations and asteroids that house humanity in the solar system is lethal on direct exposure, and his days are numbered. Isolated as he is from his previous position, the rumours are still disturbing; freighters going missing, and the Tribunal, fervent worshippers of the spirit of Earth, are stepping up their enforcement among the scattered settlements that humanity calls home. When Talon’s previous masters call on him for one last mission, Talon has no idea what he’s about to stumble into…

The Circuit Trilogy is an epic science-fiction adventure from author Rhett C Bruno, set in a future where unrestricted resource exploitation has left Earth itself uninhabitable, and the human population is spread through the solar system in a web of stations, moons, and asteroids. With an eclectic group of protagonists, including ex-Tribune Cassius Vale, a dying Ceresian, and  a very current, increasingly disaffected Tribunal Enforcer, the conflicts of personality and ideology run deep. In some cases, I felt that the characters could have been developed more early on; any hints concerning why Sage Volus acts as she does aren’t forthcoming for some time, which made her more difficult to relate to early in the story. Equally, while the reader becomes increasingly aware of the depth of the world-building as the trilogy progresses, it isn’t very apparent in the earlier stages of the story, and frankly I feel it deserves the mention. However, with a storyline rife with politics and plots, and the stakes nothing less than Earth itself, this trilogy is an enjoyable read.

The White Light of Tomorrow, D Pierce Williams

The White Light of Tomorrow, D Pierce Williams

The White Light of Tomorrow (First Earth Book 1)

Adrian of Tarsus, Knight of the Military and Hospitaler Order of Saint John, just found out that his daughter and squire fights dirtier than he does, and that’s about the best thing in store for him. His daughter is sick, and without the help of some of the technology deemed heretical by his Church, he won’t be able to save her. Even having cashed in every favour that twenty years fighting the Knights’ battles earnt him to get a position aboard a merchant starship hasn’t got him close enough, fast enough, to what he needs. Mariel’s time is running short – and Adrian isn’t the only one looking for the thing that could save her.

The White Light of Tomorrow is a brilliantly original read, seamlessly mixing the legendary Knights of St. John with a dystopian future in which Earth has been destroyed, the Inquisition has made a comeback, and only the most common and vital tech is tolerated by the Church. Author D. Pierce Williams’s characters are convincingly flawed, drawing you into their doubts and fears as much as their successes, and the future Holy Catholic Church is portrayed with faultless irreverence. The dialogue is another strong point in this read – quick-witted, fast, and here and there blackly ironic. I found myself chortling aloud at it, and my sense of humour is a vanishingly difficult target to hit. The technical side is also close to flawless, which as an inveterate nit-picker I deeply appreciate in any read. Overall, if I had a six-star rating, this book would probably have got it. I can’t over-recommend it to anyone who likes their books imaginative, and the flights of fancy solidly grounded in historical detail.

Afterglow, David J Ross

Afterglow, David J Ross

Afterglow (Chronicles of a Darken Earth)

The central ideas of Afterglow are compelling ones; what would happen if it were possible to see what happens to consciousness after death? What if the consciousness of every species across multiple worlds converged in what humanity thinks of as an afterlife?

Following the consciousness after death is a concept that was perfunctorily explored by the movie ‘Flatliners’ in the 1990s, and one which I’ve always felt had a lot of unexplored territory to offer. Author David J Ross’s dystopian take on it was, at root, a very good plot idea.

However, I did find this a challenging read to complete. I got the feeling from the book that the author wanted to convey the chaos of shattering worlds through the structure of the book, but for me at least, the multitude of characters and settings and body-hops made the many plot lines difficult to follow. The constant changes in viewpoint contributed to my disengagement from the characters and, subsequently, from the story. While one or two of the secondary characters were ones I might have found engaging enough to want to follow the stories of, the main characters didn’t really capture my sympathy on any meaningful level.

In addition to the rather fractured structure of the book, the editorial errors, while minor, were repetitive enough to get my attention throughout the book. I couldn’t help but feel that a strong developmental edit would have allowed the basic, very good, idea of the book to shine. Right now I would be hard-pressed to say it’s doing itself justice.

Exiles’ Escape, W. Clark Boutwell

Exiles’ Escape, W. Clark Boutwell

Exiles’ Escape (Book 2 of Old Men and Infidels)

As Malila is beginning to recognise, faking her own death was the simple part. Actually getting away from the Unity, with an incensed Eustace Jourdaine bent on capturing her to tie up the last loose ends of his own power coup, not so much. On the far side of the Rampart, Jesse Johnstone has his own troubles; being a legend in his own lifetime was one thing, but being a legend in several generations thereafter has earnt him fame, limited rank, and a host of well-connected enemies bent on making his life unnecessarily complicated – and consequently damaging his stocks of good whiskey. Escape is on both their minds, but a lot of people are interested in getting in their way.

Exiles’ Escape had a tough act to follow from Outland Exile, and came through with flying colours. W. Clark Boutwell has a gift for setting themes that are at heart very familiar in dystopia settings, and by so doing, makes the reader take a clearer look at them. Beyond that, the same gift for characterization that drew me into the first book is still at work in this sequel; the story rests on characters that are fully fleshed-out and credible, each with their own needs, dislikes, and histories. I have a weak spot for plots and characters that are complex, intelligent, and well-written, and this sequel didn’t disappoint. In many ways, W. Clark Boutwell’s dystopia is more frightening for its total plausibility than any number of zombie tropes, and, again, I found myself glued to the pages.

The Fall, MJ McGriff

The Fall, MJ McGriff

The Fall: Book 1 of the New Earth Series

Lieutenant Cairo Wilson is happy with her career; born into a backward settlement where the role of a female is to mind the kitchen and have children, the Federation’s military training and education opportunities were a life-changing escape from a future of boredom. When she’s assigned to one of the remote colony settlements to investigate rumours of terrorism, she accepts it as an opportunity to develop new skills. However, none of her training prepares her for a cataclysmic meeting with her erstwhile best friend from the Academy…or what that friend has been doing.

The Fall mixes classic adventure sci-fi with YA-style exploration of cultural restrictions and the younger generation’s rebellion against them; Lt. Wilson’s encounter with her parents, many years after she ran away from home to join the Federation military, is a set-piece of the type. I found that in places the youthful rebellion theme impacted the pacing of the main storyline; conversely, there were areas of the world-building where I felt some additional detail would have been beneficial, not to mention some shades of gray between the protagonist and antagonist. The story is very much ‘youthful trauma turns against the government that trained her’ versus ‘perfectly programmed citizen’. However, the book overall was well-written and an enjoyable read – I would recommend it to sci-fi readers, especially those in the younger age brackets.