Adam’s Stepsons, M Thomas Apple

Adam’s Stepsons, M Thomas Apple

Adam’s Stepsons

Dr. Heimann wrote a theoretical paper on the topic of cloning. He didn’t expect a desperate military to snap it – and him – up, and throw billions at him to make it happen. Severely conflicted, not least by the experiment’s choice of genetic donor, Dr. Heimann finds himself torn at every turn; most of all between what he knows is right and his orders. By the time he’s finally forced to face the fact that neither his reactions nor the clones’ behaviour can be defined as within the parameters of the experiment, it may be too late.

Adam’s Stepsons explores the hot topic of human cloning; their development, their status, and the more ephemeral topic of whether the ability to think is the basis of individuality. I found that the characters and the plot were well-developed, with a fast-paced storyline. The aspect I found a little weaker was the world building. As a reader, you’re aware there is a war and the clones are being developed to fight in it, but basically world awareness is limited to the lab, the military base beside it, and scattered memories from a couple of the characters. If the story were being told uniquely from a clone’s perspective, that would have been a brilliant tactic; as a lot of the story is from Dr. Heimann’s point of view, it came across as rather odd. Kudos, however, for a great final plot twist.

Antioch, Gregory Ness

Antioch, Gregory Ness

Antioch: The Sword of Agrippa Book 1

Antioch follows the story of Roy Swenson, a scientist in an age where science has become reviled by extremists and scientists are hunted and killed on the streets; and in another incarnation, the story of the young Marcus Agrippa, following his Caesar to Alexandria to start a series of events that will echo through history. Other events in that time, less public, still shadow Roy’s life two thousand years later, as he struggles to find support and funding for a ground-breaking research project in one of the few remaining oases of education – the ancient city of Prague. Somehow, the two lifetimes are inextricably linked…

Author Gregory Ness has created a compelling contrast between the two timelines; Egypt in the time of the Caesars, and a close-future society where the vogue for denying science has become even more fashionable. The talking points of Swanson’s research offer interesting food for thought – I would have been happy to see those storylines developed a little more; in this first novel, Agrippa’s timeline dominates the story, and interesting as it is, I felt it rather overshadowed the other. The book is also clearly preparing the way for the next in the series, with a cliff-hanger of epic proportions to lure the reader on. That said, the book was a pleasant read, offering a tempting mix of myth, mythology, and science to pull a reader into the plot.

Feel.It, Ian Wingrove

Feel.It, Ian Wingrove

Feel.It

Roxanne Payne is one of the longest-surviving Tournament Knights, a legend to her fans and a popular icon. She’s also desperate to escape the image that Feel.It has created around her, and live as her own person. Knights attempted to break their contracts in the past, and people died because of it. Now those same killers are threatening Roxanne, and Feel.It’s security is part of the problem. Roxanne has to look to an unlikely source of protection to keep her alive outside the arena – a man with a past nearly as well-buried as her own.

Feel.It creates a backdrop of decadent dystopia, where the masses chase the sensations of the contestants’ physical pain as a distraction from their own lives in a virtual-reality take on the gladiatorial contests of Ancient Rome. Drawing on themes of identity and individuality, author Ian Wingrove has developed a convincing, original cast of characters, embroiled in a morass of lethal company politics and complex personal allegiances, who raise social deception to the status of an art form. With good pacing and intense cameo scenes with the protagonists interleaving with the main story action, this book was a definite page-turner, guaranteed to entertain those looking for something beyond the ordinary.

Caresaway, D J Cockburn

Caresaway, D J Cockburn

Caresaway

Edward Crofte has developed the ultimate cure for depression, the single most successful and most sought-after drug on the market, legal or otherwise. Its outstanding success makes it a must-have for anyone who needs a confidence boost, and despite the growing number of conspiracy theorists claiming a list of side-effects including pyschopathy, Caresaway sales are booming. It’s doing so well that Edward stops using Caresaway after his coup to take over the position of CEO is successful. After all, he has everything he wants in life – why does he need to keep taking an anti-depressant? However, as he’s about to discover, much in life depends on your attitude…

Caresaway is an original, well-written and well-developed dystopia novella, playing on the themes of modern society’s obsession with prescription medication and money to create a very realistic scenario. D. J. Cockburn’s characters are expertly developed and plausible, adding their own layers to the storyline as the plot unfolds. The real strength of this book for me, however, lay in the way each new development built on the preceding ones. There was no sudden save halfway through, just a continuous exposition leading to the final twist that managed to be more chilling than many abrupt exposés. Definitely one of the best-structured novellas I’ve read this year, with a thought-provoking plot.

Salt in the Water, S Cushaway and J Ray

Salt in the Water, S Cushaway and J Ray

Salt in the Water

In a setting with strong overtones of Mad Max, Salt in the Water is the kind of gritty, kick-ass sci-fi dystopia that punches you in the teeth to get your attention.

The political balance of the small enclaves was complex, nasty, and well-thought-out, and the results weren’t ever saved at the last moment by a deus ex machina moment. In addition, the contrast between the high-tech weapons so very rarely available against the predominance of knives, fists, and rocks was a nice accent to the setting.

While opting for a wide range of character viewpoints can be a recipe for disaster in terms of reader confusion and choppiness in the read, I found that authors J. Ray and S. Cushaway did a pretty good job of managing their plot through the various viewpoints. While to some extent the sympathy I built with each character was limited by the amount of time I spent with them, the individual characters carrying the viewpoint were, without exception, well-developed and strongly individual across the range of species – twisty, traumatised, and dark.

I did find that the background to the Toros shards could have used a bit more explanation. What comes through the story: These artifacts stud the landscape; they caused a disaster; they still do bad things – but that was really about the extent of the information. As the book is, pretty clearly, the preparation for a sequel, that may have been deliberate, but as a reader, it left me with a feeling that I’d arrived halfway through an important story.

Overall, this book definitely earnt its five stars, and I’m very stingy with those. I’m a sucker for intelligent anti-heroes and independent loners, not to mention solid writing skills and a realistic plot, and this book provided me with plenty of all the above. I’d strongly recommend this read.

Reviewed for Knockin’ Books Blog.

Midnight on Mars, M C Glan

Midnight on Mars, M C Glan

Midnight on Mars

Earth is dying. Nature has forestalled humanity: with the impending reversal of the magnetic field, dormant super-volcanoes are on the brink of eruption, and the output will blanket the atmosphere in enough ash to extinguish agriculture in the areas not drowned in lava or damaged by the accompanying earthquakes. Humanity’s one off-world colony, on Mars, is viable, but a covert scientific experiment has encountered an unlikely issue: human clones born or awakened off Earth are functionally sociopathic. Only Kari Keskiyo is able to provide an explanation – and it’s not one offering an easy solution.

Midnight on Mars is a dystopian sci-fi, positing the perfect storm of natural disasters that would wipe out most, if not all, life on Earth, as well as a renewed cycle of dangerous religious fundamentalism. The setting is dark, and largely convincingly written. I enjoyed the originality of some of the religious beliefs; author M. C. Glan managed to mostly avoid the common trap of adhering religiously (pardon me) to the Judaeo-Christian version. However, I found that overall the characters were lacking in that extra quality that would have captivated me, and some of the story elements would have benefited from more development. This may have been a function of the story length, but it impacted the book’s ability to draw me in.