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Urban Heroes, T J Lockwood

Urban Heroes, T J Lockwood

Urban Heroes (The Twelve Cities Book 2)

Urban Heroes follows a pair on the run from the authorities in the middle of an android revolt in this  twisty sci-fi thriller. Calista Ridley has a ship she can’t use, a partner she can’t name, and for a full house, a runaway who can’t look after herself. She’s playing in underground Russian Roulette halls far from the upper cities she used to inhabit to keep them housed and fed, and never staying in one place too long in case the bounty hunters catch up with her. Unfortunately, ‘too long’ is a variable concept, and Calista finds herself on the run again, with her past in hot pursuit.

While this book did offer an interesting slant on the theme of androids, AI, and how close to human it’s necessary to be to qualify for human rights, I didn’t find that the structure of the story stood up to the promise of the subject matter. The majority of the book is Calista on the run, with a partner who is essentially a cipher, and numerous factions after both of them. It’s only in the final fifth of the book that there’s a sudden series of revelations as to who Axton is, who Calista is, and why they’re both so desperate to stay off the radar. It’s also written in first person present tense, which while it’s a perfectly valid stylistic choice, makes my hair stand on end. Overall, while there were strong elements in this book, for me they never gelled together into a cohesive story.

Chipless, Kfir Luzzato

Chipless, Kfir Luzzato

Review title

Chipless presents a story of an unlikely hero, and his struggle to free a society that doesn’t even know that it’s enslaved. Kal is one of the City elite, a technician valued for his skills and kept in luxury as he works to improve the chip implanted in every citizen’s brain that maintains their health. He enjoys his work, and he’s good at it: so good that one day, one of his experiments disrupts the chip’s input to his brain, and he sees a flash of the outside world as it really is. That peek behind the curtain sets in motion a train of events that may overturn life as he knows it…

Kfir Luzzato’s protagonist undergoes a lot of personal growth during the course of this book. From a law-abiding and somewhat geeky scientist, Kal becomes a highly effective and self-reliant traveller and fighter in the space of a few weeks—and becomes quite irresistible to women over the same period. While Kal’s evolution periodically raised my eyebrows, I found that the world-building was by and large very solid and well-done, based on ‘Matrix’-style themes of a citizenry controlled by a virtual reality to hide a dystopian reality from them. The wild-West settings beyond The City provide a salutary contrast as a backdrop for Kal’s adventures. Definitely worth a read for sci-fi fans.

Androdigm Park 2067, JMJ Williamson

Androdigm Park 2067, JMJ Williamson

AndroDigm Park 2067

Androdigm Park 2067 takes on the themes of AI, the pursuit of hedonism, and mixes them with a murder mystery in this intriguing sci-fi story. When Shelby goes into the nightclub known as Lucifer’s Pleasure Cave, he’s expecting someone to resist arrest, which happens, and not expecting to have to rescue the attractive barmaid – which also happens. When Scarlet turns out to come with her own high-powered enemies, Shelby’s caseload suddenly doubles down, and he finds himself in more trouble than anyone needs.

This story started out with very much a dystopia feel. It stirred in the concepts of AI, resistance to AI, and a government actively pushing sex to its populations to avoid any insurrection, and introduced the protagonists; a bounty hunter / cop trying to compensate for his own perceived failures, and an ex-sex junkie. As they form a reluctant team to uncover and stop their enemies, Scarlet and Shelby find themselves drawn into a series of strange adventures. Not the least of these was that they found themselves forced to enter a virtual dreamland set around Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table, which did feel a little contrived to me, but overall, I found the concepts of the story were interesting, and the writing itself was well-paced.

The Janus Enigma, William R Dudley

The Janus Enigma, William R Dudley

The Janus Enigma (The Janus Chronicles Book 1)

The Janus Enigma offers a twisty, intriguing blend of sci-fi, dystopia, and thriller. Calder is a trouble-shooter for hire in the Outer Levels of Janus, with a past he’s walked away from and a present that’s going to take all his contacts and all his skills to stay alive in. When one of the most influential women on Janus hands him a missing person to track and an exorbitant fee to do it, Calder’s instinct is to be wary – but even he didn’t suspect just how far down the rabbit hole the case would take him.

I loved the opening of this book. With elaborate scheming, insider agents, and the immediate threat of inventive physical mayhem, the story started out strong and managed to keep the momentum going. The plotline showcases plots within plots, anti-heroes, centuries-old secrets, and an innovative solution to interstellar travel. Best of all, the author managed to resist the temptation to drown the story in details. The characters were strongly-developed; Sunny O’Malley and Calder in particular, but Mexican Charlie with his constantly-changing physiognomy was another of my favourites. Even the smallest of walk-on parts read like a person, not a cut-out, which I totally appreciated. Overall, this book was well-written, well-edited, and had all the elements to get and keep my attention – definitely worth reading.

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.