Virgo 97, Italo Marago

Virgo 97, Italo Marago

Virgo 97: A science-fiction thriller

Virgo 97 is the name of a spacecraft. You could equally call it the spacecraft. More sensitive to CO2 than humans, the last of the bees died last year, and without them, crops and animals are already beginning to die as well. Virgo 97, with four astronauts aboard, is headed to Mars, to initiate the delicate process of terraforming. With the time and the spaceships on hand, Earth may be able to evacuate up to ten percent of the global population before the atmosphere and the declining food supply kills everyone – but unfortunately, CO2 isn’t the only thing that can kill.

Italo Marago’s Virgo 97 exceeded all my expectations. While there were some areas that would have benefited immensely from a copy-edit, and some of the character interactions and reactions need more development, the story overall was brilliantly paced, intricate, and compelling. Playing to themes that are already daily fare in the media, the author created a solid basis for the crime of our times, set in a near-future environment that was completely convincing. Despite the research that had obviously gone into the book, it was well-handled and at no point came close to drowning the story in detail, rather, it added finishing touches. Certainly a book well worth the read for anyone looking for their next sci-fi or crime thriller.

Druan: Dawn, Mark Robson

Druan: Dawn, Mark Robson

Druan Episode 1 – Dawn

In the eternal night, the harvesters hunt and take humans from their villages. No one in Jayenne’s village has known anything other than the all-encompassing darkness, and the death that comes with it. When the miasma finally breaks, at first there is rejoicing – until the scattered villages realise that the never-ending darkness has left no vegetation, and the dark-loving creatures that once could be hunted for food have taken shelter, and they face slow starvation. Then, the settlements rely on their shamans, the only hope remaining to them, to lead them and keep them safe.

Druan Episode 1 – Dawn offers the kind of atmosphere of danger and uncertainty found in good dystopia and some origin stories; a tiny fragment of humanity, eking out a precarious existence in a world of which they have little to no knowledge. Author Mark Robson’s choice to tell the story largely from the point of view of an eight-year old creates an effective emphasis for this element of the plot. The mysticism of the shamans is left mainly for further development in this story, although the various shamans seem at first glance to have an intriguing range of different abilities. The writing was technically excellent, well-structured and free of editorial issues, and while this story is part of a larger arc of episodes, it manages to be perfectly readable alone. Definitely worth the read.

Hijo de Xavier, Inejiro Koizumi

Hijo de Xavier, Inejiro Koizumi

What happens in Los Volcanes, Or, Hijo de Xavier

Set in a semi-dystopian future in which the United Nations has taken over government of most of the world, the main story elements appeared to be lucha libre, the details of male costume dress, and the male’s absolute entitlement to any female who catches his eye.

While the initial idea had a lot of promise, as far as I could see its only role in the book was as a backdrop, which was disappointing. I managed to get a third of the way through the story, and then spot-read the rest, in the hopes I was doing the book an injustice, or missing some subtle satire that came through in the later pages, but unfortunately nothing leapt out at me.

Aside from the near-complete lack of plot, the switching around from third person to omniscient and the omnipresent explanations of what a given character was thinking or feeling, as opposed to showing the reactions, added to my difficulties with the read. In addition, the fight descriptions were way over the top to a point that had me shaking my head, which I doubt was the intended result.

This was only the second book in a year that I had to leave as a Did Not Finish. I try really hard not to abandon a read; I know how much blood, sweat, and tears authors put into their books, but unfortunately once in a while it does happen, and What Happens in Los Volcanes, Or Hijo de Xavier was one of those reads for me. The setting was original, the basic concept was good, and the story itself, sadly, started turning me off about ten pages in and never pulled me back.

The Remnant, William Michael Davidson

The Remnant, William Michael Davidson

The Remnant

In 2061, a virus with a nearly 100% infection rate destroyed humanity’s urge to believe at a genetic level. Religious fundamentalism was eradicated, and those rare people who escaped the virus are now considered dangerous. Colton Pierce is an Extractor with the Centre for Theological Control, one of the organisation’s most successful operatives, with an outstanding record of hunting down and capturing those who exhibit symptoms of religious belief. His job is his life, and his only ambition is to rise to the position of Chief Officer and see legislation passed that will allow the CTC to kill the imprisoned, theologically ill. However, when it becomes personal, Colton has to choose between Gus and his job…

William Michael Davidson’s The Remnant showcases a truly unique storyline, where he posits that the urge towards religious belief is genetic, and draws the readers into a world where religious violence has been largely eradicated. The plot offers two very black and white alternatives: the genetically atheist, who hunt down any remaining believers without mercy or trial, and the few, noble and persecuted believers, engaged in a David and Goliath fight against oppression. I found this aspect of the book to be a little too simplistic to really capture my imagination, which is one of the main reasons why this got a three-star rating. I also found that the protagonist was a little lacking in depth; there was no self-doubt or tendency toward introspection that heralded his (very) sudden about-face halfway through the novel. I would have found it much more plausible if the seeds had been there before the key event.

So, overall, while the basic idea of the book made me very happy, and the writing was technically strong, I think that a bit more digging into the gray areas and a lot more foreshadowing could have boosted this from a three-star read to a five-star read.

Immortal Peace, Tyler Harris

Immortal Peace, Tyler Harris

Immortal Peace

In Immortal Peace, Tyler Harris opens the story with an innocuously peaceful scene: Mario and Paige Ramirez have finally resolved to tell their son, Scott, that he’s adopted. However, their discussion is almost immediately upstaged by news stories of UFO sightings over Florida playing across all the news stations. Shortly afterwards, news reports indicate that ‘flying Frisbees’ have also been sighted in Morocco, where the aliens have landed and are attempting to communicate with the locals in a dialect of ancient Egyptian. Mario, a bulwark of skepticism in the midst of his UFO-obsessed family, finally receives a call from his mother, a professor of hieroglyphics at the University of Oregon, and discovers that she’s being flown to Africa the same day to act as a liaison between the CIA and the alien craft that set down in Morocco – but even he couldn’t have predicted the outcome.

Immortal Peace offers a unique twist on ‘we come in peace’, melding creation mythology, flying saucers and Egyptian links to extraterrestrials in a new and entertaining storyline. However, while Tyler Harris’s main story concept is original and in places delightfully ironic, the heavy focus on the minutiae of family life and teenage dating, almost a second story within the main story, does detract somewhat from the pacing of the action, and bogs the reader down in day-to-day descriptions of preparations for work and the business of unlocking doors. This book would be a sound choice for sci-fi readers looking for a gentle read and a new take on the utopian view of extraterrestrial intervention.

A Mighty Rolling Thunder, Kerry Alan Denney

A Mighty Rolling Thunder, Kerry Alan Denney

A Mighty Rolling Thunder

When the metaphysical takes on a very real aspect, two-thirds of the world’s population is wiped out. Those who remain find either their inner greatness or their darkest impulses brought uppermost, and in the resulting chaos, Livi finds herself facing off against an obsessed businessman possessed by the darkest side of humanity, intent on owning her, her art, and her soul. With her only back-up her snuggle-loving golden retriever, Beauty, Livi is lucky to find allies in the most unlikely places—and a previously unsuspected skill when it comes to defending herself with kitchenware.

A Mighty Rolling Thunder gives a unique look at one of the oldest stories of all through the lens of a masterfully-written fantasy plot. With overtones reminiscent of a zombie apocalypse, good and evil are unleashed, and civilisation begins to totter on its foundations. The characters are recognisable archetypes, familiar enough to draw the reader in, but deftly given their own individual traits and quirks to set them apart and bring them alive in the pages. The pacing is masterful, coloured with foreshadowing and spiked with violence that has real consequences, adding to the suspense without turning into a Quentin Tarantino set.  I can truthfully say that author Kerry Alan Denney has created a book here that will keep you turning pages until way past your bedtime – entertaining, thought-provoking, and highly recommended.