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.

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.