Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body, Simon Petrie

Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body, Simon Petrie

Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body: A Guerline Scarfe Investigation

Titan is a hostile environment. When people die, it’s the job of someone like Guerline Scarfe to make sure that all the details are correctly recorded and all angles are examined to ensure that the future of Fensal’s citizens is as safe as it can be. The investigation into the death of Tanja Noor Hainan Morgenstein should have been one like any other – despite her influential parents. However, when Guerline starts asking why the daughter of one of Titan’s most influential families would have committed suicide by Titan right outside an airlock, her investigation starts sprouting inconsistencies.

Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body is a well-written mystery thriller in a science-fiction setting. Details of terrain and technology add to the backdrop, but the author has resisted allowing them to overwhelm the story. The characters are well-developed, and while Guerline is at first glance the epitome of the harassed separated parent with a spoiled child, her obstinacy makes her the ideal protagonist for the plot. The final plot twist reveal was particularly nicely handled, with enough presaging to make it credible without giving the game away too early. Overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read – there’s something there for everyone from detective mystery fans through to die-hard sci-fi readers.

Icarus, David K Hulegaard

Icarus, David K Hulegaard

The Noble Trilogy: Book One – Icarus

Miller Brinkman is a private eye in small-town 1950’s USA, with his usual cases whatever the widely-respected town sheriff doesn’t want or doesn’t have time for. However, when Jane Emmett, the town’s problem child, vanishes abruptly from the public eye and a rumour is spread that she’s been sent away to school, her only friend begs Brinkman to find out what happened to her. Following the clues left in a disturbing series of Jane’s diary entries that indicate something very different than an involuntary departure to a finishing school, Brinkman has no idea of what he’s about to discover…

Icarus combines two of my favourite genres in a page-turning read. With an economical turn of description that allows the spotlight to shine on the events of the plot, author David K. Hulegaard creates an atmospheric mystery with enough darkness woven into it to keep the reader on edge. Brinkman, our protagonist, comes with enough human flaws to make him plausible and keep him from the superhuman trope. All of the characters show excellent development, with enough background to make them solidly real in the story without straying into the territory of the fatal info-dump, and many with the characteristically ‘small-town’ scandals and links that support the main plot. All in all, I don’t give out five stars very often – this book definitely earnt them.

Our Only Chance, Ray Else

Our Only Chance, Ray Else

Our Only Chance: An A.I. Chronicle

Manaka Yagami was a genius, off-the-charts, a student working towards a degree in neuro-genetics in Osaka. Obsessed with her work to the point of being oblivious to her surroundings, she was surprised and flattered to be approached with a project by a prominent professor; a project to incorporate an organic brain into a robot. When the project turned out to be a resounding success, her mentor proposed that they go into business together to develop the concept further – but once he involved the Yakuza, neither he nor she understood how much power they might be relinquishing over their greatest breakthrough.

Our Only Chance is sketched in a spare, flowing style that complements the pacing of the story, and the subject matter covers a range of topics from medical ethics to local spirits to the history of manga. For me, as a reader, the strongest point of the book was the character development. Author Ray Else has created not one but several characters who are brilliant, and utterly alienated from human society, while at the same time being eminently readable. The writing was also technically excellent, which I always appreciate. All in all, this is a book that fans of speculative fiction will be sure to enjoy, couched in a setting that avoids many of the traditional clichés of AI development.

Mr. November, Matt Hogan

Mr. November, Matt Hogan

Mr. November

Samuel Webb is a time-traveller, altering the past investment by investment for his company. In the mutable present, he lives in a shrinking oasis of luxury, with every need catered to almost before he voices it, and his main source of companionship his downstairs bartender. However, when people from his past begin to vanish from the present, Webb begins to look under the shiny surface of his life, without the insulating layer of alcohol, and what he finds forces him to act – but is there any way that he can salvage the past he remembers from the present his actions have created?

Mr. November offers some interesting ideas for contemplation – what if one company were able to travel through time, and invest with knowledge of the greatest booms and busts of the future? With a plot underlaid by time-travel paradoxes and a concept of how each of those small changes to the past could impact the future, the story shows the care that went into the plotting. I did feel that the plot was let down to a degree by some of the technical aspects of the writing, which occasionally side-tracked me from the read, but overall this book was definitely worth-while, with some nice inter-personal dynamics.

The Fountain boxed set, Ellison Blackburn

The Fountain boxed set, Ellison Blackburn

The Fountain – boxed set

The Fountain trilogy set is a highly worth-while read, peopled with strong, well-fleshed-out characters who will pull you into their struggles and demand your understanding of their points of view. I don’t usually consider myself a reader of speculative fiction, but author Ellison Blackburn has a unique gift for evoking the human side of the stories and providing that occasional lightening-strike moment of ‘yes, yes, that right there is something I’ve felt too’.

With subject matter dear to the science-fiction genre such as time travel and rejuvenation, these books have the kind of genre-spanning appeal that merits a moment of respect, not to mention utterly plausible world-building that supports the dilemmas the characters face.

Flash Back

In Flash Back, we meet Charlotte Rhys Fenn. Charley is in her fifties, has been married for nearly twenty years, has plenty of income – and is bored out of her mind by her life. In desperation to alleviate the humdrum of her life, she finally begins to research a cutting-edge surgery, known only as Renovation.

The mess of issues Charley faces in trying to make peace between her desires and her responsibilities will be shockingly familiar to many readers. Flash Back is well-written, with an analytical, laser-focus on the workings of inter-personal connections.

Second Nature

In Second Nature, the human population on Earth was ravaged by a disease that targeted anyone with genetic modification. in a small underground community near what used to be Seattle, the descendants of Charlotte Rhys Avery still live. Emery Kidd, 68 years old with the appearance of a 17-year-old, is illicitly researching her connection to the mother of regeneration.

Where Flash Back in many ways studied the dissolution of a long-term relationship as its back story, Second Nature deals with love, commitment, and how the urge to reproduce could be affected by effective immortality. This series is sci-fi that will make you think, its concepts framed in very human stories.

Being Human

Being Human continues the story of Emery Kidd, newly engaged to Aiden Brodie, and living in the community of Tymony, a bubble outside time. Emery’s slowly driving herself crazy with boredom, to the point where she’s almost relieved when Sera Strong blows into town and proposes a project to save the future of humanity – again.

With a star cast of Ellison Blackburn’s incredibly well-written, deep characters, Being Human is the third in the trilogy, tracing the history immediately after the start of the Progeny Project. While the underlying fascination of the plot is time, mortality, paradox, and sexual fidelity, the story frames it in a rich tapestry of events and realistic characters, sliding the serious concepts in via sleight of hand amid the emotional drama between the characters.