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Mark Chitty (North Wales)

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The Dinosaur Four
The Dinosaur Four
Price: £3.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars CretACEous Goodiness, 14 Jan. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Dinosaur Four (Kindle Edition)
The Dinosaur Four by Geoff Jones starts as innocuously as possible in a coffee shop during morning trade. When a loud ticking sound starts up, followed by the chunk of building housing the café being transported 67 million years into the past, those unfortunate enough to be within face what few could even imagine: survival during the time of the dinosaurs.

What we have here is a novel that combines action, intrigue, and the examination of the human psyche, all tied up in what could easily be a B-movie special. There are obvious comparisons to films like Jurassic Park, but Jones manages to avoid turning The Dinosaur Four into a rehash of these, putting a unique spin on the premise. While the how’s and why’s aren’t given any real detail, what there is more than works within the confines of the story.

While not everyone makes it once the coffee shop is back in the cretaceous period, those that are still around provide plenty of entertainment, and also a good look at human nature when people are thrown into such a stressful situation. Jones manages to keep you guessing as to who will or will not survive the page count, as well as ending the story in a rather unexpected fashion. Recommended.

Predator - Incursion: The Rage War 1
Predator - Incursion: The Rage War 1
by Tim Lebbon
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £5.66

3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting, if not-quite-right, Alien/Predator novel, 11 Jan. 2016
Predator: Incursion (Rage War #1) is the latest novel written by Tim Lebbon and released by Titan Books. Covering one of my favourite franchises – Aliens/Predator – I knew that I was going to read it, especially after last year’s trilogy of Alien novels, Out of the Dark, Sea of Sorrows, and River of Pain, were entertaining despite the issues I had with them. With this being the first Predator novel since South China Sea back in 2008 I was very eager to jump into see what exactly Lebbon could bring to the table. The results, however, are very much a mixed bag…

From the publisher:
The first in an epic trilogy crossing between Predator, Alien, and AVP!
When huge Predator spacecraft begin entering human space in alarming numbers, the Colonial Marines assume an invasion and launch a full military response. Then they learn that the Predators are fleeing an invading force–an army of Xenomorphs! Someone has learned how to weaponize the Aliens, and their trajectory through Predator space has placed them on a path to Earth.
Beginning an epic three-book space war that will include: Predator: Incursion; Alien: Invasion; Alien vs. Predator: Armageddon.

The publisher’s synopsis does give a fair amount of the story away, particularly as most of it is learnt in the latter half of the novel. However, seen from a marketing perspective for the whole trilogy it’s easy to see why they have gone with this – touting it as a cross-franchise trilogy will certainly make for more interest. Putting that to one side and focusing on the story itself, we actually have a very interesting situation that Lebbon can explore.

Set in the 27th century, humanity has expanded out into the galaxy, colonising many worlds within their sphere of influence. In doing so they have encountered the Yautja – the Predators of the title – and fight a constant war as they attempt to stop the Yautja hunting parties that stalk vulnerable human settlements and ships. There is also a faction of humanity – the Founders – who have left human colonised space to do what they wish, unrestricted by laws. After a change in leadership, they become known as the Rage, and decide that all other aspects of humanity must be wiped out. It is from here that the story moves forward, with the Rage returning, a Yautja incursion into human space, and the revelation that xenomorphs are being employed in the fight.

Firstly, it’s very easy to get drawn into the story here. Lebbon has a distinct skill at describing the setting, building the tension, and dishing out the relevant information without slowing down the story. The marine squad known as the VoidLarks are entertaining and have a unique chemistry that is delivered and developed well, while other characters, such is the android Liliya and the Yautja-obsessed Isa Palant, bring plenty to the story in different ways. It makes the pages turn quickly while adding an emotional element to the novel.

However, the Yautja do not get the page time I would have expected. While they are at the fore of the story from page one, it is from a human point of view rather than their own. It does work to keep some mystery to them but, being honest, there is little mystery left after numerous films, novels, and comics. Having a thread from their point of view from early on would have benefitted the novel greatly.

The other issue I had was that the setting and date – multiple locations in space in the 27th century – about as far as you can get from the beginnings of the Predator. It’s not like this is completely new, but it does show that the fear and presence they have to a relatively low technology culture doesn’t translate well to being on a fairly even keel (despite many references to them deliberately keeping their technology at a reasonably matched level).

I find myself looking at Predator: Incursion much as I did the Alien trilogy from last year. It’s very well written with some interesting characters; it’s entertaining and raises questions about both Yautja, Alien, and Human alike; and the story and events at its centre really do make for compulsive reading. However, it just doesn’t feel quite right. If you took both of the headline creatures out of the question, this could make a massively interesting science fiction story, but unfortunately their inclusion detracts from the final product rather than enhancing it. I’m hoping that the promise shown here carries through to the next novel in the trilogy, Alien: Invasion, because I’d certainly love to see a successful series featuring these two iconic creatures.

Time Salvager
Time Salvager
by Wesley Chu
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and entertaining, but not perfect, 24 Nov. 2015
This review is from: Time Salvager (Paperback)
If, like me, you came to Wesley Chu’s writing through his excellent Tao novels (Lives of Tao, Deaths of Tao, Rebirths of Tao), then you know that he is an author that can not only tell a good story, but one that is intricately plotted and filled with interesting characters. When Time Salvager was announced I was excited to see Chu expand into a new setting and was left wondering what type of story he would deliver. I have to be honest, time travel is not my favourite of topics, and I find that more often than not stories can either corner themselves with too much internal logic, or simply fail to use the idea to its full advantage. Perhaps this is why it’s taken me some extra months before finally sitting down to read Time Salvager, and disappointed I was not.

In the future, Earth is nothing but a toxic planet following the worldwide spread of a bacterium in the 22nd century, with humans now living throughout the solar system. It is with time travel that the current human civilisation remains alive – the chronmen travel back to periods in history to gather supplies needed for the here and now. With corporations often making requests for salvage from the past, and energy a much-needed source, there is plenty for the dwindling ranks of chronmen to do. James Griffin-Mars is one such chronman, sent repeatedly to events in the past to harvest and return items that are deemed priorities for humanity to continue to survive. But he is jaded, and seemingly coming to the end of what is often a short life for chronmen. On a mission to a critical point in history, a mission that promises retirement for both him and his handler of its successful completion, James breaks the first time law – not to bring anybody back to his present. It is the choice to save Elise Kim that leads to a chain of events that could bring the salvation of Earth, if only they can stay alive long enough…

I mentioned earlier that I am not usually a fan of time travel, but I did enjoy the way Chu built a system within the pages of this story that allows for a larger degree of freedom than I normally expect. With the time laws in place, chronmen travel to points in the past where any action they take will have minimum effects, if any at all. They do this through pillaging, stealing, and salvaging items when they won’t be missed – just before disasters, crashes, and unexplained losses that they can confirm from history. It means that there are no changes to history, though the times when things don’t go quite as planned usually work themselves out with months or years, leaving the future timeline as it was. It’s an interesting concept that works well, but it begs the question – what happens when massive things are changed in the past? It’s one that may very well be answered in future novels, though there are very strong hints here to suggest it has already happened.

The concept of time travel also allows a great freedom in how Chu can tell this story, and where in the past he will visit in doing so. There are the obvious historical eras that are referred to and visited (World War II, for example), but much of the time travel is still based in what could be our future. Elise is from the 22nd century when we meet her as part of James mission, while he (and his handler) also refer quite heavily to other events that have yet to happen: World War III and the AI War, as well as societies that emerge during and after these periods. It’s interesting, though mainly there to forward specifics of the story rather than explore the concept in greater detail. This is due to James’ status as a fugitive for the majority of the novel, and it’s only early on where Chu seems to flex his brain muscles outside the confines of a linear timeline, which is quite ironic given the basis of Time Salvager.

As one of our protagonists, James is not a very likable person. As a revered chronman in an era where they can basically get away with anything they want, he’s not the worst, but it’s a dominant part of his personality. Elise, on the other hand, is more interesting, certainly early on as we first meet her. When she is thrown into the future, things get a little more complex, with a combination of James’ quirks and expectations added to her naturally inquisitive nature making for some scenes that didn’t entirely work. Still, it’s their relationship as the story progresses that ties a lot of what we read together, and leads to revelations that, while not surprising, still have that emotional and narrative impact.

The setting is also grim in the future. With a ruined Earth and struggling colonies throughout the solar system, Chu paints a bleak picture – we always feel like it could turn bad at any given moment, with humanity hanging on by a thread. However, there are also the corporations, entities that are seemingly immune to the hardships suffered by the majority, and able to make demands as they see fit. Europa is often referred to as heaven – a colony where you can have anything and everything you want, but one where only the privileged can live. While much of this difference is hinted at throughout the novel, not enough is discussed to allow us to fully understand the situation. This is definitely something I’d like to see more of in the sequel.

Wesley Chu has written an interesting and entertaining novel here. It’s not perfect, but the pace of the narrative allows you to overlook many of the minor problems. With good guys that aren’t exactly good, and bad guys that range from evil corporate monsters to those with solid morals who are only trying to do what they believe is right, Time Salvager is a novel of grey areas that never entirely convinces me that the course of action taken is always the best. Despite that, the prose easy to read, the ride exhilarating and entertaining, and the story one I certainly want to follow further. Recommended.

The Apocalypse Ocean
The Apocalypse Ocean
Price: £2.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A great continuation of the Xenowealth, 24 Nov. 2015
The Apocalypse Ocean is the fourth novel in Tobias Buckell’s highly entertaining Xenowealth series, following on from Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, and Sly Mongoose. However, the path to the release of this novel wasn’t a smooth one: after three novels that allowed the story to grow and expand, Buckell and his publisher, Tor, decided not to go with a fourth novel and instead a change of direction was called for (which led to Arctic Rising and its sequel, Hurricane Fever). When I first heard of this it was met with sadness that I wouldn’t – at least in the foreseeable future – see further tales of the Xenowealth and its inhabitants. Fortunately I wasn’t the only one amongst Buckell’s fans to feel this way, and he went ahead and successfully Kickstarted the writing and publication of The Apocalypse Ocean. Released in 2012 as both a limited edition hardback and a widely available ebook, The Apocalypse Ocean shows that just because a novel isn’t traditionally published it’s not the end of the road. However, the question of whether it was worth all the effort can’t be ignored, though I suspect that’s more a question for Buckell than his fans – I for one think it certainly was.

Taking place on the island of Placa del Fuego on the planet of Octavia, we follow two of its native inhabitants: Kay, a young crime-lord who is something more than simply human; and Tiago, a pickpocket and thief in the (somewhat forced) employ of Kay’s organisation. With the island in a technological dead zone, the residents make do with what they can, though the recent terrorising by a creature known as the Doaq has them locking their doors each night to stay safe. When Nashara arrives looking for Pepper, a chain of events is set into motion, and the realisation that there is much more at stake here than anyone could possibly guess.

As well as the rather imposing figure of Kay, and the timid-yet-determined Tiago, we have returning favourites Nashara and Pepper. Anyone who has read the other books will know just what to expect when these two show up on the page. Not one to disappoint, Pepper shows up early, falling into a lure by Kay which pits him against the Doaq, a situation that itself is all kinds of entertaining, but one that leads to his disappearance for much of the novel. Nashara shows up to track Pepper down, and her dealings with Kay and Tiago are both filled with tension and strangely intimate, giving the reader some genuine emotion that begs further exploration. Buckell’s characters are enjoyable for their diversity and difference, and all make for interesting reading.

apocalypse-ocean-ebookThe story itself is somewhat of a stranger one, with the focus being on the small island and the intrusion of the Doaq and its reign of terror on the community. It’s this that leads to deeper and further reaching questions and answers as the plot progresses, with the wider picture from earlier novels coming into play towards the end. The Apocalypse Ocean doesn’t end there though, and Buckell manages to raise more questions that beg for answers, and gives a hint of where the story will progress in the as yet unwritten final novel, Desolation’s Gap.

Ultimately, Tobias Buckell’s writing is entertaining, engrossing, interesting, and intriguing. The pages turn at a rapid pace, and the novel is over way too soon, which, for me at least, is a shame – I could easily lose myself in the Xenowealth if given more material. Much like the previous novels in this setting, it is quite easy to pick up The Apocalypse Ocean and read it without having read the other books. Of course, I wouldn’t advise that in the slightest, and highly recommend you start at the beginning with Crystal Rain.

Having just finished a read-through of all four Xenowealth novels I can recommend them in a heartbeat. This is science fiction at its most enjoyable, offering plenty to marvel at, while still giving food for thought. Personally I hope Buckell returns to this universe in the near future to complete the tale, and whether it be by Kickstarter or some other route, I’ll support him every step of the way.

Working for Bigfoot
Working for Bigfoot
Offered by Audible Ltd

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More great stories from Dresden's past, 24 Nov. 2015
I’m a big Dresden Files fan, though I won’t talk about just how much here, so when I saw that a new short collection was being released I couldn’t wait to read it. Working for Bigfoot tells the tales of the cases Harry worked on for a member of the Forest People supernatural race that populates his Dresdenverse. What made this even more interesting for me was that these cases were referenced during Skin Game, much to the displeasure of the Genoskwa present in that story:

“I am not one of the whimpering Forest People. Speak of me and that flower-chewing groundhog lover River Shoulders in the same breath again, and I will devour your offal while you watch.”

Pleasant guy. So, with that in mind I began on Working with Bigfoot not entirely sure what to expect, yet knowing full well that an entertaining time was ahead…

B is for Bigfoot is the first story, and it introduces us to River Shoulders, the Bigfoot of the title, as well as his half-human son, Irwin, who turns out to be the focus of these stories. Here Irwin is in school and the recipient of bullying from fellow schoolmates who aren’t entirely what they seem. We follow this with I Was a Teenage Bigfoot, re-joining Irwin some years later while he’s at high school, but suffering from an illness that simply shouldn’t be possible for the son of River Shoulders. In our final meeting with Irwin during Bigfoot on Campus he is, unsurprisingly, at college, and in love with a girl whose family secret is not only dangerous, but life-threatening.

The events of the stories in Working for Bigfoot follow the same supporting characters over a period of time. Due to this they fit in to different points of the series: B is for Bigfoot takes place between the second and third novels (Fool Moon and Grave Peril); I Was a Teenage Bigfoot takes place around the same time as the seventh novel (Dead Beat); Bigfoot on Campus takes place after the eleventh novel (Turn Coat). Those familiar to the Dresden Files will see this through some aspects of the stories, while anyone new to the series (or only partway through) will have no trouble picking them up for a quick read. There are very few spoilers for later novels present, with only Bigfoot on Campus giving some details on recent events, and as such this makes the collection a very good taster of Harry Dresden.

One of the things I realised the most while reading these three short stories was the format of them, and just how much the Dresden Files have evolved over the course of the fifteen books to date. Here we have three cases that Harry works on as a private investigator, with little of the bigger picture coming into play at all. It’s a refreshing change, especially given events over the past few novels, and because of this they’re simply a joy to read. It’s easy to come along, dip into the collection story at a time (or devour it in one sitting!), and go away happy.

Highly recommended.

The Oncoming Storm (Angel in the Whirlwind Book 1)
The Oncoming Storm (Angel in the Whirlwind Book 1)
Price: £3.98

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A gripping and action-packed novel, 24 Nov. 2015
The Oncoming Storm by Christopher Nuttall is the first book in his new Angel in the Whirlwind series. A well-known self-published author of many books, this is his first step into traditional publishing through Amazon’s 47North imprint. While I’ve not had the pleasure of picking up any of Nuttall’s previous novels, The Oncoming Storm certainly makes him an author that I plan to revisit.

Set in the 25th century, humanity has expanded into the galaxy and there are two main powers at play: the Commonwealth and the Theocracy. While the Commonwealth expands through diplomacy and trade, the Theocracy is a strict dictatorship, with little other than rumours known about them outside their space. In the middle of this brewing conflict lays Cadiz, a world recently brought into the Commonwealth fold against its wishes, though the Commonwealth insists it is for their own good in defence against the Theocracy. Prematurely promoted due to her father’s influence within the Commonwealth government, Katherine ‘Kat’ Falcone finds herself stationed at Cadiz in command of the newest starship in the Navy, and what she finds there is beyond her father’s worst fears. Faced with an unprepared fleet, an incompetent system commander, and an impending war, Kat has a struggle in front of her if the Commonwealth is to prevail.

Reminiscent of David Weber’s Honorverse novels, The Oncoming Storm is a fast-paced and entertaining novel combining military, political, and religious overtones that make for compulsive reading. Nuttall’s prose is simple, yet provides great detail in setting the scene and building the history of humanities expansion. While the Commonwealth contains a variety of characters, those in the theocracy display a much more simple bad-guy persona – fitting for the story, but unable to provide many grey areas. However, in Falcone there is a strong character that has to work past the preconceptions of many, including her own officers, in order to work through the issues that encounter the crew of the Lightning at every turn.

The Oncoming Storm is a quick read that delivers not only an interesting and system-spanning story, but also presents the military aspects in a believable way. With many layers adding to build the whole, this is a series that I will be following closely. Recommended.

Battlemage: Age of Darkness, Book 1 (The Age of Darkness)
Battlemage: Age of Darkness, Book 1 (The Age of Darkness)
by Stephen Aryan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A quick read with plenty to enjoy, 24 Nov. 2015
Battlemage (Age of Darkness #1) is Stephen Aryan’s debut novel, released by Orbit in the UK this September. Battlemage is not a book I would typically go for – not only is it fantasy, but it has elements of many of its subgenres that I don’t usually consider my cup of tea. However, I’ve been looking forward to reading Steve’s debut for a fair old while – we reviewed together at Walker of Worlds back in 2011, and it’s through his recommendation and gentle pushing that I got hooked on the Dresden Files. He’s also the co-host of the Comic Book Outsiders and Bags of Action podcasts. While it was because of my friendship with Steve that I picked up Battlemage, it was because of what I found within the pages that I kept on reading…

With the army of the apparently immortal, and ever-so-slightly-mad, Emperor Taikon invading the lands of Seveldrom, the King sends out a call to arms, and the battlemages answer. With a warlock and his splinters behind the Zecorrian army, the battlemages are a much-needed source of power to fight against them, and it’s through Balfruss’s eyes that we follow their plight. But the magical fight is not all that must be dealt with, and Vargus leads the common soldiers on the battlefield, forming a brotherhood with them to strengthen their bonds, and their resolve. Meanwhile Talandra, princess and spymaster, must deal with differing elements that are coming together to cause trouble for both her home and that of her enemy. It is through her network that unrest is sown where possible against Emperor Taikon, and by her hand and that of her trusted spies.

To start with let me say that Battlemage is a very quick read. Not only are the characters and story interesting, but Stephen Aryan manages to tell the story fluidly and without preamble. It’s easy to get caught up in the narrative, and the switching between the three main protagonists does little to slow the story – if anything it ensures that you keep on reading to find out what is happening to them when they are off-page. The structure is sound, while the action, intrigue, and entertainment really makes this a debut that shows great promise for the future.

The story itself is, perhaps, a familiar one. Invading armies, magical abilities, down and dirty front-line fighting, political intrigue, and espionage. It’s a combination that works well together, but the final product has a somewhat familiar feel – even to me, a relatively irregular fantasy reader. However, it’s because of this familiar feel that Battlemage is so enjoyable. You know that the genre tropes have been used time and again, yet it doesn’t stop you turning the pages for the next magical or brutal battle to come around, and to see what Steve has up his sleeve next.

The characters through whose eyes we follow the unwinding story are all interesting. Balfruss, the battlemage, is your magical warrior. He’s strong and committed to the cause, yet hesitant to accept the power and role he must step into. The descriptions of the magic system that we get are from his point of view, while we learn more and more as events unfold. One of the first fights he is a part of, against the splinters, is a great introduction and really sets the scene and expectations for following battles. With Vargus we have the typical and familiar fighter, but there is much more to him than initial impressions portray. I won’t go into detail to avoid spoilers, but his narrative arc is one of the most interesting in the novel, and one I’m very much looking forward to reading more about in the rest of the trilogy. Rounding out our main characters is Talandra, princess of Seveldrom and master spy for the kingdom. She’s a strong and fierce woman, skilled at many aspects of her trade, yet there are personal relationships and issues that she must deal with as events force her into a different situation. It’s her story that has the most political, wide-reaching effects, and it’s handled very well, keeping the tension high, and actions exact.

While the story and characters are both interesting, it’s the world in which Battlemage is set that I really enjoyed reading about. While we are dropped into this fully formed world and learn little things about it in the early chapters, it’s as the story progresses that other aspects become apparent, and many questions raised. This was, perhaps, the most frustrating thing about Battlemage for me – I wanted to learn more and more about the history of the world, the races that inhabit it, and how everything has changed throughout the ages. But Steve peppers the narrative with titbits, not quite giving full explanations, but presenting enough to make me want to read the next novel to find out more.

Battlemage is the type of epic fantasy novel that is easy to be drawn in to. It has a depth that belies its quick and punchy prose, and delivers action, adventure, and entertainment on many different levels. I am very much looking forward to the next novel in the Age of Darkness trilogy. Recommended.

Master of Formalities
Master of Formalities
by Scott Meyer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Light and entertaining, 24 Nov. 2015
This review is from: Master of Formalities (Paperback)
Master of Formalities by Scott Meyer is his first novel after his wonderfully geeky Magic 2.0 series (Off to be the Wizard, Spell or High Water, An Unwelcome Quest). I loved those novels, and they catapulted Scott Meyer into the realm of authors I will read on publication regardless of the novel they release. Master of Formalities takes us to the future and out into the galaxy, but the story within these pages is far from alien – it’s about as human as you can get. Add into this Meyer’s typical humourous writing style and it’s pretty easy to get drawn in and swept along for the ride.

There is plenty going on in Master of Formalities despite it being set almost entirely on Apios. We follow House Jakabitus and its staff as they deal with the arrival of the heir to the Hahn Empire, a people that they have been at war with for countless years with no end in sight. However, the situation may now change with Master Hennik there, and it’s down to those running the household to do what they can to accommodate him. With centuries of traditions and many requirements, the staff of House Jakabitus have their hands full, and Wollard, their Master of Formalities, is the one in charge of them all, ensuring that etiquette is adhered to at all times.

Despite the fact that I really enjoyed Master of Formalities, there’s not much I really have to say about it. It’s funny and entertaining, but you often need to turn off your brain and simply enjoy what is presented for the fictitious story that it is. For example, the main (and only) sport on Apios is simply called ‘Sports’, and involves slapping, pushing, and de-panting. It’s not exactly sophisticated, but does make for some good jokes and plenty of fun, which is, ultimately, what Master of Formalities is about.

There is also the fact that despite this being set centuries in the future, it often doesn’t feel that way. The technology you’d expect present is most often used as a backdrop (and source of some jokes) rather than contributing to the story in any meaningful way. Despite this I couldn’t help but find the society and setting that Meyer presents interesting, even if it isn’t explored that deeply. Think Downton Abbey of the future, with the humour you could expect to see in Red Dwarf, and you wouldn’t be far wrong.

So, if you want to read something light and entertaining, you could do worse than checking out Master of Formalities. It’s not up to the same standard as Meyer’s Magic 2.0 series, but then that was always going to be tough to match. Still, recommended.

Hive Monkey (Ack-Ack Macaque)
Hive Monkey (Ack-Ack Macaque)
by Gareth L. Powell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Damned readable, and thoroughly enjoyable, 5 Feb. 2015
Hive Monkey is the second novel in Gareth L Powell’s Ack-Ack Macaque series, a series I was eager to read more of after the impressive – and BSFA award winning – first novel, Ack-Ack Macaque. When I read the first novel last year I was surprised at what I found. Rather than a light-hearted steampunk romp I found an intricate and absorbing sci-fi story with a unique and rather enjoyable anti-hero. There was also much more to the novel than I initially thought, so wondering where Powell would take things with Hive Monkey was high on my list of priorities. And let me say this: I wasn’t left disappointed.

From the publisher:
In order to hide from his unwanted fame as the spitfire-pilot-monkey who emerged from a computer game to defeat the nefarious corporation that engineered him, the charismatic and dangerous Ack-Ack Macaque is working as a pilot on a world-circling nuclear-powered Zeppelin.
But when the cabin of one of his passengers is invaded by the passenger’s own dying doppelganger, our hirsute hero finds himself thrust into another race to save the world – this time from an aggressive hive mind, time-hopping saboteurs, and an army of homicidal Neanderthal assassins!

Now famous all over the world, Ack-Ack Macaque is piloting the airship Tereshkova for its owner and his friend, Victoria Valois. Among others on the ship are K8, a teenage hacker that Ack-Ack has grown close to, and Victoria’s holographic husband, Paul, who has moved past the constraints of his soul catcher to inhabit the ship’s computers. When popular SF writer William Cole escapes an attempt on his life and ends up on the Tereshkova, Ack-Ack, K8, Victoria, and Paul are drawn into a mysterious web of lies and intrigue when Cole’s double from a parallel universe turns up dead on the ship. Add to this the hive-mind cult, the Gestalt, are growing in power and size, and appear more involved in events the deeper Ack-Ack and the crew look.

Now that we’ve got that little bit out of the way I’m not going to talk too much about the plot again. Why, you ask? Simply because it’s one that I think you need to experience yourself, as fresh as possible. What Hive Monkey does is keep things going after the end of Ack-Ack Macaque, adding much that can be appreciated, but also doing so in a fun and informal manner.

The characters are much the same as in the first novel, so having them back is a welcome sight. However, events from the first novel have had an effect and Powell develops them nicely along the way. Ack-Ack is a particularly interesting character once again. Yes, he’s a violent, foul mouthed, and gun-toting monkey, but he’s got some deeper issues that start to come through as events in the novel unfold. The same can be said for all our main protagonists, with Victoria, K8, and Paul showing very real and emotional developments. Cole meanwhile, the new addition to the main cast, has all sorts of issues that the appearance of his doppelganger only exacerbates, as does the discovery of multiple universes.

While I won’t talk about the plot, I can say that things move along quickly, much like its predecessor. It throws some surprises in along the way, but nothing that doesn’t fit the setting and structure that Powell has created. In short, it’s damned readable, and thoroughly enjoyable.

Gareth L Powell has managed once again to deliver a novel that blows expectations out of the water. Hive Monkey is not only an enjoyable novel, it’s one that introduces new elements and opens up the setting for some very interesting future stories. Highly recommended.

A Call to Duty (Manticore Ascendant)
A Call to Duty (Manticore Ascendant)
by David Weber
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An easy and enjoyable read, 5 Feb. 2015
A Call to Duty (Manticore Ascendant #1) by David Weber & Timothy Zahn is a new book in a new series set in Weber’s expansive Honorverse. Many people will know this setting from the Honor Harrington novels, starting with On Basilisk Station, of which there are now over twenty from differing series. I’ve read the first ten of these, up to War of Honor, but left it there when it all seemed to get a bit, well, confusing. I enjoyed them, but after War of Honor two new series – Wages of Sin and Saganami – were introduced that added backstory and further detail to the universe. Plus there are all of the short stories that take place in the setting. When these novels are added to all of the short stories that take place in the setting, keeping up started to feel like hard work rather than for enjoyment.

A few years back Weber started a YA prequel series, the Star Kingdom novels, with Jane Lindskold that focused on a teenage Stephanie Harrington, an ancestor of Honor, and looked at the first meeting and bonding between human and treecat. I thoroughly enjoyed these books for what they were and once again felt comfortable stepping into the Honorverse. Now Weber is going even further back to the early days of the Manticore system with A Call to Duty, teaming up with Timothy Zahn to tell a story that is a perfect starting point for readers new to this vast, and frankly daunting, series of books.

Growing up, Travis Uriah Long yearned for order and discipline in his life . . . the two things his neglectful mother couldn’t or wouldn’t provide. So when Travis enlisted in the Royal Manticoran Navy, he thought he’d finally found the structure he’d always wanted so desperately.
But life in the RMN isn’t exactly what he expected. Boot camp is rough and frustrating; his first ship assignment lax and disorderly; and with the Star Kingdom of Manticore still recovering from a devastating plague, the Navy is possibly on the edge of extinction.
The Star Kingdom is a minor nation among the worlds of the Diaspora, its closest neighbors weeks or months away, with little in the way of resources. With only modest interstellar trade, no foreign contacts to speak of, a plague-ravaged economy to rebuild, and no enemies looming at the hyper limit, there are factions in Parliament who want nothing more than to scrap the Navy and shift its resources and manpower elsewhere.
But those factions are mistaken. The universe is not a safe place.
Travis Long is about to find that out.

Travis is one of our main protagonists in A Call to Duty. He’s got no personal aim, but thrives for discipline and order, which leads him to join up with the Royal Manticoran Navy. Eager to get away from his life and start afresh he opts to go the quicker route rather than officer academy, and from there he puts his skills and out-of-the-box thinking to good use. But he’s a stickler for rules and procedure, causing issues while in training for his superiors. Once he’s assigned things don’t go much better, but his determination proves to be is saving grace, coming to the attention of officers he works with for and being promoted to bigger and better places, not that he’s aware of everything going on above his head. He’s an interesting character, and a good point of view early on in the book, especially as a low-level tech within the Navy.

Other points of view range from those involving his brother, a low level Lord with the Manticoran parliament, to higher ranking military officers, all of which bring something different to the table. With a diverse cast of characters it’s easy to get drawn into the story of military and political intrigue, but without the feeling of being lost.

The story itself is a combination of different aspects, the aforementioned military and political. It’s easy to follow Travis’ role in the larger story, especially with plenty of political discussions and decisions layered throughout the narrative. Ultimately the story rushes along at a fair pace, but it doesn’t feel as urgent or involved as Weber’s previous Honor novels. It sets up this series well and ends on a note that anyone familiar with the Honorverse will know well, and promises that future instalments could be both bigger and better than this first novel.

Having the story set so early in the history of Manticore is a definite plus for A Call to Duty. Those not familiar with any of the Honorverse novels won’t feel lost, while there are plenty of small titbits for long time readers of the setting. Perhaps my main gripe here is the unevenness present within the story. Sometimes we get plenty of detail about events and the time that passes, while at other times many things are glossed over in order to forward the story. This difference in styles is a little frustrating, but ultimately not enough to curb enjoyment.

A Call to Duty is recommended if you’d like a decent start to a military sci-fi series, and can easily be read without any prior knowledge of the setting – a big plus when it extends to so many novels!

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