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Barricade (Kenstibec Book 1)
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 7 April 2014
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
There is nothing very new in speculative fiction, all the way back to Asimov's Laws of Robotics and many times since then, in the thought that if you once make machines that are like humans but faster, smarter, stronger and not subject to various human inconveniences and weaknesses, before long not only will mere humans not like them much, in our usual xenophobic,biogoted way, but the machines will very quickly start to wonder why they should let us clutter up the planet and continue to screw things up, as we are so manifestly good at doing .

So rather than start there, this author just jumps straight in, takes all the above as read and wastes no time getting on with it. We pitch right in to a post apocalyptic Edinburgh, under a nuclear winter sky, populated by artificial people (engineered humans of Ficials), set in a devastated landscape and besieged by the diseased remnants of humanity. As he sets off with a 'pleasure model'-turned-TV-presenter to reach what is left of the similarly enclaved London, in a reinforced and armoured Landrover, a parallel retrospective narrative tells us more about how our protagonist Kenstibec, and the rest of the world reached this gloomy point.

Post Terminator, A.I., Bladerunner and Battlestar Galactica, all of which have explored the ethics of artificial intelligence and the potential differences and similarities between what we call human, and what is perhaps just sentience and intelligence, I found a lot to like about this novel. The current view of psychology is that a lot of what we all perceive as normal is merely cultural in origin, not hardwired in, and his attempt to portray the mindset of his engineered Ficials, lacking in affect and perhaps some emotions, and with few social conventions is quite convincing, if perhaps reminiscent of Asperger's syndrome. But then again, why wouldn't such minds resemble humans with an autism spectrum disorder?

The relentless bleakness of the setting is relieved by considerable sprinklings of black humour, both from our protagonist and other characters, both human or Real, and engineered or Ficial. I also liked the exploration of issues of communication: even after the downfall of civilization we are still fed nonsense by the media, and everyone still worries about the American far right religious faction the residual U.S nuclear arsenal. And as someone who lives in this part of the country, I particularly enjoyed the battle around a strongpoint and bunker at Southwaite motorway services near Carlisle. The coffee shop on the southbound will never look quite the same...

There is a lot crammed into this admirably succinct and rapidly plotted novel, which doesn't shrink from asking some very hard questions of the reader and his main characters, including 'If you were created and optimized to do things for humans, when they are all gone, what is the point of you ?'
It stands alone as a complete work, in terms of plotting, but I kinda wish there was more
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 11 April 2014
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This novel is set in a post-apocalyptic Britain, where Reals (humans suffering from various diseases and radiation poisoning) are pitted against Ficials (artificial intelligences, fast healing and without emotions who are set on culling all the remaining Reals). The protagonist who tells the story in alternate chapters set in present and past, is a Ficial, Kenstibec, who drives a taxi through a war torn land to take a female journalist from Edinburgh to London.
This is a book with much brutality and black humour, as Kenstibec fights his way south, picking up a Real, Fatty, on the way through murderous motorway services to York where his precious Landrover sinks into the mud and to get to London requires an old, shot up airplane.
We go head on into a post-apocalyptic world, which, in view of all the dystopian literature out there is recognisable but at the same time tells its own story tightly and well. The narrator, Kenstibec, and the female Ficial, Starvie, being unemotional for most of the book did not really engage my sympathies but the Real, Fatty, becomes endearing in spite of his repulsive appearance. The character, or lack of it, in the narrator stopped me from awarding this book five stars but the story really takes off in the latter stages and becomes a very exciting read. Not for the faint-hearted, maybe; the violence is very strongly depicted, but it goes with the plot.
This does appear to be a stand alone novel and is none the worse for that.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
What happens if you create the perfect android? What if that android does not adhere to Asimovs 3 Laws of Robotics? Then in the mould og HAL in A Space Oddysey it becomes a machine that does what it thinks is right. In this case the world, and the UK in particular, would be better off without human interference. Journeying from Edinburgh to Croydon, yes Croydon, our 'hero' is an android, or 'ficial, trying to get a former Fembot to Control, the equivalent of Cyberdine Systems Skynet. Through the wasteland that was created when the the androids rebelled it is nightmare journey of mutated humans and zealous androids. Jon Wallace tries and succeeds to show what intelligence without emotion creates. Even at the end, and through flashback, the story isn't over. Just gripping.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
You just can’t beat an antihero can you? They’re just so much more interesting than your heroic sorts. It’s difficult not to get caught up with their roguish charms – flawed, self-centred and more often than not, utter scumbags to boot. The main character in this novel certainly falls into more than one of those categories, on more than one occasion. I certainly expect that Kenstibec is going to prompt debate, readers will either love him or loathe him. He’s likely to be a divisive protagonist for many, and he’ll split opinion right down the middle. To some this artificial antihero will be a complete anathema, nothing but a soulless killing machine, while others will find his sardonic attitude a joy. Personally, I fall into the latter group. I’ll admit I wasn’t sure to begin with, but I warmed to Kenstibec the further I read. It helps that Wallace injects some drier than dry comic moments into Kenstibec’s travels, and these little gems help to subtly humanise the inhuman.

The other characters in Barricade are just as intriguing.

There is a poor Real, the Ficials name for humans, who is only ever referred to as Fatty. Wallace uses (and abuses) him as the emotional heart of the novel. Fatty has the misfortune of falling in with Kenstibec, and I think it’s fair to say he gets dragged through both the physical and psychological ringer. As Kenstibec and the other Ficials are lacking when it comes to emotion, it’s genuinely refreshing to find a character that’s the polar opposite. Fatty’s ranting and raving, moans and tirades, help to illustrate just how alien and different from humanity the Ficials are. They may look like picture perfect versions of us, but rest assured they’re not. Fatty is also suffering from a rather unfortunate disease so the prospect of an imminent painful death is really dampening his mood.

The final member of this dysfunctional little trifecta is a Ficial called Starvie. Prior to uprising she was optimised as a pleasure worker and now works as a report in the Edinburgh barricade. For me, Starvie was the only real mis-step in the entire cast. It’s a minor thing, but I think I was expecting something else for her journey. It’s a shame, but she just came across as a little under developed for my taste.

Scattered throughout the narrative there are a handful of chapters detailing the last days before the apocalypse, when Kenstibec was just a number and worked a lowly construction job. These really help to offer the reader valuable insight into how the Ficials were treated historically, and gives a good frame of references to their motivations and actions.

Where the writing really excels is in depicting the remnants of society in this brutal, hellish vision of future Britain. The two groups, Ficial and Real, couldn’t be more different from one another. What’s left of humanity are barely surviving. Their environment has been utterly trashed and any number of horrible diseases and infections run rampant through the survivors. Along with that violence and death are the order of the day. Things are positively Darwinian and its survival of the fittest all the way.

There is little denying that Barricade is a pretty hardcore experience, it’s definitely not for those faint of heart. This is stark uncompromising science fiction that grabs you firmly by the throat and refuses to let go. More often than not events spiral towards the dark, or at least the darkly comic, and everything has a delightfully grimy feel. Works for me, I’m not looking for a sanitised, clinical apocalypse. I want a writer to bring the world to an end with a BANG not a whimper. The writing needs to revel in the anarchy and chaos, unleash a bit of mayhem. I’m glad to say Barricade manages to do exactly that. This is a book that’s bound to appeal to those readers that enjoy their fiction with a raw edge. As far as debut novels go this has just about everything you could want. I’ll be actively keeping an eye out for more from Jon Wallace in the future.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 11 April 2014
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
...but went a bit too far. The basis of these sf type stories, imho, is that after the "willing suspension of disbelief" premise, then the rest is logical.
OK, so post calamity Britain, OK there are androids and humans left fighting each other.
Right, now the action-but chummy can't be a taxi driver, because he is only going to do one trip the way he drives. And hot cars available as well post apocalypse. And the populace are reduced to eating rats, but there is still lots of petrol and infinite ammunition.
And Ms chummy is the sexiest pleasure bot on the planet, but doesn't actually have sex. And he is a construction android who doesn't kill and has no emotion, but actually kills and doesn't construct and acts like the archetypal moral "down these mean streets walks a man who is not mean" US tough guy. So the story kept jarring. Maybe he should have been a renegade Priest-bot?
Good, but a little more internal logic and this could have been great.
Great action, involving, deeper than other similar stories (as the preface says) and a blinding ending-should have been a film.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 17 April 2014
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This novel was a revelation. I can't wait for the next in the series, and trust there will be yet more after that! I was well and truly hooked. The anti-hero is just so cool. Wallace has a muscular yet nuanced style which helps the story gallop along. It's witty, sarcastic, bitter, realistic, mocking, all at the same time. Since the hero is a supposedly emotionless cloned 'man', the juxtaposition with his own point of view is very powerful.

There may be a few borrowings here, but the whole is truly fresh and itself. A first-person narrative from a clone is well worth hearing. there is a bit of Desolation Row in here, a bit of The terminator, a bit of manga, a bit of Caprica and Battlestar Galactica - all in a decrepit post-nuclear Britain. The British angle actually makes the novel better, not parochial, in my opinion.

I can see plenty of room for plot development here. Are the clones (called 'ficials' in the story - short for 'Artificial') becoming emotional beings? Can they breed? The humans ('reals') have hit rock bottom. Can they craw back to some kind of culture? The triumph of the human spirit is given a new twist here.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Barricade is an unremarkable post-apocalyptic road movie, heading south from Scotland in an armour-plated Land Rover. The protagonist is a Ficial, Kenstibec, a biological conscious and thinking entity – more like a Replicant from Blade Runner than a C3PO android – who has been optimised for working in construction under human masters in the pre-collapse civilisation. Like all Ficials, he’s not burdened by feelings or irrational desires, and his nanos rapidly repair any damage to his physical structure.

The humans, however, are falling apart at the seams; beset by famine, malnutrition, radiation sickness and interesting new infections. Even so, they’re still resisting the Ficials’ instruction to ‘report for culling.’ A ferocious form of trench warfare between the two sides has developed, with the Ficials maintaining semi-civilisation behind their barricades while the humans revert to savagery in the wilderness. Both sides still watch trashy TV, apparently. There’s a lot here which doesn’t quite add up and stays unresolved throughout.
But Barricade is written in an easily-accessible style and the opening chapters scramble along from one violent encounter to the next, swapping between here-and-now action and flashback sequences which explain how society collapsed. We meet a female pleasure model who instantly converts any human male into a dribbling sex-crazed loon (just a tiny bit unlikely in the circumstance) and a no-hoper human who acts as a guide through the badlands. The unlikely trio travel deep into trouble and – at roughly the halfway point – the purpose of their journey starts to reveal itself.
The result is a reasonably enjoyable romp. There’s heaps of action, plenty of gunplay and physical violence. In fact, it seems absurd how much punishment the humans seems to be able to take and how they kinda line up to be gunned down by the efficient Ficials. But the extended fight sequences become much like the rest of the novel; a dreary trudge through a muddy wasteland. They can’t match the razor-edge tension or black humour of Richard Morgan’s ruthless futuristic killer, Takeshi Kovaks in the Altered Carbon series.
Similarly, I struggled to really engage with Kenstibec, and actively disliked the irritating female Ficial – Paolo Bacigalupi created an infinitely more interesting bio-engineered sex slave in The Windup Girl. Compared to the subtlety and sophistication of the bio-punk dystopias of Bacigalupi, or Ian McDonald’s River of Gods, then Barricade is a blunt instrument indeed. Its social and moral commentary is pretty one-dimensional, so don’t expect the dazzling complexity of character or situation you might find in McDonald’s future India.

Barricade draws to a close with a finale that suggests a follow-up might be possible. Although this was an entertaining read, it neither grabbed me with eye-popping action nor inspired me with its creativity, so I’d give any sequel a miss.
7/10
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A post apocalyptic science fiction novel. Set in Britain at some point in the future, it runs for two hundred and sixty four pages. It's divided into two different types of rather short chapters. It alternates between ones in italics that tell one narrative involving the main character in the present tense. And one type which has titles and is in normal type, and tells things in the past tense. All are narrated by the main character.

It's also complete and self contained, and not seemingly part of any trilogy or series.

It does contain violence and strong language and adult situations, so it's not suitable for younger readers.

The main character is Kenstibec. He's a Ficial. A genetically engineered artificial humanoid life form. Stronger and better than normal humans - now known as 'Reals' - and also very hard to kill.

There are various different types of Ficial. Kenstibec was designed as a construction worker. Some are soldiers or pleasure models. Among others.

In this future world, war has torn things apart. And conflict between reals and Ficials has left the former controlling the countryside, and the latter holding ruined cities. Barricaded into them.

Kenstibec is currently driving a taxi. When his boss gives him the job of getting a lady journalist called Starvie - also a Ficial - from Edinburgh to London, a dangerous journey lies ahead.

That's the narrative in the chapters with the titles in the past tense. The ones in italics take place elsewhen. This approach of jumping between narratives and also throwing the reader right into this strange new world with no exposition and letting you pick things up as you go along means it's one of those books which you might struggle with a little from the off.

But do hang on in there, because as with most books that do that, there comes a point when it all starts to make sense and you feel yourself immersed and thoroughly at home in the setting. It does also come relatively quickly, and at this point you will also realise how the two different narratives go together.

The future Britain of the story is an interesting creation. The prose doesn't go out of it's way to be over descriptive, but from early on in the journey there is a lot going on so it becomes more action oriented and told via dialogue, and all this is pretty readable.

It's also a pretty clever book because it's solidly plot driven, and there are a fair few things and twists awaiting to be discovered. Some of which might surprise you.

Kenstibec is not, because he's a Ficial, a character who displays anything much, if at all, in the way of emotion. So for the bulk of this he's never quite a character who leaps out and grabs your attention. That is the only real complaint about this, and it's a very minor one.

Because also that and the slightly tricky opening do just stop this from being five star material, it's a very very promising debut, and it's really worth a look.
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on 19 June 2014
An absolute revelation! Jon Wallace is a name to watch out for in sci-fi.

Barricade is, for want of a better description, a post-apocalyptic road trip through a battered and divided Britain. Our narrator is a 'Ficial' called Kenstibec, and he takes his passengers (and the reader) on a breakneck journey from Edinburgh to London. All sorts of obstacles get in his way... not least the passengers in his taxi.

Fast-paced and terrifying - and sure, it's violent - but written with a wry humour and a brilliant eye for detail. Barricade is bloody brilliant. If I could give it 6 stars I would. Hurry up with the next one please!
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on 26 July 2015
Very enjoyable mix of Blade Runner, Mad Max, a good Neal Stephenson-novel, the 28 days/weeks-sequence, Driving Miss Daisy and half a dozen more SF 'tropes'. Eager to read the sequel (I only hope the author does not drag this series out too long and thus water it down) .
Highly recommended.
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