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Genius YA sci-fi,
This review is from: 0.4 (Paperback)
Reminiscent of such genre classics as John Christopher's Empty World and John Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos, Brit author Mike Lancaster's debut novel 0.4 is the kind of book you pick up with a feeling of mild intrigue and eventually put down hours later having completely forgotten to eat, sleep or possibly even blink for the entire duration.
0.4 comes to us from a future where humankind no longer reads. An editor's note tells us that what follows is the transcript of a series of cassette tapes recorded by a boy named Kyle Straker during the early part of the 21st century. There's a reason these tapes have been reproduced in book form, and that reason - the editor hopes - will become clear as we read. Kyle Straker had a story to tell, and it began on the day his entire community gathered for their village's annual talent show. One minute Kyle is volunteering to take part in a friend's amateur hypnotist act, and the next he's waking to find that things are... not as they were. Not at all. Along with three other volunteers, he emerges from hypnosis to find all the other villagers frozen as still as statues and all phone lines dead. The world is still - except for the four who were hypnotised. And they have no idea what has happened.
At once eerie and rivteing, 0.4 is the story of this mysterious and inexplicable event as seen through the eyes of teenager Kyle. As far beyond our comprehension as it is Kyle's, it's a situation that leaves reader and protagonist alike struggling to come up with a theory to explain what has happened and why. Seasoned fans of the genre will no doubt be able to come up with a hypothesis or two, but the beauty of 0.4 is that it offers a genuinely 'now' take on some familiar sci-fi territory. There's no way I'm going to risk spoiling this one's secrets, but what I will say is that when it comes, the big reveal is well worth waiting for.
Fast-paced and engrossing, 0.4 combines a heavily plot-driven story with substantial food for thought. While Kyle perhaps isn't the most memorable protagonist you'll encounter, he's exactly the kind of everyboy that this novel calls for. He's easy to identify with, and his instinctive urge to puzzle his way out of his plight will resonate with readers gripped by the unfolding mystery. The occasional footnote brings a lighter note to Kyle's narrative as the editor attempts to illuminate the intended audience's interpretation of the tapes - and, in doing so, gradually reveals to us just how much the world has changed since our time. And as a whole, this novel has a haunting power that might just leave you with an uncanny sense that your world might not be quite as it seems, either.
0.4 is pure sci-fi genius, created around a mindblowing central concept. It's fascinating and thought-provoking and, like all of the best sci-fi, curiously convincing. In fact, I can most definitely see future generations of readers citing 0.4 as the book that got them hooked on the genre. With a sequel already planned for 2012, Mike Lancaster's version of humankind's future is one I can hardly wait to revisit. Brilliant.