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The Nightmare Stacks: A Laundry Files novel
The Nightmare Stacks: A Laundry Files novel
by Charles Stross
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.91

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A quick, funny, action-packed read that will delight fans of the Laundry, 27 Jun. 2016
The Nightmare Stacks is Charles Stross’ latest – and seventh – instalment in his ever-popular Laundry Files, following on from The Annihilation Score. I’m a big fan of the novels and have read them all over the past couple of years, so the next release is always an event on my calendar. I love Bob Howard and find his point of view (no matter how unreliable, as Stross has said on many occasions) makes for refreshing and enjoyable reading. However, The Annihilation Score moved the narrative voice from Bob to his wife, Dominique “Mo” O’Brien, and it was a switch that didn’t entirely work for me. After reading that I was eager for the next release’s return to Bob, but discovered that The Nightmare Stacks wouldn’t be doing that, instead giving us a brand new point-of-view in Alex Schwartz, a character fans of the series will recall debuted in The Rhesus Chart…

As a note, and given that this is the seventh book in an ongoing series, please be aware that spoilers for previous Laundry Files novels are inevitable, so proceed at your own risk.

From the publisher:
Alex Schwartz had a great job and a promising future – until he caught an unfortunate bout of vampirism, and agreed (on pain of death) to join the Laundry, Britain’s only counter-occult secret intelligence agency.
His first assignment is in Leeds – his old hometown. But the thought of telling his parents he’s lost his job, let alone their discovering his ‘condition’, is causing Alex almost as much anxiety as his new lifestyle of supernatural espionage.
His only saving grace is Cassie Brewer, a student from the local Goth Festival who flirts with him despite his fear of sunlight (and girls). But Cassie has secrets of her own – secrets that make Alex’s night life seem positively normal . . .

With a career in banking over for Alex Schwartz following his infection with PHANG Syndrome (aka Vampirism) and the subsequent dissolving of his employer courtesy of Bob Howard, he is now the newest employee of the Laundry, the UK’s secret government organisation that deals with the strange, otherworldly, and downright odd. Oh, and paperwork, let’s not forget paperwork. With his induction into the vast array of information that the Laundry holds going well, Alex is sent to Leeds to oversee the refurbishment and relocation of head office, but ends up discovering way more then he planned, for CASE NIGHTMARE RED is on the way.

“CASE NIGHTMARE RED is invasion by aliens. The aforementioned excess of magic we’re making creates a signal that’s causally entangled with the human noösphere, the totalization of human experience that we generate and contribute to by thinking. This signal is detectable at a considerable distance by various entities, who interpret it as a flashing neon sign saying all-you-can-eat buffet here. They might be incorporeal parasites like my V-symbionts or the feeders in the night, or they might be physical invaders: but either way, we’re into necromantic War of the Worlds territory, which doesn’t end well.”
The Nightmare Stacks, Chapter 3

While the looming and in-progress threat in the Laundry Files novels to-date has been CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN (magic gets easier with more people doing it, and death, destruction and the return of the elder gods are inevitable), it’s a nice change of pace to move to something a little different, yet still ultimately connected to the greater picture. While the early parts of the novel help set the scene, from Alex’s ‘Dear Diary’ entries to the plot thread focusing on the Morningstar Empire and it’s plans, Stross really hits his stride when events take a turn for the worse. Action and peril come at the reader in an almost constant stream, though not without some excellent exposition of many aspects of the plot.

And it doesn’t end there – the characters are well-defined and complex beyond expectations. Alex is a good narrator when he’s in the driving seat, and Stross manages to introduce some old favourites to help him along his way. The fact that he’s a relatively new vampire is yet another interesting facet of his character, and the way that he deals with both the good and bad aspects of this help immensely in him coming across as a good guy in an unfortunate position. Stross also manages to convey a lot of humanity through Alex despite his newly found otherworldly powers. Speaking of which, Cassie is very much in a similar boat, a fish out of water in a world that is completely different to her own. But she’s likable from the moment she’s introduced despite some rather questionable actions on her part, and her transition into human society makes for some entertaining, interesting, and downright amusing situations.

With much having gone on in previous novels, The Nightmare Stacks is actually a rather good place to jump in to the world of the Laundry. It’s not perfect, and much of the bigger plot points from previous novels are going to be given away, but having the story told from Alex’s point of view, a newcomer himself, the reader gets to have a first impression once again. It’s not anywhere as in-depth as what we’ve seen form Bob’s stories and training, but it certainly suffices in painting the history in broad strokes. It’s also a startlingly simple refresher of what has come before, and does so without needless info-dumping or repetition.

Ultimately, The Nightmare Stacks is a return to form, bringing everything I’ve come to love about the Laundry Files in bucket loads. Not only is it an easy and quick read, it’s funny, action-packed, and answers some questions while raising plenty more. Personally I’m very much looking forward to seeing how Stross moves the world forward after the revealing conclusion here.

United States of Japan
United States of Japan
Price: £4.90

3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting alt-history novel with depth and character, 17 Jun. 2016
What if Pearl Harbour never happened? That’s the question that Peter Tieryas answers in United States of Japan, an alternate history that postulates that Japan and Germany won the Second World War. A fan of The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick, Tieryas brings his Asian heritage to the table in a novel that is equal parts thriller and science fiction.

Beniko ‘Ben’ Ishimura is a computer game sensor well known amongst his colleagues for turning his own parents in as traitors to the Emperor. When a new illegal game called United States of America emerges he is partnered with Akiko Tsukino, a member of the secret police, to investigate the origins and stop the spread of this game. With a clash of personalities inevitable given Akiko’s unwavering loyalty to the Emperor, she and Ben dig deeper into the discontent and resistance that bubble away under the surface of the USJ.

Complex, deep, and multi-layered, United Stats of Japan is the kind of alternate history novel that really poses some tough questions. Extrapolating a believable world from the 1940’s onwards is a task that Tieryas meets without issue, building a society that is both familiar yet very different. While set in an alternate 1988, technology has already moved to a point similar to our 00’s, and even beyond that in some respects – it’s a fascinating look at what could have been.

While not without its issues (giving more detail on the wider world is its main fault), United Stats of Japan still delivers an exciting and tense plot that builds to a satisfying conclusion. If alternate history is your thing, then this is a novel that will hit your spot.

The Rogue Retrieval
The Rogue Retrieval
Price: £2.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A portal fantasy/sci-fi novel that's fun and action-packed, 17 Jun. 2016
The Rogue Retrieval is Dan Koboldt’s debut novel, a combination sci-fi/fantasy adventure set in a world connected to ours via a portal. Billed as a book that will appeal to fans of Pratchett and Brooks is an apt analogy, though as a reader that isn’t overly familiar with the aforementioned authors I’d make comparisons to Stover’s Acts of Caine series (though much lighter in tone), and even the Stargate TV franchise. It’s a novel that surprised me when I cracked open the digital pages, and one that kept me coming back in ever more frequent visits until the journey was over. Why, exactly, would that be? Read on…

With his dreams of hitting the Vegas Strip as a headlining magician looking like they’re coming to fruition, Quinn Bradley is about to realise his life’s work. However, CASE Global, a powerful corporation that has a world-changing secret, isn’t quite prepared to let Quinn’s dreams come true quite yet. Instead they make him an offer he would be silly to refuse: a fixed length contract under a non-disclosure agreement for a lot of money. Despite a veiled warning by a stranger to the contrary, Quinn takes the job and finds himself going somewhere not of this world: Alissia.

Alissia is a world accessible from ours via a portal on an island in the Pacific, an island wholly owned by CASE Global. Discovered fifteen years ago, the corporation has been sending teams of scholars and agents through to learn about the city-states and their citizens in an effort to discover ever more about this world. Alissia also has a very special trait: magic is present. Not only that, but CASE Global doesn’t know as much about its workings and the Alissian magicians as it thinks. Now, following the disappearance of their leading researcher, Richard Holt, CASE Global have put a team together to go to Alissia and retrieve him at any cost. This team consists of its two ex-military members, leader Kiara and muscle Logan, the cultural expert who worked for years under Holt, Chaudri, and stage magician Quinn Bradley, fresh from Vegas and starting to regret what he’s got himself in to.

The Rogue Retrieval begins in Vegas, introducing us to Quinn, his stage act, and his dreams of making it big. After receiving a warning from a mysterious stranger not to accept the job he’ll be offered after his big show, we’re completely not surprised to see him accept said job. From there we jump straight into the action. From his briefing on Richard Holt and Alissia – often quite light on detail – through to the group’s first steps through the portal, we see much of the narrative from Quinn’s perspective. While not surprising to see him stifle at military protocols, he’s an instantly likeable character who often steps beyond his boundaries when the situation calls for it. His interactions with the group, particularly Logan, are enjoyable and build a camaraderie as the story progresses. In fact, the entire cast each have their strengths and weaknesses, each touched on briefly, but by no means ignored – Koboldt builds believable, realistic characters with depth, and following them is never a chore.

The story itself is a rather straightforward affair – go to Alissia, track down Richard Holt, and bring him back. However, nothing is a simple as it seems and our group run into trouble from early on, encountering traps laid by Holt in order to slow their progress and aid in his efforts. It’s all done well, and the sense of danger is present even though we know things should work out for the best in the short term. While the first half of the novel continues the quest part without much deviation, it’s around the halfway point that The Rogue Retrieval really ups the ante when Quinn meets one of Alissia’s magicians. From there we discover much more about the magic of the world, how little CASE Global really knows about it, and the influence the magicians have throughout Alissia. There are little hints dropped here and there about what is likely to come to pass, but I won’t spoil anything – the fun I had reading and finding out for myself is worth your time.

The characters, pacing, and action really work well, and Koboldt has delivered a thrilling novel that has that all too important factor: it’s a page-turner. However, despite how much I enjoyed The Rogue Retrieval, it isn’t without its issues. The world-building for Alissia is far too vague for the most part, and details on the portal are practically non-existent. I would have loved to see more of the history of this place, and while we do learn quite a bit through various discussions, it’s not enough to fully flesh out the setting. With another two books on the way over the next two years (The Island Deception and The World Awakening) I sincerely hope that this aspect is addressed and expanded – the potential is staggering.

So, after turning the last electronic page I was left satisfied, entertained, and eager for more – much like I imagine I’d be if I’d seen one of Quinn’s Vegas shows. With a world that can offer both sci-fi and fantasy storytelling, Koboldt has a very large canvas to work with, and The Rogue Retrieval is an excellent first stroke. Recommended.

The Days of Tao
The Days of Tao
by Wesley Chu
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £29.98

3.0 out of 5 stars One for fans, but not necessarily newcomers, 17 Jun. 2016
This review is from: The Days of Tao (Hardcover)
The Days of Tao is Wesley Chu’s new story in his Tao setting, and while only a novella it will be a welcome addition to any fans of the series. Set after the events of the final book, The Rebirths of Tao, and before the upcoming first novel in a sequel series, The Rise of Io, Chu returns us to Cameron and Tao in a short adventure that is over all too quickly…

With a short page count and a simple premise, Chu sets up The Days of Tao in the opening pages with a bang. When a Prophus agent finally gets his hands on information vital to their cause, he eliminates the Genjix at hand and calls up for extraction. With Cameron Tan the only Prophus asset in the region it falls on him to cut his study abroad programme short in order to take on such an important time-sensitive operation, but not before events take a turn for the worse as the Prophus and Genjix war finally moves to a worldwide stage.

Quickly paced and action packed, The Days of Tao is exactly the kind of story I’ve come to expect from Chu. As a long time fan of the Tao books I’m firmly in the target audience because – and let’s be honest here – this one is for fans, pure and simple. There is no background information laid out, there is no exposition beyond the immediate situation, and anyone not familiar with the world and characters will find themselves at a loss as the reader is thrown into the action at page one.

Of course, with such a small page count comes inevitable problems. There is little time to fully explore the situation while keeping events progressing apace, and the supporting cast, particularly Cameron’s study abroad friends, are left somewhat underdeveloped. Also, while Cameron’s motivations and decisions are sound, I expected more input from Tao, especially given the situation. A little more development would have gone a long way to raise this novella from good to great.

All-in-all The Days of Tao is enjoyable, action-packed, and a blast to read. For fans of the series this really is a must-read, though not one I would recommend to newcomers despite the easy way Chu plays out his narrative.

by Alex Lamb
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A great debut that's got lots of appeal, but it's not perfect, 17 Jun. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Roboteer (Paperback)
Roboteer is the first book in debut author Alex Lamb’s Roboteer trilogy. Released in 2015, Roboteer is the kind of novel that calls to me to read – it has everything that I want in a science fiction novel. However, despite trying to read it on its release, I couldn’t fully immerse myself in the story. With the mass-market paperback out in February 2016, it reminded me to return to the novel and give it another go, hoping that I was in a better frame of mind to enjoy what was on offer. And enjoy it I did, though not without some reservations.

From the publisher:
The starship Ariel is on a mission of the utmost secrecy, upon which the fate of thousands of lives depend. Though the ship is a mile long, its six crew are crammed into a space barely large enough for them to stand. Five are officers, geniuses in their field. The other is Will Kuno-Monet, the man responsible for single-handedly running a ship comprised of the most dangerous and delicate technology that mankind has ever devised. He is the Roboteer.
Roboteer is a hard-SF novel set in a future in which the colonization of the stars has turned out to be anything but easy, and civilization on Earth has collapsed under the pressure of relentless mutual terrorism. Small human settlements cling to barely habitable planets. Without support from a home-world they have had to develop ways of life heavily dependent on robotics and genetic engineering. Then out of the ruins of Earth’s once great empire, a new force arises – a world-spanning religion bent on the conversion of all mankind to its creed. It sends fleets of starships to reclaim the colonies. But the colonies don’t want to be reclaimed. Mankind’s first interstellar war begins. It is dirty, dangerous and hideously costly.
Will is a man bred to interface with the robots that his home-world Galatea desperately needs to survive. He finds himself sent behind enemy lines to discover the secret of their newest weapon. What he discovers will transform their understanding of both science and civilization forever… but at a cost.

Roboteer starts with a bang – a space battle to control an antimatter refuelling station in a system that will give the victor a strong base for either offensive or defensive reasons. We see the forces of Galatea, a colony founded by rich corporations that left Earth as its resources dwindled, defending against the religiously hard-line forces of Earth, though not all is straightforward. While Galatea has a clear technological advantage due to its embracing nature of genetic adaption and AI technology, Earth has the weight of numbers – and a seemingly new and extremely powerful technology. It’s from here that Lamb launches us into the interstellar battle for humanity’s future, and one that is fraught with danger, intrigue, and secrets millions of years old.

We follow events that are told through the eyes of our protagonists, Will Kuno-Monet, a roboteer who controls the robots aboard starships, and Ira Baron-Lecke, captain of the soft-combat ship, Ariel. These points of view are also joined by an antagonist, Gustav Ulanu, a general and scientist in the Church of Truism’s space fleet. It’s an interesting mix of characters, but they work well in telling the story within Roboteer, and each give a unique viewpoint on the matters at hand. Will is, by far, the main man here, and it’s his interactions that drive the plot forward, especially once he secret that Earth is hiding come to the fore and firmly establishes itself as the driving motivator. Ira is a counterpoint to Will in many ways, the captain of the Ariel and a man still reeling from losing his previous roboteer due to high g combat manoeuvres that he fears Will cannot stand up to, should they be needed. He’s focused, yet trusts his crew with their input, and the interactions between them all really help build a sense of camaraderie on the ship – at least when you take Will out of the picture. Gustav, however, is a strange character to include as the main viewpoint for the enemy. While we learn much of the Church and the Prophet through his eyes, he very often comes across as not committed to the goal of the Church, and also at odds with its doctrine. Add to this a supporting cast around him that highlights this point at almost every turn, especially Disciple Rodriguez, appointed to Gustav’s staff by the Prophet himself, and there’s a deeply motivated and complex persona at play.

This brings me to the main issue I had with Roboteer, and one I have whenever I read anything in science fiction with a religious group featuring prominently: it’s very difficult to give depth to an enemy that has religious fervour in its driving seat. That’s not to say that Alex Lamb doesn’t make a good case throughout Roboteer, but simply that by choosing to split humanity into two distinct factions, each with their own views – one oppressively so – he faces an uphill battle to present the society in a relatable way. However, I did enjoy the inherently classic depiction of good vs evil that this scenario can provide, and Lamb’s writing raised the story enough to put these issues to one side for the most part.

As for the good in Roboteer, well, there is much to praise. Putting aside a story that jumps from event to revelation to event, keeping you guessing and turning the pages, Roboteer is the kind of novel that packs in plenty of science to go with the fiction. From robotics to spaceflight to alien enigmas, not only is there more than enough to please any SF fan, but Lamb weaves it all into a narrative that makes the best use of all the tools at its disposal.

Alex Lamb has delivered a debut novel in Roboteer that is much fun to read. It’s not perfect and I still have issues with the religious aspect of the novel, but looking past that can show what science fiction is all about: wonder and entertainment. Recommended.

by Allen Steele
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.37

4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting take on multi-generational SF, 17 Jun. 2016
This review is from: Arkwright (Hardcover)
Arkwright is the new novel by Allen Steele, and billed as “both a love-letter to science-fiction field and a terrific cutting-edge hard-SF novel”. High praise indeed, especially given the focus of Arkwright spans generations and light-years, and just how a novel can deliver both aspects is very much a question that needs answering. While it is resoundingly answered by the time the last page is turned, Arkwright is much more than these two things and is, in fact, a gloriously optimistic science fiction story that captivates from early on.

Nathan Arkwright is a science fiction author most famous for his Galaxy Patrol series that spans books, television, and film. However, as he comes to the end of his life his wish for true space travel brings him to use his fortune and will to set up the Arkwright Foundation, with one simple goal: send a spaceship on a colony seeding flight to another star system within a hundred years. It’s against the backdrop of this idea that we follow Nathan and his descendants down the years and across space as his vision is realised.

Arkwright is split into four distinct parts: the story of Nathan’s life and how the Arkwright Foundation came to be; that of his great-great-grandson Matt and his journey into the family business as the spaceship nears completion; of Matt’s daughter, Dahni, through whose eyes we see the spaceship making its journey; and finally the results of the Foundation’s goals as we see just how the idea comes to fruition.

While a relatively short novel, and one whose pages seem to turn at a great speed, Arkwright packs plenty in to its page count. The risk of splitting the story to focus on different characters and causing a somewhat disconnected feel to the narrative is fortunately avoided, though not all parts of the novel work as well as each other. Personally, I found Nathan’s story during The Legion of Tomorrow to be interesting, but somewhat lacking, and while it does introduce the characters and brings an understanding to the reader, it occasionally felt stilted and forced. However, once past this Arkwright picks up momentum and doesn’t let up. Steele has also managed to give a unique voice to each part, bringing each to life in a different way, yet still managing to make the book feel consistent.

I enjoyed Arkwright a great deal, more so than I expected, truth be told. I read it in three sittings and found it very difficult to put down, not an effect that many books can have on me. It truly is a wonderful science fiction premise that is told confidently and concisely, not falling into the trap of giving information simply for the sake of it. I suspect the early parts of Arkwright will appeal to the older generation of SF fans, but as a whole it’s a shining example of science fiction that can – and should – appeal to all.

Weird Space: The Baba Yaga
Weird Space: The Baba Yaga
by Eric Brown
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A great continuation of the Weird Space series, 17 Jun. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The Baba Yaga is the third novel in the Weird Space setting that was created by Eric Brown for Abaddon Books. While Brown wrote the first two novels – The Devil’s Nebula (review) and Satan’s Reach (review) – Una McCormack is stepping into the fold for this third novel. I was initially drawn to the Weird Space books as a big fan of Eric Brown’s work despite not being entirely convinced about a shared universe series, and it’s only now that the series is fulfilling its promise with the introduction of a new author to it. While I had obvious worries about The Baba Yaga due to this, I really shouldn’t have – McCormack brings a fresh voice to the setting that only builds upon Brown’s foundations.

By the time we join the events of The Baba Yaga the Weird have been covertly invading human and vetch space, their mind parasites controlling those it invades to meet their ends. However, on human worlds psychic screening can identify the infected, but at the cost of the individuals privacy – an aspect those against screening hold dear. But with the news that Braun’s World, a bustling planet well inside human space and far from previous incursions, the latest victim of a Weird portal, the authorities take a hard line: bombing from orbit, killing everyone and everything on the surface, and the introduction of mandatory screening.

While the general mentality of the human Expansion authorities is all-out war on the Weird, Delia Walker wants to see if there is another way to tackle the situation. It’s with this in mind that, after being told her services are no longer required, she heads to Satan’s Reach in order to try and find the mysterious planet where humans, vetch, and the Weird are said to live in peace and harmony. It is with this goal that she enlists the help of Yershov and his ship, the Baba Yaga, to quietly escape the Expansion that is monitoring her. Meanwhile we follow Maria, her child, and her husband as they escape Braun’s World and the devastation wrought on it. But with the Expansion determined to find anyone who has slipped past them and may hold the true version of events, they can only run and hide…

As the third book in this setting, The Baba Yaga can easily be read as a stand-alone novel – Brown and McCormack lay enough information within the narrative for a newcomer to pick up and not feel lost. It’s also helpful that each book so far has a new cast of characters and relatively self-contained story. Saying that, it was nice to see events turn more towards the Weird, the threat they pose, and the way the Expansion plans to deal with it rather than the more individually focused story we saw in Satan’s Reach. However, while The Baba Yaga begins with the bigger picture taking the forefront, it doesn’t stay that way for long as we follow Delia and Maris out of Expansion Space and into Satan’s Reach. This does work though, and the issues introduced at the start are continually brought up as we progress through the story.

I very much liked Delia Walker and the way she deals with the situation she’s in: pregnant and on the run. Her no-nonsense personality and drive to find out what she needs makes her sections move rapidly, and always manage to raise questions. While Maria initially comes across as being out of her depth, things turn around enough that I warmed to her more than I thought I would. However, Failt, a vetch child that comes on the scene, is very interesting and allows a somewhat different view of events through his eyes. Both Brown and McCormack have managed to deliver a varied and diverse cast of characters, all of which bring something extra to the page.

Are there issues with it? Of course, but they’re not deal breakers. However, the ending really did annoy me for not giving closure to the plot threads of the novel. Suffice to say that the door has not only been left open, but rather blown clean off its hinges for more stories in Weird Space.

Nevertheless, The Baba Yaga is an enjoyable novel, and feels like it steps up to the challenge of adding detail to the bigger picture for the Weird Space setting, and certainly more than in Satan’s Reach.

The Complete Aliens Omnibus Volume One (Earth Hive, Nightmare Asylum, The Female War): 1
The Complete Aliens Omnibus Volume One (Earth Hive, Nightmare Asylum, The Female War): 1
by Steve Perry
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A great omnibus for Alien fans, 17 Jun. 2016
With Titan Books recently publishing new books in the Alien and Predator universe, it was great news to hear that they’re also releasing omnibuses of previous Alien novels, and starting with Steve Perry’s trilogy in The Complete Aliens Omnibus Volume 1. Containing Earth Hive, Nightmare Asylum, and The Female War, these novels were released pre-Alien: Resurrection, a fact that is obvious once you start reading them, though they are no less relevant or enjoyable in a post-Resurrection, Prometheus, and AvP world.

As I’ll be discussing all three books be aware that there will be spoilers as the review makes its way to the second and third novels.

Earth Hive by Steve Perry is the first instalment in an Aliens trilogy released as a tie-in when Alien 3 hit the cinema back in 1992, and taking place later than the film. The discovery of a derelict spacecraft in Earth orbit that houses a xenomorph leads to the location of the presumed alien homeworld, and a race to get there to capture and exploit the xenomorphs for military purposes. Wilks, a disgraced marine, and Billie, a young woman held in a mental institute, are the only two survivors of an infestation on Rim, a far-flung colony world. When a mission is put together to head to the alien planet Wilks is brought on board due to his experience, but before the journey begins he breaks Billie out of the institute and brings her along. Unknown to the military, a xenomorph queen is in the possession of a company on Earth, while a fanatical religious group is obsessed with the xenomorph. With events both on- and off-Earth quickly deteriorating, it quickly becomes about survival of the species.

While initially planned to follow on from the events in Aliens, the main characters of Earth Hive, Wilks and Billie, were originally due to be Hicks and Newt. However, with the novel releasing around the same time as Alien 3 changes needed to be made. This is fairly obvious within the story, though the amendments are enough to not cause an undue issue. Perry has managed to craft some interesting characters here, though as is expected with a novel in this setting, not all survive, and it’s often telegraphed which ones will bite the dust. Not that this is a problem, it’s simply the nature of the beast.

As a fan of the Alien films (not so much of Resurrection and Prometheus), it’s really nice to see a story set post-Alien 3, and one that feels right in this universe. There is enough of what makes the Alien films so enjoyable, but also plenty of new aspects that add to, and enrich, the story. Perry manages to drop a few surprises here and there, and with a short page count Earth Hive delivers just what I wanted from an Alien story.

In Nightmare Asylum, events continue with Wilks and Billie escaping and an alien-infested Earth, but ending up on a ship to a military research outpost commanded by General Spears. Spears is far from sane, and his plan to create an army of xenomorphs controlled by him has led to the deaths of everyone in the nearby civilian colony, all in an effort to grow his forces. With the arrival of Wilks and Billie, Spears’ time is clearly at an end – they won’t stand by while his plan to retake Earth from hordes of aliens by using ones under his control inches ever closer to fruition.

Another blast from start to finish, Nightmare Asylum has much of what made the film Aliens so great: Colonial Marines, a planet in the process of being terraformed, and xenomorphs galore. There is, of course, plenty of action, and some very good character building in the crazy General Spears. Despite how mad his plan is, he clearly believes that what he is doing is right, and he has no qualms about getting results however he sees fit. All of this culminates in the final act, with Nightmare Asylum leaving the door wide open for the final novel to hit the ground running.

And hit the ground running we do in The Female War, the final part of this trilogy. With Earth completely fallen to the xenomorphs, Wilks and Billie join forces with a new ally – none other than Ellen Ripley herself. With many inhabitants of Gateway Station in Earth orbit dreaming of an alien Queen, and the plea in those dreams for them to come to her, a plan slowly comes together to bring this queen of queens to Earth. The hope behind this plan is that doing this will being all xenomorphs to one location in order to finally destroy them and win the battle for the planet. If only it was so easy…

The Female War is perhaps the weakest link in this trilogy, which is a shame as it was building to a point that could have been epic. There are a number of places where the issues creep in, the first of which is the introduction of Ripley. While this was done in the closing pages of Nightmare Asylum, it’s here where we start to see the direction the story is heading. Clearly this isn’t actually Ellen Ripley, especially since these events take place post-Alien 3, and the revelation when it does come is neither surprising or entirely satisfactory. Add to this the (frankly suicidal) plan to visit another alien world to capture the Queen Mother, then transport her to Earth, and things really do feel like they’re falling apart.

However, despite the dodgy plot threads and very shaky plans that our group go with, The Female War does deliver on the action front with some pretty intense and hefty scenes. It also expands the mythos of the xenomorphs, giving their societal structure and hierarchy more depth. The main problem is that the ending is somewhat lacklustre with no real sense of closure given. While enjoyable in parts, The Female War doesn’t quite do this trilogy justice.

The Complete Aliens Omnibus Volume 1 presents an enjoyable and solid story over the three novels despite some issues that creep in towards the end. It has interesting characters and fascinating world-building, especially when expanding details with the xenomorphs. Given that these novels are now over twenty years old they may be more suited to fans of the series rather than casual readers. I, however, found them to be just what I needed to read – they have a familiarity to them that is comforting, and they tread both new and old ground in doing so.

Saturn Run
Saturn Run
by John Sandford
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.53

4.0 out of 5 stars A quick read that fun from start to finish, 17 Jun. 2016
This review is from: Saturn Run (Hardcover)
What happens when an alien spaceship is seen docking with something in Saturn orbit? Well, that’s the question that Saturn Run by John Sandford & Ctein aims to answer. It’s the year 2066 and the race on to reach Saturn and discover just what the mysterious alien craft rendezvoused with before leaving the solar system. With the US and China at odds with one another, each commits their resources to develop and employ technology to get them there first, and each hopeful to stake their claim on whatever awaits them. But politics, planning, and back-stabbing prove to be the ultimate driving force behind both the race to Saturn, the discovery, and subsequent return to Earth.

With a story pulled along by the simple idea of a race to a destination, Saturn Run manages to combine all the elements you could ask for in a science fiction novel. It’s part hard-SF, part character focused, part political thriller, yet it pulls all aspects together to present a coherent whole. Sandford and Ctein have taken the age-old idea of first contact, giving an episodic telling of events up to and beyond said contact, yet turned it into more than the sum of its parts. A blast from start to finish, Saturn Run is definitely a fun read that has plenty of science meat on its fiction bones. Recommended.

Dark Matters: A Science Fiction Thriller (Dark Matters Trilogy Book 1)
Dark Matters: A Science Fiction Thriller (Dark Matters Trilogy Book 1)
Price: £2.08

4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting corporate/scientific SF novel, 17 Jun. 2016
Dark Matters (Dark Matters #1) is the debut novel by Michael Dow. Funded through Kick Starter and subsequently self-published, this is a novel that has an interesting premise and is not your typical action orientated sci-fi adventure, instead looking at events from a more corporate and scientific point of view.

Set in the not-too-distant future, Dark Matters is a novel about corporate power and how, behind the scenes, the wealthy guide the world in the direction of their choosing. Why? Quite simply to maintain the status quo and not cause too many ripples in the worldwide economy. After the death of the current CEO at General Resources, Incorporated, Rudy Dersch is selected as the next in line to run the company, a goal he has been working towards for many years. However, the job comes with an unexpected revelation: the Consortium also require his services. With responsibilities that now involve decisions that not only affect his company, but matters all over the world, Rudy is not quite as prepared as he’d imagined.

Meanwhile, Jonas Hanssen is the lead at Hanssen Scientific, a company working for GRI by using algorithms to find a mineral rich asteroid that can be harvested to replenish Earth’s dwindling supplies. In his spare time he is also conducting research into dark matter through a link to the Planck III probe that is now heading out of the solar system for interstellar space. When he makes a discovery that he has been hoping for he can scarcely believe it, but it must take a back seat when GRI starts applying pressure to find them what they want.

The independently wealthy and headstrong art curator Monique Durand has been experiencing visions for some time, and it is through her meditations that she is discovering more and more to them. Finally taking a step that she has been hesitant to make, she discovers that the visions are guiding her to specific people, one at a time. With a strong feeling of rightness, Monique begins her journey to discover just what these visions – and other powers that are making themselves known – actually mean.

So, Dark Matters is a novel with some interesting ideas going on within its pages. The Consortium is a conglomerate of wealthy individuals that work behind the scenes to push through the policies they want, to influence the right people in a way that suits them best, and even working to change the wealth of entire nations though various acts. It’s all very cloak-and-dagger, though through Rudy’s eyes we get a rather balanced view of the situation. He wants to know more about what he’s asked to do, and isn’t afraid to push for information that will give him the context he needs to make those decisions. It’s not until the last third that events and plans lead to much more interesting places, really solidifying the Consortium as the antagonist that is hinted at throughout.

While both Jonas’ and Monique’s plot threads are interesting, they do have their issues. Character relationships that go from nothing to everything in such a short space of time are the biggest culprits here. Jonas meets and quickly trusts Kat, a PhD student directed his way by a former colleague, and promptly spills all details about his work into dark matter – details that he hasn’t shared with anyone else. The same goes for Monique and the way she meets those in her visions, though due to the more otherworldly nature of those experiences, and of the deeper connection at the heart of her relationships, it’s easier to forgive.

The pacing and prose of Dark Matters is one of its strongest points. The chapters are relatively short and sharp, moving the story forward, even if only by small increments. However, this is a novel that uses the majority of its page count setting up events that come to fruition in the finale. Even then, it feels somewhat underwhelming, mainly due to the lack of any real explanations at its conclusion. It’s a shame that the hints that are dropped aren’t more thoroughly explored.

For a novel that doesn’t contain much in the way of action, I found myself drawn into the plot and characters very easily. The narrative picked me up and carried me along almost from the get-go, and I was eager to see where all the threads would lead. Despite being left wanting after the somewhat abrupt and subdued ending, I’m certainly looking forward to see where the story goes from here.

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