Guest Post: “If We Met Aliens Tomorrow, Would We Notice?” by D. Nolan Clark

ClarkDN-1-ForsakenSkiesEver since we realized there were other stars out there — and other planets — we’ve been obsessed with the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Stories of meeting beings from other worlds fill up the box office and the bestseller lists, and pretty much everyone on Earth agrees, there must be life out there somewhere. As years go by with no contact, however, some are starting to wonder why it’s taking so long.

The answer may simply be that like anything involving the huge distances and faint signals of space, meeting aliens is hard. In fact, it’s quite possible we’ve already been contacted — and we didn’t notice. Here are four scenarios that could lead to us missing out on the greatest moment in human history. Continue reading

Review: SLEEPING GIANTS by Sylvain Neuvel (Del Rey/ Michael Joseph)

NeuvelS-SleepingGiantsUSAn interesting start to a new series

Deadwood, USA. A girl sneaks out just before dark to ride her new bike. Suddenly, the ground disappears beneath her. Waking up at the bottom of a deep pit, she sees an emergency rescue team above her. The people looking down see something far stranger…

“We always look forward. We never look back.”

That girl grows up to be Dr. Rose Franklyn, a brilliant scientist and the leading world expert on what she discovered. An enormous, ornate hand made of an exceptionally rare metal, which predates all human civilisation on the continent. 

“But this thing … it’s different. It challenges us. It rewrites history.”

An object whose origins and purpose are perhaps the greatest mystery humanity has ever faced. Solving the secret of where it came from — and how many more parts may be out there — could change life as we know it.

“It dares us to question what we know about ourselves.”

But what if we were meant to find it? And what happens when this vast, global puzzle is complete…?

“About everything.”

I had very high hopes for Neuvel’s Sleeping Giants. It sounded really interesting and, as an epistolary novel, I was certainly intrigued to see how the author built the story. For the main, it is very well-written and interesting. That being said, the story flagged a bit towards the end, despite being the start of a new series. Continue reading

Guest Post: “Planet Jacked!” by Weston Ochse

OchseW-AuthorPicI’d never really encountered the idea about terraforming until I read David Gerrold’s A Matter for Men, and boy did that scare me more than any horror novel I’d ever read. It’s one thing to have space duels with enemy ships or visitations from aliens seeking to see what we’re up to, but it’s another thing altogether when you begin showing aliens who’ve decided that they want your planet and have begun changing the entire ecosystem right out from under you. I mean, what do you do? What technology do we have to stop them?

In Hollywood, there’d be some last second solution overlooked by mainstream scientists, but discovered by the conspiracy theorist picking his nose in the corner. But that’s never going to happen.

In Hollywood, the aliens would find a way to communicate with the President of the United States, because that’s what all aliens do, to give us some sort of ultimatum.

I drop the bullshit flag on that one. Continue reading

Review: ARMADA by Ernest Cline (Century)

ClineE-ArmadaUKThe highly-anticipated second novel from the author of Ready Player One

Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure.

But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe.

And then he sees the flying saucer.

Even stranger, the alien ship he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada — in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders.

No, Zack hasn’t lost his mind. As impossible as it seems, what he’s seeing is all too real. And his skills — as well as those of millions of gamers across the world — are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it.

It’s Zack’s chance, at last, to play the hero. But even through the terror and exhilaration, he can’t help thinking back to all those science-fiction stories he grew up with, and wondering: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little… familiar?

Ready Player One, as I’ve said many times on here, completely blew me away. I was sent an ARC, and started it pretty much immediately. I devoured it in two gleeful, gloriously entertaining sittings, breaking only to get a few hours sleep. I’ve been waiting for Armada ever since. It was a very pleasant surprise, therefore, when an ARC arrived in the mail a few weeks back. With high expectations, and confidence that it would be another tale filled with geek references, nostalgia and gripping storytelling, I dove right in. What I found, however, thoroughly disappointed. Continue reading

Review: THE WAKE (Vertigo)

TheWake-Complete

Writer: Scott Snyder | Artist: Sean Murphy | Colors: Matt Hollingsworth

When Marine Biologist Lee Archer is approached by the Department of Homeland Security for help with a new threat, she declines, but quickly realizes they won’t take no for an answer. Soon she is plunging to the depths of the Arctic Circle to a secret, underwater oilrig filled with roughnecks and scientists on the brink of an incredible discovery. But when things go horribly wrong, this scientific safe haven will turn into a house of horrors at the bottom of the ocean!

Collects: The Wake #1-10

This is a tricky one to review. This is the whole ten-issue run of the series, which means a lot happens. The multiple timelines, the expansive scope of the story… There’s a lot crammed into this book. It’s the most ambitious of Snyder’s stories that I’ve read, and while I found it excellent on a number of levels, the second half really let the book down. Continue reading

Short Review: “The Humans” by Matt Haig (Canongate)

Haig-TheHumansAn excellent examination of what it means to be human

It’s hardest to belong when you’re closest to home… One wet Friday evening, Professor Andrew Martin of Cambridge University solves the world’s greatest mathematical riddle. Then he disappears. When he is found walking naked along the motorway, Professor Martin seems different. Besides the lack of clothes, he now finds normal life pointless. His loving wife and teenage son seem repulsive to him. In fact, he hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton. And he’s a dog. Can a bit of Debussy and Emily Dickinson keep him from murder? Can the species which invented cheap white wine and peanut butter sandwiches be all that bad? And what is the warm feeling he gets when he looks into his wife’s eyes?

The standfirst says it all, really: The Humans is an excellent examination of what it means to be human – everything from the horror and ugliness, to the beauty and wonder of life on Earth. It is a novel that is filled with insight, depth, affection, and humour. From the beginning, we are introduced to an imposter on earth – an alien who has taken the place of one of Cambridge University’s most respected mathematicians, who has just solved one of the great mysteries of mathematics. The race from which this being hails believes the solution will bring great upheaval to the universe: it could, after all, allow humans to leave Earth, and venture out into the universe. This would, of course, bring all their baggage with them. After all, from the outside, human can come across as miserable, money-obsessed, violent assholes.

As the new Andrew Martin navigates his new life, quashing all knowledge of the real Martin’s discovery, he finds himself confronted with everything that is good about life as a human. His obliviousness to what the real Andrew did before he was replaced, gives him a childlike innocence and fresh slate – something that has a real impact on his family life, in both positive and negative ways. He starts to go native, despite the frequent warnings of his superiors – the Hosts.

It doesn’t take long to read The Humans – the novel is very focused, the pacing is brisk, and Haig’s prose is pretty sparse. It is also superb – elegant in its focus, nuanced, affectionate yet not uncritical, and often very funny. His characters are well-rounded and expertly brought to life on the page. The book will also make you want to read more Emily Dickinson…

Haig is fast becoming one of my favourite writers, and I’ve only read two of his novels. The Humans is a must read. I thoroughly enjoyed this, and can’t recommend it enough.

Review: LAGOON by Nnedi Okorafor (Hodder)

OkoraforN-LagoonA gripping, beautifully-written science fiction novel set in and around Lagos.

A star falls from the sky. A woman rises from the sea.

The world will never be the same.

Three strangers, each isolated by his or her own problems: Adaora, the marine biologist. Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa. Agu, the troubled soldier. Wandering Bar Beach in Lagos, Nigeria’s legendary mega-city, they’re more alone than they’ve ever been before.

But when something like a meteorite plunges into the ocean and a tidal wave overcomes them, these three people will find themselves bound together in ways they could never imagine. Together with Ayodele, a visitor from beyond the stars, they must race through Lagos and against time itself in order to save the city, the world… and themselves.

“There was no time to flee. No time to turn. No time to shriek. And there was no pain. It was like being thrown into the stars.”

This is the first novel I’ve read by Nnedi Okorafor, and it won’t be my last. I started reading it on the first day it arrived in the mail – I was putting it on my TBR shelf, and flipped it open at the first page. Thirty minutes later, I was still reading and had sidelined my then-current read. Lagoon is beautifully and intelligently written, addictive, well-paced and a must read. Continue reading

Review: PROMETHEAN SUN by Nick Kyme (Black Library)

Kyme-HH-PrometheanSunFormer Limited Edition Novella gets a wider release

As the Great Crusade sweeps across the galaxy, the forces of the Imperium encounter a world held in thrall by the alien eldar. While the Iron Hands of Ferrus Manus and Mortarion’s Death Guard battle against the hated xenos, it is the Salamanders who brave the deepest and most deadly jungles, encountering monstrous reptilian beasts and foul witchery along the way. Ultimately, it falls to their primarch Vulkan himself to thwart the sinister designs of the eldar, if the Legions are to liberate this world and bring illumination to its inhabitants.

Promethean Sun was Black Library’s first limited edition Horus Heresy novella. As someone who couldn’t afford it back then, naturally I grumbled quietly to myself about missing out on this part of the series – which has, actually, been a superb example of sustained, multi-volume and multi-author storytelling. There have been wobbles, of course, but for the most part this series has been amazingly strong. So, back to this book. After reading it, I realise I shouldn’t have grumbled. Sad to say (and very surprisingly), this was a disappointment, with greater weaknesses than strengths. The story meanders, the writing’s not as strong as I know Kyme can produce, and Vulkan’s characterisation feels off. For completists only, I would say. Continue reading

“The 5th Wave” by Rick Yancey (Penguin)

Yancey-5thWaveA Sinister new YA Dystopia Series

After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother – or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

There is a lot to like about this novel. The world-building is interesting, the characters are (for the most part) well-defined and well-written. The story is focused, giving it a quick-pace and addictive momentum. I really enjoyed reading this, despite one major niggle around the middle. Certainly, it’s easy to see why people have been talking about the series, and why Penguin think they are on to a winner. Among the better YA dystopia series, certainly.

The opening chapters offer one of the best introductions to a dystopian future I have read in a long while. We get a great sense of the environment in which Cassie, the first protagonist we follow, is operating and trying to survive. We also learn what the waves of alien attacks have done to the survivors, both physically (billions dead) and mentally (this is now paranoia city…).

“If you can’t trust anyone, then you can trust no one. Better to take the chance that Aunty Tilly is one of them than play the odds that you’ve stumbled across a fellow survivor. That’s friggin’ diabolical. It tears us apart. It makes us that much easier to hunt down and eradicate. The 4th Wave forces us into solitude, where there’s no strength in numbers, where we slowly go crazy from the isolation and fear and terrible anticipation of the inevitable… This is what the Others have done to us. You can’t band together to fight without trust. And without trust, there was no hope. How do you rid the Earth of humans? Rid the humans of their humanity.”

And so, survivors “put on a human face so no human face can be trusted. The only answer: Kill everyone or risk being killed by anyone.”

Most importantly, we get to know Cassie very quickly. Within about 5% of the novel (yes, read this on my Kindle), I felt I knew her pretty well, and certainly felt myself rooting for her. She is a bit true-to-type and is probably exactly what you expect from a YA heroine/hero, sure, but Yancey writes her well. She is a good guide, with an engaging, inviting voice. However, and this is my greatest issue with the book, this state of affairs did not last. I found Cassie’s character changed completely once she met Evan. She went from being hyper-self-sufficient to, effectively, totally-dependent (paranoid still, but dependent nonetheless). This weakened her. Though, she’s also not blind to the strangeness of her situation…

“Somehow the fact that I was rescued by a very good-looking guy with a lopsided grin and large, strong hands is the most unnerving thing that has happened to me since the Others arrived.”

Her interest in Evan, while sometimes a bit over-the-top, is also quite well done, reflecting the conflicted, bumbling, hormone-influenced confusion when it comes to people teenagers develop crushes on:

“What?” Smiling that damned lopsided, sexy grin, shoulders up, hands stuffed deep in his pockets with a sort of aw-shucks attitude, which I guess is meant to drive me the good kind of crazy. What is it about him that makes me want to slap him and kiss him, run from him and to him, throw my arms around him and knee him in the balls, all at the same time? I’d like to blame the Arrival for the effect he has on me, but something tells me guys have been doing this to us for a lot longer than a few months.

All of the other protagonists go through pretty realistic evolutions. The army has been collecting surviving teens and children, transporting them to the training facility, leaving adults behind for… clean-up. The militarisation of the young is troubling, certainly, but it is addressed through the eyes of some of those recruits. (A lot of YA novels seem to promote weapons-skills…) Our second main perspective is presented through Ben, who comes to be known as “Zombie” at the training camp. He develops into a more interesting character than Cassie, by the end of the book. All of his comrades are varied characters, and interesting to read about, too – certainly Ringer, who I enjoyed: she’s clearly a little mad, closed off (maybe edging towards sociopathic, actually). Sammy, whose call-sign is “Nugget”, was another good character, so very young and yet thrust into such horrific situations, brutal training, and a grueling environment.

Some of the early chapters with Evan felt a little muddled. As did some attempts to create uncertainty in the reader – there were at least two scenes that felt like attempts to make us question what we knew, when we’d already been doing that, and throwing these in ruined the tension and were obvious, and just a little artless. Minor niggles, I suppose, but they were clear. On the whole, though, Yancey’s prose is tight and well-crafted. It’s nothing spectacular, but he has a clear style, and one that pulls the reader on through the story.

Overall, though, Yancey has created a sinister, atmospheric and gripping alien-invasion-dystopia. The Waves are well-conceived, with the eponymous wave utterly devious.

The 5th Wave is flawed, but it’s gripping and well-executed. I definitely recommend it, and can’t wait for the next book in the series.

Voodoo, Vol.2 – “The Killer In Me” (DC)

Voodoo-Vol-02Writer: Joshua Williamson | Artist: Sami Basri | Colors: Jessica Kholinne

Black Razor Agent Fallon has finally tracked down Voodoo and has her cornered! Now it’s time for revenge. But Voodoo knows the truth of her own origins and will decide if she’s going to be a hero – or a villain! Then, Pris is forced to confront exactly what she has become after being experimented on by the Daemonites. She’s offered a deal by the Black Razors… but wherever way she turns, it’s guaranteed more blood will be on her hands.

Collects: Voodoo #7-12 & #0

This book brings the Voodoo series to a close. Given the critical reaction at its start, I’m surprised it lasted as long as it did. I liked the ideas the series included, and it’s a pity it had to end. That being said, some of the chapters in this book felt like the series had been written off.

As the story begins, Pris has escaped from captivity, accompanied by Black Jack and Fallon. Voodoo is on the daemonite ship, facing their Council. She’s told the truth about herself, and the daemonite lord says she has to be captured and reprogrammed. She… disagrees with his assessment of the situation…

Voodoo-07-Interior2

The two groups are on a collision course, and by the second chapter,  the shit really starts to hit the fan. The chapter (issue #8) was basically one long face-off between Voodoo, Pris and Fallon. All does not go well… Strangely, Pris is offered a job by a dude from the Blackhawks (a series I’ve only read one issue of, but also another that has been axed).

Voodoo-08-Interior2The rest of the story follows all the various threads of the series being tied up – some in not particularly satisfying manner (there’s some interstellar flight, too). As Pris and Voodoo are trained, almost in parallel, by different forces – Pris by the Blackhawks, Voodoo by Helspont. Pris also discovers that Voodoo worked as a stripper in order to remain below the radar. She is not happy.

In the final chapter, the Zero Issue, we see Priscilla Kitaen’s “birth” on the daemonite ship, before freaking out and fighting her way out. It ends with her being taken into custody by the Black Razors. Then we get Voodoo’s birth as well, as a loyal hybrid. And finally, we join Grifter as his life is saved by Voodoo. I’m not sure it works at all as a “#0”, because it ends on “Continued in Grifter”… Really it’s a series epilogue. It did make me want to catch up on Grifter, though (I’ve read up to #7).

Voodoo-00-Interior5

This series crosses over with so many: Superman, Stormwatch, and Grifter. Sometimes these crossovers can be fun or interesting, but when it happens too often, which certainly feels like the case recently (there have been a number of larger, cross-title story-arcs recently). Well, it gets both irritating and expensive… I’m not sure this needed to cross over quite so much. Cameos probably would have sufficed for many scenes and snippets of exposition.

Towards the end of the book, the writing felt a little rushed, but at least it never took itself too seriously. It has a ’80s/’90s action-SF-movie feel to it: it doesn’t all make sense, there are some narrative jumps, etc. The dialogue never quite manages Expendables-levels of cheesy awesome, but that was the vibe I got, sometimes. Not bad, overall, but it’s not too difficult to see why it was sent out to pasture. For the story to really work, it would have required more time and space to properly grow. I think most people will see this was on the outs from early on in this book.

I do like the artwork a lot, though. There are so many nice little details in each issue. I really hope the team are hired on for more of another series.

Voodoo-Vol-02-Covers

Original Voodoo Cover Art #7-12 & #0