As we hunker down into the long dark of an English winter, it’s the perfect time to review a book that broke my reading drought last time round. There was something about the first lockdown that froze my brain. Its numb misery stopped me from drawing sustenance from a lifelong reading habit. Then months later, I got my hands on an ARC of HUMAN RESOURCES, a psychological thriller set in the icebound continent of Antarctica. A masterly sequel to Robin Trigg’s debut novel, NIGHT SHIFT, it blends urban sci-fi with a crime story’s breathless suspense, all set in the world’s most unforgiving landscape. Just the kind of winter’s tale to thaw out my imagination from its Covid induced cold-storage. You might consider stowing it in your own bunker for the months ahead.
Here in the Space Cat module, long stretches of time confined to quarters are not unknown. Between work rosters, we’re filling any downtime with books, boogying and binge watching. 2002 Firefly's rollicking western-meets-space-opera vibe reminded me of a book review I've been hoarding. 'The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet' is an exuberant space adventure in which the journey and the crew really ARE the point of the tale. It strongly reminded me of the ensemble casts of TV shows like ‘Firefly’ or ‘The Expanse’ with a dash of ‘Star Wars’ movie wackiness thrown in. So a fun, feel-good read for the apocalypse which will still leave you thinking.
Late winter is a time for hibernating with a good book. I recommend this dark and witty Gothic tale set in Russia's snowy wastes. VAMPSOV’s cover promises a high-concept horror story and it does not disappoint. Daniel Ribot has great fun with a secret war between ancient aristocratic vampires and Red Army cadre at the very moment Stalinist purges are devastating Soviet Russia.
Does the world need another movie about a middle-aged white man riding a spaceship into the dark to save the world? AD ASTRA is a conspicuously old-fashioned film. Yet its weary dystopian mood belies the gripping space adventure tropes. The movie’s true subject is how the Right Stuff of Space Race heroism morphed into the Toxic Maculinity of our own age. As Brad Pitt pursues long-lost father Tommy Lee Jones to the ends of the solar system, the male heart-to-heart has never been more one-way or awkward.
SEMIOSIS is an extraordinary First Contact novel where humans are the alien invaders. It isn’t the first to feature intelligent plant life but this is no 'Day of the Triffids'. Burke's talking plants will rewire your synapses. Unpredictable, urgent, occasionally bloody, the story is page-turning yet its characters and themes embed themselves deeply. Like snow-vine thorns.
‘The Bookman’ by Lavie Tidhar, is quite simply, tremendous fun. It’s a rollicking steampunk adventure that mashes together fantasy, sci-fi and Gothic with a smattering of ancient mythology. Only here can you find characters called Orphan and Gilgamesh jostling for space alongside Isabella Beeton, Karl Mark and Tom Thumb. And then there's the mysterious Bookman, a terrorist who favours exploding books. Yes, the book is mightier than the sword.
Aliette de Bodard’s magical urban fantasy, set in a ruinous fin de siècle Paris, casts quite a spell. This sprawling narrative of displaced people navigating a war-torn city blends horror and wonder with all too human dilemmas. As I peel away from the final pages, I am still held fast by House Hawthorn’s spikes. Still possessed by the charred shadow of a water-dragon’s passing.
Robin Trigg’s chilly crime novel, NIGHT SHIFT, borrows its name from Antarctica’s six months season of darkness. ‘The cold hit me like a hammer. But never had I taken such an unpolluted breath.’ More intense than the icy embrace of this wilderness are the claustrophobia and close-quarters social dynamics facing the crew of Australis mining base. Newly appointed Security Chief, Anders Nordvelt, makes up the magic number of 13 hands. What could possibly go wrong?
Strap in tight and bite down on that Geode leaf. James Worrad’s space-opera, THE SCALPEL, delivers one helluva mind-bending trip through the galaxies. Every chapter opens new concepts, any one of which could power a whole novel. If you’re thinking you're in a Star Wars bar-room brawl with more inventive swearing and carnivorous dogs called Jaqruzzils, let me tell you, things get a whole lot weirder.
Disturbing, engrossing, enormous fun. No wonder Tade Thompson’s 'Rosewater' won the Arthur C Clarke Sci-Fi award for 2019. I haven’t read such a compelling invasion story since HG Wells’ 'War of the Worlds' scared the bejasus out of us.