Places in the Darkness – Christopher Brookmyre

places in the darkness cover

“‘Consciousness Does Not Exist,’ says Mehmet.”

Ciudad de Cielo, the city in the sky, abbreviated to CdC and pronounced ‘Seedee’. And this is the story of the seedy underbelly of what is meant to be a shining beacon for humanity’s future in the stars.

We alternate chapters from the point of view of two characters: Nikki ‘Fixx’, an ex-LA cop now Seedee security and not adverse to a backhander or eight. And Alice Blake: the new head of everything, here to root out corruption, about to get her eyes opened to the true extent of the issue.

All of which would be hard enough on both women, without the skinned corpse floating in a research lab…

I have slightly mixed feelings about this book. It’s a little heavy on the exposition of the sci-fi stuff, I thought, perhaps showing the author’s relative inexperience with the genre over the mystery and crime elements of the plot. I’ve read and enjoyed some of Christopher Brookmyre’s earlier work, and sci-fi is my favourite genre, so it was a little disappointing that the two didn’t gel a little better.

That said, the world that is created here is well thought out and reasonably immersive, and the eventual plot twists weren’t what I was expecting – they were better! I did think the attempts at setting red herrings along the way were a little too obvious, but when the final reveal happened I was suitably impressed.

Hardback: 403 pages / 72 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: none
Read from 26th February – 6th March 2018

My rating: 7/10


Provenance – Ann Leckie

provenance cover

“‘There were unexpected difficulties,’ said the dark gray blur.”

Set not long after Ancillary Mercy, but following new characters, Provenance is a chance to look at a part of that universe outside Radch space. We follow Ingray, a foster-daughter of an important ‘politician’, trying to prove herself worthy of – literally – her mother’s name. Driven to extremes to beat her golden-boy brother, engineering a prison break – from an impossible-to-escape prison – is only the first step and she’s soon caught up in intrigue that affects at least three species and which may threaten her entire world’s sense of identity.

The Ancillary trilogy was on my top reads of last year, and I was hugely excited to revisit the universe. Of course, with such a background, it was always going to be tough for this to live up to – and for me, it doesn’t quite hit it. And yet, it’s still a good book – comparisons can be killer! o_O

Ingray is okay as a main character, but to be honest she’s a bit, well… teenage? Prone to tears and a bit bumbling, she’s at the same time refreshingly different from the ‘strong female lead’, and somehow displaying a quieter strength even as you think she’s a bit lost. The story is a lot about politicking and jostling for position, and the weird ways in which we ‘prove’ our worth, which is made about as interesting as it can be but still feels a little small in comparison to some of the events of the previous books – even when we start bringing in intergalactic peace treaties.

So, while very very well-written, and still pretty fascinating, this is more of a “aren’t some alien species funny?” kind of a tale, not quite played for laughs but almost, rather than anything like a typical space-opera. It doesn’t hurt Leckie’s reputation one jot, but I did find myself thinking this was more of a ‘message’ book than a riveting story that needed telling, at times.

Hardback: 438 pages / 20 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: set in Imperial Radch universe, but not part of Ancillary series
Read from 18th February 2018

My rating: 8/10

Paris Adrift – EJ Swift

paris adrift cover

“The anomaly is waiting.”

Running away from her old life and old sense of self, Hallie lands in Paris and Millie’s bar. Surrounded by other travellers and misfits, it’s the closest Hallie has felt to home in a long time – until, that is, she stumbles through a time portal in the basement. At first terrified, then obsessed, can Hallie retain her sense of self as she is drawn again and again to explore the past of this city she has grown to love?

I was fantastically intrigued by the description of this book, and, for a large part, it does deliver. Despite the time travel elements, this isn’t really a science fiction kind of a novel. It’s borderline on ‘New Adult’ (YA, but a little older?) or even – eeep! – a bit of romance. And, especially by the end, it’s a lot about self-discovery, but in a very good way – in fact, the closing epilogue-y chapter gained this back a few points for me.

Because, while it’s well-written, and intriguing, and definitely has some cool ideas, there was also just something that didn’t quite click here for me. I’m not entirely sure what. Perhaps I’m just too old and un-travelled to have been quite as swept up by the whole life-in-Paris side, which I’d been hoping to find more evocative. Or perhaps I’ve just read too much time-travel to not find a few too many loose ends with the storyline. Or, there’s just not quite enough of any of these elements pushing through the mix.

Whatever didn’t quite satisfy me, I’d still cautiously recommend this book. Full marks for being something a bit different, and while not living up to The Time Traveler’s Wife (one of my favourites!), it might still appeal to fans of that.

NetGalley eARC: 320 pages / 47 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: none
Read from 2nd-11th February 2018

My rating: 7/10

Elysium Fire – Alastair Reynolds

elysium fire cover

“From a distance it almost looked natural.”

For a police force tasked with maintaining democracy and voting rights, the Prefects of Panoply seem to get involved in an awful lot of rather more gory crimes. Such as the sudden outbreak of Glitter Band citizens having their brains boiled from the inside. Faulty implants, or something more sinister? Could it have anything to do with Aurora or the Clockmaker (see The Prefect aka Aurora Rising)? And isn’t it convenient that such a mysterious disaster is pending just as the demagogue-like Devon Garlin is stirring up trouble, encouraging habitats to break away from the care of Panoply and go it alone.

That last made me chuckle – it’s just so Brexit, reminding you that Alastair Reynolds is British and sci-fi is a lot about current events, even when it’s hidden in stories about virtual realities and space faring and, urm, hyperpigs. Go with it!

Still, that’s rather an aside. What we’re really looking at here is a murder mystery with added layers of reality-bending capabilities and some very cool tech. I rather want a material that self-cleans, used for clothing or floors that do the recycling for you!

Again, that doesn’t do this justice. Having already set several books in this universe, Reynolds has a firm grip of his world building, and a rich sense of history even though this duology (so far) is set prior to Revelation Space. Events aren’t just happening to further this plot, but have roots in events that have been mentioned before.

I’m still not 100% sold on the characters, to be honest, although I think there is an improvement from 2007’s The Prefect. Having only just read that, the glimpses of change in the real world are more telling, from little background details like the non-gendered person near the beginning.

There’s definitely scope for more books in this series, and I’ll happily be reaching for them. I really like this world, and I think we’ve yet to read the best story set there.

NetGalley eARC: 488 pages / 23 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: Prefect Dreyfus Emergency book 2 / Revelation Space universe 0.2
Read from 24th January – 1st February 2018

My rating: 8/10

The Death Cure (2018)

death cure poster

The story that began with The Maze Runner (2014) reaches its conclusion with the delayed (after an on-set accident) final part of the trilogy. Can Thomas finally escape from WCKD’s attentions? Can a cure for the deadly Flare virus be found before the whole world is turned into zombies? Can I remember much of anything about the previous movies, or in fact the books they are based on?

To be honest, I went to see this for lack of better options, and an excuse to try out the new 4DX screen at my local cinema – that’s the one where the seats throw you about, air puffs at your ears every time a bullet is shot, and the occasional weird scent is wafted at you. Hmm. Okay, it did add a certain something to the whole experience, but striping away that novelty, the film underneath was just a bit… so-so.

I was desperately unimpressed with the middle installment of the trilogy, The Scorch Trials (2015), so there was no way I was going to rewatch it for the plot reminder – although I possibly could have done with it. Still, there’s not vast amounts that you can’t pick up – Brenda must have been bitten at some point, for instance, and Minho captured. Thus we begin with a reasonably action-packed rescue scene. Get used to it: the original movie was about escape, the second all about running away from various things, and now we have the rescuing everyone repeatedly.

It’s not a bad movie. It’s not great, either, although it is an improvement on the previous film. The acting is reasonable, it’s been made well enough and has some interesting and effective visuals. Ultimately, though, I think the story underneath just isn’t as strong as it thinks it is.

Released: 26th January 2018
Viewed: 27th January 2018
Running time: 142 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10

The Prefect (Aurora Rising) – Alastair Reynolds

prefect cover

“Thalia Ng felt her weight increasing as the elevator sped down the spoke from the habitat’s docking hub.”

Tom Dreyfus is a Prefect, a member of the policing force for the Glitter Band: ten thousand habitats orbiting the planet Yellowstone, housing millions of inhabitants. It’s not a regular kind of policing, though, as the only thing in their remit is ensuring voting rights across the Band. Each habitat is free to live as they please: immersed in virtual reality, back to an agricultural rurality, or even something resembling one of the seven circles of hell. As long as democracy is intact, just about anything goes.

There is such a richness to the world-building here, layers of technology and alienness and past events that we don’t need to know about, but which add that sense of history. Dreyfus himself has his demons, and we’ll learn about those through the book, but he’s dedicated to his job. As The Prefect starts, that job gets a little harder when an entire habitat and all its inhabitants are destroyed. It seems like a pretty obvious case – but a bit too obvious. But Dreyfus has no idea that he’s about to kick off a chain of events that make this mass murder seem like a playground robbery…

I’m a big fan of Alastair Reynolds’ brand of ‘space opera’, but quite a few of his books have been in my ‘must get round to reading that’ pile for too long. The forthcoming publication of the sequel to The Prefect (rereleased under a new title of Aurora Rising)Elysium Fire, made it high time to pick this one up.

While set in the same universe as the Revelation Space books – and indeed, references the location of Chasm City quite a lot – this doesn’t require any of the other books to have been read first. I did have to check that a couple of times, as there is a huge bit of backstory hinted at throughout this book, but it’s not actually referencing anything previously published – all with be revealed as we read on!

To be honest, I wasn’t desperately gripped by any of the characters here – the outstanding, should-have-been-promoted veteran cop, his something-to-prove young protege, and other stereotypes – but the story was so full of ideas that I didn’t mind too much. So much is just used as another layer of the richness: people’s consciousnesses uploaded to simulations, questions around their humanity; those choosing to spend life plugged into simulations; and then there’s the aliens: modified humans, weirder things still. It takes most of the book teasing us to find out what exactly ‘The Clockmaker’ is, and why it attached a device to the Supreme Prefect’s spinal column, turning her into a living bomb, incapable of sleeping – for eleven years…! All of this bubbles under a noir-ish detective story with plenty of twists and horrors.

Reynolds knows how to tell a story, that’s for sure, and there’s plenty here to keep you reading. And from a bit of ‘meh’-ness at the beginning, I’m really glad there’s only a few days to wait until I can catch up with Dreyfus again, in Elysium Fire.

If even those few days are too long, a short bridging story between the two novels is available for free online here.

Paperback: 502 pages / 33 chapters
First published: 2007
Series: Prefect Dreyfus Emergency book 1 / Revelation Space universe 0.1
Read from 27th December 2017 – 21st January 2018

My rating: 8/10

The Last Jedi (2017)

Last Jedi poster

Phew – I can relax, no one can ‘get’ me with spoilers for the Biggest Movie Event of the Year (TM) now that I’ve seen it! I’ll provide none of my own, don’t worry.

I’ve always felt I was just the wrong age to be a huge Star Wars fan, and while I’m a huge (wannabe) geek I’ve always had that feeling that I’m just not into it enough to appreciate all the hype. I missed out on the original trilogy largely, I was less than enthused by the prequel trio, and while I rather enjoyed 2015’s The Force Awakens (aka episode 7) it felt more like a rehash of the original – yes, it was fun and I liked it but… it was missing something, some spark of originality or soul, perhaps?

I was a little surprised, then, when The Last Jedi side-swiped me into being the film that is finally making me geek out a LOT over this whole franchise! 🙂

Without mentioning specifics, this has a lot going for it: a more original storyline, lots of character development all ’round, cute critters in the form of porgs, some familiar faces, some new blood adding positively to the film. I laughed more than I expected – there are some genuinely funny moments, and it’s a huge boost to see a juggernaut like this not taking itself too seriously. And of course it looks spectacular, and is just chock-full of adventure and action and everything that makes Star Wars Star Wars!

It’s not perfect. I was a little puzzled by some of the plot threads, which were perhaps a little bit… pointless, dare I say? There were a few moments of “Why didn’t you just do that in the first place?!?!” and other slight logic flaws. The things that were maybe waiting for an explanation that either didn’t happen, or just were a bit underwhelming.

And then there are the visuals that make all of that just melt away. The eye candy is everywhere, from background details to fantastic wildlife: crystal foxes and the soon-to-be-ubiquitous porgs. The use of the colour red is particularly ‘wow’, from Supreme Leader Snoke’s throne room to the planet where the very ground seems to bleed.

I had thought going in that 2.5 hours was going to feel like a long movie, but it really didn’t. I was genuinely swept up in the fun of the adventure, and the sense that there is a lot more story still to come. Finally, I think, I might be starting to understand a bit about the huge appeal of this universe!

Released: 14th December 2017
Viewed: 16th December 2017
Running time: 152 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8.5/10