Living up to the hype

The TestingEver since Katniss Everdeen and her bow and arrow set stormed onto the scene a few years ago, practically every new book published in this genre has managed to include a critics quote on its jacket that claims it is, without a shadow of a doubt, ‘the next Hunger Games’. Most of these books, I’ve found, fall woefully short of this claim. But there are a few that manage to bring something new to the table. So if you’re one of the millions of people who couldn’t get enough of the Mockingjay, ‘The Testing’ by Joelle Charbonnaeu might just help to fill the void!

Seven stages of global war have devastated the planet, corrupting the land and making it hard for plants to grow and for people to thrive. To combat this, the United Commonwealth Government selects the brightest students to go forward for The Testing. If they pass, they will gain entry to the University, where they will be trained to be the next leaders of the country – tasked with rebuilding the Commonwealth by stretching the limits of medicine, biomechanical engineering and government, as well as finding new ways to grow crops and improve communications.

Cia is from Five Lakes colony, one of the most remote and least populated in the Commonwealth. So when four of her graduating class, including Cia, are selected to go forward for the testing, it’s an honour that hasn’t been seen in more than 10 years. Continue reading

A review of ‘White Horse’ by Alex Adams

White HorseI bought ‘White Horse’ as I’d loved books like Justin Cronin’s ‘The Passage’, Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ and Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam series. From the description, this book seemed to combine aspects of all of the above, so it seemed like a safe bet.

White Horse flits back and forth between times, revealing Zoe’s story before and after the outbreak of a deadly disease that kills off a large amount of the population and causes random and extreme genetic mutations in others. Together, these two narratives weave together to build up a greater picture of events and Zoe’s role in them.

In the past, we follow Zoe’s everyday life in the run-up to the outbreak. In her therapy sessions, she obsesses over a sealed jar, unable to decide whether or not to open it. This jar comes to represent a sort of Pandora’s Box – and the pervading question left hanging for most of the novel of whether this jar truly represents something evil, or whether this is all simply in Zoe’s mind? Continue reading

Justin Cronin’s ‘The Passage’

the passageWhen the book opens, the US government is exploring new ways to create the ultimate fighting weapon. The discovery of a mysterious virus found in the deepest parts of a remote jungle, which seems to render its carriers impervious to disease and to give them extreme strength, seems like it may offer a solution. But experiments on test subjects straight from death row soon take a disastrous turn.

Skip forward a hundred years and the catastrophic consequences of these experiments become abundantly clear. Darkness brings death in the form of virals – infected humans that roam the country, moving like lightening and killing or turning every living thing in their path.

A small pocket of survivors live in the First Colony. Their entire survival relies on their ability to guard their high walls against the virals, and on the bright lights that protect against the night. The people living in the colony are several generations down from the original survivors, and the old world and the promise of a rescuing army have been changed into the stuff of myth and legend. Continue reading

Classic dystopian fiction

In a not so distant future, the world has died. Nothing grows. The supply of tinned or preserved food is almost gone. Most of the people are dead. The ones that have survived are often more dangerous that the hazardous world they live in, and armies of ruthless cannibalistic murders roam the grey and lifeless land.

The RoadIn this world, one man and his son are walking the road. Scratching for every scrap of food and often near death, they make their way towards the coast, hoping to find the survivors. The man knows they won’t survive much longer in the open, and they live in constant fear of people taking their meagre supplies in a place where a dry blanket could makethe difference between life and death.

The man’s whole reason for being lies in keeping his son, the one speck of light left in his world, alive to see another day.

We never find out the names of the man and his son. However, the fact that the book is confined to just their small sliver of the world and their experiences of the long grey road means that we get to know them intimately. It’s intense and sometimes it’s quite claustrophobic, but it’s also incredibly gripping. Continue reading

A review of Hugh Howey’s ‘Sand’

Having read and loved Hugh Howey’s ‘Wool’ trilogy, I was so excited to get an ARC of his new novel – Sand.

SandAs the title suggests, the protagonists live in a world where the only constant is the sand. A relentless wind buries buildings, forcing people to move on and move up on a regular basis. Carrying buckets of water away from the few surviving wells is a full time, 24 hour a day job. In such a hostile landscape, everything of value – from copper coins to clothes to metals and building materials – is sourced from below the sands, from the cities of the world below, buried far beneath the dunes.

In Springston, people carve out lives for themselves as best they can. The lucky ones live on the wall, which holds back the worst of the sands as best it can. The not so lucky ones live in the shadows of the wall, at the mercy of the shifting landscape, forced to do whatever it takes to survive. Since their father left, Palmer, Vic, Conner, Rob and their mother have been living in the only way that they can, driven by anger, hurt and a curiosity for the unknown. Continue reading

‘Wool’ by Hugh Howey

woolIn Hugh Howey’s breakout self-published fiction novel, generations of people live and die inside a giant underground silo. Their only glimpse of the outside world comes through a dirty camera lens. The worst punishment is to be put outside, where the air is so toxic that people are overcome by it in minutes.

The hills are littered with bones. But still, a seed of rebellion refuses to be put out. There are those that do not believe the outside world is as fatal as they’ve been told. Spurred on by drudgery, endless rules and conspiracy theories, these people will fight to the bitter end to uncover the truth.

This is easily one of the best books in its genre that I’ve read for a while. Continue reading

Andrew Fukada’s ‘The Hunt’

I’ve been struggling to put this book into words. I suppose it could be described as a sort of warped version of The Hunger Games. Except in this case we have a world dominated by vampires embarking on a once-in-a-decade human hunt, with the lucky hunters drawn from the population by lottery.The-Hunt

However, one such hunter is actually a human, or a heper as they call them, living in disguise amongst the vampires. Knowing that he will be exposed as soon as the hunt starts by his inability to keep up with the pack and his unwillingness to tear their prey apart with his fake vampire fangs, he is rapidly running out of time to come up with a way out. With the help of some unexpected allies, his world is changed forever as he uncovers hidden secrets that go against everything that he’s been taught.

I have to start by saying that The Hunt is written really well – it had a great pace, plenty of action and it was quite addictively readable. However, while the concept was interesting, there were some gaping holes in the plotline that managed to completely distract me from the main story on several occasions throughout the book.

There are numerous points that I just cannot get my head around. Whether that’s because the author has failed to think things through or because he simply hasn’t bothered to explain them, I’m not sure.

My first gripe is how our main protagonist has managed to attend vampire school for years without detection. I don’t know how he’s managed to get hold of fake fangs or contraband razors in the first place, but those basic difficulties aside, I don’t see how it is possible to have never coughed, sneezed, sweated, blushed or spilled a single drop of blood in the presence of vampires (who never show a shred of emotion and scratch their wrists instead of laughing).

Secondly, vampires are under the impression that humans are totally extinct outside of government activity. But since there are several secret humans revealed throughout the book, from a relatively low pool of characters, you have to assume that there are lots of fake vampires running around unnoticed. Despite this, there’s no testing of any kind?!

And then there are the things that are just plain weird. The vampires in this book don’t kiss, they rub armpits. And nowhere does it explain how they are able to reproduce, if they do so in the same way as humans, and if not, how fake vampire humans/manage to have babies without shedding any blood at all (as this can apparently be smelt from miles away).

There are plenty more, but I don’t want to reveal any spoilers. If anyone can offer up an explanation for any of the above, I’d love to hear it!

‘The Age of Miracles’ by Karen Thompson Walker

One day, the world wakes up to find that the rotation of the earth has begun to slow. As the days continue to stretch and the minutes pile in, the very notion of time is distorted thrown out of proportion and has to be redefined. This has a catastrophic effect on nature, throwing life as we know it out of kilter.

age of miraclesThroughout the novel, we have only one narrator. Julia is eleven years old when the slowing begins. Her perspective shapes the entire book, from her views on her parents’ marriage to her experiences of loss, death and change. This has a really interesting narrative effect and I thought it worked incredibly well.

We don’t know anything about the rest of the planet other than what we hear from Julia. Throughout the whole novel, Julia is more involved in the immediate problems of school, friends, bras and first crushes than with the impending disaster that continues to turn everything she knows about the world upside down. The news about the progress of the world is reported rather than dwelled upon, and as society fights to retain a sense of normality, Julia’s attention is absorbed by the small details of daily life.

That’s the main difference between ‘The Age of Miracles’ and other dystopian, end-of-the-world fiction. It’s such a stark contrast that I’d probably classify this as more of a coming of age novel. Rather, than focusing on the cause and solutions of the global crisis, this book is much more concerned with human relationships.

It raises some interesting questions. Does the slowing really affect Julia’s childhood, or are her experiences common adolescents all over the world, in every culture, no matter what the situation? It also drives home some truths. Relationships will always be put under strain. People will always disagree. Society will always marginalise certain groups that go against the norm. Humans will always adapt and find a way to survive.

Others have commented that they thought the pace was a bit too slow or that there wasn’t enough of a focus on the science fiction aspect, but I really enjoyed this book. I found the ending in particular really interesting. I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t read it, but it draws together all of the themes set out in the book and it continued to play on my mind for hours after I turned the last page. All in all I’d definitely recommend it, just make sure you’re not expecting it to be something it’s not.

A review of Alden Bell’s The Reapers are the Angels

(Tor, September 2011)

When I started reading The Reapers are the Angels, it was hot off the back of the season finale of The Walking Dead and I was suffering from acute zombie drama withdrawal symptoms. I’d also read a quote that said this book was perfect for fans of Justin Cronin’s The Passage – which ranks as one of my all time favourite dystopian fiction novels – so I was expecting something equally mind-blowing and action packed.

ReapersFor those who haven’t heard about this book, it’s the story of Temple. Fifteen years old, a loner and a survivor, Temple wanders the country with no destination, only a will to live. Along the way, she runs into other survivors, one of whom becomes her sworn enemy. Driven by a conviction that killing her is the only thing that makes sense, he will stop at nothing to do so. In trying to evade her pursuer, Temple comes across a man named Maury. He’s helpless and vulnerable, and Temple makes a pact with herself to deliver him back to his family, whatever it takes.

As it turned out, this novel was actually quite different from what I was expecting. For a start, it was a lot slower in pace. The zombies, or ‘meatskins’ as they’re known, were used more as a device to set the scene for the action than as a central part of the story. That’s where my main problem lay with this novel. It is described as post-apocalyptic world, however none of the characters we meet seem to struggle for supplies or shelter, even when they’re out in the big bad open. And despite the fact that zombies have been roaming the earth for near on twenty years, there is still electricity, working GPS device and fully functional abandoned petrol stations stocked with food.

The writing style of The Reapers are the Angels was really different and I have to admit that it took me a little while to get used to it. There’s no real separation of dialogue from the rest of the text, which gives the impression that the reader is a passive witness to Temple’s stream of consciousness. By the end of the book, however, I thought it really worked and it really contributed to the whole isolated and estranged feel of the book.

The characters were well developed and well rounded, but there was a little too much of a focus on the theme of heavenly salvation and redemption for my personal liking. That said, I can see why the author has chosen to go down this route, and it was interesting to see his interpretation of how certain people would react under very difficult circumstances and in the absence of any real hope.

Overall, I didn’t love it, but I did think it was a good and enjoyable read. I know that others have said they weren’t keen on the ending, but I actually thought it worked really well – it’s refreshing to read a book in this genre that works as a standalone novel without spending too much time building up to a sequel.