The Winter World by A.G. Riddle

Winter World (The Long Winter #1)

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed A.G. Riddle’s Pandemic series, I couldn’t wait to read his latest, Winter World. Not  only do I love the visceral thrill of eschatological narratives and their exploration of geo-political machinations as well as emotional and psychological trauma and challenges of facing the end of the world as we know it and how people react, but the notion of the earth becoming a winter wasteland (and the reasons behind this) were fascinating to me – very Day After Tomorrow-esque.

This tale of the earth’s rapid change from varied climate and where power is concentrated in familiar regions to one where mass immigration from First World centres to formerly third world countries is told from two points of view. The first is that of an astronaut/scientist and commander, Emma, and a brilliant doctor and roboticist (among other things) James, who commences the book in a federal prison. The way Riddle tells the story of earth’s epic struggle to survive an attack that will destroy all life is at once personalized through these two characters and the relationships they form with their families, colleagues and each other, but also far-reaching. He cleverly keeps the pace moving by leaping the story forward and avoiding what some sci-fi narratives do (albeit some do it very well), bogging the reader down in extraneous scientific detail that show the author’s grasp of technical complexities as opposed to serving the story. We are given some of the science and for this Luddite, it appears to work. But it is the story that captures you – as well as demands you suspend your disbelief – as James and Emma and the brilliant people they work with fight to battle an alien enemy no-one predicted and who is ruthless in the extreme. 

My only mild reservations are that James and Emma are so damn courageous and amazing. James is like the nerd’s James Bond personified but with the ability to grow and change – for the better (even when he’s practically perfect in every way). Emma, through great tragedy and personal hardship is also a geek Mary Poppins – intelligent, focused, self-sacrificing and lovely. I just wish there were more people Iike Emma and James in real life. As it is, I’ll have to wait for the sequel to find out where their battle and the dangerous adventures that ensue lead. Looking forward to it!

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Mosaic, by Michael C. Grumley.

Mosaic is the fifth book in Michael C Grumley’s fabulous Breakthrough series, a tale that keeps getting wilder, more intense and utterly immersive with each book. Grumley’s imagination, grounded in science, knows no bounds but also respects them as his tale of a group of ex-Navy seals, scientists, ethical politicians (yes, they exist in Grumley’s world) as power-hungry despots, conspirators and unscrupulous folk well as dolphins, primates and an assortment of others, gets taken to the next level.

Having rescued the young Chinese woman, Li Na Wei, John Clay and Steve Cesare as well as Alison and Neely cannot rest on their laurels. While international interest in not only the bacterium they’ve discovered and its implications for Earth’s future but where it’s come from intensifies, it’s the attention they’ve attracted from their own that poses the greatest threat to their mission. 

Once again, the wide cast of characters are expanded upon revealing their strengths and vulnerabilities. Readers who have invested in this series need to be prepared to lose a few favourites as well for surprises. Just when you think you know where the narrative might be heading, it explodes in a different direction.

Some old faces and new also make appearances and then, of course, there’s the endearing mammals – Dirk, Sally, the dolphin Elders, the gorgeous primates – all of whom have secrets to tell and wonders to share with their human companions. It’s so evident that Grumley really cares about this story and those he’s created to help him tell it – you cannot help but care as well and forgive the narrative if it sometimes slips or slides into over-telling or didactics (which he mostly avoids).

I was describing this series to a friend and while I don’t think this does it justice, it’s sort of Avatar meets Indiana Jones, meets James Bond meets Dr Doolittle. I am just astonished that a major publisher or production company hasn’t picked them up. James Cameron? Where are you? Grumley’s series is waiting for your treatment.

My only disappointment is that I have to wait so long for the next book. 

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A Superior Spectre by Angela Meyer

What a marvellous and original book. In blending history and science fiction, Angela Meyer has created a work of literary prowess that lingers in the imagination long after the last page.

Told from two viewpoints (mainly), this is the story of Australian Jeff who, longing to escape not merely his past, but his secret, hidden self, flees Melbourne for the Scottish Highlands and, eventually, an island. But Jeff carries more baggage than simply what he regards as his shameful desires. He also has a device that allows him to escape his deteriorating corporeal frame and enter the mind and soul of someone from the past. That someone is young Leonora. Warned he can only use it three times, Jeff ignores the advice, and uses the equipment to escape his own life and experience Leonora’s at will.

Motherless Leonora lives in the Scottish Highlands in the 1860s with her father, tending the land and animals of the local laird. Content with her lot, loving the knowledge passed onto her by Mr Anderson who manages the laird’s many animals, Leonora is inquisitive, kind and keen to learn as much as she can. When she not only befriends the young laird but starts to have strange visions and yearnings which she cannot reconcile, she wonders what is happening to her.

When her father sends her to join her aunt in sooty, noisy Edinburgh, Leonora is inconsolable. Torn from her old life, the only constant is the man she senses lurking behind her eyes, on the periphery of her mind and the strange, impossible visions and strong, sensual urges his presence arouses. Uncertain what is happening to her, fearful she is going mad, possessed or both, Leonora’s life begins to unravel. There is only one way she can be saved, but selfish, indulgent Jeff is no hero.

Two lives are at stake, but only one can survive…

Exquisitely written, this book evokes both a distant future where human contact and companionship can be replaced by life-like devices and technology gives us entrée to the past and others that is both dangerous and exhilarating. It also plunges readers into history and Scotland post-enlightenment. This was a time when women and science were pushing boundaries and the mind was a new territory, ripe for exploration and exploitation.

Unique, rich and incredibly sensual and sexual, this novel takes us to the edges of desire and beyond, exploring issues such as loss, regret, choices, shame, sexual fantasy and reality, and the depths and heights to which human nature can both plume and strive. It also examines boundaries – those imposed by our sex and sexual desires, social constraints and culture and how, even we’re free, we create our own cages and then rail against them.

What also makes this novel so very different is the way it not only segues between male and female point of view but how, at times, these either blur or become so distinct as to appear as if they’re alternate species.

Clever, convincing and unputdownable, Meyer’s debut novel is sensational. My sincere thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for a copy. What a ride. What a read.

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Dust by Hugh Howey

18866705Riddle me this… why oh why have I taken so long to read the final instalment in this marvellous Silo trilogy, Dust? Why, after being utterly captivated by book 1, Wool, loving book 2, Shift, did it take me over three years to reach for this epic conclusion? Yeah, I don’t know either. Too many great books and not enough time, maybe? Finally, I made the time. What I do know is the wait was well worth it.

I don’t want to allow any spoilers to slip into this review except to say that in this final book, the world as the inhabitants of the various Silo’s know it is about to be torn apart. While the reader has been privy to internal politics and, in book 2, the over-arching or macro-politics and history that led to the silos and the hot-housing of humanity in the first place, in this final novel, the splintering of loyalties, of what’s always seemed to be the truth, of just who are allies and enemies, of how perceptions are created and distorted, reaches a climax.

The sense of imprisonment, of claustrophobia, not just within the dark confines of these enormous cement holdings, but psychically and emotionally, plunges towards the only possible shocking conclusion. Yearning for freedom and having it within your grasp, however, comes at a cost… are the inhabitants of the silos willing to pay the price and what charges might be extracted from them if they do?

Tense, utterly believable, with cracking dialogue and wonderful descriptions that make the reader feel as entrapped as those we read about, this is a terrific conclusion to a stunning trilogy. Only, I get the feeling it isn’t really a conclusion either… I certainly hope not.

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Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

13206760I don’t know why I waited so long to pick up this sequel to the remarkable Cinder – The Lunar Chronicles #1. Having loved the first book and how it reinvented a beloved fairy tale in a different genre, I think I didn’t want to be disappointed if the next book didn’t live up to the promise of the first. Silly me.

Scarlet, The Lunar Chronicles #2, more than lives up to what were very high expectations as it continues the story of Cinder, the cyborg mechanic at the centre of a not only a love affair with Prince Kai but a burgeoning war between earth and the Lunars. It also introduces new characters which are loosely based on Little Red Riding Hood. But don’t let the source material fool you into thinking this is a walk in the woods. Like the original tale from which it harkens, “little” red-riding hood, the flame-haired and capable Scarlet, is anything but a victim, to wolves or any other kind of predator.

When Scarlet Benoit discovers her beloved grandmother is missing, she leaves no picnic basket unturned in an effort to find her. Along the way, she discovers that her nana isn’t quite the person she thought. On the contrary, what a big secret you have grandmamma, one that can affect the fate of the earth.

Befriending a street-fighter named Wolf (yes, the analogies are swift and fast, but don’t let them put you off, they are very cleverly done), Scarlet tries to track her grandmother’s whereabouts. Along the way, she meets Cinder and uncovers a connection between them that makes them two of the most wanted people on the planet. Trying desperately to stay one step ahead of those who seek to capture and kill them (looking at you Queen Levana), Scarlet and Cinder quickly learn who their friends and enemies are – sometimes they are one and the same.

Fast-paced, well written and characterised, this is a terrific re-imagining of fairytales casting them into a genre that lends itself in so many ways to exactly this treatment. You don’t have to be a fan of sci-fi, fantasy or fairy tales to enjoy this – it is just a great read.

Tightly plotted, it’s an easy yet fulfilling tale that makes you yearn for the next instalment. Despite my pile of reading books, I won’t leave the next book so long.

 

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