Prador Moon by Neal Asher

I’ve been on holiday for the last couple of weeks, in Bath, Winchester, and the Isle of Wight, so not much in the way of writing was achieved. But I did do some reading. One of the books I devoured was Neal Asher’s Prador Moon. Read More...

Dead Harvest

One of the more interesting new publishers around is Angry Robot, responsible for Zoo City and Empire State. They ran a Twitter competition a little while ago, and I was lucky enough to be one of the winners! My prize was an advance reading copy (ARC) of the not-yet-published debut novel by Chris F Holm, entitled Dead Harvest. The ARC came, together with a cool fridge magnet and bookmark, directly from Angry Robot publisher Marc Gascoigne, and it was pretty exciting to get a book that’s not yet available in the shops. I took it with me on my recent trip to Australia to visit my family, and after completing Monsters of Men, the final book in the Chaos Walking trilogy, I picked up the shiny new ARC.

I literally had no idea what to expect: no preconceptions whatsoever. I was quite prepared to give up after a few pages, as I have absolutely no compulsion to finish any book, or to continue reading a book that does not grab me within a few pages.

Fortunately, Dead Harvest grabbed me. And how. It’s an urban fantasy, so think angels and demons, but in a modern, realistic framework. Our hero is Sam Thornton, a collector of souls. Not technically alive, he has the ability to inhabit the body of any living or recently dead human in order to carry out his grisly task. Until the day he tries to collect the soul of Kate, a young multiple murderer, and becomes convinced that she is innocent. He is soon on the run from the forces of both Heaven and Hell, trying to prevent a cosmic calamity. I found myself racing through the book in a few hours, completely caught up in the relentless drive of the narrative.

What I really liked about the book was the pitch-perfect evocation of Sam through the first-person narration. Honest and self-deprecating, he wins your trust early on. But we see things only through his eyes. Is Kate really innocent? Is Sam right to go against the angels themselves? We can’t know these things, we have to wait for events to unfold to find out if our fears are realised. And there is a lot of unfolding. Events come thick and fast, nothing is predictable, and the ride takes your breath away.

In short, I loved it and I can’t wait to read the next one! Dead Harvest is published March 2012, but you can pre-order it from Amazon now:


Zoo City

I’ve got a lot of unread books on my Kindle. It’s just too easy to buy them. Whenever I come across something interesting on the web, and it’s on the Kindle and not too expensive, I end up buying it. So when I finally finished Aegypt (which will be the subject of another post) I decided to read one of the unread ones sitting enticingly in my home screen.

Unfortunately I didn’t like many of them. I started three or four, and just gave up after a few pages. Some self-published books are that way for a reason, I found. One book had about three pages of exposition and back-story before anything happened. And all of this detail seemed to have been lifted straight out of Lara Croft, Tomb Raider. Others just dumped me into an incomprehensible world of weird names and unfathomable things, with no hint that it would be worth making the effort to understand. So it was a great relief to finally start reading Zoo City.

This is the Arthur C Clarke award-winning novel by Lauren Beukes, a South African writer. Now if you think great SF can’t take place in South Africa, you obviously haven’t been paying attention to the District 9s of the world. And like that movie, Zoo City has the gritty authenticity of life in South Africa. I can vouch for this, because I lived in Johannesburg for most of my life. And I felt like I was back there.

The story is told in the first person, hard-boiled noire style, with all of the laconic wit that one could hope for. Beukes has an outstanding way with similes, absolutely nailing the descriptions with acute observations. First-person is hard to pull off, but the heroine’s voice is utterly believable and compelling.

The conceit is clever: in an alternative reality, some people have developed a psychic connection to a particular animal, something like the familiars in Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. This endows them with a specific sort of magical power. Zinzi, the heroine, has a Sloth that gives her the ability to find lost things. But in using this gift she becomes entangled in a murder...

This book is available in paperback and Kindle versions. At time of writing it’s cheaper on the Kindle.

Coffin Dodgers

I’ve just finished Coffin Dodgers, a debut e-book by my friend Gary Marshall. It’s a book which is hard to categorise: it’s a thriller, because people get killed and there are gangsters and guns and so forth, but it’s also very funny. I frequently laughed out loud, which I’m told can be quite irritating, so you’d probably be best off reading this on your own...

It’s very well-written, with characters that feel like old friends within a few pages. The plot moves forward at a frenetic pace, keeping you guessing and the pages turning, and it builds to a satisfying climax.

Coffin Dodgers is available at Amazon.