Favourite 7 literary monsters

I’ve only read one piece of fiction, if memory serves, about a Mummy. Interestingly, it was called The Mummy, and it wasn’t very good. By Jane Loudon, it was originally published in 1827, and set in the future, which is at odds with many concepts of the Mummy as a horror icon. I mention this only in passing as momentum starts to build towards to the new Universal Monster share universe. I’m a huge fan of some of the original Universal movies, especially Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935) (which of course, as everyone knows, should be called Bride of the Monster), and the later Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) – sadly I’ve never read a book featuring a gill-man.

FrankensteinSo, as news trickles through of these films, I got to thinking about what were my favourite monsters in literature – the classical kind, that is. So here I present, the forgottengeek guide to monsters that I’ve read. So not at all comprehensive then!

We will start, naturally, with one of my all-time favourite books and winner in the category of man-made monster. Not much more can be said about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). My original review is here. What many people don’t realise (those fools that haven’t read it), is that much of the classic cinematic imagery of the good doctor in his laboratory building the creature isn’t at all in the book. The monster is a fairly sympathetic character until his encounters with people make him a monster.

We, as a species, are good at making monsters. In fiction at least. There are supernatural and there are man-made zombies. My recommendation for the latter type is Feed (2010) by Mira Grant. The first book in her ‘Newsflesh’ books, the zombies Grant creates are a result of the mixing of two initially beneficial viruses. Set in the future, the story of the apocalypse and how it came about is told via media-savvy bloggers. The zombies themselves are fairly peripheral characters – attacks are rare. As in the best horror, the humans are worse monsters…Plus it has a character called Buffy! What’s not to love.

kalixI’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but there is no better depiction of the werewolf than Kalix and her clan in Martin Millar’s Lonely Werewolf Girl (2007) and sequels. Kalix is a loner but is surrounded by an absolute menagerie of colourful characters. Millar’s imagination and skill as an author are formidable, and Kalix is a werewolf everyone should spend time with. There is plenty of horror in this series as well. Werewolves, hunters and others regularly destroy each other. Kalix is a lot more complex that you might think. She’s not just a miserable teen goth, but a unique and special person trying to understand her place in the world.

Again, there are elements of both horror and humanity in Sunshine (2003) by Robin McKinley. This novel is my favourite vampire book and features the enigmatic Constantine as the vampire who comes to find a connection with Sunshine; a baker and magician who narrates this tale. There is an ethereal darkness and a surreal brightness to Sunshine that might be seen as an exemplar for vampire tales. Constantine can be interpreted as a sympathetic vampire – a bit like Angel in Buffy the Vampire Slayer perhaps? But that’s how the reader can relate, and how Sunshine becomes his friend. And by the way, Stoker’s Dracula (1897) is boring!

The Golem and the DjinniI’ve only read one work of fiction featuring a Golem/Gollum. I talked about Helene Wecker’s The Golem and The Djinni (2014) before over here. Of course it also features a djinni, another classic horror monster.           There is little horror here at all; only fear of loneliness and of being a migrant in a strange city. Like Kalix, both the golem and the djinni are finding their way in a strange world. Wecker’s depiction of the golem having to hide its inherent golem-ness even though it would mean an easier life is poignant. The djinni is a creative character who again must come to terms with being different.

Are ghosts monsters? Any more than a golem, for example? In The Haunting Of Hill House (1959) by Shirley Jackson, you might ask, are there even ghosts? Is the house itself evil and malevolent? Too many questions. What I love about Jackson’s short novel is that the tension and creepiness is palpable. Whether or not Eleanor is being haunted by a ghost, a house, or whether it’s all in her mind are irrelevant. It is the power of Jackson’s writing that sends shivers down your spine and means you sleep with the lights on.

Again, I’ve not read too many books with a witch as a monster but Hex (2015) by Thomas Olde Heuvelt stands out. The witch in this Kingian tale of small town America is a human creation – a woman persecuted back in the day, and now taunted by bored teens. Like many of the monsters here, you side with her at times, or at least understand her motivations. Humans are the bad guys once more. Olde Heuvelt’s writing is enjoyable. A proper horror page-turner in tune with the modern age. As all good horror fiction should be.

Monsters of a less tangible nature that get the nod in this list are The Stand (1990) by Stephen King, of course. Man makes the plague that wipes out most of humanity, and evil comes to town in the undefinable presence of Randall Flagg. A demon, a man, an evil wizard, or something else? Perhaps a little like Jackson’s The Haunting Of Hill House, and Steven King’s The Shining (1980) – ok, a hotel but still a building – it is the house itself (maybe) that is the monster in Mark Z Danielewski’s remarkable House of Leaves (2000). Hard to describe, it is a work of metafictional genius that creeps the hell out of me! Read it. A nod of course must go to another Universal monster, the classic The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) by Robert Louis Stevenson. It is much weirder than you might imagine and although short, highlights the inner struggle between good and evil, and the external struggle between classes in Victorian Britain.

Interest in horror has always been high and there appears to be a resurgence of interest in the classics. Read these books as a starting point, then go and explore.

Ripley: “You know, Burke, I don’t know which species is worse. You don’t see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage”. Aliens (1986).

I must read Cabal (1988) by Clive Barker at some point – Midian sounds like a fun place!

The History of Science Fiction Literature Challenge – The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse (1943)

glass-bead-gameHaving taken more than a decade to write, The Glass Bead Game, also known under the title of Magister Ludi (which is Latin for Master of the Game) was Herman Hesse’s final novel, and his only one that might be considered science fiction; it’s set in the twenty third century.

The full title of the edition I read – Vintage 2000, translated by Richard and Clara Winston – is The Glass Bead Game: A tentative sketch of the life of Magister Ludi Joseph Knecht together with Kencht’s posthumous writings edited by Hermann Hesse. Therefore, the conceit of this novel is that this is a fictional biography of said Knecht, which includes a few different sources, all brought together by Hesse.

The plot is fairly perfunctory. A talented but by no means exceptional boy studies the art of the Glass Bead Game in some bizarrely static future (I’ll come to that shortly), eventually becoming the top man in the hierarchy that oversees the game. The game itself is all about philosophy and music, although we never actually learn how the game is played or what the outcomes of the tournaments are. But the game itself is not really the point. The point is that Hesse was addressing a fundamental issue of the twentieth century: the end of national hierarchies and the rise of individualism. It even covers the rise of neo-libraralism (mentioned on page 303), as mentioned by the father of Plinio Designori who dominates his son’s life and belief system.

The Glass Bead Game is an odd one. On one hand, it is an imaginative thought piece on the changing nature of humanity. On the other, it is a deeply troubling projection of the author’s perception of the world, which somehow gained much critical acclaim.

So, the plot takes place in the future, but in truth it is a reflection on the past and not an actual comment on what Hesse thought the future might look like. Major themes are classic music, German philosophers, Chinese mysticism (I Ching), and religion. Nothing has progressed from the 1930s that Hesse must have experienced. It almost beggars belief that authors cannot look at the progress shown by history and not think the future will be filled with further progress. In Hesse’s future there are no technological or cultural advancements at all. Worse, his attitude towards women in particular and non-while males in general is shocking. It saddens me that this book is held in such high regard when it features not a single named female character in the biography of Knecht. It seems only men, and European men at that, have any place in the running of the future. The first mention of any woman is Plinio Designori’s mother on page 278 of this edition (more than half way through the book). The first female character with any agency is Plinio’s un-named wife (page 310), although her primary function is mother to their son. While Hesse extols the virtues of teachers, he suggests that they should be men. Interestingly, however, in the first line of Knecht’s so-called writings, it is stated that women ruled many thousands of years ago.

The Glass Bead Game becomes a black and white debate throughout its prose. There are several strands, but to Hesse it is always this versus that: the religious orders v the Game orders; the creation v the study of art; art v philosophy; art v science and the main event of course: the individualism of careerism, wealth and fame versus the old fashioned hierarchy where every brick in the wall counts, holding up the head of the ‘thing’ and its ideals. This is exemplified by Knecht’s stay with the Music Master while still at school, and (the voice of religion) Father Jacobus’s angry rant when Knecht was staying at the monastery (the Pythagorean brotherhood or the Christian church). Later, this examination of hierarchy is confirmed when Knecht is given the title of Magister and therefore he was to be a “jewel in the crown, a pillar in the structure” and he had to think of the Whole and serve the elite. At the conclusion, it is noted that “what would become of our Hierarchy . . .” if each man did not live in his assigned place.

Whether it is this particular translation, or the original writing, but parts of Knecht’s story are engaging enough The writing is skilled, and even though some paragraphs are longer than a page, rarely boring. Knecht’s relationship with the Music Master, his investigation of the I Ching and the changing relationship with Plinio Designori – the character who represents individualism – as they age, are charming and interesting. Knecht eventually rejecting the old ways and embracing the future. The biography style works well, and the author(s) discuss the truth of the tale versus the legend, describing where the information about Knecht’s life comes from, which gives the writing added authority.

A final criticism, and again one that seems to have gone un-noticed in the praise for this novel, is that there are meant to be at least three authors of this book. The ‘biographers’ who are talking to the reader for most of the story; the anonymous author of the final chapter ‘Legend’, and Knecht himself with his poetry and within the section entitled Three Lives. Yet, there is no difference in style or voice of the author; clearly Hesse himself. Surely he should have presented these writers as having their own unique styles, or did everyone in the future write like a 19th Century German?

A complex novel with a lot to enjoy but so much more to be concerned about. I’m undecided whether Hesse was looking back at affection at the old hierarchies of the past and warning about individualism, especially concerning Knecht’s fate. Either philosophy is problematic anyway, and Hesse doesn’t really consider shades of grey. If this book is some vision of Hesse’s future utopia, it has no place for anyone other than white European men. Shameful. Science fiction, of course, examines humanity and what it means to be a human either in the future or an alternative history. The Glass Bead Game does not do this but rather reflects on the past with rose-tinted glasses. Despite being set in the future, it is not a science fiction story by any stretch of the imagination.

The Race by Nina Allan

The RaceAllan’s debut – The Race – is a brave novel, hard to categorise and in some ways hard to describe. It is, essentially, four short stories from four different characters’ perspectives. It begins in a fairly standard fashion; a science fiction tale from the point of view of Jenna.

Kent, and by extrapolation, England, has been ravaged. Fracking has caused an environmental collapse. Life has reverted back to almost 1970s style existence (shillings are the currency, trams are the main transport), except that the major past-time is smartdog racing; a futuristic version of greyhound racing, where the dogs are connected to human runners. Jenna makes gloves for the runners. The story takes place in Sapphire, on the edge of the future Romney Marshes. Not a lot happens at the outset. Jenna describes her life and her narrow world view. Her brother, who is dodgy, runs a race track. His daughter gets kidnapped and he must win the big race to find the money to pay the kidnappers.

Next up is Christy. Her story is much more contemporary. In fact, it appears she lives in our world. It perturbed me a little early on as her voice and her story seemed a lot like Jenna’s. Christy’s brother is Derek, Jenna’s is Del. They are both wrong’uns. Again, not a lot of plot to talk about, as Christy describes her relationships with the people who come into her life as she heads off to university. One of Derek’s girlfriends is called Lin. She goes missing…Alex is Lin’s ex-boyfriend and is the narrator of the third, and shortest story. He visits Christy in Hastings, where they must confront their pasts. He also ties up a loose end of Christy’s tale.

Back in the future, the final story features the orphan Maree, an empath on a strange journey to a new home across the Atlantic. Some of the places seem to be those of our world, and some seem to be the world of Jenna – smartdogs are a feature too. There’s a lot of mythology in this story, especially about gigantic whales that cause consternation to the travellers. Relationships are the order of the day in this segment, and Maree has plenty of them to negotiate. One of the passengers on her ship discloses that he is an investigator hired to find her. Maree is the kidnapped niece of Jenna. It is revealed that she is to work on a project which is attempting to translating some potential alien languages. There is an appendix too, which is a third person story of Maree, several years later. More about how the stories throughout the novel are interwoven is revealed. I especially enjoyed the link to the mirror scene in an earlier section of the book.

Allan’s voice is strong. Her prose is very readable and her characters very engaging. The style of the first two (Jenna and Christy) is deliberately similar, and once you work it out, is satisfying. Despite the individual sections not having a whole lot of story, the completed work exposes the bigger picture nicely. Not everything works perfectly – such as the narrow focus of the world building in the science fiction tales, and the half made-up, half relatable future. Although I suppose as they are first person tales, the narrow focus is understandable.

The main focus of The Race is not science fiction, or even plot. It is relationships. Especially between brother and sister, but also, and unusually in science fiction, between boyfriends and girlfriends (and same sex couples) in the early stages or short-term partnerships. Not much happy ever after or soul-mates to be found here. People come and go in our lives and Allan describes this with aplomb. I could have done with more plot, personally. I would have liked an explanation of why the gloves where so important. I would have liked more thematic completion, especially around the title – although I guess it might be the human race as opposed to the smartdog race. Alex seems to exist only to solve Christy’s suspicions surrounding the missing Lin.

Allan’s deft touch is nice – when the hints she drops about Christy’s voice is made clear, it is almost casual, as if unimportant. There is an undercurrent about Allan’s view of language and what books generally and stories specifically mean to her, culminating in the terrific passage which includes the memorable line: “what the hell is a fucking squirrel”. There are hints of Allan’s feelings on war, and the science fiction has a nostalgic quality. And so there is a lot going on in The Race, lack of plot notwithstanding, and most of it hugely enjoyable. And you can thank Allan’s brilliant prose style and very likeable characters.

Originally published here: http://nudge-book.com/blog/2016/09/the-race-by-nina-allan/

Best of the Arthur C. Clarke Award runners-up (those shortlisted but did not win)

In 1987, the first winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award was announced. Margaret Atwood won with the sublime A Handmaid’s Tale. In 2016, the 30th award will be handed out in August. The shortlist of 6 titles, announced at SCI-FI LONDON on 27 April, has been whittled down from 113 submissions. That’s a lot of books!

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

We know about the 30 great and well-deserved winners, but what about the others? The one’s that didn’t quite make it. There are some terrific books in the shortlists each year and this is a perfect opportunity to look at some of the best of the runners-up. Having not read all of the short-listed books over the past 30 years (I have a bit of a life) these are my favourites. These are the one’s I’d should about to those who haven’t read them. These are the ones that have great characters, complex plots, interesting sub-texts and just plain awesome science fiction [note, some spoilers ahead].

2006 Kazuo Ishiguro Never Let Me Go

My favourite of all those runners-up is without doubt Ishiguro’s classic dystopian novel. It’s an examination of class via the premise of organ-farming with a difference. The book is a study in childhood friendship in an oddly sinister boarding school, the discovery of love in young adults and how we care for each other as a society, when illness strikes. Ishiguro’s prose is hauntingly beautiful yet bleak; full of ominous doom. Society has rarely been as heartless, while characters so full of heart.

(2006 winner Air by Geoff Ryman – I’ve read and while excellent, not as good as Ishiguro)

1996 Christopher Priest The Prestige

If you’ve seen the film directed by Christopher Nolan, you might already know the plot, but not necessarily the source novel’s narrative. This is the best way to experience Priest’s wonderful tale of magic and science. I’m not usually a fan of epistolary novels, but the diary format works well here. We only know what is written by the protagonists, highlighting both the mystery and the illusions. There is genuine antagonism between the magicians and not just based on their stage show. The very real Nikola Tesla invents something not so real, which takes this brilliant book into the realms of science fiction.

(1996 winner Fairyland by Paul J McAuley – not read)

1994 Nicola Griffith Ammonite

Ammonite is a wonderful book, in a wonderful year for science fiction (see below). Set on a distant planet, it is the story of women (men are all killed by a virus), of myth, of tribes and family and what home means. It is an excellent relationship drama. It hits all the science fiction notes perfectly (planet, space ships, mysterious virus, what it means to be a human) but it is the characters’ motivations and the magnificent magical prose by Griffith that elevates this above many of its contemporaries. As the books says, “What’s life without magic?”

1994 Neal Stephenson Snow Crash

Stephenson’s 3rd book is as textually complex as all his novels, but I submit that this one is the most fun to read. Set in an ‘independent’ 21st century Los Angeles, Hiro Protagonist (deliberately named) learns that the new titular drug is being sold in nightclubs. So he seeks it out. Hiro can now experience the metaverse (next-level internet) and the real world simultaneously. Featuring hacking, sword-fighting, anarcho-capitalists, class-war, the power of information, religion and the Sumerian language. What’s not to love!

(1994 winner Vurt by Jeff Noon – one of my all time favourite books and more deserving than Ammonite, just)

2015 Claire North The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

The complexity and imagination of North’s debut (but not from her other selves, Catherine Webb and Kate Griffin) is mind-blowing. It’s not that Harry keeps dying and being reborn, but it’s in the lives he leads and how they interconnect with all those around him. When a message comes from the future the plot, delightfully, thickens. Webb’s talent is immense and as North, her prose is eminently readable. While not a page-turner in the classic sense, you simply want to keep on reading to find out how the final web (pun intended) will be revealed.

(2015 winner Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – just about deserved)

1988 Ken Grimwood Replay

Proper classic science fiction from Grimwood, and similar on the surface to North’s recent novel. Our protagonist is a 43-year-old man who dies and is reborn in 1963 in his 18-year-old body, memories intact. This rebirth happens again and again, with different outcomes. It has more of the time-loop premise than North’s as he always dies the same way at the same age, on cue. The best science fiction addresses life and death and Replay is no exception. Thoughtful and appealing writing makes this a terrific read and well worth digging out.

(1988 winner George Turner The Sea and Summer – not read)

2011 Ian McDonald The Dervish House

Set in the near future, McDonald’s story is an engaging book about how disparate characters’ lives can affect each other, often without them ever meeting each other. Our world and McDonald’s is an interconnected and complex one. In 2027, a bomb goes off during a heatwave. Ordinary people are drawn into extraordinary events. The world is seen through the perspective of 6 main characters, all richly drawn and complex. This is thoughtful science fiction, but also dips into mythology and cultural identity in a region that has always been a melting-pot.

(2011 winner Zoo City by Lauren Beukes – a clear and deserved winner)

1993 Connie Willis Doomsday Book

Named after the actual 1086 book, Willis engages in a time-travel MacGuffin in order to take us back to middle ages. Most of this book is set there so feels less like a science fiction novel than a historical story of the coming of the Black Death. Only as it is seen through the eyes of the late-21st Century traveller, Kirvin, does Willis’ tale fall in the realms of speculative fiction. There are some lovely ideas in this book (a machine refusing to send someone back in time if it thinks the past will be altered) but it is the bleak history (the sense of dread is palpable) and personal tragedies the Kirvin witnesses that fascinates.

(1993 winner Body of Glass by Marge Piercy – not read)

Never

Honourable mentions: 2008 Sarah Hall The Carhullan Army; 2008 Ken MacLeod The Execution Channel; 2010 Adam Roberts Yellow Blue Tibia; 2013 Ken McLeod Intrusion; 2003 David Brin Kiln People; 1987 Greg Bear Eon; 2011 Richard Powers Generosity; 2010 Marcel Theroux Far North; 2014 Christopher Priest The Adjacent.

And the winner is…

Congratulations to Adrian Tchaikovsky for winning the 2015 Clarke Award for Children of Time, announced on 24 August 2016. Well done also to N. K. Jemisin for Hugo Best Novel success for The Fifth Season.

Now these winners have been announced (along with Aliette de Bodard’s The House of Shattered Wings -BSFA winner, The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood which won the Kitschies Red Tentacle and Making Wolf, by Tade Thompson, debut novel winner of the Kitschies Golden Tentacle), I can reveal the Forgottengeekmetaawardforbooks, after my shortlist was announced last week:

  • Arcadia by Iain Pears
  • The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
  • Europe at Midnight by Dave Hutchinson
  • The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
  • The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin
  • The Thing Itself by Adam Roberts
  • Making Wolf by Tade Thompson

And the winner of the inaugural Forgottengeekmetaawardforbooks is….

  • The Thing Itself, by Adam Roberts

The Thing Itself

For my review, see: https://theforgottengeek.wordpress.com/2016/01/31/the-thing-itself-by-adam-roberts/

 

ForgottenGeekMetaAwardForBooks Shortlist Announced!

With a week to go before the Clarke Award is announced it is time to reveal my inaugural major SFF meta shortlist. First, the nominations:

meKitschies Golden Tentacle:

  • The Shore by Sara Taylor
  • Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett
  • The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan
  • The Night Clock by Paul Meloy
  • Making Wolf by Tade Thompson

Kitschies Red Tentacle:

  • The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood
  • Europe at Midnight,by Dave Hutchinson
  • The Reflection,by Hugo Wilcken
  • The Fifth Season, by N. K. Jemisin
  • The Thing Itself, by Adam Roberts

BSFA:

  • Europe at Midnight,by Dave Hutchinson
  • Mother of Eden by Chris Beckett
  • The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard
  • Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald
  • Glorious Angels by Justina Robson

Clarke Award:

  • Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
  • Way Down Dark by JP Smythe
  • The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
  • Arcadia by Iain Pears
  • The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Europe at Midnight by Dave Hutchinson

Hugos:

  • Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
  • The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher
  • The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin
  • Seveneves: A Novel by Neal Stephenson
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik

So I’ve NOT read: Seveneves: A Novel by Neal Stephenson; Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie; The Cinder Spires by Jim Butcher; Mother of Eden by Chris Beckett; The Reflection by Hugo Wilcken (which I still hope to read at some point); and Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett.

So, and fanfare, drumroll and other such musical precursors, here is my top 7:

  • Arcadia by Iain Pears
  • The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood
  • Europe at Midnight,by Dave Hutchinson
  • The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
  • The Fifth Season, by N. K. Jemisin
  • The Thing Itself, by Adam Roberts
  • Making Wolf by Tade Thompson

What will be my book of the year? Find out next week!

Now, can someone make me an award?

Minerva Century by James E. Parsons

Minerva CenturyIn the future, humans have left earth and settled on the planet Minerva. A race of cyborgs found their own planet; Cycle One. However, the humans control the cyborg population. They are easily reprogrammed when required. There is also a mutant planet, humanity’s fail first attempt at colonisation, and a few space stations floating around. Sometimes a story is enough to carry a novel. Sometimes the style or prose is enough to keep a reader interested. In Minerva Century Parsons unfortunately fails on both counts, but not for the want of effort. This is the story of patrol cyborg Dale and his friend Cathy. They have secrets and mysterious history together.

Parsons has populated his universe with a wealth of characters and Minerva Century has several plot strands to accommodate them. As well as Dale and Cathy’s story, there is a captain of a cyborg patrol ship (Nero), human leaders (Sir Blake, Sir Alex, Lady Amy and Lady Amelia for example), a band of female called Vessels, and the mysterious Klasp Cult Tech-Watchers, among many others that have moments from their point of view. But Dale takes the main stage. He finds his body dismantled so makes his way to a space station, where three businessmen pay for him to get some patch-ups so he can participate in fly-races. Events conspire to bring Dale and Cathy together, and they decide to work out who they really are. Meanwhile, there are some human-shaped space craft appearing, as rumours of the tech-watchers begin to escalate. A tech-watcher called Torch appears to be interfering. Dale and Cathy separate and Dale decides to make himself human. Cathy trains as a Vessel but has her own agenda. On Cycle One, the Brutal Games are approaching – competitive fighting among cyborgs.

Parsons spends a great deal of the first quarter of the book – and it is a dense book, 400+ pages of small text – world-building. However, it is often repetitive and confusing. His prose fluctuates from imaginative and poetic, to clunky and just plain odd (“casual galactic space business deals”). Sometimes, the oddness works in the dialogue as it gives the characters an almost alien perspective (“I’m a driver, sometimes a racer”). I’m not sure what the purpose of having so many characters in the story has, other than to give it the feel of being a diverse universe – many come and go in a blink of an eye, and still others are not named yet have dialogue. Which brings me to the naming of the characters. It felt particularly jarring to have the book populated with the likes of Amy, Dale, Cathy, Roy, Daphne, Jess, John and others, alongside Nero, Sil-Mah, Doorstep, Jax and Torch for example. All feels a little 1970s in execution. In fact, along with ideas like the Brutal Games and the Vessels, Minerva Century reminded me of sci-fi exploitation cinema of the 70s and 80s, when cyberpunk gained popularity and cheap films featuring Michael Ironside were common. The Vessels in particular could be the Bene Gesserit sisterhood from Dune. The have visions of the future and they are a sisterhood.

I think that Parson’s story has some interesting elements. The usual cyborg v human trope of this type novel works well, primarily because the paths Cathy and Dale choose to take. However, the prose is off-putting, and needs a great editor. If Parsons had a little more faith in his readership and cut out a lot of the exposition, it would read a lot better. Many of the secondary stories and characters are superfluous to any enjoyment too. The three businessmen who originally hire Dale, Nero, and the human council members (the Ladies and Sirs) in particular brought little to the story. Early on, Parsons says Minerva is a ‘new human planet’. However, he repeatedly says things happened decades ago. In fact, he seems unsure of how long the histories should be. “Years and decades ago” is a reoccurring phrase throughout the world-building. Cathy and Dale had been apart for more than a decade or decades, although they are both written as if they are quite young. Cathy has memories of living on Cycle One in some hazy past. Amelia and Warren have known each other since they were teenagers, for “over twenty years” but it seems they knew or even lived on Earth. And he’s very vague about things. Phrases exemplified by “some local colony” pepper the text while sentences frequently end with “and more” or similar.

I’m sorry to say that I was confused about the narrative structure of the universe Parsons has built, which is down to the multiple character arcs which don’t seem to have much purpose, a bafflingly vague timeline and some overwrought prose. A tighter plot featuring just Cathy and Dale’s story, some rigorous editing and less exposition might lead to Minerva Century being a half-decent book.

This book was kindly donated by the author in exchange for a fair review.