Exodus

Exodus
By Alex Lamb

Exodus is the third instalment of Alex Lamb’s Roboteer Trilogy, the first two volumes being Roboteer and Nemesis. You will definitely want to read those books first, as Lamb’s brand of high-tech space opera, while full of explosive action, is also pretty heady and can be overwhelming with all the stuff he throws at you.

As we pick the story up, things aren’t going well in the war against the Photurians. The Roboteer Will Kunot-Monet is going to have to pull his act (and augmented mind) together and get back in the game in order to save the day. This won’t be easy given the snake pit he’s starting from and where it is he needs to go: the very frontiers of consciousness and time.

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The Dark Net

The Dark Net
By Benjamin Percy

The so-called dark net has been in the news a lot lately, being a secret part of the Internet useful for all kinds of shady criminal activity. But what if it was something even worse? What if the dark net turned out to be the very gates of hell?

That’s the situation confronted by intrepid Portland newspaper reporter Lela Falcon, who may not know how to do a Google search but has nevertheless managed to figure out that the forces of evil are bubbling up from the toxic bottom of the Net and breaking into our world. Luckily for her she has some useful friends: a paranoid hacker, a niece whose enhanced vision can detect the presence of dark forces, and a veteran demon hunter who runs a homeless shelter.

Leaning more toward supernatural fantasy than techno-thriller, The Dark Net is a brisk read that sweeps us along with the good guys as they try to pull the plug on a Satanic Singularity.

Patently Absurd

Patently Absurd
By Bradley W. Schenck

Patently Absurd marks a joyful return to the city of Retropolis and the future that never was, the location of Bradley Schenck’s previous novel Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom. Specifically, the six linked stories collected here deal with the adventures of a couple of employees of the Retropolis Registry of Patents, an office that has the unenviable task of trying to keep a lid on some of the more dangerous ideas coming out of the city’s Experimental Research District.

This means it’s up to Ben Bowman and his robot assistant Violet to deal with breakaway floating labs, an eruption of mole people, outbreaks of blue slime, time machines, doorways to other dimensions, and, that curse of all bureaucracy, corrupt and incompetent management as they attempt to save Retropolis from a spirit of innovation gone mad. Throw in a generous helping of Schenck’s own delightful illustrations and what you have is a high-spirited genre romp that fans won’t want to miss.

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: A Novel of Retropolis
By Bradley W. Schenck

It’s unfair when people complain that science fiction doesn’t get the future right, since SF authors aren’t trying to be prophets. Their vision of the future is a projection of contemporary anxieties and fascinations. So if you’re wondering where your jet-pack, flying car, and pneumatic-tube messaging system are, they’re back in the future that never was, a place Bradley W. Schenck has dubbed Retropolis.

Schenck’s Retropolis is a metafictional place constructed out of the dreams and visions of SF’s golden age. The amazing stories of the pulp era come to new life in familiar-but-different forms – like ubiquitous info-slates that are basically our tablets and cellphones only powered by human switchboard operators instead of the Internet.

The plot is pure pulp, as it should be. An authoritarian engineer wants to build a new perfect society using hijacked pieces of the old, with only a rag-tag bunch of Retropolitans being able to stop him. These include a dashing hero named, fittingly enough, Dash Kent, a helpful switchboard operator, a pair of delinquent kids, and various robots and mad scientists.

Fans of the comic novels of Jasper Fforde will feel right at home, and the wonderful illustrations by Schenck add to the fun. A real treat.

One of Us Will Be Dead by Morning

One of Us Will Be Dead by Morning
By David Moody

Only one of us will be dead by morning? That’s a relief, given this book marks the start of a second trilogy set in British author David Moody’s low-survival-rate “Hater” universe.

The premise behind the Hater novels is that for some unknown reason a certain segment of the population (the Haters) have turned into homicidal furies, indiscriminately killing everyone who has not been so transformed (the Unchanged). In short, what we have here is yet another take on the popular zombie apocalypse genre, only one where there’s even less of a difference between us and them.

The action takes place on a barren island in the North Sea where a corporate retreat is being held. When a boat filled with murdered children washes ashore everything promptly goes to hell, and soon we’re caught in the end-of-the-world mudslide of Moody’s nightmarish brand of blood and brutality.

While not for everyone, such a novel serves up primitive but effective entertainment for those who have pretty much given up on the human race. Which seems to be a lot of us these days.

Nemo Rising

Nemo Rising
By C. Courtney Joyner

Jules Verne’s classic novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is nearly 150 years old, which means it’s about time for a reboot.

Nemo Rising begins with the mysterious captain chained in an American dungeon and awaiting execution. A series of attacks by sea monsters in international waters, however, forces President Grant to order his release. Reunited with his steampunk submarine the Nautilus, Nemo, along with a patchwork crew, is soon off monster-hunting and trying to prevent the outbreak of a world war.

C. Courtney Joyner has a background in screenwriting and Nemo Rising was a project originally pitched as a screenplay (he even includes a scene from the screenplay in an appendix, taking us “from script to novel and back again”). So expect a lot of CGI-style action and rapid-fire scene breaks in an experience that’s a lot like reading a summer blockbuster movie.

Make Room! Make Room!

Make Room! Make Room!
By Harry Harrison

No, soylent isn’t people in this 1966 novel, which was the basis for the 1973 film Soylent Green. In fact, the movie didn’t have much to do with Harry Harrison’s book at all, aside from the general message about overpopulation.

Reading it today, I find that message to be the least pressing part. We’re no longer so hung up on contraception, and the big scary numbers don’t impress. In the novel, on the eve of the millennium the population of the U.S. is 344 million and the global population 7 billion. It took a bit longer, but both numbers have been surpassed. The population of NYC is high at 35 million (it’s only 8.5 million today), but it’s not out of the ballpark for the global champs.

Instead, what still seems most relevant is the vision of a future running out of resources (fresh water, oil, food, living space), and the enormous gap between a very small elite and the miserable masses. Both the material and moral collapse of society are nicely realized in a naturalistic tale of crime and punishment that still has teeth.