Morte by Robert Repino

Robert Repino’s Morte is a bizarre post-apocalyptic novel, part 1950s Sci-Fi, and part Animal Farm. During the course of the “war with no name” between the humans and the Colony, a race of giant intelligent ants, a chemical is released that mutates animals to human proportions and gives them human intelligence and knowledge. This is the masterstroke in the Ant Queen’s plan. The animals will rise up against their human masters and finish the genocide and slaughter that she had begun. Morte, formerly known as Sebastian, was a housecat turned war-hero, but in truth, all he really wants is to find Sheba, the dog he befriended pre-change.

With intelligent animals, giant ants, and phrases like ” the dreaded human bio-weapon EMSAH,” I was expecting a far more pulpy, tongue-in-cheek novel, and while Repino is clearly aware of the ridiculous of the scenarios, there is an unexpected sense of melancholy depth and social commentary. The post-war world of Ants and Animals victorious, and a handful of human survivors, very much takes its cues from Animal Farm and the descent into infighting and politics.

The writing is crisp and fast-paced. Morte’s single-minded purpose can be occasionally monotonous, and while the early chapters depicting Sebastian and Sheba’s pre-transformation friendship are touching, they don’t hold the weight they require to anchor the main storyline of the novel. Repino has more success with the Ants and their Queen, Hymenoptera Unus, the Monarch of the Underworld. Perhaps it is my love of villains shining through, but there is a nobility and sadness to the Queen and therefore to the Ants. Her genocidal plan is a thousand years in the making, born from rage and regret. She is an ancient creature who has amassed a wealth of information and knowledge, the most powerful being on the planet, a would-be god who is forever lonely and trapped.

Morte is a peculiar war novel starring a bipedal cat in search of his true love, a dog, during the greatest war the world has ever seen. Repino has many things to say about society, about memory, about human and animal relations. Morte was not the novel I was expecting, but it is deeper and ultimately better. The characterizations are not always as strong as they could be, and occasionally the narrative takes itself too seriously, but this is a strong debut. Highly enjoyable.


Morte can be found here on Amazon.

Received a Copy From NetGalley For Review

 

Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea by Adam Roberts

Adam Roberts’ Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea is, as the title suggests, homage to the world and imagination of Jules Verne. I have a particular fondness for the original Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. I’ve probably read it seven or eight times, to say nothing of the movie. Therefore, I was both intrigued and a little worried by the title.

Set in 1958, it follows the maiden voyage of France’s first nuclear submarine. Built and launched in secret, the Plongeur has a skeleton crew, the most experienced submarine captain in the fleet, a pair of Indian scientist who helped design the craft, and a mysterious observer on behalf of De Gaulle himself. On the second day of the voyage, the ship vanished and all hands were lost, presumably crushed to death beneath the Atlantic Ocean. The truth is far stranger. The Plongeur plummets to certain destruction. The pressure should have crushed it, and yet the crew survives. The pressure lessens and the ship continues to sink deeper and deeper, deeper than should be possible.

Roberts creates a perfect sense of claustrophobia. The twelve characters stuck together in inexplicable circumstances are all distinct and begin to crack in different ways. Captain Adam Cloche, a veteran of the World Wars retreats to discipline and a single-minded, hysterical determination to return home. Others turn to the bottle, or science, or religion as one by one they crack. Then there is the secretive Alain Lebret, De Gaulle’s personal observer, whose wartime record is not as patriotic as the others. Roberts does not shy away from some of the uglier sides of the period. There is a barely restrained hostility towards Lebret, who had ties to Vichy France that Cloche and the crewmen do not forgive and do not forget. And the Indian scientists, Amanpreet Jhutti and Dilraj Ghatwala, are regarded patronizingly at best by most of the crew, except Lebret. The politics and bad blood build even as the submarine’s situation becomes increasingly surreal.

Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea is not a pastiche or, strictly speaking, a sequel to Verne, although Captain Nemo makes an appearance of sorts. Roberts brings his own concepts to bare as the Plongeur sinks even deeper than the titular depth. There are questions about the multiverse and the nature of reality woven into the tale of survival and internal conflict. The climax was, perhaps, more segmented than intended and introduces concepts that deserved to be more thoroughly explored, but deliberate ambiguity is a trait that Roberts has put to good use in previous novels. Ultimately neither as superficial as the pulp fiction pastiche I was half-expecting, or as deep as it strives to be, Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea is a worthy successor full of incident and grand ideas.


 

Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea can be found here on Amazon.

Received a Copy From NetGalley For Review

The Just City by Jo Walton

Jo Walton’s The Just City is a wildly ambitious thought experiment masquerading as a novel featuring Greek Gods and philosophers from across history attempting to establish Plato’s Republic. Walton has gone back to one of the sources of utopian thinking and interrogates it lovingly and playfully. It requires a special level of ambition to feature a debate between Athena and Socrates over the viability of the Republic, while emancipated robots from the future watch. Populated from across history with fictional and historical scholars and men of letters ranging from Cicero to Mirandola, Lucrezia Borgia, and Bengamin Jowett, The Just City is deeply, and gleefully thought-provoking.

When the mythological Daphne turns herself into a tree rather than submit to his amorous intentions, Apollo is puzzled and turns to Athena for an explanation. In the process he is drawn into her scheme to build Plato’s Republic. Becoming mortal, he struggles to understand what it means to be human, and the importance of personal agency. He falls in love with Simmea, a former slave and Socrates’ most beloved pupil, and in the process comes into conflict with Athena and Plato over the running of the city.

Walton’s dizzying array of gods and humans, of utopin thought, philosophical debate, and personal choice never quite reaches the lofty heights it aims for, but this is not for lack of trying. The concept at the heart of The Just City has been gestating in the author’s mind since she was fifteen. This is clearly a labour of love, and Walton knows her philosophers and has thought deeply about how their ideas might interact. She is occasionally heavy handed in making her larger points, but that is the nature of the material. Over all, The Just City was an impressive endeavour. Highly Recommended.


 

The Just City can be found here on Amazon.

Received a Copy From NetGalley For Review

The Deep by Nick Cutter

Nick Cutter’s The Deep is an intense psychological horror novel encompassing the slow motion disintegration of society, the rise of an ancient power from the depths, and one man’s last, desperate hope for his family.

The world is being ravaged by a disease called the ‘Gets,’ an aggressive form of dementia that effects people of all ages. First they forget little things—memories, facts, their life—then they forget to eat, forget what food is, until finally their heart forgets to beat. From the Marianas Trench, salvation beckons—a mysterious substance termed ‘ambrosia’ that may prove a remedy to cure all ills. A team of scientists led by Clayton Nelson was sent down to the source, and only one has returned, driven mad. A rescue team has been assembled including Clayton’s brother Luke, a veterinarian. In the last message they received, Clayton was asking for him. Luke is puzzled. They haven’t spoken in years, but he goes anyway. His brother has always been difficult, but he’s family and there’s nothing for Luke on the surface. The world has gone to hell, but nothing can compare to the loss of his son, who disappeared years ago.

A small cast of characters in a contained space on the ocean floor, dealing with an ancient and terrible power. The tropes, references, and homages come fast and furious. There is very little in this novel that hasn’t been done before in one way or another, but where Cutter stands out is in the execution. He has a deft hand for characterization and scares. The people and their fears feel real and visceral. Luke and his brother Clayton have a complicated relationship with a dark secret at its heart, and the mystery of Luke’s son is carefully woven into a narrative that leads to a twisted, if not entirely unexpected, conclusion.

The Deep is a claustrophobic and scary execution of horror tropes. Cutter does not quite make the concepts and ideas feel fresh, but instead he manages the more difficult task of reminding you why they were scary in the first place. Confident and highly recommended for any horror connoisseur.

 


 

The Deep can be found here on Amazon.

Received a Copy From NetGalley For Review

 

Mind The Gap by Tim Richards

Tim Richards’ Mind the Gap combines Egyptian mythology, alternate worlds, trains, and the power of dreams into a fast-paced pulp adventure. Darius Ibrahim was minding his own business on the London Underground, when a knife-wielding stranger attacks him. Attempting to escape, Darius is cornered but suddenly finds himself at another train station entirely. It slowly dawns on him that he isn’t blacking out or imagining things. He truly has developed an extraordinary gift and attracts the attention of rival factions from this world and its parallel.

In the grand tradition of globetrotting pulp, from that point onwards the action hardly ever pauses to catch its breath stretching from London to Melbourne, from Prague to Egypt, and the world beyond.

The relentlessness of the plot ensures that it is never boring. There is no lack of incident or intriguing set pieces. There is a central through line that prevents major confusion on the reader’s part, despite the number of factions and double-crosses. Richards is playing with rich concepts and clearly having a blast mixing and matching them, but the world building feels mostly superficial. The concepts never quite cohere and seem more like an intriguing backdrop for an adventure story. The characters, likewise, are lightly sketched archetypes. There is a romance subplot that never transcends its awkward introduction, partly because the plot moves too quickly. The characters, relationships, and concepts never have time to breathe.

Mind the Gap reads in many ways like the novelization of a summer blockbuster that hasn’t been made yet. A sprinkling of fascinating ideas, and a relentless action-packed plot make this a quick and enjoyable, if light, read. There is no depth here, but there’s something to be said for mindless pulp fun.

 


Mind the Gap can be found here on Amazon.

Received a Copy From NetGalley For Review

 

The Sunken by S.C. Green

 S.C. Green’s The Sunken is a steampunk-infused alternate history novel populated by metal men, dinosaurs, cannibals, dystopia, and a sprinkling of history. It makes for a fun filled romp that mixes and matches history and genre with infectious abandon and gleeful confidence. Set in an 1830s London very different from our own, it follows four young men, some historical others fictional, as they come of age in a world run by steam, where the descendants of the great dragon hunters have become the derided Stokers—the Dirty Men who keep the Great Machines running.

The novel oozes atmosphere and is a page-turner full of incident and meticulous worldbuilding. Green knows the history and is clearly fascinated by the period, offering an afterword that highlights the changes made to history, and also the joy in changing them. For a history buff like myself, this is reassuring, though not all readers share my concerns, especially when it comes to alternate history. This is a new world of cults and engineers, clearly and visibly grown from the seeds of history, with the historical figure Isambard Kingdom Brunel at the center.

Green’s worldbuilding is excessive and highly detailed, at least in terms of technology. London itself is well drawn; the Engine Ward is a living breathing, dirty and dangerous place. The machines, the nuts and bolts of steampunk, are lovingly described, but the society with its class structure and interplay between engineers and religion is, at times, lightly sketched. Similarly most of the main characters are, perhaps deliberately, unsympathetic and, unusually for the genre, there is a dearth of active female characters.

The Sunken is full of fun, eye-catching ideas—steampunk robots, cannibals, dragons, mad kings and vampires—but the elements never quite come together. It got my attention, but struggled to keep it, which is a shame, because I did enjoy the book. It was entertaining, but ultimately, I wanted to enjoy it more than I did.

 


 

The Sunken (Engine Ward Book 1) can be found here on Amazon.

Received a Copy From NetGalley For Review