Netherspace- Andrew Lane & Nigel Foster

Delighted to be part of the blog tour for Netherspace, a new collaboration project from Andrew Lane and Nigel Foster. Netherspace is start of a brand new science fiction series in which contact with aliens is only the beginning…

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Contact with alien species was made forty years ago, but communication turned out to be impossible. There is only trade in technology, which allows humans to colonise the stars, but at a heavy cost: alien netherspace drives are exchanged for live humans. When a group of colonists are captured by a group of Cancri aliens, a human mission is sent to negotiate their release. But how can you negotiate when you don’t know what your target wants?

I’ve got an extract from the novel for you today. Enjoy!

~~~

Marc Keislack stared at the spherical display unit. On the other side of the crystalline metal his nanoforms were mixing and interacting like miniature weather systems. Each one was a different colour, separated from one another by a gooey transparent nutrient medium.
Despite the seals around the tank – still necessary when anyone was mucking around with nanoforms – the slightly vinegary smell of the nutrient medium hung in the air of his studio. Light from the large windows at the far end of the room illuminated the space. Dust hung and glittered in the buttresses of light, despite the best attempts of his cleaning bots to eradicate it. Outside, the rolling Welsh hills were illuminated by a low sun. Cows stood in small groups in the field that bounded his property, and larks drew scrolling lines across the deep blue of the sky, while inside the studio he was waiting for his own life – his own artificial life – to decide what it wanted to be. He ran a hand through his long hair. It needed cutting, but he had been so wrapped up in constructing this latest piece of art that he had forgotten about it. He would need to get it cut before the show. His agent, Darla, would insist upon it. “Don’t believe the crap about artists in garrets forgetting to eat or wash and still being romantic,” she’d told him at his last show. “People who can afford your art expect short hair and an expensive cologne. And don’t fall on the vol-au-vents like you’re starving.” She’d paused at that point, then added: “Of course, if there’s an alien in town, wanting to pick up some art in exchange for some new kind of battery or something, then all bets are off.”
“I was followed around by an Eridani for three weeks, remember? It took five art installations, leaving behind something GalDiv took away for deep investigation.” He’d laughed bitterly. “Who knows why the damn aliens trade anything?” He didn’t say – it wasn’t necessary, there were plenty who’d say it for him – that it was the Eridani interest that had made the unknown Marc Keislack rich and famous.
Darla had smiled tightly. “Of course I remember, darling. And I would have gotten you a much better deal – even with an alien.” She didn’t say that being the alien’s darling – the Eridani and more recently the Cancri still traded for his and only his artwork, no other artists need apply – meant that Marc didn’t need an agent at all, only a lawyer and an accountant.
He’d smiled back more gently. “That I would like to have seen.” Keeping alive the polite fiction that Marc Keislack was as talented as any other successful artist and not just a lucky bastard.
Now he glanced around the studio, at the works that were going into the show, which his agent wanted to call simply Here. Across the far side of the room was a tank of seawater in which luminescent Aurelia aurita the size of coins drifted, coming together and apart in a thousand different shades of colour, as dictated by the artificial genes that he had spliced into their DNA. The jellyfish were effectively immortal, as far as he knew. As long as they floated in a nutrient-rich broth and had a little natural light they would just keep on going, moving and glowing, forming different pictures as they did so. Given the human mind’s amazing ability to see patterns in chaos, if you stared into the tank long enough you would start to see faces staring back at you: grimacing, laughing, screaming. Marc had given it the title All Human Life Is Here, and Darla had said that if he parted with it for less than a hundred and fifty thousand virtscrip she would part with him, violently.
His gaze skipped to another piece: this one an earlier, unsold work. It was a self-portrait entitled My Life Is Here. Artificially grown muscle, fat and skin tissue, generated from stem cells taken from Marc’s own bone marrow, had been carefully arranged over a brass skull on a stand inside a transparent case. The flesh had been crafted to mimic his own face, but initially aged a hundred and twenty. The cells had been programmed in such a way that they would gradually alter over time: the skin becoming firmer, the fat reduced and the muscles better defined. His face would get younger as he, the artist, grew older. It had already regressed to the age of 115, although it had to be said that there was very little difference visible between now and when it had started. There would be a day when the two of them – the artwork and the model – would cross, and one of the terms of the sale was that Marc would, on that day, sit inside a similar case next to it, wherever the purchaser was displaying it, making himself part of the work. Another one of the terms of sale was that when the face had developed to infancy the work would be destroyed – a stipulation backed up by automatic cell death programmed into the artwork’s genes. The aliens wouldn’t understand the fine print, of course, but he didn’t care. The art was the art.
“Wonderful,” Darla had said when he had told her about the idea. “A reversed Picture of Dorian Gray reproduced with technology.”
“The what? Who?”
She had glanced at him, frowning. “Never mind. Just keep coming up with ideas.” Marc had no interest in the past, only his own present and future.
A momentary eddy in the tank beside him caught his attention. At the border between the mass of blue nanoforms and the transparent nutrient medium they existed within, small vortices were forming. It looked like the kind of effect one saw at the edge of fractals, or coastlines on a map. The nanoforms themselves were artificial, of course, but based on genetic material harvested from slime moulds of Fuligo septica. Their behaviour was pre-programmed in their simplified DNA and based on a handful of simple rules. Were they surrounded by others of their own colour, or by those of another colour? Were they in an area where nutrients were plentiful or sparse? Were they on the outside of a mass, exposed to ambient light, or on the inside, in darkness? How old were they? The rules themselves were simple, but the outcomes would be anything but. In computer simulations the virtual nanoforms automatically came together in small groups, which acted as individual entities: moving as one, co-operating with others of their kind, absorbing others not of their kind and then producing smaller versions of themselves which grew over time. It was emergent behaviour, not pre-programmed, but it seemed to replicate many of the features of more complicated life forms, all without instinct or intelligence. This one was entitled All Life Is Here, and he was still waiting to see how it developed.

~~~

Netherspace is published by @TitanBooks, and is out now. The blog tour continues tomorrow at Sci-Fi Bulletin.

Tall Oaks – Chris Whitaker

Everyone has a secret in Tall Oaks . . .

When three-year-old Harry goes missing, the whole of America turns its attention to one small town. Everyone is eager to help. Everyone is a suspect.

Desperate mother Jess, whose grief is driving her to extreme measures.

Newcomer Jared, with an easy charm and a string of broken hearts in his wake.

Photographer Jerry, who’s determined to break away from his controlling mother once and for all.

And, investigating them all, a police chief with a hidden obsession of his own…

From time to time you might have heard me say that a book kept me up late, wanting just one more chapter.

Tall Oaks was one of those books.

Except in this case, I couldn’t stop at ‘just one more’. I couldn’t stop until it was done.

Twenty to three on a Sunday morning. That’s what time I finished Tall Oaks.

That’s how good it is.  The rest of this review is merely set dressing, just go and buy it already. It’s going to be in my top ten books of the year, I can tell you that now.

I’d heard chatter about Tall Oaks on twitter, mainly from Liz of Liz Loves Books. And Liz particularly loved this book, and wasn’t shy about saying so (is she ever?). I’d somehow managed to resist, citing an ever-growing, tottering TBR pile. But in a moment of lapsed attention, I found myself with a copy on my kindle. I settled in for a story of a small town and a missing child, thinking that I’d read stories like this before.

How wrong I was. Tall Oaks is a beautifully wrought tale of small town America, shot through with a deft line in wit and with what were to become some of my favourite characters in a book, ever. Manny and Abe, I’m looking at you.

The characters in Tall Oaks all have their story to tell, and what stories they are. There’s a real depth to these people, quirks, secrets and lies playing out over the days and weeks following the disappearance of three year-old Harry.

The sense of small town America seeps through the pages of this book and I was surprised to find out that Chris Whitaker is, in fact, British – born in London and living in Hertfordshire and yet has captured the feel of the town so brilliantly. What’s even more astonishing is that this is a debut novel – the writing, plotting and characterisation are confident and accomplished, and if this is just the start of Chris’s writing career, I cannot wait to see what he comes up with next.

Thankfully we won’t have too long to wait, as his new novel  All The Wicked Girls is out in the summer. My pre-order is already in.

You can find Chris on twitter @WhittyAuthor.

Defender – GX Todd

In a world where long drinks are in short supply, a stranger listens to the voice in his head telling him to buy a lemonade from the girl sitting on a dusty road.

The moment locks them together.

Here and now it’s dangerous to listen to your inner voice. Those who do, keep it quiet.

These voices have purpose.

And when Pilgrim meets Lacey, there is a reason. He just doesn’t know it yet.

Set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia where something… unusual has happened, Defender tells the story of a young girl called Lacey and a drifter, Pilgrim. The world has changed – the biggest threat to mankind is from the voices that have started appearing – voices which tell people to do bad, bad things. Suicide, murder or a descent into madness – you don’t get to choose, the voices do…

Defender is a thriller, of sorts. It’s also part horror, and you could argue there’s a dash of sci-fi in there too. It’s also startlingly original, blackly comic, bleakly desolate, with an utterly fantastic cast of characters, and a setting which just oozes menace. It’s one of those ‘just one more chapter’ books, which keeps you up until far too late.

It’s dark and brutal, and definitely not for the faint-hearted, but if you give it a chance, it’ll grab you by the hand and take you on a dust-soaked ride across the wilderness to some places you’ll not soon forget.

It’s a stunning debut, and I highly recommend it. Yes, it’s going to be one of those books that I pester you about until you give in and read it. You may as well just go and read it and save yourself the nagging.

I can’t wait to find out where book 2 will take us. I just know that it can’t get here soon enough.

You can find GX Todd on twitter @GemTodd. Many thanks to Headline for the review copy.

Movies of 2017: Nerve

A high school senior finds herself immersed in an online game of truth or dare, where her every move starts to become manipulated by an anonymous community of “watchers.”

Nerve (2016). Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, based on the novel by Jeanne Ryan and starring Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Emily Meade. Featuring a cameo by everyone’s favourite vlogger, Casey Niestat.

A paltry 6.6 stars on IMDb, Nerve clocks in at a very healthy 1 hour 36 minutes long – which, as we all know, is nigh-on the perfect length for a movie at a shade under 100 minutes.

Venus “Vee” Delmonico is a high school student desperate to leave home, but ends up embroiled in ‘Nerve’, an online game where the Watchers dare the Players to do more and more dangerous things.

Nerve is a fast-paced, gloriously neon-soaked joyride through New York by night. Emma Roberts and Dave Franco have a definite chemistry and are fun to watch. It’s a thriller with a technological edge, but one which has a certain plausibility and feels like the writers actually know how social media works. People will say and do a lot of things hidden behind the anonymity of a phone screen, and people will do a lot more to become famous on the internet.

Great fun, even if it does falter slightly in the final act where a bit of moralising comes to play. It’s a minor niggle though, and worth going along for the ride. 96 minutes well spent.

James Bond: Hammerhead

James Bond is assigned to hunt down and eliminate Kraken, a radical anti-capitalist who has targeted Britain’s newly-upgraded nuclear arsenal. But all is not as it seems. Hidden forces are plotting to rebuild the faded glory of the once-mighty British Empire, and retake by force what was consigned to history. 007 is a cog in their deadly machine – but is he an agent of change, or an agent of the status quo? Loyalties will be broken, allegiances challenged. But in an ever-changing world, there’s one man you can rely on: Bond. James Bond.

Hammerhead collects the six-issue mini-series by Andy Diggle, illustrated by Luca Casalanguida.

I think this may well be the first graphic novel I’ve ever reviewed. I’ve read a few, but this is definitely the first Bond.

I’m a huge Bond fan, both the books and movies, so it was interesting to see how well it translated to this format. I have to say I was impressed – we’ve got a very authentic-feeling Bond story, plenty of action and nice one-liners thrown in, an implausibily-named villian and some evil shenanigans, with a smattering of globe trotting .

The action comes thick and fast from the start and there’s nary a pause for breath as Bond follows the trail of ubervillain Kraken and a cunning plan involving stolen nukes.

So far, so Bond. It’s glorious fun spotting where the story is going to go. The villian’s motivations are delightfully sinister, if a bit random – I’m not *entirely* sure that our Kraken really thought things through here, but it’s a minor niggle.

Will definitely be looking out for more of these in future. And I’ve realised that I’ve missed the Warren Ellis/Jason Masters Bond books, so I’ll be off to check those out.

James Bond (the reviews) will return…

Many thanks to Dynamite Entertainment and NetGalley for the review copy.

The Man Who Loved Islands – David F. Ross

In the early 80s, Bobby Cassidy and Joey Miller were inseparable; childhood friends and fledgling business associates. Now, both are depressed and lonely, and they haven’t spoken to each other in more than 10 years. A bizarre opportunity to honor the memory of someone close to both of them presents itself, if only they can forgive and forget. With the help of the deluded Max Mojo and the faithful Hamish May, can they pull off the impossible, and reunite the legendary Ayrshire band, The Miraculous Vespas, for a one-off Music Festival—The Big Bang—on a remote, uninhabited Scottish island?

Regular readers of the blog will be well aware of my fondness for Mr Ross and his books – The Last Days of Disco was my first experience of a blog tour (and what a way to start!) and The Rise & Fall of The Miraculous Vespas followed last year, raising the bar once more.

A year later (more or less) and we’re back again with The Man Who Loved Islands, rounding out the trilogy in fine style. I adored the first two books for both their amazing sense of place and time.  Book three continues with this, taking us on a journey through the later 80 and from Ibiza to Shanghai, bringing us up to the present day and back full circle to Scotland as Max, Bobby, Hammy and Joey come together one last time for one final, glorious outing.

This is a book of three parts – we follow the rise and rise of Bobby Cassidy and his ever-faithful sidekick Hamish as they take over the Ibiza music scene. Joey (now Joseph) has become an architect, adrift in the corporate world of Shanghai. A message from Hammy brings Joey back to see his old friend and, when one thing leads to another, hijinks ensue.

And what glorious hijinks they are. Max Mojo and the boys decide to put on a gig and reunite the Miraculous Vespas for one last, epic gig the like of which the world has never seen…

I loved seeing how Bobby and Hammy took on the Ibiza club scene. Growing up around the same era as the books were set gave it something extra for me, though I was never into the club scene, the musical references are, as ever, perfect. Fascinating to see them grow up from the young, vibrant guys in the first books into middle age – still gloriously foul-mouthed (this book is probably not for the prudish!), and with a fine line in bickering.

Heartbreaking, poignant, and ferociously funny, it’s a perfect ending to a fabulous trilogy. If you’ve not come across the Vespas, the Heatwave Disco boys

If you’ve not come across the Vespas, the Heatwave Disco boys or the incomparable Max Mojo, then get yourself all three Disco Days books, a nice wee dram (or maybe a bottle) of something and settle down for a musical journey through the years.

You’re in for quite a ride.

Book 18 of 2017 The Man Who Loved Islands by David F. Ross, finished last night with a wee dram of @copperdogwhisky. Highly recommended, both!

Enormous thanks to Karen at Orenda Books (@OrendaBooks) for the review copy, to David F. Ross (@dfr) for taking us on one last journey back to Ayrshire (and to @CopperDog for the splendid whisky!)

Opinions are, as ever, entirely my own.

The blog tour continues tomorrow!

Dog Fight – Michael J. Malone

Dog Fight - Michael J. Malone

Kenny O’Neill, a villain with a conscience, returns in a hard-hitting thriller of exploitation, corruption and criminal gangs. When Kenny’s cousin, Ian, comes to the aid of a fellow ex-squaddie in a heap of trouble, he gets caught up in the vicious underground fight scene, where callous criminals prey on the vulnerable, damaged and homeless. With Ian in too deep to escape, Kenny has no option other than to infiltrate the gang for the sake of his family. Kenny is an experienced MMA fighter, as tough as they come, but has he found himself in the one fight he can never win?

Dog Fight is gritty and brutal, a vicious story of illegal fight clubs and the ex-servicemen who are forced to fight for their lives against a backdrop of PTSD and abandonment by the state.

The characters are fantastic, portrayed warts and all. The action is intense and pulls no punches (sorry) as we’re drawn into Kenny’s world as his cousin Ian gets caught up in the shady world of underground fight clubs. There’s a real sense of menace running through the pages. Not everyone is going to get out of this in one piece, and some aren’t going to get out at all.

There are some brutal scenes in the book, it’s not for the squeamish, but it’s a worthwhile read. The plotting and characterisation is top-notch, with a nice layer of dark humour in the dialogue running throughout.

Thanks to Contraband for the review copy, and to Gordon (@grabthisbook) for organising the blog tour. Dog Fight by Michael J. Malone is out now in paperback and ebook.