Skip to main content

Jacob's Ladder (SF) - Charlie Pike ****

This book had two things on the back that might have put me off - but having read it, I'm really pleased they didn't. First, from the blurb it's clearly a dystopian work, about an extremely unpleasant Earth in 2203. With a few notable exceptions, I really don't like dystopias. The world is miserable enough as it is - the last thing I need is to read about more misery for entertainment. And it's also labelled Young Adult. I think this is a mistake - it's no more Young Adult (which in bookspeak means teen) than an X-rated horror movie. The protagonists may be late teen, but for me this is solid adult fare.

This made reading the first few pages a matter of trepidation - but I was soon reassured by Charlie Pike's strong writing style. The reader is engaged quickly with the main characters, and drawn along by a powerful, page-turning narrative.

The Earth is dying due to solar flares, made worse by weird weather, manmade killer bugs and more. But there have been messages from another world promising salvation for the few - Leon is being prepared to be one of the saved, while Martha effectively acts as his slave. At the core of the story is, in part, the transformation of their relationships, but there is far more involved, particularly as it becomes clear that Leon's worldview is down to being a member of a cult, rather than one that is necessarily universal.

To be honest, I found the whole aliens and being saved bit the weakest part of the book. What was involved was confusing and never properly explained. But that didn't really matter as the vast majority of the story was about Leon and Martha attempting to survive a range of trials in the wild - and this was impressively (if very gruesomely) done.

Pike builds a picture of a horrible world - there's hardly a nice person to be encountered. But there's no doubt that it's one where the reader has to turn the next page and find out what happened.
Paperback 

Kindle 
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Brian Clegg 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Infinity Plus: Quintet (SF) - Keith Brooke (Ed.) ****

When I was younger there was nothing I liked better than a good, deep, dark (frankly, often downright miserable) science fiction story, and this collection delivers excellent modern examples that would have fit easily into a thoughtful if downbeat 70s collection such as the 'New Writing in SF' or the Interzone magazine of the day (one was actually first published in Interzone, in 1987 - the rest date between 1989 and 2010).

If I'm honest, I prefer more upbeat fiction now, but that doesn't stop me appreciating the quality of these five stories, put together by the SF website and publisher Infinity Plus. I've rarely seen a better contradiction of Margaret Atwood's putdown of science fiction as being limited to 'talking squids in outer space.' What we have here is pure character-driven storytelling with not a mention of space, spaceships, ray guns or aliens. It's the inner world, not the outer trappings of sci fi tropes that interest these writers.

On…

The Lost Planets - John Wenz **

Reading the first few lines of the introduction to this book caused a raised eyebrow. In 1600, it tells us, Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake 'for his radical views - that not only was the Sun just one of many stars, but those stars likely had planets around them as well.' Unfortunately, this bends the truth. Bruno was burned at the stake for holding opinions contrary to the Catholic faith - for conventional heretical beliefs amongst which his ideas on cosmology were trivial. This was an unfortunate start.

What John Wenz gives us is a people-driven story of the apparent early discovery of a number of planets orbiting other stars, made by Peter van de Kamp and his colleagues at Swarthmore College in America, most notably connected to a relatively obscure star called Barnard's star. Wenz is at his best dealing with personal conflict. The book really comes alive in a middle section where van de Kamp's discoveries are starting to be challenged. This chapter works wel…

Bone Silence (SF) - Alastair Reynolds *****

Of all the best modern SF writers, Alastair Reynolds is arguably the supreme successor to the writers of the golden age. He gives us wide-ranging vision, clever concepts and rollicking adventure - never more so than with his concluding book of the Ness sisters trilogy.

Neatly, after the first title, Revenger was written from the viewpoint of one sister, Arafura and the second, Shadow Captain, had the other sister Adrana as narrator, this book is in the third person. It neatly ties up many of the loose ends from the previous books, but also leaves vast scope for revelations to cover in the future if Reynolds decides to revisit this world (he comments in his acknowledgements 'I am, for the time being, done with the Ness sisters. Whether they are done with me remains to be seen.')

As with the previous books, the feel here is in some ways reminiscent of the excellent TV series Firefly, but with pirates rather than cowboys transported into a space setting. Set millions of years in…