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Blindspace (SF) - Jeremy Szal ****

This sequel to Jeremy Szal's Stormblood builds on the original novel's strength in providing page-turning battle sequences as Szal's self-tortured main character Vakov Fukasawa tries to deal with the way that his stormtech - alien DNA he has been injected with - is transforming his body and interfering with his mind.

I'm not usually a fan of either heavy military SF or books the thickness of a brick, but it says something for Szal's pacing that the pages fly by. This could have been just another law and order versus drug dealers plot, but by bringing in a cult that worships the apparently long-gone evil alien race whose DNA is in the stormtech as a route to a transhuman future, plus various groups with a grudge against the not-exactly-squeaky clean law enforcement grouping, we get a much richer mix of problems for the main characters to face. As before, Szal also provides a great setting in the hollowed-out asteroid Compass, with everything from sub-Blade Runner nastiness to vast ship docks and smart resorts and bars.

The flaws of the original novel remain, though they feel a little less significant. The few backstory chapters remain padding, and there is still too much agonising over the nature of stormtech and what it is doing to the main character. Szal seems obsessed with botanicals in gin - they get far too many mentions. Perhaps the biggest flaw, which I didn't notice so much in the first novel, was the ambiguity in the nature of the armour the characters wear in battle. We keep hearing how hi-tech and ultra strong it is, with loving descriptions of it fitting in place and functioning... and then an alien bites through someone's armour. Really?

However, any attempt to be analytical about a book like this is too much like breaking (ultra-strong, carbon steel) butterflies on the wheel. It is the science fiction novel equivalent of a Tom Cruise movie. Far better to just go with the flow and enjoy the action, of which there is plenty, rather than expect too much logic. Szal is quite happy to put major characters at real risk of being killed off, which always adds to the excitement of the ride. I'm looking forward to the next instalment (even if I wish this wasn't forced on the reader by the ending).

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Review by Brian Clegg - See all of Brian's online articles or subscribe to a weekly digest for free here

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