Book Review: Ash Arising, by Mandy Hager

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_ash_arisingWow! Before you pick up this book, go and read The Nature of Ash – a brilliant book which I thought was going to be a hard act to follow in keeping up the tension, suspense, thrill and adventure. Turns out I was wrong.

Mandy Hager has done it again. Ash, the reluctant key figure in a New Zealand overrun by dark and manipulative forces, responsible for his younger brother Mikey after their father was killed by those same forces, is now hiding out in Whanganui with his brother, and his friends Ziao and Travis, and his lawyer. Mikey, who has Down’s syndrome, is entirely Ash’s reponsibility and this relationship (so well drawn, and so spot on in its empathy and understanding) just adds an extra layer into the story – but one which provides a wonderful counterbalance to the horror and mayhem going on around.

The government, corrupt as can be, has yet to be overthrown by the handful of good guys who remain, and Ash becomes involved in some seriously frightening stuff. I will not tell you what, it’s just too good to spoil for anyone.

But prepare for nail-biting, uncontrollable page-turning and a determination to read on even though it’s time for bed! Trust me, you won’t be able to sleep until you finish the book.

This book is also a real celebration of brave young people – you know the ones, they think they are bullet proof (because their brains are not fully formed!) – but that’s exactly why they risk everything without second-guessing themselves. Mandy Hager reminds the older and more cynical reader that in fact change can be achieved by the young – and our job, if we still have one, is to assist them in that and refrain from saying old-fart things like ‘it will never work’ and ‘we tried that already’.

Do yourself a favour – go out and buy this book for yourself, and then buy copies for all the teenagers you know, and then lend one to all the old farts you know.  Mandy Hager, you’re amazing.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Ash Arising
by Mandy Hager
Published by Penguin Random House
ISBN 9780143772439

Book Review: Good Morning, Midnight, by Lily Brooks-Dalton

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_good_morning_midnightWorld-famous scientist Augie has spent his whole life searching the stars, trying to unlock secrets held light years away. His brilliant mind is attuned to the vastness of space, but closed to the workings of human life on earth. Always looking up and out, he shuns relationships and closes himself off. Sully has also spent her life looking up. Inspired by her mother’s work in astronomy, she too has dedicated her life to space. Closing herself off from her husband and young daughter, family and friends, she sacrifices all in order to fulfil her ambition to travel further in space than anyone before.

This compelling tale takes a close look at human connections and does so by isolating the two main characters. One is stranded deep in the Arctic Circle winter, the other is part of a small space crew on the long and slow journey home from Jupiter. Not only physically isolated, our characters are also isolated by a catastrophic event on Earth which kills everyone else. What this horrific event is, is never expanded upon; neither is it important. The aftermath is where we see Augie and Sully face their emotional isolation; stripped of the ’noise’ of daily interactions of human life, the stillness and silence gives them pause to reflect on their life journeys.

Even with four other crew mates, Sully has remained closed off, and as the sudden silence from Earth presses on their fears and the reality of their dangerous situation hits home, she comes to understand just what she has truly left behind. As winter thaws slowly into spring, Augie finds his soul too slowly thawing, with the help of the mysterious Iris, a young girl left behind in the research camp evacuation. He looks after her, begrudgingly at first, and in that cold, desolate landscape, he finally learns what it means to care for another person.

Good Morning, Midnight is not my usual type of read, however the tag question on the cover ‘When the world stops listening, who do you become?’ intrigued me. I did find myself wanting to know what had happened to everyone on Earth but that is a different type of story to tell.

Lily Brooks-Dalton paints a vivid picture of both settings – the cold frozen Arctic outpost, the sun slowly returning in symmetry with Augie’s personal thawing, and the small enclosed ship adrift in endless space, cut off from the security of communication with ground control. Both vast and dangerous, both depicted in believable and crisp detail that entwines cleverly with a plot driven by the characters’ personal development and acceptance of their fates.

In a society which thrives on connection and constant communication, the concept of total silence to many may seem incomprehensible; alarming almost. It is within this enforced silence however that both protagonists begin to truly hear and understand themselves. It is also from this silence that they make a connection that is a long time overdue, one that becomes more obvious and fitting as the story plays out. A reflective and absorbing story; it is one to savour to the last word.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Good Morning, Midnight
by Lily Brooks-Dalton
Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson
ISBN: 9781474600590

Book Review: Devolve – The Wolf, by Mike Hooper

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_devolve_the_wolfDevolve is the first in a series by a Christchurch author and is independently published.

The design is competent and professional, and the story matches. It is a dystopian/post-apocalyptic setting, where the people have been forced, by war, to live underground. Here they are ruled over by the amicable King Brown, who desires, above all, to be liked and admired by his subjects. Our main character is 4N, or Foren, and all of the characters follow a similar naming system. We have KC (Casey), an intelligent and caring girl; GO (Geo), belligerent and thorny; VC (Vici), kind, secretive and naive and many others, all students in Professor Will’s class. All students who are hoping to be chosen as part of the team that will venture upon to the surface in search of relics.

Foren is an orphan, and his greatest desire is to be a Cat – a surface explorer that seeks relics – like his mother. Although he is chosen for the team, it is instead as a Wolf, a protector and guardian. Together with five of his class-mates, he must breach the hostile surface, where the earth is poisoned and the water polluted, where merely breathing the air can kill.

Or can it?

Foren and his friends uncover not only a dangerous conspiracy, but enter into a deadly and violent game of survival. This is not a light read – there is a bloody body count and a few moments where I feared Hooper was channeling his inner George RR Martin. Filled with twists, turns and some rather unexpected surprises. A competent, and relatively easy read, with barely a dull moment. I look forward to reading more.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Devolve – The Wolf
by Mike Hooper
ISBN 9780473342814

Book Review: Mutant City, by Steve Feasey

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

Mutant City ticks all the boxes for me with a fast-paced plot, good hooks and a punchy storylinecv_mutant_city

I found Mutant City by Steve Feasey to be a surprisingly enjoyable mix of a science fiction doomsday and some believable throws to real world scenarios.

As you start reading the book you are quickly introduced into a grim and distressing lab in which children are held captive and experimented on by the government – not unlike the stories we hear about from animal welfare groups about how we treat the animals we use for testing on products.

A sense of relief is brought about when we realise that ‘Silas’, the strange man entering the laboratory soon after our story begins, has incapacitated the authorities supervising the horrific treatment of these children and is a friend there to rescue the children.

The story then skips thirteen years into the future when the children who escaped the confines of the lab so many years ago are now threatened as they begin to realise the effects of those experiments so many years ago.

Steve Feasey uses effective hooks in every chapter to enthral and draw readers deeper and deeper into his delicately woven masterpiece. Mutant City is a fast-paced and intriguing book that I will definitely be reading again who knows how many times.

As a reader I can be incredibly picky, I know what I want from a book and can get quickly bored if I don’t get it. However, Mutant City ticks all the boxes for me with a fast-paced plot, good hooks and a punchy storyline which is similar to my all-time favourite series ‘Virals’.

Review by Ishan Brailsford
Supplied as part of the Allen & Unwin Ambassador Programme

Mutant City
by Steve Feasey
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN 9781408865088


Book review: Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson

Available in bookstores nationwide.

cv_sevenevesI am still looking sideways at the moon, making sure it is all there, after finishing this epic space-borne read from Neal Stephenson. I have read pretty well everything Stephenson has written, and if there is anything I have learned from it, it is that he has an uncanny sense of what the future holds. Unsurprisingly, he is currently Head Futurist at Magic Leap, a 3D wearable visual technology start-up. I wonder if the staff on the International Space Station have a copy each of Seveneves, just in case?

This is not just another post-apocalyptic novel. This novel takes you from the moment that apocalypse comes onto the cards, thanks to the Moon breaking into seven pieces, through to the dawning of a new race of women and men, once all is said and done.

The characters are selected to carry the science, and there is a lot of it in there. Science is the holy grail. Dinah is the first person we encounter, and it is through her story we are introduced to the International Space Station, Izzy for short. She lives there with 12 others, as the resident robotic scientist. She has a large team of robots which she is programming, as the moon explodes, to work out how best to mine the asteroid tied to the front end of Izzy, which is called Almathea. The second voice we encounter is Doc Dubois, an astrophysicist and TV personality, who is watching as the moon explodes, and is the person who, a few days later, has to inform President Julia Bliss Flaherty, that the world is going to end imminently.

Quite a large proportion of the first two-thirds of this book is taken up with the narration of astrophysical logistics. If this is your thing, you have certainly come to the right place. I found myself intrigued, but occasionally in need of a nice clear diagram, as gravitational physics is not my field of expertise. It looks as though there are some diagrams in the e-book edition.

For all that, the story makes for compulsive reading, and the thought experiment is fascinating. It takes in the psychology of being responsible for the future of the human race, the impossibility of saying goodbye to just three or four among the 7 million people who are inevitably going to die, and the logistics of creating a floating world – a Cloud Ark – based around a space station originally only designed to hold, at its maximum capacity, tens of scientists.

World leaders coordinate a world-wide drawing of lots, to select two young people – a man and a woman – from each country to be sent to space, so the diversity of the world is maintained when the earth can be re-populated. One of the first people sent to Izzy upon the disaster is Moira, a geneticist, and a specialist in maintaining heterozygosity in black-footed ferrets through artificial gene splicing. Her role is to be the caretaker for the future generations of every life-form on earth, which are to come from her store of DNA sequences, and embryos, as well as from the ‘Arkers’ – those who are chosen to be part of the space community.

The meaning of the title of the book only becomes significant in the third section of the book, as we encounter New Earth – 5000 years after the Moon’s dissolution, which caused the ‘hard rain’ which destroyed the earth – through the actions and voice of Kath Two. Kath is ‘Survey’, a member of the space community sent to New Earth to check how re-seeding has gone, and see how habitable segments of the Earth are. The technology described in this part of the book is fantastical, and the breadth of Stephenson’s vision of the space-based future is awe-inspiring.

The story ends rather suddenly, and after burning through the final section in a matter of a day or two, I was left wanting more. This is no mean feat when you have been carried by the sheer power of the author’s storytelling through 850 pages. I even read the acknowledgements, and learned that Stephenson had the idea for this novel circa 2006, while working part-time at Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ private aerospace programme.

Seveneves is long, and complex at times, but extremely compelling. I recommend it for fans of Stephenson’s work, and anybody who wants the hard science (fiction) on what might happen if we were faced with a future in space. If you want an introduction to Stephenson’s work, try Diamond Age: or a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, and follow it up with Cryptonomicon.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

by Neal Stephenson
Published by The Borough Press
ISBN 980008132521

Book Review: The Water Knife, by Paolo Bacigalupi

Available in bookstores nationwide.cv_the_water_knife

I read the highly-acclaimed The Wind-up Girl several years ago, and loved it, so of course I was very keen to see what Bacigalupi had to say next. The books have government-sanctioned eco-terrorism in common, but this book was just a bit more alarmingly realistic, probably because of its setting – Phoenix, Arizona. As the title suggests, this story is set in a broken world, where aquifers have run dry, and the only water still available is via company-sponsored pipelines from the Colorado River.

The Water Knife of the title is an ex-con named Angel, hired for his unblinking toughness in the face of reason, and brought up through the levels of his organisation for his loyalty to his boss, Catherine Case. The novel begins in Carver City, where Angel and his team drop in on Black Hawk helicopters to sever the water supply via bombing. Angel’s job is to cut – hence the title, Water Knife. The novel ends in the same place it begins.

The story is told from three perspectives. As well as Angel, we hear from the voice of Lucy, a hardnosed reporter, ‘She’s won a Pulitzer, man,’ who came to Phoenix for the stories, and became addicted to the delicate balance between life and death. Her friend Jamie is murdered, and she is determined to figure out which shady syndicate is responsible, and what information they were trying to extract at the time.

Our third voice is Maria, a Texan who lives on the breadline and takes her fortunes wherever she can find them. Texans are reviled in Arizona, seen as freeloaders. She has been convinced by her roommate Sarah, a prostitute, to come with her to the club she visits with her regular john, Michael Ratan. After a night high on ‘bubble’ she wakes in his apartment, which is in an arcology – a self-sustaining environment where water is endlessly recycled. The apartment is ambushed and Ratan and her friend end up shot, as she cowers under the bed. She is found by Angel, who has arrived to investigate why one of Case’s men – Julio – is suddenly running scared, and traced some leads to Ratan a little too late.

The thread that runs through this story seems like a shaggy dog story, and indeed this is how it is viewed by many of the players. It seems as though Ratan has uncovered valuable Indian Water Rights, and his greed sees him end up dead. But at whose hands, and which side is in the right? And how was Jamie mixed up in this? Do these rights even exist, or are they a ploy invented by a desperate man? The denouement of the novel is something straight out of an action movie: hellfire and guns ahoy. As this is set (not terribly far) in the future, there are a few handy technological advances, which see internal organs being replenished through a drip after gunshot wounds.

I read most of this novel in a couple of days, thanks to delayed planes, and it certainly heightened the tension. If you have ever wondered how screwed up the world would be without water, with money- and power-hungry leaders dividing states in Midwest America, read this book. It’s a sobering thought, brought to vivid reality by the able hands of Paolo Bacigalupi. This is a full-tilt eco-terrorism thriller, with plenty of depth and some fascinating characters.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

The Water Knife
by Paolo Bacigalupi
Published by Orbit, distributed by Hachette NZ
ISBN 9780356502120