BOOK REVIEW: Cybersong, by S.N. Lewitt

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Rating: 3 out of 5.
  • A Standalone Novel
  • Takes place during Seasone One of Voyager
  • Published by Pocket Books in 1996
  • A Space Opera
  • 277 pages

Stranded in the Delta Quadrant, Voyager seeks the fastest way home. But while travelling through a dangerous region of space, the ship finds itself drifting off course. Something is calling to Voyager. Something that may not be as angelic as it claims . . .

Having completed my readthrough of the post-‘Endgame’ Voyager continuity, I am now free to dive back into earlier voyages of Janeway and her crew. Back to a simpler time, in many ways. Free from the convoluted politics and long-running character arcs that characterise the post-Nemesis landscape. Cybersong takes us back to the very early days of the show, way back to the first season in fact. And it’s here that we have to address the elephant in the room. Star Trek shows have a reputation for not being at their best in season one. As with many shows, they’re still figuring things out behind the scenes, which leads to some rough storytelling and characters who aren’t what they will become later on. As a result, Cybersong (which was written alongside the first season), features some elements that were dropped later on. There is both good and bad to this, which I’ll get into soon enough.

Like a lot of these early novels, Cybersong is a quick read that’s fairly straightforward. S.N. Lewitt crafts a story that treads the line between cyberpunk and horror, with a heavy dose of melancholy on top. There’s quite a fun psychological edge to the book as the ship turns against the crew, and the crew begin to wonder if they can trust one another. This brings us to one aspect of early Voyager that should have seen more use on the screen. The crew is only half Starfleet, with the other half being a terrorist group known as the Maquis. With the reason for the divide (the Cardassians) not present in the Delta Quadrant, this angle was essentially dropped after the pilot episode, except for odd returns later on. Cybersong uses the split in the crew to foster a sense of mistrust, with alien intervention initially suspected to be the work of a traitor from within. Two characters benefit greatly from this. Tuvok is always fun when in detective mode, and the brief snippets of his investigation we see here largely serve to make me wish there were more of them. But the major recipient is Chakotay. Often underused in both show and books, Chakotay takes the lead here, showing just why he was chosen by Janeway to serve as first officer.

Another character who gets a lot to do is Neelix. Now, he is largely relegated to the role of foolish chef, but he still gets more to do here than he does in the entire relaunch era. The chef gimmick is fun, but we also get to see some of his Delta Quadrant veteran coming out, with his recounting of ghost stories and providing of local knowledge. The downside of this being set early in the series is that we have to sit through Neelix being jealous of anyone who pays attention to Kes. Both Kes and Neelix are good characters, here and in the show, but putting the two together rarely ended with a compelling narrative. But if an uncomfortable relationship is the price to pay for more Neelix, I suppose I’m willing to pay.

Cybersong is a fun book, with a great mystery at its core, and some wonderful science fiction ideas too. There are definitely worse ways to spend a night of reading.

SPSFC2 At Boundary’s Edge: Meet The Team

Come one, come all. It’s time for the second incarnation of the Self Published Science Fiction Contest. Once again, we will be looking for the best of self published SF, and once again I am one of your humble judges. As per last year, I have assembled a crack team of reviewers to form the At Boundary’s Edge team for the event (non-SPSFC solo blogging will not be affected). We have both grizzled veterans of the SPSFC and fresh faced new judges on the team this year, so please, allow us to introduce ourselves.

Alex
atboundarysedge.com
@HormannAlex on Twitter

I’m Alex, and I’ve been reading Science Fiction for as long as I remember. It started with Asimov and the Star Wars Expanded Universe, aided by healthy doses of Doctor Who and Star Trek on the TV. My nerdery finally reached its full form when I wrote my Master’s dissertation on the role of Empires in Science Fiction, and since graduating I’ve been running At Boundary’s Edge – a blog where I tell people about all the science fiction I’m feasting on, the good as well as the bad. Current favourite authors include Christopher Ruocchio, Jack Campbell and Adrian Tchaikovsky. If a book is space opera or military SF, there’s a strong chance I’ll enjoy it.

Ale
streetlamphalo.co.uk
@wasteofpaint on Twitter

I’m Ale (they/them), in my mid 30s and I live in London (UK) with two cats and too many unread books. I started off with Asimov, because my dad made me, and went on into Pratchett, Star Trek, Butler, le Guin and Tchaikovsky. These days I split my reading between SF/F, lit fiction and non-fiction, as well as other nerdy pursuits like video games, board games and (way too much) D&D.

This is my second year in team At Boundary’s Edge and I’m excited for the crop of sci-fi we’re about to read!

Athena
onereadingnurse.com
@onereadingnurse on Twitter

Hi! I’m Athena, a critical care nurse who grew up with English professor parents and a slightly out-there uncle living next door.  He loved Star Trek and as a kid he always had me looking for evidence of extra terrestrial life such as crop circles, singed trees, and weird lights in the sky. Maybe he was serious or maybe he was keeping an annoying kid occupied. I’ll never get to ask  but I am the result of feeding a very young child Asimov, Bradbury, and a whole pile of Trek fiction 

As an adult in a stressful career I seek escapism more than anything and circled back to reading mainly Sci-fi & Fantasy. I’ve been reviewing (firmly out of dad’s shadow, thanks!) and blogging about books for 4-5 years now! I love the indie SFF community and can’t wait to dig into some awesome SPSF!

Paul
Metrocoward on Instagram
@metrocoward on Twitter

Hi, I’m Paul 41 from Surrey in the UK. My passion for SFF developed whilst growing up watching TV series Doctor Who, Blake’s 7 and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. As a teenager I was obsessed with Discworld and anything by Philip K Dick. 

Some of my all time favourite Sci Fi books include The Three Body Problem, Hyperion and Ubik. I have also really enjoyed the Planetfall books by Emma Newman and the Luna trilogy by Ian Mcdonald. 

I have two sons aged 3 and 11 so I am trying to introduce them to the wonders of Sci Fi but currently Mr Men and the Avengers are taking top billing.

I’m looking forward to sampling some fresh Sci Fi and hopefully finding a new favourite book/author in the process.

And now, back to Alex

There you have it. That’s the team. If you’re interested in following the SPSFC, make sure you’re following us at our sites and on social media as we dive into the scintillating waters of self published science fiction. And remember, there are nine more teams out there, so do be sure to follow them too.

BOOK REVIEW: The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester

Rating: 3 out of 5.
  • A Standalone Novel
  • First Published in 1956
  • Reprinted under the Gollancz SF Masterworks banner
  • A violent SF thriller
  • 240 pages

Left for dead on a drifting spacecraft, lone survivor Gully Foyle dedicates his existence to revenge. It is a quest that will take him across the solar system, and leave countless ruined lives in his wake . . .

You can, broadly speaking, break the history of science fiction into periods and movements. The Golden Age of the nineteen thirties and forties is a period dominated by the pulp magazines, particular those helmed by John Campbell. A more recent example of a movement is the rise of Afrofuturism (also called African Futurism), which has led to a more diverse field of authors while crossing many genres. Naturally, not all of these movements and periods hold the same level of appeal to every reader. One of my personal blindspots in terms of genre history is the so-called New Wave of the sixties and seventies. This was a movement that essentially brought sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll to science fiction. Given that I am only interested in the last of those three, the New Wave is a movement I’ve generally stayed away from. But as part of my ongoing efforts to explore all the branches of science fiction canon, I am now tackling the Gollancz SF Masterworks series, which features New Waves books rather heavily. The Stars My Destination doesn’t quite fall under that bracket, l but it one of the first footfalls leading to the movement.

The Stars My Destination started off as a pleasant surprise. The opening chapter is a slice of future history chronicling the social changes brought about by the discovery of humanity’s innate ability to teleport. Had I encountered this chapter as a short story, I’d have rushed out to buy more Alfred Bester, no hesitation. The chapter in which we meet Gully Foyle was great too. Bester’s prose is rich without getting in the way of the story he’s telling. It’s fast and fluid, and the fact that each chapter of The Stars My Destination is essentially a short story works to its advantage.

Th pleasantness ends once we meet Gully Foyle. If you’re the sort of person who needs to relate to a character to enjoy a book, you might want to give this one a miss. Because if you find Gully Foyle relatable, I can only assume you’re a psychopath. Yes, he goes through a traumatic ordeal (two of them, in fact), but he is utterly irredeemable as a character. He sexually assaults a woman just to prove a point, and repeatedly uses others to his own advantage before throwing them away like broken toys. Entertaining and thrilling yes, but hopefully not relevant to the reader’s way of life.

All of this is great stuff, and had it not been for one major factor, I would have no problem recommending this book to everyone I know. That problem? The dialogue. The dialogue in this novel is, almost without exception, startlingly bad. Foyle speaks in a slang that is difficult to read, while other characters sound stilted even by the standards of fifties’ science fiction. When it comes to unspoken thoughts (which are plentiful in a book featuring telepaths), everything is spelled out so literally, you’d think Bester had never had an actual thought in his life. Reading the dialogue in this book is at times painful. Almost as painful as Foyle’s synaesthesia-tinged madness in the final act, in which prose breaks down and fonts sprawl across the page like nobody’s reason.

With these grievances taken into account, I can’t say I’m as enthusiastic as I was during that first chapter. The substance is good, but the style is overwhelming.

If you enjoyed this book, you might also like:
Leviathan Wakes, by James S. A. Corey
Fallen Dragon, by Peter F. Hamilton
Fury, by Henry Kuttner

MILITARY SF: Is It Worth A Shot?

Introduction

Military Science Fiction, sometimes called MilSF but hereafter referred to as Military SF, is a genre that comes loaded with assumptions. In terms of the wider SF community, Military SF often ends up relegated to a niche, where few people from outside enter, and those within are regarded with some suspicion. Military SF has a rather unfair reputation for being the realm of right-wing gun-happy individuals, a reputation that has definitely done a lot to damage the genre’s standing in the eyes of the wider community. But the truth is that Military SF is as politically diverse (and thus politically neutral) as any other literary branch.

Another assumption that people make is that Military SF is all action. Guns, bug-eyed aliens, and explosions. Big muscular men throwing down. Yes, there is some of that, but there’s much more too. And to get to that, we first have to define what Military SF actually is. Obviously, everyone has there own idea of where the borders of a genre fall. For me, I have the following thoughts:

  • A science fiction novel that features the military is not Military SF by default.
  • Military SF requires not only the presence of the military, but some level of examination as to the role of the military in society.
  • Not all characters involved need to be members of the military, but the focus should be on military concerns.
  • Contrary to popular belief, battles and violence are not a prerequisite of Military SF.

Origins of the Genre

Science fiction stories about the military have been around for a very long time. H.G. Wells’ The Land Ironclads (1903) is an early story about how mechanisation might change the shape of warfare. But there are two significant novels that are, to my mind, foundational pillars of Military SF.

Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (1959) is the go-to for serious Military SF. Without going too deeply into the complex web of Heinlein’s politics, Starship Troopers is unashamedly pro-military. It shows a humanity at war with an alien species, and a resultant civilisation that glorifies war. The book goes to such extremes in its glamorising of the military that it feels at times like a parody, though the evidence suggests Heinlein was since in his intentions. The 1997 film of the same name is not a straight adaptation, but uses many of the book’s elements to create a satire of the messages in the book. Book and film are very different creatures, but both are well worth a read.

Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War (1974) is another tale of humanity fighting an implacable alien foe. Haldeman’s tale takes a more anti-war stance, however. The main theme running through the book is the idea of soldiers becoming increasingly alienated from the civilians they serve to protect. That’s a phenomenon that occurs in real wars, notably the Vietnam conflict on which Haldeman models much of his narrative, but the science fiction element here sees the soldiers becoming distanced through time as well as sentiment.

Baen Books

If you live in the US, there’s a good chance you’ve come across Baen Books. Here in the UK, Baen is a much scarcer publisher. The name Baen has become synonymous with Military SF, largely thanks to a few names. The recently retired David Drake, like Haldeman, was heavily influenced by the war in Vietnam (having served there himself) in writing his Hammer’s Slammers series. I know him better for his RCN series, in which he adapts real historic battles to a science fiction setting. The end result is a setting that apes the traditions of the Napoleonic Wars to create tales that are equal parts warfare and adventure. These novels stray more into Space Opera than Military SF, illustrating how close the two genres are. Another Baen author inspired by this period of history is David Weber, whose Honor Harrington series, beginning with On Basilisk Station (1993), now runs to fourteen novels, and an equal number of spin-offs.

A Question of When

While some genres tend to have a common setting, Military SF can be found all over the place. Take, for example, Linda Nagata’s The Red: First Light (2013). This takes place only a few years into the future, and tackles the issue of Artificial Intelligence and their role in warfare. At the same time, it handles the difficulties of public relations. This second theme also emerges in John G. Hemry’s Stark’s War (2001), which is set significantly further in the future, with the United States going to war on the Moon.

John G. Hemry, writing as Jack Campbell, goes further still with his Lost Fleet series and its spin-offs. Set centuries from now, these books tell of a war that has been raging for a century, with a focus on fleet tactics. Despite the inevitable scientific advances, however, the combat portrayed here is rooted in submarine warfare, with which Hemry/Campbell has personal experience.

Even galaxies far, far away and a long time ago are not safe from military threats. The Rogue Squadron series by Michael A. Stackpole, and its successor Wraith Squadron by Aaron Allston show a less fantastical side to the war between Empire and New Republic as part of Star Wars’ Legends canon. Like the films that inspired them, the action is heavily derivative of World War Two dogfighting.

The Warhammer 40,000 universe boasts many Military SF novels. Among the best examples of this genre within the setting are Traitor Rock (2021), by Justin D Hill and Dan Abnett’s Gaunt’s Ghosts series, both of which delve impressively deep into the psyche of soldiers who expect war to last forever.

More Than Combat

In reality, the military serves more purpose than just fighting wars, though that is of course what they are most well known for. Emergency rescue operations, policing and security, parades, these are all things the military has historically been used for. And even within war, there is more than shooting. Logistics plays a large role, as does public relations, peacekeeping, and medical services. While many books focus on the more action-packed aspects of military life, true Military SF doesn’t shy away from these other elements.

John G. Hemry’s JAG in Space series follows a new member of crew aboard a ship, who becomes the ship’s legal officer. It is a wholly unique take on an often overlooked part of military life. In addition, the series is more accurate than most in having an ever changing cast of characters as crew members die or are transferred to other vessels.

Michael Mammay’s Planetside (2018) mixes Military SF with crime thriller, as a veteran must investigate matters that could bring disrepute to the military if they were made public.

Dan Abnett’s Embedded (2012) focuses not so much on the military personnel, but on the journalists who follow them to the battlefield and relay the news to far-off civilians.

Elizabeth Moon’s Vatta’s War series features not only military logistics, but the need for armed patrols to protect civilian traders against pirates and marauders. More than any other series, this tackles both economic and military matters with an equal hand.

Conclusion

Military SF is not the genre I spend the most time in, but it is probably the one that routinely interests me the most. As a civilian with no military experience, I can only guess at the accuracy of much of it. But with so many authors having military backgrounds, it seems the old adage ‘write what you know’ has some truth to it after all.

The examples listed in this article are but a fraction of what is available. The reader is encouraged to find more, while the author is always available for comment and to provide recommendations.

BOOK REVIEW: Star Trek III: Short Stories, by William Rotsler

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Rating: 3 out of 5.
  • A collection of five short stories
  • Published by Ravette in 1984
  • Space Opera
  • 126 pages

This is a very short book, so it’s only fitting that I give it a very short review. So short, I’ve even forgone my traditional teaser synopsis. So let’s backtrack a little.

Star Trek, like all franchises, has spawned a bewildering amount of additional content. This isn’t a new phenomenon, by the way. Go back to the eighties and you’ll find action figures, coasters, posters, and more. Perhaps the most infamously bewildering piece of Trek merchandise is the Spock space helmet, a dress-up toy that immortalises a tool never worn in the series (at least until Lower Decks found out about it, but that’s another story. Merchandise and tie-ins exist to build excitement around the core product, which is why you get more of them when a big release comes up. The release of a new Trek movie, for example. And that’s where this small collection of tales comes in. It bears the title of the third film on its cover, and clearly exists to make readers excited about viewing it. Which makes it all the stranger that it doesn’t seem to be about the film at all.

There are five stories here, all written by the same author, but there’s very little logic to how they are put together. We open in the aftermath of Wrath of Kahn, with a story that gets into Kirk’s grief over the death of Spock. At least for a bit, because he’s soon distracted by some aliens. Kirk’s gonna Kirk, I guess. The second story revolves around Uhuru, featuring a return home to a united Africa, and a Klingon spy. And that sets the tone for the book. One wild jump after another with not much holding the five stories together. They’re not exactly standouts on their own, and together they make a collection that’s surprisingly jumbled for a single author’s work. Especially when Scotty’s tale is simply a slightly different account of an episode of the TV show that started it all. The stories are all quite short, and I don’t really have any thoughts on them other than, ‘Well, that passed the time.’

If the intent behind these stories was to make me rush out and watch The Search for Spock, then it has failed. I’ve as little interest in doing that now as I did before reading the book. But if the intent was simply to keep me busy for an hour or so, then it has achieved everything it set out to do.

BOOK REVIEW: Deathwatch, The Omnibus

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Rating: 3 out of 5.
  • Features the novels Deathwatch, Kryptmann’s War, Storm of Damocles, plus short stories
  • Focuses on the Deathwatch
  • Published by Black Library in 2021
  • Grimdark SF
  • 957 pages

There is no greater threat to humanity than the tides of xenos filling the galaxy. And there is no greater defence against the xenos than the Deathwatch. But when a Space Marine joins the Deathwatch, they discover that a life of heroism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be . . .

One of my first introductions to the grim dark future of the forty-first millennium was a one-off game of the roleplaying game Deathwatch. It was a memorable experience, which ended with me being impaled and carried off by a hive tyrant. I played a few more games later on, and the Deathwatch always struck me as a vehicle for Dungeons & Dragons style shenanigans in the setting of Warhammer 40,000. They’re all super-soldiers, but brought together from dozens of different Space Marine Chapters. From a game perspective, it lets you make a variety of characters that all fall under the same militaristic umbrella. In a more linear narrative, it should allow for the same. Should, but doesn’t always.

The problem omnibuses often run into is repetition. In a series, there’s often a summary or recap of the previous book at the start of the new one. In omnibus terms, this means recapping things you’ve only just read. When it’s a more grab bag approach to an omnibus, there is a risk that the stories blend together. And that’s the case with Deathwatch. Each of the three novels here, and indeed the short stores too, follows a similar pattern. A group of Space Marines are pulled together by the Deathwatch to undertake a deadly mission. They bicker a bit, but do their duty and kill the xenos. It’s a good formula for a novel, but for nine hundred pages? It gets a bit old by the last third. Each of the novels comes with a dramatis personae at the start, which is a feature I wish more books would use. In particular, it’s useful here because without a list to refer to, the characters would have become mixed up between books. It seems the Deathwatch take a certain sort of recruit, and it’s not one that makes for a deep and compelling narrative.

Given my general apathy towards Space Marines, you might be wondering why I bought this book. First of all, it was discounted. But there is one story here that I really wanted to read. Justin D Hill is my favourite active Warhammer author, and with Storm of Damocles, I’ve now read (or listened to) all of his full-length offerings from Black Library. I’ll be honest, Storm of Damocles isn’t his best work. Which might be a good thing, because if you peak at your debut, something’s gone awry. What this story does offer is yet more evidence that we need more t’au stories, a sit offers a rare glimpse of these aliens. Furthermore, it contains one of my favourite lines in all of Warhammer. ‘Without war, there was no hope.’ If that doesn’t get to the heart of Warhammer’s brutal and twisted psyche, I don’t know what does. This is the sort of thematic depth I wish Black Library did more with, and it please me no end to see that Hill has continued along this thread with his Cadia novels.

If you want action by the tankload, then Deathwatch is the omnibus you should read. But if you want something a little more involved, you may wish to look elsewhere.

If you enjoyed this book, you might also like:
Night Lords: The Omnibus, by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
Cadia Stands, by Justin D Hill
Shadowbreaker, by Steven Parker

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Matt Adcock

Today is an exciting day for me, because I have achieved one of my blogging goals in securing my very first author interview. Matt Adcock, author of the novel Complete Darkness has graciously joined me today to answer a few questions about his work. Hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.

Matt Adcock, author of Complete Darkness

Q1: Welcome to At Boundary’s Edge. For those who don’t know you, please introduce yourself.

Hi – I’m a science fiction and horror writer, I also co-host the cyberpunk podcast ‘Hosts in the Shell’ and am Chair of the Society of Authors Hertfordshire Branch. My first cyber-noir novel Complete Darkness was published in 2019 and was picked as a ‘Book of the Year’ by Den of Geek alongside the new books from Philip Pullman and Margaret Atwood.

I’m working on a second Darkmatters novel for my publisher, the working title is ‘Inherent Darkness’ and a series of short tales based on history around where I live, the first of which is ‘The Hertfordshire Drownings’ – about witches and curses.

I have also had short stories published for in Neo Cyberpunk Vols 1 & 2 and DREAD COLD (a horror anthology which I was also asked to write the foreword for).

Most exciting though is that Complete Darkness is being turned into a comic, the issues of which will eventually form a full graphic novel version of the book.

Q2: What can you tell us about your novel Complete Darkness?

Having been a film reviewer for a group of newspapers for 20 years I took a lot of inspiration from the host of genre experiences, that mixed with an unhealthy love of the Culture novels of Iain M Banks, the Dune and Foundation sagas. I worked for a theological college for some time and where the concept of an afterlife was often a discussion point. Complete Darkness is the output of this melting put of influences and takes a sci-fi stance to ponder the fact that for centuries many have feared the possible existence of what we call ‘hell’.

My ‘what if’ is what might happen if in the near future, we map the elusive ‘dark matter’ around us, only to find out that it is hell itself, and it is very real…

Cue having a satanic President Razour on an earth that he is already moulding into a living patriarchal hell – it seems as though the fate of us all might rest in the hands of Cleric20, a hedonistic loner with a chequered past, and his robot sidekick, GiX.

Described as an action-packed literary shock to the senses, the book mixes flights of comic fantasy with bouts of brutal violence. Can Cleric20 halt Razour’s devilish plans after an experimental bioweapon deployed to kill him accidentally gives him superpowers?

Has the Devil inadvertently created a hero who could actually stop him? Only one way to fins out and mankind’s only hope seems to be having a very bad day.

As a future nightmare, Complete Darkness was a lot of fun to write and employs a fairly unique fractured narrative style – it’s often a hyperkinetic ride that builds to a superpowered climax.

Q3: Science Fiction is a pretty broad genre. What is it that draws you to science fiction?

I read voraciously and sci-fi is probably my favourite genre. Growing up in the ‘70s / ‘80s with 2000AD each week, having my mind blown by Asimov and Frank Herbert, as well as the gonzo sci-fi that C.S. Lewis put out when not writing his Narnia stuff.

Couple that with a love of scary stories – James Herbert and Clive Barker being my favourite horror fantasy authors. When it came to write my own tale sci-fi allowed me to create a fusion of tech, magic, carnage and superheroes – all mixed in wildly advanced science.

The absolutely best thing about sci-fi is that there are no limits and literally anything can happen.

Setting the story in London2 allowed me to reference the places I knew and transform them into what they might become. Having mechs fighting battlemages on the streets of this rebuilt megacity is imagery that I had a great time exploring. I write in a concise style which many have said is evocative of comic books or film scripts – so whilst I have a love of the huge sprawling space operas, my works are much more bite sized.

Q4: COMPLETE DARKNESS is now being adapted as a graphic novel. How did this come about?

As a huge comic book geek, I’d always dreamed of one day creating a comic but never thought it would happen due to my utter lack of artistic ability. I was beyond delighted when during lockdown in 2020 a comic artist Karl Brown contacted me having read Complete Darkness and he said it would make a great comic. Fortunately, his artwork suited the story really well with its 2000AD retro style and so I knew it had to be. We ran a Kickstarter which raised almost £3,000 and issue one was born – along with fun merchandise including shirts, art cards and even customised Lego figures of characters.

The novel had already been influenced by comic creators such as Mark Millar’s Kick Ass, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight and 300, Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Grant Morrison’s The Filth, so now to be making the jump into their world of comics is an absolute joy.

The process of adapting the novel to comic has been a fascinating one too – letting the visuals do much of the story telling and just adding key script elements is a good discipline to learn. The first issue stands alone as the prologue to the novel but we are gearing up for translating the nightmare future world itself in issue two and beyond.

This next section is a little game I call d20 Questions. It’s simple. I have a list of questions numbered 1 to 20. I roll a twenty-sided die, and the first three questions rolled get thrown into the interview.

Q4/20: You’re stuck on a drifting spaceship. Which science fiction character do you call for help?

This is an easy choice – I’m going to hail Trouble Dog, the sentient spaceship and hero of Gareth L Powell’s incredible Embers of War trilogy. Trouble Dog is a Carnivore-class heavy cruiser who after committing a planet-scale massacre has sworn off war and joined the House of Reclamation (a kind of intergalactic search and rescue operation that serves all humanity, ignoring the borders of star nations). Fully equipped to help those in distress in space and packing enough weaponry to protect against any hostiles – she’d also be fun to chat to on the way home.

It might not be usual but Trouble Dog immediately became one of my all time favourite sci-fi characters as soon as I read Embers of War, I’m a big fan of the eccentric ships of Iain M Banks and so was delighted to find Powell running with a similar trope, which if anything (and I know this is huge praise) might just be an upgrade!?

Q6/20: What was the last science fiction book you read?

The last science fiction book I read was Refraction by Terry Geo. He’s created a book where you can dream literally anything into existence. Refraction has a lot of fun using high tech to allow people to experience impossible treats such as seeing Prince, Kurt Cobain, Freddie Mercury all perform on a lineup – from beyond the grave. Other ‘what ifs’ such as having Babs Windsor and Kenneth Williams do a background guide to the Carry On films, offering characters chance to fly a dragon over Westeros or follow the Yellow Brick Road with Dorothy and pals… These pop culture Easter eggs are grin-inducing and wide-ranging – there are so many yet they don’t detract from the main action, it’s all very LGBTQ+ positive as well which is great to see in sci-fi. Geo has woven a rich geek tapestry of sci-fi and fantasy that I’d happily recommend.

Q17/20: Which is the best Star franchise- Trek, Wars, or Gate?

I’m Star Wars all the way (and this is despite the ‘quality may vary’ prequels and series etc). Whilst I enjoy all three of these, A New Hope was the first film I saw in the cinema – it was 1977 and it changed my young life. It’s true I called my firstborn son Luke, but alas my wife wouldn’t let me give him Skywalker as a middle name… The sheer joy of seeing sword fights upgraded to lightsabers, dogfights of spaceships and iconic characters such as Han Solo, Lord Vader and more. My wish is that we’ll one day get a fully dark Star Wars where a reborn Sith win the day and establish their dark dominion over the universe – if the makers are looking for an author willing to ‘go there I’d be happy to chat! 🙂

Where is the best place for people to get updates on you and your work?

I love social media so finding me as @cleric20 on twitter, Facebook and Instagram is a good way to see what’s coming next. I have a fairly rubbish website completedarknessnovel.com which I need to give more love and for my reviews and stuff I have blog which is darkmatt.blogspot.com

I would like to thank Matt once again for coming on the blog to give this interview. His novel Complete Darkness is available for purchase now, and I hope you’ll check both it and the comic book adaptation out.

AUDIO REVIEW: Death Troopers, by Joe Schreiber

Click here for more Star Wars content

Rating: 4 out of 5.
  • Narrated by Sean Kenin
  • A Standalone Novel
  • Part of the Expanded Universe/Legends canon
  • This audio version published 2022
  • Zombies. In. Space.
  • 6hrs 41min

The Imperial prison barge Purge. Home to five hundred prisoners ranging from rebels to murderers, now drifts in space. As a deadly plague ravages the inmate population, the survivors are forced to unite. Because this virus does more than just kill. It brings the dead back . . .

It is a truth universally accepted that, sooner or later, zombies will find their way into every franchise. Frankly, I’m surprised it too as long for Star Wars to embrace the undead as it did. Granted, there have been dalliances prior to Death Troopers hitting bookshelves. Force Ghosts don’t really count, but Knights of the Old Republic II featured Darth Sion, a Sith corpse held together by pure hatred, while its predecessor featured the rakghoul plague, which was effectively a zombie outbreak. But there’s never been a proper zombie horror story. Never a disparate group of survivors being hunted and turned by flesh-eating reanimated corpses. Death Troopers corrects that oversight, and in the hands of horror veteran Joe Schreiber, brings a healthy dollop bit of blood and guts to a galaxy far, far away.

Coming off the back of the rather more bombastic Rogue Squadron audio rereleases, Death Troopers is a much more subdued affair. The sound effects are minimal. Save for the steady hum of a ship and the occasional flash of a blaster bolt, it’s almost pure narration. The exception being the chapter introductions, which move from a whisper to a screech as the tension ramps up with each new chapter. The quieter tone actually works surprisingly well. While at first I was disappointed not to have the full display seen in other recent audios, Death Troopers‘ near-silence adds to the chill of the early chapters. While there is gore and violence, Death troopers is arguably better in its quieter moments. The real horror is what we don’t see. There’s a foreboding sense of doom hanging over every muted conversation, and the limited effects allow Kenin to make the most of the small cast he has to work with. The characters are distinct, and you have time to know each one by voice alone.

The real strength of a zombie apocalypse is not knowing who will make it out alive. Schreiber knows this, and isn’t afraid to kill of the small number of characters he has to work with. Sometimes it’s a heroic sacrifice, but sometimes it’s just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The only real misstep is the introduction at the halfway point of two major Star Wars characters. These two characters, appearing as they do in stories set beyond this point, are clearly safe, which does reduce the tension in their otherwise well-written scenes. Having said that, having two guaranteed survivors does give Schreiber free reign to go to town on his other characters.

Given the inevitability of zombies appearing in Star Wars, the tropes are handled very well here. There’s a certain predictability about the doom hounding our protagonists, but that’s what zombie fans are here for. The level of violence is also a fair bit higher than most Star Wars offerings, with blood spraying, skin peeling, and grotesque events being the norm. It’s good stuff for those with a slightly stronger stomach. Importantly, it never feels out of place for the universe, especially when the origin of the outbreak is revealed.

Death Troopers is a short but brutal piece of zombie action that will leave you a little less hungry than when you started.

If you enjoyed this book, you might also like:
Warhammer Horror: Sepultrum, by Nick Kyme
Newbury & Hobbes: The Revenant Express, by George Mann
Star Wars: Red Harvest, by Joe Schreiber

AUDIO REVIEW: Descent Into Human Weakness, by Kalah

With my thanks to the band for providing a review copy

Rating: 4 out of 5.
  • The full-length debut album
  • 12 tracks
  • Synth Metal
  • Releases on 19/08/2022

Prior to this release, Kalah have offered listeners two EPs of four tracks apiece. Titled Descent and Human, they offered a sampling of this band’s eclectic output. The third part of this operatic trilogy, Weakness, is just as hard to pin down. But when you take a step back and look at the whole, Descent Into Human Weakness is one of the most promising debut metal albums of recent years.

The greatest strength is the sheer diversity in the twelve songs. I’ve talked about the Dune-influenced ‘Titans of Dune’ before – and yes, it did become the soundtrack to my 2021 readthrough of the series. The song is among the more sombre offerings, but there is a sense of tragedy hanging over many of the songs. ‘Forget humanity/We’re a cold piece of stone’ laments ‘Pit of Violence (P.o.V)’ in the second act, while ‘Crows Calling at Night’ features the rather bleak refrain of ‘Stay with me my son/Bury me in snow.’ The subject matter is dark, but the tunes themselves cross from laments to anthems to calls for action as the album progresses.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming this is a depressing album. While it’s lyrically rather bleak, the music itself is infectiously upbeat. ‘Side Effects’ features a beat that could be from an early 2000s videogame, and that will be looping in my head for a long whiole yet. The drumming is just the sort to headbang along to, while the guitar riffs, so overused in metal genres, are spread across the work to maximise impact. As well as knowing when to break out the thrashing, Kalah also know when to let the silence fall, and when to let the vocals do the heavy lifting. On that note, and without meaning to render the unfamiliar exotic, I find there is something special in having singers with accents other than British or American. Think of the way Attila Dorn belts out every letter in the word Iron for Powerwolf, and I hope you’ll understand what I mean. Musicians from countries where English is not necessarily as common as it is in the UK have a way of approaching English lyrics that just hits differently. For Kalah, it’s the slight twisting of words that lead singer Claudia Gigante’s voice naturally lends itself to. It’s coming at lyrics from an angle I don’t hear very often, and it’s wonderful.

Descent Into Human Weakness is a rare thing. It’s a metal album you can dance to. Its tracks are the sort that would blast over the speakers at a Sci-Fi convention. Balancing dark lyrics and light music, it stands as a mission statement for a band on the rise. It’s something a little bit different, which is never a bad thing in a crowded scene. If I had my way, this would only be the first album of many. I hope other metalheads agree.

BOOK REVIEW: Star Trek 12, by James Blish & J. A. Lawrence

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Rating: 3 out of 5.
  • A novelisation of five Original Series episodes
  • Three stories by Blish, two by Lawrence
  • Published by Corgi in 1978
  • Social SF
  • 170 pages

These are the voyages of the USS Enterprise, as it explores the furthest reaches of space. Captain James Kirk leads his bold crew to worlds where dreams become reality, where Nazis rule, and where the greatest danger may come in the most innocent forms . . .

Truth be told, I’ve been that much of a fan of the original Star Trek. It’s the only incarnation of the show I haven’t watched from start to finish. Heresy, I know, but there we are. I can respect its place in the canon of science fiction, of course. Without Star Trek, vast swathes of the genre would be absent, not least the ongoing expansion of Gene Rodenberry’s creation. And had I been around in the nineteen sixties, I know I’d have loved it. On an idea and story based level, classic Star trek has some of the high points of the entire franchise. ‘Balance of Terror’ and ‘The City on the Edge of Forever’ are absolute classics of science fiction, and both very different. Some of the episodes play with ideas that later versions of the show wouldn’t touch. But the presentation is another matter. Wobbly sets and wooden acting aren’t enough to put me off a show on their own, but they do knock it down my priority list. Personally, I feel like I’ve gleaned enough of Star Trek through cultural osmosis that a full watch of the show can wait until I have a gap in my TV plans. One day, yes, but not today.

In the nineteen seventies, James Blish adapted every episode of the show into prose form. Novelisation is not quite the right word, as the episodic structure of the show lends itself better to a short story collection. Blish muddies the waters a little by picking seemingly random episodes for each volume rather than just working through the show in broadcast order. There’s no real theme holding these episodes together, and they’re as mixed in order as they are in quality. because while Star Trek had magnificent highs, it also had some truly dreadful lows. This final volume also marks a posthumous release for Blish, who died before it was completed. J. A. Lawrence takes over the writing for the final two entries, and matches her style to Blish’s so seamlessly you’d never guess there was a change in author if it weren’t written all over the book.

Star Trek 12 contains two stories I am vividly aware of seeing on television, and the conveniently exist on opposite ends of my enjoyment spectrum. ‘Shore Leave’ is the sort of whimsical episode that I have never had any time for, with giant rabbits and fairy tale knights galore. It’s very much a product of the nineteen sixties, and while its brand of fun is utterly harmless, it’s also of no real consequence. At the other end of the spectrum we have ‘Patterns of Force,’ which portrays an alien world adopting Nazism as a way of life. Taking into consideration the time it was written, and the fact that many of the original cast and crew had first hand experience of the Second World War, it serves as a poignant reminder that some dangers will rise time and again, and that you can never be too vigilant. It’s the sort of unsubtle political story that Star Trek has always been good at doing, and one that has remained relevant for almost six decades.

Blish’s writing isn’t entirely to my liking. It feels more like the notes of an episode than a story in its own right. But in a way, that’s what it is. It can’t compare to watching the actual show, but it does a great job of reminding you what the show was like.