BOOK REVIEW: Pariah, by Jamie Sawyer


Publisher: Orbit

Series: The Eternity War (#1)

Genre: Military SF

Pages: 439

Publication Date: 28/09/2017

Verdict: 5/5


The Krell war is over, but that doesn’t mean the Alliance is at peace.

A terrorist group calling themselves the Black Spiral are spreading anarchy through human space. Their leadership and end goals remain a mystery, but their attacks are growing more brazen, and the death toll is mounting.

In the wake of a devastating attack, Lieutenant Keira Jenkins and her squad of Jackals are relegated to a long-term mission near Krell space. Here they find that not everyone is happy with the terms of peace, and that the Black Spiral has agents everywhere . . .


Jamie Sawyer’s debut trilogy The Lazarus War is easily one of the top military sf series of the past few years. Action-packed, suspenseful, and with a great squad dynamic, it ticked all my boxes. So a sequel trilogy was a no-brainer.

Keira Jenkins was a supporting character in the original trilogy, and takes centre stage here. More human than her former commanding officer Conrad Harris, perhaps even more flawed, her story grabs you from the first page. The Jackals too are a more ragtag band than the Lazarus Legion. A politician’s daughter, a criminal serving his life sentence, and a clone are just some of the fascinating characters Jenkins has to work with.

Like so much great SF, Sawyer’s work has one great, stand-out idea: Simulant Ops. Think of them as biological drones. Enhanced clone bodies remotely controlled by human operators. The value attributed to a human life is a recurring theme in these books, shown here through Novak. Serving a life sentence, he has time knocked off for each time he ‘dies’ on a mission. it’s a fascinating concept, and Sawyer exploits it for all it’s worth.

While the focus in Pariah is on humans fighting humans, the Krell get more development too. Too say too much would be a spoiler, but if you were left wondering about the aliens after The Lazarus War, you’ll get some answers here. One thing I think is safe to mention, is the organic nature of the Krell ships. reminiscent of Wraith Hiveships from Stargate: Atlantis, but somehow even more repulsive.

Books like this live or die on their action scenes, and this is where Sawyer really shines. You can feel every injury, sense each bullet fly. While the characters are safely ensconced in their pods, you never know which Simulant is going to get bumped off next. That, together with the strategic use of flipped tables and cargo crates, gives Pariah an almost videogame-like feel to the combat scenes. Only fitting when so many people are using Jenkins’ Jackals as pawns in a larger game.


All in all, Pariah is a brilliant follow-up to The Lazarus War. I already have the sequel on my tbr stack, and the final volume is set for release this year. If you haven’t read anything by Jamie Sawyer yet, you need to correct that oversight. Quickly.

BOOK REVIEW: Doomsday Morning, by C. L. Moore

Publisher: Gollancz

Series: Standalone

Genre: Dystopian SF

Pages: 248

Publication Date: 10/01/2019 (originally 1957)

Verdict: 3/5

In the wake of a nuclear war, the United States have been reborn under Comus.

Once a communications service, now a tyrannical police state, Comus is held together by a single man: Its creator, Andrew Raleigh. Life under Comus is hard, but peaceful. Only in california is there open resisitance to the new order of things.

But Raleigh is dying, and fears Comus will die with him. Seeking to root out the rebels in California, Comus recruits retired actor Howard Rohan to its cause, sending him deep into enemy territory on a mission of espionage. But Rohan is nobody’s fool, and his allegiances are his own . . .


Doomsday Morning does a lot of things very well. Moore doesn’t spend too much time in the Comus-controlled regions before sending Rohan on his journey, but the impression left by those early chapters is a lasting one. Comus’s influence and presence are evident everywhere, from the red-suited police to the Prowlers and Hedgehopper machines. One of the most memorable scenes involves the theft of a hedgehopper, and it’s as action-fuelled and explosive as anything Michael Bay could dream up, and far more tense besides.

Comus itself is wonderfully presented. While there is no doubt that humans are suffering under its influence, there is a perfectly valid argument in favour of keeping it around. After all, isn’t a little individual suffering a reasonable price for national peace? This isn’t a black-and-white dystopia like so many modern YA offers. No, Moore has crafted something more nuanced. Better in every sense. It s not the system itself that is at fault, but the abuses of those who would control it.

Where Doomsday Morning left me cold was in the actual plotting. For such a short novel, there is an awful lot of Rohan and his troupe wandering around the Californian ruins, putting on plays and getting into scrapes. Perhaps as an artefact of serialisation, it’s almost episodic, and the individual parts don’t quite line up as neatly as perhaps they should.

Despite this, the climax is a rousing one. Like all rebellions, there are losses. Both personnel and moral high ground sacrificed for the benefit of the cause. While he is far from heroic, it’s hard not to root for Rohan as he finally stops dithering and chooses a side.


All told, a strong novel. if you can look past the disjointed middle act, you’ll find a dystopia that, six decades later, looks more plausible than ever.

BOOK REVIEW: Fury, by Henry Kuttner

Publisher: Gollancz

Series: Standalone

Genre: Dystopian SF

Pages: 212

Publication Date: 10/01/2019 (originally 1950)

Verdict: 4/5

Earth is gone, and the remnants of the human race have retreated to Venus.

Confined to domed cities beneath the Venusian oceans and ruled over by genetically enhanced Immortals, humanity is trapped in a state of decline. Stagnation.

Sam Reed was born an Immortal, though he doesn’t know it. But when he finds out the truth, he decides to walk a dark path of vengeance against his misbegotten family. The choices he make will determine the fate not only of the Immortals, but of humanity itself . . .

Fury is the first in a new series of Golden Age Masterworks, with almost a dozen set for release in the first half of 2019. If Fury is anything to go by, we’re all in for a treat.

First I’d like to make a small disclaimer: The science in this book is wrong. Like, really wrong. But it’s almost seventy years’ old, so what can you expect? This is an unavoidable problem with reading the classics, so t has no bearing on my enjoyment of what is, frankly, a stunning book. But it’s something to bear in mind when people walk around Venus without protection.

From the opening act – the mutilation of  a newborn child – Fury is an unrelentingly brutal book. To live under the rule of the Immortals is to live without hope, unless you can get your hands on Dream-Dust that is. Even when things get better for Sam in the third act, everyone around him suffers for his benefit. Here is a man willing to sacrifice hundreds of lives it will get him what he wants.

Hardly a relatable protagonist, Sam is nevertheless a captivating character. From downtrodden scam artist to nascent despot, there is no point where you don’t want to know what happens to him next. His underdog spirit gives way to a lust for power, but he always stays just the right side of the line between anti-hero and villain.

Like so many books from the period, Fury is a short read, but crams plenty of worldbuilding and story into its meagre page count. There are mysteries, certainly. The exact fate of the earth is not explicit, though strongly hinted to have died in an atomic haze. But everything you need to know to understand Sam Reed and his plans is right there. Waiting to be read.

It may have aged, but Fury has done so like cheese. or a fine wine. You could do a lot worse than setting aside a day to read it.

THE FIRST DRAFT: Endings and Beginnings

123,401 words

8 months

1 first draft


As some of you may be aware, I am a writer as well as reader and reviewer. Sadly not a professional at either, but today marks an important step in changing some of that.

As of today, I have a finished novel sitting in the digital trunk. Though to be honest ‘finished’ is a generous term. It’s a first draft, and a troubled one at that. But it does tell a complete story, from beginning to middle to end. And that’s worth celebrating. Even though I fully intend to leave this work aside, it marks an important step. I can finish a long project. I will finish more.

Eight months is a long time to spend in a fictional universe, and it has felt like even longer. Run Red the Stars was the first project I’d committed to since getting my Master’s Degree, and it’s miles better than anything I’d attempted before.

But I know I can do better. If I’m ever to be serious about writing, I have to do better. As a wise woman once said, ‘The only way is up.’

RRtS will sit happily on my hard drive for a while now, gathering digital dust. For now, there are other projects I want to work on. Ones that might actually be worth sharing with the world.

BOOK REVIEW: Star Destroyers

Publisher: Baen

Editors: Tony Daniel & Christopher Ruocchio

Genre: Military SF/Space Opera

Pages: 328

Publication Date: 2018

Verdict: 3.5/5

‘Big Ships. Blowing Things Up’

The thing with Baen is that you always know what you’re getting. They’ve really cornered the market in action-filled Space Opera and Military SF, almost always wrapped up in a mind-boggling retro cover.

In Star Destroyers we find a dozen of authors writing about, well. About big ships blowing things up. There’s always a risk in gathering authors of similar novels for an anthology based around a theme, that the stories will become repetitious. Fortunately that’s not an issue here, as there are enough approaches to warships for a variety of stories.

It can be hard to review an anthology. Do you review the individual stories? or the product as a whole? I’ve chosen the former, at least for this particular anthology. There is, unfortunately, a reason for this.

There are no weak stories in Star Destroyers. But nor are there any real stand outs. David Drake’s ‘Superweapon’, Ruocchio’s own ‘Not Made For Us’ and Dave Bara’s ‘Icebreaker’ are three personal highlights, but they are stronger than the average, rather than spectacular works in their own right. perhaps not coincidentally, they are also the only stories by authors with whom I am familiar. ‘Not Made for Us’ in particular is a fascinating glimpse into the wider world of the Sun Eater series (and the reason I purchased this book).

The real joy of the anthology though is not encountering old friends, but finding new authors with worlds to explore, and that’s where Star Destroyers failed me. the stories are good, but none create enough of an impression for me to hunt down others of their kind.

At the end of the day, there are far worse ways to spend an afternoon than with a copy of this. You may even find a few gems. Alas, I did not.

TV REVIEW: Travelers, Season 3

-This article contains spoilers for Seasons 1 & 2-

Seasons: 3

Broadcaster: Netflix

Genre: Time Travel

Verdict: 3.5/5

In the 25th century, humanity is on the brink of extinction. War, disease and climate change have taken their toll, and the future looks bleak.

The Director, the AI that guides humanity, has a plan to save the species. Send agents back in time to avert crises before they can spiral out of control. These agents, known as Travelers, overwrite the minds of people in the 21st century and work covertly for a better future. Their actions restricted by a set of rigid Protocols, and unable to return to the future, the Travelers must balance their mandate with maintaining the facade of their hosts’ lives.

Season 3 sees the government made aware of the Traveler programme, and the emergence of deadly new foes. . .

Travelers is very much a show of two halves. The better half is a gripping, conspiracy-laden time travel thriller. In some ways the natural successor to Quantum Leap, there are few shows that have handled time travel as innovatively as travelers. Season 2 had a particularly brilliant not-quite-time loop episode, a favourite trope of mine.

The second half is a character-led drama, and this is where the show loses me. Every piece of casting is spot on, but character beats soon become repetitive, and drawn out. There are stand-out moments. Episode 8 is a stellar performance from Jared Abrahamson’s Trevor, Patrick Gilmore finally gets material worthy of his David later on, and Jennifer Spence steals every scene she appears in as Grace. But the rest of the cast is less well served.

Plotwise, season 3 continues the trend to swap plotlines around and has the same tendency to abandon story arcs for long periods at a time. Anyone expecting to see Traveler 001 as the new big bad will likely be disappointed. The Faction remains present, and some of their motivations are explained here, but they never materialise as a real threat until later on in the series.

It’s hard to discuss the ending without spoilers, but suffice to say it invoked one of my least favourite time travel tropes, though does cleverly employ the rules set out in season 1. The final scene, however, redeems everything that has gone before, and season 3 becomes that rarest of beasts: a finale that could serve for the entire series, or as the springboard for season 4 equally effectively.

All told, Travelers is definitely worth catching. Frustrating at times, brilliant at others, there’s no other show quite like it.

BOOK REVIEW: Thin Air, by Richard Morgan

Publisher: Gollancz

Series: Standalone

Genre: SF Noir/Political Thriller

Pages: 528

Publication Date: 25/10/2018

Verdict: 3/5


In the not-too-distant future, Earth has colonised Mars. But not all is well between these two neighbours.

Hakan Veil is a genetically engineered human weapon, stuck on Mars and short on funds. Coerced into helping an Earth audit of the Martian colonies, he is tasked with protecting person-of-interest Madison Madekwe. But when he fails and Madekwe is abducted, Hakan must hunt down her kidnappers across the Red Planet.

As the search goes on, Veil discovers that he has not been told the whole truth, and there may just be more to the audit than a financial investigation . . .


Like many, I first became aware of Richard Morgan through the Netflix adaptation of Altered Carbon. So when I saw he had a new release out, I thought it was worth trying.

Unfortunately, Thin Air is a very frustrating book. There’s a lot to like about it, but it never quite seems to come together. Since this is largely a character-driven story, we’ll start with Veil.

I imagine (and hope) it would be hard for most readers to relate to Veil, being as he is a one man murderous horde. That’s not inherently a problem, but he does come off as one-dimensional, and lacking agency. Far too many of his discoveries during the infiltration come from other characters simply telling him things without any real motivation to do so. And his, admittedly unique method of interrogation – ask questions, have wild sex with witness/suspect, ask some more questions – leaves a lot to be desired.

The plotting works fine, for the most part, though i do prefer my crime to be a little leaner and a lot tighter, but the divergences here by and large come together in the end. There’s a wonderful juxtaposition between the hardboiled Bradbury city scenes and the later, almost pulpy encounter with a religious sect out in the Martian wilds. The suspense and intrigue are both well-maintained, even if the eventual reveal is a little tired.

The scene that sticks in my mind most is from around the middle act, where Veil sneaks through an (obligatory) warehouse district, and reflects on various horrors and misbegotten experiments that are said to be trapped within. I can’t help but feel any one of those rumours would have made a novel more to my taste than the one I got.

Ultimately, Thin Air is stronger in its opening, noir-ish act, than once the plot really gets going. It is by no means a bad story, just not the one I wanted to read.

HOW ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?: Evil Characters and the Group Dynamic

-This article contains spoilers for Knights of the Old Republic and Dark Matter

One of my chief hobbies outside of reading and watching TV is role-playing games. In particular, I enjoy running them for other people. One discussion that recently came up in my regular group regarded the nature of evil characters, and why I do not allow them in my games. Naturally, this got me thinking.

Role-playing games operate around a group dynamic, like a lot of TV shows, and it’s a delicate art to make sure that every character has their moment in the sun, but also has something to do at all times. Key to striking this balance is maintaining party cohesion, and that’s where the issue of evil comes into play.

For those unfamiliar with the world of role-playing, most gaming systems have a way of tracking one’s moral inclination, generally referred to as ‘alignment’. This can take take many forms, but essentially boils down to a spectrum from ‘Good’ to ‘neutral’ to ‘Evil’. Good characters go out their way to help others. Neutral characters are generally ambivalent, perhaps even selfish. And Evil characters cause harm to others for their own benefit. Star Wars is an excellent example of this, with an ongoing battle between the Lights and the Dark Side of the Force. Most games assume that the players will be Good. After all, they are the heroes of their story, but the system allows for Evil characters to accommodate the inevitable player who wishes to play a dark and mysterious loner.

It’s these characters who so often cause problems for Games Masters, and indeed the party as a whole. Let us take, as an example, a group of four characters. Three of them are of Good morality, the fourth is Evil. The task these characters have been set by their Games Master is to rescue some hostages from an enemy encampment. They concoct a plan to sneak in after dark and rescue the hostages. The three Good characters enact this plan, leaving their Evil friend to stand watch, and soon free the prisoners. But then, in a shocking twist, they are surrounded by enemy soldiers. To their horror, they discover that their Evil accomplice has sold them out. The original prisoners can now go free, but the Good characters are now prisoners themselves. This is, technically, a win for the party. After all, they have rescued the prisoners. However, as you can imagine, there is no way that they are ever going to trust that Evil character again.

Obviously this is an extreme example. But even if the act is less Evil – what if he deliberately sacrificed one of the prisoners to save the others? – the result is similar: the party no longer trusts that character, and so they must leave the campaign. This is no fun for anyone involved, not the players and not the Games Master. The standard defence is ‘I just did what my character would do’, but this approach forgets that the character was problematic to start with. The fact remains, an Evil character will very rarely work well with a Good-aligned party. It’s simply not worth the ninety-nine failures to reach the one time it could potentially work.

The computer-based rpg Knights of the Old Republic has an excellent example of this. Near the end of the game, you are faced with a choice between Light and Dark. To join the Jedi or the Sith.The player’s decisions determines which character as they are able to take into the final confrontation with the game’s antagonist. Now, the party is generally Good in nature. If you choose the Light Side then wahey! Group hug, and let’s go fight Darth Malak. But if you choose to be Evil, to take the Dark Side path, things turn sour very quickly. You will have to kill multiple former friends as they try and stop your fall from grace. (As an aside, this is the only time I’ve ever felt truly guilty in a game) These are relationships you’ve been fostering for a long time, from the start of the game. But being Evil breaks that friendship instantly.

Star Wars takes a very binary look at alignment, so let’s look at something more morally grey.

The tragically short-lived SF TV show Dark Matter featured a group of criminals who have their memories erased and, by and large, decide to redeem themselves. As time goes on, they start to see themselves as a family rather than a crew. Trouble arises when one member of their family, Four, decides to regain his memories. Following the procedure, he becomes – essentially – Evil, murdering dozens of innocents as he looks to reclaim what he views as his. The rest of the crew do not try to stop him, but they do turn their backs on him. Through Evil actions, he has broken their ties with him. And even though he offers to continue helping them, they want no part in his life. He may not see himself as having done anything wrong, but the more morally good characters disagree. Quite simply, there is no reason for them to trust or consort with him anymore.

Is there a point to all this? Well, maybe. Maybe I am just justifying a personal dislike of dark and edgy lone wolves who lurk at the fringes of role-playing. (Trust me players, every Games Master has seen this, and we are not impressed by it). But it’s quite obvious to me that there is a real issue with integrating an Evil character into a group dynamic. It doesn’t matter what form that Evil takes, whether it’s butchering innocents or just spitting on the waiter, there comes a time when characters have to ask themselves: ‘How are we still friends?’ and then walk away.

PRIORITY TARGETS: Upcoming SF in 2019

Another year approaches, bringing with it a buffet of science fictional delights. Here are some that I’m particularly looking forward to.

January 10

The Shadow Captain – Alastair Campbell

I have a rocky relationship with Campbell’s writing, but this sequel to Revenger already has me intrigued.

January 12

The Anarch – Dan Abnett

The fifteenth and potentially final novel in the long running Gaunt’s Ghosts series, Anarch promises to wrap up many of the ongoing plotlines.

January 17

Star Trek: Discovery – Season 2

Discover’s debut season can charitably be described as uneven. But the same can be said for most series. Hopefully season 2 will build on the strengths rather than the weaknesses.

January 21

Killjoys – Season 4 blu-ray

One of the most fun shows on TV returns with darker storylines and new threats. The fifth and final series is on SyFy later in the year.

February 19

Broken Stars – edited by Ken Liu

Liu’s second collection of Chinese SF looks to be as varied as the first. High hopes here that the authors within get full novels translated into English too.

February 23

Honourbound – Rachel Harrison

With Gaunt departing, Black Library introduces a new, and female, commissar. Perhaps my most anticipated debut novel of the year.

March 28

Tiamat’s Wrath – James S A Corey

Delayed from its previous December 2018 slot, the penultimate book of the Expanse promises more trouble for Holden and the crew, not to mention the threat of interstellar warfare. Season 4 of the TV adaptation is also coming this year.

April 4

Cage of Souls – Adrian Tchaikovsky

Yes, I’m a Tchaikovsky fanboy, but everything deserves to be on this list. Cage of Souls is set on a dying earth, and looks to be more sombre than my usual fare.

April 19

Atlas Alone – Emma Newman

I haven’t loved all of the Planetfall series, but this looks like a direct follow up to After Atlas, the high point of the series. Hopefully it carries on from that strong beginning.

April 30

Walking to Aldebaran – Adrian Tchaikovsky

In the tradition of 2001: A Space Oddessy, this novella is more of an intimate piece than a lot of this list, but I’m very much looking forward to it.

April 30

The Waste Tide – Chen Qiufan

Ken Liu’s much-delayed translation is finally set to arrive next year. Part heist, part eco-thriller, this should not be missed.

May 16

Children of Ruin – Adrian Tchaikovsky

A strong contender for book of the year, this sequel to Arthur C Clarke award winner Children of Time sees humans and spiders working to investigate a new world. Definitely a day-one purchase.

May 28

Triumphant – Jack Campbell

The final installment in one of the best prequel trilogies ever written promises to answer a lot of questions about the early days of the Alliance.

June 4

To Clear Away the Shadows – David Drake

If the blurb is anything to go by, then the RCN series is heading in a new direction, shedding a lot of previous cast members. Fortunately Drake can be trusted to deliver.

June 11

In Howling Dark – Christopher Ruocchio

Empire of Silence was my 2018 book of the year by quite a margin, so the sequel has a lot to live up to. But with strong characters and a Dune-esque universe, it’s hard to go wrong.

June 14

Men In Black International

The fourth film in the franchise is more a spinoff than a follow up, and promises to be a bold new start. From the trailers, Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thomson are set to make a memorable pair.

July 16

The Redemption of Time – Baoshu

Another Ken Liu translation, this fanfic rendered official story seeks to fill a large gap in the Three Body trilogy.

July 30

Spaceside – Michael Mammay

Planetside came to a somewhat abrupt ending, so there’s plenty for the sequel to pick up from.

December 20

Star Wars: Episode IX

The final episode in the Skywalker saga has a lot to live up to. After all the controversy around The Last Jedi, here’s hoping JJ Abrams can make a fitting finale to the series.

Unconfirmed Dates

The 100 – Season 6

Finally a genre series to make it to 6 seasons. This has been teased as a soft reboot of the show, but will undoubtedly be as brutal and brilliant as what has gone before.

Krypton – Season 2

The surprise TV hit of the year was renewed before I’d even heard of the show, which hopefully means it will be kept around for some years yet.

There’s bound to be some stuff I’ve missed, and some surprises lying in store. Let me know what you’re looking forward to

BOOK REVIEW: Impulse, by Dave Bara

Publisher: Del Rey

Series: Lightship (#1)

Genre: Military SF/Space Opera

Pages: 372

Publication Date: 2015

Centuries after a devastating war, humanity is starting to rebuild civilisation.

Peter Cochrane, a young nobleman fresh from the naval academy, has been assigned to the ship that recently lost some of its crew, including his own girlfriend.

Searching for answers following an unprovoked attack, Cochrane finds himself thrust into the unfamiliar world of diplomacy, and learns that ancient grievances may not be as dead as he once believed . . .

There is a thin line between Space Opera and Military SF. Like so many stories, Impulse crosses that line freely. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but while it’s a decent Space Opera, this novel is less successful as Military SF.

Let’s focus on the positives, and that’s the worldbuilding. You won’t find anything new or remarkable here, but the classic elements are pulled together tightly and effectively. The Historians put me in mind of Asimov’s Foundation, guarding technology and lore for their own purposes. The Sri, while less developed, are no less interesting. I hope further instalments show them in more detail, and to be less one sided than their appearance here.

The political dealings Cochrane is forced into are typical of the genre, and at times feel contrived. Cochrane’s swift agreement to a marriage proposal is generally indicative of the simplicity of the politics on show.

And that leads to the main issue. For a fresh faced academy graduate in mourning for his first live, Cochrane is quite the ladies’ man. It’s his blossoming romance with a coworker that I found most troubling. Surely, there are regulations regarding sexual relations between officers on active duty.

This lack of cohesive command structure is where the military side of things breaks down. The Impulse is a joint taskforce ship, but any friction is dealt with quickly, with a semi-inspiring speech. I personally feel there should have been more to it than that.

In the end, there’s a lot to like about Impulse. Just don’t think too hard about the details.