Archive for the ‘Book reviews’ Category

by Becky Chambers

In a bid to leave her old life behind, Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the spaceship Wayfarer as a file clerk. She quickly fits in amongst the multispecies, and somewhat unconventional crew and life is good. But then the crew get an offer they can’t refuse, the chance to build a hyperspace tunnel from a distant part of the galaxy. They’ll each earn a fortune, the trouble is they have to take the slow way there, and they’re going to have to pass through hostile terrain. Can the plucky crew survive the challenges the universe has in store for them?

There are books I love, and books I hate, but perhaps the saddest books are those that disappoint. The blurb of this book hooked me, and the opening chapters reeled me in. Yes, there’s more than a hint of Firefly here, but compared to some homages I’ve read this was at least well done. Chambers’ world building was good, and her characters leapt off the page.

The concept is great, the universe is nicely put together, and the characters (mostly) interesting…

Yet in the end I felt a little cheated.

 Why’s that, you ask? Well in the main because there’s one vital ingredient missing from the story of this crazy diverse crew. Drama. I was tempted to add plot as well, but there is a plot, sort of. I was about a third of the way through before I realised they really were taking the long way to that small angry planet, and worse they were taking the episodic route as well. This was originally self-published and at first I wonder if it’d been released in instalments, because it has that feel about it. Episode 1: shopping. Episode 2: Space insects. Episode 3: Pirates… etc.

This is fine, the characters are interesting enough that the fact that they meander from one situation to the next didn’t bother me that much. The trouble is the lack of drama. Seriously, every problem they face is resolved quickly and easily with the minimum amount of fuss or danger. It gets to the point where I stopped getting excited as the next big thing showed up, because I knew the tension was going to be sucked out of the situation within a page or so, and regular as clockwork it was.

Don’t get me wrong, as a Trek fan the idea of characters resolving issues through chat rather than gunplay isn’t anathema to me but at least mix it up a little.

And don’t get me started on the disappointment of what happens (or maybe what doesn’t happen) when they finally reach the titular small angry planet.

I did enjoy it up to a point though. Chambers’ prose is excellent, and while I’ve read better world building, I read an awful lot worse. Characters like Jenks and Kizzy and Dr Chef and Sissix were fun and interesting. I just wish they’d had more difficulty reaching that small angry planet, and, you know, maybe spent some time there.

Perhaps for all my protestations of being an optimist, in the end I’m too cynical for this nicest of nice stories, or maybe I just want something that isn’t quite so wet. In the end I’d still recommend it as a decent read, just don’t get your hopes up for edge of the seat excitement.  

Edited by John Joseph Adams

I’m the kind of contrarian who, on a blazing hot summer’s day, would squirrel myself away in a cool, dark cinema (and will again once its safe to do so) so perhaps its no great surprise that during a pandemic I would find comfort in an anthology of post-apocalyptic stories.

Some may find this curious but to me it makes perfect sense. Much as fictional horror helps us process the real horrors of the world, what better way to deal with a pandemic that, terrible as it is isn’t going to destroy humanity, than by getting lost in stories where characters really are facing the end of it all.

This is far more than a collection of mere Mad Max clones, and Adams has pulled together an interesting, and eclectic collection of stories. For starters there’s dizzying array of apocalypses on offer, from your run of the mill nuclear Armageddon to your biological weapon running amok. There’s climate change and alien invasion and simple even ennui as deep time ensures that humanity is simply too bored to go on.

And the characters are as varied as the settings. Adams has drawn writers from a diverse background, which means we get to see as many women as men facing the end of the world, with people of different ethnicities and sexualities struggling with Armageddon. There’s even disabled and trans characters. On both counts this helps keep the collection fresh though there’s still action aplenty.

There’s over 30 stories on offer, so I’m not going to go through them all, but here’s a selection of ones I particularly enjoyed.

The Last to Matter by Adam-Troy Castro is a surreal jaunt to the far future. It’s completely bizarre and could have been annoying as hell but somehow Castro keeps the right side of weird.

Where Would You Be Now by Carrie Vaughn shines a positive light on the post-apocalyptic environment, taking unexpected turns and flipping the usual evil brigands’ trope.

The Elephants Crematorium by Timothy Mudie depicts a world where no more babies are born but rather than focus on how humans react to this the story instead relates to elephants, and it’s genuinely moving.

As Good as New by Charlie Jane Anders takes the monkey’s paw/genie of the lamp tale and gives it a fresh end of the world spin. Original and amusing.

Cannibal Acts by Maureen F. McHugh takes grim subject matter but layers it with emotion. Nowhere near as lurid as the titles suggests.

Shooting the Apocalypse by Paolo Bacigalupi feels very prescient, featuring a photographer and a journalist looking for a story in a near future world where climate change has caused drought to blight various southern American states. It’s tale of desperate people risking everything to cross borders feels scarily like it’s only a few years away from being reality.

Come on Down by Meg Ellison shows how even the most curious of things, a game show, can provide hope in the most trying of times.

Polly Wanna Cracker? by Greg Van Eekhout is another quite surreal, far future entry, but it’s amusing and features a great last line.

I really enjoyed And the Rest Of Us Wait by Corrine Duyvis, set in an underground shelter it follows a young Latvian pop star who also happens to be disabled. Another story that essays the curious things people might take hope in, while also detailing the difficulties the differently abled might face in the event of the apocalypse. A story I desperately wanted to continue.

So Sharp, So Bright, So Final by Seanan McGuire is, on the face of it a zombie tale, but Seanan gives it an inventive, grounded twist, and it’s very well written.

Snow by Dale Bailey starts out as a tale of disease sweeping the world, but morphs into something else entirely, and takes a heart-breaking journey into the dividing line between love and survival.

The Air Is Chalk by Richard Kadrey has echoes of The Omega Man, the central character a celebrity bodyguard trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles menaced by…well some very strange monsters!

Finally Francisca Montoya’s Almanac Of Things That Can Kill You by Shaenon K. Garrity rounds off the collection. An inventive entry that on the face of it is merely a list of the various deaths available at the end of the world, yet still manages to tell a story.

As with any anthology there’s good and bad, but there were very few tales I didn’t enjoy on some level. The only flaw is that it’s quite a weighty tome, which meant that, by around three quarters of the way in, even I was starting to tire of the end of the world, but that’s a minor foible. A very good anthology.

Bone Silence

Posted: December 19, 2020 in Book reviews, science fiction

By Alastair Reynolds

And so we reach the final part of the trilogy that began with Revenger and continued with Shadow Captain.

I’ll try to keep spoilers for this book to a minimum but obviously may reveal things about the previous two novels, so be forewarned.

<insert spoiler gap here>

Having inadvertently caused a major financial crisis across the congregation the Ness sisters, Fura and Adrana, along with their mismatched crew, find themselves and their former pirate ship still hunted by a fleet of ships now led by an implacable enemy more ruthless than either of the sisters. Now they must not only evade capture, but also try and solve the twin mysteries that have intrigued them both. What is the true purpose of the Quoins, the curious currency in use across the thousands of worlds of the Congregation, and what force is it that restarts humanity after each Congregation falls into anarchy (humans are now in their 13th).

As the sisters become separated each must face off against nefarious foes, but if they’re lucky, not only will they survive, they might just discover answers to those questions, answers that may change the nature of the Congregation, of all future Congregations, forever.

Well after each of the previous books was told from the POV of one of the sisters, here Reynolds eschews the first person for a third person view that broadens the scope of the story, and its no surprise that this is the meatiest novel of the three.

I’ve really enjoyed the trilogy, and whilst Reynolds says in his afterward that this is the last we’ll see of the Ness sisters for a while, he also acknowledges that they might force his hand and shoehorn their way back into his thinking. I really hope they do, because while questions are answered, you feel there’s still a long way for the Ness sisters, and the Congregation to go, and having created such a vibrant far future world of pirates and privateers, it’d be a real shame if he doesn’t return to it because there’s still so much untapped potential.

As always Reynolds’ prose is superb, and I found myself caught by a horrible dilemma. On the one hand I could barely the put the book down—page turner doesn’t do it justice—but by the same token I really didn’t want it to end.

The Ness sisters are great creations, but the real star of the story is the world Reynolds created, a radically altered solar system tens of thousands of years hence, yet analogous with the 18th Century high seas, with the planets long since broken up to form thousands of tiny worlds, some planetoids, some huge space stations. Suffice to say from the grandest element to the absolute minutiae Reynolds’ worldbuilding is as superb as ever.

It isn’t perfect. Many of the supporting characters do blend into one another, the villain deserved more screen time, and the ending feels a little rushed, but these are minor gripes. A fab end to a fab trilogy. I only hope it doesn’t remain a trilogy for long!

Summer Crossing

Posted: November 5, 2020 in Book reviews

By Truman Capote

Grady McNeil, a 17-year-old debutante, refuses to travel to Europe with her parents and instead remains in New York where she pursues a relationship with Clyde Manzer, a Jewish parking lot attendant. Over the course of a sweltering summer their relationship becomes increasingly serious, even as the cultural and class divides between them becomes ever more obvious.

I came to admire Capote quite by chance. A few years ago the university I worked at gave away free copies of In Cold Blood and, never one to turn down a free book, I took one, not expecting to read it. But read it I did and blimey it was amazing! Having enjoyed one book, I soon snapped up Breakfast at Tiffanys, and again I really enjoyed it. Of course even when I decide I like a writer I can be very slow in picking up other work by them, so flash forward a couple of years and I finally buy another Capote book when I got a copy of Summer Crossing.

This is Capote’s first novel, one he started writing in 1943 before eventually discarding it unfinished. For many years it was thought lost until a manuscript was found at the Manhattan apartment that Capote had lived until around 1950. The finders initially thought they’d located a fortune, but the manuscript failed to sell at auction because publication rights to all of Capote’s work are held by a literary trust. Eventfully the New York Public Library agreed to buy the manuscript for it’s Capote Collection and soon after the book was published.

This is both interesting but also important context. It explains why the novel is so sparse (more of a novella really) why it ends quite abruptly, and also why, in parts, it’s a trifle rough around the edges. Don’t get me wrong, Capote’s way with words is here, and his characters leap off the page, but this is clearly someone at the beginning of his career rather than someone more assured in his prose.

Grady is an interesting character, and I can see why people have made comparisons with Holly Golightly, although I’d say Holly is a much more fully rounded character. Grady is at first insufferable, in a way teenagers often can be, certain of her own importance, feeling invincible and disdainful of others. As the story progresses though our perceptions of her shift, until by the end we remember that she is barely an adult, and Capote deftly makes us care more about her when she realises she’s little more than a child playing dress up, and there are consequences to her fun and games.

Manzer is interesting too, especially his backstory and the tragedy relating to one of his sisters. Peter Bell—Grady’s friend and possible romantic interest—is intriguing. Is he genuinely interested in her, or is he actually closeted and does he see Grady as merely a cover to prevent awkward questions being asked? He clearly loves her, but is his amour platonic or romantic? Capote leaves us guessing either way.

The other major character is New York, and Capote evokes a time and a place I’ve only seen in movies. The oppressive heat is ever present however, providing a pressure cooker environment for Grady and Clyde’s tempestuous relationship as they bounce from practically breaking up to taking their relationship to a whole new level.

It’s fair to say this is probably my least favourite Capote work, so far, and you can see why he abandoned it, I do wonder where he would have taken the story, the ending we get is bleak yet ambiguous, and I can’t help but think he had yet more despair lined up for Grady, though perhaps with some form of redemption with Peter, though if some critics are correct about Peter’s proclivities this might have been a hollow kind of happiness. As it is Grady ends the book slave to her passions, but maybe that’s for the best.

An intriguing read, and hopefully it won’t be a few years before I buy another Capote book.


Posted: October 24, 2020 in Book reviews, horror

At first look an anthology of horror stories set in the Warhammer universe seems a slightly odd decision, if only because for the Warhammer universe horror is second nature. 40K depicts a universe embroiled in near constant war, a galaxy filled with weird and deadly alien races, where even humans are not immune from the eldritch horrors of chaos that reside in the warp.

A second glance tells a different tale. Freed from the broad strokes of war, of horror on an industrial scale, this anthology allows horror to permeate on a more forensic level, less a meat grinder than a scalpel.

As with all anthologies the quality of the tales varies, and likely stories I liked others might not, and vice versa, but there’s something here for everyone, from visceral bloody horror, to more nuanced, psychological torment.

The highlight for me was Predation of the Eagle by Peter McLean, a gritty survival horror set on a humid jungle planet where the members of a platoon of Imperial Guard are picked off one by one by a relentless enemy. With more than a nod to Predator, there’s an overriding Apocalypse Now, war is hell feel to it. It might not have been the most original story in the book, but it was the most enjoyable.

I also particularly enjoyed The Marauder Lives by JC Stearns, a story of PTSD and how one can never escape the horror of one’s past as a former prisoner of war struggles to come to terms with what she endured.

The past catching up to characters is a popular theme, yet each tale that goes down this route does it very differently. Take Triggers by Paul Kane, which again centres on a character haunted by the past, but which tells a quite different kind of story in more of a Tales from the Crypt style.

Not every story features war, there are stories that could have just as easily been set in a Cornish fishing village, feudal Japan, or the sewers beneath Victorian London.

The big question is whether this is a horror anthology for everyone, or merely for fans of Warhammer’s various universes. Yes, knowing something of the wider context helped me to appreciate some stories, but my knowledge of 40K isn’t encyclopaedic by any means, and I think for most of the stories the wider backstory is just that, backstory, local colour of the kind you might get in any standalone fantastical story. There’s even an argument that a lack of knowledge might allow you to enjoy these stories even more, simply because you don’t have something to anchor them to.

A decent anthology for horror fans and Warhammer fans alike.

Farewell my Lovely

Posted: October 10, 2020 in Book reviews

By Raymond Chandler

In the middle of a dead-end missing person case, Philip Marlowe encounters a giant ex-con named Moose Malloy in a nightclub. Moose is searching for his former lover, Velma, who used to work at the club, the nightclub has changed hands and is now run by a black man who Moose kills. Marlowe is interviewed by a lazy cop who encourages Marlowe to do his leg work for him. Intrigued, and bored, Marlowe tracks down the widow of the former owner of the nightclub and plies her with booze to get information.

The next thing he knows he’s being hired as a bodyguard by a man named Lindsay Marriott. Soon Marlowe is up to his neck in crooked cops and jewel thieves, and his journey will take him to a corrupt town, a private hospital and an offshore casino before the various threads tie themselves together.

My second Chandler, and yes I am reading them out of order as and when I get hold of one. While Chandler’s prose continues to enchant (and occasionally irritate) I probably didn’t enjoy this quite as much as The Long Goodbye. In part I think that’s down to the plot, or lack thereof, Chandler pieced this novel together using several previously written short stories, and while he changes certain elements to fit them together, you can’t help but see the joins on occasion, and the narrative meanders all over the place, seemingly illogically until everything comes together at the end…mostly.

That’s not to say an ambling story is a bad thing— if nothing else Farewell my Lovely isn’t remotely predictable, though the nearer to the end I spotted the denouement coming— but it can be a little jarring. Then again, from what I can tell Chandler was less interested in plot than he was in the style of writing and his characters, and there are some lovely scenes at play here, and some great characters, with a whole heap of cops and former cops, some of whom are decent, some of whom are corrupt, and some of whom sit in the grey between. There are femme fatales and gangsters, yet Chandler’s skill is to never quite give you the character you, and frankly his prose alone is worth the price of admission and just aimlessly following Marlowe around is quite enjoyable, even if you can’t quite see where the story is heading.

So, aside from the flimsy plot (and some language about persons of colour that seems awfully unsettling these days) I enjoyed this greatly and I suspect I’ll soon be trudging the mean streets of LA with world weary cynic Philip Marlowe again sooner rather than later.

The Outsider

Posted: September 6, 2020 in Book reviews, horror

By Stephen King

In Flint City Oklahoma a terrible crime has been committed. A young boy has been brutally raped and murdered, and Detective Ralph Anderson arrests popular teacher and little league baseball coach Terry Maitland for the crime. Ralph’s in no doubt that Terry did it. Eyewitnesses saw him lure the boy into a van, and saw him bloodied afterwards, not to mention the huge amount of forensic evidence placing Terry at the scene, including DNA and fingerprints.

There’s just one problem. There’s irrefutable evidence that Terry was in a neighbouring city when the crime took place.

How can one man be in two different places at the same time?

I’ve never read as much King as I should have, especially his earlier stuff, given he was doing for horror in the US what James Herbert was doing in the UK, but when I have read him my relationship with his work has at times been uneasy. I either love his novels, or I hate them. There never seems to be a middle ground.

Happily, The Outsider falls into the former category. This was a really enjoyable read and one that kept me gripped from the off. The first half functions purely as a police procedural, before it takes a sharp turn into something else entirely, which is good, because as much as I enjoyed the early stages of the book, for a while I thought this was just a straight thriller, and I was worried it was going to turn out Maitland had a secret twin brother who’d committed the crime. Thankfully, the explanation is much more interesting, and far more fantastical, and the novel shifts tone into something more akin to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, with a band of plucky heroes seeking out the hiding place of a monster.

It isn’t perfect, it’s a trifle long for what it is, and the number of characters means some are more well-rounded than others, and sadly a couple seem to be there just to provide expendable targets for the bad guy, but some are more interesting, especially Private Eye Holly Gibney, a recurring character from some earlier King novels.

All in all, a great read, Yeah the monster isn’t exactly original but in King’s hands it hardly matters. Highly recommended.

Shadow Captain

Posted: July 31, 2020 in Book reviews, science fiction

Shadow_Captain_Alastair_ReynoldsBy Alastair Reynolds

Please note, as this is the sequel to Revenger, I will discuss spoilers for that novel, so be warned!

<insert spoiler gap here>



<ok then>

It’s been months since Arafura (Fura) Ness rescued her older sister, Adrana, killing infamous pirate Bosa Sennen into the bargain. They’ve renamed Bosa’s ship Revenger and now must find a way of letting the wider Congregation know that this ship is no longer to be feared. After a side trip to raid a bauble the crew set sail for a wheel world named Wheel Strizzardy, ostensibly to resupply the ship, but Fura may have an ulterior motive. Once there they fall foul of criminal elements and discover that the Congregation has placed a bounty on Bosa Sennen and her ship. Will anyone give them the opportunity to set the record straight, or are they doomed to a life as fugitives?

The middle part of Reynolds’ space pirate trilogy is a swashbuckling doozy, with action, adventure and mystery aplenty, and if anything I enjoyed it more than Revenger, because so much of the hard work of world building had already been done, although I did have to quickly reorient myself with the nomenclature of this universe, the Congregation (millions of years ago the worlds of the solar system were smashed to create thousands of tiny worlds) Baubles (abandoned worlds protected by forcefields that can provide a treasure trove of ancient technology but are exceptionally dangerous) and quoins (the mysterious alien currency that humanity’s economy relies on).

The Revenger novels have been described by some as young adult, but really they’re for all ages, sure there’s heaps of darkness and violence, but foul language and any hint of sex is kept to a minimum.

The second book sees one major shift, whereas Revenger was told from the first person perspective of Fura, Shadow Captain’s tale is told by Adrana, which makes an interesting counterpoint to the first book, and allows us to see things from both sister’s point of view. They’re an interesting duo, with Fura the younger, yet also the one who’s taken command, however tacitly. It’ll be interesting to see whose perspective the third and final book is told from.

Other characters return like Prozor, the grizzled old hand who’s grown to be the sisters most loyal ally, and there are a whole slew of new characters, including a doctor with a secret and a nefarious crime boss who shows a glimpse of one possible future for Fura.

Reynolds’ prose is great, and his worldbuilding superb, he’s crafted an incredibly interesting universe here, and I’m almost disappointed that we’re only going to get three opportunities to visit it, though who knows maybe he’ll return some day. Yes, it’s a trifle cliched, but that is the point, this is Long John Silver in space, so the pirate clichés are kinda essential, and it all adds to the fun. And there’s a lot of fun!

Highly recommended, so go grab yourself a copy you dirty coves, y’arr!

The Long Goodbye

Posted: July 7, 2020 in Book reviews

417bgOVMF3L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_By Raymond Chandler

After a chance meeting detective Philip Marlowe becomes friends with Terry Lennox, a drunk married to a wealthy socialite. Months later Terry comes to Marlow for help in getting out of the country, and it transpires that Terry’s wife has been murdered and the police suspect him. When Terry commits suicide in Mexico it seems an open and shut case, but despite his best efforts not to get involved, Marlowe finds himself drawn into a world of drunks and adulterers in LA’s exclusive Idle Valley. With everyone out for Marlowe’s blood, and everyone more than happy to let sleeping dogs lie, can Marlowe discover the truth behind the murder of Lennox’s wife?

I knew who Raymond Chandler was of course, writer of pulp detective novels, creator of Philip Marlowe, a character played by actors such as Bogart, Gould, Mitchum…yet I’d never read a Chandler novel before.

Suffice to say that almost immediately upon finishing The Long Goodbye, I ordered another of Chandler’s Marlowe novels online which probably tells you all you need to know.

Its odd because the novel isn’t a great mystery, the limited pool of characters means I’d worked a lot out, but it isn’t just about twists and turns, it’s about the characters Chandler creates, from Lennox, at once a lowlife drunk, yet a man with a curious sense of honour, to Candy, the Chilean servant of novelist Roger Wade. In other hands a Latino character in 1950s’ America could have been incredibly cliched, yet Chandler writes him with nuance. The aforementioned Wade is an obvious Chandler stand in, the writer of popular fiction who wants to be appreciated for his art, and another character with a drinking problem. Female characters like Roger’s wife, Eileen and Linda, the sister of Lennox’s murdered wife, are also treated as more than just femme fatales.

And then there’s Marlowe, on the face of it a tough, hard drinking PI, yet he’s incredibly thoughtful, and likes nothing more than replaying famous chess puzzles alone. And I love the fact that while Marlowe thinks there’s something fishy about Lennox’s suicide, he isn’t that invested in investigating until circumstances keep pushing him towards it.

Beyond all of this is Chandler’s prose however, which is just wonderful. Yes, it’s a trifle purple at times, but it’s wonderful, languid and heavy with atmosphere, and yes at times I did have Bogart’s voice in my head as I read. Chandler’s use of language is addictive, aso much so that even when nothing was really happening I just wanted to keep reading. It’s a long novel, yet in many ways not long enough. On the plus side, at least I have more Marlowe novels to read!

IMG_20200619_125120By James Herbert

The unthinkable has happened. World War Three has broken out and nuclear missiles have exploded over London. Millions are killed, and pilot Steve Culver might have been one of them, except he fortuitously crosses paths with man from the ministry Alex Dealey, who’s on his way to a government shelter and, along with fellow survivor Kate, they battle through the underground to some semblance of safety, but for the survivors there’s more to worry about than radioactive fallout. Humanity thought they’d vanquished the mutant black rats, but they were merely hiding. Now they sense humanity is vulnerable, and claw their way out of the dark to claim London as their domain!

Given I grew up in the shadow of the Cold War, and given my predilection as a teenager for both James Herbert novels and apocalyptic fiction, it’s perhaps no great surprise that this 1984 novel was a firm favourite from my very first read, and I’ve read it many times since (as you can no doubt tell from the photo) though not for years.

The final, and in my opinion best, Rats novel (though there is a 1993 graphic novel) this sees Herbert go all out by killing millions in the opening chapters, and his evocation of nuclear annihilation and a ruined London is superbly done, playing on his usual trick of providing potted biographies for characters, just enough for us to empathise with them before killing them off. There’ll be rat related deaths aplenty later, but early doors the main causes of death aren’t teeth, it’s heat and the shockwaves burning up bodies and demolishing buildings.

He shifts to a second act focusing on the emotional impact of survival. Those in the shelter may be safe, but they’re still traumatised. Suicide is prevalent, and so is the risk of mutiny. Some don’t see why Dealey should be in charge just because he held a position of minor authority before the world ended.

There’s a grim recon mission to the surface featuring a wince inducing encounter with a rabid dog, but soon the survivors are faced with a triple whammy of threats; insurrection, flooding and rats!

This is a high concept novel. Bringing back the rats after a dull second outing and partnering them up with nuclear war, a subject on everyone’s minds in the 1980s. Herbert is disparaging towards authority in this, and the fate that befalls the main government shelter suitably ironic, yet much like his hero, he can’t quite bring himself to choose a side. Culver’s a standard Herbert stand-in; a loner in jeans and a leather jacket, a reluctant hero. A nonconformist who has little time for Dealey, yet seems equally sniffy about the potential mutineers. Dealey is a two-dimensional civil servant, a man who’s fallen back on bureaucracy because that’s all he has left. Herbert suggests Kate’s a strong female character, but really she’s just a damsel in distress for Culver to rescue and fall in love with. It’s a shame Herbert dispenses with a far more interesting female character early on.

A product of its time, women don’t far well, and whilst nowhere near as bad as I’d expected, persons of colour aren’t portrayed too glowingly either, aside from Jackson, who Herbert feels the need to constantly remind us is black which seems to be his only defining character trait, but he isn’t alone here and many people in the vignettes are more fleshed out that some of the recurring characters!

From a great concept the book goes downhill in the final third There’s the fairly predictable apocalyptic trope of the outlaw gang, and by the time we get to the finale there are just too few characters left to make for a final bloodbath, and it has to be said, there’s only so many rat attacks you can read before they all blur into one, and several of the grim interludes Herbert peppers the book with are a trifle samey. That said some other (non-rat related) interludes are nicely done.

He also annoys me by having characters use automatic weapons that appear to carry a ludicrous number of bullets!

A product of it’s time, this is still a very enjoyable read and definitely one of Hebert’s better books. It’s a trifle long and some of the underground scenes, especially late on, drag, but still a damn fine example of 80s’ post-apocalyptic fiction, and still a heck of a concept.