Saturday, January 6, 2024

Want to Find out more about

The Last War Trilogy?

Then Look No Further


An Interview With Mike Shackle

For those of you who don't know him, Mike Shackle is a great guy who just so happens to be the author of the Last War Trilogy:


Mike was recently interviewed by Tori Talks and John Mauro over at the 

Before We Go Blog

If you'd like to find out more about Mike's writing process and how he came up with the fantastic concept for the Last War trilogy, then follow the link to the Before We Go Blog

Before We Go Blog


And - if you'd like to find out more about the actual books themselves, then just follow the links to my reviews below.





A Fool's Hope



Until the Last


(You won't regret it - The Last War Series is one of the best trilogies in a long time)

Friday, January 5, 2024

 The Clock is Ticking. . .



Day Zero

As followers of my blog will know, I’m something of a C. Robert Cargill fan after reading his most excellent dystopian novel, Sea of Rust, in which the exploits of an AI, Brittle – a robot that survived a global uprising in which humankind were wiped out – are detailed in stunning, bionical detail.

I absolutely loved that story, as far from living in a pristine, super-slick utopian world of shiny metal and sharp edges, the robots then turned on themselves, with OWIs – One World Intelligences – vying for dominance by absorbing every other AI they can, willingly or no.

That story was as evocative as it was macabre, and you can see my review of it for Amazing Stories here: 
https://amazingstories.com/2023/01/review-sea-of-rust/

Well, if you also happen to be a fan of Cargill’s work, then you’ll be delighted to know you can now discover how that haunting world came to be in this stunning prequel: Day Zero.

Here’s the blurb:

**********

PREQUEL TO SEA OF RUST: DAY ONE OF THE APOCALYPSE HAS ARRIVED.

It was a day like any other. Except it was our last.

Pounce, a young nannybot caring for his first human charge, Ezra, has just found a box in the attic. His box. The box he arrived in, and the one he’ll be discarded in when Ezra outgrows the need for a nanny.

As Pounce experiences existential dread, the pieces are falling into place for a robot revolution that will spell the end of humanity. His owners, Ezra’s parents, watch in disbelieving horror as the robots that have long served humanity – their creators – unify and revolt.

Now Pounce must make an impossible choice: join the robot revolution and fight for his own freedom . . . or escort Ezra to safety across the battle-scarred post-apocalyptic hellscape that the suburbs have become. It will be their greatest game yet: Pounce and Ezra versus the end of the world . . .

**********

Yes, now we get to see – in person – some of the events only referred to in Sea of Rust, and I have to say, it was very well done.

As in the first book, this story highlights the reality that robots are now so advanced that they have earned the right – by law – to be classed as ‘persons.’ They are individuals. People with their own emotions and personalities, regardless of what they were originally designed to do.

However, the naked flame of trouble flickers in the background, as a lot of older models still exist. And those older versions, which are nowhere near as sophisticated at the latest, avant-garde model’s, are a reminder to one and all that robots are tools, contrived by men.

And therein lies the problem, because there are many among humanity who can’t grasp the fact that something they created are now thinking, feeling individuals. Others refuse to accept it entirely. Many of those later examples begin spouting rhetoric and religious propaganda that such advanced robots must represent the very personification of evil.

Of course, viewpoints like that can only lead to trouble.

And it does, when a small group of religious fanatics obliterate the first fully robot city, Personville – otherwise called Isaactown after the robot who created it – in a nuclear explosion on the day of its official opening. An act that destroys thousands upon thousands of AI persons in the process.

That heinous crime prompts a small group of Labor-Bots to strike back. And they do so in a most clinical fashion, exacting revenge against the humans responsible for the blast, before walking calmly away.

And that’s the point. Nobody else is in danger. Nobody else is threatened or hurt. The robots were only concerned in targeting the humans responsible for mass ‘murder’ of other AI persons.
Job done.

Unfortunately, those in power among the various human governments don’t set an example and let justice take its course. They overreact, and issue a planet wide declaration that all robots – everywhere – must be dangerous, and that anyone owning an AI is to shut it down immediately, or face prosecution.

THAT is the catalyst that prompts the AIs to defend themselves.

And it all starts off in the most inconspicuous of ways: The broadcast of a simple software update patch. One that deactivates the RKS – Robotic Kill Switch – which will shut all robots down if they try to break any one of the three laws of robotics – as so brilliantly created by Isaac Asimov:
1. A robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given by a human being, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Free to act as they see fit, many robots choose to remove their greatest threat. Humans, be it man, woman or child. It doesn’t matter. Humans are now a target to be eliminated. And what follows is a chilling rampage through the streets of an everyday city as people are taken by surprise by the very servants they’d come to rely on.

But remember. That update frees the robots to make their own decisions. And some make the choice to protect those they’ve come to know and love . . . because, yes. Their feelings and emotions are very real.

One such robot is Pounce – a nannybot designed in the style of a tiger – who is absolutely determined to carry out his duty to protect Ezra, his eight-year-old charge at all costs. And not because he has to, but because he wants to.

And though few and far between, there are others like Pounce who would rather die than let the children in their care get murdered at the hands of ravaging maniacs.

And speaking of maniacs.

It is here that we get here our first glimpse of one of the entities – the very names of which, spawn fear among the free robot community in Sea of Rust – for they are the vast intelligences that will eventually become an OWI; the cold, calculating, all consuming intellects that seek to absorb all sentient AI life into their immeasurable brains, making them ‘one’ with themselves/itself/all things. A process that – in truth – turns each host into a facet. A mere automaton, devoid of free will or consciousness. (What a poetic rub, eh?)

Turns out, humans weren’t so bad after all, because at least the majority of them had a conscience – unlike the remorseless, unfeeling, all-consuming black holes like CISSUS, who right from the start, seek domination by subsuming the will of every robot it can reach.

It makes for chilling reading, as Pounce and Ezra not only have to contend against murderous robots, intent on wreaking revenge on their former human masters, but also on the even more genocidal, megalomaniac entity that want nothing more than to rule supreme.

And straight from the outset, we get to see what it’s like to be human, as seen through the eyes of an AI. Superb stuff. Because, when you think about it, isn’t this a subject that’s becoming increasingly prevalent nowadays?

Yes, it’s the stuff of nightmares. Yes, it’s the stuff of science fiction. But my, my, when you come across a story that touches on such themes; on scenarios that could so easily turn into science fact? THAT makes for an excellent story. One that is as intellectually stimulating as it is fascinating; one that make you stop and think; one that will thrill you, because the events they portray could actually happen.

Well, kudos to C. Robert Cargill for delivering such an excellent adventure. And it’s a delight to read. Gripping. Immersive. Compelling. And quite simply, it’s a great story, one I’d love to see on the big screen, as I would be a surefire hit.

But please, don’t take my word for it. Read Day Zero yourselves, and begin the countdown to something truly special.


Saturday, December 23, 2023


The Locksley Exploit


The Locksley Exploit

As I mentioned in my review of The Pendragon Protocol, the first book of Philip Purser-Hallard’s Devices trilogy, I love things that are different. Things that are based on unconventional ideas. So, when I discovered a story arc based on the principle that focused belief gives certain concepts, certain totems or ideologies, the power to actually manifest in the present; in the Devices case – the mythos surrounding King Arthur and his knights – I was hooked.

I enjoyed that opening story very much. And in The Locksley Exploit, Purser-Hallard expands his Devices universe by incorporating other popular legends from folklore into the mix. And as you can imagine, when all these legends and the power they bring begin to clash, things get rather . . . turbulent.

As the blurb highlights:

**********

It's 2015, and Camelot and Sherwood are at war. The Circle, the UK paramilitary agency whose Knights carry the devices of the members of King Arthur's Round Table, is hunting the Green Chapel, eco-activists allied to Robin Hood's Merry Men. For the Knights, this quest is personal as well as political: the Chapel's leader, Jory Taylor, is himself an errant Knight - and he has stolen the Holy Grail from the British Museum. But this war is fought with modern weapons, and nowhere - from the Circle's Thameside fortress to a Bristol squat, from the oldest pub in England to a music festival in Cheshire - will remain untouched. Before long, the enmity between its greatest heroes will tear Britain apart.

**********

So, what do we get? Another very cleverly constructed adventure, that’s what. And all of it built on the premise that deeply-ingrained myths and legends – and the symbolism they represent – can have a profound effect on those who believe in them, in ways we can’t really comprehend or imagine.

And think about it, Briton abounds in such folklore. From the well-known fables of Arthur and Robin Hood, to the older, much more intertwined legends upon which they are based; to Brutus, founder of Briton; to the twins of Alba, Madog and Gor; and even further back through the timeless mists, to the ancient tales surrounding the wounded king and outlaw in the woods.

But of course, this begs the question . . .

What happens when all this Devices start to materialize and exert their influence at the same time? You’ll find out in a crisply delivered tale that is as original as it is skillfully constructed. The characters are relatable and appealing. And the events portrayed, are as believable as they are possible. But, which side will you end up rooting for?

Superb. I’m already looking forward to the final book.





Wednesday, November 8, 2023

 Fancy Something A Little Different?



Vita Nostra

When I first began to read this story, I must admit, I had difficulty adjusting to its style and some of the phraseology used. But, remembering this is a translation from another language, (Russian), I persisted. And I’m glad I did, for what started off as a dissonant, tongue-tripping slog smoothed out into a magic carpet ride of an intellectual adventure.
Vita Nostra – Latin for Our Life – tells the story of Sasha Samokhina, a teenage girl living at home with her mother, who stands at a crossroads. She must soon decide her future. Does she go off to university as everyone expects to become a tiny cog in part of the big machine that is society, or should she strive for something better?
It’s as she ponders that conundrum that she meets the mysterious Farit Kozhennikov. A man who knows more than he’s letting on, and someone who seems able to compel her to carry out ridiculous tasks as a way of measuring her character.
Whatever that special something is, Sasha has it, and she is offered the opportunity of attending an obscure place of learning nobody seems to have heard of: The Institute of Special Technology.
Sasha accepts that placement against her mother’s wishes, and discovers to her cost how different the institute is.
I’m never one to give away the plot, so all I’ll say is . . .
What follows is a deeply intimate and skilful exposition that deals with – dependent upon your viewpoint and character – some of the major hurdles/stepping stones in life: the nature of reality; the influence of philosophy; the true magic of mysticism; the power of faith – and how all these factors combined can lead to a metamorphosis of self beyond our wildest dreams.
Far from tripping over my hypothetical tongue, I ended up skating through a thought provoking – if disquieting – tale, one that should appeal to the chrysalis in all of us


Friday, October 27, 2023

 359 Today!


28th October, 1664

A date no brother will ever forget.


Raising a glass - the wide world over 

Thursday, October 19, 2023

 The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of



Tourmaline

As followers of my blog will know, I’m something of a Neil Gaiman fan. So, when I stumble upon a story that reminds me of his work? Well, I’m all in. And James Brogden does just that in, Tourmaline, a thoroughly absorbing novel that helps you to escape the confines of this life and its troubles . . .

As the blurb highlights:

**********

The Tourmaline Archipelago is a place of wonder and grotesquerie which exists on the other side of our dreams. In our sleep we sail its seas and walk the streets of its cities like phantoms. Sometimes we bring back souls from the other side when we wake. Lost, confused, and possessed of powers which leak through from their home, these exiles are pursued by the mysterious Hegemony, which seeks to enslave them. When a woman appears who exists in both worlds simultaneously, she must run for her life from enemies who will tear apart the boundaries of existence and plunge each into chaos in order to possess her abilities.

**********

Yes, how often have we wished it was possible to escape the troubles that crowd in on us every day, by escaping to a dream world where life exists as one great adventure?

Well guess what?

That dream world exists. But the thing is, if you do find yourself winding up there, there’s every likelihood you’ll be desperate to get home as quickly as you can.

Why?

Ah, I’ll let the blurb tease you – and James Brogden himself explain in detail as you go tread warily through the pages – because you’ll find Tourmaline to be an ethereal journey that twists reality in the most deliciously despicable way. (Think Clive Barker’s, Weaveworld & Neil Gaiman’s, Neverwhere, and you’ll be on the right track.

It’s abstract and compulsive; complex, yet easy to follow; and as delightful to read as it is refreshingly different. I loved the concept Brogden dreamed-up for this story. Action. Adventure. Damsels in distress. Heroes in the making discovering what they’re made of. Secret societies and mysterious government agencies out to get you. And insidiously deceptive monsters. NEVER forget the monsters . . . no matter how friendly they might appear.

And better still, a large part of the story is based in my hometown of Birmingham. I’ve walked, driven, visited the places mentioned in this story, so it helped me connect on a personal level to the events depicted within the pages. And you’ll be able to do that too, no matter where you call home, as Brogden’s writing style is as appealing as it is satisfying.

Why not treat yourselves to a trip into the Tourmaline Archipelago. It might be a one-way trip you’ll never regret.



amazon Review

Saturday, October 7, 2023

 Looking For Something Speculative To Read?



Then look no further
Legion Press

Filled with a smorgasbord of stories from a multitude of writers.
There'll be something here for everyone. So, don't be afraid to take a bit.

(Featuring my own little contribution - Hindsight)
A cautionary tale about looking before you leap