Review of Sleeping Giants

Review By Ty Black

When the U.S. government discovers a giant robot hand and forearm, buried halfway across the world from each other for thousands of years, it responds by sending in a shadowy figure who doesn’t like to give out his name. He assembles a team of soldiers and scientists to investigate what might be the greatest discovery in the history of the human race. The team members all come with their own baggage. What’s more, the robot could be more dangerous than they realize, and so could their leader.

Sleeping Giants is French-Canadian author Sylvain Neuvel’s debut. It’s written in epistolary format, and (despite my praise of The Martian last August) I’m not normally a fan of epistolary novels. That might have colored my reading of this: I found it took a few chapters for the action to find its legs, a fact which wasn’t helped by the way the anonymous main character refuses to use contractions. (I think that was supposed to signal that he enunciates all his words carefully.)

Once the action picks up, however, Neuvel uses interviews, transcripts, and news clippings to tell this story in a way that might make me re-evaluate my feelings about epistolary format. The action is mostly at an arm’s length distance, told through characters in debriefings. As the story approaches its climax there are a few sequences with more immediacy, but the distance from the action gives the story a cerebral feel that’s almost literary, a rare accomplishment for a novel about spies, helicopter pilots, experimental titanium legs, and a giant blue-glowing robot left by ancient aliens. Despite the fact that Sleeping Giants felt like a sci-fi political thriller, the thrills were never jarring.

The publisher compares Sleeping Giants to The Martian, and World War Z, but I think that’s based on the format alone. I found it far more reminiscent of Contact, by Carl Sagan. Neuvel hard sci-fi credentials-he’s got a Ph.D. in linguistics and a day job in software engineering. It was a fun, easy read for my summer afternoon.

Also, technically the robot’s not a robot, it’s a mech. (I still give Sleeping Giants four out of five stars.)

Sleeping Giants
Del-Ray. $26.00

Welcome to our Neon Dystopia

by Isaac L. Wheeler (Veritas), Co-Founder and Editor of Neon Dystopia

Note From The Editor: Isaac is also a Submissions Editor for Phase 2 Magazine, beginning with our recently-released 5th issue.

Neon Dystopia was created to fill a void. That void was created when the great site, The Cyberpunk Review and it’s blog went offline. The Cyberpunk Review had been the birthplace of the cyberpunkforums which was, and is, the go to place for good in-depth discussions about all things cyberpunk. The site also held an amazing database of movies with great commentary. The blog itself would look at modern events and compare them to the fiction we all love so much.

Now, cyberpunkforums is still a great place to go for conversations but it is just a forum. Forums are outdated and are alienating, especially to a new audience. There is quite a bit of good social media out there on the subject, but again you have to find these communities. In-depth essays and articles about cyberpunk media, philosophy, and subculture show up from time to time on popular sites like Motherboard, Boing Boing, or io9, but only occasionally.

Neon Dystopia’s goal is to create a website, internet space, and community that fills all of these areas. We are working on databases of all forms of cyberpunk media from movies, to music, to comics. We are working to populate those databases with reviews of all of those works so people can get a fairly in-depth idea of what they are getting into before they go in search of any particular piece of cyberpunk media. We want to really explore some of the deep philosophical ideas that are brought up in cyberpunk on a regular basis. And finally, and most certainly not least, we are working to support the burgeoning cyberpunk community and its subculture.

Our goals are ambitious but it is worth doing. The interest in cyberpunk has been increasing significantly in recent time because of the increasing discontent with existing power structures and our changing relationship with technology. Anonymous and the Occupy protests are fantastic examples of this in the political realm, and the rise of the surveillance state is something cyberpunk warned us was coming. Cyberpunk is now, but there is a post-cyberpunk future in the works. The genre will continue to evolve, but cyberpunk is anything but dead. We welcome all to join Neon Dystopia and become immersed in cyberpunk with us.

Neon Dystopia Logo

Review of On Basilisk Station

Review By David Stegora

Originally published on his blog, Anomalous Monologue.

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I recently picked up the audio book for On Basilisk Station by David Weber. I’ve been interested in learning more about the Honorverse, since I see The Royal Manticoran Navy at most conventions here in Minnesota. I had previously tried to read House of Steel, but struggled through it and eventually stopped. The Honorverse Companion portion of the book was far more interesting to me, though I have yet to finish it. Because of that, audio book seemed like the way for me to approach this series.

I put off beginning the series on audio book, because the preview sounded terrible. It’s worth noting that I got the audio book from Audible, so I listened to the version they made. There have been others. The narrator does some bad voices and accents, but they serve their purpose of differentiating characters well, so it can be forgiven. However, the way she says “Manticoran” is likely to make you hate her a little. In the end, I got used to the narration pretty quickly.

While this book is science fiction, at its core, it’s really just a naval story in spaaaaaace. I find keeping that in mind makes it a little more enjoyable.

Of course, David Weber is known for lengthy dialogue and info dumps. They are in this book by the pound. Sometimes it feels like it’s never going to end. While it can be tedious, the info dumps do serve the purpose of creating a very detailed universe. It even gives details and numbers about types of ships and armaments and everything. Of course, it was later determined the numbers were off and they were adjusted.

The dialogue, on the other hand, can be excessive. I think often it’s just an attempt to explain things to the reader in unnecessary detail things which should be understood as the story unfolds. It’s like a textbook example of telling, not showing.

If you can get past these things, or if you like them, the story is enjoyable enough. It feels like it opens an elaborate new world for you to explore, which it really does. The series is getting quite lengthy and there are many related books outside of it. There’s even a comic book series.

I felt like I was struggling at points, but I enjoyed it overall and even bought the audio book for the next in the series (The Honor of the Queen) right when I finished it and I’m listening to that one now.

After Humanity Writing Challenge

For this writing challenge, our guest judge is going to be Matthew X. Gomez, author of the Burned Lands series we published on the Dark Futures website in 2014 and the story A Brief Flash In Darkness in the most recent issue of Phase 2 Magazine. As is our custom, the guest judge has chosen the theme for this challenge. Here it is, in his words:

The Earth is projected to be around for another seven and a half billion years. Barring outside influences (or humanity really mucking the place up), life is expected to continue on earth for another four and a half billion years.

Humanity has only been on the scene for about 200,000 years.

It isn’t outside the bounds of possibility that, should humanity become extinct, some other race will evolve intelligence. What will that look like? Will humanity’s successors be iterations of machines we’ve created? Will insects develop a more advanced hive mind than they possess now? Will sentient slime mold take over and wage a war of extermination on all species possessing a central nervous system?

For this contest, we are looking for compelling stories more than anything. The stories should contain a non-human element and feature that strongly.

The winner of this challenge will receive $10 (paid via PayPal) and have their story published both in the next issue of Phase 2 Magazine and on the Dark Futures website.

The deadline for entries to this challenge is Saturday, April 30, 2016. Stories should be under 5,000 words, with between 2,000 and 5,000 words preferred by the judge.

Send your entry to Submissions(at)DarkFuturesFiction(dot)net and be sure to include AFTER HUMANITY in the subject line. Failure to do so may cause your entry to be overlooked and not considered for the contest. If you have any questions, email them to Editor(at)DarkFuturesFiction(dot)net or contact us on social media and we will respond as soon as we can.

Phase 2 Magazine #5 Out Now!

Cover - Web FriendlyPhase 2 Magazine #5 is now available on Amazon. Get it here.

This issue contains over 11,000 words from the dark and cynical side of science fiction, including the third and final episode of Roy C. Booth’s Biomorph series. It is also currently the only place to find details on our next writing challenge.

Contents:
Revelation Day by David Castlewitz
These Two Hands by Marc E. Fitch
A Brief Flash In Darkness by Matthew X. Gomez
Biomorph, Part Three by Roy C. Booth
…and two book reviews by Ty Black

Amazon Link: www.amazon.com/Phase-2-Magazine-Issue-5-ebook/dp/B01DOR1932

Review of Railhead

Review By Ty Black

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When small-time thief Zen Starling finds himself being pursued by a drone, he thinks it was sent by the owner of the necklace he just stole. However, soon Zen’s getting pursued by an entire trainload of soldiers which no necklace vendor could have sent for him, and he finds himself caught up in a high-stakes game of interplanetary politics.

While Philip Reeve is known as a children’s author, and Railhead is being marketed as YA, it’s engaging enough for an adult to read, too. It’s also a book so unique it’s hard to classify: It’s a kind of space-opera-cum-science-fantasy with humans, god-like artificial intelligences, androids, and sentient piles of bugs all living together on a landscape defined by an interstellar railroad system powered by sentient locomotives (at least one of which is criminally insane), and it’s got a rare kind of out-of-left-field creative spark.

The one thing I found that felt slightly off was that I didn’t connect well with the protagonist, Zen Starling. There were many supporting characters with enough depth that I felt a lot of sympathy for them, from humans to robots to sentient locomotives to piles of bugs. Despite that, Zen Starling still struck me as shallow, and it made the book difficult to get into for the first few chapters, before we got to know the others. Still, Railhead’s worth a read, and I give it four out of five stars.

Philip Reeve is an author from Brighton, England. His novel Mortal Engines won the Smarties Gold Award, the Blue Peter Book of the Year Award and the Blue Peter ‘Book I Couldn’t Put Down’ Award. His novel A Darkling Plain won both the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and his novel Here Lies Arthur won the Carnegie Medal 2008.

Railhead
353 pp. Capstone. $16.95