Monday, January 23, 2017

Review: The Ward

Title: The Ward
Author: S.L. Grey
Pages: 294
ISBN: 9780857895868
Series: Downside #2
Publisher: Corvus
Published: 2012
Genre: Horror/Thriller
Source: Purchased

Buy it from:
The Book Depository

Lisa is a plastic surgery addict with severe self-esteem issues. The only hospital that will let her go under the knife is New Hope: a grimy, grey-walled facility dubbed 'No Hope' by its patients.

Farrell is a celebrity photographer. His last memory is a fight with his fashion-model girlfriend and now he's woken up in No Hope, alone. Needle marks criss-cross his arms. A sinister nurse keeps tampering with his drip. And he's woken up blind...

Panicked and disorientated, Farrell persuades Lisa to help him escape, but the hospital's dimly lit corridors only take them deeper underground - into a twisted mirror world staffed by dead-eyed nurses and doped-up orderlies. Down here, in the Modification Ward, Lisa can finally have the face she wants...but at a price that will haunt them both forever.

S.L. Grey’s The Ward preys on our innate fear of infirmity, of being helpless, vulnerable and mortal. What could be worse than waking up in a hospital with no idea how you got there or why you are even there? From the start you get the feeling that something is off about the state of things in New Hope, the hospital where our two main characters, Farrell and Lisa, find themselves and it’s not just because they are in a public hospital with all the overcrowding, lack of resources and apathetic, overworked staff that entails. Someone or something sinister is roaming the halls at night tampering with patients. It soon becomes clear that the hospital isn’t safe. When the unlikely duo try to escape from New Hope they find themselves trapped in the Wards of Downside, a twisted reflection of our own world where horrific experiences are the norm and everything has a price...

At its heart The Ward is a very human-driven horror. The most horrific thing is not the machinations of Downside, but how far the characters are willing to go in order to satisfy their own desires. The ending provides for some gleeful satisfaction as one of the characters get exactly what they deserve. A primo read indeed!

The Verdict:
The Ward is a creepy, unsettling take on the health system and our own obsession with vanity. While it never quite scared me, I found the narrative unsettling and thought-provoking in equal measure. The real impact of the novel is what the twisted world of Downside says about our own. One thing is certain – I’ll never look at hospitals in quite the same way. This is a primo read with some uniquely South African touches thrown in. Definitely recommended!

The Rating: 7.5/10 (Very good)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Cover Reveal: Horizon

The cover for the final installment of Fran Wilde's Bone Universe series, Horizon, has been unveiled and it is simply gorgeous! Artist Tommy Arnold really outdid himself.

The covers for the series have really come a long way from that first, quite generic cover for Updraft, which didn't quite manage to capture the feel of the series. The updated covers really does the series much better justice and this fits in brilliantly.

Horizon will be released on 26 September 2017.

Read my review of Updraft, the first novel in the series (it includes the original cover art.)

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Shoot For The Moon

At first glance the short film Shoot for the Moon seems whimsical and funny, but its poignant message about space exploration is now more relevant than ever. Let's hope we will never lose our passion and capability for space exploration.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Review: Slipping: Stories, Essays, & Other Writing

Title: Slipping: Stories, Essays, & Other Writing
Author: Lauren Beukes
Pages: 288
ISBN: 9781616962401
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
Published: 29 November 2016
Genre: Short Stories
Source: eARC copy from publisher

Buy it from:
The Book Depository

A Punk Lolita fighter-pilot rescues Tokyo from a marauding art installation. Corporate recruits harvest poisonous plants on an inhospitable planet. An inquisitive adolescent ghost disrupts the life of a young architect. Product loyalty is addictive when the brand gets under the skin.

Award-winning Cape Town author and journalist Lauren Beukes (Zoo City, Moxyland, Broken Monsters) spares no targets in this edgy and satiric collection. Ranging from Johannesburg across the galaxy, Beukes is a fierce, captivating presence all across the literary landscape.

Slipping: Stories, Essays & Other Writing collects just over a decade’s worth of short fiction by Lauren Beukes. The 21 short stories and 5 non-fiction essays collected here showcases both her growing talent as author and her keen ability to transform the mundane trappings of the everyday into something unsettling, extraordinary and thought-provoking. Her fiction manages to deal with real issues in unusual and disconcerting ways; Beukes is not afraid to shine a light into the darkness we wilfully try to ignore in order to expose the hard truths hidden in the nooks and crannies of our daily lives. The themes she tackles covers the gamut of modern life - exploitation, the effect of social media on our lives, identity, relationships, censorship and social injustice.

The first story/poem in the collection, Muse, sets the tone of what is to come. In just 65 words Beukes manages to perfectly capture the essence of what it is like to be a writer (or any creative pursuit). Where everything you produce takes a bit of your lifeblood with it into the greater world.
The gloves arrived in the mail in a box lined with tissue paper.
There was no return address.
They were elbow-length. Lace-up. Finest suede.
Muse-skin, the attached note said.
These will get you unblocked, the note said.
It was only when she put them on and sat down to write
That she realized there were fishhooks in the fingertips
That drew blood with every keystroke.
My favourite story in the collection is undoubtedly the title story, Slipping. Competitive athletics is used as a test bed for experimental human augmentations. For the athletes recruited from underprivileged backgrounds it is a chance of a lifetime provided they are willing to push themselves to breaking point. The exploitation of the athletes hidden behind a facade of helpful promoters and concerned doctors is unnerving. Pearl doesn’t quite release that they don’t care as much for her as for the tech she embodies.
“Tomislav twists off the valves on either side, unplugs her stomach and eases it out of her. He sets it in a sterile biobox and connects it to a blood flow. By the time he turns back, she is already spooling up the accordion twist of artificial intestine, like a magician pulling ribbons from his palm. It smells of lab-mod bacteria, with the faintest whiff of feces.”
Other highlights from the collection included:
The Green: Unskilled workers are used as disposable labour to harvest an alien biome. A tautly written science fiction story filled with strange alien life. Dark and gritty with an ending to die for.
Smileys: A protection racket takes an unexpected turn. A beautifully nuanced description of life in post-apartheid South Africa with a keen eye for all the social issues at play.
My Insect Skin: A completely harrowing tale of loss. It will tear your heart to shreds.
Easy Touch: The tables are turned on a 419 scammer. Deservedly so.
Dear Mariana: An obsessed stalker leaves a farewell note to her ex. A simple premise executed expertly to send chills down your spine. Utterly disturbing in the best way possible.
Unaccounted: A chilling take on the treatment of prisoners of war. If the prisoner is an alien do they deserve human rights? Who is accountable for their treatment?
Dial Tone: A sad tale about the lonely desperation of someone trying so desperately to connect.
And lastly there is Unathi Battles the Black Hairballs: A completely bonkers otaku adventure that is an insane homage to anime and Japanese culture. Bizarre and fun!

The inclusion of five non-fiction essays/articles were a rare treat. I’m far more familiar with Lauren Beukes’ fiction so it was interesting to see her more journalistic side. It’s clear that her time as journalist shaped her in many ways, providing her with both the keen observer’s eye and the story ideas that makes her such an accomplished fiction writer.

There are two essays that stood out. All the Pretty Corpses deals with the murder of a family friend and the total failure of the justice system. This tragic incident is what sparked the idea for The Shining Girls – “At least in fiction, unlike real life, you can get justice.” On Beauty: A Letter to My Fiver-Year-Old Daughter ends the collection on a hopeful note with a lesson we should all live by: “Real beauty is engaging with the world. It’s the courage to face up to it, every day. It’s figuring out who you are and what you believe in and standing by that. It’s giving a damn.

The Verdict:
Slipping is a stunning, diverse collection of genre-spanning short fiction by one of South Africa’s best speculative fiction authors. The stories are gritty, disconcerting and thought-provoking. These are stories with impact; stories that will make you think and alter your perspectives. Stories that will make you sit up and take notice. While this might be a slim volume it packs one heck of a punch! If you are a fan of Lauren Beukes then this is an absolute must have.

The Rating: 7/10 (Very Good)