Monday, March 29, 2021

Review: Later by Stephen King

Title: Later
Author: Stephen King
Pages: 512
ISBN: 9781789096491
Publisher: Hard Case Crime
Published: 2 March 2021
Genre: Horror / Crime
Source: Library

The son of a struggling single mother, Jamie Conklin just wants an ordinary childhood. But Jamie is no ordinary child. Born with an unnatural ability his mom urges him to keep secret, Jamie can see what no one else can see and learn what no one else can learn. But the cost of using this ability is higher than Jamie can imagine - as he discovers when an NYPD detective draws him into the pursuit of a killer who has threatened to strike from beyond the grave.

It's been ages since a book kept me up reading long past midnight. Later, the latest novel by Stephen King managed to do just that. It sucked me right in and I lost all track of time while in the grip of the brilliantly crafted narrative. I kept putting off going to sleep. Just one more chapter. Just one more page. I'll sleep later. When I finally came to my senses it was 2AM and I had 3 hours left before I had to go to work. I guess you'd expect nothing less from Stephen King.

Later follows the story of Jamie Conklin a teenage boy gifted with a supernatural ability. As he slowly comes to grips with his ability he is drawn into the harsh reality of the world. A world filled with crime and malice, and those that would use him, and what he can do for their own ends. It's a story about facing your demons in whichever form they may come.

Stephen King excels at capturing the innocence of youth and the transformation which occurs when that childhood innocence is lost forever. I adored Jamie and his story, and I was captivated until the very end. Constant readers will be happy with all the small easter eggs and references to the greater King universe. 

At its core this is a horror story, but it's a far more subtle variety of horror than most of King's other works. The supernatural twist he brings to crime works very well and makes for compelling reading. The ending is satisfying and open-ended enough to hint at some marvelous future possibilities.

"You get used to marvelous things. You take them for granted. You can try not to, but you do. There’s too much wonder, that’s all. It’s everywhere."

There is one thing that I'm ambivalent about. Near the end there is a revelation about a familial connection where Jamie's father is revealed. This felt unnecessary and didn't add to the story, in fact I felt it actually detracted from it. The story might have been better if this was left out, but it does serve to challenge our preconceptions.

Jamie Conklin has cemented himself firmly into my pantheon of favourite Stephen King characters. I hope we see much more of him, hopefully much sooner than later!

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Out of the Darkness Kickstarter

Independent UK publisher, Unsung Stories, has launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund Out of the Darkness, an anthology of dark fantasy and horror fiction which aims to raise awareness of mental health issues and mental wellbeing. Not only does the anthology offer a stunning lineup of authors, but all royalties and fees from the collection will be donated to the mental health charity Together for Mental Wellbeing.

Out of the Darkness, in collaboration with Together for Mental Wellbeing, challenges some of the most exciting voices in horror and dark fantasy to bring their worst fears out into the light. From the black dog of depression to acute anxiety and schizophrenia, these stories prove what fans of horror fiction have long known – that we must understand our demons to overcome them.

Edited by Dan Coxon (This Dreaming Isle) and featuring exclusive stories by Alison Moore, Jenn Ashworth, Tim Major and Aliya Whiteley, this collection harnesses the power of fiction to explore and explain the darkest moments in our lives. Horror isn’t just about the chills – it’s also about the healing that comes after.

Table of contents
  • Nocturia – Nicholas Royle
  • The Note – Jenn Ashworth
  • Lonely Souls in Quiet Houses – Laura Mauro
  • Seabound – Alison Moore
  • Goodbye, Jonathan Tumbledown – Tim Major
  • The Chorus – Aliya Whiteley
  • The Forlorn Hope – Verity Holloway
  • Oblio – Richard V. Hirst
  • Still She Visits – Eugen Bacon
  • Bloodybones Jones – Sam Thompson
  • The Lightness of their Hearts – Georgina Bruce
  • The Residential – Gary Budden
  • Replacement Bus Service – Ashley Stokes
  • Temple – Anna Vaught
  • The Hungry Dark – Simon Bestwick

You can pledge your support for this very worthwhile project at the Out of the Darkness Kickstarter page. What better way is there to spread good in the world than through the magic of story?

Monday, March 8, 2021

Review: Dogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Title: Dogs of War
Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky
Series: Dogs of War #1
Pages: 266
ISBN: 9781786693877
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Published: 2 November 2017
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Purchased

My name is Rex. I am a good dog. Rex is also seven foot tall at the shoulder, bulletproof, bristling with heavy calibre weaponry and his voice resonates with subsonics especially designed to instil fear. With Dragon, Honey and Bees, he's part of a Multiform Assault Pack operating in the lawless anarchy of Campeche, south-eastern Mexico.

Rex is a genetically engineered Bioform, a deadly weapon in a dirty war. He has the intelligence to carry out his orders and feedback implants to reward him when he does. All he wants to be is a Good Dog. And to do that he must do exactly what Master says and Master says he's got to kill a lot of enemies.

But who, exactly, are the enemies? What happens when Master is tried as a war criminal? What rights does the Geneva Convention grant weapons? Do Rex and his fellow Bioforms even have a right to exist? And what happens when Rex slips his leash?

You might think you know what sentience is. You’d be wrong.

In Dogs of War Adrian Tchaikovsky once again shifts the boundaries of possibility of non-human intelligence. The novel follows the members of a Multiform Assault Pack consisting of Rex, Honey, Bees and Dragon — bioforms designed and bred to be ruthless, obedient killing machines. To their masters they are mere tools to be used and discarded, but iIn reality they are far more than their creators could ever imagine.

Tchaikovsky excels at portraying non-human intelligence in it’s multitude of forms. He manages to give each bioform a distinct personality suited not only to their form, but also to their function in the pack. You can’t help but fall in love with them and feel compassion towards their plight. Especially as they slowly discover the reality of the situation and their place in the world.

“That is our choice. You want us to follow human orders. You think that is better.” The bear’s animal stare was nothing if not judgemental.

Dogs of War is larger in scope and far more nuanced than it first appears. The novel tackles huge themes exploring the boundaries of sentience, morality, self determination, freedom and ownership.

Technology is not Good Tech or Bad Tech. It is the Master who is guilty for what it does.

It's difficult to talk about the novel without spoiling it. You have to experience the revelations for yourself as the truth is slowly revealed. The ending broke my heart. Rex is not just a Good Dog. He is the Best Dog!

To say that Dogs of War is a mind-bending read would be wholly inadequate. It took me weeks after finishing it to come to terms with all the implications. It blew my mind just a little… Highly recommended!

The Rating: 8/10 (Great!)