The Orphaned Worlds by Michael Cobley, New Model Army by Adam Roberts, Silversands by Gareth L Powell and The Unlikely World of Faraway Frankie by Keith Brooke
The Orphaned Worlds, by Michael Cobley (Orbit, £10)
Few writers attempt the tricky crossover from high fantasy to hard science fiction. Cobley’s first books were the Shadowkings series; with the Humanity’s Fire science fiction trilogy, he has successfully transported his dark visions to the wide-screen baroque sub-genre. Book one closed with the human colony of Darien firmly in the grip of the despotic Sendrukan Hegemony and their eager proxies, the Brolturan Compact. In The Orphaned Worlds, two more lost human colonies are discovered, both under the yoke of alien tyranny, and a well-drawn cast of characters work to gain their liberation. Cobley combines a fast-paced plot of great scope and complexity with the convincing smaller-scale stories of the human protagonists. He’s also skilful at explicating the knotty machinations of political intrigue. Space opera has never been in more capable hands.
New Model Army, by Adam Roberts (Gollancz, £12.99)
The year is 2030 and Tony Block is fighting for Pantegral, a New Model Army hired by the secessionist Scottish government to fight against their English oppressors. Block, a gay English intellectual, is a mercenary fighting for the cause of democracy: the NMA is truly democratic, a band of free-thinkers with no command structure. Their opponents are the British army and, as Bloch sees it, the outmoded, hierarchical, feudal English political system. Much of the narrative charts the running battles with the conventional army, the NMA’s resounding victories, and Bloch’s love for his straight companion-in-arms Simic. But this is a novel by Adam Roberts, intellectual enfant terrible of British SF, and he transforms what might have been a conventional war story into a series of investigations into the nature of democracy, love, war and, ultimately, revolution. The result is frequently revelatory but also bafflingly self-indulgent.
Silversands, by Gareth L Powell (Pendragon Press, £12)
Avril Bradley is a communications officer aboard the starship Pathfinder on its mission to locate lost and far-flung colony worlds. She’s also on a personal quest to find Cale Christie, the man she believes to be her father, who passed through an alien wormhole years earlier. But wormhole technology is highly unreliable, and when she does manage to discover the planet where Christie lives, she finds herself caught up in a complex intrigue between competing corporations, corrupt politicians and a scheming artificial intelligence – which may just hold the answer to the stabilisation of the wormhole. Powell’s first novel is a fine hi-tech romp, marred slightly by a rushed and melodramatic dénouement.
The Unlikely World of Faraway Frankie, by Keith Brooke (NewCon Press, £9.99)
Fifteen-year-old Frankie Finnegan is overweight, unhappy and the butt of everyone’s jokes. After the death of his sister, Grace, his parents separated, and the family are still failing to come to terms with their loss. Frankie’s escape mechanism is to lose himself in a world of fantasy: Faraway, a distorted version of the seaside town where he grew up. As the bullying gets worse and the pressures on his home life grow, elements of Faraway start to seep into the real world, and Frankie believes he can control events there and bring about a true escape. The mysterious “Owner” of Faraway has other plans, though, and soon Frankie is locked in an intense battle for personal survival that has implications for the nature of reality. Brooke has created an accomplished coming-of-age story that balances the real and the surreal to great effect.
Eric Brown’s latest novel is Cosmopath (Solaris).