tales of the zeppelin artwork by frazer irving
 

The Boy in Winter's Grasp
Available now  - click here

It is Christmas 1914. As Europe descends further into the Great War, Christopher Flyte is sent home in disgrace from his school. He returns to the sleepy English village of Alton. It is there that he meets the mysterious traveller, Bailey - a master storyteller who fills the boy's head with stories of King Arthur's time. The more Christopher hears, the more he suspects that Bailey's stories are more than just simple myths.

Soon, Christoper is a pawn in a game that has been playing out for centuries....

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The Methuselah StrainAuthor: Stuart Aken

Reviewed in Books on Dec 2, 2015 by John Scotcher
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This little book packs a surprising punch.  I picked up a copy as a way to see how I got on with Stuart’s writing before committing to his much larger fantasy trilogy, collectively called ‘A Seared Sky’.  The Methuselah Strain (at least the lovely hardback copy I got from Fantastic Books) is only a hundred or so pages, so it seemed like a good starting point.

Stuart is one of my fellow authors in the Fantastic Books stable.  This in itself presented me with a few concerns.  What if I didn’t enjoy the book?  Should I shut up and just pretend I hadn’t read it or should I do an open and honest review?  Well, I am doing the open and honest review, but thankfully as I enjoyed the book, I don’t have to worry about getting blanked the next time I am at the same convention.

I read the book in one sitting on the first morning of my last writing trip.  I didn’t intend to.  I had planned to read a couple of sections and then get on with what I was supposed to be doing.  However, the little book was hard to put down and, as I got further into it, things moved from ‘oh just one more section’ to ‘I’m going to finish this’. 

Dystopian futures have rarely been as beautiful as the scenes Stuart conjured in my mind.  The almost empty outside world the characters move through is contrasted with a far busier but equally lonely futuristic shopping mall.  Only two of the main characters are human and the soulless androids that they surround themselves with seem only to enhance the sense of nothingness within them.  At once I could visualise phantoms of ‘The Omega Man’, ‘2001’, ‘Moon’ and ‘AI’.

Here is a world where very few humans have survived.  Those that have are mostly enhanced, genetically designed virtual immortals, unfettered by the need to procreate and continue the species.  Instead their life is dominated by the pursuit of distraction and entertainment, physical and emotional, but rarely spiritual.  As genetically designed humans they have been created along certain standardised types, a majority of which seem to be ‘sexuals’, designed to seek quick gratification. 

Into the story comes ‘Luce’, a renegade who dreams of freeing the remains of humanity from their automatic systems and android distractions, returning them to a simpler life.   She also seeks a mate with which to have a child.  Her meeting and relationship with ‘Randal’, the manager of the future shopping mall that hasn’t seen a human arrival in years, forms the central storyline. 

Stuart explores the nature of love and desire mercilessly.  There is, as a warning to the faint hearted, a strong, yet never explicit, sexual aspect to the book, which is absolutely essential to the narrative.  In revealing the shallow nature of characters Stuart does what all great sci-fi does; he reflects metaphorically on our own society, in this case the push towards instant gratification.  The mirror he hold up to us does not shine a pretty refection. 

Contrasted with the humans are the android characters.  They provide both an audience to the humans and a judgement upon them.  If anyone comes out of the book with respect, it is these initially inhuman members of the cast. 

If I had any criticism of the book it is a purely personal one, I prefer to get on with at least one character in the story, and here I didn’t find myself warming to any of them.  Did that stop me from enjoying the story?  Not at all.  The characters were crafted specifically to get a reaction and it worked flawlessly.  And the story kept me thinking about it for days afterwards. 

In conclusion, this is a well put together story that is very easy to read.  It deals with its questions in an adult way, so be warned some scenes and language may shock.  If that doesn’t worry you, then read this story – it is thought provoking, beautifully written with an stylish economy of words and clever.  I shall certainly look forward to starting Stuart’s trilogy.

Comments

Excellent review putting my thoughts on the book into words much better than I ever could.
Thanks, Valerie.

John

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