Tara Calaby

writer, editor & phd candidate

Category: Science Fiction

Review: Mirror Shards: Extending the Edges of Augmented Reality – Thomas K. Carpenter (ed)

Mirror Shards book coverMirror Shards: Extending the Edges of Augmented Reality is a science fiction anthology comprising thirteen short stories by new and established authors. Augmented reality, for those readers who are looking a little confused right now, deals with the idea of using technology to expand upon (augment!) the real world. Think GPS, but implanted into your eyes. The authors of the collected stories, however, have envisioned the implementation of augmented reality in a broad spectrum of ways, ensuring that readers will not grow bored as they make their way through the analogy.

“El Mirador” – Alex J. Kane
A tale of a tech-filled bounty hunter on the trail of a murderer. The second person narrative in this piece unfortunately made it difficult for me to get into it.

“Music of the Spheres” – Ken Liu
An engaging and thought-provoking exploration of the creation of disability through technology that is not available to everyone.

“These Delicate Creatures” – Melissa Yuan-Innes
The use of tech-enhanced theatre as political dissent is the focus of a clever tale of family and priorities.

“Bellow the Bollocks Line” – T D Edge
A short, but well-imagined, tale of a society in technological overload.

“The Sun is Real” – George Page III
One of my two favourites from the anthology, this piece looks at the use of augmented reality in a prison situation.

“A Book By Its Cover” – Colleen Anderson
One of the two definitely-not-for-young-readers stories in the compilation, this is a creepy tale of immersive entertainment and a woman who wants to be a part of it.

“Of Bone and Steel and Other Soft Materials” – Annie Bellet
An artificially-sighted woman takes on a boy’s kidnappers. A much better story than the title led me to expect!

“Witness Protection” – Louise Herring-Jones
In a futuristic version of the police-based crime story, a new spy device falls into the wrong hands.

“Stage Presence, Baby” – E.M. Schadegg
A singer alters her stage presence through technology in alien-occupied Earth.

“Gift Horses” – Karen Able
In this story, North America is controlled by OverSight, an augmented reality technology manufacturer. Unfortunately, I was left wanting more, as the story seemed to end just as it started getting interesting!

“The Cageless Zoo” – Thomas G. Carpenter
My other favourite, this piece is reminiscent of Jurassic Park. A family attends a futuristic zoo where predators are held through augmented reality instead of cages. Of course, something goes wrong.

“More Real Than Flesh” – Grayson Bray Morris
The other not-for-minors story in the compilation, this piece looks at the sex industry in the future.

“The Watcher” – George Walker
This engrossing piece tells of a DisneySub caught in border skirmishes between India and Pakistan. I felt that this story could easily be used as the basis of a much longer work.

With Mirror Shards, Carpenter has managed to put together a satisfying collection of science fiction writing that comprises a pleasing range of topics, ideas and literary styles. A professional and interesting anthology, it should be enjoyed by both regular readers of speculative fiction and those who like to dabble from time to time.

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: Harmonica and Gig – RJ Astruc

Harmonica and Gig coverThree qverse experts are hired to investigate the suspicious death of a qverse employee. There’s talk that his very brain was hacked and INTROMET matriarch Viger Singer is willing to offer a million dollar incentive (alongside a smidge of identity-revealing blackmail) in exchange for a result. Regina ‘Harmonica’ Carter – forty-something, cynical and the top of her game – is pitted against Lloyd ‘Talobos’ Hong and Felix ‘Gig’ McGuiggen, a designer-gened and paranoid hacker in his twenties. But, as their investigations continue, Harmonica and Gig begin to question the nature of the game they’ve been thrust into.

I have always loved RJ Astruc’s writing. She has the ability to draw me into stories that sit outside my usual reading tastes and to make me enjoy the kind of characters that normally I’d barely acknowledge. Her fiction combines an elegant and distinctive writing style with an ever-present sense of humour, which informs Harmonica and Gig‘s characters and universe. Although not a comedy, the novel displays a similar grasp of the quirks of human nature. Astruc is not afraid to give her characters flaws and, in doing so, allows them to break free of the usual sci-fi archetypes.

The qverse of Harmonica and Gig is well-imagined and described in such a way that its constant presence in the book’s universe feels natural from the very beginning. At times, the technological concepts discussed made my head spin a little, but this was likely due to their nature rather than any fault with their depiction. Indeed, this is a very tech-heavy novel, as the storyline would imply. Set in the near(ish) future, it combines new technology with the familiar in a surprisingly comfortable manner.

Although Harmonica and Gig employs a third person perspective, the chapters are split between Astruc’s two protagonists. Each has a distinctive personality, although this is demonstrated more through their thoughts and actions than the voice of their respective sections, allowing the writing to remain uniform throughout.

Harmonica is a fantastic character. She is strong, bold and unapologetic. Her actions are occasionally rash and she has one hell of a commitment phobia, but such characteristics are what make her so likeable. Harry’s a little bit larger than life, but she is not a caricature. And books need more female characters who are portrayed as being sexy (and sexual) beyond their twenties.

In contrast, Gig appears quite weak at first. He is young and pretty and seems out of his depth in comparison to Harry and Talobos. I, personally, didn’t find him as gripping a character as Harmonica, but grew to appreciate his different approach to the situation and to life in general. He is the perfect foil for Harry and his relative vulnerability is important in a book that deals largely in powerful and seemingly-invincible characters.

Harmonica and Gig is a wonderful sci-fi thriller but, for me, the absolute highlight of the novel is its universe. Astruc melds cultures and societies into a believable mid-twenty-first century world. Australia has become SouthAsia – a melding of Anglo and Asian peoples and cultures. The novel’s characters reflect the new racial landscape and offer an unforced glimpse into the social changes that have taken place alongside the technological changes described in the book. But Harmonica and Gig does not moralise. Indeed, its universe is refreshingly matter-of-fact.

Harmonica and Gig is an excellent novel that goes beyond its genre in presenting a storyline that is accessible to all but the most hardened of speculative fiction despisers. For those who consider themselves science fiction aficionados, it’s a must-read.

(NB: The author of this novel is a friend of mine.)

Review: Galaxy of Heroes – Gus Flory

Galaxy of Heroes is set in the distant future – a future where the human race is scattered far from Earth and under the constant threat of violence and extinction from the more powerful inhabitants of the universe. It focuses around the experiences of four main characters who share a common history and who meet again as the action unfolds.

The most memorable of these characters is easily the larger-than-life Captain Jace Spade and this is ultimately his story. He’s not completely likeable, but that makes him more realistic. The other character of note is Genie, a cyborg created to be irresistible to men. Through her, interesting questions of futuristic ethics are raised; the idea of a sentient, albeit manufactured, creature being programmed for sexual and romantic slavery is a difficult one.

In the end, however, the strong point of this novel is the story itself. Flory is not the most elegant of writers, and there are places where a little further editing could have improved the flow of the writing and reduced unnecessary repetition, but there is no question that he can tell a gripping tale. Galaxy of Heroes is almost solid action from start to finish, and there was no point at which I felt bored by what I was reading. The universe that is created within this book’s pages is clever and well fleshed out, and the descriptions of battle are excellent.

I hope Flory goes on to write more – perhaps even more in this very universe. I, for one, would be glad to read it.

(I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.)

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