Voidhawk.com Book and film reviews


“Inish Carraig” by Jo Zebedee

Inish Carraig

Inish Carraig begins a few months after an alien invasion has devastated most of the world, including the book’s setting of Belfast, a city that has suffered terrible deprivation during the invasion and the aftermath. Even after a cautious peace breaks out when the aliens are forced by the interstellar Galactic Council to work together with the locals, life is still very hard for the survivors. Initially the story follows two teenagers scavenging among the ruins of the city to try to keep the rest of their family fed, after unwisely choosing to take on a job from a local criminal gang they find themselves targeted both by the aliens and the remnants of the local law enforcement. At this point the scope of the story expands as it becomes clear there are two different alien races competing with each for control of Earth with humanity caught in the middle uncertain of who it should ally itself with.

There have been a lot of alien invasion stories over the years, and while this sometimes feels reminiscent of other stories (I was reminded of the TV series Falling Skies at times) it does have some elements which distinguish it from the rest of the genre. The most obvious is the Northern Ireland setting, since I’m not aware of any other alien invasion stories focuses on there (Ian McDonald’s “Sacrifice of Fools” would be closest, but the aliens there are refugees rather than conquerors). The book does use its setting well, where even after an alien invasion the characters don’t forget about their complicated heritage.

I thought the characterisation was good throughout, showing how characters who had fairly unremarkable lives up to the time of the invasion have had to adapt to survive in a desperate situation. John and Taz, the two teenage protagonists, have a believable combination of vulnerability and bloody-minded determination. Probably the best character is Carter, a police officer trying to do his job as best he can despite being regarded by most of his fellow humans as a collaborator for being willing to work with the alien authorities.

The story moves at a good pace and packs a lot of plot into a relatively short book. Sometimes it would have been interesting to hear a bit more about the aliens themselves and their motivations (particularly the Xelotyr), but it would have been difficult to incorporate this into the plot given that the characters themselves don’t know much about their new alien masters. While this is understandable it does mean that the story feels like it lacking in depth a bit at times. One bit of plotting that felt overly convenient at times was the droids that accompany John and Taz for most of the book, while a fun addition to the story they do seem to manifest new abilities whenever the plot demands it.

Overall, I thought this was an entertaining alien invasion story which made good use of its Belfast setting.

Rating : 8 / 10

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“Watching Trees Grow” by Peter F. Hamilton


One of Hamilton's best pieces of work is the novella “Watching Trees Grow”, published in the “Futures” anthology. The setting is an intriguing mixture of alternate-history and space opera. In this world, the Roman Empire never truly fell and as the story begins, 19th Century Earth is now dominated by an elite formed from the descendants of a number of aristocratic Roman families. Europe has been largely at peace for centuries and the social system has allowed scientific development to proceed at a pace much faster than occurred in reality – with mid-20th Century levels of technology being achieved in the 1800s due to the elite families investing much of their resources in the pursuit of scientific progress.

The plot returns to one of Hamilton's favourite genres – the murder mystery. An investigator working for one of the families is called in to help investigate the murder of a young student at an English university. Several of his friends might potentially have a motive, but there is no obvious suspect and the local police and the investigator both soon realise they have little chance of catching the killer. As time passes scientific progress continues and humanity makes great advances, including colonising the stars, these advancements have the effect that population is now destined for a centuries-long life, including the suspects in the murder investigation. The investigator refuses to give up on the case, and new scientific discoveries allow him to draw closer to the killer, even when a century has passed since the crime.

Hamilton is often criticised for the sometimes excessive length of his novels. It is therefore refreshing to see that he can pack an impressive amount of plot into a single short story. As well as an original alternative history scenario, this story also features more technological and cultural ideas, concepts and advancements than would typically be found in an entire series of science fiction novels. Many of these ideas are tied into the murder investigation and the careers of the suspects and the final revelation of the killer involves some clever use of technology.

Inevitably, in a story so short there isn't time to do more than mention most of the ideas, and it does sometimes feel like some more explanation of a change would we welcome, but there is still an impressive amount of depth for a single story. Similarly, there isn't too much space for character development but the characterisation is decent enough, and the murder mystery plot is handled with typical competence.

“Watching Trees Grow” is an entertaining short story that manages to pack an astonishing amount of detail into a single novella.

Rating : 8½ / 10

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Back in 2003 I started a website here (at this point it was just a standard website and not a blog), and wrote reviews of various books and films that I had read or watched. In 2010 I decided the website was looking (very) outdated, so switched to the current blog format instead. The first batch of posts are just copying over the old reviews into the new blog format, I'll also update it with new reviews.

Most of the film and book reviews are for various Science Fiction or Fantasy books or films. The name for the website comes from one of my favourite book series, Peter F Hamilton's epic Science Fiction series, the Night's Dawn Trilogy.

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