So today I have for you all a review of The Hive Construct by Alexander Maskill and then a brilliant guest post from the author too.
Hope you enjoy!
Situated deep in the Sahara Desert, New Cairo is a city built on technology – from the huge, life-giving solar panels that keep it functioning in a radically changed, resource-scarce world to the artificial implants that have become the answer to all and any of mankind’s medical problems.
But it is also a divided city, dominated by a handful of omnipotent corporate dynasties.
And when a devastating new computer virus begins to spread through the poorest districts, shutting down the life-giving implants that enable so many to survive, the city begins to slide into the anarchy of violent class struggle.
Hiding amidst the chaos is Zala Ulora. A gifted hacker and fugitive from justice, she believes she might be able to earn her life back by tracing the virus to its source and destroying it before it destroys the city. Or before the city destroys itself . . .
With its vivid characters, bold ideas and explosive action, The Hive is science fiction at its most exciting, inventive and accessible.
When I first heard about this book, I jumped on the chance to read it because it sounded like an incredible book. And it was. I’d actually been in the middle of an extremely long and extremely frustrating reading slump where no book could hold my attention for very long and then I started reading The Hive Construct and I simply struggled to put it down. It frustrated me when I had to and it was constantly on my mind when I wasn’t reading it. This book was powerful from the very beginning until the very end and I am incredibly glad that I decided to read it.
One of the things that I absolutely loved about this book, aside from the amazing writing style, was the way that the book was layed out. I loved that it jumped from different characters on different sides of everything. It made you feel like you were watching a movie instead of reading a book as you got to know every little thing about what was going on but also all the added bonuses of reading a book with emotional detail and thought processes. I also loved the world-building and the world in general. The idea that one day we will all have computer implants to help us better our lives and work ethics is both scary and potentially real. It really made this book that much more fascinating to me.
By far my favourite character in this book was Zala. I love how fiesty she is and I thought her back story was so heartbreaking but also turned her into an incredible character. I loved Alice as well, I thought she was so well written and I loved hearing more about her story. Somehow Alexander has created a book with characters that you can’t help but feel emotional about and you end up unsure which side of the agenda you sit. It’s incredibly effective and just makes the book that much more interesting to read.
Overall this book is one that I am certain I will return to. I will also definitely be keeping an eye on Alexander Maskill from now on to make sure that I don’t miss his next book. I loved that it pulled me in straight away. I loved that it was a world you could literally imagine coming to pass and I loved that the characters were strong and intricate – because I love characters and character-driven stories. This book is one that makes you think, the makes you emotional, and one that you will definitely not want to miss out on. So, what are you waiting for? Go get reading!
** I received this copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I was not compensated nor was I required to write a positive review. **
Top 5 Sci-fi
This isn’t to say that I don’t like science fiction, just that my exposure through books is limited. As such, here below are the five science fiction works that are nearest and dearest to my heart.
The Mass Effect series of games is one of the few times where I’ve genuinely engaged with the worldbuilding elements of a science fiction work as an end of its own. There’s a richness and an emotional authenticity to the Mass Effect universe that makes the whole thing incredibly compelling to me. I find myself reading the long, detailed database entries detailing the minutiae of the setting where I’d skip them anywhere else. More importantly, the range of experiences this series imparts is astounding, yet it never loses touch with a core humanity that grounds and makes relevant every element that might otherwise be left floating in space. This series was a significant enough influence on The Hive Construct that I essentially think of it as being The Wire meets Mass Effect. I would watch a Mass Effect TV show. I would buy a regular Mass Effect comic book series. I would write a regular Mass Effect comic book series (call me, Bioware). It’s hard to think of any other job I’d rather have than working on this series, and one of those other jobs is one I’m currently in the process of applying for in the same industry, so I’d better not stress this fact too much in case they read this and wonder about my potential loyalties.
I was a child of the mid-00’s manga boom. This is just a fact my generation is going to have to live with; you can either move past it or become one of those people on Tumblr who ironically poses with full-sized dakimakura they certainly did not buy ironically. I have a certain resident amount of affection for a decent selection of manga and anime (as will be made clear later in this list) even if my interest in it as an aesthetic has waned and my alienation with its surrounding subculture has matured into outright aversion. So I don’t mean it as an insult when I say that Akira transcends manga. I mean it as a testament to the enormity of Katsuhiro Otomo’s achievement. To me, he’s contemporary to the late, great Jean “Moebius” Giraud as far as visionaries of future landscapes go; there’s a detail and specificity to the line of his ink pen that I can’t find an equal to anywhere else. The more famous film adaptation of the same name is beautiful but incoherent; as a manga, Akira is a sprawling, heartfelt epic and an elevation of the comic book form. It is a uniquely Japanese story – a reflection on The Bomb and on its topical juvenile delinquency problem – and it does feel Japanese, despite clearly being influenced by western fiction. Akira’s ambitions, however, take it beyond nationality or scene or aesthetic; it’s a story of the personal and the apocalyptic, of the all-permeating drive for destruction, well beyond just being story of biker gang kids in over their heads against a sinister cyberpunk conspiracy.
This is probably cheating. I’m only a bit into season three. I don’t care. The X-Files is outstanding. It’s as much a cultural exploration of the secret history of America as a science fiction show; a chance for the post-Cold War zeitgeist to slow down and reflect on all the atrocities the US committed in service of strangling the life out of the USSR. It embodies that post-Berlin Wall, pre-9/11 collective consciousness wading through its guilty conscience and exposing its strangest and most shameful nooks and crannies to the world. But really, the dynamic between Mulder and Scully is the glue that holds the show together. As someone who’s been living in a post-X-Files world for so many decades, I’d never appreciated how reductive and misguided so much of the broader cultural understanding of these characters is; there are far more layers of depth and authenticity to these characters and their relationship than many give the show credit for. The worst thing I can say about it at the moment is that its level of quality is inconsistent. The best thing I can say about it is that it’s frequently brilliant. I maintain that “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” is one of the best single episodes of television ever. I’m eternally grateful to comedian/”The X-Files Files” host Kumail Nanjiani, whose passion for this show inspired me to give it a try long after my last ex failed to do so. And if anyone spoils any future episodes for me after this, I’m coming after you. I already had two different podcasts I listen to spoil “Home”.
Has any franchise in history been retrospectively devalued more than The Matrix? Much of its legacy has become tainted by sloppy, redundant sequels and unimpressive follow-up projects from its creators, and it genuinely saddens me that this is the case. I was about ten when I first watched The Matrix and it blew my mind. It kick-started my interest in philosophy and opened my eyes to how, with a little imagination, you can apply theme to the rest of the work in all sorts of bizarre and unique ways. I was just smart enough of a ten year old that I got something from The Matrix I’d never gotten before – a hint of eastern spirituality, a dash of entry-level philosophy, a look at some truly awful fashion choices – and not smart enough to notice any of its missteps.
I’m not sure this film will profit from much re-evaluation; it had its sizeable flaws, and large parts of it have aged horribly. But there’s this weird thing pop culture does where it tends to burden innovative works with the sins of their imitators, and I feel like that’s happened here. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve heard smart people act amazed and incredulous at the prospect that the Matrix is a metaphor for societal systems of control, as though the film makes any attempt to hide its grander ambitions for philosophical and sociological commentary. This film has become less of an underappreciated gem than a total cultural blind spot, and I don’t feel it deserves this. It holds a place in my heart, and at the very least it deserves better than the corners of Reddit which currently most identify with it.
Neon Genesis Evangelion/End of Evangelion
While we’re on the topics of relics of the 90’s I’m a massive apologist for, I spent a good many of my teenage years calling Neon Genesis Evangelion my favourite pop-culture thing. It wasn’t a good call, and my cultural sensibilities weren’t nearly as refined as I thought they were. At the same time it had a huge impact on my artistic identity, to the point where I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without it (for better or worse). I learned something from Neon Genesis Evangelion I hadn’t ever learned from any other work of media; the value of character flaws.
That’s not to say I hadn’t ever taken in that certain characters had flaws before, but the flaws of the main cast of NGE are so obvious that it’s simply much harder to miss the effect it has on the story. Shinji Ikari is a neglected, resentful wreck. Asuka Soryu is an egotistical, fragile wreck. Rei Ayanami is a repressed, disconnected wreck. Makoto Katsunagi is an insecure, lonely wreck. I’d never seen heroes like this before. I believed their shortcomings, I recognized the power in them overcoming these deficiencies throughout the first half of the series, and I appreciated the credibility of the horror as events began to spiral out of their control throughout the rest of the story. Like all the best tragedy, the events of Neon Genesis Evangelion seemed unlikely, and then seemed inevitable. These characters felt like people in a way I’d never seen before then, so full of contradiction and bravado, with the underlying chaos of their psyches given potentially world-ending weight. The story never felt like it was flattering them; indeed, it seemed to take pleasure in drawing out the worst of their personal demons and allowing them to only scrape by, revealing more and more dimensions to their personalities and relationships.
It was also the work that taught me the value of deconstruction – of examining our cultural indulgences and evaluating whether all this might not be unhealthy. I couldn’t watch other anime for a long time after NGE; it skewered them all so effectively, even works which drew on NGE itself for influence. It’s been a shame seeing the way each character has been retrospectively cast by the fandom into the exact archetypes they so brutally tore apart, with their original portrayals outright rejected in many ways.
Most importantly, Neon Genesis Evangelion taught me the relationship between the trappings of a speculative fiction work and the human stories at their core. Neon Genesis Evangelion, taken as its own series, is the story of a young man learning to take control of his own life and, even in the darkest times, coming to believe that he deserves happiness; the story around him certainly puts him through the wringer to get him to this point, but it ends on a triumphant note. NGE, taken with the End of Evangelion ending movie, is the story of that same young man failing to grow or learn anything because of defensiveness built from resentment, ultimately becoming an impotent slave to his own spite and disconnection. That’s a different story, but it also uses the science fiction world around it and the events within to explore it. The way in which these personal struggles radiate outwards and resonate thematically at every level of the work was frankly revelatory to me at the time.
I don’t think it’s something I’d go back and watch now. I haven’t tried in a long time, and I only made it all the way through the first time. I have no interest in watching the new films. As mentioned above, I’m just not intrigued by anime and manga anymore. But Neon Genesis Evangelion left an indelible mark on my creative identity, the magnitude of which I don’t think is equalled by any other work, so it makes the list.