Posts Tagged science fiction

Review: ‘Deus Ex Mechanic’

Deus ex Mechanic cover

‘Deus Ex Mechanic’ is the first full-length novel by Ryann Fletcher. I was kindly provided with an early ARC, but have promised an unbiased review.

This book has had a difficult birth. Originally scheduled to be hitting shelves (and ereaders) last year, it was delayed due to the publisher unfortunately closing down. The author took the brave decision to self-publish… and I’m very glad that she did.

We are taken on the journey of Alice, a humble mechanic in a future where humanity has colonised the galaxy and potentially beyond. We see a little of her life deep in the bowels of an enormous starship – where she’s busy working on the boiler with her trusty wrench. For this is science fiction, but with a generous slice of steampunk thrown in. Shiny and space-age on the outside, messy and basic underneath!

The action begins quickly, as Alice is kidnapped during an explosive incursion by a pirate crew led by Captain Violet. And if you know anything about this book, the sparks that soon fly aren’t just those in the boiler room.

The universe-building is intriguing, and definitely drew me in. There are clear parallels with the benevolent socio-political framework of ‘Star Trek’, with hints of the ‘Warhammer 40K’ fascistic society – but let’s not hide the obvious. This is a loving wink at ‘Firefly’, with a hierarchical ruling political body being quietly opposed by small groups of active pirates and folks just looking to survive.

Alice faces the dilemma of the ‘safe’ captivity of her regular role within the not-Federation, versus the freedom and danger offered by the crew of the ‘Cricket’. It isn’t an easy decision, and the pirates each have their own opinions on their new mechanic. It’s not ‘hard’ sci-fi, instead absolutely its own engaging form of space-opera drama.

The characters soon become like old friends. I was again reminded of ‘Firefly’, with its tiny-but-unique gang of criminals, but the Cricket is definitely its own beast. I found myself mentally casting a TV series as the book went on, because I so wanted to see the action-packed adventures of Violet, Ned, Hyun and the rest.

The story moves along fast, with pleasant pauses in the action to allow breathing room for relationships to develop… before jumping back into Major Peril again! It’s tremendous fun, moving smoothly from one incident to the next, but never feeling rushed. We know why everyone acts as they do, and are keen to see what happens as events unfold.

Also, this isn’t ‘just pin a cog on it’ steampunk. I was so glad that the universe seems organic (so to speak), without any hand-waving technobabble to make the plot progress. Pipes and boilers must be maintained to make starships run. Whole worlds of people rebel against the wider accepted society just by living their lives. Freedom under threat is preferable to (comparative) luxurious captivity. Literal Steam-Punk.

I understand that a sequel is already complete, and am very pleased to say that I can’t wait to see what shenanigans Alice and Violet get up to next. A fantastic first novel. Definitely recommended.

‘Deus ex Mechanic’ is available on Amazon, Apple, Kobo, etcetc.

Note: Because the in-person event had to be cancelled, Ryann is kindly holding an online Launch Party tonight on her YouTube channel. I’ll be there!

 

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To Live Your Story

Stories have always been at the heart of my life. From the earliest days of having them read to me, to learning to read myself… and then I was off and running! I’ve often been accused of being a ‘book addict’, but my argument is that it’s at least a non-lethal addiction, and certainly less expensive than some alternatives.

Image taken from here (used without permission but with grateful thanks).

As a species, we have always told stories. The camp-fire tale is one of the oldest, and most fundamentally thrilling fiction (maybe) out there. It developed into the ballad, the urban myth, the mass-marketed best-seller. And from time to time, great stories are told that really make an impact on the wider world – whether re-telling the Hero’s Journey (eg Harry Potter) or reflecting society back at itself in the form of entertainment: almost a subtle satire, as the Ancient Greeks knew.

The Druids were famed for their storytelling. The Bard, wandering the land carrying the tales of the tribes, as well as forming new histories based on current events. From intentionally formal anecdotes to mythological allegories, he (or she) held the secrets of land and people, and was valued accordingly. The Bard would be welcomed at hearth and table from ancient times up to the middle ages, until the advent of the printing press. And while books are my passion, an imaginative experience inside my head, nothing compares to having a tale told – as live theatre can/not compare to a movie. It’s a skill that is as rare in the modern world as it ever was – true inspiration cannot be taught, it must be experienced and developed.

The popularity of different themes in modern children’s storytelling comes in waves. The ‘Choose Your Own Adventure‘ books of the 80s, I recall, as well as  Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl; Diana Wynne Jones in the ’90s. Then, of course, the aforementioned Potter deluge, itself performing the minor miracle of getting otherwise apathetic kids back into bookstores and libraries. Recently, however, an altogether different trend has been forming.

I’m not sure if it was the first, but when I encountered ‘The Hunger Games‘, I was, like so many others, both shocked and drawn in. From the ancient tale of Theseus, combined with the popcorn, throwaway soundbites of reality television, this story (and now movie) is no magical Potterverse. There seems to be a new wave of books for Young Adults (a relatively new genre in itself) looking at dystopian futures… and, in the process, performing the original role of a ‘viral’ story that passes from mouth to mouth: that of the learning experience.

An ancient tale is pushed into the future, by way of a satire on modern habits. We are forced to ask ourselves what we would do in a given situation – this is hardly a true children’s book, but it carries a clear moral, like any good fairytale. I do wonder if parents know what their youngsters are reading – and I’m amazed (and very glad) that the movie was made at all!

Because these books are teaching young people to THINK. They’re encouraging the ‘outsider’ to take pride in themselves, to use their skills to survive – something that every kid learns early on in the schoolroom, with its political cliques and strange ‘norms’. It may be considered escapist fiction, but these tales are actively encouraging the questioning of authority, the importance of individual thought, and the strength to speak up and act against a failed system. This is almost revolutionary. Not the punk kicking-out of the ’80s, but articulate and active anarchism, in its truest sense.

The news often speaks to us these days of young people in gangs, getting shot or stabbed for trivial reasons, but rarely goes into detail as to the reasons behind it. Far easier to blame ‘society.’ But writers – notably John Wyndham and Roald Dahl again – have always known that in each generation, adults who have distanced themselves from their children (not always by choice) can feel afraid, threatened by the strangeness of these curious, active, questioning strangers in their homes. The Childcatcher still scares us – that somehow warped adult whose specific function is to Shut Children Up (we never do find out what he does with those he’s caught, do we?).

Children challenge, in their quest to make sense of the world. Adults should, but many seem to forget how. Sometimes it may be easier to allow the television to become a nanny, but that won’t be enough. Censors have never understood that banning something, or allowing it to be omitted, simply encourages folk to go looking for what they’re not permitted to see.

Many parents I know today delight in teaching their youngsters, encouraging them to explore, read, play. If you’re old enough to ask questions, you’re old enough to hear answers – but they must be conveyed in a way that enables understanding. Television is a mass-market medium, and cannot always provide this.

But while advertisements and a certain type of children’s television seems to actively encourage being ‘one of the herd’ – having the latest style of clothes, make-up, trendy toys, shoes and so forth – there are these quietly subversive texts appearing. Very well written indeed (far removed from the insipid, unquestioning escapism of a certain glittering vampire series), their voices are being heard.

What stories are we telling, then? With our cynical whingeing (look at any national News broadcast), sense of doom rather than optimism, lack of encouragement to do anything because everything is depressed – in mind, body, spirit and bank account.

Or are we following the example of these children who live in worlds far worse than we could ever realize (I hope)… and discovering our own skills, our priorities, what we need to know and do to actively survive? It’s not about greed, acquisition, consumption – it’s about discovery, true friendship, inner truth, and living life well against adversity.

The world may have gone mad, but the storyteller still walks among us. Are you listening? And what is your  tale adding to that of those around?

Further reading:

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

The Hunt, by Andrew Fukuda

The Mall, by S.L. Grey

Wither, by Lauren DeStefano

The Iron Thorn, by Caitlin Kittredge

And general dystopian fiction of the moment to choose from at Goodreads.

Image found on random search on pInterest (if source available, please let me know to update)

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