Arts

Book Reviews: Belfast sci-fi novel is action packed

Margaret Atwood – the form is there, but the heart seemed to be missing

Inish Carriag by Jo Zebedee, published by Tickety Boo Press

BELFAST sci-fi writer Jo Zebedee's second novel of 2015, Inish Carraig follows the eldest two Delaney siblings in post-alien-invasion Belfast as they try to protect their younger brother and sister. John is imprisoned for xenocide – the killing of Zelo aliens; his sister Josey is kidnapped by the people John had been working for. The story of their survival is interesting but not gripping.

The story of why the aliens invaded is logical and probably a metaphor for global warming but key questions are unanswered. The logistics of how nation states seem to no longer exist isn't addressed, for example. One character wonders whether iTunes still exists but why would the aliens do away with it? We aren't told.

If there was a short history explaining how the invasion happened and how everyday life changed because of it then Inish Carraig might be more enjoyable. That said, at just over 200 pages, it's fast paced and action packed so if you just like plot and don't get distracted by details, give it a go.

Emma Gallen

Magic! New Fairy Tales by Irish Writers, edited by Siobhan Parkinson (illustrated by Olwyn Whelan), published by Frances Lincoln Children's Books

MY SIX-year-old and I had high hopes for this. Still riding high on Irish film The Song of the Sea, we were expecting something along the same lines – an inspired updating of a venerable tradition, wisdom and mystery intact.

It was a great idea – get some hip, happening writers to lash off a modern fairytale, throw in some marvellous illustrations (check) – and bingo, the Halloween market sorted.

But it doesn't quite work. The most important element of the book – the stories – is the weakest link, with tales ranging from ho-hum to bizarre. In Badness, Madness and Trickery by Malachy Doyle, a boy meets one of the ‘little people' only to get his hackles up by drawing attention to his petite stature. So the little person disappears, taking Michael's penknife with him. That's it. End of. As narrative arcs go, it's underwhelming.

Bemusement has characterised my story-savvy daughter's facial expression at the end of most of these tales. It's a shame – there are good writers here like John Boyne and Deirdre Sullivan. But overall it's a frog needing a kiss from a beautiful princess.

Una Bradley

Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz, published in hardback by Orion

ALEX Rider creator Anthony Horowitz follows the likes of Sebastian Faulks and Jeffery Deaver by stepping into the shoes of the late Ian Fleming to keep alive the literary reincarnation of Her Majesty's most famous secret agent.

Trigger Mortis is set against the backdrop of the late 1950s space race and sees 007 take on Soviet-backed Korean psychopath Jason Sin as he attempts to blow up Manhattan and knobble the US rocket programme at the same time. The ghost of Fleming looms large over the book, of course – but also in it, with part of an unused TV script by the British writer, who died in 1964, influencing a darkly serious motor-racing subplot.

Left to his own devices, Horowitz's go at 007 is a fast-paced Cold War thriller that should please literary Bond fans. The motor-racing and the climactic scene are especially good. But it also sometimes feels like a modern take on a period series: Bond doesn't seem quite as cold and brutal as Fleming's original and in a couple of places, the writer's 21st century morality seems to seep through.

David Wilcock

The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida, published in hardback by Atlantic Books

YOU'RE not supposed to judge a book by it's cover, but in the case of The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty, the mysterious cover is incredibly fitting for this enigmatic psychological thriller.

The story starts with a nameless American woman travelling alone to Morocco. Throughout the novel there's a series of increasingly strange events – bag theft, stolen identities, an appearance from singer-songwriter Patti Smith and a 'run-in' with a very famous Hollywood film star – which escalates in the revelation of what caused the heroine to flee to this far-flung location by herself.

For her fourth novel, Vendela Vida has made the unusual choice to write in the second-person singular, so that everything is described from the point of view of "you" doing it. It's an effective device that puts the reader squarely in the shoes of the protagonist, making this already taut mystery thriller even more of an intense read.

Alison Potter

BOOK OF THE WEEK

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood, published in hardback by Bloomsbury

ALTHOUGH cast in the same mould as her more recent work – the dystopian trilogy that began with Oryx And Crake – Atwood's latest novel lacks the sparkle, sophistication and ingenuity of its predecessors.

It opens in North America, a few years hence. An ordinary couple – Stan and Charmaine – are battling for survival amid social and economic collapse. They, like millions of others, are reduced to surviving on scraps, living in a car, and running the nightly gauntlet of marauding gangs.

Opportunity knocks in the form of the Positron Project – a 'social experiment' offering a home, jobs and a suburban haven from the chaos. The only catch? Every other month is spent in prison. Oh, and once inside the project, no-one leaves alive. It is quite clearly a Faustian pact, but our hapless couple jump at the chance.

Once inside, they soon settle down to a life of bland conformity. But it's not long before the cracks appear and the pair find themselves embroiled in an increasingly implausible chain of events, as the plot veers crazily between clumsy dystopia, sordid porn fest and body-snatching thriller.

Atwood is no stranger to the weird and wonderful. What is unusual, however, is that the rationale behind the so-called Positron project remains obscure, weakening a satire on the deadening effects of suburban life.

On the plus side, the novel includes its fair share of witty social commentary. The writing is trademark Atwood: lucid, lyrical and blackly comic. The form is there, but the heart seemed to be missing.

Lucy Latchmore

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