Zero Bomb by M T Hill

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Zero Bomb by M T Hill

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Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Our hero faces a woozy nightmare courtesy of the technology surrounding him in this near-future British-set sci-fi, but over the halfway mark it changes into a quite different narrative.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: March 2019
Publisher: Titan Books (UK)
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781789090017

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Meet Remi. He's a fan of running, and indeed has been – from the wife and life he abandoned when they buried their seven year old daughter. Now working in London as a courier, he's taking a routine piece of samizdat literature across town when he's seemingly attacked by a driverless car. Struggling to keep to his schedule, he takes to the Tube, where mysterious people sit with him – and regale him with cryptic clues that mention his dead child. Slowly, woozily, he's drawn into a completely surreal scenario, as he tries to find out what is wanted of him, and by whom – and indeed, who he himself even is.

This, my roughly annual dip into prose science fiction (as opposed to graphic novel) is my first example of the genre to deliberately mention a post-Brexit Britain as setting. Luckily it doesn't belabour that, but it does get into the character of Remi and of its milieu by showing his anxiety about what kind of world he was bringing the girl up into – a post-bomb, post-flood, post-Brexit, and almost post-gig economy world. To that extent you can almost forget the aerial "bug" everyone has, that seems to act as personal flying Satnav and full-world dash-cam, recording everything pertinent to everyone's day, and concentrate not on the science of this world but just the fiction. And that fiction, with Remi living with the memories he has, and with him gaining so many things that might be instruction, boon or threat or all at once, can be really quite dark in feel.

That's what I'll take from this book the most – the hallucinatory way things conspire to run Remi ragged, long before either we or he know what they could possibly mean. That's partly because after then, why – the book's quite changed, and I didn't think to the good. Without going into too many details, I felt the flavour of the story deteriorated once we got the truth. We get a different writing style, and different set of characters, and I daren't say to what end – all I will say is that I had problems with it, and not solely because too much of it seemed like a less realistic variant of what I saw in the wonderful Farmhand graphic novel by Rob Guillory. The book makes a big stumble, and whether you see it as just the author pulling the wool over one character's eyes, or a huge contrivance, things don't completely recover.

That's not to say the initial riches aren't fine – the sense of the man getting mired into the bizarre will remain strongly (although come the end we don't really see a justification for them being so bizarre, especially where the pigeons are concerned). The book alludes to being about the near-future Britain, where drones prove a false economy as regards job opportunities, and where surveillance and self-revelation is even higher than it is currently. It clearly then is not a book about the near-future after all, but about the now and about us. Remi really felt like one of us – but I regretted the change in focus of the book featuring his story.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

This has of course got comparisons to William Gibson (such as Pattern Recognition) on the cover, although this, as the artwork of a fox atop a typewriter implies, is a lot more rural and almost free of screens.

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