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Wednesday 20th
posted by Morning Star in Arts

Science fiction round up with Mat Coward

A LITTLE girl falls into a hole in the ground in Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel (Michael Joseph, £12.99), thus accidentally discovering the strangest artefact ever found on the Earth — a gigantic robot hand, buried for thousands of years.

She grows up to be the professor who establishes that the hand cannot possibly be human in construction. But where is the rest of the giant figure and what was it its purpose? And, perhaps more importantly, what will the governments of the world do when they discover its power?

In place of straight narrative, this novel is presented as a series of documents, interview transcripts, diary entries. I found this technique rather distancing from the characters and events and pined for the immediacy of a more conventional format.

But it’s an exciting story, with some fine twists. The first in a series, it ends with a great cliff-hanger.

The self-contained SF novel seems to be an endangered species, as Daniel Godfrey’s New Pompeii (Titan Books, £7.99) is yet another first instalment. But it is also that other increasingly rare bird, a proper time-travel story.

A start-up company develops a technology that allows it to create energy without cost, by transporting matter from the distant past.

But, before long, this group of young entrepreneurs realise that the real money is to be made transporting people, not rocks.

And that’s why the residents of ancient Pompeii find themselves snatched to safety just as the legendary volcano erupts.

Full of mind-twisting time paradoxes for those of us who revel in such things, just the right amount of historical detail and plenty of plot to keep things moving, this sci-fi conspiracy thriller is a remarkably promising debut from its Derbyshire-based author.

Jonathan Strahan lives in Perth which scientists predict will become the first Australian city to be abandoned due to climate change before 2050 — so you can see why he chose to edit Drowned Worlds (Solaris, £12.99), an anthology of 15 stories about rising seas.

He’s assembled an admirably varied collection of high-quality fiction and it’s pleasing to see the emphasis on survival through ingenuity and solidarity rather than on dystopian despair.

In Spirit Animals by EE Richardson (Abaddon Books, £7.99), Detective Chief Inspector Claire Pierce runs the northern England branch of the Ritual Crime Unit.

It deals with investigations into the misuse of magic and one of the worst stains on its reputation is its failure over many years to catch a serial killer known as the Valentine Vampire.

Now the ritualistic murderer seems to have returned and this time Pierce is determined to make an arrest.

This is the third in a series of police procedurals which, apart from the supernatural elements, takes place in a world no different from our own.

Its Yorkshire backdrop sets it apart from similar books, as does the central character. Middle-aged, permanently tired, sceptical but never cynical, DCI Pierce is a splendid addition to the list of fiction’s hardboiled detectives.