The Hive Con­struct

Pratch­ett prize prose

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Re­lease Date: OUT NOW!

352 pages | £ 16.99 ( hard­back)/£ 6.99 ( ebook) Au­thor: Alexan­der Maskill Pub­lisher: Dou­ble­day

Lo­cated in the Sa­hara,

New Cairo is a city of ex­tremes, where money and power are con­cen­trated in an elite with roots in cor­po­rate dy­nas­ties. The poor get by as best they can, at least un­til a virus that at­tacks the biotech im­plants on which so many de­pend starts to spread. As the city goes into lock­down, revo­lu­tion is in the air.

We see this un­rest through the per­spec­tive of a few key char­ac­ters, pri­mar­ily hacked- off com­puter whizz Zala, priv­i­leged kid­nap vic­tim Ryan and se­cu­rity ex­pert Alice, who works for those ag­i­tat­ing for change but mostly just wants to es­cape.

As the sit­u­a­tion starts to un­ravel and the chances of com­pro­mise pass, de­but au­thor Alexan­der Maskill – lat­est win­ner of Terry Pratch­ett’s an­nual prize for first- time nov­el­ists – ratch­ets up the ten­sion in fine fash­ion. Un­til the fi­nal few pages, that is, where there’s the sense of a writer strug­gling to bring dif­fer­ent sto­ry­lines to sat­is­fy­ing con­clu­sions. One character’s fate is pos­i­tively glib in moral terms.

There are other flaws. New Cairo is far too generic to be truly con­vinc­ing as an African city of the fu­ture. There’s a nag­ging sense too that Maskill hasn’t thought care­fully enough about how to­mor­row’s tech might dif­fer from to­day’s.

Still, let’s not un­der­es­ti­mate the achieve­ments here: this is a gen­uinely promis­ing de­but. Jonathan Wright

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