Em­pires: Ex­trac­tion/ Em­pires: In­fil­tra­tion

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Rated / Books -

You wait for­ever for one alien in­va­sion…

Re­lease Date: OUT NOW!

328/ 346 pages | Hard­back/ ebook Au­thor: Gavin Deas Pub­lisher: Gol­lancz

For the sake of a

sound­bite it’s tempt­ing to start this re­view: “Gavin Deas is clearly not the man who put the ‘ i’ into ‘ ideas’,” but that would be disin­gen­u­ous. Be­cause one thing this ex­per­i­ment doesn’t lack is ideas. Sadly, it’s col­laps­ing un­der the weight of them.

The cen­tral con­ceit of this pair of books is that Earth is be­ing in­vaded by two sets of aliens at the same time. This is a com­plete co­in­ci­dence; even though the in­vaders are cen­turies- old en­e­mies they don’t seem to be aware of each other’s pres­ence… at first. Ex­trac­tion con­cen­trates on one in­va­sion, with one set of hu­man char­ac­ters; In­fil­tra­tion con­cen­trates on the other in­va­sion, fea­tur­ing another set of char­ac­ters. Part of the fun comes from spot­ting when the two sto­ries in­ter­sect, and you see the same scenes from dif­fer­ent points of view.

Both books are one- tenth Iain M Banks- lite, with a few chap­ters con­tain­ing some pretty hard­core SF con­cepts. The Weft, for ex­am­ple, are a prag­mat­i­cally sci­en­tific race with two as­pects and a knack for space­ships with per­son­al­i­ties and silly names, while the Plea­sure are shapeshift­ing, he­do­nis­tic cap­i­tal­ists on a grand scale who plan to get Earth hooked on a new drug – Bliss.

The re­main­ing 90% is half ur­ban thriller, half Michael Bay’s Trans­form­ers. Gnarly cops, hard- arse gov­ern­ment spooks and la­conic spe­cial ops sol­diers mix with gang­sters and drug deal­ers in- be­tween ran­dom in­ter­species bat­tles. At any given time you’ll know pre­cisely what weapons any­one is car­ry­ing but have lit­tle idea what their thoughts and mo­ti­va­tions might be, while play­ing a drink­ing game where you take a swig ev­ery time you read the phrase, “a spray of blood,” or, “his head came clean off ” will leave you with al­co­hol poi­son­ing. The ac­tion – as with a Bay film – is over­long and almost fetishis­tic in de­tail, to the point where it be­comes dull, in­co­her­ent and skip­pable.

The struc­ture also works against the sto­ry­telling, as the “alien POV” chap­ters have to be used for in­fo­dump­ing to give the reader any clue what’s go­ing on. It’s a wel­come tech­nique, but hardly el­e­gant.

In their favour, both books are fast- paced and blackly hu­mor­ous, with a spat­ter­ing of de­cent char­ac­ters, and the crossovers add to the fun. But the over­all feel­ing is that Em­pires was writ­ten as the re­sult of a bet, and ne­ces­sity has tri­umphed over sub­stance. Dave Golder Gavin Deas is ac­tu­ally a pseu­do­nym for a two- man writ­ing team – Gavin Smith and Stephen Deas.

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