HEaRT Of gRaniTE
Let slip the reptiles of war
released 18 aUGUsT 416 pages | Paperback/ebook Author James Barclay Publisher Gollancz
Not so much a novel as a high concept in search of a production designer, Heart Of Granite’s bat’s-arse future of giant-reptilethemed hardware makes a whole load of military SF clichés feel fresh and exciting. It helps that Barclay’s knack for pacy prose and deftly-drawn characters remains intact as he redirects his skills from the fantasy fare he’s famous for.
The book is the first in a planned duology, though it’s such good fun, set in a world bursting with possibilities, don’t be too surprised if more arrive. The basic conceit is that alien technology has transformed Earth technology so that a future war between five power blocs is being fought using giant organic hardware. It’s like Kaiju have bred with Mecha. Troops travel inside giant biomechanoid reptiles, kilometres long. The airforce has been replaced by soldiers who pilot “drakes” – dragons, basically – with man and beast in direct neural link.
It’s this link – and the mental effect it has on the pilots – that becomes the core of the story, as one government risks its best squadron with an untested upgrade in a push to end the war. Cue said squadron rebelling when it realises it’s being used as lab rats and the powers-that-be can’t be trusted.
It’s pure pulp nonsense, but utterly compelling. In terms of plot, there’s little you haven’t seen or read before (plucky pilots, conniving politicians, conspiracies), but the world is so enticingly crafted that the story rarely feels stale. The grunts work inside behemoths with seepage problems, bass-woofer heartbeats and certain areas best avoided (think of the smell!), and the Heart of Granite – the book’s equivalent of an aircraft carrier – is evocatively, and somewhat ickily, brought to life. Barclay’s a dab hand at writing an aerial dogfight, too. At times, this could be Star Wars with pteranodons. Dave Golder
Pure pulp nonsense, but utterly compelling
Barclay still has the first short story he wrote, at the age of 13, called “Troja: Dawn”. “It was and is utterly awful.”