HEaRT Of gRan­iTE

Let slip the rep­tiles of war

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Reviews -

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.”

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