So let’s just get this out of the way: SF is not my genre. It’s not that I don’t like it or find it boring, it’s that I often find it hard to understand and the books as a result become less pleasurable to read and drift into ‘it takes effort to read this book’ territory.
With that in mind, I was a little dubious and scared about picking up The Hive Construct. Back when I worked in Waterstones in Canterbury I have a very vivid memory of two men coming into the shop on the publication day of this book, desperate to read it because their university flatmate had written it. And, since then, this book has always been on my radar, slowly dancing in the corner tempting me to pick it up and read it even though I normally tend to avoid books in this genre!
Situated deep in the Sahara Desert, New Cairo is a city built on technology – from the huge, life-giving solar panels that keep it functioning in a radically changed, resource-scarce world to the artificial implants that have become the answer to all and any of mankind’s medical problems.
But it is also a divided city, dominated by a handful of omnipotent corporate dynasties.
And when a devastating new computer virus begins to spread through the poorest districts, shutting down the life-giving implants that enable so many to survive, the city begins to slide into the anarchy of violent class struggle.
Hiding amidst the chaos is Zala Ulora. A gifted hacker and fugitive from justice, she believes she might be able to earn her life back by tracing the virus to its source and destroying it before it destroys the city. Or before the city destroys itself . . .
(I think it’s best for everyone if I use the book’s blurb here rather than attempt to summarise it in my own words!!)
I did enjoy this book. I found the writing to be engaging and compelling and whilst I must admit there were certain points in the narrative where I found myself confused (reader error) I didn’t realise how much I would like this book.
The characters were well formed, each one was layered beautifully with their pasts a complete reflection on the way they behaved in the present and the interactions between them felt natural. They were odd occasions when the dialogue felt a little stilted but they were few and far between and were never enough to pull my attention from the plot.
So, the plot was, for me, a little confusing but as previously mentioned this is my fault as I am not good when it comes to SF! Despite the fact there were certain facets of the plot that I couldn’t quite get my head around, I still found myself completely compelled to carry on reading. The world building was fabulous and whilst it was very similar to our current world, there was enough to distance it from the world we live in. There were some great descriptions of the scenery and this new ‘world’ which meant I had a very tangible picture in my head and could almost feel the heat and see the sand of the vast desert.
The book also touches upon some great moral, cultural and social issues which are as relevant in today’s world as they are in the setting of Maskill’s novel. This book makes you think and that’s what I loved most about it. It’s the kind of book you are still thinking about well after you’ve turned the last page. I don’t know if there’s a sequel in the works but I’m confident that the ending has a great set up should Alexander choose to rejoin these characters again.
This is an impressive debut novel and for an author so young, it shows great promise and I’m very excited to see what is to come from Alex next!