Archives for category: Thriller

Video games are becoming ever more realistic and rely more and more on our input, not only from controllers, but also our own bodies. This book explores what might happen when the virtual world designers create becomes as real as the world we live in. How do you tell the difference, and if you’re conducting violent game play, how do you differentiate between real people and virtual players?

The Sapporo Outbreak

In the Sapporo Outbreak, a Japanese company has come up with a game that is very realistic. But they’re behind schedule with release, so investors send a team of specialists to have a look at whether the game is really going to be as good as it should be and as safe as it should be.

It turns out the game has been delayed because of some teething problems where players become violent, bludgeoning friends and family because they can’t distinguish between the virtual and the real. When a team of hackers breaches the company’s security and releases the game to the world, anyone online becomes a killing machine. The specialists find themselves in a fight for their lives.

This novel for me was an important lesson about two things:

  1. Covers
  2. Moods

I’ll start with the first point. I’d like to think that I’m not so one-dimensional as to choose a book based on its cover, but if I’m being quite honest, the cover does actually influence my choice. There was something about the creepiness of this cover that drew me in. Because of the red eyes of the close up and the world “outbreak” I thought it was going to be a zombie book. The opening scene, making reference to some sort of myth only strengthened this view.

Of course the book wasn’t a zombie story at all. I was completely wrong-footed, which I would have avoided if I’d read the blurb. But because I started out with the zombie impression, I was surprised throughout the first third of the novel at what actually did happen. And I really enjoyed it.

So from that experience I took two things: a. Humans like to be surprised. b. Covers are important.

The second point – mood – was another factor in why I enjoyed the novel. At the time I picked up the Sapporo Outbreak, I was simultaneously reading a sci-fi and a fantasy but neither of them was really doing anything for me. I think I’d had a overdose of that genre. I don’t think I would have enjoyed the Sapporo Outbreak nearly as much if I hadn’t been hanging out for a thriller.

Quickly, what I liked about the novel was:

  1. The believable main character. In fact every character the author painted, even if they were only going to have a minimal role, had a background to explain their actions.
  2. The idea – unique enough to interest with an additional “too close to home factor”.
  3. The author managed to surprise me a number of times. I wasn’t very accurate when I tried to predict what was going to happen.

What I didn’t like:

Towards the end the main character and his love interest risk their lives to try and save that of someone else. The whole enterprise seems to have been a waste of time, because what they went to fetch is never actually used (from my memory).

I’m going to give this novel a 3.5/5.


“If you could meet anyone, who would it be?”

That was Scott Baker’s elevator pitch for The Rule of Knowledge, which he gave to the audience at an event on blockbusters at the Sydney Writers’ Festival.

I’m not sure the pitch, as catchy as it is, really described the essence of the novel.

The book follows the adventures of a school teacher, Shaun, who likes to write physics papers about the space time continuum in his free time. Theoretically, he believes time travel is possible. But there’s one big practical issue that makes him think it can’t be done in the real world.

He is invited to go to England to present on his ideas, but on the way he and his wife run into a hobo. The hobo has a diary on him which catapults Shaun into a race for his life from mysterious gunmen. The diary reveals that someone has managed to solve Shaun’s problem – time travel is possible. In fact an agent has already gone back in time to Ancient Rome to interview one of the most important people in history.

The gunmen want that interview. And now Shaun has seen the diary, they want him dead.

The question Baker raised at the festival – if you could meet anyone in history, who would it be – never really rises in the book, which sets out clearly who Baker believes that person would be. Instead I feel the story was more about: “If someone changed history, what would that mean?” or even “If you don’t see something happen, did it?”

Because the book is a time travelling thriller, it inevitably becomes a bit of an Inception-type brain teaser where you try and figure out what it means for the present if someone goes into the past and sets off a new chain of events. Indeed, Shaun’s time travelling experience becomes a convoluted Möbius strip.

I personally don’t like it when time travel novels do this, because I feel that surely the chain of events has to start somewhere. We can’t just have an infinite loop sustaining some desired status quo. Even so, it’s a very entertaining novel that surprised me more than I had expected. I also enjoyed the second narrative that plays out in Ancient Rome.

I’ve seen people criticise Baker for the historical accuracy of the novel, or lack thereof, but I have to say that I wasn’t in an historical fiction mindset when I read this. I was in a thriller mindset. Any inaccuracies passed me by in the spirit of entertainment.

Baker likes to describe the novel as a cross between Indiana Jones and Back to the Future. My advice would be: if you like American-style blockbuster thrillers, read this book. If you like historical fiction, don’t. I’m giving it a 4/5.

Baker has worked in the film industry, so it’s not surprising that he has two awesome book trailers. Check them out:



Possibly my biggest disappointment since the year started.

ImageI grew up on Michael Crichton. The Andromeda Strain. Jurassic Park. Timeline. Airframe. I loved them all.

Crichton died in 2008 with the manuscript for Micro only part finished. His family recruited science writer Richard Preston, who finished the novel using part written by Crichton and a handful of notebooks.

Oddly enough, another of the books that I remember well from my childhood was written by Preston — The Hot Zone, a non-fiction about the Ebola virus. I found it fascinating and so frightening it gave me nightmares about being stuck in a warehouse full of monkey cages with one animal loose.

You’d think I’d have to love a book by two authors I’d enjoyed before. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

Micro is about some scientists who are recruited by a growing technology company that has discovered how to shrink people — ostensibly to facilitate research of the “microworld”. The company’s CEO has murdered some people to try and keep truths from being aired. When the scientists discover what he’s done, they are shrunk and released in the Hawaiian rainforest where they have to contend with all sorts of insects that are much bigger than they are and very dangerous.

It seems like the perfect Crichton-type plot. Unfortunately, I felt the execution left much to be desired. Although packed with action, none of that action built any suspense. People died often and suddenly without me feeling a jot for them. To me, this meant something went wrong with the characterisation. The only character I identified with was one of the casualties, alienating me for the rest of the book.

I’m going to give this one a 2/5. Read their other books instead.

Thirst is a competent thriller that ticks all the boxes but is somehow lacking in that page-turning vibe that keeps you shackled to its story.


The story is made interesting because it’s an environmental thriller, so deals with current, very relevant issues. The ending also gets my marks for being original.

Its narrative stays mainly in Antarctica, where a group of scientists stumble on a set of Chinese aggressors who plan to mine a glacier for water. The scientists are in the way of the plan and are murdered. Or at least the aggressors think so. Glaciologist Luke Searle and research station head Maddy escape the fire meant to kill them. They set out across the ice into deadly and freezing conditions — they must find shelter or die.

Their attackers are still on their trail and capture Maddy, who learns that mining the glacier for ice is only the start of the Chinese plans. What is ultimately intended could destroy the world’s climate irreparably. Luke must rescue Maddy and save the world, before the terrible plan can be put into action, which will result in sea level increases high enough to drown cities.

I loved the descriptions in this book of the ice and the abandoned stations the protagonists slept in. I also really enjoyed the hero, Luke, who was the kind of tall, strong, male character I love. But I almost received no vibe from Maddy, much preferring how Larkin presented a peripheral character back in Sydney.

There were also points in the novel where I felt the characters’ motivations for their actions were dubious. For example, the villain’s reasons for keeping Maddy alive are not believable. There’s one point where she overhears the whole extent the dastardly plan and the villain thinks “it was time to get rid of her”, yet he doesn’t. If he’d really made that decision, he should and would in my opinion have done it immediately.

I also find it hard to believe that a Russian who helps Luke would have done so from the good of his heart. It was a mission that could have ended in his death and I just didn’t feel that the tie between Luke and the Russian was strong enough to warrant the help.

And although I know the author is fully aware of how dangerous Antarctica can be if you don’t have appropriate equipment or shelter, I don’t think she drove the point home quite far enough. We don’t really feel the cold in our own bones as they’re fighting for their life, or appreciate the characters’ fear of being a small human that doesn’t mean a thing to the cold and cruel face of nature. Perhaps this is because Luke feels at home in Antarctica. But we as the reader need to be afraid for him. I wasn’t.

Still, it was a rollicking, entertaining yarn. I’m going to give the book a 3/5.