Saturday, March 31, 2018

Book Review UBO by Steve Rasnic Tem

UBO by Steve Rasnic Tem

Paperback, 320 pages

Published February 2017 by Solaris

Literary Awards:

Bram Stoker Award Nominee for Best Novel (2017)

This book is not for everyone but it sure as hell was for me. Steve Rasnic Tem is a veteran of the horror field. He is a past winner of the Bram Stoker, International Horror Guild, British Fantasy, and World Fantasy Awards. There is no doubting his skill. What he produced here is a brutal blackest black of science fiction horror novels that delivers a healthy dose of what the fuck. The first half felt like a bastard hybrid of Dark City and the the early seventies film Punishment Park. The whole book sets up a super dark mystery that once the reveals come will have you delightfully scratching your head.

UBO is an excellent example of a novel that is both science fiction and horror in equal measure. It takes a certain kind of reader but I for one found the haunting darkness of UBO to be beautiful in the level of pitch black tone it achieves. I went into the book blind about the story and was thankful that I did. So if you trust me I suggest you stop here, buy the book (or get it from your library) and come back to this review when you have read it.

OK minor spoiler warning...

UBO is a story seen through the eyes of Daniel a prisoner in Ubo. He and the other prisoners have vague memories of a life before Ubo, his family, but he doesn't know where or when Ubo is. Is it another time or world? he can't say but the prison guards are not human, they are giant cockroaches, and what view they have is of a destroyed landscape. The Roaches are not just holding them in this horrible place feeding them just enough flavorless protein paste to keep them alive, they are also using them for experiments.

These experiments involve mind swapping with some of the most notorious murders through out history. From Charles Whitman, Heinrich Himmler to Jack the Ripper. Daniel and the residents are subjected to live through the memories of the greatest killers some times more than once. The worst part is they are simply passengers. This makes these chapters hard to read in totally different way than the ones than the set-up taking place in Ubo, but the combination provides the story with a context that are bread crumbs leading to the reveal.

Daniel is a excellent point of view character and despite the limited amount of time they appear in the story the other characters are very well written. In the second half of the novel the story took a turn I was not expecting. I think personally I enjoyed the first half a tad more than the second half that seemed to go more hard sci-fi than surreal. There is no doubting that the novel was a masterpiece. I don't say that word lightly.

The first half of the book has a mystery as powerful as the setting, and that is saying something. When you mix the "I want to shoot myself" grim tone of Macarthy's The Road, with the political concepts and sheer "what the fuck is real?" of Philip K Dick you earned the word masterpiece. Read this now.

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