With a Mind to Kill by Anthony Horowitz

Anthony Horowitz has carved himself a nice little here: crafting well-researched thrillers casting 007 as the central character. Cleverly, Horowitz sets the stories in the fifties/sixties: the Cold War is entering its chilly stage, and the villains Bond faces are nationalistic (as is Bond) and ruthless, but lack unlimited funding and invisible cars (as does Bond).

The story picks up where The Man Golden Gun leaves off: Bond suffers a head injury during his mission to kill Scaramanga. He falls into the hands of the KGB who torture him, brainwash him, then dispatch him to London to murder the head of MI6, his boss, known as ‘M’.

The plan fails, Bond is reprogrammed, and is then sent back to Moscow to foil a plot to increase tensions between Russia and the west.

Needless to say, I enjoyed it. The book is written in Horowitz’s terse, workmanlike style, with little time given to flowery prose and literary navel-gazing. He does set the scene well though, with detailed descriptions of Russian locations that help reinforce the realism. The pace is moderately fast, helped by the lack of superfluous detail. Bear in mind, however, this is set in the sixties, so Bond’s attitude to women is very much of the time – and that’s not too dissimilar to his attitude towards Russians.

If you’re a Bond fan, then this book won’t disappoint.

Noumenon Ultra by Marina J. Lostetter

Well, it’s taken a while, but I’ve finished the Noumenon Trilogy, and it really has been an epic journey (for me, as well as the writer).

The story of the explorers continues where Noumenon Infinity left us: the explorers and their sentient computer have settled on Noumenon, where they discover an entirely new native species has begun to evolve. Together, they continue the work of the original designers of the alien megastructures, even if they’re not entirely sure the effect they will have on the galaxy when they’re switched on.

Noumenon Ultra
Noumenon Ultra

As it turns out, the true purpose of the megastructure machine is bigger than any of them imagined, and will, eventually, lead mankind to its ultimate exploration mission.

And that’s all I’m going to say; anything more would spoil it for you.

What I will say is this: Noumenon Ultra is the most complicated book in the deepest, most highly structured trilogy I’ve ever read. Now that I’ve reached the end, I can look back and really appreciate what Lostetter has crafted here: the sense of place; the depth of characterisation; the sheer number of characters and the time and care allotted to each of them.

And yes, there were places where I got lost in the prose – though this was probably due to my lack of attention rather than any shortcomings in the writing.

But the ending! Good grief, the ending …! Perfect! Stunning! Literally, brought a tear to the eye.

I get that with all the distractions we’re facing these days, folk feel they don’t have the time to invest in a good science-fiction epic. Well … invest in this one – but don’t attempt to read all three back to back; allow time for your brain to cool down between each book.

Verdict: Epic!