Review by C.J. Bunce
Rod Serling, eat your heart out. Black Mirror and The Twilight Zone writers could take some pointers from Eddie Robson′s new novel, Hearts of Oak. It’s a far-out science fiction novel with all the right notes of a good supernatural fantasy. And it has an easy pace and an impending, looming darkness waiting ahead that will keep you planted firmly in your seat until you get to the last page. Borrowing its title from the popular, age-old song of the British Navy, here the cryptic “hearts of oak” says a lot about the rollercoaster ride for readers that lies ahead.
Taking a cue from the stark, detached, and quirky science fiction mysteries of Adam Christopher’s robot detective in books like Killing is My Business (reviewed previously here at borg), readers, and the protagonists, never quite know what is real and who is real. What we do know is Iona Taylor has been an architect so long everyone knows her and respects her as the very best there is. But she is having a particularly bad week as her colleague has died in the collapse of a building. As she contemplates attending his funeral a new student inquires about private tutoring, and when the student leaves her hat behind the feeling of felt texture in the hat conjures something surreal for Iona–a strange feeling tugging at her, maybe even loosening some long forgotten memories. After a strange event at the funeral and the destruction of yet another building, Iona is called by the authorities not for her advice, but for questioning, becoming a target of the investigation. When the prospective student vanishes, Iona must play detective to clear herself, but she might not like what she finds.
Eddie Robson, a writer of Doctor Who and other radio plays and non-fiction works about movies, is a good storyteller. His narrative reads like a fantasy fable of a king with a talking cat who advises him, in an enchanted city of expansive buildings and replenished resources centered around creating ever higher architecture so the king may relocate his rooms at the very top. The book evokes parts of great science fiction stories and films of the past without pulling too much from any of them. But fans of all these works will find some surprisingly good fun in Hearts of Oak: Planet of the Apes, Tron: Legacy, Humans, Alien, Snowpiercer, The Truman Show, Philip K. Dick’s Time Out of Joint, a flip on Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan and The Matrix, and a few episodes of your favorite sci-fi TV shows, especially The Twilight Zone.
Hearts of Oak actually has two points of dread as readers crash into the story’s final pages–a fear for what is in store, and a fear that the author might not stick the landing. So it’s a doubly satisfying arrival for the journey when Robson weaves all of the components together just right.
We’re only in January, but Hearts of Oak will be a contender for the year’s best sci-fi read. A highly recommended read, Hearts of Oak doesn’t arrive in bookstores in the U.S. until March 2020, but it’s available for pre-order now here at Amazon.