Book review: UBO – Steve Rasnic Tem

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‘UBO’ is a superb story by Steve Rasnic Tem. It’s a sci-fi novel, though it does have strong horror elements to it as well. It follows a group of men trapped inside of a research facility. Are they on Earth or some other planet in a galaxy far, far away? Who are the man-size cockroaches that run the facility? ( yep, that’s right, man-size cockroaches!), and why are they subjecting the prisoners to a sort of mind-swap program? And why are they are sent back in time into the consciousness of some of history’s most vile characters. Characters such as Joseph Stalin, Jack the ripper and Gilles de Rais amongst others.

The main character in the story is Daniel. Daniel is determined to find out what is happening, why he is there and where “there” is. Are the cockroaches looking to take over the Earth? Are they using the men as guinea pigs trying to discover what makes humankind tick?

‘UBO’ asks many questions and the reveal is something that took me by surprise, though looking back I realise there were numerous clues scattered throughout the book. The first half of the book has Daniel injected into these numerous personalities and what he experiences is translated very well through the descriptions. I particularly enjoyed the return to Whitechapel, through the eyes of Jack the Ripper. The imagery here is superb, as is the dialogue and the descriptions of the murders are gruesome and horrifying, as you can imagine. However, these scenes almost pale in comparison with the horrifying gas chamber scene where hundreds of Jews are executed inside the camps during the second world war. This scene broke my heart to think that human beings actually did something like this. It really is a very strong scene in an excellent book.

The characters in this book are excellent too. We get a glimpse into each mans past, how they came to be there. Each person has a different voice and personality. Aside from Daniel, I found Falstaff to be the most intriguing. He is a shady character and you never really know which side he is on as he seems to hold a lot of information on the roaches and  consequently nobody ever truly trusts him.

Midway through the second half of the book things began to click into place and I understood what the subtext surrounding the story was a reflection of. Good science-fiction should be though provoking and ‘UBO’ definitely is that. The writing is very strong and I easily became emotionally involved with the story as it moved towards its conclusion. I thoroughly enjoyed this thoughtful and emotional book. It looks at what it means to be human and also makes you look long and hard at our history as a species, what we have done and what we could still become?

5 stars

Pick up a copy from here.

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