Fiction Reviews

The Extinction Trails

(2021) A. G. Riddle, Head of Zeus, £8.99, pbk, 441pp, ISBN 978-1-803-28165-0


Seasoned fireman Owen Watts hates the way buildings and city artificial intelligence as well as bots are slowly making his work redundant and more about simply comforting victims. Then the bots and AIs malfunction in the midst of an incident, which, it transpires, is also city-wide!

He wakes up to find himself in an underground facility with few other strangers. Apparently, the world has undergone 'the Change' and that he and they are part of a scientific experiment to restore the human race. However, the world has changed dramatically: lethal storms occasionally manifest themselves; the world is devoid of animals; and civilisation as they know it is gone.

With just a few clues, they have to journey to find other survivors and find out exactly what is happening. Yet many of their number have secrets of their own…

Riddle hews gung-ho, SF thriller romps that crack along and this is another. They are proverbial page-turners, though it has to be said it is best not to think about their plots too much. This one is a great read right up to the last few chapters. These would have been far better served without the science fictional big reveals so common to mid-twentieth century SF: you know the sort of thing – think Planet of the Apes of Canticle for Leibowitz, though The Extinction Trials is no way as sophisticated as the latter. In this case the reveals do not add to the plot or resolve matters but tangentially wrap the novel up in a nice, happy-ending bow: the good guys – and by now it has been demonstrated through the trials that they really are the good guys – win and go on to live happily ever after. (This is not a spoiler; this is Riddle on form.)

What The Extinction Trials is, is what Brian Aldiss calls a 'cosy catastrophe'. For – though it is the end of the world as you know it – our protagonists travel from one sanctuary to another as they follow the breadcrumb clues.

While this may not be SF at anywhere near its finest – I can't see Riddle ever getting short-listed for a major SF award unless he ups his game big time – it is nonetheless an entertaining read and the man does have his followers having apparently sold nearly five million copies. If this is true then that means on average his novels each sell around half a million copies: the man does not need awards, he has plenty of folks who travel and go to the beach.

Could it be that you will become one of his readers?

Jonathan Cowie


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