Released: September 2014
Young author Alexander Maskill has created a promising debut in first novel The Hive Construct, a political cyberpunk tale set against the backdrop of future-Sahara, where cities and their population thrive on technology to survive.
The novel focuses on Zala, a young hacker in “New Cairo” caught in the middle of a viral epidemic – but this virus is not biological. It wreaks havoc on cyberspace, threatening to destroy the poorer parts of the city. What’s important to her is not just to stop the virus before it does any lasting damage, but to find out why it was bled into the lower classes and who, or what, is responsible.
Winner of the 2013 Terry Pratchett prize, The Hive Construct has some bold themes, both politically and personally. In our world, we’re still reeling from the recent Ebola crisis, not to mention the political tensions across the Middle East and Russia. Maskill’s decision to place this in the Middle East is a clever move and it’s really refreshing to read cyber-themed science fiction that isn’t set in the West. Indeed, the political themes of the novel are mirrored strongly with what is going on in today’s headlines: families torn apart by war, spokespeople for freedom of speech being targeted by our governments, disease and poverty.
It’s a rich and arresting concept; Maskill, at the beginning of the novel, spends a lot of time focused on world-building and developing the physicality of his characters and their surroundings. While it does paint a vivid picture, it can get a little fussy, taking away from the main events at hand. The action kicks in halfway through, but by then, some less patient readers may not stay for it. I urge you to read on though – Maskill’s skill of imagination more than makes up for the slow start.
What makes this book so interesting is the fact that it seems plausible – smart science fiction doesn’t always have to be fantastical. Another winning point for me was the female protagonist, who is a well-rounded character with a kickass skillset, a strong woman with believable, emotional realism that is unfortunately lost in some other works in this genre.
The Hive Construct is a fantastic first novel from a great young writer who I’m sure has a long career ahead of him.