By David Dent
Hill’s fourth sci-fi novel occupies the same setting as his other three. A very near-future earth where technology has moved on incrementally but not unrecognisably; driverless cars, GM foods, and a network of social media now fully transparent to the extent that casual searches for an individual are directly notified to the person searched for.
Freya is a journalist whose career is going nowhere fast, quickly followed by her personal life (a broken relationship forcing her to move back in with her parents).
Searching for a story, she gatecrashes the funeral of Stephen Parsons, an amateur rock climber who died falling off the top of a tall building after a drunken night out – except Parsons didn’t drink. Seeking a bigger story, Freya starts snooping around the local climbing centre for leads and meets Shep, a steeplejack, who knew Stephen.
Her hunch that something odd is afoot is confirmed when she finds out that both men were keen urban explorers, and that Parsons and his girlfriend Alba had previously broken into an abandoned bunker, with Stephen posting unusual photos of a nestlike formation at the site on a webpage.
Increasingly interested, Shep takes Freya to the bunker, and the subsequent encounter with a force inside changes both their lives, particularly as the former takes something from the heart of the disturbance.
“If you disturb a nest, you take responsibility for its children,” someone mentions, and Shep learns first hand that he is the incubator of something which is changing him mentally and physically, changes which become more apparent when he is selected to join a team to work on a prototype of a space elevator, a project which Freya gets to cover for a magazine, although her real intention being to re-connect with Shep.
“Scraps, glimpses, hinted-at fragments,” is how someone describes what Freya has learned, and it’s a pretty good description of how Hill spins his story of a very strange world domination. The thing inside the bunker, hidden there by a gardener after it wreaks havoc in a nearby greenhouse, is never explained: it could be alien or genetically modified, and likewise, the impact it has on those who come into contact while transforming them, seems to be random. If this is an alien takeover it’s one done by chance, rather like a mutating virus.
This makes Hill’s book at times an infuriating read, so accustomed are we to neat solutions, but like book’s near-future world, everything is designed yet messy, chance and causality working together. ‘The Breach’ contains some haunting imagery and some very unsettling sequences – Freya’s visit to Alba and her young baby a particular standout.
You emerge from the book rather shaken, and definitely not feeling that the world is becoming a better place. It’s a stunning read, but tread carefully – this won’t be for everyone.
Oh and delete your internet search history regularly…while you still can.
The Breach by M.T Hill is available now in paperback and on Amazon Kindle.