Book reviews, new books, publishing news, book giveaways, and author interviews

Review: 0.4 by Mike Lancaster

0.4 mike lancaster1 Review: 0.4 by Mike Lancaster

In More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon gave us a world in which humans progress towards a gestalt 'consciousness, where individuals blend together to become more than the sum of their parts. Its a fascinating idea, and savvy readers would know that the toying with humanitys role and place as a species, as well as the inevitably destructive results of our progress-oriented hubris, has long been examined in speculative fiction. Its a trope that appears throughout both the classics and contemporary fiction, with famous works such as Frankenstein examining the forces of science and the relentless push for knowledge; those such as The Day of the Triffids, with a milieu arising from humanitys arrogance and yet turning full circle with a desire to conquer and better themselves once more; and even in eerie allegorical invasion works such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

But in 0.4 Mike Lancaster gives us something else again. Its a nod to all of the above, and draws on the by now familiar narrative format of the diary, seen in works such as Flowers for Algernon, 1984, and Zamyatins Wealbeit in this case the diary is in audio cassette format. The novel briefly chronicles a few months in the life of Kyle Straker, a young boy whose presence is now purely historical. Kyles story is at first mundane, focused on those unmemorable but omnipresent issues concerning most teenaged boys: family woes, tension over a girl, academic responsibilities. But things abruptly take a turn during the annual school talent show, during which Kyle is briefly hypnotised. And just like Bill Masen in the Triffids, he awakes to find himself in an entirely alien world. Only in Kyles case, its he who becomes the alien

My thoughts

0.4 is not a flawless work, but its an ambitious one that draws carefully on many of the classic speculative works, and I could see it being used as a springboard into some more challenging fare. Perhaps the weakness of the book is its slightness: despite running at 300 pages, the actual content is minimal, with probably more time than necessary being spent on the pre-invasion elements. This unfortunately means that the meaty existential and philosophical questions raised later on are only touched on (the novel of course is part of a series, so perhaps this one is marketings way of testing the waters before launching right in?).

Still, Lancaster does a commendable job of creating a scenario that is utterly believable, and although superficially less chilling than something like Bodysnatchers, is equally as arresting. Where Bodysnatchers involves the relentless seeking out, and subsequent snuffing out, of humans, 0.4s heroes are bypassed, overlooked: they are a minority group who fail to meet the norms of a new dominant group, and are thus simply set aside until they cease to exist.'Whats fascinating about Lancasters narrative, though, is that the eponymous 0.4 are given a choice in the type of existence they wish to lead, and having declined it theyre not subjected to a punishment as suchtheir punishment is their chilling redundancy in a world that no longer needs them.'While Im loath to give away the clever twist Lancaster employs, its reminiscent of the relationship between historical invasions: the supraordinate culture gradually dominating the minority culture until it becomes a mere figment.

Lancasters take on the reason behind the invasionand not to mention the purpose of itis also interesting food for thought, and raises the question of humanitys value as a whole, but also its place within a wider microcosm. Our bent towards (unfounded) hubris and arrogance is touched upon, as is our notion of agency, and how easily this can be underminedand in such a variety of ways. Its a sign of our times, one supposes, that rather than the fear of invasion, worked over so constantly during the myriad Cold War era novels mentioned above, todays underlying societal fear is one of obsolescence, of being made redundant, or even usurped by some scarcely considered force (certain developing world powers come to mind here).

While the concept is a striking one, the book does suffer a little in execution. The cassette tape narrative for the most part works well, but the frequently interspersed editorial notes, though often witty (and winning bonus points for referencing Stargate SG 1), detract a little from the otherwise eerie tone of the book. Lancaster is evidently attempting to inject a little levity, but given his likeable everyman main character and his laid-back narrative voice, Im not sure that this was needed, and feel that it will ultimately date an otherwise strong book. The pacing, too, is an issue, with things starting slowly before speeding up to a rip-snorting speed for the climax, which actually occurs right where the book should truly begin. This abrupt ending makes the book feel rather as though it has been snipped in half to meet an arbitrary page count rather than to serve any true narrative need, and it weakens the novels strength somewhat. The characterisation is a little on the weak side, tooa common issue when such a likeable everyday character with little inclination towards self-examination or towards the assessment of others around him takes up the leading roleand there are a few painful cliches (such as Mr Petersons sob-story past) that rather blatantly toy with the audiences emotions.


0.4 is a smart debut that brings with it all of the classic tropes, as well as some novel thoughts of its own. This genre is clearly one with which Lancaster is familiar, and it shows in his approach to the subject matter. After a slow beginning, the novel zips along at a decent clip, so if youre an impatient reader, hold in there while things get going. While its true that the characterisation and prose style are a little on the weak side, the ideas here make this slim novel a worthy read.

Rating: star Review: 0.4 by Mike Lancasterstar Review: 0.4 by Mike Lancasterstar Review: 0.4 by Mike Lancasterhalfstar Review: 0.4 by Mike Lancasterblankstar Review: 0.4 by Mike Lancaster (very good)

With thanks to Hardie Grant Egmont Australia for the review copy

Purchase 0.4 from Amazon | Book Depository UK | Book Depository USA

pixel Review: 0.4 by Mike Lancaster


  1. I have just been writing up my own thoughts about this one. I was surprised how young this book readit didnt feel YA to me, but rather a great one for eleven or twelve year olds. And for that audience, some of the things you found to be weakness (the interjections and asides, the slow build up, even the things that read as cliches to a more experienced reader), might actually work to make this a more engaging book (although I agree-Mr. Petersons story did little for me. I wonder if the author was going for a metaphor and didnt quite pull it off?
    Charlotte recently posted..This weeks round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction

  2. Stephanie /

    Hi Charlotte, thanks for your thoughtful comment. :)

    You make some good points, and now that I think about it, you might have pinpointed the reason why some elements of this book didnt work for me. I had a similar issue with an otherwise great book (Ondine by Ebony McKenna) last yearit was pitched at YA, and had a YA-aged MC, but was firmly MG in tone and plot.

    Thanks for pointing out these issues!

  3. Re:the comments above: I have a really hard time telling MG and YA books apart if they dont have multiple elements that firmly stick them in one age or another! Its like, wheres the divide between young YA books and MG books? Or older YA books and teen? Are teen and YA the same thing? Where does MG stop and childrens begin?

    Usually I try to figure things out by a) how old the protagonist(s) are and b) how steamy the romance is (if theres romance) but not even thats a good indicator since there are some YA books that star 19-year-olds (and older!) and, just. Its kind of annoying! At least with genres you can say a books a fantasy romance with a bit of sci-fi or something. :P Ages are much tougher.
    Anastasia @ Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog recently posted..Commonplace Post (18)

    • Stephanie /

      Great points, Anastasia. I think it can be a really tough call sometimes, particularly when a book is upper MG or early YA. I read a great post recently on this very topic, but I cant find it again, Im afraid. One of the key differentiating factors was that with MG, the key propelling factors tend to be external, whereas in YA theres more of an internal/emotional journey. Regarding age as a factor, Ive read some books where the protagonists are very young, but the book is clearly for YA, or even for adultsso that can be a tough one!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

CommentLuv badge

Add us to your Google reader: Add to Google

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers