Author: Matt Hill
Publisher: Angry Robot
In a sci-fi novel, a vision of the reasonably near future needs to contain certain things in order to compel. Good writers plunge the depths of their imaginations to present the fantastical, outlandish and strange – but this must be tied to a semblance of familiarity that readers can relate to, whether via sympathetic characters, known locations or pertinent concepts.
The best writers manage all this when creating their universe, and sustain a well-paced plotline throughout their books. When Graft is held up to these criteria, the results suggest that Matt Hill is an extremely talented author indeed, but there is scope for further development yet.
In Manchester 2025, mechanics Sol and Irish steal old vehicles to glean a profit from their spare parts. When Sol discovers Y – a mute, three-armed woman in the boot of one thieved car, bound up like lifeless cargo – his impulse to protect her finds him embroiled in a violent world of illegal trafficking. Further complications ensue as Sol encounters Roy, a volatile hitman with cloudy motives. Meanwhile, Sol’s ex-girlfriend Mel is willing to go to extreme lengths to protect her brothel business.
Like Sol, the reader is far from knowing precisely what’s going on, but the universe of Graft becomes more fleshed out – there is a solid foundation from which to ponder.
With various strands of story which later intertwine, Graft should be a fluid read from the get-go. Disparate sections that jump from character to character should provide a captivating range of plot threads for the reader, but are initially too erratic.
Sustained focus in unbalanced areas mean the reader isn’t quite sure where to invest their interest. Any attempt at suspense is abandoned when links between separate characters, for example Sol and Mel, are established too quickly. Consequently, the beginnings of the book come across as rather precarious. The author’s efforts to conjure up his world are almost palpable, and the characters are initially too distant and fragmented to identify with fully.
Fortunately, Graft’s teething problems soon fall away. Hill seems to find his feet after the first quarter, when he concentrates more on plot and less on exposition. By this time, the main ties of the story are more closely aligned, and it is evident which aspects are supposed to be shrouded in mystery. Like Sol, the reader is far from knowing precisely what’s going on, but the universe of Graft becomes more fleshed out – there is a solid foundation from which to ponder.
The sooty grit of [Hill’s] 2025 Manchester practically coats the reader’s hands.
As soon as he hits his stride, Hill’s prose is an utter dream. His descriptions of the grime, the oil, the smoke and the dark become effortless seamlessly integrates them into an exciting, inviting plot; the sooty grit of his 2025 Manchester practically coats the reader’s hands. His structuring becomes more confident, and throughout the middle of the book he strikes a perfect balance between the various strands of narrative. Explorations of characters’ pasts that seemed disjointed at the start become much more naturally intertwined, as they are richly relevant to the current events.
Hill’s pacing is brilliant in its execution. A series of coincidences leads to Sol’s very deep involvement in a dangerous world. He is forced to be constantly on the move, leading the reader through an array of settings and characters as his quest to help Y accrues more impetus.
It is Sol’s relationship with Y that forms a raw, beating heart within the novel. Sol is an easily likeable person, and a mix of complex motivations and sympathetic character flaws make his instinctive bond with Y genuinely heart-warming.
Hill has devised a magnificent universe, clever concepts and enthralling characters, but speeds too quickly towards the culminating confrontation.
Meanwhile, despite her many sufferings, Y is no simple damsel in distress. Her humour, knowledge and ferocity shine; she is a fascinating figure, taciturn or not. The most tender moments of the novel are when Sol and Y are alone, and largely silent. Their sentiments resonate so strongly through Hill’s careful descriptions and subtle imagery that they scarcely need to speak themselves.
Unfortunately, the novel’s close is not entirely satisfying. Sol and Y’s compassionate affinity is mostly left in the dust. Unanswered questions about Graft’s cosmology and capacity for multiple dimensions are more frustrating than intriguing. Mel is the only character to receive some remnant of real closure, although even this is a bit contrived. Hill has devised a magnificent universe, clever concepts and enthralling characters, but speeds too quickly towards the culminating confrontation. As a result, Graft sadly loses its trajectory.
If Hill were open to writing a sequel, it would be gratefully received – not least for the possibility of answers to Graft’s lingering questions. Perhaps with this book established, a further story would be more robustly structured.
More importantly than that, though, the world of Graft is a fascinating place to be. Hill’s deft writing immerses the reader in an abrasive, desperate universe, where corruption is rife and ethics are murky. Sol and Y are striving to get by, despite the avalanches of callousness and greed thrown their way, and their efforts are achingly relatable. Graft is dark and perilous, but it contains pure beams of love and beauty which gleam well beyond the final page.
Graft will be released on 11th February 2016. Read our Q&A with author Matt Hill.