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Nick Wood’s Azanian Bridges included on The Guardian’s best science fiction list

Azanian BridgesVerdict: carrot

Nick Wood’s debut novel, Azanian Bridges (NewCon, £11.99), fuses two well-used SF tropes – alternate history and a single technological invention – to great effect. We are in near-future South Africa and the country is still suffering under the grinding oppression of apartheid. Clinical psychologist Martin Van Deventer has invented a device, the Empathy Enhancer, which allows the user to enter the head of a subject and experience their thoughts, emotions and memories. When he helps Sibusiso Mchunu overcome post‑traumatic stress disorder with the machine, events escalate and Sibusiso appropriates the device and flees to Zambia. The ANC want the Empathy Enhancer as an aid to assist the dismantling of apartheid, while the government are after it as a tool in interrogation. What follows is a fast-paced thriller, an intelligent examination of prejudice in all its forms and a convincing portrayal of characters under extreme stress.

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