If you buy one book this year make it this one. And also read more, that’s pathetic.
I have always banged on about writing fiction but have never actually published any. It isn’t about the thrill of seeing my name in print – my first job was in journalism, so that’s hardly a novelty. I lived for a couple of years writing for magazines in Bangkok recently and it’s a good lifestyle but not really what I wanted to do. It’s a bit dissatisfying writing for an editor and being told what to do and having to conform to the magazine or paper’s house style. That’s partly why I like my sites as I can just dick about.
I wanted to write fiction and I’ve finally got round to doing it. It isn’t the book I’ve been promising since I was 10 years old but it is A book. A short book. Three short stories in fact. I’ve written tons of short stories, they are fun to write and you don’t have to plan as much as you do with a full length novel. So I decided to group a few stories together and sell each little group for a pittance. That’s right. A pittance. Surely you can afford that? It’s not an excuse if you don’t have a kindle either. You can download the kindle app for free and read them on your computer, your phone, your iPad or whatever. For the cost of a fifth of a pint I’ll be disappointed if you don’t and will probabby shun you.
I found three stories that already had a sort of theme – time. Although they concern our passage through time they are all set in the modern age. There’s no travelling back and fighting dinosaurs or saving Kennedy or anything. They are more about people. Here’s the blurb:
Stephen Hawking once sent out dinner invitations to all future time travellers. No one turned up. But what if one had? In ‘A Date to Remember’ a young physicist is convinced he has worked out the secret to building a time travel device. Lacking the resources to construct the machine he sets a time and date for a meeting with his future self.
It is a truism that people remember the big events in life and forget the repetitive. For most people, their year skips by unnoticed, punctuated by birthdays, world events, big personal milestones or traumatic events. As you age life seems to speed up and you find that the years seem to fly past. ‘As Time Goes By’ is the story of Frank Gilbert who is experiencing this to the extreme. His time seems to be accelerating at an abnormal rate. Years of his repetitive life seem to go by in days. Can he break the cycle in time?
The final and longest short story is ‘The Man Who Loved Statues’. Captain Michael Pike is a man who has taken a bit of hammering in life. With nothing much to live for he volunteers for an experiment that is going to attempt to alter his passage through time and put him in stasis. Things don’t go quite according to plan.
So there you go. Give them a try. Here are the links.
For the US:
For the UK:
Robert Harris’s latest book The Fear Index is a thriller set in the exciting world of high finance and computing. The fact that it is genuinely thrilling, given the topics, is testament to Harris’s skill.
The story revolves around a genius boffin physicist called Dr Alex Hoffman who creates a program that can learn, analyse and help pick stocks and shares. Essentially it’s an AI stock trader. The program looks at data and learns how to predict when stockbrokers are getting particularly jittery. As I have written before, traders are very easily panicked but if you could predict what stock they were about to crap themselves about before the market does, you could make a fortune by shorting stock (essentially a bet that the share price will go down).
The program works brilliantly and keeps getting better and soon Hoffman and his business partner are making so much cash it would cause an anti-capitalist to have an instant nervous breakdown. But strange things are happening at home - Hoffman is attacked by an intruder in his house and he receives a first edition Darwin book from someone.
I can’t relate any more of the story but it is a thriller so you should know it gets very exciting.
I have been trading for about 6 months now, so am a mega expert on how the markets work and the terminology used, but don’t worry. Mr Harris explains everything very well. The financial stuff is just background anyway. Think of this book as more of a Michael Crichton techno type of novel.
I enjoyed The Fear Index. It was gripping, exciting and well written. Sadly there were a few things I felt let it down a tiny bit. The characters where slightly cliched. The scientist isn’t good at dealing with social situations and doesn’t care about money, just his work. His business partner is a good looking ex-London trader who lives a bachelor life, treats women as objects, and wants a really flash yacht. As with most fast-paced thrillers though, this doesn’t really matter.
The Fear Indexhas a number of themes it is trying to explore. These are all well and good but occasionally feel a bit hammered home by quotations. The AI is like a new lifeform that is learning and evolving. Theme: evolution - so there are lots of quotes from Darwin. Is the Doctor truly in control of his creation? Here’s a quote from Frankenstein. There are other quotes from people like Bill Gates and Clinton concerning people, fear, computers, etc. It could be argued that these quotes enhance the themes discussed and add new angles to the narrative but if that is the case then I felt the themes weren’t quite explored enough. Which is slightly contradictory, so ignore me.
To summarise, I would have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed The Fear Index. While I may have stated that it could have done with a bit more characterisation and exploration of themes (without the bullet-point feel of the quotes), it should be kept in mind that this is a thriller. It’s also set in the high-speed world of finance and computing and the events take place within a day. So in fact, job done. Enjoyable, interesting, fast-paced, and recommended. Enjoy.
Over the past month my life seems to have been filled with George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. It all started when I was in a bookshop in the Science Fiction section (with all the cool kids) and I noticed that the top five bestsellers in scifi were all from Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fireseries. I then read a review of the first book – A Game of Thrones, which was pretty gushing about how great it was. The final thing that happened was mentioning on facebook that Sean Bean drinks in my local pub and suddenly everyone was talking about the Game of Thrones
TV show and its general awesomeness.
So I caved and read the first book and have to say, it was pretty damned gripping. Epic fantasy of epic proportions and not a stupid elf in sight. You can read my review of it here: http://scifiward.com/?p=235
I then watched the entire TV show which was equally epic and extremely well done. I love these big budget TV shows and the added fact that it’s HBO is always a mark of quality. The cast was superb and even though I knew what was going to happen it was thoroughly enjoyable. Perhaps all the violence and unnecessary nudity did it for me, who knows. Boobs and gore, you can’t go wrong.
I then read the second bookwhich was also epic and awesome and am currently eagerly awaiting the second series.
What Martin has done is write some very convincing (mostly) characters that you start to empathise with and you end up wanting to know what is going to happen to them. That’s why it works so well on TV and in book form. The main thing that concerns me though is that books four and five are apparently a bit dull. This puts me in a quandary because if I read book three – which is actually two massive books for some reason – then I will feel the need to read books four and five. Especially if it turns out that the final two books are exciting.
I love books. I read about a book a week – that’s not a boast, it is a sad lament on how boring my job can be. They are marvelous things that make your house look cool and make you look smart. Even if they are just Clive Cussler or Dan Brown novels. (Well maybe, from a distance…)
Up until now, I have always loved the physical feeling of a book. Its weight, its smell, its hopefully exciting cover and blurb. The problem now is that I have hundreds and hundreds of the things. My parent’s attic has four huge boxes full of them (with more stashed elsewhere) and my mother-in-law’s spare room is similarly filled. My flat right now has piles of them everywhere, teetering in stacks. There was only one sensible solution: move to a huge house. Unfortunately I can’t afford that. Yet.
I love gadgets and recently downloaded the kindle app onto my iPad. It’s too big to fit in my pocket unfortunately, but I carry it nearly everywhere and hug it when I go to sleep. So I started reading books on it. Not as much as I would with actual books though. One reason for this is that like all computer screens it doesn’t like being outside.It’s a nerd at heart. I work weird hours and spend a lot of afternoons lazing around in parks, cafes and beer gardens and unfortunately that meant I couldn’t read on the iPad and had to carry a backup book. (I know, my life sucks.) Another problem with my weird hours is that I am often on trains late at night in London and while I am a tall, strapping and fearsome fellow, there is always the chance of attracting a mugger. I recently sat opposite four teenagers on the tube at midnight playing on my iPad and realised the attention I was getting was probably not due to awe of my magnificent hair.
I did realise however that when I thought back to the book I had just finished (it was Sharpe’s Tiger and was awesome), I couldn’t really tell whether I had read it in book form or electronic form. Obviously I knew it was eBook form but the only difference was what I was holding when I actually read it. The experience wasn’t lessened in any way at all. It was a superb read.
The upshot of all this wittering, is that I bought a kindle and I bloody love it. I get just as lost in a good book as I ever did. It fits in my pocket and I can take it everywhere. I’m currently reading the second book of Game of Thrones and the paperback definitely won’t fit in my pocket. I guess an analogy would be someone who loves collecting vinyl but also has an iPod. The experience is different but a superb album is still a superb album and it’s damned handy to be able to carry a collection around with you. I will still occasionally lie on a beach or in the bath and read a paper book, but for my everyday life the kindle is just awesome.
The only downside is that it is so horrendously easy to buy books. What’s even worse is that they are now putting classic science fiction on kindle – stuff that was hard to find in book shops. I wrote about the new Sf Gateway site on Scifiward in this post. It’s costing me a fortune. I’m running out of cash. I’m now forced to stay in. Luckily I now have a lot to read. I also have a lovely new shiny gadget.
When Perry Makepiece and Gail Perkins go on a tennis holiday to Antigua, they meet a Russian gangster type called Dima and his family. Dima wants to make a deal with the British Government and to do that he needs the holidaymakers to get in touch with the “right people”. Or spies to you and me. Soon Perry and Gail find themselves in basements in London, assignations in Paris, and safe houses in Switzerland.
It sounds pretty cool. I was expecting ‘The Man Who knew Too Much’ but more modern and with spies and a John le Carre twist. Except the book isn’t like that.
Many have hailed this as a ‘return to form’ and I guess it is in that le Carre has returned to spies and all the backhanded dealings that go on. He is clearly pissed off with bankers and corporate money screwing up the world but at its heart this is still a classic piece of spy thriller action. It is highly readable and entertaining.
There are a few things I didn’t like though. The first were the main characters. They are likeable enough but for some reason le Carre wanted them to be more working class as opposed to his usual public schoolboy types. This is fine except that he seems to have trouble writing characters that apparently come from the working classes. Peregrine Makepiece is an Oxford Don who loves to ski and play tennis and cricket. Gail Perkins is a lawyer who inherited a flat in the very posh Primrose Hill. They go on a tennis holiday in Antigua for Christ’s sake. It just didn’t gel in my head. What made it more confusing was that their background didn’t really matter for the story being told. They might as well have been middle class, they could keep the same personalities.
I also wasn’t all that keen on the pacing. The first third of the book is told in flashback as Perry and Gail are debriefed in London. The story’s plot just felt a bit jumpy.
Having said all that, this is a good book. If you like le Carre’s work you will likely enjoy this. I may have been a bit tinted by the fact that the last book I read of his was The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Which is awesome and a lot better. So an entertaining and well written ’return to form’ indeed. Just not one of his very best.
I have already written about the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and how exciting and page turning it is. I intended to write separate reviews for the Girl who Played with Fire and the Girl who Kicked the Hornets but decided not to. Instead I will review the second two books and assume you have read my previous review, and kind of wrap the whole thing up as a review of the trilogy.
This is partly because I am a complex character who doesn’t play by the rules. Mostly though, it is because the second two books follow on from each other in one big exciting story, using characters you know and love from the first one, which stands slightly separate.
A bit like the original Star Wars Trilogy, in other words.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Girl Who Played with Fire
The book starts with strangely-sexy-but-probably-not-someone-you’d-like-to-date Lisbeth Salander, who is on holiday. Following an incident on this holiday (which is utterly unrelated to anything else in the book and reads as a kind of ‘Adventures of Salander’ episode), she returns to Sweden. She is soon accused of multiple murder and goes on the run. Mikael Blomqvist (who shagged her for a bit in the first book), decides she is innocent and sets about saving her. Enter a mysterious man known as ‘Zalachenko’ and another mysterious man who is huge and a psycho and a bit like a Bond villain. Then enter excitement.
This book is superb. And I speak as someone who doesn’t read many thrillers. There are several superb scenes that have stuck with me until now and the book is annoyingly unputdownable. I looked forward to tube journeys so I could read, it was that exciting. It builds inexorably to a finale that’s brilliant and extreme. An ending that in my opinion is the best of the Millennium Trilogy, but I’m sure others might disagree.
Yup. The girl who kicked the metaphorical hornets’ nest is Lisbeth Salander. Actually, she kicked nest in the previous book and is now swiping at the hornets to stop being stung. But that probably didn’t sound as good to the publishers. In the third instalment of the Millennium Trilogy there is also a group of hornets who are secret hornets but are still connected to the original kicked nest. So to speak.
I will end the kicking hornets’ nests analogy now.
Basically, Salander is in a different kind of shit from the second book but things are still pretty hectic for her. Plus there are some new baddies.
This book carries on from the second one and has some similar awesomely thrilling moments. It’s hard to write about it too much without giving away story lines from book two. So I won’t.
As I mentioned before, I don’t read that many thrillers. I was thrilled by this and it may have ruined me for others. The story is genuinely gripping and you will find yourself spending hours reading and generally delaying your life until you have finished. The characters are superb, unique and memorable. The story is well plotted with about a million threads all tying up nicely.
I only have a few criticisms.
Characters – I’m sorry but there are too bloody many of them. If you don’t read all the books fairly soon after each other, it is possible you will get confused at parts. A few could easily have been cut out or consolidated.
There are also a few moments where situations feel a bit contrived or irrelevant. Some plot arcs have nothing to do with the main story at all and at other times there are a few chance sightings of people that happen a bit too frequently. It’s possible that this is common in thriller novels or in Stockholm, so I’ll shut up.
These niggles aside, the Millennium Trilogy is superb. It’s such a loss that Steig Larsson died just after finishing them as I would love to have read more.
If you are unconvinced and doubtful because of my tiny gripes, don’t be. One reason that I didn’t review the second book after reading it was because the moment it ended, I started on the third. And read it in two days. So did my wife.
Now that’s pretty gripping.
Derren Brown is as near to a Jedi as you can get. The mental attributes, not the physical ones. If he ever decides to become an Ultimate Fighter, he will be unstoppable. I’m sure he could just say, ‘Go to sleep’ and his opponent would collapse and he could then just put the boot in. So maybe training to fight is unnecessary.
This book teaches you, the Padawan, some awesome tricks. It also has quite a broad scope and touched on lots of things I am genuinely fascinated by. When it comes to mind powers I am now at least 10% more superior than most of you. It astounds me that I am still broke.
The book begins with how he got into magic and became a world re-nowned ‘mentalist’. Which is quite a cool job title in itself. He then goes on to teach you about the importance of perception and shows a couple of cool tricks.
In part three of the book he talks about memory. Mr Brown is banned from casinos in Britain as he has the ability to count cards. Four decks of cards. Not just cards but pretty much anything. He states that apart from people with an eidetic memory, nearly all other memory gurus use a variety of systems. This includes himself. He then teaches you these systems and they really work. Some of the things you find yourself recalling are astounding. Especially as I had a misspent youth where I smoked weed and thought I had permanently damaged my short-term brain circuits.
He then talks about hypnosis and Neuro-linguistic programming and how to achieve personal gain in a non-hippy way.
The next section I need to read again. He teaches you how to read people and spot if they are lying. This will be very helpful in the upcoming L.A. Noir game (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t worry, you are just massively out of touch).
The final section is all about Anti-science, Pseudo-science, and Bad thinking. He worries about how science is under attack from dickheads, and why people believe in ghosts. There is an examination of things like Alternative medicine and mediums and psychics. Essentially they are all shite, but he explains why. It’s like a million rants I have already had on this site.
For example, if there is an alternative medicine that seems to work, scientists will look at it and test it. They will then conduct a load of experiments on huge groups of people to see if it works. Years ago lots of people used to suck on willow bark and spiraea to help with pain. Scientists then tested this and found that it did help with pain and found the active ingredients. They called it aspirin. When these tests don’t work, they end up in Health Food shops at a ridiculous price. Here’s a joke that doesn’t come from the book, but from a magazine I read. ‘What do you call an alternative medicine that works? Answer: Medicine.’
Ok. Not very funny, but the bit before was fairly interesting.
Other cool bits include how cold reading is done, how superstitions arise, and how placebos work.
I loved this book. It is humorously written and covers a lot of fascinating ground. There is also a bibliography at the back in case a particular subject interests you. A lot interested me.
I would highly recommend this book if you are interested in how the mind works and topics that surround it. I can now remember my PIN code and everything. Just try and resist the Dark Side, even if they get cooler lightsabers.
I literally just finished reading this after a five hour stint on the couch. This doesn’t happen much to me these days but if you have read this book you will probably understand why. If you have and don’t then there is something wrong with either your excitement gland or you have the attention span of a hyperactive child on caffeine.
At first glance, the plot is nothing great or particularly novel. A journalist gets hired to investigate the disappearance of a girl four decades previous. The hirer is a likeable old multimillionaire industrialist who is her uncle. The journalist is called Mikael Blomqvist and he is in a certain amount of strife in the city so he agrees to investigate in the country town where the girl and the industrialist lived/live. He also hires a quirky emo genius girl called Lisbeth Salander who has a dragon tattoo. As they investigate the disappearance, they surprisingly make headway into what they thought was a pointless exercise. Then bad things start to happen. That’s all I can say without giving anything away.
I’m probably not alone in having seen this book everywhere I go and as I rather pathetically consider myself to be both an individual and a literary type, I wasn’t all that bothered. I have been stung by the dullness of zeitgeist novels like Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and thought I would stick to what I know. I also don’t read much crime fiction. My parents then handed me a copy of this and said it was brilliant. So I gave it a go and like lots of other reviewers ‘was hooked’ and ‘couldn’t put it down’ and found it was ‘a real page turner’. Horrendous though these cliches are, they were true with this book. It was really fucking ‘gripping’.
At first, the book is a bit slow. All the stuff that happens at first though, is necessary for the plot. When the tale begins to gather pace it is a slow but incessant rise in tension. The story, as it is revealed, is a shocking yet believable one. What truly sets this book apart however, is the characters. In particular Blomqvist and Salander. Larsson slowly builds their characterisation and reveals more about them as the story develops. Like most good books, the plot is driven by these strong characters and how they react to what is happening. It is because of these superb characters that I am so looking forward to reading the sequel.
Which I will be doing in a few minutes.
That in itself should show you how much I liked this book. Like every other sheep on the tube, I will be glued to this series until I finish the trilogy. As I said, I’m not much of a crime/thriller fan but this really is as good as everyone says. Jump on the bandwagon and join us.
Set in the fictional Eastern European city of Besz it follows a policeman as he tries to work out who killed a young woman found on an estate. Having spent time in Eastern European cities, Mieville’s description of the run down city slowly emerging from the shadow of being Eastern Bloc, is spot on. Trams rattle, the internet is slow, there are lots of hookers and drinking and so on. As Inspect Borlu chases down his suspects the scope of what is going on expands and we soon realise that Nationalists, fascists, politicians and even worse may be involved.
So far, so fairly standard.
The City and The City is a book with a highly original setting, however. The clue is in the title. There is another city that Borlu visits called Ul Qoma. Ul Qoma happens to be in exactly the same place as the city Besz and has it’s own populace and fashions and phone numbers and brands of tea bag. Some parts of the city exist purely in Besz and others in Ul Qoma. Other parts are cross-hatched and citizens walk by one another or drive round each other’s traffic without acknowledging the other’s existence. They are all conditioned since birth to ‘unsee’ the other city and its denizens since birth. If they break this law and notice the buildings or populace or even worse, walk into sections that belong to the other city, they get in shit with a powerful entity/entities known as the Breach. The Breach makes people disappear or die or various other states and is a fast shadowy presence that pretty much kicks ass.
I know it sounds a bit weird but it actually works quite well and becomes almost believable. By the time that Borlu travels from Besz through the one permissable check-point to Ul Qoma and unconsciously notes that he is technically near his flat but is actually in a foreign city, you don’t bat an eyelid. Soon he becomes more involved in the Breach and the even more mysterious Orciny.
I really enjoyed this book but it didn’t quite do it for me. Apart from Borlu, all the characters seemed a bit flat. It is very well written but for reasons I can’t go into, the book didn’t quite go in the direction I wanted it to. The cities occupying the same place idea was actually pretty cool and well explained – to a point. I then found myself with a few questions that hadn’t been satisfactorily answered and I don’t think it was because Mieville was being purposefully enigmatic. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book but on reflection wanted something slightly different.
The City and The City has won numerous awards though, so it obviously completely satisfied some. It is good, atmospheric, clever, Kafka-esque, and so forth, but didn’t quite tick all my boxes. Maybe it will yours – there isn’t much out there like this, so you should give it a try.
This is Michael Chrichton’s last ever book. Which is incredibly sad because he was a great author. Not one to settle on any genre, he has tackled dinosaur parks, the medical world, the aeroplane industry, the environment, vikings, pirates, and more. He is consistently fun to read. This book was found on his laptop after he died, which always makes me a bit wary. Was it finished properly? Why didn’t he send it out?
Pirate Latitudes is about pirates. Of the Caribbean. Had to word that carefully. It follows the adventures of the privateer Captain Charles Hunter as he has a series of what can only be described as ‘rip-roaring’ adventures. The core of the novel is his attack on a fortress called Matanceros in order to nick a Spanish treasure galleon moored under its protection. The fortress is predictably impregnable. Almost.
The book reads like a fun, shallow series of adventures. Every pirate adventure cliche is present, it is almost as if he wrote a list. Rough rogue Captain leads a plucky crew and does the following (tick the pirate story boxes): climbs cliffs, blows up strongholds, has duels, sleeps with whores, has sea battles, gets thrown in a dungeon, fights cannibals, is attacked by a kraken, and lots more. I didn’t give away any more of the plot than is on the cover. Plus it doesn’t matter. Think of this book as an old fashioned periodical adventure series, like Flash Gordon or the basis behind Indiana Jones. If you approach in that frame of mind you won’t be disappointed.
With the above mindset, you can forgive the cliches. And it is very cliched and formulaic. His crew, especially when he recruits them, is like those you would find in a cheesy film. The ones where a leader goes through a load of dossiers and finds one that can fly a helicopter and is good at knife-fighting, another that is a brilliant hacker, and so on. In this: the Jew, aka, Black Eye, is brilliant with explosives. Enders is a brilliant surgeon and one of the best helmsman around. Lazue is a feisty woman fighter who has brilliant eyesight. Bassa ‘The Moor’ is a huge strong black guy with no tongue. All a bit familiar but it really doesn’t matter in a story like this. Look at the Nazi in Raiders of the Lost Arc, or Brian Blessed in Flash Gordon, or anyone in a Bond film.
So is Pirate Latitudes any good? Yes. Not brilliant, but fun. It’s an action adventure about pirates for fuck’s sake, what were you expecting? It is harmless escapism, with lots of narrow escapes and cliffhangers. It is a bit cliched (a word I have used a lot in this review) but that is utterly irrelevant as the book is well-written in a page-turning thriller kind of way. If you want more realistic sea adventures – look at the superb Patrick O’Brian. If you want a rip-roaring pirate tale in the vein of Treasure Island, look no further. Me hearties.
A man called “Man” and a boy called “Boy” walk down a road called “The Road”. Ok those aren’t literally their names, they just don’t seem to have any. On purpose. McCarthy wants the story to be about people as opposed to characters. People struggling to survive in a world that’s fucked. Everything is dead, burnt and smouldering. There is also no indication what caused this apocalypse, it is just enough to know that absolutely nothing lives. Not even fish or cockroaches as far as I could tell. This bothered me a bit because it seemed pretty impossible but again, it is about the journey and humanity and so on.
I really liked this book although I don’t think it necessarily deserved a Pulitzer. It’s not up there with The Old Man and the Sea or The Color Purple but it is really good. It stuck in my mind for several days after, which is always a good sign.
There are a few things that might bug you though. The conversation is without quote marks and is usually just a string of fairly repetitive short sentences. The fact that it is cold and ashy is a bit bludgeoned into you by dint of it being mentioned every few sentences. The man and boy are heading south to avoid another winter but why didn’t they just leave in the spring? On bicycles?
These finicky issues aside, the Road is a superb and haunting book. Whenever they meet other people, there are some genuine moments of horror (as most people have turned to cannibalism), and you see how far someone will go for someone they care about. It is at moments of strife that the real characterisation of the protagonists occurs and this is well done. These moments are fairly few and far between but that just adds to the suspense.
The book is fairly grim and bleak – as I’m sure was fully intended – and you really get sucked into this grey depressing world. Think England in February but with no people. It is ultimately about redemption and the nature of humanity when everything else has been stripped away. Turns out humanity sucks.
As I said, I liked it. It is best read in a single sitting or two, which is easily done, to allow yourself to get fully drawn in. The descriptions are vivid and the story and images will lurk in your subconscious like the memories of a grim walk on a cold and cloudy day in Slough for days afterward. Definitely worth a read. Unless you are a depressive.
I’m a huge Terry Pratchett fan and have been since I saw The Colour of Magic for sale when I was about 11 and bought it because of the cover. I’m not a fan of football however, so I was a bit concerned about this latest offering.
I need not have worried, for as it states on the back: ‘The thing about football – the important thing about football -is that it is not just about football.‘ This book is not just about football. In fact, the only real football match in the book occurs right at the end and by that point you are so wrapped up in the characters, plot, and sub-plot, that you are actually looking forward to the match just to see what happens. A bit like Escape to Victory. But without Stallone and likeable people (and others).
The principle protagonists are a mysterious but highly intelligent goblin called Nutt, a jack-the-lad son of a footballer called Trev Likely, a hot but dim supermodel type called Juliet, a strong willed lady-chef called Glenda, and loads of wizards. Plus an ape.
It turns out that the Unseen University (where the wizards go) must play a game of football every twenty years or they lose a ton of funding from a vaguely eccentric dead benefactor. So that’s the plot.
As with most of Pratchett’s books, the plot is there to drive the story along but the main thing that keeps you glued to the pages are the numerous sub-plots and characters. Nutt undergoes a change and you learn more about him as he learns himself. Trev promised his mum not to play football but you kind of know he’s going to. How will things work out between Trev and Juliet? Is Juliet going to follow her dream of being a model – even if it means wearing a fake beard and pretending to be a female dwarf? And so on. Distinct and unique likeable characters are a forte of Pratchett’s and he certainly doesn’t disappoint here.
The wizards feature heavily in this book and that is always a good thing. Even if you haven’t read a discworld book before you’ll like them. If you are a regular reader, you’ll know what to expect. Rincewind, the luggage, and the librarian appear too (just as cameos), as you can see on the cover. If you are a fan, you also really get a sense of the city developing – with the clacks, the post, the bank, newspapers and so on. If you aren’t, then it really doesn’t matter – welcome to Ankh Morpork: a fully realized and living city (clearly based on London). Enjoy.
It’s difficult to grade Pratchett’s books as, like Douglas Adams, they are in a league of their own (no pun intended here). If you look on Amazon, nearly all his books are 4-5 stars. Which doesn’t help if you are new to Pratchett and want to read a better one. This book is great. Not up there with his top 5% perhaps – Guards! Guards!, Mort, Feet of Clay, being some personal favorites – but just below that. Better than most but not the very best. If that helps.
If you are new to Pratchett – enjoy, this book is a treat and you have sooo many more ahead of you. If you’re an old hand – just enjoy, this is one of his better ones.
This book is a gem. It was written over 50 years ago but deals with topics still relevant today.
The story is about a star-class copysmith Mitch Courteney who works for Schocken Associates, one of the two main advertising agencies in the world. This is a pretty elite position to be in as the world, including governments, is ruled by advertising. It’s capitalism gone maaaaad! To be a good citizen you have to be a good consumer, which is actually pretty easy for most I would imagine. The baddies are known as ‘Consies’ who are essentially environmentalists.
When Mitch gets the job of trying to make Venus sound like an attractive place to be he suddenly finds himself up against both the Consies and an evil rival ad agency. He then starts to learn all about the world.
I loved this book. Sure some of the writing feels a tiny bit dated but it is chock-full of good ideas and characters. There’s even a womanising, heavy drinking, dwarf astronaut. Mitch Courteney himself is a pretty unrepentant bastard when we first meet him but he slowly changes when people start to do him over and the reality of how others live dawns on him.
I would highly recommend this. It’s a cracking read set at a furious pace. Buy it now! It’s a classic.
Let me state this first: I am a massive Hitchhiker fan. Not to the point where it becomes sad-loner going to a convention level, but damn close – I’ll probably take my wife. I first read the initial trilogy when I ten and Life, the Universe and everything had just been published. I immediately wanted to become a writer and started to write my first ever novel right then. I still have it at my parents house.
I have since read everything Douglas Adams has written. Several times.
So when I first heard that a new Hitchhiker book was being written I was initially excited. Then I thought about it and started to worry. How would someone go about this? Try and mimic Adams exactly? Surely that wouldn’t work, as he had such a unique voice. Try their own style? Too distinct and it would hardly be book six, more an adventure ‘in the world of Hitchhikers’. I was concerned.
Unbelievably, in my humble opinion, Eoin Colfer somehow managed to get it pretty spot on. It feels like a continuation of the series but is clearly not written by Adams.
The characters are well done and are the people (and aliens) we all know and love. Arthur Dent, with his quintessential English-ness and obsession with tea and baths, was pretty much modeled on Adams himself. Colfer wisely moves him from the centre of attention. Most of the main protagonists seem to share the limelight fairly equally with perhaps Zaphod Beeblebrox edging slightly ahead. Which is never a bad thing. The original trilogy didn’t really flesh out the characters much and it never really felt all that necessary. The latter two had a bit more characterization but not as much as this.
The original books were more about character types progressing through a series of adventures and ideas. This is more about the characters. Fortunately they are all familiar and enjoyable characters. In addition to the usual cast of Arthur, Ford, Trillian, we have Random Dent (who first appeared in Mostly Harmless), Thor (yes the god who appeared in The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul and Norse mythology), Wowbagger the infinitely prolonged (that guy who accidentally became immortal and is now trying to insult the universe in alphabetical order), and a load more. They are all good.
It is here that I noticed the biggest difference. Colfer spends a lot more time on the characters and description of places than Adams ever did. Consequently the pace feels slower. Mr Colfer is a great writer so this never feels too detrimental to the book but you get the feeling that if Douglas Adams had written the same sequence of events it would have comprised about half the number of pages with no loss.
Another difference is that the original felt a lot more philosophical. It had a lot more epic ideas dealing with, for example, life the universe and everything. The scope felt bigger somehow. And Another Thing… follows a lot more of a linear narrative without so many of the huge ideas tackled in the originals. Taken as an episode, this doesn’t matter all that much, it just felt different.
The book is thankfully, very funny. There are some genuinely laugh out loud moments and by that I mean I actually laughed out loud – as opposed to an internet buffoon in a forum typing LOL each they come across something mildly amusing. As I stated above, Mr Colfer is a great writer and fortunately, he is also a funny one. The little asides as the ‘Guide’ interrupts the narratives are there although at times they veer dangerously close to being slightly formulaic and this was never the case with the original. They never quite cross that line though, and are generally amusing and add to the novel.
So was I disappointed? No. Not at all. This is a superb book. Not as good as the originals, but I guess I was always going to say that. As an episode of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy it works well. It is just a bit different. The difference is that between an awesomely funny philosopher/sci-fi writer (Adams) and a more modern but almost as funny sci-fi writer. It is not quite as good or far reaching as the originals but it is certainly a welcome addition to the series. The title is apt. Highly recommended.
I finished this a few days ago and have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It is just a shame that I don’t really think it is that great a book. This puts me in something of a quandary on how to review it.
The story follows Robert Langdon, the hero of Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code, as he has yet another crap time. He is asked to give a lecture in the Capitol building in Washington by an old friend called Peter Solomon, who is in charge of the Smithsonian and a mega uber-lord in the Freemasons. It turns out to be a trick and soon Solomon’s severed hand is discovered in the Capitol’s central room freshly tattooed with lots of intriguing symbols. Symbols that can luckily be deciphered by Robert Langdon. A quest is then started plus lots of chases. There then follows history lecture, action, cliffhanger, history lecture, action, cliffhanger – until the end of the book (where there’s a great big history lecture).
First – the positive. The book is very, very readable and exciting. The technique of short chapters ending with a cliffhanger really works in thrillers like these. Hours of my life sped by as I lay on the couch reading and thinking, fuck it, just one more chapter. The ideas and history lectures and conspiracy stuff is genuinely fascinating and the book is worth reading for this alone. I learnt tons about the masons and religions by reading this and I know tons already. It also makes Washington seem a lot more interesting than I had previously believed it to be. As Langdon rushes about and the bad guy grows increasingly more mental, you are educated and thrilled in equal measure. The bits about the Freemasons and Washington’s history (both the place and the person) are great but Brown does go on a bit to prove his point. In one scene he even gives a character (and the reader) the exact search phrase to type into google. The puzzles are all printed and make it all seem a bit more fun as you see if you can work things out – but probably won’t bother.
Now the negative. The writing is pretty poor. It serves its purpose though and doesn’t really matter – you’re not going to be reading this sort of thing for finely written prose after all. The characters are astoundingly wooden stereotypes. Langdon is a professor who wears professor-ish clothes and spends every moment not being chased delivering a lecture. Peter Solomon is a powerful man and is head of powerful things and has powerful friends. The bad guy is like a lot of villains in Brown’s books – a less believable and more extreme version of your average Bond nemesis. This time, instead of an albino or killer monk, we have a heavily muscled bald eunuch who is covered in tattoos. There are a few other characters that seem to fill roles but have no real personality: an elderly African American who is wise and is the Architect of the Capitol (a job position not literally the architect) who made me think of Morgan Freeman for some reason; Solomon’s sister – pretty and clever and frequently in distress; a Japanese CIA chick who smokes a lot; a wise blind priest who is very wise; and so on. Again, the characterization doesn’t matter but it would have been nice.
The plot and some of the ideas in the book were ridiculous. I can’t tell you much without giving the plot away but once I learned what were they searching for, I guessed its location immediately. I read the entire book hoping to be proved wrong but my guess was correct. A guess I made in the first 30 minutes. Solomon’s sister Katherine is a Noetic “scientist” who believes in the potential of the human mind – basically, psychic ability. I suspect Dan Brown spoke to some Noetic “scientists” and got sold on the idea. The reason why I keep using inverted commas is that no matter what Dan Brown says – it isn’t science. They don’t use scientific method and none of their results are open to peer review. Brown seems to think people are sceptical about noetics as they are closed minded. It is more because the evidence is shite. He keeps mentioning that one day everyone will believe and be proved wrong about Noetics and frequently points out that the brightest minds believed that the earth was flat until relatively recently. It is a shame he didn’t research this because it’s horseshit and a myth that stems from the early 19th century. Most of humanity has known the earth is a globe since the ancient Greeks. Aristotle even provided visual evidence. They clearly didn’t believe that boats going over the horizon were falling off the edge of the world because most of the time the boats came back.
Brown tries to prove noetics further by stating that prayer groups have had a measurable affect on curing people and that experiments have been done to see this. There have in fact been some experiments done on this subject and they were done under proper scientific conditions with ‘blind’ test groups and so on. It proved that there was absolutely nothing in it. There are other experiments he mentions but nearly all have been done before and all proved false. I won’t go into any more detail here.
I apologize for this rant about noetics but it proves to be a central theme throughout the book and I found it ludicrous.
There are other scenes that are laughable too. Right at the very start some agents are chasing the big bald tanned baddie and stop to ask a big tanned guy with blonde hair if they saw anyone run past. ‘He went that-a-way’ the guy says. I mean, for fuck’s sake. Daffy Duck or Bugs Bunny might be able to slap on a moustache and get away with this but really…
Also, when you find out what the villain is after and how his whole plan has been plotted you find your brain filling with question that start with “So why didn’t he just…” Annoying.
On the whole though, the book is fun with lots of codes and facts printed so that you the reader can try and work things out. You will be looking up a lot of things on google and it starts to feel almost interactive in places. The pace is relentless and exciting. You will probably enjoy reading it but when finished you will think – that was alright I guess. If I was to give a one sentence recommendation it would be: “If you liked Dan Brown’s other books, you will like this.” Just not as much as The Da Vinci Code.
The story follows a group of drug users in California in the far-off year of 1994. Actually, the date doesn’t really matter, the book is barely science fiction. The futuristic setting (for when it was written) is simply a device to allow for a drug that doesn’t exist and new techniques for undercover cops.
Anyway, the main protagonist is a druggie called Bob Arctor who is actually an undercover narcotics agent called Agent Fred. Arctor, like his friends, takes a drug called ‘Substance D’ (or Substance Death) and he slowly finds himself addicted. Substance D causes the two hemispheres of the to ‘disconnect’ leading initially to confusion and disorientation and ultimately to brain damage. A bit like Jaegermeister.
All narcotics officers keep their identities secret from everyone, including the police, so when Agent Fred goes to where he can view the surveillance footage of his/Arctor’s and his mates’ house he has to wear a mask (that flashes hundreds of different faces across it every minute, which is cool). As Arctor gets more involved in the drug world he becomes addicted to Substance D. His brain hemispheres lose connection and he grows ever more paranoid and confused. As his brain splits – so do his two personalities. Agent Fred starts to grow more and more convinced that Arctor is a major player in the drug world. He starts to investigate himself…
Philip K Dick is one of my all-time favourite authors and A Scanner Darkly is one of my all-time favourite books. The book is primarily about drug addiction and self-identity. Philip K Dick took an unbelievable amount of drugs in his time and also lost a lot of friends to addiction. He knows what he is talking about. There are some very humorous and very authentic stoner conversations. There is a guy who is convinced he is covered in bugs and they are starting to spread. One guy tries to kill himself by overdosing but it goes wrong and he descends into a trip where a multiple-eyed being from another dimension reads him his sins for all eternity – after 11,000 years the being finally reaches where he discovers masturbation.
Dick’s books generally deal with the themes of what is real, what makes us human, identity and perception. He’s one of the finest examples of the science fiction genre that I like. I have a friend that refuses to read science fiction that was written after 1980 as he claims that older sci fi was more about ideas and philosophy. Dick is one of his favorite authors as well.
A Scanner Darkly is funny, thought-provoking and ultimately, sad. It is one of the few books I have read where I actually sat for a few moments after finishing thinking wow. Just writing this review makes me want to read it again. Don’t see the film and be done (I haven’t actually seen it) – give this a go.
I love Bernard Cornwell’s books. People who know me frequently reel back in awe of my historical knowledge. At least I assume that’s what they’re reeling back from. This knowledge is largely due to authors like Cornwell, George MacDonald Fraser, Simon Scarrow, Patrick O’Brian and numerous others. I love writers that can bring a time period alive while still remaining accurate. Azincourt is one such book – it even has historians praising it in the cover review section. Cornwell is without a doubt the acknowledged historical fiction master and this is pretty masterful stuff.
By the way, just in case you didn’t know, Azincourt is how the place is spelt in France. The British have been mis-spelling it for 600 years.
You’re reeling already aren’t you?
Nearly everything I knew about Agincourt/Azincourt came from Shakespeare’s Henry V. A weakened English/Welsh army ends a war campaign in France and is trapped on its way home by an army of vastly superior numbers. About 6000 disease ridden British troops against 30,000 fresh and healthy Frenchmen. You can probably guess who won. If this was fiction you’d cry ‘Bollocks!’
Cornwell’s genius is letting you see accurately described battles from the point of view of the common soldier. You are in the lines with the common troops. Plus they are really gory and violent, which is always a bonus. Some people have complained about this, particularly with this book, but some people are stupid. The title of the book is a famous battle. The fact that it is violent should be a given. You can vivdly imagine how horrendous the conditions were as the troops literally shit their pants and get their limbs cut off, eyes gounged out and at one point – manhoods sliced off and fed to them. People complain the world is in a right old state now but it really, really sucked back then.
If you’re the sort of person inclined to read this sort of thing, you are probably already aware of the outcome. As with most of Cornwell’s stuff, it doesn’t really matter. You like (or loathe) the vivid main characters and will be eager to see what happens next. The plot will seem fairly familiar if you read a lot of his books but I personally didn’t find it detrimental. I still wanted to see how it all panned out. You will too. Trust me in this.
I loved this book and also enjoyed the fact that it is a one-off. Cornwell tends to write epic series of books and as I’m in the middle of three others it was a relief not to get into another. If you like spot-on history, relentless action, brutal battles, and powerful characters reacting against a background of events that shocked the medieval world, you will like this too. If not, I hear Bridget Jones is quite good.
The book is set in the not too distant future. Scotland has devolved (in a political not Darwinian sense), gained independence, and the world is even more saturated with information technology and computer nerdiness than ever before. In an online game a load of orcs and a dragon rob a bank and nick a load of magic swords and armour and amulets and other valuable goodies.
At first you’d probably agree with one of the protagonists in thinking ‘So what, it’s a game’ but in fact the theft spells almost certain doom for the computer company that hosts the bank in the virtual game. As in life now, with games like World of Warcraft, these magical items go on sale for quite surprising money on auction sites. More importantly though, if people lose faith in the game a multi-million company can go down the crapper. These games are big money.
So that’s the plot. The start of it at least. As the book goes on the stakes get increasingly higher as things develop. Western civilisation is at threat and people start to die. There are spies and assassinations and advanced technology and thrills aplenty.
The novel would score quite high on the nerd scale if there was such a thing. A Warp Factor 8.5 perhaps. It is full of computer techno/gamespeak. Being a bit of a spod myself, I was ok with the game stuff like MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game in case you care) but got a bit lost, and to be honest, mildly annoyed for the first couple of chapters with the sheer amount of ‘don’t I know a lot of acronyms’ and general geekness. Stross is doing this on purpose but it can be frustrating.
Another thing I thought might be annoying is the fact that it is told in the ‘stream of consciousness’ style like the classic As I lay dying by William Faulkner (a bit boring) and the even more classic The Stud by Jackie Collins (a bit daft). In case you aren’t familiar with these literary gems – each chapter has a character’s name and it is told by that person. It doesn’t prove much of a problem here except occasionally for a Scots accent used by the police character. Which is done phonetically and unnecessarily and why I can’t be bothered to read Trainspotting. The author can just say that the character has a Scots accent and then write normally. I can imagine the rest. It’s pretty rare here, so don’t worry.
Even more uniquely, the tale is told in the second person present. “You walk in a room” and “you are reading a superb review” sort of a thing. Initially my heart sank when I read this as I thought it would piss me off but I actually got quite into it. It really draws you in. I’m assuming that it is supposed to blur the boundaries between a classic writing style and games such as Dungeons and Dragons or the superb ‘choose your own adventure’ Fighting Fantasy books by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson. Which were immensely popular with sad lonely types in the 80s when I was at school. (Deathtrap Dungeon rules by the way.)
I won’t give anything away, but while I found the book incredibly fun, witty, entertaining and exciting, it didn’t quite live up to what I had hoped. It felt slightly lacking by the end. I don’t know what I was expecting but it didn’t quite deliver.
It’s still worth a go though. You might like it. As I said it’s fun if you’re a bit of geek and well written.
“You are clicking on Amazon…”
This is a classic science fiction book. It is such a classic that I had assumed I had already read it. I think I got confused with other books featuring Dyson Spheres. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The book starts with a cool 200 year old Oriental guy called Louis Wu bar hopping his way west around the planet. He uses teleportation devices like those in Star Trek that instantly beam him 100s of miles in a millisecond. His ‘cool credentials’ are established when we learn that he is doing this to extend his birthday celebrations and as midnight approaches he travels a few hundred miles west to get another few hours drinking time.
His bar/city crawl is interrupted when he is diverted and recruited by an alien called Nessus who is a Pierson’s Puppeteer. These creatures are highly advanced cowards who have two heads but one brain (just read it). Louis is shown photos of a structure that looks like a giant ring around a distant star and is hired to join Nessus in investigating it. They also recruit a violent, giant cat-like creature called ‘Speaker-to-animals’ – a name that is more of a description of its job as ambassador to human-kind than an actual name, and an uber-hot woman called Teela Brown who has been bred to be lucky.
This might all sound a bit far out – and it is. It is also kind of believable and is full of ‘hard science’. The principle four characters are well drawn out and believable and the story progresses at an enjoyable pace.
It is Niven’s sheer inventiveness and creativity that shines throughout the novel. It had me thinking “fuck, this book is awesome!” from about page two onwards. (Studying a literature degree allows me to have such powerful analytical insights like this). Along with all this wonder and science and adventure, there is a great deal of humour. The initial ship they travel in is called the ‘Long Shot’ and the craft they ultimately crash into Ringworld is called ‘The Lying Bastard’.
The Pierson’s Puppeteers are great inventions too. As a race they are incredibly powerful and advanced. They are also massive cowards. They don’t trust spacecraft and instead place several planets in exact equidistant orbits around a star and move the whole lot. The only ones who travel and mix with humans are officially labelled ‘insane’. Although it is perfectly possible to travel faster than light they choose not to due to the very slight risks involved, so they have begun their exodus from our region of space 20,000 years before they have to. Wu at one point comments that it would be typical of humans to ignore the danger of the exploding galactic centre until the last minute and then there would be a mad scramble for safety. They discover later in the book that one of the reasons why the Puppeteers are so nice to humans and kzin is that when they reach the end of their epic sub-light journey, these more reckless races would already be there having recklessly travelled faster than light.
Anyway, I won’t go into too many of the ideas as there are a lot of them and I would ruin it for you. I’ll include some of the stuff in it though, just to wet your appetite.
Ringworld is superb. I usually prefer pre-1980s Sci Fi as it tends to be more idea and philosophy based. The ringworld is a very cool and very huge idea. The possibilities for it are almost endless. It is covered in animal and plant life from all over the galaxy. At one point they encounter some mirror-leafed plants that can primitively detect movement and focus the sun’s rays to bring down prey that decomposes and nourishes them. The heroes meet a girl from another advanced race that has crashed there, who is half bald but so skilled at sex she puts all human women to shame. Some of the locals have reverted to primitives and there are even heroes wandering the lost cities with bloody great swords battling monsters.
Ringworld has won a shitload of awards and deservedly so. Apparently there is a film being discussed but this has been the case for a few decades now. I wish they would hurry up with it, it might get a few more people to read the book.
When Richard Mayhew rescues what seems to be a wounded homeless girl, he suddenly finds himself sucked into an alternate underground London. This ‘under-London’ features various characters that may seem familiar if you are in any way acquainted with the capital (if you aren’t, you have probably wasted your life). There are black friars, a bridge enshrouded with ‘night’ (Knightsbridge, get it?), an Earl who holds court, characters like Old Bailey and Hammersmith, and an angel called Islington.
I recently finished this book and I have to say, it made me sad that it had to end at all. I really didn’t think it would be my cup of tea – it seemed a bit ‘magical’ and ‘mythological’ for my liking – but it was actually a great read. I think it was helped by the fact that it was quite dark. The main reasons why it is so good are the sheer imagination of Gaiman and some very vivid characters.
The very cool Marquis de Carabas, Lady Door, Hunter, Islington, and the pschopathic Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar are superb and linger in the memory. In fact my only gripe is the lead character Richard Mayhew. He’s just an annoying, whingeing wimp. You keep hoping he’s going to grow some balls at some point, but he never really does. Well, a bit but not enough.
He’s mainly a device to progress the plot and help us see this strange world, so it’s nothing to really worry about.
This book was based on the TV series which initially made me mildly concerned. Books based on movies generally feel a bit shallow after all. In the introduction I felt reassured by Gaiman explaining how he decided to write the book the moment they started filming and expressing how he would change things for the book and the extra bits that got cut out. It pissed off the director apparently and he was asked to shut up about it. I haven’t seen the TV show but I’m glad I read this first. It filled me with the joy you get as a kid when you discover a world you fall in love with and characters you like go out and have cool adventures in it.
I think I’ll now go and buy the DVD. It won’t be as good.