Category Archives: Books

Book reviews.

Alan Partridge: Nomad

I am a massive Alan Partridge fan but I have never read any of his books as I assumed they wouldn’t work as well as the TV show and were just cashing in. I was colossally wrong. Alan Partridge: Nomad appeared on some recommendation page or other and it had such good reviews that I impulsively downloaded it. I am exciting that way.

The intention was to have something amusing to read while I was waiting for a train or out with someone boring. Once it had landed on my phone however, I thought I would just read a little to see what it was like. I had to stop 5 minutes later because I was laughing too hard and frankly it was embarrassing as I was on train. In the end I just had to look like a lunatic as I sniggered my way home reading. I read the book in two sittings (I had to meet someone exciting which interrupted it).

Nomad is one of the funniest books I have ever read. I guess it helps if you know Alan Partridge as his voice read the book in my head and was all the funnier for it. This is now literally the case as I have also downloaded the audiobook (read by Coogan/ Partridge). It might also help if you studied British D-list celebrities as Alan recounts a lot of run ins. Especially Noel Edmunds.

Alan Partridge: Nomad is the story of Alan doing a walk called the “Footsteps of my Father” where he follows the route taken by his father when he went from Norfolk to Dungeness to get a job at a nuclear power plant. I cannot stress how much more funny it is than that sounds.

Unless you hate laughter and looking like a giggling nutcase, I highly recommend this book. It is superb. Long live Partridge.

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The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

I was on a beach last month and wanted to read something short and fun. I hadn’t read a murder mystery in ages and thought that would fit the bill. So without thinking about it too much, I did the obvious and went for an Agatha Christie novel. You can’t really go wrong with her books. I chose The Murder of Roger Ackroyd because I like the title, it had good reviews, and was a Poirot.

the-murder-of-roger-ackroydThe book centers around two deaths: one is before the book starts and the other is the eponymous Roger Ackroyd. Hercule Poirot has retired from sleuthing and just happens to be living in the village where it all occurs, but as he is good at solving exactly these kinds of mysteries the police wisely let him in on the action. I can’t say much more without giving too much away.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is a great read and it doesn’t really matter if this is your first Poirot or Christie novel. I read it on a kindle and it was quite fun seeing which sections and sentences people had highlighted in their attempt to work out who did the crime. The clues are there and like nearly all Agatha Christie novels, you probably won’t guess who did it. She was very good at what she did.

I am used to reviewing science fiction or fantasy – or in my day job the odd travel book – so there is usually more to say. Here though the summary can be: if you like murder mysteries or any book written by Christie, you will like The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Lots of suspects, suspicious goings on, red herrings, clues, and a surprise.  Oh yeah, and a murder. Recommended holiday read.

You can get it here or, probably, a second hand book shop anywhere.

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Cooperworld – a short story

I recently wrote a long short story called Cooperworld. Or a short novella. Whatever. It is 17,000 words. If you have a shiny new Christmas kindle or tablet, here is something to put on it. My gift to you. Except you have to pay a few pennies, so it is also a gift to me. It is science fiction, but it is more philosophical than a lot of my stuff.

Cooperworld

Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 3.25.49 PMCooperworld is a 17,000 word short story. Which is quite a long short story, I’ll grant you, but it is the length it needs to be.

Here is the blurb:

In the near future, AI research is strictly controlled by paranoid governments. When a renowned Artificial Intelligence expert illegally decides to create digital life in an simulated universe, he doesn’t at first realise the implications of what he has done. Implications not just for him, but for everyone.
In this short story, journalist and writer Jason R. Ward has a light-hearted but fairly philosophical look at what constitutes consciousness and has a good hard look at how we perceive reality.

For US customers:

For UK customers:

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Australia, Morocco, Thailand. Three true travel stories

BookcovertraveltalesI haven’t done this for a while, so it is time to publicise one of my incredibly cheap books. “Australia, Morocco, and Thailand. Three True Travel Stories” is a collection that costs a pittance and seems to entertain. I usually give the blurb I wrote but instead I thought it would be nice to include a couple of reviews written on the US Amazon website. I promise I don’t know them. They are ‘Top 1000 Reviewers’ and I should be so lucky to know such important people.

A review:

“Some young folks hit the backpacker trail to gain self-enlightenment and seek spiritual awareness and save the world. With admirable honesty, the author admits that (at twenty-one) he was looking for fun, with the emphasis on avoiding boredom, staying drunk, and getting laid. Not surprisingly, he had more luck in the first two areas than in the third.

Don’t make the mistake of dismissing this as a stoned-and-stupid Spring Break saga. This man is a professional writer and a damned good one, and he knows how to tell a story. He also has a keen eye for the absurd, even when he’s looking in the mirror. The first (and longest) section recounts an adventure in Australia when he and three friends try to earn traveling money picking pears. Unfortunately, the beautiful farm of his imagination (think A TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL) turns out to be an “outback gulag” and the friendly, generous rural inhabitants consist of a hostile, dishonest farm owner and a pair of hard-working (and hard-drinking) Albanians.

The second story involves getting stranded in the Atlas Mountains during rainy season and taking a hair-raising ride back to civilization (or closer, anyway) in a van packed with Berber tribesmen. Why are the windows covered? “Il est preferable de ne pas regarder.” (It’s better not to look.) The third finds our hero living in Bangkok with his American-educated Thai fiancee Nim where he experiences a strange (typically Thai) overthrow of the government. The Prime Minister is unpopular, so the military steps in, sends the police home, the King okays the deal, and Happy Hour goes on. (That was in 2006 and the former PM is still in exile, but his sister is now PM!)

My only complaint about the book is that it is far too short and I wasn’t ready for it to end.”

Another glowing review:

“‘Ladyboys from the Mambo cabaret strode confidently down the cracked pavement on ridiculously high heels. Further down the road, another elephant mingled with the traffic. “Everything looks pretty damn normal,” Chris said.’ Funny stuff from 3 “paid holidays” focusing on the highlights (or lowlights depending on one’s perspective) of the author’s encounter with a giant Australian spider covering his chest nipple to nipple, riding along with a vanload of Moroccans as it teeters on the edge of a waterlogged roadway, or surviving what is (hopefully) a bloodless coup in Thailand while being serenaded at a downtown bar. So, all I have to say is what three destinations are we headed off to next? Very entertaining book!”

You can buy Australia, Morocco, and Thailand. Three True Travel Stories here and I’d be ever so grateful:

 

 

 

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The Killing Floor by Lee Child

Lee-Child-Killing-FloorI don’t normally read thrillers and apart from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, I probably haven’t read one in a decade. But someone recommended The Killing Floor,  and Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series generally, so I thought I would give it a go. This is the first Jack Reacher book and I have to say, I mostly loved it. I will probably read more.

A quick premise of the plot: Jack Reacher is a double hard bastard who is framed for a murder in a small town in America. I can’t really say much more without giving away a ton of plot. Needless to say there is a lot of action, a shed load of twists, turns and revelations, a hot woman and lashings of violence. There is also a fair amount of cliche and some massive coincidences that may stretch feasibility at times, but with a book this exciting, who cares?

I have read a few complaints about the way Lee Child writes and I suppose they have a point. He frequently writes short sentences. Quite a lot in fact. A bit like I am now. Some find it annoying. I got used to it. Read a bit. See what you think.

I will keep this review short and sweet. I thoroughly enjoyed The Killing Floor by Lee Child and will probably read a few more of his books. I am now going to watch the film with Tom Cruise and bitch about it.

You can get The Killing Floor by Lee Child by clicking this handy link:

 

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Australia, Morocco, Thailand – Three True Travel Stories

I haven’t done this in a while, so please show some support. I have just moved back to Bangkok and need some Somtam money so thought I would plug my travel book: Australia, Morocco, Thailand – Three True Travel Stories. I have a few reviews on the Amazon UK site but only one on the Amazon US site. You can buy it by clicking this link here that you are looking at now.

Fortunately the lovely lady who wrote the US review was very nice about it. So instead of my usual blurb, I will just post her 5 star review. My dearest American buddies, a few more reviews would make my day. Thanking you in advance. Here is the review of Australia, Morocco, and Thailand. Three True Travel Stories:

A belly laugh from start to finish!

Some young folks hit the backpacker trail to gain self-enlightenment and seek spiritual awareness and save the world. With admirable honesty, the author admits that (at twenty-one) he was looking for fun, with the emphasis on avoiding boredom, staying drunk, and getting laid. Not surprisingly, he had more luck in the first two areas than in the third.

Don’t make the mistake of dismissing this as a stoned-and-stupid Spring Break saga. This man is a professional writer and a damned good one, and he knows how to tell a story. He also has a keen eye for the absurd, even when he’s looking in the mirror. The first (and longest) section recounts an adventure in Australia when he and three friends try to earn traveling money picking pears. Unfortunately, the beautiful farm of his imagination (think A TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL) turns out to be an “outback gulag” and the friendly, generous rural inhabitants consist of a hostile, dishonest farm owner and a pair of hard-working (and hard-drinking) Albanians.

The second story involves getting stranded in the Atlas Mountains during rainy season and taking a hair-raising ride back to civilization (or closer, anyway) in a van packed with Berber tribesmen. Why are the windows covered? “Il est preferable de ne pas regarder.” (It’s better not to look.) The third finds our hero living in Bangkok with his American-educated Thai fiancee Nim where he experiences a strange (typically Thai) overthrow of the government. The Prime Minister is unpopular, so the military steps in, sends the police home, the King okays the deal, and Happy Hour goes on. (That was in 2006 and the former PM is still in exile, but his sister is now PM!)

My only complaint about the book is that it is far too short and I wasn’t ready for it to end. The author writes science fiction, but I sincerely hope he will take a break soon and give us some more non-fiction. I also think that a snappier title and more interesting cover art would keep this very good book from being overlooked.

Just on the off chance I haven’t linked to my wonderful little book enough here you go:


 

 

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eBook Self Promotion

Well folks, it is almost Christmas and in the spirit of giving, buying things online and capitalism generally, I deem it a good moment to plug a book. Buy my book! Thanks.

RIGHT NOW AS I TYPE THIS BOTH MY EBOOKS ARE FREE! If you miss the promotion, I should point out that they are both at the minimum price you can charge for an ebook. Which is pennies. Or cents.

What I would really like from you dear readers is a review or ten. Especially from you lovely non-UK types. Trust me, a review really, really helps. Unless you are mean in which case – move along.

My travel book: Australia, Morocco, and Thailand. Three True Travel Stories is a collection of short travel tales of near peril. At this particular moment it is #1 in Essays and Travelogues on Amazon UK! It cannot be higher. (I have a screenshot to prove it.) And it’s free. So get it and review it. Here is the blurb:

Jason Ward tells three true stories of fairly perilous travel.
While backpacking in his early twenties, he decides to give fruit picking a go. Even without the spiders, snakes, and a plague of locusts, things turn out pretty badly.
A trip into the Atlas Mountains with his girlfriend turns out less than romantic when flash floods threaten to wipe out the town. The only escape option is a van full of Berber tribesmen and a waterlogged road on the edge of a cliff.
After moving to the peaceful paradise of Thailand, Ward goes to a local pub near his Bangkok flat. That evening there is a military coup. In Bangkok. So why can’t he see anything?
These stories are filled with humour and dollops of fear. Recommended for those who enjoy travel stories or just like reading about someone being mildly terrified in foreign countries.

For US readers:

For UK readers:

Thanks you wonderful people. I will soon be back talking about inane stuff as usual.

Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein starring Cumberbatch and Miller

Frankenstein directed by Danny Boyle, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller

Frankenstein directed by Danny Boyle, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller

I saw his the other day at the National Theatre Live screenings. I thought seeing a film of a live play was a bit of a weird idea but it actually turned out to be a superb evening out. Of course it could be down to the fact that the thing we went to see was absolutely incredible: Danny Boyle very ably directs Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller in Frankenstein. I really cannot stress how great this was.

_51401429_frankenstein_464Part of the genius of it was having the actors swap roles on alternate nights. One night Miller was Frankenstein, the next it was Cumberbatch. The night we saw it, Cumberbatch was the monster. (This was possibly due to fact that my wife has a bit of crush on him and he is in a loincloth for most of the opening scene.) The idea is that the actor can effectively riff off each other’s performance, subtly affecting each other’s portrayals. You also get a slightly different experience on the two separate nights. What you end up with are two astounding performances from both actors. Miller and Cumberbatch were both superlative in their respective roles reflecting the similarities, contrasts, and underlying bond between Frankenstein and his ‘monster’.

Another big plus for me is that the play was pretty closely based on Mary Shelley’s original book. I studied Frankenstein for my Literature degree and always thought it was a shame Hollywood usually went for a mute and stupid monster, whereas in the original he was smart and erudite and tortured by the self awareness of how he looked and what he was. He was passionate and lonely and wanted to love whereas Frankenstein was cold and aloof and tended to shun company. There are a lot of themes being explored here and it’s intelligently done.

I’m not sure how long the National Theatre will be doing this but if you get a chance to see it, I thoroughly 100% recommend it. You can’t see it on the internet or buy it (which is weird in this day and age), so go and see Frankenstein at your nearest arty cinema.

Links to performances can be found here: http://ntlive.nationaltheatre.org.uk/productions/16546-frankenstein

Here is a trailer:

Here is another:

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Intermittent Fasting. The 5:2 Diet.

I’m currently on my second 84 hour work week which would suck if TV didn’t pay by the hour. When I’m not working in the glittering world of watching telly professionally, I work as a journalist. In my spare time I write fiction, play computer games and go to the pub/ out for dinner. To summarize then: I need to lose a stone in weight.

So for the first time in my life, I am on a diet. I’ve actually tried a few exciting dietary fads over the years, vain bastard that I am, but they rarely last to the second meal so they might not count. But then I heard about the intermittent fasting diet and have decided to leap on the bandwagon. (Or at least slide my beer gut over the edge of the wagon and collapse gracelessly to its floor.)

The theory is that for two non-consecutive days a week I eat less than 600 calories. (It’s 500 for women.) The rest of the week you can eat what you want – even Scottish food served in American-sized portions (although the cholesterol will get you). Apparently this is to do with something scientific and is therefore brilliant.

I had originally heard of this diet in a science magazine but it was to do with the possibility that it may make you live a lot longer. While the longevity effect seems to work on mice and other critters, it sadly doesn’t for us primates. However this calorie restriction massively reduces the risks of disease and makes you much, much healthier. So you are considerably more likely to make it well into old age and look pretty sexy while doing so.

Some have found it hard to get used to the ‘fast’ days when you start out but to be fair to the diet – some people are greedy and weak and have the will power of a five year old child surrounded by sweets. It could be that due to my chaotic work schedule and weird hours I’m just used to having days where I barely eat and subsist on coffee, but I found the ‘fast’ bits really easy. It’s only one day where you can’t eat much, then you can enjoy a few days of pies and beer until the next one.

At some point in the future I will probably update how it is all going but I don’t want a ‘Bridget Jones’ style commentary going on. Of course if it works, I probably won’t shut up about it. Anyway, time for pie.

If you are portly and want more info:

 

Australia, Morocco, and Thailand. Three True Travel Stories

Travel book cover finalI have an exciting new book! It is called ‘Australia, Morocco, and Thailand. Three True Travel Stories’. Not the catchiest of titles, I’ll admit, but I want people to know what they’re getting. Three true travel stories where yours truly was in peril. In three different places. Here’s the blurb:

Jason Ward tells three true stories of fairly perilous travel.

While backpacking in his early twenties, he decides to give fruit picking a go. Even without the spiders, snakes, and a plague of locusts, things turn out pretty badly.
A trip into the Atlas Mountains with his girlfriend turns out less than romantic when flash floods threaten to wipe out the town. The only escape option is a van full of Berber tribesmen and a waterlogged road on the edge of a cliff.
After moving to the peaceful paradise of Thailand, Ward goes to a local pub near his Bangkok flat. That evening there is a military coup. In Bangkok. So why can’t he see anything?

These stories are filled with humour and dollops of fear. Recommended for those who enjoy travel stories or just like reading about someone being mildly terrified in foreign countries.

If you like travel stories please give them a go. Also, if you like them, please leave a review, they really help and I need to eat. If you don’t like them, then move along, nothing to see here.

For UK customers:

For our American cousins:

The book costs a pittance. Which is a bargain!

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The Uneven Passage of Time

The Uneven Passage of Time cover finalI’m not just plugging my awesome eBook because I haven’t done so for 6 months, (although that would be reason enough,) I’m plugging it because I am going to release a new one! Soon! The last trilogy of tales was a thoughtful blast of entertaining Scifi short story excitement. The next are a trio of true travel tales. Which are dramatised and are going to be pretty damn exciting too.

They are from three different periods of my life – when I was 21 and picking fruit in Australia and there were snakes, spiders and a plague of locusts; another was when I was in my late 20s in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco in prime flash flood season and the only escape was a trip in a van full of Berber tribesmen driven down the edge of a cliff; and the final one is set in Bangkok in my mid-30s when the Thai military thoughtlessly staged a military coup during happy hour. All three are moments where I really thought there was a chance I might die. And not my usual concern of alcohol poisoning either – these were genuine threats.

I just need to finalise the cover and sort out the bastard formatting. So bear with me.

In the meantime, I give you The Uneven Passage of Time!

Here’s the blurb:

Time, famously, is relative. In this trio of short stories journalist and fiction writer Jason R. Ward looks at three individuals and their unorthodox journeys through time. These entertaining tales blend the themes of psychology and perception with classic science fiction.

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.

For the US:
http://www.amazon.com/Uneven-Passage-Time-ebook/dp/B006MHSWI2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1324264158&sr=8-1
For the UK:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Uneven-Passage-Time-ebook/dp/B006MHSWI2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1324258518&sr=8-1

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The Uneven Passage of Time

The Uneven Passage of time by Jason Ward

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:

Product Description

Time, famously, is relative. In this trio of short stories journalist and fiction writer Jason R. Ward looks at three individuals and their unorthodox journeys through time. These entertaining tales blend the themes of psychology and perception with classic science fiction. 

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:
http://www.amazon.com/Uneven-Passage-Time-ebook/dp/B006MHSWI2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1324264158&sr=8-1
For the UK:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Uneven-Passage-Time-ebook/dp/B006MHSWI2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1324258518&sr=8-1

 

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The Fear Index by Robert Harris

The Fear Index by Robert Harris

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.

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A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones

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.

As you may have gleaned from the book review on my scifi site, it isn’t without flaws. But it is bloody good fun and I won’t hesitate in recommending it. The TV show or the books. Enjoy.

 

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Kindle review

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…)

This could be my flat in five years

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.

 

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Our Kind of Traitor by John Le Carre

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.

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The Millennium Trilogy by Steig Larsson

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

Reviewed here.

The Girl who Played with Fire

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.

The girl who kicked the hornets' nestThe Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest

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.

Conclusion

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.

 

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Tricks of the Mind by Derren Brown

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.

Tricks of the Mind by Derren Brown 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 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. Derren 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 Tricks of the Mind. 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 Derren Brown’s 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 do get cooler lightsabers.

 

 

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo book review

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo book

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 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 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 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 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 the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. 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.

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The City and The City by China Mieville

The City and The CityThe City and The City is a unique and fascinating book. Plus it is a good one.

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.

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