Tag Archives: books

Free books!

You read that right. Free books. My three books, to be precise. I have decided to put them out to share with the interweb because I am feeling generous and want to improve my Karma. Also, I would like some reviews. If you like Science Fiction or Travel Writing, please have a look. Here is a brief intro:

Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 3.25.49 PMCooperworld – 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, I have a light-hearted but fairly philosophical look at what constitutes consciousness and how we perceive reality. Humorous in some parts and deep in others. This is a 17,000 word story.

 

Travel book cover finalAustralia, Morocco, and Thailand: Three true travel tales – These three true stories of fairly perilous travel. Here are what they are roughly about:
While backpacking in my early twenties, I thought I’d 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 my 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, I pop to the local pub in Bangkok. That evening there is a military coup. In Bangkok. So why can’t I 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.

The Uneven Passage of Time cover finalThe Uneven Passage of Time – When I was thinking of trying out writing on Kindle, I went through my short stories and found three that were linked by the idea of ‘Time’. So I published them. Here is the description:

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.

 

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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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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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Amazon can see into my brain

This morning I logged into Amazon and checked out my recommendations. At first I was a bit shocked at what kind of twisted artistic deviant they must think I am. Then I realized they had actually got it pretty right. I don’t know what kind of cunning algorithms they have there but it was like looking at a snapshot of my colossal brain. The sort of things that make my mighty brain tick. Here are the top 4:

Seraphine

Seraphine

First up, is an arty French film with a classic arthouse tale. A French chick a hundred years ago has a really shitty life. All she likes to do is make art whenever she has a spare moment. Just to make things shitter, the First World War then breaks out. Eventually an art dealer discovers her and everything comes up trumps. This recommendation is obviously because Amazon recognises a sensitive artistic soul.

Big Tits Zombie 3DBig Tits Zombie

Yup. This was number two. Obviously this should be near the top of any red-blooded male zombie fan’s list. Big breasted Oriental chicks with chainsaws in 3D! How could that be bad? Well obviously it could be a pretty crap but with zombies, breasts, and chainsaws, it can’t be awful.

The Fields of DeathThe Fields of Death by Simon Scarrow

This recommendation was easier to work out as I had read the three books that lead up to this and I love historical fiction. An awesome, epic tale that recounts the lives of Napoleon and Wellington until they finally meet at Waterloo. It’s cool because it is a real story and one of those historical tales that would be a bit far fetched if it was fiction. Huge bloody battles galore!

Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2

This was a superb recommendation as it is actually a game I have already played on PC. Epic, brilliant space adventure at it’s best. I fucking love this game so much. The sequel is coming out soon and I will be getting that. This was a recommendation as I clearly enjoy brilliance.

So there you go. If you are a psychic and were lucky enough to meet me and probed my mind, this is pretty much what’s in there. A dash of moving and miserable art, a dollop of chainsaw wielding Asian porn horror, a splodge of historical swashbuckling and violence, and a healthy splattering of space blasters and epic galactic adventure.

It’s just bit scary that Amazon knows this. Get out of my mind!

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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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Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

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.

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The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl & Cyril M. Kornbluth

The Space Merchants by Pohl & Kornbluth

The Space Merchants by Pohl & Kornbluth

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.

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And Another Thing… by Eoin Colfer

And Another Thing... by Eoin Colfer

And Another Thing... by Eoin Colfer

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.

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The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

The Lost SymbolI 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.

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A Scanner Darkly by Philip K Dick

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K Dick

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K Dick

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.

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Halting State by Charles Stross

halting_state_large_UKHalting State by Charles Stross 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 Halting State 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 all of Halting State 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. Stross 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 Halting State 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. Charles Stross is always good value.

“You are clicking on Amazon…”

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Ringworld by Larry Niven

RingworldRingworld by Larry Niven is a classic science fiction book. In fact, It is such a classic that until recently I had assumed I had already read it. I think I got confused with other books featuring Dyson Spheres or possibly Harry Harrison’s Wheelworld (Book 2 of this great series). But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Ringworld 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 Ringworld. It had me thinking “fuck, this book is awesome!” from about page two onwards. (Having 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. 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. Because we’re exciting idiots.

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. Needless to say, Ringworld is superb. I often prefer pre-1980s Sci Fi as it tends to be more idea and philosophy based. The world itself is a very cool, huge idea and the possibilities for it are almost endless.

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.

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Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

neil_gaimanNeverwhere by Neil Gaiman is a superb book that I highly recommend.

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 Neverwhere 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.

Neverwhere was based on the TV series which initially made me mildly concerned. Books based on movies generally feel a bit shallow after all. (Excluding Alan Dean Foster tie-ins, obviously.) 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.

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Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev

Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev

Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev

Don’t be put off by the fact that this book is a ‘Russian classic’, Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons is truly worth a read. Plus, it isn’t a thousand pages of depression like some others I could mention.

The book, not surprisingly given the title, is concerned with the generation gap. But it is also concerned with Russian society at that time, embracing the modern world, disillusionment, the power of emotion, family dynamics, and change both individual and national. The book was written just after the emancipation of the serfs and is set just before this major event.

The story follows two recently graduated students called Yevgeny Bazarov and his friend Arkady Kirsanov as they travel around meeting various characters. Bazarov and Kirsanov are both ‘nihilists’ and while their beliefs are pretty tame by todays standards, their desire for change, dislike of the ‘system’, and rejection of emotion and embrace of science was revolutionary and shocking in its day. Mind you, so was a woman showing her knees – so it’s all relative.

The characters they visit are almost archetypes of the various strata and political viewpoints of society at the time. It is through the interaction and contrasts with these various characters on their journey that the story is told. The society at the time was undergoing a massive upheaval and the fathers are struggling to adapt to these changes that are represented by their children. The younger generation transform too, as their nihilistic rejection of emotion is broken down by experience and love.

Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons is a true classic and is a strong contender for the first true Russian novel. It has influenced so many writers that you really should give it a try.

Ok, unless you are into this kind of literature you might be bored by the description above. So I should also mention that it includes mysterious but hot Russian widows, hippy chicks, disease, intrigue and even a duel with pistols.

Fathers and Sons can be read in a day. In my opinion, it would be a day well spent.

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Welcome to Hell by Colin Martin

I wrote this for a magazine in Bangkok. Might as well chuck it in here!

Welcome To Hell – One man’s fight for life inside the Bangkok Hilton

By Colin Martin

Welcome to Hell

Welcome to Hell by Colin Martin

Go into any western bookshop or airport in Thailand and you will come across a plethora of books penned by expats. These books generally fall into three categories. The first is the gritty detective novel featuring a world weary Western detective and his Thai girlfriend/wife who may or may not play an active role in the usually predictable tale. The second is a personal description of someone’s experiences in Thailand as a teacher, bar owner, punter or barfly. Colin Martin’s ‘Welcome to Hell’ falls firmly into the third and smallest category – Westerner ends up in a Thai prison and has a thoroughly unpleasant time.

Unlike some others in this latter group, Mr Martin claims that he was innocent. This alters the angle of his woeful story from a simple recounting of how horrendous prison life is and becomes a tale of injustice and frustration. A surprisingly enjoyable one.

Synopsis

Colin Martin worked in construction, had his own small business, and was married with kids. An almost clichéd idyll that makes the subsequent fall all the more compelling. In a nutshell – he sees an ad in a newspaper for a Thai-based company that needs some men to work on a nearby oil rig. After several meetings he ends up agreeing to supply the men and pays the company a large sum of money as a guarantee of good faith. Here begins the downfall. The company is fake and he loses all his money, his company, and his wife leaves him. Martin’s series of catastrophically bad decisions doesn’t end there though.

Rather than return to Europe with a lesson learned and his tail between his legs, he decides to stay in Thailand to try and find the men who conned him. He can certainly hold a grudge, as he ends up staying for three years. He even marries a local lady and has a kid. Eventually he finds one of the men involved and gets the address of another. After tricking the main con man into a meeting he ends up scuffling with the man’s bodyguard and kills him. He is then arrested and the police torture him into confessing to murder. The second half of the book describes the aforementioned ‘awful time’ as he languishes in prison for the next eight years.

Review

As I said, this is an extremely readable book that I read in one sitting. It is certainly one of the better novels written about Thailand, even if it is not particularly flattering. While the prose is hardly up there with Greene or Orwell it is simply and entertainingly told. If you felt like a bit of morbid entertainment while lying on beach, then this book would fit the bill. The actual tale itself is, in fact, best read in this frame of mind.

A few things gave me pause for thought, however. Firstly, I did feel sorry for Mr Martin. He is either far too trusting or far too naive. People seem to take advantage of his nature throughout the book. For example, he asks all the men he hires to bring a £10,000 bond with them and they all agree. None of the thirty men do. Not one. He is forced to then foot the bill. When the money is not forthcoming from the company he still goes ahead with everything. He never seems to truly question the fact that he is spending vast amounts of money for the privilege of being hired. Well he does a bit. Just not enough. Later, after his arrest, his brother sends him money to post bail. Despite three years of experience in Thailand, he gives the money to his Thai wife who comes from a poor provincial village, is much younger than he is, and who has a family to support. Unsurprisingly, she runs away with the money.

I occasionally found him hard to empathise with as a person. Amidst constant claims that he is just an innocent, family loving, businessman, there were details that niggled. On the first page he talks about an incident where someone is humiliated and if it had been him, he would have ‘smashed the guys face in’. When he finally meets one of the con men he head-butts him. He then beats a bodyguard to death, which is pretty extreme for a mild mannered businessman. Maybe I am being too harsh and he is simply an innocent guy that has been pushed too far.

I was mildly confused by some of the details of his crime. I won’t ruin anything for future readers but there are also some strange goings-on with a supposedly unconscious man disappearing and then turning up dead. Again maybe I am being too harsh.

Final conclusion:

I feel I should reiterate at this point: this is a highly enjoyable, easy to read, perfect beach book. The writing style is straightforward and compulsive. It will confirm anyone’s suspicions that life in a Thai prison is horrendous but there are some touching points in the story. There are also examples of some true acts of human kindness that help our protagonist survive his ordeal and help counterbalance his tale of woe. Some people are genuinely nice after all. Recommended.

You can buy Welcome to Hell by Colin Martin by clicking on this link. 

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