Not bad. Not quite as engrossing as Nathaniel Philbrick's The Heart of the Sea, but very interesting to read nonetheless. Don't recall Napoleon beingNot bad. Not quite as engrossing as Nathaniel Philbrick's The Heart of the Sea, but very interesting to read nonetheless. Don't recall Napoleon being quite so weaselly in the history I was taught in school, but I guess the Anglophone world has quite a different perspective on him. Shame the book outlined everything in the prologue. I think it could have been more gripping had it retained a bit more mystery.
I'll probably write a proper review later. If you like popp history near-novelisations, this is a worthwhile one to read....more
Jolly good, frivolous fun. A guilty pleasure, really. Marred slightly by the huge number of named characters (mostly, Red Shirts, many of whom barelyJolly good, frivolous fun. A guilty pleasure, really. Marred slightly by the huge number of named characters (mostly, Red Shirts, many of whom barely get a name before coming to a bad end, or, in one case, get named after meeting their end), which makes it a little confusing. I liked it enough to buy the rest of the series, but sneakily hope that things will get a little less... scattershot... as it continues. In particular, the way time passes between missions (and the composition of the historian team) is quite bewildering and unsteady.
If you like cheerful tales of adventure, magic and librarians, this is the book for you! Big adventures, clever detectives, magic, fey folk, cyborgs, dragons, zeppelins, secrets, conspiracies... rollicking good fun!...more
In summary: it's a rare treat, to see Star Trek do a comedy of errors / farcical opera, and the sense of whimsy is delightful. Unfortunately, it lacks glue holding the different adventures together. It could make a wonderful play / film, but as a book, it's a little too disjointed. Still, well worth reading if you like whimsy and farce and light-hearted humour and Star Trek....more
This was the first Terry Pratchett book I ever read. I read it in German, and after that, I tried one of his books in English, and then I became an adThis was the first Terry Pratchett book I ever read. I read it in German, and after that, I tried one of his books in English, and then I became an addict.
Reading it now (16 years, or half my life so far, later), in English, I am surprised at the fact that it's not actually as amazing as I thought it would be.
There are some things I still love about it. And I really like that even Granny Weatherwax is a bit younger at heart than she is in later books - blushing, and twirling, at some points - but on the whole, it was just fairly pleasant book, rather than a great one.
I love Greebo in this - it's probably his most memorable appearance. And I like the fairy tales, the travelling, the voodoo, and the way the stories end... but somehow, the elements don't quite blend together as well as I thought. The witches travel through Discworld France, Spain and Italy, but these fairly simple adaptations of Earth cultures don't quite fit with the universalness of folk tales, and the Caribbean voodoo doesn't quite gel with the pseudo-Italian setting. If the book (gently) mocks its protagonists for their island mentality, it doesn't quite fit that all "foreign" cultures are blended and superimposed quite so randomly.
It's still a lighthearted, broadly uplifting read (although the wolf and the execution are as haunting now as they were when I was 16), and I am eternally thankful for the fact that this book made me a Pratchett fan, but, with the benefit of hindsight, it is definitely not one of his best....more
Then, I re-read the book and Goodreads disappeared my review on GR (apparently, Goodreads does not understand the concept of re-reading!)
I loved this book on the second read, too.
It's a book that makes me feel a bit funny. It's as if someone set out to write the perfect romance novel just for me: the female protagonist has a personality very similar to that of someone I've been painfully in unrequited love with for many years. The male protagonist has a personality and hang-ups that I strongly identify with. The book shows them becoming very slowly closer to each other (and I, too, am very slow at investing emotions, so that, too resonates, big time). It is a very bittersweet read for me, as it makes me all emotional and shows me a happy ending that sadly does not match my own experience. Oh, and there's a grand tour of different cultures and adventures and travelling and science fiction and the book is intelligent and funny. So yeah. If anyone wants to know what I'd perceive as the perfect romantic novel which makes me feel all mushy and more than a little sad inside, this is it....more
In summary: if I had to think of any other novel matching this one for its mixture of warmth, humour, and issue-tackling, it's To Kill a Mockingbird that springs to mind. Jasmine Nights is that rare thing – a novel on a par with To Kill a Mockingbird, with the added benefit of being set in a place and culture somewhat less familiar to Western readers. Very enjoyable, very funny, very smart, and with a warmth about it that makes it a joyful read. ...more
A summary: If you are not an existing fan of the Kingkiller Chronicles, don’t buy this. At least, not yet. Go out and buy The Name of the Wind. It is amazing. Then, read The Wise Man’s Fear, which is pretty good, too. And after that, if you’re addicted to Pat’s amazing way with words, maybe you’ll be the sort of fan to also enjoy The Slow Regard of Silent Things. Unfortunately, I was not that fan. However, if you think you’d enjoy a 30,000 word vignette with minimal plot about Auri, then give it a try. You might love this book. Many people do. ...more
Willoby is a middle-aged prison guard, a husband and a father. But at heart, he still pines for his days as a soldier. His job is not his calling, there is distance between him and his wife, and his teenage daughter resents him. When he starts having visions and seizures, his first fear is that losing consciousness would be very dangerous in his job. For the first time ever, he takes time off for sickness. Then, his visions start to affect not just his job, but his family life.
In his visions, he is pulled into another world, first as an observer through the eyes of a prince, but then physical transfers between worlds start to happen. The other world is medieval, filled with a people who have just fled from their former homelands across icy mountains into a new land, keen to start new lives. But intrigue is afoot, and for complex reasons, the bastard prince Tallimon needs an outsider. He needs Willoby.
Riding the Unicorn is not your average fantasy novel, nor even your average person-from-our-world-goes-into-fantasy-world novel. For one thing, our protagonist is a flawed man. He's quite rough. In fact, he is a thug, and not just because his language is tough and he works in a prison. In fantasy novels, you don't get many working class protagonists who occasionally hit their wives.
The world he enters, meanwhile, may have some fantastical elements - some magic, some monsters - but the magic is understated, the monsters just fauna, really. Today's readers might be tempted to compare this world to Westeros, except this novel was originally published before Game of Thrones, so it definitely isn't derivative.
This is an intelligent, authentic novel. Willoby is not the type to have a mid-life crisis, but his glimpses of that other world trigger one: suddenly, his own life seems pale by comparison. He's afraid that he is losing his mind, but even more worried about the prospects of talk therapy and psychiatrists. His feelings for his family are decidedly mixed - there is fatigue and exhaustion, but also a stubborn determination to make it work. Meanwhile, in the other world, there's intrigue and powerplays and politics, and the sort of scheming we have come to expect from gritty, realist fantasy fiction (all the more impressive for having been written 20 years ago: the book must have been way ahead of its time).
Riding the Unicorn is never boring. It's very readable, consistently entertaining and intelligent. It could just as easily be marketed as "lit-fic" as fantasy - there is enough focus on characters, character development, and thoughtful treatment of all kinds of serious themes in this novel to satisfy even readers who never touch 'escapist' fantasy literature, while there's enough swashbuckling adventure and grit for fantasy fans not to get bored. This book truly has the best of both worlds - but it is a serious novel, steering clear of comedy or light relief.
The title, however, is poorly chosen. No unicorns appear in the book at all. (Apparently, 'Riding the Unicorn' is a colloquialism for 'going mad'). Putting a unicorn in the title of a fantasy novel might set up the wrong expectations in readers: this is not a frivolous novel of sparkly merriment.
Summary: If what you're looking for is a quick, entertaining thriller, briskly told and pleasantly entertaining, then this book is great. It's a perfectly satisfying airport paperback - great for whiling away a plane ride.
New Cairo is an underground city inside a giant crater, surrounded, like a crown, by waytowers / elevator exits. The roof of the city is covered in solar panels; an artificial sun lights the inside. Inside the city, many people are effectively cyborgs, augmented with artificial limbs and organs. Unrest is stirring: some affliction has been shutting down the augmentations, leaving people disabled, and even dead. A curfew has been put in place. People from the areas where the infection is common are not allowed to leave the city, supposedly to keep the outside world safe. But it does not seem like a coincidence that those are also the poorer areas of the city - augmentations being pivotal to hard physical labour and industrial work.
Then, a hooded stranger walks up to the waytower, seeking to return secretly to the city...
The Hive Construct won the 2013 Terry Pratchett Prize (for first novels). Despite its patron, this is not a comedy novel (nor a prize for humorous works). It's a thriller set in a future of CCTV-ridden, highly networked cities, of bio-augmentations and contact lenses that work much like Google Glasses. In terms of technology, there is nothing in the book that seems inconceivable - and nothing you haven't encountered before in other science fiction. But the story isn't really interested in technology: it's interested in the politics of resistance and uprising.
The main characters are a computer hacker with a past, a city councillor who is part of a dynasty of super-wealthy and politicians, and a mother who just lost her husband (a revolutionary) and who wishes to escape the city with her children. They all have different problems at the start: one wants to find and solve the virus problem, the second has been kidnapped, and the third finds herself drawn into directing operations due to her experience of running police ops from her computer.
The Hive Construct has several admirable qualities: it never gets boring, it builds up some degree of credibility in its characters and their actions, and everyone has their own problems to deal with. No one is a square-jawed selfless hero.
Set against that is a series of flaws. While the setting may be called New Cairo, it does not feel authentically Egyptian. Where Ian MacDonald creates immersive futures set in emerging nations, this novel just picks up a few vaguely Egyptian-sounding names, but could otherwise be just as easily set in America or Britain. And while the characters seem more or less believable, the story still treats the wider population - crowds especially - as a malleable mass, easily manipulated, directed, a flow, rather than anything feeling realistically like people. This gives the book a strangely detached feel, especially in the later chapters. These come across like a strategy game or a Roland Emmerich movie: lots of action, but not much punch.
In the end, it's a novel experimenting around with politics. Inspired by the Arab Spring, the Occupy Movement, the London Riots, every bit of unrest and economic disparity, it's really a novel wondering about the rich and the poor, about politicians and corporations, about ends justifying means and how the means might affect the ends. It's a thought experiment, dressed as a scifi thriller. It's not stupid, but, like other novels which toy around with such themes, it feels a bit too calculated, a bit too concerned with its points to really connect. It's like reading China Mieville's more political novels (e.g. Iron Council), but without the linguistic distractions.
As thrillers go, it's not bad, and on a par with Michael Crighton's work. I had hoped for something a bit more ambitious, though....more
A Darkling Sea is a novel about scientists and explorers on a distant moon. The moon is covered in a thick layer of solid ice, with a liquid, bittercoA Darkling Sea is a novel about scientists and explorers on a distant moon. The moon is covered in a thick layer of solid ice, with a liquid, bittercold ocean underneath. There are three sets of scientists: humans, there to study the native life forms, native creatures, researching their world, and another alien species, coming to tell the humans off for violating a space treaty by having interacted with the native aliens.
With a novel that has two alien civilisations at its heart, there is huge room for imagination to run wild. So I was slightly disappointed that these aliens were not, psychologically, terribly alien. The natives may be beluga-sized crustaceans with claws and feelers and pincers - but their social order and organisation and mindset is only alien around the edges. They might have different notions of nurturing the young ones, no interest in sex, a different take on common law versus the law of owned and claimed land, different paths of inheritance, and various other things - but they still talk and think and interact and converse and research in ways that seem not that different from humans. There is something interesting going on in the way they recall events and talk about the past, but it's not enough. The second alien species is all about sex, emotions, consensus, but they, too, could feasibly be a human society, when it comes to their own culture and psychology.
The novel is at its best when there are culture clashes - when one group of aliens decides to research a creature they found, not realising that the creature is an intelligent character. Or when two aliens try to apply the most effective social pressure they can think of on a creature that is not culturally compatible with their approach. Such scenes are darkly funny.
There are language / communication barriers, and culture clashes, but ultimately, we have three species, all having two genders (males and females), all having an interest in researching / finding out information, all having good, clear reasons for everything they do, all motivated by things that human can understand and relate to.
It's undoubtedly a pleasant read, never boring, and entertaining. But it's not a book likely to stay with me for very long. ...more
Dark Digital Sky is a novel about a private investigator, initially hired to find a Hollywood powerbroker's progeny - three men who grew from his donoDark Digital Sky is a novel about a private investigator, initially hired to find a Hollywood powerbroker's progeny - three men who grew from his donor sperm.
While his investigation swings into gear, America finds itself subjected to a series of crimes - heists and theatrics - and our detective tracks not just his own case, but keeps aware of the news.
There are many things to like about this novel, but also some which are a bit frustrating. Let's start with the frustrations: the plot takes quite a while before there's any real tension. For a good third of the novel, our PI basically stalks and manipulates three men and people connected to them, without anything other than an easy paycheck driving his ambitions. The plot does pick up, and eventually there are stakes - higher and higher stakes - but at the start, things aren't as mysterious and intriguing as you'd expect from a thriller.
With regards to our detective's work, there is a split between the technical and the human stuff: he's utterly convincing when using technology, hacks, botnets, and other digital methods to track down, investigate, spy upon, disrupt or manipulate. But when it comes to the human interactions, the story seems to be outside its comfort zone. Our hero's method is basically: find source. Ask source questions. Get all the answers. It's true that his angle of attack varies - slightly - between the people he approaches, but every single one of them ultimately answers all his questions with all the information in a single interview. A reader willing to suspend their disbelief would argue that this is the reason why our detective is so successful, why he can afford a Porsche and being quite particular about his methods and very direct when interacting with his client. Personally, I wasn't convinced - our hero is way too blunt with almost every character, and I simply did not believe that no one, when flustered, disengages from his confrontational approach. It felt too much as if each human character was treated as an information repository, which, queried by our detective, spills out all its data, exactly as laptops and hard drives spill their secrets once cracked.
The writing is to the point. Our hero is somewhat cynical, like a detective should be. He does have a tendency to opine about things that one does not expect a detective to be waxing lyrical about: he wears a different black rock band t-shirt each day and briefly describes each motif at the start of each day. He has read hundreds of books and watched many movies, and every evening he winds down simultaneously watching films, re-reading novels and keeping track of the news, in a multi-screen set up that could be straight from Back To The Future 2. Oh, and our hero is bipolar, with a keen interest in his medication (and a habit of describing it, and his brain, with the sort of attitude that wouldn't be out of place in a car enthusiast, fine tuning the engine of his most precious, if somewhat temperamental, classic sports car).
Having a bipolar detective as hero is not something I've encountered before. I guess after OCD detective Monk, in-care detective Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a schizophrenic detective in Perception, a deaf detective in F.B.Eye, a paraplegic detective in The Bone Collector, and many, many arrogant geniuses with flaws where social niceties would be (cough, Sherlock, House, Lie To Me, cough), there isn't going to be any disability, physical or otherwise, that isn't going to have a detective series dedicated to it. That said, the manic episode is the most interesting and well-crafted part of the novel: it allows the detective to remain convincing while making decisions that would be out of character for a super-competent hero, so his condition certainly earns its narrative keep and does not feel like a gimmick.
The novel moves quite quickly, and while it takes its time to build up tension, it never gets boring. It's entertaining and smooth to read, comparable to thrillers by Michael Crighton, Jeffrey Deaver, Robert Galbraith and especially Michael Marshall (with a sub plot that slightly echoes the Straw Men mythos being built up by Marshall). It's a satisfying popcorn read, technologically convincing, and very smart when it comes to the baddies' attacks & the wider repercussions of those deeds. It's not as satisfying when it comes to character interactions, and every now and again the plot construction feels a bit forced, but to be fair, neither Dan Brown nor Michael Crighton worry too much about these things.
It's got a good pace and an interesting hero - it's certainly a promising start to a series. For comparison, I'm more likely to continue reading this series than I am to continue reading Jim Butcher's Dresden Files after trying the first two. (3.5/5)...more