I thoroughly enjoyed reading these exchanges between Jeff Lucas and Adrian Plass. Although in places it did feel like I was reading letters that were...moreI thoroughly enjoyed reading these exchanges between Jeff Lucas and Adrian Plass. Although in places it did feel like I was reading letters that were intended to be read by a wider audience than just their recipients, there is so much honesty and openness that I could forget about that. Laugh-out-loud funny in a few places, tear-inducing in others - a heart-warming mix of pathos and humour. Overall: reassuring ... and thought-provoking.
My favourite part - which sums up the whole book for me:
"Lord, remember me when you come to your Kingdom."
I've given this book two stars because it's the average of one and three. There were some aspects of this book that I enjoyed and...more**CONTAINS SPOILERS**
I've given this book two stars because it's the average of one and three. There were some aspects of this book that I enjoyed and would give three stars to, and some aspects of this book that I didn't like at all and to which I'd give one star.
First off, I admit that I am a massive fan of Firefly and the reason I bought this book was because I'd seen it recommended as a story that would be enjoyed by Browncoats. So it had a lot to live up to. Perhaps it's no surprise then that I didn't like it as much as I'd hoped.
I'll start with the things I liked about it:
I enjoyed the plot; I'm a sucker for the Mal Reynolds, Jack Sparrow, Han Solo types - captains of ships, who are both pirates and good men and who set off on adventures with nothing but personal gain in mind, but who, by the end of the story, realise that there's more to life than money. Darien Frey certainly goes on that journey, although at the start of the book he's far, far more pirate (and unpleasantly so) than any of the aforementioned captains. As plots go, it was fairly straightforward and the conspiracy wasn't overly convoluted, but that wasn't a bad thing. Thumbs-up for easy reading!
I thought the actions scenes were gripping, some of the best writing in the book.
I liked the world - airships that could fly like X-wing fighters, enchanted weapons and 'technology'. It was fairly sparsely described, there was enough to give a taste of the setting without slowing down the action.
I liked Jez. She was the most interesting character, self-motivated, intelligent, strong.
On to the things I didn't like:
Ironically, the thing I liked least about this book was its similarity to Firefly. It was too similar. Some of the plot points, characters and scenes had been transplanted straight from the TV show, for example:
*Crake and Bess seemed to be based on Simon and River - posh bloke on the run with a girl in a box *Pinn was Jayne Cobb - stupid thug/bully *Quail was Badger - the petty criminal who sets people up with jobs. Note the animal name. *The Coalition was The Alliance *The Manes were Reavers - merciless, terrifying marauders. (Reavers ain't men. Or they forgot how to be. Now they're just nothing. They got out to the edge of the galaxy, to that place of nothing, and that's what they became - Mal, Bushwacked.)
There's a scene where two of Frey's crew go to a ball in disguise - "Shindig", anyone? And there's the scene where Frey is tortured with some form of electrical muscle cramper ... That'll be from "War Stories".
And then there's the very last line of the book, which is almost word-for-word the same as Mal's last line in the episode "Serenity". I couldn't quite believe it when I read it. Gobsmacked doesn't cover it!
I also noted some similarities to Pirates of the Caribbean. Malvery reminded me very much of Mr. Gibbs, there's a hidden pirate stronghold (Retribution Falls = Shipwreck Cove) and a magic compass. The Manes also reminded me of Barbossa's undead crew in Curse of the Black Pearl. ("We are not among the living, and so we cannot die, but neither are we dead. For too long I've been parched with thirst and unable to quench it. Too long I've been starving to death and haven't died. I feel nothing, not the wind on my face nor the spray of the sea, nor the warmth of a woman's flesh." Barbossa, CotBP.) Haven't you heard the stories?
To be honest I felt cheated. I wanted something that was reminiscent of Firefly and my other favourite piratey adventures, not a complete ripoff. The sense of déjà vu was overwhelmingly disappointing at times.
Another thing I didn't like were all the flashbacks which were used to tell the characters backstories. I felt they slowed the narrative down too much. I wasn't entirely convinced by Frey's change in attitude toward life and his crew either. There didn't seem to be any particular catalyst for this and I thought his introspection had to work too hard to cover for it. And then there was the wobbly point of view and the disagreement in tenses, sometimes within the same sentence. Rookie mistakes. I also thought it was odd that we never really got to meet the real baddies of the book, the people behind the attempted coup, the Awakeners.
The final thing that really turned me off this book was its portrayal of its female characters. When I first started feeling uncomfortable with this, I shrugged it off as just being down to the characters' attitudes (i.e. part of the plot) but by the end, I found myself googling 'retribution falls sexism' because I wondered if I was the only person feeling uneasy. I could write reams about this but, to my unpleasant surprise, I found lots of reviews by people who felt the same way as me. Here are a few:
It wouldn't have been so bad had the characters' sexism been tempered by the presence of some balancing narrative or the presence of at least one female character who wasn't either beautiful and therefore solely an object of male sexual desire or who wasn't unattractive and therefore not an object of male sexual desire.
Well, that's it. Overall 'Retribution Falls' was a very derivative work (I can't believe Joss Whedon hasn't sued Wooding!) with some redeeming features. I think that if I wasn't so familiar with Firefly I would have enjoyed it a lot more. And let's face it: nothing, no nothing is ever going to be as good as Firefly!
Now, I have a dilema. I've already borrowed the next book in the series from the library. Part of me wants to read it; I've got the feeling that now the crew of the 'Ketty Jay' is all set up, they might have some fun adventures of there own, but the other part of me thinks that the déjà vu will disappoint me all over again. Maybe I'll give the first chapter a go. Just call me a sucker for punishment!(less)
Gave up after about 60 pages. The premise is fascinating, but the execution just confused me. Too many times I had to reread a sentence just to figure...moreGave up after about 60 pages. The premise is fascinating, but the execution just confused me. Too many times I had to reread a sentence just to figure out what was going on, what it meant, and to whom it was referring. It's a shame because the story sounds like it would be right up my street, but the writing is just too opaque for me.(less)
"Human Croquet ... Hoops must never move from their stations, and must give no indication of their whereabouts to oncoming balls. When one game has be...more"Human Croquet ... Hoops must never move from their stations, and must give no indication of their whereabouts to oncoming balls. When one game has been played the players and balls exchange roles."(less)
The principles in this book make a great deal of sense. I have put some into practice and already feel infinitely better about myself. My plan now is...moreThe principles in this book make a great deal of sense. I have put some into practice and already feel infinitely better about myself. My plan now is to journal my way through the book again and keep practicing. Watch this space ...(less)
These are the stories of those left behind, the 'survivors' of war and atrocity. I found each one deeply affecting and couldn't just plough through th...moreThese are the stories of those left behind, the 'survivors' of war and atrocity. I found each one deeply affecting and couldn't just plough through this collection as I might normally have done. Out of respect for the people whose lives are laid bare, I had to stop after each story, if only for a few minutes, and ponder what I had read. Every story became a prayer for peace and an end to war and suffering. A hard but beautiful read.(less)
A superb collection of flash-fiction written by writers in the West Country of England. A veritable treasure chest of small, shiny stories. This would...moreA superb collection of flash-fiction written by writers in the West Country of England. A veritable treasure chest of small, shiny stories. This would be a great introduction to the form for anyone interested in flash-fiction as well as appealing to the more seasoned reader or writer. Not only is it a good read, but it's a good size - small enough to fit in a coat pocket or a handbag.
(Disclosure: I was one of the submission readers for this anthology.)(less)
One Saturday afternoon, when I was about twelve years old, my dad put a tape in our VCR and pressed play. After the pounding of the 20th Ce...more4.5/5 stars
One Saturday afternoon, when I was about twelve years old, my dad put a tape in our VCR and pressed play. After the pounding of the 20th Century Fox drums had faded, there was a quiet pause followed by a second dramatic fanfare. (Even now, nearly thirty years later, the sound of it makes my insides tickle with anticipation!) As the trumpets trumpeted, little blue words appeared on a space-blackened screen: A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away … And thus began my love affair with Space Opera.
Star Wars led me to Star Trek, which, if we we'd been good, we were allowed to watch on the black-and-white telly in the dining room while we ate our dinner on a Friday night. After that came, Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, Blake Seven, Stargate, Farscape, Andromeda and Firefly. I haven't just watched Space Opera, though, I've read it too: Anne McCaffrey, Iain M. Banks, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Frank Herbert, Larry Niven, M. John Harrison to name but a few of the authors who have graced my shelves over the years. There's just something about the adventure of it all, the battles of good against evil, the people, the places, the romance …
Which brings me to how I came to read this book. I wanted to read a Space Opera that had a good measure of romance in it. Something epic and solidly sciency, but in which the characters fall in and out of love like normal people do. If you google 'science fiction romance' you are presented with lists of books where the SF is just a backdrop for sex. The covers depict strong, bare-chested men holding impossibly-curvy, swooning women in their bulgingly-bicepy arms. Not my cup of klah. I wanted a story where the romance was a subplot … you know, like Han and Leia's, Malcolm Reynolds and Inara Serra's, John Crichton and Aeryn Sun's. Anyway, after a lot more googling, I came up with a recommendation for this book by Ursula K. Le Guin. I've read and enjoyed a few of hers, but hadn't come across this one. I'm so glad I did, though, because not only is it packed with solid science, and not only is there a hefty dose of … I wouldn't call it romance; maybe 'relationships' is a better term, like all good SF it holds a mirror up to humanity and makes it take a long, hard look at itself.
The Birthday of the World and Other Stories is a collection of eight short stories set in Le Guin's Hainish Cycle universe. The individual stories are each set in a different society within that universe and explore the cultural norms and issues relating mainly to relationships, sex, sexuality and gender.
Coming of Age in Karhide is about a young Gethenian who is approaching puberty. Gethenians are hermaphroditic and androgynous for most of the time, except during periods called Kemmer, when they morph into either males or females in order to mate. A fascinating (and graphic) look at how we view people though the lens of gender.
The Matter of Seggri is set on a world where the number of women in six-times greater than the number of men. Women live in medieval-style villages, while the men live in garrison-like castles. At first it appears as if the men have the better life – the women do all the work and provide the castles with all that they need; the men entertain themselves with games and competition and leave their castles only to have sex – but it soon emerges that things are, as they say, not quite as they seem. Again, a fascinating look at gender roles.
Unchosen Love starts with the words “Sex, for everybody, on every world, is a complicated business, but nobody seems to have complicated marriage quite as much as my people have.” On Planet O, there are four types of people: Morning women, Morning men, Evening women and Evening men, and a marriage is made up of all four. This story and the next, Mountain Ways, shine a light on love and marriage by showing us it's intricacies, issues and how it does and doesn't work on Planet O.
In Solitude we meet the daughter of a scientist who takes her children to live amongst the people of Eleven-Soro in order to observe their culture. Women live in villages called 'auntrings' and keep themselves to themselves, while men live hermit-like in the forests around the auntrings, the two only coming together to mate. The world is post-apocalyptic and you get the feeling that this segregation is society's way of avoiding the critical population mass and magic (technology) that they believe caused the disaster, a belief which the daughter comes to adhere to as she grows up amongst the people her mother is observing.
Old Music and the Slave Woman is a sad story about freedom and justice in a world divided by civil war.
The Birthday of the World tells of a ruling family who believe they are Gods, but who end up questioning that belief when a prophecy appears to come true.
Paradise Lost is the tale of the fifth generation of passengers born aboard a long-range spaceship who eventually discover that they are going to reach their destination (an earth-like planet) forty years ahead of schedule. Over the years they've been travelling, a new mythology has evolved aboard the ship which comes into conflict with the ship's original purpose. It makes the reader ask, “What's more important, the journey or the destination?”
It was a bit of a mixed bag as far as holding my interest goes. I couldn't put down Coming of Age in Karhide, The Matter of Seggri, Unchosen Love, Mountain Ways or Solitude, but I had to force myself to finish Old Music and the Slave Woman and The Birthday of the World. They were a bit slow and trudgy. By far the best (and longest) story, though, was Paradise Lost. Utterly gripping.
So, this book has got it all - solid science, adventure and alien societies, space-age ships and technologies, romance, relationships and religions - and it's all written in Le Guin's confident, intelligent style that forces you to think beyond the words on the page, but the stories in this book have not satisfied my hunger for Space Opera; they have just increased it.
On a side note, perhaps the most inspiring part of this book for me as a writer, was the foreword written by Le Guin herself, in which she shares her writing process. It seems that for her, writing a story is a voyage of discovery. Sometimes she doesn't understand where a story is going. Sometimes bits of myth and legend pop into her head. Sometimes she just listens to the people who populate her worlds and lets their voices take over. I've often wondered if I should plan out my longer stories more, but reading about how Le Guin writes has given me a bit more confidence to follow my instincts and carry on writing by the seat of my pants.(less)
I received this book as part of a Goodreads giveaway.
I liked this collection of short stories and flash-fictions. The length of each story perfectly s...moreI received this book as part of a Goodreads giveaway.
I liked this collection of short stories and flash-fictions. The length of each story perfectly suited my short concentration span, and they packed a lot in - characters, conflicts, plots and settings were all as fully realised as they needed to be. Many of the tales seemed to deal with loss and/or separation, and many had a little twist in the tail which either had me rereading in an attempt to spot the signposts, or had me reassessing my views and thought processes - a sign of good fiction! All of them elicited a reaction from me. I dithered about whether to give the book three or four stars, but settled on three because although I enjoyed it and found something to appreciate in every story, the overall collection didn't blow me away. I think it was because the arrangement of the stories didn't quite work - there are two ghost stories back to back, for example, and as so many stories had twists, I couldn't just settle into a tale and enjoy it without my mind trying to spot the surprise before it happened. Having said that, I'd definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys or who is interested in flash-fiction. It's a good read!(less)
I’ve always loved a good crime novel, but I picked this one up specifically because it was set in the city of Bath, my old hometown. I love to read ab...moreI’ve always loved a good crime novel, but I picked this one up specifically because it was set in the city of Bath, my old hometown. I love to read about the city and the people who live there, even if they are fictional.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Couldn’t put it down. It has everything: a much-loved setting, characters who elicited conflicting feelings in me, internal and external conflict, heartache, romance, increasing suspense, skeletons in closets, a few twists and turns, a murder to solve and an unsettlingly open ending …(less)
I confess I'm a little biased about this anthology, and that's because I'm in it! Seriously though, there are some cracking pieces of flash-fiction in...moreI confess I'm a little biased about this anthology, and that's because I'm in it! Seriously though, there are some cracking pieces of flash-fiction in this book. Worth dipping into over and over and over again.(less)