Following Stile further as he continues the struggles from Split Infinity. Trying to complete a series of competitions to win his freedom in one worl...moreFollowing Stile further as he continues the struggles from Split Infinity. Trying to complete a series of competitions to win his freedom in one world while trying to understand his new position and powers in the other. All while trying to avoid getting killed and working out who's trying to kill him. Phew!
While it doesn't really stand alone as a book, it's a good continuation of the series and keeps the intrigue and revelations coming.(less)
The conclusion of the Apprentice Adept trilogy. Although that trilogy seems to have grown somewhat since the first time I read the first three. Now it...moreThe conclusion of the Apprentice Adept trilogy. Although that trilogy seems to have grown somewhat since the first time I read the first three. Now it's a seven part series: two trilogies and a finale apparently.
The end of the first trilogy ties up all the loose ends. The ending isn't ever in any doubt – the good guys win, the bad guys lose. The journey is the fun. Now I'm gonna have to find the rest of the series aren't I?(less)
I read this book for the first time back in the early 90s, while at university. We had a fantastic book shop where you could give back books you'd rea...moreI read this book for the first time back in the early 90s, while at university. We had a fantastic book shop where you could give back books you'd read to help fund your new purchases. I introduced myself to a lot of previously unread science-fiction authors thanks to that shop, but I also read through a lot of great series that way too. Strangely, I never went any further with the stainless steel rat series, although I remembered loving the first book – and I gave it four stars based on that memory.
To rectify that, I ordered the sequel – The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge and waited for it to arrive. Once it arrived, of course, I realised I couldn't really remember what happened in the first book, so I read that first. A very quick read, I pretty much devoured it in a single day (although taking in a couple of slightly-longer-than-commute train journeys). And it was fun. Fun with a capital 'F'!
Slippery Jim diGriz is a rogue. Moving around the League from world to world committing crime. Sometimes a little bank robbery, sometimes some smuggling, sometimes stealing government canned fruit supplies and reselling them as his own. Each time he makes his money and moves just as the police are moving in. However, this time he's attracted some unwanted attention. The mysterious Special Corps. And they want to recruit him as an agent. After all, who better to catch a criminal than a criminal? Plus it takes him out of circulation.
A criminal he may be, but we're supposed to like him. He's more your Robin Hood type (although keeping all the money himself). He's in it for relatively victimless crimes only – stealing from governments, corporations and nobody gets hurt. So when his first assignment pits him against a criminal for whom human life has no value he's torn between his respect for their skill and intelligence, but sworn to bring down a danger to the innocent. Also, nobody makes Jim diGriz look like a fool!
Already looking forward to the rest of the series...(less)
It's hard not to like any book when it's read by Mark Oshiro of Mark Reads – and he's read Twilight so I suppose I could put that to the test. Someti...moreIt's hard not to like any book when it's read by Mark Oshiro of Mark Reads – and he's read Twilight so I suppose I could put that to the test. Sometimes chapter by chapter reviews, sometimes YouTube narrations, sometimes a mixture of the two. Flushed from his recent Hugo nomination, he was asked to read the short story, Ponies (a Nebula winner itself), from fellow Hugo nominee Kij Johnson.
Mark manages to get so into any story he's reading, and the dark themes of this one were always going to play with his mind. Barbara has a pony (think My Little Pony but with wings, a horn and they can talk) and the time has come for her 'cutting out' party so she, and her pony, can be accepted by THEOTHERGIRLS. Like any ritual to join a group ruled by peer pressure, there's a strong element of bullying. And that's where the horror starts for both Barbara and Mark as he's as in the dark about the story as we are.
Short though the story is (the YouTube video clocks in at just over 10 minutes, and that includes a lot of Mark's own shock and thought processes), it's an exploration of peer pressure, group bullying, social expectation and the need to join a group that doesn't really want you, and you might not even be comfortable in. Fantastically narrated, as usual, and that might have coloured my view of the story somewhat too...(less)
At exactly 300 words, I need to be careful that this review doesn't dwarf the story itself. In fact, 300 words goes by so quickly that I read it twice...moreAt exactly 300 words, I need to be careful that this review doesn't dwarf the story itself. In fact, 300 words goes by so quickly that I read it twice. It's noir but not crime, and in true Self fashion it's highly descriptive with a number of repeating themes across the two halves. I think he must have cheated and used more words...(less)
It's the Christmas story, the one you have to read at Christmas. So, having watched the movie in the morning, in the afternoon I read the book. The st...moreIt's the Christmas story, the one you have to read at Christmas. So, having watched the movie in the morning, in the afternoon I read the book. The story was one that I thought I knew, I was sure I'd read it as a child - my grandfather had the complete works of Dickens and I remember reading at least some of them. And you know the story already, everybody knows the story already. But there was more in there than I remembered, so maybe I hadn't.
But, some overly descriptive prose aside, it's a good book to read for Christmas.(less)
The Alvin that starts this novel, isn't the eponymous Alvin. The novel starts with Alvin Miller – a father moving west with his family. Moving west to...moreThe Alvin that starts this novel, isn't the eponymous Alvin. The novel starts with Alvin Miller – a father moving west with his family. Moving west to start a new life with his family. His wife, Faith, and his (many) sons and daughters. Faith is heavily pregnant with their seventh son – which connects with the clue of the book's title quite nicely. Faith gives birth en-route, to their seventh son – Alvin. In this world seventh sons are special, the seventh son of a seventh son even more so. This world is, of course, Orson Scott Card's fantasy/alternative-history tale set in the American frontier world of the early 19th century.
Better known for his science-fiction stories such as Ender's Game, this is not only a change of genre, but a much more obvious attempt to create a trilogy than the first two Ender series books were. This first one, definitely, reads more like a prequel than a first novel. Instead of anything close to action happening, we are treated to a well-written novel of top-class world-building. Everything is explained – how Alvin Junior is born as the seventh son, the detailed relationships within the Miller family, we are introduced to Knacks (the magic of Card's world), the politics (both across the states, but also the politics between the white man and red), the struggle between Christianity and the superstition of knacks – the dynamic between the family and the Reverend Thrower is especially enjoyable, how the Unmaker is trying to kill Alvin for some reason, and how Alvin somehow keeps escaping these attempts. All very cleverly presented to us both in real-time, and as exposition through the presence of the stranger Taleswapper.
Yet, though nothing really happens, this is Card writing as well as you remember – there are no carbon-cutout characters and while some secrets are kept for the later books, everything that happens in the book makes sense within the world he has crafted. It would have been worth another point though if more had happened. Don't let the rating suggest that this isn't an enjoyable book to read, it's just that when you get to the end, you realise that it was clearly written to set up the action that is (hopefully) coming in the later novels.
I'd read this and Red Prophet back in the early nineties when I was at University, but having ordered the third book, Prentice Alvin recently, I realised that I had pretty much no recollection of the events of the first two books. So, I decided to re-read them both first. I wouldn't say that this story came flooding back to me as I read it, but I had a feeling of familiarity. In a way, I kinda liked it this way; the story didn't feel spoiled for me as I read it again.(less)
I bought this trilogy while I was at University (a fabulous second hand bookshop where you could return other books to count towards new purchases) an...moreI bought this trilogy while I was at University (a fabulous second hand bookshop where you could return other books to count towards new purchases) and I remembered enjoying them at the time. In the intervening years the trilogy has grown somewhat – Piers Anthony has a tendency to keep extending series beyond his original intent.
A great idea, well constructed. Both a science-fiction universe and a fantasy universe in the same book. They overlap and some people can even move between the two worlds. The trilogy follows the main character of Stile as he discovers the fantasy world and his attempts to manage responsibilities in both worlds.
Not particularly challenging or complex in style, but the ideas are all intriguing and well presented, and the pace remains high and the story is fun and engaging.(less)
I nearly didn't read this book. The sample failed to interest me. In fact it seemed so over-written and dense that I wasn't sure what the book was abo...moreI nearly didn't read this book. The sample failed to interest me. In fact it seemed so over-written and dense that I wasn't sure what the book was about after the better part of the first chapter. However, in-part because the book was Hugo nominated and in-part because it was the io9.com book club read for the month I persevered and bought the book.
Rereading the first chapter made a lot more sense the second time around, and almost the very next page after the sample had ended the book came alive. Suddenly it isn't some weird prose about a stork it's a tense week in the lives of a number of characters who all live or work in one small square in Istanbul. Their lives are all changed suddenly when a suicide bomber kills themselves at the end of their street. The book is divided into five days - Monday to Friday - with two chapters for each. However, the story itself jumps between characters with almost total abandon (and certainly no warning) and the characters themselves frequently jump (also without warning) between present day and flash-backs. Basically, you have to pay attention. It's not for reading when you're tired.
Having almost given up on it in the first chapter (it's a little over-written in the final few pages as well I thought), I'm glad I persevered as the book was an excellent read for the other 99%. Maybe Ian McDonald just isn't good at beginnings and endings.(less)
An odd ensemble cast production and not my normal type of novel at all. Faulks has brought together a list of almost entirely unlikeable characters --...moreAn odd ensemble cast production and not my normal type of novel at all. Faulks has brought together a list of almost entirely unlikeable characters -- Veals the amoral banker, happily crashing a bank filled with old folk's pensions while ignoring his 'chilly' wife and their poorly parented son who's busy smoking his way into a psychiatric ward. Trantor (RT) the failed author, taking out his bitterness on those authors who are actually writing novels. He tears anything modern apart. The barely two-dimensional MP, Lance. The caricature immigrant lime-pickle magnate, so poorly educated that he struggles to read, which in turn causes him to obsess that everybody he views as his better sits around all the time discussing books he hasn't read. Only Jenny the train driver and Gabriel the failing barrister seem genuinely likeable, and even they somehow seem to lack any real depth of character.
That said, unlikeable though most of the characters are, none of them are truly dislikeable. Even Veals and RT, who are probably the least likeable, somehow seem to engender pity more than disgust or distaste. Neither of them really seem to engage in their vices with enough real vigour to cause any real dislike in the reader. And, I think that's the major problem with this book. The characters are too two-dimensional, too forgettable, too shallow. There is, of course, no real plot to speak of (this isn't genre fiction after all), instead the characters all move around each other, seemingly driven by coincidence only. They visit the same places as each other, interact with the same products and companies, yet rarely actually meet or have any meaningful interactions. Maybe that's the point of the novel though, the characters are drifting through their lives unaware of the coincidence, the brushes with excitement and change that they miss.
The novel itself is set over a seven day period, with each chapter dedicated to a single day. The week climaxes for each character differently -- a dinner party being the main shared experience that many of the characters move towards. For others it's a new relationship, a self-realisation, or a religious epiphany. You follow each of the main characters in their journey through this week. About half-way through the novel you start to get a suggestion that they may be some big climax at the end, some life changing experience. The repeated occurrence of the mystery cyclist provide a strong sense of a thriller. Yet pretty soon it dawns on you that isn't going to happen. The cyclist is another example of the mundane appearing connected to us, the reader, because we see the whole picture. To each character their lives are more solitary and unconnected.
In spite of the things that I didn't really get about the novel, and the things that annoyed me (the obviously made up company and product names for a start), Faulks seems to have pulled together a novel that I still thoroughly enjoyed reading. At no point was it a struggle or a chore, it just left me at the end wondering quite what it was all about, and suspecting that I'll forget it all pretty soon...(less)
It's certainly a short story. I read the whole thing on my morning commute with time to spare. In fact, I'll need to be careful that this review doesn...moreIt's certainly a short story. I read the whole thing on my morning commute with time to spare. In fact, I'll need to be careful that this review doesn't end up longer than the story. The story describes the eponymous asteroid, heading towards Earth, expected to be an extinction event for humanity. Comparisons are made to the previous such event which wiped out the dinosaurs. A team is dispatched to attach an engine to the asteroid to push it out of the collision path. Unfortunately religious extremists have sabotaged the plan and the team have to decide how much far they are willing to go to save humanity.
It's a great little story. Unfortunately it suffers from two problems, firstly that short stories are by their very nature short. They don't take too long to read, but they don't give you much time to get into them. It's a great idea, but I was left wishing it had been longer. The second problem isn't really the story's fault, and it's that the premise has since been done, to death (so to speak), repeatedly. All sorts of movies and other media exploring and extending the idea of the extinction event asteroid heading towards Earth. Before those, this may have scored higher...(less)
It's a strange thing, but I've owned a copy of this book since my university days, and I'd obviously assumed that I'd read the book having previously...moreIt's a strange thing, but I've owned a copy of this book since my university days, and I'd obviously assumed that I'd read the book having previously rated it. However, once I came to read it again I realised that I'd not read it before at all. Quite why I'd managed to own an entire trilogy for nearly twenty years without reading beyond the first one is a mystery.
Red Prophet is the second in the original Alvin Maker trilogy – like Piers Anthony it seems that Card struggles to put a lid on a good series once he starts one. This story acts as a counterpoint to the first novel. While Seventh Son tells the tale of Alvin's birth and early life – including the vision of the Shining Man. This sequel covers much of the same time period, but following the tales of the 'Reds': the one-eyed drunk Lolla-Wossiky (view spoiler)[who of course turns out to be both the Shining Man, and the prophet of the book's title (hide spoiler)] and the moody and silent Ta-Kumsaw. About half-way through, we catch up with the end of Seventh Son and Alvin meets up with our two Reds.
As other reviewers have noted this is fictional history rather than historical fiction. Heavy on the fiction, very light on the history. Card continues, though, to build his world; it just happens to overlay, very loosely, on the east side of the US. As we learnt about the 'knacks' and hexes of the white folk in the first book, this time we learn about the 'land sense' of the red man. This is where the book starts to stray into an awkward sort of racism in its style: the red man is the noble savage: a mystical, pagan, form of magic in touch with the land but a slave to his anger and vengeance; the white man is both the civilised creator of order and structure, and the selfish, greedy, destructor of the red man's land sense. The red man must separate from the white man in order to maintain his connection to the land.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
An interesting approach to the vampire mythos - at least none of them sparkle. Attempting to address a lot of the darker themes around vampirism and w...moreAn interesting approach to the vampire mythos - at least none of them sparkle. Attempting to address a lot of the darker themes around vampirism and with strong themes around paedophilia - how else does a 200+ year old vampire trapped in a 12 year old's body get looked after on their own? The story centres around two young children and their developing friendship/dependency. One a 200+ year old vampire, the other a young boy who is being systematically bullied at school and starting to develop almost psychotic fantasies as a result.
While I found the book gripping, a lot of the characterisation seemed almost clinical. I'm not sure if this is a result of the translation into English or more just the style of the Author. I found the Stieg Larsson translations quite similar. Strangely there are also a number of secondary characters who seem to get a lot of attention - whole sections describing their point of view - yet seem to have very little involvement in actually driving the story forward.(less)
After nearly three years of living next-door to a library, it was about time I actually joined; I have this renewed fervour for reading all of a sudde...moreAfter nearly three years of living next-door to a library, it was about time I actually joined; I have this renewed fervour for reading all of a sudden. So, earlier this week when I found myself working from home to avoid an audit in the office I popped along with identification and asked to join up. My local library is a fairly pokey affair – the patrons outnumbered the staff three to one and the one member of staff seemed surprised to find so many of us there. Apparently it takes a while to type my name into a computer and print a membership card, so I was invited to "look around" while I waited. Once I'd finished, I looked around again (taking in the children's section this time for some variety) until the lady called my name. Of course, now I'd spent so long 'looking around' I felt uncomfortable just leaving with my new membership card. To have hung around for 30 minutes and not even come away with a book might imply I was wasting her time. Luckily, near the desk with a rack of 'Recommended Books' and on it was an attractive anthology of new and exciting London authors. Never mind that I already had a to-read list of over 100 books, or that published in 2003 none of them would be particularly new anymore, part of my unwritten contract with the librarian was that I had to take a library book.
Diaspora City is a collection of stories from the viewpoint of immigrant London. Predominantly poorer, generally illegal, the stories tell of the lives of people struggling to survive and make London their home. Isaac the Artist jobbing builder, Husman the Gambian cleaner on the Underground, Arnauld the French waiter selling his body to make enough money. Not all of them are first-generation immigrants, some second or more, but they are all tales of a rich multicultural London. The authors too, many of them never published before (a search of Goodreads suggests many of them haven't been published since either) represent, and speak too, their own British multicultural experience.
The first story in the collection sets the bar impossibly high. Rare Books and Manuscripts by Toby Litt is a bona fide 5-star story, it's the, almost unbelievably charming tale of unrequited love for a researcher at the British Library. She has developed a crush, almost an obsession, on a fellow researcher. She finds out his name and decides that to take their relationship to the next level she must make contact. Obviously, in a library, the way to do this is to put in fake book orders, under your crush's name, for books with just the right kind of title. Before long though, she receives a book she didn't order and she starts to understand that her plan may have not been such a good idea after all.
Unfortunately, the remaining stories never quite measure up. None of them are bad by any stretch, but they are a mixture of twos and threes; never quite measuring up to that initial five. Highlights of the remaining stories though are Richard Tromans's The River Underground tells the story of Husman, a Gambian cleaner on the Underground. He embarks on an unexpected rebound relationship with a girl who strikes up a conversation with him. Maggie Gee's The Artist describes the artist Isaac who paints and repairs the house for Mary and her husband. There is obviously something special about Isaac, and while Mary recognises that she can't quite connect with him. Charles Buchan's To Effervesce is a quirky story, more so in the telling than the content. Each letter of the alphabet is taken in turn to tell the story of Arnauld's life as a waiter, although why it suddenly stopped at V was beyond me. And Ursula Barnes's delightful tale of an old man who decides to help out in the local school, helping immigrant children speak English, in Every Colour Under the Sun.(less)
Like many people I had managed to absorb most of the Sherlock Holmes canon through popular media - television with Jeremy Brett and Benedict Cumberbat...moreLike many people I had managed to absorb most of the Sherlock Holmes canon through popular media - television with Jeremy Brett and Benedict Cumberbatch, and movies with Basil Rathbone and Robert Downey Jr. As such, I feel like I already know all the stories, the characters, the personality flaws and the arch-nemeses. Yet, I'd managed all of this without, apparently, ever having read any of the original stories. An even worse failing, as I have a Folio Society collection of some of the stories laying unread in my to-read pile for over ten years. It seemed about time to make a start with Holmes, and the best place to start is at the beginning, with the first novel: A Study in Scarlet.
The origin of the Holmes/Watson bromance, the story is told from Watson's point-of-view. Watson, returning from the war in Afganistan, needs a room mate and meets an old friend who tells him of a friend, Holmes, who wants a room mate too. And so begins the partnership. Holmes providing all the detectioning, all the sarcasm, all the rampant superiority (and all the drugs); Watson providing the everyman, the documentation, the questions we would ask if we were there and the spark to take Holmes from a detective who solves crimes from his bedroom, with no involvement or credit, to a detective who gets out there, gets involved and, through these stories, the credit for his cases. I was struck by the similarities though to the BBC's A Study in Pink episode which stuck very close to the origin storylines, if not the rest of the story.
Without providing too many spoilers, a man is found, presumably murdered in an empty house in Brixton. The word 'RACHE' written on the wall in blood. The police think they'll solve the case themselves, but we all know that any case with Holmes involved is going to be too complex, and too fiendish, for the police to solve without help. Strangely, the case itself is solved in, exactly, the first half of the novel. Then suddenly we are transported to Utah, and back in time by a generation, to be given the story that led to the crimes. It feels like an unexpected jolt. Watson is no longer our narrator, instead some unknown overseer provides the story until it catches back up to Holmes big reveal. Unfortunately, it does detract from the usual reveal that is always the right of the smartest detective in any detective novel. It's as if, even in his first novel, Doyle really isn't giving Holmes the respect he deserves. Hopefully, Holmes will have more scope to show off and be superior with a proper reveal in the next story.
For the record, Sherlock Holmes was Jeremy Brett. Downey Jr. and Cumberbatch are good, but they aren't Brett. Just saying.(less)
Slippery Jim diGriz returns in the second of Harry Harrison's light-hearted science fiction series – The Stainless Steel Rat. Having stopped Angelina'...moreSlippery Jim diGriz returns in the second of Harry Harrison's light-hearted science fiction series – The Stainless Steel Rat. Having stopped Angelina's homicidal scheme in the first novel, The Stainless Steel Rat, our hero promptly falls in love with her. Luckily, the technology of the Special Corps means that part of Angelina's punishment is that the homicidal parts of her brain are reprogrammed. Although, still trouble with a capital 'T', she no longer wants to kill people. Which is lucky as she's pregnant with their child and married in fairly short order from the start. Having skipped out on the Special Corps, they're holidaying in secret while robbing banks to pass the time together.
Tracked down again by Special Corps diGriz is offered the opportunity to redeem himself again through a dangerous mission to investigate a secretive planet which has been invading a number of nearby planets and starting to worry the corps. We're told that invading a planet is supposed to be nigh-on impossible. Planets are too easy to defend, too hard for an attacker to maintain control of. Presumably a bit like the idea, that we in the UK have held on to, that our island status makes us harder to invade – although the long history of us successfully invading smaller islands suggests it's actually far from impossible if you choose islands that are both small enough and significantly less technologically advanced to ensure a rout. Part investigating how the Cliaandians are managing to, repeatedly, successfully invade other planets; part trying to get in on the action and somehow stop them in their attempt to take over the matriarchal planet of Burada.
As with the first novel, The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge is a boy's own adventure, but invested with a much more exciting plot and more opportunities for diGriz to get into trouble, out of trouble and make use of his liking for sarcasm. (view spoiler)[There's also an Amazonianesque dalliance with gender-politics as Angelina while pregnant is far too frail to be allowed to accompany her husband on his dangerous mission, yet once she's finished giving birth she doesn't take no for an answer and immediately rushes out to check he doesn't need rescuing. At the same time, Burada is a planet that has been ruled by women and it's only when the disaffected men are helped into power that the invasion is able to begin. The now rebel forces of the previous ruling classes also prove themselves more than capable of helping diGriz fight off the Cliaandians. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Classic dystopian future speculative fiction novel from one of the greats. Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 tells the story of a future where society is so '...moreClassic dystopian future speculative fiction novel from one of the greats. Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 tells the story of a future where society is so 'dumbed down' that people spend all their leisure time at home interacting with their 'family' - a sort of online socialising through television walls. Deep, thoughtful prose - fiction, philosophy, poetry etc. all scare people. They don't want to be challenged, to think for themselves or to question. So, instead, firemen are employed to burn all books. To hunt out criminals who are reading or storing books. To burn the books. To burn the house that held the books.
A sort of Gestapo, the firemen seemed widely feared. But Guy, a fireman, starts to question the whole set up. Didn't firemen used to put out fires instead of starting them? Before long he's hoarding his own books and associating with the most dangerous of dissidents - former academics.
Of course it's a great book, Bradbury had a lot of practice. This edition has an introduction that explains the history of the novel, from a couple of short stories that morphed into a novella which was rewritten as Fahrenheit 451. The repeated reworking shows as the ideas are very strong and well developed. Even with the final rewrite to extend the shorter story to this version it feels far from wordy. Nothing feels wasted at all. Unfortunately, this kinda tails off at the very end, where Guy Montag seems to wander into a completely different novel about the perils of atomic warfare rather than what was originally an excellent novel about the perils of book burning...(less)
Another book in the Jack Reacher series from Lee Child - this is book number 5. As with any long-running series there are both stronger and weaker boo...moreAnother book in the Jack Reacher series from Lee Child - this is book number 5. As with any long-running series there are both stronger and weaker books, and in parts it can get predictable. I liked it a lot more than some reviewers have - David Kiell's review suggests that the book is nothing more than a continual repeat of the question "Is Carmen lying or telling the truth?". The pacing is certainly slower. I think Child has attempted to remove some of the action and try and replace it with more tension and suspense. And in the majority this works; I pretty much devoured this book in 2 days. You guess the baddie pretty early on, and while Child does nothing to dissuade you of that guess, equally he never lays it out for you as obvious - there's always a nugget of doubt that you might be wrong. And maybe you will be.
If you like Jack Reacher books, I think this is a pretty good one, but if you've read the others you'd read this anyway. If you don't like Jack Reacher books then you probably would have given up long before now. Me, I'm not paying to read these, so I'll keep going. I'm not sure I would if I had to buy them all...(less)
Sort of in the Culture series, sort of not quite. This is the (first?) collection of Iain M. Banks short stories, paired with a Culture novella which...moreSort of in the Culture series, sort of not quite. This is the (first?) collection of Iain M. Banks short stories, paired with a Culture novella which gives the book its title. Taking up half the book The State of the Art tells the tale of the Culture's first contact with Earth, some time in the '70s. Told in the form of a mission report by Diziet Sma, and later translated by Skaffen-Amtiskaw, (prior to their appearances in Use of Weapons).
Sma is assigned to the Contact group, on board The Arbitrary. Contact's role seems to consist more of sampling the feel of a planet rather than actually making contact, and she hangs out in various cities sampling the food, the culture and the people. Unfortunately, the whole thing feels a little contrived – as if Banks had been repeatedly asked (a) is the Culture us in the future, and if not, (b) does the Culture ever come to Earth? Instead of having a story to tell, if feels more like Banks is answering those questions: no and yes, respectively. And, as there's no real story, Banks ends up filling the gaps with 'why humans suck' and 'why humans are so great'. Sma takes the anti-Earth side, wanting the Culture to completely step in and just stop us running things so badly; Dervley Linter takes the opposing side, as he's busy going native anyway. And to be fair to him, he's not suggesting that we're doing well, just that our failures are an authentic part of our path. Points are always rescued by the ships themselves – having The Arbitrary send a postcard to the BBC requesting Space Oddity is just beautiful.
The short stories that come before the novella are also a bit of a mixed bag. The Culture feels like Banks's preferred world, and the obvious Culture story, A Gift from the Culture, is probably the most conventional story in the collection and probably also the one I enjoyed the most. Odd Attachment reads like a retro-SF story. A first-contact between a human and a vegetable based lifeform goes tragically wrong, but told from the point of view of the vegetable. Cleaning Up and Descendant were both interesting. The first is the story of a ship of interstellar garbage men dumping their second goods into our sun, except that their transporter is faulty and the items keep appearing in the middle of a paranoia driven cold-war America – what could go wrong. The second follows a man and his smart space suit, crashed on a planet. Does the suit need the man as much as the man needs the suit – for the company if nothing else?
The remaining three are a little esoteric. The collection is bookended with Road of Skulls at the start: interesting start, but even for a short story I wanted it to go a bit further. And, at the end, Scratch (or: The Present and Future of Species HS (sic) Considered as The Contents of a Contemporary Popular Record (qv)): pure experimentalism, and I'm none the wiser if it worked or not. The final piece was Piece, which wasn't even science fiction. At first I thought it was an essay on religious extremism, but eventually I realised it wasn't supposed to be Banks narrating. However, as with much of the rest of the collection, it felt a little like being beaten with somebody else's opinions.(less)
Jack Reacher (not Bauer, although the similarities are striking) conveniently arrives in a small town in Georgia just in time to try and prevent some...moreJack Reacher (not Bauer, although the similarities are striking) conveniently arrives in a small town in Georgia just in time to try and prevent some huge criminal act. It seems the whole town is against him when, as the newcomer to town, he is the automatic suspect in the murders that just happen to coincide with his arrival. Lots of coincidences already - and plenty more to come...
A good example of the kind of book this is. And I enjoyed it. In fact I raced through it, so not all that bad. But it does suffer from a few annoying character flaws, character flaws being the key word. Warning some spoilers ahead!
Firstly, Jack himself is a painfully two-dimensional character (even more so than Bauer). There is no real insight into him as a person, consequently there's not really much opportunity to feel sympathy with his predicament or cheer him on to success. Certainly no explanation as to why the lady cop completely throws herself at him - beyond him having 'nice eyes'. You want to get to the end of the book to see what happens, not so much because you want Jack to survive.
The coincidences pile up throughout the book. The timing and route of his arrival. His connection to the first body. Needing a haircut at just the right moment. And, finally, the bad guys all being in just the right places for his daring plan to succeed. If he'd guessed wrong, they would all be dead.
My third flaw is the good guys. The cops who are on Jack's side go from law enforcers to happily endorsing his wholesale slaughter of bad guys without even the slightest twinge of conscience. Why aren't they pushing to arrest and charge bad guys instead of just killing them. Obviously, Jack is going to kill them all anyway (it really is just like 24), but a little more conflict for the cops would have made a lot more sense.
Finally, Picard makes it back? WTF? That was just a jarring and seemingly unnecessary part to the story...(less)
I'd been putting off reading this next book in the Culture series. I remembered starting it at University, not getting on with it, and giving up. But,...moreI'd been putting off reading this next book in the Culture series. I remembered starting it at University, not getting on with it, and giving up. But, as part of my decision to read the series from the start, in the correct order, it was something I couldn't put off forever. Turns out this was a stupid delay, having read the book straight though I had no recollection of every having read any of it before. Not only that, but it was awesome. Better-than-the-previous-book awesome - and I already gave that 5-stars!
While Consider Phlebas is set during the Culture's war with the Idirans, Player of Games is almost a prequel to a potential war with the Azad. Jernau Gergeh is tricked into signing up for a Contact (the Culture's group for dealing with first contact situations) mission to the empire of Azad. Gergeh is a game player, possibly the best game player in the whole of the Culture. Contact want him to go to Azad and play the game their entire empire is based on - Azad. Little does Gergeh realise that almost nobody is being totally honest with him about anything in this whole mission.
Banks gives us a story that builds on the world he started with Consider Phlebas, but introduces another facet of the Culture. Again, for a supposedly peaceful, post-scarcity society, we get another story on the edges of a war. Although this one is more threatened than actual. Gurgeh struggles with both not really knowing why he's there, but also discovering that not only is the Empire of Azad far uglier than it pretends to be, but the Culture isn't as squeaky pure as it would like to paint itself.(less)
The opening story in the Doctor Who TV canon, this is Terrance Dicks' novelisation of the first four-episode story arc of the same name: An Unearthly...moreThe opening story in the Doctor Who TV canon, this is Terrance Dicks' novelisation of the first four-episode story arc of the same name: An Unearthly Child. Barbara and Ian, two school teachers, are worried about one of their students – Susan. She has some strange behaviours; appears to know far too much about some things and far too little about others. So they decide to follow her home one evening and confront her strange, autocratic father, who identifies himself only as the Doctor. The rest, as they say, quickly became history (and future, and present on other worlds, etc.) as the Doctor whisks them all away in his Tardis to the dawn of time (and a 50 year TV career).
Novelisations have a tendency to be a bit one dimensional, but Dicks brings a depth to the secondary characters here that just wasn't present, or possible, in the TV episodes. Whether this is Dicks embellishing the screenplay to make the novel read better or if there was detail in the original script that wasn't apparent in the episodes isn't clear, but it works. The secondary story featuring the cavemen is really only a device to introduce us to the characters and premises of this, and future, stories. And while well told (arguably better than the original TV episodes) it's always going to be difficult to try and cram a real plot into such a short story while also introducing four central characters and the beginnings of the science-fiction back-history of the Tardis and its capabilities.
Continuing my way through the Sherlock Holmes canon, this is the first of the short story collections. After the previous two longer novels, the chang...moreContinuing my way through the Sherlock Holmes canon, this is the first of the short story collections. After the previous two longer novels, the change of pace seems to suit Holmes as we race through twelve stories featuring some of the classic Holmes detectivism. Many of these stories seem to shy away from actual crimes, focussing more on mysteries – something even commented on by Watson in The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle – with five of these stories being classed as non-crime stories (although Watson has a loose definition of non-crime, which includes blackmail, bigamy and fraud).
The first story, A Scandal in Bohemia starts the collection. Watson is married by this point and has moved out – as he has for the majority of the following stories – but he somehow always manages to turn up at 221b Baker Street at just the right time to be there to document the next case. The scandal in this story is one of blackmail (the kind of blackmail that isn't really a crime) and is Holmes's (and our) introduction to Irene Adler. Although she is already dead when this story is published I was surprised to realise that this is her only appearance as the TV and movies had led me to the belief that she was a more regular feature. This was also Holmes's first documented failure – of sorts – in that he completely underestimates the woman in question.
Some common themes throughout the collection were early forms of identity fraud, with people pretending to be what they are not in A Case of Identity, The Man With the Twisted Lip and The Adventure of the Copper Beeches. The first, A Case of Identity, was maybe laid on a little thick. As with so many of these shorter form detective stories, it doesn't seem to leave the author as much time to lay false clues, so the regular reader of detective fiction will normally be quick on the trail. A number of stories also seem to feature daughters with inheritances, which would add The Adventure of the Speckled Band to the list of stories with repeated themes. Which is not to talk the Speckled Band down, it's another of the classics of Holmesian fiction and with good reason.
A Scandal in Bohemia introduces his use of cocaine, at least I don't recall it in either of the previous novels. Immediately following that, The Red-Headed League starts to describe Holmes's manic mood swings: a strong suggestion that he also suffered from bipolar disorder?(less)