Book Review: Wireless – Charles Stross

Wireless - Charles Stross

Wireless - Charles Stross

I’m a massive fan of Charles Stross after discovering his wonderful two ‘Laundry’ novels ‘The Atrocity Archive’ and ‘The Jennifer Morgue’ where
mathematicians and computer geeks are employed by the British Civil Service have
to play James Bond against Lovecraftian occult threats to the state.

Repeatedly Stross throws out ideas that can leave your head spinning, such as in ‘Accelerando’ with its depiction of technological singularities.

Here we have all sorts. There’s a Laundry short story, a post-human
version of Jeeves and Wooster set on Mars, American hackers fighting a ban on
the free use of the Internet and one of his best ever stories, ‘A Colder War’
where the American/Russian proxy war in Afghanistan is somewhat complicated by
the USSR’s use of shoggoths and the Iraqi’s determination to unleash Yog-Sothoth.

This book is a great place to start for one of the UK’s most talented and entertaining SF writers.

Posted in book review | Leave a comment

Book Review: Best Served Cold – Joe Abercrombie

Best Served Cold - Joe Abercrombie

Best Served Cold - Joe Abercrombie

With Best Served Cold, Joe Abercrombie returns to the unpretentious fantasy world he mined so memorably in the three books of The First Law, but it seems the myriad threads and perspectives of that subversive narrative are old news to the filthiest, most bloody-minded writer Britain has spat out in decades. His latest is a single-minded, standalone cycle of betrayal and revenge that careens headlong towards a conclusion that befits the mounting trail of death and
destruction its protagonist leaves in her wake.

The Years of Blood have
left Styria divided. The once-great nation’s most powerful forces have been at war with one another for decades, but for the first time, an end to the bloodshed and battery is in sight. With the army-for-hire of the Thousand Swords
at his every beck and call, Grand Duke Orso has come within a hair’s breadth of
seizing control of the devastated kingdom. One last push is all it will take,
and the tying up of a few loose ends.

Among the loose ends is Monzcarro Murcatto, captain of the mercenary forces which have won the day for the Duke time and again. A hero without match to some, a ruthless villain to others, Monza’s sway over the people of Talins has left her an unwitting threat to
Orso’s intended dominion. Thus, the Duke and his inner circle take steps to have
her removed from the picture. Her brother Benna is slaughtered before her eyes;
Monza, meanwhile, is stabbed, slit open and thrown from atop the palace’s
tallest tower.

But she survives. And before she can even begin to heal, far less to mourn her terrible loss, she has sworn vengeance on the Duke and the six of his sons and associates who played a part in his betrayal. Monza may be broken, beaten and scarred from head to toe, but seven men must die; seven men without whom the ravaged landscape of Styria will never be the same.

Inevitably, the death toll amounts to considerably more than that. Best
Served Cold is, after all, a book by Joe Abercrombie, which – if you’re not
already familiar with his, ahem, body of work – you can take to mean heads, not
to mention a veritable miscellany of other limbs and digits, will spend more
time rolling than in their naturally appointed place. Best Served Cold is, let
me be quite clear, an incredibly violent novel: bitter, twisted and dark beyond
imagining.

Curiously, perhaps, it is also a very funny novel.
Abercrombie’s acerbic sense of humour permeates the text at the least
appropriate moments possible, and it’s as well; without the occasional chuckle
to bring a little levity to the grim proceedings, Best Served Cold would likely
leave its readers in a dismal state indeed. The relentlessness of Monza’s
lengthy, murderous quest is apt, eventually, to punch through the defenses of
even the most optimistic speculative sorts.

One cold-blooded killing
follows another, and for a while, the wanton carnage seems to come a little too
easily to Monza and company. I’ll swallow the notion that she has connections
everywhere; an undwindling chest of some secret stash of gold from her days with
the Thousand Swords is more of a stretch, but sure; it beggars belief, however,
that her return trip down from Grand Duke Orso’s tower doesn’t seem to have left
her much the worse for wear, physically speaking, short of a few war-wounds and
a stiff pinky finger. Though there are ample reminders of Monza’s motivations,
it becomes increasingly difficult to identity either with her or the motley lot
she recruits to her cause.

In fact, it’s only at the halfway point – and
mark my words, Best Served Cold will be a beast of a paperback – that readers
are granted any real insight into the protagonist’s disturbed psyche. It’s all
business from the outset, and what visceral business it is. There’s something to
be said, certainly, some added value to be had from thrusting readers right into
the thick of the action, but all work and no play leaves precious little room
for Monza and her unlikely band of brothers to breathe as characters. Until the
troupe arrives in Visserine and their best-laid plans begin to unravel, Friendly
alone, an oddball ex-convict with a passion for mathematics matched only by his
prowess with a blade, seems fleshed out enough to be in any sense sympathetic.

Monza’s harrowing hunt never quite takes a backseat, but persistence is
pivotal: Best Served Cold is at its bloody best when the cost of all the killing
finally catches up with its cast. From that point on, Abercrombie’s visceral
fantasy lurches to life like a corpse long consigned to oblivion suddenly
reanimated and stuck full of uppers. The stakes are raised, the pace picks up,
tensions escalate to breaking point and of course, the body count increases
exponentially. If the relative tedium of the first handful of chapters doesn’t
break your spirit, a brilliantly brutal climax awaits. The long journey
chronicled in Best Served Cold isn’t an easy one, neither for readers nor the
anti-heroes at its pounding black heart, but late in the game, Abercombie’s
return to Styria reveals itself as an epic and exciting revenge thriller utterly
true to its own unflinching, if unconventional moral code.

Posted in book review | Leave a comment

Book Review: And Another Thing… – Eoin Colfer

And Another Thing... - Eoin Colfer

And Another Thing... - Eoin Colfer

Let me state this first: I am a massive Hitchhiker fan and 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.

Fortunately, 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. 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.

Posted in book review | Leave a comment

Book Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Take a Jane Austen classic and mash it up with some zombies and what do you get? The potential for a damn good book. Unfortunately ‘Pride And Prejudice And Zombies’ fell just below the mark.
In all honesty, I could eat alphabetti spaghetti and poop out a better novel than this.

Don’t get me wrong, the book is alright, but that’s it, it’s just alright! And this is a real
shame because this book could have been spectacular, a real twist on a classic,
a fantastic merging of today’s thirst for horror with yesterday’s classic.

The writing is Jane Austen’s with parts changed or adapted to fit in the
zombies and it’s cleverly done. You still the classic ‘Pride And Prejudice’ and
you still get Jane Austen’s style of writing. It’s just been mashed up with a
bit of horror. It’s not even a bit of horror, it’s less than that it’s more like
a speck of horror.

The problem I have with the book is that there isn’t
enough zombie action in it. Where is the blood and guts? I was expecting zombies
to start feeding on Mr. Bingley’s brains or dragging Mrs. Bennett off to their
zombie lair by her legs. And ok, Charlotte Collins turns into a zombie and Mr.
Darcy and the Bennett sisters are zombie slayers which is kinda cool, but still,
the book could have been better. If you are going to mash up a classic like
‘Pride And Prejudice’ with load of zombies you might as well do it properly.

Darren Shan should have written this book, that dude knows what horror
is! I can just imagine how awesome this book would have been had he written it.

So anyway, the zombies in this book are just a bit of a nuisance really,
stopping people from travelling, dragging themselves around the countryside and
affecting other day to day activities. But they don’t cause wisdespread chaos. I
was expecting ‘I Am Legend’ or something and all I got was a couple of zombies
caausing a bit of an inconvenience. The zombies don’t exactly jump out of the
page at you and I certainly wouldn’t say this book was scary.

And there are some good chuckles in it which makes the book quite fun but I wouldn’t say
it was laugh a minute.

So all in all, ‘Pride And Prejudice And Zombies’ is ok, it’s alright but this book wouldn’t be top of the list on my recommendations. I have read worse books.

Posted in book review | Leave a comment

Book Review: FlashForward – Robert J. Sawyer

FlashForward - Robert J. Sawyer

FlashForward - Robert J. Sawyer

As it says on the cover, Flashforward is the basis of the new TV series that hit screens last year. While I’ve not watched it, when this popped through the door I couldn’t help but want to read it. The premise is interesting – a worldwide event that causes Earth’s population to black out for two minutes which in turn gives them a glimpse of their future. My first thought was: cool! But then my mind turned to how this could make a good story. Would it just be a bunch of ideas? A novel full of smaller stories? Or what if it could give a story that you want to read about, something that needs a conclusion? To be honest,Flashforward is all of these combined and much more than I got a lot more than I thought out of it.

I guess the best place to start is with the visions that the human race have of the future, or rather two minutes in 2040.
This all happens just as the large hadroncollider is turned on for the first time (and is naturally the main suspect for those working there that know this), and because of the mass blackout millions of people die. Some people see great things for themselves, others not so much. But the focus of the story settles on the team working at theLHC and their visions. While Lloyd and Michiko are in a relationship, they both see different things, and Theo is among those that don’t have a vision at all – those that are presumed dead at the time.

Seeing the fallout from the visions of these three gives a very good basis for the
novel to play out nicely. Theo discovers that he was murdered a couple of days
before the time the visions show, and this means he wants to do some digging and
to find out what exactly happened to his future self. It’s at this point that
the story falls squarely on its main plot – awhodunnit mystery. This isn’t all
the book is about, but it gives the story that could have been a little all over
the place a solid thread to follow. Lloyd andMichiko discover that they are not
married in the future they see and this leads to some deep discussions about how
fixed the future is.

It’s these discussions that really take the story up a notch. Robert J Sawyer has managed to give an interesting premise, been able to follow that up with a decent story and then also give some very good speculation and science to back it all up. I loved reading the sections where Lloyd,Michiko and others discussed the future, how fixed it could be, how it
could change and also the general discussions on the science of theFlashforward
. To be honest I wasn’t expecting such a deep look at all of these aspects, so I
was very pleasantly surprised to find them here.

I will highly recommend this one to any fan of science fiction that enjoys the speculative side of it, the way an author can raise many questions in such a short space of time, and to
anyone that simply enjoys a very good story. Great stuff!

Posted in book review | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Windup Girl – Paolo Bacigalupi

The Windup Girl - Paolo Bacigalupi

The Windup Girl - Paolo Bacigalupi

First blog of the new year! And my first book review of the year…  All the cool science-fiction literary fads seem to get a “-punk” suffix of one form or another, and THE WINDUP GIRL — set in the universe of Bacigalupi’s amazing short stories “Calorie Man” and “Yellow-Card Man” — earns a couple of these designations. It’s very much “culturepunk,” like Ian McDonald’, it really gets under the skin of the novel’s setting (in this case, future Bangkok), and it’s also what could be termed “springpunk,” because with fossil fuels at the most scarce, the bulk of machinery is driven by laborers or elephants driving energy into huge springs.

Energy is measured in calories in THE WINDUP GIRL, and waves of virulent,
crop-destroying blights have eliminated so many food crops that it’s up to huge,
Monsanto-variant seed companies to provide the world with the genetically
engineered and trademarked food that it needs, which, of course, creates an
immense amount of cash and power for the corporations.

These ideas, as Bacigalupi presents them, would make a great book alone, but
the author takes the additional step of immersing the plot in Southeast Asia,
home to cultures that can seem as alien to Westerners as any civilization on
Mars. Bacigalupi triumphs in his interpretation of the cultural attitudes and
biases of his diverse cast of characters, including a scheming refugee from
genocide; a scheming U.S. agricultural Quiet America type; a scheming, but heroic Thai patriot
policeman; a scheming genetically constructed woman engineered only to serve and
is designed to be the ultimate human, save for her telltale, jerky, “clockwork”
movement — you get the idea. Having lived in Southeast Asia for four years, I
can attest that the cultural side rings true.

Posted in book review | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Caryatids – Bruce Sterling

The Caryatids by Bruce Sterling

The Caryatids by Bruce Sterling

I’m a fan of Sterling’s work, and I hate to say this, but this is just very, very poor.

There’s no plot. It was never at all clear what the main conflict of the book is supposed to be, and although the POV jumps around there wasn’t a single character sympathetic enough for me to care about, much less consider an interesting or worthy protagonist. None of the main characters seems to have any ethical code or system at all, nor do they “grow” at all, or seem to learn anything in the story. For that matter, neither did I.

There was apparently little if any editing, and zero proof-reading… spelling was fine,
but grammar in some parts was both tortured and torture to read. There were
sentences which were obviously missing words- as in, verbs or subjects. Several
sections were repetitious to the point of having two successive paragraphs
saying the same thing with different wording, as though they had been rewritten
without removing the draft version, and there were several obvious continuity
mistakes, some so glaring that they made it difficult to concentrate on anything
else. For instance, in one sentence a dancer is referred to as “barefoot”, and
in almost the next sentence she has “slippered feet”… neither condition having
anything to do with the plot. Like the visible zipper on the back of a monster
costume in a bad movie, these obvious mistakes give the strong impression that
nobody involved really cared at all.

If that weren’t bad enough, the
scenario of the future is the “More Politically Correct Than Thou Standard
Man-Made Environmental Cataclysm #1” complete with preachy guilt-trip lectures,
and the eventual “resolution” is about as satisfying and relevant as “and then
they were all run over by a truck, or maybe not, the end”. By the time I reached
the last 25 pages, and it was clear the story just wasn’t going to redeem
itself, I was rather hoping they WOULD all just die. I was ready to help
personally.

The ending, such as it was, takes the form of both an
epilogue AND an afterword, giving the impression that the book was really a
shortish rough-draft with no ending that had one hurriedly tacked on just to get
it out the door.

Sometimes an author gets to the point where those doing
business with him find it’s not worth trying to improve the product, on the
assumption that ANYTHING with his name on it will sell… and this IS
“anything”.

Unfortunately, that starts the pendulum going the other
direction.. and I will be reading a lot of reviews before buying Sterling’s next
book. It won’t be an impulse buy based on just the author’s name again.

Posted in book review | Leave a comment