Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Raiders from the North, Empire of the Moghul by Alex Rutherford

Alex is writing a series of book about the rise of the Moghul empire that flourished in the Indian subcontinent from the 16th to the 19th centuries. This first books charts the rise of the first emperor Babur who was born the heir to a minor kingdom but claimed descent from both Timur and and Ghengis Khan and who longed to live up to the legacy of his ancestors.

One of the problems of historical fiction, particularly about a period that is not particularly well known is that there is a danger that readers will mistake fiction for fact. Thank fully Rutherford includes a historical footnote which fills the reader in and it appears that his inventions are mostly limited to those areas that are not covered by known history. Babur himself was actually an enthusiastic diarist so there is a lot of source material for this first novel.

An enjoyable read that opened my eyes to a period of history I previously knew nothing about.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan

I have read a couple of Morgan Sci Fi novels before but this is his first fantasy that I have read. Enjoyable setting in a world where godlike alien races once held sway but have recently left. When one of these races wants to return a mixed bag of three heroes must save the day. The roughest, toughest of these heroes also happens to be promiscuously homosexual which is unusual enough for a fantasy novel. The book has quite a few explicitly described man on man sex scenes so be warned if that is not your cup of tea. Personally I find the homosexuality a little bit at odds with the characters otherwise brutishly violent nature but nevertheless I probably enjoyed his novel more than Morgan's sci fi work.

Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

Pratchett brings Soccer or at least a version of it to Discworld. Not my favourite Discworld novel . The allegory is a bit too strained.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Bone Song by John Meaney.

This is a detective story set in a world where zombies and wraiths walk the streets and are taken for granted. The bones of the dead contain necrotic energy which is harvested and used much as we use electricity. Despite the setting this is not a horror story. It is very definitely a detective story and sadly not as good as it should have been. The plot is too loose and there are too many things not properly explained. A follow up might be better if Meaney focusses more on the plot and less on developing his unusual setting.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

A Pulitzer prize winning post apocalyptic story about a man's struggle to keep his son alive. They trek Southwards towards the ocean in a world devastated (presumably) by nuclear winter. Plant and animal life appears to have been virtually wiped out and most of the remaining humans survive through cannibalism. The man and his son see themselves as the good guys and they struggle to scavenge what they need from the decaying remains of human civilisation. Strong stuff and a great read. Might annoy hard line sci fi purists I guess because the scenario in which humans survive while all else is destroyed is not particularly credible but that is not the point of this book.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman

Fantasy tale with a religious twist. A boy brought up in a brutal raining regime for priest soldiers in a never-ending religious war but one of the training order has different plans for this recruit. I enjoyed this a lot even though it has been generally panned by critics. It was heavily publicised as the next teen fiction blockbuster and is perhaps a victim of its own hype.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds

Another Revelation Space novel this one is set in the fabulous Glitter band of Yellowstone when it is at the height of its power and influence. It is half detective novel and half space opera. Tom Dreyfus is a cop. One of the prefects tasked with keeping the peace in this collection of independent asteroid habitats and in particular with protecting the integrity of the democratic voting system which governs the band. What starts out as a straight forward vote tampering case legend out to have much more serious consequences as a malign super-intelligence makes a bid to takeover the entire Glitter band. Great Sci Fi Entertainment as can be expected from Reynolds.

Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

Set shortly after the end of the First Law Trilogy this is another delicious tale of treachery and revenge from Abercrombie. The main protagonist is a mercenary general who's reward for vanquishing all rivals to the Duke of Talins bid for a Kingdom is for her brother to be murdered and herself mutilated and left for dead. She vows revenge on the duke and his cronies who perpetrated the evil deed. This is a stand alone novel but there are plenty of tie ins with the previous First law books. Good Stuff.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Black Man by Richard Morgan

Sci Fi novel from the writer of Altered Carbon that shares the same gritty feel even though it is not set in the same story world. The main protagonist is a genetically modified "He-Man" who was bred and trained to be a super soldier before public unease about genetic variants led to him and his like being ostracised and exiled to Mars.
Contains lots of pithy stuff about the nature of humanity and about the changing needs of society as we moved from hunter gatherer society into more organised groups.

Pretty good with a solid sci fi detective story underpinning Morgans musings.

Monday, 16 August 2010

"Before they are hanged" and "The Last Argument of Kings" by Joe Abercrombie

I read Book 2 and Book 3 of the First Law Trilogy sequentially so I am including both of them in one post. At first glance the story and setting of Abercrombies books seem to be pretty standard Fantasy fare. Embattled Kingdom , Heroic warriors, Ancient Wizards, Unspeakable Evil, Invaders from across the seas and all that. Abercrombies beautifully twisted and warped characters are what raises this more than a cut above however. You start out thinking you are reading Terry Brooks but pretty soon you realise this is closer to George Martin r indeed even China Mieville. Deliciously nasty stuff. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Replay by Ken Grimwood

Every time Jeff Winston dies he is transported back to a young version of himself and gets to do it all again but with memory of his previous existences intact.

This 1998 winner of the world fantasy award preceded Groundhog day and takes a more serious look at the theme of time looping. A dominant subtheme is overwhelming sense of loss felt by loopers. It is however very well written and an enjoyable read.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

The Horse Soldiers by Harold Sinclair

This novel is a fictionalised account of a famous Union Cavalry raid during the American Civil War. It was made into a film starring John Wayne back in the 1950's but I managed to get my hands on a recent reprint published in 2001.

This is a terrific read. Even though it is highly fictionalised (all the characters names are changed) it does lean heavily on the facts of Grearson's heroic raid . Apart from being well written and a great read it also gives a great flavour of the this the first modern war. Highly recommended if you can get your hands on a copy.

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

First novel in Joe Abercrombies "First Law" trilogy. This is shaping up to be a really entertaining fantasy. A country facing invasion on several fronts that is rendered impotent through a combination of a weak doddering monarch, a corrupt government and foolish class prejudices. The dangers are even more extreme than first appears however and the legendary first Magus decides after centuries of isolation to once again take a role in world affairs only everybody is so caught up in their own petty jockeying for position that nobody cares to recognise him. The story is peopled with some great characters including a superb twisted inquisitor who has devoted his life to causing pain and suffering in others after his once glittering military career was cut short by two years of persecution in an enemies dungeons.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

The Cry Of The Icemark by Stuart Hill.

Thirrin Freer Strong-in-the-Arm Lindenshield is barely 14 years old when her father the king dies heroically defending his small northerly kingdom. When the invaders come back with the largest army the world has ever seen young Queen Thirrin must assemble her own army of unlikely allies including vampires, werewolves and other creatures of legend in a desperate attempt to hold them off.

Thoroughly enjoyable fantasy yarn. First of a series apparently but the story is entirely self contained.

Friday, 18 June 2010

The Small back room by Nigel Balchin

This slim volume is an unexpected treasure. It tells the story of a scientist working in a military research institute in  Britain during the second world wa,  except the novel is not about science at all it is about office politics and human relationships and extraordinary heroism from unlikely people and the British stiff upper lip. The the climax of the story in which the scientist protagonist risks his life to defuse a dangerous booby trap bomb forms an extraordinary contrast to the  manoeuvring of petty  bureaucrats who care more about their own position  than about making a genuine contribution to the war effort.


Sunday, 13 June 2010

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

Superb single volume fantasy from an author I have never read before. The main protagonist Cazaril is a minor lord who has been reduced to beggardom after being callously betrayed by those greater nobles in whose service he has risked his life.

Instead of the magic usually found in fantasy novels Bujold has employed a very well crafted system of religion. The world of Chalion knows five gods: Father, Mother, Son and Daughter, one for each season and the Bastard god of all things out of season. The practise of religion and its impact on folks every day lives is very well described and entirely believable in the medieval fantasy setting of the novel.  The twist is that the gods are very real and respond to the characters prayers although the ways and means of the gods interacting with the living world are complex and difficult to understand. Cazaril himself becomes a tool of those gods as they seek to rescue the kingdom of Chalion from a curse that has befallen its royal family.

Very enjoyable read

The Temporal Void by Peter Hamilton

The second book in Peter Hamilton's Void Trilogy and the story is shaping up nicely. The void at the heart of  our galaxy was created by ancient intelligences and inside the void all things are possible including psychokinesis and even the manipulation of time itself. Unfortunately the energies required to power this wonderland comes from the gradually consumption of of the world outside the void and the current citizens of the galaxy seem powerless to stop it. Throw in a complex cast of characters including many survivors or Hamilton's previous Starflyer saga and you have a rich and engrossing story. I found the first book a little slow to get started but by now I am fully hooked. The fantasy sections detailing the life of a character who lives inside the void are an interesting counterpoint to the modernistic sci-fi of the rest of the story. Recommended.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Red Seas under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

Red Skies is the follow up to "The Lies of Locke Lamora" and continues the adventures of that gentleman thief the Thorn of Camorr. Locke and his companion Jean travel to the city state of Tal Verar where they plan to rob a fortune from the world renowned gaming house called the Sinspire. Needless to say their plans get diverted as they get entangled in the complicated politics of the city. A lengthy sojourn on a pirate ship adds to their adventures.

This book is another great read from Lynch although I did not enjoy the story as much as I did "Lies". In the first book the Gentlemen Bastards were supreme con-men on top of their game. Even when they were cornered you knew they would find a way to come out on top. In "Red Seas" Locke and his companion start off on the wrong footing and always seem to remain be one step behind their opponents.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

The "Secret Peace" is a clandestine agreement which allows the crime lords of the city of Camorr to do prey on the lower orders with impunity so long as they stay away from the wealthy ruling classes. Locke Lamora and his "Gentlemen Bastards" appear to be just another gang of petty thieves but in reality Locke is the mythical con man known only as the Thorn of Camorr. Locke and his gang laugh at the secret peace and do their best to swindle fortunes from those who believe them selves to be protected by it. The Gentlemen Bastards are a very likeable bunch of thieves with an appreciation for fine dining but they are no Robin Hoods. They steal form the rich and keep the proceeds.Their proud boast is that they are smarter and richer than anybody else. This complacent boast is put severely to the test when the Bastards realise they are being used as a pawn by an outside agency with nefarious plans for Camorr. Their very lives will depend on their ability to keep one step ahead of the thieves guild, the dukes men and this mysterious outsider.

"The Lies of Locke" is first novel in a new fantasy series and it is a terrific read. The setting and the ambience is standard  pseudo renaissance fantasy but the choice of a thief as the main character is unusual enough.  Recommended.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

The Eagle and the Wolves by Simon Scarrow

Thoroughly enjoyable Roman Empire romp following Scarrow's heroes Macro and Cato as they command centuries of local auxilliaries in the fight against Caratus during the Roman conquest of Britain. It is hard not to feel sympathy for the Celtic tribes as they face the inevitability of conquest. I am reading the Eagle series completely out of sequence but it doesn't matter because each book stands in its own right.

Friday, 23 April 2010

The "Far Side of The Earth" by Patrick O'Brian

Patrick O'Brian's intrepid Captain Aubrey and his sidekick Dr. Stephen Maturin sail to the Pacific (the far side of the Earth) in pursuit of a dastardly American Frigate which is terrorising English whalers. Like all of O'Brian's Aubrey Maturin novels this is a great read and simply oozes with terrific historical detail of life in the British Navy during Napoleonic times.

I read a bunch of these type of books during my teens and this has enamoured me of the period all over again.

I do have one gripe about this particular book though:
[Big Spoiler ahead,  Highlight to read]
The whole book sets the reader up for an epic naval battle between Aubrey and the the American frigate but the longed for battle never actually happens. In fact not a single canon ball is fired in anger in the whole book!.
[End Spoiler]

Monday, 12 April 2010

Roma Eterna by Robert Silverberg

Robert Silverberg paints an alternate history in which the Roman Empire survives to this day. He sketches the last 2000 years of alternate history with a series of episodes each set in a critical time for the Empire.

I enjoyed this a lot, each of the mini-stories is stories is worth reading in its own right and they are well stitched together. If you read this looking for Roman themed entertainment with a twist you will not be disappointed. You will however be disappointed if you expect a serious attempt at alternate history. There are no great insights or intuitive leaps here. Instead of seriously trying to imagine what could have happened Silverberg has simply taken actual historical events as we know them and patched them into a Roman story. Events like the renaissance and the industrial revolution happen pretty much on schedule which is a bit unimaginative. If Europe had not collapsed in to the Dark ages after the fall of Rome would it really have taken that long  to discover the printing press?

Friday, 2 April 2010

Last Bus to Woodstock by Colin Dexter

I was 11 years old when this first Inspector Morse novel came out and I remember the follow TV series being very good and very popular. It came as a surprise to me then to discover how dated the novel seems today in particular in its attitudes to women and sexuality. The most jarring aspect to a modern reader is a pub conversation where a number of male academics express the belief that it is very unlikely a woman could be raped "against her will". This view is even re-iterated by Morse himself in deducing that the murder victim probably wasn't raped. Less offensive but equally anachronistic is the presence in the novel of a "sex maniac" character who makes weekly trips to an illicit  pornography dealer and papers his bedroom in dirty postcards. Once you accept that this is a novel from a different age the plot itself is clever enough - a young lady of dubious virtue is found murdered in the grounds of a pub and all of the key witnesses have their own reasons for not telling the truth. There are enough red herrings to hinder you from guessing the true identity of the murderer until the end. Just as in the TV series Morse's sidekick Lewis is a far more sympathetic character than the heavy drinking  Morse himself. You already begin to see how the interplay between the two men would become the bedrock of the successful book and TV spin offs.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Book Clearout Time Again

I am having another clear-out of older books so for the record I want to record them here

Alison Sinclair: Legacies It is a long time since I read this tale of world building but I vaguely remember a central premise in which group of interstellar travellers bear the grief of their star drive possibly having destroyed their home world on their departure.

R. Scott Bakker: The Darkness that Comes Before, The Warrior Prophet and the Thousandfold Thought. This trilogy makes up the Prince of Nothing saga a heady blend of mysticism and fantasy. It is full of originality and  makes gripping reading but don't expect to cheer for the dubious main protagonist of this tale.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

"The Book of the New Sun" by Gene Wolfe

This massive novel told in four volumes is set in Earth's far future. The Sun is dying and mankind has reverted to a pre-technological feudal existence. Yet traces of a star faring past still abound.

The main protagonist is a wandering torturer who earns his keep by performing mutilations and executions in the towns he passes through.

This is a weighty story that has been hailed as a masterpiece but I found it hard enough going. The main character is utterly selfish and devoid of compassion and the writing style is very confusing at times. Things improved a lot in the third and fourth volumes when Wolfe finally starts to reveal what's really going on. All the confusing bits from earlier turn out to have a purpose but then the author turns around and wraps everything up with a massive self proclaimed Deus ex machina.

This is a deep and complex novel that could probably benefit from a second reading but I not so sure I Could be bothered.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

"The City at the End of Time" by Greg Bear

I think this was a good book but I am not entirely sure. You see I didn't really understand what was going on and now having finished it I am still not sure I understand. I got the main gist, I think, something about the end of time and the universe being consumed by chaos and time travelling dreamers who somehow link those end of days to the present day and books being some kind of bulwark against chaos. All very confusing but quite compelling reading I must admit. The story grabbed me in its own fashion and I was just hoping that I would figure it all out by the end. Didn't happen sadly. I must google for an explanation.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Song of Kali by Dan Simmons

Dan Simmons is one of my favourite Science Fantasy authors so I was delighted to stumble across this, his breakthrough novel, in my local lending library. "Song of Kali" is actually horror rather than SF but it is a well written gripping horror story based on Hindu myth and legend  set in a squalid and bleakly described Calcutta. The main character is a poet  who inadvertently gets caught up in this web of human sacrifice and grotesque re-animation and his story certainly held my attention till the last page.

Good stuff although the world has shrunk since 1985 when the book was published and I am not sure he would get away with his stylised depiction of Calcutta if he were writing it today.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

The Lightstone by David Zindell

This first book of a fantasy series from David Zindel leaves no fantasy cliché un-ticked: Unlikely Hero with flaw that will turn out to be his greatest strength: check. Motley Crew of adventurers coming together on epic quest:  Check. Party Contains warrior: check, beautiful female archer: check, bard: check, healer: check, hero's best friend who appears to be useless but will actually turn out to have key role in saving hero and therefore the world: check. All powerful villain, the epitome of evil who was defeated in ages gone by but who is immortal and re-appears every few centuries to try to take over everything: check. Strange telepathic link between evil villain and unlikely hero: check. Did I mention the sword? Heroic sword to be carried by our hero that has lingered since time immemorial at the bottom of a (wait for it) lake: check.

I could go on. Zero points unfortunately for originality of story or characterisation.  To give Zindell his due he has been somewhat bolder in creating a mythology in which to set his story. The inhabitants of Zindell's world trace their origins back to advanced beings who came from the stars bringing with them objects of unimaginable power. With the passage of the ages and the squabbling of men these objects have been used, abused and eventually lost but now our heroes must find the greatest of them, the titular Lightstone, in order to overcome the evil villain. This mythology is quite well crafted and but neither it nor the quality of Zindell's writing are enough to raise the book above OKness.  I won't be rushing out to buy the remainder of the series but I won't rule out reading them at some stage in the future either.