Friday, 26 October 2012

Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi

Bacigalupi  is a seriously talented writer and this collection of short stories shows off his skill. Most of these stories share the common theme of a future ecological catastrophes but they are about more than that. Really they are about how humans respond to these circumstances. For the most part the answer is depressing with haves and have nots, oppressors and oppressed. There are some very dark stories here such as the tale of future world where science has given the gift of immortality to all but the price of this boon is that new children are  tracked down and ruthlessly executed.

Also of note is that there are two stories set in the  gmo enthralled world of Bacigalupi's excellent novel: "The Windup Girl".

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Belasarius Saga by David Drake and Eric Flint

I read all six books of this alternative history saga from start to finish. It is set in the time of the Emperor Justinian but his plans to re-conquer the Western Roman empire are scuppered a super intelligent machine
is sent back in time to alter the course of history for malevolent ends. Happily a friendly AI is also sent back to stop this happening and it enlists the help of the great General Belasarius to do so. As the saga unfolds a massive war develops with Roman, Persian and Ethiopian armies fighting an evil Inidan empire controlled by the machine.  By the end of the series we have Roman and Persian armies armies fighting machine guns. It is all a tremendously silly but if are prepared to put aside incredulity it makes for an entertaining read.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Big Chief Elizabeth by Giles Milton

This is a great retelling of the story behind the early British Colonies in Virginia. If you ever wanted to know about the Jamestown settlement or colony of Roanoke and wonder where people like Walter Raleigh, John Smith, Pocahontas and Virginia Dare fit in then I highly recommend this book. Entertaining as well as educational

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Orcs (First Blood Trilogy) by Stan Nicholls

The unique selling proposition of Nicholls' trilogy is that orcs are the good guys while humans, for the most part are the baddies. This was enough of a hook to sell millions of books but to be honest it wasn't as revolutionary as it sounds. These Orcs are not the baby eating monsters of legend, they are worthy and honourable fighters who are far more sinned against than sinning. Thankfully it doesn't matter because Nicholls has crafted a highly entertaining tale of a troop of Orc warriors who find themselves declared renegades when they inadvertently make off with a magical artifact. Learning that this artifact is only one of five and realising that they cannot return to their despotic queen they embark on a epic adventure to find all the pieces. Highly enjoyable.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Elizabeth Moon's "The Deed of Paksenarion"

Very enjoyable fantasy about a young woman who leaves her farming roots to become a warrior. The first part ("The Sheep farmers Daughter") is available for free download from Baen Ebooks and if you like it you can buy the rest, good system. In Paksearnion's world the southern realms are constantly engaged in factional wars. This provides ongoing opportunities for mercenary armies from the more peaceful North to earn their keep campaigning for Southern lords and our aspiring heroine joins one such army. Most of the book is regular soldiering but the regular cast of characters including elves and dwarves turns up and there  is a smattering of magic both good and bad thrown in too.  The magic is tied closely to the religious framework of the book world with various God's both evil and just endowing their followers with abilities. In fact the main theme of the saga is Paksenarion's (Paks)  development from mercenary to holy warrior.

The villains unfortunately are the weakest element of the story for me, particular the magical ones. On several occasions Paks has to clear out dungeons populated with minions and boss monsters that are lifted straight out of a 1980's isometric computer role playing game. The boss is always lying in wait in the deepest dungeon and his minions appear to be constrained to moving on fixed paths.  At one hilarious juncture we even had minions lining up in groups of three to be moved down by the advancing heroes. The similarity is so close it has to be deliberate but it doesn't really work for me. Happily once they get out of the dungeons the story is much more fluid and the combat more enjoyable.

Monday, 11 June 2012

David Weber: "On Basilisk Station" and "The Honor of The Queen"

The first two books in David Webers popular series about astarship officer in the Royal Manticoran navy. This is space opera at is finest. Weber's starship warfare is closer to Horatio Hornblower than Captain Kirk with Starships reduced in Webers vision of future science to firing broadsides at each other much like 18th Centuy ships of the line. It is pue hookum of course but well written and enjoyable hookum.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Brian Aldiss: Non Stop

Timeless Vintage Sci Fi.

Place-holder post.

Warhammer 40k: Tales of Heresy

Pulp fiction at its finest. Place holder post

Monday, 30 April 2012

Suzanne Collin's: "The Hunger Games", "Catching Fire", "Mockingjay"

My thirteen year old daughter recommended that I read Collin's blockbuster young adult trilogy about a despotic future world where children are forced to fight to the death in an arena. This shocking premise has already been explored in Koushin Takami's Japanese novel "Battle Royale" but the "Hugner Games" has an enthralling story  all of its own.

First book: "The HungerGames": Much more enjoyable than I expected and very well written. This sucked me in and kept me reading.

Second book: "Catching Fire": A worthy successor that broadens out knowledge of the society that spawned the games. Probably my favourite book of the trilogy.

Third book: "Mockingjay": The final volume was a bit of a dissapointment to me. In a nutshell there was too much emotional angst and not enough shooting bad guys. Nevertheless the story is resolved reasonably and Collin's characters develop in a credible way.

All in all the series is very good even though I was a bit dissapointed by the ending. Collin's has becpome the best selling author on Kindle so obviously a lot of other readers like this series too.

George R. R. Martin "A Dance with Dragons"

The paperback edition of the latest installment of Martin's Ice and Fire sage is split into two volumes but each has more than 700 pages so I didn't feel too cheated at having to shell out for both.

Ice and Fire continues to enthrall me, even though Martin shares the late Robert Jordan's view that you should never tell a tale in 10 words when you could use 10,000. Martin's characterisation remains strong as always. The main protagonists of Dragons are Daenerys Targaryen, John Snow and Tyrion Lannister. Daenerys's fledgling empire in the East seems to be coming apart due to her unwillingness to act despotically. John Snow is desperately trying to strengthen the Night's Watch and enlist any allies he can get for the forthcoming battle against the terifying ceatures (the "Others") who live beyond he wall. Tyrion contiues to be my favourite character in the series even though his fortunes are much diminished.  Now he is heading for a meeting with Daenerys in the East and his cunning would be the perfect foil for her compassion but knowing Martin he will kill off one or other of them before they even get to meet. 

Sadly I have yet to see any episodes of the Game of Thrones televisd series because Sky have an exclusive license and I use a different cable provider.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Blindsight by Peter Watts

An alien race send thousands of short lived probes to take a peek at earth. Now something is approaching the outer edges of our solar system so mankind sends a mission out to meet them.

In his Starfish sequence Watts postulated that living in the extreme environment of the ocean floor would require a very unusual mix of people and he continues that theme here. The ship is crewed by a bunch of genetically engineered oddities. None more so than the Vampire Captain, a member of the once extinct race that preyed on humans now resurrected through genetic technology.

This isn't necessarily an easy read. The action is often interrupted by meandering thoughts on the meaning and value of human consciousness. It is high quality hard sci fi but don't expect to come away cheered up.

Side note: the main protagonist suffered serious brain malfunction in his youth which has left him without empathy but with a remarkable algorithmic ability to explain things to people even when he doesn't actually understand them himself. His name is Siri. I think someone on Apple might have read this book.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Ventus by Karl Schroeder

A terraforming experiment gone wrong has left the world "Ventus" controlled by powerful nanotechnology AI who tolerate humans only as long as they avoid technology and other activities which affect the natural balance. After almost a thousand years the inhabitants of the planet have regressed to a medieval existence and regard the winds as godlike magical creatures.  Events in the wider universe have brought Ventus back into the spotlight of outside forces however.

This is superior Sci Fantasy from an author who is new to me. I downloaded this book because it is free under the creative commons license but there is nothing amateurish about it. I will be looking for more from Mr. Schroeder. 

Friday, 27 January 2012

Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein

First thing to get out of the way is that I have always loved Paul Verhoeven's 1997 movie that is (very) loosely based on this famous book. I never though to read the book however until I stumbled across Christopher Weuve's great defensive analysis of the book and utter dismissal of the film.

Even after reading and enjoying the book I still love the film but I can completely understand Weuve's hatred of it. The book is serious miltary sci fi with a serious political and philosophical message. The film is tongue in cheek cartoonish space opera. It is in fact a complete and utter travesty of the book.

Anyway the story is familiar to most about a young man growing up in a society where only those who complete a term of military service can vote. Against the wishes of his parents he joins the mobile (space) infantry and ends up in a war against a insect like alien race. Heinlein's political message however is  serious one and when the protagonist's teacher uttered the most often repeated quote from the book: “Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor.” Heinlein was making a direct rebuttal to those in the late 1950's who believed that the USA should back off its nuclear weapons programme. The military side of Heinlein's book is far more serious too than the comically inept  tactics and weapons we see in the film with serious military tactics and weaponry being employed.

Perhaps the most striking thing about this novel for a 2012 reader is how little it has aged after more than 50 years.  Heinlein' vision of troopers in power armour suits free-falling in disposable capsules out of dropships to fight battles on remote planets is still relevant. These concepts that Heinlein pioneered still crop up in literature, video games and movies.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Spider World: The Delta by Colin Wilson

I enjoyed the opening novel of Colin Wilson's Spider World saga ("The Tower") quite a few years ago  so when I stumbled across this follow up in a second hand book sale I picked it up. Sadly this second installment deviates far from the promise of the first. "The Tower" is an exciting adventure tale of a young human trying to survive in a World dominated by giant spiders. This follow on "The Delta" quickly degenerates into an unappetising  mess of mysticism.

Colin Wilson actually wrote more books in the Spiderworld series but I won't be looking for them. One thing to note is that this is one of those series where the US version was published in different subdivisions to the UK version. This leads to considerable confusion among internet sources as to how many books are in the series and what they are called. Many sources refer to the Spiderworld trilogy but I have also seen references to book 6 of the sequence!

Saturday, 14 January 2012

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

This is the first book of a famous Polish series of fantasy novels on which the Witcher video game was based. I started the book (in English translation) while playing the first game and I certainly recommend the book as an adjunct to the gaming experience. It gives a new appreciation of how well the game sticks to its source material.

The book is really a collection of short stories held together by a common thread of a witcher recalling past adventures as he convolesces after a nasty wound. The gritty character of the Witcher and the World he lives in is quite compelling. Witchers are highly trained killers with enhanced fighting abilities who hire themselves out to kill monsters. The hero Geralt is basically good but also cynical. He had learned not to get involved in other peoples problems. The closest parallel I can think of is Clint Eastwood in the famous man with no name Westerns.

The stories themselves are interesting enough but the writing style in translation is quite flat and becomes tedious. I don't know if this is the fault of the translation our whether it reflects Sapkowski's underlying writing.