Sunday, 18 October 2015

The Martian by Andy Weir

A lone astronaut must figure out how to survive on Mars. This book has been made into a blockbuster movie which received rave reviews. It is a groping read but only if you are interested in the science and engineering aspects of the problem. Character development is non existent and the plot consists of "we are in a hole how can we use science to fix it" followed by "something else has gone wrong how can we use science to fix that". I haven't seen the film yet but it will be interesting to see how they flesh out the characters and drama for the big screen. One thing that bugs me more than it should is that there are a few obvious errors in the science that are obvious even from a high school knowledge of physics and chemistry (I spotted several related to atmospheric concentrations but there are plenty more).   Nevertheless it is an enjoyable read.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

A Gift Upon the Shore by M.K. Wren.

Two women survive the combined ravages of a pandemic and nuclear war. They make it their life's work to save a collection of books from before the collapse of civilisation. Unfortunately when they finally come across another group of survivors that community's strong religious beliefs may be a threat to the precious cache of knowledge.

This is an excellent post apocalyptic novel that actually make you think. Is the quest to preserve human knowledge more important than the need to live in community and ensure the survival of the species?

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell

Wallander is a detective who drinks too much while coming to terms with a recent divorce when a horrific double murder shatters the peace and quiet of the sleepy Swedish district he polices. This is the first book in the Wallander series which inspired at least two successful television series (one in Swedish and one in English). I am not a crime aficionado so I can't really comment on how this book compares to others in the genre but it kept me reading to the end.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie

This novel is set in Abercrombies "First Law" world some time after the end of the first trilogy. It has a very restricted scope being largely restricted to a single battle between the armies of the Union and northern forces led by Back Dow. The Heroes of the title refers to an ancient hill which forms the centrepiece of the fighting but of course it also refers to the characters who play out the action. The book scored very highly on two fronts: deep characterisation and masterful depiction of battle. We follow the toils and motivations of a motley crew of characters on both sides of the divide. A battle weary "named man" on the Northern side leading a unit of hardened fighters. A disgraced former personal guard of the Union King who fights like a man possessed perhaps in hope of winning his honour back, perhaps because he just loves war. The daughter of the Union commander equally full of contempt for he inept union generals and ambition for herself and her husband. The battle shy younger son of the former Northern ruler that Black Dow displaced. Despite his lack of combat prowess he too has ambition to regain his fathers place.

With regards to the battle scenes that fill most of the book all I can say is that Abercrombie is that I haven't been as engrossed in descriptions of battle since David Gemmel and that is high praise indeed.

The main flaw of the book for me is that it rook too long to finish up. About a quarter of the book is devoted to tying up loose ends after the main plot is already resolved. Perhaps this is a consequence of the deep characterisation with so many individual sub plots to resolve but to my mind it goes on way too long.

And yes the Bayaz the first of the Magi is involved as usual and yes the outcome is just as you would expect.

The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

What if almost everyone suddenly discovered they could step sideways to a parallel world. What if there wasn't just one world but any number of them. Everyone can have their own private world with all the resources in it. This collaborative novel explores that premise in a simple approachable way and it makes for a very entertaining read. In order to keep things under control (and easy to comprehend) these worlds are linked serially each to two neighbours. Most people need a simple device (a stepper) to swap between them and it takes them some time to traverse more than a few worlds. Settlers set out on epic convoys to travel to far distant worlds like pioneers of the American West. Joshua Valente however is a rare individual who can step without the aid of any device and he can travel much farther and much faster than others. He sets out with an inquisitive AI to discover just what surprises lay in store millions of worlds away from datum Earth.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

The Healer's War by Elizabeth Anne Scarborough

This is an unusual war novel based loosely on the author's first hand experiences as a nurse in Vietnam during the USA vs. VietCong war. It has a very mild fantasy element in the shape of a magical healing amulet that actually has very little impact on the novel but serves as a plot device to justify some of the settings that Scarbrough wanted to explore.

I found the book to be well written and engaging. It is a fictionalised account (see magical medallion) but Scarbrough was really there and the settings and the emotional impacts on characters are based on her real life experiences. I have read a number of books about Vietnam from the point of soldiers so it is intriguing to get a complementary view from a non-combatant.