Archive for the ‘finished reading’ Category

The Way of Kings: The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

It’s been a couple of weeks since I finished Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings. Maybe it’s even been as much as a month. I’ve needed some mulling time. It is a huge book, not To Green Angel Tower huge, but then little is nowadays, but longer than a lot of what I’ve read for a while.

My lasting impression is of a book I really enjoyed but if I were to look back, it’s taken me 4 months to read, so it’s hardly a page turner (although admittedly life has got in the way). Sanderson is getting a reputation as a chap who is extremely inventive when it comes to devising magic systems, and this is borne out well here with the use of Stormlight for various super natural purposes being well thought out and coherent. (more…)

Towers of Midnight, Near Avendesora and Court of the Sun analysis , Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson.

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010
Warning: this post contains severe spoilers that may ruin the book for you if you haven’t read it first.
There is very little of Aviendha  in Towers of Midnight, a scant three chapters in fact. However the second & third chapters has such ramifications that it was difficult reading the remainder of the book without drifting back to what happened in the glass pillars at Rhuidean.
In case you don’t remember, the glass ter’angreal showed the wise ones and the would be clan chiefs the secret history of the Aiel- The Way of the Leaf and all that jazz that the pre breaking Aiel followed, much to the chagrin of the warrior like peoples they became. Of course, as Aviendha rightly points out, Rand has made this a little redundant and it’s her tinkering with the ter’angreal as a result of this that leads to the fortelling of the Aiel’s future that threatens to overshadow the finale of the series.
The key paragraph to the whole revelation is contained on the final page of Court of the Sun:
This was not like the events she had seen when passing into the rings during her first visit to Rhuidean. Those had been possibilities. This day’s visions seemed more real. She felt almost certain that what she had experienced was not simply one of many possibilities. What she had seen would occur. Step by step, honor drained from her people. Step by step, the Aiel turned from proud to wretched.
Perhaps it’s wrong to dwell on this paragraph so much but for me it almost makes the rest of the series irrelevant. This is what will happen, therefore Rand will be triumphant at the Last Battle and Andor will survive (despite the Trolloc invasion via Waygate in the epilogue).
The glimpses of the future happen in reverse chronology but if we were to put them in order,the first one occurs 17 years after the Last Battle, with the Dragons Peace still kept by everyone, including the Seanchan. This pretty much shows us that the Last Battle has been won. Obviously it doesn’t show us either how or at what cost the victory was gained but it is a bit of a suspense killer.
The final (or first if you read in order) sequence shows the “Folk”, not even remembering their Aiel heritage, rummaging through the litter of the Lightmakers as they drive through the Waste. The technology level of the Lightmakers is difficult to judge, they have motorised vehicles and guns of some description but Folk simply refer to it as magic, so it’s not really possible to judge just how far in the future it all is. It’s always been difficult to ascertain the technological development in the Wheel of Time, 3,000 years from the Breaking to a 17th/18th century level seems very slow. The Lightmakers even refer to the Folk as “bloody Aiel”, suggesting that they are remembered, even though they have forgotten their own name.
The subsequent visions show ore prospecting in the Waste, another sign of technological development, and the Aiel more humanised than the almost beastial creatures of the most distant future, and the ruthless breaking of the Aiel by the Seachan over the course of generations.
There are of course more details like the betrayal of Andor, the fall of the White Tower, the residents of the fallen Black Tower fighting a guerilla war and so on, but ultimately it is the vision of the Seanchan triumphant and the Aiel utterly defeated that lingers.
Is that it then? Is the victory at the Last Battle a pyhrric victory that sees the Seanchan cultural and intolerance of Channelers eventually obtain dominance? Obviously life under the Seachan is better than life under the Shadow but it still reeks of failure and leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
Hopefully this gets a better resolution than some of the other stories in the final volume, time will tell…

The Evolutionary Void by Peter F Hamilton

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010
I picked up The Evolutionary Void by Peter F Hamilton with some trepidation. When it comes to reviewing the final book in a series it’s usually a hard job. The expectation that’s built up is difficult to deal with pragmatically. The longer the series, the more of a let down the ending can often be.
That was certainly the case with Hamilton’s Judas Unchained and to a lesser degree the Naked God, which suffered a deus ex machina that was just a bit of a cop out.
Part of the problem is a well plotted story and well realised characters always leave you wanting more. Good action sequences throughout the book leave the reader wanting a climax that is a good or better than what has gone before. It’s certainly a problem Stephen King has wrestled with- far too many of his books are excellent right up to the supernatural explosion of silliness at the end.
So the question I approached the Evolutionary Void with was can Hamilton write a book that brings things to a satisfactory conclusion without the need for a McGuffin or something that seems too out of place?
There were of course plenty of other questions; where Nigel and Ozzie going to appear? What was the role of the SI, would the deterrent fleet be super awesome, which one of the characters we knew would be the Lady in the void and so on and so forth.
Some of the questions were answered, some were answered satisfactorily and one or two had no answer- I expect to see a separate series charting the Sheldon dynasties adventures in another galaxy at some point in the future for example.
It’s been a couple of days since I finished the Evolutionary Void and I’ve been mulling the experience of it over in my head. I like the concept of the Commonwealth. I liked the wormhole based universe of the first two books (Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained) as much as I hated the last 100 pages and that seems to be what’s missing in this series. The advent of hyper and ultra drive ships has in many senses robbed this universe of the thing that made it more unique that a lot of other science fiction. Characters ping around in high tech space ships with different shielding systems and different speed capabilities in a way that’s almost too computer gamey at times. There is nothing of the differentiation that was apparent in the Nights Dawn trilogy with Voidhawks and normal human ships with their combat wasp weapon systems.
It does all descend into the realm of Star Trek at one point too. The use of replicators is probably the most disappointing aspect of the book. Need your shields upgraded to deal the the photosphere of a sun? Programme the replicators to make the changes. It’s at best weak and at worst a break in the cohesion of the universe.
There are some big reveals that are really well done though (I’ll save these for a spoiler post in a couple of weeks time that will go into a lot more detail) and overall the pacing is a lot better than Judas Unchained. The improved pacing is probably down to an extra volume in this series.
What Hamilton does well is keep the reader on their toes. There are several threads that give the reader the option to speculate on what is going to happen- the Accelerator faction are working hard, the Navy is readying its deterrent fleet, Gore is plotting, Oscar has a team ready, Paula Myo is wondering what the Cat is up to, just who the heck is Aaron and does it matter, Marius and Trobulum have some role to play too. And of course Justine is already in the void itself. Underlying the whole power play in which the universe is at stake is the rather philosophical concept of human evolution. In this instance its the evolution to what is referred to as the post physical, beings of energy, but it does get you thinking on a wider scale too.
It’s a brave book as Hamilton takes his science fiction into the realms of Arthur C Clarke’s 3rd Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”, there isn’t as much description of orbital status, Largrange points, and the like as there has been in previous books and things like the deterrent fleet are basically so advanced they might as well be magic. Perhaps it is the Edeard sequences effectively having a “magic” element that make this less jarring than it should have been.
It’s difficult to say more without giving the game away too much but overall it’s a good conclusion to a good series. Some characters are wasted a bit, the universe isn’t quite as interesting as it was in the previous series but I left the book and series feeling very satisfied.

Asterix Gallus by Rene Uderzo & Albert Goscinny

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Before you get all excited and think Asterix Gallus is an entirely new entry into the rather fabulous Asterix series, you had better know this is a foreign language edition of the first book. So why is it worthy of recommendation or even mention then? Well the language it’s in happens to be Latin.

I was fortunate enough to study Latin for 3 years at school. It was an extra curricula subject, lessons happened before and after school two times a week. And I was terrible at it. Much as I was terrible at German and French. But I did find it interesting and no more so than when I was reading familiar works of fiction translated into the dead language.

To this end, if you are familiar with Asterix, this is worth a punt and if you are studying Latin, it is also worth a read. It is exactly the same as the English language version, all that is different is the text. It wont make you a Latin guru overnight (I still got a GCSE grade D at the subject) but it will help your vocab and trick you into studying when you think you’re not.

Gardens of the Moon (Book 1 of The Malazan Book of the Fallen) by Steven Erikson

Monday, July 5th, 2010

I can’t quite believe its been two and a half months since I started reading Gardens of the Moon. Admittedly I have read other books in between but the length of time I spent reading this might give the wrong impression. This is a fantastic book. It’s sprawling and messy and annoying in places but the world and most of the characters more than make up for that.

There is a review on Keeping The Door that is a lot better than anything I could write- it deals with the complex structure, McGuffins and fantasy tropes really well and is worth a read.

So instead of regurgitating much of what Renai Lemay has said, I’d like to focus on a few of the things Erickson does well that make this stand apart from a lot of the other fantasy that’s about.

The system of magic that is used is complex, bewildering and initially almost completely unintelligible. This is great. Part of the thing about magic is that its supposed to be magic. If I’ve been told by the end of the first few chapters how the system of magic works, I’m either reading David Eddings Pawn of Prophecy or I’m reading an author who lacks the skill to deal with exposition without a dreary monologue from one of the characters (hey, perhaps its both). By the end of the book the system of magic based around warrens makes a lot of sense. That’s not to say it’s perfect; there are a few occasions where it seems Erickson drops a new warren or quirky rule in just to further the plot but this isn’t too instrusive. Unlike the demons in vials, which are more irritating.

The system of Gods is also worthy of mention. It’s divided into the Elder Gods, who nobody seems to pay much attention to any more, and the younger upstarts referred to as the Ascendants, who seem to take great pleasure in interfering in a way more akin to the Greek pantheon than via prophets or whatever. Logically the name Ascendant assumes that they have ascended, suggesting they were mortal at some point. There are several clues in the text that make veiled reference to this. Hopefully the next volume or two will make it clearer.

The whole concept of Moons Spawn is really rather interesting too. A city sized chunk of rock with a city on it flying around with a bunch of alien warriors and wizards on it should frankly be crap- it’s straight out of some multi author series but again it is handled very well. Amomanda Rake is an interesting character, as the Ascendant Lord of Moons Spawn he remains somewhat enigmatic throughout and as the individually most powerful wizard its interesting to see the other wizards reactions to what he can do.

Some of the characters such as Whiskeyjack, Tattersail and Crokus are pretty likeable but a lot of them aren’t. Much like a lot of the gritty fantasy that followed in its wake (this book is over ten years old now), Erickson isn’t afraid of writing an unlikeable character and he does it well enough that it isn’t a turn off to any one reading the book.

Gardens of the Moon isn’t an easy read by any stretch of the imagination but it is rewarding. A modern classic in my humble opinion.

Shakara, Robbie Morrison & Henry Flint

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

When I was a nipper I used to read 2000AD. This was way before the turn of the millenium, when the year 2000 seemed a long way off. Its pages were packed with compactly but intricately drawn science fiction with the odd fantasy number like Slaine thrown in. I remember reading the first issue to feature Nemesis the Warlock, I remember the ABC Warrior, Rougue Trooper, Ace Trucking Co and of course Judge Dredd. Heck, if my mum hasn’t thrown them away, I still have some issues with Dan Dare in them- when the Eagle went out of print for a while, Dan Dare defected to 2000AD.

Shakara is a graphic novel that collects the series of the same name from the pages of 2000AD. Its a 2001 vintage, which is years after I stopped reading 2000AD but nevertheless it definitely has an old school feel to it.

The writer Robbie Morrison has paid his dues at 2000AD, he’s written Dredd, came up with the infamous Nikolai Dante and then gone on to write the Authority and Wildcats as well as stints on Batman and Spiderman. And lets face it, there can never be too many people with the surname Morrison in comics can there?

Its penned by Henry Flint, who manages to get the whole thing to look a lot like Nemesis the Warlock in terms of the out there beastial aliens and a lot of detail packed in to every panel. Although the plot is fairly straight forward the temptation to rattle through the 160 odd pages isn’t that strong as you really find yourself digesting each panel slowly to take in the artwork properly.

Its mostly in black and white, with some aspects like Shakaras eyes in colour- a conceit which works really well to highlight the otherness of the main character.

If I had to have some criticisms of the art work, some of it is a little derivative, the Shakara race themselves reminded me heavily of one particular member of the Celestials (http://www.immortalthor.net/bio-celestials.html#Gamiel the Manipulator) and a lot of the aliens seem to be tributes to various well known aliens. This is echoed in the naming of some of the characters, it’s obvious Morrison is a big fan of Dune as there are corruptions of Bene Gesserit and Fremen in the mix amongst others.

Fortunately the story more than makes up for it, a relentless tale of (initially) unexplained revenge by a spindly shaped robot like creature who only utters one word as it planet hops killing indiscrimately. You could level the criticism that its a little one dimensional but tales of revenge don’t really need to be too deep or meaningful. Yes, it does get sillier towards the end with giant robo-dinosaurs and assassins joining the fray but thats probably more to do with the original comic run being in 3 different stories rather than one long happening. It doesn’t detract too much from a read through in one or two sittings.

Definitely worth a read if you’re getting a bit bored with superheroes or zombies (which seem to be near ubiquitous at the moment).

One Day, David Nicholls

Thursday, June 10th, 2010
One Day by David Nicholls has the sort of busy cover thats full of recommendations from authors like Tony Parsons and Nick Hornby. The Guardian love him too and the inside cover is full of platitudes from people I’ve never heard of like Jenny Colgan, Faye Ripley and Kate Mosse. In fact there seems to be a quote from every section of the Guardian newspaper, barring the Sports or Motoring supplements in there too.

It’s a concept novel, taking one day in the life of two people, Emma and Dexter, over a 20 year period. It starts and finishes with half a day at each end of the book  in 1988 when the two main protaganists end up spending the night together on their university graduation. Emma is the worthy double 1st girl with aspirations, Dexter is the incredibly popular lad who scrapes a lower second in anthropology, the sort of chap who is more interested in how a job or career sounds rather than the practicalities of doing it.

Despite all of these things conspiring to make me detest the book before I’d even read the first chapter, I have to say I was won over. Partly by the well realised characters and basic humanity of it all, partly because after Kieron Gillen professed a hatred of Kular Shaker it was interesting to see the fondly mentioned but mostly because of Nicholls excellent way with our fair language.

This was a book group book and we did have a fair old discussion of whether the character were well realised (we agreed they were) and whether they were likeable (they both were to various different degrees) but for me the real pull was the language. Passages like this one just scream quality at me:

He ordered and then was off to the loo again, taking his second martini with him, which Emma found unusual and strangely unsettling.

It’s not verbose or overly complicated but it really sums up the situation of a chap taking a cocktail to the toilet in a restaurant superbly in my book. And it’s full of these little touches, Dexter calls one of Emma’s boyfriends “beard”, and its the sort of thing we can all associate with (or at least I can, I’m terrible with names). Although there’s plenty of tribulation in the novel, the underlying humour sees the reader through without thoroughly depressing him.

In many ways, despite the differences in style, subject, genre and pretty much everything else, One Day reminds me of something Douglas Adams could have written. The story is forgettable but the joy is in the little snippets and clever use of language.

Definitely worth a read, and its only three pounds something at Amazon too.

The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

The Amityville Horror was another book group pick (nominated by me as well). It’s always interested me as it is supposed to be based on real events from the mid 1970’s. There have been numerous films, sequels, magazines articles and books written on the subject but this is the original one that started it all, written from transcripts of conversations had with the protagonists. If you want to delve into the history and what not of it all, there is a good Wikipedia article on the matter here.

This is proper 1970’s horror fare, setting a lot of what are now clichés in the horror genre including that good old built on an Indian burial ground that seemed to be trotted out in every B movie for a decade. But to be brutally honest, unless you’re interested in the background and the surrounding events, this probably isn’t the book for you. It was written about 6 years after Blatty wrote the Exorcist, probably the seminal 1970’s horror story (ignoring Stephen King for a moment) and couldn’t be further away from it if Anston had tried. Put simply, the man cannot write. Any one that uses exclamation marks in general prose should be given a good kicking in my book and he does this frequently from early on.

One of the group did say he was scared by the book but I can’t help thinking this was despite the way it was written rather than because of it. Some of the aspects contained within the book are unsettling, the basic premise is fundamentally scary in itself but it is let down by the writing that veers from novel to commentary page by page, with comments like “later on when they discussed it the Lutz’s felt…” peppering the text. When a book is neither an intelligent written selection of transcripts (lets not forget Dracula was written as a variety of journal entries and letters) or a novel in its own right, it’s difficult to get fully immersed in the story. This is a shame really as the main protagonists, George and Kathy Lutz, do have some decidedly odd things happen to them. Phantom embraces, odd behaviour, flies infesting rooms in the dead of winter, it’s all there really.

It is a fairly short read, which is why the book group went for it. I can’t help but think if we could have looked past the page count, then The Exorcist or The Shining would have been a profoundly more rewarding read, despite not being based on alleged true events.

Is it worth as read? As I’ve mentioned earlier, if the actual story itself is of interest to you, if you like reading about real life hauntings and so on, it probably is but if you’re actually after reading a well crafted book, in my humble opinion, you’re better off looking elsewhere.

Phonogram: Rue Britannia by Jamie Mckelvie and Kieron Gillen

Friday, May 28th, 2010

I bumped into the dynamic duo of Jamie Mckelvie and Kieron Gillen at an under attended comic convention in Hatfield recently. I was on my way back from a free screening of a Ben 10 film with our 3 year old that my wife fortunately escaped. Mr Gillen was vaguely known to me via his journalist efforts of the past decade or so and it had been an interesting experience to find out he was taking over writing duties on Marvel’s The Mighty Thor- one of their top titles.

Phonogram though is Gillen’s own title, adeptly illustrated by the pen of Mckelvie, who must have felt slighted when I ignored him completely in favour of chin wagging with Kieron about comics, computer games and other pointless blokey activities. It’s main protagonist, David Kohl, can’t have taken too much effort to conjure up as he is pretty much a drawn version of Gillen himself, right down to the head tilt mannerism he has. Not that it matters of course, I could write a long and even potentially interesting article of the author manifesting himself in his protagonist. Who knows, someone might even read it. Having said that, it is rather odd seeing someone you’ve met stroll around an illustrated world but eventually I got to grips with it.

Phonogram itself is a story about music and magic. David Kohl is a phonomancer, we’re not explicitly told what this term means, we’re left to discern it from our interpretation of what goes on. That’s a bonus for starters, treating the reader as though he has some intelligence rather than spoon feeding him. It’s 10 years after the demise of Britpop and Kohl hasn’t moved on- his magic is rooted in Britpop and someone is trying to resurrect the missing presumed dead aspect of God called Britannia (a cool, could have been in Pulps Common People, girl).

And basically that’s it as far as plot goes. There are a few side trips to see interesting and well thought out freaks from the Britpop era and a shed(7)load of references that you’ll miss out on if you really don’t know your stuff but they’re basically attached to the fairly simple construct the story hangs on.

Not that its bad, it’s certainly a million miles away from most of what Marvel put out, that’s for sure but unless your in to Britpop and comics, then there isn’t much there for you.

I enjoyed it myself, and I wasn’t really into the Britpop scene at the time. I think I was going through a 1970’s progressive rock phase back then, but since my better half saw Oasis play in a converted semi in Harlow, amongst other things, I do have a fairly good understanding of it all. Worth a punt then if you want something a bit different.

72 Virgins, Boris Johnson

Monday, April 19th, 2010
Or Seventy Two Virgins to give the book it’s proper name.

Underneath the amiable bumbling buffoon exterior that Boris Johnson radiates like some sort of impenetrable armour is another amiable bumbling buffoon. He’s that clever. Somewhere underneath it all though is a thoroughly erudite and intelligent author.

Tom Sharpe is getting on a bit, and I must say his last novel, Wilt in Nowhere probably proved his 20 year hiatus shouldn’t have been un-hiatus’ed (wait and see if the Wilt Inheritance changes my mind) but Johnson’s first fictional read reminds me of the heady days of Sharpe’s finest, sans the ruder parts. When I was growing up I don’t think either Porterhouse Blue or Grantchester Grind were suppased  for their laugh out loud moments, expect possibly by Wilt. Johnson hasn’t quite achieved these heady heights but the fact 72 Virgins put me in mind of it has to be promising.

72 Virgins is a book of two halves really and whilst the writing is consistent between the two halves, the 2nd half that hinges on the main conceit of the book, is definitely the weaker of the two. Personally, I enjoyed reading about Roger the MP bumbling along, getting picked on by his children and being generally vague to his assistant in preference to the terrorist drama that was promised from early on. Is it carried out convincingly? Probably not entirely but the book chugs along at a merry old rate and you’ll find it in yourself to forgive it for seeming a little implausible in places.

To my mind however it’s when the action shifts away from Roger to the supporting cast that things begin to suffer a little. It’s still an interesting read and certainly doesn’t over stay its welcome but it left me looking forward to his next novel more than enjoying his current one.

Boris has shown with his championing of the traditional arts that their is still room for heritage in our great nations museums and galleries, that it doesn’t have to be all one armed lesbian mime shows that fill our theatres, and above all that it’s okay to like things that are highbrow. Lets hope his writing keeps up the high standard Seventy Two Virgins has set.