Monday, 28 July 2014

The Man in the High Castle - Phillip K. Dick



Title: The Man in the High Castle
Author: Phillip K. Dick
Genre: Alternate History
Published: 1962
Formats: Hardback/Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

Review:
As part of the 2014 Eclectic Reader Challenge I was required to read a novel which fell under the category of Alternate History and so I decided it was time to finally read “The Man in the High Castle” by Philip K Dick which has been sitting on my book shelf for quite a while. The book is set in a world where the Axis forces managed to win WWII and have carved it up between themselves. The plot explores the lives several people living in 1962 United States which has been partitioned by the Germans and Japanese.

I have to start by saying that it is obvious to me that the aim of the book is just to explore the “What If?” question regarding WWII and show its effect on various people rather than giving us any specific narrative. This actually made it hard for me to review, because if you are looking for a story with a defined start and satisfying conclusion then this book is not going to be for you. However, if you are happy to follow an exploration of the individual in a totalitarian society told via a number of vaguely interlinked sub-plots then you will probably find this to be a clever and interesting novel.

Dick does a brilliant job in bringing this world to life, using a huge amount of detail and multiple sub-plots to highlight the various aspects of society. It was quite eye opening to read a book in which the author actually tries to go into the nuances of his world which is something that the more recent young adult focused dystopian novels fail to do.

The biggest issue for me in the novel had to the characters, none of whom I managed to engage with. There is a large mish-mash of individuals and the novel focuses too much on their lives within this new world rather than who they actually are which ensured I didn’t really care about them or what happened. When you add this in to the rather weak overall plotline it could at times feel like a very hard and intellectual read rather than being an enjoyable alternate history novel.

Overall, this is a very clever novel that quite deeply explores one of the world’s favourite “What If?” scenarios regarding a different WWII outcome. It can at times feel almost academic in its form due to the weak characters and rather unsatisfying overall plot but it is still incredibly interesting to follow. I don’t know if I have a read another alternate history novel which so determinedly tries to showcase the multiple facets and elements of the different world that has been created. I fully understand why this book is highly rated in literary circles.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Hell's Teeth (The Vetala Cycle Book 3) - G.R. Yeates



Title: Hell's Teeth (The Vetala Cycle Book 3)
Author: G.R. Yeates
Genre: Horror
Published: 2012
Formats: Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
“Hell's Teeth “by G.R. Yeates is the third book in the Vetala cycle, a rather dark and quite surreal collection of horror novels. Again Yeates has focussed on WWI but this time he has decided to use the Eastern Front as the basis of his story with the Anzac forces being pushed back by the Turks at Gallipoli. In this chaotic place is Tom Potter who must deliver messages between the various commanding officers. However, on one mission he finds himself lost and enters an underground lair where the Vetala are waiting. Whilst Tom manages to escape his respite is only temporary and before long his own personal nightmare begins.

So, the first thing I noticed about this book is that it felt less structured than the previous novels. The reader is dragged quickly into a story that loops back on itself multiple time and jumps between different points in the protagonist’s life. As the story can become rather surreal and quite intense in the visions of horror it portrays it wasn’t always easy to know where I was in the story. The reader really has to concentrate and stay fully engaged with the story or they could easily get lost.

As with the other books in the series, Yeates has created a very dark and bleak world in the novel. It is incredibly atmospheric and the rather surreal and confusing feel of the plot helps to enhance the feeling that you are watching a real journey into hell. I will admit that by the end of the novel the constant barrage of dark horror along with the concentration required to understand what was actually going on did leave me feeling a bit drained.

The writing itself is very poetic and descriptive which has become a sort of hallmark style of Yeates. The beauty of his writing wonderfully supplements and enhances the very dark and terrifying story he is telling. Without doubt Yeates’ prose has been a real plus point to this series and his writing has at times reminded me of H.P. Lovecraft.

Overall, this is another dark atmospheric horror story from Yeates that competently completes the Vetala cycle of novels. I have to say that the rather unstructured nature of the book meant I didn’t enjoy it is as much as the other novels but it was still entertaining enough. Once again, if you enjoy dark and surreal horror novels then I am happy to recommend this this book and the rest of this series.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Star Trek: The Original Series: Past Prologue (The Janus Gate Book 3) - L.A. Graf


Title: Past Prologue (The Janus Gate Book 3)
Author: L.A. Graf
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2002
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
“Past Prologue” by L.A. Graf is the third and final book in “The Janus Gate” trilogy, a series of novels set during the Star Trek Original Series. Kirk is stranded in his past and is trying to find his younger self who is missing in the chaos of a civil war. He is helped by his own father but neither of them realises that 14 year old Kirk is now in the future. In this future Sulu and Chekov have to work with older versions of themselves to try and find a way to reactivate the Janus Gate to ensure that everyone is sent back to their correct timelines. Of course, nothing is ever easy for the crew of the Enterprise and they are being forced to do this whilst an alien race attempts to seal the Janus Gate away for good.

I will start by mentioning that this book continues the tradition of this series in that it has a back cover synopsis that doesn’t match what actually occurs in the book. I am quite weary of mentioning this when it comes to “The Janus Gate” as the publishers have been quite consistent in getting it wrong. Whilst any reader has probably already read the previous two books so knows the story and can skip the synopsis anyway it just doesn’t give me a good impression of the publisher.

The story that we do get is an enjoyable adventure told at a much faster pace than the previous novel and full of action which kept me entertained right through to the ending. Of course this increased pacing and more action focussed narrative meant that there was less time spent on character development. Whilst this did ensure the excitement levels were kept high it meant we missed the chance to see something really interesting between the two Sulus and Chekovs.

A final negative aspect of the novel for me was in relation to the ending. Basically Graf inserts a reset switch type scenario to solve all the paradoxes and fit in with the TV series which never mentions what is seen here. The crew get to continue their journey with no memories of the event and act as if nothing happened. I understand why it was done and was actually expecting it but I still can’t find myself liking that form of ending.

Overall, this was an enjoyable final chapter in what has been a rather fun adventure. This story is much more focussed on the action that we have seen in the previous novels which does reduce the amount of character development that occurs. If you read the first two books in this trilogy then you quite simply have to read book three so you can see how everything Graf has put together in the previous novels finally comes to together in an entertaining conclusion.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

High-Rise - J.G. Ballard



Title: High-Rise
Author: J.G. Ballard
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 1975
Formats: Hardback/Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

Review:
“High-Rise” by J.G. Ballard is a dystopian novel written in the 1970s which details the collapse of society within a forty storey tower block. The plot follows three different people within the block who each live on different floors, one low, one in the middle and one in the penthouse. Each of these people represents a different level within the social structure of the inhabitants which is linked into how high up they live within the tower block. This fully self-contained community soon begins to fracture as resentments and irritations between different groups boil to the surface resulting in vandalism, abuse and violence.

The first thing that struck about this novel is that it has an incredibly memorable first line:

“Later, as he sat on the balcony eating the dog, Dr. Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous months.”

Starting a novel with a scene from the latter portion of the plot like this isn’t new but the way in which Ballard did it left me re-reading the line a few times just to make sure I hadn’t miss-read it. In the end this, section regarding the dog was actually quite mild compared to what was to come with rape, murder and violence clearly present. It really did feel like a misanthrope’s dream which I have to admit can at times make this a tough read as it is hard to really like anyone at all.

However, Ballard’s writing was good enough to keep me reading as I could really see the garbage strewn rooms of the tower block and hear the sounds echoing down the corridors. The violence of the situations are also not just pure brute descriptions, there are some rather chilling moments which are expertly written such as one of the roof involving cannibalism.

One aspect of the story which struck me as being a weakness is that the three people whose perspectives we get are all men. Yes, women are involved in the story but their own thoughts, views or ideas are left unclarified. I think the novel would have been greatly enhanced by at least getting part of the story told from a feminine viewpoint.

I think my biggest issue with the novel however is that I just couldn’t believe that groups of intelligent, professional adults could descend into tribal chaos when the wider world is perfectly normal and still available to them. If there had been some sort of cataclysmic event or they were stranded somewhere then fine, but in this case people just need to leave the building to return to the regular society in which they have been treated well.

Maybe Ballard was just trying to find a way to create an allegorical look at modern urban development and its effect of society. Either way, it had me thinking about it and comparing his tower block with the rapid urban decay and social problems that ended up plaguing the UK’s real tower blocks. So on that front the novel works, but it would have been nice to also give me a plot that I could actually believe in.

Overall, whilst I found the book to be well written and interesting in how it looks at urban society I just struggled to suspend my disbelief in regards to the plot.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Star Trek: The Original Series: Future Imperfect (The Janus Gate Book 2) - L.A. Graf


Title: Future Imperfect (The Janus Gate Book 2)
Author: L.A. Graf
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2002
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
“Future Imperfect” by L.A. Graf is the second book in “The Janus Gate” trilogy, a series of novels set during the Star Trek Original Series. The novel picks up from the cliff-hanger ending of the previous book with Lieutenant Sulu finding himself swapped in time with an older version of himself from a future where the Federation is at war with the Gorn. Meanwhile, Captain Kirk has been sent back in time to a critical point in his life with his teenage self now stranded in the present day on Tlaoli-4 with the crew of the Enterprise.

As with the previous novel the synopsis on the back cover didn’t actually match the story itself which was a bit irritating as there was no excuse for it being wrong. I really couldn’t believe they hadn’t tried to ensure the summary was correct this time after it being so wrong on “Present Tense”. In the end it probably doesn’t matter as most people will be reading this book because they read the first novel and they probably didn’t even bother checking the synopsis.

In regards to the writing itself, I felt that this book was better than “Present Tense” with Graf using the set-up from the previous novel expertly to ensure the reader can quickly get engrossed in an exciting adventure. The previous novel could feel a bit slow at times but this wasn’t an issue here as all the initial plot building and character introduction had already been dealt with. Although of course this means that the book doesn’t really have a beginning at all so it really is a no go for anyone who hasn’t read “Present Tense”.

Whilst the story continues to feel like standard Star Trek fare I still found it fun and enjoyed reading following the interplay between Sulu, Chekov and Uhura. Graf has done such a good job with these characters that I really didn’t mind the very minimal amount of time given to Kirk, Spock and McCoy. One thing that I did really like in the story is the alternate future that Graf has managed to construct. It is well thought and uses established characters, episode plots and aliens in a rather interesting way.

Overall this series continues to be an enjoyable enough read that showcases some of the more “minor” Star Trek characters. If you have read the first novel in the series and enjoyed it then you should pick up this sequel as it ramps up the pacing and action to provide a fun read.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Where Eagles Dare - Alistair Maclean


Title: Where Eagles Dare
Author: Alistair Maclean
Genre: Thriller
Published: 1967
Formats: Hardback/Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

Review:
As part of the 2014 Eclectic Reader Challenge I was required to read a novel which fell under the category of War. I decided to go for a classic war thriller and picked up “Where Eagles Dare” by Alistair Maclean which is a story I knew about due to the late 1960’s movie of the same name. However, beyond a vague memory of a cable car featuring quite prominently I couldn’t really remember that much about the plot.

In regards to the plot of the story, it is set over the winter of 1943/1944 and starts with the news that an important American general is being held hostage at a secure mountain top facility in the Alps. This general is purported to be an important organiser of Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Europe. Therefore, the Allies quickly assemble a team who must infiltrate this formidable fortress and rescue the general before he can put the entire invasion plan at risk. However, the team soon discovers that all is not what it appears to be with secrets, conspiracy and espionage all combining to create a thrilling adventure.

This was quite simply a great adventure story with various twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the very end. Whilst the plot starts a little slowly it soon becomes an incredibly intense action packed ride that makes sure you are sitting on the edge of your seat for the majority of the novel. I found Maclean’s combination of twisting plotline and entertaining action sequences worked wonderfully well and kept me hooked. Of course there are some elements of the plot which did require some suspension of disbelief but it didn’t affect the overall viability of the story in any substantial way.

The characters themselves were also interesting enough with their various secrets and nuances combining to make them distinct and identifiable as individuals. There was enough development involved between the elements of action and suspense that I could understand on some level why the various characters, both protagonist and antagonists were acting in the way although at times I will admit that their differences and motivations could feel a little bit typecast.

Overall this is a thoroughly enjoyable World War II thriller that is full of action and suspense. The characters are all interesting enough to appeal on some level to the reader but don’t expect to see anything in them that you haven’t seen before in some form or the other. Basically if you enjoy action packed thrillers full of twists and turns action then I don’t think you would be disappointed by this novel.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Star Trek: The Original Series: Present Tense (The Janus Gate Book 1) - L.A. Graf



Title: Present Tense (The Janus Gate Book 1)
Author: L.A. Graf
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2002
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
“Present Tense” by L.A. Graf is the first book in a trilogy of Star Trek Original Series novels entitled “The Janus Gate”. The story follows on from the events seen in the episode “The Naked Time” with their escape from the planet Psi-2000 resulting in them being flung several days back in time. In order to limit the contamination of the time line the Enterprise travels to an uninhabited world for an early rendezvous with a geological team that had dispatched prior to the events of the episode. However, upon arrival then soon discover that one of the survey teams are missing and something is draining away power from their equipment and has potentially caused previous older starships to crash. And so Kirk heads down to the planet alongside a new recruit named Chekov in order to help find the missing team and investigate the strange power drain.

To be honest I found this book to be a bit of a major surprise because the synopsis I read on the back cover bore no resemblance to what actually took place. I can only assume that at some point in the editing process half the plot was thrown out but somebody forgot to change the associated summary. Whilst it didn’t bother me too much there was still a mild sense of irritation present due to the fact that it felt like I had been mis-sold something.

The plot itself wasn’t anything new or different and it felt much like many other Star Trek stories but there was still enough adventure and fun involved to keep me engaged. As this is the first book in a series there is a fair amount of set up involved which did at times cause the pacing to suffer a little. However, there was still enough going on to ensure that I didn’t just skim over large sections of the novel. Quite simply, the plot itself is probably best described as an average but entertaining enough Star Trek adventure.

What I did really appreciate with the novel is in the fact that Graf has written a story which looks beyond the three main characters of Kirk, Spock and McCoy. A fair amount of the story is focussed on the “minor” crew such as Chekov, Uhura and Sulu which I enjoyed seeing. These characters are so often shunted off to the side but in this novel Graf has put them right in the centre of the action. She has also tried to enhance their personas so that whilst they do still feel like the characters we saw on the screen, they also felt a little bit more like complete individuals.

Overall, the plot in “Present Tense” felt like one we have seen many times before in Star Trek novels but it was still a fun, light read with the real plus point being its attempt at showcasing the “minor” crew. As it is a first novel in a series it can be a little slow in places but the mysteries introduced here have intrigued me and I am looking forward to seeing their resolutions.