Friday, 19 December 2014

Shipstar (Bowl of Heaven Book 2) - Gregory Benford & Larry Niven



Title: Shipstar (Bowl of Heaven Book 2)
Author: Gregory Benford & Larry Niven
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2014
Formats: Hardback/Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

Review:
“Shipstar” by Gregory Benford & Larry Niven is the sequel to Hard Science Fiction novel, “Bowl of Heaven”. I had planned to read this book anyway but it also met the “Published in 2014” requirements of the 2014 Eclectic Reader challenge so it ended up higher up my TBR pile than it originally would have been.

It continues the story of two groups of humans who at the end of the previous book were currently stranded on the Bowl, a huge object that is slowly travelling across space and is populated by various alien species. The humans traverse the Bowl, trying to find each other and a way back to their ship, “The Sunseeker” whose remaining crew is trying to work out what they can do to help.

I quite enjoyed the previous novel but this sequel didn’t provide me with the same level of enjoyment. There is very little forward momentum of the plot and the novel’s main focus appears to be explaining the true origin of the Bowl and hinting at something intriguing for the future in regards to their end destination, the planet Glory. This weakening of the plot is further enhanced by the fact that most of this rather long novel is full of detailed and complex descriptions of the bowl and its alien inhabitants to the point that the story itself feels almost secondary.

This level of complexity is interesting enough and it really does showcase some of the author’s hard science fiction skills but on its own this isn’t enough to make this is truly enjoyable book. What was new and intriguing in the first novel just becomes a bit mind-numbing here; if there are had been some real emotion and character building included then this may have helped but the characters just felt like they were being used to explain the various engineering and scientific sights on their journey.

To be honest, this review all sounds very negative but I want to make it clear that I didn’t hate the book; I more found it to be just plain average and something which feels more like a travel book of the Bowl rather than an engaging Science Fiction novel. Overall, I am still engaged enough with the series storyline that I will read the follow up book which must surely follow but I hope we see some real progress in actual story next time.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Star Trek: Seeds of Rage (Errand of Fury Book 1) - Kevin Ryan



Title: Seeds of Rage (Errand of Fury Book 1)
Author: Kevin Ryan
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2005
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

Review:
“Seeds of Rage” is the first novel in Kevin Ryan’s “Errand of Fury” trilogy which is a sequel trilogy to the incredibly enjoyable “Errand of Vengeance” trilogy. As with the previous trilogy Ryan continues to explore the build up to the Klingon – Federation War that briefly occurs in the Original Series episode “Errand of Mercy”. Of course the original star of the first trilogy, the Klingon spy Jonathan Anderson is dead but Ryan continues to explore the lives of the people he was involved with such as his brother, Karel & Enterprise security officer, Leslie Parrish.

The story itself is fast paced, exciting and action packed. In other words, it feels a lot like the final novel in the “Errand of Vengeance” trilogy. Personally, I actually preferred the slower pacing of the earlier novels in that previous trilogy as this did a better job at bringing out the suspense, political intrigue and character development. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed this book but I do feel that the overall development of the people and intricate politics appears to have stalled a little.

In regards to the characters, I really appreciated that Ryan once again tries to tell the majority of the story from the view point of “lower deck” characters. So those of you who, like me, fell in love with these other characters can breathe easy knowing that you will get to see more from them. In addition, I also enjoy how Ryan still manages to take standard Trek lore and events from the various Original Series episodes and builds on it to enhance both my appreciation of the novel and what I had previous seen on the TV screen.

Overall this was a very competent and entertaining continuation of Ryan’s Klingon-Federation Cold War series. The more intricate development of the characters and some plot points do appear to have come to a halt but the main plot is still moving forward and if you like the more action orientated novel then this book should appeal. Despite my own minor issues I still enjoyed the novel and am looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Batman: Year One - Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli


Title: Batman: Year One
Author: Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli
Genre: Fantasy (Superhero)
Published: 1987
Formats: Hardback/Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

Review:
I picked up “Batman: Year One” by Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli in order to meet the graphic novel requirement of the 2014 Eclectic Reader Challenge. I will admit that I don’t normally read graphic novels however as a fan of superhero films etc. I have constantly heard of “Batman: Year One” as being the real basis for how we view Batman nowadays. Therefore I decided that this book would be the one I read to complete this element of the challenge.

The novel chronicles both the emergence of Batman and the rise of Jim Gordon through the ranks of law enforcement. The whole thing is very melodramatic and it feels like an 80’s action movie as our hero gets shot, beaten up and hurt in various ways but fights through the pain to get things done. Batman in this novel is a “real man” who goes out and gets thing done then goes on a skiing holiday to recuperate.

It is also definitely aimed at mature audience and it is not something for a young child to read. Miller is more than happy to show us the underbelly of Gotham with violence and prostitution being brought to the fore. However, I found this was undermined a bit by the rather dated 80’s styled images which did tend to undo any grittiness that the story was trying to portray.

In regards to the characters, I actually found Batman to be rather uninteresting to be honest, yes his weaknesses and inexperience showed him to be human but he feels very one dimensional. It is actually Gordon who comes across as a multifaceted character and draws you into the story. He is a good cop trying to do his job in the face of corruption in the police and the city itself. His attempts to maintain his integrity in the fact of vast challenges endears him to the reader.

Overall, I did find this to be an enjoyable novel even if Batman himself was rather uninspiring. It was also interesting to follow the story which actually created the modern Batman genesis mythos.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse - Edited by John Joseph Adams



Title: Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse
Author: Various (Edited by John Joseph Adams)
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2007
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

Review:
As a big fan of post-apocalyptic fiction I have contemplated picking up “Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse” many times. However, when the 2014 eclectic reader challenge required me to read an anthology I decided that the time was right to finally procure it.

The book contains quite a varied cross-section of the apocalyptic sub-genre although they all lean towards a more “realistic” science fiction basis. Therefore there are no stories in the collection involving zombies, alien invasions, vampires or any other fantastical events. Personally, I tend to prefer the more plausible scenarios in my apocalyptic fiction but I still think it would have been nice for John Joseph Adams to have included at least a sample of this side of the sub-genre.

As with all anthologies there were some books I really enjoyed, some I found okay and other that just didn’t work for me. My favourite had to be “Speech Sounds" by Octavia Butler which takes places in a world where people have lost the ability to communicate. So people find they can no longer understand each other and so violence and chaos ensues. I found myself really getting drawn into this story and I appreciated the fact that the ending actually contained an element of hope. At the opposite side of the spectrum to this was “Salvage” by Orson Scott Card which I quite simply found rather boring. I just couldn’t engage with the story although I suspect part of this was because at times it felt like it was leaning too much towards being a form of minor propaganda for the Mormon Church which did put me off.

One minor issue that came up when I read the novel is that is fundamentally quite a downer to read. Reading one apocalyptic novel can be quite depressing but working through several stories as part of a collection like this just kicks the feeling into overdrive. In all honesty it wasn’t easy to read through so much loss, bleakness and tragedy and I would really advise people to try and spread the collection across many weeks.

Overall, if you like post-apocalyptic fiction then you probably want to give this anthology a try unless you are the type of person who prefers zombie or alien invasion styled end of the word scenarios as these are not present. Personally, I do have to say that I probably found an equal amount of stories I enjoyed compared to those I didn’t so for me the entire collection falls slap bang into the average category.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Star Trek: The Joy Machine - James Gunn & Theodore Sturgeon



Title: The Joy Machine
Author: James Gunn & Theodore Sturgeon
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 1996
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
“The Joy Machine” is a Star Trek Original Series novel written by James Gunn based on a story outline written by Theodore Sturgeon. Whilst two of Sturgeon’s outlines got converted into actual episodes, namely “Amok Time” & “Shore Leave” this one didn’t make it and therefore this novel is the only way to actually discover the story.

The story follows the crew of the Enterprise who have been sent to the vacation planet Timshel to find out why the planet has quarantined itself & why two previous Federation investigative teams stopped communicating. Upon arrival, Kirk discovers that the people are under the control of a machine known as the Joy Machine which allows the residents to experience pure pleasure as payment for conducting various mundane tasks. This results in a form of severe social stagnation and the crew of the Enterprise soon realise that if this spreads beyond the planet it could spell the end for the Federation.

This plot is actually rather interesting and does feel like a classic TOS episode with it taking a look at how a perfect world for humans actually results in the loss of drive and exploration which could lead to stagnation and potentially worse. However it is probably stretched out a little bit too much in novel form and I do feel it would have worked much better as an hour long TV episode. I found myself getting a little bit bored at times as it felt a little bit padded which resulted in a rather slow pace. I actually think this may have worked better as a short story as the limited length may have helped to make it feel more like the TV episode it was originally planned to be.

The novel is also very Kirk centric which I actually didn’t mind as most of the other Star Trek novels I have read recently weren’t in this mould. If you are a lover of Kirk then I am sure you will thoroughly enjoy this but you shouldn’t expect to see much from the other characters who tend to fade into the background, especially the original ones who I found to be very underwhelming.

Overall this is a rather average Trek novel which does a good job in capturing the mood of the original series although it does feel a little bit bloated by the conversion from Episode outline to full blown novel. It was quite fun to visualise what could have been if the story had become an episode but beyond that I don’t think it was anything special. In addition the Kirk centric nature of the story could put some people off. However, if you can’t get enough everyone’s favourite Starship captain then I think you will enjoy this novel despite the minor issues I have mentioned.

Monday, 1 December 2014

The Boy Next Door - Meg Cabot



Title: The Boy Next Door
Author: Meg Cabot
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Published: 2002
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

Review:
“The Boy Next Door” by Mel Fuller is a book I picked up to meet the Romantic Comedy requirements of the 2014 Eclectic Reader Challenge. Romantic Comedy is not something that I would normally read but I have read some such as the Bridget Jones novels so I wasn’t worried about reading this genre for the challenge. I actually ended up picking this novel as it was told completely via emails between the characters which sounded rather interesting.

The story follows Melissa Fuller, a gossip columnist for the New York Journal whose elderly neighbour has an “accident” which results in Mel having to take care of her pets whilst she lies in a coma. The neighbour’s only living relative is a self-centred photographer called Max who is too busy vacationing with a supermodel to bother coming back to New York for his Aunt. So he calls in a favour from his old friend, John. John is coerced into impersonating Max until the Aunt recovers, thus securing Max's inheritance. However when John moves in next door to Mel, they quickly fall for each other and soon John is left trying to work out how to tell Mel the truth.

This book isn’t complex, deep or heavy but it is a fun and easy read that had me smiling in several places. It is without doubt the quintessential beach read, something you can lie back in the sun and read without having to strain the synapses. I also laughed multiple times throughout the book as the interactions between the characters are at times quite hilarious. I especially loved the interactions between John and his sister-in-law Stacy.

The fact that story is told via emails was actually quite intriguing and amusing to see although I suspect that if I read another book in the same style it wouldn’t interest me as much as the novelty would be gone. The only real issue I had with the format is that at times it felt a little bit silly to me in that they said so much via email rather than talking face to face but if they did this we would of course have lost half the story. A final interesting point I noted in regards to using technology like this to tell the story is that it highlights the age of the novel. As it was written in 2002 the characters are using dial-up and can’t talk at the same time as emailing each other which did make me smile as I remembered the “good old days”.

The only real issue I had with the story is that the characters on the whole seemed to act in a rather silly and childish manner. They are meant to be young professionals with jobs, experience and intellect yet most of the time they come across as either immature or just plain stupid. I have since discovered that Meg Cabot has written a lot of YA novels so maybe this use of childish characters stems from this although I think even teenagers would behave in a more grown up manner that what we see with these characters.

Overall, this was an amusing story which I found incredibly easy to read. Some people may find the email format of the narrative rather annoying but I enjoyed the novelty of it. The real weakness of the story is the characters who were all rather immature but their at times quite hilarious interactions did ensure that I still enjoyed the novel. So if you are looking for a light, fun romantic comedy in the same vein as Bridget Jones then I think you might quite enjoy this novel.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Star Trek: Web of the Romulans - M.S. Murdock



Title: Web of the Romulans
Author: M.S. Murdock
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 1983
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
“Web of the Romulans” by M.S. Murdock is a Star Trek Original Series novel set early in the Enterprise’s 5 year mission and is the only Star Trek novel that Murdock wrote. The story is based around the Federation’s response to the peculiar actions of Romulan Empire which are leading some people within Starfleet command to believe that an invasion may be immanent. The Enterprise is dispatched to the Neutral Zone to monitor the situation and soon the crew find themselves face to face with a Romulan ship whose commander is willing to do anything he can to ensure the completion of his secret mission.

The main aspects of the story regarding Kirk’s face off against the Romulan commander were very reminiscent of the TV episode “Balance of Terror”. Whilst the end result of the face-off is rather different I still found that it made the book feel rather un-original due to this being the core action elements of the novel. This all exacerbated by some rather bad pacing. It takes quite a while before the book actually gets on to any of the action scenes and then when they do occur they are interrupted by the narrative jumping to some of the other slower paced sub-plots.

An additional thing that I noted is that the portrayal of women isn’t the best and I am sure some people could easily classify it as being slightly misogynist. For example, Uhura’s main role in the novel is to look “fragile” in her bathrobe and then there is the loyal centurion on the Romulan ship who it turns out may only be loyal because she actually loves her commander. Yes, I have seen much worse in other books but the portrayal of women here wasn’t the greatest and I haven’t even touched on the computer who was given a female persona and then fell in love with Kirk and started to act like a 12 year old girl.

There are of course some positives within the novel such as the very fact that it does take an interesting look at the Romulan Empirs. I found the moments spent on the intrigue within the Preator’s court or the way in which the Romulan Commander interacted with his crew to be rather enjoyable if a bit limited in scope. I do wish that Murdoch had maybe tried to spend more time exploring the political and cultural side of the Romulan Empire in more depth.

Overall, this wasn’t really the best of Star Trek. Whilst the close look at the Romulan Empire was interesting the bad pacing and rather un-original aspects of the plot let it down. If you are a fan of the Romulans then I would advise you to still give the book a read but if you are just interested in general Star Trek fare then there are much better novels out there.