Wednesday, 27 August 2014
Title: Dreams of the Fallen (Temple of the Traveler Book 2)
Author: Scott Rhine
“Dreams of the Fallen” by Scott Rhine is the 2nd book in his epic fantasy series, “The Tales of the Traveller”. This book follows on from the 1st novel and really develops the story and characters further. The plot continues to be complex and varied and due to this I think you really need to have read the previous novel to ensure you get some enjoyment out of this one.
I won’t really detail that much about the plot here as it is hard not to spoil things but we get to see Tashi and Jotham’s quest continue with both of them facing some tough challenges along the way. They even have to face the Gods themselves, some of who have no real interest in seeing them succeed.
The story Rhine is telling here is intelligent, complex and fascinating. He has continued to develop a world and characters that are unique and thoroughly interesting to follow. This time however the pacing is much better as the primary mythos of the world has already been explained in the previous book. This enables Rhine to really delve into the action and adventure that he seems to love filling his novels with. As I read this book I realised that the effort and concentration I had spent in getting through and understanding what was going on in the first novel is paid back in dividends with this book.
Don’t get me wrong the problems I had with the first book are still present to some extent in that the story can get confusing at times as it jumps between the vast array of characters. This is compounded by Rhine’s decision to add even more characters into the mix to increase what was already quite a large cast. However, it was much less distracting this time as the main characters were all well known to me now and I understood the basic principles of the world itself. In addition, one of the new characters, Sarajah was actually a very interesting and enjoyable character to follow as she transforms from an evil person through to picking up the pieces or her life after an encounter with our heroes and then into a real force to be reckoned with.
Overall, this is a thoroughly enjoyable chapter in the “Temple of the Traveler” series. Rhine has used the world and plot building of the first novel incredibly well in this sequel to ensure it is an enjoyable romp with characters that we have grown to like and understand. If you enjoy Fantasy novels then this series shouldn’t disappoint.
Thursday, 21 August 2014
Author: James Blish
Genre: Science Fiction
“Star Trek 11” by James Blish is another of his collections of Original Series scripts adapted into short story form. The seven stories included in this collection are all from season one and are as follows:
What Are Little Girls Made of?
The Squire of Gothos
Wink Of an Eye
Bread and Circuses
Day of the Dove
As seems to be the norm with Blish’s adaptations, they tend to succeed or fail to the same extent as the episodes themselves did. For example “The Squire of Gothos” was an episode I really enjoyed on the TV screen and I also found myself enjoying it here in this collection. Whereas “Bread and Circuses” rather silly Roman theme irritated me when I saw I first saw it and I quickly found myself feeling the exact same irritation here.
I won’t really go anymore into the various stories as most of you will know them anyway but my enjoyment of this collection was rather mixed. This probably shouldn’t be a surprise as several of these stories were taken from the rather weak third season. One positive is that Blish does capture all the episodes very well and I could easily visualise them all. Although this wasn’t really a surprise to me as his adaptations have always been competent and as this was his 11th collection he was fairly experienced at writing up the episodes and characters.
Overall, I do find myself repeating myself a lot when reviewing Blish’s collections but what is true for one of them is pretty much true for them all. Quite simply this novel was another competent attempt at capturing the Star Trek episodes that should appeal to anyone wanting to enjoy a quick and painless reminder of the Original series stories.
Friday, 15 August 2014
Title: Down Under
Author: Bill Bryson
The Book Depository
“Down Under” (known as "In a Sunburned Country" in the US) by Bill Bryson is a travel book and I read it not because I was planning on heading to Australia but because the genre was a requirement in the 2014 Eclectic Reader Challenge. I decided on this book because I had heard that Bryson is a humorous and clever writer and I decided I wanted to read about a place I had never been before.
Anyway this book is a travelogue of a journey across the incredibly diverse country of Australia. It really is a humorous romp that had me grinning at multiple places, Bryson has a very self-deprecating way of expressing his thoughts and observations that appeals to my Scottish sense of humour.
Whilst the humour is a very big part of the book, there is still also a fair amount of interesting information present about Australia itself and the various attractions that Bryson visits. One thing he really pushes in the book is how big and varied Australia really is. He covers a fair chunk of it from the vast empty desert to the various cosmopolitan cities. But it isn’t just the landscape and places which are highlighted, he also covers the flora and fauna which are abundant, diverse and very specific to Australia itself. I am honestly not sure I fully appreciate the scale and variety of Australia before but I definitely do now.
Bryson doesn’t just stick to humorous commentary and highlighting the various local features, he also provides the reader with historical information and stories about the places he is visiting. This was actually a very interesting addition and it helped me gain a better understanding of why some of the places where the way they were. It also didn’t try and hide things either which meant at times it was quite eye opening with the attitudes to the Aboriginals in particular being quite saddening to read about.
One minor niggle with the book is that I am reading it about 15 years after he wrote and therefore it can at times seem a little dated. I suspect this would be even more obvious to people who live in or have visited Australia recently as any local differences would be much more noticeable to them. It isn’t a major issue but it does make me wonder how much of it is all still relevant.
Overall I loved this book; the writing is witty, clever and well-paced with the alternating narrative of facts, stories and humour ensuring I was thoroughly entertained. Reading the book has definitely increased my interesting in heading to Australia myself. As far as I am concerned any travel book that attracts you to the place it is describing is quite simply a success.
Tuesday, 12 August 2014
Title: Harmful Intent
Author: Robin Cook
Genre: Medical Thriller
The Book Depository
“Harmful Intent” by Robin Cook is a novel I picked up in order to fulfil the Medical Thriller objective on the 2014 Eclectic Reader Challenge. I don’t normally read this type of book beyond some of the contagious disease themed ones which can drift into Science-Fiction realms. Therefore, this was an interesting experience for me which happily was one I enjoyed as the novel I picked turned out to be a light and entertaining read.
The plot revolves around Jeffrey Rhodes, an anaesthesiologist who ends up accused of second degree murder when a patient of his dies during child birth. As the court case goes against him he decides to conduct his own investigation in an attempt to prove his innocence. And so he embarks on a race against time that has him avoiding the police, bounty hunters and various criminals as he tries to avoid jail.
At its heart the book is a fast paced thrill ride that doesn’t let up with an entertaining mix of suspense, action and humour all keeping the reader glued to the story. The book is also full many twists and turns which kept me guessing throughout. To be honest at times it could all feel a little bit larger than life but as long as you could suspend some of your disbelief it was a fun read.
However, it wasn’t all perfect as there were some pacing issues caused by the medical jargon used throughout the book. This meant that it wasn’t always the easiest of books to understand which meant I had to spend time trying to work out what things meant. In the end though, this was probably only a minor quibble and it still felt like a light enough read that wouldn’t go wrong for the times you just want to lie back and enjoy a story.
In regards to the characters, I can’t say that they were anything special or original but they were all developed enough to keep me engaged. One character I did particularly like was Devlin who starts off as a rather unlikable guy but by the end of the book I actually didn’t mind him at all. I always enjoy reading books where the author manages to take the reader’s viewpoint of a character from one point to another.
Overall, this is a fun and quick read which kept me entertained from start to finish. It isn’t going to win any awards but it is enjoyable enough and at no point did I find myself getting bored. In regards to the genre itself, I can’t say I am going to rush out and buy another novel like this but I will be more than willing to check them out when I am at the bookstore.
Thursday, 31 July 2014
Title: Shadow Lord
Author: Laurence Yep
Genre: Science Fiction
“Shadow Lord” by Laurence Yep is a book which had me in two minds regarding how much I liked it. Basically, as a stand-alone sword and sorcery styled fantasy book it worked quite well but as a Star Trek novel it fails on several levels. The book was obviously not meant to be set within the Star Trek Universe and I can only assume that the author knew the Star Trek publishers were accepting submissions and therefore tried to get his story to fit.
Anyway, the plot itself is based around Prince Vikram who is being taken home to his native world of Angira by the Enterprise. Vikram has spent a fair amount of his youth living on Earth and is now meant to be bringing his knowledge of the Federation back to Angira to help his people. When Spock and Sulu escort him down to the planet they soon get caught up in a revolution led by conservative factions who dislike the way that Vikram’s father has been damaging their ancient traditions with his modernising programme. Vikram is soon the only royal left living and alongside the two Enterprise crewmembers he must fight by the sword in order to survive.
So my first issue with the story is in regards to the planet Angira itself which appears to be only just now entering the industrial age. As I read the book I couldn’t understand why the Federation would be involved in this planet at all, the population were being badly treated and the technology seemed obviously to be pre-warp. Surely the Prime Directive would have ensured that the Federation wasn’t allowed to get involved at all? This issue is further enhanced by some of the contradictions in regards to how the planet’s culture is treated. At one point Sulu is worried about the effect that his taking command of the Prince’s military forces could have but no one seems to mind that Spock was planning to modernise the planet’s star charts and that Vikram was going to share his knowledge of the Federation which could surely have more profound ramifications.
The next issue in regards to the characters as it appears that Yep didn’t even bother trying to learn about them. Spock in particular is terribly portrayed; he smiles, holds hands and basically doesn’t conform to the Spock we all know and love. Quite simply the characterisations shown in this novel are probably some of the worst I have seen to date. However, the secondary characters are a different thing entirely; free to do what he wanted in this regard, Yep has crafted some interesting and well developed characters. It is just a shame that they are overshadowed by the way in which he has failed to correctly capture the Enterprise crew.
Don’t get me wrong the story itself is actually quite fun and elements such as the sword fighting sequences and military engagements which were enjoyable and interesting to follow. However, as a Star Trek novel it fails quite badly with the terrible characterisations and lack of Prime Directive being two of the most obvious issues. To summarise, I think this story would have worked well as a stand-alone fantasy novel but it all feels completely out of place as a Star Trek adventure.
Monday, 28 July 2014
Title: The Man in the High Castle
Author: Phillip K. Dick
Genre: Alternate History
The Book Depository
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
Title: Hell's Teeth (The Vetala Cycle Book 3)
Author: G.R. Yeates
“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.