Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Flashback - Dan Simmons

Title: Flashback
Author: Dan Simmons
Genre: Science Fiction / Mystery
Published: 2011
Formats: Hardback/Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

“Flashback” by Dan Simmons is a mystery novel set in the former United States now devastated by economic and political collapse. In this world we get to meet Nick Bottom, who like much of the country is addicted to a drug known as Flashback which lets people re-live earlier moments of their lives. Nick, a former police officer is plucked from his ruined life by a Japanese businessman who wants him to help solve the six year old murder of his son. However, before long it becomes clear that there is much more to this mystery that the murder itself and Nick discovers that his own deceased wife may have been involved in some manner.

When I picked up “Flashback” I was a bit worried as a fair few of the reviews were quite negative. Now that I have finished reading it I find myself in two minds, the actual mystery aspects were interesting and well written but the novel is also interspersed with some quite forceful right wing conservative views that I found a little bit hard to stomach. It isn’t that I can’t accept novels with dystopian societies created by authors with conservative leanings; I mean we get to see enough written by those with a leftish leaning. The problem is that we are almost forced to read vast amounts of padding just included to put forward a right wing viewpoint. At times I found that it actually affected the flow and feeling of the novel, especially when I found myself laughing incredulously at some of the points it was making.

As said above however, the mystery itself was enjoyable to follow and the twists were clever, thoughtful and unexpected. In addition, the dystopian world he has created is actually quite interesting when the anti-liberal rhetoric is reduced to the elements needed for the story itself I was quite impressed. The noir atmosphere that Simmons has created was very likeable and it was very obvious to me that no matter his political views, Simmons does know how to write.

The characters themselves where a bit of an enigma to me, it was hard to actually like any of them to the point that I am not sure I was bothered about who lived or died. The problem is that due to the dystopian environment, the people have been reduced to quite pathetic individuals. This helps to enhance and give real credence to the world Simmons has created but it did make it hard for me to actually engage with any character. In particular I found Nick’s son to be an incredibly unlikeable and annoying character to the point I actually didn’t want to read about him.

Overall, I did enjoy the well written and interesting story that was hidden amongst the political diatribe but getting to it at times could be a bit of work. Perhaps if I was a right wing conservative myself I would have more than loved the politicising but as someone with liberal leanings I came away from the book feeling like what could have been a great book had been let down badly.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Star Trek: Vanguard: Open Secrets - Dayton Ward



Title: Open Secrets
Author: Dayton Ward
Genre: Sci-Fi
Published: 2009
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

Review:
“Open Secrets” by Dayton Ward is the 4th novel in the Star Trek Vanguard series which continues the various plotlines kicked off in the previous novels. A prime focus of the narrative in this book is the investigation and trial of the station’s commander, Commodore Reyes who was arrested at the end of the previous book for allowing classified information to be published by a reporter. In addition, the reader gets to the follow the further deterioration of relations with the Klingon and Tholian Empires, the ongoing search for information on the Shedai technology and the fallout of T’Prynn’s mental breakdown which results in her return to Vulcan.

This book is another enjoyable chapter in the Vanguard series although it didn’t wow me as much as its predecessor, “Reap The Whirlwind”. The storyline developments were interesting and the characters continue to entertain me but there were just no real surprises or twists involved. Everything pretty much progressed as you would expect and there were no elements there that really struck me as being gripping or memorable.

One of the real issues I had with the novel however is in regards to the pacing which at times reduced my reading progress to a slow slog. I think the basic problem was that the novel is overly wordy at times to the point of distraction. Ward is basically using 20 words when 10 would have sufficed and for some reason the editing process has failed to rectify this. It is a shame as some competent editing could have dealt rather easily with this issue to ensure the pacing was better.

A nice element to the story is in regards to Ward’s ability to link various events into the wider Star Trek universe. I enjoyed seeing both the tie in to the Original Series in regards to the peace between the Klingons and Federation that was imposed by the Organians and the inclusion of Carol Marcus’ involvement with Shedai technology that hints at the future Genesis project seen in Star Trek II. Sometimes I think these links to the wider universe can be rather brutally shoehorned into a novel but with “Open Secrets” it all felt rather natural and subtle which I did appreciate.

Overall, this is a novel which competently continues the plots started in the previous Vanguard novels but doesn’t really provide any genuinely memorable or exciting parts. For fans of the series there is more than enough here to provide some entertainment but when you hold it up against the previous novel it seems rather lacking.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The Martian - Andy Weir



Title: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2012
Formats: Hardback/Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

Review:
When I first picked up “The Martian” by Andy Weir I didn’t know what to expect as this was a new author and the premise wasn’t that original. However, by the time I closed the final pages I realised that this was quite simply my favourite book of those I read in 2013. It actually had me hooked from the first pages few pages due to its realism, humour and a character that the reader can find easy to emotionally engage with.

As said, earlier, the premise of the story isn’t that original with an astronaut known as Mark Watney being abandoned on the planet Mars. We then get to follow Mark as he tries to survive on the planet’s inhospitable surface in the hope of future rescue. There are portions of the story which focus elsewhere as we see NASA trying to react but on the whole the book is concentrated on Mark’s individual struggles.

The pacing is perfect and the narrative voice of Watney is quite simply wonderful. With a book like this in which one character dominates the majority it is important that they are realistic and that the reader would want to take the journey with him through the highs and lows. Weir has done a brilliant job in creating Watney and at no point was I not fully behind him in his adventure. He is witty, humorous and full of a determination and drive to survive which helps the reader warm to him very quickly. I found myself laughing at his jokes, cheering his successes and wishing him to get home with all my being. It has been a long time since I have really felt for a character like I did Watney and I think that unless you have a heart of stone you will struggle not to like him either.

Another superb element of the story is the way in which Weir manages to blend science into the story in such an entertaining and interesting way. Until I read this book I never knew that someone could make the science of soil so enjoyable to follow. This utilisation of chemistry, biology and physics also really enhanced the story and helped add to the overall realism. It highlighted to me both the abilities of the characters but also the thought and dedication that has gone on behind the scenes in writing the book.

Overall, I have to say that “The Martian” is a superb achievement for Weir in that he has taken a well-used science-fiction premise and repackaged it expertly. The pacing is perfect, the characters are engaging, the science is used in an interesting manner and there is a wonderful level of witty humour throughout. I am happy to recommend this book to anyone out there who enjoys an engaging and entertaining science fiction story with an undeniable hint of humour.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Star Trek: Vanguard: Reap The Whirlwind - David Mack



Title: Reap The Whirlwind
Author: David Mack
Genre: Sci-Fi
Published: 2007
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

Review:
“Reap The Whirlwind” by David Mack is the 3rd novel in the Star Trek Vanguard series and it really highlights how these novels are getting better and better. The novel is full of engaging philosophical and moral dilemmas set amongst a thoroughly engrossing and enjoyable space adventure. Simply put, I believe this novel and the series in general is proving to be Star Trek at its very best.

The story itself picks up several weeks after the events of the previous novel, “Summon The Thunder”. The ancient and powerful alien race known as The Shedai continue to awaken throughout the Taurus Reach and are continuing to threaten the various Federation colonies that have spread across the region. The crew of Starbase 47 and its various support ships continue to try and protect these colonies from both the Shedai and the Klingons with whom tensions have continued to rise. However, trying to keep the information on the Shedai a secret is proving a strain, especially when one of the leaders of these new colonies turns out to be Commodore Reyes’ ex-wife.

Mack has really ratcheted up the tension in this book which helps to turn the book into a addictive page turner as the reader. This tension is expertly released via various exciting action sequences that don’t pull any punches as the body count continues to rise due to the dangers of the Taurus Reach. All of this is supported by some really wonderful characters that continue to grow as they face various challenges, both personally as an individual and professionally as a member of Starfleet etc. I now really feel for these characters and can’t help but feel for them as they are forced to face the wide ranging consequences that have resulted from their actions in both this and previous books.

What I also have enjoyed about the book is that Mack has continued to try and give the reader differing viewpoints to that of our usual Federation heroes. We get to see things from the view of the Klingons, Tholians and now even the Shedai themselves which provides so many interesting layers to the story. Seeing things from the Shedai’s position in particular was a clever move as it manages to give this potentially super powerful enemy a real face that the reader can try and understand and opens up future avenues to explore in greater detail as the series progresses.

I have finally come to the conclusion that none of the Vanguard novels are going to have any real standalone stories that would make me recommend the book as an individual read. Yes, there are two superbly enjoyable central plots to this novel, the first being around the colony being set up by Commodore Reyes wife and the scouting mission being undertaken by the USS Sagittarius but neither of them would mean much to a reader who doesn’t know the overall storyline. Basically, if you haven’t read the previous book in the series and/or don’t plan to read the next ones then I wouldn’t waste your time picking this novel up.

Overall, this is another fun and entertaining book in the Vanguard series which now has me well and truly hooked. If you have enjoyed the previous books then you are really going to be thrilled by this book.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Doors to Eternity (Temple of the Traveler Book 1) - Scott Rhine



Title: Doors to Eternity (Temple of the Traveler Book 1)
Author: Scott Rhine
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2012
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
Smashwords
Amazon UK

Review:
“Doors to Eternity” is the first novel in Scott Rhine’s “Temple of the Traveler” epic fantasy trilogy. The story is mainly told from the viewpoint of two characters, Jotham who is both a historian and priest and Tashi who is a sheriff of their religion and an acolyte to Jotham. Jotham and Tashi are on a quest to close the doors of eternity but with the kingdoms of their land close to war, their religion outlawed and new enemies appearing with each door they close this is no simple task.

As I have come to expect in a novel by Rhine the majority of the story is told at a blistering pace with a lot of action and adventure thrown in. However, Rhine has actually tried to slow the story down in sections aided by swapping between various points of view. Whilst I commend this as a tool to try and really develop the story and world beyond the entertaining action sequences it does result in the pacing feeling a bit uneven at times. Personally, I think the problem is that the changes in pacing just felt very sudden and abrupt rather than it being a bad thing to have done.

Another issue I had is that it felt like I was being dropped into the middle of a story already being told. For the first part of the book I was busy trying to understand who everyone was and what the world’s mythology was meant I wasn’t enjoying the book as much as I should have. It was just rather confusing which was enhanced by the swapping in view points and the large cast of characters being employed.

Of course once I began to understand who everyone was and how the world functioned I really began to enjoy the journey that Rhine was taking me on. The world, characters and plot are interesting to follow and the myriad of action sequences are all fun and enjoyable. There is also some interesting observations about the morality of the characters evoked via various discussions between them such as if it was right for the “hero” of the story to kill people or not.

Overall, this was another enjoyable book by Rhine which struggled at first to grab my attention but as the story progressed and I understood more about the mythos of the world I soon found myself hooked. Personally, I am looking forward to picking up the 2nd novel in the series and suspect I will enjoy that one more as I should know right from the off who everyone is and what is happening.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Star Trek: Vanguard: Summon The Thunder - Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore



Title: Summon The Thunder
Author: Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2006
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

Review:
“Summon The Thunder” by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore is the 2nd novel in the Star Trek: Vanguard series and follows on directly from its predecessor novel, “Harbinger”. With the main characters already established, the two authors have been able to write a story which concentrates on trying to unlock some of the mysteries of the Taurus Reach alongside further development of the characters.

Basically, following the destruction of a colony and starship the federation has uncovered another alien complex on a frozen world and is beginning a new investigation. Unfortunately they appear to activate an ancient defence system is which almost results in the destruction of another Starfleet vessel. However, it isn’t just the Federation that is suffering loses in the Taurus Reach with the Klingons also under attack from an unknown aggressor which leads to further tensions between them and the Tholians who appear to know more than they are letting on. And so, Commodore Reyes must try and work this tense political situation whilst also trying to keep the Federation’s own secrets regarding their reasons for being in the Taurus Reach.

The book is quite action driven, with a pretty high body count which provides a real sense of danger. But the authors still managed to mix in elements of political subterfuge, espionage, moral choices and scientific research to give the book a feeling that is reminiscent of the original series which loved to throw in action and multiple redshirt deaths between the scientific discussions, diplomatic conundrums and moral dilemmas. I think the authors managed to create a decent blend here and I did enjoy all elements of the story.

Due to the large amount of characters present the book does jump around a lot but as I already knew who the characters were I found it easy enough to follow. In addition, the further development introduced in this novel enabled me to get a better understanding of all the characters and appreciate their various individual perks and nuances. An advantage I did note in regards to the reader already knowing the characters is that it enabled the author to spend more time really exploring the Taurus reach, with us getting a chance to see things from a Klingon, Romulan and Shedai perspective. It gave the book a much wider perspective and I think it benefits hugely from this.

I did have one issue with the book and is the lack of a structured standalone plot which was something I also noted in “Harbinger”. This book is all about continuing the main story arc without giving the readon something they can appreciate on its own merits. Personally, I can’t imagine someone reading this book and enjoying it unless they have read “Harbinger” and are also planning on reading the next novel “Reap The Whirlwind”. Basically, in my opinion it just doesn’t provide enough entertainment on a standalone level.

Overall, I do think that “Summon The Thunder” is a decent sequel to “Harbinger” which further develops both the characters and the mystery of the Taurus Reach in an enjoyable manner. The characters in particular really come into their own and there is some good exposure given to the other species such as the Klingons which is useful as it offsets the lack of a definitive standalone plot within the novel. Simply put, if you enjoyed “Harbinger” then I suspect you will enjoy this novel even more.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The Farthest Shore (Earthsea Book 3) - Ursula K. Le Guin



Title: The Farthest Shore (Earthsea Book 3)
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 1972
Formats: Hardback/Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

Review:
“The Farthest Shore” by Ursula K. Le Guin is the third book in the Earthsea fantasy series and was the final book in the original trilogy although the series has of course been expanded since then. I think that this was my favourite novel in the series, and captivated me in ways that the other novels hadn’t. The scope was grand and the story felt like an epic adventure rather than being a collection of interlinked plot points which was an issue I had with the first novel.

The plot itself follows Ged, the Earthsea series’ most central figure who is now Archmage on the Isle of Roke. When, a young prince named Arren arrives with news that magic is disappearing from the more distant lands in Earthsea, Ged realises that he must head out and seek the cause. So, along with Arren he heads out away from Roke hunting out the cause of this magical loss in the hope that they can reverse it before it encroaches upon Roke itself.

As touched on in my first paragraph, this is a grand adventure that contains all the traditional elements of a fantasy epic; a threat to the entire world, an old and aged hero and a young and untested apprentice. It is exciting and fun in a manner that I hadn’t experienced with the other two books in the series but yet still manages to retain the ability to try and explore complex issues. For example, a prime thread is the novel is an interesting look at the almost universal fear of death in which humanity struggles to come to grips with the idea of future non-existence.

In regards to the writing, well the overall flow of the plot isn’t perfect and can meander a bit into detailed exposition as I have come to expect with Le Guin but there was still enough forward momentum to keep me hooked. The upside of this meandering plot is that once again we really get to visualise and understand both the world and its characters as Le Guin colourfully details everything. It is quite clear to me Le Guin has grown as a writer throughout the original trilogy learning and has managed to keep me both entertained with the plot in addition to enjoyed the world she had created.

One slightly negative observation I had is that there was no real continuation of the story of Tenar, from the previous book “The Tombs of Atuan”. Yes elements of what occurred in that book were touched upon but Tenar was reduced to being mentioned in the odd comment. After getting a real feeling for her in the last book it was disappointing not to see anything about how she moved on in life etc. After doing such a U-turn in the previous book to introduce the reader to her, it was disappointing to see her abandoned.

Overall, this has been my favourite book in the series so far and Le Guin has done a good job in mixing an epic adventure story with her love for exposition and world building. Yes, it doesn’t have the best narrative flow in the world but this isn’t anything new from Le Guin so I think that anyone who has enjoyed the previous books is in for a real treat with this one.