Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Last Unicorn - Peter S. Beagle



Title: The Last Unicorn
Author: Peter S. Beagle
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 1968
Formats: Hardback/Paperback

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Kobo
Amazon UK

I have seen the "The Last Unicorn" animated film many times over my life, mainly due to my younger sister having a slight obsession with it. However, when I joined up to the Year of the Fantasy Classic Challenge I decided that maybe now was the time for me to read the book that inspired the movie. I had hoped to unearth some deeper information on the characters and other things. What I discovered however was that the film is actually a very good adaptation of the book and there was very little extra I really gained from reading it.

For those of you that don't know the story, it follows a unicorn that embarks on a quest to try and find out what has happened to the rest of her species. During this quest she joins up with two companions; the wizard Schmendrick and a woman named Molly Grue. Together they continue onwards so that they can face the Red Bull who is supposedly the very reason that the unicorn's kinfolk have disappeared.

I have to admit that I didn't really find the plot itself to be anything remarkable and I did find myself struggling to keep on reading at times. Perhaps the problem was that I already knew most of the plot from watching the film but whatever the reason, I just felt like something was missing. However, what Beagle has done is inject some emotion and humour into the telling of the story which managed keep me reading even with the weak plot. The way in which he would switch the narrative from being one of comic parody to one of profound thought was actually quite interesting to behold.

The characters themselves were a little bit flat at times with very little development which was probably due to the short length of the novel. In regards to the Unicorn herself, I actually found her to be quite unlikeable, due to the fact that Beagle has done quite a good job in making her come across as being unhuman. However, despite all of this I did find that the various supporting characters were still reasonably interesting and in particular the relationship between Schmendrick and Molly Grue was quite enjoyable to follow as it developed from jealousy to friendship.

One other comment I really need to make is that if like me you don't really have time for flowery language, poetic paragraphs and surreal descriptions then you may have some issues with this book. Beagle has captured an almost whimsical and dreamy fairy tale feel to the novel due to his use of the English language which will probably delight those who enjoy literary exposition, but I just found it all rather distracting.

In summary, I have to admit that I don't really understand why so many people seem to make a big fuss about this book. It was enjoyable enough but I honestly don't see how someone could say it ranks alongside the works of Tolkien etc. Maybe I am some sort of heathen when it comes to understanding "good" books but this novel just didn't really grab me. Perhaps if I was someone who enjoyed understanding and delving into the use of language in a book, I would have a different option. However, I prefer to let the plot be the tool that engages me with a book and I think the plot itself is probably the weakest part of this novel.

Challenges Book Counts Towards:
Speculative Fiction Challenge
Year of the Fantasy Classic Challenge

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Fezariu's Epiphany (Elenchera Chronicles Book 1) - David M. Brown



Title: Fezariu's Epiphany (Elenchera Chronicles Book 1)
Author: David M. Brown
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2011
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Smashwords
Kobo
Amazon UK

"Fezariu's Epiphany" by David M. Brown is the first book in a new fantasy series entitled "The Elencheran Chronicles". One of the big things I look for in a fantasy book such as this has to be the world itself and I think the author did a great thing with this one. It is rather colourful and varied place that has a lot of potential within it available for any future books in the series.

The novel itself was focused on the life of Fezariu whose life seems to have been surrounded by tragedy from early on. Trying to escape from the perceived curse he feels that has been plaguing his young life he leaves his family and joins up with a mercenary group. After years of training and hard work he becomes a great soldier and along with his friends sets out on an adventure. However, all the time the events of his past continue to lurk in the back of his mind filling him with dread and guilt.

The first portion of the story was a little bit slow as the world and the characters were introduced to the reader, but as it progressed the pace picked up and the plot developed into quite an interesting and sombre tale. I found the overall journey that the book takes the reader on to be an enjoyable and emotional one that delved into Fezariu's life and covered so many aspects, from periods of heartache, pain and guilt to those of love, joy and redemption.

One issue I did have with the story itself was in the manner that it was actually told. There were so many sections that were related in letters or in someone's comment about a past event. As a reader, I hardly actually got to witness any of these events actually going on, it seemed like this interesting and entertaining story was mainly being told to me in a series of summaries. Perhaps the author didn't want to make this novel a massive tome, I don't know but either way I was a little bit disappointed that I didn't get to actually follow some of the events in an in depth manner.

In regards to the characters, I have to admit that I really felt something for Fezariu, the way in which misinterpretation and random events had conspired to lead him to a life of guilt and anger was rather sad to behold and I really wanted him to turn his life around. However, outside of this I think the characters on the whole were a little bit flat which was probably influenced by the use of letters and people's comments to tell large portions of the story. There were no real surprises from any of the characters and in particular, I never saw any evidence as to why anyone feared the story's main protagonist. Considering it is mainly due to his actions that Fezariu's life went the way it did, it would have been nice to see something that actually explained why people were so scared of him.

Overall, I found "Fezariu's Epiphany" to be an enjoyable fantasy novel that covers the usual hallmarks of the genre with tyranny and cruelty being offset by loyalty and self-sacrifice. Whilst, there were some flaws that I felt were related to the manner in which some of the story was told, it is still an interesting and emotional journey in a well developed world that most fantasy readers should enjoy. I now look forward to continue reading "The Elencheran Chronicles" as new books are released.

Challenges Book Counts Towards:
Ebook Reading Challenge (The Eclectic Bookshelf)
Ebook Reading Challenge (Workaday Reads)
Free Reads Challenge
Speculative Fiction Challenge

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Two Faces of Tomorrow - James P. Hogan



Title: The Two Faces of Tomorrow
Author: James P. Hogan
Genre: Sci-Fi
Published: 1979
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Baen Books (Free Ebook)
Amazon
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

I only ended up reading "The Two Faces of Tomorrow" by John P. Hogan thanks to the 2012 Sci-Fi Reader Challenge. As part of the challenge I had to read an "Adult" Science Fiction novel and as I didn't really know how to really define this, I decided that a "Hard" Science Fiction novel would surely fit the requirement. So I hunted the internet and I discovered "The Two Faces of Tomorrow" which was in a few top ten lists of Hard Science Fiction, and as an added bonus, the e-book could be obtained for free from Baen Books. So, thanks to the power of the internet and a book challenge I ended up reading what turned out to be a very interesting and engrossing novel.

The novel is set in the mid-21st century and follows a team of scientists lead by Dr Raymond Dyer who are attempting to develop a computer programme that is capable of learning, adapting and using something similar to the common sense inherent in humans. When a computer programme manages to almost kill a group of engineers due to its logical handling of a situation, Dr Dyer and his team are brought in to discuss the ramifications. The various discussions and thoughts around the situation leads to the government agreeing to conduct an experiment on a newly constructed space station whereby, the military alongside various scientists will attempt to shut down an Artificial Intelligence that has been coded with a survival instinct. The outcome however, is more that anyone imagined or planned for and therefore things quickly get out of hand.

I have to admit that the core of the story probably doesn't really cover anything new in the genre as it is primary based around the exploits of Artificial Intelligence and what it could do in an attempt to ensure its survival. As most people have probably seen the "Terminator" movies they can probably easily imagine the types of things that would happen in this novel. However, I did think the ending itself was rather satisfying and was actually quite unexpected and different to many of the other man vs. machine type scenarios I have read about or seen.

The main issue with the book that some readers may have is the pacing in the initial portions of the book. Hogan delves quite deeply into some philosophical debates about the nature of technology and its use by humanity. After a while the whole thing did begin to feel like it was dragging on, so that it was affecting the overall forward momentum of the plot. Personally, I found the debate and descriptions used in the initial sections of the novel to be rather interesting so I didn't mind the meandering pace, but I can imagine it is not going to be everyone's cup of tea.

However, once the story moves onto the space station and the face-off between humanity and the computer began, the book really started to pick up the pace. Basically, at this stage, the book becomes more about the action and imagery, than discussion and ideas and I found it to be very entertaining. The book really does cover both thoughtful philosophy and enjoyable adventure in equal doses; it was just a shame that Hogan didn't find a way to mix them up in a manner that ensured the entire plot from start to finish moved forward with purpose.

In regards to the characters, I haven't read any other Hogan novels but I am curious now to know if he has gotten better since writing this novel at their utilisation and development. They just all felt very flat and there were a lot of them that I can't even remember now only a week or so after reading the book. In addition, at several points he seems to fall back on using cliques, this was particularly true in regards to the romantic relationship between Dr Dyer and Laura which felt like the standard, "we act like we don't like each other, but we really do" style of relationship. None of this really affected my enjoyment of the story but I feel the novel could have been even better if the characters had a little bit more development and variety.

Overall, I found the story to be an enjoyable mix of hard science and entertainment which shows that a book doesn't have to sacrifice one element for the other. If you enjoy science fiction, and in particular like to dabble in hard science fiction then you probably won't go wrong in picking this novel up to read.

Challenges Book Counts Towards:
Speculative Fiction Challenge
Sci-Fi Reader Challenge

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Containment - Christian Cantrell



Title: Containment
Author: Christian Cantrell
Genre: Sci-Fi
Published: 2010
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

"Containment" by Christian Cantrell was a book I picked up without knowing anything about it beyond it being Science Fiction. I basically won a competition that enabled me to pick any book under a certain price from Amazon and "Containment" was the highest ranked Science Fiction e-book available at the time for that price.

The story is set in the future on a colony set up on Venus by the Global Space Agency (GSA) after humanity had almost devastated Earth. Arik is a member of the first group of children born on the colony who are collectively known as Gen V. The birth of these children however has taken the population to 1100 which is the maximum limit the colony can safely support. Arik, as one of the smartest of his generation is tasked with helping solve this issue and increasing the ability of the colony to sustain future generations. The pressure on Arik to solve the conundrum however is increased he discovers that his wife is pregnant with a child that the colony would currently be unable to sustain.

Considering that I picked up this book due to the luck of the current sales rankings; I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Cantrell has created a vivid and interesting picture of how a colony on another planet could function. He also combines the elements of science, plot and Arik's characterisation really well to ensure the reader is fully engaged in the overall plight of the colony. However, whilst all of this helped keep the reader engaged, I felt the characters beyond Arik were all a little bit flat and this let the novel down as it didn't really allow me to form any attachment. I particularly found that Arik's wife was almost a non entity even though it appeared that most of what he was doing was for her and their child.

The book was a little bit different to many of the other books I have recently read in that it definitely is not faced paced. The story creeps along, gently revealing more and more information about both the past and present in an interesting and controlled manner that kept me hooked. In fact, the only fast paced element of the story was probably in relation to the superb twist in the plot that I only saw coming a few pages before it was actually revealed. I actually quite liked how the reveal at this stage was told in this different manner to the rest of the story.

A minor issue I did have with the story was mainly in regards to the skipping back and forth in time. Basically, it wasn't always easy to realise what time period you were reading about and sometimes you could be a few pages in before you knew. I think the utilisation of the flashbacks did help to increase the tension and mystery around what could actually be going on, but I think the author could have found a way to make it clearer which time period I was reading about upon starting a chapter etc.

An issue I think some readers may have with the book is that this book is quite a "hard" Science Fiction book in that it doesn't hold back any punches in relation to the details utilised to describe some of the computing, technology and science. Some readers may therefore find that it all goes a little bit over their heads and slows the pace down even more. For myself, I found some of the details rather interesting although I did feel that Cantrell would sometimes descend into describing something at rather strange points in the novel. For example, he launches into a detailed description of the maglev system towards the end of the novel in a manner that I felt upset the flow of the plot which had been building up quite nicely to that point. This was compounded by the fact that I had already been introduced to the maglev several times previously and had already formed my own picture of it and its function.

Overall, I found Containment to be an enjoyable and interesting example of Hard Science Fiction that seems to have modelled itself on novels such as "2001: A Space Odyssey". As long as you can look past the rather detailed description utilised throughout the novel, then the engaging plot and well constructed setting should be enough to keep you entertained.

Challenges Book Counts Towards:
Ebook Reading Challenge (The Eclectic Bookshelf)
Ebook Reading Challenge (Workaday Reads)
Free Reads Challenge
Speculative Fiction Challenge

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Gamers (Gamers Series Book 1) - Thomas K Carpenter



Title: Gamers (Gamers Series Book 1)
Author: Thomas K Carpenter
Genre: Sci-Fi
Published: 2011
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Smashwords
Kobo
Amazon UK

"Gamers" by Thomas K. Carpenter is a fun and enjoyable adventure through a world littered with references to video gaming, both modern and classic. As someone who grew up playing video games, I couldn't help but smile throughout the story as I recognised the various references.

The story itself follows the antics of a High School girl named Gabby. High School is this world is based around taking part in LifeGame which is a virtual augmented reality where students receive points based on various actions they may perform throughout the day. The student's score in LifeGame at graduation is then used to decide if they can go on to University or if they are demoted into taking on a "lesser" job. However, Gabby soon discovers there is more to her augmented reality than she ever knew and so begins her adventure to learn the truth whilst still trying to ensure a successful graduation.

I found the novel comprise of two parts, the first part basically set up the world, characters and overall series plot in a relatively slow and detailed manner that had me rather intrigued and interested. Then, the second part develops into an action-packed fast paced adventure through Gabby's graduation test, which takes the form of a Role Play Game (RPG) where she encounters, giants, dragons and many other fantasy related clich├ęs. Both sections of the novel entertained me for rather different reasons. The first part got me hooked into the overall story and the opportunities that may appear in the remaining books of the series, whilst the second part just basically took me on an enjoyable ride through a virtual fantasy world that reminded me strongly of my own online RPG playing days.

One of the warnings I need to make about the book though is in relation to the language used. The story is infused with quite a lot of Massive Multiplayer Online Role Play Game (MMORPG) terminology that could be very confusing to someone who has not been involved in some of the more hardcore online RPG games. I managed to understand most of it but if for example the word "Debuff" means very little to you then you are probably going to struggle a little to follow the story. Personally, I enjoyed this use of online slang, but my wife constantly tells me I am gaming geek so that could be why.

The only issue I personally had with the novel was probably in relation to the characters themselves. They all just felt a little bit flat and un-developed, even Gabby herself didn't mean much more to me that being an intelligent hacker caricature. Some of the issue here is that the characters can change their appearance, roles and so much more based on which aspect of LifeGame there are in, therefore it is hard to really find a core personality beneath it all. I just hope that in the sequel we get to see more of the "real world" and gain a better understanding of the characters themselves.

Overall, I found this to be a fun, light hearted adventure story that offers the opportunity of a deeper and more dystopian outlook in future novels. If you are someone who has been involved in playing MMORPG over the years then I suspect you will find aspects of this book to be highly entertaining and enjoyable. The whole thing felt a little bit different from many other dystopian books which I appreciated and I now look forward to reading the sequel.

Challenges Book Counts Towards:
Ebook Reading Challenge (The Eclectic Bookshelf)
Ebook Reading Challenge (Workaday Reads)
Free Reads Challenge
Speculative Fiction Challenge

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Happy 1 Year Blogoversary to Me!



My blog first opened its doors to the pulbic one year ago without any real aim or target. I probably only started the blog to be a place to chat about the books I have read and any other book related topics that came to my head. I was filled with a little bit of trepidation however wasn't sure if I actually had the ability to write reviews that people would be able to follow, never mind be interested in.

However, a year later and I am still here with my posts receiving the odd comments and over 80 followers. Maybe not many compared to many other blogs out there, but as long as it appears some people are reading and discussing my posts then I feel that it has become what I wanted it to be.

For anyone interested, I thought I would share some of my year 1 stats.

Total Pageviews: 16,530
Top Three Visiting Nations: USA, UK & Germany
Review with the highest views: What Happened at Midnight
Total Number of books reviewed: 87
Number of Star Trek books reviewed: 9

I have to admit I have really enjoyed running the blog as it has made me delve deeper into books than I ever did before and has introduced me to many other interesting blogs, websites and people. Anyway, thank you all again for reading my blog and commenting over the year so that I didn't feel all alone in the big blogging world!

Friday, 10 February 2012

Port of Errors (Born of Tyranny Book 1) - Steve V. Cypert



Title: Port of Errors (Born of Tyranny Book 1)
Author: Steve V. Cypert
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: 2011
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
Smashwords
Kobo
Amazon UK

"Port of Errors" by Steve V. Cypert is the first in a proposed series of novels titled "Born of Tyranny". It is an enjoyable and colourful historical fiction novel that involves everyone's favourite anti-heroes, the swash-buckling pirates of the 1700's.

The story is set in a time when relations between the major European powers, England, Spain and France are at a low point and the seas have become a perfect hunting ground for privateers and pirates. Into this world are born Davey and Joseph, two friends who grew up in the same orphanage. However, after an accident they become separated and embark upon very different lives. Joseph is adopted and renamed Daniel prior to becoming a Captain in the Royal Navy, meanwhile Davey turns to piracy and becomes known as the dreaded pirate captain, Black Hearted. Now on opposing sides, these two former friends being a game of cat and mouse in an attempt to hunt down and kill each other, without realising that their foe is actually a long lost friend.

Everything you could expect from a pirate based novel is contained in "Port of Errors", there are tall ships, sea battles, damsels in distress and elements of tyranny, friendship and loyalty. This was all packaged up in a novel that started slowly but soon developed into a fun, fast paced read that included a few elements of dark humour. There was also plenty of action and adventure interspersed throughout and the plot itself was rather detailed and quite intricate at times.

The intricate plot though does have its disadvantages as it results in a large variety of characters and there is a fair bit of jumping back and forth in time. This was made worse by the fact that various characters changed names and allegiances throughout the book so it could get a little bit confusing. In addition, I felt that the Cypert struggled to fully realise all the characters due to the number involved. Some of them were superbly developed and I enjoyed following them, but other just didn't grab me to any real extent and some even felt a little bit unneeded.

I did note that there is a fair amount of graphic violence in the novel, which is to be expected considering the type of people it is based around. However, if you are someone who is not fond of reading a detailed description of someone being keel hauled etc. then you may wish to give this book a wide berth.

Overall, this was an enjoyable adventure novel with an interesting and intricate plotline that really kept me hooked once it got going. The ending also came together very nicely and it leaves an interesting opening for future novels in the series that I now look forward to reading. I just hope that the author doesn't throw many more characters into the next novel or my head may just explode.

Challenges Book Counts Towards:
Ebook Reading Challenge (The Eclectic Bookshelf)
Ebook Reading Challenge (Workaday Reads)
Free Reads Challenge

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Star Trek Enterprise: Daedalus's Children - Dave Stern



Title: Daedalus's Children
Author: Dave Stern
Genre: Sci-Fi
Published: 2004
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
Kobo
Amazon UK

"Daedalus's Children" by Dave Stern is is the latest book in my Star Trek Reading Challenge and it follows on directly from "Daedalus" which I have previously reviewed here. As this is a sequel to "Daedalus" then I must warn you that some of this review may include spoilers in relation to that novel. In all honesty though, if you haven't read the first book then reading this one would probably be pointless anyway as this novel jumps straight back into the ongoing story.

As stated above, the story follows on from "Daedalus", in which the Enterprise and her crew are trapped in a parallel Universe. Archer and the majority of his crew are prisoners of the Denari government, whilst Trip and Hoshi are working with an opposition movement to try and track down the Enterprise. However, due to previous actions that left the leader of the Denar government, General Sadir, dead, events are spiraling out of control and the threat of civil war looms. The Enterprise and her crew must now not only try and survive the ongoing crisis; they also need to find a way to return to their own Universe.

Once again, Stern fills the novel with surprises and twists alongside an entertaining and action packed plot. I also found the pacing to be perfect and I found myself really rocketing through the book as it held my attention superbly.

The aspect of this novel that I really appreciated was that unlike "Daedalus" which mainly focused on Trip, this novel centered on the entire crew. I felt that Stern really brought out the characters well and I enjoyed being able to witness events from multiple viewpoints. I did feel that some of the ways in which some of the crew members stumbled upon each other as the story progressed were a little bit too coincidental but this is a minor quibble really.

Stern's minor characters from the parallel Universe also continued to play an important part in the novel. There were superbly portrayed, the relationships between themselves and the Enterprise crew were interesting to follow and added a little bit of emotion to the story. I will admit that the number of characters can get a little bit much at times for you to follow easily. However, overall I think these characters added to the story so I wouldn't really fault the novel much for this.

In summary, this was an entertaining and enjoyable conclusion to the story initiated in "Daedalus". It is fast paced, action packed and a real page turner that anyone who enjoyed reading "Daedalus" will struggle to put down.

Challenges Book Counts Towards:
Ebook Reading Challenge (The Eclectic Bookshelf)
Ebook Reading Challenge (Workaday Reads)

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Star Trek Enterprise: Daedalus - Dave Stern



Title: Daedalus
Author: Dave Stern
Genre: Sci-Fi
Published: 2003
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Kobo
Amazon UK

"Daedalus" by Dave Stern is the latest book in my Star Trek Reading Challenge. I was actually a little bit confused at first as I had assumed prior to reading the blurb that this book would actually be based on the "Enterprise" TV episode of the same name. However, this is not the case and both stories are entirely different from each other which wasn't an issue to me as I actually prefer an original novels to a novelization of an episode.

The story itself mainly follows the antics of Commander Tucker after an investigation into an anomaly leaves the Enterprise crippled before then being attacked and captured by an alien species known as the Denar. Tucker manages to escape alongside Ensign Sato and they are then both rescued by a group calling themselves the Guild who are at war with the very people who attacked the Enterprise. The Guild request Trip's assistance in the form of technological help in return for them helping him find and rescue the Enterprise and its crew. Trip of course is a bit wary about helping too much after previous experiences in influencing less advanced species, but when a further discovery related to his past results in his world being turned upside down, it becomes harder for him to refuse to help.

The first thing I need to say is that this is probably the best Enterprise novel I have read so far although there hasn't been much competition. I found the plot to be simple but interesting, the characters were engaging and there was enough action and plot twists to keep me entertained from start to finish. Now, it isn't what someone would call a classic Science Fiction novel by any stretch of the imagination, but I think it will be a fun read for anyone who was a fan of the show.

In regards to the characters, this book is pretty much all about Trip. The bulk of the storyline is basically built around him although Hoshi is around as well, but her role is hugely limited as well, which I found rather reminiscent of the TV series. That is really about it though in regards to the other crewmembers, a few odd appearances but nothing else, Stern spends more time developing and showcasing his own original Denari characters instead. Personally, I quite enjoyed seeing the development of some interesting and original characters, but it would have also been nice to see a little bit more from the other Enterprise crewmembers in regards to their own predicament.

I have to say that the ending itself was a little bit of a let down due to its cliff hanger nature. There is no real closure when you complete the novel, you basically have to read the sequel "Daedalus's Children" to find out what happens. It annoyed me a little as "Daedalus" wasn't the longest of novels I have read in the Star Trek Universe and it felt to me like the book was split into two parts as a money making idea to fleece the fans some more.

In summary this is a very enjoyable Enterprise novel that had me hooked to the point that I just abandoned my reading list and picked up the sequel as soon as I finished. I will add that as with many other Star Trek books I have read, this book is unlikely to really appeal to someone who isn't normally interested in the show, but any fans should hopefully find something to pique their interest.

Challenges Book Counts Towards:
Ebook Reading Challenge (The Eclectic Bookshelf)
Ebook Reading Challenge (Workaday Reads)