Wednesday, 24 July 2013
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Urban Fantasy
The Book Depository
“Neverwhere” by Neil Gaiman is the latest book I have read as part of the 2013 Eclectic Reader Challenge. This book fulfils the Urban Fantasy requirement of the challenge and I was looking forward to delving into it as I fondly remembered my previous experience of Gaiman from reading “American Gods”.
The story follows Richard Mayhew, a normal guy living in London with a regular job and an attractive fiancé. However, when he stumbles across an injured girl lying in the street he decides to help her out and unwittingly changes his life forever. He soon discovers that the ATM doesn’t recognise his bank card, his fiancé doesn’t remember him, his flat is rented out to another person. He therefore attempts to understand what has happened by trying to locate the mysterious girl he assisted. His search leads him to “London Below”, a mysterious and dark place where the lost and forgotten end up. On his journey through “London Below” he confronts talking rats, assassins, monsters and even the odd angel but keeps on going determined to get his old life back.
Quite simply, I loved this book as I felt it was the perfect urban fantasy with the fantastical underworld of “London Below” really complementing Richard’s easily recognisable normal urban life. The writing itself was of a high standard with the clever, humorous and witty language being utilised to help the reader visualise the various dark and surreal locations, events and characters. To be honest, I think the language really does strike home with me that this is a British novel with a sense of style and humour that should be highly recognisable to those who live in the UK. However, it should still appeal to people the world over as it is an expertly written piece of dark urban fantasy.
In regards to the locations, I really enjoyed witnessing the way in which the names of stations on the London Underground actually linked to places in “London Below”. I found this little quirk of the story to be both original and very interesting to see in action. As a clarification, you don’t need to know about London to enjoy the story although I think that some knowledge of the various locations will probably help to enhance the overall experience.
The characterisation was also exquisite with a huge level of diversity as you would expect to see in a city like London. Everyone was different in regards to history, ability and aims but everything was well portrayed and developed so that what they did made sense on some level. Richard in particular was a joy to follow, his naivety, confusion, dear and curiosity about his own sanity all felt real. Quite simply, he was regular person and I could easily imagine most people reacting in the same way if confronted with the world he ended up facing.
Overall, this was a surreal and imaginative urban fantasy novel that ticks all the right boxes. There is originality, innovation, humour, wit and competent writing throughout the novel which ensured I was hooked from start to finish. The only negative I can think of is that there has never been a sequel! Therefore, if you are a fan of urban fantasy, especially the dark variety then I think you need to go and pick this book up
Saturday, 20 July 2013
Author: S.D. Perry & Britta Dennison
The Book Depository
“Inception” by S.D. Perry and Britta Dennison is a Star Trek novel that I wasn’t sure about due to the focus seemingly being on the previous romantic liaisons of both Kirk and Spock. I suppose, I am just not the biggest fan of romance novels, especially when the outcome of the relationships are known anyway due to what we have seen on TV & film.
Anyway, the plot itself is set in a time when Kirk is courting Carol Marcus and Spock has just met a young woman named Leila Kalomi. Both of these women are working on a scientific project on Mars which appears to be an early stage of the Genesis project. However, things get out of hand when some environmental groups decide they don’t appreciate the scientific work being conducted on Mars. Carol and Lelia soon require the assistance of the men they have fallen in love with to help them avert a potential disaster.
The first observation I had with the novel was that writing is very competent and well-structured which ensured I found the book very easy to read and finish. In addition, I felt that the authors had captured the voices of Kirk and Spock to the point that I could easily imagine the delivery of various lines being made by the actors who portrayed them. It was also quite interesting to witness some sort of attempt at exploring the relationship between Kirk and Marcus.
However, there are quite a few niggles I had with the book, the main one being that it wasn’t that exciting. The environmental plot just didn’t really keep me excited or interested as it seemed to be secondary to the overall romantic elements of the plot. This wouldn’t have been an issue if the romantic elements of the story had been deep, complex and really explored how the characters felt about each other.
Unfortunately the relationships between the four main characters felt like something I would see in a school playground. The readers gets subjected to various levels of angst as Carol worries about how to tell Kirk her big news while Leila pines for Spock Leila in particular was a rather irritating character due to her childish reactions and the level of desperation that results. In simple terms, the romantic elements of the story are something I could easily expect to see in a book set in a High School and aimed at 14 years olds.
Of course, the final issue with this book is that the reader already knows where these relationships are going. This results in a severe lack of suspense as you progress through the novel. Whilst this knowledge of what is going to occur in the future isn’t something new for Star Trek novels, I think "Inception" is affected more by the fact that such a large percentage of the book is dedicated to the characters' relationships.
Overall, this book will never go down as a favourite of mine but at the same time I don’t understand some of the scathing comments I have seen around the internet. Yes it isn’t the most exciting story and the romantic elements are rather juvenile but it was still interesting to see someone try and tackle this period and it was a very easy book to read due to the author’s competent writing skills. To be honest, if there are any Star Trek fans out there who also like Young Adult styled High School romance then they will probably love this book.
Wednesday, 17 July 2013
Title: Alien Blue
Author: DeAnna Knippling
The Book Depository
“Alien Blue” by DeAnna Knippling is a rather complex Science Fiction story that tries to incorporate elements of humour in a manner reminiscent of Douglas Adams. The plot itself followed the arrival in a small New Mexico town of an alien (inside a human surrogate) called Anam. His arrival unveils a potential conspiracy by his fellow aliens who are trying to convert all of mankind into their surrogates. When bar owner Bill Trout is pushed into hiding Anam from his fellow aliens, he soon finds himself at the centre of a storm in which he is unsure on who is now alien controlled and who isn’t.
To be honest I went into this book with high hopes, it sounded interesting and I have enjoyed many other humour-centric science-fiction novels. However, it just felt flat to me and I didn’t actually find much in the story to make me laugh and overall it was actually a rather dark story at times. That isn’t to say the plot itself isn’t intriguing or creative because besides the rather generic invasion of the body-snatchers premise there were some rather interesting elements to the story and a very complex and twisting plot. The use of the blue beer that is alluded to in the title is also something I hadn’t seen before and was completely different to what I was expecting which was a pleasant surprise.
Unfortunately there are various issues with the plot beyond the lack of humour, the first of which is that it appears to start mid-story. As I read the initial chapters it basically felt like I was reading a sequel with references and comments that didn’t make much sense to me. For example, I still don’t understand how Bill Trout seemed to just quickly reach a conclusion that Anam was an alien due to some clicking noises. There was no reference or reasoning from what I had read up to that point to explain why someone would think of aliens.
Another issue is the rather large amount of characters that the reader is subjected to, all of which seem to be referred to in different manners as the story progresses. Sometimes it is by their surnames and the next it will be by their forename. This just led to me getting slightly confused at times as this big ensemble cast and complex, twisting plot line were hard to keep on top of. It just meant that the various deaths, alien control elements and other attempts at dramatic moments didn’t really wow me as I had spent too much effort trying to understand what was actually happening.
Finally, the ending itself was a disappointment to me as it just left to many open ends and didn’t really conclude anything of importance. With all the effort I had put in to try and follow the plot I was not happy to see that I didn't get any proper reward.
Overall I am a little bit split on this novel, the creative elements were quite interesting to follow and I think there is an entertaining story at its core. However, for a book that was meant to be based on humour, I failed to find it funny and the various other issues highlighted above meant that I didn’t find myself fully enjoying the reading experience. To be honest, I am in two minds now about if I want to read the sequel as I would like to see if any of the loose ends are tied up but I am not sure I want to put the effort in to try and unravel what may be another highly complex and meandering story.
Saturday, 13 July 2013
Title: Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures
Author: Christopher L. Bennett
The Book Depository
“A Choice of Futures” by Christopher L. Bennett was a welcome return to Star Trek’s Enterprise era. I had been looking forward to reading this from the moment I heard about it as I have enjoyed most of the previous books from this era and I was one of those rare people who actually seemed to enjoy the TV series. I am happy to say this it didn’t disappoint and I really enjoyed seeing some of the early development of the Federation.
The story itself follows the former crew of the Enterprise who have moved on to other roles after the Enterprise was decommissioned following the Romulan War. The Federation has recently formed following that war and the politicians and Starfleet are still trying to understand and agree to what they want to be. So when a strange race of beings begins to attack ships seemingly at random, Admiral Archer and his former crew must try and walk the fine line between war and diplomacy and ensure the newly birthed Federation does not collapse at its first real challenge.
Whilst the synopsis above seems rather simple, there is actually a huge amount going on throughout the novel as the former Enterprise crew and other new characters are spread across various ships and locations. However, Bennett does a great juggling act which keeps the story engaging and well-paced. I didn’t find myself getting confused at all and I was impressed with the way in which this multi-threaded story allowed all the characters a chance to shine which is something that at times was missing from the TV show and other novels.
One element of the novel I was particularly impressed with were the characters themselves who Bennett has captured perfectly. The development and change that has occurred in them over the years since the period portrayed in the TV show feels natural and realistic. However, this was further enhanced by the fact that at their hearts you could still see and hear the very people they had been in the TV show. For example I loved how Shran’s mannerism and voice came across just as I would expect, but there was now an element to his actions that were more thoughtful and considered due to his experiences and relationship with Archer etc.
There was one aspect of the novel which will either appeal or displease you depending on your own views and this was in relation to the way in which Bennett manages to create many links to other novels and TV episodes. Personally, I enjoyed catching the various references to other elements of the Star Trek Universe as I think it has been done with a fair amount of skill and subtlety. However, I know “Small Universe” syndrome can drive other readers to despair so I just wanted to warn people that there are elements of this within the story.
Overall this was a thoroughly enjoyable return to the crew of Star Trek: Enterprise and I really am looking forward to Bennett’s next book in the series. On a personal note as someone who has not previously read on his novel’s I was hugely impressed with the style, characterisation and pacing. This novel is a prime example of what a good Star Trek novel can and should be about and it makes me a little sad that due to my chronological reading challenge it may be a fair bit before I get to read any of his other books.
Wednesday, 10 July 2013
Title: Clean and Floss
Author: Scott Rhine
“Clean and Floss” by Scott Rhine is a rather frantic, non-stop paranormal/urban fantasy adventure set in the same Universe as “Foundation for the Lost” which I previously reviewed here. For those of you who aren’t aware, “Foundation for the Lost” is one of my all-time favourite indie books so I really was looking forward to reading this.
The plot is based around Nick Solace, a main who deals in favours and utilises his skills to help clean up various paranormal messes that the government does not want revealed. However, when one of his cleaning tasks goes wrong and all hell breaks loose he realises that this time he is going to need some help. And so he finds himself pairing up with a young man called Vince who he previously helped out in the past and the two of them attempt to unravel the reasons for the chaos that has been unleashed.
As I implied in my initial paragraph, this is a fast paced, busy and at times rather frantic story that covers multiple events, characters and issues. This type of action-packed fast pacing seems to be typical of Rhine as the previous novels I have read by him tended to be similar. Therefore if you have read his previous novels you will know what to expect. However, I will say that with this novel I found that there was so much involved to the point that it could be a little bit overwhelming and distracting with so much being thrown at the reader.
In addition, there was an element of the plot in which Nick travels to England which felt like a different story to what I read before or after. It was as if Rhine had created a short story regarding Nick and just wanted to cram it into this overall novel via a minor link to the rest of the plot. I will state that I did find it to be an interesting plot line and it was probably one portion of the novel where the pace felt perfect and there was a decent core to follow but in my opinion it just didn’t fit with the overall flow of the novel.
It isn’t all negative however as I still found the story to be entertaining with a good mix of humour, horror and fun. The writing is also clever, descriptive and well executed with some great character lines that had me smiling and laughing throughout. In addition, the characters themselves were all well developed and interesting to follow. Nick specifically was really intriguing with an air of mystery surrounding him that had both the other character’s and my own curiosity piqued.
Overall this was an enjoyable novel despite some of my negative comments in regards to the volume of “things” that Rhine has included. If you are someone that likes vast arrays of layers in their stories and enjoys a fast paced, action packed plots then this novel should really appeal. Personally, I am still happy to recommend it for people looking for a fun paranormal/urban fantasy novel to read but would probably still promote some of Rhine’s other work first.