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.
Tuesday, 22 July 2014
Title: Past Prologue (The Janus Gate Book 3)
Author: L.A. Graf
Genre: Science Fiction
“Past Prologue” by L.A. Graf is the third and final book in “The Janus Gate” trilogy, a series of novels set during the Star Trek Original Series. Kirk is stranded in his past and is trying to find his younger self who is missing in the chaos of a civil war. He is helped by his own father but neither of them realises that 14 year old Kirk is now in the future. In this future Sulu and Chekov have to work with older versions of themselves to try and find a way to reactivate the Janus Gate to ensure that everyone is sent back to their correct timelines. Of course, nothing is ever easy for the crew of the Enterprise and they are being forced to do this whilst an alien race attempts to seal the Janus Gate away for good.
I will start by mentioning that this book continues the tradition of this series in that it has a back cover synopsis that doesn’t match what actually occurs in the book. I am quite weary of mentioning this when it comes to “The Janus Gate” as the publishers have been quite consistent in getting it wrong. Whilst any reader has probably already read the previous two books so knows the story and can skip the synopsis anyway it just doesn’t give me a good impression of the publisher.
The story that we do get is an enjoyable adventure told at a much faster pace than the previous novel and full of action which kept me entertained right through to the ending. Of course this increased pacing and more action focussed narrative meant that there was less time spent on character development. Whilst this did ensure the excitement levels were kept high it meant we missed the chance to see something really interesting between the two Sulus and Chekovs.
A final negative aspect of the novel for me was in relation to the ending. Basically Graf inserts a reset switch type scenario to solve all the paradoxes and fit in with the TV series which never mentions what is seen here. The crew get to continue their journey with no memories of the event and act as if nothing happened. I understand why it was done and was actually expecting it but I still can’t find myself liking that form of ending.
Overall, this was an enjoyable final chapter in what has been a rather fun adventure. This story is much more focussed on the action that we have seen in the previous novels which does reduce the amount of character development that occurs. If you read the first two books in this trilogy then you quite simply have to read book three so you can see how everything Graf has put together in the previous novels finally comes to together in an entertaining conclusion.
Tuesday, 8 July 2014
Author: J.G. Ballard
Genre: Science Fiction
The Book Depository
“High-Rise” by J.G. Ballard is a dystopian novel written in the 1970s which details the collapse of society within a forty storey tower block. The plot follows three different people within the block who each live on different floors, one low, one in the middle and one in the penthouse. Each of these people represents a different level within the social structure of the inhabitants which is linked into how high up they live within the tower block. This fully self-contained community soon begins to fracture as resentments and irritations between different groups boil to the surface resulting in vandalism, abuse and violence.
The first thing that struck about this novel is that it has an incredibly memorable first line:
“Later, as he sat on the balcony eating the dog, Dr. Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous months.”
Starting a novel with a scene from the latter portion of the plot like this isn’t new but the way in which Ballard did it left me re-reading the line a few times just to make sure I hadn’t miss-read it. In the end this, section regarding the dog was actually quite mild compared to what was to come with rape, murder and violence clearly present. It really did feel like a misanthrope’s dream which I have to admit can at times make this a tough read as it is hard to really like anyone at all.
However, Ballard’s writing was good enough to keep me reading as I could really see the garbage strewn rooms of the tower block and hear the sounds echoing down the corridors. The violence of the situations are also not just pure brute descriptions, there are some rather chilling moments which are expertly written such as one of the roof involving cannibalism.
One aspect of the story which struck me as being a weakness is that the three people whose perspectives we get are all men. Yes, women are involved in the story but their own thoughts, views or ideas are left unclarified. I think the novel would have been greatly enhanced by at least getting part of the story told from a feminine viewpoint.
I think my biggest issue with the novel however is that I just couldn’t believe that groups of intelligent, professional adults could descend into tribal chaos when the wider world is perfectly normal and still available to them. If there had been some sort of cataclysmic event or they were stranded somewhere then fine, but in this case people just need to leave the building to return to the regular society in which they have been treated well.
Maybe Ballard was just trying to find a way to create an allegorical look at modern urban development and its effect of society. Either way, it had me thinking about it and comparing his tower block with the rapid urban decay and social problems that ended up plaguing the UK’s real tower blocks. So on that front the novel works, but it would have been nice to also give me a plot that I could actually believe in.
Overall, whilst I found the book to be well written and interesting in how it looks at urban society I just struggled to suspend my disbelief in regards to the plot.
Thursday, 3 July 2014
Title: Future Imperfect (The Janus Gate Book 2)
Author: L.A. Graf
Genre: Science Fiction
“Future Imperfect” by L.A. Graf is the second book in “The Janus Gate” trilogy, a series of novels set during the Star Trek Original Series. The novel picks up from the cliff-hanger ending of the previous book with Lieutenant Sulu finding himself swapped in time with an older version of himself from a future where the Federation is at war with the Gorn. Meanwhile, Captain Kirk has been sent back in time to a critical point in his life with his teenage self now stranded in the present day on Tlaoli-4 with the crew of the Enterprise.
As with the previous novel the synopsis on the back cover didn’t actually match the story itself which was a bit irritating as there was no excuse for it being wrong. I really couldn’t believe they hadn’t tried to ensure the summary was correct this time after it being so wrong on “Present Tense”. In the end it probably doesn’t matter as most people will be reading this book because they read the first novel and they probably didn’t even bother checking the synopsis.
In regards to the writing itself, I felt that this book was better than “Present Tense” with Graf using the set-up from the previous novel expertly to ensure the reader can quickly get engrossed in an exciting adventure. The previous novel could feel a bit slow at times but this wasn’t an issue here as all the initial plot building and character introduction had already been dealt with. Although of course this means that the book doesn’t really have a beginning at all so it really is a no go for anyone who hasn’t read “Present Tense”.
Whilst the story continues to feel like standard Star Trek fare I still found it fun and enjoyed reading following the interplay between Sulu, Chekov and Uhura. Graf has done such a good job with these characters that I really didn’t mind the very minimal amount of time given to Kirk, Spock and McCoy. One thing that I did really like in the story is the alternate future that Graf has managed to construct. It is well thought and uses established characters, episode plots and aliens in a rather interesting way.
Overall this series continues to be an enjoyable enough read that showcases some of the more “minor” Star Trek characters. If you have read the first novel in the series and enjoyed it then you should pick up this sequel as it ramps up the pacing and action to provide a fun read.