28 April 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Pelquin's Comet by Ian Whates

My rating: 4.7 out of 5

English author Ian Whates has been around for a while now as a publisher, editor and author and I've been meaning to give one of his offerings a crack for some time, especially since he has been responsible for publishing stories from a few of my firm favourite sci-fi writers like Peter F. Hamilton & Eric Brown. Based on this, I naturally assumed that maybe Whates has the same good taste as me (IMHO) and finally sought out some of his own work. What caught my eye first was Pelquin's Comet, a shortish novel and the first in a (so far) two-part series called The Dark Angels. It turns out that it's a bloody good story, spinning my wheels up pretty good and arousing my imagination wonderfully because it's brimming with many solid sci-fi tropes and elements.

Right from the start, Whates gets you thinking, and you just know that you're in for some twists and turns. That's exactly what you get, a medium-to-fast paced story with fun and interesting characters and a plot that keeps you thinking right to the very last page - just my sort of thing. It's a fun ride, travelling faster-than-light with the crew of the small trading ship Pelquin's Comet under the command of the rather full-of-himself Captain Pelquin. The ship is crewed by a stereotypical bunch of rogues who come together to form an efficient crew, their intention to make as much money as possible from their various ventures cavorting around the galaxy. In this story, we're taken on a quest to acquire a cache of ancient technology left behind by the Elders – an advanced civilisation which seemed to have abandoned the galaxy centuries ago. The Elders, no doubt (and hopefully), will play a much larger role in the greater story arc, as will many of the key characters.

Pelquin requires a considerable loan from a bank to facilitate the recovery mission, which he is able to secure, but not without Drake who is one of the bank's agents (along with his unique and more-than-meets-the-eye alien companion), tagging along for the ride. Also added to the crew of the Comet as a stand-in engineer is Leesa, a woman who does not even know who she really is herself. What becomes clear early on, is that these two, as well a few others who pop up along the way, are a whole lot more than who they initially appear to be. We're given glimpses into their somewhat nefarious pasts which I assume will become much clearer as the series moves forward. The book comes to a satisfactory conclusion but it probably askes more questions than it answers and requires you to seek out the next book in the series The Ion Raider for more. The action is good, not too graphic yet gritty enough for a story such as this and pretty much perfect for a general audience. My only genuine critical observation would be that I found myself now and then wanting to see a little bit more of the various locations that are visited in the story. But the world-building is still more than adequate, the author no doubt saving the word count for the guts of the story.

The combination of fun and intriguing plot, effective characterization and an easy flowing style makes this a very entertaining read. It's a boisterous space romp between the stars and I'd recommend it to anybody who enjoys solid grass-roots sci-fi to be immersed in and chill out with. That's my purpose for reading books like this much of the time and why I enjoyed it so much.

4/5 for concept
5/5 for delivery
5/5 for entertainment
= 4.7 out of 5

Buy the ebook HERE (Amazon)
Buy the paper book HERE (Book Depository)

28 March 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

My rating: 4 out of 5

Alien “invasion”, while not a new concept, has been a tried and true science fiction trope since the genre came to be. Many sci-fi authors have had a go at it at some stage because the arrival to Earth of a spectacular fleet of starships carrying more advanced beings will always be a cracking foundation for a story. In Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke applies his great mind to the idea and the result is a thoughtful tale, academic and philosophical, offering a possible outcome to the evolutionary journey of mankind.

Huge silent ships appear over cities around the globe but the beings within keep themselves hidden, communicating only via the leader of the United Nations, all the while manipulating human society so that it becomes healthy and peaceful - a far cry from its state upon their arrival. They become known as the Overlords and they unite a world at war where crime is rife and poverty is all too common. What follows is a time of peace and prosperity where no one really has to work and where leisure, the arts and culture are what it's all about. Eventually the Overlords do reveal themselves and mix to a limited extent among the people of Earth, watching and learning. It soon becomes apparent that they have a bigger agenda, greater plans for the inhabitants of Earth. They desire to do more than just create a peaceful world, and what follows is a dramatic change of the human race. Ultimately it is the children of Earth who are the key to the grand plan, whatever it is, and it appears that even the Overlords aren’t privy to the big picture either. The ending is enjoyable and interesting, if a little depressing, and leaves me hoping that our species has a more noble destiny than the one portrayed here by Clarke.

There are a few things about the book that I really liked, one of them being the physical appearance of the Overlord aliens, which was an interesting surprise. It was cool how this tied into human mythology and thought, but it’s very late in the story that we learn the reasons why. I enjoyed the commentary on the state of humanity and of our psyche, which shows how well Clarke understood such things, and it's really quite sobering. It's written very well (allowing for the old-school dialogue and references) and flowed well making for a fairly smooth read.
Ballantine Books 1953 First edition
As far as things I didn’t like, there aren't really any that spring to mind. It doesn't come across as overly dated, I thought, and even though it was originally published in the 1950s, the book has stood the test of time reasonably well. There are odd references to things such as listening to a "tape recording" or to the radio being the main form of broadcast media, but other than those it's generally okay. To be fair, being a work from a different era, the society is a little different (things like gender equality and representation, etc.) but that's exactly it, it was different world back then and to judge certain aspects of the narrative by our modern standards (as many do) is simply unfair and rather stupid. As an interesting side note, in 2004 Childhood’s End was nominated for a Retro-Hugo Award for Best Novel for 1954, which is indicative of it’s contemporary popularity. Honestly, this is definitely a book for the purist, someone who appreciates the work for what is it and who won't judge it by current thinking.

In conclusion, it's a good example of golden era writing by an author who thought about big ideas and was able to present them as a plausible (for the day) scenario. Would I generally recommend this to a reader under the age of about 40, or for one looking for pure entertainment? Nope, not at all, but for a reader who likes philosophical ideas and can accept the differences of the world in which it is set will probably enjoy the experience. I sure did and was again shown why writers like Arthur C. Clarke are seen as giants of literature.

4/5 for concept
4/5 for delivery
3/5 for entertainment
= 3.7 out of 5

Buy the ebook HERE (Amazon)
Buy the paper book HERE (Book Depository)

Childhood's End concept art by Alexander Forssberg

18 March 2018

BOOK REVIEW: For We Are Many [Bobiverse #2] by Dennis E. Taylor

My rating: 4 out of 5

This is the second book of a series that deserves to be recognized because it's quality hard sci-fi which is well written and superbly plotted. The author’s personality and wit shine through in his style and those of you who saw my review of the first book of the series We Are Legion (We Are Bob) will know that I made comparisons with the writing of John Scalzi, one of the biggest names in contemporary sci-fi literature. I dare say that Dennis E. Taylor could also be destined for grand things just like Scalzi. This Bobiverse series so far has been a refreshing and fun injection of style into what has often seemed to me as a rather dry and dull sub-genre of science fiction.

You need to have read the previous book because the story continues on directly, told from the same multiple first person perspectives of the ex-human AI vessel Bob and his various offspring or clones, of which there have become quite some number. These guys are roaming around the galaxy, spreading out and discovering new places and species. They have become overseers and protectors of the human race which is needing to depart Earth and new planets are required for colonization. The Bobs are actively finding and setting up new places for this purpose. On Earth, not everybody is happy about the colonization efforts or the fact that the whole enterprise is overseen by artificial intelligences, and some factions are actively trying to shut the whole thing down. But, even though they are computer brains, the Bobs maintain their humanity and that which comes with it (including an excellent sense of humor) which means that their decisions aren’t based on pure logic alone. Along the way there are some interesting and sometimes startling interactions with both local flora and fauna on the new planets and the Bobs and humans settlers need to get inventive to find ways to coexist with the natives, mindful of humanity’s past errors on native Earth. “Original Bob” or Bob-1 continues his interactions with a primitive sentient species which he discovered in the Delta Eridani star system. He’s trying to uplift them without ruining their own natural development and this is the most prominent sub-plot of the book. As well, another more advanced and malevolent space-faring species (who are dubbed the “Others”) have been encountered and the Bobs must defend themselves and others in the path of these marauders who seek to devour and plunder anything and everything, organic or otherwise. It is soon after a fierce confrontation between the Bobs and the Others that the book comes to a abrupt halt, but setting the scene for the next book All These Worlds.

The Bobiverse series

As with the previous book, I found the narrative style great, but it is a tiny bit confusing. Even though it’s a first person narrative by a number of different “persons”, each one is a version of the same “person” but in a different location and set of circumstances. This made me sometimes lose track slightly of which Bob was telling the story but it never really detracted from the yarn in any significant way. What was cool was when the Bob AIs came together in virtual reality to have meetings (called a “Bobmoot”) to discuss matters or just to have a chinwag. A couple of the Bobs also start experimenting with android bodies to more closely interact with the physical realm which is another fun aspect of the story. The storyline itself is nothing particularly stunning, much the same as the first book (and I'm expecting book three to be the same as well), but it is the way in which the story is told that really makes this series interesting and worth reading. They're easy to get lost in and always leave me reluctant to put them down, which is exactly what I want in a science fiction book.

3/5 for concept
5/5 for delivery
4/5 for entertainment
= 4 out of 5

Buy the ebook HERE (Amazon)
Buy the paper book HERE (Book Depository)

18 February 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Eternity's Mind (Saga of Shadows #3) by Kevin J. Anderson

My rating: 4.6 out of 5

Bringing to a conclusion a superb science-fantasy space opera epic, Eternity’s Mind delivers much more of that we've seen in the previous books of the Saga of Shadows (see my reviews of books one and two). Told in the same style as those and also Anderson's prior seven-volume Saga of Seven Suns, the story moves along at a good pace, being fast-moving yet not causing me to become lost or disoriented at any point. In fact, the rapid switching between character viewpoints is one of the features of this series that I've really enjoyed. It's a fitting finale to the saga that has been some of the most entertaining fiction that I've ever read in recent years of any genre. It's not for the intellectual or hard sci-fi crowd (not to diminish the storytelling) who will be able to pick holes in many aspects, I'm sure. But if you are a reader who relishes being entertained by tales of massive scale, getting lost within myriad story threads and the wonder of it all then this is a series to which you must give some serious thought.

As in the previous books, the world building is spectacular. Readers familiar with the series will know exactly what I mean and will enjoy the continuation story of the Bloaters and the strange Onthos aliens who come to the forest planet of Theroc to “care for” the huge Worldtrees that contain the enigmatic Verdani mind. As events unfold, some foes from earlier times also make a return but this time there are some surprising results. Things initially continue to get worse for the humans and Ildirans of the Spiral Arm, but then discoveries are made and elements begin to awaken which turn the course of events around completely and lead to a conclusion that is awesome. I felt that the ending was great, and it built up at a steady pace then concluded nicely over the final chapters without any cliff hangers at the very end. That said, there is certainly room left for us to see more of this universe, although the authors says in his Dedication that Eternity’s Mind “is the end of the Seven Suns universe, for now”. We'll see, but I would like to see more because it really is a spectacular setting.

The Saga of Shadows novels
Despite being a moderately long volume (576 pages in hardback form), at no point did I even come close to losing interest which is testament to the excellent entertainment and escapism qualities. This was the same for the other books of the series as well. Anderson sure knows how to spin an entertaining yarn, that's for sure. Characterization is (typically for this series) very good, and perfect for the genre. This time, my firm favorite was one of the least likeable in an idealistic sense, but I thought she was great. Readers of the series will recall Elisa Enturi, the extremely loyal deputy to big-hitting Roamer businessman Lee Iswander. Her devotion to Iswander and his empire is admirable but she doesn't always know where to draw the line between hard-line business practice and plain insane behavior. This is exactly why I liked her, she had good depth and the most interesting motivations. This is no where near the first time that I've liked a baddie the most – says a lot about me maybe?

Overall, this is a fine conclusion to the series which contains two other novels and also two shorter works (Whistling Past the Graveyard and Island in a Sea of Stars), the first of which is a prequel novella that lays the platform for this series and providing a link to the prior Saga of Seven Suns. If you're a fan of rollicking space opera and value the entertainment aspect of a story, you should read this series. I think you'll find what you like.

4/5 for concept
5/5 for delivery
5/5 for entertainment
= 4.6 out of 5

Buy the ebook HERE (Amazon)
Buy the paper book HERE (Book Depository)

09 February 2018

Sneaky peek at Peter F. Hamilton’s new sci-fi novel Salvation (plus an excerpt!)

Peter F. Hamilton is best known for his epic space operas set in futures where the human race has spread to the stars and he is one of my all-time favourite authors. His books such as The Reality Dysfunction, Fallen Dragon, Pandora's Star and Great North Road are sci-fi masterpieces. His next novel Salvation begins a new trilogy and is due in bookshops on September 4th, 2018.

About both the distant future of humanity and how we get there, 
Salvation follows two storylines: the first is set in the year 2204, where humanity has spread throughout the galaxy, thanks to a system of advanced gates that allows them to travel instantaneously between planets. Spaceships have become all but obsolete, but when a crashed alien spacecraft is found on a newly-discovered world, a team is sent out to investigate it and the strange cargo that it carries. The other storyline is set in the 51st century, following a genetically engineered group of soldiers designed to confront an ancient enemy, bent on hunting humans to extinction.
Anyway, here is a small excerpt released as a teaser by the publisher Penguin Random House. I think you'll agree that the plot idea sounds quite intriguing. I can't wait! Enjoy...

Earth Calling
Drifting through interstellar space, three light-years out from the star 31 Aquilae, the Neána abode cluster picked up a series of short, faint electromagnetic pulses that lasted intermittently for eighteen years. The early signatures were familiar to the Neána, and faintly worrying: nuclear fission detonations, followed seven years later by fusion explosions. The technological progress of whoever was detonating them was exceptionally swift by the usual metric of emerging civilizations.
Metaviral spawn chewed into the cometry chunks that anchored the vast cluster, spinning out a string of flimsy receiver webs twenty kilometers across. They aligned themselves on the G-class star fifty light-years away, where the savage weapons were being deployed.
Sure enough, a torrent of weak electromagnetic signals was pouring out from the star’s third planet. A sentient species was entering into its early scientific industrial state.
The Neána were concerned that so many nuclear weapons were being used. Clearly, the new species was disturbingly aggressive. Some of the cluster’s minds welcomed that.
Analysis of the radio signals, now becoming analogue audiovisual broadcasts, revealed a bipedal race organized along geo-tribal lines, and constantly in conflict. Their specific biochemical composition was one that, from the Neána perspective, gave them sadly short lives. That was posited as the probable reason behind their faster than usual technological progression.
That there would be an expedition was never in doubt; the Neána saw that as their duty no matter what kind of life evolved on distant worlds. The only question now concerned the level of assistance to be offered. Those who welcomed the new species’ aggressive qualities wanted to make the full spectrum of Neána technology available. They almost prevailed.
The spherical insertion ship that left the cluster—it didn’t know if it was one of many being dispatched, or alone—measured a hundred meters in diameter, a mass comprised of active molecule blocks. It spent three months accelerating up to thirty percent of light speed along a course to Altair—a trip that took just over a hundred years. During the lonely voyage the ship’s controling sentience continued to monitor the electromagnetic signals coming from the young civilization that was its ultimate goal. It built up an impressive knowledge base of human biology, as well as a comprehensive understanding of their constantly evolving tribal political and economic structures.
When the ship reached Altair, it performed a complex flyby maneuver, which aligned it perfectly on Sol. After that, the physical section of the sentience’s memory that contained all the astrogration data of the flight from the cluster to Altair was jettisoned and the constituent blocks deactivated. Its weakened atomic structure broke apart into an expanding cloud of dust, which was quickly dispersed by Altair’s solar wind. Now, if it was ever intercepted, the insertion ship could never betray the position of the Neána abode cluster—for it no longer knew where it was.
The last fifty years of the voyage were spent formatting an emplacement strategy. By now, human ingenuity had produced starships that were flying past the insertion ship in the other direction, in quest of new worlds out among the stars. The information blasting out from Earth and the solar system’s asteroid habitats had become increasingly sophisticated, yet, conversely, there was a lot less of it. Radio signals had been in decline since the internet had begun to carry the bulk of human data traffic. For the final twenty years of the insertion ship’s approach it received little apart from entertainment broadcasts, and even those were shrinking year by year. But it had enough.
It flew in south of the ecliptic, shedding cold mass in irregular bursts like a black comet—a deceleration maneuver that took three years. This was always the riskiest part of the voyage. The humans’ solar system was scattered with a great many astronomical sensors scanning the universe for cosmological abnormalities. By the time it passed the Kuiper belt, the insertion ship was down to twenty-five meters in diameter. It emitted no magnetic or gravitational fields. The outer shell was fully radiation absorbent, so there was no albedo, making it invisible to any telescopes. Thermal emission was zero.
No one perceived its arrival.
Inside, four biologics began to grow within molecular initiators, attaining physical patterns the ship’s sentience had designed, based on the information it had acquired during the long voyage.
They were human in size and shape; skeletons and organs carried the mimicry down to a biochemical level. Their DNA was equally authentic. You would have to go a lot deeper into the cells to find any abnormality; only a detailed audit of the organelles would reveal alien molecular structures.
It was the minds of the biologics that gave the insertion ship the greatest difficulty. Human mental processes were complex verging on paradoxical. Worse, it suspected the performances in all the fictional dramas it received were overemphasizing emotional responses. So it constructed a stable primary architecture of thought routines, while including a fast learning and adaptive integration procedure.
As it closed to within a million kilometers of Earth, the insertion ship discarded the last of its reaction mass as it performed a final deceleration maneuver. Now it was basically just falling toward the southernmost tip of South America. Tiny course correction ejecta refined the descent vector, steering it at Tierra del Fuego, which was still thirty minutes from greeting the dawn. Even if it was detected now, it would simply appear to be a small chunk of natural space debris.
It hit the upper atmosphere and began to peel apart into four pear-shaped segments. The remaining matter broke away in fizzing sparks that produced a short-lived but beautiful starburst display streaking through the mesosphere. Below it, sheltered under their blanket of thick winter cloud, the residents of Ushuaia, the southernmost city on Earth, remained oblivious of their interstellar visitor.
Each segment carried on down, aerobraking with increasing severity as the atmosphere thickened around them. They slowed to subsonic velocity three kilometers above the surface, plunging through the clouds, still unobserved by anyone on the planet.
The segments were aimed at a small inlet a few kilometers west of the city, where, even in AD 2162, the rugged land lay unclaimed by developers. Two hundred meters from the shore, four tall splash plumes shot up into the air like thick geysers, crowning and splattering down on the slushy ice that bobbed along the waters of the Beagle Channel.
The Neána metahumans floated to the surface. All that now remained of the insertion ship landing segments was a thick layer of active molecule blocks covering their skin like a pelt of translucent gel, insulating them from the dangerously cold water. They began to swim ashore.
The beach was a narrow strip of gray stones cluttered with dead branches. A dense woodland occupied the slope above it. The aliens scrambled a short way up the incline as the pale dawn light began to seep through the murky clouds. Their protective layer liquidized, draining down into the stones where it would be flushed away by the next high tide. For the first time, they drew air down into their lungs.
“Oh, that is cold!” one exclaimed.
“Good classification,” another agreed through chattering teeth. “I’ll go with it.”
They looked at one another in the gray light. Two were crying from the emotional impact of arrival, one was smiling in wonder, while the fourth appeared singularly unimpressed by the bleak landscape. Each carried a small pack of outdoor clothing copied from a winter wear ad broadcast eighteen months earlier. They hurried to put it on.
When they were fully dressed, they set off along an ancient track up through the trees until they came to the remnants of National Route Three, which led to Ushuaia.
© Penguin Random House

28 January 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Acadie by Dave Hutchinson

My rating: 4.3 out of 5

Recently I have been taking a greater interest in shorter forms of fiction, and I've been seeing this novella rate well, so it was a simple choice to have a look for myself. It's just over 100 pages in paperback form with an interesting storyline and written in a lovely fluid style so it's a slick read. Right from the first paragraph I found myself captivated by the story and it kept me that way right through.

The title gives a slight clue to the subject and setting which is an idealistic, peaceful colony populated by people who fled Earth hundreds of years prior to find the freedom to explore the genetic potential of the human species. A group of heavily modified humans known as Writers live separately in a hollowed out asteroid and are continually playing around with genetics and things under the leadership of their mysterious and enigmatic founder Isabel Potter. Told in a first-person narrative style from the perspective of Duke Faraday who is the reluctant President of the colony which is made up of a vast network of ships and habitats drifting around in a remote star system far from Earth. The rogue colony is continually on the run from the Bureau of Colonisation based back on Earth who wish to eliminate them for many reasons, not least the fact that the majority of the colony population is made up of colonists who were stolen while waiting in suspension for a trip to one of the new Bureau worlds. The Bureau has been tracking them for hundreds of years across space and in this story it looks like they may have hit pay-dirt. As the story moves along, we eventually learn that all is not as it initially seems, and things culminate with a twist that turns the whole story on it's head. Then we're left wondering and wanting another installment to do some explaining. Quite well done really, and there's more than enough story meat here to produce a full-length novel, so I'd love to see Hutchinson expand this story or explore other ideas in the same setting.

Hutchinson covers an incredible amount of storytelling territory for such a limited page count and his world-building is superb, as good as in any other modern space opera. There is a good dose of tech for those who (like me) require such things in their science fiction, and the characters are great, well developed and their dialogue fits into and enhances the fluid style that I mentioned earlier. There is lots of wit and humour in the dialogue too which further helps the pages just slide by. The elements all combine so well and show off the author's skill. I am a big fan of Peter F Hamilton's work, and this story (so far the only of Hutchinson's that I've read) reminded me of that to some degree, mainly in theme but also in the grand scale which is a signature feature of space opera.

Overall this is a very enjoyable read, it moves along rapidly and left me feeling mostly satisfied yet definitely wanting more. I hope Hutchinson isn't done with this yet. It's been a nice introduction to a great author. I look forward to looking at more of his work.

4/5 for concept
5/5 for delivery
4/5 for entertainment
= 4.3 out of 5

24 January 2018

BOOK REVIEW: The Telemass Quartet by Eric Brown

The Telemass Quartet by Eric Brown
My rating: 4.3 out of 5

Here we are again, examining a really nice body of work from one of my all-time favorite genre authors, one who repeatedly fails to disappoint me with his ability to spin splendid yarns that are interesting, entertaining and a pure joy to sit back and relax with.

The Telemass Quartet is a series four separately published novella length stories that are chronological and really need to be read as such:

1. Famadihana on Fomalhaut IV
2. Sacrifice on Spica III
3. Reunion on Alpha Reticuli II
4. Exalted on Bellatrix 1

You could possibly read numbers 1 through 3 in any order, but definitely number 4 should be read last as it is a finale and concludes the series nicely. I read them one after the other as a single work which worked very well, the overall storyline has good momentum which I enjoyed staying with.

Set in the same universe as Brown's Starship Seasons series of novellas in what we know as "the expansion”, the Telemass stories have a similar vibe and feel, being very character based with love, loss, pain and eventual joy the key elements. It's a flavour of story that Brown is very, very good at and it has become a real signature of his work. This bundle is a blast to read, and tells the story of tired ex-cop Matt Hendrick from Earth who wishes to get his daughter back from his ex-wife who has kidnapped her and is undertaking a quest across the galaxy in search of dramatic healing for her. Each installment has a race of strange and enigmatic aliens and some sort of cult or bizarre spiritual practice central to the story. These are tropes that Brown has used in previous books and are ones that always combine together to deliver an interesting story.

The first installment, Famadihana on Fomalhaut IV, introduces the main players and takes us on a journey to a remote jungle planet where a strange religious cult and race of aliens enact rituals in an attempt to bring the dead back to life. As you can expect, all is not as it seems. Next, in Sacrifice on Spica III, we go to a planet that is just about to begin a brutal five year winter, slowly closing down and its inhabitants retreating far underground to await the arrival of summer. Here we find another bizarre cult with death at its core. Then, in what I thought was the most interesting of the series, Reunion on Alpha Reticuli II takes place on a luxury tourist planet that is awaiting the arrival of a starship which has been travelling for centuries to reach the planet. The thing here is that after the starship left Earth, instantaneous Telemass travel was invented and rendered starship travel obsolete and others from Earth beat them there by a few hundred years. The crew of the starship are unaware of this until they phase back into normal space. This  part only forms part of the backstory to the main plot which is still Hendrick’s quest to reclaim his daughter. Reunion really sets things up for the finale by introducing a key character who plays a pivotal role in the end. Speaking of which, Exalted on Bellatrix 1 is the final installment and brings about a fitting finish to the tale. Again, there is a strange alien species and a group of humans who have an unusual relationship with them. It is these aliens and their abilities who are able to effect a fine end to the overall Telemass storyline.

Each novella follows the same general theme and they flow together very well. If the whole lot were bundled together end to end, it would make up a nice novel, and that is effectively how I read it. This has happened with some Eric Brown’s previous work and has turned out very well - Brown’s own Kethani being a good example of individual short works combining to become a great novel.

Overall, this series comes together very well and is an enjoyable read. I spent much of my time reading this with either a cup of coffee or glass of cider next to me, depending on the time of day. Perfect.  It doesn’t break any new ground but fans of Eric Brown will find comfort in his trademark style and character development. For anyone who is new to Brown’s work, this series would be a fine introduction, in my opinion. I suspect we may see this released as a single volume in the near future, as well as seeing more stories based in this interesting Telemass universe. I love the sound of that.

4/5 for concept
5/5 for delivery
4/5 for entertainment
= 4.3 out of 5

23 November 2017

BOOK REVIEW: What Does This Button Do? - An Autobiography by Bruce Dickinson

What Does This Button Do?: An AutobiographyWhat Does This Button Do? - An Autobiography by Bruce Dickinson
My rating: 4 out of 5

Ever since I heard the soaring vocals in the chorus of Iron Maiden's iconic tune Run to the Hills as an impressionable kid in the 80's, Bruce Dickinson has been in my head. I've been eager to read his autobiography, right from when it was announced that one of the most legendary metal vocalists of all time was going to tell of his life and career in his own words.

Bruce is someone who I've always wanted to meet and share an ale and a yarn with, it always seemed to me as though he and I have a number of things in common. Bruce's story confirmed that, and as he explains the major events of his life I could see that we have a similar worldview in lots of ways. One thing that he has in truck loads, and that which I often lack, is confidence. By 'eck, this bloke has some confidence. This is evident from his career as the front man of Iron Maiden and also from his inspiring journey to becoming a commercial airline pilot. As a professional aircraft engineer of 20 years and currently also as a student pilot, I know how fraught with obstacles and trials the aviation industry is. Even so, this guy just walks up and says to himself "F@#k it, I'm gonna do that", and he does so, very successfully.

Now to the book itself. It's written by Bruce's own hand in a very entertaining and vibrant style that reflects his personality and adds a rich layer to the stories. He doesn't go into all that many things in much depth or detail, but when taken as a whole life-story, he does a reasonable job of squeezing a lot into the book. What is noticeably absent from the book is anything of any real substance about other people. There's no relationship details, other than professional, with anybody whether it be band mates or family members. Initially I found this rather disappointing because I was looking forward to learning a bit about Bruce the family man, for example, but there's nothing like this in there anywhere. I've since seen a couple of interviews with Bruce where he addresses the issue and explains why he didn't wish to reveal personal details about others. I can see his point and generally agree with his reasoning, which shows him to quite clearly be a very private person, and all of that stuff is none of my business anyway. That said, this autobiography does seem a little incomplete without at least some of these details.

He does spin some more detailed yarns about his flying exploits, which I found incredibly interesting. Again, I'm impressed with Bruce's confidence and tenacity as he tackles challenge after challenge. He's clearly very into what he does, whether it be flying any number of different aeroplanes, or crafting songs. In a word, inspirational. Toward the end of the book, there is one part of his life where Bruce does get quite candid, and that is the story of his battle with cancer. He opens up about his treatment and recovery enough for us to appreciate the depth of his struggle, and his stubborn grit shines through again as he just gets on with the job of kicking the big C into touch. Again, noticeably missing is where his family fitted into this picture.

In summary, this is a good autobiography about a very interesting person. I enjoyed it immensely and drew inspiration from so many aspects of Bruce's journey through life. Essentially it's a good autobiography recounting Bruce's professional life and career(s), but what would've made it a great autobiography would be more depth to his personal story. For what it is, though, it's pretty solid and well worth a read.

5/5 for concept
4/5 for delivery
3/5 for entertainment
= 4 out of 5