23 January 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Pandora’s Star (Commonwealth Saga #1) by Peter F. Hamilton

Pandora’s Star (Commonwealth Saga #1)  by Peter F. Hamilton
My rating: 5 out of 5

This is another re-read (about the fourth I think) of a very significant book for me, actually THE book that turned me on to modern space opera. I was given it as a gift some years ago and reading it turned out to be a life-changing experience, in the sci-fi book geek context anyway.

To put it plainly, this book (together with Judas Unchained with which it actually forms one large book) is space opera at it’s best. In here we are introduced to Peter F Hamilton’s beautifully imagined Commonwealth Universe, one which you will get to know very well if you go on to read his later works like the Void Trilogy and the Chronicle of the Fallers duology.

In these pages we become drawn into a huge and fascinating universe of colony planets and alien civilizations of which many are linked together by an incredible network of wormholes. The world building is about as good as it gets and the characters are superb. This storytelling really is next-level, totally absorbing and involving a massive galaxy-spanning conflict that will take your breath away. The scale is so, so vast and just what I’ve come to expect and demand from PFH’s work and space opera in general. This story line would make most epic movie series.

Along with huge servings of high-tech goodies like anti-gravity and wormhole generators there are some mystical and almost fantasy elements such as the humanoid Silfen race with their mysterious ‘paths’ that link together various points in the universe. I found this part utterly fascinating. Then, when things are reaching fever pitch, the book ends abruptly with a really cool cliff-hanger and leaves you scrambling to grab Judas Unchained which picks right up where this book leaves off. Have Judas Unchained handy when you’re close to finishing Pandora’s Star because you’ll most want to keep right on going with the story.

One of my all-time favorite action scenes from anything I’ve ever read (of any fiction genre) comes from this book, where key character Justine Burnelli goes ‘hypergliding’ (which is the coolest imaginable sporting experience) over huge mountains on the planet Far Away. This is quite a significant scene because it’s where Justine meets another character who plays also a prominent role in the series. PFH makes you feel like you’re right in the cockpit for this wild ride. I’ve re-read this passage a number of times.

To summarize, it’s bloody good science fiction with so much wonder and awe to offer along with the complex story lines. Read this if you like large, epic and gritty plots with lots of cool tech, weird and wonderful aliens and ‘real’ characters. If this sounds like you then I doubt you will be disappointed. As you can probably tell I’m a huge fan, and I reckon you might be just about to find out why. I hope you enjoy the journey.

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

BOOK REVIEW: Star Wars: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn

Star Wars: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn
My rating: 4.3 of 5

Released to high expectation, Star Wars: Thrawn is the latest addition to the (new) official Star Wars canon. Having been a casual dabbler of Expanded Universe material over the years and knowing the significance of Admiral Thrawn as a character, this book caught my attention early, metaphorically slapping me across the face, strongly suggesting that I read it. How could I possibly resist? After all, it’s written by one of the biggest names in the sci-fi literary world and the main character is one of the most cunning and ruthless in the entire history of the Star Wars universe.

It’s written of course by Timothy Zahn, a fine author who has also penned a good number of other Star Wars novels including the immensely popular Thrawn Trilogy novels which were released in the early ’90s. At one point there was a movie adaptation of that series rumored but it has not materialized as yet. However, Grand Admiral Thrawn has made it to the small screen by becoming a key character in the Star Wars Rebels animated TV series.

The book begins when an Imperial Navy team is attacked by a blue-skinned alien on a remote planet, a member of the mysterious Chiss species who calls himself Mitth’raw’nuruodo. He is allegedly a disgraced military commander exiled to the planet by his own rulers. His name is shortened and he becomes known as Thrawn.

The story follows Thrawn and young cadet Eli Vanto, who’s brought along first as a translator, then as Thrawn’s aide, as they rise to power within the vast Imperial military machine. Thrawn manages to impress Emperor Palpatine who recognizes his potential and personally helps to expedite Thrawn’s progression through the ranks. Thrawn and Vanto are sent to an Imperial military academy and then into the Navy fleet, where Thrawn quickly demonstrates his brilliance as a tactical commander, hunting down pirates and various organized insurgent groups. Together Thrawn and Vanto are like a Star Wars version of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, unraveling mysterious troubles facing the Empire. However, Thrawn shows himself to be weak in the realm of politics where, as a high-ranking military officer, he really needs to be strong and proficient. This is where another of the book’s key players fits in.

Along side the story of Thrawn’s rise to power, there is the parallel story of Arihnda Pryce who is on her own meteoric rise to power from her humble beginnings as small scale mine manager to a planetary Governor based in the magnificent halls of power on the capital world Coruscant. The two stories become nicely intertwined as each character moves up their respective ladders of power and influence, Thrawn on the actual battlefield out in space and Pryce on the political battlefield.

Written in an easy and concise style, each chapter opens with a thought or teaching from the mind of Thrawn himself which shows his reasoning and logic on various matters such as leadership and tactics. Also interspersed though the text in scenes where Thrawn is present are his observations of what is happening in the scene. These are presented in italics inline with the main text and add an interesting first person perspective to the overall third person viewpoint. I thought this added a nice depth to the story telling.

It’s not what I’d call an intense or action-packed novel, but what action scenes there are form necessary parts of the story and are written well. The world-building is modest, to be honest, and it’s clear that some prior knowledge of Star Wars locations and species has been assumed by the author. This will be no issue at all for seasoned Star Wars fans, but those new to the finer points will probably require a little extra information. I actually had my copy of Star Wars: The New Essential Guide to Alien Species on hand to assist and this was a great help. It’s also quite dialogue heavy, but again this is a required aspect because of the often political and plot-heavy nature of the story. The conversations are well written in contemporary language and easy to follow.

Despite Thrawn being one of the big name Imperial bad guys within the Star Wars universe, I actually found him quite likeable. He enjoys and appreciates art and recognizes it’s value in understanding a culture. He shows himself to have reasonable morals, is a thoughtful and considerate leader, planning his moves carefully rather than using aggression and brute strength at every opportunity. He genuinely believes violence to be counterproductive and a last resort action. His own complex motivations for aligning himself with the Empire are explored as the story progresses. He seems to have some knowledge of a greater threat to the wider galaxy including the mighty Empire (presumably he’s referring to the Yuuzhan Vong) and desires to use his position within the Imperial Navy to help prepare for it. This part of the plot certainly leaves much room for future stories. Bring them on!

Minor parts are played by some other key figures from the Star Wars universe, the most notable ones being Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader. They do not form large parts of the plot, yet they are significant in their presence and again point to there being more to this story arc in the future. Also, this book gives a little background to another key story within Star Wars, one that was explored in a recent standalone movie, and again hints at Disney’s new direction with the franchise to possibly align some of the bigger story arcs in a more complete way. I’m all for this, and for a person who was worried about the direction that Star Wars would take under it’s new ownership, I’m generally pleased with how things are shaping up. Because I’m a fan focused more on the literature side of things rather than the movies (which I also enjoy), if they can maintain this standard by using more top authors to produce books of this caliber then I’ll be more than happy.

In summary, I think this is a great addition to the new Star Wars canon which does not seem to diminish the contribution of earlier Expanded Universe material (now re-branded as Star Wars Legends). It should be an accessible novel for both fans and newcomers alike and I think that it’ll do well. I enjoyed reading it very much and thoroughly recommend it.

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

BOOK REVIEW: The Kings of Eternity by Eric Brown

My rating: 4.6 of 5

This is a review that I find a little difficult to write, which may seem strange for a book to which I’ve given a good rating, but as I begin to write I’m struggling to put down in words how much enjoyment I got from this. Therefore it’s probably going to be a rather short review.

Good enough to make it onto my own personal all-time favorites list, I’ve not read a book quite like it. While this is a great science fiction book written by one of today’s finest authors of any genre (in my humble opinion) it actually starts out quite different (i.e. non-sci-fi) and it’s not until a little way through that the science fiction elements appear. But when they do, it’s in a really cool way, in stark contrast to the 1930’s England in which a portion of the story is set, and this is one of the things that makes this book so wonderful.

The story is told from two quite different viewpoints, one a first person account, the other a third person narrative and they combine along the way into a solid story of happiness and pain, wonder and intrigue. To say much more would probably introduce spoilers, and the synopsis probably tells as much as you need to know, so hopefully it’s sufficient enough to say that the story is told superbly and that it left me feeling very satisfied, glad that I’d invested the time reading it.

If I was forced to make comparisons, some books that I’ve read that are similar are some of Eric Brown’s other works, namely Kethani and The Serene Invasion. All of these stories have at their core some sort of benevolent alien species that can bestow wonderful yet ominous gifts upon human recipients. Like those other books, this book presents the human aspect of such wonders, how one might begin to adjust to a life of no disease or sickness and even immortality when we’re bred and conditioned to expect finite time with sickness as a fact of life. I very much wanted to be one of the characters in this book, I connected with it on such a level.

To avoid simply rambling on about how good this book is and how much enjoyment that Brown has given me yet again, I’m going to close with my usual appraisal of his work: once again Eric Brown fails to disappoint.

A must-read for any lover of story.

Concept: 4/5
Delivery: 5/5
Entertainment: 5/5
= 4.6 out of 5

The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependency #1) by John Scalzi
My rating: 4.3 of 5

As a huge fan of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series I’ve been very much looking forward to this book. I was very keen for him to reaffirm himself in my eyes as one of the best modern sci-fi authors after leaving me a little disappointed with some of his more recent offerings. With this one, to be fair, I think he’s done alright.

Right from the beginning this book is typical Scalzi, which is actually a dumb thing to say as I think about it, because I can’t think of a reason why it could (or should) be anything different. By typical I mean that the story is written with his usual relaxed prose and sarcastic wit which I enjoy. It’s a reasonably short book with the story line moving along at a brisk pace and I always found myself eager to return back to it. The character dialogue great fun but it’s not without sizable, and I think slightly overdone, doses of profanity. That said, I enjoyed chuckling out loud to some of the things said by the characters. There are some colorful personalities in this story and I was impressed by some very strong female players, but a few seem maybe a little too “masculine”, possibly due to their personalities being created and written by a man. Who knows, and with that said, it’s easy to read and it flows really well. I’ve made this comparison before, but I see the similarities of Scalzi’s style to that of Mike Resnick, sometimes tongue-in-cheek and often brusque, but just with a few more uses of the f-word.

As for the setting, I like the universe that the author has built in terms of it’s finer details such as the physics and technology, but I find the interdependent nature Scalzi’s interstellar society to be a tad nonsensical. I can accept the idea behind it, that is to minimize the potential for war and also as a means of control, but I find it hard to believe that humanity would let itself become fully reliant on a mysterious and tenuous system of inter-dimensional portals and corridors (The Flow) which link together the various human inhabited star systems. It means that no single planet or orbital habitat could survive for long on their own because each requires so much from the others. The system of governance is interesting, with noble families and trade guilds controlling monopolies over various industries and commodities with a senior “royal” family to oversee and control the whole lot, similar in many ways to Frank Herbert’s ideas in his immensely popular Dune universe. I enjoyed discovering the complex layers here along with the various egos and agendas contained therein. Overall the world building is good and interesting enough without being mind-blowing.

In the story, the link to Earth has disappeared a thousand years prior due to a Flow stream collapse and it’s another impeding change which is the basic theme of the book. Only a few people know or suspect that another change is due, and the story follows the posturing and politicking of various factions (the aforementioned nobles and guilds) to try and take maximum advantage of the upheaval. There is more than enough action to keep me happy and it’s good action at that. By this I mean that the action sequences are described swiftly in expressive detail which makes them easy to picture in the mind’s eye without being overdone simply for the sake of it. I reckon that this use of action is one of Scalzi’s strengths as an author and his balance of action vs. dialogue in this book is probably it’s best feature. It’s far better than that of his last couple of books, and I know that I digress slightly here, but the political plots and discourse in these was yawn-inducing, sometimes even verging on nauseating and I was initially fearful that this book would be similar. Well, I’m pleased to report that it’s not. Sure, it’s got politics and all that stuff as a central element, but it’s toned down and much more appropriate to the overall story.

As a last comment and hopefully not a spoiler for anyone, I admit to being a little disappointed to reach the end of the book without seeing any mention of alien life forms, intelligent or otherwise. But this story is by no means over and who knows what the author has in store for us in the coming installments. I really hope it does involve aliens because Scalzi does excellent aliens as shown in much of earlier work.

In summary, this is good space opera science fiction and a wonderfully smooth reading experience. It looks like a fine introduction to what will hopefully be another great series from John Scalzi.

Concept: 4/5
Delivery: 5/5
Entertainment: 4/5
= 4.3 out of 5

BOOK REVIEW: A Second Chance at Eden by Peter F. Hamilton

A Second Chance at Eden by Peter F. Hamilton
My rating: 4.5 of 5
A truly superb collection of shorter works from an equally superb author. This is one of those books which took me a long time to getting round to reading. It’s been literally sitting on my bookshelf alongside my other Peter F Hamilton volumes for a couple of years. Each story adds a little extra to the awesome spectacle that is the Night’s Dawn trilogy, whether it’s to further explain a particular facet of the Confederation universe, or to give background to a certain plot element. I was forced by circumstance to read this compilation in a rather start-stop fashion, but this proved to be no problem due to the quality of the stories, and I was always eager to get back to it. Any fan of Hamilton and/or the Confederation universe will totally adore this, and I reckon it could be read with no problem at all by a reader with no previous experience of the series or the author. The Confederation universe is a masterful science fiction creation that should go down in sci-fi literary history as one of the best and this collection is integral and wonderfully complimentary to it. I hugely recommend it.

Following are my thoughts and rating for each story…

Sonnie’s Edge:
I didn’t think that I’d enjoy this one as much as I did, it’s exactly what I like which is a simple and engaging story. It’s about a genetically-spliced girl involved in the gruesome blood sport of “beastie-baiting”, fighting soulless biologically engineered creatures in front of baying crowds. It introduces and describes the biological technology (bitek) and “affinity” bonds that play a huge part in the Confederation Universe and Night’s Dawn trilogy stories. It’s a tad brutal, for sure, but fun and interesting with a cool ending. [4/5]

A Second Chance At Eden:
The main novella length story in this collection is classic PFH, a whodunnit murder mystery told in the first person from the perspective of a policeman/security chief who has just arrived at the awe-inspiring 10km long living space habitat Eden which orbits Jupiter. This habitat, as well as couple of others being developed nearby, has been seeded and grown from a special type of bitek polyp analogous to coral, and is essentially a huge living organism. Eden is home to a burgeoning society of industrial and philosophical idealists who are relishing life away from Earth’s restrictions and prejudices. Eden can be communicated with via “affinity” bonds, and affinity is introduced in some detail in this story. As the story progresses we see how this is central to what will eventually become the “Edenist” society of the Confederation Universe novels. Throughout the story, there are subtle and not so subtle attacks on current established religious thought and practice which are also present in the Night’s Dawn novels, and make me wonder about PFH’s motivations in this regard. Does he have a particular dislike for religion, with an axe to grind with religious institutions, Christianity in particular? Whatever the case, this does add depth to the story which is as much about philosophical ideas as it is about technological and biological advances. The story itself is an easy read and kept me interested the whole way through, because of both the great story line and also the world building aspect of the bitek habitats and Edenist society. It’s a crucial read for fans of the Confederation Universe. [5/5]

New Days Old Times:
There’s a definite darkness that hovers over the events of the Confederation universe stories, and this shows this with a tale that will sound all too familiar to most. It shows that human self-imposed boundaries and prejudices have no barrier in the vastness of space. Set on the planet Nyvan, seventeen light-years from Earth which is part of a rapidly expanding human expansion outward to numerous colony planets. While most of these colonies were begun with noble intentions, it appears that those prejudices eventually rise to the surface. Again, this story pokes an accusing finger at faith institutions and spiritual belief which is a hallmark of this collection and the Night’s Dawn series as a whole. A sobering short story that introduces us to another facet of the Confederation universe along with more information in a world-building sense that I enjoyed in one sitting. [4/5]

Candy Buds:
I had a little trouble getting my head around this one at times, but it’s a fine enough story and easy to get into. I needed to re-read portions to fully grasp the twist at the end. If I had any advice for someone who is about to read this story, that would be to pay extra close attention to the details or you may miss things as I did. Again, there are some really cool depictions of affinity bonds and also of Confederation colony world society. Not a favorite of mine, it lacked the “bigness” that I like in scifi but it’s typically well written and the plot good enough to keep me on the hook. [3/5]

Very good and very engaging story in which we closely follow a man on a quest driven by emotion to slay an unusual alien creature with which he appears to share a sort of connection. It’s set on a world which has not quite lived up to expectations for the man, and this adds to his disillusionment and fanatical devotion to his goal. A story that moves along at a good rate, and has a very intense ending. [4/5]

The Lives and Loves of Tiarella Rosa:
One of my definite favorites of this collection, which I’m actually surprised about, but most of the sci-fi boxes are ticked for me somewhere along the way in this story. Essentially a tale of a man on the run from his former employers, who arrives on a planet to hide and ends up living with the unusual woman Tiarella and her daughter on an idyllic island. The story that follows is an interesting one, in that things are being manipulated toward certain ends. There’s plenty of bitek and affinity stuff in these pages and it’s a very good expose of a typical Confederation society, which makes it a great part of this collection. [5/5]

Escape Route:
An excellent story, again ticking most of the sci-fi boxes. The Lady Macbeth and her crew are central elements of the Night’s Dawn trilogy and here we’re introduced to them in a great yarn. Her captain and crew are hired to head out to a remote system to recover minerals from a debris field, but all is not as it seems (as you’d expect). While prospecting, they discover a derelict alien vessel which turns out to be ancient, and inside is some interesting technology. This changes the stakes entirely. The story also gives us a possible clue to the background of the Sleeping God (readers of the trilogy will know about this) and the methods employed in the epic conclusion of the Night’s Dawn trilogy. A well-paced story that was for me the the easiest read of this collection, the balance of character, plot and action is spot on for my tastes. [5/5]

BOOK REVIEW: Forsaken Skies (The Silence #1) by D. Nolan Clark

Forsaken Skies (The Silence #1) by D. Nolan Clark
My Rating: 4.7 out of 5
From the first moment I saw it, this book grabbed a hold of my attention. This is the first part of a series (three books announced so far) called The Silence and I’d classify it as space opera with a definite military sci-fi vibe and a good dose of hard sci-fi. I think it’s a very well-balanced mix that many fans of these genres will enjoy. It’s quite long but is wonderfully easy to read and the story kept me engaged easily, not exactly on the edge of the seat, but firmly locked in nonetheless.

Set hundreds of years in the future, humankind has spread far and wide using a vast network of wormholes to cover huge distances, many light years at a time. The vastness of space is controlled and funded by huge corporations who exploit the resources of the planets and asteroids. There’s been lots of conflict between their private armies as well as against the governing military forces who tend to side with whoever they think is the best political choice. The remote colony planet Niraya has a small population of mostly religious idealists and prospectors and is attacked by mysterious aliens. The company who owns and controls it decides it would be too expensive to defend and decides to cut it’s losses and abandons it. A pair of religious zealots from Niraya make their way to a central space station in an attempt to contract the services of the military to fight the invaders. Through an exciting series of events, Commander Aleister Lanoe, an ageing but highly decorated Navy fighter pilot, hears about the Nirayan situation and chooses to help. He puts together a rather ragtag team of former Navy squad mates and associates to fight the alien invasion. What follows is a fine adventure.

The author (well-known horror author David Wellington using a pseudonym) says: “Ever since I saw Star Wars as a child…why I wanted to write in the first place…my whole life and career was leading me to write this book” (see interview HERE). Well, he’s done a bloody good job of it, I must say. You can sense the Star Wars influence in there, from the vastness of galactic society to the full-on space war. Just on that, I did find some the big main battle a little bit long and began to tire of it before it’s conclusion. However, I often say that so I guess big battles are just not my thing, but if they’re yours then you’re probably going to love the shooting and explosions in this. There’s lots of them.

The character depth is great by my standards, not too much but still enough to be able to make a firm decision whether you like them or not, each character having at least one unique quality about them that you will either love or dislike. I found myself liking most of them and able to identify with all of them to some degree. There are some slight romantic interests between a few of the characters, but these aren’t dominant yet play an important part in events. Once again, a good balance for a reader like me.

The world building is top notch, I enjoyed hugely the descriptions of the planets, moons, vehicles and space stations along with the wormholes that link them all together. A particular favorite of mine is the Navy headquarters planet with it’s Saturn-like rings which are actually artificial, formed of countless stations, habitats and orbitals. Awesome stuff, tickling my sense of awe that is one of the major keys to good science fiction for me. The eventual reveal of the alien invaders which comes late in the book is fascinating and hints at some real interesting things in book two Forgotten Worlds.

Overall it’s a wonderfully satisfying book, a great action story and setup for what I hope is an equally satisfying series. I’m glad the author decided to try his hand at producing science fiction because he’s very good at it.

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

21 January 2018

BOOK REVIEW: The Telemass Quartet by Eric Brown

The Telemass Quartet by Eric Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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 fun 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. There is a nice momentum to the larger storyline 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 of 5 stars

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

View all my reviews