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

04 October 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Bruce Dickinson: Flashing Metal with Maiden and Flying Solo by Joe Shooman

Bruce Dickinson: Flashing Metal with Maiden and Flying SoloBruce Dickinson: Flashing Metal with Maiden and Flying Solo by Joe Shooman
My rating: 4.7/5

I picked this up intending to read it as a stop-gap before Bruce's autobiography is released in a month or so, and I began it not expecting all that much, to be honest, based on some other reviews which I'd seen. But, it's really quite a good book and has some great insights and critiques of much of the music which Bruce has been involved with over the years. It's quite up to date (published 2016) and tells the story right up to the release of Iron Maiden's awesome
The Book of Souls double album and Bruce's much publicized cancer scare in which he, yet again, demonstrates his grit.

I've always been a very big fan of Bruce Dickinson, from first hearing him belt out Run to the Hills back in 1982 when I was a kid through until now where his unstoppable energy and enthusiasm has taken him to achieve some great things. And there seems to be no stopping him either. I guess that I feel that Bruce and I may be very similar, because his artistic and social sensibilities have always appealed to me. He is also very much involved in aviation which is the industry in which I also ply my trade.

The book itself is quite well written by Joe Shooman, and he weaves the story of Bruce's early life and his introduction to the London rock scene rather well given the sheer pace of events. I found the early history part particularly interesting because of my fascination with the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) era that was so hugely influential to rock music and spawned some of the best rock and metal acts to ever play a not. Many later and now contemporary bands really owe the depth of their sound to these British lads who busted out of the ghastly punk scene and forged something quite incredible.

As mentioned, I really liked Shooman's descriptions and critiques of Bruce's solo albums and some of Iron Maiden's albums as well. It all helped because the author reflected a lot of my own opinions of the music and made this a text that I could easily relate to in an academic sense. I was always eager to pick up reading from where I left off and the pace was good and moved along nicely. The chapters are arranged well, and they often end on a bit of a "cliffhanger", but flicking the page enables you to pick up again the next time you read quite seamlessly.

Overall this is a good book, not too long yet not lacking in substance or depth of information. A recommended read for anybody interested in Bruce Dickinson or Iron Maiden. I enjoyed reading it a lot.

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

View all my reviews

25 August 2017

BOOK REVIEW: The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter

The Massacre of Mankind: Authorised Sequel to The War of the Worlds by Stephen Baxter
My rating: 2.3 out of 5

This review has a broad overview of the story, so it may contain some minor spoilers.

In this, we have my most anticipated book of 2017, an authorized sequel to a foundation work of science fiction and one that I'd been waiting impatiently for since it was first announced. Within minutes of the ebook file being loaded onto my Kindle I was into it with great gusto, but after a few chapters my level of enthusiasm had plummeted dramatically. I will say from the get-go that this book seems very well crafted in a technical sense, but Baxter's presentation makes me fearful that he may have made it largely inaccessible to a modern audience. Hopefully during the course of this review we can get to the bottom of why I feel this way.

The story idea is a great one, of course, in that the Martians invaders from the 1898 original novel The War of the Worlds come back to Earth to have another crack. This story begins in 1920 and is effectively an alternate history story with a sci-fi base. The book is stocked with plenty of characters from the original novel and the narrator of this book, Julie Elphinstone, is one of these.

The writer of The War of the Worlds, referred to within this book as "The Narrative", is named as a certain Walter Jenkins and it is his continuing obsession with the Martians and his predictions of their actions which drives this story forward. He commissions Julie to carry out a task for him to try to regain some control in the situation with the invaders. The military hijack her mission and Julie is thrust headlong toward the Martian stronghold.

Much has changed in Britain and Europe after what after the events of the first Martian War, World War One has been fought but the outcome and resulting political landscape are very different. Britain is ruled by a corrupt military government in cahoots with Germany, who now control most of Europe. Some technology has been gleaned from the remnants of the Martians and this has been pressed into service in the form of mechanized weapons and there is a whole industry trying to harness the power of the atom.

Along the way much is revealed of the Martian plans for their mission here on Earth. Also revealed are some other extraterrestrial species and these play various roles in the story. I must admit that this is an enjoyable element to the story that I didn't expect. Also enjoyable is the cool post-steampunk feel in places, like huge Zeppelins and massive armored land-ships. The Martians eventually land on other parts of our planet as well and expand their assault. For much of the book the story jumps between Julie's first-person account and various other third-person accounts from these other places.

The pace does pick up noticeably in the second half which is just as well because the first half is (I thought) annoyingly slow. Coupled with this, Baxter uses a language style which would be appropriate if it were written during the period in which is is set, but there is a large amount of time spent with needless descriptions of the scenes and the things in them. Maybe the author felt this old-school stuff necessary in order to achieve the desired period feel but it makes it really drag and I soon found it quite a chore to read. I can see a lot of people giving up on this part way through, which I nearly did a couple of times.

What kept me going was my desire to finish it, to see what happens at the end. Most of all, I really wanted to write a glowing review of this massively anticipated novel but, sadly, that isn't to be. If I'm really honest with you, I should've given up because I don't think that the conclusion of the story offered anything all that rewarding. It was okay in a thematic sense, but it wound down rather anticlimactically and left me feeling quite flat. The way is left open for continuation, there being a number of loose ends left dangling but, if there is, I don't think I will be leaping up to read it, not if it's anything like this book.

I'm certain that Mr. Baxter put a lot of hard work into this book but I don't think that he or the publisher got this one right at all. That is only my opinion, of course, but it's not often that I feel as disappointed with a book as I have with this one.

4/5 for concept
1/5 for delivery
2/5 for entertainment
= 2.3 out of 5

24 July 2017

BOOK REVIEW: We Are Legion (We Are Bob) [Bobiverse #1] by Dennis E. Taylor

My rating: 4.6 out of 5

This is a fun read, a hard sci-fi story with a solid chunk of humor and cynicism that is a supremely enjoyable read. The writing style is excellent, flowing well and it works great within the realm of this story which is a multiple first-person account of self-replicating probes multiplying and exploring the galaxy. The style is similar to many other contemporary science fiction authors and it particularly reminded me of John Scalzi, a good thing because he is one of my favorite modern authors. Scalzi’s sarcastic wit is something to behold and Dennis E. Taylor seems to be cut from the same cloth in the story-telling sense anyway. I certainly encourage any Scalzi fan to give this a try.

I liked the central character Bob right from the outset, so when he becomes the essence of the artificial intelligence which controls an interstellar exploration probe I was more than happy to go along for the ride. The landscape of Earth, both geological and political, has changed dramatically over the hundred or so years between Bob’s death and his resurrection in a computer memory core, irreparably so and humanity is strongly motivated to find other options for survival. A number of groups and factions have the same idea of exploring space so Bob has his work cut out just to survive out in space let alone discover any inhabitable planets for humanity to relocate to.

As he goes, Bob is able to replicate himself to create additional probes as well as other more interesting hardware to aid his mission. It’s cool to see each new version of Bob take on it’s own personality, retaining much of their humanity along the way. I’ve not read anything to date that explores this post-physical existence in such a straight-forward and entertaining way. I know this is a reasonably common trope in science fiction, one that is very thought-provoking in the philosophical sense, but the way this book explores the idea is refreshing. It really is very nicely done. Also, there are plentiful references throughout to classic science fiction books and movies which will delight fans of the genre.

Out among the stars, our explorers discover lots of interesting things while searching for key resources which they require to resource their missions. Life is soon discovered and this is where the real highlight of the story is for me. Think Chariots of the Gods and ancient astronauts and you’ll get the basic idea of what goes on. To say much more will possibly introduce spoilers to this review, but I will say that the human-derived artificial intelligence becomes quite involved with a native species, exerting quite a bit of influence. Another nicely executed aspect.

Back at Earth, things are underway to try and get the remains of humanity and other species safely on their way to new homes. But, as one can expect, the human race continually exhibits their less desirable traits and the AI’s have their work cut out just to get people to agree on a plan. This brings me to another of the themes of the book (and a particular favorite of mine given my often general dislike of my own species) which is a commentary of humanity and those things that most intelligent people would agree that we must move beyond to achieve more of our potential. The book is full of cynical references to such things that any free thinker will probably relate to.

Overall, this is a well thought out and presented hard sci-fi story that I reckon any fan of such stuff will appreciate. It’s part of an ongoing series (three books at present) that has been very well received by readers and, after reading this, it’s easy to see why.

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

23 July 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Blood of the Cosmos (Saga of the Shadows #2) by Kevin J Anderson

My rating: 4.3 out of 5

Another great installment of this exciting space opera trilogy from one of the genre’s finest exponents. It continues the series immediately from where The Dark Between the Stars (my review HERE) left off, and gives further truck-loads of the same fast-paced action and bigness which are hallmarks of Anderson’s epic stories.

Like the previous books, for a kick off we’re given a decent story recap which is a great feature of the series, one of the key things which make these books so readable. You can come back into it after some time away and quickly pick up the story again, brought back up to speed with key events and plot elements that jog the memory sufficiently to enthusiastically get right back onto the roller coaster. That’s exactly what this series is, a fast-paced action science-fantasy space opera with most of the tropes that make this type of thing so appealing. It’s fantastic science fiction, full of the sense of wonder that the genre is famous for and there are so many things to help you get lost in it.

All of the familiar players return and many of them begin to take on larger roles in the story, which evolves at a breathtaking rate. We learn more about the dark and insane Shana Rei and their diabolical plan for the universe, aided still by the murderous Klikiss robots who are now seeing things for what they really are. The enigmatic Bloaters, the strange organic nodules found in deep space and abundant source of ekti-x stardrive fuel, remain an anomaly for the moment. A few more subtle clues are offered about their essence and I’m very eager to learn what these are all about. I’m anticipating something big from them. The background to many of the characters continues to be fleshed out, recounting much of what was presented in the Saga of Seven Suns which will further help readers who haven’t read that earlier series. The action is practically non-stop and I was always eager to return to the book after having put it down, always treated to something pretty good whenever I did. The world building is nothing short of spectacular.

The large science-fantasy elements to this story are superb; the magical realm of the Worldforest on Theroc with the trees’ instantaneous communications across the universe, facilitated by the fascinating green priests, the inter-dimensional and matter-manipulating abilities of the Shana Rei and the mind-bending Faeros who, along with the Hydrogues, are again going to play pivotal roles in the story. The Onthos aliens, who made their grand entrance at the end of book one, once tenders of another ancient worldforest, are sheltering on Theroc and take on a new more sinister role. Big things are going to happen with the worldforest and the green priests in book three.

As you can see, there really is so much going on in this story and I’m assuming that any reader of this would have at least read The Dark Between the Stars and maybe even the Saga of Seven Suns. If so they’ll know exactly what to expect. The large scale of the story makes this a superb escapism read and I usually found myself reluctant to “snap out of it” after a session in the pages. Huge marks for pure entertainment that’s for sure.

It’s looking like it’s going to be one hell of a climactic conclusion to the trilogy because the story is still building. I’m preparing myself for quite a ride in book three Eternity’s Mind. I highly recommend this book and series to lovers of space action and adventure. Sure, there are more “intellectual” space opera works out there, but for pure entertainment (which is exactly what this is intended to be) it cannot be beaten.

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

22 July 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Gift From The Stars by James Gunn

Gift From The Stars by James Gunn
My rating: 3.3 out of 5

Yeah, this was okay, actually quite a cool take on the alien first contact scenario where technical plans for some alien technology are discovered within an obscure UFO book. Some enlightened folk see these plans for what they really are and set about finding out the source of said plans and implementing them.

Each phase of the story is told in six novella length parts which were originally published individually. This is a format that I like and thought that it works well for this story which takes place over a number of years. The story itself is an easy read, especially the first few parts, but later parts are a little more involved and require more brain involvement by the reader. Especially when our space travelers enter some sort of inter-dimensional wormhole thing where time and space work a little differently. I thought that bit was great.

Book geeks will appreciate one character’s frequent references to well-known books and movies throughout the story. It kind of reminded me of…well…me, because I’m told that I often do this exact same thing a number of times during the course of the day.

In a nutshell this is an enjoyable but kind of plain hard sci-fi story that flows well and is therefore an effortless read, which is probably to be expected from an author of such caliber. It’s on the shorter end of the scale so I’d recommend it as a gap filler read in between bigger projects.

3/5 for concept
4/5 for delivery
3/5 for entertainment
= 3.3 out of 5

25 June 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Bluebirds: A Battle of Britain Novel by Melvyn Fickling

My rating: 4.7 out of 5

DISCLAIMER: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I’ll cut straight to the chase and say that this is an excellent novel, no doubt about it. While not a new idea it’s a solid World War Two yarn full of the things that make fact-based war stories so fascinating to someone like me who has not had the misfortune of being involved in such events. It’s got superb action sequences which fully support the “meticulously researched” claim and it’s an excellent portrayal of the human aspects of war, the highs and lows and the sobering realities of how it affects people and their society.

As a kid I remember being inspired by words from one of Winston Churchill’s stirring speeches:

We shall fight on the seas and oceans.
We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air.
We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.
We shall fight on the beaches.
We shall fight on the landing grounds.
We shall fight in the fields and in the streets.
We shall fight in the hills.
We shall never surrender!

The backdrop to these famous words and this story is England in 1940 when the British people are facing the prospect of Nazi invasion from across the English Channel. I’ve long had an interest in these events and is the main reason that I felt compelled to read it. I’m glad I did.

Central to the story are group of young men and their families who answer the call and step up to face the Nazi menace. They come together as fighter pilots in the Royal Air Force during the hectic and dramatic days of the Battle of Britain. One of these chaps has made his way into RAF service from rural America and in the process becomes a poster boy for the British government as part of their efforts in trying to gain US government help in repelling the advancing Germans. To be fair, he is less than enthusiastic about his propaganda role and wishes to simply do his part in helping the people of Britain to defend themselves. Elsewhere, a pair of friends who are already serving pilots in an RAF fighter squadron watch as everything they have trained for suddenly becomes a reality. They witness early on over the beaches of Dunkirk the might of the Nazi war machine. They are like chalk and cheese in many ways yet share a bond that is forged in battle. Another key character, an unfortunate yet likeable lad raised in an abusive environment and who carries his demons with him right into the cockpit of a Spitfire. The characterization is one of the book’s stand out facets and overall there is a good mix of personalities which are all very real and believable. The author say in his notes that some of the characters are loosely based on real people which obviously lends itself to their authenticity.

The first third or so of the book is a real delight, introducing the main players as youngsters and giving the reader a nice look into how life was during the era, whether it be in rural America during the amazing barnstorming days of the 20’s & 30’s or in a quaint seaside village in England. As time progresses ominously toward World War Two, each of the main characters’ motivations for wanting to serve are well explored and I found myself relating to each one of them in one way or another. The depictions of the pre-war world are excellent, the descriptions of the locations and events are superb and it all combines to really put you right there in the time and place.

The remainder of the book is taken up with parallel wartime stories of the characters and eventually they come together in the latter stages. Their battles are against more than just the Luftwaffe in the skies over England, for each has their own sideline life concerns or issues to contend with and, again, these are real-world and easy to relate to. The air combat sequences are excellent, being energetic and concise and there are lots of them. Actually, these are some of the best air combat scenes that I’ve read in a fictional work. The technical accuracy appears to be spot on too, the author obviously having done quite an amount of research or has some sort of first-hand knowledge. I can say this with a level of confidence due to my own reading of factual memoirs from people on both sides of the conflict such as Douglas Bader, Adolf Galland and Pierre Clostermann. The author must have drawn on similar first-hand accounts while compiling this tale. Top marks for that.

The text flows very well and the character dialog is excellent. There is a modest amount of jargon but there is a glossary at the back of the book which explains the terminology. This was a nice help at times although the text is quite informative and there didn’t seem to be much necessity to refer to it. A tad confusingly, each chapter has a Latin singular word title and I had a little trouble in grasping their significance to the story because had to look up their meanings. I think that an English word would be of more use here, presenting the chapter’s point of emphasis more effectively. This is my only negative thought of the whole book which made it stand out to me all the more.

In summary, the story easily took me back the 70 or so years and is probably one of the best novels of this genre that I’ve read. Sure, it’s a story concept that is well worn territory, yet it’s executed so well that it seemed somehow fresh. The promotional blurb says that this is the first in a series of historical novels, a thought which excites me if they’re going to be anything like this one. It would be cool to see a continuation story from this one, following key characters during their ongoing combat journeys. This is a great book to relax with and be reminded of how much was given and sacrificed, and that “never was so much owed by so many to so few”. A highly recommended read.

Concept: 4/5
Delivery: 5/5
Entertainment: 5/5
= 4.7 out of 5

17 June 2017

BOOK REVIEW: The Dark Between the Stars (Saga of the Shadows #1) by Kevin J. Anderson

My rating: 4.3 out of 5

When I saw this published I knew straight away that I’d need to read it having immensely enjoyed Anderson’s Saga of Seven Suns series a few years ago. This book is effectively a continuation of that series after a number of years have elapsed, and the first of a new trilogy of space opera novels called the The Saga of Shadows. Kevin J Anderson has a writing style that I love, his stories flow beautifully and this is no different – unsurprisingly.

seven-sunsIt’s nice to be immersed again in this universe, and for me particularly nice to go back to the forest world of Theroc, home of the sentient Worldforest and the green priests who are able to use worldtrees for instantaneous communication over seemingly infinite distances. I absolutely love Theroc and ever since first reading about it, has been one of my favorite fictional sci-fi locations. This planet is now the hub of human government in the Spiral Arm, after Earth and it’s moon have been badly damaged, and there is still a slightly uneasy alliance with the Ildirans. The Roamers, a loose confederation of independent humans, are still scattered about the place in often the most unusual places and the various splinter colonies of humans and Ildirans coexist together, but everyone is still recovering from the Elemental War from the earlier series. The various elemental beings from before are present in the story in varying degrees, some dormant and some quite visible and active. Also present as a major character is Rlinda Kett, my favorite from the last series, now a big-scale (in more ways than one) business woman with a large fleet of interstellar transport ships.

Essentially, it felt like coming home to a universe that I really enjoy being immersed in. Having said that, I don’t believe that a reader new to Anderson’s Seven Suns universe will be lost here, because he adds plenty of background information snippets to fill any storyline gaps that pop up occasionally. Over the first half of the book the story cruises along nicely, with the foundation being laid for what is surely going to be another epic tale. After that, things really bolt ahead and we get a glimpse at the direction that the series is going to take. Just as a major new turn takes place and we’re introduced to a new and ancient species in the galaxy, the book ends and leaves us hanging and happily waiting for the next book.

Yes, I enjoyed it a lot and I think that most fans of space opera will as well. It lacks a little of the depth of some other space opera epics, however, it’s a massively fun story and a very well written tale that kept me hooked at every point.

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

12 June 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Binary/System by Eric Brown

My rating: 4 out of 5

DISCLAIMER: Review copy from NetGalley.

If I imagine a 2017 version of a sci-fi magazine in the vein of golden-era publications such as Amazing Stories or If, then it would contain stories something like this one. I’ve referred to this pulp-fiction feel before in reviews of Brown’s work, and it’s a style that I find myself liking a lot. This is because there’s a big focus on the yarn for the sake of entertainment without too many words spent on character depth or excessive world-building. Much of Brown’s other work shows his prowess in those areas, but this one is about straight entertainment, pure and simple. It’s almost like Brown pours himself a stiff measure of his favorite liquor then sits down to write stories in his casual style that are meant to be fun, writing for his own entertainment as much as ours. This is a key reason why he’s one of my favorite authors and his books usually keep me firmly hooked because they’re so enjoyable. It’s an excellent reminder of why we read this sort of science fiction: it’s fun!

Somewhat confusingly, the first half of this book was released late last year simply titled Binary and now here is the complete novel which includes both that first half as well as a continuation from where it left off. The story follows Delia, a scientist from an ill-fated starship voyage who becomes marooned on an unknown planet in a binary star system over ten thousand light years from Earth. Her consequent adventures begin shortly after making planet-fall. The planet has a harsh and extreme protracted climate cycle and the alien inhabitants are in a continual state of inter-species conflict. She quickly becomes caught up in this conflict and forges friendships which introduce us to some likeable alien characters. These guys are interesting yet simplistic in their nature but this is certainly okay for the type of story which is probably more driven by events than characterization. None of the characters dominate or become a distraction to the overall plot which, again, lends itself nicely to the easy-reading style. The story concludes pleasantly yet leaves space for continuation which is a welcome thought.

The world building is likewise enjoyable, with excellent descriptions of things like alien cities and wondrous creatures featuring at various points in the story. This aspect is, in my view, this novel’s best feature and an aspect that makes this a fantastic escapist’s book. It’s what I think of as a great chill-out read that doesn’t tax your mind so much, yet keeps you involved with that sense of wonder that we all love in our science fiction stories, a facet that Eric Brown customarily does very well.

To be honest, the writing style seemed to me as if it was written with mostly a young adult audience in mind and, had it not been for the liberal use of lesser-known words (I consulted the dictionary multiple times) I would say that it would be most suitable for teenage readers. My nine-year old could probably read and enjoy this aside from the big words, but I suppose that’s a bit rich coming from me given that I needed the dictionary so often…

Overall the book works because of the effective use of some tried-and-true genre tropes blending together into a cohesive whole that makes a delightful read. It is equal parts adventure, drama and wonder, a combination that pulls the story along almost faster than you can keep up and provides a gratifying read. But keep up I did and discovered that Eric Brown has yet again failed to disappoint me with another entertaining story that was a real pleasure. If my descriptions match what you enjoy then I suggest that you’ll be as tickled as me by this uncomplicated and engaging novel. Give it a try.

Concept: 3/5
Delivery: 4/5
Entertainment: 5/5
= 4 out of 5

08 June 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Genesis by W.A. Harbinson

My rating: 4.3 out of 5

This is one of those books which comes along from time to time that I can get totally engrossed in, not wanting to put it down for a second. I’d read some other reviews (most of which were positive) and it sounded fascinating, being an alternate history sort of story founded in both actual events and myth. Add to this the fact that I had a well-used paperback copy sitting idle on my bookshelf and here we are, reviewing another fun book.

The story follows a UFO investigator on his search for the truth about UFO sightings and abductions and there are interesting side stories and flashbacks from key characters. What we end up with is a fast-paced adventure across the globe and across time that builds quite an epic story of global conspiracy.

As I said, I had trouble putting this one down and I attribute this to the intriguing plot that one could almost imagine being factual. I did struggle a little with some of the dialogue at times which seemed a little odd and just there for the sake of it. However, these pieces were minimal and the book generally flows quite well.

This is one of the best alternate history stories that I’ve read, it’s a good yarn that keeps you hanging in there for the next slice of the story. It’s just the right length to be ‘epic’ but not too much as to bore or grow tired of. Overall a very good book that I’ll happily recommend to anyone who likes a meaty tale with lots of intrigue and mystery.

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

28 May 2017

How Will Our Religions Handle the Discovery of Alien Life?


For the religious, knowing that life on Earth is not unique may demand radical new ways of thinking about ourselves: How special and sacred are we? Is Earth a privileged place? Do we have an obligation to care for beings on other planets?  Should we convert ET to “my” religion? These questions point to a deeper issue about whether our religions can adapt to the idea that humans are not the only sentient beings in the universe capable of worshiping God.

Some faiths might unearth new meanings in ancient texts and develop ways of incorporating alien life into their world-views. Other religions that are less flexible in their interpretations of scripture or that claim humans are the only intelligent beings in the universe might struggle to adapt.

Whether we are believers or not, none of us can fully escape the influence of religion in our culture. Religion is one of the oldest parts of our social fabric, and is one way—perhaps the main way—that society will process first contact. Here is a brief list of how some religions think about aliens, whether they will try to proselytize them, and which religions are likely to remain intact in the wake of the potential discovery of alien life.

Read more HERE.

16 May 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Injection Burn (Dire Earth Duology #1) by Jason M. Hough

Injection Burn (Dire Earth Duology #1) by Jason M. Hough
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

DISCLAIMER: Review copy from NetGalley.

Picking up where the Dire Earth Cycle series left off, Injection Burn is a fast-paced sci-fi adventure in which the author never takes his foot off the gas. It’s action from start to finish. It concludes abruptly and leaves the reader poised for the next phase of the adventure.

I’d previously read The Darwin Elevator (which I enjoyed), the first book of Hough’s Dire Earth Cycle, but never got around to reading the other books in the series. I didn’t let that deter me and, after some research, it sounded like I could approach these new books which are set within the same universe and overall story arc as a standalone series. That’s generally true because there are a lot of references to people and events from the Dire Earth Cycle and these are explained in enough detail to get the picture. The story is a continuation of those prior events, with the opening scene of this book set over a thousand years after the close of The Plague Forge (the last book of the Dire Earth Cycle) yet the two timelines merge together rather neatly early on and continue as one thread.

It’s got a definite military vibe (even though it’s not about a military force as such) mixed with some solid space opera elements and as I mentioned earlier is jam-packed with action. There is tons of explosions, combat and lots cool weapons tech, so no complaints there. The writing style is very “visual” by which I mean that it’s very busy with events moving about the place most of the time and the scenes jump around a lot. Sure, the text is descriptive and engrossing and I generally found it easy to see the events in my mind’s eye but I did find myself occasionally stumbling if I lost the picture. Combined with the fact that this book is quite light on dialogue, it was a fast read that I devoured easily over a few days. There, however, are a couple of reasons why I didn’t find this book all that satisfying in a storytelling sense.

Firstly, there isn’t anything significant to impress me, no jaw-dropping moments of revelation or majestic vistas of the cosmos, etc. To be fair, there’s a scene early in the book of an alien planet with some strange creatures which isn’t too bad, and at the end where we get a look at the alien Builder’s besieged homeworld which looks awesome. But overall I was a tad underwhelmed by the world building. Secondly, I didn’t respond with any enthusiasm (positively or negatively) to any of the characters. I think the author has scrimped a little in this department and I found them all a little one-dimensional and shallow. I didn’t even have a favorite, be it a good guy or bad guy. I ended up not really caring who got killed or not because, apart from the central character, nobody seems to be anything more than a simple pawn, relevant in terms of the action yet insignificant within the bigger story. Maybe they will come into their own in the next book. I guess we’ll see. Fixing these areas would make this book really hum and turn it from something just okay into something a lot more satisfying.

As us bookish types sometimes do, I felt a bit lost when the book came to an end. This may sound surprising after what I’ve just said about it, but I really did want to continue and see it develop into something spectacular. Maybe it will in book two Escape Velocity.

I’m fairly sure that anybody who has enjoyed Hough’s earlier books would find this one similarly enjoyable because it’s written well and is certainly easy to read. But for me it lacks a bit of story meat on it’s bones.

Concept: 3/5
Delivery: 4/5
Entertainment: 2/5
= 3 out of 5

14 May 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Waking Gods (Themis Files #2) by Sylvain Neuvel

My rating: 4.7 out of 5
Bloody hell, and I thought that Sleeping Giants (review HERE) was fast-paced! This second book of the Themis Files changes into an even higher gear, the story rocketing along so rapidly that, before I knew it, I was at the end. And with another cliff-hanger for good measure. I read this book, which is slightly longer than the first book, in exactly two sessions. To be fair, I had the excuse of being sick in bed with plenty of time on my hands, but still I didn’t want to put it down and stop the roller coaster ride.

Again, I believe it is Neuvel’s storytelling method that created this reading experience. Just like Sleeping Giants the story continues to be laid out by the presentation chronologically ordered files such as interviews, mission logs and personal journal entries. This form of narrative gives a very intimate view of the action, even closer than a traditional first-person account, allowing you to feel much more “inside” the story. These are the first books that I’ve read that use this format for their entirety, and it has again worked very, very effectively.

To me, just like book one, the story still has a distinct young adult vibe to it, possibly even more so. Apart from the occasional profanity, there’s really nothing that would keep this from being suitable for a younger reader. The characterization seemed a little deeper as well, but possibly this was simply because the majority of the characters are carried over from the first book and they are becoming more familiar. We also learn some background of the mysterious interviewer who seems to be the main driving force behind much of the events, and we get a good look at his human side. We also learn more of the even more inexplicable Mr. Burns who is the main source of information about the alien invaders. But, just as we are given more clues about such matters, the intrigue continues to grow with the discovery of yet more perplexing things. Like I said earlier, we get left with another cliff-hanger and now need to wait until the as yet unannounced third book is published for the ride to continue.

As well as the techno-thriller elements, there is a goodly amount of hard sci-fi to be found in here too, especially of the genetic and biological variety which will please fans of that sort of stuff. The author is obviously quite learned and/or has thoroughly researched these fields because the technical language appears legitimate, not that I’m schooled in these myself. If I’d read that same description myself before opening the book I’d have probably thought that maybe it might be a bit of a yawn in places, but it’s really not, the brief scientific lectures being quite necessary to the plot. One minute you’re being taught about the differences in the sugars of DNA and RNA, the next you’re on a desperate run from an alien weapon. Great stuff to keep you on the edge of your seat and thinking the whole way through.

I’m going to rate this novel exactly the same as the first series installment because it’s a continuation of the same story, told in the same way and with the same level of satisfaction. The third volume of the series Only Human has an expected publication date of May 1st 2018. There will be a few people out there eagerly waiting for this one, of that I'm certain. I recently learned that Hollywood has taken notice because the rights to the series have been purchased by Sony Pictures for a movie adaptation. Awesome! I’ll certainly pay money to see that. It surely will turn out better than another movie with some obvious similarities—Pacific Rim—which is quite possibly the single worst movie I’ve ever seen. It had better be because, in this series, we have one of the most entertaining stories released in the science-fiction genre over the last few years.

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

12 May 2017

BOOK REIVIEW: Sleeping Giants (Themis Files #1) by Sylvain Neuvel

My rating: 4.7 out of 5
This is a fun and interesting book, both in the thematic sense and also in the storytelling style. It’s a relatively short sci-fi techno-thriller with what I think has a slight “youthy” feel, but I see this as a good thing, making it accessible to a wider audience of readers. I’d have loved this as a teenage reader just as much as I did as an “older” one. It’s a book that you could give to many readers because it contains solid tropes from the sci-fi genre as well as the fast action entertainment of a thriller. They all mix together rather nicely into a very entertaining story.

Neuvel dispenses altogether with a traditional narrative by telling the story by a chronological sequence of files which are mostly transcripts of interviews with key characters or news bulletins about events relevant to the story. Central to this is the interviewer, a mysterious nameless person who is leading efforts to recover parts of an ancient artifact which are buried in various parts Earth, a “robot” which is apparently thousands of years old. You’re constantly wondering who this person really is and who he (I think it’s a “he”) works for. How is it that he has access to such limitless resources? And how come he appears to have the ear of high ranking officials like the President? These questions, and others are not really answered as the story unfolds, but since this is a series I assume that things will be revealed in due course. The interviewer’s character is excellent and I enjoyed him a lot. He’s usually cold and manipulative, using anything and everything at his disposal to fulfil his mission yet he also demonstrates some subtle humor at times within his curt and efficient words. Along with the narrative format, this character is the book’s best facet.

The other characters are also good, none of whom I felt any true empathy with, yet they were real enough and appropriate for the story. Their psyches flowed from the pages easily and this demonstrates to me Neuvel’s skill as a writer. To clarify, I’m a reader who often doesn’t feel much connection with characters unless they are particularly relevant to me, yet this lot interested me quite sufficiently. Again, it’s probably the format of the narrative that lends itself to a brutally honest exposé of their personalities. Let’s call this the book’s second best facet.

While the story itself didn’t “blow me away” as such (although I’ve heard rumors that the second book ramps things up a bit) it was a hoot to read because it trots along at a rapid pace in true thriller style. Laid down in chronological order, it is very easy to follow and because Neuvel’s writing flows well, I didn’t need to backtrack to pick up the story after losing the scent, not even once. Yet again, I attribute this to the concise format.

Because it’s a short novel, I found myself reaching the end all too quickly and scrambling to get my hands on book two, helped by the ending itself being a bit of a plot-twisting cliff-hanger. It’s all good stuff and all of the elements combine into a wonderfully entertaining novel that is sure to please any reader who is interested by the synopsis.

In summary, I’d certainly have to agree with the vast majority of readers and reviewers in saying that this is a fine new novel from a promising writing talent. I’d be surprised if Hollywood hasn’t already noticed it because it’s got action movie written all over it. I’d also wager that Sylvain Neuvel is probably going to do alright out of this. Well, he deserves it for producing such an entertaining story. I’m now going to hop straight into book two of the series Waking Gods because I’m not ready to pause the story just yet, I’m having too much fun.

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

07 May 2017

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

21 April 2017

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

08 April 2017

BOOK REVIEW: The Kings of Eternity by Eric Brown

My rating: 4.6 out 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

07 April 2017

BOOK REVIEW: The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependency #1) by John Scalzi

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