Category Archives: Reviews

Before the Storm – Review

Title: Before the Storm
Author: Sean McMullen

Publisher: Ford Street Publishing
Edition: Kindle
Pages: 262
Originally published: 2007

Genre: Science fiction, Time travel
The dice landed on: 5
Did I finish?: Yes.
Do I like the cover?: It’s OK

Fox and BC travel through time from the distant future to 1901. Elite cadets in the Imperial Army, they are young, handsome, well-mannered … and now, mutineers. They have journeyed into the past to save the opening ceremony of Australia s first parliament from being bombed. If the cadets fail, thousands will die, sparking a century of total war. However, to change the destiny of the world, the young warriors will need the help of three ordinary teenagers …

Well, this was fun!

The three ordinary teenagers are: Emily, bright, very proper, and quite bossy. Daniel, her younger brother, bossed by his sister and very easily distracted by both real girls and those in “French postcards”…..sold by Barry the Bag, street-wise, enterprising and Daniel’s good friend. Meeting Fox, and the injured BC, changes their lives in many ways. They must all do things they’ve never done before, and Emily must challenge all the restraints on a girl from a proper family in 1901. The soldiers from the future also turn out to have some unexpected sides to their personalities.

Even though the situation they all find themselves in is quite serious, this is a fun book. I love the way you get to know what goes on in Emily’s and David’s heads, and sometimes the things going on in there are very funny. Barry the Bag is also a very entertaining figure, and turns out to be much more important to the outcome than one might expect.

So, if you want an easily read book with great characters, funny dialogue, and some unexpected twists…. This is it.

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Embassytown – Review

Title: Embassytown
Author: China Miéville

Publisher: Del Rey
Edition: Kindle
Pages: 369
Originally published: 2011

Genre: Science fiction
The dice landed on: 5
Did I finish?: Yes.
Do I like the cover?: I’m not wild about any of the ones I’ve seen online.

Short summary:

In the far future, humans have colonized a distant planet, home to the enigmatic Ariekei, sentient beings famed for a language unique in the universe, one that only a few altered human ambassadors can speak. Avice Benner Cho, a human colonist, has returned to Embassytown after years of deep-space adventure. She cannot speak the Ariekei tongue, but she is an indelible part of it, having long ago been made a figure of speech, a living simile in their language. When distant political machinations deliver a new ambassador to Arieka, the fragile equilibrium between humans and aliens is violently upset. Catastrophe looms, and Avice is torn between competing loyalties: to a husband she no longer loves, to a system she no longer trusts, and to her place in a language she cannot speak—but which speaks through her, whether she likes it or not.

This was a really interesting book. For me, good science fiction has always been books that grapples with ideas that challenge my mind, and Embassytown is not for people who don’t want to be challenged. Neither is it for people who don’t want to face new words and familiar words used in unfamiliar ways.

The Ariekei and humanity not only speaks different languages, but their whole thinking process is different. So, while the Ariekei cannot lie in their own language, but desperately wants to learn, the human ambassadors that speak Language can both speak truth and lies in it. China Miéville is exploring how language shapes societies, and what happens when the language stops being useful, and maybe even becomes harmful, the way it is. On Arieka this happens suddenly and with dire consequences.

The reason I’m not giving Embassytown full marks is that there’s a few characters in it that I’d have liked to know better. They are central enough to what’s going on for me to want to know a little more about their motivations. But this is only a small reservation. Embassytown is a seriously good novel of ideas with a bit of planetary romance thrown in. And I really, really like the ending.

Surface Detail – Review

Title: Surface Detail
Author: Iain M. Banks

Publisher: Orbit
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 627
Originally published: 2010

Genre: Science Fiction
The dice landed on: 5
Did I finish?: Yes.
Do I like the cover?: It’s OK.

Short summary: Some societies have hells while others are very much against keeping those kinds of afterlives. To settle the matter a virtual war has been going on for a long time. But now, one side is loosing, and the war is moving into the Real.

The short summary isn’t even close to describing all the things that goes on in this novel. The war of the hells are the framework, but in it we have the academics who’s entered a hell intending to get back out again and testify about it, the young woman who is murdered by her owner/rapist only to come back to life on a Culture ship far away, the soldier in the virtual war who keeps getting killed, the Culture agent, the evil businessman, the sweet looking and scheeming against everyone aliens, and a bunch of Culture ships with vastly different personalities.

This book has a wide scope, from galaxy wide politics to individual misery. As all Culture books I’ve ever read this one too is wildly complicated with lots of characters, both pan-human, alien and ship AIs. So, it requires a bit of concentration to keep them all straight in your head. But, if you manage to do that this is both a very entertaining and thought provoking read. The need some cultures have to maintain hellish afterlifes (yes, they are virtual) as treats for their citizens, are of course abhorrent to the Culture, and to most of us I should think. I certainly find their reasons awful and is firmly on the anti-hell side.

I think it’s an advantage to have read several other Culture books, as I would probably find the universe a lot harder to grasp if I wasn’t already familiar with it.  But I really enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to anyone already familiar with and enjoying the Culture or anyone who likes science fiction with big ideas, complicated stories and the odd space battle. At times it’s also a very funny book.

If you want to familiarize yourself with the Culture I would recommend starting with Consider Phlebas, that’s were I started.

Blood Red Road – Review

Title: Blood Red Road
Author: Moira Young

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Edition: Kindle
Pages: 464
Originally published: 2011

Genre: Dystopia
The dice landed on: 4
Did I finish?: Yes.
Do I like the cover?: It’s OK

Short summary: Saba’s brother Lugh gets kidnapped and Saga, followed by their younger sister, sets out to rescue him.

Saba is an interesting heroine. Brave, strong, short tempered, unfair, infuriating, afraid and crazy determined. Saba and several other people in this book are worth getting to know. The villains are also rather interesting and really, really bad. Jack, the young man Saba meets on her journey, is someone I hope we get to know better as the series move along.

It took a little time getting used to the language in this book. The spelling of some words are changed to make it plausible that Saba is telling the story. There’s also a lot of dialog, but no quotation marks, something that took a little while to get used to. As soon as I got used to it I liked it. It fit the way an uneducated young woman might write.

So, I liked this book, but not as much as I wanted to. Frankly, it reminded me too much of The Hunger Games. The world isn’t the same, but it had some similarities. So does our young heroines. And The Huger Games are better. But, Blood Red Road is the first in a series, and the series might grow to be very good, and a lot different from The Hunger Games, as it goes along.

So, it’s an exciting read. It’s certainly not even close to being bad, and it might be the beginning of an excellent series. We’ll see.

Pastworld – Review

Title: Pastworld
Author: Ian Beck

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 355
First published: 2009

Genre: Science fiction
The dice landed on: 5
Did I finish?: Yes.
Do I like the cover?: Yes.

Short summary: In 2048 London has been transformed into a recreation of itself in the Victorian era. But it’s not all fun and games, a murderer is loose in the theme park. For Eve it’s all real, she doesn’t even know she’s living in a theme park, but she knows that her guardian is afraid for her. When Eve runs away from home a whole chain of dramatic events are set in motion.

I like the setting, a victorian London almost restored to it’s authentic past. The victorian London is so authentic that visitors (gawkers) aren’t allowed to bring anything modern with them and victorian law also apply. While most people living in Pastworld know what it is Eve doesn’t. I also like Eve, the two other young protagonists and the Jack the Ripper idea.

This story is very unpredictable. With many books I can guess what’s going to happen fairly soon, but this one kept me guessing all the way.

My only big complaint is that it’s too short. I wish the story was fleshed out more. I needed more time to get to know both the characters and victorian London.

So far it’s a standalone novel, but the author doesn’t rule out a sequel. I’d like a sequel.

The Floating Islands – Review

The Floating Islands by Rachel NeumeierTitle: The Floating Islands
Author: Rachel Neumeier

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 388
Originally published: 2011

Genre: Fantasy
The dice landed on:
4
Did I finish?: Yes.
Do I like the cover?: Yes, a lot.

Short summary: Newly orphaned Trei arrives at The Floating Islands and moves in with his mother’s family just before a plague breaks out. His cousin Araenè discovers new powers and they both have an important part to play when the islands get attacked by Trei’s father’s homeland Tolounn. Trei flying his kajuhari wings and Araené using her newly discovered mage powers.

I must confess that the main reason that I picked up The Floating Island is the cover. I love it and want it on a poster!

I quite liked the book itself too. It has a fantasy story with quite a few surprising elements while still keeping to a fairly well known fantasy formula. I like that the book touches on many moral issues without making anyone an out and out villain.

The Floating Islands seems like a nice society, but keeps it’s women from any sort of public life. I woman’s job is to get married and produce children. Tolounn has more equality, but is hell-bent on conquering all of its neighbouring countries. None of them are perfect and none of them all good.

The story has two storylines, one for each of the cousins. This way the reader get closer to the action as the cousins quite often find themselves in separate places. You also learn more about them and their motivations. Loyalty is an issue for Trei, he is half tolounnese and half islander and has to decide where his loyalty truly lies. Araené doesn’t want a traditional island woman’s life. Ideally she’d like to be a chef, something that is impossible. However, magic and the mage school came her way, so she pretends to be a boy to be able to stay in school.

There are also some rather nifty dragons, some really cool mages and a nice sky-mad prince.

So, why only a 4?

Despite the great setting of the story and an interesting storyline with good characters I’m a bit disappointed. I find the writing ok, but not more than that, and I never feel that I get to know many of the other characters as well as I’d like. I wish the book was longer so the building up part could have lasted longer, it’s all a bit abrupt. The book also has many of the markings of being number one in a series, without there being any hint of a book number two being on the way. There are too many loose ends floating around. I might be happier with it if a book number two is published.

All in all I think it’s a good YA book, but not outstanding. It doesn’t soar like the islands, the kajuhari and the dragons it contains.

But I still love the cover, nothing’s going to change that.

The Sense of an Ending – Review

Title: The Sense of an EndingThe Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Author: Julian Barnes

Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 150
Originally published: 2011

Genre: Mainstream
The dice landed on:
5
Did I finish?: Yes.
Do I like the cover?: Not really.

One-sentence summary: Tony gets an unexpected inheritance that makes him seek out people from his past to figure out what really happened.

This fall I decided to read at least one of the books shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2011. I started with The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes because it seemed to be many people’s favorite, and it ended up winning.

Tony Webster is in his sixties, is still friends with his ex-wife, has a daughter and grandchildren and has led what seems to be an ordinary life. He recalls his youth with a certain nostalgia, like many tend to do when they get older. But he also mistrusts his memories, what does he remember and what has he been told or imagined from what he knew of a situation.

Then Tony is informed that he has received an inheritance from the mother of his one time girlfriend, a woman he met while visiting his girlfriends family for one short weekend a long time ago. Part of the inheritance is the diary of one of his long dead friend, but the diary is held on to by the woman’s daughter, Tony’s one time girlfriend. Tony quickly gets rather obsessed with getting his hands on the diary, and trying to figure out what really happned all those years ago.

Tony is an interesting character as he explores his memories and starts an infinitely polite, pedantic and relentless campaign to aquire the diary.

I expected this to be a very well written book as it won one of the most famous literary prizes in the world and I hoped it would also have a readable and entertaining story, with a major prizewinner the first is almost always true but the second isn’s by any means guaranteed. The Sense of an Ending has both, great language and a good story with unexpected twists.

Still, it left me a little bit wanting. I would have liked to understand a little bit more of some of the other characters and the things they do. Of course, this is Tony’s story and he seems to understand why some of the people acted the way they did and seems satisfied with that. I, however, don’t. So, I would have liked some explanations for what I consider idiotic acts, and this dissatisfaction is what takes the book down to a 5 for me.

A 5 is still a very good read though and I recommend it to everyone.

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