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Theo "theo_stauffer" (Zurich, Switzerland)

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The Departure (Owner Novel 1)
The Departure (Owner Novel 1)
by Neal Asher
Edition: Hardcover

13 of 27 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Boring, badly written, empty and hysterical rants of violence, 2 Nov. 2011
Like a number of people who have reviewed this book, I have read everything from Neal Asher. I immensely enjoyed Ian Cormac and the Polity, the oversized crabs of the Prador and the immortal captains of the strange and terrifying world of the Skinner. Sniper, the robot used to send me into fits of hysterics with his political incorrectness.

I also enjoyed Cowl, the time traveller novel, with its harsh, immoral and darwinistic story.

However, I've also read Africa Zero, one of Asher's first novels, which was, strangely, very similar to this latest novel of his in that it had an almost superhuman character as the hero and an earth so bad it is almost indescribable that he then almost single handedly saves. Sadly, it's also very similar in having absolutely no redeeming features whatsoever.

The Departure, is a story about an earth in a few hundred years time with a population of some 20 billion people, most of who are poverty stricken rejects of a system that is meant to portray the horror that the European Union will someday become. The system is a dictatorship that makes Hitler's Germany look like paradise and Stalin's bloody reign of terror look like child's play. The hero is a member of this system that ends up on the wrong side of a death order because he's too clever and just too superhuman. He of course, survives and slaughters everyone.

And that is about as much plot as there is in the novel itself. There is no character development, a side plot that plays out on Mars is vastly more interesting than the main story and there is zero humour or depth in the writing. It reminds me all too much of the fifty cent self-published garbage level novels that end up on the Amazon Kindle.

The worst part of the book, however, is probably Asher's very poorly disguised attempt at portraying the European Union as some kind of Nazi monster death machine. Each chapter has a short intro where we get lectured on How It All Got This Bad, where those people who've read Neal Asher's blog will recognise a cranky, Euroskeptic Englishman railing against the Greek natives of the island he lives on and all the other free loaders in the Evil European Socialist Empires.

Frankly it's sad and pathetic. Don't bother with this one.


Ex-Kop
Ex-Kop
by Warren Hammond
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Just as gritty and good as the first one, 2 Nov. 2011
This review is from: Ex-Kop (Mass Market Paperback)
The scenario in this and the preceding novel in the series is a burnt out ex detective on a backward and abused colony planet where being economically cut off from the mainstream of human development has left the people poor, desperate, fatalistic, angry and above all vicious in their quest to survive the daily tribulations of life on a planet that is very much what Venus would be like if it had some water and an earth normal atmosphere. There isn't much high tech in these stories, and what there is, is usually used against the characters by the story's equivalent of modern rich, first-world tourists looking for a bit of dirty fun at the cost of the natives. The story takes a bleak view of human morality, but you can easily imagine such a setting on modern day earth.

Throw in the story's old hack detective and his quest to save an innocent person from being brutally executed and you have one hell of a novel.

In my opinion, Warren Hammond does the SF noir genre better than just about any other writer I've come across. In this and the previous novel, when he describes the heat of the location, you can feel the sweat on your own forehead. When he lets a character die in a pain and suffering (he doesn't take the easy route to a feel good ending in either novel), you can see the blood and scum in your mind's eye.

Be warned though, that this novel is not for the squeamish.

Excellent. 5 Stars for both and I can't wait for the next one.


The Iron Jackal
The Iron Jackal
by Chris Wooding BA
Edition: Paperback

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Action packed, funny as hell and gentle, 2 Nov. 2011
This review is from: The Iron Jackal (Paperback)
I had this book on pre-order from the moment I saw it on Amazon. I've read both his prior novels in the Ketty Jay series and both were simply brilliant. The first one set the tone of the series, presented the characters and went to develop them with fast paced and hysterically funny action sequences forcing me to read the entire book in one sitting. The second one was darker than the first and explained a lot of themes that were left unexplained in the first novel.

This book, however, is probably the best of them all. The character development continues apace as our heroes bumble their way through their various adventures in a race to save the main character's life. But even though there is a lot of shooting, stabbing and cutting and dying, Chris Wooding seems nonetheless to be very fond of his characters and again it comes to an amazingly satisfying finish as the characters reach new heights in their development and relationships.

For action and science fiction fans you will no doubt see the Firefly TV series, Captain Jack Sparrow and the Black Pearl and their crews of characters, and various themes from various novels and movies, including The Mummy II in this novel. Relax, it's all good.

I cannot recommend this book and indeed this series enough. 5 Stars.


Black Man (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
Black Man (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
by Richard Morgan
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sure to upset, but that was probably the point, 13 Feb. 2011
This book is set about 100 years in the future, where the USA have imploded into three separate states; one Pacific facing, high tec and efficient, one liberal, internationalist in the north east and one seemingly sprung from today's Tea Party fundamentalists, with a touch of good ole racist red-neck thrown in for good measure. China is the world's super power and Europe has managed to bumble its way through to keeping the EU in one piece. Mankind has gone through some obviously troubling regional wars, where genetically bred soldiers were used in a failed attempt at supremacy. One of these genetic variants, a "13", is now globally illegal and can only legally live on Mars where there is an international colony involved in terraforming the red planet.

The protagonist, Carl Marsalis is one of these 13s, a mercenary hunting other rogue 13s living on earth. Worn out, he lands in jail in Jesusland, the poorest and most backward but biggest remnant of the old USA but is hauled out to solve a series of murders perpetrated by a rogue 13 who has stolen a spaceship from Mars, casually eating all the inhabitants on the way, and then crashing that craft into the sea near the Pacific Rim, the most modern of the successor states to the USA. Marsalis teams up with an ex-cop, Sevgi Eretkin to solve the murders and the rest of the book winds its way through a particularly gruesome plot and a heartbreaking, but poetic ending.

The novel was written at a time when the US had invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, but when both wars were starting to unravel and when George Bush and his folksy, quasi-religious brand of American conservatism were almost universally reviled across the globe. The 2004 elections in the USA were under way and the polarisation of American society had really started to take off. China's formidable march forward to becoming a global power was already well under way and the cracks in Western society were showing. In my personal opinion, this novel should be read in that context, particularly as Carl Marsalis is literally a black man in all senses of the word, and Jesusland, the religious fundamentalist remnant of the USA is portrayed as being very racist, bigoted and ultra-conservative.

Morgan twists a lot of the plot around the roles that gender and race play in society and the inclusion of a Turkish woman as his partner and her personal family difficulties is an interesting ploy to show that there is more to the Muslim world than extremist fanatics. Indeed, the Muslim world is curiously absent in this novel. It's a pity, in a way, because the novel is very politcal on a certain level and a juxtaposition of the various societies would have been interesting. While, of course, no one knows what will become of the USA in the future, the failing economy, the political polarisation and the rise of China are constants which continue to this day. It would be interesting to see Richard Morgan's take on the current wave of popular revolution sweeping the middle east.

But overall, this is an excellent novel and in my opinion, Richard Morgan deserves a lot of credit for tackling a modern issue via SF in a very straightforward way, something that SF can be very good at if written with that purpose in mind. Technology is thankfully kept in the background in this novel, and is mainly used as a plot framework on which the novel builds.


Surface Detail
Surface Detail
by Iain M. Banks
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Simply brilliant, 31 Oct. 2010
This review is from: Surface Detail (Hardcover)
Iain Banks' Culture novels are almost always good and this one is no exception. That may be because almost all of them mainly portray the edge of the Culture and not its daily life, which would possibly make very boring reading, being as utopian as it is. This one is about a girl from a society who, although technologically fairly sophisticated, follows the practise of indebted slavery, where unpaid debts may lead to a person and their offspring being personal slaves of another person for some generations. The girl is killed in an escape attempt but is revived by a Culture device which had been implanted in her. Her death, revival and quest for revenge are played out upon the backdrop of the the same technology that saved her being used by many civilisations to store the virtual personalities of their dead in virtual heavens and hells and the war that is virtually fought between the latter two virtual entities over the right of the hells to exist.

There are many sub-plots within this book, some of which Banks uses to flesh out his virtual civilisations and one which has a very fine twist right at the end of the book (The reader would have had to have read a previous Culuture novel or do some Googling to spot this, though). If there is one thing that did leave me wishing for more was that these sub-stories would have been fleshed out more at the end, as two of them seem to be missing something which is only partially filled out in an epilogue at the end.

Like some of Banks' later books, this one has what seems to the reader initially a plot to undermine the Culture end with the futility of such endeavours being laughably pointed out to them in a very humiliating way by the Culture's hilariously named fantastic spaceships. For me personally, I always relish the chance to come upon a new spaceship in Bank's novels.

Banks also seems to be trying to fit some of our twenty first century technology into this novel such as virtual worlds, which is something he hasn't done in past novels. The above mentioned virtual heavens and hells do leave one wondering about many of the characters who died in previous novels. He also seems to have used the main character's society as a tool to take a nice swipe at capitalist society in general and make a very pointed comment about religion in particular. I can imagine more conservative or religious readers being offended by this, but I personally found it gratifying.

Iain Banks remains one of my favourite writers, and I can recommend this book to any fan of the Culture.


The Algebraist
The Algebraist
by Iain M. Banks
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wit, Tragedy on an Epic Scale, 28 Mar. 2010
This review is from: The Algebraist (Paperback)
This story, for a change not set in Banks' Culture Universe, is truly supreme. As he often does, Banks takes a few human stories and weaves them together against the background of a universe spanning plot. What this story does that is not science fiction is to portray a human level tragedy of an outing of four friends gone wrong against large historic scale events. It is the final suicidal tragedy in the book that sets Banks off against so many other authors; he doesn't shy away from letting his heroes suffer and in some cases die, and at the same time, the almost comically evil nemesis in the story get away from so-called justice. Excellent.


Woken Furies (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
Woken Furies (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
by Richard Morgan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ambiguous Feelings, 8 July 2009
I've read all 4 of Richard Morgan's novels now, having just finished the Takeshi Kovacs trilogy, and while I found the books extremely hard to put down, I have finally come up against a wall in this last novel. The depth of the characters has improved with each part of the trilogy and even the far fetched SF concepts are given a life that many, if not most SF would love to create for themselves. The background of an ancient all pervasive alien culture is very well done, being used as both a plot device in the latter two novels and as a texture to the trilogy in general. The final novel paints a very detailed picture of the world his characters are on, which gives one, I think, a feeling of experiencing something lived in, not a sterile SF world, almost, but not quite Gibsonesque in detail.

All three novels are incredibly violent, and Richard Morgan's deep and biting political cynicism shows its head in each one of them, finally coming to the fore in this final novel where the hero gets caught up in a 300 year old revolution with digitally reincarnated revolutionaries, main characters dying with almost predictable regularity, only to be revived and then in some cases killed again. Richard Morgan doesn't take the easy road with his characters and it is a tribute to his skill as a writer that the dysfunctional morals and ethics of the hero, Takeshi Kovacs, and his inability to even remotley come to grips with his past made me feel an active hatred for the character, wishing by the middle of the book that he would finally just die, as all the other characters in the novel seemed to wish for.

While Richard Morgan's hard realism - ugly, violent corrupt people are standard fare - in the last novel I almost found that I was seeing too much of what I call English hard man politics shining through, very similar in its way to Neal Asher's brand of depicting the corrupt abuse of power. It gets tiring, I feel. Similarly, there is a lot of very graphic violence and a lot of very graphic sex. I have to be honest here in that I felt that the author was almost on a kind of mastubatory trip at times, and I couldn't glean any real difference in the women the main character was having sex with, except that he would have done well in hard-core porn and that the women were all "long-limbed" and that almost every woman character in the novel who wasn't lesbian wanted to and ended up also having sex with the hero. I found it somehow gratuitous.

As with his forth novel Black Man or 13 (in the USA), I couldn't escape the feeling in this one, that the author had gotten some of his ideas from other SF authors, in the case his Martian Ascension reminded me somehow very much of Iain M Bank and his subsumed societies having ascended to a higher plain.

All that said, I liked thebook and the series immensely and can recommend it to anyone with an open mind and a strong stomach.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 13, 2013 9:54 AM BST


House Harkonnen (Prelude to Dune)
House Harkonnen (Prelude to Dune)
by Brian Herbert
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Frank must be turning in his grave, 26 Feb. 2009
As many people have said, these prequels, sequels and other attempts by Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson to make a cheap living off Frank Herbert's work are incredibly poor. To be honest, I think if it had been anybody else that had written them, they would probably never have been published. They're that bad. The characters could be out of a poor B movie, they lack depth so badly, the action scenes are luke warm at best and the plot is just appalling. Even the evil Harkonnens are just watered down goons, with about about as much malice as the baddies in some soap opera show. It feels as if Brian and Kevin only read the blurbs on the back of Brian's dad's books and decided, after a few beers, to write some sequels, while watching the superbowl and eating pop-corn.

My tip: In all honesty, use your imagination to complete the Dune series. Don't let these books spoil it for you.


Destiny's Forge (Man-Kzin Wars)
Destiny's Forge (Man-Kzin Wars)
by Paul Chafe
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, light action, 26 Feb. 2009
As many reviewers have stated, this book has many elements of Dune that have been adapted from that feudal alien environment to this creature alien environment, with some added splashes of flavour and action to make it sing. It's good, light action, and worth the read if you're a fan of the series, and possibly if you're a fan of the Dune series as well, since this book is a lot better written and characterised than the awkward novels that Frank Herbet's son, along with Kevin Anderson has been putting out. But that's another story, as the saying goes....

An interesting footnote is that I think that Neal Asher's favourite alien enemies, the Prador Prador Moon (Novel of the Polity) albeit crustaceans, also have first children (and second and third children too!) I wonder if Mr Asher wasn't having a bit of a laugh at old school SF here?


Man-Kzin Wars X
Man-Kzin Wars X
by HAL COLEBATCH
Edition: Hardcover

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars By far the best Man-Kzin Wars author, 25 Feb. 2004
This review is from: Man-Kzin Wars X (Hardcover)
I would like to personally thank Hal Colebatch for this excellent book of 4 linked stories. It's not the action, even though the battle scenes remind one of someone who has actually seen a real battle, nor is the technical ideas, being as they are already part fo well known SF cannon. No, it is the character portrayal of two species at war and the excellent depiction and development of an alien Kzin's actions, thoughts and feelings amidst the bloodshed, attempted friendship, trust and betrayal.
In all other Man-Kzin Wars' stories the Kzin are constantly portrayed as being extremely stupid, cruel and dumb, but in this one a few of them have real feelings and development and one feels for the Seareant Character and his losses and pains. I caught myself shedding a tear after the 3rd and 4th stories, something I don't usually do.
I loved these cliché busting stories, showing more shades of human and alien thought and feeling than in most SF.
Excellent!


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