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Timothy Hammond (London UK)
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Light (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
Light (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
by M. John Harrison
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars What a horrible waste, 13 Aug 2013
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This review is from: Light (GOLLANCZ S.F.) (Paperback)
I bought this book based on the fantastic reviews.

What a terrible waste.

First off, the good points: it is extremely well written (especially relative to most SF), with elegant phrasing, excellent pace and timing, and a lovely use of words and imagery. In some places, there are some great concepts and in a few of those places, those concepts are developed. One of the characters (the K-Ship pilot Seria Mau and ) is interesting and well-developed.

So what is wrong with it? Just about everything else.

At least a third of the book is taken up by the story of a physicist (Kearney) in London who is also a serial killer and who is sexually repressed. Quite why he is like that we never really find out, although we are treated to various dream sequences/reminiscences (as we are for the other main characters as well) that are supposed to explain something. But they don't. All we are left with is a pointless story that has almost no relevance to the rest of the book. This character interacts with a couple of other people who are also utterly pointless (his ex-wife) and in once case (Sprake), totally unbelievable. These scenes are punctuated by short burst of sex, which is always described as "f****ing". There are similarly dispiriting sex scenes throughout the book, which have some plot relevance for the K-Ship pilot (who is mutilated and confined to a tank and thus cannot ever experience physicality) but which otherwise have no relevance whatsoever. The sex seems to be in make this book edgy and modern, but it reads as rather sad.

Then there the supposed "jokes". Here's one: a character is called Billy Anker - William or W. Anker. Very funny. And there are the gangsters the Cray sisters, and numerous other anagrams and references. It's all very teenage I'm afraid.

Finally the plot. Oh dear. It has some interesting points, even if it is derivative - an area of space with weird properties that nobody has ever returned from. A being from an advanced civilisation that can move in time (yawn) and wants to get somebody to have a look (why not just ask?). But it takes so long to get there, we have to wade through so much (well-written) words to get there, and when we do it's a total let down.

I know that those who have given this book rave reviews condescend to those of us who dislike it- well, so be it. That says more about them than the book. This is a clever-clever, look-at-me piece. It's full of twee, unsubtle, unfunny and uncool references with poor characters and a dire plot.

I have to say avoid it, despite the elegance of the prose.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 26, 2013 2:08 PM BST


Backroom Boys: The Secret Return of the British Boffin
Backroom Boys: The Secret Return of the British Boffin
by Francis Spufford
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant but..., 13 Aug 2013
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This is an excellent book, and highly original. It describes the unsung contribution British scientists and engineers have made in a number of key areas of modern life - computer games, rocketry, mobile phones, aviation - in an entertaining and well-written way. The author clearly knows and loves his stuff, and part of the attraction of this book is the evident sympathy of Francis Spufford for the "Backroom Boys". The chapters on gaming and mobiles in particular were fascinating for me, as they are areas I knew little to nothing about. If you think that "boffins" disappeared from Britain in 1945, or that we have had no role in the modern world or you have any interest in technology and engineering at all, this is required reading for you.

Why do I hold back from five stars then?

For two, interconnected reasons. Spufford cannot resist dabbling in areas where he displays conspicuous ignorance. In the chapter on Concorde for example, he describes the financial aspects of the project in terms which are frankly laughable. For example, he mentions return on capital a number of times without seeming to notice that no capital is being employed. Similarly, he mixes up balance sheets and income statements (sorry, but this is MY speciality) in ways that show he doesn't know what he is talking about. And the reason he does so is because he cannot resist showing his political prejudices. More than once he talks about Thatcherism "shredding" Britain's manufacturing (a claim that is simply not true), he quotes the fabulously misquoted comment about there being "no society" (look up the actual quote) and he disdains market solutions wherever he can.

It is a real shame, and rather ironic - Spufford clearly reveres those with specialist knowledge in some areas but then cannot be bothered to use the expertise of those in other areas to find out the facts.

Despite all of that, this is a brilliant and fascinating book, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed.


The Martian Ambassador
The Martian Ambassador
by Alan K. Baker
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.39

3.0 out of 5 stars Not too bad, not too good., 13 Aug 2013
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This review is from: The Martian Ambassador (Paperback)
First off, I enjoyed the book, and it is a quick and easy read. It's short and sweet, it doesn't hang about in terms of plot and it doesn't try too hard. It has a number of clear good points - it's pretty well written, it has some nice ideas, the characters are quite well rounded (for this sort of thing) and the bad guys are convincingly bad. Not only that, but the plot is pretty good too - a deliberate attempt to start a war between Mars and Earth for the benefit of a third party is plausible given the setting.

But it has weaknesses too - the inclusion of fairies is rather annoying, and they end up as a deus ex machine at a crucial point or two. The Martians are a rather poor as well, being somewhat clunky and "Dr. Who"-like. The ending is overly-predictable and all-action, and that rather spoils what has been up to that point quite a clever and quirky narrative. The hero rescues the maiden with a show of derring-do. Not much subtlety or invention in the last twenty pages or so, which is a shame.

If you are looking for something a bit different and want a quick read that doesn't demand too much from you, you might enjoy this. If you are looking for something meaningful and well-developed, probably best to look elsewhere.


Jack Glass
Jack Glass
by Adam Roberts
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It's a shame - could have been great, 1 Aug 2013
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This review is from: Jack Glass (Paperback)
The author divides this book into three clear parts, which makes a review pretty easy - the first part is great, the second pretty good and the third awful.

Like a great deal of modern British sci-fi, this book is well-written, with some lovely, easy prose. Unfortunately it also has the "look-at-me" cleverness, teenage economics/politics and unfunny jokes of much of modern British sci-fi as well.

The real problem with the book is that the titular character is very poorly and thinly drawn. We learn nothing of his motivations (beyond a Che Guevara poster on the wall type revolutionary creed) and most of the time he just murders people. He justifies that because apparently he is very important to "the cause" but that claim, let alone that moral claim, is not examined. He has no personality at all and calling him one-dimensional is flattering.

The secondary characters are also poorly drawn. In the second part, we are introduced to two sisters, and for a while the younger one in particular is given a real personality. In the third part however, that personality has vanished and she has become - well nothing really.

The other serious problem is that this book is supposed to be about mysteries - locked box escapes and murders. Now whilst the first one is fun, the second one is stupid and the third rubbish. You can forgive the nonsense in the first one as it is clever and funny, but after that, things fall apart.

For example, the second part is ostensibly about the murder of a servant. The murder takes place in the servant's quarters, and we are told that the AI monitors who goes in and out of the quarters. But in this rigid, hierarchical situation, where the servants are dosed with drugs to make them loyal, where they are tracked at all times we are expected to believe that once inside their quarters, the servants are not monitored in any way!

There are numerous other problems with the mysteries, but suffice it to say that they really are full of holes (read the book, pun intended).

It's a shame, because there is some really good stuff here, but I ended up hugely frustrated by the book. It is probably unfair, but as I neared the end I had a vision of a Guardian-reading author, lounging in Soho House and chortling with his friends about how clever his latest book is. And it isn't. It's OK but with more work, more thought it could have been great.


Empire of Light (Shoal Sequence)
Empire of Light (Shoal Sequence)
by Gary Gibson
Edition: Paperback

20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars What a disappointment, 28 Oct 2011
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Having enjoyed the first two books, this was a massive disappointment. So many threads left dangling, so much that was far too easy, so little explanation of what is going on.

Very little of the story makes sense. There's a weapon that can destroy FTL drives. Our heroes find it rather easily, even though the god-like Makers have been searching for it for millennia. And the weapon destroys 80% of the Emissaries' Fleet. Instantaneously. And rather wonderfully Trader provides Dakota with weapons and shields from a vanished civilisation that are much better than anything the Magi ships have and which mean she can invade Emissary space to launch the weapon. Oh, and the Emissaries can track Dakota through some technology that nobody thought to tell anybody about before. Planted by Hugh for reasons that are never given. And Trader has been on an expedition to the Greater Magellenic Cloud and found out how to work the weapon. But he didn't tell anybody. Deus ex machina indeed.

At the end, we still don't really understand the Makers or why they are leaving caches all over the place, we don't meet the Emissaries at all (except in battle) and so get no further with what they are about and there are hinted at links between the Makers and the Atn that never go anywhere. And the Magi? and the makers of the weapon? Who knows?

For good measure, there's some sort of nonsense about the weapon only working for the just or the not so bad or something that is never explained. And Lucas becomes really good at fighting and Dakota dies twice. But she's alive at the end again. Or something.

I don't really know what wrong here. Having set up great situation, Gibson seems to have completely run out of ideas as to how he's going to resolve it. Instead he pretty much rewrites the back story so as to provide solutions to all the problems he has created - oh, didn't I tell you that I have the control programme/brilliant weapons/tracking devices/location of Excalibur? He descends into sub-fantasy with his magic weapon that is only for the virtuous and chickens out of having his main characters die.

A real shame, as Nova War set up the conclusion so well. Two stars because if you have read the others, you have to read this one, otherwise on a stand-alone basis 0 or 1.


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