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Killie (Armadale, Scotland)

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by J. G. Ballard
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting enough look at the affect of modern urban development on society, 7 July 2014
This review is from: High-Rise (Paperback)
“High-Rise” by J.G. Ballard is a dystopian novel written in the 1970s which details the collapse of society within a forty storey tower block. The plot follows three different people within the block who each live on different floors, one low, one in the middle and one in the penthouse. Each of these people represents a different level within the social structure of the inhabitants which is linked into how high up they live within the tower block. This fully self-contained community soon begins to fracture as resentments and irritations between different groups boil to the surface resulting in vandalism, abuse and violence.

The first thing that struck about this novel is that it has an incredibly memorable first line:

“Later, as he sat on the balcony eating the dog, Dr. Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous months.”

Starting a novel with a scene from the latter portion of the plot like this isn’t new but the way in which Ballard did it left me re-reading the line a few times just to make sure I hadn’t miss-read it. In the end this, section regarding the dog was actually quite mild compared to what was to come with rape, murder and violence clearly present. It really did feel like a misanthrope’s dream which I have to admit can at times make this a tough read as it is hard to really like anyone at all.

However, Ballard’s writing was good enough to keep me reading as I could really see the garbage strewn rooms of the tower block and hear the sounds echoing down the corridors. The violence of the situations are also not just pure brute descriptions, there are some rather chilling moments which are expertly written such as one of the roof involving cannibalism.

One aspect of the story which struck me as being a weakness is that the three people whose perspectives we get are all men. Yes, women are involved in the story but their own thoughts, views or ideas are left unclarified. I think the novel would have been greatly enhanced by at least getting part of the story told from a feminine viewpoint.

I think my biggest issue with the novel however is that I just couldn’t believe that groups of intelligent, professional adults could descend into tribal chaos when the wider world is perfectly normal and still available to them. If there had been some sort of cataclysmic event or they were stranded somewhere then fine, but in this case people just need to leave the building to return to the regular society in which they have been treated well.

Maybe Ballard was just trying to find a way to create an allegorical look at modern urban development and its effect of society. Either way, it had me thinking about it and comparing his tower block with the rapid urban decay and social problems that ended up plaguing the UK’s real tower blocks. So on that front the novel works, but it would have been nice to also give me a plot that I could actually believe in.

Overall, whilst I found the book to be well written and interesting in how it looks at urban society I just struggled to suspend my disbelief in regards to the plot.

The Janus Gate Two: Future Imperfect: Star Trek The Original Series
The Janus Gate Two: Future Imperfect: Star Trek The Original Series
Price: 2.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A Standard but enjoyable Star Trek story, 3 July 2014
“Future Imperfect” by L.A. Graf is the second book in “The Janus Gate” trilogy, a series of novels set during the Star Trek Original Series. The novel picks up from the cliff-hanger ending of the previous book with Lieutenant Sulu finding himself swapped in time with an older version of himself from a future where the Federation is at war with the Gorn. Meanwhile, Captain Kirk has been sent back in time to a critical point in his life with his teenage self now stranded in the present day on Tlaoli-4 with the crew of the Enterprise.

As with the previous novel the synopsis on the back cover didn’t actually match the story itself which was a bit irritating as there was no excuse for it being wrong. I really couldn’t believe they hadn’t tried to ensure the summary was correct this time after it being so wrong on “Present Tense”. In the end it probably doesn’t matter as most people will be reading this book because they read the first novel and they probably didn’t even bother checking the synopsis.

In regards to the writing itself, I felt that this book was better than “Present Tense” with Graf using the set-up from the previous novel expertly to ensure the reader can quickly get engrossed in an exciting adventure. The previous novel could feel a bit slow at times but this wasn’t an issue here as all the initial plot building and character introduction had already been dealt with. Although of course this means that the book doesn’t really have a beginning at all so it really is a no go for anyone who hasn’t read “Present Tense”.

Whilst the story continues to feel like standard Star Trek fare I still found it fun and enjoyed reading following the interplay between Sulu, Chekov and Uhura. Graf has done such a good job with these characters that I really didn’t mind the very minimal amount of time given to Kirk, Spock and McCoy. One thing that I did really like in the story is the alternate future that Graf has managed to construct. It is well thought and uses established characters, episode plots and aliens in a rather interesting way.

Overall this series continues to be an enjoyable enough read that showcases some of the more “minor” Star Trek characters. If you have read the first novel in the series and enjoyed it then you should pick up this sequel as it ramps up the pacing and action to provide a fun read.

Where Eagles Dare
Where Eagles Dare
by Alistair MacLean
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable Action Thriller, 27 Jun 2014
This review is from: Where Eagles Dare (Paperback)
As part of the 2014 Eclectic Reader Challenge I was required to read a novel which fell under the category of War. I decided to go for a classic war thriller and picked up “Where Eagles Dare” by Alistair Maclean which is a story I knew about due to the late 1960’s movie of the same name. However, beyond a vague memory of a cable car featuring quite prominently I couldn’t really remember that much about the plot.

In regards to the plot of the story, it is set over the winter of 1943/1944 and starts with the news that an important American general is being held hostage at a secure mountain top facility in the Alps. This general is purported to be an important organiser of Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Europe. Therefore, the Allies quickly assemble a team who must infiltrate this formidable fortress and rescue the general before he can put the entire invasion plan at risk. However, the team soon discovers that all is not what it appears to be with secrets, conspiracy and espionage all combining to create a thrilling adventure.

This was quite simply a great adventure story with various twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the very end. Whilst the plot starts a little slowly it soon becomes an incredibly intense action packed ride that makes sure you are sitting on the edge of your seat for the majority of the novel. I found Maclean’s combination of twisting plotline and entertaining action sequences worked wonderfully well and kept me hooked. Of course there are some elements of the plot which did require some suspension of disbelief but it didn’t affect the overall viability of the story in any substantial way.

The characters themselves were also interesting enough with their various secrets and nuances combining to make them distinct and identifiable as individuals. There was enough development involved between the elements of action and suspense that I could understand on some level why the various characters, both protagonist and antagonists were acting in the way although at times I will admit that their differences and motivations could feel a little bit typecast.

Overall this is a thoroughly enjoyable World War II thriller that is full of action and suspense. The characters are all interesting enough to appeal on some level to the reader but don’t expect to see anything in them that you haven’t seen before in some form or the other. Basically if you enjoy action packed thrillers full of twists and turns action then I don’t think you would be disappointed by this novel.

The Janus Gate One: Present Tense: Star Trek The Original Series
The Janus Gate One: Present Tense: Star Trek The Original Series
Price: 3.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Ignore the Synopsis!, 17 Jun 2014
“Present Tense” by L.A. Graf is the first book in a trilogy of Star Trek Original Series novels entitled “The Janus Gate”. The story follows on from the events seen in the episode “The Naked Time” with their escape from the planet Psi-2000 resulting in them being flung several days back in time. In order to limit the contamination of the time line the Enterprise travels to an uninhabited world for an early rendezvous with a geological team that had dispatched prior to the events of the episode. However, upon arrival then soon discover that one of the survey teams are missing and something is draining away power from their equipment and has potentially caused previous older starships to crash. And so Kirk heads down to the planet alongside a new recruit named Chekov in order to help find the missing team and investigate the strange power drain.

To be honest I found this book to be a bit of a major surprise because the synopsis I read on the back cover bore no resemblance to what actually took place. I can only assume that at some point in the editing process half the plot was thrown out but somebody forgot to change the associated summary. Whilst it didn’t bother me too much there was still a mild sense of irritation present due to the fact that it felt like I had been mis-sold something.

The plot itself wasn’t anything new or different and it felt much like many other Star Trek stories but there was still enough adventure and fun involved to keep me engaged. As this is the first book in a series there is a fair amount of set up involved which did at times cause the pacing to suffer a little. However, there was still enough going on to ensure that I didn’t just skim over large sections of the novel. Quite simply, the plot itself is probably best described as an average but entertaining enough Star Trek adventure.

What I did really appreciate with the novel is in the fact that Graf has written a story which looks beyond the three main characters of Kirk, Spock and McCoy. A fair amount of the story is focussed on the “minor” crew such as Chekov, Uhura and Sulu which I enjoyed seeing. These characters are so often shunted off to the side but in this novel Graf has put them right in the centre of the action. She has also tried to enhance their personas so that whilst they do still feel like the characters we saw on the screen, they also felt a little bit more like complete individuals.

Overall, the plot in “Present Tense” felt like one we have seen many times before in Star Trek novels but it was still a fun, light read with the real plus point being its attempt at showcasing the “minor” crew. As it is a first novel in a series it can be a little slow in places but the mysteries introduced here have intrigued me and I am looking forward to seeing their resolutions.

The Turn of the Screw
The Turn of the Screw
by Henry James
Edition: Paperback
Price: 4.50

3.0 out of 5 stars Debate what really happens in this story until the end of time!, 12 Jun 2014
This review is from: The Turn of the Screw (Paperback)
As part of the 2014 Eclectic Reader Challenge I was required to read a piece of Gothic fiction which is a piece of literature that combines elements of horror and Romanticism. The use of the word gothic in the description of this genre relates to the pseudo- medieval buildings in which these stories tend to take place. Some classic examples of Gothic literature are “Dracula”, “Frankenstein” and “The Turn of the Screw”. For the challenge I decided to pick “The Turn of the Screw” which is a paranormal mystery novella written by Henry James in 1898.

The story focuses on a young governess who is moves out to an Essex country house named Bly to look after two young children. Whilst the two children appear perfect there is some mystery behind why the young boy named Miles has been dismissed from his school. However, this soon becomes a secondary issue when the governess beginning to spot figures appearing around the estate. These figures appear to be supernatural in nature and before long the governess is drawn into a paranormal mystery that seems related to the children themselves and two former employees at the estate who are now deceased.

My first observation about this book is that Henry James’ writing style is not the easiest to follow. He writes in a complex 19th century prose that forces the reader too really work hard in order to get the story underneath. It wasn’t very fun having to work so hard to decipher what was going and I found that when I finished I couldn’t believe that such a short novel had taken me so long to get through.

In addition I can’t say the story creeped me out that much although some of that is probably due to the fact I spent more time trying to work through the text than in getting immersed in the story. I did however find it interesting to see James’ attempts at portraying a sense of menace emanating from the seemingly innocent and perfect children. The psychological effects of this on the various adults were cleverly told and it was in these sections of that I could feel at least some element of a subtle horror story coming to the fore.

One aspect of the book which I suspect could appeal to book clubs and those who analyse literature is that there is no clarification on if the ghosts are real or if the governess is really going insane and imagining it all. James leaves it completely up to the reader to interpret the information on the page and make up their own mind. Personally I find this a bit frustrating as I am a simple man and prefer to know what was actually intended by the author but I do still understand and appreciate the power behind leaving the real conclusion up to the reader themselves.

My final note on the novel is rather minor but it was something that didn’t make sense to me. Basically the prologue of the novel acts as a way to present “The Turn of the Screw” as a story within a story. We are introduced to a group of people sitting around telling each other Ghost stories and that is how the story of Bly house is brought up. Whilst this is all well and good, we never actually return to this group of people to see how it may have affected them. It just seems a waste of words and I don’t understand why James bothered to include this section at all.

Overall this was an interesting look at some late 19th century fiction but I think the writing style and lack of real clarity in the the story left me feeling a bit disappointed. I suspect that the popularity of the novel is actually driven by the fact that people want to argue the ambiguous meaning of the story ad infinitum rather than any of its plot. It is free in ebook form from various places so if you want to make your own mind up on what is actually happens then go pick it up and join the discussion that has been going on for years.

Darkship Renegades
Darkship Renegades
Price: 4.45

3.0 out of 5 stars An average sequel which has a much slower pace than its predecessor, 3 Jun 2014
“Darkship Renegades” by Sarah A. Hoyt is the sequel to her entertaining space opera novel “Darkship Thieves”. In this book Kit & Athena return from their adventures and find Eden now under the control of one man and themselves on trial as traitors. There only hope is to return to Earth again and try to understand the technology and science behind growing powertrees which could free Eden from relying on risky harvest runs to Earth. However, before they leave Kit is badly injured an in attempt to save him Doc Bartholomew undertakes a risky procedure. The results are not as expected and when Kit regains consciousness it becomes clear that he is no longer the same man. However, the mission must go on even if it means the Kit we all know maybe lost forever.

This is a very different book from the previous novel in that a lot of it is given over to philosophising over political, sociological and psychological issues rather than focusing just on action and adventure. Yes there are elements of action interspersed throughout the novel but nothing like the fast paced mayhem that we saw in “Darkship Thieves”. I actually found it quite nice to experience something a little different and more complex this time. At times I found myself truly fascinated and enjoying following the overall journey that the story was taking me on. However, I do need to add that at times the pace seemed a bit too slow due to Hoyt sometimes going a bit too far in her philosophising. If she had found a better way of toning these thoughtful moments down and merging them better into the action and adventure it would probably have been an excellent book rather than just an average one.

One of the biggest flaws I found in this book though was in regards to the characters; in “Darkship Thieves” the big appeal was the fearless strong willed heroine Thena and her relationship with the ever sarcastic Kit. However, in this book both these elements have been reduced with Thena seemingly ineffective at doing anything these days and Kit suffering from a medical condition which means he isn’t the same man anymore thus affecting their relationship. Honestly, after all the work done in the previous novel to build these characters up it was a bit frustrating to see this all undone.

Overall, I found “Darkship Renegades” to be a reasonably enjoyable story but it didn’t entertain me to the same level as the previous novel in the series. The changes to the characters were a bit frustrating and the philosophising can slow down the plot but there was still enough there to keep me interested. If you have read the first book you are still likely to get something out of reading this one.

Star Trek: The Original Series: Seasons of Light and Darkness
Star Trek: The Original Series: Seasons of Light and Darkness
Price: 3.49

3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting character piece on McCoy, 2 Jun 2014
“Seasons of Light and Darkness” by Michael A. Martin is an Original Series novella which focuses on part of Dr. McCoy’s life before he joined the Enterprise that was mentioned in the TV episode, “Friday's Child”. This period of his life is when he spent time on the planet Capella IV as part of time sent there to look at accessing a highly valued mineral. Whilst there he discovers that the natives have a rather warrior like ideology where people live and die by their own wits and it is wrong to interfere in that with medicine or other sciences. McCoy of course doesn’t appreciate this view point and must try to walk the line between his oath to Starfleet in regards to respecting other cultures and his oaths as a Doctor to try and save lives.

In addition to this main storyline there is also a framing story set in 2285 which focuses on McCoy trying to relate his own experiences to that of Kirk who was suffering from his time as a desk bound Admiral. This was actually one of things I didn’t really get with the novella to be honest. I saw the link between the two points but the story he tells just didn’t feel like something that McCoy would have only finally revealed at that point.

In regards to the Capella part of the story, well it was fun to follow and I found the titbits about Capellan culture rather interesting to follow. In addition McCoy felt in character and I appreciated that this novella was being used as a character piece rather than just trying to be a short version of standard Star Trek novels. Although I do have to say that whilst I did enjoy reading it I am not sure if really revealed anything new about the character.

Overall, this is a okay novella that acts an interesting character piece on McCoy. I do think the framing story didn’t work as well as it could have done and I am not sure if we really learned that much new about McCoy but I still enjoyed it and appreciated the way in which it reminded me of DeForest Kelly who created this great character.

Shapes in the Mist (A Vetala Cycle Novel Book 2)
Shapes in the Mist (A Vetala Cycle Novel Book 2)
Price: 2.52

4.0 out of 5 stars Dark surreal imagery abound in this bleak horror novel, 2 Jun 2014
Horror novel “Shapes In the Mist” by G.R. Yeates is the second novel in his “Vetala Cycle” series of novels which was kicked off with the author’s debut novel “The Eyes Of The Dead”. The story again starts during the horrors of WWI with American fighter-pilot Jerry Reinhart being the main character. Jerry is a master pilot but even he can’t survive a fight against notorious German ace, Baron Von Richtofen and is therefore forced to ditch in a forest. He manages to scramble from his downed aircraft but soon witnesses strange and haunting shapes in the most before finally losing consciousness. However, his return to London amongst the wounded coincides with the emergence of a number of horrifically gruesome murders that seem to imply the infamous Jack the Ripper has returned. Before long he is drawn into a nightmarish adventure where he attempts to understand what may have followed him from the Western Front.

Once again Yeates showcases his intensely dark and atmospheric writing abilities with this sequel. His descriptive and poetic phrasing which he uses to visualise some rather surreal and disturbing images really helps to increase the feeling of unease felt by the reader as they work through this depressing and chilling piece of literature. I think the actual gore and splatter is toned down a little bit when compared to the previous novel, “Eyes of the Dead” but that doesn’t reduce the feeling of horror which is brought out by the bleak and downbeat plot.

One of my biggest issues with the previous novel is that I wasn’t able to fully understand what was going on as the book flitted between reality and surreal hallucinations. This time I am happy to say that everything came together much better and I was able to follow the plot without getting lost. There is still the surreal dark imagery, bleak foreshadowing and oppressive atmosphere but this time everything is brought together in a much more satisfying experience.

Overall, this is an excellent example of oppressive, surreal and bleak horror fiction. The novel’s downbeat narrative continues to sap at the spirits of the reader right up to the intense final scene all ably enhanced by Yeates’ wonderful imaginative and poetic prose. If you want to get lost in dark imagery and surreal bleak storylines then this horror novel is something you should try to obtain.

Star Trek 1
Star Trek 1
by James Blish
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Reasonable Adaptations of Original Series Episodes, 26 May 2014
This review is from: Star Trek 1 (Paperback)
“Star Trek 1” by James Blish was the first Star Trek novel ever released and is a collection of Original Series scripts adapted into short story form rather than being an original piece of work. The seven stories included in this collection are all from season one and are as follows:

Charlie's Law (Charlie X)
Dagger of the Mind
The Unreal McCoy (The Man Trap)
Balance of Terror
The Naked Time
The Conscience of the King

Reading this collection was an interesting experience for me as I was looking forward to reading the stories and refreshing my memories of the original episodes involved, especially as I felt these most of these were good episodes. To be honest, whilst the book did succeed in reminding me of the stories there were a few issues that affected my overall enjoyment of the collection.

For example, my favourite episode in this collection, “Balance of Terror” just feels downright flat and uninspiring. The novelization is badly missing the Romulan Commander’s point of view which really added to the story. In addition I just didn’t like how the entire crew, even Kirk to an extent decided they were going to distrust Spock. Basically my favourite episode on TV turned out to be least favourite in this collection. To be fair to Blish he was constrained by the short story length and he was working with the shooting scripts which at times varied quite a bit from what we finally see on the screen. Therefore I do understand why there would be some issues but readers should still be aware that there are some differences, some of which do weaken the stories.

However, it isn’t all bad and there are two stories in particular where I think Blish has actually added some really good elements. The first of these is within “The Unreal McCoy” (AKA The Man Trap) where Kirk knows realises that there is no way his officer would have eaten a strange alien root. In the actual episode everyone just seems to assume the redshirt is an idiot and doesn’t worry about it. The second was “Miri” which has been enhanced by the removal of silly sections like the planet being an “exact duplicate of Earth” and enhanced by some supplemental information on the virus itself. Whilst it could get a little bit dry at times it helped to ensure that things made a bit more sense and it would therefore have been nice for some of this explanation to have made it over into the episode.

Overall, this was a competent attempt at capturing the Star Trek episodes at a time when VCRs and DVDs weren’t around. Some of the stories are enhanced and some are weakened by the adaptations but they were all readable in their own way and still highlight the fun of the Star Trek series. On a personal point, one thing this collection did highlight to me is how much the actors themselves really helped develop and enhance both the character interactions and stories.

Messenger: Book One of Behind the Walls of Sleep: 1
Messenger: Book One of Behind the Walls of Sleep: 1
by Scott Rhine
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable YA story for lovers of fantasy and online gaming, 26 May 2014
“Messenger” by Scott Rhine is the first book in his YA fantasy series entitled “Behind the Walls of Sleep”. It is Rhine’s first attempt at writing for the YA market and I can easily see how it could tap into the mind-set of online game playing teens the world over. The story follows Daniel, a young teenager who has suffered a terrible accident in his past which led to his mother going to prison and his movement between foster families before his unknown relatives took him in. Whilst living with them, Daniel soon discovers that whilst he dreams he can pass through into another world reminiscent of a roleplaying video game where wizards and barbarians roam. However, before long it becomes clear that what he is doing in one world is upsetting people in the other and Daniel’s life is far from being safe in either place.

My first impressions of the book was that the sections in the dreaming world really did feel like I was following someone’s adventure in a game such as World of Warcraft with respawn points, loot, NPC style characters and quests clearly evident throughout. All you would have needed to was switch the going to sleep for powering on the PC and it would have easily fit. The interesting bit here is that I found most of the charters in this world to be rather flat and uninspiring but I actually found that this enhanced that online game feel and made it all feel very familiar.

The real meat of the story to me however was in the real world; it was here that I found some more development in the characters which contrasted wonderfully with the dream world. It is also here that Rhine really tries to tap into the YA writing elements of showing Daniel’s attempts at discovering who he is and what he wants to truly wants become.

It was actually nice to see Rhine slowdown his pacing with this book as many times in the past I have found his work to quickly launch the reader from one fast paced section to the other which can be fun to follow but does sometimes leave the reader feeling dizzy. Yes, the dream world still seems a bit madcap and fast but this worked due to the nature of the world itself and was again wonderfully contrasted by a slower and further developed real world story.

My biggest issue with the story is the ending which left me feeling rather disappointed as it is all rather sudden without any real resolutions. I know it is setting up for the sequel but I do still like to see some sort of reasoned ending to a book in any series and I felt that this was missing from this novel.

Overall, this was a very different book from what I have seen before from Rhine which was actually nice to see. I think he has done a great job in trying to reach the YA audience, especially those who enjoy online gaming and fantasy adventures. Personally, whilst I am not the target audience I still appreciated the story, helped along I am sure by my own love of gaming so I know that I will be picking up the sequel when it is released.

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