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The Forever War: Forever War Book 1 (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
The Forever War: Forever War Book 1 (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
by Joe Haldeman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent, gripping, action packed...and a little dated, 18 Jun. 2012
The Forever War is a somewhat dated but engrossing sci-fi novel by Author Joe Haldeman, first published as a serial in Analogue Magazine in the mid 1970's, it immediately gathered critical acclaim, winning several awards, though it is not without its flaws, and won't be too all tastes.

This review is based on the Peace and War Anthology addition. As well as containing The Forever War, its sequel `Forever Free', a companion Novel `Forever Peace' and an interesting foreword by Haldeman, detailing his thoughts on the book are also included. The Forever War is also available by itself in several different paperback additions.

The story opens in 1997, after an attack on a colonist vessel by a mysterious alien race known as Taurans the UN passes a law ordering the formation of an elite military strike force to take vengeance. This where our protagonist enters the story.

William Mandela (An American) is a reluctant soldier, drafted into the military, (cutting short his physics degree in the process), having no interest in politics or war, and sharing the `hippy' ideals of his parents, he is far from the heroic characters that normally populate the genre, and proves an interesting protagonist.

The book is written in first person from Mandela's perspective, and divided into three sections, each covering a different time span in his story. These are further divided into shorter chapters-most running less than 15 pages, the book is written almost like a diary, Mandela detailing his thoughts in a brief, honest matter. This simple layout makes the book a straight forward, accessible read... for those who can accept the plot.

`Tonight were going to tell you eight silent ways to kill a man', the very first line in the novel sets the tone nicely. Opening with the strike force's training in the wilds of Missouri, it instantly feels very authentic, and somewhat out of place in the science fiction genre. The first few chapters deal with training- describing in brutal fashion various accidents that befall them, and revealing a somewhat fanciful military policy-the soldiers (who are of mixed sex) are ordered to sleep with each other for `moral' purposes, smoke joints and address their superiors with a loud `F*** You Sir!'. The book does contain a lot of sex, crude language, and violence, and its protagonist doesn't shirk from using or engaging in any of them, in all respects it is an adult novel.

The relatively negative, slow burning opening may put some readers off (those who bought the book just for the `War' in the title may want to reconsider their purchase), as may the fact the first few chapters don't read much like traditional sci-fi. But it does serve to demonstrate Haldeman's skills as a writer, the dialogue is sharply written, and very convincing, and Haldeman has the confidence to avoid standard narrative structure, he is writing the book he wants too.

Haldeman had served in Vietnam as a combat technician and his experiences come across in several ways, having both positive and negative effects on the plot. The Taurans, for example serve as metaphors for the Viet Cong-resourceful, tenacious, and largely mysterious, whilst the soldiers are largely conscripts serving `tours of duty'. The book was originally rejected because of the parallels with the conflict, reading the book in modern context many of these metaphors are less obvious, but even so some readers may struggle to enjoy the book, sci-fi is a genre rooted in escapism, the metaphors, and regular references to real life events may spoil the illusion, and make it harder to accept a somewhat far-fetched plot.

When the action does start, it starts in memorable fashion. Landing on a barren wasteland of a world, with low gravity and an odd ecosystem they soon engage in a messy fight with the Taurans. To the soldiers it is a fight with no real purpose, and terrible consequences, the deaths and injuries are described in brutal detail-men screaming as their bodies trail viscera, or whimpering frantically on the ground as their friends die in agony. Despite being a war fought with laser rifles and fighting suits its feels surprisingly real, Mandela experiences the familiar feelings of guilt and anger, and Haldeman's descriptions of the fighting could come from any other novel.

After this first clash with the Taurans, the surviving soldiers return to Earth to be discharged, this is where the novel really gets interesting. To travel to the Tauran's star system, the soldiers used a complex system of `collapsar jumps' (sort of like `wormholes'), travelling millions of light years in mere hours, due to time dilation, and relativity, everyone they know has aged more than 20 years on their return, whilst themselves have aged less than a year.

Though The Forever War tells a complicated story about warfare and physics, at its heart it is also a love story. Discharged with Mandela was a female soldier, Marygay, who becomes his lover, and following his mother's death, his one living link to the world he grew up in, their companionship is a key theme in the story, while at times it veers towards cliché, it does add a human element to a potentially one dimensional story, and makes the story easier to access for casual readers.

Eventually unable to cope any more with the reality they are faced with, both re-join the army and are once again thrown into battle (advancing another few centuries into the future in the process).

Every time the soldiers are thrown forward in time, they do so with the knowledge that their only links to the past are traveling with them, it creates a powerful sense of underlying tension in the book, and makes Mandela's story, at points genuinely moving.

Though this middle section is by far the most downbeat, and the social collapse of earth happens too quickly to be convincing, it is by and large engrossing reading: fast paced, and movingly told. It also contains a smaller usage of the technical language, and military acronyms that often appear in the book, (used to explain the physics of interstellar travel and military tactics) this is a benefit, as such language can make the book a confusing, and at points irritating read (even in the midst of a intergalactic war physics still seems boring) for readers more interested in the story.

Despite the `war' in the title the action scenes are relatively sparse (but brilliant when they do appear), like real life warfare, much of the time is spent training or waiting for the attack to come. Some readers may find these lulls in the story annoying, whilst the book is, admittedly a bit slow paced towards the end, the absence of overblown action sequences gives Haldeman time to build character and story details, for a book that runs only 231 pages, the narrative crams in a surprising amount.

The last section finds Mandela, now a Major in charge of his own strike force, at the very edge of the known galaxy; more than Seven Hundred Years have passed since his conscription, he struggles to deal with his responsibilities as a large Tauran strike force lands. These last few chapters are arguably the best in the book, intense, gripping, and rather surprising for the genre.

This ending section is both thrilling and bloody, several promient characters die before Halderman surrenders the film to a surprising, well written but very divisive ending that sets up the sequel Forever Free. Some readers may find this conclusion annoying, as it is yet another metaphor for Vietnam, but that is exactly the point, it is a sci-fi novel, but it is also an indictment on the utter futility of war, and its effects on a personal level.

As it was written in the 70's some aspects are somewhat dated, its use of swearwords, and its portrayal of women feel a bit out of touch with modern perceptions, whilst the portrayal of homosexuality was in areas, very uncomfortable reading. In the introduction Haldeman notes (rightly) that even in the 1970's the notion of interstellar travel by the 90's was ridiculous (he set the opening in this decade so the original officers and NCO'S could just about be Vietnam veterans),it certainly dose ruin the illusion, as some of his other ideas about the future seem believable in comparison. Whilst none of these things were probably considered major problems in the 70's, they do show the book's age, and depending on the readers point of view may cause problems.

It could do with a tighter edit, it is occasionally confusing, the Taurans remain largely two dimensional, and there are several plot holes (for example Mandela's brother is mentioned only once, with no clue to his fate or purpose in the story) in the narrative. Haldeman's obsession with detail and story is a strength of the book, but it also means that the main characters are never as strongly characterised as they could have been, for such a emotionally charged story, some readers may find the protagonists' a little flat.

It will not appeal to every reader, and may not necessarily be `enjoyable', but overall The Forever War is a triumph, the clever story, and likeable protagonist, making up for most of the flaws.

I first read this when I was 17, sure it's got its flaws but overall I loved it and I'm currently re-reading it.

Well worth buying for those interested in military sci-fi

On a side note Acclaimed Film Director Ridley Scott (A long-time fan of the book) is currently developing a 3-D film adaptation, the script being drafted as I write.

Paul Ashwell

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (1-Disc) [DVD]
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (1-Disc) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Shia LaBeouf
Offered by Discs4all
Price: £2.23

1.0 out of 5 stars AWFUL, 8 Mar. 2012
This film is pure excretement.


-Terrible dialogue
-Terrible performances
-Impossible to care what's going on
-Shia LaBeouf
-Shia LaBeouf
- Even the explosions get boring
-Shia LaBeouf

Good points.

-It gave me some exercise writing this review.

If you ever find yourself wathcing this film and enjoying it I strongly suggest you seek medical attention.

Epic Movie [DVD] [2007]
Epic Movie [DVD] [2007]
Dvd ~ Kal Penn
Price: £1.26

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars This film should crawl back to the gutter, 8 Mar. 2012
This review is from: Epic Movie [DVD] [2007] (DVD)
This is one of the worst films I have ever seen, a lazy, boring pastiche of recent bigs hits, badly directed, badly scripted, badly paced, badly acted and very badly socred, wathching this film is like rubbing your eyes with curry powder and sandpaper, expect its even more painful. I only laughed once, and that was a manic laugh of pain when I realised I had wasted 90 minutes of my life watching this.

If you are tempted to watch this film DON'T. If by some small chance of misfortune you own a copy, don't watch it-Throw it under a car, eat it, use it as a book mark, melt in the microwave, all are more entertaining options than watching it. This product can be summed up in four lines.

-Epic Dissapointment
-Epic Laziness
-Epic Waste of Time
-Epic Fail.

If You Survive (Ivy Books World War II/Nonfiction)
If You Survive (Ivy Books World War II/Nonfiction)
by George Wilson
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, emotive read, let down by a few flaws, 8 Mar. 2012
First Published in 1987, If You Survive is an autobiographical account of one American Soldier's experiences during the last year of the Second World War, thrown into the frontlines in Late June 1944 Second Lieutenant George Wilson (22nd Infantry Regiment, US 4TH Infantry Division) survived 8 months of near continuous combat, through a combination of skill, common sense, and (the book gives the impression at least) sheer luck.

It makes an interesting change to read a book about a line company, whilst the airborne troops, marines and Air Force are subject to countless biographies' and documentaries, there is rarely any insight into the ordinary soldiers, who saw the most combat and took the largest casualties. Wilson's story may be lacking in prestige, but it certainly isn't short of action.

His men were, by and large young, barely trained draftees, thrown together randomly and taking horrendous casualties, they often proved as dangerous to each other as the enemy. Despite this and the decades that had passed since the war, Wilson clearly still had a great admiration for many of the men he served with. In contrast his memories of combat are brutal, reluctant and unnerving, driven by this contradiction If You Survive is an honest, riveting combat biography that is very convincing, and stays in the memory long after the book has been read, but there are a few flaws which Wilson isn't completely successful at hiding.

The book is printed on good quality paper, and is binded well but there are no photographs and only two maps (which admittedly are annotated), this is a book that relies entirely on Wilsons's writing to get the story across, luckily he largely succeeds.

Only in his early twenties he was burdened with the fates of hundreds of men, often struggling with his own conscience as much as the fighting. Wilson fought through some of the toughest battles of the war; he was wounded three times, and came very close to snapping under the strain. By the end of the War Wilson was left the lone exhausted survivor out of the company of 162 Soldiers he had first joined (Wilson himself was a replacement, arriving a month after the company's entry into combat).

Rejected by the Airborne Forces and US Marines Wilson (on account of his Glasses) Wilson eventually found himself drafted into the Regular Army aged just 21, much to his bewilderment he was chosen to become an officer, the opening chapter covers these first few months of his Military life.

The first chapter serves as an introduction to the `story' and Wilson's writing style. Wilson writes in a fast, relaxed first person manner making the book a largely accessible read for those who can accept the subject matter. This opening chapter is one of the shortest, fastest paced in the book, Wilson covers his whole training period, shipment to England and then his Journey to the front Lines of Normandy in 15 pages.

Though some readers may enjoy seeing the book reach the `action' so quickly, it can make the opening a confusing read for those who aren't familiar with World War 2 or the American Military, Wilson gives a bare outline of his background and training (some of these facts creep in later), giving little insight into his character or motivations (areas which, admittedly do improve later in the book) making it, at first, hard to relate to his story.

Despite the relatively fast moving nature of the book several of Wilson's early impressions make their mark, billeted outside the town of Sainte Lo, Normandy he paints a vivid picture of his feelings and memories waiting for his first battle: German Corpses rotting in the sunlight, ruined farmhouses, and the terror of his first enemy shelling. It's a clever decision by Wilson; he creates a genuine sense of dread as we wait for the battle to begin, the words almost mirroring the feelings he must have felt. The opening chapters are amongst the most vivid, even if they may appear clichéd to readers who have read other War Biographies, but that's the point War is a universal horror that never really changes.

Wilson's first experience of combat is just as vividly described, the guilt at killing the enemy, and loosing men under his command, at times it reads almost like a confession. After fighting through the Normandy campaign Wilson saw further action in the Siegfried Line, The Hurtgen Forest and the famous Battle of The Bulge, gradually becoming more experienced, and more embittered. His descriptions of combat are thoroughly convincing, detailing both the physical violence and the mental hardship that faced his company, but also the humour and absurd situation's that only war can bring out. Wilson's portrait of battle generally feels a great deal more real than many historians can manage, even if they lack the detail and clever language a professional historian could bring to the role of Author.

Though he doesn't include a great deal of analysis or statistics, both make a limited appearance, proving very effective when they do, for example, In just 18 days in the Hurtegen forest his company took more than 300 casualties (Wilson was the only original member of the company left at the end), though scarce the few statistic's included help break up the text, and give his opinions more weight.

Whilst Wilson's story is a strong one, and his writing style makes the book extremely accessible, it can't disguise some of the books problems. It is recalling events from a personal perspective; events more than 40 years old, so some of the facts are a little hazy. Wilson never shirks from giving his opinions, and does occasionally come across as biased, it may be a biography, but some of his rants make uncomfortable reading. There is little discussion of the historical backdrop or Politics of World War 2, Wilson largely focuses on his own experiences, so some readers may find it a confusing or annoying read.

The book moves swiftly from location to location, and battle to battle, there are a lot of names to remember, for its length there is far too much turning to the index. Much like its short introduction, the book ends rather suddenly, with a rather weak resolution.

Despite its short length (276 pages) and relatively fast pace, this is a book that can be repetitive; the battles though fought in different places feel, can read as quite similar, with little change for several chapters. Wilsons's inexperience as a writer shows at several points in the book, he frequently jumps forward in time to reference future events, and appears to forget he's writing for another person.

Names appear and disappear with annoying regularity, in addition to Wilson there are only two `main characters', both fellow officers, there is little insight into his personal relationship with his men-out of the hundreds he commanded less than 30 are named and few of them are mentioned more than once. Wilsons home life is rarely, and barely alluded to, references to his (unnamed) wife making some rather random appearances. Though it's not hard to relate to his story, he provides so little insight into himself that some readers may struggle to relate to him as a human being.

All these things result in the book never feeling quite as memorable as its story makes it out to be. Wilson thanks in his introduction `Howard Thurlow' (Another former soldier) for his support and encouragement, though there is no insight into his actual role in the book.

Reading this book brings to mind the Tagline for the 1980 War Film `The Big Red One'-`The real glory of war is surviving' much like this film, it's flawed, very violent, and can read as biased. But overall this book is worth reading for anyone interested in World War 2, one of the best combat Biographies of its time. Other readers may find the book more confusing, boring or simply not to their taste.

Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters
Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters
by Dick Winters
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A interesting diversion, 8 Mar. 2012
Beyond Band of Brothers is a first-hand account of World War Two told through the eyes of an American who fought it. Richard Winters, born and raised in Pennsylvania was 24 when he enlisted in August 1941, motivated both by a sense of duty and a fear of the draft board.

He volunteered for the paratroops, ending up in Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment- the famous `Band of Brothers' portrayed in the book and TV series of the same name. Parachuting into Normandy on D-Day, he later fought in Holland and Belgium and helped capture Hitler's Eagles nest in Austria. He ended the war with the rank of Major and Battalion commander.

In this book Winters offers his thoughts and opinions on his wartime service, revealing untold stories and offering a fresh perspective on previously told events. It makes for a flawed but enjoyable read, that will be of great interest to anyone who has read the books or seen the TV series about the men he lead in World War 2.

Winters was assisted by Colonel Cole Kingseed in the editing, but there is no explanation given about his role in the process nor any indication another man was involved, it's not necessarily a problem but does pose several questions about Winters validity as an Author.

The book starts with an Authors Preface and Foreword setting out Winter's thoughts. It's an honest, easy to follow introduction that does little to burden the book and sets the tone well for the account that follows. It also acts as an introduction to Winters writing style-relaxed, personal and surprisingly brutal at points; he was after all in his late 80's when it was published, and had had a long life to think about his actions.

The book is divided into 4 parts covering different stages of Winters experience: Birth and enlistment through to D-Day minus 1, D-Day through to Holland, His promotion to Battalion Staff to V-E Day, and Occupation duties through to his return home. Each is further divided into chapters, it makes the book a largely easy to follow read. Occasionally Winters jumps ahead in the narrative to reference future events, its unnecessary, and annoying as it disrupts the flow of an otherwise well laid out book.

There are several photographs included; although many of the photographs have been reproduced from previous books on the company, several are from Winters own collection reinforcing the personal nature of the book, it's almost unnerving to match the faces of the men in the text with the young men in the photographs of almost Seventy years ago.

There are however no illustrations, whilst many people reading this book are likely to have at least some knowledge of the campaign In North West Europe, others will be at a complete loss at the multitude of place names and the numerous movements of the 101st Airborne. It's a flaw that could have been easily fixed, even a single annotated map would have helped break up the text and make it a less confusing read, but it was a problem that didn't cross the minds of either editor. It isn't the only flaw with the book.

Whereas Band of Brothers focussed on the stories of a whole unit and was under pressure to be financially successful, this book doesn't face either problem, and isn't necessarily better for it.

Winters is telling his own story so does occasionally come across as arrogant, or bad tempered, it is clear he disliked some of fellow soldiers intently, and after all these years still has some very negative opinions about his wartime service. He shows a very intimate portrait of what he chooses to, and a limited portrait of other areas. This may come as a shock to readers who trust the rather saintly way Steven Ambrose portrayed him in his books, but by being so Honest Winter's gives the book more impact, and makes it a largely engrossing read. Although others may find his writing style a little too personal, and struggle to accept his biased approach.

There is a lot of New Information contained in this book, which hadn't been covered in the TV series or previous books. Winters goes into extensive detail about many men, officers and enlisted who weren't mentioned before, and expands on previously referenced events. For fans of the previous books or TV series, this will be enjoyable reading though not everything included is completely relevant.

It sometimes seems like Winters forgets he's writing for other people, there is regular mention of a DeEtta Almon, whether a friend, girlfriend or relative is never made completely clear, and her appearances are often so brief they don't really merit inclusion. Winters often stops the narrative and goes off on a tangent, it may prove annoying reading for some, used to more conventional layouts. In any case it does make the book an occasionally confusing read.

We learn about his early life and influences growing up in rural Pennsylvania, and his first few months in the army before joining easy company (despite his widely known pride in Commanding E Company, he classifies this period a his most enjoyable in the US Army), it is deeply personal, and is one of the most interesting areas of the book.

Towards the end of the book Winters goes into detail about his Occupation duties in France in late 1945, in contrast to his optimistic, youthful views to the early chapters, Winter's paints a image of an exhausted man embittered and forever changed by his wartime experiences, it makes a very interesting read, realising the changes that have taken place, and realsing how they have marked on his personality.

While billeted in England, he shared a house with an elderly English couple, The Barnes's, his relationship with them is often mentioned in the book, and provides a welcome addition, proving an interesting insight into the wartime relationship between American Soldiers and British civilians.

First Published in 2006 (This review is based on the 2011 Ebury Press edition) it includes an epilogue, detailing Winters post war career, and the lives, and deaths of some of his wartime comrades, an interesting, but sobering read, it ties up many of the loose ends from the series and does intrude on the main body of the text.

Whilst there is a lot of new information, and despite Winters foreword giving a different impression, a significant proportion of the book is merely re-treading ground already covered by other authors, Winters even references Ambrose's book at several points in the narrative. He doesn't have Ambrose's skills as a writer, or an historian, and tells his story largely at his own level, for some readers there simply may not be enough additional material to merit the cost. There isn't actually that much material in any case, the book is short, being only 280 pages in length, and it feels short, Winters often covering months in matter of pages.

There is little insight into the wider picture, with limited discussion of the why's and how's of the wider war in Europe. Those looking for an insight into Military tactics and the politics of battle will find only limited examples here, and are better off looking elsewhere.

The book presumes on the reader's part at least some knowledge of World War Two, and Easy Companies story and for the casual reader may prove a confusing, or frustrating read. It is written from an American prospective, and in American English, so for Brits, or other readers it may prove harder to access or enjoy Winters story.

In conclusion Beyond Band of Brothers is simultaneously too short and in need of a tighter edit, it has other flaws, and can't really justify an expensive purchase. But at a reasonable price (or rented from a local library) there is enough new content, and a largely enjoyable writing style to make this a worthwhile purchase for those wishing to get more information on Easy Company, or its wartime commander, but unlike the TV series it isn't an essential purchase.

Somme: The Heroism and Horror of War
Somme: The Heroism and Horror of War
by Martin Gilbert
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great read, 13 Dec. 2011
The Battle of the Somme, fought between July and November 1916 is the most famous battle of the first World war, it was a turning point for Britain in the conflict., and continues to inspire debate amongst historians. After two years of stalemate Allied military chiefs were growing impatient with the situation on the western front. Employing an army largely comprised of untested `pals' battalions Britain (and its Dominions)would launch a massive attack in the area of the river Somme, In an attempt to break through German lines, relieving pressure on the French fighting at Verdun, and giving room for there large Calvary units to manoeuvre.

Months in the planning and involving many thousands of men the attack seemed foolproof. But it wasn't, on the first day alone 60,000 British and commonwealth soldiers were killed or wounded, joined by thousands more in the moths that followed. The attack was finally called on in November, the German lines hadn't been broken and the war dragged on for two more bloody years. Despite its failure it is still considered a pivotal event of the 20th century, an event that continues to fascinate and appal people the world over.

In this book `Somme the Heroism and Horror of war' British historian Martin Gilbert gives a fascinating insight into the battle and the men who fought it. Drawing from both historical records and first hand accounts Gilbert covers both the front line action, and the drama taking place behind closed doors, as the allied generals decide how to fight the battle. Whilst he isn't entirely successful at finding a balance between the two, it provides a well rounded overview of all areas of the battle and makes a very interesting read.

A short prelude explaining the context of the battle and causes of the war is included, easy to read it provides a valuable reference point and a strong introduction to Gilberts writing style and it does little to slow up the book. Although it arguably may not be necessary, as readers of this book are likely to have at least a basic knowledge of World War 1.

As the title `Heroism and Horror' indicates this is largely a book about the men fighting in the trenches. Including dozens of accounts from across the (then) British Empire Gilbert lets the soldiers speak for themselves with little commentary or discussion of their accounts, largely it isn't needed as many of the accounts are strong enough on their own. Though this seeming lack of detail may annoy some readers used to more in depth historical books.

The Somme was a battle fought by thousands of soldiers, from all corners of the British Empire and Germany,this book includes several of the most notable accounts including: Thomas Kettle a leading Irish nationalist was killed whilst serving as a 2nd Lieutenant in the British Army, Lt Henry Webber was 68 years old when he volunteered for service, whilst a terribly wounded Newfoundlander survived five days alone in No mans land without food water or medical attention. It makes for fascinating but sobering reading, with a large majority of the accounts ending with the words `he was killed' or `his name is engraved on the Thiepval memorial to the missing', it is to Gilberts credit that he makes these stories come to life when these events are now faded from human memory.

Of particular interest was the inclusion of an account of JRR Tolkien's (the author of The Lord Of The Rings) experiences in the battle as a Platoon Leader, and Winston Churchill's (British Prime Minister for most of World War 2) views on the campaign, whilst neither offered anything new (their service records are already extremely well known) it made for very interesting reading and made the battle easier to connect with.

However strong these accounts may be it can't disguise flaws with the book, having so many accounts made for confusing, and at times irritating reading, not only does it get wearying to read eight or nine accounts of the same battle, there are an awful lot of names to remember. Not all the accounts included are that memorable either, some are instantly forgettable and don't really merit inclusion in the book, whilst others are rethreading events already described.

This is a book that needs to be read cover to cover to get the most out of it, so may be too time consuming for some readers. Often several pages go by with little advance in the story, this may annoy readers with shorter attention spans but I suspect is the point, as Gilbert is merely echoing the real timeline of the battle and the way the soldiers saw it.

The book includes both front line and behind the line accounts of the battle, they aren't told in separate chapters and unfortunately the two don't quite gel. It detracts from the flow of the book as you constantly have to remember names and figures, and it interrupts the narrative-one minute you are reading a gut wrenching account of someone's death the next you are reading about a discussion at Westminster, its confusing and makes the book feel longer than it actually is, The stories of front line service are so strong it makes the other accounts feel a little tame in comparison, a tighter edit could have corrected many of these flaws and made it a easier read.

The battle of the Somme has been studied by tacticians for decades, for those looking for an insight into this area of the battle this probably isn't the right book Excerpts From Douglas Haig's own views on the battle are included though they add little to the book, and read like useless trivia. Gilbert does provide a series of annotated maps and gives some limited commentary on the how's and why's of the battle, but largely he shies away from the more `technical' areas of the battle. There is enough to give the reader a basic understanding but Gilbert is more interested in the human story- the cost and effects of the battle on the soldiers who fought it. Readers looking for a insight into the tactics and politics of the battle are better looking elsewhere, there are many other books on the battle on the market which cover this area of the battle.

Gilbert largely relies on secondary and pre existing sources in this book, He gives very little commentary or opinion on the battle, as such makes the book feel a little flat, and frankly lazy. Whilst it isn't necessarily needed it is a bit of a disappointment considering he's a skilled historian, it wouldn't have burdened the book with much added weight and would have helped to break up the book's narrative.

It is clear that Gilbert is writing a British account of the battle, so there are only a few German accounts included, it's a shame as the few that are included are very strong and help break up the book's layout. Having more German accounts would have also given greater insight into the battle, and how the `enemy' functioned.

The book is very predictable at times, there are significant flaws with the layout, and arguably it offers little we haven't seen before, but this book largely merits its cost. A flawed but fascinating read packed full of interesting trivia and stories. It will be gripping reading for anyone with a interest in World War 1 or military history, though it may not satisfy those looking for an in depth look at the battle, or a truly memorable read.

Leonard Maltin's 2011 Movie Guide (Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide)
Leonard Maltin's 2011 Movie Guide (Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide)
by Leonard Maltin
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good Book...but not perfect, 13 Dec. 2011
Leonard Maltin's 2011 Movie Guide is the latest edition of the long running series of film reference guides. One of the most popular on sale, it is a relatively cheap American publication that suffers from a number of flaws.

Containing over 17,000 reviews ranging from silent classics to recent Direct to DVD releases it certainly has an interesting variety of reviews. Unfortunately there are less than 400 new entries; several recent blockbusters such as Inception and Toy Story 3 (both 2010) are notable in their absence, some readers may be annoyed by the lack of new releases. On the other hand many obscure titles ranging from little known foreign films to silent's from the 20's are included, virtually any genre or kind of film is represented at least once, though it's a admirable decision on the editors part, you have to question the relevance of many of these films to the modern day audience.

The films are listed in Alphabetical order e.g. The Deer Hunter, is listed under D as Deer Hunter The. Each entry contains useful production information (Year of release, Cast and Crew etc) and trivia (alternate versions, surprise cameos, awards) it's pretty comprehensive and very useful for reference purposes, as well as a review. Each entry follows the same format, a small paragraph typed in a simple black and white font, it makes it a clear easy to follow read. Whatever it's other flaws this is a very well researched book, with very accurate information researched by experienced industry professionals.

The actual reviews are concise and to the point- if it's good and why or why not, it makes it a very accessible read, though the reviews aren't very comprehensive, and some appear to be biased or half hearted. Neither are all the reviews the same length, Gangs of New York for example is given a long paragraph whilst Memento is given half the space, its uneven and unfair, many films don't get the coverage they deserve and the rushed nature of some of the reviews makes the critic's opinions somewhat questionable, and hard to understand.

Films are rated BOMB for the worst through to **** for the best, it's a simple system that seems largely accurate, however there are many questionable ratings in the book that seem out of touch with popular opinion, here are a few examples: King Kong (2005) and Hidalgo (2004) two recent blockbusters with major issues, are rated 3 ½ stars out of 4, whilst recognised classics Taxi Driver (1976) and Blade Runner (1982) are rated 2 and 1 ½ stars respectably, it's not a major problem with the book as all opinions are personal anyway, but some readers may be infuriated by the star ratings in the book, and the seemingly strange opinions of some of the staff.

Whilst Leonard Maltin serves as Managing editor (a position he has held for decades) he is helped by a team of associates, the reviewers names aren't credited for each film, so it's impossible to tell who's reviewed what, it isn't necessarily a problem, but it would provide a clue in trying to match up some wildly diverse opinions and figure out the reviewers intentions.

The book regularly seems biased towards older films or genres, silent films seemingly merit a 3 star rating on being silent, whilst many popular blockbusters merit only 2 stars for being too similar. The relatively low number of 4 star films but high number of 3 star films is misleading as well, very few recent films have got the perfect rating despite good write ups in the book, whilst some reviews contradict there ratings. At points it's confusing and annoying trying to work out whether they recommend the film or not.

Though you can respect his views as a critic you do get a sense that some of his opinions are out of date, very few films are revisited and recent films in general get lower ratings. Although star ratings often change between different additions- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull dropped from 3 ½ to 3 stars, this at least shows some reconsideration though it does say something negative about the books organisation and the critics memories.

Some of the reviews are very self concerned (He gives Gremlins 1 a lower rating than the second, despite the fact its better...oh yes he's in the second...) making it hard to take his views seriously.

Costing just £9.99 in many shops the book is at first glance good value for money, there are a lot of reviews, and it's cheaper than many of its competitors. On closer inspection problems do surface the book at over 1600 pages in length is longer than it needs to be, many films don't merit inclusion, whilst the staff's introductions seem more concerned with selling their careers than the book. A tighter edit could have done the book a lot of favours, 50-60 pages could go without much effect. The book is binded together well so it's in little danger of falling apart, though the quality of the paper is questionable, its easily damaged and not particularly professional looking.

There are certainly many issues with the book, but there are also many positives. In addition to the reviews (which are entertaining and well written despite their noted flaws) the following is included: a useful list of film related addresses (DVD repair business's, laserdisc conversion etc) an updated index of leading stars and directors film credits which is very well researched (although some of the stars are of questionable inclusion Whoopi Goldberg? BillyBob Thornton? Are they really still `stars'?) , and a list of recommended films. At just £9.99 it IS good value for money, whilst its relatively small size and well planned layout make it a easily stored, easily read book.

It is worth remembering that everything in this book-names, addresses, and release dates is based on American release and production dates, so some of the information included isn't relevant to UK readers, and may annoy those looking for `accurate' data. For these readers it may be worth investing in a more expensive UK equivalent such as the Radio Times Film Guide (which to be brutally honest is probably better anyway) Similarly don't go looking for small scale UK films (e.g. Glorious 39) which don't often get released abroad or TV films which aren't often covered in recent additions of the book, the book covers a lot of films but isn't and can't be comprehensive.

As a reference guide is entirerly comprised of text, there is no room for illustraions or pictures and they would be out of place in such a book anyway. This is made clear in the book so readers wil know what they are in for.

In conclusion it is longer than it needs to be, the reviews and ratings are sometimes of questionable quality and reasoning, and it is frankly out of date in some respects. But overall this is a well written, useful book. It may not be the best or most relevant film reference guide on the UK market, but it's possibly the cheapest and it will certainly entertain movie lovers and trivia fans alike, not an essential purchase but not a bad decision if you do buy a copy.

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