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Man On The Rocks
Man On The Rocks
Price: 10.49

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Welcome return, if rather uneven., 3 Mar 2014
This review is from: Man On The Rocks (Audio CD)
So: what to make of the man’s return to pop/rock? His first album for six years, the album that wasn’t going to be made because Mike had ‘semi-retired’ until his appearance at the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony spurred him on.

And not an instrumental in sight, unless you count the album given (minus vocals) in the deluxe edition.

Well for me it was a bit of a mixture. Whilst Mike’s guitar is recognisable throughout, and in places really soars, in other places the tracks are a little – well, bland. It did take a couple of listens to the full album to really like, but on the third listen some tracks began to become noticeable.

It’s clearly an album that tries to cover a range to show Mike’s talents. It doesn’t always work, but there’s nothing here particularly unpleasant. It’s actually good to hear some new stuff from Mike, even when it underwhelms.

So: the tracks that I love: Man on the Rocks, which grew and grew on listening. Castaway is my album favourite, with some blistering guitar and vocals that really let rip. Nuclear, which in places reminded me of early King Crimson. Chariots is perhaps the most reminiscent of 80’s-Mike (or even some of the Light & Shade instrumentals) with its chugging synthesiser riff. Nice bass line too.

Tracks that are ‘hmm’: Dreaming in the Wind (though the guitar solo at the end is lovely), Sailing (a weird choice for first single, in my opinion, as it is one of the weakest on the album), Moonshine (with some quite iffy lyrics). Following the Angels was a typical slow-song, which, although well-enough done, failed to really grab attention. So too Minutes. Irene was a rather bland rocker that made me think of ZZ Top, with some more dodgy lyrics. I Give Myself Away is a typical end of the night slow song, nice enough but nothing particularly special, even with a nice fuzzy guitar solo towards the end.

I must say that the new vocalist, Luke Spiller from the band The Stills, who I was really underwhelmed by on that first single, in places shines. His vocals on Castaway are particularly good. At times the continuity of having one singer throughout made we crave a little more variety, as was apparent when the gospel-style backing came in on Following the Angels. But generally the lad’s done well.

If I was looking for the weak spot of the album, then generally the lyrics, as ever, are not the best aspect of Mike’s work. For those less impressed by the lyrics there’s always the instrumental version in the Deluxe edition, which actually works quite well in showcasing Mike’s music. I was surprised to hear how much is going on behind the vocals. For example, Moonshine’s music, with its U2-style riff and Celtic whistles, comes across *much* stronger in the vocal-less version. Adding them as a bonus disc is a masterstroke.

Perhaps it is to be expected from someone better known for his solo work, but some of it does sound as if it’s not a band effort. I wonder what would’ve happened if the members actually had played together more in the studio together, although these days in a studio it happens less and less.

So: overall not bad. Some really good tracks, a broad range, and with nothing that I disliked, never less than likable. Whilst it’s not the stunner I had hoped for, it’s certainly not his worst album. And, for all its strengths and weaknesses, it is most definitely a Mike Oldfield album.

Welcome back, Mike.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 4, 2014 10:34 AM GMT

The Black Guard: 1 (The Long War)
The Black Guard: 1 (The Long War)
Price: 2.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading, 19 Aug 2013
As I type this, we're past the midpoint of 2013, which is shaping up to be a great year for Epic Fantasy. When I started at the beginning of the year, like 2012, I had great hopes for the genre. There were some debut writers who I hoped would set a standard, but was generally disappointed by what I read.

I'm pleased to type that The Black Guard is an entertaining debut from an author I want to read more from.

Readers of Fantasy may recognise much of what is here. There's an attempt at a coup, the return of an old God (or its descendants) in a medieval-esque world. We have sieges, catapults, battles on a large and small scale, longswords and beheadings a-plenty.

The author clearly knows his audience and fans of the genre will lap this up.

It must be said that are many similar debuts out there at the moment. In my opinion, The Black Guard is one of the better ones. What works here for me more than other recent debuts I've read is the characterisation. Generally the characters are recognisable and yet different enough to be entertaining. The reader will identify with the good guys and hiss mightily at the bad, though there's a nice touch of greyness in there too. In particular, their dialogue is appropriate to the setting and worked for me, a problem I've had with many recent debuts. One warning: there is profanity and rather bloody mayhem here (it's not really a Young Adult tale) but it was refreshing to find that, unlike some `Grimdark' books of late, it doesn't reduce the overall impact by overdoing the violence or the expletives.

It also helps the suspension of disbelief that the world-building seems logical as well. There's a nice range of different groups here and whilst aspects are familiar, they are pleasingly different. The pantheon of otherworldly beings is quite striking too, and I liked the use of magic and Krakens in this novel. There's a Lovecraftian touch too in that a blood sacrifice is made to the Dead God, which is part of a plan to rebirth Shub-Nillurath and so create more Gods and a new age of pain and chaos.

Some of the battle scenes are terrific and are surprisingly well written for a debut novel. Whilst they're not always epic in scale, they're crafted well enough to maintain pace without losing track of the characters or the plot. The battle at the end in particular is very well done.

Before I get too carried away, it must be said that the book isn't entirely perfect. We could quibble about the huge dollops of set-up dialogue in conversations at the beginning of the novel, a slight lag in pace in the middle of the novel and the occasional over-the-top Conan-esque moment, but generally what happens works well and keeps the reader's attention over a 600+ page book.

Perhaps the biggest complaint may be that there's a lot of exposition here and by the end of the novel there are some major plot points that are unresolved, clearly to be continued in another book. Any reader expecting everything to be neatly solved by the end of this book will be disappointed.

Quite a few other reviewers have mentioned other authors as being `the debut of the year'. For me, The Black Guard is up there too as one of my favourites. Well done Head of Zeus for introducing me to another series I can't wait to continue. Brilliant stuff. I await the next book, eagerly.

Joyland (Hard Case Crime) (Hard Case Crime Novels)
Joyland (Hard Case Crime) (Hard Case Crime Novels)
by Stephen King
Edition: Paperback
Price: 3.85

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Joyful..., 8 Jun 2013
Stephen King's latest seems to have caused a bit of a stir. First of all, it's currently a print-only novel (at least initially), something which has annoyed a few people now used to reading on their generic e-reader device. And secondly, it's a noir-like crime novel, which is not what many King fans will expect (although he has written there in the past.)

But then, to my mind, that's not a bad thing. Joyland is a book that is meant to be read with no preconceptions, no baggage attached. It's meant to be the sort of a story that a reader picks up at random, perhaps from one of those newspaper bookstands whilst about to embark on a long journey and looking for something to just pass the time. The deliberately lurid cover further emphasises this, drawn by famous noir-style artist, Glen Orbik. Once upon a time, had perhaps the lure of SK not been so enormous, I could see this being published as if by Richard Bachman or another pseudonym in order to avoid the preconceptions that just the author's name may create.

By using evocative language and vivid imagery on the cover (shocked red-headed girl in a green outfit), Stephen's made sure that readers are aware that it's a pastiche. It's meant to have the tone and physical properties of a cheap pulp novel from the 1950's, although as it's from Stephen, the style and intelligence of the plot elevate it a little from those potboilers of yesteryear.

With such elements in mind, the plot's pretty simple. It's a coming of age tale, a story of a young man (Devin Jones), with a broken heart, who takes on a summer vacation job in Heaven's Bay at a rather seedy and run-down amusement park called Joyland. There's an old tale of murder (for what old Amusement Park doesn't have a tale of murder in its shadows?), and Devin has to deal with some hard and deep life-truths along the way. There's also a touch of psychic prediction - "There's a shadow over you", the fortune teller Madame Fortuna tells Devin - which is reminiscent of other King tales, although much of the beginning of the book is Devin working through the summer, learning the carny `Talk', nursing his destroyed ego and making new friends before deciding that he likes the carny life. He decides to stop on instead of going to college, which means that he stays at Joyland after the main summer season, as the park begins to wind down to season closure and refurbishment.

And then, like many of Stephen's other `coming of age' tales, what Devin discovers is something life-changing. The summer/autumn of '73 is one that Devin never forgets, for many reasons.

And this too is a story that resonates with remembrance, and even loss. This is a King tale set in the past, like 11.22.63, Blockade Billy, or The Colorado Kid, where the author manages to do that trick of his of recapturing that idealistic sense of a past, but then imbibes it with something dark. It's another summer novel, something that King does so well, like IT or Hearts in Atlantis or The Body. There's also a definite Ray Bradbury vibe here, in that as we approach autumn there is that combination of romanticism with the hyper-reality of amusement arcades, alternatively brash light and deep blackness. It's Dark Carnival, seen with a contemporary 2013 perspective. As Ray was both a fan of horror and crime novels, and Stephen a fan of Ray, it's perhaps not surprising that the film-noir tone becomes prevalent here. And it works. It scores emotionally, romantically and stylistically.

In summary, Joyland is clearly written with love and respect, and won me over as a result. Admittedly, it's not Stephen's most original tale, but that isn't really its point. As homage, I found it to be one of the more enjoyable stories I've read from Stephen in recent years. Whilst reading I imagined it as being in a seaside resort rather like Amity (in Jaws), with a dash of the TV series Carnivale and a touch of Something Wicked This Way Comes via The Twilight Zone.

It's going to be a great seaside holiday read, and I can see it being read whilst sitting on the beaches of Summer 2013. There's enough humour, romance, suspense and chills to move and amuse a fan.

QE2 [Deluxe Edition]
QE2 [Deluxe Edition]
Price: 11.84

12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Now with added extras.., 31 July 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: QE2 [Deluxe Edition] (Audio CD)
As we get to the next phase of Mike's career ('the synthesiser phase')QE2 reflects that transition from the older Tubular Bells style more towards the future poppy style of Moonlight Shadow.

The mixture here is a combination of the two, with varying degrees of success. To be honest, I can't hear much difference in the original album between that and the 2000 HDCD remaster. As others have mentioned details of the album previous I'll not dwell too much, other than to say that this remastered album sounds pretty much as the old one did, to my increasingly old ears, anyway!

The track Sally has now been named Into Wonderland, as it was supposedly originally named. The original version of Sally on the first presses of the album is nowhere to be seen, something that may annoy many older fans. We do get the shorter single version of the Shadows cover Wonderful Land added here, a live version of Polka from the 1980 Tour and a sort've new track, Shiva, which I'll mention later.

The second disc is a live concert from The European Adventure Tour of 1981, in Essen on the 1st April. What is given here has not been available before, I gather, (though I'm sure there'll be a bootleg around somewhere!)and is a pretty good set: a live version of Ommadawn for the older fan, a rockier version of Taurus 1 for the album of the tour. Interestingly, the title track QE2 becomes shorter live, whereas Taurus 1 is a minute longer. The live version of Taurus 1 is brilliant: very fast! - and the live version of Ommadawn compressed to nearly 22 minutes is lovely, but the quality of the tour recording is generally very good, and the album for me is given a whole new lease of life in these versions. This version of the album is worth buying for the live versions, if nothing else.

The biggest shock of the album is the last added extra on the album disc: the track Shiva, a longer version of Sheba but now with added Oldfield lyrics that are quite clear, and a multitracked new chorus with Mike's vocals. The vocals sound recent (it evidently is a new 2012 `reworking') but I'm not sure that Mike's half singing/half spoken tone, now lower in tone than it used be in the 1980's, really works: for me, anyway.

On the downside, the horrible `Deluxe edition' sticker is still worth carefully removing, though in the case of the QE2 album cover (imitating the original album version) is not worth shouting about. The sleeve notes are pretty much a copy of the Platinum deluxe edition (at least two-thirds seem identical) and could actually tell us more about Mike and the music than they do.

However, for a fan this is a worthwhile purchase: and worth that upgrade for at least some of the new extras.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 3, 2012 3:17 PM BST

Platinum [Deluxe Edition]
Platinum [Deluxe Edition]
Price: 11.60

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Revisited, 32 years on..., 31 July 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Ah, Platinum. The point where the new Mike Oldfield, following on from the release of the single Guilty, emerges with an album.

Very different from Incantations, it was erm, funkier. Having spent time in New York, Mike was relishing using new musicians. We also had cover versions, with Mike extracting a touch of Philip Glass's North Star in the long title track, and Gershwin's `I Got Rhythm', (or as the live album version calls it, `I've Got Rhythm')

The quality of the remastered original album is good. Of the three added `extras', we have the single version of the Blue Peter theme tune, at a shade over 2 minutes, a great version of Platinum played live in the studio that is previously unreleased, and a really good, longer (nearly twice as long!) version of North Star remixed by Mike in 2012. It's not groundbreaking but is good.

The 1980 live CD from Wembley Stadium is very good, and worth buying this new edition for alone. The quality of the recording is generally very good and I understand previously unavailable.

For me it's an interesting listen: I went to see Mike in concert in Sheffield a couple of nights before this recording. It is better and yet different to what I remember, 32 years on. Vocalist Wendy Roberts is better than I remembered, though I didn't think she was bad at the time. There's the odd misplayed note but it's not a bad effort at all, and the reason why many will buy this edition of the album.


Stark's War (Book 1) (Stark's War 1) (Ethan Stark 1)
Stark's War (Book 1) (Stark's War 1) (Ethan Stark 1)
by Jack Campbell
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.46

3.0 out of 5 stars Soilid Mil-SF, 9 Dec 2011
For a book over a decade old this is pretty good mil-fic that Space Opera fans will like.

Ethan Stark is the sergeant of a squadron in a future where people (well, Americans) have returned to the Moon and are establishing a network across the solar system. There is conflict between the corporate businesses of America and other countries, though the actual fighting takes place using multinational sponsored troops and materiel. There are `regular' soldiers but the command groups, being too valuable to risk, are away from the battle-zone, directing actions through the lieutenants. All of this is shown live on television, which contributes by paying the costs of the engagements.

Ethan is one of the `real' soldiers on the ground, a platoon sergeant leading his men in difficult situations. His honest and straight-forward approach is often at odds with both the TV corporations and the leaders he's sworn to work for. He hacks into the mission Tactical Plans which otherwise would be denied to him, so that he can guide his men effectively.

The first third of this book deals with a first sortie to the moon. Arriving misplaced from their drop zone in the Sea of Tranquillity, the team find that they are forced to fight a raiding enemy force whilst defending what they have claimed. The mission is messy and some of Stark's best trainees are killed.

In the second part of the book Stark's soldiers face the enemy in a raid meant to destroy an enemy refinery but really designed to improve declining television popularity ratings. It is another bungled catastrophe and many are killed whilst Stark is also wounded.

The last section of the book deals with Stark's recovery and his return to active warfare. Another major battle ensues with men stranded and major losses until Stark steps in and reluctantly assumes command, effectively mutinying against the senior officers. The end has an interesting development (which I won't spoil here) which moves things up a gear, ready for the next book in the series.

This is a solidly written, action-packed mil-SF novel. The action scenes are very well done, the main characters fairly straightforward, the motivations for the characters clear. There's the odd misstep - a scene where an infantryman has to explain World War One to his fellow soldiers seemed a little far-fetched to me, and later an explanation of the Spartans, for example - but really most readers will probably know what to expect and have bought it to meet those criteria: heroism, difficult odds, impossible situations, they're all here, but in the end it is the loyalty and bravery of the soldiers and their camaraderie against all complications (usually of the bungling officer kind), and their function to get a difficult job done, that makes this a worthwhile read. In these days of Big Brother television, it's interesting to see a possible consequence in future war.

Whilst nothing particularly new, (war is bad, fellow combatants are good, officers don't know what they're doing) it is a good page-turner that will amply satisfy fans of this sub-genre. Fans of Baen Books, John Scalzi's Old Man's War series, Jack McDevitt, David Weber or John Ringo are going to like this one. It's also not a bad place to start for those who've come across this after playing Halo and want to try a book with similar themes.

The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories
The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories
by Micaela Morrissette
Edition: Paperback
Price: 25.00

33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly Weird, 9 Dec 2011
Here we have the most comprehensive and eclectic story collection of the sub-genre to date.

Many will comment on this book's size. It is over a thousand pages of fairly small text, usually in two columns per page (Weird Tales style), 750 000 words of weirdness from writers in over eighteen different countries. There are stories that are known, stories that are much less known and some stories translated into English for the first time.

A huge collection of stories and a variety of authors from all over the world, Ann and Jeff here not only try to show what they consider to be a collection of the best representations of the subgenre (if we can call it that) in the last one-hundred years but also try to show readers what weird fiction is, what are its origins and how it has developed.

An ambitious target, but one which has been supremely realised. Of the old favourites, many will recognise:

F. Marion Crawford, "The Screaming Skull," (1908) , Algernon Blackwood, "The Willows," (1907) , Saki, "Sredni Vashtar," (1910), M.R. James, "Casting the Runes," (1911), H.P. Lovecraft, "The Dunwich Horror," (1929), Clark Ashton Smith, "Genius Loci," (1933), Fritz Leiber, "Smoke Ghost," (1941), Ray Bradbury, "The Crowd," (1943), Shirley Jackson, "The Summer People," (1950), Jerome Bixby, "It's a Good Life," (1953), Daphne Du Maurier, "Don't Look Now," (1971), George R.R. Martin, "Sandkings," (1979), Stephen King, "The Man in the Black Suit," (1994) and China Mieville, "Details," (2002).

All are good tales and as good as you could expect, as are stories by F. Paul Wilson, Clive Barker, Caitlin Kiernan, Lisa Tuttle, Garry Kilworth and many others.

Where this collection really scores is that there is a lot here even the experienced expert will find new. Many of the tales have been translated from other languages, especially for this edition, and so were new to me. Authors I have heard of (Belgium's Jean Rey, for example) I was now reading for the first time. There's Kafka and Borges here, but new to me were France's Michel Bernanos, Spain's Merce Rodreda, Italy's Dino Buzzati and Japan's Ryunosuke Akyutagawa. What this confirmed to me was that there is an amazing world of the Fantastic beyond the English prose.

The Weird, being in chronological order, also gives us glimpses into the latest `new' weird writers: or should that be `new, new weird', as the `New Weird' grouping, if it ever existed, seems to date from the later1980's to early 1990's. Clearly names to look for in the future are Laird Barron, Steve Duffy and Reza Negarestani, many of whom I hadn't encountered until this volume. The final `Afterweird' by China Mieville is as brain-stretching as I'd expect.

I haven't even tried to review the tales in depth here. I was pleased to read some old favourites but was more pleased to read stories I'd never heard of before.

Consequently there was a joy in just not knowing where a story was going to lead.
There is enough here for everyone. It is awesomely weird. There are stories of drama, of fantastic mythology, of creepiness and unease, of tales in the past and ones that might just be happening now.

Even in such a major-sized tome there are omissions, some because of space, some because the editors couldn't get the permissions. (I'll mention Thomas Disch, JG Ballard and Arthur Machen, for example.) But these are minor quibbles, considering what is covered.

This is essential for anyone with a remote interest in what readers see in weird fiction. It covers the width, breadth and depth of what readers might see as the sub-genre, as well as no doubt some other dimensions usually beyond the traditional three. It has taken me nearly two months to read this, but it has been an amazing read. This is a book to wallow in, to delve into, to pick stories from at random. It is a book once read, readers will keep coming back to, and have since finishing it the first time.

As is the book's remit would suggest, not every story will be well liked, not every tale will be understood. It will cause debate, and I suspect will be high on `the best of' lists at the end of the year. I think already it is one of mine.

The Departure (Owner Novel 1)
The Departure (Owner Novel 1)
by Neal Asher
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 17.99

37 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Departure in more ways than one..., 5 Sep 2011
Neal's latest novel is a departure of sorts: away from his Polity series, and the start of a new series, but a place he has written of before. The Departure is the first of The Owner novels, though Neal's story collection The Engineer (and its later revised version, The Engineer Reconditioned) tell three stories of the Owner Universe.

Whilst the short stories tell of events much later, The Departure sets up the basics in the origin of the stories. Set in the 22nd century, Earth is being run by a global authority known as the Committee. Its enforcers, the Inspectorate, rule a rapidly growing population with ruthless efficiency, often involving torture and death. The general populace are controlled by human enforcers and robot Shepherds, a Wellsian type machine that can both capture and shred people.

Things in this dystopia are generally not good. A too-large population using too many of its finite resources without the luxury of expansion means that life for many is arduous. The idea that `Power Corrupts' is important here, and there's clearly something rotten in the socio-political structures of the 22nd century. The world government administrators live in luxury, whilst the ZA (Zero Asset) people, who contribute nothing to the economy, exist on a bare minimum with limited health care and facilities.

To this we have Alan Saul, assisted by an artificial intelligence named Janus. Having being tortured by the Inspectorate, his past is a mystery and much of Alan's past is unknown to him, or at least fragmentarily remembered at best. His mission objective is to bring down the corrupt organisation. He helps who he thinks is his torturer/interrogator, Hannah Neumann, but actually finds that they are former lovers and colleagues. Saul now discovers that he was a key player for the Inspectorate, but one who was experimented on and tortured before being dispatched by Political Director Smith for disposal.

When Janus's presence in cyberspace is uncovered, Saul has to download Janus into the experimental hardware created by Hannah in his head, where the two become merged, if at first, rather schizophrenic. Now being hunted by the Inspectorate, Saul/Janus and Neumann attempt to get to Argus Space Station, and off planet. He finds that Smith is now in charge of running Argus and so Saul must try and kill Smith first in order to bring down the Committee.

Another of the consequences of the overpopulated and under-resourced Earth is that the limited space exploration other than travel to Argus, is confined pretty much to Mars. There, Varalia Delex (Var) is a colonist at Antares Base who finds that a colleague has been deliberately killed by the security forces there. The reason for this is that the security staff has received from Earth, an order which effectively cuts Mars off from any future support from Earth in the foreseeable future. Facing a difficult future, Ricard, chief administrator of the station's present Inspectorate, attempts to introduce a means of ensuring survival for a few, but not all, of the base's inhabitants. Var leads the rebellion back in order to remove the enforcers and keep her colleagues alive.

Earth is overpopulated and running out of basic resources, whilst unable to afford further space exploration. This leads to a base on Mars being left without support or resources and an uncertain future.

It's all pretty fast, dramatic stuff. We have city riots, shootings, space planes destroyed, the deliberate bombardment of the Earth from space, and combat in space aided by construction robots. As you might therefore expect, the body count is very high (though that is something that you rather expect with Neal's books.) This is definitely not one for the faint hearted in that respect, with body parts flying around and blood splashing many a wall.

Similarly, like many of Neal's other books there's also lots of cool gadgets: the robot-like Shepherds ensuring control, spider guns (robotic tanks), readerguns (that can recognise their targets before shooting them), space planes with scram jets and lots and lots of lethal guns.

In fact, this is a book with lots of Asher trademarks: rapid pace, great action, messy consequences. The political aspects of the tale showing the decline of a global network are quite well done, though rather unsubtle. Neal does tend to hammer home the message of "corporate greed = bad" quite a lot, as well as blaming the world's ills on left-wing measures.

Having watched riots and unrest in my own country over the last few weeks at the time of writing this, though, some of the early scenes here are eerily reminiscent of what could happen. If, as some suggest, SF reflects the time it was written, then perhaps this book fits the bill.

On the downside, though well told, when it is simplified to its basics, this book in a series of set pieces does little more than set up things for what will happen in the next book. It is an opening arrangement, with the result that that some aspects of the story are started and not resolved here.

The characters can be a little nondescript, though they are easy enough to work with, and have the advantage of the reader not having to spend pages reading about determining the meaning of life. (Though that's not to say that there isn't a little bit of that on the part of the main protagonist and his co-opted ex-lover.) Some may also quibble with the eventual god-like status of Saul and how quickly that occurs.

Nevertheless I must admit I am quite pleased to read something that Neal has done away from the Polity for a change. It seems to have given him a new lease of life. I am sure fans of his previous novels will enjoy this new series just as much, and will find much to enjoy here.

Final Days
Final Days
by Gary Gibson
Edition: Hardcover

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read, 10 Aug 2011
This review is from: Final Days (Hardcover)
Gary's latest, his fifth novel, is a novel of future apocalypse and wormholes. Written in a fast paced style from a number of different people's viewpoints, it is a cracking holiday read.

The story is set in 2235. The key premise of the tale is that wormholes, if one end is accelerated to relativistic speeds, can allow people to travel hundreds of light years quickly. People who travel outside the gate can eventually catch up with the people who have travelled through the gate but only by travelling at standard speeds. Thus we appear to travel in time, with those going through the wormholes able to travel into the future, so to speak.

We start the novel with an expedition. One of the things that wormhole travel has allowed humans to do is explore places far from Earth. There are relics out in the universe of other races, though seemingly long gone, which are being carefully explored. When an expedition is sent to Vault 17 in Gate Delta, a now-deserted Gateway of wormholes, Jeff Cairns sees two of their members seemingly killed, but then, moments later, one of them, Mitchell Stone, re-appears.

This is one of many mysteries the wormholes seem to have. On Earth, the loss of a wormhole connection to the Galileo colony a few years back, for reasons unknown, is another that has become a concern. The two places have yet to be re-connected (and as time goes on may or may not be due to what is happening on Earth.) Saul Dumont knows this better than anyone. He's still trying to cope with the loss of the wormhole link to the Galileo system, which has stranded him on Earth far from his wife and child for the past several years.

Only weeks away from the link with Galileo finally being re-established, he stumbles across a conspiracy to suppress the discovery of a second, alien network of wormholes.

Things are complicated further when we discover the reason for the second expedition's secrecy. They have travelled to the near future of 2245 and discovered a devastated, lifeless solar system - all except for the original Mitchell Stone, found preserved in a cryogenics chamber on Luna. Not only that but it seems that Earth has little time left. From video footage taken in the future, Copernicus City on the Moon is seen in ruins. Strange plant-like growths are seen mushrooming out of the Earth's oceans, causing the Earth to be swathed in cloud and apparently killing all life beneath them. The Earth seems doomed, with most of its population unlikely to survive.

Saul realises that to stop further destruction, he has to shut down all the gateways, before the damage reaches the colonies. Fighting to get to the Moon to do this, he finds himself in a battle against one of the Mitchell Stones who seems equally keen to stop him.

This is a big Niven-esque type disaster novel, or perhaps a Greg Bear (Forge of God springs to mind), so much so that it really needs one of those dramatis personae lists at the front. Though there are the main characters, a number of others are there to help develop the plot, which are a little more less developed and can take careful following.

It's also a book that you have to just accept at the beginning, even when things don't always make immediate sense travelling forward and backward in time. It's a tale that needs a while to set the scene and develop. Of course, as we have `seen' video from 2245, we know what is going to happen: if the title of the book doesn't give it away, it does seem that the future is set and unchangeable, though this is never as clear-cut as it sounds.

However by the mid-point of the book, this tale's up and running and it's a fast, exciting read with a dramatic twist towards the end and some very interesting developments which will no doubt be explored further in the next book.
I liked this a lot, in that it's a plot-driven old-school type of tale with some great new ideas to make it work. I think this is Gary's best to date, and look forward to the next in the series.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 26, 2012 12:13 AM GMT

Incantations [Remastered]
Incantations [Remastered]
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35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Frustratingly sublime. [UPDATE}, 25 July 2011
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Incantations (Remastered)

Incantations (2011) is both a joy and frustration to me. What it may do is lead some to re-assess this album.

Back in 1978 it was Mike's fourth album and the next in an increasingly complex set of albums, though with diminishing sales.

Nevertheless, I remember that there was a degree of expectation amongst fans. After the release of Ommadawn in 1975, and with there being one album a year from Tubular Bells in 1973, there were three years of work (and waiting!), with the resulting album being a double, Oldfield's first. It is still his longest album to date.

It is a subtle, orchestral, classical work. Many of the other reviews here will say that. It uses proper orchestras, blistering guitar, and amazing choral voices that are still quite amazing. It is an album that runs in cycles, with rhythms and voices that intermix and overlap. On hearing it in the 1970's I was both mesmerised and frustrated. I loved certain aspects of it, yet felt that some parts were overlong and repetitive - something that fans have argued about ever since. (I have heard it referred to as Mike's `White Album' because of this.) As such, it got rather unfairly criticised, and was rather ignored at the time: this was when Punk Rock reared its head, and Mike's music was seen as out of step.

Personally, I have found over time that I have grown to love it, whilst perhaps accepting that it's not perfect.

So: what of this new remastered 2011 version?

Well: the short answer is that it is still frustrating.

The complexity of the musicianship, both in the quieter parts and the parts where `everything' is going on, is still dazzling.

On this new stereo mix, I'm pleased to say that the music is clearer than ever, as you might expect, having been overseen by Mike. What this did show me is that that there are layers that the previous vinyl or earlier CD versions (even the 2008 edition!) lost, or perhaps brought forward in the mix a little. Though I must say that this is not vastly different, and I'm not expecting everyone to notice, in places there are things going on that I've missed before. This makes it perhaps less repetitive than before, but only if you really listen.

After the quality of the 5.1 Surround Sound mixes of Tubular Bells, Hergest Ridge and Ommadawn, I expected nothing less of this release. Unfortunately, my disappointment here was that there wasn't a surround sound mix of the whole album. The Stereo mix, as good as it was, was not a Surround Sound mix: though a little tweaking on the sound processor of my DVD set-up created something not bad.

And this is my impression of the new album throughout. For every excellent improvement, there's something that niggles.

Even the packaging seems to follow this rule. The new cover is stunning (with the old cover shown in the booklet) but the removal of that awful `Deluxe Edition' band around it is essential, but be careful when doing so. I lost some of the sheen on the front cover doing so. (Comparatively, the new vinyl version is also wonderful.) Similarly, whilst it is great having a DVD in the package, it is in a side pocket and may be prone to scratches if it is used a lot.

There's also a worrying little blip in the remastering on Part 4, at about 12 minutes 37 seconds in, that just sounds wrong. The editing just doesn't quite match the smooth rhythmic pattern built on up to that point. This is unfortunate, as the final five minutes or so are as excellent as they've ever been.

There's another misstep here also. Having the single Guilty (both 7" on the `original' album and in Surround Sound for the 12" version) is great - I still have my original copy on blue vinyl! - but it is such a jolt after the end of Incantations that it can quite spoil the mood created. Strange how on early versions of the original single CD they had to trim Part Three to make it all fit, whereas now we have the full album and Guilty on one CD. (The track is not on the vinyl version though, as far as I can see.)

The second CD is good, though some of it does seem a little irrelevant. There are remixes of some of the Incantations themes (Diana, Hiawatha) or parts that didn't make the final version (Piano Improvisation, which I thought was rather good.) They're rather like those Beatles Anthology tracks to me - they made me feel in the end that they were incomplete, and wanting more, `proper' versions.

This was the same but even more so on the DVD's Surround Sound versions. The tantalising re-edits and snippets sound great, but in the end, all they left me with was a feeling of disappointment that there wasn't more.

A minor detail but also a disappointment: the DVD has a very boring front screen. Whereas Hergest Ridge and Ommadawn had screens that changed through the music, this one doesn't: instead we have a picture of a tabletop with some photo's on it, rather like the Exposed cover, but far too small to make out anything of use.

Whilst we're talking of the concert footage, from the tour (released as Exposed), the DVD does have the added Exposed footage of Incantations live at Wembley, as in 1979. The concert footage here does seem to work in Surround Sound, (whereas on the Exposed DVD it was only Stereo) but running them as two badly separated/edited parts was a shame.

The booklet notes seem to be edited comments from Mike's autobiography, Changeling.
In the end, as much as I want to love this, the album frustrates as much as it entertains. I'm a little worried that Mike's signed off on this one. As much as I liked it, after a few repeated watches and listens, I keep getting the feeling that it's not as well put together as the three previous reissues.

In summary, this is a package that both enthuses and irritates. It is clear that Incantations, despite its faults, is an underrated work that can now be more fully appreciated. My disappointment here is that this version is still not as good as it could have been. Frustratingly sublime.

UPDATE: Heard from Universal Music about this, who've said 'The new re-master of Incantations is faithful to the original analogue master tape. These tapes included an edit point at 12:37 on Part 4 of Incantations which can be discerned as a small jump in the track. Following feedback that this has affected the enjoyment for some listeners, a new master has been prepared and approved by Mike for all subsequent pressings. If you would like us to send you an amended disc please let us have your address details and we will send you one.'
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 1, 2012 1:25 AM BST

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