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Andy Phillips (Leicestershire, UK)

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Lucifer's Hammer
Lucifer's Hammer
by Larry Niven
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great apocalyptic fiction, 4 Feb. 2012
A comet is spotted heading towards Earth, and we follow a large cast of assorted characters as they prepare for a hit or near miss. Of course, most people expect the comet to miss the Earth, but it's obvious from the start to the reader that it won't.

The book is long but I didn't find it a chore to finish, and enjoyed all of it. The story includes a fairly lengthy build-up to the impact, the event itself and the short-term and mid-term aftermath. There are a LOT of characters, with some being described in more detail than others depending on their importance to the plot, but there is a handy list at the beginning of the book to help the reader keep track of who is who. This variety of characters allows us to see the event from lots of different perspectives, which I found interesting. The story is centred in and around the LA basin area, but scenes involving the crew of a space station and various officials does give some idea of conditions elsewhere in the US and abroad (but without much detail).

This is a good example of apocalyptic fiction. It covers all phases of the disaster, is well written and gives a feeling for what things could be like if a world-wide catstrophe were ever to happen.


Cell
Cell
by Stephen King
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good start, average middle, worse ending, 4 Feb. 2012
This review is from: Cell (Paperback)
I feel like I have been tricked by the blurb on the back of the book. The beginning of the book is great, and as described, but the middle and final thirds of the story get increasingly odd and less interesting (in my opinion at least).

The story started off as I expected, with the hero being caught away from home when an unexpected signal sent out to all mobile phones causes people to become violently insane. As you can probably imagine, many of those people not on their phones at the time soon use them to try and find out what happened, and they become crazy too. There is a lot of action in this initial phase of the story and the way in which the survivors react, and the sense of urgency, kept me turning the pages. It's not technically a zombie story, but it feels like an exciting example of one at this point. My one criticism of this section is the number of things that explode. Try counting them while you read the book and you'll see what I mean.

As the story progresses the people affected by the signal begin to change their behaviour. Without spoiling the story, this is both interesting (as it's more original than most zombie tales) and also frustrating (as the developments don't always make sense or improve the story). I felt that the book became less and less fun to read as this went on, but it never becomes really bad (until the final few pages maybe).

Overall, an average story with a few interesting ideas.


Vault of the Ages
Vault of the Ages
by Poul Anderson
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Post apocalyptic adventure story, 10 Jan. 2012
The blurb on the back of the novel reads as follows:
"Something was happening to the weather. Winter itself was moving South, lapping at the warmlands with tongues of ice. And riding the cold wind between the tall, ruined cities were the bitter Lann, their curved swords already bright with blood. They could be stopped, Carl knew, but only at a terrible cost - only by unsealing the Vault and releasing the hideous powers of the Doom!"

My copy of the book includes a short factual prologue about time capsules, and the idea behind the story. Essentially, a peaceful tribe is being invaded by barbarians from the cold north who are looking for more fertile land and better living conditions. The tribe live close to the ruins of an ancient city that it is forbidden to enter. The son of the chief of the peaceful tribe is chased by a party of barbarians and is forced to enter the city despite the taboo. He meets the chief of the city dwelling 'witches' who has found a store of knowledge and tools left by someone in the present day. This 'time vault' was left for future generations in order to speed the recovery of mankind following an expected nuclear war (which appears to have happened).

All of this happens quite early in the book, and the remainder of the story concerns the chief's son's attempts to get the taboo lifted in order to make use of this store of knowledge against the invaders. I was disappointed that the contents of the vault are not discussed in any detail as the appeal of this type of story to me is the attempts of the characters to make sense of ancient (from their point of view at least) artifacts. The majority of the book could have been set in the middle ages, and the vault might as well have been some sort of magical weapon as the story reads more like fantasy than science fiction. This isn't a good or bad thing, just not what I expected from a post apocalyptic story.

All in all, not a bad story, but nothing amazing either, although it's an adequate adventure story.


Dog Blood
Dog Blood
by David Moody
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

3.0 out of 5 stars Second of a trilogy, 5 Jan. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Dog Blood (Paperback)
SPOILER ALERT - I would recommend that you read 'Hater' before this review or 'Dog Blood'.

This is the 2nd book of 3 in the series and follows on more-or-less directly from the events of 'Hater'. Most of the story concerns Danny McCoyne's attempts to find his daughter Ellis. As we found out in the first book, he has changed into a rage-filled Hater, as has Ellis, and he wants to fight alongside her against the Unchanged (i.e. normal humans). The majority of this journey consists of a series of violent encounters as the two sides clash. The Unchanged have gathered together in a city and still have a functioning military while the Haters attack in a much less organised, but more aggressive, manner. Danny suspects that Ellis is within this guarded city and tries to find a way in to locate her.

The rest of the book has a couple of interesting ideas, including the way that Danny gets into the city, but it isn't as original as 'Hater' and doesn't build on the ideas introduced in the first book very much. I got a bit bored with the endless fighting and descriptions of how Danny wants to kill all the Unchanged (with the majority of the story being told from his perspective). I also don't understand where this aggression comes from as all the descriptions of people changing in the first book suggest that that Haters are afraid of the Unchanged rather than unable to resist attacking them. I guess that's not a major problem for the purposes of the book, but I find it inconsistent.

In short, this book is worth reading if you liked 'Hater' and want to see how the trilogy pans out, but it's only an average story in its own right.


28 Days Later, Volume 1: London Calling
28 Days Later, Volume 1: London Calling
by Michael Alan Nelson
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Good start to the series, 3 Jan. 2012
This is the first in a series of 6 collections of comics that attempt to bridge the gap between the '28 Days Later' and '28 Weeks Later' films. I haven't read the other issues (yet) so I don't know if there are further books planned.

The story follows Selena from the original film, after she is approached in a refugee camp in Norway by a team of journalists. They want to go to the UK and explore infected territory, beyond the area protected by the US/NATO military (as shown in '28 Days Later') and want her to act as a guide. As you might expect, this turns out to be a bad idea.

This book is clearly the first part of a series as there is a natural break in the story at the end, but it certainly isn't a conclusion. The story is good and made me keep turning the pages, and the artwork is adequate. I particularly liked the way that Selena's backstory is developed, and the way in which the universe shown in the films is expanded. This is a much better attempt than the graphic novel '28 Days Later: The Aftermath', and I'll probably be buying the other 5 issues on the strength of the first one.


Last Gasp
Last Gasp
by Trevor Hoyle
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars What would happen if we ran out of oxygen?, 31 Dec. 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Last Gasp (Paperback)
This book is divided into 6 parts, spanning 38 years. It's set in the near future (at the time of writing) and describes what could happen if mankind fails to take action and continues to upset the natural balance of the planet. In particular, the book discusses in some detail what would happen if the algae within the oceans is killed off, reducing the composition of the air we breathe (there would be less oxygen).

This environmental message is told in a fairly accessible way. Although some specialised scientific issues are discussed between characters, it's done in a manner that most people can understand without having to follow all the technical details.

The story follows a group of people over the years as they attempt to warn the relevant authorities about the possibility of oxygen depletion, and then describes how they, and society, deal with it as the situation becomes increasing worse. The story itself is fairly well thought out but it's hard to say what type of book this is. In some respects it's a work of fiction, but based on fact, some of it reads like a thriller, but it becomes more like apocalyptic fiction as the story progresses. It's quite a long book and takes a while to get to the more interesting sections, and there are some major plot lines that ultimately don't really go anywhere, but overall it's an interesting concept and well written (even though I thought the ending was slightly unbelievable personally).


After the Fire
After the Fire
by John Lockley
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great example of apocalyptic fiction, 31 Dec. 2011
This review is from: After the Fire (Paperback)
A virus is accidentally released from a lab due to a set of unrelated, but believable, chance events. The virus is deadly and soon spreads throughout the UK, and it appears throughout the world. The majority of the population become victims of the disease, with small numbers of people surviving through isolation, natural immunity or by taking doses of a particular antibiotic. The book follows a variety of survivors and the community they build once they all meet.

This in itself isn't a hugely original concept (it reminded me a lot of 'Survivors' for example) but the story is written extremely well. The style of the writing is not as dark as some apocalyptic fiction, and the characters are interesting (albeit slightly stereotypical in some cases). The survivors struggle with the usual problems of adjusting to life without electricity, gas and a limited source of food, fuel and clothing. Although there isn't a massive amount of action, there are enough events to keep things interesting, and the story is as much about the changing attitudes of the characters as what happens to them.

Altogether an enjoyable read. Just be aware that this is the first book of three, and they aren't necessarily easy to find. It does stand as a story in its own right though.


The Descent
The Descent
by Jeff Long
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great horror/suspense story, 30 Oct. 2011
This review is from: The Descent (Paperback)
Firstly, I haven't seen the film of the same name but this book doesn't appear to be anything to do with it. The characters are completely different and the plot of the book is a lot more detailed.

The story features an array of characters from various walks of life who are all involved in some way in the discovery of a vast network of underground tunnels and caves beneath the Earth's surface. It becomes apparent that a race of creatures live there that have been encountered by mankind over the centuries but interpreted as being demons or other 'mythical' beings. Well, the creatures are very real and not very friendly.

This discovery prompts a massive exploration effort by the military of various countries and a number of corporations. The intention is to make use of any resources found underground. I won't give away what happens as you will probably enjoy the book more if you don't know what's coming. This is only the beginning of a long book which contains a number of interesting developments. The characters are well described, the storyline is good and there is suspense all the way through. In particular, the descriptions of the underground world and its atmosphere are great.

A great book. I'm looking forward to the sequel, 'Deeper', but this book stands alone perfectly well. Be warned that certain parts of the story as a bit gory.


Embedded (Angry Robot)
Embedded (Angry Robot)
by Dan Abnett
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.53

4.0 out of 5 stars Fairly slow start but better second part, 30 Oct. 2011
This review is from: Embedded (Angry Robot) (Paperback)
I'm a fan of Abnett's Warhammer 40,000 books and hoped that this one would be as good. Of course, he didn't have the enormous ready-made backdrop to make use of, but still manages to have a decent stab as describing why the journalist Lex Falk has travelled to a new colony world, and how the corporations and international super-power groups are running things. The world of Eighty-Six is interesting and there are a few decently described characters. Setting the scene does take quite a while, but as soon as the proper action starts it gets more exciting.

The second part of the book is good quality military sci-fi with a good combination of technology, characters, storyline and action scenes. As described in the blurb on the book's cover, Falk experiences the world through the eyes of a soldier, but can also control his actions to some extent (a bit like in the film 'Avatar' except the host body is a living person with their own thoughts and actions). Falk's identity as a journalist iteracts with his host body's abilities as a soldier to try to survive a number of threats and figure out exactly what's going on.

As other reviewers have noted, the ending is a bit abrupt, but at least there is an ending of sorts. It isn't all left hanging although there are a couple of unanswered questions.


Valis (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
Valis (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
by Philip K. Dick
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

6 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not sure what to make of this, 30 Oct. 2011
It seems to me that everyone who scores this book badly gets a lot of 'unhelpful' votes. Well, in some ways I can see the point of those reviewers in that I personally hated this book. I found it really boring and felt a bit tricked that I had bought it because it is within the 'SF Masterworks' series. It's not really sci-fi, in my opinion, as it's mostly a series of debates and theories concerning theology and philosophy. I couldn't wait to finish reading it as there was little 'story' and I didn't find it at all fun to read.

However, on the plus side, the book is really interesting if you're interested in Philip K Dick as a person as it's a semi-autobiographical work. Most of the theories described as the author's own while most of the story elements are fictional. If you are interested in the theological or philosophical aspects then I imagine that there are a lot of points in this book that are interesting due to the unique combination of established theories, religious beliefs and the author's own ideas.

If you like fiction books for entertainment value then forget this one and try one of Dick's more mainstream stories (I've read a few and they were all great). If you like to think about what you're reading and like a more intellectual read then please go ahead with 'Valis'. I think this book deserves 1 star as the former kind of novel and 5 stars as the latter.


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