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R. M. Lindley

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The Line War (Ian Cormac)
The Line War (Ian Cormac)
by Neal Asher
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Satisfying, not stunning, 23 May 2009
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The conclusion to the Cormac series is good, but not brilliant. It ties everything together nicely and explains the background to many plot threads sufficiently to leave the reader feeling satisfying.

I must admit however that I was rarely gripped in the manner of earlier Polity books. Perhaps it is the ennui that begins to infect all overblown space opera, a law of deminishing returns on the next mega-super-ultraweapon that comes along, or the ultimately mundane explanation of the origins of Jain technology and the behavior of Dragon. Compare and contrast the ultimately naff threat posed by Erebus with the Blight of A Fire Upon The Deep (Gollancz S.F.)...

Still, overall I am big Asher Fan and look forward to many other books in the Polity Universe. Not a bad ending for now.

The Tyranny of the Night (Instrumentalities of the Night)
The Tyranny of the Night (Instrumentalities of the Night)
by Glen Cook
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars curious - 3.5 stars, 25 April 2009
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Greg Cook can write excellent military fantasy - see The Chronicles of the Black Company - but this is not it.

The premise is certainly interesting and original. A slave warrior, Else Tage, loads a newly invented cannon with silver and fires it at an aggressive demigod. The God dies, and understandably the remaining supernatural entities are somewhat aggreived...

The setting for this tale is a complex world that seems to mirror 11th century Europe and Asia, complete with rival popes and crusades to the Holy Land. In addition, a subplot concerning religious heretics seems to be inspired by the Cathars of Southern France.

Unfortunately, the detail of this new world is overwhelming and there is no map, makign much of the political and military manouvering hard to follow. A large cast of characters introduced in rapid succession only adds to the confusion.

These problems could have been redeemed by good action sequences, but these are strangely lacking. I only experienced a couple of genuinely gripping page turning moments, whereas the Black COmpany was famous for them.

I was still compelled to read to the end, and I would hope future books will improve now that much of the establishing work has been done. Still, this is not Glen Cook's best.

The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty
The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty
by Peter Singer
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You will probably not like this excellent book, but should read it anyway..., 26 Feb. 2009
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The premise that underlies The Life You can Save is devastatingly simple.

In the opening paragraph, Singer describes the following scenario: You are on your work and happen on a toddler drowning in a shallow pond. No-one else is around. You could easily wade in and save the toddler, but this would ruin your clothes and make you late for work. What should you do?

Most people would of course answer that the "correct" ethical choice is to save the child, as the cost and inconvenience is negligible compared to the value of saving a child's life. Singer then goes on to argue that this reasoning can be extended to our attitude to charitable giving and children dying as a result of extreme poverty. In a nutshell, he asking which is more important: your Starbucks coffee or the life of a child in Africa?

This is of course a gross oversimplification of his reasoning, and the first part of this short book develops the theme in a very well written and convincing fashion. It is not a new approach for Singer: one of the essays in the earlier Writings on an Ethical Life (ISNM) makes the same points, but in a more scholarly fashion. What this book adds are the subsequent chapters analysing the effects of charitable giving and the difficult question of how much we (in the West) should donate to those living in extreme poverty. I particularly liked the discussion on how much it costs to save the life of someone living in such conditions and what the most effective charitable bodies are.

The answer, according to Singer, is uncomfortably high for most, and I was certainly left feeling unsettled after reading The Life You can Save. This is why I think many people will not like the book: it is genuinely disturbing.

I suspect that many of the critics of this book are so hostile and generally incoherent because of this reaction; it seems hard to find fault with the moral reasoning employed unless one adopts an utterly selfish and self-centered point of view.

The Life You Can Save therefore thoroughly deserves 5 stars. It is rare to find a book that can change your way of life and improve the lives of others, but this is one of them. The only flaw is, as another reviewer has pointed out, that those people who will benefit the most from reading this book are the very people least likely to do so.

Toll The Hounds: The Malazan Book of the Fallen 8
Toll The Hounds: The Malazan Book of the Fallen 8
by Steven Erikson
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Slow and probably the weakest book in the sequence, 15 Feb. 2009
Oh dear, Toll the Hounds feels like a wasted opportunity. Erikson has tried for something different here - the book is told in the voice of Kruppe, and whether you like the style depends on how you find the Eel of Darujhistan.

I can understand the need for Erikson to do something different after 7 lengthy volumes, but for me this did not work. Kruppe's mannerisms are tolerable in small doses, but stretched to this extent just begin to grate.

I also felt that some of the new themes introduced here (such as the Dying God and Seerdomin/the Redeemer) felt underdeveloped, and would have been better either left to fill a book of their own (with a slower build to the horror of kelyk) or edited out completely.

There is still some great comedy of course, and when the end sequence *finally* begins it is of course excellent, albeit...rushed.

So, certainly not up there with Memories of Ice or Deadhouse Gates and not even as good as Midnight Tides/the Bonehunters.

However, this still does not drag the whole sequence down from its coveted Best Fantasy Series of all Time, Ever post.

Fatal Revenant: The Last Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
Fatal Revenant: The Last Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
by Stephen Donaldson
Edition: Paperback

93 of 111 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Nadir of despair, 15 Feb. 2009
"Hellfire!" said Thomas Covenant.
"What is it?" asked Linden Avery percipiently.
"I've got to pad out the Final Chronicles of myself to four volumes and I only have enough material to fill two," moaned Thomas with a needless flare of theurgic vocabulary.
"What about a pointless voyage to the One Tree? It worked before..." suggested Linden with a further repetition of percipence.
"Yeah, but that was really boring, remember? Why don't we go back in time? That way Donaldson doesn't need to invent anything new and can rehash all his old themes."
"Yes, but even then what will only fill half the book," moaned Linden. "Do you really think he can pad out the rest with trip to Andelain?"
"Only if we introduce an entirely new race who would have seemed to influence over 10,000 years of history of the Land without anyone commenting on them in the last 7 books," Thomas commented with yet another burst of percipience. "We don't have to worry about any decent characterisation, as the current characters are merely two-dimensional foils for your constant whining anyway. If we chuck in a load of new words dredged from the furthest corners of the thesaurus and repeat them ad nauseum then it may fool people into thinking this is a good book." Thomas sat back, pleased at his idea.
"But," worried Linden, "won't over 800 pages of this rubbish send the readers plunging into despair? Especially as Esmer and Anele/Elena spelt backwards have deux ex machina written all over them, meaning that whatever we do nothing will be resolved until the final part of book 4? Surely that will be a victory for Lord Foul the Despiser?
"Ha ha ha ha ha...." laughed Thomas (or was he?) theurgically percipiently interminably....
Comment Comments (10) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 7, 2011 9:09 PM BST

Naruto The Movie 2: Legend Of The Stone Of Gelel [DVD]
Naruto The Movie 2: Legend Of The Stone Of Gelel [DVD]
Dvd ~ Hirotsugu Kawasaki
Price: £4.07

3.0 out of 5 stars Good fun, 25 Jan. 2009
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This Naruto movie is not for the uninitiated and fans may feel let down by the lack of many characters from the series, so it is difficult to see who it is aimed at. Having said that, there is some excellent animation, good humour and superb set battles. The CGI animation is limited but blends well with the more conventional cels.

The DVD (screener) I had to review was well produced and included the original Japanese in 5.1 surround sound as well as the usual tacky American dub that curses almost all anime. Another nice touch is that if you select Japanese on the set-up menu the control automatically jumps to the subtitle option. Extras were limited however.

Overall this is good for an afternoon of entertainment but I would think twice about buying it, as I expect the replay potential is limited.

The Devouring (Sorry Night 1)
The Devouring (Sorry Night 1)
by Simon Holt
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You won't be sorry, 25 Jan. 2009
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"Young adult" fiction is a difficult genre both to write and review. Why bother with a teenage horror novel when you can go straight for Stephen King's Carrie or It? The answer has to be pace and accessibility - and The Devouring has both in abundance.

The book (part 1 of a series, so do not expect a neat conclusion) centres on the teenage Reggie and her brother Henry. Reggie receives a book that details how the shadowy Vours can be summoned on Sorry Night and take possession of the fearful. The inevitable soon happens and Henry is taken by a Vour. The book follows Reggie's attempts to free her brother.

There are some very well done scenes in The Devouring, especially the ones involving Henry as the Vour becomes apparent. These are so well done I could imagine King doing something very similar, but over a lot more pages. There are also some nice metaphors here - children are described as "isolated...mutely communing with the WiFi spirit world" in school.

The criticisms I had of the book, such as the rushed characterisation of the other protagonists and the derivative nature of some of the ideas (Night Warriors springs to mind in the final sequence, for instance), are unlikely to bother the target audience. My only other quibble is that the cover artwork does not do the contents justice and seems merely to have gone for grotesque effect. Overall however, this is a good, fast read and fits its niche nicely.

Bugz :Contact (Book Zero): 1
Bugz :Contact (Book Zero): 1
by David Jackson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dizapointing zeitgeist SF, 19 Jan. 2009
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I wanted to like Bugz, I really did. As a hardback, it is a lovely book, and the artwork and design are excellent, and the timing of the book was obviously set to capitalise on the Large Hadron Collider inauguration.

Which is about as positive as I can be I'm afraid.

The premise is a good (if not original) one - that a form of intelligent life exists at the subatomic level, and these lifeforms (Bugz) can interact with our macroscopic world in a meaningful way. The book describes how an earlier golden age for these Bugz has passed, and how the (evil) black Bugz scheme to perpetuate their rule beyond the natural order. A quest sets out to find a lost saviour, and falls through some form of singularity into our universe, where the lost Bugz try to influence human life and develop a means to get home.

Which sounds all well and good, but there are major problems with this book.

1. All the Bugz and related terminology have names beginning with Z. This probably sounded like a good idea at the time, but gets very wearing. Likewise, related puns (Buggzist philosophy, a spaceship called the Zargo with its Zargonauts)also seem to belong to a children's book.
2. The characterisation is poor.
3. The science is confused and in places simply wrong. The nature of the subatomic particle Bugz is never explained. At one point the "mutant" W particles are introduced. These are later identified at the (real life) W particles that convey the weak nuclear force, but it is never explained why such a particle should be considered mutant. The Y and X particles that are also mentioned never fit into such a category. There are also silly errors regarding scientific notation and it is never explained what the arbitrary white and black Bugz division represents (not charge and not matter/antimatter from other references in the book, so what...?) And what are engineering and warrior Bugz?
4. The whole nature of what intelligent thought represents is also not addressed. How can the Bugz think? How do they store and process information if they are subatomic particles?

....and so on. In short, this is not a well thought out, "hard" sci-fi book. Space opera like Star Wars has more internal consistency than Bugz, and a better plot.

I don't like to be so negative in a review, so I'll end on a high note. While reading Bugz, I was reminded of A.A.Attanasio's The Last Legends of Earth, which is one of my all-time favourite novels. Partly this was because in Bugz one of the characters is called Zotl, the name of the enemy in Last Legends, and partly it was because Last Legends features a submicroscopic alien race "climbing" into our universe in a similar fashion to the Bugz, but Last Legends of Earth does this so much better.

Forget Bugz and track down a copy of Last Legends of Earth instead!

Confessor (Sword of Truth 11)
Confessor (Sword of Truth 11)
by Terry Goodkind
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Over at last!, 12 Dec. 2008
What would I have wanted to know before I purchased this product? That is is the last in the series, thankfully. The same horrified compulsion that brings me to read the Daily Mail has kept me comping back the Sword of Truth series long after I began to hate the central characters and the interminable, rambling and incoherent moralising that Terry Goodkind is insistent on force feeding his readers.

Even the proof readers gave up on this book, as evidenced by the numerous typos littering the text. It would appear that even Goodkind gives up halfway through, as one character sees a "wingman" scoring a point in a pseudo American Football game only to remark to herself two pages later when another wingman scores a similar point that she has never seen such a thing.

Spotting such inconsistencies is much more entertaining than reading swathes of moralising speeches cut and pasted from books 4-9, although to give the book its due there are a couple of good action sequences. There then follows a hurried tidying of loose ends, more deus ex machinas than Mona Lisa Overdrive and a reasonably satisfying conclusion to the Book of Counted Shadows riddle, before Goodkind loses the plot once more.

If it was so easy to get rid of all the main villlains, why not do it before?

Why do several main characters cheerily condemn themselves and their children to a souless existence, forever giving up a chance at the afterlife, with a slight shrug and brief farewell?

What went wrong with such a promising fantasy series? I have to say, I don't really care. I will never have to read another Goodkind book again, and can carry on with much more intelligent fantasy fare. Malazan, here I come...

Chronicles of the Black Company: The Black Company - Shadows Linger - The White Rose
Chronicles of the Black Company: The Black Company - Shadows Linger - The White Rose
by Glen Cook
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.90

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Do not miss out on this series!, 12 Dec. 2008
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As a fantasy fan for many years, I can only hang my head in shame that I had missed the Black Company books when they were originally released.

The series tells the tale of the Black Company, "last of the free companies of Khatovar" - a mercenary group with a long history and a proud tradition of working for whoever pays - good or bad. With a few notable expections, the heroes of the Black Company are nothing but, and many of the members have very dark pasts.

When a job protecting a city ruler goes sour, the Company betrays their commission and enters the service of the Lady - the immortal and evil ruler of a reborn empire.

In a refreshing change to the usual fantasy epic, the Company is therefore fighting for the dark side, which creates some wonderful dilemmas for the few men serving who retain a sense of morality.

The strength of the Black Company books are the interesting dilemmas this situation creates, and the excellent action scenes. The writing style is minimalist, which gives the plot an edgy pace and avoids the tedious meandering that sabotages the Lond of the Rings, but sometimes it goes too far - especially in the earlier books, when I found myself wishing for some description to go along with the dialogue. As such, the main characters initially seem flat, because we have no real idea what they look like, or what the world they inhabit is truly like.

Luckily these criticisms (hence the four stars) fade as the series progresses and Glen Cook matures as a writer. It is easy to see here the seeds that would appear to have taken root in the mind of Steven Erikson in the Malazan saga, and in retrospect the recent rennaisance of low fantasy owes a lot to the Black Company.

In summary: if, like me, you missed out before, do not do so again!

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