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Hans Bobbletoff

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How I Escaped My Certain Fate
How I Escaped My Certain Fate
Price: £5.39

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting and fun read, although not great on the Kindle, 26 Aug. 2011
Stewart Lee is a divisive figure in stand-up comedy, and the rhetoric that follows him around is pretty amusing. If you like him, you're a Guardian-reading, pseudo-intellectual, bleeding heart liberal. If you dislike him, you're a Daily Mail-reading reactionary idiot. I'm just going to go ahead and assume that if you're considering buying this book, you know what Stewart Lee is like and you're currently spreading organic houmous over water biscuits while attempting to ban Christmas.

The book is essentially transcripts of three of his old stand up routines (Stand-up Comedian, 90s Comedian and 41st Best Stand-up Ever), complete with detailed introductions, footnotes and a large appendix of extras, so don't expect all-new jokes and material. What you can expect is an insight into why Stewart Lee does what he does - why he felt the need to vomit into the anus of Jesus, for example, or why he spends five minutes hitting his microphone against its stand. You can also find a glut of information on the stand-ups he likes, including how many of the jokes in Comedy Vehicle are stolen from Simon Munnery (spoiler - the answer is two), and his own insights into the role of comedy itself, interspersed with experiences from around the world. If this sort of thing interests you, get the book!

I downloaded the Kindle version of the book on 30th May, 2011, and did not have the same problems regarding layout errors that others have reported. However, the lengthy footnotes in each transcript are better read on the printed page or pdf than on the small-screened Kindle, unless you enjoy constantly skipping back and forth through the text.


An Idiot Abroad: The Travel Diaries of Karl Pilkington
An Idiot Abroad: The Travel Diaries of Karl Pilkington
Price: £2.79

73 of 82 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What you would expect, 20 July 2011
If you have listened to the Ricky Gervais podcasts or the XFM shows, or seen the animated TV series, or read Karlogy or any of his previous books, then you know exactly what you are going to get here. Karl hasn't changed, and it is doubtful he ever will. If you haven't experienced Karl before, then I suggest listening to one of the podcasts before reading this book. Karl's monotone, put-upon, Mancunian accent is a quintessential part of his character, and I can't imagine going through this book without mentally assigning that voice to his words. It will also be useful in understanding the dynamic between Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant and Karl. Essentially, Gervais and Merchant are performing experiments on poor ol' Karl to learn how his brain works, although sometimes they just mess with him for fun.

'An Idiot Abroad' is the most ambitious of these experiments they have put together. Karl gets to travel and see the seven wonders of the modern world, and the results are documented in a TV series and this book, which is Karl's travel journal combined with numerous photos of the places he has been. He spends time with generous people in some of the poorest regions of the world, and gets to see the Wonders in ways inaccessible to a lot of people (he gets to go inside the burial chamber of one pyramid, and has a helicopter ride around the Christ the Redeemer statue). Karl hasn't written a huge amount about his experiences, but what there is is beautiful in a way only he could achieve.

The appeal of Karl is not merely that he says stupid things, or that his concerns are petty - anyone could do that - it is that there is some semblance of logic in his thinking, and, personally at least, it mirrors a part of myself. The part of me that is more concerned with immediate comforts than new experiences, and is underwhelmed by things that I have been told I should find spectacular. Karl takes these feelings and runs with them to their absurd conclusions, so that a book about the wonders of the world spends much of the time detailing toilet concerns.

That is not to say that Karl doesn't have quirks that are entirely his own. The little 'facts' and anecdotes he gathers from sources unknown are sometimes ludicrous (although the ones that end each chapter in the book appear accurate), and his desire to 'get rid of' pretty much everything are just more fascinating glimpses into his mind. Sometimes he will do or say something that has the appearance, briefly, of genius - the toilet chair springs to mind.

As much as I love this book (and I should add the Kindle version that I downloaded is amongst the best formatted ebooks I have found), it is the podcasts that I will forever hold dear. There is something about his voice that adds so much more to his character, and the written word will never really capture that.


Success ...and How to Avoid it
Success ...and How to Avoid it
by Mat Coward
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A scathingly sarcastic and extremely funny look at the world of professional writing, 27 Jan. 2011
I bought this on impulse via an Interzone magazine subscription, and I am thoroughly glad I did. Mat Coward has written what is probably the most honest account of professional writing ever (I'm not a writer, so I wouldn't know for definite). He brutally removes any romantic notions budding writers may have about the beauty of what they will write, and the impact it will have on the world. It will also make you question the authority of journalists everywhere - the process he describes seems so haphazard that I wonder why I take any news seriously at all. In fact, he paints a picture so bleak it would be depressing were he not so funny.

The humour is scathing but passionate and witty and there were several lines that had me laughing like an idiot. Mat is also a raging socialist, so if your political leanings lie elsewhere and/or you are a bit thin-skinned, be warned!

Fully recommended. I read the entire thing in one sitting and when I emerged at the end I realised it was 5am and birds were singing outside.


The City & The City
The City & The City
Price: £5.69

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A thought-provoking premise, let down by some technical issues, 27 Jan. 2011
Have you ever been walking down a street and spotted someone you only half know, a colleague or acquaintance? And then you pretend that you haven't seen each other until you reach an acceptable distance apart, the feeling of 'corriearklet' as Douglas Adams put it?

I think that's what this book is about.

This is the first China Mieville book I have read, so I didn't have any real expectations beyond the review I had read in Interzone magazine. So I was aware I was entering into a police procedural/noir-styled escapade with a slight sci-fi twist. The story follows Tyador Borlu, a detective trying to solve the murder of a young unidentified woman. The real meat of the story, however, is the backdrop of the two intertwined cities of vaguely Turkish Ul Qoma and vaguely Czech Beszel (the actual location of the cities is never given). While the main story arc is competent, for me at least it was the mechanics of the shared yet separated existence of the cities that drove me through the story. Is there some strange inter-dimensional rift? Or are they separated only by groupthink and political motivation? How similar is the 'unseeing' employed by the inhabitants of the cities to my own interaction with the city I live in? How do the seemingly all-powerful Breach work to maintain the separation of the cities?

And what must it feel like to live there? I can only imagine a constant feeling of corriearklet.

The book's only major flaw is that it fails in the difficult task of capturing that feeling sufficiently. Despite that, it triggered enough thoughts to keep me busy for quite some time.

Also, there are two points on the technical side that drop this book from four stars to three:
- There were some moments that felt like the editing had slipped up. One reviewer mentioned the beginning of Chapter 12 especially. I read that sentence at least ten times before moving on, unable to understand it. It really does look like a section Mieville forgot to fill out.
- On the Kindle version I have, the accented 'z' in Beszel comes out too large and pixelated. It's a bit ugly and distracting, and unfortunately it's used a lot throughout the narrative.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 26, 2011 4:07 PM BST


Hidden Empire (Saga of Seven Suns 1)
Hidden Empire (Saga of Seven Suns 1)
by Kevin J. Anderson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I hate myself, 27 Jan. 2011
The first thing I would like to say is that I don't mind reading shallow, ridiculous sci-fi every now and then. Not every book has to change my life or get me thinking. Sometimes I just want space battles and laser guns. Trash, in other words.

The second thing I would like to say is that my brother bought the whole set in the end, not me, and he got the last two from a charity shop for less than £1. He still felt cheated.

When I read Hidden Empire, I settled in for some guilty pleasure. It wasn't terribly written, had some entertaining action sequences and promised to be quite epic in scale. There is a huge number of characters and each short chapter is written from the point of view of one of them. Anderson isn't afraid of killing off a few of them, as well as adding others in later books. The premise is ridiculous, that of ancient elemental (earth, air, fire and water) based aliens battling it out across the galaxy while 'lesser' races (evil space industries, space hippies, tree-loving hippies, alien telepaths etc) help out, but it sounded enjoyable as well. I finished this first book without much effort.

However, as I progressed through the rest of the series, I felt more and more astonishment at the sheer terrible quality of the story. Although there I took a lengthy break after the fifth book, I read through to the end to see how bad it got.

Oh man.

If you've read in other reviews that the characters were bland in this book, they are practically spambots by the end of the series. To call them two-dimensional would be an insult to cardboard cutouts. Dialogue is so turgid and repetitive I found I couldn't tell who was meant to be speaking. A lot of the time, it didn't matter anyway. Certain characters, who were part of an astonishingly glorified space hippy culture, use the phrase 'by the Guiding Star' with such increasing frequency that if there were an eighth book, their dialogue would probably have consisted of nothing else.

And the plot, oh lord, the plot! What starts off with promises of being a complex political/moral drama slowly disintegrates into a kids cartoon show. Antagonists come and go like there is a revolving door marked 'bad guys' somewhere in the galaxy. Seemingly invincible foes are suddenly completely destroyed with little effort. There is no sense of time or scale, and sometimes characters wander around as if different planets are a brisk half-hour walk away. There are at least four plot devices of such staggering stupidity that I think Anderson was trying to deliver an insult to me personally.

And do you know what the worst thing is? The most terrible thing about this diabolically hack-tastic, intelligence-insulting excuse of a sci-fi series?

Some part of me, deep down, still enjoyed it.

I feel so dirty.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 22, 2015 3:38 PM BST


Eisenhorn (Eisenhorn Omnibus)
Eisenhorn (Eisenhorn Omnibus)
by Dan Abnett
Edition: Paperback

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Black Library's finest, 30 Nov. 2009
Although I am a fan of the Warhammer 40k franchise, having played the tabletop wargames in my youth, I have never warmed to the outputs of the Black Library (BL), Games Workshop's publishing division. The setting of 40k, with its blend of high fantasy and gritty, dystopian sci-fi elements, could easily lend itself to some imaginative and innovative books. However, a great many of the offerings from the BL are rather prosaic affairs filled with lacklustre characters, average writing and most frequent of all, bland dialogue.

But then I read Dan Abnett.

Abnett is easily the best author currently working for Games Workshop. I feel somewhat guilty for belittling the efforts of the other BL writers, but Abnett's books really do highlight their flaws.

The Eisenhorn Omnibus contains all three Eisenhorn books (Xenos, Malleus and Hereticus) and two linking short stories, and represents good value for money. The story follows the eponymous Imperial Inquisitor as he hunts down heretics and witches within his particular sector of the galaxy. It is apparently written as Eisenhorn's memoirs (although this is never explicitly stated) and as such we are given a first-person narrative looking back upon the past. This also changes the focus of the setting away from the frontline battles of virtually every other 40k book and allows us a glimpse at everyday life in the Imperium of Man. Things still remain quite grim and dark, but this change is very welcome.

The plot is well-paced and tightly woven, with enough twists to keep you going. Abnett's dialogue is an absolute breath of fresh air- each character speaks with enough subtle nuance that they are readily identified without having to scan up the page and see who spoke first (something I frequently have to do with other fantasy and sci-fi books). The characters themselves are consistent and well rounded, and as with most Abnett books, there are a lot of them. Most important of all, however, is Eisenhorn himself. The decisions and mistakes he makes, his reactions to everything that happens and his slow, steady change of heart throughout the books are so realistic and believable that you will be swept along by them. I was surprised to hear others found him reprehensible toward the end, as I was totally alongside him in (most of) his decisions. Either way you see it, Eisenhorn's stroll into grey area morality makes for compelling reading.


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