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P. McCLEAN (Dublin)

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Seveneves
Seveneves
by Neal Stephenson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.60

2.0 out of 5 stars A disappointment, 25 July 2015
This review is from: Seveneves (Hardcover)
Seveneves was disappointing for a Stephenson novel. Near-future, hard Science fiction with plenty of detail for people to consider and verify. Some of his technology is wishful thinking but that is neither here nor there. Too long by far for the story that's in it.

I was wondering why I stuck with it to the end. To an extent I was giving Stephenson the opportunity to make it more interesting. Also, his writing, while not brilliant, is not off-puttingly terrible. I did want to know where he was taking the story.

The underlying theme for the final parts of the book were racism, politics and diplomacy.

In the earlier parts of the book someone with an interest in contemporary space travel might like the technological content. The story focuses very much on the International Space Station.

If you want to start reading Stephenson do not start with this one.


Look To Windward
Look To Windward
by Iain M. Banks
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.49

5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best, 17 Jun. 2015
This review is from: Look To Windward (Paperback)
I bought this book some years ago (pre-2002 as the price sticker was in Irish pounds (9.99 of them) and the euro came in on Jan 1st, 2002.). The book was first published in 2000, so I took my time before getting around to it. It was the only Banks book I haven’t read and I’m glad I eventually got to it. It is actually the first Banks book that I didn’t devour immediately on purchase.

Had it been written post 2001 people might have accused Iain of getting his inspiration from the 9/11 incident and the subsequent war on terror. There are many parallels with a major attack planned and the discussion of wars between significantly different cultures.

The book is strongly anti-war and yet is a great espionage thriller. I have often stated that Iain tries to do something different with each of his mainstream books and I have indicated the different styles he has used for many of them, e.g. Canal Dreams is his Fredrick Forsythe book, Whit is Agatha Christie, etc… In this vein I would call Look to Windward his Le Carré. There are so many intrigues and twists that the old spy master would have been proud to have written this plot.

Apart from the parallels with serious issues and the comparisons with other writers, Look to Windward is an enjoyable tale populated with strong, believable characters moving in a rich environment at both the micro and macro level.

Iain’s descriptions of an orbital, home to 50 billion people, are carefully crafted to provide a vivid picture in the reader’s mind. This same skill is used to create images of the inside of the giant behemothaurs and of the microscopic nanotechnology used by the Culture.

A fascinating book, enjoyable on many levels, and having read it at this stage I was struck by how much one could consider it prophetic in the light of world events.


Matter
Matter
by Iain M. Banks
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.74

4.0 out of 5 stars A real joy to read., 17 Jun. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Matter (Paperback)
“Matter” is a tale of political intrigue, medieval war, betrayal, injustice, and honour. Oh, and galactic scale.

It tells the tale of three siblings who have taken different paths in life and how they end up, as a result of a family tragedy, struggling for the same thing; the honour of their family name.

In telling this tale Banks has created a new concept in cosmic habitats; the Shellworld. The Shellworld is a planet (in this case, artificial) that has 16 internal levels of which 14 are habitable. I can see the more nerdy among us working out the scale of a Shellworld using the parameters provided sporadically throughout the text; each level 1,400km high, 2million towers on each of the 14 habitable levels to support the level above. (Ok! Yes! I did start thinking about sketching out a Shellworld cut-away diagram and estimating the size of the Shellworld. Problem was, I didn’t spot an estimate for the thickness of the ceilings/floors, and there was nothing relating to the density of the material to assist in the calculation of the gravitational strength on each level.)

The Shellworld is likely to generate as much interest as Niven’s Ring World and Shaw’s Orbitsville. Of course, Bank’s Shellworld is much more stable.

Enough of the “nerdy” techno-babble.

The Shellworld is simply one element of “Matter”, and is merely a backdrop to the story, albeit pretty crucial to the ultimate dénouement.

“Matter” takes one of the siblings on a journey of self-discovery involving his being snatched unexpectedly from his privileged lifestyle to a life where he can trust no-one, he is powerless to shape his own destiny, and where he has become a figure of shame.

His brother is unwittingly entrapped and experiences his own growing moments that force him to mature in ways he had not expected.

The third sibling, Djan Seriy Anaplian, has travelled far away as part of, if you would excuse the pun, a cultural exchange. She has been away from her Shellworld home for fifteen years when word reaches her of the family tragedy that is central to the entire book.

As in every IMB novel, there are wonderful alien life forms. Iain has shown great imagination in developing their physiology, environment and technology. In a number of his other novels the aliens have portrayed strongly human personalities, but in “Matter” many of them are very alien. Having said that however, “Matter” is one of Iain’s most human Culture novels.

Other topics dealt with in the book are the morality of killing other people, the sense of matrimonial entrapment, and the whole concept of religion and its role as a useful tool in controlling the populace.

Iain’s ending to “Matter” was somewhat different from what I had expected, but interesting nonetheless, and, as so often is the case in Culture novels, on a grand scale.

On several occasions I have seen Iain say that he has tried, but not succeeded at writing a powerfully political novel. While “Matter” is not powerfully political, it does have many parallels with current world affairs and the role of technologically advanced civilisations involved in warfare with less advanced civilisations.

This was one of those books I was really sorry to finish. I relished the opportunities to sit down and surround myself with the universe Iain had created. It was a real joy.


The Cock and Anchor: Being a Chronicle of Old Dublin City (Valancourt Classics)
The Cock and Anchor: Being a Chronicle of Old Dublin City (Valancourt Classics)
Price: £2.28

5.0 out of 5 stars but what I found delighted and intrigued me, 31 May 2015
“The Cock and Anchor” is set in Dublin in 1710, twenty years after Protestant William of Orange defeated Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne. Ireland is under British rule and a Lord Lieutenant, Thomas, 5th Baron Wharton, is ruling the country from Dublin Castle. While the leaders of the Catholic aristocracy who supported King James have fled to France (The Wild Geese) there is still a corps of Jacobite supporters in Ireland who are readying themselves for the day when King James returns to reclaim his crown and the lands of England and Ireland.

I did not know what to expect when I started reading this novel, but what I found delighted and intrigued me. It proved to be one of those books that I did not like to put down and found myself making time to return to.

The Valancourt edition contains a 46 page introduction, the text of the novel (439 pages), 14 pages of informative notes referenced from within the text, and a 52 page appendix containing contemporary reviews and extracts of other works referenced in the introduction. All in all, this is a comprehensive tome for anyone intent on studying The Cock and Anchor in a serious fashion.


Passion: L'appassionata
Passion: L'appassionata
by Stefan Grabinski
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.98

4.0 out of 5 stars A Gothic tale in beautiful Venice, 22 Jan. 2015
"L'Appassionata" is a sixty page story of a romantic encounter in Venice which begins to have eerie undertones and which gradually builds dread at a pace that draws the reader into mystery, intrigue, and, ultimately, surprise.

Grabinski's descriptions of Venice bring the city to life and portray not just the glossed tourist image but also the backstreets and filthy water canals of the areas inhabited by the Venetians who do not own palaces.

It is a story that fans of premonitions, spirits and unfettered love will enjoy. It certainly has the hallmarks of a good Gothic tale.

Miroslaw Lipinski is tireless in his work translating and promoting the works of his late compatriot, Stefan Grabinski, and author whose work I have always found rewarding.


Cry of the Sloth
Cry of the Sloth
by SamSavage
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars A serious message delivered with great humour., 21 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Cry of the Sloth (Hardcover)
The full title of this book is, The Cry of the Sloth: The Mostly Tragic Story of Andrew Whittaker being his Collected, Final and Absolutely Complete Writings. It spans a period of four months (July to October) and includes letters, notes on a novel, and shopping lists written by Andrew Whittaker during that period.

Sam Savage has demonstrated great skill in the way he leads the reader to an understanding of Andrew Whittaker’s situation and in the pace he sets and techniques he uses to demonstrate the protagonist’s mental and physical decline. Savage has taken a serious, uncomfortable topic, the personal decline of an alcoholic, depressed and delusional man, and presented it using humour and pathos in a way that lets the reader see the growing depression in the mind of the victim and demonstrates the build up of diverse pressures that combine to make the sufferer believe he is trapped and without value.

Along the way he takes a few side swipes at the literary establishment and the cadre of local would be artistic community socialites.

Whittaker’s letters are addressed to, amongst others, his tenants (he owns a number of rental properties), his recently estranged wife, his daughter, former literary friends, and to the subscribers to a small press literary magazine, called Soap, he edits and publishes. His rejection letters and submission guidelines are honest, gritty and brutal. As a former editor of a fiction magazine Whittaker’s rejection letters are the ones I would like to have written but didn’t for fear of a libel action.

In one letter to someone who submitted a manuscript of a novel he writes, “That you are not a polished writer works in your favour; it’s how Hemmingway might have written had he never gone to high school.” The magazine “Guidelines for Submission” include the sentence, “In the current acerbic climate of American letters, with unrestrained emotional outbursts on the one side (the remains of the so-called Beat movement) and amorphous piles of pseudomodernist gibberish on the other, Soap steers a middle course.”

I really enjoyed this book. It is very funny yet carries a serious message about depression.


The Golem (European Classics)
The Golem (European Classics)
by Gustav Meyrink
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Very enthralling, 9 Sept. 2014
Meyrink’s horror story set in the Prague Ghetto and based on the cabalist legend of a human-like being created from clay is much richer than I had expected. It has been on my “to-be-read” list for a long time and I always perceived that it was going to be a slower and more arduous read than it turned out.

From the very start Meyrink blurred the boundaries between sleep and consciousness; dream and reality; madness and sanity. He also played with the narrator’s, and consequently the reader’s, sense of identity. The initial sections are dense with ideas and it is worth taking them slowly but the story soon picks up the pace. This tale is enthralling and as I read the book I was taken up with the narrator’s problems and fears.


Descent
Descent
by Ken MacLeod
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.58

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Subtle tale of political intrigue, 5 May 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Descent (Hardcover)
Ken MacLeod has delivered another interesting near-future adventure that touches on political and ethical issues of today in a “fictional” world. Issues included relate to the surveillance environment made possible by technology, the role of journalism, and the complexities of personal relationships. As always, Ken’s fictional world is very credible and his characters’ actions plausible.


Dark Souls II - Black Armour Edition (Xbox 360)
Dark Souls II - Black Armour Edition (Xbox 360)
Offered by Bonisell
Price: £25.00

5.0 out of 5 stars My son loves it., 13 April 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I bought this as a birthday present for my son and he loves it. He was most impressed that it was a limited edition, albeit a limited edition of some 2,500.


London Falling (James Quill 1)
London Falling (James Quill 1)
by Paul Cornell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining amalgam of gritty police procedure and witchcraft., 24 Mar. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
A detective story with a supernatural element, this novel conjured up several thoughts regarding how I might describe it. These included:

“A Police procedural drama with the grittiness of the Sweeney and the horror of the worst practices of witchcraft.”

“An inverted version of ‘Life on Mars’ with detective practices from the past struggling to survive in today’s police world of standard operating procedures and the blood thirsty rituals and practices of 16th Century witchcraft.”

Regardless of how one decides to describe this book Paul Cornell has done a great job of interweaving present-day police procedures and practices with the events involved in a witchcraft fuelled serial killer spree.


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