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Nick Phillips (Button Moon)

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Tommee Tippee Closer to Nature Microwave Steriliser
Tommee Tippee Closer to Nature Microwave Steriliser
Price: £9.71

4 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Shocking effort, 30 Dec 2010
Compared to the older, larger Tommee Tippee microwave sterilizer this is a terrible disappointment. There's a recommendation in the user guide to use oven gloves to open this gadget up to prevent steam burns. This design is awkward to open, awkward to load and is sized for a very small microwave oven. You can't fit anything extra in this sterilizer, just the four bottles, and maybe the odd fork or spoon. The previous model allowed you to squeeze extra bowls and beakers in the ample spaces, reducing the need to have the microwave running half the night. If this is your first microwave sterilizer then maybe it'll be passable, but if you've ever used a decent one, then this product will drive you up the wall.


Revelation Space
Revelation Space
by Alastair Reynolds
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great first novel. No, great novel!, 4 Jan 2010
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This review is from: Revelation Space (Paperback)
I wish I could give this book 5 stars - it is so close to being a sci-fi great, not so much for itself as a standalone story, but for what is promised in the novels that are to follow. The scale of Revelation Space is, pardon the expression, a revelation. Where does this guy get his ideas from? How does Reynolds manage to combine so many elements of the hard sci-fi genre with readability? The story arc spans billions of years and takes us across vast swathes of the galaxy, a galaxy that is surprisingly empty and quiet.

Nearly a million years ago, the Amarantin civilisation was annihilated just as it began to explore the stars. Revelation Space explains why, but the answer takes us on a crazy journey to the mysterious realm of the Shrouders, tells us the fate of Chasm City, introduces believable AI and shows us some of the flavours of human kind - future style, amongst a dozens other delights.

Although set in a future of staggering scientific advancement, Revelation Space is very familiar and entirely believable. However, I think Reynolds is hamstrung by his ambition in many ways. For example, there is so much information, so many essential intricacies to share with the reader, that at times he breaks one of the golden rules of writing - he tells rather than shows. All of a sudden, we'll get hit by a narrative slab that explains gaps in our knowledge or, characters will engage in a bit of `as you know, the blah blah blah.' In fairness, if Reynolds didn't do this, his books would be too large to bind! Furthermore, the story sometimes gets lost in the magnificence of the background and universe building. Some of the characters are a little weak, too cipher-like, and one, Sun Stealer didn't seem to quite sit right.

Nevertheless, I'll be reading every last one of this guy's books.


Anthropology: And a Hundred Other Stories
Anthropology: And a Hundred Other Stories
by Dan Rhodes
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 50.5, 10 Nov 2009
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Certainly a clever idea, 101 stories each 101 words long, with a title requiring a little bit of arithmetic leaving you with... yes, you guessed it, the number 101. A very easy read that will make you laugh out loud on occasion, go 'yuk' or 'ergh' on others. I'd agree with those who argue that the book is more than simply a collection of quirky tales. There is some depth in the book, there is emotion. (Read the Amazon review at the top of the page.) In particular, Rhodes explores obsession and dysfunction well. However, I defy the reviewer who said 'I defy you not to cry at certain stories' - sorry, no tears. Nup, not one.

The strength of this collection is also its weakness. 101 is an arbitrary number, an arbitrary scaffold that simply constrains the art. Some stories would benefit from being a few words longer, others a few shorter, and, many of the stories are just re-hashes of earlier ones. On a number of occasions I thought 'here we go again', yes I know she's so beautiful and you love her so much that her total indifference to you only makes you love her more. Blah blah blah.

To some extent the collection of stories feels a little too self-consciously smart, with the author saying 'hey look at me.' However, I don't fully agree with 'pmcnjbi' who's review acerbically asserts 'A book for people who like being seen with books but find reading tiresome' but, I think I have some inkling of what s/he means.

I will no doubt read it again however, perhaps a couple more times.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 30, 2012 7:01 PM BST


Decoding the Heavens: Solving the Mystery of the World's First Computer
Decoding the Heavens: Solving the Mystery of the World's First Computer
by Jo Marchant
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Across the universe...., 29 Sep 2009
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A delightful book that you'll read from cover to cover in no time at all. I suspect however, that if you're anything like me, the memories 'Decoding the Heavens' will unlock and the wide-eyed enthusiasm it will awaken will last with you for a very long time. The narrative unfolds like a well-crafted documentary revealing the discovery of an ancient shipwreck off the coast of a small Greek island in 1901 and the complex web of personal sacrifice, competition and politics during the following 100 years which leads to a pretty thorough understanding of the world's first computer - the 'Antikythera Mechanism'.

I won't spoil the 'plot' just in case you haven't read up that closely on all of the amazing things this device could do, but suffice to say, it humbles inventions made a millennium later and demonstrates an incredible knowledge of the cosmos and miniature engineering that would have transformed our planet if this evolutionary branch-line in human ingenuity hadn't died out. Perhaps we'd be beginning our journeys to the stars today instead of just photographing them.

This book made me feel like a kid again: I want to look at the stars on a clear night; I want to build things with wheels and gears; I want to teach my first child ( due the next few days hopefully ) about the history of our species, about the interplay of myth and technology that for better or worse has always driven us on.


Chasm City
Chasm City
by Alastair Reynolds
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chasm and Dave, 1 Sep 2009
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This review is from: Chasm City (Paperback)
This was my third Reynolds book after 'The Prefect' and 'Century Rain', and again, I have not been disappointed. Pacey and generally well-written, 'Chasm City' roars along - even the passages set aboard the restrictive environment of the generation ships did not disappoint. The story spans centuries, planets and multiple identities, deftly weaving a number of seeminging unrelated plot-lines. If you enjoy sci-fi then you'll enjoy this book - you'll finish it in no time at all. Maybe I haven't read enough of this genre and I'm far too easilly impressed, but Reynolds like China Meiville seems to relish in inventiveness at a level that leaves me a little lost for words. Gone are the simple plots and tropes of your typical TV sci-fi, there is crazyness and creativity at every turn within these pages. Who'd have thought of mutant buildings and the terrifying Melding Plague?

I guessed the main plot twist about three quarters of the way through ( though not every nuance ), but this didn't spoil the book as it was interesting to learn the history that made the twist possible. On the downside, and this is a complaint I have with all of his books, the characters are not entirely believable and I'm never fully convinced of their motivations. In particular, Reynolds doesn't expend much effort on 'side characters' - one minute they want to kill the protagonist, the next ( after a couple of overly-long and unrealistic dialogue exchanges ) new alliances are forged. One of the characters, the name I forget ( some kind of mushroom I think ), performs a startling about-face and happily joins Tanner Mirabel ( the 'hero' ) along with some other previous Tanner haters in their final battle against the 'end-of-level' baddie.

There were also a couple of 'what's going on moments' as mutant-pigs bubble out of the background, nudge the plot a bit, and then disappear never to be heard of again. Also, the generation ship race seemed a bit unrealistic - why would it matter which generation ship reached Sky's Edge first - a big planet ain't going to feel full if tens of thousands of such ships arrive at an empty world, let along a handful. I'm sure some very important information was missed out on a body scan too - won't say anymore, just look out for it.

Nevertheless, a very, very enjoyable Banks-lite yarn. Just don't think too much about the plot. I'm going to have to give it a five - the book kept me going, it was something to look forward to late at night during a couple of weeks of excessive DIYing!


The Prefect (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
The Prefect (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
by Alastair Reynolds
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great introduction to Alistair Reynolds., 7 Aug 2009
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The Prefect was my first foray into the realm of Revelation Space and reading out of sequence doesn't seem to have had an impact on my understanding and enjoyment one bit. The book has bags of pace and focuses on a small set of characters which helps keep the narrative punchy and uncluttered. This is a much better book than 'Century Rain' ( a non-Revelation Space work ), hanging together more satisfyingly.

Fundamentally, The Prefect is a Detective story set in space, overlain with a rich tapestry of interesting technological and philosophical threads. The narrative centres around Field Prefect Tom Dreyfus ( a kind of cop ) who works for Panoply, an emasculated pseudo police force that protects the voting rights of the residents of the Glitter Band ( a collection of ten thousand habitats which orbit the planet Yellowstone four hundred years or so in the future ).

The story kicks of when a habitat is attacked resulting in the death of all of its inhabitants. Panoply sends one of their best agents to investigate and in classic detective tradition, Tom Dreyfus refuses to rest until the mystery is solved and the Glitter Band is saved from what seems to be inevitable destruction. Although set in a fantastical future, Reynolds encourages us to build allegiances with the citizens of the Glitter Band ( the democracy fixated Demarchists ) to such an extent that he is able to portray the enigmatic Conjoiners as the exotic "aliens".

The book didn't take long to read at all, but before I'd reached halfway I went and ordered a batch of Reynolds's other work. In terms of scope and ideational innovation, comparisons with Banks are valid, however, Reynolds is far more accessible, far less literary - this is in turn, both for the better and for the worse. I'd sooner read Reynolds on a beach, but Banks will satisfy the inner literary snob more completely.

There are a couple of one dimensional characters such as Senior Prefect Gaffney, a classic misguided "bad guy" who might have been "good" under other circumstances, but I can forgive the lack of convincing character development and exposition of motive because of the basic, old fashioned entertainment factor. Likewise, the artificial intelligences don't grip the imagination and elicit sympathy like Jane in Orson Scott Card's Enders series for example, but this weakness is made up for by the more modern treatment. Indeed, as a programmer, the ending made me chuckle a little inappropriately ( in a way only a geek can ). Remember, the first law of distributed programming is don't distribute!


Gone Tomorrow: (Jack Reacher 13)
Gone Tomorrow: (Jack Reacher 13)
by Lee Child
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars My annual Jackfest, 17 July 2009
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I'm sure Jack Reacher books come with some hidden code, some kind of subliminal meme that wipes out all memory of what you've just read. I really struggle to remember what happened in any of the previous books, but that's what makes them great - high octane romps through terse language; heroic, against-the-odds battles against cardboard cut-out bad guys; a love interest and liberal use of the word 'spent'. Though it's all a bit of a blur, this book felt like a return to form after a couple of pedestrian efforts from Mr Child. As usual, trouble comes Jack's way and he can't but get involved - he's up to his neck in it before you can say "Can't wait for a nice cup of tea, then off to bed early." The story starts with Jack identifying a woman riding the New York subway late at night as a potential suicide bomber, then as usual, all hell breaks lose as the book unfolds. Expect nothing less than classic Reacher - he's going to beat some tough guys up by striking at them first; he's going to use his superior weight and height; he's going to get a decent local cop to help out; there'll be some great set-pieces and although Jack'll get outsmarted on occasion, it'll all come together in the end and order returns to the universe.


Century Rain (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
Century Rain (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
by Alastair Reynolds
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.64

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nearly there Alistair!, 16 July 2009
This was my first Alistair Reynolds book, but definitely not my last. I was gripped from the start by its 'film noir' style exploration of 1959 alternate history Paris. Reynold's work is easy to read without being in anyway linguistically dumbed down. The first two-thirds of the book in particular were very good and the characters believable. Without wanting to give too much away and spoil the plot, I was pleased by the inventiveness of the book e.g. the Anomalous Large Sphere (ALS) idea and the swarms of Slasher nano-bots. I do have a few issues with this detective/space opera however. As a minor point I found some of the names a little twee. For example, the main groups of protagonists are called Threshers and Slashers, and you will come across beings known as war-babies ( sweet Lord!) Furthermore, the space chase sequences towards the end of the book ( although relatively short ) lack the excitement and pace of earlier chapters and the bag guy ( won't reveal his name ) becomes nothing more than an anonymous sensor blip. The ending nagged at me a bit too - it left a few too many plotlines hanging e.g. what happens to Custine and how does the ALS proceed through time. Also, I thought Floyd ( the main character ) behaves in the final sentence a bit uncharacteristically callous - maybe I just prefer a happy ending to a morally ambiguous one, maybe Reynolds actually got the ending spot on and I'm a bit too immature to accept it!

I was tempted to give the book a 3 ( 3.5 not possible unfortunately ), but I'm going to throw it a 4 because it's introduced me to a new author who I'm sure will not disappoint in future.


The Scar
The Scar
by China Mieville
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars A little bit of thaumaturgy....., 19 Jun 2009
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This review is from: The Scar (Paperback)
O for half stars or a rating scale stretching from 1 to 7! I feel a little mean only allocating 4 stars for this engaging piece, however, 5 implies a perfection this book doesn't achieve. I found the first few chapters a little tiresome.... Then the sheer inventiveness of Mieville snared me good and proper. How he manages to eek so many ideas out of something so seemingly bland as a wide flat ocean ( compared to the rich seam you'd expect with a city like Perdido Street Station's (PSS) New Crobuzon ) is beyond me. The main set of characters are brought to life deftly.

My only real complaints are that 1. Mieville demands a little bit more of your attention than may be available when you're trying to sneak in a quick read before your eyes fail to sleep; 2. he sometimes treats auxialliary characters in a manner which suggests that I haven't been paying attention - all of a sudden someone not very interesting seems to abruptly take centre stage e.g. Jack Half-a-Prayer in PSS or Hedrigal in this novel.

Despite the negative comments above, overall a wonderful blend of sci-fi, fantasy and horror which I'd just give the edge over PSS. Go buy it, you won't regret it!


The Bookseller Of Kabul
The Bookseller Of Kabul
by Åsne Seierstad
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars Kabul, again........, 29 May 2009
A delightful read. Our journey through Kabul seems to end moments after it begins. I felt slightly uneasy by the book however, either it is appealing to our prejudices, or is a complete and truthful account of a real family ( something the eponymous bookseller refutes - but he would, wouldn't he!). So, you see my problem?

Nothing in the book will really surprise you. Yes, there are middle-class families living in Kabul; yes, educated men can be tyrannical; and yes, Afghan women are oppressed. However, Seierstad does manage ( if this book is authentic ) to immerse herself completely within the `dailyness' of existence of the women of Khan's family. This is where the book is at its strongest. When I turned the last page, I was gutted to see my journey into the lives of Khan's wives and daughters cut short, I was desperate to learn more, and I often wonder what they are doing now.

Maybe this book would work better as out and out fiction to produce a more distilled, coherent account of life in Afghanistan without the doubt of authenticity that can undermine confidence in such a journalistic approach.


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