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Slow River (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
Slow River (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
by Nicola Griffith
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.79

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great content but didn't entirely come together for me..., 20 July 2013
The plus points of this novel were the author's rich imagination in a likely portrayal of a future where all sorts of chemicals and carcinogens have infiltrated our ecosystem, setting off a brand new industry which is dedicated to cleaning and combating this gunk in a high-tech environmentally friendly process. The other plus point was the main mystery narrative as the heroine tries to work if something more was behind her kidnapping than met the eye, and an exploration of dark sexual secrets within the family. The way these plotlines were intertwined gave great depth to the story, although I would have preferred more investment in the mystery storyline, which only appeared to come to maturity very late in the book and somewhat abruptly.

Unfortunately my negative points relate to the characterisation. Individually, the character's do make sense and are well drawn in isolation - but together, it doesn't add up. The relationship between Lore and the predatory Spanner wasn't quite believable to me. Neither was Lore's obsession with knowing whether she'd killed one of her kidnappers - I mean, is that really a big deal? Furthermore, almost the entirety of the books characters appear to be lesbian. That in itself isn't important, but Lore hides her own sexuality during her teen years despite being surrounded by apparently gay couples - so why the big secret? I think there was only one heterosexual relationship in the book that I could remember. Finally, the budding love relationship also seemed to come out of nowhere.

Overall, despite the fascinating future depiction, I found the interaction between the characters a bit deadpan and lacking in credibility. Also, maybe its just me, but it appears that a lot of the women authors I'm reading in Sci-Fi are fascinated with exploring unhealthy relationships. Maybe that's something of interest to female readers, but I personally find it tedious. I found similar themes in 'Grass' and 'Synners', and now I find the same thing in 'Slow River'. By contrast, I found that Ursula K LeGuin's novels ('The Dispossesed' and 'The Lathe of Heaven') manage to explore both male and female viewpoints without becoming too gender focused.

That said, the book was worth a read, but it wasn't up there with the all-time greats by a long shot.


Riddley Walker
Riddley Walker
by Russell Hoban
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

3.0 out of 5 stars I'd give 3 and 1/2 if I could, 20 July 2013
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This review is from: Riddley Walker (Paperback)
Firstly, there are some laugh out loud parts of this book, and although the language is unusual, its no harder to pick up than the writing in 'A Clockwork Orange'. Even if you don't get all the meanings, you always get the gist. It's a great commentary on society, the nature of man, religion and government, and its a powerful tale all of its own.

I really enjoyed it up until the half-way point, and then I began to wonder whether there was real supernatural elements in the story or not. This is quite a big deal with respect to the story because a lot of the plot revolves around the garbled understanding of mankind's history prior to the apocalypse, which has been boiled down to a culture myth surrounding a person called 'Eusa' (which you quickly begin to think relates to USA). Now, as a culture myth, this was interesting. But when it began to appear that some of kind of mysticism was seeping into the book, I began to questing the credibility of the plot. A book either has supernatural elements or it doesn't, but it can't rely on superstitious plot devices while at the same time questioning religious belief. This doesn't work.

Also, there are certain downbeat elements to the book which are someways overplayed. Yes, mankind is scrounging away in an Iron Age existence for the most part, but he has discovered tillage and farming, and is on the threshold of new technical discoveries. Ultimately, these discoveries have the capacity to boost progress (although at a terrible cost).

I would liken this book to 'A Canticle for Leibowitz', which, although is completely different in tone and style, deals with similar themes albeit from a different time perspective. Riddley Walker is a good book as well, and definitely worth a read just for its originality, and is a great addition to any Sci-Fi library.


Dying Inside (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
Dying Inside (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
by Robert Silverberg
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing..., 30 Jun 2013
I purchased this novel based on my huge enjoyment of the the 'Book of Skulls' by the same author. However, what I discovered was that there was too many similarities between the Jewish character in the Book of Skulls and David Selig's character in 'Dying Inside'. Sometimes, as a reader, you want to get the same thing twice, but in this instance I was looking forward to the contrast in characters and the chemistry of their interaction. Unfortunately, I was looking in the wrong place...

'Dying Inside' is effectively one man's journey to normalcy from having a fantastic gift which he has used purely for narrow self-indulgence. For that reason, its hard to have too much sympathy for the main character as he effectively squandered his gift and subsequently engages in ongoing self-pity and bitterness. One would have expected the character to have developed some wisdom in relation to humanity through his gift, but instead his perceptions of his fellow human beings are quite trite. So, when he loses this gift for mind reading, it comes across in many ways as a deserved and long-overdue outcome for a person who was emotionally parasitical.

Having said that, there is some genuine sympathy for the character's circumstances. Although his gift gives him pleasure, he is also burdened by guilt in how he used it (and continues to use it). Other people also find him creepy to an extent, and this has an impact on his socialization. Another telepath with whom Selig has an acquaintance uses his powers with arrogance and glibness and is widely accepted by his 'victims' - in sharp contrast to the Selig who is never popular. Also, the way in which Selig recounts his two major love affairs is both touching and poignant.

Overall I would not recommend this book very highly. The exploration is not so much of telepathy as an exploration of the accumulated moral failings of the main character and his singular failure to make anything of his life - mostly due to his negative outlook. The plot driver could just as well have been one of an addiction, or the loss of a loved one. The fact that the author wrote it during a time when his marriage was failing is probably quite influential, not so much in theme perhaps but in tone (that's not meant as a criticism, just an observation).

Frankly, although I finished the book quite fast, it depressed me. It compares unfavorably with Flowers for Algernon - a really great novel with somewhat similar themes. Despite being a poignant read, Flowers for Algernon remains uplifting due to the attitude and courage of the main character. David Selig's character, by contrast, is completely lacking in that regard.


Synners (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
Synners (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
by Pat Cadigan
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not a page turner...lacking in pace and action, 11 Jun 2013
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I read this book some months ago and am only getting around to the review now. The disappointing aspect of this novel was the fact that it did not grip me in the way that good sci-fi does, whether high concept, action oriented or exploratory. From a style point of view, the book is centred on the music and media industry, with the main characters mostly involved with music. The problem with this was that it can be very hard to cogently present the feeling and effects of music, and in particular describe a music video, in text. Unfortunately, good chunks of the book are devoted to this. Also, to be honest, I still don't understand what 'synners' actually do.

The second aspect that was disappointing was the character relationships - I mean, who really cares about people who continue to invest in relationship with total wasters? There's unfortunately a good bit of that in the book as well, and as another reviewer pointed out, you simply don't care what happens to them. Also, the teen love interest plotline is laughable, but presented as a massive heartbreak when what it really is just a stupid infatuation by a girl with her head up her ass.

Too many of the characters are trying to be hip and cool, while other characters are supposedly hip and cool without trying. It says a lot about the book that I was rooting for the 'evil corporate executive' - I mean, at least he was trying to achieve something instead of moping around helplessly.

There are some interesting comparisons with Gibson's work, but that's it. You won't automatically like Synners if you loved Neuromancer, because Neuromancer was an action driven story. I didn't care for the dismissive lines in the books intro either in relation to that...


Stranger in a Strange Land
Stranger in a Strange Land
by Robert A. Heinlein
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A chauvinistic sex fantasy with genuine pearls of wisdom, 12 Mar 2013
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First thing, I have to respond to other reviewers who mention the quality of the writing. In fact, I don't find the writing that bad, but simply that this version of the book needed a powerful edit. You could simply skip the first 30% and go straight to the visit to the Fosterite church (which is hilarious by the way).

Beyond that, the book is uncomfortably chauvanistic. I agree that this is definitely a book of its time - but then again so was Mein Kampf... One particular phrase stick outs, being "9 times out of 10 when a woman is raped its her own fault". It really doesn't get much more backward than that.

The disappointing thing about this book is that, despite Heinlein's insightful views on power, religion, sex and politics, he's remarkably stunted in his discussion of gender relations. You get the impression that he believes he's doing women a favour - and there isn't a single male character who is not patronising towards women, with the exception of Michael - and Michael celebrates sex.

The other dissapointing thing about this book is that the celebration of sex, while obviously liberating at the time, does begin to grate slightly towards the end. Its hard to associate dignity with characters whose mindset is completely below the navel at times, yet who are supposed to be stellar examples of intellectual ability and worldliness. You can really see how sleazy sex driven cults get their inspiration from this book.

Beyond these aspects, the book has - at times - a really excellent discussion of religion, sexual attitudes in general, public morals and politics. But don't take all of it as 'Gospel'. Heinlein's reference to the biblical character Lot is quite one-sided and dismissive (Lot did offer his daughters to a mob, but it was to save two angels from being raped - a harrowing story no matter which way you look at it, but not necessarily a judgement on religion as such).

In summation, there's two ways to view this book. The first as an inspirational, and perhaps necessary, novel of its time which had the courage to face sexual inhibitions and religious hypocrisy. The second as a backward, chauvanistic sex fantasy where sex is celebrated but women are not. To me, it's both, and the the intellectual discussion inside the story is similarly polarised, ranging from shrewd to ham-fisted depending on what Heinlein has set his sights on.

As a strong sci-fi fan, I wanted to read a book which has been celebrated as one of the all-time greats. Did I enjoy it? Sporadically. Did it enrich my understanding of the world and of people? No, but it confirmed me in certain beliefs I already had. Did it challenge any of my worldviews? Also no, because the world has moved on far, far beyond what Heinlein envisioned (which was essentially free love). And finally, would I recommend it? That I cannot answer, because despite its value, this version is really is a bloated and tedious read. Being a sci-fi fan I had a desire to expand my knowledge of the genre, and that was the major motivation to start, restart and finally finish this novel.

Probably I think you should pass on this unless you have a keen interest in politics, sex and religion as viewed through a chauvanistic 1950s mindset...or are a dedicated sci-fi reader!


Flowers For Algernon (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
Flowers For Algernon (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
by Daniel Keyes
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, 9 Feb 2013
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Like many I suspect, I tend to avoid books that are described as poignant, but due to the huge number of high ratings this book received I decided to give it a go. I'm really glad that I did, and very grateful that I had the chance to read this book. Like the best sci-fi (in my humble opinion), this book is literature first and sci-fi second, but it is also a tale that could not be written without the sci-fi framework. The magnetism of this book is that is how skillfully it describes the hypocrisy of society, both from the very lowest elements described (the coarse and resentful employees at the bakery) to the highest (the sly and patronising academics). Charlie navigates from one layer through to the next, with only a brief love affair to offset the cruelty of the world he lives in. However, Charlie remains a true hero due to his ultimate nobility and decency which he carries all the way through his stratospheric intellectual climb and into his subsequent descent, and it is these values that keep the reader engaged throughout the story.

The power of this book is that it humbles you, and moves you deeply regarding the casual injustices of the world. It is also a biting critique of the academic world - the part where Charlie denounces the pettines and cowardice of those who spend their lives churning out derivative research rather than risking their reputation on more ambitious projects is as valid now as it was then.

This book is a tremendous exploration of the shortcomings of humanity towards the weakest in their society and, despite being fiction, succeeds better than any journalism I know of at opening the reader's eyes and heart to the nature of bullying, exploitation and small-mindedness - whether physical or intellectual.


Hellstrom's Hive (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
Hellstrom's Hive (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
by Frank Herbert
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.39

4.0 out of 5 stars Still a great read, and keeps the tension up!, 9 Feb 2013
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When I turned the last page on Hellstrom's hive I was just wishing that a sequel had been written. There's a lot of really enjoyable aspects to this book, and the combination of all of them is what made it a really solid sci-fi/futuristic story.

Even though its very much a novel of its time, from the point of view of technology, Herbert's novel has aged quite well considering that it pre-dated the mass computer market, and while mobile phones are understandably absent, the references to radio links etc are comparable in terms of plot progression. Also, the technology of the hive is still advanced and novel by our standards - as well quite alien in many respects!

The other aspect that makes this a great read is the pacing of the story, and the interaction between the agency and the hive leadership. Firstly, the interaction is intelligent. A real battle of wits unfolds between both sides, and is carried well by the characters involved, who are also well differentiated.

Finally, and definitely the intriguing element which spurred me on to purchase this book, was the fascinating description of a human/insect society, complete all the way down to a caste system. Herbert shows as well as tells, and Janverts run through the hive towards the end of the story leads to one nightmarish revelation after another. While some scenes would perhaps be more shocking if they had not been alluded to beforehand, the real climax comes from the plot itself, and you are never quite sure how the story will end.

An oldie but a goodie!


The World's Toughest Endurance Challenges
The World's Toughest Endurance Challenges
by Richard Hoad
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 16.75

5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and inspiring book!, 9 Feb 2013
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If you have any interest whatsoever in endurance sports - whether running, sailing, cycling, multi-sports - buy this book. It doesn't matter if you are a hardened Ironman triathlete or just a person who dreams of pushing your boundaries - this book will leave you with an intrigued smile on you face, and maybe just a spark of ambition in your belly. It certainly did for me, and I was mostly only gazing at the pictures!

The photos are spectacular, and the personal viewpoints are also valuable - particularly if you are serious considering one of these challenges - because you get some idea of the training involved. While this book is only an introduction to each of the races, and that is not a criticism by any means, if you are fired up after reading it (like I was and I think many other reviewers!) then I think the authors have done their job.

Great as a coffee table item and as a reference guide.


Tau Zero (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
Tau Zero (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
by Poul Anderson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

4.0 out of 5 stars Classic Sci-fi, still thought provoking, 9 Feb 2013
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I've read a couple of Poul Anderson novels, such as Jem and Man-Plus. This is by far the hardest Sci-Fi I can recall reading from him, although he does touch upon it similar themes in Gateway (and I believe quite a few other of his novels). It's not a very long book, and I got through it during a weekend, but that's because I personally found it to be a page turner. It's not the most gripping or exciting novel in terms of action or adventure, but the draw is in the concept of near-light speed travel. I find some of the physics in the book a little hard to grasp - not the light speed travel, but the descriptions of how light begins to shift at certain speeds and space becomes a blue colour.

Regarding the characterisation, I found it convincing enough - certainly the story's hero has his work cut out!!! But this is not a novel to be purchased for the human story. This is high concept sci-fi, but still very though provoking and definitely belonging on the bookshelf of any serious sci-fi reader or writer.


Body For Life: 12 Weeks to Mental and Physical Strength
Body For Life: 12 Weeks to Mental and Physical Strength
by Bill Phillips
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 12.72

3.0 out of 5 stars An okay plan and not too hard to follow, 27 Jan 2013
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Okay, to be clear I've been on this program for 3 weeks to date, and I have lost weight (2kgs) through the combination of the low fat high protein dieting, plus regular weights and cardio. From that point of view, it has been a complete success. I would also point out that I haven't stuck rigidly to the dieting plan as I prefer to accommodate the odd meal with friends rather than attempt to be a perfectionist and a loner! The main thing is not to expect to be a perfectionist from the outset, and just continually improve at it as you go forward.

The plus side is that the book identifies good foods that you can eat, and stresses that you should eat six times a day - this is ideal as it means that, although you can feel a little unsatisfied now and again, you at least don't feel hungry, and you can look forward to whatever you like one day of the week. This is not a hard plan to follow, and its probably something I'll try to incorporate into my routine from this point onward. It's also a bonus for me to have short duration exercises as my commute takes a bit of time out of my day and I'm reluctant to visit a gym for this reason. You should be willing to plan our your diet and your weights in advance on one day of the week.

In addition to the dieting, the cardio plan is very easy to follow - its just 20 minutes - while the weight regime is enjoyable if you like that sort of thing. However, if you are not into weights, this will not be a good plan for you because two-thirds of the exercise is going to be weight-lifting.

Now for the negatives. As one other reviewer pointed out, there was no mention of STRETCHING!!! This was a mortal sin, I went straight into the plan and in the first week my arms were killing me with stiffness. It was actually difficult to put on a jacket or shirt because of stiff and painful muscles. Regular stretching took care of that and I didn't have the same problem again. The stretching will probably add 10 minutes to the regime beginning and end of each session. Which brings me to time keeping. I am unable to get the upper body exercises into a 42 minute block, despite having a stop watch and taking only single minute breaks between sets and exercises, and since the weight lifting is supposed to be slow and controlled, I don't see any other way to go faster. I even bought two sets of weights in order to minimise the number of times I have to switch plates between barbells (only for two exercises right now).

Regarding costs I've probably spent about 350 euros on new weights and weight bench, and I already had an old exercise bike, plus I have enough space in my house to have a mini-gym in one room.

My overall assessment of Body-for-life at this point in time is that if you have the cash to buy the weights and enough room where you live to use them regularly (you need about at least a few square metres of space to accommodate it all) then this is a good plan to invest in. For the record, I think it would be possible to get a very muscular look in 12 weeks if you are also taking a protein builder, but that's not for me. But don't forget to incorporate stretching!!!

I would not recommend this plan if you are the following: on a strict budget and/or with limited personal living space, or you are more interested in endurance or cardiovascular workouts. The weight set will set you back (unless you want to buy second hand) and you do need at least a small area totally devoted to your equipment. If you don't, you'll be forever trying to lug them out from under other things and losing time. Also, you will need weights that you can quickly upgrade for four different sets.

If you don't have cash to invest or space to exercise in where you life, then I recommend just following a regime of core body workouts (press-ups, crunches) plus regular jogging or cycling and you can also get excellent results from that.


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