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L. R. Richardson (Scotland)
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Time Salvager
Time Salvager
by Wesley Chu
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Such a page turner!, 14 July 2015
This review is from: Time Salvager (Paperback)
A great, time travel romp with lots of action and a twisty plot. What happens when a man has to travel back in time and see hundreds of doomed people, over and over again. What does that do to a person? And what happens when he can't take it any more and breaks all time laws by bringing a woman back with him?

Give it a try!


Glaze
Glaze
by Kim Curran
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Flew through this!, 7 Jun. 2014
This review is from: Glaze (Paperback)
I enjoyed the heck out this book and read it in a day. Clever, fun, and really makes you think about how we live in a hooked-up world, and how difficult it is to escape.

It's not a dystopia, not quite, but it's a chilling look at how close we are to one now.


Empire State (Angry Robot)
Empire State (Angry Robot)
by Adam Christopher
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It's not Hardboiled; It's Deviled-egg!, 22 Dec. 2011
Empire State is an extremely accomplished debut from Angry Robot. Rad Bradley is a private detective in the Empire State, which is a strange, alternate totalitarian New York. It's wrapped in eternal fog and has almost been frozen in time in the 1930s-Prohibition Era. No one dares ask to many questions about what lays beyond the fog, or else they have a way of disappearing. Meanwhile, in a New York almost like our own, another man names Rex stumbles upon a mystery of his own. What these two cities have in common are two superheroes who are at odds. Empire State is a noir mystery with alternate dimensions, superheroes, robots, airships, a cult, goons in gas masks, and lots of fog and rain and secrets.

The setting of the two cities are palpable. Christopher's writing has a very visual style, and I imagined it as an old film or a comic book. Empire State is eerie and hazy. The Empire State also made me think it was a commentary on the different approaches America could have taken to wartime--The Empire State is America isolationism at its finest, locked in perpetual war with an un-named Other.

If you're a fan of Chandler and the classic noir, then you'll like Empire State. Rad channels a bit of Marlowe, if Marlowe was a black past boxer in Prohibition-era alternate New York with robots instead of 1930s Los Angeles. My favourite scene was when the stereotypical posh, put-together young woman sashays into Rad's office, but the expectation is turned on its head when Rad realizes just who she's asking him to search for. Empire State flirts with the conventions of past mysteries, but gives each element a subtle twist. There's a lot of secondary characters and all have their own plot arcs, such as Captain Carson and Kane Fortuna and the City Commissioner.

Rad is dragged into a mystery that goes deeper than he could have imagined, resulting in twisted doppelgangers, people who change allegiance at the drop of a white fedora, and the discovery of a strange, other place called New York.

While I loved the atmosphere and the plotting and the writing, I did have some minor quibbles. The story did start a little slowly and it took me a bit of time to get a feel for Rad as a character. Additionally, there's a decided lack of female character screen-time, which is a bit of a shame. I would have liked to know a lot more about Kopek and Saturn. The end was complicated and it was difficult to keep track of the characters and what side they were on, but I managed just fine, though I did find myself going back and re-reading to make sure I understood events properly when it would have been better to not interrupt the flow.

Overall, it's an excellent book, and if you like comics, the TV show Fringe, and pulpy hardboiled mysteries, then this is a book to pick up.


Fabulous Riverboat (Riverworld Saga)
Fabulous Riverboat (Riverworld Saga)
by Philip Jose Farmer
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Read To Your Scattered Bodies Go and then stop., 16 Aug. 2010
This is the second instalment of the Riverworld series. While I found the first one interesting and enjoyed it, the spark of mystery is missing from its sequel, leaving it to disintegrate into an odd mishmash of historical, science fiction fanfiction.

In the first novel, every human from prehistory until the late 20th century have awoken on the banks of a world with an endless river. In the sequel, the protagonist is Samuel Clemens (yes, that Samuel Clemens) and he goes down the river with various other historical figures, such as a Nazi War criminal and King John Lackland of Robin Hood fame. I find it very annoying that only the famous people of history ever interact together. Where are the billions of people who did not shift history? They are a faceless, voiceless background.

In the first book, I was curious to know why they were there and who was responsible for providing them with food and other materials needed for survival. The mystery was solved in the first book and is not explored enough in the second.

The resurrected society is adapting and shifting, however. In the first book, people had few resources at their disposal. For at least a third of the book they were naked because they had nothing to clothe themselves with. Now, they are learning how to mine resources from the Earth and bring back the technology they enjoyed in the later part of Earth's history.

In this story, Sam lands in Paralando, a predominantly African and African-American land. Of course, race is naturally a predominant theme in the book, and while it is a little heavy-handed, it is pertinent to the 70s, when the novel was written. While Farmer still has misogyny rife within the novel (one character is very shocked and amazed at the notion of a female engineer. Incroyable!), Farmer urges for equality and a lack of racism on both sides (Paralando is trying to get rid of inhabitants that are anything other than black).

Overall, while it's still an interesting setting, it did not grab me enough to wish to continue with the series and the misogyny and constant focus on womens' bodies rather than their minds is beginning to grate on me. It's a shame as it's meant to be one of the greats, but in my opinion it has not aged well.


Dragon Haven (The Rain Wild Chronicles, Book 2)
Dragon Haven (The Rain Wild Chronicles, Book 2)
by Robin Hobb
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A satisfying conclusion, though I want to know what happens next, 16 Aug. 2010
This is the sequel to Dragon Haven, and comprises the two-part series of the Rain Wild Chronicles by Robin Hobb. Hobb has another trilogy set in this part of her world, the Liveship Trilogy, and several characters overlap into another trilogy, the Tawny Man trilogy. This is a satisfying conclusion to another glimpse into Hobb's world of the Rain Wilds, but even though they are excellently written, I always have a soft spot for Hobb's books because they are how I met my husband.

Bingtown is a trading outpost, where the rich are very rich indeed and own liveships, ships made of wizardwood, a "wood" that after several generations become sentient. Much of the economy of this part of the world is dependent on plundered Elderling loot from buried cities of the Rain Wilds, or what the liveships can fetch to trade.

The Rain Wilds is a palpable, harsh setting--a marshy rainforest with very little solid land. Those who live in the Rain Wilds live in treehouses in the canopy. After living there, nearly everyone becomes "marked" by their surroundings, growing warts, scales, glowing eyes, or other changes.

The Rain Wild Chronicles have a wide cast of characters--dragons that emerged from their cocoons malformed, weak, and angry at their predicament. They are searching for a place that may or may not exist, Kelsingra, a Dragon and Eldering city only half-remembered in some of their ancestral memories.

Heavily "Marked" children of the Rain Wilds were chosen to go along as their keepers, as much to get them out of the way as to actually protect the creatures. Thymara, keeper to the proud blue dragon Sintara, is partly scaled and was born with claws instead of fingernails, meaning that by custom she should have been exposed at birth and left for dead. Many of the other keepers are similarly marked, though some are fully human.

Alise Finbok is a rich trader woman from Bingtown who is married to a manipulative man and Sedric is her friend, assistant, and other things she does not realize. Captain Leftrin owns one of the earliest wizardwood vessels, a barge named Tarman with special modifications.

These characters together continue to make their way up the river, hunting for the city. The story focuses on the difficulties they face in their surroundings and with each other. Dragons are becoming at odds with each other over the importance of their keepers. Keepers are frightened by accelerating changes to their physiology. People are drawn together and torn apart.

I had a few reservations about the first volume, mainly because the two books were initially meant to be one volume, so the prequel has a lot of exposition and not quite as much action, though that is to be expected. The second volume more than makes up for that and is an engaging read. Recently, due to a myriad of factors, my concentration when it comes to reading has been lacking. I'll pick up a book and immediately put it down again. But I devoured this book in less than two days, sitting and reading furiously for hours at a time. I both love and hate it when books do this because on the one hand I'm so engrossed, but on the other, I don't get as much done as I need to do.

If you like fantasy with engaging characters, a rich setting, and fantasy that manages to both toy with and avoid most tropes of the genre, then Hobb is definitely an author to pick up.


The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

4.0 out of 5 stars Violent, but a solid YA science fiction dystopia, 16 Aug. 2010
This review is from: The Hunger Games (Paperback)
While this is far from being the most original idea out there, The Hunger Games is an entertaining book for young adults that has at least a smidgen of social commentary. It's a better book for young children to be reading than other series that are selling millions of copies I could mention.

Collins states that her inspiration for the story came when channel surfing and "reality TV and war coverage blended together in a disconcerting way" and that the myth of Crete sending their children to the Minotaur also played a factor (Publisher's Weekly). I feel that the likes of Battle Royale and The Long Walk by Richard Bachman/Stephen King were more likely sources of inspiration, for this is a storyline that has been done before (and perhaps done better).

However, Collins does put a new spin on the setting. A catastrophic event crumpled civilisation, and a country called Panem rose from it. The Capitol has monopolised the wealth and technology, and most of society is feudal, with peons working in different districts. One district focuses on agriculture, one in electronics. Katniss Everdean lives in District 12, the coal district. Her father has died, her mother is too grief-ridden to properly take care of them, and so Katniss illegally hunts in the surrounding woods to support her mother and her little sister, Prim.

All children must be entered at least once into the lottery, and if their name is called they must go to the Capitol and play The Hunger Games each year. One boy and one girl from each of the twelve districts must fight to the death, and there is only one victor. Prim, Katniss's sister, is chosen and Katniss decides to volunteer to go in her place. The baker's son, Peeta, is also chosen.

Obviously it is a premise that we find fascinating, though I find it fundamentally flawed. Yes, humanity can be callous, but I don't think we would ever be able to disassociate with reality enough to egg on children to kill each other live on television. But maybe I'm an optimist.

It is like an action film for young boys and girls in book form (so it's unsurprising that it's being made into a film--and I will totally see it), and there is a lot of death but it is not told in overly gory detail. The pace is relentless.

One complaint I have is that the people of the Capitol are mainly caricatures, and only Sinna, the stylist, has any real depth. The Capitol seems like a vague city of puppets, and luckily most of the storyline takes place in the actual arena. There's a good range of personalities there--the well-fed entitled "tributes" from the Capitol that rely on brute strength, weaklings who have no chance or who survive based on their wits.

The ending is fairly predictable, but overall it was extremely entertaining and sucked me in, and I immediately looked for the sequel.


Stories of Your Life and others
Stories of Your Life and others
by Ted Chiang
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my favourite SF short story writers, 16 Aug. 2010
Synopsis/Background:

Ted Chiang is a brilliant science fiction short story author, but unfortunately, he publishes very infrequently. This is a collection of eight short stories that have been published in well-known magazines such as Omni, Asimov's, Full Spectrum, Starlight, Nature, and Vanishing Acts.

Strengths:

These are clever stories that investigate themes of religion and the role science plays in our lives. He plays with different forms. "Story of Your Life" toys with second person in a way that is successful. In "Liking What You See: A Documentary," the story is told like a documentary, with a mosaic of anecdotes from students, their parents, and scientific professionals.

Weaknesses:

Some stories rely a bit too heavily on scientific jargon and sometimes his stories can be a bit dry. The reader does not connect closely with the main characters, except perhaps in "Story of Your Life."

Musings:

Two of his stories play with the notion of religion having a more direct supernatural element in our lives--in "The Tower of Babylon," a man journeys up the tower of Babylon, which is so tall it takes months to reach to the top. He witnesses people mining in the sky into the vault of heaven. In "Hell is the Absence of God," divine sightings and random miracles leave the devoted dead or blinded.

The ones that focus more closely on science are my favourites. "Understand" is slightly like Flowers for Algernon, where a man of normal intelligence is injected with a drug to prevent brain damage. Another one ("Seventy-Two Letters") is an ingenious steampunk story, where in an alternate Victorian society, they have clay automatons that can function if they are given the proper name. And lastly, in "Story of Your Life," an alien linguists tells the story of how she met her child's father, interspersed with the story of first contact with the aliens she is studying.

Recommendation:

It's difficult to choose a favourite story from this collection, as Chiang has a wide range of narrative skills that he uses with deftness and dexterity. While I, like many others, wished he published with more frequency, I can admire that he's not churning out story after story and novel after novel. These stories are lovingly and carefully crafted, and if he wishes to take his time with them, as a reader, I'll wait. I recommend him if you enjoy academic, clever science fiction short stories.


A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 4)
A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 4)
by George R.R. Martin
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A "Bridge Book" in many respects, 16 Aug. 2010
Synopsis/Background:

The fourth installment of The Song of Ice and Fire series follows some of the characters as they have more trials and tribulations in the fictional world of Westeros, based slightly on Tudor England during the War of the Roses. The other half will be appearing in the next installment, A Dance With Dragons.

The characters are: Cersei, the current Queen whose boy-child reigns but does not rule. Tommen, the young king, has recently been married to an older girl, Margery, who is too sly for Cersei's liking. Jamie is Cersei's brother and lover, though after a harrowing journey in the last book, he is changed. Brienne, the woman knight Jamie traveled with, is searching for Sansa Stark, one of the daughters of the murdered Hand of the King. Sansa, meanwhile, is hiding her identity and controlling a boy prince of her own in the mountain kingdom of the Vale of the Arryn.

In other Kingdoms, others are still playing the game of thrones. In the Iron Islands, a naval land the nobility are trying to plot their next move to take the throne from the Lannisters (Cersei), thinking that dragons are the key. In Dorne, a woman named Arianne Martell is trying to crown a woman under Westeros law.

Down in Oldtown, a member of the watch, Samwell Tarly, is searching for answers as well, trying to find out what the Maesters know of the Others, the strange undead that haunt the Wall he guards. Lastly, the young Arya Stark, sister to Sansa and others, joins a temple of assassins.

Strengths:

There is such a wide variety of storylines that at least one will most likely appeal to a reader. Martin paints strong characters and his world-building continues to be lush and intricately-detailed.

Weaknesses:

While I like most of these characters well enough, and Arya's storylines is one of my favourites, most of my absolute favourites are missing. There is no Daneyres, the young girl who becomes something like Attila the Hun and gains control of various nomad tribes in the South. There is no Jon Snow, Samwell's friend and the bastard son of the House of Stark. At times the prose is bogged down by lengthy exposition and talk of politics, and my eyes glazed over.

Musings:

While still an incredible series, even this installment, broken in twain, has so much going on and so many story lines to follow that each story barely progresses. Each character only has a handful of chapters, and so even though the novel is nearly one thousand pages, I'm left feeling like it was a bit of a filler book.

Recommendation:

Wait until there is a clear publication date for A Dance of Dragons, and then re-read the entire series in preparation.


Monsters of Men (Chaos Walking)
Monsters of Men (Chaos Walking)
by Patrick Ness
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A strong conclusion to a very strong series, 16 Aug. 2010
As soon as I finished The Ask and the Answer, I immediately picked up Monsters of Men. The last installment wastes no time in picking up where the previous novel left off. I believe I finished the third volume at 5 am, and then it took me a bit of time to fall asleep because my mind was still whirring. I read all three books in four days. This is a series that grabs you by the throat and does not let you go until it's finished.

In the first novel, Todd is the only viewpoint. In the second novel, Viola's viewpoint is added. In the third novel, a third voice is added, though I won't tell you who. If you're astute and have read the first two books, you'll probably have guessed it. If you haven't read the first two books, go read them. Now.

In Monsters of Men, everything has gone to hell in a hand basket. Battles are waging, it's unclear who Todd and Viola can trust, yet everyone must band together against a new, larger threat of a Spackle invasion.

Ness does not do purely good and purely evil. Everyone in this series is flawed, and everyone has a clear motivation. In this book, the ridiculousness of war is made blatantly clear. Due to so many misunderstandings, hundreds of lives are lost, and you are left meekly asking "why?"

This is a book I would recommend to so many different people. I have lent the series to three others and they in turn are recommending them to others like wildfire. My aunt never reads science fiction and she gobbled the trilogy. The setting is unique, the voices are fresh, and despite the terror in these books, the main characters have a refreshingly sweet budding relationship.

These books are gaining rapid popularity because they are GOOD, and teach people of all ages meaningful lessons about life.


The Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking)
The Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking)
by Patrick Ness
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Warning: Do not read if you have lots to do because you will read this instead, 16 Aug. 2010
Middle volumes of trilogies are tricky. Often, they flounder in the middle. Not so with The Ask and the Answer. I read this in one day, even though I was on holiday traveling about London. My aunt just visited me, and she also read it in less than two days, even though we were traveling about lochs all day. We both stayed up until far too late in the evening because this series is just that engaging. My aunt finished this yesterday and is currently flying home--and she took my copy of Monsters of Men because she couldn't bear to not know what happened next right away.

In the sequel to The Knife of Never Letting Go, Todd and Viola are pitted against two rivaling parties in Haven--The Ask and the Answer. Todd is trapped with President Prentiss, the former mayor of Prentisstown, and Viola is with the rebels of Haven, led by the healer Mistress Coyle. Throughout the book, both sides do terrible things, and Viola and Todd have to discover how to best the adults and stop them from destroying everything and everyone.

These books are brutal. Horrific things happen on a regular basis. There is genocide, and murder, and betrayal, and manipulation. Two fundamentally good young adults are trying to decide, in the face of this, to discover what is right and wrong, and what should be done. In short, it's everything both young adults and adults love to read.

Read The Chaos Walking Trilogy. Just don't start a volume at midnight, because you might not sleep until dawn, and make sure you have the next at the ready.


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