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A. G. Lockhart (Northants, England)

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The Forbidden Territory (Duke De Richleau Book 5)
The Forbidden Territory (Duke De Richleau Book 5)
Price: £4.31

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Siberian Adventure, 1 Jan. 2016
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Wheatley’s first novel is fast-paced and very readable. His depiction of Stalinist Russia and its version of the communist ideal is quite realistic and probably accurate. The characters do have a very narrow outlook on the world (so it seems to me) and though this book is not quite as ‘non-PC’ as some of Wheatley’s other novels, I do sometimes cringe at their language and assumptions. However, the 1920s and 1930s were, I suppose, the age of the gentleman adventurer in fiction – rich, bored and well-connected – so the reader needs to bear that in mind when judging.

Re-reading after about three decades, I still enjoyed it.

Yale PIR Motion Detector (EF & SR Alarm Series)
Yale PIR Motion Detector (EF & SR Alarm Series)
Price: £22.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bought this item to supplement a previously purchased Yale system ..., 1 Jan. 2016
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Bought this item to supplement a previously purchased Yale system. Safely installed and tested - hopefully never to be "tested" for real!

The Gods Themselves
The Gods Themselves
Price: £5.39

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It is the intelligent species of this other universe who are initiating these ..., 11 Oct. 2015
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'The plutonium/tungsten can make its cycle endlessly back and forth between Universe and para- Universe, yielding energy first in one and then in another . . . Both sides can gain energy from what is, in effect, an inter-Universe Electron Pump.'
This piece of pseudo science is how the jumped-up radiochemist-cum-physicist Hallam in Asimov's novel The Gods Themselves describes his supposed invention. The Electron Pump is the holy grail of physics - limitless energy at no cost - or is it? Not all scientists are convinced, but Nobel Prize-winning Hallam is such an idol of the masses that he is able to stifle all criticism at the expense of his critics.
The problem with the device is that it endangers the process of nuclear fusion in the Sun threatening an extinction level explosion. But who cares so long as we have limitless electricity without coal, oil and gas?

The novel divides into three parts. Part One, Against Stupidity, takes place here on Earth in the year 2070 and introduces us to Hallam and two young scientists, Ben Denison and Pete Lamont, who have their careers blighted for challenging Hallam's authority. A piece of tungsten in a sealed jar changes mysteriously into 'Plutonium 186' - an impossible material according to the laws of our universe. The discovery leads to the Electron Pump and speculation about a para-universe, where the strong nuclear force (the force which binds the fundamental particles of matter) must be a hundred times stronger than here on Earth. It is the intelligent species of this other universe who are initiating these changes to the atomic mass and charge of the tungsten, thereby producing energy.

Part Two, The Gods Themselves, takes the reader to the alternate universe where the inhabitants, seemingly more intelligent and advanced than humans are nevertheless facing problems, scientific and ethical, not unlike those in our reality. The intelligent species of this para-universe is one of Asimov's triumphs, beings whose family and breeding unit is a triad consisting of 'left Rational', 'right Parental', and 'mid Emotional', and whose objective is for themselves to produce by 'melting' one of each before 'passing on'. But Dua isn't a conforming Emotional; she is rational too, which makes her something of a rebel. On this world, there are also 'the Hard Ones' who seem to do all the work and the science while the triads laze around 'eating' energy. The Hard Ones have their Pump too - but what exactly is involved in 'passing on'?

Part Three, Contend in Vain, is set on the Moon, a generation on from Part One, and concerns a sort of romance between an elderly Denison and Selene Lindstrom, a lunar-born 'tour guide'. Aside from their genuine liking for each other, both have their competing agendas not unrelated to the arguments that took place in Part One. Is there a way of countering the negative effects of the Electron Pump? Surely, if there are two universes, there must be more?
The Gods Themselves is not - as a cohesive piece of writing - one of Asimov's better novels. The beginning is a bit muddled and its conclusion is unsatisfactory. However, despite its shortcomings, it has an appeal of its own for any sci-fi fan. It is one of Asimov's most imaginative stories. [Actually, I give it 3.1/2 stars]
The Electron Pump and the sex triad of the para-universe join the Positronic Brain, the Three Laws of Robotics and Psychohistory as two of Asimov's great contributions to sci-fi literature. Whether intentional or not, there is an ambiguity about the title which gives the narrative a dual focus. Are the intelligences of the para-universe the real gods as the sub-title in Part Two implies? or could it be that Asimov is satirising the petty squabbles among scientists who consider themselves little short of divine?

I, Robot
I, Robot
by Isaac Asimov
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars in which the Machines are manipulating humanity for its own good, Asimov explores, 11 Oct. 2015
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This review is from: I, Robot (Paperback)
Forget the film! Whatever its merits or demerits, the movie starring Will Smith has almost no connection at all with the short story collection having the same title. Three of Asimov's characters - Susan Calvin, the robopsychologist, Robertson, the head of US Robots, and Lanning, one of its directors, do appear, but in a plot which doesn't resemble any robot story Asimov ever wrote.

This I, Robot collection contains nine of Asimov's tales originally published between 1940 and 1950 - he wrote more later - each one exploring a different facet of the robot culture. They are linked over half a century of story time (imagined as being 2004 to 2054) as the memories of Susan Calvin, about to retire as head psychologist of US Robots and Mechanical Men.

These are the tales that introduce the famous Three Laws of Robotics:
1 A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2 A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3 A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

From Robbie, the first story about a robot nursemaid who saves a little girl's life, to The Evitable Conflict, in which the Machines are manipulating humanity for its own good, Asimov explores, exploits and manipulates the Three Laws to give us nine thought-provoking stories of robots and their human owners. They deal with some important concepts such as loyalty and obedience, and ask searching questions about us. What does it really mean to be human? What is life? Does a robot who is indistinguishable from a human being have rights? What happens if you tell a robot to 'get lost'?

In addition to the Three Laws, Asimov introduces some other ideas which he would develop fully in later, more sophisticated works. Fans of his novels will recognise an embryo version of what eventually became the 'Zeroth Law'. In Escape! they will read about the first experiments with the hyperdrive, an essential element of the Foundation universe.

Readers new to Asimov will find a fair amount of technospeak in the stories and getting used to this takes time. However, we should remember that the individual tales in I, Robot were written for the pulp sci-fi magazines of the mid 20th century whose readers were already fans of the genre. With the exception of Robbie, all appeared first in Astounding, the magazine that launched Asimov's writing career and that of Robert Heinlein, Clifford Simak and Ron Hubbard.

Whilst I, Robot can be read as an introduction to Asimov, I think it's better to start with one of his later novels (or series) such as The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun or The Robots of Dawn, and return to the short stories later for a real appreciation of the subleties of these classics of sci-fi literature.

A House Divided
A House Divided
by Margaret Skea
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Righteous Medicine - Unholy Malice, 11 Oct. 2015
This review is from: A House Divided (Paperback)
I received an advanced reading copy of A House Divided in exchange for a fair review.

The year is 1597 and King James VI is on the throne of Scotland. The south-west is torn by the century-old feud between two families, the Montgomeries and the Cunninghames, temporarily on hold (in public anyway) by a royal edict. The whole country is in the grips of one of the vilest episodes of witch hunting in its history.

For six years, Kate Munro and her three children have lived in secret with Hugh and Elizabeth Montgomerie at Braidstane in Ayrshire. Kate has taken the name Grant to protect the family from William Cunninghame, her husband’s sworn enemy. But the children are growing up and have begun asking questions - about their identity, and about their absent father. Munro (we aren’t told his first name until late in the novel) is in France, fighting with French King Henri IV at the siege of Amiens. With him is Patrick Montgomerie, Hugh’s brother.

Kate, who has gained a reputation as a ‘wise woman’, is called to treat Margaret Maxwell, a woman abused by her loutish husband. Maxwell is cousin and friend to Cunninghame, so Kate is apprehensive of meeting him, not entirely secure in the knowledge that both he and William believe her dead, killed in the fire that destroyed Broomelaw, the Munro home. However, Maxwell comes back unexpectedly. He thinks Kate’s face ‘familiar’ and although distracted by his wife later mentions the incident to William. William plans to rebuild Broomelaw, which lies on Cunninghame land, for his own use.

When Maggie, Kate’s elder daughter, curious to see her old home, pays a visit, William chases her off. However, he is struck by her resemblance to the Munro family. He makes enquiries about her. Meanwhile, Munro has returned to Scotland bringing news of Patrick’s death. It is a dangerous visit because if seen by William Cunninghame or his cronies he will certainly be recognised and killed.
King James hears of Kate’s skill and summons her to Edinburgh to attend his queen. Her arrival at court coincides with that of both Cunninghame and Maxwell. Now realising who she is, they plot against her as revenge for a former slight and for fear she may claim the Broomelaw property.

Kate has a powerful and unexpected ally in John Cunninghame, William’s uncle, who is sickened by the feuding and his nephew’s conduct. She has the ear of Queen Anne. Her Montgomerie friends are high in King James’s favour. As the story twists and turns, sometimes in unexpected directions, and the action shifts rapidly from Ayrshire to Edinburgh and back again, we wonder if these advantages are enough. Will Munro be able to protect his wife against William’s determined malice? Can the Montgomeries save her from the dedicated witch finder John Cowper and the lies of the sinister Mistress Aitken. And is the King so obsessed with witchcraft that he is blind to blatant injustice?

The final chapters of A House Divided take us on desperate, breathtaking journeys across mist-enshrouded moors, through flash-flooded rivers and along robber-infested highways. We see humanity at its worst in the tragedy of war, the harsh treatment of women and the horrors of the witch trials. But we see it at its best too: in loyal friendships; in courage against the most appalling odds; and in the determination of a man who, risking name and title, will go to length to see wrong righted and justice done.

The book contains some delightful passages of prose, descriptions of fields, woods and moors, and of domestic content. However, Margaret Skea doesn’t always do ‘nice’. When we need realism, she gives it to us. She does not draw back from the horrors of warfare, or of mob hysteria. Her descriptions of sickness, of wounds, of primitive medicine and midwifery display an intimate knowledge of the subject. However, she does not waste time on unnecessary detail, leaving the reader’s imagination to fill in the rest. As a result, the story moves with pace and purpose.

The true historical novelist starts off at a disadvantage. Unlike the fantasist, she has to deal with facts and to make the story fit. Margaret Skea has done her research well. Such is her understanding of the period that when she does stray over the boundary into invention it is done credibly and convincingly. And if the duplication of Christian names occasionally risks confusing the reader, that is probably due more to the paucity of forenames in sixteenth century Scotland than to any carelessness by the author.

Most of the characters in A House Divided were real people, some relatively unknown and unimportant in British history. Skea gives both those and her own creations life and personality.

A House Divided is truly an atmospheric and suspenseful novel, well plotted and executed, and a worthy sequel to Turn of the Tide.
I found it difficult to put down until I had finished.

The Devil Rides Out (Duke De Richleau Book 6)
The Devil Rides Out (Duke De Richleau Book 6)
Price: £4.79

3.0 out of 5 stars Though I enjoyed reading The Devil Rides Out again (having meantime seen ..., 9 May 2015
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Back in the late 60s/early 70s, I devoured Dennis Wheatley's novels, the black magic books as well as the more traditional historicals. Though I enjoyed reading The Devil Rides Out again (having meantime seen the film twice), some of the magic was lost. The characters are not as convincing as they were then and the plot seems to have lost some of its energy. I suppose my tastes have changed in forty years. However, if the difference is a result of the heavy editing of Wheatley's original - to make it more PC apparently - that is a great pity - [kind of the opposite of rewriting Jane Austin with bedroom scenes!]. Readers deserve to appreciate novels of past decades, or centuries, as the author intended and not as either sanitised or spiced up rewrites.
That said, Bloomsbury are to be congratulated on tackling the project of republishing all of Wheatley's novels as e-books. I might just try another one to see if I draw the same conclusions.

A Rip in the Veil (The Graham Saga)
A Rip in the Veil (The Graham Saga)
by Anna Belfrage
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars pretty much where I grew up, 9 May 2015
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I don't think I've read a timeslip novel since the historicals by John Dickson Carr and I was unsure of my reaction when I embarked on this one. A Rip in the Veil appealed to me for two reasons. It is set in southern Scotland, pretty much where I grew up. My maternal grandmother's ancestors lived in Ayrshire near to where the story's hero, Matthew Graham, has his family home. In addition, some of my spurious paternal ancestors were involved in the Covenanting Wars, which also feature in the book. Anna Belfrage has constructed an enjoyable romance with plenty of sex and violence, always with an eye on the historical background. Her depiction of life in 17th century Scotland is well managed and (as far as I can tell) pretty accurate. During a violent thunderstorm, Alexandra Lind falls into a time portal and finds herself in the past, where she meets and falls for Graham, a landowner who has been betrayed and unjustly imprisoned. As Alex tries to adjust to life in the 17th century, she discovers she has been followed from the 21st by an inquisitor from Isabella's Spain who is pursuing a vendetta against her mother. She also has to contend with Graham's betrayer, his half-brother Luke. The plot takes lots of twists and turns before the villains get their come-uppance and the main protagonists settle for a happy-for-now ending. Occasionally, suspension of disbelief becomes hard; there are too many startling coincidences of time and space, but get over those and you have a very entertaining novel. A Rip in the Veil is the first novel in a series of 8 and though I enjoyed reading it I don't think I have the will to tackle the rest. I can cope with trilogies but another 7 books might test my patience to breaking point. The version of A Rip in the Veil that I read (the KIndle edition) had some negative grammar/syntax issues which spoiled a read which I might otherwise have given five stars. I often find this problem in Kindle books but short of reading the hard copy too it's impossible to say at what stage of editing the errors occur.

Agora [DVD] [2009]
Agora [DVD] [2009]
Dvd ~ Rachel Weisz
Offered by HalfpriceDVDS_FBA
Price: £12.97

5.0 out of 5 stars The death of Greek learning?, 25 Nov. 2014
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This review is from: Agora [DVD] [2009] (DVD)
Our scant knowledge of Hypatia of Alexandria comes mainly from writers of the past two centuries. We know very little about the real woman, about her beliefs or about her teaching. This film has done an excellent job of sifting through the dross as well as the meagre fifth century records to present a picture of one of the most intriguing figures in history. Rachel Weisz's portrayal is closer to my mental image than any I have seen of the dedicated and passionate (though not necessarily sexually so) mathematician and philosopher. Hypatia is often painted in sexist terminology or presented as symbol of a particular religious viewpoint, or of two opposing ones. 'Agora' manages to cut through all that to give us a balanced story of a scientist whose only mistake was, perhaps, to have been born in the wrong age.

Turn of the Tide
Turn of the Tide

5.0 out of 5 stars Family Feuds!, 25 May 2014
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This review is from: Turn of the Tide (Kindle Edition)
The story is set in Scotland during the final years of the sixteenth century.
The Montgomeries and Cunninghames were real families who vied with one another for the ear of King James VI (later James I of Great Britain). In an age and society when the demands of family outrank the bonds of friendship, the earls of Eglintoun and Glencairn, patriarchs (respectively) of the warring factions, are quite willing to go to despicable and bloody lengths to achieve their ends. Here, the word of the head of the clan is law and only a very brave – and maybe foolhardy – man will challenge it.
The novel begins with the senseless massacre of a party of the Montgomerie faction which leads on to King James’s attempt to resolve the feud.
The chief protagonists are Munro, a minor laird owing fealty to the Cunninghames, and his wife Kate, and Hugh Montgomerie, a cousin of Eglintoun, and his wife Elizabeth, whose mother is a Cunninghame. Munro is sickened by his part in the massacre, and returns home to face Kate’s cold disapproval. When the king calls a halt to the bloodshed and makes the two earls swear to end it, Munro and Hugh form an unlikely friendship which threatens rather than cements the fragile peace.
King James decides to sail to Norway to bring home his bride, Princess Anne of Denmark, and chooses the Montgomeries to accompany him, to the resentment of the Cunninghame clan. His arrival in Edinburgh to the riotous welcome of his subjects then becomes the occasion for a reunion between Munro, Hugh and their respective families. However, during the pageant, the peace is threatened when the rivals are thrown together as members of the king’s retinue. A subsequent encounter between Hugh and an unpleasant, boastful relative of the Cunninghames, Patrick Maxwell, is broken up by Munro before it can lead to another bout of internecine bloodletting.
However, the Munro family, because of its friendship with the Montgomeries, has already fallen foul of William Cunninghame, heir to the Glencairn earldom. And when Sybilla, Munro’s sister-in-law-to-be, spurns William’s unwelcome advances, the scene is set for an exciting and far from happy climax on the treacherous sands of the Solway.
The author, with some historical justification, casts William as the villain of her story. She paints Hugh more attractively as a peace-loving aristocrat, though he is quickly driven to anger when Elizabeth is insulted. Munro, who more than any is the real “hero” of the novel, is Margaret Skea’s own creation. As readers, we want William to get his come-uppance, but unfortunately that is not how history works, and in a novelistic sense we are left with question marks.
Turn of the Tide, though billed as genre fiction, is literary in style and tone. The family lives of the main characters, with their ups and downs, are described in fond detail. Some of the most enjoyable episodes in the book concern the everyday events of farming an estate, coping with children and their whims, and dealing with family tragedy. Margaret Skea’s handling of two events in particular drew my attention, the colourful portrayal of a momentous occasion in Old Edinburgh, the street scenes and the pageant attending King James’s arrival in Edinburgh, and also the atmospheric and joyous celebration of winter at a frost fair on the frozen River Clyde.
The language of the novel is unusual. Margaret Skea recreates the lowland Scotland of Stuart times, in part, by an extensive use of Old Scots. For the most part, this does not create a problem, because the context gives the clue to the meaning, but it does slow down reading. Although my early life was spent in Scotland, I had to turn frequently to the glossary for a translation. The odd unfamiliar word or turn of phrase does not really detract from such a well-written story, yet I cannot help feeling that the action would have moved forward more speedily if the author had confined her use of the Scots language to dialogue and left it out of narrative passages.
I read Turn of the Tide on my Kindle and noted, as I have done in several other cases, some mistakes of syntax, grammar and punctuation. My suspicion (as I have already discovered in works seen in both printed and electronic form) is that these are not the fault of the writer but of sloppy conversions. Publishers really must take care that their e-books are up to the same standard as the more traditional versions.
I enjoyed reading the book very much. While all the world knows the tragedy of Mary, Queen of Scots, and Great Britain at least celebrates the later Gunpowder Plot with gusto, writers generally seem to pass over the early years of James Stuart’s reign in Scotland, before his accession to the English throne. And that is a pity.

Battlestar Galactica: The Final Season (Season 4, Part Two) [Blu-ray] [Region Free]
Battlestar Galactica: The Final Season (Season 4, Part Two) [Blu-ray] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Edward James Olmos
Price: £12.00

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Epic Sci-Fi, 10 Jun. 2013
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From first to last, the 'new' Battlestar Galactica is science fiction at its best. Visually, imaginatively and dramatically, it pushes boundaries and goes where the first BSG series did not, or dared not go. Don't get me wrong - I was a great fan of the 1978-1980 version. It was fun, and it was a great pity it didn't get finished. But it was more fantasy than true sci-fi and the characters were comic book heroes and heroines without any real depth.
With BSG 2, the writers created characters that one could almost believe were real people with real problems and aspirations. The new 'Adama' is a compassionate man yet a tough rugged realist who takes no prisoners. 'Starbuck' and 'Boomer' are resurrected as women, the former a formidable and rebellious pilot and warrior, yet sensuous and appealing. The latter is now a Cylon, though she doesn't seem to know it at first. 'Baltar' is no longer the rather ridiculous and unbelievable traitor, but a brilliant but disturbed scientist. And James Callis is equally brilliant in the role.
We know that a human civilisation 'elsewhere' is improbable and that there are no such things as Cylons, yet little in the plot and storyline is outrageous or totally beyond the bounds of scientific possibility. The series poses and answers questions about ourselves and the universe we live in. How would it be if Earth was destroyed by some catastrophe and the survivors numbered only 50,000 men, women and children? What would we, the survivors, do and how would we behave? What is life, and can an artificial intelligence be considered to be alive? Are there gods - or a God - and angels and if so what is their nature?
In the story, the survivors of planet Caprica and its sister worlds flee the Cylon holocaust to find a new home. But when these galactic travellers eventually find 'Earth', it is not quite what they expect, neither first nor second time around. To say more would be a spoiler.
Just watch the series; you will be entertained!

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