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S. J. Horgan "hornchurch"
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Kokoda
Kokoda
Price: £11.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book on Kokoda Campaign, 20 Feb. 2012
This review is from: Kokoda (Kindle Edition)
Military history is a difficult balancing act. The author must convey the horror of war, with any especial factors relevant to the campaign, but they also must convey the larger picture. A book that only says 'war is hell' respects the soldiers who fought in one regard, but it is strangely disrespectful in assuming that they were there as happy robots, fighting and dying for no particular reason. Paul Ham avoids this basic error, despite the fact that the Kokoda campaign could easily qualify as one of the most harrowing of World War Two, which is saying something given the vast scope of the conflict. Instead, we get a beautifully balanced work that sources from the Japanese perspective as well as the Allied. Paul is great with sources, and the key ones are directly referenced in the relevant chapters as well as in the traditional end notes. When fighting is described then we know why the action was fought and there are chapters that deal with the highest levels of command, including Britain and Churchill's role against the steely determination by the Austrailian government to get its professional army home from the Middle East. One example is the infamous Rabbit speech by General Blamey to the Austrailian Brigade that performed the fighting retreat into Port Moresby. Most authors describe the incident with a withering contempt for the General. Paul Ham places it in context and raises the possibility that it was really a public speaking disaster, but no more than that, and backs the possibility with referenced sources.

The maps are excellent, and on the Kindle edition are easy to enlarge and study. Crucially, they are in the right place relative to the text and so greatly add to the understanding of the work. This is easily the best book available on this absolutely critical campaign. It is quite expensive in print, and even the Kindle price is quite high. However, you get what you pay for in this case, which is a comprehensive, yet gripping read that unravels a complex conflict that ultimately had a huge strategic impact on the Pacific War. The simultaneous Guadalcanal campaign was a close run thing for example. What would have happened there if the Australians had collapsed, freeing up men and supplies for the Japanese in that desperate battle? Well, they didn't collapse and the rest, as they say, is history.


The Fort
The Fort
by Bernard Cornwell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History comes alive, 26 July 2011
This review is from: The Fort (Paperback)
Bernard Cornwall needs little introduction as an author. He had written dozens of historical novels, and they are all characterised by meticulous research coupled with a writing style that hides most of it. Instead he concentrates on plot and character development, with the history emerging as required, not in the form of lecture notes.

The Fort carries on in this style, and is thoroughly engaging as a simple piece of entertainment. What makes it particularly interesting though is that the real events involved two major historical figures. The first was Sir John Moore, who later became a a pivotal British general in the peninsular campaigns during the Napoleonic Wars. Here he is a junior officer in his first battle, unsure, but already showing the signs of the greatness to come. The second in Paul Revere, he of the famous poem generations later, and in his first and only battle. Revere is a lauded figure in the US, but this account is both historically accurate and does not show him in a good light. In fact, it was his only battle because he was sacked from his military position in its aftermath. While he was subsequently absolved of blame at a court-martial, it appears that there were political reasons that the State of Massachusetts wanted the entire blame for the failures of the Penobscot Expedition to fall upon the US Navy commander so that they could claim recompense from the Federal Government. Certainly if Cornwall's well-researched account of Revere's conduct is accurate then the man deserved severe punishment for incompetence, disobedience and dereliction of duty. It is significant that despite the fact the the War of Independence had many years to run and despite his successful hearings, Revere was allowed no further command by his peers and superiors. They, at least, had the measure of the man.

The Penobscot battle itself is little-known for reasons that are not entirely clear. It was a large action, with a clear and significant outcome. However, one reason for its relative obscurity does spring to mind. Without wishing to spoil the dramatic narrative, I suspect the reader will have figured it out by the end.


NCIS - Naval Criminal Investigative Service - Season 6 [DVD] [2008]
NCIS - Naval Criminal Investigative Service - Season 6 [DVD] [2008]
Dvd ~ Mark Harmon
Price: £6.99

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If only UK police procedurals could learn from this, 5 April 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Picture a British police procedural, that is a TV programme centred around a group of detectives solving serious crimes. Got it? What you have in your head is a group of dour depressives who hate their jobs, each other, and probably themselves. They all have ghastly back stories that will dominate at least half the series, in between solving the increasingly appalling crimes that reveal only the worst of human nature.

Then you have have NCIS, and several other US shows I could name but this is just about the best. In this the characters are depicted as reasonably cheerful, reacting to their dealing with humanity at its worst with just the right mix of black humour and empathy. They have back stories that are never allowed to dominate, even though they are quite interesting, and in several cases more funny than dark. The crimes themselves are serious, but they vary between the relatively ordinary, domestic violence for example, and high-powered espionage. So, the series remains grounded, and doesn't try to outdo itself from episode to episode in sheer horror. In fact, often the better aspects of humanity are revealed as well.

Which is more realistic? Which is more watchable? Clearly it is NCIS and similar over any UK equivalent. Most real policemen and those that support them are actually quite cheerful people who react to their jobs with a degree of black humour, because if they didn't then they couldn't cope. Depressives who wallow in the horror of their situation would end up leaving for another line of work, or would be fired, or would be dragged off by the men in the white coats after they tried to take a statement from the office coffee machine. Who the hell wants to watch a bunch of unhappy people moaning anyway? Well, not me. I don't watch Eastenders either.

This is a classic NCIS season in a show that is now up to number 8 and which has maintained its audience figures throughout. In fact it has built on them and is now the most watched of such shows in the US. When you consider the excellent CSI and its spinoffs that is saying something. I won't repeat the other comments, suffice to say that NCIS is fantastic and if you like cop shows you won't be disappointed.

Just remember to feed your pets amid your orgy of Gibbs and co.


You Might Be a Zombie and Other Bad News: Shocking but Utterly True Facts
You Might Be a Zombie and Other Bad News: Shocking but Utterly True Facts

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very, very funny, 12 Jan. 2011
This is a great book, very funny, quite informative, and almost impossible to put down. I read it in one sitting. This was in a semi-public place and so I was forced to occasionally explain my outbursts of laughter, which served to spread the merriment.

If you like quirky facts and have any kind of a sense of humour then buy this book.


No Title Available

5.0 out of 5 stars The eReader Comes of Age, 23 Oct. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Let's start at price, and let's compare this with an iPad. The 3G version of the Kindle is £149, compared with £529 for the cheapest comparable Apple equivalent. The devices have a huge overlap in function, both at a software and hardware level and, frankly, the iPad doesn't have anything of such value to justify such a yawning disparity in price, and its screen is actually worse for extended reading. In fact the Kindle doesn't just undercut the iPad, it undercuts other eReaders with vastly inferior specifications. What Amazon have chosen to do is the very sensible strategy of making money from content, not infrastructure, and they can do this of course because they control both. The huge benefit for the ordinary user is that up-front cost is reduced and we can choose exactly how much to spend on books or other content.

Now, none of this makes any sense if the device is no good, but as spelled out in detail in other reviews it really is very good indeed. The screen is great, much higher resolution and much less eye strain than any LCD and you can easily change text sizes for those of us who are getting on a bit. It is only black and white of course, which makes no difference whatsoever for reading most books, but which does mean that websites don't look as pretty. Oh yes, there is a web browser, listed as an 'experimental' function. What this means is that text-heavy websites like Wikipedia or news sites are fine, but that stuff that relies on complex graphics or Flash is not so good. With my on-line reading habits I find it very handy indeed.

How about integration with Amazon? Well, as you would hope this is near-perfect. The device came out of the box registered to me and finding and downloading books is very straightforward. For example, I needed something to read on the train the other morning, a few taps later the latest Robert Harris was winging its way through the ether and it arrived in the time it took for me to put my trousers on. The free (!) 3G is pretty zippy and connection to my home WiFi took seconds. Basically this baby works as advertised.

Physically, the Kindle is light and manageable, and with a leather cover feels like, well, a book. It holds a charge for several days, even with quite heavy use, and it is small enough to easily fit into a coat pocket. What we have here folks is eReader technology that is now mature and affordable enough to be more than a curiosity or a plaything for early adopters. I am not surprised that they have been flying off the shelves.


The Technician (Polity 4)
The Technician (Polity 4)
by Neal Asher
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Technical Excellence, 8 Sept. 2010
Neal Asher has one great strength in his writing in that he understands how his created universe is changed by his own storytelling. Unfortunately, many writers having created their concept of the future don't really seem to understand that it must change over any passage of time, or that cataclysmic events in their own stories cannot but effect change. Others are guilty of thinking change means a change of government or a reshuffle of rulers, and what that means for ordinary people, or things that can be classed as people, is strangely absent. Not Asher.

This story deals with one planet that was the location of most of an Iain Cormac novel, where, ahem, quite a bit happened. So, what we get is an interesting and vivid story set against the 20-year aftermath of that earlier work, and it is a joy to read an author who can move his creation on so that finding our what has happened to the world in that period is as interesting as the usual well-developed Asher plotting and excellent writing.

I would suggest The Line of Polity as a precursor to this. In fact I would suggest all five the Iain Cormac novels under most circumstances, but the work also stands alone as great, coherent storytelling. Another treat from Neal Asher.


Gridlinked (Agent Cormac)
Gridlinked (Agent Cormac)
by Neal Asher
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Read, Excellent SF, 16 April 2010
The best science fiction balances the speculative elements against the need for a good, page-turning read. This is one of the best. There is a fully developed future society that just works. There is the impact of technology and a changed culture on ordinary people, and there are fully-developed characters in an interesting plot. In particular, Asher hasn't run away from a future with fully-developed strong AI. So many authors today have far-future, technologically-advanced settings with computers as dumb as my iPhone. Or they come up with elaborate, contrived explanations why AI is impossible. Neal Asher just takes such advances in his stride and moves on with the action. However, the best thing about this book is that it is the first of a series of equally good works about the career of Ian Cormac. So, if you like this then many hours of reading pleasure await. And if like good SF, you'll probably like this.


Stealing Light (Shoal Sequence)
Stealing Light (Shoal Sequence)
by Gary Gibson
Edition: Paperback

9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Stealing LIghtweight, 27 Feb. 2010
The book has some very interesting ideas, and the writing isn't bad, but it suffers from some near-terminal limitations. First of all the science part of the science fiction is not well explained and there is little idea of a society shaped by technology. So, if a gadget is needed then it is there, but everything else seems to be more or less as in the 21st century. There is no sense of how anything works or how people and cultures have been shaped by new capabilities. For example, the heroine's ship has a very capable near-AI talking computer. That's great, but there is no suggestion that is unique to her, so why isn't something so useful found everywhere? What would that mean if such things were widely available? Then there is the treatment of space travel, which is a very key part of the plot, especially in the latter part of the book. We are given no idea how sub-light, interplanetary spacecraft work in this universe, despite the fact that their performance is a key part of climax of the story. This gives a sense of superficiality to plot and character interaction as if matters are just arranged as the author wants by magic as opposed to the real constraints of the technology. There are quite a few more examples.

There is actually an even worse problem with the book in the treatment and development of characters. Put simply, the hero is a panic-stricken wimp who seems incapable of thinking more than five minutes ahead. In particular, she is repeatedly assaulted and threatened, surviving through blind chance rather than through any of her own abilities. All of the other characters are similar lightweights and in the end you don't really warm to anyone. If the villains had emerged triumphant then I am not sure that I would have really minded. Now, you could argue that some people really are indecisive, have terrible judgement, poor decision-making skills and are prone to hysteria. These people do exist, but they really don't make good subjects for action-orientated fiction.

This is one for the charity shop.


The Kingdom [DVD]
The Kingdom [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jamie Foxx
Offered by b68solutions
Price: £2.49

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cracking film, 12 April 2009
This review is from: The Kingdom [DVD] (DVD)
Despite current events, many film-makers run scared of portraying Islamist terrorists as villains, preferring safe stereotypes like evil US government agents instead. This film deals with the type of terrorists we find on real news broadcasts, and it does it in a way that is respectful of the Moslem world while reminding us that much of the harm done by Islamic terrorists is actually to Moslems in Moslem countries. It is also a very good film, with a first-rate cast and a strong plotline. The special effects are excellent and the film builds to an explosive climax that will have you on the edge of your seat. If you like gritty, realistic action thrillers that don't skirt around difficult issues then this is for you.


Glasshouse
Glasshouse
by Charles Stross
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping and Human, well, Posthuman anyway, 16 Sept. 2007
This review is from: Glasshouse (Paperback)
Charles Stross is just about the best SF author writing today for ideas, originality and for sheer cracking storylines. Glasshouse looks at humanity as it may be centuries from now, with a window on war and politics that illustrates the old saying, in the story at least, that 'the past is another polity'. You are grabbed by a strong plotline and by characters that are not only finely-drawn but are redrawn by the malleability of memory and body that is brought by advanced technology. There is also a love story in there and an emotional edge that gives the climax real bite. Sell valuable possessions if that is what it takes to get a copy.


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