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The Forever War: Forever War Book 1 (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
The Forever War: Forever War Book 1 (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
by Joe Haldeman
Edition: Paperback

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Economical and emotive, 12 April 2006
It is 1997. Subsequent to the destruction of a colonists' ship near Aldebaran in the constellation of Taurus, the world is at war with the Taurans. Warfare is space is deemed to be too complicated for the traditional jarhead, and the first draft of infantry enlisted by the Elite Conscription Act of 1996 consists of 'fifty men and women, with IQs over 150 and bodies of unusual health and strength' (p. 9). One of them is Private William Mandella.

The organisationally faceless, emotionally featureless monstrosity that is any army gets a particularly severe working over in this book. Servicemen and women are groomed to participate in a soulless round of endorsed drug taking, orgies and post-hypnotic suggestion in between bouts of combat, which the protagonist quietly dissociates himself from during the course of the novel. The work forecefully demonstrates how conflict strips humanity of all the facets of existence which give life meaning and value, leaving an empty husk: 'the thought came to me that the next time I closed my eyes could be my last. And partly because of the drug hangover, mostly because of the past day's horrors, I found that I really didn't give a shit' (p. 58); 'I was disgusted with the human race, disgusted with the army and horrified at the prospect of living with myself' (p. 73). Haldeman's own experiences in Vietnam season this taut narrative with arresting, sometimes shocking, descriptions of the grimly visceral and unremittingly futile nature of warfare.

The text features some interesting pseudo-hard science devices. This is a universe in which 'collapsar Stargates' have been discovered, which facilitate the bending of relativity at the expense of time dilation. With the many stargate jumps that Mandella completes to reach the conflicts his unit participates in, he finds that the Earth that he left has changed beyond recognition on his return during his 1,100 year career. We as readers share Mandella's 'future shock' (p. 99) as he returns to a world of nine billion inhabitants run by the UN, two thirds of whom are unemployed, blighted by plagues and disasters, with an 'undeclared class war going on all over the world' (p. 111-113). Furthermore, 'the most important fact about the war to most people was that if it ended suddenly, Earth's economy would collapse' (p. 131) as 'nearly half the jobs in the world were associated with the war, and if it stopped, everything would fall apart' (p. 143). The protagonist endures further jolts as he returns from future missions to discover that humanity has become first societally homosexual, then heterosexual again - but cloned.

Whilst SF as a genre continues to spawn series of lazy works which still deem it necessary to dedicate entire volumes to their protagonists' infinitely tedious careers, The Forever War unfolds the story of Mandella's unwilling and hapless progress through the ranks, and his poignant relationship with fellow conscript Marygay Potter, in a mere 250 pages. Mandela and Potter's careers run in parallel for the first two-thirds of the work, but when they are both promoted to a senior officer's rank and assigned to different units, they realise that 'in different ships, the geometry of the collapsar jump would pile up years between [them]. When the second one arrived on Earth, his partner would probably be a half-century older; more probably dead' (p. 168).

The Forever War has a somewhat convoluted history as a SF Masterwork, having enjoyed three different imprints to date. Originally published in paperback as the series' inaugural entry in January 1999 with the title and author's name printed against a black background, The Forever War was reissued a hardcover in 2001. An excerpt from the same Chris Moore artwork also provided the cover image for this edition, this time being blown up to provide a full-page illustration. As an aside: this release was one of ten titles published as part of a short-lived accompanying series of SF Masterworks to which Orion held the hardcover, but not the paperback rights. Of the ten titles, only The Forever War and The Stars My Destination had also been published in paperback, although of the remaining eight, Ringworld has subsequently received a paperback release, presumably subsequent to the rights having been reclaimed (or perhaps, knowing Orion, rediscovered). Finally, the paperback was reissued in 2003 with a new cover, as illustrated above.

Il Turco in Italia (Gavazzeni, Callas)
Il Turco in Italia (Gavazzeni, Callas)
Offered by KAOZI168 Classical_ ''Dispatch From London within 1 day ''
Price: £9.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rossini in rapture, 5 April 2006
What an amazing set this is, and how marvellous to have it back in the catalogue. Yes, the sound is a little boomy, but Callas is simply outstanding in this set, and Gedda's cultured larynx, seasoned by age though it was in 1954, showed him to be a wonderful stylist. ALSO -- this set features 3 or 4 outstanding Callas coloratura from other operas. Her 8 minute or so take on the 'Bell song' from Delibes' Lakme is absolutely unbelievable, particularly the minute and a half or so of unaccompanied introduction. I had to listen to it three or four times over one after another when I first heard it, which I can honestly say I've never done before with music from any genre.

At this price, this set is a steal, and congratulations to Naxos for doing such a brilliant job. This really is a golden age for opera collectors.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 24, 2010 12:46 PM GMT

Ringworld (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
Ringworld (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
by Larry Niven
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Between the finite and the infinite, 29 Dec. 2005
Larry Niven's Ringworld has a mundane plot. A party of adventurers crash on an alien artefact and attempt to escape from it. The plot, however, is to all intents and purposes irrelevant. I am gripped by the conviction that Niven envisaged the artefact in question and simply wanted to come up with a vehicle to describe it over the course of 280 pages or so. The construction in question is a solid band circling a planet, a million miles in radius which has been terraformed by architects whose presence is still felt despite their absence, and which has now fallen into decay. Niven muses over the intricacies of its form and function, from the foundation material to the cloud squares which separate night from day, and constructs a wholly convincing environment in so doing. A few paragraphs of scant description will not do his successes in this regard justice, and I would recommend reading it for these evocations of a vast alien environment alone. Ringworld's habitats remind us of our own, yet are described as being of such a scale as to make the reader feel insignificant even within the pages of the book. On closing it, our own world seems rarer and less familiar, increasing in magnitude as we ourselves diminish, overturning the familiar trope of 'the shrinking world' and letting us once again revel in the scale of nature. Iain M. Banks' Consider Phlebas reworks the idea of the ringworld to great effect, but Larry Niven got there first.
Winner of the 1971 Hugo Award, Ringworld is also noteworthy for some (but not all) of its characters. The four adventurers are (ostensibly) led -- or, more accurately, hired by -- Nessus of the Puppeteers, who resembles a large semi-plucked turkey with two necks, a brace of python heads, and bipolar disorder. Speaker To Animals is an oversized brawny ginger tom cat of the warlike Kzin race, which has battled mankind for centuries and been overthrown as a consequence of the Puppeteers technological intervention on behalf of humanity. As it turns out, the Puppeteers have been manipulating both races for their own ends, a fact which Niven (hilariously) tries to deploy as a plot twist; but the clue is in the name, isn't it? The two humanoids, Louis Wu (chosen for his experience) and Teela Brown (chosen for her supposed luck) are, frankly, tedious, and the exposition regarding their relationship slows the book to down to a crawl in a places.
In summary, whilst I could hardly recommend Ringworld for the telling of its story alone, Niven's peerless description of an alien artefact of almost incomprehensible enormousness is what makes this book so satisfying. Take his conjuration of some of that wonder from it and see your own world through it.

The A-Team: Series 1 [DVD]
The A-Team: Series 1 [DVD]
Dvd ~ George Peppard
Offered by MadeAgainGills Online Media
Price: £3.00

35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable surprise, 21 Dec. 2005
This review is from: The A-Team: Series 1 [DVD] (DVD)
My memories of 'The A Team' have been filtered through many distorting lenses since the series was originally shown, but I nevertheless thought I had a reasonably good idea what the series contained: lightweight dialogue, a hail of bullets with no-one seemingly copping any injuries, and ludicrous machines concocted from tinfoil and paper clips.
Having just finished enjoying the first series, I must confess to having been wrong on all counts. Firstly, whilst there is plenty of surprisingly gripping action in the series, it is unquestionably dialogue-driven. The interplay between the four leads is nothing short of wonderful: Hannibal is edgier than I remembered him, and Face more self-deprecating and less suavely confident than my memories suggested. BA could not be further removed from the two-dimensional muscle-bound lunk of my recollections, and his character is hugely appealing, with a dry wit underpinning all the 'crazy foos' and 'suckas'. His ongoing commentary throughout the series on Hannibal's 'jazz' is particularly entertaining. It is Murdoch, however, who is the unsung hero of 'The A Team'. His deranged brand of humour was clearly a massive influence on Jim Carrey, and the surrealist strain he introduces into the series is one of the reasons for its enduring appeal. You too will start singing 'garbage, ho!' every time you put the dustbin out. If you start petting an invisible dog, talking in rhyming couplets, or eating shaving foam, however, you should probably give this set a rest for a couple of weeks. Watching Mr. T corpsing at Dwight Schultz's antics is a joy; it must have been a tough job keeping that scowl set on your face with such a hilarious character actor bouncing around at your elbow.
To turn to my other observations: people do get injured in 'The A Team' (one episode begins with BA having received a potentially fatal leg wound), and in this first series at least, the episodes go to some effort to make the cobbled-together inventions BA creates seem vaguely plausible. The vehicles do have a tendency to fall to bits, too, and there is never any suggestion that they have somehow managed to craft a production-line perfect version of whatever they have attempted to fashion.
All in all, this first series of 'The A Team' is most entertaining, and may well overturn your preconceptions of the program. Either way, you'd be a 'foo' if you didn't enjoy it.

No Title Available

156 of 158 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply wonderful!, 17 Mar. 2005
I had a demo recently of a top-end iPod speaker solution from a Famous Manufacturer with a four-letter name, which carries what may also be charitably described as a 'four-letter price tag'. This product rivals it in terms of sound quality, beats it in terms of utility, and pummels it into the ground in terms of price.
The iStation is astonishingly light, stylish, and versatile. The surround processor is a revelation, the input options are comprehensive, and the array of cabling which is generously bundled with the unit is a real bonus. The ability to power the unit with AA batteries where no power supply is available is a great idea too. Add to this the fact that the dock recharges your iPod into the bargain, and I'm struggling to think what else you'd want a pair of external speakers to do. Don't concern yourself re. changing the base plate to the one which corresponds to your model -- it's a doddle, somehow managing to be easy to prise out, yet solid as a rock when fitted at the same time.
Good looks and functionality aside, the sound this unit cranks out is clear, balanced, and surprisingly loud, and I'd recommend it on this basis alone.
It you own an iPod and are looking to fill a hotel room, study or bedroom with your music, look no further. There are legions of folk whose main stereo will sound worse than this, believe me.
Buy it and enjoy it.

Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2005
Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2005
by Jim Murray
Edition: Paperback

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing short of sensational, 13 Jan. 2005
Whether you have little more than a passing interest in whisky or your home is a shrine to malts and blends, you simply *must* buy this book -- especially at this price. I commend this title to you not merely for the mellifluous and highly entertaining nature of Murray's prose and his poetic use of metaphor (anyone who describes the nose of a whisky as reminiscent of a warm-running model train has to be touched by a certain genius) but, quite simply, because the author's judgements are (in my opinion, at least) bang on.
I've enjoyed and been enlightened by this slim volume in equal measure, and admire the zeal of Murray's commitment to getting distilleries to lay off the caramel, as well as his salutory reminder that there are some sensational blends out there that rival the very best of malts in every department.
The nose/taste/finish/balance descriptions really do help you to distinguish the different stages of savouring a whisky -- this isn't pretension, its education!
Do your palate a favour, and buy without hesitation.

Final Straw
Final Straw
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £1.99

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fine -- but not as good as its influences, 13 Jan. 2005
This review is from: Final Straw (Audio CD)
I'm a little confused by the Coldplay / Radiohead namechecking in relation to this album, as to my ears the influence of lo-fi acts such as Sebadoh (the vocalist sounds quite a lot like Lou Barlow, too) and shoegazers My Bloody Valentine are what really shuffle out of the speakers, albeit both in a rather diluted form.
Whilst I like some of the sounds Snow Patrol coax out of their instruments, the song structures are rather too two-dimensional to arouse the passions, and the lyrics can grate.
Just about an above-average album, but not likely to be something you'll be using as a reference point to describe the albums of 2005 and beyond.

Blake's 7 - Series 2 [DVD] [1978]
Blake's 7 - Series 2 [DVD] [1978]
Dvd ~ Gareth Thomas
Price: £17.99

30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Twelve episodes of genius, and one of derangement, 12 Aug. 2004
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The story-driven second season of Blake's 7 was perhaps its most successful, and probably the most satisfying of the series. From the resolution in 'Redemption' of Orac's prediction at the end of the first season that a ship looking suspiciously like the Liberator would be destroyed to the apocalyptic cliff hanger with which 'Star One' finishes, the storylines are gripping and the pace remorseless througout.
Aside from the satisfying character development and the insights we are offered into the machinations of the B7 universe, many episodes (I would say 'all', but I will try and retain some objectivity) are gems in their own right. 'Shadow' focuses on Our Heroes interactions with the decidedly dubious Terra Nostra, with much hand-wringing as to the legitimacy of their own actions. Avon proves he is neither stupid nor expendable in 'Horizon', but can't help himself from bailing out the rest of the crew, whilst 'Pressure Point' sees the death of the first crew member and leaves the rest of the crew to reflect on whether Blake's leadership qualities are the consequence of altruism or egotism ('We did it! We did it! I did it!'). The court martial of 'Travis Mark 2' in 'Trial' is an opportunity for Brian Croucher to take centre stage and deliver a bravura performance, whilst 'Countdown', as the name suggests is a planet-hopping race against time which nevertheless allows for some interesting (or 'fascinating', as Orac would say) character development for Avon which is revisited in Series 3's 'Rumours of Death'. The supporting cast continue to put in outstanding performances, with 'Killer's Dr. Bellfriar being one of many season highlights.
Whilst the sight of Travis wrapped in toilet roll in 'Voice from the Past' may have jarred some contemporary viewers' sensibilities, nothing could have possibly prepared them for what was to follow in the next episode. Steady your nerves with a Betazade and prepare yourself for 'Gambit's head-on collision between Louis XIV costuming, 'Hamlet', 'Cabaret', speed chess, soup-spitting, a cat on loan from 'Dr. No', and an armful of strontium grenades. 'Gambit' also features the first and, lamentably, only appearance from the true star of the series, Jarriere. Impressively tonsured and ample of nose, you'll be hanging on his every word. Disappointingly, rumours of the remaster containing the legendary lost 'penguin' footage appear to have been misleading.
Buy without hesitation, and treasure this set as the masterpiece it is.

In the Land of Grey and Pink
In the Land of Grey and Pink
Price: £5.99

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not just a Canterbury classic -- a bona fide masterpiece, 20 May 2004
In these days of mpeg digital jukeboxes with gargantuan capacities (at least for someone of a vintage old enough to remember thinking that 4 track 7" EPs were a great leap forward), I am always hoping the random track selector will alight upon one of the first three Caravan albums, but in particular In the Land...
Simply put, this is music to captivate, energize, entertain, and never -- but never -- fails to lift my mood. All the trademark 'Canterbury sound' elements are there: extempore musicianship, a shot of humour, and a magical transcendence of the prog/psych/jazz-fusion continuum.
My personal favourite is 'Aristocracy', but go ahead and dive in anywhere. You'll be drenched in happiness (and maybe a little hippiness).

Exile On Main Street
Exile On Main Street
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £9.96

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Stones' greatest album -- and full of surprises, 14 May 2004
This review is from: Exile On Main Street (Audio CD)
'Exile' is the sound of the Stones stripped bare. With the tumult of their 60's R&B and psych-lite blow-outs behind them, and the bloated excesses of rock'n'roll over-indulgence still to come, this album saw the Stones focus on the songs rather than the posturing.
All the elements are here: bluesy shuffles punctuated by gospel-inflected introspections and down'n'dirty bar-room boogie, but presented in a refreshingly up-front manner. Clean and clear, this is the Stones straight up: treasure this album -- they were never as good before, and they will never be as good again.

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