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War Factory (Transformation)
War Factory (Transformation)
by Neal Asher
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cracking sci-fi action, 20 Jun. 2016
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There aren't many authors whose latest releases push their way to the front of my TBR list, but Neal Asher is one of them. He's one of my favourite contemporary science fiction authors, and I'm always eager to read his latest offering. The main reason for this isn't just the craft of his writing (good as it is), but the strength of his world building. The Polity universe is an interesting, and diverse place. There is a wealth of technological wonders there, but also a balance.

Although the balance isn't so obvious with some of the characters, especially with the rogue AI Penny Royal who manipulates circumstances, AI, human and Prador alike to its on ends. It is there though, resting upon the fine edge which events waver.

I didn't like one aspect to the technology - I'm not a big fan of time travel in stories. The handling in this book is different to the approaches I've seen before, and used in a novel fashion.

The story continues straight from the first book, with Penny Royal seemingly plotting to address problems for the Prador and the Polity that he created. These all centre around the War Factory, and it's this character that I found most fascinating. Even more so because its never dealt with directly in the story, you learn aboiut it through the memories and actions of the central characters. The AIs in the universe often seem like god-like beings with staggering intelligence. They have their flaws though, and that makes the story compelling.

The cast of characters continue from the first, and so continue to evolve due to their own actions and from Penny Royal's machinations. We get to meet the Prador King, and that is another of the author's strengths. He provides a convincing realism to the aliens in his story, in particular with their biology. Their motivations aren't quite so distinct, although maybe that says something about the universality of life's desires.

Another new character, that appears is a forensic AI, and here we have a glimpse of what Penny Royal will face in the next book. I can't wait!


Emanation: Volume 1 (Shadeward)
Emanation: Volume 1 (Shadeward)
by Mr Drew Wagar
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A quality read, 11 Jun. 2016
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Before I get into the review proper, I have a pet peeve I need to vent. I'm really not a fan of made up phrases to set a scene, and the technique is used a lot in this book. Now it's generally a style choice, but in my opinion it adds a barrier when reading a sentence. For flora and fauna, or anything else local it's not too much of a problem, however when it's used for familiar concepts then it breaks the flow of reading.

With this book the big issue for me was the labels for time. Now there is a very good reason the author chose this option (in fact, it's described in detail at the end), but for me it disrupted my pacing as I read the story.

And don't even get me started on made up swear words...

As I say, it's a pet peeve of mine, and is the only major issue I had with the book. The world building is well constructed, with some detailed research evident. The basic premise might be a familiar one, namely that of a civilisation long after a cataclysm, but the setting brings something different to the tale.

For the most part it reads like a fantasy novel, but there's some deep sci-fi in here as well - this is most evident at the beginning and at the end. It follows three main threads, two sisters who are long separated, and unaware of each other's situation. Their lives follow very different paths, and there was a point about halfway through the book where it clicked as to how their threads interconnected. I think I might have been a little slow realising that point, but when I did it added another level to the story.

I've already mentioned that I appreciated the world building, and part of that is the history of the world. There's a lot of mystery here, and pieces are unravelled as the three threads progress. My favourite thread was that of a boy rescued at sea. It's with this thread that we start learning more about the ancient history of the world, as well as rediscovering some of what came before.

Despite my pet peeve, there's a real craft to the writing, and it describes an excellent story with some depth and enough mystery to keep me interested. Definitely worth a read.


Portrait of a Girl (Mister Jones Mysteries Book 2)
Portrait of a Girl (Mister Jones Mysteries Book 2)
Price: £2.30

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Superb horror, 7 Jun. 2016
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I read the first book in this series (The Showing) some time ago, and it was an excellent take on the traditional haunted house theme. Unfortunately for the lead character in that book it appears that the paranormal isn't quite done with him. For me, this wasn't quite as strong as the first book, but does deliver on a fine horror story.

Here we have a mysterious painting that exerts some level of control, or deep seated fascination with some of those that gaze upon it. This element of the story builds well, with some well structured development. It's carried by a small cast of characters, most of which are the police officers trying to find the two men who have vanished, apparently connected to the painting.

The police investigation didn't feel as solid as the supernatural side, although their task was a difficult one with no real evidence to work from. There is one big anomaly here, and that was my biggest problem with the book. There's a big element to the painting that isn't investigated, although it does get mentioned right at the end, so now I'm curious if that feeds into the next book, and if it's all connected by more than just the lead character.

It's a big enough flaw to knock it down from a great read, but don't let it put you off, as this is a tightly written tale. It's a quick read and apart from my gripe, it works. Well worth checking out for those who like a little darkness with their supernatural.


The Long Utopia: (The Long Earth 4)
The Long Utopia: (The Long Earth 4)
Price: £4.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Some good ideas, but could have been deeper, 6 Jun. 2016
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This is the fourth book in The Long Earth series, and while the individual books aren't the greatest, I do love the series. The strength of all the books is the deceptively easy way they cover complex concepts by rolling them into a compelling narrative, with a diverse range of characters. Even with the fourth book in the series the authors manage to keep the core premise fresh.

After The Long Mars I was curious as to where they would take the story next, and this book takes it into a familiar direction with aliens. Naturally it's not quite so simple as that, and there's a considerable build-up to the main event. And here we encounter one of the downsides to the story. As with the earlier books the finale feels rushed compared to what preceded it. In all cases the ending is fitting, but just too abrupt.

The story covers how mankind adapts to the events on Earth and the expansion of humanity into the Long Earth. It also delves into some of the history of the talent, although this aspect feels more of a distraction to the more significant events at play.

Another weakness is reflected in its greatest strength. There's some great ideas here, but they're not really developed as deeply as they could be. For me, this and the forced pacing are the biggest problems with the book, but despite these issues it is an enjoyable read, and I'm looking forward the the release of the next one in the series.


The Dreaming Void (The Void Trilogy Book 1)
The Dreaming Void (The Void Trilogy Book 1)
Price: £6.64

4.0 out of 5 stars Some excellent concepts, 4 Jun. 2016
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My experience of this author so far has been the Nights Dawn Trilogy (and a couple of random reads) which I loved, although the ending felt a little flat for me. After attending a book signing I've meant to read more of his work, although I should probably have researched a little more as this trilogy seems to be later in the history. It didn't turn out to be too much of an issue, although I'm sure that I'd have gleaned more from some of the references.

This is a story in grand space opera style. The scope is huge, and the core concept of the void at the centre of the galaxy is a fascinating one with plenty of mystery to get my teeth into. The story is told in two main threads, the first are the dreams of Inigo (the object of the hunt of the second thread) who somehow sees a human existence within the void. This element feels more like fantasy, although with strong parallels to various technologies in the 'real' universe.

It formed an interesting aside, but for me is the weaker element of the book. It's also the one that is perhaps easier to follow, with a more traditional narrative structure than the rest. Don't get me wrong, it's far from bad, but just didn't grab me as much as the more sci-fi elements.

The second thread is the space opera, and it covers a lot of ground. Unlike Inigo's dreams the story is more fragmented and spread through quite a diverse range of characters. And here is the story's weakest point - there's a lot going on, but it's spread across so many threads that the overall pace feels much slower than it is. I find this quite a lot with space opera (and high fantasy) books, but conversely there is always something of interest to keep me reading.

It took me a little while to get to grips with the world. I'm not usually a fan of technobabble to establish esoteric technology, but as I read further I slipped into the world more and it ended up working and carrying some of the more far out concepts. And it's with these ideas where the book really excels. I love reading a book and having to pause and contemplate the potential of a passage I've just read is one of the joys of reading.

An example of this is demonstrated in a sexual adventure with one of the characters and another who is a multiple - that is a single conciousness present in multiple bodies. Although this also revealed another frustration, but that's more a personal bias. I love to know the detail - for example how does the biochemistry of the individual bodies affect the overiding conciousness? If it doesn't, then how has a complete separation from brain and mind been achieved? I always want to know more than is usually revealed :-)

The writing is excellent, despite my initial reservations about the terminology. And there's a huge story here to be uncovered, with hints of many mysteries to be resolved with the next two books - I'm looking forward to reading them!


Forest of Shadows
Forest of Shadows
by Hunter Shea
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Has some issues, but still a solid horror read, 19 May 2016
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This review is from: Forest of Shadows (Paperback)
This book certainly starts with a bang. The tight writing and abrupt events carry the introduction and served to really peak my interest. Unfortunately it loses its way a little bit after that point. It then meanders for a while with the backstory for the family the form the core of the story. There's a mystery here to the wife's death that is never adequately explained, and so feels like a convenient excuse for a set of circumstances. The odd co-incidences don't stop there, for example there is a lottery win that means that despite the death of his spouse he is financially independent, and so able to make the trip to investigate strange goings on up in Alaska.

Another oddity that put me off was the daughter. She seemed much older in her mannerisms than her age of six would suggest. I'm assuming there's some significance to that behaviour, but I found it off putting. The pacing also struck me as strange, it occurred in savage bursts with fairly lengthy development in between, and then it all ended in a rush.

Beyond those issues the story was predictable, but did have some decent development, and was a solid read despite my issues with it. The quality of writing was good, enough to carry the problems. I believe this is the author's first novel, and assuming this to be the case then this is a strong debut and hopefully the author will develop their story telling craft in future tales.


Endymion (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
Endymion (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
by Dan Simmons
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

4.0 out of 5 stars The Shrike returns, 15 May 2016
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I loved the first book in this series, the second book in particular is a hard book to follow. While it doesn't quite reach the highs of that book, it's still a damn fine read and sets the story up for the conclusion. In that respect it reflects the pattern of the first two books.

The story is set a few hundred years after the conclusion of the second book, and while the universe has changed in many ways there are still common elements. It's told from two main perspectives. The first follows that of the main protagonist, who is charged with protecting a girl who is believed to be the saviour of the world.

It's an official of the ruling combined church and state who is charged with the apprehension of the young lady, and so sets up the core of the story. The first book was the journey of the pilgrims that set the stage for the second. And a similar construct is used here, with the chase providing the journey. Along the way we see how different the universe has become. In some ways it has progresses, and in many others regressed from the almost technical utopia of the past.

Unfortunately the story suffers from the same flaw as the first book. It touches upon mysteries that offer some deeper understanding, and I would have loved to learn more about them. Assuming that pattern continues then I expect those questions will be answered in the final book. Which I'm very much looking forward to reading!


The Three-Body Problem
The Three-Body Problem
Price: £5.98

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning read, 4 May 2016
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I loved this book, so much so that I think it's probably some of the finest science fiction I've read in some time. As I've said before, my love of the genre comes primarily from its exploration of big ideas and there are some fascinating concepts explored in this book. The most obvious of which is first contact, and although this is far from an original topic, it does have some novel nuances here. Beyond that we have the puzzle of why two protons are fired into the Solar System, and the discovery of why and how is truly fascinating.

There is clearly a wealth of research and knowledge in this story. And some of it I found quite challenging, and I love that it in a book. Some of the science is so esoteric that I had to pause my reading to contemplate an idea. There is considerable depth here, that some might find off-putting, but don't let it be. This is a wonderful exploration of complex concepts and philosophy, and is all the more rewarding because of it.

Of course a story isn't carried by grand ideas alone. There is a balanced cast of characters that allows for the tale to be told in a more comprehensible manner. There's also a curious transformation of the characters at play here as well. You start off with sympathies for some, and loathing for others, and their roles switch as you learn more of the truth. That in itself makes this an interesting read.

The Chinese history and perspective of the story also casts a layer of fascination, and some novelty - for me at least. The circumstances of the characters lives added an attraction to the story, and here as well there were discoveries to be made. The historical and cultural differences allowed the slow (but steady) build up to have an interest that might have otherwise be lacking.

Finally we come to the writing itself. It's always difficult with a translated work to determine whether the fault, or the praise is due to the original author, or the translator. For the reader I suppose it makes little difference, it is the end product that counts. The writing is quite dry which doesn't carry the emotion well, although there were a few exceptions. However this does carry the discovery in the story in a robust fashion.

As I said at the beginning I loved this book. It's not perfect (but what is?), but it is an incredible read, and a must read for those who enjoy science fiction with some depth.


Pearly Incognito (Black Hole Butterfly Book 2)
Pearly Incognito (Black Hole Butterfly Book 2)
Price: £0.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Not the actual book, but a decent short story, 25 April 2016
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This was a bit disappointing for me. I loved the first book and eagerly anticipated reading the sequel only to discover that what was described as book 2 is actually only a very short teaser.

On the positive side this looks like it will turn out to be another cracker of a read. The peculiarities of quantum realities are very much evident and there's a diverse range of characters. As with the first book I love the concept, and it promises to be another challenging read. The writing is good and I'm looking forward to the actual book being released.


Is it Her?
Is it Her?
Price: £0.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Two quality tales, 24 April 2016
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This review is from: Is it Her? (Kindle Edition)
This book has a very interesting premise. They have each written a novella length story inspired by the painting 'Is it her' by Rod Buckingham. Both of these authors share the ability to entice me beyond the borders of my usual reading domains, and I'm always eager to read their latest releases. With this interesting concept it allowed me to compare their styles while they handle similar subject matter.

The book opens with Jonathan Hill's story which is an intimate tale of a small group having a last night together before two of them leave to fight in the war. The story plays the author's strength. He has a particular talent for emotion and this is well represented here. As the evening unfolds you discover more about the loves and fears, and also the secrets that bind, and separate them.

As with his previous books, the story is very well written, he has a real talent for word play which always make his stories a joy to read. The pacing is solid and for the most part fits the length of the story. There is an odd miss-beat near the end with a large jump in the timeline, although there is a purpose for this, it adds a discordant note. The final scene recovers this, and ends the tale in style.

Kath Middleton's story follows a similar them, although the details are very different. It's also told in a very different style. It has the feel of a memoir, or two memoirs as it is told from two perspectives. It's also set against the background of the war, and that also plays a more overt role in the story. The plot follows a slightly more expected line than the earlier story, but also contains a wider scope.

And right there we have the more obvious contrast. Jonathan Hill's story is much closer, with much more personal revelations. Kath Middleton paints with broader strokes, but on a larger canvas. I also enjoyed how they both brought their stories back into the painting. To conclude, the book is an excellent read by two master story tellers.


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