Friday, 7 March 2014

Ancillary Justice - Ann Leckie

Ancillary Justice is the much talked about debut novel by Ann Leckie, but still managed to escape my notice until it won the Golden Tentacle for best debut novel. Ancillary Justice now had my full attention. The cover is not great but it sure did sound like a great book. A proper epic SF with a rich, detailed world with political intrigue and mystery. Great ships controlled by AIs who instead of drones, robots and golems used enslaved humans to do their bidding.

The Radchaai conquers worlds to drive their economy, and the most cost efficient way is to have their AI used their mind controlled ancillaries as foot soldiers for the invasions, and those captured find themselves in stasis holds in preparation for the next invasion and their enslavement.  Ancillary Justice is about one of these ancillaries whose ship is destroyed and instead of being many she is now just the one, no longer able to feel the coldness of space against her hull. Just a tiny insignificant sack of meat and bones.

Ann Lackie's novel is a lot about questioning what you have previously accepted, even if this means challenging everything you believe in. Then dealing with the consequences of that decision.

Sadly, a lot of the story is lost in the horrible mess which is Ann Leckie's gender experiment. The main character is unable to tell the gender of people and this leaks into the dialogue as a 'her' in the first sentence and then a 'him' in the next. If the desired effect was confusion the experiment is a success. It reminds me of China Mievelle's Embassytown where he had a similar, intellectual, experiment which only ended up distracting from the story.

Ancillary Justice is also a rather dull book where nothing seems to happen at all. It could have been so much more, but we mostly seem to be stuck in a lecture on Radchaai culture and etiquette, instead of unravelling mysteries and righting wrongs.

Sadly, Ancillary Justice is best used for putting yourself into stasis until a better SF arrives.

Ancillary Justice weighs in at 432 pages and is published by Orbit Books.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

The Fell Sword - Miles Cameron

The Fell Sword, by Miles Cameron, is the second part in The Traitor Son Cycle and sequel to The Red Knight, which was one of my favourite fantasy books of 2013. Both books were easy to read and hard to put down. They might as well print the third one on flypaper to give me a good excuse to stay up all night reading.

The Traitor Son Cycle is a fantasy of epic proportions about a mercenary company and their Captain, who are much like a merry band of outlaws, but with heavy armour instead of tights. It’s fair to say the book is packed with characters who are larger than life, easy to like, and do their best to enjoy life while it lasts. The Captain is the strong silent type, who is always one step ahead of everyone else. What makes him somewhat unusual is that he is both a warrior and a mage, almost like Harry Dresden and Nine Fingers rolled into one.

The world building is catching as well with its man vs nature setting. Luckily, both sides are as fond of fighting themselves as their sworn enemies. Miles Cameron adds his own touch by inventing a few races of his own, but also throws in the odd troll and giant into the mix for familiarity.

In The Fell Sword the emperor is kidnapped, but only just after he has hired the company, and the Captain is quickly on the case. He will need both his cunning and formidable magical capabilities to win this one though as he is up against more than one foe this time.

The Fell Sword will stay with me for a long time.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

The Bletchley Circle

Once you got the taste of excitement, and more importantly, making a difference, it is hard to go back to a mundane life. In The Bletchley Circle this is exactly the case for four women, who during World War II  work as code breakers in Bletchley Park. The information they discover plays an important part in ending the war, but then they are all discarded and forgotten. With the return of the men they find themselves back to raising children and doing laundry.

Susan, played by Anna Maxwell Martin, cannot help but notice a pattern in a series of murders of young women. The chief of police is impressed by her knowledge and quickly realises Susan must have been part of the Bletchley Park crew. I was worried she would be dismissed straight away for being a women and given a glass of sherry and told to go home. Making a mark as a woman in a man’s world is of course a major plot obstacle, but it’s done in a tolerable way. However, the police are unable to find anything and Susan realises she must have missed something and recruits her friends to help her.

The Bletchley Circle is a crime drama with a great side story of how four brave women fight for their right to make a difference. It’s a high quality production with great cast and story. Sherlock, watch out!

Thursday, 8 August 2013

The Eyre Affair - Jasper Fforde

Never did I suspect the first book from the Hodderscape Review Project would be such a blast from the past. The cover of Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair is rather whacky with a brightly painted car bursting through the scene, tearing it like paper. I knew I was up for a joy ride, but I should have fastened my seatbelt before taking off.

The Eyre Affair is the first out of nine books about literary agent Thursday Next. What makes her different from the literary agents I know is that she is allowed to carry a gun and investigates literature related crime. I wonder if Jasper Fforde realised how much of a prediction his book would be when it was published in 2001. Copyright violations and torrent site blocking is all over the news, which granted is not quite the same back-alley deals with Keats collected works which Thursday Next investigates.

Thursday Next is a level-headed protagonist whose greatest skill must surely be the ability to remain sane in spite of all the weird shit happening. She is a tough cookie who can look after herself without it turning into an over the top Trinity clone. A modern femme fatale who can save the world but still have time for her love life.

Not sure how the best describe how wonderful and weird the book is. If you have read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams or The Laundry books by Charles Stross you might have an idea. Basically, anything could happen, and the least plausible outcome has the greatest chance of happening especially if it's funny.

It's a mad world with a mad story with an evil genius who takes fictional characters as hostage and demands a ransom. It's a world where said evil genius has a younger brother whose evil is not quite as developed and settles for placing fake bids on cars for sale. It's a mad world worth spending hours reading about.

I shall leave you with the first two sentences of the book:
My father had a face that could stop a clock. I don't mean he was ugly or anything; it was a phrase the ChronoGuard used to describe someone who had the power to reduce time to an ultra-slow trickle. 
The Eyre Affair weighs in at 374 pages and is published by Hodder & Stoughton.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

The String Diaries - Stephen Lloyd Jones

The String Diaries by Stephen Lloyd Jones was off to a good start with a strong female lead, who was ready to fight with tooth and claw for her family, and a pretty damn scary antagonist. In spite of keeping me on the edge of my seat for most of the time, and nervously checking what was under the bed when it got dark, I decided to give up on The String Diaries. It was just too much.

There is an old Hungarian myth about the Hosszu Eletek, the people who are blessed with a long life, but part of the myth is also how they were brought to a brutal end by the king after a long and uneasy truce. And no, the Hosszu Eletek are not vampires, werewolves or angelic demons. They do live for very long, have the ability to alter their flesh, which means they can change appearance and heal themselves. But they are not vampires. Really.

The String Diaries is a collection of notes by the surviving members of a family of their encounter with one of the Hosszu Eletek who has spent hundreds of years hunting them. The chapters are divided between the members of the family, one for each time period, and the occasional chapter with the protagonist. Stephen Lloyd Jones does a good job of winding back the clock, you do feel the times are different, with terror as the only constant.

The String Diaries is a nerve wracking read, and I raced through the first half of the book in one long evening. Nothing invokes fear like an unseen enemy, one which can even turn out to be your best friend, or even worse, the man you love. It's almost impossible to protect yourself against a shapeshifter, and they certainly do their best, but there is only so paranoid you can be and still maintain a healthy relationship.

It's a well written book, a real fright in the night which is best read with a night light. A book about how an ordinary family has suffered tragedies for many generations but has always found the strength to survive. Sadly, it is also a book about a near immortal being who has nothing better to do with his time than hunt down the women of this family and sexually assault them. I felt I can certainly spend my time in a better way, and I decided to stop reading The String Diaries.

The String Diaries weighs in at 416 pages and is published by Headline.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Drag Hunt - Pat Kelleher

Some books are just a delight to read, a real feel good read which is both fun and serious at the same time, and leaves you with a sense of wonder. Drag Hunt by Pat Kelleher is such a book. Just the blurb left me with a smile. Coyote, the trickster god, has had something very dear stolen from him. His younger brother, his penis.

Drag Hunt is the latest book in the Gods & Monster universe created by Chuck Wendig for Abaddon books. Basically, God threw out all the other gods and mythical beings, and they now find themselves trapped on earth with the rest of us. They are not happy bunnies, and have once again cooked up a nefarious plan. A plan which involves little Coyote.

We'll follow Coyote on a merry chase looking for his lost member, but never lost for words. You cannot say the same about Richard, a mere mortal, who gets dragged into this mess when Coyote tricks him for all his money. The two form a partnership, which at the beginning might not be an equal partnership, but to Coyote's surprise Richard proves his worth.  It's a rather bonkers read where you can expect truly witty comments sprinkled with a few fart jokes, but Drag Hunt also has a more serious side to it. Coyote might favour tricks or ways of humiliating his opponents, but he is a minority. So, don't worry there is suspense and action as well.

Drag Hunt is an easy book to like for its wit, great characters and world-building, which is literally filled with wonders, and it left me with a feeling of happiness. I really hope there will be more by Pat Kelleher in this setting.

Drag Hunt weighs in at 118 pages and is published by Abaddon Books.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Unclean Spirits - Chuck Wendig

When your wife and child are burning to death in a car wreck, is there anything you wouldn't do to save them? Cason Cole does what any other man would do, he makes a deal to save his family in exchange for his freedom.

Chuck Wendig - writer, blogger and swearsmith - is back with a new novel, Unclean Spirits. I have fond memories of his Double Dead novels featuring bad boy vampire Coburn, books which surprised me with their hidden tale of the man within the beast.

What makes Unclean Spirits stand out is the setting, a new concoction by Chuck Wendig called Gods & Monsters. It's not an unfamiliar story, but one which readers of Neil Gaiman's American Gods will be familiar with. The gods are real, and so are all the monsters from every myth you have ever heard, but it gets worse. The Usurper cast them out from their respective heavens and hells, and they walk the streets with us. They might have lost most of their powers, but that does not mean they have lost their appetite for playing with their favourite toys. Us.

Speaking of Coburn, it's not unfair to say Cason Cole has a lot in common with Coburn. They are both equally stubborn with a habit of pushing people away, and saying the wrong thing on every occasion. It's hard to see why Cason Cole would do or say what he does, and it feels like he is just obnoxious for the sake of being obnoxious. They also share the same fighting style, the one where you tire out your opponent by having him beat the shit out of you. Don't get me wrong, I approve of the reluctant, bastard of hero mould, but Chuck Wendig should have added some variety for a less bland protagonist.

Unclean Spirits is a book with a ruthless pace where we are hurled through the sequences of the novel. There is a lot of action in the book, and Cason Cole's past as a cage fighter comes in handy more than once. When he is not dodging fists the size of cars, he is learning about gods he never knew or cared about before. It's clear he still does not care, but I certainly enjoyed these tidbits of lore.

Unclean Spirits is a rumpus of a read in a fresh new setting brimming with potential. As a matter of fact, the next novel in Gods & Monsters, Drag Hunt, by Pat Kelleher is out later this year.

Unclean Spirits weighs in at 320 pages and is published by Abaddon Books.