header image
 

Goodreads meter

Ian's books

The Long Cosmos
really liked it
The Long Earth comes to a conclusion – well, the book does, as the final chapter suggests that there are more stories to be told in this setting. I will admit that I will miss the setting far more than I will miss the stories.
It’s a gra…

Shakespeare's Plutarch: The Lives Julius Caesar Brutus Marcus Antonius Coriolanus Translation Sir Thomas
it was amazing
A really simple idea: a copy of the Plutarch Lives used by Shakespeare (nobody else) when writing his plays about classical history, annotated with the sections of the script where he has used them for information or – less palatably – b…

Tailchaser's Song
liked it
This is a quest story in which a young hero goes in search of a damsel in distress before becoming the hero of another story.
The story itself is a little basic, but Tailchaser is an engaging protagonist and the cast of supporting charac…

The English Way of Death
liked it
Pretty ordinary: a whole lot of promising ideas weave themselves into a coherent and interesting story but just fail to grab my interest. I liked the structure of the story, the fact that it contains my favourite Tardis Team and how it m…

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination
liked it
This is a collection of Ms Atwood’s non-fiction pieces, reviews and some of her short fiction. She has an awful lot of interesting stuff to say about SF, a label she tried hard to eschew then embraced quite recently as a descriptor for s…


goodreads.com

Share book reviews and ratings with Ian, and even join a book club on Goodreads.

Category:  Books     

Review: The Long Cosmos by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

The Long CosmosThe Long Cosmos by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Long Earth comes to a conclusion – well, the book does, as the final chapter suggests that there are more stories to be told in this setting. I will admit that I will miss the setting far more than I will miss the stories.

It’s a grand idea for a story: a series of earths parading through parallel universes available to us through “stepping.” And here we have it taken to a logical conclusion: exploring the Long Cosmos through steps that take the protagonists further across the galaxy, discovering more about the origins of everything, but ultimately finding that there are more questions than anything else.

The main weakness of this volume is the same as the other entries in the series: it rambles far too much and is more like a travelogue than a novel, and it’s only in the last hundred or so pages that there’s any exploring of the cosmos that gets done.

But here’s the beauty of this kind of story structure: each book in this series has had the same “flaw.” And I can think of very few stories by either Mr Baxter or Sir Pterry (#speakhisname) that had this flaw, which makes me think that it’s a deliberate storytelling choice on their part. Which makes me want to re-evaluate the entirety of the series again. And as it’s the only volume that Pratchett didn’t have a part in editing the final draft of, it could be an interesting exercise for the reader to try and spot where his and Baxter’s writing styles cross over or part.

This leisurely stroll across worlds isn’t to everybody’s taste and the constant stream of SF-nal references and in-jokes mightn’t please all readers (this one loved them) but if you enjoy a wander through magnificent ideas and believe that the journey is more important than the destination, then you could do far, far worse than this.

View all my reviews

Category:  Books ,review ,Science Fiction     

Review: Tailchaser’s Song by Tad Williams

Tailchaser's SongTailchaser’s Song by Tad Williams
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a quest story in which a young hero goes in search of a damsel in distress before becoming the hero of another story.

The story itself is a little basic, but Tailchaser is an engaging protagonist and the cast of supporting characters are fun and interesting, although some are a little underdeveloped for a book of this length. It has all the characteristics of an ’80s fantasy story in the epic mode: humble beginnings, a youthful hero, a ragtag band of companions, assorted regal and powerful allies collected along the way, alliances and unexpected friendships suggesting a lasting peace after The End, hints of the supernatural and numinal, a dark lord – there’s even a last-minute cavalry charge. The difference is that it’s about cats!

But it isn’t really.

I mean, the animals play a major part of the story, but what Mr Williams is really doing is beginning his deconstruction of epic fantasy that he would continue with his brilliant trilogy, Memory, Sorrow And Thorn, a few years later. While that series would focus almost exclusively on Tolkienesque elements, here his brush – and approach – is much broader. And it suffers a little for it because I would stop thinking about the story and more about the tropes and cliches being mined for their story value.

But through it all you have Tailchaser never losing sight of his goal and even achieving it in a way that is original and funny and altogether right for this story. It’s something I’ve seen done elsewhere but it’s deftly handled here.

Good fun and memorable.

View all my reviews

Category:  Books ,Fantasy     

Review: The English Way Of Death by Gareth Roberts

The English Way of DeathThe English Way of Death by Gareth Roberts
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pretty ordinary: a whole lot of promising ideas weave themselves into a coherent and interesting story but just fail to grab my interest. I liked the structure of the story, the fact that it contains my favourite Tardis Team and how it mirrored the Classic series, as well as the conceit that everything that happened could just possibly be conceived upon the budget of Series 17, except possibly for K9 moving on the beach. Also, I may have imagined it, but I think Mr Roberts was sneaking song lyrics into the story whenever he could get away with it: I spotted “As Time Goes By” and “Automatic” (Pointer Sisters) being quoted at points in the story, and there were a few other lines that I suspected of being borrowed as well.

Good fun, but nowhere near the heights that I had been led to believe, which makes me feel better for not having sampled this range of stories more back in the day.

View all my reviews

Category:  Books ,review ,Science Fiction ,Writing     

Review: In Other Worlds by Margaret Atwood

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human ImaginationIn Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a collection of Ms Atwood’s non-fiction pieces, reviews and some of her short fiction. She has an awful lot of interesting stuff to say about SF, a label she tried hard to eschew then embraced quite recently as a descriptor for some of her work, though under some qualifications.

I enjoyed her non-fiction pieces: she has some really exciting things to say about writers like Wells and Haggard and her survey of Ursula LeGuin’s fiction tested some ideas that about her work that was quite insightful about the differences between genre writing and “proper” literature. I would love to read her thoughts on some other literature, speculative or otherwise.

And then I got to her short fiction. Look, as a practitioner of flash fiction (stories of less than 1 000 words) myself, I think Ms Atwood’s work leaves something to be desired. As I felt in Oryx And Crake, the SF/ futurism was a little old hat and got in the way of the story (which, in O&C, was otherwise great. The ideas are sound but need more length in order to stretch their wings. They also seemed to be striving to go out of their way to make their point as archly as possible in at least three of the five examples she gave us.

It’s annoying because I’ve really liked all of her books that I’ve read and she shows in her non-fiction that she really understands the genre and what it can do. All I can say is read it for the articles.

View all my reviews

Category:  Books ,review ,Writing     

Review: The Name Of The Rose by Umberto Eco

The Name of the RoseThe Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Quite a slog, but easy to put down and pick back up again. First up, I have to say that William of Baskerville is a crap detective: he does great deductions but is no good at solving an overall mystery – I did grin at the scenes where the Abbot was basically saying, “Well, my monks keep on dying, William, what are you doing about it?” Of course, naming him as a nod to The Great Detective gives him heights he can’t possibly aspire to, especially as “Consulting Detective” is not really a career option in the early 14th Century.

Adso – the narrator – is more help than Watson, though, but not as interesting a storyteller. For one thing, he constantly refers to the fact that this all happened in his youth and he is now a very old man: the drops in perspective come across to this reader as irritating rather than illuminating.

The story is great, although it is more literary than a regular mystery: the constant sidesteps into religious history are entertaining but deal with minutiae that can be baffling to a modern reader if they don’t already have an interest in the period or the topic (at this point in his career Mr Eco had not yet mastered the art of infodumping). Which is a shame because pre-plague Europe was a mess of schisms and intrigues that make for excellent reading.

Anyway, when the story is on point it is great fun and makes you feel erudite and knowledgeable – and that library! Who wouldn’t want a library like that (minus the deathtraps and homicidal maniac, obviously)?. When it isn’t (such as the aforementioned infodumps) it is a bit of a chore. But William and Adso are such a great team that you can’t help wishing that their story wasn’t so comprehensively finished at the close. But a series of stories such as this would probably kill more monks than the coming plague.

View all my reviews

Category:  Books     

Review: Roger Zelazny’s Visual Guide To Castle Amber by Roger Zelazny and Neil Randall

Visual Guide to Castle AmberVisual Guide to Castle Amber by Roger Zelazny
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Good, dumb fun: adds little to the mythos (besides FLOORPLANS! and MAPS!) but does flesh out some details and has the bonus of being narrated for a large chunk by Flora in her Merlin Chronicles persona: to be honest, I prefer her as the gossipy aunt she is to Merlin, rather than the slightly treacherous bimbo that Corwin sees her as. The illustrations belong to the Van Art School of the ’70s and ’80s that has thankfully disappeared from everywhere but its natural home.

One for fans, really. So yeah, I liked it.

View all my reviews

Category:  Uncategorized     

Review: The King Beyond The Gate by David Gemmell

The King Beyond the Gate (Drenai Tales, #2)The King Beyond the Gate by David Gemmell

This is a fantastic sequel, largely because it doesn’t dwell for too long on what happened to the characters from the previous novel. It begins a century after said previous novel and straight away introduces you to new characters, new situations and a brand new adventure.

The Drenai people – threatened by the Nadir hordes in Legend– are involved in internal conflict here, leaving themselves wide open to attack and insurrection. It’s left to Tenaka Khan, half-Nadir, half-Drenai, to solve problems. He’s aided by friends who are forced to rely on him because he has the only plan that could possibly save them.

What is excellent about this book is the way Gemmell takes up the story straight away, without wasting too much time. He has an economical style that keeps the story moving and doesn’t waste time on needless scenes. And he takes the time to explore sides and nuance in his situations: he isn’t just about creating epic battle scenes and set-pieces. In fact, the whole idea of The Thirty, the warrior monks used to such great effect in many of Gemmell’s novels, pretty much sum up his feelings about war and conflict: they are trained to love life and worship the tranquility that comes from inner peace but choose to become skilled warriors and seek out a just conflict in which to lend their services and fight until they die. They are constantly aware of the hypocrisy of their situation but do it anyway.

What is less great is the way in which there are pages of conversation about what is the right thing to do when you believe that all life is sacred and are choosing to take part in a bloody conflict in which hundreds of people are going to die senselessly. It’s a theme that Gemmell explored in all of his novels and never seemed to come to a definite conclusion about. Which is at least refreshing, when swathes of authors never seem to question it at all.

The other weakness is one that seems to follow Gemmell through all his books as well: he spends a lot of time training up a plucky force to deal with an ominous threat that wants to destroy them. Unlike Legend there are villains here and many fewer shades of grey in the storyline. However, it’s a structure that could become tiring before too much longer and a formula that Gemmell himself at least tried to vary as he went along in his career.

But, while he does deal with ideas that are different in each book, he won’t let go of the idea of a “honourable” conflict, or how it can pollute your soul or redeem it. He also spends a lot of time dealing with how being skilled at dealing with death on a constant basis can desensitise you to living with other human beings in a peaceful, everyday existence, something at odds with his love of portraying the benefits of bonding with your fellows in the cause. This is touched on briefly here and becomes something that he deals with in greater depth in later books.

For the moment we have a terrific adventure filled with capable, rugged heroes who aren’t afraid to question their own motives or honour. It adds depth to what could have been a repetitive, typical novel of the time.

View all my reviews

Category:  Books ,Fantasy     

Review: The Stainless Steel Rat Goes To Hell by Harry Harrison

The Stainless Steel Rat Goes to Hell (Stainless Steel Rat, #9)The Stainless Steel Rat Goes to Hell by Harry Harrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Rat finds himself pursuing a conman who’s been swindling people with visions of a false Heaven. Along the way he discovers alternate universes, gets tortured, kidnapped, and generally has a great old time being awesome. It’s a classic whirlwind adventure but, as with many of the other later novels in the sequence, there doesn’t seem to be a real aim to the humour or story and it takes a fairly scattergun approach to the themes. It’s still a good fun read, though, which is all I’ve ever asked of the Rat and his family.

View all my reviews

Category:  Uncategorized     

Review: The Day Of The Triffids by John Wyndham

The Day of the TriffidsThe Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As with all Wyndham novels, it’s only the occasional contemporary reference that lets you know you’re in the past. It feels astonishingly modern, even (depressingly) down to the debates about the role of women in a future that will take a few steps backwards.

It creaks a little bit – the sudden jump to the “5 years later” that we get in the last couple of chapters has always felt a bit strange, but he does similar things in other novels, so it may be that he’s doing something deliberate there and wanting to make a point – but the story moves along quickly, telling the events in an easily read manner that still invite a deeper analysis. Although, the main action of the novel itself is spaced over just a couple of weeks, so the jump may seem more jarring because of that.

Brian Aldiss described it as “… totally devoid of ideas, but read smoothly, and thus reached a maximum audience, who enjoyed cosy disasters.” Which is harsh, but to a stylist like Aldiss, entirely fair. However, the label of “cosy disaster” or “cosy catastrophe” really downplays the impact of the story – Bill and Josella do agonise over the lives they might save or could have saved, and the whole subplot involving Coker and his scheme for looking after the blind people of London speaks volumes about what was happening off-page. But Bill is narrating this story and he couldn’t be everywhere.

Bill is a competent hero, a type very popular until the ’60s when we started to become a more specialised and splintered culture. He faces the catastrophe as a series of problems to be solved. We get clues to the turmoil that he is undergoing and the desperation he feels, but – as the last few paragraphs show – he is reporting on the events from several years removed, so it may be that his account of things is coloured by that distance. Compare it to The Kraken Wakes, where the protagonist admits to having a breakdown at one point, and we get news reports as they happen.

However, for all that distance and cosiness, this is still the template for most disaster novels since the 1950s, and we are still feeling that influence nearly 70 years later.

View all my reviews

Category:  Books ,Science Fiction