Category Archives: Books

The Dark Tower 1: The Gunslinger

I am a bit late to the party with Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. So late in fact, that he finished the series and then went back and rewrote book one – The Gunslinger – to make it fit in better.

The Gunslinger and the whole Dark Tower series is set in a post apocalyptic world. It is also, as you may have guessed from the title, the cover, and everything ever mentioned about it, a Western. But with magic and weird shit going on. The setting is pretty unique and with a lot of scope for adventure and shenanigans.

The first book is basically the story of the eponymous Gunslinger as he chases a magic man across a desert and through some hills. In fact the story can be summed up by the awesome opening line:

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

Obviously more happens than this or it would be a tad dull. Which It most definitely is not. The characters, especially Roland Deschain (the gunslinger), are pretty cool. I did find they lacked a bit of depth but this is possibly to create mystery and allow for revelation later on. King described the series as a mixture of Sergio Leone’s ‘Man with no name’ trilogy mixed with Lord of the Rings and Arthurian legends. Which is a damn fine mix.

As you can see from the picture above and may have read in the news, this is soon going to be a movie with Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey – which is a superb bit of casting although I had Clint Eastwood in my head when I read it, for obvious reasons. Elba will be great in the role though.

I have waffled enough! I liked the Gunslinger a lot and have already bought the next one in the series. Stephen King has finished the series and they all got good reviews, so there is none of the concern you may get when launching into an epic series that is still underway (I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones). Enjoy.

You can get it on Amazon here:

The Expanse season 2 starts February 1st

The Expanse season 2 is due to kick off with a double episode premiere on the 1st of February. I am currently reading Babylon’s Ashes: Book six of the Expanse, so I am clearly a bit of a fan.

Season 1 was great, although I understand why some people found it a bit slow to start off with. The book was a bit like that too but when it gets going it is great. The first season just dealt with the events of the first half of book one, so there is a lot of exciting stuff still to come. If you haven’t read the books or seen the first series, I highly recommend you do both. The whole Expanse series of books by James S.A. Corey are a cracking read and I hope they carry on for decades.

There are quite a few Expanse trailers around, including a bizarre recap of season one using cats (seriously). This trailer came out a month ago but is bloody superb and should whet your appetite. I will be doing all I can to publicise the show because if another Firefly scenario happens, I don’t think I can recover. I’m officially very excited.

Cooperworld

I wrote a long short story called Cooperworld. Or a short novella. Whatever. It is 17,000 words. I haven’t promoted my stuff for ages and is a new year, so why the hell not, I have had a lot of new readers recently. It is science fiction, but it is more philosophical than a lot of my stuff and it deals with life and reality and deep things of that nature. It is also a bit of a laugh. (I think.)

Cooperworld

Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 3.25.49 PMHere is the blurb:

In the near future, AI research is strictly controlled by paranoid governments. When a renowned Artificial Intelligence expert illegally decides to create digital life in an simulated universe, he doesn’t at first realise the implications of what he has done. Implications not just for him, but for everyone.
In this short story, journalist and writer Jason R. Ward has a light-hearted but fairly philosophical look at what constitutes consciousness and has a good hard look at how we perceive reality.

 

So there you go, exciting huh? It is also cheap. Thank you in advance. If you do buy it, and read it, and like it, please leave a review, it really, really helps.

For US customers:

For UK customers:

Under a Tell Tale Sky by R.E. McDermott

img_0069Under a Tell Tale Sky by RE McDermott is a Post Apocalyptic novel from someone who normally writes thrillers. In fact, he seems almost apologetic about the fact that it is scifi. The tale recounts a scenario that might happen if a massive EMP pulse hit the Earth and fucked the electric grid. This is book one of a trilogy and the man has done his research in regards to the USA and probably most of the developed world. The conclusion is pretty dire and highly believable.

You would think that a colossal blackout would involve a few more candles and some tinned food, which would suck a bit but not too bad. On the plus side there will be massively fewer twats taking selfies, photographing their food and blocking pavements because they are looking at their phones the whole sodding time. So no power would seem a net plus right? Sadly no. As McDermott logically and realistically shows, society would break down pretty quickly. Modern Western society is held together by hope, a desire to not be harmed by others and live in a safe society, and some pretty flimsy string. (The latter is a metaphor for something or other.) As rioters frequently show, it is actually harder to control an unruly populace than you’d suppose – even if you shoot shit at them. Without power, things fast become post apolcalyptic.

Under a Tell Tale Sky is set in America, so any apocypse or societal breakdown is going to include an arseload of guns. The story revolves around numerous characters but the principle protagonists are all based around a huge cargo ship and a container port. There are quite a few characters and sub-plots but they are all well done and believable. The story is exciting and develops well. No ground breaking philosophical questions going on here, just decent action and good fun.

I really enjoyed Under a Tell Tale Sky and immediately bought the sequel once I finished it. It is part of a series called ‘The Disruption’. I recommend it for scifi and non-scifi fans alike.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

img_0068This has been on my ‘to read’ list for ages. Thankfully I bought it on kindle – Amazon warns you if you have already bought a book and I have almost accidentally bought Ancillary Justice several times now.

A bit of background. Ann Leckie’s tale is set in the far future where a human species called the Radchai are aggressively expanding through space. They are ruled by someone called Anaandar Mianaai, who has thousands of gentetically linked bodies. Their modus operandi is to continually expand by conquering a planet, winning over all the important nobility types and suppressing everyone else. Anyone who resists is either killed or turned into a kind of corpse soldier.

Thrown into this scenario is a pretty interesting protagonist called Breq. Spaceships are controlled by AIs and these ships also have ancillary troops made up of the aforementioned corpse soldiers. These soldiers are also controlled by the the AI of the vessel they serve and all have modifications that make them pretty tough in a scrap.

For reasons we don’t know at the start, the AI of a vessel known as the Justice of Torren is now reduced to just being just one ancillary soldier – Breq. What happened to the ship and all the other ancillaries is a mystery. Breq is on a mission to kill Anaander Mianaai and there is clearly something wrong going on with the Radchai as a whole.

Ancillary Justice is a great read. I can see why it won so many awards – the Hugo, Nebula and Arthur C Clarke Awards, to be precise. The world, customs and characters are well thought out and the writing is good. I was worried at first that the constant use of the pronoun ‘she’ for everyone would get annoying. Breq doesn’t really understand gender and has trouble distinguishing male from female, so calls everyone she. But actually it’s fine.

My only real gripe with the book that it is quite unevenly paced. There are some pretty slow moments followed by scenes where a ton of exciting things go on. When things happen, it is superb but then there will be a period where people are just chilling and worrying about gloves and tea.

Having said that, the book is well paced enough that I read it in a couple of days and it has weirdly stuck in my head ever since. If you fancy a space opera that is a little different from the norm, then Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie is definitely worth a try. The next two books of the trilogy are already on my kindle.

 

Dark Run by Mike Brooks

darkrunI seem to be reading a lot of books featuring a crew of rag tag, Firefly-esque, semi criminal ne’er-do-wells on a ramshackle but lovable ship, headed by a charismatic roguish Captain. By a lot, I mean two series. The Tales of the Ketty Jay by Chris Wooding is a steampunk series (my review of Retribution Falls, book one, is here) and Dark Run by Mike Brooks, which is a rip-roaring space opera.

Both are great! Buy them. Review done.

Ok, a tiny bit more.

Brief Synopsis of Dark Run:

When Captain Ichabod Drift has someone from his past hire him for a ridiculously well paid caper – a “Dark Run” smuggling job – he has some reservations but it is not only a good deal, it is also a situation he can’t really refuse for a variety of *spoiler* reasons. When things inevitably work out differently from planned, he and his motley crew have to embark on a series of dangerous but terribly exciting exploits.

I won’t give anything else away.

I really enjoyed Dark Run, an impressive debut novel from Mike Brooks and look forward to the rest of the series. It must suck to constantly be compared to Firefly or even shows like Dark Matter, but I read an interview with Brooks and he fully admitted Firefly fandom, so it’s ok. The characters are great and the story is fun. If you like all the references I have been banging on about throughout this review, then you will like Dark Run. I did.

 

Kyle MacLachlan explains Dune with emojis

Someone on Twitter asked the legendary Kyle MacLachlan to explain Dune. I assume it was meant as a laugh because Twitter is somewhat limited when it comes to giving explanations or descriptions. MacLachlan is always good value in everything I have ever seen him in. When I was young, he was the character that interacts with a cast of weirder characters – which, given that he was in a lot of David Lynch stuff, was some real weirdness. I’m talking about stuff like Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, and Dune.

Nowadays he plays the off-centre characters in things like How I Met Your Mother and Agents of SHIELD and is always fun. What I am trying to say is, I’m a MachLachlan fan. Now if you haven’t read the book of Dune, you should. It is superb and I reviewed it here. The film caught a lot of flack but I loved it. Possibly because I was on a lot of spice back then, or maybe I am just peculiar. If you have read the book or seen the movie, then you will appreciate the genius of what he did – you can really follow the story.

Here, in emoji, is Kyle MacLachlan’s Dune. I hope this becomes a new fad.

The story of Dune in emoji

The story of Dune in emoji, as told by MacLachlan

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

OldMansWar(1stEd)I had been meaning to read Old Man’s War for about a decade now and am hugely glad that I finally got round to it. I knew (from what friends have said) that it was going to be a little bit like Heinlein’s Starship Troopers mixed with a bit of Haldeman’s The Forever War but as both of those books were superb, it shouldn’t be a problem. And it really wasn’t.

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi was published in 2005 but happily it could have been written last week – the ideas are still fresh and abundant. There are more to the series but it works as a standalone, so don’t worry if you don’t want to launch into something too involved.

The premise is this – when you are 65 you can apply to join the Colonial Defence Forces (space marines) and when you are 75 you actually join. What happens then is a secret but it is generally believed, for obvious reasons, that you are made young again.

The story starts with a guy called John Perry who is 75 and after visiting his wife’s grave, he joins up. This isn’t a spoiler, it is the first line of the book. Given the comparisons between Old Man’s War and the other two novels I mentioned, it is clear that he goes on to see combat. I won’t give any more plot away.

The book isn’t just space marines shooting the shit out of tons of aliens. That does happen, but the aliens are massively varied and the battles are fun. There are a multitude of other themes explored however – longevity, space travel and it’s implications, relationships, and questions about whether you can morally justify shooting the shit out of tons of aliens. John Scalzi is chock full of ideas and he scatters them liberally throughout.

I loved Old Man’s War. I read it in two days and then immediately bought the sequel. It is a fairly quick read but it is immensely fun, exciting, touching, and well thought out. I don’t read much military science fiction but this was full of ideas and was entertainingly written. If you hate the sub-genre then move along, otherwise I highly recommend it.

 

 

 

Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

I have never been that excited by steampunk and its related genres but have recently read two of them and thoroughly enjoyed myself. The first was The Wonder by James Devo and more recently, Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding. I recommend them both.

I stumbled across the book by accident. I had read an article about a science fiction book called Dark Run that reviewers had compared to Firefly (one of the best shows ever) and the Adventures of Ketty Jay. Intrigued, I looked up the latter, and moments later Retribution Falls: Book 1 of the Adventures of the Ketty Jay was on my selection of shiny reading devices. I love the modern world.

Review of Retribution Falls

The story revolves around a ragtag, unlikely collection of motley down-at-luck characters having adventures. So quite like a lot of things really, including Firefly. This sort of grouping is always at risk of colossal cliche but if done well, it can be bloody great.

The story: The charismatic captain of the Ketty Jay needs a bit of cash and takes on a job that seems too good to be true. Predictably it is and suddenly they are in a world of trouble. This is a pretty cool world however, with flying airships, pirates, knights, demonologists, war golems, and more.

Did I like it? (I know I recommended it already but bear with me.) At the start, to be honest, I was a bit wary. The characters are not immediately the nicest or easiest to bond with but as the story goes on, things rapidly improve. Soon they are having incredibly exciting adventures and each character has a very satisfying story arc. The story is well plotted, the action is top notch, and this review is now full overused expressions. Basically, it’s damned exciting, good characters, and an intriguing tale.

I will keep this review pretty short. If you want an exciting read about freebooters and airships and Machiavellian plots, then you will like Retribution Falls. It isn’t necessarily an intriguing new take on anything but it is great fun and I have immediately bought book 2. Which says it all. Recommended.