Category Archives: Books

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.

New Hitchhiker’s Radio Show for BBC

And Another Thing... by Eoin Colfer

And Another Thing… by Eoin Colfer

Froody news!The BBC has just given the go ahead for a new Hitchhiker’s radio show. Which is just superb news as the radio shows were just brilliant. If you haven’t heard them you are hugely, colossally missing out and my life has, by dint of this one fact, been better than yours. Obviously you can rectify that. They are different from the book after a certain bit, but then the BBC also did radio versions of all the books with the original cast. If this is confusing, google it.

The new series will be based on And another thing… by Eion Colfer. Which will worry some people. I quite liked the book as an episode of Hitchhiker’s although I didn’t feel that it lived up to the original. As you can see by clicking on this. It was fun though.

The great news is that it is being directed by Dirk Maggs who was in charge of the original, and consequent, series. Also, the original cast are going to be back. I’m excited. Here is more information from the British Comedy Guide.

From British Comedy Guide: (click here)

The new series is being organised by Dirk Maggs, the director who has overseen previous series of Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, alongside David Morley from Perfectly Normal Productions.

Plans are currently at a very early stage of development, with a six episode run provisionally ordered. Speaking to BCG, Maggs confirmed: “A series has been commissioned but plans are still being put together – what precise form it will all take and who exactly will be involved is all yet to be confirmed.”

Contrary to other press reports, no actors have been signed up to the project yet, however the show is likely to star many of the original cast. Maggs confirmed to British Comedy Guide: “I wouldn’t dream of doing it without approaching the original cast, but it’s way too early to do that yet.”

Simon Jones who plays Arthur Dent, Geoffrey McGivern (Ford Prefect), Mark Wing-Davey (Zaphod Beeblebrox), and Stephen Moore (Marvin) last reunited with Maggs in 2014 to record a special one-off live transmission for Radio 4, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy Live. The episode also saw Susan Sheridan reprise her role as Trillian. It would prove to be her last time playing the character, as she died in August 2015.

Series 6 of the show is expected to air in 2017. Maggs says: “I am very happy to be returning, it will be great to get ‘the band back together’ – for what will probably be the last time.”

 

Neil Gaiman to adapt TV version of ‘Good Omens’

imageExciting news! The other day at a memorial event for Terry Pratchett, Gaiman confirmed that he would be personally adapting the Good Omens novel, which he co-wrote in collaboration with Pratchett. Initially, he always said that he wouldn’t produce anything Good Omens related unless his long time friend Pratchett was involved – for example there was a recent radio adaptation featuring cameos from Gaiman and Pratchett.

But then, and this is really bloody touching, Terry Pratchett wrote a letter to be opened after his death, which asked Gaiman to personally write an adaptation for TV. At which point he agreed. Or as Gaiman said at the memorial event – “At that point, I think I said, ‘You bastard, yes.'” He also revealed that the Good Omens TV show would be a six parter.

By the way, if you haven’t read the book, you should. It’s brilliant. It’s about the end of the world and a demon and an angel team up to deal with the anti-christ. Who happens to be an English school-kid.

image

Good Omens has long been the subject of attempts to bring it to the screen, big or small, but it finally looks like it might happen. In other purely Pratchett news, there may well be a film based on Mort – which is also superb and is basically a story about Death taking on an apprentice. Even more exciting and more vague and unlikely to happen, is a TV show based on the Watch. Which would be absolutely brilliant.

I love Gaiman and Pratchett and am very excited about seeing Good Omens. I have been putting it off but am finally reading ‘Raising Steam’. I feel sad to be reading one of the last Pratchett books ever and had been delaying it for weird psychological reasons. I have read every one of his books since his first book came out and it has been a yearly treat. Having said that, it has been 30 years since I started reading him, so maybe I have forgotten enough to go through them all again.

If you haven’t read Gaiman or Pratchett or Good Omens – you are in for a treat.

For more info on this awesome fantastic news, read a more informed Guardian article here.

Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

best-served-cold-us-pbBest Served Cold is the 4th book set in the world of the First Law. Books 1 to 3 were a trilogy and were brilliant. Best Served Cold is a standalone novel set in a part of the world called Styria and is also brilliant.

Here is the synopsis:

Monza Murcatto is mercenary who leads an army of mercenaries called the 1000 swords. There have been 19 years of warfare on the continent and Monza and her brother Benna are great at what they do. A little too great in fact, and their employer, Duke Orso, grows concerned that they might try and take over. So he has them both stabbed a lot and thrown off a balcony and down a cliff. Unfortunately for the seven people involved in this literal backstabbing party, Benna dies but Monza lives. So she sets out to get revenge. It is basically a fantasy version of Kill Bill.

Everything I like and slightly dislike about Abercrombie is present in Best Served Cold. What I like far outweighs what I don’t.

What I like: It is exciting, well written and violent, with superb characters. Some of these characters are from (or at least mentioned) in the First Law trilogy, some are new. It doesn’t really matter though. They all have pretty satisfying story arcs and are believable. The story is told in shifting third person POV and not one of them are dull. To alleviate the often brutal happenings in the book, there is quite a lot of Abercrombie’s dark humour. While each revenge is a bit episodic, there is a satisfying arc to the whole tale. Also each episode is great – like a series of incredibly violent capers.

What I didn’t like: It is all pretty bleak, which isn’t a bad thing I guess, but don’t read Game of Thrones then this or you might get a bit down. There is a lot humour though, so it is lifted somewhat. Most of the characters have a pretty shit time of it, which I suppose is to be expected, but I hoped for a slightly happier arc for some of them.

On the whole though, I bloody loved Best Served Cold. It is probably not quite as good as the First Law trilogy, but if you enjoyed that, you will like this.

In summary then – GREAT BOOK. I LOVED IT. BUY!