Category Archives: Books

Australia, Morocco, and Thailand. Three True Travel Stories

Travel book cover finalI have an exciting new book! It is called ‘Australia, Morocco, and Thailand. Three True Travel Stories’. While it is technically nothing to do with Science Fiction, I was reading scifi while the events happened. Also, if you by a copy I’ll be able to write more about scifi as I won’t have to work as much. You might enjoy them. These are three true travel stories where yours truly was in peril. In three different places. Here’s the blurb:

Jason Ward tells three true stories of fairly perilous travel.

While backpacking in his early twenties, he decides to give fruit picking a go. Even without the spiders, snakes, and a plague of locusts, things turn out pretty badly.
A trip into the Atlas Mountains with his girlfriend turns out less than romantic when flash floods threaten to wipe out the town. The only escape option is a van full of Berber tribesmen and a waterlogged road on the edge of a cliff.
After moving to the peaceful paradise of Thailand, Ward goes to a local pub near his Bangkok flat. That evening there is a military coup. In Bangkok. So why can’t he see anything?

These stories are filled with humour and dollops of fear. Recommended for those who enjoy travel stories or just like reading about someone being mildly terrified in foreign countries.

If you like travel stories please give them a go. Also, if you like them, please leave a review, they really help and I need to eat. If you don’t like them, then move along, nothing to see here.

For UK customers:

For our American cousins:

The book costs a pittance. Which is a bargain!

The Uneven Passage of Time

Most people don’t read both of my sites. They seem to pick one and stick with it, which is fine with me and don’t feel ashamed. But when, every six months or a year, I realise I don’t do enough shameless self-publicity I have to post things twice. Like now. I apologise for this a little but everyone has to make a living and I massively appreciate your wonderful support, dear magnificent reader, fawn, grovel…

I’m not just plugging my awesome eBook because I haven’t done so for 6 months, (although that would be reason enough,) I’m plugging it because I am going to release a new one! Soon! The last trilogy of tales was a thoughtful blast of entertaining Scifi short story excitement. The next are a trio of true travel tales. Which are dramatised and are going to be pretty damn exciting too.

They are from three different periods of my life – when I was 21 and picking fruit in Australia and there were snakes, spiders and a plague of locusts; another was when I was in my late 20s in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco in prime flash flood season and the only escape was a trip in a van full of Berber tribesmen driven down the edge of a cliff; and the final one is set in Bangkok in my mid-30s when the Thai military thoughtlessly staged a military coup during happy hour. All three are moments where I really thought there was a chance I might die. And not my usual concern of alcohol poisoning either – these were genuine threats.

I just need to finalise the cover and sort out the bastard formatting. So bear with me.

In the meantime, I give you The Uneven Passage of Time!

Here’s the blurb:

Time, famously, is relative. In this trio of short stories journalist and fiction writer Jason R. Ward looks at three individuals and their unorthodox journeys through time. These entertaining tales blend the themes of psychology and perception with classic science fiction.

Stephen Hawking once sent out dinner invitations to all future time travellers. No one turned up. But what if one had? In ‘A Date to Remember’ a young physicist is convinced he has worked out the secret to building a time travel device. Lacking the resources to construct the machine he sets a time and date for a meeting with his future self.

It is a truism that people remember the big events in life and forget the repetitive. For most people, their year skips by unnoticed, punctuated by birthdays, world events, big personal milestones or traumatic events. As you age life seems to speed up and you find that the years seem to fly past. ‘As Time Goes By’ is the story of Frank Gilbert who is experiencing this to the extreme. His time seems to be accelerating at an abnormal rate. Years of his repetitive life seem to go by in days. Can he break the cycle in time?

The final and longest short story is ‘The Man Who Loved Statues’. Captain Michael Pike is a man who has taken a bit of hammering in life. With nothing much to live for he volunteers for an experiment that is going to attempt to alter his passage through time and put him in stasis. Things don’t go quite according to plan.

For the US:
http://www.amazon.com/Uneven-Passage-Time-ebook/dp/B006MHSWI2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1324264158&sr=8-1
For the UK:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Uneven-Passage-Time-ebook/dp/B006MHSWI2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1324258518&sr=8-1

Game of Thrones 3

Game of Thrones

Am I talking about the book or the series? Actually both. My life seems to have been pretty dominated by Game of Thrones at the moment. I had previously read books 1 and 2 a while back, so it was great to watch the series. Then I took a bit of a break and read a ton of Science Fiction. Returning to the fantasy genre, I read the Assassin’s (Farseer) trilogy by Robin Hobb, followed by Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy. Both of which were awesome and also come highly recommended with the promise from my good self of a review any second now.

When Game of Thrones season 3 began, I was in something of a quandary. I found that I increasingly had to leave rooms and pub conversations as people kept talking about it. I wanted to read it before I saw the show but the books are bloody epic. Book 3, A Storm of Swords was split in two separate books as most people don’t posses the musculature of the characters in the show and were therefore unable to carry it around. The TV show was mostly the first book, Steel and Snow, and I thought I would read just that. I could read it at a leisurely pace and eventually watch the show at some point when it had finished. Perhaps wait till the Blu Ray.

Then an episode came out that almost meant I couldn’t even go on Facebook for fear of spoilers as all my annoying friends mentioned the trauma experienced after watching it. The episode is now known as ‘The Red Wedding’. If you have seen the show, you probably remember it. The series finished soon after and amidst all the raving reviews and tales of harrowing viewing experiences, I learned that there are scenes from the second part of book three, Blood and Gold, that also appear in the season. The pricks.

So I downloaded the whole of book 3, A Storm of Swords onto my kindle and have done little else but read for the last week.

It has been well worth it. This isn’t so much a review of Game of Thrones but more of an excuse as to why I haven’t done much else with my time, including writing. If you want a review and are into fantasy then here you go:

Game of Thrones books 1 to 3 = Bloody Great!

Now, if you’ll excuse me I have 10 hours of season 3 to watch.

Here is a trailer for season 3 because… well, why not? If you’ve seen the show already, just enjoy. If you’ve just read the books, watch the show! If neither, then I recommend quickly reading several thousand pages, followed by hours of your life watching seasons 1 and 2 and you’re good to go.

 

Wool Trilogy 1 by Hugh Howey

Wool by Hugh Howey

Wool by Hugh Howey is brilliant. I suggest you buy it now. See the link below for the US kindle version (most of my readers are in the US), and thank me later.

I really can’t write too much without giving away the story. Essentially, everyone lives underground in a giant silo in a post apocalyptic world. Every floor is large, with its own function, and there are over 100 floors. It’s pretty damn big. By why is everyone there? What has happened to humanity? And what the hell is with the weird taboos and the process known as ‘cleaning’?

The book slowly reveals the secrets of the silo and the world outside through a great cast of characters. At times it felt a bit like Lost, I was desperate to see what was really going on and what would happen next. Fortunately however, Wool also has a totally satisfying explanation.

I loved this book. It got me into one of those moods where I get massively excited when I realise I have an hour or two spare and can read.

To illustrate how good it is, I should mention Hugh Howey’s own story. In 2011, Howey was bored of his job and decided to write a scifi novella and self publish it on the kindle. It sold well, so he wrote four more. These sold even better. By the end of the five novellas (the er, trilogy), Ridley Scott had read it and optioned it for a film and Howey found himself a millionaire from digital sales alone. The publishers came along and, unbelievably, Howey managed to sell the rights to just the print version while keeping full rights to the digital kindle version. He now does very well indeed.

And it is totally justified. Wool, as I mentioned, is brilliant.

Buy Wool on kindle by click on this.

 

 

The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke

The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke

The City and the Stars is a rewrite of Arthur C. Clarke’s first ever book – Against the Fall of Night. And it’s bloody good.

The story revolves a city called Diaspar that has been around for a billion years. Which is a bugger of a long time. Diaspar has hardly changed at all in that period and its populace, who all live for 1000 year chunks before going back into storage for a bit, all frolic and play games, create art, and shag each other. Sounds pretty awesome right?

Enter Alvin. Alvin’s a young lad just out of his teens and like all of his ilk throughout history, he feels a little out of place. Diaspar has no outward facing windows and everyone in the city seems to suffer from massive agoraphobia. It turns out Alvin really is a bit different from others and once he finds out a little about himself and Diaspora he realizes he wants more. He wants to explore the desert wastelands that seem to cover the Earth. Is Diaspar really all there is?

Spoiler: No. There’s a ton of exciting stuff.

Arthur C. Clarke wrote The City and the Stars in 1956. At the start of the book the young types are all playing a game that is uncannily like Virtual Reality Dungeons and Dragons. When they finish playing they are all just in their room and they start texting and chatting to each other all over the city. That’s pretty damn prescient.

The whole city is run and managed by a computer that has no moving parts. It’s walls are adorned with screens that show artwork that people vote on to decide if it is liked enough. This was written before Sputnik went up and computers were the size of Iceland. It’s like Clarke is just showing off. Quite frankly the book could have been written last week, it has aged that well.

Many have described it as Clarke’s greatest book. I would definitely have to disagree with that. It’s a great read and would feature in my top 10 of his work but not the best, or even top 3. (Check Childhood’s End, 2001, Rendezvous with Rama, and more.)

The story and ideas within are superb, but for some reason the pace seemed a bit off to me. The characters aren’t fully developed either, but this is a novel of exploration and ideas and so those aspects are a bit more peripheral. These are just minor niggles that I feel obliged to make in a review.

The City and the Stars is a great book, with great ideas, and is great fun. Arthur C. Clarke is brilliant. Recommended.

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

Robopocalypse

You’ll never guess what happens in Robopocalypse! Robots rise up and start killing everyone in a robot apocalypse type scenario. Actually, the title may have been a clue.

Robopocalypse (surely Robocalypse reads better?) is set slightly in the future when it is more common to have robots wandering about doing robot-type stuff. Going shopping for rich people, unsuccessfully pacifying Afghanistan, sexbots in Japan, and so on. But then an Artificial Intelligence gets pissed off and starts to take over, making the robots break their programming and start killing us pesky humans.

To be fair, homo sapiens suck. The robots kind of respect us and they want to kill most of us off just to preserve the planet’s biodiversity.Which is fair enough if you’re a robot.

The book is structured a bit like World War Z but instead of a guy going all over the world interviewing people, this is told from a variety of sources recorded by the AI and transcribed by a human soldier after the war. (Not a spoiler: the war ends in the first line.) So there is CCTV video, robot footage, recordings, eyewitness reports, straightforward interviews, and more. At first I was worried that this would be annoying as I would have no-one to root for, but happily a lot of the main characters keep appearing and keep being damned heroic throughout.

Daniel H. Wilson has a doctorate in robotics so if anyone is going to know about the future of the killer robot, it will be someone like him. The book isn’t written as a dry premise though, it is written as a rip-roaring shoot ’em up which would make a good film. Herein lies the clue as to whether you the reader will like this book. The film rights were sold soon after Mr Wilson had started writing it. At times, especially when it is say, CCTV, it feels like Wilson is instructing the future director exactly how the film should look. It also means, however, that the narrative is very visual and very exciting. Some will like this, some won’t. Basically, it is an airport page turner which isn’t destined to be a thoughtful scifi classic but is entertaining in a Michael Crichton sort of way.

Personally, I loved it. Robopocalypse is what it is – a fun scifi romp that isn’t deep but is a good read. Next year it will be a Spielberg movie starring Anne Hathaway, so others seem to like it too. Enjoy.

For the US:

For the UK:

 

World War Z

World War Z by Max Brooks

I feel like the zombie fad is coming to an end. Here is probably its last big budget Hollywood gasp. World War Z is based on a superb book by Max Brooks. The book is set years after a zombie apocalypse had wiped out most of the planet and follows a guy who travels all over the world trying to make a coherent history of what happened. It is essentially a series of interviews or short story snapshops of how things happened.

The book is great and I heartily recommend it. Now there is a film with Brad Pitt. (Probably some other people too but who cares about them?) It seems like they have adapted to the story to Brad actually travelling all over the world and witnessing the outbreak first hand. For some reason. There looks to be a bucket-load of CG and zombies in exotic places. Like 28 days later but global and with a cast of multiple millions. It looks pretty fun in a braindead kind of way. (Hah, see what I did?)

Anyway. After legendary delays and problems, they have finally released a trailer. Watch the trailer, then read the book, then post comments on youtube about how crap it will be. Enjoy.
http://youtu.be/HcwTxRuq-uk
 

 

The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter


I am a huge fan of both Sir Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. So imagine my excitement when I first heard about this book. Here is the premise.

A mad scientist / quirky genius posts the blueprints for a really simple device on the internet. This device, powered by a potato, allows people to step into a parallel world. It turns out there are millions of parallel worlds – possibly even an infinite number. They are all slightly different. Some have other human or apelike lifeforms, some have dinosaurs, some don’t have a moon, and so on. You know the idea.

This immediately changes humanity. Suddenly we are a pioneering species again with unlimited land. There are no longer any worries about natural resources. Humans quickly spread across the parallel Earths. Or the Long Earths as they come to be known.

Into this setting we are introduced to two main characters. One is an Artificial Intelligence called Lobsang, who is the reincarnation of a Tibetan motorcycle repairman. The other is a slightly strange fellow called Joshua Valiente who doesn’t need a device to ‘step’ between the parallel worlds, he is a natural. They also have a cool robotic cat.  These three set off on an epic journey across the parallel worlds (or long Earths).

So it sounds pretty cool right? Like Sliders but written by Pratchett and Baxter!

I should stress that this is only part one of a trilogy. So don’t be too put off when I say that sadly, this didn’t fully do it for me. It is different from the stuff either author writes and in some ways that is good. This is a ‘bigger’ story than Pratchett usually writes – he tends to focus on characters and situations. Conversely the characters are a bit more memorable and likeable than Baxter normally goes for.

But it just didn’t quite work. Why? The characters were good but you never feel like you fully know them and they are consequently hard to relate to or care about. My favorite character was the robot cat (definitely a touch of Pratchett humour there).

I know this is part of a trilogy but about halfway through the book I was quite looking forward to something happening. There are too many Earths that are the same. Hundreds of thousands are just ‘forest-like’. I was not necessarily hoping for Sliders or Heinlein’s Job or similar, but a bit more variety would have been fun. There are some more interesting worlds, with dinosaurs or covered in water or whatever, but they are so far apart the rest is a bit slow. Then, when they are found, not much happens.

So, sorry to say, The Long Earth didn’t grip me the way I hoped given Pratchett and Baxter being the writers. There were some great moments and some funny scenes (thanks Mr Pratchett) and there is a superb science fiction premise whose ramifications are really well explored (thanks Mr Baxter), but the characters and action left me underwhelmed.

But still, give it a go. You might like it. I have sounded quite negative in this review but keep one thing in mind: I will definitely be reading the rest of the series. So it can’t be all bad. This is Pratchett and Baxter for Christ’s sake!

To buy in the US: The Long Earth Paperback

To buy in the UK: The Long Earth Paperback

The Legend of Conan

King Conan

It seems increasingly likely that Conan will be hitting our screens once more in The Legend of Conan. With Arnold Schwarzenegger back in the head-lopping eponymous hero’s blood caked pants! How bloody exciting is that for a life long fan of the Cimmerian adventurer?

I’ll tell you: it’s fairly exciting. Nothing more.

Apparently the new movie is going to be set 30 years after the original John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian film and will skip the events of both Conan the Destroyer and the more recent re-imagining by Jason Mamoa. So surely I should be excited. The thing is, the original movie was by far the best and it didn’t really do it for me.

I should point out here, that I have been a massive fan of Conan since the age of 10. There are few people on the planet who were more of an expert on Conan that I was by the age of 13. By that point I had read every Conan novel that existed. My Savage Sword of Conan collection still takes up a small corner of the spare room at my parent’s house.

If Milius’s movie had been a straight Barbarian fantasy movie then I would have loved it. But this was Conan and I didn’t think they had got it right. Arnie was wrong for the role. Conan was quick witted – a survivor. He wasn’t just big, he was also quick and savagely well coordinated. He could be sullen with a fierce violent anger one minute then a joyful ‘let’s have a pint and wench’ kind of guy the next. He lived life to the absolute max and oozed lady-impressing barbarian charm while doing it. Arnie just came across as big, dumb, and fairly violent. Physically, Mamoa was a much better Conan and he was better with a sword and could speak and stuff.

Having said all that, Arnie may now be almost perfect as the Barbarian King in The Legend of Conan. Few people can match his physique at his age and he still seems pretty limber for a 65 year old. He also has considerably more charisma and leadership skills thanks to Californian election charisma wizards. So I’m actually ok with him now.

The problem I have is with how the movie is likely to go. Hollywood is bollocks at moral ambiguity most of the time. Conan is a decent guy at heart but he actually really enjoys a healthy bit of violence and is very quick to stab someone in the face if they’re annoying. He’s a bit like a Barbarian James Bond but he isn’t doing it to save the World, he just does it because it’s who he is and it’s a laugh. I just don’t think they will pull that off.

But most damning of all is this from the Dark Horizons website:

“Chris Morgan (“Fast Five,” “Wanted”) has created the story and nicknames it “Conan’s Unforgiven.” He could be writing the script depending upon his scheduling as he also has to shortly pen a script for a possible seventh “Fast and Furious” film to follow the currently shooting sixth one. Morgan will also produce.” (http://www.darkhorizons.com/news/25359/arnie-returns-for-legend-of-conan)

So that’s the story and the calibre of writing they are going for. Also worrying is that it may not even be R rated.

I have waffled on a lot longer than the paragraph I intended to write. I just care that’s all. Read a Robert E. Howard Conan story and think how brilliant a Conan film could be. (They were written 80 years ago and are therefore “classics”.) I’m trying not to be excited as I know I will probably be disappointed.

Here’s a gratuitous picture for no reason except that Frank Frazetta painted a good Conan.

Conan at the end of the weekend.

 

 

 

 

Kraken by China Mieville

Kraken by China Mieville

 

I’m a big fan of Mieville. I thought in particular Perdido Street Station and The City and The City were great reads filled with imagination and enough action to keep me at least a little bit toward the edge of my seat.

Kraken is imaginative and a lot more exciting, but for some reason it didn’t do it for me.

Here is the plot:

Billy Harrow works in a wing of the Natural History museum in London. Their main exhibit is a giant squid preserved in a huge glass container. One day, someone steals the giant squid in an impossible crime. Billy then gets caught up in a world where there are weird cults and and gods and people who can pretty much do magic.

Kraken is exciting and inventive with moments of genius. There is also no denying that Mieville is a good writer. I think part of the problem is that people seem to be able to do too much magicky stuff so that what initially seemed cool and baffling is easily explained by just saying ‘Oh yeah, someone has the power to do that’.

I also felt the book suffered because I have read a Neil Gaiman book recently and this feels like a less well thought out version of Neverwhere. (Which is great!)

If you haven’t read any Gaiman recently and you don’t mind magic as a plot device/excuse/escape and just fancy a fun sequence of chases and weirdness, then you might enjoy Kraken. I’d probably advise another Mieviille book if you are new to his stuff though.

If you feel like ignoring me, the book is available here:

In the US: Kraken
In the UK: Kraken