Category Archives: Books

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
 

The Stars my Destination by Alfred Bester

The Stars my Destination by Alfred Bester

When Gulliver ‘Gully’ Foyle is first introduced he is adrift in a crippled spaceship and although he has been there for 6 months, ‘he is not quite dead’. He’s described as having lots of potential but is generally too lethargic to actually do anything. He is also, clearly, a mega survivor. Then a spaceship called Volga flies by and sees him. He rejoices thinking he is saved. But when the Volga ignores him and sails off we start to see some of that potential being realised because Gully Foyle becomes a transformed man. A raging, driven, unstoppable, mental bastard, to be precise. Foyle vows revenge on the Volga, fixes his spaceship enough to get it moving, and sets about destroying his enemies.
This is the start of a personal journey for him and he grows and develops into a more cultured and educated man. He is still a raging nutter though.

The Stars my Destination is essentially The Count of Monte Cristo in space. Gully Foyle has to be one of the most single minded anti-heroes of all time.

The joys of the book are in its inventiveness, ideas, and ultimately a sense of wonder. Some of the characters, scenes and events are a joy to read. While Gully Foyle isn’t particularly likeable, you can’t help admiring his sense of purpose – his willingness to utterly screw someone over if they stand between him and his goal.

My only criticism would be that the story feels a bit disjointed. It feels a bit episodic, which is understandable as this was how the book was originally released.

The Stars my Destination is a classic of the genre. Chock full of cool ideas from the start, it just gets better and better as the book continues and the ideas flow. If you are a fan of Science Fiction you have probably already read it. If not, you damn well should. Volga!
For the UK: The Stars My Destination (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
To buy in the US: The Stars My Destination

 

 

Harry Harrison

Harry Harrison

It’s a sad day. Harry Harrison, a legend of Science Fiction, has passed away. R.I.P Mr H.

I’ve always been meaning to write about a couple of Science Fiction writers that I loved when growing up and who should be a million times more famous. The first was Edmund Cooper (about whom I will write one day) and the second was Harry Harrison. In respect I will write about some of his work that I loved and you might enjoy. Like I did with J.G. Ballard. Hopefully you will feel intrigued to read more.

Harrison is quite well known mostly due to The Stainless Steel Rat series and Make Room! Make Room! which eventually became the movie Soylent Green. And we all know what that is.

The Stainless Steel Rat series

The Stainless Steel Rat

 

The Stainless Steel Rat is an epic series that follows career criminal ‘Slippery’ Jim DiGriz. There aren’t many humorous Science Fiction authors for some reason but these books are great. In a future where criminal behaviour is usually detected at birth very few bad guys slip through the gaps. Jim DiGriz is one such guy and he is roguish and generally cool. He then starts to meet others of his ilk… Highly recommended space romp fun.
Click here to buy in US
Click here to buy in the UK

 

Bill the Galactic Hero

Bill the Galactic Hero

The first book is a classic and another example funny space adventure. Instead of a quick witted criminal the protagonist here is the slightly dim, but highly determined ex-farmhand Bill. He enlists in the space marines and has a ton of adventures. Usually funny ones that frequently end with him losing a limb which, due to army supply problems, means he often has  mismatched anatonomy – two right arms and an animal foot for example. Most of the follow ups (with other authors) weren’t too great, but the original is superb.
Click here to buy in the US
Click here to buy in the UK
Make Room! Make Room!

Make Room! Make Room!

As mentioned, this was became the classic Soylent Green. This is most definitely not a comedy but it is a classic dystopian tale of planetary overcrowding. The novel is great and the writing is superb. You should give it a go.
Click here to buy in US
UK – Make Room! Make Room! (Penguin Modern Classics)

 

 

The Deathworld series

Deathworld

I will stop saying “I loved this” but I really did. Maybe because I first read it when I was 12, the main character is called Jason, and everything is pretty cool. It was either this or Stainless Steel Rat that I read first and they both sealed my admiration for Harrison.

The story features a guy called Jason dinAlt who is a professional gambler. He is also psionic which means he can cheat at dice. Which is exactly the sort of life I should lead. When he gets hired by a guy to win a load of money he becomes intrigued by the guy’s home planet. Which is seriously deadly. There are earthquakes, volcanoes, huge tidal disruptions massive storms and so on. All life is predatory: huge animals can crush vehicles and eat you whole, smaller animals are vicious and/or poisonous, even the plants are carnivorous and deadly. dinAlt is intrigued and ends up there and has awesome adventures.
Click here to buy in the US
Click here to buy in UK

The Eden series

Here is the premise. The massive asteroid that killed the dinosaurs never hit. Dinosaurs continued to evolve until some became clever, developed speech, weapons, war, houses, mail order porn and so forth. (Maybe not the latter, it has been a while.) Unfortunately an ice age is coming which means there are increasing amounts of dinosaurs being pushed into colder areas. And there be humans… They don’t get on and it is all tremendously exciting.
Click here to buy in the US
Click here to buy in the UK

Captive Universe

A standalone novel that is just awesome. If you like some of Brian Aldiss’ work, you will love this. Two Aztec-like tribes live on either side of a river. No one, as far as they know, can ever cross as there is a monster in the river. I can’t reveal more as it will give things away but things aren’t what they seem. A great read.
Click here to buy in the US
Click here to buy in the UK

The Hammer and the Cross series

Historical fiction as violent vikings cross the north sea and have massive bloody battles with the Brits. Tremendously exciting and awesomely violent fun.
Click here to buy in US
Click here to buy in the UK

Homeworld trilogy

It is the future and it is paradise. Except it isn’t really, it is pretty dystopian.
Click here to buy in the US
Click here to buy in UK

Harry Harrison wrote over 80 books. They range from comic, dystopian, historical, alternate history, to space adventure and more. Some are just light fun, some have a bit more bite. There is something for everyone. I read nearly all his stuff when I was in my teens and am now going to read lots of them again. If you haven’t read his stuff, I recommend you try.

 

Prepare for Dystopia!

I think I’m ill. Possibly it is brain related. That is why I haven’t had a chance to write much recently. I’ve also been doing 84+ hour work weeks and am at a mental stage of my degree, but that doesn’t normally stop me writing. This is something much more sinister.

It all happened last week when I was idly browsing the interweb and looking at trailers. After watching Dredd and Total Recall again, I thought I would check outsomething different. I came across the trailer for Rec 3 and clicked play.

Then it happened.

My brain said, ‘Oh not another zombie film.’ I know, right? Scary thoughts. Since then I have been in shock. That part of my brain has since been shunned by the other parts. To be fair to my usually awesome brain, there have been a lot of zombies on our screens recently and there are more to come. Hollywood and the TV industry loves to find something popular with the public and then bombard us with it until we are bored. Or in this case, shoot it in the head repeatedly until we are bored. At present the zeitgeist is for zombies. This overlapped and largely replaced the vampire fad, which was a good thing as vampires are shit. For people without mirrors, they are way too vain. In 6 months everyone will be a bit bored of the undead in general and ready for something new. What will that be?

I think it will be dystopia and thanks to the ability to edit these entries, I have never been wrong. Dystopian themes have never really been satisfactorily played out and with today’s special effects and global concerns, it is overdue in my opinion. I love a good dystopian vision, it makes my current work situation seem ok. (Although I could just visit pretty much any factory in a third world country to get that perspective.) We recently had The Hunger Games. I have neither seen it nor read it, but it is on on my kindle in a queue. Soon we’ll have the aforementioned Total Recall and Dredd. Total Recall isn’t strictly dystopian but most people in it seem to be having a pretty shit time which makes it count. The mutants in particular have a bit of a downer (except the triple breasted whore who is always refreshingly feisty and upbeat). Dredd is classic dystopia. If this becomes a full fledged meme then we can probably look out for a whole slew of dystopian remake fun.

I know what you are thinking. Scifiward is never wrong and I want to get ahead and become an expert on dystopia to impress my nerdy friends. What should I read or see? Here we go…

Logan's Run

Logan’s Run has been rumoured already, which would be great as it will hopefully lead to the books being released again. The first two Logan’s Run books are superb and are impossible to find. Feel free to send me one to prove me wrong as I have misplaced my copies. The original film is well worth watching and even has a naked Jenny Agutter in it. It takes part in an enclosed world where everyone gets wasted and and takes drugs and shags each other until they are 30. When they are killed. (In the book it’s 21!) Some people decide they aren’t all that keen on dying so run for it. They are hunted down by people like the eponymous Logan.

I’d be surprised if 1984 isn’t redone at some point. It’s famous and has Big Brother in it, so most people have already kind of heard of it. The book is brilliant.

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, apparently inspired 1984 (and lots of others). This is a society where all the buildings are made of glass and everyone has to wear the same thing. Most guys would probably be ok with this.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is another literary classic. In it, everyone is split into a caste system. Alphas are allowed to develop naturally but all the others are almost clonelike and stupid and do menial tasks and factory work – their intelligence purposefully reduced so they are happy. Everyone is taught to consume and dispose in order to keep full employment. Like Logan’s Run, getting off your tits and having meaningless sex is a pretty respected way to spend an afternoon.

Fahrenheit 451. This is my actual copy.

Fahrenheit 451 by the late and lamented Ray Bradbury. Here, books are banned. In the book we learn that this arose from people watching too much TV and media and the book started to die out. So they banned it and now everyone just watches TV and the state rules a docile population. Pretty accurate isn’t it? (Blogs are probably just a shallow media and won’t count.) Bradbury was exploring themes of censorship and the alienation caused by certain media. There is also a pretty good film made of Fahrenheit 451 with Julie Christie.

As a side note, Christian Bale was in a film called Equilibrium which not many people liked but I actually thought was ok. It is pretty much Fahrenheit 451 except emotion is banned and everyone is drugged up.

Children of Men

Another more recent dystopian vision is the awesome Children of Men. I haven’t read the book by P.D. James (which surprises myself) but I will soon. The film is excellent and is nowhere near as famous as it should be. The premise here is that all men are now infertile and no one is having babies any more. Society gets bummed out by this.

There are plenty of other books depending on your style which I can’t be bothered to explain. For example Margaret Atwood wrote the famous Handmaid’s Tale (which I hated) and Neal Stephenson wrote the fairly well known Snowcrash (which I loved).

Movie-wise here are some examples you may have already seen but which I really like:

Robocop, Wall-E, Soylent Green, THX 1138, Rollerball, Aeon Flux, V for Vendetta, 12 Monkeys, Battle Royale, Gattaca, Metropolis, Sleeper.

So there you go. Dystopia! You’ve got to love it. For some reason, it is a much more acceptable face of science fiction. Maybe because everyone sees the stories as allegories for modern politics and freedom and censorship. Maybe it’s because respected usually non-scifi writers have written some dystopian tales. Or maybe because people are just dumb and should be told what to do. Whatever, it is a great sub-genre.

Check back here in a year’s time and I will probably be gloating about how right I was. Either that or I will be ruling all you proles and you will have to praise me all the time anyway. Either is good.

Leviathan Wakes: Book One of the Expanse series


I loved this book. It is pure old school space adventure, action and excitement that in my opinion really works. Here’s the plot:
Jim Holden is XO on a ship that finds The Scopuli, a derelict vessel that holds an ominous and far-reaching secret. He reveals unwisely reveals some of this secret and suddenly everyone in the solar system seems to be trying to kill him. And each other. It seems that a girl called Julie Mao somehow escaped the destruction of The Scopuli and as well as simply trying to survive, Jim and his plucky crew decide to try and find her.

Meanwhile, in a city inside the hollowed-out dwarf planet Ceres, a burnt out detective called Miller is assigned to hunt for a missing girl. Her name is Julie Mao (same name as above, in case you have the attention span of a small child).

Things escalate and collide and explode and develop and so forth.

As I said at the start, this book is awesome. It was quite refreshing to read something that simply sets out to be readable adventure. This is Space Opera but one that is confined to our solar system and to sub-light speeds. It is a very believable, well realized, and almost familiar setting. Most of the action is set around the mining colonies in or near the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. When the war kicks off between the older established inner planets with their huge advanced space fleets and the less powerful but more adaptable outer planets there is also a sort of race issue going on. Those who grew up in a lesser gravity are noticeably taller and thinner. Like space supermodels. This difference between ‘Belters’ and Inner Planet types is soon put into perspective when an even bigger threat looms but never fully goes away.

Holden and his crew are superbly fleshed out characters and you really get to know and understand them as they embark on one set of adventures after another. At first Miller is a tiny bit of a cliche – down on his luck once great detective but now drinks too much, kind of a guy. But then he starts to develop in some pretty unsuspected ways.

The secret at the core of the book is great too but I can’t really reveal it. At first it seems to just be about who is trying to start a system-wide war but then there’s a whole new angle. A cool one at that.

I can’t recommend this book enough if you are simply after a damn good read. There are battles between ships, shootouts in ships and on/in planets, secret organisations, powerful companies, corrupt governments, pirates, rebels, and a whole load of other stuff I can’t mention. Some of the scenes and set pieces are just genius in their levels of excitement.

As an added bonus, the sequel has just come out.

In summary then: brilliant.

To buy in the US:
Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse)

For the UK:
Leviathan Wakes: Book One of the Expanse series

 

Fantastical Literature Travel Posters

Science Fiction Destinations

This is, indeed, fantastic. If you are a Science Fiction fan, (and given where you are that’s likely,) you will recognize a lot of these. The Fantastical Literature Travel Agency Poster Project has recreated Science Fiction locales as travel destinations and quite frankly they look superb. Here’s the blurb from the esteemed head of the project, Autun Purser:

H. P. Lovecraft...

“I love those old travel posters from the 1950s etc… They used to make travel seemexciting and adventurous. Now most of us get on a cheap airline and fly off to a rubbish hotel in Spain for a week for our holidays…

…Science Fiction and Fantasy books also used to be a pinnacle of excitement and adventure.Today however, the lure of DVDs, computer games and comics has dragged attention away from some outstanding stories…

…With this project I will try and put together a set of 30 posters advertising the fantastical destinations featured in fiction books… As was commonly the case in the 1950s, I will limit the travel posters I produce to a set of defined colours (a limited palette) and use only typefaces used on historical posters… This will ideally give the posters a striking look and a unified feel…”

 

In addition to these posters there will be further input from some guest artists. There will also be a book featuring all this awesome art with reviews and thoughts from some writers.

This project looks great. I really need a bigger house as I want these on my walls.
For more information, here is the website: