Category Archives: Books

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:

Worth Their Weight in Blood by Carole Jahme


I’ll level with you. Like most of the world over 30 I’m a bit bored with vampires and their stupid goth pallor and teenage girl appeal. Thanks Twilight. Consequently I wasn’t 100% eager to read Worth Their Weight in Blood by Carole Jahme. But read it I did and I was suddenly reminded that vampire novels and films can be pretty cool and can be found outside the Young Adult section and don’t always contain awkward teen romance.

In my youth I loved the movies/books Near Dark, Fright Night, The Lost Boys, Blade, Salem’s Lot and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Then there are books like I am Legend by Richard Mattheson – a vampire tale told from a different angle that is both awesome and kind of sad. And who can forget Buffy who was both a teenager and fell in love but was pretty cool to watch.

The vampire genre is actually pretty versatile and I was pleased that Carole Jahme has tried something a bit different. She has a master’s degree in evolutionary psychology and generally knows about all that evolution stuff. Her angle on the genre is to treat vampires as just another humanoid offshoot along with Neanderthals, the Indonesian pygmy and us homo sapiens.

The story revolves around a lady called Scarlett Fox, who is a single mum that lives in a village in Oxfordshire. She’s unemployed and understandably bored with life. Then a mysterious blood research facility called the Zomnifers Institute opens up nearby. Around this time a family of four are found burnt to death near some ancient stones. Scarlett gets a job at the institute looking after a chimpanzee they have but she starts to notice that things are a bit strange with her fellow astoundingly attractive workmates. I won’t give any more away but there are vampires involved.

I really enjoyed Worth Their Weight in Blood and liked the angle and direction that Jahme takes the story. There are some fascinating sections on evolution and evolutionary psychology weaved into the tale. There was only one section about the ability to self reflect that I felt went on a bit but that could have been because I had recently watched a documentary on that subject a week before at work. Otherwise the science stuff is well integrated and very readable.

The story is well paced and got me in. I found the very beginning a tiny bit slow but when things start to happen the scene is well set and the claustrophobia is in place so maybe I just have a short attention span. Looking back, I realise it was handled pretty well and it makes the events that follow that much more absorbing. Scarlett in particular is well fleshed out by the time weirdness starts to occur.

The vampires themselves are pretty cool. Jahme explains the evolution that led to them losing their empathy, so when things start get bloody it’s pretty understandable. Another nice touch is how Scarlett evolves throughout the story and how her development and thought processes are juxtaposed with the ape she is studying and the vampires she finds surrounding her.

In fact the only thing that bugged me about Worth Their Weight in Blood was the names. The vampires you can understand, as vampires tend to have odd names. They are the celebrity children of the undead. It was just that alongside the weirdly named vampires, you have Scarlett Fox’s family – her mum Red, and her daughter Ruby. It’s possible this is a coincidentally blood-coloured family tradition or destiny/vampire related and will be discussed in a later book but it felt weird. It’s a very mionr niggle though.

Worth Their Weight in Blood is definitely worth a read. Especially if you fancy a new twist on the genre. Carole Jahme is a Guardian journalist and science author and there is no doubt that she can write. If you like vampires and feel like a new take, check it out. Enjoy.
UK: Worth Their Weight In Blood
US: Worth Their Weight In Blood

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I loved Ready Player One! It gave me a massive nerdgasm, which is always nice thing to have.

Here’s the plot. Wade Watts is an 18 year who lives in a trailer stack in the year 2044. Essentially it’s a trailer park that has gone vertical due to poverty and planet-wide lack of resources. The world has turned to shite. Fortunately virtual reality is awesome and pretty much everyone spends all their time on an online game called OASIS. OASIS is almost as convincing as real life except that is much more fun and doesn’t smell. It’s basically a massively multiplayer online experience. Think Warcraft mixed with Second Life in virtual reality. There are practical applications for this – such as people can go to school there – but it is mostly a huge game.

The game consists of tons of planets each with a different theme that players can fly between (if they can afford it). So there are planets like Dungeons & Dragons, futuristic planets, cyberpunk worlds, social planets, shopping planets, futuristic warzones and so forth. The fact that there is so much variety, that the virtual world is as realistic as the real world, and that the world is gripped by poverty, means the game is played by billions. I know I would play it and my life is pretty awesome. The guy who invented the game is a multi-billionaire genius called James Halliday.

When Halliday dies a video is released. His entire fortune is up for grabs if people can find it. Somewhere in OASIS is a series of clues (known as easter eggs which are found in most games and lots of DVDs). These clues lead to tests and then keys that eventually lead to his treasure and fortune. An epic worldwide hunt is on.

The joy of Ready Player One is that it is such a great idea. Anything can happen. One minute the character is on an orbiting space station, the next he is fighting orcs in a dungeon, the next he is fighting in a huge battle on an alien planet. The whole concept is one that makes me genuinely sad that it isn’t a reality yet.

As I said, I loved Ready Player Onebut I am not 100% sure that everyone will. Most of the clues and a lot of the discussions relating to the hunt are based on Halliday’s obsession with nerdy things from when he grew up. His birthday in the book is given as being mid-June 1972. My birthday is the end of May 1972. I am a bit of scifi/games fan (you may have guessed by my superb website). All the things that Halliday was obsessed with are identical to myself.

This is why I loved it. For example he lists some of his favourite OASIS worlds –Arrakis Middle Earth, Vulcan, PernMagrathea, Midworld, Riverworld, Ringworld. If you are unfamiliar with any of these worlds, some of the references may pass you buy. To be honest, for me, they are just entry level Geek. Nerd 101. Later on he references authors: Douglas Adams, Kurt Vonnegut, Neal Stephenson, Terry Brooks, Alfred Bester, Ray Bradbury, etc. Holy trinities: Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, Mad Max, Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, Star Wars. He even loves old Twilight Zone and anything by Monty Python. Basically, if I was going to write a book filled with all my nerdiest obsessions from childhood (and beyond), they are listed here.

Then of course are the games. Not only was he a huge fan of old school D&D (on paper and spoken – the classic RPG) he also loved computer games. All the ones I did. I grew up in Hong Kong and spent a huge chunk of my childhood years in games arcades playing Gauntlet, Pac Man, Rampage, Star Wars, Galaxian, Defender and so on. Another huge chunk was spend on various games consoles and pc games that required a small pile of floppy discs just to play.

Adventure on the Atari

The main console in my life from about 7-13, was my beloved Atari 2600. In Ready Player One the whole idea for Halliday’s ‘egg hunt’ is from a game on this very console. A game called ‘Adventure’. I played that game so often that my mum still remembers it just from walking past me. It was basically a very crude fantasy game that had dragons and keys and mazes. One of the greatest days of my young life came when I found a secret room after literally months of play. Atari never allowed game makers to put their name on their work but one programmer hid a room deep in a maze in ‘Adventure’ that was unbelievably hard to find and had the game designer’s name in it. It was a minor sensation in the geek community and only a few of us ever found it. (Probably loads now but this was pre-internet.)

 

The hidden room in ‘Adventure’ was what gave Halliday the idea to hide his fortune in OASIS in the first place.

If you found any of the above boring or didn’t get any of the references to authors, games, planets, etc., you will miss a lot of references in Ready Player One.

The big question (if you have made it this far,) is: can I still enjoy it if I’m not someone as clearly obsessed with this shit as Scifiward or Ernest Cline or the fictional characters in the book? Will you still like it if you aren’t almost 40, having spent a life obsessed with Science Fiction, (plus games, comics, manga, RPGs, etc, etc)? The answer is yes. The book is a fun adventure in its own right. It isn’t all about games. There are also real life action, narrow escapes, romance and bad guys that blow shit up. Pretty much all you need really.

As you can tell, I fucking loved this story. Apparently it is rumoured to be a film soon. I can’t wait.
Ready Player One Paperback
Ready Player One Kindle edition

Nerd out.

The Forge of God by Greg Bear

The Forge of God by Greg Bear

The Forge of God is an acknowledged ‘classic’ of the science fiction genre. It tells the story of aliens arriving and they have a spectacularly miserable message.

The story begins with scientists noticing that Jupiter’s moon Europa has suddenly disappeared. Then three geologists in Death Valley find a dying alien who says, ‘I’m sorry I have some bad news.’ Apparently the Earth is doomed, DOOMED! Meanwhile in Australia some other aliens arrive and say that everything is great, let’s have a BBQ (the latter part isn’t true but that’s what Australians would probably do if they heard this news). What the balls is going on?

The Forge of God starts superbly. It grabs you and makes you eager to find out what is happening and how things will work out. Unfortunately, in my reasonably humble opinion, it then slows down and becomes a trifle plodding. Which is a shame. There are a few intriguing moments but generally I just wanted stuff to happen. Thankfully, at the end, stuff then happens in a BIG way.

The Forge of God has one of the most memorable endings ever. I can’t tell you about it without giving away a huge chunk of the novel but it is awe inspiring, beautifully written, and shocking. I can still remember all the scenes in vivid detail and I have read six other books in the month since reading it (I’ve been on holiday and they were mostly quite short, I’m not boasting).

So there you go. A great start and a great end with a mostly slow centre. Would I recommend The Forge of God to you? Yes. It is worth it for the end alone. Plus there is a sequel that is supposed to be pretty good and you can’t very well read that first. Hell, you might even enjoy the middle and I just have a short attention span. It is also a classic and you should always read classics. Enjoy.

 

Scifi in Chiangmai

Greetings fellow Scifi fans. Huge apologies for not having written much but I am currently in Laos – a place that is very far from the futuristic realms I always dream about. In fact it distinctly feels like the past.

Consequently, I don’t have a whole lot of Scifi related news. I am reading an awesome Scifi book though called Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Very heavily into the geek stuff, so it may not appeal to all. It seems to be aimed at someone exactly my age (nearly 40) who has grown up obsessed with computer games, Scifi, movies, comics, books, etc. The main character that causes this obsession in the book (although he isn’t the protagonist) has a birthday two weeks from mine in 1972. Spooky. Anyway, I will do a full review later.

I realised that a lot of people travel these days and my blatherings on this site get a surprising number of hits. So, and this may seem a bit random, I will give you a travel tip if you happen to be passing through Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Statistically, it is bound to happen (Chiang Mai gets millions of visitors a year and so will this site soon).

Near the Thapae gate just outside of the old city walls you will see a sign pointing to Gecko books. Go there. On that road are several sizeable second hand bookshops that have surprisingly good Scifi book sections. You can get old editions with the original cool artwork (which is a minor obsession of mine).

I bought ‘The number of the beast’ by Heinlein and ‘Empire Earth’ by Arthur C. Clarke and they both have awesome covers. Especially Empire Earth as it has a double cover thingy.

If you aren’t in Chiang Mai when you read this, you should definitely go there. I bet it’s warmer than where you are for a start.

Taft 2012 review

Taft 2012

Given the bizarre premise, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the satirical Taft 2012 by Jason Heller. I am pleased to report that I thoroughly enjoyed it and read it in two days – and that wasn’t just because I had a lot of time on my hands.

First off, the plot. Bear with me because it’s a weird one and really needs to be stated before I critique the novel.

Have you ever heard of the U.S. president William Howard Taft? I will forgive you if you haven’t as he was a one term president sandwiched between the much more famous presidencies of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. (I had only heard of him because during The Simpsons, it is revealed that Mr Burns’ mum had an affair with him. Homer: “Taft you old dog…”)

According to Taft 2012, while Taft was on his way to the inauguration of Wilson in 1912, he grew tired and lay down. He then promptly disappeared from history. Ninety nine years later he suddenly wakes up on the White House lawn covered in dirt. Once it is established that it is, inexplicably, ex-president Taft he becomes a celebrity. The American public has had enough of all the mudslinging of modern politics and the wars, terrorism, poverty and so on that seem to blight their lives. President Taft was known for being Progressive, tough on monopolies and big business and represents a return to a time when America was great and honest. So they call for Taft to put himself up for Presidency in the upcoming 2012 elections. Which he subsequently does.

So there you go. A pretty novel premise I think you will agree.

Surprisingly it works. It doesn’t really matter that Taft being around in modern times is never actually explained as it isn’t really trying to be a science fiction novel. Taft 2012 feels like a humorous, and occasionally touching, allegory on what is wrong with America and the West in general. Think of it as a witty essay on the state of the world. It isn’t all negative either, he likes playing golf on the Wii and joins twitter.

The story plays out in three acts. Taft coming to terms with where he is, Taft going on a mini road trip with his bodyguard and ‘connecting with the people’, and finally Taft campaigning for election. The ex-president is a device through which we can view our modern world through a fresh set of intelligent and honest eyes. Fortunately Heller makes us like Taft. He’s a huge man, over six foot and 300 pounds, so there are a lot of jokes about food and generally being a bit hefty. It is the humour and insight provided by Taft’s journey that makes Taft 2012 such an entertaining read. Some of the observations he makes are pretty obvious, some are just interesting truisms, some are a bit deeper. For example, while he marvels at technology like the internet and satellite TV, he also notices that it distances people and this lack of ‘face to face’ has lead to an increase in sarcasm and bitterness and the sort of behaviour you see in nearly every internet forum. The world is getting smaller but more anonymous.

The reason why Taft would make such a good leader is the fact that, unlike nearly every politician ever, he never actually wanted to be president. It’s a truism that anyone who desires power should automatically be barred from getting it. Taft unwittingly alters the famous Groucho Marx quote (which he had never heard) to: “I don’t want to be in any party that would have me as its leader.” He also points out that one thing that never changes is politics and he always hated it. This also allows him a unique perspective on events.

The are only a few criticisms I have of Taft 2012. The first is that it is a quick read. It could have been fleshed out a little more. It’s over 240 pages though, so maybe I’m just whinging. Another criticism that is that apart from Taft, the characters are a bit one dimensional. You are left wanting to find out a bit more about what happens to them. An argument against that could be that it doesn’t matter. They are there to represent things that Taft can relate to and comment upon. It feels a bit of a shame though because their reactions to him enhance and balance this commentary. These are minor niggles though.

I really enjoyed this book and heartily recommend it. I recommend it not as a science fiction novel but as a satirical book and a witty commentary on our times. Enjoy. Vote Taft!

 

The Uneven Passage of Time is free for two whole days!

I have decided to try the kdp free promotion day option. My trio of short stories, ‘The Uneven Passage of Time’ will be free for the 13th and 14th of January. It will then rocket back up to 77p. It is currently ranked #3 in the Amazon short stories section! I want #1!

PLEASE NOTE, THIS IS NO LONGER FREE. IT’S NOW ONLY 77P WHILE STOCKS LAST. WHICH IS INFINITE. BUY ANYWAY.

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

I just want a few more people to read it and possibly even review it. Journalism and TV is boring me and I want to write fiction full time! Selfish, I know.

John Carter of Mars

When I was a mere stripling lad of about 13 I was mildly obsessed with Conan the Barbarian books and comics. I loved the setting, the adventure, and a protagonist who lived his life the way he wanted – which mainly consisted of travelling, fighting, drinking, and shagging bargirls. This has obviously had no bearing on how I eventually grew to be the man I am. I haven’t had a fight in years and am married.

My dad then mentioned the John Carter of Mars series and I was hooked. The first book in the series is A Princess of Mars. John Carter is a prospector who for some reason has always been about 30 and can’t remember his childhood. At the beginning of the book he is chased into a cave by some Apaches who then look on in horror and leg it. He then wakes up on Mars. Edgar Rice Burroughs, the author (who also wrote Tarzan), never really bothers with explaining much and frankly it doesn’t matter. Carter is on Mars and is about 30 alright?

He is already pretty awesome with a sword and he soon finds that because Mars has a weaker gravity he is much stronger than the locals and can easy leap 9 foot green aliens with a single bound. He then hooks up with a hot princess, becomes a warlord, and sets about Mars twatting the bollocks out of anyone who is bad. Which turns out to be a lot of people.

So that’s the story of the book. It will be interesting to see how the upcoming film goes about doing it. Even though it’s Disney, it could be pretty good. Like a space Pirates of the Caribbean. The trailer looks cool. In case you think, ‘Well that looks a bit like…’ You are probably wrong. These books were written in 1911 and therefore are likely to predate anything you may have been about to say. So there. Anyway, enjoy the trailer, it looks great.
http://youtu.be/nlvYKl1fjBI
 

The Uneven Passage of Time

The Uneven Passage of Time

If you by one book this year make it this one. And also read more, that’s pathetic.

I have always banged on about writing fiction but have never actually published any. It isn’t about the thrill of seeing my name in print – my first job was in journalism, so that’s hardly a novelty. I lived for a couple of years writing for magazines in Bangkok recently and it’s a good lifestyle but not really what I wanted to do. It’s a bit dissatisfying writing for an editor and being told what to do and having to conform to the magazine or paper’s house style. That’s partly why I like my sites as I can just dick about.

I wanted to write fiction and I’ve finally got round to doing it. It isn’t the book I’ve been promising since I was 10 years old but it is A book. A short book. Three short stories in fact. I’ve written tons of short stories, they are fun to write and you don’t have to plan as much as you do with a full length novel. So I decided to group a few stories together and sell each little group for a pittance. That’s right. A pittance. Surely you can afford that? It’s not an excuse if you don’t have a kindle either. You can download the kindle app for free and read them on your computer, your phone, your iPad or whatever. For the cost of a fifth of a pint I’ll be disappointed if you don’t and will probabby shun you.

I found three stories that already had a sort of theme – time. Although they concern our passage through time they are all set in the modern age. There’s no travelling back and fighting dinosaurs or saving Kennedy or anything. They are more about people. Here’s the blurb:

Product Description

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.

So there you go. Give them a try. Here are the links.

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