20,000 Leagues under the Sea (1870) by Jules Verne

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Interesting Fact: I had always thought twenty thousand leagues referred to the depth attained in this masterwork. Then I looked it up. 20,000 Leagues would be all the way through the earth and about one third of the way to the moon besides. The distance discussed in the title refers to the twenty thousand leagues the narrator and his companions traveled, whilst under the sea. Good to know…

Interesting crap aside, I really enjoyed this novel. It was brilliantly written and there is no doubt in my mind as to why it is a classic. Strange though it may seem, this is a science fiction novel. It was written when enormous, self sustaining submersibles were but a thing of the imagination. Interestingly enough Jules Verne predicts the widespread arrival of such craft to within a decade of their actual creation. The story takes place in the late eighteen hundreds and sees the narrator, Professor Pierre Arronax, his servant, Conseil, and master harpooner, Mr Ned Land, taken aboard the Nautilus, a super advanced submarine, owned, built and captained by the mysterious Captain Nemo. It seems Nemo has special reasons for building this unknown behemoth and as the story unfolds it is easy to be swept up in the fantastical descriptions of the unknown depths of the world’s oceans. Truly this is a masterful story with twists and turns and a subtle hint of magic about the air. It was lovely to read.

One of the best things about this story is the steampunk style that pervades the visuals that Arronax describes. It is a brassy, steam filled world with fancy homemade innovation and subtle reminders of a time when the monsters in the world were so frightful that the technology of man was barely enough to hold them at bay. If you are a fan of that genre you will be well pleased by this tale. If you aren’t a fan of the awesomeness that is steampunk, go and fix your problem dude. Seriously, that’s like, weird…

The story is a tried and true trope these days but in my mind that is more of a reason to read the original than anything that has come subsequently and it doesn’t disappoint. It can be a little slow at times but that is merely accurate of the time and place that the story is set. The e-book for 20,000 leagues under the sea is free and a quick net search will find it without hassle.

Grab a real nice hardcover from your favorite hidden bookstore, one of the new cheap orange reprints at your favorite big bookstore, download for free on your phone, e-reader, or tablet or give the excellent audiobook a whirl, but whatever the method, read this book.

Five Stars.

The Tournament (2013) by Matthew Reilly

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Wow, it seems that Matthew Reilly has grown up. Hardly surprising if you’ve followed his story in the recent past. This novel is full of sex, violence, chess, sex, intrigue and sex. Plus there’s a bunch of sex.

Matthew Reilly has always been one of my favorite authors. Mostly because a Matthew Reilly novel is not particularly different than a movie. You sit down for two or three hours, bullets fly, some stuff explodes, someone drives a WRX like a skateboard and does a boardslide on a guardrail to aviod an oncoming truck before clipping a nearby helicopter which pushes the WRX back onto the road at the last second. You know, the usual…

‘The tournament’ however marks a significant departure from Matthew Reilly’s comfort zone. This is an interesting attempt to bring together several subjects that were clearly holding his attention this year. This novel is written predominantly from the perspective of Queen Elizabeth I of England as a 13 year old girl in the 1550s. It is a strange perspective to see but Reilly pulls it off with flourishes and twists that put Dan Brown’s 2013 offering Inferno to shame. Maybe I’m just impressed because there were no magical anti-bullet magnetic shields running about in the 16th century (just quietly there aren’t today either but the less said about the Jack West Jr Series the better).

In all honesty this is easily Reilly’s strongest novel to date and I hope it is a sign of things to come from one of my favorite authors. The novel takes place as young ‘Beth’ is wisked away to Constantinople by her teacher the famed Roger Ascham to see the world’s first ever international chess tournament. A keen player herself Beth is delighted by the opportunity to see sixteen of the finest players in the world compete but also by the stange sights and smells of this faraway land. I mentioned Dan Brown earlier for a reason. Both Inferno and The Tournament take place in Turkey (albeit at different times in history) and heavily feature the Haggia Sophia and the streets of Istanbul/Constantinople as their main locations. They are both excellent writers and novels but in this case I feel that the sights and smells and sounds brought to my inner eye by Reilly simply outstripped the Brown offering.

The feel of 16th century Turkey set firmly in your mind, Reilly takes you on a detective journey, reminiscent of ‘Sherlock Holmes’ or ‘Da Vinci’s Daemons’ while reveling in the atmosphere of a city under the spell of an event the likes of which had never been seen. The different factions that visit the city under the guise of attending the tournament are subtly drawn from more modern conceptions but that only helps to bridge the 500 year gap between today and the story’s setting. It is a complex juggling act but Mattew Reilly shows he is up to the task.

All told this is a very fine novel and very worthy of your next read. It is quite adult content so definately a parental guidance kinda thing…

4 Stars

Inferno (2013) by Dan Brown

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It seems like Robert Langdon is at it again. He wakes up in a hospital with a head wound and no idea how he got there. As expected in a Dan Brown novel everything is not as it seems. The story moves along at a decent pace but I can help but feel that once again I have been tricked into reading an elaborately concealed Mills and Boon novel. Every single character has one ‘fatal’ flaw in their personality that will eventually turn out to be the thing that saves or at least redeems them. People will lie, cheat, steal and betray but only for the best of reasons. All in all I think that Langdon deserves a rest. It is time for Dan Brown to move back to stand alone novels. Both Deception Point and Digital Fortress were wonderful books with intriguing characters. Inferno is full of colourful characters but they all seem forced. This whole idea could have been conveyed through a new, unknown character while the venerable professor stayed home. Once again Robert Langdon goes through the story without learning anything. He had the answers all along, he just needed to remember them…

My main issue with this book is it’s seemingly blasé attitude towards Eugenics. The whole novel reads like culling the human population like animals is a good, noble and ethical goal and if people have the power to genetically modify the human genome they should do it despite the fact that we know nothing of the long term side effects of such an endeavour. If we can bring back the Black Plague to wipe out 1/3 of the current global population (or about two and a half billion people) then we should do it, again without regard to how such a plague would spread with today’s unprecedented global connectivity. All in all this book reads like a eugenicist’s manifesto, a ‘how to’ for global population control.

The ‘bad guy’ in this book doesn’t even really exist. In Dan Brown’s finest (and simultaneously worst) twist yet there is no bad guy. The reader is the bad guy for having 2.3 children. This could be such a promising race if only there wasn’t so much human fodder clogging the system. Never mind the fact that the ‘fodder’ is the only reason anyone has evolved to be smart enough to actually think they could fiddle with Human DNA. I waited and waited as I read through the novel hoping against hope that someone would come up with the real answer to exponential population growth. Unfortunately the idea that too few own too much and that a redistribution of wealth, a rethinking of values and understanding that humanity is not a senseless virus on the verge of self destruction is the only logical way to address this issue does not feature in this book. It pretends to say that Eugenics is wrong for a little while but it isn’t long until Dan Brown’s real feelings on the matter are known. He wants to keep his billion dollars and he doesn’t want the rabble getting in the way (other than buying the next book of course).

tl:dr – This is a well written novel and I recommend reading it as long as you plan on reading further into the issues discussed in the book. Be prepared for a lopsided view of how humanity works and be prepared to answer the question Dan Brown almost gets around to asking, “if there was a magical button that could kill 1/3 of the human population overnight, how long would it take for some rich arsehole to press it without consulting the masses?…”

3 Stars

A Wrinkle in Time (1962) by Madeline L’Engle

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A wrinkle in time by Madelene L’Engle is a fascinating book written in 1962 by a mother for her young children (the youngest being five at the start) and reading them her pages each night at bed time after writing during the day. The kids would beg to hear what was happening with the precocious little characters who stick in one’s heart and mind like favorites from Harry Potter or Narnia or the Hobbit/tLotR(insert favorite childhood series here).

I have to be honest. I did not know what I was getting into when I read this book. It is in the top 100 sci-fi books of all time. It is ranked 36th. A book written for children. And yet it warms my cockles. A wrinkle in time is beautifully written, well conceived and sure to be loved by people of any age with an open heart and a vivid imagination.

tl;dr – this is a marvelous book that is suitable for children aged 5-6+ though adults will enjoy. Think Clive Barker’s wonderful universes if her wasn’t so ridiculously scary. Read aloud to kids of a night. For a real treat the author reads the audiobook. You can hear how her kids heard it each night.

5 stars.

Fevre Dream (1982) by George R. R. Martin

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I really don’t know where to start. This is a vampire novel. It was written by the author of a game of thrones in 1982. It is easily the best genre fiction I have ever read. It is one of the best novels I’ve ever read regardless of category.

And it isn’t Twilight.

Cap’n Abner Marsh is a stocky riverboat captain plying his trade on the Mississippi river in the late 1850s. In one terrible winter he loses all but one of his paddlesteamers to ice flows. The story starts with Marsh meeting a man named Joshua York for dinner late one evening. York wants to buy into Marsh’s business and build him a new bigger better boat. It is a dream come true. But on her maiden voyage the Fevre Dream starts to build a reputation that Cap’n Marsh doesn’t like. People are starting to ask questions about the strange hours that York keeps and the company with which he spends his nights.

In true GRRM style the story is full of woe, misery and death. one thing that Martin explores consistently in this novel (and many of his others) is polar opposites. How different are humans and vampires? Is the blood drinking all that separates us? How quickly can something turn from beauty to decay, from happiness to sorrow, from life to death? GRRM is always fantastic but something in this novel lingers with you and I think it might be his best work.

Another theme frequently referenced in this novel is the slave trade that was so prevalent in the years before the civil war. It is suggested that slaves and masters is a concept stolen from vampires by humans attempting to exert some control over their short hectic lives. The main character himself would be an abolitionist but “they’re all a bunch of bible thumpers”. this issue is discussed from many different angles and GRRM makes quite a few solid points.

The book also discusses Lord Byron’s poetry. The pieces chosen are dark and somber and moody and fit perfectly with the novel. All in all this is a perfect addition to the story, again showing beautiful things created by humans being destroyed and warped by vampires while simultaneously adding to the ‘world’ that GRRM is creating.

I guess why I enjoyed this book so much was the consistent surprises of the little details that frequently make GRRMs books so colourful and true to their setting. If you want to read a book by a master of fiction but don’t want to get stuck into the epicness that is a Game of Thrones then I suggest Fevre Dream as your first port of call. Then once he has you hooked you can move on to dreamsongs 1&2 and aGoT.

6 stars (one extra for not being Twilight…)

Ubik (1969) by Phillip K. Dick

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(Read in 40s style US radio advertisement voice)
Its that time again folks, time for the ever astounding, all amazing Book Review! Safe when used as directed…

Today’s review is on Ubik (1969) by Phillip K Dick. I’m glad I checked out the audio book. The title is pronounced you-bic. What exactly Ubik is or means is a bit of a mystery but the story is engrossing and suitably weird from the author who dreamed up such crazy sci fi as Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly, Blade Runner, Total Recall and The Adjustment Bureau.

It is 1992 and the world has undergone dramatic changes over the course of 23 years. Psykers and precogs and telekenitics and every type of mental power imaginable from resurrection to floating a coin ala Looper has manifested amoung the populace to the extent that negative talents (inertials) are sought after for many reasons. The story focuses on one such firm run by Glen Runciter. The technology to freeze the dead and reestablish communication with them telepathically has also been invented and Glens wife is in ‘cold pack’ living ‘half life’

It gets pretty confusing from then on. Not to say that PKD doesn’t absolutely nail the story. The talking door is a real highlight. Classic and quirky. No, the confusing parts are where the author discusses the soul, and the afterlife and every facet of the massive mental control available to the average human being. He integrates them well but it is all a bit overwhelming.

And overwhelming does describe the overall journey you take in reading Ubik. It is a strange and obtuse universe with a palpable extra sensory aftertaste that haunts you for days. Maybe the book isn’t that sci fi after all…

tl;dr – Ubik is intense and fulfilling and should be read when no interruptions are forth coming. Prepare to ask “what the…?” and feel as dumb as you did the first time you saw Inception. You remember… Embarrassing-dumb…

4 stars.