Angel’s Flight (1999) by Michael Connelly

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Bosch is king.

Review done.

Seriously though, I can’t get enough of Harry Bosch. The hard boiled detective seems to take the hard path in each of Connelly’s novels but manages to make it through by sheer effort of will. Angel’s Flight is the sixth book in the Bosch series and out of the seven or eight I’ve read it was certainly the most brutal. Bosch always seems to leave a wake of dead good and bad guys in his wake and Angel’s Flight sets a new standard.

A prominent lawyer who specialises in suing the police is found murdered and all of Los Angeles is set to devolve into rioting and looting. Harry Bosch and his team are called in to investigate every lead be it a civilian or cop. At least that is what is said. Deputy chief Irvin Irving is a master of saying one thing and meaning another.

In true Connelly form there are multiple cases being worked on at once and Bosch seems more stressed than usual. This could be due to a number of factors. L.A is on the verge of self consumption. Elanor Wish has been running back to the cards and felt. Bosch has quit smoking. Everything is falling apart.

But don’t worry. Bosch will save the day. Because it’s Bosch.

I watched the pilot for the new Bosch tv show and I really hope that it gets picked up for more episodes.

My favorite book in the Bosch series so far. Recommended.

4 stars.

The Mote in God’s Eye (1974) by Larry Piven and Jerry Pournelle

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The Mote in God’s Eye tells the tale of a group of humans who travel to a stellar system to find and meet with the first sentient alien race to be found. The Moties are both physically and mentally quite different to humans and the authors do an excellent job of creating a rich and interesting culture to explore. The Mote in God’s Eye is probably the best novel I’ve read this year.

The Moties are quite strange, bearing three arms and a lopsided physiology. The little details about the aliens and their civilisation are what make the story so interesting. As the tale progresses we see more and more of their history, allowing an unparalleled look into this imaginary culture. The only author I can think of who includes more ‘little details’ is George R. R. Martin.

Another of my favorite authors, Robert A. Heinlein, consulted with the authors while they were writing the novel and is quoted as saying it is the finest scifi novel he had ever read. I am compelled to agree. The Mote in God’s Eye is fine story telling with twists and turns that leave the audience guessing till the last chapter.

The Mote in God’s Eye is a prime example of how Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke could have been better. In my last review I discussed my dislike of that novel despite not knowing why exactly. The Mote in God’s Eye has focussed that feeling by showing that a lack of conflict (or the tension that the possibility of conflict creates) makes for boring reading. The Moties are an unknown quantity just like the Overlords but the difference is that the Moties could be a distinct threat to the human empire. That conflict is so well realised that till the very end you will wonder what exactly is going to happen.

An excellent novel, the Mote in God’s Eye shows an insight into humanity through the distinctly inhuman Moties that asks as many questions as it answers.

5 stars

Childhood’s End (1953) by Arthur C. Clarke

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It has happened folks! This is my 15th review since beginning this project and this is the first time I haven’t enjoyed reading the story I chose. Childhood’s End is a well written novel and I’m not sure I can put my finger on what I didn’t like but there it is. My first negative review.

Childhood’s End focuses on a benign invasion of earth by aliens known as the overlords. Their coming brings about peace and prosperity and turns earth into a utopia. The story tells of the aliens and human interactions with them as they take control of international relations and institute many changes.

As the tale progresses through its three sections (Earth and the Overlords, The Golden Age and the Last Generation) humanity slowly loses what makes it human and eventually ‘perfect’ humans evolve. They are basically vegetables who are super telepaths.

I think that is one of the main things that threw me about Childhood’s End. In the end humanity is changed forever. I don’t really like endings where the author decides to change everything to something unknowable. Such sweeping changes are hard to imagine and always leave me wondering if there hadn’t been a better, more palatable ending available.

Another thing that annoyed me was the lack of a main character. Usually the best part of any story is watching as a character changes and grows through his or her experiences. There is little character development in Childhood’s End as is a third person omnipresent narrator who doesn’t focus on one person for too long.

When it all comes down to it I guess I just didn’t like this book. I usually love Arthur C. Clarke but Childhood’s End simply didn’t appeal to me. Have a read yourself and tell me why I’m wrong below.

2 stars.

Slaughterhouse Five (1969) by Kurt Vonegut

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Slaughterhouse Five (or the children’s crusade: a duty-dance with death) is a satirical scifi novel that focuses on a character that is unstuck in time. As the story follows Billy Pilgrim, an unwilling soldier during world war 2, he jumps around in time seeing his life in small flashes before and after he has lived it. Vonegut makes excellent use of non linear story telling and at no point does the reader really feel lost with whats happening.

The main setting for the story is in a slaughterhouse in Dresden before the famous bombing that levelled the city and killed over 100000 people. Billy and one of his companions, Roland Weary are captured at the battle of the bulge and transported to Dresden.

During his time jumps Billy variously visits his past and future, including being abducted by aliens and kept in a zoo, his death years later and manybthings between. Towards the end of his life Billy becomes something of a spiritual guru, giving speeches on the true nature of time and aliens and many things between. The story flows nicely despite all the jumps, proving through the way it is written that linear time is a myth clung to by humanity.

While being held by the aliens (known as Tralfamadorians) Billy learns about how they write novels. They take small stories that when read together form a vision of life in totality. The Tralfamadorians are similarly unstuck in time like Billy and they teach him alot about his ‘problem’.

Slaughterhouse Five is an exceptional novel and a great read.

4 stars.

Snow Crash (1992) by Neal Stevenson

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Snow Crash is, simply, an astounding book. In what could be seen as a futuristic satire or a cybepunk wet dream, Stephenson tells the story of a world that has taken alot of the ‘crazy’ elements that were becoming prevalent in the 90’s and enhanced them till they are at a whole other level of crazy. Pizza delivery, skaters, Mafia, franchises and the internet all make up big parts of the novel and the changes that have happened in this ‘world’ have been drastic and strange.

The Mafia/Yakuza/CIA run city states within the ruined hulk that is America in this dystopian world. Pizza delivery has become a fine art and skaters rule the streets as couriers delivering packages not trusted to ’employees’. The internet has become a virtual world where avatars can do basically anything u can think of (as long as you can program it). The American government is predominantly gone and the ‘franchises’ that offer protection within the city states they control are simple extensions of existing ‘criminal organisations’ that have filled the roll of government with varying degrees of success.

One thing I really love about this book is the character names. The main character’s name is Hiro Protagonist. He lives with a singer called Vitali Chernobyl. The main female character calls herself YT (stands for yours truly). The names throughout the book are great and they add a sense of fun to the proceedings.

All in all snow Crash deserves is place in the scifi halls of fame and is definitely worth a read.

5 stars.

War of the Worlds (1898) by H. G. Wells

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Orson Welles famously scared everyone half to death during his one hour radio play adaptation of The War of the Worlds. The first forty or so minutes were presented as a emergency broadcast relating events of a real invasion. Welles narrated the radio play in one of the best pranks ever. If you have been reading these reviews for a while now you may have noticed a certain science fiction trend in the books I choose. I am making my way through the ‘top 100 Sci Fi novels’ and The War of the Worlds sits pretty at no. 20.

The War of the Worlds tells of the invasion of earth by martians at the turn of the 20th century. This has been a frequently rehashed idea and even ignoring the genre which it birthed there are multiple war of the worlds movies and sequels and plays and adaptations galore. The idea of aliens arriving from space and attacking humanity clearly has a hold on the imaginations of entire generations of people and this novel (and it’s offshoots) explore a few key aspects of humanity and civilization with the lovely clip and pace of 1900s London (perhaps the most civilized civilization there ever was…) and it is thoroughly readable. Last year I read The Time Machine and I enjoyed that immensely. The War of the Worlds is, simply put, a better tale. The narration is better, the ebbs and flows are numerous and unexpected, and the characters are much more real.

The narrator tells of his own experiences during the invasion of earth by the enormous tripod martians, as well as his brothers experiences and a few of the people he meets during his flight from the war zone his home had become. Personally I quite like this narration style, it feels like sitting beside the fire and listening to stories with family during winter. The individual ebbs and flows are lost in translation to film, especially when the 2005 version staring Tom Cruise takes only the title, the description of the ‘baddies’, and the ending, and then jam it full of Hollywood dross to pad back out to 90 odd minutes. If there is another war of the worlds film I really hope they do it right and go with the late 1800s ascetic (so I can steampunk in my head…) and show the Maxim Guns firing while the hussars charge the alien tripods to no effect and then are cut down by the heat ray and so forth. Pipe Dream I’m sure…

There isn’t much to say about one of the most innovative novels ever written that hasn’t been said before. The War of the Worlds is a masterpiece of fiction and definitely one of the finest novels I have ever read. This, I’m sure, is Wells’ best work and if you are like me and want to experience alot of different writers then this is a great place to start.

Read it now!

5 Stars

 

 

 

Shift (2010) by Tim Kring and Dale Peck

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Shift is an alternate history novel written by the guy who made up Heroes the TV show and another author.  Together they have written a solid readable novel with a great twist on a timeless question. If you could somehow stop JFK (or any public figure for that matter) being assassinated what woukd happen?

Many writers have written in this vain, some of the better offers including Stephen King’s 11.22.63 (on how to go back in time to stop the JFK assassination) and Stephen Fry’s Making History (on how to go back in time to kill Hitler). Despite it’s frankly lame title, Shift is also a good attempt at alternate history. Kring and Peck bring together several topics that make their novel the most ‘believable’ of the group I’ve read. It’s still quite out there that said.

The first 85% of Shift are unrelated to the JFK assassination and if the cover and this review didn’t mention it then it might have been a surprise. Regardless the way that the internal politics of the early sixtys spy agencies play out are interesting and integral to the ‘world’ that the authors are attempting to build. A world of CIA, FBI, KGB, JFK and LSD. A world where one man can decide to kill another man in an attempt to bring about world war. A world we almost live in every day.

There are many allusions to conspiracies within the book but given its timeframe and setting they are fairly straight forward and clean cut. Like in 11.22.63, the authors have accepted that Lee Harvey Oswald was the shooter on the day in question to make their novels easier to consume on a large scale. That could obviously be a good or a bad thing. Regardless Shift is a quick read and I got it for all of $10 so grab a copy.

Definitely worth your time.

4 stars.