Category: Reviews


Review – The Emperor’s Railroad

Posted 26 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Emperor's Railroad by Guy HaleyThe Emperor’s Railroad, Guy Haley

I didn’t actually read much about this beforehand; I picked it up because it’s one of the Tor.com novellas, and I’ve generally found them worth trying, even if they haven’t all been my thing. I was a little wary in that I’ve read part of one of Guy Haley’s books before and didn’t really get into it. Not so with this one: it has a strong voice and it’s set in a fascinating post-apocalyptic world. I’d love to know more about it, and I’ll definitely pick up the sequel. The main character, Abney, isn’t really the important one, despite the fact that it’s told from his point of view: instead, it’s his short journey with the knight Quinn that matters. I really want to know more about Quinn, but I don’t care about spending more time with Abney — his story’s pretty much told. Fortunately, looks like that’s exactly the direction Guy Haley took.

Not that Quinn is the only attraction of this book; Abney’s mother might be the only female character, and it’s a shame she dies, but she is also a strong woman who makes a place for herself in what appears to be a man’s world. I’ve read that there are more female characters in the sequel, which is good to hear.

Also, I really want to know what’s going on with “angels” and “dragons”.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Sixth Extinction

Posted 25 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth KolbertThe Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert

Considering the subject matter — the extinction or likely extinction of much of Earth’s biodiversity — Kolbert manages to write an absorbing narrative which wasn’t just depressing, though it sometimes was that, but also fascinating. She covers various creatures that we may have seen the last of, or may soon see the last of; creatures which only survive in captivity, and creatures which we didn’t even think to protect.

The fact is, humans are doing a lot of damage to our own ecosystems. Kolbert documents that and shows where it’s going, or at least, where it’s likely to go. What happens in the end is still, maybe, there for us to change. Maybe. It’s too late for a lot of species — perhaps most amphibians, for example — but we might still be able to stop this. The Sixth Extinction goes into some of the delights biodiversity has to offer, perhaps in hopes of inspiring some people to step up.

None of it came as a surprise to me, but I found the book interesting and entertaining all the same, if not exactly uplifting.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – In Search of the Multiverse

Posted 23 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of In Search of the Multiverse by John GribbinIn Search of the Multiverse, John Gribbin

I don’t understand quantum physics or string theory, really — I couldn’t possibly explain them to someone, anyway. But I keep trying to, and this book has probably got the closest to making me really interested in the topic. It’s easy enough to follow, and doesn’t throw maths at you without explanation, and it helps that it’s focused on one of the important more interesting factors: quantum theory and string theory could require a multiverse. Gribbin has a look at all the reasons a multiverse seems likely, including the fact that quantum computing works at all, and takes you through anthropic reasoning, etc, etc.

Overall, I still find parts of this difficult to get on with. We can’t know that we live in an average universe — even if there are an infinity of different universes, that doesn’t follow that universes which are suitable for life are more common. We could be living in a rare universe. We can’t see what the probabilities of anything are when we only have experience of one universe — nobody has ever convinced me we have the data to really judge.

This is probably going to date badly when it comes to its explanations of string theory and a theory of everything, but for someone as lacking in knowledge as me, it works.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Ghost Train to New Orleans

Posted 22 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Ghost Train to New Orleans by Mur LaffertyThe Ghost Train to New Orleans, Mur Lafferty

The Ghost Train to New Orleans picks up where The Shambling Guide to New York City left off, taking Zoe and her team (some of them new, some familiar) to New Orleans, and deepening the plot concerning Zoe’s abilities. It’s a little tropey — Zoe is an orphan, and the reason that her ability is rare is due to a purge in the coterie community where, for some reason, they felt a bit cross about people like her using their abilities to kill people. Zoe continues to be rather put off by some of the coterie around her, their abilities and tastes, and sometimes that just doesn’t make her look good.

But it’s still a really fun read, and I ate it up. I appreciated the way it dealt with Arthur and Zoe’s little budding romance (which dies on the branch before the end of this book, in case anyone was worried about urban fantasy tropes), and the way it was affected by Arthur’s problems. It becomes very clear that nothing comes for free in this world, which takes a particular character in an new direction — which could’ve been fascinating, if there were any more books to come.

I’m probably overlooking more faults, but honestly I wasn’t interested in picking nits. I really enjoyed the tone and some of the lore, and I wanted to know what happened. That was enough for me.

Instead, alas, I learn that Orbit only took on the two. Publishers, you’re mad. I’d grab the third book eagerly if it existed — I read the first two in two days.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Saturn’s Children

Posted 21 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Saturn's Children by Charles StrossSaturn’s Children, Charles Stross

I haven’t really got on with any of Stross’ books, but I’ve never hated them in the way that made me really disinclined to pick up another. I was hopeful about Saturn’s Children — I can’t remember why, but I think it was somebody’s review. And I must say that I probably got along with it better than with most of Stross’ other work that I’ve read. Unfortunately… that isn’t saying much, and there was a great deal I found annoying or even icky about this. I know that it’s meant to be a pastiche/parody of a certain period of Heinlein’s writing, but I haven’t read those books, so I don’t know the references, which didn’t help.

But mostly it’s the way, way over-sexualised stuff and the heavy-handed rape metaphors, and a general feeling that nothing could be off-the-wall enough to surprise me. It’s not that I predicted the plot, it’s just that I felt it might go more or less anywhere, regardless of the information I already had. That’s a feeling I really hate when I’m reading fiction.

It’s not like Freya actually breaks out of the sex-doll-turned-spy mould at all. She pretty much does exactly what you’d expect, with a pouting petulance all the way. She didn’t have a distinctive voice, which made it difficult to tell her apart from Juliette and figure out the personality changes. It did keep me turning pages, but mostly just to get to the end.

So, overall, meh. (For me. I know I’m in a minority in being lukewarm at best on Stross’ work.)

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Death Before Wicket

Posted 20 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Death Before Wicket by Kerry GreenwoodDeath Before Wicket, Kerry Greenwood

Death Before Wicket takes Phryne away from her home turf of Melbourne, bringing her instead to Sydney — where despite her promises to Dot, several mysteries await. This isn’t one of my favourites, as I found it rather slow and over-sensational; the whole mysticism angle didn’t work for me, particularly not when it actually helped solve the mystery. I did enjoy Dot’s subplot, involving finding her sister and reuniting her family. It shows that she’s a good soul at heart, despite her judgementalness: she’s ready to accept her sister no matter what (although she’s relieved to find that her sister seems to be relatively innocent).

A skippable story, but entertaining all the same. It’s Phryne — it’s rarely boring.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Shambling Guide to New York City

Posted 19 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur LaffertyThe Shambling Guide to New York City, Mur Lafferty

I was kind of avoiding these because… I don’t know why, really. I thought it might be more like World War Z; a gimmicky set-up with comparatively little story. Wrong! There’s a solid story and direction behind The Shambling Guide to New York City, and though it does contain excerpts from the actual guide, the book itself is not written as a guide to New York City from the point of view of monsters — called, in this book, coterie. Instead, we follow our intrepid, sometimes somewhat slow heroine, Zoe, as she accidentally gets herself employed by a coterie company, learns that monsters are real and do want to eat her, and gets dragged into epic showdowns of opposing coterie.

Okay, in a way it’s wish fulfilment, because Zoe is adaptable, quick on her feet, able to train to learn to cope with all this. Most real people wouldn’t be a quarter as adaptable. But it worked for me all the same: I loved the rather mild Phil the vampire, who turned out to have a vicious side after all. (I don’t know what it is with me lately, but I’d fancast Clark Gregg for this role too.) It reminded me a bit of Cherie Priest’s Bloodshot and Hellbent. There wasn’t too much romance, and the creepily persistent (or persistently creepy) incubus who wants to seduce Zoe gets nowhere fast.

I love most of the characters — Gwen, the Welsh death goddess; Morgen, the water sprite; Granny Good Mae, the… slightly eccentric Yoda to Zoe’s Luke Skywalker. And those I don’t like still make sense, rather than being caricatures designed to be hated, except maybe one particular character.

Overall, I found this thoroughly enjoyable, and I immediately went on and devoured (heh) the second book, The Ghost Train to New Orleans. Recommended!

Also, the covers! Jamie McKelvie, I believe?

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Pavlov’s Dogs and Schrodinger’s Cat

Posted 18 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Pavlov's Dogs and Schrodinger's Cat by Ron Harré

Pavlov’s Dogs and Schrodinger’s Cat, Rom Harré

I’m torn about this book: on the one hand, it does what it sets out to do pretty well. It describes experiments that happened to use living subjects, treating those living subjects as though they’re simply part of the equipment. On the other hand, it very deliberately doesn’t engage with the moral aspect of these experiments, instead choosing to present the experiments dispassionately, claiming to be unable to deal with the moral dimension.

I can appreciate this way of looking at the experiments as a way to gain an understanding of them, but I think avoiding the moral dimension in the end just seems cowardly. If it’s your point of view that the suffering of an animal is worth it for the sake of the experiments, then at least own it. Admit the distress is there.

Without addressing that aspect, this book actually comes across as very flat. I ended up losing interest in a lot of these experiments, because animals aren’t just another piece of equipment. We have to use living tissue in experiments because only living tissue responds in the weird and wonderful ways that it needs to in order to give true results. Pretending a dog is a just a petri dish that happens to be pumping blood and breathing air seems disingenuous and pointless.

If you’re interested in the purely scientific treatment of animals as just objects in an experiment, this will work fine for you — that’s what the author delivers. If you find it hard to separate the two, or like me believe that it’s our duty to at least own what we do to animals, then it may fall rather flat.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Lightning in the Blood

Posted 17 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Lightning in the Blood by Marie BrennanLightning in the Blood, Marie Brennan

I feel like I might have appreciated this more if I’d refreshed my memory on the first book, Cold-Forged Flame, first. I remembered the basics, of course, but some of the subtleties apparently escaped my brain even in the short time since I read the first book. Still, I do find the world really interesting and Ree’s role in the world compelling. The end of this book came as no real surprise as I’d already pegged Ree as a wanderer type.

I felt like maybe I didn’t connect enough with this one, though. I wasn’t hooked on it, at least. It’s still well-written, but I do recommend having the first book fresher in your mind when you start it. And maybe I’m also suffering a little from missing Brennan’s Lady Trent, now that series is finished. I’ll be interested to revisit this (and the first book) when another book is on the horizon…

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Within the Sanctuary of Wings

Posted 16 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie BrennanWithin the Sanctuary of Wings, Marie Brennan

I kind of procrastinated on reading this book, or at least finishing it, because I didn’t want the adventures to be over. This is the concluding volume of Lady Trent’s memoirs, and I already miss her ‘deranged practicality’, her curiosity and drive, and the people around her. Still, it’s a worthy end to her story, concluding her major scientific studies with — well, I’d better be careful not to say too much. The series has been building up to this point, and I wouldn’t want to spoil the moment of realisation and discovery halfway through this book.

My only quibble, perhaps, is a minor spoiler — I find it amazing that Isabella’s team come out of all of this so well. They end up in what I think are an analogue for the mountains of Tibet, suffer avalanches and punishingly cold temperatures, and yet for the most part, they come through these trials whole or able to heal. No frostbite, no permanent injuries, etc. It’s a bit of a contrast to the end of book one, where of course Isabella’s husband dies. I probably would’ve been annoyed if Isabella didn’t get a happy ending, but maybe this one felt a little too easy.

I don’t want to end on a quibble, though, because I truly love these books — more than I ever thought I would, the first time I read A Natural History of Dragons. Isabella is an amazing character, and I can’t help but love her and most of those around her. I really enjoy that the books have some illustrations of dragons and finds, and that Isabella is a serious scholar who tests hypotheses and formulates theories — she doesn’t get to the answer in one leap of intuition in book one and then simply have to prove what she already knows. The five books each see her learning more, changing her ideas, and being surprised along the way.

And lest you be worried about the Victorian-ish setting of these books and what effect it might have on the narration, don’t. If they were actually set in Victorian times, I’d call them anachronistic — there’s a flavour of the old fashioned in some of the phrasing and such, but no more. Suffice it to say that my sister read the last two books in about 24 hours — snatching my copy of this one from my hand almost as soon as she saw me when I arrived to visit.

If my wife would start reading them now, that’d be good. I’m waiting (and hoping she likes Isabella and her adventures as much as I do).

Rating: 5/5

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