Category: Reviews


Review – Market Forces

Posted 4 May, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Market Forces by Richard MorganMarket Forces, Richard Morgan

I’m torn between the fact that I like Morgan’s writing — it’s slick, tight, packs a punch — and the fact that his world is just too ridiculously ultra-violent for me, and the characters I like don’t come out well. I liked Chris’ wife Carla, but of course, she loses her husband in the worst of way: he’s not dead, but he’s thrown himself into a life she hates, and refused to accept her help in getting him out of it. And he’s cheated on her, of course: let’s not forget that.

I find the world-building interesting, though in this case not entirely convincing (duels in cars? how does that really come about? it doesn’t sound like something top executives would realistically end up doing), but of course all of it is a way of examining capitalism and the free market, of making brutally clear the way that competition can ruin lives.

If the point then is to take a guy who seems decent at the beginning, like Chris, and watch as that competition warps him, then Morgan does a great job — but it’s hard to enjoy it as a story, particularly given the bodycount. Very much a case of not-really-my-thing, though, and I’m sure that people who’re less squicked out by violence will enjoy this a lot more than me, assuming our tastes are otherwise the same.

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Review – The Rithmatist

Posted 3 May, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Rithmatist by Brandon SandersonThe Rithmatist, Brandon Sanderson

I haven’t read much of Sanderson’s work yet, but I have a generally good impression of it. I was hesitant about The Rithmatist (I think I preferred the original title, Scribbler) because it’s YA and some people have made comments about the magic system being too complex, some even feeling it’s boring. But! I actually loved it.

In a way, it’s nothing new. It’s essentially set at a wizarding school, there’s a Snape-like character, there’s a red-haired sidekick (more Ron than Hermione, despite being a girl), there’s people who can do magic and people who can’t, and various divides between them… I was also reminded of Garth Nix, somehow; something about the world-building, I think.

There are differences, too, of course: it’s definitely a world of its own, and I liked the magic system a lot. I didn’t find it boring at all — beyond me, at times, yes, but not boring. I loved Joel’s enthusiasm for it, his boundless wonder for the whole thing. His interest made what could have been boring, all the detail of the magic system, quite interesting.

I loved that some things weren’t typical: a second chance at something doesn’t always make you special and fix what went wrong the first time, I didn’t see Joel’s conclusions at the end coming, I don’t feel that romance between Melody and Joel is inevitable at all (possible, I guess, but definitely not so clearly telegraphed that it warps their personalities and the plot)…

All in all, I read this in a couple of hours, and even stayed up late when I really shouldn’t to finish it and get my work done. I thought it was a lot of fun, and I’m glad I did pick it up to fill out a three for two offer way back whenever!

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Review – Green Lantern Corps: Fearsome

Posted 2 May, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Green Lantern Corps: FearsomeGreen Lantern Corps: Fearsome, Peter J. Tomasi, Fernando Pasarin, Scott Hanna

On the one hand, this is a heck of an introduction to the Green Lanterns. There’s so many characters and concepts packed in, and I had to play a fair amount of catchup. I was never sure what was a New 52 innovation and what was established canon, how I should be judging the storyline. So I couldn’t tell you if someone was suddenly overpowered or turned into an enormous asshole.

I did enjoy it, though. It’s a bit thin on character because there are so many Green Lanterns in the story, but it gives us an introduction to the Corps and who they are, what they believe in. There are some interesting character moments for John Stewart, which I found intriguing: he makes some rough decisions and has to live with them, and does so honorably, to my mind.

I actually enjoyed this enough that I will pick up other Green Lantern comics in the future, at least to try.

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Review – White Cat

Posted 2 May, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of White Cat by Holly BlackWhite Cat, Holly Black

I started this unsure, thanks to some reviews I read, moved to being quite intrigued, and then stopped on page 125 to inform the internet that I knew the entire plot and I would be very surprised if I was wrong. The disappointing thing is that I was completely right. Everything panned out exactly the way I expected, which was discouraging, and became boring.

At first, I was interested in Cassel, in the way he worked all the angles, his cons. I liked the setup of a mob family with magic: all of that worked fine. What didn’t work fine was the fact that Cassel’s meant to be smart, meant to have his eye on all the angles, and yet he’s so easily manipulated and conned. He doesn’t see the most obvious things.

Like, one example: we’re told about blowback, something that happens to people who use their powers; whatever they’ve done rebounds upon then. So he’s pretty sure his memories are being messed with — sure enough to mutilate himself to try and prevent it — but when someone he knows well has big gaps in their memory and uses a journal to remind themselves of what they’re doing/saying, he doesn’t even think of blowback. He doesn’t seem to think much of it at all, even. And he asks about how this kind of magic works, and someone tells him and then starts to mention his brother and he… cuts her off. It seems a bit like plot-induced stupidity and just completely pushed me out of the story.

So I won’t be finishing this series. It is light fun reading, if you can get past points like that or you don’t see it from the angle I do, but I like some subtlety in the narration (even if I already knew the ending, the example I gave is just too blatantly signalling it for me).

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Review – Farthing

Posted 1 May, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Farthing, by Jo WaltonFarthing, Jo Walton

Halfway through rereading this, I stalled for a moment, thinking about the ending. See, the book starts out seeming pretty fun, despite the dark threats in the background: there’s plainly loving pastiche of Dorothy L. Sayers going on, and Lucy Kahn’s narration is lively and silly. All of that disguises, for a while, how serious the themes turn — and when they do, when the bottom of Carmichael’s life drops out, you’ll feel it too. I quoted Dar Williams’ song Buzzer when I first reviewed this, and it still applies: I get it now/I’m the face, I’m the cause of war/We don’t have to blame white-coated men anymore (it’s an amazing song, about Stanley Milgram’s obedience to authority experiments).

All in all, it’s just so well done. The pastiche works, and so does every aspect of the alternate history. The details are tweaked, and it all feels so plausible. I love the image of Churchill’s defiance of the events that create the background of and overshadow this book. For something that seems light at times, a pastiche, it turns out to be so horrifying — and not in the sense of gore and monsters, in the sense of how people can be so completely plausibly awful.

Personally, I love how Walton handles the minorities here, too: their individual voices, their differing hopes and fears, their differing ways of living in a world that’s trying to push them and their kind out. I mean, it’s obvious I’m already a fan, here, but I just think she gets so much right.

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Review – Magic’s Poison

Posted 30 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Magic's Poison, by Gillian BradshawMagic’s Poison, Gillian Bradshaw

Magic’s Poison is enjoyable — not as good as Bradshaw’s historical fiction, and with a predictable romance subplot that didn’t do much for me, but it’s a fun read. The set up of this fantasy world isn’t particularly special; I’m sure I can think of plenty of things comparable in the way the social structure is set up, the way magic is handled, the idea of magic (or something connected to magic) as an addiction, the idea of that addiction as something that corrupts… the snake people, too, seemed familiar — I think I’m thinking of Raymond E. Feist?

But, it’s how Bradshaw pulls everything together that makes it interesting. The snake people aren’t evil, the stupid prince seems to be just stupid rather than malevolent, the capable and kind duke doesn’t get set up to rule the kingdom because he’s capable and kind, as if that’s a good excuse to depose someone. I wasn’t sure about the story at first, and I do think some parts dragged on unnecessarily, but all in all, I’m glad I read it.

I’m interested to see what the other books in this series are like — I think they’re all linked, though I bought them so long ago I can’t remember the summaries and how closely they’re linked.

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Review – The Complete Robot

Posted 29 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Complete Robot by Isaac AsimovThe Complete Robot, Isaac Asimov

I’ve always liked Asimov’s work — one of my favourites has always been the expanded version of one of the short stories in this volume, The Positronic Man — and so this was a nice familiar read for me. I’ve read some of the stories, while some were less familiar, but it is a bit like comfort eating: with Asimov, I know exactly what I’m getting. It’d be a bit much to start here with Asimov, I think, and read all the short stories start to finish. I’d pick a smaller collection, rather than a collected one. But if you’re a fan of Asimov’s robot stories, then this is definitely worth picking up — there’re some in here I wasn’t really aware of.

I think what’s really great about these stories is that Asimov set up some rules, and then he bent them until they became almost meaningless within the constraints of the story. You can program a robot to never harm a human being, but if it decides you are not a human being, that rule no longer applies. Who is the judge of humanness? Or the stories where the hierarchy of rules fights against itself, with a robot trapped between compulsions. I love the way Asimov explored that. He didn’t just come up with a clever idea and then write robots you could sympathise with all the way; he liked stories that sympathised with robots, and he also saw how our society would really react to robots, and he got to work and told us stories that fit with what he saw.

I find it hard to talk about character or anything in Asimov’s stories, about not portraying women properly, etc, because I don’t think he portrays anything truly except robots. That’s what he was interested in, and that’s what he achieved. I can understand not liking them for that reason, but to me as a reader, it’s irrelevant.

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Review – The Broken Land

Posted 28 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Broken Land by Ian McDonaldThe Broken Land, Ian McDonald

I’ve had a review copy of this for ages. I was slightly put off by negative/ambivalent reviews, but this ended up being really, really fascinating. I’m a little taken aback by the fact that people see Israel/Palestine here and not Catholics/Protestants in Northern Ireland — I mean, come on: the language thing, read Translations by Brian Friel, and Confessors vs. Proclaimers… The language thing especially got to me, because you know, I’m Welsh and I live in Wales and yes, half the place named are bastardised into English, and there was the whole issue of the Welsh Not and the Treachery of the Blue Books and… so many of the issues spoke to me.

Others, of course, do speak to other conflicts, to other people’s; to discrimination anywhere and everywhere. It’s not purely about Ireland or Israel or anywhere: it’s about a land, any land, splitting itself in half. And maybe, maybe, coming together again afterwards.

The writing style is different — more reported speech than direct speech, a narrator that’s liquid and loose, more like a thought than a sentence spoken aloud. The world is fascinating, some of the characters really intrigued me, but somehow it was that liquidity, that flow, that really made the story fly by for me. It’s easier if you just immerse yourself in it and go go go; harder if you try to overthink it. It’s a dizzingly different world, and yet so much the same.

In other words, I was completely hooked and must read more Ian McDonald books.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Humans Who Went Extinct

Posted 28 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Humans Who Went Extinct by Clive FinlaysonThe Humans Who Went Extinct, Clive Finlayson

Basically a book that criticises making concrete judgements on the little data we have available, and then makes some of his own, which is kind of how a lot of this works, so no surprise there. On the technical side, I found his style off-putting: it seems to suggest an intentionality and directionality to evolution that does not exist.

Overall, the basic thesis is interesting: that climate and chance drove human evolution, and determined which branches of the evolutionary tree survived. That’s accepted when it comes to other animals, but in humans we do tend to make arguments about Neanderthals being stupider than humans, etc. And yet, put me in the environment the Neanderthals thrived in, and I’d have a lot of trouble, too — and here I am with bits of paper I can show you to prove my intelligence by our standards.

I did find some things funny, like Finlayson’s self-righteous little comment about people in their comfort zones pretending to care about people in less fortunate conditions and doing nothing. He’s writing for Oxford University Press — that glass house he’s sitting in is very conspicuous.

(Probably this irritation is somewhat prompted by the fact that I am one of those people in my comfort zone. On the other hand, I tithe a portion of my income to various charities, and give up significant chunks of my free time to charity work. I don’t think Finlayson’s research does as much good for the human condition, in the grand scheme of things. For all I know he donates all the proceeds of this book to charity, but still, he also flies all over the world doing his research and spends his time writing books like this. There’s a place for that, but you’d probably best not be making disparaging comments about your likely readers while you’re sat in that place.)

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Review – Gulp

Posted 28 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Gulp by Mary RoachGulp, Mary Roach

Gulp is definitely light, popular science, with an abundance of footnotes, irreverent comments, and some interesting facts/experiences. I wasn’t grossed out by it, since I can be fairly clinical, and rolled my eyes at some of the humour aimed at being gross; mostly it was an interesting read, certainly a quick one. It’s accessible, no matter what level your knowledge of biology is at, mostly dealing with the various topics in an anecdotal way.

I liked reading it, but now I have and look back, I think it dragged a little. Part of that’s doubtless my sense of humour, which is defective and needs to be returned for a refund. Part of that is the endlessly anecdotal nature of it. I’ve reserved another of Roach’s books from the library, but I wouldn’t buy it for myself; I do have a friend who I think would find this quite interesting.

Also, will people please quit hurrhurrhurring at the idea of faecal transplants? I’m sure it’s all very well to laugh at it from a distance, but a) it’s reinforcing the stigma about diseases like Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis which really are not funny, and b) I have high hopes that they will actually find a way to cure or at least greatly alleviate inflammatory bowel diseases as a result of studies into this kind of thing. Several close friends have IBDs, and I cannot wait for the day they can quit feeling that shame/disgust.

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