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Wine Dark Deep by R Peter Keith – 4/5 Stars

Wine Dark Deep b R Peter Keith - Front Cover

‘Shock swept through the interplanetary spacecraft’s crew. Mission Commander Scott stared out into empty space. Empty space where refuelling tankers should have been.’

Wine Dark Deep (WDD) is a near-future space adventure based in the Solar System, so it’s close to home. Earth has reached out with its space programs and missions, likely funded by big companies, to the extent that colonisation on other planets and moons has become possible. WDD focuses on Jupiter’s moon, Ceres, at a time when Captain Cal Scott is on a standard voyage, but we’re not sure what the mission is; only that they expected to be refuelled, and weren’t!

It sounds like nothing, no big deal, at first, until you realise what this means for the crew’s survival, politically between Earth and Ceres, and for Cal Scott’s ego. The crew of Cal’s ship can speculate all they want, but in the end they need that fuel to make it home. Anything could happen at this stage, and it’s with humour and a certain amount of endearment for the character Cal Scott and those who interact with him that it did happen.

Praise

I loved Cal’s quick-thinking in times of crisis. He wasn’t as confident as I expected him to be, but he was bold and prepared to do what it took, even if went alone. I liked the combination between rich description of Ceres and lighthearted characterisation – putting aside character psychologist and Cal Scott’s old ‘friend’ Helen Donovan’s ambitions.

Description-wise, there was a lot of regolith, and I like regolith!

Criticism

The chapters were varying lengths. We’d get going, and then we’d stop for a chapter or two, and so on. Perhaps there could have been more about Cal and his crew, and the same for Helen and her Ceres’ cohorts, as in my mind they were jumbled.

Overall

WDD was better than I thought it was going to be, having received it as a gift rather than a recommendation. Thought had gone into its creation, and I felt that the joy the author had put into the writing and the care with its presentation led to an entertaining and speculative read.

Author Website
Wine Dark Deep on Amazon

The Eye of Minds by James Dashner – 4/5 Stars

The Eye of Minds by James Dashner - Front Cover

‘The VirtNet was a funny thing. It was so real that sometimes Michael wished it wasn’t as high-tech. Like when he was hot and sweaty or when he tripped and stubbed a toe or when a girl smacked him in the face. The coffin made him feel every last bit of it — the only other option was to adjust for less sensory input, but then why bother playing if you didn’t go all the way?’

Introduction

The Eye Minds (TEOM) is the first book in acclaimed author James Dashner’s Mortality Doctrine series about the VirtNet, a game-based internet with unlimited freedom for players, especially, those with hacking skills like Michael and his friends Bryson and Sarah. They plug themselves into a coffin, and wake up in a game that has all the hallmarks of reality – all the sensations and suffering – for serious gamers.

The problem is that an adept hacker is taking people hostage in the VirtNet, pushing them towards the brink of suicide, or otherwise maliciously manipulating for their own ends. The VirtNet already looks less like the haven Michael has come to expect with real-world perils.

Praise, criticism, and comments

I was unsure what the message in the Mortality Doctrine’s TEOM was, if there was one. Don’t let your children get sucked into games or they’ll lose sense of reality, may even die?

On the plus side, TEOM had me flipping the pages. There was always something happening. And my goodness, that first scene with the tangent gave me the spooks. Indeed, there were a number of horror-esque scenes, puzzling for their oddness, not conforming to the reality we know, showing how scary the virtual world could be, given a chance.

One the negative, the scenes were really stop and start. You just get to the action, and then have to stop again, almost bitesize chunks for scenes, suited for more impulsive or younger readers, maybe, with it being YA. Part of the identity behind the main antagonist was predictable.

The ending was not predictable, however. And I felt it was worth my while to reach it after I feared it would end on a cliffhanger. One of the better sci-fi YA reads, reminiscent of Ender’s World!

Author’s Official Website

 

The Unholy Consult by R Scott Bakker – 5/5 Stars

The Unholy Consult by R Scott Bakker - Front Cover

‘Some souls are broken in such a way as to think themselves whole,’ he said. ‘The more they are flawed, the more they presumed their own perfection.’

‘And he wondered why it seemed all the same, lies and confession.’

‘To match a wicked foe abomination for abomination was to whisper in his ear while he slumbered – for the righteous were no more potent than when they were ruthless also.’

The Unholy Consult (TUC) is the final book in author R Scott Bakker’s series about the second apocalypse, which came after the first, strangely, if it came at all. My goodness, will it come? It’s a series I’ve been reading since I first ventured into libraries to search for new reads, and stumbled upon the first book, The Darkness That Comes Before. It’s grittier and darker than most fantasy reads you’ll come across, reminiscent of ancient times fused with religious portent that’ll put you in mind of prophets, war, pestilence, and this thing called ‘Men’.

Many readers may well find parallels between R Scott Bakker’s work and other great works such as JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Frank Herbert’s Dune. Readers familiar with the series will be no strangers to the tone, themes, characters, and writing style that are author R Scott Bakker’s marvel weapons cast against our helpless minds, causing fits and jerks of reading ecstasy. Just reading the first few chapters again was enough to get me into a frenzy of reading addiction. Holding the book, hours on end, absorbing my attention, would give me a bad back. Eventually, common sense prevailed and I sat this biblical tome on a stool, in the absence of a podium.

The Aspect Emperor series

TUC compares well with other books in the series. There are two series in the larger ‘series’ of works: The Prince of Nothing trilogy, comprising three books, and following it, covering a period of time about twenty years later, The Aspect Emperor series. Much of the overarching story is character focused, but sometimes it’s about the tribulations of Men, a military ordeal, or historical feats of glory. There is the oft-ridiculed philosophical sorcerer Drusas Achamian, who at one point in the series became an outcast wizard after everything was taken from him by the real mystery of a character, Anasurimbor Kellhus, whose skills at reading into human intention and motive make mere children of people. Endowed with numerous sorcery powers, Kellhus also formed the Great Ordeal, a huge host of men soldiers of many lands, to invade the Consult, those who caused the First Apocalypse. In TUC it’s hard to know whether the Consult is only an assortment of leftover technologies, sorcerers, and monsters, or if it really poses a danger to Kellhus.

The Unholy Consult

At numerous times during the story, we’re shown that Kellhus is walking on thin ice: many want him dead. The gods themselves rail against him. Yet it’s hard to believe after what we’ve seen of his abilities that he’ll ever be killed.

Fans of the original Prince of Nothing trilogy will love this book. There is that feeling of a war camp with all kinds of personalities in it: desperate sorcerers, wretched children, suffering families, prophets, kings, and traitors.

This series is not for the faint hearted, and TUC is no exception. It’s arguably the most depraved book in the series/you may ever read!

The conclusion was fantastic, in depth, and brimming with atmosphere and action. It answered many, but perhaps not all, questions about the significance of characters, institutions, and past events.

Official Author Website

Star Wars: Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn – 5/5 Stars

Star Wars Dark Force Rising - Front Cover

‘She was second in command to the most powerful smuggler in the galaxy, with the kind of resources and mobility she hadn’t had since the death of the Emperor. The kind of resources that would let her find Luke Skywalker again. And kill him. Maybe then the voices would stop.’

‘This is Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight. The guy who took down Darth Vader.’

‘Luke might have the force, and Irenez might be able to climb stairs without getting winded; but he would be heavily that he could out do both of them in sheer chicanery.’

Introduction

The sequel to Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising (DFR), reintroduces us to our favourite classic Star Wars characters Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Lando Calrissian in what was the book trilogy covering the events just after Return of the Jedi.

Nevertheless, years have passed. The New Republic is already being contested by ambitious politicians, threatening its divide. One fleet can make the difference between the New Republic’s stability and the Empire’s resurgence, and it just so happens DFR is about the scramble for the two hundred dreadnaughts, the ‘Katana’ or ‘Dark Force’ fleet.

Grand Admiral Thrawn is in charge of the remnants of the Empire. His humanoid form and glittering red eyes help add that menace that we need in a Star Wars villain, but it’s more the way he makes his deductions about his enemies that makes him formidable.

Praise

Princess Leia and Chewbacca’s arc on the Noghri home planet is a must read for its conclusion. They’re both among a tribe of Noghri, reptilian humanoid bodyguards with cat-like fighting skills. Leia is taking a huge risk (‘I’m taking a huge risk, Vader’) being there, knowing the Noghri’s allegiance to the Empire, especially her father Darth Vader. The Empire wants to take her children away from her, perhaps to blackmail the New Republic, but being afraid of this isn’t how diplomacy works, is it, Leia?

There is this cigarra-smoking smuggler called Niles Ferrier that the male characters keep bumping into. The first time was interesting. It kept getting more humorous and awkward every other time. I wasn’t sure if the dialogue was terrible here, but it entertained.

Criticism

Thrawn didn’t feel formidable in this book. He still had the ability to surprise, but he kept getting thwarted by happenstance. The first few times, were, okay, maybe bad luck, but the next few times would have made a human grand admiral furious. His unnatural patience was what he was relying on would pay off, and I’ve got to hand it to him, he had that.

The implication behind Leia and Chewbacca’s visit on the Noghri home planet was that the Noghri were, well, tribal, content with being controlled for the sake of survival, and unable to see the bigger picture. Since this was a tribe, it read stereotypically.

Overall

I’d say DFR was much better than Heir to the Empire. There were numerous skirmishes between the characters and hostile forces, which never became boring. The rivalry between politicians in the New Republic was worth learning about. And, what they were fighting for could make the difference to either side being the victor.

Follow Timothy Zahn

 

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury – 5/5 Stars

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury - Front Cover

‘Life was its own answer. Life was the propagation of more life and the living of as good a life as possible.’

‘If you can’t have the reality, a dream is just as good.’

‘Life on Earth never settled down to doing anything very good. Science ran too far ahead of us too quickly, and the people got lost in a mechanical wilderness, like children making over pretty things: gadgets, helicopters, rockets; emphasizing the wrong items, emphasizing machines instead of how to run the machines.’ 

Martian stories

The Martian Chronicles (TMCs) is a chronological series of short stories about Earth’s attempt to discover and bring about a human civilisation on Mars. The stories start with the martians, seeing how their life compares with human life; it appears old fashioned by modern standards, which is something the first expeditions to Mars also remark on. These first stories raise questions. Have humans colonised Mars in the past, in the early 20th century, without the rest of humanity being aware?

There was definitely something everyday about martian life, which mimicked human life: daily jobs, music, hunting, partnerships, and perhaps most interestingly, dreams!

Human expeditions

Humans won’t stop sending expeditions, despite what may happen to them. The rockets keep going up. But what could go wrong, the characters think, when Mars looks like a paradise, so similar to human society. It turns out Mars is not as it appears. Without saying too much, what the humans find there appear to be their hearts’ desires. Something isn’t quite right, though.

Humans on Mars or martians on Mars?

Soon enough, the reader is confused. Where did the martians go? Why are there so few of them? More and more humans land and begin to colonise, setting up religious missions and industries. In one particular chapter I felt it hinted that the martian civilisation was still present. However, martians could not be seen by people in the way they’d expect. When people did see actual martians, it turned out they were being chased by ghosts or guided into actions or ways of thinking. There was change in how the martians appeared through TMCs, until the end when the change could be argued to be complete.

Mars starts off as a dream, and in TMCs the reader can feel like it ends as one, with human characters forgetting and having nostalgia for their lost roots, and seeing what has become of Earth, and themselves on Mars, clinging onto dreams as if they’re evaporating dust.

Praise

Whether humans have colonised Mars in TMCs, and when they did, was one of the most fascinating questions to pose in a story. I didn’t feel author Ray Bradbury gave us an answer, leaving it to our own conclusions.

TMCs is a speculative vision of a time when human society has outrun its own people on Earth, and then starts anew on Mars, hoping for a fresh start. There are morals on past Earth life and questions in the stories, some subtle. Will life really change on Mars or will it turn out just like Earth did?

Criticism

I wasn’t fond of the disconnectedness of the chapters, and the characters’ ages and interactions throughout, which I found difficult to keep track of to build a cohesive picture.

Overall

TMCs definitely exceeded my expectations. It was a thoughtful collection of interrelated stories that many lovers of colonisation, space, Mars, and classic science fiction will love.

Author Website

Wilful Defiance by CG Hatton – 4/5 Stars

Wilful Defiance by CG Hatton - Front Cover

Introduction

Wilful Defiance (WD) takes the Thieves Guild (TG) series in a more alien invasion direction, departing from the action spy genre, yet following on nicely from book three. There are aliens, the Bhenykhn, whose telepathic abilities are the origin of a virus that only the elite spy organisations are aware of, and the aliens aren’t going to go away, with galactic conquest top of their agenda.

Main character NG has a lot on his plate, as usual, fending off his vindictive alter ego Sebastian, balancing the emotional needs of the women in his life, unleashing his powers on aliens, and somehow managing the assemblage of the TG. The most exciting part of NG’s character is undoubtedly his place as a pawn in his superior’s machinations and of his struggle to come to terms with Sebastian. Does he lock up the latter to preserve human life to avoid inflicting pain on those he cares about or does he let him have free rein to slaughter at will?

There is also the troublesome Elliott whose loyalty to the TG is of concern, has been of concern since the start, and still is a lingering concern that NG doesn’t want to bother with tackling and trusts the answers will come soon enough. And as you could expect from books in this genre, there are a few other shady things happening in the background, organised by shady characters.

It was interesting to see how author CG Hatton tackled WD, which was on a grander scale than previous books in the series. It was about the characters and their responses to major challenges more than it was about events or battles of galactic import. Those looking for the former will be rewarded.

Criticism

Most of the characters have receded into the background by WD, and retracing who’s who wasn’t easy. NG kept interest in the story, though I felt some scenes were a bit stop and start as he kept blacking out, pushing himself too hard. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing how NG would escape from being captured, or even just his fisticuffs with other characters.

Overall

We now have a better idea of the grand scheme of manipulations and of the previous events that led to the invasion. The series is still coming together, one book at a time, making us realise why what’s happening is happening. WD was a joy to read, and I never became bored. It’ll be of interest to see where author CG Hatton takes the characters next.

Wilful Defiance on Amazon

Gate to the Great Beyond by Nick Crutchley – 4/5 Stars

Gate to the Great Beyond by Nick Crutchley - Front Cover
What’s it about?

Here is the big question for Great to the Great Beyond (GTTGB): what is it about? Author Nick Crutchley’s books are interwoven and layered so it’s tricky to summarise and my interpretation may not be the correct one, but I shall try to start at what my mind tells me was the beginning.

There was this dwarf, Zorg Bloodbane, and he was mean and greedy. Aren’t all dwarves? Well yes, a bit, but Zorg was also resolute. He’s going to get that key to open the Gate to the Great Beyond at any cost and it doesn’t matter if he has to kill his friends. He’s aided by the sorceress Shiva (a ‘mutaton’) who has luck on her side; and he’s aided by an elf (magic) and a lion-headed humanoid (trying to save his people, blah, blah, blah), among others. They eventually get to meet this wizard who knows about alchemy and unwittingly has the key to the Gate to the Great Beyond. Still with me?

There’s much more beneath the surface

This key allows a questor – somebody destined or determined to have the key – to travel between the seven planes of existence. Or if the questor is someone like Zorg, maybe they’ll sell it instead. The setting widens out soon enough and we learn there is the Divine Plane and the six hundred and sixty-six hells among others, reminiscent of the virtual fantasy world in the first book, The Moment Between Two Thoughts.

There is a race of blue-skinned logical Ordaxions on one plane, trying to ascend through the Gate to the Great Beyond because they think there is another universe. At one point the Ordaxions are a super advanced civilisation, but then some event happens, this shining white light (keeps happening), and everything changes, putting them at the mercy of this thing called the Goo at the edge of their world. The Overseer of the Ordaxions has to work with this rather unremarkable amnesiac character, Srinivasa, who was somebody important in some past battle between heaven and hell, which was important by the way: the lion-headed Ashalonions were betrayed; there was this badass Nameless One with a staff and a string of lies to persuade others to his end of getting more power through a war; this annoying Preacher can’t stop preaching but his intentions are dubious.

Praise

It’s apparent after book two that author Nick Crutchley likes to weave together realms, peoples, plots, and magical objects as a platform for a good vs. evil battle, starring the supernatural, advanced beings, and everything in between. I didn’t get the impression the author was happy with a linear plot or a single reality.

The paperback was only 230 pages, yet there was a lot of worldbuilding and depth despite this. The author has taken care with the placement of each scene, I feel, so that by the end of the book you start to unravel what happened in the first hundred pages or more. There was more than one occasion when I wondered if I was reading an ingenious masterpiece, more so than the first book even, in the sense that we start small and then we blossom out seeing the full ramifications of what was really happening in those first scenes.

In many ways GTTGB is a clever story immersed in the same story template as the first novel, feeling excitingly, exotically foreign for all that, and it makes me wonder what else the author has up his sleeve.

Criticism

Zorg Bloodbane was a really interesting character and he brought about conflict with races wherever he went, and then the focus was off him and the reader was left with less interesting characters, at least until the logical Ordaxion Overseer was face to face with the impulsive Shiva. I’d have liked there to have been more to Shiva who bonded easily with men but she didn’t have much depth. Where did her power come from? That being said, I liked the idea of King Anorashiva.

If the story itself wasn’t a challenge to unravel, some sentences were easy to understand while others were passive, which made what was happening difficult to decipher. I did like the poetical quality to the writing, and the author’s tone never changed in this regard.

This is only a reader’s preference, but I wanted to stay in these worlds of Nick Crutchley’s a little longer before he shifted them. This was more of an issue in this second book, as I know the author can really stick us in these fantasy worlds, head and body.

Overall

You have to read Nick’s books to really experience the addictive quality to them and the unique storytelling style.

Author Website

 

ARvekt by Craig Lea Gordon – 5/5 Stars

ARvekt by Craig Lea Gordon - Front Cover
The main character, Tannis

From the first book in this series to this book, as soon as we’re introduced to new character Tannis, I wasn’t as interested since I felt she hadn’t been introduced properly, but it later became clear she was an action-first–personality-later type of character with a troubled past – and mental state – and that later made sense to me. The prose is a lot to take in – you feel like you’re plugged in – but it’s clear Tannis is a futuristic cop rooting out a group of criminal hackers who hack people’s brains, of all things. She works for some secret department and takes orders from an AI called Ix, a colour shifting entity whose voice changes gender but we remember her best as female.

There is more than meets the eye, as you could have guessed. Is reality real? Is Tannis psychotic or is she being fed lies? Is there really a conspiracy or is it in her head? Why does she keep blacking out? Why does she sense that what she’s seeing just doesn’t make sense? I liked these questions posed as they gave the story more depth, but what really gave it depth were the descriptions, making you feel you’re in a 3D world not dissimilar from the movie Alita or the series Ghost in the Shell.

‘Like a bright roll of silk thrown in the distance. Giant lily pads floated on its surface … thousands of them constantly ascending into the night sky.’

‘The last vestiges of the weapon platform jutting out of the top of the Thames, its rusting form a stark reminder of how close they came to losing that day.’

Ix, the AI

So, there is this AI called Ix that appears benevolent and all knowing at first, perhaps like that model of Alexa you have at home! Not too many chapters in we learn she’s demanding more powers. As soon as the reader knows of this, we suspect we’re up for a power grabbing experience or a conspiracy on a huge scale and the author makes no secret of this. Keep reading, I implore you! It was easy for me to assume how it was going to end …

Criticism

Sometimes I lost sight of where the character was in relation to other objects or situations. Sometimes all the action happened too quickly.

Overall

ARvekt wasn’t too convoluted or derivative as some works in this genre are. You read it having felt like it was unique in its own right, and it does twist the genre in different ways. It felt like a complex multi-coloured video game and to say the story had colour is no understatement: the scenes were vivid and I remember many of them now, a month after reading. ARvekt was a treasured experience and I recommend readers give it that go, which you won’t regret (unless you’re miserable?).

Author Website

Hypercage by Craig Lea Gordon – 3/5 Stars

Hypercage by Craig Lea Gordon - Front Cover
What’s it about?

The first book (?) in the Instant Reality series, Hypercage, had my interest. There was a husband character, Dave, addicted to virtual reality gaming at the cost of his marriage and family. The book coaxed the reader into having a vested interest into whether he would get his marriage and family together or if he’d finally reach Level 50 on his game when all his dreams would come true. Whereas the game offered exciting liberation, his partner was perhaps coming across as uncompromising and mundane, however, at times it’s clear to the reader Dave’s priorities were not his family. From Dave’s point of view, he was doing his best to get ahead to find ways of coping with one reality and making progress in another.

Criticism

I was disappointed we didn’t get to learn more on whether a solution was reached among Dave and his family before other events occurred, and this was likely because it’s a short story, and my rating above was harsher than it would have been as a result. Sometimes I lost sight of where the character was in relation to other objects or situations.

Overall

There were aesthetically pleasing characters in Hypercage, and some novel ideas such as a clinic to help with addiction. They really had everything covered in this world. There was a funny scene at the end of the book, which required more than a touch of imagination and I’d recommend reading through just to get to that part. I definitely had to read ARvekt, book two, to get a grasp on where the author was coming from and for a more fulfilling read – and I was not disappointed!

Author Website

After London Or Wild England by Richard Jefferies – 3/5 Stars

After London Or Wild England by Richard Jefferies - Front Cover

Quotes

‘If so, was it worth while to go upon so strange an enterprise for her sake? But if so, also, was life worth living, and might he not as well go and seek destruction?’

‘When the circle is once broken up it is often years before it is reformed. Often, indeed, the members of it never meet again, at least, not in the same manner, which, perhaps, they detested then, and ever afterwards regretted.’

First impressions

The first few chapters were introductory discourse from the narrator, on the settings and post-apocalyptic vision of England and it can lull you into thinking the rest of the story will be likewise information heavy, concerned with naturalistic detail at a level that isn’t easy to grasp. As a result, I wasn’t certain I knew where the author was taking the story itself, or what to expect beyond a vividly explained natural world of wild England. It almost made it sound as if England was so rural and uninhabitable that no story could come of the book.

What’s it about?

It so happened that After London or Wild England (ALOWE) resembled a historical story as the background for its speculative vision of the natural setting, peoples, and attitudes therein. I found it to be medieval in character, with Felix the main character nostalgic for the lost inventions of the greats but bemoaning the military prowess and status of knights and lords surrounding him. The latter have a much greater chance of winning the hand of his dear Aurora, after all.

It’s not all doom and gloom, and you can expect a few surprises in the plot – some which make sense and some which don’t or aren’t made clear. What is clear is that Felix wants some adventure to make him proud of himself so that he can stand out before Aurora, and on the way he may learn more about the world surrounding him: its past and its dangers.

Overall

ALOWE was an enjoyable read overall, with description that made you feel you were there and you were feeling what Felix was, as an observer of events around him more than a participant, and with ideas that ran contrary to the established order of things.

The aim was perhaps to show us the sort of society we could live in if we continue to poison the world with our society and industry, and the effect of the story itself did that, sometimes through narrative and sometimes through what I’d call an essay.

Author Website