Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Best Reads of 2015

That's it. 2015 is done and dusted. Well, almost.

Looking back on the year I have to confess that I didn't manage to read nearly as much as I would have liked. With a new full-time job and the added responsibility of my freelance work I've discovered just how precious having time to read can be. My goal for the year was to read 25 books. I thought that it would be a breeze to achieve, but I barely managed to make it. If it wasn't for a brief week-long vacation over December I might have failed miserably.

While my reading might have lacked in quantity it certainly didn't lack in quality. Here are my top 5 reads for the year in no particular order.

THE TRAITOR by Seth Dickinson


For making me care so much about the characters and then betraying me every step of the way. Read full review.

Under Ground by S.L. Grey


For keeping me guessing until the very end. Read full review.

Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds


For its intimate, character-driven story, its epic scope and the utterly haunting ending. Read full review.

Dark Intelligence by Neal Asher


For providing that unique Asher magic - a high-tech, action-packed cinematic space opera extravaganza in book form.

Legion by Brandon Sanderson


For its brilliant concept and the sheer amount of humour and suspense crammed into just 80 pages. Read full review.

***

For future reference here is my Goodreads 2015 infographic:


Here's to a 2016 filled with even more amazing books and enough time to read them all. Happy New Year!


Monday, December 28, 2015

New Release: Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard


Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard
Release date: 29 December 2015
ISBN: 9780765377029
Order a copy from The Book Depository

An historian who speaks with the dead is ensnared by the past. A child who feels no pain and who should not exist sees the future. Between them are truths that will shake worlds.

In a distant future, no remnants of human beings remain, but their successors thrive throughout the galaxy. These are the offspring of humanity's genius-animals uplifted into walking, talking, sentient beings. The Fant are one such species: anthropomorphic elephants ostracized by other races, and long ago exiled to the rainy ghetto world of Barsk. There, they develop medicines upon which all species now depend. The most coveted of these drugs is koph, which allows a small number of users to interact with the recently deceased and learn their secrets.

To break the Fant's control of koph, an offworld shadow group attempts to force the Fant to surrender their knowledge. Jorl, a Fant Speaker with the dead, is compelled to question his deceased best friend, who years ago mysteriously committed suicide. In so doing, Jorl unearths a secret the powers that be would prefer to keep buried forever. Meanwhile, his dead friend's son, a physically challenged young Fant named Pizlo, is driven by disturbing visions to take his first unsteady steps toward an uncertain future.

***

Check back on 5 January when Lawrence M. Schoen will be sharing some of his favourite authors as part of the Barsk Blog Tour.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Hogfather: The Best Bits

Yesterday, in dire need of a comfort read before heading back to work after an all too brief 5-day vacation, I re-read Terry Pratchett's Hogfather. It remains one of my favourite Discworld novels and with it being the season for jolly men in red suits creeping around at night, I couldn't think of a more appropriate time.

Like all the Discworld novels Hogfather is filled with so much wit and hidden wisdom that each reading offers something new to discover. So here, presented with a complete lack of context, is some of the best bits that had me either laughing like a mad man or contemplating our mortal existence - sometimes both at once.

If you haven't read Hogfather yet I recommend that you remedy that situation as soon as possible. It's bloody brilliant!

‘… and then Jack chopped down the beanstalk, adding murder and ecological vandalism to the theft, enticement and trespass charges already mentioned, but he got away with it and lived happily ever after without so much as a guilty twinge about what he had done. Which proves that you can be excused just about anything if you’re a hero, because no one asks inconvenient questions.’

She sighed. Normality was what you made it.

‘Never say die, master. That’s our motto, eh?’ said Albert. I CAN’T SAY IT’S EVER REALLY BEEN MINE.

In Biers, unless you weren’t choosy, it paid to order a drink that was transparent because Igor also had undirected ideas about what you could stick on the end of a cocktail stick. If you saw something spherical and green, you just had to hope that it was an olive.

“Nah, ’s pretty quiet just before Hogswatch,” said the raven, who was trying to fold the red paper between his claws. “You get a lot of gerbils and hamsters and that in a few days, mind. When the kids forget to feed them or try to find out what makes them go.”

"... one of the symptoms of those going completely yo-yo was that they broke out in chronic cats. Usually cats who’d mastered every detail of feline existence except the whereabouts of the dirt box.”

LET’S GET THERE AND SLEIGH THEM. HO. HO. HO.
“Right you are, master.”
THAT WAS A PUNE OR PLAY ON WORDS, ALBERT. I DON’T KNOW IF YOU NOTICED.
“I’m laughing like hell deep down, sir.”
HO. HO. HO.

—and a sword. It was four feet long and glinted along the blade.
The mother took a deep breath.
“You can’t give her that!” she screamed.
“It’s not safe!”
IT’S A SWORD, said the Hogfather. THEY’RE NOT MEANT TO BE SAFE.

Binky was not challenged by the high stairs. It wasn’t that he flew. It was simply that he walked on a ground level of his own devising.

“Clever isn’t the same as sensible,” said Susan, “and they do say that if you wish to walk the path to wisdom then for your first step you must become as a small child.”
“Do you think they’ve heard about the second step?”
Susan sighed. “Probably not, but sometimes they fall over it while they’re running around shouting.”

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head

It really was a crummy room, the sort rented by someone who probably took it never intending to stay long, the sort where walking across the floor in the middle of the night would be accompanied by the crack of cockroaches in a death flamenco. It was amazing how many people spent their whole lives in places where they never intended to stay.

On the simple table by the bed was a small, rather crude portrait of a bulldog in a wig, although on closer inspection it might have been a woman. This tentative hypothesis was borne out by the inscription “To a Good Boy, from his Mother” on the back.

Everyone, it is said, has a book inside them. In this library, everyone was inside a book.

“There are magic wardrobes,” said Violet nervously. “If you go into them, you come out in a magic land.”

“I really should talk to him, sir. He’s had a near-death experience!”
“We all have. It’s called ‘living,’” said the Archchancellor shortly.

IT IS THE THINGS YOU BELIEVE WHICH MAKE YOU HUMAN. GOOD THINGS AND BAD THINGS, IT’S ALL THE SAME.

‘All right,’ said Susan. ‘I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need … fantasies to make life bearable.’
REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.
‘Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—’
YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.
‘So we can believe the big ones?’
YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.
‘They’re not the same at all!’
YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET— Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME … SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.
‘Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—’
MY POINT EXACTLY.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Review: Legion

Title: Legion
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Pages: 69
ISBN: 9781473212633
Series: Legion #1
Publisher: Gollancz
Published: 2015 (first published in 2012)
Genre: Crime/Thriller
Source: Review copy from publisher


Buy it from:
The Book Depository
Takealot.com

Stephen Leeds, AKA 'Legion', is a man whose unique mental condition allows him to generate a multitude of personae: hallucinatory entities with a wide variety of personal characteristics and a vast array of highly specialised skills.

As the story begins, Leeds and his 'aspects' are drawn into the search for the missing Balubal Razon, inventor of a camera whose astonishing properties could alter our understanding of human history and change the very structure of society. The action ranges from the familiar environs of America to the ancient, divided city of Jerusalem. Along the way, Sanderson touches on a formidable assortment of complex questions: the nature of time, the mysteries of the human mind, the potential uses of technology, and the volatile connection between politics and faith.

As clichéd as it may sound dynamite does come in small packages and Legion, Brandon Sanderson’s novella, packs a potent punch. In just 68 pages Sanderson manages to weave a captivating, full-fledged crime thriller with a science fiction twist.

Legion starts off with one of the best opening lines ever: “My name is Stephen Leeds, and I’m perfectly sane. My hallucinations, however, are all quite mad.” With an opening like that I was sucked in completely and only stopped reading until I reached the very last page – the acknowledgements. Yes, I even read the acknowledgements in an effort to prolong the story.

Stephen Leeds, the main protagonist is a brilliant man with a unique mental condition that allows him to conjure up different aspects. These aspects manifest themselves as fully independent hallucinatory characters, each with a specialized skill set of their own. Think along the lines of a schizophrenic Pretender and you’ll get the idea.

Leeds gets hired to track down the inventor of a camera with an astounding property, an ability that could alter humanity’s understanding of history and the very fabric of society if it got into the wrong hands. His search for the camera tackles complex issues like religions, the implications of time travel, privacy and the impact of technology on society.
“At the heart of science is accepting only that truth which can be proven. At the heart of faith is to define Truth, at its core, as being unprovable.” (p 31)
Leeds is a fascinating, engaging character (as is all his aspects) with just enough information given about his mysterious mental condition and his enigmatic past to hook you. The fact that you don’t get all the answers or a full back-story is what makes this such an absorbing read. You keep reading just to discover more pieces of his past, tantalizing titbits which are casually worked in to the story. The relationship between Leeds and all his different aspects is where Legion really shines. They feel like entire characters on their own and the endearing, often hilarious interplay between them will have you laughing like a mad man or, at the very least, put a huge grin on your face.
“... he had the eyes of a killer. Or so he claimed. Perhaps he kept them in his pocket.” (p 2)
“I’m not going more mad,” I said. “I’ve stabilized. I’m practically normal. Even my non-hallucinatory psychiatrist acknowledges that.”
“You keep walking through the middle of J.C.,” I said. “It’s very disturbing for him; he hates being reminded he’s a hallucination.” “I’m not a hallucination,” J.C. snapped. “I have state-of-the-art stealthing equipment.”
The ending resolves the story in a satisfying way, but you are left craving more. Leeds is such a fascinating character that you want to know far more about him than a single novella can provide. And that’s a good thing.

The Verdict:
Legion is a fast, utterly captivating read filled with fascinating characters and hilarious moments that will leave you craving for more. For a novella it packs one heck of a punch, the only downside is that it is so short. I’d gladly devour a thousand page epic filled with Leeds and his adventures. Highly recommended!

The Rating: 7.5/10

Thanks to Charlene from Jonathan Ball Publishers for the review copy.



Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Cover Reveal: The Long Cosmos

The UK cover for the final installment in Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter's Long Earth series, The Long Cosmos, has been unveiled. I really hope that this provides a satisfying conclusion to a series filled with endless wonder and possibilities..


THE LONG COSMOS
Release date: 14 July 2016
ISBN: 9780857521781
Pre-order a copy from The Book Depository

2070-71. Nearly six decades after Step Day and in the Long Earth, the new Next post-human society continues to evolve.
For Joshua Valient̩, now in his late sixties, it is time to take one last solo journey into the High Meggers: an adventure that turns into a disaster. Alone and facing death, his only hope of salvation lies with a group of trolls. But as Joshua confronts his mortality, the Long Earth receives a signal from the stars. A signal that is picked up by radio astronomers but also in more abstract ways Рby the trolls and by the Great Traversers. Its message is simple but ts implications are enormous:

JOIN US.

The super-smart Next realise that the Message contains instructions on how to develop an immense artificial intelligence but to build it they have to seek help from throughout the industrious worlds of mankind. Bit by bit, byte by byte, they assemble a computer the size of a continent – a device that will alter the Long Earth’s place within the cosmos and reveal the ultimate, life-affirming goal of those who sent the Message. Its impact will be felt by and resonate with all – mankind and other species, young and old, communities and individuals – who inhabit the Long Earths…

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