Monday, October 31, 2011

Lots of New Arrivals

I think I went a bit overboard with book purchases this month. My latest batch is a whopping 15 books, but what else is a bibliophile to do?

I ordered 14 second hand books from Better World Books. Most of them are hardcovers and I'm very pleased with their condition. The box the looked like it suffered some very rough handling, but aside from one or two bent corners the books survived unscathed. According to the shipping label the package weighed in at a hefty 20 kilograms. I guess I'm giving the phrase "buying in bulk" a whole different meaning!

I bought:
Voyage and Titan by Stephen Baxter
Red Claw by Philip Palmer
Against Gravity by Gary Gibson
Infoquake by David Louis Edelman
The Hunter's Blades Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore
Glasshouse and Saturn's Children by Charles Stross
Mars Life, Saturn and Titan by Ben Bova
Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson

I also bought the gorgeous new edition of Neal Asher's Line War to complete my reissued set of the Cormac novels. The older editions found a good home with a budding science fiction (and Asher) fan.

I received two novels for review:
The Riddler's Gift by Greg Hamerton
Running Black by Patrick Todoroff

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Vertical versus Horizontal Stacking

In the life of every book addict there will come a time where you have to make the ultimate decision, a decision that will alter your reading life forever. What, you may ask, is that dreaded decision? It comes down to one simple question - how will you shelve your books?

I’m not talking about how to organize your bookshelves (that’s a whole different dilemma). No, this is the far more primal question each of us must face when we venture from our humble book pile beginnings into the world of bookshelves. It all boils down to two options: horizontal or vertical stacking. Which option would be the best for your growing book collection?

During a bout of procrastination I decided to solve that eternal quandary once and for all using a vaguely scientific approach. I had a pile of hardbacks waiting to be shelved, a more or less standard bookshelf (empty of course) and some time on my hands. The perfect opportunity for an experiment!

My goal was to see which option would provide the best usage of the available shelving space. I put vertical stacking to the test first and managed to fit 34 books onto the shelf. After that I went the horizontal route which allowed me to fit 42 books onto the shelf (I had to resort to adding paperbacks since I ran out of hardbacks).

From this little experiment it became apparent that horizontal stacking makes far better use of available space. On average you’ll be able to add 10 more hardbacks per shelf when stacking them horizontally. With paperbacks this amount more than doubles since you can add more horizontal stacks to a single shelf. On my paperback shelves I managed to add roughly 24 more books per shelf. If you multiply that by an average of 5 shelves per bookcase it gives you the ability to add over 100 extra books to your collection, which is always a good thing!

Of course there’s a downside (there always is, isn’t there?). Horizontal stacking makes it very difficult to keep your books organized alphabetically and it takes slightly more effort to get a book to read from the stack. Given the huge benefit of accommodating more books I’m willing to make that sacrifice. For my purposes horizontal stacking definitely wins!

Vertical stacking has the benefit of being much easier to organize and takes much less effort to get a book from the shelf. The downside is that you'll be paying for the convenience by having fewer books per shelf.

One thing to note when using horizontal stacking is to keep the heaviest titles at the bottom of the pile. This will prevent the weight from potentially causing any damage to the books. 

Now the burning question: How will you shelve your books?

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Wheel of Time Challenge

After watching the video above I did my best Barney Stinson impression uttering a somewhat convincing cry of "Challenge accepted!". I've been meaning to read the Wheel of Time series for ages now, but for some reason I just never seem to get round to it. I have all 13 of the previous books sitting on my bookshelf so this was the perfect motivation for jumping in.

I read a couple of the books while I was still at school, but that was ages ago so this will be like reading it for the first time. Over the next 13 months I'm going to be reading one Wheel of Time book each month.

The challenge is already in full swing and I've just finished reading the first book, The Eye of the World. Those of you familiar with the series will know that each book is a tome in itself, so if my review output takes a nosedive you'll know that I'm busy with my sojourn through the Wheel of Time series...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

King of Thorns Cover Reveal

Mark Lawrence has posted the cover for his forthcoming novel, King of Thorns on his blog. I'm sure there will be some minor tweaking done before it's final, but it's looking great so far.

King of Thorns is the sequel to Prince of Thorns (reviewed here) and has a tentative release date of August 2012. I'm definitely adding this to my wishlist.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

New Arrivals

I love buying from Better World Books. Their bargain bin is the bane of my book buying bans. I simply can't resist picking up hardback copies at their amazing prices. I think almost 90% of all my hardbacks are copies I bought from Better World Books. Best of all a large percentage of the profits they make go to fund literacy projects and recently they've also become a Book for Book company. Each time you buy a book they'll donate a book to a worthy cause - a great rationalization for buying even MORE books from them!

This time round I only got four hardcovers from them. It would have been more, but one of my Twitter friends had a book buying intervention for me and talked me down to getting just a couple of books. (Lesson learned: don't announce your book buying intentions on Twitter!).

I got:
Matter by Iain M. Banks
Eater by Gregory Benford
Jupiter by Ben Bova
The January Dancer by Micheal Flynn

The January Dancer is a replacement copy I ordered. The first copy I received had some stains on the first few pages. Since BWB has a 100% money back guarantee they refunded me (at the time they didn't have a replacement copy available) without any hassles. They are an absolute pleasure to deal with in the event of problems  When I was busy browsing their Bargain Bin I saw they had gotten another copy in so I ordered it with the refund I received.

I got a copy of Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot from my local library. I noticed they had a copy that hasn't being checked out in ages (except by me) and asked if they would be willing to sell it. The librarian said they don't sell any of the circulation books, but she checked and the copy they had was a donation they had received so she actually gave it to me. I've got a sentimental attachment to the book and since you can't find any copies of the hardback edition anymore I was ecstatic. It didn't feel right to get something for nothing so I donated an extra copy of Ben Bova's Powersat I had to them.  

I also received a paperback copy of Towers of Midnight I pre-ordered from The Book Depository at the start of the year. I actually forgot about it, so it was a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately it arrived after my "photo shoot", so there's no picture.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Review: Hell Ship

Title: Hell Ship
Author: Philip Palmer
Pages: 451
ISBN: 9781841499444
Publisher: Orbit
Published: 2011
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher

Buy it from:
The Book Depository

The Hell Ship hurtles through space. Inside the ship are thousands of slaves, each the last of their race. The Hell Ship and its infernal crew destroyed their homes, slaughtered their families and imprisoned them forever.

One champion refuses to succumb. Sharrock, reduced from hero to captive in one blow, has sworn vengeance. Although Sai-as, head of the alien slave horde, will ruthlessly enforce the status quo.

But help is close. Jak has followed the Ship for years and their battles have left Jak broken, a mind in a starship's body, focused only on destroying the Ship. Together, can hunter and slave end this interstellar nightmare?

Hell Ship is one of those novels where you know you are in for an exciting ride after just the very first chapter. Things literally kick off with a huge bang – an alien invasion, some great space battles, bloody hand-to-hand combat and the total destruction of an entire planet. What more could anyone want?

The story is told from the perspective of three different characters Sharrock, Sai-ias and Jak. Sharrock’s planet is attacked by the Hell Ship and is completely destroyed, leaving him the sole survivor of his race. After putting up a valiant fight he finds himself a captive, one slave amongst many with the same tragic story to tell. He swears vengeance against the Ka’un, the mysterious race in charge of the Hell ship.

Sai-ais is the de-facto leader of the slaves and tries to help integrate Sharrock into his new life. She tries to persuade him that fighting against the Ka’un would be a futile endeavor and that it would be far better for him to accept his circumstances and to try to find moments of joy in the bleak life that lies ahead of him.

Jak is an interstellar trader who tirelessly pursues the Hell Ship after his own world is also destroyed. He vows to avenge his home world by destroying the ship once and for all. He follows in the wake of destruction the Hell Ship leaves behind recording the haunting last messages of other civilizations annihilated by the Ka’un.

While there is lots of breathtaking action the story revolves primarily around the characters and their very different viewpoints. The characters are well-developed and thoroughly engaging. Sharrock and Sai-ais are complete opposites. Sharrock wants to right all wrongs even when he doesn’t have any idea about what is really going on. Sai-ais is a pacifist and believes in making the best of a terrible situation by defying the Ka’un in her own way. The turmoil in their relationship makes for captivating reading and it is interesting to see how they challenge each other to adjust their own worldviews and to reevaluate their beliefs.

I loved the ‘menagerie of strangeness’ with which Palmer populated the Hell Ship. There is an astonishing array of alien creatures living in the ship; each creature has a unique morphology and outlook on life. The interaction between the characters and their world brought home how diverse they really are, often resulting in some funny situations.

The Ka’un are vile creatures who enjoy nothing more than inflicting cruelty and sowing destruction wherever they go. They revel in giving the slaves false hope and then taking it away in the cruelest way possible. Just as you think they have met their match something happens to give them the upper hand which gives you a small taste of the cycle of hope and despair they put their slaves through. I would have liked the story to explore how the Ka’un ended up being so despicable, but I guess being evil for evil’s sake will have to suffice as motivation.

The Verdict:
Hell Ship is an intricately conceived story with a gigantic scope. It takes you on a rip-roaring adventure where it’s best to enjoy the incredible ride and forget about the why and how. The story is filled with emotion, masterful manipulation and unexpected twists which left me guessing until the very end. If you are looking for a change of pace from normal space operas then this is definitely worth a try.

A word of warning: Hell Ship uses a lot of foul language in some very innovative (and hilarious) combinations. If that is something that will offend you it’s best to look for something else.

The Rating: 7/10 (Very Good)

Thanks to Candice and Adeline from Penguin Books South Africa for providing the review copy.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Review: The Power of Six

Title: The Power of Six
Author: Pittacus Lore
(James Frey and Jobie Hughes)
Pages: 380
ISBN: 9780141338668
Series: Lorien Legacies #2
Publisher: Penguin
Published: 2011
Genre: Science Fiction / YA
Source: Review copy from publisher

Buy it from:
The Book Depository

We are the last defense. I've seen him on the news. Followed the stories about what happened to John Smith. To the world he's a mystery, but to me ...he's one of us.

Nine of us came here, but sometimes I wonder if time has changed us, if we all still believe in our mission. There are six of us left. We're hiding, blending in, avoiding contact with one another, but our Legacies are developing and soon we'll be ready to fight.

Is John Number Four - and is his appearance the sign I've been waiting for? And what about Number Five and Six?

They caught Number One in Malaysia. Number Two in England. And Number Three in Kenya. They tried to catch Number Four in Ohio ...and failed. I am Number Seven. And I'm ready to fight.
When I read I am Number Four at the start of the year I wasn’t impressed. It had a great premise, but fell into the trap of using almost every conceivable cliché and stereotype imaginable. The movie wasn’t any better (it might even be argued that it was worse). So it was with quite a bit of trepidation that I started reading The Power of Six. It couldn’t get any worse right?

The story continues on from where I Am Number Four left off. John, Sam and Six are on the run from both the Mogadorians and the authorities while a new character, Marina (number Seven), is introduced. The story is told in the first person and constantly jumps in viewpoint between Marina (Seven) and John (Four). Since the title is The Power of Six you would think that the focus would be on Six, but the title actually refers to the surviving members of the Garde. You do get to learn more about Six’s history (even her name), but as part of John’s viewpoint and through her interactions with him.

Marina and her guardian, Adelina, live in an orphanage in Spain where they took refuge 11 years ago. Adelina seems to have turned her back on her mission leaving Marina without guidance and withholding her inheritance from her. She has to cope with discovering her legacies by herself while having to deal with being bullied. Marina is determined to leave the orphanage as soon as she turns eighteen to go in search of John and the other members of the Garde, but the Mogadorians track her down before she has the chance…

I’m glad to say that after my initial skepticism I was very pleasantly surprised with The Power of Six. This time round the story is far more focused on character development and manages to really bring the characters to life, each with their own motivations, feelings and insecurities. As with the previous installment this is an action-packed, fast-paced read which finishes in a nail-biting finale that will have readers craving for more.

There are some great plot twists and the introduction of new characters adds a whole new dimension to the story. It’s good to see that the plot has matured a bit and that it doesn’t resort to the classic YA tropes as often as the first one. There are still some flaws, the predictable love triangle for one, but this is a huge step in the right direction. I loved seeing some strong female characters that can kick butt with the best of them. After a shaky start the Lorien Legacies (a proposed 6 book series) is starting to look very promising. Let’s hope the future releases continue this steady climb in quality.

The Verdict:
My 13-year-old self would have absolutely loved this, but unfortunately I’m way past that age now so I have to look at it in a more critical light. If you are looking for some action-packed science fiction aimed at teens then this is a good bet. More mature readers might find some elements a bit simplistic. Overall this is a very enjoyable read if you can look past the minor flaws.

The Rating: 6.5/10 (Good)

Thanks to Candice and Adeline from Penguin Books South Africa for providing the review copy.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Review: Manhattan in Reverse

Title: Manhattan in Reverse
Author: Peter F. Hamilton
Pages: 260
ISBN: 9780230750319
Publisher: Macmillan
Published: 2011
Genre: Science Fiction / Short Story Collection
Source: Review copy from publisher

Buy it from
The Book Depository

Thirteen years after the release of his first short story collection Peter F. Hamilton returns with a new collection including 'Manhattan in Reverse' an original and exclusive story featuring the popular detective Paula Mayo from his bestselling Commonwealth series.

From 'Watching Trees Grow' and a murder mystery set in an alternative Oxford in the 1800s to 'The Forever Kitten' and the questions of eternal youth and the sacrifice required to pursue this, these stories deal with intricate themes and sociological issues, and take an intriguing look at what makes us enduringly human.

With all his usual imagination for futuristic technology, complexity of character and brilliantly conceived storytelling Peter F. Hamilton shows through this collection of work what it is that makes him Britain's number one science fiction writer.
Peter F. Hamilton is best known for his immense, in both scope and sheer physical size, space opera tomes. Any self-respecting science fiction fan will immediately know what I’m talking about and glance lovingly at the sagging shelf where their Peter F. Hamilton collection resides. If you aren’t familiar with his work then you need to take a year-long vacation and immerse yourself in The Night’s Dawn Trilogy (± 3630 pages), The Commonwealth Saga (± 2000 pages), The Void Trilogy ((± 2000 pages) or even Fallen Dragon (a mere 650 pages). Alternatively, if that sounds like a daunting prospect, you can just pick up Manhattan in Reverse and be introduced to the brilliance of Hamilton in a far more manageable 260 pages.

Manhattan in Reverse is Peter F. Hamilton’s second collection of short stories and contains a selection of seven stories centering on the theme of humanity, society and what makes us human. Most of the short stories have previously appeared in other anthologies or magazines, but the story from which the title is derived, Manhattan in Reverse, was exclusively written for this collection.

I haven’t read any of Hamilton’s short stories before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was always convinced that a good story needs lots of pages to be told convincingly, but after reading Manhattan in Reverse I’m cured of that misconception. Hamilton is just as adept in the short form as he is in writing full-length novels and I was amazed at the scope and intricacy of the stories he managed to portray in such a brief form.

Watching Trees Grow is a murder mystery set in an alternate history version of Earth where the Romans conquered the world. The ruling families are exceptionally long-lived and murder is an almost unheard of crime, making it all the more heinous when it happens. A young student, Justin Ascham Raleigh, is brutally murdered and the family representative, Edward Buchanan Raleigh, will rest at nothing to bring the murderer to justice. Edward is unrelenting in his quest and even though it takes him over 200 years to solve the case he never gives up.

The most impressive part of this story is the amazing progression of technology in the two centuries it takes to bring the case to a close. Edward uses these technological advances as tools in his search for the murderer, but ultimately it is human nature that provides the breakthrough. The idea of an exceptionally long-lived society is interesting and the punishment meted out to the murderer at the end is both terrible and just.

Footvote takes place in a near-history version of the UK where the country is falling apart after a mass exodus by the disillusioned population after a wormhole to a new world is opened. A mother is forced to choose between her children or sticking to her ideology.

If at First… is a great time-travel story with a nice twist at the end.

The Forever Kitten is the shortest story in the collection, but also one of the most disturbing. It deals with the question of genetic manipulation and how far parents will go to protect the innocence of their children.

Blessed by an Angel is the only story I struggled with somewhat. I haven’t read the Commonwealth saga yet (I’m hoarding it for a rainy month) so I wasn’t familiar with the background necessary to really understand the events completely. I’m sure it would be far more enjoyable if you’ve already read the saga. There is a very nice, unexpected twist at the end though.

The Demon Trap and Manhattan in Reverse are also both tied to the Commonwealth saga and features the recurring character of investigator Paula Myo. Unlike with Blessed by An Angel I had no trouble understanding the world and what was going on. Both stories are police procedurals with a science fiction setting. The Demon Trap deals with a terrorist attack while Manhattan in Reverse is about unrest amongst possibly sentient alien wildlife caused by the newly arrived human settlers.

You know Paula will track down the culprits in the end, but how she goes about it is what makes the stories so compelling. Since Paula was genetically bred for her profession she excels at law enforcement and her overriding sense of justice shines through. There are quite a few twists in the plot and she gets to play with some great technology in order to solve the crimes. I loved the Commonwealth world which gives a new meaning to train commutes – hopping on a train and traveling to a different world through a wormhole is an intriguing idea. I really should get started on the Commonwealth saga sometime soon.

The Verdict:
I thoroughly enjoyed every page of Manhattan in Reverse. Peter F. Hamilton is at the top of his game and this short story collection just reinforces that fact.  If you are a fan you will absolutely love this collection, but newcomers will find this an excellent introduction to his work without having to commit to a full-length novel. Highly recommended!

The Rating: 8/10 (Great)

Thanks to Kelly from Pan Macmillan SA for the review copy..