Saturday, November 26, 2011

New Arrivals and a Bookish Surprise

Last week we had a power outage for most of the weekend which meant that I didn't get round to posting the new books I got. So this is a bumper edition covering two week's worth of new book arrivals plus a great bookish surprise.

Pre-loved books:

First up is yet another order from Better World Books. I love the great deals they have on used books which allows me to actually afford some hardcovers for a change.

I got:
This Is Not A Game by Walter Jon Williams
New Spring by Robert Jordan
Building Harlequin's Moon by Larry Niven and Brenda Cooper
Gradisil by Adam Roberts
The Elysium Commission by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
Whole Wide World by Paul J. McAuley
Humans and Hybrids by Robert J. Sawyer
Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer
Diaspora by Greg Egan

A Twitter follower (thanks Rob!) suggested that I check out Awesomebooks. They also have great deals on used books and trying them out was a great excuse to get some more books (I'm sneaky like that).

From them I got:
The Dreaming Void by Peter F. Hamilton
Misspent Youth by Peter F. Hamilton
Inversions by Iain M. Banks
Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks.

There's one book still outstanding from my order, but I'm hoping that it will arrive next week. The books were shipped separately so it might have taken a slightly longer route.


I only bought two new books. Both of them were on sale so I just couldn't say no.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The Nano Flower by Peter F Hamilton

For Review:

The Omen Machine by Terry Goodkind. Thanks to Jonathan Ball Publishers for the review copy.

The Surprise:

Lastly here's something for you guys to drool over - A Wheel of Time bag.

A while back Orbit launched their Turn The Wheel of Time Facebook page. The first 500 people who "liked" the page got sent a stunning Wheel of Time bag. Mine arrived on Friday and I love it. Now my books can travel in style. Thanks Orbit and Penguin Books SA (the local distributors), you made my day!

In My Mailbox is hosted by The Story Siren

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Review: Snuff

Title: Snuff
Author: Terry Pratchett
Pages: 416
ISBN: 9780062011848
Series: Discworld #39
Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: October 2011
Genre: Fantasy
Source: eARC from publisher

Buy it from:
The Book Depository

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a policeman taking a holiday would barely have had time to open his suitcase before he finds his first corpse.

And Commander Sam Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch is on holiday in the pleasant and innocent countryside, but not for him a mere body in the wardrobe. There are many, many bodies and an ancient crime more terrible than murder.

He is out of his jurisdiction, out of his depth, out of bacon sandwiches, and occasionally snookered and out of his mind, but never out of guile. Where there is a crime there must be a finding, there must be a chase and there must be a punishment.

They say that in the end all sins are forgiven. But not quite all…
I’m a huge fan of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. They are my comfort reads. Whenever I’m feeling blue or if I’m stuck in a reading slump I reach for the nearest Pratchett and my troubles soon disappear in bouts of laughter or, at the very least, some mirthful sniggers. I love Pratchett’s sense of humor and his wonderful ability to play with words (and footnotes) while telling a compelling story that holds a fantastical mirror up to our world. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on his latest, Snuff, and I’m glad to say I wasn’t disappointed.

Snuff is the 39th Discworld novel and continues the City Watch story arc. Commander Vimes is forced to take a vacation in the countryside with his family, Lady Sybil and Young Sam, where he soon discovers that something serious is amiss. You can take the watchman out of the city, but you can’t take the watchman out of Vimes. Vimes sets out to uncover what nefarious crimes the seemingly tranquil countryside is hiding and finds himself in the center of a ruthless smuggling operation. Will he succeed in bringing justice to those who need it the most?

Snuff is the darkest Discworld novel I’ve read so far. The humor is toned down quite a bit, but I think that is because it deals with some very serious issues – murder, slavery, human (species!) rights, the class divide, smuggling and corruption. There are still some brilliantly funny moments scattered throughout the novel. Young Sam’s fascination with poo and all things poo related resulted in quite a few sniggers. There are also some funny references to Twitter and even Jane Austen gets the Pratchett treatment.

The plot is engaging and progresses at a fast pace, like any decent crime novel should. Vimes is one of my favorite characters and I loved seeing him in action again. He has to struggle with his own darker nature throughout the novel, but he comes to realize that while there are similarities between him and the criminals, his control of his darker side and his unwavering belief in justice is what makes him such a good watchman.

The story culminates in a daring chase aboard a string of barges where Vimes has a final showdown with the criminals. In the end justice is done in more ways than one…

The Verdict:
Overall I really enjoyed Snuff. It’s not a light, easy read like most of the other Discworld novels, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The issues Snuff deals with and the social commentary it provides is very apt and relevant in today’s society. Keep this one aside for the times when you are ready for something more serious with just a dash of humor thrown in for good measure.

The Discworld novels are more or less standalone, but you might want to read Thud! before reading Snuff in order to understand some of the references.

The Rating: 7/10 (Very Good)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Interview: Neal Asher

I managed to catch up with science fiction author Neal Asher after his return from Crete where he has a holiday home. We talked about the release of his newest novel, The Departure, his forthcoming titles and his views on ebooks. There's also a sneak peak at the blurb for Zero Point, the next novel in the Owner trilogy, so don't miss out.

KJ: Hi, Neal. I know you are currently hard at work on the rest of the Owner series. I really appreciate you taking the time to answer a few questions.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

NA: I was born in a small town in Essex called Billericay in 1961, the child of parents who were a primary school teacher and a lecturer in applied mathematics. Being a product of our seriously screwed-up comprehensive education system, I left school with just a couple of ‘O’ levels and a scattering of CSEs. I obviously loved reading weird stuff from an early age since I still remember, when learning to read, being bored by ‘Janet & John’ but fascinated by a book called ‘A Wasp Without Wings’ (it was an ant, so the oak tree told it) and then seemingly without transition reading Lord of the Rings, and books by E C Tubb and Edgar Rice Burroughs. I also had numerous interests: biology, physics, chemistry, art and writing, and in my teens (I think) chose writing as my main interest, thereafter learning as much as I could about it, including taking an ‘A’ level English when in my twenties.

Meanwhile I started work, training as an engineer, and going on to do numerous manual jobs, and from the ’87 storms going self-employed doing council grass cutting, tree-work and much else besides. During this time I wrote a fantasy trilogy plus the first book of another trilogy, briefly had an agent for them but no luck, started submitting stories to the small presses and gradually worked my way up the writing ladder. All this time I had also been perpetually submitting synopses and sample chapters to the big publishers and by the time Gridlinked and The Skinner hit I already had numerous short stories published in the small presses, along with a collection of those stories and a couple of novellas.

Also, while all this was going on, I hooked up with Caroline and we married in 2000. I packed up my day job in 2001 to concentrate on writing and now, in total, have had about 20 books published, live seven months of the year on Crete, and hope to have published at least 50 books before I turn up my toes.

KJ: How would you describe your books to someone who is completely new to them? What would be the best novels to start out with?

NA: Space opera is the relevant label, though there is a lot of biological stuff in them, some of them are set on the surface some planet or other, and I have published one time-travel novel. The books have plenty of high technology, action and violence, weird life forms and ecosystems and nicely convoluted plots.I aim for entertainment and try to hit the reader with a bit of sensawunda.

KJ: Your latest novel, The Departure, came out in September. Can you tell us a bit more about it?

NA: In my collection The Engineer (updated version being The Engineer ReConditioned) I told some stories featuring a character called ‘The Owner’ – a ten-thousand-year-old super being who owned worlds and swanned about in a space ship the size of a moon. I decided I would like to tell the story of how he came into being and set to work on that. He arises from a near future dystopia. Here’s one of the blurbs:

Like Wellsian war machines the shepherds stride into riots to grab up the ringleaders and drag them off to Inspectorate HQ for adjustment, unless they are in shredding mode, in which case their captives visit community digesters, or rather whatever of them has not been washed down the street drains.

Pain inducers are used for adjustment, and soon the Committee will have the power to edit human minds, but not yet, twelve billion human being need to die before Earth can be stabilized, but by turning large portions of Earth into concentration camps this is achievable, especially when the Argus satellite laser network comes fully online…

Alan Saul has taken a different route to disposal, waking as he does inside a crate on the conveyor into the Calais incinerator. How he got there he does not know, but he does remember the pain and the face of his interrogator. Janus speaks to Saul through the hardware implanted in his skull, sketching the nightmare world for him. And Saul decides to bring it all crashing down…

KJ: The novel is a departure from the familiar Polity universe which fans have come to know and love. This has led to some very mixed reactions. Was this an intentional choice and do you think tackling a new setting provides more of a writing challenge/opportunity?

NA: As I said above: it’s another string to my bow. Too many writers end up trapped in a small niche by the demands of their fans and by fear of failure, and being trapped often end up failing because their own boredom with their niche begins to show through. You have to try something new else become stale and formulaic. Yes, it was an intentional choice.

Those ‘mixed reactions’ stem from the dislike fans have of change, and from the politics in The Departure. However, politics is unavoidable if you’re creating a near-future dystopia, for I needed to give a plausible depiction of why it existed. Unfortunately many people did not like to see an extrapolation of the dogma they adhere to, while others, less narrow-minded, looked around at our world and saw just how close to the truth that extrapolation was. It was a book that polarized opinion but, as is usual, the tribal ideologues were the noisiest.

KJ: The Departure is set in a very bleak and disturbing world which makes Orwell’s 1984 look almost like a utopia. Why did you choose to go this route? Did 1984 feature as an inspiration?

NA: No, 1984 was not an inspiration; I took my inspiration from what seems to be the steady march towards totalitarianism in Britain and Europe. It was written in the shadow of steadily increasing state control and interference in our day-to-day lives, the destruction of real science and its replacement with ‘post-normal science’ and the increasing sacrifice of power by our leaders to bureaucrats. And it was published just before we saw democratically elected national leaders in Europe being ousted and replaced by EU ‘technocrats’ (as they are wrongly labelled). My hope is that the EU and other unelected supranational organizations like it, whose instincts seem totalitarian, come crashing down, and that the future depicted in The Departure doesn’t come to pass.It is a small hope.

KJ: The Departure is the first novel in the Owner Trilogy. Can you tell us a bit about the forthcoming titles and when we can expect them to be released?

NA: The next novel is Zero Point and should be coming out in maybe August or September next year. With this, and the ensuing Jupiter War, I’m much more back on home territory for the trilogy is about Alan Saul, ‘The Owner’, leaving Earth. More of these books is set beyond Earth and there’s more of that‘space opera’ and ‘sensawunda’. Again the title has a double meaning. The Departure was Saul departing Earth but also I departed from the Polity (which doesn’t mean I’m not going back to it), while Zero Point takes a look a zero-point energy and the Alcubierre drive, but is also related to the ‘year zero’ beloved of a nasty individual by the name of Pol Pot. Here’s the blurb:

Now free of Earth and out of danger, Alan Saul explores his expanded mind and reflects on a route to immortality opened by Hannah Neumann, and upon the newly revealed secrets of Argus Station. The ghastly experiments in Humanoid Unit Development may have resulted in something numinous, while a madman might hold the keys to Interstellar flight…

The warship the Alexander still sits in its construction station in Earth orbit and, more immediately, Argus Station is hurtling towards the red planet, with whomever, or whatever trashed Earth still aboard. But VarDelex is retaining her grip on power in Antares Base on Mars, and has a plan to take it from danger…

Breaking out of their sectors, the billions Zero Asset citizens of Earth no longer face extermination from orbit, for Saul has all but annihilated the Committee by dropping the Argus laser satellite network on its infrastructure of control. The ZAs are free, for the shepherds, spiderguns and razorbirds are somnolent, govnet is down and Inspectorate HQs are smoking craters…

However, scrambling from the ruins, comes Serene Galahad, who has the means to act, decisively and ruthlessly, before the remnants of Committee power are overrun by the masses. And the agents of Earth, determined to exact their vengeance, are closer to Saul than he knows.

KJ: You’ve recently tried your hand at self-publishing some novellas on the Kindle starting with The Parasite. Has this been a success and do you see yourself publishing more novellas/short stories in this way?

NA: It was a success in that I’ve had quite a few sales, but I still love paper books. Certainly I’ll publish more on Kindle, in fact I have my very first novella, Mindgames: Fool’s Mate, lined up and ready, but I will be concentrating on the books for Macmillan because I know which side my bread is buttered on. Maybe, as and when I get free time, I’ll put out more novellas as e-books, and maybe they can be collected and issued on paper.

KJ: Any thoughts on the whole ebooks vs. printed books debate? Which do you prefer and do you own an ebook reader?

NA: I prefer paper books because I’ve been reading them all my life, but I can see the utility of e-readers especially when, for example, I pack a suitcase with books and weigh it. Inevitably e-books are going to take over and publishers are even now facing the problems the music industry faced. How it will all pan out, what with piracy and so-on, I don’t know, but what I do know is that no matter the medium, people will always want good stuff to read and they won’t get it if the writers aren’t paid. This is, I guess, why I just haven’t yet made up my mind about the DRM debate. No, I don’t have an e-reader, yet.

KJ: Who are your favourite authors? Any that inspired/influenced you as a writer?

NA: That question is always a difficult one to answer. In the acknowledgements of The Skinner I thank all those wonderful people from Asimov to Zelazny, since I’ve probably read most of them. If you search ‘Neal Asher Top Ten’ you’ll find a couple of lists – one being SF and another being fantasy – but my likes and dislikes change all the time, and when I start compiling lists they get very long and I always forget something. If you check out my blog and look for my book collection (which is buried deep) you’ll see the books I retained, and often there you’ll see reviews of books I’ve enjoyed too.

KJ: Anything else you’d like to add or say to your fans?

NA: If you like my stuff then say so, loudly. And I’ll keep writing the books if you keep buying them!

KJ: Thanks, Neal.  I definitely can't wait for the next installment!

You can find out more about Neal and his novels over on his blog or follow him on Twitter.

My reviews of Neal Asher's novels:

Sunday, November 13, 2011

New Arrivals

This week I only received two books. The first book I got is a hardcover copy of The Mall by S.L. Grey which I won from the World SF Blog. S.L. Grey is the pseudonym for the South African writing duo Louis Greenberg and Sarah Lotz. The cover looks super creepy, so I can't wait to read it.

I also got Revenge of the Dwarves by Markus Heitz to review. It is the third book in the series, so I'll first have to track down and read the first two before I can get round to this one. Thanks to Penguin Books South Africa for sending me the review copy.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

24 Hours of Great Offers

24h offer. up to 80% off. Great Discounts at The book Depository
Get your Christmas shopping fingers ready, set your watches and prime the coffee machine. From 12:00 (noon) GMT tomorrow The Book Depository is going to be offering great deals on books. For a period of 24 hours they'll be offering a discount on a different title each hour.

Which titles will be available? You'll have to wait and see. That's part of the surprise. With up to 80% off on titles, I'm definitely going to keep my eyes open!

I buy most of my books from The Book Depository and I've never been disappointed.

Their service is superb and they are one of the few shops who offer free internationally shipping (even to South Africa). There's no better time to give them a try if you haven't done so already.

Happy shopping and good luck!