Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Book Review: Wanderers of Time, by John Wyndham

I can't honestly say when I read my first John Wyndham novel, but if I had to guess it would have probably been sometime in Junior High (88-91) and was most likely either Day of the Triffids or The Midwhich Cuckoos.

For me his books were an early introduction to post-apocalyptic fiction and his mix of end of the world terror with a sort of middle class 50s United Kingdom mindset was a great introduction to the sub-genre for me.

Over the past few years I've collected a number of his books and this month dug into my first, Wanderers of Time which is a short story collection of some science fiction he wrote in the 1930s. With stories ranging from Time Travel to space adventure and two pretty interesting horror stories (one a sort of Mummy on the moon and the other a terrifying example of bio terrorism), I was quite impressed and am definitely looking forward to reading more.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Book Review: The Obelisk Gate, by N.K. Jemisin

Following up on The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin's The Obelisk Gate continues Essun's story, but this time includes the point of view of her daughter Nassum as well. In an attempt to stay away from spoilers, as the book is only a few years old, I will say that although I was a pretty big fan of the first novel, the second one took the concepts and world building from its predecessor and starting looking at them in detail, including a much more in depth look at the stone eaters and the character of Hoa.

I'm really interested to see where this series is going and although I'm still not certain as to whether I'll ever own copies of it myself, I'm finding this tragic, intimate story to be much more affecting than I was initially expecting.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Movie Review: A Quiet Place

John Krasinski's A Quiet Place begins with an intriguing concept; what if there were creatures that could kill you if you made any noise? Following an alien invasion (I'm assuming, the particulars are never mentioned), creatures have effectively overtaken the earth in a matter of months and those who still live on day 89 (where the film begins) only do so by keeping incredibly quiet.

The film follows a family as they attempt to deal with their new world, and for me the family drama going on was one of the most exiting parts of the film. Yes, the monsters are quite scary and the tension is very high, but by stripping away almost all spoken dialogue, you are left focusing on the actors faces and actions. Both leads, John Krasinski and Emily Blunt were really fantastic, but for me the standout was Millicent Simmonds, who was really fantastic throughout.

Also, the experience of watching the film in a packed theatre, where the only sounds were people occasionally coughing or rustling their bags of popcorn, made the film much more immersive for me.

Ultimately the film comes down to questions of what would you do to keep your family safe? What I loved was the fact that is in effect asked not just of the parents, but of the children as well. An incredibly engrossing film, and one I would gladly see again.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Book Review: The Fifth Season

Picking up N.K. Jemisin's 2015 novel The Fifth Season last month for a book club read, I wasn't really sure what to expect. My rule of thumb when it comes to books I've decided ahead of time to read is to entirely ignore the back cover and end pages, basically anything that might tell me what the book is about, as I figure that's simply advertising for a book I've already agreed to read.

What I knew about the book going in was:

1) It had won the 2016 Hugo for best novel - so I was looking at Science Fiction
2) My friend Mike (who has himself read his way through most of the Hugo winners since they began in 1953) picked it

So I start this book about a woman called Essun and the very first thing I notice is that the book is written in second person - the first chapter begins:
You are she. She is You. You are Essun. Remember? The woman whose son is dead.
You're an orogene who's been living in the little nothing town of Tirimo for ten years. Only three people here know what you are, and two of them you gave birth to.
Well. One left who knows, now.

For me, this immediately pulled me into the narrative, starting with this woman's tragedy and over time finding the stories of two other women, Daraya, a young child taken from her home and Syenite,an orogene paired with a curmudgeon named Alabaster for further training and breeding.

The story was often a hard read, and the broken Earth described by Jemisin was a strange and fascinating world for me to explore. In the end I liked the book enough to follow up with the sequel The Obelisk Gate within a few weeks, and I've got the final novel in the trilogy The Stone Sky on hold at my local library.

A really facinating read, and one that I would definitely recommend checking out.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Book Review: The Amazing Screw-On Head

Sometimes you buy a book and decide not to read it yet as you know it will be a special treat for you the day you finally crack it open and peek inside.

Originally published in 2002 and purchased by me as a hardcover book back in 2010, Mike Mignola's The Amazing Screw-On Head is a fun little story about an Abraham Lincoln-era robot who can screw his head (think of a lightbulb) on to a variety of robot bodies in order to best serve the U.S. Administration and save the world from a number of villains set on destroying the world.

The comic is strange, funny, and clearly related thematically to Mignola's much more famous Hellboy, but works to create a strange world in which the fate of existence is left up to a robot and fighting a villain called Emperor Zombie.

All I can say after reading this tasty little gem this morning is "Thanks 2010 Bookmonkey!"

What a delightful little book.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Book Review: Memnon

Scott Oden's Memnon examines the era of Alexander the Great, but from an outsider's point of view. Memnon of Rhodes was the commander of a group of Greek mercenaries who served the Persian King and is largely thought to have been the empire's best chance against Alexander the Great increasing power as he grew from controlling Macedonia to all of Greece and eventually most of the Ancient World.

The story follows Memnon as a young man in Rhodes, desperate to see his fortune in war, through his own rise to power under his brother Mentor and eventually as the last, best hope of the Persian Empire in the face of Alexander.

I've always been a fan of familiar stories being told from a different point of view and Memnon did not disappoint. Although I wish the book had been a little shorter, the structure was well done and Alexander takes on a very different look when he's eyeing your land as his next conquest.

A really interesting read.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Book Review: A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal

Going into this book I actually had no idea who Kim Philby was, or indeed what was ultimately betrayed. I read it as it was a book club selection made by my friend Ron, and having already decided to read it, I didn't see any need to go any further into researching the book (which I'll often do if I'm deciding whether or not to read something new).

Little did I know at the time, I had already read a book in which Philby was a main character only a few years previously, so when the aspects of his story started coming out to me, I had the delicious feeling of things falling into place as I moved along.

If, like me, you are unfamiliar with Philby, he was a Russian spy who began working undercover in British intelligence during the Second World War aiding in the Allied effort, but secretly reporting everything he had witnessed, acted on, and read over to his handlers in Moscow.

I don't actually want to get into how long it took to uncover him, or exactly how the discovery of his actions came about, as the book was much more engrossing for me to not know, wondering every time that his number appeared to come up if this would be the time he would finally be caught.

Ben MacIntyre's book is incredibly well-researched, a great example of how non-fiction can be truly engrossing, and a surprising look at just how much a well-placed spy can get away with in a culture that is unwilling to even theorize about a spy in their own midst.