Monthly roundup culture consumed – July 2016

How was July?

Books

This month I read (and reviewed) Vigil by Australian author Angela Slatter. I reviewed the book for the Australian Women Writers Reading challenge here, so you can read my opinion in great detail.

I also read the final “Long Earth” book by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, called The Long Cosmos. I’ve enjoyed the series without loving it, and I must admit that my primary motivation around this book was to be a completist. The writing was good, but I must admit that the plot didn’t really seem to build to anything. If you like the series, you’ll probably already have read the book. If not, you can quite safely give this one a miss.

I’ve started on The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu. I’m only a little way through the book, but enjoying it so far. It’s been a long introduction, but the characters are enjoyable and the world building interesting enough to carry me through. More next month!

Never having read any Lois McMaster Bujold, I’ve decided to give the Vorkosigan Saga a go. I’m starting with Falling Free. Hopefully I’ll have finished that next month too.

TV

As reported last month, the second series’ of Dark Matter (a science fiction show that actually features a spaceship) and Killjoys (intergalactic bounty hunters) started back up. I’ve quite enjoyed both through the course of the month. Dark Matter is probably my favourite of the two, but only just. It is jumping around a bit cast wise, with one of the main cast from last season killed off and an array of new characters popping in and out. But the overall plot is interesting, and the acting good enough to keep me coming back.

Killjoys is getting better this season, with more of an overarching storyline to keep me interested. I think the show is a bit tighter this season.

I just today realised that the second series of Marvel’s Agent Carter is playing on one of the free to air channels (7flix). Fortunately their catch up TV still has the first six episodes so I’ll make a concerted effort to catch up.

Movies

A lot of movies this month. Last month I mentioned that my 8-year old daughter and I were going to see Ghostbusters. My daughter really enjoyed the movie, and loved the cast (and the “icky ghosts”). The movie was everything I was hoping it would be in terms of strong female cast, good story, good special effects etc. I’ve read some commentary about some people being disappointed, but it did everything I wanted it to. Well worth going, especially if you’ve got a young person in your life who’d like to see strong representations of women on the big screen.

I also went to the IMAX in Sydney to see the new Star Trek movie, Star Trek Beyond. I think this might be my favourite of the three new reboot movies, with a strong storyline and some great set pieces. The characters were strongly played (although seriously, how many times can they go back to the Mr-Spock-doesn’t-have-feelings-except-yes-he-actually-does-oh-he-is-human-afterall well?) and there was a good balance of action and humour. Clearly you’re probably not going to see the movie unless you’re a Star Trek fan, but I would say that if you like science fiction generally, this is the Star Trek movie I’d probably recommend for you.

Speaking of Star Trek, has anyone else seen the news that there is going to be a new Star Trek TV series starting early next year? And that Australian Netflix is going to show the episodes the day after they air in the US? I can’t seem to find any further details than that, but the news has made me unreasonably excited.

This weekend I also saw Suicide Squad. Look, I don’t don’t really want to get on the Suicide Squad bashing bandwagon. It’s not the greatest film in the world. You can probably wait until it comes out on DVD. Introducing such a lot of relatively unknown characters in one movie means that a LOT of time is dedicated to backstory. And the team bond together remarkably quickly considering they are all bad guys. But if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief it is a harmless enough way to kill a couple of hours. It gets a “meh” from me.

Other

Not much else this month. I’m not going to be at my computer next Sunday, so next week’s post might be a little delayed (I’ll try the automatic publish thing but quite frankly it has not served me well in the past). If it doesn’t work, I’ll publish on Tuesday. Promise!

Monthly roundup – June and July 2015

So, my website has been neglected for the last couple of months – work has been a bit crazy and I’m running very behind on a whole lot of extra-curricular stuff.

So, let me catch you up gentle reader.

I’ve read a few books over the last couple of months, all of which I enjoyed. I finally read Dodger by Terry Pratchett. Set in the England of the industrial revolution, it follows the exploits of Dodger, a young man who scours the sewers of London for treasure that others have flushed away. I’ve been putting off reading this book, knowing that it was the last new pure Pratchett I’m every going to read. It was good, amusing all the way through and with the great turn of phrase I expect from a Pratchett novel. It was strange reading something that wasn’t set in Discworld, but it was a refreshing change (as much as I love Discworld novels!). Recommended if you’re a Pratchett fan.

I have been eagerly awaiting the release of The Big Smoke by Jason Nahrung. Nahrung is one of my favourite authors, and The Big Smoke didn’t disappoint. I’ll be writing a full review soon, but in the meantime if Aussie vampires in Brisvegas sounds intriguing, get out and buy the book (and Blood and Dust, the first book in the duology, which I reviewed here).

Moving more internationally, I inhaled The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, which has featured on many of the speculative fiction award lists this year. An excellent novel, it follows a half-elf-half-orc who unexpectedly inherits the throne when his father and older half-brothers unexpectedly die in an accident. The main character is very sympathetic, and the writing very clean. A real page turner, I read the book in a couple of sittings. I can see why it has received so many accolades. One of the best fantasies of the year.

Peripheral by William Gibson was also very enjoyable, if not the same kind of page turner. Based on the premise that people in the future find a way to communicate with the past through a computer system, it is part science fiction, part murder mystery and part thriller. It took a little bit of effort to get into the book, but once there I really enjoyed it. Well written and the trademark Gibson  extrapolation of current technology gives much food for thought.

I decided to read the winners of each novel category of the 2015 Aurealis Awards to keep my eye on the Australian scene. I started with Peacemaker  by Marianne de Pierres, winner of the Best Science Fiction category. I’ll be doing a full review for the Australian Women Writers Reading Challenge, but in short it was a good novel solidly executed, but I don’t know that I’ll be rushing back for the second book in the series.

Next off the mark was The Dreaming Pool by Juliet Marillier. I really enjoyed this book. There was an element of “you can’t judge a book by its cover”, because I had completely the wrong idea about the book from the title and the cover. Once again, I’ll be writing a full review for the AWWC but well worth reading.

I’m taking a short break from my Aurealis reading to look at The Long Utopia by Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett (more Stephen Baxter than Terry Pratchett, mores the pity – nothing against Stephen Baxter, but I do miss Pratchett’s writing). About as expected so far.

TV wise, like everyone I watching through to the end of Game of Thrones season 5, and have spent the requisite amount of time worrying about Jon Snow’s fate. That’s probably enough – there have been a lot more written about GoT everyone else on the internet, and I find myself without anything interesting to say.

I started watching Dark Matter, which has the distinction of being a science fiction show actually set on a spaceship. I hadn’t realised I’d been missing that until I got about half way through the first episode and thought “<insert deity of choice>, I love spaceships”. A good premise (everyone waking up with amnesia) and very competently executed so far. I’m hooked.

I also started watching Defiance season 3. For a show that was released primarily to sell a computer game, I’ve found Defiance quite compelling. There has been a bit of a clear out of old characters, but I’m still liking the show. If you haven’t watched the first two seasons, I probably wouldn’t advise starting at season 3.

I started watching The Messengers but abandoned it after 1.5 episodes. I’m not a religious man, but I can be convinced to watch angel/demon shows (for instance Supernatural), but I’ve decided I only like them when the angels are almost as bad as the demons.

On the superhero side of things, Gotham has been getting better and better. It is dark – very gritty with characters having to make some nasty choices (one of them, for instance, had to scoop her own eyeball out. It made sense at the time). I’ve always liked the Batman tale, and this exploration of the pre-origin story has grabbed me more than I thought it would. Worth persevering with if you like Batman but didn’t like the first half of the season.

I also just finished Arrow season 3, which was about as I expected. I’ve heard a lot of commentary panning the flashback format of the show, but I really like it. I’m enjoying having Oliver Queen’s backstory filled in, and having the flashbacks track exactly 5 years behind the main action works for me.

Agents of SHIELD was competently executed, and lets face it, I’m just a huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While I enjoyed watching it, I’m struggling to find anything interesting to say about it. So, lets just stick with “if you like the MCU, you’re probably watching AoS already” and leave it at that.

12 Monkeys was an interesting time hopping adventure. Based loosely around the Bruce Willis/Brad Pitt movie of the same name, it included an interesting take on time travel that remained mostly coherent. I remained interested enough to see it through to the end, just to see how everything played out. I liked the end, pointing everything at “you can’t escape destiny”, then pulling a fast one in the last scene. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the second season.

Wayward Pines started off in an intriguing way. A ten episode season, I was surprised when they revealed the mystery at the heart of the story about half way through. It changed the nature of the narrative quite dramatically. I didn’t mind not having Lost levels of irritating and contrived mystery, but it has made me wonder where the show could possibly go from here. I may start the next season, but I make no guarantees about finishing it.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve started in on the new seasons of Teen Wolf and Falling Skies. More on them next month.

I even got out to see a couple of movies. Imagine what you think the Entourage movie will be like. Picture it in your mind. You’ll be pleased to know that it is exactly what is hovering in your pre-frontal cortex. If you liked the series, then it is a bit of nostalgia. If not, don’t bother.

I really enjoyed Ant Man. It was significantly funnier that I was expecting, and after the ever escalating plots of the last few MCU movies, it was nice to have something with a manageable scale. A good stand alone movie as well if you haven’t kept up with the franchise.

And finally I popped out to see Mission Impossible this weekend. Pretty good non-stop explosions and Tom Cruise may be a fruit loop, but he is an incredibly fit fruit loop. Either special effects are getting really good, or Mr Cruise does a LOT of his own stunts. Lets face it, we all know that we’re going to wake up one day to the headline “Tom Cruise Dies Performing Bloody Stupid Stunt”. Still, in the meantime it makes for some spectacular, if mindless, entertainment.

 

Monthly roundup – May 2015

Work’s been busy during the month of May, so not a lot to report back.

I continued my Ditmar Best Novel reading with Bound by Alan Baxter and Clariel by Garth Nix. Both good reads if you like Australian speculative fiction.

I also continued my Aussie reading with The Dagger’s Path by Glenda Larke. I’ll be reviewing that one for the Australian Women Writers’ challenge, so no spoilers here.

I’ve started to think about what kind of books to recommend to Ms 7 as her reading improves, so when I saw the first two volumes in the Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan for $2 at a local library book sale, I decided to dive right in. The books were much as I expected, with a relatively simple plot and themes more relevant to those still at school than a 40-something adult. Still, I found myself turning pages at a rapid rate and I kept reading until I’d finished both books, so they must be doing something right!

I’ve got three books on the go at the moment:

  • Phantazein edited by Tehani Wessely from Fablecroft – an anthology of short fiction. I’ve quite enjoyed the stories so far, but I’ll say more in my wrap up (I think I’ll review it for the AWW challenge as well).
  • Dodger by Terry Pratchett. I was saddened to hear of the death of Terry Pratchett recently – his Discworld novels were a great source of joy through my adolescent years, and have remained firm favourites ever since. I’ve put off reading Dodger for quite some time – not really sure why. I’m about 25% of the way through now and loving it – but it is love tinged with a slight sense of sorrow that this will be the last piece of “new” Pratchett writing aimed at adults I will probably ever read.
  • Land of the Golden Clouds by Archie Weller. This has been on my bedside table for way too long now, a victim to my preference for eBooks over physical. I have at long last made it past the first chapter – and it is a very interesting read. Not the sort of book where you can skim read anything though, so I’m finding it slow going. The overlay of Aboriginal culture onto a far future landscape is deeply fascinating though – more once I’ve got a bit further.

Finally started on season 5 of Game of Thrones in May, and ripped through the first 5 or 6 episodes. I won’t say much more for fear of spoilers, but excellent television (as the first four seasons led me to expect!).

A fair bit of SF has started up recently, eating into my productive time. I’ve started:

  • 12 Monkeys – OK first 3 episodes based very loosely around the movie of the same name but haven’t been compelled to keep watching. This one is teetering on the edge of being sacrificed to the gods of Foxtel hard drive free space.
  • Wayward Pines – interesting show – I’m about 4 episodes in and the central mystery is keeping me hooked. Not sure how much beyond any big reveals I’ll last though – still, I’ll keep watching for now.
  • Arrow season 3. It really annoyed my that The Flash and Arrow were played separately from each other. I enjoy both shows, but the crossover episodes from The Flash gave away too many plot points from Arrow. I have heard other commentators complain about the flashback format, slowly revealing what happened to Oliver Queen when he was presumed dead for 5 years, but I really like it.
  • Gotham made a return to our screens and I’ve kept watching. I quite like it – I was even inspired to go back and start watching the Christopher Nolan Batman movies again. Seems to be hitting its stride.

I’m hovering on the brink of succumbing to the lure of Netflix, just so I can watch Daredevil, which I’ve heard good things about.

On the writing front, I went back to an old story I’ve tinkered on here and there for quite a while. At 11,000 words it is an inconvenient length for submission – I really needed to either cut a few thousand words and submit it as a short story or flesh it out to novella length. To be honest the world is starting to grow on me, so I’ve written the first cut of another few thousand words so far, and will probably write quite a bit more before I’m done. None of this is helping get anything published of course, but I find as long as I’m actually writing, the not being published part isn’t quite so hard.

Oh, and of course my piece for Antipodean SF issue 200 was played on the Anti SF radio show, episode Gemma, released on 23 May 2015. It’s surreal to hear my work in audio form, and I’m always grateful to Nuke for providing that extra channel for people to enjoy the fiction.

April 2014 – mini reviews

So, what have I read in April?

Words of Radiance (Stormlight Archives) by Brandon Sanderson is a great popcorn read. I liked the first book in the Stormlight Archives, and I kept coming back to this second book. I don’t often get so caught up in a book. These are huge fat fantasy novels, but ones that I really like.

Inspired  by the previous read, I also grabbed one of Sanderson’s first books, Elantris. It was interesting to go back and read such an early work, Sanderson has certainly honed his craft over the years. However, some of the elements that makes his later work so addictive were there – the multiple points of view, a logically developed magic system. Mostly I found it interesting to think about the journey Sanderson has made as an author though.

Traitor Queen by Trudi Canavan will be another one of my Australian Women Writers Reading Challenge reviews, so nothing about that here.

I forgot to mention in the previous post that I also read the latest Discworld novel Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett. I love the Discworld series, and the latest is as good as ever. If you have been reading the books, you’ll read this one whether I recommend it or not. If you haven’t, there are better jumping on points earlier in the series. But definitely a good book for the fans.

I started on King Rat by China Mieville but haven’t finished yet. More on that in May.

And that’s the month that was April 2014!

Catch up December 2013 – March 2014 – mini reviews

This post contains the first of my “reviews in brief” for books I’ve read. Normally this will be a monthly post, but this month I’ve got to catch up a few months in a row.

Over the summer break (that’s December for any northern hemisphere readers), my wife and I  took the kids to Bali and Western Australia, to visit my brother-in-law and his family for Christmas. Here is a chance to put a dent in the dreaded Kindle to-be-read pile I thought to myself as we set off.

I didn’t. I read Wild Card books instead.

Wild Cards is a anthology series that first came out in the 1980s. It deals with a world where an alien virus kills 90% of the people infected by it (Black Queens), hideously deforms 9% (Jokers), and transforms the lucky 1% into super powered Aces. I loved it at the time, it was a super hero style universe without the somewhat cheesy standard DC/Marvel super heroes that I’d become jaded with in my teen years. Hey, it was the pre-hipster era. Nobody told me you could watch things like Batman and The Incredible Hulk ironically.

I remembered the series recently when I was preparing to attend a George RR Martin interview at the Opera House and came across the first Wild Card book in one of my many boxes of books while looking for my copy of the first volume of Game of Thrones for Martin to sign.

On a whim I looked it up on Amazon to see if you could get copies for the Kindle. I’d never been able to find all the books in the series as a kid (pre-internet and all that).

And there it was, an eBook copy of the original with extra bonus stories. I downloaded it and was instantly transported into 1980’s me heaven. Fortunately it had not been visited by the suck fairy. I devoured it, and then spent the rest of the holidays reading all the books that had been re-released on Kindle. Including the original trilogy:

  • Wild Cards
  • Aces High
  • Jokers Wild

These first three books were very much anthologies, with significantly varied stories. I was amazed at how well a lot of the story telling had held up. These was some material that might be considered slightly problematic in terms of how women are portrayed, but it didn’t seem to grate too much (at least not with me). Super powers in the 80s.

There is a significant gap – it seems like quite a few of the books are yet to make it to eBook form (although from looking at future releases it seems like they are making their way through them over the next year or two). I skipped forward to  a much more recent stand alone book and subsequent trilogy, that was made up of straight novels with an ongoing plot.

  • Death Draws Five
  • Busted Flush
  • Inside Straight
  • Suicide Kings

I didn’t enjoy these four as much as the original books, but it was interesting jumping forward to the 2000s to see how the world had evolved. In particular, watching a world evolve to deal with people whose card might “turn” any time from puberty onwards, especially when they are under stress. I probably preferred the first stand alone novel (Death Draws Five) to the trilogy.

On top of these, I also read two stand alone books. Dueces Down  tells the story of people who get powers, but they are so weak that they don’t really count as Aces. The second book – Fort Freak – was a mosaic novel focusing on the police station that operates out of Jokertown – the Joker slum in New York City. Both were interesting reads, and while not as powerful as the original set of books, they still were very entertaining. So, 9 books later I’d finished my holiday and made virtually no dent in my existing reading pile.

The next four of the older books will be released over the next three months, and I suspect you’ll see them show up in a future monthly review.

I also read the first two books in the Traitor Spy trilogy by Trudi Canavan, however I’m planning a full review of those books for the 2014 Australian Women Writers Challenge so I won’t say any more about them.

The Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter is the sequel to The Long Earth, a story about the discovery of many, many unpopulated parallel versions of Earth and mankind’s colonisation of them. It was a good story, well told but lacked the wow factor of the first book, and the stakes didn’t seem very high. It seemed to be setting up for a third book in the series – perhaps that one will be more exciting!

There – we’re up to date.

 

The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter – review

The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter takes the idea of parallel worlds to a whole new level. People learn how to step between worlds with the aid of a simple device (powered, may I say, by a potato), and find that our version of Earth is the only one in which humanity evolved.

You can’t take any form of iron between the worlds, which at least slows down humanities attempts to exploit the resources of these other Earths. Still, it is not long before settlers start moving out, settling worlds that are very much like our own except completely unpopulated.

The story centres around Joshua, a natural stepper who can move between worlds unaided, and Lobsang, an artificial intelligence claiming to the reincarnated soul of a Tibetan mechanic as they explore further and further out from the “original” Earth. There is something million’s of Earths away causing trouble, and our intrepid team are going to find it.

The novel also explores the way in which society fragments once natural resources become essentially limitless, and the attempts of those in power to maintain control (I particularly liked the fact that the US government claimed all versions of the American continent in an infinite number of Earths as being sovereign territory, despite having no way to police the claim).

The story itself is well written and compelling enough to keep the reader engaged. It was slightly disconcerting to have flashes of Discworld-esque humour that were clearly from Pratchett pop up through the story, but apart from that the writing styles of the two authors tended to mesh well. The voice of Joshua, from whose point of view most of the story is told, was engaging.

Each of the Earths has different conditions, where evolution or climate or even continental development has gone differently (without giving anything away there was one particular set of conditions that occurred to me early on – I was very happy to see those conditions actually occur later in the story). This setup allowed the authors to play a continuous “what if” game, it must have been a lot of fun to spend time imagining all these different Earths.

There was an interesting use of minor characters. A character would be introduced, some back story told and then a little mini-story outlined, usually just to illustrate some aspect of the social and/or economic changes happening in the world. The character then effectively vanishes from the story. While this allowed the authors to show the impact stepping is having on the world from a different point of view, it did make it hard to invest in feeling connected to characters in the story. Some of the minor characters reprise their roles briefly later, but others just seem to die away. I can’t decide whether it was an effective way of showing a broad view of the world beyond the knowledge of the main characters, or if it was just irritating.

Overall this was a good, fairly light read that I suspect may be the beginning of a series. Recommended.

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.


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This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.

Snuff by Terry Pratchett – review

I have a great affection for the Discworld series so I’m afraid you’re not going to get any impartial comments from me. If you’re looking for that, move along – nothing to see here.

I started reading the Discworld series when I was in school through the 80s, and in some ways I feel like I’ve grown up with them. I enjoyed the first books mainly for the gags – The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic had my younger self laughing out loud on virtually every page. Later on the books became much richer, with better and deeper stories being told without sacrificing the humour. Pratchett’s Discworld is one of the few series that I will buy every book for as soon as it comes out, and usually drop whatever else I am reading to look through it. I am seldom disappointed.

Snuff is based around Commander Vimes (now a reluctant member of the aristocracy and enthusiastic family man) and the City Watch. I’ve really grown to enjoy the Watch “sub-series” of books and Vimes is one of my favourite Discworld characters.

I won’t spoil the plot, just to say that it revolves around Vimes’ attempts to take a holiday (admittedly not by his own choice) and the hijinks that ensue. I really enjoy Pratchett’s writing and Snuff was no exception.

Knowing about Pratchett’s illness (early onset Alzheimers), there was one minor downside to reading the book. I found myself acutely aware that the pipeline of his future work is finite, and that did create some sadness when reading. Of course I know intellectually that, barring startling advances in modern medicine, no author will write for ever. Still, for me having a much more concrete sense that there is an end date to the Discworld saga did overlay the book with a sense of melancholy.

If you are a follower of Pratchett’s work then it doesn’t really matter what I say here, you’re going to read the book. If you haven’t read any of his work, then for goodness sake don’t start at book 39! I hope you can feel waves of jealousy pulsing in your direction as I say start from the beginning and read them all!

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews