Feersum Endjinn

By Iain M. Banks

Rating: 4 stars

It’s the time of the Encroachment when a dust cloud will blot out the sun. Count Sessine is about to die for the last time; chief scientist Gadfium receives a message from the Plain of Stones; and Bascule the Teller delves into the Crypt in search of an ant. This book weaves its different narratives together skilfully into a satisfying whole with a great conclusion. Highly recommended as an introduction to Banks, if you want to read something outside the Culture novels.

Some people may be put off by the phonetic spelling of Bascule’s first person narrative, but I had no problems with it. It’s really not much worse than trying to read Scots ;-). In saying that, I have read the book several times before.

Book details

ISBN: 9781857232738
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 1994

The Original “Oz” Series (Oz, #1-15)

By L. Frank Baum

Rating: 0 stars

I’ve read some these, but not all. I do like the series though.

Book details

ISBN: 9780954840136
Publisher: Shoes and Ships and Sealing Wax
Year of publication: 1900


By Thomas More

Rating: 4 stars

This was another book that I read for my philosophy class and another one that I enjoyed immensely. The edition that I had was a Penguin Great Reads, which strips out all editorial content and just presents the text. That, combined with a great translation, made it very easy to read. It’s also very short, at just under 140 pages.

Although I had obviously head of Utopia in the way that it’s drifted into the English language, I wasn’t hugely familiar with More’s original fictional island state. Reading it, Some of the proto-communistic ideas are interesting, but although More’s narrator states very clearly several times that there are few laws, there’s a lot of rigid social structures and the penalties for what laws there are are very harsh (slavery or death, for the most part).

I appreciate that More’s work is a critique of his own society, but I’ve been reading it as part of a discussion regarding philosophical works as blueprints for a way to run a society (cf Plato’s Republic).

All in all, Utopia sounds like an interesting place to visit, but I’m not sure I’d like to live there :).

Book details

ISBN: 9780141043692
Publisher: Penguin
Year of publication: 1516

Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 01

By John Wagner

Rating: 3 stars

This series collects the whole Judge Dredd archives from its beginning in 2000AD back in 1978 with this volume containing the first year of Dredd stories. The most interesting thing that I found about these stories is just how different that Dredd was in his early days, both physically and in terms of character. Dredd is drawn much less buff and without the massive chin that he would eventually grow, in an almost effeminate style. Also missing are the fascist overtones with Dredd’s black and white inflexible view of the law. There’s also a bit more humour with Dredd’s Italian landlady and Walter the ‘wobot’, the robot that Dredd sort of adopts and becomes a sort of adoring personal servant.

It was an interesting historical insight, and I’d like to compare it it to newer stories to complete the comparison, since my knowledge of Judge Dredd is fairly second hand and what I have read myself was a fairly long time ago.

Book details

ISBN: 9781904265795
Publisher: REBELLION/2000AD
Year of publication: 1977

The Last Theorem

By Arthur C. Clarke

Rating: 1 star

I’m a big fan of Arthur C. Clarke, but 3001 The Final Odyssey and now this have tested my loyalty. Both were written in the latter years of Sir Arthur’s life (The Last Theorem was the last book published before his death) and both had good ideas that were poorly executed.

The EM shockwave of Earth’s nuclear tests spread into space and eventually reach a race of mega-beings, called the Grand Galactics who immediately dispatch one of their client races to eliminate this upstart race. Meanwhile, young mathematician Ranjit Subramanian discovers a short, elegant proof to Fermat’s Last Theorem and becomes embroiled in a secret organisation.

I really wanted to like this book, there were many good ideas but the writing was very poor, the pacing was very uneven and the characterisation was thin. The galactic invasion plot and the Earth-based plots never really meshed properly and the end was a complete mess, with no tension having been built up, and the conclusion just happens out of nowhere, leaving me wondering if a chapter or two had been missed out.

A disappointing end to a long and fruitful career.

Book details

ISBN: 9780007290024
Publisher: Voyager
Year of publication: 2008

The Lost World (Professor Challenger, #1)

By Arthur Conan Doyle

Rating: 3 stars

I’d never read this classic until I picked up a free copy as part of the Aye Write! festival/Darwin 200 celebrations. While the scientific underpinnings of Doyle’s South American plateau where dinosaurs still roam is long-gone, the adventure it hold together is still highly engaging and enjoyable.

Book details

ISBN: 9780812967258
Publisher: Modern Library
Year of publication: 1912

The Stars In Their Courses

By Isaac Asimov

Rating: 3 stars

This is one of Asimov’s many non-fiction popular science books, covering astronomy and physics in an amiable tone, yet still managing to derive Newton’s laws of motions from first principles and easy for a layman to understand. My astronomy isn’t particularly good so this helped cover some patches there, and getting a refresher course in Newtonian motion was nice as well.

Book details

ISBN: 9780586041222
Publisher: Panther Books
Year of publication: 1971

Fallen Dragon

By Peter F. Hamilton

Rating: 4 stars

In an ultra-capitalistic society, the dream of space travel is all but over, written off as economically not viable, except for “asset recovery” missions to already-established colonies that send in private corporate armies to try and get some return on investment for the shareholders.

This is one of my favourite Hamilton books, with its ultra-capitalistic societies proving an interesting backdrop and an interesting reason for continuing with space travel. The main character, an embittered sergeant in one of these corporate armies provides a sympathetic point of view and the hardware is pretty cool too.

Book details

ISBN: 9780330480062
Publisher: Pan MacMillan
Year of publication: 2001

Snow Crash

By Neal Stephenson

Rating: 4 stars

Hiro Protagonist, last of the freelance hackers and self-styled greatest sword fighter in the world, helped to create the Metaverse, a virtual reality that is ubiquitous in Stephenson’s world, and now he’s facing something that’s never been seen in the Metaverse before: a virtual drug that scrambles the brains of the user back in Reality. He teams up with teenage Kourier Y.T. and along the way discovers a conspiracy that goes back to ancient times.

This was an odd book. I’m still not entirely sure if I liked it or not. It had a fabulous opening chapter with Hiro getting ‘sacked’ from his pizza delivery job but overall it felt very disjointed. The characters were interesting and often fun, but exposition was delivered with a trowel, often in seemingly inappropriate points. Also, the ultra-capitalistic world that Hiro and Y.T. live in bugged me, although I’m not sure why; it was well-realised and sort-of believable but it still oddly stopped me from suspending my disbelief in a way that the opposite, such as Iain Banks’ Culture, wouldn’t.

I think this probably needs to be re-read to get the most out of it.

Book details

ISBN: 9780553380958
Publisher: Bantam Books
Year of publication: 1992

Consider Phlebas (Culture, #1)

By Iain M. Banks

Rating: 3 stars

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this book. It’s one that I have read before but it was so long ago that I couldn’t remember anything about it. On one hand, a Culture novel is always a Good Thing, but this had the problem for me that its protagonist was outside of and opposed to the Culture.

This was the first Culture novel: the Culture and the Idirans are at war, a Mind has crashed on a Planet of the Dead, doing something that was thought impossible to get there and both the Culture and the Idirans want to get hold of it. The ‘Changer’ Horza, already working for the Idirans, is sent to get it for that side.

Horza is the protagonist and we see the world mostly through his eyes. But he has an irrational hatred for the Culture, and, from reading other Culture novels, I sympathise with them and find it difficult to empathise with him. For all this, though, it’s a very strong novel, and the tragedy that builds up towards the end is an almost physical thing. Not my favourite Culture novel, but certainly a good one.

Book details

Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 1987

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