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

Around the World in Eighty Days (Extraordinary Voyages, #11)

By Jules Verne

Rating: 4 stars

I really enjoyed this tale of Phileas Fogg and his wager to travel around the world in 80 days. I found the pacing good, the action enjoyable and the characters engaging, although I can’t help wondering if Mr Fogg has a form of autism that led to his complete exactitude and lack of deviance from schedules.

There’s a good mix of good and bad fortune that Fogg and crew encounter and the scheming Inspector Fix of the Yard keeps changing his colours, always trying to apprehend Fogg, who he suspects of a bank robbery. A highly enjoyable read.

Book details

ISBN: 9780140449068
Publisher: Penguin Books
Year of publication: 1872

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

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything

By Steven D. Levitt

Rating: 4 stars

This was a very interesting book. Economist Steven Levitt has spent his career applying the tools of economic theory to the Real World and coming up with interesting questions to ask, and even more interesting answers. Some of the questions he asks include: why do drug dealers often live at home with their mothers? What do estate agents and the Ku Klux Klan have in common? And what really caused the downturn in crime in the US in the late ’90s? The last one is perhaps the most controversial of the lot: Levitt suggests that it had more to do with legalised abortion than the ‘zero tolerance’ policing approach of then-New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Whilst I may not necessarily agree with all of Levitt’s conclusions, his approach is undoubtedly novel and he certainly provides new perspectives on issues that affect the real world much more than economics is normally perceived to do.

Book details

ISBN: 9780141019017
Publisher: Penguin
Year of publication: 2005

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

The World of Winnie-the-Pooh (Winnie-the-Pooh, #1-2)

By A.A. Milne

Rating: 5 stars

I’m not sure that there’s much to say about this book about everybody’s favourite Bear With Very Little Brain other than to say that it’s charming and fun, and I can imagine it would be lovely to read to an actual little person.

Book details

ISBN: 9780525444473
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
Year of publication: 1926

The Robots of Dawn (Robot, #3)

By Isaac Asimov

Rating: 3 stars

Plainclothesman Elijah Baley is back in space, sent by Earth at the request of Aurora, the oldest and most powerful of the Spacer worlds, to investigate the ‘murder’ of a humanoid robot. At stake is not just his own career, but the entire future of Earth and the future Galactic Empire.

It was in this book that Asimov starts sowing the seeds to start connecting his Galactic Empire/Foundation books with his Robot series, with one of the characters explicitly talking about psychohistory in a chain that would end with Foundation and Earth. However, I don’t think that the story itself was particularly satisfying. Like the other Elijah Baley books, this is a whodunnit, the twist this time being that the victim is a robot rather than a human, but it didn’t feel like it had the self-assuredness of the earlier books and the writing felt a bit clunkier too. It didn’t help that sex was an important part of the plot but I’m not sure how comfortable Dr Asimov was with writing about it, since he did so in a fairly clunky, clinical manner, although this may have been more reflecting the society that he was describing than any flaw in the writing.

Nevertheless, while it was an interesting book, it wasn’t nearly as satisfying as some of the other Baley books or of Asimov’s other prodigious output.

Book details

Publisher: Granada
Year of publication: 1983

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