Anvil of Stars (Forge of God, #2)

By Greg Bear

Rating: 3 stars

After the destruction of Earth, only a tiny proportion of her population was saved by the mysterious Benefactors. They equip a number of her children with a ship and training and send them to enact the Law: that any civilisation that creates self-replicating killer robots to destroy another must be killed by those it sought to destroy. This is the story of the Dawn Treader and her voyage to seek and destroy the Killers of Earth.

Although this book is a sequel to Bear’s earlier The Forge of God, you don’t need to have read the earlier volume to follow this (and, indeed, I haven’t). The premise is fairly simple and the story is one of revenge and redemption. Apart from one brief segment, the entire story is set aboard the Dawn Treader, giving the book a somewhat claustrophobic feel, which is interesting and did help to set the scene. None of the characters other than our protagonist and PoV character, Martin, made much of an emotional impact, and even though you’re never entirely sure who’s going to live and die, it didn’t make as much of an impact as it should have done when some did die.

I picked this up because I remember reading it many years ago, probably picked up from the local library and I wanted to see how it fared on a re-read, without remembering many of the details. In the event, it was okay but I don’t think I’ll be reading it again.

Book details

ISBN: 9781857237054
Publisher: Legend
Year of publication: 1992

An Introduction to Political Philosophy

By Jonathan Wolff

Rating: 4 stars

I read parts of this book a few years ago for a political philosophy course I was doing at the time and found it very lucid and easy to read. When I later found it going cheap(ish) in a second hand bookshop I nabbed it without hesitation, even though the course was long finished. I’m a politics geek in any event, but I had never seriously considered the philosophy underpinning it before that course, and in this book, Wolff goes through that philosophy step by step.

He starts by suggesting that we shouldn’t take the idea of the state for granted and imagines a world without one (the ‘state of nature’) before going on to introduce the state and justifications for the idea of one person having political power over another, the types of state (who should wield such political power), with particular focus on the philosophical underpinnings of democracy and then discusses liberty and the distribution of property before a final chapter on individualism, justice and feminism.

It’s all clearly written and all the major thinkers on the subject are introduced, along with a large ‘further reading’ section at the end. I definitely found it a very interesting read, although the sections on individualism and justice were somewhat hard going. I’d definitely recommend this to anyone interested in politics and the theories of government.

Book details

ISBN: 9780199296095
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
Year of publication: 2012

Alien Emergencies (Sector General, #4-6)

By James White

Rating: 4 stars

Sector Twelve General Hospital is the galaxy’s largest multi-species hospital, built to be able to treat any of the many and varied species of the galactic Federation, not to mention any other intelligent life forms they encounter. It is, to quote a line about another space station, a shining beacon in space, all alone in the night.

There are three volumes bound together in this omnibus: Ambulance Ship, Sector General and Star Healer. The first deals with the establishment of Sector General’s first purpose-built ambulance ship, the Rhabwar, headed up by regular series protagonist Doctor Conway. The special purpose of this ship is to respond to distress beacons sent out by unrecognised species and establish peaceful first contact and show that they mean no harm by helping heal travellers in distress. Sector General continues this theme, showing more of the bizarre situations that the crew of the Rhabwar find themselves involved with. Star Healer sees Conway (provisionally) promoted to the hospital’s most senior rank, that of Diagnostician and shows us the different class of problem that these most senior doctors must face.

I must confess to having had a soft spot for the Sector General novels for many years, ever since I first found Star Surgeon in the local library. The stories are often a medical whodunnit, which I enjoy and I love the unusual fact that there is almost no violence in the whole series. The idea of putting medics at the front line of your space opera may not be new, but White’s passion for non-violence (the author himself living in the decidedly non-non-violent environment of Belfast during the Troubles) shines through here.

Another aspect of the Sector General books that I have always liked is White’s attempt to not make it Human-centric. It’s made very clear that Humans are just one member (albeit one of the larger species) of the Galactic Federation. The protagonist of the stories is Human but most of his co-workers aren’t, and they aren’t just Humans with lumpy foreheads either. White imagines aliens that range from fuzzy teddy bears to crystalline entities that exist by the conversion of hard radiation. He makes an attempt to make the aliens really alien and mostly succeeds, although the idea of the six-limbed elephantine most senior Diagnostician in the hospital also being its chief gossip does tickle my funny bone.

White certainly believes in saving his imagination for the alien races and encounters, rather than on description. Once he finds a description that works, it gets reused, at least once a book, often more frequently. The same description of Sector General as a “cylindrical Christmas tree” or chief psychologist O’Mara having “eyes that opened on a mind so deeply analytical they gave him what amounted to a telepathic facility” or the description of the hospital’s four-letter physiological classification system abound. This doesn’t annoy me, but often the reverse, like seeing an old friend popping up regularly.

While some of the stories could certainly be described as “corny”, the Sector General books and the volumes in this omnibus are very entertaining to a fan of space opera, and inspiring to a fellow Ulsterman who shares White’s passion for non-violence.

Book details

ISBN: 9780312877705
Publisher: Orb Books
Year of publication: 2002

The Dark Tourist

By Dom Joly

Rating: 4 stars

In this book, Dom Joly (someone who I had vaguely heard of, but didn’t know much about since I really didn’t like Trigger Happy TV) records his experiences as a “dark tourist” – someone who travels to places that have been the sites of death and misery. Of the sites he visits (Iran, sites of assassination in the US, Cambodia, Chernobyl, North Korea and the country where he grew up, Lebanon) the chapters on Cambodia and North Korea were probably the most interesting. The former took him to the Killing Fields and recounted his various bizarre experiences and describes how the Pol Pot regime still overshadows the country, while the latter showed just how control-freakishly bizarre that the country is.

Joly is an entertaining companion on the journeys and despite my distaste of his brand of humour I quite enjoyed his narration of his trips. He feels, and is able to convey, a deep interest in the places he visits and you can’t help coming to share that interest, even if you’re as uninterested in actual travel as I am.

I think the weakest chapter in the book was the one on Lebanon, the country of Joly’s birth and early raising, during the civil war. Although there is historical baggage attached to Lebanon and Beirut, Joly’s description of its current state is entirely positive and there seems very little “dark” about it. This chapter is more a reminiscence for him than dark tourism. But apart from that, a thoroughly intriguing read of some places where I would never consider visiting (so I’m glad that someone else has).

Book details

ISBN: 9781847376954
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Year of publication: 2010

Powered by WordPress