Extinction Game

By Gary Gibson

Rating: 3 stars

Jerry Beche is, he believes, the last person left alive, after a doomsday cult engineered a virus which wiped out humanity. So he’s, to say the least, surprised, when a groups appears out of nowhere and plucks him away to an island paradise where he joins other end of the world survivors in the hunt for more people and technology. The snag: they’re not people from his world, but other last (or almost last) survivors of their own parallel worlds, all brought together by the mysterious Authority for an equally mysterious purpose.

Although Jerry seems like your out and out survivalist type to start with, we also see his fragility and the (failing) coping mechanisms that he used to keep going in a world where he believed he was utterly alone. His fellow “pathfinders” don’t get as much in-depth treatment, but are still fleshed out fairly well. I wasn’t entirely convinced by Chloe, I’m not convinced that having been in love with one version of Jerry, she would fall so quickly into the embrace of the second, but that’s a reasonably minor gripe.

The mystery of the Authority, and the trustworthiness of the other pathfinders is intriguing and kept me going through the book, and Jerry is a likeable first person narrator with just enough unreliability to keep things interesting, without being frustrating. The ending was self-contained so you don’t need to run away and read the second book in the series, and, to be honest, I’m happy with the way it ended, so I probably won’t.

Book details

ISBN: 9781447242727
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Year of publication: 2014

After Hours: Tales from the Ur-Bar (Ur-Bar #1)

By Joshua Palmatier

Rating: 3 stars

This is a bar stories collection, about a bar that travels from place to place, tended by the Mesopotamian hero Gilgamesh, made immortal but unable to leave his bar. I’m a sucker for bar stories, from Tales from the White Hart to Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon. This was a fun collection, but, for me, didn’t match either of the others I mentioned. There are no recurring characters (the regulars of the bar) other than Gil himself, whose importance to the story varies wildly and those barflies often add a lot of flavour.

Also, for a bar that’s existed since Mesopotamian times, I thought the authors limited their scope. The first story told how Gil took over the bar, but the next jumps immediately to the Viking period, and we move forward in time from there. Nothing in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome or any of the other brilliant places for a tavern story, which is a shame.

Of the stories themselves, I enjoyed The Tale That Wagged the Dog about a man cursed by the Queen of Faerie into dog form and his selkie companion and what it means to be a man. Seanan McGuire’s The Alchemy of Alcohol is a nice little story about warring seasons and also includes a couple of cocktail recipes. It is, I think, the only story in the collection not to feature Gil at all, although he is mentioned. The Grand Tour by Juliet E. McKenna is a nice little story about a couple of arrogant upper class boys, on the verge of entry to Oxford, at the eve of the Great War, and what they’re taught while on a tour of Europe and get into a fight outside Gil’s bar.

The rest of the stories are a mixed bunch, some good and some bad. It’s a nice example of the bar story genre, but I’d rather spend my evening with the regulars of Callahan’s, the White Hart, or the Fountain.

Book details

ISBN: 9780756406592
Publisher: DAW
Year of publication: 2011

Drive: Act One (Drive, #1)

By Dave Kellett

Rating: 4 stars

I can’t remember where I found out about this webcomic, but I got drawn in fairly rapidly and when I found out about the Kickstarter to print an omnibus of the first “act”, how could I say no?

The story follows the captain and crew of the good ship Machito, on the run from the Empire at the start of the book, as they break their science officer out of a prison planet, along with a new buddy who’s lost his memory but could end up being the key to winning the coming war against an alien race called the Continuum of Makers.

The characters here are fun, especially the marvellous Nosh, an alien who spent six years stranded in Moscow and now speaks English with an outrageous Russian accent. The setting is very much part of what makes the story though, and it’s unusual in having Spain be the seat of the Human empire, not the more usual current Great Powers. I also like the structure of the empire, having arisen from an engineer, and the idea that they still control the secret of FTL travel and hoard that secret with the lives of the entire extended imperial family. The aliens are also generally interesting, from Nosh’s gentle Veetans, through the multi-species Vinn to the fascinating but enigmatic Continuum.

Lots of fun, but also a strong story in there too, backed by the well-worn (but for a reason!) trope of crewmates as family.

Book details

ISBN: 9780984419036
Publisher: Small Fish Studios, Inc.
Year of publication: 2017

Eureka!: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Ancient Greeks But Were Afraid to Ask

By Peter Jones

Rating: 3 stars

I found this a slightly odd book. It’s very “bitty”. It covers a lot of breadth, but with sections a short as a third of page, there’s very little in the way of depth. I often found myself wanting more information about a person, a topic or a war. On the other hand, the very breadth is very useful for someone like me who has very little knowledge of ancient Greece. If nothing else, the book got across the very fractured nature of Greece in this period very well. The way the city-states would constantly bicker with each other, and their shifting pattern of alliances as they sought to prevent one or the other gaining dominance.

For covering a large period of history, you’ve got to paint in broad brush strokes but it does feel like the dots could have been better connected here to make a more cohesive narrative. Still, there’s a lot of worth here, and the narrative voice is rather wry and occasionally throws in sarcastic asides for the reader.

Book details

ISBN: 9781782395164
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Year of publication: 2014

Saga, Vol. 7

By Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples

Rating: 4 stars

Bloody hell, even by Saga standards, this volume is grim! With their ship running short on fuel, the reunited family touches down on a populated comet called Phang to refuel, and ends up staying for months as some of the fuel gets diverted into feeding a family of refugees from the ever-present war between Landfall and Wreath.

As always, the characters are magnificent, not just the core of Marko and Alana, but the extended family they now have, not least the growing-up Hazel, and those still chasing them. Sir Robot is a standout character for me. Damaged, in more ways than one, he’s a wonderful, and heartbreaking, character to read. This volume shows us the heartlessness of war, where winning or losing a “position” causes immense hardship and suffering for those left behind, and the volume ends on an incredibly depressing note. That combined with the loss of an old favourite made this a hard one for me to read.

The storytelling and art are still immense, but I really hope that our family get a break at some point. I’m not sure I can take much more of this!

Book details

ISBN: 9781534300606
Publisher: Image Comics
Year of publication: 2017


By Daphne du Maurier

Rating: 3 stars

While working as a paid companion to a wealthy American woman in Monte Carlo, the never named protagonist of this novel meets the somewhat mysterious widower Maxim de Winter, is swept up and very shortly married and taken back to his ancestral mansion, Manderley, in England. There she finds echoes of his first wife, Rebecca, all around and must struggle with herself and the ghost of Rebecca.

I came to this after having enjoyed other gothic novels, particularly those of Wilkie Collins and Charlotte Bronte. But I found the protagonist of this book very frustrating; she’s certainly no Jane Eyre! It’s not just that she’s incredibly shy and awkward, unable to stand up to the servants at Manderley and hating the ritual of visiting and receiving, but that she’s self-aware enough to be ashamed of her failings, but seemingly unable to correct them. When she relates how she hides her underwear from her maid and mends it itself or how she runs away from the formidable housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, and hides in the servants’ corridor, I found myself torn between intense sympathy and just wanting to shake her and tell her to pull herself together.

She’s desperately in love with Maxim but feels the aura of Rebecca all around and can’t help feeling that he is still in love with his first wife. In fact, she’s got a bad habit (which we all have to some degree, but Mrs de Winter takes it to extremes) of starting with one bad thought and spinning an entire future from it, which then makes her feel worse and worse. It’s an awful thing to witness, but top marks to de Maurier for writing and creating such a protagonist.

It’s over half way in, after the Big Revelation, before I started being drawn into the novel properly and it became compelling. The end was signposted from the first chapter, as Mrs de Winter dreams of being back at Manderley only to find it in ruins (not a spoiler, as I say, this is in the first chapter) but is still compelling despite this.

So an interesting novel with well-drawn characters – Mrs Danvers, in particular, is excellent – but probably not one that I’d read again.

Book details

ISBN: 9781844080380
Publisher: Virago Press (UK)
Year of publication: 1938

Witches of Lychford (Lychford, #1)

By Paul Cornell

Rating: 4 stars

I’ve enjoyed Paul Cornell’s work for a while now and picked this up at an author talk during a literary festival. It features Judith Mawson, a grumpy old lady living in a village in the English countryside, who also just happens to be a witch. And the village of Lychford is no ordinary village either, but the lynchpin of the worlds, the very shape of the village helping to hold back evil. And now a supermarket chain wants to build a new store that would upset the topography and destroy the wards.

For such a short story, it’s a novella of only 140-odd pages, this packs a lot of detail. It deals with faith, and crises thereof, local village politics, town and country and more, as Judith gathers some unlikely allies in her fight against the supermarket.

The tension between old friends Autumn (a dyed in the wool rationalist and sceptic) and Lizzie (now the village priest) is very well drawn as old friendship fights with more recent woes that beset both characters, and colours their interactions with each other and Judith.

There’s a lot of warmth in this story, and real complexity in the subject of faith, both of the vicar, Lizzie, and the atheist, Autumn. I look forward to reading more of the adventures of the witches of Lychford.

Book details

ISBN: 9780765385239
Year of publication: 2015

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