Fables: The Deluxe Edition, Book Three

By Bill Willingham

Rating: 4 stars

This third volume starts with a short story, Cinderella Libertine, which shows us what Prince Charming’s third wife gets up to when she’s not running a shoe shop. This story had guest a artist, rather than the more usual Mark Buckingham and it’s a nice little story involving the usual trifecta of sex, money and power.

After this, Buckingham returns and we get on to the main body of the volume: a seven-issue story called March of the Wooden Soldiers, in which a fable thought long lost comes as a refugee to Fabletown, but maybe not everything is as it appears. This is a strong story, giving us a little more knowledge of the Adversary and his methods. The Pinocchio soldiers that represent him are great fun as well, with their attempts to pass for human and their disdain of food. Despite this, they’re still very creepy and the fact that they’re practically unstoppable makes them terrifying foes in their own right.

I’m starting to very much appreciate and enjoy Buckingham’s art – you know ‘proper’ Fables is back when it’s his art again, and Willingham’s story continues to enthral. I look forward to reading more of this in future.

Book details

ISBN: 9781401230975
Publisher: Vertigo
Year of publication: 2011

Does Terrorism Work?: A History

By Richard English

Rating: 3 stars

For what is a fairly short book (only about 260 pages, without endnotes etc), this took me a very long time to get through. I heard Prof English give a talk themed around this book at a literary festival and bought this book off the back of that. Unfortunately, I felt that the tone was very dry and difficult, especially in the introduction. English appears to be the sort of academic who’s lost the full stop key on his keyboard (I’m sure I found sentences that went on for about 15 lines!) but has an overflowing thesaurus. Someone who doesn’t like to use just one word when he can get away with ten.

In terms of the actual content, to answer the question “does terrorism work?”, he lays out his framework in the introduction, where he introduces four different categories: strategic victories, partial strategic victories, tactical successes, and the inherent rewards of struggle. He also discusses the different categories of people we could be talking about when we ask for whom it works. From the introduction, we then go into four chapter-length case studies of different terrorisms before the conclusion.

Of the four case studies, the one most interesting to me was the IRA chapter, as this is something that I grew up with and the ceasefires and end of violence happened as I was coming of age. With this, as with the other case studies (al-Qaida, Hamas and ETA) he looks at the historical context and then tries to place this into his strategic framework as developed in the introduction. There was a lot of interest here, especially in the chapter about ETA. That’s not something that I know much about, and it turns out that Spain is a much more complex country than I had realised.

The first part of the conclusion is spent doing thumbnail analyses over other terrorist organisations around the world, fitting them into his framework, but without the depth of the main case studies, and then he tries to come up with wider conclusions at the end. Unfortunately, a lot of this just comes down to “it’s complicated”, and I didn’t need 260 pages to tell me that!

However, there is value in the framework and the historical contexts. Especially in the modern rolling news agenda where especially Islamic terrorism is met with such hysteria, it was nice to see a more considered, academic approach that sets it into historical context and reminds us that whatever the media and politicians say, this isn’t unprecedented and there are ways to deal with it.

I liked that English was very clear from early on that although he was only considering non-state terrorism, he very much accepted that states can also indulge in terrorism, and that some of the responses to terrorist actions can be regarded as causing terror in their own right.

I would have liked to see chapters look at terrorism outside Europe and the Middle East, with more in-depth looks at terrorism in South America or South East Asia as I’d like to know if those differed in any great extent than the four case studies used. But within that context, I do think that the book is interesting and worth reading. I just wish someone would give the author a lesson in writing for people outside academia (or a better editor).

Book details

ISBN: 9780199607853
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Year of publication: 2016

Defy the Stars (Constellation, #1)

By Claudia Gray

Rating: 4 stars

While I’m a fan of space opera, I tend not to read much in the way of YA or romance novels, so this was a bit of a leap for me. I’m glad I took it though, as I enjoyed it a lot. Noemi is a young fighter pilot, fighting to protect her planet from invasion by Earth. Abel is the most advanced mech ever built by Earth. When the two of them find each other on an abandoned spacecraft, they realise they need each other as they embark on a voyage through the known universe to try and protect Noemi’s home.

As I say, I don’t read a lot of YA stories, and for the first few chapters of this book, the style and tone felt a little jarring, but once I adapted to the flow of the story, I got on fine with it. Both Noemi and Abel are engaging protagonists, and the alternating POV per chapter means we get inside both their heads and get to experience both sides of the war (although, of course, it’s no spoiler to say that their differing attitudes start to converge as they spend more time with each other).

There are interesting moral questions in the background too – does Genesis have the absolute right to secede from Earth, if it means trapping millions of people in squalor? What rights does a artificial creature have, even a sentient one?

So an interesting story and a fun one. I’ll probably end up picking up the sequel to see where it ends up going.

Book details

ISBN: 9781471406362
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Year of publication: 2017

The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Volume 2: Second Variety

By Philip K. Dick

Rating: 3 stars

This volume contains a hefty collection of Dick’s early work from the 1950s. Despite being from early in his career, there’s only the odd clunker, with most of them being well-polished, although the latter ones moreso, as he continues to develop as a writer. Themes of what it means to be human and individuality vs systems recur aplenty (themes that he would return to throughout his career).

Standouts for me included Jon’s World, which is one of the few stories in which Dick returns to the world of a previous story (Second Variety, also in this collection) and which sees the invention of a time machine; Some Kinds of Life, a satire about unending war for resources and the inevitable conclusion; A Present for Pat in which a man brings back a very unusual present from a business trip for his wife; and Planet for Transients about the changing nature of humanity after a global nuclear war.

Most of the stories are quite short and there’s a lot to enjoy from dipping in and out of them. A good read both for existing fans of Dick and for people who want a taste of his work.

Book details

ISBN: 9781857988802
Publisher: Millennium / Orion
Year of publication: 1987

The Collector Collector

By Tibor Fischer

Rating: 3 stars

This is the story of Rosa, a woman looking for love. A story complicated by the conwoman who worms her way into Rosa’s life and immediately starts making it difficult. But most interestingly, this is a story narrated by a piece of ancient, sentient pottery, the collector collector of the title. Rosa is evaluating the pottery for its new owner and it witnesses the goings on in her life.

I say that’s the story, but it’s also a book that takes great pleasure in language, with lots of clever rhymes and turns of phrase, you get the impression that Fischer was enjoying himself immensely, as he was writing this.

The characters are very much caricatures, Rosa, the antiques evaluator who will go to extraordinary lengths to find love; Nikki, the woman who cons her way into staying with Rosa and who’s as obsessed with sex as she is with theft; Marius, the eccentric, and very rich, man who wants to collect the narrator. The bowl is, in a way, able to communicate with Rosa and feeds her anecdotes about its past, which breaks up the narrative every so often with an outrageous story from a former owner. These are fun and help pace the story.

If there was any sort of deeper meaning or subtext in the story then I didn’t pick up on it. It was an enjoyable read, but I don’t think it was a hugely memorable one.

Book details

ISBN: 9780099268192
Publisher: Vintage
Year of publication: 1997

Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse, #1)

By James S.A. Corey

Rating: 3 stars

Humanity has colonised the solar system, at the cost of a new class divide between those who live on the inner planets of Earth and Mars and those who scrape a living out in the asteroid belt. Tensions simmer below the surface and and brought bursting to the fore when commander James Holden and his crew stumble on a dead ship and find a secret that some people will start a war to protect. Meanwhile, a policeman on Ceres station is charged with a missing persons case and finds his fate intertwined with Holden in something that could change Humanity forever.

Early on in this book, I nearly threw it against the wall in frustration. The book takes alternate narratives, chapter about, with one being detective Miller on Ceres and the next being Captain Holden. For a while, Holden’s world was being made ever more miserable, as more and more ridiculously bad things happened to him and his crew that I nearly gave up. Thankfully, it did eventually even out into something that was more enjoyable to read. Miller’s missing persons case turns into an obsession that is quite creepy to read, as he obsesses over this person that he’s never met, but it’s effective and a strong motivation that acts as a thread throughout the book.

There’s a lot of politics here, and a clash of ideology, as the cynical world-weary Miller comes into conflict with the almost naive Holden and those differing ideologies drive much of the book. As well as the two protagonists, we have a decent supporting cast in the form of Holden’s crew, the mysterious Fred and Miller’s partner, Havelock. The politics between the Belt and the inner planets is interesting, as is the intra-planet politics. Corey paints a convincing picture of a system that is finely balanced and just on the edge, where any little thing could tip it over into conflict.

Definitely a good read and probably worth looking out for the next one, but I think I’ll maybe get it from the library rather than buying any more of these.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841499895
Publisher: Orbit (Hachette)
Year of publication: 2011

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