Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Steve Alten - The Mayan Prophecy

Firstly I must say that I really enjoyed reading this book. At 629 pages long it’s one of the longest books I’ve read for a while but that’s only because the text is large and well spaced. A testimony to how much I enjoyed it is that it only took me a few days to crank through it and I struggled to put it down most of the time.

The Mayan Prophecy follows the story of Dominique Vasquez and, I can only imagine the symbolically named, Michael Gabriel (yes, not one angel reference but two) as they quest to save humanity from the end of the world. The plot goes into the reasons why the Mayan calendar ends in May 2012 and it’s actually quite well constructed in terms of reasoning. The main plot point focuses around the fact that it wasn’t actually an asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. It was actually an alien spaceship that has been lying dormant at the bottom of the ocean. It’s sending out a distress beacon which can only be picked up when the planets line up in a certain way which happens once every several thousand years but is stopped because some other aliens, who helped us build the pyramids and other shit, have prevented them from doing so. Until now.

There are a few popular culture references but because the book was written in 2001 depicting events in 2012, there is some creative license here. For example he writes about a Rolling Stones album called Past Our Prime and Dominique has a car that can test your alcohol level before you drive.

Despite my overall opinion that it’s a good book there were a lot of things that irked me. On page four we kick off with horrendous spelling errors where the non-word ‘qreat’ is used instead of ‘great’. Now, this section of the book is from a journal of one of the characters so it could be argued that this is the portrayal of typed up handwriting. However, even if this is the premise, I don’t agree with it. If you are going to write something for someone else to read, so not a journal, then spell the words right.

On page 56, there is a face scanner which is used to access a health facility as a security precaution. But it’s not referenced again or cleverly bypassed by taking off someone’s face or head to use it so it’s completely redundant in terms of the story. I’m not if this is meant to be another futuristic prediction over security protocols, but I’m sure this could have been less grandiose if so.

Some of the mathematics while fascinating, is not easy on the eyes and at one point, I found myself wondering if what I was reading was actually correct in terms of sentence structure. Unfortunately, Steve Alten doesn’t have a Clive Cussler character around to explain it to the dumbasses like me. One thing I do know though is that light years is a measure of distance, not time. Yet one of the doctor/scientist characters is either making a joke or doesn’t know this when they refer to light years as a measure of time.

There was one more major error I picked up on towards the middle of the book. Michael has magic sneakers that get written off of his feet but then magically get put back on again. And he ends up going barefoot through the alien spaceship. I’m not sure this is the best choice when journeying in to the unknown but to each their own, I guess.

The only other thing I noted was the dialogue kind of falls apart in the second half of the book. It’s almost like the characters stop caring about making sense with their dialogue. That said, it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story and I will definitely get the second one to see where it goes.

The Mayan Prophecy by Steve Alten was first published as Domain by Tor in 2001. RRP £6.99  (Paperback)

George R. R. Martin - A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms

With half the world wondering if they will ever see a sixth instalment of A Song of Ice and Fire it seems like a weird idea for an author to write a historic spin off title set in his captivating world of fantasy and sex. But there you go, we can’t access the mind of George and see what his ultimate plan is. I wasn’t really planning on reading this one either but I found myself short on books when going on holiday last year and it was two for one in the airport bookshop. Again.
Anyway, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms follows the story of Ser Duncan the Tall who isn’t a knight at all. He just lied about it to everyone after the knight he was squiring for dies and didn’t make him a knight. It’s quite hilarious really.
On his way to a tournament to earn some knight points, he comes across a boy at an inn and despite telling him not to, the boy follows him to the tournament. At the tournament, he pisses off one of the Targaryen princes and ends up in a fight for his life which he wins but at the expense of another more favourable Targaryen who fought for Duncan. All the pieces fall quite nicely together as it turns out the little boy from the inn is also a Targaryen; Duncan is tasked with keeping him alive and off they go on an adventure together.
Now, I thought the entire book was going to be short stories about Dunc and Egg as they travel about Westeros as that’s what the blurb led me to believe. As it happens, they go to one keep, Dunc has one fight with a guy and then they go to a tournament and Dunc loses. That’s the entire storyline of the book. It doesn’t have a satisfactory ending and I’m left thinking that dear George simply cannot finish anything. I’m starting to think he watched Lost, saw how that shit ended and thought, ‘fuck this, I’m not ending anything in case in turns out like that.’ It’s the only logical explanation I can think of for writing 355 pages and not reaching a satisfactory conclusion. It’s not even a major cliff-hanger.
After doing a little research, I found out that it’s actually a collection of three short stories written at the same time as George was writing the Song of Ice and Fire series which makes sense in terms of the story breaks.
That’s not to say the content is bad. The book is actually quite funny. Duncan is an endearing character and happens to be one of the worst knights ever. It seems to be pure luck and sheer brute strength that keeps him and egg alive most of the time. Egg is also hilarious whenever he watches Dunc fight, shouting,’ Kill him! Get him! He’s right there! Kill him!’ exactly the kind of things you want to hear a young child shouting.
A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is a very good and enjoyable read, it’s just the lack of any further developments that’s the disappointment. I’ll keep an eye out for other spin offs in the future but I’m not going to hold my breath while the television series is still going strong.
A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. Martin was published by HarperCollinsPublishers in 2015. RRP £8.99 (Paperback)
Legends I originally published by Tor Books in 1998.
Legends II originally published by Del Ray in 2004.
Warriors originally published by Tor Books in 2010.

Clive Cussler - Iceberg

After reading The Storm, I really wanted to give another Clive Cussler book a go. Iceberg takes us all the way back to 1976 in terms of publication and based on my experiences with more recent novels the 1970s seemed to be a much richer and exciting time for books.

Iceberg sees us following the trail of enigmatic airman, Dirk Pitt as he goes investigating a strange iceberg with a ship lodged in it. It transpires that the ship in the iceberg is just the start of a conspiracy which threatens to have him killed at every turn. Despite this, he continues his investigations against the wishes of his superiors and nearly gets killed a lot more. It’s fun romp from start to finish as well as being a page turner which I found difficult to put down.

My favourite part of reading this was being able to look back in time at what used to be acceptable language. There is one point in the story where Dirk pretends to be gay in order to throw off the main antagonist. While being ridiculously funny, this part is also very un-PC in that Dirk is referenced as a faggot on more than one occasion. If you try to put that in speech and narrative in this day and age, you’ll be screamed at by everyone.

Also, there appears to be some borderline misogynistic points towards some of the women but there is also a balance between this and the woman in question being strong and able to handle themselves. It’s weirdly ahead of its time in that regard.

It terms of writing errors, they are hard to spot when the writing is enjoyable, but one did stand out quite clearly. On page 308 a character is talking but the narrative says it’s a different character. Once again, I had to read the paragraph several times to work out what was going on which broke flow somewhat.

Dirk as a character is almost overpowered in terms of his abilities. He basically has the conditioning of a rhino and no amount of savage beatings can stop him climbing sheer cliffs and running for miles. Another thing that Dirk Pitt has is a superhuman ability to work stuff out. He’s no Jack Reacher by any means but he still manages to reach correct, and bizarre, conclusions with seemingly very little information. I suppose it’s all part of the allure of America’s answer to James Bond.

Another thing worth pointing out is that Cussler really knows his stuff. He has a clearly advanced knowledge of aircraft, how they work and the art of the possible and has a skill of explaining this to a dumbass like me in a way that makes the writing accessible rather than overloading it with jargon. He also has a knack of not taking shortcuts with his characters in this regard. If a character is very knowledgeable about a subject, there will be a character on hand who isn’t, who then says something like, ‘can you say that again in English please?’ It’s a device that works well throughout the book.

Iceberg is a really enjoyable 394 page read that I managed to smash through in just a couple of hours. I would recommend it to any fans of the action adventure genre.

Iceberg by Clive Cussler was published by Sphere Books in 1976. RRP £6.99 (Paperback)

Alyson Noël – Blue Moon

I bought this one with the first book in the series, Evermore, which I read several years ago. I didn’t read this second one in the series straight away and after about three pages of Blue Moon, I remembered why.
Before I go on to that though, there is something very puzzling about the start of the book. There’s no catch up on what happened last time at the start of the book – very strange for a second book in a series. This is even more dumbfounding when the book isn’t written in a way that recaps as you go along. I had to spend the first 50 pages of the 362 page book trying to remember who the fuck everyone was. And then I remembered. Twilight.
I was also tempted just to cut and paste my review of Evermore as I really doubt there is anything majorly different to say, but I did find myself laughing at some points simply because of the ridiculous language choices.
The first one I came across was on page 14. I’m not really sure what happens in this universe but apparently a party on a Friday night means the entire weekend is taken over and no other plans can be made. I get that Ever is trying to get out of doing something but she’s supposed to be a teenager with more than one brain cell so making an excuse for one out of three days seems pretty fucking stupid. But also how stupid is her aunt for not questioning it?!
Now I’ll move on to language choice. ‘Telepathically IM’ is phrase I never want to see used in a book again. It’s not just the way it looks on a page that bugs me but it feels like a tact-in attempt at being modern and relevant, however it’s only used once so what’s the point?
Also the word, if you can call it that, ‘omigod’ appears a few times in many different guises throughout. I don’t think I need to say anything more about this. Other than it nearly made me throw up in my mouth when I read it.
There are also several narrative repetitions throughout the book. The most prevalent ones are referring to hairstyles as ‘bangs’ to the point where I wasn’t sure there was another hairstyle in the universe. The other is Ever constantly pressing her lips together. She does it so much, they are probably white from the pressure.
As a side note, Damen is a blatant rip-off of Edward from Twilight. I’m not saying that’s a good thing but what’s most certainly not a good thing is the copying of the exact way in which Edward drives - unnaturally fast with ridiculous reflexes. What I also don’t like about this is the fact that it’s driving. You are limited by the car, you can have all the reflexes in the world but you can’t be psychic and your physical abilities don’t really impact on car brakes, tyre grip and suspension impact so it’s pretty much a load of crap.
Also, by Chapter 19 it seemed pretty obvious what was going to happen and this is probably my biggest criticism of the story itself. The whole thing is driven by Ever’s terrible decisions which, based on what happens, are almost carried out for the sake of creating a story. It feels very forced a lot of time and the way the character has been developed, I don’t believe she would make some of the choices she makes.
There are two other things that pissed me off, the first being Ever’s teachers. There is no way in hell that if teachers caught wind of a student stalking another student to the point where they commit the crime of breaking and entering that they would not call the police or at least call their guardian. This conveniently doesn’t happen for no other reason than to allow the story to continue.
There is a time travel element which had me wetting myself down to the lack of thought that was put into it. In this world, you can travel back in time and change events that happened, as well as carrying notes (this is just fucking stupid because it’s a mental time travel rather than a physical one) and effecting a change in character in a past self for no reason that can be explained in a way that makes sense.
In summary, and this is quite harsh, it feels like the book has been written from a sixteen year old’s perspective almost because it’s the easy option and less thought needs to go in to the writing because a sixteen year old may not necessarily think of certain things. But that’s no excuse for lazy juxtaposition, poor character development and writing about things like time travel without understanding the art of the possible. This last one, I wouldn’t have a problem with if it was explainable in its own context but it isn’t.
Blue Moon by Alyson Noel was published by St Martin’s Press in 2009. RRP £6.99 (Paperback)

Monday, 26 February 2018

Clive Cussler and Graham Brown - The Storm

After reading Runemarks anything would have been an improvement in terms of reading pleasure. I had read some Clive Cussler before but this one was written a long time after the first book I read; and with a co-author which wasn’t something I’d seen before.

The Storm follows, for the most part, the story of Kurt Austin as he investigates the mysterious death of some of his NUMA colleagues. His search eventually leads him to face off against Jinn al-Khalif, a crazy but somehow intelligent terrorist on a quest to control Asia’s water supply using tiny robots to dictate the sea temperatures and thus the direction of rain clouds. Seriously.
All in all it’s very enjoyable book if not slightly disconnected from the title. There is one storm that takes place during the prologue and the mysterious connection between the prologue and the main story is not revealed until the very of end of the 424 page book.
One thing I spend time fussing over right from the beginning was exactly how old Jinn is. In 1967 he is old or strong enough to be able to shoot a revolver at a man. Later in the book this age is revealed as 4. But what I still don’t get is the point of having these scenes happen this long ago. There is another character, Sabah, who was friends with Jinn’s father. Even assuming that Sabah is 20 in 1967, that makes him 69 in 2012. For me, this felt a little too old for the region and the type of jobs this guy was doing in order to assist Jinn in carrying out his mental plan.
I didn’t have any major issues with the story other than this. My biggest criticism of the book is the use of perspective. A lot of the time, perspectives will shift back and forth over the course of pages, and sometimes even within the same paragraph. This makes it hard to follow what’s going on in places when the story is coming at you from multiple directions.
There was one instance of using a ‘/’ in a character’s dialogue and I couldn’t get on board with this. I mean, how would you say what you were saying with a slash in the middle? If it were me, I would actually say the word ‘slash’ but I’m not particularly normal. The sentence in question would be better suited with a comma.
There’s one other small bit of story that I raised my eyebrows over. At one point, Kurt sneaks on to a plane and hides in the toilet. No one knows he’s on board but he still puts his feet up on the toilet. It doesn’t really make sense. If no one knows he is there, he has no reason to hide. It’s not like someone is going to look under the door to see if the toilet is occupied. Unless these guards check under toilets doors on a plane looking for people that they don’t know are there? But as I said, it’s minor.
I enjoyed The Storm and it will definitely encourage me to pick up a few more Cussler books in the future.
The Storm by Clive Cussler was published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons in 2012. RRP £7.99 (Paperback)

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Anita Burgh - Exiles

Okay, time for another one I found on a train. I can’t remember which journey it was but I do get itchy fingers when I see people leave paperbacks lying around. It’s a sickness.

Exiles follows the story of Kate Howard, an author who voluntarily moves to France with her asshole partner, Stewart. She is a successful author whose life starts to mildly fall apart when she tries to change genre and her publisher doesn’t like it.

The story follows a small community of expats who have decided that France is a better option than England as they all basically whine, whinge and eat their way through the French countryside. The book is 376 pages long but there isn’t much of a story, where a story is defined as having a beginning, middle and end. I mean, it does go from A to B, but B is so close to A it makes the middle bit look a bit dragged out.

Exiles is a very tricky book for me to review in that it’s not my normal genre – and not one I picked myself. The first thing I commented on was in the first couple of pages where Kate is describing her life with Stewart. She makes him out to be this perfect man who does everything right... then she goes on to have an interaction with him where she makes him look like an ass.

The first example of this is on page 7 where both of them come off looking like dicks. Stewart doesn’t know how Kate likes taking her tea. This seems like a fairly basic thing to get right after a few years of cohabitation and there are two trails of thought here. Either Kate hasn’t told Stewart and after not drinking any of his tea for years, that she doesn’t like it... or Stewart thinks that the way Kate takes her tea is how a man should take it and so he continues to make her tea she doesn’t like because he’s just a dick.

It becomes apparent that it’s the former when on page 9. Kate states that she can’t tell a hairdresser that she doesn’t like what she does to her hair. Even though she is paying her for the service. To me, Kate is not, an engaging or likeable character and this became clear in the first 10 pages of the book. By chapter 4 she establishes herself as a character who orders food she doesn’t want to eat, drinks things that she is not in the mood for, likes people that she doesn’t like and does things she doesn’t want to do.

This behaviour continues over the next few pages. Apparently she doesn’t like arguments but this is followed by massive fallouts with shouting, fits of violence and throwing stuff. Then followed by narrative fits of, ‘what have I become?!’ It’s mental. And that’s without starting on Stewart.

Mr Perfect is a fucking wanker from the get go. And this is what really confuses me about the book as a whole. Normally you get to see an event or cause that drives a character to change but Exiles outlines that these characters are lovely before showing us that they are not.

Some instances of Stewart being a wanker are when he kicks off at the published author for spending money on Pretty Good Solitaire when he is pissing all their money away on wine that he doesn’t drink. This irritated me greatly as I actually bought Pretty Good Solitaire when I didn’t have an income. It costs £9.99 now and probably even less when the book was written in 2001.

There are lots of other little bits like this throughout the book and these are just small examples of Stewart being a cock, but I actually got to the stage where I believed that this was an intentional narrative style that was supposed to funny rather than taken seriously.

The title sums itself is an oxymoron and microcosm of the book’s contents. To be in exile means to be away from ones home while either being explicitly refused permission to return or being threatened with imprisonment or death upon return. Every English character in the book has chosen to leave England and live in France in a community of ex-pats. So they are exiles by any stretch of the imagination. And some of them haven’t even bothered to learn French! It just sums up the British need to complain while highlighting the majority of British ex-pats have no respect for other countries, even if we chose to live there.

Exiles by Anita Burgh was published by Orion books in 2001. RRP £5.99 (Paperback)

Joanne Harris - Runemarks

Right, I really came unstuck with this one. I started reading it back in August last year and didn’t finish it for a good six months. I had some time off and was reading a lot but when I got home I just couldn’t bring myself to pick it up again.

Runemarks supposedly follows the story of Maddy Smith, a girl with magical powers who lives in a village with normal people. She ends up going on an adventure with some characters based on Norse Gods and ends up saving the world from the evil of Christianity – at least that’s how the story portrays its antagonists.

Now, the first reason I couldn’t keep picking the book up – I didn’t really like any of the characters, even those based on Odin and the like from Norse mythology which is something I normally like as a setting for a story. I understand it’s supposed to be an original take but it come across as Norse history meets the Jungle Book where Maddy is Moglie and the other characters are there to be comedic versions of their real selves.

Because of this I actually did some research to see if it was just me once again reading a book that isn’t intended for my eyes... but then I thought about it. The book is intended for kids and the writing style, story structure and word usage feels slightly too advanced. In my opinion, it’s too advanced for smaller children and condescending for teens.

Moving on to the writing style, I found it very sparse in terms of what’s going on and there is such a lack of description that I couldn’t help but picture the world as a linear path that the characters walk along. In some places, there are jumps in time which make it feel like whole paragraphs are missing. Also, when reading chapters, the perspective changes from one paragraph to the next without warning which makes it hard to keep up with what’s actually going on and who’s perspective the story is being told from.

The last part of the writing that bugged me was the last 40 or so pages of the 504 page offering where the last few scenes whiz by after what a massively dragged out build up. Lots of books seem to do this, like authors are trying to reach a certain length of book and then hammer out the ‘best bits’ in relative seconds. But I found I didn’t care what was happening in Runemarks and was glad to be done with it.

I did make some other observations about certain character actions that I didn’t think were in keeping with their intended behaviour but I don’t think I’m in a position to provide my thoughts on this as I didn’t invest in any of the characters. To me, it was not an engaging read.

Runemakes by Joanne Harris was published by Doubleday in 2007. RRP £6.99 (Paperback)