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The Blinding Knife
Brent Weeks
Logic: An Introduction to Elementary Logic
Wilfrid Hodges
First Steps In Music Theory
Eric Taylor
The AB Guide to Music Theory: Part I
Eric Taylor
Fast Ships, Black Sails
Garth Nix, Eric Flint, Dave Freer, Carrie Vaughn, Howard Waldrop, Michael Moorcock, Jeff VanderMeer, Brendan Connell, Kage Baker, Sarah Monette, Conrad Williams, Elizabeth Bear, Steve Aylett, Rhys Hughes, Jayme Lynn Blaschke, Rachel Swirsky, Kelly Barnhill, Scott Altmann,
British Sign Language
Paul Redfern, Nicholas Callow, Laraine Callow
Being a Quaker
Geoffrey Durham
Shadow Unit 2
Emma Bull, Elizabeth Bear, Amanda Downum, Sarah Monette, Kyle Cassidy

Genesis and the Big Bang: The Discovery Of Harmony Between Modern Science And The Bible

Genesis and the Big Bang: The Discovery Of Harmony Between Modern Science And The Bible - Gerald Schroeder I first came across Dr. Schroeder's work back in my teens, when I read an article of his on a aish.com - a popular jewish website - titled "Age of the Universe". Schroeder had new theory that the 6 days of creation referred to in Genesis, and the 15billion year figure quoted by modern science as the age of the universe, were not totally irreconcilable. In fact, using einstein's theories of special and general relativity, Dr. Schroeder made the case that these two figures are both entirely correct, but merely measured from different frames of reference.

Schroeder's article really astounded me back then, and the thought of it stuck with me for years. Even later after I had a chance to study relativity in depth at university, and failed to find any flaws in the physics behind his argument. When I realised Schroeder had written books aswell as articles, I decided I had to get hold of one, hoping to hear more of his theories.

Genesis and the Big Bang puts forward essentially the same points as Schroeder's article that I fell in love with years ago: That the biblical creation story can be shown to agree with modern day scientific theories of the creation of the universe, the big bang, and the origins of life on earth.

Schroeder apparently has a double phd in 'Nuclear Physics and Earth and Planetary Sciences', and he really does seem to know his stuff. I can't speak completely for the archeology/paleontology topics that he covers but certainly I have found his physics to be correct, interesting and reasonably easy to understand. Some of the topics Shroeder touches upon, in his main theories and in background explanations include the wave-particle duality of light, general and special relativity, the expansion of the universe and doppler shifts. I would say that you'd probably need some background knowledge of the science to make reading the novel worthwhile, as he doesn't cover the topics quite thoroughly enough to teach a complete novice.

Of course since he's relating scientific theories to biblical scripture, Schroeder does also quote a lot of scripture. He also refers often to Nahmanides and Maimonides, 12th century jewish scholars who are two of the most influential commentors on the Torah. Turns out that these two were seriously ahead of the times in their interpretation of scripture, I'm willing to bet certain modern day christians would be picketing their gravesides if they'd heard some of their ideas.

I honestly find it a breath of fresh air to come across a science writer that doesn't believe that science and religion always have to be in competition with eachother. I know that religious scientist are out there, Hell einstein and most of his contemporaries were christian. But these days it seems like its taboo to bring up your religion whilst practicing science.

Unfortunately, I didn't realise that Genesis and the Big Bang was published several years earlier than the article I originally fell for. So while it does cover several of Schroeders ideas in more detail it doesn't go as far as his article did in actually trying to covert the biblical 6 days into our inertial reference frame. Which was a little bit of downer. I'll probably have to pick up his more recent work in order to read more about that precise theory.

I suppose the question now is, after being so fascinated by his theories am I convinced? Well in a way I think I am; I find his arguments utterly plausible aswell as astoundingly interesting. Like I said before, I don't believe faith and science need to be at odds with one another, and I do think there is much more to the book of Genesis than can be read at surface value. But unlike Schroeder I would have to say that I don't think that the abrahamic religions are the only ones to hold a grain of truth.

All in all though, this book is a fascinating read, even if you don't find yourself convinced by his theories in the end.

The Wilding

The Wilding - Maria McCann Jonathan Dymond is a young gentleman with no cares, who makes a living by taking his unique portable cider-press round the countryside, and pressing cider apples. When a note comes to his father from his dying uncle, things change. His father arrives to late to hear his Uncle's last wishes, and is willing to let it be forgotten. But Jonathan finds a scrap of the note that hints of dark secrets, and is plagued by nightmares of his Uncle. So our protagonist finds himself driven to investigate the mystery. Taking the cider press to help his Aunt Harriet with her apples is a convenient way to get into the household for a while, and there he meets Tamar, an unusual beggar-girl who has been hired as a maid by her aunt, and seems to know somewhat about the mystery of Uncle Robin's dying wishes.

The novel is set in 16th centry england shortly after cromwell's civil war (a period which McCann has obviously well researched for her first novel 'As Meat Loves Salt'). The setting works really well for the novel, with hints of the recent violent past still resting below the surface. And the practice of cider making seems to tinge the story with the scents of sweetness and underlying rot.

It has to be said that I did not rate this novel quite as highly as McCann's first novel, but then again I gave 'As Meat Loves Salt' a 5 star rating and cried continuously over it. It has to be hard first novel to live up to. Nevertheless McCann's writing is still brilliant, and the mystery was completely riveting. Highly recommended.


See my review of Maria McCann's first novel:
As Meat Loves Salt

Story Engineering

Story Engineering - Larry Brooks We were always told in English Lit. that good writing isn't something you can be taught, its just an innate skill, a gift, a calling. They'd tell you the same thing in art class, but I'm pretty sure they still explained about the basics of light and shading. In english class I can't even recall being taught basic sentence structure and grammar, its just assumed you pick these things up as you go along. And as far as writing a novel goes, apparently you just have to randomly become a genius and get stuck into it.

Now I really love writing, but my head is full of ideas and characters that I just don't know what to do with. And I can't do the 'just start writing, it'll happen' thing, I really can't. When I turned to my author friend Thomas for suggestions, he pointed out this book to me. I am so glad he did, it's the most useful thing I've read in ages.

With Story Engineering, Larry Brooks puts forward the idea that while talent may be innate, the skills you need to write a novel (or a screenplay) can definately be taught. What he calls the 6 core competencies - Concept, Character, Theme, Story Structure, Scene Execution and Writing Voice. The ideas and creativity have to be all your own, but you can learn how to actually assemble your ideas together in the shape a novel.

At first I admit I was slightly skeptical, because Brooks starts with a lengthy intro about how important these ideas are. And theres a lot of repetition, every section starts by going on about how this skill is important, and the others are too, and how you can't just practice, you need this skill. Okay so the repetition annoyed me a little, but when you get into the grit of it, the important parts, he really actually does know his stuff. I mean really.

I basically learnt a metric shit ton of stuff from this book. Including; the difference between concept, idea, premise and theme. What exactly are the three dimension of character. What variables each character has to flesh them out. How to treat peripheral characters. The important milestones/plot points in a novel, where they come and how to build up to them. And where to actually begin a novel (I shit you not).

One of the cool things about the book is that in a way you're not just being taught how to build characters, scenes and plots, but also how to break them down and analyse them. So this stuff isn't just useful for writing a novel, its also pretty darned useful for reviewing novels too. Hopefully I can put this stuff into practice and both improve my reviews and get stuck into some serious story writing. I feel like I can now, and thats a start.

Honestly, I feel a bit funny about sharing this review with people, because it's like I just got superpowers and now I'm revealing the source of my powers to the public. But hey, everyone deserves the chance to learn something new. You better appreciate it. ;)

The Curse of the Mistwraith (Wars of Light & Shadow, Book 1)

The Curse of the Mistwraith - Janny Wurts Janny Wurts - Curse of the Mistwraith

Arithon S'Ffalenn and Lysaer S'Ilessid are princes of two kingdoms which have been at war for centuries. They are also half-brothers on their mother's side, and each have a gift of elemental magic through her. Lysaer recieved no training in his powers of light and was simply raised a noble of Amroth, Arithon was schooled in his shadow powers before returning to claim heirship to the pirate kingdom of Karthan.

When Arithon is captured in battle, the S'Ilessid king decrees his fate to be exile through the worldsend gate. The half-brothers mother has pronounced that whatever the sentence the brothers must share the same fate. And so both Arithon and Lysaer are sent through the portal together. To another world where they are both royal heirs prophecied to destroy the evil mistraith and bring sunlight back to the land.

I started this book once before, and abandoned it not quite half way. This time I was determined to make it all the way through, and find out what all the fuss was actually about. In the end I'm not truly sure if it was worth the effort. The book feels extremely slow paced, and while the writing is of a high standard it's often so complex and flowery as to require regular re-reading of entire paragraphs to fully understand whats going on. The first 300 pages were quite a slog to get through, and it wasn't until the second half of the book that I actually felt the plot get moving.

I think the main cause of the book's slowness is it's reliance on prophecy. It's almost as if the author decided on a nice tragic plot for her novel, and then tried to force it into play by having one of her mages prophecy it, and then having everyone else repeat it over and over until it became true. Whilst this might work for some people, I really rather prefer a character driven plot, and I prefer my prophecies to remain cryptic and forgettable until the final plot-twist.

Another problem I had with the novel was the characters themselves. Arithon and Lysaer being the main characters are obviously the most detailed, and yet they still seemed flat. I believe this is because the author was constantly describing them in terms of their heritage, and not building them as characters in their own rights. There were numerous references to s'Ffalen empathic traits and s'Ilessid sense of justice, but it simply made the characters feel as if they were racial stereotypes rather than people. Granted I did feel like I knew them a little better towards the end of the novel, but thats a very long time to wait. And lesser characters like 'Elaira' were seriously overlooked, we're plastered with indications that she is to be extremely important in the plot, and yet she is barely involved. Even so I felt she was a more real character than either of the brothers, given that all her characterisation came from her actions and not discriptions of her birthright.

Wurts has obviously planned the novel as part of a much larger scale story (there are now 11 books in the series), but that leaves much of this novel hanging and unresolved waiting for the next installment. Granted thats always a feature of series work, but it felt that there was just simply not enough plot in this novel to make an enjoyable book. Or maybe it was just that the plot was spread so thinly over 800 pages.

In conclusion, I found the novel mildly enjoyable, but not worth the time and effort spent. I probably won't be seeking out the rest of the books unless I find myself in a real drought of reading material.

Shadow's Edge (Night Angel Trilogy)

Shadow's Edge  - Brent Weeks Oh Em Gee.

Earthman, Come Home (Cities In Flight, 3)

Earthman, Come Home (Cities In Flight, 3) - James Blish Earthman, Come Home is set a few hundred years after the previous novel. John Amalfi is still the mayor of the Okie city New York, and is now over 700 years old; thanks to the anti-agathic drugs that all citizens take. New York is running low on supplies and must land and take a job soon, but Amalfi's only option is to pick one of two warring planets in the closest system, both of which they have been warned off by the earth police. Amalfi first chooses to land on Utopia, a planet ravaged by nuclear attacks. But later chooses to move over to Gort, a planet in the old Hruntan Empire. The Hruntans turn out to have been a bad choice of allies, as they hold NY hostage and demand from them an explanation of the sought-after friction-field generator tech. When Amalfi finally manages to escape from the Hruntans, the City has accumulated even more violations on its record, and the earth police are not happy with them. So Amalfi takes the city out into the Rift, a huge expanse of space that is empty of stars and planets, Except for one lonely star system, containing the planet He, which is the only possible place to land inside the emptiness of the rift.

The citys adventures continue on, endlessly, which make it a very difficult book to synopsise. New York, as Okie cities do, moves from one planet to the other, never able to settle, and seemingly never getting ahead, always in some trouble, always low on some resource or other. As such, the plot does seem to wander as much as the city itself does, but later events always rely on something learned or gained in earlier adventures, so things do tie together quite nicely.

The passage of time in this novel was seriously hard to comprehend. With the spindizzy drive, the okie cities can travel across distances that just would not be possible for us, the spindizzy is equivalent to travelling many times the speed of light. But apparently it does still take years to travel between systems, and the cities spend years again fulfilling their contracts on planets. Yet it did take me a while to understand this, there is no feel of a great passage of time in the writing, the story moves on from one event straight to the other, and then suddenly Amalfi will muse that he's 2 centuries older! I found this very jarring. I couldn't relate to the time spans at all.

I also didn't get along very well with the main character. Arguably, Amalfi is supposed to be a hard character to relate to, because he has lived centuries longer than most humans and has become a little detatched from the rest of humanity. I think he even admits at one time that he behaves more like a computer now than a human. But on top of that I'm afraid I found him just plain irritating. Amalfi is constantly keeping plans to himself until the last possible second, even from the reader, which is a really childish way to create a plot mystery, I have to say I expected more from Blish than this terrible fake suspense trick. I'm not even sure why Amalfi keeps a City Manager to run the city, as he never lets Hazleton get on with his job. He makes his plans without telling a single person, and then when Hazleton tries to makes descisions, Amalfi countermands all his orders without an explanation. I found this just incredibly annoying, it doesn't make Amalfi sound heroic or intelligent, just irritatingly childish. Every time it happened I couldn't help thinking how much better things would have gone if he'd have just been open with Hazleton from the beginning. But then of course there would be no 'suspense'.

Another character that irritated me was Dee, the only female character. She was portrayed as fairly intelligent, but unfortunately she never seemed to do anything with her intelligence. She had no role on the city, apart from to be someone elses wife, and she had no skills, and nothing whasoever to do. She may have been an intelligent love interest, but she was just a love interest all the same. I suppose I'm not entirely suprised, considering the decade the book was written in, but I don't have to like it. Although I'm sure Blish's portrayal of female characters improved in the 60s when he started writing for the very progressive Star Trek series.

There were a lot of interesting ideas in the novel, the technology, the planets, and the civilisations were all fascinating, but I don't feel that it was carried off very well at all. Apart from Amalfi's secret plotting, there were also a few too many instances of Deus ex Machina, eg when doctor schloss suddenly saves them all by mending the invisiblility machine they all thought was fake, and then the machine is never mentioned or used again..

I found out after finishing the entire set of novels that although number 3 in the series, Earthman, Come Home was actually the first written. Which explains why it never seems as well thought or out, or as well written as the others. But it still contains a lot of very good ideas, and I suppose in the end it is worth reading in order to tie all the other novels together. Still, I'd have to say this was my least favourite out of all the 4 books.

See my other reviews of Cities in Flight:
#2 A Life for the Stars | #4 The Triumph of Time

A Dog's Purpose

A Dog's Purpose - W. Bruce Cameron It took me a long time to finally get my firstreads copy of A Dog's Purpose, but I'm glad I made the effort to track it down, because it was well worth it. Not something that I would normally pick up either. But this is one of those novels that is so much more than it appears on the surface. Dare I say - more than you could judge by its cover!

Our protagonist's first life, is as a one of a litter of four feral puppies. (Yes, I did say first life, this will bake more sense later). The dog's small world at first consists of not much more than his mother and his littermates. But not for long, as his mother must teach her puppies to fend for themselves, and all the tricks that wild dogs must know. Such as where to forage, and when and how to hide from humans. Unfortunately the life of a feral dog is fraught with danger, and must end sooner rather than later. But then our dog is born once again.

In his second life, our puppy is taken in by a loving family, and given the name Bailey. And Bailey becomes the beloved companion of his boy, Ethan. In this life Bailey learns more about love and loyalty, and picks up a few tricks aswell.

Bailey is reincarnated several times throughout the novel, each time learning something new about the world, and finding a new purpose for his life. And each time using what he has learnt before.

One of the reasons I loved this book was because it reminded me so much of one of my very favourite tv shows: Quantum Leap. Bailey steps from life to life, striving to find his purpose in each time, and to put right what once went wrong... Yep, its totally Canine Leap. But it was really good. And pulled more than a few tears from me.

Lesson learned: always give a try to books that aren't your usual fare. Its where you find the most suprises.

LIFE FOR THE STARS (CITIES IN FLIGHT / JAMES BLISH)

A Life for the Stars - James Blish It is now just over 1000 years since humans first discovered the Spindizzy - the antigravity drive that enabled their exodus to the stars. For a long time, spindizzies have been used not just to drive ships, but to launch whole Cities into space. These Cities - referred to as 'Okies' - live a nomadic lifestyle, wandering through the galaxy and landing for a short time on planets where they take on any job the inhabitants need doing, such as mining, or refining, drilling etc. But most of their time is spent traveling between star systems.

The Industrial city of Scranton, is about to power up its Spindizzy drives and leave earth to go Okie. Crispin (Chris) DeFord has picked his spot beyond the city perimeter to watch Scranton take off. Unfortunately for him, the City is operating press-gangs on the perimeter, and one such group discovers him and forces him into the city as it takes off. Chris is forced to leave behind his family and the only life he has ever known, and make whatever life he can for himself on Scranton. Chris has had no formal schooling, but has a personal interest in astronomy, which he uses to pass himself off as a professional for a short time on Scranton. But it can't last for long, and as soon as another Okie ship offers a trade of workers, Chris takes the opportunity to jump ship. Chris then finds himself on the city of New York, where his chances in life are somewhat improved. He is put through a hard course of advanced schooling through hypnotherapy, and the city fathers - the artificial intelligences that perform all the basic running of the city - drive him hard to find any hidden skills or talents he may have. If he manages to show a useful skill, when his 18th birthday comes, he could be granted citizenship. And like every other citizen he would be granted the anti-aging drugs that let Okies live for centuries on their flying city ships.

I enjoyed this second installment of Cities in Flight almost as much as the first. I found Chris to be a very relatable character, he's young and intelligent and he knows what he wants, but he's yet to figure out how to get it. He's fairly brash and he's willing to lie and break the rules a little to get his own way, but not to the point of losing his own sense of right and wrong. And he seems to make friends easily. He is some what cliche of other sci-fi and fantasy adventurous kids, getting into scrapes but ultimately being forgiven, but it makes him an easy character to get along with.

The tone of the novel was however a little childish at times, I think this is because Blish is writing from the point of view of the teenage Chris, and yet Chris seemed to have some very mature ideas for his age. So the whole young-adult feel to the narration was a little un-wanted and a bit patronising in parts.

One thing I was a little confused at, was how the nature of the anti-agathic (anti-aging) drugs seemed to have changed from how they were first explained in book one. In They Shall Have Stars it was explained that simple removing all diseases from humanity wouldn't be enough to stop them aging, and that there was a separate toxin that caused the aging itself and could be counteracted. But in A life for the Stars the anti-aging drugs were just a collection of antibiotics that prevented all disease, which is a complete backtrack of the original idea, and simply didn't cut it for me. I can't believe that just eradicating disease would stop aging, and the scientists said as much in the first book!

And so in conclusion, I enjoyed the storyline, but I was seriously peeved by the Blish's u-turn on the sciencey bits. I'm definately on with books 3 and 4 tho, and reviews will come soon.


See my other reviews of Cities in Flight:
#1 They Shall Have Stars | #3 Earthman, Come Home

They Shall Have Stars

They Shall Have Stars (Cities in Flight, #1) - James Blish I'm currently reading through the omnibus Cities in Flight, which contains all four books in Blish's series. But I couldn't contain myself to one review for the omnibus, each book deserves its own personal review, so hopefully I may be forgiven for shelving all four books and the omnibus. It's not done to drive up my 2012 book challenge, honest!

'They Shall Have Stars' was slightly difficult to get into, not only is the style of writing slightly different to the modern sci-fi and fantasy that I'm more used to. But the method is quite original, and reminds me in hindsight now of George R.R. Martin's method in the Song of Ice and Fire novels. The story is told from 3 different 3rd person points of view, which change each chapter.

In the first setting, we are in Washington, watching the character Senator Bliss Wagoner, who is making some very hard decisions. Scientifically, humanity is in a bit of a rut. No new advances have been made for decades, and humanity is no closer to interstellar travel than it was 50 years ago. The West is still pitted against Russia in what seems to be a war of science and ideas. But everything in the west is so mired in 'top secret' bigbrotherness, that no ideas can be shared and no progress is ever made. Wagoner is determined that new breakthoughs must be made, and turns to his friend Giuseppi Corsi for advice. Corsi advises Wagoner to seek innovation through ideas that have already been dismissed untried, where scientists have been labeled as crazy and ignored. And thus Wagoner's new science initiative is born, but whatever price is paid by humanity to carry out these crackpot experiments, the whole of it rests on Wagoner's shoulders.

In New York, Colonel Paige Russel of the Army Space Corps is dropping off soil samples collected on Jupiter V, at the Pfitzner Plant for analasis. Paige finds himself curious about why the soil samples are needed and manages to get himself a personal tour of the laboratory, during which he hears the cries of newborn babys. He refuses to believe the lies then told him about this, and becomes concerned about the real reason why babies might be involved in laboratory research. He hopes to gain some answers by going on a date with the secretary Anne, who knows more than a secretary normally would. But unwittingly he stumbles head over heels in love with Anne, and finds himself suddenly personally involved in the morally dubious research for the secret of anti-aging drugs.

And on Jupiter V, a moon of Jupiter, Bob Helmuth is one of a team of personal working on a Top Secret project. Remotely, through a virtual reality medium, Helmuth controls machines which are building an inhumanly large 'bridge' of ice above the surface of Jupiter. Helmuth and the other workers have been mentally conditioned into believing that the bridge is the most important thing to them, to ensure completion of the project even through the unbearable conditions they must put themselves. The bridge on Jupiter is a massive undertaking, but the goal and purpose of it is unknown even to the workers, but Helmuth has his own theories. He believes that the bridge may be part of an experiment to produce anti-gravity technology.

They Shall Have Stars was a great beginning to the quadrilogy. Whilst the unusual setup made it slightly slow to get into, once I was in I was completely hooked by the various mysteries going on.

I found Wagoner to be a particularly hard character to read. He has a determination to keep the civilisation of the West marching forward, but he doesn't seem to care what price they have to pay to get there. He is responsible for some quite horrific tragedies through ordering these experiments, and yet I'm not sure he shows much remorse for it. Yes he questions it, but obviously he sticks with the choice he made, and I'm not sure that I felt a great deal of emotion from him about it. I could just be missing it due to my unfamiliarity with the writing style, but I just wasn't completely happy with his character. Other reviewers have stated that Wagoner was intended to be a christ figure, but I can't say I saw that at all. Christ was willing to be sacrificed yes, and he knew that his disciples would suffer for him also, but he gave them that choice. Wagoner never gave a choice to the people he used. I could go into more detail, but I'd be risking spoilers, and probably getting into a big rant, and everyone hates rants. So I'll just leave that topic with this - if Blish did intend Wagoner to be a christ figure then he's lost a bit of my respect for that, I'd much prefer that Wagoner remain a driven but fallible man, the story works much better that way.

The character than I most felt the most sympathy for was Robert Helmuth, the bridge worker. His sections invoked real feelings of awe for the huge scope of the bridge project and for the storm-wracked alien landscape of Jupiter itself. But also the strange combination of frustration and fear from his unusual situation. Bob is to all intents on puposes trapped on the little moon base, with his fellow workers who are all conditioned mentally to revere the bridge. And yet Bob is having nightmares about the bridge, and seems more depressed by it all than in love with it. It's almost like being inside a fanatical cult, but one sanctioned by your own goverment, and one trapped on a far away asteroid with no real way off. These parts were (for me) probably the best written, and the most evocative of the whole book.

One minor thing that also bothered me in this novel, was a repeated error in the mathematical notation. Blish was quite cool by using actual mathematical formulas, which despite the age of the novel still gave an interesting and somewhat believable base for his science fiction. But there was a small error in the notation that irritated the hell out of me. In the main formula used, instead of being written 'G^(1/2)' (which also can be written as the square root of G) the notation 'G 1/2' was used (which is not the same at all), and which ruined the derivation of the next formula completely. I probably sound like I'm up my own ass, but mathematical and scientific errors can be as off-putting to me as grammatical and spelling errors are to other readers. It's a shame how a minor error can spoil things, but it happens.

On the whole tho, I thought They Shall Have Stars was a great start to the series, and I'm realling interested to see where things go from here. Onto the next book!

See my other reviews of Cities in Flight:
| #2 A Life for the Stars

Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Wordsworth Classics)

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - Anne Brontë, Peter Merchant The novel is written as a series of letters from Gilbert Markham, to an old friend, detailing a particularly interesting time in his youth.

When the reclusive and beautiful young widow - Helen Graham - takes up residence in old Wildfell Hall, along with her young son, Arthur; the local residence all become deeply curious about her. But none so much as Gilbert Markham. Graham begins a cautious courtship of Helen, easily begun by his natural fondness for the young Arthur, and a close friendship slowly blossoms between the two of them.

Rumours about Helen start to creep around the neighbourhood, and some locals speculate that little Arthur somewhat resembles Mr Lawrence, who is Helen's landlord and Gilbert's nearest friend. But Gilbert steadfastly refuses to believe any gossip about his dear Helen. Then late one night as he finds himself drawn back to Wildfell Hall, and he sees Helen and Mr Lawrence embracing and exchanging fond words. Gilbert suddenly begins to consider the local gossip seriously.

The real truth of the entire situation comes out, when Helen asks Gilbert to read her diary. Which details the countless miseries of her marriage, explaining why she chose to elope with her child rather than continue with her unfaithful, drunken, abusive husband.

With this novel Anne Bronte was certainly treading new and dangerous ground. It was a big sucess on first publication, but after Anne's death her sister Charlotte (author of Jane Eyre) prevented it from being republished. The 'problem' with the novel was apparently it's daring realism, firstly in the portrayal of Helen's abusive alcoholic husband. And then Helen herself, who defys all convention by actually leaving her husband, and furthermore becomes and independent woman, supporting herself and her child as an artist.

In my estimation tho, the daring of the novel is not entirely about Helen's actions, but it's her character that makes the topic so radical. Because Helen always remains such a pure and innocent character. She perseveres in her unhappy marriage for so long, remaining dutiful and always forgiving her husband's trespasses. And it's only her fear for her son's own character, as he comes under the influences of his father, that makes her think of eloping. Not for her own sake, but for Arthur. And despite all of her husband's infidelities, she herself remains true to her marriage vows, even after her elopement. Thus the real appeal of Helen as a feminist figure, is that whilst defying all convention, she also remains such a sympathetic, good christian character, and entirely free from blame.

Anne's novel is probably the most revolutionary of all the bronte works, and yet I've enjoyed all of the bronte novels I've read so far. And all of them seem to carry a taste of feminist expression in them. It's such a shame that there was such jealousy and rivalry between the sisters, as they're all brilliant authors in their own right.

Highly recommended.



Jhereg

Jhereg  - Steven Brust Jhereg is a fantasy with a sort of reverse murder-mystery twist; where the protagonist's dilemma is not 'Whodunnit?' but 'How do I do it?'.

Vlad Taltos is a skilled assassin, but his latest target is a little tricky to tackle and a little hard to find. But luckily Vlad has a small cadre of friends of varied talents to call upon, including his assassin wife, and his psychically bonded pet jhereg (a sort of miniature dragon).

Vlad is also living proof that not all assassin characters have to be darkly brooding, friendless loners. And the banter with his pet jhereg shows how lighthearted a character he can be. Not that he doesn't ever have questions about what he does, but the overall tone is quite light. I suppose in a world where death is not generally a permanent state, this certainly makes some sense. Most assassinations, (if not done with a morganti weapon) can be easily remedied by a sorceror, and the assassination serves more as a threat or a public humiliation than anything else.

Brust has built an interesting world for his series. The incredibly long-lived race of dragaerans, with their occasionally pointed ears, and love of sorcery are reminiscent slightly of elves. But their infighting and their tendency to be not always good guys certainly makes them different. Normal humans do live quite comfortably in this tumultous empire, but are often looked down upon by the 'superior' dragaerans. Vlad himself is a human, but has set himself up quite well, and made some good allies. One major reason why I'm likely to read more of this series is to find out just how Vlad is such an ally of questionable dragaerans like the character Morollan. Hopefully later books in the series will explore Vlad's past in greater detail.

In summation, this is a lighthearted yet detailed fantasy romp, with some good worldbuilding and a troop of interesting characters. If a little tiny bit deus ex machina in places. Recommended to fantasy lovers, especially if you like antihero types.

The Triumph of Time (Vintage Avon SF, T-279)

The Triumph of Time (Vintage Avon SF, T-279) - James Blish The city of New York has now settled on a planet called 'New Earth', and John Amalfi, once mayor of the city in flight, is reduced to a mostly figure-head role. Until the astronomists spots the newly arrived planet He, a travelling planet outfitted with a spindizzy drive previously in the series. Amalfi goes to meet with the scientist of He, and returns with the news that the Hevians have discovered a point in space which indicates the collision of two universes. The matter-antimatter collision of two opposing universes is set to annihilate both universes involved, and birth multiple new universes in another big bang explosion. The people of New Earth and a new opposing alien faction - the Web of Hercules - must compete to win control of the collision point and therefore bring the big bang event under their own control.

Since the city settled on the New Earth planet, Amalfi is depicted as feeling particularly restless, since he was once mayor of the city, but now has little to do with the running of the planet. And yet I feel that Amalfi often pretty much was a figurehead before, and none of his duties seems to have actually changed. Perhaps its more of a result of centuries of space travel and now being stuck on one planet, in one solar system. But still I find it hard to relate to the character, he is much too big for his boots sometimes with little to show for it.

Dee's confession of love for Amalfi comes out of the blue, possibly because we've seen little evidence for it, but then Dee barely has a personality anyway. Also possibly because there is little in Amalfi to love and I bear no sympathy for her feelings. Then again perhaps its just my incompatibility with Blish's writing, I enjoy the science-fiction aspects but fail to empathise with most of his characters.

You can certainly see that Blish's writing has improved however, over the course of writing this series, but you have to pay attention to the fact that the series was written in a completely different order to the series order. This 4th book was in fact written 3rd, and it shows a definate improvent (to me at least) over the 3rd book in the series, which was in fact the first book to be written.

As I said tho, I do enjoy the science fiction aspects, and in this novel the main plot line involving the collision of two universes was absolutely fascinating. Whether or not you believe in this theory of universe evolution, its certainly interesting to think about. That our universe will not go on forever, but will one day crumple and then explode outwards creating brand new universes, the circle of life, death and rebirth manifested on a incomprehensible scale. It certainly is a mesmerising idea, and apt to make humans feel significant. But the way that Blish deals with it in the resolution puts all the humanity back into it, and makes us feel like even in the death and birth of universes we can have some small part to play.

On the whole, I do recommend the series, as there are some really great sci-fi ideas, even if the characters are a little bland and flaky. And plus its very rare to find sci-fi writing that actually tries to be scientific, and not just make things up entirely, even if it is now somewhat out of date, most of it still holds up well, and still has the power to entertain.

Recommended - read the whole series!

See my other reviews of Cities in Flight:
#3 Earthman, Come Home

Shadow Unit 1

Shadow Unit 1 - Emma Bull,  Elizabeth Bear,  Sarah Monette,  Will Shetterly,  Kyle Cassidy My original thoughts before reading:

Emma Bull, Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette?

Holy shit sherlock thats an authorgasm. ungh.


My Actual Review:

In Emma Bull's own words, Shadow Unit is fan fiction for a tv series that never existed. Bull thought up this fantastic urban fantasy type tv series, taking ideas from her old favourites such as x-files and The Man from UNCLE, and then brought on board some of her writer friends to collaberate and write for it.

To compare it to more recent tv shows, it has a lot in common with Alphas one of my favs. The series revolves around a small branch of the FBI, the 'Anomalous Crimes Task Force' also commonly called 'the shadow unit', whose job it is to identify and track down Gammas. Who are humans infected with an unknown substance (simply called the 'anomaly'). No one knows what the anomaly is, whether parasite, virus, bacteria etc, but it's effect on humans is to give them supernatural abilities, and then to bend their mind subtly to it's own purpose. Most Gammas end up using their abilities to harm or kill, and thats when the shadow unit gets called in.

The format of the book is as a collection of short stories, called episodes, each written by a different author, but all set within the same universe and timeline. The first episode Breathe makes a very good introduction to the series. As it brings in the character Daphne Worth who has just joined the Shadow Unit team, and is as new to all this as we - the readers - are. Worth was originaly an EMT (thats paramedic for us brits), who trained up to join the team after a nasty encounter with a Gamma that resulted in the death of her colleagues. After meeting the team, Daphne gets to go on her first case. Several victims have been found suffocated to death without any apparent external cause. The Gamma that did it is still out ther, and the team are racing against the clock to put all the evidence together and catch the Gamma before the Gamma takes its next victim.

If you can tell from my comment when I first noticed this series, I was a little excited about the authors involved. In my teens, I loved Emma Bull's lesser known cyberpunk novel Bone Dance. And in the last year or two I've turned into a huge fan of Sarah Monette, I just think she's the bees knees when it comes to fantasy involving lgbt characters, and I'm reading everything of hers that I can get my hands on. I haven't actually read any of Elizabeth Bear's solo work, but her collab work with Sarah Monette is really good. Her work on Shadow Unit has further convinced me that I need to explore some of her stuff soon.

The shadow unit series features a really interesting cast of characters that really draw you in, some great writing, and an inovative new twist to the urban fantasy/paranormal genre.

The episodes were all originally published on the Shadow Unit website. They're still all there and available free of charge if you wish to go through them that way. Theres a helpful wiki built thats immensly helpful. The page for reading order of the episodes is the best place to start if you want to go down that route.

Or.. Most of the episodes have been released collected together in ebook format. This being the first novel, a collection of the first four episodes and extra material. It's easier on the eyes than reading on the website, they're really cheaply priced (72 pence, you can't go wrong!), and of course you would be supporting the authors. Available on Amazon.

Fifty Shades of Grey: Book One of the Fifty Shades Trilogy

Fifty Shades of Grey - E.L. James The main complaint about 50 shades of Grey is that it is Twilight fanfiction. Perhaps I'm in a minority, but its not the Twilight part that bothers me. I actually enjoyed Twilight, all the books, and the movies. Yes its about a teenager in an angsty dysfunctional relationship, but it also has Vampires that can see the future, read minds and play baseball really loudly. And both the Werewolves and Vampires mechanics are a new innovative ideas. 50 Shades of Grey has no new ideas at all. It's fan-fiction, it's based on the same characters. But taking away all the interest of the Vampires and the Werewolves, all thats left is a shitty dysfunctional relationship. With not a single interesting new idea, absolutely nothing to distract from the awful, awful writing. Thats my main complaint about 50 shades, it's nothing to do with the Twilight connection, its the part where its badly written fan-fiction that annoys me. Who the hell is her editor and how did this awful piece of writing get published? Were there roofies involved?

The second thing that bothers me about 50 Shades, are the inexplicable amount of women wishing their partner were more like Christian Grey. I can only imagine its the rich part they're wishing for. Because Christian Grey is a narcissistic, self-absorbed, abusive, stalker, and a rapist. He ignores the word no. He ignores any boundaries or wishes Ana has. He thinks that throwing money around will get him what he wants. And if she won't agree he plies her with champagne until she's too drunk to complain. Now I understand that some people get off on a bit of non-consensual themed erotica, I do enjoy a bit of that myself on occasion. But theres one thing to be titilated by a fictional rape-scene, and entirely another to wish your real partner were more like said rapist.. What on earth is wrong with these women? Did they even read the same book?

And then of course theres Ana herself. The most ridiculous character that ever lived. Who hasn't ever held anyones hand before, never wanted to be kissed, never felt attraction to anyone before, never orgasmed before, never had sex before, never masturbated before. In fact to all intents was the most asexual person that ever lived until the moment she met Christian Grey, and then she's suddenly able to achieve a magical tits-only orgasm. What an absolute joke.

Apparently they're making a movie version, and its not just a rumour, I think they've already hired some producers and stuff. I'm really not sure how on earth they're going to make a full length movie that wouldn't be classed as a porno, if you take out all the sex scenes, theres not enough plot for a half hour episode. This is erotica for gawds sake, has anyone ever tried to make a legitimate movie out of an erotica novel before? And inquiring minds wonder.. will they film the tampon scene?

However, the most flabbergasting part of this whole thing has to be when I found my mother reading 50 Shades of Grey. Normally she reads mostly Stephen King, and not much else. I'm not much of a fan of King, and we don't have much book taste in common, yet still I was outraged at how this book had infiltrated my family. I haven't asked her, but I really really hope she didn't like it. Like I said, we don't have a lot in common book-wise, but Romance is pretty universal right? I'm thinking of sending her a copy of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander as a 'get-well-soon, come-back-to-sanity' type of gift. No its not the same category I know, but despite my open-mindedness, I'm just not comfortable sharing my favourite erotica books with my mother. Outlander is the best I can offer. And if it doesn't cure her, she's a lost cause probably!

If you disagree with my choice of alternative book, feel free to suggest what else I should offer my mother, by adding your favourite romance or erotica novel to this listopia list. Thankyou!

The Bone Key

The Bone Key - Sarah Monette Let me start by pointing out that I'm already a huge fan of Sarah Monette. I love everything I've ever read by her. I suppose that could make me biased towards her works, but I'd actually like to think that it only makes me more harshly demanding. Afterall, if I've rated most of her other works 5 stars this one has A LOT to live up to.

But oh look - ANOTHER 5 Star Rating. She's done it again! damn I love this woman.

Kyle Murchison Booth is a quiet, shy, reserved man; an insomniac with very little social life, and seems to spend most of his time at the museum where her works, cataloguing old books and papers. He does however stand out from the crowd, being that he is well over 6 foot tall and all his hair is mysteriously and prematurely pure white. And then add in a brush with necromantic magic that has in some way attuned him to the darker side of life, so that he's practically a ghost magnet. Well. He's certainly my kind of protagonist.

The Bone Key is a collection of 10 short stories (in which Booth is the first person narrator), most of which were originally published separately in various horror zines and publications. Obviously they can each be standalones, but they're much better collected together in one giant ghoulish smorgasboard. Apparently Monette's chief inspiration for Booth was Lovecraftian horror. I'm afraid I can't comment much on that, as I think I was born a little too late in the century and lovecraft completely passed me by! But honestly, this? This was some bloody good horror.

The best things about The Bone Key are probably also the worst things. Hear me out..
The Good: They're scary as f*ck.
The Bad: They're SCARY as f*ck.
The Good: The individual stories are quite short. You can get through them really quickly.
I'd rather not be stuck in the middle of a horror mystery just at bedtime.. I'd 've never get any sleep!
The Bad: They're short and they're over quick. Yes they're that good.


In conclusion: Sarah Monette + horror = win.


The White Rajah

The White Rajah - Tom   Williams Firstreads hates me.

I won my copy of The White Rajah on a Goodreads Firstreads giveaway. Alas, I've had problems recently with books from firstreads not actually being delivered, and no idea why that is. I wasn't one to pester or nag, but when I got around to inquiring, the author was so kind enough to give me an ebook copy as a replacement. But it has been a ridiculously long time between winning the book and actually reviewing, which is a shame.

This novel is the fictional memoirs of John Williamson, a shipman whose path crosses with James Brooke when he enlists as crew for his first exploratory trade mission to the South China Seas. Brooke is asked by the Sultan of Borneo to help supress a rebellion in his empire, and Brooke hopes to foster trade relations by doing so. As a reward for their victory Brooke is given ruleship of the kingdom of Sarawak, hence becoming the first White Rajah. Williamson soon becomes indespensible to Brooke, being helpful in fostering good relations with the locals, aswell as his seamanship skills. The two gradually foster a close friendship and eventually become lovers. But being Rajah is obviously not as simple as living luxuriously in a palace, and Brooke soon finds that amongst problems such as piracy, political problems and racial prejudice, he'll soon find it hard enough to hang on to his kingdom at all.

It must be noted that whilst James Brooke is a real historical figure, and the main historical facts can all be verified. John Williamson is only debatably a real person, and the relationship between the two seems to be mostly conjecture. Of course, it's historical fiction, that's entirely the point, but it's nice to be have a knowledge of which parts are from the history books and which parts are the author's imagination.

Williamson was an interesting character for a point of view. Being neither born of nobility or educated, he was an outsider to Brooke and his rank of friends. But his close relationship with Brooke elevated him to a level where he could observe and provide a unique view on everything that went on, whilst remaining almost a detached observer. In a way tho, this was also one of the novels main failings. As whilst Williamson gives a good point of view, he also remains too detatched. In scenes where there was battle action Williamson fails to get involved and the action remains just a series of facts and figures that could have been gleaned from a history book. There was no real emotional involvement.

I feel that neither Williamson or Brooke were really fully developed as characters. I never felt like I knew them except as details of where they went and what they did. I never felt an atatchment to them, or a connection to their feelings and emotions.

In conclusion, The White Rajah makes for an interesting read, but was overal a bit dry, and would do a lot better with more depth to the characters. A bit more emotion could really have bumped it up a star or two.