Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Comet Lovejoy Animation

I've created an animation of Comet Lovejoy consisting of three images taken on consecutive days at approximately the same time. Each image is a crop from a singe photo taken using the same settings. Pay attention to the motion of the comet and how the brightness decreases over the three day period. I fear Comet Lovejoy might quickly become too dim to see with the naked eye.

If you live in the Southern Hemisphere you really need to do yourself a favor and make some time to observe the comet while you still can!


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Comet Lovejoy - 27 December 2011

I'm making the best use of the clear morning skies, the borrowed camera and the visibility of Comet Lovejoy while I still can. My sleeping patterns are now synched with the rise and set of Lovejoy so getting up at 02:40 is getting to be second nature.

For images I shot this morning I went with a vertical orientation to include as much of the surrounding constellations and Milky way as possible.

Unprocessed Images:

Canon 1000D, 18mm, ISO 1600, 30sec, F/3.5
Canon 1000D, 18mm, ISO 1600, 30sec, F/3.5
Canon 1000D, 18mm, ISO 800, 30sec, F/3.5

Stacked Images:

10 x ISO 1600 images stacked using DSS
10 x ISO 800 images stacked using DSS

Labeled Image:

Image with labels showing brightest NGC objects and stars

Monday, December 26, 2011

Comet Lovejoy Revisited

After being hampered by my equipment I managed to get my hands on a Canon 1000D in order to give Comet Lovejoy another shot. I had to give myself a crash-course in DSLR usage since this was the first time I got to shoot with one. Focusing in the dark was extremely difficult and I don't know if I actually achieved the optimum focus. I also had to experiment with all the settings to get the hang of things.

I'm reasonably happy with the results although it's nothing like the images other people have managed to get.

Here's a timelapse video of Comet Lovejoy I created from 30 still images.



And some stills:

Canon 1000D, 18mm, f/3.5, 25 sec, ISO 800
Canon 1000D, 18mm, f/3.5, 30 sec, ISO 1600
Canon 1000D, 18mm, f/3.5, 30 sec, ISO 1600
Canon 1000D, 18mm, f/3.5, 30 sec, ISO 800

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Comet Lovejoy

All I wanted for Christmas was to see Comet Lovejoy and I got my wish! It has been a tiring couple of days. Each morning I was up at 03:20 and outside to catch a glimpse of this once in a lifetime event, only to be met with a tantalizing glimpse before the skies clouded over.

This morning I tried again and wonder of wonders the sky was completely clear! I raced indoors to grab my camera and snapped away until dawn. My camera isn't really suited for the job, but I managed to capture the comet, even if only just.

Below is a short Youtube video I created from all the images. The images were taken roughly 20 seconds apart and spans a period from 03:40 to 04:40.



And here's a still image of the comet and a satellite that happened to pass by. It's not up to the same quality as some of the images out there, but I'm reasonably proud of it.

Comet Lovejoy. The streak at bottom right is a satellite called Intercosmos 25.
The two brightest stars are Alpha and Beta Centauri also known as "the Pointers".

The comet itself is an amazing sight and well worth the effort to get up in the early hours. The tail is now more than 20° in length and very easy to see with the naked eye. For those living in the Southern Hemisphere Comet Lovejoy should still be visible for the next couple of days. If you want to catch a glimpse set your alarms for approximately 03:20 and look to the South. You can't miss it!

PS: Santa if you are reading this I want a DSLR camera next Christmas so I can do a proper job if something like this happens again!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Even More New Books

As luck would have it I received two large book orders during the week so this, my last new arrival post of 2011, is a truly epic book haul. Once again I went a bit overboard, but by this time you should know that I'm a complete book addict so it shouldn't come as any surprise.

Pre-loved books:


These are all second hand books I ordered from my two favourite online stores Better World Books and Awesome Books. Between the two of them I can get a bunch of used hardcovers for the price of what one new hardcover would cost over here.

Science Fiction books:
Use of Weapons - Iain M. Banks
Cowboy Angels - Paul McAuley
Moon War - Ben Bova
Ender's Shadow, Shadow of the Hegemon - Orson Scott Card
Shadow Puppets, Shadow of the Giant - Orson Scott Card
The Martian Race - Gregory Benford
The Trigger - Arthur C. Clarke 

Fantasy books:
The Dwarves - Markus Heitz
The Magicians Guild, The Novice, The High Lord - Trudi Canavan
The Demon Awakens, The Demon Spirit - R.A Salvatore
The Demon Apostle, Mortalis - R.A Salvatore

For Review


I received Halo Cryptum by Greg Bear and A Year in the Wild by James Hendry. Thanks to Pan Macmillan SA for sending me these review copies!

***

At the moment I'm suffering from a bout of reading fatigue which is really frustrating. It's not that I don't want to read, it's just that I can't seem to keep my normal pace going. I'm going to take it easy over the next few days and hopefully I'll be back to normal soon.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas filled with bookish gifts and lots of reading time!


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Book Trailer: Blue Remembered Earth

Gollancz just posted a book trailer for Alastair Reynolds' new novel Blue Remembered Earth. This is one of the titles I'm looking forward to in 2012. The trailer looks pretty cool and the premise sounds intriguing. I'm definitely adding it to my wishlist.



One hundred and fifty years from now, in a world where Africa is the dominant technological and economic power, and where crime, war, disease and poverty have been banished to history, Geoffrey Akinya wants only one thing: to be left in peace, so that he can continue his studies into the elephants of the Amboseli basin. But Geoffrey's family, the vast Akinya business empire, has other plans. After the death of Eunice, Geoffrey's grandmother, erstwhile space explorer and entrepreneur, something awkward has come to light.

Eunice's ashes have already have been scattered in sight of Kilimanjaro. But the secrets she died with are about to come back out into the open, and they could change everything.

One secret, two people, an infinity of futures.

Blue Remembered Earth will be released on the 19th of January 2012, so luckily we won't have to wait long.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Review: Running Black

Title: Running Black
Author: Patrick Todoroff
Pages: 241
ISBN: 9780578070711
Series: Eshu International #1
Published: 2010
Genre: Science Fiction/Espionage
Source: Review copy provided by author


Buy it from:
Amazon (Kindle Edition)
Amazon (Paperback)
Smashwords

It's 2059 and the North Korean mercenary Tam Song heads up Eshu International: a private security team that will take any job for the right price, no questions asked. Based in the Belfast Metro Zone, they're the best black contract outfit on the planet.

Stable nano-technology: the melding of man and machine on a microscopic level. It's a break-through worth billions no one's been able to achieve. Until now. The Dawson Hull Conglomerate has finally developed a viable Nanotech Neural Network; an interface system that exponentially increases a person's cyber-capabilities. They're days away from unveiling the prototype to the world. And Eshu International just got hired to steal it.

Running Black the debut novel by Patrick Todoroff is an action-packed espionage adventure set in the near-future where huge corporations have immense power and influence; even governments are forced to bow down to their demands. Rival corporations vie relentlessly against each other to gain an economic edge, often resorting to hiring mercenary groups to do their dirty work. Eshu International is the best in the business and when they are hired to steal a prototype of a nanotech neural network they get far more than they bargained for…

The near-future world Todoroff presents is a plausible extrapolation from the present; something that is often very difficult to achieve successfully. The prose is descriptive while still being to the point and adds to the fast pace and sense of urgency. Todoroff uses a mixture of first-person and third-person narration that works surprisingly well. The story is told from the perspective of several viewpoint characters, but it's done in a natural way without causing confusion.

The cast of characters are well-fleshed out and engaging. I was particularly drawn to Gibson and the oddly endearing clone warriors Mopsy, Flopsy and Cottontail. Their childlike naivety contrasted well with their ruthless proficiency at killing. It was also refreshing to see Major Eames, a female character who is as tough as nails and unstoppable in her commitment to track the Eshu team down. The characters all have differing natures and motivations and the interplay between the Enshu team members was interesting and gave a great sense of their shared history.

The plot deals with some serious moral dilemmas and contains some Christian themes and religious references. Since the question of clones having souls is one of the cornerstones of the storyline it’s inevitable that religion has to play some role in the story. The author’s personal beliefs shine through, but it never detracts from the story or devolves into sermonising.

The ending, while not quite the outcome I was hoping for, is thought-provoking and lets the reader draw their own final conclusion. This is well worth a read.

The Verdict:
Running Black is an exceptionally well-written debut novel filled with lots of action, intrigue and the firepower to go with it. Todoroff’s writing style is reminiscent of Neal Asher’s work, but without the grand space opera scope. There’s huge potential here and it will be interesting to see where Todoroff takes the Enshu International team next.

In the paperback version I reviewed there were some very minor editing problems (one or two missing words or wrong word order), but for an independently published novel this is a professional quality product with good editing and a stunning cover as well!

The Rating: 7/10 (Very Good)



Monday, December 5, 2011

A Month of Discworld Madness


As you might have noticed November was an extremely quiet month as far as reviews went. The reason for that is that I spent most (OK, all!) of my reading time on reading Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. You see, the devious minds over at the South African Book Lovers group on Goodreads devised a great Terry Pratchett reading challenge which kicked off in November. I'm a sucker for a good challenge and I got a bit obsessed carried away...

The challenge consists of 40 tasks which need to be completed by a team of four. Each team member has to complete 10 tasks which count towards their team total. The first team to finish all 40 tasks wins. In order to complete the challenge on an individual basis you need to complete 25 tasks. For every 5 tasks completed the team is awarded a Discworld themed card and individuals earn stamps as rewards.

I'm on my fourth stamp now, which means that I've read a total of 21 Discworld novels during the month of November. My team, The City Watch, is also leading by a mile with a total of 32 points (the team in second place only has 15 points). Not bad if you consider the fact that the challenge was supposed to last for a year!

Unfortunately this obsession left little time for anything else. Sanity has finally returned and with a bit of luck I'll be able to catch up on my review backlog now.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

New Arrivals and a Bookish Surprise

Last week we had a power outage for most of the weekend which meant that I didn't get round to posting the new books I got. So this is a bumper edition covering two week's worth of new book arrivals plus a great bookish surprise.

Pre-loved books:


First up is yet another order from Better World Books. I love the great deals they have on used books which allows me to actually afford some hardcovers for a change.

I got:
This Is Not A Game by Walter Jon Williams
New Spring by Robert Jordan
Building Harlequin's Moon by Larry Niven and Brenda Cooper
Gradisil by Adam Roberts
The Elysium Commission by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
Whole Wide World by Paul J. McAuley
Humans and Hybrids by Robert J. Sawyer
Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer
Diaspora by Greg Egan


A Twitter follower (thanks Rob!) suggested that I check out Awesomebooks. They also have great deals on used books and trying them out was a great excuse to get some more books (I'm sneaky like that).

From them I got:
The Dreaming Void by Peter F. Hamilton
Misspent Youth by Peter F. Hamilton
Inversions by Iain M. Banks
Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks.

There's one book still outstanding from my order, but I'm hoping that it will arrive next week. The books were shipped separately so it might have taken a slightly longer route.

Bought:


I only bought two new books. Both of them were on sale so I just couldn't say no.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The Nano Flower by Peter F Hamilton

For Review:


The Omen Machine by Terry Goodkind. Thanks to Jonathan Ball Publishers for the review copy.

The Surprise:

Lastly here's something for you guys to drool over - A Wheel of Time bag.


A while back Orbit launched their Turn The Wheel of Time Facebook page. The first 500 people who "liked" the page got sent a stunning Wheel of Time bag. Mine arrived on Friday and I love it. Now my books can travel in style. Thanks Orbit and Penguin Books SA (the local distributors), you made my day!

In My Mailbox is hosted by The Story Siren


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Review: Snuff

Title: Snuff
Author: Terry Pratchett
Pages: 416
ISBN: 9780062011848
Series: Discworld #39
Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: October 2011
Genre: Fantasy
Source: eARC from publisher


Buy it from:
The Book Depository
Takealot.com

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a policeman taking a holiday would barely have had time to open his suitcase before he finds his first corpse.

And Commander Sam Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch is on holiday in the pleasant and innocent countryside, but not for him a mere body in the wardrobe. There are many, many bodies and an ancient crime more terrible than murder.

He is out of his jurisdiction, out of his depth, out of bacon sandwiches, and occasionally snookered and out of his mind, but never out of guile. Where there is a crime there must be a finding, there must be a chase and there must be a punishment.

They say that in the end all sins are forgiven. But not quite all…
I’m a huge fan of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. They are my comfort reads. Whenever I’m feeling blue or if I’m stuck in a reading slump I reach for the nearest Pratchett and my troubles soon disappear in bouts of laughter or, at the very least, some mirthful sniggers. I love Pratchett’s sense of humor and his wonderful ability to play with words (and footnotes) while telling a compelling story that holds a fantastical mirror up to our world. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on his latest, Snuff, and I’m glad to say I wasn’t disappointed.

Snuff is the 39th Discworld novel and continues the City Watch story arc. Commander Vimes is forced to take a vacation in the countryside with his family, Lady Sybil and Young Sam, where he soon discovers that something serious is amiss. You can take the watchman out of the city, but you can’t take the watchman out of Vimes. Vimes sets out to uncover what nefarious crimes the seemingly tranquil countryside is hiding and finds himself in the center of a ruthless smuggling operation. Will he succeed in bringing justice to those who need it the most?

Snuff is the darkest Discworld novel I’ve read so far. The humor is toned down quite a bit, but I think that is because it deals with some very serious issues – murder, slavery, human (species!) rights, the class divide, smuggling and corruption. There are still some brilliantly funny moments scattered throughout the novel. Young Sam’s fascination with poo and all things poo related resulted in quite a few sniggers. There are also some funny references to Twitter and even Jane Austen gets the Pratchett treatment.

The plot is engaging and progresses at a fast pace, like any decent crime novel should. Vimes is one of my favorite characters and I loved seeing him in action again. He has to struggle with his own darker nature throughout the novel, but he comes to realize that while there are similarities between him and the criminals, his control of his darker side and his unwavering belief in justice is what makes him such a good watchman.

The story culminates in a daring chase aboard a string of barges where Vimes has a final showdown with the criminals. In the end justice is done in more ways than one…

The Verdict:
Overall I really enjoyed Snuff. It’s not a light, easy read like most of the other Discworld novels, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The issues Snuff deals with and the social commentary it provides is very apt and relevant in today’s society. Keep this one aside for the times when you are ready for something more serious with just a dash of humor thrown in for good measure.

The Discworld novels are more or less standalone, but you might want to read Thud! before reading Snuff in order to understand some of the references.

The Rating: 7/10 (Very Good)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Interview: Neal Asher

I managed to catch up with science fiction author Neal Asher after his return from Crete where he has a holiday home. We talked about the release of his newest novel, The Departure, his forthcoming titles and his views on ebooks. There's also a sneak peak at the blurb for Zero Point, the next novel in the Owner trilogy, so don't miss out.

KJ: Hi, Neal. I know you are currently hard at work on the rest of the Owner series. I really appreciate you taking the time to answer a few questions.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?


NA: I was born in a small town in Essex called Billericay in 1961, the child of parents who were a primary school teacher and a lecturer in applied mathematics. Being a product of our seriously screwed-up comprehensive education system, I left school with just a couple of ‘O’ levels and a scattering of CSEs. I obviously loved reading weird stuff from an early age since I still remember, when learning to read, being bored by ‘Janet & John’ but fascinated by a book called ‘A Wasp Without Wings’ (it was an ant, so the oak tree told it) and then seemingly without transition reading Lord of the Rings, and books by E C Tubb and Edgar Rice Burroughs. I also had numerous interests: biology, physics, chemistry, art and writing, and in my teens (I think) chose writing as my main interest, thereafter learning as much as I could about it, including taking an ‘A’ level English when in my twenties.

Meanwhile I started work, training as an engineer, and going on to do numerous manual jobs, and from the ’87 storms going self-employed doing council grass cutting, tree-work and much else besides. During this time I wrote a fantasy trilogy plus the first book of another trilogy, briefly had an agent for them but no luck, started submitting stories to the small presses and gradually worked my way up the writing ladder. All this time I had also been perpetually submitting synopses and sample chapters to the big publishers and by the time Gridlinked and The Skinner hit I already had numerous short stories published in the small presses, along with a collection of those stories and a couple of novellas.

Also, while all this was going on, I hooked up with Caroline and we married in 2000. I packed up my day job in 2001 to concentrate on writing and now, in total, have had about 20 books published, live seven months of the year on Crete, and hope to have published at least 50 books before I turn up my toes.

KJ: How would you describe your books to someone who is completely new to them? What would be the best novels to start out with?

NA: Space opera is the relevant label, though there is a lot of biological stuff in them, some of them are set on the surface some planet or other, and I have published one time-travel novel. The books have plenty of high technology, action and violence, weird life forms and ecosystems and nicely convoluted plots.I aim for entertainment and try to hit the reader with a bit of sensawunda.

KJ: Your latest novel, The Departure, came out in September. Can you tell us a bit more about it?

NA: In my collection The Engineer (updated version being The Engineer ReConditioned) I told some stories featuring a character called ‘The Owner’ – a ten-thousand-year-old super being who owned worlds and swanned about in a space ship the size of a moon. I decided I would like to tell the story of how he came into being and set to work on that. He arises from a near future dystopia. Here’s one of the blurbs:

Like Wellsian war machines the shepherds stride into riots to grab up the ringleaders and drag them off to Inspectorate HQ for adjustment, unless they are in shredding mode, in which case their captives visit community digesters, or rather whatever of them has not been washed down the street drains.

Pain inducers are used for adjustment, and soon the Committee will have the power to edit human minds, but not yet, twelve billion human being need to die before Earth can be stabilized, but by turning large portions of Earth into concentration camps this is achievable, especially when the Argus satellite laser network comes fully online…

Alan Saul has taken a different route to disposal, waking as he does inside a crate on the conveyor into the Calais incinerator. How he got there he does not know, but he does remember the pain and the face of his interrogator. Janus speaks to Saul through the hardware implanted in his skull, sketching the nightmare world for him. And Saul decides to bring it all crashing down…


KJ: The novel is a departure from the familiar Polity universe which fans have come to know and love. This has led to some very mixed reactions. Was this an intentional choice and do you think tackling a new setting provides more of a writing challenge/opportunity?

NA: As I said above: it’s another string to my bow. Too many writers end up trapped in a small niche by the demands of their fans and by fear of failure, and being trapped often end up failing because their own boredom with their niche begins to show through. You have to try something new else become stale and formulaic. Yes, it was an intentional choice.

Those ‘mixed reactions’ stem from the dislike fans have of change, and from the politics in The Departure. However, politics is unavoidable if you’re creating a near-future dystopia, for I needed to give a plausible depiction of why it existed. Unfortunately many people did not like to see an extrapolation of the dogma they adhere to, while others, less narrow-minded, looked around at our world and saw just how close to the truth that extrapolation was. It was a book that polarized opinion but, as is usual, the tribal ideologues were the noisiest.

KJ: The Departure is set in a very bleak and disturbing world which makes Orwell’s 1984 look almost like a utopia. Why did you choose to go this route? Did 1984 feature as an inspiration?

NA: No, 1984 was not an inspiration; I took my inspiration from what seems to be the steady march towards totalitarianism in Britain and Europe. It was written in the shadow of steadily increasing state control and interference in our day-to-day lives, the destruction of real science and its replacement with ‘post-normal science’ and the increasing sacrifice of power by our leaders to bureaucrats. And it was published just before we saw democratically elected national leaders in Europe being ousted and replaced by EU ‘technocrats’ (as they are wrongly labelled). My hope is that the EU and other unelected supranational organizations like it, whose instincts seem totalitarian, come crashing down, and that the future depicted in The Departure doesn’t come to pass.It is a small hope.

KJ: The Departure is the first novel in the Owner Trilogy. Can you tell us a bit about the forthcoming titles and when we can expect them to be released?

NA: The next novel is Zero Point and should be coming out in maybe August or September next year. With this, and the ensuing Jupiter War, I’m much more back on home territory for the trilogy is about Alan Saul, ‘The Owner’, leaving Earth. More of these books is set beyond Earth and there’s more of that‘space opera’ and ‘sensawunda’. Again the title has a double meaning. The Departure was Saul departing Earth but also I departed from the Polity (which doesn’t mean I’m not going back to it), while Zero Point takes a look a zero-point energy and the Alcubierre drive, but is also related to the ‘year zero’ beloved of a nasty individual by the name of Pol Pot. Here’s the blurb:

Now free of Earth and out of danger, Alan Saul explores his expanded mind and reflects on a route to immortality opened by Hannah Neumann, and upon the newly revealed secrets of Argus Station. The ghastly experiments in Humanoid Unit Development may have resulted in something numinous, while a madman might hold the keys to Interstellar flight…

The warship the Alexander still sits in its construction station in Earth orbit and, more immediately, Argus Station is hurtling towards the red planet, with whomever, or whatever trashed Earth still aboard. But VarDelex is retaining her grip on power in Antares Base on Mars, and has a plan to take it from danger…

Breaking out of their sectors, the billions Zero Asset citizens of Earth no longer face extermination from orbit, for Saul has all but annihilated the Committee by dropping the Argus laser satellite network on its infrastructure of control. The ZAs are free, for the shepherds, spiderguns and razorbirds are somnolent, govnet is down and Inspectorate HQs are smoking craters…

However, scrambling from the ruins, comes Serene Galahad, who has the means to act, decisively and ruthlessly, before the remnants of Committee power are overrun by the masses. And the agents of Earth, determined to exact their vengeance, are closer to Saul than he knows.


KJ: You’ve recently tried your hand at self-publishing some novellas on the Kindle starting with The Parasite. Has this been a success and do you see yourself publishing more novellas/short stories in this way?

NA: It was a success in that I’ve had quite a few sales, but I still love paper books. Certainly I’ll publish more on Kindle, in fact I have my very first novella, Mindgames: Fool’s Mate, lined up and ready, but I will be concentrating on the books for Macmillan because I know which side my bread is buttered on. Maybe, as and when I get free time, I’ll put out more novellas as e-books, and maybe they can be collected and issued on paper.

KJ: Any thoughts on the whole ebooks vs. printed books debate? Which do you prefer and do you own an ebook reader?

NA: I prefer paper books because I’ve been reading them all my life, but I can see the utility of e-readers especially when, for example, I pack a suitcase with books and weigh it. Inevitably e-books are going to take over and publishers are even now facing the problems the music industry faced. How it will all pan out, what with piracy and so-on, I don’t know, but what I do know is that no matter the medium, people will always want good stuff to read and they won’t get it if the writers aren’t paid. This is, I guess, why I just haven’t yet made up my mind about the DRM debate. No, I don’t have an e-reader, yet.

KJ: Who are your favourite authors? Any that inspired/influenced you as a writer?

NA: That question is always a difficult one to answer. In the acknowledgements of The Skinner I thank all those wonderful people from Asimov to Zelazny, since I’ve probably read most of them. If you search ‘Neal Asher Top Ten’ you’ll find a couple of lists – one being SF and another being fantasy – but my likes and dislikes change all the time, and when I start compiling lists they get very long and I always forget something. If you check out my blog and look for my book collection (which is buried deep) you’ll see the books I retained, and often there you’ll see reviews of books I’ve enjoyed too.

KJ: Anything else you’d like to add or say to your fans?

NA: If you like my stuff then say so, loudly. And I’ll keep writing the books if you keep buying them!

KJ: Thanks, Neal.  I definitely can't wait for the next installment!

You can find out more about Neal and his novels over on his blog or follow him on Twitter.

My reviews of Neal Asher's novels:



Sunday, November 13, 2011

New Arrivals



This week I only received two books. The first book I got is a hardcover copy of The Mall by S.L. Grey which I won from the World SF Blog. S.L. Grey is the pseudonym for the South African writing duo Louis Greenberg and Sarah Lotz. The cover looks super creepy, so I can't wait to read it.

I also got Revenge of the Dwarves by Markus Heitz to review. It is the third book in the series, so I'll first have to track down and read the first two before I can get round to this one. Thanks to Penguin Books South Africa for sending me the review copy.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

24 Hours of Great Offers

24h offer. up to 80% off. Great Discounts at The book Depository
Get your Christmas shopping fingers ready, set your watches and prime the coffee machine. From 12:00 (noon) GMT tomorrow The Book Depository is going to be offering great deals on books. For a period of 24 hours they'll be offering a discount on a different title each hour.

Which titles will be available? You'll have to wait and see. That's part of the surprise. With up to 80% off on titles, I'm definitely going to keep my eyes open!

I buy most of my books from The Book Depository and I've never been disappointed.

Their service is superb and they are one of the few shops who offer free internationally shipping (even to South Africa). There's no better time to give them a try if you haven't done so already.

Happy shopping and good luck!


Monday, October 31, 2011

Lots of New Arrivals

I think I went a bit overboard with book purchases this month. My latest batch is a whopping 15 books, but what else is a bibliophile to do?


I ordered 14 second hand books from Better World Books. Most of them are hardcovers and I'm very pleased with their condition. The box the looked like it suffered some very rough handling, but aside from one or two bent corners the books survived unscathed. According to the shipping label the package weighed in at a hefty 20 kilograms. I guess I'm giving the phrase "buying in bulk" a whole different meaning!

I bought:
Voyage and Titan by Stephen Baxter
Red Claw by Philip Palmer
Against Gravity by Gary Gibson
Infoquake by David Louis Edelman
The Hunter's Blades Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore
Glasshouse and Saturn's Children by Charles Stross
Mars Life, Saturn and Titan by Ben Bova
Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson


I also bought the gorgeous new edition of Neal Asher's Line War to complete my reissued set of the Cormac novels. The older editions found a good home with a budding science fiction (and Asher) fan.

I received two novels for review:
The Riddler's Gift by Greg Hamerton
Running Black by Patrick Todoroff


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Vertical versus Horizontal Stacking


In the life of every book addict there will come a time where you have to make the ultimate decision, a decision that will alter your reading life forever. What, you may ask, is that dreaded decision? It comes down to one simple question - how will you shelve your books?

I’m not talking about how to organize your bookshelves (that’s a whole different dilemma). No, this is the far more primal question each of us must face when we venture from our humble book pile beginnings into the world of bookshelves. It all boils down to two options: horizontal or vertical stacking. Which option would be the best for your growing book collection?

During a bout of procrastination I decided to solve that eternal quandary once and for all using a vaguely scientific approach. I had a pile of hardbacks waiting to be shelved, a more or less standard bookshelf (empty of course) and some time on my hands. The perfect opportunity for an experiment!

My goal was to see which option would provide the best usage of the available shelving space. I put vertical stacking to the test first and managed to fit 34 books onto the shelf. After that I went the horizontal route which allowed me to fit 42 books onto the shelf (I had to resort to adding paperbacks since I ran out of hardbacks).

From this little experiment it became apparent that horizontal stacking makes far better use of available space. On average you’ll be able to add 10 more hardbacks per shelf when stacking them horizontally. With paperbacks this amount more than doubles since you can add more horizontal stacks to a single shelf. On my paperback shelves I managed to add roughly 24 more books per shelf. If you multiply that by an average of 5 shelves per bookcase it gives you the ability to add over 100 extra books to your collection, which is always a good thing!

Of course there’s a downside (there always is, isn’t there?). Horizontal stacking makes it very difficult to keep your books organized alphabetically and it takes slightly more effort to get a book to read from the stack. Given the huge benefit of accommodating more books I’m willing to make that sacrifice. For my purposes horizontal stacking definitely wins!

Vertical stacking has the benefit of being much easier to organize and takes much less effort to get a book from the shelf. The downside is that you'll be paying for the convenience by having fewer books per shelf.

One thing to note when using horizontal stacking is to keep the heaviest titles at the bottom of the pile. This will prevent the weight from potentially causing any damage to the books. 

Now the burning question: How will you shelve your books?


Monday, October 24, 2011

The Wheel of Time Challenge




After watching the video above I did my best Barney Stinson impression uttering a somewhat convincing cry of "Challenge accepted!". I've been meaning to read the Wheel of Time series for ages now, but for some reason I just never seem to get round to it. I have all 13 of the previous books sitting on my bookshelf so this was the perfect motivation for jumping in.

I read a couple of the books while I was still at school, but that was ages ago so this will be like reading it for the first time. Over the next 13 months I'm going to be reading one Wheel of Time book each month.

The challenge is already in full swing and I've just finished reading the first book, The Eye of the World. Those of you familiar with the series will know that each book is a tome in itself, so if my review output takes a nosedive you'll know that I'm busy with my sojourn through the Wheel of Time series...


Thursday, October 20, 2011

King of Thorns Cover Reveal

Mark Lawrence has posted the cover for his forthcoming novel, King of Thorns on his blog. I'm sure there will be some minor tweaking done before it's final, but it's looking great so far.


King of Thorns is the sequel to Prince of Thorns (reviewed here) and has a tentative release date of August 2012. I'm definitely adding this to my wishlist.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

New Arrivals


I love buying from Better World Books. Their bargain bin is the bane of my book buying bans. I simply can't resist picking up hardback copies at their amazing prices. I think almost 90% of all my hardbacks are copies I bought from Better World Books. Best of all a large percentage of the profits they make go to fund literacy projects and recently they've also become a Book for Book company. Each time you buy a book they'll donate a book to a worthy cause - a great rationalization for buying even MORE books from them!

This time round I only got four hardcovers from them. It would have been more, but one of my Twitter friends had a book buying intervention for me and talked me down to getting just a couple of books. (Lesson learned: don't announce your book buying intentions on Twitter!).

I got:
Matter by Iain M. Banks
Eater by Gregory Benford
Jupiter by Ben Bova
The January Dancer by Micheal Flynn

The January Dancer is a replacement copy I ordered. The first copy I received had some stains on the first few pages. Since BWB has a 100% money back guarantee they refunded me (at the time they didn't have a replacement copy available) without any hassles. They are an absolute pleasure to deal with in the event of problems  When I was busy browsing their Bargain Bin I saw they had gotten another copy in so I ordered it with the refund I received.

I got a copy of Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot from my local library. I noticed they had a copy that hasn't being checked out in ages (except by me) and asked if they would be willing to sell it. The librarian said they don't sell any of the circulation books, but she checked and the copy they had was a donation they had received so she actually gave it to me. I've got a sentimental attachment to the book and since you can't find any copies of the hardback edition anymore I was ecstatic. It didn't feel right to get something for nothing so I donated an extra copy of Ben Bova's Powersat I had to them.  

I also received a paperback copy of Towers of Midnight I pre-ordered from The Book Depository at the start of the year. I actually forgot about it, so it was a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately it arrived after my "photo shoot", so there's no picture.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Review: Hell Ship

Title: Hell Ship
Author: Philip Palmer
Pages: 451
ISBN: 9781841499444
Publisher: Orbit
Published: 2011
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher


Buy it from:
The Book Depository
Takealot.com

The Hell Ship hurtles through space. Inside the ship are thousands of slaves, each the last of their race. The Hell Ship and its infernal crew destroyed their homes, slaughtered their families and imprisoned them forever.

One champion refuses to succumb. Sharrock, reduced from hero to captive in one blow, has sworn vengeance. Although Sai-as, head of the alien slave horde, will ruthlessly enforce the status quo.

But help is close. Jak has followed the Ship for years and their battles have left Jak broken, a mind in a starship's body, focused only on destroying the Ship. Together, can hunter and slave end this interstellar nightmare?

Hell Ship is one of those novels where you know you are in for an exciting ride after just the very first chapter. Things literally kick off with a huge bang – an alien invasion, some great space battles, bloody hand-to-hand combat and the total destruction of an entire planet. What more could anyone want?

The story is told from the perspective of three different characters Sharrock, Sai-ias and Jak. Sharrock’s planet is attacked by the Hell Ship and is completely destroyed, leaving him the sole survivor of his race. After putting up a valiant fight he finds himself a captive, one slave amongst many with the same tragic story to tell. He swears vengeance against the Ka’un, the mysterious race in charge of the Hell ship.

Sai-ais is the de-facto leader of the slaves and tries to help integrate Sharrock into his new life. She tries to persuade him that fighting against the Ka’un would be a futile endeavor and that it would be far better for him to accept his circumstances and to try to find moments of joy in the bleak life that lies ahead of him.

Jak is an interstellar trader who tirelessly pursues the Hell Ship after his own world is also destroyed. He vows to avenge his home world by destroying the ship once and for all. He follows in the wake of destruction the Hell Ship leaves behind recording the haunting last messages of other civilizations annihilated by the Ka’un.

While there is lots of breathtaking action the story revolves primarily around the characters and their very different viewpoints. The characters are well-developed and thoroughly engaging. Sharrock and Sai-ais are complete opposites. Sharrock wants to right all wrongs even when he doesn’t have any idea about what is really going on. Sai-ais is a pacifist and believes in making the best of a terrible situation by defying the Ka’un in her own way. The turmoil in their relationship makes for captivating reading and it is interesting to see how they challenge each other to adjust their own worldviews and to reevaluate their beliefs.

I loved the ‘menagerie of strangeness’ with which Palmer populated the Hell Ship. There is an astonishing array of alien creatures living in the ship; each creature has a unique morphology and outlook on life. The interaction between the characters and their world brought home how diverse they really are, often resulting in some funny situations.

The Ka’un are vile creatures who enjoy nothing more than inflicting cruelty and sowing destruction wherever they go. They revel in giving the slaves false hope and then taking it away in the cruelest way possible. Just as you think they have met their match something happens to give them the upper hand which gives you a small taste of the cycle of hope and despair they put their slaves through. I would have liked the story to explore how the Ka’un ended up being so despicable, but I guess being evil for evil’s sake will have to suffice as motivation.

The Verdict:
Hell Ship is an intricately conceived story with a gigantic scope. It takes you on a rip-roaring adventure where it’s best to enjoy the incredible ride and forget about the why and how. The story is filled with emotion, masterful manipulation and unexpected twists which left me guessing until the very end. If you are looking for a change of pace from normal space operas then this is definitely worth a try.

A word of warning: Hell Ship uses a lot of foul language in some very innovative (and hilarious) combinations. If that is something that will offend you it’s best to look for something else.

The Rating: 7/10 (Very Good)

Thanks to Candice and Adeline from Penguin Books South Africa for providing the review copy.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Review: The Power of Six

Title: The Power of Six
Author: Pittacus Lore
(James Frey and Jobie Hughes)
Pages: 380
ISBN: 9780141338668
Series: Lorien Legacies #2
Publisher: Penguin
Published: 2011
Genre: Science Fiction / YA
Source: Review copy from publisher


Buy it from:
The Book Depository
Takealot.com

We are the last defense. I've seen him on the news. Followed the stories about what happened to John Smith. To the world he's a mystery, but to me ...he's one of us.

Nine of us came here, but sometimes I wonder if time has changed us, if we all still believe in our mission. There are six of us left. We're hiding, blending in, avoiding contact with one another, but our Legacies are developing and soon we'll be ready to fight.

Is John Number Four - and is his appearance the sign I've been waiting for? And what about Number Five and Six?

They caught Number One in Malaysia. Number Two in England. And Number Three in Kenya. They tried to catch Number Four in Ohio ...and failed. I am Number Seven. And I'm ready to fight.
When I read I am Number Four at the start of the year I wasn’t impressed. It had a great premise, but fell into the trap of using almost every conceivable cliché and stereotype imaginable. The movie wasn’t any better (it might even be argued that it was worse). So it was with quite a bit of trepidation that I started reading The Power of Six. It couldn’t get any worse right?

The story continues on from where I Am Number Four left off. John, Sam and Six are on the run from both the Mogadorians and the authorities while a new character, Marina (number Seven), is introduced. The story is told in the first person and constantly jumps in viewpoint between Marina (Seven) and John (Four). Since the title is The Power of Six you would think that the focus would be on Six, but the title actually refers to the surviving members of the Garde. You do get to learn more about Six’s history (even her name), but as part of John’s viewpoint and through her interactions with him.

Marina and her guardian, Adelina, live in an orphanage in Spain where they took refuge 11 years ago. Adelina seems to have turned her back on her mission leaving Marina without guidance and withholding her inheritance from her. She has to cope with discovering her legacies by herself while having to deal with being bullied. Marina is determined to leave the orphanage as soon as she turns eighteen to go in search of John and the other members of the Garde, but the Mogadorians track her down before she has the chance…

I’m glad to say that after my initial skepticism I was very pleasantly surprised with The Power of Six. This time round the story is far more focused on character development and manages to really bring the characters to life, each with their own motivations, feelings and insecurities. As with the previous installment this is an action-packed, fast-paced read which finishes in a nail-biting finale that will have readers craving for more.

There are some great plot twists and the introduction of new characters adds a whole new dimension to the story. It’s good to see that the plot has matured a bit and that it doesn’t resort to the classic YA tropes as often as the first one. There are still some flaws, the predictable love triangle for one, but this is a huge step in the right direction. I loved seeing some strong female characters that can kick butt with the best of them. After a shaky start the Lorien Legacies (a proposed 6 book series) is starting to look very promising. Let’s hope the future releases continue this steady climb in quality.

The Verdict:
My 13-year-old self would have absolutely loved this, but unfortunately I’m way past that age now so I have to look at it in a more critical light. If you are looking for some action-packed science fiction aimed at teens then this is a good bet. More mature readers might find some elements a bit simplistic. Overall this is a very enjoyable read if you can look past the minor flaws.

The Rating: 6.5/10 (Good)

Thanks to Candice and Adeline from Penguin Books South Africa for providing the review copy.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Review: Manhattan in Reverse

Title: Manhattan in Reverse
Author: Peter F. Hamilton
Pages: 260
ISBN: 9780230750319
Publisher: Macmillan
Published: 2011
Genre: Science Fiction / Short Story Collection
Source: Review copy from publisher


Buy it from
The Book Depository
Takealot.com

Thirteen years after the release of his first short story collection Peter F. Hamilton returns with a new collection including 'Manhattan in Reverse' an original and exclusive story featuring the popular detective Paula Mayo from his bestselling Commonwealth series.

From 'Watching Trees Grow' and a murder mystery set in an alternative Oxford in the 1800s to 'The Forever Kitten' and the questions of eternal youth and the sacrifice required to pursue this, these stories deal with intricate themes and sociological issues, and take an intriguing look at what makes us enduringly human.

With all his usual imagination for futuristic technology, complexity of character and brilliantly conceived storytelling Peter F. Hamilton shows through this collection of work what it is that makes him Britain's number one science fiction writer.
Peter F. Hamilton is best known for his immense, in both scope and sheer physical size, space opera tomes. Any self-respecting science fiction fan will immediately know what I’m talking about and glance lovingly at the sagging shelf where their Peter F. Hamilton collection resides. If you aren’t familiar with his work then you need to take a year-long vacation and immerse yourself in The Night’s Dawn Trilogy (± 3630 pages), The Commonwealth Saga (± 2000 pages), The Void Trilogy ((± 2000 pages) or even Fallen Dragon (a mere 650 pages). Alternatively, if that sounds like a daunting prospect, you can just pick up Manhattan in Reverse and be introduced to the brilliance of Hamilton in a far more manageable 260 pages.

Manhattan in Reverse is Peter F. Hamilton’s second collection of short stories and contains a selection of seven stories centering on the theme of humanity, society and what makes us human. Most of the short stories have previously appeared in other anthologies or magazines, but the story from which the title is derived, Manhattan in Reverse, was exclusively written for this collection.

I haven’t read any of Hamilton’s short stories before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was always convinced that a good story needs lots of pages to be told convincingly, but after reading Manhattan in Reverse I’m cured of that misconception. Hamilton is just as adept in the short form as he is in writing full-length novels and I was amazed at the scope and intricacy of the stories he managed to portray in such a brief form.

Watching Trees Grow is a murder mystery set in an alternate history version of Earth where the Romans conquered the world. The ruling families are exceptionally long-lived and murder is an almost unheard of crime, making it all the more heinous when it happens. A young student, Justin Ascham Raleigh, is brutally murdered and the family representative, Edward Buchanan Raleigh, will rest at nothing to bring the murderer to justice. Edward is unrelenting in his quest and even though it takes him over 200 years to solve the case he never gives up.

The most impressive part of this story is the amazing progression of technology in the two centuries it takes to bring the case to a close. Edward uses these technological advances as tools in his search for the murderer, but ultimately it is human nature that provides the breakthrough. The idea of an exceptionally long-lived society is interesting and the punishment meted out to the murderer at the end is both terrible and just.

Footvote takes place in a near-history version of the UK where the country is falling apart after a mass exodus by the disillusioned population after a wormhole to a new world is opened. A mother is forced to choose between her children or sticking to her ideology.

If at First… is a great time-travel story with a nice twist at the end.

The Forever Kitten is the shortest story in the collection, but also one of the most disturbing. It deals with the question of genetic manipulation and how far parents will go to protect the innocence of their children.

Blessed by an Angel is the only story I struggled with somewhat. I haven’t read the Commonwealth saga yet (I’m hoarding it for a rainy month) so I wasn’t familiar with the background necessary to really understand the events completely. I’m sure it would be far more enjoyable if you’ve already read the saga. There is a very nice, unexpected twist at the end though.

The Demon Trap and Manhattan in Reverse are also both tied to the Commonwealth saga and features the recurring character of investigator Paula Myo. Unlike with Blessed by An Angel I had no trouble understanding the world and what was going on. Both stories are police procedurals with a science fiction setting. The Demon Trap deals with a terrorist attack while Manhattan in Reverse is about unrest amongst possibly sentient alien wildlife caused by the newly arrived human settlers.

You know Paula will track down the culprits in the end, but how she goes about it is what makes the stories so compelling. Since Paula was genetically bred for her profession she excels at law enforcement and her overriding sense of justice shines through. There are quite a few twists in the plot and she gets to play with some great technology in order to solve the crimes. I loved the Commonwealth world which gives a new meaning to train commutes – hopping on a train and traveling to a different world through a wormhole is an intriguing idea. I really should get started on the Commonwealth saga sometime soon.

The Verdict:
I thoroughly enjoyed every page of Manhattan in Reverse. Peter F. Hamilton is at the top of his game and this short story collection just reinforces that fact.  If you are a fan you will absolutely love this collection, but newcomers will find this an excellent introduction to his work without having to commit to a full-length novel. Highly recommended!

The Rating: 8/10 (Great)

Thanks to Kelly from Pan Macmillan SA for the review copy..


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

New Arrivals

This week I received a great collection of books for review.


First up is Manhattan in Reverse by Peter F Hamilton. This is a collection of short stories by my favourite space opera author. The photo doesn't do the cover justice. Both the title and author name is embossed, which gives it a nice 3D look and works very well with the futuristic artwork.

The second book I received is Heirs of the Blade by Adrian Tchaikovsky. The cover is simply amazing. I love the covers Jon Sullivan did for Neal Asher's books and it seems he's just as adapt at creating stunning artwork for a fantasy series. Unfortunately I haven't read any of the other books in the Shadows of the Apt series so it's going to be quite some time before I can get to this one. I have a lot of catching up to do.

A huge thanks to Kelly from Pan Macmillan SA for sending these to me.


The second batch of books I got consists of a reissue edition of Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, a very shiny hardcover edition of The Power of Six by Pittacus Lore and Hell Ship by Philip Palmer.
 
Thanks to Adeline from Penguin Books SA.

***
I'm in absolute book heaven right now. So if you guys don't hear from me for a couple of weeks you'll know the reason why!


Review: The A-Men

Title: The A-Men
Author: John Trevillian
Pages: 403
ISBN: 9781848763432
Series: The A-Men #1
Publisher: Matador
Published: March 2010
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Review copy from author


Buy it from:
Trevillian.com
Amazon (Hardback)
Kindle (US)

Also available as free podcast

Jack is a man with no memory awakening in a dark and dangerous metropolis on the eve of its destruction. The only clue to his former life: a handwritten note in the pages of a book of faerie tales entitled Forevermore.

Marked for death in a peace-keeping force sent to quell the riots, he finds sanctuary and survival with other renegades on the streets of Dead City. Battling to survive they form the infamous A-Men, misfits who have a unifying dream: to be special. Yet that is until their paths cross with Dr Nathaniel Glass and his mysterious experiment locked deep beneath the Phoenix Tower.

Mixing dark future, noir and urban fantasy, join The Nowhereman, Sister Midnight, Pure, D’Alessandro and the 23rdxenturyboy as they fight for their lives on a non-stop ride into a nightmarish world of ultra-violence.

If the world’s going to end, pray it doesn’t end like this.


The A-Men is one of those novels that require perseverance. It took me more than 100 pages before I was actually drawn into the world crafted by John Trevillian. It’s difficult to pinpoint the cause, but I think it’s largely due to the fact that you are thrown into this strange world without any real preamble. As the story progresses you slowly start to get a handle and then the perspective changes and you are left questioning what you thought was true. This was quite confusing and often frustrating. The best way to describe the A-Men would be to think of Mad Max-style gangs in a metropolis with a few elements from the Matrix thrown in.

The story is told in the first perspective through the eyes of five characters, with each chapter devoted to a single character. The central character is Jack (The Nowhereman) who wakes on board a spaceship, the XSS Scheherazade, without any memory of who he is or how he came to be there. His only tie to his past is a tattered book of faerie tales called Forevermore. As he searches for his true identity he encounters the various other characters and they ultimately form a gang called the A-Men. Together they have to struggle to survive in a world left in chaos after the big corporations (who essentially run and own everything) decide to move their operations to space.

All the characters have a distinct voice and viewpoint. I found Jack, Esther (Sister Midnight), Benjamin (23RDXENTURYBOY) and Nathaniel Glass (D’Allesandro) the most interesting while the addition of Susannah (Pure) felt like an afterthought. The first half of the novel was quite exciting and action-packed. I really liked the nail-biting confrontation with the Grim Reapers and their six-armed leader, but unfortunately things went downhill from there.

The appearance of the gun-toting gang of cosmetically altered beauty queens, the Burger Queens, stretched my suspension of disbelief beyond breaking point and brought the novel into the territory of plain weirdness. When the Burger Queens save Susannah and her transvestite friend Lucille they get a cosmetic surgery makeover with “designer minds” thrown in too. People are struggling to survive, there’s barely any power left and still the Burger Queens have access to cosmetic surgeons and advanced technology. Really?!

After Jack reaches the one man who holds the key to his past he suddenly loses interest and wonders off to take a mini vacation with his newfound love, Susannah. It really brought the whole pacing of the story to a complete halt and made very little sense in the overall scheme of things.

The A-Men does redeem itself somewhat once it gets back on track with a gripping finale and a very emotional and touching parting between two of the characters.

The Verdict:
The A-Men has some very interesting concepts and themes. Unfortunately it loses the plot somewhat and goes off on a bizarre tangent which just leaves you frustrated and confused. I was left with more questions than answers and felt that some of the more interesting elements were left unexplored. The gratuitous use of swear words also detracted from the story and might offend more sensitive readers. I loved some parts and others simply didn't work for me. Ultimately this is one of those novels you will have to read for yourself to make up your mind.

The Rating: 5/10 (Average)


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Review: The End Specialist

Title: The End Specialist / The Postmortal
Author: Drew Magary
Pages: 400
ISBN: 9780007429080
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Published: 2011
Genre: Science fiction
Source: ARC copy from publisher


Buy it from:
The Book Depository

"You got me. I don't want to die. I'm terrified of death. I fear there's nothing beyond it and that this existence is the only one I'll ever possess. That's why I'm here." 
(An excerpt from the digital journal of John Farrell, cure age 29)

2019. Humanity has witnessed its greatest scientific breakthrough yet: the cure for ageing. Three injections and you're immortal -- not bulletproof or disease-proof but you'll never have to fear death by old age.

For John Farrell, documenting the cataclysmic shifts to life after the cure becomes an obsession. Cure parties, cycle marriages, immortal livestock: the world is reveling in the miracles of eternal youth. But immortality has a sinister side, and when a pro-death terrorist explosion kills his newly-cured best friend, John soon realizes that even in a world without natural death, there is always something to fear.

Now, John must make a new choice: run and hide forever, or stay and fight those who try to make immortal life a living hell.

You’d think that finding a cure for ageing would be a cause to celebrate, but it turns out that immortality will kill us all. The End Specialist (also known as The Postmortal in the US) explores the devastating consequences such a cure would bring about in the best “what if” scenario I’ve read in a long time.

The story unfolds in the form of blog entries (or an online journal) written over the span of sixty years by a lawyer called John Ferrall. It chronicles his life in meticulous detail as he receives the cure at age 29 and the struggles he has to face as a Postmortal. In later life John becomes an End Specialist, a sanctioned killer for the US government tasked with assisting those people who choose to bring an end to their lives. As the situation worsens the End Specialists are forced to become sanctioned executioners of criminals, pro-death terrorists and those deemed too “old”. 

While the story follows the life of John Ferrall it is primarily about exploring the consequences the cure has on society. Marriages become rare and everyone wants to get a divorce. Nobody wants to be tied down to one person when “until death do us part” could mean thousands of years. The old generation never makes way for the new generation. Unemployment skyrockets, lifetime achievements become meaningless, resources become increasingly scarce and outrageously expensive as the worldwide population spirals out of control. Pro-death terrorists create havoc planting bombs and scaring or mutilating those who have received the cure.  Mothers even go so far as creating Peter Pan babies, curing their babies so they can stay cute and cuddly forever. It is clear things can’t end well…   

I really enjoyed how well-thought-out the far-reaching consequences of the cure was. Drew Magary has a talent for extrapolating a vast and believable world from a seemingly basic concept. There were lots of things I would never even have considered and some of them are quite disturbing.

The blog post format really works well and makes for a compelling read. The last chapter really stood out for me. It was very well-written and I really didn’t expect the dark, bittersweet ending.

The Verdict:
I really enjoyed The End Specialist. It was funny, tragic and surreal at times, but thought-provoking throughout. The ending is spectacular and took me by surprise. This is definitely worth a read!

The Rating: 7/10 (Good)


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Review: Den of Thieves

Title: Den of Thieves
Author: David Chandler
Pages: 439
ISBN: 9780007384181
Series: Ancient Blades #1
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Published: 2011
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher


Buy it from:
The Book Depository
Born and raised in the squalid depths of the Free City of Ness, Malden became a thief by necessity. Now he must pay a fortune to join the criminal operation of Cutbill, lord of the underworld—and one does not refuse the master . . . and live.

The coronet of the Burgrave would fulfill Malden’s obligations, though it is guarded by hungry demons that would tear the soul from any interloper. But the desperate endeavor leads to a more terrible destiny, as Malden, an outlaw knight, and an ensorcelled lady must face the most terrifying evil in the land.
Den of Thieves is an exciting heist novel set in a fantastical world filled with magic, demons and a great cast of characters. If you imagine something like Ocean’s Eleven taking place in a fantasy world you’ll have a pretty good feel for what Den of Thieves is all about.

The story takes place in the Free City of Ness, a place where money and status is everything. While inside the city the citizens are free men, but if they should venture outside the city walls they would become villeins – nothing more than slaves to whichever lord manages to capture them first. Only the rich land owners possess true freedom, the ability to travel wherever they like without the threat of slavery hanging over their heads.

Malden, the main character, became a thief out of necessity. He was born the son of a whore, the lowest status of them all, and his only dream is to one day own land of his own and so doing break free from the shackles of his lowly birth. That costs money – lots of it, but before he can even start working towards this goal he has to pay an absurd ransom to the master of thieves, Cutbill, in order to become a member of the thieves’ guild (and to keep himself from dying a gruesome death!). So when he’s hired to steal the Burgrave’s crown he jumps at the opportunity to earn some gold on the side. The only problem is that the crown is far more than it seems and his actions have some dire consequences…

Throughout the story Malden gets to meet some very interesting characters, many of whom later form part of his rag-tag crew for the second, more daring heist. There’s Croy, a knight of the Ancient Blades, who is righteous to the extreme and to whom honor comes before all else; Kemper, the card sharp, a living ghost (it’s a long story); Gurrh, an ogre, and finally Cythera, a beautiful tattooed woman who acts as a shield against magic for the evil sorcerer Hazoth.

The varied characters are all very well-written and engaging. I quickly grew attached to Malden, but also to Croy. His over-the-top righteous view of the world was an interesting counterpoint to Malden’s more pragmatic viewpoint. Chandler is an artist with words and his detailed descriptions really brought the world to life. Some might argue that this adds unnecessary length to the novel, but for me it was a welcome addition which only added to my enjoyment.

As a book lover there was one scene that stood out.
“The book was crawling across the table. It arched its back - its spine - and pushed itself along the scarred wood with its pages like a slug. It was headed for a sausage on a plate and left a trail of drool or slime behind it as it moved...

He watched the book move for a moment, fascinated by its silent slithering. Then he drew his bodkin and brought the point down hard through the cover of the book. The thing flapped and shook for a moment, then a trickle of black ink ran out from underneath its dead pages.”
Who doesn’t love a killer book!

The plot twists kept me on my toes and the pacing made for an engrossing read. There is a slight lull in the middle, but the last half of the book really picks up the pace. While this is the first novel in the Ancient Blades trilogy the ending is gratifying and the novel can stand very well on its own. Luckily the UK editions of the rest of the trilogy are already available so there’s no lengthy wait. I want to see more of this world, especially more about the Ancient Blades!

The Verdict:
I know it’s a cliché but Den of Thieves really has it all. There are great characters, hilarious moments, nerve-racking pursuits, heroic battles, magical artifacts, a damsel in distress and even a tale of love triumphing over grim circumstances. While Chandler uses many of the well-known fantasy tropes there’s enough of a twist to them to keep things fresh and interesting.

I really loved Den of Thieves and I can’t wait to get my hands on A Thief in the Night and Honour Among Thieves. I’m sure the larger story arc will have some stunning surprises. This is definitely well worth a read!

The Rating: 7.5/10 (Very good)

Thanks to Claire and Andrea from Jonathan Ball Publishers for the review copy.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New Arrivals

I've been lucky this week with a whole batch of books arriving at once. All these arrived on Monday after undergoing long and lengthy journeys while traversing the perils of the international postal system.

First up is an order from Better World Books. I love to order from them when I'm looking for stuff that's out of print or when I want to get some hardbacks on the cheap. I got:

Lord of the Silent Kingdom by Glen Cook
Thirteen by Richard K. Morgan
The January Dancer and Up Jim River by Micheal Flynn
Haze by L.E Modesitt Jr.
The Secret of Life by Paul McAuley (Ex-library)
Beyond the Veil of Stars by Robert Reed

The copy of The January Dancer has some sort of stain on the first couple of pages which I wasn't very happy with. The Secret of Life is also an ex-library copy (I ordered a normal used copy). Luckily Better World Books stand by their 100% satisfaction guarantee and refunded me for these two. I'll have to keep my eyes open for replacement copies. The rest are all in great condition for used books.

I also got two books from The Book Depository. Necropath by Eric Brown and The Mandel Files by Peter F. Hamilton. I pre-order The Mandel Files way back in January and Necropath was part of a previous order that got delayed in customs.

For review I received The A-Men by John Trevillian for review (submitted by author) and an ARC copy of The End Specialist by Drew Magary (not pictured).

After a book haul like this I'm an extremely happy book geek!


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