Review: The String Diaries

Posted: April 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

The String Diaries
The String Diaries by Stephen Lloyd Jones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Generations of a family is plagued by a Hungarian horror in this gripping, multi-stringed thriller. The Hosszu Eletek – the “long lifes” – are a subspecies of humanity, blessed with great longevity, who possess the power to heal themselves and alter their appearance at will. Unfortunately for Hannah Wilde, the one known as Jakab is insane, and has been stalking and murdering her family since the late 19th century.

Using the old cliché, The String Diaries is a page turner, and will keep you awake late into the night. This is not for its mild horror content, but mainly because the multiple storylines it presents – modern day UK, late 19th century Hungary and points between – are thoroughly engaging – to a point. For here the book also lets us down, as Jakab’s backstory turns out to be simply a chronicle of his budding evil, passing up several opportunities for twists in favour of a predictable throughplot.

The impact is somewhat further lessened by dubious usage of language; in the main the use of words that don’t mean quite what the author thinks they mean. He’s not alone, we’re seeing more malapropisms in finished works these days. Although we did read a proof copy, so this might change, such dodgy wordery shouldn’t get to this late stage. A shame, as Jones’s otherwise solid writing (he’s no Dan Brown) is one of several positive attributes that takes The String Diaries some way to being a standout read.

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Pacific Rim extra

Posted: March 31, 2014 in Uncategorized

Thanks to Greg Smith for bringing this to my attention. The same points, made so much better.

 


We’re moving back to Yorkshire from Somerset, to my home town, to be exact. More on that later, but the pertinent fact here is that my wife has gone to start her new job leaving me literally holding the baby. As I was on my own last night, and will be for some weeks, I thought I’d catch up on the last year or so’s SF, beginning with a film my wife wouldn’t want to watch. I rented Pacific Rim off Amazon streaming (I rarely get to the cinema). Oh my. She wouldn’t want to, and I wish I hadn’t. Here are some bullet points.

  • Obviously when combatting a transdimensional alien foe that is virtually impervious to all the tricks of 21st century weapons technology − from high energy lasers to bombs that can penetrate hundreds of feet of solid rock no less − the best thing to do is to build fragile, easily over-balanced giant robots so you can punch the monsters in the face. PUNCH THEM IN THE FACE! Win.
  • As around 50% of all combat with these giant sea monsters takes place in the sea, best not make the robots at all hydrodynamic. Far better to wade laboriously through water while the baddies swim rings around you.
  • Don’t use a nuclear weapon, even though these are shown to be completely effective.
  • Who needs remote piloting tech, when you can put your one-in-a-million pilots into an easily wrenchable head, rather than say, at the back in the middle behind forty feet of armour, or in a bunker a thousand miles away.
  • When piloting said robot, it makes perfect sense to go for mechanical pugilism, saving your most effective weapon, a giant sword, for when it is most dramatically appropriate rather than when it might actually save your life.
  • If the aliens start to win, the best strategic option is to abandon the one project that was working in favour of one that patently won’t.
  • Someone, surely, would have worked out the simple key to the aliens’ dimensional vortex years ago.
  • Equally, aliens bright enough to construct such a vortex might notice when a) the creature coming back through is dead, and b) it is accompanied by a six-hundred-foot-tall walking bomb.
  • As my brother Aidan says, “Any film that has to rely on a voiceover is already in trouble.”
  • The abuse of dinosaur science for a weak plot point. (Not the two brains, the other one).

Do I sound like an old fart? Probably. I know a lot of my geek chums loved this diabolical travesty of storytelling. I’m sticking to my guns. I love giant robots, I love big monsters. I like watching them beat each other up. I like Idris Elba, with his soulful big eyes, enormous charisma, and ability to simultaneously project deep intelligence and the potential for explosive violence. But I also like say, character, suspense, logic and some goddamn respect from my movies. The whole thing is carried along by a bread-and-circuses attitude of “they’ll dig the monsters and robots, so it doesn’t have to have all those other things that traditionally go into constructing an effective narrative.” The pulp nonsenses I enjoyed in the early 1990s had more integrity. We’ve seen this done before, far better, in anime. Even suitmation Godzilla films make more sense, and I’m no fan of those. There are two false starts, a completely soulless romance, cliches, and… and… GRAH!

I mean, I thought Transformers plumbed new robo-depths. But then, I’m not twelve any more.


A very quick post here to say that I will be at the Horus Heresy Weekender on 17-18 May in Nottingham. This is my first attendance at such, but I was at the last Black Library Weekender and that was pretty damn cool, so I expect much of the same this time around. These really are great events, sort of a traditional SF convention vibe but focussed with laser-like intensity on our favourite universe of warring post-human nutcases (and aliens, et al, but this being the HH period, mostly post-human nutcases). You get to meet some of the authors you admire, and we get out of the house. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. I love speaking to people who actually read the words I write, so I’m darn excited.

Also present will be my fellow keyboard bashers (although I suspect ADB might use a quill): Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Chris Wraight, Nick Kyme, David Annandale, Gav Thorpe, John French and Rob Sanders.

Ha! I just see, French and Sanders! Get it? Get it? Bah, suit yourselves.

If you want to go, you best be quick. I am reliably informed by a man on the inside that there are only a few tickets left. Go to the Black Library website for more information. There’s a great new cover up there too by modern-day Leonardo, Neil Roberts. He’ll be at the Weekender also, but even if you can’t go do check out his battlin’ Nightlords picture. It’s breathtaking, as usual.

Review: Warbreaker

Posted: March 28, 2014 in Uncategorized

Warbreaker
Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Like Robert Jordan (and a lot of American fantasists, come to think of it), Sanderson likes his magical systems, a preference that’s to the fore of Warbreaker, that sort of fantasy where logical sorcery provides the bedrock for the story. Here it’s down to colour and breath. Each person is born with one breath which can be used to animate objects. It can also be passed on, and the more breaths one accumulates, the more powerful one becomes. As this “BioChroma” is used it sucks the colour out of the environment, while the presence of an “Awakener” with many breaths induces a state of hyper-reality in the world around them.

There’s more to it than that, naturally − a princess is sent off to be married to a God, her sister follows, and many secrets are unearthed.

Sanderson writes that kind of wipe-clean fantasy where everyone has nice teeth and nothing smells bad. The girls wring their hands all the way to heroine-hood, the men nonchalantly quip. It’s well written, the story has pace, but like a lot of high fantasy it just never seems real.

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Review: The Ironclad Prophecy

Posted: March 28, 2014 in Uncategorized

The Ironclad Prophecy
The Ironclad Prophecy by Pat Kelleher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pat Kelleher’s band of plucky Tommies are back, fighting for survival on an alien planet.

At war with an insectoid race, the tommies need their tank Ivanhoe, currently out on reconnaissance. But the tank’s commander Mathers is off his head, suffering from mental disorder and from addiction to the tank’s LSD-like fuel, and has proclaimed his tank a god…

Packed full of period detail and realistically “Imperial” sentiments, the No-man’s World series reads like a genuine old-school boys’ own adventure, so much so you half-believe Kelleher’s “found manuscript” framing device. If the book suffers in comparison to the first it is that it is no longer a novelty, and lacks the former’s gripping opening. If it suffers in similarity it is because the prose is still knottily purple. Otherwise spiffing.

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