Category Archives: Blog

General thoughts on life, the universe and everything. Stuff that doesn’t fit in the other categories!

Two Brothers

It’s been fascinating watching Ben Elton grow as a writer. I read his first book, Stark, when it first came out. It was political and funny, as you might expect for a stand up comedian. It wasn’t terribly well written, though.

Next came Gridlocked, which was better written but not as funny.

I’d argue that he finally hit his stride with Popcorn, which was a real page-turner, with structure and humour and it was well written.

Two Brothers dispenses with the humour almost entirely, but keeps the drama and everything he’s learned about story writing. The rise of the Nazis provides a familiar structure but the believable characters and unpredictable twists are what makes it work.

His first couple of books may have had me close to tears of laughter. This one has emotion and I was on the verge of very different tears. I say this without hyperbole.

Overall, highly recommended.

Toll

If you read my thoughts on the first book in the Kestrel series, “Changer” you’ll have a good idea of my thinking about the second, “Toll.”

It’s an entertaining, light read. I think that’s the intention, so I don’t mean that as a back-handed compliment.

Compared with last time, the MacGuffin didn’t bother me as much. What jarred were the constant info-dumps.

“[Barcelona is] the sixth most populous urban area in the European Union. Within Spain, it is second only to Madrid. But globally, it does not appear in the first ninety.”

I didn’t choose to read Wikipedia! There are even discussions about climate change and Brexit, which I’m not sure is a good idea. The former, at least, is relevant to the story-line (if a bit preachy) but the latter stands only to date the book.

Anyway, none of that is really a big problem. After “Guns, Germs and Steel” I needed something less strenuous and this totally hit the spot.

Guns, Germs and Steel

Jared Diamond’s door-stop of a book has been on my to-read list for quite some time. Maybe not quite since it was released over twenty years ago but probably not far from it.

The gist is pretty much there in the title: in the last 13,000 years, the most successful societies used guns, germs and steel to conquer others. Why, for example, was it Europeans who had world-wide empires rather than Africans or Americans or Chinese?

The ideas are laid out in the first few chapters and the rest are used to justify it.

In that sense it’s a very academic work. It’s very, very thorough, perhaps too thorough for a “pop science” book. It could have been half the length without losing any significant ideas.

Like much academic text, the writing could have been better; there were quite a few awkward sentences. But it was clear and the anecdotes livened it up, meaning it wasn’t just a very long paper.

I was aware that some sentences made me cringe a little. I wondered if it had dated badly or just that it’s difficult to write about race without sounding at least a little politically incorrect. Worrying that I’m too PC, I’m practically a liberal caricature.

Having said that, I did enjoy it and I’m glad I finished it. There’s some thought-provoking ideas and answers to questions you maybe didn’t even consider previously and, ultimately, that’s why I read these kinds of book. But I think my next read will be a lighter, fiction book!

Armada

Having read “Ready Player One” and seen the film recently, picking Ernest Cline’s next book, “Armada” was an easy choice. “Ready Player One” wasn’t my favourite book, but it was an entertaining read and that’s what I was looking for this time.

It pretty much exactly met those expectations. It’s well written and easy to read. There are all the retro-references you’d expect in a Cline book. The story moves along at a reasonable clip. The characters mostly make sense, though they could have been better developed.

My main problem is that the twists are so well sign-posted that they barely qualify. I suppose that just adds to the “easy to read” quality?

It’s not going to make you see the world differently or amaze you with new insight into the human condition. But not every book needs to do that. As a little light reading it totally hits the spot.

Fuzzy Nation

After reading quite a few non-fiction books I decided that this time I would pick a novel. Having read “Red Shirts” a couple of years ago, I randomly selected another John Scalzi book, “Fuzzy Nation.”

The history of this is a little unusual: it’s not an entirely original story. It’s based on an older story by H. Beam Piper called “Little Fuzzy.” (“Think of this as a ‘reboot’ of the Fuzzy universe, not unlike the recent J. J. Abrams ‘reboot’ of the Star Trek film series (but hopefully with better science.)”) Not having read that, I can’t compare but I did enjoy this one.

The story revolves around Holloway, a surveyor of a remote planet who finds both a huge seam of sunstones (beautiful, rare) and a race of small, fuzzy creatures who may be sentient (in which case they’d own the sunstones). Holloway is a self-professed asshole and disbarred lawyer, which provides some humour and a dynamic with other characters.

It’s neither long nor complicated, but it’s easy and fun to read; a bit of a page-turner.

It’s not as good as “Red Shirts” but it’s entertaining and worth your time.