Surface Detail (The Culture book 9) reviewed by Connor Armstrong on February 13th, 2018
I've read a a few of these before, with mixed results. Some have been Space Operatic joy from start to end, while others have been an effort to finish.
Surface Detail is definitely the first, combining abstract space battles and political machinations with some philosophical questions about Hell, Virtual Reality and interfering in the beliefs of other cultures. There's also a nice old-fashioned revenge subplot.
If you like SciFi and want to take it up a gear, this is well-worth reading, even if you haven't read so many of his other books.
Esoteric, Mystical but very, very Human.
American Gods reviewed by Connor Armstrong on January 24th, 2018
This is an interesting and somewhat unusual book, combining a slow-burning thriller with elements of high-fantasy and a touch of mysticism. On the way it visits mythical stories from diverse cultures and even has time for a chapter or two as a murder-mystery.
I enjoyed it, as I enjoyed watching the Amazon TV show but it is not an easy read. It is however incredibly well-crafted and has Neil Gaiman has produced an artistic masterpiece... albeit one which is a bit of an acquired taste.
Weird future fantasy adventure
My Lord Barbarian reviewed by Chris Turner on June 11th, 2016
This story is set in an artificial solar system where 6 planets have been built around a 7th which is where the system Empire is ruled from. At some point in the past, the peoples of these 7 worlds have rebelled against science and so have devolved into superstition and barbarism. On one of these worlds, the titular barbarian has recently united all the many tribes on his planet. The ageing Emperor invites him to visit with the mind to marry him to his young daughter, but instead he is framed for the murder of the Emperor and so begins a tale of politics, betrayal and adventure as he seeks to clear his name and save the young Empress.
It's an interesting story marred by a hefty chunk of misogyny. It also has a very weird language structure, which would be understandable for the speech of the characters, but it also is used in the non-dialogue too which makes it an odd read.
A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire 1) reviewed by Felix O'Kelly on November 30th, 2015
The first book in the best series I have ever read. A masterful recreation of history, with a variety of brilliant and distinctive characters. It references various other works, like the Sigil of House Sarsfield, and the three Stooges. It's characters are brilliant, the morally dubious hedonistic dwarf Tyrion Lannister and the honorable Lord Ned Stark. Truly a masterpiece that far surpasses the TV adaption. For more on this go on Race to the Iron Throne.
The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time 1) reviewed by Connor Armstrong on October 3rd, 2015
This book starts out as a fairly typical fantasy book with all the standard ingredients - magic, clueless farmboys, prophecy and monsters. It soon becomes evident that it is anything but typical.
All of these standard elements come with a variety of interesting twists, turning it into a unique tale which only grows in scale as the series progresses, providing a longer experience than Lord of the Rings that is somewhat easier to read.
One warning - there are 14 book in the series, you may well need to read them all.
Cryptonomicon reviewed by Connor Armstrong on September 20th, 2015
This book is fantastic. Neal combines more than three groups of characters over thirty years apart into a surprising thriller weaving elements of cryptography, the early internet and mathematics with both real and fictional evens in WW2.
One character works at Bletchley park whilst another fights the Japanese in the Pacific and their descendants attempt to make their fortunes as new technology sweeps across the globe. The climax links all of this together with unexpected twists and uncovered secrets.
This isn't an easy book to read but definitely worth it.
Alien reviewed by Connor Armstrong on September 20th, 2015
I am not a fan of horror films and have not seen Alien but I find horror far more palatable in book form. Nevertheless, the author does a good job of capturing the atmosphere - with the tense build ups and jump-scares working surprisingly well.
This is a book which comes after the film so I don't know how much it adds or removes or if it is worth reading for those who have seen the film.
I enjoyed it though... I will probably still need to watch it someday.
Very good first book in a new fantasy series
The Final Empire (Mistborn 1) reviewed by Chris Turner on April 1st, 2014
I enjoyed this book a lot. It's quite a refreshing change from a lot of fantasy novels that I've read. The most notable thing that is different is the magic - it all revolves around metal. Certain members of the population have the ability to ingest certain metals or alloys and "burn" them to produce a specific magical effect, such as increasing their senses or pushing/pulling nearby metal objects.
The latter two powers (they use separate metals) are used to great effect by the characters to fly about the place as the powers don't negate the laws of physics. So that if they try and pull or push something that is heavier than themselves or isn't able to move, they themselves are moved. Most people if they are blessed with this gift only have the ability to use one of the metals and are called Mistings, but some - the Mistborn - have access to all of them.
The world isn't overly described, but that is in itself, part of the plot - we and the characters have no real idea how the world came to be the way it is. It's a harsh world with the sun all but blotted out by clouds of ash being pumped out by several volcanoes. Most of the population are treated little better than animals by the ruling class who routinely beat or even kill them to keep them in line.
Which brings us to the basic premise of the book; a group of experienced thieves, each a Misting and led by a Mistborn, Kelsier, seek to do the seemingly impossible. Start a rebellion in the nation's capital, take down the tyrannical immortal Dark Lord and rob him of all his atium - one of the rarest and most expensive of the metals that for those who can use it, lets them glimpse the future actions of those around them. It's mostly told from the point of view of Vin, a powerful Mistborn who the group discover and rescue from a life of destitution and gang violence.
Also one thing in it's favour, is that whilst the book is the first in a series, it works very well as a stand alone book. There is clearly plenty more of the world and story to be told, but there isn't the typical cliffhanger at the end. Ideal if you want to dip your toes into a new fantasy series, but don't want to commit your life to reading the series forever.
A worthy book to read
Ender's Game (Ender Wiggin 1) reviewed by Chris Turner on March 13th, 2014
I really enjoyed this book. It has a pleasant pace that doesn't drag on or rush through things. The characters aren't that two dimensional which is often a problem with stories from the 70s. And the story, despite the fact it's about taking very young children and turning them into soldiers, is an interesting one.
There are some very interesting philosophical points it makes about how two alien species would react if they ever encountered each other - especially when their means of communication is so vastly different.
For those of you who don't read books, but do enjoy movies, the recent adaptation is moderately faithful. It trims a few side plots out and makes the child characters a fair bit older, but over it still retains the core themes and ideas.
The Novice (Black Magician Trilogy 2) reviewed by Melika Jeddi on February 13th, 2014
A really decent series, would definitely recommend it if you enjoy fantasy stories.
Very well-written with clever plot development and believable and varied characters.